Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sand Dollar Cookies

My best friend from high school is quite the beach bum. Missy lives for the beach and she even has a business making beach inspired jewelry. Her beautiful little charms and pendants are perfect for a "dressy/casual" evening at your favorite beachside bistro.

One of my favorite memories from my high school years was a chance meeting in Myrtle Beach with Missy. I'd been on the other coast for most of the Summer enjoying San Diego. When I got home, my parents decided they wanted to spend a few days at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. Of course, at 16 I had no intention of hanging out with the parental unit. Instead, I headed to the Myrtle Beach Pavilion to hang out and play video games. Much to my surprise I looked up to find Missy walking through. We spent the remainder of the weekend hanging out together and goofing off.

Anyway, one of the favorite pastimes along the beach is collecting shells. But, in South Carolina (and many Southern states) the real prize to find are Sand Dollars. Lots of people look for the biggest they can find, but the real treasures are the tiny ones. Of course, like all things Southern, they come with a legend. Supposedly, during the hours that Jesus hung on the cross on Good Friday the Holy Spirit was so distraught it had to find a place to hide and weep. It finally entered the shell of the lowly Sand Dollar. That's why if you break open a Sand Dollar you find little pieces that resemble white doves.

Anyway, Missy is headed to the beach for the weekend, I hear so I thought I'd join her in spirit by making some Sand Dollar Cookies. These are tasty and easy and sure to put a smile on your favorite Beachcomber's face.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Macaire Potatoes

When we were at Sunflower Market the other day, Michael got a big bag of potatoes. Normally, when I do potatoes for supper they end up chunked and sauteed with some butter and maybe a bit of garlic. Tonight, though, I wanted to do something a little different.

We're really on a budget this week so I had to use what I had in the kitchen. One of my recent cookbook acquisitions was The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook. This is a fabulous work that really steps you through all sorts of techniques from the basics to advanced stuff. Even better it helps you understand what you're doing when preparing dishes rather than just following lists and directions. That really opens up your creativity.

Anyway, I had been flipping through it off and on all afternoon and ran across a recipe for Macaire Potatoes. These looked very easy and tasty. Basically, it takes all three of the favorite ways of cooking potatoes and combines them into one dish! It starts off with baked potatoes, then they're mashed and formed into cakes and finally they are lightly fried. This gives them a great crunchy crust with a luscious mashed potato/baked potato interior. Very tasty and very easy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Butterscotch Pie

Spring is gone here in the desert it seems. Despite a day now and again when the temperature drops into the 70's we're staying the mid-80's and even creeping into the 90's. It appears the heat is upon us as May approaches.

Of course, with hot weather I want milk shakes. More to the point I want butterscotch milkshakes! I love stopping by the Dairy Queen down the street to grab one on a hot evening. There's just nothing quite like it.

This afternoon as the thermometer creeped toward 90° I had a craving. Unfortunately, I had no ice cream or butterscotch syrup in the house and no way to get to DQ since Michael had the car at work. So, I decided to whip up a Butterscotch Pie with Meringue.

This is a great pie for summer desserts and is easily adapted to individual pies or tarts for a party.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Win a Copy of "Sweet Decadence"

We're having the first ever contest! Well, in conjunction with one of my favorite book and reading sites, - we're having a contest.

"Sweet Decadence" contains 101 of my favorite recipes from here on the blog plus many that have never been published here (and probably won't be in the future). This collection contains all sorts of favorites from Gert's Mama's Poundcake to some of Mama's favorite punch recipes and everything sweet in between!

This book will be available in the next few weeks at and other outlets, however, in the meantime you can grab a copy at for the low, low price of $8.95. There is also an e-book version available as well!

But, if you want to try your luck. Head over to Goodreads and enter to win a free copy. You must enter before May 1, 2010 and you will need to be a member of the website. So, here's your chance! Enter today

Banana Nut Muffins with a Twist

A few years ago I decided to get a Realtor's license. I took the classes and passed the exam with flying colors. I even got an office with Coldwell-Banker. Unfortunately, I was also quite ill from time to time and was heading to what would eventually be a liver transplant. Anyway, one of the "tips" given to us new Realtors was to have a batch of cookies freshly baked when showing a house. Supposedly, the beautiful homey aroma would make people want to buy the house.

