Deconstructed Spring Rolls

When I planned my menu the other week I really wanted to make spring rolls. I love the little packets of goodness and they make great lunches for later in the week. However, a cold kind of derailed my intentions, but I still wanted spring rolls. So … deconstructed spring rolls it was. Easy to make, still kind of pretty on the plate and they work for lunch also. No reheating required.

In this case – cut up a bunch of veggies (pepper, carrot, cucumber, scallions) and fry up some tofu with a spicy peanut sauce, make some rice and plate. It really was that simple and took maybe twenty minutes. Cutting up the vegetables was the longest part of this. The peanut dipping sauce does doubt duty as the glaze for the tofu and the sauce on top of the “rolls”. It works.

There is no specific recipe for the dipping sauce. I pretty much take:

  • Peanut butter (1/3 cup)
  • Soy sauce (3-5 tablespoons)
  • Honey (1 tablespoon)
  • Chili garlic sauce (1-3 tablespoons)
  • Lime juice (1/2 lime)
  • Rice vinegar (0-1 tablespoon)

and adjust the amounts as needed. I don’t measure, but I do taste along the way and it tends to work out. For a dressing, I add a little water, but if you add more than two tablespoons you will need to add more peanut butter as the flavor dilutes too much.


Cinnamon Rolls

There is something very comforting about baking. There is something fairly stressful about baking with a dog trying to help. But Arthas is cute, so I put up with it and do my best to keep him from taste testing what I’m making.

IMG_20180506_115945.jpgIs there anything better on a rainy Sunday morning than fresh cinnamon rolls? There might be, but they are pretty darn good. I decided to use up the last of the buttermilk I had on hand (from waffles the week before) and make cinnamon rolls. This was the first time I used buttermilk in the dough and wasn’t certain how it would come out, but the final result … oh my good.

Recipe: (adapted from genius kitchen)

  • 1/2 tablespoon yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (I used warm tap water for this)
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk (room temperature or slightly warmed)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 4 cups flour + more for kneading and rolling
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • melted butter (about 1/2 stick, 1/4 cup)
    • Filling (mix together)
      • 1 cup brown sugar
      • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

In a small bowl, place the water and top with yeast. Let sit at least ten minutes (up to 45 minutes) to proof. Transfer to large bowl and add buttermilk and oil. Mix. Add one cup of flour and mix. Add salt and baking soda then mix again. Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time until a soft, but not sticky dough, forms.

Flour a clean surface and dump dough onto the flour. (I like to leave a little to coat the top of the dough and my hands too.) Knead dough, adding a little flour at a time if needed to prevent sticking, for about two minutes. Return to bowl, cover and let rise for about ten to twenty minutes – dough should rise, but not double.

Divide dough in half. Using a floured silpat as a base, roll the dough to cover the silpat. Brush the dough with melted butter. Add 1/2 of sugar mixture and spread to evenly coat dough. Roll the dough starting from the long side, pulling tight through each roll. Cut into rolls, about 1.5-2 inches thick. Place in a buttered pan (I ended up using an 8×11 and an 8×8 pan, but I think a 9×13 would work). Repeat with second half of the dough. Allow to rise for 30 minutes in a draft free place (I use the oven, just not turned on).

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the tops of the risen rolls with melted butter and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and glaze while still hot with a mixture of milk and confectioners sugar or glaze of your choice.

Best served warm/hot




Banana Pie

Lately I’ve been on a baking kick. I’ve made coconut cupcakes that totally didn’t turn out, lime buttercream that totally did turn out (which caused me to make vanilla cupcakes for the lime buttercream), malted cupcakes with mocha malt buttercream (cakes were great, buttercream only ok) and a coconut-lime pie where the curd and the crust were fantastic, the cream tasted good, but had a weird texture. My experiments have been a little . . . interesting lately.

This weekend the experiment was banana pie. I’m of mixed minds when it comes to banana pie – I love banana and I love pie, but sometimes banana in pie isn’t great. So I decided to start with mom’s banana pudding recipe, make my own caramel and top it with a lightly sweetened whipped cream.

The one thing I can say about this pie is that the caramel and banana work really well together. Match made well. Bob liked it – calling it one of my best pies – so there is a definite reason to keep this recipe. The only thing I would do differently is use a vanilla wafer or traditional pastry crust instead of the cinnamon graham cracker crust. But it is still really good.


  • Caramel:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, heat sugar over medium heat until it melts and turns an amber color. Stir as little as possible to prevent crystal formation. Reduce heat to low (or remove from heat) and add butter, stirring to incorporate. If on heat, remove from heat and add vanilla and heavy cream. Mix well and allow to cool. (I ran it through a strainer just to get it super smooth, but that is unnecessary, really.)

  • Pie filling:
  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until it thickens. (I did add the vanilla at the end of the cooking, just because I forgot to add it, and it still worked.) Whisk frequently so lumps do not form, and allow to cool before filling the pie crust.

To assemble the pie, take the crust (graham cracker, vanilla wafer or traditional pastry) and coat the bottom with about half the caramel mixture. Spread to an even coating.

Chop one banana and layer the slices over the caramel to cover the bottom of the pie dish.

Pour pudding over banana even out to a relatively uniform layer. Add whipped cream (~3/4 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar) over pudding layer. Cover and chill for about two hours.

Strawberries (and Orange Maple Vinaigrette)

It is strawberry season in Florida and that means one thing – I need to figure out what to do with strawberries so the pints I buy at the farmers’ market don’t just sit in my fridge until they are unrecognizable as the delicious fruit they are. I made a orange vinaigrette the other day and only used half for the recipe and decided to pair a strawberry and goat cheese salad with the vinaigrette and see what happened. Not only did it taste fantastic, it looked really pretty.

