Refreshing Tomato Salad

Let me say right off the bat that if you don’t like the taste of mint you can leave it out to this salad. My friend Doll does not like anything with mint so before she makes the “ewww” sound after reading the recipe I want her and all mint haters to know the mint is optional. Doll claims to be a southern girl but how can she really be southern if she doesn’t like the taste of mint. Come on! Mint julpes are a southern staple. At least where my family comes from and they are southern.

Hubby and I both like the flavor of mint in salads. I think it adds a refreshing taste to quite a few dishes. My favorite ice cream is mint chocolate chip and I love an ice cold peppermint patty. The creation of my Refreshing Tomato Salad was my welcome spring and summer gift to the family. It is packed with olives, feta cheese, cucumbers, artichokes and of course Tomatoes!

I was fortunate this year to have a good crop of tomatoes so I was able to add our homegrown tomatoes to this salad. I have not tried growing cucumbers yet but maybe next year I will. I prefer English cucumbers because regular cucumbers have too many hard seeds. But, that is just my preference. Use whatever type of cucumber you like or have handy.

During these last days of summer I have been making this recipe a little more frequently. It is always sad to see the warm weather turn a little cooler because it means the end of short sleeves, sandals and shorts. I for one will miss the warm days but I also look forward to the beauty of fall weather. Good thing for me my Refreshing Tomato Salad is delicious no matter what the weather may be.

Refreshing Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

4 – 6 small tomatoes large dice cut

1 English cucumber diced

1 jar marinated artichokes drained and slightly chopped

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

½ cup Italian black olives

¼ cup olive oil

juice from ½ lemon

½ tbsp red onion diced small

½ tsp chopped fresh mint (optional)

½ tsp dried dill

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to marry. Remove from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Serve as a side dish or add a little bow tie pasta to make it a meal.

 

 

 

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Roasted Tomatoes and Artichokes Pizza

Roasted Tomatoes and Artichokes Pizza

Homemade pizzas don’t have to be boring. By boring, I mean using only the basics like pizza sauce, cheese and pepperoni. I have nothing against a basic pizza. But, when I make pizzas at home I like to pair different veggies or add chicken or prosciutto instead of pepperoni. I also substitute pesto for the pizza sauce.

One of my favorite homemade pizzas is Roasted Tomatoes and Artichokes Pizza. Roasting the tomatoes brings out the natural sweetness of the fruit. Yes, tomatoes are classified as a fruit not a vegetable. Of course, there is an ongoing debate about that but it really doesn’t matter. All I know is that freshly roasted tomatoes are delicious. Combining the artichokes with the roasted tomatoes just increases the deliciousness of the pizza. I have tried different types of tomatoes in this recipe and depending on the tomato the flavor is slightly different.

Ultimately, I prefer using Caperelli tomatoes but I also enjoy Roma tomatoes on this pizza. Hot house or beefsteak tomatoes don’t fair well with this recipe but in a pinch use whatever you have available.

Like all pizzas this one is versatile. Add roasted chicken for protein or even pepperoni if you feel a pizza isn’t really a pizza without it. For my vegetarian friends, I think you will want to add my Roasted Tomatoes and Artichoke pizza to your list of homemade pizza ideas.

Roasted Tomatoes and Artichokes Pizza

Ingredients:

2 containers Caperelli tomatoes quartered

1 jar marinaded artichokes

1 small red onion sliced thin

1pkg ready made pizza crust (Trader Joe’s)

1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese shredded

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp basil or tomato pesto (optional)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

¼ tsp onion powder

cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spray rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Place tomatoes, artichokes and red onions on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, black pepper and onion powder. Gently toss to coat veggies with olive oil and seasonings. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until veggies are roasted. Remove from the oven and let cool for 3 – 5 minutes.

