Friday, September 30

My Favorite Mashed Potatoes

I love all things potato. French fries, tater tots, hash browns, baked, twice baked, mashed...well, you get the idea. I could eat potatoes in some form every day of the week. I find most people also like mashed potatoes but aren't quite sure what to do with them except smother them in gravy. Nothing wrong with that but I am not a fan of gravy so I came up with this recipe. Like Emeril, I kicked it up a notch!


10 - 12 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into equal portions
3 oz. cream cheese
1 stick salted butter or margarine
1 jumbo garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 cup of milk
Lawry's seasoning salt

Peel potatoes and cut into equal portions. Boil in salted water for 35-45 minutes. Reduce heat to low and drain potatoes. Return potatoes to pan. Return pan to burner set on low and using a potato masher, mash potatoes for around 1 minute. There should still be some "lumps".

Remove from heat and add cream cheese and butter. Stir with spoon until cream cheese and butter are mostly melted. Add milk and stir.

Add garlic and onion powder, stir until blended. 

I dust the complete top of potatoes with Lawry's. Then add salt and pepper to your taste. Go light on the salt as the butter and Lawry's also contain salt. Taste test and add additional Lawry's or salt to your liking.

These are sticky potatoes. You know the kind that if thrown at the wall, they would stick. (I have not tried this but my son has.) If you like your potatoes on the creamy side, add small amounts of milk while blending with a hand mixer on medium setting until you get your desired consistency.

Have a great day!

Thursday, September 29

Thursday Photo Challenge ~ Golden

Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard boiled egg. Author Unknown

I linked up with: Spun with Tears

Wednesday, September 28

Kreativ Blogger Award ~ For Me!

To my great surprise and delight, my sweet, thoughtful friend, Judy at Judy H-J's Thoughts - A Twinless Twinawarded me with the Kreativ Blogger's award!!! Isn't she the best?! 

Judy, you are just wonderful and I can't thank you enough for making my day brighter with your always inspiring comments and beautiful smile. Thank you so very much!

Upon accepting this award, I have to share seven things about myself. Hmmm...

1. I am part Italian (dad's side) and part German (mom's side) and this makes for a sometimes fierce combination. I am known to blame or accredit either for my opinions and outlook on life.  I am very proud of both.

2. I have so many interests and self acclaimed great loves in life. I feel your mind is a terrible thing to waste and refuse to sit and let life pass me by as other's have all the fun. Photography and cooking are my greatest passions.

3. I LOVE animals (except cats). If I had my way, I would have a zoo! John is terribly allergic to most mammals, so this makes it easy for me to rein my longings in. We currently have one majorly adorable Pug, named Dexter (after America's favorite serial killer) and 4 frogs. Have I mentioned how much I adore all things frog?

4. I also love children. Their innocence, the way they view the world and the way the way they grab your heart and never let go. Becoming a mother is and always will be my greatest, most rewarding moment(s) in life. The day my son, Spencer, was born was the best day of my life. He has made me a better person and continues to do so every day he smiles at me. I really did not know the meaning of love until I held him in my arms.

5. I don't know how to make coffee. Yep, have no idea. I dislike coffee very much. The smell is horrible to me (coffee breath!) and I don't understand it's appeal at all. Thankfully, John doesn't like it either and we only own a coffee pot for company. We have to ask how to make it each time!

6. I love politics. Crazy, I know. I love listening to debates and sharing my opinions with anyone willing to engage. I have major hero worship for Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. This does not mean I like the state of this country or the games our government is seeming to play...

7. Last but not least. I have a fascination with Will Smith's navel. Sure do. Have you seen I am Legend? I lost count on my total. Hey, everyone needs some distrac...what were we talking about again?

The last part upon accepting this award that I must do is pay it forward by nominating 7 fellow bloggers. I am not following this rule exactly. I have emailed or messaged 7 people I would like to receive the award to make sure they are comfortable with this. I recently read on another blog about a person receiving an award and feeling badly that they didn't want to accept it. This award made my day but other's might not feel the same.

