Thursday, April 30, 2015

Accidental Texas Sheet Cake!

Like so many things, this started out as a BIG MISTAKE.



You guys know my mother's helper Casey:

Casey's amazing. She's talented, funny, smart, hard-working, and she's been with us since before she was two years old... so fourteen years I've been part of this young lady's life... Which means I can mock her on the World Wide Web and not get into trouble, LOL!

Casey gets here almost an hour before the after-school kids, so she decided to make brownies. From a mix... and then somehow, as she was making the brownies, she got this funny look on her face.

Funny as in "Will Ruthy kill me?"

(Ruthy rarely kills people, but carpenter ants: she shows no mercy!)

"Ruthy, I might have just ruined the brownies... totally. Instead of 1/2 cup of water, I put in two cups of water."

Have I mentioned that Casey has a boyfriend now? And that on occasion her attention might be split? SIGH..... :)

Chocolate soup. That's what we had, chocolate soup! So I laughed and she laughed, and I let her live but I thought ... well... baking is all about ratio, it's all mathematical! So while Casey made another batch of brownies, Christina and I played with the soup.

I grabbed out my Betty Crocker cookbook and checked ratios of liquid and eggs to dry ingredients.


But... we added 2 cups of flour and one cup of sugar to the chocolate soup.


And then we actually did something smart, we did a few practice mini cupcakes to see how close we were to edible food....

OH MY STARS. The minute I tasted it, I knew!

Texas Sheet Cake! We used my big broiler pan to bake the rest (that was a rookie mistake because it has a groove and the sheet cake pan should be flat) but it still came out A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

Moist, tender, chewy, it just kind of melted in your mouth the way Texas Sheet Cake should.

We were so surprised and happy! :) Big grins in the kitchen as the kids streamed home from school!
Here's the Recipe!

2 Family size Fudge Brownie mixes
4 eggs
2 cups water
2 cups flour
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar.

Mix and bake at 350° in either cupcake form (the tiny cupcakes were amazing, and everyone loved them!) or in traditional large cookie sheet or sheet cake pan. Texas sheet cake should be thin, not thick like regular cake, and it doesn't take long to cook so check it after 10-12 minutes.

We topped it with Hershey's "Perfect Chocolate Frosting", a recipe I share often because it's a crowd-pleasing favorite!

1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup Hershey's cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Remove from heat.

Whisk in cocoa and salt. Add powdered sugar and milk, stir or whisk briskly until sugar is mixed in. Add vanilla, and whisk until smooth. (This is a really quick-mix frosting!) If too thin, add a little more powdered sugar, but the ratio (there's that word again!) is generally perfect!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Give A Moose A Muffin: A Better Alternative

Julie here, I'm thrilled Mary Curry, winner of numerous writing awards including Love Inspired's Killer Voice contest, is joining us today and even more thrilled by what I learned! And be sure to keep an eye out for her debut Love Inspired Suspense coming out this fall. 

Good morning everyone. It’s been awhile since I posted here on the Yankee Belle. Thanks, Julie, for asking me to fill in today.

I have a question for you. What’s for breakfast?

That’s a problem that is making me crazy.

Do you know the children’s book If You Give a Moose a Muffin?

That’s me at breakfast. Give me a muffin and I want another one. Or a cookie. Or a donut. I need something carby with my coffee.

But carby with your coffee = weighty on the hips.  Besides, I think breakfast carbs are probably bad for you in inverse proportion to how good they taste.

So I need alternatives.

Oatmeal doesn’t work for me. Even the steel cut kind leaves me hungrier than I was before I ate. Plus I crash about an hour later.
I like Icelandic or Greek yogurts - especially Siggis because the protein grams are way higher than sugar grams. But I can’t eat it every day.

So, what’s a teacher who is going to be stuck all day, with nary a bathroom break, to do if she can’t eat muffins and donuts???

My daughter introduced me to her favorite vegan restaurant here in Brooklyn where they make all kinds of amazingly healthy meals. My favorite breakfast is what they call their Earth Cup. I feel healthy just looking at it. They serve it with an optional topping of coconut kefir (which I always get because I will eat anything coconut). Basically it’s sprouted buckwheat grouts, fresh fruit, milk (they use rice mylk because it’s vegan), and sunflower butter.

But that yummy Earth cup? It’s expensive!!! (Those 2 things cost over $20) Certainly not something I can do every day, and they’re not even open before I head to work.

I was overjoyed (Yes, really!), last week when I stumbled upon a similar recipe at a cool website called The Simple Veganista.

