Monday, June 1, 2015

Buttermilk Citrus Icebox Pie

So this is it. My final blog post from Tennessee.

A year ago, on a dare, I agreed to do some baking and self-reflection. I'm not even 100% certain why I followed through. It was fun, and most of the stuff tasted phenomenal. But I could've done the food without keeping up with the pictures and posts. I suppose the posts kept me accountable in some way--sort of like having a workout buddy or an exercise tracking app. But in the end, I think I wanted a reason to create something every month.

Whether we are full-time working moms or full-time stay-at-home moms (or single or married or anything in between), it is so easy to get in a rut. Life this year had some long stretches that felt like such a grind, I almost forgot that it didn't always used to feel that way. Finding a reason to make something special--even if just for a night at home with the kids--was actually really important. I suppose if there is a lesson from these blogs, it might be that. I used to bake for friends and have fairly elaborate dinner parties with Oohs and Aaahs. This year, there were no friends or parties or accolades. So why bother? Because I didn't want us to lose a year. I didn't want to look back and feel like I'd just spent a year treading water.

So whether you are heading out to a big cookout with friends or just looking for a great pie to stash in your freezer for a night on the couch with Netflix, this month is for you! This month's finale is a summertime essential. An easy graham cracker crust filled with tangy, citrusy, creamy pie. Topped with homemade whipped cream. This thing was SO good and probably the easiest recipe I've posted thus far. Make it as directed below, or head over to the real Southern Living and find a number of variations from this issue (lemon, strawberry, peach...). You'll be glad you did.

Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers (this is basically one sleeve)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (omit if using salty crackers for an alternative crust)
6 Tablespoons melted butter

Mix ingredients and press gently into bottom and up sides of pie pan. (Pro tip: use a large measuring cup or a heavy bottomed highball glass for perfect edges)
Bake in 350° oven for 5-8 minutes.

Alternative crusts: same ingredients but substitute any other type of crumbs (e.g., cookies, gingersnaps, saltines, Ritz crackers, etc.).

Pie Filling:
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon loosely packed lime zest (this is maybe one large lime or several smaller key limes)
1/2 cup Key lime juice (see note below...I substituted juice from a couple of limes plus one lemon)
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Whisk together first 3 ingredients in a bowl.
2. Beat egg yolks at high speed 4 to 5 minutes or until yolks become pale and ribbons form on surface of mixture when beater is lifted. Gradually whisk in sweetened condensed milk mixture, and whisk until thoroughly combined; whisk in buttermilk. Pour mixture into prepared crust.
3. Bake at 325° for 20 to 25 minutes or until set around edges. (Pie will be slightly jiggly.) Cool on a wire rack 1 hour. Cover pie with lightly greased (with cooking spray) plastic wrap, and freeze 4 to 6 hours.
4. Top with Sweetened Whipped Cream (recipe to follow).

Note: I actually used all lime zest, but substituted 1/4 cup lime juice and 1/4 cup lemon juice instead of doing all lime juice.

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
4T sugar
Splash of vanilla

Whip cream on high speed in stand mixer until it begins to significantly thicken. Then add sugar and vanilla, and continue whipping until desired stiffness. Be careful not to over-mix (there's a fine line between stiff whipped cream versus oops-I-think-I-just-churned-out-some-butter).

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownie Cake

So I just logged onto my blog to put up a quick post, and discovered it has gotten several thousand hits. Um, what?!?

Apparently someone pinned something from an old post, and now other people are re-pinning. Or something. I don't know. Can someone explain Pinterest to me real quick, because I am lost?

I had actually been procrastinating on this post because technically this is one big blog violation. This recipe was forwarded to me by a friend. She probably found it on Pinterest or something. Who knows. But in any event, I know it did not come from Southern Living. Also, I'm not blogging anything from this month's issue, mostly because I was uninspired.

But speaking of inspiration...

