Aunt Karen’s Shepherd Pie

Forgive the picture. We’d already eaten & I’d forgotten to take a picture of it served on a plate so had to compromise & use what was left in the dish.

Shepherds Pie is one of those dishes I’ve heard of, but have never had. Until tonight. I knew I couldn’t go wrong with the selected recipe because it’s my aunt’s recipe. I like to think everyone has that one person in their life where you know the food is going to be good because it’s always good. For me, that’s aunt Karen. She will not lead you astray.


1 lb hamburger meat

2 celery stalks diced

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

S & P

1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

2 tbsp tomato paste (or ketchup)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 12oz bag of frozen mixed veggies (peas, carrots, corn, & green beans)

1 package instant mashed potatoes (I used garlic)

Shredded cheese


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Over medium high heat, cook the hamburger meat with the celery, onion, & garlic until browned. Season with S & P. Drain grease. Add Worcestershire & tomato paste, mix together. Stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup. Add bag of mixed veggies & stir to combine. Transfer to a 9” round or square pan.

Make instant mashed potatoes (or use leftover mashed potatoes, if you have them) according to instructions. Spread evenly over meat mixture.

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes. Remove from oven, add shredded cheddar cheese to top, & return to oven for another 10 minutes. Enjoy!

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Books I Read In 2021 (and my fave five)

On occasion, people will ask me for book recommendations & while I’m willing to oblige, it’s not without slight reservation. To me, books fall into the same categories as food & music. What I like, piques my interest, or resonates within me can be vastly different than what another would find deeply satisfying & fulfilling. It’s also no different than when someone has avidly recommended a book to me, which I read only to be left wondering what was so great about that? It’s neither right or wrong & just symbolizes our differences.

This can occur within ourselves, as well. Sometimes while rereading a book I once considered life changing & profound, I’m left wanting more & missing the sense of awe & wonder, like I first experienced. Similar to trying to recreate a memory in that it simply doesn’t hold the same wonder-filled significance. Conversely, there are books that didn’t impact me so much whilst reading them, but months & sometimes years later, I find myself surprised at how often I revisit it in my thoughts.

  1. Open House, Katie Sise
  2. Like Brothers, Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass
  3. Antiracist Baby, Ibram X Kindi
  4. The Last of the Moon Girls, Barbara Davis
  5. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  6. Hadley & Grace, Suzanne Redfearn
  7. A Widow’s Story: A Memoir, Joyce Carol Oates
  8. Love’s Executioner, Irvin Yalom
  9. Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott
  10. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw
  11. After Alice Fell, Kim Taylor Blakemore
  12. Best Friends Forever, Jennifer Weiner
  13. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski, PhD & Amelia Nagoski, DMA
  14. The State of Affairs, Esther Perel
  15. Shrill, Lindy West
  16. Inheritance, Dani Shapiro
  17. What Happened To You? Conversations On Trauma, Resilience, & Healing, Bruce Perry, MD, PhD & Oprah Winfrey
  18. Tears of Amber, Sofia Segovia
  19. Last Couple Standing, Matthew Norman
  20. The Problem of Alzheimer’s, Jason Karlawish, MD
  21. Mating In Captivity, Esther Perel
  22. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
  23. Stories To Tell, Richard Marx
  24. Mercy, Jodi Picoult
  25. Fire Shut Up In My Bones, Charles M. Blow
  26. The Housekeeper, Natalie Barelli
  27. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
  28. Plenty: A Memoir of Food & Family, Hannah Howard
  29. The Weight of Ink, Rachel Kadish
  30. Beneath Devil’s Bridge, Loreth Anne White
  31. Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, Emmanuel Acho
  32. Night Road, Kristin Hannah
  33. The Seven Day Switch, Kelly Harms
  34. Apples Never Fall, Liane Moriarty
  35. Unbound, Tarana Burke
  36. Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle
  37. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  38. The Menopause Manifesto, Dr. Jen Gunter
  39. The Four Seasons of Marriage, Gary Chapman
  40. The Storyteller: Tales of Life & Music, Dave Grohl
  41. The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
  42. Somebody’s Daughter, Ashley C. Ford
  43. No Cure For Being Human: And Other Truths I Need To Hear, Kate Bowler
  44. A Familiar Sight, Brianna Labuskes

My favorite five: (In no order of favorites, but read chronologically)

Fiction: “The timing of of the thing had to be just so in order for me to become the person I am. Delay the act by an hour & you change the gene selection.”

