Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From Mess to Success: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake Balls

This post doesn't include a recipe, but I hope it encourages you that with a little creativity what starts out as a cooking mess can turn into a cooking success.

This story began a couple of weeks before Christmas.  It has become a tradition that I make chocolate peanut butter balls every year during the holidays. The balls are made by mixing together peanut butter, melted butter, and powdered sugar then forming into balls and dipping in melted chocolate. This year my hubby wanted to help by making the peanut butter mixture.  Although he didn't need it, I supervised and told him exactly what ingredients and how much of each was needed.  He followed the recipe exactly.  I had the bright idea to mix it in the Kitchenaid mixer instead of by hand.  It must have over mixed the peanut butter mixture, because it would not roll into balls. I normally freeze the mixture before forming the balls, but even after freezing, it still wouldn't work. I even mixed in more powdered sugar thinking that would help to make it thicker, but with no luck. It was a peanut buttery mess, but tasted delicious so instead of  throwing it out I put it in the freezer to use at a later time.  I made another batch and mixed by hand and it turned out perfectly. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pics, but that just gives me a good excuse to make them again soon so I can share the pics and recipe with you.

A few weeks later after the Christmas craziness was over I thought about that peanut butter mixture and decided I would use it to make icing. I mixed in some cool whip and crushed Oreos  (processed in a food processor) until it was the consistency of icing.  Originally I thought that it would be good on a white cake, but as I was getting ready to bake I thought to myself, "Duh, peanut butter, Oreo, cool whip icing would go perfect on a chocolate cake not a white cake!" So I mixed in 1/2 cup cocoa with the white cake mix (from a box) to make it chocolaty and then followed the directions on the box for a two layer cake. Once cooled, I iced it with the peanut butter concoction, and then covered it with more crushed Oreos. It was perty good, and my family loved it.

After a couple of days the cake was a little too dry for me so I decided to try and make cake balls with it. In the past I tried making gingerbread cake balls, but they did not turn out so well. However, I am not easy discouraged and was ready to give the balls another try.

Since cake balls are simply cake and icing, I figured I could use the leftover cake to make them. I mashed the cake and icing until it was blended well and then using an ice cream scoop formed 1 inch round balls and flash froze them (put the balls on a cookie sheet and put in freezer for 30 minutes).  Then using a toothpick, dipped them in melted chocolate chips, drizzled chocolate on them, and then decorated with sprinkles. I was so excited how they turned out. They were fantastic!! My family devoured most of  them. My husband took the leftovers to work and they received rave reviews. From now on anytime I have leftover cake it will be a perfect excuse to make cake balls.

So it goes to show that cooking messes can be turned into successes!! It is true in life too. Even though our lives may seem to be a mess there is always hope for a turn around.  I have learned this in my life and am thankful for God's forgiveness and grace as well as the opportunity to move forward in his strength and become a success.

Even Paul the apostle started out with a mess of a life and through the grace of Jesus his life turned into a great success. Perhaps not by earthly standards but by eternal standards he was a winner.

I Timothy 1:12-14

I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry— one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

My dad always told me, "It's not how you start. It's how you finish." I am thankful that in everyday life and cooking our messes can become successes and that sounds like joy to me!

Buon Appetito!

All pics were taken by my very talented husband. He loves photography and has been doing all the photography for my blog the past couple of months.  If you have noticed an improvement it is because of him. If you see a not so good pic on the blog, just know I took it :)

Friday, January 20, 2012

My guest post at "Or So She Says" Blog

I am super excited to share that I am guest posting today at

It is a great blog for women all about women stuff. Check it out and I think you will enjoy the great information!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Everyday Cooking 101: Comparison of Cookware

This post is inspired by my youngest sister, Jessica. She just got married in December and I was reminded of what it was like to be a newlywed and know nothing about cooking. When blogging, I often assume that readers have some knowledge of cooking, but there are always a few novice  chefs out there, so I thought that some fundamental information might be helpful. So occasionally, I will be posting "Everyday Cooking 101". These posts will go back to the basics of cooking.

I thought I would begin with a comparison of cookware. Purchasing cookware can be overwhelming since  there are so many different materials and brands on the market. This post explain the pros and cons of different types of cookware and hopefully simplify the choice somewhat.

The following information is from and

Cookware Materials

Cookware is made from many different materials. Understanding the differences will assist you in making the best choice for your needs. Some of the most common cookware materials are shown below with a description and pan care instructions for each.

