Monday, November 5, 2012

Sandy Tart or Everything But the Kitchen Sink

Hurricane Sandy has left her mark in small ways and devastating ways.  While most of the country is focusing on tomorrow's election, I cannot think about anything but the devastation we have seen here in New Jersey and New York.

My town is wrestling with no power--a minor inconvenience--while so many others have lost so much more.  We are gathering supplies for Shore towns, wondering whether to skip the postponed trick-or-treating altogether, helping neighbors.  I am cooking and baking and hoping feeding people will offer them some comfort.

With gas and groceries in limited supply, "use what you have" is the name of the game.  This is my Sandy aka Everything but the Kitchen Sink tart.  I found puff pastry in the back of the freezer.  Hardy sage still standing in my garden. Bacon, roasted butternut squash and some cheeses in the refrigerator.  Some pistachios sitting on the counter were not be left out.  Why not?  I'm hoping to share with some neighbors who are sitting in their cold, dark houses.  Maybe for a brief moment they will be warmed and taken care of.  I wish I could do the same for everyone.

When this comes out of the oven, add a drizzle of balsamic glaze or vinegar or even maple syrup or honey would be nice.  Keep in the spirit of "use what you have".  And share with a neighbor.

Kitchen Sink Tart
Serves 4

1 sheet of puff pastry
2 cups cubed, roasted butternut squash*
4 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
1/4 cup of cheese (I used ricotta salata and parmesan)
2 T chopped sage
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1T balsamic glaze (or truffled honey or maple syrup)

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Place thawed puff pastry sheet on a baking sheet.  With a sharp knife, score the tart on all 4 sides 1/4 inch from the edge.  Do not cut all the way through the dough.  This will form the edge of the tart.
3. Top with butternut squash, bacon, cheeses, pistachios and sage.
4. Bake for 20 minutes.  Let cool for 5 minutes. Cut and drizzle with balsamic glaze.

*To roast squash: Cube and toss with 2T olive oil, salt and pepper and 1T maple syrup.  Bake on baking sheet at 400 for 20 minutes or until squash is golden and tender.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Creating Frosting Creations

I have been working on a big project that was very hush hush until now.  I had the pleasure of creating recipes for a new product that Duncan Hines has created--Frosting Creations.

These are specialty flavored frostings.  You buy the base frosting and then choose a flavor packet and mix them to create unique flavors such as: Cinnamon Roll, Bubble Gum, Chocolate Mint, etc.

I have created 24 recipes for them which can be seen here.

 If you're feeling creative Duncan Hines is currently having a contest where you can submit your own recipes using Frosting Creations with a chance to win a trip to the test kitchens and take a baking class with a Duncan Hines chef.  Click here!

Birthday Cake Shots

 Who says you can't have your cake and drink it too?  Not me.  Birthday Cake Shots.  Yes, I said cake and shots.  I've been up to my elbows in cake for the past year, creating recipes for Duncan Hines.  So cake is sort of my life right now.

I'm sure you've heard of all the flavored vodkas out there but now you can find cake flavored vodka and whipped cream flavored vodka as well.  I first spotted some of these recipes on the Pinnacle Vodka website as well as on Sweetapolita.  Now while you probably wouldn't want a whole martini glass of one of these, the shots do make a festive way to celebrate with your friends. 

I don't like cocktails that are super strong so I have altered the alcohol amounts to make it a little smoother.  A final note: I do not recommend testing this recipe right before you go pick up your children from school.  It's only one shot but still...people may talk.

Bottoms up!

Birthday Cake Shots
Adapted from Pinnacle Vodka Website & Sweetapolita
Yield: 1 shot

1/2 ounce Cake Flavored Vodka (I used Three Olives brand)
1/2 ounce Whipped Creme Flavored Vodka (I used Pinnacle)
1 ounce half-n-half
1 teaspoon dry cake mix (I used yellow)
2-3 ice cubes
whipped creme
sprinkles or nonpareils

1. Combine vodkas, half-n-half, cake mix and ice cubes in cocktail shaker and shake until well mixed.
2. Strain into a shot glass and top with whipped creme, sprinkles and straw.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whazz Up?

