Strawberry-Banana Cheesecake Splits

It doesn’t happen very often, but once in a while, I love to eat dessert for dinner…especially when it comes to strawberries. There is nothing better than baking some fresh biscuits, and serving them hot with fresh strawberries and whipped cream… but let’s save that for another day when strawberries are in season…and instead, talk about this dessert… strawberry banana cheesecake splits…

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Sometimes it’s fate when things happen the way that they do…

And I’m going to be real here… it isn’t like this came to me in a dream…I didn’t have a vision… nor did I work long hours in the kitchen creating this recipe… it was a matter of a series of events that set the wheels in motion…

A Craving
Not Enough Ingredients
Pure Laziness (that kept me from running to the store for ingredients)

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I was in the mood for a banana split, but I was also in the mood for a piece of strawberry cheesecake. Neither of which, I had access to. I couldn’t have made them if I wanted to… I had bananas, but no ice cream…and I had strawberries, but only one package of cream cheese, not enough for a cheesecake.

Because I couldn’t have what I craved, but wanted SOMETHING sweet….my plan was to make a banana cream pie with a graham cracker crust, pastry cream, and bananas. That still sounds really good to me, but…in my true fashion…. I chopped when I should have sliced, I whisked when I should have folded… I added when I should have subtracted.. (well, not really subtracted…that was purely for lack of a better word!)

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And in the end came up with a banana cheesecake type of banana split…with banana cheesecake cream and toasted coconut…and strawberries….and chocolate cookie crumbles….and sprinkles….and a cherry on top.

It’s a big dessert…with big flavor…one that I’m not certain could be eaten after dinner…. But instead, should be eaten FOR dinner, which I did. Happily. Instant gratification… both cravings satisfied in one dessert!

Life is good…it’s an “instant gratification with strawberries and sprinkles and a cherry on top” kind of good…

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Strawberry-Banana Cheesecake Splits
Serves Four

Just a quick note: This is such a versatile dessert! You can change the cheesecake flavor to whatever you’d like it to be…. Strawberry cheesecake, coffee, toffee, chocolate…the list is endless! Change the cookie crumbles to vanilla cookies, ginger cookies, graham crackers…and the fruit…go crazy!  Cherries, plums, peaches… imagine how many different desserts this could actually be!!

But never…never…ever… change the sprinkles and the cherry on top!

I used a 15oz stemless wine glass for this, but any type of glass/cup will do!

3 bananas, sliced
2 cups strawberries, chopped
Whipped cream, about ½ cup
Sprinkles
4 Maraschino Cherries

The Cheesecake Cream
1 – 8oz package cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup heavy cream
2 ripe bananas, crushed
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
½ cup coconut, toasted

To toast the coconut: Spread the coconut over a baking sheet, and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned and toasted! Watch it carefully! It will go from lightly toasted to dark brown burned in a matter of seconds!!

Whip the cream cheese, heavy cream, bananas, powdered sugar, and vanilla together using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Stir in the toasted coconut. Refrigerate for ½ to 1 hour.

The Chocolate Cookie Crumbles
1 – 9oz package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, crushed
1 stick butter, melted
3 tbsp granulated sugar

Mix the crushed chocolate wafers, butter, and sugar in a medium size bowl. Stir until completely blended. Set aside.

Layer the Dessert:
Place about 3 tbsp chocolate cookie crumbles in the bottom of each glass. Spoon a generous amount of cheesecake cream on top of the crumbles. Layer bananas, and then strawberries on top of the cream. Add another layer of the chocolate cookie crumbles, another layer of the cheesecake, another layer of bananas and strawberries. Top the strawberries with about a tablespoon of cookie crumbles. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top, sprinkle with sprinkles, and plop a maraschino cherry on top!

Serve cold and Enjoy!!

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Pepper Pasta

 

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This dish came up at a moment’s notice… There was a display of these gorgeous colorful peppers at my beloved Wegmans last week. I was looking at bananas, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw them. It’s my “sidetrack disorder”…you know… the one that makes me distracted when I see a pretty display… Everything falls to the wayside…

And there they sat…glistening from the mist of the produce rain…
Orange, yellow, red, green…
Beckoning me…

And I had to have them.
They weren’t on my grocery list..
But that didn’t matter.
It never does…

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Bananas forgotten…It was a matter of seconds, and they were in my cart. I knew at that point exactly what I was going to make. Pepper Pasta. I haven’t made it in ages, and to be honest, I just don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the kids hate when I make it. The smell of the peppers just wafts throughout the entire house. They hate the smell of it. Jessica gets the hardest hit, because her bedroom is above the kitchen! Needless to say, I’m the only one who eats it, so I eat it for days. …And that’s probably another reason why I don’t make it that often.

But none of that is neither here, nor there. Kids? What kids? I had the peppers, and the wheels were in motion. I ran around the store with the mental ingredient list..and picked up the rest of the stuff I needed to get this pasta made.

There is something to this sauce that is just so delicious..it makes you want to take another bite, and then another, and then another…. I know exactly what it is…it’s the banana pepper rings. They add a wonderful zing to the flavor. Not a spicy hot zing…but just that pop of flavor that makes you go back for another forkful.

The beauty of this pepper pasta, is that you can eat it hot, as a main dish… or cold, as a side salad! I’ve brought it to many parties as a cold salad, and it’s always a tremendous hit! The dish always comes home empty!

