28 October 2013

Chicken White Cheese Dip

There is an almost unanimous anomaly in Arkansas restaurant menus: cheese dip.  It doesn't really matter what type of restaurant you open.  It doesn't have to be Mexican or even Tex-Mex.  You have to have cheese dip on the menu.  Some folks claim that cheese dip was invented in Arkansas.  There's one local restaurant in particular that is boldly staking their claim in radio ads lately.  Granted, they have been open for almost 80 years, so it's possible.  Arkansas has the world's highest per capita consumption of Rotel, a.k.a. canned diced tomatoes and jalapenos.  The cheese dip I grew up with was essentially a block of Velveeta and a can of Rotel mixed together and melted.  Not the greatest concoction in the world, but it vaguely resembles cheese dip.
Thankfully our local cheese dip quality has greatly increased since I was a kid.  We even host the World Cheese Dip Championship here in Little Rock.  Lots of local joints enter the competition, so most folks have really upped their cheese dip game.  It also helps that there is now a queso blanco version of Velveeta, which is worlds better than the yellow stuff.  There is absolutely no shame in my game for admitting I use it in my cheese dip.  It's easy melting, easy cooking, and kid-friendly.  Those are big deals in my house.  Cheese dip is also a big deal at my house because it's really, really perfect munching while I watch football on Sundays.  Yes, I watch football.  The rest of the family could care less.  I'm a fan.  I'm a die hard Packers fan.  So, on Sundays I watch football while the rest of the folks around here go on with their days and do other stuff. 

Since this cheese dip is sort of a meal sometimes I add diced chicken, green onions and some sliced black olives.  You can add what you like.  It's good stuff and hopefully if you decide to make this or any other cheese dip it will remind you of Arkansas from now on.

21 October 2013

Chocolate Topped Cheesecake Bars


You know what's awesome about these cheesecake bars?  Everything.   A huge cheesecake to crust ratio since the filling is the best part.  A crust that is actually tasty since it's salty and sweet.  A nice layer of chocolate on top just because there's no need to not have a layer of chocolate on top.  You can cover it with caramel and pecans if you want to make it into a real dessert or you can just lop off a hunk and eat it with your fingers.  You gotta love a dessert that's willing to work with you.

I'm not usually a huge fan of cheesecake crust.  It's with good reason, too.  Most people just mix up some graham cracker crumbs with a little butter, shove it into the bottom of the pan, and call it a day.  Standard cheesecake crusts are pretty boring, dry affairs.  This crust is still super simple, but infinitely more interesting.  This crust is a combination of crushed pretzels and vanilla wafers instead of graham cracker crumbs.  It's salty, sweet, rich, buttery, and altogether more substantial and interesting than graham cracker crusts.

Chocolate Topped Cheesecake Bars
makes about 30 bars

Print me, Please!!!

for the crust:

1/2 cup finely crushed or ground pretzels
1/2 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

for the filling
16 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

for the topping:
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tsp vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Line an 11 x 7" baking pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan.  Spray the foil lightly with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the crust ingredients and stir until the crumbs are well moistened.  Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Place the pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

On medium speed, beat the cream cheese and sugar until very light and fluffy, 3 minutes.  Add the sour cream, flour, and vanilla; mix well.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition.  Pour the filling over the prepared crust and spread into an even layer.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the center is barely set and the cheesecake is barely golden around the edges.  Place the pan on a wire rack to cool.  To make the topping, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave.  Stir every 30 seconds until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Stir in the oil until completely incorporated.  Pour the chocolate mixture over the warm cheesecake and spread in a thin, even layer over the top.  Place in the refrigerator to cool at least 4 hours and up to overnight. 

Use the foil overhang to remove the cheesecake from the pan.  Cut into squares to serve.  Drizzle with caramel sauce and/or nuts if desired.  Store in tightly covered in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

17 October 2013

Cake Vs. Pie -- A Great Southern Debate

There has been a great debate going on lately.  Cake Versus Pie.  I took the words below directly from the New York Times, which seems like a strange home for a Southern food debate, but these ladies put their arguments much more eloquently that I ever could and each makes quite a convincing case.  I grew up with just about equal amounts of cake and pie, so I can very easily see both sides.  I have a personal preference for cake, but I think it's just  because I haven't found a homemade pie crust I think is perfect yet.  A pie crust perfected might sway me in the direction of pie, but a perfect chocolate cake is a thing of beauty and I will feel that way forever. 

What do you think?  Do you love cake?  Are you passionate about pie?  Or maybe you're a cobbler knida guy/gal?  Just wonderin' what other folks think.

