Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bûche de Noël

I came, I made my best attempt and I somewhat conquered.  Take it easy on me, this was my first go-around and it was a little scary.  This cake was my Everest and it did not disappoint in time consumption.  After being afraid of this cake ever since my Mom brought it home from the bakery when I was in middle school, I have put off attempting this for far too long.  Then, a few weeks ago I took a cooking seminar/class solely on making the Bûche de Noël.  I wasn't thrilled with the buttercream look that the cake in our class turned out to look like so I went back to the Martha Stewart magazine that I had been carrying around for the past year with the recipe and a picture to match that looked just like the cake my Mom brought in for Christmas every year.  I am not going to even attempt to write down all of the directions that went with this so click here for the recipe.  If you attempt this, good luck and may your attempt take less time than mine! 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Whole-Wheat Quinoa Bread

Whole-Wheat Quinoa Bread
During the holidays, working in an office can be an amazing test of will power.  Working in my office can be an extra challenge because of all of the vendors that send in tin after tin of popcorn and baskets full of every cellulite inducing treat you can possibly think of.  Add in number crunching fun, people upset because this economy has been brutal to my industry and the stress can lead to some serious cravings throughout the day.  So, I made this bread and have been taking it to work to nibble on when I get ravenous instead of diving into the chocolate maddness.  It has worked, somewhat.  I have a sweet tooth that won't stop so I have to give in every once in a while.

This is truly a hearty bread that is almost a meal in itself.  Toast, throw a pat of butter on it and that is really all you need.  I found this recipe in the New York Times and it is a bit of an undertaking.  That said, if you are a sucker for fresh baked bread, it is well worth it.  Enjoy!  xo - AJ

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maple Bourbon Bacon Donuts

If there was ever a bakery that speaks to the rebel in me that wishes to spend days covered in tattoos, wearing leather pants and baking tasty treats, Bleeding Heart Bakery, would fit the bill. I secretly dream of working in a place where sugar and butter rule and is an escape for people in the middle of the endless workday.

I may not be able to work in sugar but my baking can be influenced by that life. This recipe is a variation of the sour cream donuts I made back in July and was inspired by the bacon obsession sweeping through Chicago. Bleeding Heart covers bacon in chocolate, sprinkles it on baked goods and injects it into cookies. I also had a maple bacon donut at Nightwood Café, which is located in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago and it was truly amazing. The maple frosting dripped seductively off the warm donut and the bacon was still glistening as if it had just been fried up on the spot. I had to taste it slowly and let it melt in my mouth so I could truly savor the mind-altering sensation that ensued after my first bite.

I changed the recipe a bit by eliminating the streusel topping and replacing it with crispy bacon bits on top of a bourbon maple glaze. Add as much or as little of the Bourbon as you like depending on the week you have been having. I put in about a tablespoon.

Final note, donuts, as anyone who has ever made them knows, is a bit of an undertaking but completely worth it.

Enjoy! AJ - xo

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake




A very disturbing thing happened the other day. A wonderful and very thoughtful friend brought me a very sweet treat from a little bakery that shall remain nameless. The treat was supposed to be a Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake and I was excited to try something that sounded and looked so good. So you can imagine my disappointment when the treat was anything but sweet, not to mention completely lacking in taste. Don't you hate it when that happens? You expect to be wowed and end up ingesting something that could be mistaken for chalk. It's like a slap in the face!

There's not a lot that gets under my skin as much as bad food from a bakery whose sole purpose in life is to churn out great baked goods. In my insulted state, I did what anyone would do, I found a recipe and made my own. I found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen and knew it would be amazing just from reading the ingredients. I switched out the graham cracker crumbs for ginger snaps and the result was fantastic and worked wonderfully with the pumpkin and spice filling. After tasting this, my bitterness over that bakery's utter failure, slowly faded away. I am now in a blissful state of forgiveness. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

S'mores Cupcakes with Kahula


The kid in me is out and raging. Enter the most fantastic of all fantastic treats from childhood with a little grown up injected inside and you have S’mores cupcakes with a hit of Kahula. Somebody pinch me.
I first saw these cupcakes on Annie’s Eats and then it seemed like the S’mores influence was everywhere with S’mores cakes, snack bars, energy bars, candy bars, you name it. So, this has been on my must bake list forever and I finally got around to making them. The cupcakes shown on Annie’s Eats were beautiful and refined and I wanted mine to be more rustic and, for lack of a better term, sloppy. In my mind, that’s what S’mores are, sloppy kid food that are a mess to eat. That’s the fun of them and being a kid, permission to be sloppy and unrefined. I also have to be buttoned up in a corporate office all day so I like to take a more laid back approach to my baking.
So, I used the Annie’s Eats recipe but I put my own spin on it with the Kahula injection. I also made some minor alterations to bits and pieces to suit my palate.
Enjoy! AJ – xo

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pumpkin Bourbon Pancakes





In life, we sometimes have to roll with the deck we have been dealt. For me, that means finding the bright side of a child that sleeps minimally.

I have been told by the teachers at school, fellow parents, books and every child psychologist who has managed to publish something that if your child is not getting 10-12 hours of sleep in a day/night, they will have stunted growth, behavioral problems, learning difficulties, socialization issues, the list goes on and on. So, despite rearranging my schedule so my little guy is in bed by 7:45 p.m. every night, he continues to wake up at 5 a.m., 6 if I am lucky. Of course, this leads to a tired and difficult child in the afternoon who can no longer nap in his pre-kindergarten class. God help me.

So, this morning, after going to bed at a very late 9 p.m. last night, my little monkey was up and ready to go at 6 a.m. Argh! Sleep, my child, please, sleep!! No dice, he was up and nothing was going to change that. So, I did the only logical thing to do at that point, dragged my overly tired tail out of bed, fixed myself an industrial strength cup of coffee and made Hot Chocolate and Pumpkin Bourbon Pancakes with my son. For a brief moment, I am going to block out the criticism and paranoia and enjoy this moment while silently praying that the 9 hours of sleep will not stunt his growth.

