17 February 2010

peanut butter espresso cookies

Peanut Butter Volt Cookies

I've been thinking of peanut butter cookies lately, but I didn't want to make any I had tried before. They were in between chewy and sandy, and I wanted a chewy peanut butter cookie through-and-through. My option clearly was to come up with my own, and from the first go they were pretty good.

Peanut Butter Volt Cookies

To make them chewy I melted and browned the butter, used all brown sugar and a bit of honey, and used half bread flour. I added my own flavor spin by mixing espresso powder in the dough and rolling the balls in a mixture of freshly ground coffee beans and sugar, hence the "volt" part of the cookies. Next time, instead of adding peanuts and chocolate chips to the dough, I'll add chocolate covered espresso beans.

Peanut Butter Volt Cookies

The verdict is that these were a hit. Coffee tastes surprisingly good with peanut butter, and the cookies retained their chewiness days later (and make an excellent cookie to bring on a run). My one problem is that the peanut flavor wasn't as intense as I'd have liked, but it was good nonetheless and I'm going to come back to the basic formula in the future.

If you try these out, tell me what you think! (Recipe after the jump)

Print this recipe

peanut butter espresso cookies
Recipe by Christina Provo

Makes about 3 dozen

ingredients ~

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, browned and cooled
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts
2 tablespoons whole coffee beans, ground (not too fine, but not coarse)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

directions ~
  1. Whisk together flours, baking soda, powder, salt, and espresso powder in a medium bowl.

  2. In a large bowl, mix together browned butter and peanut butter with a mixer on medium speed. Add brown sugar and honey and beat for 3-4 minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just until blended. Mix in vanilla.

  3. In thirds, stir in flour mixture. When a few streaks of flour remain, mix in chocolate chips and peanuts. Place dough in a container, covered, and refrigerate at least overnight.

  4. Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a shallow bowl, mix together ground coffee beans and sugar. Portion 2 level tablespoons of dough out per cookie, rolling to shape the balls. Roll in coffee-sugar mixture. Using the tines of a fork, score crosshatch pattern on top, flattening cookies to about 1/2-inch thick.

  5. Bake for 11-12 minutes, or until set (the tops won't look raw) but not thoroughly baked. Remove sheet from oven and let cookies cool for 10 minutes, on sheet, before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.


15 February 2010

Valentine Cake

Valentine cake

Maybe I have no soul. Perhaps I was born without tear ducts, but I (in my aged state) am not one to celebrate Valentine's Day other than to make themed edibles. So another year has passed and I've become more sarcastic than ever before, because the thought of this cake came to me early on and made Valentine's more than just another day for me.

Valentine cake

I went with a classic red velvet double layer cake, complete with cream cheese icing. I've only made a red velvet once before, though it was cupcakes, and it was a really deep beet-purple red since I didn't actually have red food dye. The recipe for the cake and frosting came from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook, and my only substitution since I only had 1 tablespoon red dye was to add about 2 teaspoons raspberry Jello powder. Now, a red velvet layer cake has never appealed to me because it's practically in a state of limbo -- not quite chocolate, not really white or yellow. But it's red, and you're expecting it to taste like, I don't know, something other than just red. Adding the raspberry Jello powder gave it a lovely flavor that blended with the hint of cocoa powder, and that is how I will always make future red velvet cakes. I also colored and flavored the frosting with the Jello powder since I was out of red dye, and the chocolate icing was leftover from the football cakes.

Valentine cake

This had to be the most difficult cake to slice into because it was the best cake I've ever made. Not just the cake itself, but the decoration and the design on top, it broke my heart.

Valentine cake

I will never go to another recipe again. Soft, moist, simple to make and it bakes up wonderfully. The frosting was really good, though I added an extra cup of confectioners' sugar since the description said this was on the softer, looser side than regular frostings. It still was softer even after the extra cup, but any more would probably have made it much too sweet and taken over the tangy flavor of the cream cheese. (The recipe also says to use full fat cream cheese, otherwise it'll be too soupy.)

