Vanilla & Brown Sugar Mayonnaise Cupcakes

I have a confession to make. I'm NOT the best person when it comes to remembering birthdays. I can tell you the month and often even the week, but exact dates are forever escaping my memory.

Even my own husband has heard me ask him on multiple occasions, "Your birthday is the 5th, right? Or is it the 4th?"

Seriously...SO terrible!

If you're anything like me, I can tell you that the quickest way to get out of any trouble caused by a forgotten date is to keep a foolproof cake recipe in your back pocket.

Something that is as delicious to eat, as it is beautiful to look at, and ridiculously easy to make.

The object of the game is simple ingredients + major nostalgic flavor.

When the folks at McCormick asked me to share a favorite birthday treat recipe with you to celebrate their 125th birthday, I knew it was time to write about this cake.

Meet my Vanilla & Brown Sugar Mayo Cupcakes!

(AKA the cake to get you out of any kind of dessert-related emergencies, and back into the good graces of the people you love the most.)

This year, in honor of their 125th birthday, McCormick released a brand new pure vanilla extract called Extra Rich Pure Vanilla Extract. This new version is 25% stronger than regular vanilla extract, with an awesome balance between sweet caramel and bourbon-rummy flavors. 

I've always been the kind of girl who sloshes in a little extra vanilla when baking since I love it so much, so I feel like this extract was basically made for me, and I really love how incredible it is in my mayonnaise cake.

If you've never tried (or even heard!) of mayonnaise cakes, they are an old-fashioned kind of cake that dates back to World War II, when things like eggs and butter were rationed.

The mayonnaise--which is made from eggs and oil--would take the place of the missing eggs and butter, producing a cake that is light, fluffy and incredibly moist.

And don't worry--there is absolutely NO mayonnaise flavor in the cake itself--just rich, fragrant vanilla, reminiscent of all my favorite birthday cakes as a little girl.

They're also one-bowl cakes, which means you simply whisk together the dry ingredients, then pour in the wet ones, and mix it all together. A quick stint in the oven, and it won't be long before you and your family are enjoying sweet, classic vanilla cupcakes.

As part of their year-long birthday celebration, McCormick is inviting everyone to visit their site, to share their favorite flavor stories and memories, and discover new recipes and videos. Hop on over to share about your favorite birthday cake; for each story that is shared, McCormick will be donating $1, up to $1.25 million to the United Way to help feed those in need.

This post is sponsored by McCormick. Thank you for supporting companies like McCormick who make it possible for me to keep creating great content and recipes for you.

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Vanilla & Brown Sugar Mayonnaise Cupcakes
Mayo takes the place of eggs and oil in this easy one-bowl recipe, producing a cake that is light, moist, and rich with real vanilla flavor.

Yields 12 cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold whole milk (you can also substitute a non-dairy milk or even water)
1 cup cold mayonnaise (not light or fat-free)
1 tablespoon McCormick Extra Rich Pure Vanilla Extract

For the frosting
8oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons McCormick Extra Rich Pure Vanilla Extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a 12-cup cupcake pan with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the whole milk, mayonnaise, and vanilla, and beat well with an electric mixer until smooth (about 1 minute). Divide evenly into prepared cupcake tins (about 3/4 of the way full each) and bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and slightly golden.
Remove cupcakes from pan, and let cool completely on a rack before frosting.

For the frosting
Beat together the softened cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the sifted confectioner's sugar, and beat until smooth.

Frost and decorate cupcakes as desired.

Garlic Herb Monkey Bread

Earlier this month, Eugene, Hudson, and I packed into the car and drove down to Maryland to co-host a baby shower for my friend Sara. As far as showers go, we kept it super relaxed, with a guest list that included everyone--men, women, kids, even the dog. I was in charge of food (of course), and pulled together an easy, crowd-pleasing menu to feed the large group. I prepared an array of hearty salads, roasted chicken breasts, herbed quinoa, and a few fun things for appetizers.

The biggest hit? Definitely this easy Garlic Herb Monkey Bread, which the guests tore into and ate along with various dips and cheeses.

If you've never made monkey bread, I definitely recommend it. It's one of those easy "cheater" recipes that starts out with premade dough. I used refrigerated buttermilk biscuits, but you could also use pizza dough or even your own favorite bread dough.

The way it works is, you chop up the dough into chunks, then toss them in a sauce made from olive oil, garlic, and pureed herbs. Once thoroughly coated, you layer it in a greased bundt pan (I used this bundt pan) with grated parmesan cheese, and bake until puffed and golden.

Since the dough was all chopped up, the pieces pull-apart easily and are super fun to eat.

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Garlic Herb Monkey Bread

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small bunch parsley, washed, trimmed and dried
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon ground oregano
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 16oz cans refrigerated buttermilk biscuit dough
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a 12-cup fluted bundt pan with baking spray.

