Just One Donna!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Tart and Sweet Grilled Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad

Summer is a wonderful season for salad lovers with all the fresh fruits and vegetables coming to market.  I tend to fall into a rut with my salads, making the same old salad over and over again.  Do you do the same?  In the past week, I've noticed beautiful watermelon displays in the produce section of my grocery store.  With watermelon hitting its peak over the next few weeks I thought I would branch out and try a salad made with watermelon as the star ingredient.

I've seen lots of watermelon salads over the years in magazines, on television cooking shows and on Pinterest.  Today's recipe is inspired by all those other watermelon salad recipes but was made with tasty ingredients I had on hand.  I encourage you to do the same.  Your pantry and refrigerator may not contain the same ingredients I had on hand to make this salad.  Feel free to be adventurous with other ingredients you love.  Instead of goat cheese, you might try feta cheese or Gorgonzola cheese.  You don't have any fresh mint?  Try  a little fresh basil or fresh thyme instead.

Grilled Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad

Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes four servings
  • Slices of seedless watermelon cut into triangles, 3 per salad
  • 1 bag mixed baby lettuce
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, cut into small chunks
  • 1 small red onion cut into very thin slices
  • 4-8 fresh mint leaves, chopped 
  • 1-Tablespoon any good balsamic vinegar, I used a specialty flavored vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your grill.  Cut the watermelon into triangles.  Place the watermelon triangles on the grill, cooking for a minute or two on each side.  You want the watermelon to be warmed and have grill marks.  Remove to a plate.

Divide the baby lettuce among four plates.  Cut the watermelon into chunks and divide among the plates.  Top with the sliced onion and pieces of goat cheese.  Sprinkle with the chopped mint.  Mix together the balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

This is a lovely, fresh tasting salad that is sure to get you out of your salad rut.  The contrast of the sweet watermelon with the tart goat cheese and balsamic dressing will delight you taste buds.

Shared on Between Naps on the Porch.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

What a Walk through My June Garden has Taught Me

June is my favorite time of year in my garden.  Every day brings something new to see.  The colors in the garden now are more vibrant than any other time of year.  I make a point to walk around the garden each day because there is so much going on.  These walks through the garden have made me realize the garden is teaching me some useful lessons.

Stay present and enjoy the gifts your garden brings.  

Be watchful so as not to miss the beauty.  

Pay attention.

The irises and roses are in bloom.  Yellow and red, side by side.  Unexpected pops of color to brighten my day.

Day after day in early June, my irises welcome me with a new gift.  They open slowly, one at a time.   I loved seeing the droplets of rain on this flower one morning last week.

My Siberian irises have come and gone. Each bloom lasts for only a very short time, so it's important to pay attention.  While they were here, those Siberian irises were a riot of color.

The same is true of the rhododendrons.  They burst open with huge mops of color that only lasted about a week.

Then there are the peonies.  I wait all year for them.  I keep my fingers crossed when they are in bloom, hoping there won't be a heavy rain to turn their petals brown.  I was in luck this year and this peony bouquet made it into my house.

I notice when I walk through the garden that I breathe more deeply and walk more slowly and I know this is good for me.  This is the gift of the garden.  If you don't have a garden of your own, please make the time for a walk through a nearby public garden.  You'll be glad you did.

These are the reminders from my June garden.

Be watchful for the beautiful moments in your life. They will be fleeting, hopefully soon to be replaced by other beautiful moments.

Pay attention and stay present.  You won't want to miss out.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

How to Make the Best Ever Sugar Cookies

One of my favorite cookie recipes ever shared with you on this blog is my sugar cookie with buttercream frosting recipe.  The recipe makes a delicious sugar cookie that is sweet, but not too sweet.  The cookies have a tender, cakey texture that pairs perfectly with a buttercream frosting.  I'm sure you have heard of those famous buttercream topped sugar cookies sold by Cheryl's Cookies.  Well, if you want a copycat recipe for those you'll want to try these.  I think these cookies are better, and that's why I call them the Best Ever Sugar Cookies.

Best Ever Sugar Cookies

These sugar cookies will be a perfect dessert choice for your Fourth of July picnics and barbecues.  You can make them now and freeze them.  They are just as good after being frozen for a couple of weeks as they are fresh from the oven.

