Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Peanut Butter & Co. Elvis Whoopie Pies

I hate bananas. So much so, in fact, that I've only ever eaten one banana. But I love Elvis. And Elvis loved to pair bananas with peanut butter (and bacon). So I felt obligated to at least give his signature combo a chance. My compromise: Elvis Whoopie Pies, which consist of two pieces of soft banana cake, honey-peanut butter filling, and bacon crumbles dotting the edge.

I was skeptical.

But I was proven wrong.

The cake's banana flavor was subtle enough so as not to overwhelm my banana-hating palate. The decadent filling tasted like melted peanut butter pie. And the salt of the bacon was the perfect complement to the sweetness of the cake. As one taster described it, it's  "heaven between two slices of heaven." 

Elvis Whoopie Pies 
Courtesy of Peanut Butter & Co. 

What you need

2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 large very ripe bananas, mashed
½ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

2 sticks of butter, softened
¾ cup The Bee's Knees peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
3-4 cups powdered sugar
4-6 Tbsp milk

1-2 strips thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled

Put it all together

  1. Make the cookies: Cream the butter, sugar, and eggs until well combined. Stir in the bananas, milk, and vanilla. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture—about ½ cup at a time. Chill the dough for 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Use an ice-cream scoop to drop balls of dough onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, until the cookies’ edges are browned. Transfer to a cooling rack, and let them cool completely before adding filling.
  4. Make the filling: Cream together the butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Slowly add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the milk, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy. If necessary, add the remaining sugar so the mixture is easily spreadable but not runny.
  5. Spread a large dollop of peanut butter filling on one cookie, then top with a second cookie. (Don’t press too hard, or the filling will squeeze out.) Sprinkle bacon bits on the frosted sides. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Creamsicle Oreo-Stuffed Orange Cookies

Some of the best things in life are orange and white. 

There's my cat, Samson. 
Grown-up Samson.

Teenage Samson.
Baby Samson.
My alma mater, the University of Tennessee.

And, now...

Creamsicle Oreos!!!

I snatched up these limited-edition yummies, no questions asked. I learned my lesson with Birthday Cake Oreos a few weeks backI didn't buy them the first time I saw them, and within a week, they were nowhere to be found. I was dying to make Birthday Cake Oreo-stuffed Funfetti Cookies, but, clearly, it was not meant to be. Luckily, I've been newly inspired by Creamsicle Oreos, since I do love orange creme almost as much as I love Funfetti. I whipped up a batch of orange cake mix cookie dough, nestled it around the cookies, and voila, creamy, citrusy deliciousness. 

One suggestion: Eat them while they're fresh. The texture of the hot, gooey center contrasts deliciously with the cookie's crispness. 

Creamsicle Oreo-Stuffed Orange Cookies

What you need
1 bag Creamsicle Oreos
1 box orange cake mix
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs
Colored sugar crystals  

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir together the cake mix, oil, and eggs until thoroughly combined.
  3. Measure out tablespoon-size balls of dough. Place a dough ball on either side of each Oreo, and press the two pieces of dough around the edges of the cookie. No part of the Oreo should still be visible. Sprinkle with sugar crystals.
  4. Place the covered Oreos two inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. 
  5. Eat while hot!  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mini Chocolate Chip Pancake Cupcakes with Maple Frosting

I am not a pancake monogamist. I have my diner pancake buddy. A pumpkin pancake pal, and, as everyone should, a granola pancake partner (we're on a quest to find the best granola pancakes in town).  And, finally, there's the one person who's actually willing to make me homemade pancakes. In other words, I'm passionate about pancakes, and I suck my friends into the middle of my love affair. 

I'll eat the fluffy little pieces of heaven any time of day, but I especially love them for dinner. But, it recently occurred to me, why stop at breakfast for dinner? Why not eat breakfast for dessert?

I walked by Baked by Melissa in NYC the other day, and was inspired—if not a little offended—by the bakery's mini pancake cupcakes. Offended, only because I didn't think of it first. I found a similar recipe, and although the maple taste wasn't as strong as I would have liked (I have a super sweet tooth), the pancake texture was spot on. 

Mini Chocolate Chip Pancake Cupcakes 
with Maple Buttercream Frosting

What you need
1 stick butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cups cake flour*
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup pure maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
2 eggs
½ cup mini milk chocolate chips 

*If you don't have cake flour, replace 2 Tbsp of every cup of all-purpose flour with 2 Tbsp of cornstarch. 

Maple Buttercream Frosting
1 stick butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Coat the chocolate chips with ½ tbsp of the flour mixture (so they don’t sink in the batter).
  4. Beat the maple syrup, vanilla, eggs, and milk into the butter mixture, combining well after each addition. Add the flour mixture ½ cup at a time, mixing until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Line a mini cupcake tin with cupcake liners, and fill each three-quarters of the way full.
  6. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. To make the frosting, cream the butter, sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla on medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the milk if the mixture is too thick for easy spreading.
  8. Frost the cupcakes after they have cooled completely, and place a few chocolate chips on top of each.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Inside My Apartment: The Living Room

My living room design started with the curtains. I spotted them at a thrift store, and instantly fell in love with the bold, floral pattern (and the $20 price tag). Yellow is, admittedly, an odd color choice for living room curtains. But since there's no overhead light in the room, I wanted a splash of sunny color to wake up the space. To keep the yellow from feeling childish, I painted the walls a neutral color, Olympic Oyster Shell. I chose to leave the bay window walls off-white, so the little nook would feel distinct in such a large room.  

