Sunday, March 1, 2015

Baked Manicotti

I remember going to a dine-in Pizza Hut restaurant often when I was a kid.  We would put songs on the jukebox like "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns'n'Roses, "More Than Words" by Extreme and "To be with You" by Mr. Big.  Does anyone else remember that song?!  Or do jukeboxes even exist anymore?!  Anyway, we'd be sitting at the table listening to the same songs every time, and I would be looking around at all the stuff on the walls, and my eyes would drift to the table.  Then, I would see it.  The spice of death known as Red Pepper Flakes.  My eyes widened, and a fear came over me.  How could anyone like that stuff!  Maybe Smaug, the dragon, appreciates it because no human on earth could possibly like their mouth to be one fire when eating pizza.  To further my point, recently we went to a pizza place, and my two-year old tends to get a little excited with sprinkling things on her pizza.  Apparently, she grabbed the red pepper flakes when I wasn't looking and sprinkled a bunch on her pizza.  Well, since she eats as much as an ant in a day, I thought I'd finish off one of her pieces.  Holy piece of death!  There were so many red pepper flakes on that bad boy, and I had no idea until I took a bite.  It was crazy, folks.  My mouth was burning for like 30 minutes.  Well, despite my fear of red pepper flakes that stemmed as a child in Pizza Hut, I have come to appreciate them in red pasta sauce.  The flavor disperses and gives the pasta sauce a bit of a kick.  I know the recipe says "optional" for them, but try it out if you never have!  I'm telling you, it does wonders for your pasta sauce.

Now a quick blurb on this manicotti... When I told my husband I was making this, he was not thrilled.  He's not a fan of ricotta, so he was thinking that it would be pasta tubes filled with 1 c of manicotti.  These are different, my friends!  They use lasagna noodles and are rolled up.  It's more like lasagna rolls than manicotti, and they were amazing!  The sauce was great, there wasn't too much ricotta in each one, and when I told my son it was like lasagna, he ate four of these, which is crazy because he eats as much as two ants in a day.

This recipe will not disappoint!

Best Baked Manicotti
Baked Manicotti
source: America's Test Kitchen The New Family Cookbook pg. 363
photo source:


2 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes (optional)
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1/4 c fresh basil (or 1 1/2 T dried)
salt and pepper
1 1/2 lbs ricotta
1 c Parmesan cheese, grated
8 oz mozzarella, shredded
2 lg eggs, lightly beaten
2 T minced fresh parsley (or 3/4 t dried)
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
16 no-boil lasagna noodles (The flat kind)

1 c mozzarella or Parmesan for the top

In a large pot, cook oil, garlic, and pepper flakes until fragrant- 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn of the heat, and add 3/4 t basil, salt, and pepper.  Cover to keep warm,

Mix ricotta, 1 c Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, parsley, 3/4 t basil, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Mix well.

Pour 1 inch of boiling water into a 9x13 pan.  Slip the lasagna noodles in, one at a time.  Let the noodles soak for 5 minutes, using a knife to make sure they don't stick together.  Remove the noodles and place them on a clean dish towel.  Pour the water out and dry the pan.

Preheat the oven to 375, with the rack in the middle position.  Spread 1 1/2 c sauce into the 9x13 pan. Working with a few noodles at a time, spoon 1/4 cup of the ricotta mixture onto each noodle.  Spread the ricotta evenly onto the bottom 3/4 of the noodle.  Starting at the bottom, roll up the noodle.  Place it seam side down in the pan.  Finish the remaining noodles and cover completely with the remaining sauce.

Cover dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove the pan.  Take the foil off and cover with 1 c mozzarella or Parmesan, or a mixture of both.  Broil 6 inches from the broiler for 4-6 minutes or until the cheese is spotty brown.

Let cool for ten minutes.

Black Magic Cake (The best chocolate cake I've ever tasted!)

