Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ticket Giveaway for a Crafty Weekend

Sabrosa Salt Company

Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out the Surgarloaf Crafts Festival at the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset. More than 250 of the nation's most accomplished crafts people selling handmade items will be joined by two dozen gourmet food vendors selling chocolates, speciality salts, soups and more.

Post your favorite recipe passed down from your mother, or favorite family cooking story, for a chance to win free tickets to the event on March 9, 10, and 11. I have six tickets available to give out first come first serve.

I can't wait to hear your stories!

Hungry Amigos Soup

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Ultimate Cooking In Spite Story: Mashed Potatoes

Growing up in a house with a mother who didn't cooked meant never having homemade mashed potatoes.

I always thought mashed potatoes were something complicated, in the same ballpark as soup, that were never made at home.

The mashed potatoes that we ate in our house were made from flakes that came out of a box. My parents served them with one of their favorite meals: roast beef from the deli served with gravy that came from a jar.

As you can only imagine, I was pretty surprised to find out after I moved out of my parents house that people did make soup at home. And they also made mashed potatoes.

After years of teaching myself how to cook, and enrolling in culinary school as a baking and pastry student, I still hadn't tackled mashed potatoes. I registered for a potato masher for our wedding, but it sat on my counter unused for almost two years. For some reason homemade mashed potatoes maintained some mystique that intimated me.

My lonely unused potato masher 

But tonight everything changed. My brother in law gave us an amazing stack of ribs to take home for dinner. And I had two pounds of russet potatoes in the bottom of my pantry.

I pulled out a Thanksgiving mashed potato recipe I had clipped from the Food Network magazine, when I first thought it was time to overcome my mashed potatoes phobia. I compared it against a recipe from "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Shelia Lukins that suggested replacing some of the milk with sour cream. How could I go wrong with that?

I boiled two pounds of mashed potatoes for about 45 minutes. I took the advice of the Food Network magazine and left the skins on for added flavor, and then peeled the potatoes wearing an oven mitt after they were fork tender. I used a cup of warmed milk and ended up using a whole stick of butter even though the recipe said to use half. Then I decided the potatoes needed some zing and followed the New Basics advice to add some sour cream.

In the end my mashed potatoes tasted like all the other decent mashed potatoes I had ever eaten. Considering this was my first try, I felt like that a giant success. I spent our entire dinner telling everyone how easy it was, until I am sure they were sick of hearing it.

Next I will have to try to make soup.

Please share your favorite mashed potato recipe with us! Here's mine:

First Batch Homemade Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds russet potatoes
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk warmed in the microwave
1/2 cup sour cream close to room temperature
salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large sauce pan of cold salted water and bring to a simmer for about 45 minutes. Once fork tender, remove potatoes from water and hold them in an oven mitt to peel.The skin will be so tender it mostly feel off on its own. Place potatoes in a large bowl. Cut up butter into 1- inch chunks and add it to the bowl with warm milk and sour cream. Mash with a potato masher. Add generous amount of salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Virtual Cookie Swap!

Martha Stewart's Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

This might be my new favorite day of the year!!!

The Epicurious blog reported that the virtual food world is holding a cookie recipe swap today!!!!!

Food web sites are sharing their favorite holiday recipes. I want to try all of these...especially any with chocolate

Below is the list of recipes in the swap. And let me add my favorite: Martha Stewart's Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie. I love it because it combines chocolate chips and chocolate chunks and always comes out wonderful and chewy!

What is your favorite cookie recipe? Post it here so we can start our own cookie swap!

Now for the list:

Websites Favorite Holiday Cookie Recipes:

Epicurious: Italian Almond Cookies
Gourmet Live: Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies
All You Magazine: Pecan and Honey Diamonds Sugar Cookies
Gilt Taste: Momofuku Milk Bar's Holiday Cookie Drink in the Holidays
Cooking Light: Iced Sugar Cookies Ultimate Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Food52: Ginger Spiced Molasses Sugar Cookies
Cooking Channel: The White House's Molasses Spice Cookies "Gingersnaps"
BlogHer: Triple Chocolate Almond Cookies
CafeMom: Marvelous Mini Apple Crisp Cookies
The Daily Meal: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Food Republic: Gingerbread Cheesecake Cookies
EatingWell: 5 Tips for Perfect Gingerbread Cookies
Redbook Magazine: Candy Cane Cookies
AP/ J.M. Hirsch: Ginger Fig Crumb Bars
FOX News: White Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies Brownie Cheesecake Peppermint Bars
Big Girls Small Kitchen: Cowboy Cookies
FN Dish: Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Bacon Cookies
Yahoo! Shine: Nutmeg Rosettes
Food & Wine: Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs
YumSugar: Coconut Date Balls

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More To Thanksgiving Than Pumpkin Pie

Courtesy Martha Stewart
Our Thanksgiving hostess sent out an email a few weeks ago asking her guests to let her know what they plan to bring for the holiday.

