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Gooey Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes-Easy!

My step-mom was having a birthday and I wanted to bring her a birthday dessert.  Something that looked special and was full of chocolate.  We share our love for chocolate!  I was still in zombie-land due to a medication I was taking, so I knew I had to figure out something simple.
Trader Joes to the rescue! I picked up a box of their chocolate cake mix, chocolate frosting mix, and a bottle of their amazing caramel sauce.  I stopped at the craft store to find paper cups that were cute- a special touch. I grabbed 2 Skor candy bars, and got a bit excited as I envisioned myself taking a hammer to them. 🙂 I also grabbed a squeeze bottle that I found it in the cake decorating aisle, it was only a buck. Lastly, I found some candles that sparkle and trick the birthday girl by re-lighting themselves over and over.  Hee. Hee.
Of course, any box cake mix, frosting mix and caramel can be used for this, but I am a HUGE Trader Joes fan.  Why?  

  • All Products In The Trader Joe’s Label Promise:
  • NO artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
  • NO genetically modified ingredients
  • NO MSG
  • NO added Trans Fats

Let’s take the cake mix.  When I read the ingredients, they were the ingredients you would read on a recipe card.  All pronounceable. This is true, REAL convenience food.  Taking ingredients I would use to make it from scratch, and putting them together for me. 
Trader Joes Cake Mix Ingredients:
White Flour
Wheat Flour 
Corn Starch
Baking Soda
Soybean Oil
Natural Vanilla Flavor
Pillsbury Cake Mix Ingredients:



The Pillsbury cake mix has sugar, plus artificial sweetener.  Does that make ANY sense to you?  Me either.  It also adds artificial red food coloring.  Many, many food allergies in children are caused by artificial colors. I am not saying these cupcakes are healthy by any means, but I enjoy knowing that they are not full of man- made ingredients, some of which are chemicals.  So…on to the good stuff!!

How I made Gooey, Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes:
~Made Chocolate Cupcakes according to the directions on the box of Trader Joes Chocolate Cake Mix
~Made Chocolate Frosting according to the directions on the box of Trader Joes Chocolate Frosting Mix
~Used a hammer to crush 2 Skor candy bars (while still in the wrapper)
~Warmed Caramel sauce and put into a squeeze bottle.
~Squeeze some caramel into the center of each cupcake.  This makes them super moist and gooey!
I gotta stop here and take some time to rave about this particular caramel sauce.  IT IS SO GOOD.  I think it should be called “Salted Caramel Sauce” because there is just enough salty to the sweet to make your mouth water.  It is divine.
~Frost cupcake
~Drizzle with more caramel
~Sprinkle with crushed Skor bar


Brunch/ RECIPES/ Sides

Easy One Bowl Pumpkin Bread/Muffins

***This is a re-post from last fall.  Enjoy!
I found this great recipe at Kitchen Stewardship.
I have made it TWICE this week and I really love it.   It is a “dump all ingredients into one bowl in no certain order and stir” recipe, so it takes minutes to whip up.  It is super moist, makes the house smell like fall, and fills up little tummy’s when they need a snack.  Another great thing about this recipe is that it has a few different options to make the original recipe healthier.  Love that!
Easy One Bowl Pumpkin Bread/Muffins
1 ½ c. sugar                                        ½ t. cinnamon
2 eggs                                                     ½ t. nutmeg
¼ t. baking powder                           1 2/3 c. flour
1 t. baking soda                                  ½ c. oil
¾ t. salt                                                ½ c. cold water
½ t. cloves                                          1 c. pumpkin (about half a 15 oz can)
Mix all ingredients together.  Put in greased loaf pan or muffin tin.  Bake at 325 degrees.
  • Bread (one loaf) = 75-90 minutes
  • 12 Muffins = 45 minutes
  • 24 Mini muffins = 25 minutes
Cost:  about $1.50 !!!  
Get this…I was at my neighborhood natural market this weekend and they were selling freshly baked pumpkin bread for $7.99 a loaf!  That’s just craziness!!  They were skimpy little loaves, too.  I walked away smiling to myself, thinking about how I can go home and whip up a generous loaf of my own pumpkin bread that would be just as healthy as theirs!
To make my loaves healthier, I cut the sugar down to a cup, and used 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2/3 cup unbleached white flour.  Next time I will try honey instead of sugar and applesauce instead of oil.  I also want to add some dried cranberries (got that idea from those crazy $7.00 loaves at my market:))
Easy Ways to Make It Healthy:
  1. Level one: decrease the sugar by 1/4 or even 1/2 cup (1 c. sugar total)
  2. Level two:  use half whole wheat flour
  3. Level three:  make the “oil” melted butter or applesauce
One Bowl Pumpkin Muffins Healthy Remake
3/4 cup honey                                        ½ t. cinnamon
2 eggs                                                     ½ t. nutmeg
¼ t. baking powder                           1 2/3 c. whole wheat flour
1 t. baking soda                                  ½ c. melted butter or coconut oil
¾ t. salt                                                1/4 c. cold water
½ t. cloves                                          1 c. pumpkin (about half a 15 oz can)
1 Tbs molasses
Baking Change:Only bake muffins for 30 minutes – honey browns faster!
Both recipes call for only a half a can of pumpkin.  I wondered what to do with the other half, until I saw how quickly my family ate up the first loaf.  I made a second loaf the very next day.  You could double the recipe and freeze a loaf.  I knew we would be home quite a bit this weekend and I love to have something yummy baking in the oven, so I made the loaves on separate days.
 Oh, one more thing…make sure your spices are not dated and tired.  I could not believe the difference in my 2 loaves, the first one I made with spices I know have been in my cupboard since last fall, and although the texture was awesome, I wondered, “if the spices were happy, would taste any different?”  For the second loaf, I went to my market where they sell spices in bulk (you can help yourself to whatever amount you need and they charge you by weight).  DO THIS IF YOU CAN, the second loaf was AMAZING!  I love the buy spices in bulk option.  Lately, I have been buying a small amount for whatever recipes I am going to make in the next week or two.  I did this for 2 recipes that I make all the time, chili and chicken curry,  and both recipes tasted like they had a makeover, when all I did was buy super fresh spices.  It is very economical, and so very worth it!
Cancer Journey/ FUN/DIY/ RECIPES/ Sides

