Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake & Disappointment

Chocolate, amaretto, and cheesecake: three decadent flavors that should have been a heavenly combination. I was so looking forward to this recipe. I’d never actually had it before….it isn’t a memory of my mother. It just looked so good that I couldn’t pass it up. I told some friends about it, and that I would be bringing it to our board game night because I was sure I’d scarf the whole thing if I left it in the house. (David would not help to eat it. He downed an entire bottle of Disaronno in his youth, and now he gets ill at the thought of amaretto.) My friends were looking forward to it. I mean, c’mon! Chocolate amaretto cheesecake! Who wouldn’t drool with anticipation (barring traumatizing teenage misadventure)?

I made the cake. It was pretty. I brought it to game night. I took the nicest looking piece and put it aside for photographs later, then we served ourselves.

It’s not even that it was bad. It was just….meh. Okay. Fine. Good, but I’m not going for another piece. And you couldn’t even taste the amaretto. One person had the idea to splash a bit of amaretto directly on top of the cheesecake, which did indeed improve things. But the cheesecake itself was still lackluster. I would have preferred a plain cheesecake, maybe with a chocolate amaretto glaze—and I may do that still, but not for this blog.

In a nutshell, I was disappointed. And this, combined with the fact that I, personally, didn’t care for my previous shrimp dip recipe and that both the macaroni and country style steak were a flop, I found myself a bit demotivated. Which is why this is the first time I’ve updated this blog in a month—the same length of time that damn cheesecake has been sitting in my fridge, uneaten and unphotographed.

I don’t only want to write about the recipes that I remember my mother making. I also want to write about other good recipes that are in her collection, because these are pieces of her that we can discover. But I certainly don’t want to be one of those bloggers that writes positively about whatever recipe they’re posting about. There are some blog recipes I’ve prepared, and when I finally taste the outcome I think, “Did this person even really make the recipe, or did she just take pretty pictures of the ingredients on her cutting board?” I want to provide good information while organizing my thoughts for the recipe book.

I wasn’t going to write about this disappointment. I was just going to gather my will to move on with another recipe and sweep this one under the rug. But David encouraged me to write about it, saying that obstacles and failures have historical significance that shouldn’t be ignored, and that chocolate amaretto cheesecake is the Smaug in my culinary journey.

So I’ll pick up blogging again. But I won’t post the recipe because it’s not worth the pixels, and I’m certainly not taking a picture of that cake. I’m actually afraid to look at it at this point.

Hor d'oeuvres

Shrimp Dip


First of all, I think this recipe may need to be renamed. I, as well as other people I mentioned this recipe to, assumed this was a dip for shrimp rather than a dip with teeny shrimp in it. It didn’t help that shrimp was not listed with the rest of the ingredients, but rather in the instructions. I’m not sure what I’d call it, though. Any ideas? According to my WordPress stats, there’s three people plus my sister reading this blog. Time for some feedback.

I’m told this recipe was delicious. I couldn’t tell because shrimp is gross, and it’s especially gross when it comes from a can. However I brought it to a dinner party and put it out with some crackers and it disappeared quickly with many unsolicited comments of “Who made this?” “This is wonderful!” and “What’s in here?” Apparently it didn’t taste noticeably like shrimp to people who enjoy shrimp. It might could stand another can of shrimp if you want it really shrimpy. Blugh.

There’s an option in this recipe to add cucumbers, which I did after I took the photo before the dinner party. I’m told it was good both ways. I also added an option to use mayo rather than Miracle Whip. My mom probably used mayo, and I don’t have Miracle Whip lying around because it, like canned shrimp, is super gross. But I suppose it might be good in a recipe so I won’t nix it entirely.


  • 1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 3 or 4 tbsp. Miracle Whip or mayonnaise
  • Onion flakes or chopped onion
  • Garlic powder or one clove minced garlic (optional)
  • 1 or 2 4-oz. cans small shrimp

Blend together cream cheese, mayo, onion, and garlic. Mix in shrimp.


  • Add diced cucumbers
  • Omit onions and add walnuts

I used grated carrot and a sprig of celery leaf for garnish, but I threw out the leaf before serving. I’m not sure how edible that is.


Expletive Deleted: Country Style Steak & Macaroni

In addition to trying to prepare all our mother’s recipes, my sister and I have a short list of dishes we have fond memories of but are not written down. Macaroni and cheese is on that list, and I thought that’d be a nice, easy place to start. However, when we went to the store and I informed my husband we would be having mac and cheese and mac and cheese alone for lunch because we had too much other stuff to do that day, he told me I was being ridiculous and we needed to make something else. So I chose the next unknown recipe on the list: country style steak.

