Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sew happy!

So my friend's daughter recently added me to a Facebook group called Beg, Borrow, Buy and Sell.  I started browsing and found that I have a highly addictive personality.  First Facebook, then Etsy, followed shortly by Blogger and Pinterest.  And of course the Gawkerverse. Wow, I never realized what a web nerd I really am...
Oh well, I'm sure the rest of you already knew.
Anyway, within an hour I had posted all of my living room furniture on the group page.  By the next day, I stood in an empty living room.  In selling my furniture I didn't take into account the fact that my family would have limited sitting space (i.e. the floor) if I got rid of the furniture.  That being said, I'm typing this blog while sitting on my mother in law's old (but still only a couple years old) broken couch that was in our garage.  We're using it until we get something else.  Granted, it's a beautiful couch... off white, contemporary design, quite comfortable.  Still, we're lucky we had it.  Otherwise, we'd have been sitting Kumbaya style on the carpet to watch American Idol.
On the bright side, I also made a purchase I'm quite excited by. I came across a post for an old sewing machine and was intrigued... the picture wasn't super clear but the caption said that it works and I could tell it was an antique.  Recently my friend and I had a conversation about why my modern, inexpensive Singer kept breaking down on me and the consensus was that unless I bought a sturdy old metal sewing machine or spent my kid's college fund on a high quality machine, I might as well consider early retirement from sewing.
I know, this blog is going on and on, but I can't contain my excitement.
Long story short (too late) I bought the sewing machine.  Brought it home, turned it on, set it up, everything works.  It's so beautiful I can't even believe it's mine.  I can't wait to start making things!
I consulted my sewing genius friend Melanie and her mother and decided it was probably a good idea to look up the serial number and model of my new Singer and found that it's a Singer 301A, probably manufactured in Anderson, SC in 1951. Everything is original, and everything works properly, even the original buttonholer that came with it. Anyway, I just wanted to share my excitement at this remarkable find... I couldn't believe my luck!  Can't wait to share my first project... after Melanie comes over and shows me how to thread the machine, of course.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

I love broccoli cheddar soup.  I don't know what it is, but something about it just warms up my spirit.  A good hot serving of broccoli cheddar soup in a bread bowl on a cold night is just the thing. I've had a hard time finding a good recipe for this because so many recipes called for processed cheeses or just didn't have the flavor I was looking for, they tasted bland and not hearty enough.  After several years of testing, I believe this is hands down, the best broccoli cheddar soup I've tasted.

1/2 cup real butter
1 yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup flour
2 cups half and half
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups broccoli florets, or 1 package frozen florets
1 cup grated carrot
2 1/2 cups grated white and yellow sharp cheddar
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a large pot, melt butter and add onion.  Simmer until translucent.  Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add in half and half and cook to a simmer.  Stir in chicken broth.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 20 minutes.  Add carrots and broccoli and cover, simmering another 20 minutes.  Remove half of soup to a blender and puree.  Return to pot, and cook to a simmer.  Add cheese and mix well until melted.  Add nutmeg.  Serve immediately and garnish with freshly grated cheddar and nutmeg.

I love this soup.  I could eat it every day if the calories would magically disappear.  Chad likes it better when I replace half the cheese with American or Velveeta and I don't add any nutmeg, so if you have a husband like mine that prefers the processed cheese, feel free to do it that way instead.  But I'm saying this may be a travesty.  Just being honest...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sweet, Delicious Cranberry Orange Scones

After the week we had, we definitely needed a Sunday morning pick-me-up.  These scones did the trick, and judging from the white chocolate mustache on Brooklyn and Christian's empty plate, I'm not the only fan.
The sour cream in these babies makes them so moist and delicious you'd be hard pressed to believe you're not in London.  Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Scones with White Chocolate

1 cup sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
Zest and juice from one large orange
4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 egg
2 cups sweetened dried cranberries

In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and baking soda and set aside.  In another small bowl, mix together orange juice and zest.  Set aside.
Preheat oven to\ 350 and lightly grease a large baking sheet.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, sugar, and salt.  Pour flour mixture into bowl of a food processor.  Cut in butter, mix in egg and dried cranberries.  Pulse just until combined. You can also do all of this by hand, using a fork or pastry knife to cut in butter and a wooden spoon to mix in egg and cranberries.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Flouring hands and lightly flouring top of dough, knead lightly and form a round about an inch and a half thick.  Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut into 12 pie shaped pieces.  Arrange 1-2 inches apart on baking sheet and bake 12-15 minutes, until bottom is browned.  In a glass bowl, melt 1 ounce white chocolate in the microwave, stirring at 30 second intervals until creamy.  Don't heat too long, 1 min 30 seconds max. Use a spoon to drizzle white chocolate over the scones. 

