Sunday, December 28, 2008

Divinity Gives You Delts

Holy moly. Grammy Dill must have been built beneath those turtlenecks and sweaters.

To this day I have come across no one other than Shirley that can make divinity fudge properly. As a child I remember it being such a treat because it was so very sweet. We only got it around the holidays. She would mound dollops of the fluffy fudge with walnuts on wax paper.

Among my many attempts at making divinity I have ended up with flat puddles of pale stickiness or, like my mother, divinity on the ceiling after having a temper tantrum. This try turned more successful. My only gripe is the color of the fudge. My father says that it may be that I cooked the sugar a bit too long giving it more of a caramel color rather than the white color of my grandmothers. I figured that when my grandmother made it they didn't have Kitchen Aid stand mixers so I used my hand beaters. 25 minutes later I had a mixture that would hold stiff peaks and I had a very stiff shoulder!

Grammy Dill's Divinity Fudge
Shirley Dehlia Dill
Yield: 20 or so pieces

2 cups sugar
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 boiling water
1 t. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Combine sugars, syrup, and boiling water in double boiler. Cook until soft ball stage. Pour very slowly into two slightly beaten egg whites while beating at high speed. Continue to beat until stiff and glossy. (Basically beat until you can beat no more) Add vanilla and nuts and drop onto waxed paper or for those of use more modern...a silpat.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tempting Traditions

What could be more tempting than a warm homemade donut? Not much.

I distinctively remember being a little girl, no taller than the counter top, looking up at my dad taking fresh donuts out of a pan of fat on Christmas morning. My job was always to shake a brown paper bag of sugar to coat the donuts. We did this every Christmas morning for ages. The tradition faded away with the sale of our childhood home and everyone growing older, starting their own families and traditions. This year my sister is home for the whole week with my niece who is nearly three. My father wanted to bring back the tradition and I was glad to pass along my sugar shaking responsibility.

This recipe is very special as it comes from my father's mother. I have her old recipe boxes and her handwritten recipe cards which you will see in a photo below. I treasure all of the kitchen items that have been passed to me (or stolen by me) from my father's mother and my mother's mother (her recipe coming up soon!).

Cate LOVES to help!

Donut dough is just as good as brownie or cake batter! Cate can vouch!

She did a fabulous job being the sugar shaker. She thought it was hilarious!

The next day (today) we made plain donuts with an orange glaze. While they were delicious I've decided my favorite is the chocolate donut. Very hard being a judge in this competition.

Irene's Chocolate Donuts
Irene Van Den Bossche
Yield: About a dozen

2 eggs
1 c. sugar
3 t. shortening
1 c. sour milk
1 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
3 HEAPING T cocoa
1/2 t. powder
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
Beat eggs and add sugar and shortening. Add sour milk. Sift together spices, flour, powder, cocoa, and soda. Add to egg mixture. Add vanilla last. Pour onto floured surface. Flour top of dough and pat down. Cut out donuts and fry in fat at about 350 degrees. SHAKE THAT SUGAR.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Martha Martha Martha

I like to treat myself to magazines on snowy nights when I'm hunkered down at home. A few weeks ago I got a Martha Stewart Living that was, of course, packed full of holiday projects and recipes. While many of the pages in the magazine were folded over (for me to tear out and add to my recipe binder later) there was one that I was really jazzed about. Homemade body scrub. Genius!! I decided to make mine organic since I'd have to go to Harvest Time for the essential oil and sunflower oil. Using organic sugar didn't allow for a pure color like in the picture but I'm OK with that. I also used peppermint oil since it is going to be use for holiday gifts.

Making the scrub was messy (mostly because the opening to the jar was super small). I think this would make an awesome foot scrub as opposed to a body scrub. The mixture is a little oily which leaves skin slick. Using during a pedicure would be fabulous. My first recipient is my good friend Kacey. We'll see what she thinks!

Body Scrub
Martha Stewart Living Magazine
Yield 3 bottles

2 cups Epsom salt or organic sugar
1 cup oil (light olive, sunflower, vitamin E, grape seed)
8 drops essential oil (lemon, peppermint, grapefruit)
Food coloring

Mix it up. Spoon it into jars or containers. Have fun making pretty labels!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Marry Me Toffee

My sister got me into candy making during the holidays. It is a fantastic gift to give (at least I'd like it if someone gave me a box of homemade candies). I use a book called "Who Wants Candy" by Jane Sharrock and I adore it. The pages are marked up I have a dozen lists going in it. When I got it a few years ago I made toffee and it came out perfectly. Creamy and buttery. Then something cursed me. For the past two or so years I have tried to make it and every time it has ended up grainy and discolored. One batch calls for ONE POUND of butter. Seriously. I don't know if you have been to the grocery store to buy butter lately but it isn't cheap. I think it was last year that I was determined to get it right and made like 4 bad batches. I gave up that year.

New year, new slate. I waited until the house was quiet and I had plenty of time. No interruptions. I talked to myself and told myself this was going to be successful. I was going to stir SLOWLY. I was going to watch for sugar crystals. I was NOT going to panic. About half way through I was sure it was going to end as a bad batch. I poured it over the pecans and almost threw the pan. I waited a minute and touched the toffee and it was still soft. I didn't cook it long enough! I ruined it! Still...I put the pan outside (where it was 16 degrees) and waited a half hour. I brought the pan in and broke off a corner.


Creamy. Buttery. Sweet. Ohhhhhhhhhhh so good.

