My hiatus

I have good things coming for this blog, I promise! Since I made the tamales and cheesecake a few crazy things have been happening. My computer died, which was really upsetting, but my husband managed to fix it! Thanks goodness. I’m good in the kitchen but pretty useless when my computer is going wonky.

The next big thing that happened is that I went back to work, so this past week has been a teacher work-week and we’ve been getting ready for a whole troop of pre-k kids on Tuesday. We got to meet them yesterday and they are super cute! I can’t wait for school to start! It’s going to be a balancing act between work, the wee one, and keeping the house going (and cooking! A lot!). I’m pretty confident it’ll work.

Lastly my mom has loaned me my grandmother’s handwritten book of recipes. I can’t put it down and have read it over and over. I’ve decided I want to cook/bake every recipe she wrote down. This is going to involve a lot of butter and cool whip. Get prepared, I’m going to the store today and starting tomorrow!

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Red Velvet Cheesecake

I made and served red velvet cheesecake for my dad’s birthday. Red velvet is one of his favorite cakes and this is such a great spin on it. I hadn’t made a cheesecake in years and was very pleased with how it turned out. I found this recipe at Annie’s Eats a few months ago and bookmarked it, knowing that I would want to make it for a special occasion. Although I’ve had a lot of opportunities to make a dessert I’ve kept the knowledge of this recipe my little secret until this weekend.

The cheesecake came together very easily during a nap time for the wee one and everyone loved it. It’s definitely something I’ll make again!

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Red Velvet Cheesecake
From Annie’s Eats

This is best made a day ahead of when you need it. It can chill in the refrigerator overnight and you can make the topping before serving. You will bake this at 350 for an hour and 15 minutes, or until just set in the center.

Start by lining the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Then make the crust by combining the following until just moistened and press evenly into the pan.

Crust:
25 oreo cookies, frosting removed, crushed (I went this route so we’d have half a package of oreo cookies in the house. You can buy the pre-crushed ones and use 1 1/2 cups of them.)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 T sugar

Filling:
3 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese, brought to room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
3 T cocoa powder
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 t vanilla
1 t distilled white vinegar
2 (1 oz bottles) of red food coloring

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until creamy and fully combined. I still had my mom’s stand mixer on loan for making the tamales, but this can be done in a bowl with a hand mixer. Just wear an apron when you get to the red food coloring. Add the eggs, cocoa powder, sour cream, buttermilk, vanilla, white vinegar, and food coloring. Mix on low until combined and pour into your springform pan.

A note about buttermilk: I rarely ever have it in the house. Instead I make my own substitute by mixing a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice with a scant cup of milk. Stir and let sit for five minutes and voila, buttermilk. I was a little wary of using this substitute in my cheesecake, but I did and it turned out beautifully.

Bake as directed above, then remove the cheesecake to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes before running a clean knife around the edge of it to separate it from the springform pan. Cover and let it chill out in the refrigerator.

Topping:
4 oz cream cheese, brought to room temperature
2 T butter, brought to room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla

Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Remove the sides of the springform pan and spread the topping evenly over the top of the cheesecake.

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Check out how red that is! Don’t be like me and take so long to make this recipe. Go find a reason to celebrate and enjoy it!

Tamales

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday! I love celebrating the people I love and although he was not keen on a huge party, our family made our time together celebrating him very special. I always have a hard time coming up with The Perfect Gift for him and this year was no different.

This is the man who helped give me the confidence I needed to quit my job, built my daughter her crib, and walked me down the aisle (and, as of yesterday, is my daughter’s godfather. Thanks, Dad!). I would give him anything for his birthday that would make him happy, but I was drawing a complete blank as his day came near. Good for me though, I knew something special about him: he loves tamales. I may not have all the money in the world to buy a shiny new gift, but I’m pretty handy in the kitchen, and tamales he would have.

For Father’s Day I had kolaches shipped in from Texas (from Weikel’s¬†and they are amazing!) for him and they were quite the hit. I had thought about having some tameles shipped over for his birthday but then decided that I would tackle them and try to make them myself. So here is the menu for a Texan transplant: homemade kolaches for breakfast, tamales for lunch, and a red velvet cheesecake for dessert.

