Bundt Coffee Cake

Grandma Opal’s Coffee Cake

If I close my eyes and try to remember my Grandma Opal, I picture a 4′ 10″, gentle, but yet strong lady with the most beautiful white-grey hair, kind eyes and an easy laugh. But if I want to remember our time together, all I have to do is make her signature coffee cake and the smell of cinnamon, pecans and sweet vanilla will bring her right back to me.

The dishes and tablecloth in this picture were passed on to me by my grandma.

I think the thing that is truly remarkable about my grandma was the courage that was required of her in the first 30 years of her life.  She and her brothers and sisters were orphaned when she was eight years old. In 1918, her father died of influenza and pneumonia. Less than two months later, her mother died from pneumonia following a hernia surgery. She and her five brothers and sisters were taken in by family and neighbors and, being the oldest, she cried herself to sleep many nights, worried about the care her siblings were receiving.

Grandma loved school … well, she loved learning. She remembered being bullied by the big kids (nothing new under the sun, as they say), often walking two miles to the nearest country school, and changing schools seven times in eight years. Despite all that, she had a gift for spelling and being a good student, she hoped she could continue beyond the typical 8th grade education and go to high school.

In those days, and given the circumstances of being cared for by relatives, there just wasn’t money to pay for her continued education. At 14, she went to work. Three dollars a week was her wage for housekeeping, laundry and caring for new mothers and babies. By the time she married my grandfather, she was earning eight dollars a week. She was 22 years old.

From what we would consider a meager wage, Grandma was able to save money to buy her own furniture. She ordered a new cookstove for $49 and a heater for $65 from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Starting their life together in the heart of the depression taught them great lessons on being self-sufficient, frugal, and grateful.

After losing their first baby at childbirth, she developed some form of kidney poisoning and nearly died. A new drug saved her life and she was later able to deliver two healthy baby boys.

The first 28 years of her life sound full of sadness. Then, I see a picture like this, my favorite of her, and I know that she also experienced much happiness.

She lived for 101 years. This is what she wrote to describe her life:

As I look back through the years, I know my life wasn’t easy at times,
but can see God’s hand was guiding me through the years.
I had a good husband and my two boys for which I am grateful.

Faith … gratitude … and a whole lot of class.

I loved spending time with her. Whether is was sharing a frozen pizza between my high school activities, baking cookies together at Christmas, canning and freezing garden produce side-by-side, or just playing a long game of UNO! together, we created simple memories. We had a lot in common but she envied my 5’8″ height and was quick to say so each time I could reach the upper shelves of her kitchen cabinets for her. I can only hope the grey hair that I keep camouflaged will someday be as beautiful as hers. To be remembered as a good-natured, fun-loving, faith-filled woman like her, would be a huge compliment. To be remembered by the smell of something warm and comforting fresh from the oven … well, that would be icing (or glaze) on the cake.

The hand-written version of this recipe, signed with a wish and, as always, given with love.
Print Recipe
Grandma Opal's Coffee Cake
The smell of this coffee cake baking is enough to make a non-coffee drinker crave a cup to accompany their first bites! A few simple steps and even more simple ingredients are all it takes to make my grandmother's cinnamon-struesel specialty.
Bundt Coffee Cake
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Bundt Coffee Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat the inside of a bundt pan well with butter or cooking spray. Sprinkle liberally with flour, turning the pan on it side and rotating to distribute flour evenly. The entire inside of the pan should be well coated.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake and pudding mix. Add oil and water, mixing on a low speed just until combined. Increase mixer speed a little and add eggs, one at a time, allowing 2 minutes of mixing between each addition.
  4. Struesel mixture: combine sugar, cinnamon and pecans in a small bowl; set aside.
  5. Pour half of the batter into the bottom of the bundt pan. Sprinkle the struessel mixture over batter. Pour remaining batter into pan.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until cake is brown and set in the middle. Cake is done when a toothpick, inserted in the center, comes out clean.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes. Use a very thin knife to gently release the outside edges of the cake from the pan. Place a serving dish over the top of the pan and invert quickly so the cake will drop onto the dish.
  8. Allow to cool completely.
  9. A powdered sugar frosting or glaze may be drizzled oner the cake, if desired.

Coffee Cake


Please Pass the Sofrito

The what?

A year or two ago this would have been my answer if someone asked me to “please pass the Sofrito”. Then I ordered a Mediterranean Egg Sandwich at our local Panera Bread restaurant. I had no idea what a “Tomato Sofrito” was but I was willing to give it a chance. That’s all it took.

