RECIPE: Salted Candied Mandarin Orange Slices

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This treat is so easy and makes a light dessert or sweet treat as a palate cleanser. I made these 3 years ago, and my kid has been asking me to make them again almost every day. I kept forgetting to get the oranges, until this weekend.

I had her help with the peeling and dunking, so it was a team effort. They were gone in 10 minutes!

Salted Candied Mandarin Orange Slices

2 mandarin or tangerines, peeled, cleaned and pulled apart.
1 chocolate almond bark square (or 1/2 cup candy chocolate discs)
Grey sea salt
Parchment paper

Line a plate with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate almond bark 1 minute at a time at 50% power, stirring in between times until melted and creamy.

Dunk each slice in the chocolate and set on the parchment paper. Sprinkle with a few grains of sea salt while the chocolate is still wet.

Once the slices are all set, transfer to a serving platter.

RECIPE: Aromatic and Spicy Shrimp Ramen with Spinach

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We are OBSESSED with soupy, slurpy noodle bowls of all sorts at our house since winter set in. In Chicago, we are so fortunate to have some really great ramen, soba and pho shops around the city. But ironically the first time we had giant steamy bowls of Asian noodles wasn't in Chicago, but in Toronto. We were staying near the University of Toronto campus, home to many killer, funky Asian restaurants. In fact, the best Thai we had was in Toronto. One of the coldest days in Toronto we happened to be doing some sightseeing (I know. We were crazy.) Hungry and frostbitten, we stumbled into a Japanese soba noodle shop, highly popular on Yelp. The steam billowing off of the these ginormous bowls of broth was a welcome comfort from the frigid temperatures outside. That's the beauty of big noodle bowls, they warm you up while feeding you!

Things being super cold last weekend, this recipe caught my eye. The crazy combo of aromatic spices infused in the broth and a spicy cashew paste that is also dropped in before adding the broth was very that seemed really interesting. It included a cool new ingredient for us-shrimp paste. You will need to find this in an Asian store, or a grocery that has an extensive Asian section.

The one thing that bugged me about the recipe was that it was a chicken broth base, yet shrimp was the main protein added at the end. I felt that the broth needed to either be a fish stock or have shrimp flavor infused into it. Also, I wanted to add some leafy greens to it for a healthy kick and more nutrients. 

My solutions were two fold. I saved all my shrimp shells and tails after cleaning the shrimp, and added them to the broth for the whole hour and a half. Secondly, I changed the veggie toppings to be roughly torn up baby spinach. The result? An aromatic shrimpy bowl of goodness with a green veggie kick. Perfect. 

Take that, Chicago January.

Aromatic and Spicy Shrimp Ramen with Spinach



Reserved shells and tails from 1 lb. shrimp
6 whole cloves
½ Tbsp. ground cardamom OR 6 green cardamom pods
4 star anise pods
3 dried chiles de árbol
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 bunch cilantro
4 medium shallots, quartered
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 6-inch pieces lemongrass, tough outer layer removed
1 4-inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced ½-inch thick
12 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

½ cup cashews
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 Fresno chile, chopped
½ tsp. lemongrass puree in a tube
1 1" piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon shrimp paste with bean oil

12 oz. dried ramen noodles
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 ounces bean sprouts (optional)
2 cups torn baby spinach
Freshly ground black pepper
chili oil for garnish


Clean and devein shrimp. Reserve shells and tails, and chill the cleaned shrimp until ready to use.

Cook noodles according to package directions, usually around 3 minutes, then drain and set aside.

In a large stock pot, toast cloves, cardamom, star anise, chiles, cinnamon, and peppercorns over medium heat, tossing often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp shells and tails, cilantro, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, broth, and fish sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer until flavors meld, 1–1 ½ hours. Strain into a large bowl, pressing on solids. Return broth to pot; season with salt and pepper. (Can be made ahead of or frozen until ready to use.)

Pulse cashews in a food processor until very finely ground. Add shallot, chile, lemongrass, ginger, brown sugar, and shrimp paste; process until smooth. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium and cook paste, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. (Can be made ahead, chill until ready to use.)

