Couch Peanut Cupcakes: Chocolate-Peanut Butter-Ice Cream

Is there a single better phrase in the world than "chocolate peanut butter ice cream cupcakes"? This weekend had me (and my lucky taste-testers) in a dreamlike swirl of experimental frostings, mixed toppings, and flavorful cakes. After several days of testing and weeks (yeah, seriously, weeks) of planning, I finally produced a batch of mouth-watering cupcakes. How? Why? And can you have some? All questions to be answered...

I am a faithful reader of Stef's Cupcake Project ever since I stumbled upon it many months ago while looking for a reliable recipe for naan. That, plus her very good advice when crafting my shotglass cupcakes, had me hooked, and so when I saw a post on her blog about an ice cream cupcake contest (co-sponsored with Scoopalicious), I was immediately intrigued. I love baking, but more than that I love a challenge and trying out new techniques and novel ideas. I went right to the drawing board and started dreaming up cupcakes.

Technically, the cupcakes I finally settled on were my third attempt, after two other potential cupcake creations fell by the wayside. They will get a Foodie Dreams, Kitchen Nightmare post in due time.

Just as I was wondering what else to try, I started talking with one of my coworkers, Rebecca, about my weekend plans. I mentioned the cupcakes and my various attempts and ideas, and she said that she often made ice cream cakes. One of her favorites was a peanut butter chocolate fudge cake with layers of ice cream. That was all she had to say before I was off in cupcake dreamland, already envisioning a dream cupcake. I el-oh-vee-ee peanut butter and chocolate, and I was dumbfounded that I hadn't thought of pairing them, cupcake form, sooner. I started researching different frostings and cakes before I settled on the final form: a peanut butter cupcake inside a crushed-Oreo cookie crust, covered in peanut butter frosting and topped with a scoop of ice cream and Reese's pieces. It was a triumph of peanut-chocolatey-creamy madness, and a completely amazing blend of flavors and textures.

I started with the cake, which was pretty easy. Using a box of vanilla cake as my base, I mixed in a scoop of peanut butter (about a cup, although I was only using 1/3 of the boxed batter). It was amazingly smooth and baked up perfectly and pleasantly round.

Once they had cooled, I melted some chocolate using a double-boiler and dipped the sides and bottom of the cupcakes in the chocolate. I had already crushed some Oreos (removing the filling first), and rolled the cupcakes in the Oreos, giving them a cookie crust (note: no paper liners for these cupcakes). I mixed up some peanut butter frosting--basically peanut butter, butter, and sugar--and scooped out a place for the ice cream. I frosted the whole thing, "caulking" the hole for the ice cream a la my shotglass cupcakes, and stuck them in the freezer for about 10 minutes. While they were freezing, I scooped ice cream into small balls and rolled them in the crushed Oreos. Once the cupcakes were cold enough, I topped them with the ice cream and quickly frosted them (it's best to take them out of the freezer and frost them one at a time), finally decorating them with some Reese's pieces.

After all the work and all the waiting, finally, my testers and I could enjoy the cupcakes of my labor. How did they taste? Oh-so-amazing. I was very, very pleased with the final result. All the flavors balanced and enhanced each other very nicely, while the combination of textures--the crunchy Oreo crust, the smooth peanut butter cake, the cold ice cream, and the sweet frosting--gave it a wonderful feel. I was very happy especially with the peanut butter parts--the cake and the frosting. I would completely make both of them again, although possibly not together. The cake was nutty without being over-powering, while the frosting tasted like the smoothest, sweetest peanut butter on the planet. Plus, I got a new toy, a pastry bag with different applicators, and had loads of fun trying it out. Secretly (or not so), I dream of being a professional cake-maker, and I can imagine myself piping and swirling for many happy hours.

