Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cranberry Orange Scone

I can remember when the no-carb craze swept across the Texas town in which Kendra and I lived.  It seemed like every single person I knew was on the no-carb protein diet.  I worked with a guy who ate a package of the already cooked bacon as a snack-THE PACKAGE!  It really blew me away for so many reasons, the most of which was, why in the world would you give up bread?  I love bread, it's one of my hands down favorite foods.   I think yeast breads would be my favorite, but bread is one of my favorite foods.  The smell of baking bread makes my mouth water.  During the holidays I will skip the protein to eat an extra roll, or two, or who's counting?

Biscuits out of the can were a staple in my childhood.  Cinnamon rolls out of a can, yep that was a staple too.  My Mom wasn't a baker, unless you count the occasional box cake she would make say twice a year. I don't really have a memory of eating scratch biscuits as a child, with the exception of our lake trips to Shell Knob.  We grew up going to the lake and would stop in Casseville, MO at this restaurant called the Lighthouse for breakfast.  I always had a hard time deciding what to order there because they had two of my very favorite things on a breakfast menu: pancakes and biscuits and gravy.  Their pancakes were incredible, crispy and yet light and fluffy.  The butter was always real and soft enough to spread without turning your pancake into bread crumbs.  Oh, and the syrup was warm.  Dad's breakfast usually came with a side of biscuits and gravy, which meant I could get both.  It was always a good day when we stopped at the Lighthouse.  The biscuits were light and flaky, super high.  I was just in awe of these ginourmous things called a biscuit because the ones I ate out of a can were croutons compared to these babies.

I've made home made biscuits, but find that the frozen biscuits we get are just as good.  I still try to make some every so often just so my kiddos have a memory of eating homemade things.  Scones are basically jacked up biscuits if you get right down to it.  The principles of  scone baking are the same as biscuit making, at least the recipe I'm going to share with you today is.  Cutting in cold butter to your dry ingredients, then adding the wet, quick kneading, rolling and wham-o you are done.  I dont' really think there is anything in the world that goes better with coffee than a good scone.  My wife loves scones and gets very happy when I whip up a batch of these, her favorite combination.

Owning a stand mixer will really make your life easier, but it's not impossible just harder.  What I love about this recipe is that they are light, not too dry and not too heavy.  I've had some scones where I felt like I just ate a brick because they were too dense and too dry to the point that I couldn't whistle for a week.  Cutting in the butter is what takes the longest, but once you get that done the rest is quick.  Before I forget.  When you are cutting the butter, don't give up.  There is a point in the process where it looks like you've made sand, that's when you need to remember me telling you not to give up.  Patiently waiting a minute or two longer yields the "pea size" pebbles you want.

I read probably 10 different recipes for scones from trusted cookbooks and came up with my own version I'm sharing today.  This recipe will be a snap to make if you own: a stand mixer, micro plane grater, bench scraper, pastry brush, and parchment paper.  A bench scraper is one of my most favorite tools to use in the kitchen.  They are super cheap and you can use them for a multitude of things.  I think a micro plane zester is also a must have item.  I use mine to zest citrus for many different recipes as well as for grating hard cheese.  Buying Parmesan or Romano cheese by the hunk is so much cheaper than already grated.  In looking for a photo to upload I ran a across this genius suggestion at Amazon.  For less than $40 you can get a zester, scraper, AND silpat mat!  What I wouldn't give for a siplat mat!  That's the next investment for me.


4 cups All purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt (sea or kosher please)
1 tablespoon of grated orange zest (usually one baseball size orange)
1 1/2 cups cold butter, diced (that bench scraper works like a charm for this project)
4 eggs 
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 heaping cup dried cranberries

Egg Wash:
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons water

Juice of one orange
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare sheet pans by lining with parchment or silpat mat (sigh).  Zest your orange and set aside.  Dice the butter and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment add the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and zest.  Turn on low and mix just to incorporate.  Add the diced butter and turn the mixer on low.  Mix on low to medium speed until the butter and flour come together and resemble small pebbles (pea size) approximately five minutes.  While the butter and flour are incorporating put the eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla in a medium size bowl and whisk together.  Get your egg wash ready, too.  All you need is a coffee cup or small bowl for this: whisk the egg and water together then set aside.  When the flour is ready, turn the mixer to low and slowly add the cream mixture, mixing until it is just combined.  Add the dried cranberries and mix until they are incorporated.

