Archives for November 2011

Caramel Apple Swirl Cake

Caramel Apple Swirl Cake

I’m not usually a cake-from-a-box-mix kind of gal.  Which really has more to do with the fact that I don’t often make cakes than it does with anything else.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like cakes just fine.  But it’s really the buttercream icing I love–and it’s better that I don’t get started eating that.

I mean, I would like to be able to fit into the same shorts next summer, and with the way this holiday season is shaping up, those chances are starting to look pretty slim.

Why did no one tell me that starting a food blog also meant gaining weight?  Argh, quality control is my nemisis.

Anyhoo, the kind folks at Duncan Hines sent me coupons to try some of their products as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemakers Program, and I really can’t turn down an opportunity to make sweets or some other form of baked goodness.  And in all seriousness, when I do purchase cake mixes, I really do prefer Duncan Hines.  See?  Here’s the proof, back when I knew absolutely nothing about food blogging and even less about taking pictures.

Since I hadn’t tried some of Duncan Hines newer products, I decided to give a few of those a try:

duncan hines ingredients

Okay, the Wilderness-Comstock apple pie filling was not new to me, but I thought it would be a great way to spice up the Apple-Caramel cake mix.  And boy, was I right.  I have no doubt that the mix would have been wonderful just on its own, but the fruit filling gave the dessert a little more of a “homemade” feel.  You all know how I feel about homemade stuff, right?

To make this cake, I simply followed the directions on the back of the box.  This mix came with a packet of caramel sauce that you dollop over the top of the prepared batter once you pour it in your pan.  Then I used the can of apple pie filling and dropped it onto the batter as well.  Gave it all a swirl, and baked.  We ended up with this:

duncan hines cake 2

And then drizzled the glaze on top:

duncan hines cake 3

If you need a quick and easy dessert for a holiday party this year folks, this one is it!  This cake took less than five minutes to get into the oven, and it baked while we ate dinner.  Not only was this super-simple, but it got rave reviews from the Tall Boy, who isn’t even big on sweets.

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, Duncan Hines has provided me with coupons to give away to my readers for any one (1) free Duncan Hines product ($3.99 maximum value).  To enter for a chance to win simply:  (1) Leave a comment below and (2) “Like” my Facebook page.  (If you already like my facebook page, all you need to do is leave a comment below).  I’ll select two random winners to receive two coupons each.  Winners will be announced on the bottom of this post and also on my Facebook page Monday, December 5, 2011.  USA residents only.  Good luck!!

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received a coupon for a free Duncan Hines and Wilderness-Comstock product. However, any opinion expressed in this post is solely my own, ’cause that’s how I roll.

The giveway is now closed. was used to select the winners.  Congratulations to lucky commenters #1 and #5–Melanie and BreAna!  Please e-mail your mailing address to me at kitchenmeetsgirl(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll have your coupons out in time for holiday baking!


Summer Sausage

summer sausage

Next to sweets, my favorite thing on the holiday table is summer sausage (can someone please explain to me why we call it summer sausage when we eat it during the Christmas holiday??).  But not any summer sausage–my mom’s summer sausage.  Look, I’m not saying there is a thing wrong with the stuff that looks like this:


Photo by Hickory Farms

I’ve eaten this on many, many occasions, and it’s totally fine.  Good, even.

But great?

Ummm, not when you compare it to the kind you can make yourself.  I’ve gone along for years thinking this was a difficult item to make, since it requires curing salt and I’d never purchased that before, let alone used it.  Also, since I “didn’t know how” to make my own summer sausage, that meant that I could convince my mom to make it for me and then I’d stuff the extra rolls into my purse to smuggle home.

The only problem with that is that if you forget to take it out of your purse, your tube of Bare Escentuals Buxom lip gloss ends up smelling like a meat factory.  Also, you’re sort of limited to how many slices you can eat.

And since I like to eat a lot of this (as do the Tall Boy and Doodlebug), I decided it was high-time I learned to make it myself.  And guess what?  It’s not hard at all.

Don’t tell my mom.


Summer Sausage collage

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: appetizer
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Morton Quick Cure Salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic juice (you can substitute garlic powder or granulated garlic)
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients, working together well with your hands.
  2. Shape into three tolls about six inches long. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and refridgerate for 24 hours.
  3. Remove wrap and place rolls on a rack in a shallow pan. Bake at 300 for one hour. Rolls will turn pink during cooking.
  4. Cool; then wrap in plastic wrap and store in fridge.

Chocolate Cinnamon Chip Cookies

cinnamon cookies

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday with your loved ones today.  I am planning to eat lots, relax as much as I can, and most of all–give thanks.  I definitely have a blessed life, and this year I am especially thankful for the new friends I’ve made through this blog.  I never imagined this would be so much fun.

