Featured

Apple Cranberry Streusel Pie

My husband is a “cake person,” but I am a “pie person.” The boys claim to be cake people, too, so for most of the year when we celebrate birthdays, report cards, and soccer victories, it tends to be with cake.

But Thanksgiving is when all my pie loving goes on display. I start experimenting weeks in advance, and this year, this pie is the clear winner. This is a mash-up of three of my favorites from Smitten Kitchen and Barefoot Contessa. Sweet apples, tart cranberries, and the most amazing pecan-oat-cinnamon crumble on top…

Ingredients

For the pie:

  • 1 unbaked pie crust (I sometimes make my own, but usually rely on the Pillsbury roll-out kind in the red box)
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces, or 170 grams, or 1/2 standard bag) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 Tablespoon (14 grams) cornstarch
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar, divided (if you are using tart apples, like Granny Smith, or you like a sweeter pie, you may need 1/4 cup more sugar)
  • 4-5 small to medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (I used Gala, but any firm baking apple would do)
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

For the streusel topping:

  • 2/3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups pecans, toasted
  • 6 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Roll out the crust and put it in a 9 inch pie plate. Crimp the edges with a fork or by pinching with your fingers.
  • In a saucepan, combine the cranberries, cornstarch, lemon zest, and 1/2 cup sugar. The mixture will be dry at first. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 – 10 minutes, until berries start to burst and juice bubbles. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile, peel and slice the apples. Toss them with lemon juice, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and sugar. Set aside.
  • Make the streusel topping: Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined. (You may also do this with a mixer, but the oat pieces will be larger… We liked ours more crumbly.)
  • Place the apple mixture in the unbaked pie shell. Spread the cranberry mixture on top of the apples. Finally, top with the pecan streusel, spreading everything evenly.
  • Place the pie plate on a foil lined baking sheet (optional, but if your pie bubbles over, as mine did, this will make the clean-up MUCH easier).
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, until the streusel is browned and the juices are bubbling.
  • I served this with vanilla ice cream, but whipped cream would also work.
  • The pie will keep in the refrigerator and makes the best breakfast!

Featured

Pumpkin Cheesecake

*Recipe updated with better pictures and streamlined instructions*

(Also, the primary helper has switched from the oldest to the youngest!)

The first time I made this cheesecake it was for an LSU game… and it was also the day I bought my first LSU shirt. 

I’ve always liked the Tigers — it’s part of living here — but I never attended LSU, and neither did any of my 4 siblings, or my husband, so I never really got around to buying a shirt.  But when we were invited to watch “the game of the century” with some friends (and once, I inadvertently dressed my son in the opposing team’s colors), I decided to go shopping for both of us. That way, no one would make him stand on the porch if LSU happened to get behind.

The Tigers beat Alabama, and the dessert was pretty good, too.

The best part of this cheesecake might be the crust.  When reading over cheesecake recipes (all of which seemed to use a graham cracker crust), I thought, why not ginger snaps?  Same cookie crunch, but lots more fall flavors.

Here’s the recipe (adapted significantly from Smitten Kitchen)
Note: this recipe is not difficult, but it gets lots of bowls dirty… so clear out your dishwasher before you get started.

For the crust:

  • 3/4 cup gingersnap crumbs (20 cookies – Anna’s Ginger Thins are the absolute BEST for this)
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted and cooled butter

For the filling:

  • 3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature (this is very important!)
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (14 oz) can pumpkin (1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 eggs at room temperature

For the topping:

  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped until stiff peaks form
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar OR 3 tablespoons real maple syrup (did this the last time and it was an amazing change)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger

Procedure:

  • Make the crust: Combine first four ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Add melted butter.  Press into a greased springform pan.
  • Make the filling: Put the cream cheese and sugars in the bowl of a mixer.  Beat on high for 3 – 5 minutes until very smooth.  Add the other ingredients in the order listed, beating well after each addition.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Do not overbeat after adding the eggs.
  • Pour this into the springform pan on top of the crust.  Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, then turn off the oven BUT DON’T OPEN it. 
  • Allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for at least an hour (I always let mine stay there overnight).  Remove and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving (and topping). 
  • Make the topping: beat the heavy cream on high until stiff. Add the sugar and spices into the whipped cream, scraping down the bowl frequently. 
  • Either serve alongside the cheesecake in a bowl or pipe on top of the cheesecake (if you are worried about unsightly cracks).

