Pecan Squares

The birthday countdown continues…….

Am I ready? Yes ……….. and no. Ready to celebrate with my family, of course, but not ready to turn another year older. I know, I know, I don’t have a choice, the years will keep a comin’ whether I want to them to or not.

However, let it go on record that I am protesting :)

Anyhoo, I am writing this betwixt and between making dinner and packing, we are leaving for VEGAS tomorrow morning to overtake my parents’ home for a wonderful long weekend filled with family, laughter, and of course, copious amounts of food and wine.

P1000429And cake. 

Did I mention that I am going to make this cake for my birthday?

Can’t wait…..

Pecan Squares – adapted from Ina Garten

Crust:
1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Topping:
1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup good honey
3 cups light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 pounds pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix well. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 by 12 by 1-inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be very sticky; sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

For the topping, combine the butter, honey and brown sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Cut into bars and serve.

Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy

I have come to realize that in my life, for every success I achieve, there is a failure I must suffer..

Seriously.

Case in point: I really outdid myself making dinner last week. I prepared chicken fried steak, buttermilk mashed potatoes, cream gravy, and braised greens with bacon. J and the posse loved it.

And were still talking about it two days later.

Impressive, considering it was the first time I’ve ever attempted southern style cooking before. But it was one of those dinners that was well worth the time investment – and believe me, there was a serious amount of time involved.

And let’s not even get started on the mess……

Anyway, it’s a good thing that dinner was so good, because the next evening, I attempted a new recipe for cheese enchiladas. Another big time/mess investment.

Aaaaaannnnd suffice to say, I won’t be making them again.

Per the family’s request.

Ouch….

Chicken Fried Steak – adapted from Homesick Texan

Note: I found out the hard way that you really can’t coat the meat too far in advance – the flour gets gummy and then falls off while the steak is cooking.

  • 1 1/2 pounds top-round steak
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Cut the top-round steak into four pieces. Pound the steak with a meat tenderizer until flattened and almost doubled in size. Season the squashed steak on both sides with black pepper to taste.

Place the flour in a large bowl and add the black pepper and cayenne. In another large bowl, mix the eggs with the buttermilk.

Take a piece of the tenderized steak and dredge it in the flour mixture, turning it to coat. Then dip the coated steak in the egg mixture, allowing any excess to drip off. Dip it back into the flour again. Place on a wire rack and repeat with the remaining steak.

Pour enough oil in a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, to reach a depth of 1/2-inch. Heat it to 300°F (149°C). Line a rack with paper towels. Take the coated steak and gently place them in the skillet, being careful not to crowd the skillet. You may need to work in batches. Be careful, as there will be a lot of popping and hissing when you add the steaks to the hot oil. After about 3 or 4 minutes, gently turn the steaks with tongs and cook for 5 more minutes.

Remove the steaks from the skillet and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. (If cooking the steaks in batches, you can opt to keep the cooked steaks warm in an oven set at 200°F (93°C) while you cook the remaining steaks.) Serve the steaks smothered in cream gravy.

Cream Gravy – adapted from Homesick Texas

  • 2 tbs. vegetable oil
  • 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • Black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat until warm. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes until a dark roux forms.

Slowly add the milk to the skillet, stirring with a whisk to mix it with the roux. Be sure to press out any lumps. Turn the heat down to low and continue stirring until the mixture has thickened, a couple more minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste. If the gravy is too thick for your tastes, you can thin it by adding more milk, a tablespoon at a time.

Chocolate Chip Crumb Pound Cake

I have come to the forgone conclusion that we are the most disliked people in our neighborhood.

Not by the neighbors, mind you…. by the HOA. The association seems to have issues with us, starting with the motorcycles parked in the driveway. Apparently that’s against regulations.

Really? A motorcycle parked in your own driveway? I mean, these are nice motorcycles, not broken down junkers with the tires removed, parked on blocks, leaking oil and creating an eyesore, a la “Sanford and Son”. So after we received several not-so-nice notices where legal action was threatened if we didn’t move them out of sight, J put them into the garage and we were technically “in compliance” once again.

With the bikes, anyway.

Yesterday, I received a notice that we are once again violating their perfect community because our trash can was visible from the street.

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seriously.

I (we, really) am counting the days until the ranch house is complete………

Chocolate Chip Crumb Pound Cake – adapted from Bake or Break

For the crumb topping:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

For the cake:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 & 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

To make the crumb topping:

Combine flour, brown sugar, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in melted butter until the mixture is moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Set aside.

To make the cake:

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.  Whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, cream cheese, sugar, and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs in 3 portions, mixing well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and almond extract.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing just until combined.

Transfer half of the batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the crumb mixture evenly over the batter. Top with remaining cake batter. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture on top of cake batter and press gently into the batter.

