Cabbage & Noodle Chicken Thai Salad


Well, just as I was getting excited for a nice cool autumn, we woke up to an October heatwave!  We are supposed to hit a high in the 80’s today!  I was glad for the sunshine after so much rain, but this is a little too summery.  So much for sweater weather!  In fact, these warmer days have me craving cold dishes and raw veggies all over again, while I was just gearing up for stews and braises.  This cold salad uses a very seasonal veggie–cabbage–as it’s base, which keeps things nice and cheap.  While rice noodles aren’t the most expensive ingredient out there, they do cost more than cabbage!  By switching the ratio of cabbage and noodles, I was able to stretch this salad even farther.  The neutral flavor of cabbage is just perfect to support the strong flavors of the other ingredients.  And crunchy cabbage + chewy rice noodle = my perfect bite!


I tend to be one of those people who makes too much food.  Usually, it works out in my favor, since I almost always bring dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.  This salad is no exception, I will gladly admit.  It also keeps in the fridge for 4 or 5 days, so it is a perfect dish to make for lunches to last through the work week.  More than once over the summer, I did exactly that.  (Although I had to forgo the peanuts during summer–no nut products at camp!  It was still extremely delicious without them, though I do prefer that bit of extra crunch and salt.)   But, peanuts or no, or even with chicken or without, I never grew tired of this hearty, filling salad.


Cabbage & Noodle Chicken Thai Salad

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 20 min | Cook time: 25 min

For the Salad

  • 1/4 of a small head of red cabbage
  • 1/2 of a small head of green cabbage
  • 2-3 carrots (or 1 c. shredded carrots)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 4 scallions
  • 1 loose handful of mint leaves
  • 1 loose handful of thai basil leaves
  • 1 loose handful cilantro leaves
  • 8 oz thin rice noodles
  • 1/2 lb. (8 oz) chicken breasts (optional)

For the Dressing:

  • 1/3 c. fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 c. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce (or coconut aminos)
  • 2-3 tsp. sriracha (or to preferred heat level)
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 4-5 Tbsp. olive oil

For Garnish:

  • 4-6 Tbsp. chopped peanuts (optional)

Submerge the chicken into a small pot of water.  Bring to a boil on the stove, then turn down to the lowest setting to simmer, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes.  The chicken is done when the meat is not longer pink inside (since we will be shredding it, feel free to fish out a piece and cut entirely in half to check).  Once cooked, drain and set aside to cool.

Prepare the rice noodles according to the package, but drop one minute off of the cooking time or two minutes off of the soaking time.  Once done, drain, then rinse the noodles in cold water.

While the chicken and noodles are cooking, whisk the listed dressing ingredients (fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic powder, olive oil) until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has emulsified into a smooth mixture.

Shred the cabbage by slicing it as thinly as possible.  If using whole carrots: peel the carrots and discard the peelings. Then use the vegetable peeler to continue to peel the carrot into long strips.  Use a knife to cut the wide strips into thinner pieces.    Peel and quarter the red onion, then slice thinly.  Chop the scallions into thin slices, then chop all the herbs.  Add all vegetables and herbs to a large bowl.

Shred the cooled chicken, then add 1 tablespoon of the sauce, mixing to coat all of the pieces.  Add the chicken to the vegetables.

Heat a wok over high heat, then add 2 tablespoon of the sauce and the rice noodles.  Sauté for 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour the remaining sauce over the vegetable mixture in the bowl, add the hot noodles and mix/toss with tongs until the salad is completely mixed together.

Served topped with a tablespoon of chopped peanuts sprinkled over each bowl.  This will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes


I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of October! The temperature is starting to drop, which makes me worry a little for my seedlings in the garden, but also makes me so happy because Autumn is my favorite season!  I love the ability to layer clothes and dress in comfy sweaters.  I love all those fall flavors and dishes: pumpkin and squash, apples, pears, brussels sprouts, spices, thick stews and gravies, and all of those stick-to-your-ribs and warm-your-bones types of food.  I love that everything gets a little more cozy.  Summer is for going everywhere, traveling, eating at restaurants, on patios, going out with friends, and all that.  I think that Fall finds us at home more, but also in homes more, whether we are visiting friends or having them over at our place.  And since I love feeding people and love staying home, this makes this season pretty ideal.

