30 January 2013

Almond Crunch Topped Cake

I've had this cake recipe in my pocket for some time now and I just stumbled upon it again a couple of days ago.  I'm not quite sure how I forgot about because it is so easy and so tasty.  I love any and all things almond flavored.  I'm pretty sure I acquired this love when I went to Paris a few years ago.  The Parisians can do wonderful, magical things with almonds.   I like to think that we Southern ladies can do similar things with pecans, but that's another story altogether.

One warning about this cake.  There's not a lot of batter.  When you pour the batter into the pan, you're going to think that I have lost my mid or mis-typed the ingredients.  No worries, though.  This batter rises like a champ and makes a lovely sized, fluffy cake.  This little glass of liquid in the picture is where all the magic happens, though.  My husband asked me why I had a glass of dirty water sitting on the counter when he saw it.  Make no mistake, though, this is the magical elixir -- the almond syrup.  You pour it over the hot cake, which is sprinkled with almond slices, then stick the whole thing under the broiler.  It turns all toasty and golden on top and almond-syrup soaked on the bottom.  I can't really think of anything better.  At least not while I have a hot cake steaming just inches from me.

28 January 2013

Eggplant Patties

I don't know how I did it, but I married a picky eater.  My husband only has a handful of non-canned vegetables he likes at all.  Eggplant may well be his favorite of the fresh vegetables.  The biggest problem with eggplant is that is it really, really easy to screw it up.  If you overcook it, it turns bitter.  That's what you usually run into with eggplant dishes at restaurants.

In preparation for writing this post, I needed to do a little research on the difference between a patty and a fritter.  I had been incorrectly calling these fritters as it turns out.  A fritter is always deep fried and contains chunks or whole pieces of fruits or vegetables.  A patty contains ground or finely chopped meat, fish, or vegetables.  I stand corrected and a little better educated.

I did use my food processor to make these, but you don't have to.  You can crush the crackers by hand and you can mash the eggplant with a masher or a fork.  You can also hand mix the ingredients.  You can use a blender, too.  Make it work with what you've got around.  We served these up with some marinara sauce.  They were yummy.  Even the kids wolfed 'em down.

25 January 2013

Corn Flake Pie

Here we go again...another idea from the cafeteria lady cookbook.  There are hints and ideas listed at the beginning of each chapter, mostly pertaining to that chapter's contents.  The one that gave me the idea for this pie was at the beginning of the Appetizers chapter.  The tip is to substitute corn flake cereal for nuts in any recipe.  I'm not sure why this would have been before the appetizers chapter unless the wise woman who provided it was rolling her cheeseballs in cereal.  Maybe she was....

Her tip made me think immediately of pie.  A lot of things make me think immediately of pie, but that's another issue altogether.  I figured that the cereal substitution might also work for pecan pie.  I was right -- it does work.  The cornflakes get a little chewy, rather than staying super crunchy, but that's really the only drawback.  The cereal rose through the topping just like the pecans do and made a nice little crust on the top.  The filling is rather sweet.  That's to be expected since the filling for pecan pie is approximately 95% sugar.  I suggested to my co-workers that maybe I should use frosted flakes next time to get them to stay crunchier.  The prevailing opinion is that more sugar would send anyone catapulting over the sugar cliff, but you might wanna try it.  Just be sure you have your dentist on standby....

23 January 2013

A Nifty Little Update

Today I added a new feature to the blog.  It's a tab right next to the recipe index.  It's called "Useful Info".  It's got lots of goodies.  Check it out!

Awesome and Random Cooking Tips

This is one of my favorite cookbooks.  I got it at an antique store a few years ago.  This book is pure cooking gold.  I collect cookbooks like this and this may well be the best one I own.  These cookbooks are usually put together by churches and other women's organizations.  This one was compiled by the Arkansas School Food Service Association, a.k.a. the lunch ladies.  The school cafeteria may not inspire you with gourmet visions, but these ladies really (and I mean REALLY) know how to cook.  Lots of these recipes are exactly what my grandmothers were cooking when I was growing up and a lot of what I do is try to bring back those dishes and ideas.

One of the reasons that this is my favorite cookbook is that it is chock full of great ideas and tips too.  I thought it might make for a nice change of pace to share some of these wonderful pearls of wisdom.  I haven't seen most of them before, so hopefully you haven't either and you might get something you'll really wanna use from it.

-- If your recipe calls for chocolate and you're fresh out, you can substitute 3 or 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 1/2 tablespoon of butter or oil for each ounce of chocolate.  If you need whole milk, you can substitute 1/2 cup of evaporated milk and 1/2 cup of water for 1 cup of whole milk.

