Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tempting Tiramisu in Under Ten Steps

I've always wanted to make the desserts you order at a restaurant. Tres Leches, Tiramisu, and my favorite, the Napoleon. I've conquered Tres Leches so I can check that off the list and I also make a pretty friggin' delicious Tiramisu. It did not come easy that's for sure.

My dad used to make it in a bowl when I was a kid. Like ice cream, so I never took into account consistency or getting it to stay together like at a bakery. Tiramisu is delicious whether it looks fancy or frumpy but here is my tips and tricks on how to get it to be delicious and serve-able.

Egg whites are temperamental little critters. If you aren't used to working with egg whites they have the potential to ruin your dessert. Its all about consistency. If you don't want to use the raw egg, whipped Mascarpone by itself is still delicious. But its 100x better the "real' way. 

The ingredients to make Tiramisu aren't cheap either. Just warning ya. 

Remember how we talked about the order of ingredients and how sometimes its important and sometimes it isn't? Well this time, its pretty important. This is my NO-FAIL Tiramisu, It's big enough to serve as dessert for company but small enough to make for just you and your hubby for a romantic in-the-house date night.
Double the recipe to serve 12.

Ingredients you need are
2 eggs
8oz mascarpone
cocoa powder-no measuring necessary.
coffee-if you have a Keurig,1 pod, large setting. If you're kicking it old school, brew a pot and call it a day.
Kahlua-I used about 4 generous "pours". Use your judgement
24 lady fingers
1/2 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon

I used a 9x9 brownie pan with the easy lift from the infomercials with 2 layers, if you double the recipe use a 9x13 with 3 layers.

Separate your eggs into two bowls. In the bowl with the egg yolks, add in 1/2 cup sugar and whisk until smooth.(you really don't need a mixer for this step). Add in the Mascarpone cheese a little at a time and whisk until smoothed. You want all ingredients blended without melting the cheese and making it runny.Which is why doing it by hand is better then using the mixer.

OK, now you can use your mixer. Whip your egg whites until soft peaks form... Soft peaks really means, that the egg white is frothy enough to hold a shape. Once you see this happen, add in the tablespoon sugar and beat a little longer until those soft peaks look more defined and glossy "stiff peaks". For this step I recommend 2 things. The first is to make sure your bowl is clean and cool, a warm mixing bowl will stop your whites from forming. I also recommend using metal, metal bowl and metal whisk attachment. Gently fold in the egg whites into the cheese mixture with a spatula. 

Here is what your batter should look like.
It should be about the same consistency as instant pudding and yellowish/white in color.

Here comes the fun part.

Add the Kahlua to your brewed coffee.
1. Dip Lady fingers into coffee and arrange in your pan to form a layer
2. Pour half the cheese mixture over 1st layer
3.Sift cocoa powder onto cheese mixture
4.Repeat steps 1-3

Once assembled, refrigerate 4-6 hours and ENJOY. I recommend a strongly brewed cup of espresso on the side :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gee-Gee's Marble Pound Cake

I love to cook. I love spontaneously throwing in this or that and tasting as I go along to serve up something just right. With baking, all of that goes out of the window, sort of.

Julia's Gee-Gee(great grandma) has finally arrived and I wanted to bake her a special treat. A few birdies told me that marble pound cake would be a win-win. So I googled a basic recipe.

Side Note: When we got married in St. John, We ate dinner at this amazing little Northern Italian style restaurant. We ordered Cayenne pepper chocolate ice cream. It was Phenomenal! The blend of chocolate with a kick really impressed us. Now it seems everyone is doing that these days. Remember this little story it will be important later.

Basic recipe... bittersweet chocolate,strongly brewed coffee,butter, eggs, sugar,flour,baking soda,baking powder, salt, vanilla, and plain yogurt.

After reading "The Dessert Bible" a while back I learned the "proper" way to merge ingredients, even if it isn't listed in the recipe as such and what key words to look out for in order to help with the order and style of your dessert. I follow those rules...some of the time.

