RECIPE: Chocolate Cake (Foot) Balls

Pin It

Fall is in the air, and so is Football! Want to make some fun treats for your friends and family while you watch the game? Check out my Cake Balls shaped as footballs! How adorable are these? And you can decorate them with whatever team colors you are rooting for, too! I kept mine simple, but you can have some fun with team logos on them.

If you wish to make your own moist cake from scratch, here is a link for you. It is based on Bakearella's chocolate cake recipe. Now, I'm going to let you in on a secret. If you are really pressed for time, you can ask your attendant in your local grocer's bakery for 2 8" chocolate cakes, unfrosted. They prebake their cakes in the back and freeze them before frosting. So if you ask them nicely, they will sell them to you for a really good price. I bought 2 8" cakes from my Mariano's bakery. I figured, if I did not have time to make my most amazing chocolate cake, I could trust Mariano's bakery for sure. And these babies turned out great!

Chocolate Cake (Foot) Balls


 2 8” round chocolate cakes
1/2 can of shelf stable cream cheese frosting
chocolate and peanut butter Wilton Candy Melts
white Wilton Candy Melts


In a large bowl, crumple the cake until you have a fine, crumbly texture.

Add the cream cheese frosting and mix with a spatula until a malleable texture is created. It’s ready when you can press the crumbs together with your hand and it all sticks together.

Create football shaped balls about 2” long in oblong shapes. Do this by pinching off some cake mixture and roll it in your hand into a ball, then slightly pressing it down and creating points with your fingers. Set them on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes but no longer than 1 hour. Then place in the refrigerator while you heat the candy melts according to package directions.

Add a tablespoon of canola oil in the candy melts to keep things movable. Once candy melts are melted use a teaspoon and gently drop each football in the Candy Melts pull them out and tap gently until you have an even coverage around the football on all sides. Gently shake off excess Candy Melt covering and set them on parchment paper for the candy melts to cool and balls to set.

Do this with all of the footballs. Once all the footballs are set, melt white Candy Melts according to package directions using canola oil again. Pour in a plastic bag and snip off a corner tip into a very, very small hole.

Use the plastic bag as a piping bag to draw the seams and stitching of your footballs. Pipe a straight line at the center of each ball and then create little stitches going across the same line.

Let the stitches set. Footballs are shelf stable and can sit out for a few days as long as you use canned frosting. Just be sure to cover them with plastic wrap. 

Enjoy the game! (GO BEARS! (Hey, I'm a Chicago girl!) #BEARDOWNCHICAGOBEARS)

Canned Melrose Peppers (How-To Video and Recipe)

Pin It

I am sort of obsessed with Melrose peppers. Many people don't know about the magic of Melrose peppers. It's kind of an Italian-Chicago thing.

They are VERY seasonal, and you will find them growing in abundance in Chicago gardens owned by Italians. If you came to my yard, or my parent's yard, you will see a plethora of Melrose pepper plants. My mom and I compete over how much of a harvest we are each getting.

The issue is, you cannot possibly eat all you grow. There is so much, but beyond that, you end up eating a lot of crusty bread with it. My mother makes them with garlic and crushed tomatoes and olive oil. Eating them like this with bread is a meal in and of itself. So you can quickly pack on the pounds, too.

I wanted to see if there was a way to preserve these lovely peppers so I can enjoy them even in the winter. After some research and checking out some chat rooms, it seems that canning Melrose peppers used to be an art of old Italian grandmothers, and the recipe and process seems to have been lost through the generations. There are MANY people trying to figure this out. Sounds like there are a lot of husbands out there who get a distant look in their eye as they talk about their grandmother's canned Melrose peppers. There are many wives and girlfriends trying to recreate this for their "GUYS". After all, how else do we Italian women show our love but through food-preferably with heaping amounts of olive oil?

I cobbled together an approach that I hope to refine as I play with this, so HUGE caveat here-this has not been tested. Hubby and I worked on this together and based on what we know about canning, this amount of olive oil makes us very nervous. We are keeping a close eye on our jars and we'll update this post to keep you all in the loop.

If you have a tried and true way to can Melrose peppers, please share with the rest of us! There is so much knowledge that is lost to us, and we all need to work together to make sure we hand down food crafts from our ancestors.

