PARENTING: Don't We All Have "Special Needs?"

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My spirited, creative kid as an "Asian Warrior Dragon" last Halloween.
Today, I am feeling sad and defeated. I have been mulling the idea of this post around in my head since August, but I didn't know where to start. But today, I am filled with so much emotion that I guess today is the day.

I don't know if that's a good thing. Is writing while emotional ideal? What did Bill Murray say to the ground hog in Groundhog Day? "Don't drive angry!"?

Well, Mamma is driving angry. So put on your seat belts, folks.

I found out in mid September that our uber-creative and energetic daughter has ADHD. Were we surprised? Not really. I had inklings all along, but because she is bright, her grades were good until last year and it's not a huge impairment on the scale of impairments-she had been able to slip through the cracks. I asked each of her teachers ever year what they thought, and I got the "eh"with a shrug and a "Well, I guess we could have her tested." Last year, we got an email from her 4th grade teacher saying we really should have our daughter tested, then no follow up at all! Not from her or the school psychologist (who only comes in once a week, and if you don't fit into that day-you, my friend, are SOL. Truthfully, I am not convinced he actually exists. Many have yet to actually see him in the flesh.). To this very day, I have not heard from this man. It has been over a year, and I have had my own test results meeting with the teachers about our daughter. He has never followed up with me or our private psychologist who left countless voice mails with him. Why? Well, he is only in on Wednesdays, and I or my daughter's doctor need to work around that. See how that works? You have to be your own child's advocate to get anything done. Thank Heaven our daughter's teachers are wonderful and committed to helping her. But most of them are not even trained to deal with the special challenges of an ADHD child. They are getting no special needs support from the administration. They are doing their best on their own.

So, what I have come to realize, sadly, is that the cracks in a Catholic school ARE HUGE. Like, Grand Canyon huge. I am not going to sit and continue to complain about our daughter's current school. What ails them when it comes to special needs families ails all Catholic schools, and that's the lack of resources to support special needs. However, what I don't understand is how we are constantly fundraising all year until we are exhausted-and broke, and there are no resources. But I said I wouldn't complain.

I am going to make my complaints from 5,000 feet higher, because though I have enough current complaints against my current school experience to fill a 1,000 word post, the cause of it is even bigger. In many ways, I can't really blame them.

I am Catholic. I believe in God and Jesus. I live my life trying to be a steward to my faith and my community. I really, really wanted to raise my daughter while being part of a Catholic school. It's how I was raised. What I don't understand is how the Archdiocese of Chicago can completely ignore special needs in their school system. Say what you will about CPS and public schools in general, my child has rights as citizen of the USA and the State of Illinois. Go to any state, city or school site and it's pretty darn clear. But I have no rights as a Catholic parishioner and school family under the Catholic church for an inclusive education. They give no help, no support that I could find. Last I went to their website, the "inclusive education" page gave some lip service to making sure everyone gets a good education and an annoying form/survey to fill out. They don't have support for their schools at all, or a place for families to go to get help, advice or even pay for some. They leave supporting special needs families to the realm of each school. No sweeping philosophy, vision, approach or belief. Nothing. No vision. No leadership. No help.

So today begins Catholic schools week, where many schools will have open houses for prospective parents to tour. I was up until 2 a.m. looking at reviews, visiting websites to make a tour list for myself today. Because I am trying desperately to find a Catholic home better suited to my child that can accommodate her ADHD. And this is what saddened angered me the most, and why I am writing this post now.

Many of them do not even talk about special needs, and if they do, it's a few sentences at best. The one school I was told had more of a focus on special needs from another parent had their site down for construction-DURING CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK! This is a huge red flag. Talk about lack of leadership.

This is what I don't understand, and it's simple, really.
Jesus taught this very popular lesson;
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
(Matthew 25.35-40 ESV)

Ignoring the issues of special needs families in the Catholic school system goes against the very teachings of Christianity and the very core of what we teach our own children in these schools. Am I the only one who sees the horrifying irony of this truth? Do Catholic schools want to weed out these children and focus on just the fast track kids who can get awesome test scores and get into Harvard? Because that's what it looks like, and it saddens my heart and my soul. I think it saddens God. 

When I went searching for support to get our daughter tested, our school ignored us. There was nothing I could find on the Archdiocese website. Do you know where I found help and a wonderful community that has been an awesome support to our family? The Jewish Family Counseling Center. Yup. That's right. They are all inclusive, with their arms wide open. They have been a blessing. And they are a Jewish community center. I thank God for them everyday. They have been a life raft in the stormy sea of learning disabilities we have suddenly found ourselves in. I love, love, love them. Why doesn't the Catholic community have anything like this place? SAD.