All in all, I declare the peanut butter chocolate ice cream cupcakes a success! (as though, if you mixed all those things together in any way, shape, or form, they wouldn't be a success)


1 box vanilla cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
3 eggs
3 cups extra creamy peanut butter
1 dozen Oreo cookies
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup softened butter
4 cups confectioner's sugar
3 tablespoons milk
vanilla, chocolate, or peanut butter ice cream
Reese's pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix cake mix (note: before opening the bag, roll it between your hands to break up any clumps) with oil, water, and eggs
Add 3 cups peanut butter and mix until smooth and even
Fill a muffin pan 2/3 with batter (do not use paper liners)
Bake for 17-20 minutes or until the cupcake is round and smooth
Let cool and remove from pan
Remove vanilla filling from Oreos with a knife and place cookies inside a heavy-duty freezer bag
Crush using a rolling pin until fine
Using a double boiler (or a metal bowl on top of a pot of boiling water), melt chocolate chips
Dip sides of the cupcakes in the chocolate, then in the Oreo cookies
Scoop out a hole in the top of the cupcake, where the ice cream will sit
Prepare the frosting: mix butter, peanut butter, sugar and milk until smooth; it should be even-colored and hold its shape
Cover the entire top of the cupcake with frosting and freeze for about 10 minutes
Scoop out ice cream (about a walnut-sized amount) and roll in the Oreos
Top the cupcake with the ice cream and quickly frost, using a pastry bag instead of a knife
Decorate, as desired, with Reese's pieces
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Happy Moanday: Memorial Day in Boston!

I am writing from sunny Boston, sitting on Dave's bed and dreaming about the cupcakes we (I) made last night. They were soooo good and will be posted soon (tomorrow). Dave is running around cleaning his room while I blog and upload photos from our very lovely weekend. And it was lovely! We had a picnic on the porch on Friday night (takeout from Border, of course) and on Saturday we went to Kimball's--a little farm in Concord with mini golf and pitch n putt and bumper boats and obscenely large sundaes. It was wonderful and, high on sugar, we ran over to Fenway to watch the Mets crush the Red Sox in the last inning (we went with Nate--hi Nate!--which was good because Dave doesn't like being distracted watching baseball and I could usually care less and so Nate and I just chatted for a few hours). We spent yesterday lazing around the house, making cupcakes, and now I'm all packed, ready to grab a quick bite to eat and then hop hop onto the bus!

This upcoming week I'll only be in New York for three nights, since Dave and I are shore-bound Friday afternoon. Depending on the weather and my mood, I'm probably going to get something light and summery--like salmon or a fresh salad--and maybe try out a few recipes. I am dismayed to learn that I can't even grill on my little balcony outside my apartment, since you need to be at least 10 feet from the building. Boo. A whole book's worth of grilling recipes sent to the trash can... But! I might try to see if there are any ways to get around grilling, so get ready for a summer of trying out the broiler and fiddling with the stove top. True, it will lack the smokey flavor and chummy atmosphere of grilling, but hopefully the spirit will remain in tact.

And now, on to New York! Read more!

Guest Blogger: UnKegging the Truth

While my boyfriend might be the erstwhile Smoothie King, his brother Steve has long had a sudsier love (other than Jenna, obvs, and baby Toniatti!). Steve knows more about beer than almost anyone I know, and for a short while I worked in a pub that routinely ran "Beer School" just to educate people on beer essentials. Since the pub required me to have a working knowledge of beer/condescension for Heinekin Light, I admit I probably know more about beer than the average 23-year-old none-drinking girl, and what I discovered, to my surprise, is that beer is very easy to make yourself. In fact, last year, my college dorm went on a field trip to the Sam Adams brewery in Boston and got a tour from founder and all-around awesome person Jim Koch (being an alum of our house). He walked us through the basics of brewing, and then admitted it was so easy he regularly whipped up batches with his elementary-school-aged sons ("for show and tell," he said).

Although I doubt Steve will be teaching his unborn kid how to brew any time soon (although he is now trying to determine, based on how hard the baby kicks, his/her soccer potential), he has kindly acquiesed to my many requests and written a guest blogging column, homebrew-style. And with that, I'll leave it to Steve!

I like to think that I have a deep, profound respect for beer. I can wax poetic about a Hefeweizen in July and get downright rhapsodical about a Maarzen lager in October. I’ll store Belgian Dubbels and Triples in the cellar and chill a Stout and a Wheat Ale in the fridge. I try to maintain a decent variety because, like dinner, who knows what you’ll be in the mood for that night?

I love how beer can be as diverse as its cultural origin, with each region of the world developing a style of brew reflective of its people and climate. I love tracing a beer’s historical evolution, seeing an English Pale Ale morph into an India Pale Ale after being loaded with hops to preserve the brew for a long, colonial sea journey. And I love beer’s ubiquitous role in history, with the local alehouse or tavern providing the setting for the exchange of new political views and ideas, and the beverage, presumably, providing the liquid courage to instigate these radical changes.

