Pharm Fresh

The foodie alter-ego of a pharmacy student

Banana Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting November 9, 2009

Filed under: cake,dessert,fruit,sauces etc. — pharmfresh @ 4:02 pm
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I know I’ve professed my love for banana flavored baked goods before, but let me reiterate: I love them!  I think it has to do with the fact that I have so many happy memories of my Nana Dee and her famous banana muffins and banana bread.  Banana bread and banana cake have always been really homey foods to me, and I find them incredibly comforting.  I happened to have some over-ripe bananas attracting fruit flies in my kitchen, so I decided to branch out from the usual banana bread and go for banana cake.

The recipe will make either one 9×13 inch sheet cake or two 8 or 9 inch round cakes.  I like to go with the sheet cake because it’s simpler.  The vanilla bean is completely optional in the frosting, but I think it gives this otherwise very simple, no-frills cake a little bit of fanciness.  Oh, and it tastes good, too.


Banana Cake with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting


Makes: 1 (9×13 inch) sheet cake or 2 (8 or 9 inch) round cakes


Adapted from: my Nana Dee


For the cake:
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 bananas, mashed
4 tbsp. milk
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. walnuts, chopped (optional)
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)


For the frosting:
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese (reduced fat is fine, I wouldn’t use fat-free)
1/2 c. (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
3 c. powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out

1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2) In a large mixing bowl, cream the shortening and sugar with an electric mixer until combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla, mix until smooth.

3) Mix in the bananas, vanilla and milk.

4) Stir in the flour, baking soda, walnuts and cinnamon (if using), mixing until smooth.

5) Pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking pan or divide into two greased 8 or 9 inch round cake pans.

6) Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown.  Cool completely before frosting.

7) For the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until combined.  Add the vanilla, vanilla bean seeds and powdered sugar and mix until smooth and fluffy.  If the frosting is too thick, add enough milk to reach the desired consistency.  Frost cake.


Moist Pumpkin Bread September 15, 2009

Filed under: bread,dessert,fruit,snacks — pharmfresh @ 3:57 pm
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I don’t know about everywhere else in the world, but for the past few weeks here, it has been HOT. Like, mid to high 80’s. I know that sounds really wimpy, but hey, it’s Michigan! And northern Michigan, at that! We had a really mild summer here, so for it to get this warm while I’m already back in school is really weird. I am definitely more of a fall girl. I love the cooling temperatures, the turning leaves, bringing out the sweatshirts and jeans and most especially, fall foods.

We’ve made this bread every single year around Thanksgiving and Christmas time for years. It’s one of my most favorite fall treats. It’s very easy to make, uses mostly ingredients you probably already have on hand, and it makes the entire house smell fabulously autumnal while baking. You can’t get any better than that!

Feel free to play around with the amount of spices in the recipe.  The original recipe called for only a teaspoon each of cinnamon and cloves, but I found that it wasn’t spicy enough for me.  I like to add a little bit of nutmeg, ginger and allspice as well.  Play around with it a little and if it doesn’t have enough flavor the first time, try putting in more next time!


Moist Pumpkin Bread

Makes: 2 loaves

Source: my mom!

2/3 c. shortening

2 c. granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 c. pumpkin puree

2/3 c. water

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

3/4 tsp. salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

3/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice (optional)

3 1/3 c. flour

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two loaf pans.

2) In a large bowl, cream the shortening and sugar until combined.

3) Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

4) Stir in water and pumpkin puree, then add baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Mix until completely combined.

5) Stir in flour, mixing until smooth.

6) Bake for one hour, until a knife inserted in the middle of the loaves comes out clean.


Buttermilk Lemon Bars April 6, 2009

Filed under: cookies/bars,dessert,fruit — pharmfresh @ 7:22 pm
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I love summer.  For someone who has been in school for 17 out of 22 years of her life, summer means freedom.  Waking up late, playing outside, swimming.  This year, summer means the chance to read a real book (not a textbook!), no studying for 3 solid months, and finally, finally, a break.

We only have 4 more weeks of school.  I’m finding it very hard to study when it’s sunny outside.  All I want to do is go outside and play.

These lemon bars, to me, are the epitome of summer.  There’s something about lemons that just brings to mind sunshine and warmth.  And since it’s currently April and STILL SNOWING….well, I needed something summery.


I’m not usually a huge fan of lemon bars.  I’ve only had them a few times before, and they’ve always either seemed overwhelmingly sweet or way too tart.  The buttermilk in these bars seems to balance both quite well.  It mellows out the sharp tartness of the lemons and adds a creaminess that balances the sweetness.   They’re still quite tart, but it’s not the kind biting acidity that lemon flavored foods can sometimes have.

