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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Scones for the Royal Wedding and Texas Rangers Cookies :) Yeah, I've been busy...


I've been waiting for this day for so long. Those who know me know that I am OBSESSED with weddings. I am one of those foolish girls that have a few bridal magazines sitting on my bookshelf even though I am NO WHERE NEAR getting hitched. And don't read too much into my love for weddings. I am in NO WAY ready to get married and I do not want to get married right now. I just love weddings. I can't explain it. I love looking at wedding pictures in magazines, pictures of all the flowers, dresses, centerpieces.... you get the picture. So, naturally, I am SUPER PUMPED for the Royal Wedding! It's going to be the wedding of the century!

I wasn't around to witness Princess Diana and Prince Charles' wedding, but I'm sure there was just as much buzz about it as there is for this royal wedding. I feel like people have been at least speculating a wedding since last summer. I can remember Prince William being in all the little teeny-bopper magazines I read when I was younger and he was viewed as such a heartthrob. Now he's getting married! It's a big deal, people!

I'm just so excited. I can't decide if I'm going to pull an all-nighter to watch all the coverage. I can't wait to watch it all unfold.

This wedding will be gorgeous and talked about for the rest of time.

I am going to obsess over every detail, especially Kate's dress. I think that's what I'm looking forward to seeing most. I can see her in a fitted lace gown. Something really classy and timeless, just her style.

And speaking of Kate Middleton, how freakin' gorgeous is she? STUNNING. She is so classy and sophisticated. Why can't we have more women like her over here in the U.S. for girls to look up to? Instead we have nasty girls who...hmm how can I put this politely.... have their priorities mixed up? I'm talkin' about Miley Cyrus, Snooki, Lindsay Lohan...yeah those girls. We need someone like Kate over here to show young girls that being classy will get you far and will earn you respect as a lady. You don't have to wear hoochie shorts and low cut shirts to get places in life. I mean COME ON...she was a "commoner" and she is marrying A PRINCE. Lucky girl!

Anyways, I'm pumped. I think you have figured that out by now. If anyone is as obsessed as I am and wants to discuss the deets of the wedding, give me a call. I'll be ready.

Since the wedding coverage will be going on at the crack of dawn, you bet your sweet behind that I'll be up watching it all...devouring every detail...watching guests arrive....waiting to see Kate's dress.... so of course I need have an English breakfast to get me goin' in the morning. I decided on scones and found a recipe that used things I already had in my pantry. They're actually really easy and even though I haven't tried them yet, they look totally delish :)

Cranberry-Orange Scones
Recipe adapted from Southern Living

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. grated orange zest
1/2 c. butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces
2/3 c. buttermilk
1 c. dried cranberries
1 tbsp. milk
juice from half an orange (optional)
1 tbsp. sugar

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it. (I recommend parchment paper.)

Combine first six ingredients (the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and zest.)

 In goes the flour and baking powder...
baking soda...
salt...(I was too lazy to get out the 1/4 tsp. measuring spoon!)

Then grate your orange. Just make sure you don't grate too hard. You don't want any of the white part under the orange part. Who knows what the technical terms are?

It smelled so good!

Dump it on in! Then stir everything so it's all incorporated. 

Now we need to cut in our butter. Make sure your stick of butter is really cold and then cut it into pieces.

I cut it 7 times going across and then did one big cut lengthwise.

Then just separate the pieces and lay them in there.

Do y'all have a pastry cutter? It's kind of a fancy contraption and can be substituted with two forks or two knifes. The basic idea of doing this is to "cut" the butter into the dry mixture so the butter is cut up into even smaller pieces. When the butter is in small pieces and it's baked, the butter melts in all those little pockets in the scones and makes them super flaky. YUM.
 This is a pastry cutter. I'm pretty sure the handle used to be red, but this was my Grandma's and you can tell she used it a lot!

You want the mixture to be crumbly. See how there are still little chunks of butter in there? That's what you're lookin' for!

Stir in the cranberries so they run evenly throughout the mixture.

Then add the buttermilk and stir until it just comes together. 

I didn't use buttermilk... just added some vinegar to regular milk and stirred. Use a spatula to mix all this together and seriously make sure you don't overmix it. You want to look for everything to look moist. Once it's all moist, stop mixing!

Flour a flat surface...

 Knead the dough 5 or 6 times until it's all uniform. Then pat it out into a flat circle. I would say the circle I made was about 8-10 inches wide and 1.5 inches high.

 I love how you can see all the orange zest and cranberries running through it!

 Cut the dough into 8 triangles. Cut a horizontal line, a vertical line and then cut an X into it. You should have 8 equal pieces!

