Homemade Toffee


When I was a little girl, I remember going to the store with my Dad and he would buy Heath candy bars or Skor candy bars.  It’s a bar of toffee covered in chocolate – and it was my Dad’s favorite.  It was the only candy bar he would ever buy.  As a little kid of course I didn’t like it – even though I had never tried it.  You know how it is.

So, after years of watching my father devour these toffee candy bars, I decided to give one a try and oh my!  Now I know why it was his favorite.  They were incredible!!!!  I LOVE toffee and not only do I enjoy these amazing candy bars on occasion, but I use toffee bits for baking incredible cookies and other desserts.  They are also a great topping for ice cream!

I love making desserts, but I’ve steered clear from candy for the main reason being it is very temperamental and sometimes I just don’t have the patience to deal with it.  I had been wanting to make my own toffee for a while and had been searching for a recipe to try.  I finally found one and I gave it a try.  It was incredibly good.  Hard (as toffee should be) but deliciously buttery and creamy at the same time.  It takes some time and it takes some attention.  It’s important that you pay attention to the temperature on the candy thermometer because the slightest misstep could cause your batch to not set right.  Believe me, I know!  🙂

If you want to make homemade candy, this is still a fairly easy recipe to try if you’re willing to take the time.  It is delicious and truly worth it!

Alice Belle’s World’s Best English Toffee Recipe


2 sticks of butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 – 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (if desired)
Candy thermometer

  1. Prepare a pan lined with buttered aluminum foil.  (I use a small cookie pan or jelly roll pan).
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the 1 1/3 cups sugar and 3 Tbsp. water.  Stir well.  Set your candy thermometer in the saucepan.
  3. Over medium high heat, cook the mixture stirring frequently, until it reaches 300-305 degrees.  If the candy appears to separate (with a layer of melted butter on top), stir vigorously until it comes back together again.
  4. Watch the mixture and temperature closely at 285 degrees as it cooks quickly and the temperature increases quickly.  You could scorch the mixture at high temperatures.
  5. Once it reaches between 300-305, remove from heat and add the vanilla extract.  Mix well.
  6. Carefully pour the toffee mixture into the prepared pan smoothing to desired thickness.  Allow it to set 1 -2 minutes.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top and smooth over the top.  Refrigerate until set.
  7. Break into several pieces and store in an air-tight container or Ziploc bag.

*I stored it in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator because the chocolate would melt not being refrigerated.  If you choose not to make it with chocolate, you can store it in a Ziploc bag or air-tight container and not have to worry about refrigerating it.


Recipe courtesy of Skip To My Lou Blog “Alice Belle’s World’s Best English Toffee Recipe


Lemon Chicken & Pasta


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I love pasta.  It’s in my blood – I’m Italian.  My kids and my husband love pasta too, but I always make it the same way – served with tomato sauce.  I was getting bored with pasta the same way all the time and I wanted to do something different.  Every so often Rob and I will get a Bountiful Basket.  It’s a local co-op and each week you can sign up to pick up a basket that contains a variety of fruits and vegetables.  For me the great thing about it is you never know what you’re going to get.  I often find myself with something in the basket that I would never normally pick up at the store.  This is one of the things I love about Bountiful Baskets, it gets my creative juices flowing and I get a chance to come up with some different ideas for dinner!

So, I ended up with a package of grape tomatoes that I didn’t know what to do with, but of course didn’t want them to go bad either.  So, what to do?  I had some chicken and fresh lemons in the fridge and felt like pasta – but didn’t want the traditional, heavy tomato sauce.  So I whipped up a light, refreshing lemon sauce instead.  It was delicious!  And surprisingly enough – my husband and kids liked it too!!  YES – another keeper!

I chose to use penne, but you can easily use spaghetti or angel hair pasta if that’s what you prefer.

I love how light this sauce is.  It’s just enough to keep the dish moist without being overwhelming.  There is a freshness from the lemons that makes it just perfect!

