Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sweet Potato Pecan Scones with a Maple Glaze

I understand that we are still technically in Summer, and that most people shy away from baking in the summer time; but it's also back to school time. And back to school time means that it's almost Autumn (or Fall if you prefer) and I'm getting really excited to be able to bake to my hearts content again, without the backlash of a sweltering kitchen.
   Yesterday we had a freak flash-flood storm and it made the house a little dark and gloomy. I could hear the rain pitter-pattering on my roof and see the fog rolling in down in the valley below and it made me want to bake scones. (If you don't already know this about me, you should check out my posts on Blueberry Chocolate Chip Scones with an Almond Drizzle, Maple Oat Scones with a Maple Glaze, and Strawberry Scones with Vanilla Glaze. You'll see the pattern.) I refrained from scone baking - as I was already in the throngs of making enchiladas for dinner, but I remembered that I have this scone recipe that I haven't shared with you yet.
   I made these Sweet Potato Pecan Scones a couple weeks ago. It was the first week of school. My wonderful husband was just called away on a 16  day fire assignment (fingers crossed he won't be extended and he'll be home in a couple days!!!!) and I was on a mission to use up some items in my pantry. Every time I open my cupboard, I have these two cans of sweet potatoes staring at me. They have been staring at me for almost a year and I just haven't found a use for them yet. I bought them at the behest of my husband who loves sweet potatoes, but for me I prefer the fresh 100 times over the canned. (My new favorite way to use fresh sweet potatoes is my Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes.)
   So, this can was staring at me. And while the expiration date is still quite a ways off, I was determined to use them now and be done with it. I thought about casseroles, soups, and pies but I wanted to do something new. I had heard of making sweet potato biscuits before, but never tried it myself. While having all these thoughts in my head I decided to invent something new (at least I had never come across a recipe for it). These Sweet Potato Pecan Scones with a Maple Glaze are like a cross between what I imagine a sweet potato biscuit would be and a sweet potato pie. Definitely delicious. To the point that I would even go out and buy more canned sweet potatoes, just for this recipe. :)

I started with my basic scone recipe: 3 cups of flour (always all purpose), 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, and 5 tsp baking powder go into a large mixing bowl. Then I cube up 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter (I like salted but use whatever floats your boat).

I whisk the dry ingredients together and then mix in the butter cubes. I pinch the butter and flour together until the butter pieces are no bigger than large peas. Then I started to change the recipe. At this point, if you wanted to add cinnamon and nutmeg (to make it taste more like sweet potato pie) go right ahead. For today, I kept things spice free. I added in 1 cup of the canned sweet potatoes (that I mashed).

I stirred the sweet potatoes in with a fork and then added 1/2 cup milk (I usually use nonfat, because that is what I drink, but I've also used 2%, whole, half and half, and also just cream with great results. Just use what you have on hand.)

When the milk is mostly mixed in, I gently fold in some toasted and chopped pecans. (About 1 cup)

I dump the mixture out onto a floured work surface and fold it over onto itself a few times, until it's a solid mass. (The fold will help give it layers after it bakes.) Then I press it out with my hands to a rough rectangle, about 3/4 inch thick. (You could also roll it out with a rolling pin, but my hands are already dirty I just use those instead of making more dishes for me to wash.) You should be able to see pieces of butter still in the dough. These will help make your scones layered and tender.

Use a pizza cutter (or knife) to cut the scones into shapes. I usually make 24 triangles.

Then put the scones about 1 inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. (My Angel Girl was helping me. She's a wonderful helper in the kitchen!)

When all the scones are placed out for baking, brush each one with milk (or cream, or egg wash, it doesn't matter) and sprinkle each one with a little dark brown sugar. No measuring here, just do what looks right. I guess it's about 1/3 to 1/2 cup total. These are mine:

Place them in the fridge to firm up for about 30 minutes. Heat your oven to 350F and bake for 15-20 minutes. They should be golden and crisp around the edges, puffy and soft in the center. (I was dealing with my little angles, so mine sat in the oven for 1 minute longer than they should have - hence the slightly darkened edges. They still tasted amazing, though; so no harm done.)