Anyway, it’s week 9 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies and Sweets, and these cookies are not what I originally intended to post today.  See, while I was in the baking aisle at Target getting ingredients for cookies you do not see here today, I heard something call my name:

cinnamon M&Ms

I’m a sucker for seasonal anything candy.  I mean, these M&M’s were created just for the holidays–their sole purpose is for Christmas baking.  It would be downright rude of me not to use them.

I’ve also realized that I would have been better off joining 12 Weeks of Weight Watchers recipes than 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies and Sweets.  I’m not going to lie to you guys–while I say to make this stuff and freeze it for your holiday gatherings, not a single item I’ve made yet has made it past my pie-hole.

These cookies are no exception.  While this is an easy, fuss-free recipe, cake mix cookies never fail to turn out soft and moist, just as cookies are meant.  It would be wrong not to eat them right away.

cinnamon cookies close up

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: dessert
  • 1 box Duncan Hines Devil's Food cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • ⅔ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup cinnamon M&M's
  • ½ cup cinnamon chips
  1. In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, eggs and oil. Stir in M&M's and cinnamon chips.
  2. Using a cookie scoop, drop cookies onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Roll in powdered sugar, if desired.
  3. Bake at 350 for approximately 10-12 minutes.

If you missed them, be sure to check out some of my other goodies:

{Week 8} Peppermint Candy Bark
{Week 7} Mint Cookies with White Chocolate Ganache
{Week 6} Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

And while you’re at it, check out all of the other wonderful yummies from this week’s participants.  You’re sure to find at least one thing to make for your holiday parties!

Caramelized Onion Dip with Bacon and Gruyere

onion dip 2

Well, so much for my pledge of not overdoing it this holiday season. That good intention lasted about all of a week, and although my recent undertaking is not entirely my fault, what it really boils down to is my inability to say “no.” Is anyone else ridiculous like I am?

Please say yes.

This time of year at my workplace, we have a pie and goodie auction to raise money for charity. Because I don’t particularly care for pie (I know, I know, I’m weird), I offered to make a batch of frosted sugar cookies for the event. However, somewhere along the lines, a “batch” of sugar cookies turned into three trays, and now I’ve been thrown into full stress-out mode.

And you know what I do when I’m in stress-out mode?  Pretty much everything but what I need to be doing.  Oh, and also consoling myself with ooey-gooey fattening foods that have no nutritional value but can put you nicely into a food coma.  Which eliminates stress, at least until you stop eating and start thinking about all of the baking you need to do.

onion dip close up

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: appetizer
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 Spanish onions (about 1 pound), halved and thinly sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 3 applewood-smoked bacon strips
  • ¾ cup (3 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Melt butter with oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, sugar, and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until onions soften and just begin to turn golden. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, 20 minutes or until onions turn deep golden brown. Stir in vinegar, scraping bottom of skillet to deglaze pan. Cook, stirring often, until vinegar is reduced by half. Stir in thyme.
  2. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp. Drain on paper towels; finely crumble.
  3. Combine cheese and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in onions and bacon. Transfer to a 2-cup baking dish.
  4. Bake 20 minutes or until mixture bubbles and top is lightly golden.


Peppermint Candy Bark

peppermint bark 3

Oh my, it’s week 8 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies, and I’m starting to get a little nervous. Not about the cookie and sweets-baking, though. That’s fun and actually stress relieving. It’s the fact that Christmas is just around the corner that’s freaking. me. out.

The idea that another year has come and almost gone makes me a little sad.  So many “firsts” from the Doodlebug–and right now we’re in the “I can do it MYSELF!” stage.  Which is great and wonderful and awesome, but I also wonder how much longer I’ll be “needed” around this joint.  Sooner or later, I’m going to be thrown over for the neighborhood kids and I’ll end up being nothing more than a laundry service and a chef.  So I’m holding on with both hands and smothering him with kissies for as long as he’ll allow it.

But this year, we’re also in the magical stage.  The stage where I can say “Santa is watching” and tantrums immediately come to a halt.  The stage where we mention Christmas Eve and he explains how children MUST be asleep in order for Santa to make a trip down the chimney.  The stage where he still believes in the merriment and wonder of the holiday season.  And I do, too, because I can live it through him.

Totally awesome.

So I’m really enjoying the baking and cooking and generally going nuts with my holiday preparation.  Even if you don’t have kids, now is the time to start doing some early preparation for the season–get some of those goodies made and stick them in your freezer to have at the ready for your holiday parties or hostess gifts.

Peppermint Bark Collage

Prep time
Total time
Recipe type: dessert
  • 2 cups Rice Krispy cereal
  • 16 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 16 ounces white chocolate
  • ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • crushed peppermints
  1. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt your bittersweet chocolate. Stir in your cereal, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  2. Next, melt your white chocolate. Stir in peppermint extract. Pour over chocolate-covered cereal.
  3. Top with crushed peppermints.
  4. Cut and enjoy!