This whole awful journey has made me realize a lot. One, that we all have special needs, really. We each come to learning differently, We all have special strengths and weaknesses. Some kids are visual learners. Some are more methodical. Some need to "do". Some need to "read" then "do". Some memorize for the test and do well. Some are more creative. In some ways, I don't think our educational system has evolved much from the little red school house days. Think about it. Back then we had a group of kids with all different ages and backgrounds in one room. They were getting taught the basics by one lonely teacher. This poor teacher had to accommodate not just each age level, but each child's ability as well. 

Not much has changed. Yes, kids are closer in age in the grade levels, but that's about it. Throw them all in a room, teach them the same curriculum in the same way to all of them and hope they all get it. The public schools have at least tried to accommodate the children that do have special needs. Maybe the Catholic schools want the same kids, at the same level in the same room to make their lives easier? I am not sure, but maybe the whole model needs to change? I read that the Bill Gates Foundation was trying some test schools out involving more independent learning with each child having their own "cubicle" and then collaborating on projects with other students. I don't know how that went. But I urge the innovators of today to start looking at our antiquated school model. However, that's not going to help me today. Today I need to open up my school options to help my daughter be the best she can be. I need to be her advocate, because no one else will be. As the Catholic church tries to stay relevant to today's families, ignoring special needs children in their school system is not a good way to achieve that. And if we turn to The Bible, it's pretty clear Jesus wouldn't have wanted it, either.

RECIPES: Marbled Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip "Power Cookies"

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We are on a serious New Years resolution kick. My hubby, daughter and I are dedicated to getting healthy this year. Of course, my husband lost 9 lbs. in one week.


Of course our weight loss is slower (being of the female gender) which he likes to rub in.

And tonight is Monday, which means soup and salad night. My daughter thinks this is my husband's sadistic way of torturing her. She doesn't get that we are just trying to eat lighter after the weekend. We try to make the soups hearty or interesting. But, it's still soup and salad. She's a comfort food girl, like me. And add the drop to 12 degrees today, and soup and salad isn't that fun for frigid weather. (Hm. I think I'm complaining as much as she is!)

So I resolved to make some healthier cookies for the week so she could have some joy in her life and we could feel like we were staying on track. I came up with these because I had a giant box of POST Grape Nuts I needed to do something with. This on it's own is a healthy addition to any cookie, but I wanted to add some whole wheat pastry flour, and some instant oatmeal, too. All that whole grain would give them some staying power. I adapted this recipe from the Post Grape Nuts website. The great addition to them is the mashed sweet potato, which keeps the need for shortening and sugar to a minimum. Sweet potatoes are also nutrient rich and full of fiber, too. Time baking these appropriately. Sweet potatoes take a long time to bake...about 40-50 minutes. I started them in the oven and ended up throwing them in the microwave to speed things up. Hubby needed the kitchen and he was getting impatient.

But he agreed they were worth the wait! They are cakey, moist and soft. If you want them a little crispier, make them smaller. I made them into large, puffy mounds.

Marbled Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip "Power Cookies"

3 sweet potatoes, baked, peeled and mashed until smooth. Yields roughly 3 cups.
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup regular sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup regular flour
3/4 whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 packet Maple and Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup Post Grape Nuts cereal

Preheat oven to 350˚. Puree your hot sweet potatoes, keep warm. The warmth of the 
potatoes help the marbling.
On low speed, whip the butter with both sugars until combined. Whip in eggs, almond 
and vanilla extracts. Whip until fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix the flours with baking 
soda, sea salt, cinnamon and oatmeal. Gradually add the sweet potato to the butter, 
alternating with the flour, until combined. With a spatula, mix in the Grape Nuts. 
Then add the chocolate chips. The warmth of the sweet potatoes should melt the 
chocolate chips a little as you stir, creating a marbling affect. Don't over mix, or 
you'll just melt the chips in creating chocolate cookies. You want some marbling and 
some chips.Spoon batter in 2 tbsp. mounds on prepared baking sheets, about 2" apart. 
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until bottoms are brown and top edges are just 
beginning to brown. Let sit on sheets for 5 min. Before transferring them to a wire 
rack to cool completely.

