Browsing Category: special occasion recipes

Bread pudding: the ultimate Christmas dessert!

photo by The Shiksa in the Kitchen

So, I’m fixing dinner, Christmas Eve night, and my husband says, “What are we having for dessert?” Oh my gosh — dessert?! How on earth did I forget dessert? (I’ll tell you how: I was thinking of the waffles and cinnamon rolls we were going to be having for brunch the next day!)

Then my brilliant husband goes on to say, “How about bread pudding?”

Now, if you’re  not a bread pudding fan, let me tell you — neither was I, until a couple years ago when we ordered lemon bread pudding at Carrabba’s. I love anything lemon, but I’m telling you, this was heaven on a plate! Warm, sweet but with a little lemon tang, and custard-y… yum!

So a more traditional bread pudding — simply flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and for those who like them, raisins — seems like the perfect Christmas dessert.

And it was!

It’s quick and easy to throw together, and uses ingredients you probably already have on hand. We used this bread pudding recipe from All Recipes, and topped it with the Kahlua cream sauce recipe from The Shiksa in the Kitchen. (A plain vanilla cream sauce would be good, too. Orange or maple might be nice for a breakfast/brunch version.)

With these slight changes:
– Used a demi-loaf of French bread; fresh, not day-old.
– Used a 9×9″ pan (rather than 8×8″)
– Used brown sugar, not white.
– Left out the raisins.
– Added a little fresh-grated nutmeg with the cinnamon.
– Skipped the melted butter, but drizzled a little heavy cream over it (after pouring on the egg mixture, but before baking’ I didn’t measure, but probably about 3 Tablespoons.)
– Sprinkled some pecans on top. (Next time I’ll use more and mix ’em in.)
– Baked for 35 minutes.

Mmmm… Imagine the warm, sweet aroma of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg, with a texture I can only describe as a tender, custardy cake. If this isn’t Christmas on a plate, I don’t know what is! But it would be just as good at any autumn or winter dinner — or brunch!

I might just make it again for New Year’s Eve!

Recipe roundup: Mother’s Day menu ideas

Here’s a little gift for you: instead of wandering all over the internet for the perfect Mother’s Day menu ideas, here are four different options for you, each with its own theme. Almost all of these recipes can be made ahead, so you can enjoy the day without last-minute panic. And all (except the shortbread) are low carb. You get enough guilt from Mom; you don’t need any from your food! ūüėČ

Note: Most of these entrees are Paleo, or nearly so. None of the desserts are, but most can get closer with small tweaks.

Light lunch, light flavors

Want to treat mom to just a little something, perhaps before you head out to tour a local garden — or mall? Serve this easy, make-ahead orange-cranberry chicken salad on lettuce leaves or in soft pita pockets…

…with this elegant, lightly-sweet and super tender almond poppyseed shortbread.

Neither of these dishes will weigh you down, but they will both delight Mom with their flavors!

Classic ladies’ lunch, done low carb (or paleo)

What could be more classic than quiche? If Mom is doing South Beach or some other low-carb diet, you’ll be happy to know that a crustless spinach quiche¬†(here’s a Paleo version) can be just as delicious as one with the traditional but high-carb pastry crust. I added a little Canadian bacon to the original recipe.

Mother's Day menu ideas: quiche and fresh berries

Serve a fruit salad on the side. Here, I’ve just drizzled fresh strawberries and blueberries with some sweetened cream. (To make it Paleo, use coconut milk and skip the Splenda.) One cup of heavy cream or half-and-half (or coconut milk), one packet of Splenda, 1/2 t. of vanilla extract. That will be enough for about six servings, and possibly some leftovers. So simple, but elegant and delish!

Oh, and about the quiche… be sure not to overcook it. You want it only just done, or maybe slightly underdone, in the center when you take it out. It will continue to cook a bit as it cools, and you want a creamy, custardy texture, not one like over-done scrambled eggs. A thin knife inserted in the center should come out looking pretty clean.

