It was a birthday cake kind of weekend.

You’d think I’d be busy enough with food while working as a pastry chef in a restaurant, but clearly that isn’t the case. Going from being covered in flour at work, I come home to get covered in powdered sugar. “You have flour on your face,” is a comment I receive regularly at work. “The day must end in Y!” is my typical response. They don’t always tell me though, and sometimes I’ll end up going around half the day with flour smeared all over my face and no one telling me. Sometimes I think the other chefs leave me hanging on purpose for their own personal entertainment. Touche, fellas.

One friend’s husband turned 40, and she wanted a birthday cake with humor and personality. She sent me a pic of something someone else had made that was on the internet, and the concept was filled with sarcasm. Naturally, I loved it.

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The firetruck even lights up and makes noise. I made sure to tell my friend to push the buttons when they lit all the candles for the full effect of the cake.

Apparently though, it wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, considering I had to EXPLAIN the humor behind it to both my dad and my husband. The conversations were almost identical.

“Is he a firefighter?”

“Uh, no. The firetruck is on call because there are so many candles on the cake. You know, because he’s 40. Over the hill. Because there are SO many candles. Get it? Do you not get it? Come on, you HAVE to get that. It’s funny!”

“Yeah, I get it.”

Men…

The other cake I made was for a set of adorable twin girls who were having their first birthday party. Mom wanted pink roses on their cakes, and sent me a picture of the faded color rose cake she found. The faded colors weren’t as obvious in the one I made, but if you look closely you can see that the top shade is lighter than the bottom.

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Every time I walked through the kitchen after they were finished, I’d stop and stare.

“They’re just so pretty,” I’d say out loud. No one was listening.

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(Photo by Angela McCall, Happy Clicker Photography)

These little boards that Mom’s friend made were so cute and creative to go along with the cakes that have little tidbits of info on them.

smash cake

(Photo by Angela McCall, Happy Clicker Photography)

Cutest. Smash cakes. Ever.

baby girls

(Photo by Angela McCall, Happy Clicker Photography)

But the smash cakes aren’t nearly as cute and sweet as the birthday girls. They did a great job smashing them. Happy birthday, girls!

Cheese Fries

Any time I go to a restaurant, there are certain items that make me drool. Okay fine, so being a foodie means a LOT of foods make me drool, but some produce salivation that cause me to take a step back and say, “No, your belly can’t handle eating 2,000 calories before dinner. Don’t be silly. Plus, they have cheesecake for dessert.”

One of those items is Cheese Fries.

When we were in college, one of my close friends and I would frequent a restaurant that had amazing cheese fries. They were the crinkle cut (my personal favorite) smothered with melted cheddar, bacon, green onions, and served with ranch dressing. We always asked for extra ranch because it never seemed to be enough. Sometimes I wondered if half a gallon of ranch would be enough for dipping. And don’t even think about bringing us just one little cup of ranch to share. That ain’t happening. In fact, we’d usually be fighting over the fries that were smothered with the most cheese.

“Hey! That ONE fry has like a pound of cheddar on it!! Stop hoarding the cheese!”

It was usually me stealing the fries with the most cheese. God forbid she get up to go to the bathroom while the fries were in front of us. She knew better.

The only problem with those cheese fries was the lack of cheese. It also drove me crazy if all the cheese was not totally melted. Cold cheese on top of lukewarm french fries should never be considered Cheese Fries. You could get arrested for such nonsense.

When making cheese fries at home, the chef in charge makes sure that NEVER happens. She also makes sure there is at least half a gallon of ranch available for dipping.

cheese fries

Cheese Fries

1 (20 oz.) bag crinkle cut frozen French fries

1 (10 ¾ oz.) can cheddar cheese soup

1/2 cup milk

3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese*

4-6 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled

Cook fries according to package directions (baking or frying). While fries are cooking, prepare the cheese sauce. In a medium sauce pan, stir together cheddar cheese soup and milk, cooking on medium heat until hot. Add cheeses; continue to whisk as cheese melts. When fries are done cooking, place in a 9×13 inch baking dish or a serving platter. Pour cheese sauce over fries and top with crumbled bacon. Serve warm.

*Freshly grated cheese has a smoother, creamier consistency and melts better than the bags of shredded cheese.

This recipe is in my first cookbook, Party Time!