On a well floured surface, turn out the dough which will be very sticky.  Dust the top of the dough with flour and lightly knead until the dough is not sticky.  Cut dough in half, set one aside.  Lightly press the dough into a flat circle about 3/4" thick.  Think deck of cards thick.  I used my hands for this, but you could use a rolling pin if you wanted to.  Using a pizza cutter cut the circle in half then each half into fourths.  If you want to make smaller scones, you would just cut the dough into get the picture.  Place the scones on the prepared sheet pan, brush with the egg wash and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Mix the orange juice, sugar and extract together in a small bowl and whisk until the sugar is incorporated and there are no lumps.  Add more sugar to yield desired consistency, thicker or thinner based on your preference.  Glaze the top of each scone when they are cooled.

  • Make sure your baking powder is good and fresh.  You should only keep it 3-6 months before replacing it.
  • Cubing butter is easy with the bench scraper because you can cut the stick in 1/4's then dice it up.
  • There is no rule about the shape of a scone needing to be this triangle shape.  Feel free to use a biscuit cutter and make rounds which would yield you more scones.  The triangel shape just screams scone and not funky biscuit.
  • Use lemon zest instead of orange (go with 2-3 lemons) and add dried blueberries instead of dried cranberries.
  • Stay with the orange zest, only had chopped bittersweet chocolate.
  • Use almond extract instead of vanilla, add chopped apricots.
  • Stick with the vanilla extract, no dried fruit, but scrape the pod of a vanilla bean or two.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

I almost forgot to get a picture.
Here it is in the oven, ready to bake.
   I think if every cook were to really come clean and own up to it they would admit to intimidation in the kitchen.  For some the intimidation might be boiling water, for others candy making or pastries, I think I could get a list quick!  For me the number one intimidation is in making pie crust.  I can't really put my finger on why, exactly I have a hard time with pie crust, but somewhere down the road of my cooking experience I had some pretty bad run ins with pie crust and ran away intimidated.  I'm not opposed to purchasing pre-shaped and in the pan pie crusts at all, or the rolled up pastry that you just unroll and plop in your own pie plate.  I'm ok with that.  Of of my biggest intimidators was in the final stage of pie crust construction---crimping.  I just could never get that crust to look pretty--ever!  That was surely the root of my problems, I just couldn't make a pretty crust.

I finally came to the conclusion that I could do it, and I was going to do it no matter what the cost.  I set out reading recipes for pie crusts and talking to friends who had great pie crusts.  I watched my sister make pie crust over thanksgiving and slowly built up my confidence.  There was one video I watched online where the cook demonstrated crimping in which I had that eureka moment and was once and for all on the other side of being intimidated and head set on motivated to make pie crust.

I knew, from my research that I needed to use butter, a food processor, and child the dough in the fridge.  These three factors were stumbling blocks for me in the past and I just decided that I was going to incorporate these steps in my crust making attempt.  I wanted to use real butter because I wanted to have that butter flavor and trademark flakiness that I just didn't see in shortening crusts (there is a HUGE debate about this topic on the Internet).  As for the food processor, I wanted to ensure that I mixed the butter, salt and flour together to get the right texture so I could add the ice water and have it all come magically together in one nice ball (just like on TV)  I didn't see that coming from a pastry blender and fork--at least from me.  Finally, chilling the dough.  That was a tough one let me tell you.  I just couldn't come to grips with the necessity of chilling the dough, but again my research showed that it was a critical step in making good pie crust.  See the flour has gluten, which is the binder, and that gluten needs to calm down after being worked over.  By resting the dough you give the gluten a chance to calm down, and the butter to chill out.  As the crust bakes the butter will evaporate and leave the flakiness that we want.  This post is really about Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie I promise.

I first started making Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie when Kendra and I were catering in Fort Worth.  We started Catering (Silver Spoons Catering) to raise money for the adoption of our two boys.  I really couldn't work a 2nd job being in ministry, so this gave me a great opportunity to do something I loved to do and make extra money as well.  As a caterer you always want to have something that is familiar to folks, yet different enough that your recipe stands out.  If you live in Texas for more than 24 hours you will run across people who talk about pecan pie.  I was going to be just another import hawking a pecan pie unless I twisted it.  Adding chocolate and bourbon seemed like not just a twist, but a tornado, and it worked.  At the height of our business Kendra and I made over 200 of this very pie in one year.  That's a lot of pie!

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie is not for the faint of heart, it's decadent to say the least.  I have to say that I really love this pie.  The bittersweet chocolate really comes to the rescue of this really sweet and rich pie, cutting the sweetness with the bitterness of the chocolate.  I think that is one of the keys, bittersweet chocolate chips.  The pecans float to the top of the pie as it bakes which gets them toasty and delicious, glazed with the sweet filling.  The filling is fairly run of the mill, corn syrup, eggs, salt, vanilla, sugar, butter, but then the bourbon is added and we are lifting off to another planet.