If you google “Sofrito”, you will quickly discover a wide range of results: some green, some red, some extra-“herby”, some spicy. The closest thing I could find to a definition was this from Wikipedia: a sauce … of aromatic ingredients cut into small pieces and sautéed in cooking oil. The “ingredients” used are determined by the influences of a particular region: Mediterranean, Spanish, Latin, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or Italian.

What is consistent about Sofrito is that it makes an excellent rice or pasta addition, sandwich condiment, soup base, or omelette filling. No matter which flavor-direction you want to go, Sofrito will add that depth of flavor you want.

Sofrito Ingredients

This particular version has an Italian flavor profile using thyme, rosemary and crushed red pepper. It pairs well with Parmesan cheese, prosciutto and roasted vegetables.

Italian-Style Sofrito

Print Recipe
This simple sofrito recipe is a wonderful combination of tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Adjusting the herbs and spices of this Mediterranean condiment to fit your Mexican, Spanish or Caribbean meals.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic and onion and sauté 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until tomatoes break down, stirring frequently.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Sofrito should resemble a chunky jam.
  5. Fill a jar with the mixture and store in the refrigerator.
Recipe Notes

If you prefer a smoother texture, place the cooled mixture in a food processor and puree until smooth or desired consistency.

Sofrito Grilled Cheese

Based on that egg sandwich I loved, I made a killer grilled cheese sandwich using this recipe. Two slices of Italian-style bread, a layer of pesto, a pile of shredded cheddar, Gruyere, and Parmesan cheese, and a layer of Sofrito. Yes, it’s an indulgence. But it has vegetables!

Sofrito Frittata

The next day, I took about a cup of the Sofrito and used it to make this gorgeous (if I do say so myself) frittata. I added some shredded Gruyere and Parmesan and a sprinkle of Italian herbs to my basic frittata recipe and this was the result.

There is a small amount left in the jar in my refrigerator and I’m thinking it would make an excellent Bruschetta …

Please stay tuned!

Tomato Sofrito

Beef and Potato Tostada

Maria’s Tostadas

It is fair to say I do 98% of the cooking in our home. I am not complaining. After all, it is something I love to do. It wasn’t, however, always that way. When my husband and I were first married, we were both in grad school, were both working part-time and we arrived home at about the same time each night. We also had a newborn. In other words, time, money and energy ran on empty a lot. I probably cooked more often than he did but he made dinner regularly. His go-to meals were:

  1. spaghetti with meat sauce,
  2. chili,
  3. tuna noodle casserole, and
  4. tostadas.

Chicken and Beef Tostadas

The first time he made tostadas, I remember thinking “Hamburger and potatoes? In a taco? Don’t let him see you panic or he’ll never cook again!” 

It doesn’t happen often but I managed to keep my mouth shut.

At least until it was time to open it and take a bite. Then, all I said was, “This is delicious! Who taught you to make this!?!”

“Maria, our foreign exchange student from Mexico.”

Apparently, when he was in high school, his parents had taken this student into their home after the family she was supposed to stay with had to move. And to this day, we are making her tostadas!

Beef and Chicken Tostadas

Crispy corn tortillas are covered with a seasoned beef and potato mixture and topped with shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and sour cream or taco sauce. The potatoes are extra yummy because they are cooked with the ground beef and pick up the flavor of the meat drippings as they cook. They are a bit messy to eat but delicious down to the last bite.

When I decided to make these for dinner and for the blog, I thought about some of the new taco restaurants in our area and the street tacos they serve. One of my favorites is a chipotle chicken taco. Ground chicken and a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce went into my grocery cart. The chipotle flavor made me think of sweet potatoes and a new tostada combination was born!

Chicken and Sweet Potato Tostada

If you have not worked with chipotles in adobo before, you can find them in the Hispanic food section of the grocery store in a 7-8 ounce can. The chipotle peppers are dried, smoked jalapeños, canned whole, in a vinegar-based, spicy-sweet sauce. A little goes a long way with these peppers. When I open a can, I empty the entire can into a food processor and puree the peppers and the sauce until smooth. After covering a cookie sheet with parchment paper, I drop tablespoonfuls of the puree onto the paper and place the cookie sheet in the freezer. When the discs are frozen, I cut the parchment paper between the discs, layer them into a resealable plastic bag and return them to the freezer. When a recipe calls for chipotles, I take the amount I need out of the freezer and return the rest for another recipe.

Freezer prep for chipotle in adobo

Even as I write this, I am thinking of another combination I want to try: al pastor (pork and pineapple). One simple recipe … endless possibilities!

Gratias, Maria!