      Aluminum Inside Coated with Stainless Steel
Aluminum cookware is fairly inexpensive in comparison to cookware made from other materials. Aluminum is lightweight but fairly strong. It is a good conductor of heat and does not easily distort when exposed to high temperatures. Aluminum works well for sautéing and frying foods because if its heat responsiveness. The drawback of aluminum is that it reacts to acidic and alkaline foods, causing it to corrode and affect the taste of the food being cook. Aluminum is generally used as a core heat conductor, or coated with stainless steel or an anodized coating to protect the food.

Pan Care: To care for aluminum cookware, wash the pans with hot soapy water. Avoid washing the cookware in hard water because it tends to darken the aluminum. To remove stains, use a cream of tartar and water paste.

Anodized Aluminum
This is aluminum that has been given a special finish to protect it from corrosion. It is a good conductor of heat and the special finish makes it stick-resistant. It is a good choice of material to look for in pots and pans for most any type of cooking. Pots and pans made from anodized aluminum are not dishwasher safe and can be dark in color, making it hard to see slight color changes in the food being cooked.  The nearly complete lack of pores enables hard-anodized cookware to resist food sticking, even if the food is overcooked or burned. Unlike artificial non-stick coatings, hard-anodized surfaces will not peel or chip. Hard-anodized surfaces are also non-toxic and resistant heat up to the melting point of aluminum, or 1,221 degrees Fahrenheit (660.56 degrees Celsius). Quick, uniform heating is another of the many advantages of hard-anodized cookware.

While once in the sole domain of high-end cookware manufacturers such as Calphalon, hard-anodized cookware is now readily available from numerous companies and in a wide range of prices. Though they typically remain more expensive than traditional non-stick cookware, hard-anodized pots and pans are no longer restricted to the realm of commercial kitchens.

 Hard Anodized Nonstick Cookware
With hard anodized nonstick cookware, consumers are able to get the advantages, like durability associated, with hard metal cookware, and keep those of aluminum as well.

Unlike traditional non-stick surfaces, wooden or plastic utensils are not required; the hard-anodized aluminum surface easily withstands non-sharp metal utensils such as spoons, spatulas, and whisks. The surface is non-reactive to acidic foods, and cleanup rarely requires more than a damp cloth. Depending on the construction in regard to materials used for rivets and handles, many brands of hard-anodized cookware are both oven- and broiler-proof. As with all kitchen gear, the manufacturer's instructions should be followed in regard to usage, seasoning, and cleaning methods. Cookware made from hard anodized aluminum has a significantly longer lifespan than traditional non-stick cookware and are the strongest, most durable cookware currently available and is virtually non-porous.
Pan Care: To care for anodized aluminum pans, do not cook foods that are highly acidic or alkaline in them because they have a tendency to cause pitting in the coating. They should be washed by hand in hot soapy water rather than in a dishwasher where the strong detergent would damage the surface of the cookware. To avoid scratching the finish, do not use abrasive materials on the surface of anodized aluminum cookware.

Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware is inexpensive to moderately priced. It is fairly heavy and conducts heat evenly. It heats slowly but once it is hot it holds the heat well. This makes it good for deep frying and slow-cooking. It can be used on top of the stove and in the oven. Drawbacks to cast iron are that it rusts, stains and becomes pitted when exposed to air, moisture and certain foods.

Pan Care: To care for cast iron cookware, do not wash in soapy water but try wiping clean with a paper towel. Run hot water over stuck on food to help loosen and remove. After your cast iron pot has been washed it should be dried thoroughly. To prevent the pan from rusting, rid it of any excess moisture by setting it on the stove over high heat until all moisture has evaporated and coat with oil before storing.

Lined Copper

Copper is one of the more expensive materials used to make pots and pans. It conducts heat evenly and is very responsive to heat. It heats up quickly and will also cool down quickly when removed from the heat, preventing sautés and delicate foods from burning and becoming overdone. Because copper distributes heat so evenly and efficiently, it is the best choice for frying and sautéing, but it is also a good choice for many other cooking methods.

One problem with copper is that it interacts with everything it comes in contact with. Moisture in the air causes it to form a film on it that is poisonous and salty food causes a chemical reaction that can make food have a metallic taste. To make the copper pots and pans safe to use, they are lined with tin, silver or stainless steel to protect any surface that would come in contact with any food. Because copper reacts to everything it touches, it needs to be polished regularly to keep its bright copper shine.