This would be perfect for a different Thanksgiving dessert.  Enjoy!

Also note that the bottom of the springform pan can be placed directly onto a cake pedestal to serve, as shown below!

*I still have trouble with this cake splitting.  I have tried putting a pan of water underneath it in the oven, and decreasing the temperature by 5 – 10 degrees, with occasional success.  Thank goodness for the topping, which hides the cracks!

*A note about ingredients: lots of people ask me about what brands I buy for this cheesecake.  The only ones that seem to make a difference are the gingersnaps (I love Anna’s Ginger Thins) and the cream cheese.  I buy Philadelphia for this.  I think the generic brand has too much water, so it doesn’t have as smooth of a texture. I usually use Libby’s pumpkin; just make sure you buy the plain pumpkin puree, not the pumpkin pie filling.  I also do not toast the pecans first (as I do in most desserts) because they get plenty brown while the cake cooks.  Also, if you do substitute maple syrup for powdered sugar in the topping, make sure to use the real stuff, not maple-flavored corn syrup ūüôā  Happy Turkey Day!

Spinach Madeline

I don’t love everything about living in the South. August, for instance, is truly terrible. And every time I go over when to use “good” and when to use “well” in my ACT prep class, at least one student says “That just doesn’t sound right!”

My standard answer: “You live in northeast Louisiana. You probably shouldn’t rely on your ear for grammar.”

But when it comes to food? Well, we may not be able to make it all sound right, but we can make it taste just fine.

Case in point? Spinach Madeline.

All my favorite food bloggers and cookbook writers say that you need a cheesy, creamy side on Thanksgiving. And a green vegetable. Spinach Madeline fills both requirements, and I can’t imagine Thanksgiving without it.

Invented by a housewife who also ran a bed and breakfast in Baton Rouge, it spread in popularity across the South. I found recipes for it all over the internet. It’s just that good.

But a decade or so ago, Kraft did something unforgivable. It discontinued the “Garlic Cheese Roll” that was a central ingredient in Spinach Madeline (not to mention another family favorite, my grandmother’s “pea goo.”) My mother and her friends wrote letters to Kraft, begging that it be returned to shelves. They were not successful.

So, what to do? Over years of trial and error, I’ve come up with two options.

Option 1: Replace the full 8 oz. of cheese with another processed cheese. The most popular one seems to be Velveeta, but I don’t like the almost plasticky aftertaste I can usually detect. My grocery store stocks some other brands in the specialty cheese bin. My favorite, when they have it, is Dutch Garden. Basically, anything that melts easily will work.

Option 2: Use a blend of Monterey Jack (or pepper jack) and cream cheese to get the proper consistency.

Ingredients:

  • 30 ounces frozen, chopped spinach
  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup vegetable liquor, from the spinach
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon cayenne*
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder*
  • 5 ounces pepper jack cheese**
  • 3 ounces cream cheese**
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (leave this out if you want it to be vegetarian)

*Note that if you are using either a garlic or a spicy cheese, you may want to adjust either the garlic or the spice in the recipe.

** You may also use 8 oz. of Velveta Mexican Blend; 8 oz. of pepper jack cheese; or 8 oz. of any garlic or spicy processed cheese — just make sure it melts smoothly and doesn’t get stringy!

Procedure:

  • Cook the spinach according to the packet directions. Mine just steamed in the plastic bag.
  • Place a strainer over a bowl or measuring cup. Squeeze the spinach, using the cup to catch the vegetable liquor. You will need 3/4 cup.
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
  • Add the chopped onion and saut√© until soft, but not brown (about 8-10 minutes)
  • Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the vegetable liquor, pouring in a little at a time and stirring well to avoid lumps.
  • Add the milk slowly, stirring until combined.
  • Add the seasonings, Worcestershire, and cheeses. Stir until completely melted and smooth.
  • Add the spinach and stir until combined.
  • Heat until bubbly.

Notes:

  • We serve this at Thanksgiving with the turkey, but it is also delicious with steaks or any grilled meat.
  • This is amazing directly from the stove, but for Thanksgiving, we pour it into a casserole dish. Place in a 350 degree oven to warm with other Thanksgiving sides. It usually takes about 30 minutes when it is refrigerated.
  • This can be made in advance and frozen.
  • I always double this. It will still fit in a standard casserole dish — it will just be deeper and take a little longer in the oven to reheat.
  • My FAVORITE thing to do with leftovers is to make an omelet and spoon warmed Spinach Madeline down the center before folding it over.
  • Happy Turkey Day!

