Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lower Fat Lemon Bars

With Snow out of action, I've had to cut back on my charity baking for a few weeks. Getting her around town can be a chore because she still thinks she can jump up in the car and jump out of the car - not to mention looking out the back windows. So, I've been able to do some recipes lately that make much smaller batches.

One recipe I came across recently was in Cook's Country for Lemon Squares with a big cut in fat and calories. Honestly, I was skeptical. Take a big chunk of butter out of the crust? Reduce the eggs and sugar in the filling? It sounded like a recipe for disaster - or at the very least some really bland and chewy lemon bars!

Surprisingly, they were right. It can be done! The recipe turned out great bars with a superb flaky and buttery shortbread base and a super tart and yummy filling! According to the recipe the changes reduce the fat from 16g per serving to 6g and the calories from a whopping 330 per bar to 190. I also thought that using Splenda might reduce the calories even more. When I calculated the nutritional info (here's a great tool!) I found that if Splenda was substituted the calories would drop to 135.9 and the fat to 5.7g per serving. That's a pretty good loss of calories as well. Obviously, I didn't use that option in the test, but if you try it let me know in the comments whether the Splenda worked well in this.

: Lower Fat Lemon Bars
: Less than half the fat and nearly half the calories of traditional lemon bars but with all the taste!

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 3 tbs. cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 4 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and chilled
  • 1 tbs. whole milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbs. grated lemon zest
  • 6 tbs. lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 1 tbs. confectioner's sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and adjust oven rack to middle position. Line an 8 inch square cake pan with aluminum foil so that edges hang over by 2 inches. Lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Add butter cubes and beat at medium speed until mixture has crumbs about the size of small peas. Add lemon zest and milk and mix until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Pour mixture into prepared pan and use hands to flatten crust and insure an even layer. Bake at 350 for 16-20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and set on wire rack to cool 15-20 minutes.
  3. Reduce oven temperature to 325°. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk together the granulated sugar, egg, egg white, flour and salt until smooth. Whisk in lemon zest and lemon juice until smooth. Pour filling over cooled crust and bake until center is set - about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on wire rack. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Using the foil overhang, remove the lemon bars from the pan and cut into 9 squares.
If you do not have a large stand mixer (such as Kitchen Aid) you can use a food processor to create the crust. Add the dry ingredients to the food processor and pulse to combine. Then add the milk and lemon zest and pulse about 10 times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Proceed as in directions.

I found that self-rising flour could be easily substituted in this recipe. Simply leave out the salt and baking powder in the crust and the salt in the filling.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 9

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Citrus Coconut Bars

It seems that anymore when I bake it's either to ready a new post for the blog or to make something to share with the homeless project. It's rare anymore that I just go in the kitchen and make something for myself with no intention of sharing it around. This morning I did just that!

I had a craving for something with coconut so toyed with several ideas - coconut cake, macaroons, cookies - nothing really piqued my interest. Then I remembered a recipe I'd stuck away awhile ago for a lemon and coconut bar. Sounded good so I thought I'd try it. What I eventually decided to do was adapt it using a graham cracker crust flavored with orange and then topped with a lemon flavored layer and topped with sweetened shredded coconut. These are delicious! I love the combination of citrus flavors with the chewiness of the toasted coconut. The sugar in the crust caramelizes a bit during baking to give a wonderful caramel and orange flavor to the crust and the fresh lemon juice in the top layer gives a great fresh lemon taste as well.

: Citrus Coconut Bars
: Orange in the crust combines with a luscious lemon flavored layer topped with sweetened coconut for a real summer taste treat!

  • 1 1/3 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. grated orange peel
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray an 8-inch square pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Mix graham cracker crumbs, butter, orange peel and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small bowl. Press into bottom of pan and bake for 8 minutes.
  3. Beat eggs and remaining 3/4 cup sugar with wire whisk in large bowl until well blended and thickened. Add lemon juice, flour, baking powder, and salt; mix well. Pour over crust and sprinkle evenly with coconut. Bake 25-30 minutes until center is set and top is lightly browned. Cool completely then cover and refrigerate. When chilled, cut into squares. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Meal type: dessert
Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Cheesecake Brownies

We continue to deal with the aftermath of Lady Snow's attempt at flight last week at the dog park. She seems to be handling it better than we are. She still seems determined to get up on her favorite nap spot on the sofa or to lie in the recliner gazing out the window. It's a constant job to make sure she's not hopping up onto something and further aggravating her injury. She has an appointment with her vet on Thursday and after that a date will be set for the surgery to repair her torn ligament. I don't think she minds all the attention she's getting and she's certainly not complaining about the peanut butter treat she's getting when she has to take medicine or the new toys. I can't help it, I'm that much like my Mama, when someone isn't feeling well you baby them and give them good food!

Speaking of which, I did get around to doing some middle of the night baking while Snow and I watched TV. I decided to do a Cheesecake Brownie. This is a nice fudgy brownie with a topping layer of Neufchatel cheese (or plain cream cheese if you prefer). The layers are marbled together and create a beautiful and tasty brownie. This is a nice change from plain chocolate with walnuts or pecans!

