Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Hoecakes - made July 29, 2017 from Food Network
My niece gave me a cast iron griddle. She knew both my penchant for cast iron cookware and anything made in the USA so it was a perfect gift. I’ve never owned a griddle before. That might be surprising but I always made pancakes in a frying pan so I didn’t think I was missing out. But it was fun to play with my new griddle, placing it so it straddled two burners and I could use the span of my stove.
She and I had fun texting back and forth on the various things that could be made on a griddle: grilled cheese sandwiches, flatbread pizza, Monte Cristo sandwiches, quesadillas, hash browns, hush puppies, everything for breakfast (sausage, eggs, toast, etc). But one of the first things that came to mind was, of course, pancakes. I veered off the traditional path and decided for the maiden voyage of my cast iron griddle, I would do “hoecakes”.
As a kid, I just about memorized the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and I remembered Ma Ingalls making hoecakes on a “spider” (a frying pan with legs set over a fire or coals). Laura always made those hoecakes sound so good. I found this recipe on Food Network, as contributed by Bobby Deen so I decided to give it a try. It had the added advantage of using self-rising cornmeal and self-rising flour. I normally wouldn’t have either ingredient on hand but some time ago, I had broken down and purchased White Lily flour on amazon. It was criminally expensive for flour but White Lily isn’t something I ever see in my part of the country (it’s predominantly available in the South, I’m told) so online was my only option.
Other side of the griddle
I ordered two 5-lb bags of the self-rising flour, thinking to make biscuits and cakes, having heard so much about the lightness of baked goods made with White Lily flour. Alas, the seller I bought the flour from sent me two 5-lb bags of self-rising cornmeal instead. I offered to send it back in exchange for the correct order but the seller apologized, told me to keep the cornmeal and promptly sent me the correct flour. I was sure I could use the White Lily flour eventually but I didn’t know what to do with 10 pounds of self-rising cornmeal (I’m not THAT much of a cornbread fan) so I donated one of the 5-lb bags to my local food bank and kept the other.
So I had what I needed to make hoecakes. Now, I’m not entirely sure what I expected hoecakes to be or taste like. They came out looking like pancakes. In fact, they ended up tasting like pancakes except for a slight grit from the cornmeal. They weren’t sweet, they were a little heavy-textured and they tasted fine with butter. I followed the recipe to a T so presumably they were hoecakes, at least according to Food Network and Bobby Deen. I’m not sure Laura or Ma Ingalls would agree though. On the plus side, I got to break in my new cast iron griddle. And I love it.
1 cup self-rising cornmeal
1 cup self-rising flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
2 eggs
  1. Heat cast iron griddle over low heat. 
  2. Whisk together cornmeal, flour and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine butter, oil, water and eggs. Add to dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  3. When griddle is hot, grease with butter or oil. Pour 1/4 cup batter for each hoecake. Fry until golden brown, flip over and fry until golden brown. Serve warm with butter.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies

Peanut Butter and Fudge Brownies - made July 23, 2017 from Dorie's Cookies by Dorie Greenspan
This is a simple brownie recipe you can easily accommodate for peanut butter lovers or non peanut butter lovers. For the first group, include the peanut butter layer over the brownie and under the ganache. For the second, simply omit that layer. Either way, you’re going to have a fudgy brownie with a rich chocolate topping.
Brownie base

Peanut butter layer
I’m not sure why I keep making peanut butter desserts when I feel obliged to point out with every peanut-butter-related post how indifferent I am to peanut butter. In this case, I made this brownie, partly because I’ve been sitting on this recipe for awhile and partly because, due to poor planning and perusal of my pantry, I had somehow ended up with three jars of peanut butter, two of which had a scoop of peanut butter in them. Don’t you hate that? So I had to make something with peanut butter just to clean out those two jars and open the third and final one. Thankfully they were not Costco-sized jars; I finally learned to stop buying those two-packs when – ahem – I’m indifferent to peanut butter.
Shiny ganache glaze

Because it essentially has three layers, this is one of the rare times I wouldn't make a thick brownie base. Otherwise the whole thing put together would be a little too awkward to consume. I was almost surprised at how shiny my chocolate ganache glaze turned out to be. I had just watched an episode of The Great British Baking Show on PBS where the contestants were challenged to make a cake that had a "mirror glaze". Mirror as in shiny surface rather than mirror where you can see your face reflected back at you when you gaze at the top of the cake. Whaddaya know, I made a shiny glaze. Which I then proceeded to cover with toffee bits. They're optional but add them if you want a little more decadence and crunch.
And, fortunately for me, the people around me are not as “meh” about peanut butter as I am and gladly received my baking experiment. The brownie part was good, the peanut butter part was fine (for peanut butter lovers) and the ganache topping was rich (if you use the good chocolate). So overall, I think this was a decent brownie. If you really want to punch up the peanut butter flavor and cut some of the richness of the ganache, top it with chopped toasted peanuts for a little extra crunch and flavor.

