29 April 2013

Apricot Crumble Bars

Life is still crazy and I am trying to maintain my own sanity through all the craziness that is swirling around right now.  I have been back on my dessert kick, despite my best efforts to try and get a better sweet/savory balance around here.  I get a lot of comfort from baking, and, thanks to all the chaos, I have been yearning for that comfort and reassurance.

These bars are about as "comfort food" as you can get.  They are a really yummy dessert and would probably make a darn good breakfast treat, too.  They've got oatmeal in them and oatmeal's breakfast food, right?  If there's one thing that Southerners have done for ages, it's trying to justify eating dessert any old time we want and saying it's good for us -- putting vegetables like zucchini and carrots in our breads and cakes, putting beans in pies (there's a traditional Southern pie whose filling is made from navy beans), we even put tomato soup in cake (if you want my recipe, click here.)  Surely with all that oatmeal and jam I can qualify these bars as being somewhat good for me.  I'll just ignore the pile of butter and sugar and soak up all the comfort I can.

Mix together your dry stuff, including a good measure of oats and brown sugar.

Cube up a pile of cold butter.

26 April 2013

Bloggers Block and Roasted Peas

This post is going to be a whole lot of randomness. I've got a bit of "blogger's block".  There's a ton of things going on in my life right now, mostly concerning my husband being in the hospital once a week.  All of the energy I am channeling into taking care of him, as well as the kids and myself is just zapping all of my mental energy.  I do have the last of the recipes from the cookout last weekend and I also wanted to show you a couple of cool things my fellow bloggers did this week and just some plain old neat stuff to look at.

This amazingly beautiful cake was posted this week on the blog Sprinkle Bakes. It's inspired my the movie "Amadeus", which is one of my all time favorites.  I am in awe.  Click here to see the post.

The blog Thug Kitchen just won "Best New Blog" from Saveur magazine.  It's completely hilarious.  Pardon the language.  I have tried really hard to not curse so much since I had kids, so I am probably extra-sensitive.  This shit is too funny, though.  I also used to be vegan, so I have mad respect for the recipes.

The blog Manger also won a Saveur award.  Her photography is unbelievable, especially this latest post.  I need to go to France NOW!!!  

And last, but not least, my last treats from the cookout.  This basically turned into a Southern snack mix since I combined these roasted peas with my spicy roasted okra pods.  The peas are yummy, crunchy snack food and actually kinda good for you.  So, a fairly guilt-free snack is not such a bad thing, especially when it's the side to ribs and potato salad.

24 April 2013

Heaven in a Baking Dish

I took this lovely no-bake "cake" to the big cookout shindig this weekend.  It was a hit.  A big, big hit.  I use the term cake in the very loosest of contexts, since this is really more like a pudding.  It's a lot like traditional banana pudding to be real about it.  We have been walking around the house calling it Scrambled Egg Pie, though.  I made something like this in pie form earlier in the the week and it was a big hit also, except for two things.  My graham cracker crust totally disintigrated and the filling looks really, truly disturbingly like a heap of scrambled eggs. 

Thanks to the pie filling being a dead ringer for scrambled eggs, I had to explain it to everyone.  The first impression was that it was a really poorly executed quiche or some sort of ugly breakfast concoction.  The filling is essentially a Pineapple Cream filling.  It has a secret ingredient, though -- sour cream.  The sour cream adds a ton of richness without heaps of heavy cream, butter, or condensed milk.  You might even stretch things a really long way and say that this pie is almost good for you....It does have fruit in it after all.

Throw all the pineapple mixture in a bowl and stir it up.  If you want to make the disconcerting pie, put this in a graham cracker pie shell, chill it, and serve it up.  P.S.  Look how pretty the top of my sour cream was....

If you want things to be really lovely (and requiring a lot less explanation), put a layer of graham crackers in the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish.

Spread half of the pineapple mixture over the graham crackers.

22 April 2013

Yea!!! It's a Party with Pickled Shrimp!!!


It was the absolute most wonderful weekend I can remember -- the weather was lovely and clear, the temperature was just right, and we had a big cookout at my parent's house on Saturday.  We have this cookout every year and pretty much everyone we know comes.  My parents have a great house out in the country with lots of deck space for chilling out, lots of trees, and lots of great laid backness and hospitality.  There is more food than you can possibly imagine and most of it is better than I eat pretty much any other time of the year.  It's great.  My stepdad makes his ribs, which are (no kidding) the best ribs I have ever eaten in my entire life.  Really.  I can't give out the recipe for those, though.  Not that I could do anything with the recipe if I did have it.  I have never used and smoker and wouldn't even know where to begin.  All the other food is chipped in potluck style, so you never know what you're gonna get, but you can rest assured that it will all be darn tasty.