It has been a flurry of activity around here for months.  Here's what I've been up to:

  • Apparently I was passed up on the May 21st rapture.  That's ok.  I have more Real Housewives series to catch up on.
  • I did a 3-day juice cleanse.  I was hungry. I lost 3 lbs (which was not my goal) but BONUS.  My life was not transformed in the way some have written about.  I did feel like it helped me to get back on track following a Disney week-long diet of foods I don't usually eat. And I reaffirmed that beets are on the very short list of foods I can't choke down even if my life depends on it.
  • I've decided to take up drinking bourbon.  (Not as a hobby, just on occasion.) Every interesting cocktail recipe I see lately contains bourbon.  
  • Speaking of bourbon, this is my new favorite grown-up milkshake to serve at parties...
Vanilla Caramel Bourbon Milkshake 

Serves 1-2
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups premium vanilla ice cream
2-3 tablespoons pourable caramel sauce1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon

Mix in blender and serve.
    • I've gone viral!!!  I did a few months of work testing products and creating recipes for Duncan Hines commercials and campaigns.  If you go to the Duncan Hines Facebook page you can watch the commercial.  After the commercial you can click on any of the desserts and watch videos of me demo'ing some tips and techniques.  To find me, look for these "kitchen timer" icons...

     Click and there I'll be...

    Don't I look joyful and perky?  Don't judge.  I was very excited to show home bakers how easy some of these professional techniques are to do at home. 

    • I also developed new burger recipes for Vlasic pickles.  Click here and try some of these recipes out.  My personal faves are the Zesty Garlic Guacamole Burger and the State Fair Fried Pickle Burger.  My family loves the BBQ Bread and Butter Burger.
    So there you have it. (Which I say far too often in these videos.  Not really the catchphrase I dreamt of being associated with...) That is what I've been busy with.  How's things with you?

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

    Some days you may feel all high falutin' and fancy pants.  You may want to execute a beautifully complicated elegant dessert with glazes and chocolate curls and gold leaf.  Other days you may want to put on your ripped jeans (or just stay in your pj's), snarf down something sweet and keep it real.  This recipe is for you my friend.  It's from one of my favorite bakers, the boys behind Baked ExplorationsNot to be all bossy but GO GET THIS BOOK. You won't regret it.

    The cake has a caramel-y flavor from the dark brown sugar and a wonderful oatmeal cookie vibe from the oatmeal and cinnamon.  The recipe says you can serve it as a breakfast treat without the cream cheese which I say "You don't know me very well, do you?"  Make the frosting.  The cake is great the day of but even better the day after you make it.

    I confess, I tried to go a little fancy pants on you by turning it out of the pan and trying to cut perfectly neat and perpendicular rectangles of cake just to impress you.  Yeah.  That didn't work so well.  So don't do that.  Who do I think I am anyway?  So I'm back to keeping it real. And eating it out of the pan with a fork.  Sorry, was that a little too real for you?

    Deliciousness before beauty

    Post-fork apocalypse

    Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting
    Ever so slightly adapted from Baked Explorations
    Yield: 1 9 x 13 inch cake

    8 ounces milk chocolate chips
    1/2 t Scotch, bourbon, or rum or favorite liquor
    1 1/2 cups plus 2 T all-purpose flour
    1 c rolled oats
    1 1/4 c boiling water
    1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into cubes
    2 eggs, beaten
    3/4 c sugar
    1 1/4 c dark brown sugar, packed
    1/2 t salt
    1 t baking soda
    1 t baking powder
    1 1/2 t cinnamon

    5 T unsalted butter, softened
    5 1/2 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
    2 c confectioners sugar
    3/4 t vanilla
    a small pinch of salt
    1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Using baking spray (or butter) coat the sides and bottom of 9 x 13 baking pan.  Boil the 1 1/4 cups of water.
    2. In a small bowl, toss chocolate chips with the liquor.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over the chips and toss until coated.
    3. Place oats and cubed butter in a large bowl.  Add boiling water and wait 30 seconds. Stir to melt butter and moisten oats. Set aside for 30 minutes.
    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sugars, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.  Fold in cooled oatmeal mixture and stir until well combined.  Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour and the chocolate chips. Gently combine.
    5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool cake completely in pan before frosting.
    6. To prepare frosting, mix butter and confectioners sugar in a standing mix or using a hand mixer.  When completely combined, add the softened cream cheese and vanilla and pinch of salt. Combine until smooth.
    7. Spread frosting over cooled cake and refrigerate to set up before serving.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Miso Soup

    It's New York Restaurant Week!  I had big plans, people.  Big plans.  Reservations at four-star restaurants.  And then the snows came. Again. And Again.  Old Man Winter can bite me.  Big plans canceled and instead, my girlfriends and I stayed local and went for sushi.  I tried to drown my sorrows in miso soup. 

    I brainwashed my children early to learn to like Japanese restaurants.  I could eat sushi everyday so I needed to get them on board.  It wasn't difficult when we started with miso soup.  In fact, it wasn't until years after they had been ordering it that they asked "what is the green stuff in the soup".  Well kids, that would be seaweed.  "Umm...ok."

