Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oreo Truffles, Buckeyes, and Turtles

Oreo Truffles and Buckeyes

Home-made candies and treats make great gifts around the holidays.  I made some winners this year, and wanted to share the recipes. They are all SUPER easy and VERY tasty.

Oreo Truffles (these won me first place in a bake-off at work):

1) 1 box of Oreo Cookies (regular, not double stuff)
2) 1 block of cream cheese (full fat) softened at room temperature
3) 16 oz of semi-sweet Baker's Chocolate, melted

1) Put the cookies into a food processor and grind into fine crumbs like sand (you may need to do a few batches). * Don't try to do this by hand.  A food processor is key.
2) Pour the crumbs into a bowl, and mix the crumbs with the room temperature cream cheese. (You will need to work/knead the cream cheese and cookie crumbs together with your hands). Form into a glossy brown dough.
3) Use a scoop (like a melon baller) to roll the dough into small 1 inch balls (if too sticky, let the dough firm up in fridge if it starts to get melty)
4) Put on a wax paper lined sheet, and let them sit in the freezer for about an hour so you can handle them better later when you dip them in the chocolate.
5) Melt 8 ounces (1 box) of bakers chocolate in the microwave. Do not over-heat.  Follow the directions on melting chocolate. Always put in for about 30 seconds, stir, 30 seconds, stir etc....at the end, stir really fast and you'll melt the rest, but don't overheat.  Melt the other 8 oz when ready and repeat with remaining Oreo balls.
6) Drop in an Oreo ball into the chocolate and pull out with a spoon, so you coat the whole ball. The chocolate will stick well and smoothly to the frozen ball.  Then put in the fridge to harden them.
7) Optional:  roll in nuts, coconut, Oreo crumbs, etc.
8) Keep cool


1) 3 - 4 cups of powdered sugar
2) 1 stick of butter, softened
3) 1 1/2 cups of peanut butter
4) 1 teaspoon of vanilla
5) 16 oz of semi-sweet Bakers Chocolate

1) Mix together the powdered sugar, butter, peanut butter and vanilla.  Once the dough starts to form, you'll need to use your hands.  If the texture is too crumbly, add a little peanut butter...if too mushy, add a little powdered sugar.  You should be able to easily roll them into balls.
2) Use a melon baller to scoop out the dough and roll into small 1 inch balls onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper
3) Put balls on a wax paper lined sheet, and let them sit in the freezer for about an hour so you can handle them better later when you dip them in the chocolate.
4) Melt 8 ounces (1 box) of bakers chocolate in the microwave. Do not over-heat.  Follow the directions on melting chocolate. Always put in for about 30 seconds, stir, 30 seconds, stir etc....at the end, stir really fast and you'll melt the rest, but don't overheat.  Melt the other 8 oz when ready and repeat with remaining balls.
5) Use a toothpick and dip about 3/4's of the way into the chocolate, place on wax paper lined sheet, and remove toothpick.  You can smooth over the toothpick whole easily.  * Note:  If the balls are not frozen, it will be really hard to handle.
6) Put in the fridge to harden them


1) A bag of Mini Pretzels
2) 2-3 Bags of Rollo's
3) Halved Pecans

1) Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees
2) Lay as many pretzels as you can fit onto a wax paper lined baking sheet
3) Unwrap the Rolo candy
4) Place one Rolo on the center of each mini pretzel
5) Put the pretzels into the oven for 3-5 minutes (4 works for me) until the Rolo is slightly melted on top of the pretzel
6) Take out of the oven ans move to step 7 immediately
7) Gently press (squish) a pecan half into the melted Rolo so it spreads across the pretzel
8) Cool completely.
9) Repeat until you run out of Pretzels/Rolos/Pecans

Enjoy these yummy and easy treats!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie - Enough Said.

1 1/4 cups of pecan halves
1 cup of light corn syrup
1 cup of sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 eggs beaten lightly
2 Tablespoons of melted butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 10 inch (9 oz) pre-made graham cracker crust (I know, not traditional, but it is good!)

Mix together the corn syrup, sugar, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. Then stir in the pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into the pie shell and bake for about 45-55 minutes on 350 degrees.  If the top looks nice and brown, go ahead and take it out, if you overbake it too much, it will be hard to cut.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Sugar Queen: Read with a slice of Caramel Apple Cheesecake


The book, The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen is the story of a sheltered young woman, Josey Cirrini, daughter of a rich Italian man and her Southern Belle mother, who lives in a ski town in North Carolina in the house she grew up in. She doesn't have much of a social life, and mainly takes care of her aging mother.  Through a series of interesting events and magical characters,  Josey learns to live her life..  The book has humor, romance and mystery, and is a fun read.  I read it on the plane from Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale last weekend and back.  Each chapter is titled after a candy, which ties into the theme of the chapter. Did I mention that Josey is obsessed with candy?  There is also a superstitious maid in the book who thinks peppermint oil keeps evil spirits away....some very funny and amusing characters.

