Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Monday, August 30, 2010

No Churn Vanilla Ice Cream

No Churn Vanilla Ice Cream served with homemade
Raspberry Syrup and fresh Raspberries

Thirty years ago I began high school at a little school in rural South Carolina. I quickly found that this school was quite different from even the small town "city" schools I had attended up to that point. The people seemed friendlier, the teachers were invested in the lives of their students and, well, the traditions were a little different.

One of the big traditions was holding barbecues to raise money for various school needs be it band uniforms, books for the library, field trips or whatever. I doubt traditions like having students and parents and teachers tend the pit all night long still survive in the era of lawsuits, but it was a great one while it lasted.

Another fund raiser involving food was usually held right at the beginning of the school year or right at the end. A student club would get together and everyone would bring ice cream churns from home. Then they would churn gallons of fresh ice cream that would be sold by the cup or cone during lunch. It was a delicious treat made from fresh ingredients (dairy farming was big in our area).

I still love home churned ice cream. I even thought of buying a churn this year but looking at prices was a bit taken aback. Even the old churns like we used back then are very expensive these days. The new-fangled things are even worse. So, I made up my mind that home-made ice cream just wouldn't be part of my Summer.

Then I ran across a recipe from Cook's Country for a No Churn Ice Cream. Of course, I had to try it.

This no churn vanilla ice cream is smooth and creamy. The vanilla taste is lovely and the addition of the sour cream gives it just the right bite. I added some fresh vanilla bean to my version because I love the look of those speckles of vanilla in the ice cream and it really kicks up the fresh vanilla taste a notch. I couldn't be happier with this simple recipe!

So, if you find yourself with a craving for fresh country ice cream but no churn, give this a go... I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Update: Michael has declared this the best ice cream he's ever had. That's pretty high praise and he's been requesting it as dessert for each meal since I finished that first batch! 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Coconut Delights

Coconut Delights

As you know if you visit here even infrequently, coconut is one of my top two favorite flavors. To me, there's nothing that screams Summer like coconut (or lemon) so this light and easy recipe for a little coconut cookie is perfect for Summer parties.

This delightful cookie has a crisp and light texture that would be perfect with iced tea on the patio or served after dinner with lemonade or pina coladas! In fact, a great "tweak" for this would be a bit of rum flavoring or even some real rum to give this a little kick.

While I didn't add in any rum for this one, the results were superb. The use of pulverized (almost powdered) coconut gives this a wonderful flavor that is both crisp and a little chewy in the mouth. The coconut flavor is strong but not overpowering and the use of powdered sugar in the batter gives this cookie an airy texture while the powdered sugar on top gives it a delightful sweet flavor.

I think you'll enjoy this one. It's not fancy and you can have it done in under an hour. These will keep about two weeks in an airtight container so you can make them ahead of time.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Raspberry Chiffon Pie

Raspberry Chiffon Pie
Michael loves raspberries. If there's Raspberry Tea on a menu you can bet that will be his choice. So I decided to try this recipe from Cook's Country for a Raspberry Chiffon pie.

It's not too difficult to do, especially if you take a shortcut and use a refrigerated pie crust instead of doing one from scratch. The Pillsbury crusts are by far the best pre-made out there.

I found while doing this that a couple tips would have been helpful. The recipe says to mix the gelatin for the chiffon layer in the mixing bowl. However, I found it hard to dissolve in the bowl of a large mixer. So, I suggest that you dissolve it in boiling water in a Pyrex measuring cup first. Likewise, the boxed gelatin in the store seems to have shrunk in size over the years. You'll likely need two boxes to get the correct amount.

I also found that the amount of pectin called for in the recipe seemed a bit scant. I had a really difficult time getting the raspberry fruit layer to set up completely. In fact, it never got as firm as I'd prefer. So, you might wish to up the pectin a bit, but perhaps you'll have better luck out of the gate.

This makes a very pretty dessert and I toyed with the idea of taking some of my leftover raspberries and sugaring them then adding them in a circle on the top of the whipped cream. I finally decided I'd had enough fussing at the stove and decided to just use the whipped cream. But, I still think it would be quite pretty!

Edit: Although the "experts" would say she is wrong, Mama swore that making preserves or jam on a rainy day meant it would take forever for it to set up. As I was doing this pie this morning there were thunderstorms in the offing (in fact it began to rain shortly after I put the chiffon layer on.) When I originally sliced it about 3 hours after chilling the fruit layer was still a bit loose. However, when we got ready to try some 8 hours after refrigerating, the fruit layer had set up nicely and was just firm enough to hold its shape in the slice. So, my advice would be to allow at least 8 hours chill time (preferably 24 hours) before serving.  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mary Mac's Brownies

Mary Mac's Brownies
The other day I did a classic double fudge brownie with a Praline frosting. I really liked the frosting but the brownie was a little cakey for my taste. So, as I planned what I would make from this weeks "Feeding the Homeless" project, I wanted something that would serve a lot with minimal effort but also be excellent to eat.

