Month: January 2015

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It!!

Hi all! Recipes are created in any number of ways. Some come from places unknown in a cook’s brain, some are adapted with a personalization or two and some recipes we copy because they are just plain great as they are. That is how I feel about the Brown Sugar Chocolate Bundt Cake, I made from the December 2014 Southern Living magazine. But wait it gets even more conventional. The recipe was actually an advertisement for Kraft products. In this particular recipe they were spotlighting Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate.

It is rare that I don’t find a recipe and then change it up somehow. Seriously, it could be something as simple as adding more or less of an ingredient or changing the serving suggestion. Sometimes I start with somebody else’s recipe and by the time I’ve changed this or that, to make it my own, it is a completely different recipe. With this cake, I changed nothing. I thought it was that good.

When I make a recipe I try to imagine all the ways I can use it. This cake can be used traditionally as a dessert or as a coffee cake. The great thing is it bakes up quickly. As long as you keep these basic ingredients on hand, you can have a fresh baked cake with only about 30 minutes of preparation and an hour of cooking.

You can serve this cake as is or you can jazz it up by drizzling a little chocolate syrup over it, or serve with fresh whipped cream (see post from January 16, 2015). I hope you enjoy this cake!

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BROWN SUGAR CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE

Topping:

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Cake:

2 ¾ cups All-purpose Flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon Vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 (4oz.) bar Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350

Stir together pecans, butter and sugar for topping. Using a fork sprinkle in a large greased and floured Bundt pan.

In a small bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

In an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar granulated sugar, and vanilla, at medium speed, until fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, incorporating after each, until just blended

Add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Try to start and finish with the flour mixture.

Beat at low speed until just blended. Scrape down as needed.

Fold in chocolate and spoon into prepared pan.

Bake at 350 for 50-55 minutes until a pick comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 15 minutes then turn out and cool completely before serving

Matcha, Matcha, Matcha!

Some stories are personal. This is one. In August 2001, within 3 weeks of each other, two of my stepsisters were diagnosed with cancer. One had breast cancer and one had ovarian. I remember it was such an overwhelming time. We are a big family and have lots of opinions. Everybody had a doctor or crazy treatment they should try. I sought solace in the only way I knew. I cooked. I told you earlier on my blog that I was a Lost Chef. This is another example of how I was brought back into cooking when I was looking for comfort.

In January 2002 Time magazine published an article talking about the science of staying healthy and listing the top ten foods. These foods are jam packed with vitamins mineral and phytochemicals. All of these foods have specific nutrients; antioxidants and nutriceuticals that intrinsically help the body do its job better. One of the items was Green Tea.

After that article came out I started developing recipes that included these ingredients. I wanted meals that tasted really good and were doing great things for my sister’s bodies. I had a soup, a marinade and several cookies. All these recipes honored my sisters fight’s and made me feel I was helping in my small way. I have to admit that in addition to trying to ease my sister’s discomfort, I was looking to ease my pain and fear of the unknown. I knew food and it had always brought me the comfort that I needed. In coming posts I will share more of these recipes. Today it is green tea.

Green tea is great but it is just, that, tea, or brewed water. Think about the green tea you make at home. It really varies in color depending on what brand you buy. You can have anything from a pale yellow to a dark brown.   Matcha is the whole tealeaf, pulverized into a powder. While its color can vary too, from a dark emerald green to a lighter grassy green, based on how it is prepared, for the most part your benefits don’t change. The benefits include being high in anti-oxidants, enhancing calm, boosting memory and concentration, and burning calories. Green Tea can also lower LDL cholesterol, and boasts a high level of chlorophyll, which helps to detox your body and build your immune system. The good news is the warmer it is served the better the benefits. They all seem to thrive in heat!