1 - Everlasting Gobstoppers
2 - Rock Candy
3 - SweeTarts
4 - Sno Caps
5 - Lemon Drops
6 - Sour Patch
7 - Sugar Daddy
8 - Jawbreakers
9 - Snow Candy
10 - Mellowcreme Pumpkins
11 - Candy Hearts
12 - Mr. Goodbar
13 - Lifesavers
14 - Now and Later

It is very intriguing, that Josey's friend, Chloe Findley, has an odd relationship with books...they magically appear in every situation based on what she is going through in her life.  The books that keep showing up in Chloe's apartment whenever she needs guidance were titled:

Finding Forgiveness
Old Love: New Direction
A Girl's Guide to Keeping Her Guy
Madame Bovary
The Complete Homeowner's Guide

You can learn more about the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Sugar-Queen-Random-Readers-Circle/dp/0553384848/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290478966&sr=1-1

Since all kinds of sweets, candies and pies are mentioned in the book (Apple, Strawberry and Rhubarb to name a few), I decided to make a very decadent dessert...wait for it....

Caramel Apple Cheesecake!  I used a Paula Deen recipe, the Queen of Sweets! 

You can find the recipe at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/caramel-apple-cheesecake-recipe/index.html

It was very good - the middle was a little soft, so I would recommend baking a little longer (35 minutes versus 30), and putting in the freezer before serving to harden it a little.

Very delicious!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Willy Wonka River of Chocolate Cake

If you've seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory then you remember the river of chocolate that poor Augustus got swept away in...thank goodness for the Oompa Loompas who rescued him.

I  made this most chocolaty cake for a bake-off at work:

Cake Ingredients:
1 box of Devil's Food Cake Mix (I used Duncan Hines)
1 box of of Chocolate Pudding Mix (3.9 oz box)
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup of sour cream
4 eggs
1/2 cup of water
2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Icing Ingredients:
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 Tablespoons of melted butter

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
2) Butter and flour (do a good job of this) a non-stick bundt pan
3) Mix together all the cake ingredients (except the chips) and mix well
4) Add the chocolate chips
5) Pour into the bundt pan
6) Bake 40-50 minutes (it will still look a little underdone - mine was closer to 50 minutes)
7) Let cool in the pan about 15 -30 minutes
8) Invert cake and let cool completely
9) Melt butter in the microwave and then stir in the cup of chocolate chips and mix until creamy. You may need to microwave a few more seconds
10) Pour over cake and let cool

We'll see if I win the First Place Prize tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's Time for Scarves and Jessica's Easy and Healthy Powder Keg Chili

I feel a chill in the air, we've set the clocks back, and tis the season for making Chili!

1 pound ground sirloin (it's ok if the pack is a little bigger)
1 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, sliced in small moons (cut in half lengthwise, then half again several times on each side, then dice across)
A big handful of pre-shredded carrots
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 6 oz can of  tomato paste (use half the can if you want it to be less tomatoey)
1 can of pinto beans (chili beans) in spicy sauce
2 1/2 cups of chicken broth/stock
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper ( I used closer to 1/2, but depends on your taste)
3 -4 Tablespoons chili powder (I use closer to 4, but depends on your taste)
2 -3 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) Spray the bottom of a big pot with non stick cooking spray and put over high heat on the stove
2) Brown the ground beef and chopped onion together, breaking up the meat. Cook for about 5 minutes or until brown
3) Add in the cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, sugar and salt and continue to brown meat/onions another minute or two
4) Pour in the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili beans, and tomato paste and cook for another minute or two
5) Add in the shredded carrots, diced/sliced zucchini and the broth
6) Bring to a boil
7) Reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes partially covered
8) Taste the chili - you may need to add more cayenne pepper, salt, chili powder etc. depending on your taste....if it gets too thick, just add more broth.

I liked to top mine with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream, but you could crush tortilla chips on top and squeeze in a lime...the possibilities are endless.

Very healthy, lots of veggies and a perfect Fall food!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Little Bee: Create a "buzz" with this Beef Wellington

 A slice of my Beef Wellington Served with Green Peppercorn Sauce and Potatoes

I borrowed this book from Melissa and it was awesome

What a novel....Little Bee by Chris Cleave will blow you away.  This was probably one of the most well written, easy to read, and surprisingly good books I have read in a long time. The plot involves several very unlikely characters:  a charmingly courageous refugee from Nigeria, "Little Bee"; a compassionate British magazine editor, and her hilarious and precocious four year old British son (who prefers to be addressed as Batman).  It's basically a story of the journey of a refugee from Nigeria who makes a new life in England. I read this on the plane and the stranger in the seat next to me probably thought I was nuts because I literally laughed out loud in parts.  The author picks the most colorful, vivid and perfect words to describe their thoughts.  A fantastic read - I would recommend for any book club.

