Sunday, August 11, 2013

When Life Is Driving You Bananas, Make Banana Bread

Now that I am no longer a graduate student and have had a couple of months to rest my mind from all that reading and writing, I have been contemplating re-entering the blogging world.  Not that I have too much exciting to say, but I did really enjoy reflecting and writing about my life contemplations and experiences.  So here we go… So much has happened, so I may have to do a bit of back tracking with my next post or two to really recount what is going on in our lives. 

So why is life driving me bananas, you ask? Well, because we were supposed to close on a house on Friday and in the 11th hour we were asked for yet more documentation and that prevented it from happening.  It made for an angst and tear filled Friday, and it has taken both of us most of the weekend to snap out of our funk and frustration.  As I said, lots to fill you in on.  Here is the short version:  we decided to stay in Flagstaff and after a short-lived and horrible rental situation, we were presented with the opportunity to buy a house and it ended up making the most financial sense.  I know.  That makes no sense.

So, I will bring you up to speed on how our life decisions this past spring brought to this point in the next week or so.  But first, a tried and true recipe that worked at high altitude with minimal adjustments.  I reduced the amount of baking powder by about a ¼ teaspoon, but that is it.  I had to go back to to look this one up as it is a Bon Appetit magazine recipe, and I wasn’t sure where I have a copy stashed.  It was published in 1998!  I have been making this same banana bread since then.  Cuhrazy!  Now I feel old. So, moving on.  I am too lazy for pictures today (it may also be because we are housesitting and would otherwise be homeless and I have no idea where my camera and cord is.  I told you we had lots to catch up on!)

Best Banana Bread Ever


1 ¾ cup of A.P. flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup ripe mashed bananas
½ cup whole milk (I used 2 %)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ c. solid vegetable shortening (I typically just use a stick of butter)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped (I have my weird textural thing about nuts in baked goods so I left these out)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9 1/4 x 5 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in medium bowl. In small bowl, mix mashed bananas, milk and vanilla. Using electric mixer, beat shortening (or butter) in large bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat banana mixture and flour mixture alternately into butter mixture in 2 additions each. Stir in pecans (if you so choose). Transfer to prepared pan.
Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Wrap tightly in foil and let stand at room temperature.)

Credit:  Bon Appetit, November 1998, Susan C. Samuel

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adventures in Baking

Birthday Biscuits and Gravy

The first two months of 2012 had some great baking successes. In particular, I was doing some special birthday baking as I seem to end up with a ton of Capricorn friends! For my friend S, I wanted something easy, tasty, and transportable for his surprise birthday party. Without even realizing it, I hit the nail on the head with the perfect dessert for him and transporting to a party: Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes. You make a basic cheesecake filling and mix in some chopped Oreo. A whole Oreo serves as the bottom crust and you bake them in muffin tins. S told me that Oreos were his guilty pleasure, so I was super excited that I had made this choice without even knowing this little fact about him. These are perfect for a party because you do not have to cut or serve anything. Each person just gets an individual one.

Image courtesy of

My lovely husband had his birthday up next. For him, I had a much more elaborate vision. However, first my goal was to make him his favorite breakfast: biscuits and gravy. This was actually a bit of a challenge for me because he is the biscuit and pastry maker in our house. For some reason, I tend to avoid anything that requires the creation of flakiness. So, as a result, I decided to go in a different direction. Instead, I chose to pursue the baking powder method for biscuit making. They turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. I used this Cream Biscuit recipe.

The only frustrating/confusing point for me was when it discussed leaving the flour behind and using the remaining cream to moisten it and add to the dough on the counter. I looked at the recipe in our New Best Recipe cookbook and it is slightly more detailed in its instructions. It advises add cream a little at a time to the dry bits and stirring until moistened, and then adding it to the rest. I just poured the cream in, sort of stirred it around and then dumped it on top of the dough. It worked but was messy because it was not combined well.

The sausage gravy was the standard cream gravy base, and here is the recipe I used.