The recipe is very easy to do, the most tiresome part is the mixing of the sugar into the melted butter and chocolate. You really have to make sure you do that step while the mixture is still hot and use a little elbow grease to keep your brownies from being gritty when done. If you prefer to use an electric mixer you might find it somewhat easier. I also find that stirring the mixture then letting it rest a few minutes then stirring again 3-4 times creates a nice smooth texture. Remember when adding the eggs that if your mixture has not cooled you'll need to add a little bit to the bowl with your eggs and give it a good stir before pouring the whole thing into the main bowl. Otherwise, your eggs might cook just a bit. However, if you're doing this by hand it won't be a problem as you'll have plenty of time for the mixture to cool down some before getting to the eggs.

Note: I'm going to be trying out a system that provides nutritional information for recipes over the next few weeks. The system is based on standard nutritional values for recipe components then calculates calories, fat, sodium, etc. Please let me know if you find the information helpful or whether it's just a distraction.

: Cheesecake Brownies
: A great substitute for chocolate cheesecake!
  • 4 squares Baker's unsweetened chocolate
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 tbs. instant coffee or espresso granules
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 oz. Neufchatel Cheese (or Cream Cheese)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350° (or 325° for dark or non-stick pans). Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-3 inch overhang on sides to create a sling. Spray with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In large microwave safe bowl, combine butter and chocolate and heat at 80% power for 2-3 minutes or until butter is completely melted. Stir until chocolate has melted and is incorporated with the butter. Stir in instant coffee granules and add 2 cups of sugar and stir well until mixture is smooth. Add 4 eggs and mix well. Add 1 cup of flour and fold into mixture until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.
For Topping:
  1. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment beat together Neufchatel cheese, egg, sugar, vanilla and flour until smooth. Spoon over brownie batter in pan. Using the edge of a butter knife or icing spatula, swirl together the topping and brownie batter to create a marble effect.
  2. Bake 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few fudge crumbs adhering. Be careful not to over bake or your brownies will be dry! Cool completely on a wire rack then use foil sling to remove brownies from pan and slice to serve.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Cooking time: 40 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 14
Meal type: snack
Culinary tradition: USA (General)
Calories: 369.7
Fat: 19.7 grams
Sodium: 93 mg
Fiber: 1.7 grams
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tuscan Lemon Yogurt Muffins

At what point does a muffin become a cupcake or vice versa? I suppose it's one of those questions the cupcake fiends probably find more intriguing than the rest of us. I generally think of muffins as heavier and usually "chewier" than cupcakes. They also aren't frosted. Other than that, there's not a lot of difference except to the tragically trendy among us.

So, is this really a muffin or a quasi-cupcake? Honestly, you could slap some buttercream on it and call it a cupcake and no one would be the wiser. It is closet probably to an Italian Olive Oil cake batter (Pissota con l'Oio) with its delicate flavors and textures. Regardless, it's darn good! The original version of this recipe was featured in Cooking Light but I decided to mess with it a little bit, mainly because I loathe the look, flavor and texture of the Ricotta cheese they called for in the recipe. I originally thought of substituting cream cheese, then decided I wanted something a little lighter to keep down the calorie content so thought about a light sour cream. I finally decided to try a lemon flavored yogurt and it was a good decision! The lemon yogurt keeps down calories and fat while giving a lovely tang and lemon flavor. Combined with the oils of lemon zest, this a real lemon treat and a must try.

Lady Snow is on injured reserved with a busted ACL.
In other notes, posting may be slowing down in the coming few weeks due to family issues. The Lady Snow decided that she would attempt to fly while at the dog park yesterday evening. She learned a new trick where she jumps up on the picnic tables they have (which are very slick - NOT a good move park people). While showing off her new trick she decided to chase another dog and flew skidding off the table. Long story short - she tore her Cranial Cruciate Ligament (ACL in humans) and we spent the evening in the emergency room of the vet clinic. So, she'll be needing a surgery (an expensive surgery) in the coming weeks. With her out of commission, I'm having to limit my kitchen time somewhat to care for her and keep her out of trouble when the pain meds kick in and she wants to do things she shouldn't! Apologies, and hopefully, we'll be back to a normal schedule shortly. Please bear with us.

: Tuscan Lemon Yogurt Muffins
: Yogurt and Olive Oil cuts the fat and calories in these delicious morning pick-me-ups!

  • 7.9 oz. unbleached all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 oz.) lemon flavored yogurt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbs. grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbs. lemon flavoring (optional)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbs. Turbinado sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in mixing bowl and whisk together. Form a well in center of dry ingredients.
  3. Mix together yogurt, water, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon flavoring (optional), and beaten egg. Stir together and place in center well of dry ingredients.
  4. Using a rubber spatula mix together batter just until wet and no dry mixture remains.
  5. Place muffin liners in muffin pan (a large pan works best for this recipe) and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Divide batter evenly among cups - filling each to about 3/4 full. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar over the tops of the batter and place in oven. For large muffins bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and muffins are just beginning to brown. For small muffins bake 14-16 minutes until toothpick comes out clean and tops are just browning.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool in tins for 5 minutes on wire rack. Remove from tins and allow to cool completely on wire rack.
Yoplait® Lemon Yogurt works nicely in this recipe.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)
Cooking time: 20 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12
Meal type: breakfast
Culinary tradition: USA (General)

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Southern Expat Boiled Peanuts

There is one delicacy that I eat that most folks from other parts of the country tend to turn their noses up at: Boiled Peanuts. The peanut has been a southern staple since before the Civil War. After "the War" it became even more important to an impoverished and struggling part of the nation. Finally, during the boll weevil crisis George Washington Carver showed southerners how to turn this humble legume into decent profits. By the way, of all the uses for peanuts that Dr. Carver developed he never invented the most common - peanut butter. That's a myth.