I would recommend making sure that the bars are very cold before trying to cut them.  The filling is very smooth and custardy, which makes them pretty messy to cut unless they’ve had time to solidify in the fridge or freezer.  Since lemon is the main (and really only) flavor in this dessert, I strongly recommend using freshly squeezed lemon juice.  I’ve found that bottled lemon juice tends to have much more of that acidic bite, and usually has a very unappetizing aftertaste.  The recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of juice, which is very easy to squeeze by hand, and it really makes all the difference.


Buttermilk Lemon Bars

Adapted from: Baking Bites

Makes: about 16 (2 inch x 2 inch) bars


1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/3 c. granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. lemon zest

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, room temperature


4 eggs

1 1/3 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. buttermilk

1/2 c. lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 4 large lemons)

1 tbsp. lemon zest

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8×8 (0r 9×9) inch square pan.

2) In a medium bowl, combine all the crust ingredients except the butter.  Mix well.

3) Using two knives, a pastry blender or (my favorite) your hands, mix in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press the crust mixture evenly onto the bottom of the greased pan.

4)  Bake for 16-19 minutes until just lightly browned.

5) While the crust is baking, whisk together all of the filling ingredients in another bowl.

6) Pour the filling mixture onto the crust while it is still hot and bake for another 20 minutes.  The filling should not jiggle when gently shaken.

7) Cool completely, then cut into bars.  Dust with powdered sugar to serve.


Triple Chocolate Cupcakes March 23, 2009

Filed under: cake,chocolate,dessert — pharmfresh @ 12:16 pm
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So, remember last time when I posted and said that I was trying out delicious but healthy desserts?  These definitely do not fit into that category.  They are amazingly delicious, but definitely not healthy!

I’ve been toying around with the idea of a filled cupcake for a few weeks now, but never got around to making them because I didn’t want to have to eat them all or tote them to class to give away.  Luckily for me, I had a study group at my house last night, and that was the perfect opportunity to try them out and pawn them off on others.

These cupcakes are amazing.  Amazing.  I think the best compliment I got all night was when one of my friends told me he wanted to go home and brush his teeth with my cupcakes.  I’m not sure why he’s brushing his teeth with cupcakes, but whatever…to each their own, right?

I used the recipe for Hershey’s perfectly chocolate cake and frosting for these, and let me tell you — those Hershey’s people sure do know how to make a cake!  The cake was super moist and chocolately, and every single one of the cupcakes rose and formed a perfect domed top.  They were also firm enough so that I could easily cut out the middles (to make room for the filling) without the cake pieces crumbling and falling apart.

I have also found my go-to chocolate frosting from here on out.  I’ve made quite a few chocolate frostings over the years, but this one is hands down the best.  I was a little skeptical at first because it only calls for cocoa powder, and I was concerned that I wasn’t going to get the real punch of chocolate flavor, but I was so wrong!  It was chocolatey, sweet and smooth, and it piped wonderfully, holding it’s shape very well.  I will never use another chocolate frosting recipe.  Ever.

For the filling I made a simple chocolate ganache and filled the cupcakes using the cone method (which I’ll show you how to do below). I really liked having the filling in these cupcakes, because it had a different texture than the cake and the frosting, and brought the chocolate flavor up one more notch.  I have a very high tolerance for chocolate, so if you’re thinking you don’t want such a rich cupcake you can easily leave the filling out and just frost the tops.  But if you’re going for super rich and decadent, definitely go for the filling!


Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

Adapted from: Hershey’s

Makes: about 12 cupcakes


1 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. + 6 tbsp. all-purpose flour

6 tbsp. cocoa powder (I used 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder and 3 tbsp. dark cocoa powder)

3/4 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/4 c. vegetable oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 c. boiling water

Chocolate Ganache Filling

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

1/4 c. heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Frosting

1/2 c. (1 stick or 8 tbsp.) butter, at room temperature

2/3 c. cocoa powder (I used 1/3 c. unsweetened and 1/3 c. dark)

3 c. powdered sugar

1/3 c. heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cake:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 12 cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.  Grease the liners with a small bit of cooking spray (optional, but I find that it helps).

2) In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the egg, cream, oil and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes.  Beat in the boiling water.  The mixture will be thin.

3) Pour batter into prepared muffin tin.

4) Bake for 20-24 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.  Remove from pan and cool completely.

5) While the cupcakes are cooling, place the chocolate chips in a small heat-proof bowl.  Heat the 1/4 c. heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat until it is almost boiling.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips.  Let the mixture sit for about 30 seconds, then stir until the mixture is smooth and silky.  Refrigerate while you make the frosting and core the cupcakes.

