Southern Praline Pecan Cake

I was turned on to this recipe by a friend this past week and I must say this cake is dreadfully sinful! Sinfully delicious! I’ve personally eaten half of this cake and I just took it out of the oven 24 hours ago. Apparently this recipe has been floating around the internet for a few years but I never came across it, so I don’t mind sharing it because some of you may not have seen it and I can promise, everyone needs to try it. Easy, super delicious, what more can you ask for? You start with a boxed mix but don’t follow the directions and you add a tub of store-bought icing but it goes IN the batter instead of on the cake. Give it a shot! If you love pecans, this will surely please.

For the cake:

  • 1 box butter pecan cake mix
  • 1-15oz tub Coconut-Pecan Frosting
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (I love pecans so I didn’t really measure at any point)

For the sauce;

  • 1-14oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. I personally use the ones with flour for baking, like Baker’s Joy or generic equivalent. In a medium bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, if you have one, combine the boxed cake mix, eggs, oil and the tub of frosting and run the mixer to combine well. Fold in the pecans and then pour into your greased baking dish (I used a pyrex one). Bake about 40 minutes or until golden brown and when a toothpick comes out clean. The cake would be perfect to eat at this point but the sauce puts it over the top!

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the condensed milk and stir while heating through. Add the remaining 1/2 cups of pecans and cook, stirring, for another minute or so, then remove from the heat. Now at this point you can cut the cake and spoon the sauce over it, or do as I did and just pour the sauce all over the top of the cake. I think this is best because the sauce soaks down into the cake, sort of like making a tres leche cake.

 

Grapefruit Jam

jambottle

 

Lately I’ve been on a preserving kick, making jams and jellies, putting vegetables in the freezer and at the moment, gathering everything up for some homemade pickles. Everything I’ve done this year was to preserve something I had around the house, or was given, or had too much and needed to save some. Yesterday I saved 7 over ripe ruby red grapefruit from the trash can by making grapefruit jam. I love a good grapefruit and I figured people make jams, jellies and marmalades out of everything else, so why not try it. Turns out it is delicious! You could make this recipe with any citrus fruit, or a combination of several different ones. Like everything else I do, this was easy and well worth the try.

First you need to section the grapefruit. To do that, cut the ends off so your grapefruit will have a flat area to sit on. With a sharp knife, go all around the grapefruit removing the skin. This is also how I peel cantaloupe, watermelon, oranges, honeydew melons.. anything with a round shape you’d like to peel easily.

sectioning

After you’ve removed all of the skin, using a sharp knife, work in between the membranes to remove the segments from the pith. Work over a heavy bottom sauce pan so that all of the juice and fruit pieces fall into the pan. Then squeeze the juice from the membranes before discarding them. Be sure to remove any seeds that may have fallen into the pot.

sectioning2

Measure out the amount of fruit/juice you have before cooking (my 7 grapefruit yielded 4 cups of fruit and juice). Bring the fruit mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Once boiling, add half as much sugar as you had fruit (for my 4 cups, I used 2 cups of sugar). Continue to boil until sugar is dissolved. Next add 1 pack of liquid fruit pectin. They say you don’t need it with grapefruit, but you do. Then add 1 tbsp butter (this keeps foam from forming on the fruit mixture while it’s boiling. Continue to boil at a rapid boil (one you can’t stir down) for at least 10 minutes. As the grapefruit get hot, they change in color to a beautiful golden orange mandarin color.

jam1

This is what your mixture should start to look like. To test, put a saucer in the freezer to chill, then take a spoonful of the jam mixture and spread on the plate. If it sets up and doesn’t run you’re ready to can. If it runs, continue cooking longer.

To can the jam, get whatever size jars you’d like to use (I used 8- 1/2 pint jelly jars because that’s a good size to give out to friends). In another stock pot, bring water to a boil. Boil the jars, rings and lids to sanitize them. To can the jam, get a jar from the hot water and set it on a plate. Spoon the jam into the jar, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ head space at the top. Place a top on it and crank on a ring. Once you’ve filled all of your jars, drop them back into your pot of boiling water, ensuring the tops of the jars are covered, and process for 5-6 minutes. Remove from the hot water and let the jars cool on a towel or in a box. As they cool, you’ll hear them seal. They will “pop” all night. Now you’re ready to share or enjoy. Once you’ve opened a jar and broken the seal, be sure to refrigerate it.

