Category Archives: Recipes

Gingered Pumpkin-Pear Soup Recipe

Though the pears pictured do not have a textur...

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I was lamenting that I had lost this recipe forever.  I cut it out of a magazine in the 1998 and couldn’t find it for a couple of years.  Guess what. I found it in a bag of stuff in the basement, which is a good thing because this is the best soup ever.  The cooks (N. Coult and K. Moerke) won a $400 prize for it.  So it is award-winning soup 🙂

Lots of time I think it’s just fine to mess around and substitute ingredients.  Not this time. If you make this exactly like this, it will be fantastic.  But don’t wimp out and leave out a little detail, like the lime peel, because the lime peel absolutely MAKES this soup sing.

So here it is. So easy.  Vegetarian! Only 129 calories a serving. Makes 6 small servings.  Life is good.


  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced (actually, you can use canned pears, not in syrup)
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin (the small one)
  • 1-1/2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/4 cup of light dairy sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. finely shredded lime peel
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • more shredded lime peel for garnish

Directions: In a large saucepan, cook onion and ginger in hot butter until onion is tender.  Stir in pears, cook 1 minute more.  Stir in canned pumpkin and vegetable broth; heat to boiling.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 5 minutes more or until pears are tender.  Cool slightly.  In a blender container or food processor, cover and blend 1/2 of pumpkin mixture at a time, until smooth, about 1 minute.  Return processed mixture to saucepan; stir in milk.  Heat through.  Season to taste with salt and white pepper (if desired).

Meanwhile, in a small bowl stir together sour cream, 1/2 tsp of lime peel, and lime juice.  Top each serving of soup with a drizzle of lime sour cream mixture. Garnish with a little additional lime peel.

Success Tips for Holiday Cookie Baking

I’ve discovered a few tricks and gadgets that are making my holiday cookie baking much more successful this year.

Parchment paper. Most of my cookie recipes call for an ungreased cookie sheet.  This year, I’m lining my cookie sheet with parchment paper. I just discovered how much easier it is making my cookie-baking.  A sheet of parchment paper can be reused, batch after batch.  When the cookies are done, you slip the paper, cookies and all, onto wire racks to cool (minimum 2 minutes).  I am finding that the cookies bake more evenly, don’t break when I try to lift them from the paper, and I don’t have to clean the pan between batches.  At Safeway, look for the display of parchment paper that offers a 75-cents-off coupon.

Cookie scoop and silicon turner. My sister swore by using this handled cookie scoop for cookie dough.  (It looks like a small ice cream scoop.)  At first, I wondered, why not just use spoons?  But when I saw a Betty Crocker set of a cookie scoop plus cookie turner at Wal-Mart for about $3, I decided to try it.  The scoop does a couple of things.   It does make it a lot easier to scoop and produce evenly sized cookies.  It is also easier to use every scrap of dough in the mixing bowl, so there is less waste (and more cookies!).  I feel as if the scoop does not overly work the dough (the way scraping with two spoons might), which results in a lighter cookie texture.  I am also a big fan of the thin, flexible turner that came in the set.  It really does work better than the other turners I have for lifting cookies.

Cookie mixes. I usually make cookies to give as gifts, using recipes I have relied on year after year, and using the best ingredients, such as real vanilla and unsalted butter.  This year, I find I just don’t have the time to bake from scratch.  I still wanted to make cookies, however, so I bought several bags of Betty Crocker cookie dough mix in various flavors.  They are on sale at Safeway for about $1.25 a bag (each bag makes 2-3 dozen cookies).  I am having good success with all of them, and they save a great deal of time, and there aren’t as many utensils and bowls to clean.  It’s a good compromise, if you are also pressed for time.

You can elaborate on the cookie mixes using these recipes from Betty Crocker, available online at  To save time, I may skip rolling out dough and making cut-out cookies this year and bake the jam-filled thumbprint cookies with the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix, instead.

Cook Book. While we’re talking Betty Crocker, I should also mention that I think the latest Betty Crocker cook book is a winner, especially for less experienced cooks, like myself.  The cookbook is unique in that it provides photographs of how your cookies should look when done.  It shows what a cookie looks like if you use too much butter or flour, and how it should look when it is just right.

