Recipe: Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Happy Pi Day! I’m always down for cookies, ice cream is my jam, cake only on special occasions, and pie very seldomly. I’m not sure why that is since pie is amazing. Sometimes crusty pies seem really heavy I think. I prefer ice box, or no bake, pies like lemon chiffon, pudding pie, or this one I came up with today. Either way, pie deserves to be celebrated!!

Domestocrat’s Peanut Butter Cream Pie (adapted from The Candid Appetite/Joy The Baker)
For the crust:
24 chocolate and vanilla cream cookies/Oreos/Joe-Joe’s
1/4 cup butter, melted
For the filling:
16 oz. heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. brown sugar
8 oz. cream cheese (I used the brick kind, light, at room temperature)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. water
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Chocolate sprinkles for a fun garnish

I’m obsessed with Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s cookies. Obviously they are an Oreo knock-off but I actually prefer these. They are sweet and have the perfect ratio of cookie to cream filling. They also have delicious vanilla bean flecks in the cream. And during the holidays they have a peppermint version that is insanely good. So, that said, I decided to make my pie crust with these instead of a traditional graham crust. I think the chocolate compliments the peanut butter much better!

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Pulse the cookies in a food processor until they are ground up into a sand-like consistency. Pour in the melted butter and pulse again until fully combined. The crust should be damp to the touch with no crumbs left behind.

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Press the crust mixture into a pie plate, making sure the bottom and sides are an even layer. If the crust varies in thickness, it won’t be able to support the filling (true of any pie). Use your fingers to meticulously pack down the crust and even out any too-thick or too-thin spots. Put the pie crust in the fridge to chill while you make the rest of the pie (minimum 20 minutes).

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Next, get the whipped cream and 2 tbsp. brown sugar going in a stand mixer or bowl with a hand mixer. You’re looking for very stiff peaks here since the cream needs to hold up in two applications with this pie. When this beats up, you’ll have about 2.5-3 cups of whipped cream. When it’s done, set it aside.

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On to the peanut butter filling! Basically this is peanut butter cheesecake. In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, peanut butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, and vanilla. The mixture should be tight but not crumbly and not creamy. If you’re having a hard time getting it to come together, add a little water like I did.

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Take 2 cups of the whipped cream and beat it into the peanut butter filling. You’re looking for the mixture to smooth out, fluff up in volume, and go from dense to light/airy. Taste the mixture and adjust the sugar, adding one tsp. at a time, if you prefer more.

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This is also a good time to add the powdered sugar to the whipped cream and whip until combined. Taste that as well before putting on the pie, and increase the sugar if you prefer the whipped cream to be sweeter.

Take the pie crust out of the fridge and pour in the peanut butter filling. Smooth out on the top to create an even layer.

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Next, add the finished whipped cream and any toppings you like. I prefer these simple, but delicious, chocolate sprinkles but you could add peanuts, pretzels, chopped up peanut butter cups, peanut butter chips – the possibilities are endless!

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Put the pie back in the fridge and chill for 2 hours prior to serving.

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When it’s set up, cut into wedges and serve! This pie is creamy, dense, sweet and savory, and perfect for any peanut butter lover. It’s easy start to finish and no bake to boot. Definitely a new staple in our house and the perfect way to celebrate Pi Day!

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Book Review: You’re Not Doing It Right by Michael Ian Black

IMG_0436-2In my impressionable teen years of the 90’s I discovered The State on MTV. A show I shouldn’t have been watching on a channel forbidden in my house (my mom would later block MTV but all that did in 1996 was scramble the channel, with the audio totally clear, so I would sit in front of our fuzzed up TV just listening). When The State ended I transitioned over to Viva Variety on Comedy Central, a show I liked vastly more because it had killer musical guests that made a long lasting impact on my musical tastes (Fishbone (their performance blew my head right off my body), Reel Big Fish, Royal Crown Revue, Toots & The Maytals, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, etc). I became completely obsessed with Michael Ian Black’s Johnny Blue Jeans character, with his huge pompadour, terrible fake European accent, vinyl denim outfits, sexual ambiguity, and overall goofiness. There was just something about him I loved, and have made it a point to follow his career ever since.

