Festive Garland Blondies

I do love blondies – a rich vanilla brownie – and I love them even more with white chocolate. I thought my recipe needed to stop there, but I was wrong (so, so wrong). There is so much more to add like dried cranberries, popcorn, and then some more dried cranberries, thanks to my enlightenment from the Whole Foods “Whole Deal” booklet.

I think back on my days of just plain blondies with white chocolate, and think how naive I was. To think that was all there is.

I changed up the recipe from the Whole Foods version because I like a thicker blondie base. There are also some keys in the recipe to helping make the added toppings stick that I’ve included below. Tis the time of year for Festive Garland Blondies. *teaser* next recipe will be a brownie version!

Festive Garland Brownies, adapted from the Whole Deal newsletter


  • 1 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries, divided
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups white chocolate chips or chunks, divided
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup salted popcorn (from a microwave bag)

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9 inch square baking pan with non-stick spray, set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add 3/4 cup cranberries and 1/2 cup of the white chocolate chips or chunks and toss to coat. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with a hand mixer until fluffy. Add egg and beat until incorporated. Add flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until just cooked through and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside for 5 minutes (but you want to work with it still warm so topping will stick). Melt remaining white chocolate. Spread 2/3 of the melted chocolate over bars and immediately scatter remaining cranberries and popcorn over the top, pressing down gently to help stick. Drizzle remaining chocolate over bars. Set aside until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes. Cut into squares and serve. Store in a sealed container for a few days.


Bavarian Apple Torte

Another mommy recipe (by which I mean a recipe from my mother) with a few of my touches. Not that it wasn’t perfect to start with.

I love this dessert/breakfast/snack. It’s perfect for fall, and a great “thing to have on hand” when you are going to be having many guests or if you are in need of a hostess gift.

The ingredients list is not long and you will find you have most in your pantry. The prep is a cinch and before you know it, your house will be smelling “perfectly wonderful appley baking like” (something that was actually said upon opening our front door).

I feel I am using the term perfect way too easily here, but Bavarian Apple Torte is just, well, kind of perfect.



  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 14 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
cream filling:
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened (can use Neufchatel cheese)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 4 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples (about 2 large apples – use a baking apple such as Mcintosh or Empire
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped almonds

How To:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. For crust, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in vanilla. Gradually blend in flour and salt. Mixture will be crumbly. Pat onto the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan. Bring crust up about 1 1/2 inches high around the sides.

For the cream cheese filling, beat together the cream cheese and sugar. Add egg and vanilla, blending well. Pour into pastry lined pan and spread filling to the edges.

For topping, combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss apples in the mixture. Place over cream layer in a domino pattern (or just spoon them on top – totally fine. Tastes the same). Sprinkle with nuts.

Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Continue baking for 25 minutes. Loosen torte from the rim of the pan. Cool before removing and serving. I prefer it chilled.

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

Trick or Treat? Both please, thank you. It’s macaroni and cheese, but with a trick – the squash. You wouldn’t take a bite and say “ew, squash in my mac n’ cheese.” Instead you say “delicious, this is amazing and say what? It has whole wheat pasta and butternut squash? I think I will have two helpings and feel no guilt.” The treat is you can.
I am not here to convince, however, merely tell you the tale of the best fall macaroni and cheese. It starts with a simple onion saute, goes on to cozy up with butternut squash and is topped with a blanket of melty cheese. It takes no time to prepare and even less time to bake. And, it’s delicious – seriously delicious.
If you are still reading instead of gathering the ingredients, I have tricked you into thinking there was anything more to say.
  • 1 pound macaroni noodles, can use whole wheat
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock or broth
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen diced butternut squash
  • 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano blend, divided
  • 1/2 cup shredded muenster cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
How To:

Bring water to a boil, season with salt and cook macaroni to according to package directions, leaving the macaroni with a slight bite (al dente). Heat butternut squash in microwave according to package directions (or use stove top). Set aside. Squash should be very soft – turn into a puree with the back of a spoon.

