Saturday favorites

I’ve been collecting a few suggestions…in the spirit of paying it forward these are some things I’d recommend to everyone! 🙂

Getting ready to do some baking. I never get tired of playing in the kitchen! That’s why I hauled my Kitchen Aid mixer to this little apartment, along with a few other essentials. Here are a mix of my current favorites, both savory and sweet, tools and foods.

  • Parchment paper – what a difference this makes in baking. Easy clean up. I particularly love using parchment paper for baking brownies…leave a generous margin of paper hanging over the sides of the brownie pan and just lift out the brownies when baked. Easier to cut brownies out of the pan. When I first tried parchment paper, I was frugal, using it only for certain things.  Now it comes out almost any time I turn on the oven.
  • Silicone baking pans – I’m only beginning to use these, but what I’ve used so far I like. The added bonus: you can shape all sorts of stuff in these…handmade soap or other crafts. Multi-purpose!
  • Cauliflower “mashed potatoes” – I’ll admit when I make this version of the traditional mash I add a little butter and sometimes sour cream to the mix…the flavor is so good I hardly notice the substitution of cauliflower for potato. Best tip: if you want a little more body to your “mash,” add a small potato or two to the head of cauliflower. You’ll still have a lower carb dish, but it will be a little sturdier…maybe a good step down from the all-potato mash.
  • Big wide shreds of parmesan…I can sometimes find this wide shred in the grocery, usually in the specialty cheese section, but if you can’t find it, buy a gorgeous big hunk of parm and use a vegetable peeler to make your own wide, luxurious shreds to top pasta bakes, salads, or whatever needs a little more cheesy goodness.
  • A new favorite, I’ve only recently been roasting garbanzo beans, aka chickpeas. Delicious and simple. Start with two cans of garbanzo beans, drain and rinse. Spread the beans on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, or any seasoning that strikes your fancy. Bake/roast at 400° for approximately 30 minutes. I say “approximately” because you may want them to be more or less crunchy. My advice is to check the beans after the first 30 minutes and decide if they’re done to your taste. They’re like popcorn, only better. Good for snacking, and making salads more interesting.
  • Seattle Bakery Cracked Wheat Sourdough Bread…if you can find this brand, buy it! The sourdough flavor comes through with the crunchy nuttiness of the cracked wheat…delicious toasted with jam, or use for the perfect grilled cheese. This bread comes in a big round loaf. Beautiful.
  • Burrata cheese: If you haven’t tried this, you must do so, asap! It’s wonderful, that’s all.
  • My new favorite way to prepare salmon: searing. I used to bake salmon, if I wasn’t grilling, thinking it was the best way to keep it healthy. But I always have trouble with the timing. It seems like I pull it out too fast, or just past the perfect done-ness. I tried pan searing the fresh salmon we caught last weekend, and it was perfect. Just put a little olive oil or butter (ok, I always choose butter) in your pan, and when the pan is hot, place the salmon and season. I turned the fillet once, and got it just right. Not overdone, and the texture was perfect. Outside got a little color, and the inside was medium rare. Never baking salmon again!
  • Homemade Magic Shell: (this is just fun!)
    • 8 ounces of chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
    • 2 tablespoons of coconut oil

    Place coconut oil in double boiler over low heat and melt. Add chocolate chips to double boiler with the oil. Gently blend chocolate into coconut oil until smooth.  Let cool for a few minutes and then drizzle on your favorite anything. Perfect for dipping fruit. Bananas, strawberries, and grapes are my favorites. Made some frozen dipped bananas recently and can verify: highly edible! Also perfect for ice cream.

In the digital world, check these out…well worth exploring.

  • PicMonkey – a fun and easy photo editor…there’s a free version and a paid version, both are great. Good for creating printables or almost anything. Look here.
  • Best way to sell online…I call it a digital garage sale. Check out your local Facebook sale site. The one for Ketchikan is called Ketchikan SaleCycle, it’s a closed group for local residents…an amazing resource if you need something, or if you’re selling. I sold most of my furniture in the move last fall, and a lot of miscellaneous household items…made over $13,000 in just a few weeks. Of course, eventually I’ll have to replace some of those things, but it was a fantastic way to sell without doing a huge one day event that might or might not have gone well. And it’s fun too…actually sort of addicting once you get going. I like it better than Craigslist. I think most communities have a local Facebook sales group. Find the digital garage sales in your area and get ready to clean out!