Beef Medallions with Cherry Port Reduction

medallions_port

 

One of my favorite duties in my current role at UM is cooking upscale dinners for the board every time graduation roles around. It gives me a chance to dust off some of the higher end recipes that have collected dust over the years. We feed the students some really tasty food, and some of our catered events have some pretty good recipes, but board dinners allow unlimited creativity and they usually expect to see something a step above our daily offerings. Plus I personally handle all the food preparations for meals where we serve our president or members of the board, so it’s one of the few times I get to actually do some cooking anymore.

I’ve been making variations of this recipe for years. The sauce I just dreamed up one night and it’s sinful! It goes great with so many meats, not just beef. It’s great with pork, venison, chicken or turkey, and it’s extremely easy like most everything else I prepare, but if you’ve never tried grilling a beef tenderloin before, splurge one night and pick one up. Piggly Wiggly stores run some really good deals on whole beef tenders (usually $8.99 a pound during one of their sales) and their meat department will trim it, cut in into steaks if you desire and then make some incredible hamburger meat out of the trimmings.

  • 1-1 1/2 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 bottle of Port wine (something inexpensive is fine.. I look for Taylor at about $8 a bottle when I’m making this sauce)
  • 1 package dried cherries
  • 2 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, stem and all
  • 1 tsp rich beef base mixed with 1/2 cup water
  • 1 stick unsalted, sweet cream butter, cubed

Heat your grill to medium heat, about 400F if using a gas grill. Rub oil all over the beef tenderloin, then salt and pepper. Grill the tenderloin, turning often but not piercing it (don’t want those juices to run out) to the desired doneness. For medium rare, the way I prefer mine, about 22 minutes total cooking time. Remove the tenderloin from the grill, wrap in aluminum foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Slice into 1/3″ thick pieces, arrange 3-4 on a plate and drizzle with the cherry-port reduction (directions below).

To make cherry-port reduction, in a saucepan over medium high heat, add the whole bottle of Port wine, the cherries, garlic, rosemary, and beef base/water mixture. Cook the mixture at a slow boil for 20-30 minutes, until it has reduced down to a velvety syrupy sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove the rosemary stems from the sauce. Drop in a few cubes of butter at a time, swirling the pan around in the air (off the stove) until all butter is incorporated. Spoon over the beef (or other meat).

Pairs nicely with horseradish mashed potatoes, which are made like regular mashed potatoes but with a few tbsp of prepared horseradish added!

Sliced Sweet Potato Pie

sliced-sweet-potato-pie-sl-l

 

It’s been a few months since I updated the blog, and I apologize to my followers. Back in August, I transferred from corporate dining to campus dining and I’ve been working around the clock ever since. Things are starting to calm down at work, just in time for the holidays, so I’ve been dusting off some family recipes. This is the one time of the year when  I will actually do some baking. Baking is a science and requires one to follow a recipe more closely. Those of you that know me well, know that I rarely follow a recipe as written, so baking has never been something I was enthused to do. Still, I hold the family recipes and the family expects cookies, cakes and pies when the holidays roll around.

Everyone knows how to make sweet potato pie but most people have only had the whipped up version. This version is different. It’s more elegant that something dumped out of a can. As you can see by the photo, it makes a beautiful dessert plate for the holidays and it’s not much more complicated that the baby food version.

  • 1/2 package of refrigerated pie crusts
  • 2 1/2# small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4″ slices
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 orange peel strips (use a vegetable peeler to create)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp loosely packed orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Streusel topping (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 375F. Fit the piecrust into a 9″ deep-dish pie plate, folding the edges under and crimping. In a Dutch oven, bring the potatoes, granulated sugar, orange peel and 1 cup of water to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium and simmer 6-8 minutes until potatoes are just tender.