You can find more about the book at:  http://www.amazon.com/Little-Bee-Novel-Chris-Cleave/dp/1416589643/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1288571115&sr=8-1

So why a Beef Wellington you may wonder?  The book is based in England, and Beef Wellington is a very traditional British dish.  I went in search of the perfect recipe and found Tyler Florence's recipe for the Ultimate Beef Wellington.  You can find the recipe at:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/the-ultimate-beef-wellington-recipe2/index.html

Here is the Beef Wellington before I cut it. It looked like a loaf of bread!

My Beef Wellington garnished with Thyme and Chives
 This recipe was OUTSTANDING.  I will most definitely make it again. I will warn you that it does take some work, and the ingredients are a little pricey, but make this for a special occasion, and I assure you, your guests will be so impressed.  I made this for my family, and they thought I was a gourmet chef.

Check out the full recipe on the website, but below is the basic method I used:

1) You will need to buy a beef tenderloin. This is basically the fillet Mignon before they slice it. The recipe calls for a 3 pound beef tenderloin, but I was serving a smaller crowd, so I bought one that was a little over 2 pounds.  I went to Publix, and I didn't see any in the meat case, but I asked the butcher to cut me a beef tenderloin, and after doing a little shopping for my other ingredients, I came back and it was all ready for me. 
2) You will need to buy about 10 slices of thinly sliced prosciutto.  Make sure to get the authentic kind, which you can also find at the Publix deli counter.
3) You will need to make a Duxelle.  In order to do this, you will finely chop (in your food processor) mushrooms, shallots, garlic and thyme, which you then saute in olive oil for about 30 minutes or until it is a dry consistency.
4) Then, you will sear the meat on all sides.  Just pour some olive oil on the meat, and in the pan, and using tongs let it sear on each side including the ends.  Make sure to tie it up with kitchen twine before doing this to make for easier handling. Then make sure to cut off the twine :)
5) You will put a big piece of plastic wrap down on the counter and then "shingle" the prosciutto in a row top to bottom, overlapping them slightly.
6) You take the Duxelle you made and spread it over the prosciutto.  It spreads almost like a pate and looks like it too.
7) You put some Dijon mustard on the beef, and then lay it on the row of Duxelle lined Prosciutto
8) Then you use the plastic wrap to roll the tenderloin up very tightly, and seal it, and then put in the fridge for about 30 minutes. It will look like a log.
9) Roll out the puff pastry and then wrap it around the log (take the plastic wrap off first!) Cut slits in the top to let steam escape.
10) Bake at 425 degrees F for about 40 minutes and then let is sit (tented with foil) on top of the stove.

Then...the sauce....you must make it to go along with your dish. It takes some time, but basically it is a reduction of beef broth, brandy (yes, a whole cup) and cream.  Be very patient and let it reduce in half two times as instructed.  You even get to flambe the brandy with a match, and you will feel very impressed with yourself. The one thing I would leave out next time are the green peppercorns.  The recipe calls for a half cup, which is way too many for this sauce in my opinion. I would probably leave them out all together and put in some black pepper, or maybe just add a few in for looks.

It was AWESOME. I served with roasted potatoes.  Make this when you have some time to dedicate to it, but I promise it is worth it, and if I can do it, anyone can.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Special Edition: Tis the Season for Pumpkin Bread

Slices of my yummy Pumpkin Bread

The second loaf I made was Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Tis the season for Pumpkin! The leaves are changing colors, the air is crisp, and Halloween is right around the corner.  I love Fall! I bought my Pumpkins for my front porch from Whole Foods, and I have a big yellow Mum from Home Depot siting next to them.

I found this recipe for Pumpkin Bread at: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Downeast-Maine-Pumpkin-Bread/Detail.aspx.

I changed things up a little.


  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree

  • 4 eggs

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 2/3 cup water

  • 3 cups white sugar

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

  • * Note, I didn't have the ground cloves or ground ginger, so I added a teaspoon of Pumpkin Pie Spice along with the cinnamon and nutmeg. I was a little heavy handed with the spices, but you could use less if you would like a more mild bread.


    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans. * Note: I used 2 bigger loaf pans (I think they were 9x5).
    2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
    3. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
    Some tips:

    - Before I poured the batter into the pans, I greased them heavily with butter and then lightly floured them.  As a result, my loaves came out of the pans so easily.
    - Because I used two pans instead of three, I kept my loaf in the oven for about an hour and then turned off the oven and kept it in about 15 minutes with the door closed because the top was starting to burn, but the inside wasn't done.
    - Make sure you leave enough room between the racks so your loaves have plenty of room to rise - they rise quite a bit.
    - After I poured the batter into the pans, I stirred some mini chocolate chips into one of the loaves (about a cup).

    I brought the pumpkin bread to my tennis match and everyone really liked it.  I wrapped up the other loaf and put it in the freezer for another day! Yum!

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    The Girl Who Played with Fire - Eat with Greek Dolmas

    Here are a few of the Dolmas I made - I made like 50 of them!

    Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

    Now, what, might you ask, do Greek Dolmas have anything to do with this Swedish book, The Girl who Played with Fire?

