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Yeah, We Got It! Hot Chocolate!

5 Oct

When the Southern California sky looks like this…

I start thinking of warm and cozy things, like a big cup of decadent hot chocolate.

But I’m not talking about some powder that you mix with water. If that satisfies your taste buds, by all means, rip that packet open. But once you try this hot chocolate from scratch, you won’t be able to drink the other stuff without cringing.

Let’s start with the ingredients:
Hot chocolate homemade
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch salt
Dash of cinnamon (optional)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup boiling water
3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Half & half (optional)

(Just out of curiosity, let’s look at the ingredients of a popular hot cocoa mix: sugar, corn syrup, modified whey, cocoa (processed with alkali), hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat milk, calcium carbonate, less than 2% of: salt, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, artificial flavor, carrageenan. Mmmm, tasty.)

Boil the water. In a separate pan, combine the sugar, salt, a dash of cinnamon and cocoa; add boiling water and stir. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk and continue to stir until hot (do not bring to a boil). Remove from heat and add vanilla. Divide into cups and add half & half (as desired) to bring to a drinking temperature. (I added the half & half to my daughter’s but not mine.) This makes about four servings.

I don’t think she liked it.
Homemade hot chocolate from scratch

Neither did I. I just drank three cups’ worth and ruined my appetite for dinner. And am counting the minutes until I can make more.


Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

3 Oct

Pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting
We may be in the middle of a hot, humid stretch of weather in Southern California, but in my mind it’s fall and there’s a chill in the air.

And what better way to celebrate fall (and my dear, sweet husband’s birthday) than with pumpkin cake slathered with thick, luscious cream cheese frosting?

Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my keyboard.

Technically this recipe is called Pumpkin Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting, but I didn’t find anything remotely bar-like in the finished product. Instead of a 9 x 13 baking dish, I used two square baking pans and had plenty of frosting (OMG – the frosting) to use in between the layers. There is nothing dry about this cake, folks. As other reviewers noted, I had to bake it for about 10 minutes longer than the recommended time and it was still so moist and perfect. (And for those of you who really know me, you know I hate the word moist. And I just used it twice. So it MUST be true.)

Bake this cake. You will love it. Your family and friends will devour it and sing your praises. And your kitchen will smell like cinnamon and pumpkin and all the spicy goodness of fall.

Favorite Recipes

1 Sep

Looking for inspiration for this week’s meal plan?

There are some recipes you just keep going back to, time and time again. I file these under “Tried and True” in my bookmarks. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Spinach Smoothies (aka Monster Juice)
Whole Wheat Breakfast Muffins

Tomato, Red Onion, and Basil Bruschetta

Cottage Cheese Chicken Enchiladas
Goat Cheese Arugula Pizza
Tasty Lentil Tacos
Panera Broccoli Cheese Soup
Roasted Corn Chowder with Chicken & Cilantro (Gluten and dairy-free!)
Creamy Cajun Chicken Pasta
Honey Baked Chicken

Vegetables and Sides
Baked Zucchini
Sweet Cornbread

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
No Bake Cookies
Oatmeal Chip Cookies

Fresh Peach Cobbler

18 Aug

peach tree
My in-laws are drowning in peaches from the tree in their back yard. Clusters of peaches hang heavily from the branches; piles of peaches litter the ground below. In just a matter of days we have picked hundreds of the sweet fruits, shuttling bags off to neighbors, eating them morning, noon and night, freezing huge batches… and barely a dent has been made.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try my hand at peach cobbler. Generally I overlook fruity desserts in favor of chocolate, but I needed to do my part to eat our way out of the mountain sitting on the counter. What a sacrifice.

I wanted a simple recipe with ingredients we had on-hand, and one without any egg (my daughter is allergic). I found this recipe for peach cobbler by Paula Deen on and decided to give it a try, with a couple of minor variations.

We didn’t have self-rising flour, so I made my own with:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

self-rising flour
Mix and set aside. (Skip this step if using self-rising flour.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Peel and slice 4 cups of fresh peaches. (Next time I would probably add another cup or two for extra peachiness.)

peach cobbler
Combine peaches, 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan. I also added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix well; bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, melt 8 tablespoons (one stick) of butter in a 3-quart baking dish in the oven.

Mix 1 cup sugar, 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour and 1 1/2 cups milk slowly, and pour over the melted butter. I know it’s tempting but don’t stir!

peach cobbler
Spoon the peaches on top, then gently pour in the syrup. I sprinkled the top with a bit of brown sugar and some cinnamon.

The recipe suggests baking for 30 to 45 minutes; I found it took closer to 50 minutes to brown a bit on top and get a nice little crust around the edges.

peach cobbler

peach cobbler
Serve with ice cream or fresh whipping cream. Take another look at the peach tree and wonder how many more cobblers you can bake before the season ends.

Gourmet Chocolate (with a Conscience)

16 Aug

Although I have a sweet tooth – a mouth full of them, because I would hate to limit myself – I have yet to venture into the world of candy making.

So when I went to visit my in-laws’ home in San Luis Obispo, I set out to find a unique, local chocolate shop – something I wouldn’t be able to find in my hometown, also known as Land of the National Chains. And I came across Sweet Earth Chocolates, which sells exclusively 100% organic and certified fair trade chocolate.

Lucky, lucky me.

I wanted to be sure to give you all a virtual taste of the selection at Sweet Earth, so I asked the salesperson for some assistance in choosing flavors. With options like Cardamom Ginger or Coconut Curry Truffle and Green Tea or Cherry Chipotle Creme, there was no way I could walk out of there with a run-of-the-mill milk chocolate or caramel. We settled on three truffles – Lavender, Aztec and Framboise.

Lucky, lucky me.

lavender truffle
Lavender – dark chocolate and lavender inside, white chocolate coating. Smooth, delicious, and the lavender wasn’t overpowering like I was worried it would be. Yum. My mother-in-law liked this one the best. (What – you didn’t think I would share?)

Aztec truffle
Aztec – cinnamon, dark chocolate and ancho pepper. Yowza. This one had kick!

Framboise truffle
Framboise – I was so excited to get these home at this point I forgot to ask what was in it. But I believe it has something to do with raspberries, creaminess and wonderfulness. This was my favorite.

I’m adding Sweet Earth Chocolates to my list of favorite places to visit when I’m in San Luis Obispo. If you aren’t able to make it to the storefront, you can also order online (and in bulk!).

Lucky, lucky you.

Note: I paid for my chocolates and received no compensation from Sweet Earth for this review.

Sweet Cupcake Liners

26 May

I beg of you, someone please come up with a reasonably valid excuse for me to buy these gingham red cupcake liners from Sur la Table.
cupcake liner

Theme party celebrating Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island? Anyone? Anyone?

Look, they come in yellow, too.
cupcake liner

So, so adorable.

If I were baking cupcakes for my best friend, I would use these zebra ones.
cupcake liner

This is why I’m not allowed to go into Sur la Table anymore. Before I know it I’ll be walking out the door with a bag full of cupcake liners and an empty wallet.

What baking accessory do you covet?

The Best Strawberry Buttercream

12 May

I have a new love and its name is Strawberry Buttercream.

Specifically, Sprinkles Cupcakes Strawberry Frosting, as generously shared on

Since discovering this recipe, I’ve made it three times, each with slight variations on the cake: one egg-free vanilla version, one regular vanilla version, and one devil’s food cake version. The consensus? You really can’t go wrong with this recipe. It’s sure to please the pickiest of cupcake eaters.

This recipe is easy to pipe on to the cakes, but because of the strawberry puree it is a little softer than traditional buttercream. Go with it. I was tempted to add powdered sugar to make the frosting a little firmer but my good and honest friend (who tried the first and second attempts) said the added sugar made the strawberry flavor weaker.

Previously frozen strawberries work fine but I highly recommend using organic, fresh strawberries whenever possible.