I got the recipe here. I added in a teaspoon of vanilla and a teaspoon of bourbon. I threw some chocolate chips into a few pancakes to experiment and I thought they drowned out the pumpkin taste. Out with the chips. Then I tried big chinks of cooked bacon on on a fork full of pancake and syrup and I swear, angels did sing. Make sure you top this off with whipped cream, a critical component.

Cheers! xoxo

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cherry Almond Coffeecake Pie





I am attempting to put out of my mind a less than desirable day and come to peace with the fact that sometimes being a parent can test every last ounce of patience I ever possessed. It was one of those days that I told my kid to go left, he went right, I said up and he went down, I said no and he did it anyway. My little man also decided to sprinkle a little back talk, a few tantrums and an overall questionable attitude into an already trying sequence of events. I am working alone and it is times like these when I wish I could morph into a male authority figure with a deep booming voice that always seems to get kids to behave. Instead, my child was in time out today on multiple occasions and Mommy had to break into a bottle of wine earlier rather than later. Note, this child can be one of the sweetest and most charming children I have ever been around but when he has a bad day, I am convinced my life expectancy plummets immeasurably.

Ok, now, about this pie and happier things. The combination of cherries and almonds was amazing and I insist that you make this addictive concoction immediately or while the cherry supply lasts. There is a layer of cherries on the bottom with a sweet almond filling and a bit of a bite from the sour cream. Sweet, nutty and wonderful with vanilla bean ice cream on top. Enjoy! xo - AJ

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookies




After two weeks of trying to keep my head above water at work, being a crazed loving Mom, getting my running in, all while trying to cover up stress blemishes and barely being awake enough to make myself presentable in the morning, I need these cookies, badly. It takes a lot of work to put on the, keeping all the balls in the air act. Therefore, there is not enough chocolate on this planet to sooth my worn out soul.

I am not complaining. I am medicating and I believe in chocolate and cocktails to do so and this cookie has a little bit of both. This is a cakey cookie that I hit with some Tia Maria coffee liqueur but you can obviously use whatever you have on hand. I also put in some strong coffee that I had left over from the morning and it really boosted the flavor. Excellent and may I add, moan inducing. xo - AJ

Monday, August 9, 2010

Lime Yogurt Cake with Blackberry Sauce

This is a recipe that I made simply because I happened to have all of the ingredients in the fridge and they needed to be used before funky organisms started growing on them.

Actually, that is kind how I would describe my body right now, very funky with many weird discolorations. Whatever could I mean by that, you ask? Well, over the past month I managed to slice my finger in such a way that the wound required stitches. Then, I ran a half-marathon that completely bruised and discolored three toe-nails, one of which is about to fall off. Ewww, gross. Yes, that is gross and no, I am not apologizing. Right now, I have more cuts and bruises on me than a prize-fighter and a sick side of me is kind of proud of it. So, now, dear reader, that you have a horrified look on your face, the answer to your question is yes, I have had therapy and yes, I probably most definitely dropped out way too early.

So, on that happy note, about this cake. I made a few changes to the recipe that was posted on Smitten Kitchen. The most important modification is that I used olive oil on the first try and found that it completely overpowered the other flavors in the cake. On the second try, I used vegetable oil and it worked beautifully. That white stuff in the picture is creme fresh with a teaspoon of honey mixed in. Excellent! You can also add vanilla ice cream and I am sure that would also be delicious.

Enjoy! AJ

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Key Lime Pie



The flavors of summer are so sublime. One of the advantages of living in a four season city, is having the distinct advantage of experiencing a range of seasons and the beauty and feeling that is unique to each one. Just as I love the warm and hibernating quality of huddling in front of the fire with snow falling outside of my window, a glass of Burgundy or Pinot Noir in my hand and a feast of Beef Bourguignon, I also love the feeling of sitting outside with the sun on my neck, a glass of sweet tea by my side and a piece of frozen Key Lime Pie. It really is the simple pleasures that make life so sweet.

So, about this ever so refreshing pie. I have made Ina Garten's Key Lime Pie for a long time and it has always been foolproof. However, because I can never just leave fabulous alone, I went searching high and low through the depths of the web and my piles of cookbooks, for a recipe or recipe combination that would improve a proven winner. I was surprised to find that Ina's recipe is not unique. The ingredients and method for all of the recipes I found were all basically the same. That said, I did find Emeril's recipe that called for sour cream and I imagine that would be an excellent complement and would add a creamy quality to the pie and accent the citrus flavor quite well.

So, try Ina's or Emeril's and remember to eat the pie with the sun on your neck. xoxo - AJ

Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Family Style, by Ina Garten

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) salted butter, melted

For the filling:
7 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons grated lime zest
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 to 5 limes)

For the decoration:
1 cup (1/2 pint) cold heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Thin lime wedges dipped in sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Press into a 9-inch pyrex pie pan, making sure the sides and the bottom are an even thickness. Bake for 10 minutes until firm and allow to cool completely.

For the filling, beat the egg yolks and sugar on high speed in the bowl of a clean electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for 5 minutes, until thick. With the mixer on medium speed, add the condensed milk, lime zest, and lime juice. Pour into the baked pie shell and freeze.

For the decoration, beat the heavy cream on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm. Spoon or pipe decoratively onto the pie and decorate with limes dipped in sugar. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie





Rhubarb is such an odd vegetable, no? If you use the wrong parts, it's poisonous. When put in pie or used in jam, amazingly delicious with an incredibly sour taste that turns wonderfully sweet and subtle with sugar. Add in strawberries and the flavors play off of each other wonderfully. It's a difficult taste to describe and one of the few that if a person has not had it, I will say they just have to try it.

So, the challenge with liquid laden strawberries and rhubarb in the classic strawberry rhubarb pie is, of course, making a pie and not soup under a crust. Most recipes call for two tablespoons of quick cooking tapioca to remedy the liquid/soup issue. I have also tried arrowroot and flour and they would still come out soupy. I found the recipe below on the blog Smitten Kitchen which calls for a whopping 1/4 cup of tapioca. Ok, that's a lot but nothing else was working so might as well try it. The heaping pile of tapioca got the job done in terms of sopping up the liquid. My one little issue was that I was very aware of the tapioca beads and could feel their texture in the guts of the pie. So, verdict is that it was not perfect but definitely solved the soup issue.

