Friday, December 21, 2012

English Toffee

When I was a kid, my mom's favorite candy was Almond Rocha. The distinctive pink round tin, the little gems of butter, almonds, chocolate and sugar wrapped in gold foil. They were so fancy to this suburban kid. Any it was expensive, or so my mom said. So every once in a while, she'd splurge and buy some, and stash it somewhere to be enjoyed solo. A private moment of indulgence, just for her. And then. . . one day. . . I found her stash. And as much as I'd like to say "I didn't", I did; I pilfered one and scarfed it up. Then expertly disposed of the damning gold foil evidence. So tender, so buttery, so forbidden. I was hooked. I was instantly an "English Toffee Junkie". But to feed my new desire, I would have to be careful. If I pinched it all, I'd be caught. So I waited, and waited before pilfering another piece. Never letting on that I'd found the stash. Oh the cleverness of me. Eventually I quit lifting from mom's stash. A little maturity and a lot of guilt bettering my addiction. I wonder if my Mom every knew. She may have and never let on. We'll never know. Mom was like that. I miss her!

Imagine my delight when my friend Amy shared her grandma's family recipe for English Toffee. I could now make this once forbidden treat for myself. What I love about this recipe is it's simplicity. Just a few ingredients and some patients and you'll have English Toffee for yourself. It's getting close to Christmas but it's not too late to whip up one last batch of treats. . .

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies

One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking up a bunch of treats for family, friends and neighbors. Each year I include our traditional favorites and try to throw in a few new recipes. But, this year, I've been set back a bit. The break in was upsetting to say the least and it took me a good week to settle back in and get on the holiday organizing, gift lists and treat making. So much for that "extra" week after Thanksgiving. I finally feel like I'm back "on track" and ready for some Holiday Cheer.

When I saw this recipe on Pinterest a couple of months ago, I knew I wanted to give it a try. I loved that it had cranberries and pistachios, red and green, and it just screamed "Christmas" to me. A "Slice and Bake" refrigerator cookie is so up my alley this season. I love the idea that you can make up batches of dough, weeks in advance, and then slice and bake as needed for all the various holiday parties and get togethers. I new immediately when I saw it that I'd like this recipe. What I didn't know is that I would LOVE it. Aside from the fact that it is very easy to make, I love love love the taste. The cookie itself is a tender shortbread that's not overly sweet. It has the perfect amount of cinnamon to spice it up without being a "cinnamon cookie." The pistachios and cranberries compliment each other well and then the orange zest just takes all the other flavors to the next level. Don't skip putting the crystal sugar on the outside before baking. It adds just enough sweetness and crunch. I dare say this cookie may make it onto our "traditional favorites" list. Give it a try and see if you don't agree. . .

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes

My apologies for my absence from the blog-o-sphere this last week. I had all these photos uploaded and was ready to blog away. I just had to run a few errands on my day off before I blogged. While I was out, our house was broken into and we were robbed. Right in broad daylight in the middle of an upper middle class neighborhood. If you're saying WOW, or OMG, you are right. To say it set my agenda back for the week would be putting it mildly. It's one of those things you think is never going to happen to you, but it does. It happens all the time, in the nicest of neighborhoods, in the nicest of cities. I Googled "Residential Burglaries" and discovered some shocking statistics. Please educate yourself and rethink your home security. I know we are. Lastly good luck out there and I hope this doesn't happen to any of you!

Now on to cooking. Nothing bad happens in the kitchen! I'm starting the holidays off with a time saving way to make everyone's holiday favorite, Mashed Potatoes. Since I started making mashed potatoes this way, a day or two ahead, it has saved me time and dishes on Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, as an added bonus, they taste out of this world. Super smooth and creamy and rich. Yummy, yum, yum! Aside from tasting awesome, by making them ahead, you can get all the dishes cleaned and put away days ahead and only have to deal with the one baking dish after your holiday meal. This is also a great way to take mashed potatoes to a holiday pot luck. Give 'em a try...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Honey Spice Roll Out Cookies

If you live in Northern California and you're over the age of 30, you most likely remember the Nut Tree. It was just about half way from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento and my family always stopped for lunch on our way to and from those areas. I have great memories of the "back and forth" animals, my favorite was the giraffe; watching airplanes take off from the small airport; exploring the gift shop; and eating at the Coffee Tree Restaurant across the street. As a kid I loved that they had colored crystal sugar on every table. My most favorite thing of all was the giant decorated honey cookies that were sold there. If my sisters and I were really good, my parents would buy one for each of us. There were so many designs to choose from and once you picked a cookie they would write your name on it in icing right before your very eyes. For an 8 year old, that was quite a treat.