Beer has been the glue of civilization for thousands of years. Or, if you subscribe to certain paleontologists, an important reason for civilization, when nomadic hunters developed agriculture as a means to generate a stable supply of wheat and grain for fermentation. As societies, cities, and towns emerged, the local brewery was right next door to the local bakery and butcher shop. Beer became as important to a community’s identity and daily life as any other product. Produce locally, distribute locally, consume fresh. That was the way beer, and all food for that matter, was and still should be.

So what better way to channel your primordial brewer and go local than to brew up a batch yourself?

Brewing at its most basic level is simple. Beer has four main ingredients: water, grain, hops, and yeast. The first ingredient is readily available. With the help of your local homebrew store or a myriad of websites, you can obtain the other three with relative ease. What makes each type of beer unique is how much of and what types of grain, hops, and yeast you decide to use, plus any creative adjunct ingredients you toss in. Water, making up 95% of beer, does play an important role in the end result, and commercial breweries will pay close attention to the mineral content and taste of their water. However, for our purposes, if you have a kitchen sink and are OK with drinking out of the tap, brew away.

The brewing process itself is not that different from cooking up any other type of food. Once you have all your ingredients ready, you’ll spend an hour or so boiling them on your kitchen stove, adding different ingredients at different times, and finally cooling it down and sealing it up for a couple weeks to facilitate fermentation (though few other foods become alcoholic). However, there are some specialized pieces of equipment required. To get your personal brewery up and running, you’ll need to invest in some food-grade plastic buckets, plastic pipes and tubing, bottle cappers, etc. I don’t want to go into too much detail on specifics, as people debate the virtues of various pieces of equipment with near-religious fervor and do so freely on other blogs and websites. A comprehensive, economical way for first-timers to get all the basic requirements they’ll need is to go with a kit. I don’t mean Mr. Beer, which is basically “just add water” ale, though I’ve actually heard it’s not that bad. But it’s not real brewing. A kit will give you everything you’ll need to brew from scratch for about $120, and after several batches, it will pay for itself in liquor store savings. Incidentally, when I first started homebrewing, I foolishly bought each piece of equipment separately, purchasing a new carboy fermenter and wort chiller with each batch. I don’t regret it; chalk it up to beginner’s enthusiasm. Besides, that $18 bottle of beer tasted so much better (to me).

While it’s not a complicated process, homebrewing can be a labor of love. It can take up several hours of multiple weekends and requires weeks of patience to find out if your project was ultimately a success. You should plan on spending one afternoon preparing and boiling your batch, and, after about a week of fermenting, another afternoon bottling your beer. That’s why one important ingredient in the brewing process is having like-minded enthusiasts to help. I have a few homebrewing friends from college who help with the brewing and bottling, and more importantly, help make room in the fridge by consuming earlier batches.

As soon as your brew kit arrives, you’re ready to go. The beauty of homebrewing is your freedom to create your own unique beer, personalized specifically for your tastes. There are countless books and websites that can provide you with recipes, all you need to decide is what to add. Like peaches? You can make peach beer. Like chocolate? Go ahead, add chocolate. Like hot peppers, carrots, oysters, pumpkins, or bananas? I probably wouldn’t add them all together in one batch, but there are certainly recipes for each of those.

Last November, I decided to make an apple ale. It seemed like a good fall beer, something I had never done before, and my wife had been asking me to brew a batch with apples for a while. Having a spouse who tolerates homebrewing is a very fortunate thing, let alone one who makes special requests. It was the least I could do. The beer turned out pretty well, semi-sweet and refreshing with a slightly sour apple bite. A keeper in my opinion.

2 3.3lb Cans of Light Malt Extract
Safale S-04 Dry Ale Yeast
0.5lb Roasted Barley
Hops: 1oz. Hallertau, 0.5oz Saaz, and 1oz Liberty
4 large cans of frozen concentrate apple juice (no extra sugar added)
1 tsp of Irish Moss
¾ cup priming sugar (you can use confectionary sugar)
Makes 5 gallons (standard homebrew batch. 48 bottles – this is also why it’s good to have homebrewing, or at least beer-drinking, friends)

Start by heating 2.5 gallons of water to approx. 180 F. Steep the roasted malt in a cooking-specific mesh bag** for 30 minutes (this will contribute to the beer’s color and texture). Remove the bag and bring water to a boil. Stir in both cans of malt extract. Be sure to stir constantly for 5 minutes after adding until extract dissolves (the extract is like molasses and will burn to the bottom of the pot without stirring).