Over the last 20 years (!) I’ve followed Black through Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, Ed, Run Fat Boy Run, Michael & Michael Have Issues, VH1’s I Love The… series and most recently by way of he and Tom Cavanagh’s podcast, Mike and Tom Eat Snacks (which is insanely funny, fantastical, and only semi-focused on snacks). Black is also prolific on Twitter, you should absolutely follow him if you aren’t already (I got a tweet back from him about the podcast in 2012 and am still elated about it). And if this preamble wasn’t long enough, I also just want to mention two current/upcoming things Michael is doing that I’m thrilled about! #1) The How To Be Amazing podcast – Simply, Michael interviews interesting people about how they got where they are in life. The first four episodes are free right now on Audible and feature Elizabeth Gilbert, Bob Odenkirk, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Tavi Gevinson (I know right!!). #2) The Wet Hot American Summer reboot debuting on Netflix in July. ‘Nuff said!

And finally, the book review! (sorry, I love MIB and I can get carried away)…John got me You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations for Christmas this year. I started it immediately but soon realized it was one of those books that I wanted to read slowly, and savor, even though I could have blazed through it in one afternoon.

The book starts with Black, in the present day, ruminating about how his life got to its current state. I love that he grabs the reader right away with this thesis: “I wonder if, like me, there are people who occasionally experience the curious, disembodying sensation of not recognizing their present life as their own.” Yes, all the time.

Black then trips on his nostalgia, spending the next several chapters recounting how he met his wife, their interesting courtship, remembering all their firsts, and their early newlywed years. These chapters are sweet, sentimental, personal. They also foreshadow what is to come and what we already know about Black – that he is a guy who can be selfish, dickish, and childish. I’ve always thought he came across as someone like this, so it doesn’t surprise me or turn me off of him. I actually quite like the candor. I did find it interesting though that he finds himself, then, scratching his head a few chapters later about why, after years of marriage and two kids, he and his wife fight so much and decide to go to therapy. I can tell from reading the book: he doesn’t listen to her and he puts himself first, always. This is relatable and frustrating to me but adds to the marriage-is-hard theme of the book. So true.

Ultimately I can see that he loves his life, wife, and children. The thing is – life is hard and stupid and boring and confusing and random. Black just has the decency to be honest about it. The whole book is such a refreshing breath of frankness. It made me laugh, cry, and wince but because I can relate, not because I was offended or couldn’t handle the truth. I truly enjoyed how loud and clear Michael Ian Black’s voice comes through in this book. It’s his trademark suffering sarcasm and sharp wit about how shitty it is to be an adult. If you can’t laugh about it, you will surely drown in it, you know?

Lately I’ve been trying to find inspiration in the world that comes from authenticity. I’ve started looking more toward role models that are real people, however unsexy, uncelebrity, or offbeat. While this book was brutally straightforward at times (and awkward and cringeworthy, as those often go hand in hand with honesty), it’s that realness that made me enjoy it so much. As I get older, those are the best kinds of role models. The ones that normalize what it is to be an adult, a simple human, someone with purpose, but doing it imperfectly. It’s hard and it’s easy to screw up. To argue that Black, or anyone of us, are doing it wrong would be to dismiss and invalidate the experiences we’re having along the way as we try to do it right. Even the title of the book is a subtle mockery of the doubts we have when we feel like impostors in a world where, if we’re not perfectly sticking the landing, we’ve failed outright.

I’m not sure if this book is for everyone, since there is a lot of mocking his wife, resentment towards his kids, and general loathing of any person or animal who demands his attention, but I really enjoyed it. If you’re already a fan of Michael Ian Black, this is a must read. I think if you’re a 30 something person, like me, trying to (still) figure life and work and marriage and money out, it’s worth the time. If anything I wrote above offends you, skip this one! (also, we can no longer be friends) Happy reading!

