31 August 2012

Just A Little Upgrade.....

Please pardon my ignorance in knowing nothing about building a website before I started this blog.  I tend to just throw myself into things headlong and hope it all works out.  My blog is no different.

I just made a little upgrade to the site today that will let you print any recipe from a post without all those pesky pictures and extra stuff.  I hope you like it.  Just click on the link that says "Print me, Please!!!" just below the name of the recipe in any post.  Please, please, please let me know if you have any issues.  I'm sort of making this up as I go along.

Thanks to everyone for all your support!!!  I love you guys!

30 August 2012

Pimiento Cheese Stuffed French Bread

Pimiento cheese is a true Southern classic.  Most families have their own way of making it, their own favorite brand at the store (if they are even willing to consider store-bought varieties), and their favorite vessel for getting it to their mouths.  Some like it on a sandwich, some with crackers, some in celery boats, and lately chefs have even been using it as a fancy burger topping.

For me pimiento cheese has been an acquired taste.  I ate it pretty infrequently as a kid and then it was pretty much entirely store bought and served in celery as part of the holiday veggie tray.  I was not impressed.  Since I started this blog, I have been going back and thinking about all the iconic Southern foods.  Pimiento cheese immediately came to mind.  It is one of my step-dad Rocky's favorite foods.  It is one of those foods that brings back all sorts of fond memories of his childhood.  So, when I think of pimiento cheese, I think of Rocky.  He's the reason I decided to make pimiento cheese one of my Southern classics.

homemade pimiento cheese -- yummy!
Pimiento cheese uses three ingredients as its base -- shredded cheese, mayonnaise, and chopped pimientos.  Pimientos are roasted sweet peppers if you aren't familiar with them outside of their being stuffed in green olives.  Because the building blocks are so simple, you really need to focus on the flavor of your ingredients to lift it up from boring to spectacularly delicious.  Use a good quality extra sharp cheddar cheese and real mayonnaise.  Be sure to use mayonnaise not salad dressing, a.k.a. Miracle Whip, to make pimiento cheese.  The extra kick of the Miracle Whip along with the sharpness of the cheese is just too biting.  It makes pimiento cheese truly unpleasant.

27 August 2012

Pina Colada Rice Krispies Treats

Southern cooks are really good at many things, but one of things we are renowned for is putting all manner of fruits and vegetables into our desserts.  It's a pretty common assumption outside the South that Southerners thick if it has fruits or vegetables in it, then it's good for you.  I think we have such a bounty of fruits and vegetables during the summer all those ladies on the farm needed more uses for all of them.  God forbid a southern lady lets anything go to waste.

These treats would fit in really well in a more tropical part of the south than here in Arkansas, but I figured why not try it out anyway?  As you might remember from my Ambrosia Pie post, I come by my love of all things pineapple by way of my grandfather.  These treats require only a little more work than the plain version you're used to, but they're packed with pineapple, coconut, and macadamia nuts.
There's also a little rum extract to transport you to the poolside with a nice frozen drink in your hand.

23 August 2012

Brown Sugar and Spice Cinnamon Rolls

I usually don't make complicated desserts.  I decided to make an exception and make cinnamon rolls this week.  They are made from a yeast dough, which does take some time and precision.  Really these don't take all that much more hands-on time than any of my other desserts and they are totally worth the effort.  Just make 'em on a day when you are lazing around the house and can go in the kitchen a few times over the course of a couple of hours.

half eaten cinnamon roll
One of my aunts passed away last week.  She had been sick for a quite a while, so it was not unexpected.  She always said that I was my mom's birthday present to her because I was born four days after her birthday.  We had a special bond because of that.  She had a sweet spirit but just enough spice to make her interesting.  She was the inspiration for these cinnamon rolls.  They are a brown sugar dough and filling with some cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice thrown in, so the dough is sweet but has a little twist with those extra spices.  The glaze is maple flavored.  I think these rolls are also an indication that I am too ready for fall to get here, since all these flavors are what come to mind when I think of fall-time desserts.

Until recently yeast was not my friend.  No matter how hard I tried I could not get it to cooperate with me and my yeast dough would end up flat and tough, rather than rich and fluffy.  I went on a self-imposed yeast sabbatical for a couple of years.  Two months ago I decided to try again, and, wouldn't you know it, yeast is my friend now.  I picked up a couple of nifty tricks, which I am including in the recipe for these cinnamon rolls.  Hopefully, they will insure that yeast is your friend, too.

