Flag Cake!

I started the new semester teaching an AP Government and Politics class for the 5th time.  On Friday, we had a party to celebrate both the inauguration and the right to peacefully protest the inauguration -- the same sort of celebration the class held on Inauguration Day four years ago.  It was a busy week, so I didn't have time to make them what I wanted to make (I relied on my old standard, Mom's chocolate cake, instead).  But if I'd had a little more time, they would have gotten to enjoy one of my favorite ways to celebrate America -- Flag Cake! 

The 4th of July has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Seriously, some years it tops Christmas.

There is no stress about gifts - just a big party, with fireworks!

My neighborhood has a bicycle parade!

We get to go swimming and skiing in the bayou :)

And the food - oh, the food.

We always start the day with a little watermelon, blueberry streussel muffins (recipe forthcoming), and bloody Marys.

And then, once the sun goes down, ribs, chicken, grandmother rice, and Cha Cha's fabulous baked beans.

Sometimes, there is homemade peach ice cream...

And... flag cake!

For the cake:

2 1/4 sticks butter at room temperature

3 cups sugar

6 extra large eggs, room temperature

1 cup sour cream, room temperature

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

1 tsp Kosher salt

1 tsp baking soda

For the icing:

4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature

1 pound powdered sugar

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

To decorate:

1/2 pint blueberries

1 pint of red fruit - I have used strawberries, pitted cherries, and raspberries.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350.

Spray an 18 x 13 x 1 1/2 inch sheet pan (I like Baker's Joy or Pam with Flour).

Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy (this takes longer than you think -- 4-5 minutes on high).  Add the eggs two at a time, beating between, then add the sour cream and vanilla.  Scrape the sides and mix again.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda.  With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined.  Pour into the sheet pan and smoot.  Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely.

For the icing, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in an electric mixer.  Having the ingredients room temperature is important!

Take approximately a cup of the icing and put it into a

pastry bag

fitted with a star tip (while you can use a Ziploc bag with the tip cut off, these always explode on me, and I think it is worth the $8 the next time you are ordering from Amazon or at Michael's).

Spread the remaining icing on the cooled sheet cake. Outline a square in the upper left corner with blueberries.  Place two rows of red fruit (raspberries, strawberries, etc.) across the top of the cake to form the first red stripe.  Space an inch or two down and make a second row.  I only had room for three rows of red on this cake because the raspberries were big!

Once you've placed the fruit, go back and add stars to the tops of the blueberry section, and white stripes between the raspberries.

This cake has been known to be joyfully consumed by "nasty women" and "deplorables" alike ;)

Easy Fruit Cobbler

I never really get tired of cooking... but I do get

very

 tired of doing the dishes.

And some nights, it seems that even if the cooking is worth it, loading and unloading the dishwasher one. more. time. might make me scream.

Tonight was one of those nights, so I was cleaning out the freezer and found a bag of frozen blackberries from last summer.  My kids happened to see them and instantly started clamoring for cobbler.  And I do have a favorite cobbler  - that recipe is

here

 - but it requires the mixer.  And lots of pots and pans.

The cobbler above?

Add a 1/3 cup measuring cup, and these are all the dishes .*

This was Dixon's first recipe to make all by himself, and somewhere buried on my hard drive is a precious video where he lisps "Add a cuppa sugah and stirrrr...." with his motorboat noise.

Recipe, adapted from Cotton Country Collection

1 stick butter

1 cup white sugar

1/3 cup quick oats

2/3 cup flour       (*the original recipe called for 1 cup of flour, no oats, but we like the extra body)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup milk

2 cups fruit (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and peaches, or any combination of these, all work great -- fresh or frozen and defrosted).

Cinnamon for sprinkling (optional)

Procedure:

Preheat the oven to 350.

Place the butter in a 1 quart baking dish and it in the microwave.  Stir in the sugar.  Stir in the flour, oats, and baking powder until smooth.  Gradually add the milk and stir.  Add the fruit and stir gently to combine.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until brown and bubbly, with a baking sheet under your pan to catch drips. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.  Enjoy!

*I 

never

 use a dry measuring cup for liquids like milk, but I did last night. Because dishes.

Roasted Cauliflower with Curry

Some days, I make complicated dishes that cook for a long time, and usually I think they are worth it.  But usually, that's on the weekend. 

Some days, I remember that I'm a working mom who also has to do laundry and it's Tuesday.  So I make dishes like this.  

From start to finish, this takes about 20 minutes... and 10 of those minutes are when it's roasting in the oven.  We serve this with pork chops, grilled chicken, or really, anything.

Roasted Cauliflower with Curry

1 head cauliflower, cut into 2 inch long pieces (remove the core)

1-2 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt (may need more)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp curry powder*

Cauliflower prior to roasting

Preheat the oven to 425.  Spread olive oil on a half-sheet pan.  Toss cauliflower out over the pan.  It's important not to overcrowd, so that the cauliflower gets a little crisp around the edges, instead of steaming.  Sprinkle seasonings and toss to combine.  Roast for 10-12 minutes, until lightly brown around the outside.  Open the oven once during cooking and give the pan a vigorous shake to move these around (or, I guess you can use a spatula, but I don't feel like washing dishes tonight).  

And after roasting... 

*Note -- What kind of curry powder? To be honest, I'm open for suggestions.  Currently, I just use McCormick, so I'm almost certain I can do better.  My friend Anu keeps a spice box by her stove where she makes her own curry by pinching from the seasonings... I'll update when I figure this part out. 

Gumbo Dip

Monroe Mardi Gras is one of my favorite things about living as an adult in the town where I grew up.  No, it's not as fancy as New Orleans Mardi Gras, or as old as Mobile Mardi Gras, but there's just something that feels very "circle of life" about putting my kids on my shoulders on the same corner where I used to stand and scream "Throw me something, Mister!" as a child.