What I finally decided on was a commercial sized recipe from Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta. This recipe uses big half sheet pans for a thinner brownie but one that is soft, luscious and chewy. I absolutely fell in love with this recipe for brownies since it has the perfect consistency and wonderful chocolate flavor. I topped this with some melted white chocolate drizzled across the brownies. That makes not only a lovely presentation but the bit of white chocolate is nice against the rich chocolate taste of the brownies.

Whenever you make brownies, particularly cocoa brownies, it is always best to get the best chocolate or cocoa you can afford. For this recipe I decided to use Ghiradelli instead of Hershey's because I like the flavor better. Of course, you can go really high end with Scharffen-Berger but that wasn't in the budget this week.

I think you'll like this brownie recipe and this is currently my recommended one. By the way, next up this weekend will be a wonderful Raspberry Chiffon Pie.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Lovin': Two Fantastic Salads

Pasta Caprese and Cucumber Salad served alongside
Cheesy Jalapeno Bread and Cheddar Dill Biscuits

Everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it. At least that's the way the old saying goes. All across the country the heat is on. Of course, living in Arizona now I find myself chuckling at people complaining because it's 85° out.

Still, sometimes it's nice to have something that isn't too hot this time of year. Our first salad fits that bill nicely. This is a Cucumber Salad with Sour Cream Dressing. It's served very chilled and the fresh veggies give it a nice Summertime crunch. I gave this recipe to Karin at Feeding the Homeless and she scaled it up (quite a lot) for her project a couple weeks back. She loved it, the folks she fed loved it and after telling friends about it, she's been fielding requests for the recipe too. So, at her behest I decided to feature it here. By the way, you might be surprised to find that it doesn't contain Sour Cream. The tartness of Sour Cream actually comes from an old traditional way to make "Sour Milk" by adding vinegar to whole milk.

Our second salad isn't a cold one but is served warm. It's a Pasta Caprese featuring tri-color Rotini, shallots (or green onions), garlic, tomatoes, basil, and Mozzarella. Tasty, easy and Michael all but inhaled it!

Last night I did these two salads along with sauteed chicken breast for a light meal. The cold cucumbers were nice against the hot chicken breasts just out of the pan and the warm Pasta Caprese.

So, if you need a little Summer lovin' then give these two light and easy salads a try! Both travel well and make great compliments to a Summer concert in the park or a beach picnic (yeah, I'm dreaming there).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cheddar Dill Biscuits

This morning I got some lovely emails. The first was from Karin over at "Feeding the Homeless." It appears that my Honey Spice Cookies last week went over like gangbusters. She managed to get one to try herself and really had nice things to say about them. Otherwise all 70 were gobbled up by the folks for whom she cooks each week in the local parks. Again, the sweets tended to get consumed before the rest of the meal.

The second nice email I received was from Cindy Cullen who has a site on culinary education. Cindy chose Sugar Pies for her list of "50 Best Southern Food Blogs." I was so thrilled to have her consider me in the same list as folks like Paula Deen and The Pioneer Woman. Thanks Cindy!

So, this morning I was ready to make something good in the kitchen. I chose to tweak an Ina Garten recipe for Cheddar Biscuits. The original recipe is featured in her Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics cookbook.

The recipe is really quite simple. This is a basic buttermilk and baking soda biscuit with cheddar cheese. Ina's recipe simply calls for Cheddar cheese but I thought it would be great to add some dill to this. Somehow Cheddar and dill just go together in my mind. Besides, I like the little bit of green alongside the color of the cheese.

Ina's recipe also calls for cutting these in squares, but I used a fluted cookie cutter because I like that shape better. Also, being from the South I thought these would make great breakfast biscuits when filled with some ham or thinly sliced chicken. The round shape seems easier to cut if you're going to do that. However, you can use whatever shapes you like. (I actually toyed with the idea of adding some jalapeno and then using my Saguaro Cactus cookie cutter for a true Tucson biscuit!)

I had a little dough left over after cutting the biscuits so decided to experiment and roll the dough into a twist shape and bake it. What I discovered is that these work very nicely for cheese twists as well. So, if you want to roll the dough then cut into strips and twist this will make a great appetizer or dinner accompaniment.