If you're from the south, summer is the time for boiled peanuts. That's when we take "green peanuts" which is what fresh peanuts right out of the ground are called, and boil them with salt, water, and sometimes beer. The result has been described by folks from elsewhere variously as "something like beans" and "sort of like edamame." But, to us they taste like boiled peanuts. (Often misunderstood by folks from away as "bowled peanuts.")

They also happen to be one of the few southern delicacies that have not received "makeovers" by celebrity chefs (My heart weeps for what New York chefs do to fried chicken.) There are the transplants who have to "cajun" up everything with too many spices but I just pass right by those poseurs to get to the real deal. I suppose one reason they've managed to dodge the "fusion" bullet is because peanuts aren't very fancy. Boiled peanuts are a little messy to eat. You tend to get salt water on yourself and there are all those hulls to deal with. (Note: a plastic grocery bag works great to catch discarded hulls if you're inside.)

My last summer in the south I didn't eat very many peanuts (in the south "peanuts" is assumed to mean "boiled." "Roasted Peanuts" mean any other type of dry nut.) I'd just had my transplant and my appetite was still very strange. Many things I formerly liked I no longer had much taste for and things I never cared much about suddenly seemed quite good. At any rate, I only had peanuts a few times that summer and I regret it because now my appetite has normalized and I'm out west in Arizona where a green peanut is as rare as sanity in the legislature. In short, look high and low but you ain't gonna find it.

When my brother lived in California in the 70's and 80's,  I heard tales of Southern Expats using crock pots and long soaking times to reconstitute "raw peanuts" and use them for boiling. Raw peanuts are peanuts that are uncooked but have been dried for storage and shipping. He never had much use for the techniques because each summer when I would arrive from South Carolina a bushel or two of green peanuts would be part of my baggage.

Still, I wondered, would it work? How would they compare to fresh green peanuts? Intrigued and spurred on by my review copy of Quick-Fix Southern, I decided to try two variations. I ordered a 5-lb. bag of raw Jumbo Virginia peanuts (my favorite for boiling) from and got to work.

My first trial was the slow cooker method. It's simple enough, you put the peanuts, water, a little oil, and salt in your slow cooker, set it to high and stand back for 18-20 hours. The result? Eh, I found the peanuts too dark in color with far too strong a salt taste from the slow cooking. They reminded me of the sub-par peanuts you find in those horrible slow cookers in convenience stores in the south. C-minus grade.

My second trial was to soak the peanuts in brine with a little peanut oil for 24-36 hours. Then I boiled them on the stove for 4-6 hours as I normally would if making boiled peanuts. This result was much better. The peanuts didn't darken quite as much and they retained a better texture during the process. They also didn't soak up as much salt so I could better control the flavor. B grade.

Neither method measures up to using fresh green peanuts right from the grocery store or farmer's market, nor do they stand up to some of the best boiled peanuts in the world at Dean Wise's roadside stand on Highway 76 between Newberry and Prosperity, South Carolina. Dean produces some of the tastiest peanuts in the world and I miss going by there! But, if you're an expat like me and you are craving some boiled peanuts this is one way to at least satiate the addiction without having to buy a plane ticket.

Recipe: Southern Expat Boiled Peanuts

Summary: A method of creating boiled peanuts without the use of fresh green peanuts!


  • 4-6 cups raw peanuts in shell
  • 1/2 - 1 cup salt (to taste)
  • 1 tbs. peanut oil
  • 5-8 cups water


  1. Place the raw peanuts in a large pot. Combine salt and peanut oil with 2 cups of water and pour over peanuts in pot. Pour in enough water to cover peanuts. Cover pot and let stand for 24-36 hours so raw peanuts will absorb the water and oil and rehydrate.
  2. Place pot on stove and bring to a boil. Boil covered for 4-6 hours or until peanuts are desired consistency. (I like mine a little al dente so cook them about 3-4 hours.) Add more salt if necessary to achieve desired saltiness. When done, strain and serve warm with ice cold beer or iced tea.

Quick Notes

For extra flavor add a bottle of beer to the water about 1 hour before peanuts are done.
None of these methods of using raw peanuts will give exactly the same result as fresh green peanuts. However, for those of us from the South who cannot get green peanuts in the Summer, this makes a handy substitute to satiate the craving.


This can also be done using a slow cooker by combining peanuts and other ingredients then immediately cooking on "high" for 18-20 hours. Add more water as necessary. There's no need for the soak beforehand. However, this tends to produce boiled peanuts that are very dark in color and sometime overly salty. I prefer the other method.

