Chocolate Torte

Avoiding wheat? Here’s a sweet fudgy treat just for you. My co-worker Nita went the extra mile for my birthday recently, digging around online to find a gluten-free cake option. She lucked out when she stumbled on this treasure, because it’s the rare flourless baked good that actually tastes GREAT!

So many gluten-free cakes and cookies taste like A) glue or B) sand. I’d given up trying to make gluten-free cakes or cookies. Better to just eat a chunk of chocolate or handful of peanut butter M&M’s to assuage the sweet tooth! In fact, another co-worker once texted me, asking what local bakeries had good gluten-free muffins. I texted back, “There is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin.” Mary’s response was crying laughing emoji and “Seriously, where can I get good gluten-free muffins?” And I texted again, “Good gluten-free is an oxymoron. I’m serious, there is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin!” (I’m kinda proud of myself for using “oxymoron” in a text. No need to dumb down our vocab just cause we’re using our thumbs, now is there? crying laughing emoji…)

But Nita found an exception to the rule (on, flourless chocolate cake II), and I think you’ll love this quick and easy recipe as much as I do. I’ve made it a couple times now—for one of our famous November family birthday parties (4 outta 7 have b-days that month), and again for my book club. Raves all around.

Makes 8 Servings

4 – 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter, and dust with cocoa powder (this keeps it entirely gluten-free).

Put chocolate and butter in a large glass measuring cup and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir, and repeat for an additional 30-60 seconds as needed to melt chocolate. In large mixing bowl, combine melted butter and chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla, and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve right away with ice cream, or let cook completely and serve next day.

TIP #1: Cover with dish towel or loose foil if keeping overnight. If covered with plastic wrap or tight tin foil, it will get soggy.

TIP #2: Anyone else have trouble cutting brownie-like treats? They seem to get all crumbly and fall apart as you try to slice them, and even the sharpest knife won’t help. My fellow book clubber, Sherie, said she always cuts brownies and gooey bars with a plastic knife, so I tried it. VOILA! It worked like a charm. #kitchenhack

Chicken Peanut Stew

Leftover holiday turkey—or a rotisserie chicken—is the main ingredient needed to get going on this savory West African-inspired peanut soup. I saw this recipe in the November 2017 Better Homes & Gardens magazine, and thought it looked weird. But weird intrigues me, when it comes to food. And since my husband and I had tag-teamed on the turkeys this year, we had plenty of leftover meat to use. (He did a 24-pound bird on his Big Green Egg, and I did a 14-pound turkey in the oven. The former for delicious smokiness, and the latter to make killer gravy.) 

How was it? It WAS weird, but in a good way! My son Mitchell and I loved the new flavor twist of the peanut butter, tomato and smokey spices, and thought you could even serve it over rice to make it even more hearty. But my husband kept making fun of the soup. Mind you, the man eats peanut butter and fresh tomato sandwiches throughout the month of August…this should be right up his alley, right? Then he got hungry enough to try it, and he liked it! Mikey likes it! 

I’ve made this twice now, and adjusted spices and amounts as you see below. One additional ingredient to the BH&G recipe, is chopped fresh spinach. I like to add more veggies whenever I can, and spinach adds nutrients without altering flavor of the stew.

Serves 8-10

1 tablespoon coconut or canola oil
6-8 green onions, sliced thin
1 medium green pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons ground coriander
3 teaspoons ground cumin
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
3 – 14.5-ounce cans chicken broth
6-8 cups peeled and cubed sweet potatoes
1 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
6-ounce can tomato paste
3-4 cups shredded cooked turkey or chicken
15-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped

Fresh cilantro, chopped
Dry roasted peanuts, chopped

In a large Dutch oven, melt oil over medium heat. Add green onions and green pepper, and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, red pepper, salt, and pepper, and cook and stir until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth and sweet potatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, and reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender to the fork.

Ladle about 1 cup of soup broth into a medium bowl, and whisk in peanut butter, stirring until smooth. Whisk in tomato paste as well. Add peanut butter mixture, turkey or chicken, and spinach to Dutch oven. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve topped with cilantro and peanuts.

Chipotle Black Bean Chili

Those who like it extra spicy will love this black bean chili recipe I got from Café Latte in St. Paul, Minnesota a few years back. A reader requested the recipe from the restaurant when I wrote a Q & A food column for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and Café Latte obliged—but in restaurant-sized quantities. So I had to do some fancy division and subtraction to get down to a recipe I could fit in my largest soup pot. This is still a massive amount of soup, but it always gets gobbled up in a hurry. Served over a bowl of brown rice, it’s a filling, satisfying meal. If you can take the heat! (Which I can’t, so I make this as a gift of love to my husband and sons who DO like their food on the spicy side.)

