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Red Pepper Hummus

1 red bell pepper

2-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon tahini

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 (19-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 garlic clove, quartered

Preheat broiler. Cut bell pepper in half, lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes; then peel the bell peppers.

Place bell pepper and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Note: You can prepare this dip up to three days in advance and refrigerate in an airtight container. Serve with pita wedges and bell pepper strips. Yield: 6 servings.

Rigatoni Pasta Pie

1 pound rigatoni pasta

1 pound ground beef

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 small jar of spaghetti sauce

Cooking spray

Salt, to taste

1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated

4-ounces cream cheese

15-ounces ricotta cheese

2 eggs

1 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon oregano

1 cup onion

Boil pasta according to package instructions. Cook until pasta is still very firm (avoid stirring the rigatoni so they do not fall apart). Once done, drain and run cold water over the pasta to cool. You can add a little bit of oil if they start to stick together. Set aside.

Next, brown the ground beef and drain excess grease. Add chopped onion and garlic; cook for about 5 minutes. Add cream cheese and stir until melted. Then add the spaghetti sauce. Next, in a small mixing bowl, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, basil, oregano and 2 eggs until smooth. Set aside.

Lightly spray the bottom of a spring form pan with cooking spray. Tightly pack pasta into the pan, standing each piece on end. Put a zip lock bag inside a tall glass and fill the bag with the cheese mixture. Close the bag and snip the corner of the bag and pipe a small amount into each noodle. After piping, pour the red sauce over the whole top and push down as much as possible. Top with 2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes and then broil until the cheese turns bubbly. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Crispy Pesto Chicken

(Requested by one of our readers)

1/3 cup ricotta cheese

1/3 cup pesto

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Freshly ground pepper

2 chicken breast halves with bones and skin

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup pesto

Combine ricotta, pesto and Parmesan in a small bowl; season with pepper to taste. Carefully slide your fingers under skin of the breast separating it from the flesh to form a pocket. Leave the skin attached along one side and at one end so the stuffing will be enclosed. Push the cheese and pesto mixture into pockets you have created. Brush the surface of the chicken with olive oil. Place breasts in a small baking dish and bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Remove pan from oven and brush surface of chicken with remaining 1/4 cup of pesto. Return to oven for additional 15 minutes. Let chicken rest 5 minutes at room temperature before serving. Yield: 2 servings.

Garlic Potato Casserole

(Great served with the Pesto Chicken)

8 potatoes, scrubbed

6 cloves garlic, peeled

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Cut potatoes into thin slices and place in a heavy-bottom pan. Mix garlic, heavy cream and spices in a saucepan; bring ingredients to slow simmer for 12 minutes. Slowly pour garlic-cream contents into a baking dish and bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes or until potatoes are nicely browned and tender. Yield: 6 servings.

Whole Wheat Macaroni and Pickle Salad

1-1/2 cups uncooked whole wheat elbow macaroni

1/4 cup chopped green onions

2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

2 dill pickles, chopped

1/2 cup Italian dressing

2 tablespoons dill pickle juice

1 tablespoon prepared mustard

1 teaspoon dried whole dillweed

Cook macaroni according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and let cool. Combine macaroni, onions, eggs and chopped pickles in a large bowl.

Combine Italian dressing, pickle juice, mustard and dillweed, stirring to blend. Pour over macaroni mixture; stir well to coat. Cover and refrigerate salad at least 1 hour before serving. Yield: 8 servings.

Lemony-Blueberry Layer Cake

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 + 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

3 lemons, for zest and juice

1-1/2 cups blueberries, fresh

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

For cream cheese frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray three 9x2 inch cake pans with nonstick spray. Set aside.

To make cake: Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high until creamy, approximately 1 minute. Add granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until everything is combined, about 2 full minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Set aside.

In a large sized bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat on low speed for 10 seconds, next add the milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Beat on low until just combined. Toss the blueberries in 1 tablespoon of flour and fold into the batter. Batter is extremely thick. Then spoon batter evenly into 3 prepared cake pans. Bake for about 20 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.

To make frosting: Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon cream, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add 1 more tablespoon of cream to thin out, if desired.

To assemble cake: First, using a large serrated knife, trim the tops off the cake layers to create a flat surface. Place first layer on a cake stand. Evenly cover the top with cream cheese frosting. Top with 2nd layer, more frosting, then the third layer. Top with frosting and spread around the sides. Top with fresh blueberries or lemon garnish if desired. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before cutting. Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

Kitchen Tip:

Room temperature eggs preferred for even distribution among batter. Simply set into a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes before using or set out when you set out your cream cheese/butter for the recipe.

Any comments, questions or favorite recipes? I would like to hear from you. Please email me at Please write “Helen’s Kitchen Request” in the subject line to make sure that I receive your email!


Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 (16.5-ounce) rolls refrigerator chocolate chip cookie dough

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract until well mixed; set aside. Next, slice cookie dough rolls into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange slices from one roll on bottom of a greased 9x13-inch glass baking dish; press together so there are no holes in dough. Spoon cream cheese mixture evenly over dough; top with remaining slices of cookie dough. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until golden and center is slightly firm. Remove from oven, let cool, then refrigerate. Cut into slices when well chilled. Yield: approximately 20 to 25 servings.