Canned Melrose Peppers (How-To Video and Recipe)

5 1/2 pounds of Melrose peppers
1/2 cup of olive oil plus more for topping off
1/4 cup of fresh chopped garlic
½ tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of lemon juice per half quart jar
1 tablespoon +2 teaspoons of white distilled vinegar per half quart jar

Sterilize the mason jars, we used half quart jars for this recipe. 5 ½ pounds will yield 3 1/2 quart jars. Sterilize them in hot, boiling water for five minutes. Let dry by inverting the jars so that the water drains and evaporates. Do the same with the tops and rings.

Meanwhile trim ends of peppers and take the seeds out. In a high sided pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high flame. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and toasted garlic in the oil add the peppers and cook over medium high heat for 8 to 10 minutes you're going to stir them frequently. 

Once sides are getting caramelized and cooked, use tongs to turn them one by one so that all sides are evenly browned. Remove from heat and place in jars. Distribute the garlic and olive oil evenly among the jars.

Here is a How-To Video created to help you out. For more canning videos, check out my canning playlist on my YouTube channel!

10 Ways to Cure the Back-To-School Routine Blues

Pin It

So we are two weeks into the school year and getting back to the routine has not been easy. To be honest, it never is nor has it ever been.

I look forward to the last day of school as much as my daughter does. It's not just because of the warm weather and the long days of sunshine. Summer break means staying up later for fun, less hectic mornings (oh, to not pack lunches for 3 months while trying to get ready for work! BLISS!) and less scheduling and obligations.

Well, that's all over.

Getting back to the grueling school routine can be less awful with my top 10 tips I have learned through the years of sleepy-eyed, stress-scheduled agony. It does get slightly better as the kids get older and take on more responsibility, but only slightly.

So here is my run down, one parent to another. We're in it together! And hey, winter break is not too far away! It goes by fast, so let's make the most of it.

1: Sleep-schedule woes-
Melatonin helps as well as "night time tea"

I am not a doctor, so before you put your kid(s) or yourself on a melatonin supplement, talk to your physician.

The worst part of getting back to routine is the sleep schedule. These poor teachers have to deal with sleep-cranky kids for a while. I am a mom of a newly minted teen, and once hormones kick in, melatonin is in short supply at night time. I have read quite a few studies around this. Basically there is so much puberty stuff going on in their bodies that they can't release melatonin (the sleep hormone) until LATE at night. I saw this change in my daughter once puberty started, so I found her 5 mg. melatonin lozenges. I give it to her 30 minutes before I want her sleeping. It does help her get to sleep. Melatonin also regulates biorhythms so as you are changing sleep schedules, this supplement can ease that transition-for you as well as for them!

I have found teas infused with 5 mg. of melatonin too. These teas include other nice calming ingredients like chamomile and verbena. To that end, I also use a couple of different "night teas" with calming herbs and florals that were helpful when my daughter was younger. You may need these around your house too, during this transition.

2: Night time staging=less morning raging

Don't wait until the morning to gather signed paperwork, collect things to be brought in, pack back packs and decide what outfits to wear. I pre-set out papers I needed to sign and things I need for work near the door, and force my daughter to get together everything needed the night before so we are not running around the next morning. It's hard enough to get everyone out the door fed, dressed properly with their homework packed. Don't add more to your morning, you're just asking for trouble (and yelling). Whatever you can do the night before, do it. It can be as simple as just cleaning out the coffee pot so it's ready to go in the morning! This will give you back 5 minutes-and that's a lot. (Coffee is super important to survival in this wild, back-to-school jungle-but more on that later.)

3: Starbucks #PSL coffee keeps you happy (and awake)

Well mom and dads, how else do you think you can keep up with sleep deprived kids who are asking for science fair help after dinner, when you are equally just as sleep derived? COFFEE. And to make your routine a little more special, enjoy Starbucks fall coffees. Their Fall blend has been a MUST every early morning this month. And the VIA Pumpkin Spice Latte is a great late night treat that goes great with laundry, math homework crying and filling out school medical forms for the 5th time. In fact, just tonight I had to open a bunch of paperwork from school, including my monkey's eligibility to Chicago high schools. This was a big deal. I had to sit down, say a prayer and sip a VIA Pumpkin Spice Latte while I opened the much anticipated envelope.

Not sure if it was the magic of pumpkin and spice (because it is, indeed, magical) or my daughter's hard work, but there was good news all over that letter! I breathed a sigh of relief and sipped my VIA #PSL in absolute enjoyment. Not only do VIA #PSLs give you an easy way to enjoy a punch of fall flavor and caffeinated energy, but it also gets you into the fall spirit. It simply puts you in a good mood. It makes routines less drudgery and forces you to enjoy the special moments that happen within the routines.

