Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

Valentine’s Day is in a couple of days.  Here in Michigan, the restaurants and bars reopened February 1st for indoor dining (at 25% capacity) and with a 10 p.m. curfew.  At least the people who want to eat out on Valentine’s Day will be able to.  I haven’t eaten in a restaurant since the pandemic started.  I do support our local restaurants but do it through home delivery or pickup.

This Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup is a simple and delicious soup that will warm you on our cold winter days.  It is very easy and quick to make.

The recipe uses roasted red peppers that you can buy in a jar.  The only prep of the peppers is draining and chopping them.  Use fire roasted tomatoes if you can, as they add a slight smoky flavor to the soup.  This soup goes great with a grilled cheese sandwich.  If there are any leftovers, the soup freezes really well.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onions
2 (14.5 ounce) cans fire roasted tomatoes
1 (12 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon pesto (optional)
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon seasoned garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup half and half

For the Topping
thin slices of fresh mozzarella

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or soup pot.  Add the onion and sauté until onion is translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the fire-roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pesto, broth, salt, garlic powder, and basil.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then cover and reduce heat to a slow steady simmer.  Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and add the half and half.  Stir to combine.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Serve in bowls topped with a slice of the fresh mozzarella.  (Note: If you don’t have an immersion blender, let the soup cool until warm and then transfer to a blender.  Blend until smooth and return to the pot.)  

The photo below is my yard after a recent snowfall.  It was definitely a good day for a hot bowl of soup.

Happy Valentine’s Day and stay safe.



Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Have you tried Meyer Lemons?  They are a little bit sweeter than the regular lemons available at your local grocery stores.  Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin orange.  The Meyer lemon has a smooth yellow skin and is not too tart or too sweet.

An interesting fact about the Meyer lemon is that it was named after a US Department of Agriculture employee named Frank N. Meyer.  Mr. Meyer was an Agricultural Explorer who collected a sample of the plant on a trip to China in 1908.

I find the Meyer Lemons at two of my local grocery stores, usually in January and February.

This Meyer Lemon Marmalade is a freezer type marmalade, and it also includes navel oranges in the recipe.  It sets up exceptionally well and has a bright citrus flavor.  It may now be my favorite topping for an English Muffin.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

5 medium Meyer lemons
2 medium navel oranges
4 1/4 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup water
1 (1.75 ounce) box Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin

Wash 5 (8 ounce) glass jars and lids with hot water or run through the dishwasher.  Dry thoroughly and set aside.

Wash and dry the lemons and oranges.  Remove the colored part of the peel from the fruit, using a small zester or vegetable peeler.  Cut the peel into thin slivers, or finely chop.  Transfer to a large bowl.

Peel and discard remaining white part of the peel from the lemons and oranges.

Coarsely chop the fruit into small pieces, discarding any seeds and the white core and reserving any juice.  Transfer the fruit and juice to the bowl with the zest.  Stir to combine.

Transfer 2 1/3 cups of the fruit mixture to a large pot.  (If you don’t have enough, add a bit of water or orange juice to make exactly 2 1/3 cups).  If there is extra, discard it.

Add the sugar and stir until well combined.  Turn the heat to medium-high and stir frequently until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  After 30 seconds, remove from the heat and set aside.

Add 3/4 cup water to a small saucepan.  Sprinkle in the Sure-Jell and stir until dissolved.  Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add the hot sure jell mixture to the fruit mixture and stir for 3 minutes.

Transfer the marmalade to the prepared containers immediately and fill to within 1/2  inch of tops.  Wipe off top edges of containers and immediately cover with lids.  Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.  Marmalade is now ready to use.

Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or freeze containers up to 1 year.  Thaw in the refrigerator before using.  Makes about five (8 ounce) jars of marmalade.  

Adapted from a Kraft Heinz recipe.

Be safe everyone.

Blue Jays often come by my back yard looking for treats.  They are especially fond of peanuts.