Now it's time to make the Maple Glaze/Drizzle. It literally is only enough to drizzle over each scone, so if you want to completely cover one (or both) sides of the scone with the glaze (like doughnuts) you should double this recipe.
1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 Tbsp of Pure Maple Syrup go into a bowl. If it's too thick you can add 1/2 tsp of milk.

Mix it with a whisk or fork until smooth.That's it! Easy Peasy!

Place the scones on a cooling rack (with something underneath the catch the drips) and drizzle away.

I gave some away to my dear friend Kathy, for her and her family, but I still managed to eat most of them myself. My older kids really enjoyed them as an after-school snack. The only one that missed out was my amazing husband. Perhaps I'll make them again when he's home for his R&R. Try them for yourself and let me know what you think!
I topped a few with chopped pecans on top, but the nuts just fell off. There's not much glaze to hold them on, so I left the nuts off the rest and they were just as good without - but less messy. :)

A nice variation would be to use brown sugar inside the scone (as well as on top) and add in some cinnamon and nutmeg. Something to tuck away for another day. :)
Here's the recipe:

Sweet Potato Pecan Scones with a Maple Glaze

3 cups of flour (always all purpose)
2/3 cup sugar 
1/4 tsp salt
5 tsp baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cubed
1 cup cooked, cooled and mashed sweet potato (I used canned)
1/2 cup milk (or cream) (plus more for brushing on top)
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans

about 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (for sprinkling on top)

 In a mixing bowl, whisk together: flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Cut butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, until the butter is the size of large peas. Add the mashed sweet potato, and milk. Combine with a fork lightly and add in the pecans. Mix just until it comes together. Dump out onto a floured work surface. Knead (fold over on itself) a few times until it's a solid mass and then flatten it out to about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness. Cut in any shapes you wish. (I cut mine into 24 triangles.) Place on lined cookie/baking sheets. Brush each scone with melted butter, cream or an egg wash and sprinkle with brown sugar. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Bake @ 350F for about 15- 20 minutes (this will depend on how big your scones are). They should be golden brown around the edges and firm to the touch, but fluffy inside.
Cool on cookie sheets and then transfer to a cooling rack. Drizzle with glaze.

Maple Glaze/ Drizzle

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp Pure Maple Syrup

1/2 tsp milk (if needed - add until it's thin enough to drizzle)

Whisk until smooth and drizzle over cooled scones.

*This is just enough to literally "drizzle" over the scones. If you want your scones more thoroughly glazed, double the recipe.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cowboy Cookies

In October, one of my best friends throws an annual Halloween party. It's a grown-ups only party, and we always play a form of The Newlywed Game. Even though none of us are actually newlyweds (far from it actually) the game is still surprising, and hilarious. This last Halloween my adoring husband and I only got one or two questions wrong, one of which had to do with cookies. The question was something like: What's your wife's favorite comfort food? I said chocolate (duh) and he said cookies. Well, needless to say, both answers are correct but they didn't match so we got that one wrong. I have been thinking about that ever since; and while chocolate is my all-time favorite comfort food/treat, I usually do enjoy it in the form of chocolate chip cookies. It's rare that we have chocolates, or chocolate bars in the house, but I always keep a stash of cookies at the ready in the freezer.
   So, today I'm sharing with you yet another take on the chocolate chip cookie. (Because really, there can't bee too many ways to enjoy this yummy treat!) I call these Cowboy Cookies, but the official recipe calls them Laura Bush's Texas Governor's Mansion Cowboy Cookies - that's a mouthful!! The recipe makes a ton of cookies, so if you're not baking for a crowd, or filling up your freezer stash (like me) then I would recommend cutting the recipe in half.

Like most cookies, it has two parts: the wet and the dry. The dry consists of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. I just put them in a large bowl and whisk them together.

In my stand mixer, I start the "wet" ingredients. Butter, brown sugar and white sugar. After they are sufficiently creamed together, then I start adding the other ingredients.

1 Tbsp of pure vanilla extract

3 large eggs

This is when I stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is getting combined evenly. I'll do this again later as well.

While the mixer in on "stir" (the lowest setting) I slowly spoon in the dry ingredients a little at a time.

When the flour mixture is all incorporated, I scrape down the bowl again.

