apple ice box cake

Apple Pie Ice Box Cake

For picnics or other summer gatherings, I find an ice box cake is an easy treat to make. The work is done ahead of time, and they tend to be crowd pleasers. For my latest ice box cake I wanted to make a take on an American classic – the Apple Pie.

apple pie ice box cake

This Apple Pie Ice Box Cake layers apple snaps or vanilla wafers with spiced vanilla pudding, and apple pie filling. The final touch is a drizzle or caramel sauce and peanuts, which adds a teaser of candy apple to the cake. It should be no surprise that my kids loved this dessert. A serving or two may have even disappeared at breakfast time!

apple pie ice box cake

Apple Pie Ice Box Cake

12 ounces apple snap cookies or vanilla wafer cookies

2 cups vanilla pudding

1 teaspoon apple pie spice

21 ounce can apple pie filing

¼ cup caramel sauce

¼ cup dry roasted peanuts


Line to bottom of an 8 inch x 8 inch dish with 1/3 or the cookies.  Stir the apple pie spice into the vanilla pudding, and then evenly pour 1 cup of the pudding over the cookies. Next evenly pour half of the apple pie filling over the pudding.  Add another layer of cookies on top and repeat the pudding and apple pie filling layers. Place a third and final layer of cookies on top, and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.  Before serving, drizzle the caramel sauce on top and sprinkle with the peanuts.  Cut and serve.




pistachio chai tiramisu

Pistachio Chai Tiramisu

‘Tis the season for baking, so why not combine it with a cooking contest? This week’s recipe was inspired by the Simply Sesame Blogger Recipe Challenge hosted by Simply Sesame. Simply Sesame sent me their three different flavors of Simply Sesame spread: Pistachio-Cardamom, Vanilla-Almond, and plain. I instantly gravitated toward the subtly exotic pistachio-cardamom (though I enjoy all of the creamy flavors) to make my Pistachio Chai Tiramisu. The other great thing about these spreads is that they are gluten free and peanut free.

pistachio chai tiramisu

Tiramisu is an Italian dessert which typically consists of ladyfinger cookies soaked in a coffee-rum mixture and layered with a mascarpone cream layer then dusted with chocolate.  For this recipe I decided to play on the cardamom flavor of the Simply Sesame spread and soaked the ladyfingers in a chai-brandy mixture. Next, I folded the pistachio-cardamom simply sesame spread into the mascarpone (along with a bit of powdered sugar) to create my creamy layer.  Finally, the top of the tiramisu was decorated with a bit of caramel syrup and crushed pistachios.  The result was a beautifully presented tiramisu unlike any you have tasted.

pistachio chai tiramisu

It received a thumbs up from my hubby who is a tiramisu aficionado. I hope you enjoy it just as much!

pistachio chai tiramisuLooking for even more sesame spread recipe ideas? Follow Simply Sesame on TwitterInstagram, or Facebook.

Pistachio Chai Tiramisu

½ cup boiling water
1 chai tea bag
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup Simply Sesame Pistachio-Cardamom spread
4 tablespoons brandy, divided
16 lady finger cookies
2 tablespoons caramel syrup
2 tablespoons shelled, crushed pistachios
Place the chai tea bag in the boiling water and let steep for 3-5 minutes; set aside.  While the tea is steeping, prepare the cream filling.  Add the mascarpone cheese to a standing mixer bowl along with the powdered sugar.  On low speed, stir until combined.  Add the Simply Sesame Pistachio-cardamom spread to the mixing bowl and mix on low speed until combined. Finally, stir in 2 tablespoons of the brandy until well mixed and set aside.

