A Pie for Mikey

Posted: August 13, 2011 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

This post was hard to write. I don’t really have any idea how to encapsulate all the things I’m feeling. Just know that readers, family, everybody….I love you and I’m glad you’re in my life. And since today is all we are sure of, today especially, you are important to me.


Right now, I am sitting on my couch, with two people that I love very much. They are playing a video game called ‘Splosion Man, and laughing like lunatics. The windows are open, the fan is on.

I will be making Mikey Perillo’s favorite PeanutButter Pie tonight, for these guys that I love. And we’ll share it, and we’ll probably eat it all. A friend has instituted “family dinner”, where her friend family gets together and makes/eats dinner together at a scheduled time. The inaugural event will be at our house on Monday, and I will probably make another one for us to share then.

Mike Perillo, father, husband, and friend, died last Sunday suddenly, shockingly and heartbreakingly. Jennie lost her husband. Their two beautiful daughters lost their father. Judging by the crowd of people at the memorial service, I can only assume that hundreds of people lost a dear, good friend. I never met Mikey, and the first time I saw Jennie in person was yesterday morning, at the memorial. But she said “Josie” with such joy when I told her who I was, and hugged me like a friend. There was love everywhere yesterday, and support, and smiles, and food and, as Jennie memorably announced, “Eat up! And there are 10 different kinds of wine!”

Food can heal. And it can celebrate. And it can bring people together, which is what we’ve all been talking about for as long as there have been bloggers.

Maybe the most affecting part about the hundreds and hundreds of people who answered Jennie’s request and made Mikey’s favorite peanut butter pie and wrote about it (check it out on Food Network, Food52 and Facebook) is that people are taking this time to remember how precious life is, and share this pie and the words and feelings that come with it. Every single post that I read talks about making today special, and spreading the love and making sure that the people you love the most are aware of your love.


Photo by Barb of Creative Culinary

Photo from Barbara of Creative Culinary's lovely post.

My pie will probably have some tears stirred in. And it might get a little misty when I serve it, even if I don’t or can’t tell people why. But salted peanuts are the best. And nobody minds a weepy baker if the result is something like this:

I love you. I am happy to know you. I am blessed and lucky that you are in my life. All of you.

Have a slice of pie.


Posted: June 18, 2011 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

You should all know by now that I love a challenge, especially in the kitchen.  My sister sent me a text the other day presenting me with such a challenge and immediately the wheels started turning.  She sent me a picture of a cookie one of her coworkers had made.  It was an Oreo cookie, INSIDE a chocolate chip cookie.  Now of course I couldn’t just recreate this and be on my way, because I’m an obnoxious pain in the ass.  I had to figure out how to make it better.  By a show of hands, who knows what ingredient will make ANY recipe better?  Anyone?  Thats right…


Some of you may be rolling your eyes, some of you may (sadly) be gagging, and some (hopefully most!) are throwing up your arms in joy.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you…

Oreo Stuffed Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Start with a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe a package of Oreos and 5 slices of thick cut bacon.  End with a mouthgasm.

While you are putting the cookie dough together, cook the bacon in the microwave until very crispy.  Crumble/dice the bacon when its done and cooled and add it to the dough with the chocolate chips. 

I had some trouble trying to figure out the best way to “stuff” the Oreo inside.  First I tried to sandwich the Oreo between mounds of cookie dough, and that worked out pretty well, but I wanted to try some other methods.  So then I greased up my hands and totally engulfed the Oreo into a ball of dough.  Again, pretty good, but I tried one more method just because I could.  The third time around I stared with an Oreo on the cookie sheet then just mounded the dough on top.  All three methods are acceptable and effective, it just depends on which one you feel like. 

Just like regular cookies, bake them at 375, for about 7 minutes. 

Sunday Supper, and Savory Monkey Bread

Posted: September 14, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna, Sunday Suppers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Since my life has gotten hectic, and my Saturdays are currently swallowed by the dual demons of Getting Up Early and Logging Lots of Miles, followed by the spare visit from Post-Run Disco Nap, Sundays are where I look when I look forward to the weekend.

Part of the wonder of Sunday is that generally, especially as Summer fades through Indian Summer into Fall, there’s nothing to do except watch football and cook. Two of my favorite things to do. So this past Sunday, I decided to implement a process, whereby I make a big meal for Sunday Supper. It serves as a fuel-up for the week, and as a reminder that the weekend ain’t over yet. It gives leftovers for lunch on Monday, and the reminder that Saturday and Sunday aren’t that far away.