We're going to make a shiny topping for them. Don't worry it's easy! Once they're on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, mix together the 1 tbsp. of milk and the juice of half an orange. You actually probably don't need the juice from the entire half of a lemon. In fact, you don't even need it at all.

Brush the tops of the scones with this wet mixture and then sprinkle sugar on top of each one. This will make the tops shiny and give them a slightly crunchy top.

You can just use milk if you want. I just cut open one of the oranges I zested to give it more orange flavor.

Lightly sprinkle sugar on top. Don't over do it. 

Now bake the scones for about 15 minutes. They're going to expand just a bit and they should be browned slightly when they're done. I would start checking them at around 13 minutes.

Browned and gorgeous! Guess I didn't do a good job of cutting them... they're all different sizes :)

Once they're cooled, put them on a pretty platter to make them look extra special for an extra special occasion!

 I'm ready for my English breakfast and my own personal Royal Wedding viewing party! And yes, I plan on drinking my tea with my pinky in the air :)

OH! Let me show you my Texas Rangers cookies! I obsessed over them last weekend and took them up to Tom Grieve and John Rhadigan in the media booth at the Rangers game on Sunday. They always give shoutouts and thank you's to people who bring goodies up to them, so I investigated how to get something up to them and did it on Sunday.

Well guess what, I GOT A SHOUTOUT! Tom Grieve read my name out and thanked me for the cookies and said it was "so thoughtful" of me and that they were "good looking cookies". Now I have a ton of Rangers-inspired baked goods ideas running through my head. Just you wait TAG and Rhadigan! We've still got quite a bit of baseball season left, so I've got plenty of time to brainstorm.

I worked so hard on them and I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out. And the best payoff was that they liked them and appreciated them!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Zucchini Bread and another trip to the Farmer's Market

Well, I talked my parents into taking another trip to the Farmer's Market. It wasn't that hard :)

I think we bought even more this time than we did last time! And I plan to use ALL of it! Seriously, on the way home I had recipes flashing through my brain. I've already gone through a couple cookbooks and flagged some recipes I can use all my new fresh produce in!

Oranges, sweet onions, strawberries, mangoes, and homemade salsa
Zucchini and squash, anjou pears, green beans, okra, lemons and new potatoes

 Spinach, blueberries, corn, cantaloupe, watermelon and the zucchini, squash and new potatoes again

I was giddy laying it all out on the counter to put away. It's safe to say Mom, Daddy and I will get our fruit and veggie servings this week!
Here's our big bowl of fruit...filled with lemons, oranges, pears and mangoes. Yum! Oh, and just a few pictures of the fam :)
Here's what I'll be making this week:
Paula Deen's Green Beans & New Potatoes (Made these last night and they were awesome!)
Southern Plate's Sweet & Sour Green Beans (Made these last time we got green beans...SO good and so easy.)
Blueberry Pancakes (Stay tuned for the recipe!)
Fresh Spinach Salad
and I'll probably just eat the watermelon, cantaloupe, and oranges just how they are :)
I almost forgot to mention that I got a mint plant!! It's planted in a pot in my backyard and I'm looking forward to using it all spring and summer. I'm going to make a mint simple syrup for my tea and I'll be sippin' on mojitos all summer. Meet me at the pool!
I HIGHLY recommend you make a trip to the Farmer's Market. It is such a fun experience and you will come home with some yummy goodies. If you go and find something that looks good, just get it! You can go home and just google what you got and a million recipes will come up. The internet is incredibly resourceful.
On to the Zucchini Bread! I used my fresh zucchini from the farmer's market and I used my girl Christy Jordan's Zucchini Bread recipe from her amazing cookbook. (Her cookbook was the first one I looked in when I got home with all my fresh produce!)
This bread is DE-LICIOUS. If you've never had zucchini bread before then you're probably turning your nose up. Vegetables? In a bread? Well have you ever had carrot cake? That has carrots in it, yet it's sweet and delicious. That's exactly how this is. It's sweet and spicy from the cinnamon and nutmeg, so moist, and so yummy. You'll love it. I promise. You'll never look at zucchini bread the same way again.
P.S. I am strugglin' with the pictures. I don't know what is wrong with me but I failed to take as many pictures as I usually do. This recipe is a no-brainer though. You can't mess it up!

Zucchini Bread
Recipe adapted from Southern Plate 
3 eggs
3/4 c. vegetable oil
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. shredded zucchini
one 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained
3 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, optional
1 c. chopped nuts (I used walnuts, but pecans would be good too!)
1 c. raisins, optional (I left these out.)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour two loaf pans. You can use two 4"x8" loaf pans or two 3"x9". Christy says you can also use four to six mini loaf pans. Whatever strikes your fancy!
Y'all remember how to do this, right? Get our your tub of butter or margarine and swipe a paper towel in it. Grease both pans with it, then sprinkle some flour in both pans. Shake it around until it coats everything and shake out the excess.

