Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crock Pot Black-eyed Pea Soup

Last August, when I turned the kitchen into a cannery, we ate a lot of salads and sandwiches. In December, I made the kitchen over into a bakery, and routinely employed the crock pot for preparing our meals.

I had never used a crock pot until about 4 years ago. Pritchard Parker used to cringe when he saw me pulling the thing out and I admit I did make some pretty horrific concoctions with it. I have always tried to learn from my failures in the kitchen and thus I learned how to use the crock pot. Some things I learned are: you don't have to use nearly as much, if any, liquid as conventional cooking; less seasoning is needed; if you use a can of "cream of" soup, your finished product will be ugly; the simpler the better. In the few next days, I shall share some of my successes with the crock pot.

Black-eyed Pea Soup
1 pound dry black-eyed peas
1 large onion, diced
3-4 stalks celery, sliced
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled (if needed), cut into chunks
4 slices bacon
2 cans Ro*Tel diced tomatoes and green chilis
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Inspect peas for any small stones or other foreign debris. Place peas in a colander and rinse very thoroughly in hot water. Drain, then place peas into the crock pot. Cover with water to about an inch over the top of the peas. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.

Cook the bacon, in a large skillet, until crisp, then drain on paper towels. In the pan drippings, fry the onions, celery, and potatoes over medium high heat until beginning to brown. Once the black-eyed peas are tender, add the potato mixture to the crock pot along with the bacon.

Add the Ro*Tel tomatoes and salt and pepper, to taste, to the crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 5 hours.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sweet and Hot Glazed Pecans

It's hard to stop eating these sweet and hot nuts, once you get started. I consider these the Piece de resistance of my Christmas baking season. You can call them pi khans, pi cans, pee khans, or pee cans, even us Southerners can't agree on that one. Whatever you want to call them, it wouldn't be Christmas for me without lots of pecans.

Sweet and Hot Glazed Pecans
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large, heavy cookie sheet. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, combine the sugar, water, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add pecans and stir until they are coated with the mixture. Spread evenly onto the prepared pan. Bake until pecans are just starting to brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

Transfer to parchment paper, wax paper, or brown paper, (not paper towels - they will stick) and separate the pecans. Cool completely.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Ideal Chocolate Chip Cookie

This is a perfect cookie, in my opinion. They are so pretty with their crackled tops. If you eat around the edges, you'll find them to be crunchy and crisp, then when you get to the center they become chewy. A sweet treat filled with bittersweet chocolate.

A heavy-duty stand mixer, which I do not have, would greatly ease the preparation of this cookie, as it is a very dense dough. It just takes me a little longer to make my cookies, while I work in all the flour by hand--sometimes literally by (clean) hand. An old-timey tip, from the days when all cooks made their cookies the way I do, is to sift your flour before measuring.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. hot water
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking pans with parchment.

Cream together butter and both sugars until smooth and creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Dissolve the baking soda in hot water and stir that in, as well as the salt. Stir in the flour and chocolate chips. The dough will be very thick.

Form dough into walnut size balls; place on the baking pan and flatten slightly. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating pans half way through baking, until edges are beginning to brown. Remove to racks to cool.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sand Tarts

We know this lovely cookie by many names--Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Teacakes, Snowballs, and more. Often they are crescent shaped, sometimes flattened into discs. I have seen them made with cinnamon sugar rather than confectioner's sugar and walnuts, not pecans. Also, I've have seen them sprinkled, or dusted with sugar, rather than being completely immersed like I make them.

I came to know them, as a girl, as Sand Tarts. I don't recall my Mother or any of the other bakers of the family making them but some of my friends' mothers did and I fell in love with this cookie.

This recipe is in my handwriting as a 17 year old, which was, ahem, quite a few years ago. I still bring it out every Christmas and I have never tried another variation on this cookie. They are melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

Monday, December 21, 2009

German Chocolate Cake

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and my husband's birthday. Happy Birthday Pritchard Parker! Several years ago, he mentioned, nonchalantly, one day that German Chocolate is his favorite cake. It is? I was so surprised to learn this. How had I gone all those years without knowing it? Had he had a slice at work that day, and just declared it his favorite? I don't know, but I sure filed the information away for future reference.

Today, was a good day to bring forth that tidbit of knowledge, take a break from cookie baking, and bake my husband a German Chocolate Birthday Cake.

German Chocolate Cake
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
4 oz. sweet baker's chocolate, melted
1/2 cup milk
3/4 tsp. vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer, on low speed, until blended. Increase speed to high and beat for an additional 2 minutes. Pour batter evenly into two 8" or 9" cake pans, which have been greased and floured. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Remove cakes to wire racks to cool.

German Chocolate Icing
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1 cup peans, roasted, chopped

In a saucepan set over medium heat, bring milk, butter, and brown sugar to a full boil. Remove from heat and stir in coconut and pecans.

When both the cake and the icing are completely cool, place one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread half the icing onto the layer. Top with remaining cake layer and icing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pecan Tartlets

This cookie was a little prissy and time consuming to make, though straight forward and simple. I started by buttering my 3-inch tartlet tins with a small pastry brush, which felt rather like painting ornaments. I'm quite sure many people could have finished the job in less time but I tend to obsesses over such small details.