If you haven’t already inferred it from the title, this didn’t go too well. Not awfully, but certainly not something I ever want to do again.

I remembered my mom’s macaroni and cheese had four ingredients: elbow macaroni noodles, butter, milk, and Velveeta. And don’t knock Velveeta. Just because it’s processed cheese product doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. A few years ago I was on a made-from-scratch, all-natural kick (which is great if you have the energy or don’t have a full time job) and made some mac and cheese with all natural cheese, and it didn’t hold a candle to my mom’s. I’m sure there’s a way to make macaroni and cheese stay all delicious and gooey without Velveeta, but I bet it takes more time than I’m willing to give to cheesy noodles and may even involve doing the same things in your kitchen that they do to make Velveeta.

My sister and I made this by ourselves at some point when we were in high school, but we didn’t really remember the quantities or instructions. So I looked on the box and improvised. The VELVEETA® Down-Home Macaroni & Cheese recipe looks good, but in addition to my mother’s ingredients it calls for flour, cheddar cheese, and Ritz crackers. I was trying to find exactly what my mom did, so I nixed the extra ingredients and added more Velveeta to make up for the lost cheddar cheese.

I used this recipe for country style steak from The ingredients looked about the same, but as I recall my mother didn’t put hers in the oven, so I set one cubed steak aside to only cook over the stove. Unfortunately, I forgot to get beef broth from the store, so instead I dissolved beef bouillon cubes in warm water.

The country style steak ended up way too salty from the bouillon, but edible. The one piece that I set aside to skip the oven step was a definite fail, too tough to eat without a steak knife. The oven step let the meat soak up the gravy to tenderize. I’ll have to do some more searching to find a good method of stovetop only preparation.

The macaroni was also edible, but no better than the boxed macaroni that my mother raised her eyebrow at when my sister and I attempted to get it at the store (“It is no harder to make it homemade!”). Maybe she did use more ingredients than we remember. I may just try the Down-Home Macaroni & Cheese recipe as written and see how that compares.

I really hope we’re able to figure these recipes out, but they may be lost forever. That idea makes me very sad, but I guess I could see this as an opportunity to start new  traditions.


Silver White Coconut Cake


This cake was a rare delight for my family. It was the signature dessert of my great aunt, so we usually only got to have it during big family gatherings. I only remember our mom actually making it a few times. It would sit in the fridge all day as it waited to be served, taunting us. Although my sister and I have both tried to make it and, for reasons mysterious to us, failed, we thought it would be nice to have for our dad’s birthday party. We needed to figure it out at some point anyway.

(Edit: I made the scones in the foreground of the above image with Scones in a Jar mix by Little Miss Muffin, a business run by my friend Wendy Carson. Check out the Little Miss Muffin Facebook page to see her meticulously crafted desserts. Seriously go look. I don’t recommend stuff lightly.)

While I was pretty sure the cake was an original creation from my family, I Googled it just to be sure. I found it in a post on a website called The Recipe Circus, and the source listed is my mom! It is so cool to see a piece of my mother out there on the internet. It was also practically beneficial because my mom’s recipe card called for 2 packages of  frozen coconut for the icing with no precise quantities per package listed, whereas the internet post says 2 12-ounce packages. I had picked up 2 6-ounce packages of the only kind of frozen coconut the store had. I realized the error after I’d put the cake in the oven, and had to run to the store while it baked.


  • 2 cups plus 2 tbsp. self-rising flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 whole eggs or 4 egg whites, unbeaten


  • 2 12-oz. pkgs. frozen coconut, or the equvalent freshly grated (avoid using the sweetened Baker’s Angelflake)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream.

Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour 2 round 9″ pans. Mix together flour and sugar. Add shortening, milk and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes med. speed on mixer. Add eggs (or egg whites). Beat 2 more minutes. Pour equal amounts of batter in pans and bake 35 to 40 minutes.

Mix coconut, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup sour cream and beat. Note: Icing must go on warm cake.

Carefully remove warm cakes from pans. Divide each cake in half, either with a knife or with a string (sewing thread or unflavored dental floss works well). Place first layer with the cut side facing up and ice just enough to mostly cover cake. (The icing will want to clump, but it’s better to have patchy icing between the layers than to not have enough icing to ice the outside of the cake. It will all meld together as the cake sets.) Place second layer on top of the first, and repeat until all layers are stacked. Ice the outside of the cake, covering all exposed cake.