How else do you think I got through the maddening back-to-school shopping at Target? Did I have a Venti PSL in my hand the whole time? Yes. Yes. I. Did.


4: Sunday meal plans mean smoother weeks

The running theme of this post is pre-planning. Yes, it takes precious time, but it will save you time in the long run. Sunday morning meal planning has become an enjoyable ritual my husband and I enjoy over a nice hot cup of Starbucks Fall Blend. Sitting down for 30 minutes on a Sunday morning to put together a meal schedule for the week allows you to grocery shop efficiently,  get ahead of certain meals and work around your kid's extra curricular activities. Family having dinner late one night after a game? Plan a crock pot chili that cooks itself. Prep the liner the night before so you can put it in and get it going that morning. Then plan to make tacos or a Tex-Mex casserole with left over chili the next night. Planning like this will allow less stress, less waste and happy tummies all around.

5: The freezer is a lunchbox buddy

Your freezer can really help in lunch box planning for the morning. I freeze juice pouches so I don't need to pack (and continuously freeze) ice packs. The juice naturally defrosts by lunchtime and keeps other things cold in the lunch box. You can also prep PBandJs, too. They will naturally defrost during the morning. I also use frozen chicken tenders and throw them in the toaster oven in the morning for my daughter's lunch. Once they are cooled I wrap them in foil and toss them in her lunch sack. Think about how you can use your freezer to help assist prepping some of your kids' favorites.

6: Google calendar keeps planes moving

I get so tired of managing different calendars, but I am air traffic control for our family. That means I need to verbally tell my husband events and appointments (repeat about 5 times, and twice the day of*), keep a family calendar up to date in the kitchen, track my own calendar that merges with my work calendar. It's enough to lose your mind. I started using Google calendar and inviting my daughter and husband to it. When I put an event on it for either one of them I can invite them to it and they will get an alert. It will also alert them 15 minutes before something is going to start and it merges with my outlook calendar at work. It is a big help with scheduling. For more about Google calendar, check out my post from a few years ago.

7: Pre-bake and freeze class treats

I can't tell you how often my daughter remembers at 8 p.m. that she needed to bring a class treat in for one occasion or another the next day. Now I love baking, but not at 8 p.m. on a night I was planning on catching up on some Game of Thrones. If you are not into baking at all hours, take some time on a Sunday and prebake some cakes and freeze them to either frost or crumble up to make cake pops when you need that last minute treat. If you have a lot of freezer space, you can try freezing cupcakes. I also freeze cookies and they hold up for 6-8 months really well. Having something on hand quickly will make your school year a lot easier. Trust me on this one. I speak from experience.

8: Keep a running grocery list on the fridge

The minute you are low on something or used the last of something, write it on a list somewhere that's in your face all the time, screaming at you. We keep ours on the fridge, front and center. Next time we're at the store, we merge this list with the mothership list. It's so hard to keep track of stuff and the last thing you need is to be out of toothpaste at bedtime and you need to run to Walgreen's. When you're low on anything, put it on the list. Get ahead of things.

9: Pharmacy stock up gives you a leg up on illness

It never fails. It's bedtime and you hear the complaints of a sore throat or a stuffy nose. Kids announce their illnesses at the most inconvenient times. Don't be caught without medicine. Your mamma bear instincts want to get them comfy and feeling better as soon as possible. Your sleep-deprived self doesn't want to run more errands late at night (I mean, you just got your pajamas on, right?). During the back-to-school shopping I stock up the medicine cabinet with band aids, antibiotic cream, fever and pain reducers, day and night cold medicine, tummy ache meds, Orajel and Benadryl. If you use my list as a guide, it should get you setup for any minor health hiccups throughout the year.

10: Keep extra school supplies in the closet

I know school supplies are expensive, so sometimes it's hard to buy extra stuff during that first big shopping spree. But if you see good deals on packs of pencils, pens, paper, erasers and sharpeners, you should buy some extras. I keep extra supplies in a cabinet in my home office, and we dip into that stash at least 5 times a year. (What is it with kids losing pencil sharpeners and erasers constantly?) I'm just trying to prevent you from running to the convenience store in the dead of winter late at night to buy a pencil sharpener. One, it will be overpriced. Two, you'll end up buying that double fudge turtle ice cream in the freezer case. Three, you may still be in your pajamas thinking, "who am I going to run into at the convenience store this late?" Then you see your neighbor. Never fails.