Everyone likes to bring dessert, she said in her email, but and she wanted to avoid serving 20 apple pies and nothing else for dessert.

It might not seem like Thanksgiving without a traditional assortment of apple or pumpkin pies. But you can definitely wow your host, or your guests, with some fun and tasty fall surprises on the dessert table.

A few weeks ago Megan Olund at Dough Heads Bakery in Englewood, N.J. shared her pumpkin whoopie  pie recipe. My husband is addicted to these and we actually fight over them when I bring them home from the bakery. So they have my vote this year as the best alternative dessert for Thanksgiving.

But for something that involves a few less steps, I definitely recommend my old standby favorite: Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins. Before I discovered whoopie pies this was my go to recipe for a party.

They always got rave reviews. It probably has something to do with the last step: brushing the muffins with melted butter and rolling in cinnamon sugar.

So if you are still mulling over what to make for Thanksgiving dessert, break with tradition and add something a little different to the table.

Martha Stewart's Pumpin Doughnut Muffins


10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups pure pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can)
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs

For The Sugar Coating:
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups.

Make batter:

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and allspice. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin puree. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine.

Spoon 1/3 cup batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon. Let muffins cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Working with one at a time, remove muffins from pan, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture. Let muffins cool completely on a wire rack.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dough Heads Bakery

Megan Olund's Pumpkin Whoopie Pie
Sorry I haven't been writing lately, but I've been spending most of my weekends interning at Dough Heads Bakery  in Englewood.

Since I am still working during the week, it is a pretty hectic schedule.

But I feel lucky that I picked Dough Heads to spend my weekends and finish school, if I can't be at home catching up on some sleep.

I discovered the bakery after reading an article about it in The Record. Megan Olund, a French Culinary Institute graduate and former retail manager at Amy's Breads, opened Dough Heads in January with her partner Chris Heslin.

Some of my co-workers were already raving about the soup and quiche so I went to check it out and met Megan. The place instantly reminded me of the coffee shop my college roommate and I used to dream about opening during late night alcohol induced conversations. We would know all the customers and our friends would hold poetry readings and play music.

Wonderful deep chocolate brownies 
I was also quickly won over by the brownies, which are the best I've ever had. And for a serious chocolate addict like me, that says a lot. Megan revealed that her secret is unsweetened chocolate. I've also become a huge fan of the coconut melty bars and my parents rave about the cupcakes.

Chocolate cupcakes with raspberry frosting
Before I came along, Megan had been doing on the baking on her own while Chris ran the front of the store, greeting customers, making coffee and taking orders for birthday and wedding cakes. Chris and Megan are on a first name basis with most of their customers. I frequently hear them having long conversations when I am in the back scooping red velvet whoopie pies or cutting up croissants for bread pudding.

Chris at the counter helping a customer 

Megan making crumb cake in the kitchen
I was told that working in kitchens can be pretty grueling and I would have to develop a thick skin. That is why I feel like I lucked out finding Dough Heads. I think I'm learning a lot and Megan has been great to work for -  she has endless patience when I try to shape baguettes and they end up looking like a long snake that ate a mongoose. And she was very understanding when I didn't fill the eclairs enough on my first try. We had to hold each one upside down after they were covered in chocolate to add more filling. Somehow that ended with me getting to eat one of the barely filled eclairs, so I don't think I was in any trouble.

I'm probably responsible for the oddly shaped baguette on the left 
On Sunday mornings when customers from the neighborhood stream in for coffee, croissants and muffins I get a little jealous that there isn't such a place near my home. I would spend all my afternoons there drinking coffee, working on my lap top and eating sweets until my stomach hurt (which I sometimes get to do now under the excuse of "trying of the products").

Megan agreed to share her pumpkin whoopie pie recipe with me. I think it would make a perfect treat on the Thanksgiving dessert table, or anytime during the fall. And it seemed appropriate because Megan is from Maine, where the whoopie pie craze started.

Please stop by and visit! I'll be working in the back on weekends through the new year, and the bakery is open Tuesday-Sunday.

Dough Heads Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
 Courtesy of Megan Olund

1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup oil
one 15 oz can pumpkin

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 t  cloves

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat butter and sugar until its light and fluffy, nearly the consistency of sour cream. This can be left going on the mixer while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add eggs one at a time, scraping bowl in between additions. The vanilla can be added with the eggs.

