Grab a glass of milk and one delicious hot chocolate cupcake

So Thanksgiving was a big success. We ate, we baked — and we were merry. The fridge now overfloweth with leftovers the likes of which I’ve never seen, and if I may be so bold? I’d say it isn’t because the food wasn’t tasty. The sheer quantity of delicious eats overwhelmed all of us, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be eating stuffed ham for the next week. (It’s very tasty on white bread with mustard.)

Among the many desserts prepared for Thanksgiving — including Grandma’s coconut pie; cranberry and apple cheesecake from Alex, Spencer’s mom; and a pumpkin crumb pie I’ll tell y’all about later — were these Hot Chocolate Cupcakes from Betty Crocker, my No. 1 girl. I thought they would be a fun addition to the table, and they definitely were! And among the creamy pumpkin treats, the chocolate stood out especially well.

Cute and tasty, these hot chocolate cupcakes call for a devil’s food cake base with a sweet marshmallow-and-vanilla frosting piped on to mimic the look of marshmallows — just like a mug of hot chocolate. A halved pretzel creates the “handle” for the cake and definitely finishes the look!

I followed the recipe closely, but I made a few additions — like a teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter, per another user’s suggestion, plus a pinch of cinnamon on top of the marshmallow frosting (along with the chocolate powder). In hindsight, I should have been way more generous with the marshmallow topping — though thick and delicious, the cupcakes were very dense. They needed that sweet frosting to mellow out the weight of the cake. I dig the stars I piped on, but next time? I won’t skimp on the frosting. And I’ll throw caution to the wind and add more chocolate powder and cinnamon.

Also, this recipe calls for roughly half a box of devil’s food cake mix — and yields approximately 12 cupcakes. I made the first dozen according to directions, then just went ahead and made a second batch with the remaining cake mix. I had about 20 cupcakes when all was said and done — perfect!

If you’re hankering for a chocolate treat but don’t want a hot beverage, these may cure what ails you. Just be sure to have a cold glass of milk to wash them all down — you’ll need it.

Hot Chocolate Cupcakes

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups Betty Crocker SuperMoist devil’s food cake mix (from 18.25-oz box)
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup Betty Crocker Whipped vanilla frosting (from 12-oz container)
1/2 cup marshmallow creme
1/4 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa
6 miniature pretzel twists, broken in half

Directions:
1. Heat oven to 350°F for shiny metal pan (or 325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cup in each of 12 regular-size muffin cups.

2. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and egg with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

3. Bake 17 to 22 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

4. In small bowl, mix frosting and marshmallow creme. Spoon into small resealable food-storage plastic bag; seal bag. Cut 3/8-inch tip off 1 corner of bag. (Or spoon mixture onto cupcakes instead of piping.)

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Serving up a little Waldorf salad for the holidays

Growing up, I used to get really excited when someone would mention “Waldorf salad,” that creamy, delicious and fruity concoction that was a staple on the buffet where my family would often go for dinner. Growing up in Waldorf, Md., it was years before I realized that the side dish wasn’t named for my hometown but the Waldorf Hotel (later the Waldorf-Astoria) in New York City, where it originated.

Wednesday was my office’s Thanksgiving potluck, an annual tradition that serves as a warm-up for the main meal to come next week. All the staples were there: sweet potatoes with crunchy marshmallows; moist turkey; glazed ham; greens and potatoes and pumpkin pie. When I went to sign up, most of the foods we associate with Thanksgiving were already “claimed” by my coworkers — and I wasn’t sure what to bring.

“How about fruit?” Sandy, my friend and officemate, suggested.

Fruit. Fruit at Thanksgiving? I’m all about the rich, hot, creamy and fatty foods. Fruit seems like the unwanted distant relative who crashes the party and gets ridiculously drunk, you know? The one who then shares all the family secrets. “What is he doing here?” you think. “Who invited him?”

Well, I invited Waldorf salad — and let me tell you: it hit the spot. Awash in a sea of heavy foods, the Winter Fruit Waldorf Salad — courtesy of my main lady, Betty Crocker — was a highlight at our potluck, and I wound up giving the recipe to a few coworkers.

I’m actually embarrassed to call it a “recipe,” friends, because it’s nothing if not simple. The most challenging part of creating the salad was my having to get up at 6 a.m. to make it before work. It’s not something you want to let sit, so make it fresh — and have it ready to go. I cut all my fruit up first and let that sit until just before the main event, where I spooned my fruity dressing over top.

As we all gear up for family, friends and feasts next week in the U.S., consider adding a refreshing treat to your table. I had a tough time finding chopped dates at the grocery store, so I added way more walnuts than the recipe originally called for to compensate. It turned out delicious!


Winter Fruit Waldorf Salad

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients:
2 medium unpeeled red apples, diced
2 medium unpeeled pears, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/4 cup Yoplait Original 99% Fat Free orange crème yogurt (from 6-oz container)
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
8 cups shredded lettuce
Walnut halves, if desired

Directions:

1. In large bowl, mix apples, pears, celery, raisins and dates.

2. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, yogurt and juice concentrate until well blended. Add to fruit; toss to coat. (Salad can be refrigerated up to 1 hour.

3. Serve salad on lettuce. Garnish with walnut halves.

Spicy pumpkin cookies are heavy, delicious — and sure to please

Friends, family and occasional visitors of write meg! will know that I’ve become a bit of a nut about pumpkin. I can’t tell you quite when my obsession with the gourd began, but I do know that I’ve become known in some circles for my devotion to all things pertaining to that bright orange vegetable.

And, you know, I have a reputation to uphold.

Months after I began my search, I finally found cans of pumpkin — not pumpkin pie mix, friends, but just plain ol’ pumpkin — at my local Safeway this week. I have this booklet filled with cookie recipes and, since it’s officially fall, I knew it was time to try my hand at these little babies.

