Monday, October 21, 2013

Nana's Peanut Butter Fudge

I grew up in a house where my mom did not cook. She redeemed herself in all other things "motherly" but cooking was never her forte. She is a self proclaimed disaster in the kitchen. Finding this out pretty early into marrying my mom, my dad (who once thought of making cooking his profession) took over preparing the meals. He provided most of our meals (usually making big batches of something that we would eat on over the next few days), but on rare occasions my mom would make us something simple. She made things like American Goulash, spaghetti and pancakes. One of my favorite treats from my mom's short repertoire of recipes is her Peanut Butter Fudge. This is my favorite peanut butter food memory from when I was growing up. Yes, I enjoyed quite a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and still do to this day), but it was this fudge that was really something special. How my mom could make only 4 ingredients turn into something so luxurious tasting and gift worthy was remarkable to me. I can vividly picture her sitting in a chair, the fudge perched in front of her on another chair and her beating the fudge into submission with a wooden spoon (the only time she used a wooden spoon, because she hates to clean those things!). Needless to say, I have added this recipe to my family recipe book and even submitted it for publication in our local church cook book.
    This fudge is smooth and incredibly light in texture. Usually fudge is dense and often times grainy; but those things are the opposite of my mom's fudge. It's creamy and melts in your mouth. A real treat that is so dangerous that I have to quickly give away before I eat the whole pan!  A bonus is that it can be made with all shelf stable ingredients. Since my brave hubby still hasn't received any pay since the government shutdown we are living off mostly pantry staples. I've had some wonderful friends give us fresh meals and groceries, so we are using those as well; but mostly our food comes from our cupboards (for the time being).
    I prefer to use chocolate chips and make it a Peanut Butter and Chocolate Fudge, but you could use any chips (chocolate, butterscotch, peanut butter, or white chocolate chips) and the fudge will turn out amazing.

This is all it takes:

1 1/2 cups of half and half (or 1 12 oz can of evaporated milk as I have here), 3 cups of sugar, 1 cup of peanut butter and 1+ cups of chocolate chips (or chips of your choice)

In a medium to large sauce pan, combine the sugar and half and half (or evaporated milk). You want to make sure the pan is large enough that the mixture won't boil over. I used my biggest sauce pan - the size just under the soup/pasta pot.

Stir them together and attach a candy thermometer (if you have one). My mom never used a thermometer, she just boiled it until she thought it looked right. It needs to come to a boil and then boil until it reaches soft ball stage. (You can test this by dropping a small amount of the candy into ice water. If the candy comes together to make a pliable ball, it's done.)
**If you are using a candy thermometer, make sure to test it first. Just fill a pot, fitted with the thermometer, with water. Make sure the water covers the bottom of the thermometer so it can get an accurate reading. Then put the pot of the stove and turn the heat to high. When the water starts to boil, check the temperature. Water should boil at 212F. My thermometer is off by about 11 degrees (it shows water boiling at 201F), so I know to pull my candy from the heat 11 degrees short of my goal. Always test your thermometer before using it, to ensure an accurate reading.

Turn the heat to high and let the mixture come to a boil. When it reaches a boil, turn down the heat just low enough to keep it boiling, but not high enough to boil over. (See mine came dangerously close to boiling over.) Continue to boil the mixture until it reaches soft ball stage. I try to refrain from stirring it while it's boiling, but if you just have to stir, then only stir in the middle. DO NOT scrape the sides of the pan, and this can cause the fudge to go sugary.

When it has reached the desired temperature, turn off the heat and stir in the peanut butter. (I usually just eye ball this, because that is what my mom did.)

Stir it in, but be careful not to scrape the sides.

When the peanut butter is mostly combined, add in the chips of choice (mine is chocolate). I mom always just grabbed a few handfuls, and threw them in. I use a measuring cup and do a rounded cup.

If you haven't done so already, you'll want to have a 9x13 dish ready to put the fudge in. I like to line mine with parchment paper, so that I don't have any clean-up afterwards, but it's up to you. Mom just pours hers into a pan - sometimes with foil, sometimes without.  I think parchment paper is the way to go.

Now, if there is anything "hard" about this recipe, this would be it. You have to stir. A LOT. My mom would always sit down with the hot pot and a towel and just beat the heck out of the fudge. She would lift the pan by the handle, and beat air into the mixture to help it set. I do that at the end, but in the beginning I just stir it. Again, I don't scrape the sides at all. Just stir.

And stir.

And stir. You will see it start to get thicker, and show the wake of the spoon.

