Holiday Recipe: Grandma’s Brownies

Today we have a treat from Cindy Arora, author of the delicious debut novel, Heartbreak Cake, and short stories Christmas at Mulberry Inn and Cake Therapy, appearing in our anthologies Merry & Bright and Petit Four, respectively. For Cindy, food is serious business, and she is quite the culinary scribe! So, any dish she says is her favorite, has to be absolutely divine! Read on for her favorite recipe and even a special interview with a baker extraordinaire!

Grams Brownies

Several years ago I was the food section editor for a small newspaper in Central California and decided just after Thanksgiving that I wanted to have a holiday cookie contest with our readers. I figured a few dozen locals would submit some recipes, I’d have a reason to eat cookies for lunch, and I’d get a chance to meet some readers. No. big. deal.

Boy was I wrong, as it turned out, people are passionate about holiday cookies. From peanut butter thumb prints, snickerdoodles, peppermint chocolate bark, brownie bars, and brown butter shortbread – we had every type of cookie come through our newsroom. I did eventually recover from my sugar coma, and lucky enough, it was through this contest that I ended up discovering my own favorite holiday cookie: The Layer Bar. A delightful medley of all of my favorite flavors –walnuts, coconut, chocolate, graham cracker, oatmeal all thrown into one sweet & savory cookie.

I have followed the simple recipe, from the contest that I was a judge in, which I have included below. These are always a hit at a holiday potluck or just to whip up a batch at home to share with your family or to eat on your own while watching Love Actually.

Gram’s Brownies

By Michelle Croce Burkhard – The Stockton Record

For dough:

  • 2 sticks or 1/2 lb. butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups Quick cooking oatmeal
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

For fudge:

  • 12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons of butter.
  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts

Cream together butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda and salt and then stir into butter mixture. Add oatmeal and nuts and mix until combined. Layer 1/2 of this dough in the bottom of a 9×13 dish sprayed with cooking spray.

For the fudge layer, melt chocolate chips, butter and milk over low heat. Add nuts and stir. Layer chocolate mixture over dough, then add the second half of the dough mixture on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Cut into bars. Recipe will make 24 bars.

“It’s just really appreciated by your family,” said Michelle Croce-Burkhard of Lodi. “And just seeing them smile makes you want to do it again.”

Her gram’s bar – a combination of oatmeal, chocolate chips, walnuts and condensed milk – originated with her health-conscious grandmother, who put the oatmeal and walnuts in her recipe as “good food” ingredients.

Coincidentally, a few weeks back I stumbled upon a small baking company called The Broadway Baker, who happen to have a layer bar called Grandma’s Mix Up bar that is sinfully unreal.

I decided to interview Jim Osorno, owner and lead baker of Broadway Baker to get some insight on what makes his Mix-Up bar so unforgettable. These make great stocking stuffers or holiday gifts for those people in your life who have a sophisticated sweet tooth.

Thanks to Jim for sharing some of his baking secrets with me!

What makes your Mix-Up Bars so darn good?

I grew up baking with my Mom and Dad and my Grandma O.  Grandma O always had a stocked pantry and I remember big glass jars filled with her Mix-Up Bars and All Butter Shortbread!  She wrote down in her own handwriting all of her recipes (100s of pages) and passed out her recipe books to all of her grandchildren.  Because I believe in making real food from real food and using premium ingredients, we make our own graham crackers for the base of her bars!  Unsalted European creamy butter, dark brown sugar, pure cane sugar, artisan flour, molasses, kosher salt and a little bit of baking soda round out the base.  Next I pile on unsweetened (sulfite-free) coconut, 60% Ghirardelli chocolate chunks and crushed pecans–then it’s all topped off with sweet cream.  As the bars bake off, they caramelize, become golden brown and end up being (what I think is) the perfect salty/sweetness!

What is a Mix-Up Bar?

