Friday, September 11, 2015

Always Learning, Always Changing: Recipe Edits

This post is about old recipes that I have updated/improved/tweaked since posting them originally.

When I am cooking, I like to write in the margins of the recipe things I discover as I am making the dish, noting changes/additions/subtractions that I made along the way.

I 'm not great at cooking with an electronic device as the source of my recipe. I'm a pretty messy cook (okay, a really messy cook)! I don't want to touch screens or buttons or have my screen go to sleep while my hands are sticky, so I usually print off recipes when I am cooking from a blog or website.

Ironically, some of the recipes from this blog that I have in my notebook also have scribbles on them from the time since I posted them.

Even though they are tested, tweaked and approved before I post them, I sometimes alter things after the fact.  I love getting feedback from people about recipes and new ideas of how they altered them. I have often tried changes people have suggested.

I decided that I needed to tell you some changes I've made, rather than sneaking in and changing the recipes on the past blogs without alerting you (and thereby confusing those of you who have made them before). 

So here are some of my updates, improvements and changes from previous posts.  
This is still my favorite sugar cookie recipe and so many friends have told me that they make these too.  So fun, that my mom's tradition that she started could be passed down far and wide.

My long-term challenge with these cookies has been that they spread so much! This is especially a problem when you are cutting them into detailed shapes.  The shapes tend to spread to the point of unidentified objects!  Which, of course, defeats the purpose of cut out cookies!  My mom looked up a shortbread recipe one day and noticed that the absence of baking powder was the main difference between the recipe and her sugar cookie recipe.  It makes sense that baking powder would change the spreading of the cookie- that's its main job.  So, since this discovery, I have dialed it back from 4 tsp. of baking powder to 1 tsp. baking powder in my "Timeless Sugar Cookie" Recipe.  It makes a pretty major difference in the spreading.  They have the same taste and texture as before, they just keep their shape much better. 

2. Banana Muffins 

These are a staple in my home for breakfast treats and to take for breakfast events.  They are so easy and are made with things you most likely have on hand.  They are a good use for dying bananas and do not even require an egg! My college roommate, Karin, told me that she likes this recipe and uses it but cuts the sugar.  I thought…"Cut the sugar? Why would you ever do that? :) "  But I tried it, and she's right- especially if you are going to add mini chocolate chips or sprinkle the tops with sugar before baking. :)  I think the flavor of the other ingredients really comes out when there is 1/4 cup less sugar.  Who knew? Thanks, Karin!  So rather than 3/4 cup sugar, I do 1/2 cup.  

3. Baked Potato Soup

This is my son's most requested soup.  One day when I was making it, I thought, "really does it need a STICK of butter??" and I gave it a try with 1/2 a stick (4 Tbsp.) and it was just as rich and creamy and tasty!  I have a hard time with a stick of butter in soup! I mean, in cookies, yes, 2 sticks most of the time, but in soup, I try to lighten it up if I can without compromising taste or texture.  Certainly, this one fairs well with that reduction. Also, you can take or leave the sour cream depending on how creamy and dairy-ish you want it.  My husband says, "Yes" and "Always" to including sour cream in all things, but sometimes I think it makes it more thick and creamy than necessary.  So, in summary, my changes are cut the butter in half to 4 Tbsp. and take/leave/or reduce the sour cream.

4. Key Lime Pie 

This is a our family's favorite pie.  It's just so good.  My challenge with it has been the size of pan and amount of filling.  In the original recipe I posted I gave two sizes- a traditional pie pan and a deep dish. Well, this summer I tried to make the standard size and the 1/2 recipe of the filling was not enough at all.  I ended up tripling the filling and putting it in 2 crusts...meaning it really needs 1 1/2 batches of the filling for a traditional pie plate.  So, my conclusion is, use a deep dish and the large batch of filling unless you have a much smaller pie pan (diameter wise) like an aluminum pan.

5. Tea Cakes 

I made Tea Cakes recently for an event.  I always love them more than I remember!  Sometimes I forget about them and then when they resurface and I make them, I fall in love all over again.  They keep longer than sugar cookies and they are less work, but just as lovely.  When I made them this summer, they just didn't stay puffed up as high as I like them.  I texted my friend, Melissa B.(when she makes them they always look perfect).  She said she rolls them in small balls and that helps keep the roundness. I had rolled mine out with a rolling pin and cut them with a biscuit cutter. They turned out bigger and flatter.  So, though in the blog post I said "roll and cut out or roll into balls", based on my experience, I will now say roll them into balls!

