Celebrate the New Year

Both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are occasions for enjoying food and friends. Whether you're celebrating by yourself or with twenty, here are some ideas for the nosh, from appetizers to chili or soup. Then on New Year's Day, serve everyone black-eyed peas for good luck.

Playoff Chili

Bacon Wrapped JalapeƱo Appetizers

Dilly Beef Cheese Ball

--And for New Year's Day --



Blueberry Coffee Cake

Bundt cakes are loved for their versatility, and this blueberry coffee cake is great for multiple occasions. It will steal the show at a brunch, and it's also the star on a dessert table. Anyone can look like an expert baker with the presentation of this big, beautiful cake.

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Blueberry Coffee Cake

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 (8 ounce) carton sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, and cinnamon; set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Combine 3 cups flour, baking powder, and baking soda; add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix at low speed after each addition until blended. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour 1/3 of batter in prepared pan, sprinkle with half the blueberries and half the reserved brown sugar mixture. Repeat layers, ending with the batter. Bake for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove cake from pan; continue cooling on wire rack.

1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 - 2 tablespoons milk

In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon milk until smooth. If glaze is too thick, stir in additional tablespoon of milk a few drops at a time until desired consistency is reached . Drizzle over cooled cake.



Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and dumplings is the perfect winter comfort food. This may not be your mama's chicken and dumplings recipe, but no one will complain. It's tasty, easy, and delicious.

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Chicken and Dumplings

1 (4 - 5 lb.) whole chicken, stewed and deboned, broth reserved
1 (32 oz.) container chicken broth
1 (12 oz.) package flour tortillas, cut into strips about 1 inch x 2 inches
1 (10.5 oz.) can cream of chicken soup
Salt and pepper

In a large dutch oven, bring reserved broth and chicken broth to a boil. Add tortilla strips to broth. Cover and cook for 5 - 10 minutes until tortilla strips are tender. Stir in cream of chicken soup and chicken pieces. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.



Halloween Cookies

Decorated cookies are fun for kids, but they do take extra time to make. The good news is you don't have to stress over decorating cookies at the last minute for a holiday. These cookies can be baked ahead and frozen. Freeze them plain or already decorated, just bag them or wrap them up tightly in foil. Fill your freezer with ghosts and pumpkins and you'll be ready for a Halloween party.

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Vanilla - Almond Sugar Cookies

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup vanilla sugar (sugar that has been stored with a vanilla bean)
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a sheet pan by lining with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg, vanilla extract, and almond extract, mix well. Gradually add the flour mixture, and mix until combined, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. This will be a crumbly dough and must be kneaded together after it is poured out on the floured rolling surface. Roll the dough from 1/4 to 3/8-inch thick, then cut out into shapes. Place cookies onto prepared pan and place pan in freezer for 5 minutes before baking. Bake in preheated oven for 10 -12 minutes. Allow to cool on pan for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Royal Icing

4 tablespoons meringue powder
scant 1/2 cup water
1 pound powdered sugar (MUST be sifted)
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
a few drops of almond extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the meringue powder and water, beat with the paddle attachment until foamy. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat on low until combined. Add the corn syrup and almond extract and beat on medium/high to high for about 5 minutes or until the icing is glossy and stiff peaks form. Icing can be used in this form for outlining or for projects such as gingerbread houses. To use for cookie icing for "flooding," thin with 1 teaspoon water at a time until the consistency of syrup.



Cream Cheese Pound Cake

This cake may look plain, but it's one of the best cakes ever. It's flavorful enough to serve all by itself, or it can be dressed up with fruit and whipped cream. I've made this cake to give away for different occasions, and it's always a success.

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Cream Cheese Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each one is added. Combine flour and salt, then gradually add to butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes or until inserted wooden pick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from pan. Allow cake to cool completely on wire rack.



Aprons as Gifts

We all know how much home cooks love a pretty apron, but there are others who appreciate aprons, too. At a recent writers' conference, I received an apron as a door prize. This hand made apron is perfect for writers, teachers, and librarians.

I wanted to share this apron and its cute design because it's never too soon to start thinking about hand made gifts for occasions such as Christmas. There's probably someone on your gift list who would love one of these aprons. I'm calling it my literacy apron.


Ginger Tea

Many tea drinkers have their favorite variety, but I have to admit I like all kinds. My choice depends on the time of day and how I'm feeling. Few days pass that I don't enjoy both hot tea and iced tea of some kind. I do try to avoid any caffeinated teas after lunch, but the good news is, there are lots of decaffeinated choices available.

