; Supermarket Serenade: 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Quick Sour Cream Cupcakes

A few weeks ago I spent a rainy afternoon in New York City on a shopping trip. Albeit very wet, the shopping trip was a lot of fun, I found some wonderful deals at Century 21 (cool, cool store), scouted out some future purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue (i.e. stuff I hope will one day soon appear on the racks of Marshalls or TJ Maxx given that their SFA prices were a little too steep for my budget). But without question the highlight of my my trip was a little detour into the Magnolia bakery for cupcakes.

I love cupcakes. Cupcakes are usually smaller than a slice of cake so I don't feel too guilty indulging (at least that's my rationalization). This particular day, rainy as it was, I waited on the relatively short line for a (famous) Magnolia cupcake. I ordered two. I know I should only have had one but the pressure of the line behind me made it impossible for me to make a quick decision and choose between a snickerdoodle cupcake and a red velvet one. Once outside I huddled with my friends under an umbrella and ate the snickerdoodle one; not quite satisfied I greedily ate the red velvet one. The red velvet one wins...both were fabulous, but boy that red velvet one..mmmmm.

Since the trip I have been obsessed with all things cupcakes. I will admit that I am really not much of a baker and I seem to have difficulty finding a home made cake/cupcake recipe that produces a light, fluffy cake/cupcake as opposed to a heavy dense one. Any suggestions?? As a result of my baking deficiencies I have turned to box mixes with a few alterations to make them more homemade tasting.

One of my favorite boxed mixes is the Ghiardelli chocolate cupcake mix. The mix which I purchased at a big warehouse store included two bags of mix, two bags of frosting mix and cupcake wrappers. The first time I made the cupcakes I made it just as directed, but found it to be just too chocolaty and the frosting to be way too thick. So second time around I decided to make some slight changes. I replaced the oil called for in the recipe with 3/4 cup of sour cream and instead of using the frosting mix (I'll save it for something else...maybe sandwich cookie filling?)I made a quick sour cream butter cream. The results were fabulous! The cupcakes were tender and fluffy and the creamy vanilla frosting was just the contrast the chocolaty cupcakes needed.

Quick Sour Cream Cupcakes

1 pouch of Ghiardelli cupcake mix
2 eggs
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir ingredients in a large mixing bowl until well combined. Line 12 muffin cups with the foil liners. Divide the batter between the liners and bake for 18 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Sour Cream Butter Cream Frosting

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream

Beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beating to combine. Add the vanilla and sour cream, beat for 3-4 minutes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tasty Buttermilk Tilapia Toes

You read it right. I said Tilapia toes. Why is it that it is perfectly acceptable to say chicken fingers...fish fingers...lady fingers? What about toes? Is the word toes that unappealing? Perhaps.

Call them what you would like, but today I've prepared some tasty morsels of the trendiest fish in supermarkets these days: Tilapia. Tilapia are fish from the Cichlidae family found typically in fresh water ponds, lakes and streams and in the supermarket can usually be found fresh in the fish market area or frozen in the freezer section.

Tilapia's flavor is quite mild making it an appealing choice to families with children. I dare say even the staunchest fish stick hater (I happen to be one of them) will not mind the almost poultry-like flavor of Tilapia. I suppose it is very cliche to say "it tastes like chicken", but it almost does taste like a very tender chicken. The mild flavor makes Tilapia a perfect ingredient for so many dinner recipes...tacos, sandwiches, stews or one of my favorites-"Tilapi-joes".

Today I've marinated the fish in a mixture of buttermilk and hot sauce, cut them into bite-sized pieces and coated with fresh bread crumbs. The bites or "toes" are then fried in a bit of butter and oil and served with your favorite ranch dressing. They're Toe-riffic...sorry I couldn't resist!