Best Ever Sugar Cookie Recipe

Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes 2-dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies

Today, I'm going to focus on some of the common complaints bakers have when making sugar cookies because I want you to love this sugar cookie recipe as much as I do.   Follow these tips for no-fail baking when you make my recipe and I'm sure you'll agree  these ARE the best ever sugar cookies!  Get the recipe in the link above.

Tips to Make the Best Ever Sugar Cookies

Choose the right sugar cookie recipe.  Recipes differ.  Know what the expected result is for the recipe you choose to make.  For example, my favorite sugar cookie is meant to be 1/4 inch thick with a cake-like consistency.  It is not a super sweet cookie.  That's because they are meant to be frosted and the frosting adds additional sweetness.  If that isn't the kind of cookie you want to make, choose a different recipe.

Choose the Right Recipe
Remember that where you live may affect your baking results.  Things like distance from sea level and humidity can change your outcome.  I know that when I bake here in the Northeast I pay attention to air temperature and humidity.

When your cookies are hard to roll out:  Be sure to chill your dough at least two hours.  If the dough is too hard from chilling, let it warm a little on your counter and knead it with your hands, dusted with a little flour.  For my sugar cookie recipe, the dough should feel like Play-Doh in your hands.  Dust your counter and rolling pin with plenty of +flour.  Add more flour as needed.

Flour Your Counter and Rolling Pin
If you have trouble keeping the cookie's shape when using a cookie cutter:  Roll you cookies out on parchment paper and pull the dough away from the cookie before removing it from the paper.  When making my sugar cookie recipe I never have a problem as long as I have enough flour on my counter and I wiggle the cookie cutter back and forth a little to loosen the excess dough from the cookie.

To be certain you can remove your cookies from the pan easily:  My sugar cookie recipe tells you to use ungreased cookie sheets and I never have any trouble removing them from the baking sheet. Sometimes the kind of pan you use can affect your results.  To be safe, use parchment paper.

Sugar Cookies Ready for Baking
If your cookies are too flat and crisp:  Be sure to chill your dough for at least two hours and only cook them until firm, but not browned.  Don't over bake your cookies.  Be careful not to roll your cookies too thin.  Thin cookies will be crisp.  Thicker cookies will be more cake-like.

Be Careful to Not Over Bake
You'll notice from the pictures that once the cookies are frosted I like to dust them with colored sugar for a festive touch.  You can also color the buttercream frosting but I like the simplicity and contrast of the white frosting with the blue and red sugars for the Fourth of July.  However you decide to decorate these sugar cookies, they'll be delicious.  Just remember my no-fail tips for the best ever sugar cookies, every time!

Linked to Meal Plan Monday

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Read more about sugar cookies with buttercream frosting.



Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Best Chocolate Boston Cream Pie You'll Ever Taste

Boston cream pie is a favorite dessert in my family.  If you were to ask Hubby, he'd say I don't make it nearly enough.  This chocolate Boston cream pie came about for that reason.  The other day I noticed I still had a chocolate layer cake in my freezer from a chocolate mousse cake I had recently made.  The texture of the chocolate cake from that recipe was one I thought would work well with the pastry cream of a Boston cream pie.  I was right.

This chocolate Boston cream pie is made completely from scratch but don't let that scare you away. The only difference between this cake and a traditional Boston cream pie is the substitution of chocolate cake, drizzled with a vanilla syrup, in place of a yellow cake.

Chocolate Boston Cream Pie

There are three easy steps to this cake.  Consider making the cake ahead of time.  You can make the cake in advance and freeze it, like I did.  The cake thaws quickly and you'll find it easier to cut the chilled cake in half before adding the pastry cream filling.

Chocolate Boston Cream Pie

Printer Friendly Recipe

To Make the Cake

Makes one 9" round layer cake
Chocolate Boston Cream Pie

  • 2/3 cup cake flour
  • 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kahlua

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with waxed paper and grease the paper. Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda into a small bowl. Using your electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar together in a medium bowl until very thick and light in color, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and Kahlua.  Stir to combine. 

In a separate bowl, using clean beaters beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, beating until stiff.  Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture.  Alternate folding in the flour and egg whites, ending with the egg whites. Spread the batter evenly in the cake pan.

Bake the cake until puffed and tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack.  Cut around the pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake out onto your work surface.   Remove the paper. Using a long, serrated knife, cut the cake in half, horizontally.  Place half of the cake, cut side up, on your cake dish.  Drizzle half of syrup (about 3 1/2 tablespoons) over each side of the cake.

