Friday, December 27, 2013

Featuring: Hot Cocoa Station & Mini Bundt Cakes

I don't drink coffee. Or tea. Never have, never will. But...

I love, love, love hot cocoa any time of the year!

I love the taste. I love the creaminess. And I love the comfort it brings. Ahhh....

So when it was my turn to bring in refreshments for our weekly after-Mass get-together at my parish (St. Peter's in downtown Cleveland; pssst, I happened to design the website), it was a no-brainer to host a Hot Cocoa Station.

You may have your own special occasions to want to put together a Hot Cocoa Station, including:
  • Family birthday party
  • Bridal or baby shower
  • Progressive dinner stop
  • Girls' or guys' night out
  • After-ski, -sledding, -tobogganing, or -snowball fight party

Now, anyone who's ever been on Pinterest knows you can make these stations as simple or fancy as you'd like. They've made appearances at home parties as well as wedding receptions! But this time, I wanted to keep it low-key. No fuss, no muss.

Since we were all in the holiday spirit, I decided to go with a tray that displayed mini marshmallows (both plain and peppermint), whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, ground cinnamon, and candy cane stirrers. And since I couldn't help myself, I also added a cute chalk-art sign that I put into a small frame. (You can find the free printable here to download yourself.)

I made my own homemade hot cocoa using whole milk (of course!) and Starbucks Classic Hot Cocoa Mix, which I picked up at my local Costco.

Then, what better dessert to go with hot cocoa than coffee cake? I decided to make mini bundt-cake versions so it would be easier for people to pick up and eat with their hands. So I settled on two versions: Cinnamon Swirl and Too-Much-Chocolate.

For the Cinnamon Swirl, I simply used a delicious shortcut: Pillsbury Quick Bread. But for the chocolate version, I used my daughter's favorite recipe, which just can't be resisted. (For a video how-to, click here). Hope you enjoy!

Makes 1 (12-cup) bundt cake or about 32 mini bundt cakes
Adapted from 

1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs, and water. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well-greased 12-cup bundt pan or several mini bundt pans (like this one or this one).
  3. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate If desired, dust the cake with powdered sugar. 

Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

All Set with Food Gift Sets!

By the time you're reading this, Christmas will be just around the corner. And if you haven't finished all your shopping yet, you're probably in panic mode right now.

Not to fret.

Besides the homemade gift ideas I shared with you here and here, I have a few more unique ideas to share with you. And of course, they have everything and anything to do with food!

Take a closer look at my dozen ideas below. They're all food sets. Match them up with the interests and tastes of your recipient, or perhaps look at these sets as being a unique culinary experience you'd like to share.

All the sets below are from Sur la Table, but you can easily put together your own from your very own sources, making it as fancy or cost-efficient as you'd like.

For example, cull the items from either an upscale gourmet shop (such as Sur la TableWilliams-Sonoma, or Dean and Deluca)...a specialty online food and cookware retailer (such as JB Prince, Chefs Catalogue, iGourmet, or popular discount store (such as Target, Walmart, Dollar Tree, or Amazon)...or your own backyard (such as an estate sale, neighborhood grocery store, homemade item, or even regifted item).

These sets are fun...interesting...and very useful!

So, here we go!













Thursday, December 12, 2013

Top 20 Food Gifts (Videos Included) - Part 2

As mentioned in my last post, I'd like to share the remaining 10 food gift ideas that you might want to consider this Christmas season. Any one of these DIY homemade goodies would make a meaningful gift for that special someone.

By now, you might be wondering, "How were these recipes chosen?" They are, in fact, the highest rated recipes with the highest number of reviews on the popular food website, We're talking hundreds and thousands of cooks and bakers giving a recipe five stars. Imagine that!

To get video how-to instructions along with the recipe, don't forget to just click on the caption beneath each photo. They're all very simple and fairly inexpensive. Find some cute containers, make your own labels, tie on a festive ribbon, and you've got yourself a gift that will be very much appreciated (and never returned!).

So, without further ado, here you go!

(All recipes courtesy of











Sunday, December 8, 2013

Top 20 Food Gifts (Videos Included) - Part 1

The holidays are fast approaching, and I know many (if not most) of us are scrambling to get our shopping done. But this year, why not try a homemade goody to share? It's more personal, more fun, and frankly, lots more meaningful.

I have 20 easy--and super delicious!--ideas to get you started. (I'm showing 10 here today, and 10 more in my next post.) And for your entertainment and viewing pleasure, I'm also including how-to videos with each idea. Just click on the caption under each photo for direct access to both the video and the recipe. Enjoy!

(All recipes courtesy of










Sunday, December 1, 2013

Step2 Steps Up!

Almost a year ago, I wrote a special post about collaborating with the premier toy company, Step2, in Streetsboro, Ohio. I hinted at great things to come...and they have!

For one thing, Step2 had me do a special demonstration during their special mommy blogger weekend back in April at the beautiful Walden Inn.

