Tuesday, August 30, 2011

homemade peanut butter cups and a very happy birthday to brandon!!!

It's August 30th and it's my husband's birthday!!! He's been gone (on vacation, yes...without me) for a little over a month and has come home just in time for celebrations and homemade peanut butter cups. 

I can't remember where I got this particular recipe, but there are others online and I especially like this one, from the blog Sweetest Kitchen. This blog is super easy to read and let's face it......her pictures blow doors over mine! But gimme a break!!! I'm using my trusty iPhone for cheese sake and soon (hopefully soon) I will have my fancy shmancy camera to take some quality pics.

Now let's get back to what is really important here....Homemade peanut butter cups!!!! So I went a little OTT (just like in the blog) and hand painted the chocolate coating into cupcake wrappers. This is totally not necessary, but it makes them look like the real deal fo' realz! 

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
This recipe makes about 20 cups and so much more if you choose to cut them into squares

1 cup butter - melted ***I used unsalted butter and added a hefty pinch of kosher salt***
2 cups graham cracker crumbs ***I ground my own***
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup peanut butter ***Any ol' kind will do. I chose all natural, no salt and organic***
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips ***This time I picked up a bag of Hershey's Chocolate Chips, but use what you like***
4 tablespoons peanut butter ***Again...natural, no salt and organic***

In a medium bowl, mix together melted butter and 1 cup of peanut butter until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, graham cracker crumbs and a hefty pinch of salt if you're using unsalted peanut butter. Press into an ungreased 9x13 inch pan. You can line it with parchment paper or go OTT like me and use cupcake liners.

Melt chocolate chips with the 4 tablespoons of peanut butter. Either in the microwave or over a double boiler. At this stage you can either spread it over the peanut butter that's been already pressed into your pan OR coat cupcake liners halfway and refrigerate until firm. Once firm enough to press peanut butter mixture in, drop in roughly 2 tablespoons, press slightly and then cover with chocolate and refrigerate. If you decided to go with the "pan" peanut butter cups, spread the chocolate over the peanut butter mixture and also refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour before cutting. 

These keep well in the frig.....


Saturday, August 27, 2011

jacques torres' chocolate chip cookies and hurricane irene

Provisions to last me 3 - 5 days? check
Valuables gathered from the basement? check
iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry charged? check
Flashlights, batteries and candles? check
Bathtub full of water? check
A "to go" bag packed? where am I going?
Jacques Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookies? CHECK

So I've definitely fallen off my white sugar wagon but I DID make these giant cookies from organic sugars. Which is OK in my book and under the current circumstances I'm in, why the heck not?

It's no secret that some of the states along the East Coast are about to be hit with Hurricane Irene. Who knows if all this "talk" is a bunch of hoopla, but I guess it's better to be prepared. And when I say prepared, I mean baking up a batch of Jacques Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookies. Well, I admit I didn't just whip these up because you need to let the dough rest for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 72. You see, I was supposed to bring these to my co-workers today but thanks to Irene, I'll be hunkered down in chocolate chip cookie heaven.

Chocolate Chip Cookies a la Jacques Torres
Thank you NY Times for posting the original recipe in 2008

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt ***Rats!!! I totally forgot to do this today!!!***and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods or online here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

homemade & with love.....nutella

If you don't know what this is.....I'm sorry.....But you should because Nutella is one of the best things on this planet!!! Now don't go rushing out to buy a jar of this Italian breakfast (or any time) spread, but rush out and go buy the ingredients to make your own.

The skinning of the hazelnuts are a bit time consuming, but worth it. And hazelnut oil? What else do you do with hazelnut oil? Substitute it when making a vinaigrette, baked in homemade granola, drizzled on top of half of an avocado.....or just make this! ALL. THE. TIME!!!

