Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Our New Year's Eve Treats!

I know a lot of people get excited about the New Year. There are resolutions to be made and eventually abandoned, and the chance to turn over a new leaf and begin life with fresh zeal and a new outlook. These are definitely good things to be excited about. But as for me, I'm mostly excited about the food. Big surprise, huh - that seems to be my favorite part of just about any holiday.

There are two things in particular that I look forward to on New Year's Eve, and we made them and have been devouring them tonight just like we have been for years. Every year we buy a couple big bag of tortilla chips and everything we need to make these two dips. I love both of these. I would just as soon throw away my right shoe as only make one of these. It has to be both. The cool freshness of the Traveling Tacos is a refreshing contrast to the warm heaviness of the Hearty Cheese Dip, and they're both so great!

Traveling Tacos (a layered taco dip)

I don't have exact amounts, so I guessed about how much I used tonight.
1 can refried beans
1/2 to 3/4 cup salsa
1 to 2 cups guacamole
8 to 16 oz. sour cream
Shredded cheese
Sliced olives
Chopped tomatoes
Shredded lettuce

Combine refried beans with salsa. Spread in a pan. The pan and amounts depend on how much you want. For our little family, we do an 8-inch casserole dish. Layer on top of the bean mixture: guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced olives, chopped tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. Chill for a few hours, and serve with tortilla chips.

Here's a nice picture of all the layers in the pan - it looks so fresh and colorful!

Hearty Cheese Dip

This supposedly feeds 20, so we usually cut it in half and it serves the two of us and the kids quite nicely
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground sausage
16 oz. jar picante sauce
8 oz. jar diced tomatoes with green chilies
28 oz. can refried beans
4 oz. chopped olives
3 lbs. Mexican Velveeta

Brown meat; drain. In a large pot, melt cheese, stirring every few minutes. Add picante sauce and tomatoes to melted cheese. Stir well. Cook for five minutes on medium high heat. Add remaining ingredients to cheese mixture; stir well and cook another 10 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips. Yummy!

There you have it - our family's treasured New Year's Eve fare. We've been eating these dips in my family since I was a teenager; I look forward to getting to make and eat these all year long! I remember one year I had to babysit for New Year's Eve. My mom actually sent my younger sister over just before midnight with a little of each of these dips, just so that I could participate in the tradition. My sister and I watched a movie and snacked on Traveling Tacos and Hearty Cheese Dip together, and then Mom came back and picked her up a little while later. How cool is that?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chocolate Covered Cracker Sandwiches

This is one of those basic, simple recipes that you make just because you happen to have chocolate coating and crackers and peanut butter and want something fast and easy and sweet. It's hardly a recipe at all, actually, but I'll post it anyway because it's yummy and I took pictures.

Chocolate Covered Cracker Sandwiches
Crackers (usually Ritz, but I used saltines this time)
Peanut Butter (creamy works best, I used crunchy because I realized that I had two jars of crunchy peanut butter open at the same time, oops)
Chocolate coating, aka almond bark (you can use chocolate or vanilla, or even colorful candy melts)

Spread about a teaspoon of peanut butter on half of the crackers, and top each with another cracker to make a sandwich. Melt almond bark (add a little shortening if you need to thin it). Using tongs and/or a fork, dip each sandwich in almond bark and tap off the excess. Place on wax paper or foil until chocolate has hardened.

I usually have a little chocolate coating left in the bowl when I'm done dipping stuff. I like to mix in stuff, like nuts or pretzels, and spread it out on wax paper or foil for a little extra treat so as not to waste any of the chocolate. This time I used raisins. Yummy!

You can adjust amounts for however many you want to make. I made 16 sandwiches and used six squares of chocolate coating. Optionally, you can fancy these up by drizzling a contrasting chocolate on top, or topping the crackers with sprinkles immediately after dipping them. I left them plain and unadulterated this time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Coconut Cake

Another great Southern Plate recipe! I stand by what I have said previously - everything I make from Southern Plate turns out wonderful. I made this cake for our Christmas Eve dinner with my husband's sister and her family. Everyone very much enjoyed it. The frosting is what makes this cake special - a light and fluffy frosting that is sweet and tart and coconuty all at the same time, it was just wonderful!

