Jack-O’-Lantern Sugar Cookies

Halloween, the night of October 31, that the kids in the neighborhood dress in costume and solicit candy or other treats door-to-door will soon be here. So it is a perfect time to make sugar cookie cutouts in the shape of jack-o’-lanterns.

It’s easy to transform a basic sugar cookie dough into delightful Halloween treats. Using cutters shaped like the jack-o’-lantern or your favorite spooky cookie cutter you can cast a magic spell over you family’s Halloween. The jack-o’-lantern is my favorite symbol of Halloween so that is my choice of cookie cutter.

I used a Williams Sonoma jack-o’-lantern cookie cutter that allows you to “Just press firmly to cut the edges, then depress the spring to release delicate shapes embossed with fine detail.”

jacolantern cookie cutter

cookie cutter

“The jack-o-lantern actually started from an old Irish folk tale, based upon Stingy Jack who liked to steal from his friends and play mean tricks on his family. When Stingy Jack died he was not allowed into heaven but was forced to wander with only a turnip with an ember as its light.

On all Hallow’s eve the Irish used hallowed out turnips as their Jack’s lanterns originally. However, immigrants to America, found pumpkins more plentiful than turnips.”*

*Source for the above can be found at Pumpkin Nook

So began the tradition to use a hollowed-out pumpkin in which holes are cut to represent facial features and lit with some sort of light, the jack-o’-lantern.

I discovered the recipe for this cookie from a 2002 Taste of Home Magazine but the same recipe is available on a lot of recipe web sites.

The cream cheese adds richness to a classic sugar cookie and the cookies practically melt in your mouth. The recipe below is only slightly varied from the one in the Taste of Home magazine.

Jack-o'-Lantern Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 4 dozen cookies
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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1 cup butter, softened
3 ounces Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon orange food coloring, gel type if available

In a bowl, cream butter, cream cheese and sugar. Beat in egg yolk and extract and then add the food color. Combine the flour, salt and baking soda; gradually add to creamed mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or until easy to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with your favorite cookie cutter dipped in flour. Place 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Cool for 2 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

jackolantern cookies

Tips for making the cookies: If the dough comes out of the fridge too hard, just let it stand for a while until easy to handle. And if you take too long to make the cookies and it becomes too soft, put it back in the fridge to let it chill. Also, make sure the dough is on a well floured surface for rolling and dip cookie cutter in flour before each use and flour the rolling pin well also.

A 2-1/2 inch cookie cutter will yield approximately 4 dozen cookies. I used a 3 x 2-3/4 inch cookie cutter which yielded 21 cookies.

Apple Turnovers

Fall trees

Autumn is here and with it comes the beautiful colors of the season. The leaves changing color are a sight to see. This time of year in western Michigan means that fresh local apples are plentiful. Wonderful desserts are just waiting to be made from them. One easy and fairly quick dessert is the Apple Turnover. Combining apples and prepared frozen puff pastry allow you to turn out great tasting Apple Turnovers. Puff pastry has a flakiness and puffiness that a pie crust just doesn’t have. By using already prepared frozen puff pastry from your local grocer, the apple turnovers are a snap to make.

I couldn’t find much on the history of Apple Turnovers but did discover this snippet of information:

“A turnover is a sort of small, typically individual pie or pasty, in which the filling is placed on one side of a piece of rolled-out pastry and the other side is then turned over’ to cover it, forming a semicircular shape. The term is first recorded at the end of the eighteenth century: an old woman preparing her turnovers, commonly called apple-pies’ (Sporting Magazine, 1798). It is occasionally used for savoury fillings, such as meat, but a sweet fruit filling is the norm, and, as the above extract suggests, most turnovers are in fact apple turnovers.” Cited in Food Timeline

This recipe is based on one that my Dad made when I was a child (he was the cook in the family). Of course, he would have used a homemade pie crust instead of puff pastry.

Apple Turnover

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Apple Turnovers


3 cups peeled and diced Golden Delicious apples, or your favorite cooking apple
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 package (2 sheets) Pepperidge Farm Frozen Puff Pastry, thawed (or your favorite brand)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Combine the apples, cornstarch, vanilla extract, cinnamon and sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook stirring frequently for 5-10 minutes, until the apples are softened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Sprinkle the flour on the work surface. Defrost puff pastry per package directions and lay out in one flat sheet on the floured surface. Divide the sheet into four equal squares using a very sharp knife.

Spoon 1-2 tablespoons apple mixture into the center of each square. Don’t overfill the square. Fold the puff pastry from corner to corner to form a triangle shape. Seal and crimp with a fork. Brush egg wash evenly over the top of the turnovers. This will give the pastry a nice golden color when baked. Cut 1-2 small slits in the top of each filled pastry.

