"Because life is good, home cooking is best, and there is always something to be grateful for." - Christy Jordan

Monday, April 29, 2013

S'mores Pie and 5 Things I'm Loving Lately

Well, hello! I know, I know... it's been a while. I always say I'm going to be better about updating this blog, but it just never happens. Well at least I'm updating now!

I decided that I might feel more inclined to post if I changed up my posts a little bit. I still plan on posting the recipes of things I've made, but there's a lot of things besides cooking and baking that I would like to post about... beauty products, new restaurants, shopping finds, other blogs I like.... I'm getting excited just thinking about it!

So let's start this now. I'm going to list five things that I'm loving right now. First, let me give you a sneak peek of what's at the end of this post.

More on that in a little bit!

5 Things I'm Loving Lately

1.  Jergen's Natural Glow Lotion for Body & Face: This isn't a new product by any means and this isn't the first time I've purchased it, but there's something new about it this year. It doesn't smell weird anymore! Instead of smelling like you bathed in fake tanner, now it has a really fresh and pleasant smell. I actually really like the quality of the lotion too. My skin always feels super soft after I use it. This little miracle really helps this pale gal look like she got some sun!

2.  Starbucks Iced Green Tea: I love me some Starbucks iced green tea. It's so fresh and minty! However, I don't love how expensive it is. I could slurp down a venti in 2 minutes flat. Well you can now buy a box of the tea and make it at home. The bags in the box conveniently come in pitcher sized bags, so you just pop one in a pot of boiling water, let it steep, and add cold water. Ta-da! This box cost $3.99 and will make you endless amounts of tea for a fraction of what you'd pay at Starbucks. So do yourself a favor and pick this up next time you're at the store! I got mine at Target and they also offer this in the passion tea (my other favorite) and the black tea.

3.  Kendra Scott Danielle Earrings: Y'all.... I love these earrings. I bought my first pair last summer in white and I've worn them a million times since then. They go with absolutely everything! The shape is classic, yet trendy and I love the big pop of color they offer. They're a little more expensive then your average earrings, but I'm telling you- they're worth it. The pair in the picture below is of the Danielle earrings in Chaceldony. I got them for my birthday this year and I love them just as much as my white ones! An added bonus is that Kendra Scott is a Texas girl. Her company is based out of Austin and has expanded tremendously in the last year. I never hesitate when it comes to supporting a fellow Texas girl. Check out her website and I'm sure you'll find something you can't live without!

4. Vintage Salt & Pepper Shakers: I found these cuties at the junky/flea part of Canton and I'm obsessed with them. They're pretty big for salt & pepper shakers so they'll hold a lot... and they're pink! They're adorable and I love how old they are. Perfect for my future kitchen :)

5.  My best friend, Rachel: I saved the best for last! Rachel and I have been best friends since high school and I don't think I could live without her. Lately she's also been my personal trainer and I hope she knows how much I appreciate it! I'm sure she's sick of me whining when she comes up with a hard workout for us to do, but I really do appreciate the work she puts into it. Plus I get to hang with my best friend at the gym! Here we are at the Grand Ole Opry from our trip to Nashville in February.

Let's get down to the cooking! I made S'mores Pie a while back for my friend Laura's last day at our company. At Christmas time she had this gigantic 5 lb. Hershey's milk chocolate bar and decided I was the chosen one to do something with it. I found this recipe and knew it was meant to be!

S'mores Pie
Recipe from B. on a Whim (found on Pinterest)
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of melted butter
7 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy cream
1 egg
pinch of salt
mini marshmallows

First things's first... we need to make the crust. This is an easy, 2-ingredient crust: graham cracker crumbs and butter. You could grind up your own graham crackers if that's what you have on hand or you could do yourself a BIG favor and look for them already crushed up.

I want to hug whoever thought of this. Melt your butter and stir it into the graham cracker crumbs. Then you'll want to press that mixture into a pie pan to form the crust. Don't stress if it's not perfect. You just want it to reach up to the rim of the pan and be generally flat. We're going to cover it up with chocolate anyways!