The old Nut Tree is long gone, it's all torn down and a suburban strip mall stands where it once was. They still have the big sign but it just isn't the same. Jamba Juice, Peet's Coffee, Marshall's and other corporate strip mall standards just don't have the charm that the Nut Tree and Coffee Tree once did. But, alas, that's progress. Far be it from me to stand in the way. You can however capture a bit of the Nut Tree charm by recreating those wonderful honey cookies. I found the recipe in the newspaper several years ago and was delighted to find that they tasted exactly as I had remembered. These cookies stay soft and chewy, almost cake like, and so they pair well with the hard royal icing decoration. They are great for decorated holiday cookies, the cinnamon and clove gives them a flavor reminiscent of gingerbread. If you really want that true Nut Tree Honey Cookie, give yourself a couple of days to make these. The flavor and texture of the cookies is much better if the dough sits in the refrigerator for a couple of days. So grab your favorite cookie cutters and bring back a bit of the past. . .

Monday, November 12, 2012

Beer Bread

Beer bread is one of the easiest breads you'll ever make. It's dense and hearty but still with a nice crumb. Once you've mastered the basic recipe there are endless options for add ins both sweet and savory. It's not so dry and crumbly like cornbread and but has a denser texture and stronger flavor than sour dough. It's a great compliment to chili, stew or a hearty winter soup. 

You've probably see "Beer Bread Mix" at a specialty or gift shop and it's probably been about $5 to $7 a pop. YIKES! Why? It's so much cheaper to make on your own. You could even make your own premix and give it away for Christmas gifts. Just mix all the dry ingredients and package in a jar or bag and attach instructions to add the beer, butter and then bake. Doesn't get much easier than that. 

Give this simple and tasty recipe a try. . .

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creme Brulee

Without hesitation I can declare that Creme Brulee is my absolute favorite dessert. If ever it's on the menu, I order it; every single time. If I could eat only one dessert for the rest of my life, it would be Creme Brulee. Are you picking up what I'm laying down here? I love Creme Brulee. I said, "I LOVE CREME BRULEE." I  L-O-V-E it. I know there are a million calories in it but I just don't care. Every fat laden caloric spoonful is so very worth it! Ahmen.

As much as I love creme brulee, I've rarely made it myself. Odd, because it is super simple. Easy peasy ingredients, only four of 'em, and pretty low on the difficulty scale. BUT. . . it does require a kitchen torch. I've made it before using the oven broiler but that's dicey. So, I've had the whole "chicken and egg" scenario with creme brulee. I don't make it often because I don't have a kitchen torch and I haven't bought a kitchen torch because I don't make creme brulee often. See what I mean. A culinary paradox; a conundrum if you will. So, for years, I was stuck scouring dessert menus for my beloved dessert. And then last Christmas, my wonderful husband, got me a kitchen torch. Hallelujah!

Now to find the perfect recipe. If you start looking into it there are a bazillion different recipes for Creme Brulee. Kind of odd since it only has four ingredients. It's basically a vanilla infused custard with a hard caramel shell on top. Every recipe has it's own subtile differences in proportion and preparation and I think it just comes down to preference. The recipe I'm showing you here is basic, simple and easy. And delicious! Give it a try. . .

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Loaded Baked Potato Casserole

I think I like, no, I think I love, loaded baked potatoes. I must as I just noticed last week that I've pinned 3 different recipes for Loaded Baked Potato Soup on Pinterest. (Please follow me if you are a fellow pinner. Yikes, does that sound right? I went to high school in the 80's and "pinner" had a much different meaning. Hmmmm? What do you call one who pins stuff on Pinterest?) Anywho, back to baked potatoes. The last soup recipe I pinned come from the Tasty Kitchen Blog. Boy it looks yummy, I am totes going to make this soon. As I was poking around on the Tasty Kitchen Blog, I came across this recipe for Potatoes Romanoff. Looked delish, but I still had fully loaded baked potatoes on my mind: visions of sour cream, cheese, onions, cream cheese and of course, bacon dancing in my head. Then it hit me, Baked Potato Casserole. Just a few tweaks* of the Potatoes Romanoff recipe and "Loaded Baked Potato Casserole" became a reality. It's the perfect marriage of Baked and Mashed Potatoes. I hope you agree. . .

*One of the major tweaks I made was to reduce the amount of shallots by quite a bit. This is mostly due to my husbands grand aversion to onion. As written the recipe has a mild onion presence. If you like onion you could certainly up the shallots to 3 or 4 for a bolder onion flavor. You could also sprinkle the top with sliced green onion after it's baked. Please do and know that I'll be envious of you for it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chocolate Caramel Pretzels

I love sweet things. . .
I love salty things. . .
I love chocolate things. . .
I love caramel things. . .
I love salty, sweet, chocolaty, caramely things that are super easy to make and festive.
I love this recipe/project.

These Chocolate Caramel Pretzels fall into the same category as the Oreo Cookie Pops. Super duper easy to make but impressive. I call it a project as much as a recipe because you're really just putting stuff together. There are a lot of chocolate dipped _________ (fill in the blank) projects out there on the web but I like to take these pretzels a step further and add caramel. Sure I like chocolate, who doesn't? And a Chocolate Dipped Pretzel is the perfect marriage of chocolate, salty and bread. But . . . add caramel and they are out of this world. As far as I'm concerned, you could put caramel on just about anything and I'd eat it. It amazing how you just apply heat to regular old sugar and it becomes caramel. A true miracle. Well actually it's science, but I prefer "miracle". 