Preheat broiler and place rack in middle of the oven.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic until soft, about 6 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour, then add stock and milk. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add to onions and garlic. Stir to combine. Add butternut squash, mix and reduce heat. When sauce comes to a bubble, stir in 3/4 cup parmigiano and muenster cheeses. Combine the sauce and macaroni, transfer to a casserole dish and top with remaining parmigiano-reggiano, shredded cheddar and paprika. Brown the macaroni under broiler, about 5 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and deliciously brown.

Caramel Apple Bars

Since my experiments in making caramel apples with homemade caramel all backfired, I found a new method of delivery for caramel apples – in the form of bars. This recipe brings all those flavors into an oat filled, crunchy, gooey, yummy little (or big) square.
I find eating caramel apples to be a little difficult. The caramel gets all over, I have the tendency to bump the apple into my chin, and the stick in the middle is hard to navigate. At the end, the apple often falls off into pieces.
With bars, there is no mess, no fuss, no muss. They are very sweet and a little bit salty, something lacking in caramel apples unless they had a sprinkling of sea salt (which would be a great addition). And now that I have the ideas flowing, adding peanuts or peanut butter would be awesome in this recipe. Some crunchy chopped peanuts on the top or using peanut butter instead of butter in the crust…I might have to revise this recipe at some point, but for now the caramel and apples work mighty well.
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 (14 ounce) package individually wrapped caramels, unwrapped (or 1 recipe homemade caramel)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 1/2 cups peeled, cored and diced apples (small dice)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • sea salt or fleur de sel for sprinkling (as much or as little as you want, I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
for caramel:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter butter
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or fleur de sel
How To:
If you are making the caramel, take out an 8″ X 8″ glass baking dish. Your caramel will cool here. Dice butter into even sized cubes. Add sugar to a medium sauce pan and add 3 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add butter and stir slowly until combined. Add corn syrup and half and half; mix.

Cook and stir on medium for one minute, then to medium to high heat until boiling. Once boiling, clip on a candy thermometer. Reduce heat to medium and keep a steady boil, stirring occasionally. Watch the temperature – you want to reach 240 degrees. Remove from heat, add vanilla and salt and stir. Pour into baking dish and set aside.

For the bars, preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, cream together the brown sugar, butter and pumpkin until smooth. Combine flours, oats, baking soda and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until well blended. Set aside 2 cups of this mixture. Press the rest of the mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 9″ x 13″ baking pan.
In a medium bowl, toss diced apples with lemon juice. Add the 3 tablespoons flour and toss again. Spread apple mixture evenly over the crust. If caramel has set at all, microwave for 10 to 20 seconds, or until pourable. Spread over apple layer. Sprinkle the reserved oat mixture over the top of the caramel layer. Press down lightly. Sprinkle with sea salt or fleur de sel.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the apples are tender. refrigerate and cut when room temperature or cool. Refrigerate left over bars.

Pumpkin Muffins with Mini Chocolate Chips

If you love fall as much as I do, you will find yourself making anything apple, pumpkin, cinnamon and squash related. I can’t help it. It’s basically automatic as soon as that first chill of Autumn is felt in the air. This pumpkin muffin recipe makes the most tender, moist and delicious muffins. I made pumpkin muffins before, but they more donut-y than muffin-like. If you’re looking for a breakfast pumpkin muffin, this is it.
Mini chocolate chips are better than regular chocolate chips. I don’t need to go into depth about this, they just are. I encourage those of you who bake often to keep whole wheat pastry flour in your pantry. It can be used in place of or with all-purpose flour, and you won’t be able to taste a difference, but you’ll be adding some whole wheat. I added some bran cereal as well because a little bran never hurt anybody.
If you aren’t looking for a breakfast muffin, add a little cream cheese frosting (or just add it anyway…). With some pumpkin pie spice. And a cup of hot cider alongside.
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup bran cereal
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsulphered molasses
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips (can also use regular chocolate chips)
How To:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a regular muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, molasses, oil and eggs until combined. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and whisk to combine. Stir in the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Add mini chocolate chips. Do not over mix, just make sure everything is incorporated.

Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup to almost the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and remove from pan.

Peach Pie

My inner Southern bell wanted to make an appearance this week in the form of peach pie.  Although peaches are great on their own this time of year, peach pie is a fantastic way to use them as well. They soften and sweeten even more, and when blanketed in buttery crust they become dreamy.

This recipe incorporates a crumble, and I am not sure if anyone can turn down a crumble, consisting of flour, butter, sugar, and some spice. Everything nice.

A lattice crust seems like it might be a tough task, but it’s actually not bad. You just weave the pie crust strips. Crimping the edges…that takes practice and I am not a professional by any means. Just try your best because once you start eating the pie, you’ll forget about what it looks like, whether your crimping is perfect or slightly imperfect.


for pie crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flour, plus more for rolling
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold and in a 1/2″ dice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 to 7 tablespoons water
for pie filling:
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • 6 to 8 large fresh peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • course sugar for topping

How To:

For pie crust, place flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add butter and mix until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size granules of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture begins to clump together. The dough will be ready if you pinch some and it holds together. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.

Remove dough from processor and place in a mound on your work surface. Slightly knead dough into 2 disks, but do not over knead. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

When ready to roll out dough, remove crusts from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes in order to soften. Roll out on a lightly floured surface (with a lightly floured rolling pin) to fit a 9″ pie plate, about 1/8″ thick. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, in a medium bowl, use a fork to combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter. Mix until crumbly.

Mix almond extract with peaches gently to coat. Spoom half of the peaches into the pie crust. Top with half of the crumbly sugar mixture. Layer more peaches and more crumble mixture. Top the pie with second pie crust by making a lattice top. Roll out pie dough and create slices with a pastry wheel or knife (you can also roll out dough as a double crust, cut four slits and skip the lattice).  Weave slices on the top of the pie to create lattice and crimp edges to seal. To crimp edges, pinch thumb and index finger with index finger on opposite hand.

Combine the whisked egg and tablespoon water. Brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or granulated sugar. Bake on the center rack in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour. Pie is done when crust is golden brown and peach pie filling is bubbling.  Allow to cool slightly. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Breakfast Cookies

You can have cookies for breakfast. They can be something you look forward to when you go to bed at night and still be nutritious.

They aren’t a guilty pleasure even though they kind of feel like it. With coconut, almonds, dried cherries and dried dates, these cookies are full of good stuff.

I love that they are chewy, crunchy, oat-y and yummy. You can grab one and be on your way. So I am telling you they are not only tasty and fairly healthy, but easy as well. Are you still thinking? You should just be baking.


  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups regular oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup sweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Melt the butter in the microwave, about 1 minute. Remove and add the brown sugar, stirring until smooth. Combine the flours, baking soda, oats and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter sugar mixture to the dry ingredients. Whisk the egg in a small bowl and add to the mixture. Add vanilla and mix to combine. Add the dates, almonds, coconut and cherries. Mix well. Place onto baking sheets, about a tablespoon per cookie. Bake for 12 minutes or until tops are lightly golden and dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Tomato Bean Salad

Tis the season for tomatoes. They are in the markets, super fresh and perfectly ripe. You can find them in all colors and shapes, which means it’s time to make colorful salads.

Multicolor cherry tomatoes with white beans is the base for this salad. You can add any other vegetables you choose. I decided on some diced crunchy green pepper. Add some herbs, fresh or dried, salt and pepper, and a little olive oil and vinegar (balsamic works great) and you have a terrific side. It could also be a main dish because you have so many nutrients coming just from the beans.

But what is really great about this salad? It’s incredibly tasty. The tomatoes are refreshing, the beans are creamy (and satisfying), the herbs make it fresh and the dressing brings it all together.