Final note on this post is about the crust. I have always and I mean always used shortening in my pie crusts as I believed that was the only way that the crust would fall like a blanket on the pie filling instead of standing crunchy and dome-like over the filling. A dome over a pie is never good and annoyed me endlessly when it used to happen with other crust recipes that I had used that were primarily made with butter. This recipe has changed my thinking completely on this issue! Not only did this crust taste absolutely delicious, there was no dome action that occurred. This crust fell beautifully over the pie, like aforementioned blanket and had that buttery richness that could only come from an all butter crust. The crust is also from the Smitten Kitchen and it will be the only one I use moving forward or until a better crust catches my attention.

Enjoy! AJ

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 recipe All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough or double-crust pie dough of your choice

3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds, untrimmed) rhubarb, in 1/2-inch thick slices
3 1/2 cups (about 1 pound) strawberries, hulled and sliced if big, halved if tiny
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk beaten to blend with 1 teaspoon buttermilk (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a well-floured counter, roll half of pie dough into a 12-inch circle and carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. (I like to fold my gently into quarters, to transfer it more easily, then unfold it in the pie plate.)

Stir together rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, lemon, salt, vanilla and tapioca in a large bowl. Mound filling inside bottom pie crust and dot with bits of unsalted butter. Roll second half of pie dough into an 11-inch circle and cut decorative slits in it. Transfer it to center over the pie filling. Trim top and bottom pie dough so that their overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath itself and crimp it decoratively.

Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush egg yolk mixture over dough. Bake for 20 minutes then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly.

Transfer pie to wire rack to cool completely (several hours).


All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough

Makes enough dough for one double-, or two single-crust pies.

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces, 16 tablespoons or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold

Gather your ingredients: Fill a one cup liquid measuring cup with water, and drop in a few ice cubes; set it aside. In a large bowl — whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Dice two sticks (8 ounces or 1 cup) of very cold unsalted butter into 1/2-inch pieces.

Make your mix: Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour and mix a few times with the paddle attachment on your Kitchen Aid. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas — stop.

Glue it together: Start by drizzling 1/2 cup of the ice-cold water (but not the cubes) over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. You’ll probably need an additional 1/4 cup of cold water to bring it together, but add it a tablespoon as a time. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out. Gather the clumps together into one mound, kneading them gently together.

Pack it up: Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Touch and handle the dough as little as possible. Let the dough chill in the fridge for one hour, but preferably at least two, before rolling it out.

Do ahead: Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer. If not using it that day, wrap it in additional layers of plastic wrap to protect it from fridge/freezer smells. To defrost your dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Curried Chickpeas




Look at me going savory! I can't take all of the credit. This recipe comes from a buddy of mine at work who is a master griller and awesome with the nightly dinner. Every once in a while he will bring leftovers into the office from the meal he made for his family the night before. What you have to love about this guy is that he never just gives you a pile of food on a plate at the office. He actually arranges the food artfully on the work paper plates and throws a garnish on top of it. He is a big believer in eating with your eyes first and although I have always believed the same, he has made me an even bigger advocate of it than I was before.

Another note on this recipe is that it is kid friendly. My little guy loved it and anytime I can get something like curry on my kid's palate, I feel like I am making him a more open-minded eater in the long run. So make, eat and enjoy! AJ

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 medium shallot, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 29 ounce can chickpeas
1 tablespoon curry powder
8 ounce can plain tomato sauce
8 ounces water
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
cilantro to taste

Method:

In a medium sized skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and swirl around the pan. After 1 minute, add in the cinnamon stick and coat with oil and swirl for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add in the red pepper flakes and shallot and simmer for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add in the garlic and cook for one more minute. Add in chickpeas and curry and saute for 3-5 minutes. Add in tomato sauce, water and ginger. Cook until thick, about 5-10 minutes.

Remove cinnamon stick and serve over basmati rice with garnish of cilantro if desired.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Coconut Love

Wow! Just wow! This cake was so darn good that I think there were angels singing, the sun came through the clouds, the earth moved and my eyes rolled back into my head.

When I was a teenager with raging hormones, I had an insane crush on Pierce Brosnan because he was, in my mind, the epitome of handsome, cool and deliciously sexy. When "The Thomas Crown Affair" came out, I think I actually swooned everytime I watched the film and I am not a swooner. Ok, maybe a little bit of a swooner but I only swoon over the most swoonable.

Well, if Pierce Brosnan was a cake, he would be this one. Like Pierce, this cake is absolutely delicious and I urge you to stop what you are doing and immediately make this glorious mound of coconut goodness. The topper is that the recipe came from, of all places, Cooking Light magazine. Who knew a cake this good would actually not contain a million calories? Enjoy! AJ

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light

Ingredients

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon cake flour
2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup flaked sweetened coconut, divided

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; dust with 1 tablespoon flour.

Combine 2 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (for about 5 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in vanilla.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Sharply tap the pans once on countertop to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on wire racks, and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1 cup Fluffy Coconut Frosting. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup coconut. Top with remaining cake layer; spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle 1/3 cup coconut over top of cake.


Ingredients

4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preparation

Place egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until candy thermometer registers 238°. Pour hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over egg whites, beating at high speed. Stir in extracts.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sour Cream Donuts



I have decided that donuts are my new Everest. The first time I made apple pie, it was way more difficult than I thought it would be and although my first attempt was not a disaster, I knew it needed a lot of work. Well, my apple pie is now on track and I am setting my sights on donuts since my first attempt was lame at best.