As a side note let me just say that if you cook with alcohol, don't buy it if you wouldn't drink it.  Buy the best quality you can get.  If you are unfamiliar with liquor stores, like me, just remember that the good stuff is on top--always!  The lower you go the lower you go in terms of quality.  I think the best quality you can get is important.  When it comes to bourbon you don't want to go with the super high quality, sippin' whiskey, because it's just a waste and the bourbon flavor can get really overpowering.  Maker's Mark and Elijah Craig are two my favorite brands.  One bottle will last me two or three years.

Pie Crust:

1 1/2 all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cubed
4-6 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor: add flour, salt and cubed butter.  Process on low until it is small pebbles (think grape nuts size) add ice water two tablespoons at a time until the dough comes together in a ball, usually for me it's 4 tablespoons.  Remove dough and shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use (20-30 minutes).  After elapsed time, remove dough to floured surface.  Dust pie dough with flour on both sides.  Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thick and place in a deep dish 9" pie plate.  Fold in dough and crimp edges with fingers.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan filling:

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 T. Bourbon
1 T. Vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 375.  In a medium size bow add sugar and melted butter.  Mix until creamy.  Add eggs, syrup, salt, bourbon and vanilla extract, mix on medium speed until thick and well combined.  Place chocolate chips and pecans evenly in prepared pie plate and slowly pour filling over.  Using a spatula, smooth the filling around until the pecans look evenly distributed.  Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes.  The pie will turn a dark amber brown an be slightly loose (like set pudding).

I love to serve this with a dusting of powdered sugar, fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Here it is!  Hot out of the oven.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate Tuxedo

I think I've had as many failures in the kitchen as I have had success, if not more failures.  The failures usually come when I get a craving for something and go on a hunt for just the right recipe only to find that it's not what I was looking for, which makes the craving worse.  I love chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips and have been searching for the perfect recipe for years.  I usually find that the dough is too crumbly and doesn't hold together well, if at all.  I don't know enough about chemistry to adjust and fix a recipe, so I just toss that recipe and keep on looking.

Over the weekend I happened upon a recipe in one of Kendra's magazines for a chocolate based cookie.  I had high hopes for this recipe as it was from a butter council, I figured they knew a thing or two about buttery cookies.  I changed up some of the ingredients and tweaked the cookies to my preference, hoping that I didn't totally destroy this cookie.  Much to my relief and amazement-IT WORKED! It not only worked, but it was delicious and just what I had been searching for all this time.

This cookie will fall into the category of, "good but time consuming", as it does take a little effort.  It's easy, just time consuming, so I'll make these when the craving gets to me, or if we have some special cookie trays to make up.  Chocolate crinkles, raspberry thumb prints, and snickerdoodles are other cookies in this vault of great cookies that just take some time to make.

1 1/2 cups special dark chocolate chips, melted
1 2/3 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 bag white chocolate chips (2 cups)  [See note below]


  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Place dark chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl (see note)
  • Add dry ingredients to a medium size bowl and stir together
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add butter and both sugars.  Mix on medium speed until light and creamy.  I usually set my kitchen timer for 5 minutes and it's perfect.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.  Add vanilla.  Turn mixer to low and slowly add dry ingredients until completely mixed.  Add white chocolate chips and stir to combine.

On a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place rounded tablespoons of dough about two inches apart (I use a medium size spring loaded scoop).  I use a jelly roll pan and can get 12 cookies (3 across 4 down) per pan.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let stand about a minute, them move to a cooling rack.  Store in cookie jar.

  • Melting chocolate chips in the microwave is tricky.  You have to remember that chips hold their shape, so don't expect to see smooth melty chocolate.  The best trick to use is to microwave the chips for 30 seconds, then stir.  Microwave for another 20 seconds then stir.  This is usually as long as it takes for my microwave.  Just keep microwaving at 10-20 second intervals until the chips are melted and smooth.
  • Adding the dry ingredients separately is not a great idea because the cocoa powder is very fine and no matter how slow you mix there will be a cocoa powder mushroom cloud!  Stirring the salt, baking powder, cocoa, and flour together is the ticket to cloud free mixing.
  • I wasn't trying to impress anyone with my cookies, but if you wanted to make them really pretty.  Save about 1/4-1/2 cups of the white chips and just push three or four on the tops of each cookie before baking.  That will make them look very pretty, I think they are fine just as they are.
  • I can't really say why, but as soon as ANY cookie I'm baking comes out of the oven I give each one a gentle swat with my spatula to knock out the air.  I think it makes them look prettier and I always do that.  You have my permission to do this as well.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pumpkin Chess Pie

Google Images provided this image.
It looks pretty good to me.
If you are a fan of pumpkin pie then you will have to make it a point to prepare this pie.  I had high hopes of getting this pie made before Thanksgiving and taking some pictures, but time is just not on our side at this point.  Traditional pumpkin pies are dense, custard filled pies with sweet spices.  With a pumpkin chess you lose just a bit of the denseness of the traditional, yet keep everything else. I ran across a recipe for pumpkin chess a while ago (close to ten years) and tweaked that version to make it my own and decided that I would forever prefer this over traditional pumpkin pie any day.  Why? I think for me it all comes down to texture.  Traditional pumpkin pies are dense, this pie is not AS dense, but don't get me wrong it's far from a mousse.  This pie is also made a day or more ahead and refrigerated which is good because I love cold pumpkin pie.