Remove the tea bag from the water and place the tea in a shallow bowl along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of brandy and stir to combine.  Dunk the ladyfingers in the chai tea mixture one at a time, 2-3 seconds per side and place in the bottom of an 8 x 8 dish or trifle dish (you should only need half of the cookies to cover the bottom of the dish).  Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers, then add another layer of the soaked ladyfingers on top. Spread the remaining mascarpone mixture over the top to coat the cookies (you should have two layers of cookies and two mascarpone layers). Refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 2 hours.  Just before serving, drizzle the top of the tiramisu with the caramel syrup and then evenly cover the top with the crushed pistachios.  Cut and serve the pistachio chai tiramisu.


Broccoli Pesto

Fusilli Primavera with Broccoli Pesto

In April I wrote about coming up with creative ways to eat broccoli,  setting a goal of discussing seven different recipes.  Today I want to discuss four more ideas to bring the tally to seven.

First up is my most creative twist – Fusilli Primavera with Broccoli Pesto.  I subbed in steamed broccoli for basil to create a unique and tasty pesto.  It worked great as the sauce for a primavera style pasta that was stocked full of baby tomatoes and summer squash.

Broccoli Pesto

Broccoli Pesto

The next kitchen experiment used a grocery store find I have been waiting to try – sriracha powder. Blanched broccoli and honey roasted peanuts get a kick from a light sriracha mayonnaise dressing.

Sriracha Broccoli Salad

Third up is flash fried broccoli. I used my recipe for flash fried Brussels sprouts, though you only need to fry the broccoli for 2-3 minutes to get a crisp exterior.  This was just as much of a hit with my husband as the fried Brussels sprouts.

Flash Fried Broccoli

As the seventh and final way to eat broccoli in a week I’d be remise if I didn’t go with the classic crudité plate. My dipping sauce these days for fresh broccoli is a poblano ranch dressing.

Phew! Seven different ways to eat broccoli in a week.  Now you are either sick of broccoli or an addict.

Fusilli Primavera with Broccoli Pesto

¾ lb fusilli
½ lb fresh broccoli
½ cup pine nuts
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup grated pecorino-romano cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped baby tomatoes
1 yellow squash, chopped

Cook fusilli according to package directions.  Meanwhile, steam the broccoli for 5 minutes.  Add the steamed broccoli to a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add the pine nuts and process until mixed, then with the food processor running, pour in the oil.  Scrap down the sides of the food processor if necessary, and blend until smooth.  Remove the bowl from the food processor and stir in the pecorino, salt, and pepper.  One the pasta is done, drain and place in a large bowl.  Pour the pesto over the pasta and stir to coat.  Add in the tomatoes and the squash, stir until combined and serve.

Broccoli Pesto

Sriracha Broccoli salad

½ lb fresh broccoli
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha powder
¼ cup honey roasted peanuts

Blanch the broccoli,  drain and place in a large bowl.  In a separate small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and sriracha powder until a smooth sauce is formed.  Pour over the broccoli, add the peanuts and stir to coat.  Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto

Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto

I’ve mentioned before that I love when I can use a premixed spice blend as a time saving measuring in my cooking. That is one of the reasons I enjoy the Healthy Solutions Spice Blends Blogger Challenge.  I get my creative cooking thinking cap on and experiment with a new spice mix, with the goal of creating a recipe that blends healthy eating with tasting great while upholding the low salt and low sugar goal of the spices. Challenge accepted!

Out of the 16 different blends offered by Healthy Solutions Spice Blends, I chose to use the Encrusted Haddock (which is a mix of garlic, celery, onion, and dried cranberry) since I felt it could be used in a wide variety of dishes. While I think this spice mix would be great for both chicken or seafood, I chose to make a meatless dish as my entry – Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto

As compared to an Arborio rice risotto, steel cut oats are a much healthier choice. Steel cut oats pack a fair amount of protein, fiber, and iron per serving, making them a great meat substitute for a meal.  I was also able to keep my Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto true to the theme of low salt/low sugar by using an unsalted boxed stock.  When I surveyed the grocery store most of the unsalted box stocks had only 40-70 mg of sodium per 1 cup, which is well below the cut-off for low sodium items.  Similarly, goat cheese falls into the category of low sodium. See – eating healthy CAN still taste great.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto

Much like an Arborio rice risotto, I ladled stock into the steel cut oats, letting the stock get absorbed before the next addition.  Once all the liquid had been absorbed and the oats were tender-chewy, I stirred in the fresh spinach, Encrusted Haddock seasoning, red onions, pecans, and goat cheese. Simple, yet a healthy, impressive, and satisfying dish. Enjoy!

Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto

Spinach and Goat Cheese Steel Cut Oat Risotto

4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 cup steel cut oats
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (juice is equivalent to ¼ cup lemon juice)
2 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 ounce pecan bits
¼ cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon Healthy Solutions encrusted haddock seasoning
4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
Chopped parsley for garnish, if desired
Additional lemon zest for garnish, if desired


Heat the chicken stock in a medium sized sauce pan and keep warm. Add the steel cut oats to a large sauce pan (~ 3 quarts), add one ladle of the warm stock and heat over medium heat.  As the stock is absorbed, add another ladle of stock, stirring frequently.  Repeat until all the stock has been added to the oats, adding the lemon juice with the last bit of stock.  Once the stock and lemon juice have been absorbed and the oats are tender and chewy (about 20-30 minutes), remove from the heat. Next, stir in the spinach until wilted, about 1 minute.  Then stir in the lemon zest, pecans, red onion, Healthy Solutions encrusted haddock seasoning, and goat cheese until well mixed. Transfer the Spinach and Goat Cheese Risotto to two serving bowls, sprinkle with parsley and additional lemon zest if desired, and serve.


Christmas Chestnut Salad

“Chestnuts roasting over an open fire . . .” croons a popular Christmas tune. Roasting chestnuts is often associated with the holiday season, however I have found the task tedious and more work than it is worth to taste the tender treat. That is why I was thrilled to find the whole roasted and peeled chestnuts from Blanchard & Blanchard at the grocery store.

Chestnuts, unlike other nuts, are actually low in fat while still providing a good source of both fiber and protein. They are also a good source of vitamin C and provide almost as much potassium as a banana in ½ cup of chestnuts. One of the ways I have enjoyed them this year is in my Christmas Chestnut Salad.



In my opinion a celebratory holiday dinner isn’t complete without a festive starter salad. For this recipe I started with a blend of arugula and endive, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette, and then topped the greenery with blue cheese, dried cranberries, chestnuts and golden beets.


The resulting Christmas Chestnut Salad is a vibrant starter with well-balanced flavors. I also love that it sneaks in a serving of in-season root vegetable!


Christmas Chestnut Salad

¼ cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T white sugar
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups arugula
4 cups chopped Belgian endive
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup whole roasted and peeled chestnuts, chopped
1 cup sliced golden beets

Make the dressing by pouring the oil, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small container and mixing until well blended; set aside. Place the arugula, endive, and blue cheese in a large bowl, then pour the salad dressing over the salad mixture and stir to coat and mix the leaves. Divide the dressed leaves between four salad plates. Evenly top the four plates with the dried cranberries, chestnuts, and sliced beets. Serve immediately (makes 4 servings).


Spiced Pecans

Ever since I can remember my family has been making these spiced pecans for Christmas. The recipe is a slight adaptation of the one found in the Joy of Cooking cookbook. The most notable change is that we have always made it with four-times the amount of nuts as compared to the original recipe. I have also added cloves and tweaked the ginger and nutmeg quantities since a 1/3 teaspoon measuring spoon isn’t common.


Oh, and we have simplified the prep – instead of dropping the nuts one-by-one into the sugar mixture, we have found the dump-and-coat method to work just fine.


Before baking the Spiced Pecans

Spiced Pecans

After baking the Spiced Pecans

The hardest part is waiting for the sugar coating to dry in the oven. The nuts are baked at a low temperature to dry out the egg whites, to create the crunchy & spicy coating. One bonus of this baking process is that your house will be perfumed with the smells of the holidays, more so than any candle could provide.