Have you ever had overnight soaked oats? You put everything in a cup and soak in the fridge overnight and in the morning it’s all ready for you to just add some fresh fruit or a dab of yogurt. Some recipes do call for you to cook it the night before and then chill. It makes a really nice alternative on hot summer mornings.

I love this website because of a number of recipes (Cranberry Walnut Chickpea Salad is AWESOME!), so I was excited to try Overnight Buckwheat Steel Cut Oats.

Another cool website - Oh She Glows - has a raw version (Overnight Buckwheat Parfait) that’s mixed with chia seeds. I think the overnight raw version is closer to my beloved earth cup, minus the chia.

The addition of sunflower butter is the best part though even though these recipes don’t include it. I love this because I have so many students with severe nut allergies this year that I can’t have anything with nuts in the classroom.

You can buy it at the store.    

Or you can make your own - really easily and cheaply! You buy plain, unsalted, SHELLED, sunflower seeds, roast them, then blend in your blender until it’s a nut butter consistency. (You can read a really enthusiastic recipe on how to make them here -

So, what do you eat for breakfast?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dishing Up Vegetarian Style with Kav Rees

I'm thrilled to once again have our favorite Irish-turn-Canadian friend in the cafe. As most of you know, Kav is a vegetarian and gets a little squeamish when I talk about things like smoking brisket and serving up steak, so I've asked her to share one of her favorite vegetarian recipes with us. Who knows, some of us carnivores might even like it.

Take it away, Kav.

Ahem…can I have a drumroll, please? At the time of writing it’s…wait for it…snowing!!!! But before it started snowing my spring finally looked like this:
Yes, rather boring to all you tree blossoming, green grass growing and petal pushing flower people south of me. Believe me – up here, brown is good. It means the snow has finally melted away and now all those little dormant plants are going to get to bask in the sunlight and pretty soon they’re going to sprout buds and leaves and flowers…just as soon as this most recent snowfall stops.

Okay, now that I have that out of my system – on to the café talk. I’m playing at being brave and sharing another vegetarian recipe. I’m always shy sharing my penchant for vegetarian food. That goes back to my college days when ‘friends’ used to tease me about it and try to sneak meat into my food so they could say they got the vegetarian to eat meat. Not fond memories so I learned to keep my wildly controversial eating habits to myself. But times they are a changing and more and more people have been exposed to some type of vegetarian food and survived to tell the tale!

In fact we have this great magazine in Canada, Chatelaine, and they have fantastic recipes in each issue and always have a few really user friendly vegetarian alternatives in the mix. That’s where I got this recipe from: Chickpea and Sweet Potato Curry.

The ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (3 if they’re smallish)
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger (I usually add more)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 smallish sweet potatoes chopped into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed

Sautee onion and garlic in oil. Add curry powder, ginger and salt. Cook 2 min.
Stir in sweet potatoes and canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to med-low. Simmer about 15 min. 
Add in chickpeas and continue cooking until sweet potatoes are tender (10 min). 
Serve over basmati rice.

Or, you could probably add chicken to this recipe for a carnivorous one bowl meal. Or use it as a side dish with another type of meat. You can also play around with the seasonings if you’re an adventurous cook. I’m not, but my friend made it once and added some spices and it was fantastic only she can’t remember what she added now so I can’t tell you. I’ve also eaten leftovers cold, like a salad. Pretty versatile dish, eh?

I'd say so. Kav, this actually looks really good. Doubt my boys would go for it, but hubby and I would. 

And no need to be shy around us at the cafe. While we may not be vegetarians, we try to have open minds. Unlike those pesky college friends of yours. ;)

So what do you think, ladies? Does this sound yummy to you?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cinnamon Crumb Cake

Last week, I told you about two of the new babies in our church. A couple weeks ago, we had a shower for the baby due this week. Yes, a THIRD baby in one month!

Let's just say we love babies :)

My friend, Janet, hosted the shower, and we had a wonderful time. And, of course, wonderful food!

She had tried a new recipe that was fabulous. I knew I had to share it with you.

Cinnamon Crumb Cake



2 cups flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter

1 package white cake mix
1 egg
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Now, before we start, let me emphasize the importance of reading the directions carefully. Because when I made this cake, it didn't look anything like Janet's version - although it tasted perfect. I couldn't figure out what I did wrong until I read the ingredients again. I used a whole stick of melted butter in the cake instead of one-half stick.

Words are important. So is careful reading!

Anyway, let's make the topping first.

Mix the flour, sugars and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Cut in the two sticks of butter until the mixture is crumbly. Set the bowl aside.

Now for the cake:

Beat the cake mix, egg, sour cream, melted butter and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute.

