Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting is a family favourite. I found the original recipe many years ago in my mother-in-law’s cookbook collection. I’ve made several recipes from this book since the 1980’s but this was the first and has remained one of my go to recipes.
It was easy to follow and didn’t have any complicated techniques. As a beginner baker it was perfect. No Skills required! As my baking abilities improved over the years, the recipe has undergone a bit of tweaking but remains easy to follow and delicious.
Regardless of the cake you want to bake there are a couple tips that will help ensure success.
Read The Recipe: One of my biggest mistakes was not reading the recipe all the way through before getting started. If it seems complicated move on to a recipe that matches your abilities. Walk before you run!
Preheat the Oven: Most, if not all recipes, call for preheating the oven when baking a cake. Placing the batter in a cold oven will keep the cake from rising properly and will likely be dense instead of having a nice light texture. I turn the oven on as I gather ingredients, so that it’s ready for the batter.
Gather all Ingredients: I’ve learned it’s easy to forget an ingredient especially when I’m tired. For a long time I thought I couldn’t bake at the end of the day, nothing ever turned out. The real problem was solved by gathering everything the recipe called for before starting. Nothing worse than realizing you’re out of an ingredient half way through making the batter!
Move Ingredients Once Used: The other trick that works for me is to put all the ingredients on my right side and once I’ve used it, place it to my left.……just in case I can’t remember if I already added it to the batter. My brain can be kinda wonky at the end of the day!
Prep pans properly: I like to grease the pans with unsalted butter, dust with flour and then cover the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. This ensures the cake will release from the bottom of the cake pans easily.
Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together. Sifting the dry ingredients combines them properly before adding to the batter and helps keep the cake nice and light in texture.
Divide batter equally in between the pans, weigh them if you need to. Scales aren’t expensive and are well worth the cost when baking.
Cool 15 minutes in the pan. Remove from pan and take parchment paper off, Cool completely before frosting. About 1 hour.
Crumb coat: Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the entire cake and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. It isn’t pretty but this keeps the crumbs out of the top layer of frosting and makes sure the cake stays moist. It’s absolutely worth the 30 minutes.
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Preheat oven to 325°F
Grease, flour & line with parchment paper 2- 8” pans or 1 -9x13
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/3 cup corn oil
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups grated carrots
Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. Set aside
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat eggs, vanilla and sugar until well combined and light yellow.
Add flour mixture and mixing just to combine. Add oil in a steady stream and mix to combine
Add carrots and pineapple and stir to combine.
Divide evenly into 2 - 8” pans bake in centre of oven for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted into centre comes out clean
Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.
Is there anything better than smelling lasagna and garlic bread cooking? I love Italian food and lasagna is the perfect comfort food for me. Although I like to get started in the morning and let the meat sauce hang out, simmering away on the back burner, all you really need is about 1 hour to bring the flavours together.
I go traditional for the base flavours, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, bay leaves and garlic. Adding tomato paste and sauce. You can use canned whole tomatoes and crush with a wooden spoon or use tomato sauce, it’s really up to you.
Years ago, I started adding mild Italian sausage meat to the ground beef and over the years began experimenting with different types of sausage. What I now use depends on the day I am making it. Hot or mild Italian, sometimes a bit of both, pork with garlic and red wine, Italian with fennel and garlic………..so many choices but the the combination of hamburger and sausage does add something delicious to the final dish.
The seasonings have undergone some changes too. Now part of my go to flavours that I don’t ever leave out are balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and nutmeg combined with the more conventional thyme, basil and oregano.
There are so many choices when it comes to the lasagna noodles. White, whole wheat, home-made, no cook. It’s really up to you which pasta you use.
A couple tips to save time and effort.
1. If using homed-made pasta just roll out and layer in the dish, no need to pre-cook, the oven does the job for you.
2. If using store bought lasagna noodles lay the noodles in a large pan and cover with boiling water and let sit for 15 minutes. Then just drain and wipe dry, the pasta is partially cooked and will be just right when the lasagne comes out of the oven.
I've stayed true to he cheeses I started with. How can parmesan, mozzarella and monterey jack cheeses ever be wrong? If I have extra time I make my own ricotta but often I just pick up a good quality ricotta at the grocery store.
Don’t wait for a crowd to make my version of Italian lasagna. This recipe makes 3 casseroles that serve 4 generous portions each. Of course, use into size casserole dish that works for you and freezes really well.
For a a quick weeknight supper. Thaw overnight and reheat in a 350°F oven for 30-40 minutes. Make a caesar salad and some garlic bread while the lasagna is in the oven and you have a great Italian meal.
Although it feels like homemade lasagna is time consuming it can save you both time and money. My homemade lasagna costs about $40.00 and a similar style costs approximately $65.00 at the local Italian store.