For a while now, I have been wanting to merge several recipes and make my own version of a S’More Cupcake. R’s birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity. Since this is a hodgepodge of several recipes, I will provide the instructions here with credit for parts, but here is the run down on what you are getting yourself into. First up is a graham cupcake. I found several versions, but I like the one that had you use graham flour instead of graham cracker crumbs. Just seemed more authentic. A lot of recipes have you do a chocolate filling or a layer of chocolate ganache then a fancy toasted marshmallow frosting. Fancy frostings scare me (perhaps one day I will attempt this Swiss Meringue thing all the bloggers swear is the best frosting ever). And I do not have a torch to toast frosting. And that seemed like it would be a pain in the @$$ to transport. So, I decided I wanted to do a toasted marshmallow filling. There are lots of marshmallow filling ideas out there to imitate Hostess cupcakes. I finally found one that incorporated actual toasted marshmallows along with the marshmallow crème. Finally, I decided I wanted to keep it simple and just dip the tops in a chocolate ganache. That is where I stumbled. I opted to do the cut the top off, put filling in, and put top back on method. Well, that made for some really homely cupcakes that I knew would look even worse with just a layer of ganache. So, I ended up making a chocolate cream cheese frosting as a last minute change. I am not sure that they were my best effort, but everyone scarfed them down and raved about them. They were also super rich! Next time, I think I might just try the pastry tip injector method for the filling.

The cupcake recipe comes from the Brown Eyed Baker. Her version does look tasty.

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Prep Time: 1 hour | Bake Time: 25 minutes

For the Cupcakes:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups graham flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
10 ounces (1¼ cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter, brown sugar and honey until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium; beat in the eggs and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the lined cups. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown and a thin knife inserted in the centers comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored up to 1 day at room temperature, or frozen up to 1 month.

Next up is the Toasted Marshmallow Filling, which I borrowed from Sweetapolita.

8 large marshmallows

½ cup powdered sugar

¼ lb of butter (1 stick, or ½ cup) at room temperature

½ teaspoon of vanilla

4 oz of marshmallow cream or fluff

Place marshmallows on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Place on lower rack of oven, and broil marshmallows until nice and brown. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Once they start browning, it happens very quickly. Combine butter and powdered sugar in electric mixer fit with paddle attachment on low until blended (about 1 minute). Add vanilla and mix on high for about 3 minutes. Add marshmallow cream, toasted marshmallows and mix on lowest setting for a minute.

Now you put the filling in the cupcakes. Either cut out a cone shaped piece and put some in the middle or use a pastry bag to fill. There is lots of techniques out there on the internet if you are not sure what I am talking about.

Last Minute Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. I picked this recipe solely because it made about half the amount of most recipes, and I didn’t want leftover frosting. It turned out nice. I would use it again.

¼ cup butter, room temperature

4 oz cream cheese, room temperature

¼ cup cocoa powder

3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cup to 2 ½ cup powdered sugar

Beat together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Sift in cocoa and beat until smooth. Add milk and vanilla along with about 1 ½ cups of powdered sugar (I am pretty sure I sifted mine in with the cocoa). Mix at medium speed until smooth. Add sugar as needed to get the consistency you want. And, I am pretty sure you know what to do with the frosting after that!

Next up was our friend, J. She was experimenting with a vegan diet, so I told her I had just the birthday cupcake for her! This has been in rotation a couple of times at potlucks and is quickly devoured. I am actually surprised I have not put this one up yet! It is Vegan Banana French Toast Cupcakes. We acquired originally from the Bake and Destroy website, but I cannot find it on there anymore. Weird. The only change we make is to use vanilla flavored almond milk and to leave out the almond extract. I like to make these in our mini muffin pan, especially when taking to a party. These come together ridiculously easily and quickly, and I cannot speak to the frosting, but it sounds yummy!

I will leave you with a breakfast gem that I made for a recent brunch study group: Honey and Goat Cheese Filled Fig Muffins. First off, I could eat the goat cheese mixture with a spoon. Okay, maybe I did… I think it would be quite tasty on crackers and bread. The muffin themselves were super yummy and sort of healthy. The filling is a mix of honey, goat cheese and lemon zest. The muffins are pretty basic but have the addition of dried figs for an additional layer of richness. In fact, that was the only thing that was a bit time consuming: chopping the figs into bite-sized pieces. Make these soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Final 2011 Food Wrap Up: Giving Thanks This Year

As you know, the holidays have been hard on me as we move farther and farther west. It just so expensive to get back home… so we just don’t go. Which makes me a little sad as I miss my family. However, we still had a really nice Thanksgiving this year that was just the right size and with just the right people. As I mentioned in my Exiting Hibernation post, I had been feeling out of sorts, and this gathering was one of the highlights of my fall. It lifted my spirits greatly.