Serves 10-12

4 (14 ounce) cans black beans
1 (14 ounce) can pinto beans
1 (14 ounce) can dark red kidney beans
2 )14 ounce) cans corn
1½ cups yellow onions, diced
2½ cups carrots, peeled and chopped
2½ tablespoons chili powder
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons chipotle powder
6 cups water
3 tablespoons vegetable soup base or chicken soup base*
Half of 7 ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
2 (14 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (14 ounce) can tomato puree or sauce
2 cups canned, roasted red peppers, chopped
2 cups cooked brown rice

Fresh cilantro, chopped
Sour cream

Drain and rinse beans and corn. In large Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onions until translucent. Add carrots and continue to sauté until carrots are tender to the fork. Add garlic and sauté until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle chili powder, cumin, salt, chipotle powder over onion mixture, and stir to combine. Roast spices and onion mixture for a few minutes. Add water and soup base, and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil; then add chipotle peppers, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce or puree, roasted peppers, beans, and corn. Return to a boil, and then reduce to simmer. Let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over cooked rice, and top with cilantro and sour cream.

*NOTE: Soup base is a less salty and more flavorful way to make soup than using bouillon or vegetable/chicken stock. It’s first ingredient is vegetable or meat, and salt is lower down the list. I prefer to use this in soup whenever I can, and usually buy only the chicken base as I use it in other soup recipes as well. But if you’re trying to go strict vegetarian with this recipe, you’ll want to buy the vegetable soup base.

Turkey Peanut Satay Wraps

Thai-flavored fare a favorite with you, like it is for me? Then these savory turkey wraps will hit the spot. I got this recipe from a Bethel University student worker (Natalie G, that’s you!), who raved non-stop about it, and she had found it on It went together pretty easy—about 30 minutes—and most of the ingredients were the kind of thing I had on hand. I’m not concerned about using soy sauce in recipes, but those who have zero tolerance for gluten would want to sub in gluten-free tamari sauce.

Now for the adjustments I made to the recipe—let’s start with the meat. It called for ground chicken, and I can’t recall seeing that in the grocery store. (And my husband refused to look for it when I sent him to the grocery store for the butterhead lettuce…so that kinda settled it!) Since I had ground turkey on hand, that’s what I used. Not a fan of gathering loads of specialty sauces in my cupboards and frig, I subbed in fresh minced garlic and dried chili powder for the recommended chili garlic sauce. Another addition was the scallions, as I thought they’d give it a nice bite.

It also seemed that the amount of sauce made in the recipe wouldn’t have covered the meat, so I doubled the peanut butter and coconut milk. I was glad I did, because it was JUST right. And so was the flavor!!! It was a great mix of spices, and the creaminess of the coconut milk and peanut better coated the meat perfectly. Once wraps were assembled, the crunch of the lettuce wrapped around the spiced meat mixture made for a thoroughly satisfying meal. (Could also be a killer appetizer!) If there’d been leftovers, I’d tell you how it tasted second day, but alas, we ate every last morsel. DEE-lish.

Serves 4

2 pounds ground turkey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large shallots, chopped, or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3-4 scallions (green onions), chopped
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger*
salt and pepper
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup coconut milk (I used a can of regular, not light, and mixed to include fat and coconut milk)
¼ cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
*(If you don’t have fresh ginger, add 1 teaspoon ground ginger here)
¼ teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
¼ cup chopped dry roasted peanuts for garnish
2 heads of butterhead lettuce

Coat skillet with oil, and heat to medium-high. Add ground turkey, and cook until almost no pink remains in meat, breaking up meat as it cooks. Add shallots (or onions), scallions, and minced garlic, and cook until meat is no longer pink and garlic is fragrant. Turn down to low.

Combine coconut milk and peanut butter in large microwave-safe measuring cut or bowl and heat for 30 seconds. Stir until smooth. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, sesame oil, chili powder, curry, and red pepper flakes. Stir until combined. Add to meat in skillet, and stir to coat. Turn element off.

Remove core from butterhead lettuce, and rinse. Pat dry. Line 4 plates with several leaves of lettuce, and add large dollop of meat mixture to plate. Put cilantro and chopped peanuts on table. Let each person assemble their own wraps, and top with peanuts and cilantro.

Caprese Zucchini Bites

Fresh zucchini, basil, and mozzarella are 3 of the 5 ingredients in this super simple appetizer. Looking for another way to use up the mountains of zucchini available at the end of summer, I threw together these ingredients that mimic the ever-popular caprese salad. And they were super tasty! The zucchini added some nice crunch and gave you a “cracker” feel without any gluten involved, and the flavors all blended really well. I used the Trader Joe’s dressing because I didn’t have balsamic vinaigrette on hand, and I think you could use just about ANY vinegar-based dressing on these—Italian, simple sweet and sour, whatever you have. The sun-dried tomatoes pack such punch you don’t need a lot of help from the dressing.