With holiday baking just around the corner, you may be looking for something a little different than the normal line up in which case I would recommend this pie. When I sell this pie I include the praline sauce, but when I make it for me it's whipped cream all the way!  Fresh whipped cream sweetened with just a hint of vanilla on this pie is fantastic.

  • 1/2  (15-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts
  • 1  (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (not the pie filling)
  • 1/2  cup  half-and-half
  • 3  eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2  cups  sugar
  • 1/2  cup  plus 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon  ground ginger
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place piecrust in a 9" pieplate; fold edges under, and crimp. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment add pumpkin and remaining ingredients, mix on low to incorporate then increase speed to medium, mixing to completely incorporate make sure you scrape down  the sides.
Pour pumpkin mixture into prepared piecrust. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  The custard should be set, not completely firm, but set. Cool completely on a wire rack the place in refrigerator overnight. Serve with Praline Sauce.

Praline Sauce:

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup toasted pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place brown sugar, whipping cream, and butter in a medium size saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil, stirring occasionally.  When it comes to a boil stir constantly for one minute.  Remove from heat, add pecans and vanilla stir well.  Place in an airtight container in the fridge.  Try this on vanilla ice cream! Oh heavenly days.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Potato Soup

My Mom went to work when I was one year old at St. John's hospital in Joplin.  She worked there for nearly 40 years, forced into retirement last year.  I grew up not knowing what a say at home Mom was like, I only knew what a working Mom was like, but when that is all you know it's normal.  I spent a ton of time with my Great Grandmother and my Great Aunt (whom I called Robba) and credit them with instilling my love for cooking.  It was in their kitchens that I learned the ropes of basic country cooking.  I could fry a mean pork chop by the time I was 10.  I can remember spending hours in front of the TV watching public access cooking shows and learning a great deal about food from those cooks.  I just seemed natural to me, to love cooking and reading cook books.

Most kids have quite a list of things they love for their Mom's to cook.  I cant' really say that I have a list because I can't remember my Mom ever making cookies or cakes, or anything "special" that I just have to have. I do remember my Mom making my Grandpa a yellow cake with fluffy white frosting and coconut, which he really liked a lot.  My Mom did make Potato Soup, always served with a side of cornbread, when the weather started turning brisk.  I think it's the one and only thing my Mom actually made.  Some people used to say that they felt sorry for me, but I don't think pity or sorrow is necessary.  It was all I knew so it was normal, I never pined away wishing for something better because I thought I had a pretty great Mom.  My Mom took me to work with her from the time I was 7 until I left for school.  I could fill a library with the things I learned from spending time with my Mom at work.  The work ethic and drive I have today is a direct result of those days spent at her side watching her work until she couldn't wiggle one more eyelash and working some more.

I have a recipe for a loaded potato soup that I really love, but this recipe is straight from my Mom's kitchen and transports me back to my childhood.  As long as I make this soup I will be able to connect to my Mom.  I'm blessed to still have my Mom here with me and we love spending time together.  My kids are amassing a list of the things they love, and I hope that when they are gone the first thing they say when they come home is, "can you make..."  The greatest treasure for my children is the time they get to spend with my Mom, their Nonny. We take Nonny on vacation with us, go to her house for the weekend just to hang out, and spend all of our holidays with her, too.  That time is irreplaceable and something I know they will cherish all of their life.

Ok, we've pulled off of Memory Lane and are now ready to talk soup.  This soup is straight forward and honest comfort food.   It couldn't be more simple to make, but has a great flavor.  After Kendra and I were married I discovered the wonder of adding cheese and bacon to this soup, something I had never added as a kid.

2 russet potatoes per person, plus one for the pot
1/2-1 cup butter (depending on how much soup you make)
1/4-1 cup milk or half and half (we always used milk)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Crisp bacon, cheddar cheese, green onion for garnish

Peel the potatoes and cube them up, trying to cut the potatoes in fairly uniform size.  Add the potatoes to a large stock pot and add cold water just enough to cover them.  Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Once the potatoes start to boil, add about 2 tablespoons of salt and boil until the potatoes are fork tender (about 8-10 minutes).

