Friday, June 26, 2009

Fruit Cocktail Cake

Close your eyes. (Ummm... I just realized this whole exercise doesn't work if you close your eyes, so don't literally close your eyes)

Imagine a table. With a plate on it. And on that plate is a square of cake. The cake is thick with a moist crumb. There are specks of yellow, red, and white in it. Hinting at the peach, cherries, and pear that is inside the cake. Now imagine that cake with a glistening frosting that is loaded with sweet coconut.

Looks delicious in your head, right? (Well, unless I killed it for you with the coconut. You crazy coconut haters, you).

Well, now that you've got that mental image in your head... now I suppose I'll show you a picture of what my version of the cake looked like. But, brace yourself folks. It ain't purty.

See? Gross, blahness on a plate. But, hear me out. It's delicious and SUPER easy. It's a super moist cake... made with fruit cocktail from a can (and no fat added to the cake. Bonus!) And the icing on top is made of butter, evaporated milk and coconut. YUM.

Sometimes, you gotta look past an ugly exterior, to get to the goodness inside. A lesson we all need reminded of sometimes.

Fruit Cocktail Cake
from the kitchen of: My Aunt Peggy

This cake is moist and gooey. It's not a showstopper visually, but it's delicious. I even over-cooked the cake and it turned out a little rubbery, but it still tasted good! I made mine the day ahead to let the juices soak into the cake.

2 cups flour (I think they mean self-rising flour, which I didn't have. AP will work)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 regular size can (14 ozs or so?) Fruit Cocktail

1 stick butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk
coconut (depends on how much coconut you want. Probably a medium sized bag worth)

Preheat oven for 350. Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the cake. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean. Start checking around 25-30 minutes. Take the cake out, but don't let it cool for too long before you put the icing on. You want the cake to still be warm when you put the icing on.

To make the icing: Cook the butter, sugar, and milk in a saucepan until they come to a boil, then turn down heat and add coconut.

Poke holes with a fork into the cooked cake and then spread the icing onto the cake while still warm.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Banana Pudding

Okay, confession time. As much as I like to moan and groan about it to as many people as will listen, I have to admit... having two older brothers is an awesome experience. And even though I had my doubts when we were growing up of what kind of men they'd turn into... I mean, who wouldn't wonder that about a kid who sits on his little sister's head and farts on her when he's babysitting? Right? Or what about making their little sister hold a G.I. Joe up on a fence post so that they can shoot BBs at it? You gotta admit, that's a wee bit demented. I'm happy to report (thanks in large part to my parents, I suppose) they both grew into good men who I am proud to call my brothers.

Sure, we had our moments growing up... we fought, I cried, I tattled, we fought, I got them grounded, etc and that just describes one afternoon of my life growing up.

My oldest brother had his birthday a few weeks ago. And my mom pulled the "mom trump card" on that birthday and made his birthday cake for him. Now it's my other brother's turn and since my parents were out of town on his birthday, I took it upon myself to make him something that I knew he'd love.

Banana Pudding.

Now, honestly... banana pudding has never been my favorite. It's mushy. It's pudding-y. Blech. Not my cup of tea. But it is something that is very traditional in southern cuisine, so I was anxious to try my hand at a recipe.

I ended up adapting a couple of recipes into my own. It came together really easy and when I gave it to him... I went ahead and helped myself to a little piece... I mean... I couldn't let him eat a piece of it by himself, for heaven's sake. What kind of sister would I be?

I gotta say... homemade banana pudding is 15,000 times better then the jello banana pudding I've had so many times. Holy Crikies is this stuff good. Like... so good that I kept going back to sneak more. It is so sweet, so creamy, so banana-y. Soooo delicious.

Jackpot! Maybe next year, I'll make this banana pudding for my birthday!

Happy Birthday, Bro!
Banana Pudding
10 servings

This banana pudding is rich and super sweet. I'm obsessed with peanut butter and banana, so I used peanut butter sandwich cookies to line the entire bottom and to alternate on the top. If you like your banana pudding straight up traditional, just go for vanilla wafers all the way.

Also, I had some pudding left over... but, it's delicious with cookies dipped in it, etc.

1/3 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
Dash salt
2 ½ cups whole milk
1 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tsps vanilla extract
8 oz cream cheese, softened
12 oz of Cool Whip, thawed
3 cups sliced ripe bananas (5-6)
45 vanilla wafers
Package of Nutter Butters

Combine flour, sugar, and salt in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in milk and condensed milk and yolks, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 8 minutes or until thickened.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and set aside with a piece of saran wrap pressed down onto the pudding till it cools. After it comes to room temperature, beat in cream cheese. Gently fold in cool whip. Set aside.

Place a layer of Nutter Butters in the bottom of 2 quart baking dish and arrange 1 cup of bananas on top. Then spoon 1/3 pudding mixture over bananas; top with a layer of vanilla wafers. Repeat layers once; top with remaining bananas and pudding. Arrange Nutter Butters around the inside edge of dish and push gently into the pudding. Cover the top with vanilla wafers, if you wish. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TWD: Honey Peach Ice Cream

Yes. More Peach. Get over it.