Finish things off with a vintage-y lemon icebox pie, updated by serving it in a cute little Mason jar! Just use my no-bake lime cheesecake recipe, use lemon instead of lime, freeze them a day or so ahead, and set them out on the counter 45 minutes before serving time.

(Note: I hope to update and Paleo-ize this recipe soon, but for now, you would need to sub out the dairy and Splenda, or skip dessert. Or just go with a little splurge!)

Mother’s Day with a Mexican twist

For something different, serve up my easy but elegant ancho-crusted salmon with avocado crema¬†(which is Paleo if you omit the yogurt from the crema)…

a make-ahead Tex Mex salad

and no-bake lime cheesecake mini-desserts. Add a wee bit of triple-sec (if you’re not philosophically opposed), and call it margarita pie.

Elegant and — dare I say? — impressive

If your mom is the fine china and real silverware type — or you just want to treat her so — here’s a sure-fire trio. For the main dish, quick pork tenderloin with seasoned rub.

For a side dish, green beans with pine nuts — which, trust me, is so much more than the sum of its parts, and as delicious as it is simple.

If you’re not low-carbing it, some good bread would round things out nicely, then finish with a flourish by serving individual mini tiramisu cups.

And if mama ain’t happy after one of these, well then, mama ain’t gonna ever be happy at all!

Recipe review: Chocolate cupcakes in a jar


A couple weeks ago, I happily volunteered to help fill the sweets table at the bridal shower of a family friend. When I asked the bride-to-be about her favorite cakes or pies, she said “Banana creme pie. Or anything chocolate!”

I really worked on the banana creme idea for a while, but because of a busy schedule that weekend, I needed to make the desserts a day in advance, and depend on someone else to deliver them. I was afraid the bananas would be brown and nasty in that time, so I went for something chocolate.

I decided to try this recipe for Super Easy, Super Moist Chocolate Cake from SimplyRecipes. It’s an old recipe, and because it’s made without eggs, butter or milk, it has been popular in times and places where dairy is hard to get. For that reason, it’s sometimes called “War Cake” or “Depression Cake.” It would also be a great cake for someone who’s allergic to eggs or milk.

It uses vinegar to help give it the rise (along with with baking soda), but don’t let that scare you! You won’t taste it at all. 

Since I was making this for a shower and wanted something that would look cute on the table, I decided to bake them in 4 oz. Mason jars. Another advantage of cake in jars over cupcakes, is that little kids can eat them with a spoon, making much less mess than unpeeling a cupcake liner and stuffing into little mouths with little hands!

I followed all the directions on the SimplyRecipes version. (Except subbing cider vinegar for white vinegar. Not a significant different in taste or acidity between the two.)

Then I filled up some jars, sitting on a cookie sheet. This is the first batch that I made, using a scant 1/3 c. batter for each jar:

Those came out pretty tall, so for the second batch, I used a scant 1/4 c. of batter. Here’s the difference between how the two batches came out:

So if you want tall cakes that pop out the top of the jar, go with the larger amount. If you want them shorter, use the smaller amount — perhaps even less, if you want to frost them and then put the lids on for transport.
Elise at SimplyRecipes says to cook them for 18 to 20 minutes. I tested them using the toothpick test. (Insert a clean, dry toothpick in the center and pull it back out. If it’s clean or just has one or two dry crumbs, the cake is done. If there’s batter on the toothpick, put it back in for a few minutes.) I checked them first at 15 minutes, and added 5 minutes to the first batch; just 3 or 4 for the second. 
Elise also said the cake is so moist it doesn’t really need frosting. She includes a recipe for a chocolate icing, but I decided to just melt some white chocolate chips and pipe decorations on top. I melted Ghirardelli white chips over simmering water in a double boiler, taking it off the heat when it was mostly melted but still with a few lumps. Then I stirred till the lumps were gone, and stirred a few minutes more, till I thought it was cool enough to not melt a baggie. Poured the chocolate into a sandwich baggie, snipped off just a tiny corner, and went to town: I piped a heart on most of them, and “L” and “M” on a few random ones, for the bride’s and groom’s initials.
I tasted them after they were cooled: I thought they were okay, but I wouldn’t call them super moist. (Maybe hers came out better than mine. Quite possible!) I was thinking/hoping that after sitting closed up for a day, they might get moister. After tasting them the next day, however, I wish I would’ve done some icing or frosting before applying the initials. But they were cute, anyway!
If you’re looking to do something similar for a baby shower, here’s a simple decoration from Martha Stewart:
The “pacifier” on top is just two mint Lifesavers candies and one jellybean, held together with a bit of royal icing. I think these would be cute with pink and/or blue jellies for the passy, on top of chocolate icing!