Hope you all have a great day and as always, I am so grateful for your comments!

Tuesday, September 27

Chocolate Pudding Torte

This is my mom's recipe. She made this torte for many occasions and get togethers when I was growing up. I think it was her most requested dish to bring over the years and has always been one of my favorites. She made 3 different versions of this. The following recipe is for the chocolate version but I'll include the other 2 at the end of the recipe in case you want to try those too!


1 cup flour
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
2 Tbls. sugar

Mix like pie crust and spread into a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Pat down. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. Cool completely.

First filling layer:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz. Cool Whip, divided

Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar together. Fold in 2 cups Cool Whip. Spread on cooled crust.

Second filling layer:

2 small packages of instant chocolate pudding

Mix with 2 1/2 cups of milk. (do not follow package instructions) Pour over cream cheese mixture. Let set in refrigerator and cover with remaining Cool Whip. Top with chocolate chips.

Alternate version 1: Replace chocolate pudding mix with Butterscotch pudding. Top with chopped walnuts.

Alternate version 2: Replace chocolate pudding with Pistachio pudding. Top with crushed Heath bars.

I also have to mention that my sweet, thoughtful friend, Judy over at Judy H-J's Thoughts - A Twinless Twinawarded me with the Kreativ Blogger's award!!! I will make a special post for that soon. Thank you so much, Judy!

Monday, September 26

Macro Monday ~ Zager's Hosta Bud

Zager's White Edge Hosta flower bud. Hosta is one of my favorite bedding plants. Every year I wait for them to flower and this year decided to capture them just before the flowers opened. 

Friday, September 23

Circle of Friends Weekend Blog Hop #7 - I am Co-Host!

I am so excited and honored to be selected for the Circle of Friends Weekend Blog Hop Co-Host. Seriously this a huge honor to me given by my amazing friends, Nicole from Daily Dish Recipes and Maria, at Flair by MariaS Handmade. Not only are they beautiful, talented woman but friends that make me smile every day.

Make sure to stop by the Hop by clicking on the button above. You will be so glad you did!

Thursday, September 22

Taco Dip

I have taken this dip to many gatherings over the years and it never fails me. I rarely come home with any left! It's great for movie and game night too.


1 can refried beans
1 (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 (8 oz.) sour cream
1 pkg, dry taco seasoning mix
1 jar taco sauce, medium
1 jar taco sauce, hot
1 (8 oz) brick of medium cheddar cheese

Spread can of refried beans evenly on bottom of 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking pan or casserole dish.

In small bowl, beat together softened cream cheese and sour cream until well blended, add taco seasoning mix and stir well. 

Add taco sauce, medium, in small doses until mixture becomes creamy. (There is nothing worse than breaking off chips in a dip, so your goal is to soften it just enough that the chips won't break, but you don't want the mixture to become runny.) Add small doses of taco sauce, hot, to your liking. If you don't prefer spicy, skip this step. We love spicy! Taste test it as you go along to get it just right. Spread mixture evenly across refried beans.

Grate cheddar cheese and spread evenly on top of cream cheese/sour cream layer. Lightly press cheese into cream cheese/sour cream layer with the bottom of a spoon. (This will help keep the cheese in place when scooping it up with chips.) I can't stress enough how much better this will taste if you grate your own cheese instead of using prepackaged shredded.

Chop desired amount of lettuce and spread evenly over cheese layer.

Dice desired amount of tomatoes; sprinkle on lettuce.

Chill minimum of 2 hours before serving. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

A lot of potential to customize this to your tastes. If you don't care for refried beans, just skip that step and it will still taste delicious. Also adding onions or scallions as a topping or black olives. We have even used Paint Thinner (spice) to really kick up the hotness factor.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 20

Chocolate Torte

I love torte! This recipe is not only fun to make but is extremely delicious! I was pressed for time with company coming, so I used a box cake mix but if you have your own dark chocolate recipe, please use that in place of the boxed instructions below.