Naturally caffeine free ginger tea is one of my favorite choices. This tea is good any time of day, especially if you've been bitten by the nausea bug. Brew it up fresh and drink to your health.

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Ginger Tea

4 cups water
1/4 cup grated ginger root
lemon (optional)
honey (optional)

Bring water to boiling. Place grated ginger in tea pot or other container. Pour boiling water over ginger. Allow to steep about 5 minutes. Strain into cups. Add lemon and sweeten with honey, if desired. Leftover tea may be refrigerated and reheated or served iced.



Mother's Vintage Home Comfort Cookbook

My sister and I recently had a conversation about how to make a particular kind of coconut cake. The cake she described is not a recipe I have. I told her it sounded like a recipe we would find in Mother's old Home Comfort cookbook. The only problem is we don't have the cookbook.

Her cookbook was a manual/cookbook for a Home Comfort range. I enjoyed finding recipes in it when I was a young girl, however, I think it may have already been old enough to be vintage by the time I used it. When she passed away it was not in any kind of usable condition. Sadly, it had been virtually destroyed.

I'm searching for a copy of that cookbook to add to my collection. I've found some that were printed either earlier or later than the one Mother had. The contents may be the same or similar, but I'm wishing for one with a cover just like hers.

If someone happens to know where a cookbook like this one can be obtained, please send me the details. It would be a great addition to my collection. I might even find that coconut cake recipe or a new recipe I've never tried before.


A Hunter's Birthday Cake

Baking birthday cakes for family members has been fun throughout the years, but I never know what will be requested for the next celebration. As the kids grow up, their tastes and interests change, so it's rare that anyone ever wants the same kind of cake twice. One of my more recent cakes was topped with a hunting rifle. I didn't have a clue how to make a rifle, but with modeling chocolate and a bit of trial and error, the birthday cake was produced.

The honoree requested a half chocolate, half vanilla cake, so I baked the cake using an 8 x 14-inch pan I could split with dividers. 

The dividers gave the center of the cake a checkerboard look.

I had only tried using modeling chocolate once before, but it's easy to make. The recipe can be found here. Instead of using white candy melts and adding coloring, I used caramel candy melts for the stock of the gun and black candy melts for the barrel and scope.

Modeling chocolate is fun to use, and I hope to get the hang of it after a few more cakes.



Blueberry Muffins 5 Ways

All blueberry muffins are not created equal. Although the muffins may contain blueberries, there are as many ways to bake a blueberry muffin as there are varieties of blueberries. I've pulled five yummy recipes from my collection, but there are many more good blueberry muffin recipes out there. Each of these has a distinct difference that sets it apart.

1. Sparkling Blueberry Muffins

The sparkling sugar gives these blueberry muffins a pretty presentation and makes them look extra tempting. This is a recipe to keep handy.

2. Blueberry Hawaiian Muffins

If you have no time to get away, take a tropical vacation for breakfast. Coconut and chopped macadamia nuts make a crunchy topping on these muffins.

3. Alien Blueberry Muffins

This may be a strange name, but these muffins are unique with blueberries and white chocolate chips.

4. Citrus Blueberry Muffins

Lemon, orange, and lime zest combine to make these blueberry muffins one of a kind.

5. Mandarin Blueberry Muffins

What's better than a blueberry muffin? A blueberry muffin with mandarin oranges, too. Plus these are made with whole wheat flour and oat bran.

There are dozens of great blueberry muffin recipes. If you have a favorite, I'd love for you to leave a link in the comments so I can try it.



Teach a Child to Cook

As a writer nothing brightens my day more than seeing my name in a byline. Narcissistic? Maybe a little, but for the most part I'm just glad my work is appreciated and useful to someone.

A recent article of mine can be found in the food section of the July/August 2017 issue of Christian Woman magazine. The editor was generous and gave me three whole pages for "Teach a Child to Cook".

Teaching a child to cook is an easy way to help develop self-esteem along with essential life skills.  I believe parents do their children a disservice for many reasons when they don't allow kids in the kitchen. 

If you've never let your child help out with meal preparation, I hope this article will persuade you to give it a try. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject.   



Centerpiece Improvisation

When you're entertaining a crowd, often extra tables must be set up to accommodate the guests. For every table you need a centerpiece, and if multiple tables are involved it can get expensive. If the gathering is informal, you may already have everything you need for those centerpieces right under your nose. It can be a nice surprise to be able to improvise without buying something new.