The title of this dish. That's all I've got to say. Lengthy. Visually overwhelming. Collection of all things delicious in one single line of text. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownie Cake.


If that title doesn't inspire you to go bake, or eat baked goods, or BOTH, then I encourage you to go crunch on a carrot stick or something.

So here goes...

Step 1: Bake three pans of brownies. The original recipe (in full below) calls for 8" round pans, but I used 9" fluted pans, because that's what we had. Also, you can go with a scratch-made brownie if you want, but I just used two boxed mixes to make three 9" pans, and it was the perfect thickness.

Step 2: Remove brownies once cooled and line pans with plastic wrap. Then fill with peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough and chill. (Note that this "raw" cookie dough recipe is egg-less, so it is safe to eat. Also note that I eat raw dough anyway, but I know I'm not supposed to...)

Step 3: Once chilled, use plastic wrap to lift dough out of pan. It should hold its shape nicely. If you're having trouble, chill longer or use scissors to cut away at the edges of the aluminum pan.

Step 4: Make chocolate ganache and begin layering. Brownie, ganache, cookie dough, ganache, repeat, repeat...

Step 5: Top with more ganache. It should be glossy enough to look like this when you pour/smooth it toward the edges, but thick enough that it just barely drips down the edges and "hangs" there. Top with peanut butter buttercream frosting for decoration. I didn't have my decorator bag and tips with me, so I just used a Ziploc bag and snipped the corner. Garnish with mini chocolate chips and return to fridge for as long as you can stand it. Or just devour!


Cheers to great friends who came to my rescue and helped me eat this thing. Would've been a shame to have to do it all by myself...

Love y'all!

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownie Layer Cake
(from: Life Love and Sugar)
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 cups sugar
3 tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1 cup cocoa (I use Hershey's Special Dark)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Cookie Dough
1 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
3 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3-4 tbsp milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chocolate Ganache
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided

Peanut Butter Frosting
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp water or milk
mini chocolate chips, for topping, if desired
1. Line the bottoms of three 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease the sides. Preheat oven to 350 degree.
2. Mix together the oil, sugar and vanilla extract.
3. Add eggs and mix until well combined.
4. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
5. Slowly add to the egg mixture until well combined.
6. Pour the batter evenly into the three pans and spread evenly.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out with a few crumbs.
8. Remove brownies from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to cool on wire rack.
9. While brownies cool, make cookie dough.

To make the cookie dough:
1. Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
7. Mix in peanut butter and vanilla extract.
8. With the mixer on low speed, add flour.
9. Add milk to preferred thickness.
10. Stir in chocolate chips. Dough will be thick. Set aside.

To assemble cake:
Once the brownies are cool, it's time to put the layers together. You can pile the cookie dough onto the brownies, stack the layers and leave messy layers, or use the method I used for having clean edges/sides of the cake.
1. Place half of chocolate chips in a metal bowl.
2. Microwave half of the heavy cream until it starts to boil. Remove from microwave and pour over chocolate chips.
3. Cover bowl with saran wrap for 5-7 minutes.
4. Whisk chocolate and cream until smooth.
5. Using one of the same 8 inch cake pans that you baked the brownies in, put parchment paper or saran wrap in the bottom and up the sides of the pan. You will use it to lift the layers out of the pan.
6. Place the first brownie into the bottom of the pan.
7. Add about 3 tbsp of chocolate ganache on top of the brownie and spread into a thin layer. This will help the cookie dough stick to the brownie.
8. Put half of the cookie into the pan and spread evenly on top of the brownie.
9. Remove the first two layers from the cake pan and place on it's serving dish.
10. Repeat steps 5-8 with the second brownie and remaining cookie dough. Then remove from pan.
11. Put another 3 tbsp of chocolate ganache on top of the cookie dough layer from the first section of cake and spread thinly.
12. Place the second section of cake onto the first.
13. Put another 3 tbsp of chocolate ganache on top of the cookie dough layer on top (the fourth layer) and spread thinly.
14. Top with remaining brownie.