Folks know similar bars as Hello Dollys, 7 layer bars — I think what makes mine (my Grandma’s) stand out are the made-from-scratch grahams, awesome ingredients and a great family recipe

What are some of your favorite holiday sweets?

I love spices, and for the holidays, I love making Pumpkin Chocolate Pecan cake w/ Dark Chocolate Ganache (I love pumpkin and chocolate together), Banana Cranberry Walnut loaves, and I love shortbread– and with an awesome base shortbread recipe (like my Grandma’s), the sky’s the limit as far as flavor combinations.  Some of my favorites are cinnamon shortbread, dark chocolate orange shortbread, cranberry pecan shortbread.  I also love dark chocolate espresso wafers w/ peppermint buttercream.

Cindy Arora

20130519-104805.jpgCindy Arora was a staff writer at The San Gabriel Valley Tribune, The Orange County Register and Sacramento Magazine. She’s been published in Saveur, Tasting Table, Orange Coast Magazine and Fodor’s. She’s also mama to an adorable little boy, a feminist, a whiskey enthusiast, and proud to call herself a Chick Lit author. Heartbreak Cake is her debut novel. To learn more about Cindy, please visit her website

Holiday Recipe: Antipasto

Nancy Scrofano is known for her sweet romantic comedies, such as True Love Way, but when it comes to her favorite holiday recipe, she’s all about the savory! Read on for her traditional Christmas dish and then read her funny and festive short story, Ice Dating, in our Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright!

Nancy's Christmas Antipasto

Every year on Christmas, someone in my family makes antipasto, which is served before our main course. It’s our tradition, and it’s one of the dishes I know will definitely be on our table on Christmas day. The recipe is simple, but the important part is arranging all the ingredients on the plate to look appealing and festive. Our ingredient arrangement is always the same, and that’s part of our tradition. It’s easy to make, pretty to look at, and delicious to eat!



2 lbs. frozen French style green beans (steamed)
1 can of garbanzo beans
1 can of black olives
1 large jar of red bell peppers
2 large jars of Italian caponata (eggplant)
2 cans of button mushrooms
2 cans of anchovies

This serves about 10 people. You can add or reduce the amounts of ingredients based on personal preference and number of people you’re serving. This is the quick version of the recipe, but you can certainly make it with fresh ingredients. We also serve it with Italian bread.

Use the photo included with this post to guide you as you arrange the ingredients on the plate or create your own arrangement. When you’re finished placing all your ingredients, sprinkle with red wine vinegar and drizzle with olive oil.

If you try this recipe, send me a photo of your antipasto. I would love to see how it turns out!

Merry Christmas!

MERRY-BRIGHT-SALESip your eggnog, linger under the mistletoe, and make a Christmas wish. Merry & Bright brings you six tales of Christmas cheer, featuring stories of budding romances, Southern charm, lost loves, heaps of humor, and lots of pie by authors Isabella Louise Anderson, Cindy Arora, Laura Chapman, Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, and Nancy Scrofano. From sunny Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, Merry & Bright will take you on a heartwarming adventure you’ll love to visit again and again. Wrap yourself in holiday mirth and prepare to be swept off your feet.

Nancy Scrofano

Nancy2014Nancy Scrofano fell in love with romantic novels when she read the Sweet Valley High Senior Year series in high school. After college, she worked at an academic publisher where she formed a book club with her coworkers and delved into the wonderful world of Chick Lit. While in graduate school, Nancy wrote her debut novel, True Love Way. She is also the author of American Honey, novelette Cupid On Deck, and short stories Happenstance (in Sunlounger) and Ice Dating (in Merry & Bright). Additionally, she is the founder and managing editor of Fictionella, a popular website that promotes and celebrates women’s fiction, chick lit, and romantic comedies. Nancy lives in southern California where she is at work on her next novel. To learn more about Nancy, please visit her website.

Holiday Recipe: Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

This rich holiday dish is courtesy of Laura McNeill. Writing as Lauren Clark, Laura’s charming short story, A Very Dixie Christmas, appeared in our Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright. We’re pretty sure you’ll love this pie just as much as you’ll love Laura’s Christmas tale!