6) For the frosting, place the butter in a medium bowl.  Beat until smooth.  Add in the cocoa powder, vanilla, 1 cup of the powdered sugar and a little bit of the cream, beat until smooth, adding more cream if necessary.

7) Beat in the remaining powdered sugar and enough cream to reach the desired consistency.

8) Once the cupcakes have cooled, core them using the cone method (shown below.)

9) Fill the cupcakes with about a teaspoonful of the chocolate ganache, and place the tops back on the cupcakes.

10) Frost with chocolate frosting and garnish as desired (I just sprinkled mine with a little bit of raw sugar).

The Cone Method


1) Using a thin knife, cut a circle in the middle of your cupcake about 1/2 inch in.  Keep the edge of the knife pointing towards the middle of the cupcake as you go around, creating a cone shape from the piece that you’re cutting out.


2) Gently pull out the cone-shaped piece of cake the you just cut.  Set it aside, but do NOT throw it away (or eat it!) — you’ll need part of it later.


3)  Put about 1 tablespoon of the chocolate ganache into the hole of the cupcake, but make sure that the filling doesn’t quite reach the top of the hole.


4) Grab the cone piece that you cut out and carefully tear off most of the cake, keeping the part that was the top of the cupcake intact.  Place that piece back on top, covering up the filling.


Baklava Bites February 17, 2009

Filed under: dessert — pharmfresh @ 9:10 pm
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It wasn’t too long ago that I had my first experience with baklava.  My mom’s boss has a big Lebanese family, and one Christmas he sent her home with some of his sister’s home-made baklava.  I only got a small piece of it, as the rest was demolished by the rest of my family, but I was hooked.  I’ve never tried making the real thing myself, but when I saw this less messy and more travel-appropriate version, I just had to try it.  I made these for a new years party, (where I also brought the cheesecake filled chocolate covered strawberries) and they went over quite well with the non-chocolate lovers of the group.  I really love the combination of cinnamon, honey and walnuts in these — it makes the filling chewy, spicy and warm, which is a nice contrast to the crispy puff pastry.

These do take a little bit of time to assemble, but I found that it’s a lot easier when you’ve got everything assembled and ready to go.  I didn’t have to roll out my puff pastry at all, because the sheets were already the size that the recipe called for. The only thing I would do differently is add some kind of glaze.  They looked a little plain on the outside, and I think an extra bit of sugar on the outside would have worked really well.  An easy way to do this would be to combine some powdered sugar, a little bit of vanilla and honey, a dash of vanilla, and enough water or milk to form a very thin glaze to drizzle on top.  Also, unless you’re super confident in your pastry-closing skills, I would recommend lining your cookie sheet with foil or parchment paper.  My pockets tended to leak a bit as the puff pastry expanded, and let me tell you, burnt-on caramel is not an easy thing to get off a cookie sheet!

You can find puff pastry at just about any grocery store.  Look in the frozen section, near the pie crusts and ready-made desserts.


Baklava Bites

Adapted from: Baking Bites

Makes: 20

1 box (16 oz.) puff pastry, at room temperature

1 c. walnuts, finely chopped

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/4 c. honey

2 tbsp. butter, melted

1) In a small bowl, mix together the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and salt.

2) Add the honey and melted butter, mixing until well combined.

3) On a lightly floured surface, lay out the puff pastry.  You should have two 8×10 inch sheets.  Gently roll out to reach that size, if needed.

4) Cut each sheet into 2×4 inch strips.  You should get 10 strips from each sheet, for a total of 20.

5) Place 1/2 tbsp. of the filling on one side of each strip, folding over the other side to form a pocket.  Pinch the edges together very tightly.

6) Place pockets on a greased (preferably foil or parchment lined) cookie sheet.

7) Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown.


Scotcheroos January 25, 2009

Filed under: cookies/bars,dessert — pharmfresh @ 4:07 pm
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I’ve been really lucky this year to make some fast and fabulous friends here at Ferris.  We go out together on the weekends, sit together in class, and lately, we’ve been studying together as well.  Since I live by myself, I usually have everyone over to my house, which has worked out really well.  This semester, we’ve started doing regular study sessions instead of whenever we randomly decide to get together.  Everyone’s coming over later on today, so I decided it would be nice to feed them for once.  Plus, this gives me an excuse to make some things that I wouldn’t normally make for just myself! (Because, really, do I need an entire pan of these?  Probably not!)

For the majority of my life, I’ve known these delicious little treats as “Susan’s Rice Krispie Treats.”  My mom’s friend Susan gave her the recipe ages ago, and every once in a while my mom would make these for my sister and I as special treats.  It was only a few years ago that I found out what they were really called.  I’m going to hazard a guess that scotcheroos is not the only name given to these, but it’s the one I’ve heard the most often.