Check out what these lovely ladies have to say about it:

Kat Kinsman:
Unlike its gussied-up and admittedly lovely cousin, cake, the humble pie is born of economy and austerity — a testament to its makers’ thriftiness, prowess and sensibility.
As we all know, in the South, there is perhaps no currency more vaunted and valuable than having a recipe with an ingredient that no one else can figure out.
So while there is now a particular canon of classic pie formats — your fruit pies, cream pies, nut pies, custard pies, chocolate pies, meringue pies, molasses pies, mince pies, sweet potato pies, onion pies à la Eudora Welty, savory meat pies, not to mention single crust, double crust, lattice crust, hand pies and so on — there is enough variance to allow each happy homemaker to put her own stamp upon it. And believe that hers is the superior version.
Pie is naked, unapologetic and honest. It eschews geometric perfection and requires no extra adornment. What it does need is communion.
When you bake a pie, you are in the kitchen in the company of ghosts. If you are crafting a crust, it’s most likely because at some point in your life, someone thought well enough of you to stand beside you at a counter and gift the muscle memory from her hands to yours.
Where cake is for celebration, pie is for affirmation. When a friend is about to embark upon an undertaking that might require some sustenance and fortitude, you might send along a hand pie for his or her journey — a substantial pocket filled with your best wishes in a way a cupcake never could. You roll that pie.
And when there is sadness — an end of love, a decline of the corporeal, a cinching-in of income ... or even a loss of life, you know what to do. Any Southern woman worth her Memama’s box of index cards does.
You tie on your apron, you flour the counter, you pick up that pin and You. Roll. Pie.
Kim Severson:
Like family and church, cake is a pillar of Southern culture.
One has a wedding cake, not a wedding pie. (Unless, like my worthy opponent, one is overly influenced by the Brooklyn hipster culture.)
When a child turns 1, countless parents across the country watch that child dive into a cake, not a pie.
In the South, people do not set aside weeks to make Christmas pie, but they do to make the Christmas cakes, filling side boards with layered, frosted tradition.
And they don’t try to break you out of prison with a pie.
Cake names are euphemistic, as delicious as the cakes themselves. The hummingbird cake, the red velvet cake, the lady cake, the charlotte russe, the lemon cheese cake, which has not a drop of cheese in it.
In 1898, Emma Rylander Lane put a recipe in a book called “Some Good Things to Eat.” It made her famous. Just ask Harper Lee, who lived three hours away from Clayton, Ala., where Mrs. Lane invented her cake. The Lane Cake, not the Lane Pie, was a minor character in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Eudora Welty knew the power of the cake. She used cake – not pie — as a metaphor for race and family in her novel “Delta Wedding.” She and other writers knew that the language of cake, their hierarchy — the picnic caramel cake, the fancy wedding cake, the voodoo patti cake — all meant something more than any collection of pie ever could.
For Southern women, the better the cake, the higher the social status. Everyone in town knew who made the best ones. White society ladies who couldn’t bake swore black cooks to secrecy and claimed those perfect cakes as their own.
The cake, I put to you, is the sweet tangible talisman of the South. It is connection, tradition, mother and love.
Click here if you would like to read the whole article for yourself.

14 October 2013

Brown Sugar Pound Cake

Pound cakes are tricky buggers.  It's waaay too easy to make them too dry, too dense, too heavy, etc....  There's almost nothing better in the world than a good pound cake, though.  They're just the essence of all things cake -- tons of butter, sugar, flour and eggs -- that's the actual composition of the first pound cakes.  The recipe dates back to the 1700's and was originally a pound each of flour, butter, sugar, and eggs.  Pound cakes now usually have leavening to make them lighter, extracts to enhance the flavor, variations in the fats to increase the moisture in the cake, the additions of nuts, or the addition of fruit.  Some make the argument that pound cake shouldn't even be called pound cake any more since most folks don't weigh their ingredients these days.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  They're still pound cakes to me even if it's only in the spirit of the original.

This is a pretty standard pound cake with the exception of swapping out all the white sugar for brown sugar.  The molasses in the brown sugar adds a lot of moisture to the cake and a ton of flavor.  It's not a subtle flavor either.  It's a full on, in your face brown sugar flavor that gets better with age.  This cake is pretty good the day it's made.  It's downright fantastic after a couple of days.  Be sure the store this baby in an airtight container, though.  An uncovered pound cake loses moisture like crazy and you don't wanna end up with a dry cake.  Serve this up warm with some peaches and whipped cream and you'll be smack in the middle of pound cake heaven.