Go ahead and grate your zucchini. You can use a box grater, the grating attachment thing on a food processor, or a hand grater. My mom actually just got this vegetable hand grater at TJ Maxx this past weekend. Good timing!

 I used two zucchinis to get 2 cups!

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, zucchini, and pineapple (drained). Mix that all together (I used a hand mixer, but you could probably just used a whisk or spoon.) and set it aside. You want everything to be totally incorporated.

All incorporated!

In a even bigger bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg (if using).

 Just sift it into that big bowl.

Now dump the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until everything is well incorporated. Add the nuts and raisins, if using, and stir those bad boys in. Now your batter is ready!

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans and smooth the top.  Bake for 1 hour, but start checking it at 50 minutes. If you stick a knife in and it comes out clean then go ahead and take it out. Everyone's ovens are different! If you used the mini loaf pans, they only bake for about 30 minutes.

Now take the bread out and try your very hardest to let it cool before you cut a slice for yourself. It's harder than you think!
I already cut a piece out :)

 I love that you can see the bits of zucchini, pineapple and the nuts! How can you resist?!

Enjoy, y'all! If you make it, let me know what you think!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Italian Cream Cake for Mom's Birthday!

I love my mom. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have her. Who would I ask about how to fix a recipe when I screw it up? Who would I ask what to do when I get a stain on my shirt? Who would I go get pedicures with? Who would I go shopping with? I still hesitate to buy some things if I don't think I'd get mom's approval. Not that I don't have my own money (and that I'm 23 for goodness' sake) and it's not that I don't know how to make my own decisions, but I like to have her opinion. It means the world to me.

Mom is always there for me to gossip to, vent to, and just talk to. She's more than just my mom, she's one of my best friends. You know how sometimes friends drift apart? Things change, people change and you just drift away from people. Well, if you're friends with your mom, that friendship will last forever and you will never worry if that friendship will disappear. She will always be there for you and love you no matter what.  

 Mom and I after graduation last spring

So I want to dedicate this to my mom. I love you, Mommy! You mean so much to me!

When I asked Mom to choose a birthday dessert I could make for her, she chose Italian Cream Cake. Let's just say I didn't oppose. I love Italian Cream Cake! It's a butter cake with coconut and pecans. SO yummy.

I used google to find the best recipe out there (I'm the google queen. I google everything. The internet is so resourceful!) I found this recipe online and it was highly rated by a lot of people, so I knew it had to be good. I followed the recipe almost exactly and it was incredible! We took it to Mom's birthday dinner with the whole family and everyone raved about it. My little cousin, Jake, said it was the best cake he had ever had in his entire life (in his 12 years of living). It was a hit!

This cake is awesome. It's so buttery and nutty...yum. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I wonder if there's any left....

This cake isn't hard to make, it just has a few steps that are different and a little more complicated than usual, like beating the egg whites and folding them into the batter. Good thing Mom is worth it :)

Italian Cream Cake
Recipe from All Recipes 

1 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
1/2 c. shortening
2 c. sugar
5 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. flaked coconut (I used sweetened)
1 c. finely chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease three 9" cake pans. Okay, I don't have three 9" cake pans, but I do have three 8" cake pans, so that's what I used. Improvise people! You're going to need to line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. I know it seems silly, but it really helps. What I do is get out a big piece of parchment paper and trace around the bottom of the cake pans three times.

Then just cut them out. Spray the bottom of the pans with a little nonstick spray and then lay the parchment paper in each pan. Then spray again on top of the paper and on the sides. I guess if you wanted you could just spray the pans really, really well, but just know that you're being risky! I used to not do this step and the bottom part of the cake would stick to the pan in a few places and the cake would come out crumbly. Not good. Now I always do this. It really is worth it. And if you don't have parchment paper and you bake a lot, I would go ahead and invest. It doesn't cost more than foil or anything like that. I always use it when baking cookies to keep the bottoms from burning and it also helps when it comes to clean-up!

Anyways, I'm done preaching. Let's make some buttermilk. If you have buttermilk already, awesome. If not, use that trick I told you about a while back. Since we need one cup, get out a 1-cup measuring cup and pour enough milk to come just underneath the 1-cup line. Then pour in enough vinegar to bring the mixture up to the 1-cup line. Easy! Let it sit a few minutes and stir. It will look a little bit curdled and it's supposed to! Then we need to dissolve the baking soda in this. Just dump it in and stir it so it dissolves. To be honest, I don't know what the purpose of doing this is, but the recipe says to, so I'll trust them.