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Simple Snack: Celery, Cream Cheese, Pumpkin Seeds

My grandparents always have whipped cream cheese in their fridge. It has always been, and remains, one of my favorite little quirks of theirs. For some reason, whipped cream cheese seemed like such a foreign luxury item to me as a kid. I was used to the giant, sometimes crusty, block slab in a sad piece of foil kind. Never whipped and definitely not in a cute little tub! Whenever visiting their house I know I can get my fix and also have a ton of great things to slather with it: pretzel sticks, buttery Ritz crackers, celery, etc.

Recently, while browsing Whole Foods for snacks, I came across whipped cream cheese and had a YAAAAASSSSS! moment. I picked up some celery and came up with this simple snack when I got home.

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The combo of the creamy, but light, whipped cream cheese with the bright, crisp celery and the crunchy pumpkin seeds is the best flavor and texture pairing. This simple snack was a little decadent but also super satisfying and fresh. Also, it achieves my new go-to snack combo: a little bit of carbs, fat, and produce. Lastly, this snack is a great way to integrate delicious and nutritious pumpkin seeds into your every day! Which is awesome because despite being packed with good fat, iron, magnesium, and protein, I sometimes have trouble with where they fit in to meals/every day eating. Enjoy!

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Simple Snack: Crackers, Cheese, & Fruit

I’ve been working with a nutritionist for the last few months to balance my diet, get fresh and new meal ideas, and to look at trends in my diet. One trend is that I need an afternoon snack between lunch and dinner. Every day, right around 2-3pm, my tummy growls something fierce. We’ve been working on options that are healthy and filling so that one go-to snack is enough between meals. My nutritionist’s recommendation is to have a little bit of everything – carbs, fat, and produce – to create a truly filling and nutritious combination, rather than just having carbs or just having fruit, being hungry 30 minutes later, eating more, racking up the calories, etc. We’ve come up with my new favorite combo – a classic – crackers, cheese, and fruit.

I’ve included a collage below of the combinations I’ve been making lately of crackers, cheese, and fruit because there are so many options!

First, let’s talk crackers. You’ll notice that they are the one thing that stays the same in my combo. My go-to are the 365 brand Woven Wheats from Whole Foods. Basically they are Triscuits, which could totally work here too. The reason these are my favorite cracker option is because they have two ingredients. Yep, only two ingredients: whole wheat and salt. No enriched flours, no HFCS, no fillers, no chemicals, no xatham gum, no words I can’t pronounce. You can’t get any less complicated and more healthy than that!

Moving along – cheese! The choices are obviously endless here but I’m mainly going for portion control and taste with my cheese selections. My favorites are 365 brand whipped cream cheese, 365 brand colby jack cheese sticks, and mozzarella Babybels.

Last but not least, the fruit component. My picks here are mostly just what I prefer and what looks good at the supermarket. I’m definitely loving clementines for their portability, grapes for their sweetness, and pomegranate seeds for a new and exciting option. Strawberries, apples, and bananas are great too. Whatever you like!

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Bonus Round: You’ll notice some M&Ms up there too. As I mentioned, my nutritionist and I are working on composing one healthy, filling snack between lunch and dinner. I found I was having my afternoon snack and a sweet snack on top of that every day (I can’t be the only one who craves chocolate right after a meal!). So, instead of mindlessly munching on a whole bag of M&Ms or handfuls of Hershey’s kisses in addition to my mid-afternoon snack, I’m working on integrating the two – still having the sweets/chocolate but reducing the amount and combining it with my mid-afternoon snack. So far, so good!

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Feel The Fear…And Do It Anyway…Even If You’re Fat…

I’ve always liked that Susan Jeffers quote “feel the fear…and do it anyway.” Mind over matter, and all that. Despite having a crippling fear of public speaking, I have been volunteering to do more of it at work. Public speaking is not something that has ever come naturally to me – my stomach tangles in knots, I sweat, I stumble over my words, I can’t catch my breath. I have always been envious of people who can give a speech or get up in front of a big group without a second thought. John is totally like this, which is why he’s such a good improviser (read: no fear). But I have always had the fear.