Eventually it will become even thicker. If you're making it in a non stick pan like me, it will come away from the pan and become one mass. This is when I sit with it and a towel on my lap, tilt it slightly and beat air into it.

You want to keep beating it until the fudge is no longer shiny. Like this:

Then dump the fudge into the prepared pan,

and get it evened out as much as possible.

The left overs in the pan is what is left for the cook. (My son says this is the best part about cooking.) ;)

I let the fudge sit for about an hour (so that it is set, but still a little warm) and then I lift it by the parchment paper and place the whole thing on a cutting board. I cut 1 inch strips down the length of the fudge. I find that if I cut it when it's still warm, it cuts cleaner.

Then I turn it all and cut 1 inch strips down the width of the fudge - making 1 inch square pieces.

Then I move all the pieces at once (holding the corners of the parchment paper) and place everything back into the 9x13 pan.

When the pieces are completely cool, I package them up to give away. (Because I can't trust myself around an entire pan if it!)  Any container will do, as long as the fudge doesn't get squished.

 If my mom can make it, then anyone can! :) Try it out and let me know what you think. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Here's the recipe:

Nana's Peanut Butter Fudge

1 1/2 cups half and half (or 1 12 oz can evaporated milk)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup peanut butter (smooth is best)
1+ cups chips of choice (I like chocolate)

**If using a candy thermometer, be sure to test it (explained above) and adjust your temperature accordingly. 
In a large sauce pan, combine the sugar and half and half (or evaporated milk). Bring the mixture up to a boil and cook until  soft ball stage. Remove from heat and add the peanut butter. Stir until almost combined and then add the chocolate chips (or other chips of choice). Stir the fudge until it has turned (is no longer shiny) and then dump it out into a 9x13 pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Spread the fudge out evenly. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, and then cut the fudge into 1 inch pieces while it is still warm (but not hot). When it has cooled completely, it's ready to be packaged and gifted (or devoured by you and whomever is lucky enough to be in the kitchen with you).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cheesecake Filled Pumpkin Cake

   I had a PTO meeting to go to a few weeks back and I asked my friends for suggestions (via Facebook) on what to make for the dessert. I got a lot of good suggestions - some that I've tucked away to make at a future time - but I ultimately decided to make a variation of the Betty Crocker Pumpkin Ring Cake. It was a pumpkin cake made in a bundt pan and drizzled with a powdered sugar glaze. I turned it up a couple notches and now it is one of my go-to pumpkin recipes. It was so tasty. It reminded me of eating pumpkin cheesecake, because my version has a tunnel of vanilla cheesecake baked in the center. I also added some applesauce to the batter, to make it even more moist. It was a terrific cake, and I wish I could say that everyone at the PTO meeting loved it . . . but I managed my time poorly and ended up not having this cake done in time. (Well, it was done, but not cool enough to turn out and then drizzle with the glaze). I ended up making a batch of  Soft & Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies from my freezer stash at the last minute. (Thank heaven I keep cookies ready to bake! They were done and in my car, from start to finish, in 10 minutes.) Everyone loved the cookies. They actually call me the school baker, because they thoroughly enjoy all the desserts I have ever brought in, whether they be simple or complex. I wish I could have impressed them all with this cake, but it was ready for me when I got home. . . and it impressed the guys at the fire station just fine. :)
   I had actually forgotten that I hadn't blogged this recipe yet. My friend Laura was being super generous and bringing us some groceries tonight (since we are without an income while the government decides when it will pay my husband and all the other wildland firefighters in the USFS). Well, Laura asked me if I tried the Bisquick/pumpkin cake and I had to think about it. . . This cake is so yummy, I forgot that it was a cinch to throw together because of the Bisquick. I told her that I did try it and it was delicious. It's tied for my favorite pumpkin cake, with my Pumpkin Cake With Chocolate Ganache. I wanted to get this blogged ASAP, so after an amazing homemade salad bar meal (courtesy of Laura and her groceries), I sat down to get this recipe to you. -At the dismay of my husband, but I'll deal with the crazy kids in a moment.- ;)  
*It turns out that my wonderful husband wasn't too bothered by the kids, he was just wanting me to get off the computer and put some cookies in the oven while he does the dishes. I love that man!*

Here's how it goes:

Butter, white and brown sugar go into a large mixing bowl.

Then, applesauce and pumpkin puree are mixed in.

Pumpkin pie spice is added,

as well as some cream (you could use milk if you wanted)

and 4 eggs

Last, but not least, the Bisquick is mixed in. A little at a time, and then continue mixing until the batter is smooth.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, to make sure everything is thoroughly combined.

