Friday, October 14, 2011

How Do You Say Caramel?

Do you pronounce it kar-uh-mel or kahr-muhl?

Well, any way you say it, you'll love this little delight.

Nick Malgieri's Caramel Crumb Bars
Makes 24 two-inch squares


For the dough
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)

For the filling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk


Position a rack on the lowest level of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, then use a little butter to lightly grease the paper.

For the dough: Combine the 16 tablespoons of butter, the sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is soft and light. Add the vanilla extract and mix to incorporate.

Reduce the speed to low, then gradually add 2 1/4 cups of the flour and beat until well incorporated to form a smooth dough. Use a spatula to scrape down the bowl and paddle.

Remove the bowl from the mixer; transfer three-quarters of the dough into the prepared pan. Use the palm of your hand to press the dough down lightly and evenly. Chill the dough-lined pan while you make the topping: Work the remaining 1/4 cup flour into the remaining dough with your fingertips so that it forms small crumbs. Set aside at room temperature.

For the filling: Combine the butter, corn syrup, brown sugar and condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Allow the mixture to boil gently, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken and darken slightly. Pour into a stainless-steel bowl to cool for 5 minutes.

To assemble: Pour the cooled filling on top of the chilled dough, then scatter the crumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the filling bubbles gently and is a deep caramel color and the dough and crumb topping are baked through.

Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes, until lukewarm. Use the parchment paper to lift the slab of baked dough out of the pan and onto a cutting board before it has cooled completely. Cut the slab into roughly 2-inch squares

For the record, I only had light brown sugar on hand, so I used it. And...I misread the recipe and used all of the flour for the batter. I added a little more to make the crumb, but I don't think my "crumb topping" was as crumby (?!) as it should have been.

These bars are rich and surprisingly light. Those not photographed and taste-tested are currently residing in my freezer in the tenuouos hope that out of sight is out of mind.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Tongue Tantalizing Treat

This is not your momma's shortbread cookie!

Pepper-Cumin Cookies

This is a surprising and sophisticated twist on an old favorite that combines the smokiness of cumin, the richness of butter, the brightness of lemon, and the unexpectedness of black pepper.

But do not be confused. This is a cookie, not a cracker. It disolves on your tongue while the ghosts of flavors are still haunting your surprised palate. It makes you think. It makes you wonder. It makes you want more.

Would I take these cookies to the church bake sale? No. Would I serve these cookies to my rather "set in their ways" parents. Definitely not! However, would I set out a plate of these while entertaining my foodie friends? You betcha!

Imagine a table full of appetizers, savory and salty, cruchy and tart. And then, these cookies An excellent addition, I think.

The recipe is by Molly O'Neill of the NYT and is on page 695 of The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Pepper-Cumin Cookies

2 c all purpose flour
6 Tbs sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp black peppercorns, cracked
1 tsp cumin seeds, cracked
2 sticks unsalter butter, cut into pieces and softened slightly
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Put the flour, sugar, salt, lemon zest, peppercorns and cumin in the food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until the mixture forms a dough.

2. Transfer the dough to a work surface. Shape into 1" balls and place 2" apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Flatten each cookie with the palm of your hand to 1/4" thick.

3. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from pans and place on racks to cool.

The cookbook says approximately 30 cookies, but I got 3 dozen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Celebrating A Life in Recipes

On July 29th, I posted a farewell to my online buddy Becky. Today, her birthday, I will share with you some of my favorites of the recipes she had shared with me over the years.

I invited some friends for lunch to enjoy Red Beans and Rice, a salad of spinach, sweet potato, goat cheese, and bacon, and a dessert of chocolate meringue pie while I told them the wonderful things I knew about Becky. Her roots in Louisiana, her two daughters and wonderful husband. Her farm in Tennessee and her residence in Alabama. Her dedication to the Huntsville Botanical Gardens and her passion for art deco, Fiestaware, and vintage linens.


Red Beans and Rice

2 cups dry red beans
6 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
6 grates nutmeg
1½ teaspoons salt
1 lb. smoked sausage, Optional
2 cups uncooked rice

About noon on Sunday wash the beans and put in crockpot with water, onion and garlic. Turn heat to LOW, cover and cook.
Sunday night before you go to bed add the Tabasco, Worcestershire, cayenne, oregano, thyme, nutmeg and salt. Add more water, if needed. Cover and continue cooking.
On Monday morning slice and steam the sausage if you are going to use it; add to crockpot. Again, add water, if needed. Cover and cook till suppertime. Cook rice according to package directions. Place cooked rice in soup plates and ladle the beans on top.
Serves 6


Here is the link to Becky's blog and her recipe for Chocolate Pie.

