31 July 2013

Brown Butter Toffee Blondies

 

Pet peeve #1.  When people call blondies brownies.

This might seem petty, but it really irks me.  Especially when I see the misuse in cookbooks or food magazines.  These people should know better.  Okay, so that you don't make the mistake, here's the distinction.  Brownies are a baked bar with a texture between "cake" and  "cookie" that uses a chocolate-based batter.  Blondies are a baked bar with a texture between "cake" and "cookie" that uses a brown sugar-based batter.  I know the definitions are remarkably similar.  The big difference is the chocolate.  Brownies are chocolate and blondies are not.  End of story.  Now you know (and knowing is half the battle.  Thanks, G.I. Joe.).



If you love brownies, then you should love blondies, too.  The texture is the same as a brownie -- a little bit cakey with a soft, gooey middle.  I actually like blondies better.  I love everything about them
-- the chewyness, the brown sugar, the nuttiness, the sort of butterscotch-y flavor.  They're also awesome with caramel and ice cream.  My heart be still.


29 July 2013

Goobersnap


I am fully aware that the name of this post isn't giving much away.  You're probably asking "what the heck is Goobersnap?"  Until I started writing this blog I wasn't aware of Goobersnap either.  I have a pretty large collection of locally produced cookbooks.  You know, the kind that are put out by churches, schools, junior leagues, etc....  In my experience they are the best source in the world for thoroughly tested and completely delicious recipes.  In going through all these cookbooks I stumbled across the recipe for Goobersnap a few times.  I knew I had to make it eventually for a couple of reasons -- the name is awesome and it sounds yummy.  It turns out that I was right and Goobersnap is a totally ridiculous name is the really, really tasty.

So, you wanna know what Goobersnap is?  Goobersnap is basically a cracker.  It's made from a base of cornbread batter that you spread super duper thin.  Then you sprinkle it with chopped peanuts, parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and melted butter.  The whole thing is then baked for longer than is probably necessary, turning the cornbread batter into crackers.  Sounds good, right?


26 July 2013

30 Tips for Baking Perfect Cakes


Baking is just in my DNA.  I can't really fathom not baking.  I've been doing it my entire life.  I know people who are afraid to make cakes from scratch -- they're intimidated or afraid of failure.  I can't imagine, but I can sympathize.  We all have something in our lives that's intimidating or scary.

I have been working on this list for a while now.  It's culled from experience, old cookbooks, cooking shows, etc.  The list is not comprehensive and no matter how comfortable I feel in the kitchen I still learn something every time I make a new cake, pie, or other dish.  I hope you enjoy and maybe learn something, too.

1.  All your ingredients need to be at room temperature.  Leave your butter, milk, eggs or other cold stuff out on the counter for about an hour before the mixing commences.  Eggs that are at room temperature make for a fluffier cake than one made with cold eggs.

2.  Ingredients should be as fresh as possible.  If your eggs float in a bowl of water that means they're old.  Go to the store and buy new ones.  Spices and flavorings also lose flavor over time.  If can't remember the last time you needed that ground ginger, chances are good you should go buy a fresh batch.

3.  Most cakes are made from either all purpose flour or cake flour.  Typically "flour" in the ingredients list means all purpose flour.  I never seen cake flour not listed specifically when it is called for.

4.  If you don't have cake flour, you can substitute all purpose flour.  Use 2 tablespoons less all purpose flour per cup than the amount required.

5.  Regular whole milk, when used as the liquid in your batter, makes for the most tender cakes. Skim milk will make for a tougher cake when used instead.

6.  Recipes calling for eggs usually mean Grade A large eggs.

7.  Use unsalted butter for cakes unless salted is called for.  The amount of salt in salted butter is not uniform so using unsalted butter makes for more consistent results.

8.  Follow directions.  This may be stating the obvious, but most published recipes have been tested multiple times.

9. The one exception to the follow directions rule applies to flavoring.  Adjust it to your own taste.  I almost always double the amount of vanilla or almond extract called for in recipes in magazines or cookbooks.