Collection of short stories: “How do you make love to a physicist? With your whole self, quivering, lush, unafraid.”

Nonfiction: “Even if you’ve accumulated a house full of nice things & the picture of your life fits in a beautiful frame, if you’ve experienced trauma, but haven’t excavated it, the wounded parts of you will affect everything you’ve managed to build.”

Memoir: “That’s one of the great things about music. You can sing a song to 85,000 people & they’ll sing it back for 85,000 different reasons.”

Memoir: “Everybody pretends that you only die once, but that’s not true. You can die to a thousand possible futures in the course of a single, stupid life.”

“It takes great courage to live. Period. There are fears and disappointments and failures every day and, in the end, the hero dies. It must be cinematic to watch us from above.”
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World Peace Cookies

I’ve heard of these cookies for years & while I’ve never had one nor made them until now, I wish I had done it sooner. Like every year, I set out on a quest for a new Christmas cookie & these are definitely repeat worthy.

Essentially, these are a French butter cookie a la intense chocolate style. These are indulgent & decadent, but don’t be fooled, they are subtly sweet. Perfectly paired with a cup of coffee or milk.


11 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes & at room temperature

2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp fine sea salt or 1/2 tsp flour de sal

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into irregular sized bits (I used Ghirardelli)


Beat butter & sugars on medium speed for three minutes, or until soft & creamy. Be sure to scrape the sides & bottom of bowl at least once. Beat in salt & vanilla.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, & baking soda. Add flour mixture to butter/ sugar mixture, stir to combine. Once combined, mix on low until thoroughly incorporated; being careful not to over mix.

Divide the dough in half. With each half, roll into a 1 1/2 inch diameter log. Wrap each log in plastic wrap & freeze for 2 hours or chill in refrigerator for 3 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Using a sharp knife, cut log into 1/2 inch-thick rounds. Place on baking sheets & leave 2 inches between them. Keep one sheet with cut rounds in refrigerator while the other is baking.

Bake for 12 minutes. Do not open the door, just let them bake. At the end of the 12 minutes, they won’t look done, nor firm but remove from oven anyway. Transfer to a cooling rack.



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French Vanilla Sables

‘Tis the season where the big blue tin of assorted butter cookies makes an appearance; unless, you find a recipe & opt to make them yourself. The latter is always a win in my book.


1 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes & at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling


Beat together the butter, sugars, & salt for 3 minutes, stopping at least twice to scrape the sides & bottom of the bowl. Add egg yolks one at a time, add vanilla extract, & beat on low. Add the flour, stir to incorporate; then mix on low until thoroughly combined, being careful not to over mix.

Divide the dough into two halves. Place each half onto a piece of parchment paper & top with another. From there, roll out dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Repeat the process with the other half. Transfer sandwiched dough to a large baking sheet & freeze for 1 hour, or refrigerate for 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees & grease two 12 nonstick muffin tins. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds, place in muffin tins, & top dough with turbinado sugar. With remaining scraps of dough, re-roll, & refreeze. Repeat process until dough is gone.

Bake for 10 minutes in the center of the oven, rotate pans, & bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Allow tins to cook for 10 minutes on wire racks before transferring to cool completely.



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Classic Bran Muffins

I recently listened to an audiobook on women’s health by a doctor who reported how most women don’t typically consume the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber of 25 – 30 grams per day. Truth be told, I’ve never stopped to consider if I’m reaching that recommendation & as I think of my meals over the last few days the answer is an underperforming, resounding no.

I started to get curious about my go to choices, or the ones I use in heavy rotation. For instance, fruits are typically apples (large with skin on 5.4 grams), bananas (medium size 3.1 grams), blueberries (1 cup 3.6 grams), blackberries (1 cup 7.6 grams), raspberries (1 cup 8 grams), strawberries (1 cup 3.5 grams), 1/2 an avocado or 68 grams of an avocado (4.6 grams). Vegetables are broccoli (1 cup 5.1 grams), spinach (1 cup 2.4 grams), spring mix salad (1 cup 1.1 grams), green beans (1 cup cooked 4 grams), zucchini/ yellow squash (1 cup 1.4 grams), cauliflower (1 cup 2.5 grams). Nuts are walnuts (1/4 cup 1.7 grams), pecans (1/4 cup 2.9), pistachios (1.5 oz bag 2 grams).

