Semi-Homemade isn’t just a technique I rely on for dessert.  When I’m in a pinch for time, it’s also my preferred way to provide side dishes.

Trader Joe’s boxed beer bread mix is one of my favorite go-to’s.  There is so much flavor in this semi-homemade bread loaf that only requires three ingredients: the box mix, a can of beer (ginger beer or carbonated water works too!), and a half a stick of melted, salted butter.

The melted butter is the key ingredient in this recipe.  And the secret is to pour it over the top before you bake it, rather than stirring it in the batter.  This technique creates a delightful crunch on the edges of the finished loaf, making this bread a frequent request from the people gathered at your table.

However it is important to note that it is critical that you use the right sized pan, which is a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan.  One time in a rush, I accidentally used an 8″ X 4″ inch pan.  The conclusion of that experience required a fire extinguisher.  Those are the kind of mistakes that you only make once!



It seems that there are two types of people in the kitchen, those who prefer cooking and those who prefer baking.  I am one who prefers crafting a great meal that is hearty and satisfying, to the patience and precision pastry work requires.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy eating dessert.  And a celebratory feast doesn’t feel complete without a sweet finish.  I just prefer putting the bulk of my efforts into the main dish and then wrapping up a shared meal with something simple.

For cooks like me, semi-homemade is the best way to present a dessert that says, “I think you’re really special and I love to celebrate you – or a holiday or an event” – without expending the time, skill, and patience required to craft a spectacular homemade confection.

Thus semi-homemade cupcakes are my go-to dessert.  Because a few added techniques and ingredients enables you to craft a beautiful celebratory treat in a fraction of the time.

First start with the best quality boxed ingredients you can find.  

Add a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste (or the seeds of a fresh vanilla bean) to the batter made from a box of white cake mix before filling cupcake liners.  This simple addition will brighten the flavor, as well as add the aesthetic speckles of vanilla beans into the cakes.

Then elevate the frosting.  I wouldn’t put canned frosting on a list of quality ingredients.  But the day I made these birthday cupcakes, I didn’t have time to go to a second store.  And Chocolate Fudge Funfetti was my best option at Target.

So I put the canned frosting into my stand up mixer (and hand mixer will work as well), and whipped it on medium speed for about 4 minutes until the frosting transformed into something light and fluffy.

Next, use a rubber spatula to put the frosting in a zip lock baggie.  Snip the corner with a pair of scissors.  And pip the fluffy frosting onto the cupcake in a swirl.

I finished the cupcakes with rainbow confetti.  And ta-da!! Bakery worthy cupcakes in a fraction of the time.

Happy Celebrating!


I was recently asked to bring a vegetable side dish to a family potluck.  A quick search on google led me to this recipe on

This delightful tart meets all of my requirements for a truly great recipe.  It is beautiful and yet surprisingly simple to make.  While this side dish does take some time to create, it doesn’t require exceptional culinary skills.  And the finished dish looks and tastes amazing.

I made some slight modifications to the original recipe – adding fresh rosemary, and decreasing the initial baking time so that the crust doesn’t overcook before the veggies are roasted in the final baking.

This tart can also work well year round by adjusting the fresh herbs to compliment seasonal flavors, like using sage instead of rosemary in the fall, or using some fresh mint or dill in the summer.


  • 1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium yellow squash
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Unroll crescent dough and separate into triangles. Arrange triangles in an 8″ pie pan in a circular pattern around the pan, with the narrow pointing toward the center. Pinch the edges together slightly. Bake until barely golden, about 5 minutes, then let cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine cream cheese, Parmesan, lemon juice, thyme, rosemary, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and beat until mixture is very smooth.
  3. Cut the zucchini, yellow squash, and carrot in half lengthwise. Lay each vegetable on a cutting board, cut-side down, and thinly slice each vegetable lengthwise into long thick strips, about 1/8”. (You should be able to bend them.  Use a mandolin if you have one.  A veggie peeler used on the long, flat side works well too.)
  4. Spread cream cheese mixture on baked crescent crust. Roll one of the vegetable strips into a tight coil and place it in the center of the tart. Arrange vegetable slices in tight concentric circles around the middle, alternating colors, until the tart is filled. (If necessary, cut the squash lengthwise so that the veggies strips are all similar in width.)  Brush the top with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bake until the vegetables are tender and the crust is a deep golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.



