Patriotic Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

Here's a fun recipe to make for your 4th of July Celebration. (You may substitute other colors for other times of year.)

1 box white cake mix
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
4 egg whites
blue and red food coloring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, flour, sugar, and salt. Add water, sour cream, oil, and vanilla. Mix well. Add egg whites one at a time until combined (2-3 minutes total). Divide batter into three equal portions, so that you have bowls with red, white, and blue batter. Place cupcake liners in cupcake tins. Layer by adding 1 full tablespoon (not measuring spoon) of each color to each tin, with red at the bottom. Liners will be nearly full. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and spring back when touched. Cool on wire racks. Then decorate with frosting.

Buttercream Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup salted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/4 teaspoon Fiori Di Sicilia (from King Arthur Flour)
1 tablespoon half and half

In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter on low speed. Mix until well blended. Continue beating at medium speed for another 3 minutes. Add vanilla, Fiori Di Sicilia, and half and half and beat for an additional minute. Scoop into a piping bag to decorate cupcakes. Sprinkle tops with coconut. Makes 24 cupcakes.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

An English Tea Bridal Shower

This past spring, our daughters and I hosted an English Tea Party Bridal Shower for our youngest daughter. It was such a fun day and experience. For months, we studied traditional English Teas, decorations, and recipes and finally came up with what we wanted.

Hats, gloves and pretty dresses were encouraged

We went with an English Garden theme for decorations
with lots of lavender, ivy, herbs and succulents.

Our menu consisted of four courses, and all of the recipes were tested to make sure they fit the bill for the day! We tried different loose leaf teas from Tealyra, The London Tea Merchant, and Plum Deluxe.

The first course was three tea sandwiches served with Apricot Brandy Tea and Mint Lemonade. Egg Salad with Watercress, Chicken Curry Sandwiches on Wheat, and Smoked Salmon Mousse and Cucumber on Pumpernickel.

Our second course was English Scones with Clotted Cream, Lemon Curd, and Strawberry Jam. Served with Rosy Earl Grey TeaYou would not believe what we went through to make the clotted cream, but it turned out fabulous! 

Our third course was desserts served with our only herbal tea--Soothing Trio, a blend of chamomile, mint, and hibiscus. This plate consisted of Lavender Pistachio Shortbread, a Raspberry Cream Tart, and a Miniature Chocolate Fudge Bundt Cake.

Last, we served a Strawberry English Trifle with a blended tea of Margaret's Hope (Darjeeling) and Jasmine Silver Needle

Rather than traditional "bridal games" we offered little lessons on an English Tea--The History of Afternoon Tea and a Memory Tray Game; English Tea Etiquette; Tea Party Attire; and the Language of Flowers.

I loved this little Tussie Mussie given to the "moms".

We had a wonderful time as we showered the bride-to-be with
lots of love and laughter.

Corn and Black Bean Salad


Here's a delicious and easy salad to make this summer to go with Honey-Glazed Grilled Chicken Thighs or Grilled Pork Chops

15 oz. can black beans, rinses and drained
15 oz. can corn, drained
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lime zest
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 avocado, chopped

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the avocado. Mix well. Cover and c hill for a few hours or overnight. Gently add avocado before serving, Serve at room temperature. Serves 4-6.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Steak and Shrimp Shish Kabobs


Here's a fun recipe to try during the summer when you grill.

1 cup teriyaki sauce (try this homemade version HERE.)
20 oz pineapple slices, drained, juice reserved
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 pound sirloin or round steak, cut into 1" cubes
1 pound large precooked shrimp, thawed
6-8 button mushrooms
1 large green pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium onion, quartered
2 medium zucchini, sliced

In a large bowl, combine teriyaki sauce, pineapple juice, brown sugar, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper. Pour half into Ziplock bag and add beef. Seal and refrigerate for 6-8 hours. Refrigerate remaining marinade.

On metal skewers, alternately thread beef, shrimp, vegetables, and pineapple. Set aside. In small saucepan, combine 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch with remaining marinade, whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes until sauce is thickened.

Grill kabobs for 6-8 minutes, turning once. Baste with sauce. Continue turning and basting for 8-10 minutes or until beef reaches desired doneness. Makes 4-6 servings.
Wine Recommendation: Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Karen Witemeyer's Zucchini Bread

For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Winner of the ACFW Carol Award, National Reader's Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, Inspirational Reader's Choice Award, and a finalist for both the RITA® and Christy Awards, Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. Learn more at or join her private Facebook group-The Posse

Karen's Latest Book Release: More than Words Can Say 
An impossible situation. An unlikely couple. Could it be a recipe for love?

