Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reese's Puffs Cupcakes with Chocolate-Peanut Butter Filling

I usually shy away from cake mixes. The one time I dared use one, everyone asked me, "Wow, is this carrot cake homemade?" Embarrassed, I threw out some lame, fumbling excuse, like, "No, my grocery store was out of carrots." They then gave me false looks of understanding, that really said, "You took the easy way out." 

       Maybe I'm being paranoid. But still. I was traumatized.

       Even so, when I spotted Reese's Puffs Muffin Mix at Target, I didn't think twice about tossing it into my cart. I'm a sucker for novelty products. I'm also a sucker for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Sold. 

       Although the streusel-topped muffins on the package look delightful, I had a sneaking suspicion that they would taste more like cupcakes than muffins. Here's scientific proof: In a 2012 Yale study, Reese's Puffs ranked third to last in a nutritional analysis of 43 cereals. (The only cereals that fared worse were Pebbles and Cap'n Crunch.) Why? Because the peanut-buttery puffs consist of 34 percent sugar. What that tells me: I should be eating them for dessert, not breakfast.

      I don't need any more convincing.

      I found a handy little tool called the MuffinMeal on the free table at my office. It creates  cylindrical indentations in the center of your muffins (or cupcakes), which just beg to be filled with frosting, fruit, or cream cheese. (No MuffinMeal? No worries: You can also use an apple corer to create holes in your cupcakes after baking.) This inspired me: Instead of piling frosting on top, I would pipe a creamy combination of peanut butter and whipped chocolate frosting into the centers of the cupcakes.

Perfect little indentations, soon to be filled with sugary goodness.
     My instincts didn't fail me. The cake tastes exactly like Reese's Puffs cereal—that is, tantalizingly sweet, made even more so by the chocolate-peanut butter filling. I ate one cupcake for dessert, of course, but then I broke my own rule: I ate one for breakfast, too. 

Reese's Puffs Cupcakes with Chocolate-Peanut Butter Filling

What you need
1 box Reese's Puffs muffin mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup water
2 eggs
1 container whipped chocolate frosting
1 small jar creamy peanut butter
Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Minis

Put it all together
  1. Combine the muffin mix, vegetable oil, water, and eggs. If you have a MuffinMeal kit, follow the device's instructions. Otherwise, line a cupcake tin with paper baking cups. Fill the cups about two-thirds full. 
  2. Bake according to muffin mix directions. 
  3. Allow to cool completely, then position an apple corer on the top center of the cupcake. Press down and turn until you've carved out a cylinder of cake. Pull out the corer, and remove the cake cylinder.
  4. Thoroughly combine the frosting and peanut butter. Spoon into a large Ziploc bag, and snip a small triangle from one corner of the bag, squeezing the frosting mixture toward this corner. Pipe the peanut butter-chocolate into the the center of each cupcake, using a circular motion and extending the frosting about an inch above the top of the cupcake.
  5. Sprinkle a few pinches of the muffin mix streusel over the frosting, then top with a Reese's Cup Mini.
You may also enjoy...

Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Peanut Butter & Co. Elvis Whoopie Pies
Maple Cinnamon Peanut Butter Pie Parfaits

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

5 Cottages For Sale Across the Country

When I was a kid, I dreamed of living in a mansion. So, of course, I was sick with envy when a family in my town won the McDonald's Monopoly million-dollar home. (Until then, I was convinced the whole Monopoly thing was a sham.) But then, as I got older—and realized a big house would have to be cleaned, most likely by me—the sprawling McMansions lost their appeal. 

        Now, I'd much rather have a smaller home with lots of character, decorated exactly the way I like it. Thus my obsession with cottages. These adorable abodes, all of which are currently on the market, are not only stunning on the outside—they also have well-appointed, graceful interiors. And it's what's on the inside that really matters, right? 


Built in 1930
1,734 square feet
3 bedrooms, 2 baths



Built in 1935
2,400 square feet 
4 bedrooms, 3 baths



PRICE: $375,000 

Built in 1928
3,114 square feet
3 bedrooms, 2 baths



PRICE: $629,900

Built in 1913
2,277 square feet
3 bedrooms, 3 baths



PRICE: $409,900

Built in 1934
1,938 square feet
4 bedrooms, 2 baths

 You may also enjoy...

Homes for Sale Across America: $300,000
Inside My Apartment: The Living Room 
Inside My Apartment: The Bedroom 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Birthday Cake Oreo Bark

I'm well aware that I just made Birthday Cake Cheesecake. But I think my recipe repetition is justified, because I FINALLY found Birthday Cake Oreos! I'd all but given up on tracking down the elusive cookies, assuming they were a very-very-limited-time release. But this weekend, when I was visiting my family in Tennessee, there they were, prominently displayed on a shelf in Walmart. Naturally, I snagged two packages. (Which means they'll be appearing in a few more recipes in the near future.) 

