Thursday, December 31, 2009

Butterscotch Sauce

Here's the deal. My family is one of those "weird" families. Weird as in... we celebrate Christmas on a different day than most people celebrate. We celebrate Christmas a day early. So, here's the schedule:

December 23 Evening: Our Christmas Eve (Big Family Dinner)
December 24 Morning: Open Presents (Big Family Breakfast).
December 24 Day: Exchange, return gifts.
December 25 Morning: Spend Christmas with Extended Family.

A little unconventional, but very practical. At least, it used to be... You see this whole thing started back when my brothers and I were little kids. We'd wake up on Christmas morning, unwrap all our toys, be super excited and dying to play with them and then be upset that we had to leave all our new toys to go and spend the day with extended family.

One year, my mom came up with a brilliant idea! She told us to write Santa a letter and see if he could come early that year, so that we didn't have to pack up and/or leave our toys on Christmas morning. We could leisurely spend the morning together instead of rushing out the door. Luckily, Santa got the letter and we've been celebrating Christmas the same way ever since.

Now, initially... we would go out to dinner for our Christmas Dinner to some exotic restaurant that we'd never been to before. But somewhere along the way, we nixed that idea and started having Christmas Dinner at home.

When we first started, my mom always bought this one cheesecake at Sam's Club every year. It was called a Turtle Cheesecake, it was $10 and it was heavenly. We thought it was so fancy. It came frozen and had parchment paper between all the slices and I loved pulling all the parchment from between the slices and licking the paper clean.

At some point, we stopped buying the Cheesecake and my mom and I would make homemade desserts instead. This year, I wanted to bring back the nostalgia of the Christmas Cheesecake, so I made my favorite plain cheesecake recipe and I decided to finally try something that I've had my eye on for awhile: Butterscotch.

I came across a recipe awhile back that talked about the wonders of homemade butterscotch. How it was infinitely better than store bought butterscotch (and lord knows I love me some store bought butterscotch). But, when Deb of Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for an Easy Butterscotch Sauce recipe, I was sold.

And you know what? This butterscotch sauce is indeed infinitely better than store bought. And you know what else? It is super freaking easy. What I liked about it, is that I could make it as salty and rich as I wanted it. Yum. Perfect for a slice of cheesecake or a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream (Butterscotch milkshake, anyone?).

Easy Butterscotch Sauce
Recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen

I don't really have anything to offer up here, except to note that I used light brown sugar. The recipe is dead simple.

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen: Here or for your convenience, cut and pasted:

Yield: About 2/3 to 3/4 cup sauce

1/4 cup (4 tablespoons, 2 ounces or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed dark or light brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular salt), plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, plus more to taste

Melt butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar, cream and salt and whisk until well blended. [A flat whisk works great here.] Bring to a very gentle boil and cook for about five minutes, whisking occasionally.

Remove from heat and add one teaspoon of the vanilla extract, stirring to combine and this is where, despite the simplicity of the recipe, you get to feel all “chef-y”. Dip a spoon in the sauce and carefully taste the sauce (without burning your tongue!) to see if you want to add additional pinches or salt or splashes of vanilla. Tweak it to your taste, whisking well after each addition. I ended up using a full teaspoon of flaky salt and the listed amount of vanilla to get a butterscotch sauce with a very loud, impressive butterscotch flavor but the strength of your vanilla and intensity of your salt may vary.

Serve cold or warm over vanilla ice cream, roasted pears or pound cake. The sauce will thicken as it cools. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container and reheated in a microwave or small saucepan.

To do ahead: This sauce will keep at least two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TWD: Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

First of all, let's have a little heart-to-heart, m'kay?

It's winter here in Middle Tennessee. Which, in a word, sucks. That's not to say that it's worse than Buffalo, NY or Wisconsin or whatever, but, it's cold, it's dark and it's wet a lot more than it's not, it seems. And that SUCKS.

You know what else sucks this time of year? Natural Light (No, not that Natural Light, the lack of real natural light). I mean... sure if I didn't have day job and I was just baking away all day instead of rushing around like a banshee trying to finish things before Christmas maybe I could get better pictures of my baked goodies than this atrocity:

I know. I'm embarrassed. It's awful. But let me set the scene for you...