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Prep Time: 20 minutes + Cooking Time
Serves: 12 (1large or 3 small)
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 lb group beef
6 oz Italian sausage meat (hot, mild, garlic)
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
1 Tbsp thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch red pepper flakes
6 oz tomato paste
pinch fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 28 oz can whole tomatoes
4 bay leaves
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
2 cups grated monterey jack cheese
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
Parsley, finely chopped (optional)
Heat a large dutch oven & add oil, when hot add hamburger & sausage, saute´ until golden brown. Drain fat and set aside.
Add 1 Tbsp of the drained fat back to the pot and heat. Add onions and saute´ until translucent about 3 minutes. Add peppers and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes, add mushrooms and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add oregano, basil, thyme, cayenne, red pepper flakes and cook stirring for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook until brickish red colour about 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes breaking them up with the back of a wooden spoon. Return the meat to the pot and add sugar, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, lower heat & simmer with the lid on, for at least 1 hour, remove bay leaves before assembling the lasagne.
Preheat Oven to 350° F while you assemble the lasagna.
If you are using dry lasagna noodles place in a large rimmed pan and cover with boiling water for about 15 minutes, until they are pliable. Drain water and pat noodles dry.
If you are using fresh made pasta you don't need to pre-cook the noodles.
Stir ricotta cheese into the meat sauce
Mix mozzarella and monterey jack cheese together.
On the bottom of casserole dish place a bit of the sauce to keep the noodles from sticking. Layer noodles, top with sauce, parmesan and mozzarella & monterey jack cheese. Repeat these layers ending with a cheese layer.
Place lasagna on a cookie sheet in the oven and cook for about 40 - 45 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling and golden brown. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Top with chopped parsley before serving.
My niece wants to start making her own stocks and asked me how her grandmother made them. It was a funny question because I have no memories of my mother using anything but boxed stocks. But like I’ve said many times I have no idea what actually happened in the kitchen I grew up in. I just ate the food.
I wanted to be able to help my niece with a simple method for making great homemade chicken stock. So, I spent a morning writing down my method and some reasons that make it worth taking the time to do.
Making your own stock whether it be chicken, vegetable or beef seems like a bit of a lost art. After-all it’s pretty convenient to pick some up at the local grocery store. So, why bother?
I’ve got a couple reasons for making stock from scratch.
What it isn’t, is fast.
But, you don’t need to babysit it all day either. I do suggest that you check on it every half hour or so, to skim off any foam (aka scum) that floats to the top. Although you can skip this part, I encourage you to do it. The result will be a clear stock that has awesome flavour.
I pick a day that I am puttering around the kitchen. In about 3 hours a flavourful stock that can be used in everything from soups, to pasta dishes to risotto’s is ready.
I like to use the carcass of whole chicken leftover from dinner the night before. This makes a flavourful and full bodied stock. The bonus is, nothing goes in the green bin.
You can freeze the carcasses from several dinners and make a large batch of stock at once, this cuts down on your time. I prefer to make a small batch from just one or two chickens. I find it easier this way, mostly because I forget that I have chicken bones in the freezer!
I chop the carcass into smaller pieces so they release their gelatin, which adds body to the stock quicker than tossing the carcass in one piece, into the pot. I think I started cutting the bones into smaller chunks because I didn’t have a pot big enough for the whole chicken in one piece, and realized the stock was ready faster and had a better texture.
Place the chicken bones in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 to 1.5 hours. The bones should come apart when lightly pressed with a wooden spoon. I start checking at an hour, it doesn’t usually take more than 2 hours.
Add vegetables and aromatics. I use 50% onions, 25% carrots, 25% celery. Today I had some leeks I wanted to use up so I cut back on the amount of onions. Add a bit of parsley, a clove of garlic, a couple twigs of thyme, a couple bay leaves and some peppercorns.
After you add the vegetables and seasoning simmer away. Don’t stir the vegetables and bones just let them hang out together. Around 30 minutes start tasting the stock. It should have a chicken flavour (no longer a watery taste) and be nice and fresh. You want to catch it before gets a murky, flat flavour. This is the part that takes a bit of practice, just trust your own taste buds.
I don’t add any salt to the stock. Whatever seasonings are used in the stock will be carried over into the dish you are using it in. I add salt to whatever I am making with the stock, then I don’t need to worry that the pasta or soup will be too salty.
Remove from the heat and strain the broth, discard the bones, the meat and vegetables. Just let it strain, don’t push on it, this will cause the stock to be cloudy.
Let rest for 15 - 30 minutes. Remove the fat that has risen to the top. Refrigerate for 1 week or freeze up to 3 months.