Drain the potatoes, saving about 1/4 cup water.  Add the butter and stir until melted.  The potatoes will break up as you stir.  Add milk and stir.  Season with salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasoning to your preference.  I usually get out the potato masher and mash up the potatoes a little bit.  I really depends on how chunky you like your soup.  Sometimes I will make it smooth, no lumps, other times I have just a few chunks of potato.  Bring this back up to a boil.  The starch from the potatoes will thicken the soup.  If it gets too thick add just a touch more milk to thin it out.

Serve this with cornbread and your choice of garnish: bacon bits, cheddar cheese, green onion.  Mom always crumbled up her cornbread in the soup.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

I can almost remember the date and time of the first time I ate a bite of Red Velvet cake.  Kendra and I were working at a new church plant in a tiny community outside of Edmond, OK and had reconnected with some very good friends of ours who were also attending the same church.  Red Velvet was our friend, Donna, and her family's favorite celebration cake.  Donna shared with me that her mother had made this cake for her and that no one could make it like her mother.  Who could make something like a mother? No one!  We come close but the one ingredient that cannot be recreated is the pinch of mother's love that goes into the creation of a dish.  Red Velvet was a way to honor, remember, and enjoy a fond child hood memory.  Luke, her oldest, requested it more often than not (I remember one strawberry cake he requested) as his birthday celebration cake.  That first bite was just incredible.  I knew at that moment, Red Velvet would be a life long favorite cake.  Now over a decade since that first bite it is, in fact, still a lifelong favorite.

I was determined to make this cake for several reasons.  The foremost reason was I wanted to make the cake for Donna so she wouldn't have to make her own birthday cake.  The first several cakes were made in her kitchen, with her close supervision.  Kendra and I always had a great time with Brian, Donna's husband, and Donna.  I always came, "close enough" she would say.  I think she was just glad she didn't have to make her own cake!  Red Velvet remains one of the only truly from scratch cakes I make.  I make this cake at Christmas and for Kendra on her birthday because it is her hands down favorite cake.  My children have fallen in love with Red Velvet and is requested quite often.  I save it as a celebration cake to keep it special.  Mentioning the words red and velvet send my kids running to kitchen to enjoy a slice or two.

This is an easy cake to create, however you must remember to follow certain steps to ensure that it turns out right.  It has a subtle chocolate note, isn't a chocolate cake.  The flavor can only be described as red velvet as their is no other taste with which to compare.  You MUST not over bake this cake or it will be dry.  I usually take my cakes out before the minimum baking time elapses finding that 22-25 minutes is all it takes to make this cake "done."  I think, possibly, the single biggest mistake a cake baker can make is to over bake a cake as this leads to dry cakes.

I promise I'm almost ready to give you the recipe.  There is just one more issue that we have to cover: frosting.  Putting a cream cheese frosting on a red velvet cake is without a doubt very popular, however I submit that it is a criminal offense.  Red Velvet cake is subtle, cream cheese frosting is obnoxious.  Who wants an obnoxious flavor hog icing on a subtle delicate cake like red velvet? Not me.  The frosting I must insist you make is the one included.  Please do not let me know you've made this cake and frosted it with cream cheese frosting.  There are just somethings people need to never be told.  This frosting is as subtle as the red velvet itself, yet when the two come together they are magic.  The frosting is creamy, light, and has just the hint of vanilla flavor. The creamy texture of this frosting gives your palate that "velvet" taste.  Having a stand mixer will keep us friends, if you decide to make this frosting.  You have to mix the sugar and margarine together for a very, very long time.  We'll get to that though.

Red Velvet Cake

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • eggs
  • ounces red food coloring
  • tablespoons cocoa (heaping)
  • cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon vanilla
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • teaspoon vinegar

Step one:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour two 9" cake pans, set aside.
In a small bowl: add the food coloring and cocoa together, mixing well.  Set aside for step three.
In the bowl of a stand mixer add the sugar and shortening together.  Mix on medium speed until completely incorporated (about five minutes), scraping down the sides to ensure even mixing.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing completely between each addition. Add salt and mix.

Step two:
Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between the two.  Remember you always begin and end with the dry.

Step three:
Add the food coloring and cocoa paste. Mix to incorporate.  Add vanilla.  Add the soda and vinegar, in a small bowl and add to cake batter.  Mix just to incorporate.

Dispense the batter evenly and bake in the pre-heated oven for 26-30 minutes.  Check the cakes often with a cake tester after 20 minutes and remove promptly when cake tester comes out dry.  Cool on wire racks until ready to frost.


  • tablespoons flour
  • cup milk
  • cup sugar
  • teaspoon vanilla
  • cup margarine (Parkay all the way), room temperature.

Step one:
In a medium sauce pan, add the flour, milk, and vanilla.  Over medium heat, stir with a wire whisk until the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Place in a shallow dish and cover with plastic wrap.  Cool in refrigerator until no longer warm (10-20 minutes).