So Happy Valentine's to everyone, whether it was indeed happy or sad.

Recipe after jump.

Red Velvet Layer Cake
From The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Serves 8-10

Note: For the cake to have the proper rise and color, you must use natural cocoa powder; do not substitute Dutch-processed cocoa.

ingredients ~

2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder, plus more for dusting pans
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons red food coloring
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups cream cheese frosting (recipe will follow cake)

directions ~
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Grease, line with parchment or wax paper, and dust with cocoa powder two 9-inch cake pans.

  2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla extract together. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the cocoa and red food coloring together to a smooth paste.

  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined. Beat in the cocoa mixture until the batter is uniform.

  4. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape the bater into the prepared pans, smooth the tops, and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking (I didn't do this).

  5. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edge of the cakes, then flip them out onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper, flip the cakes right side up, and let cool completely before frosting, about 2 hours.

  6. Line the edges of a cake platter with stripes of parchment or wax paper to keep the platter clean while you assemble the cake. Place one of the cake layers on the platter (before doing this, place a small blob of icing in the center to hold the cake in place). Spread 1 cup of the frosting over the top, right to the edge of the cake. Place the other cake layer on top and press gently to adhere. Frost the cake with the remaining frosting (I did a crumb coat first, then sealed the cake with more icing) and remove the parchment strips from the platter before serving.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 4 cups

Note: Do not use low-fat or nonfat cream cheese or the frosting will turn out too soupy to work with. This frosting has a softer, looser texture than other frostings; it won't work with a three-layer cake. If the frosting becomes too soft to work with, let it chill in the refrigerator until firm.

ingredients ~

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups confectioners' sugar (I added an extra cup)

directions ~
  1. Beat the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla, and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, 2-4 minutes.

  2. Reduce mixer speed to medium-low, slowly add the confectioners' sugar, and beat until smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes.

To make ahead
The frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Let the frosting stand at room temperature until slightly softened, about 1 hour, then whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.

13 February 2010

chocolate chip brownies with stevia

Stevia brownies

I recently had the opportunity to review Stevia In The Raw, from the makers of Sugar In The Raw, to use for baking and general sweetness. Stevia is a natural no-calorie sweetener and has been receiving more props as of late. Since it's three times as sweet as sugar, you don't need to use as much.


The main concern most people have with stevia is the licorice aftertaste that can linger for a really long time. When I first tasted Stevia In The Raw, there was a subtle, present licorice taste, but it did not leave any after taste at all. I then tried some stevia powder that has been here for a while and the flavor was much more pronounced, hitting you with a rather nasty powerful aftertaste a few minutes later. That right there is reason to switch to Stevia In The Raw.

Stevia brownies

For my first baking experiment with stevia, I chose their chocolate chip brownies. On the recipe itself, I didn't use whole wheat flour, and I changed how the ingredients were added, mixing the butter-cocoa mixture and the buttermilk mixture in with the eggs first before finally folding in the flour and chocolate chips. Also, I could tell that these would come out more on the cakey side than dense and fudgy, which it did, so if you're looking for a fudgy brownie you might try not adding the baking powder. The chocolate flavor wasn't intense, but it was pleasant.

And how did these taste? You couldn't tell at all that there was stevia, and there was no aftertaste. This recipe and many of the recipes for baked treats on their website include both stevia powder and sugar, most likely to keep the taste in check and so that the baked item comes out closer to the original version (these are my thoughts). You'll also find tips for using stevia extract as a substitution on their website.

To conclude, I'm really excited about this product. I don't generally go for any sugar substitute because I feel it gives you an unhealthy perception toward sweetness, and will make it more difficult to gauge sweetness in foods made with actual sugar/honey if you stop using it, but I would go for stevia over an artificial sweetener if I went in that direction at all, and I suggest everyone do that, too.