After fulfilling a pledge to a dying friend, Zacharias Hamilton is finally free to live life on his own terms. No family entanglements. No opportunities to disappoint those he cares about. Just the quiet bachelor existence he's always craved. Until fate snatches his freedom away once again when the baker of his favorite breakfast treat is railroaded by the city council. As hard as he tries to avoid getting involved, he can't turn a blind eye to her predicament . . . or her adorable dimples.

Abigail Kemp needs a man's name on her bakery's deed. A marriage of convenience seems the best solution . . . if it involves a man she can control. Not the stoic lumberman who oozes confidence without saying a word whenever he enters her shop. Control Zacharias Hamilton? She can't even control her pulse when around him.

When vows are spoken, Abigail's troubles should be over. Yet threats to the bakery worsen, and darker dangers hound her sister. As trust grows between Zach and Abby, she finds she wants more than his rescue. She wants his heart. Buy the book HERE.

Karen's Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup oil
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
nuts and/or raisins, optional

In large mixing bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, oil, zucchini, and vanilla. In a small bowl, mix together, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon. Add to egg mixture, mixing well. Stir in nuts and/or raisins if desired. Pour into 2 (9x3x3) greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour until bread tests done.

A Note from Karen:

The most treasured recipes I own are the ones that have been handed down to me from those I love. My mom stayed at home while I was growing up, and she handled 90% of the cooking for our family. But my dad had a few specialties as well. He was the biscuit maker on those Saturday mornings when we had eggs with biscuits and gravy. My favorite Saturday! He taught me how to knead the dough and cut out the biscuits with the top of a drinking glass. I didn't even know biscuit cutters existed! Mine never tasted quite as good as his, though.

We had a garden at our home in California as well, and one year we had a bumper crop of zucchini. After giving away as much as our friends at church would take, we were left with piles of squash to deal with. That's when we started making zucchini bread. Bake it, freeze it, done. I love this recipe!

My dad passed away when I was 16, and one of the most beautiful gifts I received after his passing was from my grandma on my mom's side. She gave me a copy of a well-used, yellowed recipe paper for this zucchini bread written in my dad's handwriting. She lovingly preserved it in plastic wrap and gave it to me. It is the most treasured recipe in my box.

Abigail Kemp, the heroine in More Than Words Can Say, learned how to bake at her father's knee. Her father was a harsh taskmaster, and often complained about being stuck with only daughters and not having a son to run the business. Yet after his death, I imagine Abigail thought of him often as she kneaded dough the way he had taught her and pulled out recipes written in his hand.

Food can create strong bonds between the generations. Even between fathers and daughters.

Potluck Enchilada Casserole


Here's a great recipe to make for your next potluck dinner.

2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black ground pepper
Enchilada Sauce (recipe HERE)
10 oz. green chilis
10.5 oz. cream of mushroom soup
15 oz. black beans, drained
8 oz. grated cheddar cheese
corn tortillas

In a large skillet, brown ground beef and saute onion and garlic until tender. Add soy sauce, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. In a large bowl, combine enchilada sauce, green chilis, cream of mushroom soup, and black beans. 

Spray an oblong baking pan with cooking spray. Pour 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce mixture on the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of corn tortillas over that and top with 1/3 beef mixture, 1/3 sauce, and 1/3 cheese. Repeat layers two more times. Cover and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly. Serve with lettuce, tomatoes, and guacamole. Serves 8-10
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Key Lime Pie

Here is a recipe perfect for when you want something light and refreshing on a hot summer day.

1 1/4 cups crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons margarine, melted

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lime juice
1 unsweetened Kool Aid lemon-lime soft drink packet
1 tub whipped topping, thawed

In medium bowl, mix crust ingredients with fork until combined. Press into pie plate and refrigerate.

In mixing bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and soft drink mix. Remove 1/2 cup of whipped topping and set aside. Add remaining whipped topping to lime mixture, mixing well. Pour into crust. With icing tip, garnish remaining whipped topping on top of lime mixture. Freeze six hours or overnight. Enjoy!
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Gail Kittleson's Dill Pickles

Gail Kittleson writes from northern Iowa, where she and her husband of forty-one years enjoy grandchildren, gardening, traveling and historical research. After instructing college writing and English as a Second Language, Gail wrote a memoir. Then the World War II bug big her . . . relentlessly! 