Tasty Buttermilk Tilapia Toes

4 Tilapia fillets, thawed if frozen, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce
2-3 small whole grain rolls (I used Pepperidge Farms Hearth Baked 7 Grain Rolls)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place thawed Tilapia fillets in a shallow dish. Whisk together the buttermilk and the hot sauce; pour over the fillets. Let Tilapia marinate for 15-20 minutes.
In a small food processor, combine the rolls, red pepper flakes and salt; process until fine crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a plate. Take one piece of the Tilapia from the marinade and coat with the bread crumbs. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Heat the butter and oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add Tilapia pieces and cook 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown outside and flaky tender inside. Drain Tilapia pieces on paper towels. Serve immediately with your favorite ranch dressing to dip.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Island Style Banana Cream Pie

For me the Pillsbury Bake off has always been elusive...I just can't seem to figure out what they're looking for. Sadly I did not make the cut for the 2010 bakeoff however, they are running an alternate contest on their web site called the "Monthly challange" where each month they have a recipe "theme" and consumers can enter recipes for the chance to win $2500. This month's theme was homemade pies.

Well...they picked my pie as a finalist!! I need your votes...I need your friends' votes...I need any kind strangers' votes!! My recipe is for Island Style Banana Cream Pie!

The pie is a luscious banana cream pie laced with toasted coconut and topped with a creamy mango whipped cream....it is divine!

Island Style Banana Cream Pie


1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups cold milk

2 boxes (4-serving size each) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix

4 medium bananas, cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/2 cup shredded coconut, toasted

1 ripe mango, seed removed, peeled and cut up

1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed


1. Heat oven to 450°F. Make pie crust as directed on box for One-Crust Baked Shell using 9-inch glass pie plate. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.
2. In large bowl with electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sour cream until smooth and fluffy. Gradually add milk, 1/2 cup at a time, beating until smooth. Add pudding mixes and beat until well blended.
3. Spread 1/3 of the pudding mixture into bottom of cooled pie crust. Top with half of the banana slices. Spread another 1/3 of the pudding mixture over the bananas covering completely. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the toasted coconut. Top with the remaining banana slices. Spread remaining pudding mixture over bananas. Sprinkle with another 1/3 of the toasted coconut.
4. Using the food processor, puree mango. In small bowl, fold together the mango and whipped topping. Spread mango topping over top of pie. Sprinkle with remaining coconut. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to chill. Cover and refrigerate any remaining pie.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Avocado Party!

I have previously established that I think that avocados are quite possibly the world’s most perfect food. Compact, nutrient packed, avocados are a portable nutrient powerhouse and I love them. So it should come as no surprise that I decided to host an avocado party.

I decided to go with an Avocado Luncheon where each course included avocados. I had nine guests and it was a lot of fun!
First up was (of course) guacamole. Served with multigrain corn chips, my guacamole is laced with diced tomatoes, jalapeno and cilantro. Instead of the typical garlic-which I often find harsh-mine includes finely minced shallot. For an impressive presentation I highly recommend purchasing a molcajete (mohl-ka-hey-te) which is basically a giant mortar and pestle. Ingredients are combined and served right in the molcajete…it looks so rustic.
Quick Guacamole

2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeds removed, diced
1/4 cup finely diced grape or plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in molcajete or medium sized bowl; mash to combine.

Lunch was an avocado and citrus salad with a jalapeno vinaigrette. On the side were Avocado, Bacon and Sprout Sandwiches with Lemon-Pepper Crème Fraiche. Sandwiches were served on small Ciabatta rolls.

Avocado Citrus Salads with Jalapeno Avocado Oil Vinaigrette

8 cups mixed greens
2 seedless oranges, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large red grapefruit, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 ripe avocados, peeled, seed and coarsely chopped
Jalapeno Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup Avocado oil
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Arrange greens on a large serving platter. Scatter the oranges, grapefruit and avocado over the greens.

In a small food processor combine the avocado oil, vinegar, lime juice, shallot, jalapeno, salt and pepper; process until smooth.

Drizzle vinaigrette over the salad.

Avocado, Bacon and Sprout Ciabatta Sandwiches with Lemon Pepper Crème Fraiche

Lemon Pepper Crème Fraiche:
1 cup crème fraiche
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 lb. thick sliced maple flavored bacon
2 cups sprouts, rinsed and patted dry
3-4 avocados, peeled, seeds removed, mashed
10 Ciabatta rolls, split

In a small bowl stir together the crème fraiche, lemon zest, lemon juice, pepper and salt; set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the bacon in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain bacon on paper towels.

