Category Archives: Cooking

chocolate cake

Chocolate Half Sheet Cake

chocolate cake

This is a delicious, moist cake with homemade chocolate icing that hits the spot for BBQs, parties, family dinners. It’s a recipe for a half-sheet cake which is 12 inches by 18 inches. It will serve 40 or more people. This isn’t modern-instant-make-it-fast food, its old fashioned with a twist so take your time, read through and give it a whirl.

If Snack Cakes are more your thing, check out my recipe. Chocolate Snack Cake

First, Prep.
Pre-heat your oven to 325*F
Grease and flour your pan or use a spray like Baker’s Joy

Get your ingredients together.

A 12×18 inch pan and either Baker’s Joy spray or you can grease and flour it.
2 Dark Chocolate Cake Mixes – I used Duncan Hines Chocolate Fudge Cake
6 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 – 3 oz package of instant fudge pudding mix
2 1/2 cups brewed coffee – you won’t taste the coffee in the final cake, the coffee brings out the chocolate flavor
2 cups sour cream

I found the idea for this tweak on and its by a member there named macsmom. The icing is my own recipe.

Make The Cake
Mix everything together well and pour in your prepared pan. Bake at 325*F for 45 minutes, check the cake for doneness and bake longer if needed. Some ovens will take 50-55 minutes maybe a little more. Mine takes 45. You test for doneness with a very thin sharp knife or a broom straw. Insert the sharp knife in the cake in the middle and to each side. If the knife comes up clean, no cake batter on it, then the cake is done.

Once its done, allow the cake to cool.

You can turn the cake out onto a prepared piece of cardboard or cake board or just leave it in the pan, that’s what I usually do.

Icing Recipe

In a medium sauce pan combine:
2 sticks butter – don’t use margarine or other substitute, it will be too oily.
1 1/3 cups cocoa powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup water
1/4 tsp salt

Stir it as it cooks.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat, stir well.

Add: 2 teaspoons vanilla, stir.

Sift 2 pounds of confectioner’s sugar, using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, slowly add the confectioner’s sugar to the chocolate mixture until well blended. You can add some milk in tiny amounts if you think the icing is too thick. When its done, it should pour.

Pour the icing over the cooled cake, let it all cool before packaging.

The icing will form a nice, light crust as it cools.



Saving Pumpkin Seeds

All throughout the winter I use up the pumpkins and winter squash we’ve either grown or purchased.  Winter squash/Pumpkins need to be stored in a cool, dry place. Even with optimum conditions, your winter squash and pumpkins will start to dry out and get pithy. That’s OK though, most of them will be just fine to eat as long as you don’t allow them to get damp and rotten.

I save seeds so I can grow the same vegetable each year.  Now if you save seeds from a cultivated variety, a cultivar, you probably won’t get the same plant you started with. But if you use heirloom varieties that have not been changed genetically, you’ll get the same plant year after year.

This year I am saving Field Pumpkin seeds which is an heirloom seed and Cinderella Pumpkin seeds which is a cultivated variety. So I don’t expect a pumpkin exactly like the Cinderella pumpkin next year but we’ll see then what we get.

First I fire up my oven to about 350*F so I can bake the pumpkin while I am cleaning the seeds.


I cut open the pumpkins and scrape out the seeds. A lot of pulp may come with the seeds, that’s OK for now. Be careful cutting open pumpkins, don’t cut toward yourself or your hand.

This Cinderella pumpkin has sort of firm pulp and the seeds are firmly attached to it




The pulp of the Field Pumpkin is more slimy and soft. The seeds come off of it more easily then the Cinderella Pumpkin .












I remove all the pulp I can and then I put the remaining seeds and pulp into a bowl of warm water.  Its just a mater of picking up the Field Pumpkin pulp and seeds and giving them a gentle squeeze for the seeds to release from the pulp.  I discard the pulp.

The Cinderella Pumpkin takes a bit firmer hand.







After the seeds are pretty clean of pulp I lay them on newspaper or paper towels to dry. You could use a clean cotton towel for this but the seeds dry to the surface and I have found they are hard to get off towels so I use paper.

Seeds should be as dry as possible before storing or they tend to grow mold. Mold will kill your seeds. Don’t dry your seeds for planting in a dehydrator, they usually get too hot and will kill the seeds. Stir them around on the paper every day, a few times a day if possible. They will dry enough to stop sticking to the paper in a day or so.

Store completely dry seeds in labeled glass jars. To absorb any leftover moisture in your seeds you can roll them up in a coffee filter before putting them in the jars.

After the pumpkin flesh is baked, you can scoop it out of the shell and let it cool. It can be used just like this for lots of recipes or you can freeze it in freezer bags, freezer jars or rigid freezer containers. I don’t recommend canning pumpkin or winter squash that is pulp. You can however cut raw pumpkin into 1 – 2 inch chunks and can it in pints at 10 pounds of pressure for 55 minutes.


