Chocolate Strawberry Italian Love Cake

I’m the worst food blogger ever. You know why? I totally forget to take pictures of the process sometimes. I get so focused and involved in cooking or baking that I completely forget to pick up my phone and capture the moment. It really shouldn’t matter so much but in order to make Google happy, I need to post lots of pictures and lots of words. I guess I’ll just have to be rebellious this time because this is what I got…

But really…do you need anything else? Look at this beauty! My Chocolate Strawberry Italian Love Cake is just as delicious as it is beautiful. I have been making it without the strawberries for years and now I can’t live without this new version.

What is Italian Love Cake? The origin is a bit of a mystery according to my research so this is what I think: The ricotta makes it “Italian” and when you taste this cake for the first time, it will be love at first bite. Sounds like a good story to me!

When my kids were younger, they loved watching this cake bake in the oven. The ricotta layer swaps with the cake batter and it’s like magic the way they both end up separated. Make sure to turn the oven light on and watch!

I love the addition of the strawberries to the ricotta so much! They add a touch of tart and sweet that really enhances the flavor. Now, if you aren’t a fan of ricotta this might not be for you. I’m just being honest! I love the texture but my ricotta hating daughter wasn’t sold. For the cake layer you know I love a dessert that uses a box cake! You can use any flavor chocolate you like but I prefer the “double fudge” kind. The whipped “mock mousse” layer is divine! Just 2 ingredients are transformed into the most delicious, fluffy, perfectly sweet chocolate mousse. I think it might be my new “go to” frosting for chocolate cakes!

Valentine’s Day is just a few days away and I can’t think of a more perfect dessert! Chocolate and strawberries are a classic combo for the holiday and this dessert is a delicious new spin that is sure to make any occasion special.

Sponsored post for Lee’s Marketplace. Items on sale the week of February 11-17: chocolate cake mix, ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar, vegetable oil

Chocolate Strawberry Italian Love Cake

Ingredients

1 box chocolate cake mix (plus eggs, oil, water to prepare)
32 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
¾ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1 pint strawberries, hulled and diced
1 (5.9 oz) box instant chocolate pudding mix (large box)
3 cups heavy whipping cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare cake mix as directed on box. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 baking dish. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combing ricotta, sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Blend well. (A stand mixer with paddle works best) Fold in the strawberries. Pour and spread mixture carefully and evenly over the cake batter.

Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes if using a glass dish. Add 15 minutes if using metal. Be careful not to overbake. It’s done when inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Using an electric mixer, blend heavy cream with pudding mix until combined and a thick mousse texture. Add more cream (or milk) if it gets too thick. Spread evenly over cake once it has completely cooled. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

Lemon Thyme Chicken & Potatoes

There’s just something about adding fresh herbs and lemon to chicken. It completely elevates the dish and transforms it into something that tastes special. Am I right? Well, guess what? My Lemon Thyme Chicken & Potatoes might taste fancy but it’s so simple to make!

Last weekend was cold and cloudy when I made this. It was the perfect dish to brighten my day! Served it with a side of asparagus and it felt like spring.

Simple, bright, flavorful ingredients.

I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts for this because that’s what is on sale at Lee’s this week but you could definitely switch those out with bone-in skin-on breasts or even chicken thighs. You can still get a great sear on skinless though! Just make sure your heat is almost all the way high and leave them alone for 4-5 minutes per side. You can also pound the breasts thin so that cooking time is faster. I was in a hurry so I left mine as is. Turned out great, though, thanks to an internal meat thermometer!

Look at that sear!

Do you use Better than Bouillon? If not, get some! I hardly ever use canned broth anymore because the flavor doesn’t come close to what this can do. I keep the chicken and beef flavors in the fridge at all times. I love the richness and depth of flavor that it adds!

I love that this came together in 30 minutes and my kids devoured it. I also love that it works wonderfully for a “dine-in” Valentine’s dinner. I always cook a “fancy” dinner for my family on Valentine’s Day and this would be so perfect!

Sponsored post for Lee’s Marketplace. Items on sale the week of February 4-10: chicken breasts, butter, and Dijon

One more close up! This is fun to make!

