Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin Cake with Butterscotch Filling and Brown Sugar Icing

Wow! Could there be anything better than a combination of pumpkin, butterscotch and brown sugar icing? I brought this trifecta of flavor into my office and my colleagues, by far, gave this cake the best reviews out of everything I have ever brought in. Let me also tack a warning onto this post; this cake is very rich.

The cake itself is extremely moist to the point it almost melts in your mouth. I could probably have the cake alone and be happy but of course, why go half way? The filling has a nutty toffee like taste to it and the icing is a brown sugar, butter and cream combination that tastes like butterscotch was poured over the cake.

This recipe came from my new favorite blog, Annie's Eats. Let me just say that her website is awesome and that I have printed off more recipes from her blog than all of the other blogs combined.

Enjoy! xo - AJ

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup buttermilk
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the filling:
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 – 1 oz. pieces
3/4 cup chopped nuts, such as pecans or walnuts (optional)

For the icing:
2 cups tightly packed brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 8 – 1 oz. pieces
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Line the bottoms of 2 round 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Grease the parchment, as well as the sides of the pans. Preheat the oven to 325°. Center a rack in the oven.

To make the cake, combine the flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine pumpkin puree and buttermilk and mix until smooth. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase to high speed and beat for an additional 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well, and scraping down the bowl between additions. Add the vanilla extract and beat on high for 30 seconds. With the mixer running on low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter, until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Immediately divide the batter between the prepared cake pans, spreading evenly. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 10 minutes. Invert onto a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the filling, heat the cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat until hot (do not allow to boil or simmer). Combine sugar and lemon juice in a separate saucepan and stir with a whisk to combine (the sugar will resemble moist sand). Caramelize the sugar for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a whisk to break up any lumps. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the hot cream, one half at a time. Add the butter, one piece at a time, stirring to incorporate completely before adding the next piece. Cool in the refrigerator 45 minutes. Place in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 2 minutes, until light (but not fluffy). Add the chopped nuts and stir to incorporate. Set aside.

To make the icing, heat the brown sugar, heavy cream, 2 – 1 oz. pieces of butter, and cream of tartar in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, while bringing the mixture to a boil. Allow the mixture to continue boiling while stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Transfer the bubbling hot mixture to a stainless steel bowl and allow to stand at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding. Place the cooled mixture in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, adding the 6 remaining pieces of butter one at a time, until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to high and beat for an additional 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on high for an additional 1 minute until light and fluffy.
To assemble the cake, place one of the pumpkin cake layers on a cake platter or a cardboard cake circle. Spread butterscotch filling evenly on top of cake. Top with remaining layer of cake, pressing down firmly. Frost sides and top of cake with brown sugar icing. Use remaining frosting to pipe decorative accents onto top and bottom edge of the cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

Source: Annie's Eats and adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vanilla Ice Cream

My Grandmother always used to describe someone with a not so vibrant personality as “pure vanilla”. To a very colorful woman from New York who was anything but boring, this was the most unfortunate trait one could possibly possess. My Grandmother died several years ago and she is dearly missed. Unfortunately, I did not pick up the cooking bug until after she died because I so would have liked her to taste this ice cream. There is nothing vanilla about this vanilla and I know she would have loved it.

Although this ice cream is amazing on its own, one of the things I love about it is everything you can do with it. You can sprinkle everything from mashed cookies or brownies on top, let the kids pour on the sprinkles, M&M’s, toffee bits and whipped cream, pour on a little melted chocolate with Kahula or coffee or raspberry sauce or mix in some cookie batter…the possibilities are endless. You can be like Ben & Jerry and make the most outrageous flavor combo you can think of. Have fun! XO - AJ

This recipe is from "From Emeril's Kitchens" by Emeril Lagasse.


2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise in half and seeds scraped out, seeds and bean reserved
6 large egg yolks

Combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla seeds and bean in a medium heavy saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat.

Beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl until frothy and lemon colored, about 2 minutes. Whisk 1 cup of the hot cream into the egg yolks in a slow, steady stream. Gradually add the egg mixture to the hot cream, whisking constantly. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly against the surface of the mixture to keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours.

Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, October 26, 2009

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

I bought macadamia nuts a few nights ago because I was loose in the grocery store alone without my son to speed along the shopping process and all kinds of goodies dropped into the cart. I had never tasted these round, buttery, salty nuts outside of a cookie and after popping a few in my mouth I can safely say that those little darlings are absolutely addictive. Combine the nuts with the white chocolate in a doughy cookie and the combination is velvety and decadent. Enjoy! xo – AJ


1 cup butter softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar packed
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugars together until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well mixed and then add the vanilla and almond extracts. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times between mixing. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt and stir together with a fork. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Using a rubber spatula, mix the nuts and chips until combined. Drop tablespoon size dough onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not over bake! They will not look done but they will cook more out of the oven.

Let cookies cool for about 15 minutes and remove to a wire rack or newspapers to cool.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sweet Potato Banana Pancakes with Pecan Cinnamon Butter and Spiced Rum Whipped Cream

First off, it's early and I was up late last night watching the Golden Girls and flipping through cookbooks. Really, I ask you, is there a better way to spend a Friday night? I think not.

Anyway, with my evening of craziness and the little guy waking me up at 6 am, I needed some serious coffee. Hence, the coffee picture. That cup saved me from tripping over the trucks that currently litter my kitchen floor. So really, the picture of the coffee is more of a safety measure than just a picture of a cup of coffee.

Now, about these pancakes. I have been playing around with this recipe for quite a while on paper. Finally, with an over-ripe banana calling for me on my counter and a sweet potato that would be going to the dark side soon, I decided to do a test run. The pancakes alone are good but put them with the pecan butter, syrup and rum whipped cream and you will be in a very happy place.

This dish reminds me of the Bongo Room in Chicago where they have items on the menu like Blueberry Cheesecake Pancakes and Chocolate Tower French Toast. I used to frequent that place every Sunday morning before my shorty came along and I highly recommend it to anyone who is in the South Loop or Wicker Park neighborhoods. Have a Mimosa and a crazy pancake dish for me! If you are not in Chicago, just make this dish with all the toppings, put on some funky music, imagine being surrounded by a bunch of hipsters and poof, you are at the Bongo Room! Enjoy! AJ – xo.

Recipe :


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of pumpkin pie spice
2 cups whole milk
1 medium banana mashed
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
5 teaspoons melted butter
2 eggs
1 sweet potato, skinned, roasted and pureed

Mix together the dry ingredients with a fork. Whisk the wet ingredients with the pureed sweet potato and banana until smooth. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

On a griddle, melt a tablespoon of butter and spread it all around. Place 1/4 cup of the batter on the griddle and cook until the pancakes puff up. Flip and do a couple minutes on the other side.

Serve hot with a chunk of the pecan cinnamon butter, maple syrup and a dollop of rum whipped cream.

Pecan Cinnamon Butter:

1/4 cup pecans toasted, cooled and chopped fine
1/2 pound butter softened (I used Kerry Gold salted)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a stand mixer. Dump mixture onto parchment or wax paper and mold into a log. Wrap and put in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add in the rum, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and whip until stiff peaks form. Serve!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I cannot tell a lie, I sometimes skimp on recipes. One of my worst tendencies is to not toast the nuts when the recipe calls for it. Bad! I will never skimp again because I am convinced the toasted pecans in this recipe, is what makes the flavor. A colleague at work said it almost had a praline like taste to it. I agree with him but I also think it has a really unique buttery cinnamon and caramel like quality to it. A fabulous combination.

These cookies are dangerously addictive so consider yourself warned. Enjoy! AJ - XO

Recipe adapted from "Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics" by Ina Garten:

1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (I use Kerry Gold)
1 cup light brown sugar packed
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the dough for about a half an hour. Drop tablespoon size mounds of dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cooking Club!

Every woman should have a cooking club. Even if a woman loathes cooking, she should have the equivalent of a cooking club. Below is the description of what we do and what works for us.

Cast of Characters:

Dawn – A no nonsense career woman who keeps the trains running on time and quarterbacked getting the club off the ground. She was the first one I met, coordinated our first group meeting and kept things going when we all had a lot on our plates and almost let the club go. Dawn is a master at planning, keeping things organized, picks great menus and is a hostess du jour in that everything is always well thought out and nothing is left to chance.

