brown sugar pound cake

brown sugar pound cake on a spoon

I can’t believe I’ve gone so many months without mentioning Eric’s all-time favorite dessert. If he’s in the mood for a sweetie, it’s 9 times out of 10 going to be brown sugar pound cake.

It’s a rather popular old family recipe, and I can see why. Somehow, it’s even more rich than the buttery pound cake I made last year, but it’s about 100 times yummier. I think it might be the coconut extract. The smell is kind of intoxicating.

The recipe itself isn’t hard to follow; the trick is in making sure you pull it out of the oven at just the right moment. Too early, and it will be gummy inside. Too late, and you might as well have picked it out at the grocery store, from somewhere between the pre-packaged muffins and the bags of bagels.

My secret? Poking it with a sharp knife after an hour or so. You want it to come out pretty clean, with perhaps a couple moist crumbs clinging on.

brown sugar pound cake in pan

brown sugar pound cake

Pre-recipe note: Please try to take the time to bring your eggs and butter to room temperature before making brown sugar pound cake. You will be rewarded. (With better cake.)

3/4 lb. butter (that’s 3 sticks, or 1 1/2 cups)
1 lb. brown sugar (that’s around 2 1/3 cups, packed, I think)
1/2 c white sugar
5 eggs
3 c AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp coconut extract
1/2 c evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 300F.

It’s important to prep your bundt pan properly first to ensure your precious cake will not stick! Butter and flour it well. It should look like this:

buttered and floured bundt pan

buttered and floured up

In a large bowl, cream together butter and both sugars until fluffy and lightened. Add eggs one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture; mix until just blended.

Add vanilla, coconut extract, and evaporated milk. Mix until well combined.

The batter will be slightly thick. Drop into the prepared pan and smooth out a little; bake for 1 hour, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. (Often mine needs about 10-15 minutes more.)

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes; invert the pan and tap out your fresh brown sugar pound cake. Let cool completely before covering well with plastic wrap, or sealed in an airtight container.

brown sugar pound cake and tea

so good with a cup of tea


cinnamon rolls

cinnamon rolls out of the oven

Have you heard of Pioneer Woman? Her blog is fantastic!

Go on, take a peek. She covers all kinds of topics besides food. She was up for six Bloggies this year, you know, and won three!

These are her cinnamon rolls. If you like cinnamon rolls, you must try these. They are just as good (if not better than) any that I’ve had in stores or bakeries or coffee shops. Do not fear working with yeast! Just make sure that it hasn’t expired. And really, that’s the hardest part.

Well, actually the other hardest part was scaling down the recipe from PW’s. The original makes seven (!!) pans of rolls. The first time I made these, I only halved the recipe, and ended up with three very stuffed pans. We are only two average-sized people around here. That was just too many rolls, and I’m sad to say that I had to throw some out. Never again! This time, I quartered the recipe, which yielded a full pan plus four more rolls. And really, scaling wasn’t too hard, especially since this recipe doesn’t contain eggs (who wants to bother with negotiating out 1/4 of an egg?) and to spare you even that small hassle, I have provided for you the scaled recipe.

So go on and gather up all the ingredients. If you’re like me, you might not have yeast handy. Go get it. Also, make sure that you have enough cinnamon… it would be a shame to run out of it during this recipe.

Then you’d just have rolls.

sliced and ready for a final rise

cinnamon Rolls
- adapted (and way scaled down) from Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Rolls 101. You can head over to her site if you’d like the full recipe for a full SEVEN pans!

For the rolls:
1 c milk
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/4 c sugar
1/2 packet Active Dry Yeast (that’s 1 1/8 tsp)
2 + 1/4 c AP flour
1/4 heaping tsp baking powder
1/4 scant tsp baking soda
3/4 heaping tsp salt
1/3 c softened butter
1/4 c brown sugar
healthy dose of cinnamon

For the icing:
1 tsp vanilla
2 T milk
1 T butter
1-2 T brewed coffee
pinch of salt
1 – 1 1/2 c powdered sugar (or enough to thicken icing as desired)

First, we make the rolls:

Mix milk, vegetable oil, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat the mixture just to the point of it beginning to boil (small bubble will begin to form) and remove from heat. Leave to cool at least 30 minutes or so, or until the mixture is lukewarm to warm. Sprinkle the yeast over top of the warm mixture and let sit for a minute. Add 2 cups of flour. Stir together well; the mixture will be sticky. Cover and let rise for at least one hour.