Cornbread Dressing

Thanksgiving was one of my mom’s favorite holidays. No present-buying stress… just good food and all of her family around us. She hosted every year — her family, my dad’s family, neighbors, friends — everyone was always welcome and we usually had over 20 people there. My Uncle Bill always smoked the turkey and brought it with him, leaving her free to focus on the sides and desserts.

Two years before her stroke, she hosted a big one. She was so excited her big sister was coming down from South Carolina with her daughter and grandkids.

Her cornbread dressing was always one of my favorite things — not overpowering (and definitely not stuffed inside the turkey!). Nothing funky — no secret ingredients — just a great, basic cornbread dressing.

And then, two years ago, my sister called me for the recipe and we couldn’t find it anywhere.

Luckily, mom had always talked about getting the recipe from the wife of dad’s first boss… and the small-town stars aligned. I taught the grandchildren of that boss. So a few texts later, I had the original, in beautiful, spidery cursive. It started with boiling a hen, which mom NEVER did… but it got my sisters and I close enough that between the four of us, we recreated my mom’s cornbread dressing.

And this year, my aunt is coming in again from South Carolina. It’s been 14 years! The kids have grown a ton, and I honestly can’t wait to host everyone.

I hope your Thanksgiving is full of family, fun, and good food.

Dressing ready to be frozen until Thanksgiving Day

Ingredients

  • 2 recipes Basic Cornbread (or 2 9-inch pans of cooked cornbread)
  • 4 pieces of white bread, well-toasted
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups chicken broth (you could use vegetable broth and easily make this a vegetarian side)
  • 1 – 2 cups cooked chicken or turkey meat (optional — mom usually left this out, but I like it. I usually use rotisserie chicken meat)

Procedure

  • Make the cornbread. Allow to cool, then crumble into your largest mixing bowl.
  • Toast the bread and then crumble/ shred it into the same bowl.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter and saut√© the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool, then add them to the mixing bowl.
  • Add poultry seasoning and cayenne. Taste for seasonings, especially for salt. The amount you need varies widely, depending on how salty your cornbread and chicken broth are. Add salt and pepper to taste before you add the raw eggs.
  • Make sure the bread and vegetable mixture is room temperature — not hot! — then add the eggs and broth.
  • Add chicken or turkey meat, if you are using it.
  • Stir well to combine. The mixture should be “soupy” and very loose, not stiff. If you need to, add more broth.
  • Pour into a greased 9×13 casserole.
  • Bake at 325-350 until lightly browned and cooked through — about 45 minutes.
  • Can be made in advance, frozen, and re-heated — just make sure to wrap it well to avoid freezer burn!
  • If you want to taste it before you serve it, spoon some into a small ramekin (pictured above) and bake it separately.

*We ALWAYS double this… It freezes well

Pictures from the last big Thanksgiving with the Carolina cousins!

Shortbread Hearts

You know who I don’t envy on Valentine’s Day? Elementary school teachers. All those sugared-up kids. Meddling class moms. Sliding cupcakes sent from home. Artistically-challenged nine-year-olds who can’t cut a paper heart to save their lives (why yes, that was me!). Kids who insist on writing in the “To” part of the Valentine, despite specific instructions to the contrary.

And so we save our most special Valentine’s treat for them — the giant, jam-filled (or nutella-filled), shortbread heart.

These take a little time compared to some of our other favorite cookies, but oh my goodness are they delicious.

Share with those you love this Valentine’s Day or any other day!