You can customize these with any combination of chocolate (or colored Wilton Candy Melts) and sprinkles for any occasion. Since it's October, I went with Halloween. Change it up and make it your own.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Caramel Coconut Bars*

My all time favorite Girl Scout Cookie has to be the Samoa/Caramel deLites. I could eat a whole box. In fact I may have. I can neither confirm nor deny without incriminating myself. They are so, so good. Coconutty, caramely, chocolaty, short bready. All the best cookie adjectives all in one cookie. What's not to love? So, when Girl Scout Cookie Season is upon us I can't resist those cute faces and delicious treats and I buy, buy, buy. And, because the money goes to a good cause I don't feel guilty one little bit. Calories are allowed in the name of charity. Right? Right!

But, here's the delimma: What do you do when you're craving one of these scrumptious treats and it's not Cookie Season? Scream? Cry? Pound your fists in protest? Naw, you just search the web, find a recipe, and make it. STAT! So, I did. Check it out. . .

*Out of respect for the Girl Scouts, I changed the name of this recipe to "Caramel Coconut Bars".

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chili Cheeseburger Macaroni

So a couple of weeks ago I went fishing around on the web for some easy dinner recipes. Between school, homework, baseball practices and games, homecoming float building nights, my husband's grad school studies and my job search, dinner seems to have become an after thought most nights. NOT OK in my book. I love dinner and us all sitting down together each night. It soothes my soul. BUT, our family is maturing and everyone has their own "thang goin' on". Half of us are zigging when the other half are zagging. Some nights we just can't all sit down. So I went looking for some easy homemade dinners that I could make in the afternoon and we can just heat and eat as we come and go. At the very least, everyone gets a home cooked meal. No frozen dinners, no re-heated take out.

Amongst all the offerings on the ole internet, I found this recipe for Cheeseburger Macaroni. All the ingredients are pantry staples. Nothing obscure, odd or needing a special trip to the store. All things that are easy to keep on hand. Plus, it only uses two pans, easy peasy clean up! That alone will send it to the top of the list. But the very best part of this recipe is that all four of us loved it. The best I ever hope for in a new recipe is a couple of "it's good"s and an "it's ok". I almost never get a unanimous vote. This recipe delivered. I've also shared this recipe with two friends who have confirmed that it was a hit with their families as well. So thumbs up all around. Other than adding a step to blend the Rotel, I only made one other change from the original recipe: I renamed it "Chili Cheeseburger Macaroni".

You can make it with either beef or turkey (I'm showing turkey) and you could swap out the cheddar for some pepper jack to spice it up, or plain old jack to keep it mild. I've made a couple of variations on it but our preference, hands down, is beef and cheddar. See what you think.

Friday, September 21, 2012

All Scratch Yellow Cake

When making cakes I've always used cake mix for the actual cake spending more of my time on making the fillings, buttercreams and glazes from scratch. Seriously, cake is just a delivery medium for frosting and filling as far as I'm concerned. Duncan Hines mixes are my favorite. I've tried other brands but I just don't like them as much. And when you have some elaborate decorating to do, mixes just save time. I also think they taste pretty good. I've had no complaints. All that being said, I've always felt that I should migrate towards making the cakes from scratch as well. 

After the success of the Blue Velvet cupcakes (the cake was so moist and flavorful) I though I'd give another scratch cake recipe a try. I had seen Bakerella's post about the perfect moist yellow cake and decided that was as good a place as any to get started. Because I wanted the whole cake to be "from scratch"* I paired it with a fudgy homemade chocolate icing. A classic All American Cake. Not a fancy schmancy bakery cake but one like your grandma might have made back in the day. See what you think.
*My son quickly pointed out that it wasn't ALL from scratch because I didn't make the sprinkles. Can you forgive me?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Brie Quesadilla

My apologies, I just don't have anything to say for a witty introduction this week. I'm beat! Wiped out. Just plain tired and suffering a bit from writers block. Life has just been such a whirlwind lately and I'm starting to feel it. It's temporary though. I know that. We'll be back on track before ya know it.

But for now,  it's just kind of hard to write a sassy intro when you're just not feeling sassy. So, sassy intro aside, here's what I've got for you this week: Brie Quesadillas. More precisely, Caramelized Onion, Pear and Brie Quesadillas. So easy to make, so impressive and most importantly, so good. The very first step is to caramelize some onions so let's get started. . .

