Sweet, Sassy, Southern

September 21, 2009


Drew with Nana, Sept. 2009

Sweet, sassy, southern. I think that pretty much describes my grandma. I’ve talked about Nana before on this blog and how I spent all my summers as a child at her house. Many of the memories I have of her involve food whether it’s shelling peas on her porch, eating ice cold watermelon on newspaper at her kitchen table, making pickles, or waking up in the mornings to her cheesy grits (which were my favorite).

She doesn’t do as much cooking as she used, but she is and will always be one of the main influences for my love of cooking. She could always get in the kitchen and whip up a wonderful meal with anything she had on hand. I always loved her grits, fried corn bread, cobblers, and spaghetti. I hope Drew gets to enjoy some of her cooking one day!

With the holidays coming up, I wanted to post another of my favorite recipes that she makes every Christmas. I do not like fruitcake in the traditional sense but this recipe is so delicious. Give it a try this holiday season! It’s great with coffee on a cold night.

Ice Box Fruitcake

1 box vanilla wafer cookies, crumbled
1 bag of shredded, sweetened coconut
1 large box raisins
1 qt. chopped pecans
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 package candied cherries (maraschino can be used if desired-drain well and cut in half)

Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. (Using your clean hands to mix works best.) Using a small measuring cup, scoop into quart size freezer bags and press into a 1″ layer. Freeze until hardened. Remove from the freezer and slice into squares when ready to serve. Keep leftovers in freezer.

Makes about 2 1/2 qt bags full.


Happy Birthday Melissa!

September 21, 2009

I’m a bit late posting this but I’ve been a little busy being a mom and going back to work. My friend Melissa just had a birthday the end of August. She and her boyfriend went on a cruise (jealous!) and also to New Orleans to celebrate. While they were away, my husband and I offered to check on their cats and plants for them. I decided to leave her a birthday surprise to find when she came back home. She and her boyfriend love to make and eat ice cream so I thought an ice cream themed gift would be perfect. Now, I know her well and I know she loves key lime pie so I decided that was the flavor I would make for her. I found this recipe on Joelen’s blog and it turned out so great and was so, so easy. Melissa loved her ice cream!

Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup bottled Key lime juice (I used fresh squeezed lime juice)
1/2 cup whipping cream
Dash of salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
Key lime wedges (optional)

Combine first 5 ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Pour mixture into freezer can of an ice-cream freezer, and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Stir 1/3 cup graham crackers into ice cream. Spoon ice cream into a freezer-safe container, and cover and freeze for 1 hour or until firm. Sprinkle each serving with 1 teaspoon graham crackers. Garnish with lime wedges, if desired.

And I got her these adorable, fun ice cream bowls and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Recipe Book to complete her ice cream themed birthday gift.

ice cream


It’s that time again, time to use up what I’ve got in the pantry and fridge. I always end with lots of leftover half boxes and bags of things in the cabinet, or things that I’ve bought and just forgot about. The result of this is having crammed cabinets. So I’m trying to use up some of those things in our meals this week. I’ve had a box containing exactly six lasagna noodles in the cabinet for a few months now.  It was leftover from when I made a lasagna sometime ago. Now you can’t make a real lasagna with only six noodles so I decided to make lasagna rolls. When trying to think of what to roll inside them, I automatically assumed I would make a ricotta filling and then remembered I had half a bag of baby spinach in the veggie drawer of the refrigerator. So I decided to chop that up and mix it in. I had never made a bechamel sauce, but knew it wasn’t difficult so I decided to do that instead of a marinara sauce. It turned out amazing! My husband and I both enjoyed this dinner. It was a bit time consuming because there are a few steps involved but definitely something I would make again.

Spinach Lasagna Rolls with Bechamel Sauce

For the lasagna rolls:

6 lasagna noodles
1 15 oz container part skim ricotta
1 egg
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup chopped baby spinach
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Begin by boiling the lasagna noodles whole, in salted water for 8-10 minutes. They should then be pliable but not quite done. Remove them from the water and lay on a lightly oiled baking sheet to prevent sticking. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl and then spread 2-3 Tbsp of the mixture onto each lasagna noodle and roll. Place in a greased baking dish with the open end of the noodle down.