Step two:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, add the butter and sugar.  Mix on medium speed until the butter and sugar combine then on high until the mixture is fluffy and creamy (about 20 minutes).  Add the cooled paste and mix until is is well blended.

Frost cooled cake.

  • I don't cut corners when it comes to greasing and flouring pans on this one.  I had rub Crisco in my pans and then flour them to ensure there will be no sticking.
  • As soon as I put the cakes in the oven, I make the paste and get it in the fridge to cool.  By the time I get the mess cleaned up from the cake batter... the cakes are done so I pull the cakes out of the oven to cool.  That's about the time to start the frosting, and by the time the frosting is mixed enough to add the paste it's cool (about 40 minutes has elapsed.).
  • The butter and sugar will look fluffy, but be sure to feel it because you don't want to feel a lot of grains.
  • I usually put this cake in the fridge and let it set up overnight.  I don't know why, but I do.
  • I think the next time I make this I'm going to dump in the cocoa, mix it, then add the food coloring to the mix and try to avoid the stirring process all together.  It may not work, but it's worth a shot.  My kitchen usually looks like a red paint grenade went off.
  • These cakes don't rise a lot, they will look flat so don't freak out.  It's ok, it's normal.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barbecue Beef Empanada

Fall is trying ever so hard to be a real presence, I'm really wishing it luck!  One of my family's favorite Fall dishes is Potato Soup.  I don't really have a recipe for potato soup, I just make it like my Mom always has.  If you haven't ever made potato soup and want a good recipe start here, it sounds so good.  My potato soup is very straightforward, potatoes, butter, milk, salt, pepper, and cheese.  We love it especially my Son, Levi who asks for it quite often.  The usual tag along with potato soup is cornbread, but this weekend I wanted to make something a little different and add a little more umph to the meal.  What I came up with was this barbecue beef empanada, which is so easy and really, really good.

An empanada is nothing more than a "stuffed" sandwich.  After I made these, I had a ton of other ideas on how to twist the filling and also change up the bread used, so I'll be playing around with this recipe for a while to see what all I can come up with . After the recipe I'll post some of my ideas on fillings and bread combinations.  This recipe came together right at 30 minutes, which included thawing meat in the microwave.  I did bake the crescent rolls a little longer than called for, in my oven I went a full 15 minutes, because I wanted to make sure the bottom crust wasn't soggy.  The extra baking time was the ticket.  After assembling the pastries, I put about 2 tablespoons (a good pinch) of Colby jack cheese on the tops of each empanada.  I love that crusty cheesy taste it gave.

Barbecue Beef Empanada

1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
1 cup Barbecue Sauce (my family likes K.C. Masterpiece)
1 1/2 cups Colby Jack Cheese
2 cans Crescent Rolls

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a medium skillet brown ground beef, adding seasoning salt and black pepper.  Remove from heat.  We use 90% lean so we don't have any fat to drain, but drain if there is any liquid in the pan.  Add the barbecue sauce and cheese, stirring until the cheese completely melts.  Set aside.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment.  Let me interrupt this post by saying, "PLEASE start using parchment paper, you'll thank me one day, you really will." Open the crescent rolls and unroll.  Press two triangles together to make one large rectangle.  Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the crescents, fold over and seal the edges, you can just press them down with your fingers.  Repeat until you have assembled all the crescents (8 in all).  Place a pinch of cheese on top of each empanada.  Bake for 15 minutes at 375, until golden brown.


  • Cordon Bleu: Diced chicken and ham, mixed with Mozzarella and Swiss cheese, add some Dijon Mustard.
  • Pizza: Pepperoni, ground beef, and pizza/spaghetti sauce, with mozzarella cheese.
  • Fajitas: Chicken or beef, with peppers and onions, add salsa and cheese.
  • Add your families favorite veggies to any of the above.
  • White Tuxedo: Diced chicken, crumbled bacon, sauteed mushrooms, peas, Alfredo sauce and cheese.
  • Use Pie crust (use a fork to seal the edges) for any or all the above fillings.
  • Reuben (I really can't stand Reuben but some people really, really love them)
  • Breakfast: Use biscuits if you want adding sausage, bacon, ham, veggies with scrambled eggs.
Have fun with this recipe and use your imagination to come up with your very own.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Banana Bars

I had to have one bite!