Spread the crème fraiche on the bottom half of each roll, top with the sprouts, followed by the bacon. Spread the mashed avocado on the top half of each roll and arrange on top of sandwiches.

Makes 10 sandwiches

Dessert was my favorite part of the party! I debated on how to serve the avocado for dessert-I had read online that in some countries avocados are mashed and sprinkled with sugar to be eaten as dessert. That was not particularly appealing to me. I love the combination of avocado and mango so I decided to go with those flavors in a sundae. Edy’s (Dreyers in some parts of the country) makes a Tart Mango Frozen Yogurt that is absolutely amazing!

Tart Mango Frozen Yogurt with Avocado-Coconut Sauce and Toasted Coconut

1/2 avocado
1/4 cup Crème de Coconut (such as Coco Lopez)
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 cups Edy’s Tart Mango Frozen Yogurt
1 cup flaked coconut, lightly toasted

In a blender (Magic Bullet works great here) combine the avocado, Crème de Coconut and heavy cream and blend until smooth.

Place 1/2 cup of frozen yogurt into each 10 serving bowls. Drizzle the Avocado-Coconut cream over frozen yogurt and sprinkle with the toasted coconut.

Makes 10 servings

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Peanut Butter Lover's Cookie

I wish that I was one of those people that could eat anything. I wish also that when I baked cookies or cakes or even purchased them from the supermarket that I had that innate something that allowed you to perfectly portion treats without over indulging. What I am trying to say is that I have no self control...no ability to stop. An open package of Oreos (my true cookie love) can without much thought become an empty package. A plate of neatly stacked, homemade brownies, still warm from the oven, can become a plate of crumbs without as much as a second thought. It is for that reason that I seldom bake.

While creating irresistible treats is one of the pitfalls of baking for me, I do still enjoy baking. I love the feeling of success felt when a batch of cookies comes out just how it is supposed to. It is a great feeling when a pie recipe, once only made perfectly by my mother, comes out just how she would have made it (well, almost).

This past weekend I felt what I like to refer to as “the pull of the oven”. Not unlike the gravitational pull of the moon, the pull of the oven is the season, time of day or time of year, when for the taste of, the accomplishment of, or simply the smell of sweet “somethings” you are compelled to bake.

Given my temptation shortfall, I decided that I would bake something but it would be something that I probably would not eat. Consulting my (short) list of less-preferred baked goods, I fell upon peanut butter cookies. Not that I have anything against peanut butter-nothing tastes better on a Ritz cracker-I just for whatever reason, have never enjoyed peanut butter in baked goods. My other reason for choosing peanut butter-less self deprecating-is that I have a humongous jar of “natural” peanut butter that I purchased for my daughter to make peanut butter sandwiches for school which she has since decided is too “liquidy” and she would not use it (apparently she’s a Jif or Skippy only girl-who knew?).
Spatula in hand, I googled for peanut butter cookies looking for one that would use the most peanut butter. I found cookies that ranged from using as little as a 1/4 cup to as much as an entire jar of peanut butter. I ultimately settled on a recipe using an entire jar from AllRecipes.com. This cookie-not for the peanut butter faint of heart-packs a real peanutty flavor. Knowing that my kids would not like the crunch of added peanuts, I left out the listed 1 cup replacing it with milk chocolate chips for a “Reese’s-peanut-butter-cup-like” flavor. They came out so beautifully that yes… even I could not resist trying them. I really liked the texture; they were fluffy in the centers but slightly crisp at the edges. The taste was too peanut buttery for a non-peanut butter person such as me, but my kids really enjoyed them and recommend them highly.

My only critique of the preparation of these cookies is that when I went to make the cross marks using a fork, the fork kept sticking. Not being a regular peanut cookie baker I don't know if that's normal or not...anyway, just watch out for that! Also I followed the suggestion of one commenter on the Allrecipes site to chill the dough in a log that way you can slice and bake. It's a lot of dough though so you might want to make a few logs.

The Whole Jar of Peanut Butter Cookies
from Allrecipes.com Submitted by Kevin Ryan

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1(18 ounce) jar Peanut Butter*
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped peanuts (which I replaced with milk chocolate chips)

*Since I was using the "natural" kind of peanut butter which is very liquidy, I only used about 16-17 ounces of peanut butter.