So, please see the picture above for round two of my donut making saga. Although these were very good, I think I rolled them out way too thin and thus, they did not have as much cake inside the donut and they were a little drier than what I was looking for. They also cooked way more quickly since there was hardly anything to fry. Given that I am still not satisfied and I am determined to make a donut that is just as good as, if not better than Dunkin Donuts, I will be back at the drawing board for round three next week. Until then, make these if you dare and of course, enjoy! AJ

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Streusel
1 large egg white
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (about 6 ounces)

Doughnuts
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled briefly
1 cup sour cream

Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
5 tablespoons (about) buttermilk

Canola oil or Crisco (for deep-frying)

For streusel:

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk egg white in bowl until frothy, about 1 minute. Whisk in sugar and cinnamon. Fold in nuts. Spread mixture on prepared sheet. Bake until beginning to dry, about 12 minutes. Using metal spatula, stir to break up nuts. Continue to bake until nuts and coating are dry and golden brown, about 10 minutes; cool on sheet. Transfer streusel to work surface. Chop nuts into small (rice-size) bits. Transfer to shallow bowl.

For doughnuts:

Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until very thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Gradually beat in butter; beat in sour cream in 2 additions. Gently fold in dry ingredients in 4 additions (dough will be slightly sticky). Cover; set aside 1 hour.

For glaze:

Combine powdered sugar and maple syrup in medium bowl. Add 4 tablespoons buttermilk; whisk until smooth. Whisk in additional buttermilk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to form medium-thick glaze. Cover and let stand up to 3 hours.

Sprinkle 2 rimmed baking sheets lightly with flour. Press out 1/3 of dough on lightly floured surface to 1/2- to 2/3-inch thickness. Using 2 1/2-inch-diameter round cutter, cut out dough rounds. Arrange on floured sheets. Repeat with remaining dough in 2 more batches. Gather all dough scraps. Press out dough; cut out more dough rounds until all dough is used.

Using 1-inch-diameter round cutter, cut out center of each dough round to make doughnuts and doughnut holes.

Line 2 baking sheets with several layers of paper towels. Pour oil into large deep skillet to depth of 1 1/2 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer and heat oil to 365°F to 370°F. Fry doughnut holes in 2 batches until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels. Fry doughnuts, 3 or 4 at a time, until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to paper towels. Cool doughnuts and doughnut holes completely.
Working with 1 doughnut at a time, spread glaze over 1 side, then dip glazed side into streusel. Arrange doughnuts, streusel side up, on rack. Let glaze set at least 30 minutes. Coat doughnut holes with same glaze and dip into streusel.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Peanut Butter Dip



Have you ever been ravenously hungry and there is nothing in the fridge? Lately, this has been happening to me more and more with my crazy schedule.

Sometimes I roll back the clock and do I like I did in middle school; make treats for myself that do not always make sense but they use up the ingredients that I have and are very tasty. My parents both worked so more times than not, my brother and I would come home hungry and dinner was a long way off. We had to make our own little creations because I lived in one of those houses that did not believe in having "junk" in the house. Ding Dongs, Fruit Roll-Ups, Mini-Muffins, sugary cereal, chips, dip, candy, cookies, all out, out and out.

This is not a total sob story though. My parents did have fruit and vegetables. Back then I would have just dipped apples and celery in peanut butter. Now, with a little bit more knowledge and the internet at my fingertips, I can doctor peanut butter up a little bit. Not that there is anything wrong with peanut butter, as we all know that this wonderful ingredient can definitely hold its own, on its own. It's fun to mix it up though and I had a brick of cream cheese that was begging to be used. Enter, peanut butter dip! Feel free to add or subtract ingredients to your heart's desire. Enjoy! AJ

Ingredients:

1 (8oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup milk, buttermilk, cream or whatever you have around
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, mix well with a large spoon or rubber spatula. Serve with apples or celery. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pizza Night



Can we talk about kiddo eating habits? As a parent, I find myself having to find creative ways to get vegetables in my little man. Enter pizza decorating. Green peppers all of a sudden double as hair, sausage becomes eyes and a smiley face. Pizza with vegetables, to the little ones, becomes a lot more appealing when they can decorate it themselves. The added bonus is that you actually know all of the ingredients that are going into their little bodies and there is not partially hydrogenated weird stuff going in. Have you ever read the back of a frozen pizza package? Scary.

As for the adults, grilled pizza with sausage, onions, homemade sauce and dough is blissful. Once you have made your own pizza with fresh ingredients, you will forever cringe in the freezer section holding stack upon stack of frozen pizzas at the the grocery store. I know I am beating this point up a bit but I do believe that the best food is homemade. That is what this pizza is in addition to being one of many ways to introduce a kid to healthy food and fun cooking.

Enjoy!
AJ

Pizza Dough

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110 degrees F) water (If you are working with a cold stand mixer, you will want to have the water hotter to compensate for the cold bowl)
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons kosher salt

For prep:
1/2 cup good olive oil
Cornmeal

Directions
For the dough, combine the water, yeast, honey, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 3 cups flour, then the salt, and mix. While mixing, add 1 more cup of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on low to medium speed for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking to the bowl.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it several times to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 6 equal parts and roll each one into a smooth ball. Place the balls on a baking sheet and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

If you've chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature. Roll and stretch each ball into a rough 8-inch circle and place them all on baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal. (You will be able to fit 2 pizzas on each 18 by 13-inch baking sheet.)

Pizza/Pasta Sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 ounces tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

Directions:

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add in olive oil. Swirl around to cover the bottom of the pan. When oil has heated and moves easily when swirled (about 2 minutes), add in onions. Saute onions for about 8 minutes until translucent. Add in garlic add cook for 1 minute.

Add in crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper and oregano and bring to a boil while stirring occasionally. When bubbling, add in tomato paste and stir in until incorporated. Switch to low heat, cover the pan and let simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Check for seasonings and adjust accordingly. The sauce should be very thick and not runny at all. Leave it on for more time if necessary. Stir in parsley and taste again for seasonings. Let cool slightly before using on the pizza dough or serve right away over pasta.

Toppings:

sweet italian sausage, casings removed, broken up and browned
yellow onions, sliced thin
fontina and mozzarella cheese

Pizza Grill Method:

Heat your grill to approximately 500 degrees.