I'm not sure about the logic with that, but it did beat air fresheners or artificial scents. Still, for those of you who are Realtors I'll go you one better. Ditch the cookies and try these delicious Banana Nut Muffins! The aroma while they're baking is enough to make your mouth water. (In fact, as the founder of the 3a.m. Baking Club - my batch woke Michael up from a sound sleep!)

They're actually easy to make and this recipe should give you about 18 jumbo muffins. However, I have another twist for you. I made one batch of muffins then pulled out a 9" round pan and did the rest as a cake! It turned out beautifully and would be perfect for a brunch or breakfast with friends!

The cake (or muffins too) can be frosted if you wish. I'd suggest a butter cream flavored with banana liqueur or whipped cream. But, they're fine plain and sprinkled with a few walnuts or some coconut.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lemon Tea Cookies

Did you know the founder of the Girl Scouts was from Savannah, GA? Somewhere in the back of my mind I had that bit of trivia but had pretty much forgotten it until browsing my new copy of Southern Desserts by the folks at Southern Living Magazine.

They have included an old recipe for "Tea Cakes" which are actually "Tea Cookies" and are connected to Juliette Gordon Low who founded the Girl Scouts of America around 1912. One of her early techniques for gathering interest and funding was holding tea parties.

At any rate, I've always been a supporter of GSA because of their non-discrimination policies and their incredibly tasty fund raising activities. In fact, many years ago when I was sharing an apartment with my best friend our love of Girl Scout Cookies got a bit out of hand. He purchased almost two dozen boxes from a co-worker's daughter. Meanwhile, I purchased about two dozen from one of my co-workers who was a troop leader! We had to literally clean out our pantry to stock Girl Scout Cookies! I would love to report they lasted us for months but unfortunately, I don't think we made it more than about 6 weeks before we'd cleaned out the whole batch!

These cookies, featured in Southern Living are a delight. They are wafer thin and with my addition of a bit of lemon zest have a light lemony flavor that is perfect with tea. A little sprinkle of sugar just before baking gives them a sparkly texture too.

I can see these plain but also used to make large sandwich cookies featuring a little lemon whipped cream or other filling. They'd also make a great base for a dessert tian.

So, enjoy the "little tea cakes" inspired by the tea parties of Juliette Gordon Low and the genesis of the Girl Scouts in Savannah.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pizza Margherita

I wanted to make a real homemade pizza since Michael loves them. The challenge was going to be doing a thin and crispy crust since he loathes thick, risen crusts on his pizza.

After going back and forth with several recipes and ideas, I decided on one I'd seen at It looked fairly easy and with a few tweaks I thought it would work.

So, I got down to business this evening working on a Pizza Margherita. The result was very good. A very crisp crust topped by mounds of melted and toasted mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and spinach. Although spinach is not a traditional ingredient in Margherita, it's one of Michael's favorite toppings so I thought I'd add it to the mix.

This is really fairly easy to do, so the next time you're in the mood for pizza give this a try instead of ordering out of going to the freezer. The dough makes enough for two 11-12" pizzas and can be frozen for later use. You can also use the dough for any type of pizza you like.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls - and OUCH!

I'm still reading through my copy of Baking by James Peterson and decided to try my hand at the recipe for cinnamon rolls. I love cinnamon rolls. In particular I love Orange Cinnamon Rolls and often pick up a can of the refrigerated kind at the grocery store for a great snack.

What started out seeming like a breeze almost ended up in a kitchen disaster, though! The bread dough was quite easy to do and tasted wonderful. However, the recipe given for the filling left something to be desired (in my opinion). Peterson's recipe calls for a cooked brown sugar and butter filling. I was a little skeptical because it seemed that it would not be the texture or flavor I prefer in cinnamon rolls. But, I was game so went forward.

Flash forward to the actual baking process. The rolls had risen beautifully and were ready to go in the oven. The recipe calls for preheating the oven to 400° and then immediately dropping the temp to 350° when you put the rolls in. I checked my oven thermometer to make sure the oven was heated properly and popped in the rolls for the required 30 minutes.

Everything smelled lovely at first. I sat down to wait for my buzzer (which I always set about 10 minutes earlier than in the recipe). Suddenly, the smell of cinnamon rolls gave way to a burnt sugar smell and smoke! Oh no!

I quickly turned off the oven and snapped on my kitchen fan. I grabbed an oven mitt and took the rolls out. They looked fine and beautifully brown but the sugar filling which had to be pre-cooked had run out of the bottoms of the rolls and was smoking like all get out!