       I considered making truffles, but it was nearly 9 o'clock when I started baking, so I wanted something simple (and instantly rewarding). My solution: Oreo bark. It doesn't require baking, it hardens quickly, and it's so sweet I only need one piece to satisfy my sugar craving. 

       I incorporated cake batter into the recipe, which, as my boyfriend so kindly commented, made it taste like frosting. I think he (with his pitifully weak sweet tooth) intended that as an insult, but I consider it a complimentI could eat frosting by the spoonful. Now I don't even need the spoon.

Birthday Cake Oreo Bark

What you need
12 oz almond bark candy
1/3 cup yellow cake mix
12 Birthday Cake Oreos, crumbled

Put it all together
  1. Break up the almond bark candy, and place it in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat until melted, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. 
  2. Stir the cake mix into the melted candy, then add the crumbled Oreos and gently combine. 
  3. Spread mixture to 1/4" thickness on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and greased lightly. Top with sprinkles. Allow to harden completely. (It should take about half an hour.)
  4. Cut into squares and serve!
You may also enjoy...

Birthday Cake Cheesecake
Funfetti Pie
Peeps Rice Krispies Treats

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Homes for Sale Across America: $300,000

Every day on my way to work, I lust after this house.

It's a gorgeous 1920's colonial for $283,900, a steal considering the place is 3,560 square feet. This got me thinking: What could I do with $300,000 in other cities across America? Here's what's currently on the market...

Built in 1926
1,450 square feet
3 bedrooms, 2 baths



Built in 2003
2,260 square feet
4 bedrooms, 2 baths


Built in 2002
2,329 square feet
3 bedrooms, 2 baths


Built in 1920
2,356 square feet
4 bedrooms, 2 baths


PRICE: $290,000

Built in the early 1850s
4,084 square feet
4 bedrooms, 4 baths
5 marble fireplaces


PRICE: $294,900

Built in 1998
3,366 square feet
4 bedrooms, 3 baths


PRICE: $299,950

Built in 2003
2,389 square feet
3 bedrooms, 3 baths 


 PRICE: $299,000

Built in 1928
2,600 square feet
4 bedrooms, 3 baths


PRICE: $289,000

Built in 1890 (fully restored)
3,000 square feet
3 bedrooms, 3 baths


PRICE: $299,896

Built in 1924
1,536 square feet
3 bedrooms, 2 baths


A former Central Jersey Rail Station, restored!

PRICE: $299,900

Built in 1865
3,400 square feet
5 bedrooms, 2 baths


 PRICE: $299,900

Built in 1885
6,800 square feet (needs some TLC!)
8 bedrooms, 5 baths

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Homemade Cream Cheese Ice Cream with Butterscotch-Bourbon Sauce and Blackberries

As much as I love summer—the heat, the vacations, the heat—I also kind of hate it. With warm weather comes a certain pressure: If I'm not outside, soaking up the sun, perfecting the tan I won't have for the other eight months of the year, I feel guilty and unappreciative. Irresponsible, even. But sometimes I just want to be lazy and sun-avoidant, to spend my weekends lounging by my oscillating fan, precisely positioned for maximum cooling in front of my window unit. 

       This Sunday, I indulged my desire for AC gluttony—and felt only moderately bad about it. Why? Because I made ice cream, which, to me, is one of the most gratifying (and essential) parts of summer. 

       Since I don't have an ice cream maker—I hate kitchen appliances that have only one purpose—I had to whip the ingredients into a frenzy every half hour, thereby excusing me from going outside. (And leaving me free to spend guiltless hours reading The Social Animal and HGTV Magazine in my bed.)

       This was my first time making ice cream, so I started with something simple: a cream cheese ice cream recipe from Southern Living. Half the battle of food blogging is photography, and let's be honest—a lump of white ice cream may taste delicious, but it's not the most visually enthralling dessert. So, I made a sweet, bourbon-based sauced, crumbled up graham cracker crust, and bought fresh blackberries to top it all off. 

        The whole process was a little laborious, but the payoff was big. The ice cream was incredibly creamy—I didn't even miss the candy mix-ins that most supermarket ice creams rely on—and the sauce was reminiscent of caramel, with an extra layer of warmth from the whisky. It was the perfect foil for the freshness of the berries.

Homemade Cream Cheese Ice Cream with Butterscotch-Bourbon Sauce and Blackberries
From Southern Living

What you need

Cream Cheese Ice Cream
3 cups half-and-half
1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1 (8 oz) packaged cream cheese, softened and cubed
2 tsp vanilla extract
Butterscotch-Bourbon Sauce
1 ½ cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup butter
 ¾ cup whipping cream 3 tablespoons bourbon  Toppings Fresh blackberries Graham cracker crust, crumbled* * You can crumble a pre-made crust, or make your own and crush it. I combined 2 cups graham cracker crumbs with 3 ½ tablespoons melted butter, and baked at 350°F for 10 minutes.   