Busy getting ready

Time to Eat!

Thank you R, L, and I for being mine and Robert’s Thanksgiving family for the second year in a row! I am truly thankful to have such lovely people in my life.

We stuffed ourselves silly with an abundance of good food and then played a competitive round of Quiddler. Lesson learned: you will learn some new words when you play with a biologist!

Now, on to the food. We did it pot luck style, and we brought several contributions. To make sure we had veggies, we made our favorite Hearty Winter Salad that makes regular appearances at our dinner table.

My Mom’s Artichoke Dip is a classic in our family. She has been making it for as long as I can remember. It is super simple and tasty. I definitely recommend you give it a try at your next gathering. I like to serve it with Triscuits. There are no pictures of the appetizers. By the time we started thinking about pictures, they were long gone!

Mom’s Artichoke Dip Recipe


2 jars of marinated artichoke hearts, drained

¼ cup of sour cream

¼ cup of mayonnaise

¼ cup of Parmesan cheese


Combine all ingredients in food processor. Process until desired consistency (I prefer mine to be fairly smooth).

Place in small dish and bake at 350 degrees for 15 – 30 minutes or until bubbly.

We brought two appetizers. Again, these were gone by the time we started taking pictures. We also made some stuffed mushrooms with cheese and spinach that were quite tasty. I think I picked the recipe because I had some spinach I wanted to use. Conveniently, the crumbs from the cutting the bread up for stuffing worked for this recipe. My only criticism is that it really made way more stuffing than needed, and we even increased the amount of mushrooms. I felt it “overstuffed” them. Unfortunately, I can’t find the recipe. However, it was pretty basic. Chop and sauté the mushroom stems with some butter and sherry. We also added some shallots. Mix in some bread crumbs and chopped fresh spinach. Top with cheese. Bake until bubbly.

This Sausage, Fig and Cranberry Stuffing (really it is dressing since it was not stuffed in anything) recipe was a new adventure for us. We pretty much followed it as is, but added some diced pear that needed to be used up, as well. We also used bourbon as the liquor. It is a little on the boozy side, but it was quite tasty! I would recommend it.

Here is a recap of our day in pictures:

Our lovely hostess

Max is camera-averse. He turns away if you try to take his picture.

Table is set

Beautifully roasted

Discussing the temperature

Carving the turkey

Mashed sweet potatoes

Can't have turkey without gravy!

Look at all that scrumptious food

Sweet Finish 1: Pumpkin Bourbon Cheesecake

Sweet Finish 2: Pecan Pie with Chocolate and Bourbon

Yes, it appears bourbon was a meal theme

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Potatoes, Beans and Corn: The Southwestern Trinity (2011 Food Recap, Part 2)

As Robert and tried to recall some of our more savory successes, these three were the ones that came to mind. I quickly noticed some themes. I guess it is fitting since we live in the Southwest. Although, I would like to note that it is sometimes difficult to find good fresh corn here.

Potato and Sweet Corn Hash was a summer find. It was so darn good. We made this one a couple of times. I bet it would be tasty with a fried egg on top. It is pretty self-explanatory and easy. I haven’t tried it with frozen corn, but I suspect it would still be pretty tasty!

Our CSA share provided us with an almost weekly bag of roasted chilies. Now, I am not complaining, but I find you have to start getting creative and researching ways to use them. As a result, we end up with quite a few bags in the freezer. When seeking inspiration for a recent potluck, I found these bookmarked recipes for a Spicy Corn Dip and a Creamy Bean Dip. I was torn between the two, and Robert pretty much read my mind (we spend way too much time together) when he said, why not do half and half? Brilliant, I say. I was pleased that we seemed to have one of the crowd pleasers of the night and it was one of the first dishes to disappear! We basically nestled them side by side in a baking dish.

Modifications? We cut the bean dip recipe in half. Robert said that next time, he would just make the same base for both of them (combining all the dairy and flavorings) then divide it in half to stir in the beans and corn into the two separate dips. P.S. – These would be excellent Super Bowl party dips. You can thank me later for the idea.