Somehow, when I grabbed them out of the oven I managed to get a bit of the sugar on the oven mitt without realizing then I made the mistake of picking up the mitt and moving it out of the way. Nothing burns like hot sugar! OUCH!

Luckily, I had a glass of ice water nearby and plunged my finger into it immediately and then filled a large bowl with ice and water and soaked it for about 30 minutes off and on. It was a nasty burn but I managed to avoid an even worse outcome thanks to having the ice water nearby.

Still, I realize that since my transplant and the resultant pain of that experience I have absolutely no pain tolerance anymore! Oh well, it's finally begun to stop burning and I've wrapped it with antibiotic ointment and covered it to prevent infection (always a concern for those of us who have to take drugs that suppress our immune systems.)

Not my most fun baking experience at all.

But, I did finally get around to tasting the rolls. The dough is wonderful with a light cinnamon and orange flavor but as I expected the filling left much to be desired. It's too crisp - almost like a candy and was stuck mainly to the bottoms of the rolls. So, I iced them with a little of my usual orange icing and they seem to be OK.

All in all, I like this dough for cinnamon rolls but need to find something else for a filling that is more in keeping with my tastes (and also more safe if you're a klutz!) I'm thinking of one that Ina Garten gives in her Back to Basics cookbook for her Cinnamon Rolls made with puff pastry. It seems easier to work with and possibly more flavorful.

So, here's the dough recipe and my caveat to use your favorite cinnamon roll filling from another recipe (Ina's will be my choice if and when I try this again).

 UPDATE: Since this recipe makes quite a few rolls, I put them in my big cake carrier to keep them fresh. I noticed today when I opened it and tried a roll they were actually much better than just after I'd made them. The filling, which had hardened had softened and soaked into the rolls giving them a wonderful moist texture with hints of butterscotch and sugar. The orange glaze I'd used had also mellowed a bit and was delicious alongside the delicate cinnamon and orange flavors in the bread itself. All in all, not a bad turnout despite the burned finger! (Which was also much better today.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Marbled Sablee

I raved about Pate Sablee in the post on the Daring Baker's Challenge. I really liked the buttery and crumbly texture of this cookie/pastry and it struck me as a cross between a butter cookie and shortbread.

So, when my copy of Baking by James Peterson arrived yesterday I noticed an interesting take on the pate sablee in the form of a marbled sablee combining plain dough with a chocolate dough. Looked great and I decided to try it out.

Now, the recipe given in the book is slightly different from the one I used last month. All told, it turned out OK but I think I like my other recipe better. It was much easier to work with overall. The Peterson version was a bit wet and sticky and made it difficult to use in a cookie. Even chilling only relieved the problem somewhat. Sure, I could have dumped in some more flour but I was determined to stick to the recipe word for word.

I'll post the recipe I used last month here because I think it is better for this kind of work. The biggest adjustment would be the cocoa powder. Peterson's version of the chocolate pate sablee calls for 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder. Now one thing I noticed in Peterson's directions was that he doesn't have you combine the wet and dry separately and then beat them together. Instead, he has the butter and flour beat together first and then the other ingredients are added in after that step. So, I'm wondering if that might have had some effect on the overall consistency of the dough. My rational mind says not, but when dealing with pastry and baking when something is combined can have great effect.

So, I'll give you my preferred recipe for the plain pate sablee and then Peterson's version (with my notations) for the chocolate dough and then how to assemble the cookies.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Le Marquis et Crème au Beurre Ménagère

I've been wanting to try some of the recipes from Julia Child's classic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The only drawback to her fabulous book is that it's a little light on the sweets. But, there are a few things in there that sounded interesting.

Last night I decided to try my hand at Le Marquis which is a chocolate sponge cake involving lots of whipping of egg whites and folding of melted chocolate and butter. Actually, it's not that hard and if you've ever made a classic 1-2-3-4 cake then this isn't a big deal. The results are quite nice and very rich. I tested a very tiny piece... for me... and found it to be quite enough in one sitting!

The icing I chose was Julia's Crème au Beurre, Ménagère. That's a lovely buttercream with a hint of flavoring. Honestly, having tried some buttercream recipes in the past and come up short, this was actually a breeze. It does call for raw egg yolks, so if you're one of those people who freaks about raw eggs, you can always use the pasteurized carton yolks found in the grocery store.

Anyway, the end result was a very rich chocolate cake with a scrumptious icing. Oh, and Julia tell us we can use all sorts of things to flavor the Crème au Beurre, Ménagère so I chose a bit of lemon and some rum. Yummy!

