Getting a Facelift…


I had been really been worried about the lines that seem to have crept up around my eyes lately, so I decided to get a little nip/tuck done. I hope that the bruising and swelling goes down in time for the holidays. That won’t look very nice in photos, now will it?

Just kidding. I’m a total wuss and could never take the pain.

But, my blog did get a little work done recently!

Chester knows how much I’ve been enjoying blogging, so as part of my birthday gift, he had it redesigned and registered a domain name for it.

So, please update your bookmarks, RSS feeds, Google Reader subscription settings, etc. to my new home on the Internets: And, if you don’t already subscribe, now’s a good time to do so! (Special note for mom and aunt, there’s a little box in the second section on the right hand sidebar where you can enter your e-mail address. It’s easy.).

I worked with Katie Lane at Dream Up Studios on the design. She captured all of my preferences and design ideas (not that I had any real idea what I wanted) perfectly! It’s so much better than the standard WordPress template I had before.

Let me know what you think of the new look! I still have a few tweaks to make, such as adding pages and such, but I think it’s pretty much all set otherwise.

Hope you all are enjoying reading Pass the Spork as much as I enjoy writing it.


Recipe: Chocolate Espresso Sugar Cookies

As I’ve mentioned before, Chester’s preferences for desserts are not as wide ranging as mine. But, he’ll never turn down a cookie. So, instead of a birthday cake, I offered to make cookies instead.

He browsed through some of my cookbooks and came across a recipe for mocha shortbread cookies. They sounded great, but as I reviewed the contents my baking cabinet, I realized that I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand. All was not lost, however, as I had everything I needed for sugar cookies.

I added cocoa powder and espresso powder to a really simple sugar cookie recipe that I discovered around the holidays last year. The end product was pretty amazing. The coffee and chocolate combo provided a rich flavor and the texture was somewhere between a cookie and a brownie—crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle. I sprinkled the tops with extra espresso powder while the cookies where still warm for a bit of an extra kick, but you could skip this is you don’t want the espresso flavor to be too strong.

Baking a practice batch of cookies really got me in the mood for holiday baking. I’ve got four types of cookies on my list to make this year: chocolate with white chocolate chips, peanut butter sandwich with chocolate ganache, roll-out butter, and lemon. Hopefully, they’ll all turn out well and I can share the results! What’s on your list to bake this year?

Chocolate Espresso Sugar Cookies

Adapted from McCormick’s Vanilla Sugar Cookie Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen (note: I used a medium size cookie scoop, which holds about a 1 ½ tablespoon of dough)

What you will need

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup of unsweetened, Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Additional sugar, for rolling
  • Additional espresso powder, for sprinkling

What to do

  1. Mix first six ingredients (flour through cocoa powder) together in a medium bowl.
  2. Using an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add flour mixture on low speed until all ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Refrigerate dough until firm (at least two hours).
  4. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Use a cookie scoop to shape dough and roll in additional sugar before placing on cookie sheet.
  5. Bake approximately 10 minutes, until cookies are just set. Sprinkle with additional espresso and cool on baking sheet for one minute.
  6. Move to wire racks to finish cooling.

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

Along with blonde hair, a boatload of allergies, and a strange sense of humor, my mom also passed a dislike of Halloween down to me. She was never a fan of the holiday, and put an end to trick-or-treating when I was maybe seven or so. Instead, my brother and I got to pick out three king sized candy bars each, and then we stayed home giving out candy to the other kids that came to visit our neighborhood. Sounds mean, right? Truth is, I didn’t really care. I’ve never liked seeing people in masks, the feeling of being scared, or knocking on stranger’s doors. And, as Halloween involves all of these things, I am more than happy to not participate.

This year, I guess I was feeling a bit more festive than usual, and decided to make cupcakes to celebrate. I’ve had a recipe for Pumpkin Spice Latte cupcakes bookmarked since September (along with a million other pumpkin and apple recipes that I just know I’ll get around to. Someday.), and this seemed like the perfect time to try them out. They were pretty easy to make, and tasted exactly like my favorite Starbucks’ beverage. The combination of espresso powder in the batter and brewed coffee brushed onto the cakes while they are still warm lends a rich flavor to the finished product. The batter also includes canned pumpkin, which makes for an extremely moist cupcake. I omitted the cloves, but added a bit more cinnamon and nutmeg than the recipe called for, because I like an extra hit of these flavors in my pumpkin flavored treats.

So, you should probably skip the trick-or-treating and just stay home and make these cupcakes. But, if Halloween is your thing, hope you had a great one. I’ll probably celebrate tomorrow by hitting up the big candy sale at my local CVS to get a Reese’s variety mix (the one with the Fast Breaks, Peanut Butter Cups, etc.) for me and a bag of Indian corn for Chester.