Up next, I'll be trying their Himalayan Chai Tea and the Stevia Honey Aioli for some chicken.


12 February 2010

the end to the super bowl

Pretzel bites

This post will include the remaining foods I made for the Super Bowl because I'm getting tired of posting about them.

I've been wanting to make pretzel bites for quite a while now, and what better time to finally make them than for a party where finger foods are appropriate. These ended up tasting like a super awesome pizza roll, but with a chewier bready matter with much more flavor that the boiling technique gives bread.

Pretzel bites

Anything involving the extra step of boiling might seem time consuming, but unless you're really lazy it wasn't that bad. The recipe I used says these can be frozen, once baked and cooled, up to two weeks, then reheated when needed, so they really are an excellent choice to make for an event.

My concern was that the filling would come out of the bites when boiling, and a bit of it did, though not enough to leave a void. I do want to try an alfredo-like filling next time, though in that instance I will make sure the bites are more like closed pockets.

Pretzel bites

Very delicious, the best appetizer I've ever made. I served them with a honey mustard dressing, though they tasted best without any dipping sauce thanks to the pepperoni-bell pepper-cheddar cheese filling.

Buffalo chicken dip

Next up was a buffalo chicken dip. I've never made this before and figured it would take the spot of wings, as this would be less messy but can still be eaten with your fingers if you really want to do that. This was really delicious, and the blue cheese rounded out the heat from the hot sauce most excellently.

My disappointment with the recipe is that no one punched their way to the last portion like the blog post said. I really was looking forward to witnessing this, and I'm sure I was more upset about that than the loss of the Colts.

Puppy chow

Finally, we have puppy chow, which really is called Crack, but the Chex marketing/PR department decided it wouldn't go over well with families. But the correlation to pet food is more than fine! Actually, the Chex website calls this "muddie buddies", so what, Teletubbies covered in dirt? Whatever. How about "peanut butter and chocolate-coated chex pieces covered with white sugar". Sometimes it's best to call it what it is.

My brother really wanted this since it wasn't made for New Year's, like it usually is. I decided to make cake balls instead, but those actually didn't come out correctly and I couldn't even get myself to eat any. For my loss.

Recipes used ~

Country Ham and Cheddar Pretzel Bites

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Muddie Buddies -- I made 1 1/2 times the peanut butter-chocolate stuff, though I didn't increase the butter

11 February 2010

mini football cakes

Football cakes

Keeping in theme with football, football cakes were the obvious choice. I chose the labor-intensive path of making miniature football cakes so people could eat them at their own pace without waiting for the slicing of the cake, which is always a big deal around here.

Football cakes

Since these would take almost as much time as the cookies, I kept the components simple by chooses a wacky vanilla cake (no eggs, butter, or milk, and comes together in a matter of minutes), a lardified buttercream frosting for the filling and the crumb coat, and a simple chocolate glaze made with cocoa.

Football cakes

Somewhere during the course of epic pre-bowl baking fest, I lost steam after baking the cake, slicing the shapes out, and frosting, so I put them in a cool location to glaze the next day. I figured this would help the frosting set more so it wouldn't melt when the glaze was poured on top, too.

Football cakes

The glaze was interesting. It wasn't completely runny, yet it didn't flow easily and needed a bit of coaxing. You can faintly see through some spots where the coating wasn't thick, but overall I really liked it and it was simple enough to do. After about 2-3 cakes, I had to scoop up the icing that ran underneath the rack and put it back in the pot to reheat to pouring consistency. These really aren't super quick to put together which is why I completed them in stages, and that's what I'd recommend to anyone making any similar cake.

Football Cakes

Voila! I can't call these cute because it's football and that seems wrong, so I'll say that these kicked ass. That sounds hardcore-footbally, doesn't it!

Football Cakes

The glaze will need to set for a bit, then you can carefully pipe the designs on top. I used leftover royal icing from the Colts cookies, but if you make a little extra buttercream and reserve it, that will be just fine.

