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Rainbow Cookie Cake

Is anybody else planning on getting their two-year-old a Harry & David fruit basket for Christmas this year??

I’m guessing I might be the only one, and yet, I’m 99.99% certain that it will be his favorite gift, by far. The kid is ridiculously in love with fruit.

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In fact, on Halloween, we stopped by my sister’s house to trick-or-treat. She handed each of the boys a piece of candy from the bowl of treats by her door, before remembering that she had an ultra-ripe Harry & David pear for my littlest guy. She ran into her kitchen to grab the foil-wrapped gem, then handed it to my little James, who literally threw the piece of candy over his shoulder like a piece of worthless garbage, in exchange for the tender pear.

I expect him to be as excited over his Harry & David fruit basket as the other boys will be over their massive Lego castle and Minecraft video game.

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When it comes to Christmas, I am like Walt Disney, carefully masterminding magical moments. While James revels in the magic of an assortment of unusually large, perfectly ripened fruit, I expect the other two boys to be doing giggling backflips over the two-foot-long gummy worm I plan to order or the giant rice krispie treat I found at Target.

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In the spirit of magical, over-sized treats, I think you’ll enjoy this oversized rainbow cookie cake. It’s like those addictingly delicious, almondy rainbow cookies, only it’s the size of an entire cake. It’s like one, giant rainbow cookie, and I wouldn’t blame you if you ate the whole darn thing.

I started with a recipe for rainbow cookies, then lighted it up just a bit with an additional egg, a bit more flour, and a teaspoon of baking powder. It’s got the dense lusciousness you expect to find in a rainbow cookie, just a bit more cake-like.

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This rich, chocolate-drenched cake is a must-have on any holiday table.

Rainbow Cookie Cake

Ingredients

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 8-ounce can almond paste
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Green food coloring
  • Red food coloring
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Seedless raspberry jam
  • Apricot jam
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Chocolate sprinkles

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 9×5 inch loaf pans with baking spray.

Place the five egg whites into a clean bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Use a fork to break up the almond paste into smaller pieces. In a large bowl, combine the almond paste and sugar with an electric mixer until there are no large lumps. Add the butter and beat until well combined. Add the egg yolks and almond extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Gradually beat the flour mixer into the wet ingredients. The dough will be quite thick.

Stir one third of the beaten egg whites into the dough. This will slightly lighten the mixture. Then, fold in the remaining egg whites until well blended.

Divide the dough into three equal portions. Use a few drops of food coloring to color one portion red, another portion green, and the remaining portion yellow. *Gel food coloring has the best effect.

Use a spatula to spread each portion of dough into the three prepared baking pans.

Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cakes are set and the edges just begin to turn golden.

Allow the cakes to cool for a few minutes in the pans, then carefully invert the cakes onto cooling racks. Cool completely.

Use a long serrated knife to level the cakes, removing as little cake as necessary.

Spread a layer of raspberry jam over the red layer. Place the yellow layer over the jam, then spread the apricot jam on top. Top with the red layer.

Chop the semisweet chocolate. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan or in the microwave, just until boiling. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, then stir until smooth. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate ganache over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish liberally with chocolate sprinkles.

Refrigerate to set, but remove the cake from the fridge before serving, so it comes up to room temperature.

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Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Hey, folks…

Reposting last year’s round-up of Thanksgiving ideas for a little menu-planning inspiration!

~Amy

APPETIZERS

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Corn and Bacon Fritters with Smoked Salmon

Bacon-Wrapped Dates stuffed with Bleu Cheese

THE MAIN EVENT

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy (and tips for roasting a whole turkey)

Bacon and Cider Braised Turkey Drumsticks (and garlicky creamed spinach)

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Green Beans Almondine

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Hot Doughy Buns

DESSERTS

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Coconut Pie

A Few Variations on Apple Pie (in an all butter pie crust)

Caramel Apple Cake

Turkey-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Caramel Apple Tartlets

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Cannoli Cheesecake

Treat Your Valentine

Treat your valentine to a day’s worth of mouth-watering meals. Here are three ideas for each meal, from super simple to more elaborate. Click on the pictures or the links to see the recipes!