To finish off cake:
1. Place remaining chocolate chips in a metal bowl.
2. Microwave remaining heavy cream until it starts to boil. Remove from microwave and pour over chocolate chips.
3. Cover bowl with saran wrap for 5-7 minutes.
4. Whisk chocolate and cream until smooth.
5. Allow to sit for a few minutes until it just starts to thicken, then pour over the top of the cake.
6. Place cake in refrigerator and make the peanut butter icing.
7. To make the icing, beat the shortening and butter together until smooth.
8. Add the peanut butter and mix until smooth.
9. Slowly add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
10. Add water or milk.
11. Remove cake from fridge, and pipe icing onto the top edge of the cake and sprinkle with mini chocolate chips, if desired.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coconut Disaster Cake

I know I'm really selling April's coconut cream cake with my title. And it was actually delicious, but it was truly disastrous in the making.

It was supposed to be four layers of cake, alternating with three layers of coconut cream filling, topped with a whipped cream frosting, garnished with coconut shavings on top. The cake layers and icing were phenomenal! The cake was dense and moist, the icing was creamy and light. Really, really good.


The cream filling did not set up properly. Like, not even close. This may have been my error, but it turned out more like a creamy pudding that poured over the sides of the cake. And all over the serving plate. And onto the counter. I really should've taken a picture of the disaster, but I didn't.

*Note: This is a picture after all the cleanup was complete. Much better plating than I would've predicted, based on the ooze that was all over my counter.

There was a LOT of cleanup. But here's the finished product.

I struggled quite a bit with what I would write this month, mostly because the only thing I can think about with coconut cake is my dad. I actually don't really like coconut at all. In fact, Jonathan and I both scraped the shavings off the top before we ate it. But my dad loved the coconut cake that my grandmother made, so this month's recipe immediately brought him into my kitchen. He would've loved this one too, even with coconut cream ooze going in all directions. My dad was the definition of unconditional love and support. If they have internet in heaven, I hope he tunes in this month. The kids and I send our love.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

New Homes and New Ways (AKA: Best Bacon Sandwich Ever)

Kind of fitting that the cover of Southern Living this month is a picture of a front door. Because as of this week, we can finally officially announce...

We are moving to Jacksonville, Florida!

(Also perfect timing after all this winter weather)

Jonathan got a great job offer doing exactly what he wants to do, I'm working on a job offer of my own (stay tuned), we're starting to look for a place to live, and best of all, we get to live in the same city as Gran! We cannot wait to start something new together.

But since I don't have a front door to share with you yet, I decided to recreate something even better than the cover from this month's issue. It is, quite simply, the Best Bacon Sandwich Ever.

The recipe starts with BBQ Bacon. When I first read it, I thought, hmmm...bacon is kind of a perfect food. Do we really need to go messing with it?

Yes. The answer is yes.

I wouldn't want bacon served this way every day, but for this specific sandwich, it is awesome. Thick sliced bacon, rubbed in brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne.

Here it is after the rub-down, before going in the oven:
Here's the bacon when it came out of the oven:

In general, I tend to avoid deviating from the ways my grandmother taught me to cook. And bacon is prepared in a frying pan on the stove. Because Nanny said so.

But this bacon is cooked in the oven on a rack. And it was great. I might be a convert. I can't even do justice to the smell. Sweet brown sugar caramelizing in the oven, layered with the smoky cumin and chili rub, layered with...the smell of BACON. My mouth is watering all over again just thinking about the smell in my oven.

So maybe there's room in this world for two methods of cooking bacon.

Next up were two fried eggs per sandwich. This time, I stuck with Nanny's advice to always fry eggs in butter, even though Southern Living called for olive oil. Olive oil? No. Butter.

But Southern Living did have an interesting suggestion for how to fry the perfect egg: Two minutes on top of the stove, then into the oven under the broiler for one minute. No flipping required, perfect yolks. I'm all in on this one. Best new cooking method, ever.