I have only recently tried Becky's recipe for Pound Cake, and it is truly delicious. Here is the recipe and her history with it.


Pound Cake
In my birth family I was known for never being able to get a cake out of a pan in one piece. However, when we got married, Mike's aunt gave me Southern Sideboards (Jackson Jr. League cookbook). In it was a recipe for Selma's VA Pound Cake. He had requested pound cake for dessert and being a newlywed, I wanted to try to make it. Well, I made it and it turned out of the pan perfectly! No more jinx. I tinkered with the recipe a little, and this is my version of that cake. It's been a success for 27 years now.

1½ cups butter
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups unbleached flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt
½ teaspoon baking powder

Grease and flour a large tube pan.

Cream butter and sugar till smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add flour a little at a time. Slowly add milk, flavouring and salt. Put in the baking powder last. Pour batter into pan and place in cold oven. Turn temperature to 325ºF and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool slightly and remove from pan.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Best Part of Late Summer

School children wimper and wail as Summer winds down and slowly eases into Fall, but those of us past the age of romping barefoot in fields of clover, chasing firelies and sucking honeysuckle have reasons to celebrate. While temperatures still dance in the low nineties, late summer fruits are in full harvest.


Great grapes! It's time for grapes. Not the grapes available year round in the supermarket...those marevelously thick hulled grapes grown on arbors in back-yards and wild grapes with vines climbing sturdy old trees in secret places. Forget the ragweed, pick up your buckets and baskets and head out for Scuppernongs and Muscadines!

If you've never experienced it, you should give it a try. Take a grape and look for the point where it grew from the vine. Place it half-way between your lips and gently bite down until the juicy flesh pops into your mouth. Chew softly, separating the pulp from the seed. Your tastebuds will dance, your nostrils will flare, your eyes will light up.

These delights are native to the southern United States and make marvelous jelly and wine. But truly, they are best enjoyed with your feet propped on the porch rail, popping them in your mouth and discarding seeds and skins into a piece of newspaper while watching the sun set on another late summer day.

If you aren't fortunate enough to have a neighbor or friend with a vine, certain supermarkets will carry them for a short time. I've found them at the Piggly Wiggly, Publix, and even Walmart. Life is an adventure..try something new!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Goodbye, Dear Friend

A woman that I never met, but considered to be a dear friend passed away today. We "met" through an online community that started on the Food Network website as fans of Ina Garten. When the Food Network discontinued the discussion boards, we migrated to a new, ProBoards forum entitled "Contessa's Kitchen".

Beck Turner was a dedicated wife, mother, daughter, and sister. She was an adventurous and creative cook, and an expert at long forgotten food arts like canning and preserving and taught me a great deal. She collected FiestaWare and loved to create "tablescapes" with her beautiful dishes.

If you are reading this, please take a moment to look to the right at some of my favorite sites. There is a link there to her blog, Random Musings of a Decolady. Please visit it to truly appreciate how much she will be missed.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What To Do With All of These Tomatoes?

I've been quite busy, lately, canning and pickling. I made two batches of pickles and a batch of salsa in the last couple of weeks. Then I received a call from my dad stating that his tomatoes were coming in fast and furious and to come get some soon before they were all gone.

I loaded up the cats and headed south to find his garage over-run with tomatoes and many still on the vines. First I made another batch of salsa. Then sat and calculated the amount left. His neighbors and friends have reached the saturation point and are refusing to take his calls.

Today I decided to try my hand and canning tomato sauce and found this recipe.

Tomato Sauce with Fresh Herbs

15 lbs tomatos
2 lbs onions
1/3 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic
2 cups chopped fresh basil
3 TBS salt
1 TBS pepper
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 bottle red wine (optional)

I know the color is wild, but that is 15 pound of tomatoes, pealed and chopped.

Peel and chop tomatoes and set aside. Dice onions and saute in olive oil. Add chopped garlic just before onions become translucent. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, basil and wine (if using).


Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until reduced by 1/3, about 2 hours. Add lemon juice and cook an additional 5 minutes. Fill jars and place immediately into boiling water bath for 30 to 35 minutes (30 minutes for pints, 35 for quarts). Makes 8 qts if using wine, 6 if not.


My sister contributed the basil from her garden and the smell is divine. I can hardley wait to cook up some pasta and try it! Imagine garden fresh goodness in the middle of winter!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pie, Pie, Me Oh My!