Bring broth to a simmer, add shrimp, and cook until just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Divide noodles among bowls. Add 2 Tbsp. paste to each and ladle broth over; stir to incorporate paste. Top with shrimp, sprouts and spinach; season with pepper. Serve with chili oil.

RECIPE: Lighter Fettuccini Alfredo with Turkey Bacon and Spinach

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Lighter Fettuccini Alfredo with Turkey Bacon and Spinach


6 strips of turkey bacon
8-10 oz. fettuccine pasta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/4 cups 1% or 2% milk
2 Tbsp. whipped light cream cheese
1 cup torn up baby spinach
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground pepper

Extra Parmesan cheese for serving


In a large sauté pan brown the turkey bacon, then set aside to cool slightly so you can handle and chop up roughly. In the same pan, heat the olive oil and cook up the garlic, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up some of the turkey bacon flavor. In a measuring cup, blend the chicken broth with the milk and set aside.

Once the garlic begins to soften, sprinkle the flour over the olive oil and cook up until a thick paste. Cook for one minute, then gradually pour the broth mixture over the roux and whisk aggressively over medium heat. Pour all the liquid, whisking the whole time. Bring the heat to medium, and cook the liquid until simmering and beginning to thicken.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, and in the last 3 minutes, add the spinach to the water to blanch it. Once pasta is ready, drain all of it and set aside.

As the Alfredo sauce is thickening up, finish it off with the Parmesan cheese and cream cheese. Whisk until the cheese is combined and smooth. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Next toss in the pasta with spinach and the chopped bacon. Toss quickly and serve hot.

*note, the sauce will thicken up like glue as it sits and cools. If you can't move fast, reserve a cup of pasta water before draining the pasta and have it on hand, should you need to use some of it as you toss in the pasta to loosen the sauce.

RECIPE: Triple Chocolate Candy Cane Cake

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10 years ago, I had a cake at a friend's party around Christmas. It was the most AMAZING cake I had in a while. It also had all my favorite flavors-peppermint combined with rich chocolate. She told me it came out of Kraft's Food and Family magazines they used to print and mail to loyal consumers, and secretly told me it starts with a box cake. The cake always stayed with me, and I always meant to look through my old Food and Family magazines to find the cake recipe. Needless to say I was shocked it was made from a box cake, it certainly did not taste like it at all. This year, I decided to try and find it. Thanks to the almighty Google, I FOUND IT. 

It did not disappoint. The cake was as delicious as I remembered it, and my in laws were raving about it all evening. For the frosting you use non dairy whipped topping, making the cake seem creamy and light. If you want a richer frosting, my whipped vanilla frosting also would be lovely. I posted it below the main recipe here. 

Triple Chocolate Candy Cane Cake


1 box chocolate cake mix, we like Betty Crocker
1 package instant chocolate pudding
4 eggs
1 8 oz. container sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup milk
1 package (4 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup crushed candy canes, divided (3 Tbsp. in batter, rest for middle and top frosting)
1 tub (8 oz.) non dairy whipped topping (like Cool Whip) for frosting

Alt Frosting Instead of Cool Whip
Whipped Vanilla Frosting:
1 cup milk (full fat or low fat) 
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 well rounded teaspoons vanilla


Preheat oven 350˚. Spray 2 9" round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.


In a large bowl, whip 4 eggs briefly, then whip the sour cream and oil until well blended. Next pour the cake mix and pudding mix into the same bowl, and whip on slow until just combined. Then add the wet ingredients (milk and water) and whip until blended, creamy and thick. 

With a spatula, blend in the chopped chocolate and the 3 Tbsp. crushed candy cane bits until evenly distributed. Pour batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake in the middle of the oven until center springs back when touched and toothpick at the center comes out clean-about 30-40 minutes.

Let cool in pans for about 10 minutes, then invert on wire racks to cool completely. Meanwhile defrost Cool Whip.


Spread 1/2 cup frosting on the bottom cake layer. Then sprinkle 2 Tbsp. crushed candy canes on top. Place the 2nd cake layer on top of the first, then frost the sides and top of the whole cake. Chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, sprinkle the top with the crushed candy canes. If you do it earlier the candy cane gets melty and runny on top.