Next up was the assembly.
Southern Living did American cheese on white bread, with mayo, lettuce, egg and bacon. All due respect, but cheddar and sourdough are clearly superior choices. Also, I think the addition of a well-salted and peppered heirloom tomato was pretty essential. We also opted for some avocado.


I regret that my yolk placement on the bread was not as perfect as the Southern Living photo. Their food stylist nailed it with the sandwich getting sliced perfectly through the yolk, so it was a little runny down the sandwich

So next time, I'll do a better job on the photography. But otherwise, I'm pretty happy.

Happy with my dinner. Happy with my new ways of cooking bacon and eggs. Happy with the outcome of what has been a long process. Cheers to new beginnings!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Beer-Braised Pot Roast

January's Beer Braised Pot Roast is amazing. I have nothing clever to say, no critiques to be made, and no observations on anything at all. I just want to eat more beef.

We started with a trip to Earth Fare, where Jackson screamed out in the produce section, "GAH! What is THAT?" when I picked up the small carrots with the green tops still intact. Remember back before carrots came prewashed in bags? I do. Apparently my kids do not. We had a long talk about food that comes from the Earth, as we walked to the meat counter, and I was relatively certain that I was in the running for mom of the year.

Back at home, we washed and peeled the carrots and trimmed the greenery. When I say we, what I mean is, I did all of this while Jackson watched TV and Caroline splashed in the sink. Feel free to revoke that mom of the year award at any time.

I set the 4-pound roast out on the counter to start coming up to room temperature while I was working on the carrots, and gave it a good rub-down with salt, pepper, and instant ground coffee. Then I seared it on all sides before putting it in the crock pot. This step definitely adds some time and extra mess in the kitchen, but the sear is so crucial. Plus you get to make some yummy sauce from all the dark bits in the pan.


After the sear and transfer to the crock pot, I reached the most important point in the process: Opening two dark beers at 8am on a Sunday. I would be lying if I said that I didn't take a taste. But just a tiny one...

The broth mixture turned out well. I couldn't find the concentrated stock called for in the recipe, so I just used a regular stock but reduced it for quite awhile.

Then I poured it over the meat in the crockpot and put the pearl onions and carrots on top. I've never put the vegetables on top like this, when I've made roasts in the past, but it is pure genius! The carrots were cooked perfectly!

Nine hours later, the meat was falling apart and the vegetables were rich and cooked through, but still with a little bite.

The grits were made stove-top, alongside the gravy. I had far more liquid than I needed, perhaps because I used regular stock instead of concentrated stock. But the flavor was amazing!

I have never served roast on a bed of grits before, but it was perfect. This dish plated just as beautifully at home as it did on the magazine cover. The kids ate it, and Jonathan and I went back for seconds (and thirds).

Seriously good food. I will absolutely make this again.


1 pound small carrots with tops, peeled
1 (3- to 4-lb.) boneless chuck roast, trimmed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons instant dark roast coffee
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 (12-oz.) bottles stout beer
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 (1-oz.) containers home-style concentrated beef stock (from a 4.66-oz. package)
2 pounds pearl onions
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Hot cooked grits
Garnish: fresh thyme sprigs


1. Cut tops from carrots, leaving 1 inch of greenery on each. Sprinkle roast with salt and pepper. Rub coffee over roast, and let stand at room temperature 10 minutes. Cook roast in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until browned, reserving drippings in skillet. Place roast in a 6-qt. slow cooker.
2. Add tomato paste and garlic to hot drippings, and sauté 1 minute. Slowly add beer, whisking constantly. Stir in thyme and concentrated beef stock; bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until mixture reduces to about 3 cups.
3. Pour beer mixture over roast. Top roast with onions and carrots. Cover and cook on LOW 8 to 10 hours or until roast is fork-tender. Transfer roast to a serving platter, and shred into large chunks, discarding any large pieces of fat. Spoon vegetables onto platter around roast.
4. Skim fat from cooking liquid; transfer cooking liquid to a large saucepan. Whisk in vinegar. Whisk together cornstarch and 2 Tbsp. water in a small bowl until smooth; add to mixture in pan, stirring until blended. Bring mixture to a boil, and boil, whisking often, 1 minute or until sauce reaches desired thickness. Serve sauce with roast, vegetables, and hot cooked grits.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chocolate Cake and Self-Doubt

Last week I ran a marathon. A marathon. Twenty six and two tenths of a mile. I actually did that.

