HOLIDAY INFOGRAPHIC: "How the Holiday Cookies Crumble"- All About Holiday Cookies

Pin It This infographic has been 4 years in the making. It includes hand drawn illustrations from your truly and my Eggnog Bites recipes, a star on my holiday cookie plates. I love infographics. I love holiday baking. SO I married the two here as a present to my followers.

Let the baking season begin!

And please feel free to share the love by reposting and sharing out my labor of love below. It's much appreciated!

RECIPE: Apple RumChata Vanilla Cake (using Gluten Free Bob's Red Mill Vanilla Cake Mix)

Pin It

As we have been cutting down on gluten, I've been trying out some sort cut mixes to help bring treats to our table. There are quite a few mixes out there, but we certainly have our top favorites.

For instance, we have grown to really love Bob's Red Mill Vanilla Cake Mix. It doesn't taste like gluten free at all. And when you add some RumChata with orchard fresh apples all mixed up in there, OH BABY you have something really special. My daughter had two pieces in one sitting. I used some simple caramel sauce ice cream topping to just dress up the top. It adds a nice sweetness and works nicely with the RumChata and the apples.

Apple Rum Chata Vanilla Cake (using Gluten Free Bob's Red Mill Vanilla Cake Mix)

2 Cortland apples, peeled cord and chopped 
Tbsp. of RumChata 
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract 
2 teaspoons of grated lemon zest 
Tbsp.of sugar 
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon 
dash of salt 
2 Tbsp. butter

Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix
three eggs 
1/2 cup of canola oil 
1/2 cup of water 
1/2 a jar of caramel sauce topping for ice cream


Macerate apples with the Rum Chata, vanilla, lemon zest, sugar, cinnamon and salt for 15 to 20 minutes. Mix occasionally.

Meanwhile spray a 10 inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place a circular piece of parchment paper on the bottom and lightly spray again. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350° 

In a small saute pan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Cook the apples for 5 minutes until softened. Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl mix whisk three eggs with the canola oil and the water. Combine with the gluten-free vanilla cake mix until well combined.

Pour apple mixture into the cake mix and stir gently. Pour evenly into prepared cake pan bake for 30 minutes or until cake springs back to the touch. Let's sit in pan for 10 minutes to cool and pull away from the sides. With a knife gently run the knife along the sides to make sure sides are clear of the sides of the pan. Invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, heat caramel topping in the microwave at 50% power for about 15 seconds until of drizzling consistency. Drizzle caramel topping with a fork over the top of the cooled cake.

Serve with vanilla ice cream

COOKING: How to Make Tomato Paste and Freeze It (Video)

Pin It

How many times would you throw away a can of tomato paste after using only a tablespoonful for a recipe? I recently have been freezing leftovers by the tablespoonfuls. I was overwhelmed with a late tomato harvest of which I had to ripen on my counter. That means that the tomatoes won't be as sweet as being ripened on the vine. So I decided to make a large vat of tomato paste and freeze it up in ice cube trays. 

You supplement the tomatoes with a healthy dose of sweet vegetables, herbs and spices-thus not minding the lack of vine-ripened sweetness in these late-season tomatoes. Each square equals a tablespoonful, what is often needed in stews and soups.

Fair warning, this takes a bit of time. You can tell in my video-I did a stage each evening after work and dinner. Little by little, throughout the week, I ended up with a nice batch of tomato paste for the winter. You will also notice that you start out with a lot of tomatoes-and you get back 1 1/4 full of an ice cube tray full (not a ton). The good news is, you usually don't need much to accent a dish. These tablespoons of tomato paste pack a punch! Simply transfer frozen cubes from the trays into a freezer-safe plastic bag and label! You will be all set for 6 months to 1 year!

Make your Own Tomato Paste
1 carrot, chopped
16 cups ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 medium chopped onion
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1/2 Tbsp. dried basil
1/2 Tbsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. black peppercorns
12 whole cloves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 2" stick cinnamon
4-5 garlic cloves, minced

Simmer tomatoes in a large stock pot on a medium simmer with all the ingredients until soft and married about 2 hours.

Process through a food mill. Return milled tomatoes to the pot and simmer on medium low heat for another 2 hours, stirring often to prevent burning. You want it reduced by half.

Preheat oven to 200˚. Line an old baking sheet with tin foil.

Spread paste on the prepared baking sheet to the depth of 1/2". Make short cuts or "slits" with a dull knife into the paste to let the air penetrate. Place the sheet  in the 200˚ oven to dry out for bout 2 hours.

Spoon paste in ice cube trays and freeze overnight. Transfer cubes into freezer-safe plastic bags, label and date, and store in the freezer for 6-12 months.

Below is a step by step how-to. I look pretty tired in this video because I made time for this project after long work days and dinner dishes throughout the week! #dedication! If you have a lazy, open Sunday, you can do this in one day. I just haven't had that luxury this fall! It's been a bit busy at our house lately.

