Butternut and Bacon Bisque

My aunt and I were on a road trip together last fall (which is its own whole story) and one of the most memorable meals we had been a delightful lunch at a cafe on lake Winnipesaukee. We had just gone wild at the Keepsake Quilting store in Connecticut and were looking for a lunch of champions. We almost missed it, a little stand alone house converted to a cafe that just looked appealing. In fact I think we turned around to go back to it.  I would tell you the name of it if I could remember. (see photo below)

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I DO remember we split a lobster roll, the best I’d ever had, and each had a bowl of butternut bisque, wherein we both licked the bowl clean, looking over at the others bowls to see if maybe she missed a bit. Continue reading “Butternut and Bacon Bisque”

Crumb Buns or Best Streusel Coffeecake Ever!

I just had to share this with you (and the future me, in case I forget).20170127_164803163_ios

It is only just the best coffeecake I can recall ever eating! It’s a yeasted dough, soft,  moist with incredible crumbles of streusel on top.

I just bought, on a whim, a copy of the newest “Cooks Country” magazine. We were browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble on my dear hubby’s birthday, before going out to dinner. Bookstore exploring is a long standing tradition, going back to our dating years, in the age of the dinosaur (or the age of the used bookstores on every corner).

Warning, if you just want this fabulous recipe, either go out and get the Cooks
Country magazine for Feb/March 2017 or see below. If you are not in a hurry, then…

If I might digress a minute, hubby tells longingly of the days in his youth when he would hop on a bus going to downtown San Diego with nothing but a few coins in his worn jeans pockets, wearing a tired flannel shirt, old sneakers and his long hippy length hair. No water bottles, no cell phones, no food. Just an escape from an unhappy home to go on safari into the dark recesses of Wahrenbrocks, Fifth St books or Joe Herwig booksellers. We still have some of the rare or special finds he had squirreled away back then, hiding them behind other books until he could scrape up a couple of dollars to go back and buy them. He’d spend just about every weekend there.

I remember when he and I were in high school together, I took my first public bus ride to downtown San Diego with him so he could share those wonderful Aladdin’s caves with me. I remember a bit of the bookstores, but have more memories of the old Horton Plaza, where the buses stopped and which scared the bejesus out of me! A big fountain was in the center and so, so many people!  I had never actually seen an X-rated theater in real life. Here I was surrounded by them. Sailors and hookers and students and just folks, mingling, catching buses, sharing booze and joints and laughter. This cringing wallflower hung on tight to the back of his shirt so he wouldn’t lose me, or I him. I might never find my way home! I might have to stay there forever, earning my keep in a dark cavernous bookstore.

Meh, I can think of worse ways to end up.

(At this point I was going to add a YouTube link to an old bluegrass type song about Horton Plaza, but they never heard of it! So, sorry ’bout that. “Horton Plaza has a toe-hold on my heart…I grow sad-get mad-go bad when we’re apart…hobos guzzlin’ their Red Mountain, pigeons nuzzlin’ by the fountain, something-something beyond countin’ in my lovely little park”. oh well.)

Where was I? Oh yes, fabulous coffeecake.

Take it from a streusel queen, this cake is fabulous! I always thought yeasted dough for a cake would be too tough. But I was so wrong.

Now mind, the recipe says you need cake flour for the streusel. Cake flour ladies and gents! You can use all purpose for the cake itself, but the streusel needs cake flour to give it that crumbly soft texture. I went to the store to get some and found them out. I was so disappointed. Then I went home and found some in a large glass jar in my pantry. I should have known. I must have 8-10 different kinds of flour around the pantry and freezer. Sheesh.

Katie Leaird of Cooks Country calls them “New Jersey Crumb Buns”, but I’ll call them plain crumb buns, because I’m lazy.

And thank you to Ms. Leaird and all the staff at Cooks Country!

