Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Thanksgiving Cupcakes

Today at work we had a Thanksgiving potluck.  I was excited to try out these cupcakes with Nutter Butter turkeys that I’d found on Pinterest.  I’m a big fan of any creative themed treats – last year I made these cinnamon roll turkeys for Thanksgiving breakfast and some of my favorite cupcakes were these tropical themed ones from a girls’ night I had awhile back. 

These were actually pretty easy to make.  The hardest part was finding candy corn this time of year – now that Halloween is over, all the treats are Christmas themed.  Luckily, Lance tracked some down at Big Lots.

I cheated a bit by using a boxed mix for the cupcakes, but I added chocolate chips to the mix and made the frosting from scratch. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Thanksgiving Cupcakes (adapted from Mommy Savers)

Cupcake Ingredients:
  • 1 box chocolate cake mix, plus any ingredients needed on the back of the box
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • Candy corn
  • Nutter Butter cookies
  • Mini M&Ms
  • Candy eyes
  • Craisins
Frosting Ingredients: (this actually made WAY more frosting that I needed…next time I’d reduce by a least half)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 8-oz package cream cheese
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1-1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 T cocoa powder
Edible Glue: (Yield 1 cup – again, you can half this recipe & still have plenty…)
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ t lemon juice 


1. Prepare cupcakes according to the box, adding in chocolate chips.    

2. While the cupcakes bake, prepare you edible glue by mixing powdered sugar with an egg white & lemon juice.  One the icing is thick and smooth, use it as a glue to attach the candy eyes, mini M&Ms, and craisins to the Nutter Butter cookies.

3. Use a mixer to beat together the butter and cream cheese for the frosting.  Add in the vanilla and peanut butter and blend until combined.  Slowly add in the powdered sugar and cocoa powder until fully blended. 

4.  Frost the cupcakes then gently press the Nutter Butters and candy corn into the tops.  Then enjoy how cute & delicious they are!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pumpkin 6-Layer Magic Bars

Looking for a unique pumpkin recipe instead of the traditional pie this Thanksgiving? (Or maybe in addition to the pie...)  Look no further!  These layered pumpkin bars are probably one of my all-time favorite desserts.  They combine pretty much everything delicious into one sweet, salty, gooey treat. 

I’ve made these a couple of times, but most recently I baked them for a Halloween party.  I expected to have a lot of leftovers, but they were pretty popular. 

The original recipe calls these “7-layer bars”.  I don’t really get their math unless they are counting butter as its own layer.  But in my mind, these are composed of 6 layers: (1) graham cracker crust, (2) pumpkin/milk/spices, (3) apples, (4) chocolate chips, (5) almonds, and (6) coconut.  But call them whatever you want. 

Pumpkin 6-Layer Magic Bars (adapted from Bakers Royale)

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 16 whole crackers)
  • 8 T butter
  • 1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • ¾ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • ¼ t nutmeg
  • ¼ t cloves (I didn’t have any so I used cardamom instead)
  • 2 regular sized Granny Smith apples, peeled & shredded
  • 1 cup chocolate chips  
  • 1 cup salted almonds, chopped
  • 1½ cups sweetened shredded coconut


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x13” baking pan with foil with a 1” overhang and spray with oil to keep from sticking to the bars (I use Trader Joe’s coconut oil spray).  

2. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter and stir until well blended.  Press into the bottom of the pan. 

3. Mix sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin puree, and spices.  Pour mixture over the graham cracker crust. 

4. Peel apples and used a grater to shred them into small pieces.  Squeeze out some juice from the grated apples before sprinkling the shreds on top of the pumpkin mixture. 

5.  Add a layer of chocolate chips, followed by almonds, then coconut. 

6.  Bake for 35-45 minutes.  Keep in mind, ovens vary, so test yours to make sure they set.  I actually baked mine closer to an hour (covering them with a layer of foil for the last 15 minutes to keep the coconut from burning). 

7.  Let cool in pan, then let chill in the refrigerator before cutting.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Boston Eats (& Drinks)

My friend Padma is getting married in a few weeks, so we recently celebrated her bachelorette weekend in Boston.  I was excited that she picked that city because I’d only visited once before.  Last time was December of 2006 with temps in the single digits, so I spent more time bundled up indoors than seeing the sites.  This time it was gorgeous fall weather with the leaves just starting to change colors.  The entire trip was pretty much centered around food, so this will be a long post…
I headed up a day early so I could visit with friends and family in town.  After wandering the city a bit, I met up with my cousin, Chris, and his wife, Marty in the South End.  They are big foodies, so I knew they’d have the best suggestions of places to eat in Boston.  We started at a jazz bar called The Beehive for cocktails.  They have live music every evening (and brunch time on the weekends).   The drinks were pricey, but really well crafted. 

Afterwards we walked down the road to Gaslight Brasserie du Coin, one of several highly-rated restaurants in Boston’s South End owned by the Aquitaine Group.  Gaslight specializes in modern French cuisine with some New American style dishes. 