I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen – one of my favorite cooking sites – and prepared it recently for my people.

This tasty side dish really is as refreshing as it looks.

I altered the original recipe a bit to fit my preferences – I added more cheese, more lime, and a dash of cayenne pepper for more heat.

And I altered it to fit my patience – I don’t want to take the time to form perfect melon balls…chopped chunks is faster and works just as well.

In my opinion the freedom to alter recipes to match personal tastes and styles is one of the joys of homecooking.

This recipe also doubles, triples, or quadruples well to feed a crowd.  But when multiplying spices, always do so gradually, tasting along the way.  Quadrupling spices and the lime juice will likely overpower the flavor even if you’ve quadrupled the fruit.

Let me know in the comments if you discover a way to improve on this zesty salad.




  • Approximently 4 cups chopped melon (fruit from half of 1 seeded cantaloupe, half of 1 seeded honeydew, and half of 1 mini, seedless watermelon)
  • Juice of one lime
  • Coarse salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • A dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely crumbled cotija or feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon toasted, salted pepitas
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, plus more to taste


  • Place chopped melon in a large mixing bowl.
  • Squeeze lime juice over.
  • Sprinkle with salt, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.  Toss gently.
  • Scatter with cheese, pepitas, and cilantro.  Toss gently.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl or platter.
  • Serve immediately.


Chicken Curry is one of my favorite restaurant meals, and so I’ve made several versions of this rich, savory dish at home.  This is the easiest Chicken Curry recipe that I have prepared, and so it’s pretty awesome that it is also the most flavorful!

The key to recreating the authentic flavor of this restaurant dish is purchasing ingredients that were made in Thailand, not a factory in America.  

If your local grocery store has an ethnic isle, check there for products labeled from Thailand.  Or better yet, see if you can find an Asian market in driving distance from your house.  For those of us who think that local food is the best part of any vacation, a trip to an ethnic market is a delightful mini-getaway from our usual routines.  

During my most recent trip to an Asian market I discovered fresh Jackfruit (the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, that smells and tastes a little like musty bubble gum, and has seeds that look like peeled garlic cloves). It was a fun culinary adventure to bring home and share with my family.

Another great option for purchasing ethnic ingredients is, especially if you have Amazon prime.  I use Amazon Prime often to buy hard to find ingredients.  Rather than driving all over town, they just show up on my doorstep within two days.  I checked, and all of the Thai ingredients that I used to make this dish are available on Amazon Prime.  You can click on each of these ingredients in the recipe to go to an Amazon link.

For a complete meal, serve this savory curry over Jasmine rice with fresh cut pineapple and warm naan (flat) bread.  Also, this meal doubles well and is a great choice for feeding a crowd gathered around your table.


CHICKEN CURRY,  serves 4-6


  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 3-13.5 ounce cans Coconut Milk, divided (do not substitute light coconut milk)
  • 2 tablespoons Yellow Curry Paste (add more or less to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons Palm Sugar, grated
  • 2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
  • 2 small gold Potatoes, diced into large chunks
  • 1 large Carrot, diced into large chunks
  • Jasmine rice, made according to package instructions


  • Pour olive oil into a 5 quart stock pot or dutch over.  Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil until glistening.  Turn pan to spread oil evenly over the surface of the pan.  Once evenly coated, add chicken slices in batches, laying each piece flat in hot skillet.  Quickly brown each side, and do not overcrowd the pan.  Set browned chicken aside in a plate and finish with remaining chicken.  (You don’t need to cook the chicken all the way through at this point.  You just want to get a little caramelization on each piece for better flavor.)  Leave brown bits in the pot.
  • Pour coconut milk into the stock pot or dutch oven used to brown the chicken and set over medium heat.  Add 2 Tablespoons of Curry Paste.  Whisk to combine until blended and bring to a simmer. 
  • Add Palm Sugar and Fish Sauce to the pot, stir to combine.
  • Add browned Chicken, Potatoes, and Carrots.  Stir until blended.  Cover and cook on low for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are cooked through.
  • Serve over steamed Jasmine rice.


