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


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.


Pizza Dough


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

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


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.


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


goat cheese
walnuts, toasted
greens, optional


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.