6. Popcorn and Kettle Corn 

We make stove-top popcorn most every week in our house (sometimes for family movie night on the weekends and sometimes for our Snack dinner on Sunday nights).  Several months ago someone at church said I should ask our friend Drew for his Kettle Corn recipe.  My kids and I are big fans of kettle corn.  I asked Drew for his recipe and he said, "there isn't really a recipe, but rather it's just a matter of adding a few Tbsp. of sugar to the oil before popping."  That simple!  So, now we sometimes make a batch of each.  For the recipe, we simply add 3 Tbsp. sugar to the oil as it is heating up and swirl it around to distribute it evenly amongst the kernels.  Make sure you salt the popped corn well, as the salty/sweet combo is what makes it so super-delicious!

I'm sure there are a dozen more recipes that I have tweaked-since-posting, but these are the main ones that have been on my mind.  I often write about making recipes your own, altering them to your liking, and getting creative! So, since I have done that and have taken your advice on making things better, I wanted to let you know.  I will update these 6 posts with these changes so that they will be "new and improved".

Keep your great suggestions coming!

Monday, August 31, 2015


Our family loves Pizza.  We have it almost weekly, often on Fridays. In Nashville we have quite a lot of really good places to get pizza (Desanos, Five Points, Pizza Perfect, Mellow Mushroom, City House, Mafiaozas, Bella Nashville, and more)!  We like trying different pizza, trying different toppings and styles of Pizza: thin and thick, simple, and gourmet, with egg on top, sauce-less and with major sauce.  
One of the newest pizza shops in Nashville is Blaze Pizza.  It’s a really fun concept.  It's individual pizzas made to order on the spot.  You walk through the line, like at Subway or Chipotle, and tell them what you want on it.  You can choose one of their specialty concoctions or make your own custom pie.  They then stick it in their super-hot ovens and flash bake it. We all gobbled up our pizza and enjoyed it so much. (My only complaint is that if each person gets an entire pizza, it quickly gets expensive). 

This was Lucy's pizza, they "call out your name" when it's
 ready and my sometimes shy girl was
embarrassed at the thought of them calling out
her name?! So my mom suggested she
give them a different name, like Sarah.
Thus this pizza's "Sarah" label.  Crisis averted.

I grabbed a menu so I could get ideas for toppings.

Though I love going out for pizza, making it at home is so simple and much cheaper for a table of 5. We've been trying different dough recipes for years and tweaking our methods.

I have been contemplating writing a post about Pizza for a long while because it is one of our go-to meals.  However, I have felt reluctant to post until I found the perfect crust recipe that is fool-proof, and became an expert pizza-maker. Each time I take photos just in case this is the one! 

I have not become an expert.  However, at this point I feel like I’ve learned enough about homemade pizza, and found a recipe that works well, and made enough of it to write about it... with the disclaimer that you just have to try it and maybe try a few recipes to find the one that suits your taste.  (Much like my post about Chocolate Chip's hard to claim one as the "perfect" one, because what makes one perfect is a matter of personal preference!) RIGHT?

This is a recipe that I have found to be simple and consistent.  The texture and flavor are good and using the honey, bread flour and a long knead really make this a nice dough to work with and taste!

It’s easy and quick to put together. 

Here's a good basic dough recipe:

(makes 2- 12-inch pizza crusts) 
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive or canola oil
2 1/2 cups bread flour

In a large mixing bowl, stir yeast and honey into warm water.  Sit for 5-10 minutes or until bubbles form and mixture starts to foam.  

Pour in salt, oil and half of the flour and mix. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, this is the time to use it! 

Once that flour is incorporated, start adding in the rest of the flour,  bit by bit until you get the pizza dough to the consistency you want: slightly tacky, but not sticking to your hands (you can add up to 1/2 cup more flour if you need to).  Once you reach this stage, knead for 6 minutes.   Turn the mixer on and walk away for 6 minutes.  The dough should be smooth and easy to work with.  And the bowl should be clean. 

Lightly grease the bowl and the dough so it doesn't dry out, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place 1-2 hours.  

Preheat oven to really HOT...450 - 500 degrees!

Remove dough from the bowl and divide into 2 balls (sprinkling flour on the dough and your hands to keep it from sticking).  Let dough rest on the counter for a few minutes. 