And finally, some random suggestions:

  • A new favorite exercise…the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro…It really works!
  • Looking to be inspired to say “No!” more often? I can’t say enough about Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I read it a few months ago, and I’m still drawing on it as I consider choices.    I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to say “no.” Recognizing that saying “no” actually honors the real priorities of my life helps me to be strong in the face of my built-in need to please. Not always easy for this Southern girl/woman to do, but I’m trying to be more thoughtful and deliberate about my answers.
  • RSVP Endurance kitchen products: I love these tools. You can find them on Amazon or in specialty kitchen stores. They’re not too pricey, but all the ones I’ve tried are good. Very good. This is a brand like Oxo…great value for the money, and whatever they make is quality. The tools are a pleasure to use.

And finally, a smile for the day:

Organic Donuts

Enjoy your weekend!   ~ Sheila

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Colorado Maple Bran Muffins

So, Saturday morning needs something more than cold cereal or a yogurt. Some weekends that means pancakes or the Southern treat of grits and sausage. But today I’m falling back on an old reliable that combines comfort and just a wee nod to the healthy side of baking. I made bran muffins, a slightly adjusted variation of the classic recipe that can live in your fridge for several days, allowing you to produce a warm breakfast treat in a matter of minutes.

I used to make this one regularly for my kids. These muffins are one of my son’s favorites, always on the menu for those rare occasions when he has a chance to visit us in Alaska. Brings back good memories of chilly Colorado mornings and the aromas of coffee and maple in the kitchen. Delicious!

Colorado Maple Bran Muffins
 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups Kellogg’s All Bran Cereal
1 1/4 cup milk OR buttermilk (use whatever you have on hand)
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil OR melted butter
1 tablespoon maple flavoring
1 cup raisins
 
OR

You can use Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal in this recipe instead of the All Bran Cereal and raisins…just add 3 cups of the Raisin Bran cereal in place of the 2 cups of All Bran and 1 cup of raisins.
 
 
Stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, soda, and salt.
 
In large mixing bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand about 5 minutes.
Add egg, oil OR butter, and mix well. 
Add flour mixture, stirring until ingredients are combined. Add raisins if using the All Bran/raisin combination. 

Ooey gooey batter

Ooey gooey batter

 
Spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or use cupcake papers. Spoon batter into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter. YUM!
 
The batter will keep well in the fridge for several days. If muffin batter has been in fridge for a few days, add a little more baking powder and soda (about 1 teaspoon each) to help muffins rise when baked.

If you want to make this recipe more healthy, replace 1/4 cup up to 1/2 cup of the AP flour with wheat germ, flax seed or flax meal. You can also replace the butter or oil with applesauce or a ripe banana, and add nuts for some crunch factor. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe and can take almost any substitution you throw at it. But the basic version is tasty too. Just keep in mind if you mix it up, you’ll need to watch baking times closely and adjust if necessary.

Mmmmmm....

Mmmmmm….I see raisins peeking!

 

Enjoy!

Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp. 🙂

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me 🙂 )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

In case you missed it…World Nutella Day!

WorldNutellaDay_logo_s-e1391459886361-300x207In the flurry of sports headlines…today is the parade for the Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks, (boy, was that painful!) and there’s ongoing news and drama around the Sochi Olympics…you could be missing an exciting new entry to the list of “world” days: World Nutella Day. It’s a young event, launched in 2007, so momentum is still building. 🙂

Complete with website, World Nutella Day provides the perfect excuse for uniting spoon and spread, for enjoying chocolate creaminess long before the Easter bunny hops this way. This is a day for lip-licking, jar-cleaning, smear-on-any surface goodness, and I’m proud to partake!

To celebrate in style, check out the plethora of Nutella recipes you can try. Pinterest offers a gold mine. Nutella has come a long way, moving beyond a humble spread for toast to star in ice cream, pastries, cakes, brownies…any place you would want chocolate, you can invite Nutella. And really…is there any dessert that doesn’t deserve a chocolate option?