Now, bring on Thanksgiving and Christmas–those are the holidays that really matter!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Cupcakes

From Annie’s Eats

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

What you will need

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. espresso powder *
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup coffee or espresso, for brushing

* If you can’t find espresso powder, you can use instant coffee. You’ll probably need to use about 50% more than the amount of powder that the recipe calls for if you go this route).

For the whipped cream frosting:

  • 2¼ cups heavy cream, chilled
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

For the caramel sauce:**

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • ¼ tsp. coarse salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract (the original recipe also calls for vanilla bean, which I didn’t have. It was fine without it.)

** Try not to get the melted sugar on your fingers. It will burn like hell and leave an ugly blister.

Ground cinnamon to garnish

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake tin.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the first eight ingredients (flour through salt). Stir to combine.
  3. Using an electric mixer, blend pumpkin, sugars, and oil. Add eggs one at a time and blend after each addition until fully incorporated.
  4. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour until combined.
  5. Fill cupcake liners ¾ of the way and bake for 18 to 20 minutes (or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool for ten minutes in pans, and transfer to wire racks. Brush cupcakes with brewed coffee two or three times. Allow to cool completely.
  7. To make whipped cream for frosting, beat heavy cream using whisk attachment of electric mixer, until stiff peaks form. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar.
  8. To make caramel sauce, spread sugar in the bottom of a saucepan and place over medium-low heat. When edges begin to liquefy, use heatproof spatula to move it towards the center of the pan. Keep stirring until sugar is completely melted. Once the sugar reaches a deep amber color, take off heat. Stir in half of the heavy cream (the mixture will bubble like crazy) until fully incorporated. Whisk in the rest of the cream, along with the salt and vanilla. Allow to cool before using.
  9. Use pastry bag and decorative tip to frost cooled cupcakes. Drizzle with caramel sauce and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  10. Refrigerate cupcakes (if you have any leftovers).

Happiness is a Nifty Fifty’s Milkshake

Nifty Fifty’s reminds me of my younger days. There used to be one on 10th and Reed Streets. Someone’s parents would drop us off there for dinner, and then pick us up again to chauffeur us to the movie theater. In high school, we would walk up there on early dismissal days. When Bridget, my aunt, and got back from a day in New York, someone would pick us up at 30th Street Station and we’d stop by for takeout.

The burgers and fries were decent but the milkshakes were the star of the show. They had every flavor imaginable, from basic chocolate and vanilla to the “exotic” concoctions like Strawberry Cheesecake and Peanut Butter Oreo.

What made these milkshakes so special? My 13-year-old self didn’t really think critically about it. I probably just liked having ice cream with dinner.

All I know is that after the South Philly location closed a few years ago (and became a Rita’s Water Ice, of all things. I’m anti-Rita’s, especially when there are so many real water ice places in South Philly), I could never find a milkshake to fill the void. Sure, there were some that I liked, but when compared to Nifty Fifty’s they would come up short. They were too icy, not thick enough, too sweet, or just boring.

I didn’t go to Nifty Fifty’s again until we were planning our wedding and stopped by the location on Grant Avenue, in the Northeast, after a visit to Glen Foerd Mansion to meet with our event coordinator. I was so excited to get one of my beloved milkshakes again. But, what if it wasn’t as good as I remembered? Was it just the nostalgia of thinking about being back in high school that made me think they were the best thing ever? Maybe it would be no better than the poor excuse for a milkshake that comes out of the machine at McDonalds.

I ordered the Oreo milkshake, which was always my favorite. It was just as good as I remembered.

Yesterday, when I needed a milkshake fix, we drove there again. I branched out and got chocolate chip cookie dough, but still helped myself to Chester’s Oreo shake. Happiness. It magically got rid of the dull  headache that I typically get from sleeping too late on Saturdays.

Now that I’m a grown up and I think more about the food that I eat, maybe I might be able to figure out what makes them so special.

Okay, I’ll try.

It could be the ice cream. I’m not sure what the brand is, but it tastes like it has a pretty high percentage of butterfat, it’s definitely good quality. Maybe it’s the fact that it comes to your table in a fun silver cup, and is blended to perfection. It’s not too thick to drink through a straw, not to runny eat it with a spoon, and the mix-ins are all distributed evenly so you get some candy, cookies, or fruit in every bite. Or, it could be that fluorescent lighting and loud music clouds your judgment and makes everything taste better.

Obviously, I still don’t really know.  It’s pretty much just the best milkshake ever. End of story.