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.
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.
So you dont get a huge dome for a cake.
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.)
You are going to want to run out right now and make this! Its delicious! Its easy! It’s meatless (for those meatless Friday nights, or every night for some of you.)
I have made this twice now and keep forgetting why I dont make it more often. Probably because I just plain…forget.
The only hitch is, you should be using a brownie pan. You know, those square muffin type pans used to make brownies. Like this…
They are more shallow than muffin pans and hold the square ravioili’s perfectly. I tried them in the round muffin pans and I couldn’t get them in there. You would have to use smaller ravioli’s, like some fresh ones I found at the store.
Anyway, hopefully you have one of these. If you don’t and want one, give me a call. (they are $20 bucks from Pampered Chef).
I dont have a picture of the finished product, but have a couple of the steps along the way. You can make it, take a pic and send it to me. Last night I made this for my son and his friends, then I left the house for book club. So I kind of forgot about taking a picture. They had that and the easy-cheesey-focaccia bread (without the pepperoni it was supposed to have), and a salad. Oh, and cheater cherry cobbler.
Mini Spinach Lasagna Squares
4 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
1 oz parmesan, grated
1 pkg chopped frozen spinach, 10 oz, thawed and drained. (I used slivered fresh)
2 garlic cloves
1 3/4 cup marinara sauce, divided
24 small frozen cheese ravioli’s. (about 1 1/2″x2″)
heat the oven to 350.
mix 1/2 cup of the mozzarella, parmesan and spinach. Use a garlic press on the garlic and add to this. Mix with a wooden spoon or a mix n scraper.
Measure out 1 tbsp. of the marinara into each well of the brownie pan. Place a frozen ravioli over it.
Put a small scoop of the spinach/cheese mixture over the ravioli’s and then another ravioli on top of that. Now another spoonful of marinara.
top it off with the leftover mozzarella.
I put the pan on a parchment lined baking sheet, in case of spillage. Put into the oven and bake 20-22 minutes.
Look at those pretty colors!
For now you will just have to imagine them all cooked down, gooey, hot, and tender. Actually, now that I think of it, this could be a very versatile recipe, couldn’t it? How about seafood ravioli’s with a garlic cream sauce? (Like Alfredo) with maybe some chopped up bacon in between the layers. Ah ha! I think I’m on to something!
Anyway, thank you to the Pampered Chef for this great and snappy recipe. You can find it here… And it will have a picture of the done deal.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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)
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
3/4 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)
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.
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.
With the beautiful winter camellias…
and fluffer kitties.
And dapper doggies
I got to visit with Mrs. Clause…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Even garlands, lights and ornaments in the kitchen! This innkeeper doesn’t miss a trick.
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…
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.
3 8oz bricks of cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. flour
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.
I have dedicated the month of January to weeding out my cookbook stash. (Notice I didn’t say “baking book stash”. That’s a whole different collection). I go through them one by one, rediscovering what I loved about them in the first place. I am making lists of recipes I would like to make from each. If a particular cookbook looks like it no longer has recipes that make my skirts fly up, its time to donate it to someone else.
Some of the books have a few recipes I would maybe like to try, but is it fair to keep that book on the shelf with the other, more worthy books, taking up space for just a few recipes I may, or may not, someday make?
So here is my solution. Some books are just gone. No chance, adios amigos! Some books will never go, they warm the cockles of my heart just holding them in my hands, perhaps for sentimental reasons or because they have saved my culinary butt on more than one occasion. But a few, those few who waver between these two lands, I will write out the potential recipes, either here on my blog or on the Just a Pinch web site. They will be on standby, waiting to be made. I can then get rid of the book and when I make the recipe, all I have to do is add the picture! The recipe is ready to go. If, after an appropriate period of time has passed and I still haven’t made that recipe, then it is time to retire it altogether.
Speaking of brilliant ideas, or accidents actually, I have another. I was going to fill the pepper shaker. It was low and I was going to fill it. That’s one of my jobs. So I got the pepper, starting filling the shaker and suddenly realized I was putting pepper in the salt shaker! Yikes! I stopped and you know how thoughts go through your head in an instant? I was thinking, “I can fix this! I can get the pepper out from the salt.” Oh sure. And just watch me find that needle in that haystack while I’m at it. Instead of throwing it out, I took a step back, looked at it and thought, “Sure, why hasn’t anyone else thought of this? Spepper!”
I really do use it too. I use it to season meat, eggs, all kinds of stuff.