Seriously, these scones are a daymaker.  They don't take long to put together and they're perfect for a delicious weekend breakfast.  You can also leave out the cranberries and orange and replace with everythign from chocolate chips and walnuts to raisins and dates. 

Monday, January 16, 2012


I love banana nut bread. But it's always a problem to make because I rarely have the patience to wait until the bananas are ripe enough, so they usually get eaten up before anything gets baked.  Now, when I'm grocery shopping, I scour the bananas in the produce section for the ripest, brownest ones available.  Sometimes, if I'm lucky, they even have completely overripe bananas for 19 cents a pound.  Can't beat that. This time, I bought bananas overripe and some still green for the family. Lo and behold, today we have banana bread.

Banana Bread (with or without nuts)
6 mashed bananas, so ripe they're juicy
4 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup butter
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
3 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups of walnuts (opt)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Prepare 4 loaf pans or 2 loaf pans and a 12- count muffin tin with cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together 3 Tbsp white sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon.  Coat the pans and muffin tin with the mixture and set aside. 
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside. In a very large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar til fluffy.  Slowly blend in the eggs. Mix in the bananas, sour cream, and vanilla until well incorporated. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the flour mixture until a batter is formed and no lumps remain.  Stir in walnuts and divide batter between pans.  Bake in 300 degree oven for 1 hr 10 minutes, removing the muffins after 40 minutes or when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

By far the best banana bread I've ever had, and it's so moist it just melts. I've been making this recipe for years, sometimes as a loaf and sometimes as muffins.  It's always a crowd pleaser and definitely one of my personal favorites. And when it's this easy, there's no excuse not to set aside a Sunday afternoon and make this with the kids.  Christian loves to help, and these were enjoyed on a beautiful and crisp Sunday afternoon with my gorgeous niece and my kids.  Even Marco, our fostered Catahoula, had a muffin. I love how baking gets us away from the electronic devices and brings us into the kitchen together. (Maybe I shouldn't mention that Christian was trying to get the Wii to work for the better part of an hour of this, but at least I tried.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Toasted Coconut and Parrot Bay

Today I helped my mother and father in law at a bridal show here in Stillwater.  I took the opportunity to expand my horizons a bit and brought along truffles and business cards with the hopes that the masses will recruit me for their dessert needs for their events and showers.  I made some of the truffles I always bring to these sorts of things, but I also wanted to make something new.

I called these Honeymoon Truffles... toasted coconut, tropical rum, dark chocolate... if these don't remind you of the flavors of an oceanic chocolate paradise, I don't know what will.

Honeymoon Truffles

4 Tbsp Parrot Bay or other coconut rum, 42 proof
16 oz 60% cacao dark chocolate, divided and chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 oz coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350.  Spread coconut out on a baking sheet in a thin layer.  Bake 3 minutes in oven.  Turn off heat and crack the oven door.  Leave the coconut in for another 8 minutes, until browned and toasty, stirring once halfway through.

Remove to a glass bowl and set aside.

Put 8 oz chopped chocolate in a glass bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan, whisking occasionally, until lightly simmering.  Pour over the chopped chocolate and stir until smooth and creamy. Stir in the rum one tablespoon at a time until smooth. Reserving 1/8 cup of the toasted coconut for later, crush the rest of the coconut into the ganache mixture and stir until well combined.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Melt the remaining chocolate over a double boiler until smooth.  Using a cookie scoop, scoop 1/2 inch balls of the set ganache and roll with your hands to make perfect balls.  Dip in the melted chocolate and remove to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle a small amount of the leftover toasted coconut onto each truffle while the chocolate is still wet.  Let sit in the freezer for fifteen minutes to ensure a strong set. 

These are so delicious and perfect for a special occasion.  Hopefully I made enough friends today at the bridal show to ensure plenty of Honeymoon Truffles in my future.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rosemary Bread

I love bread.  I love anything full of carbs. Pasta, bread, cake, bread, anything with white flour, bread... you get the idea.  One of the judgements I make about whether or not I like a particular restaurant is typically in what kind of bread they serve.  For instance, Olive Garden may not have the most flavorful sauces or the best chicken cutlet but you'd be hard pressed to find a more garlicky or delicious breadstick.  Texas Roadhouse has the most amazingly soft yeast rolls with honey butter I've tasted to date, and always fresh.  Primo's and Macaroni Grill have rosemary bread.  I live in Stillwater.  We don't have a Primo's.  Or a Macaroni Grill, for that matter.  This means in order for me to partake in rosemary bread, I either have to drive 80 miles or make it myself. The latter is cheaper, so that's where I am today.