I'm not going to post the recipe for this one as it is rather long and I also have great respect for Julia Child and her work writing this monumental tome. So, if you want to try Le Marquis et Crème Buerre Ménagère, please grab a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. However, here is a very close recipe to Julia's for the buttercream that is online (just omit the coffee powder and add 1 to 2 tbs. of liqueur or flavoring). And here is a close approximation of her recipe for Le Marquis.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chocolate Puffs

Yes, I'm on quite the puff pastry kick lately. Oh well, I have a freezer full of both large and small sheets (5x5) so figured I might as well play around. That brings me to last night's experiment.

Several months ago we were in a local Mexican eatery and experienced a lovely dessert. It was a chocolate chimichanga. Simply put, it was delightful! By the way, did you know that the Chimichanga was invented right here in Tucson? Yes it was! Like so much "Mexican" food, this was a product of American tastes and a little accident when a burrito accidentally got deep fried.

Anyway, with that in mind, I took a bit of the puff pastry I had in a small 5x5 inch sheet and some leftover chocolate bits and did my own version - without the deep frying!

It's really simple to do. I used a small sheet and just made two, but you can use the larger sheets and make a whole batch. Keep in mind though, these should be served while they're warm for best taste and effect.

All you need to do is roll out a puff pastry sheet and then cut it in triangles (use your own judgment for size - either big or small). Then coat the triangles with a mixture of a beaten egg and 1 tbs. of water mixed together. On top of that spread chocolate chips or bits in a mounded line in the center from corner to corner. Fold two ends together and roll the pastry from the wide end to the narrow end. Place on cookie sheet and brush with egg mixture (to make them nice and brown) and bake for about 20 minutes in a 375° oven. Remove when browned and allow to cool slightly. Serve immediately.

BTW: I have a new collection of recipes available called "Sweet Decadence: 101 Top Recipes" for only $9.95 (even less if you use the e-book option!) You'll get 101 of my favorite recipes including many never covered here on the blog! So, if you've enjoyed using any of the recipes here, please help support the site and get a great recipe collection!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ginger Muffins

One of my favorite flavors is ginger. My gingerbread and ginger cookies remain two of my signature dishes and I often make them to greet Autumn. Somehow gingerbread is just linked in my mind with falling leaves and crisp days.

Despite that, I decided to bake some Ginger Muffins to satisfy a craving I've had lately for something gingery. The recipe is pretty straightforward and resembles classic gingerbread in a lot of respects. This is the first time I've used this muffin recipe, which I found in an ancient out of print cookbook.

The next time I try this I will probably add a little lemon or orange zest to the batter to give it a little citrus counterpoint to the ginger and other spices. Yet, it's quite good just as it is. I debated icing these with a lemon or orange glaze like I do my gingerbread but in the end decided to go with a simple sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Mardi Gras Cake Story

Imagine my surprise when I see a Twitter from Penelope Starr at Odyssey Storytelling about a video clip from the "Kitchen Confidential" show in December.

If you read regularly, you might remember I'd been invited to tell one of my "Mama Stories" at the event and chose the story of how she came to collect the recipe for the Mardi Gras Cake while on a trip to New Orleans.

Well, Penelope put a video clip of my story up on Youtube! That's right, you can hear and see me drawl my way through the moment in the story when I discover Mama in a luxury hotel suite swapping recipes with the hotel maid!

Palmiers - Fine Pastry Done Quick!

I so enjoyed the giant Palmiers I picked up at A.J.'s the other day I decided to break into my hoard of puff pastry sheets and make some at home.

Using the new frozen puff pastry making Palmiers is now a breeze. If you really, really want to make your own puff pastry there is a great recipe and tutorial using the "rough pastry" technique used by most professionals. While less involved than the traditional and "proper" way to make puff pastry, it's still more time than I care to spend.

For that matter, I found the Pepperidge Farms puff pastry that I used to be nearly equal to its professionally made counterpart at the patisserie. While not quite as buttery in the raw, it still held up nicely against the professional version. Besides, the lack of butter can be remedied by simply brushing the pastry sheets with melted butter before applying the sugar mixture for the Palmiers.

Anyway, my Palmiers experiment turned out nicely and now the hard part will be not sitting down and eating them all at once!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Shopping for a Party

When we first moved to Tucson in 2008 we didn't know a single soul here. It was a little strange as we'd left a very close knit group of friends and family back in South Carolina.