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Pepper Pasta

Just a quick note: You know how I tend to add things at the last minute, right? Well, this time around, I thought it might be good to throw some chicken in with the pasta. I’m going to be honest here… it was good, but I definitely prefer this as a meatless dish, and I probably won’t add chicken again.

I normally use Farfalle for the pasta, but this time around I used the Campanelle. They’re both a beautiful pasta, and both equally hold the sauce well for this dish.

2 boneless chicken breasts, sliced into medallions (your choice, use the chicken or not)
1/3 pound Campanelle pasta (or your choice)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 red pepper, cut into 1″ squares
1 yellow pepper, cut into 1″ squares
1 green pepper, cut into 1″ squares
1 orange pepper, cut into 1″ squares
1 jar mild banana pepper rings, (or hot, your heat preference)
1/4 cup of the banana pepper ring juice, discard the rest
1 – 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes with garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh basil

In a large frying pan, sauté the chicken in the olive oil until fully cooked and browned. Remove from pan onto a plate lined with paper towels. To the pan, add the red, yellow, green, and orange peppers, and shallots. Saute them until they’re browned and semi-softened. Add the garlic, and sauté for another minute or two. Add the banana pepper rings, the 1/4 cup reserved juice, and the petite diced tomatoes.. Simmer on low for about 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the pepper sauce is simmering, bring a pot of water to boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. You want it to be al-dente.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce using a wire skimmer, and let simmer for about 3 minutes.

If you are planning on serving this as a cold salad, stir the feta and chiffonade of a few leaves of fresh basil into the salad right before you serve it.

If you are serving it hot, garnish the top of the pasta dish with the feta and chiffonade of a few leaves of fresh basil.

Enjoy!
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Clams Casino

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I have a friend who just will not share her recipes.

She protects them as if they’re classified information….and…. I guess, “classified information” is the perfect description, because she will not, and probably never will, share. Zipped lips. Key thrown away. Top Secret. She knows I’m talking about her right now, because we laugh about this all the time…and she also knows it drives me crazy, because I’m all about sharing recipes.. I always tell her that I would definitely give her the “shout out” if I made one of her recipes to take to a party or wherever, that I won’t take the glory for myself…but nope. She won’t cave.

I couldn’t wrap my brain around this “top secret” business.
Until now.
And I realized that she’s no dummy.
She knows what she’s doing.

There is no doubt that we all love her recipes because they are so top secret, and they’re not readily available to us. We get to enjoy her recipes when she prepares them, which isn’t all that often, because it’s usually a party or get together….so it’s a special treat…

She knows that we’re going to be all excited…

And we are going to rave and gush all over her and her food…
And that makes my friend… and her food…the stars of the show!!

Genius.

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One of my favorite things that she makes is her Clams Casino. What she doesn’t know is that when she would bring them to a gathering, I would dissect…I would study….I would analyze… I would make mental notes…

And after agonizing over these clams… it hit me.
Make your own.
So I did.

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My Clams Casino is nothing like my friends recipe, and that’s ok. It’s just a basic recipe. It’s simple, and it’s delicious in its own way. And it’s mine to share. With all of you.

And in keeping with my theme…it’s so simple to make! You can actually have them made in under an hour! The red pepper with the shallots and garlic blend so well with the bacon and clams…a hint of wine in the background… and wait…is that Romano cheese? Why, yes…yes it is!!! All with that little squeeze of lemon at the end just makes all of those flavors together pop with every single bite you take…

Simple…. Yet complex.

So…I’m bringing my Clams Casino recipe to Angie’s Fiesta Friday, to share with all of you… I hope you stop by Angie’s blog, The Novice Gardener. It’s an awesome blog, so well written, and after reading a couple of her posts, it will be as if you’ve known her all your life! This is the 11th week that Angie has hosted this party, and it just keeps on growing! It is so awesome how many talented and wonderful people have joined in on the fun!

Life is good. It’s a “friends who force me to create my own recipes, but I love them nonetheless, and always will” kind of good…

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Clams Casino
Makes 24 Clams Casino on the Half Shell

Just a quick note: I am far from a pro when it comes to cooking clams….and I admit that when I first started steaming, broiling, grilling, etc..clams, I was very nervous. I was afraid that I would give everyone food poisoning…but following a few tips that I found online really helped… First, Don’t be afraid to be picky when you’re buying the clams from the seafood department. Unless you’re buying a bag of clams, make sure that they’re picking the cream of the crop for you, with no cracks or chips, and that they’re fully closed. Second…if the clam is open a little, tap him…. If he closes back up promptly..then he’s alive…meaning…he’s good. If he stays open, I wouldn’t even take the chance, so discard him. Keep them refrigerated. And once they’re all steamed / broiled/ grilled… if there are any clams that have not opened, discard them.

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14 Cherrystone Clams (Technically 12, but I buy a couple extra in case they don’t open when cooked)
½ pound bacon, diced
2 tbsp reserved bacon grease
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 sweet red pepper, finely diced
3 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
¼ tsp cayenne
½ cup dry white wine
Clam juice from broiling
3 cups fresh soft breadcrumbs
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh lemon wedges

Begin by cleaning the cherrystones. Rinse them thoroughly. I’ll usually put them in a large bowl with very cold water, and stick the bowl in the refrigerator. This will give the clams the chance to spit out any sand or grit that may have gotten inside. After about 30 minutes to an hour, drain the bowl of water, and refill with fresh cold water. Refrigerate. After the second soaking, I’ll usually scrub them with a kitchen brush.