Before I talk about the cake, I need to tell a hilarious story.  My family and I are quite nerdy and are into superheroes, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars,  One night at dinner, we were discussing if we could be any superhero, who we would be and why.  As a little background, my daughter has a specials teacher (I'll call her Mrs. Jones) at her school who is known for not being too nice.  The thought of going to this special had my poor son in tears on the first day of school for fear of being yelled at by her.  So, when my daughter got to pick her superhero, she said, "I would be Iceman, so I could freeze Mrs. Jones, and put a sign on her that says, "Class dismissed."  I seriously laughed so hard.  That girl cracks me up.  Now to the cake...

The first time I made this cake, I took it to my parent's house for dessert after dinner.  My brother, who happens to love chocolate cake, took a decent sized piece.  He took one bite and said, "This is hands-down the best chocolate cake I've ever had!  How did you make this?!"  Every time we get together for a birthday or if I'm supplying dessert, he quickly makes his way into the kitchen and asks if I made THE chocolate cake.  For my son's birthday recently, he cut himself a piece the size of Vermont and ate the entire thing without hesitation.  I can't say that I blame the guy!  The flavor is complex and delicious, and it stays moist for days!  I don't think I'll ever make another chocolate cake recipe because this one cannot be beat.

One last thing- don't be afraid of the addition of coffee!  I don't drink the stuff, but my husband has Pero on hand, so I use that.  Pero tastes just like coffee but doesn't have the caffeine.  It makes the flavor of the cake outstanding!

Post image for Black Magic Cake…

Hershey's Black Magic Cake
cake source:
frosting source: Taste of Home 50th Anniversary Cookbook pg. 230
photo source:

Ingredients for Cake:
2 c sugar
1 3/4 c flour
3/4 c cocoa
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 eggs
1 c buttermilk or sour milk*
1 c strong black coffee (I used Pero)  or 2 t powdered instant coffee plus 1 c boiling water
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 t vanilla

Ingredients for one bowl frosting;
1/2 c butter
2/3 c cocoa
2-3 c powdered sugar
1/3 c milk
1 t vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans OR 1 9x13 pan.

Combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in your mixer's bowl.  Use the paddle attachment to combine those ingredients together.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil, and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  (Remember- you've got a whole lot of liquid in there, so your batter will be very thin.)

Pour batter into prepared pans.

For the round pans- Bake 30-35 minutes
For the 9x13- Bake 35-40

Before taking it out for good, do the toothpick test.  Stick a toothpick in the center of the cake, if it comes out clean, the cake is done.


For the Frosting:
In a medium, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter.  Add the cocoa and stir to combine.  Alternately add the powdered sugar and milk. Stir in vanilla.
(I wrote 2-3 c powdered sugar because I tend to use less powdered sugar.  The full three cups makes the frosting too thick for my taste.  I like it a little more like ganache.  Feel free to use the full three cups if you'd like!)

*To make sour milk, put 1 T of lemon juice or vinegar in a 1 c measuring cup.  Add milk to fill to the top.  Let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Baked French Toast Muffins

You've got to love the Christmas season.  Shopping every day for a Christmas party, gift exchange, work gathering, baking extravaganza.  It's madness!  Well, when I go out, I try to take my two year old since she is cooped up at home all day.  If you've ever had a two-year-old, you know eventful a simple trip to pick up a couple things can be.  She is in this stage now where she fancies bringing about 80 random objects into the car and always insists on taking all of them into whatever store we are venturing into.  Well, today, she had a shoebox filled with three little baby blankets, a pine cone, a rock, a fake flower, a little stuffed hippo, a small purse, and a bouncy ball.  When it was time to go into Target, I told her that she couldn't take her box.  Oh, no, I didn't!  She wigged out!  She was screaming and flailing about and letting the entire block of Silverado Ranch and Eastern that she wanted to take her box into Target.  I calmly held her and said that she wasn't taking her box.  As she screamed like Christmas was canceled, I got dirty looks by passerbys and police officers considering taking me in for child abuse.  Finally, I saw a police car parked out front.  I said, "Hey, Scarlet, do you want to see the lights on a police car?"  She calmly replied, "Okay."  That was that.  The end.  I laughed about the whole thing a few minutes after it was over, but I laughed harder at the picture that my eight year old drew to depict the situation:

I love how my hands are up in the air with a tornado of confusion/frustration above my head.  I'm glad my older daughter can bring humor to situations like this and laugh at my craziness of being a mom of three.  