1 (18.25 oz) dark chocolate cake mix (I used Extra Moist Dark Chocolate by Duncan Hines)
2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese.
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 (1 oz.) square, unsweetened chocolate (for decoration)
1 Tbls. shortening

Prepare and bake chocolate cake as directed on box. Bake in 2-9 inch round pans. Cool. After completely cooled, cut each cake in half with a serrated knife, making four equal layers.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, brown sugar and vanilla. Beat until soft.

In a separate bowl, whip heaving whipping cream into soft peaks, then fold into cream cheese mixture.

Put one layer of cake on a plate or serving tray. Spread 1/4 of filling on cake layer, including sides. Continue this step until all layers are covered, stacking them.  

Refrigerate before serving.

The end result is so good but this torte is not all that pretty when finished. I decided to dress it up a bit by saving a small amount of filling and using my large star tip on my dessert decorator to edge around the top. I also made some chocolate curls.

Chocolate Curls:

1 (1 oz) square unsweetened chocolate
1 Tbls. shortening

Microwave at intervals, stirring in between until melted.
Spread melted chocolate in the thinnest layer possible on back of cookie sheet.
Put in freezer for 2-3 minutes.
Use spatula to roll chocolate into curls.

Monday, September 19

Macro Monday ~ Gaillardia Aristata

The shadow in the bottom right in each of these photos was my sidekick Spencer. He loved these flowers and their vibrancy. He followed me so closely and I didn't have the heart to ask him to move, hence shadows...

Sunday, September 18

Saturday, September 17

Shark Cupcakes

recipes from

Chocolate Cupcakes


3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup (1 &1/2 sticks unsalted butter), room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, then beat in vanilla. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in two batches; alternating with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. 

Pour batter into cups, filling each 3/4 cups full. Bake until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.

Cool in pan 5 minutes, transfer to wire rack to cool completely, then frost.

Cream Cheese Frosting


8 oz. cream cheese
8 Tbls. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese in a medium mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, soften cream cheese. Gradually add butter and continue beating until smooth. Sift in confectioner's sugar and beat until smooth. Add vanilla, stir to combine.

To color frosting blue (like the ocean), gradually add blue food coloring until you get desired color. Use blue construction paper to cut shark fins. Great activity to include the kids in!

Friday, September 16

Sky Watch Friday - Wisconsin Summer Sunrise

Wisconsin has some amazingly colorful sunrises. I never pass up the chance to capture one if I can. Taken around 4:30 a.m. 

First shot the ISO was set higher to capture the background over the foreground. (sky is more detailed, tree border less detailed)

Second shot, ISO is set lower to capture the foreground over the background (sky much less detailed but tree border more defined)

Both beautiful in their own way...

Thursday, September 15

Macaroni and Cheese with Kielbasa

This will not replace your homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. It can, however, be a great alternative on those days where time is a factor and you still want your family to have a good, warm meal. 

1 box  (family size or 14.5 oz) macaroni and cheese
1 lb. Kielbasa, sliced
1 can (20 oz) cream of chicken soup
2/3 cups milk
2 1/2 cups mild cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare box macaroni and cheese according to directions. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine sausage, prepared macaroni and cheese, cream of chicken soup, milk and 2 cups of cheddar cheese. Mix well.

Transfer to greased casserole dish.

Top with remaining cheese, salt and pepper.

Bake for 30 minutes or until top is a light golden brown.

Wednesday, September 14

Wordless Wednesday - Willow Herb

~ Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it is better to absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. ~
Marilyn Monroe

Tuesday, September 13

Cheesy Hash Brown Egg Bake

We sometimes like breakfast for dinner at our house. This recipe can be used easily for either.