Anyway, these are very tasty and Michael even ate several after they came out of the oven despite the fact that he generally loathes biscuits. So, I consider that high praise since being from "up north" he tends to prefer rolls.

Remember, for flaky biscuits make sure all of the ingredients are very cold! Also, if you're using these for brunch or breakfast you can make the biscuits the night before and put them in the refrigerator then bake them off in the morning.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Honey Dijon Chicken

Honey Dijon Chicken over Orzo

Yes, it's another chicken dish here at Sugar Pies. I do a lot of chicken because it is Michael's meat of choice for meals. On top of that our local supermarket usually has great deals on boneless skinless chicken breasts (two for one often) so we tend to stock up.

Thus, it's challenging to come up with new flavor combinations and ways of preparing chicken. I could almost launch a second blog dedicated to cooking chicken! So, as I cast about trying to think of some new way I'd not prepared the chicken thus far, I hit upon a honey-dijon sauce.

Honey-Dijon sauces are usually pretty simple to make. I used to make one just by combining honey and Dijon mustard that was great on chicken tenders fried at home. However, I wanted something with a bit more flavor depth and bulk to it.

What I came up with was a basic Honey Dijon alongside fresh orange juice that was used as a marinade and then the reserved portion used to deglaze the pan and reduced to a fairly thick sauce.

This is an interesting combination and you can adjust the portions of ingredients to suit your own tastes. I'll probably reduce the Dijon when I do it next time since Michael prefers the honey and orange flavors to shine through more. But, the choice is yours in how you want to blend this to put your own spin on it.

As usual, I like to slice the chicken breasts horizontally so that they cook more evenly and quicker.

Praline Pecan Brownies

Praline Pecan Brownie

After making these as part of my early morning baking ritual I am under strict orders not to bake delicious smelling goodies in the middle of the night. According to Michael the scent of baked goods and especially chocolate from the kitchen make him hungry. So, I guess I will have to switch my baking time to mornings on the days he works or afternoons.

Anyway, these Praline Pecan Brownies were inspired by a recipe I found at Betty Crocker. The topping sounded delicious but I really do try to keep box mixes out of my kitchen if at all possible. So instead of using a mix for this, I used a classic double cocoa brownie recipe with pecans. These are rich and decadent with a big brownie portion topped by caramel and butterscotch flavored icing mixed with toasted pecan pieces. Brownie heaven!

The only caveats I will give with this recipe would be that an 8-inch square pan fills up quite fully with this brownie batter. You might want to divide it in half between two pans so that you will have more room for your icing. Otherwise, you can do what I did and simply place some cardboard pieces around the edges of the brownies and then pour your icing over them so that it doesn't escape down the sides of the pans before it sets up. The choice is yours... a bit thinner brownie in two pans or a really thick one in one pan.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cinnamon Raisin Muffins

It's been quite a week. My first contribution last week for Karin's "Feeding the Homeless" project went over great. She reported that the Sugar Donut Muffins were a big hit and went fast. I'm so pleased that the people she served in the parks were able to have a nice homemade treat with their meal! This week I did about 5 dozen of my Honey Spice Cookies which she'll deliver this afternoon. Hopefully, those will be as well received.

I was also thrilled to find a lovely write up about my cookbook from Theresa Hall at Sleeping Kitten, Dancing Dog. I met Theresa when I was just beginning Sugar Pies and she was a great encouragement. She ordered an inscribed copy of my cookbook, Sweet Decadence: 101 Favorite Recipes and was so complimentary. Please take a moment to visit her fabulous cooking blog (she's a terrific pastry chef) and read her comments on the book.

Besides all that, the other day I was perusing a cookbook and came across a recipe for cinnamon bread, then one for raisin bread. In my mind those two things sort of go together. So, I tweaked a recipe and came up with a cinnamon raisin bread. The bread was great, unfortunately, I need to tweak it a little more because the presentation lacked a bit to be desired. Oh well, aesthetics are easy once you have the taste down.

So, fresh off that qualified success I thought it might be fun to do some cinnamon raisin muffins. The results were pretty good. A big hit of cinnamon goodness with sweet raisins in a very moist muffin. The density and moisture are kicked up a notch by using some brown sugar in the batter and the flavor profile is enhanced with a touch of clove and some vanilla. The whole is drizzled with a little icing and voila! the perfect breakfast or brunch treat! These are superb served slightly warm!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Capellini with Pesto Alla Trapanese

When most Americans think of pesto we tend to think of the green pesto or Pesto Genovese which is made with fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts and cheese. However, the different regions of Italy (and indeed many towns) have their own pesto recipes and not all are green.

