Friday, December 30, 2011

Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

About a week and a half ago, I met up with one of my best friends to have lunch at a new taco joint called "El Barrio" in downtown Birmingham. 

Sidenote: GO to El Barrio. It's f'n amazing. Seriously. Get the tacos al carbon, al pastor and camarones. You won't regret it. 

Anyway...afterwards, we stopped by Urban Standard for coffee and dessert. Not being a big coffee drinker, I opted for the hot chocolate. Scanning the dessert offerings, I noticed that they had BIG chewy oatmeal cookies. So I got one. Studded with milk chocolate chips instead of raisins, and lightly spiced with cinnamon, it was PERFECT. 

So, what else to do than make them myself?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Creamy Mushroom & Sausage Fusilli

Beef stroganoff is one of my all-time favorite comfort dishes. This pasta, with its creamy sauce and crimini (also known as 'baby bella') mushrooms, reminds me of stroganoff, but is an incredibly easy and quick one-pan dish to put together in under 30 minutes. 

I also got a chance, while making this meal, to test out my new camera; it has a "low light" feature that my G9 didn't have, and it made photographing this whole process MUCH easier! 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Buckeyes (Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls)

Buckeyes are simply peanut butter balls, ALMOST completely dipped in chocolate, which resemble the nut of the Ohio buckeye tree. Here in the South, we simply dip the balls completely and call them "peanut butter balls" (original, isn't it?). 

Simple, easy, and always a crowd-pleaser, I like to make these around the holidays and give them out as gifts. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Oyster Dressing

Here in the South, we don't DO stuffing. Especially INSIDE the turkey, being not fond of intestinal parasites and trips to the ER and all. We do DRESSING. And here, it's always cornbread-based, and either a chicken dressing or an oyster dressing. For our family, it's always been the Gulf coast classic, OYSTER dressing. 

Dressing is a mixture of homemade cornbread (NEVER Stove-Top or any other bread), along with a liquid to moisten, seasonings, some celery & onions and some form of meat. For chicken dressing, hard-boiled eggs are typically added. Once baked, the inside is creamy with an amazing texture, while the top gets a great crunch. 

The key to this classic oyster dressing are GULF oysters; salty & sweet (and only eaten in months containing an "R"), homemade cornbread, and the oyster "liquor". I have my own cornbread recipe, which, because it is TRULY Southern, contains buttermilk, NO sugar, and is ONLY cooked in a cast iron skillet. 

However, I've made a promise not to share the recipe, so I can only suggest trying a recipe like this one, or simply using Jiffy box mixes. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gingerdoodle Cookies

Gingerdoodles (which makes me think of Magna Doodle, or maybe labradoodles) are the perfect combination of gingersnaps and snickerdoodles. Spicy, chewy, and rolled in sugar, these just SCREAM "Christmas" to me, though I could easily eat them year-round.

Perfect to leave out on Christmas Eve for Santa, this are guaranteed to please fans of molasses cookies, gingersnaps AND snickerdoodles. Win win!

TRASHY TIP: To keep these (and any other cookies) chewy and moist, simply place a slice of sandwich bread in the cookie jar with the cookies. The bread will turn stale, but the cookies will remain soft. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Deconstructed Green Bean Casserole (Vegetarian)

Green bean casserole is a TIMELESS holiday side dish. Created in 1955 by Campbell's Soups, all you really need is a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, some green beans, and the classic french-fried onions. Classic or not, I HATE the texture of green bean casserole. I love the flavors, but find the whole mess really unappetizing, both texturally (is that a word?) and visually. In fact, we haven't had this dish on our Thanksgiving or Christmas table in YEARS. 

Until now.

This recipe takes the traditional casserole and classes it up quite a bit. The canned soup is replaced by caramelized onions, thickened with a roux and made creamy by the addition of luxurious Gruyere cheese. Fresh green beans are blanched instead of being cooked until mushy, but, in keeping with tradition, the canned french-fried onion crispies stay. It's the perfect combination of tradition and class, yet still just as easy to whip together as the original recipe. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saltine Toffee

Toffee made from Saltine crackers? Sounds odd, but it's insanely good - the sweet caramel balances perfectly with the saltiness of the crackers! It's almost like the white trash version of fleur de sel caramels

Whether you use Premium, Krispy, Zesta, or any other brand of Saltine cracker, it doesn't really matter. Whatever you have grocery coupons for. You can have this quick treat whipped up in NO time at all, and it WILL go over well. This recipe has been around for YEARS; I'm not sure where it originated, but I'm glad it did. Incredibly easy, inexpensive, and highly addicting, it's perfect for gift giving as well! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homemade Star Crunch

One of my favorite Little Debbie snacks as a kid was the Star Crunch. Chewy, chocolatey & crispy, nothing was better than an ice cold glass of milk and a Star Crunch...