Say the word pie, and two things immediately come to mind...Andie McDowell's song about pie in the movie Michael and an obscure skit from Saturday Night Live in which Alec Baldwin reproaches diner waitress Jan Hooks for giving away pie with a meal because it made her look cheap.

I am a pop culture junkie.

A pop culture junkie that looooves me some pie!

I was invited to participate in an online event in which over a thousand of us baked pie and posted the photos on Facebook or Twitter and it threw me into a tizzy (for those of you not from the South, I was terribly excited.) What kind to make? Fruit, cream, or custard? One crust, two crust, or lattice top? Which pastry recipe to use? Cold water pastry? Hot water pastry? Pate brisee?

A quick inventory of my pantry and fridge and I decided on Lemon Meringue, a personal favorite.

First, the pastry. This recipe came from Suzie in the Contessa's Kitchen discussion board and was quite lovely.

Perfect Pie Crust
1/2 cup water
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vinegar

Mix together with a fork and set aside.

In a large bowl put
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 & 3/4 cup of Crisco (no substitutions)

Cut the Crisco into the flour mixture (I just use my hands) When it is well blended add the liquid. You don't have to worry about toughening the dough, mix it in. Don't worry if the dough seems wet, divide into 2 or 3 equal discs and wrap in plastic wrap and chill for approximately 2 hours. Roll on a floured board to 1/8" thick and about 12" round.

Place in 9" pie pan and trim pastry so that it is 1/2" larger than the rimmed edge of the dish. Fold under and crimp. Poke the bottom of the crust with a fork 4 to 6 times. Place a piece of foil (I like the non-stick) in the bottom and add pie weights (I use dried beans). Place in a 375 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove foil and weights and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake until golden brown, about another 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.


And then, the filling.

The original recipe is a bit spotty. It is from the Calling All Cooks cookbook by the Alabama Telephone Pioneers. The submitter, Evelyn Gullett, must make this filling by rote and tried to write it by memory. A few things were not very clear, so I've tried to clean it up a bit.

1 1/2 c sugar
3 T salted butter
1 1/2 c water
1/3 cornstarch
juice of three lemons
3 egg yolks, beaten well

Cream together butter and sugar. Dissolve cornstarch in water and add lemon juice. Add sugar mixture and egg yolks and mix well. Place in medium sauce pan and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat and cook approximately 10 minutes. Place in prepared shell.


For the meringue.

3 egg whites
6 Tbs sugar
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Beat until stiff and spread over the filling, making sure meringue meets crusts to seal the pie. Bake at 350 degrees until peaks begin to brown, about 10 minutes.

The finished product.



Now then, everybody sing along...

Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it's pie
an' wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you've got em'
Me o my
I love pie!

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Southern Delights

A couple of weeks ago, while watching Good Morning America, I saw Martha Hall Foose prepare a few dishes. Martha Hall Foose is the head chef for Viking stoves and specializes in Southern cooking. Two of the on air personalities are from the South and were terribly excited to see a particular dish on the table. It made George a bit curious..."What's the deal with the carrots?"

Robin told him it was a "Southern thing" and MHF explained it was old fashioned Copper Pennies.

This reminded me of how much I adored this dish and how long it had been since I tasted it. So here is my version:

Copper Pennies

2 lbs carrots peeled and sliced a uniform width
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 can condensed tomato soup
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp Worcester Sauce

Mix soup, oil, vinegar, sugar, and Worcester Sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to blend. Remove from heat for 10-15 minutes.


Place carrots in a 4 qt pan of boiling water and cook until al dente, approximately 10 minutes. Drain.


Place in bowl with onion and bell pepper. Cover with marinade and refrigerate overnite.


Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day for me, and I needed something to take to movie nite with my friends. Of course, it's not like there will be any shortage of food...but I like to cook for my friends. I plan on taking the Copper Pennies and a pound cake, but I wanted to make some pimento cheese.

First, I made my mayonnaise. Then I grated cheese and onions, and mixed everything together and let the flavors meld overnite.

Savory Pimento Cheese

1 lb mild cheddar
4 oz chopped pimentos, drained
1 tsp grated onion
2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
Celery salt to taste
Mayo to bind


Mix together.


Taste. Season as needed. Refrigerate


For the record, the mayo has cayenne pepper to add a little interest to the pimento cheese.

Great on sandwiches, crackers, or celery.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fresh Strawberry Scones

I have many failings as a cook. Many of the recipes I try never make it to this blog. I'm too cheap to toss the failures, so I usually wind up eating them. Most taste okay, but a few have not. And I'm lazy. I love recipes that only mess up a single bowl or dish or that don't dirty every dish, pan and surface in my kitchen. I tend to rush through processes because I don't pay as much attention as I should to the recipe. I am impatient.