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Caramel Pecan Popcorn

A funny thing happened on the way to make Caramel Corn. I didn't have any light corn syrup. Seriously, how could I be out of light corn syrup. I always have some. Better put it on the grocery list. What I did have is 3 bottles of dark corn syrup. Why? Don't ask me. I must have forgot I had some and then bought more. Then I thought: "Can you make caramel corn with dark corn syrup?" Why not? Then dark caramel corn made me think of Pecan Pie. Mmmmmm, Pecan Pie! Wait . . . hold on . . . I'm getting an idea . . . Caramel Pecan Popcorn! Yes, I always have pecans. I double checked the freezer and there they were. So Caramel Pecan Popcorn it is!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Waffles

. . . And An Appliance Review

If you've been reading this blog, then you know that I'm not a fan of appliances that only serve one function. The "One Trick Ponies" of the appliance world if you will. And, no offense to "Babycakes" but they seem to have a whole line of these "One Trick Ponies". Cake Pop Makers, Pie Pop Makers, Mini Donut Makers, Mini Cupcake Makers, the list goes on and on. Now I'm not faulting you if you have, use and like these machines. They do make light work of these treats. So if you have the counter, cabinet and/or wallet resources for these, and you enjoy them, knock yourself out. They just aren't for me. All that being said, you just can't make waffles without a waffle iron. So I concede my aversion to appliance single taskers in the case of the waffle iron. And . . . as Kohl's just happened to put all their "Babycakes" appliances on sale for $19.99, and . . . as I just so happened to have a 30% off coupon for  Kohl's, I embraced my hypocrisy and purchased the "Waffle Stick Maker". 

And . . . 
I . . . 
LOVE . . . 
It's the 4th waffle iron I've owned and for whatever reason, it seems to work best out of them all. I've used it about 5 or 6 times now and am still loving it. First, I like that it makes the individual "sticks". They are easier for the kids, no knife and fork needed, just a quick dip in syrup and breakfast is a go. Also the turn around seems to be quicker. Less time waiting around for the next waffle, more waffle eating. It has a great non-stick surface*; I've not once oiled or sprayed it and not once have the waffles stuck. A quick wipe with a dry paper towel and it's clean. Lastly, it cooks evenly and the "ready" light actually indicates that the waffles are done. It doesn't have a temperature adjustment and it's orange (not my favorite color), but I don't mind. It works and that's what really matters. 

*I'm also not a big fan of non-stick cookware. I've read too many reputable articles that talk about the toxic off-gassing that can occur when non-stick gets too hot. No thank you, I'll stick to cast iron and stainless steel. But, since those surface temperatures are well above 400°F (which has been proven to happen on cooktops and in ovens) and the waffle stick maker's surface doesn't get nearly that hot, I'm ok with it in this scenario. You'll have to decide for yourself.

So enough about waffle irons, let's get to making some waffles. Up until this weekend I've been using the waffle recipe on the box of "Trader Joe's Buttermilk Pancake All Purpose Baking Mix" with a splash of almond extract (my secret ingredient, shhhh don't tell.) We love 'em. But this saturday was my baby girl's 15th birthday so I wanted it to be a little extra special. What's more special than Chocolate Chocolate Chip Waffles. YUM! I chose Alton Brown's recipe from the Food Network web site. I've had really good luck with many of Alton's recipes so I figured it was a good choice. It got good reviews but many said the cocoa was too overwhelming and they added extra sugar. Not so in my opinion. I made them just like the recipe except for the buttermilk substitution (see below). The whole fam loved these. Five stars all around. A quick dusting of powdered sugar was all they needed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lemon Blondies

One day I was poking around on a few of my favorite blogs and came upon a recipe for "Lemonade Brownies". I though, "Geeze, why didn't I think of that?" I couldn't wait to make some. I seriously love, love, L-O-V-E, lemon desserts. Traditional Lemon Bars and Lemon Meringue Pie are two of my favorites and I'm always on the lookout for more lemon recipes to add to my repertoire. The recipe that piqued my interest used powdered lemonade mix as an ingredient and since I don't generally use that or have it around I went on a search for other lemon brownie recipes. I googled "Lemon Brownies" and the clicked right over to the images. Shamelessly I chose the recipe I did because I loved the picture. (It's a beaute, find it here). Apparently that blogger found the recipe on one of her favorite blogs, and that blogger found it on one of their favorite blogs, and so on, and so on. . . Funny how this whole blog, web thing happens. Anyway, I loved the picture and loved the way the recipe turned out. 
I made just two slight modifications: I took some creative license with the name. When I think of "Brownies" I automatically think chocolate, so I renamed them "Lemon Blondies". Which really isn't correct either because a true blondie has a brown sugar base and there isn't any brown sugar in these. Shhhhh, I won't tell if you don't. The second modification was that I went with a thicker more substantial icing that the glaze the original recipe called for. Once you see how super easy these are to make, you'll be making them for sure!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies 101

Chocolate Chip Cookies. The standard by which all cookies are judged. Everyone has their favorite: thin and crunchy, chewy, thick and caky. You probably like what you grew up with. What your mom made, the first cookie you learned to make. Over the years I've tweaked and fiddled until I came up with what I think is the best chocolate chip cookie ever. Period, end of story. (See this post for more background.) I like a thick caky cookie with just a bit of crunch on the edges. And while most of the time my recipe turns out this way, sometimes it doesn't. They also have great texture the day they are baked but tend to "dry out" and aren't so caky on the second and third day. Hmmmm, I needed to fix this. I did a bit of research on the web which led me to this series of posts by Joe Pastry. (He does a great job breaking down the different cookie versions.) A bit more searching and I arrived here and learned all about Ruth Wakefield's original recipe. It seemed as though I found the fix and as much as it pained me to do so, I set aside my recipe and went with Ruth's.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cake Pops v2.0