Easy, Homemade Freezer Salsa

See the larger jar of salsa in the background?  My husband has just about finished off the jar, and I just made it 2 days ago!  This is a super easy & quick way to make salsa for the freezer.  If you like a chunky salsa, then freezer salsa is not for you.  Chunky salsa tends to get mushy in the freezer, but we prefer ours thick, but all chopped up, so this is perfect for us.

I have an abundance of little cherry tomatoes growing in my garden.  My larger tomato plant is slow to ripen, but that is ok since we are up to our heads in cherry tomatoes.


I saw this mix (Mrs. Wages Create Salsa Mix) when I was at the grocery store and I was happy to see that the ingredient list was short and familiar.  I wanted homemade salsa, but my peppers are not ripe yet, so this mix was the perfect answer.

There are 3 different options on the back of the package-Freeze It! Can It! or Serve It!  Love that.

I washed my tomatoes and threw them into the food processor.  I DID NOT skin and core my tomatoes.    Too lazy, plus they were so small…


Then I  dumped them in a pan on the stove (no pic, sorry!) and added the dry mix and 1/2 cup of vinegar, and then simmered for 10 minutes.


I let the mixture cool a bit, then poured it into jars.

We have not eaten the salsa that I froze yet, but like I said earlier, the one jar that was left out is almost gone.  It really is a tasty salsa, not too expensive (2.59 for the mix, tomatoes were free from my garden), made about 21/2 quarts, and took very little effort!

**I ordered the salsa mix on Amazon, but can also be found in the canning goods in most grocery stores and Walmart.

The easiest and best freezer salsa

{for your pinning pleasure}

How-Tos/ Meals/ RECIPES

Simple 5 Minute Tomato Sauce (for pasta or pizza)

**This was originally posted 10/09.

I make this recipe at least once a week.  We stretch it out over two meals-1/2 for speghetti & 1/2 for homemade pizza.  We love it!
I do not miss the over- priced, usually way too sweet, pre-made jar sauces AT ALL! I love that this is not much more work then opening a jar, but makes the house smell like I have been cooking all day!
I found the recipe here at 101 Cookbooks.  She writes an excellent post about this simple sauce.  She explains that this is not the sauce you are looking for if you are wanting a meat-filled hearty sauce (although we sometimes add some ground beef and it tastes great!)  This is a fresh, light, pure tomato sauce, and IT IS GOOD!   I usually buy whole -grain pasta because it is full of fiber, protein and iron, (the brand I used in the pictures below has 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber in a 2 oz size serving) which is very important especially when eating a meat free meal, and it keeps my family full much longer then the white stuff. There is nothing worse than kids begging for food a half hour after dinner!
I use this recipe when we make homemade pizza, it is so fresh and yummy. I grew herbs this summer and the pizza we made with fresh mozzarella and this sauce and shreds of fresh basil….mmm… to die for! I have also made pasta dishes with this sauce and added a splash of heavy cream at the end with some some peas and parmesean cheese, and turned it into a whole different, super creamy, luxurious dish.