10.  There's not really a big need to sift your flour for most recipes.  Back in the day flour was not the light, clump free stuff we get today.

11.  To de-clump and lighten up your dry ingredients, combine them with a whisk before adding them to the wet ingredients.

12.  Most cake batters need the wet and dry ingredients to only be mixed until just combined.  Overmixing will result in a cake that is tough and dense.  A cake that contains a lot of sugar needs more mixing than cakes with less sugar.

13.  Did you know that sugar is considered a wet ingredient?  That's because sugar becomes liquid when heat is applied.  I just think that's a neat-o thing to know.

14.  If your cake calls for milk, juice, or another wet ingredient, alternate adding said wet ingredient with adding the dry ingredients -- i.e. flour, milk, flour.  You always want to start and end with the dry ingredients.  This method leads to less mixing in the long run.

15.  If you get some eggshell in your batter, use rest of the shell from the same egg to scoop it out.  Only the shell from that egg will attract it and make it easy to scoop out; anything else will actually repel the little bits of shell.

16.  Always use salt.  Even if it's only a little smidge.  Salt enhances flavor -- it's a scientific fact.

17.  When beating egg whites, be sure your bowl and whisk are clean.  The smallest trace of fat will prevent your egg whites from reaching their full voluminous potential.

18.  Never fill your pans more than 2/3rds full.  Most recipes will specify how full your pan should be if you are not putting all the batter in one pan.

19.  Preheat your oven.  Putting your batter in an oven that is not preheated leads to uneven baking and, typically, a tougher cake.

20.  If you can smell it, your cake is probably done.

21.  A cake is done when it is springy to the touch -- it bounces back when you lightly press on the top.  I don't even bother with a tester for cakes.  This is really a better indicator.

22.  Let cakes cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning them out onto wire racks to cool completely.  If you don't let the cakes cool a little, you might end up with half the cake in the pan and the other half on the wire rack.  Cupcakes should be removed to a wire rack as soon as you can possibly get them out and not burn the devil out of your fingers.

23.  Use a decent pan.  Stained or warped pans can cause uneven browning.  Lower your oven temperature if you are using a glass pan, unless that's what your recipe calls for.

24.  Sugar is the root of tons of cake problems.  Too much sugar can cause your cake to be gummy, soggy, humped in the middle, or a sticky top.  Too little sugar can cause your cake to be dry or not properly browned.  Be sure to measure as accurately as possible.

25.  Too much baking powder will make for a dry cake, too little makes for a cake that won't brown.

26.  To make sure that fruits and nuts don't settle to the bottom of the cake, toss them in a little flour before adding them to the batter.

27.  An offset spatula is your new best friend if you are frosting your cakes.  Go get one now if you don't already have one.

28.  You can smooth bumps in icing with a damp fingertip.

29.  Put your cakes as close to the center of the oven as possible.  This ensures even baking.

30.  Beat the butter and sugar at least as long as the recipe calls for and longer if possible.  This adds tons of air and lightness to the finished cake.

24 July 2013

All New Just For You!! A Visual Recipe Index!


Sorry, folks, but there's no new recipe today.  I have spent hours upon hours upon even more hours working on a new recipe index.  Being a former fashion designer, I just could not bear the idea of an entire page being nothing but words.  No pictures, nothing to draw you in, make your mouth water, etc....

Since I am definitely not an expert at all this fancy web page design, it took me longer than it should have, but I am pretty darn happy with it.  Hopefully you are, too.  Working on it reminded me of some recipes I had already forgotten about and was sort of stroll down memory lane for the last year or so.

Please check it out.  Let me know what you think.  I would like to know.  Really.

CLICK HERE to check it out.  Thanks!

22 July 2013

Chocolate Raspberry Poke Cake


It's the latest fad!  It's a poke cake!  I know I'm a little behind the curve.  A couple of months ago, poke cakes were all over the place on Pinterest.  If you aren't familiar with poke cakes, let me explain.  There are basically two types of poke cakes.  Both types have in common that you go ape on the baked cake with a skewer, spoon handle, etc... and poke holes with reckless abandon.  I mean it when I say reckless abandon, too, you can't really poke too many holes.  Just think of the little holes as flavor tunnels.  The more holes, the more flavor gets down into the cake.  Poke cakes are always frosted to disguise those flavor tunnels, too.


