Halloween Witches’ Cauldron Cupcakes

Halloween is my favorite holiday, right after Christmas and my birthday. Just kidding about the birthday part… maybe. A day where it’s equally acceptable to gorge on candy, dress up in a ridiculous costume and watch Disney Channel Halloweentown movie marathons? Count me in! My love of Halloween also comes from my dad. Anyone who knows my dad is aware of how infectious his excitement and enthusiasm is, and since Halloween is his number one favorite holiday the fondness rubbed off on me throughout the years. From helping my brother and I with haunted house creations to every year faithfully taking us to the neighborhood with the best candy to embarrassing me by showing up at my college dorm in a full clown suit, my dad has always made sure I associated Halloween with fun and laughter.

These cupcakes may take a bit of work, but they are cute, fun and will definitely put a smile on everyone’s face this Halloween. I saw these cauldron cupcakes in last year’s Halloween issue of Food Network Magazine and have been counting down to Halloween so I could make them. The cupcakes look spooky and taste delightful so it’s win-win!

Halloween Witches' Cauldron Cupcakes
 
Yield: 16 cupcakes
Ingredients
  • 24 chocolate cupcakes in black or dark brown wrappers
  • 1 batch chocolate frosting
  • Red sugar sprinkles
  • Bright green decorator’s icing
  • 16 thin pretzel sticks
  • 1 bag cotton candy
  • Black licorice laces
  • 1 toothpick or skewer
Directions
  1. Unwrap 8 of the cupcakes and cut them in half horizontally (the top of the cupcake will be one half and the bottom of the cupcake will be the other).
  2. To assemble the cauldron, spread a thin layer of frosting on top of one of the still wrapped cupcakes. Top with 1 cupcake half and try to line the edges up as well as you can. They won’t match up exactly because of the rounded cupcake tops.
  3. Seal the cupcake half to the rest of the wrapped cupcake by covering the entire extra-tall cupcake with frosting.
  4. Pour some sprinkles onto a small plate and pile them together. Slowly press the edge of the cupcake nearest the wrapper into the sprinkles. I did this by holding the bottom of the wrapped cupcake in my right hand, slowly turning and re-pressing into the sprinkles, while pressing the index finger of my left hand into the top center of the cupcake to keep it steady. This is the trickiest part.
  5. Press your finger into the top center of the cupcake to make a small indent about half an inch deep and the size of a nickel.
  6. Fill the indent with the green decorator’s icing and squeeze it over the sides of the indent so it looks like it’s oozing out.
  7. Place a pretzel stick in the indent so it looks like a witch’s broom sticking out of the cauldron.
  8. Carefully place some of the cotton candy behind the green decorator’s icing. I used a fork to grab it from the bag and fluff it since it tended to lose its airiness if I pressed too hard with my fingers.
  9. Break off about a 3-4 inch piece of black licorice. Poke two holes into opposite sides of the cupcake with the toothpick. Carefully place one end of the licorice into the first hole then arch the licorice to create the cauldron’s handle and place the other end in the other hole.
  10. Repeat for the remaining 15 wrapped cupcakes.
Notes
Do not put these cupcakes in the fridge as it will cause the cotton candy to dissolve and shrivel. I found cotton candy in the candy section of my grocery store. I had to go to quite a few different candy stores to find black licorice laces, but you could always use red laces if you are unable to find black laces.

Inspiration from October 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine.
Find the chocolate cupcake and frosting recipe here.

Perfect Chocolate Cupcakes & Perfect Chocolate Frosting

This recipe is so delicious, so chocolately and so perfect in every way that we need to start talking about it right now. No wasting time reading about my childhood breakfast memories or my typical New Englander obsession with fall or my confusion about why anyone would ever think smaller sizes of candy are “fun” (I just don’t get it!). We need to be quick about this so you have time to run to your kitchen and start baking these cupcakes immediately. Your tastebuds will thank you. Your stomach, however, will curse you for eating three of them faster than someone can say, “Where did all the cupcakes go?” Or maybe you’re a normal unusual human being with self control around moist chocolate baked goods, in which case maybe you can teach me someday.