Poop Emoji Cake

Over The Hill birthdays give you the opportunity to go over the edge with funny gifts. Which is why this is one of my favorite sections in a party store to look at, because there’s usually something good enough to make me laugh out loud. This cake had the same effect.

Two sisters-in-law and my husband all turned 40 within one month of each other. What’s crazy about this is that my brothers are 6 and 9 years older than me, but we ALL married spouses born in 1977 within a month. All of them also have dark hair and blue eyes. Weird. Well, we’re weird, so it does make a little bit of sense.

Two days before a dinner gathering around the last birthday, my mom asked if I was available to make a cake. The idea of this cake had actually popped in my head a few days before, thinking of how funny it would be to make this.

Coincidence?

I think not.

This cake was meant for my sister-in-law. They’re soulmates.

If she did have a problem with it, we could always use the excuse, “Well, you married Michael, so we knew SOMETHING was wrong with you.”

She’s from New Jersey and is always willing to give you a very honest answer…even if you may not like that answer.

“Tracy, how did you like this dessert?”

“It was cheesecake. Eww.”

That’s when I knew something was wrong with her. Cheesecake is da bomb dot com, and I threatened to strap her up in a straightjacket and throw her in a padded room. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

Originally, we were going to get together at their house to grill out for dinner, but she preferred to go out to eat. When my brother told me this, I started laughing.

“So, I have to bring the cake in the restaurant?”

“Yeah…is that a problem?” he asked.

“No (starting to laugh hysterically), it’s not a problem.”

He had NO idea what the cake looked like.

“Is it a family friendly cake?” he asked.

“Um, yes?”

I laughed out loud for the next few hours, imagining walking through a very busy local restaurant with this cake. This was going to be fun.

We pulled up in the parking lot, and I turned the cake to face out so everyone could see it clearly. As we were getting out of the car, I saw a couple of ladies with their kids standing on the sidewalk. They were chatting away, until one of them saw the cake. She stopped mid-sentence, “Oh my gosh! Look at that cake! That is hilarious!” The lady she was chatting with turned and starting laughing.

This continued as we walked through the restaurant, and people started taking pictures of it before, during, and after dinner. I saw a few people roll their eyes, but the majority of people enjoyed a good laugh at this crappy cake.

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The top tier was made in a doll cake pan, and is a dark chocolate cake packed with mini chocolate chips, covered with chocolate icing (of course). The eyes, mouth, and letters are made out of fondant. The bottom tier was a 2 layer 9 inch pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing. I decided to make two of the birthday girl’s favorite cake flavors since she is officially over the hill.

Happy 40th Birthday, Tracy! You’re old as crap!

Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

Click HERE to watch the video of this!

One of my absolute favorite things to do is invite people over to my house and feed them. No really, like feed them a LOT. It’s an obsession to feed people lots of food. I’m turning into my grandmother.

Even more than inviting people over just to feed them is inviting them over and TEACHING them how to make a meal. That’s what I did with this meal while I was putting together the second cookbook in my Moms On The Go cookbook series.

Since this is one of my favorite recipes in the whole book, choosing another recipe starting out just wasn’t an option, was it? Don’t be silly. Of course not.

Sometimes I don’t feel like making Chicken Cordon Bleu from scratch, or even buying the frozen “Chicken Twinkies” at the grocery store. Even worse, one of our favorite local restaurants that served Chicken Cordon Bleu closed down when the owner decided to retire.

When my friends came over to be my test dummies for the first cooking demonstration, my friend’s husband was very reluctant. “I don’t like chicken cordon bleu,” he said, matter-of-fact. “But I guess I’ll try a bite.” I looked at him like he had a tarantula growing out of his neck. “He’s only tried it one time, and it was the frozen one,” my friend informed me. “Oh, okay. That makes sense. Just trust me, and take one bite. Just one bite.” He grumbled and smiled playfully, but agreed.

He didn’t stick around for the demonstration, but came running when it was time to eat. We all sat down, and I watched him.

One bite.

Two bites.

Five bites.

Shoveling the casserole in his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in a year and it would be his last meal for another year.

Two minutes later, he got up. Went inside. Came back with a BIGGER serving than the first one.

I laughed. “That bad, eh?”

“Oh my gosh,” he responded, stuffing more into his mouth. “Can I take some home?”

A third serving and a to-go plate later, his mind was changed forever about Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole. I’m saving the world one belly at a time, folks.

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This recipe actually took some experimenting.