At the top of my cozy, crave-able dinners list is risotto.  It’s always my back-up, since the base can be made with pantry staples, so it is great for days when I didn’t plan dinner or when my other plans are foiled for one reason or another.  Then I can dig out some arborio rice, some broth, an onion, and a bit of cheese for a risotto base that can be doctored up in endless ways!  Risotto also has the same sort of creamy, starchy goodness as say…macaroni and cheese, but it doesn’t leave me feeling quite as weighed down after eating it.  Plus, I am pretty particular about my mac and cheese, so–even with the required stirring–risotto is way easier for me to get on the plate.  And, as an added bonus: leftover risotto is perfect for making arancini!  This is another favorite that I will have to post soon, but the leftover risotto is wrapped around cheese, then breaded and fried or baked to crispy, cheesy, dip-able perfection!  Easily one of the best leftover dishes, ever.


This risotto, as I mentioned, comes from the same base as I’ve posted before.  I’ve come a long way from my first frightened attempt at risotto.  I am nearly on auto-pilot nowadays.  When I got shiitake mushrooms in our Hungry Harvest Box (still totally in love, BTW), I knew I wanted to make them into a risotto.  Since M isn’t too keen on mushrooms, he is usually a good sport when I ‘hide’ them in our dishes.  But I wanted these to be the star of the dish.  Luckily, he goes off with friends one night a week, which is quickly becoming my time to indulge in all dishes mushroom and/or shrimp.  So this risotto was thrown together on a Tuesday, after my late shift at work.  After 30 minutes stirring at a toasty stove, I had my reward!  I decided to throw in these tomatoes at the last minute, when I realized that they needed to be used up, and I’m so glad that I did.  The mild acidity of the roasted tomatoes is the perfect compliment to the creamy risotto.  While it may not be much to look at, it was delicious! Enjoy!


Mushroom Risotto with Roasted Tomatoes

Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 30-40 minutes

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3 small-medium shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 c. arborio rice
  • 1/4 c. white wine*
  • 4 c. broth (chicken, beef, veggie)
  • 8 oz mixed mushrooms**
  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 stalk fresh rosemary
  • 10-12 stems of thyme
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream or half & half
  • 1/4 c. parmesan, grated
  • 1 pint small tomatoes (cherry, grape, cabernet, etc)

*If you want to avoid alcohol entirely, you can replace the wine with an equal amount of broth + a splash of vinegar.

**I used equal parts button and shiitake mushrooms.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Toss the pint of tomatoes with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, until well coated.  Pour the tomatoes onto the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Once the time is up (sometime during your span of cooking the risotto), turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes inside to stay warm.

Set a pot on the stovetop over medium heat.  Fill with the broth and add 2 sage leaves, a few stems of thyme, and one crushed garlic clove.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down low.

Prep the veggies: Finely dice the shallots.  Mince the remaining garlic cloves.  Dice the mushrooms.

In a large pan, over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and then add the chopped shallots.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the shallots are softened.  Add the arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter.  Cook for about 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the rice turns opaque and smells a little toasted.  Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring, for one more minute.  Add the white wine and continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed.  Stir in the mushrooms.  Add a ladle-full of hot broth and continue stirring.  Just keep on stirring to release the starch of the rice, which makes risotto super creamy.  The liquid will begin to be absorbed until when you pull your spoon across the pan, there will be a second or two where you can see the trail of the spoon before the rice mixture begins to pool back together.  Then it is time to add another ladle of broth and stir some more.  Always keep stirring and adding a ladle of broth once the previous is absorbed.  When you are down to just one more ladle of broth, chop up and add the herbs.  When all of the broth has been added to the pan and absorbed by the rice mixture, add the cream, parmesan, and the final tablespoon of butter.  Stir until the cream is absorbed.