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There are two preparations for Matcha green tea. Usucha is a thin version with froth and is often more bitter than its counter part. Koicha is thick with no froth. Koicha is often described as liquid honey because of its thicker consistency and less bitter taste. Tradition dictates that you stir your Usucha with a bamboo whisks into a frothy drink. Green tea Matcha is served with a sweet before you drink it. This counters the bitterness and eliminates the need to add milk or sugar. Keep in mind the flavor profile can change from cup to cup. Most people have experienced a bitter green tea at some point but if you take the time to prepare correctly you will find a sweet sometimes florally taste. There is, of course, a grassy element. Let’s be honest it is a plant! Make sure you pay attention to the directions on the box and you will avoid the flavor pitfalls and no powdery residue. I have put all these thoughts together and created a green tea scone. Most grocery stores have an Asian section, these days and Matcha is becoming more readily available. If your local store doesn’t carry it, most Whole Foods carry several options. I also found a Matcha Chai Latte powder at Trader Joe’s that is fabulous. I use a candied orange peel in the recipe. This can be seasonal (Christmas) if you are buying it pre-made. I also found a dried, mandarin orange slices at Trader Joe’s. They are fabulous here! You can also make your own candied orange peel. Look for an upcoming “Try something new” blog for how to do this.

My sisters loved the flavor of the scone and said it was like having a warm cup of tea with a fresh slice of orange. Both my sisters fought valiantly. Unfortunately after five years my sister with ovarian cancer lost her battle. My other sister is a 12-year survivor of breast cancer!

“The more you know, the more you can create. There’s no end to imagination in the kitchen.” – Julia Child

Green Tea Scones

1 cup butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

2 eggsIMG_2368

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoons whole milk

2 cups flour

2 Tablespoons Matcha *

½ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup candied orange peel

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cream together butter and sugar

Add in eggs, one at a time

Add in vanilla and milk

Stir together flour, Matcha and salt, thoroughly

Toss candied orange peel in flour mixture (this will keep it from clumping together)

Gradually stir flour mixture into butter mixture until well blended

Use and ice cream scoop to scoop scones onto a greased cookie sheet

Bake for 15 – 19 minutes, until bottoms start to brown slightly.

Makes 24 small 1 ounce scones

* If you let your dough sit a room temperature for 10-15 minutes the color will deepen. This is a good idea since the baking will cause it to lighten up a little bit.

Pound Cake a rich tradition and history!

Full Disclosure, I was raised in California by a southern mom. Many parts of our great country claim food as part of their culture. For southerners it is part of their soul. I could go on about numerous southern dishes. However, my most vivid memory is of Aunt Rosie’s Chocolate Pound Cake. I remember tasting it the first time. I was probably around 5 years old. We walked to Rosie’s after church for “dinner”. I ate my meal particularly fast since I could see the cake, sitting there waiting for me.

It was a simple cake. There were no decorations of fancy swirls in the icing. It was a round cake, made in a tube pan, with a chocolate glaze poured haphazardly over it. IT LOOKED GOOD!

As a kid most sweets are devoured quickly. I realized after the first bite that this cake required time and attention. The cake was so dense and didn’t crumble like a regular cake. The taste was sweet and stayed in my mouth long after I finished swallowing. The icing had a rough texture but at the same time it was smooth. I noticed that it was a light brown cake, not dark like a devils food cake. I wanted more cake and I wanted to know more about THIS cake.

Several years ago, as my grandparents were preparing to move out of their home and after my great aunt had passed away, my mother asked if there was anything in particular I would want from either home. “YES! I want the recipes!”.

I had no idea that there would be so many old cookbooks, binders of handwritten recipes and a 12X12 box filled with scraps of paper of handwritten recipes, bank books with recipes scrawled on the back cover and a collection of newspaper and magazine recipes that I am sure the editor of Southern Living would kill to have. These recipes made real the folklore of our family. Finally having these recipes offered me the opportunity to connect with my ancestors in a way I never could before. The recipes that called for a “Granny’s hand full of sugar”, made me realize how petite my great grandmother was compared to the rest of us. These recipes helped me to imagine Granny standing in the very kitchen that my Great Aunt Rosie made my favorite Chocolate Pound Cake. Now I have that recipe and can stand in my own kitchen and share baking it with my daughters.

