Within minutes of cracking my eyes open and my feet hitting the chilly carpet, the morning sunshine was overshadowed by gloomy sadness—it’s the same tinge of grief that creeps in every September 18, the anniversary of my best friend’s unspeakable death.

Since 22 years of heartbreak can’t be mended with a bottle of Patrón and Duct tape, the next best thing for me is baking. So after I got off the phone with Darya’s dad, Darryl, I wiped my tears with a lotion-y Kleenex and cranked the oven to 350°.

6 and a half layer bars

I recalled a story her mom, Carmen, told me recently. One time, Carmen put a pan of 7-layer bars in the oven and had to leave the house so she asked Darya to turn the oven off when the timer was done. Well, Darya did just that. She turned the oven off but she didn’t take the bars out of the oven. The bars continued to bake and caramelize and as Carmen puts it, “…best bars we ever had and we can’t seem to duplicate that.”

In sweet memory of my friend, I tried to recreate what she had done so many years ago. I changed up the recipe a little because I thought adding caramel, milk chocolate toffee bits, and salty pretzel crumbs could only make the bars better. I was right.

Just remember to turn the oven off and let them sit in there for a while.

6 and a half layer bars

What makes these eight-and-a-half layer bars? I swapped (pretzels for nuts) and added a few ingredients (caramel and toffee bits) from traditional 7-layer bars and, because I’m not a raging fan of coconut, I only use half the coconut most recipes call for. A sprinkling really.

Eight-and-a-half layer bars

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup pretzel crumbs

11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) butter, melted

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1 cup milk chocolate toffee bits

1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping (such as Mrs. Richardson’s butterscotch caramel)

1/2 cup (or your desired amount) shredded coconut

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×13 pan with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
  2. Stir together cracker and pretzel crumbs with melted butter. (I use a blender to make the crumbs and then add the butter.)
  3. Dump and firmly press the crumb mix into pan.
  4. Evenly scatter butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, and toffee bits onto crust.
  5. Drizzle on about 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping.
  6. Sprinkle with coconut, reserving a tablespoon or two.
  7. Pour condensed milk over coconut. Sprinkle with last bit of coconut.
  8. Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn off oven. Leave bars in oven for about 15 minutes before transferring pan to a cooling rack.
  9. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in airtight container.

With sweet memories of my BFF,


If you’ve been a morning guest in our home, chances are your coffee was as black as frozen hockey pucks and you’ve thrown dietary restraint to the wind by pigging out on warm, gooey butterscotch monkey bread.

Butterscotch monkey bread

Once in a while, I surprise my lovely friends and their kids and give them monkey bread at hockey games. And if you look closely on the bench by my purse, I even have a little pan for my favorite #6 after his game.

Tracey and kids

My recipe has evolved over the years to include butterscotch pudding mix and more biscuit dough. I’ve even driven 12 miles one way to buy the pudding in the morning because it’s that much better with it.

butterscotch monkey bread

I don’t only make monkey bread for houseguests. It is best eaten when it’s warm so my kids are experienced at dishing it into plastic containers for road food, like today as she headed off to work. Some houseguests, you know who you are Zach, won’t eat any until they’re in the car.

monkey bread before work

No houseguests? Make Flying Solo Monkey Bread.

monkey bread

Gooey forkful wishes,


Butterscotch monkey bread

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 small box (3.5 oz.) cook & serve (not instant) butterscotch pudding and pie filling

1/4 cup sugar

2 generous teaspoons cinnamon

4 tubes (7.5 ounces each) refrigerated biscuit dough

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease Bundt pan.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and brown sugar together. Whisk until bubbly. Turn off heat.
  3. In a separate medium bowl stir together dry pudding filling, sugar and cinnamon.
  4. With kitchen scissors, cut each biscuit into four pieces, letting them drop directly into pudding mixture. Every six biscuits or so, toss pieces around to coat fully and drop into Bundt pan.
  5. When half of the biscuits are in the Bundt pan, drizzle a few tablespoons of the caramel mixture onto the coated biscuit pieces.
  6. Finish cutting all the biscuits. Evenly pour the caramel mixture over the pieces.
  7. Bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Let sit 10 minutes. Invert pan onto a large baking sheet and lift Bundt pan off.