Catherine – A wealth of knowledge and smarts. Catherine is the baby of the group and at the ripe age of 26, has traveled extensively and lived for a stretch of time in France. She is absolutely fearless in the kitchen and loves manual labor. She thinks nothing of whipping egg whites into stiff peaks with nothing but a hand whisk if the need arises. If there is something that the rest of us are not able to do or are a little nervous about, we always turn to Catherine and guaranteed she will make it happen. She is a phenomenal hostess and I have actually witnessed her hosting a party and getting several homemade appetizers and desserts out at the correct temperature all at once.

Chris – This is our creative artist of the group who is about to surpass all of us in technique and speed since she just started cooking classes. Chris’s knowledge of cooking resources and technique is pretty extensive as she combs the food blogs, books and TV shows and comes back to us with her findings. Being a jack of all trades, she is also great with design, decorating and web manipulation so, she has been invaluable in giving me tips on my own blog. Finally, she is my partner in crime in trying new restaurants and totally fearless about trying something new.

Amanda – ok, that’s me and sometimes I feel more like a court jester with the personal drama I sprinkle on them every time we come together. That aside, these ladies are all about the cooking and I am definitely the baker of the group. They have gotten into the routine of just handing me the dessert recipe and letting me run with it and so far, this has worked out well.


There is no right or wrong way to do a cooking club. If you want to get together with your girls, order pizza, talk and call it a cooking club, have at it. The one I am part of has worked for us for four years but I think it is more because we all get along, share a passion for cooking and we have many common interests and goals. We connected through the Cooking Light website and not being completely nuts, decided to meet at a coffee shop rather than just start handing out addresses and showing up at each other’s apartments. Basically, we interviewed each other a couple of times and finally set a date to come together at Dawn’s apartment to cook.


Whoever is hosting is responsible for picking the menu, making copies of the recipes and buying the food. We all show up at the designated home, cook the menu, eat and pay the hostess back for the amount of the food split four ways.


There have been girls that we have invited who have come and gone but the four of us have always remained the same. We have been with each other through the birth of a child, a loved one who was taken too early, two marriages, one divorce, more than a few job losses and changes and dating disasters and missteps. Food and cooking, for us, is our connection but also something we do while talking about what is going on in our lives. A great source of comfort and joy that I believe every woman should have.

October 2009 Menu and Corresponding Recipes:

Halibut Ceviche
Recipe by Rick Bayless

1 pound fresh, skinless halibut or other ocean fish filets, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice
1 medium white onion, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
Fresh hot green chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped pitted green olives (we left these out)
1 t 2 tablespoons extra –virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced (we left these out)
Tostadas or tortilla chips for serving

In a 1 1/2 quart glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the fish, lime juice and onion. Use enough juice to cover the fish and allow it to float freely; too little juice means unevenly cooked fish. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until a cube of fish no longer looks raw when broken open. Drain in a colander.

In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, green chiles, cilantro, olives and olive oil. Stir in the fish and season with salt, usually about half a teaspoon. Add the orange juice. Just before serving, stir in the avocado.

Burritos with Duck Breast and Chili Corn Sauce
Recipe from “Emeril’s TV Dinners”

1 whole duck breast (about 1 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup minced yellow onions
1 cup fresh sweet corn kernels (from 1 medium-sized ear)
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup cooked long-grain white rice
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup duck stock (we used beef stock)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Vegetable oil for frying
6 large flour tortillas
12 toothpicks if needed (yes, they are definitely needed)
Essence to taste
1 recipe Chili Corn Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack Cheese
1 cup sour cream with cilantro chopped in

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Season the duck breast with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large oven-proof sauté pan over medium heat. Place the duck breast, skin side down, in the pan and cook until the skin is crispy and brown, 10 minutes. Turn the duck breast over and cook for 10 minutes more. Transfer the pan to the oven. Roast for about 5 minutes for medium-rare; 8 minutes for medium; 10 minutes for well done. Remove from the oven and let the meat rest for about 2 minutes. Let cool and remove the skin. Shred the meat and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the corn, shallots and garlic and cook stirring for another 2 minutes. Add the duck, black beans and rice and season with the chili powder and cumin. Add the duck stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid has reduced by two thirds, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and reseason with salt and pepper if necessary, Stir in the cilantro, cool completely.