Prep time: 24 hours
Cook time: 6 hours
Total time: 30 hours
Number of servings (yield): 6 cups
Meal type: snack
Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)
Copyright © Buck Bannister & Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Great American Cupcake Challenge from Duncan Hines

As I mentioned in a previous post, Duncan Hines is sponsoring a 1 Million Cupcake Challenge in cooperation with Share Our Strength and the Great American Bake Sale. The purpose is to raise funds to help eliminate childhood hunger in the USA.

Effective federal nutrition programs that provide nutritious food to families in need are still underutilized. 10 million eligible kids in this country are not receiving school breakfast. Only 1 of every 6 kids eligible for free summer meals actually gets them.  That means 16.3 million kids who qualify for these meals don’t get them. Millions of Americans who are eligible for SNAP (food stamps) do not use the program.

Additionally, just a few dollars raised can make big differences in the lives of impoverished and hungry children:
  • $25 Can help feed one child three healthy meals every day for a month.
  • $50 Can help connect one child with healthy meals throughout the summer.
  • $100 Can help provide 25 children facing hunger with backpacks full of healthy food to feed them and their families over the weekend.
  • $200 Can help buy grocery bags of healthy foods for 50 families in need.
  • $500 Can help reach twelve low-income families with a life-changing, six-week nutritious cooking and food budgeting course.
It's amazing what just a little bit can do.

As I mentioned earlier, Tucson and Pima County  have bizarre rules in place for selling food to the public. However, after some research it looks like the folks at the state level have provided a loophole for bake sales raising funds for churches or non-profits. So, it is legal to do so but you cannot serve any "potentially hazardous" food (I'm guessing things with raw, unpasteurized eggs would be out.) So let's give it a go!

If you're a Tucson Foodie and would like to join forces to wipe out childhood hunger, please drop by the Tucson Foodies Team page at the Great American Bake Sale and sign up to join the team or please contact me so we can put together a bake sale plan over the next month or two (before it gets too hot!) We already have supplies on the way, so it will just be a matter of coordinating a site for the sale and then the fun of baking!

If you're elsewhere and want to help out with childhood hunger, please read the press release from Duncan Hines below and sign up to host your own 1 Million Cupcake Challenge event!

MOUNTAIN LAKES, N.J. (April 11, 2011) - Duncan Hines® invites bakers across the country to join its 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge to help end childhood hunger. Working with Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale®, Duncan Hines hopes to inspire passionate bakers with a national baking and fundraising movement.

"The Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge is an inspirational and fun way for bakers across the country to join together to make a huge difference - one cupcake at a time," said Greg Greene, director of marketing for Duncan Hines. "And as a reward, Duncan Hines is giving bakers who help us put an end to childhood hunger a chance to enter and win the Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge Sweepstakes. We will send five passionate bakers and a guest to Los Angeles where they will see primetime television's most celebrated stars from seats on the Red Carpet of the 63rd Primetime Emmy® Awards."

Those who join the Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge and host an official Great American Bake Sale from April 11 through July 24 are eligible to win one of five grand prizes in the Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge Sweepstakes. Each grand prize includes a three-day/two-night trip for two to Los Angeles including Fans in the Stands seats on the Red Carpet of the 63rd Primetime Emmy® Awards on Sept. 18, 2011. Duncan Hines is the official dessert sponsor of the 63rd Primetime Emmy® Awards Governors Ball.

Another way to win and support ending childhood hunger with Share Our Strength is through Duncan Hines Double Donations. Duncan Hines is committed to raising up to an additional $100,000 in funds for Share Our Strength through a matching donations program. From the week of April 11 through the week of July 18 Duncan Hines will match the funds received from the top fundraising Great American Bake Sale team each week (Monday-Sunday, up to $5,500 per week until July 24, 2011). The highest individual or team fundraiser each week will also receive a 6-Piece Commercial II Non-Stick Essential Bakeware Set and Bake Sale Winged Pan from Great American Bake Sale exclusive bakeware sponsor Chicago Metallic™ and a Duncan Hines gift pack. The winning bake sale of the week will be determined each Thursday following the applicable week for the duration of the campaign (final announcement July 28, 2011).

"The Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge adds an element of fun and friendly competition for avid and weekend bakers joining this year's Great American Bake Sale," said Amy Crowell, Great American Bake Sale's director. "Each cupcake sold at $1 will help connect hungry children to up to 10 healthy meals and gets us closer to fulfilling our mission of no kid hungry by 2015."

Consumers can join the Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge to help end childhood hunger in three easy steps outlined on

Step 1:Sign-up to host a Great American Bake Sale and join the Duncan Hines team.

Step 2: Bake with Duncan Hines and Enter for a Chance to Win the Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge Sweepstakes. Bake Duncan Hines cupcakes and other delicious Duncan Hines desserts to sell at your Great American Bake Sale. Send box bottoms with bar codes from Duncan Hines® Cake, Brownie, Muffin Mix, Cookie Mix or Frosting along with entrant's name, mailing address, phone number, email and date of birth to:

Duncan Hines "1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge"
c/o USSC
625 Panorama Trail (Suite 2100)
Rochester, NY 14625. 

Each box bottom sent in earns an additional entry. See official rules for details.