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread (homemade Nutella)
stolen from the LA Times, February 2009  
Total time: 20 minutes
Servings: Makes 1 1/2 cups
Note: Use good-quality cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger

2 cups raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons hazelnut oil, more as needed

1. Heat the oven to 400F. Spread the hazelnuts evenly over a cookie sheet and roast until darken and become aromatic, about 10 minutes. Transfer the hazelnuts to a damp towel and rub to remove the skins. 

2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a smooth butter, scraping the sides as needed so they process evenly, about 5 minutes. ***You can stop right there for hazelnut butter if you really wanted to*** 

3. Add the cocoa, powdered sugar, vanilla, salt and hazelnut oil to the food processor and continue to process until well blended, about 1 minute. The finished spread should have the consistency of creamy peanut butter; if too dry, process in a little more hazelnut oil until desired consistency is achieved. Remove to a container, cover and refrigerate until wanted. Allow the spread to come to room temperature before using, as it thickens considerably when refrigerated. It will keep for at least a week.

If you follow this recipe to a tee each tablespoon: 109 calories; 2 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 13 mg. sodium.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

recipe testing #3 - whole wheat banana bread

There are quite a few banana bread recipes out there and I do have my personal favorites. Today's recipe, whole wheat banana bread, is so good that I'll just have to add this one to my faves.

I've been on a "natural" sugar high these days and I am just stoked when I bake a recipe and it actually tastes good. Not saw-dusty at all!!! It's a huge adjustment for your palette to go from eating things made with processed white sugar vs. whole and natural sweeteners. Although when you eat something whole and natural, it just seems right. 

I guess I'll just have to save cupcakes with butter cream frosting, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and everything else that I adore for just special occasions......

Whole Wheat Banana Bread
found on allrecipes.com 

1/3 cup vegetable oil ***I substituted coconut oil here***
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325F.

2. In a large bowl, beat oil and honey together. Add eggs and mix well. Stir in bananas and vanilla extract. Stir in flour and salt. Add baking soda to hot water, stir to mix, and then add to batter. Fold in chopped nuts. Spread batter into a greased 9x5 inch loaf pan.

3. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 1/2 hour before slicing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

recipe testing #2 - animal cracker cookies

It's a rainy Sunday and recipe #2 from my "just say NO" to processed sugar campaign. This saying "no" to the white stuff is going pretty well.....I'm not really missing it because there are so many natural sweetener options out there.

First let me say that these peanut butter cookies I made the other day are pretty darn good. I know, I did say that they weren't mind blowing, but these are tasty. Especially if you drizzle chocolate on them. :) And another tip, keep them refrigerated. Their texture is very similar to shortbread but with a distinct peanutty flavor. I'm in love now. 

So I've been following this blog, 101 Cookbooks, for a while but I have never really made anything from it - until my recent revelation with the "white stuff". This blogger, Heidi Swanson, is one smart and talented cookie. She focuses on whole foods and ingredients - vegetarian recipes that are good for you!!! So all you carnivores, fugetaboutit.....

Heidi's writing and photography make whole foods sound and look even more amazing for you!!! These animal cookie crackers are just that....amazingly good! They'll bring out the healthy kid inside of you!!!

Animal Cracker Cookies
snagged from 101 Cookbooks 

Some notes from the author from the original blog post:
The kind of coconut oil you purchase is key. You want it to actually smell like coconut. You want pure, unrefined coconut oil - it will likely have the words virgin or extra-virgin and (hopefully) organic on the jar. If you see the word "refined" on the jar, find a different brand. I've just finished off a jar of Nutiva, and really enjoyed cooking with it - but there are other great brands out there as well. You can make your own walnut (or almond) meal by pulsing the nuts in a food processor until it is the texture of sand - don't go too far or you'll end up with some kind of nut butter. For added depth feel free to use toasted shredded coconut.