Once upon a time…

The tartness grabs her taste buds and effervesces like teensy Pop Rocks on a wet tongue. When the first creamy bite of cheesecake hits her mouth, she’ll wonder if she even likes the combination of Key lime and blackberry.

Key lime blackberry cheesecake

She takes another bite.

Key lime blackberry cheesecake

She likes it enough to pile her fork with chunk after chunk and before she knows it, the tiny slice she “tried” is gone.

Key Lime Blackberry Cheesecake

Later that evening, she’ll be standing in front of the refrigerator with a clean fork.

Key lime blackberry cheesecake

A few months later, she’ll ask her sister when she is going to make Key lime blackberry cheesecake again.

Key lime cheesecake

But her sister will not know because her other sister requested turtle cheesecake a long, long time ago and more recently requested taco cheesecake. She’s just not sure which to make first.

She chooses to make taco cheesecake and everyone lives happily ever after.

Taco cheesecake

The end.


Key lime blackberry swirl cheesecake

This recipe makes one 9″ pan. I made one 6″ springform and four 6″ tart pans with this recipe. 


4 cups pretzels

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted


3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup lime curd, stirred well to loosen it up

5 tablespoons sour cream, room temperature

5 teaspoons flour

1/2 cup Key lime juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 eggs, room temperature

1 egg yolk, room temperature

1 jar (10 ounces) seedless blackberry jam or preserves, stirred well to loosen it up

blackberries for serving with each piece

Make the crust:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor combine pretzels, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter.

If you don’t have a food processor, put pretzels in a plastic storage bag and bang with a heavy object like a can of soup to make fine crumbs. Combine everything in a bowl. 

Dump the mixture into a greased 9″ springform pan and press down with bottom of measuring cup. Bake 7 minutes. Remove from oven.

Make the filling:

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until creamy, making sure there are no lumps. Add sugar and beat until smooth. Whip in lime curd. Beat in sour cream and flour. At this point, make sure cheesecake filling is smooth because once you add the eggs, you don’t want to beat it vigorously.

Stir in Key lime juice and vanilla.

With mixer on low speed, beat in eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each one.

Pour half the filling into crust. Drop teaspoons of blackberry jam randomly into filling, using three-fourths of jam. With a butter knife, gently swirl jam into batter without touching crust. Pour second half of filling into pan and drop teaspoons of jam into the batter, swirling gently with butter knife.

  • For 9″ springform bake at 350 degrees.
  • For 6″ springform bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
  • For 6″ tart pans bake at 275 degrees for 28-33 minutes.

Remove from oven when center is slightly jiggly. It will continue to bake once removed. Cool to room temperature. Chill in fridge for 24 hours. Serve with blackberries.

Store leftovers in refrigerator up to one week or in freezer up to three months.

Also try Key Lime Cheesecake with Patrón Sauce and Key lime pie.

Sweet fairytale wishes,


Heavier than a newborn but lighter than a case of beer, two pans of bumpy black and yellow caramel brownies sank my rusty scale to 10.5 pounds.

black and yellow caramel brownies

It was hard not to sneak one before I delivered the hefty box of serve-with-a-glass-of-milk bars to one of my favorite customers. So I did what any self-respecting baker would do. I made another batch to share with my family.

black and yellow caramel brownies

This recipe is a mash-up between two of my easy, go-to bar recipes—Yes! Yes! Brownies and Yellow Bars. Too much of a good thing doesn’t pertain to brownies.