This recipe was adapted from one found in Sicily by the folks at America's Test Kitchen. I further tweaked it just a bit to fit our own taste preferences and used it with angel hair pasta and sauteed chicken.

The result was a lovely pesto sauce coating the pasta which was tossed with chunks of sauteed chicken. The fresh basil and tomato lend a classic Italian flavor to the dish. The pesto is also tossed sparingly with the pasta rather than drenching the pasta with the sauce as tends to occur in most American kitchens.

This entire dish comes together in under 20 minutes and is ready for the table. Pull out that checkered tablecloth and a good Italian wine and you're ready for a quick and (nearly) authentic Italian meal at home!

Daddy's Birthday

William "Mid" Bannister
 I mention Mama on here a good bit because she was the "cook" in the family. But, my father (or Daddy as he was known since we are Southern) could also find his way around the kitchen when need be. In fact, I used to love his Sunday breakfasts when he'd cook up pancakes and bacon. Of course, he was also in charge of the grill when "cooking out" and could boil some good peanuts!

Today would have been his 90th birthday. William Millward Bannister, or as he was known "Mid" was born August 9, 1920. He grew up during the Depression and I think that affected him greatly throughout life. He left school in 8th grade to go to work and help support his family. He was the second oldest child with a widow for a mother.

In 1942 he was drafted into the Army. He left his job in the cotton mill to go to Europe. He took part in the D-Day invasion, the liberation of France, the dash across Europe, the Battle of the Bulge and eventually wound up in Czechoslovakia where he was mustered out and sent home. He went right back to work in the mill and just a few months later met my mother at the soda fountain of a drugstore downtown. A few months later, in December 1945 they were wed in the parsonage of his small Baptist church. The rest, as they say, is history.

When I was growing up many of our "vacations" consisted of a day at the beach. The beach, of course, was always Myrtle Beach. Daddy usually took his vacation in July or very early August. One day during that time he and Mama would pack up the car and off we'd go to the beach. Being very frugal they would pack food to take with us rather than going to a restaurant.

Mama would be up well before dawn making Ham Biscuits for the trip. This is a Southern staple and consists of a piece of country cured ham on a biscuit that has been sliced and either buttered or smeared with mustard. Simple breakfast fare for the road long before they had dreamed up "breakfast burritos" or "Egg McMuffins" or the "Croisanwich."

The trip to the beach took two to three hours back then. There were no major highways that went to that part of the coast so we had to drive to Columbia and then take the back roads through Sumter, Turbeville, Florence and finally Myrtle Beach. Usually, we would stop for gas in Sumter or so Daddy could stretch his legs and the biscuits would be brought out. Sometimes, if we were lucky we could stop at a gas station across from Sumter Air Force Base and while having breakfast watch the jets take off and land. That was an extra treat!

Ham biscuits are still a favorite of Southern cooks. They're simple to make even if you make them from scratch and a delicious quick breakfast if you're on the go. You'll find them on the menu of most Southern restaurants that serve breakfast.  The folks at Martha White (which was one of the preferred flours in our household) has a nice version that's fairly close to what I remember on those trips to the beach with Mama and Daddy.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl

Chocolate and peanut butter, is there any combination quite so delicious? I'm a great fan of this combination and Reese's Cups and Pieces remain among my all time favorite candy. In fact, give me Reese's Pieces at the movies and I'll be happy!

These swirl bars are not only pretty, they're tasty as well. The recipe is pretty simple and like most bar cookies comes together in just a few minutes with minimal muss and fuss.

The only change I would make to this recipe in future is dropping the amount of vanilla extract. The original recipe called for 4 teaspoons, but I thought that overpowered the peanut butter just a bit. I like a richer peanut taste. So, I think 2 teaspoons would be plenty.

Also, this recipe calls for semi-sweet chocolate but I think milk chocolate might even be better and closer to the taste of those great peanut butter cups. If you experiment and use milk chocolate, please drop us a comment and let us know what you thought.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Honey Spice Cookies

I honestly wasn't sure whether I was going to be baking something new before next week. Early on Thursday I made a huge batch of Sugar Donut Muffins to take over to Karin's so she could include them when she visits the parks this week on her mission to feed the homeless. As I noted in a previous post, I was really taken with her kindness and dedication to her cause and resolved to help out by baking a treat each week for her to include with her meals.

