Grandma Doran’s Banana Cake

My grandma, Cecil Doran, was an excellent cook and great at using up bits of this and that. I remember watching her make biscuits, pancakes, sugar cookies, and other favorites without recipes- just dumping and pouring. When she did give a recipe, it was often “a handful of” or a “blue cup of” the ingredients. I loved watching my grandma cook. In fact, I just loved my grandma. She was the kind of person that you loved being close to, with a knack for making  each one feel as if she was her favorite! Even though she has been with the Lord for almost 20 years now, I still enjoy making the few recipes of hers I do have.

I think Grandma came up with this banana cake recipe herself since the ingredients are written in unusual amounts. This is a nice, dense, moist cake. Since I’ve lived in China a while now, I decrease the sugar a bit, but it’s wonderful as written. I served it for dinner this evening when some adoption friends came by and it seemed to make a hit. I hope you enjoy it.


1 ¾ cup all purpose flour

½ Tablespoon salt

½ Tablespoon baking powder

½ Tablespoon baking soda

½ cup shortening

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup buttermilk (or ¼ cup milk with 1 teaspoon cider vinegar)

1 cup mashed ripe bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and beat well until the batter is smooth and creamy. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.

Ermine Icing

This icing used to be called boiled milk icing. I don’t know that my grandma ever made it, but we think it’s the perfect compliment to banana cake. Ermine icing is thus called because it has a soft smooth consistency. It is smoother than buttercream and not as sweet.  I think this unusual recipe might surprise you. In my recipe box, it is called “Red Velvet Cake Icing” because it’s what a “real” red velvet cake should be iced with. It makes a good cake a GREAT cake, in my opinion.


1 cup whole milk

3 Tablespoons flour

Pinch of salt

1 cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Whisk together the milk with the flour and salt in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat stirring continually until the roux is thickened. Remove from heat, cover with plastic wrap, and cool completely.

When the roux has cooled, beat the butter and sugar with mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Then gradually add in the roux mixture, beating until very light with all sugar dissolved.

Ice the cake then try not to eat it all at once. This is very hard to resist, actually. We once had a guy eat seven pieces of it after a Sunday night dinner!

Keep refrigerated as this icing breaks down easily and quickly. It is NOT a good icing to take on a picnic!


Smoked Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

One day I wanted to quickly make a nice meal for someone that was sick, but I didn’t have my “normal” stuff around the house. I took stock and invented with this recipe out of what I had on hand. My family loves this rich dish redolent of smoked chicken, garlic, and parmesan! Because parmesan is a gift box item and because the dish has about a zillion calories per serving, we only have it for special occasions. I hope you enjoy it! This serves about 12 people, so you may need to cut it down!

1 stick butter + a few Tbs to sauté

3/4 cup flour

4 cloves fresh garlic, minced (or to taste)

2 lbs smoked chicken breast

2 lbs fresh mushrooms

2 lbs fresh broccoli

1 cup parmesan cheese

3 cups chicken stock

1 qt or more milk

pepper and salt to taste

500 g cooked pasta, cooked al dente.

I decided not to insult your intelligence by showing step by step photos since this is a fairly standard uncomplicated recipe! Here are the major players prepped and ready to begin assembly. On this day I didn’t have fresh mushrooms so used canned. Fresh are better. You can use unsmoked chicken, but it really is the smoked chicken that stars in this entree. If you don’t have smoked chicken but have smoked gouda cheese, you could also add a cup of that grated. A few julienned carrots would brighten it up even more, too. Be flexible- have fun!

Slice and sauté your chicken breasts until slightly brown and set aside.

Slice the mushrooms, sauté in skillet until brown. Set aside.

Cut the broccoli into florets, steam lightly (just until bright green). Set aside.

Melt the stick of butter in your skillet, add garlic, then slowly add the flour until smooth.

Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring to keep smooth. Cook a bit to thicken, then do the same with the milk. You have to be careful to cook this slowly on medium heat. If it boils, the milk may curdle. The only difficult thing about this dish is to take your time making it. Don’t let the anticipation cause you to rush! Trust me, it will be worth your while to cook it slowly.

When the sauce is smooth and thick, stir in the parmesan cheese. Add the mushrooms and chicken as you continue heating. After this has sufficiently warmed with all of these things added, taste for saltiness. Since broth, chicken, and parmesan all have salt, it may not need added salt, but at this point add salt and pepper to taste. I enjoy using fresh black pepper in good quantity, but it’s up to you! If it’s too thick, lighten with more milk and/or broth. If it’s too thin, thicken with a mixture of flour and milk.