(Based on Ina Garten’s Linzer Tarts… but without almonds, apparently, they aren’t really Linzer Tarts… here’s to learning new things in 2021!)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt (more if using unsalted butter)
  • Raspberry, cherry, or strawberry preserves for filling… or Nutella, if that’s more your style (see my youngest child for these and more life hacks)

Method:

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachmet, combine the room temperature butter and sugar, mixing until well-combined. Add the salt and vanilla, mixing well. Add the flour and beat until just combined. Then choose from the roll out methods below:
  • My favorite way*: Scoop about one cup of the the room temperature dough and place it between two sheets of parchment paper. Flatten it slightly with your hand, and then roll it out using a rolling pin. I have to use my hip to keep the paper from sliding on the counter, but an extra set of hands might also help here. Once rolled to approximately 1/2 inch, place the parchment in the freezer. It will be ready to cut out cookies in about 10 minutes, but will also last for days if you want to split this up. When you remove it from the freezer, peel up the top layer of parchment and then loosely put it back down. Flip the dough over and peel up the parchment on that side. Place to the side for rolling out the next batch.
  • The more traditional way: Divide the dough into 3 sections. Slightly flatten each and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes and up to 2 days. Roll out on a well-floured countertop, adding more flour to prevent sticking.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • After either of the roll-out methods, use a heart-shaped or other cookie cutter to cut the dough into desired shapes.
  • To make a sandwich cookie, cut out a middle shape using a smaller heart (you can also do this with round cookie cutters).
  • Bake larger hearts at 350 for 18-20 minutes; smaller ones are ready in 8-12. Watch until they are slightly brown around the edges. Because of the different baking times, we bake the small hearts and the larger ones on separate sheets.
  • Let the cookies cool completely. If making heart sandwich cookies, dust the tops with powdered sugar. Spread the bottoms with jam, Nutella, or (if you’re like me) both. Sandwich the two together and share with your loves this Valentine’s Day!
the smaller hearts are tasty, too!

Notes:

  • Why is this my favorite way? So many reasons. First, there is less mess. No floury countertops. Also, I can have cookies sooner. Also, the cookies are not as tough because they don’t pick up any extra flour. Also, did I mention less mess?
  • Yes, I’ve posted this recipe before, back in the blogspot days… apparently right before a big ice storm in February? I love looking back at the icy pictures of these sweet boys.
  • You can absolutely just make these as plain shortbread cookies, any old day of the year, and they will be amazing. I’ve also been dreaming of melting chocolate and dipping half of each cookie in that…

Sweet and Spicy Pecans

One of our pandemic adventures was to purchase a new rental property, this one on a lake a little over an hour from where we live.

When we were looking, I was focusing on deep water and open floor plans; my husband’s main goal was finding something that required minimal repairs, since it was quite aways from his favorite Home Depot.

Neither of us were looking for pecan trees, but we ended up with 11 of them, and while 2020 was not good for a lot of reasons, for pecans in Louisiana, it was apparently the best in a while.

My kids picked and sold them (most notably to a student’s grandmother, who gave them back in the form of the BEST pralines). And we threw the rest into the freezer, where they come out for special occasions, like Superbowl Sunday.

This recipe is based on one by Sara Foster in her amazing cookbook, Southern Kitchen. They are salty, sweet, spicy, and absolutely addicting.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (1 pound) shelled pecan halves
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar* (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped coarsely
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (reduce if you want a little less kick)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 400. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet (I used a half sheet pan) with aluminum foil.
  • Spread the pecans onto the sheet in a single layer. Place them in the oven to lightly toast, 5 – 6 minutes. They should not be deep brown, but they should be fragrant when you remove them.
  • Meanwhile, combine the sugar, rosemary, salt, black pepper, and red pepper in a small bowl. Stir to mix.
  • In a heat-proof bowl or 8 cup measuring cup, melt the butter. Add the Worcestershire.
  • When the pecans are lightly toasted, remove them from the oven and pour them into the bowl with the melted butter. Toss to coat. Then add the sugar and spices, tossing well to coat completely.
  • Pour this mixture back onto the lined sheet pan. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, stirring twice, until toasted.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool completely before trying to remove them from the foil.
  • Once the pecans have cooled, peel them off of the foil (I tilted the pan over a large serving bowl, shaking loose most of the pecans, and then peeled the aluminum foil from the back of the stuck ones, breaking up the crystalized sugar as I went. These were the best ones!)
  • Store in an airtight container for up to a week (although I doubt they make it through the third quarter in our house).

Notes:

  • Don’t have raw sugar? You can substitutde demerara, turbinado, or light brown sugar
  • Sara’s original recipe called for vanilla instead of Worcestershire, and while we appreciate sweet, we were more into the savory.

Enjoy!

Venison Roast

People say that kids change you, but at the beginning of this adventure, I thought I’d be the one that primarily did the molding. Instead, they have changed quite a few of my likes and dislikes over the years. I never knew how much I’d love soccer, until my kids loved it first. I look at TikTok videos more than I ever thought I would. I read more sci-fi and fantasy, and watch a LOT more sports movies.