While the grill is heating, roll the pizza dough out, brush lightly with olive oil, spread a layer of sauce on, sprinkle on generous amounts of cheese and add toppings according to your taste. Be sure to keep the pizza on a cornmeal dusted plate/pan in order for it to slide easily on to the grill. Also be sure to leave a generous edge so you are able to grab the pizza when completed.

Lightly brush the grill with oil, put the pizza on and close the lid. Grill the pizza for approximately 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the crust is starting to turn a golden color.

Remove the pizza from the grill with a spatula and cut into several slices. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Twix Pie



I have a friend. He is remarkably persistent and he has a sweet tooth that rivals mine. My friend loves Twix candy bars. He loves them so much that he gave me this recipe about six months ago with a polite request to make this pie. I told him I would and I meant it. However, with a pile of recipes a mile high, this one kept falling into the, I'll do this one late category.

Then a mutual friend had a birthday approaching. This mutual friend also happens to love Twix candy bars and therefore, my friend who gave me the recipe, kindly and with a hint of desperation, asked me to make the pie for our friend's birthday. I tried to dodge it and then, this so-called friend pulled out the big guns. I saw that this recipe required homemade caramel which is remarkably easy to botch and I mentioned, very passively, that I would have to make the caramel. My friend replied, "Oh, well, if this is too difficult for you, I understand." To say that this friend, who is fully aware that I am a baking fanatic, hit me where it hurt, is an understatement.

Of course, we all know what happened. I told my friend that those were fighting words and immediately went home to make this pie. Did his tactics work? Without a doubt and I took the bait like a ravenous shark smelling blood for the first time. In the end, I am glad I made this pie because it was undeniably good. Warning though, it is incredibly sweet and I would not suggest having this one at an office meeting. Everyone will crash hard and will not be able to keep their eyes open for the remainder of the day. If your goal is to take a nap, this pie is for you! Enjoy! AJ

Recipe from Ahmed on Group Recipes

Crust
1 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1 tbsp cocoa powder

Caramel filling
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon salt

Chocolate ganache
1 cup heavy whipping cream
5 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

For crust:
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 375°F. Butter 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add 1/2 cup butter; process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolks; process until moist clumps form. Add cocoa powder; blend in using on/off turns. Press dough onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan on rack while preparing caramel filling.

For caramel filling:
Combine sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil without stirring until mixture is deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 7 minutes. Watch carefully,sugar may burn so fast.
Remove from heat; add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Add butter and stir over low heat until caramel is completely smooth. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; stir in salt. Cool 10 minutes. Pour warm caramel into crust. Let stand at room temperature until completely cool, about 45 minutes.

For ganache:
Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate. Whisk until smooth. Let stand until slightly cooled but still pourable, about 10 minutes. Pour ganache evenly over caramel filling. Refrigerate tart uncovered until chocolate is firm, about 2 hours. do ahead Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Granola Bars



Every morning is a mad rush to get ready and out the door. I know there is not a parent on earth who has not experienced morning madness. I also have an aversion to the corn syrup laced granola bars that are very convenient but have an ingredient list that makes me cringe. I personally need an arsenal of convenient snacks to hold my little tike over until he has breakfast at daycare or while out and about. His boundless energy also turns him into a ravenous little animal who turns beastly if not fed on demand. What to do? Make them myself. As with everything else in life, they taste a million times better coming from my kitchen than they ever could coming from a box.

These are very sweet but I am convinced that the sugar holds them together well, a critical element of any kids snack. You can also play around with the ingredient list and add different nuts, dried fruits and spices according to your taste. Once these have cooled completely, I like to wrap them up individually so they are easy to grab and hand to little hands while running around like a crazy person. Posts with homemade crackers and other kid friendly snacks are in the works. Until then, enjoy the granola bars! AJ

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

Ingredients

2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut, loosely packed
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates, apricots, and cranberries and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Press the mixture evenly into the pan with the back of a rubber spatula. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pink Lady Cake and Cupcakes





I love having my own place. I am coming up on my one year anniversary in my apartment and I would like to take a moment to point out all of the stellar points of single living. I can bake pink cakes late at night and no one cares. I can bathe my place in shades of pink and purple and no one is around to complain. I can fall asleep on the couch while watching the Golden Girls, fill my fridge with sweets, make whatever I want for dinner, workout when I want, play whatever music I want, have my kitchen table piled high with newspapers, bills, my camera, my cooking magazines and no one says a word! Yes, I do have a little man that lives with me the majority of the time and he has absolutely no objection to all of my little quirks as long as I give him a ton of love and play monster trucks with him. To say that I am one lucky lady would be an understatement.

So, now you know that I was baking pink cake and cupcakes a few nights ago while the rest of the world slept. I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to make it as soon as possible. The thought of a strawberry puree inside a cake with cream cheese frosting was just too fantastic to pass up. Of course, my inner child was inextricably drawn to the pink cake with mounds of white and pink frosting everywhere. That same child was also over the moon upon tasting the finished product. Delicious! The taste, smell and look of the cake reminded me of my Strawberry Shortcake obsession when I was young. I wanted to live her fantasy life of strawberries and sweets. I would say this cake and my life are pretty close to that fantasy, complete with the freckles sprinkled across her nose. All I need now is that huge pink hat she always had on and my childhood fantasy is complete.

Cheers to happy living and pink sweets everywhere! xoxo - AJ


Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Cake/Cupcake:

4 1/2 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
5 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups pureed fresh strawberries
8 egg whites
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 drops red food gel

Cream cheese frosting

4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
4 cups (2 sticks; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cake/Cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray PAM and flour two 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pans. If you are doing cupcakes, line the cupcake pan with cupcake liners.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and strawberry puree and mix to blend the ingredients. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes; the batter will resemble strawberry ice cream at this point. Add in the balsamic vinegar and mix to incorporate.

In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, milk and red food dye to blend. Add the whites to the batter in two or three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorperate after each addition. Divide the batter among the two prepared pans and one muffin pan.

Important note: the cupcakes have a much shorter bake time! Bake the cakes for 30 to 34 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Bake the cupcakes in the same oven, next to the cakes for about 12-15 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the pan to loosen the cakes from the sides. Invert and turn out onto wire racks. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least an hour.