Sprinkle a little flour (or cornmeal) on the parchment lined baking sheet or stone.

Place stretched out dough on the baking stone/sheets.  Spread to the edge of the pan- making sure it doesn't get too thin and tear.

[My friend Karin sent me this video from her kitchen in Vermont, of her technique for stretching out the dough that was so helpful.  It's always been my frustration in pizza making. I asked her if I could attach it to the post for all to see.  She obliged.]

Par-bake the crust for a few minutes (maybe 5) so that the crust is evenly baked under the
toppings, and then pull out.
Then add sauce/toppings.
Bake for 10 minutes or until golden and bubbly.  Remove and let sit for a few minutes before slicing. 

While the dough is rising, you can prep your toppings. 

You can go for cheese and red sauce and be done or you can get creative.  

Sauce: Red Sauce, Olive Oil, Pesto, BBQ sauce

Meat of Choice (if you want): pepperoni, ham, rotisserie chicken, sausage, bacon, prosciutto, meat balls (thinly sliced) 

Cheese: mozzarella, fontina, goat, feta, white cheddar, you name it!

Veggies: don’t limit your thinking on this- thinly sliced squash, peppers, onions, banana peppers, tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, fresh spinach, artichokes, garlic, olives, capers... [Karin also suggested corn for a veggie- it's a Dominican standard. YUM.]

Fruit: not just pineapple! We had an incredible Peach pizza (with no red sauce) at Dave’s birthday dinner last month and another time we had fig on a pizza!

Finishing touches: a drizzle of balsamic reduction, or pesto,  or sauce; or shredded fresh basil, thinly sliced spinach, or sprinkle of arugula

Pizza Making Tips:
  • You can keep your yeast and bread flour in the freezer, if you don't use them often.  They will last much longer that way.   
  • If you want to make the dough to use later, place in freezer bag, removing all air from the bag before freezing.  You can freeze or refrigerate.  If frozen, remove and let sit out to get to room temperature and double in size, 6-8 hours.
  • Parchment paper is a great help when making pizza.  It makes for easy clean up and transferring pizza off of the sheet.

If you have no time to make dough (or no interest) you can make our favorite quick pizza. Simply pile great toppings on a Flour Tortilla and putting it on the skillet until its melty and golden.  Or if you are making more than a couple of them, you can put them on a baking sheet in the oven to cook multiple pizzas at the same time.  They are really yummy. Thin crust and delicious! You can make them crispy or chewy, depending on how hot and how long you cook them.

I would love to hear any ideas/tips/recipes/favorite toppings people have so that we can make it even better!  Grazie!

[Thanks to Karin for reading this post and giving me her ideas and tips.  We are better together, people]

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer Eats Post #2: Chocolate Poundcake and Homemade Ice Cream

When I was looking for a delicious but simple chocolate cake to accompany my friend, Lane's  homemade mint ice cream she was making,  I chose this Chocolate Poundcake from Joy the Baker.  It's from her recently published beautiful, and delicious cookbook, Homemade Decadence that I got for Christmas.  I have been reading it and marking pages and little by little trying things from the book. It is chock-full of beautiful sweet treats.  

I made a practice cake since this was going to be for her birthday and I didn't want to take a risk.  I wanted to ensure that it was moist enough and rich and chocolate-y enough.  Not surprising, it met the standard! Joy the Baker is a safe bet.

I was able to share my practice cake- 1/2 with some pals of Asher- when they hung out together that afternoon and the other 1/2 I sliced, packaged, and sent with Dave on his hospital visit to a family friend who had just had a baby. (It sliced and packed up nicely - I like this quality in a baked good.) And I got to have a piece and then get it out of my house so I didn't eat my entire "research".

Later that week,  I made it again for Lane's birthday and she made this INCREDIBLE mint chocolate chunk ice cream to go with it.  HERE is the recipe she followed.  She said it was her starting point though she tweaked it a little.  It was perfect! I haven't had a chance to attempt it myself, but homemade garden mint chocolate chunk ice cream is as good as it gets.

The cake was a good accompaniment to the ice cream.  It's a good stand alone or with ice cream.

Makes one 9 X 5 inch loaf

the Cake:
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup hot coffee
1 ¾ cups cake flour (or all-purpose)
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ cup buttermilk
¾  cup dark chocolate chips

the Glaze:
(These are Joy the Baker's quantities, but I feel it's too much glaze.   I thought it overpowered the flavor of the cake. When I made it the second time, I halved the glaze recipe. It's your call).