Except maybe a Fudge Round. Or a Nutty Bar. Or a Swiss Roll Cake, but only if you carefully peeled off the sheet of chocolate "shell" on the outside. And yes, I know they're better when frozen.

Ok, so it's obvious I never met a Little Debbie I didn't like as a kid. Or as an adult. Admit it, you love this time of year as well, if only for Christmas Tree Cakes, with those red & green sprinkles and that greasy mouth-feel you get in the roof of your mouth after eating one. 

Since I have a tendency to try to make homemade versions of my favorite foods, I decided to try my hand at the Star Crunch. This recipe, though lacking the cookie found inside the storebought kind, is still SUPER yummy, and, best of all, EASY. As in, 5 minutes from start to finish easy. If you've got kids, this is a really great recipe for them to "help" with as well. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chocolate Coconut Cherry Balls

The BF has often told me stories about the sweets his mother would make for him and his family when he was a child. One recipe that he ALWAYS reminisces about are chocolate coconut cherry balls. After getting as much information about the balls as I could from him, I began scouring vintage cookbooks and internet sites, before finally finding one that sounded right.

This recipe, being an older recipe, DOES use paraffin wax (yes, it's edible) for the chocolate coating. If you don't want to use paraffin, simply substitute chocolate "bark" coating for the chocolate chips and paraffin. Also, these balls keep very well in the refrigerator and can also be frozen - don't be afraid to make a large batch! 

Elvis' Favorite Pound Cake

I've always had a weakness for pound cake, but, embarrassingly enough, the frozen Sara Lee ones. After making multiple pound cakes from scratch, I have FINALLY found THE PERFECT pound cake recipe, and, of course, it's one of Elvis' favorites.

And now, mine as well.

Pound cake is traditionally made with a pound each of four ingredients: flour, butter, eggs and sugar. Nowadays, it's most important to simply maintain the 1:1:1:1 ratio, though numerous variations exist, from adding sour cream or leavening agents, to topping the cake with chocolate ganache glazes or, my personal favorite, a light lemon curd. Here in the South, pound cakes are EXTREMELY popular. Every grocery store bakery here sells different pound cakes in a myriad of flavors.

To me, the key to a good pound cake is ALL about the texture. Dense, but not heavy, light but not crumby, the key to baking this cake PERFECTLY is to use the "cold oven" method, and, most importantly, making sure that your oven's temperature is accurate. This recipe also uses cake flour, lighter in density & lowest in gluten; in addition, heavy cream adds a luscious richness.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lemon Curd & Site Update

First off, I'm working on some slight site updates. I've tinkered with the size of the page, and made the photos bigger and easier to read. I've also simplified the mobile site. In an effort to declutter, I've pulled some widgets, but have added a "Stumble Upon" option to individual posts.

I'm also still in the process of adding clickable "PRINTABLE RECIPE" links to the old posts. It will take a while, but hopefully by the end of the year, every post will be resized and have a link to a printable recipe.


Lemon curd is a simple fruit spread, popular in England to be served with scones & shortbreads. Tart and luscious, with a creamy satin texture, lemon curd is also the primary base for the immensely  popular lemon-meringue pie.

Though curd is made from egg & sugar like custard, curd has a higher proportion of juice and zest, which makes the flavor more intense. Adding butter gives the curd a super smooth texture, but, like custard, however, great care must be taken in cooking the mixture to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

This recipe takes only 15 minutes, and tastes infinitely better than the storebought jars of curd, which are also usually fairly expensive. Yielding only a single cup, this curd will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. Use it to make tarts, fill cookies or cupcakes, as a pie or cake filling, or simply spread it on your choice of bread.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Russian Tea

I first learned about Russian tea while watching an episode of "Bizarre Foods" where Andrew Zimmern was in Alaska. I was intrigued, but promptly forgot about the tea mix. I have NO clue WHY it's called Russian tea, but apparently it's fairly popular even here in the Deep South. 

Fast forward many months, and the BF and I have begun drinking hot tea daily; I have never been a regular coffee drinker, and he has simply substituted hot tea for his coffee habit. I typically stick to earl grey and english breakfast, but have always loved my Asian teas such as oolong, green tea and jasmine tea. 

Now that the weather is colder (albeit we still have days where the high hits 70 degrees here!) and as Christmas approaches, I decided to make a batch of Russian tea. After finding some basic recipes online, I experimented until I found a combination that I liked best. Simply add hot water, and, if so desired, add honey and your choice of liquor (brandy, cognac, whisky, bourbon, etc) to make an amazing toddy. 

This tea mix also makes a perfect gift! 

Russian Tea

2 cups Tang orange drink mix
3/4 cup instant tea (unsweetened)
3/4 cup instant lemonade mix (I use Country Time)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Keep in an airtight container (I prefer a Mason jar). 

