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Make It Yourself: Birthday Cake

Sure, you can make a cake from a box, but once you know how easy and delicious the real deal is, it’ll be hard to turn back. Instead of creaming butter and sugar together, this cake uses a mixture of vegetable oil and melted butter, which means it comes together quickly. Not to mention, the crumb is rich and dense with classic yellow cake flavor. And, it wouldn't be a classic birthday cake without fudgy frosting. This one uses both semisweet and milk chocolate to create a rich ganache-style frosting. Spread over the cooled cake in generous swoops using an offset spatula.

Make It Yourself: Go-To Vinaigrette

Making your own salad dressing is the key to becoming a stronger cook: Master it and you’ll have the confidence to improvise other dishes. Store-bought dressings, even simple vinaigrettes, are often slicked with freaky stabilizers and excess sweeteners, which can overpower your greens. Once you graduate to the homemade stuff, you’ll never go back. This recipe is a combination of ingredients you almost always have on hand, and you can modify each batch to suit your mood. Try agave or maple syrup in place of the honey or add some freshly grated lemon zest for extra floral tang. Now go forth and emulsify.

Buttermilk Pancakes

No more searching for your favorite pancake recipe. These buttery pancakes will win the taste-test every time, thanks to their fluffy texture and incredible flavor. Buttermilk adds just a little bit of tang, and will make your family wonder, “What IS it that makes this taste so good?” For perfectly golden brown pancakes, make sure your griddle is hot. A non-stick skillet will work great, too. In fact, you can pour the batter straight into the skillet, as they will brown more evenly without oil or butter. Warm syrup and crispy bacon are the perfect accompaniments (aren’t they always?).

6 Unique Recipes for Your Summer Cookout

Looking for a cookout menu? Whether you make them for a potluck, a picnic or your own backyard barbecue, these six easy breezy recipes prove that summer cooking is no sweat.

Vanilla Peaches in Rosé

This recipe reads like a list of all the best things in life: there are peaches, rosé, vanilla bean, and of course, sugar. You’ll start by making a syrup with the rosé and sugar, plus vanilla and anise for aromatic floral notes. Then pour this over cut peaches and let them soak up the delicious flavors. Finally, serve the peaches over vanilla ice cream, with extra syrup drizzled overtop. These would make a great hostess gift. Pack the peaches into a pretty, heat-proof jar and pour the syrup overtop. Got extra syrup? Shake it up with vodka or rum and ice for an easy cocktail.

Quick Strawberry-Cider Jam

Unlike a standard jam, which can be super heavy on sugar, this cider vinegar-infused strawberry number has a balanced tartness. There’s no added thickener in this recipe, and since strawberries are low in pectin (a naturally-occurring thickener in many fruits), it’s essential to reduce the jam until most of the liquid has evaporated. Serve this spread on buttered toast, of course, but it’s also at home as a swap for traditional strawberry shortcakes, over ice cream, or in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Cheesy Heirloom Tomato Tart

Here’s a universal truth about good recipes: Smart steps lead to better cooking. In the case of this tomato tart recipe, that includes pre-seasoning the tomatoes so that they release excess juices. Doing this means that the tomato liquid doesn’t seep out and make the tart soggy. These top an herbed Cheddar-mayonnaise mixture and crispy phyllo sheets for something part Southern tomato pie and part spanakopita. A green salad with cucumbers and avocado would be a nice addition to make this meal heartier.

German Beet-and-Potato Salad

Steam-roasting the beets and potatoes in this easy salad recipe makes them tender and creamy without relying on a lot of oil. A traditional German potato salad calls for boiling the potatoes, but this is an easier, hands-off method that takes care of both the potatoes and beets at once. They get tossed with crispy bacon and a cidery-mustard vinaigrette for a new take on a classic salad. Serve alongside roasted chicken, grilled steak, or, of course, sausages.

Pan-Seared Chicken Cutlets With Summer Corn Succotash

What the title doesn’t mention: this perfect-pan seared chicken dinner plus succotash is a one-pan meal. What it also doesn’t mention: the chicken is so darn perfect because it’s seared in bacon grease. That’s right, the bacon that goes into the corn succotash is brilliantly cooked in the skillet first until it’s crisp, and then reserved. But you don’t wipe the pan clean. Instead, you add the chicken and cook it until it’s golden brown and crispy. Then you finish off the succotash in just a few minutes, adding fresh corn kernels, frozen lima beans, chick stock, and scallions. Winner winner.

Easy Fresh Fruit Sodas

Making a delicious, refreshing drink is as easy as picking your favorite fruit and following this easy fruit soda recipe. After puréeing the fruit in a food processor until smooth, you’ll strain it to get a juice. Combined with simple syrup and sparkling water and this is as delicious as any fancy mocktail you could buy. This recipe lends itself well to upgrades like fresh mint, a squeeze of lemon juice, or a dash of bitters. It’s worth seeking out peak-season fruit for the sodas. The riper the summer fruit is, the less simple syrup you’ll need!