Cake Pops, again? I know, seems repetitive, but wait. These are just a bit different. In talking, blogging, researching and reading about cake pops, there seems to be two different methods for making them. I tried the first method (crumbled baked cake mixed with frosting and rolled into balls) in my Blue Velvet Cake Pops post. So this time around I'm going to try the second method: dense cake batter baked into a ball shape. Visually, they look much the same but there are distinct differences in the taste and texture of the finished product. The first method doesn't need any fancy equipment. For the second method you need some way to bake the cake into a ball shape. So, off to the store I went. . .

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Field Trip - Georgetown Cupcake

I didn't have time to cook or bake this week because we spent the week in Washington D.C.. What a great place. So, so, so much to see. We could have stayed another week or two and still not seen or done all there was to see and do. We'll go back, that's for sure. One thing I had to see was "Georgetown Cupcake", the crazy little cupcake shop form the TLC show "DC Cupcake". It was a bit off track for us but I was so close that I had to go. Here is how it went. . .
(And please don't judge me by my picture above. It was about 95 degrees and super humid. And we'd spent ALL DAY walking from monument to monument, museum to museum, and this is what I look like after 10 plus hours in the heat. WOW, please forgive. Oh and it's OK to hate my daughter because she seems to have survived the day and weather still looking adorable. Ah, youth!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crumb Cake

When I say "Crumb Cake" I mean "CRUMB Cake". Seriously this recipe is all about the crumb. The cake is simply a way to deliver the crumbs and this cake delivers. This isn't a crumb topped coffee cake, it's Crumb Cake. Big, tender, moist, cinnamony crumbs on a thin lightly sweetened cake base. This is my "go to" recipe when I need a simple delicious breakfast treat. But don't be limited to breakfast. It would be great with coffee anytime of day. It's basic, simple to make and delicious. I hope you like it. 

Oh and just FYI, this isn't my recipe but I can't remember where I got it. Sooooo, if it looks familiar let me know. I totally want to give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Japanese Souffle Cheesecake

OK, so this doesn't really look that exciting. Kind of plain. But zoom in, check out that texture. Really look at how fluffy it is. Texture is what this recipe is all about. And it delivers. It stays true to the Japanese Aesthetic: simplicity and harmony. Simple common ingredients fashioned together in a precise and delicate method so as to bring all the flavors and textures into complete harmony with each other. WOW, I'm getting kind of philosophical here. We're getting deep. The bottom line is that this is a cheesecake like no other, so don't be fooled by it's simple look.

To be honest, this recipe made me nervous. It had no flour in the recipe. How can you make cake without flour? I Googled "Japanese Souffle Cheesecake", found two other viable recipes (one from Joe Pastry, one from Sprinkle Bakes) and they had flour. But I went with my gut and stuck with this recipe (the description had me so intrigued). There were also a lot, I mean A LOT, of steps. Mess up any one step and all would be lost. This recipe made me nervous, did I say that already? But, well, I had to get my kitchen mojo back and if I could master this then I'd be ready to get back at it. So, I took my time, measured all my ingredients, got all my equipment prepped and went for it. I followed each and every step, precisely and methodically. I took no short cuts and made no modifications. And . . . it . . . was . . . glorious. Seriously one of the best desserts I've ever made. It's all about the texture. So unique, so "melt in your mouth". The taste of cheesecake, but a texture that's indescribable, you're just going to have to try it. Oh and, as a totes added bonus, check out the calories at the end of the recipe. About 1/2 what a traditional cheesecake has. That fact alone will have me making this again and again . . . and again.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fruit Salsa

This is the perfect appetizer for 4th of July. It's simple, delicious and guilt free. Well, ok, it does have sugar but it also has lots of fresh fruit. Oh and it's pretty. Bright red and shiny. Perfect for your next BBQ. I love to bring this to our friend's houses because it's unexpected. It totally outshines the standard old cut fruit platter but still brings fruit to the party. Why risk being another creamy chip and dip offering, go for the fruit. 

And I have to give a shout out to my friend Tabetha. Years ago she hosted a recipe exchange and this (her recipe) is one of the recipes I walked away with and have used again and again. I hope you will to. Thanks Tabetha!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I have a confession to make: I have a crush on Joe Pastry. He's my latest blog crush. It's just a "Blogger Crush", totally anonymous. I mean seriously, I'm a married woman. But I have been stalking his blog for the last month or two and I love it. Totally nuts and bolts pastry making basics. I pretty much want to make everything on his blog. Hey, maybe I could do one of those "Julie and Julia" things and blog about making stuff from his blog. Then someone could blog about reading my blog about making stuff from Joe Pastry's blog. Whoa, whoa, whoa. . .I'm kinda through the looking glass here. Kind of like one of those bathrooms where there is a mirror in front and one in back and you see infinite reflections of yourself. Whoa again, am I making any sense? I think I've had too much coffee today. YIKES! Anywho . . . check out Joe's blog. It has great step by step instructions, with pictures, and recipes for any and all pastry basics.