At the last minute add the broccoli and heat only until warm. Don’t cook it much because you want a nice bright green crispy tender broccoli to offset the thick, rich sauce! Having the broccoli showing off in your alfredo classifies it as health food and makes you feel better.

I serve the sauce and the noodles in separate bowls and let each person mix it to taste. The noodles absorb the sauce quickly and all the “goodies” tend to go to the bottom of the bowl if you serve them premixed.

Serve it  up and dig in! Keep the sides light. Enjoy!

Those bread sticks are a story for another day. Amazing! Hopefully Faith can tell you about those… Yum.

Stuffed Zucchini

Tonight I was experimenting and came up with a recipe which my daughters and I much enjoyed. I thought I’d share it! These make a nice side dish or a vegetarian main dish. (As a matter of fact, this is what I ate for dinner this evening!)

Stuffed Zucchini


6 zucchini with ends trimmed off

2 pounds fresh mushrooms, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/4 large purple onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

2 T. butter

1 t. Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices bread, crumbed in blender

1 cup gouda cheese

1/2 cup parmesan

24 cubes feta (optional)

Put the zucchini into boiling, salted water for ten minutes until they are slightly soft. Slice them in half. Scoop out the seeds and save.

While the zucchini is boiling, saute the mushrooms, red pepper, onion, fresh garlic in the butter until most of the water has cooked off the mushrooms. Add the zucchini seeds to this mixture along with the Italian seasoning. Lightly salt, remembering that the cheese is already a bit salty, and grate a hefty of fresh pepper into the mix. Saute for a few more moments.

Mix the bread crumbs (if you use store bought crumbs, use about 1 1/2 cups), grated gouda, and parmesan cheeses in a bowl. Then stir the vegetables into the cheesey goodness.

Spoon this mixture into the scooped out zucchinis. Stick two squares of feta cheese into each one. I thought the mixture needed the salty tang of feta, but since we rarely have it due to its expense here, and only now because it’s left over from my birthday, I compromised on two little cubes in each half. But if you have a fridge full of feta- go for it:) Bake for about half an hour in a 400 degree oven. At the last minute, broil the top until nicely browned. Enjoy!

I know the one on the left looks like a stuffed dill pickle- but I only got the idea of blogging this after they were mostly gone so there wasn’t much choice!

Grandmama Dexter’s Pound Cake

Stacy’s grandmother is said to have been one of the best cooks in the world. I can’t vouch for that, because by the time I knew her she was blind and her cooking skills had deteriorated somewhat- though she kept trying. Not only was she a good cook, but she was also very hospitable. Every Sunday she would whip up a huge meal, just hoping someone would come to her house after church for dinner! And they always obliged.

Most of her recipes were in her mind and cannot be replicated, but her her daughter, our Aunt Net, stood by her side watching carefully and recording measurements to make sure we would all be able to make this famous cake. Grandmama Dexter’s pound cake recipe also comes with a good testimony. She was a hard worker and extremely independent. Though blind, she lived on her own for many years until at the age of about 92 she had to go into a nursing home. Once when we went up to visit her, Stacy shared the good news about Christ with her- that we are all sinners; that God’s standard is perfection (of which every one of us falls short); that we were hopelessly lost and without hope; until God sent His only Son into the world. Jesus led a perfect life and yet was nailed to the cross. As 1 Peter 3:18 said,  “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to deathin the flesh, but made alive in the spirit,,,” When she heard this, slow tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks and she said, “I’ve gone to church my whole life and have never heard this.” She repented of her sins, accepted God’s gift of salvation through faith in His Son, and embraced the wonderful grace of God through her Savior.

Grandmama has been with Jesus for about 32 years now, but this recipe for her moist, flavorful pound cake lingers on! We hope that you’ll enjoy it.

But first, here is a Baking 101 Tip: These are the differences various fats make in the tastes and textures of cakes: Butter produces compact, fine-textured cakes which have less height and smaller crumbs. It also adds delicious flavor! Shortening makes cakes tall and light, as well as coarse, dry, and crumbly. Margarine creates moist cakes which are coarse and crumbly, but are not light and have larger air pockets. Oil cakes are moist, tall and light, slightly coarse, with open crumbs.)