Top with the roasted tomatoes and serve immediately.

Recovered Produce and Stuffed Squash

Happy fall, everyone!  Although the official equinox was a few days ago, today is the day that I can actually feel it.  The air is just a little crispy and-finally!-not muggy.  We’ve had the AC off and the windows open all day yesterday and today I keep getting lovely little wafts of cool breeze as I sit on the couch.  For hours on end.  Sigh.  Somehow, I pulled something in my lower back that has kept me prone and couch-bound since Saturday.  I’m walking like a slow, old lady, and trying to sit upright is pretty terrible.  Sneezing is the absolute worst and causes some awful spasms.  Today, I think, is slightly better, so I’m hoping I can go back to working at my desk tomorrow and it will be a quick heal after that.  What is really disappointing, though, is that M and I were going away for this coming weekend and now kayaking is most likely off that schedule.  Boo.

In spite of my pain, I was excited to come home from work on Saturday to my weekly Hungry Harvest box!  I signed up for this produce delivery service a few weeks ago and I LOVE it!  I’d been looking for some kind of produce delivery/CSA, since I can’t make it to the Farmer’s Market when my Saturday work schedule begins each September.  A produce box was also appealing because it would force me to be creative with whatever I got each week.  I found Hungry Harvest, which was extremely affordable, and I loved that they were using recovered produce from farmers and grocery stores that would otherwise go to waste.  They also donate leftover produce to food banks every week.  They are awesome! (This is not a sponsored post, I really do just love HH this much.)


This week’s Hungry Harvest box!

We’ve had great success with our weekly boxes and this week was no exception.  We are getting into the groove of meal planning around the box, too.  This week we received: 3 (giant) sweet potatoes, a carton of kumquats, 3/4 lb of collard greens, 3 empire apples, 2 beets, an adorably tiny eggplant, 1/2 a bunch of cilantro, a clamshell of cabernet tomatoes, and a large spaghetti squash.  All of that…for $15!  Did I mention that this is the SMALLEST option?  They have several larger sizes of boxes, even all-fruit, all-veggie, or all-organic boxes!  I cannot get over how great they are!  All of our veggies usually go towards dinners for the week.  Since M isn’t a big fruit-eater, I take care of most of the fruit between my breakfasts and snacks.  M was on a roll this week and picked most of the meals for us.  Here is what we will make, using everything from the box (and a few veggies left in the fridge from last week):

Dinner Plan for Sept 25-Oct 1

Sunday: Sausage & Veggie-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

Monday: BBQ pulled chicken, collard greens, cilantro cole slaw

Tuesday: Beet & Apple salad, sweet potato hash browns, eggs

Wednesday: Beef Koftas with Baba Ghanoush, Tomato-Cucumber salad

Thursday: Leftover Night (I’ll be in class)

Friday: Out with Friends

Saturday: More leftovers to clear out the fridge before we leave

Lunches are typically leftovers from dinner, and we can fill in with stuffed sweet potatoes.  Breakfasts for me rotate between smoothies, eggs, and oatmeal.  M usually has breakfast tacos.

We kicked of this week with stuffed squash, which M made from my directions while I was sitting in the other room. (No prolonged standing yet…)  Stuffed squash is super simple, and one of my favorite things to eat, since it is so customizable.  I have a very eclectically autumnal recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash that is delicious!  I love Italian flavors with Spaghetti Squash, so we paired hot Italian sausage with veggies and tomato sauce.  We cut out cooking any grain, which saves a little prep work and makes this Primal (if you top it with cheese, like M) or Paleo (if you leave off the cheese, like me).  This was a large spaghetti squash, but not unusually large, and this meal easily made 4 huge servings.  If you scooped out the squash and served the meat sauce over top, it would very easily stretch to 5 dinner-sized servings.