Football Cakes

I wasn't quite expecting these to taste as much like a Hostess or Little Debbie or whatever cake as they did, so it was strange. And not in a bad way, but the way the moist, soft cake tasted with the fluffy vanilla filling and cocoa glaze really was winning.

I'll definitely want to make something similar in the future, because it was worth the effort and made a nice little addition to the party.

Recipes used ~

Chocolate frosting (glaze) from JoyofBaking.com

For the buttercream I beat 3/4 cup shortening, then added a pinch of kosher salt and around 3 cups confectioners' sugar. I thinned this out with enough milk to reach desired consistency, around a thick mayonnaise texture.

Print this recipe

Wacky Vanilla Cake
Recipe from my mom's recipe stash

Yields one 13x9-inch cake, or two 9-inch layers
ingredients ~

3 cups plus 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

directions ~
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13x9-inch baking pan. Line the bottom with wax paper or parchment, then great the paper and flour the pan.

  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix liquid ingredients together in a separate bowl, then add to the flour mixture. Using a whisk, mix until well-blended and lumps are gone.

  3. Pour into baking pan, tap lightly on counter to remove air bubbles, then bake for 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown, a toothpick comes out clean, and the cake leaves sides of pan.

  4. Let cool in pan for 15-20 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack. Peel of wax paper and let cool completely.


09 February 2010

Sugar Colts Cookies

Part one of the Super Bowl posts begins with Colts cookies. I found the picture of the logo online, resized it, printed it off, and once cut out used it to trace the cookies. I don't make sugar cookies very often, and I'll explain why, but we really got into this year's Super Bowl and I wanted to actually make something centered around the Colts, and what better way to do that then by making cookies.

The downside to making sugar cookies is that you never finish cutting cookies out. No matter how many scraps you regather and roll, no matter how many shapes you cut out, THERE IS STILL DOUGH LEFT, like it multiplies as it shrinks! These in particular were rather painstaking because the shape was obnoxious and I could only cut out 1-3 per sheet of dough. After two dozen, I called it quits (make a reference to the game and I'll break your internet). There is still dough in the fridge that will be there forever.

The next part came the decorating, which was completed in three steps: outlining, flooding, and piping. None of this really took too much time, and I wasn't the only one flooding the cookies with blue icing so it went by rather quickly, except for the part where we were fighting over the spoon for the icing until we got two more spoons and realized we love each other after all and put aside our differences.

Like I said about the dough, you never use up all of the icing, and because it's royal I feel like I'm wasting it more than I do with pedestrian buttercream. In fact, I've kept icing for a long time in the fridge, it's like a joke, "I'll use it next holiday!" only to scream when I'm trying to find a tiny container and realize they're all filled with royalties. But this time, as I was so freaking sick of sugar (I went through 2 1/2 pounds of confectioners' sugar this weekend), I threw it all out without any remorse. I even threw some away that was leftover from the gingerbread house! Go me!

The end result, as it usually always is, was more than worth it. Or maybe I'm just telling myself this over and over again for the next time I make sugar cookies. I don't know, but these are pretty cool cookies, and unlike the Saints logo (which can be used as a makeshift spear and doesn't do much for bringing people together) you can use these for games during the party. Beat THAT.

Recipes used:

Sugar Cookie Cutouts by Martha Stewart (Cookies can be made a few days ahead and stored, covered, until ready to decorate)

Royal Icing by Joyofbaking.com (I adjusted the amount of confectioners' sugar to make it thick enough to pipe, then I thinned it out with water)


08 February 2010

pity cookie post


I have a series of posts related to our little Super Bowl party eats, and although I never was going to blog about it today, it's depressing because my team lost. So I will talk briefly about the cookies I made last week.