--  If you use old cookbooks, you might see can sizes in numbers rather than by weight.  Here's how some of those translate: # 2 can is 2 1/2 cups, #2 1/2 can is 3 1/2 cups, and number 10 can is 13 cups.

--  Set eggs in a pan of warm water before using as this releases all the white from the shells.

-- To prevent the pie crust in a custard pie from becoming soggy, sprinkle the baked crust with powdered sugar.

-- Fill cake pans about 2/3rds full and spread batter well into the corners and to the sides, leaving a slight dent in the middle.  This will make for a flatter cake for making layer cakes.

-- A leaf of lettuce dropped into the pot absorbs the grease from the top of the soup.  Remove the lettuce and throw it away as soon as it has served its purpose.

-- Some interesting sandwich fillings:
    studded peanut butter -- peanut butter and diced crisp bacon
    sunshine special -- 1 cup chopped dates, 1 cups shredded carrots, 1/2 cup chopped nuts,
            1/2 cup mayonnaise
    cream cheese crunch -- softened cream cheese, diced crisp bacon, and sliced stuffed olives

21 January 2013

Apple Cider Oatmeal Cookies

It is totally a cookie day at my house today.  You know, some days you just need cookies.  Today is one of those days.  Cookies are the ultimate comfort food in a lot of ways.  My mom cooked all the time, but one of my strongest memories is the smell of cookies baking.  They say that you are more likely to sell your house if it smells of just-baked cookies because that makes it smell like "home".  So, I know I'm not the only one who thinks of cookies as the ultimate comfort food.

These cookies are a bit of an experiment.  I found a scrap of paper from a while back with the idea of apple cider cookies scrawled on it along with some other ideas for candies and desserts.  I have these pieces of paper everywhere and in countless notebooks, but lately I have been going back through them and weeding through the ideas.  I have come across a little bit that makes some sense to me still. I'm not sure where I got the idea for apple cider cookies, but I thought it sounded like a really nice start for cookie day.  I decided to start with my go-to oatmeal cookie recipe as the base and then I used powdered spiced cider mix to add the cider flavor.  The cider flavor in these turned out pretty mild.  Next time I might add some chopped apples or some more cider mix.  They are still really, really yummy and admirably filled the deep cookie chasm at my house.  You can add raisins or not.  I added them because I love, love, love raisins.  I have friends who think they are awful, though.  Add at your own discretion.

18 January 2013

Bumblebee Cake and a Happy Birthday

I have to start out wishing a happy, happy birthday to by son, Sam.  He's 6 today!  My, oh my, how the time flies.    I really can't believe he;s so big already.  We had a little party for him this week with some family and our closest friends.  It was lots of fun.  His cake is the subject of this post and received lots of raves.

The name for the cake comes from Bumblebee.  Not a bumblebee, like a buzz, buzz bee, but the Transformer of the same name.  Sam is obsessed with Transformers.  This is the second year in a row he has requested a Transformers cake.  Last year I went all out and made him that looked like Optimus Prime.  This year he wanted Bumblebee, but I couldn't bring myself to pump out a cake with all the dreadful yellow and black icing that never really tastes all that great and stains your teeth thanks to all the coloring.  I went for Bumblebee in spirit by making a banana chocolate chip cake (banana for yellow and chocolate for black, see?) with cream cheese frosting.  My husband decorated the top of the cake with some of Sam's Transformers and Legos.  He liked it and that's what counts.

All decorations aside, this is a truly scrumptious cake, chock full of bananas and chocolate chips.  There is also a little ginger in there to add some depth of flavor.  Not enough ginger to make it spicy, but just enough to make it interesting.  It's also heavenly moist and even better on the second and third days,  The frosting is a straightforward cream cheese.  Well, straightforward the way I like to make it.  There's not too much sugar because I really don't like sweet, sweet icing and I love the tang of the cream cheese.  Add more sugar if you like.  By all means, adjust it to your tastes.

16 January 2013

By Request....

By request, I have added a link to print the recipe for Really Good Biscuits without all the pictures.  You can get the link on that page or you can just click here.  Enjoy!

Cheese Souffle

One of my promises to myself for the new year was to tackle some of the things I have always been afraid of making.  One of those things is souffles.  Before today I had never made one.  I decided to make a Cheese Souffle since I also had to make a cake today for my son's birthday, so two sweet things in the house at one time is one sweet thing too many.  The savory souffle also served as a good accompanyment to dinner. 