I think when I messed up the first time with this recipe, I didn’t put the icing on while the cake was warm enough. My mother has another recipe that says to ice a warm cake, but if you do it right out of the oven the cake falls apart and the icing goes everywhere. This one, if you don’t ice it right out of the oven, the granulated sugar in the icing doesn’t melt and it’s unpleasantly grainy, so I tried to emphasize immediately icing in the directions. I also went into greater detail in the dividing/icing portion because I think the only reason I was able to do it correctly was because I’d seen my mother do it before.

As you can see in the foreground of the first image, we had some backup desserts in case the cake didn’t turn out well. Thankfully, it came out great and everyone at the party had at least one piece. Even people who said they didn’t like coconut enjoyed it, probably because when most people think of coconut they think of candy and whatnot. While this cake is sweet, it’s not quite Almond Joy sweet.

This was the first recipe I’ve done for this blog that’s really brought me back to my childhood, and I’m ecstatic that it was successful. Finally.

Recycling Food

Recycling Food: Chicken Salad

For my last post I did Wine-Glazed Cornish Hens, and after I completed the full recipe I experimented with an alteration of the recipe with a single hen. It did not go well, producing very dry meat that I was not looking forward to eating. So that was shoved in the fridge until I figured out something to do with it.

I believe a big part of being a real-life, grownup cook is learning how to prepare food with what you have. I’m trying to get out of the habit of throwing things out if they didn’t go as planned, and planning meals around what I already have in the fridge rather than buying a slew of very specific ingredients that I probably won’t use again. Casseroles and various salads (chicken salad, egg salad) are good tools for this. The problem is actually creating something that tastes good. You have to learn to improvise, which requires practice, and may result in destroying more food than you set out to salvage.

Doing something with the dry dry chicken turned out to be easier than I thought. There’s a chicken salad recipe I got off of that I love and is always a hit. It appears to have been removed, but this recipe is nearly identical. Just use lemon juice instead of lime and fresh minced onion rather than onion powder. Luckily I had almost all the ingredients it calls for, so I didn’t need to improvise as much as I thought I would.

The recipe calls for bacon, grapes, and water chestnuts, none of which I had. Bacon is delicious but unnecessary, so I didn’t bother to find a substitute. Instead of grapes, I chopped up part of a sweet apple that had been sitting around too long. For the water chestnuts, I picked a handful of pecans out of my Extra Fancy Unsalted Mixed Nuts from CostCo (that purchase has been much more useful than I could have ever anticipated), broke them up a bit, and threw them in. I was shocked that the partial head of celery that’s been wilting in the vegetable drawer for the past few weeks (it’s been too cold to venture out to the compost barrel) actually had one semi-crisp stalk on it. I didn’t really measure any of the ingredients because I had an odd amount of chicken and didn’t want to do math. Also I was doing this just before bed so I could have something for lunch the next day, so I was feeling a bit lazy. It ended up tasting not quite right. I may have messed up the proportions, or maybe the chicken sat in the fridge in a carelessly covered casserole dish for a little too long. Or maybe it really did need the bacon. So I added a few dashes of tarragon vinegar, and it was perfect. Vinegar fixes a lot of stuff.

The chicken salad was beautiful, but I didn’t get a chance to photograph it before we ate it all. Maybe next time. It’s no big deal because it’s not going in the recipe book, but I do like pictures of pretty things. Que sera sera.


Wine-Glazed Cornish Hens


A lot of the recipes that my family fell in love with over the years did not originate in my family. Some of them came from friends, some of them came from recipe books, and not all of the recipe cards cite where the recipe originally came from. Wine-Glazed Cornish Hens was one of those recipes that looked a bit suspicious in that respect— Mama wasn’t in the habit of keeping Cornish hens or burgundy wine around the house. So I Googled, and the original recipe is by Dorothy McNett, and can be found on her website. My mom (or whoever she got the recipe from) nixed the paprika and made some very good changes to the instructions.

See: Wine Glazed Cornish Hens by Dorothy McNett

Part of why I want to do this blog is that recipes are written by experienced cooks or at least people who can consult experienced cooks. (According to my dad, Mama was not the greatest cook when they got married and called her mother frequently for advice.) I am getting better, but I’m not great. Recipes tend to assume you’ve got plenty of experience, and many end up leaving me a bit confused. I want all that confusion eliminated from the recipes I put together, and this will require some research and a lot of screwing up.

That being said, this recipe turned out pretty well, although I have several notes for the ignorant (e.g., me).