    Well, two things, 1) this was the challenge recipe given to me this month from the Daring Cooks, and 2) when I was in Greece in 2004, I remember a lot of Swedish people were there on vacation.

    Also, in the book, Faste, one of the side characters, "closed his eyes for a second and thought about a visit he had paid to the police in Greece when he was on vacation some years earlier."

    The Girl who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larson, is a follow-up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I blogged about in my first post.  This book is a page turner, and I found it easier to read than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The setting starts out in Grenada, where Lisbeth Salander (the main character) is hiding out.  Quickly, the book turns into a murder mystery with Salander as the main suspect.  The plot thickens...I couldn't put it down.

    You can learn more about this book at: http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Who-Played-Fire-Vintage/dp/030745455X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1287350770&sr=8-1

    There are several food references in the book:
    1) The strong coffee is still mentioned throughout and well as sandwiches- those Swedes like their coffee and sandwiches.
    2) In Grenada, Lisbeth "sat on the veranda and ordered a plate of calamari and chips with a bottle of Carib, the local beer."
    3) Back in Sweden, "Mia Johansson cut the cheesecake and decorated each slice with a scoop of raspberry ice cream."
    4) Lisbeth is constantly stocking up on Billy's Pan Pizza. This is a real Swedish pizza as I looked up the website: http://www.billys.com/

    Here is a picture of the food she eats all the time
    5) Those cinnamon rolls I blogged about in The Girl with the Dragon tattoo reappear, "....turned to see officer Bubble balancing two cups of coffee on his notebook, with a blue bag of cinnamon rolls from the local kiosk in the other hand."

    Here is the recipe I used to make the Greek Dolmas:

    The filling I used contained:
    1 and 1/3 lb of ground beef browned with 1 chopped yellow onion in 2 Tbsp of olive oil
    I added in:
    2 1/2 cups of cooked white rice
    2 ounces of pine nuts
    1/4 cup of raisins
    3 Tbsp tomato paste
    1 1/2 Tbsp dried dill weed
    1 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
    1 1/2 Tbsp dried mint
    4 tsp kosher salt (to taste)
    2 tsp all spice
    2 tsp cumin
    1 tsp ground pepper

    I used jarred grape leaves that i found in Whole Food and rinsed them according to the directions in boiling water.

    I found these Grape Leaves at Whole Foods
    I then rolled them up with the filling, and put them in a pan with some olive oil, lemon juice and water to finish them. I garnished with lemon juice, parsley, green onions and mint. They fell apart a little bit at the end, but they were pretty tasty.

    I probably won't make them again, but if you're a Dolmas fan, it really was pretty easy!

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Toast to the Weekend with Challah French Toast with Blackberry/Raspberry Sauce

    Toast to the weekend with this fabulous French Toast

    I made the most delicious French Toast.  I just finished two books for my upcoming posts, but I couldn't resist posting this recipe.  I did get this recipe from Ina Garten's cookbook. This recipe was on the front cover of her cookbook.

    You can get the recipe at:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/challah-french-toast-recipe/index.html

    I doubled the recipe as I had a large group, but the single recipe is listed below.

    • 6 extra-large eggs
    • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half or milk (I used whole milk)
    • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
    • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon good honey
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 large loaf challah or brioche bread (I used Challah bread - bakery section at Publix)
    • Unsalted butter
    • Vegetable oil
    I made a blackberry/raspberry syrup to go on top of the french toast. I took a bag of frozen blackberries and half a bag of frozen raspberry and brought to a boil on the stove along with confectioners sugar.  I used quite a bit of the confectioners sugar (maybe 1 cup), but you could use more or less. Start with less and keep adding until it tastes how you like it.  I let it simmer until a thick syrup like consistency. It was perfect.

    Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

    In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, orange zest, vanilla, honey, and salt. Slice the challah in 3/4-inch thick slices. Soak as many slices in the egg mixture as possible for 5 minutes, turning once.

    Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a very large saute pan over medium heat. Add the soaked bread and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Place the cooked French toast on a sheet pan and keep it warm in the oven. Fry the remaining soaked bread slices, adding butter and oil as needed, until it's all cooked. Serve hot with maple syrup, raspberry preserves, and/or confectioners' sugar OR make the Blackberry/Raspberry Syrup I made...yum :)

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society: Read this with my version of Potato Pie

    My version of Potato Pie

    Another Costco Find

    I was looking through the books at Costco again last weekend, and saw this book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  The funny title is what caught my attention, and I wanted to find out more.  The book is a series of letters from the narrator, Juliet, to her friends in England, and members of a random book club in Guernsey, Channel Islands, after World War II.  I loved this book - the narrator, Juliet, is witty, silly and charming.  I learned a lot about the small island of Guernsey, which I had never heard of before reading this book.  The book is light hearted and easy to read, however, there are some very sad parts about the war as well. I highly recommend it - you could easily finish on a round trip plane ride (for the travelers out there). It's a little confusing for the first few pages, but then the letters continue to build on each other and after a few pages, you won't want to put it down.  For the cooks out there, Juliet references in the book that she used The Beginner's Cook-Book for Girl Guides

    She writes:
    It was just the thing: the writer assumes you know nothing about cookery and writes useful hints - "when adding eggs, break the shells first." 
    I googled this cookbook, but nothing came up, so I assume it is fictional. However, it made me laugh because I have some friends who could use a book like this.