Spiced Pecans

These spiced pecans last for quite a while, making them a good early baking item. They are also versatile too – they can be served as a dessert, sprinkled on a salad, or poured into a pretty container and given as a gift. Alternatively, you can eat them just-because any time of the day, like my family. It’s a great way to build your holiday spirit!

Spiced Pecans

Spiced Pecans

½ cup white granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
½ tablespoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 lb shelled pecans


Preheat oven to 250 °F. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. In a separate large bowl, mix together the egg white and water, then add the pecans and stir to coat. Once the pecans have been coated with the egg whites, sprinkle on the sugar mixture and stir until the pecans are evenly coated. Spread the pecans onto a large baking sheet and bake for ~1 hour, stirring twice, or until dry. Cool and store in a tightly covered container.


Maple Hazelnut Fudge

In my opinion, it is never too early to start experimenting with recipes for holiday treats and goodies.  When time allows, I like to prepare a spread of cookies and invite all my friends over for a cookie & tea party a few weeks before Christmas.  With two little ones I haven’t been able to throw my party the last few years, but maybe if I start now with ideas and freezer cookies I can pull it off this year.

This week I decided to tinker with my rum raisin fudge, switching out the rum extract for maple and the raisins for toasted hazelnuts to make this Maple Hazelnut Fudge.  It is just as simple, and absolutely decadent.

Maple Hazelnut Fudge

In fact, cutting the fudge into 1 1/2 inch squares is more than enough to get a heavy dose of chocolate.

Maple Hazelnut Fudge

The flavor combo in the Maple Hazelnut Fudge is perfect for fall, and pairs perfectly with my favorite spice tea.  This batch most certainly won’t make it to my party, but the recipe will make the list!

Maple Hazelnut Fudge



Maple Hazelnut Fudge

1 cup hazelnuts
¼ cup butter
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon maple flavoring


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until skins are blistered and nuts are fragrant. Wrap nuts in a kitchen towel and rub nuts in towel to partially remove loose skins; set aside.

Place butter in a microwave safe bowl. Place in microwave on high for 30-60 seconds until just melted. Stir in the chocolate and sweetened condensed milk. Place back in microwave and heat on high for 1-2 minutes longer, stirring every 30 seconds. Once chocolate is smooth, remove from the microwave and stir in toasted hazelnuts and maple flavoring, then pour into a parchment paper lined 8-inch by 8-inch dish.

Refrigerate until set, then cut into squares. Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.


Chocolate Turtle Icebox Cake

Icebox cakes are a great dessert showpiece, with often little to no baking or cooking. What they do require is time – time to let the layers meld together, for an ooey-gooey layered cake affect.

Turtle Icebox Cake

For a Labor Day picnic, I decided to whip up this Chocolate Turtle Icebox Cake. My sweet-tooth demanded that I bring a dessert, but both work and moving have been keeping me busy, leaving little time for more complicated recipes. I had all the ingredients I needed to make a decadent icebox cake – vanilla wafers, caramel sauce, and the necessary fixings for a quick chocolate pudding.

Did you know that whipping up homemade pudding is just as simple and quick as the boxed kind? I highly recommend that you try making the chocolate pudding from scratch, but you can use an instant pudding package if you prefer. Once the pudding is made, vanilla wafers, caramel sauce, pecans, pudding, and chocolate hardening sauce are poured in alternating layers into a springform pan.  The icebox cake does all the work sitting in the refrigerator overnight – the cookies soak up moisture and become cake-like, and syrupy layers become more dense.

Turtle Icebox Cake

When I unveiled the cake at the picnic the other guests swarmed. Their content smiles told me that the Chocolate Turtle Icebox Cake was a hit. What a perfect treat for a picnic!