In a large bowl cream butter, white sugar and brown sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, yolk and vanilla; mix until fluffy. Stir in the peanut butter. Sift together the flour baking powder and salt; stir into the peanut butter mixture. Finally stir in the peanuts (or chocolate chips). Refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. (I chose to line baking sheets with parchment paper-much easier!)

Roll dough into walnut sized balls.
Place on prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly with a fork.
Bake for 12-15 minutes in the preheated oven. Cookies should look dry on top. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes (and How I Lost The National Beef Cook Off)

A few days have passed since the 2009 National Beef Cook Off in Sonoma, California. I was very fortunate enough to have been selected to participate. A few days have gone by...and I think I may be finally finished with beating myself up over my dish. Well, almost.

The theme this year was "Sonoma Style" - meaning healthful beef dishes paired with fresh ingredients typical of Sonoma, CA. The categories were Living Well with Grilled Beef, Lean Beef in Nutrient Rich One Dish Meals, and Teens Cooking With Beef. You can see all the finalists here.

My dish was Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes. It is a grilled pizza with a whole grain crust topped with grilled, sliced N.Y. Strip Steak, grilled plums, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, a drizzle of honey and topped with coarsely chopped pistachio nuts. I have eaten this pizza more times than I care to share (my family has eaten this pizza more times than they care to remember) and truthfully every time I made the pizza it came out just right; the plums had beautiful grill marks, the steak was a fabulous shade of pink, the crust tender-crisp. So why when it counted did I crumble like a dried out shortcake biscuit??

It was all going very well. I was confident. It was my third time at the National Beef Cook off. I knew the drill. I was even cooking on the very same grill I have at home. There was no excuse. My crust grilled better than I had anticipated given that it was not the same brand I had been practicing with. The plums? Not a problem, grilled up fine. I put my steak on the grill and watched the grill smoke up while arranging the plums and honey on the crust. I flipped the steaks, closed the grill and watched it smoke up and heard the grill flare. I panicked. It was too smoky. My meat would be overcooked. "These people have good palates..." I thought to myself, "they don't want to be eating overcooked meat." Then I made the fatal mistake. I took the steaks off the grill to rest knowing full well my carefully set timer had not gone off. I had practiced. I knew exactly how long those steaks had to grill. But I panicked.

The steaks were rested for about 5 minutes (they continue cooking, right??) I carved. They sliced well, smooth, probably more an indication of a good cut as opposed to good cooking. The cook off timer announced I had 5 minutes remaining. I looked at the meat as I nervously continued to cut. I knew it was undercooked, but I had to slice it and arrange it on the pizza then grill again to melt the cheese-surely it would brown up then. I fanned the steak, crumbled the cheese and added the nuts. I slid the pizzas back onto the grill. The cook off timer announced that I had 1 minute remaining. I peeked in...still raw. I had no more time. I transferred the (mooing) pizzas to my elegant white serving platter.

The emcee for the afternoon, chef Richard Chamberlain of Addison Steakhouse, one of Dallas' top restaurants, came over to see my entry. Our eyes met. I saw his horror. I hope he saw mine-I hope he knew that I knew my steak wasn't cooked. He kindly commented on the beauty of the rustic crust, the delicious smell of the plums. But guess what? It was not a dough or plum cook off. As I watched with horrified regret and visions of judges spitting pizza into their napkins, my entry went to the judges. My husband and my assigned cattlewoman hostess, Lisa, tried to reassure me. But I knew. I only hope for the judges' sakes my dish was quietly disqualified so they did not have to eat my raw entry. I am so sorry judges.

I hope you will try making my recipe-it actually is tasty when properly cooked.

I really don't mind losing. The other entries looked delicious and I could very well have not won with a perfectly cooked entry. But it would be so much easier to lose if I felt that I sent to the judges the best possible Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes that I could have.