Rosemary Bread (adapted from here)
1 packet 1/4-ounce active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and serving
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked sea salt 
Freshly ground pepper

Mix yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup 110-115 F water in a small bowl.  Set aside until yeast is active and froth forms, about 5 minutes.  In a mixing bowl, combine 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary, and 1 tsp fine salt with the yeast mixture.  Use either a wooden spoon, a stnad mixer fitted with a dough hook, or a hand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 9-10 minutes.  Form a ball.  Coat a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough ball in the bowl.  Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise until more than doubled, about 2 hours.

Turn out and divide into four equal parts.  Working with one part at a time, fold the edges over to form a freeform square.  Turn the dough over and tuck the corners underneath, creating a smooth ball. Do this with each of the dough parts until you have 4 uniform balls. Transfer to a baking sheet coated with olive oil and let rise on sheet for another 2 hours, or until more than doubled in size. 
Preheat oven to 400.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Pull from oven, brush the loaves with olive oil, and crack fresh sea salt over the top of each one.  Sprinkle rosemary over the top of each one and return to oven for another 10 minutes.  Remove and serve warm with olive oil and an Italian spice blend, or olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

So amazingly delicious, especially fresh from the oven.  However, the loaves were not much more than a glorified dinner roll in size so I think next time I will only divide the dough into two parts rather than four for larger loaves.  Macaroni Grill, eat your heart out.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Monkey Bread!!

After all the overwhelming festivity of the holiday season, it's nice to kick back and make a few simple recipes.  I love cheats in January, like cooking with Bisquick or using cake mix instead of doing everything from scratch.  Sometimes a dressed up mix is almost as good as a from scratch recipe, and doesn't always require the planning ahead that most decadent treats do.
That's what I love about this monkey bread... it tastes like the most delicious, oo-ey, goo-ey, sweet treat on the planet but it really takes absolutely nothing and is always sure to impress.  In order for it to really satisfy that decadent sweet tooth craving, the key is the level of gooiness, the amount of finger licking required afterwards, and the necessity of cold milk alongside.  This recipe gets a 10 in all three categories.  I attribute that to the syrup, which is the perfect amount of sugary, syrupy awesomeness.

Easy Monkey Bread

3 cans refrigerated biscuit dough (anything will work but steer clear of anything that says "flaky")
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  In a bowl, whisk together white sugar and cinnamon.  Using a sharp knife, cut the biscuits into thirds or quarters, or some of each.  Coat each piece of biscuit in the cinnamon sugar mixture and layer them into a well greased tube pan or bundt pan. After they've all been coated and layered, set aside.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Add in the brown sugar and mix well.  Boil for one full minute.  Remove from heat and pour evenly over biscuit layers.  Bake 35 minutes.  Wait ten minutes and then turn out onto a serving plate.  Serve fresh and warm.

What a treat this is for breakfast on a weekend, when you want it to feel sort of special and don't want to go to all the effort.  This is also the perfect recipe for kids.  It's almost impossible to mess up and they love rolling the dough in the sugar.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Just a few random memories...

I was browsing my cell phone gallery and I came upon a few gems that made me smile and I thought I'd share...
I love this one of Brooklyn.  She sleeps like me... haphazardly.

This one is Christian and I in 2010 playing outside during a snowstorm.  That was one of the best days of my life. Still not sure why... we didn't do anything exceptional.  I guess everything was just right that day.

This one is so sweet... Christian has such a beautiful face, and when he's sleeping he's still enough for me to appreciate it.

Anyway, thanks for letting me share.  I'm ready to move on to new memories now :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Salted Caramel Cheesecake

I made a salted caramel cheesecake with a chocolate crust for Christmas this year.  I made it because I was scrolling through Pinterest, and kept seeing salted caramel everything and a recurring cheesecake that looked amazing.  Something in me snapped and I knew that if I didn't have a salted caramel cheesecake I might not make it to the new year.  It's a good thing I did, because here it is 2012 and I don't know how my family would survive without me to do things like complain that they're too loud all the time or get onto Chad for playing crude video games during waking hours.  It's a conundrum... one we thankfully avoided this time.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust

2 cups chocolate animal crackers, finely ground.  You can use any kind of plain chocolate cookie here, but the animal crackers worked out really well
1/4 cup melted butter

Cheesecake (adapted from this cheesecake)
1 pound (2 blocks) cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400. In a food processor, pulse cookie crumbs with melted butter until sticky.  Press into the bottom of a springform pan or bottom and sides of a glass pie plate. Bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let rest in the fridge until ready to bake cheesecake.