Paleo/Primal Stuffed Spaghetti Squash

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 lb Italian sausage (hot or mild)
  • 4 oz mushrooms
  • 1 medium bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 oz cherry tomatoes
  • 6 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or, about 1/2 tsp each: basil, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder)
  • Optional: shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Slice the squash in half, lengthwise.  It will be very firm, but I’ve found if I can stab in the tip of the knife, I can usually get enough leverage to split open one end, then the other.  Scoop out the seeds from each half, leaving a hollow in the middle.  Place the squash cut side down in a microwave-safe baking dish and fill with an inch of water.  Microwave on high power for 8-12 minutes, or until a fork goes easily into the flesh.

While the squash is cooking, prepare the other veggies.  The chop is entirely up to you: every vegetable can be diced for a really chunky mix, or every vegetable can be chopped finely in a food processor to make a thick, but smoother sauce.  We went for something in the middle.  M is not too fond of mushrooms, but I occasionally work them in to fill out dishes.  Because of this, we “hid” them by chopping them finely, along with the pepper and garlic, in the food processor.  We diced the onion like normal and halved our cherry tomatoes.

In a large saucepan, crumble it the sausage (remove from casing if in links) and stir to further separate the meat.  Cook until about half the meat is browned, then add the diced onions.  (If you chose to dice the peppers, now would be the time to add them)  Continue cooking until all of the meat is browned and the onions are soft and translucent.  Drain off any accumulated fat.  Add the vegetable mix from the food processor (or the diced mushrooms, if going that route).  Stir to combine and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Then add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and Italian seasoning.  Stir to combine evenly.  If the mixture is too thick, add a little water to loosen things up.  Allow to simmer for 5 minutes.  Finally, toss in the chopped tomatoes and turn off the heat.  Set the squash cut side up in a dry, oven-proof pan.  Spoon the sausage and veggie mixture into each squash, topped with cheese, if using, and bake for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melty and the tops of the sausage mixture are beginning to get crispy.  Split each half of squash in half again, width-wise.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato & Bacon Pizza

These days, September races by without stop.  At work, we are still (sometimes literally) packing away summer while we kick off our Fall season.  This means bringing in over 100 students to start working on four different weekend programs and preparing our 30+ after school teaching team to begin classes at as many schools.  It’s hectic, with one deadline after another, but also full of inspiration (hello, 100 children acting/singing/dancing with so much confidence in auditions!) and creativity (writing new scripts, casting, preliminary costume and set designs, etc).  In October, once we get past everything that is beginning, the routine will come.  Until then, its mostly just holding on for the ride.  I am also settling into the rhythm of Fall semester classes and M is settling in for a busy holiday season full of events.  Amidst this mild chaos, I am trying to keep  up my meal planning and trying to keep the focus on healthier foods as we shift towards Fall flavors.  It isn’t always successful–I’ll readily admit that I am a stress eater.  Or at least, a stress craver.  I don’t always give in!  And when this pizza craving struck, I tried to think out of the box.


Years ago, right as I began to cut gluten from my diet, we went to the Dan’l Webster Inn in Massachusetts with my family.  I jumped at the chance to order their gluten-free pizza.  As a somewhat recent convert to the sweet potato fandom (thank you, freshman year dining hall for otherwise terrible food options), the Sweet Potato & Bacon pizza was very intriguing.  Sweet potato? On a pizza?!  With onions and gorgonzola cheese and bacon and balsamic vinegar?  It was too weird of a combination to resist.  And then, it came out with a layer of fresh greens.  Super weird!  But I am sooooo glad that I ordered it because, together, all those weird foods are AMAZING.  This pizza covers all of the flavor points: savory, earthy, salty, sweet, tangy, nutty, chewy, crunchy, fresh!  It was definitely life-changing, and I’ve gone on to attempt to recreate this pizza several times.   I’ve also stuffed the ingredients (minus the pizza crust) into baked sweet potatoes.  Also delicious.  We just went back to the Dan’l Webster Inn when we were up visiting my dad this summer and I finally realized that I was forgetting the “creamy pine nut spread” in all of my copy-cat attempts.  With this final factor, I’ve have been able to perfect my recipe!