Shortly, after getting settled though, I met Sandy when I became involved with a ghost hunting group in town. In May of 2008, we decided to have a party for new friends we had made. We invited members of the group and a few neighbors and had a great cookout on the patio.

The next year we had moved to a new place nearby (just around the corner) so decided to do a "housewarming" with friends and our neighbors (which hadn't changed). We did barbecue and other treats like a Thai Chicken Satay and had a marvelous time.

This year, as May rolls around we're at it again. This time I'm taking some recipes from here at Sugar Pies and adding some new ones (which will be published after the party) and doing something I'm calling "Sweet Decadence." I think it will be great.

So far the menu is shaping up as follows:

Legare Street Punch
Malibu Rum Coconut Cake
Lemon Meringue Tart
Choux Chantilly
Brie en Croute
Orange Mango Cupcakes with Chocolate Rum Ganache

The last item I'm still debating. I may do an iced Pate Sable or maybe a Raspberry Linzer Torte.

Friends who are attending are also bringing along a few items to add to the spread as well! It should be a great time.

When I looked at my menu, though, I realized it was going to be a decent amount of cooking. I really didn't want to spend half a day making Puff Pastry from scratch for the Brie en Croute and Choux. So, I decided to heed Ina Garten's advice and try the Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry Sheets. The only problem was finding them.

The first three stores were a washout. Not a puff pastry in sight! Yesterday, I decided to head up to A.J.'s Fine Foods on Skyline Drive and try my luck. Surely, if anyone had puff pastry sheets in Tucson this high end grocer would.

Well, turns out they only carried small 5x5 sheets. Oh well, I fell in love with the store! The selection of hard to find gourmet ingredients was astounding. They also carry the full line of "Barefoot Contessa" mixes (although I prefer to use her recipes). But more wonderful in my eyes was a very nice patisserie. Yes, fresh baked goods, hand dipped truffles, and much more. I opted to get a couple Palmiers and Lemon Scones. Both were magnificent.

A.J.'s also features a full service fromagerie and boulangerie. They also have a fish monger and butcher. Simply, wonderful and decadent in a day and age where everything is precut, prepackaged, and made on an assembly line. I only wish my budget were up to shopping there more. After all, when a produce section looks like a work of art... well, who can resist?

So, back to work planning the party. Oh, and I did find my puff pastry sheets this morning when I stopped into Basha's near my house (irony!) and there they were! Whew! So, no half day of rolling, turning, resting, rolling, turning, resting.... ad infinitum!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thrifty "Pizza Hut" Cinnamon Sticks

Waste not, want not. That was a phrase Mama loved. While we never seemed to want for anything, our family was far from well off. In fact, we could be described as "middle class" only by the most generous definition of that term.

Perhaps one reason we seemed to do pretty well with limited resources was thrift. Mama was not one to waste anything in the kitchen. I'm also loathe to throw away things and am always looking for uses for things that normally would get trashed after making a dish.

For example, the Lemon Meringue Tart experiment left me with a good size piece of pie dough left over. It was just pieces and parts cut off the final product. Still, I hated to throw it away. Surely, there was something I could use it for.

So, I stuck it in the refrigerator until I had time to think of something to do with it. So, this afternoon I decided to make cinnamon sticks. It was quick and easy and if you enjoy the cinnamon sticks at Pizza Hut, you'll enjoy these (and made from pie crust they're a lot cheaper!) Out of a piece of dough about the size of my fist I got about a dozen small sized cinnamon sticks. If you want to try this and use an whole box of refrigerated pie crust (which usually retails around $3) you should have enough for the entire neighborhood.

Here's how I made them.

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. and knead pie crust dough into a ball.
2. Roll out to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch with rolling pin.
3. Cut into strips about 1/2 to 1 inch wide.
4. Melt about 2 tbs. of butter
5. Place strips on ungreased cookie sheet and brush with melted butter.
6. Mix together white sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. (Use a ratio of about 2:1)
7. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture over strips.
8. Bake about 5-8 minutes or until bottom edges just begin to brown.
9. Remove and allow to cool slightly.

These can be served with any leftover dipping icing from your last cinnamon stick order at Pizza Hut (waste not, want not) or you can mix up a batch of icing using confectioner's sugar and a little vanilla almond milk or alternately confectioner's sugar, a bit of vanilla flavoring, and enough water to reach desired consistency.

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