Add 1/4 cup more flour, and baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir together. You should have a slightly sticky dough at this point.

You now have two options: 1) Cover and put the dough in the fridge overnight to rise. PW mentions even letting sit for a day or two until you’re ready to make the rolls. I went this route. OR 2) Go ahead and make the rolls.

Sprinkle counter generously with flour. Dump the dough out onto the counter and form a rough rectangle. Roll the dough out thin; try to keep the shape generally rectangular. Spread the softened butter out over the dough; then sprinkle on the brown sugar and enough cinnamon as you’d like. Begin rolling up the dough at one of the long sides of the rectangle. Try to keep the roll relatively tight. Once fully rolled, pinch the seam to seal it up.

Smear a little more softened butter around two round foil tins or pie pans. Then cut your rolls approximately 3/4 to 1 inch thick and arrange them in the buttered pans. (They should be spaced approximately as shown in the earlier photo.) Allow the rolls to rise another 20-30 minutes.

In the mean time, preheat your oven to 375F. After the rolls have risen, bake until light golden brown (around 15 to 18 minutes).

When your rolls are almost done, make the icing:

In saucepan, heat butter, milk and coffee until warmed through. Stir in salt and vanilla. Add powdered sugar slowly until it reaches the desired consistency. It should be pourable. We tried to keep the powdered sugar as minimal as possible, so we could still taste the coffee and vanilla flavors, but it is up to you. Adjust the ingredients to taste. Drizzle icing over warm rolls.

Eat ‘em up! (And if there are any leftovers, keep them tightly covered in the fridge. Before eating, heat in the microwave until they’re warmed through.)

cinnamon roll insides

soft, sweet cinnamony goodness

Notes:

  • This recipe definitely takes a bit of planning ahead. Check out the times — it requires a bit of waiting with all the cooling and rising and resting and whatnot. If you want them for breakfast, it might save you some time in the morning to make the dough the night before, then form and rise the rolls in the morning. It means less time between when you wake up and when you can enjoy these yummies.
  • I made a vanilla icing with extra coffee, but PW has directions for a maple flavored icing that also sounds good. I just always forget to look for maple flavoring at the store. If you try it, let me know how it tastes!
  • PW’s original recipe calls for a hotter oven, but it dried my rolls out a bit last time. She recently mentioned that she dropped her temperature a bit, and I think it works much better now. Also, if you need any visual help when it comes to rolling out the dough, she’s got every step of the process well-documented.

peanut butter cookies

scaledimg_3825-cookie-stack

Sometimes, no matter how much I love my chocolate, I just have to have something… else. That’s right, something other than chocolate. Shocking, I know.

That’s where these cookies come in. I had actually never really liked peanut butter cookies before around three or four years ago, when we still lived in the dorms and had to get our cookie fixes by ordering in. If you’ve lived in Austin and/or went to UT, you would probably know about Tiff’s Treats. (Oh, they’ve opened one in Dallas, now!) If you’re scoffing at the idea of delivered cookies, know this: They. Are. Good. And they arrive warm! What more could you want?

An oven with which to make your own cookies?

I have that (now)!

Oh, back to the story about peanut butter cookies. Ones I’d tried before seemed to be brittle and crumbly. And we like our cookies soft and chewy around here. “Juicy,” if you will.

I must have lucked out with this recipe, because it was the first peanut butter cookie recipe I tried and I am sticking to it forever now. They totally fulfill the soft/chewy/juicy requirements.

scaledimg_3816-pile

peanut butter cookies
- adapted from JIF’s Irresistible PB Cookies

3/4 c creamy peanut butter
1/2 c butter, softened
1 1/4 c brown sugar, firmly packed
3 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 c AP flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda

Oven temperature: 375F

With an electric mixer, combine peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, milk, and vanilla. Beat together at medium speed until well incorporated and a little bit fluffy looking. Add the egg; mix until just combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.

Add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture at low speed just until the flour disappears. At this point, you might want to throw in some chocolate chips. Or maybe not.

The original recipe calls for shortening, but I never have that around, so I used butter instead. Note that this will probably require chilling the dough. (See the note at the end.) So if you used butter, chill the dough for an hour or so (or until firm); preheat your oven, and then make your cookies. You can use a couple teaspoons and drop the cookies onto the pan, or use a scoop.

For unknown reasons, it has become something of a tradition to use the tines of a fork to make a criss-cross pattern on top the cookies before they bake. I suspect this may have something to do with alerting those with peanut allergies to steer clear. Is this true? Anyway, I dipped a fork in a little white sugar before making the imprints on mine — I don’t know if it added much, but you can just see a few of the crystals on top of the finished product.