(My compliments to the professional food stylists at the Cook Off-you made it almost look edible)

Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes

1 pound whole wheat pizza dough
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus additional to brush the grill
2 boneless beef loin strip steaks (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 red plums, each cut into 12 slices
2 tablespoons Wildflower Honey
1 cup crumbled Pt. Reyes blue cheese
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and flatten each into a 6-8 inch disc; brush both sides of each disc lightly with the olive oil and grill on a medium-hot grill just until grill marks appear, about 2 minutes per side and then set aside. Grill steaks 9-11 minutes over medium-hot grill (turning occasionally), remove to cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

2. Lightly (and carefully) grill plums on both sides on a well oiled grill then fan 6 slices over each grilled crust; drizzle the plums with the honey. Carve the steaks into 1/4 inch thick slices and fan over and/or between the plums, season with the salt and the pepper, evenly dividing.

3. Crumble the blue cheese over the sliced steak and sprinkle with the pistachio nuts, evenly dividing. Return pizzettes to the grill, close the cover and cook until the cheese is melted about 2 minutes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grilled Guajillo Chicken

Guajillo. Don't you just love saying it? Gwah-Hee-yo.

I have never actually worked with dried peppers before. I've worked with dried mushrooms (which I love), but I have always been rather intimidated by dried peppers. But on a recent trip to the supermarket I threw caution to the wind and decided to buy a package of guajillo peppers and a package of ancho peppers.

First up are the guajillos. Easier to use than I had thought, they are an inexpensive way to provide some great flavor to your dishes. They are a mild pepper rating about 2 or 3 on the hot scale-with 10 being super hot, so if super hot is what you're looking for these are not the peppers you want. But if you're looking for a nice smoky flavor, a hint of spice, and some nice color, these peppers deliver on all counts.

The peppers have a leathery skin and need a bit of soaking to reconstitute. Be sure to wash before using and trim the stems before placing in boiling water to reconstitute.

I had an abundance of thin sliced chicken cutlets in my freezer and decided to make use of them, so I thawed and marinated them in a guajillo based marinade then grilled them. Paired with yellow rice and sauteed peppers they made a quick tasty dinner. I also shredded one and added cheese and green onion placed between two whole wheat tortillas for a tasty quesadilla for one of my picky eaters...yummy.

Guajillo Grilled Chicken

4 dried guajillo peppers, washed
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
6 boneless, skinless thin sliced chicken cutlets

Place the guajillo peppers in a small bowl and cover with the boiling water. Cover the bowl and let peppers sit for 15-20 minutes, until tender.

Transfer the peppers and 1/4 cup of the water to a food processor (reserve the remaining water). Add the oil, tomato paste, honey, vinegar, cumin and salt; process until smooth. Place the paste and the remaining water into a zipper top plastic bag along with the chicken; shake well to combine. Let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat a grill to medium high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the hot grill, discard marinade. Grill chicken 2-3 minutes per side.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lunchboxes Filled with Love

I know the Staples commercial with the Dad dancing gleefully down the aisle of a Staple’s store tossing back to school supplies into a shopping cart would lead one to believe that most parents cannot wait for their kids to go back to school, but you know what? I’m not all that gleeful about it.

I really miss my kids when they go back. And now as they are getting older they are often seldom home because of assorted activities, friend gatherings and now my oldest has a job. So truthfully I really kind of like summer when they are around just a little bit more. But like it or not it is time to send them back to school. Two of my kids have already started and one starts next week.

When I was a kid my mother made bologna and American cheese sandwiches on soft white bread on Sunday nights. Helping her, I would usually slice the bologna into quarters so it could be arranged on the bread in a square (I hated cold cut overhang-is that obsessive compulsive?) She tucked the sandwiches in plastic bags and tossed them in the freezer and each morning, assembly line style, we would grab our sandwich, an apple and a small package of pretzels (sometimes we got cookies) then toss it all in a brown paper bag (I tossed it in my Brady Bunch Lunchbox in the early years).
I don’t quite have the assembly line system my mom had and truthfully my kids do not always like to take their lunch…and certainly only my youngest has a lunchbox (albeit a Vera Bradley one which really looks more like a purse). But lunch usually is not too much different than what I got: a sandwich-but now it is turkey and American cheese on wheat, an apple, pretzels and the occasional treat. Today I have made two treats which I will likely slip into plastic bags and freeze for lunches. Whether I toss these treats into a lunchbox or simply serve them up after school, hopefully my kids will get the message that in school or out of school I love them.