The hops add flavor to the beer and their bitterness balances out the malt’s sweetness. They come in several varieties, with each having its own distinct flavor and different kinds of hops working better with certain styles of beer. The hops come processed in several forms, but I prefer hop pellets (they look like rabbit food). I find they are easiest to work with. Once you have brought the wort (the actual name for the sugar water you are boiling) to a boil, you will add different types/amounts of hops at different times during the hour long boil. I put the hop pellets in little cheese bag containers, which look like socks, and just toss them in.

60 minutes (left in boil) add 1oz. Hallertau
5 minutes (left in boil) add 0.5oz. Saaz

At 15 mins left in the boil, add 1 tsp of Irish Moss. This will add clarity to your beer by helping unwanted particles settle to the bottom of your fermenter**.

After 60 mins, remove the wort from the stove and rapidly cool the beer. The easiest way to do this is fill a sink with ice and put the pot on top. It’s important to chill the wort quickly, as hot, freestanding wort will attract atmospheric bacteria which could funk your beer. Plus, the temperature needs to be 70 F - 80 F before adding your yeast.

Pour your chilled wort into your pre-sterilzed*** primary fermentation bucket**. Add another 2.5 gallons of cold water (I put tap water right into my boiling pot I just used to keep things sterile). Add your yeast, add 1oz. of Liberty hops to dry hop (in that sock/cheese bag), and add 4 cans of apple concentrate. Seal it up with the CO2-releasing lid** and let sit for about 5 days.

After primary fermentation, you’ll use your siphon, transfer bucket, and bottling spout to transfer the beer to the sterilized bottles for final conditioning. Boil 2 cups of water, add ¾ cups of priming sugar until it dissolves, and add sugar water to the transfer bucket before bottling. Boil bottle caps to sterilize before capping.

Bottle-condition the beer for two weeks. After conditioning, put several beers in the fridge, call friends, enjoy.

*most likely a copyright infringement, or at least already the name of an iPhone app, but Kendall made the fake ad and beer label
**likely included in your brewing kit
***Homebrewing is a very inexact, free-range process, except for one important point. Anything that touches your wort after the boil must be almost operating room sterile. Nothing is more frustrating the buying all ingredients and going through the whole brewing process, only to find out 2-3 weeks later that unwanted bacteria had funked out your beer because your bucket or bottles weren’t clean. I usually fill my fermenting bucket all the way with cold water, dump in all other equipment, and add a few glugs of bleach. About three tbsp’s should do it. Rinse everything off and you should be good to go. It’s safe – I haven’t gone blind from the bleach. If you prefer, you can get other kinds of cleaners at homebrew shops or websites.
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The Parent Trap: Gam's Tea Cookies

Every Christmas my family throws a party, sort of a welcome home for me, my brother, and our friends. And one of the things my, my brother, and our friends look forward to (besides the good company) are the bazillion cookies my mom whips up. While I feel like most of these cookies will eventually work their way into the blog in some shape or form (oh just wait until I unleash the wonder that is my mom's English toffee), the first post goes to my grandmother's delicate little tea cookies.

I don't think my grandma cooked much, but every Christmas we would get a little tin in the mail filled to the brim with cookies. When I was younger I was more partial to her sugar cookies, cut out into Santas, angels, and Christmas trees and decorated with multicolored sugar crystals and those little edible metal balls. The tea cookies, tucked underneath, generally went to my parents, but now that I'm older (wiser?), I've come to appreciate their wafer-thin layers stacked between powdery sugar. Sweet without being overbearing, they are delicious enough to eat 5 at a time, and perfect to nibble on with a cup of tea (shockingly, I skew more towards the former).

The cookies are exceptionally easy to make, being essentially sugar cookies covered in powdered sugar. When my mom and grandma make them, they chill the batter overnight. Although this is more because of the convenience of prepping batter before you bake, it also produces a more uniform and smoother cookie. To cut them out, use a glass, not a cookie cutter. The wider lip of the glass will give the cookie a rounder edge, rather than the sharper and more distinct edge you'd get from using a cookie cutter. It's a small detail, but makes a difference (at least, to me). Also, if you brush it with beaten egg, it will give the surface of the cookie a shinier finish. I like my cookies matte and so I usually leave the egg out (it also picks up more sugar that way).