I rarely eat cereal anymore, but while listening to this book I developed a taste for bran muffins. Surely, a good source of dietary fiber; in fact, 3.5 grams per muffin.


1 1/2 cups wheat bran

1 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 egg

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup raisins (I omitted these)


In a bowl, mix together wheat bran & buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees & line muffin tin with 12 liners.

In a liquid measuring cup whisk together the oil, egg, & vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, & salt.

Once the bran/ buttermilk combination has softened, add to the flour mixture, & add the oil, egg, & vanilla extract mixture. Beat together until we’ll blended.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes (mine were complete at 17 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.



Posted in Bread/ Muffins, Breakfast | 1 Comment

Apple Cream Pie

For years now, every Sunday I look forward to checking out to view secrets people mailed in. I don’t recall how I first learned about it, but without fail, there are always secrets that are relatable, intriguing, interesting, & heartbreaking. It was about a year ago I took a screenshot of the secret posted below. To honor this person’s grandma & for the love of sharing good food & recipes, enjoy!

Notes: I used apples recently picked from a local orchard. In the future, I might simply slice the apples instead of grating them. I will also likely reduce the sugar to 1 cup because served a la mode, it was a bit sweet.

Posted in Desserts, Pie | 1 Comment

Pear Salad with Creamy Walnut Vinaigrette

I knew as soon as I saw this recipe I would like it. My intuition was not wrong as I’ve enjoyed this salad repeatedly over the last week.


For the salad:

Pears, ripe, but firm

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Lettuce (I used Spring Mix)


Crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese (I used blue)

For the vinaigrette:

1 tsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp walnuts

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1/2 cup walnut oil

S & P to taste

1 1-2 tbsp sugar


To make the dressing put the mustard, walnuts, white wine vinegar, & sugar into a food processor & process for a minute. Add in the oil & process until you’ve reached a smooth, creamy consistency. Season with S&P to taste.

Slice the pears, about a 1/4 inch & sprinkle with lemon juice on both sides to prevent browning.

To plates add lettuce, sprinkle with walnuts, cheese of your choice, slices of pears & drizzle with vinaigrette. Enjoy!

Adapted slightly from:

Notes: the original recipe does not list sugar for the dressing. When I first made the salad, I made it as instructed, but both my husband & I both thought it needed just a bit of sugar so I adjusted as listed.

Also, if you slice the pears just prior to serving & eating, you can safely omit the lemon juice to prevent the pears from browning.

Posted in Salads | 1 Comment

Starbucks Copycat Banana Bread

Once upon a time, maybe 10 years or more, while at Starbucks not only did I get my drink, but they also had a recipe for their banana bread. I have no idea what happened to that recipe, so when I saw this, I tucked it away for safe keeping.


2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 egg

1 1/8 cups sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tbsp buttermilk (or milk, sour cream, or Greek yogurt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 very ripened bananas, mashed

1 cup chopped walnuts, divided


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using either nonstick spray, parchment paper, and/ or both, prepare 8×5 loaf pan; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, & cinnamon until combined.

In another bowl whisk together oil, egg, sugar, & vanilla extract until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients & mix well. Mixture will be thick. Add in the mashed bananas & buttermilk & mix until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in half of the walnuts into batter.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle remaining walnuts evenly on top of batter. Place on center rack & back for 60-75 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean.

Notes: I like walnuts studded throughout the bread, not only on top. If you prefer only on top, simply use a 1/2 cup. And, of course, if you’re not a fan of nuts, feel free to omit them altogether.