So here you go:

INGREDIENTS:

Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (11 1/4 oz)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pkg yeast or 2 1/4 tsp
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp butter, soft and cut into 6 pieces.
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream-TOTALLY MY OWN IDEA, so its optional. If you use it, and I did to add moistness, you will have to add some flour to compensate for the extra liquid. More on that later.

Topping

  • 18 Tbsp (2 1/4 sticks, which is 2 cubes plus the rest of the cube used above) melted
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (5 1/4 oz)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (5 1/4 oz)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups cake flour (yes, it’s a lot)
  • powdered sugar to decorate

for the cake:

  1. grease a 9 x 13 cake pan. Preheat the oven now (or soon) to 350 degrees. Oddly enough, although this dough is yeasted, it does not raise twice, like you would for bread. Just once in the pan. So this is kind of quick, relatively speaking.
  2. In a standing mixer or with your big bulging arms, (although a mixer is recommended) mix together the flour, milk, sugar, egg, yeast, salt and, if using, sour cream. Mix well, kneading with a dough hook for about 2 minutes until it comes together. If using sour cream, add about 1/4-1/3 cup more flour
  3. Now, with the mixer running, add in the softened butter, 1 piece at a time until its incorporated before adding the next. Increase the speed of the mixer (or your arms?) now and continue to knead for about 5-6 minutes. it will not leave sides of bowl, or shouldn’t. The dough will form “stretchy, web like strands”. This dough is soft and sticky. A little more than tacky, but not pourable.
  4. Using a greased spatula, or I used a dough scraper, transfer the dough to the prepared dish. Pat it evenly into the dish with your floured hands. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 hour. I actually let it rise almost 1 1/2 hours. It will just puff a bit, not really double in size. In fact, I ended up watching tv with the silly thing in my lap, (after the streusel part) figuring it was so cold in the house, my body heat might help warm up. Of course by then, the oven was preheating anyway.

Now the topping:

  1. Melt the butter, if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Mix together the brown and white sugars, salt, cinnamon and finally, the butter. Mix and Mix. With a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, which ever you like. It will not want to absorb the butter all that fast, but it will happen. Now add the cake flour and continue to mix until it is a thick, cohesive dough.
  3. Give it 10 minutes for the liquids to absorb the flour. Feel it with your fingers. I thought it was still a bit too wet, so I added a bit more flour. Just a spoonful. (A Loving Spoonful). That seemed to do the trick.
  4. After the dough has been given time to puff, start adding bits of crumbled topping, breaking it into little blobs of about 1/2″ or so. Cover all the dough, then take the leftover topping and continue to cover the dough some more. It seems like too much, but it’s not. Use it all up.
  5. Once it’s all covered in steusel topping and the cake has had time to puff, at least 1 hour, then its time to put into the preheated oven.
  6. Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and the cake is about 215 degrees with your instant read thermometer. I was thrilled when she actually gave me a temperature for a cake! That’s one of my biggest cake issues, when-is-it-done? Anyway, this will take 30-35 minutes. Take out and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powered sugar, cut and enjoy.
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I had to send most of it away with my son to work. I just did not trust myself.

I tell you, I have made many cakes and sometimes I will press on it gently, it will seem done, then it will sink when it cools off. Especially pound cakes, my nemesis! I will test with a cake tester, press gently, give it an extra 5 minutes and still-pfffttt! It sinks as it cools. With pound cakes, I’d say 50% of the time. Its pathetic.

Then there is the other extreme, what if you leave it in too long and it gets dry? I love that we don’t have to worry about this one-215 degrees.

Let’s face it, coffeecakes are the easy workhorses of the cake world. Quick to come together (usually, although this one is a little longer), delicious and feeds a crowd. Perfect for teas and get togthers and pot lucks.

Ok, go for it! Have fun and enjoy it with some tea in a pretty china cup!