Of course, I also love Mardi Gras food.  Jambalaya,

king cake

,

bourbon slush

, muffalettas, my mother-in-laws's

crawfish cornbread

... my mouth waters just thinking about it.  This year, I decided to bring gumbo dip to our celebration. It takes the ingredients of gumbo into portable, tail-gate or Super-Bowl-Sunday-worthy form.

Turn up the zydeco and enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 onion, diced fine

2 ribs celery, diced fine

1 bell pepper, diced fine

2 cloves or 1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup cut okra (can use frozen)

 1 lb small shrimp (I use frozen 150 count, so really small,  defrosted)

1-2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper, salt)

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

1/4 cup chicken stock, shrimp stock, or water, for thinning if needed

4-5 dashes Tabasco (optional)

Procedure: 

Dice the vegetables (a food processor makes this part easier).  Saute them in butter over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, until soft.  Add the garlic and stir for 1-2 minutes.  Add okra and cook an additional 3-4 minutes. If you are using frozen shrimp, defrost them (I just ran warm water over them for a few seconds, enough to break them apart). Add the shrimp and stir until they are pink and opaque (usually 5-7 minutes).

Turn down the heat and add the seasonings and softened cream cheese, cut into cubes.

Stir in half of the Parmesan cheese.  Taste for seasonings.  I had to add a little broth since mine was very thick and hard to stir.  I also added some Tabasco.

Spoon into an oven-proof bowl.*  Sprinkle the rest of the Parmesan cheese on top of the dip, and heat in a 350 degree oven until warm and bubbly, usually about 10-15 minutes.

Serve with toasted french bread or a sturdy cracker.

*Stop at this point if you are making this ahead.  This dip can be made and assembled 1-2 days in advance and kept in the fridge until ready to be baked.  If you do this, add 15 minutes to the baking time.

Technically, this picture is from New Orleans Mardi Gras

Cousins at Monroe Mardi Gras! 

Bacon-Wrapped Duck Breasts

If the pick-up truck parked in your driveway has ever looked like this, then you probably already have some variation of this recipe, but just in case...

I was first introduced to this appetizer over a decade ago by my husband's then-roommate, John, who was, and is, a consummate duck hunter. But most of the hunters I know seem to have some iteration.  I think it's a favorite because wild duck is usually a little gamy and is extremely lean.  The marinade helps a lot with the gaminess and the bacon keeps the lean meat from drying out during cooking.

Ingredients:

Breasts from 6-8 ducks

1 lb thin bacon

1/2 block of cream cheese

Pickled or fresh jalapenos

Marinade (recipe below)

Procedure:

First, have your favorite hunter breast the ducks for you, preferably outside.  Rinse them several times, then carefully examine them make sure that all of the shot gun pellets are out -- biting into steel shot is a good way to break a tooth.

Soak them in cold water for a few hours, then put them in a marinade.

  Marinade them for 2-6 hours in the refrigerator.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup red wine

2 cloves crushed garlic

1 tsp Kosher salt

1/4 tsp red pepper

1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine these in a ziploc bag and shake well.  Then add the duck breasts.

After a few hours, take the breasts out of the marinade and pound them flat.  This process is neater if you place the breasts in a plastic bag first.

 They should be really thin.

Then, spread the flattened meat with soft cream cheese, and place one jalapeno slice per breast.

Roll them up, wrap them in bacon, and secure with a toothpick.  If you have picky eaters, you can leave the jalapeno out of some and color-code your toothpicks accordingly.

Finally, grill!

These take about 10-12 minutes over medium heat, turning once. You can also do them in the oven or on a grill pan on the stove. When the bacon is brown, the duck meat is probably done.  You can use a meat thermometer to check -- cooked breasts should register around 140 if you like them medium rare (which we do, or else they get too tough).  

Enjoy!

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo (D's favorite meal)

This is my nine year old.

He doesn't eat (most) food that touches. In other words, he won't eat casseroles, (although if I save all the separate bits that go into a casserole and serve them, not touching, on a plate, he will eat them). Even beef stew must be served with the mashed potatoes or grits or rice

on the side.

Etouffee? Pasta salad? Absolutely anything prepared in a crockpot? Don't even think about it. He'll be having a piece of fruit and peanut butter toast, thank you very much (because this mama doesn't make two meals).

He was not always this way.  A brief glance at the archives of this site show him happily devouring a variety of "touching" foods. But since roughly the time he became literate and started losing teeth, he has become quite particular.

HOWEVER...

One significant (*and one minor) exception to his "FOOD MUST NOT TOUCH" mantra has survived the onset of permanent teeth: gumbo -- which, as I remind him, is a whole lot of things touching.  But he's loved it forever.  Especially

this

gumbo.

There are as many gumbo recipes as there are cooks in this state. This is our favorite, mainly because it is easy enough that I can make it once a month.  I make a homemade roux, but I do use boxed broth and roasted chicken breasts instead of boiling the whole chicken because

1. I think it tastes better AND

2. I really don't like de-boning chicken, so I found that when I skipped this step, I made gumbo for my family a lot more.

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced small**

1 green bell pepper, diced small

2 ribs celery, diced small

1 tablespoon (2 cloves) diced garlic

2 bay leaves

6 cups chicken stock (you can make your own, but I usually cheat and don't)

1-2 cups water

1 cup sliced okra (can be frozen)

2 cups cooked chicken meat  (this can include roasted chicken breasts OR 4 thighs OR the meat from one small boiled or rotisserie chicken, shredded or cut into pieces)

2 links andouille sausage, browned in a skillet and drained (optional, but worth it)

salt and pepper to taste

red pepper to taste (I usually go light on this and add Tabasco to mine)

Method

(and a lot of probably unnecessary commentary):

To start, as "my mamma and 'dem" say:  First, you make a roux.

