RECIPE: Coffee and Maple Snack Cake

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We always have a cup or so of coffee left in the pot, and I always feel very guilty in tossing it out. After all, coffee beans get expensive. So this weekend I decided to try my hand in making a snack cake using left over brewed coffee as a main ingredient. To match the earthy flavor of coffee, maple syrup adds a sweet earthiness. Then chopped pecans and chocolate chips add little bursts of crunch.

The cake has a rustic look to it, but if you want to dress it up, you can mix some brewed coffee with powdered sugar for a complimentary drizzle. This is a great snack cake just to have on hand when you have a house full of weekend guests, and they feel like noshing all day long. It holds it's texture and moistness for a few days.

Coffee and Maple Snack Cake

1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 eggs
1 cup brewed liquid coffee
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 8oz. milk chocolate candy bar, roughly chopped
optional: 1 tsp. maple extract


Spray a large rectangular baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 350˚.

In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon). Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter until creamy. Add the brown sugar and maple syrup, and beat until fluffy. Next beat the eggs in, and finally the coffee. Add the dry ingredients and whip until just combined.

Add the pecans and chopped chocolate and fold into the batter. Pour into waiting pan, and bake for 15-20 minutes-or until the top is golden and the center springs back when touched.

Cool in pan, then cut into squares. Store in airtight container for up to a week.

RECIPE: Smokey Cheesy Sausage and Brown Rice Casserole

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I know casseroles are supposed to be super easy, where you just throw everything in a pot or pan and be done. That's the beauty of casseroles, right? Well, I am the urban domestic diva, and that means sometimes I have to get my hands all over a recipe and make it my own. So here we are.

The original recipe for this was pretty much throw it in a pan and bake it. But typical me, I had to complicate it a little. The added steps were to improve flavor and texture, and this rendition turned out pretty well.

I first wanted to get more liquid in the dish to help out the rice. So I added chicken broth. I also felt the vegetables needed to cook together more, so I sautéed them in a pan before adding to the rest of the ingredients. I switched out the white rice with brown, for a healthier slant. Then I decided to pregrill the sausage. I found grilling smoked sausage brings out the smoke flavor inherent in making smoked sausage, deepening the flavor of the dish overall. If you don't have time to do this step, maybe have your hubby grill them for you earlier in the week, if he's grilling other things. You can slice them up and refrigerate them until casserole night?

Finally, I quickly made my own cheese sauce. Now don't roll your eyes and run to the store to get a jar of cheese sauce. Making cheese sauce is not that hard, and the added step makes the dish have a fresher flavor with less sodium. Also, play with different cheeses. I used sharp cheddar here, but you can use white cheeses, or a mix of both.

The result is still an easy dinner solution, but with deeper flavors and healthier grains! Who can argue with that?

Smokey Cheesy Sausage and Brown Rice Casserole


2 small cloves garlic
1 package Eckrich smoked sausage {grilled until brown, cooled then sliced)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups instant brown rice
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed and drained
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock

Cheese Sauce
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese


Preheat oven to 375˚. Spray a 13 x 9 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Grill the sausage and cool, then slice. 

we like our sausage well charred, but
cook yours to your preference!
Make the cheese sauce. In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until a paste forms, and cook for one minute until hot and bubbly. Slowly whisk in the milk, and whisk until smooth and begins to thicken. Whisk in the cheese and the Dijon mustard and mix until smooth, thick and well combined. Take off the heat and keep warm until ready to add to the casserole.

In a large saute pan, cook the garlic and onions until beginning to become translucent. Add the red peppers and cook until the peppers begin to soften. Take off the heat.

In a large bowl, mix the uncooked rice with the red pepper mixture and the peas. Then add the cheese sauce and the chicken broth and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Finally add the cooked sausage slices and mix until evenly distributed.

Pour the rice mixture to prepared baking dish evenly, and sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until bubbly and hot and the top is golden brown. Serve warm.

* Please note, in my day job, I work on Smithfield brands as one of my many marketing clients. This post was not paid for or asked for by the Eckrich brand and company. This was me doing my own research and experimenting with the product. All product was purchased by me. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about smoked sausage are completely my own. Thanks!

RECIPE: Peanut and Lime Asian Noodle Salad

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Soup and salad night is usually met with a groan from my daughter and I. We do soup and salad night weekly, and it keeps us healthy and gives our systems a break for a night. It's usually pretty basic and easy (ahem, boring.) But sometimes we kick it up a little, while still keeping it light and flavorful. SO this week we had a Thai-Asian flare to our soup and salad night. Definitely less groaning this week.

This salad was a bit more labor intensive than just tossing things in a bowl and adding dressing. You can cut time by prepping the chicken, dressing and the noodles ahead of time. Then just assemble the salad the night you plan on eating it.

Peanut and Lime Asian Noodle Salad


For the dressing:

½ cup canola oil
1 Tbsp. Mirin
1 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 1/2 Tbsp. lemongrass
juice of 1 1/2 limes (approx 1 1/2 Tbsp.)
¼ cup creamy peanut butter

For the salad:

8-10 ounces ramen noodles or rice noodles, cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled
1/2 cup baby corn, chopped
2 Tbsp. peanut oil, divided
1  boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into chunks
2 1/2  cups baby kale, torn up
2 1/2 cups spinach, torn up
2 large carrots, cut into small, thin sticks
1 red bell pepper, cut into small, thin sticks
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves, chopped
4 green onions, green parts only, chopped
½ cup peanuts, roughly chopped


Whisk all the dressing ingredients in a large bowl EXCEPT peanut butter. Place the chicken in a plastic bag and use about ¼ to ½ cup of the dressing (without peanut butter) to marinate the chicken in the fridge for about 15-30 minutes. Add the peanut butter to the dressing and whisk, then taste and adjust. Set aside.

Prep all your vegetables and toss together in a salad bowl. Set aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp. peanut oil in a sauté pan. Add the marinated chicken for 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Rest chicken for 5-10 minutes, then add to the veggies. Return the pan to the stove and heat the other Tbsp. oil in the pan and add the noodles. Splash a little water to loosen the noodles and a little dressing and toss them around until they are soft and well seasoned. Take off heat and let cool.

Toss stir-fried noodles with the chicken and veggie mixture. Toss with dressing. Top with peanuts and cilantro. Serve warm or cold. 

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.

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