Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My epic strawberry cake failure....

My father-in law just celebrated his 70th birthday and since his wife isn't the best cook and certainly isn't the baker, I volunteered to make him a cake.  Knowing that he loves strawberries, and knowing that I had been wanting an occasion to try out a particular recipe, I got to work.  A few months ago, I bought a cookbook written by Johnnie Gabriel.  Johnnie has a lovely cafe in Atlanta and her name has become popular for couple of reasons:  her food is pretty tasty AND she is Paula Deen's cousin.  First of all, Paula Deen doesn't do much for me....her food does even less.  I just don't think she portrays the typical southern cook and most of her recipes are just mediocre.  When I glanced through Johnnie's cookbook for the first time, I noticed the recipes were a bit more elegant...maybe a mixture of Paula Deen and the Barefoot Contessa.  Here's a picture of the cookbook.

 I will say that the photography is excellent and I would recommend the book for the dessert recipes alone.  The first recipe I tried was a rather involved strawberry layer cake with cream cheese icing.  My first mistake was not listening to my momma.  Throughout the years, momma has told me on numerous occasions that a boxed cake mix simply cannot be improved upon.  Momma was right.  This cake involved sifting, creaming, adding cream, milk and buttermilk, butter AND shortening and beaten egg whites.  I'm afraid the end result tasted eggy and was too delicate.  The layers fell apart on me.  I'm not going to give you the recipe to the cake because I honestly think you would be better off to use a regular yellow cake mix and add 3/4 cup of chopped fresh strawberries to the batter and bake as directed.  As long as you end up with three nine inch layers, you will be good to go.  I am, however, going to give you the recipe for the cream cheese icing because it was among the best I've ever had.

You need:

1 1/2 sticks of softened butter, salted
1 1/2 packages of cream cheese
3 lbs of powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup of chopped fresh strawberries.

Make sure you cream cheese and butter are softened and whip together.  Slowly add powdered sugar and combine.  Add vanilla and combine.  Gently add strawberries and fold them in.  When I first gathered the ingredients for the icing, I thought the ratio between the butter/cream cheese and powdered sugar was off.  Do not fear, the icing will be thicker than normal, BUT the extra liquid from the strawberries will thin the icing.  You need to start off with a super thick icing to get the right consistency.  This will give you enough icing for a 3 layer nine inch cake (and lots of taste testing!). 

It really is divine.  The recipe also called for brushing each layer of the cake with simple syrup.  I think that would be an especially good addition on a boxed cake mix layer.  To make a simple syrup, simply combine one cup of sugar with one cup of water.  Heat to a boil in a heavy saucepan and boil for three minutes.  Allow to cool before brushing onto your layers.  Ice the cake and enjoy.  Below is a pic of the finished, floppy product.  You can't really tell in the picture, but the back of the cake was a mess.....completely fell apart.  What did I do...I served the cake anyway.  Just like life, perfection is overrated and the cake was still pretty tasty.

Happy baking!

Fall is almost here....bring on the soup!

Fall is my favorite season.  The crisp air, lovely changing leaves, colors...etc, I just feel so alive during this time of year.  I doesn't hurt that I love fall foods.  Food becomes more hearty and soups are suddenly desired again.  I don't know about y'all, but I love, love, love soup and make some type of homemade soup once per week.  My favs are cream of broccoli, chili, white chili, vegetable and tomato bisque.  Yummy!  My hubby isn't a big fan of soup other than winter and that breaks my little heart :(  Fortunately, he will eat taco soup year round.  It is quick, easy and oh so tasty.  Pretty dang healthy too!  It's a win-win.  I'm going to share my recipe with y'all today...I bet everyone has these ingredients on hand.  This recipe freezes well and will make 8 very healthy servings.  I like to serve this with crushed Frito Scoops, sour cream and shredded Mexican blend cheese on top.  My toppings make me a bad girl and the soup is delicious without them, but a girl only lives once, right?  A piece of cilantro would make a bright, pretty garnish as well.

First, cut up a small onion and saute in a bit of olive oil.  Saute until onion is translucent.

Have I mentioned yet that this is a one pot meal?  Somehow, one pot meals always taste better.  Lol.  Next, add one pound of ground sirloin and brown.

Drain off any grease if necessary and add  two cans of light red kidney beans.   Of course, any type of firm canned beans would be fine.  Also add a can of canned corn (I prefer the extra sweet white variety, but just use whatever you have on hand.)  

 I add  1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp freshly milled black pepper, 1/2 tsp cumin , two cloves of garlic and one packet of taco seasoning.  My family turns their noses up at extra heat, but this recipe would be great with the addition of cayenne or a tsp of adobo sauce.

Last but not least, add three cups of tomato juice and three cups of water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  I like to cook this for 30 minutes of so to let all the flavors meld, but really, it should be fine after 15 minutes or so.  Quick, easy and very economical. 