Coconut Cake
Yellow Cake:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups milk
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
Or you can use a boxed yellow cake mix, which is how Christy does it.

Coconut Frosting:
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup whipped topping
16 oz. sour cream
12 oz. coconut (frozen, bagged, or canned)

Make the cake: Heat oven to 350. Grease bottom and sides of 9x13 pan, and lightly flour.

Beat all cake ingredients with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Poke holes all over the surface of the cake, and let it cool for 10 minutes.

Prepare the frosting: Combine all frosting ingredients and pour over the warm cake. This made more frosting than would fit in my pan on top of the cake, so I just poured on as much as I could and we snacked on the rest throughout the day!

Cover and chill the cake for 1 to 3 days. The longer it sits, the moister it gets.

See how thick that frosting is? There was as much as an inch of frosting in some areas of the cake - so delicious!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Economy Cookbook

I was reading through a blog this morning, and found a link to this absolutely darling cookbook. It's called The Economy Cookbook, and it was published in 1910. "This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world's books discoverable online. It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain."

I just perused through over 100 pages of quaint, charming recipes for soups, puddings (baked and steamed), cakes, salads, sandwiches, etc. that were compiled nearly one hundred years ago by skilled early 20th-century housewives. These recipes are economical and simple, and I'm so in love! Here is a darling little example:

Woodford Pudding

Take 3 beaten eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 teaspoon soda dissolved in 2 teaspoons sour milk, 1 cup blackberry jam, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste, 3/4 cup flour. Bake 1/2 hour.
Sauce.--1 cup brown sugar, 1 large tablespoon butter, 1 dessertspoon cornstarch. Water to make proper consistency; flavor.

Simple ingredients, charming instructions, and it really sounds so delicious! This will be one of the first that I try. Go check out this little treasure trove of century-old recipes!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So Last Minute - Gift Mixes!

Two days before Christmas, and I finally put together a gift for my sister-in-law and her family. Gift mixes are so awesome because they can be done at the last minute, and don't take hardly any time at all. I did up four mixes - two of them are just enough for one packet, and two made enough for us to have plenty as well.

Biscuit Mix - Makes 7 cups
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup instant nonfat milk powder
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. shortening

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar, baking soda, and milk powder. Stir with a wire whisk to blend. Using a pastry blender to blend in shortening until evenly distributed. Store in airtight container.

Gift Mix:
Measure 3 cups biscuit mix into baggie and seal. Attach these directions:

Combine mix with 2/3 cup milk or water. Blend. Let dough stand 5 minutes. On a lightly floured board, knead dough about 15 times. Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a floured biscuit cutter. Place about 2 inches apart on unbuttered baking sheet. Bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with Chocolate Gravy.

Chocolate Gravy Mix - Makes 1 packet (from Southern Plate)
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. flour (I increased to 2 1/2 because I like it thicker)
1 tbsp. cocoa

Mix all ingredients and stir well. Place in baggie and seal. Attach these directions:

Pour contents into heavy saucepan. Add 1 1/4 cups milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Once boiling, turn heat down to lowest setting and stir for one minute more, until thickened. Take off heat and stir in 1 tbsp. butter or margarine. Pour over hot biscuits.

Brownie Mix - Makes 8 cups
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
4 cups sugar
4 oz. cocoa
1 cup shortening

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add sugar and cocoa. Blend well. With a pastry blender, cut in shortening until evenly distributed. Store in airtight container.

Gift Mix:
Measure 2 1/2 cups mix into baggie and seal. Measure 1 cup chocolate chips into separate baggie and attach. Attach these directions:

Combine mix, 2 eggs, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Beat until smooth. Pour into greased and floured 8-inch square pan. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate chips over warm brownies. Warm in oven until melted. Spread evenly on brownies. Cool. Cut into bars.

Fruit Crisp Mix - Makes 1 packet (from Southern Plate)
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine ingredients, place in baggie and seal. Attach these directions:

Empty mix into bowl. Add 1/3 cup softened butter or margarine. Cut in with fork until well mixed. Sprinkle over top of fruit of choice, such as 1 can drained peaches (you can include a can of fruit with the mix as part of the gift). Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until topping is browned.