Combine cold vegetable oil and flour in a cold pot.  Turn on the heat and begin whisking.  I use a flat whisk, but you can also use a wooden spoon or spatula.  Something flat to scrape the bottom of the pot helps.

There are two methods to heating your roux.  If you are a lazy and distracted stirrer, you can use the "low and slow" method my mom taught me.  That way, you only have to stir vigorously once the roux begins to pick up color.

If you're a bit more adventurous, turn up the heat.  Your arm will get a workout, but you'll have a roux in about 15-20 minutes.  Stir constantly and scrape the bottom of the pot with each stir.  Recruit your children. Talk your spouse into taking a turn while you move the clothes from the washer to the dryer.  Switch arms.  Think about the calories you are burning.  And stir.

Meanwhile (if you are a low/slow) or in advance, dice your vegetables.  I use a food processor because I like my vegetables really small (plus, I've got to save arm strength for stirring the roux).

Either way, if there are black chips in the roux, sorry to say you've burned it, but everyone has to burn at least one.  Turn on your vent, throw out the roux, wash your pot, and begin again.

When the roux is brown***, add the diced onion, bell pepper, and celery, stirring vigorously.  There will be steam.  Keep stirring.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently but not constantly, until the vegetables are tender. I usually add a little salt at this stage.  Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Begin adding the chicken stock in a steady stream, stopping to stir well to incorporate.  You can add water as needed to get to the consistency you like.  Add the bay leaves and red pepper.

Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes.  Add okra and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add the meat and taste, seasoning as necessary. Simmer until ready to serve.

Serve over white rice with French bread and a green salad.  My husband also recommends saltine crackers.

This gumbo is even better made a day in advance and reheated.  It also freezes well.  I typically freeze it in quart bags, not overly full (so they can stack in the freezer).  Then, for a week night meal, all I have to do is run the bag under hot water while I make the rice, and reheat the defrosted gumbo in the microwave.

Notes:

* The minor exception?  Lasagne verdi -- minor because he only gets to eat it about twice a year.

While he will at least try most gumbos (unless they have shrimp), he will absolutely only eat this one lasagna.

And (of course) it takes 6 hours, 3 friends, 2 homemade sauces, noodles that we crank out using a pasta roller, and at least one bottle of wine.

** These three ingredients (onion, celery, bell pepper) are the holy trinity of Cajun cooking (as my mama explained it).   I pulse them in my food processor until they are diced so fine that their texture disappears but their flavor remains.

*** (Allyson note) Brown? What do I mean by brown? First, a medium brown roux will get thicker than a dark brown roux.  Seems counterintuitive?  It did to me, too, the first time I read it.  But then we experimented and it proved true.  Also, darker roux is more prone to separate.  Soooo I typically shoot for Jif-peanut-butter-brown roux.  And yes, I get out the jar and compare.  I occasionally get brave (usually for seafood gumbo) and go for the Hershey's chocolate bar.  But the gumbo I make at least once a month? Peanut butter brown.

Lemon Cake

 This week, my younger son was "snack leader" for his kindergarten.  Snack week always has noticeable highs and lows.

The lows: 

Monday: After a two week vacation, I remembered it was our snack week when I opened his backpack exactly 3 minutes before we had to leave or miss the bus. 

 So... the class enjoyed a jumbo bag of pretzels, 2/3 full, and some candy left over from

when we made gingerbread houses before Christmas.  Oops. 

Tuesday: my  husband managed to make it by Walmart before he had to be at work at 7:15 and grab some chips (So, from a "my husband is a hero!" standpoint, this actually may have been a high?).

Thursday: I forgot again (I know... it's time to bring back the family calendar)... so off he went (uncomplaining, because he's the second kid) with 2/3 a box of graham crackers and some very Christmas-sy candy canes. Yes, I know, it's January.

The highs: 

Wednesday was Epiphany, and on Epiphany, my family makes homemade king cake.  Sometimes we share with the boys' classes.   (

Here's the recipe we use)

.

And Friday, 6:15 a.m. found our proud snack leader glazing a lemon cake.

 My older son's best friend

loves

 this cake.   The first time he spent the night, we had it for dessert. Later, he told me he had to call his mom.  I thought he was feeling homesick; instead, he was calling her to ask that she get the recipe.

This cake does have a lot of steps, but I promise it is worth it .  

You can make it in a large (10 inch) bundt pan, 2 loaf pans, or a few mini loaf pans.  I've never tried it as muffins but expect they would be amazing.  This time I used a smaller (9 inch) bundt pan (for the kindergarten) and had enough batter left for two mini loaf pans for the family.  My son's friend even got the last piece this afternoon.

Lemon Cake, adapted from Ina Garten's recipe

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup grated lemon zest (3-4 Meyer lemons; 5-6 regular lemons)*

3 cups flour**

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp Kosher salt

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (zest first, then juice -- much neater that way)

3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the syrup:

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup sugar

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (Ina recommends sifting, but we don't mind the lumps)

2-3 Tablepsoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour your pans. (I use Baker's Joy; if you are using a decorated bundt pan like mine, do a very thorough job).

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. I use this time to zest my lemons.  With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest, scraping down the bowl after each addition. (If you forgot to leave your eggs out to let them come to room temperature, you can put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. The mixture will curdle.  Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

Pour the batter into the pan (or divide the batter evenly between the pans, if using more than one). Smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the syrup.  Combine 1/4 cup granulated sugar with 1/4 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.  You can also do this in the microwave.  

When the cake is done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. If you are using a bundt pan, while the cake is still in the pan, make holes in the bottom of the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon or spatula.  If you are using loaf pans, you can take the cake(s) out and invert it(them) to do this. Slowly pour the lemon syrup over the cake, filling the holes.

If you are using the bundt pan, shake the pan until it feels loose, then invert it carefully over your cake plate.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl or measuring cup. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

* First, a note on zesting.  I use a microplane that my husband picked up at a hardware store and

adore

 the tiny bits it makes.  You can get them

on Amazon prime

, although Michael says they are cheaper at the hardware store.  It is easily one of my most-used kitchen tools and works equally well on Parmesan cheese and nutmeg. 

Second, a note on lemons. I absolutely love making this cake with Meyer lemons, which I used to get from my neighbor.  However, the snow storm last year destroyed their tree.  BUT if you can get Meyer lemons for this, please do... just don't brag too much the next time you see me!

** (for Allyson and others who are really into the details)    

Ina calls for cake flour, which I don't keep on hand, BUT  I use White Lily All Purpose flour, which is a very "soft" flour -- it has less gluten and is made from winter wheat, so it produces a noticeably softer crumb in cakes.  And for bread, my favorite is King Arthur Bread Flour ;)

Sunday Stew




Happy New Year!  I've purchased a domain name and "resolved" to update at least weekly.  This recipe is one I've wanted to share for a long time because it is one of our household staples.  It counts as comfort food but is reasonably easy on the wallet and the waistline -- great for the first week of January.  It's the perfect thing to make on a Sunday afternoon.

Once you chop everything up, it simmers deliciously on the stove for hours, requiring minimal stirring.  It freezes well and makes enough to share.  It can be served over egg noodles, grits, or rice, or, since it uses turnips and carrots instead of potatoes, it doesn't feel redundant over mashed potatoes (our favorite).  As an added bonus, everyone in my family devours it and goes for seconds.

The original recipe is from Pioneer Woman.  I've changed the proportions to better suit our family, and made it a little thicker.

Sunday Stew

3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter (salted and unsalted both work)
2  1/2  pounds beef stew meat (I buy chuck roast and cut it up), salted and peppered
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon or 3 cloves minced garlic
6 oz (1 small can) tomato paste
6 cups (32 oz) beef stock (I use Kitchen Basics Unsalted)
1 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
5 carrots, peeled and cut into pieces
2 large turnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces *
1 Tbs softened butter combined with 1-2 Tbs flour to make a thick paste **
Salt and pepper to taste


Add the olive oil and the butter to a heavy pot or Dutch oven.  Turn the heat on high.  When the butter foams,  add the half meat in a single layer.  Don't overcrowd the meat, or it won't brown as well.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, until brown.  Turn once and cook for another minute.  Remove with a slotted spoon and cook the other half of the meat.  Remove to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the diced onions, stirring well and scraping up any delicious browned bits.  Cook until slightly caramelized, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, stirring well.  Add the beef stock in a slow stream, stirring constantly.  Add the Worcestershire.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, add the beef back to the pot, and cover.  Cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

After approximately 2 hours, add the carrots and turnips and cook uncovered for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine softened butter and flour with a fork.  Whisk, in pieces, into the stew.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes to thicken.

Serve over mashed potatoes (or grits, noodles, or rice).  And for dessert... as for me, I'll be trying to help my family's resolutions along by removing the temptation of the Christmas chocolate.


* Promise me you'll try the turnips.  I never had one until I was over 30.  Along with Brussels sprouts, turnips are one of those things my mother never cooked (she's more of an asparagus/ zucchini person).
But when Pioneer Woman went on and on about the turnip-y turnips, I felt that I would be doing the stew a disservice if I didn't give them a try.
Plus, William randomly loves turnips.  (You can blame the Box Car children books).  The best bit?  Serving this to my mom and asking her to guess the vegetable.  She loved it, but the closest she could come was "white squash?"


**  This is called a beurre manie.  It's one of my favorite techniques for thickening something at the end of the cooking process.  You can soften the butter in the microwave, but I tend to melt it, which doesn't work.  So instead, I put the tablespoon of butter in a small bowl on the counter at the beginning of making the stew.  After 2 hours, it is soft enough to mash with a fork.
Pioneer Woman doesn't thicken hers at all, so you can skip this step.  Or, you can make a slurry out of one tablespoon corn starch and one tablespoon cold water, and add that to the pot to thicken it.  However, to me, the beurre manie adds the most flavor. 

Enjoy!

Linzer Cookies

Linzer Cookies

I "heart" my Valentines!







Three snow days happened to coincide with Valentine's Day this year.  

My front yard looked like a sheet of ice, so we did what any good Louisiana family would.  We dressed the kids in their warmest clothes (all of which are designed for hunting and are therefore camouflaged). 
Then my husband pulled out this black thing that he uses to pull his duck decoys through the mud during duck season.  Apparently, it has an official name: duck decoy sled.  

Even though the children are hardly decoys, it made for an amazing morning flying down the ice-covered levee.



When we got tired of being cold and wet, the kids piled in front of a movie and I decided to bake... because honestly, why would I disturb the laundry, sitting there so peacefully?

I've been eyeing various renditions of these Linzer cookies for a week or so.  Ultimately, I decided on Ina Garten's, primarily because (unlike true Linzers), they don't have any nuts in them. 

I couldn't decide what to fill them with, so we tested out Nutela and seedless raspberry preserves.  Dixon strongly preferred the raspberry-filled, plus they looked more festive.  But my friend Lisa persuaded me to try one with both Nutella and raspberry, and to me, those were the best!

"Linzer" cookies (adapted, barely from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)


Ingredients:
3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Raspberry preserves or Nutella to fill
Powdered sugar for dusting

To make the cookies:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the soft butter and sugar, mixing until well-combined.  Add the salt and vanilla, beating well.  Add the flour.  Beat on low until the dough starts to come together - this will take a little over a minute.  The mixture will appear grainy at first, and then will start to form larger lumps.  Scoop out approximately 1/3 of the dough and place it on a rectangle of plastic wrap.  Using the wrap, shape the dough into a flat disk.  Repeat two more times until you have 3 separate flat disks.  Chill these for 30 minutes or more.