Lemon Chicken & Pasta


Olive oil as needed
1 onion, diced
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 – 2 cups chicken stock
Slurry mixture (about 1/4 cup water and 2 Tbsp. corn starch)
4 Chicken Breasts, fully cooked (I poached mine in chicken stock)
1 lb. pasta (penne, spaghetti, etc.) fully cooked
1 pkg. grape tomatoes, halved
Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder.
Parsley, if desired

  1. In a large, deep skillet, over medium heat cook the onion and garlic in a little bit of olive oil until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the lemon juice, white wine, chicken stock and lemon zest.  Add about half the slurry mixture. Mix well and allow to heat through.  The sauce will thicken as it heats.  Add the chicken and pasta and season well with the salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Mix well.
  3. Add the tomatoes and adjust the sauce as needed adding more chicken stock and/or lemon juice to adjust to your taste and thickness.  Cook until the tomatoes are slightly softened.
  4. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley, if desired before serving.



Sauteed Red Onions & Yellow Squash



I love fresh vegetables and I especially love fresh vegetables sautéed with white wine!  Yes, I cook with wine and sometimes even put it in the food!

Here in Las Vegas there is an organization called Bountiful Baskets.  It’s a food co-op (whatever that is), but you basically pay $15 a week or every other week and you get a basket of various fresh vegetables and a basket of various fresh fruits.  You never know what you’re going to get – which does keep things interesting!  My mother-in-law swears by them and picks up her basket bright and early on Saturday mornings at 7:00 am!  Frankly, after running around all week long after a 5 year old, a 3 1/2 year old, and a 9 month old – I’m freakin’ tired!!!  My wonderful husband lets me sleep in on Saturday mornings – so I don’t always get a Bountiful Basket.  Occasionally, my awesome in-laws will get one for us and this particular basket had a number of red onions and yellow squash.

I decided to use them and make a great sautéed vegetable dish to go along with dinner a couple of nights.  While my husband and I loved it, my kids were less than fond of it!  But that’s okay.  At least they tried it!

I sautéed the onions in a little butter and olive oil and then added the sliced yellow squash.  After letting them cook together for a few minutes – I added a generous splash of white wine which gives the veggies a wonderful flavor!  The richness of the butter and the lightness of the wine make for a delicious vegetable dish!

Red Onions & Yellow Squash2

Sauteed Red Onions & Yellow Squash

1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2-3 large yellow squash, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. diced garlic
1/3 cup white wine
Salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter

1)  In a medium sized skillet, heat the olive oil and butter.  Add the garlic and cook the garlic 2-3 minutes.  Add the sliced onions and sautee 5-6 minutes, until the onions are lightly translucent.
2)  Add the sliced yellow squash and stir the mixture well.  Season with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Add the white wine and continue to cook for another 8-10 minutes stirring occasionally, until the squash are tender.
3)  Serve immediately.

*You can also use zucchini instead of yellow squash or combine the both of them for a delicious and colorful vegetable dish!


Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares


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The title says it all.  There is nothing not to love about this incredible treat!  Creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty.  There’s something for everyone!  Seriously – what is not to love!

I was watching Food Network (duh) and a Trisha Yearwood episode was on.  I don’t really watch her show, but the TV was on and I was doing something else and I just didn’t change the channel.  Then she started talking about these amazing bars.  Peanut butter, chocolate, pretzels – wow what an awesome combination!!  I thought I’d give it a try and they, of course, were a huge hit!

This is a simple recipe – no baking involved!  It reminds me a lot of Reese’s peanut butter cups – only a little more crunchy and salty because of the added pretzels.  I love them.  They are a perfect treat if you’re looking for something for all of your taste buds to enjoy!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Squares

1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp.) butter, melted
2 cups pretzel rods, crushed
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup, plus 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter (you can use crunchy if you prefer)
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

1)  In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, pretzel crumbs, confectioners sugar, and 1 cup of the peanut butter.  Stir together until well combined.
2)  Press the mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish.
3)  Combine the chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of peanut butter in a microwave safe bowl (or over a double boiler).  Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until the chocolate and peanut butter are melted and smooth.  Mix well.
4)  Pour over the peanut butter-pretzel layer and lightly smooth.
5)  Refrigerate at least 1 hour before cutting into squares.