For my first attempt at one of Joe's recipes I decided to try and make Danish. I love danish, it's my favorite thing from the pastry case. Or should I say, I like good danish. The soggy plastic wrapped blobs from the bread aisle don't cut it. I like buttery, crispy danish. Coconut Custard is my absolute fave but I pretty much like them all, well, except for apple. Don't know why but I just don't really like apple danish. Anywho . . . again . . . boy I'm long winded today . . . check out how I did on my first attempt at a laminated dough . . .

Friday, June 15, 2012

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

When I saw this recipe on the Tasty Kitchen Blog I knew I had to make it ASAP. So urgent was my quest to make this cookie that I went right out and bought the first 8-inch cast iron skillet I could find. (Can't believe I didn't already have one.) No, I didn't shop around for a deal, search the internet and wait for it to be shipped (my usual M.O.) I just snatched up the first one I saw. Was it a deal? Did I pay way too much? I didn't care, and don't want to know. All I knew what this cookie had to be made, at any expense. And so it was made. . .

Do you blame me? Who can resist a hot chewy chocolate chip cookie, served warm with vanilla ice cream. What's not to love. The fact that you make the whole thing in one pan - no sifting, mixing bowls, no separating ingredients, just one 8-inch skillet (and it must, must, must be cast iron) - it's just the "icing on the cake" or cookie, or whatever, you know what I mean. So, make this cookie. . .NOW!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Grilled Cheese and Jam, BAM!

Am I the last person to this party?
Or am I an innovator?
Have people been doing this for ages?
Or am I about to start a new craze?

Some things are just so simple that when you discover them you feel like a complete idiot that you hadn't thought of it. This delicious creation made me feel like the most complete of complete idiots. I know what you're thinking, grilled cheese and jam? What? Gross! But wait, it makes perfect sense. Cheese and fruit have been paired since the dawn of time. Have you ever seen a cheese board that didn't include fruit? Seriously, have you? And what do they serve with the classic Monte Cristo Sandwich? Why jam of course. 

I know, you've got reservations, I had them as well. When our friend Katie told me about this sinfully delicious creation I was totes skeptical. I mean grilled cheese is perfect as is. Did I have it in me to desecrate my beloved Grilled Cheese. But I fancy myself a culinary adventurer so I decided to give it a try. Whoa nelly! I am so so so glad I did. I may never eat grilled cheese without jam again. It's that good. Please, if you've got an ounce of adventure in you, try this sandwich!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Peach Crunch Cake

Hello strangers . . . Did you miss me? . . . Yea, it's been a while. . . I've been busy. . . 
I missed you!

Life as of late has been ca-ray-zee! Little League, swim team, end of year band concerts, end of year projects, awards ceremonies, studying for finals, cleaning out lockers, working, working, did I say working? Between all the kids sports, end of school brew ha ha and my so called part time job taking up 40 hours each week, my poor little blog has been neglected. But NOT abandoned. I could never let it go. Add to it all that the last couple of grand ideas for the blog have ended up flops and well, I've been in a bit of a slump. I'm working on getting my mojo back. Not to worry, there's lots of stuff in the idea file. Good stuff's coming, be patient. Oh and my ancient relic of a camera is on the fritz. Kaput. Photos in this post are courtesy of my iPhone. Thank you Apple!

So, I really haven't had much time to chop, sauté, fold, rest, rise, laminate, knead, roll, cut, flour, dip, decorate, beat or whip. But I did find some time to dump. As in the classic Dump Cake. Which BTW I hate that name "Dump Cake" doesn't really make me think of a cake. But what I do love is how easy, easy, easy, it is. A few simple ingredients dumped, er, layered in a pyrex and voila, dessert. There are literally tons of recipes on the web and I'll bet if you ask your mother, grandmother or Aunt Fanny she'll have some version of this recipe. I went with Bakerella's Peach Crunch Cake. Although it's called "cake" what you end up with isn't really cake. It's more like a cobbler, but gooier. Serve it with vanilla ice cream and you've got the perfect easy summer dessert.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blue Velvet Cake Pops

So I was all set a few days ago to post about Bread Pudding. Mmmmm, bread pudding, one of my absolute favorite desserts. I had never really made it so I tried a recipe from the internet and while it was pretty good, it wasn't perfect. And I wanted it perfect. So, we'll save bread pudding for another day, as soon as I get it perfect. Be patient, it's coming.