Easy Coconut Cake

I like to call this Coconut Cake my snow day cake.  I usually make it every year after we get a lot of snow.  It matches the landscape outside.  It is a very easy cake to make.  I use a box cake mix and Betty Crocker Home Style Fluffy White Frosting Mix.  The frosting mix is like a 7 minute frosting.

Coconut Cake is a popular dessert in the Southern region of the USA.  It is usually frosted with a 7 Minute type fluffy frosting and covered with coconut flakes.  A cream cheese frosting or a simple butter cream frosting can be used also.  When I lived in the South, this was always a favorite cake that I liked to make for special occasions (no snow required).

But here in Grand Rapids, we did have a snow storm and it seemed like a good day to make the cake.

Years ago, the Betty Crocker Home Style Fluffy White Frosting Mix was easy to find in local grocery stores.  Now, I have to order online from Walmart (pickup not available). The price is $3.48 per box.  Walmart does have a minimum order amount of $35 for free delivery.  It is also available on Amazon at a higher price.

The mix really does make a fluffy, light, and delicious frosting.  It is so much easier than making a 7 Minute frosting from scratch.

Easy Coconut Cake

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

For the Cake

1 (15.25 oz) box Classic White Cake Mix, Duncan Hines (or your favorite mix)
1 cup water
3 large egg white
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Frosting

1 (7.2 oz size) Betty Crocker Home Style Fluffy White Frosting Mix
1/2 cup boiling water

1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spray  bottom and sides of 2 (8 inch) round cake pans with Cooking Spray and line with parchment paper.  Set pans aside.

Blend the cake mix, water, oil and egg whites and vanilla extract  in a large bowl with mixer.  Beat on low speed for 30 seconds to combine the ingredients.  Scrape down the bowl and continue beating on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Bake for 26-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool cakes on wire racks for 15 minutes.  Remove cakes from pans, peel off parchment paper, and discard.  Cool cakes completely before frosting.

For the Frosting

Beat frosting mix and 1/2 cup boiling water in small glass or metal bowl on low speed 30 seconds, scraping the bowl constantly.  Beat on high speed 5 to 7 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally, until stiff peaks form.

When the cake layers are cool, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate and spread with a small amount of the frosting.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the coconut.  Place the second cake layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the frosting.  Sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides.

Cake is best served the day it is made.  Any leftovers should be stored in refrigerator.   

Snowman and picture are courtesy of a family member.

Wishing everyone a happy and safe New Year.

Crunchy No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

It may be more difficult to get in a festive mood this year.  For the first time in many years I won’t be spending Christmas with my daughter and rest of the family because of the pandemic.  Yet, there is some good news with the approval of two vaccines for the virus.  Hopefully, next year will be a more normal Christmas.

At least we still have the sights and sounds of Christmas to enjoy.  One of my favorites is the Christmas tree.  My tree is smaller this year but my cat still manages to crawl underneath and rearrange the Christmas tree skirt.

This year, my daughter decorated three Christmas trees at her house and shared the pictures with me.  My favorite is the one she calls her “whimsical” Christmas tree.

But I also loved the more elegant one.

Here is a quick, easy, and delicious recipe for Crunchy No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars.  They are like a Rice Krispie treat but with chocolate and peanut butter.  If you are a fan of chocolate and peanut butter, these bars may just become a family favorite.

  • Servings: “6”
  • Difficulty: “easy”
  • Print

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 cups Rice Krispies

Line a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the chocolate chips, peanut butter, honey, and butter in a large glass mixing bowl.  Microwave for about 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.

Remove from the microwave and stir until the chocolate has completely melted and everything is well combined.

Gently stir in the rice krispies.  Mix until well combined.  Pour  the mixture into a 9×13 inch baking pan.  Smooth the mixture across the pan and refrigerate until firm, at least 2-4 hours. (If you prefer thicker bars, use an 8 x 8 inch baking pan.)

Slice into squares with a sharp knife and store chilled in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  

This is a popular recipe on the internet.  I adapted the one from two peas and pod blog and the original recipe can be found here.  It is also in their latest cookbook, The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook:  Simple Family-Friendly Recipes for Everyday Home Cooking.  The cookbook is available on Amazon as well as digital versions.  I purchased the iBook version.  I love the simplicity of the recipes.