It's christmas morning. My family loads up the car and heads to my uncles house. I secretly hope that when we get there no one else (well, besides my uncle) is there. But of course... we pull up and we're not the first ones. Drats! So, I have to figure out a way to get a picture of my cheesecake without my entire family thinking I'm a nutjob (they dont know I have a blog and honestly... I think they'd be a little embarrassed of me to find out how I cuss like a sailor when I'm not around them, so I keep the blog on the d/l.).

This is not an easy feat. So, I take to the laundry room and sneak 2 photos of the cheesecake while it sits on the washing machine. Seriously. 2 photos. And this is the least offensive. I'm sorry. Picture a lightly shaded chocolate sliver on a crisp white plate.

Don't let my awful photo scare you away. People loved this cheesecake. As in... there was only a small slice left at the end of the day. Now, I'm going to be honest with you... I am a plain cheesecake fan. I'm not usually crazy about the flavor of chocolate and cheesecake together. But, I did actually like this cheesecake a lot more than I thought I would. And a few members of my family thought this cheesecake was better than the plain cheesecake I made a couple days earlier. (More on that in another post).

Basically... if you love chocolate cheesecake, you will die when you have this particular cheesecake. And if you like regular cheesecake, I think you'll enjoy it, too.

Low & Lush Chocolate Cheesecake
Recipe by Dorie Greenspan
Chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie by The Tea Lady of Tea and Scones

Easy. Delicious. Of course I omitted the cinnamon in the crust. But otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. It comes out rich and creamy with just enough chocolate to flavor but not overpower the cream cheese.

It's not a pretty cheesecake. The chocolate color is an unappetizing light brown, but I thought, if I'd had the time that it would have looked pretty with some whipped cream piped along the edges or something.

Recipe Here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TWD: Dorie's Favorite Pecan Pie

First off, I feel like I need to address the shittiness of these photos, lest you think I'm unaware of the shittiness. Trust me, I'm aware. FULLY AWARE and a wee bit embarrassed. But, ehhh.. what the hell, right? Everyone knows what a pecan pie is supposed to look like.

So, Pecan Pie is my absolute favorite dessert. I love the crunchy hard top, the flavor of the pecans, and the sweet jelly type of filling and I absolutely love the way that the jelly-like filling softens the buttery crust. I have been known to inhale an entire pie in one sitting. No joke.

It's because of this undying love for this baked good that I never, ever make pecan pie. Because I can't trust myself around them. One minute there's an entire pie coming out of the oven, 5 minutes later I've got my face buried in the pie plate licking every last crumb out of there. It's sick.

So, when Beth of Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina picked this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe and it was pecan pie I became excited. One, because I had a REASON to bake a pecan pie and two, because I had a Christmas party coming up that I could take the pie to.

Now, this posed a wee bit of a problem. Taking a pie to a cocktail party is... not the greatest idea. I mean, sure, it can be done and sure, in hindsight, I should have done just that... but, my idea of a perfect cocktail party dessert is a finger food. Something you can casually pick up a piece of as you head over to the bar to pour yourself another glass of wine or what have you. So, my brilliant idea was to make pecan pie squares out of the recipe! I'd just prepare the entire pie in a 9x13 inch pan and cut them into little bite size bars! Brilliant!

Except, somehow in the baking process the crust kind of completely disintegrated into the pie itself so instead of becoming easy to pick up and transport bars, they became gobs of stickiness. Delicious gobs, but messy ones.

I was horrified at how these things looked. And even more horrified that I was cutting them up about 20 minutes before I needed to leave to get to the party, so no time to whip something else up. Fortunately, these things tasted absolutely amazing. Granted, I love pecan pie, but wow. Probably the best pecan pie I've ever tasted (and folks... I've had a boatload of pecan pie). It's a shame that the bar treatment didn't work out, because I'm sure most people shied away from them at the party because well... who wants to dive into a mess of sticking gobs at a cocktail party (besides me)?

I will be making this recipe again, except the traditional way: a real pie. If you like Pecan Pie, you should do yourself a favor and try this recipe sometime. It might just become your favorite, too.