Marry Me Toffee
Who Wants Candy by Jane Sharrock
Yield - 2 or so pounds

2 - 2 ½ cups chopped toasted almonds (I use pecans)
6 (1.55 oz) Hershey’s milk chocolate bars
1 lb good quality butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Scatter about half the almonds over 2 baking sheets, reserving the remaining almonds for the topping. Break the chocolate bar into pieces.
2. In a heavy 3 quart sauce pan over medium heat, bring the butter, sugar and water to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves and mixture begins to boil. Cook, stirring constantly to the hard crack stage (300°F).
3. Remove from the heat. Quickly stir the vanilla. Immediately pour over almonds. Immediately place chocolate pieces on top of hot toffee. The chocolate will melt within a few minutes, use a flat metal knife to spread chocolate. Sprinkle reserved almonds on top of chocolate.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Ladies of 1969

This is my second year catering a brunch for a group of women who all graduated from Gardiner Area High School in 1969, one of them being my mother in-law. The menu stayed the same this year upon request. I guess that means they enjoyed it the first time around!
The first dish is a baked french toast with a pecan praline topping. This is a Paula Dean recipe so you know it is going to be really rich!
Baked French Toast with Pecan Praline Topping
Food Network
Serves 6-8

1 loaf French Bread
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt
Praline Topping, recipe follows

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch thick each. Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 45 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden.
Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Spread over bread as directed above.

Up next is Elaine's Christmas Morning Casserole. Elaine was my mother's best friend and the funny part of this is that Elaine went to the same high school as these ladies although she graduated a couple years ahead of them.

Christmas Morning Casserole
Elaine Melvin

6 Slices Bread, Cubed
12 Eggs
2 Cups Half and Half
½ # Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 # Sausage Meat
1 tsp Dry Mustard

Line 13 x 9 casserole dish with bread. Sprinkle sausage meat of bread. Add layer of cheese. Combine eggs, ½ & ½, mustard and salt & pepper. Pour over other ingredients. Let soak overnight. Bake @ 375 for 35 – 45 minutes.

Brunch would not be brunch without blueberry muffins. Made with Maine blueberries that I froze over the summer. I made them mini so the gals wouldn't get full on them.

Easy Wonderful Blueberry Muffins
My own recipe
Yields 6 huge muffins or 18 mini muffins

¼ Cup Butter
½ Cup Sugar
1 Egg
3 tsp. Baking Powder
1 ½ Cups Maine Blueberries
1 Cup Milk
2 Cups Flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat until combined. Mix in dry ingredients followed by milk. Carefully stir in berries. Bake 350 25 minutes.

I also made a faux Cloud 9 salad. Cloud 9 is the restaurant in a hotel in Augusta. They serve their salad with an orange ginger vinaigrette but I used Brianna's Strawberry dressing.

Faux Cloud 9 Salad

Mesclan Greens
Bleu Cheese
Candied Walnuts (made by cooking sugar with some orange juice then tossing in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and then baking until caramelized.)
Top with fruity dressing of choice.

For dessert I bought chocolate cups and filled them with a lucious chocolate mousse.
Chocolate Mousse
Hershey's Recipes
Serves 8
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Cocoa
2 cups (1 pint) cold whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl; let stand 2 minutes to soften. Add boiling water; stir until gelatin is completely dissolved and mixture is clear. Cool slightly.
2. Mix sugar and cocoa in large bowl; add whipping cream and vanilla. Beat on medium speed, scraping bottom of bowl occasionally, until mixture is stiff. Pour in gelatin mixture; beat until well blended.
3. Spoon into dessert dishes. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving. Garnish.

And lastly I made a fruit plate with oranges and grapes. At this time of year it is so hard to get fresh fruit. Even the oranges weren't great yet and clemmies don't slice very well.

To sugar the grapes for garnish I mixed egg white with some water, brushed that over the grapes and sprinkled with sugar. Let dry to harden.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Birthday Banana Cream Pie

First, let me start by saying that if you ever start a new hobby or project it is not a good idea to go on the web and search, "The Best _____". I Googled the Best Food Blog. OK. So I suck. I was so down after seeing peoples kick ass work that I hung my head. Then my husband reminded me that most of those blogs are done by rich housewives. And so I continue.

My father-in-law's birthday is Friday and the word on the street is that he has been craving banana cream pie. Now when I think of banana cream pie I think of the cheapo kind with the store bought crust and the banana flavored Jello instant pudding as the filling. We all know Sweet Cheeks can do better than that! I found this recipe on Epicurious (where I find many of my recipes) and thought it sounded out of the ordinary (sort of like me). I made this pie and it had to sit for 8 hours. The suspense was killing me!

This pie is flipping awesome. If I hadn't been at my in-laws at the time of consumption I probably would have eaten at least half of it. Of course I had to be a lady and eat a small portion. The crust has mashed banana in it which makes it almost chewy and full of flavor. The custard has vanilla and vanilla beans which to me is comfort heaven. I wasn't too shy to ask to take some home with me which is going to be my lunch in about 5 minutes.

Banana Cream Pie
Bon Appetit
Makes 1 10inch pie

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup mashed banana
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 pounds total), peeled, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices

For crust:Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and mashed banana in large bowl to blend. Add unsalted butter and stir to moisten evenly. Press onto bottom and up sides of 10-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Bake crust until set and pale golden, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

For filling:Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in heavy medium saucepan to blend. Gradually whisk in whipping cream and whole milk, then egg yolks. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add vanilla bean. Whisk over medium-high heat until custard thickens and boils, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in unsalted butter and vanilla extract. Discard vanilla bean. Transfer custard to large bowl; cool completely, whisking occasionally, about 1 hour.

Put it all together: Stir custard to loosen, if necessary. Spread 1 cup custard over bottom of prepared crust. Top with half of sliced bananas, then 1 cup custard, covering bananas completely. Repeat layering with remaining bananas and remaining custard. Chill banana cream pie until filling is set and crust softens slightly, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day. Cut pie into wedges and serve.

Isn't the best compliment a baker or chef can get is when a person licks their plate??