Merry Christmas everyone.

White Claw Black Cherry Cupcakes

Thanksgiving is almost here and it will be will be so different this year.  It will definitely be a smaller than usual Thanksgiving dinner at my house. But everyone in my family is safe and well.  So there is a lot to be thankful for.  Below is a picture of Thanksgiving desserts from a couple of years ago.

These White Claw Black Cherry Cupcakes are a fun and party ready cupcake that you may want to include the next time you can safely reconnect with family and friends.  White Claw Black Cherry Hard Seltzer is made from a blend of seltzer water, gluten free alcohol bases, and a hint of fruit flavor.

Please note that the hard seltzer contains 5% alcohol.

This is a really easy dessert to make, using a cake mix and prepared frosting.  I used a Pillsbury Cream Cheese Filled Pastry Bag with a star tip for the frosting.

White Claw Black Cherry Cupcakes

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Nonstick cooking spray
1 (15.25) ounce box red velvet cake mix
1 (12 ounce) can black cherry hard seltzer, such as White Claw Black Cherry Hard Seltzer
3 large eggs
3/4 cup cherry jam or preserves
1 Pillsbury Cream Cheese Filled Pastry Bag
24 maraschino cherries with stems, for decorating

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners and spray lightly with cooking spray.

Beat the cake mix, 1 1/3 cups of the hard seltzer and the eggs together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium high speed until smooth and combined, about 2 minutes.  Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared muffin tins (each cup should be about 3/4 full).

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes, rotating tins halfway through.  Turn cupcakes out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Stir the remaining hard seltzer (about 1/4 cup) and the cherry jam together in a small saucepan and place over medium heat.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced slightly, about 5 to 8 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate until completely cool and set, about 45 minutes.

Scoop out a 1/2 inch-wide and 1/2 inch deep hole from the center of each cupcake top using a small measuring spoon.  Fill each hole with the spiked cherry jam (about 1 1/2 teaspoons per cupcake).

Pipe the Cream Cheese frosting onto the cupcakes to cover the jam, leaving the edge exposed.  Top each with a maraschino cherry. Makes about 24 cupcakes.

1.  Recipe adapted from Food Network and can be found here.
2.  There is no vegetable oil or butter in the cupcake batter.

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

Are you still a fan of The Great British Baking Show?  I am, very much so.

The new season  (Season 8) is on Netflix here in the USA which is Season 11 in the UK.  Due to the pandemic, the bakers remained in a “bubble” instead of returning home between weekends of filming.  Also, co-host Sandi Tosvig has been replaced by British comedian Matt Lucas.  For more information and a review of the current season, check out this USA Today article.

The first technical bake of this series is a Paul Hollywood recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cake baked in mini cake molds.  As usual, for the technical challenge, it seems the bakers are given very few instructions and baking times.

There was a little bit of drama during this technical challenge.  When the bakers are taking their cakes to the table for judging, Sura accidentally swats Dave’s cake off his plate onto the floor.  Fortunately, one of Dave’s cakes survived and he was judged on that cake.

Here is Paul Hollywoods’ recipe for Pineapple Upside Down Cakes.  To make the recipe, one must make a caramel syrup, prep a whole pineapple, make a sponge cake, whip cream, and prepare an optional custard.

As you can see, it is a complicated recipe plus there is a possibility that the cakes will stick to the baking pans (as some of the bakers discovered).

The recipe in this post uses jumbo size muffin or cupcake pans.  I had 2 Wilton jumbo sized muffin pans that I bought from Amazon a few years back for about $13.  I sprayed the pans with nonstick cooking spray and didn’t have any problems with the cupcakes sticking to the pans.

The recipe that I made for this post is very easy and delicious.  It uses a boxed cake mix and canned sliced pineapples and the juice from the pineapples.

This recipe bakes individual servings, making it easier to share with family and friends.  These are absolutely delicious served warm after they are removed from the muffin pans.