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

I make this recipe during the winter holidays each year and it gets rave reviews from family and friends. It’s sweet, chocolaty, crunchy, and decadent! A friend of mine shared the recipe with me several years ago and it’s a must-have now at my house. It’s easy and really delicious!

If you prefer not to use alcohol, substitute one part non-alcoholic vanilla extract plus two parts water for the ¼ cup of bourbon.


  • 1 9 inch pie shell (deep dish)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • ½ cup butter
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 F

  1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool slightly.
  2. In a large bow, combine eggs, bourbon, vanilla, and salt. Mix well. Slowly pour sugar mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Pour mixture into pie shell.
  3. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until set and golden. Serve warm or chilled.



Sip your eggnog, linger under the mistletoe, and make a Christmas wish. Merry & Bright brings you six tales of Christmas cheer, featuring stories of budding romances, Southern charm, lost loves, heaps of humor, and lots of pie by authors Isabella Louise Anderson, Cindy Arora, Laura Chapman, Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, and Nancy Scrofano. From sunny Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, Merry & Bright will take you on a heartwarming adventure you’ll love to visit again and again. Wrap yourself in holiday mirth and prepare to be swept off your feet.

Laura McNeill

 52C copy2Laura McNeill, the author of Center of Gravity, adores hot coffee, good manners, the color pink, and novels that keep her reading past midnight.  Laura is a fan of balmy summer nights, fireflies, and pristine mountain lakes. She lives in northern Alabama with her two sons.

 You can find Laura Tweeting @Lauramcneillbks and blogging at Laura’s new domestic suspense novel, Sister Dear, will be released by HarperCollins April 19, 2016.



Holiday Recipe: Baileys Chocolatini

This holiday recipe is a treat for those who like a little extra oomph with their chocolate! Thanks to Isabelle Andover, author of Cocktails at Le Carmen, for sharing her favorite holiday recipe with us. Add it to your gatherings for an indulgent libation to help get you in the holiday spirit.

Isabelles Chocolatini

I’m a big fan of the holiday season for all the delicious drinks that start popping up, like mulled wine, gingerbread lattes and cinnamon hot chocolate, to name but a few.

In my family, it’s tradition to bring out the bottle of Baileys to get into the festive spirit (no pun intended), so today I’m sharing a recipe for a Baileys Chocolatini Cocktail. It looks great, tastes even better, and it’s really easy to make.

You will need

  • 75ml (2.5 fl. oz) of Baileys
  • 25ml (0.85 fl. oz) of vodka
  • Ice cubes
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Optional extra – in this video, Baileys uses a wafer stick to garnish the cocktail, although I personally use a sprinkle of grated chocolate

How to make

Simply combine the Baileys and vodka in a cocktail shaker, add a dash of chocolate syrup and some ice cubes, and shake well. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish for added flair, and serve.


When job cuts at Chloe Saddler’s London communications firm result in an unexpected transfer to Paris, she finds herself leaving behind her friends, family, and boyfriend Scott to start a new life in the City of Light. Getting to grips with La Vie Parisienne and keeping a long-distance relationship afloat is not made any easier by the culture shock. Committing the odd French faux pas and inadvertently indulging in a few too many flirtations with her very sexy (and very taken) boss, Jean-Luc, is just the start of it. Factor in her bridezilla of a sister’s wedding (the hottest event of the year in the Saddler family’s social calendar), an unexpected session of hot, naked yoga, a slightly psychotic stalker, and one incredible kiss at an infamous Montmartre nightspot, and Chloe can say au revoir to her old, safe London life and bonjour to the romance, splendour, and glamour of Paris.