I am an inexperienced baker. I have little skill but boldly go forward with ill-advised confidence. Oh, I'm good at cookies because I've made plenty. I'm okay at some cakes. I am terrified of bread. All bread. I am Southern born and bred but do not know how to make biscuits. I hope to one day correct this.

But a few things happened today that led me to baking scones...a visit to the farmers market for some lovely, locally grown strawberries and the fact that I spent hours cleaning my oven.

What, you say? You don't want to sully a freshly cleaned oven? Not me...I could hardly wait to toss something inside. So I found a recipe online for scones using fresh strawberries.


Believe me, this recipe was very close to not making this digital record. The dough was very wet and far more a mess than I wanted. The instructions failed me. I will post the recipe as written by Annie Y on and then add my notes below.

Fresh Strawberry Scones

1 cup ripe strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and diced
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup light cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
6 Tbs cold unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place diced strawberries on paper towels to absorb liquid. Combine the cream and vanilla extract in a small pitcher and set aside.


Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and zest together in a large bowl. Cut the cold butter into chunks and cut into flour until mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs. Gently toss strawberries in flour mixture. Create a well in the flour mixture and fill with the cream mixture. Quickly stir dough together until just blended. Allow dough to rest 2 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and satiny, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet and pat into an 8-inch round. Use a serrated knife to cut the round into 8 wedge shaped pieces. Separate wedges on the baking sheet, leaving at least 1/2" space between.

Bake in preheated oven until the tops are light brown and crusty, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool 20 minutes before serving.


So, here is what I found. This is a very, very wet dough. Do not skimp on the flour for kneading. I kept adding flour, using at least 1/2 cup, maybe more. The dough was so wet, that I never achieved "smooth and satiny" but did place it on the prepared baking sheet and formed an approximately 9" round. I used my bench scraper to cut the round into wedges and did not separate them. (You can call me a rebel, but my hands were goopy and I was tired of messing with it.)

Also, a small disclaimer...I used heavy cream because that was what I had in the fridge.

Anywho, "all's well that ends well" and this ended very well. The scones are tender and not as dry as scones I've purchased. I really like them, but wish I had used more strawberries. I love the brightness that the lemon zest adds and the subtle hint of the nutmeg. With a little schmere of butter and a cup of tea, they are lovely.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bishop Bread

I love dates. My first encounter with dates was canned date bread spread with cream mom's "fancy" snack for bridal teas and showers. A former missionary to China once served a group of 13 year old girls dates stuffed with cheese. And one of my favorite cookies is a date nut cookie my family refers to as Justine's.

It was only natural, then, while perusing a beloved old cookbook* I discovered a recipe for a date and nut bread, I should jump right on it. A quick scan of the ingredients and I knew I had everything I needed. It was meant to be.

Bishop Bread

bishop bread

3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs peach brandy**
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 335 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

Toss dates and pecans with 1/4 cup of the flour. Set aside.
Add brandy and vanilla to eggs and whisk. Add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt to egg mixture and mix until wet. Add dates and pecans and stir. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Cool on rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan to rack and continue to cool. Slice and serve with cream cheese.


*The original recipe came from Calling All Cooks, published by the Alabama service organization of Bell South.
**The original recipe states the brandy is optional, but, to me, it adds an interesting depth of flavor.

Don't expect a big, fluffy loaf. It is, however, packed with the sweetness of dates and the nuttiness of the pecans and is, to me, perfect.

Fried Chicken

My Aunt Rachel makes the best fried chicken! It is always crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. But health problems have kept her from cooking for several years now.

I recently asked her how to cook fried chicken and took my own form of shorthand while she outlined the process. I then set about recreating this dish and clarifying for my own sake her instructions.

This is the best I could come up with.

Rachel Fisher’s Fried Chicken

6 to 8 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 c White Lily Self-rising Flour (more if needed)
Lemon pepper
Vegetable oil

Cut chicken breasts in halves or thirds, depending on size. Trim any loose pieces. Rinse in ice water and pat dry with paper towels. Dredge in flour. Dip into clean ice water, season liberally with salt and lemon pepper, and dredge in flour again.

Place oil approximately 3” deep in dutch oven and heat oil to 350 degrees. Place a few pieces of chicken into hot oil, but do not crowd. (I can cook 4 halves comfortably). Cook until you can see browning on the sides of each piece, 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat, turn chicken and cover pot. Cook until chicken has internal temperature of 175 to 180 degrees. (about 5 minutes). Place on paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining chicken.