Cream cheese frosting:

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Add in the vanilla and then the confectioners’ sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl 3 to 4 times throughout the mixing process. Store in the refrigerator after use.

Frost and assemble the cake and cupcakes:

Place one cake layer on a cake board or platter. Spread about 2/3 cup frosting over the layer, spreading it to the edge. Add the top layer and frost the top and sides of cake with remaining frosting, reserving a small amount if you wish to tint it and pipe a decoration on the cake. If not, you can decorate the cake top with thinly-sliced strawberries. Decorate the cupcakes with the same icing and sprinkle on sparkled pink sprinkles.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Salt Roasted Beets in a Raspberry Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts




I have to eat lunch at my desk on a daily basis and since that is not the two martini lunch that I would like and that seems to be commonplace in the magical world of Mad Men, the least I can do is make it interesting and tasty. A pointer on bringing your lunch to work everyday, plan ahead so you are not a mad person trying to assemble everything in the morning while trying to get kids and dogs out the door.

There is a running joke in my office that I am down on the cafeteria in my office building. For the record, I was in a ravenous state one time and went to said cafeteria to order an omelet and I swear I could have broken a window with that hardened yellow brick they gave to me that they claimed was an omelet. They also screwed up an order of grilled cheese. Grilled cheese? Seriously? If you can't make grilled cheese, I'm out.

So, everyday I have to bring my lunch because the cafeteria is bad and quite frankly, I'm cheap and get nauseous at the thought of forking over $7.00 on a daily basis for food that tastes questionable at best. Enter the salad in all of the many glorious forms it can possibly come in. All of my salads have a common theme; goat cheese, walnuts and salad greens of some sort. When I found the recipe for salt roasted beets on Alexandra's Kitchen and she put it with, what else, goat cheese and walnuts, I knew it would be delicious. It was everything I thought it would be and more. In fact, the beets alone were so delicious that the first time I made them, they never made it into the salad. I added some raspberries to the salad and it was a wonderful combination.

I will try and post more lunch options because I know it is a struggle to come up with something worth eating every single day. Until then, enjoy the salad! AJ

Recipe adapted from Alexandra's Kitchen

Roasted Beets:

beets, washed, greens removed
kosher salt
a few sprigs thyme and rosemary, optional

Dressing:

3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 T. fig or regular balsamic
zest of an orange
1 small shallot, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
kosher salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salad:

goat cheese
walnuts, toasted
greens, optional
raspberries

Method:

1.) Roast the beets. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Pour kosher salt into a shallow roasting vessel to make a thin layer. (See photo to help estimate how much.) Place beets on salt bed. If using herbs, nestle a few sprigs among the beets. Cover pan tightly with foil and place in oven for about one hour, depending on how many and how big your beets are. Note: To test for doneness, remove foil and slip a pairing knife into one of the beets. If the knife meets little resistance, they are done. When beets are done, remove foil covering and let them cool. When cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and discard. Cut beets into nice chunks.

2.) Meanwhile, make the dressing. Place the orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat and reduce to 1/3 cup. Let cool. Add vinegar, zest, shallots, chives and a pinch of salt. Let sit for 15 minutes. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

3.) To assemble salad, arrange greens on a platter. Top with goat cheese, walnuts, raspberries and cut beets. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Spoon dressing over salad.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cinnamon Walnut Fudge Brownies





I went a little overboard and I am so very glad I did. These decadent mounds of fudgey chocolate sure knocked my socks off as well as those of my family and friends. How good could these possible be, you ask? Well, I told my son that if you get all smiley faces at school, you can have this brownie when I pick you up today. No, I am not above blatant bribery. After two weeks of mixed reviews on behavior, an angel child emerged and the teachers at daycare practically fell over themselves to let me know that he was perfect at school today. He was so good that when another little boy hit him and tried to start a fight, my little guy walked away. Picture me doing my happy dance for this glorious news! Pathetic that my life is now dictated by smiley faces on a tiny little slip of paper everyday? Perhaps. But, through all of the hair loss, wrinkle inducing, maddening, exhausted beyond recognition moments that I experience as a single parent, I would not have it any other way. My little man is a gregarious, outgoing and spirited kid that may drive me nuts but his charm and sweet nature more than make up for it. He rocks and I am one lucky Mom!

So, about these brownies. I am very particular about brownies as I usually find them uneventful. Enter cinnamon. I am a cinnamon fanatic and I put it on everything from my coffee, to oatmeal, anything with curry and of course, chocolate. I have become a huge fan of Alexandra's Kitchen and her brownies looked sublime. That and it's the only recipe that I could find which included ingredients that were already in my kitchen and would not require a trip to the grocery store. The only issue was that I tend to get bored with just plain chocolate and I wanted to add a little something to punch up the flavor. I thought of chocolate chips, marshmallows, the left over Dulce de Leche in the fridge, chocolate syrup, chili powder, dried cranberries, let your imagination run wild here. In the end, I went with my two favorite ingredients, cinnamon and walnuts. I personally think the cinnamon carried the flavor over the top more so than coffee has been able to with other brownie recipes I have made. I hope you enjoy these as much as I did! AJ

Recipe adapted from Alexandra's Kitchen

Ingredients:

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
15¼ oz. (2 cups) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ oz (¾ cup) unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
3 oz (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour; plus more for the pan
½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. table salt
1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position rack in the center of the oven. Cut 12-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length 8-inch baking pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhand pan edges. Cut another 12-inch length foil and, fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a large separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Transfer butter mixture to bowl with flour and stir with spatula or wooden spoon until batter is smooth. Add in walnuts and mix with spatula just until combined.

3. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 37-40 minutes. Insert a pairing knife or steak knife straight into center. If it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lime in the Coconut Madeleines

I had an epiphany today. I realized that I make food the way I live my life. I can never just stick with the recipe, I always have to add a little something extra.

When I was growing up, when other kids ordered chocolate or vanilla ice cream, I ordered Rocky Road. One time I got in trouble and my teacher made me write out a bunch of sentences that were on the chalk board and I wrote them all in chalk on my blue-lined notebook paper. I was amused, she most certainly was not. While everyone else took "straight jobs" or went off to grad school after college, I went to work on the campaign trail which entailed living out of my car and filing taxes in eight states in one year. As I write this, I think to myself, what kind of deranged nut am I?

Good news is that I have come to terms with being a little bit off-kilter. I have also come to terms with the abundance of freckles on my face, my thighs (ok, not completely but I am getting better), my nose that always looks off-center in pictures and the refusal of the scale needle to move to the left instead of the right. I would never want to look as perfect and therefore as boring as Holly.

So, with that, I bring you madeleines that are also a bit off-kilter. These are not typical and will be a little bit odd upon taste but in such an interesting and yummy way. There are a million ways to make Madeleines and since my son loves these and I get board easily, this is one recipe in a long line of possibilities for these delicate little treats. I posted the original version of Madeleines last year and since then, I love to add ingredients that will add a little interest to an otherwise petite vanilla cake. Enjoy! AJ

Recipe adapted from Barefoot in Paris by, Ina Garten


Ingredients:

1/1/2 tablespoons melted butter, to grease the pans
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 pound (1 stick) salted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger

Method:

Preheat the oven to 375. Thoroughly grease and flour the madeleine pans.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed for 3 minutes, or until light yellow and fluffy. Add the butter and mix. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt and stir into the batter with a rubber spatula. Stir in the coconut, lime juice, zest and ginger.

With a soup spoon, drop the batter into the pans, filling each shell almost full. Bake the madeleines for 10-12 minutes, until they spring back when pressed. Tap the madeleines out onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper and allow to cool.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Focaccia, Antipasto, Burrata Bliss




I don't mean to gush but I feel I must over two wonderful items in this post. Number 1, I have a glass of wine in my hand right now and I am raising it to The Bread Maker's Apprentice cookbook. I am an unabashed lover of bread. I love to make it (see Whole Wheat post), smell it in the oven, look at it and savor that buttery taste hot from the oven. There is no way I could ever follow the Atkins diet, I love carbs too much to give them up. Now, make bread with a ton of olive oil, caramelized onions and other delectable toppings and you have focaccia or one of the most sinful of all sinful carbs.

The second item that goes so wonderfully with homemade focaccia is burrata cheese. I will never forget tasting this mound of creamy goodness for the first time at Cafe Spiaggia in Chicago on a truly unforgettable date. He, (said date), ordered the antipasto platter which included the burrata and although we were still getting to know each other, he encouraged me to taste the cheese. Taste I did and it was as if I had just eaten a piece of high quality mozzarella with heavy cream and slight lemon undertones. In other words, it was mozzarella with the volume turned up and soon my date's plate was empty with only a drop of olive oil remaining from my ravenous siege of his appetizer. Burrata is difficult to find but if you come across it, please do pick it up and use it as a wonderfully flavorful and creamy alternative to mozzarella.

To compliment the two items above, I also added in marinated olives and tomatoes, salami and roasted red peppers. I am posting the recipes for the olives, tomatoes and peppers as those are the three items for which the recipes are mine. I think posting the focaccia recipe would be a disservice to The Bread Maker's Apprentice cookbook which includes so many tips, hints and different methods for making this focaccia as well as so many other bread recipes. If you have any interest in proper bread making, in my humble opinion, this book explains better than others how to make quality breads of all kinds and I highly recommend it. Enjoy! AJ

Marinated Olives

Ingredients
24 large unpitted Spanish olives
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least 8 hours. Serve at room temperature.

Marinated Tomatoes, recipe adapted from Fine Cooking

Ingredients
2 pints cherry tomatoes
2 scallions (white part only), chopped coarse
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

In a shallow bowl, mix the tomatoes, scallions, parsley, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the bowl and let the tomatoes marinate at room temperature for at least 1 hour, but preferably 3 to 4 hours. Stir them occasionally so that all the tomatoes are marinated. If the tomatoes are very ripe and marinate long enough, they will crack and burst, allowing their juices to mix with the marinade.

Roasted Red Peppers

Ingredients
4 large red bell peppers, seeded and cut in 1/2 lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 1/2 cups
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a baking sheet and place the peppers, cut side up on the oil. Turn the peppers over, season them with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Place the warm peppers in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes.

When the peppers are cool, remove and discard the skins. Slice the peppers and arrange them on a plate. Pour garlic or basil oil over the peppers and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Oreo Truffles

You have to love a person who follows a detox salmon recipe with Oreo truffles. Perhaps I should add hypocrite to my self-proclaimed study in contrasts title. Oh well, I never said I was perfect or consistent, far from both.

I was first introduced to these sinful darlings a few years ago by a work colleague. I remember tasting it in the hallway outside of my office and I think I might have heard angels singing when I took my first bite. Far from the truffles of French fame, these consist of ground up Oreos and cream cheese which are then dunked in chocolate. Bliss!

These sweet treats are now standard at all work holiday gatherings, showers and every other party we hold in the communal kitchen. Make them for your own work colleagues and I guarantee quick turn-around on those TPS reports. Enjoy! AJ

Ingredients:

1 package (1 lb. 2oz) regular Oreo cookies (not double stuff), finely crushed
1 package ( 8oz) cream cheese, softened
2-8 ounce packages milk or semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Method:

Mid 3 cups of the crushed cookies and cream cheese until well blended. Shape into 1-inch balls. It should make approximately 42 balls.

Dip balls into melted chocolate and place on waxed paper-covered baking sheet. Refrigerate 1 hour until firm.




Monday, May 10, 2010

Gwyneth's Steamed Salmon and Greens





I live a secret life.

Behind all of the cakes and cookies posted on this site, there is a woman who who is very much obsessed with healthy living, exercise and adamantly against processed foods, anything in a can, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and partially hydrogenated anything, to name a just a few items on my devil list.