Salmon with fresh tomato-avocado salsa

Salmon with fresh tomato avocado - Paleo, Whole30
(Update, 5/2015: I first posted this recipe in April, 2012, and it’s still in our regular summer menu rotation. The true test of a good recipe! Salmon, avocado, tomato – such a great combination! I’ve updated it now¬†to make it Whole30 compliant and Paleo friendly. All it took was subbing out pine nuts for the sweet corn. Also recommended: use the larger¬†the avocado amount.)
This is so simple, and so yummy, it’s gonna knock your socks off!
The star of this dish is the salsa. It’s so delicious! My husband took leftovers of just the salsa to work for lunch today (I made extra) and when he came home, he said, “If you would make some more of that I’d be very, very happy.”
I had a bit of leftover salmon with the salsa on it for lunch, too; cold — straight out of the fridge. It was still good!
This is based on a recipe from All Recipes, but I prefer butterflying and broiling the salmon, to the nuke-and-serve-cold method in the original recipe. Alternatively, you could grill the salmon; that would be fab, too!
I used white corn because it’s got a little better carb-to-protein ratio, but I think yellow corn makes a prettier dish. NOTE: To make this dish Paleo/Whole30 compliant, just omit the corn, or sub 2 T. pine nuts. (My husband actually preferred this change.) And use the larger amount of avocado.

Recipe: Salmon with fresh tomato-avocado salsa   

Servings: 3-4
1 cup chopped fresh tomato, chopped into about 1/4″ pieces for salsa; 1/2″ or larger for salad
1/4 cup minced red onion (a fine dice, or slivers)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 T. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1/2 to 1 whole Hass avocado, chopped into about 1/4″ pieces for salsa; 1/2″ for salad
1/2 cup corn (OR 2 T. pine nuts, for Whole30/Paleo compliance)
1.25 lbs. salmon fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil for drizzling
Chop up the tomato, avocado, garlic, onion, and cilantro. (Note: If you’re prepping this ahead of time, save the avocado cutting until right before serving.) To dice the avocado, you cut through it like this, leaving the skin intact, then scoop it out with a spoon.
If you want more detail, see Simply Recipes’ walk-through. (I do NOT recommend the pit removal method they show in step 2b; a woman I know cut some tendons in her hand trying that trick.)
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients from tomato through vinegar. (This photo shows the avocado added already, but now I always put it in at the very end, to avoid browning. When using pine nuts rather than corn, I also add them at the last, to keep them crunchy.)
avocado, tomato salsa
Refrigerate at least two hours.
Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