This week is gonna be all the goodies I contributed to the spread at the cookout, or outcook as my six year old called it.  I contributed a couple of things that are already on the blog -- Spicy Roasted Okra and Cinnamon Sugar Snack Mix.  I also brought a few other things.  The first one I'm going to give you is the Pickled Shrimp.  This is a staple in lots of Southern households, or so I've been told.  I come from a long line of poor folks, so shrimp was not on the menu.  It's a luxury item.  Shrimp is still a luxury item, but I always make at least one dish that's a bit of a splurge for the cookout.  This stuff is some great, finger-lickin' snack food.  It can sit out at room temperature for a little while, too.  All that vinegar will actually prevent any sickness-causing bacteria from growing, so don't be afraid of letting it hang out on the counter while your guests mingle.  It's also got such great depth and complexity of flavor, you'll leave 'em guessing about what's actually in it.  So make up a batch and take it outside and enjoy the springtime.

Get two pounds of cooked, deveined, and tail-on shrimp.
Whip up your pickling sauce.  All you need and a bowl and whisk.  Toss your shrimp into the sauce.
Chop up a bunch of green onions.  Only the green parts though.

17 April 2013

Ssshhh...This Pie is a Secret

I found this recipe in my grandmother's stash.  I can't tell you the name of it.  Apparently the name is copyrighted and has almost gone to the Supreme Court in defense of that name.  So, I guess I will just come up  with my own name for it -- Mixed Nut Chocolate Chip Pie.  I know -- not the most creative name, but it fits.  This pie, much like my name for it, is no-frills  There's not much to it.  It takes all of 5 minutes to get into the oven.  It's crazy delicious.  For some reason I like to use the descriptive that a recipe is like one food had babies with another food.  I don't know why, but I'm about to do it again.  Are you ready?  This pie is like a chocolate chip cookie, a brownie, and a pie had babies.  I don't think it could get much better than that.

Dump all you stuff in a bowl and stir.  That's all there is to the filling.

Now dump that all in your unbaked pie crust.  Use a store bought one if you want to....
Now throw it in the oven.

15 April 2013

Hello Springtime!! Strawberry Cupcakes

I'm hoping that Spring is officially here.  I thought it was a couple of weeks ago; the daffodils bloomed, the temperature got above the forties, and I finally got to go to work without a sweater or coat.  Then the cold came back with some sort of fury -- it was cold, rainy, dreary, and just plain wintry.  This weekend gave me hope.  The weather was downright beautiful.  I took the boys fishing. My three year old caught his first fish.  The fish was so very, very tiny, but he was very, very proud.  

These are the cupcakes I make every year when Spring finally arrives.  They are essentially strawberry shortcake in handheld form.  There's the very, very, very strawberry cupcakes.  You don't have to have perfect strawberries for these cupcakes.  You can usually find decent ones at the store all year long now.  If anything, get the package that might be just a little past its prime.  You're gonna pulverize the heck out of them, so they don't need to be beautiful.  
Don't diss my frosting.  It's delicious.  It's basically a stabilized whipped cream, since it doesn't deflate in minutes.  It's just a stabilized whipped cream that totally not real whipped cream, but it is so delicious.  No one can ever guess what's in it and no one ever stops eating it once they find out what's in it (even my food snob friends) because it's just that good.

Chop up a pound of strawberries very roughly and throw them in the mixer bowl.

12 April 2013

Homemade Spicy Ketchup

I read something recently that quoted one of my favorite food writers, Jeffery Steingarten, and his opinions on Ketchup.  He basically said that there's Heinz and then there's not as good and Heinz.  If you're looking for a really good, store bought ketchup it is pretty difficult to make an anti-Heinz argument.  It's good stuff.  This homemade ketchup bears no direct relation to Heinz, other than the base ingredients -- tomatoes, vinegar, and sweetener.  Heinz uses corn syrup, I used brown sugar.  That's the main reason for the color difference.  Mine is also a little chunky, just a tad more than a little spicy, and pretty outrageously fantastic (if I do say so myself).  