Oatmeal Raisin & Walnut Muffins

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Craigy, nutty, only slightly sweet, wonderful muffins

It was Dec. 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception. And I made it a point, with the new upcoming year, to start making more of our feast days. After all, whats not to like about feasts? Why let them slide by with no feasting? So this day needed something special for breakfast. Mini feasty. And I didn’t have all day, it had to be quick and easy.

Muffins.

Muffins are wonderful. Continue reading “Oatmeal Raisin & Walnut Muffins”

Saucy Sweet Potatoes with Apples

I kind of like the idea of being called ‘saucy and sweet’. Better than ‘cranky and bitter’.

Well these potatoes are neither cranky n or bitter.

It is a fabulous dish to have even if its summer and too hot to bake. Hubby picked out the apple bits at the end because he said it tasted like apple pie and, being gluten free, that was something he really didn’t have any more.

It’s so easy, you don’t really need a recipe per say.

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All I used were a few  sweet potatoes that I peeled, sliced and simmered in some water until tender. Drain, dice into chunks and set aside. Continue reading “Saucy Sweet Potatoes with Apples”

Spinach and Chicken Waldorf

You know how it is; a friend of your aunt Sally’s has a sister who won a blue ribbon with this awesome pie recipe.

Or the airline attendants brothers wife’s sister knows someone who works at the French Laundry and can get you this awesome recipe for…

Well, here is one from Hillstone’s restaurant who gave it to Bon Appetit who put it on there website, which landed as a post in my inbox because of the subscription to their magazine from my daughter…

It’s truly awesome!

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I poured a little extra dressing on top. I just couldn’t get that ‘piled high’ look to it though.

After reading their article here about the Hillstone restaurant group, look online to see if they have one near you. Continue reading “Spinach and Chicken Waldorf”

Caramel Cake

Apparently caramel cake is a southern thang. I had been collecting recipes for this cake for a while, always a bit wistfully, waiting for an excuse to make it.

I finally tried it out for our church bake sale, selling it by the slice. It became my new BFF and I even made it myself for my birthday last November. (I couldn’t trust anyone else to get the frosting just right, don’t ya’ know.) And if I am deadnburied, feel free to make this on my birthday and remember me with fondness, while biting in to the soft caramely goodness.

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here it is with a few slices left to it. Enough for me and you.

Continue reading “Caramel Cake”

Cake Strips

Just a quick note for you cake maker out there, or cake makers to be.

Over 20 years ago, yes, I must have been an infant, I took a cake decorating class. I learned 2 things. One, that you really should use cake strips around your cake pans and 2, I dont like decorating cakes! I don’t like the mess of cleaning up all the random icing that gets stuck every darn where and can’t go down the sink, lest it clogs the drain. Of course, it is easier with disposable frosting bags, but still…

Cake strips, I’m not exactly sure thats what they are called, are strips of something that you soak in hot water, run between two fingers to get out some of the excess water, leaving it wet still and, using a safety pin, pin it around your cake pan.

Why?

So you dont get a huge dome for a cake.

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Here we go-tops flat as a pancake. (Like most of us gals until we are 13, 14, 15 or so). If you look close, the strips are the same color as the pans. Now you can get them in cool colors. This set is very, very old. They still work great though. No domes crowning in the middle of my  cakes! Just flat plains.  This particular cake is getting ready to be made into Caramel Cake. (I will try to post this recipe for you soon. It is from a “Best of” book by Americas Test Kitchen.)

Adios amigos!

Homemade Buttermilk

If you have a heating pad lying around the house, I am about to tell you a new and useful way to use it. And it has nothing to do with buttermilk.

Because you don’t need it to make buttermilk. Making buttermilk is even easier than making yogurt. Of course, not everyone has a ‘thing’ for buttermilk like I have. And I don’t even drink it straight. I just love baking with it. Buttermilk makes bread products moister and more flavorful. It makes wonderful ranch or blue cheese dressing. How about buttermilk doughnuts? Yes, the crowd goes wild!