This is it:

Take a 12 cup bundt pan (or fluted cake pan of your choice), grease and flour it thoroughly. (I just sprayed mine really well, but the cake still stuck a little when I turned it out.) Scoop 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan, and then make a little indentation for the cheesecake filling to go into.

Then slowly spoon the cheesecake filling only in the center of the cake (DO NOT touch the cheesecake filling to the pan).

Then cover the filling with the other 1/2 of the batter, and smooth out the top. Bake it on a cookie sheet, because if your cake pan is a full as mine is it will probably overflow a little in the oven.
Bake @ 325 for 55-60 minutes, or until the cake is no longer gooey inside (a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean).

Cool it in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a heat-safe dish. (See my cake stuck just a little, but it's not bad.)

Last step is to let the cake cool and then drizzle it all over with the Vanilla Glaze.

Isn't it pretty? I'm still not sure why it had an air pocket in the middle of the cheesecake filling, but it tasted amazing anyway.

Here's the recipe:
adapted from Betty Crocker Pumpkin Ring Cake

Cheesecake Filled Pumpkin Cake

3 cups Original Bisquick mix 
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1/4 cup salted butter, softened  
2 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I like Trader Joe's) 
1/4 cup cream (or milk)  
4 large eggs 
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree  
1/2 cup natural apple sauce   
Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt or fluted cake pan. Beat granulated sugar, brown sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl. Mix in applesauce and pumpkin puree. Continue mixing and add in the pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 cream, and eggs. Slowly add in the Bisquick. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Spread 1/2 the batter in the pan. Spoon the Cheesecake Filling on top of the cake batter, making sure to keep the filling in the center (not touching the pan anywhere). Cover the filling with the other half of the cake batter. Place the filled pan onto a baking sheet, to catch any spill-over in the oven. Bake @ 350F (325F for a dark pan like mine) for about 55-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; turn upside down onto heatproof plate or wire cooling rack. Remove pan; cool cake completely. Drizzle with the Vanilla Glaze.
Cheesecake Filling (AKA Cream Cheese Filling)
8oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt (optional)
1 egg yolk
Whisk cheese, vanilla, sugar and salt until smooth. Taste to see if you want any more sugar. Add egg yolk and whisk to combine thoroughly.
Vanilla Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar 
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake. (If the cake is too warm, the glaze will just melt down the cake and end up all on the plate.) 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

I took my little ones to the store the other day, and while we are there I always let my kids pick out whatever they want from the produce section. This makes them more adventurous eaters and expands their pallets. Well, my 3 year old wanted to try the Brussel sprouts. (My oldest daughter was drawn to the brussel sprouts at the same age. It must be because they are so cute and small.) If you've never had a brussel sprout before, they are basically teeny-tiny cabbages. We've had this vegetable before, but we don't eat it often, so I bought a pound and brought them home. She was very excited to help me prep and bake them, and as equally excited to taste them. In the end, they were a big hit with everyone - my 7 yr old and 1 yr olds wanted seconds, which is the highest compliment a cook can get. :)
   While this isn't really a "recipe," it's more of an idea. Take a vegetable that you (or your kids) thought they didn't like and try them in a new way. I usually make my brussel sprouts in a saute pan with bacon, but my friend Dayna suggested baking them instead. (Thank you Dayna!) It was a welcomed change (and a healthier one too). You could also drizzle them with balsamic vinegar, but I just went for the basics: olive oil, salt and pepper.
   I hope this post inspires you to try something new. Whether it's trying a new item in the produce section, or making an old favorite in a new way. We should all learn to get out of our own way sometimes and be more adventurous with food. Even if you don't want to make brussel sprouts, try something new and let me know how it goes. :)

Here's what I did:

I washed and dried about 1 pound of brussel sprouts. 

I trimmed the ends off and peeled off any loose outer leaves. (The sprout heads should be tight and firm.)

Then I cut the large ones in half vertically. This ensures that all the sprouts are done at the same time.

They all go into a zip-top bag with 1 Tbsp olive oil. (I used extra virgin olive oil, because that is what I keep on hand, but any would do.)

Then I sprinkled in 1 tsp of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. (This is to taste.)

The final step is to spread out the sprouts onto a baking sheet. I like to line mine with parchment paper so that the clean-up is super easy. (I actually just took a batch of cookies out of the oven, and off this same parchment paper, so the little brown crumbs you see are cookie crumbs.) 