Seven novels later, she’s still hopelessly addicted to this riveting era. Her women’s fiction honors Greatest Generation characters who made a difference despite great odds. Gail’s second love, teaching, has her facilitating workshops and retreats, where she cheers others in their creative efforts. Learn more about Gail HERE.

Gail's Latest Book Release - Until Then

March 3, 1943
Bethnal Green, London’s East End

Shortly after a quarter past eight, a siren split the air. Marian Williams lifted her sleeping daughter from her bed and darted down the stairs. Her mother and father-in-law, off on air warden duty, had left the front door unlocked.

She hugged her youngest child close. The blackout made the going difficult, but her husband’s instructions echoed in her brain: “Whatever you do, get down inside the station fast as you can.”

She hoped for a spot near the canteen, with access to milk. Uneven light shone over the paved steps. Then she tripped. Her knee hit the concrete, then something bashed her left side. Someone cried out. Another blow scraped her arm on the landing floor. Where was her baby? She attempted to get up, but an even heavier weight slammed her face down. A crushing burden descended, then all went black.

Riding in the backs of Army trucks across North Africa, throughout the Sicily campaign, up the boot of Italy, and northward through France into Germany, Dorothy Woebbeking served as a surgical nurse with the 11th Evacuation Hospital.

During World War II, US Army nurses worked and slept in tents through horrific weather, endured enemy fire, and even the disdain of their own superior officers, who believed women had no place in war. But Dorothy and her comrades persevered, and their skills and upbeat attitude made a huge difference in the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers. Dorothy and Marian’s stories converge on a simple, hand stitched handkerchief. Buy the book HERE.

Gail's Dill Pickles

50 4" washed, dried cucumbers 
½ small horseradish root, diced
1 ½ cups salt, divided
½ large bunch dill
6 qts water, divided 
¼ cup vinegar

In a large crock, dissolve 1 cup salt in 4 qts water, add cucumbers (all under the brine), let stand 12 hours. It may be necessary to prepare more brine to cover, if necessary. Drain and wipe dry. Place in sterilized jars with layers of horseradish and dill.

Combine remaining 2 cups water, 1/2 cup salt and vinegar. Heat to boiling and pour over cucumbers. Partly seal. When fermentation stops, pour over enough cooled brine containing vinegar to cover, and seal. Makes about 6 quarts pickles.

Chicken Teriyaki on a Stick


Here's a delicious recipe to make on the grill this summer. Serve with Fried Rice, Crab Rangoon, or Egg Rolls.

1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 pounds chicken tenders
bamboo skewers

To prepare teriyaki sauce, place soy sauce, water, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, and cornstarch in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk gently until mixture begins to boil and thicken. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool. Place chicken strips in a large ziploc bag and coat with 1/2 cup teriyaki sauce. Marinate chicken tenders in the sauce for at least one hour or overnight in the refrigerator. Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes before cooking. Skewer chicken. Cook on prepared charcoal grill for 3-5 minutes on each side until done. Brush strips with reserved teriyaki glaze for the last 1-2 minutes. Serves 4-6.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Frozen Strawberry Pie

Here's a recipe to enjoy on a hot summer evening. Enjoy!

4 cups fresh strawberries, slices
16 oz sweetened condensed milk
1/8 cup lemon juice
8 oz frozen whipped topping, thawed
graham cracker pie crust

In large bowl, mash strawberries. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and juice. Fold in whipped topping until mixed well. Pour into prepared graham cracker pie crust. Cover with tin foil. Freeze for 6 hours or until firm. Serves 8-10.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Phyllis Clark Nichols' Coconut-Lemon Cake

Phyllis Clark Nichols believes everyone could use a little more hope and light. Her character-driven Southern fiction explores profound human questions from within the simple lives of small town communities you just know you’ve visited before. With a love for nature, art, music, cooking, faith and ordinary people, she tells redemptive tales of loss and recovery, estrangement and connection, longing and fulfillment, often through surprisingly serendipitous events. 

Phyllis was raised in the deep shade of magnolia trees in Cairo, Georgia. Now she lives in the Texas Hill Country with her portrait-artist husband, where red birds and axis deer are her ever-ravenous neighbors. She has been an English major, seminary graduate, concert artist and co-founder of a national cable network for people with disabilities. For over a decade she has worked in the orphanages of Guatemala and currently serves on several non-profit boards where she works with others who are equally passionate about bringing hope and light to those who need it most. Learn more about Phyllis HERE.