For some reason I associate souffles with Julia Child.  Probably because she is the American queen of French cooking.  I don't immediately associate her with any other French dishes, though.  Julia Child is intimidating as all heck to me.  I'm not really quite sure why.  I'm usually a big fan of strong opinioned and willed women, since I belong to that club myself.  I have never attempted souffles before because of her.  Today I decided to face my fears.  I'm pretty glad I did.

Let me start with this -- souffles are nothing to be afraid of.  They are really quite easy.  They are also really delicious.  The best analogy I can think of for this souffle is Cheese Air.  That's essentialy what this is.  If the idea if Cheese Air doesn't appeal to you, then this might not be the recipe for you.  Please don't let the difficult reputation scare you away, because this really couldn't be more simple.

14 January 2013

Sorta Homemade Danish

I have done a lot of cooking this weekend -- homemade Greek pizza, chicken fried steak nuggets with homemade gravy, palmiers...but I just couldn't bring my self to document any of it for the blog.  I was pretty preoccupied by the football games this weekend.  The Packers lost, so I have been a little down in the dumps.  It's not so much that the Packers lost (although I wish that weren't the case) but the fact that football season is over for me for the year.  I am really a football nut and will take it anyway I can get it, so it's a like losing a little part of myself for a few months.  I'll be over it in a couple of days, but I always get in a bit of a funk when it first hits me.  There are much worse things to be in a funk over, so I don't wanna be super whiny.  I just have to get it out of my system.

The one thing I made this weekend that I did document are these Danishes.  I call them sorta homemade because I did not make the danish dough, which is actually on my list of things to do this year, but this time I used some Pillsbury Crescent rounds and some pineapple preserves straight outta the grocery store.  I did make the icing, which took all of 1 minute.  I wanted to go ahead and post these though, because they are really tasty, really pretty, and look like they took way more than 10 minutes to put together.  Everyone should have something like this in their repertoire  At least, that's what I think. 

Pineapple preserves might not be the easiest thing to find.  You can substitute any type of preserves, though.  I would definitely use preserves rather than jelly.  You need the real fruit in there to keep those Danishes as authentic seeming as possible.

11 January 2013

My Favorite Bacon

Who doesn't love bacon?  Okay, I guess there are a few people who don't love bacon.  I used to be vegan.  Back then I definitely did not love bacon.  I did love veggie bacon, though.  I still love veggie bacon.  Obviously I am no longer vegan.  I have a minor love affair going with brown butter.  You can't make brown margarine.  I actually tried once.  I also really bacon.

I didn't like bacon so much when I was a kid.  I have always been pretty weird and picky about my meat eating.  I would tear the bacon apart, separating out the fat so that I didn't have to eat it.  Now I keep a jar of bacon fat on my kitchen counter.  It's glorious stuff.  Especially when you're making gravy.  My, oh, my, how times change....

This is my go-to bacon recipe and bacon cooking method.  It makes absolutely perfect bacon every time.  The sweet and spicy sprinkle ups the flavor ante into the realm of unbelievable.  Even if you don't try the sprinkle on top, definitely try cooking your bacon like this some time.  It make super flat, perfectly crisp, and delightfully non-greasy bacon strips.  It works with almost every bacon I've every used, but up the cooking time by about 10 total minutes if you're using the thick cut stuff.  If you don't increase the time, it won't come out crispy.

09 January 2013

How to Make Really Good Biscuits

I don't know if these are the best biscuits ever, but I'm pretty sure they're close.  I asked my husband if they were the best he had ever had.  He said,  "I don't know if they're the very best, but I've had a lot of biscuits."  Since I got him a print that says "I love you like biscuits and gravy", that might give you an idea of his passion for biscuits.  I don't know if these are perfect, but they're really, really close.  They are also really yummy with both jelly and gravy -- a necessity for any good Southern biscuits.  Please, please try them out and let me know what you think.  I really want to know.

If you want to print the recipe without all the photos, click here.

Preheat the oven to 450°.  Get a big bowl and put in the following:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 tsp sugar
3 rounded teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp salt
8 Tbsp cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup butter flavor vegetable shortening

Using a pastry cutter or a fork, work the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients until the mixture is well combined and crumbly.  Be patient.  Don't stop working the mixture until there are no pieces bigger than pea-sized.

Pour in 3/4 cup milk and stir it until just barely combined.  When you mixture looks about like this, quit stirring.

