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.

 

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Praline Pecan Tartlets

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It’s hard to believe, but I’ve made it over 1 year smoke free. After nearly 30 years of being a smoker, I finally kicked that habit. Those of you that have stopped smoking know this and the smart people out there that never picked up the nasty habit might not, but like others my metabolism went in the toilet when I quit. I ate no more than when I smoked but weight just piled on. I went from my smoking weight of 195 to 225 before I managed to peel off 20 pounds this past summer. Still, the battle of the gut is a constant struggle with me. Working in the food industry, I am surrounded by it 12 hours a day, everywhere I turn! A lead cook will want me to try some sauce (made with butter and whipping cream of course), or my baker will prepare some new treat that I can’t resist tasting, so I’m always interested in bite-sized desserts and treats. These tasty little morsels allow those of us that can quickly consume 1000 calories in a matter of minutes, to enjoy the deliciousness of something decadent and still keep our daily caloric counts in check.

A slice of a common pecan pie like you’d make at Thanksgiving averages about 500 calories (that’s if you slice your pie into 12 servings). If you’ve purchased your pecan pie that number can double, as most thaw-and-serve pies have crusts made with lard.These tasty little phyllo cups have 75 calories each, so you can limit your intake and not feel so guilty. The crispness of the baked phyllo cup with the sweetness of the praline filing and the toasted pecan is just delectable. These are perfect for a party, tea, reception, shower or just to keep in a Rubbermaid container around the holidays. They make great treats for gift giving, especially when pared with some homemade cookies, and they are extremely simple to make. Give them a try and I’m sure you’ll love adding these to your holiday baking repertoire.

For every 15 phyllo cups (available in the frozen pastry section of most any supermarket), you will need:

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp+1tsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey (you can slightly adjust the flavor to your taste depending on the type of honey you use but I personally just get regular amber honey when I make these tartlets)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (sometimes I substitute 1/4 tsp Jack Daniels whiskey in place of the vanilla, especially around Christmas)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the pecans and mix well. Fold in the chopped pecans. Arrange phyllo cups on a baking sheet, then spoon mixture into the phyllo cups (a heaping teaspoon is a good size to fill the cups). Any extra filling can be evenly distributed between your phyllo cups.

Bake in a 350F preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until the filling sets, the pecans begin to brown the the phyllo cups brown around the edges. Transfer baked cups to a cooling rack and begin your next batch. Be sure to cool these tartlets completely on a cooling rack. If you cool them on a pan or plate they will become soggy on the bottom and you loose that wonderful crunchiness of the phyllo pastry. Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 7.13.15 AM

Pina Colada Ice Box Pie

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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.

Fancy Chicken Salad

I grew up eating chicken salad. Not “Fancy” chicken salad, just good old chicken salad made with chicken, celery, egg, dill pickles and mayo and to this day, that’s the way I prefer mine. Over the years, I’ve made different versions of chicken salad for my customers and all have been a hit, but nothing like the response I get from this version of fruity chicken salad that I began calling “Fancy” chicken salad on our menu at work.

I owned a catering business in Birmingham and this was a most requested recipe. At the Birmingham News, I’d make Fancy Chicken Salad, usually at least 20 pounds, and be sold out within 45 minutes of opening our doors for lunch. Customers would order it by the pound to pick up on Fridays and take home for the weekend. They liked the recipe so much, it was published in The News’ food section once. After leaving The News, I’ve worked in several corporate accounts (that’s what I am, a corporate chef) and at every account, customers line up for this recipe. I can never make enough; it sells out long before lunch ends. Every time my company moves me to a new account, the customers at the old one email talking about “missing my chicken salad”. So I’m posted this recipe for all my faithful customers, friends and readers. Like every recipe I prepare at work, this one is easy. Once you’ve chopped up the ingredients, that’s it. There is no “special ingredient”, nothing out of the ordinary that I do. The only 4 things I can say that make my recipe different from other’s chicken salad are these:

  1. Never put the chicken in a food processor, instead, tear it with your hands. We aren’t making cat food so it should resemble something from a can, which leads to the second note.
  2. Don’t use canned chicken. Take the time to boil some chicken. If you take a shortcut, it won’t taste the same. As for the chicken I use, any cut. But at work, because of what’s in inventory, it’s 95% of the time boneless, skinless breasts.
  3. If you’ve had my chicken salad before and you want yours to taste the same, use KRAFT mayonnaise. I’m not knocking Duke’s, or whatever you like, and if you’ve never had mine personally, use whatever you like, but there is a difference in mayo. I’ve made mine at work and home with KRAFT because I grew up eating KRAFT. The few times I’ve made it with Hellman’s, in my opinion, it wasn’t as good, and I don’t normally buy Duke’s because I can’t afford to pay $5 for a jar of mayo when I can get KRAFT for $2.50
  4. NEVER under any circumstances, load the chicken salad with mayo. You want just enough to hold it together. How much is that? You’ll just have to see. I don’t put a measurement because it’s hard to say. It depends on the chicken, the size pieces your chicken is, the size you cut up the ingredients, etc. You can always add more mayo but you can’t take it out. That’s a good rule of thumb for any cooking!

So now that I’ve told you my “secrets”, here’s the recipe for Fancy Chicken Salad:

  • Cooked, pulled apart chicken (about 4 cups total)
  • 1 Red Delicious Apple & 1 Granny Smith Apple
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped (I prefer to use the tops also, so don’t discard those. They have the celery flavor and the leaves add color to the chicken salad)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried, sweetened cranberries (I usually just use a whole bag from Oceanspray and don’t even measure)
  • Mayo (amount needed will depend, but will be at least 1 cup)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans or candied walnuts (optional)

That’s it! Cook chicken and shred/dice in a large bowl. Cut apples into a small dice (leaving skins on) and add to the chicken. Add the celery and dried cranberries. Mix in mayo, just enough to hold all ingredients together. You don’t want it “swimming in mayo”. Toss in some nuts if you like (I do sometimes, don’t others. Depends on my mood and who I’m serving. A lot of people have nut allergies). Season with salt and pepper (this too is up to you and your taste buds.. add some, taste it, add more if you think it needs it).

It’s great to eat on top of a green salad, made into a sandwich or wrap, or splurge and enjoy it on a buttery croissant!