Black and yellow caramel brownies

Brownie & caramel layers:

1 package (approximately 15.25 ounce) dry chocolate cake mix, any flavor – milk chocolate, chocolate fudge, german chocolate, etc.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

5-ounce can evaporated milk, divided into two portions 1/3 cup each

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 bag individually wrapped caramels (about 50 caramels)

Yellow & milk chocolate layers:

1 package (approximately 15.25 ounce) dry yellow cake mix

1 large egg

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, very soft

12-ounce package milk chocolate chips

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon butter

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13×9 pan or line with parchment paper.
  2. Stir together chocolate cake mix, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, 3/4 cup melted butter.
  3. Reserve approximately 1/4 cup of chocolate batter. Spread the rest in pan and bake for 6 minutes. Remove from oven.
  4. Scatter 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips onto cake batter.
  5. Unwrap caramels and melt over low heat (stove top or microwave) with 1/3 cup evaporated milk until creamy.
  6. Pour caramel over chocolate chips.
  7. Stir together yellow cake mix, 1 egg, and 1 stick very soft butter.
  8. Set half the yellow dough aside.
  9. Using half of the yellow dough, roll and flatten small portions in your hand. Lay flat pieces on the chocolate chips.
  10. Bake 6 minutes. Remove from oven.
  11. In a medium saucepan or in the microwave, melt milk chocolate chips, 1 tablespoon butter, and sweetened condensed milk together until smooth.
  12. Pour chocolate over yellow cake pieces.
  13. Flatten remaining yellow cake dough into pieces and lay onto milk chocolate. (It won’t cover the whole pan.)
  14. Flatten remaining chocolate cake dough into pieces and sprinkle in places not covered by yellow dough.
  15. Using a small spreader or knife, gently spread doughs but leaving bumps.
  16. Bake 30 minutes or just until yellow parts start to turn golden.
  17. Remove from oven. Cut when cooled completely. Store in airtight container.

Sweet mashed wishes,


When your teenage son asks for “more of that spaghetti please,” you know the recipe card should be treasured like a baby blanket in a cedar trunk.

baked spaghetti

In my life, that means it goes on my blog for safekeeping, at least until the Internet craze ends.

baked spaghetti with tiny pepperoni

Baked spaghetti marinara with tiny pepperoni

1 pound ground sirloin or hamburger

1/4 cup finely diced white or yellow onion

1 teaspoon onion salt

2 cloves garlic, pressed OR 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

pepper to taste

2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 pound spaghetti noodles

4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

package mini pepperoni

2 (24 ounces each) jars marinara sauce

15-16 ounces tomato sauce

4 ounce package pepperoni minis

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook ground sirloin in medium frying pan with diced onion, onion salt, garlic and pepper until no longer pink. Stir in 1 cup mini pepperoni.
  3. Boil spaghetti noodles until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water. Drain.
  4. In a large bowl stir together eggs, Parmesan cheese and cooked spaghetti noodles.
  5. Spread thin layer of marinara in bottom of greased 13×9 pan. Top with noodle mixture.
  6. In a bowl, stir together pasta water, marinara and tomato sauce. Spread over noodles.
  7. Sprinkle cooked beef and pepperoni mixture onto sauce.
  8. Layer with mozzarella cheese and top with mini pepperoni.
  9. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese is golden and pepperoni is crispy around the edges, 10-15 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven. Slice. Serve. Refrigerate leftovers.

Sweet keepsake wishes,


My initial, snarkier title to this story was, “Stop whining about your life: get off your ass and do something about how miserable you are.” But I didn’t want to turn anyone off or put a damper on someone’s never-ending pity party. At least not until they read a sentence or two. After all, there is dessert at the end.

cherry crunchobblerumble

So after three weeks of writing this post, I deleted almost every word.

cherry pie filling in jars

Spoon pie filling into jars

I reminded myself that it’s really none of my business when someone who was in complete control of their own destiny acts as if someone else controlled their misery—as if they were a puppet on a rusty barbed wire. Instead of being judgmental and sad for a person who has so many regrets in life, I decided to spit my bitter pill across the kitchen, reflect on my own life, and just be thankful.

