Becky, an old friend from high school came across a recipe for a Mexican spiced chocolate cupcake a few weeks ago, and passed the recipe along to me. I couldn’t wait to try them! A heavy dose of delicious spices are added to the batter to make them sing of spice. It’s funny how spice can be like that, isn’t it? Spicy doesn’t necessarily mean hot!

Ancho chile powder for a punch of smoke, cayenne pepper for a little bit of heat, and of course cinnamon to round everything out and kick the spice factor into the next stratosphere. These cupcakes were very different, but very well received. The first and foremost thing you taste is definitely the cinnamon – but the other additions are there, simmering on the back burner. The original recipe called for a ganache topping, but I opted for a buttercream instead, and loved the outcome!

If you have a hard time finding ancho chile powder, do what I do – and just grind your own. Dried peppers are a great thing to have on hand in your pantry. A ton of flavor, and they never go bad! If you’re looking for something different, try these cupcakes – they won’t disappoint!

Have you ever had homemade pimento cheese? If not, you haven’t lived. It’s so delicious, but simple and easy. I always have the ingredients for this quick appetizer on hand – it’s a great recipe that can be thrown together quickly for unexpected guests. Which, when you have a kegerator full of homebrew and a pool, happens fairly often in the summertime.

It’s also great in grilled cheese sandwiches, baked as a hot dip, or stuffed inside of a burger before grilling. Be careful though, there is a condition that I’ve come to call “Pimento Cheese-itis” that comes from eating close to a whole batch by yourself. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, ya’ll – and don’t let it happen to you! Keeps in the fridge for a few days, if it makes it that long.

Fresh strawberry pie has been a summer staple in my house for what seems like forever. But, I always took shortcuts – premade graham cracker crust and the tub o’ glaze that you usually find sitting next to the berries. Still good, but deep down I yearned to make one completely from scratch. So, when we had that large haul of strawberries a couple weeks ago – I turned to my trusty friends at Cook’s Illustrated, and did just that.

Aaand, I can safely say, I’ll never go back to the pre-made ingredients. Being accustomed to graham cracker for so long, I was afraid that the strawberry pie and pastry crust wouldn’t “mesh well”. So wrong! The crust was perfect. Just the right amount of sweetness, it reminded me of shortbread. Also, it held up under the weight of all those glorious strawberries. The graham crust would always buckle upon serving the first slice. The glaze was glorious as well, using a combination of pureed berries to achieve that gorgeous red color, as well as a small amount of low-sugar pectin (make sure you get the pink box!) to get it to set-up slightly. Then you toss it with big juicy berries, pile them into into the blind baked crust – perfection. I liked serving mine with a little dollop of sweetened whipped cream on top.

I can’t say for certain, as the months are still young, but I think this may just be one of my favorite desserts this summer!

Strangely enough, I don’t care for cream-based soups. Keep all your chowders, and cream of mushrooms – I’m a tomato in my soup kinda gal. Jon, my husband, however – LOVES all creamy soups. And, cream of crab is right at the top of his list! The sweet cream and the crab are just perfect together, the flavors mingling and playing off each other.

It’s a quick and easy dinner to make too, which is why I love it – a light roux, a quick saute of some celery and onions, then adding the liquids and thickening. I like to add the crab in the last few minutes of cooking time. You want the meat to remain in chunks, and not disintegrate. Don’t sweat it if it does though,  it will still be delicious!

I usually do not tend to think of soups as elegant dining – but cream of crab definitely is. It’s heavier and filling, so it would be great for dinner served with a green salad. But, served in a cup and saucer it makes an impressive first course. The sherry on top is optional, but I really like the sharp bite it lends to the creamy soup. Enjoy!