Lemon Thyme Chicken & Potatoes

Ingredients

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 lb potatoes, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lemons, halved
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon chicken base
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Cook potatoes in salted boiling water until tender, drain, set aside.
Add the juice of 2 lemons, chicken base, thyme, garlic, Dijon and water in a small bowl then whisk to combine and set aside. (Do not discard lemon halves)
Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet on high heat. Add chicken and sear for 4-5 minutes until brown and seared. Flip and brown other side.
Lower heat to medium-high then add liquid and reserved lemon halves to the skillet, cover, and continue cooking until internal temperature of chicken is 165°. Flip chicken over halfway through cooking to keep covered in sauce and moist.
Remove lid then add 2 tablespoons of butter and allow to melt into the sauce. Remove chicken and place on platter. Add potatoes to the pan and toss. Pour over chicken, sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper, and serve immediately.
Notes:
1. Bone-in, skin on chicken breasts or chicken thighs would also work great in this dish.
2. Use a meat thermometer to ensure perfectly cooked chicken.
3. Red potatoes or Yukon Golds are recommended.

BBQ Chicken & Caramelized Onion Sliders

Are you ready for the big game this weekend? If you’re still trying to decided what to make (because it’s all about the food right?) then look no further! My BBQ Chicken & Caramelized Onion Sliders are kind of amazing if I do say so. My husband always replies with “But you should say so!” Ha! He’s the best and really missing my food right now since he’s deployed overseas. I will definitely be putting these on the list of my new recipes to make for him when he gets home.

I made these yesterday on ABC4’s Good Things Utah and it was such a fun segment. I know I say that every time but I seriously love being there and love everyone there-the adorable receptionist, the camera crew, the interns, the producers, and the hosts. I can’t say enough about the good vibes and fun that is had in that studio! Watch my segment here!

Love cooking with Nicea!

Caramelized onions are a labor of love but very easy! You just have to be patient and give plenty of time because you just can’t rush the process. Check the recipe notes for tips! Also, you can use whatever BBQ seasoning that you’d like but I have tried two and the Traeger Chicken seasoning is the best. Adds a ton of flavor!

I will fully admit that I got the worst pictures yesterday of these sliders so bear with me. I am trying to be better at getting pictures of the process and not just the final product so here are a few that I had to screen shot from my video.

Hold the top with your hand and slice the King’s Hawaiian Rolls across horizontally.
Look at all those sweet, rich caramelized onions!
Lots of cheese is always a good idea!

These sliders are great for parties but would also work for a busy weeknight meal. Get the kids in the kitchen to help assemble them because they are so fun to make. As always, if you make them please give me a comment below and let me know what you think!

One more just because I love these ladies so much!

BBQ Chicken & Caramelized Onion Sliders

  • Servings: 18 sliders
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Ingredients

3 large yellow onions, sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
18 pack King’s Hawaiian rolls
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon BBQ seasoning
8 large slices cheddar or pepper jack cheese (7-8 oz)
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted

Directions

Heat a large nonstick skillet to medium-low heat. Add olive oil and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until very soft and brown.

Preheat oven to 375.

Break rolls in half so that there are two sections of 9 rolls. While keeping rolls connected, slice each section in half horizontally using a large serrated knife. Place bottoms of rolls in a 9×13 pan.

Place chicken in a bowl and add 2 tablespoons of BBQ seasoning. Toss to combine. Spread evenly over rolls in the pan. Drizzle 1/2 cup BBQ sauce over the chicken. Next, add caramelized onions evenly across the top. Add cheese slices then place tops of rolls on.

Add 1 teaspoon BBQ seasoning to the melted butter and stir. Brush tops of rolls with butter mixture. Cover loosely with foil and place in oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 5-10 more minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Notes:
1. Be patient with the onions! It takes a while but is totally worth it.
2. If onions start to get dry, add about 1 tablespoon of water to the pan.
3. Add a teaspoon of sugar to the onions to speed up the process.

Muffaletta Pinwheels

I’m imagining that part of you are excited right now because you’ve had a muffaletta sandwich and love them. The rest of you are thinking “muffa-WHAT???” Ha! If you are the latter, let me explain. Muffaletta sandwiches are a New Orleans staple and are made on a special round Italian bread and filled with a variety of meats like salami and ham. They also include cheese and a tangy olive salad which is definitely my favorite part.

I was raised in a small town in East Texas called Livingston. It is only 1 1/2 hours from the Louisiana border so I grew up with a lot of Cajun food. I grew up eating crawfish etouffee, boudin, gumbo, jambalaya, etc and still love it so much. The “fancy” restaurant in my hometown is still there and called Shrimp Boat Manny’s and they’re famous for their delicious Cajun seafood. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

To have a muffaletta sandwich is to love it and since I can’t transport myself to New Orleans anytime soon, I created these Muffaletta Pinwheels. They include all the flavors of the classic sandwich but rolled into the perfect appetizer. They will take you right to New Orleans!

The olive cream cheese mixture is my favorite part! Giardiniera mix is basically pickled vegetables and usually includes cauliflower, carrots, pearl onions, red peppers, and celery. Peperoncinis are always in my fridge because we put them on everything-sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, you name it. Both ingredients can be found near the pickles and olives in grocery stores.

The process is pretty easy! Make the olive cream cheese mixture then layer the meats and cheeses on. Don’t be scared to roll it all up! It can be a little messy but that’s ok. Refrigerating the rolls before slicing helps them to firm up a little and makes them easier to cut.

My Muffaletta Pinwheels are the perfect dish to bring to your Super Bowl parties this weekend! This recipes makes A LOT but you will leave with an empty tray. I tried them out on my teacher friends and took the giant tray pictured below. They loved them and some are patiently waiting for this blog post so they can have the recipe!

This is a huge tray and the pinwheels are double stacked!

This is a sponsored post for my favorite grocery store, Lee’s Marketplace. If you make this recipe please comment here and let me know what you think! A share on social media tagging Lee’s and I would be amazing too!
Items on sale at Lee’s the week of Jan 28-Feb 3: ALL OF THEM! YAY!

Muffaletta Pinwheels

  • Servings: About 50 Pinwheels
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Ingredients

5 large “burrito sized” flour tortillas
2 packages cream cheese (8 oz each), softened
1 cup giardiniera mix, drained and finely chopped
½ cup peperoncinis, drained and chopped
1/3 cup black olives, chopped
1/3 cup green olives, chopped
10 oz Genoa salami, thinly sliced
10 oz deli ham, thinly sliced
10 oz mozzarella, thinly sliced
10 oz provolone, thinly sliced

Directions

In a medium-sized bowl, mix cream cheese, giardiniera, peperoncinis, and olives together. Place tortilla on a flat surface. Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture on, leaving a ½ inch border. Place one layer each of salami, ham, mozzarella, and provolone on top. Add another, even thinner, layer of cream cheese over the top. Carefully but tightly roll tortilla up. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap then repeat with remaining tortillas and fillings. Refrigerate rolls for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Slice into 1 inch pieces and serve.

Notes: Giardiniera mix and peperocinis can be found near the pickles and olives in most grocery stores. Use mortadella ham for more authentic muffaletta flavor.

Italian Mac N Cheese

I am pulling a recipe out of the vault of my family’s favorite recipes this week! I wrote this down watching a Food Network show 10+ years ago and have been making it ever since. Yes I wrote it down and didn’t print it! I think it was a Rachael Ray recipe but I’m not sure so thank you to whoever shared it first! I have tweaked it slightly over the years but didn’t change much because it’s pretty perfect. You just can’t go wrong with a homemade Italian cheese sauce, Italian sausage, buttery garlic mushrooms, and the tomatoes that brighten it all up!

Italian Mac N Cheese is a 30 minute meal that tastes like you worked for hours. If you want the process to move quickly, my biggest piece of advice is to prep everything ahead of time. Measure out the broth and cream, chop the mushrooms, mince the garlic, etc. While you’re prepping, start boiling your water too. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the less stressed you’ll be when you’re cooking. This dish is really fun to make!

Always salt your pasta water generously! Adds so much flavor!

I prefer to use crimini or baby bella mushrooms in this over button mushrooms because they have more flavor. Side note, my kids HATE mushrooms but still love this dish. They are easy to pick out!

