Mushroom Risotto

I started culinary school last week, and our instructor was talking about a restaurant that he went to in Houston a while back.  When he was looking at the menu and was in the mood for risotto, he asked the waiter about a couple of different flavors.  When the waiter asked him what flavors he wanted, or what he was in the mood for, my instructor said, “Play with me.”  Well, in the culinary world, when you have some crazy creative chefs and very open-minded and appreciative customers, that’s like recess for them.  The waiter smiled sadistically and walked away…only to come back with a large plate of risotto for him.  Apparently, he had used some pan drippings from another meat they used for another dish, along with some other incredible ingredients and flavors.  Our instructor was so impressed, that he was joking about how he told this guy to make sure he reproduces so the world can have more people like him.  Ha!

mushroom risotto

Well, after hearing that story, I started looking for risotto recipes, and came across one. Mushrooms, butter, wine, garlic, and parmesan?!  YES!!!  Well, actually I threw in the garlic, because I personally love how garlic, mushrooms and onions all go together.  It’s a trio of incredible flavors that mix together so well.  I made some chicken parmesan as the main dish with this recipe, and it was a heavenly Italian meal.  But, the next time I make this for my mom and mother-in-law (they were both wanting to try this), I’ll make the parmesan chicken the same way, but with a garlic parmesan cream sauce on top, rather than the traditional tomato sauce.  Oh boy, now I’m already getting excited to make this again.  Geez.

Mushroom Risotto Recipe:

4 cups chicken broth, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 small onion, diced

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.  Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute.  Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the pnions. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper.  When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, butter, chives, and parmesan.

French Toast Casserole

Here we go again, another sweet and delicious breakfast.  I’ve heard my mother-in-law talk about this dish on several occasions, going on about how delicious it was…so naturally, I had to give it a shot.  I made this during the same weekend of being in town with my cousins, and since there was a lot of food in this recipe, I wanted to make it for more than just our little batch of 3 at home.

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My mom always calls me before she heads to the grocery store the day before we come in town to see if there’s anything we need for cooking meals during the weekend, so we went over the list of ingredients needed for this recipe.  There was a loaf of Italian bread right next to the French bread in the bakery section, and she mistakenly grabbed that loaf.  So, we used Italian bread in this recipe.  Improvise.  My cousin’s 8 year old daughter was lurking in the kitchen when I started to pull the ingredients out to put everything together the night before.  She asked, “Cousin Erin, can I help you make it?”  Holy cow, how could I possibly say no to that sweet face?  Well, it wasn’t an option, so I recruited my very first assistant.  She helped me measure out ingredients, put seasonings in the bowl, and crack the eggs (which she loved the most).  We got everything together, covered it up and stuck it in the fridge.  After that, we snuggled up on the couch, and talked about baking.  She wants to open up a bakery when she grows up, and she wants me to work for her.  Score.  Now I have a future job in place.  😉

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The next morning, my dad was asking when breakfast was going to be ready, right as I walked out of the bedroom, half asleep from dealing with a fussy toddler in the middle of the night.  Mr. Impatient, as I like to call him.  I made the topping, poured it on top, and popped it in the oven.  Wow, the smells.  Cinnamon just smells so wonderful while baking in the oven, and it sends such a delightful aroma all through the house.  It was definitely a sweet breakfast though, so beware of that sugar crash that follows later!  It should have a warning label that you must drink coffee with it.  Yes, the perfect combination.

French Toast Casserole Recipe:

1 loaf French Bread (13-16 oz.)

8 large eggs

2 cups half and half

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

cinnamon sugar topping

maple syrup

Slice bread into 1 inch slices.  Arrange slices in a generously greased 9×13 inch baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.  In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half and half, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, and beat with whisk until blended but not too bubbly.  Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk/egg mixture.  Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.  The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pour topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, or until puffed and lightly golden.  Serve with maple syrup.

Cinnamon/Sugar Topping:

2 sticks butter, melted

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well.  Pour over casserole before baking.

Tiramisu Trifle

As I’ve mentioned before, I love trifles.  They look elegant sitting in that trifle dish all layered and put together, and there hasn’t been one yet that didn’t taste delicious that I’ve come across.  While I was talking to my mother-in-law on Friday, we were planning the menu out for Mother’s Day on Sunday.  She asked me if I could make dessert and asked what we would be having…and this was the perfect opportunity to try this recipe out.  I’ve been toying with what ingredients to use in this to make it taste similar to the Tiramisu, yet keep it really simple to throw together.  The end result was bliss.  My husband went back for seconds, and my mother-in-law packaged some up before we left.

