Thursday, October 30, 2008

Texas Pecan Pie

It's getting to be pecan season again. Yeah! I've already posted my personal favorite pecan pie recipe. Tuesday was Hubs birthday. He loves pecan pie so I planned on making him a pecan pie for his birthday. He also choose lasagna for his birthday dinner. He made the pasta sheets himself! So after getting caught up making lasagna( really awesome lasagna!)I ran out of time. I remembered reading a recipe in The Pastry Queen cookbook for some pecan pie bars. Because they have a shortbread crust and didn't need to cook as long as the pie I knew they'd be done in time.
Wow are these bars great. They are basically a pecan pie on a shortbread crust that you can pick up. No fork needed. Portable pecan pie, what could be better! These bars are crunchy/gooey in all the right places.
We also thought the coconut was a great addition. The next time I make these, (and there will be a next time!) I'm going to throw in a couple handfuls of chocolate chips.
So now I have two favorite pecan pie/dessert.

Texas Pecan Pie Bars
source: Rebecca Rather, The Pastry Queen

Yield: 1 dozen


1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar

4 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp salt


8 large eggs

6 cups firmly packed golden brown sugar

1/4 cup Bourbon (recipe says optional but you'll be missing out if you leave it out!)

6 Tbl unsalted butter, melted

2 Tbl Vanilla Extract

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

2 cups pecan halves


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 12 by 17-inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray.

2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. beat the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl on medium speed about 1 minute. Add the flour and salt; mix on low speed until evenly incorporated but still crumbly.

3. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until it has darkened to a deep golden brown. Leave the oven at 350°F.


1. Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Stir in the bourbon, butter, vanilla, flour, and salt, then the coconut and pecans.

2. Pour the filling over the cooled crust, spreading evenly. Bake until set, 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool thoroughly, at least 30 minutes, before cutting into 3-inch squares or diamonds.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lentil Soup

As soon as the weather begins to cool, I crave soup. I enjoy the process of making soup almost as much as eating the soup. Chopping, simmering, stirring, all the while the house filling with a delicious aroma, I find it very therapeutic.
Recently I decided to give lentil soup a try. Lentils are a legumes and are incredible good for you. They are packed with fiber and heart healthy minerals as well as tons of protein. All that and a bag of dry lentils will run you about seventy-five cents!

This soup very is rich and hearty. In fact my carnivorous husband agreed that it was extremely filling despite the lack of meat. High praise indeed! Well there is a bit of bacon and chicken broth, so it not completely vegetarian. If you want to make it completely vegetarian just leave out bacon and saute the carrots, onions, and celery in a little olive oil and use water in place of the chicken broth.

Lentil Soup

Serves 4

3 strips (3 ounces) bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 celery stalk cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth (3 1/2 cups)
2 cups of water
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
In a Dutch oven (or other 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid), cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.
Add onion and carrots and celery; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 minute.
Add lentils, thyme, bay leaf, broth, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover; cook until lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
Stir in vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve immediately.
I added just a bit of sour cream to the top before serving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Triple Threat Chocolate Cookies

Okay so taking dessert to your dentist probably seems like a strange thing to do.
Today I have to go back to the dentist to get my crown finished. Not an event I particularly look forward too, but I do have a really nice dentist. At every visit the conversation turns to food within a few minutes of my sitting in the chair. As much of a conversation as you can have with some one's hand in your mouth!
At my last cleaning, mouth open and much scraping going on, my hygienist starts asking me about cooking and what I like to cook. I try to answer her using mostly grunts. Our conversation went something like this:
Hygienist: "Do you ever watch the Food Network?"
Me: "Uh huh"
Her: "I just love that lady , you know the Southern one. What's her name?"
Me: Aula Een?
Her: "Yeah I just love Paula Deen. She's so funny. Do you ever watch her show?"
Me: "Om imes"
Her: "All her food looks so good. Have you ever made any of her recipes?"
Me "ess"
Amazingly it seems she can decipher this strange language.
When the dentist comes in to check on me, he asks, "So what'd you bring us to eat?"
So how do you answer that? The next time I see this person, he'll be drilling on my tooth!
I find myself promising to bring him some goodies on my next visit. Hey, I'm not above bribery. I'll bring you goodies, you give me happy gas! Besides dentists have lots of toothbrushes on hand.