  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, multicolor if available (they’re prettier!!)
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can Northern beans
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
How To:
Cut medium to large cherry tomatoes in half; leave small ones whole. Drain and rinse beans. Combine tomatoes, green pepper and beans in a medium bowl. Add herbs, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir, making sure every tomato and bean is coated. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Tomato Corn Pie

If you are going to bake one thing this summer, it should be this. It is that good.
The ingredients are simple and combine to make an awesome savory pie. Tomatoes, corn, cheese and some fresh herbs…nothing fancy, but it looks like you may have fussed over it for hours. Not the case.
The whole process can be done in an hour – including baking time. So really, you are only busy for 30 minutes. Seems like a small amount of time for something so delicious.
I think of this pie as a celebration of summer – it has all the best flavors and even though it may be hot, you still want to sit and enjoy it.
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can use a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 teaspoons melted
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes (2 large or 4 – 5 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups corn (from about 3 ears), coarsely chopped, divided
  • 3 tablespoons chopped basil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, divided
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated sharp white cheddar, divided
  • 3/4 cup shredded asiago cheese, divided

How To:

Add flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add cold butter several cubes at a time and pulse. It should resemble coarse meal. Add buttermilk and pulse until mixture forms a dough, but don’t over mix. Dump dough out onto a floured surface and gather into a ball.

Divide dough in half and roll out one half to fit a 9″ pie plate (1/8″ thick). Roll dough lightly over rolling pin and lift onto pie plate. Pat the dough down and trim to fit.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut an X in bottom of each tomato and place in a large pot of boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove with tongs and place in an ice bath.  Remove tomato skins – tomatoes should peel very easily. Slice crosswise to 1/4″ thickness and remove some, not all, seeds and extra juices (or you will end up with a lot of extra tomato water in the bottom of your pie). Place half of the sliced tomatoes in the bottom of the crust, overlapping, and sprinkle with half of the corn, half the basil and chives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, dash of pepper, 3/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese and half the asiago. Now layer with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, chives, salt, and pepper. Combine mayonnaise and lemon until smooth. Pour mixture over the filling and top with remaining cheese.

Roll out other half of dough to fit over filling, folding edges over the bottom crust, pinching in the most decorative way you know how or if you are like me, just make sure the two halves are sealed. Make vents on the top of the pie (to let steam out) and brush the surface with melted butter. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is golden. Let cool on a wire rack for a few minutes. Serve warm. This pie is also excellent chilled.

Mini Pies

Sometimes you want a pie that fits in your pocket. No? Just me then?
If it’s just me in this category then what will win you over is their cuteness. You’ll be forced to pick one up and call it your own.
Mini pies, filled with a creamy, cheesy, sweet fruit filling. The crust is buttery and light (yes, pie crust can and should be both) and the topping of nothing more than sugar gives them an added sweet crunch.
You can make the pie crust a few days in advance or use refrigerated pie crust. Just like a cupcake is meant for one person, a mini pie is meant for you and you only.
for crusts: (can also use 2 9″ refrigerated pie crusts, bringing to room temperature before rolling out)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling (I used a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • about 6 tablespoons ice water
for filling:
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup ricotta, can use non-fat or regular
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup peeled, diced peach
  • 1 egg, beaten
*can also use diced strawberries, cherries, raspberries, etc. 

How To:

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal and there are pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If the dough comes together when you pinch some, it’s ready. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.

Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a work surface.  Knead the dough just enough to form 2 discs; do not over-knead. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. When ready to make pies, remove one crust disk from the refrigerator at a time to work with. Let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. This will allow the dough to soften for better rolling out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the cheese, ricotta, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and lemon zest until smooth. Set aside.

Roll out pie dough with a floured rolling pin to 1/8″ thickness. Using a large (something like a 3 1/2″) round cookie cutter, cut the dough into as many circles as you can. I had about 20 circles. Place the dough circles on the prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush the edges of the dough circles with the beaten egg. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture in the middle of the dough. Top with 3 blueberries or 3 to 4 pieces of diced peach. Fold the dough in half, enclosing the filling and press down on the edges to seal. Using a fork, gently crimp the sealed edges. Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Repeat process with the rest of the pie dough. Let cool slightly; serve warm. Or piping hot. Or cold. They are good at every temperature.