Then, the mixer gets turned on low again and the other "mix-ins" go in. Coconut (shredded or flaked is fine)

Rolled oats (I prefer the old fashioned)

and toasted pecans. You can toast them in the oven, but I usually do it in a dry pan on the stove. Just heat the nuts, stirring often, until they are slightly browned and fragrant. Then cool and chop.

I just dump the toasted nuts onto a cutting board and roughly chop them with a knife. But a food processor makes quick work of it too.

2 cups of chopped pecans go in.

At this point, my mixer was protesting under the sheer mass of the cookie dough I was mixing. The dough kept trying to climb out of the mixer and escape. Thank goodness I only had one more mix-in (the most important one!) CHOCOLATE! You can't have a chocolate chip cookie without it. :)

I mixed everything together as thoroughly as possible and then started scooping.

I turned on the oven to get hot (350F) and then I started on my first order of business: filling my freezer stash. It has been embarrassingly low lately. To freeze the cookie dough, I pre-portion out the size cookie balls I want and put them onto a plate or cookie sheet in a single layer. It's o.k. if they are touching, but you want to give each one enough space to freeze into it's own dough ball. Once they are rock solid, I place the frozen cookie dough balls into a labeled zip-top freezer bag and then I can have freshly baked cookies whenever I get the whim. I can then bake as many or as few as I would like - I can even bake them from frozen (they usually take 1-2 minutes longer from frozen depending on the size). Talk about convenience!

Once I got a couple cookie sheets filled for the freezer, then I lined my biggest baking sheet with parchment paper and scooped out some cookie dough for baking. They spread, so they need a couple inches of space between them. I like to use my smallest scoop (about 1 1/4 inch across), but you can make yours as big as you would like. The larger the cookie, the longer the cooking time, so keep an eye on them.

After 8 minutes @ 350F this is what they look like. Slightly puffy and golden brown all over. They will flatten a little while cooling.

This batch is going to my hubby and the guys at the fire station. I know, the patterned paper plate does nothing to highlight the full glory of these cookies, but I wanted to show you how it is (not some professionally plated centerpiece that looks like it belongs on the pages of a magazine, instead of on your kitchen table, in your kids lunch box, or - in this case - on it's way to work.)

These cookies really are fantastic. And while I can't take credit for having this be my invention, they will definitely be kept in my cookie rotation. The texture and flavor are a cross between my Coconut Oatmeal Chewies, my Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and my Oatmeal Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies. They almost taste like they have some fruit in them (like raisins or cherries) but they don't. Just melt-y, chocolatey goodness. Mmm.
Here's the recipe:
from Lemons and Lima Beans

Cowboy Cookies (This recipe makes a ton of cookies, so you might want to half it.)
3 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butter, at room temperature (I like salted but any will do)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
2 cups chopped pecans, toasted (8 oz) 
Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Add the vanilla and the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is mixed well. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, until it's thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bowl again. Mix in the coconut, oats, toasted pecans and chocolate chips. Scoop out the dough into 1 1/4 inch scoops and place on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake @ 350F for 8-10 minutes, until golden. (Mine were done after 8)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tostones (Twice Fried Pantains)

A few days ago I posted the recipe for my Baja Sauce that I used on my shrimp tacos (pictured above). The tacos were incredible, but the tostones really put the meal over the top for me. I love these things! Tostones are nothing more than twice fried plantains, and they are heavenly. Slightly sweet and starchy on the inside, crispy and salty on the inside. Mmm. I couldn't think of a better accompaniment to a south of the border meal.
   They are ridiculously simple. It all starts with a plantain. You know? Those things that look like huge bananas (and are usually straighter). A lot of people like to use the unripe, green plantains, but I like the sweetness of the yellow/black plantains. They are in no way as sweet as a banana . . . think more along the lines of a sweet potato.

Just cut both ends off the plantain, and score the peel down the length of the plantain.

Then, using your thumbs, carefully pull the peel away from the flesh. (This will be harder than peeling a banana . . . almost like trying to peel a green banana.) The peel will give way with gentle coaxing. (The green ones are MUCH harder to peel and require a few slits to remove it completely from the flesh.)