These are like super pumped-up Rice Krispie treats — there’s peanut butter in the mixture instead of marshmallow, and once set, they’re topped with a mixture of melted chocolate, butterscotch and peanut butter. I’m a huge fan of anything with the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, and adding butterscotch to the mix makes these even better!

These are best kept at room temperature, as refrigeration makes them relatively hard and brittle, and very hard to chew!  If you need to refrigerate them for some reason, just bring them back to room temperature before trying to eat them.


Source: my mom’s friend Susan

Makes: about 20


2/3 c. granulated sugar

2/3 c. light corn syrup

3/4 c. creamy peanut butter

1 tsp. vanilla

6 c. crispy rice cereal

1 c. butterscotch chips

1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

2 tbsp. creamy peanut butter


In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the corn syrup and sugar.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.

img_3073 img_3074

Once the sugar has dissolved, add the vanilla and 3/4 c. peanut butter.  Stir until smooth.


Remove the pan from the heat and add the crisped rice cereal.  Stir until thoroughly coated.


Spread the mixture evenly into a greased 9×13 inch pan.


In a microwave safe bowl, combine the butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, and 2 tbsp. peanut butter.  Microwave in 1 minute intervals, mixing each time, until completely melted and smooth.


Spread the melted mixture evenly over the rice krispie mixture.  Let set for about an hour.  The chocolate/butterscotch mixture won’t completely harden, but it should reach close the consistency of fudge.


Cheesecake Filled Chocolate Covered Strawberries December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, everyone!  My 2008 was filled with endings and new beginnings, with a lot of fun inbetween.  I’m really looking forward to the new year and all the new adventures it will bring.

I normally don’t do much for New Year’s eve.  My boyfriend and I usually just hang out at his house with a bottle of wine or some fuzzy navels and watch the ball drop on TV.  This year, Matt’s brother Mike and his fiance Stephanie are having a New Year’s coctail party at their apartment in Grand Rapids.  Grand Rapids is also doing their own ball drop this year, which I hear is supposed to be awesome, so we’re meeting at Mike and Stephanie’s apartment (which is nicely located right in the middle of downtown) for a few drinks and snacks, and then we’re all going out to Rosa Park’s Circle to watch the ball drop.  I’m really excited!


Since Mike and Stephanie are letting Matt and I stay the night so we don’t have to drive back to Lansing late at night with all the crazy drunks on the road, I volunteered to bring some small desserts to the party.  I saw this recipe quite a while ago, and have been dying to make it ever since.  I love chocolate covered strawberries, and the addition of cheesecake filling to their hollowed-out centers makes them about a million times better.  This is such a simple, easy and impressive dessert – I will definitely be making it again!

I found that using a wine glass to hold the melted chocolate in worked the best – it was narrow enough for there to be a deep pool of chocolate, so all you need to do is dip the strawberries straight down into the glass.  If you use a shallow bowl to hold the chocolate, you’ll end up needing to roll the strawberries in the chocolate instead of dipping them, and it’s really hard to do when you don’t have the leaves on top to hold on to.  Also, make sure to keep these refrigerated until you’re ready to serve them, so that the cheesecake filling doesn’t go bad, and the chocolate stays nice and firm.  If you don’t have any piping bags handy, you can use a regular ziplock bag.  Fill the bag with the cheesecake filling, and then cut a small hole in one of the corners of the bag.  If you’re going to use a ziplock bag though, make sure that the cheesecake filling is at room temperature before you start piping.  When chilled, the filling is very thick, and my ziplock bag burst from the pressure before I had even finished filling my first strawberry!


Cheesecake Filled Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Source: Tami’s Kitchen Table Talk

Makes: about 40

2 pints strawberries

1 container Philadelphia Pre-Made Cheesecake Filling

1 package chocolate flavored candy coating

1 package vanilla flavored candy coating

1) Wash and pat dry strawberries.

2) Pull the leaves off the top of each strawberry, then using a small paring knife carefully cut out the core of each berry.

3) Once the cheesecake filling has reached room temeperature, place in a piping bag or ziplock bag.  Fill each strawberry with the cheesecake filling, making sure that the filling sticks out a little bit.

4) Melt the chocolate flavored candy coating in a microwave safe bowl.  Transfer melted chocolate to a wine glass, and dip half of the strawberries.  Once dipped, place the strawberries on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.

5) Repeat step 4 with the vanilla flavored candy coating and the remaining strawberries.

6) If desired, transfer the leftover melted chocolate into two piping or ziplock bags, cut a very small hole at the tip of each bag, and add a decorative drizzle to each berry.