Nothing Says Happy Birthday Like a Homemade Cocoa Cake

Wednesday was Charlie’s birthday, and while his party is not until today, we still needed to celebrate.

With Eddie we started the tradition of taking him out for dinner on his actual birthday, last year to Red Robin.  We love Red Robin because it’s such a great place to take kids.  Eddie loves almost everything on their menu, plus he loves that they have pictures on the kids menu, so we go through and circle what he wants: a main dish, a side dish, and a drink.

When we asked Eddie where he thought Charlie would like to go for his first birthday, he agreed that Red Robin would be the best ever place to go.

Once there, Charlie totally approved.

birthday bird2

Of course, you can’t have a birthday without birthday cake.  And even though our waitress had all the servers sing to Charlie and bring him a giant Sundae, we really needed birthday CAKE, amiright?

Tuesday I had shot out of my staff meeting like a bolt of lightening to get home before all the boys so I could squeeze in baking a cake before dinner had to be started.

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Since Charlie is not old enough to choose his cake flavor, I chose one of my favorites for him: homemade cocoa cake with cream cheese frosting.  My aunt used to make it, and I loved it so much I asked for the recipe.

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As you can see, The Bird loved it too.

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He approached it with caution at first, but once he tasted that sweet, sweet nectar that is cream cheese frosting, he proceeded to suck all the frosting off the cake.  Then he picked up the cake and destroyed it.  It was awesome.

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It was a happy birthday, indeed.

What is your favorite birthday treat?

Chocolate Chip Cookies

cookiesI am pretty sure zero people out there need a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  I mean, there’s one on the bag of chocolate chips.

But I just can’t help sharing this recipe.

When I bite into these, it’s like I’m eating my childhood.   Wait.

Ok, let’s try that again.  You know how sounds and scents can bring you right back to a place?  One bite of these cookies brings me back to being a kid.  From helping my mom mix in the chocolate chips to licking the beaters (yup, there’s raw egg in there.  We live dangerously).

They remind me of coming home from somewhere and seeing a bunch cooling on a cut up brown paper bag (my mom had a cooling rack. She hated it and gave it to me.  She still cuts up the brown paper bags from the grocery store to use for cooling treats).

My mom has been making these bad boys my whole life; it was the first recipe I knew I had to take with me when I moved out 13 years ago.

I mean, who doesn’t love the sweet taste of their youth?

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Every time I eat one of these, I am brought back to being a little kid.

And because Cort has a sweet tooth (mostly for chocolate), he likes to make these often.

What treat reoccurs often in your house?  Or what treat reminds you of your childhood?

Banana Bread

I like to bake with Eddie, but I like even more to bake alone.

When I am alone I can have a hankering for something and whip it up without needing it to be an “activity”.

On snow days home from school, I LOVE to bake.

The snowed in feeling sort of begs for a baked good to be in oven, am I right?

So I had these sitting on the counter yelling at me about how brown they were getting.

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So I busted out the recipe that my mom always used to make when she had shouty brown bananas on her counter.

(Notice her recipe calls for oleo? Yeah, I don’t use “oleo” or margarine.  I use REAL butter! Yum! And yes, those eggs? From chickens a teacher-colleague of mine owns. No bleaches or anything in those!)

So while the boys were away, I made the house smell good.

And made sure we had a yummy snack for after work/daycare.

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What is one of your favorite baked goods to make on a chilly day?


Don’t forget to check out my Bona Clara party!  There is a giveaway that you can enter without having to buy anything, but if you do buy something, all Francesca’s commission goes to help victim’s of Sandy Hook.

white chili and cornbread

We are in the middle of a wintery blizzardy snow-pocolypse ’round these parts of Michigan as I type this.  In fact, today I have a snow day–which doesn’t happen much in my urban district.

What is perfect for cold, yucky winter weather?  CHILI!  and CORNBREAD!

I love chili as much as the next warm-blooded American, but if I am honest, I love white chili even more, so I am sharing with you my favorite white chili recipe that I was given by my aunt.

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Are you a chili person?  What do you make to warm up your family’s tummies on a cold day?

What the Kids Eat

Usually on Saturdays I try to share a recipe we loved during the week.  Well, this week Cort was pretty much in charge and so we had BLTs and Grilled Cheese and a new recipe he tried (it was good!), so I don’t have pictures or a recipe to share.

But I thought it would be fun to share what my kids eat lately.

For the most part, they eat what we do for dinner.

But there are things that Charlie can’t have yet and things Eddie will try, but won’t eat to being “full”, so we add extras with their dinners to ensure that they get a complete, healthy meal.

