Graduation Party Ideas

Graduation season means two things: festive parties and tasty sweets. My cousin Emily just graduated from high school in North Dakota. She and my Aunt Buffy were Pinteresting (planning) for months coming up with lots of fun ideas. I had a blast helping them craft, bake and decorate for the celebrations!

Cupcake Icing

My Aunt Buffy baked 400 mini cupcakes in Chocolate, Vanilla and Red Velvet. The mini cupcakes are fun for parties so people can sample one of each.

Cupcake Icing

The homemade Peanut Butter, Buttercream and Cream Cheese Frostings were so divine!

Cupcake Sprinkles

Icing cupcakes is so therapeutic for me…I love making the uniform swirls! Adding a pinch of multicolored sprinkles is a magical touch.

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes

These little toothpick flags printed on scrapbook paper added personalization to the cupcakes, not to mention lots of pizazz.

Emily and Gabriela

Here’s my cousin Emily, the graduate, and I! We are all about bright colors this summer…and just happened to match the party’s theme.

This was the “party wall!” We made tissue paper flowers to hang from the ceiling. Buffy made flag banners out of scrapbook paper and printed letters. Tied together with some ribbon and ta-dah! The dessert plates are made out of drink glasses or vases, glued to plates, and spray painted. Inexpensive and adorable!

Graduation Party Wall

The table center pieces were my favorite part of the decor. Spray painted wine bottles accented with multicolored ribbon were filled with mini tissue paper flowers. I made these little flags with scrapbook paper and wooden dowels. Adding a quote of advice from Emily’s family members made for great conversation and even a bit of inspiration!

Graduation Quote Center Pieces

“Be nice…to everyone…all the time!” -Words of advice from Emily’s Mom

Don’t these pictures make you want to have a summer party? I’m ready to bake some lemon bars and have a few friends over to celebrate. P.S. For more details from the graduation party check out my Aunt Buffy’s (aka Sara) board on Pinterest!

Love food | Love self | Love life … Gabriela


Blackberry Cheesecake Fudge Brownies

These Blackberry Cheesecake Fudge Brownies are rich and decadent. I first experienced the combination of blackberry and espresso in a latte and was dreaming about how spectacular the flavors would be in brownie form. Adding cheesecake and chocolate to the palate really takes this treat up to gourmet dessert status.

Blackberry Cheesecake Fudge Brownies

These brownies are so moist and fudgey they taste almost as if they were half-baked. Pair them with cup of coffee or a scoop of ice cream and, boy, will your taste buds be happy! Any berry would be great in this recipe, but I find the blackberries to be so unique! You’ll also notice a dash of espresso, which really enhances the chocolate flavors overall.

Blackberry Cheesecake Fudge Brownies

Blackberry Cheesecake Fudge Brownie Recipe


  • For Blackberry Sauce:
    • 6 oz. fresh blackberries
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • 1 tsp cornstarch
    • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
    • 2 tsp water
  • For Cheesecake:
    • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
    • 1 egg
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp flour
    • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • For Brownies:
    • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
    • 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 1 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon instant espresso
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 cup flour


Blackberry Sauce:

  1. Heat blackberries and sugar in a pan over medium low heat until the blackberries release their juices.
  2. Combine cornstarch, lemon juice and water together in a separate bowl.
  3. Add cornstarch mixture to pan and stir together. Bring mixture to simmer for a few minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.
  2. Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat. Scrape chocolate mixture into a bowl and allow to cool.
  3. Stir sugar, vanilla and salt into the cooled chocolate mixture.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time beating until each is just mixed.
  5. Sprinkle flour over the chocolate mixture and stir until blended.


  1. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla until well combined.
  2. Add blackberry mixture and combine.
The finishing touches:
  1. Spread 2/3 of the mixture into pan. Dollop blackberry cheesecake mixture over. Then dollop remaining brownie mixture over.
  2. Using a knife, make a swirl pattern with the batter (run knife up and down the pan).
  3. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the center is cooked. Test by inserting a knife into the center of the pan. If it comes out clean, the brownies are done.
  4. Allow to cool and serve.
(Recipes modified from Beantown Baker and Kids Baking.) 

Blackberry Cheesecake Fudge BrowniesTo simplify the recipe you could use store-bought brownie mix, although these fudge brownies are to die for! I hope you enjoy these amazing brownies. Let me know what you think!

Love food. Love self. Love life.

Date Night Blog Collaboration with DearSerendipity

Gourmet Gab and Dear Serendipity

My friend from high school, Emily Piskulick, writes a darling fashion blog called DearSerendipity. We collaborated our two passions–food and fashion–to create two date night ideas. One is more casual with a classic jean look and chicken dish. The other is a bit fancy with a pretty dress and gourmet pasta.

Casual Date Night IdeasFor a casual date night, this dinner is easy to prepare and delicious to enjoy. The lemon pepper chicken from Life’s Ambrosia is flavored by a zesty marinade. The spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette is full of colorful veggies. A side of Uncle Ben’s wild rice, or any flavor that you like, will be a nice balance and will only take a few minutes to cook. Store-bought or homemade angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream is a light, no-bake dessert.