Bake each batch for approximately 20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

Note: Puff Pastry works best when cold. Work with one Puff Pastry sheet at a time, keeping the other one in the refrigerator until ready to use.

apple turnovers

Amish Apple Pie

Golden Delicious Apples

Here in Michigan, locally grown apples are starting to appear at the farm markets and yes Fall weather will soon be upon us. Fall weather makes one think of apple pie. Apple pie is good anytime but I like to make this Amish Apple Pie as soon as the local Golden Delicious apples are available. This is a very good apple pie recipe that I discovered years ago. This recipe is from Marcia Adams and her 1988 Cooking from Quilt Country, a wonderful cookbook filled with Amish recipes and information on the Amish people. The cookbook is readily available from online book sellers.

Apple pies have been around since Medieval times and I think we should all be glad they have stood the test of time. Here is a sample of a Medieval recipe for an apple pie, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Medieval Apple Pie Recipe

The interesting thing about this recipe is that it has whipping cream in the filling. It is a delicious apple pie with a perfect balance of sweet and tart. This pie is similar to what in the US we call a “Dutch Apple Pie”. Dutch apple pie is one that refers specifically to an apple pie with a crumb, streusel, topping.

This pie is always requested for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. For a long time, it was my daughter’s favorite pie, until she discovered Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie.

Amish Apple Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Amish Apple Pie

⅓ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Speck of salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts


4 large apples, Golden Delicious or other baking apples (4 cups)
1 unbaked 10 inch pie shell
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a food processor bowl, mix the first 6 streusel ingredients. Add the butter and process until the mixture is crumbly; it should still have a dry look to it — don’t over process. Add the nuts and then set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, core and thinly slice apples; there should be 4 cups. Place apples in the pie shell.

In a small bowl, mix the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Beat the egg in a medium bowl, and add the cream and vanilla. Add the sugar mixture to the egg mixture and blend. Pour over the apples. Bake for 1 hour in the lower one-third of the oven.*

*After 20 minutes baking, sprinkle streusel over the top and continue baking approximately 40 minutes longer, or until the top puffs and is golden brown.

Amish Apple Pie

Strawberry Cheesecake Trifle

Mid to late June here in Michigan means strawberry season. Once you see those ruby reds you know summer has officially begun. So make the most of the season and get cooking with some lovely fresh strawberries. This Strawberry Cheesecake Trifle is an excellent recipe to get started on.

In fact, I only make this trifle when locally grown strawberries are available. It is a beautiful dessert that makes any summer meal special. A plus factor is that it can be made ahead and it is better served a day after it has been made. If the local strawberry seasons lasts long enough, I make this trifle for the 4th of July, and it has become a traditional dessert.

This recipe is adapted from a recipe I discovered several years ago in a Taste of Home magazine April/May 1999. The original recipe can also be found on the Taste of Home web site.

Strawberry Cheesecake Trifle

2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced
1 cup sugar, divided
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
3 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped
1 loaf (10-3/4 ounces) frozen pound cake, thawed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Additional strawberries, optional

In a bowl, toss strawberries with 1/2 cup sugar; set aside. Let the strawberries stand at room temperature until juices are released, at least 30 minutes.

In a bowl, beat cream cheese and remaining sugar until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream; set aside.

Drain strawberries, reserving juice; set the berries aside. Gently toss cake cubes with reserved juice. Place half of the cake in a 4-qt. trifle dish or serving bowl. Top with a third of the cream cheese mixture, half of the strawberries. Repeat layers. Top with remaining cream cheese mixture. Garnish with the additional strawberries if desired. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Yield: Approximately 10-12 servings.

Strawberry Cheesecake Trifle

Creamy Nacho Potato Soup

This is such a tasty soup and good anytime of the year. Using a packaged potato mix, makes it quick and easy to put together. I’m not fond of the packaged potato mixes but have to admit that I keep boxes of this mix on hand; just for this soup. Try it. I think your family will love it.

The soup is adapted from a recipe published in Quick Cooking Magazine, May/June 1998 edition. If you prefer a milder soup, use the mild flavor of Rotel’s diced tomatoes and green chilies.

Creamy Nacho Potato Soup

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 package (5-1/4 ounces) au gratin potatoes
1 can (11 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (10 ounces) Rotel Original diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
2 cups water
2 cups Half and Half Milk
2 cups finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

In a 3-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, combine contents of potato package, corn, tomatoes, and water; mix well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-18 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add the Half and Half and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. If soup is too thick, add additional milk until desired consistency is reached

Garnish with additional cheese, if desired. Serve with a soft roll or square of cornbread.  


Nacho Potato Soup

Grilled Burgers

I love grilled hamburgers. I mean who doesn’t love a juicy, smoky grilled burger? I use a natural gas grill for all of my grilling and in my opinion it is just as good as a charcoal grill.

For a better burger, flip them just once while grilling.

Linda Stradley of What’s Cooking America web site notes that “…even the ancient Egyptians ate ground meat, and down through the ages we also find that ground meat has been shaped into patties and eaten all over the world under many different names.”

So get out there and start grilling some burgers. It will surely please your family.

Grilled Burgers

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
Kosher or Seasoned salt
4 slices Cheddar Cheese
4 hamburger buns

Divide the meat into four equal portions. Form each portion into a 3/4 inch burger. Season each side with the salt.

Heat the gas grill to high. Grill the burgers approximately four minutes on the first side with the lid closed. Flip over the burgers and grill approximately three minutes. Add a slice of cheese to each burger and continue grilling until the cheese is melted. The above times on my grill and on high heat produce a well done burger. Reduce the cooking time if you prefer a medium rare burger.

Serve the grilled burgers on hamburger buns with your favorite condiments. If desired, also serve with tomato, lettuce and onion.

grilled burger

Sweet Tea

Mother’s Day is tomorrow. So, wishing all you moms out there a very Happy Mother’s Day.

All Southern Ladies can cook. Right? My Mom was a Southern Lady who could not cook and rarely attempted to cook anything.  Early on in my childhood, she became the sweet tea maker with my dad doing all the cooking.  She wasn’t bothered by her lack of cooking ability and laughed along with family and friends when they joked about it.

I believe this is how she made the tea.

Sweet Tea

2 tablespoons Lipton Loose Tea
1 quart boiling water

Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves. Brew three to five minutes, then strain. Sweeten with sugar or honey to taste. Serve over ice cubes.


Hot Artichoke Dip

This hot artichoke dip is an amazing appetizer that will disappear quickly and leave you craving more. Unlike a lot of artichoke dips this one doesn’t have spinach as an ingredient. This dip is thicker and richer thanks to the addition of cream cheese.

For ease of preparation this recipe uses the canned variety of artichokes. It is interesting to note that the Globe Artichokes were brought to the United States in the 19th century by French and Spanish immigrants.

Hot Artichoke Dip

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Hot Artichoke Dip

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 cups of canned water packed artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup white wine

Combine all ingredients and mix by hand until blended. Transfer the dip to a 1-1/2 quart size oven safe bowl. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until puffy and golden. Serve warm with Blue Corn Chips.


Italian Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Pasta. Nearly everyone loves pasta. Tomato sauce is not the only sauce that can be used with pasta but in my opinion it is the best one to be paired with it. No need to buy the tomato sauce in the jar when homemade is so easy to make. This is a simple tomato sauce that is a perfect foundation for any pasta recipe, chicken or even pizza. Typically, I serve it with Angel Hair Spaghetti, with the addition of ground beef to the sauce.

According to Wikipedia, the use of tomato sauce with pasta appears for the first time in the Italian cookbook L’Apicio modern, by Roman Chef Francesco Leonardi, edited in 1790.

This recipe is adapted from a beloved cookbook that is no longer in print, European Cooking, Copyright 1958. It has traditional recipes from twenty-four countries, this recipe being adapted from Italy. The book was purchased by a family member years ago while in Europe and, fortunately for me, handed down to me.

The picky eaters in your family will love this. I know because it is a favorite of several picky eaters in my family.

Don’t worry about using canned tomatoes in this recipe. Just try to buy a good brand. I have used this recipe substituting fresh tomatoes in the summer and can’t tell a big difference between the two. This recipe can be doubled and it also can be frozen.

Italian Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
cup chopped onion
1 28-ounce size can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 14.5-ounce size can whole peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried basil

Roughly chop the tomatoes and set aside.

Heat oil in a dutch oven and saute the onion until translucent.  Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock, salt, pepper and bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer and simmer uncovered 1 1/2 hours.  Stir occasionally.  Add oregano and basil and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Makes approximately 1 quart.

Meat Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 quart Tomato Sauce (see above recipe)

Heat olive oil and brown meat. Drain and return to the pan. Add tomato sauce and simmer uncovered about 1/2 hour. Serve over your favorite pasta.


Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Chocolate covered strawberries are a natural for Valentines Day. Adding chocolate to the juicy, sweet yet tart flavor of a strawberry takes it to another level. Making chocolate covered strawberries is so easy that you should make it for that special person every Valentines Day.

Usually around Valentines Day, I can find Florida grown strawberries from a local specialty foods store and this year was no exception. I used Florida grown berries in this recipe today. I find them to be tastier than the ones grown in California.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

1 (12 ounce) package of semisweet chocolate chips
1 pound of fresh large strawberries with leaves

Gently wash the strawberries and very carefully completely dry them.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips in the microwave until melted. Be sure to stir the chips every 15-30 seconds to prevent burning or scorching. Remove from the microwave and stir to make sure completely melted. Carefully grasp the stem or leaves of the strawberries and dip into the chocolate and swirl in chocolate to partially cover. Give the strawberries a gentle shake as you take out of the chocolate. Place the strawberry on a prepared cookie sheet lined with foil. Repeat with the remainder of the strawberries. Allow the chocolate to harden. Enjoy.  


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