Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sweet Potato Pie


     Truth in labeling. This is, in fact, a pie. A sweet potato pie, a southern staple that I grew up with. My mom has been making this pie for as long as I can remember. (And that's a pretty long time.)

     My mom is amazing. She still cooks a huge Sunday dinner every week. I'm there most Sundays, as are my sister and brother and any of our kids (and spouses and grandkids) that happen to be around. She's been doing this forever. And she always has dessert. Sometimes it's her famous cold oven pound cake, or even yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But quite often, it's sweet potato pie.

      A true Southern sweet potato pie is not a pumpkin pie wannabe. You'll not find cloves, nutmeg, or even cinnamon here. Just a little sugar, butter and vanilla added to the custard so the delicate sweet potato really shines through. My mom says "When I want a pumpkin pie, I'll make a pumpkin pie!" It's also an all season pie, too good to relegate to the fall and winter.

     This recipe makes two pies. My mom always bakes one plain and one with flaked coconut on top. There are those who prefer one or the other, but I am equal opportunity when it comes to pie.

    Sweet potatoes are readily available year round, and full of fiber and other things that are good for you. So sweet potato pie is like having dessert with benefits, right? I like to think so. And I hope you do too.

My Mom's Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato (you can either bake or boil your potatoes until tender)
Use a potato masher or a fork- not a food processor
2 eggs, beaten
Scant cup of sugar (My mom says a full cup is just too sweet for her.)
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 of a 12 oz. can of evaporated milk- (about 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) Save the rest to brush on the crust before baking
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350F.
Mix  all ingredients together and pour into two regular (not deep dish) unbaked pie shells.
Sprinkle top with sweetened, flaked coconut if desired. Brush crust with reserved milk.
Bake about an hour, or until filling is puffed and crust is nicely browned. (The amount of moisture in your sweet potatoes will determine the exact time.) If your crust browns too quickly, cover crust with foil. Cool and serve.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Spotted Dog: An Irish Tea Cake

     I had to go pretty far back on my family tree to find my Irish roots, but they're definitely there.  Just enough of them, I suppose, to appreciate this beautiful loaf of what I've always called Irish Soda bread, even though now I've discovered that it really isn't.

     Did you know that there are rules for making Irish Soda Bread? The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread tells us that any ingredient other than flour, baking soda, sour milk and salt make your loaf an imposter. This loaf, my friends, is definitely an imposter. A tasty one, but an imposter nonetheless.

     This loaf has a bit of added sugar, some butter, a lot of currants- ingredients that deny it the title of an authentic Irish Soda bread, but make it oh-so-delicious. The lovely loaf they do make is called Spotted Dog. I think I like that even better.

     Spotted Dog is a quick and easy loaf to put together to enjoy at breakfast or tea time. Warm out of the oven and slathered with butter? That would be the top o' my mornin' for sure! Leftovers make a great toast too.
     This recipe makes two loaves; enjoy one now and freeze one for later. Better yet, share with a friend. Just please make sure you cut a deep X  into the top of your loaf before baking. Why? To let the fairies out, of course. Who wants to suffer the wrath of toasted fairies? :)

Spotted Dog: An Irish Tea Cake
Adapted from this recipe and this recipe
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tblsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter (1 stick) cut into small cubes
2 cups currants or raisins
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a baking sheet or cover with parchment paper.
  • In large mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar.
  • Cut butter into dry ingredients with a fork or dough blender until mixture resembles large crumbs.
  • Stir in currants or raisins.
  • Whisk together the beaten egg, the buttermilk, and the vanilla extract.
  • Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients.
  • Pour buttermilk mixture into the well and gently mix together until the dough is evenly blended. Do not over-mix.
  • Turn sticky dough out onto a generously floured surface. With floured hands, gently knead dough just enough (just flop it over a couple of times) and form into two softball sized balls of dough. Do not over-knead! It will make your bread/cake tough. You don't need your dough to be smooth and shiny- you want a nice craggy surface to make that beautiful crust!
  • Place your dough balls onto your prepared baking sheet and slightly flatten them into round loaves. Leave plenty of room between your loaves for rising.
  • Cut an X shape into the top of each loaf, all the way to the edges. This lets the fairies out!
  • Bake for 40 minutes, or until loaves are browned and sound hollow when you tap them.
  • Slice, slather with butter, and enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Globs

Neither judge a book by its cover, nor a cookie by its name! While the moniker "Glob" is not commonly associated with a cookie jar confection, this is a delicious exception to the rule.

Lots of chocolate, walnuts, pecans and peanut butter chips all held together by just a bit of flour, make a huge chunky brownie-like cookie that just begs for a nice tall glass of cold milk.