For the bechamel sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, heated
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, but don’t let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, continuing to stir as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from the heat. To cool this sauce for later use, cover it with wax paper or pour a film of milk over it to prevent a skin from forming.

Source for bechamel sauce: Epicurious

Pour the bechamel sauce over the lasagna rolls. Top with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheeses if desired. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and baking for 30-35 minutes. Top with chopped parsley if desired.

Perfect Pizza Crust

August 16, 2009


I heart pizza! It has always been one of my favorite foods. I love the fact that you can change up the toppings a million different ways and of course there’s always the melted cheese. But probably the one thing that can make or break a pizza for me is the crust. If the crust isn’t good, then I can take it or leave it.

I typically just buy premade pizza crusts, but I’ve always wanted to find a really good one that I could make myself. I have made this one before and while it tastes good, it doesn’t quite have the texture I want. I finally decided to try this recipe that I have seen several times on Annie’s blog. It seems to be her go-to recipe and I can see why! I am always a little nervous when working with yeast, but I’m happy to say that it turned out great! It had the perfect texture, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.

I topped our pizza tonight with homemade pesto, spinach, tomato and feta and I can’t wait to use the other half of my dough on another pizza!

Basic Pizza Dough


½ cup warm water (about 110°)

1 envelope (2 ¼ tsp.) instant yeast

1 ¼ cups water, at room temperature

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups (22 oz.) bread flour, plus more for dusting

1 ½ tsp. salt

olive oil or non-stick cooking spray for greasing the bowl



Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup.  Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes.  Add the room temperature water and oil and stir to combine.  


Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Briefly combine the dry ingredients at low speed.  Slowly add the liquid ingredients and continue to mix at low speed until a cohesive mass forms.  Stop the mixer and replace the paddle with the dough hook.  Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Form the dough into a ball, put it in a deep oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.  Press the dough to deflate it.


To bake, place a pizza stone in the lower third of the oven.  Heat the oven to 500° for at least 30 minutes.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Form both pieces of dough into smooth, round balls and cover with a damp cloth.  Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.


Working with one piece of dough and keeping the other covered, shape the dough and transfer to a pizza peel or round of parchment dusted with semolina or cornmeal.  Top as desired.  Slide the dough onto the pizza stone.  Bake until the crust edges brown and cheese is golden brown in spots, about 8 to 12 minutes.  Repeat with remaining ball of dough or freeze for later use.

originally from Baking Illustrated by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine

Dinner with Friends

August 15, 2009


Last night we had some friends over for dinner. This is the first time we’ve really been able to have people over since Drew was born so I wanted dinner to be extra yummy.

On the menu:

marinated strip steaks
cheddar mashed potatoes
ceasar salad
garlic cheese bread


I had seen this recipe for garlic bread on Giada at Home and decided to change it up just a little. It was so delicious and so easy. I will definitely be making my own garlic bread from now on using this recipe. Here’s the recipe as I made it.

Cheddar Garlic Bread

  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or coarsely grated
  • 6 ounces butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (1 pound) loaf italian bread
  • Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    In a food processor, combine the cheese and butter. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add the garlic and parsley and pulse until combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spread the cheese mixture on the cut sides of the bread. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden.

    Using a serrated knife, cut the bread into 1-inch thick slices and serve.

    I was also very excited to get out my Kitchen Aid ice cream maker yesterday and try a new recipe from a cookbook I bought the other day, The Perfect Scoop. I have only made ice cream twice before so I decided since I was going to be serving this to friends, I would start with a simple recipe. I chose the cheesecake ice cream but at the last minute decided to make it Oreo cheesecake ice cream. It turned out so well! I’m so glad I decided to add the Oreos. Here is the recipe.


    Cheesecake Ice Cream
    (I doubled the following amounts)

    8 oz (230 g) cream cheese
    1 lemon, preferably unsprayed
    1 cup (240 g) sour cream
    1/2 cup (125 ml) half-and-half
    2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
    Pinch of salt

    Cut the cream cheese into small pieces. Zest the lemon directly into a blender or food processor, then add the cream cheese, half-and-half, sugar, and salt, and puree until smooth.

    Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

    The Perfect Scoop, p. 62-63

    *After removing the ice cream from the ice cream maker, fold in 10 (if doubling the recipe) crushed Oreo cookies. Place the ice cream in the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving.


    Here’s another yummy variation on the traditional burger. My husband has been wanting to make a feta stuffed burger for a while so we decided tonight to try it out. I had some ciabatta rolls left over from earlier this week so we toasted them up and they were the perfect bun for this burger. Give it a try. It was great!

    Feta Stuffed Burgers with Pesto

    1 lb ground beef chuck
    1/2 tsp italian seasoning
    1/4 cup bread crumbs
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp black pepper
    1 garlic clove, minced
    crumbled feta cheese
    prepared pesto

    Combine all ingredients except the feta and pesto. Form a thin patty with the ground beef. Place a small amount of feta in the center of the patty. Form another thin patty and place on top. Press together to seal the feta inside the meat. Grill until done, about 15 minutes. Serve on toasted ciabatta rolls with pesto.  

    Makes 4 burgers


    August 4, 2009


    Gumbo is one of those things that I’ve wanted to make for a long time now but was just unsure about which recipe to use. There are only 139,000,000 on the internet and a few more in my cookbooks so it’s hard to know which one is the best. Well I think I found the best, with a few little tweaks. I finally decided to read some reviews on All Recipes and that’s how I made my decision on which recipe to try. I made it for my parents for dinner last night with some long grain white rice and crusty bread. And oh it was so good! My parents couldn’t stop talking about how good it was and I agree. It had just the right amount of heat and all the flavors combined really well. This will most definitely be my go-to recipe for gumbo from now on!

    Gumbo Style Chicken Creole

    • 1/4 cup oil for frying
    • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken breast meat
    • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chile peppers, with liquid
    • 1 (4.5 ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained (omitted)
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
    • 1 teaspoon white sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 3 dashes hot sauce (I used 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper-use less if desired)

    *I added 3 cups low sodium chicken broth, 2 links of smoked sausage, sliced, and 1 1/2 cups of raw chopped shrimp.

    1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until mixture is the color of a copper penny. Reduce heat to low and stir in bell pepper and onion. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally.
    2. Add chicken,  sausage, tomatoes with green chile peppers, mushrooms (omitted), parsley, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper and hot sauce (or cayenne), and chicken broth. Stir together, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

    *Add shrimp the last 5 minutes and cook until pink. I also cooked mine for least 1/2 an hour. I served this over white rice.

    Source: All Recipes

    Seriously, go out right now and buy the ingredients for this. And if it’s too hot out, just crank up your AC and make it anyway. You will not be sorry.




    Lunch is the most difficult meal of the day for me. I always seem to eat the same old things and it tends to get boring. I don’t like to spend a lot of time making lunch so I like to find things that are easy to make. So, as I started to make myself a pb and j for lunch today, I saw some ciabatta rolls that I picked up yesterday sitting on the counter. I thought to myself, “hmm what could I make with those for lunch?” Then I remembered I had bought some tomatoes yesterday, too and I had some basil growing outside. So I toasted up this beautiful sandwich in just a few minutes and it was delicious. I don’t know if there’s anything I love more than crunchy and chewy bread and melted cheese. So much better than a pb and j.

    Tomato and Basil Sandwich on Ciabatta

    1-2 thin slices tomato
    3 leaves of basil, washed and dried
    2 Tbsp shredded mozzarella or 1 slice fresh mozzarella
    ciabatta rolls or sliced ciabatta bread
    extra virgin olive oil
    freshly cracked black pepper

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice your ciabatta roll in half and place on a baking sheet. Place 1-2 thin slices of tomato on the bottom half of the sandwich. Top with the basil leaves and then the mozzarella. Drizzle the olive oil over both sides of the sandwich. Add a sprinkle of freshly cracked black pepper on top of the mozzarella. Bake for 10-12 minutes to toast the bread. Remove from the oven and place the top half of the sandwich on the bottom half. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and place back in the oven for 3-5 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes and enjoy!