The mixes I took from Southern Plate (Chocolate Gravy and Fruit Crisp) have cute little tags that Christy made. To print them out, visit the links I included by each mix recipe. I don't have a printer so I didn't print them out, I just wrote out the directions for each mix on index cards and scribbled some cute little designs on them.

Christy also has instructions on how to package the gift mixes. There are ideas on each of her gift mix posts, here. I used the one given with the Chocolate Gravy Mix, wrapping the mix in festive fabric and twisting the ends. So cute! Then I just packed all four mixes in a gift box for a quick and easy gift!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

From the Archives - a Delicious Holiday-Worthy Candy!

Jeff was going through some of our old posts tonight and came across these delicious candies that we made several months ago. A fun twist on the classic peanut brittle, these would be perfect for making during the holiday season, to give away as gifts or just to snack on!

Jeff found this recipe online. We have lots of peanuts, and he loves the flavor of honey roasted, so he decided to give it a try. We all really like the results - both Jeff and Zaylee kept snitching pieces as I was trying to photograph it!

Honey Roasted Peanut Brittle
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. oil
2 cups peanuts

Mix sugar and salt in small bowl. Set aside.

Bring honey, water, and oil to a boil in a saucepan. Add peanuts. Reduce heat to low; simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

When liquid is almost all gone add sugar/salt mixture and continue stirring on low until sugar turns reddish-brown, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and spread in one layer on cookie sheet or foil. When cool, break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

This turned out better than any other peanut brittle I've ever made. I love the honey roasted flavor and the texture was right on!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Kitchen My World - The Philippines

I'm back in the saddle! I have been dreadfully remiss in my blogging events, like My Kitchen My World, Frugal Fridays, and I Love Baking. But I'm going to try to slowly phase myself back in, because it was fun to have the motivation to cook something I normally wouldn't or to challenge myself to go as cheap as possible. This week's My Kitchen My World country was chosen by Lauren, our moderator. We headed off to the Philippines. I visited my favorite recipe website,, because it never lets me down! I found a good-looking recipe for pork adobo, and though several reviews stated that ketchup is not traditionally found in filipino adobo, I decided to go with it anyway. I guess it worked because my husband, who has eaten adobo on many occasions, said the pork tasted just right. I cut the recipe in half because we only had about a pound of pork thawed.

Pork Adobo
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce (I reduced this to about 3/8 cup because a few reviewers suggested that it was too salty)
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 black pepper
1 pound lean pork, cut into 1 inch cubes

Stir together the vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, and bay leaves in a large saucepan. Add the cubed pork, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the pork is tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally. Serve over rice.

I was a little dubious about simmering for 2 1/2 hours, because the pork was cooked through long before then. But I followed the recipe anyway and learned that the long simmering time was necessary to reduce the sauce down - it was much too liquidy at first. The resulting pork was very delicious, tender and flavorful. Maybe a little too flavorful, I think I would reduce the soy sauce even more next time. But all four of us enjoyed our culinary trip to the Philippines.

Visit My Kitchen My World to see what the other MKMW-ers made this week.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

I wasn't going to do any baking today, because we had cake last night and I just didn't want any more sweets beckoning for me to come and eat them and gain lots of unwanted weight. My motives were pure. But the temptation was too strong. I remembered these delicious cookies that I made with my family last year (in my pre-blogging days) and felt nostalgic and reminiscent. And I wanted to make them again. So I did.

The obligatory gingerbread boys and girls.

Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg yolk
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until smooth. Stir in molasses and egg yolk. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg; blend into the molasses mixture until smooth. Cover, and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness (mine always end up being rolled thinner than this). Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm (with how thin I roll them, I only cooked them for 6 minutes). Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks. Frost or decorate when cool.

I used my favorite frosting recipe to decorate these cookies, plus a few little things I had lying around - chocolate chips, green sugar, chocolate sprinkles, and cinnamon red hots.

Cute little angels and snowmen.

Decorator Frosting
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract(optional)
4 drops food coloring (optional, I left it white this time)

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, confectioners' sugar, and milk until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and food coloring. Spread on or between cookies.

The bells were a good excuse to use lots of delicious frosting.

These cookies, depending on how thin they're rolled and how long they're baked, can be soft or crispy. Most of mine turned out more on the crispy side, like gingersnaps. With the sweetness of the frosting rounding out the spiciness of the cookies, you have a delicious flavor combination! The cookies were fun to make, and fun to eat.