If you missed them, check out my previous weeks’ goodies!

{Week 6} Mint Cookies with White Chocolate Ganache
{Week 5} Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

And while you’re at it, check out all of the other wonderful yummies from this week’s participants.  You’re sure to find at least one thing to make for your holiday parties!

Italian Meatball Soup

Meatball Soup 1

Psssst.  I have to tell you something.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t like meatballs.

I know, I know, it’s practically un-American (un-Italian?  Let’s not discuss semantics, okay?).  And maybe it’s the fact that I now live with two guys, but at some point, I sort of turned into a female version of Joey Tribbiani.  I mean, I suppose I’ll share my meatballs with you, but I’d really prefer if I didn’t have to.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I made homemade meatballs, which I’ve pretty much decided are just about the best comfort food ever.  And since I also decided it’s probably not a great idea for my waistline to eat piles of spaghetti and meatballs every other day, I thought I’d better find some other options for using up these little balls of yummy goodness.  I mean, this soup does have carrots and spinach in it, so it’s practically diet food.

Meatball Soup 2


Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 5-10
  • 1 recipe Italian Meatballs
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 32-ounce container chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1½ cups small pasta noodles, uncooked
  • 2 cups spinach, thinly sliced
  • Fresh basil and oregano, chopped, to taste
  1. Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large stockpot. Saute the onions and garlic until translucent. Add broth, water, tomatoes and seasoning, and heat until boiling.
  2. Gently add your meatballs, carrots, pasta and spinach. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook approximately 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through and the vegetables tender. Top with fresh basil and oregano, if desired.


Easy Holiday Entertaining: Appetizers

pita chips 1

My name is Ashley, and I’m a stressaholic.

You name it, I can pretty much find a way to stress out over it.  Look, I’d like to tell you that I’m taking steps to calm it down a little, but the truth is, now that I’m a mom I’m more stressed out than ever.

And it’s not just the important stuff, like making sure we’re doing our best to mold Doodlebug into a respectable human being or making intelligent financial decision or proving myself to be a competent individual at my job.  It’s the ridiculously mundane: keeping up with the laundry, figuring out what to make for dinner, or wondering how I’m going to make goodies for work, Doodle’s school and the tailgate party all on the same day.

So the idea of me offering “easy entertaining tips” is a bit laughable.  But really, it’s my goal this year to have a stress-free holiday season.  And this is my first step:

Quit overdoing it.

pita chips 2

As much as I’d like to Martha Stewart the season to death, the reality of my life just doesn’t allow it.  The first year the Tall Boy and I were together, we went to four different places in three different cities on Christmas Day.  Showing up to each event with warm side dishes or lavishly decorated cakes and cookies wasn’t going to happen.

So, I’m all about the appetizers, folks.  And I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes I don’t even make them myself.

pita chips close up

I did make these pita chips, though.  I made them in 15 stress-free minutes, and had them ready to serve with Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, which is one of our very favorite go-to snacks.  It’s easy and healthy, and we almost always have a container hanging out in our fridge.  To my friends and family: don’t be surprised if I show up to your holiday gathering bringing this with me!

What’s your holiday go-to easy appetizer?

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 4
  • 3 pita rounds
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Slice your pita rounds open, so that you have 6 circles.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together oil, cheese, and spices. Spoon oil mixture over the rough side of your pita rounds.
  3. Use a pizza cutter, slice each round into 8 triangles.
  4. Bake at 450 on a foil lined tray for 15 minutes, or until chips are crisp and lightly browned.



As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received a coupon for a free Sabra product. However, any opinion expressed in this post is solely my own, ’cause that’s how I roll.

Mint Cookies with White Chocolate Ganache

mint cookies 1

This is only my second week of 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies, and already I’m having so much fun.  Especially considering the fact that when I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients for these cookies, some 18-year old guy (kid) complimented my hair.  Twice.  I like to think I’m fairly trendy for a 30-something mom, so I’m telling myself he really meant it, rather than mocking my probably frazzled state.

Anyway, when I was a kid, one of my favorite things about going out to eat was that oftentimes there was a little pile of Andes mints near the cash register that you could buy for five cents each.  I would always talk my dad into getting some, and I’d let them melt on my tongue like a little piece of heaven.  I’d try to make them last as long as possible, because I loved them that much.  Then I’d whine until my mom and dad would give me their mints.  In my own defense, back then Andes mints weren’t readily available in the grocery stores like they are now, so they were pretty much a hot commodity in my family.