This batch yielded 10 cups of stock from 2 chicken carcasses.
Use in your favourite dishes that call for chicken stock or try my seafood linguine, cream of broccoli soup or this turkey risotto.
Click here to eHomemade Chicken Stock
Prep Time : 3hours
1 -2 two Chicken Carcasses
2 celery stalks
2 carrots (large)
3 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
4 sprigs thyme
8 sprigs parsley
Chop chicken carcasses into smaller chunks. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 1 -1.5 hours until the bones can be broken apart easily with a wooden spoon. Every 30 minutes check for foam that forms on the top of the water and remove.
Cut vegetables into chunks. The above measurements are approximate. Aim for 50% onion, 25% carrots and 25% celery. Don’t stir the pot after you’ve added the vegetables.
Simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour. Check the flavour every 20 minutes or so. When the stock has a chicken flavour and is not longer watery it is done.
Strain and reserve the liquid. Discard the chicken bones, vegetables and aromatics. Remove the fat that accumulates on the top of the stock.
Cool 15- 30 minutes. Store in the refrigerator for 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months
One of the best things about Fall has to be pumpkin pie. I don’t really care if it’s topped with whipped cream or not. For me it’s all about the pumpkin.
Until this year I had only ever used canned pumpkin puree´. The thought of cutting, cooking and puree´ing pumpkin exhausted me. I made the assumption that it was a huge amount of work and one of those things that wasn’t really worth the effort.
Was I wrong!
It’s super easy, quick to do, and the flavour is soooooo much better than canned pumpkin. In just 30 minutes I was ready to bake up some delicious pumpkin spice cookies. You can make large batches of pumpkin puree´ and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for a few months and thaw as needed.
A couple lessons I learned along the way
Choose the right pumpkin for the job
All pumpkins aren’t created equal. The perfect pumpkin for carving isn’t necessarily the perfect pumpkin for pies, tart, roulades and cookies. I prefer a small pumpkin for baking and cooking. You’ll get more bang for your buck.
Smaller pumpkins have a lot of meat. Typically, less stringy pulp and not too many seeds plus the water content is lower than the jack o lantern style pumpkin.
The larger the pumpkin the more watery the final product will be. Save those seeds and roast for snacking on, or adding to soups and salads. Just let them dry out overnight before toasting.
Cut into small size chunks
Although you can cut the pumpkin in half and roast, it cooks much faster when cut into smaller size chunks. If I’m using the pumpkin for baking I don’t add any seasoning at all, not even salt. I want just the pumpkin flavour.
If I’m going to cook with it, I like to add a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Try adding pumpkin to quinoa salads or butternut squash soup recipes.
Roast the pumpkin chunks at 350°F and when it’s fork tender it’s cooked, about 20 minutes or so. Try to avoid overcooking as the pumpkin will become mushy.
Allow the pumpkin chunks to cool until you can easily peel the rind away with your hands.
Puree´ in either a food processor or blender. Depending on the pumpkin meat you might need to add a touch of water if it’s dry or pass it through a fine mesh sieve if its on the watery side.
There is absolutely no way to predict this ahead of time. You will need to judge every pumpkin on it’s own merits.
For this pumpkin I ended up with 4 cups of puree´, enough for 2 pumpkin pies and 24 pumpkin spice cookies.
Give these pumpkin spice cookies with cream cheese frosting a try. You will not be disappointed and will wonder if you’re eating a cookie or a miniature cake. One thing is for sure, they don’t last very long.
Preheat oven to 350°F
1 small pumpkin, cut into chunks and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
Roast 20 minutes, checking occasionally for doneness. It should be fork tender.
Cool to the touch. Remove rind and puree´ in food processor or blender.
Store in the fridge for a couple days or freeze for up to 6 months.
Great in pies, cookies, roulades, cheesecakes……..
For soups, casseroles and salads toss the pumpkin in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper before roasting.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I know pumpkin pie is the traditional dessert loved by all, and I do love it too. But this year I just couldn’t resist the apples and knew I had to change it up. The variety and quality of Nova Scotia apples are second to none. I am so grateful to live in this part of the world, and not just for the produce that is so readily available.
Is there anything better than an apple pie baking in the oven? The whole house fills with those sweet aromas that are pure comfort.
A lot of people shy away from making their own pie crust, but if you’re up to it, there are a few tricks that will lead to success. Keep everything cold, the butter, shortening and water (milk) before adding to the flour and salt mixture. Once the dough is made, form into 2 discs and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. After the pastry is filled refrigerate again for at least 30 minutes, this prevents the dreaded shrinkage.
Bake in a hot oven, 425°F for 15 minutes reduce heat to 375°F and bake for approximately 45 minutes, until golden brown. Or you can always use store bought pie dough.