Put the crust in the freezer to help it set up. (This also helps to prevent the crust from crumbling when you serve it.) While it's chilling, we need to make the chocolate filling. Oh! Don't forget to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Now, since the chocolate I was using came in 5-lb. form and I don't have a fancy food scale, I basically broke off a chunk and chopped it until it looked like it was a little less than a cup. Chopping it will help it to melt a little quicker when we combine it with the cream.

Here's the HUGE bag of chocolate from Laura! It's a lot of chocolate, y'all. If anyone is sincerely interested in making this pie, you just let me know. I will personally provide the chocolate you need for this recipe. I swear I could make 12 pies with all this chocolate and probably still have some left over!

Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat. We don't want the cream to boil; we just want it to be warm enough to melt the chocolate. You'll start to see a teeny bit of steam rise up when it's warm enough. Once it's warm, turn off the stove and dump in the chocolate and whisk constantly until it's all melted. You don't want the chocolate to stick to the bottom of the pan. You want everything to be smooth and combined.

We're already almost done with the filling! Toss in a pinch of salt and add the egg, whisking immediately to combine it with the chocolate and to make sure it doesn't turn into scrambled eggs. The egg is what will help the chocolate set up when we cut it into slices. Once that's all done, you're ready to pour!

Pull out the crust from the freezer and carefully pour in the chocolate mixture.

To help with the putting it in/taking it out of the oven task, I put the pie on a baking sheet. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the filling is set. The center can still be a little wiggly! You also want to make sure the crust doesn't burn. Mine started to get a little toasty around the edges so watch for that. Remove the pie from the oven when it's done and let it cool completely. (I know, that takes patience. It'll be worth it.)

Once the pie is cool, it's time for the fun part. Toasting the marshmallows!! I'm not exactly sure how many mini marshmallows I used. I would guess about 2 1/2 cups. You want enough to cover the chocolate and be about 2 mini marshmallows deep. Does that make sense? You want an even layer and enough marshmallows to make a kind of thick layer of marshmallows. I mean, we all know the marshmallows are the star of the show in s'mores.

Once you get the marshmallows situated, move your oven rack closer to the top of the oven. This will help them toast a little faster. Turn your oven to "Broil" and stand back. This makes the oven super hot and you definitely need to be careful and keep a close eye on it. Once it has preheated to broil, slide the pie under the broiler and crack the oven door. Keep a close eye on it! You want them to brown and melt a little bit. I had to turn mine a couple times to get it to brown more evenly. This whole process probably took about 5 minutes.

Not perfectly brown, but it will do! What I like about this is that the lower layer of marshmallows all melt together and the top layer keeps its shape and gets toasty. YUM!

Let the pie come back to room temperature and then you're ready to serve! I was worried the chocolate filling would end up like thick ganache and not be very creamy, but this was like a really thick pudding. It was delish! If you think about it, this pie is pretty easy, just a little high maintenance. The S'mores Pie got rave reviews when I took it to work for Laura's last day. Most importantly, Laura loved it and it was a great way to send her off!

Here's Laura enjoying her slice of S'mores Pie!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Baking Extravaganza & The Importance of Saying "Thank You"

Merry Christmas, y'all! I really can't believe Christmas is here. I feel like Thanksgiving was just yesterday and that I've missed out on enjoying the Christmas season. I feel like now that I'm a working girl that these things fly passed me. I remember looking forward to Christmas so much in college. You cram, cram, cram for finals, pack up your car, and head home for a nice long holiday break. Back then during Christmas break I had time to sit at home and enjoy everything about Christmas. Baking, shopping, family time, friends, Christmas lights and decorations, Christmas movies....ahhhh, the good ole days. Now I barely have time to get all my shopping done! Oh well, we all have to grow up sometime.

Here are a few of my favorite ornaments on our tree! :) It's definitely a Texas Tech Christmas in our house!

Let's talk about presents. I LOVE giving people presents that I know they'll like. I try and put a lot of effort into paying attention to details, learning what my friends and family like and don't like, and then surprising them with the perfect gift. It makes me feel good to know that they enjoy the present that I picked out for them and I love seeing them smile when they open it. However, even though it feels great to give gifts to the people you care about, it can feel really terrible if you don't feel like that person appreciated it. Am I right? 