But, I bet you've been wondering what I was going to do with that leftover Blue Velvet Cake. Did you guess? Was Bakerella enough of a hint? Were you thinking Cake Pops? Well, if you were, you were right. Cake Pops. Blue Velvet Cake Pops to be exact. 
Wait. . .
I need to back up a bit. . . 
When I first heard of cake pops and cake balls they sounded kind of gross. I didn't think I'd ever make them. Then I discovered Bakerella and I really enjoyed her site. She's seriously the Queen of Cake Pops. Different cake ball and cake pops kept popping up on her blog. But I still wasn't ready to give 'em a try. Then my daughter caught wind of them and begged me to make them with her. So, I gave in and we made them to bring to a party. They were a hit. Everyone loved them. So, I was converted. Yes, they are sweet. But, they are supposed to be. It's cake and icing. So if you're skeptical, like I was, just give in a give 'em a try.

Friday, May 4, 2012


My apologies for taking so long to post. I have not abandoned this blog. I repeat, I HAVE NOT ABANDONED THIS BLOG. Seriously, it's my baby. No, I didn't abandon it, but, well, maybe I neglected it a bit this past week. I've just had a couple of super busy weeks with no time to bake, cook or blog. I've not been a happy camper. But, I'm back. Did you miss me? I totes missed you!!!

So now that you've mastered Pâte à Choux. And you have, haven't you? Lets make eclairs. Eclair is a broad term. If you surf the internet you'll see a wide variety of filling and icing choices as well as many different shapes and sizes. But, for me, a traditional eclair has a vanilla custard (or pastry cream, same difference.) filling and a chocolate icing on top. I'll show you how to make both and then how to assemble the eclair. I used one of Gale Gand's recipes from the Food Network web site but any vanilla pastry cream recipe will work. This is way easy stuff, but oh so impressive and delicious. Let's get started. . .

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Basics: Pâte à Choux

Pâte à Choux. Oh la la, sounds so fancy. So French. So complicated. Complicated? 
Actually, its as easy as it gets. So easy that I mastered "Cream Puff Shells" when I was about 10 years old. 
I loved to cook as a kid (well, duh, I still do.) and I was lucky enough to have a mom that gave me free reign in the kitchen. Cream Puffs and Eclairs always looked so magical at the bakery. Special. A world apart from pies, cakes and cookies. And every once in a great while, my mom would buy one. Just one, and we'd all get a little taste. The crispy shell, the creamy filling, the fudgy top. Heaven! I was determined to figure out this exotic French delight. Then, one boring afternoon, while flipping through a cookbook, if found it. A recipe for cream puff shells. And the ingredients were so so simple: butter, flour, eggs. And even though my mom wasn't much for cooking, at the very least she had those on hand. So, I set to baking and low and behold they turned out on the very first try. All I had to do next was whip up a box of instant vanilla pudding to fill them and slap on some canned chocolate frosting and voila, I was a French chef who made eclairs.

OK, so these days I do a bit better than instant pudding mix, my preference is pastry cream, and I prefer a lighter chocolate glaze to the heavy fudge icing used in grocery stores; the point is they're totally easy to make. Once you master the basics of the shell, fillings (both sweet and savory) are totally up to you. You can fill them with vanilla ice cream and top with hot fudge for a special dessert. Or how about mini puffs filled with herb and salmon cream cheese for an impressive appetizer. Learn how to make the shells and you'll be on your way to infinite pastry creations. I'll also post later about filling and glazing, stay tuned!

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Vista" Blue Velvet

I discovered a new blog a few months ago: Sprinkle Bakes. I've been having a good time poking around on it. It speaks to me. It's quirky and colorful. It's written by Heather; an artist turned self taught baker and a southerner. I instantly liked her. (Well, I've never met her, but, if she has half the personality of her blog, then she must be quite a character.) Maybe we'll meet someday. What I love about Heather's blog is her love of color. And, well, I love color. She also has a great sense of presentation. And, well, I like a great presentation. I think it's the graphic designer in me. Don't get me wrong, first and foremost, I want what I make to taste great. Not just great, I want it to blow your hair back. But, I also like food to be pretty. I want you eyes as well as your taste buds to say "WOW"!

I've been saving recipes from her blog and intending to make them for a few months now. When I discovered her post for Blue Velvet Cupcakes. . .that's right "blue" not "red" velvet. . .I knew it was the first thing I wanted to make. Why? Well because my daughters high school is "Vista", and their colors are Navy Blue and Silver and their rally cry is "Vista Bleeds Blue"! Then it hit me: "Vista Blue Velvet". I couldn't resist the alliteration. I'm weird like that. I'm kinda ashamed I didn't think to make Blue Velvet before. It's really not much of a leap from Red Velvet. Truth be told you could swap out the red coloring in Red Velvet for just about any color. So Blue Velvet it is. . .

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hi-Hat Cupcakes

Recently my dentist did us a huge favor. A really huge favor and I needed to repay the kindness. Over the years we've had several conversations about cupcakes. He's a serious cupcake fiend and I happen to be a pretty good cupcake maker, so cupcakes come up often between us. It's our "common ground". Much of it my boasting about my cupcake making prowess. It's was time to prove my worth. So I made him some cupcakes. But not just any cupcakes, these had to be special. Big fluffy mounds of icing piled high atop chocolate cupcakes and draped in chocolate, Hi-Hats!