Put it all together  
  1. To make the ice cream, whisk together the half-and-half, powdered sugar, and egg yolks in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it thickens slightly. 
  2. Remove from heat, then whisk in the cubed cream cheese and vanilla extract, until the cream cheese is completely melted. The mixture should be smooth, without any clumps of cream cheese. Cool completely, about an hour, stirring occasionally. 
  3. If you have an ice cream maker: Place plastic wrap over the mixture, and chill for 8 to 24 hours. Then pour the mixture into the freezer container of a 1.5-quart ice-cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturers' instructions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container, and freeze 4 hours before serving.
  4. If you don't have an ice-cream maker: Follow these instructions from David Leibowitz: chill your ice cream mixture (from step 2) over an ice bath, then transfer to a bowl that has been chilled in the freezer. Check it after 45 minutes. When it starts to freeze near the edges, whisk it vigorously, breaking up any frozen sections. Repeat every half hour for the next 2-3 hours.
  5. To make the sauce, combine the brown sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly, about 3 to 4 minutes, until the butter is melted and well-combined with the sugar. Gradually add the whipping cream, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir constantly for 3 minutes, then remove from heat and add the bourbon. Allow to cool for 20 minutes. (Note: If you refrigerate this sauce, it will become firm and difficult to pour.) 
  6. Top a scoop of ice cream with graham crumbles and blackberries, drizzle with sauce, and serve.  
You may also enjoy...

Maple Cinnamon Peanut Butter Pie Parfaits 
Graham-Crusted Peanut Butter and Jelly French Toast

Saturday, July 7, 2012

7 Supermarket Foods I Loved and Lost

 A funny thing happens to me: Every junk food I like disappears. I'll strike upon supermarket gold, and then within months, my favored food is cruelly ripped from me. Not to sound bitter or anything. Here are the products I still pine for...
1. Jell-O Pudding Bites

       There's an entire Facebook page dedicated to Jell-O Pudding Bites, with plenty of desperate pleas to bring these gummy-like yummies back. One fan claims she recreated the bites by microwaving a pudding cup mixed with non-flavored gelatin (no water) and whipped cream. But she also spelled gelatin "gelien." I'm not feeling hopeful.

2. Cookies 'n Cream Nesquik

       I first came across Cookies 'n Cream Nesquik at Big Lots in the late '90s. I knew this was a bad sign—Big Lots is the retail graveyard for failed novelty foods. I snatched up a box of the powder, fell in love, then watched with horror as my best friend slurped down the rest of my mix. That was the last I ever saw of it. Here's an explanation, straight from the Nesquik Twitter feed:

3. Under Cover Bears Oatmeal

     I had a serious aversion to oatmeal as a child. (I've since realized it was only because my mother made it soupy.) However, I was in love with Under Cover Bears Oatmeal, which had gummy bears coated in oatmeal dust that dissolved when you spooned 'em up. Then one day they were gone. I refused to eat oatmeal again until college. I once tried stirring gummy bears into instant oatmeal, but only ended up with a goopy, melty mess.

4. Cheetos Paws

      Remember those little 25-cent chip bags? Well, Cheetos Paws came in a neon green bag, which I could spot from a mile away in the chip bin at my house. When only one bag remained, glowing like a green beacon of junk-food delight, my sister and I would literally race to the cabinet, clawing for the coveted Paws. They were that delicious. (I have a theory that shaped Cheetos taste better than traditional puffs. Same goes for character-shaped Mac & Cheese.) In 1994, Paws disappeared. As far as I can tell, they were a limited-release food, only ever intended to last a short time. Sad.

5. Doritos 3Ds

       I distinctly remember Doritos 3Ds hurting my mouth—something about those sharp, puffed-up corners scratching my delicate palate. Yet, I still scarfed them at an astonishing speed. I found them for sale on Piggly Wiggly's website, but I'm not getting my hopes up. 

6. Butterfinger BB's 

       These peanut-buttery pellets had a long and beautiful life from the 1990s until 2006. They have since been replaced (but never replicated) by Butterfinger Snackerz.   
7. Oops, All Berries!

       Corn-based cereals lack the sweetness I craved as a child, which meant I never jumped onto the Cap'n Crunch boat. That is, until Oops, All Berries! appeared on supermarket shelves in 1997. With only the berry-flavored cereal bits, it was exactly the sugary surge I needed. The whole "oops, factory mistake!" bit was all a marketing ploy (I was fooled)—they were released again in 2010 for only a limited time.