And the finished product...

Fried Chicken

Now all I need is potato salad and sliced tomato!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Path of Destruction

Over the last 24 1/2 years, I've driven I65 between Nashville and Birmingham an average of once a month. That is 300 trips in each direction. And the drive from my door to my parents' usually takes a little over 2 1/2 hours.

Today it took 4 1/2 hours.

You see, there were tornados in Alabama and throughout the south east yesterday. And while there was so much devastation in Tuscaloosa, there was quite a bit in the north central part of the state, in towns along I65.

The extent of the damage began to be apparent just south of Hanceville. Old trees had been snapped in two. Younger trees were completely uprooted. And beyond, homes were destroyed.

At the exit to highway 278 in Cullman, signs were uprooted, trees gone. And less than five miles off of the interstate, the downtown of Cullman law in pieces in the streets.

Traffic came to a screeching halt at the junction of I65 and I565 near Huntsville. For 90 minutes I read, played Sudoku on my phone, and chatted with my fellow travellers. And the traffic stayed heavy all the way home. People with no power were looking for gas, groceries, and generators and were willing to drive to Kentucky for it.

My immediate family is safe and sound, but so many others are not. Please keep the families of missing students at the University of Alabama, the injured, those who lost homes, and those who lost family in your prayers. When I woke this morning, there were 128 confirmed deaths in Alabama. At last count, there were over 190. In one state.

If you are out there, please consider contributing to local charities in these hard hit areas.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Tribute to My Heritage

I worked for a man from Philadelphia once, briefly. He laughingly told me that when you asked someone from the northeast "what are you?" the response was something along the lines of German-Irish, Polish, Jewish-Italian. However the same question asked in the south resulted in in responses like Baptist, Methodist, Democrat.

Me, well, I am a true flower of the South. Born in south Florida, I grew up a Baptist in Alabama. And while we lack the diversity of cuisine, we do certain things extremely well. We barbecue. We fry. We bake. And some of these things are legendary. Southern fried chicken. Fried catfish. Hush puppies. And cakes...pound cake, Hummingbird cake, and the much ballyhooed Lane cake.

Lane cake first emerged in an 1898 cook-book by Emma Rylander Lane and the very mention of the name can inspire awe. This is not a cake to be whipped up. It is complicated and time consuming and, therefore, reserved for special occasions. It is layers of white sponge cake with a boozy fruit and nut filling. Some recipes call for using the filling for frosting, also, but I grew up with a frothy white boiled icing that dresses the cake up in a frilly party dress.

Alabama Lane Cake

1 cup room temperature butter
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 c sifted all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 c milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 3 9" cake pans. (I also lined bottoms with parchment that I greased and floured.)

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift flour with baking powder and add to creamed mixture, alternating with milk; start and end with flour mixture. Add vanilla. Beat eggs to stiff peaks and fold into batter. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans and bake 20 to 30 minutes or until they test done.


8 egg yolks
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup coconut
1 cup wine or bourbon*

Lightly beat eggs and place over double boiler with sugar and butter; cook until thick, stirring constantly. Add fruit and nuts and wine and continue to cook until thick. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Cool and place between cake layers.


Fluffy Boiled Frosting

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
4 room temperature egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar, cream of tartar, salt and water in heavy sauce pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is clear. Bring to a boil and cook until soft boil stage on candy thermometer (238 degrees).

Beat egg whites to soft peaks. With mixer running, pour sugar mixture in a thin stream into egg whites without getting on beaters. (I used the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid and there was no problem.) Add vanilla and beat until stiff peaks form and frosting is desired consistency.

Frost top and sides of cake.


This cake is better the next day.
I used a full cup of bourbon (the original recipe calls for a wine glass full of wine or bourbon) which was very, very strong. I am reminded of the line in To Kill A Mockingbird in which Scout comments on the Lane cake made by a neighbor.

"Miss Maudy Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight."

Let's just say that I had a slight buzz after sampling the filling. The next time I make this cake, I will use wine or less bourbon.

I think, for now, I will revel in my Southern heritage and have a lovely piece of cake.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ahhhh, Almond!

While I am only so-so on the taste of almonds whole, I adore the fragrance and richness imparted by almond extract. The substitution of almond extract for vanilla extract can add a richness and intense sweetness to your baked goods. My sister likes it so much, she uses almond extract in almost everything. But my sister is not inclined to do a lot of baking that does not start with a box.

My cyber buddy Paula (aka Milehighbaker) posted this recipe that seemed to be calling my name. And Saturday night being completely devoid of worthwhile TV programming, I opted to do a little baking.

