real life test kitchen and my final bake-off entry: chocolate spice cake with vanilla buttercream










“This recipe is a can’t-miss!” my friend insisted. Well, Nordic Ware, spending a bit more than I’m used to for bake ware. When I made the cake, I used reduced-fat sour cream, and I’m wondering if that combined with my first foray into bundt pan baking was what made my cake just slightly dry. I didn’t have time to do a test run, or I would have taken it out of the oven sooner — I’ve learned that judges like moist. The cake’s flavor, however, was quite good — like a nice chocolately version of gingerbread.

So my cake didn’t stand a chance against some entries like a peanut butter/chocolate thing that was covered in Reese’s Cups and peanuts (bleah, personally), but I did hear from a lot of people that my frosting was the favorite! I usually just whip up my own with butter, milk, and powdered sugar, but this time I followed a recipe from my re-issue of imple vanilla buttercream frosting that was delicious and easy and held its shape amazingly well. Now that’s a can’t-miss. — Mary T.

From our partners

eco-friendly party idea II – frost your party glasses!


Last year I had quite a few outdoor parties, and went through a lot of cups, utensils, and napkins. You name it, it probably got thrown away after one use. Ugh. I decided to cut down (some more!) on disposable glasses, but after losing two somewhat-expensive wine glasses at a lively party, I knew I needed to find another solution. So, I picked up a dozen glass goblets from a local second-hand store and designated them “outdoor only” use. But their “mis-matchiness” bothered me and I wanted a way to tie them together. Then it came to me – frost them! I ordered some etching liquid online and dipped the glasses in the solution, and presto – matching outdoor drinkware! While the etching liquid is a little tricky, and not very forgiving, I got the hang of it after a few glasses. Now, if one happens gets broken, it will be inexpensive to replace and I don’t have to worry if it’s exactly the same style as the others. Just frost and it will instantly become part of the set! — Rebecca F.

Photo credit: Rebecca Firlik

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do you play summer yard games?

RLHyde Croquet Flickr

There’s nothing like a trip home to spark a fierce bout of nostalgia. This past weekend, a short visit to my parents’ out in the suburbs served not only as a brief respite from the congestion of the city, but also as an invitation for the most bittersweet of childhood nostalgias for this city girl: yard nostalgia. The wistful longing for summer nights spent running around barefoot on freshly cut grass. As kids my sister, brother and I would hang around outside with the neighborhood kids playing all sorts of yard games. A favorite was croquet. Even though we didn’t know the rules, we’d often get the set out and knock the bright balls around with the colorful mallets. Bocce was another we played, albeit with our own rules, that has become popular in the city, even with its lack of yard space. Some bars and apartment complexes have designated areas for the sport, but nothing compares to the beauty of an expansive yard in the summertime. If I had one, I’d be right back at it, and would love to introduce some giant, yard-approved versions of table games, like Jenga, which can be made according to this how-to at Instructables, or even this larger-than-life game of Scrabble, found at Click here to read about an Ohio couple who made an even larger paver Scrabble board in their backyard. How cool is that? Readers, do you play summer yard games? — Sarah C.

photo by Flickr member RLHyde

From our partners

stand mixer fans: do you have an ice cream maker attachment?

KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment

Ice cream makers can be expensive. Stand mixers? Certifiably so. But if you already own such a mixer, and many of you do, might we introduce you to summer’s favorite attachment? Compatible with all KitchenAid models, the Ice Cream Maker Attachment, $79.95 at Williams-Sonoma, whips up two quarts of soft, homemade ice cream in just 20-30 minutes. While I’m not enough of an aficionado to take the plunge for a stand-alone ice cream maker, I’d definitely love to try my hand at it enough to justify the purchase of an attachment, if, of course, I already owned the mixer. As a have-not in that department, this is a compound pipe dream, but one I’ll keep alive in the name of greek yogurt ice cream. Readers, have any reviews to share? — Sarah C.

Need recipe ideas? Wild blueberry ice cream awaits! Or review reader recipe submissions here.

From our partners

post off: do you own a stand mixer?


Is it just me, or are more and more recipes calling for a stand mixer? I don’t own one, so when I see using a stand mixer as part of the directions, I get a little irritated. I tend to read more recipes than I do actually make them, so on the one hand, it’s fine. And it’s also easy enough to just pull out the hand mixer instead. But all reasonableness aside, what gets me is the assumption that a $250 piece of kitchen equipment is commonplace. Especially one that, let’s face it, doesn’t tuck away as easily as toaster. Sound off. Do you own a stand mixer? If not, why? — Sarah L.

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