Cook the clams with your preferred method. For this particular recipe, I broil them, because I like to use the juice from the clams that is left on the baking sheet after they’ve cooked. Preheat the broiler to high. Place the clams on a large, heavy baking sheet in a single layer. Place under the broiler, and broil for about 10 minutes or so, until the clams have opened completely. Just when you start to wonder if they’re ever going to open, they all start to gracefully pop open….

Remove the baking sheet from the oven… reserving the clam juice that has dripped into the pan. Remove the clam from inside the shell with a spoon. Place on a cutting board and finely chop. Gently twist the clam shell at the hinged side to separate the halves. Clean any remnants of clam from the shell. Set the shells aside aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and set aside for now. Discard all but two tablespoons of the grease. Add the finely diced red pepper and shallots to the frying pan with the two tablespoons of bacon grease. Sauté until softened; about five minutes or so. Add the garlic; and sauté for another minute or two until softened.

Add the wine to the shallots and garlic mixture, and simmer until it’s reduced to about half…about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add the chopped clams, breadcrumbs, ½ of the bacon, the reserved clam juice, melted butter, parsley, white pepper, Old Bay seasoning, cayenne, Romano cheese to the wine reduction. Mix thoroughly. If you think it is a little too crumbly, you can add another tablespoon or so of melted butter until it meets your desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the clam and breadcrumb mixture onto the clam shells. Top with remaining bacon. Put under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until the bacon is sizzling and the top is golden brown.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Enjoy!

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Creme Filled Chocolate Eggs and Mary’s Secret Ingredient

It’s not very often that I have the drive or even desire to do anything crafty. While some might argue these next few words…I have to say that I’m not even remotely crafty. I’m not… Anymore. But something caught my eye last week, and I fell under its spell.

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These adorable eggs.
I mean, do they count as crafty?
I don’t think so…
They’re candy.

But somehow in my mind, they fit in the crafty category…

I had the pleasure of stumbling upon Lorraine’s blog: Not Quite Nigella last week while I was visiting Mary Frances’ blog: Love, the Secret Ingredient to buy a limited edition culinary surprise box.

There, on Lorraine’s blog, were the most adorable chocolate eggs that I’ve ever seen, and I knew right then and there that it would be a matter of time before I tried my own version, and that turned out to be today. Well, technically, I started them the other day..but it takes a couple of days to prepare the eggs for this.

Don’t get too panicky… I say a couple of days to prepare…but it’s a matter of an hour to empty the eggs, wash, sterilize (per Martha Stewart’s instructions), and color them. I let them sit for a couple of days to make sure that they were completely dry before I poured the chocolate into them.

So…the other day…I came across a box of Cadbury creme filled eggs that I had bought for Easter, and I wondered if I could make the eggs creme filled instead of solid chocolate. The hardest part, I thought, would be doing a thin lining of chocolate around the inside of the egg without it running down the sides to end up in a hardened mass at the bottom of the inside of the egg.

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Surprisingly, it worked! I poured a little bit of chocolate into the eggs, and swirled it around the inside of the egg until there was a very thin layer of chocolate covering the sides. I put the eggs in the refrigerator until the chocolate set, about 15 minutes. After the chocolate hardened, I poured a little more chocolate inside, and swirled it around until it covered the sides, and then put them back into the refrigerator to harden for a few more minutes.

While the chocolate was hardening for the second time, I made the creme out of butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and light corn syrup. It only took a few minutes to mold the creme into the eggs, and top it off with more chocolate to seal the hole in the bottom of the egg.

I was really surprised at how easy they were to make (just plan a couple of days for prep). It worked out nicely, because I just hard boiled the eggs I wanted to color for Easter, and did them all at the same time! And…they’re so cute. They’re a perfect project to do with your kids!

Like I said, the whole reason I found Lorraine’s blog was because I was visiting Love, the Secret Ingredient for Mary’s new product…Mary’s Secret Ingredient (MSI), which is a limited edition culinary surprise box. Culinary and Surprise in one package?? Oh yeah, I’m all for that!!

I really thought this was a cool idea, and wanted to see what it’s all about. Mary offers these boxes (100 available each time) four times a year… Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. I love the surprise element of these boxes…with the promise of gourmet and artisanal ingredients! And who knows? Maybe there will be something in there that I’ve never heard of before! I’m always up for finding new products to use in the kitchen.. and this is truly a fun way to do just that!

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And…Mary will share a recipe on her blog featuring the ingredients. Speaking of Mary’s blog, I urge you to stop by and visit. It’s such a great blog, and her talent goes way beyond her kitchen, with her wonderful heartwarming stories. She’s such a great lady, and I think what finally sold me on MSI, is the fact that Mary will donate 10% of the annual profits from this whole venture to the worldwide Feed the Children! Because in Mary’s words…”No one should go hungry”..

We need more Mary Frances’ in the world to do their part in ending hunger. We should all do our part to help end world hunger….