Step 3: Double Donations with Duncan Hines. Follow the directions at to send in funds raised from your bake sale. Duncan Hines will match the top fundraising Great American Bake Sale team's donations each week with a matching donation to Share Our Strength (Monday-Sunday, up to $5,500 per week until July 24, 2011). The highest individual or team fundraiser each week will receive additional prizes from Chicago Metallic™ and Duncan Hines, as described above.

Duncan Hines will help make hosting a Great American Bake Sale easy and delicious. Receive exclusive access to recipes, baking tips and coupons by joining the Duncan Hines Bakers Club. Get baking today and join the Duncan Hines 1 MILLION Cupcake Challenge at

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. PURCHASE WON'T INCREASE CHANCES OF WINNING. SWEEPSTAKES BEGINS ON 04/11/11 & ENDS ON 07/25/11. See Official Rules available at for complete details & entry instructions. Void where prohibited. Sponsor: Pinnacle Foods Group LLC.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Triple Treat Cookies

I had a great email from Susie Gilden over at Duncan Hines telling me about a great program they're running to raise money and awareness for childhood hunger. I'll be doing a post shortly with details of the program and the prizes available through Duncan Hines.

In another note, a recent discussion on the Cook's Illustrated fan page on Facebook caught my eye. They asked people what kind of salt they used in their kitchens and for what purposes. I was pleased to see so many people who have switched to using kosher salt and sea salt in their cooking. But, I was equally surprised to see how many people used these in cooking applications but switched back to iodized table salt for baking. Really? You'll notice that I normally indicate the use of kosher salt in my recipes (sometimes I do forget to specify). Unless I specifically talk about table salt you can be sure I'm using kosher salt.

The reason is simple. Table salt with added iodine can have a distinct chemical taste at times. In baked goods this can become very apparent. Table salt, because it is higher in sodium also tastes more "salty" on the tongue. Generally, when we're baking we add salt not to make things "salty" but to perk up the flavors. Try this experiment, take a pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle it in a glass of chocolate milk and stir it up. Then taste it alongside a plain glass of milk. You'll be surprised  to find the chocolate flavor in the milk with a pinch of kosher salt is much more prominent and complex than the plain glass. If you repeat this with regular iodized table salt you'll certainly detect a little "salty" taste and possibly a chemical aftertaste.

So, if you're using table salt in your baked goods, switch out to either kosher salt or sea salt. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the difference in your baking!

Yesterday, I decided to make some Triple Treat Cookies while I was waiting on my shipment of raw peanuts to arrive by UPS (more on this in another post). These wonderful cookies are simply delicious and perfect for afternoon milk and cookies - whether your 8 or 80! I love these cookies and will probably be keeping a jar full around the house for snacking. Michael has even been grabbing them when he walks by the table - and he usually only eats one or two cookies just to give his opinion!

You can put anything in these you want. This makes them perfect for using up the "leftovers" from other baking projects. Traditionally, these include chocolate chips, peanut butter morsels, and chopped peanuts. In my case I decided to use up the remnants of some semi-sweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Recipe: Triple Treat Cookies

Summary: Delicious peanut butter based cookies with chocolate chips and other add ins. Perfect for afternoon milk and cookies whether you're 8 or 80!


  • 1 cup vegetable shortening, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 oz. white chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Stir in peanut butter until smooth.
  2. In separate bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Mix into wet ingredients until combined and dough comes together. Stir in walnuts, chocolate chips and white chocolate chips.
  3. Using a medium cookie scoop (1 1/2 tsp.) drop dough onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Using the bottom of a small glass or prep bowl dipped in white sugar, gently flatten the balls of dough slightly. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or just until bottom edges begin to brown. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. Store sealed for up to 5-7 days.

Quick Notes

You can use whatever add-ins you like for this recipe as well as fewer or more than called for in the recipe. Simply adjust your amounts accordingly.

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 12 min
Total time: 22 min
Number of servings (yield): 10 dozen cookies
Meal type: snack
Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)
Copyright © Buck Bannister & Sugar Pies.
Recipe adapted by Buck Bannister.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Cake

If you're like me you enjoy things that can be dressed up or dressed down. Michael made reservations for the opera this weekend. The Arizona Opera is doing Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio which I've never seen performed live. That put me in mind of dressing up and dressing down.

Once upon a time I had a pretty large wardrobe. I loved to shop and I loved to shop so much that it often got me into financial difficulty. I finally managed to curb that behavior and now have just a few outfits that I can mix and match to dress up or down depending on the occassion. Luckily, living in the Southwest, most things are pretty casual.

I also like food that can be dressed up or down. So, as I was contemplating the opera on Saturday and what to wear my mind drifted to the remainder of the cherry morsels I had in the cabinet after the Triple Chocolate Cherry Cookies. Could I create a chocolate and cherry cake that could be dressed up for dinner parties or dressed down for everyday desserts?

I think I succeeded with this one. The cake itself is delicious with a moist interior that is reddish in color like Red Velvet Cake and topped with a satiny smooth chocolate glaze that is thick and luscious. You can amp up the red by the use of food coloring if you wish. Unfortunately, my red food coloring has gone AWOL. If you want to go the simple route you can prepare it as I have in the photos with the glaze and some chocolate and red sprinkles. If you want a dressy version you can use the glaze and then make circlets of buttercream or stabilized whipped cream and top each circlet with a Maraschino cherry. If you're really, really wanting a show piece you can bake the cake in layers and increase the glaze amount and make a layered cake topped with the glaze and center a bed of white buttercream or stabilized whipped cream on top and then pile cherries on the buttercream or whipped cream. It's really up to you because the interior of the cake is a wonderful blend of cherry flavors and chocolate!