Turtle Icebox Cake

Chocolate Turtle Icebox Cake

½ cup white sugar
¼ cup baking cocoa
1/8 cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups almond milk
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
14 ounce package of vanilla wafers
6 ounces caramel sauce (i.e. ice cream topping)
8 ounce container of “Magic shell” or 1 recipe of homemade hardening shell
2 ounces pecan bits

First make the chocolate pudding. In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat; boil and stir for 2 minutes, or until it thickens. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla and chill in the refrigerator. Once the chocolate pudding is cooled, prepare the cake. Lay 1/3 or the bag of vanilla wafers on the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, then pour over ½ of the chocolate pudding to coat the cookies and evenly pour 1/3 of the caramel over pudding. Sprinkle with 1 ounce of the pecans, then repeat another layer of vanilla wafers, pudding, caramel, and pecans, in that order. Finally cover the top with the remainder of the vanilla wafers and then pour the hardening shell over the top. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

note: one 3.4 ounce package of instant pudding and 2 cups of milk can be used to substitute the first 6 ingredients.  Follow package instructions to make the pudding.


4th of July Party Mix

As the Fourth of July draws closer, I begin to think of the fun ways the U.S. celebrates its freedom: Parades, Fireworks, and BBQs. I enjoy all three and try to squeeze each of them in if I can. It is hard not to get wrapped up in the enthusiasm of the day and run rampant with patriotic colors of red, white, and blue. Flags are waved proudly, kids of all ages get to delight in sparklers and loud noises, and those who have served their country are honored. Friends & family get to relax, reflex on their freedom, and enjoy each other’s company.

4th of July Party Mix

For this year’s bash I decided to keep with the red, white, and blue theme. I mixed together freeze dried strawberries, yogurt covered almonds, coconut, dried blueberries, and peanut butter M&Ms® to make an eye-catching and tasty party mix that can easily be served at your celebratory BBQ or taken on the family road trip.

4th of July Party Mix

4th of July Party Mix

I think this 4th of July Party Mix is great for any gathering, since guests can take as little or as much as they would like, and you don’t have to worry about spoilage like so many other typical BBQ dishes.

4th July Party Mix

Just be forewarned, like the embers of fireworks this 4th of July Party Mix disappears quickly!

4th of July Party Mix

One 1.2 ounce bag of freeze dried strawberries (1 ½ cups)
1 cup yogurt covered almonds
1 cup dried coconut flakes
1 cup dried blueberries
½ cup red and blue peanut butter M&M® (or as many as you get from one 10.2 oz bag)


Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Store in a large container with a lid until ready to serve.


Chocolate Cherry Cannoli Cups

The dessert my husband always makes room for is the cannoli. If he just hears the word his eyes light up in anticipation of one of his most favorite treats. The chocolate cherry cannoli cups I made as a just-because dessert have now earned an equal space in his heart as compared to the traditional version.


The first time I made the filling I didn’t have time to make the typical forms, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying them free-form.  A generous bowl in hand, our children thought he was eating yogurt and followed suit with their own miniature bowls. Clearly this family loves their cannoli! It was my husband’s idea to put the filling in chocolate cups, which I have to admit is my favorite way to eat this cannoli filling. Not only do you get a perfectly sized bite of cannoli, it lends itself to a pretty presentation. I don’t think I can get out of having these at all holiday functions from now on.



Post Update:

As soon as my in-laws saw this post, they begged me to make some for dessert since they happened to be visiting.  I didn’t have time to make more cups, but I did manage to find to good pre-made Belgian chocolate thins and pre-made cups at Cost Plus World Market.

The result was just as tempting as the home-made cups!