RECIPE: (Repurposing KFC Chicken) Shredded Chicken Poblano Cumin Tacos

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Ahh, the craving for some Kentucky Fried Chicken. It happens. It first happened to me when I was pregnant, and I could have seriously hurt someone for an extra crispy chicken breast and a biscuit. You never want to get in between a pregnant woman and her cravings. Just say'n.

Nowadays we indulge once in a while in a nice big bucket of extra crispy goodness. The issue is, you still have a ton of extra KFC left in the fridge the next day. And lets face it, its never that good the next day on it's own. So one day, my hubby concocted these amazing tacos. They were AWESOME. I think you can use rotisserie chicken or left over barbecue chicken, too.

 (Repurposing KFC Chicken) Shredded Chicken Poblano Cumin Tacos


1-1 1/2 lbs. KFC (or other left over fried chicken), about 4 pieces, coating and skin removed, meat shredded
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 Poblano pepper, seeded and drained
1/2 small red bell pepper, diced
3-4 long Anaheim dried peppers, rehydrated for 20 minutes in hot water
1 large tomato, diced
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp. cumin
3/4 cup chicken broth
2-3 Tbsp. Madeira wine
 salt to taste

For Serving:
flour tortillas
shredded lettuce
diced tomatoes
diced red onion
chopped cilantro
mild shredded cheddar
sour cream
jarred salsa 
chopped avocado


In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion, Poblano pepper, red pepper, tomato, tomato paste and garlic. Cook until things begin to soften. Meanwhile, remove Anaheim peppers from the water. Cut in half and remove seeds. With the back of s knife, scrape the pulp of the insides of the pepper's skin. Add pulp to the pan with the Madeira wine and saute for 1 minute. Add cumin, salt and shredded chicken. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and saute until the moisture is evaporated. Add the rest of the broth and cook until broth is evaporated but chicken is still slightly moist. Add salt to taste. Heat the tortillas in a pan to warm them. Serve the tortillas in a tortilla warmer with all the accompaniments.

RECIPE: Almond Apple Crepes

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What makes a morning extra special? Crepes! We make crepes a lot on the weekends. You can fill them with whatever you want; jams, sweet cheeses, fruit, or nothing. You can top them with sauces, melted butter, syrup, whipped cream or nothing. We like them because you can make them gluten free if you have to by using Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch, or other gluten free flours. We also like to make them to eat a lower carb breakfast, in comparison to muffins or coffee cake.

This batch we made to clean out the apples in the crisper drawer. They were delicious, so I thought I would share the yummy. After all, tomorrow is SUNDAY!

Almond Apple Crepes


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/3 cup milk
1 cup water
6 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 Tbsp. Amaretto

4 Tbsp. butter
3 apples, peeled and diced small
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup Amaretto
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
salt to taste
1/3 cup or more of water


Put flour into a food processor and add salt, eggs, yolk, milk, water and Amaretto and pulse until smooth. Add cooled butter and pulse for about a minute more until smooth. Rest the batter for 30 minutes while you prepare the topping.

Make the topping in a nonstick pan by melting the butter over medium heat. Add apples, brown sugar, Amaretto, salt and cinnamon. Cook until apples are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add water to make a syrupy sauce. Cook for a few more minutes until the sauce is thick but able to be drizzled. Set aside.

Heat a non stick pan and brush the bottom with melted butter over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, pour about 1/3 cup of batter along the bottom. Rotate the pan so the bottom is evenly covered with batter. Manage your heat as you go. When crepe starts to brown on the edges, fold in half using a spatula and a bamboo stick to help, then fold again so it looks like a pie wedge. Cook 30 seconds more, then flip and cook 30 more seconds on the other side. Remove the crepe and keep warm as you continue with the rest of the batter. Serve with the apple topping and maple syrup.

RECIPE: Bay Leaf Infused Fig and Walnut Apple Pie

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So, I make a lot of pie. Apple pie, to be exact.
I take the parish apple pie contest every fall very seriously. I slave away in the kitchen every September experimenting with what I will be entering. This year, I tried 4 different pies. This was one I almost entered. I was keeping it for the ebook I am working on (I swear it's almost done, we are proofing it this month!) but I was playing with semolina and bay leaves this past weekend and I inadvertently came up with a tastier concoction for the ebook to replace this.

So I give you this amazing, hearty, decadent apple pie. It was based on a Martha Stewart pie, but with my crust, different steps and herbal changes.

You are probably wondering, OK-What did you enter and where is THAT recipe?
You guessed it, it's in the ebook. 
Oh, and I won.