 There are certain smells that transport me right back to my childhood.  The smell of Old Spice will always remind me of my Dad, who wore that scent until I went to college.  Food has a way of taking me back in time and kindling fond memories, too. These memories are sharp as the time I was making them because they are of friends and family who I don't  have the pleasure of being around all the time.  I can prepare a dish and immediately be back with that person and, through their recipe enjoy some fond memories.  These banana bars have that nostalgic connection for me.
When I worked in Fort Worth, TX as Children's Minister our church building was sold and we began a two year process of building a new building North of the current location.  This two-year time span was certainly challenging, but also among some of the best times of ministry, personally.  We met in the Keller ISD High School and each week transformed the school into our church building.  Teacher's lounge became the Nursery, Cafeteria and halls became classes for preschool through 5th grade, and the performing arts center (auditorium) was one where the adults Bible class met.  It was during this time that many, many new faces came our way, among them the Cardenas family.  Adam, Gabe, Mari-Kathrine, Dillon, Sharon, and Renan would come rolling in every week.  Usually whisking Dillon off to the Nursery, in a rush, always smiling and enjoying being part of the excitement that was our church experience.

Sharon eventually became my secretary and very good friend.  We became fast friends because we shared a love for cooking and eating.  We talked a lot about food and cooking and would find a recipe online and tear it apart to make it our own.  Ms. Sharon has some great recipes, and these banana bars are at the top of that list.  They cake is super moist, thanks to the addition of sour cream, and has a subtle yet unforgettable banana flavor. Light and tender, with the hint of vanilla and almond (I added almond extract to the recipe) throughout.  You top these wonderful bars with a cream cheese butter cream that I could eat with a spoon.  The cake doesn't last long, but keeps very well, covered on the counter.

If you have some bananas past their prime, give these bars a try.  A simple powdered sugar glaze would also be wonderful on this bar, if you didn't have or want to make cream cheese butter cream.


Here's the batter spread into the pan ready for the oven.
1/2 cup room temperature butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup Sour Cream
2 bananas, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8th teaspoon almond extract (cap full)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour a half sheet pan, set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer: add the butter and sugar mixing well (5 minutes) on medium high heat.  Add the remaining ingredients, mixing each well before adding the next.  When completely incorporated, spread the batter evenly onto the baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until set.  Cool completely before frosting with butter cream.

Notes:  I don't mash the bananas because my mixer does a good job of that, it saves a step and a bowl.  I think these would make great cupcakes, you would have to play with the cooking time of course.  If you don't have a half sheet (I get mine at Sam's) baking sheet, you can use a jelly roll pan just fine.

Here it is hot out of the oven.  The white spots are the banana
bits, so good.
Cream Cheese Butter Cream

1 stick room temperature butter
8 oz Cream Cheese
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond
2 boxes of confection sugar.

Beat butter and cream cheese together until smooth and without lumps.  Add extracts and mix to incorporate. Slowly add confection sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.  Frost cake.  If the frosting is too thick add some milk to thin the frosting.

This cake is super simple to whip us and is so delicious, especially when the cake is still just a tad bit warm and the icing is kind of...melty.  You can keep this in the fridge or on the counter, either place is just fine.  If you really didn't feel like making frosting (it's super simple to do, you really can do it) you could crack open a can.  I can't remember the last time I ate canned frosting, it is just so simple to make your own.  I think you will want to keep this cake in your handy file and use it often.  Ms. Sharon also has another great sheet cake called a White Texas Sheet Cake that we tweaked over and over to make it right.  Just typing those words has really made me want to make that cake now...great.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Root Beer Float Cupcake

The Youth Group at my church hosted a Mother/Daughter 50's night in our Coffee Shop and asked me to cater the event. I stayed with the 50's food theme and decided to create a Root Beer Float cupcake.  Cupcakes seem to be EVERYWHERE these days, so I figured I'd be all trendy and current since that's how I roll for once.  I figured I wasn't the first person in the world to come up with the idea and after a quick Google search discovered I was about the millionth person.  Almost every single recipe I read (close to 30) involved using root beer in the cake batter and going with a vanilla butter cream frosting.  That just wasn't for me, so I went in another direction and came up with this recipe.
I used the Wilton Muffin pan to make the "jumbo" size cupcake.  These tins were about 1/3" deeper than other jumbo pans in the baking pan aisle.  I found these at my local Super Center in the cake decorating section.  Since they were bigger than usual, it used more batter.  I think I was able to get around 22 cupcakes from one box.  I did not line the tins, opting to use Baker's Joy with great results. 

About 8 years ago I saw at trick on TV for kicking up cake mixes and have been doing this trick ever since and have not been disappointed.  I use a Super Moist cake mix, add an extra egg, vanilla, and use milk instead of water.  Of course you don't have to make this in a muffin tin, and could use 9x13 or cake rounds, I just like the idea of cupcakes.

The frosting was my favorite cream cheese butter cream into which I added root beer concentrate.  I've always seen Root Beer concentrate by the extracts in the baking aisle and pondered who in the world would use that and for what?  Now. I. Know.  I had never used this concentrate and was a little afraid of the word "concentrate" so I went the, "it's easier to add to than take away" rule for cooking.  What I discovered was that it took a considerable amount more than I thought to achieve the root beer flavor.  I would guess it was triple what my expectations were, so much for being afraid of a word.