cake mix in jars

Sprinkle dry cake mix on top of filling

Thankful that after all the mistakes I’ve made, and as the smoke lingers from the unfortunate and life-changing things that I’ve dealt with, I have faith that I am right where I need to be. After all, the things I’ve done right outweigh any of my misjudgments.

melted butter on cake mix

Drizzle melted butter onto cake mix

Take if from someone who’s made some really awful choices and had to bust their ass to get through college as a single mom in their late 20s because of my own decisions and actions in my teens and 20s—success doesn’t come easy.

Successful people work hard and I can guarantee they have been so sleep deprived that they wear their shirt inside out and backwards in public, been stressed to their limits, been so frustrated they want to throw in the wet towel that’s weighing them down, have made tough and heartbreaking decisions which have led to unstoppable tears, sacrificed financial prosperity just to stay close to family, and persevered through many other sacrifices and harsh battles that only the few people closest to them know anything about.

baked cherry jars

Bake until golden brown

The happiness of life and loving family and friends prevail, and that alone is victory.

cherry crunchobblerumble

The “poor me I didn’t get to live my life like I wanted” story has gotten old. And I take my own advice. When I find myself complaining about the same thing time and time again, there comes a point where I need to take action or shut up.

Is your picnic basket old and cracked and you think it isn’t strong enough to carry something sweet? I bet it’s vintage and there are a hundred stories behind its tattered appearance. Cherish those stories of picnics, family reunions, lake days, and road trips taken. Strengthen it with a block of wood and get to your picnic. If it just doesn’t work anymore, toss dessert into a paper bag and get on with your life.

(Read “Do not call it pie, it’s cherry crunchobblerumble” to find out how it got its name.)

Cherry Crunchobblerumble in 4-ounce jars

30-ounce can cherry pie filling

1-1/2 cups dry yellow cake mix

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  1. Heat oven to 350°.
  2. Lightly grease eight, 4-ounce canning jars and set on a baking sheet.
  3. Evenly divide and spoon pie filling into jars.
  4. Sprinkle dry cake mix on top of filling, leaving approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch open at the top.
  5. With a spoon, lightly sprinkle the melted butter over the dry cake mix, until all the dry mix has butter on it. You can spread it a little with the spoon.
  6. Bake at 350° for 20-23 minutes, or just until the tops are light golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool completely before you put the lids on.
  8. Leave the covered jars at room temperature for a day or two, or stick them in the refrigerator.

Sweet and snarky wishes with no regrets,


Hannah graduates from SDSU in a couple of weeks and it was her last day working in our group. Sticking with tradition, we had a food day—no nuts, no peanut butter. Hannah loves chocolate and deep dark chocolate cheesecake with honey ganache is irrefutably the most decadent chocolate dessert I make. And eat.

Perhaps it was the cool air breezing through the kitchen window when I opened the oven door, or maybe I overbeat the batter like a cheesecake novice that I am not.

deepest darkest chocolate cheesecake

But no matter what it was, the crack in my cheesecake made the perfect cranny for the ganache to nestle into like a silk scarf tucked into a cashmere coat.

ganache in cheesecake crack

Candid iPhone picture while slicing the cheesecake

I’m hoping I can make the same mistake again. And again. And again.

deepest darkest chocolate cheesecake

Deepest Darkest Chocolate Cheesecake with Honey Ganache is on foodnetwork.com. I’ve used the recipe since 2013 when I shared it in Save the bees, make chocolate cheesecake with honey ganache. I use the ganache recipe for a lot of my desserts because I like to use locally-harvested honey instead of corn syrup.

Don’t be afraid to add the coffee to the filling and to the ganache. Just like in Is that coffee in your cookie or just intensified chocolate, coffee simply deepens the flavor of the chocolate.

Sweet mistake wishes,


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