Dorie's Favorite Pecan Pie
recipe by Dorie Greenspan

First of all, I omitted the espresso powder, cinnamon, and chocolate and opted for the traditional version of pecan pie. Which means I also opted for her "sweeter" and more traditional route and upped the corn syrup to 1 cup and I may have added a little bit extra brown sugar than called for. Pecan pie, to me, is supposed to be cavity-inducing sweet.

Second of all, for the crust, I substituted 2 tbsp of water with 2 tbsp of Woodford Reserve Bourbon. And while you couldn't really taste the actual bourbon, you could certainly smell it and I do think it offered a bit of something extra to the flavor of the pie without actually overwhelming it. I'll try this again when I make an actual pie and not bars.

Recipe found here

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

It's been a good year. If I could, I would bottle it up and store it in the bottom of my coat closet to open in the middle of a future year that isn't so awesome. Maybe then I'd have the time to actually savor and really enjoy the year. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's hard not to think about all the wonderful things I've experienced this year.

I've made new friends, gone to new places, accomplished new goals. What more could you ask for?

One of the most memorable things I've done this year was run a 200 mile relay across Kentucky with 11 other runners. Some people I knew beforehand, but the majority of the team were complete and utter strangers to me up until a few months before the relay. I happened upon the role of Team Captain and throughout the planning process I worried about such a large group of random people in tight quarters, under extreme conditions (running in the middle of the night, living in a van) getting along together.

But you know what? We all did. Everyone was awesome. I was so happy and impressed with how team-oriented everyone was. It was a great experience (despite the shitty weather) and I cannot wait to Captain the team again next year.

To celebrate how awesome we were as a team (we had an amazing finish time), I hosted a post-relay party at my place. It was a good chance for the team to reassemble and hang out together. I made a big pot of chili, had a bunch of beer, set out some chips and salsa and a couple of different types of cookies.

In case you don't know any runners, let me let you into a secret about us: 1. we love food and 2. we love booze. Seriously... runners run to eat and drink (or at least all the ones I know do). I came across this recipe linked on Serious Eats and immediately bookmarked it.  Gooey and Butter are two words that make me swoon. And so when this party rolled around, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to give them a try.

As always, I read through the entire recipe and was undeterred by the fact that it calls for a stand mixer and yeast. I've got a hand mixer. That's good enough, right?

Well, as I was mixing the yeast mixture (for 10 godforsaken minutes) I started to realize that this method just might not work. My dough never pulled away from the sides of the bowl. Never really formed a "dough" like I thought it should. But, I proceeded anyway. And when it never really rose or doubled in size. I thought.. what the hell? I've already invested a lot of time into this, I'm just going to bake it off anyway and hope for the best.

I baked it for a little longer than it needed, just because I was nervous that the dough was going to be.. gooey gross instead of gooey good.

And you know what happened? I was thrilled with the results! The bars were chewy and oh so sweet. Simple and yet deliciously decadent. Ironic that these bars turned out much the same way as the relay team that they were intended for did. High expectations, nervous and anxious while preparing, but a stellar outcome.

I can't wait to make them again.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
recipe from NY Times

This recipe was supposed to turn out awful. I didn't use a stand mixer, my dough didn't rise. But in the end... it turned out awesome! I'm not sure if thats the way it's supposed to be, but I was happy with the results and so were my guests.

It's not a difficult recipe, but it is time consuming, because of the yeast dough. So make sure you have the time to commit.

3 tablespoons milk at room temperature
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the topping:
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling.

1. In a small bowl, mix milk with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly.

2. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Beat dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from sides of bowl, 7 to 10 minutes.

3. Press dough into an ungreased 9-by 13-inch baking dish at least 2 inches deep. Cover dish with plastic wrap or clean tea towel, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare topping, in a small bowl, mix corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

5. Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use a spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes; cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid in center when done. Allow to cool in pan before sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar for serving.

Yield: 16 to 20 servings.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TWD: Sables

You know who I hate? Those people who make things that turn out exactly the way they're supposed to. You know who I'm talking about... those punks in your 2nd grade class who had perfect penmanship. Then in middle school they were your classmates who's science projects always looked like they were manufactured in China and purchased at Wal-Mart or something.