The trees were my favorite - so pretty!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lemon Pudding Cake

Today was Jeff's twenty-somethingth birthday. To celebrate, he wanted a moist, lemony cake. So together we searched on and found a lemon pudding cake that really seemed to fit the bill. I made this cake this evening, and it was so delicious! Between Jeff and I and the two little ones, we ate the entire cake in less than ten minutes!

Lemon Pudding Cake
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch salt
3 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. lemon zest (Jeff hates zest, I substituted lemon extract)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour an 8 inch square pan.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, salt and melted butter. Beat in the flour. Stir in the lemon zest(or extract) and lemon juice. Combine milk and egg yolks, and add to lemon mixture.

In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the batter, then quickly fold in remaining whites until no streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Set cake pan in a water bath (Place in larger pan, fill larger pan with an inch of hot water). Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until top is lightly browned. Serve warm or cold.

We ate the cake straight out of the oven. What a great cake! Not exactly a photogenic dessert, but what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in flavor and texture. While baking, it separates into two distinct layers - a top layer of light, spongy cake, and a creamy, pudding-like bottom layer. The flavor was lemony, but not overwhelmingly so. This cake was a great change of pace.

Jeff made me stay up until midnight last night so he could open his present as soon as it was technically his birthday. He had been trying to guess what I was giving him, but never figured it out. The wait was driving him crazy. So as soon as the clock hit midnight, I let him tear into his present, and this is what he found:

Jeff loves all things spicy, so I got him one of those hot sauce gift sets. Five deliciously spicy hot sauces, featuring five different peppers. He absolutely loves his gift, and says it's one of the best presents he's ever gotten. I like spicy also, so I think I've been enjoying it as much as him!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Eggnog Truffle Cups

I get the Taste of Home Holiday recipe magazine, full of delicious seasonally-appropriate recipes, and when the Christmas one came I was so excited to leaf through it! It was full of delicious treats, the first half of the book was cookies and the second half was candies. They all looked good, but when I came to the Eggnog Truffle Cups, I knew that I had to try that recipe - Jeff and I are both crazy about eggnog!

In the actual recipe, these are little chocolate cups that have the eggnog filling piped into them prettily. But I forgot to buy little foil candy liners, and only had regular cupcake liners. So I made my candies more like Reece's peanut butter cups. I'll give the directions for both.

Eggnog Truffle Cups
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tsp. shortening
6 tbsp. eggnog
1 package (10 or 12 oz) vanilla or white chips
1/2 tsp. rum extract (we don't do alcohol, I substituted vanilla)
1/4 to 3/4 tsp. nutmeg

Original directions:
In a microwave-safe bowl, melt semisweet chips and shortening; stir until smooth. Using a narrow pastry brush, brush the inside of 1-in. foil candy liners with 1/2 teaspoon melted chocolate. Freeze for 45 minutes or until firm.

Using 1/4 tsp. chocolate mixture for each cup, brush on another layer of chocolate. Freeze until firm.

In a small saucepan, bring eggnog to a boil over low heat. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla chips until melted. Stir in extract. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until filling begins to set.

Spoon or pipe 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling into each cup. Freeze until firm. Carefully remove and discard foil cups. Cover and store truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just before serving, sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes 3 dozen.

Here's what they're supposed to look like:

How I did it:
In a microwave-safe bowl, melt semi-sweet chips and shortening; stir until smooth. Using a spoon, spread about 1 teaspoon melted chocolate onto bottoms and 1/2 inch up sides of 12 cupcake liners (in muffin tin for support). Freeze for 45 minutes or until firm.

In a small saucepan, bring eggnog to a boil over low heat. Remove from the heat; stir in vanilla chips until melted. Stir in extract. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until filling begins to set.

Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of filling into each cup. Freeze until firm.

Remelt chocolate mixture, if necessary. Spread 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chocolate on top of filling. Freeze until firm. Carefully remove and discard cupcake liners. Cover and store truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes 1 dozen, with lots of leftover truffle filling to eat in large spoonfuls!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good Gravy, and Better Lighting

Now, at first this may look like a simple pile of mashed potatoes covered in a simple brown gravy. Think again, you're way off the mark. This is actually a simple drop biscuit, covered in a luxuriously indulgent chocolate gravy.