Almond Scented Tea Cake
Makes 2 loaves

2 cups sugar
1.5 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
1.5 teaspoons almond extract
3 cups flour
0.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 cups milk
Glaze (recipe below)


Cream together the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla and almond extracts in a large bowl. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with the milk, ending with the dry ingredients. Stir just until ingredients are combined. Do not over mix. Bake in two greased and floured 9x5 inch loaf pans at 350F for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. While the bread is still warm and in the pan, drizzle the glaze over the top of the loaves. Place on a wire rack until almost cool. Run a knife around the edges of the pans and remove the loaves. Finish cooling on wire rack.

One small note, because my loaf pans are non-stick, I reduced the heat to 325 and they were done in 58 minutes.

1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Combine the ingredients and mix well. Drizzle over the warm loaves of bread.

Unfortunately, I did not have any orange juice, so I went with the basic, good for everything, powdered sugar/milk glaze. I used about 1/4 cup of milk with 1 lb of confectioners sugar and 1/2 tsp of almond extract. Also, I waited until the loaves were almost completely cool before pouring the glaze over them.


And then I sprinkled it with toasted sliced almonds because, well, why not?


Let me just say that this smelled amazing while cooking. I had just finished cleaning up after my dinner but I was drooling by the time I took the loaves from the oven. And for the record, it tasted pretty darn good, too!


My mother used to make old fashioned tea cakes and, as I explained to MHB, they were large, soft, buttery cookies that sometimes had raisins or a sprinkling of sugar. This was not my mother's tea cake, but something marvelously new to me, instead.

There are currently 1 1/2 loaves tucked away in my freezer, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, for a later day. I highly recommend giving this a try.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I had an aunt and uncle who would give us for Christmas each year a gift from Swiss Colony or Hickory Farms filled with assorted meats, cheeses, and condiments. I have always loved cheeses of various flavors, even as a child, and my particular favorite in this selection was the wedge of Havarti or Swiss with caraway seeds. It was mine alone to enjoy.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with an Irish holiday?

When I decided to cook something Irish for the day, I was stumped. Corned beef and cabbage is not really appropriate for one. I thought of stew, but wasn't in the mood. It was far to warm out for Shepherd's Pie.

I decided to try Irish Soda Bread and started combing the internet and my cookbooks. There are so many recipes that I was put off, a bit. There are those that argue that sweet bread with fruit is not truly Irish, but is an Irish-American twist.

I settled for a recipe from Epicurious which did include the fruit. But it also called for caraway seeds. I believe I mentioned how much I like caraway seeds?


Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway

5 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
2 1/2 cups raisins
3 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg


Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated (dough will be very sticky).

Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center. Using small sharp knife dipped into flour, cut 1-inch-deep X in top center of dough. Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in foil; store at room temperature.)


Now, I thought I had plenty of raisins, but it seems I only had 1 cup; so I also added some currants.

You will note that this is not pretty. I apologize. It is, however, quite tasty.

For the original recipe and story behind it, click here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tea Time

I love tea. Hot tea. Iced tea. Sweet tea (house wine of the South). Red tea. Black tea. Green tea. Fruit tea. Spiced tea. Mint tea. I love tea!

I will make a mug of Bigelow Mint Medley before bed time. Midmorning calls for something spicy. A glass of peach iced tea on a hot day is divine. But civilization requires Earl Gray to be served in a proper cup and saucer on a napkin lined tray with a little snack.

It's the can look it up.

This afternoon, I felt like a cup of Earl Gray with milk, so I had to have something with which to serve it. I don't keep that kind of stuff around the house, so I had to bake something.

I love shortbread, but really didn't want to spend as much time on my feet as cookies require. Chocolate was calling to me, but I didn't want anything too sweet. And, thus, the Chocolate Fruit Loaf was born.

Chocolate Fruit Loaf

1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp instant coffee granules
1 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup chopped dated
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Grease 9 x 5 loaf pan and preheat oven to 350.*
Cream together butter and sugar; add egg. Sift together flour, cocoa, soda, and salt. Starting and ending with dry mix, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk. Add vanilla and coffee granules. By hand, stir in nuts, fruit, and chocolate chips. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes.

Remove from oven when toothpick inserted into loaf comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

*I used a nonstick pan, so I set the temp for 325.


This is not a sweet loaf and is lovely when served warm with butter.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greek Week!