Pan Care: To care for copper cookware, hand wash with hot soapy water and avoid using abrasive materials to clean. Use copper polish to keep copper from tarnishing and free from white spots. The interior should be re-tinned every couple of years, depending on usage.


These pots and pans have had a coating applied to them that prevents food from sticking and makes clean up easier. The non-stick surface is really an advantage when cooking some foods, such as omelets, and when reheating sticky foods, such as rice. It also reduces the amount of fat that is normally required when cooking. The non-stick surface is less efficient when using certain cooking methods, such as sautéing, because the coating interferes with the transfer of heat from the underlying pan.

 Nonstick cookware, first made available in the 1960s, has become ubiquitous due to its easy cooking and cleaning properties. It requires less oil or grease to keep food from sticking, it disperses heat evenly, and cleanup is a breeze with soap and water. Over the years, improved techniques for adhering nonstick coatings to pans have led to different grades of nonstick cookware.

The least expensive type of nonstick cookware features a single, thin layer of nonstick coating. This type of nonstick cookware tends to scratch easily, and in some cases might even begin to peel off after repeated use, particularly if abused. This is most often generic nonstick cookware intended for mass-market use. A better grade of nonstick cookware has a dual layer coating: the nonstick layer is followed by a sealer that helps adhere the first layer and protect it. Dual layer nonstick cookware is more resistant to scratching and peeling, and with proper care should last longer than single layer nonstick cookware.

As price increases, so should the layers of coating. Triple-layer nonstick coating is incrementally more durable than dual-layer, and so forth up to four or more layers. A high quality finish is easy to tell from a single layer coating. The better finish feels smooth to the touch, unlike a single layer in which one can feel tiny ridges. If the finish is shiny, it has likely been coated with silicone. This is fine for bake ware, but is not recommended for cookware.

Pan Care:To care for non-stick cookware, use hot soapy water and avoid using abrasive pads or powders. If food does stick to the pan, soak in hot water to loosen stuck on food. A nylon scouring pad, nylon scraper, or nonabrasive cleaner can also be used to help remove stuck on food. Do not wash in a dishwasher. Also protect the non-stick surface by only using wooden, plastic, or coated utensils when cooking.

There have been concerns about Teflon coating on nonstick pans. I would encourage you to do further research to determine if this product is safe.

Porcelain Enamel

Cast Iron Coated with Porcelain Enamel

Porcelain enamel is applied as a coating only on pots and pans made of other material, such as cast iron or aluminum. It prevents them from corroding or reacting with the food being cooked. A pan coated with porcelain on the inside cannot be used for sautéing or frying but will work as a saucepan and can be used in the oven.

Pan Care: To care for porcelain enamel cookware, wash with hot soapy water. For stuck on food, soak in hot water to loosen. A nylon scouring pad, nylon scraper, or nonabrasive cleaner can also be used to help remove stuck on food. Porcelain enamel can be cleaned occasionally in the dishwasher unless it has a non-stick interior surface. Limit the use of a dishwasher to avoid the strong detergent dulling the enamel surface.

Stainless Steel  

Stainless steel cookware is moderately priced. It is the most versatile material to use because it keeps its bright shine and has good tensile strength, preventing it from denting easily. Stainless steel is a good material for any type of pan because it does not corrode and does not react with alkaline or acidic materials. The one problem with stainless steel is that it does not conduct heat well. To combat this problem, pots and pans made from stainless steel have should have a thick aluminum or copper core in the bottom of the pan to help conduct heat more evenly and make the pan more responsive to heat. In the better quality pans, the aluminum or copper core also runs up the sides. You may find a stainless steel pan with an aluminum or copper plate on the bottom but if the plate is not thick enough, it will not do an efficient job of conducting heat evenly.

Pan Care: To care for stainless steel cookware, wash with hot soapy water. A nylon scouring pad or nylon scraper can be used to remove stuck on food. There are stainless steel cleaners that can also be used to remove stains and bring a shine back to the cookware (I use Bar Keepers Friend. It works great!). Stainless steel cookware can be washed in the dishwasher but the high temperatures in the drying process can cause the water spots. To avoid water spots, remove the pan from the dishwasher before it is dry and wipe with a soft cloth.

You can purchase cookware in sets or open stock. Depending on how often you cook and the types of foods you cook as well as the amount of storage space available to you, will help you to determine whether to purchase an entire set or the specific pieces that you will need. If you prefer more expensive cookware then buying one piece at a time may be a great option as you can collect them over time. My cookware is stainless steel which is not the best material, but it works fine for me and is affordable.