Now, I know what you're thinking "It's better to give than it is to receive".... but I'm not talking about receiving presents here- I'm talking about saying "thank you"... and meaning it. I've recently learned this lesson the hard way. I spent some time and money on getting people gifts and I feel like it was shrugged off like it wasn't a big deal. I won't lie... it didn't make me feel good. The best thing to do in these situations is to learn from it. I'm not saying that I won't continue to buy gifts for my loved ones, but I'm going to make damn sure that if someone buys a gift for me or does something nice for me that they know how much I appreciate it.

Being gracious and being an appreciative person will speak volumes about your character. Having good manners is one of the most important things to me. Good manners will never go out of style and it will only help you get further in life. I try and be actively aware of saying "please", "thank you", and being extremely polite. 

If someone does something nice for me, I try and do everything I can to let them know how much I appreciate it. Recently when I unexpectedly broke my ankle... I couldn't believe how many of my friends and family rallied around me and helped me get through it. I broke my ankle, had surgery, had a hard cast for 10 days, was in a boot for several weeks, and spent many grueling days on crutches. Although there were times where I really thought I couldn't do it because of how much pain I was in or how the crutches were rubbing my underarms and hands raw (It ain't pretty, folks!), my supportive friends and family stepped up and encouraged me to keep going and reminded me that it would get better. I tried really hard to make sure I was genuinely thanking people for being so supportive and making me feel so much better about the situation. It doesn't have to be an extreme gesture- a nice thank you note, a big "thank you" hug, etc. Anything to make them feel good! The power of a genuine "thank you" can't even be described. It's more than just the words, it's the way you make the other person feel. Take it from Maya Angelou-

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

So, if you take anything away from this, please be conscious of  your manners this Christmas. Life is too short to not tell your loved ones how much you love and appreciate them. It's more than just saying thank you for the gifts... say thank you like you mean it!

Enough of my rant! Let's get down to the baking!

Every Christmas I plan a day where I just hang out in the kitchen all day and whip up some baked treats for friends and family. I like to make a bunch of different things and pack them all in little boxes so that they can enjoy them for Christmas. I'm a big fan of the homemade gift, especially food gifts!

This year I made a few new things and a few things I hadn't made before. Most of the treats were super easy to make and take almost no effort. A lot of them have very few ingredients so I can list out the recipe. Some of the others I'll just provide links! I have pictures of most of the treats, but I forgot to take pictures of two of them! So here are the links to the other two:

Saltine Toffee
Graham Cracker Pralines

Peppermint Bark

1 package of white almond bark
2 tsp. pure peppermint extract (more or less to taste)
3/4 c. crushed peppermints (I used candy canes)

Melt the almond bark slowly either over a double boiler or in the microwave on intervals (30 seconds, stir, 30 seconds, stir, etc.). Stir in extract and pour over parchment paper covered baking sheet. Spread to desired thickness and sprinkle with crushed peppermints. Leave out on counter to set, or if you're impatient (like me) put it in the freezer for a little bit. Then break apart and store in an airtight container.

Chocolate Almond Clusters

1 package of chocolate almond bark
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 c. whole, raw almonds

Melt almond bark and chocolate chips slowly either over a double boiler or in the microwave. Once melted, stir in the almonds until completely incorporated and all almonds are covered in chocolate.  Spoon mixture into cupcake liners and let set until they're set up. I put the cupcake liners in cupcake pans to help them hold their shape.

White Chocolate, Peanut & Toffee Clusters

1 package of white almond bark
1 1/2 c. dry-roasted peanuts
1 1/2 c. toffee bits (I used Heath... they're in the section by the chocolate chips)

Melt white almond bark. Stir in peanuts and toffee bits. Spoon into mini cupcake liners and let set up.

Fudge Crinkle Cookies

Christmas Crunch Bark

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

Christmas Sugar Cookies

With these cookies, I cheated a little bit and just used two packages of Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix and followed the directions for cutout cookies. I usually do several shapes, but this year I decided to only do Christmas trees and then some pretty white ones and take the time to make good, classic icing.

If you would rather make your own sugar cookies, I've made this one several times and they are fantastic! They have a bit of almond extract in them and they always bake perfectly.

