red velvet spark cake


Yes, I made up this cake name. Yes, it is perfect for any firework related holiday but really perfect for the 4th of July. Or perhaps a child's birthday? Either way, I have a lot of excess pop rocks and I'd like to find a new home for them preferably outside of my house.

The idea here is a simple sheet cake with a little bit of pizazz. The end result was a very tasty, fresh cake that took very little effort to pull together. I can imagine it being good for someone baking with kids. I was drawn to the original recipe because of the blue stripes... for which I got absolutely none of that. In the recipe's defense, I did cut back on the food coloring by about 50% but I'm not sure it would have made that big of a difference.

A few notes:
  • too much pudding // the initial recipe called for 3 boxes of instant pudding... which I dutifully made and used. It was a bit obscene. I had a pudding layer about an inch thick on top of the cake. After it had firmed up I scraped most of it off to leave just a thin layer of the white chocolate pudding on the top. In the ingredients below, I have cut it back to 2 boxes as a result.
  • whipped topping on the side // I would leave the whipped topping on the side for serving as opposed to frosting the whole cake in advance. This feels like a better approach especially if you anticipate leftovers.
  • I lined the whole pan with parchment paper. I had a vision of serving this cake on a plater and not in the original pan. The vision did not pan out :-). Just accept this cake for what it is. A nice and easy sheet cake. Just grease the pan, no parchment needed.
My pictures of this recipe are pretty much crap. I honestly didn't try that hard. I just wanted to eat that cake and not search for good angles. It is hard to find good angles on a sheet cake. Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cake mix as directed on package, adding cocoa powder, red food color and vanilla. Pour batter into greased 13x9-inch baking dish.
  2. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan.
  3. Poke large holes all over cake using the end of a wooden spoon. 
  4. After holes are made, mix milk, and blue food color in large bowl. 
  5. Add pudding mix; stir just until mixture begins to thicken. Immediately pour pudding over cake, filling the holes.
Shopping List
1 package (2-layer size) white cake mix (plus ingredients needed to bake)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 bottle (1 ounce) red food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups milk
30 drops Blue food coloring
2 packages (4-serving size each) white chocolate instant pudding mix
1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 package Strawberry Pop Rocks® popping candy

chocolate mud cake

Have you ever eaten a good, fudgy brownie ... and been like why can't this be a whole cake? If so, this is the cake for you. It is like a cake make out of just the middle fudgy part of the brownie. Not the crust not the bottom, not the edges... just the fudgy middle part. It's pretty amazing.

I saw this recipe initially on the internet. The baker posted a video of her making the cake. It was captivatingly easy ... and I love that she kept calling her grandmother her "Nan". So those are the reasons I made this cake.

This is not the best logic, but I was also trying to make a "lighter" cake than the previous ones from the summer (banana cinnamon, banana hazelnut). This cake is an absolute winner. If you invite me to your house, there is a decent chance that I'll bring this with me.

A few things about this cake:

  • perfect for a "make your own" bar type event. I ate this cake with whip cream and berries.... and then again with just peanut butter... and also with nutella. It's a wonderful blank canvas.
  • I made this cake two ways. One in a 7 inch spring form pan and then the rest of the batter in a tart tin. The tart tin was almost the best. It was thin and incredibly fudgy through out. The traditional format was still good but took more than 2x as long too bake. 
  • Incredibly easy! I am terrible at melting chocolate but this cake was so easy to make. Literally anyone can do it.
  • The last step of the traditional recipe is to dust with cocoa powder. I actually didn't like this. Next time I would dust with powdered sugar.
If you are interested in the "tart" pan option, you need to watch the bake time pretty closely. I think mine was done at about 20-25 minutes. The 7 inch spring form pan was very close to an hour. It would be hard to tell you the ingredient amounts needed to just make the tart size since I just used my leftover batter, but if you were to cut the batter to 33% that might be about right. The batter does not rise very much at all so limited concern about spillover.

Here's how it goes.