You can also check out the Recipes section at the top of the page for more ideas to delight your sweetie.

Breakfast

Super Simple: Strawberry and Nutella Stuffed French Toast

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A Bit More Complex: Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

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Manageably Elaborate: Eggs Benedict

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Lunch

Super Simple: Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup

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A Bit More Complex: Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

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Manageably Elaborate: Quiche Lorraine

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Dinner

Super Simple: Penne a la Vodka

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A Bit More Complex: Pork Chops with Fontina and Marsala

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Manageably Elaborate: Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs over Creamy Brie Potatoes

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Dessert

Super Simple: World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies with Raspberry Coulis

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A Bit More Complex: Chocolate Raspberry Torte

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Manageably Elaborate: Fresh Berry Mousse with Vanilla Panna Cotta

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Thanksgiving Inspiration

I learned something interesting about myself this week – I do not like corn bread stuffing. I love corn, corn muffins, corn bread, and corn fritters. I eat a ridiculous amount of corn when it’s in season. I even once made a sweet corn ice cream. But I do not like corn bread stuffing.

I guess it comes down to what you’re raised with – sort of how some families are the Crest kind of people and some families are the Colgate kind. Some families are loyal to Miracle Whip, while others will only use mayonnaise. Some families have corn bread stuffing at Thanksgiving and some families have white bread stuffing. Our family was always a Crest, mayonnaise, and white bread stuffing sort of family.

The four things I am most thankful for.

I didn’t realize how ingrained this inclination towards white bread stuffing was until I set about preparing a corn bread stuffing earlier this week. It should’ve been delicious, with crispy bits of bacon, tender dates, shallots, and celery. It was supposed to be a new recipe to feature in this post about Thanksgiving ideas. But I didn’t like it. I can’t even tell you if it was good or not, as far as corn bread stuffings go. I am just a white bread stuffing girl through and through and I couldn’t wrap my taste buds or my heart around that corn bread stuffing. I’m not sharing the recipe.

But I am going to share this round-up of wonderful, tried and true Thanksgiving ideas, in plenty of time to add them to your Thanksgiving menu…

Give thanks for good food, friends.

APPETIZERS

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Corn and Bacon Fritters with Smoked Salmon

Bacon-Wrapped Dates stuffed with Bleu Cheese

THE MAIN EVENT

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy (and tips for roasting a whole turkey)

Bacon and Cider Braised Turkey Drumsticks (and garlicky creamed spinach)

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Green Beans Almondine

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Hot Doughy Buns

DESSERTS

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Coconut Pie

A Few Variations on Apple Pie (in an all butter pie crust)

Caramel Apple Cake

Turkey-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Caramel Apple Tartlets

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Cannoli Cheesecake

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

When I think of mangos, my first thoughts are of tropical flavors. I’m pretty sure the mango belongs somewhere in that song with the lime and the coconut. I think of seafood and summery flavors, like fish tacos and spicy mango salsa (with mango margaritas on the side). I think of mango creamsicle smoothies, chilled mango cucumber soups, or even barbecue bacon mango pizzas. It’s certainly never occurred to me to combine mango with the aromatic spices of the holiday season, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or cloves.

So, when the National Mango Board offered to send me a sampling of mangos along with some ideas for pairing mangos with festive holiday flavors, my interest was piqued. I accepted their offer, eager for the opportunity to experiment with one of my favorite fruits in a novel way.

The shipment of perfectly ripe mangos arrived last week. Along with the selection of vibrant mangos, the National Mango Board provided a sampling of seasonal spices and a few recipe cards for inspiration. One of those recipe cards grabbed my attention in a way I couldn’t resist; Mango Upside Down Cake.

This festive spiced mango upside down cake is a definite keeper. The cake is moist and flavorful with a satisfying texture, the result of folding beaten egg whites into the batter; an extra step worth taking. And I’m fairly certain I could be happy eating nothing but the tender mango and caramelized top of this cake for the rest of my life. Seriously, the gooey top layer of this cake is something that epic poems should be written about.

This cake would work well any time of year, though I think it would be make a perfect addition to any Thanksgiving or Christmas dessert spread. The glazed top and artful mango star make it truly show-stopping and worthy of the festive season!

Today’s Focus on Technique – Folding in Egg Whites

Beaten egg whites can be folded into a variety of dishes, such as cake, mousse, souffle, and waffles for a lighter, fluffier result. The goal of folding in the egg whites, as compared to just stirring them in, is to maintain as much of the air, which has been beaten into the egg whites, as possible.

To begin, start by carefully separating the yolks from the whites, taking care not to allow any yolk to mix with the whites. (This can prevent the egg whites from getting properly light and fluffy.) Beat the egg whites using an electric mixer at medium/medium-high speed until soft peaks form. To incorporate the egg whites into your batter, start by adding about 1/3 of the beaten egg whites. Holding your spatula in an almost horizontal position, gently turn the mixture over the egg whites until the egg whites are incorporated. (This first 1/3 helps to lighten the batter, making it easier to incorporate the remaining 2/3). Add another 1/3 of the mixture, gently lifting and turning the batter over the egg whites. Add the remaining 1/3 of the egg whites, using the same gentle lifting and turning maneuver, just until the egg whites are blended and no longer. Over-mixing the egg whites into the batter will diminish the lightening effect of the beaten egg whites.

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened (divided)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large mango, peeled, pitted and sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup mango nectar or mango puree
  • 1/3 cup milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, set aside.

In small saucepan, melt ½ stick of butter and stir in brown sugar, simmer for about 2 minutes. Pour mixture into prepared cake pan and top with sliced mango, creating a circular fan pattern.

In medium bowl, stir  together flour, baking powder, salt, cloves, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat remaining 1 stick softened butter, granulated sugar and orange zest on high until pale yellow and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add whole egg yolks, one at a time until well blended. Add vanilla. Decrease speed to low and add half of flour mixture. Mix in mango nectar (or mango puree) and milk and then remaining flour mixture.

In another bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter. Repeat with another third of the egg whites. Finally, fold the remaining third of egg whites into the batter, taking care not to over-mix.

Carefully pour cake batter over mangos, spreading evenly. Bake for about an hour, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes then invert cake onto plate. Cool completely.

Garnish with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and candied orange peel, if desired.

*Recipe slightly modified from the one provided by the National Mango Board

The National Mango Board provided me with a box of mangos and sampling of spices, which I used to prepare this recipe.

Pina Colada Pound Cake

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My husband to the baby: Goobs (our nickname for the baby), tonight we begin Operation Go the ‘Fudge’ to Sleep.

The baby responded with a happy leg shake and wide eyes which clearly seemed to communicate, Oooh…sounds important!

Then he shook his hands excitedly above his head, I love secret missions! I’ve been working on Operation Stay the H.E.Double Hockey Sticks Awake for almost a year now. It’s been remarkably successful.

We know, Goobs. We know. But your mission ends tonight.

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Our littlest man’s sleep habits have been a challenge, to say the least. We’d established a routine where he’d spend the first half of the night in his crib and the second half snuggled in bed next to me. It wasn’t our ideal plan, but it enabled everyone to get some sleep, so we went with it. (And to be perfectly honest, I frickin’ love those snuggles.) But lately, this routine isn’t working and no one is sleeping. We’re being forced to confront his sleep routine head on. Parenting, much like being the president, is hard work.
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I could really use a vacation, preferably someplace sunny and tropical. Someplace where I can drift off into an uninterrupted sleep to the sound of gently crashing waves on a beach. Someplace with an endless supply of fruity beverages, garnished with bright red cherries and fresh orange slices. And pink paper umbrellas.
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Perhaps once the baby learns to sleep through the night, we’ll plan a weekend getaway. In the mean time, I’ve got this piña colada cake. I started with a buttery lemon pound cake and upped the ante with a touch of rum and a hefty dose of tropical fruits. Then, I drizzled the sweet cake with a tart lemon glaze and shredded coconut. It’s no drink on a tropical beach, but it’s pretty darn good!
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Piña Colada Cake 
Ingredients
  • 1 2/3 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 lemon, finely zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon rum (optional)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup crushed pineapple, well drained
  • 1/3 cup mandarin orange slices, well drained and chopped
For the garnish
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a large loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Add the lemon juice, zest, and rum. Gradually add the flour mixture, about a third at a time. Beat just until blended. Stir in the coconut, pineapple, and mandarin oranges. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 75 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

To make the glaze: Combine the confectioner’s sugar with lemon juice, a little at a time, until it reaches a thick, but fluid consistency. Use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the cake. Sprinkle with shredded coconut.

References: Martha Stewart’s Glazed Lemon Pound Cake and Gale Gand’s Lemon Pound Cake

How to Make Cake Pops

Cake pops are all the rage these days…or am I thinking of cupcakes? Or is it macarons?? I can’t keep up. But, you can find cake pop recipes and ideas all over the internet and magazine covers these days. Starbucks even carries these sweet treats right next to the muffins and dessert bars. They’re insanely cute and super fun to eat. The best part is that there are a million possible flavor and design combinations.

Once you’ve got the basic idea, you can have a lot of fun customizing these little goodies with different flavors of cake, frosting, and candy coating! Then, get creative with the decorating! I’m already planning on making bloody eyeball cake pops for Halloween, turkeys for Thanksgiving, and snowmen and trees for Christmas!

For my little guy’s third birthday (and my first attempt at cake-popping), I made a batch of decadent triple chocolate cake pops. It’s a simple, but somewhat time-consuming process, so plan ahead. Here’s how it’s done.

You will need:

  • 1 13×9 inch cake
  • Cake frosting (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
  • Lollipop sticks
  • Candy Melts (approximately 4 cups)*
  • Sprinkles or other decorating candies (optional)

*If your grocery store doesn’t carry the candy melts, check your local craft store. They come in all sorts of colors and flavors!

Bake a 13 x 9 inch cake. Use your favorite homemade recipe or one box of any flavor cake mix. (You can bake the cake a day ahead of time, if desired.)

Once cool, crumble the cake into fine crumbs. This is a perfect job for little helpers.

You’ll end up with a big bowl of fine cake crumbs.

Combine the cake crumbs with any flavor frosting. A container of prepared frosting works fine or use your favorite homemade. Depending on how moist the cake is, you probably will not need the whole container of frosting. About 3/4 of a 16-ounce container should do the trick. You want the mixture to be moist enough to mold, but not too mushy. Mushy cakes will have a harder time staying on the sticks…lesson learned the hard way.

Refrigerate for about 30-45 minutes (or longer) to help firm up the mixture.

Roll the mixture into balls, just over an inch in diameter.

Melt a small quantity of the candy melts according to package directions. Dip the end of each lollipop stick into the melted candy, then insert the stick a little more than halfway through each cake ball. Place each pop upside down on a baking sheet and refrigerate until quite firm.

Once firm, warm the candy melts according to package directions. Use a container that is tall and narrow enough to fully submerge each cake pop into. A 2-cup pyrex measuring cup worked well.

Dip each pop into the melted candy. Gently swirl the pop to remove excess candy. (Skipping the swirl step will result in a candy coated stick. Trust me on that one.)

Decorate with sprinkles or candies, if desired. Then, place each pop into a piece of styrofoam to dry upright at room temperature. (Refrigeration will cause condensation on the surface of your pops. Another lesson learned the hard way.) The candy exterior will harden at room temperature.

Top Ten Gourmand Mom Recipes

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m greatly entertained by reading through the search terms which lead people to this little blog. It often leaves me puzzling over how the terms “Christmas money wreath” or “dog with running shoes” brought people here. What in the world have I been writing about? Of course, most of the time, people are just looking for recipes and, as it turns out, some of those recipes are quite popular!

Here, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten most viewed Gourmand Mom recipes. Then, if you scroll down a bit further, you’ll see ten of my personal favorites. (Clicking on the recipe titles will bring you straight to the recipe.)

What’s your favorite recipe? Tell me about it!