A few more cookie-baking tips…

Use fresh ingredients. For the best flavor, use fresh ingredients for everything. Don’t use last year’s shortening, oil, baking soda, baking powder, flour, candy or nuts.  If you are in doubt, toss it.  The exception is vanilla extract, which lasts indefinitely.  Even spices lose their life after too long on the shelf (about one to four years, depending on the type).  Also, some might swear by them, but I don’t have good experience with cooking sprays and I don’t like what they do to my pans.

Refrigerate the dough after you mix it. This will help prevent cookie spread (cookies baking too flat and thin).

Let your cookie sheets cool between batches. If you put cookies on warm sheets, they may spread while baking.

Toast nuts before adding to the dough. Toasted nuts have the best flavor.  You can toast pecans, walnuts, and almonds in about 7 minutes or less in a 400 degree oven.

Using an expensive spice? Like cardamon or star anise?  Try an Indian spice store.  You may find good deals on spices.

What do you use to bake great cookies?  Have you found the perfect cookie sheet?  Do you have a great recipe?  Feel free to add them in the comments!

Recipe: Low-Fat Sweet Potato Casserole

I found this in First Magazine several years ago.  Try this instead of the marshmallow version to save calories and fat grams.

  • 3 medium sized sweet potatoes (about 1-1/2 lb.), pared and cut into chunks
  • 2 large baking apples (about 1 lb.), cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp. margarine, melted. (It calls for margarine but I suppose you could use butter.)

Preheat oven to 400.  Spray a 8″ or 9″ baking dish with vegetable cooking spray.  Add potatoes and apples.  Sprinkle first with cinnamon, then with sugar; toss lightly.  Add bay leaf, oj, and margarine.  Cover dish with foil and bake about 1 houror until potatoes and apples are fork-tender.  Remove bay leaf and serve.  Makes 8 servings, 209 calories, 3 g fat.

Cool Yule Recipes: Cheese and Crackers!

Here are some delicious ways to enjoy Triscuit crackers (or any delicious cracker) during the holidays.

Cream Cheese Christmas Tree (from Sylvia the Gift Shop Lady at Graves Mountain).  Take a block of cream cheese and shape it into a Christmas Tree (you can make a triangle).  Pour 1 jar of Graves Mountain green pepper jelly or red pepper jelly over the cheese.  Garnish with a yellow-pepper star and serve with crackers.

Triscuits with Havarti and Cranberry-Orange Relish. Dab each Triscuit with a little Cranberry-Orange Relish (you can get it at Cracker Barrel).  Top with a thin slice of Havarti.  Pop into the microwave until just melted (only a few seconds) or place in the toaster oven.  Let cool slightly but eat while the cheese is still melty.  Delicious!

Knorr’s Veggie Dip. Buy a packet of Knorr’s vegetable soup mix and follow the directions.  You’ll also need three green onions, sour cream (light sour cream is fine), mayonnaise (light mayonnaise is fine), a can of sliced water chestnuts, and 1 box of frozen green spinach, thawed.  After the spinach thaws, you have to press out as much water as you can.  Then  you mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate.  Overnight is best.  This is one of those dips I can’t stop eating and it is very good on Triscuits, but it’s also good on veggies.




Cool Yule Recipe: Now Bring Us A Figgy Pasta!

Figs and gorgonzola just taste like the holidays to me.  I love this pasta dish recipe from Valley Fig Growers and it is easy to make.  Once, I used bow tie pasta instead of orzo and it was just as good.  This sits well on a buffet and is a nice dish to bring to a potluck, because it is so different and delicious.  Careful not to overcook the prosciutto.   The hot red pepper flakes really make it.  I put in much more spinach than the recipe calls for, I think you can easily double it, but adjust for your taste.

Orzo With Figs, Gorgonzola, & Prosciutto

1 pound orzo (rice shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
1 cup (packed) coarsely chopped spinach leaves
1 cup (4 oz.) coarsely chopped Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice or Sun-Maid Calimyrna or Mission Figs
2 ounces (1/2 cup) thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup (4 oz.) crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese

Cook orzo according to package. Set aside. In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, about 1 minute. Stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in figs and prosciutto and cook 1 minute longer. Add pasta, stirring to combine. Pour in chicken broth and cook until most of the liquid has absorbed, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cheese. Makes about 7 cups (8-10 servings).