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, cold
1 cup (136 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped, optional

Frosting and Glaze
1 cup chunky peanut butter (not natural or old-fashioned)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
2/3 cup (80 grams) confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I left it out)
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9 x 13" pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Brownies: Melt the butter and chocolate in the top half of a double boiler over hot, barely simmering water. Whisk until melted and smooth.
  3. Remove pan from the heat and whisk in the sugar, followed by the vanilla and salt. Beat in cold eggs, one at a time, whisking vigorously until each is incorporated.
  4. Fold in the flour and peanuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top with metal spatula. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool to room temperature.
  5. Frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the peanut butter and 4 tablespoons of butter on medium speed until well blended and smooth.  Beat in the confectioners' sugar, salt and nutmeg then milk and vanilla. 
  6. Using an offset metal spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the top of the brownies.
  7. Glaze: Cut the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into 8 pieces and melt with chocolate in the top half of a double boiler set over hot, barely simmering water. Heat, stirring constantly until butter and chocolate have melted into a smooth, shiny glaze.
  8. Spoon the glaze evenly over the frosting and, using an offset spatula, cover the surface evenly. Refrigerate the brownies until the frosting and glaze have set, about 90 minutes. Use the foil overhang to lift the brownies out of the pan and cut into squares on a cutting board.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Jumbo Sugar Cookies

Jumbo Sugar Cookies - made dough July 22, 2017, adapted from Center Cut Cook
I don’t know what compelled me to make these cookies other than it was hot outside, I didn’t want to turn my oven on at that moment and it’s just easy to make cookie dough and freeze it for later when it is cool enough to turn my oven on. So that’s what I did.

Since these are supposed to be jumbo cookies, I used the 1/3 cup measuring cup that was suggested in the recipe and ended up with 5 big chunks of cookie dough from the whole batch. I also read the comments on the original blog and there seemed to be some negative reviews of this recipe, notably how they tasted “tinny” or metallic. That usually comes from having too much chemical leavening so I cut back on both the amount of baking soda and cornstarch. Cornstarch doesn’t really leaven a cookie but instead adds to the softness of its texture. Still, 2 tablespoons seemed like a lot for such a modest amount of dough so I cut it down to 1 tablespoon. I also took the precaution of adding vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste to make sure the cookies had some kind of flavoring.
For the most part, the modification seemed to work. The cookie did spread to a size bigger than my palm and almost overflowed the saucer I used. Yep, it’s jumbo all right. The edges were light and airy, the (thin) middle was chewy. Surprisingly for a sugar cookie, it didn’t seem that sweet. I did sprinkle first turbinado sugar then regular granulated sugar on top before and after baking to give it a little more sweetness. It also did have a little of that tinny taste so I can see where the reviews came from if other people used the full amount of baking soda.
Still, the cookie was okay. Next time I probably wouldn’t make them so big though. “Jumbo” sounds good in theory but in reality, it’s a little too big for a taste test cookie and it’s a lot of one kind of cookie for someone to eat if you want to put more than one in a goodie bag. Also, I'd recommend rolling the whole dough ball in granulated sugar before baking to add a little more flavor and sweetness, not to mention to counter the tinny taste.
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
Coarse sugar for sprinkling
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg, vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste; mix until just combined.
  2. Add flour, baking soda, cornstarch and salt. Mix until just combined.
  3. Portion dough using 1/3 cup measuring cup and form into thick discs. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Space three discs per sheet, leaving room for the cookies to spread. Sprinkle each disc with coarse sugar. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown and middles are no longer raw. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sweet Potato Noodle Buns

Sweet Potato Noodle Buns - made July 15, 2017 from Cake Spy
One of the recipes that contributed to my impulse to buy a spiralizer was this one for sweet potato noodle buns. Click on the post title to see the original blog post and see what I mean when you view the pictures. Looks good, right?
Mine didn’t turn out quite so beautifully. I tried. This time around, I used a regular orange sweet potato instead of the white ones and I spiralized regular-size noodles instead of angel hair. I thought I would have enough swoodles by only using half a sweet potato but after I had pan-fried the first half, the swoodles had cooked down and I was plagued by a bout of insecurity that there wouldn’t be enough for 2 buns. So I spiralized the other half of the sweet potato and ended up with more swoodles.
I used two shallow, round ramekins to form the “buns”. Although the original directions didn’t say to, I lined the ramekins with plastic wrap with enough overhang that when I patted the swoodles into each ramekins, I could cover with the overhanging plastic wrap and smooth the tops. Then the swoodles were protected when I further pressed them down with canned goods. Lastly, once they had been pressed down for 30 minutes, I just undid the plastic wrap and lifted out the round swoodle buns with the plastic wrap and could up-end them directly into the heated frying pan, keeping their bun shape intact.
Key learning when making swoodle buns: make sure you cook the swoodles well enough before pressing into the ramekins. The pan-frying once they’re shaped into buns should only be to cook the egg binding them together and crisp up the outside but you want the insides soft and cooked. There’s nothing I dislike more than uncooked sweet potatoes.