This is a typical dinner for four on any given week night…

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I made loaded potato soup and bread.  Eddie is not a soup fan, and he has issues with the texture of potatoes (he’s that one kid who hates mashed potatoes.), so he had nuggets that night along with strawberries, carrots, and a mixed fruit cup.  Pretty sure he ate it all.  That’s his favorite meal.  Charlie had cereal mixed with some sort of pureed food.

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I have been blessed with “good eaters”.  When Eddie was Charlie’s age, he ate everything we gave him.  And lots of it.  Our friends and family who were not blessed with “good eaters” would sit in amazement.

Eddie is still a pretty good eater.  He says he doesn’t like things, but generally it’s not true.

Above is a typical weekend lunch: mac n cheese, organic yogurt, a muffin with organic butter, and peaches.  He probably ate it all.

Charlie has recently decided that at 10 months he is clearly too old and cool for baby food and pureed mush, so he eats what we eat now too.

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Here he has turkey, apple, peas, and carrots.  I distinctly remember he ate it all and then was mad that there wasn’t more.

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Lately we’ve been giving him some of what we have as long as it doesn’t include things (like dairy or nuts) that he is not supposed to have.  This particular night I made a chicken casserole with stuffing and green beans in it.  You can see Eddie had the casserole supplemented with watermelon, peaches, and a cheese stick.  Charlie had the chicken, green beans, and stuffing too, but I put it on his plate before mixing it with the heavy cream stuff.  And I gave him some peas and carrots and peaches too.

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Most of Charlie’s intake is still bottles, though.  He drinks four bottles a day that are anywhere between 6 and 8 ozs.  Although he is so independent that he doesn’t want to be held and fed anymore…other than his last bottle before bed.

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Oh…and we do dessert in this house!  Charlie’s dessert is usually a graham cracker, but if he is lucky, Mommy or Daddy will give him a bite of our treat.  He is particularly partial to apple pie.  Eddie is having a Lemon Cheese cake bar with some ice cream.  That must mean he ate all of the required “bites” for dinner that night.

We strive to have healthy meals together.  Now that Cort is done with school, we sit down as a family almost every single night.  It used to be about 3 out of 7 nights, now it’s closer to 7 out of 7.

My favorite part of all of this is when Eddie, with a mouthful of food, looks at Cort or me and asks, “So. Did you have a great day?”

That is what family dinners are all about.

Make Ahead Chicken & Green Bean Casserole

It finally got cold here in Michigan. Like legit cold…which means below freezing.

This calls for a casserole in the oven!

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What I like best about this is NO CREAM OF SOUP is involved, yet it’s still thick and delicious and will make you want a nap.  Plus? YUMMY LEFTOVERS!

What’s not to love?

(Easy Recipe is not working, so I don’t have the fun print version for you…I hope they get that fixed by next week)


Make Ahead Chicken & Green Bean Casserole

Recipe Type: Main
Author: Katie
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
  • 1 pkg (6 oz) Stuffing Mix
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • about 1.5 pounds of chicken breasts (although I just use three large ones split)
  • black pepper
  • Half pound of green beans trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths (when beans aren’t in season I use frozen ones, thawed)
  • 8oz fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth (or stock)
  • 4 oz of cream cheese, cubbed
  1. Prepare the stuffing as directed on package and set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet on medium heat then add chicken sprinkled with pepper.
  3. Cook for 5 minutes per side or until done.
  4. Transfer to a 9×13, greased baking dish.
  5. Cook and stir beans, mushrooms, and onion in the same skillet you used for the chicken for 6-8 minutes or until crisp-tender.
  6. Sprinkle with flour; cook and stir about a minute.
  7. Stir in broth; simmer for 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently.
  8. Add cream cheese and cook/stir until melted 2-3 minutes.
  9. Spoon mixture over chicken.
  10. Top with stuffing.
  11. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
  12. Heat oven to 400* F. Bake casserole uncovered for 30 minutes or until heated through.
dinner for four with enough for lunch leftovers? check and check.

dinner for four with enough for lunch leftovers? check and check.

(note: recipe from Kraft Foods: Food and Family magazine)

put the chicken in the pot, yo.

I have way more standby meals for the colder Michigan months than in the warm, sunny months.  Seriously, I am like the queen of comfort foods this time of year.

Admittedly we eat a lot of crock pot meals.  They are easy for this working parent family.  I throw it together the night before, Cort starts it before leaving for daycare drop-off/work in the morning, and we enjoy a tasty meal as a family in the evening.