For the icing I used an icing that hardens. A while back I tried making royal icing and it was a royal disaster. I found this recipe and haven't looked back since! It's easy to whip up and pipes and floods perfectly.

Cookie Icing
1 c. powdered sugar
1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. extract (I did half vanilla and half almond)
food coloring (I use the gel food coloring. It's stronger and doesn't change the consistency of the icing)

I made the icing and colored it green. Then I added probably an extra 1 1/2 c. of powdered sugar to make it thick enough to pipe. I outlined all of the trees with the thick icing and then squeezed it back into the bowl. I thinned out the icing with some milk and then used a spoon to spoon it onto the cookies. I used a toothpick to push the icing around to make sure it was all covered. Then sprinkled with sprinkles! Next I made the white and did the same process!

With this frosting, it's going to take some getting used to and trial and error to get the hang of it. Just be patient!

I put a couple of each treat in Ziplocs and packed them all way in these cute boxes I got at a craft show this year! I'm telling you... food gifts are the best!

Merry Christmas, y'all! Enjoy your time with your loved ones and remember to say "thank you" for all of your blessings. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Coconut Cream Pie

It's SO hot outside, y'all. I know, I know... that's all anyone complains about these days, but it is SERIOUSLY horrible. It's the kind of heat that suffocates you when you step outside and you start sweating just walking from your front door to your car even though you just spent an hour getting ready. Awesome.

My point is that in this unbearable Texas heat, I haven't really been feelin' warm desserts. Don't get me wrong... I still want dessert (let's not get ahead of ourselves), but I just want something cool. Something like.... a chilled Coconut Cream Pie. Sounds good, right?

So a few weeks ago at the grocery store, I stumbled upon this gift from the Southern Living Gods...

Mmmmhmmm. That's right. A magazine filled with Southern Living's best ever baked treats. No need to pinch yourself folks- it's not a dream!

I immediately swooned and started flipping through it while standing in line. It had chapters on everything from layer cakes to pound cakes, sheet cakes, cupcakes, pies & cobblers, ice cream pies, tarts and frostings. A baker's dream. Then, I checked out the front cover to see how much it was. TWELVE. DOLLARS. For a magazine! Seriously?! Okay, granted, there are zero ads (which is wonderful), but that's pretty steep for a magazine. I was just putting it back on the shelf when Mom said "You're not going to get that?" and I said NO because it's so pricey! She said she would buy it for me since I had been a "good girl". Thanks, Mom! And thanks for still buying me "a treat" from the grocery store, even though I'm 24 :)

I took "my treat" home and devoured it. I looked at every page with every pretty picture and read through every recipe. Y'all... this is one of those magazines that you keep for a lifetime because it's so good.

Once I got to the "Pies" section, I got pretty excited. I LOVE pie. Who doesn't? Pie is perfect. To me, it's the perfect, All-American, homemade dessert. Fruit pie, pecan pie, buttermilk pie... I'll take it any way I can get it. When I flipped to the page for "Coconut Cream Pie", I knew I had found my next endeavor. They made it look so pretty!

This pie was actually really easy to make. Anyone could do it! I promise! If you love coconut, then you'll fall in love with this pie. The chewy coconut combined with the chilled vanilla custard and fresh whipped cream makes for the perfect summer dessert that can cool you down and save you from the Texas heat. Let's get to it!

Let's go over the ingredients first:

Coconut Cream Pie
Recipe adapted from
Southern Living

1 (15 oz) package refrigerated pie crusts (2 come in a box, you'll only need 1)

1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

2 c. half-and-half

4 egg yolks

3 tbsp. butter

1 c. sweetened flaked coconut

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided

1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

1/3 c. powdered sugar

Garnish: toasted coconut

Start by preheating your oven to 425 degrees. You don't bake the actual pie, but we do need to cook the crust beforehand.

I think one of my favorite things about this pie is that you use pre-made, refrigerated pie crusts. I'm all for homemade things, but this just makes things a little easier. Unroll one of the pie crusts from the box and fit it over a pie plate. Make sure it's center and lift up the edges to make sure the crust is completely formed to the pie plate. You don't want any bubbles or space between the pie dish and the crust.