Print Recipe
Potatoes and ground meat make a simple and delicious combination for homemade tostadas! Add condiments (guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese, cabbage, jalapeños, etc) for the "perfect" combination.
Beef and Potato Tostada
Beef and Potato Tostada
  1. Preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a light drizzle of vegetable or avocado oil to pan.
  2. Add ground meat, potatoes, onions, salt, black pepper, and Mexican oregano (if using).
  3. Break meat apart as it browns and stir occasionally, allowing meat and potatoes to brown lightly. When the meat is no longer pink, reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.
  4. Stir in desired amount of chipotle in adobo puree (see hints in blog post), if using.
  5. Taste the meat/potatoes and add salt and pepper if needed. Set aside.
  6. To toast the tortillas, lightly coat both sides with vegetable or avocado oil and place on a pan, under a low broiler for 1-2 minutes on each side. Tortillas will begin to brown and be crispy on the outside. (This can also be done in a sauté pan on the stove top.)
  7. Place tortilla on a plate, spoon meat/potato mixture on top and add condiments (see list in notes below) as desired.
Recipe Notes

Meat/Potato Combinations: Ground beef pairs well with a Russet (Idaho) potato. Ground chicken and sweet potatoes are an excellent combination. Ground pork is great with either a Russet or a sweet potato but is especially good with hominy (not a potato but the texture is similar). To use hominy instead of potatoes in this recipe, wait to add it (drained and rinsed) until the meat is almost fully cooked.

Condiment List: sliced jalapeños, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce or cabbage, pico de gallo, sliced radishes, sour cream, fresh cilantro, fresh lime wedges, green onions, and guacamole.

Beef and Chicken Tostadas


Wine & (Apple) Roses

Roses are red,
Apple are too,
Add some white wine and …
Here’s a dozen for you!

Is there someone in your life that you would like to impress, congratulate, or show gratitude? Flowers are always a good choice but EDIBLE flowers? Oh my!

These beautiful sweets look ever so complicated but they are really quite simple. Yes, they take some time but when you (the “giver”) see the reaction of the recipient (the “givee”), it will be worth every minute.

The basic recipe requires red apples, crescent dough, cinnamon/sugar, a rolling pin and a muffin tin. Seriously, that’s it. You can go to the next level with a filling like I used for this post … golden raisins macerated in white wine and spices and then pureed … or try peanut butter, Nutella, or caramel sauce … all based on what you think the “givee” will like!

To give you every opportunity for success with this process, I asked my youngest son to come home and take pictures and video for this post (Photo Credit: Marcus). Here we go!

Apple Roses


Step 1: Wash 3-4 (depending on size) red apples, cut in half, remove core as pictured, and slice into very thin (1/8″) semicircles. Discard (i.e. eat) end pieces. You will need 60-70 semicircles. Place in a bowl of cold water (enough to cover apples) with the juice of one lemon.



Step 2: Microwave apples in lemon water on high for 4-5 minutes or until apple pieces are flexible and do not break when bent. Remove from water and dry on paper towels. Set aside.




Step 3: Open the tube of crescent dough and unroll two triangles (or one rectangle) and place on a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into a 9″x6″ rectangle.




Step 4: Using a pizza/pasta cutter or a knife, cut dough into three strips (9″x2″ each). Move dough strips a few inches apart.




Step 5: Sprinkle dough with sugar (and cinnamon, if you want just a simple cinnamon/sugar rose).




Step 6: Lay 5-6 slices of apples, overlapping as shown on the top half of each strip (notice I am working from the top of the photos). Start and end the apple slices about 1/2″ from the end of the strip.



Step 7: Spoon a thin line of filling (recipe below), peanut butter, Nutella or caramel at the base of the apples (the center of the dough strip).




Step 8: Fold bottom half of the dough strip up and over the apples and filling. Press down gently to secure in place. You should see the rounded tops of the apples sticking out from the dough edges.



Step 9: Video time! Gently roll up the dough from one end to the other. Focus on the spiral dough end as the video perspective shows. This will make for a nice, flat bottom to the rose. If you have trouble securing the dough at the end of the rolling process, spread a little melted butter on the end to keep the dough from unraveling.


Step 10: 
Place each rose in a well buttered muffin pan and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Use a thin knife to go around the outside of each rose, loosening it from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before removing roses to cooling rack.



Wine/raisin filling

What better paring for roses than wine? And what is a raisin but a dried grape? This is a perfect filling to compliment the apples without overpowering their sweetness.

1/2 cup white wine (Sauvignon Blanc works well)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Remove from microwave, cover and let sit for 30-60 minutes. Put all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Allow to cool completely.