I am always a little more inspired to cook when I have time on my hands, so I pulled out all the stops for some bean burritos recently since I was on Winter Break. I bought the fresh tortillas you cook yourself. Look for them in the refrigerated section of your grocery. They are a little pricier than the ones you grab on the shelf, but they taste so much better! I cooked some black beans in our slow cooker to make refried beans. I highly recommend this if you eat a lot of beans because it is so much cheaper than canned beans and so easy – all you have to do is plan ahead by about half a day. We don’t even soak them overnight. We just throw them in the slow cooker and let them cook until soft. I put some of our bountiful green chilies into the refried beans. We also had shredded cheese and added more green chilies to Greek yogurt (or sour cream) for a creamy sauce. The real highlights of the burritos were these Chipotle Caramelized Onions and the roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes. I just peeled and diced them up and threw them in the oven at about 400 degrees until nice and crispy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January Is Comfort Food Time

I have not reneged on my commitment to recap the latter half of 2011, but I am waiting, um, on my “photographer” (husband) to provide me with some photos… So, in the mean time, here is what we have been chowing down on during the last weeks of my break from school. Since my commitment to housework and cooking can fluctuate when I am in the thick of classes, I try to step it up a bit during my down time. As usual, I sucked and didn’t take pictures, but… I guess that just isn’t my style. Perhaps that will be one of my goals for 2012: Quit being intimidated by our fancy camera and actually use it.

I mentioned spinach pie during my birthday post last year, but I realize I did not share the recipe. It is so darn tasty, that I must. It is basically a version of spanakopita that I learned during a January Residence Life training at SMU where they had Dining Services come and do a cooking demo for us. Not sure what all my colleagues thought of the experience, but I loved it.

This has become a favorite along with a bread pudding recipe that I should make and share sometime soon! We could not find phyllo dough, so we decided to use puff pasty and make turnovers. I am pretty sure that raises the fat and calorie count quite a bit, but it was definitely easier and quicker than the phyllo. I wouldn’t be surprised if we do it this way again. We also had an unexpected 2 hour power outage during the baking of these. It was horrible timing and we fretted about whether or not they would cook through or be ruined. Luckily, we seemed to have enough residual heat to complete the baking process!

Spinach Pie

(Note: I am providing you the full recipe, but you should know we always cut it in half)

3 cups chopped onion (about 2 onions)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 teaspoons of salt

1 ½ teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper

3 (10 oz) packages of frozen, chopped spinach, defrosted (we have used fresh before)

6 large eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons of grated nutmeg

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons of plain dry bread crumbs

½ pound of good feta, crumbled or cut into ½ inch cubes

½ cup of pine nuts, toasted

¼ cup of butter, melted

6 sheets of phyllo dough, defrosted (if you use puff pastry, you don’t need this or the melted butter)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium skillet or sauté pan, on medium heat, sauté the onions with the olive oil until translucent, and slightly brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper and let cool slightly.

Squeeze out and discard liquid from thawed spinach. Put spinach in bowl and gently mix in the onions, eggs, nutmeg, parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, feta cheese, and pine nuts.

Grease an ovenproof 8 inch sauté pan (or pie dish) and line it with the 6 stacked sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each with melted butter and letting the edges hang over the pan. Place spinach mixture into middle of phyllo and neatly fold the edges up and over the top to seal in the filling. Brush top with melted butter. Bake for an hour until top is golden brown and the filling is set. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve at room temperature.

Variation: Cut puff pastry into quarters and place filling in middle. Fold from corner to corner to make a triangle. Brush with beaten egg and use to seal as needed.

We have also made macaroni and cheese several times. I have made two of my favorite variations recently. One is a Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese. R said he couldn’t taste the cheese in the squash version, so perhaps increase the cheese amount a bit if you really want to “hide” the squash flavor. This time around, I used some odds and ends of cheeses that needed to get cleared out of the fridge. I thought it tasted great, personally. It is a great way to sneak in some veggies and lower the fat content. I should note that I didn’t measure out the squash either, though, as I just pulled a bag out of the freezer. Oh, that is a good tip I should share. We got a gigantic butternut squash with our CSA share, and I learned that you can just dice it up and freeze it raw. I pulled some out, threw it in the oven to roast and then pureed it up. Easy peasy!

This Cooking Light Four Cheese version has been my go to recipe for years. It is always loved! I never use the melba toast topping. I am not really a crumb topping person. And… I KNOW, it has Velveeta, but it does add a creaminess that is hard to replicate. If you just can’t do it, then sub in another soft, melty cheese.