Well I usually just buy the yellow carton of Knudsons buttermilk at any ol’ store. (cheapest at Smart and Final). But I was at Sprouts and decided to get the Organic Valley pasture raised cows buttermilk, which cost an extra buck maybe. It was labeled ‘cultured buttermilk’ like all the other brands.

Then as hubby and I were walking around in the store, who should I run into but my neighbor-down-the-street, the totally organic lady with the veggie garden in her front yard and is the one who always updates me when Whole Foods has their chicken on sale. She saw the buttermilk and asked if I had heard of this other kind, the name escapes her, but it is around $7 a little bottle and tastes fabulous! Well, no, I had not heard of it and I would not pay $7 a bottle for ANY buttermilk. But she buys it by the case, because she loves to drink it, and gets a case discount!

That afternoon she came knocking on my door with a bottle of this…

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Kalona SUPERNATURAL Buttermilk. (please disregard the chopped veggies waiting to me omelet-ted)

“Try it” she kept saying. Really? Drink it? I usually just bake with you ya’ know. But I buckled under the pressure and poured a little bit of my Organic Valley buttermilk and a little of the Supernatural one. With only minor nose wrinkling, I tasted them both and no, I still do not drink buttermilk. But I have to say, my buttermilk tasted very much like just tart buttermilk, kind of sour. But her tasted like…a cross between buttermilk and yogurt. Not as tart, very interesting flavor. I could definitely tell a difference in quality here.

The ingredient label actually listed the cultures used to make this, kind of like when you buy yogurt. So, if it has culture like yogurt, why cant you make it yourself, like you can yogurt? Neighbor Barb got very excited at that idea and so I went to work.

I researched. It should be easy. Just mix up a good quality milk with a good buttermilk at a ratio of 3/1. So I took a mason jar, put 1 cup of this buttermilk in it and added 3 cups of milk to it, put a lid on and shook it up a bit. Then I loosened the lid, set it aside and THAT’S IT!

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If I’m going through the effort of making yogurt myself (effort, what effort? Its easier than going to the store.) I am going to make it organic.
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Ready to be tucked away for brewage! brewing? Incubating?

12 to 18 hours later you have buttermilk! It tastes like it, smells like it, looks like it.

Except one thing. The first time I made it, I set it on the heating pad, like I do my yogurt now and waited the full 18 hours.

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this heating pad on the table is great for brewing yogurt, (which is what is pictures here) keeping it warm while it ferments for 24 hours. It also helps sprout my little baby lettuce plants much much faster! 3-4 days instead of 10! I tried the buttermilk this way too at first.

It became something altogether different. Smelled and tasted like  a cross between yogurt and buttermilk , as I expected but with the consistency of European yogurt, thickish but still a bit pourable. Or maybe I made creme fresh. Or a little like sour cream. I just dont know. But I used it in my recipes to make buttermilk pancakes and biscuits. It still worked fabulous. I just thinned it out with a little milk. Next time I would culture it less.

Or would I? I decided yesterday to make another batch. I mixed it up in under 2 minuets and set it aside, this time on the counter. Only it was 9 am. Which means it might be ready by 9 tonight or as late as 3 am. Yikes! I had better check it at 9. I am not sure if it was thick last time because of the extra heat or the 18 hours, but I would check it at 12 hours this time.

Only thing is, I went to my book club last night. Then when I got home, my sons had friends over and, with hubby out of town, had kind of taken over the house, so I retired to my room, already tired at 930. Buttermilk? What buttermilk? I didn’t remember the buttermilk until I woke up at 2:30 am. Then I remembered it oh-boy! I went leaping out of bed and dashed to the kitchen. There is was, still brewing in its little corner. I opened the lid. Smells great. I tipped it. Sheesh, thick again!