I roasted them @ 400F for about 10 minutes (until they were browned). Depending on how big your sprouts are, how many you are roasting, and your specific oven, they could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

Aren't they pretty? My favorite parts were the leaves that fell off and roasted individually. They turned crispy like chips. YUM!  I served this along side my Papa's Chicken Tortilla Casserole. Admittedly not the most perfect pairing in the world, but the family enjoyed both offerings. :)

Here's the recipe:

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

1 pound brussel sprouts, washed, dried and trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut any large sprouts in half, vertically, so all the brussel sprouts are roughly the same size. Place the prepared sprouts into a large zip-top bag with the olive oil. Seal the bag and toss the sprouts around to evenly coat them in the oil. Then open the bag and add the salt and pepper. Seal the bag and toss the sprouts again to evenly distribute the salt and pepper. Spread the sprouts evenly onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Roast @ 400F for 10-20 minutes (until they are browned and cooked through). Serve immediately.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chocolate Malted Crunch Cookies (AKA Whopper Pudding Cookies)

I have some amazing church friends and family that have been helping us out during this crazy government shutdown. People from my ward have volunteered to bring us meals, since we aren't getting paid (and don't know when the next check will come). One dear friend, Lynn, said "Why should I cook for you? You're a much better cook than I am." While I don't know if I agree with that, it was nice to hear. And the bags and boxes of groceries she gave, in place of just one meal, were extremely generous and greatly appreciated.
    Among the goodies were two boxes of Whoppers. You know, those chocolate covered malted milk-ball candies? She also gave me some wonderful baking goods (flour, sugar, butter, eggs) so of course I'm going to bake something yummy! Well, the Whoppers got me thinking about a cookie that I pinned forever ago and wanted to try. The cookies are called Malt Whopper Pudding Cookies. My husband's favorite ice-cream is the Chocolate Malted Crunch from Thifty's and he loves malt, so I'm always on the hunt for a good malt dessert. I made him my Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies (which are in my top 3 favorite cookies), but he said that they were too flat for his taste. So, now I'm always on the hunt for a malt cookie with more substance, and the pudding cookies looked like they would fit the bill. I did change up the recipe a bit, and my husband enjoyed them but he's still looking for a home-run malt cookie. I'll keep searching for sure, but in the mean time I think these cookies taste a lot like his favorite ice-cream (hence the name). Try them out and let me know what you think. :)

It starts with 1 1/2 sticks of butter (3/4 cups). I like salted butter, but you can use what you like.

1/2 cup each white and brown sugar are added to the butter.

They get creamed together . . .

and then 1 small package of instant chocolate pudding and 1/4 cup malted milk powder is added.

2 eggs and a little vanilla go in next.

And then the flour and baking soda. Mix it all together until combined - it will pull away from the bowl. It's a thick batter.

Last, but certainly not least, go in the chopped whoppers. I just chopped up one 5 oz box of candy. It was a little more than 1 cup. After tasting the final product, I wish I had chopped up the second box too. Oh well.

 Just use a spatula and mix the candy pieces in completely.

When everything is combined, you are ready to scoop.

I always use my smallest scoop when I make cookies. That way they all come out uniform, and the cookies end up being about 2 1/2 inches across (not too big that I feel guilty about having more than one . . . or three). And I always use a silpat or parchment paper, so the cookies never stick and my pans stay easy to clean. The third thing that I always do, when baking cookies, is to freeze at least 1/2 the batter for later baking. I just scoop them out, as if I was going to bake them, but I put them in the freezer instead. When they are hard, I put them into a labeled zip-top freezer bag and bake them up as needed (wanted really).

They get baked @ 350F for 8 minutes, and this is what they look like:

This is the final product. They are soft and a little chewy with nice crunchy bits inside. The chocolate and malt flavors work perfectly together and completely remind me of my adoring hubby's favorite ice-cream.
Here's the recipe:
adapted from Malt Whopper Pudding Cookies

Chocolate Malted Crunch Cookies (AKA Whopper Pudding Cookies) 

3/4 cup butter softened (I like salted)
1/2 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup granulated sugar 
1 small box instant chocolate pudding, dry
rounded 1/4 cup malt milk powder  
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda 
2 cups flour 
1-2 cups Whoppers (to taste, I used one 5 oz box) chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with a silpat or parchment paper. Cream together butter and sugars. Add pudding mix and malt powder. Mix in 2 eggs and vanilla. Stir in the baking soda and flour, making sure they are well combined. Fold in the chopped Whoppers. Scoop (about 1 inch balls) onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches in between each scoop. Bake @ 350F for 8-10 minutes (this will depend on the size of the cookie and your particular oven). The cookies should look set on top (not shiny) and slightly brown on the bottom. Do not over bake.