Everything on the menu looked amazing, so it was hard to decide.  We split a few appetizers to start – caramelized onion and bacon tart, escargots with toasted garlic and parsley butter, and tuna tartare with shiitakes, sunchokes, and black garlic pistou.  Of course it was all delicious, but their escargot was particularly memorable. 

I loved the Moulard duck breast, served over forbidden rice, piopino mushrooms, swiss chard, and foie gras emulsion (it was their special that night).  Chris and Marty’s dishes were impressive as well – she had the house-made tagliatelle pasta with lamb belly, pear, and macadamias and he enjoyed the roasted cod poelee – sort of like a French version of paella with mussels, clams, oysters, and chorizo.  We were stuffed by the end of meal.  Luckily, I did a lot of walking on this trip, which I’m sure didn’t cancel out the calories, but at least it made up for some of it.   

The next day I entertained myself again while everyone I knew was at work.  I crossed the Charles River to the Cambridge side to explore MIT and Harvard’s campuses.  I started off with breakfast at my new favorite bakery – Flour.  The “apple snacking spice cake” was gooey and coated in a layer of powdered sugar.  It was pretty chilly out (at least by my Florida standards), so I warmed up with some hot green tea, served in my own personal little teapot. 

It was so good that I actually ended up returning to a different Flour location with friends the next day (this time I tried the lemon meringue pie!)  

After my tour of Cambridge, I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Boston Museum of Science, where they had a special exhibit about the science of Pixar, which I found super interesting.  A lot of math and science is involved in creating those movies – it’s amazing how much work goes into making every detail perfect.    

I headed back to my friend Juliet’s home in a cute suburb of Boston called Jamaica Plain.  She lives within walking distance of the Sam Adams brewery, so of course I wanted to check it out! It’s a free tour with suggested $2 donation that goes to local charities.  Our guide went through the process of making beer, passing around samples of the barley and hops to taste and smell. 

I was actually surprised by how small an operation it was for being one of the most well-known beer brands.  I think some of our local breweries here in the Tampa Bay area have a bigger production facility.  I found out that the majority of Sam Adams beer that you purchase actually isn’t brewed at their Boston location – their main breweries are in Cincinnati, OH and Breinigsville, PA.  The Boston location is where they come up with recipes and experiment with new flavors.   

After the tour they passed around pitchers of several varieties of their beers and explained all about their “perfect pint” glass (they really try to sell you on their signature glass…) They did send us home with our little tasting glasses for free – but said if we wanted a free pint sized glass, we could go to a local bar down the street called Doyle’s and trade in our tour ticket. 

We picked up some pizzas next door from Bella Luna.  We brought them back to Juliet’s place, where our friends Laura and Carlos met us for dinner.  It was so much fun catching up with old friends! 

Padma got in town late that evening for her bachelorette weekend.  We stayed at a modern hotel called The Envoy (which it turns out was designed by my cousin Chris’ architecture firm just recently!) 

We headed to a bar down the street called Drink.  It had a bit of a speakeasy vibe – and was completely packed with people.  We did get standing room around a small table and ordered some snacks – truffle fries and grilled cheese.  They also served us some complimentary popcorn.  They didn’t have a menu for the drinks – our bartender just asked us what type of drinks we normally like, and she created cocktails based on that.  I ended up with a refreshing cucumber concoction.      

The next day we had planned for brunch at Aquitaine (same owners as Gaslight), but it turns out the power was down on their whole block, so they were temporarily closed.  They did give us a discount coupon for their sister restaurant, Metropolis, down the road.  The food was very good, but the same as any brunch you’d get elsewhere – pancakes, eggs, mimosas.  So it probably didn’t matter that the power was down at the other place…I’m sure we would have had something similar there. 

We took a walk through the Boston Public Garden and window shopped through the stores on Newbury Street.  We had planned to have tea at the Boston Public Library, but they were completely booked.  So later that day for lunch we went to Dirty Water Dough Co.  Since I’d just had pizza the night before, I had their Greek salad.  It was a pretty small restaurant with minimal seating, but we managed to get a spot in the window overlooking Newbury where we could people watch. 

That evening we got all dressed up for dinner at Myers + Chang.  This was by far my favorite place I ate in Boston.  It is run by husband and wife team Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers.  Joanne actually is the pastry chef and owner of Flour Bakery as well!  Myers + Chang is an upscale Asian restaurant with a fusion of modern Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes. 

Of course there was a wait with it being a Saturday night, so we had drinks at the bar (the drinks were as tasty as they looked!)

Our meal was seriously one of the best I’ve had.  Their flavors are so fresh and they use the perfect blend of spices.  Padma’s sweet & sour Brussels sprouts were delicious.  I started with the hot & sour soup, which was just the right amount of spicy.  If I’m sick, I want this soup shipped to me in Tampa because it’s so amazing & clears out your sinuses. 