Fancy Date NightThis pesto and shrimp pasta tastes as gourmet as it looks. Plus, the leftovers double in flavor the next day. Any roasted vegetable would pair beautifully with the pasta. I chose asparagus, but squash, tomatoes or yellow zucchini also be complementary. The side of bread is an extra touch, but not essential. A giant pizookie (pizza-cookie), like this one from Serious Eats, is fun to share with a date.

Emily has all the details about the outfits on her DearSerendipity post! Check it out and share the link with your friends. You could even pass the link on to your significant other as a hint for a date night ;)

Homemade Hot Chocolate

While you are gathered around the fire opening gifts, playing a board game or catching up with family and friends this Hot Chocolate recipe would be a nice accompaniment. Its warm, rich and full of holiday cheer. You may think that hot chocolate and hot cocoa are the same, but they are slightly different. Hot chocolate is made from real chocolate that is finely cut up and melted, while hot cocoa is flavored with cocoa powder. Depending on the recipe hot chocolate is typically heavier and more filling due to the melted chocolate.

You can see the chopped chocolate melting in the milk.

Two of my friends came over the other night and we made a batch of homemade hot chocolate ourselves. It was so wonderful to make memories with them in the kitchen. We had a blast. Bring some family in the kitchen and have them assist making hot chocolate on Christmas Eve! Maybe even leave some out for Santa ;)

Here's me, Courtney and Jenn making homemade hot chocolate!

Check out the beautifully photographed step-by-step process to making homemade hot chocolate on this blog. The recipe calls for whole milk and heavy cream, but we just used skim milk because we didn’t want it to be too rich. I thought the addition of maple syrup as a natural sweetener was very unique.

Our Homemade Hot Chocolate and biscotti!

It has been a wonderful past 23 days celebrating Christmas and the holiday season on the blog with you all. Thank you for reading along and for inspiring me. This will be my last post as I will be spending time with family the next two days, and I hope you will be too! But if you need any ideas for cooking or baking scan the posts from the past month, send me a Tweet or write on the Facebook wall. I’d love to help with any last-minute needs! :)

Merry Christmas and Happy Baking + Cooking!

Hot Cocoa and Buttered Toast

Several years ago when I was probably 12 or so, my mom and I made hot cocoa for dessert one night during the Christmas season. She told me about how when she was little she would dunk buttered toast into her hot cocoa. At first it sounded like a crazy idea to me, but after trying it I was surprised by how delicious it really was. Last night when I was craving hot cocoa I remembered that it would not be complete without a piece of buttered toast.

The toast acts like a sponge soaking up the rich, chocolately cocoa. The salty butter on the toast adds a dimension of savory contrast. The combination is perfect. Need I say more?

My mom and I did not use a specific recipe, so last night I found this Hershey’s Hot Cocoa recipe. It is simple and quick to make. With only a few ingredients and a few minutes you can make homemade hot cocoa for yourself. Pop some bread in the toaster and spread some butter on top. The key is to cut your toast at a diagonal so you have the perfect shape for dunking.

The holiday season is a time for traditions, new and old, but it is always important to hold on to the ones that mean the most. Gathering family members for a baking day, enjoying hot cocoa and toast, midnight mass and opening stocking stuffers on Christmas morning are a few that I will always treasure.

It’s always fun exchanging ideas and sharing memories with others, so I’d love to hear what your Christmas traditions are. Let’s talk about memories in the comment section below!

5 days until Christmas!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

My Aunt Patty shared her recipe for these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies a couple years ago and I always look forward to the holidays so I can enjoy them. The pumpkin spice flavors compliment the rich chocolate chips so well. Pair these cookies alongside a cup of coffee or some vanilla ice cream for dessert. Yum!

Patty’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can pumpkin (or 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups milk chocolate chips


  1. Measure all dry ingredients (except sugar) into a separate smalls bowls cream butter and sugar together in larger bowl.
  2. Beat in egg, pumpkin and vanilla to butter and sugar. Blend/add in dry ingredients to wet. Add chips once well blended.
  3. Drop on lightly greased cookie sheet.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees, 12-20 minutes depending on cookie size.
  5. Bottoms should be light brown and cookies soft.

9 days until Christmas!

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

Many people look forward to the annual debut of Pumpkin Spice Lattes at coffee shops during the holidays, but have you ever thought about making one at home? I found this great instructional video by YumSugarTV showing how simple it is to make a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

All you need are a few simple ingredients, which you probably already have at home after Thanksgiving baking.

  • Coffee
  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Pumpkin Pie Mix
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Don’t forget the Whipped Cream!

Follow the directions on the video and you can make yourself a fancy latte that would normally be a splurge at a coffee shop. The recipe makes two Pumpkin Spice Lattes – one for you and one for a loved one. (Or two for you!)

This would be a unique dessert to serve at a holiday dinner with some brownies or cookies. Family and friends would be so impressed. These lattes would even be fun to make for a gift exchange or brunch.

17 days until Christmas!