So, back to the types of poke cake.  The first is a baked, cooled cake that has a condensed milk based
mixture poured over the top.  This poke cake is very dense, moist, and sweet.  Tres Leches Cake is a good example of this type of poke cake.  The second type of poke cake has liquid gelatin poured over.  These are pretty, moist, colorful cakes, and the texture created from the mixture of the gelatin and cake is spongy and totally different from what you are used to.

I took both ideas and threw them together into one yummy cake.  This is my grandmother's "World's Best Chocolate Cake".  I poured over a combination of condensed milk, evaporated milk, and raspberry gelatin.  There's the requisite whipped cream frosting and itty-bitty chocolate shavings.  They're adorable.  Did I mention that this cake is delicious?  I think I might have left that part out, but it is.  Really seriously, drop-dead, mouth-watering, sublimely delicious.  You should make it.  Everyone at your house will thank you.


19 July 2013

Mayo-Free Macaroni Salad


This is the last post I ever thought I would write because I don't like macaroni salad.  It's pretty much the only dish I skip at a potluck or picnic.  It think it's the combo of mayonnaise and pasta.  I just find the two textures pretty unappetizing.  There's also the fact that most macaroni salads are chock full of celery.  I'm not the biggest fan of celery, either.

Recently I was reading a post on the blog Baked Bree about pimiento cheese.  She made the pimiento cheese without ever tasting one bite because she hates mayonnaise.  That post got me to thinking about dishes I like that have mayo in them that I don't care for either.  Macaroni salad was at the top of the list.  Since I married a man who doesn't care for mayonnaise I figured anything transformed
sans mayo would be a good idea.

This salad has another big difference from the normal picnic stuff -- it's a main course.  I added some sauteed chicken and mushrooms.  The addition changed this from a side to dinner and about 5 extra minutes.  It's already loaded with veggies, so the chicken and mushrooms joined the party without a hitch.  You can also add any other vegetables you might like.  It's one of those make it however you like dishes, so make it how you like and enjoy.



Mayo-Free Macaroni Salad

Print me, Please!!!

16 oz macaroni, cooked according to package directions
1 cup sour cream
2 cups large curd cottage cheese
1 bell pepper, diced
4 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
2 Tbsps chopped pimientos
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika

In a large bowl, combine the macaroni, sour cream, cottage cheese, bell pepper, green onions, tomatoes, relish, and cheddar cheese.  Cover and chill at least 2 hours.

In a large nonstick skillet, combine the mushrooms and chicken over medium high heat.  Saute until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat; allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Stir the chicken and mushrooms into the macaroni mixture along with the thyme, salt, and paprika.  Serve alone or on a bed of lettuce.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

17 July 2013

Just a Little Outside the Box -- Blueberry BBQ Sauce


All this week I have been obsessively watching "The Mind of a Chef -- David Chang" on Netflix.  If you even remotely like food or cooking, you should watch the entire series.  It's produced and narrated by Anthony Bourdain, who I love through and through.  He reminds me of myself a little with his brusque straightforwardness.  It's an easily misunderstood personality.  I think I would have a blast with him at a bar.  There would be lots of drinking and cursing.  Mr. Bourdain is not the focus of the series, though.  David Chang is front and center.  He's one of the hot chefs in the world right now.  He runs a few restaurants and came from very humble beginnings.  I am sorry, Mr. Bourdain, because I am now totally infatuated with David Chang.  I could stare at his adorable dimples all day long and don't even get me started on how his crazy mind works.  The series gives you a glimpse every now and then into how he makes the connections to invent dishes.  The man is brilliant and adorable and he can cook food for me anytime he feels like dropping by.  Oh, and he loves ramen, even the instant kind.  That makes me love him even more.