Knowing that though, I understand that not giving presentations, leading workshops, speaking on a panel, etc will limit me professionally. So, like I said, I’ve been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone and volunteer to do the very thing that has crippled me most of my life.

This week I did a huge presentation in front of about 50 people at work and didn’t puke. In fact, I actually think that I did pretty well! It may seem like small beans to someone who is comfortable with public speaking, but for me it was a huge deal. I prepared and planned for it very academically, as my Type A self is want to do. I started from scratch, made an outline, spent weeks meticulously filling in the outline, spent a weekend building a slide deck, rehearsing my slides over and over, memorizing my entire presentation, making sure the whole thing would come off naturally. Before my presentation I was nervous, but not oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-die nervous like usual. The second I got up in front of the room I felt ok. I began my presentation and was surprised at how good I felt. This non-nervousness gave me confidence: I knew what I was talking about and the flow was good. Afterward I did an internal fist pump. I was super prepared and I crushed it! Yes!

But then I got to thinking. Yes, I was prepared. More prepared than I have ever been for a presentation probably. But something else was there too, something bigger, something less obvious. And I slowly realized what it was. 2014 was a self-care journey for me. I have actively started to practice more self compassion. Telling myself that I am enough just as I am, knowing deeply that I am exactly who I am meant to be – and that anyone or anything telling me otherwise is wrong. I have taken all the bad things that people have said about me or negative thoughts I have told myself, challenged them, contradicted them, and let them fall away.

I realized that part of my fears, in public speaking but also in life, are of actually being seen. That someone will take one look at me and see my size and then choose not to see anything else. That I would be just a blobby person, jiggling along, horrifying and offending with my weight or the way I look. I know, it’s crazy talk. But it’s basically a crime to be an overweight American these days, specifically for women. Fat shaming is a form of discrimination and bullying that is still, somehow, very socially acceptable.

Sidenote: I am so obsessed and thrilled with people like Whitney Thore, Tess Munster, Jes Baker. They are taking the body-positive, #effyourbeautystandards movement to a new level. They make me feel ok to be who I am. Proud even. They inspire me. I look at them and I see women, and bodies, I can actually relate to. I wish these types of role models existed when I was a kid. Anyway…

I never once considered that if I spoke in front of a room of people that they would see anything other than my body. And judge it. Not thinking for a second that if I actually was ever giving a presentation to a packed house, that it might mean I’m a subject matter expert in something. That I have knowledge and expertise that other people want to learn more about. That I have value and worth exclusive to my career and my intellect, rather than my body or my looks. I honestly have never given this pause before. Until now.

I gave a great presentation because I was prepared. For sure. But I also did well because I believe more, now than ever, in the worth of the person giving the presentation. That despite being afraid, I will not be confined by a body or a number on a scale. That I have the power to chose what I’m afraid of. And this is not one of those things anymore. And that, as I let deeply ingrained fears fall away, the future seems impossibly open and all mine.

So, here’s me, sometimes being terrified…but doing it anyway…in my imperfect body…and feeling really proud.

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Recipe: Butterscotch Pudding

For whatever reason, Snack Pack pudding cups were always a real treat to me as a kid. We never had them in our house but I loved having them at my grandparents’ or friends’ houses. Peeling back that soft foil lid, seeing the neon brown butterscotch pudding inside (how did they even invent neon brown? because that is so what it was!). A big bite with a plastic spoon; thick, globby, super sweet. Heaven to a kid. And adult, c’mon now. File Snack Packs under: I know this is chemicals but I love it anyway.

But, now that I am 30+ and endeavor to scratch make everything at least once, I made homemade pudding take#2 with butterscotch pudding (take #1 was this chocolate pudding recipe and boy was it delicious). When I say that making homemade pudding is stupidly easy, I mean that. Truly.