A delightful debut that harks back to the early days of Chick Lit when heroines were flawed, funny, and forever battling for love and happiness. With quirky characters and classic comedic charm, Cocktails at Le Carmen is pure fun from page one.

author pic 2Originally from England, Isabelle Andover moved to France after graduating from Durham University with a degree in Modern Languages. She lives in Paris with her tabby cat Oscar, who occasionally blogs about apartment-style living in the City of Light, and who also inspired a prize-winning short story when he was a kitten.

Following several years as a media analyst, Isabelle now works at a Paris-based media company specialized in the international beauty market. In addition to fully embracing the culture of her adopted country by way of consuming plenty of French wine and cheese, Isabelle can also be found indulging in the typically British pursuits of shopping at Marks and Spencer on the Champs Elysées and drinking copious cups of Earl Grey. You can learn more about Isabelle by visiting her website.

Holiday Recipe: Reindeer Brownies

Today, we’re so pleased to have the hilarious and talented Sue Watson join us to share her favorite holiday recipe. Sue is the author of many wonderfully fun and flirty novels, including her latest, Bella’s Christmas Bake Off. Her short story, “The Heart-Shaped Secret of Raspberry Jam,” was featured in our delicious anthology all about cake, Petit Four. So, clearly, Sue knows her stuff when it comes to baking!

Rudolph Reindeer Brownies

Rudolph the Reindeer Brownies

These delicious, cranberry studied brownies always take me right back to my childhood. Back home in the vanilla and cinnamon scented kitchen I would ‘help’ my mum by sampling the batter and scattering the dried cranberries, which we’d pretend were Rudolph noses. Every Christmas Eve, mum would leave one of these for Father Christmas and one for Rudolph, and on Christmas Morning they were gone – which is why I kept believing in Father Christmas…still do!



  • 250g (8 ounces) dark chocolate
  • 100g (7 tbsp) butter, plus a little extra for greasing the tin
  • 3 eggs
  • 250g (8 ounces) cooked beetroot, drained
  • 250g (1 cup) light brown sugar
  • 150g (5 ounces) ground almonds
  • 2tbsp cocoa
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • 50g (1/2 cup) dried cranberries
  • Teaspoon of cinnamon

Note: The measurement conversions were made with this site and were rounded.


Preheat the oven to 180°C (350° F) and grease a 23cm square baking tin with a little butter and line with non-stick baking paper. Leave two ‘tails’ at either side to help you lift the cooked brownie out of the tin.

Break up the chocolate into squares, place in a heatproof bowl with the butter, and set over a pan of barely simmering water. Allow the mixture to gently melt, while stirring gently.

Tip the beetroot into a food processor and purée, (Amy’s mum used to mash with a strong potato masher, but I love my gadgets!) Then add the melted chocolate, butter and eggs and whizz again until combined. Then add the sugar, ground almonds, cocoa, baking powder and cinnamon and process until you have a smooth batter. Lift the lid off – breathe in, and the sweet, spicy fragrance of chocolate and cinnamon will take you straight to Christmas heaven.

Now pour into the baking tin, sprinkle on the cranberries (Rudolph noses) and bake for about 30 minutes until the top is set and the brownie is starting to pull a little away from the sides of the tin.

Once out of the oven, ease the brownie from the tin with the paper ‘tails’ and cut into 16 squares. There are lots of things you can do now, you can sample the cake to make sure it’s okay (a necessity I would say!) then when cool, you could dust the surface with a little icing sugar, while singing ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.’ Or – as it’s Christmas you can go completely over the top and cover in candy, sugar strands and glitter… because there’s no such thing as too much topping!

Happy Christmas!


Sue Watson

SueWatsonPicSue Watson is a former BBC TV Producer who woke up one morning to the realisation that there was no such thing as ‘having it all.’ Marriage, motherhood and a full-time career were taking over her life and what she really wanted to do was stay home all day, bake and eat cake, watch reality TV and write… in that order. So she quit the day job, baked a year’s supply of cupcakes and chased the dream. What followed was a lot of cake and many hours in the company of ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey,’ ‘The Biggest Loser,’ and ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians.’ During this, time Sue also managed to write a few books too: Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes; Younger, Thinner, Blonder; Love, Lies and Lemon Cake; Snow Angels, Secrets and Christmas Cake; and her latest cake offering, Bella’s Christmas Bake Off. Learn more about Sue by visiting her website.