it's so very, very lovely.  and purple.
So, all the David Chang watching got me to thinking.  A lot.  Thinking about stepping outside the box and using some ingredients in unexpected ways.  He does that and is really, really good at it.  The one thing most people know about Southern food is barbecue.  There are about a million different variations.  It all depends on where you are.  Arkansas barbecue is sort of a weird mixture and (in my opinion) really under-appreciated.  Most people know about Memphis dry rub, the molasses based sauces of the deep South, and Texas brisket.  Well, Arkansas BBQ gets a little contribution from all these.  I am probably biased, since it's what I grew up with, but I think the three done together and done right are magical.  This BBQ sauce takes it's cue from the local stuff -- it combines the sweet with the spices and uses blueberries as its main ingredient.  That's right blueberries.  The finished sauce is sort of a disconcerting color, but I was just saying that I don't eat enough purple food.  I've upped my purple food intake another notch.


15 July 2013

My New Favorite -- Praline Sheet Cake


The lure of the oven has called me home.  I cannot resist her siren song and can't stay away for too long.  I get sort of homesick.  My first venture back to the oven was making this cake.  I am so glad this was my first project.  I cannot overstate how good this cake was.  I use the past tense because this cake is long gone.  All of my informal "taste testers" went nuts for this stuff.

look at the gooey, buttery yumminess

The only weird thing about this cake is that it doesn't really know what kind of cake it is.  It definitely has a praline flavor to it, but it also tastes a little of cocoa, a little of peanut, and a whole lot of brown sugar, which is primarily where the praline in the name comes from.  If you've ever had a Coca-Cola cake, the cake part of this is similar.  The icing is totally different from the typical cola cake icing.  It's pure toffee-praline-buttery-peanut goodness.  I was more than half-tempted to drink it with a straw.  I didn't do it, but I was tempted.  The topping on this cake is finished under the broiler.  I did a similar topping for my Fruit Cocktail Cake.  If you've never had a broiled icing, you should try it out.  They are super-easy and very rarely fail to impress.

12 July 2013

Fresh Blueberry Ice Cream Sodas


I'm not sure it gets more "summer" than this.  Fresh picked blueberries, ice cream, soda.....yum.  A while back I did a post about coke floats.  Coke floats were my grandpa's choice of summertime refreshment and that's always stuck with me, too.  I've mentioned a couple of times about my husband's recent changes in diet.  One of the new diet requirements is that he can have little to no caffeine.  So, no sodas for him.  I am not getting rid of caffeine.  I love him and all, but a girl's gotta have her coffee, right?  Because I love him, though, I made this lovely caffeine-free float just for us to share.  It doesn't hurt that it's delicious and a really lovely shade of purple.  I know I don't eat nearly enough purple food.  Oh, and it still has that yummy ice cream soda foam on top.  That's the best part!


So you cook some blueberries with some sugar and water.


Strain out the solids and you get beautiful homemade blueberry syrup.  I am sure you could use this for something other than ice cream sodas, too.

10 July 2013

Yummy! Wine Cocktails!


I'm going to keep this short and sweet.  This is Tinto Verano, which means "summer red wine ".  This is what most of the locals in Spain drink, rather than the more commonly known Sangria.    The locals drink it because it's way easier to make and it's super cheap.  You can adjust the drink to your taste.  It's yummy, cold, and alcoholic, which is just perfect in this heat.  It's also easy as 1, 2, 3.

Step One: Fill a glass with ice. 

 Step Two: Fill the glass about half way with some really cheap red wine.  Use the stuff from the grocery store if you wanna rock it like a Spaniard.

Step Three:  Fill the glass the rest of the way with some carbonated lemonade.  I got mine at the local grocery store.

Step Four:  Drink.  Repeat, if necessary.