I have made almost every kind of meat I can think of (other than fish…can you do fish in the crock pot? That seams nasty), but one of our family faves is from a recipe I found shoved in a crock pot book that is probably older than I am in my mom’s cupboard.

It’s just called “Chickin in a Pot” and it’s so easy!

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I served it with noodles and corn because it's what was in the house, but really you could do anything with it!

I served it with noodles and corn because it’s what was in the house, but really you could do anything with it!

Chicken in a Pot

Recipe Type: Main, Crockpot
Author: Katie
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
  • a whole fryer chicken (gutted…I have Cort do this. Ew.)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 large celery stalks
  • a white onion
  • a can of chicken broth (or 10oz of chicken stock if you have it handy. I never do.)
  • Parsley, salt, and pepper
  1. layer the bottom of the crock pot with chopped carrots, celery, and onion.
  2. Pour broth over vegetables.
  3. Put the chicken on top of the vegetables and broth
  4. Add parsley, salt, and pepper for taste (I usually use parsley and then seasoned salt)
  5. Place in the crock pot on low for 8-10 hours. (I always do 8 hours and it comes out moist and yum).

Homemade Caramel Corn

Growing up, my mom went into a baking and treat-making frenzy in the week or so before Christmas.

She made stuff for all the parties, but this was different.  There was a standard list of “must make” treats that she made regardless if we had a party to take them to or not.  It was customary for them to just be in the house for holiday grazing.

At the top of that list? Caramel corn.

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We had a traditional air-pop popcorn popper just for making caramel corn at Christmas.  And when Cort and I got married, I registered for a real pop corn popper too–even though everyone thought I was nuts.

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Yeah, it’s not a healthy recipe.  not even a little.  That’s two stick of butter you’re looking at up there.  And tons of brown sugar and even some straight up corn syrup.  Health nuts should just click away now.

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My grandpa requests this  of my mom every Christmas.  You know it’s a good recipe when a grandpa requests it.

And every year I make it? I astound someone with the fact that it’s homemade.  It tastes that yummy.

But really? It’s super easy.

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Look away from my filthy oven.  Look ONLY at the delicious caramel corn baking.

Want to make it too? Yeah you do.

Homemade Caramel Corn

Recipe Type: snack
Author: Katie
  • 2 cups of popcorn (I usually only make 1-1.5 cups. 2 cups is a TON)
  • 2 cups of brown sugar
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup of light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  1. Pop the popcorn and set it aside in a really big container.
  2. On the stove, bring the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt to a rolling boil. Once boiling, let boil for 5 minutes while continuously stirring.
  3. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and baking soda.
  4. Mix the hot mixture with the popcorn.
  5. Spread the covered popcorn on two VERY greased pans (I have old jelly pans I use just for this purpose)
  6. Back at 250 degrees for an hour, stirring and rotating the pans every 15 minutes.
  7. Let cool on wax paper.

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You want to take a handful, right?


(Sorry for the blurry pictures. Hard to get a good, natural light photo with my big camera when it’s dark by the time I get home. so these are phone pics. Boo.)

No Bakes for the Grad

Oh man…it’s TREAT SEASON!

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is all the FOOD!  And I really love to MAKE ALL THE FOOD!

I volunteer to bring stuff to all the holiday parties because I really just like to do made snack and treat production.  It makes me feel joyful.  Tired, but joyful.

Growing up, this time of year meant my mom was constantly producing another tasty treat that we totally didn’t need almost nightly.  Or at least it felt that way.  She had a whole list of things that if she didn’t make them, well, then “it’s just not Christmas if I don’t make….”

That’s why this year I am going to try to put some of those must-have-treats in our family here.

This week I am making No Bake Cookies because they are one of Cort’s favorite holiday treats and he is the man of the hour with all the graduating he is doing.  Every year that we have been married I have made them.  I rarely make them any other time of year even though they are super easy, so they have become just a holiday cookie around here.

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No Bake Cookies

Recipe Type: Dessert
Author: Katie
Prep time: 15 mins
Total time: 15 mins
Serves: over a dozen cookies
  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup of butter/margarine
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 5 Tbs cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla
  1. Combine the oatmeal and coconut in a big bowl.
  2. Then bring the rest of the ingredients to a rolling bowl in a pan over medium/high heat.
  3. After the roiling boil, remove from heat and pour over the oatmeal/coconut mixture.
  4. Mix thoroughly.
  5. Drop heaping spoonfuls on waxed paper and let cool.
  6. I refrigerate after cooled.