Holiday Recipe: Apple Spice Cake

Anna Garner (a.k.a. Libby Mercer) stops by today to share her favorite holiday recipe, Apple Spice Cake, with us. Writing as Libby Mercer, Anna’s short story, Secret Santa, is featured in our Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright, and is sure to delight any reader with a penchant for romance and a dash of mystery. And her recipe looks equally delightful!

Anna's Apple Spice Cake

‘Tis the season for all sorts of wonderfully scrumptious sweet stuff! I first discovered this recipe many years ago when I was perusing the Joy of Cooking, looking for something festive to bring to my sister’s potluck Christmas dinner, and it’s been one of my all-time faves ever since. It’s very dense, and very, very sweet, which is why I like to say my holiday apple spice cake is both naughty and nice.

Apple Spice Cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one 8 x 8-inch pan or line the bottom with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl, pinching out any lumps in the brown sugar:

  • 1 ½ c all-purpose flour, or a combination of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour
  • 1 c packed dark or light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp freshly ground or grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Add and stir together until smooth:
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • ½ c vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Optional: 2 tbsp rum or brandy

Stir in:

  • 1 c chopped apples
  • ½ c chopped walnuts or pecans*

Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Invert the cake and peel off the paper liner, if using. Let cool right side up on the rack. Serve warm or plain with vanilla ice cream, or let cool completely and frost with icing.

*I’m not a big fan of nutty cakes, so I usually add an extra ½ c chopped apples and leave the nuts out.

I like to ice my apple spice cake with a very basic frosting, since the cake itself is so flavorful. Here’s a recipe for a “quick” butter frosting:

  • ½ c (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2-4 c confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1-2 tbsp milk or cream (more as needed)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Whip the butter on low to medium speed, gradually adding sugar. Beat until the sugar is fully incorporated and the butter is light both in color and texture. Taste as you go to decide where to stop on the sweetness scale.

Add the liquids and whip until blended. If the frosting is too thick, add more milk or cream as needed to reach the desired thickness. If it’s too thin, add more sifted sugar as needed.

Use immediately to frost a cake or store, covered, in the fridge for a few hours. The frosting will harden slightly as the butter chills, but you can bring it back to room temperature and beat it again before using.

MERRY-BRIGHT-SALESip your eggnog, linger under the mistletoe, and make a Christmas wish. Merry & Bright brings you six tales of Christmas cheer, featuring stories of budding romances, Southern charm, lost loves, heaps of humor, and lots of pie by authors Isabella Louise Anderson, Cindy Arora, Laura Chapman, Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, and Nancy Scrofano. From sunny Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, Merry & Bright will take you on a heartwarming adventure you’ll love to visit again and again. Wrap yourself in holiday mirth and prepare to be swept off your feet.

blonde author photoFormer fashion journalist, Anna Garner, wrote her first “book” at the age of seven. She now writes old school chick lit stories as Anna Garner, as well as quirky love stories under the name of Libby Mercer. Anna currently lives in San Francisco. You can learn more about Anna by visiting her website.

Holiday Recipe: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

We’ve got more pumpkin yumminess today with Laura Chapman’s favorite holiday recipe, Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls! Laura’s short story, Twelve Drummers Drumming, is a reader favorite in our Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright, which is just 99 cents through the holidays.  And we’re pretty sure these cinnamon rolls will also be a reader favorite. Read on for some serious sweetness.

