Kitchen Scoop

Enjoy a well-rounded meal in the colder months

By: Alicia Ross
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Simple pantry ingredients make this gooey cake memorable
Pears and pecans and chocolate ... oh, my! You would never guess that this recipe is a fixed-up cake mix. It comes together in less than 20 minutes of prep time. And after just 30 minutes of baking, you have a dessert worthy of any restaurant’s pastry chef.
The secret is nothing more than a few convenient pantry staples.
The first time-saver is a can of pears in their natural juices. So there’s no peeling and slicing ornery pears. The next super-easy ingredient is salted caramel sauce ice cream topping, which has become a favorite at my house. Add chopped pecans and a boxed devil’s food cake mix and “Yum!” is right around the corner.
To make the cake super-moist and brownie-like, I added less water than usual and baked the cake in a single layer in a straight-sided, deep-dish tart pan or pie plate. This condenses the usually light and fluffy cake mix into the deep, rich, fudgy goodness that makes this cake so special.  Its rich flavor is just right without being overly sweet, and there is no need for icing or frosting.
I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Start to finish: 50 minutes
Yield: 12 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 can (15 ounces) sliced pears in natural juices, drained
1/4 cup prepared salted caramel sauce (see Cook’s Note)
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
1 box (15.25 ounces) devil’s food cake mix
Powdered sugar for dusting, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a 9- or 10-inch deep-dish (at least 2 inches high) pie plate or tart pan (see Cook’s Note), swirl the melted butter around the edges and bottom, coating well. Sprinkle the pecans over the bottom. Decoratively place the pear slices in a single layer, evenly spaced, around the edges of the dish. (Place pears around the middle of the dish if there are extra pieces.) Drizzle the caramel sauce over the pears.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and water until well mixed. Then add cake mix and stir just until wet ingredients are incorporated and batter is smooth. Gently pour and spread the batter over the top of the pears, smoothing out evenly. (It’s OK if the batter doesn’t reach the edges of the dish.) Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake begins to spilt around the edges.
Remove to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Use a small sharp knife and run it around the edges to separate the cake from the dish. Using oven mitts, flip the cake onto a flat cake plate as you would a pineapple upside-down cake.
Let cool for another 30 minutes before serving. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.
Cook’s Note: Do not use a tart pan with a removable bottom. The butter, pears and caramel sauce will leak out and make a huge mess. For testing purposes, I used Smucker’s Simple Delight Salted Caramel Topping. Any type of prepared caramel topping will do. If the topping is too stiff to measure, heat it in the microwave for a few seconds to loosen.
Approximate values per serving: 296 calories, 16 g fat (4 g saturated), 46 mg cholesterol, 3 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 2 g dietary fiber, 327 mg sodium.


In the cold months of winter, I still yearn for a crisp fresh salad. But what is refreshing in the summer months leaves me feeling cold in the winter. So I trick my palate with crisp greens mixed with warm winter flavors, like today’s recipe for honey mustard chicken.
This moist, flavor-forward chicken is perfectly paired with any traditional side. But it comes alive when served atop fresh greens. There’s so much savory goodness going on in the creamy chicken coating, you don’t even need a salad dressing.
And the preparation couldn’t be easier: A quick sear on the stove top and then pop into the oven to finish. There’s plenty of time to prep your greens, slice a handful of tomatoes and carrots, and be ready for the chicken. This recipe is made for one, but it can easily be made for more. Just be sure not to crowd the chicken in the pan, or it won’t cook evenly.
Is it possible to have a healthy salad that won’t leave you shivering? Here’s honey mustard chicken on greens to the rescue! Enjoy!

Start to finish: preparation time: 10 minutes; baking time: 30 to 35 minutes; cooling time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving; easily doubled

2 to 3 teaspoons olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast half (6 to 8 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon honey mustard
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups torn romaine lettuce
1 cup fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup sliced tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced carrots

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Heat the oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Rinse and pat dry the chicken and season on both sides with pepper. Sear on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a small bowl, mix together the honey mustard and flour. Spread atop the chicken (still in the skillet). Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes as temperature increases to 165 degrees.  
Meanwhile, compose the salad with the lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and carrots. Remove the chicken from the skillet and discard the remaining oil. Slice chicken and serve atop the salad.
Approximate values per serving (with 6 ounces chicken): 462 calories, 18 g fat (4 g saturated), 151 mg cholesterol, 52 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 3 g dietary fiber, 305 mg sodium.

Alicia Ross is the co-author of “Desperation Dinners!” (Workman, 1997), “Desperation Entertaining!” (Workman, 2002) and “Cheap. Fast. Good!” (Workman, 2006). Contact her at Kitchen Scoop, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to Or visit the Kitchen Scoop website at