1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup walnut or almond meal ***I used almond meal****
1/2 cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut, very finely minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin coconut oil, softened ***The coconut oil I used really was like "oil". I didn't need to soften it***
1/3 cup fine-grain natural cane sugar ***I used my whole organic cane sugar***
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten

a few tablespoons big-grain turbinado sugar

Whisk flour, walnut/almond meal and shredded coconut together in a small bowl. ***I didn't do this. Instead, after pulsing my almonds in the food processor to make almond meal, I simply dumped the flour and shredded coconut into the bowl and gave it a few pulses to combine*** In a separate medium bowl, beat the coconut oil with the sugar and salt until it's smooth and looks like a brown sugar frosting. ***Mine did not look like brown sugar frosting. The sugar granules didn't start to dissolve until I added the egg*** Beat in the egg until everything is uniform in appearance, Add the flour mixture and stir just until incorporated. Turn the dough out onto the counter-top, knead it once or twice and gather it into a ball. Cut the dough in half, flatten each piece, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Place the racks in the middle and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. On a floured work surface roll the dough out 1/8-inch thick. If the dough cracks, let it sit and warm up for a couple more minutes. Stamp out shapes with floured cookie cutters and place the cookies an inch apart on the baking sheets, sprinkle with a bit of the turbinado sugar, Bake until the cookies are just beginning to color at the edges 7 - 8 minutes. remove from the oven and cool the cookies on racks.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters.  

These little bundles of animal cracker cookies would make a GREAT party favor for a kid's birthday or baby shower!!! They're made entirely of whole organic goodness and even packaged in a eco-friendly bags. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

recipe testing #1 - peanut butter cookies

So it seems as if my summer hiatus from my oven has been put on hold due to the glorious weather Mother Nature has decided to put upon NYC today! Plus I have been jonesing for some sugary treats which makes it the perfect excuse to bake something.

Yesterday I listed a few recipes that I was planning to test with all of my new organic, whole and natural ingredients. I was planning on making these peanut butter cookies, but then I came across this recipe.

I'm not gonna lie.....These cookies aren't mind blowing. But they are good. Good if you're a parent and you don't want to introduce or continue with white sugar in your kid's diet or just trying to eat less or omitting processed white sugar altogether.  

I didn't follow the recipe entirely and made my own substitutions with the ingredients that I had. Again, a good cookie but don't expect over-the-top or OMG when you take your first bite.....These peanut butter cookies are more "hippie" in flavor and texture.

Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from the beautifully photographed blog...101 Cookbooks

Notes from the original recipe ***Spelt flour bakes into a slightly darker cookie, whole wheat pastry flour is slightly blonder - more traditional in appearance in the end. Finish the cookies with chopped nuts or a sprinkling of flaky salt. I'd also recommend seeking out peanut butter that is well combined, and not super-oily (extra slick) looking - to avoid problems with the cookie batter.*** 

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, spelt flour or unbleached all-purpose flour ***I used whole wheat pastry flour***
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup organic, chunky peanut butter ***Creamy peanut butter is totally fine***
1 cup maple syrup ***I wanted to test out my organic whole cane sugar here. I used 1/2 cup here plus 1/4 cup maple syrup***
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil ***I substituted organic coconut oil and added an additional 2 tablespoons***
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Place racks in the top third of oven.

In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate and larger bowl combine the peanut butter, maple syrup (other sweeteners if using), olive oil (or other oil) and vanilla. Stir until combined. Pour the flour mixture over the peanut butter mixture and stir until barely combined - still a bit dusty looking. Let sit for five minutes, give one more quick stir, just a stroke or two. ***Since I didn't use the whole cup of maple syrup, my dough was a little dry - that's why I added the additional coconut oil*** Now drop heaping tablespoons onto a parchment lined baking sheet. ***Again, my dough was SUPER DRY! I had to gather up the crumbly dough and pressed them into balls*** Press down gently with back of fork. It's a loose dough (mine was NOT!), so if you're set on doing a criss-cross pattern, go ahead and chill the dough for an hour or so before this step. ***Again, I didn't have this problem*** Bake for 10, maybe 11 minutes - but don't over bake or they will be dry. ***I baked mine for 10 minutes. My cookies are a bit dry but I don't think it was because I over baked them*** Let cool five minutes and transfer to a cooling rack.
Makes 2 - 3 dozen

OK, these peanut butter cookies aren't going to knock your socks off that's for sure!!! So that is why I took them there and melted my bar of GREEN & BLACK'S 70% Dark chocolate bar and drizzled it on top.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

personally saying "no" to things that I LOVE!!!