Anyway- these little French Toast muffins are tasty!  My family loved them, and they are a bit different than your usual French Toast.  They taste the same but are in cute little muffin form!  What's not to love?!

Baked French Toast Muffins

3 lg eggs
1/2 c milk
1 T brown sugar
1 T sugar
2 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla
8 slices bread

Preheat oven to 350

Prepare your muffin tin.  Grease each muffin cup very well.  I used the PAM with flour, and it worked like a charm!

Combine the first six ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix well.

Use a pizza cutter to slice each slide of bread into 1 inch cubes.  Add the bread cubes into the egg mixture and toss to combine.  Let it rest for 3-5 minutes to allow the egg mixture to soak into the bread.

Spoon some of the mixture into the muffin cups until it's about 3/4 full.  This will be enough to fill all 12 muffin cups.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops are light brown.  Start checking around 20 minutes to ensure they don't burn.

Take them out and let them cool for 5-10 minutes.

Drizzle with syrup and perhaps some butter because butter makes everything better.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Homemade Thanksgiving!

Since my husband is working on Thanksgiving, Friday, and Saturday, we decided to have Thanksgiving yesterday.  One of my friends called it Franksgiving.  Indeed, my friend.  Indeed.  If you're a last minute kind of person and haven't picked what recipes you' like to try, look no further!  I've compiled all my favorites here for you.  And you won't be disappointed!

Have a happy Thanksgiving!


These rolls are, hands-down, the best I have ever tasted.  Even my mom gave up her cherished crescent roll recipe that she's been making for years and has converted to this recipe.  It's amazing!


No fanciness here- just your traditional delicious stuffing.  It's my favorite stuffing recipe when I want the good ol' classic stuffing.

Cranberry Chutney:

Fresh Cranberry Chutney

This cranberry chutney is easy to make, and it is made the night before.  I'll never eat another cranberry sauce!  It's absolutely delicious.

Sweet Potato Casserole:

Sweet Potato Casserole - Made with mashed roasted sweet potatoes and a crunchy pecan topping with an ooey gooey melted marshmallow center!

These potatoes.... This was my favorite dish on the whole table!  It's fantastic.

Magical Mashed Potatoes:

What table is complete without mashed potatoes?  These are light, fluffy, and full of flavor.  Top with your favorite gravy, and you're good to go!

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie:

It's the pumpkin pie that has taken over the traditional pumpkin pie!  Everyone loved it, and my pumpkin-pie loving husband said that it was much better than the best pumpkin pie he has ever had. Now, that's a compliment!

Chocolate Truffle Pie:

Sweet & Salty Truffle Pie Recipe

For those that aren't a fan of pumpkin pie, this is a delicious alternate for Thanksgiving.  It's rich, chocolaty, and delicious.

Layered Turtle Cheesecake:

Layered Turtle Cheesecake Recipe

This cheesecake will blow your mind.  It is every bit as delicious as it looks in this picture that the Taste of Home photographer took.  :)

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese and Caramel Frosting:

If you've got time on Thanksgiving morning to devote to a show-stopping breakfast, these are your ticket.  They were wonderful!

