Monthly Archives: April 2011

Slow Cooker Italian Beef Stew

TGIF!  This week has actually gone by fast for me probably because I was out of my office for 2 days attending an off-site training.  But if your week has gone by slowly (I hate it when that happens) then this is the perfect meal to make during the work week.  This Slow Cooker Italian Beef Stew is tasty and so easy to make because you literally just throw everything in the slow cooker and push the “on” button.  I served this stew over rice, but you could just serve it plain with some nice, crusty bread or serve it over pasta.  Any fun plans for the weekend?  Enjoy!



Ingredients:

  • 1lb beef stew meat
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, like Chianti
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes, in juice
  • 2 stalks of fresh rosemary, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • sea salt for seasoning

Directions:

  1. Place beef, beef stock, wine, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, pepper, cannellini beans, tomatoes, stalks of rosemary, bay leaf, red pepper, and corn starch mix in slow cooker and mix to combine.
  2. Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 hours.
  3. Remove bay leaf and rosemary stalks and season with salt.  Roughly chop rosemary and sprinkle on top.
  4. Serve plain or over rice or pasta.

*Adapted from Betty Crocker

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Mexican Chickpea Salad


I generally tend to bring my lunch to work everyday, unless of course, we’ve run out of food or I don’t have time to prepare it.  However, I try to prepare my lunch at night and usually on Monday mornings, I’ll bring a gigantic lunch with numerous pieces of fruits and tupperware containers so I don’t have to prepare something every night.  I used to bring pb&j sandwiches everyday (if you opened up my lunch, you would think it belonged to a 3rd grader).  I’ve tried to change this habit and start making healthy dishes that I can eat the entire week.  This Mexican chickpea salad is the perfect solution!  I love chickpeas because they are tasty and high in protein.  I used canned chickpeas for this recipe because they’re less time consuming and still taste great with all the fresh ingredients and flavors.  Definitely give this chickpea salad a try – it’s easy to make and so fresh and healthy too!

Ingredients:

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
  • Two 19-ounce cans chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice plus additional to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt for seasoning

Directions:

  1. Rinse and drain chick-peas and in a large bowl stir together all ingredients except additional lime juice.
  2. Chill salad, covered, at least 2 hours.
  3. Season salad with salt and add additional lime juice. Serve salad cool.

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Ricotta Pie

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter! I had a great weekend with both sides of my family. My hubby and I hosted Easter dinner, and it was delicious (we had a lot of amazing help)! One of the pies that I decided to make this year was Italian Ricotta Pie. The recipe that I used was based off of my husband’s Nana’s recipe. Nana’s recipe is awesome and the pie came out delicious. I tweaked the original recipe because it was initially for 2 pies instead of 1, and I also added some chocolate chips as well. This pie was beautiful and definitely perfect to share with family. Even though this pie is generally only made at Easter, I might break the rules and make this beauty again soon – it’s that good!!!


Crust (Pasta Frolla) Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 stick of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, combine the flour and salt and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Add the flour mix and combine until a dough forms.
  4. Form the dough into a ball and place in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Ricotta Filling Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs (32 oz.) ricotta
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs separated
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the ricotta, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla. Add the zests and cinnamon and mix to combine.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until fluffy.
  4. Fold the egg whites into the ricotta mix. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut in half. On a floured work surface, roll out each ball of dough into about a 11″ round. Carefully place dough round into the bottom of a 10″ pie pan. Press the dough into the bottom and around the sides.
  6. Pour the filling into the pie.
  7. Take the other dough round and roll out. With small cookie cutters, cut shapes into the dough and place shapes on top of the filling. Instead of shapes, you could also roll the dough into 1″ strips and place on top in a criss-cross, basket weave pattern.
  8. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until filling is set.

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Filed under Desserts

Carrot Cupcakes w/ Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds

Trader Joe’s makes chocolate covered sunflower seeds… yes, I know.  Amazing right?  I knew when I saw them in the store that I had to bake something fun with them.  Since spring has officially begun in the DC Metro Area and since I wanted to bake something special to celebrate 3 different friends’ April birthdays, I decided to bake some Carrot Cupcakes w/ Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds.

The carrot cupcake recipe has been adapted from a carrot cake recipe from Cooking Light.  The cream cheese frosting is so simple to make, but truly makes these cupcakes delicious.  The chocolate covered sunflower seeds are literally the icing on the cake; the salty and sweet combo is amazing and they go so well with the carrot cupcakes.  If you don’t have  Trader Joe’s near you, I’ve seen chocolate covered sunflower seeds at Marshall’s while waiting in the checkout line.  These little guys are delicious and are great to bake with or to snack on.

I hope you have a wonderful and blessed Easter!


Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 can (8 oz) crushed pineapple, drained

Frosting:

  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup chocolate covered sunflower seeds (via Trader Joe’s)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and place 18 muffin cup liners in cupcake pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add 2 cups grated carrot, tossing to combine.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugars and butter until combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla and crushed pineapple.
  4. Add flour mixture and beat until smooth.
  5. With a cookie scoop, spoon batter into cupcake tins until level with the brim.  Bake at 350° for  about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake completely on a wire rack.
  6. To prepare frosting, place softened cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat at medium speed until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at medium speed until combined (don’t over beat).  Add more confectioner’s sugar if too thin.
  7. Pipe frosting on top of cupcakes and sprinkle with chocolate covered sunflower seeds.

*Adapted from Cooking Light

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Braided Easter Bread


Every year at Easter, one of the quintessential foods that my family eats is my grandmother’s Easter Bread.  It’s a wonderful braided bread that almost looks like a challah.  I love this bread not only because it tastes delicious, but because it reminds me of my childhood.  She used to bake this bread every year for Easter and knew the recipe by heart.  I blogged about this bread last year, but since I only bake this bread once a year and it’s so special to me, I decided I’d feature it again.  I know bread making can be daunting for some, including myself, but this bread is easy to make; the most time-consuming part is allowing it to rise two different times.  This bread is also wonderful because it’s so versatile; you can toast it and smear some butter on top, you can eat it plain along side Easter dinner, or you can make some amazing French toast with it.  Hope you give this recipe a try… it’s definitely worth it!

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 c warm water
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 3 large eggs, beaten, plus 1 for glaze
  • 5 c flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter at room temp
  • 1 c golden or regular raisins (optional)

Directions:

  1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the sugar, 3 eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, the salt, butter, and raisins. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low speed, working in the remaining flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. (The dough should stay soft and will become less sticky with kneading.)
  3. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 2 hours.
  4. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Punch down the dough.  To make a 3-strand braid, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces with a sharp knife. Using your palms, and starting in the center and working outward, elongate 1 piece by rolling it gently against the work surface with even pressure until you have formed a rope as long as the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
  5. Lay the 3 pieces out and begin braiding them.  Pinch the ends together at the top and at the bottom, and tuck the strands under at the ends.
  6. Place the braided loaf on the prepared pan, cover with a dry kitchen towel, and let rise again in a warm, draft-free spot until the loaf doubles in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
  7. Preheat to 350°F
  8. Brush the braid gently with the beaten egg. Bake the braid until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Makes 1 large braided loaf.

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Chocolate Lavender Brownies

Spring has officially arrived!  This past Sunday was beautiful and the tree outside our place even bloomed.  I had to snag a picture of it!

Because I have spring fever, I decided to bake some Chocolate Lavender Brownies.  Lavender is a very unique and strong flavor that definitely reminds me of spring.  It can often times overpower whatever you’re adding it to, but I was conservative with it because I wanted to taste the chocolate while still taste the slightest hint of lavender.  These brownies were delicious and the lavender complements the chocolate nicely!

Have you ever tried baking with lavender?  If so, what flavors do you think lavender complements?

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender

Directions:

  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan over low heat, combine the butter and unsweetened chocolate. Heat, stirring often, until melted, about 4 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir until well blended.
  4. Mix the flour and lavender together and sprinkle over the wet ingredients.  Stir until combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared dish and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out almost completely clean, about 30 minutes (longer if using a metal pan).  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into 12 sqaures.

*Adapted from William Sonoma Cookies

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Peanut Butter Cup Sugar Cookies


Do you remember those gigantic cookies that were sold at stores like Mrs. Field’s in the mall?  I always loved the huge sugar cookies with the M&Ms in them.  I haven’t had one of those cookies in years and after buying some Trader Joe’s mini peanut butter cups, I decided it was time to bake these Peanut Butter Cup Sugar Cookies.  These cookies were not only ginormous, they were fabulous as well.  My hubby and I ate about 1/3 of them before he brought them to poker night at my brother-in-laws.  These cookies were just as I remember them being… soft, chewy, and amazing.  You could use chocolate chips or M&Ms if you’d like, but these TJ mini peanut butter cups were heavenly and took these cookies to a whole new level (can you tell I loved them?)!  Enjoy!

*Disclaimer:  These cookies, when consumed at the poker table, are proven to intimidate opponents and aid in chip winnings.  No, just kidding… they actually might have the opposite effect but they sure do taste great 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini peanut butter cups (I bought mine from Trader Joe’s)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place one oven rack in the top third of the oven, and one oven rack in the bottom third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy (about 2 – 3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and egg yolk, beating until well combined. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  4. Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  5. Form dough into balls, using 1/4 cup for each cookie. Place six balls of dough on each baking sheet. Gently flatten each ball of dough into a 2 1/2 inch round. Completely cover the tops of the cookies with the peanut butter cups gently pressing into the dough.
  6. Bake the cookies for about 12-15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. The cookies are done when they are light golden brown in color and just set. They will still seem a little soft but they will firm up as they cool. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

*Makes about 12 large cookies.

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