  1. Preheat oven to 320ºF. Grease and line a springform cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Sift the flour, baking and cocoa powders into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, chocolate chips, milk and vanilla extract. Stir on medium heat until melted and smooth. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. Add to the dry ingredients alongside your eggs and sugar, and whisk until you have a smooth batter.
  5. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for an hour or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool completely in the tin.
  6. To serve, remove from the tin and dust with additional cocoa powder.

Shopping List
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder, plus extra to serve
1 cup unsalted butter
9 ounces dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
11/2 cups castor sugar
2 eggs

lemony green bean salad

I'm going to make this quick... because green bean salad is pretty straight forward. I almost wouldn't write it up but when I was menu planning for this years 4th of July... I realized I never wrote down what I made last year. Devastating.

My formula for the 4th of July menu is always the same:
+ potato based
+ pasta based
+ bean based
+ dessert

So this is the bean dish. I try to keep the dishes to only be something that I would want to potentially eat for days. You never know what people are going to eat at a party and I hate waste. I also try to keep the ingredients affordable since we are already doing so much cooking. Out of the 4 things I made, this was one of the most affordable. Minimal number of ingredients and nothing too high class pricey.

Here's how it goes. The only real downside to this is you will get sweaty after boiling so many batches of green beans. But if you are me, you can reward yourself with an ice cream sandwich after. That makes it worth it.
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Throw in green beans for about 4 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water.
  2. Blend together lemon juice, zest, olive oil and agave nectar.
  3. Combine beans with red onion and crumbled cheese. Toss with dressing. 
Shopping List
1 pound green beans
4 ounces feta
1/4 red onion, super-thinly sliced
1/4 cup your best olive oil
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 tsp honey

peperonata pasta salad


I will continue to stand by the principle that I only make things I wouldn't mind eating for several days. That will be the case 1000% with this pasta salad. Turns out I didn't need to double it... one batch would have been just fine.

Thankfully, this super easy pasta salad is light enough that you don't mind. Candidly, when I first saw this recipe pop up on Food52 I thought "peperonata" was going to lead me to some sausage or pepperoni. I read the recipe several times trying to figure out what I was missing. Turns out "peperonata" is just a whole ton of peppers... and more of course, but no meat. At all. Which is fine because at a BBQ with burgers and hot dogs, we will be just fine with a meat-less option.

A few notes:

  • Peppers // When you decide to make this yourself, splurge and buy more than one color of pepper. It makes cooking so beautiful. I stopped to take a picture of the skillet it was so pretty. All the peppers contrasting with the red onion? Showstopper.
  • Ratios // I tend to feel like I always want double of whatever the extra part is in a BBQ side option. Extra sauce for the beans. Extra basil for the top. And in this case, it's extra peperonata. I put the original recipe ingredients below, but know that I did probably 2 extra peppers (+ red onion, etc) in my version.
Here's how it goes.
  1. Cut the peppers into skinny matchsticks. Cut the strips in half if they’re long.
  2. In a large saute pan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the peppers, onion, thyme, and salt and pepper, to taste. Saute for about 6 minutes, tossing often, until the peppers and onions soften. 
  3. Add the capers and cook for another minute, then add the vinegar and remove the pan from the heat.Transfer the peperonata to a separate dish or pan. 
  4. Add 1 cup of the halved cherry tomatoes so they can marinate along with the peppers and onions. 
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. 
  6. Drain the pasta and toss with the peperonata in a large bowl. 
  7. Toss in the rest of the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella. For presentation, I like to add the basil at the end.
Shopping List
3 large sweet peppers
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small red onion (either diced or cut into same shape as peppers)
1 tablespoon minced thyme leaves
Kosher salt plus freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes, divided
1 pound pasta
1 cup basil, torn into small pieces
5 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks

Roasted Garlic Potato Salad

I love a good potato salad. It can be so many things... extra creamy, extra savory, extra just about anything. There was this amazing potato salad we grew up with that had peas and bacon in it. I'm sure there were other things but I flipping love that stuff. It came as a side whenever you got a sandwich and I demolished that little dixie cup of deliciousness. Unfortunately, Mug Shots the restaurant no longer exists so I just have dream about it.
But - for this year's 4th of July party I created a potato salad that was pretty great. There is no real way you can screw up a roasted potato. I have a hard time resisting snacking on the slightly salty warm squares fresh out of the oven. 