The last time I made this sauce, I accidently bought a can of diced tomatoes, so that is why I got out the hand blender, my family does not like chunks! I make a few other changes to the recipe.   I go easy on the red pepper flakes, as my girls don’t like spicy.  If I have lemons on hand, I’ll use them, but if I don’t I’ll add a splash of lemon juice from the bottle, it is amazing how just a touch of acid really brightens up the flavor. If I do use zest, I find the zest of a whole lemon is a bit too much lemon flavor for me, so I half it.  I also add about a Tbls of sugar if my tomatoes are too tangy. Depending on how much water the tomatoes have in them, you may need to simmer the sauce down a bit if it looks a little watery, which turns the 5 minute sauce into a 10 minute sauce- no big deal.
I make sure I keep an eye out for canned, crushed tomatoes on sale and stock up when they are.  As she says in the recipe below, the brand of tomatoes is VERY important.  There is a huge difference in taste, so go for the good brands.  I think the same goes for the olive oil, buy the best you can afford, the more expensive italian brands are so worth the extra money because they are sweet and have no after taste.
Give this sauce a try!  It may become your go- to, always- have- the- ingredients- on- hand, simple meal as it is ours!

           Five Minute Tomato Sauce

I’m very particular about the tomatoes I use in this sauce. Look for canned crushed tomatoes, some cans you will come across will say “with added puree” – this is also fine. I avoid diced tomatoes, pass on pureed, and skip whole tomatoes as well. Avoid the crushed tomatoes with added herbs, seasonings, etc. You want pure crushed tomatoes if possible. I also look for organic crushed tomatoes which can be tricky, I often come across the Muir Glen brand, it has added basil in it – that one is actually fine. The San Marzano crushed tomatoes are great as well. Any leftover sauce keeps well in the refrigerator for three or four days.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed red tomatoes
zest of one lemon
Combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat, saute just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes and heat to a gentle simmer, this takes just a couple minutes. Remove from heat and carefully take a taste (you don’t want to burn your tongue)…If the sauce needs more salt add it now. Stir in the lemon zest reserving a bit to sprinkle on top of your pasta.
Makes about a quart of tomato sauce.
This post is linked to:
The Girl Creative

Easy Cheesy Mini Bagels

Sara Lee sells Whole Wheat Mini Bagels with NO high fructose corn syrup..yippee! 

 I made spaghetti for dinner tonight.   I am one who just can’t eat spaghetti without some time of bread to dip in the sauce, but I had no time to make bread.  I had these mini bagels on hand, so I:

~spread on some butter
~sprinkled with garlic salt
~sprinkled with cheese
~put ’em under the broiler until golden and melty!

As I was dipping them in the sauce, I thought
about how easy it would be to make Homemade
Bagel Bite Mini Pizzas.  I could make a bunch
ahead of time and freeze them, then just pop them
in the oven when needed.  With fiber from the
bagels and protein from the cheese, it would make
a pretty filling and healthy snack.  I’m sure that
will be a future post!:)


Easy Yogurt Fruit Salad

I’ve made this many times, with all types of different fruit.  Usually, I’m cooking dinner and decide we need a colorful, healthy side (we even call this dessert at our house, see this post).  I gather whatever fruit we have in the house (fresh or frozen), chop it up, and add whatever yogurt we have in the house.  If we only have plain yogurt, I will add honey and sometimes cinnamon, depending on the type of fruit we have.

It’s a no recipe, recipe.  Fruit. Yogurt. Toss. Done!
*I just made granola for the first time.  Watch for the recipe…it would be great sprinkled on top of this!


Easy Baked Meatballs

I just recently made this recipe and really liked it.  It is basic and simple.  I had no idea what to make one night for dinner.  Sat down to check my emails and found this recipe in my inbox from my sister.  45 minutes later, we were eating them for dinner.
These were a snap to throw together and can be used in a few different ways.  We used them in Meatball Sandwiches (toss them in this sauce and put ’em on a bun).  You could make Spaghetti and Meatballs.  You could make a Meatball Appetizer, either BBQ Sauce or a Sweet Chili Type Sauce.  The next time I make them I plan on doubling the recipe and freezing half.

Easy Baked Meatballs
Yield: Makes 4 dozen


  • 1 1/2  pounds  ground beef
  • 1  large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4  cup  quick-cooking oats, uncooked
  • 3/4  cup  milk
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  teaspoon  Italian seasoning
  • 1/4  teaspoon  pepper
  • 3  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  paprika
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt


Combine first 7 ingredients; shape into 1-inch balls.
Combine all-purpose flour, paprika, and salt. Gently roll meatballs in flour mixture, and place on a lightly greased rack in a foil-lined 13- x 9-inch pan.
Bake at 400° for 25 to 30 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve with your favorite sauce.
NOTE: To freeze, cool completely, and seal in an airtight container. To serve, place in a single layer on a baking sheet; bake at 400° for 10 to 15 minutes.
recipe via Southern Living, JANUARY 2002