Psst.  These don’t last long, so you may want to consider doubling the recipe.

oh and psst. Do you like my new format for recipes?  I created a whole page up at the top if you would like to see some past recipes I’ve posted.  I am thinking I might do this every Saturday.  What do you think?

The Pie Post

I was on twitter the other day being all “I’m making a pie! Yay!”

And people were like, “I wish I could make pies” and “I would never try to make my own crust.”

I will be honest…baking pies is easy as, well, pie.

Seriously.  The saying came from somewhere and I’m going to go with the fact that baking pies is really not as hard as some people think.

So I’m going to go ahead and give you the apple pie recipe that my mom and I always follow and always get rave reviews on.*

ignore the cookies in the background…those have nothing to do with the pie. But they have ALL to do with Eddie and me craving cookies.

Ok, usually I use Ida Reds, but this year I went with Granny Smith Apples because I needed an apple with a bit more…tart to it.  You’ll see why as we go.

So first, peel and slice the apples.  I usually put them in the pie plate so I can make sure I have enough to fill the pie.  Then I dump them into a big bowl with about a tablespoon or so of lemon juice.

Next, in a mediumish sized bowl, mix up 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 Tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and just a pinch of nutmeg.

Once that is all mixed together, pour it over the apples and sort of mix it around/toss it like a salad until all the pieces are covered.

Then set it to the side.

Now it’s time for the crust.

yes, I am that lady who put the dough kneader on the bridal registry and actually uses it.

For those of you who believe crust-making is hard, I’m about to blow your mind.

In a big bowl, take that dough-kneader thing (or a fork…or you hands) and whisk together 2 1/4 cups of flour and just under a teaspoon (so like, maybe 3/4 teaspoon).  Then add 2/3 cup of either butter or Crisco.  I find Crisco a bit easier to work with since it’s already soft, but as far as your health goes (which I am assuming you are not paying attention to if you are making a pie with almost a cup of sugar in it), butter is better for you because it’s natural.

Anyway, I busted out the Crisco.

You take you kneader (or fork or hands) and work the Crisco in until you get little balls about the size of a pea.

Now, you are ready to add the water.

The key to this is to add it one or two Tablespoons at a time because you don’t want the dough to get too wet.

So this is what I do: a couple tablespoons and then I use a fork to mix the dry with the water until it’s just moist.  I want it to all stick together (no crumbs in the bottom of the bowl), but I don’t want wet slimy dough either.  So I try to get as much moistened with each addition of water as I can.  I think I used about 9 Tablespoons total on this pie adding two at a time until I got up to six and then adding one at a time more after that.

You should be able to pick up a nice ball of dough.

Split it in half, and put one ball of it onto a lightly dusted surface and roll it out as square/round as you can.

Then roll it around the pin and transfer it to your lightly greased pie plate.

Push the dough so it is in all the crannies of the pie plate and so that it goes right up to the top (with maybe a little hanging over, but I usually compensate for that with the top crust).

Now, this is when you could put your apples in.  But this year, I decided to whip up a quick caramel mix first and spread that all over the bottom of the crust. Which is why I went with Granny Smiths.  They are a better apple to have caramel with.  Mmm!

So first caramel and THEN apples.

But I don’t dump my apples in because then all the juices go in there too.  Which SEEMS like a good idea, until those juices become steam and puff up your top pie crust and when it cools it deflates and looks sad.

Or it boils over all over your oven.

So instead, I pick out my apples from the bowl by hand so all the juice stays in the bottom (ps, because they have been sitting there, all the extra juice as oozed out to the bottom of the bowl.  Some people put the apples in a strainer over the bowl so they don’t have to hand pick the apples out, but I am not that smart).

Hand-placing the apples also ensures that they will all be lying flat.

as you can see there is still some peel left on my apples. My peeler/slicer is not perfect and I am too lazy to fix the slices.

now you can roll out the top crust and place it over the pie.

Pinch the top crust with the bottom to make sure it is sealed.

Then you can either poke some holes in the top with a fork, or cut some slits in the top.  Either way, steam needs to be able to escape or you will have apple pie all over your oven.

I also place the pie on an old jellyroll pan (or cookie sheet) just in case there is any juice drippage. Nobody wants that burnt stank in their oven.

I bake this pie for an hour at 375 degrees F.

Then let it cool on a wire rack or, like I have here, a slotted trivet.

It’s best served warm with a bit hunk of Hudsonville Vanilla Ice Cream plopped on top, but I can eat this pie for DAYS.

You know, if it lasts that long.

What was your favorite dish this Thanksgiving?  Or ever?

*Pie recipe mostly from my Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book 12th Edition.