In a blender, combine the oil, parsley, rosemary, oregano, garlic, salt, and black pepper, and puree until very smooth.

Separate the refrigerated biscuit dough and use a knife to cut each one into four pieces. Toss in a large bowl with the dressing until evenly coated.

Place 1/3 of the dough in the bottom of the bundt pan. Sprinkle with half the cheese, then top with another 1/3 of the dough. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese, then the rest of the dough.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown and baked completely through. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving platter. Serve warm.


Rigatoni with Chorizo and Spicy Chipotle Cream Sauce

As much as I tried to fight it, it seems that Autumn has officially come and settled in for the next few months. Along with jackets and warmer clothing, I find myself being drawn to heartier, more comforting recipes for dinner. The kind of dishes that come together quickly, and are best shared in large bowls around the table with family and friends.

This Rigatoni with Chorizo and Spicy Chipotle Cream Sauce is a new favorite pasta dish that I'm fairly confident will be making many appearances on our table during the coming months. It's the first of several Latin-inspired pasta recipes I've been creating as part of my partnership with Barilla this Fall, and I have to say it may be hard to beat!

Creamy and comforting, it uses some of my favorite traditional Latin ingredients--smoky chipotle peppers, spicy Mexican chorizo, bright fresh cilantro, and combines them in a rich and creamy sauce that's incredibly satisfying, and perfect after a long day of work.

For this dish, I chose Barilla Mezzi Rigatoni--a small pasta shape that is perfect with the rich sauce as it seems to scoop it up in every bite. You can easily substitute any of your other favorite small pasta shapes--penne or large shells would work well, too--to personalize the dish for your family.

Depending on what pasta shape you choose, be sure to cook them 1-2 minutes LESS than the package directions so that you get "al dente" perfection (that's about 9 minutes for the Mezzi Rigatoni, but may be a couple minutes more or less depending on the pasta shape you choose) before adding to the sauce.

(Click here to check out some of my favorite tips for cooking perfect pasta every time.)

Note that if you have a busy week, this is actually one of those dishes that can be prepared in advance. I love to make a big batch on a Sunday afternoon when I have more time, then reheat during the week.

It's a great way to enjoy a homemade meal and quality time with your family, without having to spend much time during the busy workweek to prepare it. All you have to do is toss together a quick salad to serve along with the pasta, and you have a complete meal the whole family will enjoy together!

For more easy pasta recipes with Latin flavors, visit This is a sponsored post written as part of my ongoing partnership with Barilla, however, the recipes and opinions are entirely my own. I have not been paid to publish positive sentiments towards Barilla or their products.

Barilla Rigatoni with Chorizo and Spicy Chipotle Cream Sauce
Serves 8

1 pound box of Barilla Mezzi Rigatoni or other small pasta shape (like penne or large shells)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, removed from casings (you can also substitute fresh turkey or chicken chorizo for a lighter option)
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon smoked spanish paprika (optional)
Zest of one whole lemon, finely grated
3 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely minced + more for garnish
1 cup grated cotija cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring 1 gallon of water to boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, season  with 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt.

While the water boils, place a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Cook the onions for 2-3 minutes, until translucent, then add the fresh chorizo, breaking it up with a wooden spoon and cooking until fully browned (about 5 minutes). Add the red bell pepper, garlic, the chipotle peppers (use 1 or 2 depending on how much spice you like), the paprika, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, the heavy cream, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a gentle simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Remove from heat.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook 1-2 minutes less than package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, and add the cooked pasta to the sauce along with the cilantro and return to the heat for 1-2 minutes, tossing to coat well. Add a little bit of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if it seems too thick.

Remove from heat, stir in the cotija cheese, and season with black pepper and additional salt to taste. Garnish with additional cilantro just before serving.


5 Tips for Cooking Perfect Pasta

Let's talk pasta! Last month, I visited Chicago for the first time. It was a quick trip--actually quicker than I initially anticipated (thanks, stormy weather!)--but it was still an awesome trip because I got to visit the headquarters of Barilla, with whom I'm partnering this fall to create easy pasta recipes with a Latin twist.

[I'm also super excited to be sharing spokesperson duties with two of my favorite blogger ladies--Nicole of Presley's Pantry, and Laura of Las Recetas de Laura!]

It's kind of a perfect project for me since pasta has always been an important part of my food life for as long as I can remember.

Growing up in a predominantly Italian New Jersey town just 20 minutes outside of New York City, dinners out usually meant Italian--from the local casual red sauce spots to the more elegant restaurants across the bridge, we ate pasta just as often (if not more!) than we ate Puerto Rican food.