1 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
pinch of salt
3 to 4 Tbsp. milk or water
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1.     Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚. Grease and flour a 9 X 5 inch loaf pan and set aside.

2.     For the cake, in a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot coffee.

3.     In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla.
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt.

4.     With the mixer on low speed, beat until just combined.  Add the cocoa-coffee mixture and beat well.  Beat in the buttermilk.  Fold in the chocolate chips.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. 

5.     Bake until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, with just a few crumbs, 50 to 60 minutes.  Let cool for 20 minutes before inverting the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely. 

6.     Meanwhile, for the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, salt, milk, and vanilla.
7.     Once the cake has completely cooled, drizzle the chocolate glaze on top.  Let set for 30 minutes before serving. 

The cake will keep, well wrapped and at room temperature, for up to 4 days.



I didn't get to capture many photos of the finished product since I promptly gave it away! 
 But I snapped a couple.
I've also been making this good simple Ice Cream recipe this summer.  And while my daughter, who is obsessed with chocolate ice cream, has wished that I would only make chocolate this summer, I have managed to make banana and vanilla too, using the same base recipe.  (Which upon first bite she remembers the glory of non-chocolate homemade ice cream as well.) 

I wrote a few years ago about another recipe for homemade Ice Cream and some stories and tips of ice cream freezing.  If you want to read more on this subject click HERE. 

Vanilla Ice Cream (makes 5 quarts)
6 cups milk (1%, 2%, whole milk or a combination)
2 ½ cups half and half
1 ½ cups whipping cream
2  1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Pour milk into a large pot.  Scald milk on stove top until bubbles form around edge. Remove from heat.  Add sugar and salt.  Stir until dissolved.  Stir in half and half, vanilla and whipping cream. Cover and place in the freezer for 30 minutes or so to cool (or in the refrigerator for an hour or more). Once cooled off, freeze as directed on your ice cream freezer.  

*In the recipe the milks are interchangeable.  The recipe calls for 10 cups of milk total, so do the math and as long as it adds up to 10 cups of milk, the salt, vanilla and sugar proportions should be able to stay the same.  You can use more milk (1 %, 2%, whole milk) and less cream or 1/2 and 1/2 if you want it lighter and icier.  Conversely, you can do more whipping cream and 1/2 and 1/2 and less milk if you want it richer and creamier.  
I made it this week to go with Dave's Red Velvet birthday cake and I had 1% milk, 2 cups of whipping cream and 1 cup of 1/2 and 1/2.  So I used 5 cups of 1% milk.  My family loved it and Lainey said it tasted like snow cream.  It was creamy and icy.  

*Also, if you want to make Strawberry Ice Cream, simply add 5 cups pureed or finely diced strawberries to chilled mixture before freezing. 
or Banana: 3 cups of mashed or finely diced bananas to chilled mixture before freezing.  
or Peach: Add 5 cups of finely diced peaches to chilled mixture before freezing. 
or...whatever you'd like! 

for the chocolate version

Chocolate Ice Cream(makes 5 quarts)
2 ½ cups half and half
6 cups whole milk
1 ½ cups whipping cream
12 oz. chocolate chips (semi sweet)
2  2/3 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large pot, mix milks.  Add chocolate chips.  Cook over medium heat until chocolate is melted, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add sugar and salt.  Stir until dissolved.  Stir in vanilla.  Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or until cooled off.  Stir well. 
Freeze as directed on your ice cream maker.  

(If you want to make it banana- just add 4 cups of sliced or mashed bananas, if you want to make it with strawberries- 4 cups of berries, sliced, ...)

Enjoy these last days of summer!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summer Eats Post #1: Greek Potato Salad & Tangy Grilled Chicken

I have been scattered this summer- feeling pretty foggy in the brain when it comes to trying to write a creative, inspiring, cohesive blog post.   The lack of posting certainly isn't because of a lack of cooking. There has been much action in our kitchen… perpetual, and I have taken photos along the way, in case I had some inspiration and time for sharing them with you.

Perhaps this foggy-headedness is because my three very zesty, energetic, creative children have been swirling about nonstop.  Or perhaps it is because I have taken on an added role in my home as nurse, to my healing son, after a broken leg and a nose surgery in the past few weeks.  Or it might be that I am just plum tuckered out.  I’m feeling old and tired, if truth be told.