Bring all cold ingredients to room temperature before making this cake!

Grandmama’s Pound Cake

2 sticks butter (2 American size sticks equal 1 cup)
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs (1 at a time)
3 cups unsifted flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
First, cream the butter with the shortening; then add sugar and cream again. Sometimes I just use butter for the whole deal but the shortening does make for a nicer pound cake “crust” and adds to the rise.
Add the eggs one at a time. This is actually important so though you may just want to dump them in all at once, buck up and exercise some self-control here!
Add the dry ingredients. I’m not going to labor with showing you pictures of that process, but I did want you to see my new baking powder can. Sometimes it’s the little things! Our baking powder comes in tiny packages like this:
It is SUCH a hassle to use these tiny little packages of baking powder! But some friends were moving back to America and among the things they gave us was this can of baking powder:
Now I just keep refilling my can and I am SO happy about this. Yes, I know that this is blurry but sometimes you just have to brag a bit about God’s little daily kindnesses and provisions and this was the best photo I got. Ouch! 😉
Then add milk and extracts; mix until all is well blended. Prepare the pan with shortening and flour.
Pour in the luscious, buttery, velvety batter:
Stick into a COLD OVEN:
Notice- this oven has no bungie cord! Yes, we are moving on up and becoming very classy. Very. Well, yeah, it’s in our living room but….
Then turn oven to 325 degrees and bake for “about an hour”. Here’s the finished product:
OH MY GOODNESS! IT’S A MIRACLE! MY NEW OVEN IS AMAZING!!! Don’t buy that? Ok, ok! I made two cakes that day for my sweet husband’s sixtieth birthday party- one in the bundt pan and one in layers. This was the first time we had used this new oven that we bought used from the same friends who donated the baking powder can to our cause. Apparently, the thermostat is a bit off and my cake scorched on top. I scraped it off, covered it with icing, and it still tasted fine! But it wasn’t beautiful. Therefore, I’m sticking in this photo of the layered pound cake with chocolate icing used for Stacy’s birthday cake. While we usually eat this cake without icing (it makes an amazing strawberry shortcake), I also use it in making wedding cakes. Its moistness, density, and ease of handling create cakes of great structural integrity while the mild but distinct flavors show off many fillings, glazes, and icings to advantage.
Have a bite?
Can you taste the exquisite blend of vanilla, lemon, and almond and feel the smooth, fine texture? Mmmm….Grandmama Dexter would be proud;)
Meanwhile, here’s a bit of eye candy that was distracting me during the party, my grandson Josiah. Now THAT’S yummy!
He’s wearing the straw hat his granddaddy got for his birthday.
Then here’s the bit of eye candy that has distracted me for the past thirty-five years!
In China, men retire between fifty-five and sixty. Many of the “old men” go to the park in straw hats with their caged birds of a morning to chit chat, gamble, and just generally hang out! Our friends couldn’t resist getting Stacy his own straw hat and bird cage. Unfortunately, my photography for this whole post kind of stank- but you probably get my drift!
From China with love!

Family Chicken

Recipes float around the web, many of them trendy, some retro, and others really off-beat. Trying new ones can be risky. Have they been tested? Is the developer strong on the write-up, but weak on delivery? You can put all those questions to rest with this recipe. Found in a cookbook from 1899, it has been in Mom’s family for decades, and cooked so many times that it has come to be known simply as “Family Chicken.”

I ask you- Can a recipe this well-loved not be delicious?

In my whole life, I don’t think I’ve ever made one batch at a time of this marinade. People love it so much that we usually make 4-6 times the recipe, and then hope that we have a few pieces leftover to eat cold out of the refrigerator the next morning (many of our favorite way to eat it).

It only takes a few minutes to whip this together. Probably you have all of the ingredients already in your pantry. Here they are, so you can get started…

Who knew oil, vinegar, black pepper, salt, eggs and poultry seasoning could be so magical?

First, measure out the oil into your bowl…

If you’re worried about the amount of oil in this recipe, don’t be. It’s a marinade, and very little of it will be absorbed.

Next, dump in the vinegar…

It’s best with apple cider vinegar, but we didn’t have any. Rice vinegar will also work, in a pinch.