Bay Leaf Infused Fig and Walnut Apple Pie


12 Tbsp. chilled, chopped butter
2 cups plus 3 Tbsp. chilled flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
4.5 oz. mascarpone cheese, chilled
1-2 Tbsp. ice water
1 tsp. orange zest
1 Tbsp. sugar

3/4 cup Madeira
5 oz. soft mission figs
3 whole star anise
3-4 dried bay leaves
3 lbs. apples (I like 70% Gala, 25% Golden Delicious, 15% Zestar) peeled, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick)
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. orange zest
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
fine sanding sugar


Make the crust:

I like making my crusts by hand. It actually is less work, and you don’t overwork the dough, making the crust more tender! All you need is a pastry cutter (or even a fork), a bowl and some elbow grease. Pour your flour, sugar, zest and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk with a fork, and cut in the 12 Tbsp. butter with a pastry cutter until you have the texture of small peas. Add the Mascarpone in a few clumps and cut that in until you have the texture of coarse cornmeal.  Drizzle the chilled water over the flour. You will not need much for things to start coming together, mascarpone has a lot of moisture. Add the 1-2 more teaspoons of water and continue to bring together with a pastry cutter or your hands at this point. Using saran wrap, quickly wrap two balls of dough, evenly divided, and flatten into round discs. Let chill for 30 minutes or overnight. Once rested and chilled, roll out your bottom crust between lightly floured plastic wrap until it fits your pie pan with 1/2 inch overhang. Peel off the top plastic wrap, and with your hand slid under the bottom of the dough flip it into your pie dish and peel off the bottom plastic wrap (which will now be at the top). Adjust the position of the dough. Press into the pie dish, trim so the overhang is 1/2” thick on all sides (patching as you need). Wrap pan in plastic wrap tightly and let rest in the refrigerator for one hour or overnight as well. At this point, I roll out my top crust as well, and lay it on a baking sheet covered with plastic wrap to let it rest as well. Resting lets the gluten relax and prevent crust from shrinking and toughness.


In a small saucepan, heat the Madeira to a light boil. Add the figs, anise and 2 bay leaves. Simmer until figs are softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer figs to a bowl, and reduce the syrup down to about 1/4 cup or so. Discard herbs and spices. Pour the syrup over the figs. Cover with tinfoil and let the figs sit. The steam will help soften the stubborn, tough figs in the batch and the juice will get absorbed, packing the figs with flavor.

Meanwhile, macerate the apple slices in a  large bowl with sugar, orange zest, lemon juice, maple syrup, salt and cinnamon for at least 1 hour and up to 3. Drain apples, reserving juices. In a large pan over medium heat, melt butter. Saute the apples until just softened, roughly 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the reserved juice in a small saucepan. Add the last 2 bay leaves and heat the syrup to a rolling boil. Simmer until the juices are reduced to about 1/4 cup and it’s hot, thick and bubbly. Discard the bay leaves, and add the syrup to the softened apples in the pan. Next, roughly chop the softened figs and add them to the apples with any reserved liquid that was with the figs. Add the cornstarch to the apple mixture and toss gently. Mix in the walnuts as well and let the filling cool down while getting the pie dough out.


Preheat oven to 425˚ with a parchment lined baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven for at least 20 minutes.

Take the prepared pan with the dough out to warm up slightly at room temperature. Pour the apple filling into prepared crust, pushing it in and mounding it if necessary. Take the top crust out as well to soften up slightly at room temp. Lay the top crust over the filling and trim excess overhang. Crimp the edges and cut steam holes. Whisk the egg yolk with the cream, and brush it over the crust. Sprinkle lightly with the sanding sugar.

Create a foil ring for the edges and have it handy and ready. Place the pie right on the hot baking sheet. Cover edges with foil ring if the edges are browning too fast. After about 30 minutes, I usually tent the whole pie with tinfoil pierced with a steam hole so that the apples get properly baked in the middle. I keep the tent on for about 20 more minutes, then take it off for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking. Filling should be hot and bubbly and crust evenly golden brown. This takes about 50 minutes to 1 hour total. Let the pie sit out and cool down for a couple hours before cutting, to allow the pie to set up.

RECIPE: 2 for 1 No-bake S'more Bars and Oatmeal, Cocoa and Peanut Butter Cookies

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We've been working on our cooking badge at scouts, and needless to say, I selfishly took a nap when I got home today after the meeting. Teaching 15 kids about grains, cooking 2 batches of no-bake cookies plus coaching them on cookie sales....all in an hour and a half....takes a lot out of a lady!