Maple Almond Cinnamon Chip Banana Bars

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, light, firmly packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 medium bananas, peeled and mashed
1 egg
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup Cinnamon chips

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed 15 ½ x10 ½ inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour baking powder and salt. In another large mixing bowl beat together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the maple syrup, bananas and the egg, beating until combined. Add the flour mixture a little bit at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Stir in the almonds and cinnamon chips.

Spread the batter evenly over the prepared pan, don’t worry if it’s not perfect just spread it as evenly as possible.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before frosting or cutting into squares. Store bars in a covered container.
Note: bars are very thin...if you would prefer slightly thicker bars, bake them in a 13x9 inch pan.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting (optional)

1(8 ounce) package of reduced fat cream cheese
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth.

Crispy Peanut Butter Lunchbox Bars

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup marshmallow topping
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups puffed rice cereal
4 ounces dark chocolate

Lightly spray an 8x8 square dish with cooking spray.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, marshmallow topping and butter, stirring to combine.

Stir in the puffed rice cereal. Press the mixture into the prepared dish. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Using a knife, drizzle the chocolate over the squares. Let the chocolate firm before eating (unless you really can't wait).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Barefoot Contessa White Pizza

It's Barefoot Thursday! Barefoot Thursday is the day when a group of food bloggers (known as "Barefoot Bloggers") with deep admiration for the Barefoot Contessa-Ina Garten, all prepare a delicious recipe from one of her many cookbooks. This week's recipe was chosen by Andrea of Nummy Kitchen.

We are a pizza family. Some of my best memories involve pizza. The very first "meal" I ever purchased with my very own money was a slice of cheese pizza and an icy cold coke from Salvatore's pizza in East Northport, New York; I was eight and I remember feeling incredibly proud when I dropped the crumpled bills on the counter to pay. My favorite college meal was a (huge) slice of Rocco's pizza and 1/2 chicken Parmesan hero that I would split with my roommate Ginger in the Bronx, New York. After getting engaged my now husband and I grabbed two slices of Sicilian from Umberto's on Long Island before heading to a friend's baby shower (that remains my favorite slice of pizza to this day).

Last summer when I was getting my new kitchen put in I experimented a lot with cooking my own pizzas on the grill. I burned quite a few, but all in all they came out great. (In fact one of the pizzas I came up with then was a steak pizza which I will be preparing at The National Beef Cook off in Sonoma in a few weeks...so I was happy to make this barefoot blogger pizza in order to have a little bit of practice with dough stretching!)

I was actually a little skeptical about this recipe which is essentially salad on a pizza but I must say it was fabulous! I made a few changes...I did not have arugula so I substituted fresh baby spinach and I just cannot stomach goat cheese so I substituted Manchego cheese-not really the same texture as the goat cheese, but I was happy with the results. The lemon vinaigrette was an absolutely wonderful complement to the cheeses on the pizza. I added some thin slices of plum tomatoes from the local farm stand to one of the pizzas and that was delicious too. Making pizza at home has really never been easier...while making a homemade crust is wonderful, I am grateful that most well stocked supermarkets carry ready to stretch doughs to make pizza creation at home a snap!

Barefoot Contessa's White Pizza

For the dough:
1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110) water
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
Good olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the topping:
3 cups grated Italian fontina cheese (8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese (7 ounces)
11 ounces creamy goat cheese, such as Montrachet, crumbled
For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces baby arugula
1 lemon, sliced

Mix the dough.
Combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of flour, then 2 teaspoons salt, and mix on medium-low speed. While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour, or just enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl.

Knead by hand.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead it by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic.

Let it rise.

Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Make garlic oil.

Place 1/2 cup of olive oil, the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (Be sure your oven is clean!)
Portion the dough.

Dump the dough onto a board and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Place the doughs on sheet pans lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
Stretch the dough.

Press and stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle and place 2 circles on each sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (If you've chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.)

Top the dough.
Brush the pizzas with the garlic oil, and sprinkle each one liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese. Drizzle each pizza with 1 tablespoon more of the garlic oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.

