Merry Christmas!

The fire is crackling, the lights on the tree are twinkling, Bing Crosby is singing O’ Come All Ye Faithful and our kitchen has about 12,000 dirty pots and pans and plates and spatulas and knives and spoons strewn across it.  A perfectly unperfect picture but that’s how we roll!

A few months back Paul found a fun grilled cheese cookbook in a cute little store on Santa Clause Lane, and while flipping through it we found this delectable treat.  Rather than buying the cookbook, I took pictures of the recipes (yes, it’s wrong and I am that bad).  Anyway, in a rush not to get caught I only took a picture of the first page of the recipe not noticing the “CONT’D” note at the bottom.  Oops.

Gotta be honest, this was a fun experiment but not worth all the dishes.  The flavors were amazing, especially with the brown sugar-bourbon sauce.  But in truth, I think you could just make regular french toast and melt thinly sliced brie cheese on top while it’s cooking.

Regardless, go forth and bake.  Have a very merry Christmas!

Sunday Brunch Grilled Cheese (partial recipe care of Grilled Cheese Kitchen)

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INGREDIENTS:  One 1 lb brioche or challah loaf (cut into 8 thick slices), 3/4 cup whole milk, 1 egg (lightly beaten), 4 Tbsp salted butter (2 Tbsp melted, 2 Tbsp at room temperature), 2 tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp granulated sugar, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 4 oz brie or triple cream cheese (thinly sliced), 8 ripe strawberries (hulled and thinly sliced), confectioners’ sugar for dusting, Brown Sugar Bourbon Sauce (recipe to follow)

DIRECTIONS:  Arrange the bread slices on a large baking sheet and let dry while preparing the other ingredients.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, melted butter, and vanilla.  Add the granulated sugar, flour, and salt and whisk to combine.  Scrape the batter into a shallow pan, such  as a pie dish or cake pan.  Set aside.  Heat a stove-top griddle pan or a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat, or heat an electric griddle to 350 degrees.  When the griddle is hot, nestle two slices of the bread in the batter and let soak for 5 seconds, then carefully flip and soak on the second side for another 5 seconds.  Transfer the soaked breads to a clean plate.  Melt 1/2 Tbsp of the room-temperature butter on the hot griddle and add both pieces of the soaked bread.  Cook until the first sides are nicely browned and completely dry to the touch, about 3 minutes.  Using a wide spatula, carefully turn the breads.

Lost the rest of the recipe.  Oops.

Brown Sugar-Bourbon Sauce (recipe care of Grilled Cheese Kitchen)

INGREDIENTS:  1 cup packed dark brown sugar, 1/2 cup salted butter (at room temperature), 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 Tbsp bourbon, 2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the brown sugar and butter together, whisking constantly until smooth.  Turn the heat to low and carefully add the cream, bourbon, and vanilla (the mixture may boil up at this point, so add the liquids slowly and keep whisking constantly).  Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, or until slightly thickened.  Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool for 5 to 10 minutes before using.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.  Reheat in microwave when your ready to serve.

 

Add the Fat

So y’all know I wouldn’t lie to you.  My confidence after last week’s fiasco was shaken.  My thoughts… although I totally failed on the last one, I’m gonna try a recipe from the same site?  Am I nuts?  No!  I’m brave.  I can do this!

Before I get into the process, may I say this was a total success.  This is crazy good.  Crazy fattening with 1 1/2 cups butter and 2 3/4 cups brown sugar, but all necessary.  I gained weight just reading the recipe.

I’m a firm believer that the lovely, buttery fat makes every heavenly bite worth it.  As I’ve written in the past:  give me the whip cream, layer on the chocolate, incorporate the whole fat buttermilk.  When it’s appropriate, add the fat.  You won’t regret it.