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Tamales
adapted from Evil Shenanigans

Season two pounds of beef short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper and brown in hot oil until darkly browned on all sides, about 3 minutes. While doing this add the following to a crock pot:
4 strips bacon
1 medium onion, peeled, quartered, and separated
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 can drained Rotel tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 T cumin
1 T paprika
1 T chili powder
2 t coriander
2 t salt
2 cups beef stock

Then add the beef short ribs and cook on low for about 10-12 hours until the meat is tender. Remove them ribs and shred them. I had a really hard time getting a decent amount of meat from the ribs. I decided to supplement with some chicken and would probably just make chicken tamales in the future.

For chicken tamales:
Shred a roasted chicken. In a saucepot combine all of the above ingredients expect for the onion, garlic and bacon, and supplementing chicken stock for the beef stock. Simmer the shredded chicken until it has had a chance to absorb some of the juice, then refrigerate overnight. Yes, it really is that easy!

While you make your tamales you need to soak the corn husks. I made 28 tamales with this recipe and used one and a half packages of dried husks. Soak the husks in hot water and keep them submerged by placing a heavy bowl or plate on top of them. They’ll take up to two hours to get malleable enough to work with.

This masa for the tamales is amazing, and you’ll use the same recipe no matter what filling you decide to use:
4 cups masa (I used MaSeCa para tamales)
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 T salt
2 t baking powder
1 cup pork lard (manteca)
1 T minced chipotle in adobo (reserve the rest for optional tamale topping)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Mix the masa with the warm water in a medium bowl until it forms a dry paste. Set aside while you beat the lard, baking powder, and salt in your stand mixer. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the chipotle peppers, then add the masa mixture in four additions, beating well after each. Add one cup of the chicken broth to the mixture and slowly bring back to medium speed and beat for five minutes. Drop a small ball of masa into a cup of water and if it floats then you’ve beaten it enough–go ahead and cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour. Once chilled beat the mixture again and add the last half cup of broth. Test again by dropping a small ball into a cup of water. When it floats you’re ready to assemble your tamales!

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Assemble the tamales by placing a corn husk on the counter in front of you with the skinny end facing you. Put about 1/3 cup of masa on the wide end of the husk and spread into a four-inch square. Then place about 2 tablespoons of filling in the middle of the square. If you’re using chicken like I did make sure to squeeze the filling to drain it so your tamales don’t get soggy. Fold the husk in half to enclose the filling, then roll the husk to seal the tamale. Fold up the skinny end and, if desired, tie with a small piece of husk.

When all of your tamales are made line the bottom of your steamer with a few corn husks. Place the tamales open side up, leaving some room for expansion. Then place a few wet husks on top of the tamales. Steam over a rolling boil for about 75 minutes. Don’t let your steamer run out of water–refill it if necessary with boiling water. The tamales are done when the masa will easily separate from the corn husks.

We don’t have a tamale steamer, but that didn’t stop us and it shouldn’t stop you. Cut both ends off of two cans (from soup, veggies, whatever) and put them in the bottom of a large pot. On top of them place a flimsy pie tin that you’ve punched holes in. Bam! You’ve made a steamer. We even used aluminum foil to cover the top of the pot. It doesn’t get easier than that.

We served ours with mole, leftover sauce from marinating the chicken, salsa verde, and the chipotle sauce from the chipotles in adobo that you mixed into the masa. Use whatever sauces or toppings you enjoy!

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Happy birthday, Doc.

Praline Brookies

It’s amazing how a group of friends can find each other. My three good girl friends and I met in three very different ways: Rachel-through the church, Christina-through my old job, and Molly, my beautiful dark-haired salsa dancer amiga at a Halloween party. She was a mouse and I was a cat. We were obviously meant to be friends.

I know that many people have friendships that are older than I have with these ladies, but in the four years that we have all known each other I have been able to rely on them for anything. We’ve all shared countless shopping trips, late night talks while camping, and we’ve cheered each other on during exciting times. I love sharing happy moments with friendship is being able to rely on one another during difficult times.

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Tonight after the wee one goes to bed these three women are coming over and we’re going to paint our toes, drink some wine, and eat. From the outside looking in, it may seem like we’re just hanging out, gossiping, or catching up. But really tonight is going to be about our love for each other and a celebration of our friendship. One of my friends is going through a very rough patch in her life and the rest of us are going to love and nurture her tonight.

I knew that I wanted to have some comfort food here when they showed up, so I baked this dessert to share. It’s the gooey marriage of brownies and cookies and is perfect for a girls night in.

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Praline Brookies
recipe from my mom

Bake at 350 in a greased 9×13 pan.