Transfer the potatoes to a large colander, reserving the cooking liquid. Rinse the potatoes with cold water. Transfer the cooking liquid and orange peel strips to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1/4 cup. Reserve 2 tbsp of the potato-orange liquid and discard the rest.

Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and toss with brown sugar, flour, spice and orange zest and the reserved 2 tbsp of the potato-orange liquid. Spoon into the crust. Sprinkle with streusel and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, shielding with foil after 30 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Cool completely and serve at room temperature.

Streusel Topping: Stir together 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, 3 tbsp melted butter, 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice and 1/8 tsp salt. Let stand for 30 minutes, then crumble into small pieces atop the prepared pie

Easy Southern Peach Cobbler

peachcobbler

As usual, we headed down to Pepper Place market this morning for some locally grown produce and I just couldn’t resist some freshly picked Chilton County peaches. I did my part to help the local economy and bought a big basket full. Chilton County peaches are some of the best peaches you can buy and some think they are more tasty than their counterparts across the border in the peach state.

Although I definitely don’t need the added sugar in my diet, I’ve got a peach cobbler in the oven as I type this. My recipe was handed down from my grandmother and it’s easy and foolproof. So go pick up some delicious ripe peaches and give this one a try. You’ve probably got all the ingredients in your pantry or frig!

  • 4 cups peeled, chopped peaches
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk (we only buy half and half because we use it in our coffee and it works just fine but will produce a richer crust, but what’s wrong with that???)
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350F. Pour the melted butter into a 13″x9″ Pyrex dish. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and milk. Mix well to combine and remove lumps. Pour the batter over the melted butter but do not stir. Next top the butter with the peaches, again do not stir (as the cobbler bakes, the crust rises and the peaches fall). Sprinkle top with lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve with a scoop of some rich vanilla ice cream. Cobbler can be stored at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

Chicken & Dumplings Casserole

chicken-dumpling-casseroleChicken and dumplings is a southern staple, and always a great seller at work. Lately I’ve had a problem though with some customers complaining that they didn’t get enough dumplings (no one ever complains about getting too many). It’s hard to satisfy everyone’s love for the dumplings with spreading them around so everyone gets some, so I started looking for an alternative. That’s when I ran across this recipe on the internet and thought I’d give it a try. Everyone loved it! Now they want the recipe.

This has the be one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever tried and it worked flawlessly. It was delicious! The trick to this recipe is not to stir any of the layers together.

  • 4 cups cooked, shredded chicken (you could use the chicken from a store-bought rotisserie roasted chicken and skip the step of cooking chicken for a shortcut)
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp poultry seasoning
  • 2 cups baking mix (like Bisquik… I used the Pioneer version in the one at work)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth or water

In a 13″x9″ glass baking dish, pour the melted butter. Top with the chicken, then the seasonings.

Combine the milk and baking mix and pour over the chicken. DO NOT STIR!

Combine the soup and broth/water, pour over the baking mix and again, DO NOT STIR!

Bake at 350F for 45 minutes, until bubbly and browned. Let rest on the counter for 10 minutes before serving (this will ensure it’s not runny).

 

Roasted Acorn Squash

classic_baked_acorn_squash

I grew up eating delicious roasted fall squash, especially acorn and butternut. Because I love them, I often cook them at work for my customers. I also cook them to educate my customers, because there are a ton of people that grew up in the South that have never tasted a hard cooked squash. I’ve given out a lot of samples to get people to try them, people that now want to know how to cook them.

Cooking fall squash is really quite simple. You simply cut them, scoop out the seeds (fall squash have seeds like pumpkin which is in this same family), butter them and roast them. A good hour in a 400F oven will do the trick, but I’ve got a shortcut that I’ll share in this recipe. This recipe works for butternut or acorn squash. Either can be cooked by simply splitting in half, or you can cut them lengthwise as I do at work. Not only does this decrease the amount of time needed to cook them, it allows you more servings out of the squash, so it’s entirely up to you how you break down the squash depending on what you’re shooting for. You can simply half it and fill it up with butter and give everyone a half, or slice it up and give everyone a few slices. By slicing it, you simply cut down the cooking time.

slicedsquash

 

For two servings you will need:

  • 1 acorn or butternut squash, halved and scooped of seeds
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

In a glass baking dish, arrange the squash halves and add 2 tbsp per half of water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on HI for 6 minutes. This will soften up the squash and speed up your cooking time. If you’re slicing the squash instead of halving them, microwave for 4 minutes.