Second key learning: plan to flip these only once. Since they’re literally noodles of sweet potato, you don’t want to handle them a lot or they might fall apart. Mine were great at first but since I hadn’t cooked all of the swoodles well enough, I pan-fried them a little longer and also turned them over a few times. They survived the first couple of flips then started to show their displeasure at my (over)handling by loosening up a few swoodles from the pack to taunt me. Little buggers.
Third key learning: you actually don’t want to make the buns too thick or use too many swoodles. It makes for an unwieldly thick burger if you do.
Despite my amateur hour with the buns, this turned out pretty well. I liked the contrast between the savory burger and the sweetness of the swoodle buns. And, in line with my prior experience with spiralizing sweet potatoes, they’re quite filling so once again, I ended up eating less because the whole thing was too much in one sitting.
1 medium to large sweet potato, peeled and ends cut flat
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 large egg
pinch of kosher salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Two 3/4 cup ramekins, lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and/or lined with parchment paper
  1. Using a spiralizer, cut the sweet potato into thin strands.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 1/2 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Add sweet potato and cook, stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes or until softened. Let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk egg. Stir in sweet potato, salt and pepper. Divide between prepared ramekins, filling each about halfway, and pressing the sweet potato down into the ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and place a heavy can or jar on top of the wrap to weight down the sweet potato. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Lightly coat a skillet with the remaining oil and beat over medium high heat. Remove plastic wrap and invert ramekins to slide noodle buns onto skillet. Cook, turning once, for 3 to 5 minutes per side, or until golden brown on both sides and hot in the center.
Hamburger patties
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon prime rib rub
1 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 large egg
  1. Combine ingredients together and pat into 4 round patties. Wrap individually in foil and freeze until ready to fry.
  2. If frying immediately, lightly spray a frying pan with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium high heat. Fry burgers until desired doneness.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Spaghetti with Swoodles

Spaghetti with Swoodles - made July 10, 2017
I have a new gadget. Total impulse purchase which I don’t usually do. Normally I waffle, dither and dink around before I buy myself something. I used to be a shopper and shopped myself to quite a number of acquisitions. Then, after I purged half my stuff, there was a period where I went the opposite direction and hardly bought myself anything at all. That was my “sackcloth and ashes” martyrdom period. Most recently, I’ve managed to (mostly) strike a balance between not overindulging myself and not being a martyr. If I wanted something, was going to use it and it didn’t cost half an arm or a quarter of a leg, I usually would buy it after an extended thinking-about-it period.
I blame my friend Donna for this. She posted a mouthwatering picture of what looked like honest-to-goodness noodles stir fried with chicken and some kind of green stuff (spinach? Basil?). It looked great and was healthy. Turns out those noodles weren’t pasta noodles but instead were made out of white sweet potatoes (Japanese sweet potatoes, my favorite) that had been spiralized. But they looked so real as noodles.
I don’t have a gluten intolerance or anything and I like pasta just fine. But I also love sweet potatoes and was intrigued by this whole spiralizing concept. I looked up recipes on pinterest, I read foodie blogs that showcased fantastic-looking dishes and, like a hapless person staring into the glittery eyes of a cobra, mesmerized by its depths, my trigger finger clicked, depositing the item into my online shopping cart. A few days later, I had a spiralizer sitting on my counter.
At first I circled it like it was a cobra itself, there for a purpose but tentative to approach in case it bit me. It had blades and weird cutouts in those blades that promised different sizes of “noodles”. There were instructions on what to do with root vegetables to get to that spiral noodle stage. Remember that I don’t really cook often or well. This wasn’t a baking gadget per se. It involved cooking. But I can read and the instructions were simple so this turned out to be a pretty straightforward endeavor.
Peel the sweet potato, cut off ends, cut in half, anchor one half on the pointy-wheel thingie, clamp the handle so the sweet potato kisses the blade and start turning. By trial and error, I was able to make angel hair “noodles” or “swoodles” – sweet potato noodles. It was pretty easy and didn’t require as much muscle power as some of the blogs had led me to believe. All that working out with weights paid off.
While, after half a sweet potato, I could spiralize with the best of them, I was a little more inept when it came to actually cooking the swoodles. At first I tried pan-frying them with a little olive oil. That worked decently well but it’s not that easy to pan fry swoodles and not have some of them burn while the others weren’t cooked through. Ask me how I know. For the swoodles made from the second half of the sweet potato (I cooked it in two batches as I had a pretty big sweet potato to start with), I boiled them instead. That sort of worked but you can’t over-boil them or you’ll end up with mashed swoodles, aka mashed sweet potatoes.
To uphold the swoodle look, I made a spaghetti sauce so I could lend verisimilitude to the whole noodle concept. Overall, it turned out okay. If you like a little more flavor or spice, add some additional pepper to the sauce or top the noodles with your favorite sauce. This was pretty healthy, more so than my usual fare. It helped that the swoodles turned out to be more filling than pasta noodles so I was able to eat a smaller portion and still feel satisfied.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, drained
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 large Japanese white sweet potato, spiralized then sauteed until soft
  1. Heat olive oil in large skillet and saute onions until soft. Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add ground turkey and stir until browned. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans spices and sugar.
  2. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Top swoodles with sauce and serve warm.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Peanut Butter Chunker Cookies