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While I was putting this together, the thought pondered in my head, wondering if there was too much coffee drizzled on the cake and cookie layers…but the distribution was perfect.  You could definitely taste the coffee in the dessert, but it wasn’t overpowering…and that mascarpone layer was so rich and creamy.  You can use regular coffee or coffee liquor, but that depends on how much of a “kick” you want.  Since my daughter ate some of this batch, regular coffee was used…but I would still love to throw some of the liquor in there as well.  You could always use half coffee and half liquor, or however else you’d like to make it.  This dessert has definitely been added to the “Heck yes, I’ll make it again” list for the future!

Tiramisu Trifle Recipe:

1 angel food cake (I just picked one up from the bakery at the grocery store)

1 box Nilla wafers

1 cup powdered sugar

8 oz. mascarpone cheese

1 cup coffee or coffee liquor

2 (8 oz.) containers whipped topping

4 teaspoons cocoa, divided

Beat mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar with electric mixer until creamy and blended.  Add 1 container of whipped topping, continue mixing until well-blended.  Break up half of cake and place on bottom of trifle dish.  Drizzle 1/4 cup of coffee over cake.  Spread half of mascarpone mixture on top of cake.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of cocoa on top.  Place half of cookies on top, drizzle with 1/4 cup coffee.  Spread half of remaining container of whipped topping on top of cookie layer, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon cocoa.  Repeat layering.  Cover tightly and set in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight, so the flavors can set.  Store in refrigerator.

Easter Cookies

Last week when I made the shortbread cookies for the first time, I knew that I had to make these for Easter as well.  They’re a great flavor that most people love…but I wanted to do a spin on it.  Most of the time, decorated cookies are sugar cookies with a cookie icing.  Well…since the original shortbread cookies were so delicious with chocolate drizzled over top, it seemed obvious that this had to be done in a decorating aspect as well.  So, here we are…  Something a little different,  yet traditional at the same time.  Chocolate melting wafers come in so many different colors, so the general idea seemed genius to me, especially after how well those cookies turned out last week.

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First, make your dough.  Combine all of the ingredients and shape into a big blob, then cover in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  The dough can also be used for up to 3 days after making it, if stored in fridge.

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Sprinkle surface with flour, along with more flour on top of dough.  Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness.

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Using cookie cutters, cut out the shapes of the cookies you want to make.

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Place them on a cookie sheet or baking stone (preferably baking stone, since they cook so evenly).

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Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until a very light golden color.  Cool completely on cooling racks before decorating.

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I melted the chocolate wafers in 15-20 second intervals in the microwave, stirring between each time until completely melted.  Spoon a small amount onto cookie, then spread with back of spoon or toothpick.  Use a toothpick or squeeze bottle with melted chocolate to decorate how you like.

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All finished!  When I was finishing these up, my husband came strolling into the dining room and asked if he could have a cookie.  This recipe was the one that he literally had cookies for dinner last week when I wasn’t home.  He said, “That’s all chocolate?  I thought that you’re supposed to decorate cookies with icing?”  I responded, “Well yeah, MOST of the time they are decorated with cookie icing, but chocolate is awesome, and I haven’t seen it done like this before.”  What can I say?  I’m a rebel.  With a cause.  For chocolate.  In all honesty, you could probably get a smoother look with the cookie icing or by putting the melted chocolate in squeeze bottles…just do what works best for you.  I can’t wait to eat the bunny cookie, he’s so cute.  Happy Easter!!

Shortbread Cookies Recipe:

3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces dark chocolate wafers

4 ounces white chocolate wafers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 3 by 1-inch finger-shaped cutter. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Mini Tacos

Last week when I was watching Giada De Laurentiis cook some amazing Hawaiian themed foods on her show, I got all excited when she made the fish tacos using won ton wrappers as the shell.  Genius!  I exclaimed, “I can make regular mini tacos with those shells and use beef!  YES!” and clapped my hands together excitedly.  My husband was sitting next to me on the couch, reading a book.  He responds by saying, “Shhh.”  He’s  no fun.  Maybe he won’t get as excited as I did, but he’ll certainly love them!

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Start out by brushing won ton wrappers with vegetable oil.