The baking soda will make the "buttermilk" foam up a bit. Just stir it! 

Set this mixture aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. My butter wasn't at room temp. So I just beat the heck out of it until everything was combined and creamy.

Now we need to add the egg yolks to this. Y'all have separated eggs before right? Well, if you haven't, crack it like usual, but don't let any egg out. Gently pull apart the two sides of the shell and make sure the whole yolk stays in one side. Over a bowl, gently dump the egg back and forth between the two sides of the shell, letting the egg white fall into the bowl underneath and making sure you don't break the yolk. Once you have the whites in a bowl and the yolk in the shell, just dump the yolk in the mixer and set the whites aside. Repeat this until you have done all five eggs.

What's that? You're still confused because I explained that horribly? Yeah I figured. Here's a video I found on youtube that will show you how to do it!

Better? Okay, good! Well look what happened when I was separating my last egg...

The yolk just went ahead and plopped in the whites! No big deal, I just gently fished it out and made sure I didn't break the yolk. No problem!

Beat the yolks into the butter/sugar/shortening mixture. Also, add the vanilla. If you add a little more than 1 tsp. no one will judge you :)

Sift together the flour and salt or if you're me, just throw in some salt and slowly add the flour. Sifting is necessary in some things, but I don't think it's that important here.  The mixture will get thick now.

Now go grab that buttermilk mixture from before. Add it alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with the flour. So I added the flour 1/2 cup at a time. Started with 1/2 cup, then 1/3 of the buttermilk mixture.....and so on. Do you get it? Do this until everything is in the bowl.

It's lookin' more like cake batter now! Remember those egg whites we sat aside earlier? Go get'em. We have to beat those bad boys until their fluffy. Then we'll fold them in. This will make the cake really light and crispy. This cake is worth all this work, I promise!

Since my stand mixer was occupied, I got out my hand mixer and whipped the whites. This will take a few minutes. You'll see the whites start to get really foamy and they will grow a lot in volume.

 Not quite. We're looking for stiff peaks.

Perfect. See the peaks in there?

Now we need to fold them into the batter. I did this in 2 parts. Dump half of the whites in and fold. Then dump the other half in and fold. IMPORTANT: Don't use the stand mixer for this. Just take the bowl out and use a spatula. The mixer will break up the egg whites!
Folding is just what it sounds like. Folding the batter so you don't break the egg whites up. Here's a youtube video on how to do it.

It says this person was folding egg whites into cheese grits......gross. I like cheese grits, but I don't know why you'd put egg whites in there! I just wanted to show y'all how to fold them in. Slowly stir them in until you can't see them anymore. It might take a few minutes.

Look how cute my new spoonula is :) It matches my measuring cups! I saw it at Tuesday Morning last week and knew I had to have it.

Once the egg whites are mixed in, add the pecans and coconut until those are mixed in. Fold these in gently, so you don't break up the whites.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle of each pan comes out clean. Start checking the cakes around 20 minutes so you don't overbake them.

I left mine in the pan for about 15 minutes and then inverted them onto a cooling rack. The parchment paper will come out with the cake. Just peel it off!


While those are cooling, make the frosting. 

Cream Cheese Frosting 

2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
1 c. butter (2 sticks), softened
2 tsp. vanilla
2 lb. bag of powdered sugar (or 7 1/2 cups)
4 tbsp. cream (thinking back, I think I forgot to add this. Whoops!)
1 c. chopped pecans or walnuts (for topping, optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. I used clear vanilla (I got it at Hobby Lobby) so the color wouldn't change, but use what you have. Once that is all combined and creamy, add the powdered sugar slowly. If you're using the stand mixer make sure the speed is low so you don't get powdered sugar all over you! It's happened to me before... it ain't pretty.

Not all that creamy yet, but you see what I'm getting at.

Slowly add the powdered sugar and add the vanilla.

If it's too thick, add some milk or cream. If it's too thin, add some more powdered sugar. Once it's the consistency you want, get ready to frost your cake!
 Those stripes are from the cooling rack :)
Dump some frosting in the middle and spread it out until it's covered. I like to frost the middle parts and do the outside last.
 One layer...
 Two layers...
 Three layers!

As far as frosting the sides, I spoon some frosting on the edge and then kind of push it down the side and smooth it as I go.  I learned that from Paula!

Just keep frosting and smoothing until it looks the way you want it. My frosting was kind of runny so I put a thin layer on the cake and stuck it in the freezer for 30 minutes. The frosting hardened up a bit and it was so much easier to frost after that.

Once it's frosted, decorate it how you want. You could add some more chopped pecans on top or do whatever you want. I took some leftover icing and colored it pink and wrote on the cake. And of course added some sprinkles :)

Happy birthday Mom!! I love you!