PB closeup

hello there

Bake 7-8 minutes, or until just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let rest on the baking sheet for a couple more minutes; then move the cookies to a cooling rack or aluminum foil to cool fully.

Kept in an airtight container, these stay juicy for 3-4 days.

Notes:

I should have listened to my instincts when I scooped out the first six cookies and they sort of gooed onto the pan… I thought I might get away with just baking them anyway, without the chill, and they turned out like this:

scaledimg_3804-oops

oops.

Just a little flat and floppy. Don’t worry, they tasted just fine. (As perhaps evidenced by the mysteriously missing 6th cookie.)

So, live and learn. I put the prepared dough into the refrigerator while that first batch baked, and then I was on my merry way. After the chill, they stayed thick and juicy! Or as juicy as a cookie can be, at least.

scaledimg_3805-success

there we go

spaghetti with turkey meat sauce

spaghetti on fork

I’ve got a small backlog of posts to get to that involve, for the most part, even more sweeties. And chocolate. So to break up the sugar rush, I thought I’d share the #1 dinner we have around here.

Spaghetti with turkey meat sauce.

I’m not sure that it sounds appetizing (meat sauce?), but it is our absolute favorite thing to eat for dinner. I don’t even know that it looks that appetizing. I mean come on, how good can ground meat really look? But it smells so fantastic and when it’s all simmering together at the end, I have to restrain myself from eating it all up before the pasta is even done boiling.

This is another one of those recipes that I picked up after watching my mom make it at home. I’ve tweaked it a little since I started making it myself, but the basic sauce is still there. However, I won’t promise to the total accuracy of the measurements for the ingredients. I’ve never picked up a measuring spoon while preparing this dish, so any amounts listed here are just rough estimates. Play with the recipe as you like.

Oh and also, I am not Italian by any means, so I’m quite sure this “meat sauce” is not at all close to a traditional bolognese. Please don’t be horrified by the ingredient list. It just tastes good. Really.

spaghetti with turkey meat sauce

enough spaghetti* for you and whomever you are serving
pack of ground turkey (I would guess a little over 1 lb.)
1/2 white onion, in a small dice
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
15-oz. can of tomato sauce
3-oz. tomato paste (half of a small can)
olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt (I prefer kosher for this) and ground pepper to taste

First, we must make the sauce.

Side note: I had photos of this process… but the transformation from raw to cooked meat just doesn’t look so appealing. Just imagine along with me.

Heat a large saucepan (I use my enameled cast-iron casserole) to medium/medium-high. Pour in enough olive oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and sauteé until it starts to become translucent (around 2-3 minutes). Toss in a pinch of salt, then add the garlic and stir until fragrant (another minute or so).

chopped garlic and onions

how many great dishes begin

Add the ground turkey to the pan and stir well. Add a generous pinch or two of salt, a few turns of pepper, and a couple teaspoons of garlic powder. You need to season the meat well before it browns so that the meat has good flavor on its own and isn’t totally dependent on the sauce later. Brown the meat until almost all of the liquid in the pan has evaporated. If you’re used to ground beef, note that turkey won’t get nearly that dark, so don’t keep on cooking forever, because it will get very dry.

Once the turkey has browned, turn the heat down to low and add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and dried oregano. Add an extra cup of water or so, and stir until it’s all combined. You may need to go after the tomato paste with the flat side of your spoon a bit so it’s not a lurking mass.  Add in the soy sauce and brown sugar and stir well.

Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes. This is also a good time to get a large pot of water boiling for the pasta. Then comes my favorite part: testing! I usually have to adjust the amounts of soy sauce and brown sugar until it tastes right. It should be just slightly sweet with a fairly strong savory flavor. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Nurmm… Anyway, you can let it simmer gently until you are ready to eat. (This is where I get into trouble… “sampling” the sauce until the pasta is done.)

Once you’ve got your sauce tasting just right, start cooking the pasta. It should take around 7-8 minutes, but check it regularly to make sure you pull it when it is al dente. I hate mushy pasta, and as fabulous as this sauce is, it cannot make up for watery, pasty noodles.

*Spaghetti note: While we will, on occasion, pair this sauce with penne rigate, I must say that turkey meat sauce just belongs with spaghetti. The two go together perfectly. Lately I have been quite partial to thick spaghetti like this:

pasta

mmm, thick spaghetti

It’s only slightly larger than regular spaghetti, which works 98% as well as the thick variety (according to me) so really, you can use whichever pasta you wish.