I started out sifting the flour, baking powder/soda and salt, creamed together the sugar and butter, added in the eggs 1 at a time and then it was time to add in the vanilla and yogurt. I look in my baking pantry. OMG no vanilla? how can that be...OK maybe I put it in the spice cabinet by mistake. Looking, looking, moving things around, looking... OMG

The Cayenne pepper falls into my flour mixture and the cap wasn't secured tightly(this happens when you cook with a toddler running around and an infant watching your every move while he sits in his nap nanny in the kitchen doorway)...There is Cayenne pepper in my cake mixture holy crap... Do I start  over?*see side note above*

I'd say it was roughly 1/4 tsp.

Back to the no vanilla extract situation.. AH HAH! VANILLA yogurt!! two birds with one stone... Life gives you lemons sometimes, man... Make lemonade, or cayenne pepper vanilla yogurt pound cake.

Once your mixer is all creamed up with butter, sugar, yogurt and eggs. Add in your flour mixture and some milk.

In a double boiler, or the microwave, melt half a bag bittersweet chocolate and 1 tablespoon coffee.

Divide the batter in half and add in your chocolate mixture to one of them. Spray a loaf pan or bundt pan with cooking spray and start to pour in your batter. Since this is sort of a "gift" cake, I wanted it to look professional. I poured a little chocolate batter on the left then a little vanilla batter on the right, and then did the opposite until the pan was half way full. Then I took a knife and scribbled little circles in the batter. 350 for 35 minutes.

I made 1.5 of these cakes so that hubby and I (and Julia) could taste test before giving it to Gee-Gee. The result was a delicate, airy pound cake with beautiful marbling and a great taste. But I couldn't stop there of course. I prepared a chocolate ganache with a drip or two... or three of Kahlua and drizzled it over the top of the cake.

You don't taste the pepper exactly but what you do taste is a stronger chocolatey-ness...It's rather hard to explain if you've never experienced it. It adds a little bit of sophistication to a classic and mostly basic cake. I would still use the vanilla yogurt instead of plain, but next time I would also add in vanilla extract(1/2 tsp would do the trick) as well but only to the half without the chocolate, that way both sides get that extra dazzle.  

After an echoing "more cake momma more cake momma cake cake cake cake" I am assuming that meant MMMM delicious in toddler speak.( no boozy ganache on her piece)

Here is the break down of the other aforementioned ingredients.  
1 and 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
2 and 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2.5 tsp baking powder
6oz bitter sweet chocolate (half a package if using chips)
1 tbsp strong coffee
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup yogurt
1/2 tsp vanilla

and don't be a chicken okay? Throw in that cayenne pepper.

*the easiest ganache recipe is as follows*

This yields enough for this cake and a little extra for dipping pretzels into tee-hee.

1/2 cup heavy cream in a small pot on the stove until it starts to get those little bubbles around the side.
throw in the other half bag of chocolate chips. let it sit for a moment and then whisk it until smooth. Add a tablespoon flavored liquor or vanilla extract or coffee or leave it alone. whatever your heart(or stomach) tells you.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saturday snackin' Spinach and artichoke dip

*WARNING- If you are on a low fat diet, look away*

I love spinach and artichoke dip... I practically lived on it when I was pregnant with Jacob. It was the only thing I actually craved and didn't make me nauseous to eat. Although mostly lighter cheeses were used, there is a lot of it in here.

This recipe fills a large serving dish, and would be an impressive appetizer, but I just whipped it up because, well. I wanted too. Julia and I enjoyed it for 2 days. It was just as delicious reheated in the microwave.

OK so lets get cheesy. You need 3 cheeses for this recipe. You could even do 4 dare I say it, but I decided not to go with the expected topper of Parmesan. Had this been made for a party however, I would have.