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 cans (8 oz each) pineapple slices in juice, drained (reserving juice)
12 maraschino cherries
1 box yellow cake mix, 15.25 oz size
1 cup pineapple juice (from cans of pineapple)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Spray the muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.

Place 1 teaspoon melted butter in each of the 12 jumbo muffin cups.  Add 1 tablespoon light brown sugar to each of the muffin cups.  Place 1 pineapple slice in each cup; place 1 cherry in center of each pineapple slice.

In a large bowl, beat the cake mix, 1 cup reserved pineapple juice, the oil, and eggs with an electric mixer on low speed until moistened; beat 2 minutes on high speed.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each muffin cup 3/4 of the way full.

Bake in the preheated oven 20 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Cool cakes in the pan 5 to 10 minutes.

Place cookie sheet upside down over each muffin pan, turn cookie sheet and muffin pan over.  Remove pan.  Serve cakes warm.  Refrigerate any leftover cakes in an airtight container.

1.  I used a Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix, 15.25 oz size.
2.  Recipe is adapted from Betty Crocker and original recipe can be found here.

Be safe everyone.



Apple Tart

Autumn is here and with it comes the beautiful colors of the season.  It also means that fresh local apples are in season.  This year, I didn’t visit any of my favorite orchards but relied on a delivery service for local apples.

Michigan is the third-largest producer of apples in the United States and harvests about 1.05 billion pounds of apples per year.  That is a lot of apples.  Fortunately, West Michigan contributes to that annual harvest.  See more information about Michigan apple harvests here in this short article.

I make this Apple Tart a couple of times a year when the local Honey Crisp apples are available.  It is one of my favorite Fall desserts.  Using prepared puff pastry, makes this a quick and easy dessert.  In my opinion, it is just as good as an apple pie.  You can serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream but I prefer it with no topping at all.

Apple Tart

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 pkg Puff Pastry Dough, thawed if frozen
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 tablespoon ginger paste (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
4-5 medium sized apples
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup apricot preserves or jam
1 tablespoons  water

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine the softened butter and ginger paste and set aside.

Unfold the puff pastry and place in an 11 inch x 7 inch loose bottom rectangular tart pan.  Place the puff pastry over the fluted tart pan and press the dough to the bottom.  Cut off any excess dough from the sides of the pan.  Pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent it from puffing.

With a pastry brush, brush the bottom of the crust with the butter and ginger mixture.  Keep the puff pastry in the refrigerator while preparing the apples.

In a small bowl, add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir to combine.  Set aside.

Wash and peel the apples.  Cut them into quarters and cut out the core section of each piece.  Cut each quarter into medium-thin slices and place in a large bowl.  Toss with the lemon juice and then gently stir in the sugar mixture.

Lay the apples out in 3 rows on the dough.  Overlap the apples as you place on the dough.

Bake for 25-30  minutes or until pastry is golden and apples are tender. Set aside on a wire rack while making the glaze.

Heat the apricot preserves together with the water and brush the apples with the mixture.  Set aside to cool about 20 minutes before removing from tart pan. and serving.  

Recipe is adapted from Wewalka Puff Pastry.   Original recipe provides instructions for making the tart without a tart pan.

Be safe everyone.  Below is photo of some Fall color in nearby Rockford, MI.




Caprese Pasta Salad

Labor Day weekend has come and gone.  Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer here in the USA, and sure enough, our weather is a little cooler today with a temperature of 54°F.

I usually would have grilled steaks or burgers for a Labor Day dinner.  But since there was no family gathering due to the pandemic, I made this Caprese Pasta Salad for a simple and easy dinner.

This Caprese Pasta Salad combines the flavors of a classic Caprese salad with the addition of pasta.  The Caprese salad is a simple Italian salad of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil seasoned with salt and olive oil.

This salad is a nice change from all of the pasta salads that have mayonnaise in the dressing.  It has plenty of freshness in it with the  fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and a delicious balsamic vinegar dressing.  It is also quick and easy to make.