I would recommend checking out the cookware at Sam's club. I really like their Members Mark brand. It is great quality at a great price.

Buon Appetito!



Saturday, January 14, 2012

Comfy in the Kitchen: Crispy Orange Beef With Broccoli


I have decided to occasionally feature other blogs' recipes that I have tried and enjoyed. The blogs I choose to feature will be ones that I enjoy reading, offer great recipes or cooking information, and share similar personal values. I would also like to begin featuring recipes from friends or followers, so if you would like to be featured on my blog, please leave a comment or "like" my facebook page and leave a comment.

Many of you may be familiar with Comfy in the Kitchen blog especially if you follow the blog Women Living Well. WLW is a christian blog written with the intent of encouraging women as they are raising their families. Courtney at WLW has a huge following and was even featured on the Rachel Ray Show. Courtney often features her friend Janelle's cooking blog, Comfy in the Kitchen.  Janelle shares everyday cooking recipes that are simple and family friendly. Although I enjoy her recipes, that is not what continues to draw me to her site. Her heart for the Lord and ministering to others using her love of food keeps me coming back. I love that she has a meal ministry to share the love of Christ.

Tuesday evening I cooked Crispy Orange Beef With Broccoli.  I saw this on Janelle's blog and thought the combination of crispy, orange, and beef sounded really good. I know crispy is not a flavor, but texture is often just as important. It was delicious! I enjoyed it so much that I ate it for leftovers 3 days in a row. Unfortunately, my hubby was out of town and didn't get to try it. I will be honest and tell you that my boys didn't care for it. I think the combination of sirloin and orange zest just didn't do it for them. I am also not sure they really liked the ginger flavor either. I don't cook a lot of dishes with fresh ginger and it may have been a little too strong for them.

Before slicing, I put the meat in the freezer for about 30 minutes to get it extremely cold then thinly sliced it in my food processor. It made for faster frying and the meat was really tender and easy to eat.  Serve this dish with rice and a side of broccoli and you have a complete meal. I took some to a friend whose wife is out of the country and he gave it rave reviews.

Click on the recipe title to see Janelle's full post with lots of pics.

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Total time: 45 mins
Serves: 6
Recipe adapted from
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef top sirloin, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar (white vinegar will do)
  • 2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 8 broccoli florets, lightly steamed or blanched
  • 1-1 1/2 cups oil for frying- use 1/4 cup at a time in batches
  1. Drain beef strips in a single layer on dish lined with paper towels.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, vinegar, orange juice concentrate, and soy sauce. Set aside.
  3. Start making your rice per package directions.
  4. Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat.
  5. Toss dried beef in cornstarch to coat.
  6. Fry in the hot oil in small batches until crispy and golden brown; set aside.
  7. Drain all of the oil from the wok except about 1 tablespoon.
  8. Add orange zest, ginger and garlic to the remaining oil, and cook briefly.
  9. Add the soy sauce mixture to the wok, bring to a boil, and cook until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.
  10. Add beef, and heat through, stirring to coat.
  11. Serve immediately over steamed rice, and garnish with broccoli.

Buon Appetito!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pistachio Pasta

photo from
The pistachio nut is not a food that I was very familiar with before moving to Italy.  My only experience with pistachio flavor was pudding from a box.  While growing up my mom would make a layered dessert with pistachio pudding for my dad on special occasions.  I couldn't stand that stuff. It really turned me off to anything pistachio. Soon after moving to Sicily I discovered pistachio gelato (ice cream). The gelato was super delicious and opened up a whole new world of green nutty goodness. Pistachio is one of Italy's most popular flavors and they pride themselves in the plethora of foods that contain the delectable nut.  In the voice of Bubba Gump, "Dey's uh pistachio gelato, pistachio pasta, pistachio cakes, pistachio candy (torrone), pistachio pesto, pistachio creme, pistachio crepes, pistachio cannoli, pistachio liquor, pistachio arancini (rice balls) pistachio salami. That, that's about it."  I am sure there is more that I am leaving out.

Italians dedicate entire festivals to particular foods including strawberry, artichoke, lemon, almond, gelato, ricotta, onion, wine, olives, and more. In October of every year, Bronte, Sicily hosts a pistachio festival. It is one of the largest food festivals in Sicily. In 2010 we enjoyed the festival with some of our Italian friends. This past October we attempted to go with my in-laws, but after sitting in traffic for about 3 hours we turned around and went home. Although we didn't make it to the festival, we enjoyed some quality family time in the car :)

Here are some pics from the 2010 festival.

