$12 Challenge Here I Come!

So the vote has been cast and soon enough I will be a contestant on Food 2’s $12 Challenge. With wit, sarcasm, and creativity I will surely trump whatever my contender dishes out. Unfortunately I won’t have much time to mentally prepare before the shoot, as our direction is given by our potential love interest, I have now been told I can bring a secret ingredient along with me!

It is pretty tough to just bring ONE ingredient with me. But the “secret ingredient” can be anything I want from a good luck charm to a zester. This ingredient is key for the camera because if picked correctly it will compliment my dish perfectly and ultimately lead me to victory!

As of course I have NO idea what to bring with me, so I’ll put it out there for suggestions from my fans. You are fans, right? Well, in any case, I hope someone out there will inspire me with a killer ingredient that will wow both my potential love and the audience!

Be creative!


Can Food Lead to Love?

$12 Challenge

I have been in love with food for as long as I can remember. But maybe its time that food led me to a real life love?

Although food is a HUGE part of my life, its never led to any dates or romantic interests for that matter and not for lack of trying! Of course wining and dining have been key factors in winning MY affections but my mission to become the next food socialite hasn’t quite led me to love.  Which begs the question, will it ever?

I never really paired food and falling in love together until I interviewed for the $12 Challenge. This new webisode series hosted by the Food Network’s blog, Food 2, has caught my attention and apparently others that adore food and are also looking for love. Sounds right up my alley!

The premise of the $12 Challenge is simple.  Two contestants use their finest culinary talents to compete for a date with a so-called Foodie. The kicker is that the contestants only receive $12 and are given two hours to cook a winning meal on the streets of New York City. No kitchen, no knives, no nothing really. Creativity and wit are the only two things that will get you through this quirky competition. And being the author of Hartley Confections, I figured I was up for the challenge.

So yesterday afternoon I made my first appearance on camera and revealed my most public secrets on food and dating. And after being grilled (no pun intended) on both my food and love lives I came to the conclusion that maybe I can find love through food and even in a setting as obscure as the $12 Challenge (if I’m selected). After all, the way into a man’s heart is through is stomach!

Stay tuned for more on food and love AND if you’ll be feasting your eyes on ME in the next $12 Challenge.

Thanksgiving Appetizers: Houston’s Spinach Artichoke Dip?

There’s nothing better than a variety of appetizers to whet the appetite before a Thanksgiving dinner. The appetizers my family traditionally serves are the old fashioned but classic pigs in a blanket and my mom’s famous Sourcream Dill Dip with mixed vegetables and Cape Cod Russet Potato Chips.

Since our Thanksgiving is typically an intimate dinner of 5, we tend not to go overboard on the appetizers. But I’ve always dreamed of having a big Thanksgiving dinner filled with family and friends and endless hors d’oeuvres. I can just envision guests anxiously awaiting the next round of Baked Brie with Apples, Stuffed Mushrooms, and Butternut Squash Soup Shooters. There’s always next year!

And in preparation, my friends and I had our own Thanksgiving dinner where we served the following appetizers:

  • Spinach Artichoke Dip
  • Homemade Hummus & Pita Chips

Though my dip has been compared to Houston’s Spinach and Artichoke Dip, it has less fat and more vegetables yielding a tasty counterpart. The crunch of the water chestnuts and elimination of heavy cream create a light dip that won’t weigh you down before your big Thanksgiving day meal.

For more appetizing ideas to serve at your Thanksgiving dinner visit the Food Network’s Thanksgiving 2008 Menu.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip Ingredients

  • 1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese + 3 tablespoons
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 small can water chestnuts
  • 1/2 cup fat free sour cream (or plain yogurt)
  • 1 8 oz package light cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs or panko


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.
Spinach Artichoke Dip Ingredients2. In a traditional blender, hand blender, or food processor, place artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, and garlic . Pulse until slightly chopped and set aside.

Spinach Artichoke Dip3. Heat the cream cheese for approximately 1 minute, or until soft and easily spreadable, and mix together with spinach, sour cream in a medium bowl. Stir in artichoke mixture and spoon into prepared baking dish.

4. Top with 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until breadcrumbs have browned.

Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip

Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip

Thanksgiving Desserts: Whole Wheat Apple Pie

Thanksgiving desserts are what I believe most people look forward to most about Thanksgiving. And what would Thanksgiving be without Apple Pie? What would the entire Fall and Winter seasons do without apples? Well, luckily we’re not going to find out because I’ve included a recipe, based on Marie Colbath’s Apple Pie that everyone is guaranteed to adore.

I assure you that I haven’t forgotten about the infamous Pumpkin and Pecan Pies, but I figured I’d start you all off with my favorite. But, while we’re on the subject of pies, I’d definitely recommend baking one if you haven’t before. Most beginner cooks and even advanced are adverse to baking pies because of the dreaded crust. But as you’ll see the crust for this Whole Wheat Apple Pie recipe is fairly easy and can be substituted for any other pie crust out there. And pie just isn’t the same with a store-bought crust! Even the Food Network is encouraging homemade crusts with their tutorial, 6 Tips for Perfect Pie Crust.
Pillsbury Funfetti Brownies

Pillsbury Funfetti Brownies

But, if you’re pressed for time, or just don’t feel like baking you can make Pillsbury’s forever crowd pleasing Funfetti Brownies. Between the velvety chocolate inside and the colorful funfetti, I don’t think anyone will hold them against you.

