Friday, August 28, 2009

Rewind TWD: Classic Banana Bundt Cake

Every summer for the past seven years, some friends from college and I have gotten together for a little mini-reunion. Five of those years, we've gathered in the obnoxiously touristy and overcrowded town of Gatlinburg, TN which is nestled in the Smoky Mountains. It's perfect. We rent ourselves a big ass cabin that is usually equipped with a hot tub, a pool table, walls and walls of pine and all the bear-themed accessories that you can handle.

We spend the majority of the weekend catching up, laughing, hiking, drinking, eating, and engaging in some ferociously competitive games such as badminton, beer pong, poker, and there was that one year (that we no longer speak of) where the game of Risk was bought. It's a fun time. It's the one guaranteed time every year that I know I'm going to laugh so hard that I almost pee myself, multiple times throughout the weekend. These guys are an absolute riot.

This year was no different. The first night is always the same. We always go to dinner at a steakhouse (usually Texas Roadhouse or Outback) and then we always go to the grocery store to load up on essentials like... beer (which we always buy too much of) and snacks (which, again, we buy too much of). I decided to act as Betty Homemaker this year, though, and I baked up some goodies to take, so that we'd have homemade snacks. Excellent idea.

I made this bundt cake with the idea that it would be a good thing to nibble on for breakfast (or... while we wait for a certain someone to wake up in time to go out for breakfast). Turns out, it was perfect for that. It was also perfect for nibbling on throughout the day and even as soon as we got home from eating dinner. I couldn't tear myself away from it. Particularly from the bottom of the cake: where the glaze had pooled and left the cake slightly soaked and yet lightly crunchy from the drying of the glaze. Oh. My. God. I'm drooling just thinking about those pieces.

I missed this recipe when it was chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie by Mary, The Food Librarian, but after hearing everyone rave about how delicious it was, I couldn't hold out for very long before I made the cake myself.

If you're looking for a good recipe for a banana snack cake, look no further. This is easy and delicious. Just make sure you've got a crowd to help you with it, otherwise you'll wind up eating the whole damn thing yourself.

Classic Banana Bundt Cake -- Click link for recipe
A recipe by Dorie Greenspan

This cake is easy. Super easy. Like, the only thing to worry about is to make sure you butter the hell out of your bundt pan. Luckily, I did and mine slid right out.

I didn't like the idea of lemon and banana, so I opted out of Dorie's glaze suggestion and just whipped up my own milk glaze: confectioners sugar with enough milk (actually, I used cream!) to make the consistency you want. Delicious.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

TWD: Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie

How serendipitous that this recipe chosen for this week's installment of Tuesdays with Dorie is something that I know my best friend, Stephanie would love. Why is that serendipitous? Well, because her birthday was Saturday and while I was making it (on Saturday, even), I couldn't help but be reminded of her and be saddened because I couldn't share it with her on her birthday.

So, here I am a few days later, sharing it with her and the rest of the Internet and telling all y'all... this pie is damn good.

Steph moved to Portland, Oregon a little over a year ago. And while I'm ecstatic for her and her awesome new life out West, it's a hard adjustment to make. Admittedly, neither of us are phone people. We've never really had to be. I mean, we both went to different colleges, but we still came home pretty much the same weekends, etc, so it wasn't really an issue. And after college, if I wanted to talk to her... we would just meet up for dinner or shopping or whatever. But... that's kind of hard to do when we're 1000s of miles apart.

So, basically, I've dropped the ball. I get kind of wrapped up in my own stuff... and I have kind of an unusual routine for someone my age: I go to bed around 9pm and wake up around 5am. I'm not a phone person, so the idea just doesn't pop into my head very often... "oh! I should call so-and-so." And while I think of her everyday, it just doesn't dawn on me to actually pick up the phone and call. And then... after, oh say, 3 months of not calling... when I realize it's been 3 months... then I feel guilty for being such a shitty friend. 3 months! who doesn't call their best friend in 3 months? (This girl, apparently).

I view my life as a work-in-progress and as such, I have this really long self-help to do list for myself that I am constantly working on. Here's a snippet of the list:

32. Say YES to every 2 out of 3 things you're invited to.
33. Be a better friend. Call your friends who live far away, more often.
34. Say NO to 1 out of every 5 tequila shots ordered.
35. Don't engage in flirty texts with douche bag dudes who wronged you in the past.