Though cupcake-baking has lately superseded any of my other culinary attempts, I’m trying to branch out and make/bake other things. So I won’t weigh 600 pounds in the near future, for one, but also so my family can have a well-balanced meal every now and then. Cookies and cupcakes do not a dinner make. (Um, most of the time.)

For the moment, though, I just can’t shake my fascination with dessert — and my excitement at the prospect of actually being able to make something like this on my own. My latest batch of goodies come in the form of Spicy Pumpkin Cookies, a recipe I pulled from a tiny Betty Crocker booklet, “Great Cookies,” I’ve kept in my purse for weeks. Yes, I seriously walk around with cookie recipes on my person at all times . . . just in case, you know, I get the urge to bake.

And I do get that urge. I do.

And now you can, too.


Spicy Pumpkin Cookies

From Betty Crocker’s “Great Cookies booklet” (2010)

Prep time: One hour

Start to finish: One hour and 30 minutes

Yield: About 30 cookies

Ingredients:

1 box (1 lb. 2.25 oz.) yellow cake mix with pudding in the mix
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup raisins, if desired
1 cup vanilla creamy ready-to-spread frosting
Ground nutmeg or cinnamon for garnish, if desired

Instructions:

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheet with shortening. In large bowl, mix cake mix and pumpkin pie spice. Stir in pumpkin and butter until well blended. Stir in raisins, if desired.

2. Drop dough by generous tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto cookie sheet.

3. Bake 11 to 12 minutes or until set and light golden brown around edges. Cool 1 to 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Frost with frosting. Sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon.

Meg’s notes:

Delicious! This is a heavy cookie — not light and fluffy — but I think that works well for the autumn-infused pumpkin flavor. The recipe was very simple and I left out the raisins, since no one in my house is a fan. I was a little generous with the frosting, but can anyone ever be too generous with frosting? And I think the creamy vanilla was a great complement to the cookie. Overall, very tasty — and I’d wager a crowd pleaser. Mine took longer to bake than 11-12 minutes — it was probably more like 15 — but keep an eye on them . . . the bottoms brown quickly.

If you like piña coladas (in a cupcake…)

Riding high on the success of my Key Lime Cupcakes this summer, I tried my hand at a piña colada variety the other night. We were belatedly celebrating the birthday of Eric, my sister’s boyfriend, and I was going to whip up cupcakes based on this mojito cake recipe . . . but decided that coconut, pineapple and rum would be more universally appealing.

And they were — kind of. Turns out we have some non-coconut lovers in our midst (imagine!). No matter, though; these cupcakes were delicious, light and fruity — and there was no overpowering coconut taste to speak of, at least on the ones topped with just vanilla frosting. The rest got the full treatment, which meant lots of shredded coconut on top.

Making these was really simple and fun, and I enjoy the light texture and pineapple taste of the cake. They can’t beat the key lime, though, in terms of my favorite summer desserts! I’d make these again, though. Definitely. Check out the recipe on BettyCrocker.com, my new favorite destination for, um, everything. I made a casserole based on their creations, too, and that was pretty good. But I didn’t bake it long enough and it was . . . soupy. Like chili.

But hey, I’m learning. And making progress. And fattening up everyone around me.

It’s the Megan way.



Piña Colada Cupcakes

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients:
1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® yellow cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
3 eggs
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 container (12 oz) Betty Crocker® Whipped vanilla frosting
3/4 cup shredded coconut

1. Heat oven to 375°F (350°F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups. In large bowl, beat cake mix, oil, water, 1 teaspoon rum extract, the pineapple and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

2. Bake 14 to 19 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

3. Stir coconut extract and 1 teaspoon rum extract into frosting. Spread frosting on cupcakes. Dip tops of frosted cupcakes in coconut. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

S’mores cupcakes? Put a little teddy in it

While I’ve stalled out a bit on my whole “learning to cook” plans, I definitely have not given up on the baking side of things. Riding high off the success of our macaroons, I sauntered back into the kitchen to try my hand at s’mores cupcakes last weekend.

Now, I’ve made an incarnation of these before — from a recipe I found on Bakerella’s (love her!) site. Y’all remember those? They were quite tasty and very, very chocolatey. It was probably all that cocoa powder I had to add.

These were faster, less intensely chocolatey — and cuter, honestly. I mean, teddy grahams? Stuck in homemade frosting? I couldn’t resist. You’ll see that I used miniature chocolate chips both in the cupcake batter and in the frosting instead of chopping up chocolate bars. You know, ’cause I’m a little lazy. They turned out great and I had plenty to share with my hungry family members, boyfriend and coworkers. Loved universally, my coworker’s 12-year-old daughter already told me that I “must make these again!”

And hey, who am I to disappoint the kids, you know?


S’mores cupcakes

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients for cupcakes:
1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® yellow cake mix
Water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on cake mix box
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
4 bars (1.55 oz each) milk chocolate candy, finely chopped

Ingredients for frosting:
1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow creme
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons milk
1 bar (1.55 oz) milk chocolate candy, if desired
24 bear-shaped graham crackers, if desired

1. Heat oven to 350°F (325°F for dark or nonstick pan). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Fold in graham cracker crumbs and chopped chocolate bars. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.

2. Bake 18 to 23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove and discard lid and foil seal from jar of marshmallow creme. To soften marshmallow creme for easy removal from jar, microwave on High 15 to 20 seconds. In large bowl, beat marshmallow creme, butter and powdered sugar on low speed until blended. Beat in enough milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to make frosting spreadable. Spread over tops of cupcakes. Divide chocolate bar into rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally in half and place on top of each cupcake. Top each cupcake with bear-shaped cracker. After frosting has set, store loosely covered at room temperature.