But my oldest kid’s longest and most enduring passion has always been hunting. And to be honest… I have struggled to get behind a freezer absoutely FULL of venison.

He never turns down an opportunity. He goes when it is hot or cold, early in the morning or all afternoon, every day he can. Deer or duck. Shotgun, rifle, or (his favorite) bow hunting from a tree stand. Yesterday, he chose the last day of gun season over the Saints game. (His hunt went better than the game). And since he’s a pretty decent shot, we end up with a LOT of venison.

And other than deer tacos and venison chili, there wasn’t much that didn’t taste “gamey.” But then, my brother recommended a John Besh recipe for a bone-in should roast, and y’all. It’s good. Like really, really good.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tablespoons bacon drippings OR 2 Tablespoons each, butter and olive oil
  • 1 3-4 pound bone-in venison shoulder (can also use a chuck roast or other beef roast)
  • 2 medium onions, diced small
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves

Method:

  • Preheat your oven to 275.
  • Salt the venison generously on all sides. Make sure it’s completely thawed.
  • On the stove top in a Dutch oven or other heavy, oven-safe pot, heat the bacon drippings (or butter/ olive oil combo) until hot but not smoking (test using a drop of water — it should sizzle).
  • Brown the venison on all sides, approximately 2-3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.
  • Reduce the heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until they turn a “rich mahogany color.”
  • Add the garlic and tomato paste, stir well, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the flour, stir well, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
  • Slowly add the beef broth, a little at a time, and whisk to combine to avoid lumps.
  • Add the red wine and Worchestershire and bring to a boil.
  • Add the thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and venison.
  • Cover tightly and place in the oven. Bake for one hour per pound of meat (approximately). This roast was a little over 3 pounds and I cooked it for about 3 1/2 hours.
  • Remove from the oven and test with a fork. The meat should easily pull away from the bone. If it does not, put it back in the oven for 20-30 minutes and try again.
  • When the roast is done, remove it to a cutting board and shred the meat using two forks. Then place it back in the pot to warm.
  • Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, egg noodles, or grits.
  • Enjoy with your favorite hunter!

King Cake

Today, it snowed in Louisiana!

For the uninitiated, this means

  • School is cancelled because we know we don’t have the equipment or skills to drive safely
  • Kids everywhere dress in repurposed camo hunting clothes (the only cold weather waterproof things my kids own)
  • We slide down levees (because they are easily the biggest hills in town)
  • Some use crawfish trays and garbage can lids… but my kids have always had a sled because my father-in-law used to travel to Wisconsin for work, so my husband always grew up with a real sled, and yes, it’s worth the storage space for the once in every five years we use it
  • I make king cake, because it’s also Carnival season… and “they can’t cancel King Cake!”

This recipe is a re-post from my original food blog back on blogspot years ago. The original came from Celebrations on the Bayou, but I’ve made quite a few tweaks over the years!

For the dough:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick melted (but not too hot) butter, plus 2 Tablespoons softened, for the bowl
  • EITHER 2/3 cup evaporated milk and 2/3 cup water OR 1 1/3 cups milk, heated to about 100 degrees (should feel warm to the touch)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt* (or 1 1/2 tsp — see note)
  • 5 teaspoons yeast (2 envelopes)
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 cups all purpose flour

Combine the butter, milk (and water), sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, until frothy. ¬†Beat in eggs one at a time. ¬†Add flour and beat until just combined. Turn out into a buttered bowl. ¬†Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a warm place. Meanwhile, make the filling (see below).¬†The dough will be very sticky and won’t rise as much as bread dough.

After it has risen, generously flour your counter. Dump the dough onto the counter and roll it into a long, thin rectangle. Divide the dough into three long strips.

For the filling:

  • 1 block cream cheese, very soft (I microwave these on half power)
  • 1/2 stick butter, very soft but not liquid
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350. Combine the butter and cream cheese.  Spread (or dollop) the mixture down the center of each strip. Sprinkle sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon down the center of each strip on top of the cream cheese and butter mixture. Fold lengthwise, pinching the edges together to seal so that the cinnamon filling is in the middle of each strip.

Lifting each section over the others, carefully braid the sections of bread. It works best if you start in the middle and then braid outwards from each side (method #2 in this video).

