Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cupcake Spotlight! (May)

This month's cupcake was inspired by one person, my mom.  I decided to make her favorite cake because of Mother's Day.  Unfortunately, she lives too far away to enjoy it, but it's the thought that counts, right?  So what is my mom's favorite cake???? 

Carrot cake.  I spiced up the classic cream cheese frosting with cinnamon.  I also made half of the cupcakes with walnuts and raisins, and the other half without.  They are both equally delicious, and you can suit everyone's taste.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Steak Caesar Pitas

The weather is turning warmer and perhaps the oven won't be turned on as often.  This is also the time of year when you start to eat a bit lighter too.  Whether you are watching the waist line for summer clothing or just are too busy to prepare a huge meal, this recipe is an ideal quick fix.

Today's recipe is really more about an idea than an exact recipe.  You can substitute chicken for steak, whole grain pita for white, or Parmesan cheese for the fontinella.  Also it's great for people who really don't "cook".  The only thing that is being cooked is the meat.  That can be grilled or sauteed in a fry pan, and the rest is just assembly.  For people who really are quite clever in the kitchen, go ahead and make a home made caesar dressing, but I chose to use a bottled one.  I also think this a great idea for entertaining.  It really stretches the protein and you can entertain with steak on a budget.

recipe (serves 4)

1 bag of baby romaine lettuce ( or 3 hearts of romaine chopped)
2 lbs steak (I used a flat iron; just choose a good grilling steak)
1/4 c. shredded fontinella cheese
1/3 c. caesar dressing
4 pita pockets

Either on an outdoor grill or grill pan on the stove, cook steaks until they reach a medium well temperature.  Remove from heat an allow to rest and cool slightly.  Cut steak on the bias in thin strips.  In a large bowl, add steak, lettuce, and caesar dressing. Toss until coated.  Cut pitas in a half and fill pockets and top with cheese evenly.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easy Chocolate Fondue

As promised, I served chocolate fondue for Easter dinner.  The kids thought I was joking, Adam kept asking for a "real dinner".  However, after a few dips of chocolate everyone was very happy.  We had a relaxing Easter morning of church, an egg hunt, and brunch.  The boys colored eggs on Saturday, and spent Sunday morning looking for eggs the Easter Bunny had hidden.  Overall, a very good day!

The recipe for the chocolate fondue is so easy.  I used a combination of semi-sweet and milk chocolate, but use any chocolate combination you desire.  Just make sure you have two cups of chocolate.  You can also add orange liqueur to the fondue for an adult version.  For dipping items, I used fresh fruit like strawberries and bananas, pound cake, marshmallows, pretzels, and cookies.  The possibilities are endless. 

**If you use a dark chocolate or all semi-sweet chocolate,  be sure to add 1/2 c. sugar to the fondue **

recipe for chocolate fondue

1 1/2 c. milk chocolate chips
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a medium sauce pot, combine all the ingredients over a low heat. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Pour into a warm fondue pot, and serve with a variety of dippers.


Brandon's happy chocolate face!

Adam was the last to leave the table

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lemon Bars

I have been such a good girl this Lenten season.  I gave up sweets for Lent, and oh was it hard.  Tomorrow, on Easter we will be having chocolate fondue for dinner. Yes people, I said dinner not dessert.  I am going to celebrate with a food fest of yummy goodies dipped in molten chocolate.

Before Easter dinner, I will be taking the children to church for an Easter breakfast and egg hunt.  For the breakfast, the parishioners bring baked goods to share.  I have decided to make lemon bars.  I figured if I was indulging in chocolate in the evening, I would go with something light for breakfast.

These lemon bars are very traditional with simple ingredients.  You probably have everything in your pantry except perhaps the lemons.  Make a quick trip to the grocery store and you are all set.  You can cut the squares small and get 20 or cut them medium and get about 15.  The only thing I did different from the traditional recipe is cut back on the sugar.  You need a good amount of sugar to off set the tartness of the lemons, but the called for three cups seemed a little much.  I scaled it back and they are still lemony and sweet.

Happy Holidays!!

crust recipe

2 sticks softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla

In a large mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and flour until dough just comes together.  On a floured surface, mound the dough into a ball.  In a lightly greased 9x13x2 pan, press the dough into the bottom of the pan evenly.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  In a preheated 350 degree oven, bake the crust for 15 to 17 minutes, until lightly browned.  Set the pan on a cooling rack and prepare filling.

filling recipe

6 extra large or jumbo eggs, room temperature
2 1/4 c. sugar
2 tbsp. lemon zest, 4 to 6 lemons
1 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice, 6 to 9 lemons
1 c. flour
powder sugar and berries for garnish

Whisk together eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour.  Make sure all the ingredients are completely combined.  Pour over crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is just set.  Let cool to room temperature.