Slice the plantain into 1 to 1 1/2 inch rounds.

Put a large skillet on the stove, over high heat and put enough oil (peanut or veg) in the pan to be about 1/4 inch high. It is a VERY shallow fry. (If you wanted to be more authentic, you could go ahead and deep fry them, but I tend to shy away from deep frying.) When the oil is hot, gently place the plantain disks into the oil.

Turn the heat down to medium and after about a minute, they should be ready to flip. (The color will change to a yellow. - I have flipped the ones in the middle. See the difference?) At this point you're not looking for much browning, just a softening of the fruit. (This will take longer if using green plantains.)

When the plantain disks are yellow and slightly golden and soft on both sides, remove them from the pan and place on a plate. (They are VERY sticky, so don't put them on paper towel . . . unless you like to eat paper towel that's stuck to your food.) Gently place the rounded side of a spoon directly into the center of each disk, and gently push down until the disk is flattened to about 1/2 inch in thickness. (It helps to grease the back of your spoon too. Did I mention they are stick?)

They should look something like this after they have been flattened. Each one will look a little different. And that's o.k. Kind of like snowflakes. :)

Place the flattened plantain disks back into the hot oil and fry for a second time.

When they turn brown, they are ready to flip, and salt on the one side.

When the second side is brown and crispy, you can remove them from the pan.

Place them on a plate or rack (again no paper towels please), and generously salt them. (Think like you're salting french fries.)

When they have sufficiently cooled (just a couple minutes), you can serve them up and eat them. Honestly, half of them don't even make it to the table, because I have devoured them while finishing dinner in the kitchen.

If you have any that have survived the trip from the kitchen to the table, go ahead and serve them up as a side to anything you wish. My favorites to pair with tostones are: fish and shrimp tacos with my Baja Sauce, and carnitas. Yum, yum!
I hope you enjoy these as much as we do!

Here's the "recipe" (It's more of a method than an exact recipe.)


2 plantains (you could make as many as you'd like, but less than 2 is never an option in our house.)
oil (peanut, veggie, or any high temp. oil for frying)

Peel an slice the plantains into 1 to 1 1/2 inch rounds. In a large skillet, add enough oil to come up at least 1/4 way up the pan. Turn the heat to high and let the oil get hot. When the oil is hot, gently add the plantain disks, circle side down (see picture). Turn the heat down to medium and fry for about a minute (longer if using green plantains). When the bottoms have turned yellow, and softened slightly, gently flip each piece over and fry the second side. When both sides are done, remove the plantains to a plate. Gently push the rounded end of a spoon into the center of each plantain disk. Slowly flatten them each to about 1/2 inch in thickness. (Greasing the spoon will help the plantains to slide off easily.) Return the flattened disks to the hot oil and fry for a second time. When the first side is brown and crispy, carefully flip each one over. Salt the first side, and continue to fry the second side until brown and crispy. Move the finished tostones to a plate or cooling rack and salt the second side liberally (think like you're salting french fries). Cool slightly before eating.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Potato Cheeseburger Casserole

I debated whether to share this recipe today, or another cookie recipe. But, since I haven't been able to stop thinking about how good and simple this meal was I think I'll share this one first. :)
   This casserole was inspire by Trisha Yearwood's Potato Beef Casserole. I watched her make it on the Food Network and thought it looked good, but that I could tweak it to be a little better. The outcome was a complete success. The children raved and all asked for seconds. It's basically sliced potatoes smothered with a ground beef and cheese sauce and topped with fried onions. YUM!
   Here's how it starts:
Peel, rinse and slice 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of Russet potatoes. (That's what I usually have on hand. You could use a red or yellow potato, but you'll have to cook it longer.) I think I used 6 small to medium Russets, sliced into about 1/4 inch slices.

Put the potatoes into a pot of cold water (making sure the water covers the potatoes completely) and turn up the heat to medium high/high and let it come up to a boil. When the water gets hot, generously add some salt and turn down the heat to medium low (enough heat that it stays at a boil, but doesn't boil over). Boil for 5 minutes.

While the potatoes are working start chopping the onion. I used a small onion from my garden, but you could use 1/2 a medium onion if you couldn't find a small one.