Recipe: Chocolate Cherry Cake

Summary: Luscious flavors of cherry and chocolate in a moist cake that can be dressed up or down for any occasion!


  • 1 cup Log House Cherry Morsels
  • 4 tbs. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dutch process cocoa
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
    For Glaze:
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 tbs. butter, softened
  • 1 tbs. light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan and set aside.Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Stir together heavy cream and sour cream in measuring cup.
  2. Melt cherry morsels and 4 tbs. chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl at 70% power for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir and repeat in 30 second intervals until chips are melted and smooth.
  3. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in melted chocolate and cherry chips until well blended. Add 1/3 of flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Add 1/2 of cream mixture and beat well. Add another 1/3 of flour mixture until incorporated and then remainder of cream mixture. Finish with remainder of flour mixture. Do not over beat, just mix until no traces of flour remain and then use a rubber spatula to scrape sides of bowl and complete mixing.
  4. Spoon batter (it is fairly thick) into prepared Bundt pan and smooth with spatula. Bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few crumbs adhering.
  5. Remove cake to cool on wire rack in pan for 15 minutes. Invert cake onto rack or plate and allow to cool completely.
  6. Glaze with chocolate glaze and decorate as desired.
Chocolate Glaze:

In microwave safe bowl combine chocolate chips, butter, and corn syrup. Heat at 70% power for 1-2 minutes and stir. Continue heating and stirring in 30-second intervals until mixture is smooth. Add vanilla extract and whisk until smooth and glossy. Pour over cooled cake allowing glaze to drip down sides.

Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 30 min
Number of servings (yield): 16
Meal type: dessert
Culinary tradition: USA (General)
Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cheesy Baked Potato Soup

I've been remiss in my baking and cooking this week! On Thursday evening I appeared at Odyssey Storytelling here in Tucson to talk about my experience with an organ transplant. Odyssey is always a wonderful experience and you meet such interesting and diverse people. I was pleased to make the acquaintance of Susan Collinet who is house manager for Rogue Theatre here in Tucson. I also got to meet a wonderful acting coach, Philip Bennett, who has a local acting school and had some great tales from his youth! There were many other wonderful folks telling stories. We also had a full house and I had the chance to speak to a number of people both about cooking and organ donation.

With that going on, I didn't get much baked. Then the weather changed from hot and dry to cold and wet in the space of 48 hours. My degenerating bones didn't really like that change of events and so Friday and Saturday I was in some serious pain and didn't feel like doing anything in the kitchen. Finally, early this morning I decided to get something going.

What I decided to make is a potato soup based on the flavors of a loaded baked potato. This is really easy to make in a slow cooker and you can put it on in the morning before work and have a great soup ready when you get home in the evening. It was perfect for the slightly cooler day today (it's warming back up into the 80's now).

If you're pressed for time you can use prepackaged shredded hash brown potatoes. Personally, I think Ore-Ida are about the best. If you use the frozen kind, make sure you thaw them before putting them in your slow cooker or you'll end up needing a longer cook time. Just set them in the fridge the night before or thaw in your microwave. If you prefer to do it by hand you'll need about 6-8 russet potatoes peeled and then shredded with a grater or food processor. Just weigh your end product to equal about 32 ounces of shredded potatoes.

This soup is super tasty and sprinkled with shredded sharp cheddar, green onion, chives, cracked pepper and a dollop of sour cream when served it will knock your socks off!

Recipe: Cheesy Baked Potato Soup

Summary: Layers of flavor create a luscious baked potato soup with chives, onion, garlic and cheese right from your slow cooker.
Cheesy Baked Potato Soup served with Rosemary Crackers


  • 32 oz. shredded hash brown potatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow or white onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion, plus extra for topping
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced carrots (optional)
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup crisp crumbled bacon (or bacon bits)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives for topping
  • cracked pepper for topping (optional)


  1. In a 3-4 quart crock pot add water, broth, onion, green onion, carrot, salt, pepper, and potatoes.Cook on low setting for 6-8 hours until potatoes are tender. Add flour to heavy cream and stir until smooth. Add cream mixture to crock pot and cook on high for 20-30 minutes or until mixture is thickened.
  2. Add cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Cook on low for 10-15 minutes then turn to "keep warm" setting.
  3. When ready to serve, sprinkle crumbled bacon, fresh chive, optional cracked pepper, and a little green onion over each bowl of soup and serve warm.

Quick Notes

To save time use frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (Ore Ida work great). Be sure to thaw before putting in crock pot.

Total time: 8 hour 30 min
Number of servings (yield): 6
Meal type: dinner
Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)
Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

White Chocolate Lemon Cake

I love white chocolate. In fact, I probably love white chocolate more than even milk chocolate. There's something about the subtle cocoa butter flavor that just pleases my palate. So, combining white chocolate with my other favorite flavor, lemon, is sure to get my mouth watering.