Dust with powder sugar and berries before serving.  Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Book To Read

I was very lucky last week to spend time with my family.  I went home for a long overdue visit and spent some quality time with friends and family.  I got to clear my head and get back on track, and in the evening I got to catch up on some reading.

I normally don't recommend books to read.  Mostly because I don't read great works of literature.  I read what most people call fluff or light reading.  But every now and then I come across a book, that moves me. 

This last week I read Jane Green's, Promises to Keep.  This book really hit home.  I related with the central character, Callie.  We are both mom's to young children, and have husbands that spend an enormous amount of time with their careers.  She has a couple of super close friends, and has a wonderful relationship with her family.  Then some unforeseen things happen and the relationships are tested and their strength embraced.  Upon finishing the book, I was in tears, and sat reflecting on my own life.  I once again reaffirmed my blessings.

Go ahead and give this one a try.  If you are a fast reader you can have it done in a couple of nights.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Triple Chocolate Chip Muffins

Do you ever fantasize about what you would do if you won the lottery?  I do.  I have a life long dream of opening a bakery/cafe.  I would love to have a showcase of everyday treats like cookies, brownies, and cupcakes.  Then I would have a luncheon menu featuring salads, sandwiches and soups.  The cafe would only be open until about 3 p.m.  Allowing some free time in the evenings for family. 

Well until I hit the lottery or come across a benefactor, I spend my time perfecting recipes.  I also try out new baking equipment.  Today, I baked triple chocolate chip muffins in my new Rachael Ray square muffin pan. 

The muffins were a success among the men in the house.  Moist and chocolaty, what more can you ask for!  Please give these a try, and who knows maybe someday you will find them in a showcase of my bakery.  What are your dreams? Linking to these parties.


2 c. flour
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
2 eggs
6 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. plain low-fat yogurt or sour cream
1/4 c. milk chocolate chips
1/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 c. white chocolate chips

Sift together dry ingredients, make a well and set aside.  In a another bowl whisk together all the wet ingredients.  With a spatula fold the wet ingredients into the dry, until just mixed.  Fold in the chocolate.  Scoop into 12 muffin cups and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes.  Allow to cool on a cooling rack.  Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Pot Roast

Last night we had an amazing family over for dinner.  I gave them their choice of dinner, and they chose pot roast.  I was actually very pleased with the choice because I don't make it often for just Jay and myself.  It's the kind of meal you need to share.

The recipe is quite simple and requires very few things.  To accompany the roast, I made classic mashed potatoes, cheesy garlic bread and salad.  For dessert we had a very creamy cheesecake and cookies for the kids.  The evening was filled with laughter and children playing; what else can you ask for on a Saturday night?

recipe for pot roast

4 to 5 lb. shoulder roast of beef
6 oz pearl onions
2 to 3 ribs of celery
2 to 3 carrots, chopped
1 small container of crimini mushrooms
2 to 3 tbsp of oil
1 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 c. beef stock

In a large roaster or skillet, preheat the oil until smoking.  Sprinkle the roast liberally with salt and pepper.  Sear the roast on all sides to lock in the juices.

Set the roasting pan aside and move the beef to a slow cooker. Add the vegetables and beef stock.  Cover and turn on high for 4 to 6 hours, and then turn onto low for 2 more hours.

When the roast is done, remove to a platter and rest for 10 minutes.  Then with a knife and fork shred the beef.  Serve with gravy.

gravy recipe

2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 to 3 c. beef stock
1/2 tsp. onion powder
salt and pepper to taste

In the same pan you seared the beef, combine the flour and butter over medium heat.  Be sure to let the flour cook for 2 to 3 minutes and whisk up the pan drippings.  Add the beef stock and let it come to a boil.  This will allow the gravy to thicken.  Add onion powder and salt and pepper to taste. 

You can make the gravy ahead of time and store in the refrigerator.  I then reheated the gravy in a small little dipper slow cooker and was hot for serving.

Flower and butterfly sugar cookies were a fun end to the evening for the kids.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cheesecake Tips

I have to admit, I am not a fan of all kinds of cheesecake.  In fact, I never ate cheesecake until I encountered Junior's Cheesecake in NYC.  I still have a problem with the taste of a strong cheesecake, I definitely prefer a more mild flavor.