If you don’t yet have a go-to chocolate cake recipe you can stop your search right now. And if you do have one it’s time to make these cupcakes and reevaluate that statement. Over the last two years I have made this recipe dozens of times in the form of cupcakes, layer cakes and sheet cakes and it always comes out amazing. “Wow,” “omg” and “mmm” are the three most common exclamations when people try these cupcakes, typically mumbled while still mid-bite. Who knew a one bowl cake would be so life-changing? Yes, you read that right folks, one bowl. No separate dry ingredient and wet ingredient bowls to dirty up your kitchen.

When a cupcake is this good you need to make sure you have a frosting that is equally drool-worthy. This chocolate frosting is creamy, rich and as the title states, perfect. The combination of melted chocolate and cocoa powder provides a pure melt-in-your-mouth chocolate taste, instead of the overwhelming sugary or buttery attributes that are often associated with buttercream frostings. I made it for the first time this past weekend and there’s something so exhilarating about stumbling upon a recipe that you know you will return to time and time again. So go bake these cupcakes and get exhilarated.

Perfect Chocolate Cupcakes & Perfect Chocolate Frosting
 
Yield: 24 cupcakes
Ingredients
for the cupcakes
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh hot coffee
for the frosting
  • 2½ sticks of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
Directions
for the cupcakes
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Once the mixture is combined add the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla extract. Beat the mixture on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  4. Carefully stir in the hot coffee until well combined. The batter will be extremely liquidy.
  5. Pour the batter evenly between the 24 paper liners. Bake on the middle rack of an oven for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out with no batter on it.
  6. Completely cool cupcakes on a wire rack before frosting.
for the frosting
  1. Set the chocolate over a double boiler on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the butter, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a food processor or in a large mixing bowl with an immersion blender. Pulse until mixture is smooth and well combined, making sure to scrape sides as needed.
  3. Add the corn syrup and vanilla extract to the butter mixture. I like to lightly spray my measuring cup with cooking spray before measuring out the corn syrup because it helps the corn syrup from sticking to the measuring cup when you go to use it (this works well for honey, too).
  4. Pulse the mixture until well combined, making sure to scrape sides as needed.
  5. If the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, remove from the heat for a few minutes. Carefully pour the melted chocolate into the mixture and process until smooth.
Notes
*Although the original recipe calls for buttermilk, I always use the following substitute when baking these cupcakes since it is what I have in my fridge: Put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup. Fill the measuring cup with milk (I use skim) until it equals 1 cup. Let sit for 5 minutes before using in the recipe.
*The coffee at the end of the recipe is what makes the cupcakes so moist and chocolatey. The cupcakes do not, even slightly, taste like coffee. The coffee is used as a flavor enhancer to help bring out the richness of the cocoa.

Cake from Foodess.
Frosting from Fun Foods on a Budget!

Grilled Steak and Peach Salad with Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing

I am not a huge fan of having a salad as an entrée. Maybe it’s because salads get a bad rap as diet food. Maybe it’s because it’s ingrained in my brain that dinner should be a hot meal. Or maybe it’s because munching on all that lettuce makes me feel a bit like a rabbit.

But sometimes between the pasta dishes and batches of peanut butter apple bars you just need a fresh break. All the recent baking and experimenting in the kitchen left me craving a salad. Of all things. Unbelievable.

This grilled steak and peach salad did not disappoint. Peach season is ending, but there’s still time to take advantage of this sweet fleshy fruit before it’s gone from grocery stores until next summer. Peaches are delicious, but grilled peaches are like a whole new species. The outer flesh caramelizes and develops a light smoky taste while the inner peach juices form a syrupy concentrate. For those of you who have not grilled peaches before, I apologize for sharing this secret at the end of peach season.