Depending on your meeting facility, using no-bake recipes towards a cooking badge is great. Granted, scouts don't learn oven skills, but we used these cookies to talk about grains, practice stove top cooking, practice mixing and measuring as well as using a timer (and learning to wait!). These are important fundamentals of cooking. The grain part was fun. I had an array of different grains, from quinoa to bulgur to black rice and more. I put a little of each in a dixie cup and they each got to touch it, smell it and even taste it if they wanted. Then I heated up an Uncle Bens Quinoa and Brown Rice blend for them to taste. Many had never had any of these specialty grains. Then we discussed what grains went into the cookies for today.

All education aside, these were very good. Even the parents had these at pick up and wanted the recipes. The S'mores bars I adapted from The Domestic Rebel, a young blogger with a lot of spunk. The other cookie recipe has made its way around many kitchens, and handed down from many Grandmas. I cut back on the sugar after making it with the girls, they were a little too sweet. You can also add coconut to the batter, but my scouts were adamant about no coconut, so no coconut! I added grape nuts, to add more grain and crunch.

Save these for a cooking day with kids, or a day you don't feel like turning on the oven or slaving away in the kitchen. Maybe a super hot Summer day? Or a lazy tomorrow?

1: No-bake S'more Bars


5 Tbsp. butter

16 oz. mini marshmallows, divided with 5 cups in one bowl and the rest in another

1 12 oz. box Golden Grahams Cereal

1 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup chocolate chunks

Wax paper


In a large saucepan, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the 5 cups of marshmallows and continue stirring until melted and smooth. Take off heat, and quickly add the box of cereal. Stir to coat, working quickly. Once the cereal is well coated, add the chocolates and mix. Minis will melt a little, which is great! Add the rest of the marshmallows and combine.

Take a 13 x 9 pan and lay wax paper along the bottom. Pour the mixture into the pan, and using a spatula, flatten and press the mixture tightly into the pan. Press it as flat and even as possible. Chill for one hour. Cut into squares and serve 'em up with milk!


2: No-bake Oatmeal, Cocoa and Peanut Butter Cookies


1 stick butter

1/2 cup cocoa

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup Grape Nuts cereal


In a large saucepan, combine sugar, butter, vanilla, cocoa and milk. Heat over medium heat until melted and smooth. Bring to a boil for one minute, to get the sugar crystals melted. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter. Add the oatmeal and Grape Nuts and mix until well combined. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Drop the batter into tablespoons. Let them sit out to harden up, about 30 minutes. I have read if there is a lot of moisture in the air, they won't harden! So not a rainy day project!

RECIPE: Lemon Lavender Crispettes

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Well, I am letting out a well kept secret. To my personal girlfriends and colleagues who follow me here, take note.

Here are the legendary lemon lavender cookies that are a main attraction on my cookie plates over the holidays.

This is based on a Better Homes and Gardens recipe I have had for years. That recipe was more of a soft, buttery shortbread. It is loved by many and I am sure you can find it somewhere in the bowels of BHG's sprawling website.

But these are lighter, with a more lemon punch. Why?
I made a math mistake.
I did. I admit it. I always double the batter, and I messed up the doubling.
(I'm a creative chick. Math was never a core competency.)
And when I realized it, I had to make even more adjustments. And after they were frosted and done, I liked them a lot. They are lighter with a crispiness to them. And the lemon juice gives them a brighter finish. I also used my dried garden lavender for these, which is French versus English. It has a milder, less astringent flavor profile. And well, because I love my homegrown French lavender, I bumped up that amount, too

These are good any time of year. In fact, I am going to make a batch for Easter, too.

Well, there you go, a secret recipe.
Don't get used to it. ;)

Lemon Lavender Crispettes


2 1/2 tsp. dried French lavender buds
3 cups flour
2 tsp. fresh grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1-3 Tbsp. water, as needed


4 Tbsp. well softened butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. milk or cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. dried French lavender buds, crushed and rubbed up in your hands


In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind up the flowers for batter until a fine powder.  Set aside.

Sift the flour with the salt, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350˚. Whip the butter until creamy, then add the sugar and whip until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest, lavender and mix well. With the mixer on low, add the flour until well combined. Add the water, a little at a time, until the dough is just able to be shaped into a 12 " long log, about 2-3" in diameter. You should be able to roll out 1-3 logs. Wrap them in parchment, and chill for a couple of hours, or freeze over night.