According the the Wikipedia article on ketchup, a.k.a. catsup, some version if it has been going around since the 1600s.  It's been through lots of changes since then.  We substituted the pickled fish with tomatoes and vinegar.  Americans also thought that tomatoes were poisonous because they are related to deadly Nightshade, so we pretty much only ate them when cooked and pickled so we didn't die.  Boy, oh boy, how the times have changed.  Lots of kids wouldn't know a vegetable or fruit if it hit them in the head, but they all know ketchup.  
I made this with a can of Hunts diced tomatoes with garlic.  Tomatoes aren't in season here yet, and I really wanted to come up with something I could make all year long if I got the urge to cook it up.  Just remember, we aren't aiming for Heinz here -- this is all your own and there's nothing mass produced about it.

Pour your can of tomatoes in a medium saucepan.

Add a bunch of spices.  I used some of my recently made mustard, but you can use store bought if you didn't try out that recipe first.  Simmer away for an hour or so.  Do the dishes, watch Breaking Bad -- that's what I did while mine was cooking.  Just get up every 15 minutes or so to stir it around a bit.

10 April 2013

Homemade Mustard

I didn't initially intend for this week to become homemade condiment week, but it just sort of happened to me.  I was already making homemade mayonnaise and then one of my favorite bloggers, David Lebovitz had to go and write a post about homemade mustard.  I had been toying with the idea for a while and doing some expeirmenting.  David went and kicked me into high gear, thus, turning this week into homemade condiment week.  I've never really been too much of a mustard girl -- it's just a little too pungent for my delicate tastebuds.  I do appreciate its uses in recipes, such as being a required add in for deviled eggs, potato salad, and absolutely essential for a decent vinaigrette. 

Mustard is one of the most widely used spices in the world and is a component in the cuisines on nearly every continent.  You know if the entire world loves mustard, it's gotta be good.  I can't recommend making your own highly enough, either.  The homemade stuff has so much more complexity than any you can buy off the shelf at the grocery store.  It also requires almost no effort, which makes it a winner in my book.  It does take a couple of days, but all but five minutes of that time is sitting on a shelf in the kitchen.  Please, if you haven't experienced homemade mustard, whip up a batch and enjoy it with the ones you love.

Add some mustard seeds, vinegar, and water to a jar or any other container you can seal up tight.

08 April 2013

Homemade Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is part of the life blood of Southern food culture.  We use is so many things it's almost funny.  We should all pretty much expect to drop dead of a coronary at fifty thanks to all that fat and cholesterol, but we do know yumminess when we taste it.  It's a dominant, if not primary ingredient in our salads (potato, chicken, egg, tuna, etc...), sandwiches, casseroles.  Heck, we even use it in chocolate cake.  If you've never had a mayonnaise cake you don't know what you're missing, either.  Any Southerner worth their salt also has definite opinions when it comes to the quality of the mayonnaise.  Hellmann's is the mayo of choice around my house.  We don't do generic.  There are no substitutions.  I know this sounds crazy, but if you've every experienced a tomato sandwich at the peak of summer on some good wheat bread, some crisp lettuce, a sprinkle of salt, and a smear of real mayonnaise, you haven't really lived.  It's heaven on earth.  Seriously.

I had never made homemade mayonnaise before.  It almost felt like a little bit of a betrayal.  I have made other sauces similar to mayonnaise -- hollandaise and bernaise sauces are cousins.  Mayonnaise also has a reputation for being finicky.  Mayonnaise is an emulsion.  An emulsion is a combination of two substances that are usually unblendable.  The emulsion of mayonnaise seeks to bring together the usual enemies of oil and water.  There's water in the egg yolks, and as we all know oil and water don't mix, but the fat in the egg yolks is an emulsifier that magically brings it all together and makes the oil and water play nice.  If you have never made homemade mayonnaise, you should try it.  It will elevate those salads and sandwiches to a whole other level of heavenliness.

Fill a big bowl about half way with ice.  If you think you need help getting the bow to sit still, put a dish towel under it to help it get some traction on the kitchen counter.

Put a smaller bowl on top of the ice in the large bowl.  The cold will help stabilize the emulsification magic happen.

05 April 2013

My Favorite Meal

This is the dish that I most associate with my childhood, the South, good food, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.....It's some super awesome grub and about the best po' folk food there is.  This is the dish that I grew up on, my mom grew up on, her mom grew up on -- well, you get the picture.  This is my heritage.  It's pinto beans and cornbread.  I'm just going to give you the pinto beans recipe today.  To be perfectly honest, I used Jiffy mix for my cornbread because I worked all day and that's half the point of these beans.  I did stir in some corn kernels and cheese to make it even better.