    You can learn more about this book at: http://www.amazon.com/Guernsey-Literary-Potato-Society-Readers/dp/0385341008/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284301091&sr=1-1

    In the book, the setting is post WWII, so rations were still a part of everyday living. The book club in Guernsey bakes a Potato Peel Pie for their book club, because they only had a few ingredients.  The book doesn't go into tremendous detail on what this is, and I'm fairly certain this pie is also fictional, so I decided to make my version of "Potato Peel Pie" from a family recipe -- a dish called Potato Kugel,  which is an Eastern European dish,- it is delicious!


    6 medium baking potatoes
    2 medium onions
    3 large eggs
    1/3 cup all purpose flour
    1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1/8 teaspoons white pepper (I used black pepper since I didn't have white)
    4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil

    1. Peel the potatoes and then grate them (I use the shredder on the food processor) (note: you do not need the peel - throw those away - in the book, they use the peels for a topping, but you don't need those here!)
    2. Peel and then grate the 2 onions and add to the potato mixture
    3. Drain/push some of the excess water out of the mixture
    4. Beat the eggs until thick and then add to the potato/onion mixture
    5. Add the rest of the ingredients including: flour, salt, pepper, oil and blend with a fork
    6. Pour the mixture into a large pan (about 11x15 or something close)
    7. Bake on 350 degrees for an hour or until golden brown. You may need to add 15 minutes to that.
    8. Cool a little and cut into squares

    Before I cut it.  Note: The brown burned looking edges are the best part. I'll eat all the end pieces!
    These looked so good I was tempted to cut them a little too early. Wait til it cools closer to room temperature before cutting, and you will get nice even squares.  Cut too early, and you'll get the above!

    I hope you enjoy! This is extremely easy to make, and would go with any dish that you would serve potatoes with!

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Life's Little Instruction Book: Life's short. Eat more cheesecake and fewer rice cakes.

    A slice of my Raspberry Cheesecake

    A few years ago I picked up a book on the bargain shelf at Border's called The Complete Life's Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown Jr.  It is a really good book for your coffee table, bathroom, office etc. with some great nuggets of wisdom.  I typed up my favorites and hung up the list in my office for those days I need some inspiration.

    You can learn more about the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Lifes-Little-Instruction-Book/dp/1401603327/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284080948&sr=1-1

    I was flipping through this book again this week, and came across one of my favorite life lessons: eat more pancakes and fewer rice cakes.  I also saw an Ina Garten recipe for a Raspberry Cheesecake I've been wanting to make, so the moon and stars all aligned. So, let's eat more Cheesecake and fewer rice cakes!!!

    I used one of my favorite Ina Garten cookbooks, Barefoot Contessa Family Style, for the recipe.

    Ina's recipe for her Raspberry Cheesecake, can be found at:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/raspberry-cheesecake-recipe/index.html

    I followed the recipe, and it came out great.  It is pretty easy, but there are a lot of steps with the oven.  You change the temperature several times (first 450 for 15 minutes, then 225 for 1 hour and 15 mins, then turn off the oven, but leave it in for 30 minutes with the door open, then cool for 2 hours, then put in fridge)....quite a process. I also bought and used by first spring form pan, which was fun!

    I made this cake for my family and family friends tonight. They LOVED it.  They said it was light, fluffy and delicious. I would definitely make this again.

    Some of my favorite lesson from The Complete Life's Little Instruction Book (There are 1500+ lessons):

    68 - Be brave. Even if you're not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.
    127 - Wear audacious underwear under the most solemn business attire
    171 - Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts
    186 - Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.
    205 - Loosen up. Relax. Except for rare life-and-death matters, nothing is important as it first seems
    220- Don't major in minor things
    271 - When facing a difficult task, act as though it is impossible to fail.  If you're going after Moby Dick, take along the tarter sauce.
    346 - Be bold and courageous.  When you look back on your life, you'll regret the things you didn't do more than the ones you did.
    358 - Be decisive even if it means you'll sometimes be wrong
    401 - Don't ever watch hot dogs or sausage being made
    460 - Look for opportunities to make people feel important
    505- Be a leader: Remember the lead sled dog is the only one with a decent view
    525 - When you feel terrific, notify your face.
    553-Talk slow but think quick
    593 -When you have the choice of two exciting things, choose the one you haven't tried
    707- Don't be a person who says, "Ready, fire, aim."
    708 - Don't be a person who says, Ready, aim, aim."
    711 - Read more books
    969 - Travel. See new places, but remember to take along an open mind.
    1005 - Life is short. Eat more pancakes and fewer rice cakes.
    1427 - Never make fun of people who speak broken English.  It means they know another language.
    1435 - Enter a room or meeting like you own the place.
    1458 - Never go up a ladder with just one nail.