There are a few things that could be said about this salad:
  • Arugula // Some people at the party requested more arugula. I can totally get that. So add more or less to make it fit for your crowd
  • Roasted potatoes // I like the potatoes a bit crispy but that is not the super traditional salad style. The potatoes tend to be softer in grocery store varieties. So do what fits you best... but just don't forget the garlic. It's amazing.
  • Sauce // Is sauce the right word? I'm not sure. Either way, you might want to double the mayo combo depending on how juicy you like your potato salad. Something to keep in mind.
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Dice the potatoes and add to a bowl. 
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. 
  3. Mix and put on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake the potatoes for 40 minutes flipping twice during baking. 
  4. At the 20 minute mark, add the minced garlic to the pan and mix it around to cover the potatoes.
  5. Roast potatoes until they turn a nice golden brown. 
  6. Take out of the oven and allow to cool. 
  7. In a bowl combine 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the chopped garlic, mayonnaise, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. 
  8. Mix and pour over the cooled potatoes.
  9. Add arugula to the potatoes and serve.
Shopping List
1 pound small Potatoes (I like yukon gold)
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 1/4 teaspoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Cloves of Garlic finely chopped
4 tablespoons Mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 bag of arugula

2019 Intentions - Status Update


I stumbled upon my own 2019 Intentions post last week - and realized I was dropping the ball. So with half the year almost behind us, it seemed like a good time to check-in and see how I was doing across the board.

I can say with a great degree of confidence, I am failing fabulously in every area except sleep. I'm not super upset with myself at all but cognizant I should be achieving more. It is not that hard to try a new coffee shop.

As a refresher, here were my goals:
  • 12 Books
  • 12 different restaurants/coffee shops/farmers markets
  • Health goals (good sleep, great water)
  • Continue meditation practice
  • More letters/packages in the mail

As of last Friday I had:

  • read 0 books
  • been to 1 new restaurants / coffee shops (local only. traveling doesn't count)
  • mediocre to poor water drinking
  • excellent attention to sleep
  • poor meditation practice
  • mediocre to poor letters in the mail
I have made some improvements in the last couple days. It could be better but I have already read one book. And let's be honest, knowing that I'm failing at my goals is half the battle. I can be better and these aren't impossible goals. I pretty much just have to drink water, send nice notes in the mail, and pick up some lunch to eat while I read a book. I can do this.

  • Books // I I have quickly turned this around and already read one book. I picked it up on Saturday morning and quickly crushed it while lounging on my front porch. It was a great read. Summer is really my reading season so I should be able to get half my goal accomplished in the warm beach months.
  • New shops // There is a new general store in the next town over that I'm excited to try out. If nothing else, I hear it has wonderful potato salad and that is really the key to my heart if we are being honest.
  • Meditation // Real bad here. I have even stopped going to yoga mostly so I'm very much in a meditation debt. 
  • Letters // I have put a few letters in the mail but could be better about it. Most recently I mailed a note to my 97 year old neighbor who is seriously adorable. But I have a whole pile of stamps so I could be a lot better about this.
  • Health Goals // I am vigilant about my sleep. I will leave any social occasion and turn off any tv show when it gets to my bedtime. I do think there is a chance that I might need a new mattress ... 

Quick Cinnamon Roll Caserole

... and when I say Quick, I really mean quick. This whole recipe was complete from start to finish in about 75 minutes - which is impressive considering its not just a "dump it all in" casserole. You have legit manual labor to do here.

I was in the market for a good Father's Day breakfast dish. Typically I default to a batch of Monkey Bread for just about every holiday. It's incredibly easy and customizable. Christmas time? Make the glaze with eggnog. Summer? Toss some blueberries in. But I felt like doing something a little different.

I've made quick cinnamon rolls before but nothing quite as simple and straight forward at these. I would just about guarantee you already have everything you need - except for the cream cheese in the frosting. It was rather astounding.

That being said, I don't think the flavors in this were incredibly deep. To me, it did taste like I had only spent one quick morning on it. Everyone else that consumed it loved it for one reason or another. My dad said he liked it more than monkey bread. Monkey bread is loaded up with sugar and sweetness and this was a gentler version of that.