1 (26 oz) package frozen hashbrowns, shredded, thawed
2-3 oz. sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (mild or medium), plus extra as desired for topping
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Lawry's Seasoning Salt
8 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine thawed hash browns, bacon, 1 cup cheese, pepper, salt and Lawrys. Evenly distribute in a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish.

Beat eggs and milk in a bowl until smooth. Pour over hash brown mixture. 

Sprinkle with a light coat of paprika. 

Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes or until top is a light golden brown. Remove from oven and top with desired amount of shredded cheese. (I used an 8 ounce brick of cheese TOTAL on this recipe).

There is so much potential for change to suit your liking in this recipe. Replace bacon for breakfast sausage, remove meat for meatless version, add chopped onion, mushrooms or even some green chiles.

Also you can prepare this the night before stopping at the part where you would put it in the oven and instead cover tightly and refrigerate. Next day, either remove from refrigerator and wait 30 minutes to bake or bake around 20 to 30 minutes longer. 

Sunday, September 11

Camera Critters ~ Walking Stick

My friend Carolyn messaged me the other day that her kids had found a big stick bug on their front door. I have never seen a walking stick in the wild and was so excited when Carolyn said she had captured it in a bug container for me! Friends that find bugs and think of you...

I brought it home and watched it in wonder. They really are the oddest most fascinating insect. They are quite thin in body and even more so in the legs. It was a challenge photographing him but I am happy with the results. I thanked him and let him on his way to live long and prosper.

A huge thanks to Carolyn! She makes me smile every day...

 I linked up with Camera Critters.

Saturday, September 10

Kitchen Essentials ~ What are Yours?

I believe that you do not need fancy gadgets to make amazing meals or to be a better baker. There are ,however, those favorites we all have that certainly make life easier. They not only help save time but we have come to depend on them when in the kitchen.

Here are my essentials. Basic and rudimentary. Slightly abused but loved nonetheless.

Paula Deen Stoneware - Cooking, baking, saute, marinate or even just for display. Oven to table. My kind of dish!

 Rubbermaid Hot/Cold Pads. Table and countertop savers. I use them to also keep my dishes in place. 

 Black & Decker Handy Chopper Plus. I use this every day. From chopping up nuts and onions to egg salad and bread crumbs.

Pampered Chef Cheese grater with built in measuring. Saves on dishes (big plus!) 

Pampered Chef Kitchen Spritzer and measuring spoons. I only use Olive Oil for cooking and lightly spray almost everything I make with this spritzer. The measuring spoons fit into spice containers and save on space too.

My list is only complete with my kitchen helper and inspiration. Spencer!

Would love to hear what your kitchen essentials are. New ideas are always welcome!

Thursday, September 8

Big, Flat, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think all of us have our favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Years ago I found, modified and perfected our family's. Soft, bite sized and extremely yummy. About a month ago, I mentioned to John that I thought I would mix up a batch. He ,casually, mentioned that his favorite were the big, flat chewy kind. What? After 8+ years he decides I should know?

I was now trying to reprogram my cooking making mind back to what I had been avoiding all these years. From the "Oh, man" I hear with each bite, I think I may have succeeded.

There is some extra work involved with this recipe. If you follow it (i.e. all the specific amounts, temps) you will see it is worth it!


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup salted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Stir together flour and baking soda in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in vanilla, egg and egg yolk until creamy.

Add flour mixture (that you set aside in first step), stirring until JUST blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Refrigerate minimum of 45 minutes. You want the batter to set up enough that when a spoon is put in it, it is somewhat like "quicksand" to get back out. You can keep these refrigerated up to 2 days before baking.  

Preheat oven to 325. Grease cookie sheet.

Drop about 1/4 a cup at a time of cookie dough onto cookie sheet. Place dough 3 inches apart.

Bake for 15 minutes or until edges are lightly toasted. The middle may look slightly undone, but the cookies will continue to set up outside the oven. Cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

When still slightly warm, transfer to airtight container to keep the cookies softness. 

*keep batter refrigerated between batches when baking. 

Happy Thursday!