Then add salt…

Again, please don’t be concerned about the amount of salt in this recipe. Most of it will not be absorbed by the chicken. No matter how much you’re tempted, resist cutting down the salt from the prescribed amount. People have asked for this recipe in the past, and then complained that it didn’t taste like ours. When asked if they cut the salt, they always admitted that they had.

Next add pepper…

…poultry seasoning…


…and then whisk ingredients together…

until thoroughly combined.

Now grab a container of some kind (we used large jars, because they fit well into our fridge, held a lot of chicken, and kept all the pieces covered in marinade), and fill it up with chicken pieces.

Ladle marinade over the top…

…until all the chicken pieces are covered.

For the life of me, I couldn’t get a straight shot of this chicken. You’d think I was on a ship, not a balcony overlooking the river.

Make sure to marinate an abundance of chicken, and try to prepare it at least two days in advance, so it has plenty of time to soak up all that great marinade flavor.

We made four jars worth, to accommodate one of our large Sunday night crowds.

In passing, I think every ridiculously large mayonnaise jar secretly dreams of being filled with family chicken, don’t you? :)

As I said before, it’s best if you make it two days in advance, but you should at least let it marinate overnight before you cook it. We find that the chicken is best if it’s cooked outdoors and has that nice char-grilled flavor. However, it’s also acceptable to bake it in the oven until it’s golden brown.

You could serve it on your balcony overlooking the river, or you could do what we did and serve it to these friends…

…plus these friends…

…in addition to these friends…

…for Sunday dinner. Our friends here all love family chicken, and it’s hard to make enough so that we have a little left over to eat cold for breakfast. :) We’re glad to be able to share this special treat, passed down through Mom’s family, with our China family now. Maybe you should make some for your family this week!

Family Chicken-

1/2 cup oil

1 cup vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons salt (don’t scrimp!)

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

Chicken pieces (I just realized I have absolutely no idea how much chicken 1 batch of marinade covers. Maybe 8 pieces? I’ve never made that little.)


Mix marinade ingredients together and whisk well. Place chicken in container and cover with marinade. Store in refrigerator for 2 days, shaking occasionally to redistribute ingredients. Bake or grill until golden brown and cooked through. Be sure to make plenty, because this chicken goes fast!

Mmmm- here’s a plateful of tangy, juicy, crispy perfection. Come on, join the family; make some Family Chicken for your loved ones! :)

Red Braised Ribs (also works for chicken wings or beef)

There are all different kinds of genuine Chinese food. This is a pretty classic recipe, first introduced to me by my daughter-in-love, Rebecca, who is from Anhui Province. But some of my Guangdong friends make it as well. It is a lovely flavorful dish – one of the few Chinese foods I make well!


3 pounds short rib pieces that can be eaten with chopsticks OR 3 pounds of chicken wing pieces OR 3 pounds of beef stew meat in chunks

1 inch of ginger root sliced

1 small bunch green onion (optional) minced

2/3 cup of cooking sherry

1/2 cup of dark soy sauce 

1 Tablespoon of sugar

1 large piece of cinnamon stick broken into pieces

3 – 4 star anise

1-3 dried Chinese red hot peppers (depending on your personal tastes)(Optional)

1-2 bay leaves (Optional)


If you’re using ribs, wash well so that you won’t get bone chips in your dish! Add a few Tablespoons of oil to your wok along with your sliced ginger root and green onion if you are using it (I am not). Saute in wok until the oil is aromatic.

Add ribs or other meat.

Stir fry until you can only see a little blood. Then add cooking sherry. (If you’re in China, don’t buy this kind. Really doesn’t have a good flavor!) Stir it up.

Then add dark soy sauce. If all you have is light soy sauce, you may need more of it and you may also need to salt the ribs a bit. But don’t salt the meat if you have dark soy sauce. Give them a little toss to mix the sauce in there well!

Toss in your spices. I didn’t add as much spice as I prefer to this batch as I had some folks at the table who prefer milder food. My personal preference is for two of the hot peppers. If you break them in half, they permeate the dish nicely giving it a little tang but not searing your mouth. Adapt to taste. These little peppers can really give you a zing but they vary from batch to batch. It’s always a good idea to add them slowly unless you don’t care if you get it super spicy!

Add water to cover the meat.


Add sugar.

Toss in your bay leaves- just one or two. You can buy them here in China, but I just happen to have a bottle from the states on my shelf.

