Monday, April 16, 2018

Cake Mix Blondies


Many people ask me if I ever use cake mix when I'm baking. Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, I use cake mixes all the time, but no I never use them to just bake a cake. I always use them like an ingredient in another recipe. If I'm using it as a cake, it'll be with other cake ingredients that don't follow the directions on the box.
 So I happened to have a yellow cake mix and decided to do something with it. I found a recipe for blondies on a blog called Like Mother Like Daughter and decided to try it, since I already had all of the ingredients. I did tweak it slightly and it turned out great! It was quick and easy and it was just exactly what I wanted. Perfect for a birthday party or just because you're feeling something sweet and fun and festive!!



1 box yellow cake mix
1 large egg 
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
2/3 cup white chocolate chips 
rainbow sprinkles for the top


Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
In a large mixing bowl, combine your cake mix, egg, oil, and milk. Stir in your sprinkles, chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray. Spread your batter into the pan evenly. Bake for 18-22 minutes until bars are a light golden color. Cool completely or chill. Slice and serve.
 
Tips:
The original recipe called for 1/3 cup white chocolate chips and 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips, but I decided to do all white chips. It also called for a 1/3 cup of the sprinjkles mixed into the batter, but I decided to just sprinkles them across the top. 
I think I'm gonna try this recipe with other kinds of cake mix and other mix ins. Next time I think I'll do chocolate cake mix with salted caramel chips or maybe peanut butter chips. Do what you like!



Monday, April 9, 2018

The Very Best Gumbo


If you know me, you know that one of my favorite things to do is to cook dinner for my friends. It's a great way to test any new recipes I want to try, and most times my friends are all too happy to be my taste testers. Most times I'll choose a theme, and very often we'll watch a movie that goes with it. This was basically how it came to be for this dish.
 We decided to watch The Princess and the Frog, so of course I needed to make a big pot of gumbo! Now, as far as I can tell, Gumbo in New Orleans is like Sunday Gravy with Italian Grandmothers. Everyone has a cherished family recipe, and of course each one is labeled The Best. So how does one choose the DEFINITIVE gumbo recipe? Basically, I just did what I always do. I looked at several recipes, decided which one is closest to what I had in my head, and then tweaked it to how I like it.
I knew I wanted to start out with a roux (pronounced as RUE), which is just a mixture of fat and flour. Some will argue that it's not a gumbo if you don't start with a roux, so who am I to question it?
 I also knew that I wanted it to have chicken and sausage in it, and I also wanted it to include okra. This recipe from Valerie Bertinelli seemed to hit all the right notes, so here we go! It was basically as easy as throwing everything into the pot and letting it cook!
 I have to say, I think this is one of my very favorite things that I've ever cooked. Like, in the history of ever. And honestly, that's kind of saying a lot! It's SO flavorful, you can make it as spicy or mild as you like, and it can feed a crowd! It was the perfect thing to serve to my gang as we watched Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen. It should also be noted that Kelsie, in particular, was a HUGE fan, and still asks me all the time to make it again. OK, Kelsie, Kels, I promise I'll make it again soon!!!
 Even if you're not having a New Orleans night, you should still give this one a go. It's just so good!


 

 
 
 
 , chopped (plus more for serving, if desired)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 




 Warm 1 cup oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven until hot. Add the flour to the pot all at once, whisking until the consistency is uniform. Cook the roux, whisking occasionally, until it is the color of a tarnished penny, about 20 minutes. Do not let it darken any further. Carefully add the celery, bell peppers, onion, chopped scallions and garlic to the pot, working away from you as the hot roux may spatter. Stir until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add enough stock to just cover the vegetables, about 1 quart, and stir to combine. The roux may separate. Add the tomatoes with their juices, Andouille and smoked sausages, cayenne, bay leaves, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper and the remaining stock, about 1 more quart. Partially cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Add the okra and cook, stirring, until the gel dries out slightly, about 3 minutes. Add to the Dutch oven.
Taste the gumbo for seasoning and adjust as desired. Add the chicken, cook until warmed through and serve, or simmer up to 2 hours more to concentrate the flavors, adding the chicken 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with more chopped scallions and serve over rice.