10 October 2013

Brown Butter Peanut Brittle and Bonus Brittle, Too

This brown butter peanut brittle was what I planned on ending my brown butter week with here on the blog.  Indeed I am ending the week with it, but then I got carried away with the brittle-making.  I'm a big fan of brittle.  Most people have had peanut brittle, but I love it for all the stuff you can put in it in place of the peanuts, too.  I've made it with just about every type of nut, pretzels, popcorn, pumpkin seeds....  I've used beer in place of the vanilla.  Now I've gone and added brown butter in place of the normal dab of butter I normally use.  It's totally delicious, but really subtle.  That's actually one of the things I love about brown butter (as if I haven't given enough reasons already) -- its subtlety.  So this brittle has a little hint of that lovely brown butter flavor, but it's not gonna knock you over.  I also used dry roasted, salted peanuts.  They're my favorite for peanut brittle.  You already know I love anything salty and sweet, but something about that dry roasted texture is just perfection in brittle.  Trust me on this one and you won't be disappointed.

Then, after my husband had polished about a half pound of the peanut brittle, I got this idea in my head and went and made another batch.  This time I added salted, roasted pistachios and dried cranberries.  There's also just a tad of dried orange peel.  All these things work together, which pretty much everyone already knows, and this brittle is just awesome.  It's one of those desserts that makes everyone simultaneously love and hate you.  They love you because it's so good and they hate you because it's so good that they end up eating half a pound and it's all your fault because you even broke it into little bite size pieces for them.  Of course all they can do is glare at you because their mouths are full.

08 October 2013

Double Brown Butter Applesauce Cake

Here's brown butter devotional #2 -- Brown Butter Applesauce Cake with Brown Butter Frosting.  Yep, that's right.  I used brown butter twice.  That's just how I roll.  This cake is a super-duper brown butter, fall flavor explosion.  It's also super moist, keeps for days, and since there's applesauce in it you can totally claim that it's good for you.  I also have no shame in the fact that I used my kid's applesauce snack cups for this cake.  Chances are good if you are a parent too, that you have some in your cabinets somewhere.  Mine was under some granola bars and microwave popcorn.....

This cake was semi-inspired by the cake that first exposed me to brown butter.  It was a pumpkin cake with brown butter frosting and glazed walnuts I made for Thanksgiving about 15 years ago.  I think it was from Martha Stewart Living.  The cake was just okay.  The glazed walnuts never made it onto the cake because I put the hot walnuts on wax paper, so they couldn't be extricated without a paper backing.  The frosting was another matter entirely, though.  It was a revelation for me and I think the thing that made me really, really love baking as a grown up.  I also know that cake was the first one I ever made for my grandmother instead of the other way around.  That brown butter frosting was our passing of the torch for me and a big, sentimental reason for my love of brown butter.

06 October 2013

Brown Butter Scrambled Eggs

I talk about brown butter too much.  It's a sickness.  I love it so much, though.  Brown butter is heaven.  It's nutty, savory, sweet, complex.  It's incredibly easy to make and adds so much to anything it touches.  You should be using it.  Really.  Browning butter elevates the flavor of just about every dish.  It takes 5 minutes. It's amazing what a difference some toasty milk solids can make.  Why aren't we all just putting brown butter in everything?  Maybe we should....
I figured I would just let my obsession take over for the week and use brown butter quite unapologetically in everything I make this week.  I started out with our Sunday morning breakfast and these brown butter scrambled eggs.  I also made a little extra brown butter and used it on the toast, too.  These are easy, simple, and have that great something you just can't quite put you're finger on.  The brown butter adds a little nuttiness to the egg and the green onion adds just the right amount of brightness.  It was a great way to start the week.
Brace yourself because lots more brown butter is on the way .  Really excessive amounts of it.  I may need an appointment with a cardiologist before it's all said and done, but I'll be really happy.  Hopefully you will be, too.


02 October 2013

Apricot Coconut Blondies

The name of these blondies totally doesn't do them justice.  They don't just have apricot and coconut.  There's toasted pecans, ginger, brown sugar, butter....  They're ooey, gooey, crunchy, chewy, sweet, a little tangy, and good enough to knock my socks off.  I've waxed not-too-poetic about my love of blondies, which is short for blond brownies.  They're essentially brownies without chocolate and subbing out the white sugar for brown sugar.  Don't call 'em brownies!  They're not brownies!  And you know I'm serious if I bust out the exclamation marks.

One thing that brownies and blondies should most decidedly have in common is that slightly underbaked, gooey texture.  That's my other pet peeve with what some folks would like to think are blondies.  Without that texture, in my opinion anyway, they're just cookies.  They might be really good cookies, but they'd be cookies nonetheless.  Please don't overbake your blondies.  When you check to see if they're done and you would normally let it go five more minutes that's when they should come out of the oven.  That's the big trick for really good blondies.  Well, that and lots of butter.  Everything's better with lots of butter, right?


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