This recipe does not shy away from fat or calories. But I kinda love and respect that.  I did, however, make a change.  I scrapped the “glaze” part because it did NOT work for me.  So instead, I warmed milk (but would’ve preferred cream) in a sauce pan, added the brown sugar I had left after this sugar demanding recipe, and a touch of vanilla.  I let the milk almost simmer as the sugar dissolved.  I then spooned/drizzled that liquid (not glaze) over the cake when it had cooled.  It actually created a yummy syrup that moistened the cake.  Turned out great!

Go for it!

Coffeecake with Crumble Topping and Brown Sugar Glaze  (recipe care of damndelicious.net)

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INGREDIENTS:  2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (at room temperature), 1 1/4 cups brown sugar (packed), 2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 cup Greek yogurt

Crumb Topping:  1 cup brown sugar (packed), 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (melted), 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Brown Sugar Glaze:  1/2 cup brown sugar (packed), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick spray.  To make the crumb topping, combine sugars, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in melted butter. Add flour and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist. Spread out mixture on parchment paper to dry until ready to use.  In a large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Beat in vanilla until well combined.  With the mixer on low speed, add Greek yogurt and dry ingredients alternately in 3 parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, beating just until incorporated.  Scoop the batter evenly into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with reserved topping, using your fingertips to gently press the crumbs into the batter.  Place into oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  To make the glaze, combine brown sugar, vanilla and 2 tablespoons water. Whisk until smooth.  When the cake is done, cool for 10 minutes and drizzle the glaze evenly over the top.  Serve warm.

 

Nope

Yeah, that was a hit and a miss.  Fail. Baking disaster. No way was that even remotely close to what it shoulda been.  Oops.

Now I don’t mean to be arrogant but I kinda feel like muffins are a no brainer.  The batter is usually pretty basic to put together, you pop them in the oven, you pull them out when the toothpick comes out clean, you let them cool.  Botta bing, botta boom.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Yes, I just said that.

But these muffins just threw me for a loop.  They stomped on my arrogance and humbled me, big time.  I showed Paul the picture of what they were supposed to look like and his comment was, “Those don’t even look close.”  His straightforward honesty made me laugh.

Somewhere along the way, I seriously messed these up.  I’d love to say it was a terrible recipe, but usually Damn Delicious doesn’t steer me wrong.  If you’re brave enough to try them after seeing this horrible picture, let me know what happens.

Mocha Oatmeal Muffins (recipe care of damndelicious.net)

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INGREDIENTS:  3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 2/3 cup old fashioned oats, 2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (packed), 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup plain yogurt, 1/4 cup strong coffee, 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (melted), 2 large eggs, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mocha Sugar Topping:  2 tablespoons old fashioned oats, 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder

DIRECTIONS:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. To make the mocha sugar topping, combine the oats, turbinado sugar, cocoa and instant coffee powder in a small bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, cocoa powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, coffee, butter, eggs and vanilla. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist. Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tray. Sprinkle with reserved topping, using your fingertips to gently press the crumbs into the batter. Place into oven and bake for 13-15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Salty Goodness

Well, these are just ridiculously good.

The combination of the sugary dough and salty flakes is perfection.  I didn’t include the cranberries, Paul’s not a fan.  So my version is much more simple than Ina’s (yes the Barefoot Contessa and I are on a first name basis, we’re great friends – at least in my mind).  However that aforementioned sweet/savory combination brings a complexity to such a basic cookie.  I would’ve liked a walnut thrown in but Paul doesn’t like those either.

Pretty much anyone who cooks or bakes knows that the quality of ingredients makes all the difference in the quality of the dish.  Yeah, yeah, yeah… yada yada yada.  But seriously, it’s so true!  The chocolate I used for these cookies were little drops of heavenly love.

Last weekend Paul and I were wandering around Los Olivos, a cute little town about 45 minutes north of us.  During our visit we stumbled upon a chocolate shop called Strafford’s Chocolates.  These people do not mess around when it comes to chocolate.