When I was hunting for Chicken Cordon Bleu recipes, nothing was jumping out at me. The Bearnaise sauce is a HUGE part of this dish for me, so anything other than Bearnaise sauce just wasn’t even an option. No Bearnaise? You’re fired!

This is why a packet of Bearnaise sauce mix that you find at the store was the perfect solution to making sure that flavor was in the casserole without making it all from scratch.

After three attempts at perfecting what I wanted this recipe to end up being, the end result was exactly what I was looking for. SUCCESS! Now get in my belly.

Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole Recipe:

3 cups cooked chicken (shredded or cubed)

1 cup diced ham

4 slices swiss cheese

1 (0.9 oz.) packet béarnaise sauce mix

1 (10 oz.) can undiluted cream of chicken soup

8 oz. sour cream

½ cup breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine soup, sour cream, and béarnaise mix in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together well, then stir in cooked chicken and ham. Spoon mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish. Place slices of swiss cheese on top of mixture, followed by breadcrumbs.  Drizzle melted butter on top of bread crumbs, then bake for 30 minutes.  Serve hot. Goes really well over mashed potatoes, pasta, or rice!

Sesame Street Birthday Party

Some days, it feels like the days and weeks drag on, and then… BOOM! My baby boy turns 2. This all goes along with my cousin’s perfect description of having young kids, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

He’s not 2 weeks old.

Not 2 months old.

TWO YEARS OLD.

Where has the time gone?

I’m sure the mothers whose babies are turning 40 would snort at me because I have NO clue what it’s like for time to go by so quickly. On my birthday last year, my mom told me how she just can’t believe that her youngest baby is having her 7th anniversary of turning 29. Fine, maybe it’s me who refers to my birthdays as anniversaries these days, but that’s not the point. The point is that she remembers when I was a cute baby. A curious child. A sarcastic tween. An incredibly moody teenager. A partying college kid.

When my daughter’s 7th birthday rolls around later this year, all of the same feelings will happen again. It’s a continuous cycle that happens multiple times a year, each time my husband and I looking at each other and saying, “They’re growing up SO fast,” with pure amazement like neither one of us has already said this 100 times before, even when it’s just five minutes earlier.

We also said this last year at his Pirate First Birthday Party we threw for him. Honestly though, getting through that first year is a major accomplishment, so you better believe there was a big party. “Who serves alcohol at a kid’s party?” my brother asked as I passed around a special cocktail to some of the adults. “I’m not serving the kids alcohol!” I yelled at him.

This year was more low key. In fact, the only person who wore anything relating to Sesame Street was me in my Cookie Monster t-shirt… Because Cookie Monster is AWESOME. I even made Cookie Monster Cupcakes a few years ago because he’s so awesome. My cupcakes were in the March 2017 edition of  Story Monsters Ink magazine because you can’t go wrong with Cookie Monster. Should I say Cookie Monster and awesome again in the same sentence? COOKIE MONSTER IS AWESOME. Moving on.

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This year’s cake was MUCH smaller than last year, but it served its purpose…

To look ridiculously cute and fill our bellies with sugar so that we could all sugar crash later in the day. Mission accomplished.

This is a 4 layer 10 inch round Blue Velvet cake. What? Blue Velvet? What the heck is that? It’s Red Velvet cake with blue food coloring instead of red. Yes, you CAN do that. It’s covered with cream cheese icing. I ordered the Elmo and Cookie Monster cake toppers from Amazon, made the 2 out of chocolate using a chocolate mold and lollipop stick, and made the rest of the decorations out of fondant.

The birthday boy loaded up on bubble toys. I don’t think I have EVER seen so many bubble toys, and he loves every single one of them. They catch his attention for about two whole minutes before he moves on to something else, only to return to the bubbles thirty seconds later. The attention span of a toddler is always entertaining, and you never know how long it will last.

Maybe next year he’ll understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but this year he’s happy with bubbles.

Chunky Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies for Papa

My grandfather passed away recently. It’s never easy to lose a loved one, even though you know it’s coming when you see their health declining.

He lived a long, good life and made it until the ripe old age of 90. This blows my mind.

How do people make it to their nineties these days? He is survived by my grandmother, who is 91.