Between the succulent grilled peaches, the tender steak and the creamy mild dressing this salad made me forget all about my salad doubts. And I didn’t even think about rabbits once.

Grilled Steak and Peach Salad with Easy Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing
 
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
for the steak
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon mustard seeds
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound sirloin tips
for the dressing
  • ½ pound cambozola cheese crumbles, or another mild blue cheese of your choosing
  • ⅓ cup light sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon pesto
for the salad
  • 2 peaches, halved and pitted
  • 4 cups mixed romaine, raddicchio and butter lettuce, or the greens of your choosing
  • 1½ cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ of a red onion, thinly sliced
Directions
  1. Place the steak in a shallow dish. Whisk together the first 9 ingredients in a small bowl then pour over the steak. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for at least three hours. Remove the marinated steak from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking.
  2. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and let it get hot. Place the steak tips on the grill pan, being sure not to crowd the pan, and let them cook 5-6 minutes per side for medium depending on the thickness of the tips. Remove to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting into thin slices.
  3. While the steaks are cooking make the dressing. Put half the blue cheese into a small mixing bowl with the sour cream, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, chives and pesto. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
  4. While the steak is resting, finish the salad. Brush the cut side of the peaches with extra-virgin olive oil then place them cut side down over a grill pan on medium-high heat. Grill the peaches for 3 minutes then flip and grill the other side for one minute. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Once peaches are cool enough to touch, slice into wedges.
  5. Toss the greens, grape tomato halves and red onion slices in a large bowl. Divide onto the four plates then top with the sliced steak, peach wedges, dressing and the remaining blue cheese crumbles.

Recipe adapted from September 2013 issue of Food Network Magazine.

Blueberry Sour Cream Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

When weekdays often consist of grabbing a bagel on the way out the door or eating a yogurt at the office there’s something so satisfying about sitting down for a hearty Saturday breakfast. Growing up, weekend family breakfasts consisted of bacon, eggs and homemade pierogies. If you haven’t had the fortune of tasting a pierogi it is an outrageous potato and cheese dumpling, but that’s a story for another day.

Unfortunately, since living on my own I don’t have my grandma to stock my freezer with homemade pierogies and for the sake of my recently acquired slow adult metabolism I try to only keep bacon in my apartment for special occasions. But sometimes I wake up on a Saturday morning with an urge that can only be satisfied by a grand mid morning meal and pancakes have become my new savior.

Do you have some eggs, milk and a few essential baking ingredients? Boom! Pancakes! I tend to have leftover ingredients from my different kitchen experiments and I always end up having to be creative about using them. A few Saturdays ago I was staring at a half empty container of light sour cream in my fridge when a light bulb went off. I ran to my bookcase (okay, I probably walked), pulled out my Pioneer Woman cookbook and there it was: “Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes.”

If you’re sitting here reading this thinking, “Yuck! Sour cream pancakes?”, shame on you! These golden discs from the heavens are crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside and have a nice lightness about them that you don’t get from regular pancakes.

More fridge staring inspired the addition of the blueberries. Berries are expensive so I didn’t want to just plop them in the pancake batter. If I was going to use these berries I was going to make them shine. This blueberry syrup is laughably easy, but the tartness of the berries mellowing out the sweetness of the syrup will take your pancakes to the next level. I used a combination of fresh and frozen blueberries so feel free to use whatever is staring at you from your fridge or freezer.