So, let's chat for a minute about kitchen gadgets/appliances. I am a low tech gal. I don't even own a computer at home. And while initially, it was because I'm cheap and didn't want to buy a computer and pay for monthly internet. Now, I kind of enjoy it. Luckily, I can access the internet on my phone if something is urgent (because, sometimes checking the lyrics for the song Delicate by Damien Rice is super urgent), but I can't imagine how many hours I'd get sucked into the internet.

I don't own two of the major components of this recipe: An ice cream maker or a food processor. It sucks. I wish I had the space to have every imaginable kitchen appliance and utensil imaginable, but I don't. So, I have to make do.

It's not a big deal, really. I actually get a weird pleasure out of preparing things without fancy dancy equipment. Like... "Ha! I don't need no stinking food processor! That's what hands are for." But, it doesn't make for the prettiest of dishes, that's for sure.

As usual with ice creams... this was easy to make. Even without the food processor or the ice cream maker. And as much as I love peaches, I, surprisingly, wasn't all that crazy about this recipe. There was kind of weird wang to it and I'm not sure if it has something to do with the honey or if maybe I cooked the custard incorrectly. It wasn't bad... it just wasn't something that made me want to curl up on the couch and eat the whole tub (which, honestly... is probably a good thing).

If you like peaches and honey and ice cream (and who doesn't?) then you should give this recipe a try. Maybe you'll love it! At the very least, check out the other Tuesdays with Dorie peeps and be sure to get the recipe from Tommi of Brown Interior.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Brown Butter Peach Bars

Summer must be here. It's not the 90 degree days or the kids being out of school for vacation that tells me so. Nor is it the fact that I can't get enough of sauvignon blanc right now (eventually, I'm just going to have to attach an IV drip, I think). You know how I know? Peaches. Glorious, juice dripping, soft fuzzy peaches.

My dad stopped by the farmer's market last week and bought his standard amount of peaches: a whole bushel. He always graciously shares the peaches and I ended up with just about 2 pounds of peaches. Hot damn. It's almost as good as winning the lottery.

Immediately I thought I would make a peach pie. So, I decided to give a new pie crust recipe a whirl, but when I opened up my recipe folder to find a new crust recipe, I came across this little gem. The words "brown butter" immediately grabbed my attention. Remember how I fell in love with browned butter? Sadly, my affair with browned butter was merely a fling. But after seeing this recipe, I knew we were destined for a little re-do action. (The fact that my relationship with browned butter is similiar to my other people's relationships with past boyfriends/flings is merely a coincidence, I assure you).

This recipe is everything you want in a fruit bar. It's tangy and sweet. It's soft with a crumbly, yet firm crust. And it absolutely must be made the day before... It needs time to sit and soften up. Again there's a similiarity there with old flames, eh? But, that's where the similiarities end. While you want the reignition of the old flame to be quick and easy... these bars certainly are not. Proceed with this recipe, just like you do with your old flames, my friends... with extreme caution. Cause trust me, you'll wind up out of 3 hours of your life and 3 pounds heavier .

But... sometimes, it's worth it.

Brown Butter Peach Bars
Recipe from New York Times, adapted from Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur, CA

Seriously, this recipe is excellent, but it is a time consumer. It's not something you can whip up in an hour, or two, or three. There are multiple parts involved, so read through the recipe and be prepared. Also, like I said before, make these bars the day before you're going to serve them. They definitely need time to sit and soften.

I would make a change to the recipe for next time. The entire recipe calls for a crapload of orange zest. I would scale back. I'd use the orange zest and juice of 1 orange for the jam and the zest of one orange for the filling. Cutting the amount of oranges you need in half. I liked the citrus-y zip you get in the recipe, but I felt like it masked the fresh peach flavor a bit too much.

For the jam:
1 cup sugar
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
½ vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
4 cups ½ inch diced, peel-on, peaches (about 2 pounds whole)

For the crust:
1 cup unsalted butter
½ cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 ½ cups flour

For the filling:
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
½ vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter.

1. Make the jam: in a 3 quart pot and using a wooden spoon, mix together the sugar, orange zest and juice, and vanilla bean and seeds. Place a candy thermometer in the pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes, until it reaches 220 degrees. Add the peaches and boil, stirring occasionally, until the peaches turn into a thick jam and the thermometer returns to 220 degrees, 35 to 45 minutes. Wear long oven mitts as the jam can splatter. (When the jam begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, it's nearly there). Transfer the jam to a wide pan to cool. Remove the vanilla bean.

2. Prepare the crust by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Cook until the white milk solids start to brown and smell nutty, 5 to 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve set over a heatproof container. Freeze until solid.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the confectioner's sugar and flour. Scoop the chilled brown butter into the flour mixture and, using a pastry cutter, blend until crumbly. Transfer the crumb mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and firmly pat it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the crust until golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool.

4. Make the filling: whisk together the eggs, sugar, zest and flour in a large bowl. Place the vanilla bean and seeds and the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the white milk solids start to brown and smell nutty, and then strain through a fine sieve. Carefully add the brown butter to the egg and flour mixture, whisking until the butter is incorporated. Remove the vanilla bean.