Hi-Hat Cupcakes, there's a lot of buzz on the internet about them. Any baking blog worth it's salt has done a version of them. They aren't really complicated but oh so impressive. It's basically just a cupcake with an extra tall swirl of icing that's dipped in chocolate. From what I've been reading, traditionally they are chocolate cupcakes with a vanilla "7 Minute" icing. However, there are infinite variations out there. I stuck with the chocolate cupcake. Why mess with perfection. But I opted for my Marshmallow Buttercream instead of the 7 Minute icing. I felt it was only a slight variation from tradition. 7 Minute icing is marshmallow-ish as it's vanilla, fluffy and sweet. Or maybe it's more akin to a meringue. There's no fat (butter or shortening) in it so it's a good choice if you're trying to avoid that sort of thing. I'm just not particularly fond of it. It's just not creamy enough for my taste. I'm more a buttercream gal but I though traditional buttercream would be too rich to pile that high. Marshmallow Buttercream was the perfect compromise. I hope you agree. . .

Friday, March 30, 2012

Oreo Cookie Pops

Did you know that the Oreo Cookie turned 100 years old on March 6, 2012. Seriously, why wasn't it a national holiday? I'm scratching my head. I mean come on, we're talking about Oreos here. One of the most beloved cookies of all time. And, seeing as I've had an ongoing love affair with Oreos since as long as I can remember, I can't let this milestone pass us by without some "to do". 

These Oreo Pops fall into the category of "So Easy Anyone Can Make Them, But So Impressive That Everyone Will Think You're A Culinary Genius".  They are so simple to make, but show up to a Little League game, a class party or any event with these little gems and you're sure to be the hero. 

But just a warning: shoving food on sticks and dipping into chocolate is addictive. 
You won't be able to stop at Oreos, you'll be reaching for Nutter Butters, Marshmallows, fruit, leftover cake, rice crispy treats. . .whatever you can find. 
So pace yourself. Proceed with caution. . .

Friday, March 23, 2012

Beef Stew

I love beef stew.
I love meals that cook in one pot.
I love slow cooked meats.
I love meals of slow cooked meat that cook in one pot so you can clean up the kitchen while it's cooking and then eat way too much because it's just so good and then fall asleep on the couch watching a zombie movie because the kitchen is already cleaned up and then wake up sweaty from your totally scary zombie dream and go have more ste. . . . TMI?

I love this recipe. . .

It's kind of hard to wax poetic about beef stew because, as I write, it is totes sunny out today. Birds are chirping, breeze is blowing and it's Spring. Or is it? Forecast says were due for a rainy weekend and what's better on a rainy weekend that a hearty pot of beef stew. And this dear readers is one of the best darn beef (or pork, or elk, or venison) stew recipes around. The ingredients are simple and inexpensive and the steps uncomplicated. It's all about the cooking order, developing the individual flavors and then gently melding them all together. Seriously, don't skip any steps, no shortcuts. This is serious stew fixin'!

And no potatoes. "What?" you say. "Beef stew without potatoes?", "Sacrilege!" OK, now hear me out. I love potatoes, oh mama, how I love potatoes. But not in stew. They get all mushy, mealy and fall apart. The "stewing" robs all their flavor and they end up gritty globs of bland tasteless starch, completely ruining the silky texture of the stew. 

But. . . you can always serve it over mashed potatoes. Mmmmm, good!

But. . . as much as I love mashed potatoes, oh mama, how I love mashed potatoes, my preference is to serve the stew over creamy cheddar polenta (recipe below). 
Seriously, you've got to try it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Potato Gnocchi

I need to preface this post by telling you that I've not got a drop of Italian blood in me. Zero, nada, zilch. No Uncle Ginos or Aunt Ginas hanging out on the family tree. No Grandma from the Old World. Nope, there's no mediterranean blood flowing through these veins. Heck the closest thing I had to pasta growing up was Stouffer's. Occasionally my mom would pour a jar of Ragu over noodles but that's about as Italian as it got. And to this day, brace yourselves, I've never made homemade sauce. I've always made do with the jar. 

Shhh. . .did you hear that? 
That sound? 
The sound of a thousand Italian Grandmothers suddenly crying out in agony?

OK, seriously, not that I couldn't probably make a decent tomato sauce, I just never have. I guess that'll be one for the cooking Bucket List. And I'm not totally inept when it comes to making pasta dishes. I can throw together a decent Fettuccini with Alfredo. My point is, when I venture into Italian Cuisine, I do it with complete naivete.

So for my first, from scratch, Italian specialty I decided to try my hand a Gnocchi. I may not know Italian but my more northern ancestors certainly know potatoes. Gnocchi just sound so inviting. Soft, tender potato dumplings. Mmmmmm! To be honest, I made a few mistakes, but, all in all, they turned out pretty good. I am certainly going to keep making them and keep trying to improve. Once I've got it mastered, the variations will be endless. See how I did. . .