This is another dessert with multiple layers. It involves a little more effort than my Blackberries and Cream Cheesecake, but the outcome is just as delicious, maybe even more so, if you’re in need of a chocolate fix.

For the first layer mix together:
1 box brownie mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2 eggs

Then bake this for about 25 minutes while you make the second layer.

Second layer:
1 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 t vanilla

Bring the above ingredients to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for three minutes while stirring constantly. Pour over hot brownies.

Third layer:
1 roll refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough

Cut the cookie dough into chunks and pat them flat, then place them on top of the second (praline) layer. Bake for an additional 23-28 minutes and let cool completely before cutting. What happens if you cut them while they’re still warm? A hot praline lava, that’s what. It’s both delicious and painful.

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Tell someone you care. Or better yet, make them some dessert and really show them.

Cheesy Bacon Ranch Potatoes

Confession time: I’m so tired! For some reason our baby girl has decided to shorten her naps to 30 minutes. This leaves me in a flurry of activity during that blessed quiet half an hour to get house chores taken care of, and I think she’s started teething. Maybe if she had some bacon to chew on she wouldn’t be so grumpy. I decided a few days ago that we needed bacon in our lives so today I started frying some to put on sandwiches and eat in potatoes. And you know what? It took and hour and a half to fry it up because of a certain grumpy cutie, but you’re welcome, because this is delicious.

I’m sorry in advance if you’re in the “tired of bacon” crowd. I know that bacon cupcakes, donuts, and chocolate covered bacon can be a little tiring, but this recipe is anything but boring. It’s not deep-fried, it’s not on a dessert and it’s not on a stick. In other words, this is exactly how God and Texas meant bacon to be enjoyed.

My dad is from a small town in Texas, and that’s where this recipe originated. Mom told me that it’s from a caterer there but couldn’t remember who it was. So, if you’re out there, thank you. Here’s my version of their delicious potatoes and hopefully they wouldn’t think that I ruined the recipe too much.

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Cheesy Bacon Ranch Potatoes

2 cans whole potatoes
8 oz block cheddar cheese
1/3-1/4 cup ranch
6 strips of bacon, crunchy and chopped up

Please don’t hesitate to double or triple this recipe–just adjust the amounts of all ingredients. Also, I know that it may sound odd, but fresh cooked potatoes don’t hold up as well or taste as good as canned in this recipe. So don’t feel bad about taking the easy way out. Regarding the bacon: if you don’t have the time or ambition of frying it up fresh (one and a half hours!) it’s perfectly ok to use the precooked bacon pieces that you can find in the store. This is an easy recipe, so don’t over think it.

Cut your potatoes into coins and season them with salt and pepper. Add the ranch and stir to evenly coat the potatoes. Mix in about half of your freshly shredded cheese to get the best cheese to potato ratio possible. Pour the potatoes into a baking dish (I like to use a pie plate when using just two cans of potatoes) and top with the rest of your cheese and chopped bacon. You can store this in the fridge if you’re a prepared person who has things done before they’re needed or you can go ahead and bake it at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is nice and melty.

I think that technically these potatoes are considered a side dish. Don’t let that stop you from piling a bowl or plate full of these babies and eating them as your main course. Or, you know, as your one course. Pop open a cold beer and you’ve got a great dinner. Or lunch. Probably not breakfast though, unless you swap the beer for a mimosa. It still would be quite tasty.

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They say that everything is bigger in Texas. I say that everything is more delicious.

Blarney Stones

Clinton is a small town in Iowa nestled next to the Mississippi River. My mom grew up there and my childhood is dotted with fond memories of a fourteen-hour drive that ended in time spent with my grandparents, riding bikes by the river, and trips to the Sweetheart Bakery. This bakery was my favorite place to go when I was little and honestly…not much has changed. They make the most amazing black rye bread, frosted cookies, and blarney stones. (And yes, they ship, so those midnight black rye bread cravings? They can be fulfilled.)

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My grandmother loved their bear claws and lemon curd filled doughnuts but was especially fond of the blarney stones. Lois, or Omie, as we called her, was an incredibly strong woman. She always matched her red nail polish to her lipstick, was married for over fifty years, and raised four daughters. The two oldest daughters were four and three when my mom and her twin were born. She had four daughters under the age of four and only one bathroom in the house. Don’t tell me my Omie wasn’t an amazing woman.