    Sunday, September 5, 2010

    Special Edition: What came first - the cookie or the cake? Caramel, Butterscotch Cookie

    My butterscotch, caramel Claire cookie
    For those of you that read my 2nd post about the Caramel Cake I made when I read the book The Help, you may understand of why I wanted to attempt something a little bit easier for my next baking activity.  I was heading to a BBQ, and wanted to bring some cookies, and I didn't want to have to leave my house to buy any ingredients, so I used what I had, and I think a masterpiece was made.

    1 box moist yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Butter Recipe Mix)
    1 stick of butter (melted)
    1/3 cup of packed light brown sugar
    1 bag (or almost a bag) of butterscotch chips (I used Toll House - the normal small/medium size bag)
    2 eggs (I used extra large Eggland's Best)
    1 tsp of vanilla
    1 cup leftover frosting from my caramel cake (or any caramel sauce would do)

    * Pre-Heat your oven to 350 degrees
    1) Pour the cake mix into a bowl
    2) Stir in the brown sugar
    3) Put an unwrapped stick of butter in the microwave (in a cup) for 30-60 seconds to melt
    4) Pour the butter into the mix and hand stir
    5) Add in the 2 eggs and hand stir
    6) Add in the vanilla and hand stir
    7) Add in about 3/4 of the bag of the butterscotch chips (less or more as you like)
    8) Continue to hand stir until the dough is shiny and forms into a big ball
    9) Put the dough in the fridge for a few minutes so it is easier to handle (about 15 mins, and put it in there whenever you are waiting between batches)
    10) Take a big tablespoon full or so (I didn't measure) of the dough and roll into a ball (doesn't have to be exact) and place on cookie sheet.  I made 3 batches and was able to make 2 batches of 12 cookies and also a 3rd batch of three cookies only.  (If you make smaller ones, you might make more)
    11) Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes (less if you make small ones).  They should look a little bit undone - that is OK and is what makes them good. 
    12) Let them sit on the tray for 2 minutes (or until they look like you can move without destroying them).  Take a sharp spatula and quickly and boldly move those cookies onto a sheet of wax paper to cool
    13) This next step is OPTIONAL:   I had about a cup of the leftover caramel frosting from my cake and I put it in the microwave to make into a caramel sauce. I had to mix in a little cream to get it going.  I then drizzled the sauce over each cookie.  If you don't have this frosting, you could quickly make a caramel sauce by boiling brown sugar and butter and a little milk or you could make a glaze with powdered sugar and milk or you could buy a caramel sauce.

    These are awesome.  Everyone at the party thought they were insanely good.  If they are NOT melt in your mouth delicious, then you baked them too long.  If they don't rise, check how old your cake mix is, or if your oven temp is off.  Also if the dough was too warm before you put them in the oven, they might not rise as well.

    Also, I have to give a shout out to Claire.  Claire is a lady my ALTA team played several years ago at an away match up in Cherokee county, and she brought awesome chocolate cookies to our match.  She told us she made them from a cake mix recipe in the Cake Mix Doctor book.  Over the years, I used this "idea" to make all kinds of cookies. Claire, from ALTA, wherever you are, thanks!!!

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Eat Pray Love - Read this while loving this Spaghetti all' Amatriciana - you'll pray to eat more!

    My Spaghetti all' Amatriciana

    So, I must admit, I read Eat Pray Love for the first time about a year and half ago before it became a popular movie and before the cover of the book changed to the Julia Roberts inspired cover.  I typically like to pick up my books at the bookstore or online, but this was actually one of the first books I read from the library since I was a kid, as I realized there is the most adorable little Library within walking distance from me. I went to check it out one day, and saw this book. When I walked in, I remember saying, "I think I need to like renew my membership," which seemed to really amuse the librarian...they are very serious about ones library patronage apparently. Library books still have that indescribable library smell in case you were curious.  This week, I decided to pick up the book and re-read the "Eat" section of course.  P.S. - still haven't seen the movie as I've heard mixed reviews.

    I really liked the book (note: not loved the book) - it's basically about a 30ish woman who goes through a divorce and decides to travel through Italy (Eat), and India (Pray) and Indonesia (Love).  Some of the chapters were a little slow, but overall I would recommend it.  It's fun to ponder the idea of leaving your current life, and responsibilities for a year and just travel the world like the author does, although for most of us fairly unrealistic.  However, you can get a glimpse of several cultures through the author's journey, and it's a worthwhile read. A whole third of the book written about her ability to gain 23 pounds in Italy - can't go wrong with that!

    One of my favorite cities to visit is Rome, and I think it is because of the food mostly...hmm...I think I'm ready for a trip back.