I have never been one of those people. My house is always a little cluttered. My fridge always has something old and growing mold on it. My handwriting is always illegible. Despite that, I always hope for change. I always hope that my extreme jealously of those people will translate into magically turning into one of them.

This recipe sadly wasn't the magical switch into perfection that I was hoping for.

It started off awesome. I laid out my egg yolks and butter in advance, I strapped on my apron and got all ready to prepare some perfectly round and beautiful sables. I followed the recipe to the letter and when it was time to dump all the contents of the bowl out onto a surface to roll into a log, my hopes for perfection crumbled.

Literally. What I dumped onto my counter was a mess of dry crumbles. What the hell? Like, there seriously wasn't anywhere near enough moisture in my dough for the dough to stick together. Did that stop me from trying? Hells no. I wrapped that saran wrap tightly around that dough, willing it to come together in some sort of semblance of a log. And by damn if I didn't get it all mashed up together. Pleased with myself and otherwise in denial about the fact that putting the log into the fridge all mashed together into a log, didn't actually make my dough moist enough to actually be a log, I went about my business for the rest of the day.

The next day, I donned my apron again, preheated my oven and pulled the log out of the fridge. I carefully unrolled it and immediately one end cracked off. Trying to stay positive I just said to myself... Perfect! That's the perfect amount to bake up today! (I wanted to save the rest of the dough for later in the month). I brushed the sides with egg yolk and rolled it in bright pink sugar. And then it was time to cut the dough into perfect little slices. And this is where all hell broke loose.

Instead of slices I ended up with little piles of crumbles. My cookie sheet looked like a sable massacre. I tried to mold the crumbles into round slices, but it just wasn't happening. The dough was just too dry.

I baked those cookies off anyway... again.. thinking that magically they'd go in the oven looking like blue cheese crumbles but come out as perfect thick slices. And again... I was wrong.

The only solution I could think of... was to add some water to the dough, reshape it into a log and let it chill again. So, I did that. I added probably 2 tbsp of water before it finally came together, rolled it into another perfect log and let it chill for a couple of hours.

This second time around I was convinced I was going to succeed. Nothing stopping me now, right? I sliced the cookies and they sliced okay... a little crumbly, but significantly better. Popped them in the oven and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to think of a cute ways to display them for a pretty picture for my blog.

And then I pulled them out of the oven and screamed. They looked awful. Spread out, too brown on the edges, it was like this recipe was just not meant to be for me. Oh well.

They still tasted good, but too bad I can't serve them to anyone except family. Ugh. So, if you're one of those people who's cookies always turn out perfect then have at it, this recipe is right up your alley. But,  if you're like me... don't make these cookies expecting to take them somewhere. (Even though they are delicious!!!!!).

Recipe by Dorie Greenspan
Chosen for Tuesdays with Dorie by Barbara of Bungalow Barbara

So, yeah, I had a bit of a time with these. Despite the fact that they come together super easy, require little ingredients and little fuss, mine still didn't turn out. I do plan on trying again at some point though, because they are just delicious to shy away from... but next time, I'll make sure my dough is moist enough to mold into a log the first time around and I might actually cut the cookies and then freeze them individually cut (sans the egg yolk and sugar) and bake them off straight from the freezer. Maybe they'll hold their shape better that way?

Don't let my problems with the recipe scare you off. They may not turn out aesthetically pleasing, but they are palate pleasing (and isn't that what really matters?). Besides, sugar cookies and slice and bake cookies generally give me trouble.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

TWD: All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake

I like to think that my intelligence goes through cycles. There's the time in my life (during elementary and middle school) where I was book-smart (ahhhh the easy years). Then I moved into the fake-smart phase (high school) where I thought I was all that and a bag of chips smart, just because I was reading books about buddhism and soliloquizing T.S. Eliot poems. That transitioned well into my creative-smart phase (college years) where I was all about music and literature. Then there was the current-events smart period of my life (post college) where I knew everything that was going on in the world and loved to debate and sneer at people who didn't have the same beliefs as me.