Dust your countertop with all purpose flour.  Don't use too much flour.  Dump your dough onto the flour-dusted counter.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little more flour and get some flour on your hands.  Pat the dough out into a rough circle that's about 8 or 9" across.  Use your hands to do this.  Just pat and gather the dough until it just holds together. 

Fold one thrird of the dough over on top of the circle as shown above.

Then, fold the other side on top of that one.  Then pat the dough out to about 3/4" thick.

Fold the top third over the dough, followed by the bottom third.  Do this just like you did with the first two folds.

Pat and gently press the dough out to a rough rectangle that's about 5/8" thick.  Using a circle cookie cutter, a glass, or a clean aluminum can cut out as many biscuits as you can from the original piece of dough.  Work the dough scraps as little as you can to make more biscuits from the remaining dough.

Place the biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 12 minutes on the middle rack.  Remove the oven and let cool for a minute or two before serving.

07 January 2013

Hockey Puck Biscuits and Cheeseballs

I started on my quest for the perfect biscuit this week.  It was a less than perfect start.  I am not totally new to the idea of biscuit making -- I have seen my mother and grandmothers make biscuits from scratch countless times.  I know the basics of biscuit construction; I just need to get the balance of ingredients down.

I got a starting point for a biscuit recipe from one of my go-to-guys for a solid recipe.  I don't wanna name names because I love this person, but their biscuit recipe is nothing short of horrible.  The first batch of biscuits was a disaster.  So much of a disaster that I didn't even take pictures, except one this one of the pastry cutter.  The biscuits were essentially flour-based hockey pucks.  Hockey pucks probably have more flavor, though.

Granted, the biscuit disater was not totally on me, since I followed someone else's recipe to the letter, but I'm definitely going back to the drawing board.  I needed to post a different recipe today, so I decided to go with the cheeseball I made for my Packers playoff watch party yesterday.  I also made a similar one for my humungous Christmas buffet.  This is crazy delicious and super, duper simple.  Just mix and serve.  It's got all things good in my universe -- three kinds of cheese, bacon, and spicy ranch.  Since the Packers won, I might just be making another one next Saturday, too.  Maybe it's this season's good luck charm.....

04 January 2013

Good Vs. Evil Cake


I took a nice, long hiatus over the holidays.  They were crazy and perfect all at the same time.  We had a wonderful Christmas with most of the family and a totally Southern grits buffet with all the toppings.  We ate really well all day.  My oldest son, Sam lost his first tooth on New Year's Eve, so that made for a really eventful holiday.  He was super brave and didn't even flinch when we pulled it.  He made me a very proud momma.

He also helped me make this cake.  I though long and hard about the appropriate name for this one.  Initally I was going to call it El Diablo because it is dark, dark, dark.  So dark I thought it might be all evil.  But it's not entirely evil, because it also other-worldly light and airy.  It's like eating a cloud -- it instantly dissolves on your tongue.  If this cake has any downside, it's that it almost impossible to slice cleanly.  So, just grab some forks or spoons and dig in.

This is insanely easy.  Don't let the waterbath scare you away.  It's just a teeny little step and it lets the cake bake gently.  The waterbath is the key to the texture.  You have to make this.  Really. 

01 January 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you had a great 2012 and have an even better 2013!  I'm not usually a real big list maker, but I thought I would kick off the new year with a random list of things I love and things I am looking forward to in the year to come.  I am definitely not making any resolutions -- every time I do, they go by the wayside in a week.  I do have some things that I am going to work on this year, though.  What about you?

1.  I'm gonna make some more savory things.  I cook dinner for the fam every night, but when it comes time, I tend to lose my inspiration and just go with the same old thing.  I'm  gonna try to mix it up a little more this year. 

2.  My oldest kiddo is reading now, so hopefully we will really keep growing his love of reading.  I LOVE books.  I want him to love books as well.  He's also about to lose his first tooth.  Where do the years go?

3.  I'm going to work on and make some of the things that have always scared or intimidated me -- souffle, homemade biscuits, chocolate candies (like bon bons)....  Anything you want me to work on?  Chances are good that if you are intimidated by it, I am or have been in the past.....

4.  Potty train the second kid.  I know you don't want to know about my kids pooping habits, but I am determined to get this done.

5.  Keep embracing my Southern roots.  For years, I tried to hide the fact that I am from the South when I travelled outside of the South.  Now I am proud of my roots and embracing the great heritage and history -- especially the food history.  Our heritage is so underappreciated outside of the region.  I want to make everyone love it like we Southerners know they should.

Let's rock it out in 2013!  Happy new year, everyone!


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