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Independence Day Menu Ideas

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It’s almost time to celebrate America’s birthday; America’s number one holiday for backyard barbecues and launching brightly colored explosives into the sky.

Many of us will spend the day with friends and family, gathered around a hot grill, enjoying good summer food and cheering to independence. Check out these ideas for making your Independence Day menu extra delicious! (Click on the titles for a link to each recipe.)

And if you’re wondering how to make that tasty American flag cake pictured above, click here for a step-by-step guide.

Grilled Ribeye and Corn on the Cob with Chipotle Butter – Including lots of tips for grilling a delicious, juicy steak!

The Mona Lisa Burger – A juicy beef patty with gorgonzola, roasted garlic aioli, olives, prosciutto, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes

Grilled Honey-Garlic Baby Lamb Chops– A simple and elegant grilled alternative to burgers!

The Hangover Burger (aka The Heart Attack on a Bun) – Beef patty with bacon, chili, and spicy cheese sauce, topped with a slightly runny fried egg. Heavenly delicious!

Greek-style Lamb Burger with Tzatziki Sauce– My husband’s most favorite dish in the whole world, hands down.

Turkey Burger with Fresh Tomato Salsa– Slightly cheesy and perfectly delicious!

Barbecue Beef Chili – Pulled barbecue beef meets spicy chili in this super-satisfying dish. Totally worth the time it takes to put together. Make a huge batch and freeze the leftovers!

Baked Potato Salad – A flavorful potato salad alternative for those with an aversion to mayonnaise (like myself)!

Mediterranean Cous Cous – Simple and flavorful side dish which can be made ahead and served chilled.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad– Fresh summer tomatoes and crisp cucumber in a tangy vinaigrette.

Barley and Bean Salad – Bursting with nutrition and bright flavors!

Grilled Fingerling Potatoes– Throw them in a foil packet and pop them on the grill. Sprinkle with a bit of gorgonzola, if desired!

Dinosaur Barbecue Macaroni Salad – The only macaroni salad I’ve ever loved!

Orzo with Salmon and Cucumber A fresh and satisfying side dish or main course on a hot summer day!

Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese Classic and delicious!

Fresh Ginger Lemonade– A hint of infused ginger root with freshly squeezed lemons gives this lemonade that extra something special!

Mixed Berry Mousse– Pair it with a layer of vanilla bean panna cotta for an extra special treat!


Strawberrylicious Round-Up

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Strawberry season has finally hit its stride in our neck of the woods. I foresee an afternoon of berry picking (and berry tasting) in our near future. I’m also predicting that the ice cream maker may find its way out of storage for this season’s inaugural batch of sweet, creamy goodness.

New strawberry recipes are forthcoming. In the mean time, here are a few previously posted Gourmand Mom strawberry recipes. Click on the titles for the recipes!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Strawberry Pretzel Squares

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese and Almonds

Quadruple Berry Muffins

Mixed Berry Mousse with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Strawberry Stuffed French Toast

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


  • 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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

The Kids Cook Monday – Chocolate Coconut King Cake

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I’ve always felt a strong pull towards the city of New Orleans, as if in some long-forgotten past life, it were my home. The most likely explanation for this feeling comes from reading way too many Anne Rice novels during an impressionable period of my youth. I dreamed of the vampire Lestat in the way which girls today dream of  the infamous Edward. I so clearly imagined myself in Rice’s stories, that I began to believe I had a history with New Orleans. Whatever the case may be, the city calls to me. I’ve yet to visit New Orleans, but it’s high on my list.

In another time and place, I would have surely planned my New Orleans trip to correspond with the uproarious celebrations of Mardi Gras. But at this point in my life, as I sit here expecting my third child, I’d almost certainly plan my trip for any time of year except Mardi Gras. I’m just not sure there’s enough wild youth left in me to handle Mardi Gras. These days, I’d be much more inclined to find a dimly lit bar and sit back with a few drinks, listening to live jazz until the wee hours of the morn.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is traditionally celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday; a sort of last hurrah before buckling down for Lenten preparations. Tomorrow, as I’m comfortably nestled on my couch, watching American Idol and eating Easter candy, the city of New Orleans will be buzzing with the grand excitement of Mardi Gras; parades, beads, music and wild partying.  It’s a time to celebrate, indulge, and let the good times roll!