That being said, I make a lot of cheesecake.  A couple of years ago, Jay bought me the cookbook from the Junior's bakery.  Ever since, Jay asks for cheesecake for his birthday, and it seems to be my go to dessert when having company.  Through all my cheesecake endeavors, I have come up with some tips that are helpful.  These tips will help stop the cake from having a Grand Canyon size crack.  It will also help to perfect the presentation of the cake. 

  • Always start with room temperature ingredients, including the eggs
  • Never run the mixer on a high speed, if using a stand mixer don't go above a 3
  • Make sure to scrape the bowl down continuously between the addition of ingredients
  • Bake the cake in a water bath
  • When removing the cake from the oven, move to a cooling rack and leave it alone for at least an hour; do not look at it, breathe on it, just walk away
  • Refrigerate the cake for several hours before removing the spring form pan
  • To smooth out side of cake, run a knife under hot water, dry it off, and gently run it along the side to smooth
  • If all else fails and you have a crack, garnish with fruit and whip cream
I hope these tips help with your future cheesecake adventures!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Somethings Are Worth The Extra Expense

I am a very budget minded person.  People laugh at me at how I scrutinize our budget and will go without certain luxuries.  I feel as CFO of the Nowak Corporation, I need to be very responsible on expenditures.  However, sometimes it is worth to pay a little extra for the convenience of certain things.

What am I referring to??? Window cleaner wipes.  I know it sounds really crazy that I would get so excited over a cleaning product. In fact excited enough to blog about it, but I recently broke down and bought some and love them. 

I am a cleaning fanatic. I am cleaning my house daily and actually find joy in it.  One of my gripes was the upstairs bathroom mirror.  This is the bathroom used by myself and two little boys.  The mirror always has fingerprints and toothpaste spatter on it.  No matter how many times I tell the boys to brush over the sink, it seems to wind up on the mirror.  It wasn't always convenient to go downstairs to the cleaning cupboard and get the glass cleaner and paper towels.  Then I thought about keeping a bottle of cleaner and paper towels upstairs, but honestly I live in an old house with limited storage space in the bathroom.  I tried using microfibers clothes, but it really didn't get the marks off.  The other cleaning wipes (not for glass), left the mirror streaked.

So I did it. I broke down and paid $2.97 for a canister of 30 glass cleaner wipes.  Oh my gosh, it was wonderful.  One wipe was enough to clean the large mirror, and was still moist enough to wipe down the faucet as well.  My opinion is, the price is well worth the convenience and my sanity of keeping a clean bathroom.  Now I don't have to yell at the boys everyday while brushing their teeth. I simply go behind them and wipe it down.

Have a happy Wednesday.  Come back this weekend and checkout a pot roast recipe. I am having dinner guests and will feature the recipe on Sunday!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rustic Pizza Two Ways

The thing that I love about pizza is you can enjoy it so many ways.  You can have it deep dish like they do in Chicago and thin crust like New York City.  Where I grew up in Buffalo, it is a happy medium.  I believe each type of crust serves a different purpose and all of them are enjoyable.

Today's recipe is for a thinner crispy crust.  I call it rustic because of it's irregular shape and very few ingredients.  The dough recipe included will allow you to make two average size pizzas or four personal ones.  I chose to make two.  Plain cheese for the kids and chicken bar-b-que for Jay and myself.

dough recipe

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 tsp. honey
1 c. warm water (I run hot tap water)
3 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt (I use Kosher salt)
1 tbsp. olive oil (and extra for brushing)

In a large stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the honey. Wait a few minutes for the yeast to bubble and "wake up".  Add the oil and 2 cups of flour.  Once mixed for a few minutes add the salt and the remaining cup of flour.  Allow mixer to knead for about ten minutes on low speed.  Remove the dough from mixer and knead on the counter top for a minute. Place dough into a bowl greased with oil and cover with a damp towel.  Allow to rise for an hour or so, or until doubled in size.

You can use this dough for any pizza, calzone, or stromboli.

To make the plain cheese pizza simply divide the dough ball in half.  Spread the dough onto a cookie sheet sprayed with baking spray.

Next add about a 1/2 cup of pizza sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese. Brush the crust with olive oil. Bake in a preheat 450 degree oven for about 15 to 17 minutes.

To make the chicken bar-b-que pizza, follow the same step for spreading out the dough.  Next spread with 1/3 cup of bar-b-que sauce.  Add one cup of cooked chicken breast, shredded. Top with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1 cup of cheddar cheese.  Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for 15 to 17 minutes.