And yet, I still hesitate when asked, "Are you a runner?"

"Well...I like to run, but..."

But I'm not that fast. I don't get out as often as I'd like. I don't do hills. I could stand to tone up a bit. Sometimes I take breaks. Sometimes I just want to walk. I'm definitely not [fill in the blank with any number of people I know who are faster, more consistent, longer-term, "better" runners].

I'm working on it, but that voice of self-doubt is my biggest enemy. It also creeps in every single month, when that Southern Living pops up in my mailbox.

"Are you a baker?"

"Well...I like to play around in the kitchen, but..."

But I don't do any big fancy gourmet types of cooking. I just make simple, down-home stuff. Sometimes it doesn't come out that pretty, but it usually tastes okay. I'm definitely not [fill in the blank with any number of people I know who legitimately could be featured on Food Network].

I'm going to work on that too. Over a nice, big hunk of Triple Chocolate Buttermilk Bundt Cake. Because seriously, this thing is great. I am a runner and a baker, and this is delicious, gorgeous cake. Moist, rich chocolate batter with bittersweet chocolate chunks and hints of coffee. Tangy, sweet buttermilk glaze. Gooey, oozy chocolate drizzle. This was an easy cake that I will absolutely make again! (and best of all, now I've got half a carton of buttermilk to use up...fried chicken later this week, for sure!)

Here's to cake!


Triple Chocolate Buttermilk Bundt Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 cups butter, softened at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons instant espresso
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate morsels
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 Tbsp. buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Prepare Cake: Preheat oven to 325°. Whisk together flour and next 3 ingredients. Beat 1 1/2 cups butter in a medium bowl at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yolk disappears. Combine 1 1/4 cups buttermilk and next 2 ingredients. Add flour mixture to egg mixture alternately with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed after each addition. Fold in bittersweet chocolate morsels.
[note: It helps to toss the morsels lightly in flour before folding them into the batter to prevent them from sinking during baking]
Pour batter into a well-greased (with shortening) and floured 12-cup Bundt pan. Sharply tap pan on counter to remove air bubbles.
[note: My preparation made more batter than my Bundt pan could hold. I actually overflowed the pan a little bit when it rose during baking, plus I ate a fair amount of batter that didn't make it into the pan at all!]

2. Bake at 325° for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on rack.

3. Prepare Chocolate Glaze: Combine semisweet chocolate morsels, 3 Tbsp. butter, and 1 Tbsp. corn syrup in a microwave-safe glass bowl. Microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until morsels begin to melt, stirring after 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Stir in 1/2 tsp. vanilla.

4. Prepare Buttermilk Glaze: Whisk together powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. buttermilk, and 1/4 tsp. vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Add up to 1 Tbsp. buttermilk, if desired.
[note: I added a few dashes of salt to balance the sweetness of this glaze. Also, I would err on the side of less buttermilk...mine was a little runnier than I would have preferred]

5. Drizzle warm glazes over cooled cake.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Cake and Tennis Neck

Okay, I admit it. I sat out on the Thanksgiving issue of Southern Living. The cover had a pumpkin pie of some sort and I was feeling uninspired. Also, if I'm being honest, I was struggling a little with what to write about. Then the white cake issue came out for December, and there was no way I was going to skip it. But throughout the baking process, I kept thinking, "What on earth am I going to write about? Where's my inspiration?"