Butterscotch Pudding (original recipe by Smitten Kitchen)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
A pinch of salt (kosher, sea salt, or whatever)
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups milk (I used 2%), warmed
2 tsp. vanilla

Over medium heat, begin by melting the butter. Add the brown sugar and reduce the heat to medium-low. Here is the only tricky part of this recipe: baaaasically you’re making caramel. I know, it seems complicated and it’s easy to burn and really high maintenance. But a lot of caramel making is just practice and experience. If that’s already your jam, my advice is to use your nose first and eyes second. Your nose will immediately detect when the sugars are right on the cusp of going from amazing to burned. Your eyes will help too: amber-brown is good, chocolate brown is bad. If you’re a caramel newb, just know that underdone is better than overdone (because it’s still sugar and butter, and not in the trash). Cook the butter and sugar together, letting it bubble but stirring it a bunch, no more than 2-3 minutes. And just practice, practice, practice.

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When the butter and sugar have come together, add in the salt and cornstarch. Stir into a paste quickly, like 10-15 seconds. You don’t want the butter and sugar to burn in this tiny window. Sidenote: this is so my new favorite way to incorporate in cornstarch. It guarantees no lumps!

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When the paste is lump-free, quickly, but carefully, whisk in the milk. A note about the milk here: If you pour in cold milk directly from the fridge, the caramel is immediately going to seize up into hard candy. This is totally fine, it will melt into the milk as the milk warms up, but if you want to avoid scratching your head like I did, gently warm the milk up in the microwave first (30-45 seconds should be fine).

Stir the entire mixture over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes until the cornstarch has thickened the whole thing and it’s nice and tight. Like pudding, you know.

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Pour the pudding into a bowl or tupperware and cool to room temperature. Don’t put it in the fridge screaming hot, it’ll get all weird. When the pudding is room temp, cover with plastic wrap or a lid, and put in the fridge for 2-3 hours. Serve immediately once it’s chilled or use within 3-4 days.

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This pudding is definitely sweet and creamy, with a slight warm caramel taste to it. It’s not overpowering, and it’s subtler than a Snack Pack, but it’s definitely good. Even better with chocolate sprinkles on top.

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Recipe: Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Hey, guess what – almond butter doesn’t really freeze! I intellectually knew that (healthy fats don’t solidify) but for some reason, I overlooked this when I made a disastrous (though delicious) first batch of almond butter cups. I know they look perfect on Pinterest, but beware! I realized in order for the cups to firm up the way I wanted them to, I would have to cut the almond butter with something that would freeze. I came up with the recipe below and it’s the winner I hoped it would be!

Domestocrat’s Chocolate Almond Butter Cups (make 14 mini cups)
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup chocolate chips (I use semisweet)
3/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup almond butter

Oh Trader Joe’s Almond Butter, how I love thee – let me count the ways! It only has three ingredients (almonds, cashews, salt), it’s full of healthy fats, it doesn’t separate, isn’t oily at all, and is perfectly earthy and savory. What better ingredient to use as the centerpiece for these homemade nut butter cups!

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Over a double boiler, melt the butter first then add in the chocolate chips. Stir to combine until smooth. Turn off the heat but leave the chocolate over the water to stay warm.

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In a food processor, pulse the oats until they are ground into oat flour. Add in the almond butter and honey, and pulse together to combine.

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In a mini muffin pan, divide the almond butter dough into 14 equal balls. Press each ball into a cup on the pan. Spoon a teaspoon or so of the melted chocolate over the top of each almond butter cup. Gently shake the pan to smooth the chocolate out or simply use a spoon/your finger. Place the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes so the cups can firm up.

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When the almond butter cups are frozen, use a butter knife to ease them out of the pan. Store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to four weeks.

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This is my new favorite dessert! The chocolate/almond butter combo is perfect. I also love having a sweet treat that can stay in the freezer, perfectly portioned and waiting for when the mood strikes. Bonus points for having only five ingredients and being a cinch to make. I bet you already have all the ingredients in your pantry!

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