A note about butter: butter is very, very important to good cookies. It must be soft, but not liquidy (tried to make cookies one time with completely melted butter. No good. Repeat: nooo gooood). The best thing to do is take the butter out of the fridge either the day before or in the morning and just let it sit on the countertop, covered (it won't go bad, promise). If you forget and your butter is icy solid from sitting in a freezer, stick it into the microwave for 5-7 seconds 2-3 times (check between each time). The butter should feel soft, but if you see any yellow liquid, remove it from the microwave immediately. Drain the liquid and mash the butter (it will still likely be pretty hard).

2 1/4 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup softened butter
1 egg
2 tablespoons vanilla
finely chopped nuts (optional, almonds work well)

Sift together flour, salt, and sugar
Mix in butter until smooth
Beat the egg and add vanilla, and nuts, if using
Pour in liquid ingredients, blend well
Form into a ball and chill overnight, wrapped in plastic
Heat oven to 400 degrees
Roll out 1/3 dough to 1/8 inch thick
Cut into small disks using a glass
Place on ungreased baking sheets
Brush with egg (optional)
Bake for 5-7 minutes
While still hot, roll both sides in confectioners' sugar
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Spotlight On: Served

Once upon a time, before I became what some people would call "gainfully employed," I worked as a waitress. I wasn't sure what to think about it, because I'm not exaaactly a people person, I'm not toootally graceful, and I'd been cautioned against it by friends who complained loudly and often about sore feet, abusive customers, and irate managers. But, despite my initial misgivings, surprisingly, delightfully, I loved it. I'm not sure what was so fun about it. Partly, I think, it had to do with working in a college pub right around its much-anticipated debut, but I was also pleasantly pleased to discover that I really enjoyed talking with customers, giving great service, and forming bonds with my other servers, the kitchen staff, and the bartenders (I eventually got some experience with all three). While I love my job and realize that my parents would moider me if I went back to waitressing (an occupation in which I could repay my college bill in, likely, 15 years), I often rhapsodize about my time in the restaurant biz and miss it with astonishing ferocity (some day I will have to devote a whole post to the lessons I learned there).

Perhaps for this reason I am completely hooked on "Served," a weekly column by food writer and waitress Hannah Howard. When most waiters write--especially if they live in New York--they tend to focus on the juicy gossip: the celebrity sitings, the incompetent rookies, the drunks and bad tippers. While there's a time and a place for the juicy stuff (I had flashes of empathy while reading Steve Dublanica's Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip), part of what's so appealing about Hannah's column is her earnest and straightforward assessment of her waiting life.

She deals with all the normal things, the weird customers (like the the guy who asked to take her picture and mentioned he had an apartment above her restaurant and she should check it out), the awkward tip moment (I too have experienced the heartbreaking wonder of whether my customers had purposely tipped me 2%), and the requirement to be friendly and chipper despite throbbing feet and general abuse. But she also muses on her future in the business, whether she should take the financial risks of running her own place and how the industry is weathering the current economic crisis. In a world where most people rarely think about their servers, except in terms of how fast they refill water glasses, she offers a refreshing point of view on the complex life of a waiter.

In her most recent post, one of the commenters said "I like your stories. I like that things just happen without a neat little resolution. Kinda like life," and it's true! While other bloggers try to punch up their lives with gratuitous Sex and the City-style confessions (see: 95% of women's "lifestyle" blogs), Served takes a more thoughtful, diary-like perspective. I think it works. The content is so interesting--to me, a former waitress, anyway--that she doesn't really need to lay on the intrigue.

Now that New York restaurants are reeling from the financial collapse, which effectively emptied the pockets of some of their best and most lucrative customers, it's interesting to see how a young waitress with aspirations of staying in the industry navigates this new landscape. Hannah, a brand-new college graduate, is, like many college graduates, still looking for a job, hopefully as a waitress. Even if she's forced to find something else, I've got to think, as I reminisce about fantastic tips and my hilarious fellow servers, that she'll come to find once a waitress, always a waitress.