I’ll go ahead and say it… They were the cutest couple on the planet. Maybe even the universe. This April would have been their 72nd wedding anniversary. I’m serious. The thought of my husband tolerating me for that long seems impossible, but they made it. I can still hear him calling for her in that sweet voice from across the house. “Eloise? Have you seen my billfold?” He was a very hard-working man with a fiery temper and an immensely deep love for his family. He would go over the moon for any of us at any time, especially Grandma. I’ve never seen a man love his wife more than he loved her.

He was a man you wouldn’t want to mess with if you threatened his family. Forget Mama Bear, Papa Bear would tear you to shreds in an instant.

Perfect example…

Thirteen years ago, I was visiting my parents when my dad had a heart attack. My mom was at the hospital with my dad, and I had come back to their house to take a shower. It was dark outside, and I was alone in the house. After getting out of the shower and drying off, I heard someone knocking at the back door. No one EVER knocks on the back door. It freaked me out. I stayed in the bathroom with the door locked and waited for a few minutes, listening to my heart pound in my ears. After throwing a towel on my head and getting dressed, I bolted into a nearby bedroom to call my mom and see if they were expecting anyone to stop by. “Um, no. You said they knocked on the back door? Are you sure?” I replied, “I’m 100% positive it was the back door. Do NOT tell Daddy, he doesn’t need any more stress on top of all this and he’ll get super paranoid. I’ll keep my eyes peeled and the doors locked.”

What did she do?

You guessed it, she told my dad.

Lord help us.

He started making phone calls to different neighbors, and called my grandparents who lived five minutes away.

Papa was on his way over.

At this point, Papa was in his late seventies, but still walked and rode his bicycle several miles a day. Every day. He stayed active working on the yard and in his workshop, also helping Grandma with the garden. They both grew up on a farm, and he was in three branches of the military. Oh, and he ALWAYS had a pocket knife on him.

He gets to the house and is on high alert. We’re talking about who could have knocked on the unlit back door. A few minutes later, the front doorbell rings. I look over and see a guy from across the street, armed with a smile and a casserole dish. Surely he looked threatening.

Papa whips out that pocket knife, gets a grimaced, teeth-gritted look on his face and starts stomping toward the front door with the knife pointed out to confront the intruder.

“PAPA!!! Put the knife away!!!! Stop!” I cried, and sprinted across the room. Luckily I beat him  by a split second, opened the door to the unsuspecting neighbor, Papa standing behind me ready to cut some booty.

“Hi! We heard about your dad being in the hospital, and my wife made y’all a baked ziti.” Papa still had that knife in his hand, and the neighbor looked at him, slightly puzzled. I responded, “Thank you so much. They’re both still at the hospital, but I’ll take that and put it in the fridge. Did you by any chance come by earlier and knock on the back door?” He said, “Yeah, I came to the front door first and wasn’t sure if the doorbell worked, so I tried the back door.”

Whew.

I thanked him again and sent him on his way.

As I turned around to look at Papa, I saw that grimaced look on his face with the knife STILL in his hand.

“You can put the knife away now, Papa. The baked ziti won’t hurt us.”

For many years, Papa and Grandma would go our family’s farm and pick pecans. And when I say they would pick pecans, I mean like TEN POUNDS of pecans at a time. Not kidding. They would bring them home, shell them, give everyone they knew a large bag of pecans, then pack the rest up and stick them in the freezer.

If only I had a nickel for how many pecans I was offered over the years.

When they moved into assisted living at the beginning of the year, I inherited their freezer. Guess what was in it?

PECANS. TONS OF PECANS.

My sister-in-law prepared a huge meal for the family the day of the funeral. All the delicious southern foods you can think of, and she asked if I could make dessert. After thinking about making cupcakes, it seemed only appropriate to make something for Grandma with the pecans she and Papa picked together.

So, here are the cookies.

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Thick, soft and fully loaded cookies packed with chocolate chips and those wonderful pecans. We ate them in his honor while telling old “Papa” stories. There was laughter, and there were tears.

It was a beautiful service and we paid our respects to a man we will always miss, and truly cherished the time we had with him.

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Rest in Peace, Papa. We love you.

Chunky Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies Recipe

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter
2 tablespoons shortening
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 (12 oz.) bag chocolate chips + 1 heaping cup chopped pecans

In a small mixing bowl, combine both sugars. In another medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Cut up butter and put in a microwave safe dish with shortening. Microwave for 1 – 1 1/2 minutes, until melted. Pour melted butter/shortening into small mixing bowl with sugars, whisk vigorously until well combined and smooth. Whisk in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Pour into medium mixing bowl with dry ingredients, gently stir together until well combined. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Using a medium size cookie scoop (about the size of 3 tablespoons), distribute cookie dough to a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Shape each piece of dough into a disc, place back on cookie sheet. Put cookie sheet in refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour.