But NOW, Step2 is in the midst of yet ANOTHER promotion with my book! And here are the exciting details:

free ebook

We are serving up a ton of deals turning the holidays! For the first time ever, on November 26th – December 4th  customers who purchase the Grand Walk-In Kitchen & Grill you will receive a complimentary electronic version of the award-winning book, In the Kitchen with Cleveland’s Favorite Chefs by Maria Isabella ($10 value). Not only will you receive this free eBook, but the Grand Walk-in Kitchen & Grill will be on sale for $233.99!

Maria Isabella is not only a well-known chef and author; she is also a contributing writer at the Step2 blog. You may know her as Grandma Maria from our blog series We’re Moms Too. She writes from the point of view of a mom and grandma. Check out some of her heartfelt blog posts that we have had the honor of sharing with our readers:

To receive this exclusive offer, enter the coupon code: S2BFGW13 at checkout and include your email address at checkout so we can send you a confirmation email. To obtain your free eBook, please forward your confirmation email to the author at with the subject line “Free eBook”.  Please use this email address for any questions, concerns or follow-up communication.

To access this free eBook, you will need to download the Kindle Reader app on your tablet, mobile device or computer. Please click here for a full list of devices that are compatible with the Kindle app.

You do not want to miss out on the opportunity to receive this free eBook! You will be able to stir up some recipes from In the Kitchen with Cleveland’s Favorite Chefs as your little one cooks up creativity with their Grand Walk-in Kitchen & Grill!

Rules & Restrictions: Coupon code cannot be combined with any other deals at checkout. This offer is only valid with the purchase of the Grand Walk-In Kitchen & Grill. This free eBook is not valid on previous or future purchases.  Any questions or concerns should be directed to

We'll Always Have Paris...

Hello, dear readers. First off, I must apologize. I have been sadly delinquent in writing my regular weekly posts for this blog, and for that, I am humbly sorry. But... wasn't because I was lazy wasn't because I didn't want to wasn't because I didn't care

It was simply because life took over and there wasn't a minute left over for writing.

But I'm back now and am thrilled to be sharing again. So, here we go!

As for what I've been up to lately, the biggest thing was my recent trip to Barcelona and Paris. The trip was, in fact, a gift from my husband for our 35th wedding anniversary, which we celebrated in May. (Full disclosure: Going to Paris has been a lifelong dream of mine. My husband finally made it come true!)

We left on a Tuesday afternoon, and by 9am the next day, we had landed in Barcelona. We spent two days there before taking a train to the South of France and renting a car. From there, we worked our way up to Paris, one beautiful town at a time, until we hit the big city. Then we spent the last five days of our vacation in the magnificent, glorious, magical City of Lights.

Somehow, words do this trip no justice, especially when it comes to the food (natch!). Which is why I'd like to share my culinary journey with you pictorially. After all, it's always about the food, right? Hope you enjoy!

DAYS 1-2 IN BARCELONA, SPAIN: Tapas platter

Breakfast buffet at our Barcelona hostel

A typical Spanish breakfast

A stand at La Boqueria in Barcelona--one of the best public markets in the world

A meat stand at La Boqueria

A salted fish stand

An egg stand

Beautiful, fresh vegetables

A gorgeous assortment of fruits, nuts, and vegetables

Mushrooms...and more mushrooms

Your choice of cheeses

Serrano ham

Fun cups

Colorful tropical fruits, complete with spoon

More fruit-to-go

Delicious smoothies (only 1 euro each!)

A cafe off the beaten path in Barcelona

Fresh, hot churros and a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream in Barcelona

DAY 3 IN MONTPELLIER, FRANCE: A decidedly upscale bakery

Beautiful design AND beautiful products!

Take a look at these! Who could resist just one? (Not me!)

DAY 4 IN AVIGNON, FRANCE: Butternut squash soup with floating mousse foam

Chicken with mashed potatoes and mushrooms

Fresh cream and raspberry sauce with cotton candy on top!

Butter croissant with freshly squeezed orange juice

Quiche Lorraine with cappuccino

DAY 5 IN LYON, FRANCE - A great meat-lovers

Vol au vent

Andouillette (aka chittlins!)

The famous Salade Lyonnaise

DAY 6 IN BEAUNE, FRANCE - The classic French onion soup

Escargots (aka snails)

Apple tart

Pain au chocolat


Guinea fowl with potatoes

Sirloin steak

Sweet cheese with raspberry sauce

Apple tart

DAYS 8-12 IN PARIS, FRANCE - Foie gras carpaccio with toasts

Snail stew

Chocolate milkshake at the Louvre Museum cafeteria (you have to stir it from the bottom up!)

A street vendor selling hot chestnuts on the Champs-Elysees

Almond crroissant

The famous "Le Grand Colbert" restaurant

The staff was fabulous!

What a grand interior!

Lamb chops with dauphinois gratin

Calf's liver

Huge meringues!

What a beautiful display!

So artistic!

It just doesn't stop!


Snails in a parsley cream sauce

Duck a l'orange

Strawberry tart

Chocolate opera cake

Paris-brest dessert

Rabbit terrine en croute

Rumsteak with Bearnaise sauce and potatoes

Caramelized beef cheeks

Pear sorbet and vanilla ice cream

Veal with Roquefort cream sauce, potatoes with duck fat, and spinach in cream sauce

Raspberry Charlotte