Pre Pizza Crust:

Place pizza crust ona baking sheet and spread crust with pesto. Sprinkle a little cheese over the pesto. Spread roasted tomatoes, artichokes and red onions over the cheese then sprinkle with remaining cheese, dried oregano and red pepper flakes. Place in the oven and bake until cheese melts and turns slightly golden brown (approximately 5 minutes).

Remove from the oven and let cool for 1 minute then slice.

 

 

 

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Turkish Lamb Neckbones

Neck bones are a Southern delicacy. There are beef neck bones, pork neck bones and as I recently discovered, lamb neck bones. Beef and pork neck bone recipes are pretty basic. I smother them in onions with a lot of good seasonings and chicken broth. Then I use the strained neck bone broth to flavor some white rice. Add some collard greens or steamed cabbage and you have heaven on a plate.

Lamb Neck Bones are not really Southern or at least not in my mind. When I picked up a couple of packs of lamb neck bones my mind landed on creating a Greek or Turkish recipe. Hence, my Turkish Lamb Neck Bones.

I wish I could say I have experience in making Turkish cuisines but I don’t. So, to make my job easy I bought a package of Turkish marinade to help my recipe along. The marinade was fragrant with the scent of cumin, garlic and tomatoes. These seasonings were deeply infused into the lamb which made it extra flavorful and the meat was very tender from the marinade.

My Turkish Lamb Neck Bones may not have been southern but they were still heaven on a plate. If you ever run across lamb neck bones or feel bold enough to ask you butcher if he has any, you should try this recipe. You will be pleasantly surprised at how delicious it is and how easy it is to make.

Turkish Lamb Neck Bones

Ingredients:

2 pkgs lamb neck bones

4 carrots peeled and cut into large slices

½ large onion peeled and sliced

½ lemon cut into quarters

½ jalapeno pepper sliced

1 pkg Turkish marinade

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup water

1 tbsp salt

½ tbsp ground black pepper

½ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp cayenne

Wash lamb neck bones. Place neck bones in a large bowl and season with salt, black pepper, onion powder and cayenne pepper. Toss to coat with seasoning. Pour marinade over the lamb then place meat in a large plastic zip lock bag and lock. Massage the marinade into the meat. Place in the refrigerator overnight or at least 4 hours. Remove from the plastic bag and place in a large pot with water, chicken broth, marinade, onion slices, lemon and jalapeno peppers. Cook lamb over medium heat for 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally and add more liquid if necessary.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove lamb neck bones from pot and place in a large casserole dish. Top with carrot slices and cover. Cook for 20 – 25 minutes until the carrots are tender. Serve with steamed cabbage or sauteed sweet potatoes.

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Mustard Baby Back Ribs

Growing up with southern influences while living in the northeast region has been quite interesting to me. I embrace my southern roots but not all of the delicacies enjoyed by my southern brethren. For instance, my mom is a true southern chef and would prepare things like pig feet, chitterlings, pork ribs, muskrat, fried chicken livers or chicken gizzards smothered in onions and gravy with rice. Don’t ask about the muskrat which is really called musk rabbit. It smelled good but is one food I refused to eat. I preferred cereal or lunch meat sandwiches on muskrat dinner night.

Although I ate the other dishes growing up, I can say the thought of eating pig feet, chitterlings or chicken livers makes my stomach churn a little and my head ache. Back then you ate whatever was served (except muskrat) just because your mama made it. Now, I have total control over what I eat and it does not include anything that makes me frown when I look at it. The one thing I do like that my mom prepared in my younger days is ribs!

Mustard Baby Back Ribs is a slight twist on the ribs my mom made for every family BBQ. Everyone loved my mom’s ribs because they were smoky and tender plus she made her own BBQ sauce which had a tangy mustard and vinegar flavor. Once you tasted her sauce you were hooked. Even my neighbors started asking if Mrs. T could make them a batch of sauce after they tasted it at one of our backyard BBQs.

Okay, back to the Mustard Baby Back Ribs. A few weeks ago, I had a taste for baby back ribs but I did not have any of my mom’s sauce on hand so I had to think outside of the box to get the flavors I wanted. I decided to place the ribs in a mustard marinade to mimic the nice tangy flavor of my mom’s BBQ sauce. I think my idea worked beautifully and by the number of clean bones left on the family’s plates they thought it was a good idea too.

Mustard Baby Back Ribs

Ingredients:

2 packages baby back ribs

½ onion sliced thin

4 tbsp spicy brown mustard

1 ½ tbsp salt

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

½ tbsp black ground pepper

½ tbsp lemon pepper

½ tbsp chili powder

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp garlic powder

Place baby back ribs in a large bowl. Add seasonings, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Mix thoroughly to coat ribs with seasonings and mustard. Place in a plastic zip lock bag and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray cooking spray on the bottom of a baking dish then line it with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray then spread sliced onions on the bottom of the baking dish. Season with a little salt. Remove ribs from plastic bag and place in a single layer over the onions. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes then cover with foil and bake another 30 minutes. Remove the ribs from the oven and top with your favorite BBQ sauce. Place ribs back into the oven uncovered and bake an additional 30 minutes.

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Honey Dijon Baked Chicken

If you have used Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing and Marinade as a marinade for chicken you won’t be surprised at how tasty their Honey Dijon Vinaigrette works as a marinade too. This new Gazebo Room product lives up to their signature Greek salad dressing. I was inspired to use this dressing as a marinade because I enjoy the taste of honey and mustard. I don’t usually tell on myself but I must say the flavors were so good on the chicken that I wanted to take my time and pick every morsel of meat off the bone. Of course, I added other seasonings to the chicken but the flavors from the dressing were prominent.

I tried this recipe while my youngest son was home from college. He declared he was trying to eat healthier and didn’t want to eat red meat. Since he was game I was game for giving up pork chops and ribs for a while. This meant I had to add even more chicken and fish to our diets. No one would miss the steaks we ate a few times a year. Now my biggest problem was coming up with even more ways to prepare chicken so it would not be boring. T is not a fan of baked chicken but I had run out of ideas for my usual chicken recipe rotation. So, I took the chance of marinating chicken legs in the Gazebo Room dressing then baking them. Hence, my Honey Dijon Baked Chicken recipe. I figured the Honey Dijon Vinaigrette would kick the flavors up a notch and he would not notice the chicken was baked. I was right! T never mentioned or grumbled that we were having baked chicken. All I heard was the smacking of lips and saw naked chicken bones on his plate.

Chalk one up for Gazebo Room and chalk one up for me!

Honey Dijon Baked Chicken

Ingredients:

6 – 8 chicken legs and thighs

½ cup Gazebo Room Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

½ stick butter

½ medium onion sliced thin

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp olive oil

½ tsp ground black pepper

½ poultry seasoning

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees when ready to bake.

Place chicken in a large bowl and sprinkle seasonings over chicken. Pour dressing over chicken and toss to coat. Place chicken into a plastic bag then place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Remove from bag and add single layer to a baking dish. Melt butter and pour over chicken. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour until chicken is browned and cooked all the way through.

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Spicy Taco Chicken Bowl

The “new” craze right now is creating recipes and putting the dish in bowls. At first, I wasn’t really into the bowl idea but it didn’t take long for me to realize I kinda liked the idea. Placing breakfast, lunch or dinner in a bowl helped to cut down on the amount of food we actually ate. I put less in a bowl compared to  how much I put on a plate.

One of my first bowl adventures was my Asian Bowl with Lollipop Lamb Chops. Not to brag too much but that recipe was a big hit with hubby. Now, he has another favorite. My Spicy Taco Chicken Bowl. This recipe was a little spicy with various textures and flavors that complimented each other. Although there are several components to the recipe, I think it is a very simple dish. Shredded spicy taco flavored chicken, crispy yellow rice, seasoned black beans and a mix of avocado and tomatoes. The hardest thing about this recipe is the wait time. Yeah, this one isn’t quick to make only because the chicken has to bake. While the chicken bakes about an hour all of the other pieces can easily be pulled together.

Even I couldn’t complain about having chicken again. Plus, I didn’t take the easy way out and make wingettes. Instead, I opted for chicken legs because they are meaty and you don’t have to take a long time to clean them like chicken thighs. Granted, I think chicken thigh meat is sweeter than chicken leg meat but it takes work to get thighs ready for cooking. Maybe the next time I make a Spicy Taco Chicken Bowl I’ll build in extra time and try it with chicken thighs. Whichever chicken part you choose (legs vs. thighs), I am confident you will enjoy my Spicy Taco Chicken Bowl. Healthy, Easy and Delicious!

Spicy Taco Chicken Bowl

Ingredients:

6 – 8 chicken legs washed

2 plum tomatoes diced

2 scallions diced

2 slices bacon diced

1 can black beans rinsed

1 avocado diced

1 pkg hot and spicy taco seasoning

½ stick butter melted

1 ½ cup water

1 ½ cup chicken broth

1 ½ cups white rice

1 ½ tbsp salt

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

½ tbsp ground black pepper

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cilantro

½ tsp dried parsley

½ tsp onion powder

½ tsp Chile powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place chicken in a large bowl. Season with 1 tbsp salt, black pepper, Chile powder and all but 1 tsp hot and spicy taco seasoning. Add melted butter and mix until chicken is well coated. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray then place chicken in one layer in the baking dish. Bake for 1 hour until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes then pull meat off the bone into chunks. Place chicken in a medium size skillet with ¼ chicken stock and remaining taco seasoning. Stir and let simmer for 5 minutes.

While chicken is cooking prepare the following:

Rice:

Rinse rice with cold water to remove some of the starch. Place in a microwaveable casserole dish with a pinch salt, turmeric, water and chicken broth. Place in microwave uncovered for 21 minutes until cooked. Remove from microwave and fluff up rice with a fork. Let cool for about 10 – 15 minutes. While rice is cooling cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp over medium high heat. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels. Reduce heat to medium high and add rice and scallions to the bacon grease breaking up any clumps of rice. Let rice crisp up for about 3 minutes then stir and flip to crisp up the other side. Cook for an additional 3 minutes then toss in bacon and mix in thoroughly. Cook another 2 minutes then remove from heat.

Prepare Tomato and Avocado:

Place diced tomatoes and avocado in a medium sized bowl. Season with a little salt, ground black pepper, parsley and lemon juice. Gently toss with a spoon. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator.

Black Beans:

Place black beans in a small pot and add a little chicken broth. Season with salt, pepper, cilantro and onion powder. Cook over medium heat for 3 – 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Bowl Setup:

Place crispy yellow rice in the bottom of an individual bowl. Add chicken to one side of the bowl then add the black beans along with tomato and avocado mix. Enjoy!

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Zucchini, Tomato and Sweet Potato Gratin

Eating with your eyes is just as important as tasting with your tongue. I know I have mentioned this in the past but it is worth mentioning again. If you are going to prepare a dish for family, friends or yourself, you want it to look appealing. Combining different colors is an easy way to create visual beauty with food. This recipe is a nice blend of green, red and orange. Layering the vegetables in a circular pattern also made this a very attractive dish.

Gratins originated in French cuisine and has been adopted in many other culinary cuisines. I wasn’t sure exactly what gratin was until I saw one made on a cooking show. On this particular show the chef made potato au gratin which was gorgeous because of the crispy brown topping. Turns out a gratin is considered the technique of topping a dish with breadcrumbs or grated cheese then browning it.

While most of the gratin recipes I have seen are made with sliced white potatoes I wanted to think outside the box and combine potatoes with other vegetables. Plus, I wanted to make the dish pop with color. Hence, my Zucchini, Tomato and Sweet Potato Gratin. A ring of beauty and a delightful dish.

Zucchini, Tomato and Sweet Potato Gratin

Ingredients:

2 plum or vine ripe tomatoes sliced

1 large zucchini sliced

1 large sweet potato peeled and sliced

½ red onion sliced

½ cup shredded Parmesan or mozzarella cheese

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp minced garlic

1 tbsp salt

½ tbsp ground black pepper

½ tsp dried thyme

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Coat bottom of a large iron skillet with 1 tbsp olive oil.  Add minced garlic and spread around the skillet. Alternate slices of zucchini, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes in a circular pattern around the iron skillet. Place red onion slices over the other veggies then season with salt, ground black pepper and thyme. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Place on the lower shelf of the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Move to top rack and back for 20 – 25 minutes more. Test potatoes with a knife to make sure they are cooked and soft.

 

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Asian Bowl with Lollipop Lamb Chops

Recently, I received a wonderful surprise in the mail. New bottles of Gazebo Room Salad Dressing and Marinade. I immediately started thinking about the kinds of recipes I could create that incorporated the dressings. I didn’t want to just use them as a dressing on top of one of my regular salads. I wanted something new and exciting!

Bingo! I finally decided to make an Asian Bowl with Lollipop Lamb Chops. I topped the Asian bowl with Gazebo Room Asian Vinaigrette Salad Dressing and Marinade. Yes, that is a mouthful to say and a delicious mouthful to taste. If you like tangy salad dressings, I think you will like this Asian dressing. I just would not put a lot of this dressing on a salad. A little goes a long way with this dressing because it is so flavorful.

Now back to my Asian Bowl with Lollipop Lamb Chops. In my mind, this is a very simple dish to make and the Asian bowl is both colorful and nutritious. I kept it simple by combining just a few veggies, thin lo mein noodles and of course the lamb chops. I have to admit I developed this recipe based on the lamb chops. As I usually do on the weekends, I was perusing the meat aisle looking for something other than chicken. Remember, I have nothing against chicken. We just eat it often so I try to break up the week with another meat if possible so that we don’t grow feathers. I spied a lone package of lollipop lamb chops among the packages of bigger lamb chops and grabbed them before anyone else could. It is rare for me to find these little jewels so I was quite happy with this trip to the grocery store.

When I pulled the recipe together I wasn’t totally convinced hubby would be on board since I had never prepared a “bowl”. I wasn’t even sure he had heard of an Asian bowl but he surprised me and said “Sure, go for it”, which meant he was on board. Hubby did come into the kitchen a couple of times to see what I was doing and guided me on how he wanted me to “create” his bowl. Yeah, let’s just call him my assistant on this recipe. Anyway, we both enjoyed the final product. Hubby really enjoyed it because he ate the whole thing. Normally, he leaves a little food on his plate but not this time. All I saw were two chopsticks and lamb chop bones sitting at the bottom of his bowl. That is what I call a successful dish!

Asian Bowl with Lollipop Lamb Chops

Ingredients:

2 Roma tomatoes diced

2 scallions sliced

2 bunches romaine lettuce shredded or small Napa cabbage shredded

1 package (6 – 8) lollipop lamb chops

1 package thin lo mein noodles

1 small can water chestnuts drained

1 cup snow peas

1 cup shredded carrots

¼ cup crispy rice noodles

¼ cup Gazebo Room Asian Vinaigrette Salad Dressing and Marinade

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp minced fresh ginger

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp salt

½ tbsp black pepper

paprika

Season lamb chops with Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper and paprika. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a medium sized frying pan over medium high heat. Brown lamb chops on both sides approximately 3 – 5 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain.

Add snow peas, carrots and scallions to frying pan and saute until slightly softened but still has some crispness. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Build Salad:

Place lettuce in the bottom of the bowl. Arrange veggies around the bowl. Add lo mein noodles, water chestnuts and diced tomatoes. Place three lamb chops on one side of the bowl. Drizzle with dressing then sprinkle with rice noodles.

Enjoy!

 

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Coq Au Vin

My first experience of tasting French food was on a business trip to Massachusetts. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but I do remember the escargot one of my co-workers ordered and insisted I try. It was garlicky and a little rubbery but totally delicious. It was my first and last attempt at eating snails and although I enjoyed the taste, I did not like the texture. At this point, I could not tell you if that is the way snails are suppose to be when you cook them or if my experience was an exception. Like I said, the flavors were good but the snail did not make my mouth happy.

Fortunately, that experience did not turn me against French food. My next experience was much, much better. There are not many ways you can mess up a chicken so I ordered Coq Au Win at a nice little bistro hubby and I happened upon on one of our vacations. Now, we all know chicken can get a bit boring when you have it over and over again. Fried, baked, boiled. Ugh! Chicken can be so much more than fried, baked or boiled. Chicken can be dressed up as a stew with amazing flavors combined with mushrooms, onions and carrots. Yes, carrots. Coq Au Vin traditionally has potatoes instead of carrots. However, I chose to add carrots because I wanted to serve my Coq Au Vin with mashed potatoes. The gravy from the stew drizzled over the mashed potatoes was a delectable combination.

One more thing I changed in my recipe was the use of white wine instead of red wine. I like white wine better than red wine so I figured why not substitute the two wines. Some may say it’s not really Coq Au Vin if you don’t use red wine but don’t listen to them. Remember, make every recipe your own.

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs bone-in (remove excess fat)

4 large carrots peeled and sliced thick

3 slices bacon

2 green onions sliced

2 pkgs sliced cremini mushrooms

½ white onion thinly sliced

1 cup chicken broth

½ cup white wine or red wine

2 tsp butter

2 tsp flour

1 tsp thyme

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash chicken and pat dry. Season chicken with salt and pepper then set aside.

In a large oven proof skillet or dutch oven, fry 3 slices of bacon over medium high heat until crisp and fat is rendered. Remove bacon and leave drippings in the skillet. Add chicken to the skillet and brown on both sides. Place chicken on a plate and set aside.

Lower heat to medium then add mushrooms and white onions. Saute until slightly browned for approximately 7 – 10 minutes stirring frequently. Stir in flour and butter and cook for 1 minute. Again, stirring frequently. Add wine and stir to mix. Bring to a low boil and scrap brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Add thyme and a little more salt and pepper. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in broth then add carrots and chicken back to the pan along with drippings. Simmer for another 3 minutes. Cover skillet and place in oven for 30 to 45 minutes. Baste after 20 minutes. Enjoy with mashed potatoes, rice or wide noodles.

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Cherries and Shortbread Biscuits

Lately I have been fixated with the idea of making desserts using cherry pie filling. One of those desserts is Cherries and Shortbread Biscuits. I have fallen in “like” with the little shortbread biscuits I found at Trader Joe’s. I was looking for lady fingers but found these cute little biscuits. I am not a big bread eater but I can eat any kind of shortbread cookie, cake or biscuit.

Combining the shortbread biscuits and cherry pie filling came to me as I was thinking of the many desserts my mom makes. She is a wonderful baker and inspires me to improve my baking chops. As a kid, my favorite pie was cherry. I preferred cherry pies on my birthday instead of cake even if it was chocolate cake. If my choice for dessert is between pie and cake, I will choose pie every time unless the pie is mincemeat. Ugh! I will save that thought for another post.

Cherries and Shortbread Biscuits is my take on cherry pie. It is probably one of the easiest desserts I have every made because all you need are cherry pie filling, shortbread biscuits and a whipped topping. Consider this a versatile recipe. You can substitute peach filling, apple pie filling or macerated fruit. Be creative and try whatever makes you feel good. But at least try Cherries and Shortbread Biscuits. It definitely made me feel good.

 

 

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