And somewhere along the way... I landed here... not book smart, not fake smart, not creative smart and sure as hell not current event smart. I dont know what intelligence cycle I'm in now, I have a feeling it's... my dumb phase. I'm young, single, selfish... I dont give a shit about talking about politics or music (mainly because I'm no longer "hip" to the music scene these days). What do I like? Running, Sports, Alcohol, Clothes, Sweets, Accessories, Faulkner, and Kings of Leon. Those are the things I can talk about.

Normally, this wouldn't bother me. Who cares? Well, I'll tell you... The Tennessee State Board of Accountancy cares. And why do I care that they care? Because... I'm enrolled in classes this semester in an effort to make some headway in the mound of classes that I have to take in order to have the privilege to sit for the CPA exam (which, at the rate I'm going at now, will be when I'm 42).

And now I realize why I was so much smarter in other things when I was younger... it was because I would get into anything to distract myself from doing any type of homework or focusing on my studies. Because you know what? School stinks. Wait. Let me phrase that... School is awful.

The thorn in my side this semester? Pre-Calculus. Which I like to call... 3 hours of hell in a classroom. This class makes me love my alma mater even more (Thank you, University of South Carolina for allowing me to graduate with a 3.00+ gpa without having to take any math classes. Your Liberal Arts curriculum is awesome). I'm not exaggerating. Like, at first.... I was all gung-ho about it. I thought... hey! I'm an adult now. I can take this whole math thing seriously. Maybe... I'll even get an A and enter into the ever elusive math-smart phase.

Heh. Heh.

It was clear in the first week that I was going be LUCKY to pass. I don't know what it is. But, I just don't get it. I can study. Do my homework. Take copious notes during class and still... I have no idea what I'm doing. The text seems to be written in Greek, which doesn't help. I took a test a couple of weeks ago... studied my ass off for it and felt great about it after I took it! I was actually excited to go back to class and get my test result. I got a 71. BARELY a C. And I studied my ass off.

So, now, I'm just like frustrated as hell and totally hate it. It's like... if I can study my ass off and think the material is a breeze... yet, I barely get a C on it? What's the point?

I just don't get the material. I don't. And I honestly think that I'm incapable of learning it. After class on Tuesday night I drove directly to my local bar and ordered a jack and diet coke. IT WAS THAT BAD.

The worst part? I don't just have to pass this course... ohhhhh no, I have to actually get a C in it. Because, technically pre-cal is just a pre-requisite... I just have to take pre-cal before I can get into business calculus which will allow me to take the business courses I need.

I'm just so disgusted, so disappointed, so frustrated right now. All because of this one measly little subject matter that my brain just can't comprehend. I swear... all my friends are making fun of me, because it's like a high school level class. But it might as well be advanced rocket science or some shit.

The lucky thing in this whole scenario is that I didn't have this cake waiting for me when I got home from class and the bar... otherwise I would have inhaled the entire thing. It's become clear to me that school is why I gained weight in college. It wasn't the late night chicken wing deliveries or the alcohol. (Well, yes the calories from those things caused me to gain weight). It was the hatred of class and schoolwork that drove me to drink, which drove me to order late night chicken wings (or, inhale an entire bundt cake if it were lying around). So, I gotta be careful if I'm going to continue on with this school thing. Ugh.

Last weeks Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was this All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake. It was chosen by Britin of The Nitty Britty. I baked it last week and took it to my family's thanksgiving gathering. I thought it was delicious, but it didn't fare too well amongst the bazillion chocolate pies and the chocolate brownies and some amazing coconut pound cake (that I have to find the recipe for). It's very rustic looking and unassuming. But don't let looks fool you. It's packed with flavor.

All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake
recipe by Dorie Greenspan

Easy and delicious. The hardest part? Cutting up all the cranberies to go in (but it's worth the time. I quartered my cranberries and thought they were the perfect little size in the cake). I also made sure that I cut the apple up into a really fine dice. I'd say except for the moisture, you don't even realize that it's in the cake. But that's better than having weird chunks of it (in my opinion).

Nuts, pumpkin, cranberries, apples, cinnamon. I mean what more could you ask for? I skipped the glaze, because it didn't need it. It was yummy enough on it's own.

The only suggestion I'd make is to up the spices a little. Next time I'll probably double all the spices. Especially with no glaze, I wanted a little more of a spice punch.

The recipe is here: All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake