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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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 CafĂ© 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


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

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


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.