The truth is, I'm not feeling very inspired. I'm in a super weird space right now. I can't stand still without mentally pinging back and forth--looking back over the year and where we've come, looking forward and wondering where the next step is headed, looking back and missing so much, looking forward and anticipating what changes are still to come. Left, right, left, right...I'm watching an emotional tennis match play out in my mind. And frankly, my neck is getting a little sore.

So, clearly, that's what I should be writing about.

Perhaps I'm not alone, as this time of year probably contributes to a little retrospective/future-oriented toggling for everyone. For now, I'm trying to linger for just a few moments, as I look left and reflect on the amazing relationships, satisfying career, and general good fortune we've had in 2014. I'm trying not to allow the sadness of goodbyes to push my gaze too quickly away, but when it does, I'm trying to linger for just a few moments on the promise of 2015 and all it will bring.

We should all be so fortunate as to have had the kinds of friends, family, careers, and lives that make standing in this current space of uncertainty such a challenge.

Many wishes for peace, warmth, and love as you round out this year and enter into 2015. I hope you are able to find a space where you can stand for a moment and enjoy all that you've had, and all you are looking forward to. I'm working on it, gradually, and for what it's worth, embracing it is easing my sore neck, just a little.

Also, when all else fails, eat cake!


So, the white cake...Three layers of white cake, peppermint frosting, and a striped fondant bow. And it was awesome.

The cake was fine, although in retrospect, I kind of wonder if a rich, dark chocolate cake would actually go better with the peppermint frosting? Put it on the list of things I'll try when I have some spare time.

I made the frosting almost exactly as the recipe called for--butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and peppermint extracts. I added a little extra salt, and I used soft peppermint candies instead of hard candies, which I like because they sort of melt in your mouth, while still giving the filling a little texture. (I also used a few of the soft peppermints to garnish the platter, so you can see what they look like...I forgot to take a picture of the bag.)

Seriously, y'all. This icing is Christmas in a bowl. So, so good.

I will tell y'all right now that I bought packages of pre-made red and white fondant at the store. I tried making homemade fondant once for Jackson's second birthday cake. That is a mistake I will never make again. The store-bought stuff is probably full of chemicals and probably tastes terrible compared to the marshmallow recipe my friend gave me two years ago. But we didn't eat the bow anyway, and the store-bought stuff was SO much easier. People I know who are actually chefs, feel free to snicker behind my back. It's fine. Really.

Discovered after rolling out the fondant that apparently our ruler did not make the cut of essential household products to accompany us on our one-year adventure in a small Tennessee apartment. Fortunately, our kids eat a lot of fruit snacks, and the edge of the box is quite ruler-esque. Also, for those of you who are NOT chefs, feel free to snicker behind my back at the fact that a rolling pin DID make the cut of essential household products. As if I couldn't possibly live one year without it. It's fine. I know you're laughing at me too...

So I cut the fondant into strips, reworked the scraps, cut more, and was feeling pretty good at this point...

Next I rolled out the white fondant and tried to cut perfect, tiny strips of white. I then tried to lay them perfectly straight, evenly spaced, and unwrinkled. It was surprisingly harder than I had anticipated, but I got there, for the most part...

You can see below how I laid out the "ribbons" to dry in wavy positions atop balled up aluminum foil. All I could think as I looked at them was, "Oh man, that looks like bacon." (Stay tuned for a future blog post wherein I create some sort of breakfast-themed fondant cake with these exact same "ribbons" served up beside some fondant fried eggs and toast on a cake topper.)

The loops of the bow are wrapped around toilet paper rolls. In the Southern Living picture, their TP rolls were not covered in anything, which frankly seemed unsanitary and kind of disgusting to me. So mine are covered in plastic wrap. I don't think this is being over-the-top germophobic, but feel free to disagree and place your food products directly onto your used toilet paper holders, per the Southern Living magazine photo.