Prepare the frosting before baking. Whip the butter until creamy, then whip in the sugar. As you are whipping it, add the vanilla and milk/cream until smooth, thick and creamy. You may need more than the tablespoon to get it to the right consistency. Add the crushed lavender flowers and mix well. Set aside.

Line baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. Slice up the cookie log into 1/4 inch slices with a serrated knife. Place them on a cookie sheet, a couple inches apart. Bake about 8 min. or so, just until the edges are starting to brown. Let cool on the baking sheets for a couple minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack. Once completely cool, frost with a thin layer of frosting. Feel free to use a few extra crushed buds for garnish on top. Store the cookies in an airtight container between sheets of parchment paper.

RECIPE: Cheesecake Mousse Filled Red Velvet Cake

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Over the holidays, we did a lot of entertaining, which means we had a lot of food. I just felt like we were always eating. If it wasn't dinner, it was leftovers from dinner. And the worst?/best?/worst? thing is when we had left over dessert. So when our close friends came over for a holiday dinner, I wanted to make a cake that was the perfect size for our little group. I also wanted to make it very holiday-esque, so I went with red velvet to start. Then I thought about the cream cheese frosting I always make, and then thought about the delicious cheesecake mousse I always order in my cakes at Costco. From there, I became inspired to make a mousse filling for this little cutie to compliment the frosting.

I made it the perfect size by simply making one 9 inch round cake, and cutting it in half to fill it. It was a sweet little thing, and we only had leftovers for one other evening for a small treat. Perfect!

If you need some decoration hints to make it very festive, cut candied red cherries in half for holly berries, and pair them up with flattened green fruit roll ups cut to look like holly leaves. I wanted the main picture to be a little more generic, because red velvet cake is yummy any time of year. So I am not showing these decorations, but it made the cake very colorful.

I hope you enjoyed the holidays this year. As for me, I am going on South Beach for a little while! Too much good eating!

Cheesecake Mousse Filled Red Velvet Cake


1 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick of butter, softened
1 egg
1 oz. red food coloring (don't skimp)
1 heaping Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened at room temp.
1/8 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. milk

Mousse Filling (adapted from
1/8 cup water
1/2 tsp. Knox unflavored gelatin
1/2 box instant french vanilla pudding or cheescake flavored pudding
1/2 envelope Dream Whip
1 cup whipping cream
2 oz. softened cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350˚. Use baking spray and a piece of parchment cut to a 9" round. Spray a  9" cake pan, and lay the parchment on the bottom. Set aside.  In a bowl, mix flour and salt, set aside.
In a large bowl, use your electric mixer to cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well.

In a glass bowl, mix the red food coloring with the cocoa until well combined. Add the buttermilk to the food coloring mixture and mix. Set aside.

Back to your batter, add the buttermilk mixture alternately with the flour mixture to the butter. Be careful not to over mix. I stop the mixer often and use a spatula to work the sides in as I add the ingredients-over mixing can toughen your cake. After the batter is smooth and combined, take the bowl off the mixer, and stir in the vanilla with a spatula. In a small bowl, add baking soda and vinegar. This will foam. Stir vinegar mixture into batter, careful not to over mix.

Pour batter into your prepared pan and bake on the middle rack for 25-30 minutes, or until wooden toothpick come out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack for ten minutes, then invert it out on the rack to cool completely. Once cooled, use a serrated knife to cut the cake horizontally in half.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a small saucepan pour the water, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit and soften for one minute. Gently heat the gelatin over medium heat until the mixture thins out and the gelatin is dissolved. Don't let it boil. Remove from heat and let it cool down, but not longer than 10 minutes.

While that's cooling, pour powdered pudding and powdered Dream Whip into a medium bowl. Pour in the cream and mix on low speed until well combined. Beat for a few minutes on high until light and creamy, scraping the sides as you go. Mix in softened cream cheese and vanilla and beat for a minute until just combined. Next add your cooled gelatin, and whip for one minute. Let filling sit in refrigerator for about 30 minutes to one hour. If you are making this a day before, you may need to whip up the filling with a mixer before filling your cake to get it light and loose. Fill the middle of the cake, and set it on your serving platter to frost.

Next, make the frosting. This can be done a day ahead and tightly stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Whip cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and continue beating. Turn mixer to low and add powdered sugar by first adding 2 cups and mixing. Then add milk, and then add the rest of the powdered sugar. When sugar is all combined, beat on high again to get a lot of air and lightness into the frosting for a couple of minutes.

Frost your cake, first with a thin crumb layer, then with big, fluffy swirls. Above are the holiday decorations I mentioned in the intro.
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