For my main dish I had the Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice).  It included pork, shrimp, and pineapple topped with a fried egg.  I actually scooped out a bit of the spicy sauce because I already had my share of spice from my soup, but wow that fried rice was phenomenal.  I’m planning to go back to Myers + Chang any time I visit Boston. 

We ended the night at Wink & Nod, which was again super crowded.  Our bartender saw Padma’s bachelorette sash & brought us complimentary champagne which was nice!  But the atmosphere was a bit too noisy for us to have a conversation, so we called it a night after that and headed back to our hotel. 

Padma had to drive back to New Jersey the next morning, so we ended the bachelorette weekend with breakfast at Trident Booksellers & Café – half bookstore and half restaurant.  After a few drinks the night before, none of us were really in the mood for mimosas that morning.  Instead, I had a fresh juice blend with carrot, apple, and ginger (called the Wake Up Call).  It made me want to buy a juicer just to make this myself at home. 

My meal was the Morning Monte Cristo – two fried eggs, Canadian bacon, raspberry preserves, and cheddar cheese between Challah bread French toast.  It was a really nice blend of sweet and savory. 

My flight didn’t head out until later that evening, so I spent the afternoon on a free walking tour of the Freedom Trail learning a bit about Boston history. 

One of my best friends, Thu, lives in Boston, but she was out of town most of that weekend.  She flew in that Sunday afternoon though, so luckily I got a few hours to spend with her before heading out to the airport.  She took me to Pho Basil for lunch (can’t get enough Asian food…) 

I couldn’t go to Boston without visiting their “Little Italy” in the North End, known for their cannolis.  I had a long list of bakeries that my cousin Chris had recommended so it was hard to choose.  We decided to go with the one that all the locals know, Mike’s Pastry.  The line was out the door – so you know it must be good. 

After a long wait, we finally got to the front of the line.  They have so many flavors to pick from!  I went with pistachio, pumpkin, amaretto, and espresso.  I brought the box home with me to share with my family.  Thu bought some cookies and this enormous pastry called a “lobster tail”.  The cookies were pretty good but the lobster tail was incredible.  We took a few bites of it – you could seriously split it with a half dozen people.  It’s filled with a creamy center with a crispy outer shell (so like a gigantic cannoli). 

So that wrapped up my food tour around Boston!  There were so many other places I would have liked to try, so I’ll have to go back again. 

The Beehive is located at 541 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116.  They are open 5pm – 12am Monday – Wednesday, 5pm – 1am Thursday, 5pm – 2am Friday, 9:30am – 2am Saturday and 9:30am – 12am on Sunday. 

Gaslight is located at 560 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118 and is open 5pm – 11pm Monday – Wednesday, 5pm – 12am Thursday – Friday, 9am – 12am on Saturday and 9am – 11pm on Sunday. 

Flour Bakery has several locations – I visited one at 190 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139 which is open 7am – 8pm Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm on Saturday, and 9am – 5pm on Sunday.  I also went to the South End location at 1595 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118 which is open 7am – 9pm Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm on Saturday and 8am – 5pm on Sunday. 

Samuel Adam’s Brewery is located at 30 Germania St, Boston, MA 02130 and is open 10am – 3pm Monday – Thursday and Saturday, 10am – 5:30pm on Friday, and closed on Sunday. 

Bella Luna is located at 284 Amory St, Boston, MA 02130 and is open 5pm – 11pm Sunday – Tuesday, 5pm – 12am Wednesday, 5pm – 1am Thursday and Friday, and 12pm – 1am on Saturday. 

Drink is located at 348 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210 and is open 4pm – 1am daily. 

Metropolis Café is located at 584 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02118 and is open 5:30pm – 10pm Monday – Wednesday, 5:30pm – 11pm Thursday – Friday, 9am – 11pm on Saturday and 9am – 10pm on Sunday. 

Dirty Water Dough Company is located at 222 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02116 and is open 11am – 10pm Sunday – Wednesday, 11am – 10:30pm Thursday, and 11am – 11pm Friday – Saturday. 

Myers + Chang is located at 1145 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118 and is open 11:30am – 10pm Sunday – Thursday and 11:30am – 11pm Friday – Saturday. 

Wink & Nod is located at 3 Appleton St, Boston, MA 02116 and is open 5pm – 2am Monday – Saturday and closed Sundays. 

Trident Booksellers & Café is located at 338 Newbury St, Boston, MA 02115 and is open 8am – 12am daily. 

Pho Basil is located at 177 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115 and is open 11:30am – 10pm Sunday – Thursday and 11:30am – 10:30pm Friday – Saturday. 

Mike’s Pastry is located at 300 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113 and is open 8am – 10pm Sunday – Tuesday, 8am – 10:30pm Wednesday – Thursday, and 8am – 11:30pm Friday – Saturday.