How to butterfly salmon

If your salmon is already a fairly consistent thickness, you don’t need to butterfly it. The purpose of butterflying salmon is to make it all about the same thickness, so that it cooks more evenly. It also cuts down on oven time.
Put your salmon on a cutting board, skin side down.¬†(Mine is already in the baking pan in these pics, but it will be easier to work on a cutting board; you don’t have to maneuver around the rim of the pan.)¬†Start by making a guide mark: in the thickest point of the fillet, use the tip of your knife to mark the spot exactly halfway from top to bottom.
The black line in the pic below shows where your knife edge will enter; the white dashed line shows where you will cut. The cut should run right through your halfway mark.
On the thinnest end of the salmon, slide your knife in parallel to the cutting board, and at the same height as your halfway mark. Continue to cut, keeping your knife parallel to the cutting board. Stop about 3/4″ away from the opposite edge; do NOT cut all the way through.
If you have been working on the cutting board, move your salmon to the foil-lined pan now. Next, open the sliced salmon up like it’s a book, folding the top piece out so it lays former-top-side down.
Repeat with the other fillet(s), season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.
Broil 4-6″ from the heat. Now is the time to dice your avocado and add it (and the pine nuts) to the salsa.
The salmon is done when it flakes easily w/ a fork, about 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness. (That is, the thickness after you butterflied it.)
Remove the salmon from the skin; plate in serving-sized pieces. Add the avocado and pine nuts to the salsa and spoon it onto the salmon.
Salmon, avocado, tomato - yum!
Here’s what the Paleo version looks like:
paleo whole30 salmon with avocado salsa

Try it¬†— I think you’ll¬†love it! ūüôā

Orange-cranberry chicken salad


I came up with this recipe one day when I was craving curry chicken salad for lunch, but couldn’t find any recipes that didn’t call for chutney. How could I do a quick fake for chutney? I tried onions sauteed till soft, then combined them with orange marmalade. Pretty good!

An alternate and easier approach is to just use green onions, and skip the sauteing step. I’ve tried both, and it’s good both ways.

You can use the nuts of your choice. I prefer the contrast of salty cashews, but since they just disappear in the salad, I decided to use pecans for the photos. Again, both are tasty, and you can use your choice. Sliced or slivered almonds would work nicely, too.

To keep the carbs down, I use a sugar-free marmalade and make sure my mayo has a minimum of sugar and no corn syrup. (Homemade is so easy, and needs no sugar! Here’s my mayo recipe.)



Recipe: Orange-cranberry chicken salad

2 c. cooked, cubed, cold chicken
1/3 c. yellow onion, diced fine (or 5-6 green onions, sliced thin)
1/3 c. mayonnaise (more if your chicken is dry)
2.5 T. sugar-free orange marmalade
1/2 t. hot curry powder
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
dried cranberries & nuts to taste (note: substitute dried currants to avoid added sugar)
hearts of romaine or whole grain crackers, optional

If using yellow onion, saute till translucent. If using green onion, reserve a bit of the green tops for garnish, if you like.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the onion (using the white parts of the green onion), mayo, marmalade and spices; stir till well combined. Add an extra tablespoon or two of mayo if your chicken is on the dry side. Stir in the chicken, and green onions, if using. Add dried cranberries to suit your taste. Don’t add the nuts until just before serving.

You may eat it right away, but the flavor improves if chilled it for an hour at least. It’s also a great dish to make a day ahead.

Just before serving, stir in the nuts. Garnish with green onion and extra cranberries, if desired. Serve with hearts of romaine or whole-grain crackers.

NOTE: To make this Paleo, replace the orange marmalade with 1 clementine or tangerine, cut into bite-size pieces. Use homemade mayo. If you like, replace the dried cranberries (which usually contain sugar) with dried currants or raisins.

Serves 2.

You might also like:
30-second Caesar salad

Recipe review: tiramisu cups (quick & easy!)