Now, this pizza isn’t exactly on that healthy list–but it isn’t as bad as a pizza could be, either!  By using ingredients that have super strong flavors, you can scale back on the amount of each used.  It’s almost a flatbread-style, which in my book means a small amount–if any–‘sauce’ and an equally small amount of cheese.  This focuses in on the toppings and means this pizza isn’t going to ooze with sauce or cheese in the same way as regular pizzas.  Add a salad or some roasted veggies on the side, and you can fulfill a pizza craving in the most delicious way!


Sweet Potato & Bacon Pizza

Serves 4 | Prep time: 45 minutes (divided) | Cook time: 15 minutes

  • 1 large gluten-free pizza crust (a thin-crust style works best here!)
  • 2 large sweet onions
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 3 slices bacon
  • 2-3 oz gorgonzola cheese
  • 1-2 handfuls of arugula
  • 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 batch Creamy Pine Nut Spread (below)

Creamy Pine Nut Spread

  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 1 oz cream cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 4 sage leaves (or 1/4 tsp. ground sage)
  • 1 Tbsp parmesan, shredded

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Caramelize the onions: Add a splash of oil or butter to a saucepan and coat the surface with the heated oil.  Slice the onions and add to the pan.  Cook over medium heat until softened, then turn the heat down low and cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have turned caramel-brown and shrunk down.  Remove from pan.

Prep the toppings: While the onions are caramelizing, peel the sweet potato and dice into small pieces.  Place in a small pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook over med-high for 6-10 minutes, until a fork easily pierces the potato pieces.  Drain thoroughly.

Chop the slices of bacon.  In a sauce pan (can be the same one used for the onions, if they have finished caramelizing and are removed from the pan), add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the fat has rendered and the pieces are crispy.  Remove from pan to a paper towel-lined plate to allow to drain.

Prepare the Creamy Spread: Add the parmesan, pine nuts, stage leaves, garlic, cream cheese, and olive oil to a food processor and blend until smooth.

Make the pizza: If using fresh pizza dough, follow the directions to the point of having it rolled out on a pizza stone, then par-bake at 450 degrees for 5 minutes.  If using a pre-rolled, stiff crust (like Udi’s) with no instructions for par-baking, place the crust on the pizza stone.

Spread the pine nut mixture across the entire crust, from edge to edge.  It will be a very thin covering.  Sprinkle the onions, then potatoes, then crumbled gorgonzola cheese evenly over the pizza crust.  Bake at 450 degrees F for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese is softened and the edges of the potato pieces begin to brown.

While the pizza is baking, set the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half and has thickened.  Remove from heat.

Remove the cooked pizza from the oven and immediately top with bacon, then a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.  Finally, top with fresh arugula.

Cake Mix Hack: Gluten-Free “Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend!  We jumped down to North Carolina for an overnight, to see our friends.  It was great to catch up with all of them and we had breakfast at the Saxapahaw General Store before heading back.  I’ve gushed about my love for this tiny strip of town before, and each year, it gets a little better and a little crunchier–in the best of ways.😉  Now, in addition to the General Store, the cute industrial apartments, and performing space + Coffee Shop by day/Bar by night venue, Saxapahaw has added a butcher’s shop and a shared-space work studio.  I love this focus on community and local goods!  As for breakfast, M got the usual Coconut-Braised Pork Sandwich (which is still on my list to properly recreate at home!) and I had the brunch special: Eggs Salmon Florentine.  The staff assured me that if was gluten-free, so I was expecting a lighter version of Eggs Benedict Florentine.  You know, some kind of bread, layers of spinach and salmon topped with an egg and their “lemon and caper sauce”.  Instead, in this dish, there wasn’t any bread at all.  The spinach and over-medium eggs were resting on top of a salmon fillet!  It was delicious, and way more protein than I expected.