When you remove the dough from the fridge, roll it out to 1/4 an inch thick on a well-floured surface.  You will need two cookie cutters, one large and one small (of course for Valentine's Day, I used hearts.  I'm nerdy like that).  Cut approximately 20 heart shapes using the larger cutter.  Then with half of the hearts, go back and cut out a smaller middle heart.   Carefully transfer the shapes onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

You may also bake the little hearts that you cut out, but I recommend doing them on a separate baking sheet, since they cook MUCH faster. 

Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes (depending on how thin you rolled the hearts).  The baking time for the smaller cookies was closer to 10 minutes.

Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature. 

Dust the top sections with powdered sugar (I use an old flour sifter for this, but a sieve also works great). 

Spread the bottoms with Nutella, raspberry preserves, or a mixture of both. 

Carefully place the top section on the bottom section. 

These will keep for 2-3 days.  If you're making them in advance, the unbaked dough will last up to a week in the fridge.

Pumpkin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting


The weather finally cooled off a bit.
And my husband is building me the fireplace I've dreamed about for 10 years.
And my dad volunteered to play with the boys for the afternoon.
And grades are due tomorrow, and I'm procrastinating.
And it's fall, y'all!
But no, no promises to start back up blogging :)

This cake is amazing.  My kids' current "most-favoritest" babysitter actually said it might be better than Dixon cake (what they call my mom's chocolate cake).

You should try it.  Today, if possible.

Ingredients:
For the cake:
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 14 oz can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
For the icing:
4 oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon real maple syrup
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon milk (*as needed)

Preheat the oven to 350.
Oil and flour (or Baker's Joy) a loaf pan, a bundt pan, 3 mini loaf pans, or muffin cups.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, oil, and eggs, beating well.  Add the pumpkin puree, vanilla, and sour cream, beating until well combined.  In a separate bowl, stir the dry ingredients (flour, soda, spices, salt) with a fork.  Add to the wet ingredients.  Beat until just combined.  Add nuts, if using.
Bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour if using the large loaf pan or the bundt pan.  If using mini loaf pans or muffin cups, the time will be closer to 25-30 minutes.  Test to make sure the middle is set.

Allow the cake to cool.  Meanwhile, make the icing.

Melt the cream cheese in a microwaveable bowl.  Add the other ingredients, stirring vigorously.  While the icing is warm, pour it over the cooled cake.

Happy Halloween!



Turkey Pot Pie


Was it cold where you live today?

Today it was cold enough this monkey wore his hat while playing on the monkey bars.



In Louisiana, it was perfect weather for pot pies and footie pajamas from Santa.  And we have left-over turkey in our fridge... here's betting you might, too.


And let me apologize in advance for the cell phone pics.  You see, we are still living at my parents' house.  Here's to a 2013 that brings a new kitchen (and new house!) into my life.  But no more excuses for not blogging.  This pot pie DEMANDS to be shared.


It comes together in less than 30 minutes and bakes in another 30.  And if you tell your picky 6-year-old that the top is made from croissants, he will eat it all.  Your 2 year old won't need trickery... or at least, mine didn't.

This recipe is loosely adapted from my brand-new, much-loved Smitten Kitchen cookbook (my mother-in-law got me an autographed copy, because she is definitely the best mother-in-law in the universe, for many reasons other than this).  Basically, I am really looking forward to making Deb's version, with white beans and pancetta, but I had left-over turkey.  And I had frozen puff pastry.  So I adapted.

Ingredients:
2 carrots, diced
1 small onion (or 1/2 of a large one) diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs all purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock (I used homemade because I had it, but I would definitely substitute with Kitchen Basics and be just as happy).
2 cups (more or less) chopped leftover turkey (white or dark meat, or a mixture)
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (I used Pepperidge farm), defrosted.
1 egg white

Remove the puff pastry from the freezer and allow to warm enough that you can work with it (about 15 minutes on the countertop).

Preheat the oven to 375.

Dice the vegetables and saute them in the olive oil in a heavy pan over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and stir frequently.

Remove the vegetables and scrape out the pan (no need to wash).  In the same pan, melt the butter and add the flour, stirring until there is a little color (2-3 minutes).  Slowly whisk in the broth.  Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until slightly reduced to a gravy-like consistency.

Meanwhile, roll out the puff pastry (but not too thin).  This will be the lid for your pot pie.  You can use a rectangle to cover a standard baking dish, or cut individual circles if you are making individual pies.  The lid should be slightly larger than the baking dish you are using.

Add the vegetables and meat to the gravy on the stove and stir to combine.  Pour the mixture into the baking dish.  Brush egg wash around the sides of the dish so that the lid will stick.  Press the lid onto the top of the dish.  Cut vent holes in the lid with a sharp knife (my kids like for me to carve their initials).  Brush with egg wash and bake at 375 for 35 - 40 minutes, until the crust is browned.

Christmas Sugar Cookies




 It's December 2 and my kids are wearing sandals and shorts with their Christmas shirts... but we can still dream of snow and make sugar cookies!





So, here are the cookies:
First, make the dough.

4 sticks (1 pound) butter at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (may need a pinch more if using unsalted butter)
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth (2-3 minutes).  Add eggs, mixing well after each, and vanilla.  Add flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing just until combined.

Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and powdered sugar, generously. Only work with a portion of the dough at a time; leave the remainder in the refrigerator to stay cold.  Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch.  Cut cookies.

Bake on parchment paper at 375 until slightly brown around the edges.   These cookies contain baking powder, so they will spread slightly.  If you want extra-sharp edges, use a recipe without any leavening, such as shortbread.