I also made this variation on Shepherd’s Pie that is also a Cooking Light recipe. I love the addition of the chipotle and sweet potatoes for the topping. I am pretty sure we have subbed in ground lamb occasionally in the past. This recipe is another one that I cut in half for us and find it still has plenty of leftovers, especially for a family of two!

To continue my Cooking Light favorites themes, I also pulled out this classic recipe for Baked Potato Soup that has also been in my repertoire for ages. Who doesn’t love Baked Potato soup? Again, I appreciate the efforts to lighten up what can be a fat-laden meal. I used plain yogurt instead of sour cream this time, and didn’t notice any major taste difference.

So, hopefully, this provides some winter cooking inspirations that will help you feel warm and cozy!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Food Highlights: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Part 1: The Sweet Stuff)

I am starting with food as I found it the easiest for collecting my thoughts and getting back into the rhythm of writing. I am going to break it down into separate blogs to keep it from being too lengthy.

These days, I tend to find most of my recipe inspirations through the gazillion of food blogs I follow (yes, I know I have a problem!). In fact, I have been feeling a little guilty about neglecting my gazillion of cook books (yes, I know… problem… let’s move on now). Anyways! We have had some great finds along the way and some not so great successes. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to turn out exactly how we thought, and sometimes, especially with baking, it seems to be the curse of the high altitude. And, I really don’t have many pictures cuz we suck and don’t think about it at the time. Hopefully my descriptions and amazing word crafting will make up for the lack of visuals… And if you really need pictures, most of the links have pictures for ya!

Brownies and Bars Goodness, Sort of…

One summer find and success was this Grain Free Brownie recipe, and I just recommend the Food Renegade website for some interesting reading in general. My mother-in-law was recently diagnosed with Coeliac’s disease, so I was excited to share my find with her while they were staying in Flagstaff this summer. I have made them with and without the cream cheese swirl, and think they are yummy both ways. More and more people are gluten free either by choice or necessity, so these are great baked good solution that will be a crowd pleaser. I promise you, no one is going to miss the gluten!

A recent attempt at Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies (what is there not to love in that mix, eh?) has great potential, I think… The flavors were there, but they did suffer from some underdoneness despite cooking both layers past the recommended temperature times. I am starting to wonder if it was a high altitude thing. If I can figure out the baking times, I envision these being the PERFECT dessert to recommend for Kentucky Derby parties. Oh, and Jessica is pretty darn hilarious. I recommend subscribing to her How Sweet It Is blog.

I impulsively bought some Meyer lemons at the CSA store as I have often read rave reviews about this type of lemon and its flavor differences. I decided I really wanted to embrace the lemonyness (according to spell check, I just made this word up), so I determined lemon bars would be the way to go. I have made them before, but it has been a while, and of course I tried a new recipe. Again, I ended up with an underdone custard despite leaving it in the oven for quite a bit longer than the instructed baking time… so I am thinking there just must be something to custardy type desserts at this altitude. However, I struggled to find any good insight in my high altitude baking cookbook, so this is just speculation on my part. They were tasty, but I was not particularly over enthusiastic with the results and there was no Meyer lemon flavor epiphany for me.

Caramel Conundrums

Anything of a caramel type attempt seems to always be a crapshoot… as you may recall from my attempt for Robert’s birthday (link) last year. My friend R asked for caramel cupcakes for her birthday this summer, so I went with a triple caramel cupcake: caramel cupcake with a caramel filling and caramel frosting. They were not a complete failure, but the idea for a caramel filling didn’t work out so well as it just sort of absorbed into the cake instead of being a gooey center surprise. I splurged and bought icing tips and pastry bags. I figured perhaps I should try making my frosting look fancier. Kind of a hot mess (literally and figuratively). It is harder than it looks! I also decided to ix-nay the sugar sculptures.

This winter we decided we wanted to make caramel candies. You know, the almost gooshy, perfectly chewy ones that you wrap in wax paper. Robert diligently cut out 60 squares and helped me stir the caramel to the correct temperature. So, you would think smooth sailing, right? Nope. We ended up with this weird texture that was crunchy when you bit into it and then turned into this pull your fillings out, chewy glob in your mouth. They tasted good, but the texture just sucked. So, fail number 1. I did get creative and mix bits of it into a chocolate cookie batch.