Top Ten Gourmand Mom Recipes

(according to page views)

Crab Stuffed Jalapeno Poppers  – Coming in at #10, these spicy little appetizers are a fresh and flavorful alternative to the kind you’ll find in the frozen food section of your grocery store!

A Better Caramel Apple Cake - Yum! This recipe is the result of experimenting with a delicious recipe I found in the Food Network magazine! Who knew that a bit of boiling water would make such a big difference?? With apple season reaching its peak, now’s a great time to give this one a try!

Almost Perfect Fontina Chops - This recipe is inspired by a Bonefish Grill dish, which is apparently a big favorite, since I get a few search hits every day from people looking for this recipe. This version is not intended to be a copycat recipe; it’s just a delicious dinner inspired by the popular Bonefish dish.

 Independence Day Berries and Cream – Mixed Berry Mousse and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta - My love for panna cotta began with this sweet treat. Mmmm….fresh berry mousse with sweetened cream! Mmmm…

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese and Almonds - The fresh ingredients do all of the hard work in this simple and delicious salad!

Hawaiian Garlic Shrimp - This is another recipe that gets a ton of search hits. The people want Hawaiian garlic shrimp…and with good reason! It’s delicious! Next time, I’d veer away from the traditional preparation and cook these babies with the shells removed to get more of the buttery garlic in my mouth and less on my fingers.

Chicken Wing Dip - Coming in at #4 is Chicken Wing Dip. It’s practically a classic and totally crave-worthy. Oh dear, just thinking about it makes me want to throw batch in the oven. Must. Have. Chicken Wing Dip.

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfait - Perfect season for these tasty treats. Some may prefer to sweeten the pumpkin a touch more in these easy treats. For me, they’re just right!

Sweet Honey Cornbread - This one scored most of its hits when it landed on WordPress’ Freshly Pressed section for a day. It’s a great cornbread recipe; sweet, tender, and super easy to make!

And the #1 Most Viewed Gourmand Mom recipe is (drumroll, please)…

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Pie  – This luscious pie wins the top spot by a landslide. Somehow it’s found itself within the StumbleUpon community. I’m really not quite sure how StumbleUpon works, but it sure drives a ton of traffic to this delicious recipe!

Ten of My Personal Favorite Recipes

Greek Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce - This burger takes the cake as far as my husband is concerned! It’s become his meal of choice for birthdays, anniversaries, and any other excuse he can come up with!

The World’s Greatest Penne ala Vodka - I can’t claim credit for the creation of this recipe, but it’s definitely on my list of all-time favorites!! Seriously the best vodka sauce I’ve ever tasted!

Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup - This incredibly satisfying dish is in our regular dinner rotation. It freezes well, so make it in a huge batch to keep on hand for an easy dinner. Make it as brothy as you prefer and serve with a nice piece of French bread!

Chicken Salad Sandwich – Waldorf Style - There’s something incredibly satisfying about the combination of sweet, savory, and crunch in this chicken salad. It’s on my go-to list of easy weeknight dinners!

Grilled Honey Garlic Baby Lamb Chops - I want to slather this honey garlic sauce on everything. I think I could live on this honey garlic sauce.

Cheddar and Garlic Biscuits - I first made these biscuits during a major craving for Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits. I searched online for a copycat recipe and found a ton of Bisquick-based recipes. Wanting to make fresh biscuits from scratch, I combined the elements from a basic, buttery drop biscuit with the seasoning of the Red Lobster biscuit. They’re perfect. Everyone cheers when these are on the menu!

Salmon, Cucumber, and Orzo Salad in Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette - This was initially intended as a pantry meal, if you will; something quick and easy using a few leftover ingredients I had on hand. It became an instant favorite. There’s something incredibly satisfying about the combination of flavors and textures in this simple dish!

BBQ Beef Chili - This hybrid chili/bbq beef dish makes my mouth water. Serve it with the cornbread from the Top 10 list!

Corn and Bacon Fritter Cakes - I just posted about these recently. I want to eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday, topped with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. The best part is that they reheat really well. In fact, they may even be better reheated than straight out of the pan. Pop them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees and they’re perfect! (P.S. A dollop of sour cream would make a fine substitute for the creme fraiche!)