Please note: Starbucks coffees were provided by Starbucks. All thoughts, opinions and obsessions about Starbucks coffee are completely my own. Thanks! #starbucks @starbucks #VIA #PSL #coffeepassion

COOKING: Fresh Refrigerator Dill Pickles, Recipe and Video

Pin It

Pickles are a basic way to introduce yourself to the art of pickling. Pickle making is super easy and you can get really creative with various spices and herbs to change the flavor of your pickles. I have seen Jalapeno pickles, and red pepper pickles to sweet and sour pickles. These here are a nice, briny, dilly pickle with a subtle punch of garlic. 

Pickles last about 6 months in the fridge, if you don't eat them before then. Our pickles barely last a couple of months (nom nom nom!). Once you get your pickling legs under you, you can really dig in and enjoy pickling lots of vegetables and fruits. Also note if you wish to make pickling jars shelf stable can them using a hot water bath to seal them tight. Though we do this with a variety of pickling, we like our cucumber pickles crisp, cold and in the fridge. 

We (hubby and I) pickled a handful last weekend and made a YouTube video to show you how. I have included it in this post (below). When you are canning it is helpful to enlist an extra set of hands to cut back on the time. If you enlist a friend, split the fruits of your labor! It's well worth it.

Fresh Refrigerator Dill Pickles


4 large garlic cloves, cut into quarters

4 cups water

2 cups distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
8 teaspoons kosher salt
4 juniper berries
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
8 whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon dill seeds
6 allspice seeds

4 lbs. Kirby cucumbers, sliced into spears

Add to each jar:
4 coriander seeds

4 juniper berries
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 whole peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon dill seeds
Few sprigs of fresh dill


In a large sauce pan, combine brine ingredients - the vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, juniper, peppercorns and dill seeds with the water and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved and boiling. Let the brine cool until just warm.

Process the 4 (1) quart mason jars and lids in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. Remove from hot water bath and cool. Add garlic to jars. Add cucumbers to jars leaving room for dill. Add dill and finish with more spears until jars are packed. Add the extra pickling spices. Pour the brine over the cucumbers equally in each jar leaving 1/2" room from the top. Top off each with extra vinegar to get the right amount of liquid in each jar.

Seal jars and refrigerate for 2 weeks before using to let the flavors bloom. Store in refrigerator for 5 months.

BAKING TIPS: How to save Wilton Candy Melts for later

Pin It

Are you a baking or candy making diva like I am? I am so over run with sprinkles, cake pop sticks, decorating gels and Candy Melts that I need to find a giant tackle box of some sort to organize it all. There is just too many supplies and my hubby kicked my overflowing ziploc bags out of the cabinet for me to find another home for.

I get supplies for one project and I always have left over, and I never want to waste it because A: It's expensive B: You never know when you are going to need it for your next project.

The same goes for Candy Melts. I love this product. It's shelf stable, comes in all colors and flavors, and you can remelt it over and over again. That goes for cooled and stored melts, too. But I have always struggled with saving left over melted Candy Melts. I usually let it cool in the bowl, then chisel it out with a fork and knife accompanied with many "sentence enhancers". It's not a great (or easy) technique.

My recent project involved using Candy Melts to create ghost creatures for my daughter's birthday cake, and I used parchment to shape them and let them set. Then it dawned on me (well, it was more of a face palm moment), why not scrape the extra-melty-ooze onto a piece of parchment and spread it with a knife in an even layer. Then let it cool right on there, and break it up once it's set in even chunks and store in a ziploc bag for later.

It worked like a dream!

Next time you have a good handful of extra melted Candy Melts, layer it on some parchment, let it cool, break it up with your hands and store! DONE!

RECIPE: Cookie Butter Filled Chocolate Cake with Nutella Buttercream Frosting

Pin It


I have been seeing a lot of buzz around Trader Joe's Cookie Butter. I have no idea what it's made of, but it is pretty amazing. I've wanted to play with it in baking for a while.

I wanted to use it in a filling for a cake I had in the freezer I was going to defrost for a party. My chocolate cake recipe makes A LOT of cake. So I always have an extra layer in the freezer from when I make it. Perfect when you need a cake for a last minute party!