I also made strawberry french toast. I had not made french toast in a VERY long time – we almost never have leftover bread (or bread unless I buy it for a specific dish) so french toast just does not happen. In this case, I use a little orang zest in the milk/egg mixture and made a citrus french toast and topped it with fresh strawberries. How pretty was this?!?!


So the maple orange vinaigrette …

  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Juice of 1/2 orange
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil

That’s it. It is super simple, but really delicious. I used it in three different dishes that week (yes, I made two batches) and each one of them was better than the last.

Vegetables & Grits

I find grits a little weird. Logically I know they are pretty similar to polenta, but there is something about how I’ve had them in the past that makes me pull out something else from the pantry when cooking. Doesn’t matter what, just not usually the grits. Bob, on the other hand, loves grits. He would love it if I made them on a regular basis, but he also knows he married a Jersey girl, so that isn’t happening.

But … every now and then I make them. I’ve made them with breakfast food and just with cheese per Bob’s request. I figured I earned the right to make them the way I wanted – with vegetables (or as Bob calls it – with food his food eats).

Vegetables & Grits:

  • 1/2 cup grits, rinsed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 tablespoons grated hard cheese (pecorino)
  • 1 parsnip
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 scallions – white and light green parts separated from dark green part
  • 2 oz. snow peas (this is an estimate – it was a very full handful)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • olive oil for pan
  • salt and pepper

In a medium pot bring grits, 2 cups vegetable broth and a pinch of salt to a boil. (I was using regular grits so the cooking time was longer than some other versions. Reduce heat to low/simmer and cook, covered, for about 40 minutes until liquid has been absorbed. Stir well and return lid to pot and let it rest for about ten minutes. Stir in cheese and keep covered.

While grits cook, chop vegetables. Cut parsnip and carrot on the bias, chop scallions keeping light green and white parts separate from the dark green parts, trim snow peas and cut into bite sized pieces (usually in half) and chop or slice garlic and chop chives.

Heat a large pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. When hot, add parsnip, carrot and white/light green scallions. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes. Mix cornstarch into cool or cold broth and mix well. Add garlic to pan, cook 1 minute more, then add broth and stir together. Cover. Reduce heat to low and cook about 6 minutes until carrots and parsnip are tender and broth has thickened. Add snow peas and cook, uncovered, for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Plate grit in a shallow bowl or on a plate with a rim. Top with vegetables and broth. Garnish with dark green scallions and chives. Serve hot.

Trail Mix

I’m not sure why but lately I’ve been eating my lunch at 10:30 in the morning. This, of course, leaves me with no lunch and really, really hungry by dinner. I’ve tried some granola bars or other snacks to keep the hunger at bay so I can eat lunch at lunch, but they just don’t work great. I use to keep bags of tail mix in my drawer at work, but then I end up eating half the bag which I don’t mind, but it’s not the best option, so I decided to make my own trail mix and portion it out so I just have a snack and not a meal.

When I did some reading on this, a quarter cup is considered one serving. I looked at my measuring cup and realized that was not going to work. It’s the granola bar problem – one “serving” isn’t enough to keep me until lunch and it barely touches the hunger pangs.  I decided to go for half a cup. More than one serving, but still small enough to count as a snack.

We have a few new grocery stores here and they all have good bulk sections, so early Sunday morning I headed to the closest one and kept my fingers crossed that it wasn’t crowded. I picked up a good amount of nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate chips. Once home I ended up making two different versions of the trail mix.

IMG_20180311_132126.jpgVersion 1 (makes 11 1/2 cup portions):

  • 2 cups dry roasted cashews
  • 2 cups whole almonds
  • 1 cup goldfish pretzels (I had them on hand)
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2/3 cup banana chip
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Version 2:

  • 1 cup dry roasted cashews
  • 1 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 2/3 cup dried tropical fruit mix

This isn’t anything fancy but if it works its onto homemade granola next!

Whipped Cream Cake with Caramel Buttercream

It has been a little while since I spent a day playing in the kitchen and baking. I’ve done some cooking, although not much really interesting lately, but I decided that with the latest cool snap it was time to crank up the oven and bake an actual cake.

PIMG_20180304_150921.jpgrobably anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s remembers the orange Betty Crocker cookbook. I think every house had one and unlike a lot of cookbooks today that are specific to one type of food (grilling, vegetarian, sauces, desserts) this one has just about everything you can think of in it. It definitely reflects the times when you read through some of the recipes, but for desserts, for cakes, I love this cookbook. I found a copy at a used bookstore in California when I lived there (I think for a dollar since it was pretty beat up on the outside) and snagged it. While I don’t go to it often for meals, I definitely go to it for baking ideas. Classics have a place.

The cake came straight from the cookbook and I actually followed the recipe. For the icing, however, I just went with the basic buttercream with the caramel sauce I made a month or so ago that was languishing in the fridge. The result – a cake Bob called “excellent” and one of my “best efforts.” Given that he generally likes what I bake, I’m taking that as a high compliment.


  • 1.5 cups whipping cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • .5 teaspoon salt

Heat over to 350. Grease and flour pans (I used two 9 inch cake pans)

Beat cream until stiff. In separate bowl, beat eggs and vanilla until thick and lemon colored. Fold eggs into whipped cream. Stir together remaining ingredients and gently fold into egg/cream mixture. Fold until well combined.

Divide into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool completely before icing.


  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • .5 cups caramel sauce
  • confectioners sugar to taste (about 1-1.5 cups)

Beat butter until light and airy. Add caramel sauce and mix well. Slowly incorporate confectioners sugar until the icing comes together and no longer has a distinct butter taste.