Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Virginia

Virginia is my mother in law and I could not possibly have a better mother in law. Forget everything you've heard about that awful, snarl toothed, bother some creature that all brides fear. She is genuine and loving (in just the right proportions) and I could not have asked for a better candidate for grandmother of my (not-yet-in-existence) children. Don't get me wrong, we have our differences, but all in all I am thrilled to call her family.

This last month she officially added one year to her tally which brought her closer to that all elusive idea - retirement. I will not break my oath of womanhood and reveal her age to you, but she does look fabulous regardless of her "ahhhmmm" odd years on this earth. The happiness she finds in life is written on her face and the joy she finds in living emanates from her even in the middle of the night. I have never met a woman who so can be so graceful and welcoming at any odd hour of the night as she can.

Happy Birthday to the beautiful and graceful woman who raised my charming husband!

To celebrate, the family gathered and sang as she said a prayer (I just know this is what she does!) over the candles. I made her the cake and carried it across the state without so much as on icing accident along the way. Hooray!

Rich cake and skim milk...?

A pink lemonade was over all too soon.

To continue our celebration she and I had a lovely ladies lunch at the Menger in down town San Antonio. A beautifully presented buffet lunch with a supremely cute tea pot atop the dessert display.

Strawberry mouse, cheese cake, carrot cake, hummingbird cake...

Creamy champagne tartlettes and rich chocolate iced brownies...maybe we should celebrate un-birthdays this way every month!
Good thing my birthday is next month! I am brainstorming about celebration treats already!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Fun

Happy Halloween!

Ladies and Gents I have been a busy girl. Since Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year I always dive in with great gusto. This year has been lacking a bit of the gusto because we lost a rather special woman very near the holiday that she taught me to love so much. My childhood Halloweens were always hosted by Debbie and I will always carry her with me in spirit as I think of and prepare for this, my most favored and haunted, holiday of the year.

I got the chance to use that wonderful new serving stand that my mother in law recently gifted to me. It was perfect for holding my special Halloween candies. Who says that kids should have all the fun? I made candy for the adults in my life this year.

I started with my Grandmother's recipe for peanut brittle. We are in the south, after all. This recipe is as traditional as it gets and has a beautiful honeycomb pattern when you break it apart because of the addition of baking soda at the end of the process.

When you give this recipe a go for yourself remember that you must be able to hear the peanuts popping and thusly you must not have on the television or radio to keep you company in the kitchen. The scent of the browning peanuts and caramelizing sugars should do nicely to keep your senses occupied in the absence of audible entertainment.

Also, take note that it is cooked without a thermometer and in a cast iron skillet; I do not recommend using another type of pan. If you only have a small pan you might half the recipe, but please do not try to make this recipe in a regular pan. You will surely burn the nuts and that would be such a shame.

Peanut Brittle

1 Cup White Sugar
1 Cup White Corn Syrup
2 Cups Raw Peanuts
1 Tsp. Baking Soda

Line a cookie sheet or sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with oil or rub with butter.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and peanuts in a large cast iron skillet; do not add the baking soda, measure it out and then set it aside for later.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the peanuts begin to pop.

Add the baking soda and mix thoroughly.

Quickly spoon the candy onto prepared sheet to cool, smooth it out as much as you can manage.

Once cooled break into pieces to be enjoyed.

There are absolutely no redeeming health qualities within this candy. Hence the word, candy; no self respecting kid at heart would want it any other way. This recipe is as easy as it sounds so, be careful making it could become a habit.

Next up, or shall I say down, on my three tiers of Halloween happiness is honey caramel.

I am from Texas and we pronounce that cair-ml, not car-ml; just as we say cain't instead of can't and ain't is most certainly a word in my vocabulary. You can take a girl out of Texas, but you can't take the Texas out of....well, you get the gist.

Oh yeah, just for future reference, in Texas we pronounce pecan, Pa-con, as opposed to those from Georgia, and the like, who pronounce it Pee-can. Next time you visit you'll know just how to ask for that pecan pie you love or how to find a delicious piece of caramel when that is what you are hankerin' for.

As for the tasty morsels of caramel that I doled out, they were some of the best I have ever made. I did three things differently than the recipe from 101 Cookbooks.

First I doubled the recipe, after all who doesn't love caramel?