Concerning “dry bread cubes” that make stuffing: Don’t try to make these yourself. It’s fine to use really stale bread if you have it sitting around. Like, if-you-drop-it-on-the-floor-it’ll-break stale. I’ve tried to dry fresh bread in the oven as suggested by the internet, and the stuffing that results from this is weird and soggy. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas I can find huge bags of plain “dry bread cubes” in the store, but this time of year I had to go with Stovetop Stuffing. You just have to make sure the herbs in the flavor will go well with what you’re using it for, although I think any flavor would be fine for this recipe. I believe my mother would be appalled by this. She certainly was not beyond using boxed ingredients, but she had her lines.

This recipe also calls for slivered almonds. I found a bag in the baking section of the grocery store for five dollars. Eff that. I’m not spending five dollars when I just need two tablespoons of slivered almonds. I did have some mixed nuts, so I slivered my own damn almonds.

Slivering extra fancy almonds

Note that they’re “Extra Fancy.” That’s because I’m classy.

Ashley kept looking nervously at the poor Cornish hens lying on my counter, saying they looked naked and we were invading their privacy. I don’t often cook with whole animals, and I do find it a bit disturbing when you can clearly see how the creature moved around when it was alive. Although, this did not stop me from making one do a little dance. Ashley suggested we take a video, but I figured there’s plenty of dancing chicken carcass videos out there. I was correct.


Neither my mother’s nor Dorothy McNett’s recipes mention what to do with the ridiculous amount of stuffing you have left over after you “lightly stuff” the hens. My mother’s recipe also amends when you should stuff, leaving it to the last 30 minutes, which I know is a good idea because I learned from Alton Brown that stuffing is evil because it dries out the bird, and saving it for the end is a good compromise.

Alton Brown also says that basting is evil because the more you open the oven the more the bird gets dried out. Both recipes say to baste, but I got distracted and forgot to. This resulted in very moist meat, but I didn’t feel like the glaze was a glaze— just flavor for the extra stuffing (which I deduced should be placed around the hens in the pan). I actually did an experiment with a single hen in a small casserole dish, and made sure I basted three or four times during the baking. This resulted it absolutely delicious skin, but completely dry meat. I was reminded of why I didn’t like white meat as a child, and decided basting is out.

The following is my mother’s instructions for the recipe, with my changes.

Total bake time will be 1 hour 30 minutes, broken up into 30 minute increments. Preheat oven to 375º. Rinse hens and pat dry with towel. Place hens breast side up in a large baking dish. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake covered for 30 min. In the meantime, prepare glaze by mixing together wine, melted butter, and orange juice. Once hens have baked 30 min., remove cover and pour wine glaze over hens. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare stuffing. Sauté onions and almonds in butter for five min. Toss with bread cubes, oranges, raisins, salt and pepper. Once hens have baked 30 min. more, remove from oven and stuff lightly. Place the remaining stuffing around the hens, leaving the tops of the hens uncovered. Mix the stuffing in with the juices in the bottom of the pan. Bake uncovered 30 min. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.


My mother’s recipe also called for “Salad over oil,” which I guess was just a suggestion for a veggie side. I did a spinach salad with garlic vinaigrette.

This was a long post. No one likes reading long posts.


Chicken Delight

Chicken Delight

I let my husband, David, choose the first recipe I would whip up for this blog. He flipped through the recipes for about thirty seconds before pointing at my iPhone screen and exclaiming, “THIS. Oh my GOD that looks good!” The recipe he was so excited about:


  • 4 diced chicken breasts
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
  • 1/2 stick margarine
  • Poppy seed (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice

What can I say? He’s a man of simple tastes. Although, to be honest, he tends to be enthusiastic about most things, food in particular.

Simple ingredients, simple instructions:

Mix the first 3 items in a casserole dish (and because it never actually said what to do with the lemon juice, I threw that in too. If anyone who happens upon this blog has a better idea, let me know). Stir crackers into melted margarine (we used butter because it was the weekend and we like to party). Sprinkle with poppy seeds, bake at 350° for about half an hour.

I don’t remember this recipe. My sister does, and I expect this will be the case with a lot of the recipes in our mom’s collection. She’s a couple years older and has a much better memory than me. I told her what David had picked, and she said, “Ooh, is that the one with the poppy seeds?” I think it’s the case with a lot of childhood food that it’s not as grand as you remember. Sometimes it’s downright disgusting, although certainly not in this case. Chicken Delight is one of the many casseroles that was probably created because someone (in this case, my great aunt) didn’t feel like going to the grocery store, and the resulting concoction made from various kitchen items was so delicious that she wrote it down. I had some friends over who stared longingly at the dish as I snapped photos and fiddled with the lighting, and when I finally gave the OK, it was instantly devoured. Good choice, David.

My photos, on the other hand, leave something to be desired. My goal before I need to cook again is to find somewhere in my house with decent lighting.