As a runner, it's important to have cookies. It's a necessary edible to have on hand because it makes the most delicious post-run refueling I've ever eaten, next to a packet of ramen after a long run. These are the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen thick and chewy recipe, though I've decided they don't stay chewy for much longer than a day and I think it's because they're baked at a lower temperature and for longer. Yeah, whatever I said before, I think taking them out of a 350° oven a bit before completely baked (which would be around 10-12 minutes) and letting them rest for 10 minutes on the baking sheet is a better bet for chewy longevity.


Instead of chocolate chips, these are made with toasted coconuts and slivered almonds, and white chocolate chips instead of chocolate.

That's all.


05 February 2010

on-the-go oatmeal cups

oatmeal cups

I actually followed through! I said I was going to come up with more of a breakfasty oatmeal cookie thing based on the oatmeal macaroons I made a few posts ago, and here they are! Filled with pineapple juice-soaked prunes and slivered almonds, these are a perfect way to bring a bowl of oats with you no matter where you are.

oatmeal cups

A few changes were made to make these more suitable for breakfast, one being to keep half of the oats whole, two was decreasing the amount of sugar, and three was adding an extra egg white. While having whole oats made these look more like a traditional oatmeal bar, I preferred the consistency when all the oats were ground. Also, I think these benefited from having a bit more sugar, so next time I'd add a few more tablespoons, or maybe 1/2 cup. Another change was to increase the cooking temperature to 325° and bake the cups for about 20-25 minutes. Unfortunately, the oatmeal seemed to soften overnight after being stored in a ziploc bag for whatever reason, so maybe they needed to be cooked longer and at the lower heat (I should try adding a slice of bread to the bag). I didn't toast the oats and didn't let the mixture chill overnight. So a few changes could have contributed to the chewiness.

oatmeal cups

If you're looking for a protein-enhanced breakfast, this is it. Serve crumbled in a bowl and topped with milk or yogurt, or simply eaten as is, it's a delicious way to start the day, or a great snack that'll leave you satiated between meals.

Recipe after jump.

Print this recipe

oatmeal cups
Recipe by Christina Provo

Make 12

ingredients ~

3/4 cup California Dried Plums, sliced in quarters
1/4 cup pineapple juice
3 1/2 cups whole oatmeal
1/2 cup slivered almonds
4 large egg whites
1/3 cup granulated sugar

directions ~
  1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat pineapple juice until hot in microwave. Pour over dried plums in a small bowl and set aside.

  2. Place half the oats and half the slivered almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the oats are broken up but not a fine powder. Pour into a medium sized bowl with remaining oats and almonds and stir.

  3. In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites and sugar until frothy, about 1-2 minutes. Whisk in prunes with any remaining liquid, then stir in oatmeal until well mixed. Refrigerate mixture for 10 minutes.

  4. Using a 1/3 cup measuring cup, portion out oat mixture, packing slightly, and invert onto parchment-lined baking sheet, tapping the cup against the sheet gently to remove the oats. Repeat with mixture. If any oat mixture remains, press it lightly on top of cups.

  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. A longer baking time will yield crunchier oatmeal cups. Remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack. Package individually and you're good to go!


04 February 2010

Moeben Running Sleeves Review


And I now switch gears to somewhat of a running-related post, where I talk about running gear and nothing about my own running! I received two pairs of Moeben Running Sleeves a few days ago and took them for a run to test them out. Moeben sleeves were created by Shannon Farar-Griefer, an ultra marathoner, philanthropist, wife, and mother to protect your arms from just about everything the weather will throw at you without needing a jacket. The cool part is that some of the sleeves come with UV protection, which is the variety I chose to test out. You'll also find a line of bamboo and hemp as well as fleece sleeves for colder weather, all coming in creative and eye-catching designs.

While I'm not going to be out in the elements for more than a few hours anytime soon, I do have a problem with overdressing when it comes to winter running. I was really interested to see how the fleece sleeves would work during a run, if I'd feel comfortable or if I'd overheat, if I felt it offered good wind and cold protection more so than a jacket. Weight-wise, they don't feel much thicker than the poly-lycra version.