Mine got a little too brown... I was looking at tile for the master bath...
While the cookies are cooling, prepare the Royal Icing.  Sound fancy? It's remarkably easy.

2 egg whites
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
Food coloring

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry.  Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the lemon juice.  If you want more than one color, separate the icing into bowls and dye each bowl a different color.  You can add water to thin the icing, but be very cautious -- a few drops go a long way!

Place the icing into a piping bag (or a ziploc bag) with a tip inserted into the end (put in the tip before you put in the icing!).  I like a star tip with my kids -- you can't do as fine of a detail, but it is much more forgiving for little hands.

Once the cookies have cooled, pipe on decorative designs.  You can also add sprinkles while the icing is still soft.  The icing will dry hard (it's the same kind I use on gingerbread houses), so the cookies travel extremely well.  I sent some with both my kids to school last Friday.

Banana Caramel Pie... what I made for my Valentines

So, tomorrow is Valentine's Day. 

Apparently for the under ten set, this holiday is right up there with Thanksgiving...  not as important as Halloween or Christmas, but it definitely ranks.

For my son's class tomorrow, I was supposed to bring fruit.  For him, this meant only RED fruit (or possibly pink), so he convinced me to purchase all sorts of out-of-season produce: strawberries, grapes, cherries, pears, apples, and plums.  I probably accumulated more "food miles" than in the previous 6 months put together, but our fruit salad is RED.

And then for my husband, I finally tried out banana caramel pie.  One of my friends calls this "Danger Pie" because of the potential for exploding cans of milk.  Either way, it was a very easy day-before-Valentine's dessert. 

1 baked pie shell (I cheated for once and used store-bought, but if you want to make your own... you know, if you are not moving out in 5 days to prepare for massive home renovations... I recommend this one).
3 bananas, sliced thin
1 can Eagle sweetened condensed milk, made into caramel (see below)
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 Heath Bar, crushed

The time-consuming part is making the caramel, so I did that last Sunday while the baby napped.  Basically, you take the wrapper off of a can of sweetened condensed milk, then put it in a pot of boiling water.  Boil it for 3 hours, adding water as needed to keep the can completely covered. Apparently, the "danger" part of the "danger pie" comes if you let too much water evaporate... putting the milk can in danger of explosion.  If your can does not explode, shake it when you take it out (with hot pads) and make sure it no longer sounds like milk.  Then, allow to cool.  This will keep on the shelf indefinitely.

When you are ready to make the pie, slice the banana into the pre-baked crust.  Pour the caramel over the top (you may need to warm it in the microwave if it won't pour).  Whip the whipping cream and the sugar until soft peaks form (or heck, since everything else on this one is out of a can or box, just go ahead and break out the Reddi Whip).  Top with the Heath bar and get your kids to pose!



And yes, we still wear our Santa pajamas in February.  Don't judge.

Pecan Pie

It's that time of year again!  Pecans are falling off of trees all over the place!  (and it's almost Thanksgiving, but that seems secondary to pecan season right now)

This is my favorite version of pecan pie.  The recipe comes from the Cotton Country Collection - the local Junior League's first cookbook, published in 1972.

And yes, my grandmother's famous "Pea Goo" also appears.  I'll save that recipe for later in the week.

Anyway, it's duck season, too, so I was entertaining the boys by myself this morning.  And we made pie!

And since it's also Thanksgiving season, be expecting to see a lot of related posts this week :)  In the meantime, here are some old favorites that are Thanksgiving-worthy:
Pumpkin cheesecake
Macaroni and cheese
Roasted brussel sprouts
and French bread

and coming soon, my FAVORITE Thanksgiving side - Spinach Madeline

But back to the pie.  I don't actually bring this anywhere for Thanksgiving (my husband's sister is in charge of pecan pie and you don't mess with tradition!)... but my husband was begging for one a little early. 

Start out with an unbaked pie crust.  If you want to make your own, I highly recommend this one by Smitten Kitchen.

Just be forewarned, if you let your 5 year old roll out the dough, it may not be as even as you would like.  However, since my pie crusts are rarely things of beauty anyway, it's nice to have an excuse!


And he definitely had fun!



As for the filling, it's pretty basic.  Eggs, sugar, Karo light corn syrup (to which my son said, "I thought you said corn syrup is bad for me"... sigh).

And some flavorings - a little lemon juice, salt, and vanilla.  And a splash of bourbon, if you're so inclined.

Then 1 cup of roughly chopped pecans...

AND (and this is what truly sets this pecan pie apart)  browned butter.

Basically, you take a stick of butter and heat it in a saucepan until it smells nutty and brown and delicious.  Then let it cool and pour it in with the rest of the pie filling.

Pour the filling into your pie crust and bake!

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
1 stick butter, browned
1 cup sugar
1 cup Karo light corn syrup
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1 unbaked pie shell

In a saucepan, brown the butter.  In a separate bowl, add the ingredients in the order listed. Blend in the browned butter.  Pour into the unbaked pie shell.  Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 and bake for another 40 minutes.  Let cool.

Delicious with ice cream, whipped cream, coffee... and turkey!

Waffles - a Saturday morning tradition

When I was growing up, my mom was definitely the chief cook in the house.  But dad had certain specialties - chili, steaks on the grill, and waffles on Saturday morning.

Michael and I got a waffle iron for a wedding present and used it a few times when we lived in New Orleans.  Then we had kids and the whole thing seemed like too much trouble... but I couldn't get rid of it, largely because of the memories I had of making "polka-dot" waffles with my dad on Saturday mornings growing up.

And then a few weeks ago, on a Saturday morning, Dixon asked what was on top of the fridge.
I wiped off the dust and showed him the waffle iron.  And we decided to make waffles.