Spread the batter evenly in a greased 9"x13" pan (it will be thick - almost like cookie dough instead of cake batter). Sprinkle evenly with the topping.

Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool and cut into squares to serve.

But do you see the way the cake kind of oozed through the topping as it baked? The original version was perfectly smooth.

And my version was crumbly. One thing that impressed me about Janet's original was that it was so firm and moist - not a stray crumb anywhere. Perfect for a ladies' brunch.

Yes, it's important to read directions carefully.


But in the end, it didn't really matter because it tasted delicious! And my version disappeared in less than 24 hours. :)

It's your turn now - can you tell us about a time when you read the recipe wrong? Was it a win or a fail?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chicken Potato Gnocchi

Hi everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is here and I have a delicious recipe passed to me by my sweet friend of the German apple cake fame. (Or the ludefisk fame, if we want to be more recent.) 
I'll be spending the weekend all twitterpated in anticipation of seeing Stephen Amell at a private party on Saturday. (If you don't know who he is, here's a link to the promo for Arrow, season 3, they've already wrapped but still has a few episodes to air.) The party should have some yummy food, great wine, and a special screening. I'm really new to Tv watching in general and script writing in particular so it's going to be interesting to meet people in person that I've only known on twitter or tumblr. It's my first screening type shindig so I'm curious to see what goes down. 
So, to celebrate (and because she knows I'll be trying on my entire closet instead of cooking ) Stacey made potato chicken gnocchi dish and sent me all the pics. BEST FRIEND EVER. Warm, filling, and nourishing.
So, I'm turning the cafe over to Stacey!

 This was my first time cooking potato chicken gnocchi. This week felt like a good time to try out a new recipe. Let's get started:

2 pounds chicken breasts after cooking, cut into about 2 inch cubes
2-3 cans of chicken broth
1/3 cup butter, divided
baby carrots diced or 3 carrots shredded
3 celery stalks finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Olive oil
1-2 teaspoons parsley
1-2 teaspoons thyme
1 Tablespoon ground pepper
1-2 Teaspoon salt
1-2 small sweet onions finely chopped ( I used 1 big one it was plenty)
1-2 garlic cloves ( or about 2 teaspoons garlic salt, and adjust the salt above)
1/3 cup flour
1/2 chopped spinach leaves
1 package-16 ounces- of potato gnocchi
 Start by browning chicken in 3 tablespoons (unsalted is ok) butter. Remove and keep warm.
In another pot, saute the onion, carrot, celery whisk in flour and garlic (I didn't have garlic on hand so I used garlic salt) and remaining butter.
 Gradually stir in the heavy whipping cream, chicken broth, thyme, parsley, olive oil, and pepper.
Bring to just a boil. Stir Constantly
Reduce heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. If too thick add another can of chicken broth.
Add the entire package of gnocchi and finally the spinach; cook for about 3 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Add the chicken. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until heated through do not boil!

  Serve with your favorite toast and espresso. I also have to say I made about 3 quarts and it was all gone the second day. Hope you enjoy!

 Thanks for sharing, Stacey! Happy weekend, everybody!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Snickerdoodle Cookies in a Pinch

Missy, here. And I'm sorry to be posting late! I was watching Grey's Anatomy that I had on DVR and was BAWLING MY EYES OUT. And totally forgot to put up a post.

When I realized it was after midnight and was Friday, I went flying to my phone to look at photos I'd made recently of food. And came up with…

Snickerdoodle cookies. :) Made with a mix, of course.

I had to make these late one Saturday night when I remembered I needed to take food to church the next morning. Went digging in my pantry and found this.

All I needed to add was a stick of butter, an egg, and some water. (I'm sorry for the sideways photo! No time to go edit it.)

The mix is simple.  Set aside the cinnamon sugar packet. Just melt the butter. Mix all the ingredients.

Then take a small amount of dough and form into balls. Roll each one in the cinnamon sugar mix. Then place on the baking sheet.

Then bake according to directions. They turned out really good! I wanted a lot of cookies so I made them really small. Everyone enjoyed them!

If you haven't watched the newest Grey's episode yet, I won't give any spoilers. Just know YOU NEED KLEENEX!

Oh! My newest book from Love Inspired, The Doctor's Second Chance, is on shelves this week!! I'm very excited!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Easy Shrimp and Chicken Scampi

This is the super quick, Makes Dave Happy version!  And Dave has been busy (now that the 3 feet of level snow is gone!) bringing up firewood to sell and burn, so I have to feed him now and again!

No wine.

Dave doesn't like the taste of wine, so we kick it to the curb for this recipe! And I forgot to grab the camera for the chicken part, so don't judge!