In a large heavy deep pot or an electric fryer, heat 4 inches of vegetable oil to 360 degrees. Spoon 3/4 cup of the filling into the center of each tortilla, Lightly wet the edges of the tortilla with water, then fold in the sides of the tortilla and roll it up tightly, forming a burrito, making sure that the sides are completely sealed. If necessary, secure each end of the burrito with a toothpick. Place the burritos, a couple at a time, in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Turn them with a spoon for even browning. Drain on paper towels and season with essence.

To serve, spoon equal amounts of the chili corn sauce in the center of each serving plate (whoops, we slathered the sauce on top of the burrito – sorry Emeril!) Place the burrito on the sauce, then garnish with a sprinkle of the cheeses and dollop of cilantro sour cream.

Chili Corn Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups fresh sweet corn kernels (from 3 medium sized ears)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 cups heavy cream

Heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook stirring for 1 minute. Add the corn, garlic and jalapeno and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the heavy cream, bring to a gentle boil, and cook until the cream reduces by one fourth, 6 to 8 minutes. In a blender or using a handheld blender, puree the sauce until smooth, Season again with salt and pepper. Serve the sauce hot with the burritos.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream
From “Emeril’s TV Dinners”

One 12-ounce box vanilla wafers
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups eggnog
2 cups mashed cooked fresh pumpkin (we baked the oven for about 45 minutes to loosen the pumpkin insides and then scraped them out)
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
Pinch of round ginger
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 pound pecan halves, toasted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a food processor, combine the vanilla wafers and chopped pecans. Process until the mixture resembles course crumbs. With the machine running, add the butter and process until blended. Press the mixture into the bottom and us the sides of a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan and bake until golden, 10-12 minutes.

In a large saucepan, combine the eggnog, pumpkin (I used a food processor to puree the pumpkin), brown sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and ginger and mix well. Place over medium heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture. Whisk until the gelatin dissolves, then stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer in a medium-size mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar and continue to beat until the peaks are stiff. Fold the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture. Spread evenly over the crust and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

With an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream with the remaining 1/2 cp sugar until medium peaks form. Stir in the bourbon. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the top of the pie. Garnish with pecan halves.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


My little brother called a few weeks ago with a request, “Make those macaroons like we used to have in Michigan. If you can replicate those, I will be impressed!”

My family used to have a cottage in Beulah, Michigan on the cleanest and coldest lake you can imagine, appropriately called, Crystal Lake. We used to spend our summers at this little cabin on a hill without TV or many people around and I read more Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume than you can imagine. We did have a radio and the only station that my parents would allow was NPR. To this day, the intro to All Things Considered makes me nostalgic. Since there was not a whole lot to do without a TV around, we spent a lot of time mini-golfing, going to movies, swimming in the lake, on the boat, fishing and going out to eat. There was a place called the Brookside Inn that had two things, an amazing house salad that they would refill freely and without charge and the most amazing macaroons I have ever tasted in my life. I have since had visions of going back to Beulah just to pick up one…or many of those macaroons but I just have not had the chance. Since then I have tried several macaroon recipes which were all a waste of time. I found the recipe to beat all recipes in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook which, at the end of the day, should be the first stop, not the last.

I dunked a bunch of the macaroons into my chocolate sauce which really brought these over the top. The chocolate sauce recipe follows below the macaroon recipe. Enjoy! xo-AJ

The Macaroon recipe is adapted from “The New Best Recipe”, by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.

Macaroon Recipe:

1 cup cream of coconut
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 cups sweetened flaked or shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray the parchment paper with non-stick cooking spray.

Whisk together the cream of coconut, corn syrup, egg whites, vanilla and salt in a small bowl; set aside. Combine the unsweetened and sweetened coconut and toss together breaking up clumps with your fingertips. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and combine with a rubber spatula.

Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Form the cookies into loose haystacks with your fingertips, Moistening your fingers with water prevents sticking. Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets in the oven halfway through the baking time.

Let the cookies cool about 2 minutes and remove them to a wire rack for cooling with a spatula.

Chocolate Sauce Recipe (from my kitchen):

2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon crème de cacao
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour the chips into a heat proof bowl and heat the chips in 30 second increments twice, stirring between each increment. Stir the chocolate thoroughly and add in the butter and stir until it is melted. Once the butter is melted, add in the cream and stir until combined. Add in the crème de cacao and vanilla and combine.