But, last night the baking urge came on me again so I decided to try out a recipe for Honey Spice Cookies. These are similar in some ways to the Chewy Ginger Cookies I did recently. However, these are much thinner and while they are still soft and chewy they're not quite as sweet. Granted, that is a relative term when dealing with cookies, but the Ginger Cookies were almost overpoweringly sweet and it was hard to even finish one of those big boys! These are smaller, thinner and without quite the same sugar rush.

This is another of the Amish recipes I've been trying out lately. I took a few liberties with the original which just called for honey. I was running low on honey so cut the portion in half and added molasses to make up the difference. I really liked the result as it made these cookies wonderfully soft and chewy with that depth of flavor that only old-fashioned molasses can give. This recipe makes about 3 dozen.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Amish Soft Pretzels

I recently picked up a copy of The Amish Cook's Baking Book. I thought it might be interesting since they do a lot of traditional baking and cooking which interests me. Of course, in Abbeville, SC near where my sister lives there is a wonderful Mennonite bakery that we would go to quite often. The food was simple and tasty, particularly the breads and cakes.

Liking the lack of pretension, I thought this book would be a good fit on my "traditional" cooking shelf. What I'm finding is that it's more of a fit than I could have imagined. Like so many handwritten and swapped recipes, it appears that there are a goodly number of "fixes" that need to be done with these - at least in the few I've tried so far.

My first outing with the book was Shoo-Fly Pie. I followed the directions exactly but ended up with enough filling for about one and a half pies and enough topping for two or three! The pie itself was pretty good - a bit too sweet and rich for my tastes (after the first slice I remembered that had been my first reaction to it years before).

My next outing with the recipes in the book were soft pretzels. I love soft pretzels and years ago had a friend who worked at Auntie Anne's in a local mall. I think I ate enough to feed a small German city!

At first I was going to follow the recipe exactly in the traditional manner by doing the dough by hand. However, I found the dough to be very sticky and hard to get to come together. So I went back to the drawing board and decided to use a mixer and dough hook. That result was somewhat better but I still found this recipe formed a dense pretzel bread - not at all like mall pretzels. Still, they were pretty good. I used cinnamon and sugar (my soft pretzel flavor choice) rather than the plain coarse salt called for in the recipe. I think with just salt these would be far too plain for my taste.

This one is worth a try and is pretty easy and simple to do - just don't expect the pretzels you get at the mall as the finished product. These are much more down to earth and homey.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Giving Back

Photo from Tucson Weekly by Will Ferguson
Recently, Sugar Pies fan and friend Mari Herreras covered a story for the Tucson Weekly about a woman who feeds homeless people in two local parks. Karin Elliott is not affiliated with a church or other organization but prepares and serves meals for homeless people simply out of the goodness of her heart. She does this in spite of the fact that she is in her mid-60's and is not personally wealthy or comfortable.

Elliott, who used to run an independent bookstore and escaped from East Germany at age 8, began feeding homeless people after an episode with a former customer who had become homeless. She recently surpassed 1,000 meals - all made from things she buys from her limited income or donated by friends.
"I started cooking for him every Friday, or we'd go to a drumming circle together. I made Christmas for his sister and her family," Elliott says.

Last December, the Native American man she befriended showed up at her house—with police, who had picked him up off the streets. "When he came to the door ... I didn't recognize him, because he was so bloated with alcohol," Elliott says.

After she helped him contact his sister, they left. Elliott says she started to drive around looking for him, with food packed in her car. She knew homeless people often hung out at Santa Rita Park.

"I thought to myself, 'I'll look for him, give him food, and just cook a little more on the weekend.' But I never did find him," Elliott says. "I decided to start helping the people I saw in the park."
I was very moved by her dedication to helping others and particularly because she did this at great personal sacrifice. I was particularly taken with the stories of people she helped including an elderly couple living in the park trying to survive day to day even as the wife succumbs to Alzheimer's. So, I contacted Karin to ask if I could help in some way.

As it turns out she said she has long been hoping to include some desserts, cookies, or sweets with the meals but her very limited funds just wouldn't allow it. The few times she has managed to secure some store bought cookies or treats the people she feeds were thrilled.

Beginning next weekend I'll be making some sort of treat for her to deliver with her meals to the parks. It really is the least I can do. After all, as a transplant recipient if it were not for the kindness of complete strangers I wouldn't be here today to write about my cooking adventures.

If you'd like information on Karin Elliott's work with the homeless, please visit her blog: Feeding the Homeless where you can get information on how you can help or make a donation to her efforts. Be sure also to read Mari's beautiful feature on Karin and the people she helps at the Tucson Weekly: Meals in the Park.

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