Onto fail number 2. Many years ago, my friend introduced me to this candy/cookie that I call Victoria’s Addictive Cookies and she calls “Crack.” It is always a crowd favorite at parties and potlucks, and ridiculously easy to make except, apparently, at 7000 feet. Although, I swear I made it once this summer with no trouble. However, this winter, we had two complete fails, which was frustrating since I was making it to send home to my family as part of my Christmas package. However, I have since conducted some online research and learned a little more about candy making at high altitude, so at least now I know I am not completely crazy or inept. Many people mentioned they are unable to successfully make caramel or toffee without the use of corn syrup. It also has to do with the fact that water evaporates out at a lower boiling point at higher altitudes.

Here is a pretty helpful chart I found for those who are also trying to make candy at high altitude:

Sugar cookery
For sea level:
215-230 degrees: thread stage
240 degrees: soft ball
245 degrees: firm ball
250-260 degrees: hard ball
265-270 degrees: soft crack
295-310 degrees: hard crack
320-360 degrees: caramel
For every 500 feet. of altitude over sea level, the temperatures drop 1 degree..
For 5000 feet elevation:
205-220 degrees: thread
230 degrees: soft ball
235 degrees: firm ball
240-250 degrees: hard ball
255-260 degrees: soft crack
285-300 degrees: hard crack
310-350 degrees: caramel
Source: Amy DeWitt, Culinary School of the Rockies

The other important detail I learned is that several people recommend calibrating your candy thermometer by identifying at what temperature your water boils and then adjusting cooking times accordingly. Oh. Of course. Lower boiling points. I knew about that. Sooo, I am not giving up!

Here is an cool sounding blog that I may have to add to my list that also explains this: Handmade in High Places

So you are probably wanting the recipe now, right? Here you go!

Victoria’s Addictive Cookies, aka Crack, aka, Saltine Toffee Candy


1 cup of brown sugar

1 cup of unsalted butter

Saltine crackers

2 cups of chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with foil. Place a layer of saltine crackers in the pan. Break up crackers if necessary to fill in empty spaces. Combine sugar and butter in pan and bring to a boil. Stir and cook at the boiling level for about 3 minutes (although clearly, I would now increase this time at my higher altitude). Pour the butter and sugar mixture over the crackers and place in the oven for 6 minutes (again, I am thinking I will extend this time by a few minutes in the future). After you remove from the oven, sprinkle the chocolate chips on it and let sit for a few minutes. After the chocolate has softened, spread the melted chocolate over the pan. Let cool completely (I suggest putting in the refrigerator). After cooled, break into pieces. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Remember, share wisely. Crack is addictive…

Exiting My Blogosphere Hibernation – A series of Catch Ups

I feel like I should do that "tap, tap, tap... is this microphone on?" moment. It has been so long since I posted anything that I had to re-log in!

I really fell off the writing wagon with the start of summer. I can’t even come up with a particularly good explanation of why this happened. I had plenty of experiences to write about, but I just didn’t. I seems it might have just been a perfect storm combination of a couple of things.

I think I was just beat after my first year of grad school and my brain went on hiatus. As much joy as this usually brings me, it was probably more thought and work than I was willing to invest. Then, I just became overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I could write about since I waited so long to write, so I think I just chose to not write at all. Finally, I had a weird funk that plagued me for much of the fall. Nothing was particularly wrong, I just felt a little out of sorts and unhappy. I think it happens to all of us – we get these weird little mental dips. It’s almost more frustrating when you can’t pinpoint how you are feeling due to one specific event or reason. No one wants to hear you feel a little blue just cuz!

Anyways, as my semester began winding down, I spent some time thinking through what was aggravating my moods and pushed myself to work through my issues and move on. So, I feel much better and much more optimistic for the start of a new year and semester!

Which left me with the damn blog… what to do… what to do... In a burst of inspiration (mainly based on the end of the year blog posts I have been reading), I concluded that I could do a reflective recap. It felt weird to not mention anything at all that I have done since, oh July. However, it is way too daunting and time consuming to do my usual more detailed summary of my experiences. And practically speaking, I don’t know that I could really remember enough at this point to write about it well. Instead, I see this as an opportunity, to share a few memories that do stand out and reflect on the good things that happened in 2011. And realistically speaking, I know my readership is small, so I am thinking this is all more for myself than anything else!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tell Someone You Love Them No Bake Peanut Butter Pie

For those of you who may not know this, I love reading food blogs. My discovery of the purpose of Google Reader has saved my life (as well as lots of time). I am probably not a good blog follower. I do not write responses very often or “like” them. I just read them. Some make me laugh. Some inspire me with new recipe ideas. Occasionally, I do write in my own blog about something we made with a link to the original author. My poor cookbooks feel neglected as I often find it easier to search for a recipe I have read about online.