As I was making my way through all of these recipes one thing stood out to me, Pound Cake. I knew that my family loved pound cake. We ate it at almost every occasion and even for no occasion at all. It was always available at all of our homes. You could walk into any aunts or cousins home and have a slice, at any time.   We had regular pound cake and chocolate pound cake. We had pound cake plain and pound cake with whipped cream or frosting. I quickly realized that, at least for our family, there were many, many ways to prepare pound cake. I started to wonder if there was one standard way to make pound cake and just what the history of this versatile cake was.

The first mention of “pound cake” comes in the 1700’s. As you might suspect the name comes from the ingredients: a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. This was intentional and practical, since most commoners didn’t read and conventional measuring tools hadn’t been created yet. Most cooks had some sort of scale in their kitchens.

Later in the century there was evidence of changing pound cake recipes. In the first American cookbook, there are two recipes for pound cake. The first stays true to the original. The second adds rose water and brandy. They also separate the eggs, in the second. This indicates they are looking for a way to lighten up the cake by beating the whites separately and then folding them in. By 1891 Southerners are calling pound cake their own and by the 1900s we are using leaveners to lighten the cake.

What is it about a pound cake that is so intriguing and long lasting? At it’s most basic form it is an easy cake that anybody can bake. The humblest of no-reading servants to the most confident of chef have made this cake. It probably started as a practical recipe. Let’s face it a cake that is made of four pounds of ingredients is going to serve quite a few people for quite a few days. The pound cake is a most versatile baked good that can be served at every meal from breakfast toast to and extravagant after dinner dessert. Have you ever had a piece of pound cake toasted and slathered with butter or strawberry jam? Magic! My mouth is watering already!  So today I share that first chocolate pound cake recipe with you.

“If you’re afraid to use butter, use cream.” – Julia Child

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Rosie’s Chocolate Pound Cake

3 cups sugar

2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine

1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)

6 eggs

3 cups Flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup whole milk

2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream together butter and shortening with sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, blending after each.

Soft together all dry ingredients.  Add dry in gradients to butter mixture in thirds alternating with milk. Add vanilla.

Bake in a floured and greased tube pan for 1 hour 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Frosting

1/2 cup shortening or butter

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

2/3 cup whole milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

Stir all ingredients together over medium heat and dissolved, about 2 minutes.  If it is too thick add 1 teaspoon cream.

Let’s try something new!

When I was putting together my thoughts for this blog, I thought about what I want to teach you. More than anything I don’t want you to be afraid to try. It sort of took me back to the Sound of Music and “…Let’s start at the very beginning…”.

Well it is a very good place to start. So with that in mind I am going to encourage you to try something new at least once a month. I’m not talking about anything outrageous or complicated. It can be quite easy. As a matter of fact some of my best and most praised recipes are E-A-S-Y. And as any infant knows you must walk before you run, bet everybody is SOOO impressed when you walk.

So let’s keep it simple. Let’s make Whipped Cream. Chances are if you are reading this blog you may know how to make whipped cream. You also know how easy it is to buy a can of Reddi Whip or a tub of Cool Whip. Whatever level you are at let’s take it up a notch!

If you have NEVER done this, here is what you will need, at minimum:

A whisk or some form of electric beater

A pint of heavy whipping cream

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Are you looking for the rest of the ingredients? Nope that’s it. Of course you can take it further, but let’s start here. Ready?

Pour the cream into a metal bowl. Make sure the bowl is col. At the very warmest it should be room temperature. You could chill it for about 5 minutes, if you want. The reason you want the bowl cool is it helps the cream set up faster and cool whip cream is way better than warm. If you live in warm temperature climates, you could consider putting your bowl in another bowl filled with ice, but it is not necessary.