So I tried them on (inside the house) and the fleece felt very comfortable against my skin, and really nice because it instantly kept me warm (I wear lightweight jackets inside) without having to layer up or wear long sleeve shirts. Instant plus. The one downside is that apparently I am way too scrawny so my upper arm, bicep/tricep, area didn't quite fill out the sleeves... But it's a testament to the quality of Moeben that they still stayed up. Even when I did...



Anyway, Moeben sleeves were designed to keep you warm in the cold, and cool in the heat, and the fleece version can be dipped in water and worn on hot days to help cool you down even more. I often start off yogaing wearing a long-sleeve shirt, taking it off after I warm up, though I felt comfortably cool and warm all at the same time when I wore these. Don't worry, I'm about to go outside.


Each sleeve comes with a handy pocket for a gel, or perhaps some cash in case you need to make a fuel stop. I don't think the logo is reflective, though given that these were intended for trail running more than road running it makes sense. It would still be a nice element to see in the future.


And we're off! Without a jacket! In 30° weather! Though there wasn't much wind. Wearing one of each sleeve (leopard, thin sleeve, and giraffe, fleece sleeve), I set off for an easy run of 4 miles, just something light to gauge the sleeves. I felt really comfortable the entire time, whereas usually when I wear a jacket or long-sleeves I end up pushing them up midway. It was snowing slightly and both sleeves held up to the flakes without my skin feeling damp underneath, though if it had been any windier the fleece sleeves would be the obvious choice to run in.

So far, I'm impressed. I'm not suggesting everyone throw out their shirts for a pair of Moebens, but these would really be a good investment. The instructions for washing are simple, too, just hand wash, rinse, and hang over the shower to dry.


You didn't think I'd let a post go by without mentioning the kitchen, did you? Yes, Moeben would make an excellent culinary investment, as well. It can get hot in there, and you really can't afford to get out. Oil splatters? No problem, you're covered! You'll look better than the food, too.

Thanks again to Shannon for letting me test these out! A really great product that's made right here in the USA, and a portion of every Moeben sale is donated to charity. Definitely a worthwhile purchase in more than one way.

Now I'm off to do some YOGA for arms from Yoga Is Yummy to fill these out. :look:

03 February 2010

roasted tomato vodka sauce with prunes

tomato sauce

Please, don't be deterred by the addition of prunes. My idea for this sauce came from another Italian recipe for a pork loin stuffed with prunes that I really like. The sweetness of the prunes enhances and contrasts against the savory flavors to create a depth of flavor, and it was my inspiration for this vodka sauce.

Since the tomatoes, onions, and garlic are roasted, the sauce is practically already cooked once everything gets into the skillet. This isn't necessarily a quick sauce, but you could put it together in about an hour if the water for the pasta is being heated as you prep the sauce.

Besides the vodka, which probably acts just like any alcohol added to pasta sauce minus the flavor (I'm guessing), vodka sauce has cream in it. So you're thinking this might be unhealthy? Not here. Although I do use heavy whipping cream, which I feel contributes and enhances to the smoothness of the sauce (yeah, it was also what I had), you could use half and half, general cream, or even whole. I wouldn't suggest 1%, no matter how fat you're feeling, because it might make the sauce too watery. There's also only 1/4 cup of cream in here, probably coming out to about less than a tablespoon per serving (this at least has about 5 servings).


The flavor came out about how I was expecting, savory with sweet undertones. I don't generally prefer sweet sauces, but I like the subtle taste of the prunes in here. Another "secret" addition was two anchovy fillets, and again, don't be put off as you can't even taste them, it's just one of those special additions that greatly contributes to the flavor. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the outcome!