As for Monday, I had a meeting in the afternoon, so I missed what may have been the highlight of the summer: taking Punc to our community’s “Pool Pawty”.  Each year, the day before they close up the pool, our apartment complex allows the neighborhood to bring their dogs in to swim and play.  Our complex is great at these kind of parties, so M came back with a ton a gift bags full of dog treats, bones, tennis balls, and other swag.  It was pretty awesome!  While she didn’t enjoy the water, Punc did get a doggie massage and a pupcake.  Best of all, she got along with all of the other dogs!

M wasn’t able to take her hiking as often this summer, since it was so hot.  Our area has set a new record for the number of 90+ degree days in July and August.  Ugh.  I am definitely ready for the cooler Fall weather!  So it’s been nice to have this Pool Pawty and playdates with our friends’ dogs to fill in that exercise gap for Punc.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this weekend is our last heatwave, so we can start to settle into Fall.  I know M is itching to hike again, as well.


Today, I am back with another cake mix hack!  They served me so well throughout the summer, being fairly quick and far less fussy than baking a cake from scratch.  I’m still on the search for my “one” cake flour mix.  But, I’m also starting to lean more towards the less sweet pound cake styles.  You know, not quite a quick bread, but not quite a cake.  So maybe I’ll keep my cake mix hacks in my back pocket for occasions that call for frosting and wrappers and all that jazz; and stay content with my simpler options for “everyday” cakes.  These cookies and cream cupcakes have a tasty surprise when you unwrap them: a whole “oreo” cookie at the bottom of each cupcake!  The chocolate cakes are even more fun, because the cake really hides the cookie until you take a bite of the cupcake.


“Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

Serves 12

For the Cupcake

  • 1 box Gluten-free yellow or chocolate cake mix + additional ingredients listed on the back of the package*
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 (1/2 of a box) “oreo” style gluten-free chocolate wafer, creme-filled cookies**
  • Optional: the filling from 6 additional cookies (save the chocolate cookies for decoration)

For the Frosting

  • 4 oz (half a package) of cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp (half a stick) of butter, softened
  • 2-3 c. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. crushed “oreo” style cookies (about 10-12 cookies)
  • Optional: 12 individual chocolate cookies leftover from the creme removed for the cupcake batter, for decoration

*I used Aldi’s GFree yellow cake brand, which calls for 3 eggs, 2/3 c. milk, and 1/2 c. oil per box

**I used Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Jo-Jo cookies

Make the cupcakes

Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the Cake Mix box.  Fill a cupcake pan with paper cupcake cups and drop one whole “oreo”-style cookie into the bottom of each paper liner.

Remove the inside filling from six cookies, being careful to keep the chocolate wafers intact.  Heat briefly in the microwave to soften, then mix with the liquids called for on the package–if a liquid fat (like oil or melted butter) is called for, this is the best ingredient to mix with the creme filling.  Mix the dry and wet ingredients as instructed on the packaging.  Be sure to include the extra vanilla extract as you mix in the wet ingredient.  Scoop the prepared batter over the cookies in each cup, filling about 3/4 full.  Bake as directed on the packaging.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

Leave the cream cheese and butter on the counter as the cupcakes bake and cool, to allow both to soften.  Whip the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract on low speed until the mixture is uniform and soft.  Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar, one half-cup at a time, whipping until fully incorporated.  After adding 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, add in the crushed cookies and mix well.  If the mixture is still soft, continue to add in the additional confectioner’s sugar in 1/2 cup measures.  When the mixing blade or whisk is removed, the frosting should be almost at a stiff peak–the mixture stands straight up from where the whisk was pulled away (if the very tip of the peak falls, that is okay, but the whole peak shouldn’t slump).  Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.  Favor a higher pile in the middle, which allows you to sink on of the reserved chocolate wafers upright into the frosting as garnish.

Sandy’s Sweet Yellow Squash Relish

squash relish title

Last weekend, we got a couple friends together for a canning party.  I taught them how to make this Squash Relish, which has become an absolute necessity in our house (and a handy holiday gift).  We also made some quick, half-sour pickles and canned some peaches and pears, as well.  All the while, Punc ran around with their golden retriever puppy and the guys grilled up dinner.