COOKING: How-To Oven Dry and Preserve Cherry Tomatoes (video)

Pin It

Our very mild fall in Chicago has allowed our garden to continue to produce tomatoes up until now. It's been a blessing and a curse-as we don't want to waste such a blessing and bounty-but how many cherry tomatoes can a girl eat?

SO here I show you how to easily season and use your oven to "sun-dry" your cherry tomatoes. Then I show you how to either keep them as is or pack some in seasoned olive oil for a few months. Doing this takes away "produce guilt" and allows you to make the cold winter months that much more delicious.

You'll need parchment paper, balsamic, marjoram, sea salt, fresh ground pepper and basil and about 10-12 hours of slow oven time. It's well worth it, I promise!

RECIPE: Atomic Bomb Cake

Pin It

This cake in not in my usual repertoire. I am not one to make a dessert made almost completely out of boxes and containers. However this is how my husband grew up, and when asked what cake he wanted for his birthday, he got a far away look in his eye and whispered "a bomb cake like my mom used to make for me."

A bomb cake? He sort of explained it was layers of cake, fruit and pudding and then completely covered with whipping cream or Cool Whip. I vaguely remember my mother-n-law showing up with an enormous cake that slid all over the place and had fruit in it. It was a "Betty Crocker" kind of thing and didn't make much of an impression on me. But what hubster wants I deliver!

So I did some research (this is a very old, 1970's recipe), and fair warning, if you do as well, Google will think you are looking for yellow cake for bombs. SO to help you avoid being on some crazy CIA watch list, I am posting this recipe here to help you out. I'm a helper. 

I help.

Anywhoo - this cake actually turned out really yummy. It feels like a trifle in cake form. 

You slice the cakes horizontally to thin out the layers so they are not too heavy on the pudding and the pudding doesn't spill out. And the extra slices of cake I wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and stored in the freezer to make another cake down the road (or cake pops). I also made the pudding thicker by using a touch less milk than the package directions indicated.

This cake is a bit of production, but it is worth it, and you will have extra to enjoy later in the week-and extra cake in the freezer to play with later! 

Atomic Bomb Cake


1 box yellow butter cake (or banana)
1 box white cake
1 box chocolate cake
(water, eggs, oil and/or softened butter-depending on the instructions on your box cakes)
1 box each chocolate, banana cream and vanilla instant pudding (vanilla is optional)
milk for your pudding instructions
16 oz. fresh strawberries, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
1 13.5 oz. container strawberry glaze
1 jar chocolate fudge ice cream topping
2-3 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
1 large 12 oz. container Cool Whip (or 1 quart whipping cream, whipped into stiff peaks and chilled)

Extra supplies:
3 13 x 9 disposable square pans (unless you have that many pans on hand), non stick cooking spray, serrated knife, bowls for pudding


Spray down 3 13 x 9 square pans. Preheat oven to 350˚ (or whatever the cake mix directions state).

Prepare all three cake mixes according to package directions and pour into your waiting pans. 

Once baked, cool pans on wire racks then invert the cakes onto a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the cakes horizontally at the center. Wrap half of each cake and freeze. Reserve the other.

Meanwhile make the pudding according to package directions EXCEPT use 1 3/4 cups milk versus 2 cups. Chill pudding until set. The vanilla pudding for the strawberry layer is optional.

Meanwhile, mix the strawberry pieces with the glaze and set aside. Slice the bananas and set aside. And finally gently heat the fudge topping so that you can easily spread it.

Have all your ingredients mise en place and begin assembling the bomb cake, using whatever platter you will be serving it on.

Start with the white cake layer. Spread vanilla pudding if you are using it. Then spoon the strawberry in an even layer on top of the vanilla pudding or right on the white cake. Then gently place the butter yellow cake (or banana cake) on top of the strawberries.

Spread the banana pudding evenly on top, then place the banana slices evenly apart across the layer on top of the pudding. Gently place the chocolate layer on top.

Spread a layer of chocolate fudge topping evenly on top of the cake. Then spread the chocolate pudding on top.

Frost the top and sides with Cool Whip or whipped cream. Chill cake until serving.

Kitchen Tip: Freeze Left Over Tomato Paste

Pin It

Freeze Left over Tomato Paste

Do you cry inside when you open a can of tomato paste for a recipe, only to use 1 tablespoon?

I decided to grab a measuring spoon and measure out the left over tomato paste in heaping tablespoonfuls and set the mounds on some wax paper. I set these on a tray and threw them in the freezer for a few hours.

I pulled them out, threw them into the freezer bag and voila! You have tomato paste for the next time time you just need a tablespoonful. If you make a big vat of tomato paste, you can freeze it in ice cube trays. Each cube equals 1 tablespoonful.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that I came up with this. I already used some of it in a crock-pot chicken soup. I hate being wasteful. This is a great solution. I also plan on making tomato paste this weekend too and I plan on freezing it in ice cube trays, so stay tuned for that post!