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Gently press them into a muffin/cupcake pan, and bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes.

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Let cool completely.  These have got to be the cutest little taco shells I’ve ever seen.  The great thing is that you can make these the day before your party so they’re ready to be stuffed the day of the party.  Stuff ’em good.

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Sprinkle some shredded lettuce on the bottom of the shells.

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Cook the ground hamburger with taco seasoning and 1/4 cup water, then spoon on top of lettuce layer when finished cooking.

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Cheese, please!  Why, of course.

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Top with spoonful of sour cream.

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Taa Daa!  The great thing about these is that you have complete control over portion size.  You can make as many shells as you want.  You can stuff as much of each item in the shell that you want.  You can eat as many as you want, hoarding all of them and fight off your party guests with a plastic pirate sword and yelling, “Arrrr!  MY mini tacos!” just to make the party interesting.  Just a thought.

Mini Tacos Recipe:

1 lb. ground hamburger

1 bag shredded lettuce

1 package wonton wrappers

grated cheddar cheese

1 package taco seasoning

1/4 cup water

sour cream

Cook hamburger in skillet until browned completely cooked through, add water and taco seasoning.  Brush won ton wrappers with vegetable oil, then gently place in muffin/cupcake pan and bake at 375 degrees for 5 minutes.  Let cool completely.  Sprinkle with shredded lettuce, top with ground beef, then cheddar and top with sour cream.  Other available options are tomatoes, black beans, corn, mushrooms, etc.

40th Birthday Girly Cake

Click HERE to watch the video slideshow of the pictures and details of this cake!! 

When one of my friends e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago about making a 40th birthday cake for one of our friends, I jumped all over the opportunity.  What makes it even more fun was that the party was a surprise.  Shhh!  Well, I guess it’s okay now, since the party has already taken place.

So, the creative juices started flowing.

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Originally, I knew that I wanted to attempt to make a high heeled shoe out of gumpaste as the topper.  It turned out okay…certainly not perfect, but overall wasn’t terrible considering it was my first shot at it.  I used a template to make this shoe, then realized that I could buy an actual kit that makes it much easier and more perfect than the standard template…but starting out, this way was free.  The original plan was to just have the shoe and 40 made out of chocolate as the cake toppers.  Well, when I made the shoe, that’s when things got out of control.

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When I started researching other ideas for girly cakes with girly accessories, that’s when the thought of a matching handbag went along with it.  So, I had to make a matching handbag.  Done.  This was also a first.

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I couldn’t help but to add this little information to the back…because at least one of the girls in our group has become so…tipsy…that she lost her purse.  Twice.

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Well, a purse contains girly accessories, right?  Of course.  So, all of the necessities for a girls’ night out were put together.  Everything here is made out of fondant, and was very easy to make.

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What goes along with a girls’ night out?  Cocktails!  In this little plastic martini glass, I tinted some piping gel and put it in the glass to look like a Cosmopolitan.

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And we can’t forget to have a fake ID that says our birthday girl is 29, along with a VIP pass and a yellow cab business card.

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For the actual cake, it was originally going to be smaller…but when I found out that there were supposed to be 30-40 people at the party, that gave me a little more freedom to make a bigger cake to accommodate the growing accessories.  The bottom tier is a 14 inch 3-layer dark chocolate cake with mini chocolate chips, and chocolate filling in between the layers.  The top tier is a 12 inch 2 layer cinnamon cake with cream cheese filling between the layers.  Our birthday girl loves chocolate, but I also wanted to do something a little different than the standard yellow, and most people love cinnamon.

I had to make the cake bling and beautiful, so adding the bling border around the cake was absolutely perfect…along with the ruffles.

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Here is the finished product, and I’ll have to say that I was very pleased…along with the birthday girl as well.  This was a very fun cake to make!!

Candy Bar Cheesecake Brownie

Four glorious words, all rolled into one delicious dessert.  I like it.  I originally found this recipe in the Philadelphia recipe book, a book filled with tons and tons of recipes using Philadelphia cream cheese.  I love cooking and baking with cream cheese!  This is one of my favorite recipe books to look through, because there are SO many recipes that I want to try.  A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law made the no-bake oreo cheesecake and brought it over to our house.  It was crazy good, so I asked her where she got the recipe and she told me about the book.  The next time we went over to visit, I saw the book and started flipping through it, oohhing and aaahing at so many of the recipes that I couldn’t keep up with how many I wanted to try.  As soon as I got home, the book was ordered.  It really seems like every time I open this book, something else jumps out of the page that I want to make…so this book alone should keep me busy for a while.