1/2 pound shrimp, cleaned and pealed. If cooked, this recipe can be made mighty fast!
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced thin
1 stick butter
Parmesan Cheese

In separate pot, cook pasta of choice! I was going pasta-free for low-carb so I did spaghetti for Dave...

Melt butter in big frying pan. Shake granulated garlic over the top of the butter. Repeat with parsley. (if using fresh garlic and parsley, use about a teaspoon of minced, fresh garlic, three tablespoons of chopped, fresh parsley)

Toss in chicken. Cook over medium heat, tossing with spoon while chicken cooks and creates a little broth. (If necessary, add a splash of water)

When chicken is cooked, remove with spoon, and throw in the shrimp while ol' Dave and Xavier enjoy a cup of coffee together: (these two are peas in a pod, heaven help the planet!!!)

My chicken, set aside, waitin' for the little shrimp friends to join in the party!

Add about a cup of water to make broth. Heat to almost boiling, cook or heat shrimp, when shrimp is done...

Spoon shrimp, chicken and broth over pasta and enjoy with a generous helping of Parmesan cheese, if desired!

And this is where sheer hunger took over and I forgot the camera again! I did my plate with just shrimp and chicken.... Dave got the whole deal, a big base of pasta, smothered in shrimp and chicken, the BRAT.

I do the chicken first because we have a few folks who don't like seafood, so this way, the chicken broth flavors the shrimp, but we don't have shrimp-taste in the chicken.

Without the pasta, this is a super-low-carb meal and delicious!

With the pasta, it's amazing, too! :)

The hens wanted to wish you a good and bountiful day! Good morning, ladies!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Let's Have A Heart to Heart Healthy Talk

Have you had a heart to heart with your heart lately? It's really easy to ignore your heart. After all, it's inside your body and it tends to just do it's job without much fanfare.

But if you don't treat your heart right or your heart has a defect, it'll let you know loud and clear. If you ignore warning signs, it will let you know when it's too late.

Several studies have been released lately about how women ignore the signs of heart disease and heart attack because they tend to make excuses: "I'm too young," "I'm having a panic attack," and "I don't want to go to the ER, find out it's nothing and be embarrassed."  True, true, true. How do I know? I've said every one of them recently.

Here are signs and symptoms, as what to do if you think you are having a heart attack and how to communicate with 911, EMTs, ER personnel and doctors.

Episode one got me a stress test. Episode two I ignored (yes, shake your heads). When the third episode happened in my neurologist's office, I was sent straight to the cardiologist who set up a heart catheterization test to look for internal issues. ASAP.  It was a fun Maundy Thursday.

Now here's the weird part, there were no blockages, thank goodness, but the doc found my arteries were 40% narrowed, probably genetic (my mom suffered from this). I don't smoke. I don't eat meat all the time. And you know me, no processed food. The doc was thrilled because she normally sees people with blockages requiring stents. ME? I freaked even as I'm grateful this issue was found.  My blood pressure is great. I'm only fifteen pounds overweight and have already lost five of that (thanks RWA Conference in NYC for giving me a goal already). That's not bad right? WRONG. 

I need to lower my cholesterol and treat my heart even better. I thought I was doing a good job but, in my case, not good enough. The nurses told me you can do everything right but you can't beat genetics. My mother's father died of a massive heart attack. My mother I told you about. There's diabetes on the other side which raises heart risks. I needed to start something new and get even more healthy.

Here are a few of my tips for jump-starting my heart health, thanks to the American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic:

1) Get the butter out of the house: Butter was my fat of choice.  Sob. I use it to grease my pans and bake my gluten-free goodies. It was the one thing I treated myself to because I thought if I did everything else right it would balance out. I'm not saying it won't be back but for now I need to see what a difference it makes. 

2) Eat more oatmeal: I don't eat as much oatmeal in the Spring but I will this season. It helps with cholesterol fighting.

3) Those once a week trips to Five Guys Burgers and Fries are history:  ManO and I always had the small burger (mine wrapped in lettuce some of the time and I only ate half). We declined fries half the time. For now, we are changing our weekend ritual to Zoe's Kitchen where I can get hummus (legumes are great for heart health) and salad with olives. Olive oil is great too.

4) Exercise more:  My foot is in a boot for a broken toe but I'm still using my standing desk, proving to be one of the best things I've added to my study. ManO and I also realized we are getting the steps in when we walk but not the heart rate. If you see folks chasing each other down the street, it's just us getting our heart rates up.