Currently we do this every Saturday before his soccer game.  I freeze the extras and give them to the baby on school mornings -- they reheat just like Eggos.

Preheat the waffle iron then mix together the ingredients.
William demonstrates the importance of NOT over-mixing the batter.


Then you pour the waffle batter onto the hot iron.


Pouring by mommy... photography by Dixon

Oh, and to achieve the "polka-dot" effect, you can either use blueberries or chocolate chips. 




Either way, they are delicious!




Dry ingredients:
2 cups flour (can substitute up to half of this with whole wheat flour)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 Tablespoons sugar

Wet ingreditents
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and then cooled

Combine the dry ingredients with a fork.  Stir in the wet ingredients.  Do not overstir - the batter should remain lumpy.  Spray a hot waffle iron with cooking spray.  Pour the batter onto the waffle iron and cook according to the manufacturer's directions.  Serve with butter and syrup.

Pumpkin Cheesecake



I bought my first LSU shirt yesterday afternoon.  I've always liked the tigers -- it's part of living here -- but I never attended LSU, and neither did any of my 4 siblings, or my husband, so I never really got around to buying a shirt.  But yesterday, we were invited to watch "the game of the century" with some friends.  And since the last time they had us over, I (inadvertently) dressed my son in the opposing team's colors, I decided to go shopping. That way, no one would make him stand on the porch if LSU happened to get behind.

I also brought this:

The game was amazing, and the dessert was pretty good, too.


The best part of this cheesecake might be the crust.  When reading over cheesecake recipes (all of which seemed to use a graham cracker crust), I thought, why not ginger snaps?  Same cookie crunch, but lots more fall flavors.

 Start with 20 gingersnaps in the bowl of a food processor (3/4 cup crumbs - if you use smaller cookies, it will take more -- and about that, this was MUCH better when I used Anna's ginger thins instead of the thicker cookies shown here). Pulse until they turn into fine crumbs.  Then add 1/2 cup pecans. 
Pulse again.
And add 1/4 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar.
And add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted and cooled butter.

Then, have your adorable son grease the bottom and sides of a spring-form pan.  This boy LOVES butter.

Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan.  Then make the filling.



Blend until smooth, then pour into the springform pan.
 Don't worry if the cheesecake splits.  Mine ALWAYS seems to.  But the topping more than makes up for it -- whipped cream sweetened and spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.


Here's the recipe (adapted significantly from Smitten Kitchen)
Note: this recipe is not difficult, but it gets lots of bowls dirty... so clear out your dishwasher before you get started.


For the crust:
3/4 cup gingersnap crumbs (20 cookies - Anna's Ginger Thins are the absolute BEST for this)
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted and cooled butter

Combine first four ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Add melted butter.  Press into a greased springform pan.

For the filling:
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature (this is very important!)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (14 oz) can pumpkin (1 1/2 cups)
3 eggs at room temperature


Put the cream cheese and sugars in the bowl of a mixer.  Beat on high for 3 - 5 minutes until very smooth.  Add the other ingredients in the order listed, beating well after each addition.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
Pour this into the springform pan on top of the crust.  Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, then turn off the oven BUT DON'T OPEN it.  Allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for at least an hour (I always let mine stay there overnight).  Remove and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving (and topping).

*I still have trouble with this cake splitting.  I have tried putting a pan of water underneath it in the oven, and decreasing the temperature by 5 - 10 degrees, with occasional success.  Thank goodness for the topping, which hides the cracks!

For the topping:
1 cup heavy cream, whipped until stiff peaks form
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar OR 3 tablespoons real maple syrup (did this the last time and it was an amazing change)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger

Blend the sugar and spices into the whipped cream, scraping down the bowl frequently.  Either serve alongside the cheesecake in a bowl or pipe on top of the cheesecake (if you are worried about unsightly cracks).

This would be perfect for a different Thanksgiving dessert.  Enjoy!

*A note about ingredients: lots of people ask me about what brands I buy for this cheesecake.  The only ones that seem to make a difference are the gingersnaps (I love Anna's Ginger Thins) and the cream cheese.  I buy Philadelphia for this.  I think the generic brand has too much water, so it doesn't have as smooth of a texture.  I also do not toast the pecans first (as I do in most desserts) because they get plenty brown while the cake cooks.  Also, if you do substitute maple syrup for powdered sugar in the topping, make sure to use the real stuff, not maple-flavored corn syrup :)  Happy Turkey Day!

Crawfish Etouffee

In many ways, Louisiana is a state divided.  People draw the line either around I-10 or around Alexandria, depending on who you ask.  We on the north side like to claim close relationship to our more cultured cousins down south, but at the end of the day,  collard greens and venison smothered steaks belong squarely on my side, and etouffee belongs down there.

Still, I love the stuff.

And I do have a few qualifications on my side.   My grandmother grew up well south of I-10 in a little town called Franklin, about 8 miles off the gulf.  My husband and I lived in New Orleans for four years - right up until Hurricane Katrina.  And cleaning out a duplex 4 weeks after the storm definitely qualifies me for... something (perhaps lunacy?)

So tonight, I got in touch with my Creole heritage.  I opened a bottle of red wine, danced with my baby to the Meters, and made crawfish etouffee.

You start with what my dad calls the "Holy Trinity" - onion, bell pepper, and celery.

Dice these (or if you're being lazy like I was tonight, use a food processor).

I also threw in some garlic and red pepper.


Saute them in 1 stick of butter until they are soft.  This took about 30 minutes over medium high heat.  If you're using a thick bottomed pan, they are very forgiving.  I think I stirred a total of three times. 

Then add the crawfish.

These are leftover tails I froze after my baby's first birthday... but I only had 1 pound and I wanted enough to freeze...

So I threw these in, too.  Buy local :)


Then I added 2 tablespoons flour, a little more salt and red pepper, and 1 cup of water...