Tips:
It's very important to cook the roux before you add anything else. Some recipes just cook it for a little while, other recipes cook it until it's REALLY dark, almost black. I decided that it doesn't need to be completely black to give a deep rich flavor.
Be sure to saute the okra before you add it to the pot because this helps to get rid of that distinctive stickiness. Actually, I also browned the sausage in the pan for a little bit before I added it to the pot, just to add a little deeper flavor, and then I used the same saute pan to cook the okra.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Pickled Eggs and Beets


 Ok this is one of those recipes I've always heard of, but never really considered trying. But lately it seems that I keep hearing about pickled eggs. I saw them on The Kitchen, and even heard someone mention them in a tv show I was watching. When I was growing up, my Mom always made pickled beets (which I've always LOVED), but she never did them with eggs. Then my brother, Chris, mentioned them so I figured Ok, ok, apparently the Universe is telling me I should make them, so let's give 'em a go.
 OMG they're so good!! Yes yes, I know pickled eggs are considered "pub food" because apparently they go really well with beer, but I like them just as is. Also, they turn such a pretty color that they they're the perfect thing as a party appetizer. And they get darker and darker the longer you let them pickle. I'm not gonna lie, I'm kind of a little bit obsessed with them now. Who knew they'd be so tasty???? Making pickled eggs is definitely an old-timey sort of thing to make, but I definitely think it needs to make a comeback. Who's with me??



2 15oz cans whole (can also use sliced) beets, including liquid
12 hard-boiled large eggs, peeled 
1 cup sugar
1 cup cider vinegar


Drain beets, reserving the liquid. Place beets and eggs in a 2-qt. glass jar. In a small saucepan, bring the sugar, vinegar, and reserved beet liquid to a simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool slightly. Pour over beets and eggs; cool completely. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 5 or 6 hours before serving. To Hard Boil the eggs:Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Cover the saucepan and remove from heat. Let the eggs sit in the water for 15 minutes. Remove egg from saucepan and place in a large bowl of ice water.  Or you can just purchase eggs that are already hard boiled!

Tips: 
Some recipes call for the addition of water. I don't like to dilute the vinegar. I'd rather have a stronger pickling solution, but you do you! I like to let them pickle for at least 24 hours, but you can get away with just 5 or 6. They will last at least a week, probably up to 2 weeks in the fridge. (Honestly, they will will probably be gone long before then anyway!)For a little extra flavor, add a little thinly shaved slices of onion to the jar. You could also add a little pinch of cinnamon, ground cloves, or pickling spice.For a festive and pretty appetizer use your pickled eggs to make deviled eggs and top each one with some chopped chives. Yum!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Pineapple Carrot Cake Trifle


 I was recently invited to dinner with a group of friends, and of course, my first question to Marie, (who is quite the hostess) was "what can I bring?" She said she wanted something chocolate. Perfect. So I decided I would make a deliciously decadent chocolate trifle with layers of cake and chocolate whipped cream. The perfect showstopper dessert! But then Marie said "I'd kill for caramel brownies." Ok, I'll make them, but they weren't the showstopper I was looking for. After taking a quick survey of the ingredients I had on hand, I thought OH! A carrot cake trifle!! Great idea! But baking an entire cake would have been more than I needed for the dessert. So then I found this recipe for carrot cake squares on a blog called Eat Cake For Dinner, and decided to layer them with spiced pineapple and cream cheese whipped topping. THIS was the showstopper I had been looking for! HUGE hit!!  Everyone loved it!
 Now, if you don't want to make a trifle, you can easily just make the squares, cover them with cream cheese icing and call it a day. They're fabulous all on their own! But if you're looking for a showstopper, this is it!