Some posts to check out:
New York Is Not the Only Place for a Restaurant -- Hannah travels to her parents' house in the country, sees pretty restaurants
The Ballsy Waitress -- what to do when a table leaves a suspiciously low tip
Recession Waitressing -- how the recession is affecting waitressing
The Perfect Waiter -- tips learned from waiting tables
Front of the House vs. Back of the House -- the positives and negatives of working the tables or the kitchen
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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Oh sports. I am not really big into them. Whenever I have participated in sports, they've usually been of the not-so competitive/not so complex variety (archery, running swimming...). My boyfriend has slowly but steadily been introducing me to different sports, to the point where I can now watch a soccer game or a Penn State football game with actual, genuine interest, but his efforts to inspire me to fill out an NCAA bracket (one year I had UPenn taking it all) or submit to the mind-numbing boredom that is golf on TV on a beautiful Saturday mostly fall by the wayside.

The one exception to this, though, is baseball. Oh how I love baseball. Being a northern New Jersey resident, I am a Yankees fan, holding my head up through accusations of evil empires and inflated salaries (although I agree some of the things they do are ridiculous. See: $80 tablespoon of dirt). I even held it strong through four years of living in Boston, two of which were marred by Sox World Series wins (sigh).

Yes, I do love me some baseball, and I would happily shell out my carefully-budgeted money to regularly go to Yankees games if it didn't mean I'd have to mortgage my first child. However, Dave managed to get tickets for an upcoming game between the Red Sox and the Mets (I know, I know. Who to root for? I'm thinking Mets, if only because a Red Sox loss is better for the Yankees), and we'll be happily heading out (with Nate as our third wheel) this Saturday.

In celebration of the game and being well into the summer baseball season (is there truly anything lovelier than a small-town baseball game played late afternoon, warm and lazy?), here are recipes for some of my favorite baseball foods: Cracker Jacks, soft pretzels (recipe from allrecipes), and lemonade slushies.

1 cup popcorn kernels (mushroom)*
canola oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cold water
1-2 cups roasted peanuts (not salted)

In a large, deep pot, coat the bottom with oil
Place three corn kernels in the oil and heat the pot to medium-high, covered
When all three kernels have popped, pour in remaining kernels and cover pot
As kernels pop, don't stir the pot--unpopped kernels will fall to the bottom
When you can count to five between pops, turn off heat
Place a large saucepan on high
Add butter, water, and sugar
Stir constantly until it becomes a light caramel color (similar to a brown paper bag)
Carefully pour caramel onto a lightly greased pan
While the caramel is still hot, add the popcorn and nuts
Using a spatula, roll popcorn and nuts evenly in caramel
Let cool (you can refrigerate) and break apart

*There are two kinds of popping corn: mushroom and butterfly. Mushroom is bigger and rounder and will take the caramel coating better

4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water and let sit for about 10 minutes, or until foamy
In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt
Add sugar and yeast mixture
Knead until smooth, about 7 minutes
Lightly oil a large bowl and put the dough in the bowl, turning so completely covered in oil
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled
Preheat oven 450 degrees
Divide dough into 12 pieces and roll each out into a long rope
Form into pretzel shape
Dissolve baking soda in hot water and dip pretzels into mixture
Bake on a greased baking sheet for 7-8 minutes or until golden brown

1 cup lemon juice or the juice from 6 lemons
6 cups water
1 cup sugar
12 ice cubes

Mix water, lemon juice, and sugar
Stir until sugar is completely dissolved
Add ice cubes and blend well
Pour lemonade into an uncovered, plastic container and freeze for 2-3 hours, stirring every half hour until well frozen, but not solid
Serve in a tall glass with seltzer water or topped with whipped cream

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Spice of Life: Real Green Shoots

There is something very magical about taking a little seed, sticking it into some dirt, sprinkling a little water on top, and watching a tiny green plant emerge. I like knowing that the things that impressed me in kindergarten still impress me today (like caterpillars turning into butterflies! Man! How do they do that?!), and growing a little garden is no exception.

In truth, I do not much have a green thumb. Once, when I was little, I grew a bunch of multi-colored Cosmos which I loved and protected and visited every day after school. When most of them were eaten by some deer (that perenial northern NJ garden pest), I vowed revenge with the tenacity of the Bride in Kill Bill (Vol 1 and 2). I distinctly remember drawing a picture in pencil of a hunter's gun bearing down upon the deer and hanging it over my Cosmos, which must have alarmed my parents but gave me a certain kind of satisfaction.