The pastry is important but the apple filling is the star. There are a lot of apple pie recipes out there, many of which use one variety of apple, I like to use at least 3. My go to apples are granny smith, for some tartness, honey crisp for sweetness and MacIntosh or Cortlands. If you are using MacIntosh apples, I suggest using early season ones, so they are crisp and firm. Late season Mac’s don’t hold their shape very well when baked.
In a medium size bowl toss the apples in a bit of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. In a separate bowl mix together the spices and sugar with a bit of flour for thickening. I keep the flavourings pretty traditional with cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest. Top the apples with the sugar and spice mixture and stir to combine.
It might be faster to put the apples directly in the pie crust but I find tossing them in a bowl then adding to the pastry distributes the mixture so that every apple is seasoned perfectly.
Top the apples with the second crust, it can be plain or fancy. Be creative! Just remember to leave a couple vent holes for the steam to escape and brush the crust with an egg wash. This helps get that deep golden colour we all love. I like to put the pie on a rimmed baking sheet for transferring to and from the oven.
As much as you might be tempted to slice right into your masterpiece, allowing the pie to cool for at least 4 hours is well worth the wait. Why not try Best Ever Apple Pie for your Thanksgiving Feast!
Prep time: 2 hrs
Preheat Oven to 425°F
Pastry for a 2 crust pie
6-7 cups of sliced apples
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp)
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
egg wash (1 egg + 1Tbsp water whisked together)
Roll out the pastry and line the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate.
Peel and slice apples into a large bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over the apples.
Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and lemon zest in a small bowl and toss over the apples. Transfer the mixture to the pie shell. Dot with the butter.
Roll out second pastry for the top of the pie. Fold pastry so that it overhangs just a bit and tuck under the edges. Try not to have too much overhang or the crust will be thick. (1/2 inch is just about right). Pinch all the way around to seal the edges.
Make sure to cut a few vents in the top shell. Refrigerate 30 minutes while the oven preheats.
Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash and bake for 15 minutes on the lowest rack of the oven. Lower the temperature to 375°F and bake until bubbling and the crust is golden brown about 45 minutes.
To keep spills to a minimum I like to place a baking sheet in the oven while it preheats and then place the pie on it for cooking. This will also help the bottom of the pie cook.
When your son or daughter lives in a different town or province receiving a care package from home is almost as good as a hug. But, the first time your child moves away to College or University is special. Sending them a bit of love in a box is a great way to let them know you're still there for them.
I’ve been sending care packages to my children and now my grandchildren for a few years and have learned some lessons along the way. The biggest is to plan ahead. This one task will keep the costs down and the package filled with both useful and delicious treats.
Lack of Storage
It’s important to keep in mind that students living in dorm rooms, have limited real estate. While they often have a small microwave they don't have much cupboard space and tend to only have small fridges. Compact, small items and non-perishables are always at the top of my list.
Personal Items make a good, practical choice. Including toothpaste, shampoo, razors, shave cream and bandaids in the box will be appreciated. Many of these items are available in small travel size, so they don't take up much space, they’re light and are great to have on hand when your son or daughter suddenly runs out of an item and can't get to a store.
Easy Hot Drinks
To help with those long study nights why not put together a mixture of drinks that can be heated in the microwave or that only require a kettle.
Hot chocolate mix in a mason jar doesn't take up much space, and only needs a couple ingredients. Make sure to include some mini marshmallows for that bit of something extra. Then, when your student needs a warm, comfy drink all they need to do is heat 1 cup of milk or water in the microwave, add a couple tablespoons of the cocoa mix and toss some marshmallows on top and they’re good to go. A variety if teas such as chamomile, earl grey and green tea are great choices.
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp Salt
Combine all ingredients in a mason jar and shake to combine.
Heat 1 cup whole milk in microwave. Add 1- 2 Tbsp cocoa mixture, stir to dissolve. Top with marshmallows.
Healthy Tasty Treats
A few munchies will always be appreciated and they can be healthy helping to keep your student focused. Homemade trail mix is easy to put together and can be customized to your teen's tastes. Pumpkin seeds, goji berries, dark chocolate, sunflower seeds, dried fruit (cranberries, blueberries, cherries) almonds, peanuts a bit of sea salt, cinnamon and nutmeg thrown in will enhance the flavour without adding any sugar.
Popcorn is another good choice. Include a paper bag and the only thing left to do is to add a couple tablespoons of corn kernels in the bag, microwave for a couple minutes and they have fresh air popped popcorn.
Don't forget the cookies and some magazines and you’re all set to put your care package together.
Keep Shipping Cost To A Minimum
Trish is the top spoon at