Gently lift the middle section of the braid and place it on a flat baking pan or a stone lined with parchment paper** Shape it into a circle and tuck in the ends.

Let it rise, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. ¬†Again, it won’t quite double. ¬†Bake in a 350 oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare the icing. (Note that the one pictured above was slightly overbaked because I got distracted playing in the snow!)

For the icing:

  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons milk (as needed, for consistency — you want it to be easily spreadable, but not quite pourable)
  • Colored sugar — purple, green, and gold***

Allow the cake to cool only slightly. Move it to your serving platter before icing, if desired. Spread the glaze over the cake while it is still slightly warm, then sprinkle it with the colored sugars. ¬†The icing sets up fairly quickly, and when it does this, the colored sugar doesn’t stick as well, so I usually do one section at a time. ¬†Sprinkle with alternating colors – purple, green, and gold. I do two of each color for a total of six.¬†Kids love helping with this part.

And don’t forget to tuck a baby inside! You can¬†buy them online¬†or save ones that you find in a king cake. ¬†Elementary school teachers are a great source ūüėČ The finder gets to make (or buy, for the faint at heart) the next king cake.

Enjoy with your snowy kids (knowing full well they may be back to shorts and sandals next week)!

Notes:

* I use Diamond Kosher salt, which is made differently and is less salty than traditional table salt or other Kosher salt. If you are using regular salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons is better.

**Parchment paper is not necessary if you are going to serve the cake on the pan you bake it on… however, it does help with cleanup and is essential if you are putting the cake on a different serving platter.

*** I buy my colored sugar at Michael’s or the baking section of Walmart, or I order from King Arthur online. You can also use food coloring and a plastic bag to dye sugar. I like coarse sugar best for this, but any kind will work. An alternative is to separate the icing into three bowls and use food coloring to dye it.

Basic Cornbread

Happy New Year!

Tomorrow, I go back to school. (Lesson plans? What lesson plans? I think I’ll write a blog post instead). I’ve read lots of books and cleaned out my pantry and closet, so I guess I’m as ready for a new semester as I ever am.

Everyone — my family included — is ready to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. Yet this year has brought my family closer, both those I live with and my siblings who live far away. I miss my mom terribly, but she should get the vaccine on January 12, so maybe there is a light at the end of that tunnel, too.

The traditional New Year’s foods — Hoppin’ John, greens (or cabbage, for my husband’s family), pork, and cornbread are supposed to bring luck and prosperity. This year, I again made my favorite Bacon Jam and Greens from The Southerner’s Cookbook… and it was just as amazing as I remembered.

But then I realized that cornbread — which unlike the greens and hoppin’ John is a year-round favorite here — definitely deserved its own post. Plus, putting it here makes it easier to find the recipe when I’m making red beans and rice, chili, or any of our other favorite cornbread-requiring mains.

Southern cornbread is decidedly NOT sweet — which seems to defy normal North/ South logic. Take tea, for example. We like ours tooth-achingly sweet. But cornbread? Not that I will turn my nose up at a pan of Jiffy, but if I’m doing the cooking? Save the sugar for the desserts. There are whole raging debates about this on the internet (the things you learn when you assign food research projects to your students). But as for my house… our cornbread is buttery, salty, tender… and not sweet at all.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal*
  • 1 cup flour **
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon baking powder (or 3 teaspoons) 
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 Tablespoons butter

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 450. Place a black iron skillet in the oven and let it get hot as the oven warms.
  • In a separate bowl, mix all of the ingredients except the butter.
  • Once the oven reaches 450, remove the skillet. Place the butter in the hot skillet and place the skillet back in the oven until the butter melts and foams. (You can also do this on the stovetop).
  • Remove the skillet from the oven. Pour half of the hot butter into the cornbread batter and stir. Then pour the cornbread batter into the hot skillet.
  • Place the cornbread back into the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are browned and a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Notes:

  • *Stone-ground cornbread is great, but for everyday around here, we use any basic yellow cornmeal
  • ** Going gluten free? Just replace the flour with a second cup of cornmeal. It will be considerably more crumbly, but also delicious
  • *** You can also use buttermilk for a little more tang, but again, for my basic everyday cornbread, we just use regular milk — whatever is in the fridge.

Enjoy, on New Year’s Day and throughout the year!