Bake 1 hour 35 minutes, or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool cake completely in pan on a wire rack.

Samosas

These little devils…… innocent as they may seem, they almost caused me to have a breakdown of sorts.

Interestingly enough, it was neither the filling nor the preparation of the dough that caused my inner turmoil.

It was forming them. 

I couldn’t get the hang of shaping them the way the recipe instructs… so rather than throw everything out the window, I took a piece of advice from Sabrina and made them into a mezzaluna shape.

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Which made me wonder…. is it possible to commit a cross-cultural offense by using an Italian shape for an Indian snack food?

Samosas – adapted from Saveur

Note: I baked these at 375 degrees instead of frying them.

3 cups flour
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
¾ cup ice-cold water
½ lb. russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 tbsp. canola oil, plus more
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 (1″) piece ginger, peeled and minced
¾ cup frozen peas, defrosted
¼ cup minced cilantro
¼ cup minced mint
½ tsp. garam masala
2 small green Thai chiles or 1 serrano, minced
Tamarind and mango chutneys, for serving (optional)

1. Make the dough: Pulse flour and butter in a food processor into pea-size crumbles. Add water; pulse until dough forms. Divide into 12 balls; chill 1 hour.

2. Make the filling: Boil potatoes and carrots in a 4-qt. saucepan of salted water until tender, 8–10 minutes. Drain; coarsely mash. Add 2 tbsp. oil to pan; heat over medium-high. Cook cumin seeds until they pop, 1–2 minutes. Add onion and ginger; cook until golden, 4–6 minutes. Let cool; stir into potato mixture with peas, cilantro, mint, garam masala, and chile.

3. Form and fry samosas: Working with 1 ball at a time, roll dough into a 6″ round; cut in half. Gather straight edges of 1 half-round together, overlapping by ¼” to form a cone. Moisten seam with water; press to seal. Spoon 1 tbsp. filling into cone. Moisten edges of cone with water; pinch to seal. Heat 2″ oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Fry samosas until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Drain on paper towels; serve with chutneys if you like.

 

Fried Ravioli

It’s Sunday, and in my opinion, the best day of the weekend. Everything that was on your “to-do” list is done, everyone is home, (doing their own thing), and dinner is bubbling away in the slow cooker. There was the promise (some might say threat) of a thunderstorm today, but that hasn’t happened.

And may I say, I’m a bit disappointed that it didn’t. Perhaps it would have inspired me to bake something, because rainy days = baking to warm up the kitchen.

Nevermind the fact that it’s still 80 degrees outside, so clearly the kitchen doesn’t need warming up……..

On a separate, unrelated topic, I have been thinking quite a bit about my birthday. Seeing as how it’s rapidly approaching, and we will be in Vegas for it  (crazy, considering that last year we were in ITALY!!), I am contemplating what to make for dinner. It’s not weird that I plan on making dinner and my own cake, because really, going out is highly overrated.

Food, company, and ambiance is always better at home – especially my parents’ home :)

So while dreams of lobster, steak and chocolate cake dance through my head, I’ll like to share this picture of Alexander, who graciously made dinner for J and I last night:

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He prepared an incredible pasta dinner for us, and commented that “wow, it’s a lot of work to do this!”

Welcome to the real world, kid……….
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Fried Ravioli – adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

1 cup buttermilk
2 cups Italian-style bread crumbs
1 box fresh cheese ravioli (about 24 ravioli)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 jar store bought marinara sauce, heated, for dipping

Pour enough vegetable oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 325 degrees F.

While the oil is heating, put the buttermilk and the bread crumbs in separate shallow bowls. Working in batches, dip ravioli in buttermilk to coat completely. Allow the excess buttermilk to drip back into the bowl. Dredge ravioli in the bread crumbs. Place the ravioli on a baking sheet, and continue with the remaining ravioli.

When the oil is hot, fry the ravioli in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried ravioli to paper towels to drain.

Sprinkle the fried ravioli with Parmesan and serve with a bowl of warmed marinara sauce for dipping.

 

Some thoughts about a birthday…

So here we are. It’s September 1. And my birthday is in 19 days.

I can’t believe it. Of course, I also can’t believe that one year ago, we were in the midst of embarking on our epic trip to Italy.

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sigh…..

Life changing, in so many ways. Today, I was reading a few of my blog posts from last September, and it’s mind boggling to me, really, how much has transpired in just one year. From conversations with my parents two weeks before the trip, the actual trip itself, to meeting J two weeks after the trip, and moving to Austin, Texas, six months after that.

whoa.

In retrospect, at the time, everything just seemed to happen in a natural progression. As it should have. And aside from missing my parents living 4 miles away, and being able to see them whenever I wanted to (read: every day),  I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

However, let’s not overlook one very important fact here:

Alexander is now taller than Sabrina and I.

Proof to follow…..