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Monday morning Cinnamon Rolls

So tomorrow I’m bringing cinnamon rolls to work. These are not from a bakery or out of a refrigerated roll tube. These are homemade, gooey, delicious and oversized. These are the real deal. The recipe follows below.

But first, let me tell you that this isn’t just a bit of holiday festivity for co-workers. No, this is part of my work philosophy. I believe in doing a good job of fulfilling my responsibilities. But there are things that go along with doing a good job. This is what I do try to do:

~ Try to say “yes” more than “no.” Be positive. I call this my “yes policy.” This is not about being a “yes man,” or about letting others dump on me. It is about being willing to try, and being gracious.

~ Be transparent; apologize when necessary; take responsibility!

~ Smile; have an attitude of gratitude. But be sincere; you can’t fake this.

~ Commit to what you’re trying to accomplish; coach it; be it.

~ And last, bring food. I’ve never worked in any setting where good food isn’t appreciated. This isn’t about getting anything in return. This is about now and then sharing a treat, whether homemade or a pickup from the local doughnut shop. I used to buy ice cream fudge bars or ice cream sandwiches in the summer to take in at a past job. It really doesn’t matter what the treat is. Just do it, and do it regularly.

Cinnamon Rolls
(thank you, Ann!)

I’ve never had a failure with this recipe; it was given to me by a dear friend whose skill in the kitchen is legendary! This isn’t a recipe to make if you’re watching your calories. But for those occasions when you want a wonderful breakfast treat, to pull out all the stops, this is a winner. Although the instructions are long, each step is actually quick and easy…don’t let the lengthy instructions intimidate you!

The dough is easier to make if you have a stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid) so the mixer does the work for you. You do not have to knead the dough by hand, you only need to mix it with the dough hook. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can mix the dough by hand, that’s easy too).

I break this into three steps and it keeps the whole process from being too lengthy. To have warm rolls for breakfast, (this is our standard Christmas morning treat) mix the dough the afternoon or evening before. I usually try to mix the dough early enough in the afternoon so I can let the dough rise six hours and then roll the dough out and slice before going to bed. When the dough is rolled out, sliced, and the rolls are put into the baking pan, I cover the pan with Saran wrap, slide the pan into the fridge, and leave it overnight. In the morning, I put the cold baking dish into a cold oven. (Very important! Never put a cold dish into a hot oven; if the baking dish is glass it might crack.) I put the oven on the lowest temp, about 170 degrees, let the rolls rise about half an hour, or until the rolls have at least doubled in size, then turn up the oven to 350 degrees and bake the rolls for approximately 35 minutes. While the rolls are baking, mix the icing. This only takes a couple of minutes, so the whole process in the morning is just a matter of putting the rolls in the oven and drizzling the icing over the rolls after baking.

An alternative, if you have time, is to allow the rolls come to room temperature and rise till the dough is at least doubled. If your timing allows (perfect if you are serving these at brunch), just take the rolls out of the fridge in the morning and let them sit for at least a couple of hours prior to baking. If they still need a little more rising, you can always speed the process along a bit by putting them into a low-temp oven as described above.

Dough
1 cup softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup hot water
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
2 packages of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water, or you can use 1 cup of warm milk instead of water
6 cups of all purpose flour

Combine the butter, sugar and hot water in mixer bowl. Stir until butter is melted. Allow this to cool until just warm (if mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast). Add eggs and salt to butter mixture when cooled. Combine yeast with 1 cup of warm water (or warm milk if substituting milk for water). Give the yeast a few minutes to proof (it will foam up). Add yeast mixture to butter mixture. Add flour 2 cups at a time and combine using mixer dough hook. When all the flour is added, cover the dough in the mixing bowl and refrigerate for six hours or overnight.

Filling
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
brown or white sugar, 1 1/4 cups (more or less, to taste)
cinnamon (use a lot, these are cinnamon rolls!)

After dough has risen in fridge, (dough should be at least doubled in size) remove from mixing bowl and roll out on floured surface. Roll dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness in rectangular shape. Spread surface of dough with softened butter. Sprinkle buttered surface of dough with granulated or brown sugar, then with cinnamon. Cover the dough liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Roll up jelly roll fashion and slice rolls about 1 inch thick. Arrange slices in baking pan and allow to rise. You can let the rolls rise at room temperature for a couple of hours, or turn the oven on the lowest temperature (about 170 degrees) and let the rolls rise in the oven for about half an hour, as described in notes above.