Sigh. So I have yet to make it at its proper consistency. But that is such a small problem. A non-problem really. And I need to find out if I can get the same good results with other buttermilks. And how many generations of buttermilk culture can I get out of that first bottle? I used the last of it to make this new batch. I will make a new batch off this homemade culture. Will it still work? How about another batch after that? How long before it stops working? Usually with yogurt, you need to freshen the culture after 3 or 4 batches.

So, if you would like to get 4 times the buttermilk out of your carton of buttermilk, now you know that you can make it yourself, easier than falling off a log. And much less painful!

PS, I found out that by putting my homemade yogurt to incubate on the heating pad for 24 hours, it comes out perfect! Tart, thick-yes, thick, without adding gelatin or anything to it. See this post on making yogurt yourself.

French Kings Cake (Galette des Rois)

Epiphany. The Magi. Feasting. Cakes with little plastic babies in them. Or not.

We were invited to a friends home for a lovely Epiphany party a few days after Epiphany and I was in charge with bringing the kings cake.Which is fine and I looked up recipes. I just needed to make a sweet dough, use an almond filling, roll it up, etc.

No.

Not even close. Nope.

What was required was a FRENCH kings cake made with puff pastry.

And so I did more research and came up with several recipes and it was fun to make. I also learned new things working with this kind of pastry.

Such as, when you do not crimp the edges, you get lots of puff, as in this…

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What starts like this…
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Turns into this! Mon Dieu!

While, if you crimp the edges, say with a fork, sealing the edges together, you go from this…(notice all the crimping marks on edges)

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To this…

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Not nearly as puffed.

It tasted the same, just looked a little different.

I did not have any baby Jesus to put in the cake, nor any fava beans, which is tradition. (Whoever gets the slice with the bean or baby in it is king/queen for the party…or has to bring the Kings cake next year, whichever tradition you like best).

I wrapped a dime in foil and inserted that into the round cake. Thats what I learned from the Greek New Years cake I made. These other countries have these great old traditions I just love, especially if it involves desserts.

Here is the recipe for kings cake. It makes 2.

Galette des Rois

  • 2 pkgs or puff pastry sheets, thawed, but cold
  • 1 cup of soft butter
  • 1 cup of ground almonds (you can grind yourself if you have them)
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp of almond extract
  • pinch of salt
  • powdered sugar for dusting
  • egg yolk mixed with water for an egg wash (I use a whole egg mixed with a tbsp of water or so)

directions:

preheat oven to 450 degrees.

with an electric mixer (I used hand mixer as opposed to my kitchen aid), mix the first 7 ingredients (after the puff pastry) together. That was pretty easy, oui?

On a lightly floured cold surface (I had a marble cutting board just for this kind of thing) roll out one of the pastry sheets to about 9-10″. Now you can either cut it into a large circle and make a round cake or just make a large rectangular cake. If making a round, for instance, you will cut a round circle out of the second pastry. Each box of pastry comes with 2 sheets.

Put one of the pastry sheets on a baking pan that is lined with parchment paper. Brush the edges with the egg wash. Spread half the frangipane cream (yes, that’s what you made earlier) over the pastry dough. AT this point you might want to hide your baby/bean/coin thingy somewhere on it.

Now place the second pastry over it, either round or square or rectangle or moon shape or stars, whatever you ended up using. Press the edges together so the filling wont ooze out. I sealed the round one with a more decorative touch, which did not seal as well. Some filling oozed out, but not much. Some leaked out of the other too, so you just never know.

Now make the second one.

With the sharp edge of a small knife, I decorated just the top of the pastry puffs, not to poke through, just to barely slice a thin layer of the top.  Mine was a feather type design I saw on the web. I then brushed the egg wash over it and put them in the oven.

Bake the galette for 15 minutes, rotating the pans if baking 2. After that, reduce the oven temp to 350 and bake another 30 minutes. During the last 5, take it out, dust with powdered sugar and put back in the oven.

“Serve warm with a gold paper crown on top”.