Turn oven down to 325. Fill a kettle or saucepan with water and bring to a boil on stovetop. Beat cream cheese and sugar on high about 5 minutes. Beat in salt and vanilla.  Mix in eggs one at a time.Slowly beat in cream, adding gradually, until very creamy. Pour batter over crust.  Fill a 9x13 pan with the boiling water and place on bottom oven rack.  Place cheesecake on upper rack.Bake 50-60 minutes, until middle isn't liquid jiggly and the edges and top are golden. Turn off oven, prop the door open slightly, and let the cheesecake rest for another 45 minutes.  Remove and set on baking dish in freezer.  For the caramel, you can either use the prepackaged caramels, make your own caramel, or use the caramel from  this recipe, which is what I did.  The only difference... at the end, add in 1 tsp coarse sea salt.  Pour about 3/4 cup of the slightly cooled caramel over the top of the cheesecake and return to freezer for 45 minutes.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  When serving, sprinkle about 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt over the slice of cheesecake.  So delicious!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Crockpot BBQ Beef

My dad gave us a crockpot recipe book for Christmas (thanks, Dad) and I spent a couple hours browsing through it the other night while Chad played ping pong on the Move... as if that wasn't entertaining enough. I found several good recipes, but one in particular caught my eye.  Not because if looked amazing but because it was a good idea.  Crockpot pulled beef... their recipe didn't look awesome, I have a feeling it would have been more sour than sweet, and watery.  Nothing grosses me out more than watery beef.  However, the title challenged me to come up with my own crockpot BBQ beef, and try I did.  I think it was a raving success and for once, every member of my household readily agreed without complaint.  That says something...

1 2-3 lb chuck roast, thawed
1 tsp Liquid Smoke
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce (we only use Head Country in this house)

In a cast iron skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil on high almost until smoking.  Season the roast generously on both sides with salt and pepper.  Sear in the skillet about 2 minutes per side, until a good crust is formed.  In a small bowl, mix 1 cup of BBQ sauce with the liquid smoke.  Put half into the bottom of the crockpot.  Lay the roast on top, and pour the remaining 1/2 cup of smoke/bbq sauce mixture on top.  Cover and cook on high 4-5 hours.  Remove roast to glass bowl and dump all remaining liquid out of the crockpot.  Using two forks, pull beef to shred, discarding any fatty pieces.  Return to crockpot, mix in all remaining BBQ sauce (about 2-3 cups, depending on bottle size) and mix well. Turn crockpot on low and cover for thirty minutes.  Mix before serving.

I like this recipe because it means we can have BBQ in the dead of winter, when it's too cold outside to use the grill.  It also means I have a go-to recipe for the summer when we have barbecue parties and guests come over that won't use up the stove space or grill space and I can be free to cook other things that are more time consuming.  This pulled beef tastes like it came from the grill to the bowl to your bun.  Perfect!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cranberry Orange Loaf

Happy New Year, everyone! I know that the holidays have wrapped up and we are heading into a bland, cold, desolate month and a half until the next spot of brightness, Valentine's Day. That in mind, I needed something warm and sweet to keep me feeling festive for just one more day while I kissed the holiday season goodbye.  Then came this cranberry orange bread and I felt better.


2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
zest from one orange
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup slivered almonds or chopped walnuts, or 1/2 cup of each
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 325.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Fold in cranberries, orange zest, and nuts and set aside.  Beat butter and sugar 3-5 minutes, then mix in egg.  Stir in orange juice and then fold in flour mixture just until incorporated.  Prepare a loaf pan by greasing it with butter then dusting it with flour. Spread batter in pan and bake at 325 for one hour. Cool for ten minutes before turning out, then cool for another thirty minutes before glazing.  For glaze, mix 3 Tbsp powdered sugar with one teaspoon vanilla extract.  Slowly mix in a little bit of water until it reaches desired consistency.  I think I used 1 Tbsp water then ended up adding in a few pinches of powdered sugar.  Drizzle over the top of the loaf.

All in all, this bread was really a tasty treat and would make a great breakfast with some hot tea and honey.  I do think that next time I'll add 1/2 a cup of sour cream into the wet batter for a little more moistness, but it was delicious just as it is.

And Brooklyn loved it. Always a win in my book.