When ready to bake, pull cookie sheet out of fridge to let dough rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place cookie dough about 2 inches apart from each other on cookie sheet (highly recommend baking stone!!!). Bake for 12-14 minutes, until a very light golden color. Remove from oven and let cookies sit on pan for about 12 minutes before transferring to cooling rack lined with wax paper to cool completely.

When cookies have cooled completely, store in airtight container. Best when consumed within two days after baking!

Ultimate Oreo Cake

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep? Happens to me more than I’d like, but often that’s when a lot of brainstorming takes place in my noggin.

Sometimes I’d rather be sleeping, but that’s when an idea pops in my head that makes me want to start baking a massive dessert at 3am. That happens to everyone… Right?

Well, that’s what started this…

The Ultimate Oreo Cake.

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As I was laying in bed in the middle of the night desperately trying to fall back asleep, Oreos were dancing in my head. Then came the cheesecake. And the chocolate.

Oh, the chocolate.

The end result was a three layer decadent dessert made for dreams. Two moist layers of chocolate cake surrounding a thick and fluffy Oreo cheesecake, covered with Oreo Cream Cheese Icing, chocolate ganache, and little baby Oreos.

Mmmmm, Oreos.

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As my husband watched me layering all of this goodness together, he said, “Why would you want to ruin a cheesecake by adding cake to it?” I gawked at him. “That’s it, I’m locking you away in a padded room tied up in a straightjacket.”

It must not have been all that ruined since he ate an entire piece.

For the Chocolate Cake:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 cup strong coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium size mixing bowl and whisk together to combine. Add liquid ingredients and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed for about 1-2 minutes, until thoroughly combined. Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans, pour batter evenly into pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and let cakes cool in pans for 12-15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

For the Oreo Cheesecake:

4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine 1 package cream cheese, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar. Beat at medium speed until combined. Add each package of cream cheese, beating after each one until fully incorporated, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add remaining sugar and continue to beat. Add vanilla and eggs, beat just until combined. Finally, add heavy cream and continue to beat just until the cream is mixed in with the cream cheese.

Spoon mixture into a 9 inch springform pan. Wrap aluminum foil around outside of pan twice, making sure the outside of the pan is fully covered. Place in a larger pan (I typically use a 12 inch round cake pan for this) and fill the larger pan with water, just until the water level comes halfway up the springform pan. Carefully place in oven and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, just until the middle is a little bit jiggly. Pull pans out of oven, remove springform pan from larger pan and place on a cooling rack for cheesecake to cool completely. When it has cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer overnight.

For the Oreo Cream Cheese Icing:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

5 cups confectioners sugar

1/2 cup Oreo cookies, crushed into crumbs (easiest to use electric food chopper or processor)

Combine butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a medium size mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer at medium speed for 3-4 minutes. Add confectioners sugar, one cup at a time, continue to mix for another 3-4 minutes. Pour in Oreo cookie crumbs and beat for one more minute.

For the Chocolate Ganache:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Dump chocolate chips in a small mixing bowl, set aside. Heat heavy cream in microwave safe dish in microwave for 45-60 seconds, until it just starts to boil. Pour over chocolate chips in bowl and whisk vigorously until chocolate melts.

Putting it all together:

Place one layer of chocolate cake on a cake board/stand. Spread a thin layer of icing on top of cake. Remove cheesecake from freezer and loosen the side. Carefully push the bottom up to remove from the side. Place a piece of wax paper on a hard surface (I typically use another cake pan) and turn top side of cheesecake down, so the bottom of the springform pan is facing up. Using a knife, loosen cheesecake from the pan all the way around. Since the cheesecake is frozen, it’s easier to handle. Once you remove the bottom of the springform pan from the cheesecake, place the cheesecake on top of the chocolate cake layer. Spread another thin layer of icing on top of cheesecake, then place other layer of chocolate cake on top. Cover the entire cake with the icing until smooth. Spread chocolate ganache on top, just pushing over the sides so it drips down. Place cake in refrigerator or freezer for the ganache to set. Pipe remaining icing on top, set baby Oreos on top of icing for added garnish. Store cake in airtight container in refrigerator for 3-5 days.