Recipe: Christmas Bark Candy

This is one of the easiest and most-impressive looking confections you can make during the holidays.  Melt the contents of a bag of white chocolate chips in the microwave (careful, it burns easily) or in a sauce pan (or over a double boiler, if you have one).   Spread the melted confection on waxed paper.  Sprinkle with a cup of chopped, unsalted pistachios and a cup of dried cranberries.  It looks festive with the red and green ingredients.

For marble bark (with or without the add-in’s), melt semi-sweet chocolate chips and pour next to the white chocolate on the wax paper.  Swirl the two melted chocolates together.  Use a toothpick for some fine effects.
Refrigerate until hard, then break it into pieces.

(This is a nice-add on if you are making cookie packages.)

Here’s another variation (but my favorite is still the pistachio/cranberry version!):

Recipe: Pear and Pecan Salad with Mixed Greens

This is a lovely and delicious salad that goes well with holiday entrees.  It’s from my Kraft Simply Celebrating holiday recipe book. It is one of my favorites.  You will need

  • 1 package mixed salad greens (or 6 cups of torn leaf and romaine lettuce; use some red leaf lettuce for color)
  • 2 medium pears, sliced.
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes, halved.

Toss these ingredients.  Just before serving drizzle the salad with Ranch dressing (fat-free is fine) and sprinkle with

  • Blue cheese crumbles
  • Toasted pecans

I think this works best as a plated salad, or on a large platter, rather than served from a large salad bowl.

Recipe: A different sweet for Christmas

It seems like you see the same-old sweets every Christmas.  One Christmas, I wanted to make something a tad sophisticated and different tasting.  These fit the bill, and they were easy to make.  I found the recipe in my 1997 Reader’s Digest Christmas magazine, but it’s also online.


4 ounces(about 10) dried figs
1/3 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar

Nutritional Information
1 piece:
Calories 44
Saturated Fat 0g
Total Fat 1g
Protein 1g
Carbohydrate 9g
Fiber 1g
Sodium 1mg
Cholesterol 0mg

This traditional Christmas sweet is low in both calories and fat-and easy to make too.


Makes about 2 dozen candies
Preparation time: 30 minutes

Step 1:
Trim stems from figs. In a food processor, combine figs, almonds, cocoa, and cinnamon, and chop until minced. Add remaining ingredients except sugar, and pulse just until mixed.

Step 2:
Form into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar. To serve, arrange balls in shallow dish or place in paper or aluminum candy cups. (Can be made up to 1 week ahead. Store in an airtight container.)

3 Cheeseball Recipes

Cathy Knoll’s Yummy Cheese Ball* Mix 8 oz cream cheese, 1/2 cup Hellmann mayo, 1 cup shredded cheddar, 5 slices bacon cooked crisp and crumbled small. Optional: finely chopped green onion, finely chopped pecans. Form into ball or logs. Roll in finely chopped parsley OR in light layer of paprika OR in finely chopped pecans.

*Note Cathy makes the excellent point that logs work better and look nicer (after they have been cut into) than cheese balls.

Blue Cheese Ball (from Mix two 8 ounce packages of chream cheese, 1 cup of crumbled blue cheese, 1 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup of minced onion, and 1 Tbsp. of Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl.  Transfer to a separate bowl that has been lined with plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, gather the mixture into a ball.  Spread 1 cup of chopped walnuts on a dinner plate.  Roll the ball in the nuts until coated.  Refrigerate or serve immedately. Serves 16.

Party Cheese Log (from The Complete Christmas Book).  Heat oven to 350.  Spread 1/2 cup chopped walnuts in a shallow pan and toast, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 – 10 minutes.  Blend 3-5 oz. of Bleu or Roquefort cheese, one 8 oz package of cream cheese, 1/4 tsp. garlic salt, 1 Tbsp. chopped green pepper and 1 Tbsp. chopped pimiento.  Chill until firm, then shape into a log.  Roll in toasted walnuts and chill again, until serving time.  Garnish with a sprig of holly.