I also thought I could make a Nutella frosting as a nice complement to the cookie butter in the center. It worked out great. My colleagues at work annihilated the left overs.

Cookie Butter Filled Chocolate Cake with Nutella Butter cream Frosting

Use only 1-2 of the layers. I used one layer and cut it in half. Freeze the rest.

Rich Chocolate Cake Recipe:

nonstick cooking spray and parchment paper
1 1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups water

Cookie Butter Filling:

1 1/2 cups cookie butter
1 packet powdered DreamWhip
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Nutella Frosting:

3/4 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella



Heat oven to 350˚.  Line 3 8"cake pans with parchment, and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Also spray an 8x8" pan in case you have extra batter. Freeze extra cake for another time.

Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With a paddle attachment, mix the oil, buttermilk, vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add hot water. Scrape the sides and blend a few minutes more until smooth.

Pour the batter in the prepared pans, and bake for 45 minutes on the middle rack. The cake should spring back to the touch and toothpick comes out clean. Pop out cakes from the pans to wire racks after sitting in the pan for 10 minutes. Let cool completely. 

Cookie Butter Filling

With a hand mixer, whip the cookie butter until light and fluffy in a medium sized bowl. Add the vanilla extract and whip some more. Add the Dream Whip and whip until light, fluffy and smooth.

Nutella Butter Cream Frosting

In a medium bowl, whip the butter with the Nutella until smooth and combined. Add a pinch of salt and vanilla extract and beat a few more minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat on low for a couple minutes until the sugar is just combined. Once things are not a powdered mess but getting mixed, whip on high until light and fluffy. 


Either cut one cake layer in half or use two whole cake layers, and fill the center with the cookie butter filling. Frost the cake with the Nutella frosting. Start with a thin crumb layer along all sides and top. Chill the cake with the thin crumb layer for ten minutes. Then take the cake out and frost the sides and top with luscious swirls of the frosting. Don't be shy, this stuff is the bomb.

Because the filling and frosting has no milk or fresh dairy, the cake can sit out at room temperature for a couple of days, covered lightly.

FMD Phase 3: Cocoa Avocado Almond Meal Cookies (vegan, gluten free, sugar free)

Pin It

These sweet treats look more like burnt blobs of dough that were left in the bottom of your oven than the creamy, delicious vegan treats that they actually are. Avocado plays the star in these cookies, with a healthy dose of vanilla and almond meal. These babies are sugar free, gluten free and dairy free.

I am still trying to be on the Fast Metabolism Diet (shortened to FMD for vets). I have taken more of a maintenance phase now, because I passed my first goal weight months ago. I also have been on this lifestyle change since January and it is really hard to stay on this diet long term with a dairy loving family and Italian parents. My husband tried to be supportive for the first few months but after a while he just couldn't deal. The other challenge on this diet is that life gets in the way. To stay on it forever would need more of an altered version of the rules-especially if you are a foodie. The good news is, the diet works. So once you get to your goals and get everything in balance (which shouldn't take that long) you can adapt what you learned into some real life eating.

These treats I make just for me on the phase 3 (good fats) phase. I also have moved to using Monkfruit sweetener versus xylitol. Monkfruit sweetener is easier on my sensitive stomach and tastes just like sugar. You can get it at the Vitamin Shop or Amazon. 

I make these treats on Sunday, eat two, and freeze the rest for the next time I want a chocolate treat on phase 3. Use an avocado that's ripe, but not too ripe or becoming brown-you will get a bitter after taste. Thanks to avocados, I'm not missing the dairy...err...that much.

FMD Phase 3: Cocoa Avocado Almond Meal Cookies
adapted from the smoothie lover

1 1/2 cups ripe avocado
3/4 cup monk fruit sweetener (stevia or xylitol also works-or mix together to cut xylitol down so it doesn't upset your stomach but it cuts the funky stevia after taste)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup good ground cocoa
1/4 cup raw cocoa nibs
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup almond flour


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350˚.

In a bowl, mash up the avocado with a fork. Add the sweetener and beat with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the eggs and beat some more. Add the cocoa, baking soda, salt, vanilla extract and almond flour and mix until combined. Fold in the cocoa nibs. Drop the batter a couple inches apart on the baking sheet using well rounded tablespoonfuls. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cookies are puffy and set. Sprinkle with extra sweetener and let cool on the sheet for 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Freeze extras to eat later in the month for other phase 3s. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...