I recently did a recipe round-up of a dozen cute little dessert shots. One of those made the final cut for the special birthday party we hosted last week: tiramisu cups from Sprinkle Bakes. Or, as my daughter calls them, “tirami-shooters.”
I chose these because: A) they’re so gosh-darn cute, B) they’re super easy, and C)¬†who doesn’t love tiramisu?
Sprinkle Bakes uses a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese in place of the traditional but hard-to-find (and¬†more expensive)¬†mascarpone. I do wish I’d thought to purchase a large star tip for that finessed look when piping the creamy stuff on, but had to make do with a plastic baggie with one corner snipped off. It doesn’t affect taste though, does it?
You may notice that there’s chocolate in mine…. I couldn’t find lady fingers at my grocery store, and didn’t feel like taking the longer trip to a specialty store, so I subbed Milk Chocolate Milanos — which are basically just ladyfingers sandwiched with chocolate. When the tiramisu had sat at room temp for a while, these worked okay because the chocolate became somewhat soft. But when they were served straight out of the fridge, it didn’t work so well, because the chocolate hardened and interfered with the creamy, fluffy texture that is tiramisu. So, next time, I will start hunting earlier and go farther afield to find real ladyfingers. Or if I’m feeling especially industrious, make my own.
But these are simple, and darling, and delicious. I will certainly be making them again!

Birthday cake in a jar!


My mother-in-law turned 80 last week. She’s quite the inspirational woman: she got a black belt in tai-kwon-do when she was in her 50’s; she did foster care for rescued dogs for several years, and retired from that a few months ago, at which point she had taken in more than 50 dogs. She goes to yoga class regularly, and just recently retired from her part-time job in a vet clinic — but is having second thoughts about retirement.

She certainly deserved a big to-do!

So we had the family over yesterday for a dessert bar. I posted a few weeks ago about several cookies I was considering, and more recently about desserts in jars, and a few of those contenders made the final cut. I’ll be doing a post about some of the other treats later this week (including¬†the almond poppyseed shortbread that was a huge hit), but today I’m going to focus on the birthday cake in a jar.

You can’t spend five minutes on Pinterest without running into some sort of dessert in a jar, and I love the trend! Oddly enough, though, I couldn’t find any recipes for what I had in mind, so here are instructions for it.

tomato-paste-6ozMy first task was to find a type of jar and a type of cookie or pastry cutter that would fit that jar. I love the little “shooter” desserts, but I couldn’t find any cutters that small. Well, except for the set of 12 from Williams-Sonoma that cost $17. Overkill! After checking out a few possibilities, I discovered that a 6 oz. can of tomato paste is the perfect size to fit inside a 4 oz. mason jar. I just removed both the top and the bottom, emptied it, removed the label, and washed the can thoroughly.

I baked one box mix of “Fun-fetti” cake in a 10×15″ pan, according to package directions. I checked it at about 18 minutes, then again every three to five minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center came out clean. I let it cool on the counter for several hours.

Here’s my daughter using the fancy-schmancy cutter I “made”; it worked great. She would just twist it down into the cake…

b-day-cake-cutting-500then poke it out of the cutter into the jar. Some of the pieces needed to be pressed down into the jar a little further, to make contact with the bottom.


Once they were all jarred up, we frosted them. My daughter made a half batch of this wedding cake frosting, but using only 2.5 cups of confectioners’ sugar. Then she just loaded this up into a gallon plastic baggie, snipped off one corner, and used it like a pastry bag.


She experimented with the design: some she did in a spiral, some she did in a fat squiggle.


All that was left was to add the sprinkles and candles. While applying the sprinkles, set the jars on a cookie sheet or other solid tray, so the sprinkles that miss the mark are collected in one place — not rolling off the counter onto the floor.

We placed one candle in each jar, just for decor, then loaded one of them up with eight candles for the guest of honor.


These were an especially big hit with the little kids at the party — my great nieces and nephews. (I hadn’t thought of this benefit beforehand, but these little jar cakes are also much neater to eat than a cupcake.) I can’t believe I missed the opportunity to get a pic of that cuteness! Well, this one will have to do…


Recipe roundup: one dozen delish dessert shots

(I think I’d put a mini Reese’s cup on top.)
I’ve made this, but subbed homemade whipped cream for the stuff in a tub. It rocks!
(Here’s my version, made with lime: lime cheesecake shooters.)
(No recipe, but it looks like it’s just carrot cake and cream cheese frosting, layered.)
I’m thinking this blackberry cobbler from MyRecipes could be adapted.
Just pour into shot glasses after stirring and cooling.