Itty Bitty Sugar Cookies

My recipe for these reads “Sugar Cookies by Mern,” but my kids have always called them “the itty bitty sugar cookies.” Mern was the grandmother of one of my best friends growing up, and in my mind, she remains the quintessential Southern belle — gracious and lovely. My only regret is that I have the recipe only in a bland, typed format… not the beautiful, tiny handwriting I remember from my mom’s recipe cards.

These sugar cookies are also one of my favorite Christmas gifts for teachers. The cookies are so tiny and crisp — they melt on your tongue. We make them by the dozens, sprinkle them with red and green sugar, and send them on their way just when teachers are feeling their most stressed.

This year, my youngest son has one of my former students as his English teacher, and it warms my heart in the most small-town of ways. But the fact that she had a thank you note in his hand before car pick-up the day we brought the cookies? Well, the student has certainly surpassed the teacher.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (8 oz or 2 sticks) butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (at room temperature)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Method:

  • In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until smooth and light (about 3 minutes).
  • Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until light (about 3 minutes)
  • Sift together flour, soda, and cream of tartar. Blend into butter mixture until just combined (do not overmix).
  • Chill until firm enough to work with the dough*
  • Form into small balls (about the size of a nickel in diameter) and place far apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Dip the bottom of a small glass* into sugar and use it to flatten the dough into thin, round cookies. Dip the glass into the sugar before flattening each cookie* We use red and green sugar at Christmas, but plain white sugar also works!
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned on the outside.
  • Remove from the cookie sheet while hot and allow the cookies to cool on brown paper.
  • Makes about 10 dozen cookies.

Notes:

  • Mern said to chill the dough for 30 minutes. This has never worked for me! Maybe she was using her freezer. It takes about 2 hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator.
  • We use a shot glass for this — it’s the perfect size. But any flat-bottomed glass will do.
  • My chief helper highly recommends spreading a little dough across the bottom of the shot glass to make sure that the sugar adheres. We tried water, but not enough of the sugar stuck, so we liked the dough better.

Enjoy!

My oldest… way back in the day. I’m not even sure he is going to help me make these for his teachers this year… But middle school teachers probably deserve them the most!

Pound Cake

I love Christmas cards. I love getting them in the mail, and I love taking them of my kids each year. I frame the old ones, and when I pull them out of the attic each year, they always make me smile.

I also love that as my kids grow, the photo-taking process is so much quicker. Of course, there are far fewer funny outtakes. I mean, yes, we probably have one of the dog licking one of the kids in the mouth. But lets be honest, she does that pretty much any time one of them lets his face get within licking range.

Here, my husband is pretending there is a squirrel behind me. Lily is ready to pounce.

And so today, because pictures took less than ten minutes, when the big kid wanted to make poundcake, I put off grading papers one more time and played sous chef while he made his favorite pound cake.

This is adapted from Ina Garten, but also has twinges of my grandmother. It is simple and so very delicious.

Ingredients:

  • Baker’s Joy, Pam with Flour, or other nonstick spray
  • 2 Tablespoons raw sugar (also sold as turbinado sugar)
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour*
  • 1 cup heavy cream*

Method:

  • Spray a large tube or bundt pan (or 2 loaf pans) with the cooking spray. Put the raw sugar in the pan and shake to coat.
  • In the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Beat until fluffy (about 5 minutes).
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  • Add the salt, vanilla, and lemon zest. Beat well to combine.
  • Alternately add the flour and the milk, beating to combine and scraping down the sides, ending with the flour. Do not overmix.
  • Pour into the sugared cake pan.
  • Bake at 350 for approximately 40 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Notes:

  • Room temperature butter and eggs are essential to avoiding lumpy batter. I generally leave the butter on the counter overnight, but even an hour out of the refrigerator is generally enough. To bring your eggs to room temperature, you can put them in a cup of warm water for 5-10 minutes before you crack them.
  • I am picky about my cake flour. I love White Lily All Purpose for cakes and cookies. It is made from a different type of wheat that is slightly lower in gluten, so it makes for a softer crumb. You can also buy actual cake flour (which is what the original recipe calls for) but I have better luck with White Lily for cakes.
  • Not wanting to use heavy cream? Half and half or whole milk will both work well here.

Enjoy!

(Oh, and here is what is probably my favorite Christmas card outtake over the years… my poor children and the torture they endure! At least they didn’t have to wear anything smocked this year!)