This recipe comes from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. No need to chill the dough, so you can have these ready on short notice, when you have a chocolate craving that just won't quit. Now how easy is that?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Globs
recipe from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof

6 Tblsp. unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
2  oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 extra large eggs
1 Tblsp. instant espresso powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup + 1 Tblsp. all purpose flour (I have also used gluten free flour with good success.)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup whole walnut halves (NOT chopped)
1 cup whole pecan halves (NOT chopped)
2/3 cup peanut butter chips

  • Preheat oven to 325 F.
  • In the top part of a double boiler over hot water, melt the butter, the unsweetened chocolate, and 6 oz. of the chocolate chips. Stir until just melted. Remove from heat and let cool 15 minutes. You don't want it to cook your eggs!
  • In a small bowl, stir together 1/3 cup flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  • In another bowl, mix together walnuts, pecans, peanut butter chips, remainder of the chocolate chips and 1 Tblsp. flour. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer (paddle attachment), mix together the eggs, espresso powder and vanilla extract.
  • Add sugar to egg mixture. Beat (medium-high) for two minutes until the batter is thick and falls back on itself in a ribbon.
  • With mixer on low, add cooled, melted chocolate mixture to egg mixture until combined.
  • Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula.
  • Fold in nuts and chips.
  • With two soup spoons (or a large cookie scoop) drop mixture onto parchment covered cookie sheets.
  • Bake exactly 15 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet.
  • Yield: 20-22 large cookies

Friday, January 23, 2015

Caramel Puff Corn

This stuff is seriously addictive, and you'll either love me or hate me for sharing the recipe. Many batches were made over the holidays, and they disappeared so quickly there was barely time to take a photo. It's sweet, salty, buttery, crunchy, ridiculously easy to whip up and even easier to eat. And eat. And eat.

Did you notice that there are no popcorn hulls? No hard kernels or bits to get stuck in your teeth either. That's because it starts with a bag of butter flavored Puffcorn,  a ready made snack food you can buy in the potato chip aisle. I used Chester's Puffcorn, but there are are other brands available that come in different sized bags. Thank you Vicki Bensinger, for introducing me to this irresistible confection!

The caramel corn may be good, but it doesn't hold a candle to this sweet little bundle! I braved the cold of Chicago last week to snuggle with my brand new granddaughter. Isn't she precious? I hope one day she'll love to bake with me as much as my sweet grandson does. I miss them both!

Caramel Puff Corn
Recipe from here, here, and here!

1 cup (2 sticks) butter (no substitutes!)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1 tsp. baking soda
approx. 8 oz. BUTTER flavored Puff Corn (I could only find Puff Corn in 3.5 oz. bags. I used two bags of Chester's Puff Corn. You could use three bags to get a bigger batch with a lighter caramel coating.)
***If you have a hard time finding Butter flavored Puff Corn, you can use the Snack Finder here to find Chester's Puff Corn in your area. 

Empty puff corn from bags into large buttered roasting pan. Set aside.
In a 2 qt. saucepan stir together butter, sugar and syrup.
Using medium heat, bring to boil. Boil 2 minutes stirring constantly.
Add baking soda. Mixture will bubble up. Stir and remove from heat.
Pour caramel mixture over puff corn in roaster. Stir until puff corn is coated.
Bake in 250F oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to distribute caramel evenly over puff corn.
Working quickly, turn out onto parchment and separate puffs while they cool. Store in an airtight container. Try not to eat it all before it gets into the container! :)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Scandinavian Almond Bars

     You're not tired of cookies yet, are you? I hope not, because this is a great little recipe to tuck away in your bag of cookie tricks. It's a versatile treat, reminiscent of an almond pastry. It's equally as perfect with your coffee or tea in the morning as it is a pick-me-up in the afternoon.

     This beauty is elegant enough for special occasions, but simple enough to have on hand to fill your cookie jar. To me it's everything a grown-up sugar cookie should be- crunchy edges, a chewy middle and the delicate flavor of almonds and vanilla. (Is it just me, or does anyone else think of Jergens lotion whenever they open up the bottle of almond extract? Do they even make that anymore?)

     I came upon this recipe quite by accident when one of my students brought it to school for an  assignment where they had to bring an example of something from home that had different types of measurements. I've been making these cookies ever since...Who knew that homework could be so rewarding?

     To add to their appeal, they're delightfully easy to make and look like you've spent hours on them. They also freeze well in an airtight container with wax paper between layers. Double the recipe so you can always have them on hand for little cookie emergencies! (And please don't tell me you've never had one of those. :)

Happy New Year to everyone! 
May 2015 bring you joy and good health!