Pizza Dragon and Chairs of Stock (Steak Bordelaise Pizza) – My brother in law goes nuts for this pizza! He’s still trying to figure out how to package it and sell it, since he’s convinced it will make me millions. This pizza is a steak dinner on a pizza crust. It takes a little time to get all of the components together, but everything can be prepared ahead of time and it’s worth the trouble!

Do you have a favorite Gourmand Mom recipe? Any other recipe you’d like to see here? Tell me about it!

Coconut Layer Cake

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Like typical young siblings, my sisters and I would spend hours of our youth engaging in pretend play scenarios based on our favorite TV shows. Each play session would begin with a tense negotiation over who would represent each character. As the oldest of my siblings, I typically drew a first-pick card, of my own creation. This meant that I was usually Alvin when we played the Chipmunks, Brittany when we played the Chipettes, Lion-O when we played Thundercats, and Stephanie Zinone when we played Grease 2.

Looking back, it now seems somewhat inappropriate that my sisters and I played Grease 2 games in our youth. We truly had no comprehension of the lyrics we belted into the neighborhood, as we swung merrily on our backyard swingset. Three young girls, ages 5-9, singing at the top of lungs, Let’s do it for our country… I’m certain that our parents were sufficiently mortified.

Yesterday, I had a flashback of these memories of my sisters, as I sat watching my two boys play. They’d cleared out half of their toy box and situated themselves comfortably inside. Listening to their conversation, I learned that the toy box was now a pirate ship and they were about to play Jake and the Never Land Pirates, a current favorite Disney show.

And then the predictable negotiation began, led in older sibling style, by my four year old. He explained that he would be playing the part of Jake and his two year old brother would be a character known as Cubby.

But my two year old has never been one to roll over and accept his fate. He responded with an assertive, “NO, I’m Jake!” Even at the young age of two, he has a clear understanding of starring roles and he was not about to play sidekick.

The negotiations quickly dissolved into a chanting match of “I’m Jake” after that. And then they played Legos instead.

Celebrating Easter this past weekend, there were other flashbacks of my youth; hunting for eggs, early-morning candy treats, and discovering the animal crackers, which the Easter bunny always hid at the bottom of our baskets. And best of all…our traditional Easter dessert; bunny cake!

The bunny cake of my youth was always made from a box of yellow cake mix, frosted with a tub of white frosting, coated with coconut, and decorated with a bunny face. In my mom’s version, it was a single layer cake, with ears cut from the second cake round, frosted pink in the center. Two black jelly beans formed the eyes, a pink one for the nose, and shoestring licorice for the mouth and whiskers. An adorable Easter treat.

I took a few liberties with my version of a bunny cake. I skipped the ears in order to make a two layer cake, filled with a luscious coconut custard. I coated my cake in a simple cream cheese frosting and the traditional shredded coconut. Our bunny’s face was constructed of the same jelly beans and shoestring licorice I loved in my youth.

He may have lacked ears, but the kids didn’t mind. In fact, with this cake, I have finally managed to impress my discerning two-year-old, who has been unusually generous with his praise of my culinary skills, exclaiming “You make good things, Mommy! You make good things.” Thank you, dear. I try. 

This cake works perfectly for a coconut-coated bunny cake around Easter time or a decadent coconut layer cake any time of year!

Vanilla Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two round cake pans. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, until well blended. Beat in the vanilla. Gradually beat in the flour mixture and milk, alternating about a third at a time, until well blended. Divide the batter equally between the two pans. Bake for about 35 minutes. Cool completely.

Coconut Custard Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/6 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut

Directions

Bring the milk, sugar, vanilla, salt and one tablespoon of cornstarch to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Then, reduce the heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Gradually whisk about 1/2 of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, starting with a slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into the egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in the shredded coconut. Allow to cool at room temperature until only slightly warm before spreading onto the cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces cream cheese (1 1/2 bars ), softened
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Beat together all ingredients until smooth.