Basking in the success of my baklava, I decided to go Greek again. I love stuffed grape leaves and found a recipe that appealed to me. Of course, I adapted it somewhat--different rice, more onion, more herbs--to suit me. I also found a recipe for tzatziki that worked. So I made Dolmades and Tzatziki and please don't ask me how to pronounce it.

dolmades and sauce

A Lebanese friend used to come to my parents for leaves from my dad's grape vines, but it's February in Tennessee, so I used a jar I purchased at Publix.

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

1 C Arborio rice
1 small onion dice fine
¼ c fresh chopped mint
¼ c fresh chopped dill
¼ c fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
2 c chicken stock
30-35 grape leaves
¼ c fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
2 c chicken stock

Rinse, drain, and separate grape leaves. Place on layered paper towels to dry.
In a medium saucepan, place ¼ c olive oil, onion, rice, mint, and dill and saute until onion becomes transparent. Add 2 c chicken stock and cook approximately 15 minutes, until stock is absorbed by rice. Add ¼ c lemon juice and remove from heat to cool.


Place approximately 1 tsp of rice mixture into center of leaf and roll to resemble small cigar.

grape leavs

Place in bottom of a Dutch oven, seams down. Drizzle with remaining lemon juice and olive oil. Add remaining chicken stock and cover. Cook on low heat for 1 hour. Remove to paper towel to drain.


Serve warm or cold.

In truth, I really don't know how many I made. I just kept rolling until I had filled the bottom of my 6qt Dutch oven.

Finished gls

They are not pretty. My rolling ability is certainly lacking. I keep thinking of my Aunt Alma, one of the most amazing home-makers I have ever known. But in 1963, she and my Uncle Fred decided they needed a new car, so she went to work in a cigar factory. Her checks went directly into savings until, one year later, they paid cash for a brand new 1964 Impala. And Uncle Fred drove that car until the day he died. But, back to food, I don't have Aunt Alma's skill at cigar rolling. So while they may not be beautiful, my dolmades are extremely good.

You can find the tzatziki recipe and lovely photos here.

Friday, March 4, 2011


I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama which, surprisingly, has a large Mediterranean population. The Greek Festival is amazing.

And I love Mediterranean food. Falafel, gyros, stuffed grape leaves, seafood, and most of all, balkava.

I have not, however, tried to make it. Filo dough scares me. It is fragile and, I assumed, difficult to work with. But a few weeks ago, my niece made some excellent baklava and, in doing so, gave me courage.

I scoured the internet for a perfect recipe, but wound up bastardizing three to find one that suited me. Here is what I came up with:


2 cups finely chopped nuts (I used pistachios, walnuts, and pecans)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup melted butter
1 package (16 oz) Filo dough
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey
1 Tbs lemon juice

Thaw dough per package instructions and trim to fit 13 x 9 pan. Mix together chopped nuts, cinnamon, cloves, and 1/2 cup sugar. Set aside.

Prepare baking dish with butter flavored cooking spray or coat with butter. Place one sheet dough in bottom and brush with melted butter. Repeat 10 times. Cover dough with damp kitchen towel when not using. Sprinkle 10th layer lightly with nut mixture. Repeat dough layering until first pack of dough is done. Generously spread with nut mixture.

Repeat dough layering ten times. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture and complete layering dough and butter until complete. Cut to form triangles or diamonds.

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown (30 to 35 minutes). Remove and set aside. While pastry is baking, bring water, honey, lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar to a boil and continue to boil approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat to cool.

Pour cooled syrup over pastry. Once syrup has been absorbed by pastry, place in cupcake papers to serve.


Immediately start giving this to friends and neighbors! Do not leave this unattended! It is very, very dangerous.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar, Party of One!

I love the Academy Awards. I always have. I was watching the night of the streaker and the amazing David Niven's cool response. I was watching as Sally Field exclaimed "You like me! You really like me!" I've seen Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and David Letterman host, and prefer Billy Crystal, but that's just me.

I used to have a big party every year to watch the Academy Awards but I moved about an hour's drive from my friends and that drive, late, on a workday seems a bit much to ask. But I love giving the party and creating a theme menu based on the various movies nominated.

This year I decided to throw a little party for little ol' me and I created a theme menu.

oscar plate

Polenta (grits) Bites with sour cream and pepper jelly--True Grit

Potato heads (new potatoes boiled in salty water with black olive hats, tomato lips, smoked gouda nose--Toy Story

Blackened Chicken Wings--Black Swan

Baby greens with fresh herbs, green onions, and grape tomatoes with a lemon vinegairette--The Kids Are All Right

Mini Hot Pockets with peperoni, cheese, black olives, and tomato sauce--Social Network

Not shown--Blueberry Almond (heart-shaped) Tart--Blue Valentine

Ah! The flavor that is the movies!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Every holiday has it's own flavor. Thanksgiving tastes of nutmeg, pumpkin, and sage. Christmas of peppermint, cinnamon, and cloves. Independence Day has the sweet, wet flavor of watermelon and home grown tomatoes. Memorial Day has the charcoal rich hamburgers and hot dogs. Easter tastes of ham and devilled eggs.