I chose to make the Pastry Queens "Triple Threat Chocolate Cookies" for my bribery. These cookies are seriously chocolate. They're are almost flourless, just 1/3 cup of flour to about a pound of chocolate! Soft, densely chocolate, ...sublime!

Triple-Threat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Source: The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather

1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 TBSP unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1/3 cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cups semisweet or milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the pecans and walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 7 to 9 minutes until golden brown. Cool the nuts completely.
Grease baking pan generously with butter or cooking spray.
Melt the butter, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan set over low heat. Stir occasionally, watching carefully to make sure the chocolate does not burn. Remove the pan from the heat to cool.
Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until fluffy. Add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat on medium speed about 2 minutes, until the dough is thick and glossy. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, which makes it easier to scoop.
Use a 1 ¾ inch diameter scoop to drop spoonfuls of dough on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 1 ½ inches apart. Wet your fingertips lightly with water and gently flatten the cookie dough(no need to press hard, just press out the hump) Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops begin to crack and look glossy. Cool the cookies for 10 minutes before removing them from the baking sheets.

Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cranberry Rum Relish

At some point in my adult life I've come to realize that despite all my efforts, I am in fact, beginning to turn into my parents. It's mostly in small ways. For instance, as a teen I couldn't figure out why on earth you'd want to spend a day cutting up fruit and putting it into jars and canning it. Mom would buy flats of berries or bushels of peaches or cucumbers etc. and have us kids help peel, cut, and ladle into jars. I thought this was not only an extremely boring way to spend the day, but it was practically on the verge of torture! After all canned fruit and preserves can be bought at the store and they're not that expensive. So why, was my question. Yes we had a big family, but it's just a jar of peaches! I remember quite clearly on one such peach preserving Saturday, swearing that I would NEVER. EVER. can ANYTHING when I was an adult! Of course I swore this quietly, to myself, as our grumbling had no affect on our mother at all. She'd just say that we wouldn't be complaining the next winter while we were eating whatever it was we were helping her preserve.
Then one day I find myself making strawberry preserves and fig chutney with great gusto. See right there no matter how hard you fight it, your parents slip in and take over your thinking. Now I completely get why Mom made her own bread and chopped up everything she could get her hands on and threw it in a jar or the freezer. Oh and it's not all torture to can things, in fact it's kind of fun...and the transformation is complete!
Recently I bought The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving, and was very excited about it, I might add. It's full of all kinds of wonderful recipes for preserving almost anything. When I saw the recipe for Cranberry Rum Relish, I couldn't wait to make it. It's delicious and just tastes like the holidays. It would be great with turkey or chicken. I think it will be on our Thanksgiving table this year.

1/3 cup dark rum (75 mL)
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (50 mL)
Grated rind of 1 orange
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (750 mL)
1 cup granulated sugar (250 mL)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper (2 mL)

1. Combine rum, shallots and orange rind in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes until rum has reduced and mixture is a syrupy glaze.
2. Add cranberries and sugar. Stirring constantly, continue to cook until cranberries pop and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in pepper.

3. Process for 10 minutes for half-pint (250 mL) jars and 15 minutes for pint (500 mL) jars as directed below, or store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks.
Makes 2 cups (500 mL)

I had small amount of relish leftover after canning the rest. I made a turkey sandwich on rosemary bread with sharp cheddar cheese and just pressed it in a hot pan with melted butter for a few minutes. It made an incredible sandwich. Now I know how to use up that leftover holiday turkey!

Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Autumn Pumpkin Muffins with Pecan Toffee Streusel

I don't know what happens to me in the Fall, but I become a little pumpkin obsessed! I can't seem to make enough with pumpkin. Maybe it's because we have such long hot summers here in the South that those first cool days make me want to celebrate. I'm not sure the reason, but I do know that this time of year I crave spicy, pumpkiny, nutty, goodness.
I've had Rebecca Rather's Pastry Queen cookbook for a while now and everything I've made from it has been wonderful. I decided to give her pumpkin quick bread recipe a try. I made muffins rather than the loaves and added toffee pieces to the topping. Why? Because I love toffee too and thought I'd throw all my favorite things on top of these muffins.