Oh sure, I did that-NOT. Brought it to the party, sliced it up and had 2 servings. Next time I might add some apricot jam as a bottom layer under the frangipane.

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Close up of the design I scratched into it.

Enjoy! Happy Epiphany, a little late…

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Dear friend, always opening up your home to gobs of people, feeding them delicious and organic foods. God bless you!

Cranberry Chicken in the deep south

Sweet home Alabama! It was my annual trek to visit my aunt in the good old town of Alexander City where she currently is innkeeper for the beautiful belle of the south, the Mistletoe Bough bed and breakfast.

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With the beautiful winter camellias…

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and fluffer kitties.

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And dapper doggies

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I got to visit with Mrs. Clause…

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who frequents the Inn every winter, when she is not needed at Mr. Clauses side. She is there every year for the Christmas parade, in the sleigh with Santa.

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Let us pause between photos so I can give you one of my aunts super secret recipes that only she and about a million other southerns know about. I am importing it home here, already did actually and everyone loved it. So much so that I did not even get a photo. But Aunt Jo Ann makes this a lot for her luncheons at the Inn.

CRANBERRY CHICKEN

  • either a whole chicken cut up or selected pieces of your choosing.
  • 1 can whole cranberry sauce
  • 1 envelope of onion soup mix
  • 1 bottle of French of Catalina salad dressing

Thats it. Just mix the last 3 things together in a mixing bowl and pour over the chicken in a baking pan and bake in a 350 degree oven until done, about an hour for a whole chicken. While I did not do so this time, you have the option of browning in a skillet first, then putting in the pan, saucing it up and baking. My aunt baked chicken breasts and they did not need browning, just baking.

Another option is to thicken up the sauce when you are done and serve it on the side. Its pretty finger licken’ wonderful!

 

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The house is all set for Christmas. This is the biggest of the trees. There are lots of them there, upstairs and down. Even little ones in the kitchen.

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See that mistltoe hanging from the knob there? That came home with me (hee-hee). Ok, she actually did know about it. I came home with 3 sets of christmas salt and pepper shakers as well.

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Even garlands, lights and ornaments in the kitchen! This innkeeper doesn’t miss a trick.

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She did make 2 of the best darn cheesecakes I have ever, EVER had! And get this, it didn’t need a water bath!! It was not so much the kind of cheesecake. I believe they came from 2 different recipes. One was a turtle cheesecake with chopped up candy bars and I think the other was a pumpkin cheesecake. It was the cooking method that made the difference, made it the creamiest, dreamiest cheesecake ever! I will share with you, because I love you…

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The bite near the point of the piece of cake is almost like a pudding, so silky. It firms up as you eat your way to the crust. Ugg, I want a piece right now!

Here is the basic cheesecake recipe. You can use your own recipe using the baking technique here too. Or play around with this recipe, add cookie dough or chocolate chips or chopped candy bars, etc.

CREAMY CHEESECAKE

  • 3 8oz bricks of cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 3 eggs
  • prepare a graham cracker crust in a 9″ springform pan

preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

With a hand mixer, blend the cheese, sugar, sour cream and vanilla.

1 Tbsp. at a time add the flour, mixing well, then the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well. Pour into the prepared crust and put right in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven door, reduce heat to 250 degrees and bake another 30 minutes.

After that, turn the oven off, but leave the cheesecake in the oven another 30 minutes. Remember, do not open the oven door. It will let valuable heat escape.

This makes a cheesecake with the best texture, smooth and crack free.

For other posts from Alabama see Taco Soup here, and quiche here, and my 2012 visit with baptist pound cake,   coconut pie, and amazing caramel apple upside down pie. Here is a visit to Montgomery AL. An article here about my aunts breakfast cassarole and a post there with my apple walnut bread recipe.

Enjoy all that reading and all those recipes.  I had fun looking through them again and reliving the trip. I think its time to make Taco soup here again, yes ma’am! And coconut pie. And…

Bye!