I piped the frosting on using a pastry bag with no tip, because I wanted the wide stream of frosting that, again is super popular in the baking world.  I was going to add a bendy straw, but decided that coffee stir sticks would look more elegant.  I couldn't find root beer barrel hard candy to save my life, that was my first choice in garnishing this cup cake, so I went with cola jellies instead. 

All in all I think the end result was visually appealing and, if I do say so myself, tasted really good.  It truly tasted like a root beer float.

White Cake:

1 box White Moist Deluxe Cake Mix (Duncan Hines is my favorite)
1 1/4 cups Milk
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
2 Tablespoons Canola Oil (or vegetable)

In a stand mixer, add the cake mix and remaining ingredients.  Mix on low speed until combined, then on high for two minutes.  Bake according to package directions for the pan you are using.

Root Beer Butter Cream:

1 stick Butter (room temp)
8 oz Cream Cheese (room temp)
1 Tablespoon Root Beer Concentrate
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
2 lbs. Confection Sugar

In a stand mixer add first two ingredients and Cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth, adding both extracts, blending together completely.  Slowly add the confectioners sugar, blending to incorporate until desired consistency is achieved.  Pipe or frost onto cooled cupcakes.

Note: Taste your frosting and keep adding concentrate until you reach the flavor level you want.  Like I said, earlier, I used more than I thought I would.

Oh, one more thing.  I took the picture of the cupcake with my camera phone, in an empty cabinet.  Not too shappy, huh?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lemon Pie

 My Mom got a craving for lemon pie over Labor Day and asked if I could make her one.  Of course I told her I would be happy to make her a lemon pie, the whole time my brain was scrambling to figure out how in the world I was going to make a lemon pie.  I had never made nor seen anyone make a lemon pie filling before.  I spent about three hours researching the internet and my Mom's cookbook collection and came up with a recipe, the combination of many, which we all liked very much.  I didn't use fresh lemon juice or add lemon zest, however I think that would up the lemon flavor considerably.  That's my next tweek, fresh lemon juice and lemon zest.

   This lemon pie is the perfect combination of tart and sweet.  I opt for whipped cream topping instead of meringe, however you could easily make a meringue.  I'll give you the recipe for whipped cream and meringe topping.  Before we go any further, I have to say this is the easiest pie in the world to make.  If you can stir you can make this pie.  Take some time to get your ingredients set up and this will come together lickity split. 

Let's get started

Pre-baked 9" Pie crust
4 egg yolks (save the egg whites if you are making the meringue)
1/3 cup corn starch plush 1 tablespoon
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup lemon juice

You will need one medium sauce pan, one small bowl, and one medium size bowl.  In the sauce pan, place one cup of water, and the sugar together.  In the small bowl, place the cornstarch and 1/2 cup water, whisking until smooth, set that aside.  Now in the large bowl, add the lemon juice and eggs, whisking until smooth.  

Turn the heat to medium and stir the sugar and water together until it comes to a boil.  Pour in the slurry (that's the cornstarch and water mixture) and stir.  Pay attention to this because it will get really, really thick.  Once it comes to a thick gel, take it off the heat.  Now, in the large bowl, with the egg and lemon juice in it.  Slowly add about half of the hot gel.  Make sure you are stirring the mixture while you are slowly stirring the yolk and juice.  Add that back into the sauce pan and turn the heat back up to medium.  Bring this back to a boil, add the butter and stir until the butter disolves.

Pour the lemon filling into the pie crust.  If you are adding the whipped cream, you will want to cool the pie completely, at least one hour, then spread the whipped cream on top before serving.  Follow the directions for meringue, below. 

I use Pillsbury pie crust.  It's what I grew up eating and I can't really make it better than that, I've tried and I just like it better.  If you like to make your own or want to try a totally from scratch pie, I really good crust recipe is here

To make the crust with no filling is called blind baking.  Once you place your crust in the pie pan, bake it in a 450 oven for 10-12 minutes.  Make sure you poke holes in the crust, all over, before baking.  Or, place some tin foil in the pie pan and add about two cups of rice or dried beans.  You can keep the beans/rice in a jar and use them over and over.  The foil acts only as a holder for the beans or rice, which give weight to the crust helping it not shrink.

Whipped Cream:
One pint of whipped cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

Add all to a stand mixture or large bowl.  Whip/mix until it is thick and creamy.  It should take about three to five minutes.  You know it's ready when you lift the whisk or beater out of the cream and it holds a peak.

4 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar

2 tablespoons sugar

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, approximately 1 to 2 minutes.  Spread on filled pie, making sure to cover the edges.  Bake in a 400 degree oven until the meringue is golden brown.