Alt Vanilla Frosting Directions
In a small saucepan over medium low heat, whisk flour with the milk. Whisk constantly, moving to a spoon midway until mixture becomes very thick. Take off heat and cool completely. It may be a good idea to get this done earlier so it has time to sit and cool. If this mixture is warm in any way, the frosting will not come together, but separate and get congealed and well...weird.

With a mixer, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Gradually add the milk mixture a few Tablespoons at a time until all combined. Add the vanilla and give it a minute more. It should look like a fluffy buttercream, and quite spreadable.

CRAFTS: One Day Quilt Using Square By Design® Fabric

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Walking around JoAnn Fabrics this fall, I found a really cool line of fabrics called Square By Design®. The design that caught my eye was the fish square. Each of the squares has a lovely tapestry-like embroidery, and is very thick. I think they are usually used for upholstery or pillows. The fish one stayed with me, as my husband is an avid angler and has been teaching me how to fly fish. He ties his own flies and fishes at all times of the year. He always has asked me for a quilt, and I never made time to make him one, and I have always felt guilty about that. I wondered if I could use the square fish piece at the center of a throw quilt for our "fixer-upper" lakehouse as a christmas gift for him.

My one worry was the thickness of the square. What fabric could I match with it to make an evenly stitched and weighted quilt? Quilts are usually a light cotton, making it easy to cut into all sorts of shapes and stitch. A fellow quilter friend suggested denim. That was a perfect suggestion, and denim comes in all shades of blues. At one point I considered upcycling all of the old denim jeans and skirts in my house that were in the donation pile. I ran out of time for that, so resorted to getting new denim from the fabric shop. Denim comes in all kinds of designs, shades, stripes and colors, but I kept it basic. I also found a beautiful, thick fabric that had shades of aqua and blue that matched the fish. It's an upholstery fabric too, but figured this quilt was going to need dry cleaning anyway, so using more upholstery fabric didn't matter.

The design is very basic, with just color blocks. Considering the square in the middle measures 24 x 24 (25" assuming a seam allowance), using 1 foot squares (12.5" assuming a seam allowance) made measuring and cutting super simple. Also, most fabric bolts are 50" wide, you are only really needing 1 yard per color-and that gives you a bit of extra if you screw up or want to make some special strips for some edging. I used the aqua color as the main block and flip flopped the cream stripes and the darker denim in between. For the back piece I used a cream denim, 2 yards at 50" wide, one piece covered the whole back with a horizontal cut at the bottom to fit.

I cut the pieces using a rotary blade at around 10 a.m, and had it filled and stitched (by machine) by 2 p.m. BOOM.

My husband was delighted and surprised! Check out some of the other designs at JoAnn's-see if it inspires you to make a quick little blanket for a loved one. I am eying up the cardinal for my daughter-she loves cardinals.

One Day Quilt Using Square By Design® Fabric

Pieces cut, and pinning front to front.

Just keep pinning front to front, following your schematic.

All pinned! Now to the machine.

Straight stitch blocks together, pulling out pins as you stitch. Keep going until it's all sewn together.


You need a bit of an open space to assemble your quilt. Lay your top piece on the floor or a large table, upside down. Then roll out 1-2 layers of quilting fiber fill in an even layer, patted down gently with no air bubbles or wrinkles.

Next, lay your quilt back fabric, right side up. Using large safety pins, pin all three layers together in place. I try and use 3-4 pins in a row, then roll the quilt a color block's worth and pin another row. Continue pinning, rolling, pinning, rolling, until all pinned up.

Now right under the machine, follow your color blocks along the seam edges, starting about 1 1/2" in from the outer edges to give you room to properly close the sides, horizontal and vertically, through all three layers, sewing it all together. If you want to stitch a more complex design, go for it, but I wanted to keep mine simple and masculine for the hubby. Next go around the outer edge in a giant square, about 1" in. Finally, fold and tuck the outer edges into each other, rolling in any extra fiber fill, creating a clean seam, and sew the edges shut. This is a very basic edging and you will see a seam. You can also do edging strips that hide the stitching, but this takes more time and artistry. Here is a great how to video on binding a quilt properly.
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