Start with 1 large clove of garlic chopped super tiny and some butter in the pot. Toss in a large bag of fresh baby spinach. I used roughly 1 tablespoon butter but I am sure olive oil would be fine too. After the spinach looks cooked and wilty and the garlic is browned and smells amazing its time to take it out of the pot. Drain the spinach but keep the juices. Chop the spinach and keep it near by. Open a can of artichoke hearts and throw it in the pot with the spinachy, buttery garlic infused juices. While its cooking smush it around with a spoon to soften it up a bit. When they start to brown, take it out and throw them in a food processor until creamy. If you don't have one, use a potato masher, meat mallet, fork. SOMETHING!

The artichokes eat up all of that liquid so back in the pot go 2 tablespoons butter and equal parts flour, yes a RUE. Slowly pour in 1 cup of milk. I used 2% but 1% would be healthier and work just as well. Once it starts to simmer up to a light boil, add in 3/4 cup crumbled Feta and 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Once it loosens up a bit and starts to boil again, add in 1 package light cream cheese/neufchatel that has been softened. Once smooth, add in your spinach and your artichoke paste and bring to a simmer again. Pour into an oven safe serving dish and bake at 375.

20 Minutes later you will have a bubbling, gooey, cheesy dip to enjoy. Julia and I used little Tofuyan whole wheat pita bites, but you could use tortilla chips or pretzel thins, whatever your style.

If I was a  fancy pants and had one of those kitchen torches, I would've browned it even further. Adding that top sprinkle of parmesan would have also increased browning. But since I wasn't showcasing the darn thing, its no big deal. It tasted fresher, better and less greasy than any spinach and artichoke dip I have ever ordered. And I've ordered it A LOT.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Throw that seasoning packet away" Chicken Tortillas

   Want to know how to win over your man's stomach? Cook him delicious Italian food. Want to know how to keep your man happy? Learn to cook something else because he is getting sick of Italian food. HAHA just kidding, I don't think we could get sick of the classics. BUT...

    If you ventured out of your comfort zone like I did and made that awesome steak from the previous post, you are going to have leftovers...

    Leftover rice, leftover salsa, leftover GUACAMOLE! So here is a delish way to make chicken without using those seasoning packets from what I call the "lazy isle" of the super market. Unless you genuinely enjoy the taste of Monosodium Glutamate, Maltodextrin and Silicone Dioxide. Mmmm!

   Start off with 1 onion and chop it up, throw a pat of butter in a hot pan and toss in the onion, while the onion softens, cut up your chicken into little strip size pieces that would fit nicely in a corn tortilla. If you are anything like me, and cut every. single. tiny. gross looking bit off of your chicken breasts then put the pot on LOW because it takes forever to cut your chicken!!

    Keep the cut up pieces on your cutting board. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of paprika,cumin,oregano,garlic powder,chili powder,cayenne pepper and cilantro. Sprinkle salt and pepper to your taste. Smush it all around with your hands until the chicken is covered and looks brownish/red and pasty like this...

I added about 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan. It seems like a lot but it gets drained out and it helps the onions not to brown too fast, that way the chicken gets that onion flavor without over cooking and drying out the onions. I also squeezed the juice of half a lemon right over the chicken mid way through.

Cook until juices run clear and chicken looks cooked but still juicey. This takes about ten minutes on low-medium heat. Drain all of the oil out and cook 1 more minute on high heat. I find this trick helps the seasoning stay on the chicken instead of the pan.

Use up that yummy guacamole, salsa and rice.. put into a little corn tortilla and enjoy. Pour two glasses of  frothy  Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen beer.I promise that this beer is both bold enough for hubby and lady friendly for you. It has a hint of citrus flavor that goes really well with this dish as well as the steak recipe it followed.

You know you want to eat that.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The "Make this for your hubby NOW" steak

 What is better than a yummy steak? A delicious Mexican inspired steak thats been marinating for 24 hours,served along side saffron rice and fresh guacamole!

  I can't take credit for the marinade because it's posted all over the web. It must be a standard marinade for a Mexican style steak. What I can take credit for is figuring out the amount of all ingredients for a 2 person steak night and picking a nice cut of beef. The standard ingredients for this are super simple and accessible. Vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, cumin, oregano,paprika, salt pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, fresh limes and fresh garlic. Surprisingly cilantro wasn't mentioned but I threw in a generous pinch anyway. 