Life is good… it’s a “creme filled chocolate egg and culinary surprise boxes that are not only fun, but aid in the fight to end world hunger” kind of good.

Creme Filled Chocolate Eggs
Makes One Dozen

A quick note: While the creme filling starts out as a putty consistency, it will soften inside the egg to more of a creme consistency.

I know I probably don’t have to say this, but I need to: Watch young children with these eggs, especially with the eggshell! The eggshell is not meant to be eaten, and could become a choking hazard!!

1 dozen eggs, uncooked
2-3 quarts water
1 tbsp white vinegar

2 cups chocolate (such as Valrhona, that is good for tempering)

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract, or almond extract, or orange extract

Using a sharp paring knife, begin tapping lightly on the bottom of each egg until there is a hole large enough for the whites and yolks to pour out. Carefully rinse the eggshell under warm water until cleaned. Repeat with all eggs. Save the egg carton.

Place the eggshells in a pot of water with white vinegar. Bring to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes, skimming off the foam as it appears. Remove from heat.

Color the eggshells using your favorite egg coloring kit, or food coloring.

To dry them, I placed each eggshell on a skewer that was placed in a jar..and let sit for two days.

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After the eggs are completely dry: Melt the chocolate, and pour about a tablespoon inside the eggshells. Swirl the chocolate around inside the egg, put each egg back in the egg carton, and place in the refrigerator to harden.

Repeat step five with another thin layer inside the eggshell. Place in the refrigerator to harden.

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While the chocolate inside the egg is cooling, mix together the powdered sugar, butter, corn syrup, and extract until well blended. The creme will be very close to a putty consistency.  Remove eggs from refrigerator, and begin packing the creme inside each egg until filled.

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Cover the hole on the bottom of the egg with more melted chocolate. Put the filled eggshells back in the egg carton, and place in refrigerator to harden for two hours to overnight.

Use for table decoration, seating markers, or gifts!

Enjoy!!

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I’m Walking on Sunshine!! Open Face Steak Tacos

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It’s amazing what one single day of sunshine can do for the soul….and I find myself humming a lot, and just in a general happy state of mind.

I’m finally beginning to feel like I’m coming out of hibernation, with the winter doldrums quickly melting away!

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I have the strong desire to get outside and get my hands in the dirt… I’m watching my daisies for signs of life, looking for my tulips and worried that the voles just might have won the war this year…and I’m getting excited about planting fresh herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and maybe a lettuce bowl..

I say all of this, understanding that I am a fickle person who does not do well in the heat, and by August, I’ll be wanting the cooler weather and thinking of the days that I can wear sweaters and plan cold weather menus. I think the perfect weather for me would be 70-75 degrees year round. I’ve been told that I should move to San Diego. I probably should, but my fickle-ness would have me longing for some sort of change of season.

But for now, I’m going to embrace the awakening spring and enjoy this sunshine…

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On days like today, I want to make it quick in the kitchen. Sounds crazy coming from a girl who loves to cook and spend time in her kitchen, but our spring and summer months are so short, I want to be able to get outside, and enjoy the sunshine and all of the things I love to do during those months.

I feel myself craving lighter meals, grilled meats and vegetables, and looking forward to the different fruits of the summer season, the perfect ingredients for a light and quick meal, like open face steak tacos.

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I love these tacos because the cooking can be done on the grill, and it’s a matter of slicing up a few vegetables to top them off. The best thing about them is that you can change them up to meet everyone’s liking… make them chicken, shrimp, or veggie tacos with their choice of topping!

I like to throw the tortilla right on the grill until it’s crispy so that I have to eat it as open face, but you can leave it on for a few minutes just to heat it, which would make folding the taco easy to eat.

I’m feeling summer today!!

Life is good… it’s sunshine…it’s a lighter mood, lighter meal, and those little voles think they’ve won, but the war isn’t over yet…kind of good…

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Open Face Steak Tacos

6” corn tortillas

1 lb thin cut strip steak
Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup red cabbage, sliced thin
1/2 cup English cucumber, diced
1/2 cup tomato, diced
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/4 cup white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
A little minced jalapeño (your desired heat)
1 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped
Juice of one lime
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Avocado, cubed
Caso Blanco
Cilantro for garnish

Grill the steaks to your desired doneness. Thinly slice the steak diagonally against the grain.

Grill the tortillas until crispy and blackened around the edges.

In a medium size bowl, combine the cabbage, cucumber, tomato, black olives, onion, garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Layer the cabbage and steak on the grilled tortilla. Top with avocado, Caso Blanco, and garnish with more cliantro. Squeeze some more lime juice over the top.

See? Quick and Easy!!

Enjoy!!

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Fiesta Friday…Sausage and Spinach Souffles …and … Carrot Cake Cupcakes… Cupcakes??? Oh, yes I did!

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I was up at 5am this morning, so that I could make some soufflés, so that I could get to my mom, Marcia’s (Marsh) house by 9am for breakfast. She loves Panera’s soufflés, so I thought it would be fun to surprise her with my version of them. Today is her birthday, and I don’t think she’ll mind if I tell you that she’s 73 today. And, I hope that when I’m 73, I look as beautiful as she does. And I’m not saying that so that I’ll be her favorite… that’s just a given, because I’m her only child..she has no choice!  She truly is beautiful.