Mint is one of my favorite flavors for the holiday season, so choosing these cookies for this week’s post was a no-brainer.  Plus, the recipe won’t use up the entire bag of Andes mints that I purchased, which means I can eat the rest when no one is looking use the rest in my coffee or when making holiday candy bark.

mint cookies 2


Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 15
For the Cookies:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • scant ¾ cup superfine sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 3½ ounces Andes mints, finely chopped
  • salt
  • powdered sugar, for dusting
For the Ganache:
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 3½ ounces white chocolate
For the Cookies:
  1. Mix butter and sugar with a wooden spoon, the beat in the egg yolk and extract. Sift together the flour and a pinch of salt and add to the sugar mixture. Add in chocolate bits, and stir to combine. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. After your dough is chilled, roll it out and, using a cookie-cutter or glass, cut out your shapes.
  3. Bake at 375 for 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the Ganache:
  1. In a saucepan over low heat, melt cream and chocolate. Stir occasionally, until smooth. Remove pan from heat and let cool, then chill in the refridgerator until the mixtures reaches a spreadable consistency.
  2. Spread ganace over half of the cookies and top with another cookie. Dust with powdered sugar.





If you missed it, check out my {Week 6} recipe: Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Be sure to check out all of the other wonderful holiday sweets!


Loaded Mashed Potato Casserole

Potato Casserole 1
I’m new to this whole world of blogging, but some of my favorite parts so far are “meeting” other bloggers, having instant access to so many fabulous recipes, and becoming more involved in the blogging community.  Every time I find a new (to me) site, I’m always amazed at how many fabulous, talented and innovative folks are out there–hooray for the internet, for making the world just a little bit smaller, or at least for bringing us closer together.

So when I stumbled on Tina’s Crazy Cooking Challenge, I knew I wanted to participate–especially when I saw that the topic for this month was mashed potatoes.  I knew this was a blog post even the Tall Boy could get on board with–he loves mashed potatoes.  Don’t know about Crazy Cooking Challenge?  Check it out:


I typically reserve preparing mashed potatoes for special occasions, since (1) I always add lots of fattening ingredients, and (2) they require more effort that I’m willing to exert during the workweek (anyone else hate peeling as much as I do?).

Maybe you guys are already well-acquainted with Christy at The Girl Who Ate Everything, but I only just located her site when searching for a mashed potato recipe.  Her site is fabulous!  Soooo many good recipes here…if you haven’t peeked at her site before, do it soon.

But one of the things that appealed to me about this recipe is that the ingredient list contains pretty much everything I use when making my own “recipe,” but Christy adds a fun twist by baking it.  This method is perfect for those of us who like to plan ahead, and don’t want to be mashing potatoes while trying to entertain guests (I’d rather be chatting and snacking on appetizers by this point!).

As a side note, I used fat-free cheese, which doesn’t melt as well as the full-fat version.  Not quite as pretty, but still tastes pretty darn good.

Potato Casserole 3

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 12
  • 5½ cups mashed potatoes
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  1. Preheat the oven to 35o°F.
  2. Peel, quarter and boil potatoes until soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, and beat with a mixer until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, through the nutmeg. Beat at a medium-high speed until creamy. Add salt to taste.
  3. Spoon into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Top with cheese and bacon. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until cheese melts.
  4. Serves 12. Unless one of those people is my husband. Then it will serve 3.




Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

red velvet

Christmas is hands-down my favorite time of the year; even more so now that I’m a mama.  Experiencing Christmas through Doodlebug’s eyes reminds me again how magical the spirit of the season truly is.  So when I stumbled on across the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies & Sweets hosted by Meal Planning Magic a few weeks ago, I was so excited.  Even though I missed the first few weeks, each Thursday for the next 7 weeks I will be posting my favorite Christmas cookies and other treats.  Whoo-hoo!  An excuse to make a ton of sugary-sweets!

I knew as soon as I joined this group that the first recipe I wanted to make was for these red velvet cookies.  I’ve been eyeing this recipe for a long time–what better time to give it a try?

red velvet 2

This recipe certainly did not disappoint.  They are out of the “Big Fat Cookie” section from the Southern Living 2009 Christmas Cookbook, and aptly titled.  These cookies are HUGE and make quite a dramatic presentation.  They’ll also make a dramatic presentation on your waistline if you don’t share, so bake these ahead and have them ready to go for your holiday parties.

red velvet 4



Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 18
For the Cookies:
  • 2¾ cups all purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
For the Frosting:
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • dash of salt
  • 1 1-pound box of powdered sugar
To make the cookies:
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat butter at medium speed for 2 minutes, or until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in food coloring and vanilla.
  3. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed.
  4. Drop dough by ¼ cupfuls three inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread dough to three-inch rounds.
  5. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, or until tops are set. Cool on baking sheet five minutes. Remove to wire racks, and cool completely, about 20 minutes.
  6. Spread with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle crumbled cookie crumbs on top.
To make the frosting:
  1. Beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt at medium speed until creamy.
  2. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed for two minutes, or until smooth.

Be sure to check out all of the fabulous cookies the other 12 weeks of Christmas Cookies (and sweets) bloggers baked up for this week!