    Lemon Poppy Seed Bread

    August 3, 2009


    I am very excited that my parents are coming up today. My dad has a conference to go to near where we live and my mom is staying all week. She is SO excited to see the baby and I’ll be very glad to have some help with him all week. I find myself not getting much done each day because I’m so busy with him. I never knew it would be so hard to run errands in between a newborn’s eating schedule!

    Anyway, since my parents will be here I decided to make this recipe since they love sweet quick breads. I normally make them banana or pumpkin bread, but since I had some poppy seeds in the cabinet, I decided to make something a little different. It was really simple to make and the glaze really makes it taste great. You know I had to sneak a piece this morning before serving it to my family! I think this is one of those breads that will get better the second and third day as the glaze soaks into it.

    Lemon Poppy Seed Bread Recipe:

    3 large eggs

    1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    1/4 cup (60 ml) milk

    1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour, sifted

    3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar

    1 teaspoon baking powder

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (outer yellow skin of the lemon)

    3 tablespoons (30 grams) poppy seeds

    13 tablespoons (184 grams) unsalted butter, softened

    Lemon Syrup:

    1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice

    1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour (or spray with a non stick vegetable/flour spray) the bottom and sides of a loaf pan (8 x 4 x 2 1/2 inch) (20 x 10 x 7 cm). Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter and flour the paper. Set aside.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla extract, and milk. Set aside.

    In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and poppy seeds until combined. Add the softened butter and half the egg mixture and mix on low speed until moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about one minute. This aerates and develops the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining egg mixture in two batches, beating about 30 seconds after each addition. This will strengthen the structure of the batter.

    Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 55 to 65 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may have to cover the bread with buttered foil after about 30 minutes if you find the bread over browning.

    Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the sugar and lemon juice to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

    When the bread is done, remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Pierce the hot loaf all over with a wooden skewer or toothpick and then brush the top of the loaf with about half the hot lemon syrup. Cool the loaf in the pan for about 10 minutes then invert onto a greased wire rack. Brush the remaining syrup onto the bottom and the sides of the loaf. Reinvert the bread so it is right side up and then cool the bread completely before wrapping. Store at least overnight before serving to allow the lemon syrup to distribute throughout the loaf.

    Makes 1 loaf.

    Source: Joy of Baking


    I’ve learned while being out on maternity leave that there aren’t many things worth watching on daytime tv. You’ve got daytime talk shows, home improvement shows, and then there’s soaps of course. With not much to choose from, I’ve found myself watching Food Network a lot during the day while I’m just sitting and feeding Drew. And trust me, I do a lot of just sitting and feeding Drew. Try every two hours! He’s a hungry boy.

    Anyway, while watching Food Network I’ve started making a list of new recipes I’d like to try. Several of the recipes have come from one of my favorite cooks, Ina Garten. I look forward to watching her show every day, Barefoot Contessa, because everything she makes always looks divine and she makes it all seem so effortless. Plus I think she and her husband are cute as a button. I saw this recipe on her show the other day and it really made my sweet tooth ache. When I finally got out to go the store yesterday I got all the ingredients to make it and baked it last night for dessert. It turned out so good but as Ina would say, what could be bad about brownies? I think this recipe has a deeper, richer, more chocolaty flavor than some brownie recipes I’ve made. The only thing that could probably make it better is some creamy vanilla ice cream.


    Brownie Tart

    6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

    3 1/4 cups (20 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

    3 extra-large eggs

    1 cup sugar

    1 tablespoon instant coffee granules

    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    1/2 cup all-purpose flour

    1/4 teaspoon baking powder

    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

    1 cup (4 ounces) chopped walnuts

    2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream

    Grease and flour a 9-inch tart pan with removable sides. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.


    Melt the butter in a bowl set over simmering water. Add 2 cups of the chocolate chips, remove from the heat, and stir until the chocolate melts. Set aside to cool completely.


    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, coffee, and vanilla on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cooled chocolate. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, 1 cup of the chocolate chips, and the walnuts. Fold the flour mixture into the batter until just combined. Pour into the pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the center is puffed (the top may crack). The inside will still be very soft. Cool to room temperature before removing the sides of the tart pan.


    Melt the remaining 1/4 cup of chocolate chips with the heavy cream and drizzle on the tart. (I omitted)

    Source: Food Network