08 July 2013

Rotisserie Chicken Salad


I know this is stating the obvious, but summer is here and in full swing.  It's hot.  One day last week I drove past one of those time and temperature signs that showed 109°.  I know for a fact that the sign reads about five degrees hotter than it actually is, but just seeing that number is enough the make me want to scurry inside and sit in the air conditioning for the next two months.  In honor (or maybe because) of the heat I am going to do some posts this week that don't require turning on the oven.  No need to add the the oppression.

the summer does bring the chance for the kiddos to swim.  my mother in law sent me this great picture last week of sam enjoying the pool in her back yard.
 One great thing about food in the summer is the color.  Since you can get your hands on so many fresh veggies and herbs, the food is just so....pretty.  I went out of my way with the chicken salad to not only lighten it up, but to also try to pack in as many colors and flavors as I could.  I love some decent chicken salad every now and then.  I put the emphasis on the word decent, though, because so much chicken salad is canned chicken with a ton of mayo mixed in.  You might get some celery, too , but most chicken salad is pretty flavorless and unimaginative.  I love me some mayo, but mayo alone does not a decent salad make.  This chicken salad is not even in the same league as those boring ones.  It's something entirely different.  One great thing about this salad is that you can customize it to your liking -- substitute the raisins for dried cranberries, leave out the pickle relish, add some celery.  Do what you want and make it your own.  You won't be disappointed.  The one favor I must ask of you is to leave in the tarragon.  You can use more or less, but the tarragon is really what kicked my tail in this dish.  Chicken and tarragon naturally pair together beautifully and the combination really is magical.  Really.


03 July 2013

A Perfect Summer Pie


Happy early Fourth of July to everyone!  We have had a little break from the heat this week, so the boys and I got out and went berry picking.  I went to the farm with the idea of picking blackberries, but the farm had some woefully tiny vines with no ripe fruit on them.  We did bring home some really great blueberries, though.  The bushes were some of the largest I've ever seen and were chock full of berries.  We had a blast, although I was amazed we managed to get home with any of the berries since the boys ate about ten pounds apiece while we were picking.  Their buckets were empty by the time we got back to the barn to pay.  Good thing the farm says it's okay to eat while you pick....


On the way home from the farm, we stopped at the grocery store to get a couple of things and the boys found these really lovely raspberries.  I had every intention of making something red, white and blue for the holiday since I had the blueberries and raspberries.  This pie didn't quite fill that bill, but I do have to say I think it is perfect just as it is.  I added some blueberries to the plate, but really they were just decoration.

This pie is everything I'm into right now -- delicious, light, simple, and full of bright flavor.  It's also the prettiest shade of pink.  I think all that's enough to make it just perfect.


01 July 2013

Nothin' Plain About it Banana Bread




I had to say from the get-go that there is nothing plain about this banana bread, even if it is a basic banana bread recipe.  One from my grandmother's recipe stash, which I ate pretty frequently when I was a kid.  I know I ate it at her house and at my own anytime we had overripe bananas.  That's the key.  You can't just go to the store and decide to make banana bread that day (unless they happen to have some overripe ones on clearance that day).  You have to plan ahead.  I am all kinds of organized, but I totally suck at planning ahead.  That's part of the reason why just about every recipe on here is something you can bust out and serve that same day.  I'm also all about instant gratification when it comes to food.  You can be totally impulsive and whip out this bread any time you have some really pitiful bananas sitting around.
if your bananas look better than these, sit on your hands -- they're not ready yet!

nuts aren't required, unless you're at my house, and then they're pretty much required in everything
My next piece of advice for truly enjoying the fruits of your banana bread labor is to not eat it until the day after you make it.  You have to let it cool completely, then wrap it up in plastic overnight.  This makes all the difference.  Eating banana bread on the day it's made is sort of a let down.  It's okay, but nothing remarkable.  The next day and the day after that your banana bread will be roll-your-eyes-back-in-your-head, have a big ol' food-gasm, completely mind blowingly spectacular.  I give this advice with the caveat that you will be doing as I say, not as I do, since I have never made a loaf of banana bread and managed to hold out until the next day.  Like I said, I'm all about instant food gratification.  I won't think less of you if you can't wait a day, but you'll thank me later if you do.


i love anything i get to mix up with my handmade wooden spoon

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