This is also my entry for this month's Sugar High Friday. This month's host is Dessert First and the theme is spice. Check out all the other enrties here on Oct 31

Autumn Pumpkin Bread with Pecan Toffee Streusel

recipe from Rebecca Rather's The Pastry Queen slightly adapted

1 1/2 cups pecan pieces (divided)
1 cup vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower
3 cups sugar
4 lg eggs
1 (15 ounce )can pure pumpkin puree
1 cup water
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 toasted pecan pieces (above)
1/2 toffee pieces
If you like a lot of the streusel, you may want to double this part.

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in the oven for 7-9 min., until golden and aromatic. Reserve 1/2 cup for streusel topping.
Grease standard size muffin tin with butter or cooking spray.
Whisk the oil and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs, pumpkin, and water and whisk until combined.
In another bowl whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and pecan pieces.
carefully mix the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture.
Fill the muffin pans almost to the top with batter.

For the struesel
Stir together sugar, butter, cinnamon pecan pieces, and toffee. Sprinkle liberally over tops of muffins before baking.
Bake muffins 30-35 minutes.
Yield 36 muffins or you can make this into two loaves by equally dividing batter between two greased loaf pans and baking for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

These muffins are very so flavorful and aromatic, like taking a bite of Autumn. I suggest brewing a pot of coffee as they cook, because you'll want to eat one of these muffins as soon as they emerge from the oven.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Curried Pumpkin Soup with Crab Crostini

I'm a huge fan of renowned chef and restaurateur, Frank Stitt. Here in Alabama, Frank is one of our favorite sons. Each of his three restaurants are based on a philosophy of eating fresh, local, in season food. This was a groundbreaking idea when he started his first restaurant in Birmingham, AL in the early 80's.
My first experience with Frank Stitt's food came when I was in college, at Bottega Cafe. I was always completely broke I college so my food budget was almost non-existent. I'd have to save up and every so often a group of us would go to Bottega Cafe. Bottega is two restaurants in one. On one side a fine dining restaurant, way beyond my meager means in college, the other side was casual dining. We could only afford to eat at the Cafe but it was a fine meal out for me in those days. Usually we'd order several items and share with the whole table. If I was really spluging, I'd order the tiramisu, which I didn't share with anyone!
A few years later my sister, a Culinary Institute of America student, did an externship at Highland Bar and Grill. Some of the best food I've every eaten has come from that kitchen.
So this week-end when I needed a great first course for a dinner party with friends, I pulled out Frank Stitt's Southern Table for inspiration. I decided to make the Curried Pumpkin Soup with Crab Crostini's. The vibrant orange color and spicy curry make this the perfect soup for a cool fall evening.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

Frank Stitt's Southern Table

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 onions, sliced
2 leeks, trimmed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1/4 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves, and 3 allspice berries, tied in cheesecloth to make a sachet
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced
1 pound peeled pie pumpkin, sliced
1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced
6 cups water, preferably spring water
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Snipped chives for garnish

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Add the onions, leeks, carrot, and apple and sauté over medium-low heat until the onions are translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the curry, spice sachet, and the remaining vegetables. Pour in the water and bring to a gentle simmer, for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove the spice sachet and puree the vegetable mixture in a food mill. To give the soup a silky-smooth texture, pass through a fine-mesh strainer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the soup to a saucepan. Add the cream and taste and adjust the seasoning. Heat gently just until warmed through.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the chives.

This soup is great on it's own but the crab crostini makes it spectacular.
Crab Crostini

1/2 lb lump crab
1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon
juice of half a lime
1 tsp fresh chives chopped fine
2 tsp flat leaf parsley chopped fin
salt and pepper to taste

Half inch baguette slices, crusts removed.

Heat oven to 375
Brush baguette slices lightly with olive oil. Place on baking tray and bake for 3 minutes. Just until toasted but remove from oven before they take on any color.
In a bowl, mix together olive oil, zest, lemon juice, lime juice, parsley, and chive. Gently mix in the lump crab, being careful not to break it up too much.
Top the toasted crostini with a generous amount of the crab mixture and place in the center of the soup.