Chocolate Cherry Cannoli Cups

2 cups ricotta
¾ cup powdered sugar
½ tablespoon cherry extract
½ cup shelled, whole pistachios
½ cup mini chocolate chips
36 maraschino cherries, divided
24 chocolate cups*

Place the ricotta cheeses and powdered sugar in a large bowl and stir together until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cherry extract, pistachios, and mini chocolate chips to the bowl. Remove the stem from twelve of the cherries and dice the cherries and add them to the bowl. Stir the ricotta mixture until all of the ingredients are evenly mixed. Refrigerate the filling until just before you are ready to serve the cannoli cups. Just before serving, divide the cannoli filling evenly between the 24 chocolate cups and then place one cherry on top of each cannoli cup. Refrigerate any leftovers.
* Chocolate cups can be purchased pre-made, or you can make your own with Wilton’s melting chips and forms. I used only the bottom portion of a 3-D cupcake container mold to make my cups. Following the directions on the mold, I needed 16 oz. of dark cocoa candy melts (about 1 1/3 packages) to make 2 dozen cups.


Asian Salad with Ponzu Dressing

When life gets busy, it is often easiest to make the same, old staples for meals – things that are quick, or don’t take much thought to prepare. While I fall into this trap myself, I think we are cheating ourselves when we walk past ingredients in the grocery store just because we have never used them. For example, have you tried ponzu sauce?


Ponzu sauce is a citrus based soy sauce that adds wonderful depth to an entree. In my opinion, it isn’t as harsh as soy sauce and can be used as a finishing touch in dishes, or as a key component of my Ponzu Dressing that tops my Asian Salad.

To make my Asian Salad, I started with some fresh, baby spinach,


and then I added some mandarins, green onions, carrots, cashews, and water chestnuts.




I mixed up some oil, rice vinegar, ponzu sauce, and dried ginger to make a dressing, poured it over the salad and tossed to coat. To serve, I topped each plate of salad with a bit of chow mein noodles – time to dig in!



Asian Salad with Ponzu Dressing

9 cups of baby spinach, washed
6 mandarins, peeled and segmented
½ cup diced green onion
½ cup shredded carrots
½ cup cashews
8oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup ponzu sauce
½ teaspoon dried ginger
1 cup chow mein noodles

Place the baby spinach in a large bowl, then add the mandarin slices, green onion, carrots, cashews, and water chestnuts. In a separate, small container, stir together the oil, rice vinegar, ponzu sauce, and ginger until well mixed. Pour the dressing over the spinach salad, and toss the salad to coat. Divide the salad between eight plates, topping each plate with two tablespoons of chow mein noodles, and serve immediately.



Malaysian Curry Tuna Sandwich

A few years back, a good friend of mine brought a house warming gift when she visited me at my new home. It was a simple gift, but perfect in selection, since she new I loved to tinker in the kitchen and try new things.


It was a jar of Malaysian Seven Seas Curry made by Spice Appeal, which she found at a craft and specialty food event. I absolutely LOVE the flavor, and often put it in my chicken or tuna salad, which I thought I would share today.

The contents of the little jar have long been gone, but I managed to snag two industrial sized jars of it online to make sure I never run out again. Weighing in at a pound a piece, my replacement jars will make a ton of Malaysian Curry Tuna Sandwiches.

For this spicy sandwich, I like to mix in celery, grapes, green onions, and cashews,



Along with mayonnaise and a generous amount of the curry.


You might think the grapes are an odd addition, but they add a nice sweet compliment to the heat of the curry.

Once it is stirred together it gets served in pita pockets, and then you let your family rave about your delicious lunch.


Can’t wait to try it? Stop on by – once you taste it I’m sure you will run out to find some for your spice collection!


Malaysian Curry Tuna Sandwich

(2) 7 oz. Cans of tuna packed in water, drained
1/3 cup cashew halves
½ cup diced red seedless grapes
½ cup diced celery
2 green onions, diced
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Malaysian Seven Seas Curry
4 Pita pockets, cut in half and opened to make 8 pockets

In a large bowl, mix together the tuna, cashews, grapes, celery, green onions, mayonnaise, and curry. Stir until well combined and them evenly stuff the pita pockets. Serve immediately.