So, you see... keeping in touch better with friends is something that I know I need to work on and I'm going to make a conscience effort to do so from now. So, all you friends of mine out there... I'm sorry. I know, I suck, but I'm going to get better.

So, Steph, even though I couldn't share this pie with you... it has your name written all over it. You would FREAK over it. It's so creamy and lime-y. It's like a key lime pie, except without the chemically aftertaste that sweetened condensed milk can sometimes leave. I didn't really give it enough time to firm up before I dove into it, but no matter... it was still creamy and silky and tangy. Lime perfection.

Happy Birthday, Steph! I love you and miss you! If I could have wrapped this pie up and shipped it to you, I would have.
Creamiest Lime Cream Meringue Pie (click the title for the recipe)
Chosen by Linda of Tender Crumb

Ok, so of course... I couldn't make this pie directly as written because 1. I dislike calf slobber meringue and 2. I'm a little leery of ginger and didn't want to buy any. I made this pie with a graham cracker crust, although, I think I will try it sometime with a regular crust. My graham cracker crust just never really set up properly. I also added a touch of ground ginger, instead of fresh ginger and I couldn't even notice it in the flavor of the pie (hooray!). The recipe calls for a crapload of butter, but I only added in one stick and didn't even notice the missing calories (though, my love handles thanked me). It's very much like a key lime pie, but, it's a touch silkier, I think. Definitely a keeper and I will definitely make it again... and maybe top it with some fresh whipped cream. Yum.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TWD: Applesauce Spice Bars

Nothing says Fall like apples and cinnamon. Unfortunately, though, it's kind of disheartening to bite into one of these bars and think about football and sweaters and then step outside to the reality of Nashville's hottest month of the year, August, and all you can think about is deodorant and air conditioning.

Don't get me wrong, I love the summer months. I love going out on the lake, wearing cute tank tops and shorts. Who doesn't? But, the Fall? The Fall is WHERE IT IS AT. October is by far the most beautiful month here in Nashville (May is a close second). The leaves are changing, the air is crisp and dry. The sky is the most amazing shade of blue you've ever seen. I get to sleep in a little for my long runs, because it's not a bazillion degrees outside. And then there's football all day on Saturday and Sunday to keep me occupied. Sometimes that means you're camped out on the couch all weekend, sometimes you're camped out on a friend's couch or at the local bar all day watching games, and if you're really lucky... sometimes you're tailgating and then going to the game. It's bliss.

And you know what? These bars would be perfect for that tailgate. Spicy and sweet. They'd be perfect to nibble on while heckling the opposing team's fans who parked their big ass RV in such a way that disrupts your cornhole game.

Let the countdown to fall begin...

Applesauce Spice Bars
recipe by Dorie Greenspan.

Find the recipe at Something Sweet by Karen, our host for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie.

I would definitely double the spice in this recipe, I found them to be too subtle for my taste. Also, make sure you let the cake cool completely before you ice it and also make sure you cook the icing till its caramel-y in thickness. The next time I make the recipe, I'll also double the amount of icing. You can never have too much icing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Carrot Pineapple Muffins

Invite me to a brunch or a morning potluck and guess what I'm bringing? Muffins, apparently. I can't help it, though. They bake up quick, are portable, and I usually have some type of fruit lying around that I can use for a batch, without having to make a grocery store run.

This batch was for a pot-luck breakfast/brunch picnic that my local running group had a few weeks ago. Everyone was asked to bring something and it was seriously the biggest spread I've ever seen in my entire life. Seriously. I mean... I know that runners like to eat. But holy cannoli, these Nashville Runners like to feast. So needless to say, I basically came home with like 8 of the 12 muffins I took (a muffin just cannot compete with doughnuts, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, etc. Completely understandable).

Anyway, I thought these were good. They contain fruit and I used whole wheat flour, so they aren't entirely unhealthy. Plus... canola oil... that's a good oil, right? They came out moist and sweet. Just the way a muffin should be. (Not better than a doughnut, of course).

Carrot Pineapple Muffins
adapted from Recipezaar user MaeEast

These muffins are a breeze and are delicious. Moist, hearty and sweet. Exactly what you want in a muffin. I used all white whole wheat flour to make them a bit healthier and instead of using crushed pineapple, I used pineapple rings that I finely chopped. I liked having bits of pineapple accompanying the bits of carrots. A great muffin recipe. It makes about 12 muffins.