Note:  All the acid from the tomatoes can be downplayed by adding a tsp of sugar towards the end of cooking.  I actually like the way the sugar enhances the flavor and my acid reflux thanks me as well!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I am still alive....

Just barely, though.  The last month of my life has not been good.  Why, you ask?  I have had dental problems.  Big ones.  Never before have I had a toothache and I never want one again.  Long story short, I am the queen of dental hygiene....I mean I love it so much, I'm making it my career.  I see my dentist faithfully, I floss...I do everything I'm supposed to do.  It seems I have failed in one area-wearing a mouth guard.  It seems that not wearing a mouthguard for my clenching and grinding bit me in the butt.  Please y'all, if you are told to wear one.....wear it.  Don't worry about it feeling weird, don't worry about your husband making fun of you, don't worry about anything of the sort.  Just wear the darn thing. 

I woke up one morning with unbearable pain.  Called my dentist as soon as they opened and couldn't get in for Eight days.  Since I loved him, I knew I would tough it out.  I did and ate lots of tylenol.  Hopefully my liver faired well...the jury is still out on that one.  Anywho, I finally make it to the dentist and the news was bad.  I had cracked a tooth due to the clenching.  Probably had been for some time and it wasn't visible on x-rays.  The tooth had been decaying from the inside out.  Needless to say, I required a root canal and having my mouth open for so long caused my TMJ to act up terribly.  I have been a mess.  No eating, sleeping, talking, has been horrible.  Thankfully, the pain has pretty much diappeared and I feel somewhat capable of facing each day.  For those of you who have never had the blessing of a root feel nothing during the procedure.  It is almost pleasant, but afterwards.....OH MY GOODNESS!  Lets put it this way....I have NEVER taken a pain pill in my life, but I couldn't have made it through this without them.  Seriously, the pain was so bad my thoughts were completely irrational. 

I appologize for being gone for so long and have missed it.  Maybe now I can get back into a routine and begin to blog again.  My sweet hubby bought me a new lens that does a pretty sweet job photographing food :)  This lens is super sharp and is a 1.8f....that excites me so!  Stay tuned, y'all.  Coming soon is my mommas famous chicken and dumpling and all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

So stinkin' hot...

It has been miserable here.  We are on day 33 on 90+ degree temps and brutal humidity.  Despite my best efforts, my yard is dying, my garden is shot and well, I feel grumpy.  Grumpy might be an understatement.  In fact, I'm sure if you were to ask hubby or baby girl, they could come up with other not so nice words to describe me.  Watching the weather channel tells me that the Ohio Valley isn't the only area of the country suffering.  The heat wave is covering much of the United States......So, I was thinking if y'all are like me, the thought of preparing big, heavy meals every night is overwhelming.  It makes the house hot to use the stove and oven and then more heat is produced by running the dishwasher.   Needless to say, cooking hasn't been happening so much.

This past weekend, I stopped at my favorite local butcher and took advantage of several sales.  Considering the fact that I am 35 miles away (gasp if you want, but I am 30 miles from everything), I usually only go about once per month.  They happened to be having a sale on honey ham and I had them chip two pounds for me.  I very seldom keep lunch meat at home...I usually bake a whole turkey or ham and do my own thing.  The 98 degree temps have changed me.  Extreme heat has a way of pushing thoughts of excess sodium and preservatives out of my brain.  I simply didn't care....

For our family of three, two lbs of meat is a lot.  Luckily, it freezes beautifully and there are a million and one different ways to use honey ham...and the meat was a steal at 2.59/lb.  The tightwad in me couldn't pass it up!!!  Now, I will not say that they are especially nutritious or low fat, but they fill the bill when the family is hungry and something light and easy are needed.  Here are some ideas that our family loves.

Hot Ham and Cheese
I realize this is a staple, but use a good quality Swiss cheese and make mini-sammies with King's Hawaiian bread and you have a pretty good sandwich.  We prefer the savory butter variety for hot ham and cheese.

Breakfast for supper is always an easy and well received meal.  Our fav combo is honey ham with sauteed shallots and baby bella mushrooms.  American cheese doesn't hurt anything either.  Serve with fresh fruit and you have a complete meal...pretty inexpensive too.

Ham Rollers
My daughter loves to make her own sandwich with tortillas, ham, cream cheese and thin tomato slices.  Simply layer, roll and slice into 1 inch rounds. 

Chicken Cordon Bleu
Even though this is baked, it is baked for a short period of time and is fairly simple and great served with a side salad.

Really, there are so many meal ideas.  You can take a simple tossed side salad and add ham and make a complete meal....I could go on and on.   Hopefully some of these meal suggestions will help you beat the heat and keep your cool.