This inaugural week, Sunday Supper also gave me the chance to fire up my oven, which was repaired on Saturday, after not working since June 17. (No… I did not break it by kicking it when the Celtics choked away banner number 18 to the Lakers that night. As far as you know.)

The menu was straightforward, delicious food. On Sunday morning, I browned a brisket in my roasting pan on the stove, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then dropped it into my slow-cooker with 2 small chopped onions, 4 chopped stalks of celery, 4 chopped carrots, a can of low-sodium beef broth (yes, I know, canned. But sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do) and a can of no-salt-added chopped tomatoes. I set the slow cooker on low, and sat back to wait until the delicious smells got overwhelming.
Roughly 8 hours later, I shredded and chopped the meat, and pureed the rest of the items in the slow cooker into a gravy of sorts, and put everything back in the slow-cooker, this time on WARM, instead of LOW.

To go with the excellent brisket (I love Crock-Potting cheap, tough cuts of meat into delicious oblivion. It warms my soul), I made mashed cauliflower. Our CSA had given us a head of it, and while I’m not the HUGEST fan of cauliflower and broccoli, I figured that I shouldn’t let this veggie go to waste. So, I simmered it in milk, and once it was tender, mashed it with butter, salt, pepper, and some of the reserved milk. In all, it turned out delicious, and I was able to trick myself into believing that it was mashed potatoes. Well played, Cauli. Well played indeed.

The real star of the show, confirmed by the response the photo got on Facebook, was the Savory Monkey Bread I made based on Serious Eats‘ recipe.

Savory Monkey Bread

adapted (lightly) from Serious Eats

1. Scald 1 cup of milk. Scalding refers to heating milk up to 180 degrees, no more, no less. Let the milk cool to lukewarm. I judged lukewarm to be about finger temperature, when I stuck my finger in the pot of milk and it felt neither hot nor cold. I don’t know anybody named Luke, so I had to wing it.

2. Combine the milk, 1 packet of rapid-rise yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 2 cups of flour in a mixer. With the dough hook or paddle, beat until everything is well-combined. Cover with aluminum foil and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

3. Add another half-cup of flour,  half a stick of room temperature butter and a teaspoon of salt to the bowl, and knead with the dough hook (or by hand) until the butter is incorporated, and the dough is springy and a little bit sticky. I didn’t want to over-beat mine, and the original recipe doesn’t give a time guideline, but it’s nearly impossible to OVER knead your dough. I checked by touching it. When I could poke it, and it felt sticky, but it didn’t stick to my hand, I decided it was ready.
Form into a ball, cover, and let rise again for about 40 minutes.

4. While the dough is rising the second time, make the butter dip. I think next time, I will melt my butter, because it seems easier to manipulate than soft smushy butter with soft smushy dough.
Combine 1 garlic clove (or more, to taste) with a teaspoon of Italian Seasoning, a half-teaspoon each of dried rosemary and dried thyme, half a teaspoon (ish) of smoked hot paprika, a pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a whole bunch of grated asiago cheese (I probably used a quarter of a cup) in a food processor.
When the garlic is finely chopped up and the dried herbs start looking like little bits, drop in the other half-stick of butter and combine. This is a compound butter. Leave it on the counter at room temp.
I think that next time, I’ll melt the butter. Then, add the chopped up garlic and herbs TO the melted butter with the spices, and reserve the cheese for sprinkling.

5. Preheat your oven to 325. Grease your pan. I used a 7″ springform bundt pan, but you can use anything you’ve got.
Take the doubled dough out of the bowl, and cut it in half. Cut each half into 16 pieces (more if you feel like it), for a total of 32 (or more). I used my bench scraper, but you can also tear, use kitchen shears, or a knife.
Roll each blob into a ball, and smear with the compound butter (or dip the balls in the melted herb butter) and sprinkle with shredded parmesan, asiago, romano, or all three.
Put the blobs into the greased pan, stacking them on top of each other and trying to fit them into the little crevices so that they’re somewhat evenly layered. (Deb’s post on traditional Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze has great photos, as always, of the process)
If you’re like me, this is the moment to give the whole shebang another coating of grated cheese. Be like me. It’s fun.
Cover the pan, and let it rise for 30-40 minutes, until the little blobs of dough are filling up the pan.

6. Grate on a little more cheese right before you stick the pan in the oven. I won’t tell anybody.

7. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the dough is golden brown, and smells like you’re going to faint. Remove from the pan if you can (a springform was REALLY helpful for this) and let cool a little bit, until you aren’t burning your fingers trying to eat it.

