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
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