Next, I split the sugar portion of the recipe into 3/4 cup evaporated sugar cane and 1 1/4 cups honey; I did this because I am not the greatest lover of honey and was trepidations about the flavor being too pronounced in the candies. I needn't have worried because the honey was very subtle by the time the cooking process was complete and next time I will use all honey.

The third thing I did differently was to add 1/2 tsp dried chipotle powder. This idea came from the most wonderful caramel I have ever purchased; the Béquet chipotle caramel had a bit of a pepper bite to it, which was lovely, but I added the chipotle only for flavor enhancement and boy was it a gamble that payed off. It added only a slightly smoky flavor that paired perfectly with the cream and honey. Yummy! Why didn't I save more of these for myself?

I got the recipe for honey caramel here.

On the third and largest tier of my hallowed eve delights rest my, first ever, batch of marshmallows. These were a delight to make, albeit a bit of a sticky delight. Ironically as I was making these I had the Food Network on to keep me company and the Barefoot Contessa was making her own version of these soft delights; she termed the process as magical and I do quite agree.

Magically you go from the most simple of ingredients to the sweetest, lightest treat in my kitchen. I know your thinking, what about meringues? They are light and sweet and also somewhat magical in their transformation, but today I am enamored of my newest friend, my fluffy, serendipitous marshmallows.

I am quite excited to play with the flavor and color possibilities that this treat has to offer. These orange goodies were a basic vanilla that I dyed to celebrate the season. I have plans for red cranberry, blue coconut, swirled strawberry cream, chocolate and orange...oooh, the possibilities abound.

I found the marshmallow recipe here.

I used the caramel to make caramel apples. The tart little green lovelies first went for a dip in the seductive warm caramel followed by a quick roll with either pecans or hazelnuts. I tucked them in for the night with a thick blanket of dark chocolate. Isn't fall the most fabulous season of all?

Tart number one out for the evening with a revealing hazelnut ensemble....

Tart number two has graced us with her chocolate clad, pecan adorned presence...

A night out always deserves a gossip session the morning after, don't you agree?

Moving on, to the south we have one of the holiday season's brightest shinning stars, the decorated cookie. These lovely ladies can be seen here in a melange of spooky colors and in two delectable varieties.

The sugar cookies are ones that I love and I have posted the recipe before, you can find it here.

While their darker cousins are called Light Spice Cookies and have a delightful crunch; I got them here and so can you.

Accompanying their seasonal frocks are some 'cookie tattoos.' Found in the seasonal aisle at my local Target these inexpensive adornments made decorating a snap. You just peel them off of thick paper and place them onto wet royal icing. Voi-la, your cookie is decorated. No excuses from those of you who use the less than creative excuse any more. These are so simple and too easy to be overlooked by the über busy bakers out there.

For your viewing pleasure...I do hope you are pleased...
Bear with me, almost done...
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lovely new things...

Due to some terribly unfortunate circumstances I have not been in the kitchen for yet another week. That obviously does not mean that I have not been eating, drinking and generally consuming.

I have a few new things to share with you before I head back to the kitchen:

First is this lovely new beer that I have welcomed into my life. It is brewed with pecans and has a nutty and sweet finish that I will surely miss when it goes out of season. It is a seasonal brew much like the pumpkin ales and other fall inspirations. I have outlined in the past my true love of pecans and the ingenious people at Abita have combined that love and my true affection for good beer into their simply named Pecan Harvest. I strongly urge you to give it a go before it is gone for the year.
The pictures could be better, but that wont hurt the flavor one bit....

Next is the most fantastic of gifts from my mother in law. I am a rather clumsy person and thusly have broken all of the delicate glass pieces that were so lovingly given to my husband and I for our wedding. Knowing this and my love for cake and cookie stands my magically in touch mother in law presented me with this three tiered stand that I had been coveting for weeks. How does she do it, I just dont know, but she always finds the things that I want most and gets them for us without even a hint from me. Her ability to do this is uncanny and I could not have a asked for a more intuitive and caring addition to my life and family.

Please ignore the grass, dead as it is, in the last throes of its dance with the summer heat. Yes, I said summer heat in October...apparently we live in hell. Hence the pink brick house baking in the disastrous heat ... did I mention that they, the little pink houses, are all in a row ... and my Stepford-esk neighbors cut their grass twice a week ... I can feel my soul dying with the withering grass ... the Stepfords will never taste the yumminess from my kitchen, oh no.