Pecan Tartlets
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 (3 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup butter, room temperature
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg white
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans

For pastry, cream together butter and cream cheese; add 6 Tbsp. sugar and beat to blend well. Mix in the flour. Form into 1-inch balls using floured hands. Flatten each ball into one of the buttered tartlet tins. Press an indention into each one for filling.

For filling, mix together the brown sugar, chopped pecans, and egg white until well blended. Put 1 tsp. filling mixture into each tartlet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 17 - 20 minutes, until tartlets are golden brown around the edges, rotating the pans half way through baking. Cool completely before removing from tins.

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

This is my favorite cookie. There, I've said it. I couldn't possibly go through a cookie baking marathon without it. It is usually one of my first to bake and I will bake several batches throughout the season. It is also a very flexible cookie lending itself to all kinds of add-ins. . .chocolate, oatmeal, candy, raisins, and more. It makes a great ice cream sandwich or you could make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with them.

As I was arranging a few cookies on a plate to photograph, I started wondering about those criss-cross fork marks. I love them and find them soothing to make, they identify the cookie, and I have never seen them on any other other. But why, and who did it first? There are any number of things that can be used to flatten a cookie. I even found myself fantasizing about the baby's hands but Pritchard Parker said that would be creepy. Besides she's too little; she would grasp rather than press, then she would have peanut butter, raw egg, and sugar on her little hands, which would go straight to the mouth. Maybe next year.

This is the last cookie I'm sending to Susan of Food Blogga for her 3rd annual Christmas Cookie Event. Check out the amazing array of beautiful and unique cookies from all over the world she has posted

Peanut Butter Cookies
The Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

Cream together the peanut butter, butter, and brown sugar until light and well blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

Roll spoonfuls of dough between your palms to form 2-inch balls, and place them about two inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Press each cookie with the tines of a fork to create the criss-cross pattern.

Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool. This recipe makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

White Trash

No, not that white trash. Not the class of people with very little in the way of pride, no manners to speak of, and hardly any respect for anybody or anything. I'm talking about this delicious snack mix I like to fool myself into thinking is healthful. After all, the cereal box boldly claims, in a very large typeface, that it is A GOOD SOURCE OF CALCIUM AND VITAMIN D, failing to mention, of course, that is after you add milk. And is has nuts and raisins and everyone knows those are nutritious, right? Well, I only make it at Christmas.

White Trash
12 oz. box Golden Graham cereal
16 oz. peanuts or mixed nuts
1 cup raisins
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
1 box confectioners' sugar

Mix cereal, nuts, and raisins. Melt together the chocolate and peanut butter and pour over the cereal mixture. Put into a paper bag with the confectioners' sugar and shake to coat well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chocolate Orange Cookies

I love this recipe! The cookies are easy to make, fancy to look at, and delicious to eat, with their combination of orange flavor and bittersweet chocolate. Very festive. Very Christmas-y.

Last year, after Christmas, I discovered the blog, LivingTastefully . Eileen has some lovely cookie recipes and I made a note in my file to go back to her blog for ideas this Christmas cookie baking season. These Chocolate Orange Cookies won a recipe contest for the author who attributes the recipe to the Kosta Guest House in Sweeden.

I am sending this recipe to Susan over at Food Blogga for her 3rd annual Eat Christmas Cookies event. Check out the delicious entries she has posted so far.

Chocolate Orange Cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
3 tsp. grated orange peel
2 cups flour
1/4 cup orange marmalade
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 Tbsp. butter

Beat butter in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add sugar and beat until combined. Beat in egg yolk and orange peel. Slowly beat in the flour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick. Use a small, round cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Make an indention in the center of each one, and fill with about 1/4 tsp. marmalade.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on thickness, until edges are lightly browned. Place on wire racks to cool completely.

In a double boiler, set over simmering water, melt together the butter and chocolate, and stir until smooth. Dip half of each cookie into the chocolate and return to the cooling rack to set.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Toffee Bars

For a few days, I have been baking and baby-sitting but not blogging. I had forgotten how time consuming a 3 1/2 month old baby can be. And how delightfully charming they are.

This is a very old recipe which I see posted on blogs every now and then. It is often accompanied by engaging stories about it being a friend's aunt's recipe. Or a grandmother's. And I am sure it was, and it is also Betty Crocker's recipe, which is listed in the 1969 edition of the classic cookbook. I only recently found out that my own Grandmother's famous pumpkin pie recipe, which has been used in our family for 4 generations, is also Betty Crocker's.

This recipe is easy to make, even while taking care of a baby, tastes delicious, and it looks very pretty on a cookie tray.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Time for Christmas Cookies

Goodies Ready to be Packaged as Gifts - Christmas 2008

Last fall, even before the economy crashed, and some time before I lost my job, I decided I was going to give food to everyone on my Christmas gift list. For a number of reasons. I wouldn't have to waste time in traffic to go to the mall, or worse yet, the BoxMart. I didn't have to worry about sizes, styles, or color preferences. I didn't have to concern myself with whether a recipient would have the space (or desire) to display or store my gift. Everyone eats. And most of all it is a way to share something I love with people I love.

The first day Pritchard Parker came home from work, last December, to freshly baked cookies, I told him to Eat Cookies! I had plans to make dozens and dozens and hundreds of cookies, so he should feel free to help himself throughout the season. Which he did and loved it.

Trays of Cookies to Share