Phyllis' Latest Book Release: Return on the Song 

Caroline Carlyle’s hopes and dreams were crushed when her fiancĂ© died six weeks before their wedding. For years, she wrestled with aching loss and shattered faith, struggling to find the inspiration that once came so easily. Abandoning her half-finished piano compositions, Caroline traded her ambitions for the comfort and familiarity of life as Moss Point’s piano teacher.

But Caroline’s life turns upside-down when a mysterious stranger enters her life, bringing courage and fresh purpose. Inspired by her new acquaintance, Caroline embarks on a quest to track down the beloved rare piano she played as a child. Her search leads her to Rockwater, the Kentucky estate of a wealthy gentleman, where Caroline finds her heart may be composing a surprising new song. Buy the book HERE.

Phyllis' Coconut-Lemon Cake

For the cake:
1 box of White Cake Mix mixed according to package directions. I divided the batter into four 8” pans and baked for 18 minutes. Remove from the pans and completely cool. If you have a favorite white layer cake batter, that works well too.

For the Lemon Filling: 
2 eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cups of water
1 cup sugar

Put these ingredients in the top of a double boiler and cook until slightly thickened.
Then add the juice of 3 lemons and 2 Tablespoons of butter and stir until mixed.
Cool this mixture. It will go between the layers.

For the Coconut Icing:
8 ounces of sour cream
14 oz. bag of sweetened coconut
1 1/3 cups sugar
8 oz. container of Cool Whip or your favorite dessert topping
Stir all these ingredients together and refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

To assemble, spread a layer of the lemon filling on the first cake layer and follow with the coconut icing on top of that. Repeat this process for layers two and three. For the fourth layer, only spread the lemon filling on top.

Then ice the sides with the rest of the coconut icing. I like to put a curl of lemon rind on top for decoration. This cake is actually better if you make it a day or two ahead. Keep this cake refrigerated, and the longer it sets the better it is. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to last very long.

Homemade Toasted Ravioli


As you may know already, I enjoy making Italian food. Here's a new recipe I made after tasting my first Toasted Ravioli in St. Louis this past winter. Enjoy!

Pasta Dough:
1 cup 00 flour
1 cup Duram or Semolina Flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Ravioli Filling:
1/2 pound ground beef, cooked and drained
2 Italian sausages, skins removed, cooked and drained
8 oz. shredded provolone cheese
8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg

4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups Italian breadcrumbs
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and ground black pepper
Canola oil for frying

To prepare the dough, in a large bowl, sift together the flours and salt. Make a well in the center and add the eggs and olive oil, whisking to combine. Using a fork or your fingers, begin to incorporate the flour into the egg mixture and knead until all of the liquid is absorbed by the flour, 4-5 minutes. Roll the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to set for 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a food processor, combine the cooked and drained beef and sausage. Add the cheese and process for 30-60 seconds. Add the egg, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and pulse several times until finely mixed together. Place the filling in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. 

To make the ravioli, divide the dough into two pieces and roll out with a pasta roller to a thickness of 1/8". Lay out one sheet of dough on a lightly floured surface. Distribute spoonfuls of filling on the bottom sheet of dough, about 2 inches apart. Brush around the filling with some egg wash. Carefully lay a second sheet of dough on top and press the edges together with your fingertips. Use a round or square ravioli cutter to make the ravioli pieces, pinching the edges shut to ensure closure. Repeat until dough and filling has been used up. Place prepared ravioli on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper. 

In a large Dutch oven, pour enough canola oil to cover ravioli, about 1/3 full. Heat over medium heat until deep-frying thermometer reached 350 degrees F. In a shallow bowl, whisk the three eggs and cream. Place breadcrumbs and Parmesan in another shallow bowl and stir to combine. Dredge the ravioli in the egg mixture, followed by the breadcrumb mixture to coat. Working in batches of 3-4, carefully drop the ravioli into the oil and fry until golden brown, 2-3 minutes, bringing oil back up to temperature between batches. Place on wire racks to drain and keep warm by covering with aluminum foil. Serve with Marinara sauce of your choice and freshly grated Parmesan. Makes 20-24 ravioli. Serve with your favorite Chianti wine.
Click here for a printable version of this recipe.