Stuff and Nonsense: February 2017


Wordless Wednesday: Swears & Coloring

Promised myself I'd color more and swear less in 2017 ... not sure I'm doing it right ...


Improv Challenge: Chocolate & Chillies

It's Improv Challenge Cooking reveal day for February, and this month's theme let us all get really creative with chocolate and chillies (aka chilies or chiles). Yum! I immediately knew I wanted to make some kind of cookie so it was merely a matter of thinking and experimenting until I found the recipe that seemed perfect for the challenge.

These cookies are loosely based on the memories of a bite-size chocolate and chili shortbread cookie I ate last year, but I went big with soft palm-sized drop cookies. I want rich, almost fudge-y, dark chocolate goodness, with just a touch of heat and spice. Something that would pair perfectly with an ice cold glass of milk and leave you feeling like maybe you'd been a little bit naughty. I wanted to flirt with decadence without crossing the line into chocolate overload. I think I mostly succeeded with this.

Chopping chocolate is a recommended stress reliever

Dark Chocolate & Chili Cookies

Yield:About 4 dozen


  • 1¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • ¾ cup baking cocoa [King Arthur Flour Triple Chocolate Blend]
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chili chocolate, chopped [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chocolate, chopped [Lindt 85% Cocoa Excellence Bar]
  • Cinnamon sugar, if desired


  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cayenne, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chopped chocolate.
  2. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, depending on how gooey you like your cookies. Immediately sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if using.
  3. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Let cool completely before eating ... if you have the patience! (The warmer the cookie, the more fragile it will be so handle with care).
  4. Cooled cookies will keep in an airtight container

Don't be surprised if these are gone in a day

The Husband thought these tasted a bit like "Mexican" hot chocolate, because they're very dark with just a hint of heat and spice, and was happy to scarf them down with mugs of tea. However, if you would like a properly spicy cookie, feel free to double the amount of cayenne. Also, these are fairly soft and crumbly cookies. Brilliant to nosh on (very morish -- so if you have a weakness for cookies, be forewarned) but not suitable for dunking in a cup of tea.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.


Wordless Wednesday: Sweets for the Sweet

A sweet little strawberry mousse cake to celebrate Half-Price Chocolate Day ...


Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup w/ Turnips

My lovely, generous coworker gave me another meaty hambone and, of course, I immediately turned it into soup. The recipe follows the same structure as my previous slow cooker ham and split pea soup, but this time I added chopped turnip, changed the seasonings up a bit, and used just water. It was still a magnificent pea soup -- extremely flavorful and hearty (but never stodgy). Good at any mealtime, including breakfast.

Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup With Turnip

Yield: 6


  • 6 oz dried split peas
  • 8 oz dried whole peas
  • 4 oz chopped onion
  • 4 oz chopped carrots
  • 4 oz chopped celery
  • 6 oz chopped turnip
  • 1 tsp crushed dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp roasted garlic flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 meaty ham bone
  • Water, as needed
  • Salt & pepper, as desired


  1. Combine peas, onion, carrots, celery, turnip, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and bay in slow cooker insert. Nestle in ham bone and add water until the pea mixture is covered.
  2. Cover and cook on Low 8-10 hours or until peas are tender.
  3. Remove ham bone from slow cooker. Pull meat from bone, discarding bone and other inedible/undesirable bits. Stir ham into soup.
  4. Add more water to soup, if too thick. Season with salt and pepper, as desired, and serve.

I've only recently "discovered" turnips. Probably because I was so resistant to rutabaga for so long -- I just lumped them in together as dreadful root vegetables. But rutabagas and turnips turn out to be delicious. Like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, turnips are in the cruciferous vegetable family and are a great source of minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber while being very low calorie. One of my friends uses them as a potato-substitute, as she is allergic to potatoes, and I'm kind-of tempted to try ricing a few, like cauliflower, to see what that's like.


Wordless Wednesday: Postcards

Postcards to my senators & representatives -- part of the 10 Actions for the
First 100 Days
campaign. Because a woman's work is never done.


The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Princess Maya's birth was the death of her mother. Raised in a court that believes her curst by the stars and accordingly treats her poorly, at best, Maya's only dream has been to survive long enough in the royal harem to become a scholarly old maid, left alone to her own devices.

Then her father, the King, gets it in his head to marry his wholly unmarriageable, thoroughly star-curst daughter off to one of the neighboring countries (any one of the neighboring countries at that) to "forge peace." While Maya gets her pick of the eligible men, she still must chose one and then kill herself. For the good of all, you know. Great plan, Dad.

But then ... there's betrayal. And salvation. And the quickest marriage ceremony the world ever saw. And running. And magic tapestries. And locked doors. And ... so much happens that I can't tell you about because SPOILERS.

The Star-Touched Queen is Eros and Psyche, Bluebeard's Wife, Goblin Market, and a dozen other tales reforged into one darkly sparkling gem of a novel. A rich, vibrant book rife with flowery prose and secrets ... yum. Go. Read. It. (Yes, it's frequently shelved in YA, but it will please any adult lover of romantic fantasy).

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (St. Martin's Griffin, 2016)


Easy Chicken With Artichokes & Sun-dried Tomatoes

This is an easy dump-and-go end-of-the week dish for when you need to eat but don't necessarily feel like cooking. It's made up of pantry staples and takes less than 15 minutes to assemble and get in the oven. Leaving plenty of time to get on with reading James Essinger's extremely interesting Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age.

Baked Chicken Thighs With Artichokes & Sun-dried Tomatoes

Yield: Serves 3


  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 small red onion cut into eighths
  • 2 roasted peppers, drained and chopped
  • 8 oz baby artichokes, drained and halved
  • 1 Tbsp capers, drained & rinsed
  • 8 oil-packed sun-dried tomato halves
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly brush a baking dish with a little olive oil.
  2. Combine all ingredients in the baking dish.
  3. Bake 25 minutes, uncovered, or until chicken reaches 165°F.