If you were composing a list of foods associated with Mardi Gras, King Cake would surely top the list. King cakes have a long history as part of the Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans. They are typically made from a ring of lightly-sweetened bread, similar to a brioche, which is then drizzled with a sweet glaze and decorated in the customary Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Part of the king cake tradition involves placing a small plastic baby, said to represent the baby Jesus, into the cake. Other items, such as dried beans or nuts are often used as a substitute for the baby. The party guest to find the ‘baby’ is deemed the king.

Holidays make fantastic opportunities for getting kids involved in the kitchen. As with all cooking activities, young children develop early-learning skills in multiple areas. But when the cooking activity relates to a special holiday, it also becomes an opportunity to create a memorable experience which helps kids to connect with their newly learned knowledge of customs and traditions. Experiences like these create memories and help to develop curious lifelong learners.

As part of our Kids Cook Mondays series, my little helpers joined me in making a traditional king cake with a twist. We started with a basic king cake recipe, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, the culinary king of New Orleans. Then, as Emeril would say, we kicked it up a notch, with a double filling of coconut cream cheese and chocolate. The kids helped to measure, mix, stir, and knead. As we worked, we talked about Mardi Gras and its relevance to Lent and our upcoming Easter preparations. We chatted about the history of king cakes and the tradition of the plastic baby in the cake. Then, once the cake was complete, we eagerly plunged our forks into the sweet slices of cake, curious to discover who would become our king for the day.

Chocolate Coconut King Cake
Adapted from Emeril’s King Cake


For the Cake

  • 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 packets dry active yeast
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon peel
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

For the Fillings:

  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut

For the Icing:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Water (a few spoonfuls)
  • Colored sugars (green, purple, and gold)


Combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Stir until dissolved. Set aside for about 10 minutes. It will begin to bubble up, indicating that the yeast has been activated.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and lemon peel. Gradually stir in the egg yolks, milk, and melted butter. Stir in the yeast mixture until well-blended. If the dough becomes too thick to stir, knead the ingredients together with your hands. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add additional flour until it becomes more manageable.

Coat a large bowl with a bit of vegetable oil or melted butter. Place the dough into the prepared bowl and turn once or twice so that the top of the dough is lightly coated with oil. Cover with a towel and let the dough sit for about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare the coconut filling by stirring together the softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and coconut. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Once the dough has rested and risen for 1 1/2 hours, split the dough in half. Roll each half into a log, about 30 inches long. Flatten each log into a long rectangle. Sprinkle the chocolate chips along the center of one of the rectangles. Spread the coconut mixture along the center of the other rectangle. Fold the rectangles in half along the long sides and pinch closed. Form into rounded logs. Twist the two logs together. Then, arrange the twisted logs into a circle and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover with a towel and allow to rest for 45 minutes. Then, bake for 30 minutes.

To prepare the icing, combine the powdered sugar and vanilla with just enough water to form a pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars.

Prior to serving, insert a nut or dried bean into the bottom of the cake. The guest to find the nut in their piece of cake is deemed king!

King of the Mardi Gras!

A Sweet for your Sweetie: Chocolate Raspberry Torte

Years and years ago, I received a free sample pack of Make It Italian recipe cards in the mail. I never ordered the complete recipe card collection and most of those sample cards have long since disappeared, but one of those recipe cards has been well-loved and well-worn over the years; a recipe for a rich, delicious Chocolate Raspberry Torte.

I’ve made this torte many times over the years for guests and for our own enjoyment, with a few little adaptations. It’s always a treat; dense chocolatey cake, with a sweet raspberry filling and and rich, dark chocolate ganache. And when the time came to decide on a sweet, chocolatey treat to make for my sweeties on this Valentine’s Day, this torte came first and foremost to my mind.

So, whip out your baking supplies and whip up this sweet treat for the sweeties in your life!

P.S. I won’t tell a soul if you make it just for yourself instead! You deserve it!