When this link for “Quick Budget Friendly Recipes” showed up on my Facebook feed, I knew it was one worth saving.

On Monday the girls and I made Martha’s Black Beans and Sausage Skillet Dish, and it delivered as promised.  Great flavors, with relative ease and low expense to prepare.

I did make a few adjustments to the original recipe – substituting one-12.8 ounce package of Trader Joe’s Smoked Andouille Sausage for Martha’s 1 pound of Polish kielbasa, and quadrupling the ingredients to serve 16.

If you’ve never tried Andouille sausage, it is a smoked meat bursting with spicy Cajun flavors.  And it’s delicious.

We browned most of the ingredients in batches in skillets and then transferred everything to a large stock pot to combine the caramelized flavors with the broth and beans.  Our finished dish came out more like a thick, rich soup than a skillet meal – requiring bowls and spoons to enjoy it.  But it was deeply satisfying.

I served it with a dollop of whole milk Greek yogurt (which cut the spice of the sausage nicely), crunchy beer bread (made from a boxed mix), and a tossed kale salad kit. Everything for dinner was purchase in one stop at Trader Joe’s.

A fantastic, low budget dinner for 16, prepared in one hour.




  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1-12.8 ounce package of andouille sausage, sliced into 1/2 inch coins (You can substitute any smoked sausage that you prefer in this soup. Please note that andouille sausage is spicy.)
  • 3 medium carrots, diced small
  • 2 shallots, diced small
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt, for serving (I prefer whole fat Greek yogurt. You get more flavor with a smaller serving.)


  • In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add sausage and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add carrots and shallots to skillet and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add black beans and broth and bring mixture to a boil. Add sausage, reduce heat to a rapid simmer, and cook until carrots are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Serve with more parsley and a dollop of yogurt.
  • That’s it.  It really is that simple.
  • If you double, triple or quadruple this recipe for a crowd.  Brown the sausage, carrots, shallots, and garlic in batches.  And then transfer to a large stock pot to combine with beans and broth.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 12 minutes.



This is my kind of recipe .  It was simple to make, required less than one hour of prep and cooking time, and delivered great homemade flavor.

I discovered this recipe on, my favorite cooking site.  I follow their cooking videos on social media (Facebook and Instagram), and through an app on my phone.  Every recipe includes a time-elapsed instructional video – set to fun music – that makes me feel like I can cook anything!  If you want to expand your recipe library this is a great resource.

For our Thursday night dinner with our guys, I quadrupled this recipe (using 5 pounds of meat) when purchasing ingredients, and cooked the dish in two pots, each filled with a double portion.  I have found that very few home kitchen recipes can be quadrupled and cooked in one large pot and still turn out the right consistency.  There is something in the cooking science that I don’t understand that doesn’t allow ingredients that have been multiplied by 3 or more to cook well when thrown it in one big vessel.

I also prepared one pot with mushrooms and one without because there are a lot of anti-fungus people at my table.

I served this hearty dish with one loaf of homemade Everything Bread and 3 pounds of oven-roasted green beans.  This meal satisfied the appetite of 11 hungry guys and two moms, with enough leftovers for family lunch on Saturday.

Make it for your people this weekend!



  • 1 lb lean ground beef (or ground sirloin)
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon of sweet paprika
  • Freshly ground salt & pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup yellow onion, diced small
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced small
  • 3/4 mushrooms, thickly sliced or quartered
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 4 tablespoon butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 8 ounces egg noodles (I prefer extra wide.)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (optional)
  • chopped parsley (optional)


  1. Heat a heavy-bottom stock pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and ground beef. Brown meat, and season with salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic.
  2. Add mushrooms, onions, and carrots. Sauté until tender, 5 or 10 minutes.
  3. Add wine to pot and cook down for a few minutes until wine has reduced by half.
  4. Add butter and stir until it melts.  Sprinkle in flour.  Stir and cook for a minute or two.
  5. Pour in stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add egg noodles, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for the time printed on the noodle package directions, stirring frequently so noodles don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. (It will look like a lot of liquid, but the noodles will soak in much of the broth and it will thicken nicely by the time you serve.)
  6. Turn off heat once noodles are cooked al dente, stir in sour cream and Dijon mustard. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and parsley.