So, today…Marsh’s birthday… is what I call a Holy Day of Obligation. It’s one of those events throughout the year that kind of turns into a week’s (or more) celebration. Because she’s so popular, I know that she has a lunch or two planned for next week to celebrate! She’s one of those people who knows and loves everyone, and everyone knows and loves her. And she expects me to know everyone too…

“You know my friend, Ruth?” she’ll ask..
“No mom, I don’t know Ruth..” I’ll answer
“Ye-esss, you know Ruth, the short lady who lives over on Market Street“ she’ll say.
“Nope, I don’t know her..” I’ll answer.
“Yes you do… Mary’s sister-in-law!” she’ll say.
“Who is Mary?” I’ll ask..
“Pru, she was the secretary at the school when you were in kindergarten…” she’ll say.
“Nope. And that was 47 years ago…” I’ll reply.
And then she’ll sit there looking at me incredulously…
“Well, you’d know Ruth if you saw her..” is usually how it ends.
(the names have been changed to protect the innocent..and of course, I exaggerate…but not by much!)

To be honest, I love those conversations. It makes me laugh for days! Sorry mom..but it’s true! Oh man, she’s going to slap me upside the head the next time she sees me…

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So, this morning…I walk into my parents house, planning on surprising mom with the soufflés, and here she is pulling out this pretty little plate filled with pastries… mini cheesecakes, eclairs, puff pastries.. typical of Marsh.. It’s her birthday…and she’s thinking of others! We had a lovely breakfast, and just a happy time.

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I keep calling them soufflés, but in reality they’re nothing like a soufflé, except that the puff pastry puffs up like a soufflé, but I really don’t think that counts. This is really a great recipe, so easy, and you can change up the meat and vegetables (or make it vegetarian) to suit your taste! For this particular one, I used breakfast sausage that had a little kick to it, spinach, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and gruyere cheese.

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…And because I know that I can’t bake a cake, I wanted to bake Marsh something for her birthday, so I decided on cupcakes.

Yes.
I did.
I never learn.
I tried my hand at cupcakes again.

I know, I know… after last week, what was I thinking? But I really wanted to make her some carrot cake cupcakes. I chose Ina Garten’s recipe. I knew that Ina wouldn’t steer me wrong…and I was right. They are moist and delicious! I was like a little kid showing off the soufflés and cupcakes to Marsh… And she “ooh’d and aah’d” just as a mother should… It’s doesn’t matter how old we get…a mom will always be a mom…

So, today I’m bringing Marsh to Angie’s Fiesta Friday… you know…as a part of her week long birthday celebration..

I hope you stop by Angie’s blog, The Novice Gardener for Fiesta Friday. That party is growing like crazy, and you’ll find some really wonderful bloggers sharing a lot of lovely recipes and stuff you’ll just love… A special thank you to Angie for hosting this great event, and for featuring my Open Face Steak and Radish Sliders from last week! I’m truly honored…

LIfe is good… It’s a Happy Birthday Mom, I love you…and Look! I made cupcakes!…. kind of good..

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Sausage and Spinach Souffle
Makes Six Tartlets

1 package puff pastry
1 lb bulk breakfast sausage (or patties)

3 eggs
1/4 cup Romano cheese
2 tbsp heavy cream or half & half

1/2 bag baby spinach (3 oz)
1/2 cup marinated artichokes, chopped
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil

4 oz Gruyere cheese, grated.

Salt and Pepper to taste

Unwrap the puff pastry, and let thaw. Cut each puff pastry into fourths. Spray six tartlet pans with vegetable spray. Place one square of puff pastry into each tartlet pan. Set aside.

In a medium size frying pan, break the sausage into pieces, and cook over medium heat until fully cooked. Divide the cooked sausage among each tartlet pan. It will be the first layer of the souffle.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the same pan, and add the garlic. Saute for about a minute or two. Add the spinach and saute just until wilted. Add the artichokes and sundries tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for another minute or two. Remove from heat. Divide among each tartlet pan, layering on top of the sausage.

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Whisk the eggs the milk and Romano Cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Pour three tablespoons of the egg mixture over the spinach mixture in the tartlet pan.

Top with grated gruyere. Fold each corner of the pastry square into the tartlet.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1/2 hour, or until golden brown.

Serve immediately. Enjoy!

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Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Barefoot Contessa Recipe

Just a quick note: Ina Garten suggested to bake the cupcakes for the first 10 minutes at 400 degrees, and then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for another 35 minutes. I found that I could bake them for 30 minutes straight at 350 degrees with no issues at all.

There will be plenty of frosting to frost the cupcakes heavily!!

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 extra large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 cups grated carrots ( less than one pound)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting:
3/4 lb cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp pur vanilla extract
1 lb powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Beat the sugar, oil, and vanilla together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs, one at a time.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, add 1/2 of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.

Add the grated carrots, raisins, and walnuts to the remaining flour, mix well, and add to the batter. Mix until just combined.

Line muffin pans with paper liners. Scoop the batter into muffin cups until each is 3/4 full.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the Frosting:

Cream the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. (I used the whisk attachment and beat the frosting until it was really fluffy).

Add the sugar and beat until smooth.

When the cupcakes are cool, frost them generously and serve.