    Miso Soup is very simple to make at home.  There is one rule: never boil it.  The most taxing part may be finding the two main dashi ingredients, bonito flakes and kombu.  I found both at my local Whole Foods.  You may even find it in the international food aisle of your grocery store or a local Asian market.

    I used white miso in this soup and the flavor was lighter and sweeter than at my favorite Japanese restaurant.  I think I would try brown miso next time for a richer "umami" flavor to the soup.  Speaking of umami, Chef David Chang says you can substitute raw bacon for bonito flakes to render the same umami flavor.  I love that guy.  He'll find a way to put pork in anything.

    If you'd like to read two very in-depth interesting articles about kombu, check out this link and this link.  In the meantime, warm up with miso soup.

    Miso Soup

    2 quarts of water
    1 and a half pieces of kombu
    3/4 cup bonito flakes
    1/2 cup white miso
    firm tofu, cut into small cubes
    1 scallion, light green part only, thinly sliced

    1. Put kombu in 2 quarts of cold water.  Bring water and kombu to just under the boiling point.  Do not boil the water.  Turn off the heat and remove the kombu.

    2.  Add the bonito flakes and let steep in the water for 5-7 minutes.  Pour the whole mixture through a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

    3. Pour the strained broth back into your pan and turn on heat bringing the liquid to just under boiling again.

    4. Mix one cup of the hot broth with the 1/2 cup of miso.  Whisk until all lumps are dissolved, then pour miso into dashi broth.

    To serve, add tofu and scallions.  You can also chop up nori and add it to the soup.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Top Chef Restaurant Wars, Up Close and Personal

    Photo from

     My husband and I were guests for last night's Top Chef All-Stars Restaurant Wars episode.  The twist this season was that diners ate at both restaurants and the winners we determined solely by diners' votes.  It was interesting to watch the show and see what was going on behind the scenes in the kitchen, as we were only privy to what we were experiencing in the dining room that night.

    It was also surprising to see how different people's reactions are to the same food, personalities and presentation.  As my 6-year-old says "You don't know MY tastebuds!"

    Here are my impressions from the night (which up until now I couldn't talk about less I risked death, dismemberment or law suits)....


    Didn't really understand the concept.  It didn't evoke any sort of strong theme or through-line during the meal.  It was as if the chefs decided what they each wanted to make and then barreled on through.  There wasn't anything really unique or unusual about their menu or point of view.

    We were excited to see Tiffany as front of the house cuz' who doesn't love them some Tiffany?!  We asked about her recent marriage, if she had time for a honeymoon, etc.  While she was friendly, she did seem nervous and distracted.  Our table (which then became the Judges' table when we switched restaurants) was turned in such a way that I was straddling a table leg throughout the meal.  We called Tiffany over and suggested she may want to turn the table before the judges sat there, as the lovely Padma will not feel beautiful straddling a table leg in her hot Little Black Dress.  I did not see them take our advice.  Tsk, tsk.

    We ordered two of everything on the menu and shared with our party of four. 

    Tiffany's Egg & Asparagus Salad-my last meal on Earth would include a runny egg, so I was looking forward to this dish with the chorizo, egg, asparagus, etc.  This dish was soooo salty, none of us could eat it.  Watching the show, I wonder if it was the salt/sugar cure for the egg yolk that did it.  Unfortunately, it was inedible for our table.

    Angelo's Fluke Crudo-I loved this dish.  I thought it was well-balanced and one of my favorite dishes of the night. Grapes and a peppercorn vinaigrette and lemon zest...nice.  Although, I think it's time Angelo got off the crudo train soon.  It seems to be his fallback dish.

    Mike's Lamb and Cauliflower Puree-Our lamb was also a bit cold and undercooked for my husband's taste but the cauliflower puree was freaking amazing.  Had we not been on camera, we would have licked the plate.  Or maybe we did and they edited it out.

    Mike's Pork Belly, Octopus & White Bean Puree-This was my very favorite dish of the night.  It had everything in one bite-creamy, chewy, smoky, silky, etc.  Contrary to what the judges thought, ours was well-seasoned. 

    Antonia's Oxtail Gnudi-Yes, it was a bit salty but not nearly as salty as Tiffany's egg dish.  Too bad because this could have been excellent.  Could she have saved it with more acid?

    Marcel's Roasted Monkfish-I remember almost nothing about this dish other than after one bite I willingly passed it off to the other diners at my table.  And of course it came with FOAM!  When the plate was presented to us we all said "Must be Marcel's."  Dude, you have totally played out the foam thing.  Move on.  Or pair it with Jamie's scallops. The judges' comments about the monkfish were, "It's like baby food." Ouch.