    You can learn more about the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Eat-Pray-Love-Everything-Indonesia/dp/0143118420/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282710129&sr=8-1

    Throughout the Eat section of the book the author talks about various pizza and pasta dishes of course, and specifically highlights the best pizza she's ever had in Naples, Italy, at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele as well as Spaghetti all' Amatriciana, which is a pasta dish made with tomatoes, onions and italian bacon.

    I researched a few recipes, and decided to go with Anne Burrell's Recipe as I recall that I saw her make this on one of her episodes.

    Some new things I tried for the first time:
    - The recipe called for San Marzano tomatoes, which come from a certain region in Italy - you can find them at Publix (although I had to go to two stores to find them)

    - The recipe also said to put the tomatoes through a food mill - another item I didn't have, so I went to Bed Bath and Beyond and bought one, http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?order_num=-1&SKU=11951627 - definitely a very ancient looking contraption.

    This was the food mill I bought
    - The recipe also called for Guanciale, which is a cured pig cheeks!  As you can imagine, I didn't find this item at Publix, and bought Pancetta, Italian bacon, from the deli counter instead, which is a good substitute.
    - Also, the recipe called for Bucatini, a tubular pasta, but I used Spaghetti Rigati instead, which is basically spaghetti with ridges - helps hold on to the sauce!

    Found this at Publix

    Overall, everyone really liked it, and they said it was AWESOME! I will definitely make it again.  I took a short cut and ordered the Margherita Pizza from Blue Moon Pizza to go along with the delicious pasta.

    Although, I hear that Varasano's Pizza in Atlanta has the best Neapolitan style pizza in the US - at least according to Rachel Ray - I'll have to add that to the list!


    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    The Help - Read this and Help yourself to a Slice of Southern Caramel Cake

    Help yourself to a a slice of my Caramel Cake

    The Help, by Kathryn Stockett is AMAZING! You must read this book - so hard to put down! It was easy to read and interesting. It's a fictional story told from the point of view of the maids (the help) that raised the children in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's and offers a point of view that I've never read anywhere else. The characters in the book are so fun and hilarious, and you will become so wrapped up in their individual stories. At the end, it was hard to believe that it was just a book - it seems like all the characters should be real people, and you really get to know them. I was kind of sad they weren't real when I finished the last page. And...let me just tell you, that the "surprise cake" Minnie makes, is the funniest thing EVER and well deserved.  Don't get mad, get even! It will make you laugh, cheer, and cry in a few parts...and surely give you a perspective you may have never thought about otherwise.  Minnie was known for her Caramel Cake, so I decided to make one!

    You can learn more about the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Help-Kathryn-Stockett/dp/0399155341/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1282093833&sr=8-1#

    Throughout the book, Minnie, one of the main characters makes all kinds of Southern Cakes. The one that caught my eye that I wanted to make was the Caramel Cake.

    I first tried Caramel Cake in Athens, Georgia where I went to college at the University of Georgia.  There are several restaurants in Athens which serve cakes from a local baker, Cecilia Villaveces. She has a bakery in Athens called Cecilia Villaveces Cakes.  I first tried her cakes (and my first caramel cake) at Last Resort Grill and also at Lumpkin Cafe.  I haven't been there in several years, so I'm not sure if they still sell her cakes or not.

    The noted Caramel Cake from Cecilia's in Athens, GA
    See the gallery of her cakes

    I looked online for several Caramel Cake recipes to try. Here were a few I looked at:


    I saw on author Kathryn Stockett's website a recipe for the Caramel Frosting from the Memphis Junior League Cookbook. I thought this had to be authentic, and very different from the one on Paula Deens' website.

    Apparently, this must be popular because the cookbook was sold out. The Memphis Cookbook, first published in 1952, has the distinction of being the second oldest community cookbook in continuous publication.

    Paula Deen vs. the Junior League?  Probably evenly matched, but I think I'll go with Paula as she has the cake, filling and frosting recipe. Also, the Junior League frosting recipe calls for a cast iron skillet - and I realized I don't have one of those.

    I used Paula Deen's Recipe, and here is my masterpiece!

    My Caramel Cake!
    This cake was quite the project and I had to read several of the "reader reviews" of the recipe to make sure I didn't mess it up.
    Step 1) Make three cakes from scratch for the layers.  Lot of mixing. Surprisingly, the layers turned out very even and I didn't even have to cut the tops off before assembling.
    Step 2) Make the caramel filling and assemble. Boiling sugar and butter to make caramel. Quite the science project.  You must boil/simmer for 3-5 minutes or until it isn't gritty any more.
    Step 3) Make the caramel frosting and frost.  Another science project. Let it boil!
    Step 4) Add pecans and put in the fridge to set

    Here are a few pictures along the way:

    Here are the cakes after I flipped them out of the round pans to cool.  They were pretty easy to flip.  I did some serious greasing of the pans with butter and then floured them as well to avoid sticking. 

    Right after I assembled with the caramel between each layer on on top.  The trick to making it work is letting the caramel cool to "warm-hot" vs "hot hot" before putting on the cake.  Also, the cake layers should be cool....and don't make the caramel filling until you are ready to assemble.
    I cut a slice after letting it sit in the fridge a few hours and it cut perfectly!  The slice looked awesome.  It is very rich and it's hard to eat more than a few bites though. So will I make it again?  Yes...but it will be a while. Time consuming!