Anyway, I was excited about trying out this recipe, but wanted to add something to it.  I thought about Oreos, which would be a great option here, but since I’ve used Oreos in so many other desserts, the thought of a candy bar broken up and thrown in with this would be a great option.  Ohh, peanut butter cups would be another really good option.  In fact, you could add peanut butter chips to the brownie mix, then chopped up peanut butter cups to the cheesecake batter…my brother would be in heaven.  This time though, I kept it simple.  While shopping at the grocery store for ingredients, I wondered how many Snickers bars I would need.  I grabbed two…it didn’t seem like it would be enough, so two more on top of that were added to my buggy.  As the cashier was ringing up my items, she asked, “Doing some baking?”  I smiled.  “Yeah, you could say that.”

After I cut these delicious little boogers into squares and put them onto plates, they didn’t seem like they had enough (like they ever do).  As I started rummaging through the fridge, I came across chocolate syrup.  “Oh yeah!” and grabbed it.  There’s the caramel sauce.  “Perfect!”  Then, I came across the Cool Whip.  “Oh, yeah baby.  Awesome.”  In case you’re wondering, I DO talk to myself.  Out loud.  Regularly.

The end result was heavenly.  I’m a huge fan of cheesecake…and brownies…and Snickers…and chocolate… Okay, so I’m a fan of everything here in this dessert.  Surprise, surprise.  If you don’t like Snickers, just pick another candy bar to chop up and throw in the batter.  I chose to use the chocolate and caramel sauces to go along with the Snickers flavors, and even throwing a couple of peanuts on top.  Perfection on a plate.

Recipe:

1 package brownie mix (19 to 21 oz.)

4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup sour cream

3 eggs

4 candy bars, chopped into chunks (I used Snickers for this recipe)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray 13×9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  Prepare brownie batter as directed on package, pour into prepared pan.  Bake 25 minutes, or until top of brownie is shiny and center is almost set.  Meanwhile, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.  Add sour cream, mix well.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended.  Add candy bar chunks and gently stir.  Gently pout over brownie layer in pan.  Bake approximately 40-45 minutes or until center is almost set.  Run knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen side of dessert from pan, cool.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.  Cut into squares, drizzle with chocolate syrup, caramel sauce and top with whipped topping.  Store any leftover cheesecake in refrigerator.

*While baking cheesecake in oven, put water in a pan underneath the cheesecake during the baking process.  This keeps moisture in the air during the baking process, preventing the cheesecake from cracking.

Like this?  Try these!

Mini Oreo Cheesecakes

Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes

S’mores Candy Bar

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies

Strawberry Amaretto Milkshake

Personally, I’m a sucker for milkshakes.  It’s hard to say no to the question when my husband asks, “I’m going to get a milkshake, do you want one?”  Well, I hadn’t even thought about having one…until you said something about it.  That actually happened last night, when he was going to the best place around here for milkshakes to get a late dinner.  I caved, and got an Oreo milkshake.  It’s okay though, because I’m hitting the gym today.  😉

When I stumbled across this recipe in a Southern Living magazine, it was one of those recipes that jumped off the page to get my attention.  Well, not literally, but it might as well have when I read the title.  Amaretto is one of my favorite liquors, and for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it has a sweet taste…  And second, it’s not a strong liquor.  When my husband and  I were dating, I told him that it’d be cheap dates to take me out, even if I drink…because of being such a lightweight.  It certainly doesn’t take much, that’s for sure.  So, amaretto is perfect.  You’ll see the bottle of Disaronno in the background, because it’s my favorite brand.  Even saying the name reminds me of the commercials, and I pronounce it in that European accent with a little shoulder movement for effect.  This has definitely been added to the list of offering people when we have gatherings.

Recipe:

2 cups sliced fresh strawberries

1/2 cup amaretto

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups vanilla ice cream

Stir together sliced fresh strawberries, amaretto liquor, and sugar; let stand 20 minutes.  Process strawberry mixture and ice cream in a blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.  Serve immediately.