Scandinavian Almond Bars
Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies

Cookie Ingredients
1 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 Tblsp. milk
1/2 cup sliced almonds (I used more than this, but I love almonds.)

Icing Ingredients
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. almond extract
enough milk (3-4 tsp.) to make drizzling consistency

Cookie Directions
  • In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  • In mixing bowl, beat together softened butter and sugar.
  • Beat in egg and almond extract until combined.
  • Beat in flour mixture. This mixture will be crumbly but will get better as you work with it.
  • Divide dough into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a 12 inch long roll. Place two rolls 4 to 5 inches apart on a parchment (or silpat) covered cookie sheet. 
  • Flatten each roll until it is 3 inches wide. 
  • Brush flattened (3"x12") logs with milk; sprinkle with almonds.
  • Bake at 325F for 12-15 minutes or until edges are lightly (barely!) browned. (I baked mine for 13 minutes, but ovens vary.)
  • While still warm and soft on the cookie sheet, cut each cookie "slab" diagonally into 1-inch wide strips. Carefully transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Drizzle with Almond Icing; let dry.
  • Almond Icing: Stir together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1/4 tsp. Almond extract and enough milk to make drizzling consistency.
  • Store in an airtight container. These cookies are even better after they sit overnight!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Walnut Reindeer Cookies, AKA Walnut Acorn Cookies

     These cute little reindeer were originally supposed to be elegant little acorn shaped cookies.  Buttery walnut shortbread cookies dipped in chocolate and more walnuts to make them look like acorns. But somewhere along the way they ended up looking like mischievous reindeer. These little cuties would be a perfect addition to a Christmas cookie tray or to leave out for the jolly man in the red suit.

     If you're looking for something a little more traditional, or are inclined to make these at any other time of year where reindeer are not as appropriate, I assure you that they're just as delectable without the antlers and noses!

     This recipe was featured in the Gourmet Cookie Book as the best cookie recipe from the year 2000. It was originally submitted to Gourmet magazine by a college friend of mine, who says that it has long been her family's favorite.

Walnut Acorn Cookies
recipe from Suzanne and Gourmet

Ingredients for cookies
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (4 oz.)

Ingredients for decorating
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
If you're making reindeer, you'll also need candy eyes, red candy for noses, and pretzels for antlers.

Directions for making cookies
  • Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Beat together butter, brown sugar and vanilla with electric mixer until pale and fluffy.
  • Add flour mixture, and blend together at low speed.
  • Stir in walnuts with wooden spoon.
  • The original recipe does not call for chilling the dough, but I found that my cookies did not spread as much if I chilled the dough for a couple of hours. You may want to try some both ways to see what works best for you!
  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Form 2 teaspoons dough (I used a small cookie scoop full) into egg shape. I pressed the dough ball into the bowl of a spoon to get uniform shapes.
  • Arrange "acorns" 1 inch apart on parchment covered baking sheets. Bake on middle rack of oven for 10 minutes, or until bottoms are light brown.
  • Remove cookies to rack to cool.
Dip half of each cookie into melted chocolate, and then into chopped nuts. Place on waxed paper or silicone lined baking sheet to set. (about 15 min.- it depends on the temperature of your kitchen!)
If you're making reindeer, dip half of your cookie into melted chocolate, but only coat the front with walnuts. Press two pretzels onto the back of the cookie into the chocolate. Use melted chocolate to affix the eyes and nose.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints

     This cookie needs few words. Buttery tender almond shortbread that practically melts in your mouth. Bright sweet-tart raspberry jam filling the center, contributing a bit of contrast in taste and texture. These are first to disappear from the cookie tray. Most requested at my house. Needs few ingredients and easy to prepare. Make some for a friend. Make some for yourself. You'll both be happy. Need I say more?

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints
Recipe from Land O Lakes

Cookie Ingredients
1 cup butter (2 sticks) softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam (or your favorite flavor)

Glaze Ingredients
1 cup confectioners sugar
2-3 tsp. water (more if needed to get desired consistency)
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract

  • Combine butter, sugar and 1/2 tsp. almond extract in mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy.
  • Add flour, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.
  • Cover, and refrigerate until firm- at least one hour. (Cookies will spread more if dough is not chilled.)
  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on parchment covered baking sheets.
  • Make indentation in the center of each cookie with your thumb. (I used the handle of a wooden spoon.)
  • Fill each indentation with 1/4 tsp. of jam.
  • Bake 14-18 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute on cookie sheet and then transfer to racks to cool completely.
  • Whisk together glaze ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cookies.

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