The conference rooms at Barilla all have pasta-related names!
In fact, whenever my mom needed a quick meal that satisfied all of us without complaint, she almost always reached for one of the pasta boxes she kept stocked in the pantry, turning out recipes that combined those traditional pasta shapes with the Latin flavors and ingredients she grew up with.

A regular at dinnertime was something she called "Puerto Rican Spaghetti," which was (let's be honest here) really just normal spaghetti with a few Latin spices tossed in, but which kind of exemplified the beauty of the immigrant experience in the US--bringing together different cultural traditions to create something new (and delicious!).

My love for Italian food was also one of the main reasons I moved to Florence when I was 21 to attend culinary school. I wanted to learn as much as I could about cooking in the country known for some of the best food in the world.

As a busy student with limited funds, we ate pasta just about every single day--popping into a tiny lunch spot for a daily €10 special that featured a bowl of pasta (the simple, but luscious, carbonara was my favorite!) with a glass of house wine and a small dessert.

Pasta played such a huge role in the food I ate growing up, that I was really surprised to learn that it's actually not the case for other Latino families in the US. And that's why I'm excited for this opportunity to show how pasta can be an amazing vehicle for sharing our individual traditions in a new and creative way.

While in Chicago, my fellow blogger ladies and I spent most of our day at the Barilla test kitchen, learning pasta cooking techniques from Chef Lorenzo Boni, the Executive Chef of Barilla America, and Mexican Chef Carlos Gaytan (whom you might know from Top Chef!).

While there, we also learned some great tips for cooking perfect pasta dishes that I definitely have to share with you:

1. Al Dente Pasta is Healthier Pasta 
You might already know that pasta tastes better when it is cooked al dente, an Italian phrase that means the pasta is not mushy and still has a bit of bite to it, but another benefit is that when cooked this way, the pasta has a lower GI that allows your body to better digest and use the healthy carbs without spiking your blood sugar.  

2. Finish the Pasta in the Sauce 
All Barilla pasta boxes come with suggested cook times for each individual shape. Chef Lorenzo recommended always taking the pasta out of the water 2-3 minutes before the recommended time, and then finishing it in a pan with the sauce--whether bottled or homemade. This way, the hot pasta combines evenly with the sauce, and you end up with a perfectly balanced dish.  

3. Use a Big Pot with Enough Water 
The number one mistake most people make at home when cooking pasta is not using enough water. We try to cram it all into a small pot, but this causes the pasta to stick and cook unevenly. To prevent this, pull out your biggest pot and fill it up with water. A good rule of thumb to remember is a minimum of 1 gallon (4 quarts) of water per 1 pound box of pasta.

4. Don't Add Oil to Your Pasta Water 
Some people think adding oil to pasta water will keep the pasta from sticking, but in fact, the oil doesn't affect the pasta in any way. If you remember from science class, oil and water do not mix, so the oil will always just float on the top of the water, and then rinse away when you drain the pot. (Extra bonus? If you use Barilla pasta, you actually don't even have to worry about the sticking since it's specially formulated to not get clumpy when you cook it--total win!)  

5. Do Add Plenty of Salt 
One of the most important (and easiest!) tips for the best tasting pasta dishes is to salt your cooking water generously. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of salt per gallon of water will season the pasta perfectly and evenly as it boils so that it already tastes amazing even before you add it to the sauce. My own favorite way to remember this is to taste the water before adding the pasta and checking to see if it's salty like the sea. If so, then you're good to go. If not, add more! Chef Lorenzo also recommends always using sea salt because the minerals add a little bit of extra flavor.
Do you have a favorite tip for cooking perfect pasta? Or do you ever combine pasta with flavors you grew up with? Let me know in the comments below! And stay tuned for more tips and recipes featuring Barilla pasta over the coming months.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Barilla, however, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive sentiments towards Barilla or their products. Thanks for supporting companies like Barilla who make it possible for me to keep creating great original content and recipes for you!

Arroz con Leche Marshmallow Treats

Growing up in a Puerto Rican family, Latin desserts were a BIG part of my childhood. Buttery pastries filled with guava paste, coconut tembleque (a delicious creamy, jiggly, jello-like treat), red sesame lollipops, and arroz con leche.

Arroz con leche is basically a Latin American version of rice pudding, scented with vanilla, citrus zest, and plenty of canela--also known as Ceylon cinnamon--which is warmer and less spicy than typical grocery store cinnamon. Depending on who makes it, the recipe will also include additions like rum-soaked raisins or toasted coconut, and is sometimes served topped with swirls of dulce de leche.

The scent of this creamy pudding, never fails to bring up nostalgic memories, so when I was asked by Target's A Bullseye View magazine to create a Latin-inspired dessert recipe that parents could send via mail to their kids who are away at college, I knew exactly what I wanted to do!