In a separate bowl combine combine sour cream, oil and pumpkin. Stir to mix together. In a second bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix together to combine I usually just stir with my hand.

After adding eggs to the butter and sugar, alternately add wet and dry ingredients in three additions, starting and ending with dry. Keep mixer on low during this step and scrape down bowl in between additions.

Using a small ice scream scoop, about the size of a tablespoon and a half, scoop leveled whoopie pie halves onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. For easier scooping, first refrigerate the batter for at least half and hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes, until the halves are golden and spring back when touched.

Makes 36 whoopie pies or 74 halves

Pumpkin whoopie pie filling:

1 pound of Marshmallow fluff
2 sticks butter butter
8 oz cream cheese
3 cups confectioners sugar

Beat butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until combined.
Add in the confectioners sugar and beat until light then beat in the fluff.

To assemble:

Scoop a small amount of filling onto cooled whoopie pie half, top with another half and gently press together.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The one cookbook you can't live without?

One of my favorite blogs, Food52, recently posed the question:

If you could cook from one cookbook and one only...which would it be and why?

I'm totally stumped! Is it really possible to sift through my totally disorganized but sacred bookshelf, pick one cookbook, and just forget about all the others?

The cookbook I can't live without depends on my mood. If I have a whole lazy day at home I'm going to grab Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bread" book and make a few loaves to keep in the freezer so I can avoid store bought bread for a while. If I have time in the morning and want to make dinner, I am going to grab my Crock Pot cookbook published by Rival and pick a meal that will be waiting for us when we get home.

Not to mention my beloved binder filled with recipes I have clipped from cooking magazines over the years. That is one collection of recipes I couldn't live without, but in this case I am not sure it counts.

If I was forced to grab one cookbook from my shelves and toss aside all the rest I think it would have to be "The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook" by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

This cookbook has won me years of praise at family holiday dinners. It's filled with wonderful recipes from around the world. My picky mother who avoids anything "ethnic" because she thinks its spicy doesn't know it, but every Rosh Hashanah she raves about a Moroccan dish (chicken braised in honey and tomatoes) that I make from this cookbook. I love this book because I love cooking for the holidays and having our entire extended family gathered around the dinner table.

So now I ask you the same question: If you could pick one cookbook to cook from- and only one - what would it be and why?

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Mint Chocolate Ice Cream Cake
The burning question right now is what I am going to do when I am done with culinary school.

This fall I will be an intern - hopefully in some wonderful New York City bakery - and I'll get to keep learning. That is the part I am excited about. After that I really want to start developing my own recipes. And I might start telling all of my neighbors that they should think of me the next time they need a cake for a special occasion.

A friend suggested that I start writing about easy dinners for working couples. I don't think I am destined to be the next Rachel Ray with a cookbook of 30 minute meals. But maybe my friend was onto something and I I should try to capitalize on what I love to do most: quick and easy desserts that look impressive, but take little effort.

This mint chocolate ice cream cake is the perfect example. It's my twist on a suggestion I found a while back in Mary Engelbreit's "Sweet Treats Dessert Cookbook.''

Before culinary school I used to cheat and buy a ready made Oreo Crust for this cake and it tasted pretty great. This year I thought I had to make my own crust. I separated 20 Oreo cookies and scooped out the cream. Then I crushed the cookies in a food processor, drizzeled 4 tablespoons of melted butter over it, pressed it into a pie plate and froze it for about an hour.  The crust was a little stubborn when I went to cut up the cake. It didn't want to come out of the pie plate, but when I wrestled it out, it did taste wonderful. Maybe next time I'll use less butter or won't press it so tightly together.

The secret to this cake is buying premium quality ice cream. I use 2 pints Haagen-Dazs mint chocolate. I like it because it doesn't have any artificial color to make it green. Then I let the ice cream sit on the counter til it's soft, empty it into a bowl and stir in some green creme de menthe. Next spread the ice cream in the crust and freeze it until it's set. I usually do this over night.

Now comes the fun part: decorating! Place half a pint of heavy cream in a mixer and whipped with a tablespoon of sugar to make a whipped cream that will hold its shape if you want to put it in a piping bag. I also use Andes candies and run a vegetable peeler over a bar of chocolate to get shavings that I scatter on top of the cake.

But you can decorate it anyway you want to make your own perfect summertime treat. Thin Mint girl scout cookies would work really well too if you have any left in the house.

The best part is it takes minimal effort and it will impress the heck out of your friends.

Oh, and did I mention how wonderful and refreshing it taste? Yum!