Category Archives: Desserts

Easter Nests with Almond Bark

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The best part of any holiday is family gathering in the kitchen.  I’ve always loved cooking and baking. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to share traditions with my future child. I would help both my grandmother and mother in the kitchen.

My grandma lived on a farm and I’d help her clean green beans, collect eggs, and bake German Chocolate Cake. I cherish those memories. My mother is an amazing baker and she would create elaborate cakes for our birthdays – remember the Barbie cakes? I had several of those.

And I also teach my 6-year-old how to cook and bake. But I am a modern woman and so we focus on fun and easy recipes.

Many families make Easter nests, which are candy nests made with chow mein noodles (although there are other variations).  Most people I know use chocolate in their recipe, but I like to work with almond bark  because it is more forgiving. It also sets faster which means we can eat these sooner.

I use both vanilla and chocolate almond bark for variety. I add coconut to the chocolate, and pretzels to the vanilla because the vanilla is sweeter and it adds a salty crunch. I love sweet and salty combinations. I hope you make these with your children!

Almond bark nests

 

Almond Bark Nests

Makes 20 nests

5 squares chocolate almond bark

5 squares vanilla almond bark

3 cups chow mein noodles

½ cup shredded coconut

½ cup broken pretzel pieces

Wax paper

Jellybeans or chocolate eggs

This makes 10 chocolate nests and 10 vanilla.

Spread wax paper out over two cookie sheets. Set aside.

Place chocolate almond bark in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 60 seconds. Stir and then microwave at 20 second intervals until the chocolate has melted. Stir in 1 ½ cups of chow mein noodles and ½ cup shredded coconut. Stir to coat.

Use two spoons to grab a mound of mix and place it on wax paper, try to make an indentation in the center so you can place a jellybean there later. Allow to cool for 40 minutes.

Place vanilla almond bark in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 60 seconds. Stir and then microwave at 20 second intervals until the bark has melted. Stir in 1 ½ cups of chow mein noodles and ½ cup crushed pretzels. I used mini rods.  Stir to coat and when the mixture is coated in bark, spoon onto wax paper. Try to leave an indentation in the center. Cool. Once mixture has hardened, place one or two jellybeans in the center.

 

 

Lemon Blueberry Tart

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Lemon and spring are the perfect pairing.

I adore lemon- the tart, bright flavor. And lemon desserts make me swoon. This lemon tart is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO EASY! If you’re not a baker, this is your dessert because it is simple.

You simply bake a store bought crust, fill it with a luscious mixture of lemon curd, lemon zest, mascarpone and powdered sugar. Then top it with blueberries. Chill and serve. Yes, it’s that easy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. It’s a nice addition to the Easter table.

Lemon Blueberry Tart

1 (9-inch) tart pan

1 store bought pie crust or favorite pie recipe

1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 (10-ounce) jar lemon curd

½ teaspoon lemon zest

1 pint  fresh blueberries

TIP: If you want a no bake dessert, use a premade graham cracker or shortbread crust. Shortbread crusts are not as easy to find, but I prefer it over the graham cracker.

Directions:

Fill tart pan with store bought pie crust, be sure to overlap the crust around the pan because if you don’t, it will sink down while you bake it.

If you don’t have a tart pan, you could use a shallow pie pan (must be shallow).

Bake pie crust according to package directions, and be sure to pierce it repeatedly with a fork before baking.

Cool completely on the counter before filling.

For the filling, stir together mascarpone and powdered sugar, then stir in lemon curd and zest. Spread into the tart pan. Top with blueberries. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until time to serve.

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The Easiest Ultimate Coconut Cake

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Easter would not be Easter without coconut cake.

What am I saying? Any day is a good day for coconut cake. The problem is most recipes are time consuming or call for multiple layers, which means there’s a higher probability that something can go wrong.

I have the solution. A simple white coconut cake that is delectable! It starts with a boxed white cake and then I make it similar to a tres leches cake but I use coconut based milks instead of cow’s milk.

Tres leches translates into “three milks” and it’s a dessert usually made with sweetened condensed milk, regular milk or cream,  and evaporated milk.  The mixture is poured over a cake and the cake soaks it up. For my coconut version, I use cream of coconut (it comes in a can and is used to create pina coladas);  coconut milk (the refrigerated variety not a can), and then top the cake with homemade whipped cream.

This cake is delectable. It is best made a day in advance which is perfect because you’re not fussing with it on Easter day. It’s a sheet cake so it’s not as pretty as a layered cake, but the flavor makes up for the presentation.

The coconut milks soak into the cake overnight transforming it into a light, fluffy bite of coconut heaven.