Make the vinaigrette.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/2 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Add the greens.

When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten. Place a large bunch of arugula on each pizza and a slice of lemon and serve immediately.

TIP Make sure the bowl is warm before you put the water and yeast in; the water must be warm for the yeast to develop.
TIP Salt inhibits the growth of yeast; add half the flour, then the salt, and then the rest of the flour.
TIP To make sure yeast is still "alive," or active, put it in water and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If it becomes creamy or foamy, it's active.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quick Beach Tortellini Salad

As summer eases to its inevitable end, I find myself rushing to squeeze in the forgotten fun things I had placed on the summer bucket list. This past weekend my daughter danced at a Celtic festival in Mystic, CT which I'm thrilled to report allowed us to sneak over to my very favorite summer eating place: Abbott's Lobster in the Rough.

Nestled on Connecticut's shoreline in cozy Noank, CT, Abbott's is a true summer treat...they serve assorted seafood including my "dream about it all winter long" favorite meal: Hot lobster rolls on toasted buns with melted butter...mmmmm. Maybe we can squeeze one more trip in before they close in the fall...

We made one last trip to the beach before school starts...just the sound beach-I was too afraid of hurricane waves to go to the ocean beach...I know, wimpy. I tossed together a tortellini salad to use up some tasty summer plum tomatoes and some Avocado oil from the supermarket. I think you'll love the rich flavor the avocado oil gives the salad-but if you can't find it in your supermarket olive oil would make a good substitute.

Cracked Pepper Avocado Lime Tortellini

4 plum tomatoes
2 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach leaves, packed
1 lime
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
9 ounces cheese filled tortellini
1/2 cup small diced cooked chicken
1/4 cup avocado oil
1 avocado, diced

Dice the tomatoes and place in a large bowl with the spinach.
Remove the zest from the lime and finely chop; add to the bowl with the tomatoes. Squeeze in the juice from 1/2 the lime. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the 3/4 teaspoon of pepper.

Cook the tortellini according to package directions just until tender, drain and stir into the bowl with the tomatoes and spinach. Stir in the chicken, avocado oil and the remaining salt. Gently stir in the avocado and squeeze in the juice from the remaining lime half. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 6 servings

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers...Mango Banana Daiquiris

Today is Barefoot Thursday! That day when food bloggers near and far all prepare a delicious recipe created by the beloved Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. Why don't you join us?

Not sure if anyone noticed but in bit of overzealous excitement (it was my turn to choose) I posted this last Thursday. Then I surfed around fellow barefoot bloggers blogs and noticed not a single one posted. Why? Because I was a week early!! Ooops! This week's recipe is for Mango Banana Daiquiris and they were just the island treat I needed. I am a mango freak...I love them! I could eat them breakfast lunch and dinner and now I can drink them in between.

When I selected this week's recipe (yes! it was my turn to choose) I knew that I would just be getting back from our Caribbean cruise and I just knew I would need a little something to bring me back to the islands if only for just a few moments! It was unfortunate that my drink was not served to me as I lounged on my deck chair by the pool or that I didn't have fabulous Daiquiri glasses to serve them in, but they were nevertheless delicious. I prepared one batch with the rum for the adults and one batch sans liquor for the kiddies. I have to say I would love to drink one of these every morning (without the rum of course!).

Here's a few super tips on selecting mangoes from your supermarket:

Look for mangoes with multiple colors-reds, yellows and a touch of green on
Mangoes should give slightly when you press on them...not too much
though as you don't want them to be mushy.
Avoid mangoes with blemished skin, try to find smooth, undented fruit.

Mango Banana Daiquiris

By Ina Garten

2 cups chopped ripe mango (1-2 mangos, peeled and seeded)
1 ripe banana, chopped
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
1/4 cup sugar syrup*
1 1/4 cups dark rum
Mango slices for serving

Place the mango, banana, lime juice, sugar syrup and rum in a blender and process until smooth. Add 2 cups of ice and process again until smooth and thick. Serve ice cold in high ball glasses with mango slices.

*to make simple syrup, heat 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Chill.

Here's a little St. Thomas shot...ahhhhh...I need to go back...