First of all, the actual shop is in an old ranch water tower, maybe from the early 1900’s.  Who woulda thought to put a chocolate shop in a water tower?  It’s adorable!  The space is homey and cozy and just draws you in.  Everywhere we looked we were in awe.  So of course we had to buy a bunch of things.  One of the purchases was two bags of homemade chocolate chips.

You wouldn’t think that the flavor of chocolate chips would vary that much, however it definitely does.  No preservatives, no chemicals to make them last on a grocery store shelf for years.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Tollhouse as much as the next guy.  But these chips were just so honest, so true.

Right about now ya might be thinking that I’m a little crazily obsessed with chocolate and you would be absolutely right.

The moral of the story is go to Strafford’s Chocolates and stock up on all their goods.

Salty Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies (recipe care of barefootcontessa.com)

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INGREDIENTS:  1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature, 3/4 cup light brown sugar (lightly packed), 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, 2 extra-large eggs at room temperature, 1¾ cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1¼ cups old-fashioned oats (such as Quaker), 3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate (such as Lindt) chopped in chunks, 3/4 cup dried cranberries, Fleur de sel

 

DIRECTIONS:  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix in the oats. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Don’t overbeat it! With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate and cranberries until the dough is well mixed. With a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop (or two spoons), scoop round balls of dough onto the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Little Rustic Love

I told Paul this morning, as I was pouring today’s cornbread batter into my mom’s old, cast iron dutch oven, that I felt like this is be something I would bake in our fantasy cabin on Whitefish Lake in Montana.  It is my dream to one day live in Whitefish, work in the Buffalo Cafe, pouring coffee for all of the lovely locals who live there year round.

There’s just something really special about hearing batter sizzle as it hits the hot bacon grease before I place it into the oven.  And the fact that I’m using my mom’s cast iron dutch oven from the 70’s for this bread makes it even better.

I do believe that when food is made with love, it is even more delicious than it was intended to be.  Using all of my senses when baking (appreciating every color, sound, and smell while creating a delectable treat) and honoring the cooking legacy I received from my mom bakes love right into this cornbread.

Yes, I’m that cheesy.  But anyone who know me knows that I’m ridiculously cheesy and  completely sincere.

This is a damn good cornbread, simple as that.  It’s complex in that when you take a bite the flavors reveal themselves in layers.  The sweet corn… then the subtle cheddar cheese… then the salty bacon.  It’s just lovely.  I would serve this warm with a thin slab of butter melting into the crevices.  It’s delicious!

Bacon Cheddar Cornbread (recipe care of spicysouthernkitchen.com)

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INGREDIENTS:  8 slices bacon, 1 cup yellow cornmeal, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 large eggs (lightly beaten), 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, 2 tablespoons butter (melted), 1 cup frozen or canned corn (well-drained), 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice bacon into bite-sized pieces and cook in a 9-inch cast iron pan until crispy. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon and set aside. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from pan. In a large bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk, and melted butter and stir until combined. Fold in corn, half of bacon and half of cheese. Pour batter into pan with bacon grease. Sprinkle remaining cheese and bacon on top. Bake for about 30 minutes or until feels firm when the top is pressed.

This is not a keeper.