I've always been one of those people that does too much and I even wonder to myself how I manage to get it all done.  Right now, I'm juggling raising two kids, working full time as the sole breadwinner, doing all the housework, testing recipes almost every evening, and making blog posts.  It's no wonder that I sleep like death every night.  I've really been wanting to make some pinto beans for a while because they cook all day in my slow cooker.  I love my slow cooker because it does all the work for me.  I can pretty much walk in the door and serve up dinner.  That's awesome since the slow cooker is the only way that scenario is going to happen. 

Beans and cornbread are a magical combination -- the rich, savory, creamy beans, salty ham, and the sweet, crisp-edged cornbread.  It's the stuff dreams are made of.  There are songs written about them.  I could eat my weight in them.  It's a good thing that they're fairly healthy or I would hate myself for days afterward.

Put your beans in a bowl and soak them ovenight.

03 April 2013

Mocha Cappuccino Hazelnut Cookies

First question:
    Who loves Nutella?

Second question:
     Who loves mocha or cappuccino?

If you are anything like me you not only have your hand up, but you are waving it around like a maniac because you love these things with a passion typically reserved for your children, spouse, significant other, or occasionally your pets.  If you are on my team, then these cookies are for you.

I found a jar of this JIF Mocha Cappuccino flavored hazelnut spread at the grocery store last week and I just couldn't walk away.  It sat on my counter fora few days while I contemplated the best way to tackle the beast.  I wanted something simple, but not brownies since I just made some of those.  I made more than a few pies in the recent past, so I didn't want to go that route.  It's sweeter than Nutella, so I needed to temper that a little, which meant no using it straight as icing or filling.  Finally I came up with the idea of making cookies with it.  My husband is always begging me for cookies since he loves any cookie more than pretty much all desserts combined.  I swear he can eat his weight in cookies in a sitting.  These cookies are sneaky little buggers, too.  The first one you eat you think, "These are okay."  The second one -- "Hmmm, not bad, maybe I need one more."  The third one, you are lucky if you walk away from the plate without cookies four, five, and six.  They are strangely addictive and also completely delicious.  They have an complexity with the chocolate, hazelnut, coffee, and slightly salty flavor roaming around.  You don't notice all those things until the last bite of the first cookie and it's all downhill from there.....

Go the the trusty mixer and cream together the butter and sugars until they're good and fluffy.  Then beat in the eggs, too.

 Plop in more of the hazelnut spread than you think is really necessary.  Believe me, you want all of it in there, though.

01 April 2013

German Chocolate Brownies

I had a request the other day for a German Chocolate cake recipe to be posted.  I then had to explain, and you may have noticed this, that I have not posted any regular chocolate cake recipes on the blog.  I do have a wonderful chocolate cake recipe that you could eat your weight in, but I haven't ever given it out.  Well, my mom and my best friend have it, but they're family.  Before I started writing the blog I was notoriously iron-fisted with handing our recipes.  There are a couple of recipes I still can't bring myself to hand out and my chocolate cake is one of them.  Maybe one day I'll be able to, but I'm just not there yet.

German chocolate is actually named for its inventor, Sam German.  They honored him by naming the baking chocolate he invented after him.  He invented German's Baking Chocolate in the mid 1800's, but the cake, along with its caramel-coconut-pecan frosting, didn't appear until 1957.  That's when Sam German's chocolate became a household name and his name became forever connected to the cake.

I didn't use Sam German's chocolate to make these brownies -- I like my brownies deeper and richer than German chocolate.  I did, however, incorporate my version of the frosting, since it may well be the best part anyway.  At least it's my favorite part.  I also love the idea of getting all those flavors -- chocolate, coconut, caramel, and pecans -- in a brownie, which is so much easier and quicker than a big ol' layer cake anyway.

The frosting is easy as pie.  Just put some sweetened condensed milk, an egg yolk, and some butter in a saucepan.  Stir and cook it until it's thick/  It won't turn totally caramel colored in the saucepan, but it will turn that lovely color while it's baking in the oven.

One of the things I love about brownies is that all you need is a bowl and a wooden spoon.  No big mixer needed.  I feel like I step back in time a little every time I make them.


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