There's more and plenty of recipes to come. But I have a few requests for you now.  Read and pay attention to the signs of heart attacks in women. Pay attention when your cholesterol goes up. If you can't afford to go to the doctor, find a health fair and get it checked. Take up a heart healthy diet.

Disclaimer: This post is all about my own experience and general information found on the web. Please consult your doctor ASAP if this post makes you think you may have heart issues or want to find out more information. 

Do you know any women who have had heart attacks? How is your family's heart history? What can you do right now to improve your heart health? What is your favorite heart healthy dish? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Celebrating Spring at the Ranch

Tex here and, well, I'm still not doing a whole lot of cooking. At least nothing new. Beef, chicken and pork pretty much sums it up. Throw it on the grill, add a salad for me and hubby, some potatoes for the boys and call it dinner.

Since we've got some business goings-on at the ranch, our weekend trips have become more frequent. But I don't mind, especially this time of year. Yes, it's wet. However, after seeing the place look like this--
Those aren't storm clouds you see. That's smoke from a wildfire that struck in 2011.

I'll never complain when it looks like this--

Besides, what's a little mud among friends and family?
Ryan didn't mind.
And as long as I've got my rubber boots, neither do I.

My water dogs really like it.
Maddie loves splashing through the water.

But Dixie is too demure for that. Why bother with splashing when you can simply relax.

Sometimes it's just as much fun to dry off.
Especially when you come out smelling like wildflowers.

I love seeing everything so green and lush, and the tanks full.

So bring on the rain.

How are things springing in your neck of the woods?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Eggplant Casserole (and babies!)

Our church is fairly small, so you can imagine our excitement when THREE families in our church announced they were expecting babies in the same month! We filled the time with baby showers and supporting the new moms and dads...

...but none of us expected that two of the babies would be born on the same day!

Palm Sunday was quite exciting. We stayed glued to our emails to hear the big news. And we welcomed Ezra in the afternoon, and Mari a few hours later.

What can be better than babies????

No, that isn't one of the new church babies - that's my dad with his proud daddy back in 1929. I love this picture :)

One thing we always do, and I'm sure you've done this, too, is to take meals to families in the church who need them. And who needs a meal more than new parents?

This casserole has gotten rave reviews among the new moms and dads.

It's low carb, gluten free (or close to it), and can be made either with meat or without.

Eggplant Casserole
serves 8


1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 cup almond meal
salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1 pound ground beef, browned
2 - 15 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 - 4 oz can tomato paste
Basil, oregano and garlic to taste.
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk the egg and water together in a shallow dish.

Combine 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, almond meal, salt, and ground black pepper in a separate shallow dish.

Dip eggplant slices in egg mixture.

Press slices into the crumbs and tap off excess. Arrange slices on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake eggplant slices in the preheated oven until tops are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Flip eggplant and bake an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Remove eggplant from the oven and increase temperature to 400°.

Combine the browned ground beef, tomatoes, and tomato paste in a medium sized pan. Bring 
        to a boil, and then simmer for several minutes. Add the basil, oregano and garlic, then salt and pepper to taste.
When the sauce is ready, it's time to start assembling the casserole.

You want to layer this casserole like a lasagna. First, grease your pans - I used two 8"x8" disposable pans for this meal-to-go. If you're fixing this to have at home, use a 9"x13" pan.

Place 1/2 of the eggplant slices on the bottom of the pan. Ladle 1/2 of the tomato sauce over them, then sprinkle 1/2 of the mozzarella and remaining Parmesan cheese on to the tomato sauce.

Repeat all three layers, finishing with a layer of mozzarella/Parmesan cheese.

        At this point you can freeze the casserole, or bake it, uncovered, at 400° for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for about 5 minutes.

All wrapped up and ready to cover with foil (double layer
protection) and freeze.

     I like to take two of these casseroles to our new moms - one for supper that night, and one to stick in the freezer for a couple weeks later. You know, for one of those days when the baby hasn't slept, you're coming down with a cold, and you've just begun to discover the joys of diaper rash. :)

   Speaking of new moms, this is the time of year to look for new wildlife babies. The first bison calf of the season has been spotted...but not by us. We only saw a couple bulls on our last trip to Custer State Park. The cows and calves stay hidden away from the roads this time of year.

But we did see these beauties! It's hard to find the elk in the park. They're very shy, and stay away from the roads. The fence in the picture is around the small airstrip in the park, so I think they were feeling safe. I'm glad my new camera is powerful enough to get a shot from this distance....

      This looked liked a herd of cows and yearlings. No calves, yet.

And still wearing their winter coats, but we still expect snow. It's only April, after all.
      How is spring springing in your part of the world?