Serves 4-6

1 small zucchini, cut into ¼-inch slices
Half of a jar of julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
4-5 slices fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch squares
¼ cup fresh basil, snipped
Trader Joe’s Ginger Soy Dressing or reduced balsamic vinaigrette

Line a plate with a layer of sliced zucchini, then top each slice with a teaspoon of sun-dried tomatoes, and a piece of fresh mozzarella. Sprinkle with fresh basil, and drizzle with spare amount of dressing. Serve immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. Probably best to serve within 24 hours of assembling.

Fish Tacos

Smoked fish, sweet nectarines, and savory cabbage slaw make an interesting flavor combo in these fish tacos. The first time I saw “fish tacos” on a menu, I thought it sounded disgusting. Fish? In a taco? Was this an SNL fake commercial or something, like Bass-o-matic? But then a soul braver than me ordered them, and offered me a taste. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to re-create great fish tacos at home. And I think I finally nailed it.

Parts of this recipe came from Bobbie Flay, of Food Network fame. But it’s been twisted and tweaked so it no longer resembles the original, and I can safely claim it as my own. You can certainly grill the fish, but we’re Big Green Egg disciples. My husband prefers to use his BGE smoker any time he can, as it does give meat and fish an amazingly complex flavor. But if a Webber (or other gas grill) is what you’ve got, then go for it! No harm done there.

Makes 8-10 tacos

For Cabbage Slaw
1/3 head of green cabbage, sliced thin and then chopped
6 leaves of Napa cabbage, jullienned
2-3 carrots, grated
1 sweet red pepper, diced
½ of a yellow onion, diced
½ cup diced jicama (optional)
½ cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Penzy’s Northwoods seasoning OR 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, plus dash each salt, pepper, thyme, cracked or powdered rosemary, and garlic powder

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and stir until dressing is incorporated. Set aside or cover and chill until serving tacos.

For Nectarine Salsa
2 ripe nectarines (or peaches)
2 tablespoons minced red onion
Handful or fresh mint leaves, rinsed, and diced

Combine all ingredients in bowl and stir. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate.

For Fish Tacos
8-10 tilapia (or other mild white fish) fillets
Vegetable oil
Lime juice
Seasonings of choice, such as Penzy’s Foxpoint seasoning (dried shallots and salt), Smoked Spanish Paprika—but even just salt and pepper would be fine.

8-10 purchased corn tortillas

Heat grill to high. Combine oil, lime juice, and seasonings in Ziplock bag and let sit for a few minutes. Place fish in an oiled grill basket or brush grill with oil if placing directly on grill. Grill fish until white and no longer translucent. Break into pieces with fork. Add cooked fish to tortillas with cabbage slaw and nectarine salsa.

Salted Nut Bars

Fans of Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls will love these easy stove-top bars that taste pretty darn close to the candy bar. In fact, people who are kinda “meh” about the candy bars even love these—like my future daughter-in-law, Ashley, who helped me make a decent dent in a pan of these recently.

As my oven is dying a slow death right now (kind of a problem for a food blogger… Go Fund Me, anyone?), I’m looking for stove top and grill options in our meals and desserts. The recipe for these bars was given to me by my husband’s cousin, Trudy, after she brought them to my mother-in-law’s memorial service, and I begged her for it. Before you berate me for asking for a recipe at such a solemn occasion, you need to know this—My mother-in-law was the original foodie, even though that term wasn’t used in her day. Everything Marynona baked and cooked was delicious, and she served up her great food with a heaping helping of warm hospitality. She would have been touched that a couple of her relatives were bonding over food and sharing recipes at a service being held in her honor. Really.

So back to the recipe! This doesn’t fit with my usual desire to cook with fresh, natural ingredients, and avoid extra sugars. In fact, I think that the butter and peanuts are the only real food ingredients in these, unless you count the sugar that the marshmallows are made of! But when you need a hit of salty and sweet, these do the trick in a snap.

Makes 20 bars

4 tablespoons butter
1 (10-ounce) package Reese’s peanut butter chips
1 (10-ounce) bag miniature marshmallows
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (16-ounce) jar dry roasted peanuts

Butter a 9×13 glass baking dish. Sprinkle half the jar of peanuts in the bottom of the pan. In large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add peanut butter chips and stir to melt those as well. Add sweetened condensed milk and stir to combine. Add whole bag of marshmallows, and stir until they are coated with peanut butter chip mixture, but do not let marshmallows melt! Gently spoon mixture over peanuts in baking dish, and spread out evenly. Sprinkle the rest of nuts on top and press in with back of large spoon. Refrigerate until firm; cut into squares.

NOTE: Once these are firm from refrigeration, no need to refrigerate again. Trudy had a note on her recipe that says, “these freeze well”, but I’ve never tried that. I’m kind of a “make it and take it” kinda gal—as my family and co-workers will attest. My baked goods don’t usually last long enough to need to be frozen for future consumption.