5. To assemble the bars, spread half of the filling over the baked crust. Spoon large dollops of the peach jam over the filling, reserving a quarter of the jam. Pour the remaining brown butter filling over the peach jam, and finish by spooning smaller dollops of the reserved jam over the top. Bake until the filling is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Makes 24 bars.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Some things we're born with and we can easily identify which side of the family it came from. For instance my naturally curly hair? My mom's side. My height (err... should I say, lack thereof)? My dad's side. Physical attributes are certainly the easiest to lock down as being genetic.

Personality attributes? Not so easy. Who knows... they could be inherent or they could be learned. Can my silly sense of humor be traced to my mother or my paternal grandma's genes? Or is it from living with my silly mother and being around my silly grandmother? I think most people would agree that personality traits are more learned, than they are passed down genetically. But, some of these things... things like... green thumbs, good luck, and general disposition can be as much genetic as the color of your eyes.

Science may disagree with me... but when have I ever listened to what other people tell me (genetically passed down from many of my "dance to our own beat" relatives no doubt)? Yeah, that's right. NEVER.

Like most girls raised in the south, I come from a long line of biscuit makers. And not just any biscuit makers... excellent biscuit makers. Sadly, I can really only attest for one of my grandmother's biscuits as I wasn't ever at my paternal grandmother's for breakfast, but I'm assured that both grandmas biscuits were excellent. Different and uncomparable, but excellent.

Now, that brings up a good point. There are many types of biscuits out there. But the two general camps are... light, fluffy, and airy or heavy, dense, and flat. I'm an equal opportunity biscuit lover, but if I had to pick one type over the other (forced to choose at gunpoint, mind you), I'd pick the heavier, densier biscuit. Just personal preference.

I've been on a bit of a quest to find the perfect biscuit recipe for me. Something that defines me as a biscuit maker. Not exactly like either grandma's, not exactly like my mom's or my aunt's, but my own.

I haven't quite found it yet, but to be fair... I haven't quite mastered the technique yet either. But, I'm getting there... and I'll keep trying... eventually I'll get it. It's in my blood.
Crusty Buttermilk Biscuits
The Gift of Southern Cooking Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock

I originally heard of Edna Lewis by way of Rebecca's incredibly awesome and hiliarous blog Ezra Pound Cake, but I ended up stealing the recipe from A Yankee in a Southern Kitchen.

I didn't use lard this time, I used a combination of butter and shortening. BUT, I will try this recipe again with lard. Lard is the key to good biscuits, and hell... you only live once and as long as you aren't eating it everyday... is a little lard gonna kill ya? Nope, but it will make feel like you've died and gone to heaven when you bit into a biscuit made with lard.

5 cups sifted White Lily Unbleached Flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder (See below)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cold lard
1 1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F with rack in middle

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into large bowl.

Add lard, coating it with flour, then rub between your fingertips until coarsely blended with some 1/2 inch lumps.

Make a well in flour mixture, then add buttermilk, stirring with a fork just until dough forms(it will be soft & sticky). Turn dough onto floured board and need 8-10 times.

Roll dough out with a floured rolling pin into a 12 inch round (1/2 inch thick).

Using a fork dipped in flour prick all the way through every 1/2 inch.

Cut out as many rounds possible with a 2 1/2 inch cutter dipped in flour.

Bake, almost touching on an un-greased heavy baking sheet, rotating sheet after 6 minutes if browning unevenly for 12-15 minutes.

Brush tops with melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven. Serve warm.

Cooks Note: Flour mixture with lard can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.
Recipe yields 10-15 biscuits. Be careful not to add to much flour as the dough should be sticky.

Homemade Baking Powder Recipe; Edna Lewis

1/4 cup cream of tartar
2 tablespoons baking soda

Sift ingredients 3 times together, store in an airtight jar. Use in the same quantity as required baking powder. Keeps 6 weeks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TWD: Cinnamon Squares

I love cinnamon and I had been dying to give this recipe a try. Finally Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie.

Now, being a purist, I like my cinnamon on it's own. So, I was a little disappointed when I read through the recipe and saw the addition of chocolate to the batter as well as the frosting. I don't like my cinnamon mixed with my chocolate. Bummer. But, being the substitution queen that I am, I searched high and low for cinnamon baking chips (Okay, so I really only searched the grocery store and world market, but you get my drift) only to come up empty handed.

What's a girl to do? Make do. I had some Ghiradelli Cappuchino Chips lying around, so I threw those in the batter and used them for the frosting. Next time... I'll skip 'em and just make this a straight up cinnamon cake. I don't really think it even needs a frosting, a dusting of confectioners sugar would have been enough for my tastes.

This cake is delicious. Moist and full of cinnamon flavor. It would be a great breakfast cake or snack cake. I feel like cinnamon gets a raw deal... only mixed with apples and pumpkin, it deserves it's own cake like this one. Let's bring cinnamon back, a la Justin Timberlake.