This was a great way to kick off what I hope will become a Sunday tradition. Stay tuned to find out what happens next Sunday!

Gourmet, Unbound: April

Posted: March 31, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

I’m not typically good with cakes. My cakes taste fine, of course. But they never look quite right. My layer cakes stick, or I end up trying to patch them together with frosting. My everyday cakes are nice enough, but they never come out quite light enough for me. In general, my cakes are competent, but not complete.

This cake….. is different. This cake is light. Airy. Full of lemon flavor. This cake didn’t stick to the pan. It didn’t fall apart, it wasn’t overly sweet. This cake has no baking powder in it. It has some negative comments, where people say that the cake is too savory, too olive-oily, too eggy. Some commenters mention their cakes falling, or slumping, their guests being confused, or finding it unpleasant.

They are all wrong. Incorrect. Fully, totally entirely wrong.

Gourmet April 2006′s Lemon Olive-Oil Cake is light. Lemony. Moist. It’s one of those situations where you mix together seemingly innocent ingredients — lemon zest and juice, flour, salt, sugar, egg yolks. I added some chopped thyme, because lemon and thyme are a match made in heaven. Egg whites are whipped to soft peaks, combined with more sugar, and folded in. The whole cake is baked in an oiled springform pan, which means that the sides don’t stick. It also means that even if you don’t have any parchment paper in your house, as long as you oil the bottom of your springform, the cake’s high olive oil content means it won’t stick. In fact, the egg whites make it the lightest cake I’ve ever made.

I topped this cake with a quick glaze made of lemon juice and powdered sugar, and if I had to make the cake again, I would absolutely use the juice of a full half of the lemon, to punch it up a little. Otherwise, the glaze makes it just citrusy enough, so I would suggest making a lot of it.

This cake may have changed my cake fate. At the very least, it has encouraged me to try adding beaten egg whites to all the cakes that I make from now on. So thanks again, Gourmet, for giving me a little more faith in my cake-baking skills.

Gourmet, Unbound: March

Posted: March 1, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Gourmet Unbound, Johanna | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

February and I never got along very well. In fact, most years, I spend the entire month crossing out days on my mental calendar, and willing myself through: Only 26 more days…. Only 18 more days… 12 Days left, that’s less than two weeks, we’ve almost made it! It is, of course, about that time I start realizing I am slowly slipping into madness. BUT, I’m not alone — a huge majority of the people I know also hate February, although of course there was that one adorable and pink little bright spot last week. However, for many years the month was divided into the days leading up to my friend Erin’s birthday (the 14th), and the days following it. Not very promising, I tell you.

But for all the years I’ve spent hoping that February would just be over faster, that it would just end painlessly, or best yet, that it would be cancelled due to lack of interest, this year was a rarity. Packed with runs, races, birthday parties, and a cake undertaking, not to mention mailing cookies all over creation and accidently getting quite drunk a few times, February flew by! And all of a sudden, on Thursday evening, I realized with a start that February was almost over, and I hadn’t  even THOUGHT about what I was planning to make for Gourmet Unbound!
It appears that Gourmet didn’t much like writing in February, since the majority of the recipes I found on Epicurious appeared to be variations on things I’ve done recently, or involve seafood (which is risky-at-best when purchasing it at my neighborhood grocery store). The one recipe that caught my attention in a big way was a Cheddar Jalapeno Bread from the March 2007 issue. After taking a mental inventory of the contents of my cupboards and fridge, I decided I could throw this together after the USA-Canada Gold Medal hockey game, and have bread for Monday’s dinner.

Turns out, I had far fewer canned pickled jalapenos left than I thought. LUCKILY, I save leftovers of everything , so when I made cranberry-chipotle relish back in November, I saved the last 2 chipotles and their adobo in a tupperware in the fridge. So when I realized I only had 1 pickled jalapeno left, I did what a resourceful cook does, and I diced up 2 chipotles and added them to the dough along with a teaspoon or so of the adobo.
I also used pre-shredded cheese. I hang my head in shame. But it was tasty and easy.
I did my best to follow this recipe exactly, despite all the urges I as a bread baker had to add more flour when I saw how wet the dough was. It’s apparently supposed to be very wet. The bread comes out of the pan after baking with a nice, somewhat airy crumb, no huge air holes but not dense like a brick, either. It’s pleasantly spicy, not overly cheesy, and quite tasty when sliced, broiled and smeared with butter.

Not, ahem, that I’d know anything about that….
In summation, this is a good recipe, although I think that some tinkering could definitely be done with it. I’ll probably mess with it more in later posts, trying to find my own perfect iteration of Cheesy-Jalapeno bread. But for now? This was a great way to end February and say What up to March.