When rolls have risen (at least double in size) bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes.

Icing
Combine a couple of tablespoons of melted butter, powdered sugar (I use two or three cups of powdered sugar) and milk (drizzle a little milk in until the icing is the consistency you want. It can be spreadable or pourable). Add a teaspoon of vanilla to icing and spread over warm rolls. If you make too much icing, this will keep in the fridge for several days. You can also use this icing on almost any dessert…handy to keep around for pound cakes, etc. For those who love cream cheese, add 3 or 4 oz of softened cream cheese to the icing and blend to remove any lumps.

Orange Rolls

I stumbled on this option (I was out of cinnamon and discovered my predicament at the last minute when I was making these recently) and it makes a nice citrusy treat.

All the steps for making the dough are the same, through rolling the dough out and spreading with butter and sprinkling the dough with granulated or brown sugar. I use less sugar in this variation, and I don’t measure these amounts, but I cover the dough a little more lightly with sugar than when I am making the cinnamon version. This can be adjusted to personal taste. After spreading the rolled-out dough with butter and sugar, using a jar of orange marmalade, (I use Smuckers marmalade) spread this over the sugar, roll up, and slice rolls to place in baking pan. (The marmalade can be a bit tart, and I use the sugar in the filling to cut the tartness of the orange peel in the marmalade.) Allow rolls to rise and bake as described above.

For the glaze, instead of adding vanilla extract and milk to thin the glaze, I use orange juice and a few drops of orange flavoring, or you could grate a little orange zest in the glaze if you have a fresh orange. Don’t add cream cheese…you just want to punch up the orange flavor.

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My new favorite recipe – Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

Tonight I tried a new dessert/cookie recipe, which I’ll share below. But first, let me tell you it incorporates a lot of good things. It combines butter, caramel, and (my own personal addition to the mix) chopped pecans. The dessert/cookie…haven’t decided which category it will ultimately fit in my opinion…is baked, so it has an ooey-gooey warm comfort feeling. It has a sprinkling of French sea salt over the caramel layer, so it has a hint of sophistication. You can cut this into squares, or if you want to serve as a more formal dessert, cut into wedges and add a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream on top…decadent, decadent!

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A few other notes: I made a half recipe, as the full version calls for a pound (a pound!) of butter, and it is my policy never to make such a large amount of a dish I haven’t tasted. Just in case, you know, that the combination of all the luscious ingredients listed is not greater than the sum of the parts. After all, it would be, at the very least, a small tragedy if I had a pound of butter baked into a dessert I really didn’t care for. So that was my choice for a first attempt with this recipe. Having made it, and now, tasted it, I can safely say that I wouldn’t hesitate to commit to the whole thing. Provided I had a good way to dispose of all but one or two pieces. Otherwise, I would be needing to invest in a new size of clothes very soon. These are that good. But I wouldn’t care, most likely, because, these are that good.

So, onto the details. First, credit to the site where I found this. Check this out for a great read. So funny! And thanks for the recipe, which I discovered on Pinterest.

Salted Caramel Pecan Butter Bars

For the Crust:
1 lb. salted butter room temp
1 cup sugar
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tbs vanilla
4 cups all purpose flour

For the Filling:
1 bag (14 oz.) caramel candies (about 50 individual caramels), unwrapped
â…“ cup milk or cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 T. coarse sea salt (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans (my addition, optional if you don’t care for nuts)

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.

Spray a 9×13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. (I found I used about half the dough for the crust and the remaining amount was enough for the crumbled topping.)

Preheat to 325F.

Bake until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approx 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.

While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels in a microwave-safe bowl. Add the cream. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. If caramels are not completely melted, microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until smooth. (I did this step in a small sauce pan on the stove top. Just put the caramels and cream on a low simmer and stir now and then until all melted and gooey.)

Pour the caramel filling over the crust. If you choose to salt the caramel, sprinkle it over the caramel layer now.

Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel.

My addition: Top with a cup of chopped pecans.

Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Let cool before cutting into squares.