Whole Wheat Apple Pie Ingredients


  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup bran flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon chilled butter, cut into small pieces, divided
  • 10 tablespoon ice water


  • 8 cups sliced peeled McIntosh apple (about 3 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon all spice


  • Cooking spray
  • 1 egg white, beaten or 1/8 cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar


Kneading Butter1. Lightly spoon white and whole wheat flour, bran, turbinado sugar, cinnamon, and salt into their respective measuring cups, level with a knife, and combine (through a whisk) in a large mixing bowl. Cut in 1/2 cup of chilled butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal ( I usually work the mixture with my hands). The mixture should be crumbly and the butter should be broken down into small pea size balls. Fluffing Crust Mixture2. Sprinkle surface with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time and toss with a fork until moist and crumbly (do not form a ball). It is important for the dough to be only slightly saturated with the water. Dense and sticky dough yields an unenjoyable chewy crust. 3. Divide the fluffed dough in half. Gently press each half into a 4-inch circle on 2 sheets of overlapping heavy-duty plastic wrap and cover with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Chill 30 minutes.

4. Peel and core the 3 pounds of apples, slice them into small pieces, and place in a large mixing bowl. Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and all spice in a small bowl. Then sprinkle sugar mixture over apple mixture and toss well to coat.

Peeled ApplesSliced Apples & Sugar MixtureSugar Mixture over Sliced Apples 5. Pre-heat oven to 425 Degrees. 6. Roll 1 dough half, still covered, into a 12-inch circle. Roll remaining dough half, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Chill for an additional 30 minutes if the dough is too soft (splitting apart, or difficult to roll or mold). 7. Remove top 2 sheets of plastic wrap from 12-inch dough circle; fit dough, plastic wrap side up, into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray, allowing dough to extend over edge. Remove remaining plastic wrap and spoon filling into dough. Bottom Crust in Pie PanApple Mixture in Crust Top Crust8. Remove top 2 sheets of plastic wrap from 11-inch dough circle; place, plastic wrap side up, over filling. Remove the remaining plastic wrap and press edges of dough together. Fold edges under, and flute. Cut 4 (1-inch) slits in top of dough to allow steam to escape. 9. Brush top and edges of dough with egg white or milk and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of turbinado sugar. 10. Place pie on a baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° (do not remove pie from oven); bake an additional 30 minutes or until golden. Shield pie with foil, if necessary. Cool on a wire rack. Serve Warm.

Whole Wheat Apple Pie

Whole Wheat Apple Pie

Apple Pie on Foodista

My Trip to the Food Network

Jacob Schiffman, Jessica Levine, & Mike Baru

Jacob Schiffman, Jessica Levine, & Mike Baru. And Yes I’m holding Edible Flowers!

As many of you already know, it has always been my dream to work for the Food Network. And although I previously worked in the same building as the Food Network, let alone the same elevator shaft for two and a half years, I had yet to take the grand tour. Luckily, my friends Jacob Schiffman and Mike Baru were able to give me an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the infamous Food Network test kitchen.

Of course the day I came to visit 95% of the chefs were out shooting in other locations. But despite the lack of chefs, this tour was just as exciting. As I rode the elevator up to their floor, I could hardly contain myself. To most people this trip would seem like any other day, but to me it was like taking a trip to Jerusalem!

First, I was taken through their corporate office. After walking past a handful of cubicles, I noticed the offices of Bob Tuschman (Senior VP of Programming & Production) and Susie Fogelson (VP of Marketing). These names would not resonate with most people, but I knew and appreciated their hard work and dedication in making the Food Network what it is today. And then out of nowhere, came Bob Tuschman himself! I must admit that I was slightly starstruck though I kept it to myself. And for those of you who don’t know Bob Tuschman, he is the man behind “The Next Food Network Star” as well as one of the judges.

So we kept walking and eventually made our way up to the test kitchen and live studio. And oh were they glorious. I definitely would have like to see some cooking, but I figured I’d take what I could get. The chefs that were in the kitchen that day were certainly getting a kick out of me taking pictures of an empty kitchen. But I clearly didn’t let them bother me and went on snapping pictures.

They certainly have EVERYTHING in that kitchen. I’d be curious to see what they didn’t have. My favorite part was Jacob’s “office” which you can see in the picture below. I think he had EVERY condiment anyone could ever want. And condiments are my favorite, so clearly this made me very excited; excited enough to take a picture of him and Mike in front of them.

After visiting the test kitchens Jacob took me back to the studio where they film Emeril Live and Iron Chef America. The studio definitely seemed smaller than I had imagined. And again, to my disappointment, there was nothing too exciting going on there, except for a bunch of kids getting their own little tour.

Next came the Food Network Library. I wish that I had access to that library. It was incredible how many books they had on various types of cuisines from locations all over the world. I’m sure if I had access to these books my recipes would be A LOT more interesting.

So after the library, my tour came to an end. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a second trip over there and see some of the magic that happens behind the scenes. But until then, feast your eyes on some of these shots:

Food Network Test Kitchen

Food Network Test Kitchen

More of the Food Network Test Kitchen

More of the Food Network Test Kitchen

Mike Baru & Jacob Schiffman

Mike Baru & Jacob Schiffman

The Food Network Library

The Food Network Library

Production Equipment for Emeril Live

Production Equipment for Emeril Live