Have you ever made a roux? Knowing how to make one is such a useful cooking skill because you’ll be able to make the most delicious homemade sauces and gravy. You do have to make one in the dish but it is so easy! It’s basically flour and fat cooked together to thicken a sauce. In this case, the fat is the butter and olive oil that the mushrooms are cooked in. Just sprinkle the flour on, cook for a minute or two, then add the liquid.

This is one of those dishes that will impress dinner guests because they’ll think you’ve been cooking all day. I have made it countless times over the years for company and everyone loves it. Because it’s a 30 minute meal, it is also great for busy week nights. It makes a lot too and makes great leftovers (if you don’t devour it all)! This is a win-win kind of meal!

Fresh out of the oven. Hard to tell but that’s a huge 12-inch skillet!

Sponsored post for Lee’s Marketplace. Items on sale at Lee’s the week of Jan 21-27: penne, Italian sausage, olive oil, butter, flour, chicken broth, Italian cheese blend, Parmesan, diced tomatoes

Italian Mac N Cheese

Ingredients

1 lb. penne pasta
1 lb. mild Italian sausage (bulk not links)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz package crimini or button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend, divided
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions. Preheat broiler.

Heat a large non-stick skillet (broiler safe) to medium-high heat. Cook and crumble sausage until brown then drain and set aside. Add olive oil and butter to the pan then add garlic and mushrooms. Sauté for a few minutes or until mushrooms are brown and soft.

Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir to make a roux. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the chicken stock and heavy cream. Bring to a low boil then stir in ¾ of the cheese blend. When the cheese melts, add tomatoes, salt, and pepper then stir. Bring to a boil then add pasta and sausage. Stir until everything is well combined.

Turn off heat and sprinkle remaining cheese blend and parmesan over the top. Place skillet in oven under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: If you do not have a broiler safe skillet, just transfer the pasta mixture to a baking dish. Sprinkle on cheeses and place under broiler.

Korean Beef & Veggie Bowls

Happy New Year! This is my first post of 2020 and I’m so excited to share it with y’all. I have so many delicious recipes and foodie projects planned this year and I feel it in my bones that this year is going to be amazing!

A few weeks ago I asked my awesome followers on Instagram what kind of recipes that they were looking for now that the holidays are over. 99% of the responses were “quick, easy, and healthy.” Surprise, surprise. Ha! I am definitely known for my cheesy, indulgent, Tex-Mex recipes but I also have quite a few healthy ones. I love to balance comfort food with healthy! My philosophy on healthy recipes is that they must still have big, bold flavors. Taste should never be sacrificed for a healthy meal because it doesn’t have to!

The first recipe that came to mind was this one. My Korean Beef & Veggie Bowls are so flavorful and so delicious that you’ll be putting it on your regular dinner rotation. Now, don’t @ me because of the sugar! Ha! “Healthy” is a relative term because everyone is on a different eating plan these days. Sugar to some is a huge “no no” but for me, if it’s full of veggies and has healthy, lean protein, then I’m sold! You could definitely experiment with sugar alternatives and use even leaner meats like ground turkey or chicken.

“Easy” was another big request and this one definitely checks that box. I had my veggies chopped and dinner served in 30 minutes! My kids loved it! You could also double the recipe and use it for meal prep for the week. I love how versatile this is!

This is a sponsored post for Lee’s Marketplace. Items on sale the week of January 14-20: ground beef, bell pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice

Korean Beef & Veggie Bowls

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil (or other light oil)
2 cups zucchini, sliced
1 cup carrot, sliced into matchsticks
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 bunch green onions, sliced and divided
1 lb lean ground beef
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons sesame oil
2-3 tablespoons Gochujang sauce
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups cooked white or brown rice
Sriracha sauce (optional)

Directions

Heat a large non-stick skillet to medium-high. Add olive oil then add zucchini, carrot, bell pepper, and about ¾ of the green onions. Sauté until vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes.

Push vegetables to the side of the pan and add ground beef. Cook and crumble then stir into the vegetables. Drain grease if needed (use lean meat so you don’t have to).

To the pan, add brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, Gochujang, ginger, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine, reduce heat to medium, and let cook for 5-10 more minutes.

Serve on top of rice and garnish with remaining green onions and sriracha sauce.

Note: Gochujang can be found in the Asian section of most grocery stores. Don’t leave it out! It’s worth the buy and adds amazing flavor.