This great cake combines melted white chocolate in the batter with lemon flavors for a beautiful finish. It's moist without being too heavy and the flavors are perfect together. Topped with a lemon sugar glaze it's one I can't stop eating! This cake would be wonderful served with a lemon sorbet or vanilla ice cream with a little warm lemon sauce or lemon curd. It's also fairly simple to make with a minimum of ingredients.

Speaking of ingredients. Recently, I mentioned one of my recipes being adapted elsewhere. One of the comments on that particular recipe was something to the effect that shortening in baked goods was gross. A commenter chimed in with the observation that she didn't think "anyone uses shortening anymore. Ewww!"

So, obviously, it's time for a lesson. First of all, it took me a little while to realize that both the blogger and the commenter were unaware of what shortening is. I believe they have confused shortening with lard.

Shortening is hydrogenated vegetable oil. It is used extensively in baking because of its unique properties. It has a higher melting point than butter which means that it doesn't "spread" as much in the oven. Thus, shortening is a good choice if you want cookies that are tall and fluffy instead of thin and crispy. Likewise, when used in cakes it produces a very light and delicate crumb compared to butter which produces a more dense and heavier crumb. The Italians use olive oil quite a bit in baking cakes. In fact, we just featured a Pissota con l'Oio recently and will be doing another variation in the coming weeks (maybe two). Shortening is also superior when used for pie crusts because it bonds to the protein in flour molecules easier than butter producing flakier crusts that aren't as prone to becoming "chewy" if over handled a bit. In fact, that's where the word "shortening" comes from because it "shortens" the process of producing a flaky pastry. Shortening has long been used in baked goods to produce everything from flaky biscuits to light cookies.

Lard, on the other hand, is rendered animal fat. Yes, it is still used in cooking and some traditional bakers still use it in baking. I'm not one of them. I substitute vegetable shortening for lard in heirloom recipes. Sure, I lose a little of the flavor profile and I certainly lose a bit of texture, but I also cut down on a lot of cholesterol and other things. Besides, I don't have enough recipes to warrant keeping it around the kitchen all the time.

So, shortening is vegetable based and used in place of butter because of its higher melting point and ease of handling in certain baked goods like pie crusts. lard is rendered animal fat and is used by some traditionalists in heirloom recipes. Learning the difference between shortening and lard will help you immensely when dealing with traditional recipes and heirloom recipes. It also adds another tool for you when you're developing your own recipes. In the case of my recipe, shortening was chosen for its superior property of producing a light and delicate crumb without the need to whip egg whites or other more onerous techniques to achieve the same purpose. If you just drop in butter in place of the shortening and don't adjust the technique by switching to whipped egg whites or yolks whipped to form the ribbon, the resulting dish is very different in texture.

NOTE: You will hear some people refer to lard as a type of "shortening" and in the original sense of the word it can be true. However, in modern times shortening has come to mean hydrogenated vegetable oil such as Crisco®.

Recipe: White Chocolate Lemon Cake

Summary: Sumptuous white chocolate combined with fresh lemon makes this cake perfect for Spring entertaining.


  • 1 cup white chocolate chips, melted
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tbl. grated lemon peel
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tbl. fresh lemon juice


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan and set aside.
  2. Melt white chocolate in microwave safe bowl on 50% power for 1 minute. Stir white chocolate and return to microwave. Continue melting and stirring at 30 second intervals at 70% power until chocolate is completely melted. Allow to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment cream together butter, sugar and vanilla extract until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating after each addition until fully incorporated. With mixer running on slow speed, add white chocolate and lemon zest. 
  5. Add flour mixture with buttermilk, alternating between wet and dry and beginning and ending with flour. Pour into prepared Bundt pan.
  6. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in center of cake comes away with just a few crumbs adhering. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice and whisk to make a glaze. Using a wooden skewer, place several holes in cake and pour half of glaze over the cake. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cake plate. Make holes in top of cake and pour remaining glaze over cake. Sprinkle with decorative sugar, if desired. Allow to cool completely before serving.
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 55 min
Total time: 1 hour 5 min
Number of servings (yield): 16 pieces
Meal type: dessert
Culinary tradition: USA (General)
Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Benne Seed Cookies and a Review of Quick-Fix Southern

Benne Seed Cookies from Rebecca Lang's "Quick Fix Southern"
I always like to look through a cookbook before reading the author blurb when it's by someone I don't know. I think of it sort of like a mystery. Can I figure out the background and influences of the author from the recipes and other bits of information?

In this case, as I leafed through Quick-Fix Southern by Rebecca Lang I spotted quite a lot of fusion dishes. These were Southern dishes but certainly far from traditional fare. After all, Butter Bean and Bacon Hummus? Mama would have had a field day with the thought of Hummus in her kitchen. Butter beans and bacon, no problem but hummus? Then we had things like grits with roasted tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. Sure, cheese grits are classic Southern fare, but roasted tomatoes and Parmesan? Sprinkled here and there were fairly unadulterated versions of classic dishes like fried green tomatoes and blackberry cobblers. I began to form a picture of the author. This was someone who knew quite a bit about Southern Cuisine but was trained at a culinary school where "fusion" was the name of the game. Otherwise, I doubt we'd see Shrimp and Roasted Red Pepper Quesadillas (something more befitting a Mariscos restaurant here in the land just above the Sea of Cortez than my hometown of Newberry, South Carolina.)