I cut it close this year.  We were down to our last jar from last year’s batch of relish (I brought our very last unopened jar with us to Cape Cod).  This is my favorite condiment on anything grilled, particularly hot dogs.  It’s also great to mix in to potato or pasta salads and–I admit–we have even mixed it into substandard batches of macaroni and cheese.  It was actually pretty good!  The squash is just different enough in flavor compared to the run of the mill sweet pickle relish, with a tiniest kick from the chili flakes, to make a really unexpected topping.  I also use much less sugar than most relish recipes, which makes for a nice change.

I got this recipe from a former coworker, during a year when she had a glut of yellow squash and a poor crop of cucumbers.  On a whim, she replaced all of the cucumbers with yellow squash and was left with fabulous results.  Thanks for creating an addiction, Sandy!😉

This recipe is made to be canned in a water bath and to feed our cravings all year–it makes between 8 to 10 half-pint jars (cups) of relish.  If you are not interested in canning, you could certainly halve or even quarter the batch and it would last for a good long while if kept in the refrigerator.

squash relish hot dog

Yellow Squash Sweet Relish

  • 4 medium-large yellow crookneck squash
  • 2 medium sweet onions
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. salt
  • 2 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. celery seed
  • 1 Tbsp. mustard seed
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 c. apple cider vinegar

Finely dice all of the vegetables. They will shrink slightly during cooking, but not by much, so aim for the size that you would prefer in the final relish. Place the vegetables in large bowl. Sprinkle the ¼ cup of salt over the vegetables and cover with cold water. Allow this mixture to sit for two hours. It may get a little pungent, but don’t worry!

While you are waiting, prepare for the canning process.  Trust me, a pot large enough to cover jars can take forever to actually come to a boil.  Prepare your canning jars by washing with soap and water while bringing a large pot of water to boil.  If you have a canning rack, place it in the pot.  Submerge the sterile jars (unlidded) along with their lids and rings, then simmer for ten minutes.

Drain the vegetables and rinse well. Drain extremely well—I wrap the mix in a thin towel and wring out all of the liquid.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, and spices in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, then add the vegetables and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the mixture for ten minutes.

Remove the jars, rings, and lids from the hot water, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.

Pack the mixture into clean jar, remove the air bubbles, and clean the rim of the jar. Top with the lid and hand-tighten the ring. Process in a boiling water-bath for 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool.  Within a few minutes, you should hear the small “pop” and the button at the middle of the lid will depress, showing that you have properly created the vacuum seal. Leave the jars undisturbed for 24 hours, then tighten the rings and store.  If you can stand it, allow the relish a few weeks in a cool, dark place to really meld the flavors.

Store opened jars in the refrigerator.

squash relish mustard

Cake Mix Hack: Gluten-Free Key Lime Pie Cupcakes

Key Lime Cupcakes Title

Now that I am officially a PokemonGo widow, I can finally get around to sharing this Cake Mix Hack!  I made these cupcakes ages ago for my coworker’s birthday.  He casually dropped the idea of key lime pie for his birthday and then I set my mind on figuring out these cupcakes.  With a light lime flavor in the cake itself, a smooth lime curd filling, and a tangy frosting, these cupcakes are (a) super delicious and (b) full of that delectably tart flavor akin to Key Lime Pie.  

Filling close up

I think these cupcake would be the perfect end to your next summer picnic!

Key Lime Pie Cupcakes

Serves: 12 


  • 1 box Gluten-free yellow or white cake mix + additional ingredients listed on the back of the package*
  • 2 Tbsp. key lime juice, divided
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. hot water

Lime Curd:

  • 1/2 c. lime juice**
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) butter, melted and cooled.
  • zest of 2 limes
  • pinch of salt


  • 1/2 package(4 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter, room temperature
  • 2-3 c. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 2 tsp. key lime juice
  • zest of 1 lime
  • optional: 1 tsp. vanilla extract***

*I used Aldi’s GFree yellow cake brand, which calls for 3 eggs, 2/3 c. milk, and 1/2 c. oil per box

**I juiced all the normal (non-key) limes that I had zested for the various parts of this recipe, and then topped off the remainder with key lime juice, so I suppose the lime curd isn’t officially a “Key Lime” Curd.  Waste not, want not!