1 cup sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup drained crushed pineapple

Preheat your oven to 375 and grease a muffin tin or line with paper liners.

Stir together sugar and oil. Add the eggs until well combined. Stir in the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined. Add carrots and pineapple and stir just until combined.

Spoon into muffin tins, filling to the top.

Bake for 20 minutes or until done. Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a rack to finish cooling.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

TWD: Brownie Buttons

I'm back, bitches.

Yes, I realize it's been like weeks and weeks since I've participated in a Tuesdays with Dorie. I have some good excuses though... among them: 10 day vacation in Montana, Preparing to run back-to-back marathons, cutting sugar out of my diet. None of these things are particularly conducive to belonging to a baking club.

But, vacation is over, marathons are completed, and while I'm back on the no-sugar train. I've got some occasions where I can bake for other people. Hooray!

This week Jayma of Two Scientists Experimenting in the Kitchen chose Brownie Buttons. Essentially, these are brownies baked in mini-muffin cups... I like this idea in theory... small portions= fewer calories. Except... when you eat 9 of them, you're getting the same calories as you would in eating 1-2 regular size brownies. Oh well.

My family really liked these. We served them with some vanilla ice cream. But, I had a bite of them (normally, I could have easily said no because they kind of looked gross (a master decorator, I am not) but, I was intrigued by the fact that there's orange zest in the brownies and I wanted to see how that tasted). I didn't like them, though. For whatever reason, I just cannot get my palate sophisticated enough to like fruit and chocolate together (except cherries. but then again, I can practically eat cherries with anything). I took a bite of these brownies and though they didn't taste "orange-y" they tasted... floral-y. Fragrantly floral. Like... someone had sprayed perfume on the brownies or something. Ehhh... not my cup of tea. Maybe if I didn't know there was orange zest in them, I might have enjoyed them more... but since I could easily identify that "floral whang" in them, I was like.. blech. Orange and chocolate! No thanks.

Oh well, I tried.

Even without the orange zest, the texture of the brownies weren't really my favorite either. Too cake-y... not fudge-y enough. Que Sera Sera.

Check out Jayma's blog if you like floral brownies, or if you just wanna try something different. (And by the way... the orange zest is optional in the recipe, but without it... they're just regular ole cake-y brownies).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake

I've been extremely lucky my whole life. I was born into an amazingly supportive and loving family. I was raised with good values and morals, but was also allowed to spread my wings, be independent and find things out on my own. And aside from my family and the environment I've grown up in, I've also been extremely lucky to find friends that I don't deserve.

Not to toot my own horn anything... but my friends are seriously some of the best people around. Not only are they loving and supportive like my family... but they're dependable and stable, they put up with my fickle and moody nature. I mean, I gotta be honest with you folks... I am a hard person to love. I'm stubborn and fiercely independent, at times. I am a complete contrarian and will assuredly change my mind just when you think you've gotten me figured out. I can be extremely private, which I'm sure makes people feel isolated from me. I try to keep my true feelings to myself as much as possible. I mean, damn. I wouldn't be friends with me.

But, despite these things... I still have some really kick ass friends (I guess having a baking blog doesn't hurt).

My friend Sara had a birthday back in June. Sara is one of those friends that you wish you could freelance out. Like... I feel fairly confident in saying that if a lot of bad people in the world had a friend like Sara, they wouldn't be so bad. All my friends are great in their own ways... but Sara is definitely the friend that I can depend on. If it were 2am and I was stuck on the side of the road in Alaska and I could only make one phone call... I would call Sara. Because it wouldn't matter that she was 1000s of miles away. Regardless of the fact that I might not have talked to her in 2 months, I could rest assured that she would do whatever it was that I needed and THEN SOME.

She is also loyal beyond belief. I know without a doubt, that we could have had the biggest argument of our lives.... but if someone else tried to badmouth me. She'd be standing up for me. Now, that, is loyalty, my friends.

But, I don't want it to sound like I'm just using her for her dependability and her loyalty. Oh no... I also use her for comic relief. She is hysterically funny and she's up for anything. She'll go and do practically anything you want. She's always up for a shopping trip, a car ride, a dinner, a drink, a walk. As long as her schedule is clear... she's good to go.