20 August 2012

Pig Pickin' Cake

Don't let the name of this cake scare you away. It's crazy delicious and doesn't contain any ingredient that is pig-related.  The name actually comes from the nickname for a southern barbecue, a.k.a. a "pig pickin'".  This cake was what the ladies would bring to the barbecue as a dessert.  In short, this is a mandarin orange cake with pineapple frosting.  I have thought about not calling it Pig Pickin' Cake, but I get a kick out of telling people what it's called and watching their reactions.

I know the name is ridiculous; this really is one of the moistest, most delicate cakes you will ever make in your life, and it's almost too easy.  I don't do cakes that start from a mix too often, as a matter of fact, this is the only one I can think of that I have ever made more than once.  This cake uses just about every shortcut imaginable, but you would never guess by tasting it, and I have never had anyone walk away with anything but raves about it.  That's saying something since I make this cake pretty regularly.

I took these to a potluck this afternoon and people were starting on the dessert end of the line just to make sure that they got one before all the cupcakes were gone.  You don't have to make this as cupcakes; you can also make it into a layer cake.  Just bake the batter in two 8" round cake pans.  You can then decide how many layers you want to make out of those cakes.  You should have enough frosting to make a 2 or 4 layer cake, depending on how generously you slather it on.

16 August 2012

Chubby Hubby Cheesecake

If you have been reading my blog you know I love all things with a combination of salty and sweet.  My very favorite salty/sweet treat ever is Chubby Hubby ice cream by Ben and Jerry's.  Chubby Hubby is a most delightful and magical, if unlikely, combination.  Here's how it goes: vanilla malt ice cream with peanut butter and chocolate swirls and chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzel chunks scattered throughout.  I know the pretzels may throw you off, but trust me when I tell you that it is otherworldly delicious.  The fact that it's my husband's favorite ice cream as well (and the fact that it was already his favorite before we met) tells me that we are truly meant to be together.

Chubby Hubby has one major, major fault, though.  I can't always get it.  Its availability goes in spurts.  For two years or so we can get it at just about any grocery store.  Then all the Chubby Hubby disappears for a couple of years.  I check the freezer case in vain every time I go shopping.  No Chubby Hubby anywhere.  We're in the middle of a Chubby Hubby drought right now.  Chubby Hubby Cheesecake is my newest dessert invention as a stand in for my sorely missed ice cream.

The cheesecake is a malt cheesecake with chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake swirls and a pretzel crust.  A little different from Ben and Jerry's, but most decidedly tasty.  I like a relatively dense and creamy cheesecake.  I think cheesecakes should be insanely rich and melt-in-your-mouth luscious.  This one definitely fits the bill.  It's not the prettiest cheesecake -- the top will sink and crack a little, but I think the taste is what really matters.  You won't see those cracks on the top once it's sliced up anyway.

13 August 2012

Baby Ruth Cookie Bars

I don't eat many candy bars.  Since I make desserts all the time I usually get all the sweets I want (or need) without buying any additional sugary stuff.  Once a year or so I get a mad craving one specific candy bar, though.  Last year it was Payday.  Two years ago it was Snickers.  This year it is Baby Ruth.  Lately I haven't been able to get enough of 'em.  

This isn't exactly a Baby Ruth candy bar, since it is a cookie at its base.  On the other hand, it is a Baby Ruth because this cookie has all the components of a Baby Ruth smeared on top of the cookie base.  It's close enough that I have satisfied my annual candy bar craving.

a big ol' pile of cookies
If you aren't familiar or haven't had a Baby Ruth in a while, here's what they are made of:  caramel flavored nougat, caramel, peanuts, and milk chocolate.  I fancied mine up slightly with semisweet chocolate instead of milk chocolate, salted peanuts, and cajeta (goat's milk caramel you can buy at most Hispanic grocery stores).  You can use regular old caramel sauce in place of the cajeta -- it's what I happened to have in the pantry.  Cajeta has a deeper, slightly tangier flavor than regular caramel sauce.  It's a relatively subtle difference.  You can also use milk chocolate if you would like.  I happen to prefer semisweet chocolate. 

I cheated a little, too, and used a packaged sugar cookie mix rather than making the cookie base from scratch.  By all means, make it from scratch if you feel like it.  I wanted to shave off some time in the kitchen.  This recipes does require a little multitasking in that you have to go back and forth between the components a couple of times.  It's nothing extreme, so don't be intimidated.  Just get out all your ingredients before you start and read the recipe all the way through before you get cooking.