This can be stored and reheated as needed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Making Madeleines can be an intimidating experience if you have ever read Proust’s vivid and alluring description of these “squat, plump little cakes” which he gives in “Remembrance of Things Past.” If there is a way to make love to food through the written word, then his descriptive ecstasy of tasting the cookie for the first time after it has been dipped in a cup of tea is the best example I have ever seen. Needless to say, his prose makes me want to go out and buy every Madeleine in Paris. His description also sets the bar for great writing. Let me just say that if I could write half as well as him, I would be ecstatic.

So, having read Proust and despite many trips to Paris, I had oddly never had a Madeleine in my life until after my son was born. We had a wonderful nanny who would take our boy to Starbucks and buy him a package of the Madeleines that they have sitting in a basket at the register at pretty much every Starbucks in the country. I think this was the first cookie he ever tasted and ever since then, he has loved them more than any other dessert I make.

Note: I am not into playing trucks, I stink at hide and seek, I sneeze uncontrollably at the sight of a campground and rough housing, football, basketball and any other activity that involves person to person contact would involve a ruined manicure which is just not cool. However, I am a big believer that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and I believe that also applies to little boys who have mothers who are a little too girly. Since I am not good with the boy stuff, I show my love through cooking and having him help me cook. It is not the typical way to bond with a son but it works for us. Enjoy! Xo - AJ

This recipe is adapted from "Baking, From my home to yours" by Dorie Greenspan.


2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled
Pinch of kosher salt

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

Rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the eggs to the bowl and beat the eggs and sugar together until pale, think and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the mixture and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days.

Preheat the over to 400 degrees F. Butter and flour 12 full size madeleine molds and place the molds on a sheet pan.

Spoon the batter into the molds filling each one almost to the top. The batter will spread evenly when they bake. Bake the madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes or until they are golden and spring back to the touch. Remove the pan from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan using your fingers or a butter knife. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fettuccine Alfredo

This is not your typical Fettuccine Alfredo. I must confess that unlike every other red blooded human being on earth, I have never liked the typical Fettuccine that is served in restaurants. I always thought it was just a big pile of cream, butter and cheese that never really popped in my mouth. Anyone who knows me knows that my quest for “pop” is relentless and unforgiving. If I am going to ingest calories that will take away from the allotted amount of calories I allow myself on a daily basis, they sure as hell better be great calories. So with that, my modification includes taking the typical Fettuccine recipe and adding in cream cheese and sour cream. I know, totally weird but the taste is totally pop-worthy.

Warning: I ran out of Fettuccine noodles so I used the shells. Sorry but my life is crazy and sometimes I have to use substitutes…just use your imagination on this one.


1 pound fettuccine noodles or 1 pound shells
1 stick salted butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups grated parmesan
1/4 pecorino romano
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream

Cook noodles according to package directions in salted water.

Melt butter, cream, cream cheese and sour cream in large pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add cooked pasta to cream mixture and stir to combine. Add in all of the shredded cheese and stir until melted and combined.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mac n' Cheese with Pancetta, Sweet Ham and Parmesan Crisps

I was about to go on and on about how I couldn’t stop eating this when it came out of the oven. Now, a day later, I am going to have to talk about how amazing the flavor is after sitting in the fridge for 24 hours.

I took the dish out of the fridge this evening and warmed a little bowl of it up. This is a family blog so I am going to put a warning on this next part and tell you that this gets a little racy. I tasted the mound of warm noodles drenched in cheese with bits of salty and sweet ham and a slight buttery crunch from the panko and groaned with absolute, unbridled ecstasy. Too much information? Too bad. I know what love is and this dish is it. I highly recommend making this immediately and eating it with unadulterated and reckless abandon. Bon Appetit! AJ

4 cups dried macaroni
1/4 cup (1/2 stick salted butter)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup half & half
3 heaping teaspoons dry mustard
pinch of nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated (I use parmigiano reggiano)
1/3 cup pecorino romano cheese grated
3 tablespoons pancetta diced
1 cup ham with a sweet crust, cubed small
1 cup panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

parmesan crisps (recipe/method follows)

Preheat the oven to 380 degrees.

Cook the macaroni in salted water to very al dente. It should be a little too firm to eat right away.