I have also made this recipe using pie crust which is AMAZING. The crescent dough is more forgiving when rolling. There are other recipes that use phyllo dough which I’m sure is fantastic … I just don’t have good luck with it for whatever reason.

The goal here is not to create a culinary masterpiece (although it comes close). The goal is to make something by hand to show someone else how much they mean to you. Skip the card … maybe add a single rose and a bottle of white … and deliver it personally.

Gifts that nourish the soul are the best gifts.

Who wouldn’t love a dozen of these homemade Apple Roses? Simple, beautiful, delicious and filled with a white wine and spiced golden raisin puree.





Foodventurous: Olive Oil in Lazio

Which travel personality are you? Are you the laid-back, we’ll-figure-it-out-as-we-go type? Or are you like me … Type A, FOMO (fear-of-missing-out), Google-obsessed planner? You can imagine then that a trip to Rome as the master-planner for 6 people might send me into overdrive. It did. Prioritization became a must … “everyone pick ONE thing you REALLY want to see/do.” Thanks to my relentless Google/Pinterest/travel guide browsing, I knew that we would be in Italy during the heart of the olive harvest and I wanted to see it.

After eliminating a few tours based on location and price, and browsing through the results of google and Pinterest searches, one name kept popping up: Johnny Madge. Phrases like “world expert”, “judge”, and “expertise” led me to google him and find his website. This Englishman lives in  Italy and judges olive oil competitions all over the world. After exchanging a few e-mails with Johnny, I knew we were in good hands. My choice for the ONE thing I REALLY wanted to see/do in Italy was booked.

We were to take a train from Rome to Fara Sabina (about 45 minutes NE of Rome) and Johnny would meet us at the station with a passenger van. After two cancelled trains and one arriving 20 minutes late, we were on our way.

NOTE: In Rome, Train and bus schedules, as well as most parking and driving “laws”,
are more like suggestions. Scheduled routes are subject to strikes and cancellation
without notice. If a smart car can fit in a spot, it will. Three lanes of traffic will likely
result in four (with a couple of vespas thrown in for good measure). Accept it. 

Worried that Johnny would be upset by our late arrival, it was instantly obvious he was quite accustomed to it. Not flustered or upset in any way, he found us quickly and with a smile said the most beautiful word I’ve ever heard …


Am I blushing?

That English accent transformed my name from a heavy “uh-nee-duh” to a light and melodic sound. This was going to be a GREAT day! We all introduced ourselves to Johnny and in no time we were on the road to Selci to begin our lessons and tastings.

While riding in the van and taking in the gorgeous countryside, Johnny filled us in on what we could expect for the day. Because of our late start, we would begin with lunch and our lessons on tasting olive oils. We pulled up to a quiet and incredibly charming place, La Vecchia, that turns out to be the bed and breakfast of my next trip to Italy (fingers crossed).

We walked through one dining room, another small dining room, and into a private room, complete with fireplace and a family style table. Before eating, Johnny tutored us on quality olive oils and how to taste them. Here’s a YouTube video of Johnny describing differences in olive oils as well as the best way to taste test them making lots of “stupid noises”.

As we were concentrating on identifying certain nuances of the oils (aromas of tomato, citrus, pepper, etc.), this incredibly sweet man named Giuseppe showered us with bottles of wine and plates of bread and the parade of food continued for well over an hour.

Johnny continued to share stories and information about olive oils and his experiences and, as each plate arrived, we were encouraged to drizzle the food with olive oil to have the full concept of how it can brighten or highlight the flavors. After about 12 different “antipasti” plates (roasted vegetables, meats like prosciutto and head cheese, breads, etc.), the platters of crepes and ravioli and pasta arrived one after another.

For dessert, we were given a choice of Nutella panna cotta (yes, that is olive oil drizzled on my dessert) or tiramisu cake, served with a wine cookie (ciambelline al vino), espresso, and/or grappa (a wicked strong after-dinner alcoholic beverage meant to aid in digestion). Every bite and sip were amazing.

Before leaving La Torretta, we were treated to a tour of the kitchen and the biggest wood-fire oven I’ve ever seen (indoors or out). If you notice, the people who are cooking for us and serving us are well past traditional retirement age. These people move around like twenty-somethings who just want to make guests happy.

Well done, my friends … well done!

You want to give me a bottle of locally produced wine before we leave? I love these people!

Resistant to leaving this quiet, lovely place, we returned to the road and wound our way through the countryside to a local olive grove where harvest was in progress. Olive trees remind me of a crab apple tree in size and shape but the leaves are long and slender and have a silvery hue.