Baby Ruth Cookie Bars
makes about 60 cookies
baby ruth bars ready to be cut
Sugar Cookie Base
1 pkg sugar cookie mix 

One 310g jar cajeta or caramel sauce

Caramel Nougat
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup caramel sauce 
2 T light corn syrup
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided

1 cup salted peanuts
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

To make the cookie base:  Prepare the sugar cookie mix as directed on the package.  Press the dough into the bottom of a jelly roll pan that has been lined with foil.  Bake according to the package directions.  The time may vary just slightly from making individual cookies.  Pull the pan out of the oven when the base is nice and golden.

Meanwhile, make the nougat:  Combine the half and half, caramel sauce, corn syrup, and butter in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Stir constantly until the butter melts, then stir in 1 1/4 cups of the powdered sugar.  Clip on the candy thermometer and cook the mixture to 234°, stirring occasionally.
Once the mixture reaches the desired temperature, turn off the heat.  After a minute, whisk in the remaining 1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar.  Keep whisking until the mixture starts to thicken up and becomes a nice spreading consistency (about the same consistency as peanut butter), but is still quite warm.
close up of the baby ruth cookie layers

While you are cooking the nougat, and only having to stir occasionally, spread the cajeta over the sugar cookie layer (You will have to microwave the cajeta for a minute or so to soften it up enough to spread it.)  Sprinkle the peanuts evenly over the cajeta, pressing on them lightly to stick them to the cajeta.  

As soon as the nougat is ready, spread it evenly over the peanuts.  Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the nougat.  Wait a couple of minutes for the chocolate chips to melt, then spread the chocolate out, evenly coating the cookie bars.  Let cool completely, then cut into bars.  Serve at room temperature.

09 August 2012

10 Minute Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream & Coke Float

Wednesday was my grandpa's birthday.  This is not the grandpa I wrote about in the Ambrosia Pie post.  This is my grandfather on my dad's side.  He was a salesman to the core and could charm the pants off just about anybody.  He died when I was a preteen so I don't remember tons about him, but I do remember that I loved him like crazy and he loved me just as much right back.  I also remember he had a tremendous sweet tooth.  We had a special treat that was reserved for our time together -- the Coke Float.  We would go to the soda fountain sometimes, but mostly we would make them ourselves.

If you have never had a Coke float, it is a simply delicious thing -- Coca Cola poured over vanilla ice cream.  I decided to fancy up my float a little by making some homemade Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream.  I have a little trick for making ice cream in a Ziploc.  That's how I made this ice cream.  The best part is that making ice cream this way takes about 10 minutes.  Really.  It's a nifty trick.  And there's no eggs, so anyone can eat it.

10 Minute Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream
makes about 1 1/3 cups (enough for 2 floats)

Print me, Please!!!

10 maraschino cherries, chopped
2 T maraschino cherry juice (from jar)
1 c half and half
2 T sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c salt
1 sandwich size Ziploc bag
2 gallon size Ziploc bags
1 towel

Mix the cherries, cherry juice, half and half, sugar, and vanilla.  Pour into the sandwich size Ziploc bag.  Seal well.

Fill one of the gallon size Ziploc bags half full of ice and pour the salt over the ice.  Put the bag of ice cream in the bag and nestle it into the ice cubes.  Seal the gallon size bag.  Put the whole package inside the second gallon size bag -- the second bag helps keep any leaks contained.  Then wrap the bags in a towel.  This is to keep all the cold contained for the ice cream making and away from your hands.  Also, the towel is another layer of protection from leaks.
Shake the bags for about 5-8 minutes, or until your liquid has turned into ice cream.  Take out the bag of ice cream and rinse the salt off the outside -- not only is the salt messy, but it doesn't taste very good in your ice cream.  If you don't want to make a float, you can just open the bag, stick in a spoon, and dig in.

If you are making a float, dish out your ice cream into a couple of glasses.  Pour cola over the ice cream until the glass is full.  Serve with a spoon and a straw.


06 August 2012

Homemade Butter with a Mixer

Even though I am a Southern girl through and through, I have never lived on a farm.  As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I have set foot on a farm.  I cannot recall ever having laid hands on a churn, so making homemade butter is a pretty foreign concept for me.

I know the basics of butter-making mechanics -- agitate heavy cream until the fat separates from the liquid.  I figured I could do it with my Kitchenaid and I was right.  It only took about 20 minutes.  Then I stood back from my big bowl of homemade butter and said "Look, Ma!  No hands!"