Laura's Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

From mid-September through the end of the holiday season, my culinary thoughts turn to pumpkins. I’m talking sweet treats like pumpkin pies and pumpkin breads and more savory foods like pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin pasta bakes. This year I have a new favorite to add to the list: pumpkin cinnamon rolls. I tried these out for the first time this fall and they were a big hit with my guests when I served them alongside chili. (That’s a Nebraska thing—and I highly recommend it.) Because this recipe involves yeast, it does take some time to make, but the finished baked goodies are well worth the investment.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond, because that’s what I keep in stock)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • No-stick spray
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons chilled butter

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Frosting

  • 1/2 cup whipped cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin spice

Dissolve yeast in warm water letting it stand for five minutes. Add two cups of flour, pumpkin puree, milk, melted butter, sugar, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Beat with a mixer until smooth. Turn dough onto a floured surface, kneading until elastic. This takes a while, so brace yourself. Add additional flour until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Coat a large bowl with no-stick spray and place dough in it covering with plastic wrap. Store it in a warmish place and allow it to rise for 45 minutes. It should be about twice its size.

In another bowl, combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in butter until the mixture becomes coarse.

Punch dough, recover, and allow to rest for five minutes. Roll the dough into a rectangle on a floured surface. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture on top. Roll the rectangle tightly, pinching the ends to keep it from unwrapping. Cut into 12 1-inch slices. Spray 9-inch pan with no-stick spray and place cinnamon rolls in it. Cover and allow to rise for an additional 25 minutes. The rolls should be twice as big before baking in a preheated oven at 375 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.

Combine frosting ingredients with a mixer. Allow the cinnamon rolls to cool before glazing with pumpkin cream cheese frosting.


MERRY-BRIGHT-SALE Sip your eggnog, linger under the mistletoe, and make a Christmas wish. Merry & Bright brings you six tales of Christmas cheer, featuring stories of budding romances, Southern charm, lost loves, heaps of humor, and lots of pie by authors Isabella Louise Anderson, Cindy Arora, Laura Chapman, Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, and Nancy Scrofano. From sunny Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, Merry & Bright will take you on a heartwarming adventure you’ll love to visit again and again. Wrap yourself in holiday mirth and prepare to be swept off your feet.

About Laura Chapman

Laura Chapman MugLaura Chapman is the author of First & Goal, The Marrying Type, and Hard Hats and Doormats. Her work also appears in Merry & Bright, A Kind of Mad Courage, and All I Want For Christmas. A native Nebraskan, she loves Huskers and Packers football, Netflix marathons, and her cats, Jane and Bingley. Laura is currently in pursuit of a fantasy football championship while penning her next novel.

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Holiday Recipe: Pumpkin Spice No-Bake Cheesecake

Today in our holiday recipe series, we’re featuring another sweet treat. This is a favorite from Isabella Louise Anderson, whose short story, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, appeared in our Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright, which just so happens to be on sale for 99 cents for the holidays!
Isabella's Pumpkin Spice No-Bake Cheesecake
I try to stay healthy, because once I see bright colors of pumpkin and squash, I start imagining all I can make with them—from butternut squash ravioli, pumpkin lasagna, to pumpkin soup—the list is endless. Thanks to, these recipes make fall cooking a lot easier, without the hassle of trying to not splurge so much, and still stay satisfied. That being said, I make this at least one in October and November, and it’s one of my favorite recipes from
Pumpkin Spice No-Bake Cheesecake
Original recipe featured on 
Servings: 8 • Size: 1/8th slice • Weight Watcher Points+: 6 pts
Calories: 222 • Fat: 13 g • Carbs: 25 g • Fiber: 1 g • Protein: 3 g • Sugar: 16 g
 Sodium: 224 mg • Cholesterol: 28 g
  • 8 oz 1/3 less fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese
  • 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (canned is fine)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, unpacked
  • 4 oz Truwhip, thawed
  • 9 inch reduced-fat Graham Cracker Crust
In a large bowl whip cream cheese, pumpkin, vanilla, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and brown sugar for a few minutes until fluffy.  A hand mixer or spatula both work fine. Add Truwhip and whip until smooth.
I have used a pre-made original graham cracker crust, and it’s still delicious, but for a homemade version, see below:
Easy 3-Ingredient Low-Fat Graham Cracker Crust
Servings: 8 • Size: 1/8th • Weight Watcher Points+: 2 pts
Calories: 88 • Fat: 4 g • Carbs: 13 g • Fiber: 1 g • Protein: 1 g • Sugar: 6 g
Sodium: 101 mg • Cholesterol: 8 g


  • 6 sheets graham crackers (3.5 oz total)*
  • 2 tbsp raw sugar
  • 3 tbsp cold whipped butter

*Use gluten-free graham crackers to make this gluten-free.