I just cut it in half, slice it and then dice it in the opposite direction. (This is also known as the Rachael Ray Hack.)

I put the diced onion into a large skillet with 1 pound of lean, organic ground beef and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. (If you are using a fattier grind of meat, then you can omit the oil.)

Turn on the heat to medium high/high and start breaking up the meat. I like to do this with a potato masher, because it goes much faster. (I also learned this by watching Rachael Ray.) Add salt and pepper (to taste).

To the meat and onion mixture, add in 2 tsp (2 cloves) of minced garlic (This is only 1 tsp that I'm showing in the pic. I added a second one after I put the camera down.)

After the potatoes have boiled for 5 minutes, strain them. (If you are using a waxier potato, you'll want to boil them for more like 15 or 20 minutes). You don't want the potatoes cooked all the way . . . just par cooked. They will finish in the oven.

Spread the hot potato slices into an even layer on the bottom of a greased 9x13 casserole dish.

In a medium sauce pan, over medium heat, add 1/2 stick of salted butter. (4 Tbsp)

When the butter is melted (or almost melted in my case - I was a little impatient), add in the same amount of flour (4 Tbsp).

Whisk the butter and flour together until smooth, and let cook for just a minute (you just want to cook out the raw flour taste). Turn the heat down to low. Then add 2 cups of milk. (I usually use nonfat milk, but any kind you have will do.) Slowly add the milk as you whisk the butter/flour so as to not get any lumps.

When all the lumps are out, turn the heat back up to medium and add in 1 tsp of salt (to taste).

1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

and cheese! You'll need 2 cups, grated cheddar, for the sauce. Continue to cook the milk sauce until it bubbles and thickens (making sure to stir, so you don't get lumps).

When the sauce is thick, the cheese gets stirred in, and the heat is turned off. This is the same sauce you would use for macaroni and cheese. But instead of noodles, we are adding meat.

The cooked meat/garlic/onion mixture is added to the sauce (I just spoon it in a little at a time, so I don't make a mess.)

After all the meat mixture is stirred into the cheese sauce,

It gets poured over the potato slices.

Smooth it into an even layer, making sure that all the potatoes are covered.

Bake @ 350F for 15 minutes and then top evenly with French's Fried Onions. (You know. The stuff people use on green bean casserole at Thanksgiving.) If you wanted your casserole to be more cheese-y, then add another cup of cheese before you add the fried onions. - I think the crunchy onions are the best part!

Bake for another 10 minutes (until the onions are brown and crispy and the cheese sauce is bubbly), and then set aside to cool for a couple minutes (so you don't burn your mouth!).

Nothing left to do, but slice and serve.

If you let it cool for at least 10 minutes, it should slice perfectly. It really is so good, and simple!
Here's the recipe:

Potato Cheeseburger Casserole

1 1/2 to 2 pounds Russet potatoes, (6 small to medium potatoes) peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 Tbsp oil
1 pound lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves minced)
salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar (plus 1 cup more if you want to add on top) 
4 oz of French's Fried Onions (about 2/3 of a 6 oz container)
In a large pot, cover the potatoes with water generously salt the water. Bring it up to a boil. Boil the potatoes for 5 minutes and the drain. Spread the potatoes out in an even layer in a greased 9x13 casserole dish. Set aside.
In a large skillet, add the oil, beef, onion and salt and pepper. Cook over high heat and break up the meat into small pieces. 
While the meat is cooking, melt 1/2 stick of butter in a medium sauce pan. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook for 1 minute and then turn the heat to low. Continuously whisk as you slowly add the milk, to make sure there are no lumps. When the sauce is smooth, turn the heat up to medium. Add salt and pepper (to taste). Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce bubbles and gets thick. When the sauce is thick, turn off the heat and stir in the 2 cups of cheese. 
When the meat mixture is cooked, add it to the cheese sauce and stir. Pour the meat/cheese sauce over the potatoes, and spread out into an even layer (making sure all the potatoes are covered). 
Bake @ 350F for 15 minutes. Top with 1 more cup of cheese (optional) and the French's Fried Onions. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until the onions are brown and crispy and the cheese sauce is bubbly. Cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve warm.