Peanut Butter Chunker Cookies - made dough July 1, 2017 modified from from Tastes of Lizzy T
If you go by the dates of when I’ve baked desserts in the past month or two, you’ll notice I’ve cut back a lot. That’s mostly because it’s been hot where I live and I can’t bear to turn the oven on as often as I used to. I’m cheap enough to hate running the air conditioner while I have the oven on. Seems expensively counter-intuitive and wasteful to do both. I prefer the air conditioner since I can’t stand the heat so I keep the oven off.

The good thing about cookies though is you can make the dough ahead of time and only bake off as much or as little as you want at any given time. Since it’s been hot, I had the oven on only long enough to bake a cookie sheet of these for work then called it a day.

The original recipe had a bunch of add-ins. I substituted a chopped up bar of Cadbury milk chocolate with caramel and peanuts that I’d bought at Heathrow when I had a connection on my way to Milan. Heathrow Duty Free and I are friends. I always walk out with slabs of chocolate to bring back home, distribute to my family and reserve some for baking.

This spread a little more than I thought it would and I don’t know if that’s because it was so hot when I made the dough and my butter was more soft than I would’ve liked. I did freeze the dough balls before baking but that doesn’t help as much if the cookie dough starts out soft because the overly soft butter made the dough more liquid before it could be frozen. But this was still a good cookie, especially if you like the peanut butter chocolate combination.
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks
1/2 cup milk chocolate chunks
1/2 cup toffee bits
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth. Add in dark brown sugar and beat until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add in eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined and add vanilla. Beat until combined.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. Add in two additions to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition until just combined. 
  3. Fold in chocolate chunks and toffee bits. Portion into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze several hours or overnight.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space frozen dough balls on baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and middles no longer look raw. Remove from oven, transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool completely.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cinnamon Roll Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Cinnamon Roll Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - made July 9, 2017 from Tastes Better From Scratch
I’ve had this cake on my pinterest board for awhile and it looked really good so I finally made it. Except mine didn’t turn out looking as well as the original blog I got the recipe from. Yeah, that happens more often than I care to admit.
I also (re)discovered that my swirling skills aren’t very good. I’m too tentative and don’t go bold with swirling because I get too paranoid that I’ll over-swirl and the two batters I’m trying to swirl will end up being too mixed in and incorporated with each other instead of standing out as separate-but-swirled equals. Bah.
Subsequently, this ended up being partial vanilla cake with pockets of melted cinnamon rather than vanilla cake with subtle “swirls” of cinnamon goodness. Trust me, there’s a difference. Still, I liked the cake itself. But I should’ve cut back on the frosting. I tried to get creative with it and add cinnamon to make it a cinnamon cream cheese frosting (cuz you know I don’t like cream cheese). But I cut too large of a hole in my Ziploc bag that I was using to pipe the frosting onto the cake so instead of dainty lines of frosting artistically criss crossing over the cake, I ended up with wide, flat lines like I was about to do a basketweave design. It wasn’t pretty. 
Rather than present it that (really lame) way, I decided to cover my frosting sins by just smoothing all the lines into a thin layer of frosting. Um, bad idea. Turns out I didn’t like the taste of the frosting itself; too tangy and not sweet enough. It might’ve been fine if I really had executed thin lines of it sparingly over the cinnamon vanilla cake so the sweetness of the cake could offset the tanginess of the frosting. But covering the whole thing with a layer of frosting; a no-no. I’d say this cake was okay but definitely not my finest baking hour.  

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter, melted

Cinnamon Swirl
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese
1-2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 x 8" baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk, egg and vanilla. Stir in melted butter. Pour mixture into prepared pan and smooth into an even layer.
  3. Cinnamon Swirl: cream butter, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon until smooth.
  4. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture evenly over the cake batter. Use a knife to swirl through the cake and disperse the mixture throughout the cake batter.
  5. Bake 32-37 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
  6. While cake is baking, make frosting: cream butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and cinnamon together until smooth and of desired consistency. Drizzle over warm cake; serve warm.