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Other ideas: I’m thinking of sprinkling mini semi-sweet chocolate chips over the top the next time I bake this. Don’t overbake! The cookies cut beautifully after they cooled. Last, if you’re looking for a great shortbread recipe, this one is as good as any I’ve tried. I have never made shortbread with two kinds of sugar, but the dough was easy to work with and baked beautifully. It could stand alone as a wonderful shortbread if you want something a little less sweet, or a bit more simple.

Enjoy!

Perfect Biscuits; or, how to follow directions

Southern Living Buttermilk Biscuits

I grew up in the South. I had grandmothers who cooked; a mom, aunts, cousins, a mother-in-law who are all stars in the kitchen. And I don’t do too badly myself, in some areas. But I’ve always been defeated by biscuits. I know, they’re such a Southern staple…tragic that I couldn’t produce a successful version of that breakfast icon.

Over the years I’ve collected a variety of recipes, each promising to be the best, the fluffiest, the epitome of biscuitness. And every time I’ve tried a new recipe, I’ve had another disappointment.

Last weekend I was doing a little internet surfing and stumbled across a classic Southern Living recipe for buttermilk biscuits. The photos looked so amazing, I decided to give it one more try. And I produced perfection! I’ve probably even made this recipe, or something very similar, before. So what was the variable this time? Well, for the first time ever, I baked the biscuits at the temperature the recipe specified! I know right now you’re thinking, why would you not bake at the temperature the recipe gives?

I like lightly browned breads, nothing too crisp or crusty. So I’ve always baked at a lower temperature, thinking that would keep my biscuits from browning too much. But when I actually baked them at 450 degrees, they puffed up to an amazing height. To my surprise, they were lightly browned on the exterior and were the perfect pillowy texture on the inside.

There are times that it is good to think outside the box. There are times when it is good to make your own rules, to do what works for you. But there are also times when following the rules pays off. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for some things. Biscuit recipes work as they’re written. Math works according to known formulas. Sometimes the best course is to see what has worked for others and to copy what has been successful. That doesn’t mean you don’t have creativity or ability to be original. It may mean that you are smart enough and humble enough to recognize that others may know a thing or two. That you may not always have the best answer, the best idea.

The trick is to know what strategy to use for the given situation. From now on, if I’m making biscuits, I’m going to trust the recipe and “bake as directed.” How many times I’ve read that instruction, and how frequently I have not baked as directed! And what else have I mis-managed because I didn’t follow the directions? On the other hand, there are situations in life that demand that I listen to my heart, that I follow my instincts.

Maybe that’s the challenge for each of us…when to conform and when to stand up and follow our on path. I don’t have all the answers. A lot of the big questions of life are complex, and there may not even be one “right” answer for some things. But I’ve learned that’s not the case for baking biscuits. It’s good to follow the recipe. It’s good to follow directions.

Perfect Southern Living Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 2 1/4 cups self-rising soft-wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • Self-rising soft-wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Preparation

  • 1. Cut butter with a sharp knife or pastry blender into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle butter slices over flour in a large bowl. Toss butter with flour. Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender until crumbly and mixture resembles small peas. Cover and chill 10 minutes. Add buttermilk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  • 2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead 3 or 4 times, gradually adding additional flour as needed. With floured hands, press or pat dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches). Sprinkle top of dough with additional flour. Fold dough over onto itself in 3 sections, starting with 1 short end. (Fold dough rectangle as if folding a letter-size piece of paper.) Repeat entire process 2 more times, beginning with pressing into a 3/4-inch-thick dough rectangle (about 9 x 5 inches).
  • 3. Press or pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface; cut with a 2-inch round cutter, and place, side by side, on a parchment paper-lined or lightly greased jelly-roll pan. (Dough rounds should touch.)
  • 4. Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; brush with 2 Tbsp. melted butter.

Enjoy! And don’t under-bake!

Extreme Banana Nut Bread

Homemade Banana Bread

Here’s an old favorite, good any season of the year. And for those pesky bananas that zip right past their 30 second window of ripeness, it’s a great way to use produce and have a taste of comfort food. This is delicious with a cup of morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Extreme Banana Nut Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar (1 cup granulated white sugar, 1 cup brown sugar)
3 cups mashed overripe bananas (about 5 bananas)
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9×5 inch loaf pans. (Or just spray with Pam baking spray). Or, use a muffin pan if you prefer muffins rather than a loaf of bread. Spray muffin cups with Pam, or use cup cake paper liners.