Chocolate Raspberry Torte

Adapted from a Make It Italian recipe card


For the Cake

  • 6 Eggs, divided
  • 3/4 cup (plus 1 teaspoon) Sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) Butter, softened
  • 4 (1-ounce) squares Semisweet Baker’s Chocolate, melted
  • 3/4 cup Flour
  • 1/8 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1/8 cup Raspberry Liqueur (optional)

For the Filling

  • 1/2 cup Raspberry Jam

For the Ganache

  • 4 (1-ounce) squares Semisweet Baker’s Chocolate
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream
  • Fresh Raspberries and Chopped Walnuts, for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9 or 10″ round cake pan.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg whites with the teaspoon of sugar for several minutes until firm peaks form. Set aside.

Rinse the beaters. Then, in a separate bowl, beat together the sugar and softened butter until creamy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until well blended. Gradually beat in the melted chocolate, flour, cocoa powder, and liqueur until well blended.

Gently stir in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites, until well combined. Then, fold in the remaining beaten egg whites.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool completely. Then, halve the cake and spread the raspberry jam between the two layers.

To prepare the ganache, heat the cream just until boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Spread the ganache along the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with fresh raspberries and chopped walnuts. Chill in the refrigerator to set the ganache.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends!!

Peppermint Patty Cheesecake Bars

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For my grandfather’s 80th birthday, my sisters and I combined our talents in the kitchen to gift him with a membership to our very own Sweet Treats of the Month club. Each month during his 80th year of life, we presented him with various platters and tins of homemade cookies, candies, bars, muffins, and cakes. As my grandmother anxiously watched his waistline and blood pressure, my grandfather eagerly waited by the mailbox for his monthly deliveries. It worked out to be the perfect gift for a man who has just about everything he desires in life.

Turns out that my grandfather wasn’t the only one who thought a membership in the Sweet Treats of the Month club was a grand gift. As the holidays approached, my father made a not-so-subtle Christmas wish to be enrolled in that homemade goodies club. You can imagine his delight when Christmas brought him his first installment of goodies along with the notification of his enrollment in this very exclusive club.

This weekend, we’ll be traveling to see my parents and other family who we’ve yet to celebrate the holidays with. We’ll also be hand delivering my dad’s January installment of treats. The beautiful thing about this exclusive club is that it’s 100% customizable to the member’s tastes. This means that my dad’s year of treats will be heavily focused on dark chocolates, gingery goodies, oatmeal creations, and maybe even a few chocolate-drizzled macaroons.

So, I set out in search of the perfect recipe for the January installment of goodies. Then, as if in answer to my mission, a fellow food blogger, at Liv Life, recently posted a list of her top ten recipes for the year. Included in the list was a recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake Bars. They looked absolutely luscious and right up my dad’s alley. Her post led me to the original Food Network recipe for Chocolate Cheesecake Candy Cane Bars. After a few little modifications, aimed at running the minty flavor throughout the bars, and a substitution of peppermint patties for candy canes, I came up with these; Peppermint Patty Cheesecake Bars. Pretty sure my dad will be pleased!

Peppermint Patty Cheesecake Bars

Adapted from Food Network’s Chocolate Cheesecake Candy Cane Bars


For the Crust

  • 15 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (mint-flavored, if available), crushed
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, melted

For the Filling

  • 1 bar (8 ounces) Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 2/3 cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 8 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon Peppermint Extract

For the Glaze

  • 4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 teaspoon Light Corn Syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons Sour Cream
  • 4-5 Peppermint Patty candies, chopped


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 baking dish with foil. Combine crushed cookies with melted butter. Press the cookie mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs and beat for another minute or two. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave or in a bowl set over a pot of boiling water, stirring frequently. Add the melted chocolate and the peppermint extract to the cream cheese mixture and mix until combined. Pour the filling over the prepared crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes until slightly puffed around the edges. The center will appear slightly loose. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.

To make the glaze, place bittersweet chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for about 30 seconds at a time, stirring periodically, until completely melted. Stir in the sour cream. Spread the glaze over the cheesecake. Sprinkle with pieces of the peppermint patty candies.  Refrigerate overnight to thoroughly chill. Use the foil to lift the cheesecake from the baking dish and cut into small squares or bars.

World’s Simplest Homemade Fudgey Brownies

Without question, the worst part of baking is the mess. I love to bake, but I can’t stand the mound of dirty mixing bowls, measuring cups, spatulas, pans, and measuring spoons that it results in. For me, simple recipes which utilize minimal ingredients and one-bowl preparation are always attractive. Don’t get me wrong. Quality and taste will always be my top priorities, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to achieve those ideals in the simplest way possible.

Last week, I got the idea in my head to make brownies. When it comes to brownies, I like them dense, chewy and super fudgey. After reviewing the ingredients in several fudgey brownie recipes, it occurred to me that I could probably make the world’s simplest fudgey brownie recipe; so simple that you’ll probably never need to read this recipe again; so simple that using a boxed brownie mix will start to seem like hard work. So, last week, I tested my idea. And, it worked. It worked perfectly. Gooey, fudgey brownies that were easier than a piece of cake to make.

Here’s the deal… 1 stick Butter + 1 cup Chocolate Chips + 1 cup Sugar + 1 cup Flour + 2 Eggs, mixed in 1 Saucepan and baked in 1 Baking Dish = 1 Delicious Batch of Brownies. Five ingredients total; one of each, except the eggs. You’ve got to use two eggs. It’s simple. It’s memorizable. It’s totally chocolicious.

Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ve got a few options. You can add a little salt (up to 1 teaspoon), if you’re like me and like that touch of salty flavor to your baked goods. A tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder will deepen the chocolate flavor; another plus in my book. Then, throw in whatever little add-ins you like; chocolate chips, nuts, shredded coconut, candied citrus peel, etc. Go wild. This time, I threw in some chopped up pieces of leftover Halloween candy! And next time, I’m thinking about making Monkey Brownies with peanuts and bits of fresh banana!

Fudgey Brownies


  • 1 stick of Butter
  • 1 cup Chocolate Chips
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (optional, for a darker chocolate flavor)
  • Up to 1 tsp Salt (optional)
  • Optional Add-ins (Nuts, Coconuts, Candy, Candied Citrus Peel)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips and butter until smooth, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Add in the salt and cocoa powder, if desired. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Stir in the flour. Add the eggs and stir until well blended. If desired, stir in extra add-ins. Bake for about 35 minutes. Cool before cutting.

A Better Caramel Apple Cake

You may remember a couple weeks ago, when I shared a recipe for a Caramel Apple Cake, which I’d found in the Food Network magazine. I baked the cake for the dessert table at my little guy’s birthday party. In theory, the cake was inspired genius; the gooey, fruity top of an upside-down cake; oozing with homemade caramel. In execution, it was less than perfect. While the cake up near the apples and caramel was sweet and tender, the bulk of the cake struck me as a bit too dry and bland.

But the idea was too good to let go. So, I reworked the recipe a bit. The result was a definite winner; a better Caramel Apple Cake. I don’t want to insist that you ignore the Food Network on this one and listen to little ol’ me. But, well… Listen to me!

My adjustments are as follows. I reduced the amount of flour and increased the cinnamon. I halved the entire caramel recipe since, as written, it produces WAY more caramel than necessary. I eliminated the center apple, which seemed unnecessary and did little for the finished appearance. Finally, borrowing the idea from my favorite, super-moist chocolate cake recipe, I added 2/3 cup of boiling water to thin out the batter. The result was a significantly moister, more flavorful cake with less fat and calories than the original! An all-around win!

Caramel Apple Cake

Adapted from Food Network Magazine’s Caramel Apple Cake


For the Caramel:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the Cake:

  • 2 Apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, or Crispin)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup Boiling Water


Butter a 3 inch deep, 8 or 9 inch diameter cake pan.

Prepare the Caramel. In a deep saucepan over medium-medium/high heat, combine the sugar and corn syrup until the sugar melts and the mixture turns a deep amber color. Be careful, because the mixture will be extremely hot. Turn down the heat to medium and carefully add the butter and cream. Be prepared that the mixture will bubble up vigorously. Stir with a long-handled spoon for about 3 minutes, until combined.

Allow the caramel to cool for  a minute. Reserve 1/2 cup of the caramel in a container. Pour the remaining caramel into the cake pan. Allow the caramel to set for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice both apples into thin pieces. When the caramel has cooled, arrange the apple slices in an overlapping ring around the edge of the cake pan. Chop up the remaining apple slices and set aside.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, mix together the sour cream, orange juice, and vanilla. Set aside.

Use a hand mixer to beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. One at a time, beat in the eggs. Then, add half of the flour mixture, followed by half of the sour cream mixture. Continue beating to combine. Add the remaining half of the flour mixture and remaining sour cream. Beat until combined.

Stir in the 2/3 cup of boiling water, until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the pan. Sprinkle the top of the batter with the chopped apples.

Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the cake springs back when gently pressed. Cool completely in the pan.

To serve, bring about an inch of water to a boil in a large saucepan or skillet (with a wider diameter than the cake pan). Turn off the heat and place the bottom of the cake pan in the hot water. Allow the pan to sit in the hot water for 5-7 minutes to soften the caramel. Then, run a knife along he edges of the cake to loosen and invert the cake over your serving plate. Microwave the caramel for a few seconds at a time until it is softened. Drizzle the remaining caramel over the top of the cake. Serve immediately.

Post-Party Relief and a Caramel Apple Cake

Ahhhhhhhhh… Deep breath of relaxation. The birthday party for the little man was a grand success. I love throwing parties, but it’s always a great relief on the morning after. No long list of things to cook, corners to clean, or balloons to inflate. Just a house which looks like a herd of elephants charged through during the night and me on my computer, looking through pictures from the party and eating leftover caramel apple cake.

Mmmm… Caramel Apple Cake.

We’ll get to that cake in a minute. But first a few pics from the party.

The little man requested a dumptruck party. So, a dumptruck party he received.

There were construction themed plates with dumptruck designs, construction vehicles hanging in the windows, dumptrucks filled with potato chips, and hard hats, of course.

The sandwich and salad menu was a hit. Once the work of composing the sandwiches was complete, it was an easy meal to serve. The popular favorite turned out to be the Roast Beef, Cheddar, Apples, and Horseradish Sauce, which I served on cheese bread, lightly warmed in the oven.

For dessert, we enjoyed the Muddy Cups, which were my personal favorite. You may remember that I made the Muddy Cups as a solution to mangled, over-filled cupcakes. They turned out to be delicious. I’d purposely mangle cupcakes any day, in order to make more Muddy Cups.

We sang Happy Birthday, of course, and the little man blew out his birthday candle. It was sweet to watch the expression on his face as the room full of people sang to him. He was clearly confused and intrigued by the event.

Amongst other fantastic gifts, he received a dinosaur costume, which we all enjoyed.


And did I mention this Caramel Apple Cake??

On the flight home from NYC a couple weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Food Network magazine and was greeted with the recipe for this cake. I instantly added it to my list of recipes to try.  Last weekend’s apple picking excursion provided me with the star ingredient. So, I whipped it up yesterday as an extra party treat.

The recipe starts with a homemade caramel, which is delicious and simple to make. The entire process sort of has a mad scientist feel to it. You start with a pot full of dry sugar, which magically melts in an amber syrup. Then you add the butter and cream. Do be careful and use a deep pot and a long spoon for mixing. It will bubble up a storm once you add the butter and cream. The vigorous bubbling which ensues the moment the butter and cream hit the syrup actually led my husband to question whether I was doing it right. Yes, dear. I’m doing it right. It’s a lot of fun to make. Just be careful and keep kids at a distance.

Part of the hot caramel is poured into a buttered pan. You need a deep pan for this recipe, at least 3 inches deep. I was able to find one in the baking section of my local craft store. After the caramel has cooled a bit, sliced apples are arranged in an overlapping round and a halved apple is placed in the center.

The batter is then prepared and poured over the apples. Chopped apples are placed on topped and the cake is baked for about an hour and twenty minutes.

To serve, the caramel is remelted by placing the cake pan in a dish of boiled water. The cake is inverted over a serving plate. Then, the reserved caramel is warmed and drizzled on top.

Overall, I really liked this recipe, though I agree with some of the reviews that 1 1/2 cups of caramel is more than necessary for drizzling over the top. No real complaints here though, since the extra caramel will be great over ice cream. As far as the cake batter goes, I’d rework this part of the recipe if I made it again. It was just a touch too dry and a tad bland for my tastes. I’d be inclined to sweeten it up a touch, add a bit more cinnamon, and decrease the flour for a moister, sweeter, spicier cake.

You can find the recipe for Caramel Apple Cake, along with a step by step slideshow, by clicking here.

Looking forward to a day of eating leftovers and relaxing in my messy house!

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