Despite my best efforts, I believe that the cancer causing chemicals that I try so hard to stay away from, still find their way into my diet and I try to combat them with detoxing a couple times a year. I know there are "cleanses" that you can buy that will clear out your system but they also have several ingredients that I have never heard of and therefore defeat the purpose of purging my body of toxins. I prefer the natural route which means for 6-10 days, I stick to a diet of organic raw pureed vegetables, chicken and fish and a ton of water. So, yes, the person who posted Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies also detoxes on raw vegetables twice a year. What can I say? I am a study in contrasts.

So, in my quest for cleansing recipes, I came across Gwyneth Paltrow's site, Goop and I found a wonderful way to cook salmon that I had never tried. I must confess that I have always struggled with cooking salmon and tended to shy away from it. Nothing is worse than over-cooked fish and this recipe is foolproof in that regard. The herbs are steamed with the salmon, thereby, infusing the fish with the flavor. The amount of time for steaming is dead-on and the salmon and greens come out perfect. The kicker is that there is nothing added to this except for salt, pepper and a lemon squirt at the end. On the scale of healthy dishes, this definitely gets top honors.

Cheers to Gwyneth and all of her movie star, healthy wisdom! Enjoy! AJ

Ingredients:

Small handful of herbs (parsley, basil, chervil, tarragon, etc.) I used leeks, rosemary and basil
1 6oz. organic salmon fillet
1 cup of your favorite greens (kale, spinach, chard, etc.) I used kale
1 wedge of lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Line a steamer with the herbs and rest the salmon fillet on top. Steam for 11 minutes. Put the greens alongside the fish and steam for an additional 7 minutes. Squeeze the lemon over the fish and greens and serve.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cake Pops



Have you ever heard of Bakerella? If not, scoot on over to her website stat! Thanks to this woman, I have been the hero of my son's daycare, my kid's friends, co-workers and my parents. Guess who else I am a big hero to with these fabulous treats? You guessed it, my own kid and that is the sweetest reward of all!

These can be a little time consuming up front but I made a lot of just the cake part of the cake pops, used the ones I needed and froze the rest. You can also refrigerate the chocolate so if you need these in a pinch, heat the chocolate, dip the frozen cake pops in from the freezer and voila, instant dessert/gift/little treat for a tired Mom.

Now, as I like to say, my skills as a baker are amateur at best and I am always trying to improve. Please do not judge me too harshly for not having the beautiful designs as the ultra-talented Bakerella. To say that I am short on time these days would be an understatement. So, I plan on attempting more elaborate cake pops at the end of the year when my half-marathons are over and I can relax and make Oscar and Big Bird's head just to bite it off! Until then, please do enjoy the simplified version in the picture. xoxo - AJ

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tres Leches Cake




There is a lovely woman who works in the accounting department in my office who makes the most delectable Tres Leches Cake. Every Cinco de Mayo, she brings in this special treat and all is right with the world. I have to admit, the first time I saw that cake looking like a wet sponge, I was a little skeptical. I asked a co-worker what was wrong with the cake and he looked at me like I was crazy. He explained to me that it was Tres Leches Cake and how it was made. Based on his vivid description of a spongy cake absorbing three types of milk, I tried a piece. I had never had anything like it and I was hooked.

So, after putting off trying to make this cake for the past few years, I finally dove in last weekend in anticipation of Cinco de Mayo. I used the Pioneer Woman’s recipe and I added a few touches that involved some liquor love and Dulce de Leche. My parents brought back Mama Lucia Café Liquor from Mexico a while back and this seemed like a perfect excuse to use it. I also picked up some Dulce de Leche at the Southport Grocery in Chicago a few weeks ago and smeared a thin layer of it on the surface of the cake before topping it with whipped cream! Ay, Dios mio! To say I was in a state of euphoric ecstasy when I took my first taste would be an understatement. Even if you don’t add the liquor or Dulce de Leche, you will not be disappointed. Go forth, bake and enjoy! AJ

Recipe adapted from the Pioneer Woman Cooks

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
5 eggs
1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Mama Lucia Cafe Liquor
1/3 cup milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1/4 cup heavy Cream
Dulce de Leche

Icing:
1 pint heavy cream, for whipping
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoon sugar

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan liberally until coated.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs.

Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk, vanilla and cafe liquor. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.

Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.

Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.

Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all but about 1 cup of the milk mixture—try to get as much around the edges of the cake as you can.

Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes. When all of the liquid is absorbed, apply a thin layer of dulce de leche over the surface being careful not to rip the cake.

To ice the cake, whip 1 pint heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar and vanilla until thick and spreadable.

Spread over the surface of the cake. Decorate cake with dulce de leche piped on.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meyer Lemon Drop Ginger Pound Cake



So there I was corralling my child in Whole Foods when I spotted them from afar. They were all sitting there in a big pile like a mountain of orange jewels begging me to dump as many as possible into my bag. I could feel myself start to salivate as I moved closer to the citrus goodness that is the very-difficult-to-find-in-a-middle-state, Meyer Lemon. I felt like a pirate about to capture a bounty of gold after searching for it on the open sea for way too long. I had no idea what I was going to do with the lemons but I threw reason out the window and grabbed about ten of them.

I kept those gorgeous lemons sitting on my counter for about a week trying to figure out how I was going to use them while simultaneously admiring their simple beauty and the fact that I even had them in my possession. I decided to use those lemons in pound cake but I also wanted to throw in another ingredient that would give it a little bite. Enter candied ginger. The combination worked wonderfully together and the flavor truly did pop with the delectable combination of ginger and lemon intermingling with butter and sugar. If you come across Meyer lemons, rush home immediately and make this! Enjoy! AJ

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon sour cream
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
13 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest

Glaze:
1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 8x4 inch loaf pan with PAM.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix with a fork. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the butter and sugar for a few minutes. Add the eggs, milk, sour cream and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Add the sugar, lemon juice and zest and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in the candied ginger.

Scrape the batter into a prepared loaf pan or 4 small loaf pans. The smaller loaf pans are what I used. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.

For the glaze:

While the cakes are baking, combine the granulated sugar and juice in a small pan over medium heat until it dissolves completely. Let cool and then add the powdered sugar. While the loafs are still hot, put them on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Pour the glaze all over the load and let it sit until completely cool.