    Marcel's Duo of Peaches with Coconut FOAM!-What was this?  It was all flash and no substance.  Yes, cool to see a smoking, icy bowl coming toward your table but this was so bland and awful tasting.  He used tapioca pearls in a tasteless, watery coconut FOAM (aargh!!!)  that felt like eating fish eggs and glue.  Blech!  And if you know me personally, you'll notice it was me who commented on desserts being the Top Chef kiss of death.  Who will be brave enough to make dessert?  Oh, Marcel.  The one interesting note on this dish was the use of the apricot-sized unripened green peach.  I'd never seen that before and it inspired a lot of discussion at our table.  I believe Tiffany told us it came from Japan? 

    Photo from


    Concept: Very fun, tongue-in-cheek concept for Bodega.  Even the menu was funny and irreverent with its descriptions of the menu items.

    Service: What can you say about Fabio?  He could sell ice to an Eskimo.  There is no better pick for a front of the house person than him.   I think great service and a great atmosphere can greatly impact your dining experience and even elevate the taste memory of the food.  We felt like he spent a lot of time at our table talking with us.  I think he showered that same attention on everyone.

    The Mojito Cocktail-This was not great.  It was watered down and lacked any punch.  We took a few sips and then switched to wine.

    Dale's All That and a Bag of Chips-Yes, please.  Potato chips with fried rosemary and sea salt.  These were amazing.  I could have made a meal out of these.  In fact, we asked Fabio for another bag and he happily brought us one.  The presentation was fun too.  Literally a plastic vacuum sealed bag of chips that he cut open at your table.

    Richard's Can of Tuna-Again, funny presentation but not memorable for me.  In fact, watching the show last night, I had no recollection that crispy deep-fried chicken was part of that dish.  I know the judges loved this dish.

    Richard's Chicken Fried Cod-I remember the brussel sprout "kraut" underneath but the fish underwhelmed me.  Full disclosure: I'm rarely blown away by cod except for Nobu's Black Miso Cod.

    Dale's-Bacon, Egg & Bread dish-I loved it when Anthony Bourdain said "This is perfect stoner food."  Again, a runny egg-key to my heart.  But for me, the homemade ketchup was a little overpowering and threw the dish off balance.

    Trey's Pork Shoulder with Grits and Corona Lime Sauce-This was good, hearty, soul-satisfying food and the Corona flavor was very clear.  Everyone at our table unanimously enjoyed this.

    Fabio's Amaretto Cake with Cappucino Mousse- I am so sorry Fabio, but I do not remember this dessert.  Let's just chalk it up to the amount of Terlato wine consumed by this point.  Or the fact that we were laughing and having such a good time at Bodega that I didn't give your dessert it's due attention. Um...the judges liked it.

    Carla's Blueberry "Pie"-Whootie who!!!! The blueberry compote on this was so delicious I asked Fabio for the recipe and he gave it to me.  There was a crispy sugar and cinnamon coated puff pastry triangle and ice cream-- a deconstructed Blueberry Pie.  A great way to end the meal.

    The Scorecard:

    Service-Bodega, hands down.  Fabio is the king.

    Concept-Bodega.  Funny, interesting, consistent.

    Food-Here's where it gets interesting.  We taped this episode about 3-4 months ago so my memory is not crystal clear on every aspect of each dish.  But, the food I remember most is the crudo, the cauliflower puree, the pork belly and octopus, the potato chips and the blueberry "pie".  That adds up to 3 dishes for Etch and 2 for Bodega.

    So what weighs more heavily, service and atmosphere or stand-out dishes?  After a lot of back and forth, I gave my vote to Etch.  Because if I could return to that restaurant just to eat the pork belly, cauliflower puree and crudo again, I would. 

    What I took away from this experience was that food is subjective to one's taste; the people you are with during the meal; your mood.  Not to mention the fallible human who may have over-seasoned my plate before sending it out and under-seasoned yours.  I was surprised to see how different the judges felt about some dishes I loved and vice versa. 

    The judges are paid to be critical.  I, on the other hand, empathize with the chefs.  I imagine they feel as I do.  Everytime I cook for someone I want them to love it.  I want to pour all the joy, love and comfort I can into my food and give it to them as a gift.  It's hugely disappointing when it's not received in the way you intended it.  As someone I know supposed, "Carla cooks with love.  Marcel cooks like a dick." 

    I think critics opinions and restaurant reviews are a good starting point, but you really need to judge it for yourself.  Because one man's baby food may be another man's monkfish. With FOAM!!!!

    To see photos of all of the evening's food click here.