     The flavor of this steak will knock your socks off. We used this both as a basic steak night and a Mexican feast night. My hubby loved it so much the first night that it was special requested only two days later. I have to say that a good guacamole and salsa brings this to new heights. We attempted it fajita style but the tortilla takes away from the flavor too much. I can honestly say that I wouldn't change a single thing, other than just trying different cuts of beef.

     I recommend a hanger steak, also known as butchers cut, but a flank or skirt steak is also a great choice. Here is the breakdown of ingredients for roughly 1.5lbs of steak.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy
half of 1/3 cup vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
juice of 1 lime
tsp garlic 
tsp cumi
tsp oregano
tsp chili
tsp paprika
salt/pepper to taste
"generous pinch" cilantro

Pour it all in a plastic baggie. Throw in the steak.  Mush it around and refrigerate 24hrs. 
We cooked it on a grill pan and Jason poured the remaining marinade over while searing, but this would also be delicious if you have an outdoor grill!!
P.S Cafasso Fairway in Fort Lee makes amazing guacamole and salsa..Just beware of the insane parking lot where people drive on the wrong sides and try to kill you..If you make it home in one piece you will have a fabulous dinner.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Toddler Summer Mac

       Julia loves mac and cheese.  Recently I have been extremely aware of the unnecessary sugars in processed foods that I try to make what I can from scratch. The problem with scratch traditional home baked mac and cheese is that it is usually very rich, isn't fast enough to whip together for your toddlers lunch and requires an oven.  With today's heat,that was not happening.

I suppose you could bake this but the point of this "summer Mac" is that it's quick, easy and light.

      Even 10 minutes seems like forever to a hungry toddler, Luckily this is a super quick recipe that is complete by the time the pasta has cooked.  The sauce starts as a rue. For 2 cups pasta I used 1.5 tablespoons of butter and equal parts flour, added about 1/4 cup of milk( didn't really measure exactly) after this simmers up to a light boil I added about another quarter cup milk and a pinch of salt,pepper, and paprika.

        I added 4 slices of light sargento thin sliced cheddar but this is where you can get creative. I wanted to try a feta/jack combo but Julia loves cheddar and this was for her. Once the cheese melts and the sauce gets saucy again you can throw in the pasta. It might look too cheesy ( is that possible?) but the pasta absorbs it.

       After I served Julia I added another pinch of pepper and paprika and it was perfectly seasoned for grown ups. Mac and cheese isn't the best reheat and there was a bit left over so we will try it tomorrow to see how it holds up compared to its processed boxed version. Once Jacob eats real food I doubt I will have a leftovers problem.

I felt it only fitting to take a picture using Julia's plate.

Monday, June 18, 2012

BBQ Pulled Pork and Frites

 I am not exactly sure what sparked my recent "southern twist" but I am currently obsessed with  3 things. Southern style recipes, crafty home decor ideas and mason jars.

For Fathers day I wanted to try a new recipe I had found. It required 2 things that make me nervous, A giant slab of meat and the slow cooker. I've found that cooking with the slow cooker is a hit or miss. It's either rockin' or its a disaster so putting a giant slab of meat in it to then either ruin or come out great is extremely nerve wracking.

We love BBQ so it was worth a shot.

I had to actually ask the butcher for this particular cut of pork since it wasn't displayed or packaged. That also meant it was cut to order and I NEVER know how many pounds of something to buy because 1. meat shrinks and 2. if its yummy you want left overs.

I started with 1 onion, sliced in quarters and 2 cups of water with 3 tablespoons vinegar. I rubbed the shoulder with salt and pepper and put it over the onions in the crockpot for 5.5 hours. While it was cooking I started on the BBQ sauce. We like a vinegary spiced up BBQ sauce and this one sounded just right but it was too sweet and very pasty. One thing about me is I NEVER follow a recipe 100% I kind of use it for measurements and ideas and do my own thing. Because I'm not comfortable with this style of cooking just yet I did follow this recipe exactly, until hubby came in for a taste test...I ended up adding much more pepper, black, red and cayenne with a dollop of chili powder thrown in and a small pat of butter, because butter fixes all errors.