To make tea, stir 1-3 Tbsp of mix into a cup of hot water. Enjoy!

Bacon Cheddar Ranch Cheese Ball

I love a good cheese ball. They're a "love it or hate it" food, much maligned and considered the most low-brow of party foods. Skanky or not, I think they're GREAT. 

That being said, cheese balls are usually the FIRST party food on a buffet table that gets tucked into; they're easy to make, inexpensive, and infinitely customizable. This version pays homage to that holy trinity of trashy flavors: bacon, cheddar, and Ranch

I shredded the cheese and cooked the bacon myself, but, to save time, you can always use packaged shredded cheese and pre-cooked bacon strips or bacon bits. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chocolate Truffles

Not to be confused with the super expensive fungus, chocolate truffles are simply balls of rich, chocolate ganache, coated with various toppings or a simple dusting of cocoa powder.

This recipe is incredibly easy - the cream cheese adds a perfect smoothness, while the addition of rum extract and high-quality dark chocolate makes this confection irresistible. These make PERFECT gifts and go over really well at get-togethers. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Slow-Cooker Cilantro-Lime Pork

Obviously I've been on a cilantro-lime kick the last few days. I've also apparently been on a lazy kick, since this is yet another slow cooker recipe. However, being that I had plenty of leftover cilantro and lime from my black bean chili, I decided to make a Cuban-inspired pork dish after finding Boston butts on sale at my local grocery store. 

As far as sides go, I went with a favorite dish of mine that the BF makes (I even asked for him to make it for me on my birthday!); it's simply yellow Spanish rice, layered with black beans and canned diced tomatoes with chilies. Topped simply with sour cream, it couldn't possibly be easier! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Slow-Cooker Black Bean Cilantro-Lime Chili

I absolutely LOVE the flavors of cilantro & lime together. I also love making chili, especially in cold weather. This recipe is PERFECT for clearing out the pantry, especially since I ALWAYS have black beans on hand. The combination of the fresh cilantro and tangy lime complements the almost smoky flavor of the black beans PERFECTLY. Best of all, this only requires a few minutes of prep work, while the slow cooker does the rest.

On top of being full of flavor, this recipe is also surprisingly healthy; high in fiber and protein, and low-gi as well. You can even substitute ground turkey or ground pork for the beef if you desire. 

Hint: Buy the beans, tomatoes and spices in the Hispanic section of your grocery store - the prices are usually MUCH better! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kahlua Fudge

When I first started living on my own and getting into cooking, my Mom bought me my first cookbook, the classic Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. I started out obsessed with baking; all I wanted to do was make desserts from cakes & cookies, to candies. I probably made nothing but desserts for the better part of a year before branching out and cooking actual meals. 

The first recipe I made was fudge; the recipe was PERFECT for a beginner, as it didn't require keeping a watchful eye on the stove or tons of stirring. After making it several times, I decided to change things up and add a touch of Kahlua to the recipe. This addition took the fudge from a GOOD recipe to an OUTSTANDING recipe. Now, I get requests to make this fudge ALL the time; it's a PERFECT recipe for the holidays, and only TASTES like it was hard to make!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sticky Sweet Thai Chili Baby Back Ribs

Ribs. The perfect cure for "the itis", the basis of Creation, and the absolute GREATEST word to say while burping (trust me).  Popular here in the US (especially here in the South) and in Asian culture, ribs are served in several cuts, from baby back to St. Louis style. However, the McRib is not made of ANY rib meat whatsoever. 

Baby back ribs, which contain more meat than bone, are butchered from the top of the rib cage, between the spine and the spare ribs, just below the loin muscle, containing anywhere from 8-13, ribs, averaging around 10 ribs per "rack". Spare ribs are butchered from the belly side of the rib cage, below the section of back ribs, and above the breast bone. These contain more bone than meat, but also contain more fat. The St. Louis cut is a cut of spare ribs that have had the sternum bones, cartilage and rib tips removed. Country-style ribs, readily available here in most markets, are butchered from the blade end of the loin, closest to the pork shoulder (Boston butt); these are also the meatiest cuts, ironically containing no bones. 

These ribs could NOT be easier. I decided to make these for the SEC Championship Game since baby back ribs were buy 1 get 1 free (HELL YES), and because the only ingredient required besides the ribs is Thai sweet chili sauce, which I ALWAYS have on hand. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dad's Football Cheese Dip

As long as I can remember, Dad has made this EASY cheese dip for football games. I have made this recipe countless times, and have always gotten rave reviews. 

Today, I found a rogue can of Rotel in the pantry, and decided to add it to Dad's recipe. It turned out AMAZING! Best of all, it's easy and CHEAP.