***These individual elements add up to a deliciously tart cupcake.  If you are worried it might be too tart for your tastes, adding the vanilla extract will help to mellow the frosting.

Make and bake the cakes:

Preheat the oven according to package directions (the Aldi box called for 350 degrees F).  Line a cupcake tin with paper liners and lightly spray the liners with cooking spray.

Measure out the eggs and wet ingredients called for on the package, except subtract 2 tablespoons of the liquid (not fat!) addition.  My package called for 2/3 c. milk, so I measured off 2 tablespoons of milk after pouring 2/3 cup of milk.  We are doing this because we are adding in lime juice to the cake mix and we want to keep the ratio for the batter correct.  Gently mix the liquid (milk), fat (oil), and eggs called for on the packaging, and then add to the dry ingredients.  Stir until just mixed.  Add in lime juice and zest, and stir until just mixed.  Scoop batter into prepared cupcake tins and bake according to package directions (my box said 18-23 minutes).

While the cupcakes are baking, mix the sugar with the hot water and remaining tablespoon of lime juice to make a lime simple syrup.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  When cupcakes are done baking, remove cake tins from the oven.  Using a toothpick, poke half a dozen holes into the top of each hot cupcake, then brush with simple syrup.  Allow to cool in cupcake tins for 10 minutes, then carefully remove and cool on a baking rack until cupcakes reach room temperature.

Make the lime curd (in the microwave!):

While the cupcakes are baking, make the lime curd.  Mix the eggs and the sugar until thoroughly combined.  Whisk in lime juice, butter, lime zest, and salt.  Microwave on high for 1 minute.  Remove from microwave and stir well.  Continue to microwave for 1 minute intervals, whisking well in between each minute, until the curd thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  This can take anywhere between 6-10 minutes.  The curd will thicken slightly as it cools.  Cool lime curd completely before filling cupcakes.

Make the frosting:

While the cupcakes and lime curd cool, make the frosting.  In a mixer, mix together softened cream cheese and butter on medium-low speed until thoroughly combined.  Add the lime juice, zest, and vanilla extract (if using) and mix on low until combined.  Add the confectioner’s sugar in 1/2 cups, mixing well between each addition.  Finish off the frosting by whipping on high speed for one minute to make it fluffy!

Assemble the cupcakes:

Filling cut cupcake

Using a small cookie cutter (or moving very carefully with a butter knife), cut a small hole in the middle of each cupcake.  Make sure to not cut through to the bottom of the cake.  I used the cutter for an inner window of a linzer cookie cutter set, which was the perfect size.  Gently remove the cut portion.  You should end up with a little cap, and a hole in your cupcake.  Gently push down on the bottom of the hole in your cupcake (I used the end of a chopstick) to make a little more space to be filled with lime curd.  Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of curd into the cupcake, then top with the cake cap.  Don’t worry if the cap protrudes slightly–it will be hidden by the frosting.  When all the cupcakes are filled with curd and capped, frost in your preferred manner.  I’ve yet to master piping, so I just used a knife.  Optionally, sprinkle the frosted cupcakes with green sprinkles or more lime zest as decoration!

Cupcake trio

These cupcakes are definitely time-intensive, though they are decadent enough to make up for it.  I baked and assembled them over the course of two days.  Please remember that the lime curd and frosting should be refrigerated for any prolonged period (more than an hour or two) and that GF cake gets hard and dense when refrigerated.  If at all possible, wait to fill and frost these cupcakes as close to serving as possible, so they needn’t be refrigerated.  If you must refrigerate the entire cupcake (as I had to), allow the cupcakes to come to room temperature again before serving.  Trust me, they will be so much better for it!

Lime Curd Filling