In college I had some little plants that I'd buy in September for their bright and beautiful colors, only to have them die by November. The one exception was my cactus, Buddy, which lived for three years through Cambridge winters and moving summers (including a three-month stay accidentally locked in a box in my brother's spare bedroom). Buddy was a trooper, and I loved it dearly (some day the world will know Dave's quite terrific story-telling skills, including the sad and dreamy story of Buddy's past). Eventually, though, Buddy succumbed to some kind of cactus rot and went out with the trash one terrible day.

I'm getting back on that green horse, though, with my own little herb garden. Several weeks ago, I posted about my first gardening attempts, and now, I'm happy to report, they have all popped out of the ground (some, unfortunately, also seem to have gone back in). I still need to get off my butt and plant my other seeds (there is a giant bag of dirt I'm sure my roommates--new and old--don't appreciate), but here are some pictures of the garden!

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Cheap Eats: Muffins

I have a love-hate relationship with muffins. While they can often be sweet, fragrant, moist, and filling, too often they are dry, sticky, crumbly, and so cloying they taste like cake (which, while not completely terrible, is maybe not what I want to eat at 8am). For this reason, I rarely buy muffins (also, in the great morning-breakfast-war between muffins and bagels, my allegiance falls on the holey side). If I do have muffins, I make them myself, the old fashioned way, by scratch, if you know what I mean. I'm of course a fan of my mom's fantastic spiced muffins, but for the humbler (and more budget conscious) out there, there is little better than the sweet, simple, and absurdly inexpensive Jiffy.

I've already mentioned my love affair with Jiffy in a previous post, but it is really so great that it deserves its own mention. I started making Jiffy muffins in high school, where I always had a bowl of batter cooling in the fridge, or a tuperware full of muffins, ready to be grabbed on my way to school. I went with the plain corn muffin box, which was easily dressed up with different ingredients or spices. I loved the versatility of the muffins and the sweet, homey way they came in their own tiny box, wrapped in paper.

It was always nice to make up a batch, stirring in different ingredients and pulling them from the oven hot, golden, and delicious. They made great breakfasts, especially when I'd pop them in the countertop oven to freshen them up. The top would be crispy and sweet, while the bottom pillowy and hot, ready to sop up melting butter. Sigh.

I tried some crazy mixes with the muffins, throwing in my spice cabinet and seeing what came out. One time, my family was heading out early in the morning for a plane trip and the night before I made different muffins for each member of the family. I had my Dutch coccoa with burnt sugar, cinnamon brown sugar, blueberry with raspberry jelly, and chocolate chip walnut. They were all so fantastically amazing, and my sleep-deprived family was amazed at my baking prowess.

But perhaps the most notable thing about Jiffy is the price. With virtually no advertising and, the 1970's-era box graphics seem to imply, no marketing, they pass the savings onto a muffin-starved public. An 8-oz box of Jiffy corn muffins (my fav) costs a whopping 79 cents. 79 cents! Do you know what you can buy for 79 cents? Maybe a packet of pretzels in a very old vending machine. Maybe some penny candy. Maybe a pen? (a really cheap pen) It is crazy how cheap this is, especially considering a muffin at Starbucks, aside from being loaded with sugar and calories, can be sold for more than $4. That would buy you about 30 muffins, Jiffy style (minus the cost of the milk and eggs). I say with savings that nuts you should splurge on extras, like candied ginger to sprinkle on top of the muffin.

I leave you with the recipe for my coccoa and sugar muffins, which are so amazing I could eat them morning noon and night. They have the same chocolate fix for people who like chocolate muffins, but avoid the cakey sweetness that plagues so many choco muffins. The coccoa will taste slightly bitter and not too strong (for a more chocolatey kick, substitute chocolate milk powdered mix), but the flavor melds beautifully with the sweet sugar crust. Top with a sweet jam or eat plain.

1 box Jiffy 8oz corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup coccoa powder
1/2 cup sugar crystals (Sugar in the Raw works well)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Blend the mix, egg, milk, and coccoa powder--batter shouldn't be too dark brown
Once mixed, let sit for about 4 minutes
Fill muffin tin about 2/3 the way with batter
Cover each muffin with a layer of sugar crystals
Bake for 15-20 minutes

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