Beat the egg and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, add the chopped pancetta and stir for 2 minutes. Add in the chopped ham and cook for 3 more minutes. Set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter and then add in the flour all at once whisking vigorously over medium heat for a few minutes or until smooth. Pour in milk, half & half, mustard, nutmeg and a big pinch of salt and pepper (few twists of the pepper mill). Continue to whisk for about five minutes over medium high heat until mixture is thick. Turn heat to low and take about 1/4 cup of the milk mixture and whisk it in with the egg until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Work quickly to avoid ending up with scrambled eggs.

Taste the sauce and add in salt and pepper if needed. Pour in cooked and drained macaroni, cooked pancetta and ham and stir to combine. Add in all of the cheeses and stir to combine. Again taste for salt and pepper and season if necessary. Pour entire mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with extra sharp cheddar shredded and the panko bread crumbs spread evenly over the entire dish. Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden on top.

Parmesan Crisps – Recipe and Method

1 cup parmesan cheese finely shredded

Pre-heat broiler.

On a baking sheet with parchment paper, mound 1/2 cup of the cheese on the paper in a circle about the size of the bottom of the measuring cup and repeat with the other 1/2 cup on a separate spot on the paper. Put the baking sheet with the cheese under the broiler and watch closely until all of the cheese is melted, slightly bubbly and turning brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. With a thin spatula, gently lift one cracker at a time off the parchment and bend into a slight cylinder until it holds that shape on it’s own. Insert the crackers on the edge of the Mac n’ Cheese prior to serving.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nutella for Breakfast?

I recently read this (see link) and I have to ask the question, are there really parents out there who would serve this for breakfast? I love Nutella and I believe it is excellent for a million different recipes but serving it for breakfast to kids in a nation that already has an obesity epidemic is appalling and totally irresponsible. Harsh assessment? Maybe. I just think somewhere along the line we became lazy with nutrition and we can do better.

So, just go for it and chuck the salt soaked lunchables, the fruit roll-ups, potato chips, fritos, gummy anything, granola bars, wonder bread and anything else that has a main ingredient of corn syrup, salt, white flour or partially hydrogenated anything. In the long run when your kids are healthy, diabetes free and above all, not getting made fun of for being fat, they will appreciate that you went the extra mile to make healthy food and to teach them what proper nutrition is and tastes like.

Cheers to the work of child-rearing - not a job for sissies! AJ

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Popcorn - The Real Stuff

Okay people, we need to have a talk. What is with the microwave popcorn? I feel like that guy in the Dr. Seuss book "Green Eggs and Ham". I cannot, will not eat microwave popcorn over here or over there or in a boat or on a train.

I feel strongly about this because regular popcorn cooked on a stove in vegetable oil served with a lot of salt and a Tab was a staple with my parents and by extension us kids when I was growing up. There was no microwave popcorn and my parents made that stuff on the stove so much that I was able to make it myself and did so many times, hot grease and all, in grade school standing on a step stool. P.S. This is also the cool thing about the 80's, not only could a child in grade school cook on the stove with hot grease and no one blinked but you could also ride your bike around without a helmet, seat-belts were in the car just for show, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper ruled the world, sparkly bangle bracelets and jelly bracelets were gnarly and Garbage Pal Kids cards were actually considered high value trading material on the school playground. Oh, how I miss those unapologetic days of Reaganite unadulterated excess. I'm not being political here, I just loved the 80' more, no less.

Anyway, so here is how you make real popcorn and a few ways to bring it over the top.


1/4 cup or enough to coat the bottom of the pan vegetable, corn or safflower oil
regular popping corn found on the bottom shelf in the grocery store collecting dust
kosher salt to taste
1 tablespoon Kerry Gold Butter

Coat the bottom of a large pan with a lid like the one pictured above with the oil and add three corn kernels. Cover immediately with lid. Wait until oil is hot and listen for all three kernels to pop. Once the kernels have popped, pour in enough corn to form one generous layer on the bottom of the pan. Cover immediately and shake the pan a few times to coat the corn with the oil. Wait a few minutes and listen for the popping to slow down. Peak inside and if the popped corn is halfway up the pan, take it off the heat, cover and wait for the popping to stop. Add in the butter and salt to taste.

Optional: add in 2/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano grated cheese and toss lightly. I would highly recommend using the high quality cheese as it is one of only a few ingredients and you will really be able to taste it.