And while chocolate has it's place in each of these holidays, one holiday is defined by chocolate. Dark or milk. Hershey's or Godiva. Chocolate reigns supreme on February 14th.

When we were children and teens, my father would give my sister and I a card and a Whitman's Sampler each year for Valentine's Day. I still feel nostalgic at the sight of that yellow box.

I am a follower if Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, and have her cookbooks and watch her show whenever I can. One of Ina's favorite, quick treats is chocolate bark. I've seen her make it a couple of times and noted how easy it seemed.

I've also seen a lot of buzz regarding custom made chocolate bark at Chocomize.

So, with a full pantry and time on my hands, I decided to give it a try.


I began by scouring my pantry and freezer. I found lots of nuts (lots) and lots of dried fruit. I toasted the raw nuts in an iron skillet on the stove top.

Dark Chocolate Fruit and Nut Bark

8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 cup chopped orange slice candy
1/2 cup toasted cashews
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and cook on high (my ancient microwave took 3 1/2 minutes) stirring every 30 seconds or so, until melted. Pour onto Silpat or parchment lined pan and spread approximately 1/4" thick. Sprinkle toppings as evenly as possible. You can see that I didn't do a great job of it.

Refrigerate approximately 30 minutes or until firm. Break apart. I placed mine in cello treat bags and tied them with a red ribbon.


Now then, what shall I do with these bags of "home-made sin"?

**Rejected toppings to be considered at another time--shaved coconut, pistachios, walnuts, dried apricots, toffee bits.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pizza Party!

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I love to play with my food. I try things. I experiment. I have fun!

And tonight, I played.

I may have expressed in the past my fear of yeast, so I bought a crust at the supermarket. It was fine. And maybe, one day, I'll try my own crust. But for now, the pros can handle it for me.

Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese, and Fig Pizza

1 pizza crust
4 Tbs unsalted butter
2 large onions, halved and sliced thin
1/2 cup dried Mission figs
1/2 c red wine
4 oz goat cheese
1 Tbs fresh chopped rosemary
olive oil
salt & pepper
Balsamic vinegar

Slice figs and place in wine to rehydrate.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Roll out crust to fit and brush with olive oil.

Melt butter in a saute pan; add onions and cook until they begin to brown. Add 1/2 the rosemary and continue to cook until caramelized.

Drain figs. Crumble goat cheese over crust and cover with onions and figs. Sprinkle with remaining rosemary, salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven until crust is golden brown--about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle with Balsamic vinegar.


You can cut this into small slices for appetizers or in dinner sized portions and serve with a salad.

Note: Whenever I have left-over wine, I freeze it and use it at times like this. I think I used a Shiraz, but I could be wrong.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Black Forest Pie

I've entered a cooking contest at for an original dessert using a Kellogg's product. So I converted one of my favorite desserts, Black Forest Cake, into an easy pie. Basically, I hit all of the key ingredients--chocolate, cherries, whipped cream, and Kirsch--just without the layers of cake!

So, if you're out there and feel like it, please vote for me here.

If you feel like giving it a try, please do.

Black Forest Pie
by Moi!

1 chocolate Ready-Crust
1 can sweet dark cherries in heavy syrup
1 slice orange
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 Tbs Kirsch
2 c whipping cream
3 Tbs sugar

Drain cherries and set aside. In a small saucepan, add orange slice to cherry syrup and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add 1 Tbs Kirsch.

Place chocolate and 3 Tbs syrup in top of double boiler to melt chocolate. Remove from heat.

Place whipping cream in cold bowl and add sugar; whip to firm peaks. Mix half of whipped cream with chocolate mixture.

Pat cherries dry with paper towel and place in pie crust. Cover with chocolate mixture. Add remaining 1 Tbs Kirsch to whipped cream and cover chocolate mixture.
Shave chocolate on top and place cherry in center. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Serves 6-8.


Not a very pretty picture, but a tasty pie.


Note: I have cherries in a syrup of vodka and honey tucked under my sink that I put up myself. I think that pitting these and using this syrup would be great and would not require the Kirsch. But then it wouldn't be a Black Forest Pie, would it?