After about an hour of simmering and then shredding the pork, the sauce was ready to be added in the crock pot.

 The result was a really juicey sauce filled crock pot.

30 minutes of simmering later...
A juicey saucey pulled pork filled brioche roll.

And then came the fries.. These were awesome. They take a little planning because the cut up potatoes have to soak in cold water for at least an hour to dilute the starch.

They are par-fried for 3-4 minute at 300 degrees and then left to slightly cool on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel.

after all batches go for the first round, the oil is cranked up to 400 degrees and cooked until golden and crispity. For well done, this was roughly 6 minutes per batch.

Julia loves fries, and gets them so infrequently that she couldn't even wait for mommy to take a picture, followed by a resounding "mmm yi-yi's" which is french fries in toddler speak.

I served said pork n frites with some fresh yummy green beans but did not of course think to plate it for a picture, next venture I will leave camera work to my hubby, who takes great photos and has an eye for that sort of thing!

*bbq sauce adapted from
*fries adapted from

Julia's Olivia style 2nd birthday

Our precious girl is 2. Life is going by wayyyyy too fast,one day she is obsessed with Elmo the next it's Curious George. Now it is Fancy Nancy but a week ago it was Olivia the pig. I capitalized on her fly by night obsession and made an Olivia style dessert party. This was my first "themed" party attempt and all was home baked and created. I think it was a pretty decent job considering the fact I have a nursing 4 week old baby and have never had any training in pastry arts aside from a 4 week Wilton cake decorating class I took almost a year ago. Not too shabby

 First up was red velvet cupcakes with something called "cake batter icing" it's rich and unlike anything you've tasted but goes perfectly with the muted sweetness of red velvet. For the Olivia face cupcake toppers I free handed the faces with melted colored chocolates and then drew on noses and detailed the ears after it had hardened a little. I hand drew the red bows also and let them refrigerate. The day of the party I used prepared black icing and the smallest pastry tip I could find to make the little eye slots,mouth and nostrils. This picture makes them appear larger but in reality these little heads were roughly an inch and a half.
           On the table were also colored chocolate covered marshmallows, fruit kabobs, yogurt parfait, candied apples and French style macarons. The macarons came out dark pink no matter how hard I tried for red, if I added any more food coloring the taste would have been compromised, and the whole point of dessert is the taste right? So I gave up on my dream of jungle red macaroons and called it a day. I must admit macarons are temperamental little buggers but with the chocolate ganache filling they were outrageously delicious. I put them in a tinted red vase because, well, I was obsessed with the red factor. The letter banner on the table cloth was a last ditch effort at decorations and was really easy. I bought red polka dot craft paper and cut out some bubble letters And glued it on the table cloth with a non toxic glue stick.

           Next time I have a few changes I'd incorporate for the candied apples and parfait if I decide on those particular desserts again but all in all everything came along really well. Especially my Olivia cake for Julia. 
             It was a Tres Leches cake with whipped cream frosting. The borders were a prepared icing with the flowering pastry tip and the Olivia was a simple buttercream icing in white pink red and black. I freehanded the Olivia off of a picture I had found and then traced my own drawing onto parchment paper and filled in the lines with icing- this was a y make ahead piece of the cake because the buttercream has to freeze for 16 hours and then be carefully placed attop the cake. The bordering and lettering I did the day of the party. I'm getting better at writing in icing but it is for sure the hardest part. I also freehanded a little bow with icing and red glitter just for an extra little pizazz! 


 Julia really appreciated her party and even said "thank you for piggy cake momma"...That little sentence made it all worth it and makes me want to do an even better job next year.

*tres leches & red velvet cupcakes adapted from ""