To assemble the cake: Carefully slice off the rounded tops of both cakes. Line the edges of a plate/platter with foil or wax paper to keep the plate clean while you frost the cake. Place one cake round, cut side up in the center of the plate. Spread the slightly cooled custard across the cake. Place the second cake round, cut side down, on top of the custard. Spread the cream cheese frosting all around the cake. Press about 2 cups of shredded coconut around the top and sides of the cake. Carefully remove the foil or wax paper from the edges of the platter. If desired, use jelly beans and shoestring licorice to create a bunny face on the top. Refrigerate to keep fresh.

**If desired, you can double or triple the custard recipe. Then, slice each cake round in half and spread custard between each layer for a taller, multi-layered coconut cake.

Alternately, you can skip the custard layer and cut the second cake round into bunny ear shapes. Frost the ears onto the other cake round for a full, single layered bunny-faced cake.

Boston Creme Cupcakes

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I don’t have many cravings while pregnant; certainly nothing unusual like pickles with peanut butter. But, come to think of it, I have been eating a serious excess of egg sandwiches and Boston Creme donuts. In fact, I can’t seem to walk past the donut rack at my grocery store, without throwing one of those chocolate-glazed, custard-filled treats into my cart. They’re irresistible to me. I suppose my cravings could be weirder, right??

Earlier this week, I made Quadruple Berry Muffins to satisfy my ever-growing pregnant belly. These cupcakes, on the other hand, are going straight to my thighs! But that’s not enough to stop me from over-indulging in their sweet, creamy, chocolatey goodness. In fact, I’ll almost certainly eat way too many of these cupcakes and then blush with shame as I sheepishly step onto the scale during my next prenatal visit. It’s worth it though. I have no regrets.

As a lifelong, diehard chocoholic, I very rarely make vanilla cake. As such, I do not have a favorite, tried and true vanilla cake recipe to turn to. So, in need of a basic, homemade vanilla cake recipe, I turned to Martha Stewart, a reliable source for baking tips and recipes. I was looking for something simple with uncomplicated vanilla flavor, and Martha’s recipe fit the bill.

But…to be completely honest, I am not in love. This will not be my go-to recipe for vanilla cake. And the next time I make these Boston Creme Cupcakes, I will almost certainly adjust the vanilla cupcake portion of the recipe. The flavor is delicious, but the cakes are somewhat dense; not the light, spongey cake I was hoping for. I suspect that the solution may be as simple as separating the eggs in the recipe, whipping the egg whites until firm, then folding the whipped egg whites into the batter at the very end. The proof will need to wait until my next vanilla cake baking endeavor. In the mean time, the vanilla cupcake recipe which follows (or your own personal favorite vanilla cake recipe) will do the trick!

Boston Creme Cupcakes

Ingredients

For the Vanilla Cupcakes (From Martha Stewart’s Vanilla Cupcakes)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups milk

For the Vanilla Pastry Creme

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of Salt

For the Chocolate Ganache

  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Sprinkles and/or marashino cherries, for garnish

Directions

For the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cupcake tins with liners. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Beat in the vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture and milk, alternating about a third at a time, until well blended. Fill each cupcake liner with about 1/4 cup of the batter. Bake for about 25 minutes. Cool completely.

For the Pastry Cream: Bring the milk, vanilla, and about half of the sugar to a simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently so that the sugar dissolves. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining sugar. Whisk in the cornstarch, one tablespoon at a time until well blended. Stir in the salt. Gradually whisk about 1 cup of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, starting with a slow drizzle. (Gradually incorporating the hot milk into egg yolks tempers the eggs, allowing them to slowly rise in temperature without scrambling.) Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the remaining hot milk in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 3-4 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Transfer the hot mixture to a bowl and press plastic wrap directly against the cream (to prevent a skin from forming). Cool completely in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before using.

For the Ganache: Heat the cream, just to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Stir until smooth.

To Assemble the Cupcakes: Use a butter knife to dig a narrow trench into the center of the cupcakes, almost to the bottom of each cake. Transfer the pastry cream to a pastry bag and fill each trench with cream. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the warm ganache. Garnish with sprinkles and/or a cherry. Refrigerate to set the ganache and keep the pastry cream fresh.

Makes 24 Cupcakes


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