Additional Topping Ideas:
- cinnamon, sugar, salt butter
- walnuts, chocolate chips, salt, butter
- thyme, rosemary, salt , butter

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chocolate Chip Oatie Cookies

I have a confession, I am not a great Mom. I use the TV as a babysitter way more than I should, I don't constantly talk to my son describing everything we pass by as all the studies say you should, I forget to bring family photos and stuffed animals to daycare when the teachers ask me to and I have lost it a few more times than I care to admit. I must be incredibly lucky because somehow, despite my many shortcomings, my kid always has a sunny disposition and continues to laugh at bunnies hopping, tickles, sloppy kisses and bubbles in the bath.

So, do I try to compensate for what I lack with these cookies? You bet. Whenever I bring these out to the little man, he says, "Wow Mommy, these are delicious!" This makes my day and I have no reservations about peddling these to hear my boy tell me that he loves me even though I am a work in progress. So, to all of the Mom's out there who are just doing the best they can, trying to keep all of the balls in the air, take a step back, marvel at the little miracles you created and make these cookies as a treat to yourself and your kids, you both deserve it. XO – AJ


2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/3 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 cup or 2 sticks butter softened (I use Kerry Gold Pure Irish Butter)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla (I use Madagascar Vanilla)
2 large eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

Combine four, baking soda, salt and oatmeal in a bowl, stir with a fork and set aside. Combine butter, both sugars, and vanilla extract in a stand mixer for 3 minutes on medium speed or until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly. Add in flour mixture with mixer on lowest speed until just combined - do not over beat! Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips. Drop tablespoon sized balls onto baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes or until cookies have a very light caramel color to them. Remove from the oven and let cool on baking sheets for 15 minutes. Remove cookies to newspapers, paper towels or wire racks to cool.

• Sometimes I like to press the center of the cookie down a bit and sprinkler a few grains of sea salt before baking.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cranberry, Goat Cheese and Walnut Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette

I am addicted to this salad. This has been my lunch staple going on three weeks now and is showing no signs of over staying its welcome on my palate. This is a major development for a girl who avoided salad like the plague until her mid-20's and even more so for someone with a short attention span who eats nothing twice in the same week. At some point I discovered that I could make my own dressing at half the cost and double the taste which was a welcome discovery to someone who hates the artificial, chemical taste of the store bought stuff. As a disclaimer, I am not a total store bought dressing snob. Paul Newman's ranch dressing was what got me out of bed in the morning when I was pregnant with my son. The creamy consistency combined with that slightly sour buttermilk taste intermingling with a wedge of chilled iceberg was what made me go through a bottle a day with 70 pounds packed on over the course of 9 months as evidence of my addiction. Since then I have made several attempts at my own Ranch and my efforts have all resulted in flops that were never as tasty out as any of the store bought stuff. Go figure!


*Salad First:
2 cups spring green salad mix or any combination of hearty salad greens
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons dried cranberries or cherries
2 tablespoons plain goat cheese crumbled

Pile the salad leaves on a plate or in a large bowl. Top the greens with the walnuts, cranberries and cheese. Top with the dressing, mix and enjoy.

*This recipe serves one. Go ahead and double or triple the ingredients if you are having a party.

**Dressing Last:
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 orange)
1/2 cup whole cranberry sauce (from a can or homemade)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger (peeled and finely minced)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon raspberry jelly or plain sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper to taste

Whisk the juice and cranberry sauce together in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Add in the ginger, olive oil, vinegar, jelly, salt and pepper to taste and mix. Pour on the salad mix and serve.

**This dressing is enough for three to four salads. I make it at the beginning of the week and it lasts for five days of salad lunches at the office.

Enjoy! Xoxo – AJ

Friday, October 2, 2009

Banana Bread Bombs

So I am not posting this recipe, or I should say two recipes as there were two breads, because they need work. I did, however, post the photos and I know they look completely innocent but upon tasting, I was completely disappointed. I was attempting to make one with a crumbly brown sugar topping and the other with peanut butter and marshmallow that I was going to affectionately call Elvis bread. So the Crumbly and Elvis recipes are not going to be making their appearance but rest assured, I am working on them and will post the new and improved version when I am ready.

Xoxo – AJ