I maybe jumping the gun by posting about my recent proclamation, because it's only been a few days of NOT eating anything made with processed sugar. I've been fulfilling my sweet "urges" with tons of fruit. Now c'mon? Let's be real here.....I LOVE SUGAR!!! And it's only been four days and it's hurting my sweet tooth inside of me!!!

I've just spent an arm and a leg at the organic health food store buying up ingredients towards a healthier life and hopefully back to my twenty-something-year-old body..... 

On the baking to-do list:
animal crackers

honey banana bread

nikki's healthy cookies

peanut butter cookies

and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

Tonight I will be channeling my husband who is currently in Humboldt County, CA and all of his hippie relatives to guide me through these recipes.

***Some of these recipes call for granulated or brown sugar, I will be substituting it with organic "whole" cane sugar. I'm not opposed to using organic cane sugar or organic brown sugar, but that would have meant spending my other arm and I needed that to carry all of this home. Also, GREEN & BLACK'S organic chocolate bars have organic raw cane sugar in them, not the white stuff!!!***

Stay posted.....HOPEFULLY some sweet and somewhat delicious things will be coming out of my kitchen.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

bouchon bakery's "nutter butter" cookies

This may sound crazy, but I'm giving up eating anything made with processed sugar for the rest of the month. Going "au naturel". Luckily I have MANY blog postings ready from previous baking binges to satisfy your sweet tooth. But before doing this and before the temperature outside reached pass the point of baking inside, I made Bouchon Bakery's "Nutter Butter"cookie recipe. I've posted about other delicious morsels from Thomas Keller's gastronomic empire before, but thankfully back in December 2006, The New York Times featured this recipe. Lucky me! Lucky husband! And lucky friends whom I've shared these cookies with!

I have fond childhood memories of eating these peanut-shaped sandwich cookies by Nabisco. Although these cookies can't easily be coaxed into a peanut shape and their taste and texture are completely opposite to the original. 

Bouchon Bakery's Nutter Butter Cookies
Thank you, thank you, thank you The Times and Bouchon Bakery!!!  ***I did not stray too far away from this original recipe other than using a higher quality of peanut butter***

Time: 45 minutes plus cooling

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter, preferably Skippy ***Again, I used a higher quality of peanut butter, also natural peanut butter to prevent from adding in any additional sugar***
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup coarsely chopped peanuts ***ROASTED & SALTED peanuts here***
2½ cups quick-cooking oats

¼ pound (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter, preferably Skippy ***Use a peanutty tasting peanut butter (preferably natural peanut butter)***
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. For cookie dough: preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda; set aside. Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add sugars and beat at medium speed for 4 minutes, scraping down bowl twice.

2. At low speed, add eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until well mixed, frequently scraping down bowl. Add peanuts and oats, and mix well. Using an ice cream scoop 2 inches in diameter ***I used a smaller scoop, 1 1/2 inch in diameter***, place balls of dough on parchment-lined baking sheets at least three inches apart. Bake until cookies have spread and turned very light golden brown, about 10 - 18 minutes depending on your oven. Remove from oven and set aside to cool and firm up, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before filling.

3. For filling: using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar until very smooth.

4. To assemble cookies, spread a thin layer (about 1/8 inch) on underside of a cookie. Sandwich with another cookie. Repeat.
Yield: 24 large cookies. 

***This recipe makes a lot of cookies!!!! Especially if you're using a smaller cookie scoop.***