**Yes, we have a porcelain dachshund on our countertop. He is awesome. If I HAD done the Thanksgiving issue, you would've seen that little guy all dressed up with a pilgrim hat and turkey-feather backside. Sadly, all he gets for Christmas is that little hat.

The fondant dried overnight, cakes cooled, and we were ready for assembly. I'm convinced that whatever baker decided to start "leveling" his or her cakes because it looks so much more "professional" was basically just looking for a way to snack on cake scraps all day long. That was what I did with my scraps. They were delicious. Here you can see the layering in progress...

Once the icing was complete, I added the bow and garnish, and snapped a quick pic in front of our tree before we began to devour it. You can see that the icing isn't perfectly smooth--the offset spatula was yet another kitchen tool that got left behind for the year. But it tasted great!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y'all! See you in 2015!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cooking Like Nanny

To cook like Nanny is a goal never actually to be attained. But I try.

Nanny (my maternal grandmother) raised me in the kitchen and taught me about love and family and food. So of course it is fitting that Southern Living's October issue (the month of her birth) has an opening letter from the editor on family recipes handed down by tradition through generations.

To my knowledge, Nanny never owned a cookbook or written recipe in her life. I certainly never saw her use one. Nanny learned from her grandmother, who I am certain learned from hers. All I ever knew growing up was that foods were prepared by mashing until things looked right, by stirring until things felt right, and by seasoning until they tasted right.

I remember in elementary school, a Girl Scouting project required us to bring in recipes to contribute to a troop cookbook. I remember coming home, feeling so excited to get Nanny's suggestions, and feeling quite certain that our recipes would be the most prized contributions to the collection. Equally vivid is my memory of the look on her face, as she tried to explain that she didn't think she had anything to share. We worked and worked to measure and figure out how to write up some version of a recipe, but I have no idea if the final instructions came close to creating whatever they were supposed to make. At the time, I remember feeling embarrassed that our family's "recipes" were somehow not good enough--why couldn't she just use measuring cups like all the other moms? But today I look back and am so thankful for the years Nanny patiently spent teaching me--not how to read steps off of an index card, but how to put my heart into something and serve it to someone I love and connect with people I care about around a dinner table.

In ten days, Nanny will celebrate her 95th birthday but she will not know the meaning of the day. We will gather and eat cake, and we are hopeful she will be having a good day so that she will remember how to chew and swallow it. My children will see an elderly woman in a chair, but they will never know the body of knowledge and love within her, except as I am able to pass it on to them. The woman who raised me is no longer able to remember the recipes of our family, but I am so thankful that my kids will know a piece of her from my kitchen.


Perhaps the editor's opening remarks were only coincidentally used alongside this month's focus on cast iron cooking, but I'm going to pretend like the overlap was intentional, because there is no better piece of cookware than an inherited cast iron skillet. Mine was my husband's grandmother's, and I cherish it and hope that one day my kids or their kids will remember meals we made together in it. Maybe they will even say, "This meal came from my mother's mother's mother" or "This pan once belonged to my father's mother's mother."

So to honor Nanny's legacy of recipe-free cooking and Gran's fine piece of well-seasoned cookware, this month I have no recipe for you. Just some photos of an amazing dinner of steak and mashed potatoes, inspired by Southern Living's recipe for a Cast Iron Cowboy Steak. I've also scanned this issue's tips on caring for cast iron cookware, because I couldn't find a link to it on their site.

Hope y'all are able to enjoy something delicious with someone you love this month. If you happen to have an old cast iron skillet laying around, preheat it in your oven to 450, sear some ribeyes on high heat on your stovetop, and then finish them back in your hot oven. Just season them before you sear them with salt and pepper until they look right, and finish them with a little butter, herbs and garlic in the pan until the house smells right. If you're serving them with mashed potatoes, be sure to pour a little of those buttery-herbed pan drippings over the top--just enough to where it feels right to you. But whatever you do, don't measure anything. That's just a waste of time.