Open Face Steak and Radish Sliders

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I know that I’ve mentioned this before, but I cannot bake to save my life. Ask me to prepare a seven-course meal, and I can do that without blinking an eye…but ask me to bring dessert, and that puts me into full panic mode. I mean, I can do the basics, like simple cupcakes or apple pie… but anything else? Forget it.

This week for Angie’s Fiesta Friday #9 at The Novice Gardener,  I got it into my head that I was going to bake strawberry shortcake cupcakes with orange whipped cream…

Yeah. Right.
What day is it today? Sunday?
I started this project on Friday!

Fail.
BIG Fail.

I thought for sure that this was a winning recipe that I was coming up with. I thought that I’d fill my yellow cupcakes with a strawberry cream cheese mixture, and then top them off with whipped cream loaded with orange peel. I couldn’t get the cream cheese mixture to the consistency/texture I was looking for, and the whipped cream just did not taste good with the orange peel for some reason. Honestly? I think that I tasted the cream cheese and the whipped cream so much, that my taste buds were on over load (once again), and I went to bed last night with that sicky sweet feeling, and a kitchen that looked like a war zone. I had gone through way too many batches of cupcakes.

Before I fell asleep, I was trying to figure out what I could do with the remaining cupcakes…something that would be easy for my very low level of baking expertise, yet pretty enough to post for Fiesta Friday. At that point, my thoughts turned to a banana Boston cream cupcake.

So this morning, I looked at the cupcakes sitting on my island, which were all ready to fill, and I just couldn’t do it…

I just didn’t have it in me to fight the banana cream fight.

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So…I made some chocolate frosting, frosted the cupcakes and put myself into pure heavenly yellow and chocolate filled bliss.. because, as you know (or should know by now..) yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles are my most favorite. Like…in the whole wide world, favorite.

And, on my yellow cupcake with chocolate high, my brain turned to what I know best…

Savory.

I bought a beautiful bunch of radishes the other day, with the plans of sautéing them. And as I was pulling them out of the fridge, my eye caught sight of a half of a container of baby spinach that should be used up. Hmmm… did I want to throw that in with the radishes? Sounds good, but I decided instead that I’d try to cream the spinach in a pepper jack cream, and put that with the sautéed radishes on toasted baguettes.

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A little tenderloin, cut into bite size pieces, and sautéed in garlic would make a perfect addition to this…and that’s how I came up with open face steak sliders.

They’re delicious. They’re perfect for a light dinner, for lunch, for appetizers… They’re pretty enough to share with all of you for Fiesta Friday… two days late. A huge thank you to Angie for hosting such a wonderful party!! Please stop by her blog (click on any of the links in this post, or the Fiesta Friday icon to the right of this post) to check out the great recipes from a lot of really wonderful bloggers!

Life is good. Well, it wasn’t good for the last two days while I was trying to pretend I know how to bake, but life is good now because  I finally admitted to myself that I’m not a baker, and I got to eat my YCWCF, and came up with a rockin’ slider…
kind of good.

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Open Face Radish and Steak Sliders
Makes 12 sliders
(They’re about 2” x 1-1/2” in size, so figure about four sliders per person)

Not into beef? Change it to chicken! Or for that matter, make them completely meatless by using sautéed zucchini or summer squash, or even tofu! The beauty of these sliders is that they’re very versatile!

1 mini baguette, sliced
Olive oil for drizzling

1 8 oz filet mignon (or your choice of steak)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

2 cups baby spinach, stems removed
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp butter
2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded

6 radishes, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chives
2 tsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil. Place in preheated oven, and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

Thinly slice the steak, and cut the slices into bite size pieces. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet, and add the 1 clove of roughly chopped garlic. Saute for about a minute, and then add the steak. Fry the steak until just cooked, leaving it a little pink if you prefer. Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and set aside.

Melt 2 teaspoons butter in a medium frying pan. Add the heavy cream, 2 teaspoons white pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and whisk until blended. Cook until thickened, about five minutes. Remove from heat, and add pepper jack cheese. Stir until the cheese is completely melted. Add the spinach to the cheese mixture, and stir until the spinach is wilted. If you find that you need a little more heat to wilt the spinach, go ahead and turn the heat back on for a minute or two. Not too long, so that your cheese doesn’t turn gritty. Remove from heat, and set aside.

Melt 2 teaspoons butter in a medium frying pan. Add the garlic, and sauté for about a minute. Add the radishes to the pan, and sauté for about 10 minutes. At the last minute, stir in the chives. Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and set aside.

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Assembling the sliders:
Start by placing about a tablespoon of the spinach/cheese mixture on top of each baguette. Add a few pieces of the steak on top of the spinach. Layer three slices of radish on top of the beef.

Bake for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees, or until heated through. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy!!

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Meet my Artist…Marielle Reuser from Miss Beretta Illustration

I’m sure that you’ve noticed that I have a new header, and some artwork for my blog today. I want to share the highly talented artist who designed all of this for me…

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Click on the image above to go to Marielle’s blog…

I had the honor of working with Marielle Reuser, from Miss Beretta Illustration for the last couple of weeks… and what a delightful and exciting experience it was..

I’m came across Marielle’s blog about two months ago or so…and was totally blown away by her talent. We would comment here and there… and it was a simple “If you didn’t already have a header, I’d love to design yours…” comment from Marielle, that made me say..”Let’s talk”…that got us to where we are, and my blog to where it is today.