Blueberry Sour Cream Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup
 
Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients
for the pancakes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Butter
for the syrup
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1½ cup blueberries
Directions
  1. Put the sour cream in a medium mixing bowl. Sift in the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
  2. Stir together until just combined. The batter will be lumpy.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the two eggs with the vanilla.
  4. Pour the egg mixture into the sour cream and flour mixture. Stir until just combined.
  5. Place a frying pan or griddle over medium-low heat. Once the pan is hot melt a tablespoon of butter and wait for it to bubble.
  6. When the butter is bubbling, pour ¼ cup of batter for each pancake. Try not to overcrowd your pan; the amount of pancakes you can fit will depend on your pan's size. Leave some space between the pancakes as they will expand when you add the blueberries.
  7. As soon as the batter is in the pan, place a small handful of blueberries on each pancake.
  8. Cook until the pancake is covered with tiny bubbles on the top, then flip. Cook for another two minutes then remove from the pan.
  9. Add some more butter and repeat with the remaining batter until you have cooked all your pancakes.
  10. While the pancakes are cooking, make the syrup. Put the syrup and the blueberries in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the syrup boil for 3 minutes then remove from the heat. Slightly mash the blueberries with a wooden spoon or potato masher, keeping some of the blueberries whole. Pour the syrup into a small pitcher and place on the table with the pancakes.
Notes
I add my blueberries to each pancake individually as I have noticed when I add them to the mixing bowl they all sink to the bottom. Adding individually means you get to be more precise, but it also does spread out the pancakes quite a bit so be cautious when determining how many pancakes will fit in your pan.

Pancakes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl.
Blueberry syrup from Nigella Lawson at Food Network.

Peanut Butter Apple Bars

Pumpkin Pie scented Yankee Candles, Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale in cinnamon sugar rimmed glasses and tubs of Zachary’s mellowcreme pumpkins are a few of my favorite things about fall. When these items roll into the stores, I know fall is upon us and I can’t help getting excited. So many of the things that we associate with fall revolve around pumpkin flavors. But during those first weeks of fall, pre-pumpkin carving and Thanksgiving pumpkin pie prepping, everyone is ringing in the new season by going apple picking.

There’s nothing quite like strolling through an apple orchard, sampling the season’s freshest offerings and going home with more pounds of apples than you would normally buy in a month. We went apple picking a couple weekends ago and the whole time I only had one thought pounding in my brain: peanut butter apple bars.

I first made these peanut butter apple bars two years ago during a snowstorm. It was October, but we live in New England, so there you have it. Similar in taste to a peanut butter blondie brownie, these bars are especially moist from the addition of the chopped apples. You can use any type of apples you prefer, but I recommend granny smiths or a similar tart apple to help balance the sweetness of the bars.

The real magic of these bars, and the reason why you need to make these THIS SECOND (after you finish reading the post, of course), is the creamy, smooth, put-it-in-a-glass-and-drink-it-it’s-that-delicious peanut butter glaze on top. As the glaze hardens on these peanut butter apple bars it takes them to a heavenly place and everyone will be asking for more. And the best part? The recipe is super simple so go ahead and make them another batch!


Peanut Butter Apple Bars
 
Yield: 24 bars
Ingredients
for the bars
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Chobani Apple Cinnamon non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup peeled and diced apples
for the peanut butter glaze
  • ½ cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
  1. To make the bars, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9" x 13" pan with parchment paper then spray lightly with cooking spray.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir the butter and brown sugar until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth, about 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the peanut butter. Stir until the mixture is combined then set aside to cool.
  4. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  5. Add the vanilla extract to the slightly cooled peanut butter mixture and stir to combine. Add the eggs to the mixture and stir well. Add the Greek yogurt and stir until fully incorporated.
  6. Carefully pour the peanut butter mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir until well combined and smooth.
  7. Fold the diced apples into the batter. The batter will be thick and difficult to manipulate so fold in the apples the best you can, but it doesn't have to be perfect.
  8. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top and edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
  9. To make the peanut butter glaze, sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Add the milk, peanut butter and vanilla extract, then whisk until smooth.
  10. Once the bars are cooled, pour the glaze all over the bars, spreading with a spatula. If you are feeling fancy, you can drizzle the glaze instead. Cut bars into 24 squares and remove from the pan before serving.
Notes
If you can't find Chobani Apple Cinnamon non-fat Greek yogurt, you can substitute plain or vanilla. You can also omit the Greek yogurt altogether and replace it with a half a stick of butter (bringing the total butter count of the recipe to 1 stick).

Recipe slightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.