But before I go into more detail on that, isn't it a nice picture? I realized that if I really want good lighting, I have to broaden my horizons a bit. The kitchen and dining room are far from the window and are poorly lit. But there is a lovely little pile of boxes just in front of the window, covered in Zaylee's pink coloring paper, that gets wonderful light from the sun! So I just set up my plate and my tripod on top of the boxes and snapped away! It'll take some practice and getting to know the area (and clearing some other boxes out of the way), but I think that this picture taking strategy has definite potential.

On to the gravy. This is yet another Southern Plate recipe. I'd apologize for using so many in a row, but I'm not at all sorry. Christy has some wonderful recipes on her website, and every single one I've tried has turned out delicious! This particular recipe is for a quick and easy breakfast, biscuits and gravy, but far more indulgent!

Chocolate Gravy
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. cocoa
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tbsp. butter

Combine everything except butter in a heavy saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Once boiling, cut the heat down and stir for a minute more (it will get pretty thick rather suddenly). Remove from heat and stir in butter. Pour over biscuits.

Actually, the gravy didn't really get as thick as I thought it would. Christy calls it the consistency of thin gravy. As I tend to prefer a medium or thick gravy, I would use 3 or 4 tbsp. flour instead of 2, just as a personal preference. Other than that, this is one of the most awesome breakfast recipes I've ever tried! Man, southerners really know how to make good food!

Also, to share the chocolate gravy love, Christy gives a tutorial on how to turn this breakfast delight into a fun gift mix!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hot Tuna Salad

I think we need to go shopping for some fridge-and-pantry basics. I just have an aversion to spending money sometimes, so when we run out of something I decide that we'll just do without it for as long as possible. So we don't have much in the way of meats lately - we "ran out" of ground beef and ground turkey long ago; right now we have some chicken leg quarters in the freezer, and a small variety of canned meats in the cabinet. Kinda limits our meal choices, I think. But it does make a fun challenge when deciding what to make for dinner!

This recipe is adapted from the Southern Plate cookbook. The original recipe was for Hot Chicken Salad, but I didn't want to go through the trouble of cooking up several thighs and drumsticks just to make a chicken salad. So I substituted tuna for the chicken, and made a couple other substitutions and omissions, and here's what we came up with for dinner last night. I have to say, I think this turned out absolutely fabulous! This was the best tuna salad I've ever made.

Hot Tuna Salad
4 cans chunk light tuna, drained
1/3 to 1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 large stalks celery, chopped
2 T minced onion
2-3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1-3 cups crushed chips (potato, or we used tortilla)

Combine all except cheese and chips in a 3-quart casserole (I used my Pyrex pie dish). Top with cheese and chips. Bake at 350 for 15-25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and celery is tender.

Since this was tuna salad, we had to have a bread to go with it. I pulled out my recipe for quick and easy pizza dough and made a simple flat bread.

Flat Bread
2 1/4 tsp. yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups flour

Combine all ingredients. Let rise 15-30 minutes (I started this just after putting the salad in the oven, so it was rising while the salad was baking). Spread onto greased and cornmealed 9x13 pan. Brush lightly with oil, and sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning. Bake at 425 (I turned up the oven after taking out the tuna salad) for 12-20 minutes, until lightly browned.

The combination of the Hot Tuna Salad with the Flat Bread ended up tasting very similar to a simple tuna melt, but just a bit fancier. We all thoroughly enjoyed this delicious meal. I would love to try the hot salad with chicken, like in the original recipe. Oh, I bet that would be so good!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Southern Plate's Tea Cakes

I've been avoiding my kitchen lately, because I don't like it and because most of the things that I need to create really good stuff are still packed in boxes. But today I just really wanted to make some cookies! I flipped through several cookbooks and perused allrecipes, but didn't find one I wanted to make until I grabbed Southern Plate's cookbook and got almost to the end of the desserts section. I found the recipe for her Grandma's Tea Cakes, which she has also featured on her blog. Christy's catchphrase for these cookies perfectly describes them: "Soft and pillowy, they have just a hint of sweetness."

Southern Tea Cakes
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups self-rising flour (or 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1 3/4 tsp. salt, plus enough all-purpose flour to make 3 1/2 cups)
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter and sugar; add eggs. Now, this step seems quick and easy, right? I went to cream the ingredients and realized that my mixer is still packed and I don't know where it is! I sifted through several boxes, but didn't find it. I remembered that I have an old cookbook, from before mixers were common, in which the recipe calls for creaming the butter and sugar using the back of a wooden spoon. So I thought I'd give it a try.

The coolest thing is, it actually worked! Well, I guess people were making cakes and cookies long before the mixer was invented, they had to have some way of doing it!

Anyway, so I used a wooden spoon for this, but you can feel free to use a mixer! Cream butter and sugar; add eggs. Add vanilla and flour.

Roll thin onto floured board. Cut with biscuit cutter or shaped cookie cutter. Remember how most of my stuff is still in boxes? Yeah, no rolling or cutting going on here. I did the best I could with shaping the cookies by hand, with help from my three-year-old. So my cookies are a little misshapen, but they were made with love!

After rolling and cutting the cookies (or shaping them by hand) bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The recipe doesn't specify whether or not to grease the pan, so I decided to err on the side of caution and grease the pan. It worked, the cookies came off fine. Sprinkle with colored sugar while cookies are still warm, or Christy gives a lovely icing recipe on her post about the cookies. I chose to use green sugar - it was simple and a little bit Christmasy.

Anyway, these were delicious cookies, soft and pillowy with just that hint of sweetness just like Christy described them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Inaugural Baking - Snack Cake

I took my kitchen on a test run yesterday evening by making a simple snack cake (instead of coming up with something for dinner ... ahem). This recipe is really easy and pretty quick, and doesn't require anything more than the most basic of equipment and ingredients - an absolute must when everything that isn't basic is still packed in boxes! So this was a good first recipe to try in my new closet kitchen.

Basic Snack Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup cold water

Heat oven to 350. Grease bottom and side of 9-inch round pan or 8-inch square pan with shortening; lightly flour.

Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Mix oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Vigorously stir oil mixture and water into flour mixture about 1 minute or until well blended. Immediately pour into pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or cool, with ice cream if desired.

Optional variations:
- Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Snack Cake: Add 1 tsp. cinnamon to dry ingredients. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips just before pouring into pan (This is the kind I made).
- Chocolate Snack Cake: Add 1/4 cup cocoa to dry ingredients for chocolate snack cake.

As I went to photograph this, I was struck by how awful my lighting is. The kitchen is far from the window, and is poorly lit for photography purposes. Without using flash, every picture turned out really blurry and yucky. But then my husband saved the day by locating the box in which I had packed his birthday gift to me - a tripod! I was able to get some fairly clear pictures despite the terrible lighting. I already very much love my new tripod, and I will thoroughly enjoy using it to take my food pictures!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moving In, and a Delicious Cake Glaze

We arrived at our new apartment safe and sound on Friday night. Since then we've been working hard at unpacking boxes and trying to fit everything into our very small apartment. I was pretty nearly devastated when I saw the kitchen:

It's TINY!!! If I open the dishwasher and the oven at the same time, it takes up the entire kitchen! But I will still try to create inexpensive masterpieces here, because it's in my nature to do so. The lighting is awful, and there's no counter space or drawer space or cupboard space, but I'll just have to do my best.

Since I've been busy with unpacking and such, I haven't really been cooking or baking anything lately. So here's a recipe I've been planning to put up for a while - the delicious glaze that I used for my birthday cake. I turned the big 25 on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and am only just getting around to posting this. But that's okay, because I don't have anything else to post - the only thing I've been doing in my new hole in the wall kitchen lately is unpack.

This delicious glaze (based on this recipe) includes only four ingredients. It was fast and easy, and so creamy and yummy! It was perfect for my birthday cake - a simple chocolate cake mix baked in a bundt pan.

Chocolate Butterscotch Glaze for Bundt Cakes
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sweetened condensed milk and chips. Cook, stirring constantly, until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Do not allow it to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla. Cool slightly before drizzling over a cake. If you want to make this ahead, it can be cooled and reheated in the microwave.

You can substitute other flavored chips for the butterscotch - peanut butter, cherry, or cinnamon would be delicious too!

We ate the cake topped with whipped cream, and an extra spoonful of glaze. Yum.....