For the carrot cake squares:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour 1 tsp. baking powder 1/4 tsp. baking soda 1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon pinch of nutmeg, opt. 2 eggs, slightly beaten 2 1/2 c. shredded carrots 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar 1/4 c. sugar 1/2 c. canola or vegetable oil 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.  In a medium bowl combine the eggs, shredded carrots, brown sugar, sugar, oil, and vanilla and mix until well blended.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir together until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Pour batter into a greased 9x13-inch baking pan and spread out evenly.  Bake for 20 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

For the trifle:
Drain a 20oz can of pineapple chunks, then chop them up a bit smaller. Place them in a small bowl and add 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice and 1 tbs of sugar. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 large container of Cool Whip (or your favorite store brand non-dsiry whipped topping) and an 8oz package of cream cheese.

Now make layers in a trifle bowl or any high-sided glass bowl:
Start with a little bit of the whipped topping mixture on the bottom. 
Then do 3 layers of cake then pineapple then topping. (refer to the picture if you need to!)
Chill until ready to serve!

Tips:
Instead of using the spiced pineapple, you can just use a jar of pineapple preserves. Just add a tbs of water to loosening it up a bit. You can also use crush pineapple, or chopped fresh pineapple, or any combination. It will all work!
When you're making your layers, take extra care to make perfectly clean layers around the outside of the bowl. This will make it a showstopper!
Btw, when I made the carrot cake squares, I used pumpkin pie spice instead of just cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. why? because I like it!!!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Monte Cristo Sliders


 Ok here's a recipe that you might read and say "wait, how does this go together?" But TRUST ME, it absolutely does!! It starts out as a basic sandwich slider with some ham, turkey, and Swiss cheese. Then it starts to get interesting when you brush the whole thing (inside and out) with this sort of buttery hollandaise-ish sauce, which melts into the rolls and makes everything crisp on the outside and melty and gooey on the inside. Are you with me so far? OK now things start to go rogue.. to serve it, you dust the whole thing with powdered sugar, and you serve it with raspberry preserves. WHAT??  I know, I know, it's crazy....but seriously, it's absolutely amazing! It's the salt from the ham and the gooey from the cheese and butter, and the tang from the mustard, and the sweet from the preserves... it hits all the right notes! Usually, a regular Monte Cristo is just a ham and cheese sandwich that is dipped in egg, and then fried like French toast, so this is just the slider version that my sister in law, Terri, found on a website called Jennifer Cooks. (Thank you Jennifer!)
 I recently made this for a family brunch event, and everyone loved it! There were a few people who didn't want the powdered sugar on top, but it is HANDS DOWN 100% better with the powdered sugar and preserves. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is just not living her best life. (Yes, Emma, I'm talking to YOU). Serve them for breakfast or brunch or lunch or dinner! They will always hit the spot!


1 pkg (12-count each) Sweet Hawaiian Dinner Rolls
1/2 lb deli sliced smoked or honey ham
1/2 lb deli sliced smoked roasted turkey
1/2 lb Gruyère cheese or other quality Swiss cheese, grated


Sauce:
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs Dijon mustard
2 tbs mayonnaise

Powdered sugar
Raspberry Preserves

 Preheat oven to 325. Line a 9x13 baking dish with foil (enough that it overlaps the sides - to use as handles). Spray foil-lined baking dish with cooking spray. Slice rolls horizontally as a unit – don’t break apart into individual rolls. Put the bottoms into the baking dish. Lay meat on top, then cover with cheese. In a small bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients. Pour 1/2 of the sauce on top of cheese. Place tops of rolls on top, pressing down lightly. Pour remaining mixture over tops of rolls and spread evenly. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Watch closely – if the tops begin to brown too much, place a sheet of foil over the top. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Using the foil "handles" lift the sandwiches out onto a cutting board. With a large butcher knife, cut the sandwiches into their individual slider rolls. Dust lightly with powdered sugar and serve with raspberry preserves on the side.

Tips:
Since I was making this for a party, I used a half sheet pan, and it worked perfectly! It turns out that 5 packages of rolls worked perfectly on two pans! TBH, I probably could have fit another row of rolls on each pan, but I had enough for the crowd I was feeding!
I assembled everything the night before, then brushed them with the sauce and baked them on the morning of the brunch, but Jennifer said that it can be assembled AND brushed a day in advance. Time saver!!