If you are using a whisk, you are going to need a certain amount of stamina and strength.   It can be done; this is how they teach it in culinary schools all over the world. You can also use an electric hand or stand mixer. Start out slow and then gradually speed up. You will start to see the cream get thicker and come together. Once it starts to thicken watch it carefully. This is the only part you must be patient. If it gets too thick or beaten it will start to look like curds or sour milk. It will taste fine but will be unappealing to the eye. Boom! You’re done! Use a big spoon and heap it onto a slice of pie, ice cream or shake.

You can jazz it up from there. If you want it sweetened, you have two choices. You can buy the cream pre-sweetened, “Cook’s” make a nice one, or you add sugar yourself. I personally prefer powdered sugar. The cornstarch in powdered sugar adds a stabilizing quality to the cream. You can use granulated though. I start with 1 tablespoon and gradually add in as much as needed. Be sure to taste after each addition. Sweetness is a personal preference as well. You can also add a teaspoon of vanilla for a little depth of flavor.

For serving, you can spoon it on or you can put it in a piping bag with a star tip and you will have an elegant presentation. However, you do it, make it yours!

This was our first but not our last, Try Something New project. Don’t be afraid. As the ad says… Just Do It!

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The only real stumbling block in cooking is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a “what the hell attitude”. – Julia Child

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year! I’m sure you have been talking with your friends about your resolutions just as much as I have. Every year I write numerous diet resolutions in my diary. When I find myself starting to “fall off the wagon,” I usually say things like “never trust a skinny chef.” Although that piece of advice might have been true years ago, our society is now moving in a direction where eating healthier and being aware of what you are consuming is the new “yum!”

To help you stick to your new year’s diet resolution, look out for my modern twist on making traditional recipes healthier for you and your family! Don’t get me wrong – this is not a diet blog; I just feel we could all use a little help here and there. I want to show you that with slight adjustments to your everyday food cravings you can easily make delicious dishes that will keep you fit for 2015! We will explore all of it as we move through the new year.

I promised that you would get to know me and I would share some history. Here is your first lesson: my mother is from Georgia, and there are very few things that are as traditional as preparing the dish Hoppin’ John for a southern new year.

With that being said, there are so many stories of the dish’s origin and just as many recipes for it as well. The most common version of how this dish came to be deals with the story of when the slaves were fed black-eyed peas on the ships over from West Africa. Rumor has it that the slaves then cultivated the peas once they arrived in America. They often were given work off the week between Christmas and New Years since there were few crops to harvest. Since there was an abundance of rice during this time they often cooked up a blend of rice and beans to celebrate the holiday. Over time the superstition developed that eating this mix would bring you wealth and prosperity in the new year.

There are lots of tasty recipes for the Hoppin’ John dish out there. Some recipes include ham hocks, rice, and a healthy dosage of tender, love, and care while cooking. I use a slow cooker to ensure my Hoppin’ John dish is cooked in a healthy and efficient way. I also like to prepare this dish right before I get ready to go out for New Year’s Eve. It is ready to go when you get home, and it is the first thing you eat in the new year. You can also set it when you get home and it is ready in the morning. Hoppin’ John also makes a great hangover cure.

Life itself is the proper binge~ Julia Child

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Slow Cooker Hoppin’ John

2 (16-ounce) packages frozen black-eyed peas

1 1/4 cups sliced green onions, divided

2 cups hot water

3/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeno pepper

2 teaspoons Franks hot sauce

¼ teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 vegetable-flavored or chicken-flavored bouillon cube

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced Italian seasoned tomatoes, with liquid

1 tablespoon sundried tomato paste

2/3 cup uncooked converted rice

Place peas, 3/4 cup green onions, 2 cups hot water, and next 6 ingredients in slow cooker; stir well.

Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours or low for 6-8.

Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, and rice; cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour or until peas and rice are tender and most of liquid is absorbed.

Garnish with remaining 1/2 cup green onions.

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