Sure enough, Rebecca Lang has stellar southern cooking kitchen cred. She is a contributing editor for Southern Living magazine and worked with Nathalie Dupree, one of the queens of modern Southern Cuisine. But she also studied at Johnson and Wales University's renowned culinary program and now teaches classes around the United States in cooking. It was easy to see how those great comfort dishes could become something totally new in her hands but without becoming even more time consuming than the original recipes.

I've enjoyed looking through this book. The typeface makes for easy reading of both text and ingredients. That's been a recent criticism of other books just out. I like the addition of an author's note for each recipe explaining how her updated version fits into the southern culinary tradition. Also included are cooking tips and how-to with each recipe that help the novice cook (and sometimes experienced cook) with techniques or shortcuts. In fact, in the recipe I tested for this review she mentions one of my top 10 baking tips - using parchment paper for measuring dry ingredients so it can be used as a funnel when placing them in the mixer. Another one she mentions was learned at Mama's side during those huge holiday meals: clean as you cook.

The book, like most newer cookbooks, shies away from categorizing recipes. Rather it is arranged on a series of themes such as Tailgates and Gatherings, Busy Weeknight Suppers, Girls' Night In, and drink recipes gathered under the title Sippin' on the Screened Porch. In all there are 115 recipes in the book along with a great deal of information on cooking techniques and helpful resources. She even provides two quick recipes for Southern All-Purpose Flour and Southern Self Rising Flour. This takes into account the fact that the two major flour manufacturers in the South, Martha White and White Lily produce a flour that is lower in protein content than most national brands. Thus baked goods have a more delicate flavor and cakes are lighter and airier without the use of cake flour.

My biggest complaint with the book would be the selection of sweets and desserts. While the ones included look interesting, the Southern table probably is best known for scrumptious desserts and sweets. I think this section of the book could have been fleshed out a little more. Unfortunately, what is in the sweets section reads too much like a dessert menu at a tourist restaurant in a hotel and not nearly enough like the finish to a great Sunday dinner in a southern home.

I've really enjoyed looking through Quick-Fix Southern by Recbecca Lang and I'm sure I'll be visiting many of the recipes in the future for suppers and parties. Ms. Lang has created a work that can be embraced by both traditionalists like myself and those looking for a newer, lighter and quicker take on southern cuisine. I think she might have a little bit of a hit on her hands. She's certainly helped to redefine what it means to "cook southern."

For our recipe test, I've chosen Benne Seed Sugar Cookies. Benne Seed Cookies are a tradition in Charleston, South Carolina and you'll find little tins of the cookies in most of the tourist shops. The traditional recipes are a little different - ranging from butter cookie types to very thin wafers that somewhat resemble Pizzelle or lace cookies. The grandmother of all Benne Seed Cookie recipes is found in Charleston Receipts published in the 1950's by the Junior League of Charleston, SC. Lang's version resembles the type of cookies most tourists will find familiar - a good thing when you're producing a cookbook that will be picked up by people who visit these areas but aren't familiar with the traditional variants.

Toasted Benne Seeds (Sesame Seeds)
This is a very crisp cookie and the benne seed gives it just a touch of nuttiness similar to the tourist type benne cookies found in gift shops in Charleston. While I like this cookie, I really think it could be improved upon by reaching back to some of the techniques mentioned in earlier recipes. I'll probably play with this recipe some and see if I can bring out the nutty flavor of the benne seeds more and create a cookie with a little more flavor depth. I'm envisioning using brown butter and perhaps brown sugar to enhance the nutty tones. I also think this could benefit from a little hit of salt to perk up the flavors. However, this is a great basic recipe and since the point of Lang's book is quick and easy dishes with a minimum of ingredients and techniques, this certainly fits the bill. You won't be disappointed with this benne cookie recipe and you'll certainly be able to churn out a batch if you find yourself in need of a classic southern cookie in a pinch!

Recipe: Benne Seed Sugar Cookies

Summary: Crisp sugar cookies combine with the nutty flavor of toasted sesame seeds for a real southern classic.


  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for processing
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a small skillet or saute pan, toast the sesame seeds over medium-low heat, shaking pan constantly until they are light brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine sugar and butter and beat together until light and fluffy. Add flour and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Stir in sesame seeds and mix until distributed throughout dough. Dough will be crumbly, if too crumbly to work with, add 1-2 tablespoons of water until dough will hold its shape when rolled in hands.
  4. Scoop dough by tablespoons and roll gently in hands to form a ball. Place 1-1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Dip a small glass or prep bowl in sugar and lightly press down on dough balls until slightly flattened. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or just until edges are beginning to brown. Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Quick Notes

I found that I needed to add about 2 tablespoons of water to the dough in order to be able to get it to hold its shape when scooped and flattened.

Total time: 25 min
Number of servings (yield): 20 cookies
Meal type: snack
Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

Copyright © Buck Bannister and Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Rebecca Lang.

FTC Disclaimer: Andrews McNeel Publishing provided a free review copy of Quick Fix Southern.
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