Step 1 – Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse a few times. Add 1 tbsp water and pulse a few more times until it has a texture of coarse meal.

Step 2 – Press into an 8-inch pie dish making the crust about 1/8-inch thick evenly all around and up the sides.

IsabellaPicIsabella grew up with a book in her hand, and to this day nothing has changed. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and has been featured on several blogs. While Isabella doesn’t blog a lot, she focuses her time on featuring other writers, along with working on her next book.

She created Chick Lit Goddess to share the love of the following genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary Romance, Romance, and Romantic Comedies!  She loves featuring authors and their books.

Currently, she lives in Dallas with her husband and cat. She enjoys spicy Mexican food and drinking margaritas, and can be found spending time with family and friends, cheering on the Texas Rangers, and reading.

Isabella’s short story, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, was featured in Simon & Fig’s Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright, in November 2013. The Right Design is her first novel.

MERRY-BRIGHT-SALESip your eggnog, linger under the mistletoe, and make a Christmas wish. Merry & Bright brings you six tales of Christmas cheer, featuring stories of budding romances, Southern charm, lost loves, heaps of humor, and lots of pie by authors Isabella Louise Anderson, Cindy Arora, Laura Chapman, Lauren Clark, Libby Mercer, and Nancy Scrofano. From sunny Los Angeles to the Rocky Mountains to the Deep South, Merry & Bright will take you on a heartwarming adventure you’ll love to visit again and again. Wrap yourself in holiday mirth and prepare to be swept off your feet.

Holiday Recipe: Cinnamon Apple Sauce

We continue our series on favorite holiday recipes with a special treat from our resident cover artist, Amanda Mullins. Amanda is responsible for nearly all the beautiful artwork that adorns our books, and we happen to think she is a creative genius. Turns out, she’s also a whiz in the kitchen!

Amanda's Cinnamon Apple Sauce

I am bringing you all a healthy version of one of my all time favorite comfort foods, Cinnamon Apple Sauce. This is a dish my Grandmother would serve during every holiday season. It filled the kitchen with a wonderful smell, and it reminds me of her every time I make it. I am grateful to share it with you this year!

Amanda’s Cinnamon Apple Sauce

5 Large granny smith apples
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 Cup pure maple syrup
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 Teaspoon sea salt

Peel apples and cut into 1 inch pieces.
Place in medium pot over medium heat.
Coat apples with cinnamon, maple syrup, lime juice, and salt.
Simmer until apples are soft, about 20 minutes total. Stir mixture every 5 minutes.
Mash lightly with wooden spoon or potato masher.
Serve warm.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For step by step guidance, you can check out Amanda’s video tutorial here:

About Amanda Mullins

20130521-194836.jpgOriginally from a small town in Southern Oregon, Amanda is a versatile Artist and Musician who has always had a strong passion for the arts. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts with an emphasis in Costume and Make-up Design, she came to Los Angeles in 2001 to pursue the music scene. She has performed with acts such as Sounds of Asteroth, as well as an A cappella choir called Petra Haden and The Sell Outs. During her first years in Los Angeles, Amanda learned the trade of Graphic Design at a small film company. With growing clientele during 2008, Amanda became a full time freelance Graphic Artist while developing a line of handmade goods for Enchanted Revolution, her Etsy shop. Amanda has a wide variety of skills and clients, from book covers to clothing design in addition to painting and sculpting; she is always busy with a creative project, whether it is tailoring a piece to satisfy a client need or the pursuit of her personal projects and goals. She loves attending musical events and participating in gallery shows whenever she can. Currently, along with client work, Amanda designs for three clothing lines at a London based alternative clothing company. She resides in Long Beach where she enjoys working in the garden, cooking, and continuing to create art and write music.