Pokemon Birthday Cake

In the past few months, I seem to keep learning more and more about many different cartoons, games and other themes that kids are really into these days.  When my sister-in-law asked me if I could make a Pokemon cake for my nephew’s birthday, I was excited to do it…but immediately started searching for ideas, since I’m not familiar with it.  When pressed for time with the thirty million other things going on, cake toppers are definitely the way to go.  😉

This is a 3 layer chocolate cake with mini chocolate chips and chocolate filling, covered with buttercream icing.  I bought the cake toppers from www.amazon.com, along with the mini ball pan for that extra little thingie-ma-bopper on top.  In case you’re not familiar with that term, it means, “I have absolutely no idea what it’s called.”  Hey, it works.  The letters were made using a two toned fondant letter mold, the white part is fondant and the yellow background is chocolate.  Can’t wait for this little guy to eat his birthday cake, even though he’s technically reached the “cool” and “not cool” age.  🙂

St. Patty’s Day Treats

The green time of year is approaching…And no, I’m not talking about the green grass of the spring and summer, or the green and red for Christmas.  St. Patrick’s Day is my favorite green day of the year.  Maybe it’s because I have red hair with fair skin, or maybe it’s because I have Irish roots running through my blood…Or, maybe just because it’s another reason to enjoy a good ole beer and to have fun with friends and family.  Let’s go with a combination of everything here.  Yeah, that’s it.

Green Velvet Cupcakes.  That’s right, just like red velvet, but I used green food coloring instead of red.  For some reason, I thought I had the chocolate molds for the smaller shamrock, but I didn’t…so I had to buy some of the sugar decorations as toppers.  But, coming across those frothy beer mugs as a cupcake topper, temptation took over as I laughed out loud at how much I loved those little toppers and couldn’t wait to use them.  Green sprinkles were thrown on top for added effect.  Wait, is that a pot of gold in the back?  It sure is.  That one is actually a jumbo cupcake with chocolate icing (tinted black) and the gold coins are made out of chocolate.  I’ll take that one, please.

Here she is!  I was actually looking for a barbie or doll pick with red hair, but couldn’t find one in time without spending $25 on a Barbie online…so I got this strawberry blonde.  I like her.  Strawberry blonde is a great hair color.  😀  She was pretty tall for the cake, so I had to add some fondant around her hip and thigh area to try and make up for the difference the way the cake sloped upwards.  Also ended up adding a LOT of extra icing to smooth the transition out as much as possible.  This is a butter cake with mini chocolate chips, and I used the doll cake pan.  The beer mug is a sugar decoration I bought at the store (same ones used on the cupcakes) and attached to her hand with chocolate, the pot of gold and headband are made out of fondant.  Look at this girl…got her headband, her pretty green dress, a frothy beer and a pot of gold!  She’s ready to celebrate!

Valentine’s Day Treats

Easter Cake

Chocolate Caramel Delight Cupcakes

There’s a word I could use to describe these cupcakes, and that word is…wow.  Just, wow.  They just might be my new favorite.

When I dumped the caramel cake mix into the bowl before the mixing process, I smelled it.  Didn’t smell anything.  As in, anything.  But, after adding the other ingredients and mixing it all up, I smelled it again.  This time, it was different.  Very, very different.  I kept sniffing it.  And sniffing it.  Had to get them in the oven.  As they were baking, this wonderfully intoxicating aroma started to fill my kitchen.  It was driving me crazy, having to wait for these things to bake because they smelled so good.  I topped the cupcakes with chocolate icing and a caramel/vanilla glaze…but wait!  Is that a Rolo on top?  It sure is!  The end result?  I have GOT to get these out of the house fast, before I eat all of them.  Wow.

Chocolate Caramel Delight Cupcakes Recipe:

1 box Duncan Hines caramel cake mix

1 small box instant chocolate pudding

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 water

4 eggs

8 oz. sour cream

1 cup mini chocolate chips

Combine first six ingredients and beat at medium speed for approximately 4 minutes.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Using ice cream scoop, spoon into lined muffin pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 24 minutes.

Chocolate Icing:

2 lbs powdered sugar

1 cup shortening

1 stick butter, softened

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup cocoa

4 tablespoons water

1 can Duncan Hines classic chocolate icing

Cream butter and shortening on medium speed for 3-4 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and continue to beat at medium speed for 5-7 minutes.

Caramel Glaze: 

1/2 cup vanilla icing

Caramel sauce

Mix caramel and icing until a thin consistency, then drizzle on cupcakes.  Top with a Rolo chocolate candy.