Clearly, rice pudding is not something anyone should be shipping through the mail, but rice cereal marshmallow treats? Totally care package-friendly!

Hence these easy Arroz con Leche Marshmallow Treats, which have all the same nostalgic flavors in a portable (and shareable!) bite.

Made with nutty brown butter, cinnamon, orange zest, raisins, and toasted coconuts, these marshmallow treats are out of this world!

To ship them, wait until cool, then cut and pack them tightly in a double-layer of plastic wrap.

Be sure to also include a note that suggests the recipient warm them up a bit before eating. A quick 15 seconds in the dorm room microwave is all you need to make them soft and gooey--just like they came right off the stove!

This recipe was sponsored by Target and can also be viewed on Target's A Bullseye View magazine. All opinions are my own. Thank you for sponsoring seriously awesome companies like Target who make it possible for me to create great content for you!

Love Always Order Dessert?
Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!     

Arroz con Leche Marshmallow Treats
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon + more for garnish
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
1 10oz bag mini marshmallows (about 4 cups)
6 cups crisped rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)

Generously grease a 9-inch baking pan with baking spray or butter and set aside.

In a large pot over low heat, melt butter completely, then continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, allowing the butter to brown slightly until golden, nutty, and fragrant.

Add the raisins, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange, and toss to coat well in the warm butter.

Add the marshmallows and stir gently until completely melted, and everything is combined.

Remove from heat, and stir in the cereal, stirring until completely coated. Spread mixture in prepared pan, and use a spatula or lightly oiled finger tips to flatten it out evenly. Sprinkle top with additional cinnamon.

Let cool 5 minutes, then turn over onto board and let cool completely before cutting into 12 pieces.

Crock-pot Country Style Ribs with Grapes

The first time I made this sweet and savory rib recipe, I accidentally set off the fire alarm with the smoke from the browning meat. I was in a country house in upstate NY that instantly notified the local fire department, and so it wasn't long before a big red truck full of burly firefighters arrived at our door. They were very nice about the whole thing, and spent perhaps a few too many minutes lingering around the kitchen checking out the food.

"Feel free to set off the alarm again once that's ready to eat," they joked.

The next few times, the meal went off without incident; likely because I cut out the step requiring the ribs to be browned in hot fat before going into the slow cooker. After testing it both ways, I realized that I could skip it completely without really losing any flavor, all the while saving tons of time and clean-up. Total win!

This really is one of my favorite slow cooker recipes. Everything goes into the pot, is set on low for 8 hours, and is ready to eat. The fresh grapes are delicious after stewing in the red wine and broth for a few hours, and add a really lovely burst of sweetness to the dish. If you've never tried cooking with grapes, I think you'll be surprised!

I served this over a bed of creamy polenta, but pasta, rice, mashed potatoes or even a simple salad would also be a welcome side to complete the dish.

Love Always Order Dessert?
Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!    

Crock-pot Country Style Ribs with Grapes and Red Wine
Serves 6

5lbs bone-in country style pork ribs OR 3 1/2- 4lbs boneless
1 bottle dry red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon)
2 cups beef broth
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and quartered
3 cups seedless red or black grapes
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 fresh sage leaves
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Once done cooking, stir and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with your favorite side.


Turkish Molasses Tahini Dip

A couple days ago, my friend Olga shared a link on Facebook to a post about everyday life in Istanbul. The article was part of a series from the blog A Cup of Jo, where she interviews mothers who are raising their children outside of the US. In it, the mother described a typical Turkish breakfast, which consists of a variety of items including warm breads, cheeses, clotted cream with honey, cucumbers, olives, and (most notably) a spread made from molasses and tahini.

I had both tahini and molasses in my pantry, so I popped into my kitchen and combined a few teaspoons of each to test it out.

I was blown away!

The creamy nuttiness of the tahini (a sesame spread similar to a nut butter that's often used in hummus) went beautifully with the dark, rich sweetness of the molasses. I seasoned it with a bit of sea salt and added a dash of cayenne for heat, then served it with salty crackers.

I absolutely love this new spread and am excited to use it in new ways. Thinned with a bit of warm water, I bet it would be beautiful drizzled over strawberries. It would also be incredible on warm toast or an english muffin as a pre-workout snack.

I can even see it as a thin layer in a cake!

Seriously so many possibilities here!

Love Always Order Dessert?
Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!     

Turkish Molasses Tahini Dip
Makes 1 cup

1 cup Tahini
2 tablespoons molasses (if you don't have or like molasses, a dark honey or maple syrup would work well, too)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne (optional)

Combine all ingredients and whisk until smooth. If too thick, try warming it up slightly on the stove or a microwave until it stirs easily.
Feel free to adjust with a bit more molasses for a sweeter, richer flavor.

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