This is how it looks now. Kind of blah looking…

Cover the pan and simmer for a time.

For ribs, simmer about an hour; for chicken wings (cut in half- remember that you want to eat this with chopsticks…), half an hour is probably enough; for beef stew meat, you might need an hour and a half depending on the size pieces and the toughness of the meat. Chinese beef is usually from water buffaloes and is tough and stringy, so we probably simmer beef for closer to two hours. Every now and then, give it a little taste to see if you need to adjust flavorings. Soy sauce varies greatly in saltiness so you may need to add more of it or salt. You may also decide to toss in more star anise or cinnamon. This is not a science- it is highly subjective based on personal tastes! I prefer chicken wings cooked this way to the other meats, but at this meal we were also serving coca cola chicken wings so made ribs for variety.

After simmering, when the meat is tender, this is what it looks like:

You can see that during cooking I have continued adding a bit of water because we enjoy having extra sauce to put on our rice. If you prefer your sauce thicker, simply mix cornstarch with some of the broth, then stir it into the juices and stir until thickened. We prefer the sauce thinner so that it incorporates with our rice more easily.

This is a classic blend of Chinese flavors and smells wonderful as it cooks! It is usually redder, but that day I only had light soy sauce so mine is lighter. Some of my friends take pieces of pork that are larger- perhaps 5 inches x 2 inches x 2 inches- and simmer them slowly for several hours in a pot until they are tender enough to be sliced without falling apart. At the end of the cooking time, they might peel a few boiled eggs and let them simmer in the juices for a while. They serve these two things together on a platter, cutting the pork into thin slices and the eggs into quarters. Sometimes they even toss some fennel seeds into the mix with the other spices! So you see, this is a versatile and adaptable recipe!

Soon I’ll post a “recipe” for how I make a Chinese green vegetable that makes a nice accompaniment to this dish.

But for now, give this a try! Enjoy!


Grace and Hope’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

As mentioned before, Grace and Hope have a little business making and selling muffins. They are popular with both ex-pats and Chinese, with one of the favorite flavors being these lemon poppy seed muffins. Though these are called muffins, they could be called cupcakes just as well as they are sweet and cake-y, though dense. I have long held the theory that if it’s not chocolate, it’s not dessert, but these muffins have changed my thinking on this!


3 cups flour

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons poppy seeds (You can use more but they are rare here since we can’t buy them..)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 Tablespoons lemon zest

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup oil

3 eggs

Mix all ingredients. Spray muffin pans with non-stick spray or use muffin papers. Fill muffin cups 5/6 of the way full if you want a nice “crown” on the muffins. Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes or until golden on top. This recipe makes 18 plump muffins such as those pictured.

We use one of two glazes on these.

Glaze number 1

3/4 cups sugar

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

2 Tablespoons butter

Cook on stove just until sugar is melted. When muffins are still warm, dip top in the muffins.

Glaze number 2

3/4 cup powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Mix and drizzle over muffins once they have gotten cool.

We prefer glaze number 2. Although it has powdered sugar, it is less sweet and “syrupy”. 

If you prefer orange flavoring make as follows:

Substitute orange juice and zest for the lemon juice and zest in the muffin recipe.

In the glaze recipes, merely substitute orange juice for the lemon juice.

If you prefer almond flavoring, make as follows:

Do not add lemon zest or juice to the muffin recipe. Increase the almond extract to 2 teaspoons.

For the glaze, mix 3/4 cup powdered sugar with 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 1/2 teaspoons of milk.


Homemade Chips and Restaurant-Style Salsa

Having spent 16 years in Texas, chips and salsa are to us what french fries and ketchup are to most people. When we moved to China, we craved the crunchy, salty chips, smothered in the tangy zip of salsa, but could only find pale, stale imitations for exorbitant rates at the foreign food store. For years, we had no way to solve this fiesta fiasco…until we moved to the Muslim section of town and discovered flat breads. Eureka! These large, thin disks aren’t exactly tortillas, but they definitely served our purpose.

For those of you who don’t live in a developing country and can easily buy bags of chips whenever the mood strikes, feel free to scroll down to the salsa part of the post. For my fellow expatriates, I hope you find the secret to delicious tortilla chips as exciting as we did!

Start with large Muslim flat breads (or tortillas if you can get them, or Indian naan if that’s the part of the world you live in).

Cut into strips…

…and then cut those strips into triangles…

…until you have a whole bowlful prepared.