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Coconut Tres Leches Cake

1 box vanilla cake

3 eggs

½ cup shredded sweetened coconut

1 cup water

½ cup canola

1 (15-ounce) can Coco Lopez cream of coconut

2/3 cup refrigerated coconut milk

2 cups heavy whipping cream

½ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon

2 teaspoons vanilla extract or coconut extract

2 cups shredded sweetened coconut

It is very important you use cream of coconut, not a can of coconut milk. Cream of coconut is thick, very sweet with a strong coconut flavor, whereas coconut milk is thinner and not sweet. Cream of coconut is the goodness that goes into a Pina Colada so sometimes you will find it next to the alcohol mixers or in a liquor store.

The recipe calls for refrigerated coconut milk, not canned. If you cannot find refrigerated variety, you can substitute whole milk or use equal parts milk and coconut coffee creamer.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together cake, eggs,  ½ cup shredded coconut, water and oil. Pour into a greased in a 13 x 9 inch pan. Bake according to package directions.

When it has cooled, poke repeatedly with a fork and poke it all the way to the bottom.

Whisk together cream of coconut with coconut milk or plain milk. Pour over the cake.

Use an electric mixer to beat the heavy whipping cream on high speed. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and vanilla extract. Whip until mixture thickens. Then spread over the cake. Top with 2 cups shredded coconut.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours, but overnight is best.

 

What to do with leftover Halloween candy

 

 

DSC_0268On Halloween, if you’re expecting a flood of trick-or-treaters and don’t get many, or your kiddo comes home with more candy than you want them to eat, don’t fret, put the leftover candy to use.

There are many ways to repurpose Halloween sweets.

This may sound terrible, but I swipe some candy from my daughter’s pumpkin ever year and it reappears in her stocking at Christmas (she’s never noticed). I don’t like her to eat a lot of candy and I figure she scores enough on Halloween to help out Santa.

I save Hershey’s Kisses to make peanut butter Hershey’s Kiss cookies at Christmas.

Anything peanut related – like Reese’s or Butterfingers- can be used in peanut butter pie.

Kit Kats are wonderful baked into brownies with mini marshmallows – it creates S’mores\ brownies. Bake your favorite recipe according to its directions, and in the last 10 minutes, top it with chopped up Kit Kats and 3/4 cup or more of mini marshmallows. The crunchy cookie in the Kit Kat acts like a graham cracker and then you have the marshmallows and chocolate. It’s delicious.

I also love to make Snickers or Baby Ruth brownies. I simply chop 8-10 mini bars and sprinkle them on top of the brownie before I bake it. Any candy bar with caramel works well because it melts into the chocolate. These will freeze well, too.

This year I decided to put some of my least favorite ingredients to reuse for this column.  I don’t like white chocolate but I made an amazing trail mix using white chocolate Kit Kats.  As a side note, you can use a variety of chocolates in trail mix or party mix. But I blended crunchy pretzels, salty cashews, plump raisins and white chocolate Kit Kats and it was some of the best trail mix I’ve ever tasted.  The sweet and salty, soft and crunchy combinations were perfect. I plan to give away batches for Christmas.

I also decided to play around with infused vodkas- those are not kid friendly. Every year I infuse vodka with jalapenos and give it away as Christmas gifts, but this year I am tinkering with some sweet vodkas. I made one out of Skittles, one from Tootsie Rolls and chocolate, and another from candy corn. To my surprise, the candy corn was the best. I absolutely hate candy corn, but when it dissolves in vodka, it leaves behind a caramel, butterscotch flavor. I plan to make more and give it away with a recipe for a Candy Corn Martini attached.

The Skittles vodka was cloudy and had a layer of foam on top, so I pitched it. I tasted it and it tasted as good as it looked, so I’m not including the recipe.  I just wanted you to know in case you’re tempted to infuse Skittles into your vodka.

The Tootsie Roll vodka was OK, and I transformed it into a Tootsie Roll Coffee Martini (use the vodka in your favorite chocolate coffee martini recipe). You have to strain the vodka first through a fine mesh cloth because it’s a little chunky.

Definitely the crowd winning favorite was the dessert salad I made. I was talking to my neighbor and she told me about a dessert salad her mom makes with Snickers, apples,  and butterscotch pudding- called a Toffee Apple Salad. It sounded incredibly sweet but I loved the idea of a dessert pudding so I came up with my own version. This would be excellent on Thanksgiving. I mixed French vanilla pudding with whipped topping, milk, mini marshmallows, tart Granny Smith apples, and Snickers and Butterfingers. The result was incredible. Everyone who tried this took second servings. It has a caramel apple flavor, but is super light even though it sounds heavy. The tart apple mellows it out and adds crunch. I highly recommend it.