And I have to say.. She totally captured my style…and I couldn’t be more thrilled!!

Marielle is such a pleasure…and so accommodating, putting up with all of my requests and changes. Always friendly, and always understanding exactly what I was asking for. She never ceased to surprise and amaze me when I opened an email that held drafts, and updates…

I hope that you stop by her website to check out her work. She’s amazingly talented…she’s funny… and so, SO very sweet.

Thank you Marielle…for everything. For your kindness, and for your patience…for the long hours that you put into the drafts, the drawing, painting, updating… and updating…and updating…

I truly, TRULY appreciate everything you did for me…and I couldn’t be happier!!

Asparagus and Mushroom Frittata

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that may be true… but in my little world, I can honestly say that it takes a village to build a frittata…

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I’ve always avoided making frittatas. I’m not sure why, I just have. Maybe the word “avoided” is a little exaggerative…maybe it’s more like “shied away from”…. But that ended the other day when I made my very first one…It was made up of sautéed mushrooms, onions, asparagus, parmesan cubes, and Italian sausage. I sliced a few potatoes, and made a crust with them in the bottom of the pan by frying them until they were golden brown and crisp. I thought for sure those ingredients would have made a frittata filled with flavor, but instead, I found it to be very bland.

Because I cannot post a recipe unless I’m absolutely confident that others will love it, I brought it to work with me the next day and left a note on it asking my friends, who are also my co-workers, to try it and tell me what it needed…

Yes, I’m comfortable enough to ask them to be my guinea pigs…and yes…they’re comfortable enough to be completely honest with me!  Honestly?  I don’t think they mind..

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All in all, they liked it…The majority said to leave it as is, that it was delicious. But then some of the suggestions were that I sauté the asparagus and potatoes in bacon grease, sharper cheese and more of it…possibly using a couple of different cheeses, more black pepper, and maybe a little more onion and garlic.  Oh, and chives and scallions.  Chives and scallions?  Brilliant!!   So really, I wasn’t really way off track… they only had a couple of suggestions; and maybe it wasn’t as bland as I thought…

You know…sometimes that happens. You spend all that time cooking, and it’s hard to taste the food after a while.. maybe it’s because we smell it so much as we’re cooking, our taste buds are on overload. Kind of like when you go on a wine tour, after the third or fourth winery, all of the wines taste the same!

I was kind of glad that they didn’t suggest green or red peppers, because while I LOVE them, I really don’t care for peppers and eggs together. I mean, I’ll eat it, but I’ve always thought that the peppers overtake the eggs.

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I went home that same night and made another one using their suggestions…I decided to keep the parmesan, but added it to the eggs as I whisked them.  I added some sharp cheddar, too.  Another small onion, a clove of garlic, and a sliced scallion. I sautéed everything (except the scallion, which I added right before I poured the eggs in) in bacon grease, and added more black pepper. I garnished it with raw scallions and chives. It was delicious!  And honestly? I think that the garlic was the main factor that was missing from the first go round.. and the sharpness of the cheddar, and the bite of the scallions and chives gave it that oomph that I was looking for…and I received all thumbs up from my friends, because they got to try it again the next day!!

And now? I’m totally hooked on these things. Who knew that they were this easy? I don’t know why it took me so long to make one.. and I LOVE that the possibilities are endless! And now that we’re heading into asparagus season… we’ll be eating a lot of frittatas!

Life is good…. It’s all about learning how to make frittatas and asparagus coming into season kind of good…

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Asparagus and Mushroom Frittata

1 pound asparagus, woody ends discarded
10 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
Bacon grease (or olive oil)
½ pound bulk Italian sausage
1 large onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup to 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 scallions, sliced thin
2 large potatoes, thinly sliced
2 cups sliced mushrooms (I used baby bella)
8 oz sharp cheddar, grated
4 oz parmesan, finely grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Scallions and chives for garnish

Just a quick note: I know that it’s the general rule that you use a cast iron skillet to make a frittata. I didn’t. I used my Calphalon pan, and it worked just fine. You want to use a pan that you can take right off of the stovetop to put right into the oven. I have to say that the frittata slid right out of the Calphalon.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

You’ll be sautéing everything separately, so make sure you season it all properly with salt and pepper!
Melt about two tablespoons of bacon grease in a large frying pan (or skillet). Saute the onions and garlic. Remove the onions and garlic from the pan, and set aside. Saute the asparagus until it’s partially cooked. Remove from the pan, and set aside. Saute the mushrooms until they’re golden brown, about five minutes. Remove from pan, and set aside. Add the sausage to the pan, and cook thoroughly.

If you think you need a little more grease for the potatoes, add about another tablespoon to the pan. Begin laying the potatoes in the pan, around the edge, overlapping the potatoes until the bottom of the pan is covered. Season with salt and pepper and cook on medium high, covered, until the bottom of the potatoes are golden brown, and they’re tender. Remove from heat.

Take about one half of the asparagus, and cut into one inch pieces. Save the other half for the top of the frittata.

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Begin layering the ingredients on top of the potatoes (in the pan): sausage,onion mixture, mushrooms, asparagus, cheddar, raw sliced scallions.

Whisk the eggs and heavy cream together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Mix in the grated parmesan.  Pour over the layered ingredients in the pan. Season the top with salt and pepper.