Merchant making torrone which is similar to peanut brittle, but made with pistachios
Torrone before being cut

Torrone - This stuff is addictive!

Italians even have pistachio jeans ;)

Salami and Jello Pistachio

The white sign says, "eggplant with pistachio pesto". The yellow sign says, "horsemeat sandwich"!

 The recipe that I would like to share with you is for Pistachio Pasta. This recipe comes from the Italian cooking school I attended two years ago. It is super simple to make and so delicious. I cooked this for my in-laws when they were here in the fall and they really enjoyed it.

Pistachio Pasta

400 grams or about 1 pound penne pasta 
100 grams or 1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios
50 grams or 1/4 cup chopped onions
200 grams panna or about 7 ounces heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
30 grams or 2 tablespoons butter
20 grams or 1.5 tablespoons olive oil

Finely chop the onion and sauté in olive oil and butter in a saucepan. Add the chopped pistachios, salt and pepper, and cream. Heat, but do not allow to boil. Meanwhile cook pasta in boiling salted water, allow it to cook until it is al dente. Drain then mix with pistachio sauce. Stir in parmesan to taste.

As an option you can add some pancetta (Italian bacon).

photo from
Fry it in the pan prior to sautéing onions. Remove pancetta and sauté onions in pancetta grease, oil, and butter then follow the recipe as written adding the pancetta back in with the pistachios. It adds a nice flavor and satisfies the carnivores in the family.
Buon Appetito! 


Monday, January 2, 2012

Peppermint Palooza

I know that peppermint foods are typically associated with Christmas. However, I love peppermint so much that I cannot reserve it only for the holidays. 

My absolute favorite peppermint treat is Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies. I adapted Southern Living's All-Time Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies to create this recipe.

I like sweets. I really do, but I am not usually too tempted to eat what I bake. I get more enjoyment from baking than I usually get from eating. However, I cannot resist these chocolaty delights. They get me every time. I tell myself,  that I am not going to eat any, but when the aroma of warm chocolate and peppermint hits me as I take them from the oven, I can't resist. I end up eating one or two immediately followed by a cold glass of milk. Mmm, mmm good!

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
Yield: Approximately 40 cookies

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
12 large candy canes or 6 oz. peppermints crushed into pieces (make sure not to crush too much or it will become powdery)
1 (12 oz.) bag white chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Beat butter and sugars at medium speed until creamy.
  • Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, beating until blended.
  • Combine flour, baking soda, cocoa, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended.
  • Beat in candy canes and white chocolate chips just until combined.
  • Drop cookies using a 2 tbsp. ice cream scoop onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  • Bake 10-14 minutes ( I bake mine 12 minutes). Remove to wire racks and cool completely (about 15 minutes).

I had about 1/2 of a batch of Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies leftover after Christmas so I decided to crumble them (in my brand new Cuisinart Food Processor that Santa brought me for Christmas) to use as a crust for a peppermint cheesecake. I looked through my cookbooks until I found this recipe. 

This Frozen Peppermint Cheesecake is a no bake  recipe. When eaten straight from the freezer it is more like ice cream than cheesecake. You also can remove it from the freezer and let it soften before eating. Either way it is delish!

I couldn't resist this recipe either. I had a piece every day until it was gone.
I think this makes a nice Valentine treat as well.

Frozen Peppermint Cheesecake
Yield 1 (9 inch cheesecake)
Adapted from: Southern Living Little Book of Cheesecakes


1 ¾ cups chocolate wafer crumbs (about 25 wafers) I used crushed peppermint bark cookies (for a quicker version, use two ready made chocolate pie crusts instead of using cookies)
¼ cup sugar I didn't add the sugar
¼ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened 1/3 less fat
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk lowfat
1 cup crushed hard peppermint candy
2 cups whipping cream                

·         Stir together first 3 ingredients; press into bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

·         Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add condensed milk, beating until smooth. Stir in candy.

·         Beat whipping cream until soft peaks form; gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture. Pour into prepared pan. Cover and freeze 6 hours or until firm. Gently run a knife around edge of cheesecake to release sides of pan; carefully remove pan just before serving.

This last recipe for White Chocolate Covered Oreo is one I saw on Pinterest a few months ago. This recipe is so simple. It is just oreo cookies dipped in white chocolate and then sprinkled with crushed peppermints. They are freakin awesome!

Buon Appetito!