Recipe after the jump

Print this recipe

roasted tomato vodka sauce with prunes
Recipe by Christina Provo

ingredients ~

1 pound Roma tomatoes, sliced into eighths
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small onions, sliced
10 garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup prunes, coarsely chopped
2 flat fillet Anchovies
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 pound spaghetti

directions ~
  1. Preheat oven to 450° degrees. In a large pot, heat water with 1 tablespoon coarse salt for spaghetti to a boil.

  2. On a rimmed baking sheet, place tomatoes, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, onions, garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon basil, and white pepper. Stir to coat. Place on middle rack in oven and roast for 30 minutes, stirring halfway.

  3. In a large skillet, heat remaining olive oil on medium heat. Stir in prunes and anchovies, using the back of stirring utensil to break the anchovies up. Saute for about 1 minute.

  4. When tomato mixture has finished roasting, spoon into bowl of food processor along with the prune-anchovy mixture, leaving excess oil in skillet. Process with 3/4 cup water until smooth, no longer than 30 seconds. In same skillet, saute tomato paste, letting it caramelize a bit, for a minute; pour in pureed tomato mixture and stir to incorporate with tomato paste. Add vodka, stir, and reduce heat to maintain a rapid simmer.

  5. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. Halfway through cooking time, take 3/4 cup pasta water and add to tomato sauce; stir, then stir in heavy whipping cream. Check for seasonings.

  6. Once pasta has finished cooking, drain portion out into bowls. Stir parsley into pasta sauce and remove from heat. Serve atop spaghetti.


01 February 2010

Zola Juice Giveaway and Review!

zola juice

In the dead of winter when many of us dread the very idea of stepping toe outside, I'm excited to have the opportunity to review and offer a giveaway from my favorite juice company, Zola that will brighten and boost a gloomy day! Their juices are based on the Brazilian açaí (ah-sigh-ee) superfruit, boasting 500% more antioxidants than blueberries and 60% more than pomegranates, and include additional Brazilian fruits such as acerola, caja fruit, cupuacu, graviola, and guarana as well as various other flavors. Not only do they have a juice line, but they have nutritionally sound and tasty smoothies and a variety of other acai-based products. I'm going to give a run down on the flavors and mention those of note I liked, then I'll talk more about the giveaway. You can jump down to the giveaway info because this a rather long review, but please take the time to read this post!

project zola

First, though, I want to mention Project Zola, the program started to support the local community in Brazil where Zola harvests their fruit. Members of the community hand-make Project Zola bracelets out of the dried açaí seeds. The bracelets are then sold, and Zola gives back $1 from each bracelet directly to the local school they're supporting, Escola Açaímu. The funds pay for teachers, books, and meals for all the children who attend the school.
Zola is doing what so many people talk about and tell others to do -- giving back. I appreciate that Zola saw they had the opportunity to make a legitimate difference in the community where their product is based and help out those who might not otherwise receive help. Another great reason to drink Zola! I encourage you to click the link to read up about all they do.

Zola Juices

Zola Açaí Original Juice, with Blueberry Juice, and with Pineapple Juice -

This is where it all began. Filled with antioxidants and omega fatty acids, the Açaí berry is turned into a delicious beverage that will leave you refreshed, healthy, and ready to tackle on the day. I kind of thought this juice tasted a bit like blueberry, but not quite. I liked the consistency and the fact that this didn't leave you parched like some other juices can. Zola Juices also contain organic guarana, a natural source of caffeine. Guarana contains fat-soluble oils which are released slowly for a prolonged energy boost instead of a spike and crash effect. While most caffeine addicts probably won't see much if any effect from the 24 mg of caffeine in a bottle of Zola Juice, it's a good and healthy alternative for anyone wanting a pick-me-up with plenty of other benefits instead of an energy drink.

There was a notable blueberry taste once I drank some of the acai with blueberry juice, so that set the difference apart right there. I haven't been much into berry flavors lately, though this certainly was tasty.

My favorite of the juices! I loved the refreshing taste of the pineapple juice, but what I loved the most is how they found the right mix of each so the pineapple didn't overwhelm the acai and vice versa. The flavor was also smooth.