  1.  The Pastry Cream

  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  While the cream is heating, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl until combined.  Whisk the cornstarch into the egg mixture until pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.

Slowly whisk half of the hot cream into the egg mixture to temper, then return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and glossy, about 1 1/2 minutes.  You'll want the mixture to come to a boil.  Be sure the pastry cream is very thick before your take it off the heat.  Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl, press plastic wrap directly on the surface, and refrigerate until chilled and set, about 2 hours.

The Ganache Topping

  •  4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a microwaveable bowl and microwave the ingredients together at 50% power, whisking often, until melted and smooth, 2 to 4 minutes. Let the glaze cool, uncovered, until it is thickened but spoonable, about 20 minutes.

The Cake Assembly

Spoon the pastry cream onto the bottom half of the cake.  Spread evenly to the edges.  Top with the other half of the cake.  Pour the warm ganache over the top of the cake spreading to the edges and dripping down the sides, if desired.  Chill cake until ready to serve.

I have to tell you that I loved this cake.  I also have to admit that I ate more of it than I should have.  I tell you this as a warning.  This chocolate Boston cream pie is an addictive cake.  I think I may like this chocolate version better than the traditional Boston cream pie.  I know, that's heresy, but this is one darn-delicious cake!

Linked to Between Naps on the Porch.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

How to Turn Store-Bought Potato Salad from Blah to Amazing

When you need a quick potato salad, that ordinary store-bought potato salad you have in your refrigerator can go from blah to amazing in just a few minutes with just a few ingredients.  There's no judgment here.  We don't always have the time to make a potato salad from scratch.  Sometimes it is just easier to stop by your local grocery store to pick up a container of the store-made potato salad.  It's good.  It's predictable.  It will do.

Take Your Potato Salad from Blah to AH-Mazing!
What should you do if you want that store-bought potato salad to have a little more flavor?  You're going to a potluck picnic or you are having people over for an impromptu barbecue and you'd like your potato salad to be a little special.  There is no need to fret.  A quick trip to the grocery store will get you started.  Just buy a few additional ingredients that will kick up the potato salad's flavor.

The first step in your journey from blah to amazing is to taste the store potato salad. You need to know what flavors you are starting with.  When buying from the deli counter ask for a taste before you buy.  How does it taste?  Does it need a little more salt and fresh ground pepper?  Consider a little celery seed or some fresh dill.  Both add wonderful flavor to a potato salad.

Next, you'll want some add-in ingredients.  Here is my standard recipe for doctoring up a store-bought potato salad.
The Potato Salad Ingredients

Donna's Quick Potato Salad
Printer Friendly Recipe
  • 1-quart store-bought potato salad
  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1-handful chopped fresh chives
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Taste the potato salad to know your starting point.  Add the celery, onion and chives.  Stir to combine.  Taste and add salt and pepper.  Cover and chill for at least an hour to allow the flavors to combine.

Isn't that easy?  Remember it is important to taste the potato salad again before you serve it to make sure the flavors are what you want them to be.  You can add a little more of whatever the potato salad needs before you serve it.  Serve this kicked up store-bought potato salad proudly.  You've made it your own in a semi-homemade kind of way.  Your family and friends will love it.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

How to Deal with Carpenter Bees

One of the things I like least about this time of year is the pests.  I'm talking about the insects and critters that wreak havoc with my home and garden. The pest of the month is the carpenter bee.  Last month the battle was with ants and in April, we were fighting the annual infestation of winter moth caterpillars that are trying to kill my beautiful weeping cherry tree.  Those battles seem to be behind me and for now, the focus is on the pesky carpenter bees.

You might be wondering what the heck a carpenter bee is.  I never even knew they existed until a couple of years ago.  You can see the backside of one in the picture below.  They might be mistaken for a big bumblebee, but their abdomen is shiny black in comparison to the fuzzy abdomen of the bumblebee.  You'll often see them hovering in the air around the roofline of your home.  If you see them, you'll want to pay attention.  They may take up residence in your home.

The Backside of a Carpenter Bee

What is a Carpenter Bee?
  • Carpenter bees may resemble bumblebees but nest in wood rather than in the ground like bumble bees.
  • Carpenter bees prefer bare, unpainted wood (my house is painted and that doesn't stop them).
  • After mating, the females excavate tunnels in which they will lay their eggs.  Balls of pollen are provided to feed the larvae.
  • The extent of damage created by the tunnels may be extensive.