So, for her birthday, I wanted to make her whatever she wanted. And what she wanted... was White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake. This request immediately reminded me of one of our favorite past times in college: watching Golden Girls. Sara and I always say that when we're old and gray we're going to move down to Florida and live together. We're going to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey all day, eat cheesecake and walk around in moo-moos and flip flops. Cheesecake was the perfect choice for her birthday.

I didn't have a specific recipe for that variation of cheesecake, so I set off to adjust the Dorie Greenspan Cheesecake recipe that I adore. Hopefully she enjoyed it at least half as much as I've enjoyed her friendship.

Happy Birthday, Sara!

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant.

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say thank you for being a friend.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cheesecake
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

This is adapted from my favorite cheesecake recipe. It's creamy, rich and dense.

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
4 ozs of white chocolate melted and cooled.
chopped macadamia nuts for garnish


To make the crust:

Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.

Stir the crumbs, nuts, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don't worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn't have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

To make the cheesecake:

Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the heavy cream. Turn off your mixer and pour in the cooled melted white chocolate. Stir into the batter with a rubber spatula.

Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roaster pan.

Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven's heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours, although overnight would be better.

Remove the sides of the springform pan— I use a hairdryer to do this (use the dryer to warm the sides of the pan and ever so slightly melt the edges of the cake)—and set the cake, still on the pan's base, on a serving platter. Adorn the top of the cheesecake with the chopped macadamia nuts. The easiest way to cut cheesecake is to use a long, thin knife that has been run under hot water and lightly wiped. Keep warming the knife as you cut slices of the cake.

Wrapped well, the cake will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or for up to 2 months in the freezer. It's best to defrost the still-wrapped cheesecake overnight in the refrigerator.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Peach Cobbler

Some friends of mine just welcomed a new baby into the world at the end of June. I was thrilled.

Now, here is some information for you. I have no experience with newborns. None. I'm the youngest of 3. I have no nieces or nephews, none of my other friends have had any babies. Sure, some of my cousins have had babies, but I've never had the opportunity to see the babies until they're a few months old.

I spent a good bit of my teenage years babysitting, and even had my cousin and her 1 year old live with us for awhile when I was about 8 years old, but there is a HUGE difference between a newborn and a one year old (or even a 3 month old!). I couldn't wait meet this tiny new little person.

I got my chance a couple weekends ago. My friends invited me over for a lunch cookout. They were grilling hamburgers and hanging out on a Saturday and I joined up with them to hang out, play with their incredibly adorable 2 year old daughter and meet the newest addition to the family.

Holy crap! I couldn't believe how so very tiny she was. She is a beautiful baby and since she was born a few weeks early, she mostly just slept the entire time I was there. When my friend picked her up and put her in her lap for a feeding, I couldn't help but think about how much she looked like a little doll baby. So precious and fragile that I was too terrified to ask to hold her. (It's probably a good thing. My ovaries already ache with want everytime I see and play with their 2 year old daughter, I'm not sure they'd be able to handle holding a newborn, too).

It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

I wanted to take a dessert for the cookout and I had some delicious fresh, Tennessee peaches that I'd picked up at the farmers market earlier in the week. This recipe was perfect. I was able to whip it together fast the morning of, and by the time we cut into it, it had time to set up, but still tasted fresh and it was ALMOST still warm. Served with vanilla ice cream, of course. The perfect summer dessert.

Peach Cobbler

This is a sweet peach cobbler. Very sweet. It's how we southerners like our cobblers. You could easily cut back on the sugar in the recipe, if you like your desserts a little more sophisticated. But, I don't work like that. I like my desserts trashy and filled with loads of sugar. Yum.

Batter Ingredients:
12 tbsp of butter
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 room temperature egg

6 peaches sliced (I left the peel on)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp of vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place butter in a 9x13 inch pan and place in the oven to melt.

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Stir in the cream and the egg.

When the butter is melted, pull the pan out of the oven and pour the batter directly into the melted butter.

In a bowl, combine the peaches, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Then pour the peach mixture directly onto the batter. DO NOT STIR the peaches into the batter. Just pour it on top.

Bake for 35-45 minutes until batter rises up over the peaches and is golden brown.

Allow to cool and set until just warm.