"Comfort Food" means Merlot, Good Friends and a Bacon, Truffle Oil Macaroni and Cheese

Pin It

Fall means comfort food, cozy sweaters and giant glasses of wine (or hot cocoa) by the fire. It’s my favorite time of year. Wine seems to just go down easier and tastes better when there is a slight chill in the air.

Now I’m not one to tied to certain varietals and blends. I am by no means a wine snob. If wine is delicious, then it's a favorite. That could be a 5 dollar bottle or an Opus One. I’m first generation Italian, so wine is wine to me. Heck, my Nonno made his own right in the cellar of his brother’s apartment building on Taylor street! The family story goes that he and my Uncle Tony used to sell glassfuls of wine for a quarter each in a small room off the back alley. This was a small room where all the old Italian guys would hang out and play cards during the prohibition era. Wine is my blood. And I love it more during fall.


So recently our small wine and diner club got together to have a “comfort food” themed dinner. We each had to bring two of our favorite comfort dishes and wine. I decided to bring some Merlot with my adult rendition of macaroni and cheese. Merlot is a drinkable wine that has gotten a bad rap among wine drinkers ever since the movie Sideways. This unsung hero of wines goes great with rich tomato sauces and earthy flavors like mushrooms, root vegetables and meat. To me, this seemed like the perfect pairing for many of our dishes to be enjoyed during our "comfort food dinner". And should I mention that every dish had bacon in it? No. We didn't plan that. It just kinda happened.

Oh well. Back to salads this week.


One of the Merlot favorites I brought was the Decoy Merlot from Sonoma County. Pairing it with my friend Jacki’s meatloaf, bacon laced mashed potatoes and my truffle oil and bacon macaroni and cheese turned a mouthful of this wine into a magical, smooth, cherry-vanilla seduction. It’s subtle smokiness went great with…well…all the bacon we were eating. It also brought out the layers of richness in the dishes. Another favorite was from Northstar winery out of Washington State. Their Northstar Premier was our favorite, with a lot of berry-cherry and chocolate notes that went perfectly with our French onion soup. It seemed to tone down the punchy onion flavors in the soup and bring out the richness of the meat in the broth and the cheese topping.

My fellow diners declared that they usually don’t go for Merlot but really enjoyed how this wine paired with our dinner. They all announced that they were going to consider Merlot more often when choosing wine.

The dinner was a huge success. We all felt sleepy-happy while lying around the living room chatting. Part of the attire request was comfy clothes-and thank goodness for that. Elastic was quite helpful-to say the least.

Here is a rundown of the comfort food menu with recipe links, as well as MY recipe I concocted for this event (that went perfectly with Merlot-by the way).

I urge you to have a comfort food themed dinner with just 2 or twenty to herald in fall! Tweet pics and recipes and make sure to have plenty of Merlot on hand. It really is a perfect pairing to all things fall! Tweet your recipes and pics with the tag #merlotme and join the wineversation. (Get it. See what I did there?)

"Comfort Food" Menu 

Apps and Starters

(chips, crudites, assorted hummus)

Main and Sides

Meatloaf with Red Wine Glaze

Green Beans and Bacon

Shredded Kale and Brussel Sprout with Cranberries and Toasted Almond Salad

My Truffle Oil and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese (Recipe Below)


Apple Pie with Crumb Topping


My Truffle Oil and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese

8 strips of bacon
3 teaspoons truffle oil
18 oz. macaroni
6 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk (plus more if needed)
3/4 lb. cubed Velveeta
8 oz. shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. butter plus 1 Tbsp. truffle oil


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat oven to 400˚.  Lay bacon on the parchment and bake for 10-12 minutes, until evenly crispy. Once done, drain bacon on paper towels and let cool. Chop 5 strips of bacon for mixing in with the mac and cheese. Chop the other three strips and set aside for sprinkling on top.


Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain and set aside.


In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Have your milk, flour and cheese "mis en place" to move quickly. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour to make a thick paste. Cook the paste for a minute or two, then whisk in the milk until smooth and thick. I usually add another half cup to 3/4 cups a milk in case the mixture gets too thick to whisk. Turn heat to low and add the cheddar cheese and blend in, then add the Velveeta until smooth and melted. Mix the bulk of the chopped bacon. Turn off the heat and add the macaroni. Before mixing it in, drizzle the macaroni with the truffle oil to help it loosen up. Then mix it all into the cheese sauce evenly. Set aside.

Lower the oven to 350˚. Spray a 10 x 15 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the macaroni and cheese evenly into the pan.

Now make the topping.
In a small sauce pan, heat the truffle oil with the butter, melting the butter. Add the bread crumbs and mix well over medium low heat. The breadcrumbs should get toasted and aromatic. Add the chopped bacon reserved for the topping and sprinkle all over the top of the macaroni.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the dish is nice and bubbly and top is nice and golden. Serve hot.

Wine was provided by Decoy and Duckhorn wines, as well as Northstar Winery. All thoughts, reviews and obsessions around Merlot and wine in general are completely my own. You must be 21 years or older to enjoy wine, and please drink responsibly.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...