Drain the water from the dish and flip the squash over, cut side up. Drizzle the butter over the squash and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in a 400F oven for 20 minutes, until the squash are caramelized and golden brown.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

lava cake

 

Here’s an easy dessert you can serve at your next dinner party and really impress your guests! This recipe is adapted from Paula Dean’s recipe.

  • 6 1oz squares bittersweet baking chocolate
  • 2 1oz squares semisweet baking chocolate
  • 1 1/4 sticks sweet cream unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 whole large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp strong brewed coffee or espresso

Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly grease 6 custard cups or ramekins.

In a Pyrex bowl (or any other microwave safe bowl), melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, until melted and well blended. Add the flour and powdered sugar, then stir in the eggs and egg yolks and mix until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and the coffee.

Divide the batter evenly between the custard cups. Arrange custard cups on a baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center still slightly jiggly.

Run a knife around the edges of the custard cups and invert the cakes onto dessert plates. Let sit for 3-4 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar and garnish. Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

Pina Colada Ice Box Pie

pina-colada-icebox-pie-sl-x

While reading the latest issue of Southern Living, I ran across this recipe for a Pina Colada Ice Box Pie and decided I’d give it a try. I’m a big lover of ice box pies; I’ve loved them all my life. My great aunt always made a lemon ice box pie for me for my birthday. I use a basic recipe to make mine (1 can Eagle Brand, 1 cup lemon or lime juice depending on what I’m making and 3 egg yolks in a graham cracker crust with the egg whites on top for a meringue), but this recipe was a little more intriguing. No “off the shelf” pre-made crust here! A delicious taste of warm weather to come, even if it doesn’t have any rum in it 😦

  • 2 cups crushed pecan shortbread cookies (about 16 pecan sandies)
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (half a stick)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 8oz can crushed pineapple in juice
  • 1 8oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup cream of coconut milk (Coco Lopez)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • fresh pineapple, toasted coconut or thin lime slices for garnish

Combine the crushed cookies, coconut and butter in a bowl and mix well. Pat crumb mixture into a 8″-9″ pie pan, pressing up the sides so it’s even all over. Bake the crust in a 350F oven for 10 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.

While the crust is baking, in a heavy bottom saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch and pineapple. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pineapple jam. Pour from pan into a bowl and let cool completely along with the crust, at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add 1 cup of coconut milk (the rest can be kept covered in your fridge for  later use), then add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until combined.

On the cooled crust, spread the pineapple mixture in a single layer, then top with spoonfuls of the cream cheese mixture and spread even. Bake at 350F for approximately 40 minutes, until pie is completely set. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour, then cover and chill for 4 hours.

Just before serving, beat the chilled whipped cream in a chilled bowl with chilled beaters until stiff peaks form. Swirl in remaining coconut milk. Top the pie with the whipped cream and garnish with toasted coconut, pineapple, etc.

To toast coconut, arrange on a baking sheet in a thin layer and bake at 350F for 4-5 minutes until lightly browned.

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Here’s my recipe for a true Southern style pecan pie. The bourbon is optional, but it really brings out the flavor in this pie. Give it a try if you love pecans!

 

  • 6 tbsp unsalted sweet cream butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup dark brown corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp Wild Turkey or Jack Daniels (or whatever you’ve got around the house)
  • 2 cups pecan halves or pieces, divided
  • 1 9″ unbaked pie shell

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add the vanilla extract, salt, corn syrup and bourbon.

Arrange half the pecans on the bottom of the unbaked pie shell. Pour the batter over the pecans and top with the remaining pecans. Bake in a 350F oven for about 1 hour.

Be careful to watch the pie as it bakes. If the pecans begin to get too brown, lightly cover the pie with aluminum foil.