Sift the flour, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in the bananas, eggs, vanilla and nuts until well blended. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture, and stir just until blended. Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans, or muffin cups.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in the preheated oven; about 20 minutes for muffins if you choose that option, or until a knife inserted into the crown of the loaf or muffin comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pans for at least 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely. Wrap in aluminum foil to keep in the moisture.

Two other tips for free…if you have bananas that are getting too ripe and you don’t have time to make this bread right away, you can freeze the bananas and defrost to use when you’re ready.  Throw the bananas into the freezer unpeeled and whole (the skins will turn black when the fruit freezes, but it doesn’t affect the taste). Or, if you have time to prep, you can peel and slice the bananas and freeze using a freezer bag. Use in the bread recipe or use a few slices at a time in fruit smoothies or milk shakes. When you thaw the bananas to use in the bread recipe, the texture will be almost liquid in consistency, but the thawed fruit works perfectly in the bread. To use the slices in smoothies, don’t thaw, just add to the blender with other smoothie ingredients.

Enjoy!

Coconut Cake

 

Birthday cake – Coconut Deliciousness

It’s a birthday week at work, and I’m always excited to have a reason to bake something yummy. So I’m taking a coconut cake for the festivities on Wednesday. My usual choice would be chocolate, but that was last week’s flavor. We need variety for the celebration!

I grew up in the South, and have sampled some amazing coconut cakes, a classic of the region. When I was a child, church potlucks were still sometimes referred to as “dinner on the ground,” and there was always an array of desserts weighing down one end of the table spread with food from great Southern cooks. Coconut cake was sure to be present: most communities had (the lucky ones still have) someone whose claim to fame was a treasured version of the white cake with the fluffy frosting.

Although I still love the classic recipe that has a 7-minute boiled icing and looks like a white cake-shaped snow sculpture, I’ve found an easier option that offers more bang for the buck. The secret? One of the best things in the world – sweetened condensed milk. I know it’s sweet…the name gives it away…but it has a decadent smoothness that can take a dessert from good to spectacular. This cake is so delicious, moist, rich…well, you get the idea. Try it, you may have a new favorite. And the great thing is that the recipe makes enough for a crowd, so it’s a perfect choice for dinner on the ground…or wherever you’re going with dessert in hand.

Coconut Cake

1 box white or vanilla cake mix
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 21 oz bottle cream of coconut (not coconut milk)
1 8 oz container Cool Whip
1 bag of shredded coconut (found in baking aisle)

Mix and bake cake as package directs, in a 9×13 inch baking dish. When baking is completed, cool cake slightly, leaving in baking pan. Evenly pierce surface of cake with fork or knife (this allows topping to be absorbed by cake).

Mix sweetened condensed milk with half of cream of coconut and pour over surface of cake, letting mixture soak in. Continue to cool cake.

Mix remainder of cream of coconut, Cool Whip, and half of the shredded coconut. Spread over cooled cake (if cake is too warm it will melt the Cool Whip).

Top with remaining shredded coconut. Chill several hours before serving. Refrigerate any remaining cake.

Soft Sugar Cookies

I’ve been on a baking holiday recently. Rob isn’t much of a sweet eater, and I’ve been trying to be good….no baking treats to eat all by myself! But getting a Christmas box ready to mail to our daughter-in-law, Becca, stationed in Iraq, demanded a home-made addition. I tried a new sugar cookie recipe, and I think I have a new favorite. Some sugar cookie recipes are too eggy for my taste, or bake too crispy. These are soft and chewy, and have a great flavor. You can roll the dough if you want, or use a scoop and flatten method for uniform cookies perfect for gift packages.

Ingredients

Method

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour, salt and baking powder and set aside. Cream butter, 1 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, mix until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Using cookie scoop, drop dough onto cookie sheet. Flatten rounded cookies to 3/4 inch discs, then sprinkle with granulated, turbinado, or colored sugar, as desired. Bake cookies approximately 15 minutes, or until just done enough to hold shape. I don’t let these brown. Remove cookie sheet from oven and let cookies cool for a couple of minutes before removing to cooling rack. The cookies should still have a soft chewy texture when cooled. Enjoy!