Set up  your work station, with a wok full of oil (or a frying pan…but I’m doing it China style) and a platter lined with paper towels next to it.

When the oil is sufficiently hot (I test it by dropping in a chip and seeing if it sizzles vigorously), take a handful of chips and carefully drop them into the oil.

Don’t worry if your hands aren’t as large as mine; you can just drop in two handfuls. :)

Stir the chips so that they brown evenly. See my handy super-sized chopsticks? They’re one of my favorite kitchen tools, especially when deep-frying.

Remove from oil (it should only take about a minute to a minute and a half per batch), drain and lightly salt.

If you’re looking for a more health-conscious method for making these chips, you can lightly coat the raw chips in olive oil and bake in the oven a few minutes until crisp. Mom did that, and she said they were almost as tasty as the deep fried chips.

Now for the other half of this dynamic duo!

First, assemble whole, peeled tomatoes; onion; bell pepper; a garlic clove; cilantro; lemon juice; and salt.

Dump one can of whole, peeled tomatoes into the blender. Probably you’re thinking that fresh tomatoes would be preferable, but we’ve tried it both ways and think the canned are better in this recipe (shocking, I know). They’re also expedient, as you don’t have to peel or chop the tomatoes.

Peel and smash a clove of garlic. Be sure that your cutting board is thoroughly disreputable, just like ours. :)

Roughly chop half a bell pepper…

…half a small onion or one fourth of a large one…

…and a bunch of cilantro.

Dump all of these into the blender, along with several healthy dashes of lemon juice (you can use fresh squeezed, if you have it, or lime juice is also good)…

…and salt.

If you have a jalapeno, now would be a good time to add that. We can’t get those here, and the Chinese hot peppers just don’t taste right, so we go without the heat. Blend for a few seconds, until salsa looks like this-

Now add one final can of tomatoes…

..and pulse very quickly, leaving it slightly chunky. Our blender is turbo-powered, so my salsa didn’t have very many chunks in it. That’s okay, it was still good!

As you can see, it makes quite a lot, so feel free to cut  the recipe in half unless you have a large family or want to munch on it for several days.

Chips and salsa- the perfect pairing! It almost made me want to burst into Spanish, but after ten years in China “Mama, where are my pajamas?” and “The fat man is eating the bread” is about all I remember, so I will refrain. :)

Mmmmm, this makes me one happy senorita!

Restaurant-Style Salsa

Two cans of whole, peeled tomatoes

Half a bell pepper

Half a small onion or a quarter of a large onion

One clove of garlic

One bunch cilantro

One jalapeno (if desired)

Lemon juice



Throw one can of tomatoes into a blender. Roughly chop the bell pepper, onion, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno. Add several generous dashes of lemon juice (depending on how acidic you like it; I like mine pretty lemony) and salt to taste. Blend for several seconds. Throw in final can of tomatoes and quickly pulse, leaving slightly chunky.

This recipe is very forgiving; in fact, I almost hesitate to call it a recipe, because I never measure. If you like your salsa a little sweeter, you could throw in some mango or peach. If you like it chunkier, pulse in the blender for a briefer time.

Should keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.


P.S. Many thanks to my friend, Rachel, for making this treat possible. We no longer live in the Muslim section of town, and have been unable to find these breads anywhere. She made a special stop in our old neighborhood to pick these up for us, knowing how much I had been craving chips and salsa. Is she a great friend, or what? :)

Tasty Bars

We were away from home the past two days, spending time with Jeremy’s and Jason’s families for a mini-vacation. While we were gone, a former student of ours who has been living in northern China called to ask if he could come for dinner and stay with us tonight. We were very, very happy to be able to see him again, but since we would not be arriving home until almost dinnertime ourselves, we needed to come up with a super quick meal. Remembering that his favorite Western dinner had been spaghetti, the main dish was easy, and for dessert, we pulled out Chez Dexter’s standard last minute bar cookie recipe. We’ve been meaning to share this with you anyway since it has only six ingredients and takes just thirty minutes from inception to service.

Not only can you whip this up almost in the blink of an eye, but if you try hard enough you can kind of (sort of?) justify it as healthy. I mean, the health benefits of chocolate are almost endless, and nuts are good, right? Brown sugar, oatmeal…this is a veritable smorgasbord of all that is great for what ails you (kind of, sort of…)! And they don’t call these “Tasty Bars” for nothing!