Green Pepper and Sausage Hash Browns

FullSizeRender-2Sometimes you just gotta keep it simple. Like doctoring up a package of Simply Potatoes plain shredded hash browns with a couple vegetables, and some meat, and calling it a done! My friend Marylee put me onto this brunch or brinner (breakfast for dinner…) side dish, and we love it for a quick after-church-on-Sunday meal with some cheesy scrambled eggs and fruit. You can use half a Kielbasa sausage ring, or a couple links of Andouille—anything will do, as long as it’s meaty and chock full of flavor. Just make sure you grab your biggest skillet or griddle to give the potatoes a chance to brown up nice and crispy. The more surface area, the better!

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 (20-ounce) package Simply Potatoes shredded hash browns
½ of a Kielbasa sausage ring, chopped into bite-sized pieces

Heat oil on high in large skillet or griddle. Add onion, and cook until translucent. Add green peppers, and sauté and stir for a minute. Add hash browns, let sit to brown for a bit, then use large spatula to flip sections of browned potatoes over, and stir until most of potatoes are golden. Add in sausage, and continue to cook and stir until potatoes are desired crispiness. Serve.

Fresh Tomato Avocado Salsa

Need a quick topping for grilled fish or chicken? Try chopping up a few fresh veggies like this, drizzling them with balsamic vinaigrette and TA-DAAAH!!! You’ve just taken your dinner up a notch in flavor. I grabbed these ingredients thinking they’d pair well with my husband’s grilled tilapia the other night, and boy, did they ever. We gave it a solid 10 out of 10! So simple, there’s really nothing more to say—let’s just get to the recipe, if you can even call it that…

Makes 4-6 servings

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved and quartered
1 ripe avocado, chopped
2 slices yellow onion, diced
A few sprigs of fresh basil, chiffonade*
A splash of balsamic vinaigrette

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stir, and ladle on top of cooked fish or chicken.

*NOTE: Chiffonade is the technique of bunching up herb leaves and chopping into fine, thin strips.

Asparagus and Pea Spring Salad

It doesn’t get any fresher than this springy salad featuring asparagus, peas, and spinach. I first tried the Asparagus Ribbon Salad (from Better Homes & Gardens April 2017 issue) for Easter, and our guests all thought it was dee-licious. I made it per instructions the first time, except for the requested arugula, as it’s expensive and I think it has a bitter bite. So I subbed in Bibb lettuce (aka: butter lettuce) and added some spinach—just because I like to add spinach to dishes whenever possible! Good call on the Bibb lettuce, as it was the perfect compliment to the tender asparagus. It was a nice side salad with ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes potatoes (need to post that one), and a refreshing way to serve the green spears, rather than just microwaving and squirting with lemon.

But I thought the long ribbons of asparagus were kind of awkward to eat, and were a total pain in the keister (yet worth it for Easter…) to prepare. Chopping them into 1-2 inch pieces is easier to do, and easier to eat. I also found the vinegar in the BH&G asparagus-pea pesto recipe to be too sharp—asparagus is such a subtle veggie, and I thought lemon might be a better choice for an acid in the pesto. Then because I CANNOT turn my foodie brain off, I thought I’d boil up some eggs and chop some leftover Easter ham on top to make it a whole meal deal. Loved it!!! It was so tantalizing, my co-worker Ben even asked me for the recipe when I brought a salad to work. Or rather, he said, “Hey Kaaren (his wife), you should get that recipe from Cheryl…”

Here you go, Ben (ahem, I mean Kaaren…).

Serves 6-8

For Side Salad
2 bunches asparagus
3 cups frozen peas, divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
½-1 lemon, juiced (¼-½ cup)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ of an English cucumber, sliced into quartered
2 heads Bibb lettuce, cored and chopped
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

For Main Meal Salad
2 cups chopped ham
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add ice. Set aside to us in blanching asparagus. Trim or snap touch ends off asparagus, then chop into 1 or 2-inch pieces. Fill a medium saucepan with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a full rolling boil. Add fresh asparagus, and cook 2-3 minutes, or until bright green. Using slotted spoon, gradually transfer all the asparagus to the bowl of ice water. Let sit for about 5 minutes, then drain. Rinse the frozen peas under cold water then drain in separate strainer. Dab both asparagus and peas with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Toss asparagus, peas, and cucumber together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make asparagus-pea pesto, combine 1 cup of blanched asparagus, 2 cups of peas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in food processor and pulse to form paste. Add Parmesan and pulse to combine. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Toss pesto with asparagus, peas, and cucumber until all ingredients are combined.

To assemble salad, spread Bibb lettuce and spinach on large platter, or 6-8 individual salad plates. Top with asparagus mixture for side salad. If making a main meal salad, sprinkle with chopped ham, chopped egg, and grated cheese.