Arrange the remaining asparagus stalks on top of the frittata (as pictured). Place in preheated oven, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the eggs are set.

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Cut into wedges, and enjoy!

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Twisted Tuesday… Grilled Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

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I have a lot of happy memories from my childhood, some of them are real… and I’m sure that some of them are probably embellished by a little girl who thought that those things happened, but maybe not exactly the way she thought they did…and sometimes different things going on in my life spark bits and pieces of those memories for a fleeting second or two.

My memories of my Grandpa Bucolo are just snippets in my mind… Grandpa passed away when I was about 8 years old, so while I have memories of him, they’re vague…But strawberries tend to spark strong memories of Grandpa…and I envision me in a strawberry patch eating strawberries, and him in his metal patio chair saying in a stern, yet joking…Italian laden accent:  “Get outta my strawberries..”  Now, whether he was actually sitting in a chair, I don’t know… but his words are a strong memory…

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But then again…
I was a little girl, it was years and years ago…
And sometimes my memories aren’t that accurate…

Like this memory… I must have been about five years old… and I remember falling out of bed.  I can remember that my mom came in to my bedroom and helped me back into my bed… and then I can remember hearing her say to my father: “She must have hit a tree”…

I don’t know why, but that has always stayed with me….and I  brought it up to my mom quite a few years ago, because over the years, I couldn’t understand why she would have said “She must have hit a tree”… when obviously, there was no tree in my bedroom!  She sat there and thought about it for a minute… and said: “Could it be possible that maybe I said: ‘She must have had a dream..’”….   Oh, my gosh… yeah, now that makes sense!!  We laughed and laughed about that one!!  But once in a while, that memory pops up into my head… and I can still clearly hear my mom saying: “She must have hit a tree…”…even though I know it’s not the way it happened..

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Sometimes those memories, right or wrong, are embedded in our brains…and we are going to remember them the way we want to remember them.. So whether or not that actually happened with my grandpa.. it is what I remember, and what I hold on to because that’s all I have of him.

Strawberries and Grandpa Bucolo.  They just belong together, and the whole time I made these sandwiches, I thought of him.

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Now…I can’t take full credit for this idea today… Kelsey Nixon made these cute little strawberry sandwiches on one of her shows not too long ago, and I thought that was the cutest idea.

I thought that these would be fun to share on Twisted Tuesday, but with my own twist…

Kelsey made hers with a lemon cream, grilled strawberries and poundcake.  I changed it up just a little bit to suit my personality and taste, and of course, I added some Nutella, and thought it would be cool to make them into ice cream sandwiches.  A perfect twist to an ice cream sandwich!

These little beauties are so easy to make, and such a cool and refreshing dessert, or summertime treat!  The vanilla ice cream loaded with fresh strawberries and blueberries was so delicious with the Nutella and pound cake.  I would say that you could even make deconstructed ice cream sandwiches with a slice of pound cake frosted with Nutella, a scoop of ice cream on top, with macerated strawberries poured over the top!

Life is good. It’s memories filled with sweet strawberries on a summer’s day kind of good… 

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Grilled Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches
Makes 4 Ice Cream Sandwiches

Just a quick note:
I grilled the pound cake and strawberries (on my stovetop), but you don’t have to grill them, if you don’t have a griddle.  If you prefer, you can toast the pound cake, and roast the strawberries…or do absolutely nothing to them and eat them as is! They’re delicious, no matter how you choose to eat them!

Try this with peaches, nectarines, cherries, or any kind of fruit that might tickle your fancy!! Pineapple! Oh, this would be so good with pineapple!!  Have fun and mix it up!

One pound cake, ½” slices  (recipe below)
12 large fresh strawberries, sliced in half
2 cups vanilla ice cream
1 cup fresh strawberries, chopped
½ cup fresh blueberries
Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)

Line a 11×7” pan with plastic wrap.

Place the ice cream in a large mixing bowl, and leave at room temperature until softened.  Add the chopped strawberries and blueberries to the ice cream, and mix well.  Pour into the prepared 11×7” pan, cover with more plastic wrap, and place in freezer, until frozen. Cut into rectangles to fit the slice of pound cake.

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Place the pound cake on a heated griddle, and grill until it’s toasted with golden brown grill lines, about three to five minutes on each side.   Remove from the griddle, and set aside.

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Place the strawberry halves on the griddle, and grill until they have seared grill lines on them, about three to five minutes on each side.  Remove from griddle and set aside.

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To assemble the ice cream sandwiches:
Spread the Nutella on the inside of two slices of pound cake. Place one rectangle of ice cream on top of the Nutella on one slice of pound cake. Place six strawberry halves on top of the ice cream, and top with the other slice of pound cake, Nutella side down. Wrap in plastic wrap, and store in freezer until ready to serve.

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The Pound Cake:
This makes two pound cakes.  Freeze one for another day, or double the recipe above to make 8 ice cream sandwiches!

3 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp salt
4 sticks butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
10 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)

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Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Butter two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans.

Sift the flour and salt in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat for about a minute.

Add one cup of flour at a time until it’s completely incorporated.  Pour into prepared loaf pans.  Bake for about an hour, or until a cake pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from pans, and cool completely on cooling rack.  Slice into 1/2″ slices.

Enjoy!!

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