So, along those lines, I have decided to say good bye to the Barefoot Contessa Parties! book. But before I do, here is one of her recipes I just made last night and everyone raved. Well, I sure raved. Hubby raved. I kept going back to sneak “just one more”.
Its for Garlic roasted potatoes and couldn’t be easier.
Now I only have 9 jillion more cookbooks to go through!
Garlic Roasted Potatoes
3 lbs (give or take) or small red or white skinned potatoes (or a mix of whatever you have on hand)
1/4 cup of good olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic (about 6)
2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley (If you have it on hand or if you feel like going out into the cold dark garden to pick it. If not, do without.)
preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Toss until the potatoes are well coated. Dump the potatoes onto a baking sheet. I like to use the stoneware one like a bar pan from Pampered Chef. If you use a metal one, I would use parchment under it. The bar pan does not need this, keeps the heat even and keeps it warm out of the oven for a long time.
Bake them for about an hour, flipping them twice with a spatula during baking for even browning.
Remove from the oven, toss with the (imaginary) parsley, season to taste and serve.
Some years ago I was at a bookstore, killing some time sweetly, and found an interesting cookbook called “Carmines” based on recipes from a famous Italian restaurant that I had never heard of. But the pictures spoke to me. (and said “You need spaghetti-NOW!”)
I have made several recipes from that book and none have disappointed. Like the porterhouse steak with peppers and onions, or the halibut with seafood risotto which became a Christmas eve dinner for several years. Their meatballs transformed Italian meals here.
Well a sweet friend of ours actually went to a Carmines, both in DC and in Los Vegas and she said they make the food almost as good as mine! (Can you see why we keep her?) She, in fact, brought me back their newest cookbook and gave it to me. “Carmines Celebrates”. Mama mia it has good stuff in it! And here is what we had this last Christmas Eve for dinner. It is like a sea food stew. I took the liberty of adding a scoop of rice to the bottom of the bowls. I would add less rice next time. This was very filling and delicious!
SEA FOOD CIOPPINO
3/4 cup olive oil blend (3 parts canola to 1 part olive)
1 1/2 pounds Chilean sea bass, halibut or other sturdy fish
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/8 tsp white pepper (really? Not 1/2 a teaspoon? I used the palm of my hand and eyeballed some pepper, sheesh).
1/2 lb. extra large shrimp, shelled and deveined (or even cooked, as mine was)
1/2 lb dry-packed scallops, side muscle removed (the what? I didn’t see any side muscle).
12 littleneck clams, cleaned (wish I could have found some. Used extra shrimp instead)
12 PEI or other mussels (nope, didn’t find those either)
2 Tbsp thinly sliced garlic
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup cored and thin sliced fennel root
4 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
4 tbsp flat leaf parsley (both these and basil are standards in my little herb garden.The 2 herbs I use most.)
1/2 tsp. saffron
1 large dried bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp. fennel seed
3 1/4 cups clam juice
1 3/4 cups canned whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes. (lets just call it 1 large can, shall we?)
This may seem like a long list, but its a simple and delicious meal. Just collect your ingredients, or improvise such as I did and have it all on stand by. Do your slicing and dicing and chopping. Get out those prep bowls. First the fish:
heat 6 tbsp of the oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Salt and pepper the fish.(I usually pat it dry first). Gently slide the fish into the hot pan, browning on both sides, but not fully cooking. Then set aside on a platter for later.
repeat this process with the shrimp and scallops. Set aside.
add the remaining 6 tbsp oil and saute the garlic fora few seconds, then add the celery, fennel, 2 tbsp each of the basil and parsley (leave the rest for garnish), the saffron and bay leaf. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are just a bit tender and sweating. (like me sometimes;)
Add the white wine and fennel seed and cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
add the clam juice,tomatoes, rest of the salt and pepper and bring to a boil.Add the clams and mussels and cover with a lid. Check often and, as each one opens, remove and set aside until all the clams and mussels are cooked; discard any that do not open.
increase heat to high and cook until the sauce has reduced about 40%, about 15 minutes.
Carefully return the sea bass or halibut or fish of choice to the sauce and gently simmer 3-4 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer the fish to the serving platter. (I cut it into portions and set aside, serving each bowl up myself).
Add the rest of the seafood to the sauce to heat up for 1 minute. Pour over fish and serve with basil and parsley sprinkled over the top.
As I said, I served them up in bowls. I put a scoop of rice in each bowl, then the fish, seafood and broth. I had a salad on the side and some crusty bread. Merry Christmas!