Recipe courtesy of Trisha Yearwood

Cream Cheese Mints



I was introduced to these at my husband’s cousin’s wedding several years ago.  They were amazing – and addicting!  They just melt in your mouth!  Rob’s Aunt had made them for her niece’s wedding and the staff put them out as part of the dessert table. They were beautifully displayed and everyone enjoyed them!

Turns out – they are Rob’s grandmother’s recipe.  I love recipes that are handed down from generation to generation.  I just find it makes the final product just that more special.

I ended up giving them a try as a gift for someone and they turned out great.  I love cream cheese frosting so I know combining powdered sugar with cream cheese was not an issue, but adding mint took this confection to a whole different level!  The combination is wonderful.  The sweetness and creaminess of the cream cheese with the subtle addition of mint is a great combination and these are so easy to make and they store well too!

They are a great addition to any party or gathering.  Just be sure to have a lot on hand – because they go very quickly!!!

Cream Cheese Mints

Grandma’s Cream Cheese Mints

1 lb. powdered sugar
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. Peppermint extract
Small silicone molds


1)  Mix sugar and cream cheese together until combined.
2)  Add the peppermint extract until desired taste is achieved.
3)  Remove from bowl and knead like bread until mixture is well combined and soft.  If mixture is too moist or sticky, gradually work in more powdered sugar.
4)  Press small pieces into silicone/rubber molds and turn out the formed candy onto waxed paper.
5)  Store in air-tight containers with wax paper in between each layer and store in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to serve.

Roasted Stuffed Pears


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I always like to try new recipes and dishes around the holidays.  For me they get boring always having the same main course and sides – especially Thanksgiving.  I’m not a huge fan of turkey to begin with so a turkey feast for Thanksgiving never really thrills me.  Then its the same old sides – mashed potatoes, string bean casserole, cranberry, stuffing, etc.  You get the picture.

Over the past few years my in-laws have hosted Thanksgiving dinner and made the turkey, stuffing, and gravy.  I usually do all of the sides.  I try to vary it up a little bit with different vegetables from year to year, but we pretty much keep things consistent.

This year I wanted to try something different but couldn’t think of anything.  I happened to be watching Food Network (what a shock!), specifically an episode of Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa and she made these amazing roasted stuffed pears.  I just had to try them!!!

They were a huge hit and absolutely delicious.  I made the original Barefoot Contessa version which contains blue cheese, but my husband doesn’t like blue cheese.  So, I made another version using goat cheese and it was just as delicious!  Not as strong, but still delicious!

The salty, creaminess, and pungence of the blue cheese paired with the richness of port wine and the sweetness of the pears is unique and delicious!  It’s a perfect Fall and Harvest dish!


Roasted Stuffed Pears

3 ripe but firm Anjou pears
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 ounces coarsely crumbled sharp blue cheese such as Stilton
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup apple cider
3 tablespoons port
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1)  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2)  Peel the pears and slice them lengthwise into halves. With a small sharp paring knife and a melon baller, remove the core and seeds from each pear, leaving a round well for the filling.  Trim a small slice away from the rounded sides of each pear half so that they will sit in the baking dish without wobbling.  Toss the pears with some lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown.  Arrange them, core side up, in a baking dish large enough to hold the pears snugly.
3)  Gently toss the crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries, and walnuts together in a small bowl.  Divide the mixture among the pears, mounding it on top of the indentation.
4)  In the same small bowl, combine the apple cider, port, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Pour the mixture over and around the pears. Bake the pears, basting occasionally with the cider mixture, for 30 minutes, or until tender.  Allow to cool and serve on a bed of arugula if desired.  I just served mine warm as a side dish.

*For the goat cheese version – substitute goat cheese for the blue cheese and make the recipe the same.

Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten

Ranch Chicken


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My kids love Ranch Dressing.  They put it on practically everything!  They especially love it on pizza (which drives this native New Yorker absolutely crazy!  How sacrilegious!!).

I was struggling to find something to make for dinner one night and I happened to have one packet left of Hidden Valley Ranch’s salad dressing and seasoning dry mix.  I also had some Panko bread crumbs left and decided to give it a try.  This is pretty much the same recipe on the back of the HVR packet, but I used Panko style bread crumbs rather than traditional bread crumbs.  I like how they stay really crunchy and crispy and they give the chicken a nice texture.  Even though it wasn’t my recipe, it worked in a pinch, it was easy to make, and the whole family loved it!  Dinner was a success and that’s what counts!  (Oh and yes, my kids dunked their chicken in Ranch Dressing!)

Ranch Chicken

Ranch Chicken

4-6 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 packet Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing & Seasoning Dry Mix
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (or traditional bread crumbs)
Resealable plastic bag

1)  Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
2)  In the resealable bag, place the bread crumbs and packet of dry Ranch mix.  Shake to combine.
3)  Add the chicken breasts and seal the bag.  Shake the bread crumb/ranch mixture and chicken together to coat the chicken.
4)  On an ungreased baking sheet, lay the chicken and bake in the oven for 20 minutes for thin sliced chicken (30-40 minutes for thicker sliced) or until a thermometer reads 160 degrees F.
5)  Serve and enjoy!

Recipe courtesy Hidden Valley Ranch.


Homemade French Toast and Turkey Breakfast Sausage


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I’m not a big breakfast person. On a daily basis I rarely have it – one of my many bad eating habits!  I enjoy it when our family goes out for breakfast or brunch, but I don’t enjoy it on a daily basis.  I often get a hard time because I actually hate – yes hate – bacon. It’s just disgusting to me.  Can you imagine the ridicule I endured in culinary school for disliking it so much?!  Even my Chef Instructors gave me a hard time!  But I digress…

One thing I love and enjoy is French Toast and breakfast sausage.  I order it whenever we go out for breakfast or brunch.  My 5 year old LOVES IHOP so we are often there for a quick, inexpensive dinner, and I usually find myself ordering breakfast (ironic, huh?), and I always get breakfast sausage with either pancakes or French Toast.  I love it. Yum!

I happened to come across a recipe for homemade breakfast sausage and thought – wow I need to make that!  I was so impatient to want to try making it that I decided to use the already defrosted ground turkey I had instead of the ground pork.  Hey – why not try to make it somewhat healthy, right?

So for dinner one night I decided to make French Toast and give this homemade breakfast sausage a try as well.  It turned out great.  Truthfully I was a bit surprised that it tasted like authentic breakfast sausage.  The sage and nutmeg give it that distinct flavor and it was kept moist with the egg white.  Just be sure not to overcook it or you could dry it out.  My husband and kids loved it!

It was also surprisingly easy to make.  I used my mixer to mix it up and a baking scoop to scoop out even amounts.  Shaped them into patties and cooked them off!  Easy and delicious!  I hope you’ll give these a try and enjoy them as well!

French Toast w Sauteed Apples

French Toast (with sauteed apples)

1 loaf of sliced bread (I used whole wheat)
6 eggs, beaten
splash of milk
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1)  Combine the eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon in a shallow container.  Mix well
2)  Dip each slice of bread in the egg mixture and cook in an electric skillet at 350 degrees F for about 1-2 minutes on each side.  (If you don’t have an electric skillet, lightly butter a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook on the stove top.)

Sauteed Apples

2 granny smith apples, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg

1)  In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt butter.  Add brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Mix well.
2)  Add the apples and coat well.  Cook 6-7 minutes until apples are tender.
3)  Use as a topping on French Toast (or ice cream!)