I found this recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Heavy Duty Revised Edition.  Executing this dish requires only basic cooking skills and yet delivers complex flavors.  That’s a win when trying to create a homemade meal for a crowd on a busy weeknight.

I made two pots for our community dinner last Thursday.  The aromatic broth with shredded chicken was rich and savory, but it lacked the satisfying bite of a main dish meal.  So I made it again on Monday night – adding quartered baby potatoes, slices of fresh red bell pepper, and chunks of bright orange carrots – and it was delish!

I hope you have the opportunity to make a pot for your people sometime soon.



  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (found in the Asian section of most grocery stores, use more or less to taste)
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 12 ounces baby potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced, seeds and stem removed
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2-14 ounce cans coconut milk (do not purchase “Cream of Coconut”,  which is a much sweeter product and will not work in this recipe)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded, skin and bones removed
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves


  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Stir in the ginger and curry paste and cook for one minute.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of the broth, stir until the curry paste dissolves.  Stir in the remaining broth, the fish sauce, soy sauce, and the brown sugar.  Bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the baby potatoes, bell peppers, and carrots.  Stir to combine and then simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are easily pricked with a fork.
  4. Remove lid and stir in the coconut milk and chicken.  Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Turn off heat.  Add lime juice and salt to taste.
  6. Sprinkle cilantro leaves over pot just before serving.



You know how sometimes an author can speak the words of your heart so accurately that you feel like you personally know him/her?  Shauna Niequist is one of those authors for me and the community of young women who gather around my table for dinner every Monday.  Whenever we refer to something that is influencing us from her writings, she is always referred to by her first name only – in the same way we talk about anyone else who is a part of our beloved community.

Shauna’s book “Bread & Wine: a love letter to life around the table, with recipes” is one of all-time favorite books.  It’s a collection of essays about how we share life when we share food, and includes recipes that relate to her personal stories. One of my go to recipes comes from this book.  Shauna learned this recipe from her mom who originally found it in an issue of Real Simple Magazine.

My community just refers to it as Shauna’s Cassoulet.

It’s is nourishing and delicious, and can be doubled to satisfy a crowd.  It is one of my favorite meals to serve my people on a cold winter night, with a simple salad and a loaf of warm crusty bread.  I think it will be a favorite for your people too.

SHAUNA’S CASSOULET, serves 6-8 people


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-1/2 pounds turkey Italian sausage, casings removed (I have used many different types of sausage in this recipe and it always turns out great.  Just make sure you use raw sausage that you brown, not precooked sausage.)
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 brown or yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium carrots, diced (it is not necessary to peel them)
  • 3 medium parsnips, diced (parsnips are the secret ingredient, giving this dish a unique, earthy favor)
  • 1 tomato, chopped or 1-8 ounce can of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 3-15 ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (I prefer to used boxed beans instead of canned)
  • 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (gluten-free works)
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted


  1. In an oven-proof stock pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.  Cook the sausage until well browned.  Remove and drain on a paper towel lined plate.
  2. Remove all but approximately 1 tablespoon of oil from the pot, try to leave brown bits of meat in the pot.
  3. Brown onions in the pot until translucent.
  4. Add 1/2 of garlic.  Cook and stir for 60 seconds, or until garlic is golden on the edges.
  5. Add the chicken broth, vegetables, beans, thyme, salt, pepper, and the browned sausage.  Bring to a boil.  (I add the entire fresh thyme sprigs and then pull out the twigs after it’s done cooking.  This is faster than removing the thyme off the twigs before cooking.)
  6. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally for about an hour, until thickened and the vegetable are tender.
  7. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees.
  8. In a bowl, combine melted butter, remaining garlic, parsley, and bread crumbs.  Stir gently to coat bread crumbs.
  9. Turn off heat, remove cover from pot, gently stir cassoulet, add bread crumb mixture on top.
  10. Bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

Note: if you don’t have large enough oven-proof pot, cook the cassoulet on the stove and then transfer into an oven proof casserole dishe before you put the bread crumbs on top and finish baking in the oven.  Likewise if you double this recipe for a crowd, it might be easier to cook it in one or two pots on the stove, and then transfer it into two oven proof casserole dishes before you put the bread crumbs on top and finish baking in the oven.


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