A few notes:

  • The dough is a very quick dough. As a result, you do need frosting or glaze to amp up the appeal. 
  • The filling is very important. Do not skimp on this at all. Go heavy. I doubled what the recipe originally called for. I have no idea how they got by with it.
  • Frosting. It might seem silly but absolutely whip the frosted for 3-5 minutes. Yes, it will be fully mixed after a few seconds but the extra time really lightens it up and gives it a wonderful whipped texture. Highly recommend.
Frosting on the side? I added all the frosting before serving just to make it easy. I stand by this too because it helped people not stress about cutting a roll in half. That being said, my mom felt like I could have cut back on the frosting. So just think about your audience and go with your sugar filled gut.

Here's how it goes:

  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in flour, salt, and oil. Beat until smooth. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll to 1/4 or 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Heat oven to 350°F (or 325°F in a convection) and dish with bakers spray or butter.
  5. In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon with a fork.
  6. Spread brown sugar and spice mixture over dough making sure it covers entire surface.
  7. Starting at either end of the dough roll it up like a log. I tend to go with the longer edge, but either is fine. It'll just affect the size of the roll at the end.
  8. Cut the log into even pieces and place in dish so that layers of the roll is visible.
  9. Bake for 25-35 minutes. 
  10. While the rolls are baking in the oven, make your frosting. Add cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar, and vanilla in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.
  11. Mix on low to just combine. Once ingredients are all incorporated turn mixer on high and leave it for 3-4 minutes. Frosting should be light and fluffy.
  12. When rolls are done baking allow them to cool for up to five minutes before frosting.

Shopping List
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
3 3/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons olive oil

5 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. McCormick® Cinnamon

4 oz cream cheese, softened
5 tbsp butter, softened
2 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract

banana hazelnut cake


Well, this is my second cake. The frosting didn't come out quite as beautiful as the first one last week - but it tastes pretty delicious and I'm good with that. On Friday, I googled "spring cakes" and landed on this website called "The Cake Blog". So many good options. I'm actually a little tempted to try and do one cake a week - or other similar-ish dessert.

I still had a couple of bananas leftover so this is a banana cake again - but it is different. There is a little less banana in the actual cake and the frosting has nutella in it. Amazing right? I'm not totally invested this whole cake baking process quite yet, so when the recipe also called for "homemade chocolate ganache" .... I just drizzled chocolate syrup on the cake and called it a day. I don't feel bad about it.

The funny part about this cake baking is that I really have never thought of myself as someone who "likes" cake. I'll choose a cookie or a tart or a shortcake or a biscuit before I'd ever choose cake. But, when you make it yourself the affection grows a bit more. That being said, I need to start giving this cake away more aggressively because it is not healthy to eat cake this much. I already have a lot of other troublesome things I like to eat regularly and cannot add cake to the list. Dunkin Donuts coffee rolls are a new favorite. It's like a glazed donut and a cinnamon roll had a delicious baby. So good.

Either way, the reviews on this cake were really solid. My cousin Molly liked it more than the prior banana cake. After eating it my dad said to me "I thought you said this cake didn't come out great?" To clarify that last point, I think the cake itself was great. A little bit sweeter and lighter than Cake #1 but the frosting definitely lacked a better consistency. I should have added more butter probably.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour round pans.
  2. Mash ripe bananas in a small bowl with a fork and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well combined. Set aside.
  4. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat on med-high until pale and fluffy (2-3 minutes). It truly is worth it to beat for the extra time. The consistency on the butter and sugar changes and you'll see a difference.
  5. With the mixer on low, add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla extract.
  6. With the mixer on low, add in half of the dry ingredients.
  7. Mix in the sour cream.
  8. Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mashed bananas. Mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until golden – about 22-25 minutes for the 6-7 inch recommended size. 
  1. In between layers of cake, you can drizzle chocolate syrup. I think it helped to keep the cake extra moist - but what do I know?
Shopping List
3 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain sour cream 

For the Frosting1/2 - 3/4 Cups Butter Softened
4ish Cups Powdered Sugar
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
3-5 tablespoons Heavy Whipping Cream
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