Turkey Sausage

Homemade Turkey Breakfast Sausage

1 lb. lean ground pork (I used ground turkey)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. dried sage, crumbled
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
Pinch ground nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg white
Olive oil

1) In a large bowl (or mixer), combine the ground meat, garlic, sage, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Add the egg white and combine thoroughly.  Cover and chill for at least 15 minutes.  (I made mine earlier in the day and let it sit in the fridge about 4-5 hours – when I was ready to cook it.  It worked just fine!)
2) Scoop an even amount of the mixture and shape into patties.
3) Heat the olive oil in a skillet over high heat and cook the sausages on both sides until cooked through and golden brown.  About 4 minutes per side.  Remove from the skillet and place on a plate lined with paper towels (this helps to absorb the excess oil).
4) Serve & Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Homemade Recipes

Roasting Bananas – A Great Tip!



I’m sure everyone has had that moment of wanting to bake using bananas only to find that you’ve got bananas that are far from ripe.  I know I’ve had this happen several times.  My kids LOVE banana bread and they think just because we have bananas we can make it.  And now we can make it anytime no matter how ripe or unripe our bananas are!

To get your bananas ripe enough for baking, simply put them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes.  This causes the sugars in the bananas to caramelize and develop faster – thus ripening the bananas much quicker.  The skin on the bananas will turn black – but don’t worry, that’s normal.  There may also be some liquid that collects on the baking sheet, which is also normal.

Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool a bit before handling.  Peel your bananas and go ahead and use them for baking – muffins, bread, cupcakes, etc. They’re ready to go!



Vegetable Parmigiana


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Hello world!  Knock, knock!  Anyone there?  I know it’s been a while since I’ve been on here and posted a recipe.  My summer has been quite hectic.  As I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, my husband and I are foster parents and up until early June we had 2 sibling groups of 2 children.  That’s 4 kids total – two boys ages 5 and 4 and two girls ages 3 and 2.  One of the sibling groups were reunified with their biological parents which was wonderful to see!  No sooner did we have those two reuniting with their parents, that we were asked to take in a newborn baby girl.  At nine days old, I picked her up from the hospital and for one night we had 5 kiddos in our home.  The other two went home the next day and we’ve had just the 3 ever since.  August was a bit crazy with my 3 year old having a surgical procedure done so that kept us on our toes! She’s a tough cookie and she did great.  But, the greatest news for us was being told we were officially able to adopt two of the three children we have in our care! Needless to say we’ve been busy, hence my delay on posting anything!  But I’m here now with a great recipe – and I’m heading back to my Italian roots!

I had a bunch of bell peppers leftover and didn’t know what to do with them, as well as some zucchini.  Hmmm – what to make???  I also had some tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese ready to go.  Then it dawned on me.  Who doesn’t love anything in tomato sauce and cheese!  I decided to slice the zucchini long ways and roast off the peppers.  I removed the skins and layered the zucchini and peppers together along with some portabella mushrooms and some thinly sliced eggplant.  With some tomato sauce and shredded cheese in between each layer, this was going to be heaven!

I was reluctant because as every mom can relate – my little ones despise vegetables and truthfully my husband isn’t a huge fan either.  But it turned out to be a yummy, delicious, ooey, gooey, cheesy meal that they just couldn’t get enough of!  SCORE!

It’s a take on lasagna with its various layers and if you wanted you could even put some lasagna noodles in between the layers and make it more of a vegetable lasagna than a parmigiana.  Either way – you’ll be sure to love this!  I love that it is such a versatile dish.  You can add or change the veggies to suit your tastes.

Vegetable Parmigiana

Vegetable Parmigiana

2 each – red, yellow, orange bell peppers, cored, halved, and roasted (skins removed)
1 eggplant – peeled and thinly sliced
4-5 zucchini squash, thinly sliced long-ways
1 pkg. sliced mushrooms
Tomato Sauce (recipe here)
2-3 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese

1)  In a large casserole dish, coat the bottom with some of the tomato sauce.
2)  Layer the parmigiana as follows:  vegetable, tomato sauce, cheese.  Alternate the various veggies as you layer the parmigiana and fill the casserole dish.  Top with more shredded cheese.
3)  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour.