The Cheesecake Challenge

Yesterday took me on a new baking adventure: cheesecake. I volunteered to bring dessert for Bible study, and I vowed to try something new. Here enters cheesecake. I needed a treat high school students were sure to eat, so I started brainstorming cheesecake flavors. I ruled out plain early on, considered chocolate, and ended on Reese’s. I am embarrassed to admit, but this is a Pinterest dessert if I’ve ever seen one.

The cheesecake preparation process was simpler than I expected. I’m not sure what I expected exactly, but apparently not that. I followed Taste and Tell’s recipe for the cheesecake and everything worked well. I made the cheesecake the night before and chilled it still in the springform pan with the sides on. Then, about two hours before serving I removed the sides and added chocolate topping from Oh My God Chocolate Desserts. I then put the cheesecake back in the fridge until serving it. I recommend doing this method because everything held together well.

Upon serving, the cheesecake was gone in under five minutes, so I guess it was hit! Many friends also saw the baking process and have requested I make it for them soon. All good signs. It did look pretty delicious. Let’s start with the Oreo crust, move to the chunks of Reese’s in the cheesecake and on top, and end with the dark chocolately topping. So… yum. Now I have cheesecake under my belt, and it’s on to the next challenge.


Fajita Spice Mix

I cook Mexican food in phases. I’ll make salsa and guac a few nights in a row, then Salsa Chicken the next night, and eventually I get around to mojitos (which I learned to make with fake sugar simple syrup and they are AWESOME–way better than they sound). Then I remember how much I enjoy cooking Mexican! It’s easy, healthy, and people generally like it.

I think the spice is best rubbed on chicken right before cooking. Making the spice blend ahead sets you up for a quick and easy dinner.

Fajita Spice

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp salt

Mix together all ingredients.

The Last Semester

Welcome to second semester senior year with Taylor. What does the welcome entail? Great question. First, I’m taking six credits, which means I have class exactly once a week on Monday night. That means I’ll have loads of time to cook, read for fun, work out, babysit, and pretty much do whatever comes up. I plan to devote a medium amount of time to school because with a part time class load I really should do well.

I completed all the credits I need to graduate last semester, so this spring I chose to take business classes. I figure more business knowledge can’t hurt. Since I’m still a student I continue living on campus with my best friends and all that, which makes me happy.

My cooking spree began over Christmas break when I served three course meals to my family. I had time and my parents’ food money, leaving no reason not to cook. Below is a list of a few recipes I found online, tried, and enjoyed.

Chili Soy Sauce Steamed Fish from Amazing Seafood Recipes

 Pan Seared Cauliflower Steaks from Love and Lemons

Chocolate Cake from Add a Pinch

For Christmas I got the best gift ever from my parents… A KITCHENAID MIXER! I still can’t believe it. The first time I asked for the mixer my dad said, “What are you, 45?” Thanks, Dad. Luckily he warmed up to the idea. I don’t think any other gift could make me happier. A new mixer most likely means more baking, so to my neighbors: stop by regularly.

Check back later this week for my new Fajita Spice recipe!

I used the Fajita Spice on chicken and topped with salsa last week

I used the Fajita Spice on chicken and topped with salsa last week


Raking Leaves and Creating Memories

Balsamic Mahi Mahi with Broccoli

I identify myself as unusual, and here’s why: I recently recognized raking leaves as a 2014 top fall memory. With the identification comes a story. A college friend and I spent our fall break at my house in Minnesota. My friend comes from Hawaii, where leaves don’t fall (weird!), so she had never before raked leaves. Shockingly, I found myself excited to head to the yard with my family and friend for her first leaf gathering experience, and even more shockingly, I enjoyed being out there. Thus, raking leaves is a fond memory. Afterwards the girls went for manicures and pedicures, perhaps favorably tainting my thoughts.

Fall is here, temperatures are dropping, and famers market season is wrapping up, so I’m making the most of the last fall vegetables: broccoli, onions, and parsley.

Balsamic Mahi Mahi with Broccoli

1/2 lb mahi mahi

2 medium heads broccoli

1/4 cup onion, roughly chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp parsley

Salt and pepper

Steam broccoli until still slightly firm, about 6 minutes. In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil on medium high. Place mahi mahi in skillet, season with parsley, salt, and pepper; and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn mahi mahi and add onion to skillet, sautéing until mahi mahi is cooked through and onion is translucent, 4-6 minutes. Turn heat to low, add broccoli, balsamic vinegar, and garnish with extra parsley. Stir to mix flavors and serve.