Why I Do

Posted: February 24, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

A lot of people have been talking lately about why we cook. Michael Ruhlman posted on his blog recently about why he cooks, and prompted his readers to respond in the comments, with why THEY cook. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. The simple answer, I guess, is because I love it.
The clearer, more honest answer, is because I love. I don’t mean necessarily because I’m in love; more because I love people. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that in large part, I will never be able to tell the people I love how much I love them in words. I try. But I live with someone who is completely open about his feelings with me. I end up stumbling, or feeling like I can’t come up with the words. I cook because I can express love clearly, concisely, succinctly. If I invite you over for dinner, or offer you brownies or cookies on your birthday, I am saying to you, as clearly as I know how, that I care about you and want to show you, because lord knows I’ll never be able to tell you.

I cook because sometimes life gets a little too much. Because sometimes the rituals and steps and processes of the kitchen take my mind off whatever might be going on in my life. I’ve mentioned before that my stove is my therapist, and that when things go awry, I spend 30 minutes or 45 minutes in the kitchen, and when I come out, my head is clear and my issues don’t seem so big anymore. Even the stack of dishes that I always manage to build up doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

Sometimes, I cook because I’m worried. Because I’m afraid and I’m worried about bad news. I cook at those times somewhat selfishly, taking comfort in the smell of melting butter, refuge in the feel of flour and salt, egg whites slipping through my fingers. I hide in my kitchen, and I cushion myself from the fear and the uncertainty in my life with things like baking cookies or roasting a chicken or making soup.

And sometimes….. sometimes you get wonderful news. Sometimes things are better than you could imagine, and whatever fear drove me to my butter and sugar, whatever concern lead me to crushing Heath bars or toasting walnuts has reversed itself, and everything is better than ok.

Welcome to the world, Natalie Claire Harper. I will always remember this batch of chocolate chip cookies, which I was in the middle of baking for your parents (among others) when I heard about your birth. I am so glad you’re here. I’m so glad you and your lovely mama are ok. I cannot wait to meet you.

Why do you cook? Who do you cook for? When do you cook and when do you not cook? What are you saying when you cook?

Yankee Galette

Posted: January 28, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’m going to come right out and say that if you are a vegetarian, you might want to just skip this entry. If you’re observant Jewish, you should probably test this with turkey bacon, to see if the taste is similar. In fact, maybe I’ll test it out with turkey bacon, and tell you how it goes.

Recently, I went to a Pie Party at the home of my friend Erin’s lovely cousin Emily. The basic jist was that everyone was to bring a pie – sweet, savory, family recipe, just wingin’it…. whatever. There was a judging, and a prize for the best sweet and best savory recipe. It was really fun, and it was excellent to meet and talk to new people, while gorging on pie (or, as Erin says it, “paaah”).
Since our invite was very last minute – as in, Erin and I were in the middle of a 6-mile run, when she suggested I throw something together and attend – I had to make do mostly with what was in my refrigerator. I had half a bag of cranberries left from some jam making, and decided to go with an apple cranberry galette.
While perusing the internets, I came across a few great recipes for such a galette, as well as a recipe that legitimately made me whimper when I read the title: Maple Bacon Apple Galette. In the end, I couldn’t decide, so I combined them.

Yankee Galette
1. Make a single recipe of your favorite pastry. My favorite is the recipe of another friend named Erin’s mother: 1 cup of flour, 1/3 cup shortening or butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 3-5 tablespoons of ice water. Chill the pastry in the fridge while you do the rest.
2. Chop or cut 4-5 slices of thick-cut smoked bacon into 1/4-1/2″ pieces, and brown the pieces. You’re not looking for totally crispy, because you’re going to bake the cooked bacon. But cook it till it’s brown and has rendered some of its fat.
3. While the bacon is browning, peel, core, and slice 3-4 medium sized apples. I used the amazing apple peeler/corer/slicer that I received as a Christmas gift last year, which sped up the process greatly. Toss with roughly 3/4 cup of fresh cranberries and 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon each cardamom and nutmeg.
4. Remove the bacon from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and drain. Then, put the drained bacon pieces in a non-stick pan with 2-3 tablespoons of
real maple syrup
(NOT Aunt Jemimah or Mrs. Butterworth or whatever else.) and turn the heat on to medium. The syrup will simmer, and this is exactly what you want. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, which should be just enough time to pick yourself up off the floor after you faint from the gorgeous smells coming from that non-stick pan. After 3-5 minutes, scrape the bacon/syrup concoction into the bowl of apples, cranberries, and spices.
5. Take your pie crust out of the fridge, and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface. You want to roll it out into a BIG, uneven roundish shape. No worries about making a perfect circle or making it even, since this is supposed to be a rustic, peasant style dish. Transfer the pastry crust to a baking sheet, and pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
If you want, trace a circle onto your pie crust lightly with a sharp knife, so that you know how big your finished galette will be. I used an upside-down plate. Pile your apple-cranberry-maple-bacon mixture on the crust, and begin folding and crimping the sides up and over the fruit. You don’t need to stress about making it beautiful – when it comes out of the oven all golden and baked up, it will BE beautiful.
6. Brush the folded-up edges of the galette with either melted butter, an egg wash, or (if you’re me) bacon grease. Sprinkle turbinado or sanding sugar along the crust edge if you’re feeling fancy, and bake for 35-40 minutes.