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Read this with Swedish Coffee and Kanelbullar

    Swedish Coffee and Swedish Kanelbullar
    Picked this paperback up at Costco before heading to the beach (also picked up the 2 others in the series)
    It took me about 200 pages before I really started getting into the mystery of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larson.  I took this book on vacation with me to the Virgin Islands and couldn't put it down.  It was unlike any book that I have read, in the sense that it combined elements of a murder mystery, a thriller, financial journalism (similar to the use of the legal system in John
    Grisham books), religion, history and culture.  It definitely was heavier than my normal beach reading, (I will warn you it is a little violent and disturbing in parts) and I found it so interesting to learn a little about the Swedish culture while reading it. 

    Throughout the book, almost every meeting between two people is commenced with a cup of strong Swedish coffee. I would venture to say chapter did not go by without discussing the strong coffee multiple times - clearly, this is a big part of the culture.  In Chapter 4 (p. 82 in my edition) it says, "Blomvist took a swallow of black coffee - plainly boiled in a pan in true Norrland style..."
    So, it wouldn't be right if I didn't make this coffee as my featured item,  and a Swedish Sweet to go along with it. I found the following recipe for the Swedish Coffee - secret ingredient - egg shells and eggs!

    So, I thought maybe someone "punked" e-how.com with this swedish coffee recipe - I mean, I have never in my life heard of doing this and it sounded like a recipe for salmonella poisening (did I mention I'm food safety certified), but I followed the instructions exactly, except for I strained it though a very fine wire strainer five times to make sure all the grinds and egg bi-products were removed.  I then tasted it:  it was very strong, similar to Starbucks, but very mellow with no after-taste.  I had a few family members try it, and they thought it was pretty good. Will I make it again?...no.   But, that's because it is too much work for me - when I need caffeine, I don't have time to crack eggs and their shells into it...and then strain it out. But  now I know how to made Swedish Coffee.

    Of course I made a Swedish pastry to go along with the coffee.  I decide to make Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Rolls) to go along with it.  I used the following recipe: http://scandinavianfood.about.com/od/coffeecakessweetbreads/r/cinnamonrolls.htm

    Some notes: 
    1) I halved the recipe. Forty Kanelbullar looked a little extensive.  I made 16 out of the halved recipe.
    2) Cost Plus World Market was out of ground cardamom (a spice I have ever used), so I bought a jar of the whole cardamom pods and ground them myself...here is a lesson learned.  I put the whole pods into the "Magic Bullet" and ground them up...I was lefty with a mess...it then occurred to me that I needed to shell the cardamom before grinding.  So I took about 15 of the pods (to make about 1 tsp), popped them open, and THEN ground them into the "Magic Bullet."  Once ground, it looked kind of like a steak seasoning blend (black, brown, red) and it had a very strong smell kind of like a mix of pepper, cinnamon, ginger and something else.  It didn't smell great by itself.

    I also found these at Cost Plus World Market in Smyrna, GA on the spice aisle
    3)  The recipe says your dough is supposed to double on the 1st rise, and then again double once you cut into the rounds. I used fast acting dried yeast, but mine never seemed to double either time.  I'm not sure what I may have done wrong, but this is what they looked like before I put into the oven.

    4) The recipe says to use Pearl Sugar, which I hear can be found at IKEA or purchased online.  I wasn't adventurous enough to drive out to IKEA today so I used regular granulated sugar, which I think worked just fine.  If you want to know more about it, go to this website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nib_sugar  Also, if you google "where to buy pearl sugar" several different websites come up.

    The rolls before I put them into the oven - I did bake a few extra minutes than it said

    After they came out of the oven, I sprinkled with more sugar. These are not your typical Sticky Bun - much less sweet, so they need a little extra.

    The book weaves in other cultural references to the book that the two main characters eat.

    Salander, the leading lady in the book, who lives in Stockholm, has  everyday meals consisting of sandwiches made of eggs and herring or caviar.  It seemed an odd combination, but very common in Sweden. Blomkvist (the leading man) and Vanger have a more formal dinner in freezing cold city of Hedestad consisting of Roast Hare, Currant Jelly and Potatoes.  One day, while he went to Konsum, "he discovered fried sausage with potatoes and beets - a dish he had never been fond of but for some reason it seemed suited to a cabin in the country." After reading this, I wanted to look into Swedish cuisine a little further, as I have never really cooked or eaten it to my knowledge. Trust Wikipedia was a wealth of knowledge:

    While I was a Cost Plus World Market looking for my cardamom, I also found Lingonberry jam, which tasted kind of like cranberry sauce.  It might be good on the rolls!

    I found this at Cost Plus World Market in Smyrna, GA with the other jellies/jams
    Overall, a fun and tasty experience!  I recommend reading the book and trying out my treats!