One last addition to my list of lovelies ...

I so look forward to making fragrant pots of beans and chilies with this salty slab of pork deliciousness. I will make fresh green beans slick with the salty flavor hugging tight to each crisp bite. I will make refried beans that no self respecting dieter would think of touching as they delight in the pork induced coma that will set in unawares after a few mouthfuls of the thick satisfying concoction...oh yes I love salted pork! I will swirl tiny bits of it through my holiday fudge and bake tasty morsels of it into my chocolate chip cookies; salty and sweet my fans will never know what hit them as they rip through the box of goodies they discover on their doorstep...are you one? You could be...

Off to the kitchen...

Friday, October 10, 2008


No, I didn't drop off the face of the sorry for the delay in posting.

I was visiting a friend in Richmond, Virginia. I had a great time and did something altogether new for me: I hiked in the mountains. I drove up into the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside Waynesboro, VA. I parked the car and got out...yep, me in the out doors, a shocker, I know....I took lots of pictures and had fun. I took this excursion alone, but I wished that my father in law could have been there. He would have loved it, maybe I can convince him to travel there with us soon.

Pictures will do a better job of explaining the view and the gorgeous weather, so....

{I should mention that I have a penchant for moss and trees, you see...}


Leaves and berries

The view at 3,000 feet...a small homestead below.

Could this be why they are called the Blue Ridge Mountains?

A country road and an old home.

Moss...two kinds!

A beautiful tree anchored to the rock with arthritic looking roots.

Blue Ridge in the back and berries in the front...beautiful.

Moss and some sort of succulent...nice color variation.

Fall is here! (or rather there)

A lovely fence in colonial Williamsburg.

A mountainous view...

Sticks and moss!

I will return...such a splendid day.

Moss and leaves...I warned you.

For my mother, a wild Canadian goose.

Just a nice house I would not mind living in.

My definition of pastoral.

Someday I will have a lovely old fence to call my own...someday.

A lovely church in honor of the friend I was visiting...she is attending seminary.

I returned home feeling inspired and quite refreshed. I am so glad I took this trip! I also made a new feline friend, her name is Sugar. She is snow white and sweet as...well, you know. I am missing her since my arrival home, but am glad to be back with my four furry children...oh, and my husband too! Hee, hee...

I'll be back cooking soon, but a change of pace is always nice from time to time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Chocolate Zone

Some days I need chocolate. Yes, I said, need. Not want, not desire, but need. For those of you who can relate to this problem I have found an easy solution. A 90 second cake. Yep, one and a half minutes in the microwave and you , too, can be in the chocolate zone.

The chocolate zone is what happens when all of your senses are engaged: you smell the rich aroma of chocolate and sugar as you watch through the window as it rises to meet you, you hear the timer buzz, you plunge into the moist , fragrant goodness and savor the feel of it under your spoon, finally you inhale deeply after your tingling taste buds have been satiated with the first bite of sweet chocolate cake.

Oh, did I mention that you don't have to share? This is just enough for one.

You can thank my grandmother for sending this recipe on to me, she is always on the hunt for fabulous new things! I played with the recipe a little and made my version healthier...I couldn't resist, sorry! You can make this in a coffee mug or a small bowl; I opted for the bowl because it seemed easier to mix the ingredients in it. I inverted it onto a plate to take pictures, but you can enjoy it straight out of the microwave. Because, really, what is better than warm cake?

90 Second Chocolate Cake

2 Tablespoons AP (or whole wheat flour)
2 Tablespoons Sugar (or Splenda)
2 Tablespoons Baking Cocoa
1 Egg White
1 Tablespoon Milk (2 TBLSP if using whole wheat flour)
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
Dash of Vanilla
Dash of Salt
1 Tablespoon Chocolate Chips

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and cocoa in a bowl or mug.

Mix in the egg white, milk, oil and vanilla until completely combined.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips onto the top and cover slightly with batter, try not to push them down to the bottom.

Pop it into the microwave on high for 90 seconds, or until you can smell it and it is firm when touched in the center. It should not take more than 2 minutes.

Aaah, chocolate cake! Enjoy ASAP!