When I needed centerpieces for three 8-foot tables, I decided to do some shopping in my own house. I stepped back to see what items I could find to serve as the centerpieces. I wanted something colorful, casual, and not fussy. My Fiesta ware seemed to be the obvious choice.

For each table I used two large disk pitchers on a large platter. Cereal bowls became candy dishes. I added a few silk flowers I'd saved from another event for an extra pop of color.

Total cost of my three centerpieces = $0

I've enjoyed my Fiesta ware on many different occasions. I've found the pieces to be versatile, and I also use them as my every day dishes. The colors are cheerful, and they are a sturdy stoneware. I've only broken one piece in all the time I've used them, and it was a strange accident. I reached for a bowl on a high shelf, and the shelf tipped. Apparently the bracket holding one corner of the shelf had fallen out. When the shelf tipped all the bowls slid off. I don't know how I managed it, but I caught every bowl except one. That bowl hit me in the forehead, then went on to hit the counter top and the floor. These dishes are heavy, and I still have a mark of evidence on my forehead from the accident. I mourned the bowl but was so glad I was able to save everything else.



Cheese Straws

Cheese straws are made from simple ingredients, and a batch can be mixed up and baked in a jiffy. I've been told that cheese straws are much more common in the South than in other parts of the country. A Southern hostess would be sure to put on her pearls and offer guests a tray of these delightful little appetizers.

Print Recipe

Cheese Straws

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash of garlic powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray. In the bowl of a food processor, combine butter, cheese, flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Process until a smooth dough is formed. Fill a cookie press with the dough. Press the dough onto prepared baking sheet in long strips the length of the pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until straws are crisp. Use a knife to cut the strips into 3-inch lengths. Remove from pan using a flat spatula and cool on a wire rack. When completely cooled, serve or store in covered container.



Double Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

This whimsical cow and pig cake is one my niece asked me to make for her birthday. She chose this kind of cake because she raises and shows animals as her FFA projects.

The top 8-inch tier is white sour cream cake frosted in vanilla buttercream tinted pink. I used the piping bag liner trick to decorate this cake. The bottom 10-inch layer is chocolate sour cream cake frosted in double chocolate buttercream.

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Double Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, but not melted
1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. Mix until blended. Add powdered sugar alternately with the cream, mixing after each addition. Scrape sides of bowl and beat an additional minute. Add a little more powdered sugar if needed, or a little more heavy cream if frosting is too stiff.



A Piping Bag Liner (I Learned Something New Today)

Decorating cakes is only a hobby for me. I have learned most of what I know on the subject by reading or by trial and error. I decorated a birthday cake this weekend, and I learned something new. This is such a simple trick, I don't know why I didn't know about it before.

I've always been one to end up with as much frosting on myself as on the cake when I'm decorating. Not today. The buttercream frosting stayed put in the piping bag. It only came out through the tip, like it is supposed to. Although I try to be careful, I usually end up with frosting oozing out the wrong end of the bag.

The way to fix that is with a piece of plastic wrap. Tear off a long piece and place it flat on the counter top. Pour a big dollop (enough to fill a piping bag)  of frosting in the center of the plastic wrap. Roll the frosting up in the plastic wrap lengthwise. With the frosting rolled up in the middle, there will be a rolled up piece of plastic wrap on each end.

Grab onto each end of the wrap and start spinning the frosting. Keep spinning until each end is tightly twisted.

Then thread one twisted end of the plastic through a piping bag fitted with a coupler. Cut away the excess plastic wrap, add the decorator tip, and secure the open end of the bag.

The bag is now lined with plastic wrap, and the frosting is contained inside. There was no mess. Not one bit of frosting oozed out of the bag. I also didn't have to struggle with filling the bag with frosting. It was neat and tidy. When the bag was empty, I pulled the plastic wrap out and threw it away. The empty bag was almost as clean as when I started, and I wasn't covered in buttercream.

This may not be a new tip for seasoned decorators, but it was big news for me. I hope someone else can also benefit from knowing how to line a piping bag. There's so much more I'd like to learn, so feel welcome to share your tips.


Blueberry Bread

Make someone's day with a warm loaf of blueberry bread. This recipe can be prepared and in the oven in a few minutes. A loaf of quick bread like this makes a great surprise gift for a neighbor or friend. As long as you're baking, might as well bake one for yourself, too.

Blueberry Bread

1 cup butter, softened
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries


1 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9" x 5" loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture. Beat only until combined. Remove from mixer and fold in blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 40 minutes or until bread tests done.

To make glaze, combine confectioners sugar and milk. Stir until smooth. Drizzle over cooled bread.