I love this galette, and combining apple pie with cranberries, bacon, and maple syrup reminds me of New England, of all the things that make me think of home, of Thanksgiving and my heritage foods.
Plus, it’s delish. I didn’t win the contest, but I got some good encouragements, and I ate some delicious pie, and in the end, that makes everybody there winners. :)

Go with your strengths

Posted: December 4, 2009 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

When I was just learning to cook, I was advised to learn one knockout chocolate dessert, because it would take me far.

Meet the knockout.This one is my knockout. My first roommate still talks about the cake, and asked me for the recipe this year when her birthday came around. She, more than anyone, has earned it, having acted as my guinea pig and consuming the “test cake” that I made to ensure that the recipe would be fit for a birthday cake for a certain someone. This cake uses cocoa powder instead of flour, eggs and sugar, and unlike most flourless chocolate cakes, does not involve powdered nuts. The cake is dense and fudgy, and unlike most chocolate things, one piece is just enough.
Flourless Chocolate Cake

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use 70% or higher)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup  unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted) plus more for cake pan.

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Butter an 8-inch cake pan, and dust with cocoa powder on bottom and sides.
2. Chop or break the chocolate into small pieces. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or bowl over a pot of simmering water), stirring frequently.
3.  Remove the chocolate and butter from the stove, and whisk in the sugar, then the eggs 1 at a time.
4. Stir in the 1/2 cup cocoa powder.
5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes. The cake will expand and puff up, and once you take it out of the oven, it will slump back to flat. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before eating.

Jesse has eaten this in both cake form and cupcake form. Nicole, my first roommate, got about 4 of these cakes in the 4 short months we lived together. I have fed it to friends and various loved ones, and have never had anything but excellent results.
Meet your new knockout.

A Bar is a Bar is a Bar?

Posted: August 5, 2009 | Author: Rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

What makes a cookie bar a cookie bar?

Last night I attempted to bake banana-oatmeal bars with chocolate chips; a perk of not timely eating all the bananas means that they will be featured in a new, desserty incarnation. After much soul searching, I determined to make bars because the week before was banana bread muffins and I like creating new things. The bars were decided upon because Epicurious’s other ideas were banana pudding bananas foster or other unportables I can’t give out at work easily, and the dessert cookbook I own didn’t list much with banana!

I used this recipe, but substantially adjusted it based on reviewers’ suggestions and to taste. Basically, I halved the sugar, added a cup of oats, upped the ripe banana quotient to three instead of two and nixed the nuts. I figured it would be bar-like, since, well, it’s a bar recipe. Didn’t happen.

I’ll be honest, I like baking and I like that it’s generally simple and has consistent rules and formulaic outcomes, (whipping room temperature butter + eggs cracked one at a time equals…) but I’m pretty ignorant about what leads to what! (…equals fluffier cakes? Uh…?) So in adjusting this and other baked goods recipes I do not know, essentially, what exactly I’m doing. Which is fine by me since everything usually comes out ok anyway, but not what I was expecting; it would be nice to know how to actually achieve what I thought I was making!

My roommate, not at all a cook, whipped out her Betty Crocker Cookbook guide which she got as a ‘new college student’ gift from relatives. And there was the light! It gives overviews on these basic rules I was not tutored in. I’m more at ease with mains, salads, the savory stuff. But this basic intro to baking is exactly what i need. It might be helpful to review the whole thing, to be honest.

She told me that it’s one thing to play with an established, “sure thing” recipe but to adjust an unknown, well, who knows what will happen?

That being said, my “cake” got rave reviews! But does anyone know what makes a bar a bar?

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.