And serve, over steamed white rice!

The baby was very proud of his efforts.

Condensed recipe below:

Crawfish Etouffee (adapted from Landry's Restaurant in New Iberia)
2 large onions, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 stick butter
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (if you are not trying to feed picky children, definitely increase this)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 lbs crawfish tails, peeled and cleaned, with the fat
2 Tbs flour
1 cup water

Saute the onions, bell peppers, celery, garlic, red pepper, and salt in the butter until the vegetables are soft (approximately 30 minutes).  Add the pepper and the crawfish tails.  Cook until bubbling.  Add the flour.  Stir until smooth.  Add the water and cook until bubbling.  Serve hot over steamed white rice.  Serve with French bread and a green salad.

Monster Cookies - what trick-or-treaters get at my house :)

 This is my ridiculously-cute nephew, Nicholas.  He came over today because
1. we were carving pumpkins (again... the first developed a bug/mold problem in a ridiculously short amount of time.  About 2 days.  This is what comes of 90 degree weather + humidity in late October.)
2. We are tearing down part of our house.  So there are jackhammers and sledgehammers and dust and concrete debris and all sorts of other things little boys love.
3. We made monster cookies - pretty much the best little boy cookies ever.

First, we mixed up the dough.  Even two 5 year olds cooking couldn't make my kitchen as dirty as the chaos outside :)

Then I scooped the batter out for them and they made monster faces using Reese's Peices (you can also use M&Ms, but I liked the orange-black-yellow color scheme.
 These were Nicholas's cookies.  He loved making faces. 
 This is one of Dixon's cookies.  I think he was channeling Picasso.

Either way, the finished product was delicious!  I doubt the trick-or-treaters will complain.


I stole this recipe from my mother-in-law... these are one of my husband's favorites.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter or margarine softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups quick oats uncooked (may also use old-fashioned for a different texture)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate morsels
1 cup (or more) M&Ms or Reese's or other candy coated chocolatey bits of goodness.



In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars.  Add the eggs, peanut butter, and vanilla.  Beat until well combined.  Add the oats, soda, and salt.  Beat on low until just combined.  Add chocolate chips.  At this point, you can also add the M&Ms, but I like to let the boys make faces.
Scoop VERY LARGE scoops onto a cookie sheet.  You can use a 1/4 cup measuring cup for this, or a melon baller, giving each cookie 2 scoops.   Drop the dough about 3 inches apart on a cookie sheet.  Spread out M&Ms and let the kids make monster faces.
Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes (depending on cookie size).  The outside edge of each cookie should be light brown.

Cupcakes for the Cure - and Wilton's Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

How fast would you run for one of these?


 A few years ago, a dear friend and colleague of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her students came to me and asked if we could run the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure as a group, for her.  I said of course! But they were worried about participation.  Even with such a great cause, it's hard to get teenagers to want to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning to run.  So I announced that anyone who beat me in the race would get a cupcake :)  I have found in my 8 years of teaching that teenagers are HIGHLY motivated by food.  And competition.

To achieve this, I used a large Wilton open star frosting tip with the jagged edge.




I made the frosting, then I cut the end off of a Ziploc bag (although I highly recommend a frosting bag if you have one... I used to, and it's recently disappeared :( But my birthday is only a few days away!)




For the cake, you can make my mom's chocolate cake, or this Ina Garten version that is even softer and richer than mom's (sorry, Mom!). 

But what really makes these special is the buttercream icing. 

Here's the recipe, adapted from Wilton and my mother-in-law - the queen of all things frosting!

1/2 cup solid shortening (I buy the Crisco bars - they rock!)
1/2 cup salted butter at room temperature (DO NOT microwave this to soften it!)
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder (Hershey's is fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 bag powdered sugar, plus more as needed
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk (I used skim)

In the bowl of a large electric mixer, beat the shortening and butter.  Add the cocoa powder.  The more you beat the cocoa powder, the lighter it will get, so be careful if you want a dark icing.  Add the vanilla and beat until combined.  Alternately add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, with the milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time.  You may need more milk or more powdered sugar, depending on the consistency you want.  To make a very thick frosting, you may need 1 cup more than the bag of powdered sugar.

Use a spatula to spoon into a frosting bag or Ziploc bag, fitted with the appropriate tip.  Go to youtube for a video, or visit my mother-in-law for a step-by-step tutorial on how to make pretty cupcakes :)

Enjoy!

p.s., I think I'm going to find some pink sprinkles for these guys before I get to school in the morning.  

Easy Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce for ice cream

Hot fudge sauce on ice cream - is there really anything better?


This (along with homemade pizza) has been the recent obsession at our house.  Of course, my husband desecrates it by dipping cream puffs from Walmart in it... apparently his way of saying I don't make cream puffs often enough...

Anyway, the reason I love this hot fudge sauce so much is that even when you put it over ice cream, it doesn't get hard and crunchy... nor does it puddle in the bottom of the bowl (like the thin stuff you get out of a bottle).  It's perfect... and very easy.

Place a pan of water on the stove.  Put a heat proof bowl on top.  Voila - you have just created a double-boiler, perfect for melting chocolate.  (I have no success with doing this in the microwave - the chocolate or the cream always burns or curdles or does something otherwise unpleasant.  However, if your microwaving skills are more advanced, feel free to melt the chocolate in the microwave).

In the bowl, place 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine, but I had bars on hand - if you are using chips, this will be about 3/4 cup).  Add 1/4 cup heavy cream.  Heat until the chocolate melts. Stir until smooth.

Remove this from the heat.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of coffee.

And that's it!

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

1/4 cup heavy cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon coffee

Heat the first two ingredients on the top of a double boiler until melted.  Stir in honey and coffee.  Will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.