Too sweet?  Is there such a thing?  Y’all know I love me some sweetness but, yes, I found a recipe that is just too sugary for me.  You know that sticky feeling you get on your lips when you’ve eaten a sugary syrup?  The feeling that you need to wash your entire face to wipe away the sugar?  I’m struggling with that right now.
There’s a restaurant up the street called Farmer Boy who serves the most amazing cinnamon roll I’ve ever had.  It’s enormous with just the right balance of icing to roll.  Whenever we go there, we share one and can’t finish it which is unusual for me.
I thought I’d try to find a recipe that could capture the brilliance of that delectable dish, but minus the yeast.  We all know I have a fear of working with yeast (I never get it right).  Anyway, this is such a simple recipe that I thought I nailed it.
But upon tasting it, it just had too much sugary icing.  The icing didn’t settle as nicely as it sounded like it should in the recipe.  Because the cake rose higher in the center than the edges, there was a thick layer of sweetness all around the perimeter of the cake.  Paul, being the very smart kitchen side-kick that he is, began to spoon the icing away from the edges and onto the rest of the cake.  That helped.  In retrospect, I would’ve used half the amount of icing that is called for in this recipe.  That’s unusual for me too.  I usually love icing.
Not sure about this one, but see what you think.  Give this a try and let me know.
Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake (recipe care of dinnerthendessert.com)
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INGREDIENTS:  3 cups flour, ½ tsp salt, 1 cup sugar, 4 tsp baking powder,  cup milk, 2 eggs, 4 teaspoons vanilla, 1 stick butter (melted), 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1-2 tbsp water
DIRECTIONS:  Set oven to preheat at 350 degrees. Mix flour, salt, sugar, baking powder with a whisk. In a separate bowl mix the milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix the wet and dry together, then add in the melted butter. Mix until well combined. Use some baking spray to spray a rectangular cake pan, 9×13, then pour the batter evenly into the pan. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together and spread evenly on the cake. Use a knife or fork to swirl the sugar and cinnamon into the batter. Bake for 30 minutes, let cool completely. Mix the powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and water until it is a consistency like pancake syrup. Pour over the cake and it will set into a harder glaze. Enjoy with a fantastic cup of coffee.

Roots

Feeling a little nostalgic this morning.  My mom is very proudly Irish, and every St. Patrick’s Day she bakes soda bread.  So every March, I’ll come home to discover a half loaf of traditional Irish soda bread wrapped in a plastic bag with a twisty tie left on my front porch.  Very sophisticated (sarcasm implied).

In truth, I love and appreciate my mom’s Irish pride.  She instilled it in me… hence my four month stint at UCC and my adoration of the country and all that it has to offer.  We even danced a jig/reel to my mom’s favorite Irish tune, “The Butterfly,” at my wedding (well, my mom knew what she was doing and I clumsily faked it but had a blast the whole time).  So needless to say after four months of school and two amazing adventures to the Emerald Isle, I love me my Irish heritage.

I kind of stumbled across this walk-through-my-ancestry because I wanted a savory coffee cake.  That wasn’t presenting itself in my search for recipes, but when I looked for a rosemary dish this popped up.  In seeing the rosemary and parmesan I immediately thought of my beautiful Italian roommates in Cork, oh so long ago (seriously about 26 years ago).  Their families sent gorgeous care packages to their daughters to remind them of the culinary brilliance that is Italian cuisine.  Treasures that I had never seen before as a naive, young Cali girl from Santa Barbara.  I was the beneficiary of these shipments and my roommates’ love and respect of good food.

So I guess this is my shout out to Ireland and Italy.  What better way to combine the two?

Rosemary Parmesan Soda Bread (recipe care of bakefromscratch.com)

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INGREDIENTS:  4½ cup (563 grams) all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons (24 grams) granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (2.6 grams) chopped fresh rosemary, 2 teaspoons (6 grams) kosher salt, 1½ teaspoons (7.5 grams) baking soda, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, 1¼ cups (125 grams) grated Parmesan cheese, 1¾ cups (420 grams) whole buttermilk, ¼ cup (57 grams) unsalted butter (melted), 1 large egg (50 grams), 1½ teaspoons (9 grams) flaked sea salt

DIRECTIONS:  Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, rosemary, salt, baking soda, and pepper. Stir in cheese. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, melted butter, and egg. Gradually add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Knead dough just until ingredients are combined. On a lightly floured surface, shape dough into a ball. Place on prepared pan, pressing to flatten dough into a 7-inch circle, 1½ inches thick. With a sharp knife, score a shallow “X” on top of dough. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt. Bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, loosely covering with foil to prevent excess browning, if necessary. Let cool on pan for 10 minutes.