If you aren’t planning to hand out candy but want to try one of my recipes, wait until the day after Halloween when the candy is all on sale and make it then.

Happy Halloween and I hope you enjoy the recipes.candy corn vodka

Candy Corn Infused Vodka

4 cups vodka

2 cups candy corn

Drop candy corn into vodka and store in a cool dark place for 2 weeks. Shake the mixture every day. Then strain it and serve.

 

Tootsie Roll Infused Vodka

1 bottle vodka, minus ½ cup

1/3 cup white chocolate chips

11 large tootsie rolls

Pour out ½ cup of vodka so you have room for the candy. Insert the candy. Put the top back on and shake the vodka. Place in a dark, cool place for 2 weeks. Shake the mixture once a day. After 2 weeks, strain the mixture and use in your favorite chocolate coffee martini recipe, or chocolate martini recipe.

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Candy Apple Pudding

1 (3.4 ounce) package French vanilla pudding

2 cups whole milk

1 (8-ounce) container whipped topping

2 large Granny smith apples, cored and diced

2/3 cup mini marshmallows

12 Snickers minis

5 Butterfinger minis

Whisk together the pudding mix and milk until pudding starts to thicken. Then stir in the container of whipped topping. Core and dice the apples. Chop the Snickers and Butterfingers and stir those into the mixture with the apples and mini marshmallows. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. This keeps for 5 days in the refrigerator. If pudding starts to separate, simply stir it.

Awesome Trail Mix

3 cups mini pretzel twists

1 3/4 cups white chocolate Kit Kat minis

1 ½ cups raisins

1 ½ cups salted cashew halves

Mix all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container.

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Candied Pecans- marvelous gift

This is one of my top three most popular holiday food gifts. People are already asking me when my candied pecans will be ready.  To me, this is the most perfect recipe. It’s not too sweet, the coating isn’t too hard like some recipes. It’s perfect.

You can substitute rum extract for the vanilla, too. It’s amazing. Enjoy!

Candied Pecans

3 cups pecan halves

½ cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix together sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

Whisk together egg white and vanilla extract. Place pecans in a large bowl and add the egg white mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat the pecans. Then add the cinnamon sugar and stir until all the nuts are coated.

Spread pecans out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (very important). Bake for 15 minutes. Give the pecans a good stir and then bake 15 more minutes.

Be sure to cool the pecans completely before you package them or they will become soft. Store in an airtight container.

Give Me S’more Love

S’mores are gooey goodness.

While many people consider them a summer ritual, for me it’s fall fare. I am far more likely to sit around a campfire when the temperatures cool off than I am on a hot summer night.

There is something so simple and special about a toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham crackers with chocolate. I love it. When I was a kid, I made basic S’mores but today I get creative with this treat. There are different flavored marshmallows on the market, a variety of graham crackers to choose from, different chocolates (I’m partial to dark chocolate), and my imagination.

If you’re only familiar with a traditional S’more, try a few of these ideas:

Use a cinnamon graham cracker topped with apple butter or pumpkin butter instead of chocolate and then add the toasted marshmallow.

Use pumpkin flavored marshmallows in the fall and pair it with white chocolate.

Create a S’more ice cream sandwich with a little vanilla ice cream, toasted marshmallow and a big drizzle of fudge sauce and caramel sauce. This is lovely! Eat it like a sandwich or use the graham crackers as a spoon.

Use Ritz crackers instead of graham crackers for a salty kick. A little date jam or spread is great with the salt.

A thin slice of brie at room temperature with the chocolate and toasted marshmallow is excellent.

Use a chocolate graham cracker, dark chocolate and add a slice of strawberry on your S’more sandwich.

After you toast your marshmallow, roll it in shredded coconut and drizzle dark Hershey’s syrup on instead of using a square of chocolate.

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One of my favorite S’mores is Peanut Butter Banana because the peanut butter cuts the sweetness and adds richness, and I love bananas and chocolate.   Add a slice of candied bacon and call it “The Elvis.”

Use a variety of nut spreads on the graham cracker like almond or cashew; or skip the chocolate and use Nutella instead.

As you can see, there are so many combinations.

Aside from good old-fashioned S’mores, I wanted to share a few other S’more themed recipes like my  Easy S’more Bars. The name says it all. I start with a box of cake mix, mix it with eggs and butter and then spread it in a pan. I top that with chocolate and marshmallows and bake it. That’s easy!

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You can serve this dish warm or room temperature, see my notes in the instructions.