The olives are harvested by hand using a tool that looks like a small rake. Some producers will mechanically harvest the olives but many have found that to be much too damaging to the fruit. The rakes are drug through the branches to knock the olives to the ground which has been covered with fabric or blankets.

Once the fabric is gathered, the olives are added to large crates and taken to the processing area. They pass through several stages of sorting to remove the stems and leaves before they pass through the press. Within minutes, a gorgeous chartreuse liquid is pouring out of a spout.

This might be my favorite (non-family) picture of our trip.

Our final stop on this trip was to see an olive tree that is nearly 2000 years old. 

This is the tree in the picture at the beginning of the post. We were surrounded by history all through our trip but there was something about walking around a tree that was beginning its life about the same time Jesus was teaching about peace and harmony on earth. What a wonderful way to end our day.

I cannot say enough about the quality and value of this tour. Johnny is the ideal guide: accommodating, patient, attentive, and funny. He will be the first to admit web design is not his forte but to his credit, he is on top of his e-mail and will make the process easy.

For more of our food experiences in Rome, check out my first post here.
To find out more about Johnny’s tours, click here.
Want to try some truly high quality Italian olive oil? Click here.

All this talk has made me hungry … Mangia!

Note: I am not receiving payment of any kind for this post. My family lists this tour
as one of the best things we did during our week in/around Rome. 

Join me as I relive our tour from Rome into the countryside of the Lazio region to see the olive harvest and pressing, to sample some of the finest olive oils, to eat traditional Italian food, and to learn from an olive oil expert and genuine great guy, Johnny Madge!

Turkey Poblano Chili

Everybody has their favorite chili. It’s one of those “my mom’s better than you mom” kind of things.

For the record … MY mom makes THE BEST chili. This is not up for discussion.

Maybe your mom didn’t make your favorite chili (shhhhh … I won’t tell). Maybe your favorite chili comes from a spouse or a restaurant. Some people like it thick … some like it thin … with beans … or without … ground beef … pork … chicken … spicy … mild … on a hot dog … or fries …

The point is chili is versatile.

I happen to be one of those eaters who likes chili in all its variations. When I found a recipe for Turkey Poblano Chili, I was curious about the use of turkey but truly all-in with the poblanos. I started growing poblanos in my garden a few years ago and I just can’t get enough of them (see post on Iowa: Home of Giant Poblanos and Stuffed Peppers Mexican Style). I switched up a few things and really love the result.

This is when I remind you that a recipe with a long list of ingredients is not necessarily a difficult recipe. Do not be intimidated by this list. Trust me … you will enjoy the process and LOVE the result.

Simple sides like corn bread, tortilla chips, or polenta are all good choices to complete the meal.

If your mom makes chili like this, I’m impressed.

She can’t beat my mom’s chili, but I’m impressed.

Print Recipe
Turkey Poblano Chili
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 1 day (see note below)
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 1 day (see note below)
  1. Roast the poblanos: Cut poblanos lengthwise in quarters, removing the stem, seeds and membranes. Lay the pepper pieces, skin side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the skin side with one tablespoon of olive/avocado oil, and place under the broiler for 5-6 minutes, or until skin is blistered and charred. Remove the peppers from the broiler, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam (5-10 minutes). Place pepper pieces on a cutting board and gently scrape the loose skin from the peppers (no need to remove all the skin). Dice 3 of the peppers (12 pieces) into 1/2” pieces; set aside. Cut the remaining 2 peppers (8 pieces) into thin strips; set aside.
  2. Chili: Heat a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle remaining olive/avocado oil into pan and add ground turkey, breaking the turkey up as it cooks. When browned (no longer pink), add salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, onion, and garlic to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and stir to distribute spices evenly; cook for 3-4 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Add 2 cups of turkey/chicken broth/stock, tomato juice, beans, hominy, tomatoes, and the reserved poblano pepper strips. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Poblano puree: Place remaining reserved diced poblanos in a food processor with a small handful (at least 1/4 cup) fresh cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice. Pulse until evenly chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the broth/stock and process into a thick puree.
  4. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of broth/stock, the puree and corn to the soup, stirring to combine. Simmer gently for 30-40 minutes to break-down tomatoes and combine flavors.
  5. Garnish with sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, sliced radishes, finely diced onion, shredded cheese, and jalapeño slices.
Recipe Notes

As (almost) always, this soup is better if made a day in advance.

Chili is a staple for cold days, game days, and soul-comforting days. Mix things up a little with this slightly smoky, mildly spicy version made with ground turkey, poblano chiles and a blend of sweet corn and hominy.