We lost Omie last year and when her birthday rolled around I decided to do something special for my mom. I looked into having some blarney stones shipped down from Clinton but decided that I could do better than that because there is nothing more wonderful than homemade treats. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to celebrate a life than with food and was confident that these blarney stones would be appreciated. And man, are they good!

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Blarney Stones

4 separated eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 t vanilla

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl (normally I skip this step, but it’s important in this recipe so everything will get mixed in equally with the boiling water in a minute). Beat your egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Set them aside and beat egg yolks until they’re thick and lemon colored. Gradually add sugar, beating continuously. Add dry ingredients alternating with boiling water. Add vanilla and beat well. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Bake at 350 in a well-greased 8×11.5 pan for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. (If you want more blarney stones–and they will be thinner!–you can bake this in a 9×13 pan. Just watch how long they’re in the oven.)

Now you have a few options. You can let them cool in the pan and frost just the top if you’re taking them to a party and don’t want to deal with individual blarnies. Or, if you’re like me and want to recreate the real deal as closely as possible, go ahead and flip the cake out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely. Then use a sharp bread knife and cut them into two-inch squares.

Frosting

1 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 t vanilla
crushed salted peanuts
maraschino cherries, for garnish

While they’re cooling go ahead and make your frosting. Cream the butter, add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until completely smooth. Spread each blarney stone with a generous amount of frosting and roll all sides with the crushed peanuts. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

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Congratulations, you’ve made a bit of my childhood. Isn’t it sweet?

Zucchini Crab Cakes with Spicy & Easy Remoulade

Yesterday I helped my parents out by going to their garden in the morning to do some picking for them. Beets! Onions! Zucchini! Beans (pole and bush)! Yellow squash! I was very happy to help them and even happier to bring some of the veggies back home with me. The only really painful part of it (and I’m not talking “ow, the zucchini/yellow squash plant has little pokey things all over it and I wasn’t thinking and brushed it and now my arms feel like there are little ants nibbling on them–no, I mean ow, I don’t want to get out of bed because my baby is 12 weeks old and I haven’t worked out or really exercised since before she was born because of morning sickness and exhaustion) was that my sweet girl came with me and I wore her in my ergo while I picked. Fine. Dandy. But now my thighs are killing me from doing an unheard-of number of squats in the garden while she was happily snoozing and strapped on my front. Getting out of bed this morning (and last night, a few times) was not my finest moment.

If your garden is anything like my dad’s then you are completely overrun and overwhelmed with zucchini. There’s only so much zucchini bread I can eat each summer and I’ve about filled up on it. I can eat it grilled all day long but even doing that won’t really put a dent in the pile of it on my kitchen counter. Impressive. I remember my mom making zucchini “crab” cakes in the summer when I was younger, and although they don’t have any crab in them they really taste delicious and hit the spot, especially on a hot summer afternoon. This recipe won’t use up a bunch of zucchini but it’s a refreshing twist on what can be a very tiring vegetable.

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I always make this super easy and delicious remoulade first and let it chill out in the fridge while I make the cakes. This helps the flavors come together better. Or so I’ve heard. I’m guilty of being kinda last minute sometimes. Don’t judge.

Spicy, Easy Remoulade
1/4 cup mayo
1 t spicy mustard
1 t sweet relish
3/4 t worcestershire
squeeze of lemon
a few shakes of hot sauce–this is where you can get daring and really give the remoulade a bite! I use Cholula hot sauce. Yum!

Mix all of your ingredients in a bowl, making sure to taste it to make sure it’s to your liking. Sometimes I add a few more shakes of worcestershire. It’s all depending on my mood. Cover it and let it sit in your fridge while you make your cakes.

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Zucchini Crab Cakes
*adapted from Parade magazine
2 cups shredded zucchini
salt
1 cup italian style bread crumbs
1 beaten egg
1 1/2 t Old Bay seasoning
1 t spicy or dijon mustard
1 T mayo
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle salt on the zucchini and allow to drain for about 30 minutes. Go put your feet up. Or, if you’re like me, let the dogs out, throw in some laundry, and change a diaper. If you’re like me just make sure to wash your hands before continuing. Squeeze out eh excess liquid from your zucchini and mix it together with all of your other ingredients. Form into patties (I usually get four) and refrigerate for about 15 minutes.

Once they’ve chilled out enough to hold their shape fry them in butter/olive oil until golden. Top them with remoulade or throw them on a bun with some remoulade and tomato. I don’t care how you do it, just make them!

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Congratulations, you’ve used up a few of your zucchini! Now what should we do with the other 57?