Remember how I said to center it? Learn from my mistakes, folks.

Since I had so much excess, I got out my kitchen shears and trimmed around the edges to even it all out. Then I folded over the rest of the excess, once it was evened out, and then crimped it with a fork.

Trim the edges 

Crimp with a fork!

Okay, now throw the pie crust in the oven and bake it for around 12 minutes. We want it to be slightly brown.

Not the prettiest thing in the world, but the "coconut cream" aspect of the pie will cover that up!

Once the pie crust is out of the oven, set it aside to cool down while you make the custard. Combine the sugar and the cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Mix them up so they're good and combined.

Then measure out 2 cups of half-and-half and add in the 4 egg yolks. The cornstarch and the egg yolks are what's going to hold this custard together in this recipe. You can save the whites and fix them for breakfast tomorrow morning! Or, if you're really fancy, you could whip them up to make a meringue on top of this pie or another pie.

Once the half-and-half and egg yolks are combined, slowly pour that into the sugar and cornstarch while whisking. Once that's combined, turn the heat on to medium to medium-high and watch it carefully.

The mixture will still be fairly thin at this point, but it will get thick. Just you wait!

Keep whisking and watching this mixture carefully. You don't want it to burn in the bottom and you want to make sure the mixture stays smooth. You'll want the mixture to boil for 1 minute and then you can remove it from the heat once it's thick. 

Thickened up!

Now it's time to stir in the remaining ingredients. Add in your 3 tbsp. of butter (I added 4 because that's what I had and I was too lazy to cut it!), 1 c. of shredded coconut, and 2 tsp. vanilla. I actually added two types of vanilla to add a little extra flavor. I used a clear Mexican vanilla (Thanks, Alese!) and some pure vanilla extract. I found some coconut flavoring in the pantry from some Malibu Rum Cupcakes I made for Rachel last summer for her birthday, so I added a heaping teaspoon of that too, just to up the ante on the coconut flavor.

Add the butter and vanilla...

Stir in the coconut...


The mixture should be very thick and super coconutty (not a word, I know.) at this point. Now, the recipe says to cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for 30 minutes. Let me level with ya...

I'm impatient. Go ahead and do your dishes while the custard cools down a tad, but don't feel like you need to wait 30 minutes and waste some plastic wrap on it! It will be fine!

Pour the mixture into the baked pie crust and smooth everything out. 

This is where the pie needs to chill for a while. You can put it in the fridge overnight or if you're impatient you can put it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This will give the pie enough time to chill and set up.

Right before you take the pie out of the fridge or freezer, whip up some fresh whipped cream to top the pie with. Also, toast some coconut to make it look pretty!

To make fresh whipped cream: Pour 1 1/2 c. of heavy whipping cream in a bowl and use a hand mixer for several minutes to whip it up. Halfway through, add in 1/3 c. powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract. Beat until there are stiff peaks and it's very thick. I like to use powdered sugar in whipped cream because it dissolves easier.

To make toasted coconut: Put 1 c. of shredded coconut in a skillet and turn on the heat to medium. The key is to keep stirring the coconut until it's slightly brown. You don't want it to burn at all! This might take a couple minutes, but it will make a big difference in your pie. Keep in mind: Not every little piece of coconut will brown. That's okay!

Now get out your pie and top it with your fresh whipped cream. Spread it all around and get it just like you want it. Then top the pie with your toasted coconut (make sure it has cooled a little bit) and you're done!!

The pie is ready. Aren't you excited? You should be! It's awesome and you'll be so glad you made it.

You can either slip it in the fridge for whenever you're going to serve it, or go ahead and cut yourself a slice. Just know that it should be stored in the fridge, or else you'll have a big melted whipped cream mess!

Now you should know that my dad said this is one of the best pies I have ever made. Guess I'll have a hard time living up to this standard from here on out! 

I think I'm going to use this same vanilla custard recipe to make a banana cream pie later this week since I still have a pie crust left. If you want to do that: follow this recipe exactly, except omit the coconut. Before you pour the custard into the crust, slice some fresh banana in the bottom so that it's layered between the crust and the custard. Yum!

Enjoy everyone!