My living room, annotated. (Click on the images to make them large.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Quick & Easy Craft: Antique Key Necklace

I've been hitting up garage sales—or going garaging, as my grandma calls it—my entire life. As kids, if my sister and I spotted a flash of pink from the curb, we'd race each other to the sale, hoping to beat the other to the bin of Barbies. (We weren't allowed to run, so we raced across the lawn with this weird, straight-armed speed walk.) My competitive Barbie shopping days are over, but I still enjoy the thrill of the garage-sale hunt. I recently found a big box of antique keys, which, after a little bargaining, I snagged for $9.

The detailing on the keys is beautiful. There's a Master key with a lion engraved on the face, and several three-holed keys from Reading Hardware Company, founded here in Pennsylvania in 1851. Then there are the Russwin keys, featuring an intricate scroll pattern. I wanted to showcase my treasures, so I made them into a necklace. In keeping with the  hardware theme, I attached the keys to short piece of hammered chain. Then to soften the look (and give the necklace length, without lots of weight), I added knotted twine to either side. 

What you need
9 antique keys of varying sizes
9 split rings
4 eyeglasses connectors  (like this)
6-8 inches of chain 
4 feet of twine 
E-6000 glue 

Put it all together
  1. Attach the keys to the chain, using the split rings as connectors. Start in the center of the chain, placing the largest key in the middle, then work your way out toward the edges. (I skipped one chain link between each key.)
  2. Attach an eyeglasses connector to either end of the chain.
  3. Cut the twine into two equal pieces. (You can trim the twine segments if you want the necklace to be shorter.) String them through the rubber loops of the eyeglasses connectors already attached to the chain. Then, tie a loose knot in the center of each double-stranded piece of twine. Make sure the knot falls in roughly the same place on both pieces.
  4. String one loose end of each twine segment through the rubber portion of an eyeglasses connector. Then, use E-6000 glue to connect the loose ends of each piece of twine. (Allow to dry overnight.) Add a clasp, or simply use the metal hooks of each eyeglasses connector as a clasp.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Do-It-Yourself Dip: Tomato Basil Hummus

Despite my baking habit, I'm actually a healthy eater. If you look past the boxes of Funfetti, you'll find fresh produce, whole grains, and natural peanut butter in my pantry. I'm all about indulging, but for everyday meals, I keep my food as unprocessed as possible. 

       My snack staple: hummus. The Middle-Eastern spread pairs well with everything from pita wedges to sliced bell peppers, and even better, is an incredible source of fiber and protein, both of which help keep you satisfied (i.e. out of the cookie jar) for hours. Problem is, store-bought hummus is still processed. It contains preservatives, and some supermarket brands even use soybean oil, a cheap substitute for traditional (and much healthier) olive oil. 

       Luckily, making homemade hummus is simple—you just need a handful of ingredients and a food processor. If the nutritional motivation isn't enough, consider the potential for flavor play: When you're preparing hummus at home, you can add anything you like! Inspired by one of my favorite warm-weather snacks—sliced Roma tomatoes with fresh basil—I added tomato paste and basil to my version of the dip. It tastes like creamy bruschetta, thus partners deliciously with either toasted pita bread or French bread.

Tomato Basil Hummus

What you need
1 can (15 oz) chickpea, drained and rinsed
¼ tsp salt
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp tahini (sesame) paste
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp tomato paste
½ Tbsp dried basil

Put it all together 
Place all of the ingredients in a food processor; pulse until smooth, scraping the sides as necessary. Refrigerate for up to 1 week. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

National Magazine Awards: A Trio of Mini Desserts!

On Thursday night, I attended the National Magazine Awards at the Marriot Marquis near Times Square. NBC anchor Brian Williams, who hosted the event, jokingly wondered whether we'd all survive the Marquis food. He clearly didn't try the desserts: chocolate pot du crème, a chocolate marshmallow, and café brûlot ice cream. Divine.

       The presentation was perfectly on point with the recent small-plate trend. In a new National Restaurant Association survey, 60 percent of chefs named bite-size desserts as one of the hottest food trends of 2012. It's a movement I love for a few reasons...

1) You can sample a broad range of flavors, without gorging yourself. 

2) It gives chefs a chance to play with texture, color, and different types of serving ware, all on a single plate. The presentation is always gorgeous.

3) You can try it at home. Many of the year's food trends—artisan bacon, culinary cocktails, deconstructed desserts—are tough to carry out in your own kitchen. But anybody can pour batter into a mini cupcake pan. 

In need of inspiration? Try these recipes...

Mini Lemon Meringue Pies
Mini Pancakes with Raspberry Sorbet and Chocolate Sauce
Mini Pineapple Cakes
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes
Mini Red Velvet Cupcakes
Mini Whoopie Pies