White Sour Cream Cake

This is my go-to white cake recipe for making a decorated cake or cupcakes. This cake works especially well if you need to stack several layers. It's a dense cake and holds together well. I used this recipe for a family 90th birthday celebration, and it was versatile enough to use in mini-cupcakes, regular cupcakes, mini-loaves, and a three layer cake. My family prefers this cake over bakery cake or cupcakes.

This recipe has been around since the days when cake mixes came in 18 ounce boxes. The smaller boxes short-change recipes like this, so an extra cake mix has to be used to supply the missing ounces. I keep a box of cake mix in the freezer to use as a supplement for such recipes.

Quite some time ago I did a post about these shrinking cake mixes. Check your box to determine the current number of ounces in a mix and measure accordingly.

Print Recipe

White Sour Cream Cake

1 (18 ounce) box white cake mix (cake mix no longer comes in an 18 oz. box, so you will need to measure enough of a second cake mix to make up the difference)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sour cream
4 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare pans with cooking spray or by greasing and flouring. Use paper liners if making cupcakes.
In a large bowl, combine cake mix, flour, sugar, and salt; whisk together. Add water, oil, extracts, sour cream, and egg whites to dry mixture. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pans, filling each one a little over half full. Bake until cake tests done. Cooking time varies according to type of pan used. The times on the cake mix box can be used as a general guide.



What Makes You Grouchy?

My sister makes the best cakes. She doesn't do them professionally, but she could. She makes them for family birthdays and other occasions. These grouch cupcakes are adorable, and she makes sure all her cakes taste good too.

These cupcakes made me think about the things that make me grouchy. I've even made a list. Read the 5 Things That Make Me Grouchy here. Cupcakes are not on the list. What makes you grouchy?


Cucumber Cream Cheese Appetizers

I'm a fan of appetizers, and I sometimes enjoy them as much as an entire meal. I can only describe these cucumber appetizers as tiny bites of freshness. The colors are eye-catching, and they remind me of miniature salads. They're light, easy to make, and will make an attractive addition to any event.

Cucumber Cream Cheese Appetizers

4 large English cucumbers
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (5.3 ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon powdered ranch dressing mix

Cucumbers can be prepared with the skin on, peeled, or partially peeled. Slice into rounds. Slice tomatoes into halves; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, yogurt, dill, and dry ranch dressing. Blend together with an electric mixer, mixing well. Fill a piping bag with the cream cheese mixture. Pipe a dollop onto each cucumber slice. Top with a tomato half. Refrigerate until ready to serve.



Baked Sliced Apples

One way to enjoy apple pie without indulging in all the calories is to substitute baked apple slices for the pie. A sprinkle of brown sugar adds a bit of sweetness, oats add texture and crunch, and cinnamon contributes flavor and aroma. For even more crunch and flavor, add a sprinkling of chopped walnuts to the mixture. This is a two-serving recipe, but it can be doubled if you need a larger amount.

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Baked Sliced Apples

2 baking apples, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons oats
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a small baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, pour melted butter over apple slices, gently stirring apples and butter. In a separate small bowl, mix together sugar, oats, flour, salt, and cinnamon. Add sugar mixture to apples, toss to coat. Place apples in prepared baking dish. Add water. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until apples are tender.



Chocolate Kiss Bundt Cake

At holiday time I am often desperate for help in the kitchen. If you stop by to visit while I'm cooking, you may find yourself wearing an apron, and I'm not picky about age or gender. I handed the recipe for this chocolate bundt cake to an eleven-year-old boy. I was up to my neck preparing casseroles, and I was running out of time to finish the baking. He had never baked a cake before, and he did an amazing job. He's my official sous chef now. His cake was the centerpiece for the dessert table. I think it has everything that makes a cake perfect. It's easy, it's pretty, and it's chocolate.

Print Recipe

Chocolate Kiss Bundt Cake

1 box chocolate cake mix
1 (3.9 ounce) box instant chocolate pudding mix
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
14 chocolate kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Use vegetable shortening to grease a bundt pan, then dust pan with flour. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, sugar, sour cream, eggs, oil, water, and vanilla. Mix for 2 minutes, scrape bowl sides, then mix for 1 additional minute at medium speed. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place chocolate kisses evenly around the top of the batter. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes, or until cake springs back to the touch. Cool in pan 3 minutes, then remove from pan to a cooling rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional chocolate kisses

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Use a piping bag to pipe frosting in rows over cooled cake. Place a chocolate kiss on top of each row of piped frosting.