But we have had some yummy eats so far this summer. 

So, rather than waiting until my foggy brain clears, I have decided to just write some brief, simple posts for the next few weeks to fling some of these recipes your way!

Greek Potato Salad

For the 4th of July I wanted to make potato salad that was vinegar and oil based rather than mayonnaise-based.  I looked and looked for a recipe that was what I had in mind.  I just couldn't put my finger on it.  In looking in my huge How to Cook Everything cookbook by Mark Bittman I found one recipe for a Potato Salad with a Mustard Sauce.  As I made it, I thought,  "this looks tasty, but it's not what I had in mind".  I kept looking through cookbooks.  I went to Ina Garten- surely she has what I'm looking for! She usually does.  I found her Provencal Potato Salad which was on the right track, but before I started making batch #2, I texted my friend Gretchen to ask if she had a recipe.  She replied with the magic words that sparked it for me, "Hmm I haven't. Makes me think about the Zoe's Kitchen one- like that?" YES!! That was exactly what I was trying to remember …from some back file in my brain that I had not been able to reach. 

I then had the clarity I needed: Red New Potatoes, Green Onion, Feta and a Greek Vinaigrette with chopped fresh herbs.  I used Ina's advice about cooking the potatoes and then letting them steam to finish cooking, and I used herbs out of my garden.  It was just what I was hoping for: zippy, fresh, and flavorful.

Greek Potato Salad
2 1/2 pounds Red New Potatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of one lemon
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 tsp. oregano
handful of fresh parsley, chopped

handful of fresh basil, chopped
3 green onions, chopped (green and white parts)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

fresh ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (or more)

Wash potatoes and chop them into large bite sized pieces.
Boil a pot of water.  Sprinkle in some salt.
Drop potatoes into the boiling water.
Let cook for 15 minutes or until tender but not mushy.
Remove from heat, drain water and place in bowl with a tea towel over it for 10 more minutes to steam and finish cooking.

In a bowl or glass measuring cup, combine vinegar, oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped green onion, basil, parsley and oregano together. Add salt and pepper.  Pour over cooked potatoes and toss well until fully coated.  Add feta cheese.  Stir.  Add salt as needed.  (This is a very loose recipe.  You can add/delete/substitute/change amounts as you desire.)

Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.

It was even better the day after (FYI).  And it is reminiscent of Zoe's Kitchen tasty potato salad that they sneak in the bottom of their Greek Salad (my favorite thing on their menu)…the Greek Salad with a buried treasure.

Tangy Grilled Chicken (Brower's BBQ)
Dave's dad was in town a couple of weeks ago and we were grilling chicken but didn't have much time to marinade it like we typically do.  I said, "maybe we could baste it with something while we are grilling".  As we were brainstorming, somehow the word "baste" sparked the thought of this great vinegar based BBQ sauce that we had all of the time growing up but I haven't made in a decade.  
(I'm telling you, my brain is foggy.)

I found the recipe card in my box, had all the ingredients on hand, and stirred it up.  Dave brushed it on the chicken as he grilled.  It was a hit.  It is salty and tangy and is made with ingredients you most likely already have in your kitchen.   

We call it Brower's BBQ Chicken, named after Mr. Brower, the man at our church, who gave my mom the recipe.  He had a long portable grill he would use to serve large groups.  He grilled for a church-wide dinner one time and my mom requested the marinade recipe.  My parents made it regularly after that.

For several years of my childhood my family owned a lake house, and my food memories of dinner there involve this chicken.  From the dock we could smell it as dad was grilling. We ate it with Rice-A-Roni: summer childhood comfort food.

It is such a great marinade.  I'm glad it has resurfaced from my recipe archives.

Brower's BBQ Chicken
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 stick butter (the original recipe calls for "Oleo" but I used butter)
3 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp. cayenne red pepper (or more or less depending on your desired spiciness)

Pour all ingredients into a small pan on the stove.  Stir and heat, but not to a boil.
Pour over raw chicken.  Place chicken on hot grill. Baste frequently on chicken with brush as it grills.

I hope your summer is full of beautiful produce and the flavors of summer. 

Other  installments of our summer eats are soon to come: Homemade Ice Cream, Pizza, Chocolate Pound Cake and more!