Zola Light Açaí Original Juice

I'm most excited about Zola's light juice, sweetened with a reduced amount of organic evaporated cane juice and boosted by stevia, a natural sugar substitute. If you're watching calories, this is the juice to choose, with only 70 calories and 11 grams total sugar per serving. There is a slight stevia aftertaste, but not enough to keep a person from drinking it. Since Zola makes claims to be as natural a product as possible, it's nice to see they choose an actual natural sugar substitute.

Zola Smoothies

zola juice

Immunity Smoothie, Energy Smoothie, Superfood Smoothie, and Antioxidant Smoothie-

With a Brazilian Fruit Blend of acerola and acai, a bottle of the Immunity Smoothie contains 415% of daily value of vitamin C from the fruits acerola and camu camu. You also receive a boost of citrus bioflavanoids and beta carotene that will naturally boost your immune system and providing extra support during cold season.
I and my two testers felt the taste offered a complex tropical flavor that was more on the richer side than light. Very delicious. Another note we had about Zola Smoothies was that while the texture was a bit thicker than the juice, it still wasn't as thick as many bottled smoothies and doesn't weigh as heavy on the stomach.

The Energy Smoothie, a vitamin C-enhanced natural energy smoothie with a trio of yerba mate, guarana, and green tea that won't leave you crashing. Yes, I do drink my fair share of caffeine, and I'll note that if your tolerance to caffeine is quite high, you might not notice a remarkable difference when you drink this as it only contains 80 mg of caffeine (by the time many people read this, I'm willing to bet you've had triple that amount!). This will be perfect when I want a energy packed treat during the summer when I try to decrease my coffee intake, subbing it out for water.

Green drinks are all the rage lately, and Zola gives you the option of being green with their Smooth Green Blend of cupuacu, which has been called "the pharmacy of the Amazon" for its use as a treatment in many ways. The 1500 mg green boost contains spirulina, chlorella, barley grass, spinach, broccoli, and ginger. As with every smoothie but the Energy Smoothie, this does not contain any caffeine.
The flavor was mildly grassy, yet not at all disgusting. The fruit juices contrast against the greenery to produce a balancing act that I find quite palatable. If you're new to introducing green drinks into your diet and you want a quick fix, I would definitely recommend trying this out.

The Antioxidant Smoothie's flavor has a berry blend of acai berries and bananas. As I said way up there, acai has more free-radical fighting antioxidants than any other fruit, and coupled with acerola, which is one of the richest known natural sources of vitamin C, you've got all bases covered. Each bottle contains 125mg polyphenol antioxidants, providing insurance against a not-so-balanced diet, perhaps, or a boost to an already sound diet. Simply as a delicious drink, this delivers.

So maybe you're remarking how it doesn't much matter if you drink a bottle of acai juice because one day of consuming a rich source of antioxidants isn't going to do much in the long run. I agree. It's a balancing act -- the more consistently you eat healthy foods, the more you reap the benefits. It's not an occasional thing at all. That's where Zola's Acai Daily Wellness Shot comes into play.

zola wellness shot

Each 1-ounce shot of delivers a full dose of antioxidants, which help protect your body from free radicals, supporting your immune system, promotes a healthy heart, as well as providing anti-aging properties and boosting your energy and stamina. Each shot also contains 3,000 ORAC units, which also help fight free radicals. Read more about the benefits of antioxidants on Zola's website.

It's been about 5 days into taking the wellness shot, and I'll be posting after I've been taking it for 30 days on any difference I've felt it's made.


Congrats to Emily from Sugar Plum, who won the Zola Prize Pack!

P.S. None of these statements are evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration because, well, why would they want to. In full disclosure, I've received these products from Zola for the sole purpose of giving you my honest review on the products, so besides restating stats found on their site and their info packet, all opinions are entirely my own and I challenge anyone to suggest otherwise.

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