And finally, The S’mores Fondue is so decadent, quick, and perfect for a party. If you don’t have a flame to toast your marshmallows but still want the spirit of that dessert, this is the recipe for you. The fondue takes less than 10 minutes to make (it has only two ingredients) and then you dip graham crackers and marshmallows in the melted chocolate and it’s heavenly. If you don’t have a fire pit, live in an apartment or just don’t want to deal with fire, this is a great option.

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I hope this gets you out of your S’mores comfort zone and you enjoy these recipes.

Peanut Butter Banana S’mores

10 graham crackers

5 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

10 thin slices of banana

5 large marshmallows

5 large pieces of dark chocolate (or your favorite chocolate)

Spread the peanut butter on only one side of the graham crackers and then top each with two slices of banana.  Set aside.

Toast your marshmallows to desired doneness and then sandwich one on a graham cracker. Add chocolate and close it to make a sandwich. Eat and enjoy. It’s messy so have a napkin handy.

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Easy S’more Bars

Serves 12-16

1 yellow cake mix

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, beaten

2 cups chocolate chips

2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the cake mix into a medium bowl.  Melt the butter in the microwave and the pour it into the bowl. Add the beaten eggs and stir until combined. Coat a 13×9 inch pan with cooking spray. Spread the mixture in the pan using your hands to spread it out and press it down. Try to make it as even as possible. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and mini marshmallows over the top and bake it for 30 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

Note: This dish is incredible warm out of the oven but it doesn’t slice well. If you are serving family and don’t care how it looks, you can serve it warm while the chips are melted, just know it will fall apart. It’s amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream when it’s warm though.

For proper bars, you must cool the dessert completely before slicing.

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S’mores Fondue

Serves 10

½ pint of heavy whipping cream

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 bag or large marshmallows

1 box of Graham crackers

Sticks to skewer the marshmallows

This dish comes together quickly so you want everything ready for serving. It takes about 7 minutes total and then it’s ready to serve. I have fondue equipment, but if you don’t you can use forks to skewer the marshmallows or even wooden skewers.

Pour the heavy whipping cream in a medium pot and turn the heat to medium. When the cream just starts to form bubbles around the edges, stir in the chocolate chips.  Stir until the chocolate has melted and it is smooth. It will look and smell incredible. Immediately transfer it to a serving bowl. Surround the dish with marshmallows and graham crackers and serve.

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Panna Cotta with Blueberry Port Sauce and Strawberries

If you’ve only ordered panna cotta in a restaurant, you need to make this. If you can make Jello, you can do this. It’s closely related in terms of preparation.

Panna cotta is an eggless Italian custard. It’s fairly plain but is often served with a nice fruit sauce that enhances the flavor.

I created this red, white and blue sweet treat for the Fourth of July.

Since I needed something blue for my theme, I decided to make a blueberry port sauce to pour over and it’s wonderful. Strawberries add a touch of red and texture.  It’s very nice.

For the photos, I styled my panna cotta two ways: in a champagne flute, which is beautiful; and then in a star glass dish that I bought from Dollar Tree.

 

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You can also serve them in ramekins which is more traditional.

It’s simple and perfect for a couple or small family because there’s only five servings. Enjoy!

Panna Cotta with Blueberry Port Sauce and Strawberries

Makes 5 servings

1/2 cup whole milk

1 ½ envelopes (.25 ounces each) unflavored gelatin

2 cups of heavy whipping cream (1 pint)

½ cup sugar

1 vanilla bean

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sauce:

1 pint blueberries

¼ cup water

¼ cup sugar

3 tablespoons port

1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

For the panna cotta: place whole milk in a bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it. Set aside for 3 minutes.

Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape the tiny seeds inside into a heavy bottomed pot. The seeds contain the vanilla flavor. Next add the heavy cream and sugar and heat it over medium or medium-low heat. You don’t want to rush it because you don’t want the cream to curdle. Stir until sugar is dissolved.

Then pour the gelatin/milk mixture into the cream. Stir until gelatin is dissolved which takes about 3 minutes.

When it’s done, turn off the heat and add the vanilla extract.

Pour ½ cup of mixture into ramekins or champagne glasses, whatever you plan to use to serve the dish.  Refrigerate for 4 hours.

For the port sauce, heat blueberries, water and sugar in a small pan over medium heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture thickens. When it’s done, stir in the port.   For a mild port flavor, use 2 tablespoons. If you want more pronounced flavor, add 3 or even 4. I used Taylor Port which is readily available, inexpensive and works wells in this recipe.

Refrigerate the port sauce until it’s time to use. Note, you can also serve the port sauce warm but if you decide to do this make it right before serving.

Before serving, top each panna cotta with blueberry port sauce and fresh strawberries.

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