I was gifted a bottle of olive oil (Tuscan Herb Oil flavor) from The Olive Mill in Saugatuck, Mi.  The Tuscan Herb Oil flavor is a wonderful mix of  olive oil, oregano, garlic. and basil.  I used some of that olive oil in the vinaigrette dressing for one of the salads I made.

The dressing can be easily doubled if you prefer more dressing for the pasta.

Caprese Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1- 12 ounce box tri-color Rotini pasta

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon seasoned black pepper
1/4 teaspoon seasoned garlic powder

1 pint (about 1 cup) multicolored cherry tomatoes), halved
1 cup of fresh mozzarella cheese pearls (drained if packed in water)

1/8 cup chopped fresh basil

Cook Rotini pasta according to the package directions.  Drain pasta in a collander and rinse with cold water.  Transfer to a large serving bowl.  Set aside while making the dressing.

In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to combine.

Add the  cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese pearls, and basil to the Rotini.  Pour the dressing over pasta and toss to combine.  Serve immediately.  Store leftovers in a covered container in refrigerator.  

1.  You can substitute the mozzarella cheese pearls  with bocconcini or fresh mozzarella cheese cut into small cubes.
2.  I used white balsamic vinegar instead of the regular dark balsamic vinegar.  Here is an interesting article from Old Town Olive about the difference between white and dark balsamic vinegar.

Below are some early morning visitors that came by this morning as I was working on this blog post: a mama deer and her two young ones.  Be safe everyone.

Lemon Blueberry Bread

Are you looking for a quick and easy bread to make with local fresh blueberries?  I can recommend this Lemon Blueberry Bread.  The taste of this quick bread is light and moist with a slight lemon flavor from the lemon juice and zest.  Some recipes for this bread include chopped nuts but I didn’t use any for this recipe.

We are fortunate here in Michigan to have a lot of blueberry farms.  The blueberries I used in this recipe came from Bowerman Blueberries Farm Market in Holland, Michigan.  They were very nice looking and tasty berries.

Lemon Blueberry Bread

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 cup fresh blueberries
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 lemon, zested and juiced (about 3 tablespoons of each)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

1 lemon, juiced (about 3 tablespoons)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Spray an 8×4 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside..

Toss the blueberries in 1 tablespoon of the flour in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, lemon juice and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer.

Combine together the 1 /1/2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Add the flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture in alternating batches, beginning and ending with the flour.  Fold in the blueberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.  Place a sheet of aluminum foil beneath the wire rack to catch any glaze drippings.

Combine the glaze ingredients and then drizzle over the warm bread.  Cool completely before slicing.  Store slices in an air tight container.  

1.  Frozen blueberries can be used in place of the fresh ones.
2.  Adapted from a Taste of Home recipe.

Stay safe everyone and try to enjoy the beauty around us.

Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad

This Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad is a take on the classic Caprese salad.  The Caprese salad is a simple Italian salad of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil seasoned with salt and olive oil.   In Italy it is known as Insalata Caprese and has it origins from the island of Capri, south of the coast of Naples.

If you can find farm fresh cherry tomatoes that will be even better for this salad.  Or perhaps you have your own vegetable garden that includes tomatoes.  I have a deck tomato planter that is producing a lot of cherry tomatoes.  Below is a picture of a few of the tomatoes from the plant and which I used in the salad.

Cherry Tomato Caprese Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon seasoned black pepper
1/4 teaspoon seasoned garlic powder

1 pint (about 2 cups) multicolored cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup of fresh mozzarella Pearl cheese

few fresh basil leaves

In a small bowl,  whisk the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to combine.  Set aside.  Place the halved cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese on a serving platter.  Drizzle the dressing over the tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.  Top with the basil leaves.  Serve immediately.  


1.  You can substitute the mozzarella pearl cheese with bocconcini or fresh mozzarella cheese cut into small cubes.
2.  I used white balsamic vinegar instead of the regular balsamic vinegar.

Be safe everyone.  Enjoy the summer as much as one can under the circumstances.  Below is a picture of the Bee Balm in my backyard.  Flowers do help to brighten one’s day.

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