3 cups oatmeal

1 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla


1 cup peanut butter (creamy works better)

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Stir the first four together and press into a 9 x 13 pan. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes until set and golden.

Yes, this is our oven. (We are very fancy- we have two! The other one is bigger but  since it only works on the top burner we don’t use it unless we’re desperate.) This one, as you see, is held together by a bungee cord!

While it’s baking, make the topping. Microwave your peanut butter in a bowl for about one minute until it’s very fluid.

Dump the chocolate chips into the hot peanut butter.

Are you starting to feel the love? Now stir vigorously until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. (If you really want to make a mess, go ahead and try zapping your chocolate chips and your peanut butter in the microwave at the same time. It might work- sometimes does. But after having a few bowls full of lusciousness turn into seized up lumps of burnt chocobutter, we’re sold on this less risky technique! If perchance (There’s something so satisfying about being able to stick the word “perchance” into a sentence, don’t ya think?) your chips don’t quite melt all the way, go ahead and give this a little zip zap for a few seconds, but be careful not to overdo it!)

We know at this point some of you are going to want to forget all about that healthy oatmeal base and just eat this with a spoon…

But try to resist…

Go ahead and dump the mixture onto your oatmeal base as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Spread it around.

Good enough!

If you’re going to have this ready in 30 minutes as we’ve promised, sock that puppy into the freezer for ten minutes! In our hot Guangzhou weather, we always stick it into either the fridge or the freezer to set the top.

Love on a plate!

Now what could be wrong with that?

Seriously, five minutes to mix the base; ten minutes to bake it while you prepare the topping; five minutes to spread that on; ten minutes to zap it in the freezer to set it! Six ingredients (all of which are likely staples in your kitchen), thirty minutes to prepare, then you have time to sit and talk with your family and guests as they enjoy the fruits of your labors! Refrigerate leftovers, if there are any….

Hash Brown Waffles

Every once in a while, I come across an idea when I’m perusing food blogs that is so brilliant, so revolutionary, I’m amazed I’ve never heard of it before. Recently, while browsing Foodie with Family, I saw her method for cooking hash browns in a waffle iron, and instantly knew I had to try it. How could shredded potatoes browned to crispy perfection not be good?

What follows is a method, more than a recipe. I didn’t take very many pictures because I was hungry (just keeping it real). :)

Start by greasing your waffle iron generously. You could use butter, but we had bacon grease; so like most women raised in the South, I used that.

Peel and shred a medium sized potato and spread it over the waffle iron’s surface. If you live where you can get that kind of thing, feel free to use pre-shredded hash browns. That would certainly save time.

Dust the potatoes with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then pop the lid down and set something heavy on top of it (I used a heavy frying pan).

Before long, the smell of sizzling potatoes will fill the kitchen. Resist peeking. Let the waffle iron do its thing. You’ll notice unwanted moisture dripping down the sides. This is good; it means the end result will be that much more crisp.

The one downside to this method is that it takes a while, especially if you have a wimpy waffle iron like ours. Probably a full ten minutes passed before my potatoes were as brown as I wanted them. Be assured, it was worth the wait.

Mmmmm, a hash brown waffle, topped with an egg over easy, with an iced Americano coffee. Do I need to tell you how yummy this was?

I’m not a fan of mushy potatoes, so the brown crust the waffle iron formed on these was perfect. If you like your potatoes a bit more fluffy, by all means don’t let them cook as long as I did, or don’t weigh the top down.

Ten seconds after this photo was taken, I was enjoying my first bite of this delicious treat. Have you had breakfast yet? :)

Hash Brown Waffles

One medium potato per person, peeled and shredded


One cup pre-shredded hash browns

Salt and pepper

Butter (or bacon grease, or some other oil)


Grease a waffle iron, top and bottom. Evenly spread shredded potatoes over it, salt and pepper to taste. Close waffle iron and weigh top down with something heavy. Cook to desired brownness.

I would imagine the variations on this would be limited only by your imagination. You could add cooked and drained breakfast sausage, herbs, cheese, bacon, or basically anything else that would tasty good cooked crispy with potatoes. Sweet potatoes could be substituted for their paler cousin. It’s delicious topped with an egg over easy, but I’m sure sausage gravy, sour cream and chives or many other things would also be tasty. Enjoy!