Once your pasta has reached the al dente stage, it’s all quite self-explanatory: strain it out, plate it up, and spoon some sauce over top. The parmesan is optional. Eat up!

spaghetti and meat sauce plated

chocohotopots

A couple years ago, we went on a cruise over Spring Break and Eric (and, okay, I too) became absolutely obsessed with the “Warm Chocolate Melting Cake” that was on the dessert menu. It’s just how it sounds: a warm cake with a gooey chocolate center. We ordered them every night at dinner. Sometimes he’d get two. I tried a different dessert one of the nights, but it didn’t even come close to the Melting Cake. I learned from that mistake. So after the cruise, we searched and searched for the recipe online. With the power of the internet, I discovered message boards where other Melting Cake devotees waxed poetic about their beloved dessert. There were even some postings of the actual cruise ship recipe. Really though, I wasn’t quite crazed enough to scale down the recipe from 600 (?!) servings down to four. And I didn’t even have any ramekins back then anyway, so I ended up forgetting about the whole thing for a while.

Then, a few months later, Eric’s mom pointed out this recipe that she saw Nigella making on TV. It’s not exactly the same, but we’ve come to love it even more than the cruise version. You can make them as gooey inside as you like, although we usually prefer them to be a bit more towards the cakey side, with just a hint of meltiness. At any rate, be sure to test them around the 20-minute mark and adjust the baking time accordingly.

This has become our go-to dessert for most dinner parties. Everyone always loves it — especially with a little scoop (or many scoops) of vanilla ice cream. We have a particular love for Blue Bell’s Homemade Vanilla with this, but I don’t think it’s available too far outside of the South. We especially love their Dutch Chocolate variety. Mm… Dutch Chocolate Bluebell…

Sorry, where was I? On the verge of chocolate overload? No, no… Impossible!

nigella’s chocohotopots
- from the food network website

1 stick butter, + 1 T for prepping the ramekins (it calls for unsalted, but then I’ll usually add a pinch of salt in to enhance the flavors anyway)
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, with 60% cocoa solids
2 eggs
3/4 c superfine sugar (regular granulated sugar works well too, really)
3 T AP flour
optional: 1 tsp of vanilla

You will also need 4 ramekins of 6-8 oz. capacity such as these found here. Ramekins are fantastic multitaskers — great for prepping ingredients or holding condiments like salsa. We like these, though, as they stack quite nicely. We’ve got such limited cabinet space, but these ramekins have absolutely earned their own.

On to the good stuff though.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Make sure the rack is at a height where the the ramekins will be squarely in the middle of the oven. They will burn if they are too close to either the top or the bottom. Trust me.

Prep the ramekins with the extra tablespoon of butter. Make sure you grease all the way up the sides of the ramekins; it helps the cakes rise without sticking.

Either in a microwave or in a bowl suspended over a pan over simmering water, melt the chocolate and stick of butter, then set it aside to cool a little. I prefer the microwave method — just be sure to use half power at short intervals so the chocolate won’t scorch.

measuring the flour

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs with the sugar and flour.

checking for sneaky flour or sugar lumps

Combine the sugar mixture and cooled chocolate.

it’s all coming together now

Divide the mixture between the buttered ramekins and arrange them on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan. It makes them much easier to handle, so you’re not trying to take the (very) hot ramekins out of the oven individually later.

ready for the oven

Bake for about 20 minutes (or a little longer, if you like them less gooey). The tops will probably crack a little, and that’s OK. It gives you an easy, unnoticeable place to stick a knife in and test the goo factor.

Once they’re done, carefully place each ramekin on a small plate, and warn people that these are hot. Serve with ice cream.

ready for your tastebuds

Notes:

  • If you don’t want to use up all your good and/or expensive chocolate, feel free to use half of whatever good stuff you can find, and half semi-sweet chocolate chips. It’s still just as good.
  • This recipe is easily doubled, and could probably be scaled up even further. Leftovers (if there are any) can be kept in the fridge and warmed up in the microwave for a treat later.
  • Also, you can make these ahead of time and leave the prepared, filled ramekins in the fridge. An hour or two before dinner, set them out at room temperature, and 20-25 minutes before you think you’ll be ready for dessert, bake them in the preheated oven. Easy!
  • Just try it! Even if they’re overbaked on your first go, at least you’re left with a yummy chocolate cake!