So this post is a little different from all the others so far.  No recipe.  No measurements.  No times.  No precision.  This is all about just sitting and watching your mixer do the work for you while the great transformation from cream to butter happens.

Start with heavy whipping cream.  It doesn't matter how much you have, so long as it's enough for your mixer to turn to whipped cream.  Keep in mind that this is one of those cases where the quality of your ingredients really determine the quality of the final product.  Splurge and use some good quality cream.  The higher quality the cream is, the better your butter will taste.

whipped cream
Pour the cream into the bowl of your mixer and put on the whisk attachment.  Start with the mixer on a relatively low speed until the cream starts to thicken; gradually increase the speed as you can without the cream splashing out of the bowl.  Eventually you can get it going pretty fast.  My mixer has settings 1-10; I got it up to an 8 and left it there.

cream starting to get lumpy
First your heavy cream will turn to whipped cream.  If you wanted whipped cream to serve with a dessert, this is the point where you would add powdered sugar and stop.  If you want butter leave the mixer alone and keep whipping.  After about 5 minutes, your whipped cream will start getting a little bit lumpy.  At this point, I stopped my mixer and took the opportunity to scrape down the sides of my bowl with a spatula.  During this stage I started to lose hope that my mixer would actually make butter for me.  It seemed like it took forever.  Don't give up -- the butter will happen.  As soon as the solids start to separate you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Those clumps are little bits of butter starting to come together.

fat and liquid separated
Within a couple of minutes of seeing those first little clumps start to come together, the fat and liquid will really begin to separate.  At this point, you will want to turn down the speed of your mixer or the liquid will start sloshing about everywhere.  I set mine to a 2.  Don't stop mixing yet.  The fats will still be separate little blobs.  That's how you can tell it's not time to quit.

About a minute after your liquid separates from the fat all those little blobs will start to come together into a cohesive mass.  You can turn off the mixer when the butter comes together in your whisk as a semi-sold mass.

butter in the sieve, buttermilk in the
 bowl below
Scrape your butter and all the liquid into a mesh sieve placed over a bowl.  Press your butter down and scrape around on the sieve with a rubber spatula to get all the liquid out of the butter.  Let the butter sit in the sieve over the bowl for about 15 minutes to let the last little bit of liquid drip out.

If you want flavored butter, this is where you would add those ingredients.  Move your butter back into the bowl of the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix in anything you would like.  You can add a little salt, some herbs, dried fruit, fruit preserves, lemon zest, chopped nuts, spices, hot sauce, etc....

Pour the liquid from your butter making in a lidded bowl or jar.  It's buttermilk.  You can drink it or use it in recipes just like the stuff you get from the grocery store.

Let me know if you make any fabulous butter.  If you try it, I wanna hear about it.  I'm still trying to decide what to do with mine.  I'll let you know soon.

02 August 2012

Brown Butter Ice Cream

It is ridiculously stinkin' hot around here.   It has been over 100° for over a week again and there is no relief in sight.  Ice cream provides a little coolness.

Brown butter is a revelation.  I put it in anything I possibly can.  Butter is already one of my favorite ingredients -- as it should be for any baker.  If you have never had brown butter, the transformation is just plain magical.  Browning butter transforms the flavor into a nutty, toasty combination that'll make you weak in the knees.  I could go on and on and on and on.......This time I decided to put brown butter in ice cream.

This ice cream is a little bit tricky, but mainly because of the brown butter.  There is one key to making perfect brown butter -- Don't be a wimp!!!  If you take the brown butter off the heat too early you miss out on all that wonderful flavor development that comes from fully browning all those lovely bits on the bottom of the pan.  Here's how you make brown butter:

1.  Put the butter in a saucepan or skillet on medium heat and leave it alone.

the brown butter color you are striving for
2.  A few minutes after the butter has melted it will start making a sizzling sound.  The sizzling has been described as sounding like a crowd politely clapping.  That is the perfect metaphor.  When you hear this sound keep your hands off the pan.

3.  After the clapping sound your butter will develop foam on the top.  Once your butter gets foam on the top, swirl the pan around every now and then so that you can see the bottom of the pan.  Don't walk away because there is a fine line between perfectly browned butter and burnt butter.  Use your nose -- it is your best friend in the process of browning butter.  Once your butter smells superbly nutty and is a nice toasty brown color take it off the heat.  Again, don't be a wimp and take it off the heat too early.  Your nose will tell you when that nutty flavor is fully developed.


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