Caprese Chicken


This always happens after spring break. The end of the year comes so fast. Before I know it all my papers are due and I face finals week. This is a beautifully difficult place to be. I dread the busy end of the semester, but I look forward to summer.

Nevertheless, I have to eat, so I continue cooking. I added Caprese Chicken to my weeknight meal rotation, since total prep and cook time is only about 20 minutes.



Caprese Chicken

1/2 lb chicken breast or tenderloins

1 clove garlic

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, pulled to 1 inch balls

1/2 cup fresh basil, shredded

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dash of olive oil

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add chicken and garlic. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken until one side is brown, about 5 minutes. Turn chicken, and add tomatoes and basil. Continue cooking chicken, and stir tomatoes and basil occasionally. Just before removing skillet from heat (after about 14 minutes), place mozzarella on chicken, and let mozzarella melt. Serve, with tomato juices, if desired.

Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

Beet Salad

Beets! They turn my hands red every time, which consistently leads to questioning. They take forever, but my advice is this: let the beets cook as long they need. Don’t take them out early! Don’t do it! Serve the beets warm right away or chilled, but the vinaigrette tastes best at a cooler temperature.

Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

4 medium-sized beets

1/4 chopped pistachios

1 orange, zested and squeezed

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp honey

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off tops and roots from beets and remove skin using a vegetable peeler. Lightly toss with olive oil and place in foil on a baking sheet, using foil to cover beets. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until beets are tender. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and cut beets into bite size pieces. In a container with a lid, mix orange juice, orange zest, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Toss dressing with beets and top with pistachios.

Soba Noodles with Veggies


Please welcome back Meatless Monday! For years I occasionally prepared Meatless Monday meals, but I recently decided to try cutting out meat every Monday. I choose not to eat meat on Mondays primarily because it gives me an opportunity to try new ingredients. For some they are, but soba noodles are not in my usual rotation. I also enjoy choosing fresher foods that are high in nutrients.

I won’t post a meatless meal every Monday, but when I come up with a good one I will surely share.

I saw many recipes for soba noodles, but they are new to me. Soba noodles come from buckwheat flour and wheat flour and are about as thick as spaghetti. Still, I was careful to stray too far from my usuals, so I put Brussels sprouts with them.

Soba Noodles with Veggies

9 oz soba noodles

1 1/2 cups very thinly sliced Brussels sprouts

1/2 cups roughly chopped kale

4 cloves garlic

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

2 tbsp lime juice

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

fresh cracked pepper

parmesan cheese

Place soba noodles in boiling water and let simmer for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse, or cook according to package. In a sauté pan, heat vegetable oil and add garlic, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until Brussels sprouts are tender, about 6 minutes. Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and pepper to sauté and remove from heat. Add noodles to vegetable mixture, stirring to coat noodles in sauce. Serve topped with parmesan cheese.

Garlic Butter Shrimp


Readjustment is hard, even after only one week away. I get nightly urges to go sit in the backyard hot tub like I did every day last week. Alas, one cannot vacation forever. On the bright side, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated to jump back into normal life.

Spring break marks halfway through the semester, and two of my classes changed at the mid-semester break. I just completed Global Journalism and Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation, and I added Public Health and Nutrition. I’m sad to move away from communication classes, but I am interested in health and nutrition.

As promised, this is my recipe for Garlic Butter Shrimp. It’s definitely a weeknight meal: ridiculously easy and tasty. You probably even have the ingredients on hand.


Garlic Butter Shrimp

1 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled

5 tbsp unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup onion

1/2 tsp chili powder

Melt butter in skillet, add chopped onion and minced garlic and sauté until onion begins to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Add shrimp and chili powder and cook until shrimp is no longer translucent, about another 4 minutes. Serve shrimp with remaining butter sauce in skillet.

Non-European Food Blog

It feels official; I’m back in the United States, at least for a while. Although the days of Europe frolicking tales have passed, I hope to keep Brown Eyes and a Smile active as I continue my journey in Chicago, even if it looks a little different. I hope to share some of my favorite recipes and restaurants with you, if you’re up for it. I might have fewer exotic photos to show, but I promise to continue eating well in my American life. I hope you’re up for the journey with me!