Thanksgiving Prep – My Lists

Here are all my daily lists for preparing for Thanksgiving. I’ve gathered them together from all over this site so you can use them if you want to.  The lists start on Friday, November 18th and go through Thanksgiving Day, November 24th this year, 2016.

You can print this page out and use these lists, adding your own notes, to help you prepare.


Friday, November 18th
Finish making pie crusts for the freezer
Make cornbread and biscuits for dressing, crumble and freeze in plastic bags
Grocery shop for non-perishables
Clean bathroom and do general straightening in the house

Saturday, November 19th
Take turkeys out to defrost
Grocery shop for perishables
Cleaning and laundry

Monday, November 21st
Check on turkeys as they defrost
Clean dining room, put out plates, utensils, etc.
Set out all casserole dishes, pots and pans, see if I have what I need to cook everything
Make Aunt Eura’s Yeast Rolls and put in freezer
Make Cranberry Relish, refrigerate

Tuesday, November 22nd

Brine the turkeys. I’ll use the Traditional Turkey recipe this year!
Assemble casseroles and refrigerate (sweet potato, green bean, any casserole that does not contain breads, baking soda or baking powder.)
Make a Breakfast Casserole for Thursday, freeze or refrigerate

Wednesday, November 23rd
Take Breakfast casserole out of freezer
Bake pies
Make dressing and refrigerate
Make salads
Roast turkey, carve, refrigerate in chicken broth
Make centerpieces
Do last minute laundry

Thursday, November 24th – Thanksgiving Day
Put Breakfast casserole in to bake
Take pies and yeast rolls out of freezer early
Make stuffing
Make mashed potatoes
Reheat turkey
Bake casseroles
Bake yeast rolls
Make gravy

Dinner is ready!

mammys pie

Mammy’s Pumpkin Pie

Here is another recipe from the cookbook of my Great-grandmother. BTW, her name was Kate Dwyer. My oldest daughter is named after her; Kathryn.

This is her recipe for pumpkin pie. In my family, the regular kind of pumpkin pie (you know, the recipe on the side of the canned pumpkin tin?) is know as “Mud Pie” and is frowned upon when brought to family gatherings. At the least it is looked at with suspicion and disdain.

Anyway, this is our family recipe for pumpkin pie, and really it allows the pumpkin to shine through! I guess I should have posted this in the Autumn, but I was making Tea Cakes and found the recipe for the pie….

Mammy’s Pumpkin Pie

Its BEST to use fresh pumpkin for this pie. You can use home-canned, but you’ll get something less than what this pie is meant to be…..


1 pint HOME-canned pumpkin ( It is BEST to cut up and use a fresh pumpkin but by no means should you use store bought canned pumpkin!!)

OR, you can bake a small pie pumpkin at 350*F til its fork tender. Just place a cut pumpkin cut side down, with the seeds cleaned out of it, on a foil or parchment covered baking sheet. When the pumpkin is tender enough to push a fork through the shell, its done.

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 stick butter

If you baked your pumpkin, scoop out the cooked pulp and put it in a small sauce pan. Turn the heat on low and cook the pumpkin til its dry and then add the sugar.

Cook the home canned pumpkin on low as well til its dry then add sugar and cook until waxy.

Spread in a 9 inch pie crust. Slice butter and drop over the pie. Sprinkle sugar over top and add a dash of ground cinnamon. Cover with strips of crust if desired.

To make the pie look shiny you can paint the crust with milk, then sprinkle with sugar or sanding sugar.  Bake as directed.  To make it really shiny, use an egg wash to paint the crust before baking. 1 egg yolk beaten with about 2 tablespoons of water will work.

Bake in a 350* oven until brown. If desired cover the top of the pie with pecans before adding strips of crust, then proceed with baking.

Bake the pie in a 350*F oven til the crust is nicely browned, about 20 minutes. Cool before serving if you can.


Homemade Ranch Dressing


My whole family loves this stuff.  Do your children eat Ranch on everything like mine do?  Then this is something you should think about making.

The Worcestershire sauce makes the dressing look kind of ivory in color, not pure white like bottled dressing but it sure does add to the flavor so don’t leave it out.

As soon as the chives and dill started growing I had to make some of this dressing.  It will keep in the frig about 1 week. Some recipes for Ranch have onion powder in them, I have found that the chives have just enough onion-y flavor.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

1 clove garlic – smashed, then rubbed on the cutting board with 1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt
1 cup real mayonnaise – you can use homemade!
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced – don’t use the curly parsley, its just not the same.
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash hot sauce
1/4 to 1/2 cup buttermilk (as needed for desired consistency)

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour before serving or overnight. I store this dressing in a mason jar with a lid.

raw turkey

Time To Brine The Turkey

I’ve been brining our Thanksgiving turkey for about 6 years now.  It makes a delicious, tender, juicy bird. And its not difficult to do! Here are instructions and some brine recipes for you to use this year.   turkey_baked

To brine a turkey you will need a large pot that will hold the whole bird in the brine and a space in the frig large enough to store it for a day. You can improvise if your frig isn’t big enough. I have used buckets of ice and placed another bucket full of turkey and brine in it. For the last two years though, I have used a large, Roasting Bag to put the bird and brine in. I sit the bag with brine and turkey into a large cooler and surround the bag with ice. When the ice melts, I take the cooler to the back steps and let it drain, then fill it up with ice again.  You want to make sure the bird stays at or below 40*F.