Adapted slightly from:

Posted in Bread; Sides, Breakfast, Copycat Recipes | Leave a comment

Pasta with Italian Sausage & Broccoli

Sometimes it’s a gamble trying out a new recipe & sometimes it’s a success. Happy to report, the above was a success & what I tried most recently was not; therefore, will be omitted from this site. 😃


1 large head of broccoli trimmed & cut into florets

16 oz pasta (I used shells)

4 tbsp, olive oil, divided, more as needed

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 lb Italian sausage (I used 1 lb hot & 1 lb mild)

3/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, more for topping

1 1/2 cups pasta water reserved, divided

Salt & freshly cracked pepper

Red pepper flakes, as desired


Bring a large pot of water to a boil & add 2 tbsp of salt. Add broccoli florets to water & boil for 4 minutes. Without removing pot of water from heat, transfer broccoli to a colander, while leaving water in pot. Run cold water over broccoli to stop cooking. Drain well & cut into smaller pieces.

Add pasta to boiling water in pot & cook 1 minute shy of al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of pasta water before draining.

While pasta is boiling, in a large skillet over medium high heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil & crumble Italian sausage until cooked completely. Add garlic in the last few minutes of browning the sausage.

Once sausage is cooked thoroughly, pour 1 cup of pasta water into the sausage & simmer for a minute & water has reduced. Incorporate al dente pasta in with the sausage & cook for 2 more minutes.

Drizzle in remaining 2 tbsps olive oil, sprinkle in crushed red pepper flakes. Stir in freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Toss in broccoli, stirring lightly. Season with salt & freshly cracked pepper, per taste. Add in remaining 1/2 cup of pasta water, if needed. Drizzle more olive oil, if desired. Top servings with more grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Adapted slightly from:

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Ice Cream Sandwiches

I was excited when I first came upon this recipe & knew in an instant I would try my hand at it. Ice cream sandwiches are synonymous with summer. I loved them as a kid & I love them as an adult. My family, skeptics as they are, were like, “It’s ice cream sandwiches, you can just buy those.”

My sequential thoughts unfolded like so: Pssh. Naysayers. Have I taught them nothing? Shouldn’t they know better by now? I’ll show them. Homemade is always better. (With the exception of brownies – Ghirardelli boxed brownies is where it’s at! I’ve yet to try a homemade brownie recipe that has swayed me. I’ve tried. Many times.)

Now after having made these twice this summer, my husband straight up told me, “These are so good. You should quit your job & make these all day.” I’ll take that as a victory. And, no, I’m still gainfully employed.


1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsps milk

1 egg white

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder (* see notes)

2 1/2 cups vanilla ice cream (or more if you like a thicker sandwich)


Make the cookie:

Heat oven to 325 degrees F & line a 9 x13 pan with parchment paper that extends up the two short sides of the pan. Coat the exposed sides with butter or nonstick spray.

If butter is not at room temperature, melt halfway & whisk until fully melted. Whisk in the sugar, salt, & milk. Whisk in the egg white & vanilla, ensuring the egg white is fully mixed in. Stir in the cocoa powder & baking powder; thoroughly mix. Lastly, add flour & stir until no white streaks are present.

Spoon mixture into prepared pan & spread into an even layer.

Bake for 15 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. Dock all over with a skewer. Let cool completely or place in freezer for 15 minutes. Remove ice cream at the same time & allow to soften for these 15 minutes.

Assemble the sandwiches:

Once cold to the touch, run a knife around the pan & use the parchment paper to slide it out of the pan. Cut in half width wise. Return the parchment paper to the pan to help shape the sandwiches. Return the first cookie half back to the pan, placing upside down over the parchment paper, & press up against the edge. Scoop the ice cream & spread it evenly over. Press the second cookie half, right side up, onto the ice cream. Use the sides of the pan& parchment paper to help the ice cream keep its shape in the cookie & place the pan in the freezer. Freeze for a minimum of 5 hours, but preferably overnight.

Once ice cream is fully solid again, transfer to a cutting board, remove parchment paper, & cut into rectangles. Eat immediately or store in airtight container in freezer.


Use 2 tbsps regular cocoa powder & 2 tbsps black cocoa powder, if you have it.

This recipe is easily doubled.

I’ve found it’s almost easier to spread the cookie mixture onto the parchment paper outside of the pan so I get more of a visual that it’s even. In the picture above, I doubled the recipe & spread the top layer in the pan & when I made the bottom layer, I spread it outside of the pan & then inserted it into the pan. The bottom layer was more even.


Posted in Desserts, Uncategorized | Leave a comment