When carpenter bees first came to my attention, it wasn't the hovering around my roofline that I noticed.  While watering a squash plant that was in a pot on my deck I saw what looked like sawdust all over the plant.

Signs of a Carpenter Bee

I couldn't figure out how sawdust would have gotten on the plant until I looked up and I saw this...

A Carpenter Bee Hole

Isn't that the loveliest, round, perfectly drilled hole you have ever seen?  One might think that Hubby was out very early in the morning drilling holes in the fascia boards of our house for some unknown reason.  While I was standing there looking at the hole, along came the carpenter bee you saw pictured above.  Yes, the tail end of that insect sticking out of the hole belongs to an annoying carpenter bee.

Well, the carpenter bees are back again.  This week I was alerted by chance when I looked out my window and saw signs of sawdust on top of our air conditioner. 

Sawdust from Carpenter Bees

What Can You Do about Carpenter Bees?
 Allowing extensive damage to my home is not acceptable.  Measures will have to be taken.  The University of Kentucky also provides suggestions for dealing with these pests:
  • Paint all unpainted surfaces (This doesn't seem to work in our case because our surfaces are already painted.)
  • Liquid sprays of carbaryl (Sevin), chlorpyrifos (Dursban), or a synthetic pyrethroid (e.g., permethrin or cyfluthrin) can be applied as a preventive to wood surfaces that are attracting the bees. Residual effectiveness of these insecticides is often only 1-2 weeks, however, and the treatment may need to be repeated.
  • Tunnels that have already been excavated are best treated by puffing an insecticidal dust (e.g., 5 percent carbaryl) into the nest opening. Aerosol sprays labeled for wasp or bee control also are effective. (This was what we used.)
We choose to treat the area with pesticides.  You'll want to leave the treated hole open for two or three days to allow the insecticide to work and then fill the hole with a 3/8"dowel and repaint.  Yes, a 3/8" dowel will fit exactly.  Go figure!

Here are other posts about the battles with pests in my world:
How to Kill Ants in Your Home
How to Trap and Kill Fruit Flies

Linked to Between Naps on the Porch

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Monday, June 6, 2016

The Best Asian Dipping Sauce You'll Ever Taste

I predict this recipe for Asian dipping sauce will become a favorite of yours.  It is my go-to dipping sauce whenever we enjoy sushi or Chinese dumplings at our house.  If you are reading this post, you are most likely a sushi fan and if you are not, perhaps I can convince you to try it.  I know there are many people who either don't like or haven't tried sushi.  For the longest time, I was unwilling to try sushi myself.  The thought of eating anything containing raw fish was unthinkable.  That was until Hubby and I were vacationing at an Asian-themed hotel about ten years ago.  This hotel had a sushi restaurant that looked amazing.  We decided to try sushi and we're happy we did.

Sushi and Asian Dipping Sauce

We made sure to tell our server that we had never had sushi before and she helped us to choose a varied selection of sushi that she thought we would like.  It didn't take long for us to become adept at using chopsticks and we enjoyed the additional flavor from the wasabi, pickled ginger and dipping sauce.  We are now sushi fans and will often have it at home.  This dipping sauce is my personal Asian dipping sauce creation.
Chinese Dumplings

Asian Dipping Sauce
Printer Friendly Recipe

  • 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • Sliced scallion for garnish

At least one hour before serving, mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl.  Set aside on your counter to let the flavors combine.  Serve with your favorite sushi or Chinese dumplings.

You can easily make more or less of this Asian dipping sauce by remembering the 3-2-1 ratio of ingredients.  It is three parts soy sauce, two parts rice wine vinegar and one part sesame oil.  Then add as much ginger as you like.

Since that introduction to sushi several years ago, we have enjoyed sushi at home and in restaurants many times.  One of the things I love about sushi restaurants is the care taken in the presentation of the sushi.  So much pride is taken in plating sushi.  It is a feast for your eyes as well as your mouth!  When serving both sushi and Chinese dumplings at home I try to put as much care into my presentation as is done in a restaurant.  That's half the fun of the sushi experience.  This dipping sauce helps to make having sushi at home a treat.  I hope you'll love it!

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