I always start my turkey out defrosting two days before I will brine it. After it is defrosted, I put it in the brine from 24 – 48 hours.

Brining is simply soaking the turkey in a salt solution that has spices and flavors added to it. Brining a turkey imparts delicious flavor and moisture to the meat, it’s the best way to roast a turkey I think. More than that though, if the turkey gets left in the oven for an extra 10-15 minutes, the brining keeps it moist and flavorful. You can leave a turkey in the brine for up to 2 days, but usually just 24 hours will be sufficient to lend those delicious flavors to the meat.

I’ll walk you through brining, it’s not hard but you need to think about what your family likes before you start. Brines can be tailored to your taste.
So the rule of thumb is: Use the basic brine and add the flavors your family likes!

Basic Brine:
Dissolve 1 cup table salt or 2 cups kosher salt in 2 gallons cold water in a large stockpot or clean bucket. Your pot or bucket must hold 6-8 gallons so that you can immerse the turkey. After you add the flavors, brine the turkey for 12-24 hours.

Now add the flavors you like. Here are some suggestions:

Honey Brine
1 ounce tender quick
1 cup honey
3 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp pickling spices

Traditional Turkey
1 -2 Tablespoons of each:
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Celery seed, ground
Fresh ground black pepper

Spicy Brine
1/2 cup molasses
1-1/2 T crushed or minced garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 T onion powder
1/4 cup pepper
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 oz maple flavoring

Another Spicy One
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup molasses
2 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp thyme
1 tbsp oregano

Apple Cider Brine
4 gal. apple cider INSTEAD OF WATER
1 onion, diced
2 heads of garlic divided
1/2 cup fresh ginger, chopped
3 pcs. star anise
4 bay leaves
4 oranges quartered

Roasting The Brined Turkey

To roast the brined turkey, it is important to rinse the turkey well and to pat it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 400* F. Paint the breast portion with soft butter, add some herbs if desired. cover the breast with a foil tent. Roast the turkey at 400* for 35 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and roast the remaining time indicated on the packaging of the turkey. Uncover the breast the last 1 1/2 hours. The USDA recommends that you let the turkey breast come to 170* and the legs to 180* before removing the turkey from the oven. Remember however that the turkey will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. Especially if you cover it with foil and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.  The resting period will also allow the juices to settle in the meat, making for a better tasting turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Spice Mixes You Can Make

These mixes are easy to make and store.  I prefer to buy ingredients and make things like mixes myself instead of paying someone else to make them. Plus, you can determine what goes in to your mixes, you don’t need the artificial ingredients and preservatives that are in most commercial mixes.

I like to store my mixes in small glass jars with tightly fitting lids. You could go all out and print out labels for your spice mixes. I just write on the lids or use jelly labels that come with some of the small jars.

For all of these mixes, you need to make sure your jar has a tightly fitting lid to keep moisture and air out of your mix so it will last a long time. Most of these I have kept for months and months and they are still delicious.

spicesTaco Seasoning
2 Tsp dried minced onion – more on this later
1 Tsp Sea Salt
½ Tsp arrowroot powder
½ Tsp Garlic powder – see below
½ Tsp ground cumin
1 Tsp Chili powder
½ Tsp ground red pepper
1/4 Tsp oregano dried

Store in dry place.
To make Taco Meat: Brown 1 # ground beef or turkey. Drain. Add ½ cup water, seasoning pkt. Simmer 10 minutes. Fills 8 – 10 tacos

Garam Masala
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine, store in an air-tight container


Pizza Sauce Seasoning

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons fennel seed, crushed
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

 Homemade Sloppy Joe Seasoning

Combine all of the ingredients in a small glass or plastic jar with a tight fitting lid. Label and store in your pantry shelf until needed.

2 tablespoons dried onion OR use 2 T Onion powder
2 T Paprika
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp Chili powder (chipotle chili powder is good in this)
1 tsp dried Marjoram
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Black pepper
1/4 tsp celery seed

This makes one recipe of sloppy joes using 1 pound of ground meat, so increase the amount you make, double, triple or even more, to store and use. If you make a ton of it, you’ll need to use 1/3 cup of mix per pound of ground meat.

Chili Seasoning:
1 tsp paprika
2 tsps ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
2 tsps garlic powder

Cajun Seasoning:
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 ¼ tsp dried oregano
2 ½ tsp paprika
1 ½ tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Apple Pie Spice
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 Tablespoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger

Pumpkin Pie Spice
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. ground ginger
4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Poultry Seasoning
2 3/4 tsp. rosemary
1 1/2 tsp. ground thyme
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. black pepper