I am also always fascinated by online friendship culture. I read about bloggers who are great friends with other bloggers even though they have never met in person. It is clear there is a great support system out there if you seek it out. I stay in the shadows and do my own thing, and I am cool with that. Yesterday, though, I witnessed something beautiful that made me cry and tear up again and again. It also inspired me to contribute to the food blog community myself.

Innocently, I clicked on a post for No Bake Peanut Butter Pie. I love peanut butter. Although, we have not dealt with the blistering heat of the rest of the country, our lack of AC and good ventilation makes our little apartment pretty toasty when we fire up the oven (and all I seem to want to do lately is make stuff that requires the oven, go figure). So, my point being, I thought it might be a fun recipe to make this weekend that would not require heating up the apartment.

Then began the tearing up. The post was in honor of a fellow blogger who lost her husband to sudden massive heart attack last weekend. The full on crying began when I went to Jennie’s blog. She wrote about her and her husband’s last date and her intention for quite some time to make him his favorite dessert, Peanut Butter Pie. And sadly, she did not get this chance.

Shit. Not what I expected to encounter in the rare little pocket of free time I had to enjoy on my Friday morning. So, there I sat stunned and in tears. She wrote asking everyone to make Peanut Butter Pie on Friday and share it with someone they love. By the time I got home, my Google Reader was filled with bloggers and their version of Peanut Butter Pie as a tribute to Jennie and Mikey. I don’t know Jennie. I don’t even follow her blog. But I was blown away by the love and support demonstrated by her fellow food bloggers… some of who clearly had some sort of friendship with her, and some, like me, who just feel the need to honor Jennie and her request.

So, it isn’t Friday. If you had been my shadow on Friday, you would know why I am a Sunday pie participant. It’s the thought that counts, right??

My other takeaway from this unexpected experience is that I am bad about making sure my loved ones know I care. For someone so filled with empathy, I am terrible at expressing my feelings and my emotions. I am not good at giving consistent and regular assurance of love and appreciation to most of my dear friends. I just assume that they know I care about them since I keep them as friends. I guess I need to work on that. I also want to make sure that I am enjoying each and every day and being thankful for the experiences it brings me, whether they are good or bad. So this pie is dedicated to all of those special people in my life.

If you are now wanting your own Peanut Butter Pie inspiration or are just curious about how many people really cared enough to make their own, check out Picky Palate’s blog as she has compiled many others who were part of the Peanut Butter Pie memorial. I decided to just go with what Mikey had loved and used Jennie’s recipe. My only changes were leaving out the chopped peanuts and the chocolate drizzle on top.

No-Bake Creamy Peanut Butter Pie

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

For the Crust:
8 ounces Oreo cookies, crushed into fine crumbs
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped peanuts

For the Filling:
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice

To Finish:
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vegetable shortening

1. In a medium bowl, combine the Oreo crumbs, pinch of salt and melted butter, tossing with a fork until the crumbs are all evenly moistened. Press into the bottom and about 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

2. While crust is in the freezer, place the 4 ounces of chocolate chips into a small bowl. In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the ½ cup of heavy cream to a full boil. Pour over the chocolate chips, let it sit a minute, and then stir gently with a rubber spatula until completely smooth and glossy. Pour over the bottom of the crust, tilting the pan or using an offset spatula to ensure it covers the entire bottom. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

3. Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the 1 cup of heavy cream on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Transfer the whipped cream to a medium bowl and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. Again using an electric mixer, this time with a paddle attachment (or regular beaters if using a hand mixer), cream together the peanut butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the powdered sugar. Once it is all added, scrape the sides of the bowl and beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds to completely incorporate. Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice and beat at medium speed until everything is completely combined and smooth.

5. Using a rubber spatula, stir in about 1/3 of the whipped cream to lighten the mixture. Very gently, fold in the remaining whipped cream until no streaks of whipped cream remain. Pour the filling into the prepared crust.

6. In a microwave on 50% power, melt the 1/3 cup of chocolate chips with the shortening in 30 second bursts, stirring after each one, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Using a spoon or pastry bag, drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the pie filling.

7. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours (or overnight) before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

(Recipe adapted from In Jennie’s Kitchen)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Squash Solutions

Yeah, yeah… I know… I have totally fallen off the blog bandwagon. You would think with summer and no classes, I would have been better. I guess I have just needed a mental break. Anyways, I have a couple of writing ideas, so hopefully you will see more from me soon. In the meantime, chew on this one (literally) for a while.

It is that time of year where summer squash and zucchini are in abundance and everyone is looking for ways to use it up. I got this recipe from my mama, which means she probably made it while I was home one time and I liked it. It is scribbled on a sticky note and stuffed in my recipe box. Fancy, eh? I needed something to take to a pot luck, and this seemed like a good idea. It was pretty much scarfed down, so I will take that as a seal of approval.

Here are a couple of cooking notes on changes I made. The recipe below is as written, not as made.

It calls for chicken broth, but I used vegetable broth so that it was vegetarian friendly. Clearly, this is not vegan, but you could probably easily make it so with leaving out the cheese (or using a non-dairy one) and using a vegan corn bread recipe. Personally, I think the cheesy goodness is an important layer of flavor in this recipe. The original recipe calls for Jiffy corn bread. Since, I am trying to eliminated packaged foods from our diet, I found this clone recipe online and made it from scratch. Almost as easy as opening the box, I promise! Instead of using the listed spices, I just threw some Penzey’s Herbs de Provence into the mix.


2 cups of zucchini and/or yellow squash, diced (I like a combo of both)

½ c. onion, diced

½ of pan of Jiffy corn bread (or your favorite corn bread or use the link above)

4 oz. cheddar cheese, grated (honestly, I just grated a hunk of cheese without weighing it … so just add to meet your own cheesy preference)

1 c. chicken broth

1 t. garlic

½ t. thyme

1 T. garlic

Salt and pepper

Cooking Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sauté onion for about 5 minutes. Add squash, zucchini, and garlic. Cook all to desired tenderness. Mix in spices, salt and pepper shortly before you remove it from the heat.

Place in bowl, add cheese, and crumble the cornbread. Pour in about ¾ to 1 cup of broth (to desired consistency – should be dampened but not completely soggy).

Spray baking pan. Add cornbread and vegetable mixture. Cover with foil. Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove foil and finish baking until bubbly and crisp around edges. Then you let it cool slightly then eat it. Yum!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Apricot Crumble

We received a beautiful surprise of apricots with our CSA share last week. We snacked on a few, but before I knew it they were starting to turn a little soft. I decided that they would make a lovely crumble, and I was right. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe as my spring board. Making a crumble or crisp topping is really pretty simple. It is always a combination of butter, sugar, flour, and oats with variations of spices or nuts added. I ended up trying this one because it called for melted butter instead of blending in chunks of chilled butter. That seemed a little faster and simpler, and I was curious what the difference in texture would be. I was really happy with the outcome! I did follow her suggestion and do half all purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. Combined with the fruit, that makes it healthy, right? My other deviations were leaving out the pecans because I did not have any and adding a sprinkle of Penzey’s Baking Spice.

I also peeled my apricots. I have never been a fan of cooked stone fruit skin, so I figured it was worth the extra step. I followed the standard method of scoring the fruit and dropping them in boiling water for a minute or two followed by a bath in cold water. The skin popped right off. Unintentionally, I ended up following her suggestion of just tearing the fruit apart. It was actually easier than trying to slice it!

I happened to be sipping on some white wine while throwing this together and R suggested I add a bit to the fruit, which I thought was an excellent idea. I used the wine to make a slurry with a bit of arrowroot starch and some sugar. I recommend arrowroot starch over cornstarch as a thickener for baked goods. For good measure, I tossed in some dried cranberries I noticed on the shelf. Excellent decision on my part if I do say so myself.

I am so happy I did this on the spur of the moment. It reminded me of how quick and easy it is to throw together a yummy dessert that takes advantage of the season’s fresh fruit. It also redeemed me from several disappointing baking endeavors from in the recent past… I suddenly began feeling under the weather after I finished putting dessert together so I ended up not eating mine last night. I can say it made an excellent breakfast this morning. It’s fruit, so it works for breakfast, right?

Oh yeah, my last production point. I used our cute-as-can-be Fiestaware individual pie dishes and made the crumble as two individual servings. I love Fiestaware!