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese and Caramel Frosting

There is this recipe... Because who doesn't need pumpkin and cinnamon rolls and cream cheese frosting and caramel frosting all wrapped into one breakfast?  These were a tasty alternative to the traditional cinnamon roll.  I love those, too!  However, I had to make about 15 dozen of them for a fun raiser over the summer, and I could barely muster up the motivation to make some again.  :)  I'm traumatized!  These were well worth the time though.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese and Caramel Frosting

Yield: 12 rolls

1/3 c milk
2 T butter
1/2 c canned pumpkin
2 T sugar
1/4 t nutmeg
1 T pumpkin pie spice
1/2 t salt
1 egg, beaten
1 package dry yeast (or 2 1/2 T)
2 c flour (bread flour is best, but regular flour is fine)
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
2 t cinnamon
2 T melted butter

Caramel Frosting
2 T butter
1/4 c brown sugar, packed
1 drop vanilla
1/8 t pumpkin pie spice
1 dash salt
1/3 c powdered sugar

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 T milk
3/4 c powdered sugar
One drop vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, heat milk an 2 T butter just until the milk starts to boil and the butter is melted, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  In your mixer bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, sugar, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Stir with your paddle attachment until it's combined.   Add the milk/butter mixture. Beat with an electric mixer until well-mixed.  Beat in the egg and yeast.

Add half (1 cup) of the flour to the pumpkin mixture.  Turn the mixer on low and beat for five minutes.  Add the other 1 c of flour and mix thoroughly.  Lightly grease a large bowl, and put the dough in the bowl.

Cover the bowl and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch the dough down to roll into a 12x10 rectangle.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Brush the softened/melted butter onto the surface of the dough.  Sprinkle with the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Start rolling it up from the long side.  Pinch end seams to seal.

Use dental floss to slice the dough. Slide it under the dough, cross the threads, and pull.  It'll slice up perfectly!  Cut into 12 1-inch slices.

Place the rolls into a greased 9x13 pan.  Cover and allow to rise until doubled- 30-45 minutes.

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for 10-15 minutes.

For the Caramel Frosting:
While they are baking, prepare the caramel frosting.  In a saucepan, heat the butter until melted.  Stir in the brown sugar and milk.  Cook over medium-low heat for 1 minute.

Remove from heat.  Stir in the vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, salt, and powdered sugar.  Stir until well blended.  Turn heat as low as you can, and keep it there until the cinnamon rolls are done.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
Beat the cream cheese until it's light and fluffy.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla.  Beat in milk.  Stir until smooth.

After the cinnamon rolls have cooled for 5-10 minutes, spread the cream cheese frosting on top.  Drizzle the caramel frosting on top of that.

Chocolate Truffle Pie

In case you were so excited by the picture that you didn't read the title of this pie, let me write it out one more time:  Chocolate Truffle Pie.  Hello?!  Talk about three of the most delicious words in our language, and they are all in one dessert.  And let me tell you something else.  People think I am crazy when I say that I don't like pumpkin pie.  Why, you ask?  Because there are desserts like this out there!  Tradition or not, why would I eat a vegetable pureed into a pie when there are desserts like this?  This pie has got to be one of the best pies I have ever eaten.  It was unbelievable!  I don't have step-by-step pictures though.  I think a part of my brother died when we went to my in-laws' house for Thanksgiving because he wanted to try the pie.  I promised him that I would make it again soon, so I'll take pictures next time. 
Sweet & Salty Truffle Pie Recipe

 Chocolate Truffle Pie
recipe and photo source: Taste of Home November 2011 pg 51 or

pie crust (I used a pre-made frozen one and baked it)

2 c dark chocolate chips, divided
1/3 c heavy whipping cream
1 T shortening
2 t coarse sugar
1/2 t coarse salt

1 1/3 c semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 1/4 c heavy whipping cream, divided
1/4 c sugar
2 egg yolks
1/4 c butter, softened
2 T vanilla

1 c heavy whipping cream
3 T powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla

Bake the frozen crust according to package directions.  Get a deep-dish one if you can.

For the truffles, melt 1 c dark chocolate in microwave.  Start with 1 minute.  Stir.  Heat in 30 second intervals, stirring after each time, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir in the cream until incorporated.  Cool to room temperature then refrigerate until firm.  Once the mixture is firm, scoop out about 2 t of the mixture.  Roll into 24 1-inch balls.

Place in the fridge until you're ready to do the next part.  By the way- if making truffles puts this recipe way over the top, you can skip the truffles or plop some store-bought ones on top to save time.

In a bowl, melt the remaining dark chocolate and the shortening.  Stir until smooth. Combine the course sugar and salt.  You can omit this part or use regular suagr and salt, if you'd like.  Stick the truffles on a toothpick and dip them in the metled chocolate mixture.  Let the excess chocolate drip off.  Before the chocolate sets, sprinkle the truffle with the sugar and salt.  Place it on waxed paper to set completly.  Repeat with the remaining truffles.

For the filling, put 1/3 c semi-sweet chocolate in a small bowl.  In a small saucepan, bring 1/4 c of cream just to a boil.  Pour it over the chocolate chips and whisk until smooth.  Once it's smooth, pour it into the bottom of the baked crust.  Place it in the fridge to set- about 15 minutes.

In a small, heavy saucepan, cook and stir the sugar, remaining semi-sweet chocolate chips and remaining cream over medium heat.  Once it is smooth, reduce the heat slightly.  Put the two egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk.  Add a small amount of the chocolate mixture into the eggs.  Stir it together.  Add it back into the chocolate mixture in the saucepan, stirring constantly.  Cook and stir until it reaches 160 degrees- It took me about ten minutes.

Pour this mixture into a large bowl.  Pour in the butter and vanilla.  Stir.  Place this bowl in an ice water bath.  Leave it there, stirring often, until the mixture has cooled.  The cooler it is, the easier it will be to whip it into shape for the next step.  Don't rush this step.  Once it's at room temperature, you could probably even put it into the fridge to speed it up a bit.  Once it is nice and cool, beat it with a mixer until stiff peaks form.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the pie crust.

Just before serving, prepare the topping.  In a bowl, beat the cream until it starts to thicken.  Add the powdered sugar and vanilla.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Spoon the topping onto the pie.  Top with some truffles.

Oh, how I wish I knew the secret to slicing a pie without making it look like a toddler was digging through it to find a Hot Wheel car. Look past the messiness and try to imagine the taste.  It is out of sight!  I'm not even going to tell you the fat content because I think you will hunt me down and slap me in the face for even tempting you with such an amazing concoction.  On that note, happy pie eating!

Sweet Potato Casserole

Me: I would take this sweet potato casserole over pumpkin pie any day of week!
My brother, with a lip smack and dirty look: You kiss your mother with that mouth!?  How dare you?!

Seriously though, I would!  This was, by far, my favorite dish on the Thanksgiving table.  The mashed sweet potatoes, the crunchy pecan-Corn Flake topping, and roasted marshmallows blew my mind!  Why did I not eat this stuff as a kid?!  I find no need to hunt for a different sweet potato recipe for Thanksgiving.  This is the best one I've ever tasted.  Thanks blogger at  These sweet potatoes, were, indeed, that.  

Sweet Potato Casserole - Made with mashed roasted sweet potatoes and a crunchy pecan topping with an ooey gooey melted marshmallow center!
Sweet Potato Casserole
photo and recipe source:

serves 6

3 pounds sweet potatoes
1/4 c unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c milk
1 large egg
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt

For the topping:
1 1/4 c cornflakes, crushed
1/3 c pecans, chopped
1 T brown sugar
1 T unsalted butter, melted
1 c mini marshmallows

Preheat over to 400 degrees.  Bake sweet potatoes for 1 hour, or until tender.  Let cool before peeling.

Reduce temperature to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9 inch pie plate.

Make the topping.  Combine cornflakes, pecans, and brown sugar.  Stir in butter until well-combined; set aside.

In your mixer bowl, use the paddle attachment to beat the sweet potatoes, butter, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt on medium-high heat until well-combined, about 1-2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into your prepared dish.  Sprinkle the cornflake mixture around the edges, leaving the center open.

Bake for twenty minutes.  Remove from oven and add the marshmallows in the center.  Bake an additional 5 minutes or until the marshmallows are golden.

Serve immediately.