Visit Amanda’s Etsy shop or her website to learn more:

Enchanted Revolution

Design by Amanda









Holiday Recipe: MILKED and Cookies

Welcome to our Holiday Recipe Blog Series! Here at Simon & Fig, were big fans of holiday baking, cooking, drinking, and eating! And thought it would be fun for all our authors to share their favorite holiday recipes with our readers. First up, we have Lisa Doyle, author MILKED, which Kirkus Reviews called “a fun, frothy read bolstered by a likable heroine and a snappy, fast-paced narrative.” We couldn’t agree more. And Lisa’s holiday recipe looks equally as fabulous! Read on for Lisa’s Pumpkin Cookies.



What goes better with a delicious read than cookies? Couldn’t tell you. But I will tell you that these iced pumpkin cookies are absolutely fantastic–light, sweet, and with a hint of spice, much like Amanda in MILKED. Enjoy with tea, coffee, milk, or if you’re really like Amanda, a Guinness.

Pumpkin Cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
1 cup pureed pumpkin
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar

-Heat oven to 350.
-Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
-Beat sugar and shortening with a mixer or by hand. Add pumpkin and vanilla, then slowly add flour mixture.
-Drop in large spoonfuls on cookie sheet.
-Bake for 15 min.
Yields approx. 24-30 cookies

Once cookies have cooled, prepare icing:
-Microwave the butter, milk, vanilla and brown sugar for 90 seconds.
-Stir in powdered sugar and frost cookies immediately.

MILKED Kirkus Cover By and large, Amanda Keane makes pretty good decisions. Okay, she might not have the best taste in men, but she’s got great friends, a good job, and an independent spirit. That is, until her 30th birthday ushers in a whirlwind romance with a sexy Irish musician who leaves her, not at the altar as she imagined, but accidentally pregnant. And when he disappears, she’s downsized out of a job, her apartment is robbed, and lapsed health insurance coverage leaves her with a C-section to pay for, Amanda is launched headfirst into the life of a broke single mom. But her friend and uber successful ob-gyn, Joy, clues her in to an unlikely temp position with one of Chicago’s celebrity elite that just may be the answer to all her woes. Or could it be just the beginning?

It’s with serious trepidation that Amanda embarks on her surprisingly lucrative new career: underground wet nurse to the offspring of Chi-town’s rich and famous. Amanda must quickly understand how to live at the whims and mercy of the one percent as she deals with the irony of nursing – and loving – someone else’s child, while still making ends meet for her own daughter. And then there’s Cute Daycare Dad (aka Dan), who’s obviously interested in her. But can she afford to tell him what she really does for a living? Is her new job (something she thought went out with the 19th century) a shameful thing? Just another way of selling her body? Or does it have something to teach her after all?

A novel of motherhood, its many demands, and all the little triumphs along the way, MILKED is a warm and witty debut about making tough choices and traveling the roundabout road to happiness.

LDoyleheadshot_2014 Lisa Doyle is a communications manager and freelance writer based in the Chicago area. A native of Hinsdale, Illinois and a graduate of Miami University, she spent several years editing business-to-business publications for the personal care industry before moving to the nonprofit sector, and currently works in advocacy for homeless families at Bridge Communities in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She has written for major beauty trade publications (Global Cosmetic Industry, Skin Inc, Salon Today, Modern Salon, Renew, Suburban Life) and is a contributor to WOMEN REINVENTED: TRUE STORIES OF EMPOWERMENT AND CHANGE (LaChance Publishing, 2010). Doyle is represented by Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Literary, Inc., a full-service agency based in New York. For more about Lisa, please visit her website.