Monday, June 28, 2010

Pecan Pie Mini Muffins Recipe

Yesterday I baked a batch of Pecan Pie Mini Muffins.  Just one nibble transported me back to the blissful weekend that my husband and I recently experienced at Scenic Hill Vacations.  We stayed in a private cabin in the rollings hills of Texas located between Brenham and Round Top.   In addition to the beautiful location, peaceful accommodations, and luxurious outdoor jacuzzi tub, the cabin refrigerator was stocked with breakfast.  We found eggs, sausage, coffee, biscuits, orange juice, and a plate of home baked Pecan Pie Muffins waiting for us.  I'm not sure if it was the location at which I consumed these delightful little confections or if it was the flavorful muffins themselves, but either way they are an amazing treat worth remembering.  I was thrilled when the innkeeper emailed me the recipe.

When I made a batch of Pecan Pie Mini Muffins at home, the setting wasn't quite as romantic, the location wasn't nearly as tidy, and the company was a bit more rowdy.  The recipe, however, did not disappoint.  The five ingredients necessary for Pecan Pie Mini Muffins produce a sweet treat that is crispy around the edges and moist in the center.  The fresh pecans add a delicate crunch.  These muffins pair perfectly with a mug of hot coffee in the morning or a cup of hot tea in the afternoon.  

As I enjoyed my Pecan Pie Mini Muffin at home, I remembered sleeping late and chatting leisurely with my husband.  Then I recalled curling up in an adirondack chair with a stack of books, a cup of coffee, and a plate of muffins.  Food is made to enjoy and to remember!

Pecan Pie Mini Muffins

(adapted from Scenic Hill West Texas Pecan Pie Muffins)

Makes 3 dozen mini muffins.

1 cup light brown sugar, packed 
1 cup chopped pecans 
3 dozen whole pecans for garnish, optional
1/2 cup flour
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
2 eggs 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray or grease and flour mini muffin pans. 
  2. Melt the butter and cool slightly.
  3. Whisk the butter and eggs together until combined.
  4. Add brown sugar, chopped pecans, and flour to butter and egg mixture.  Stir until just combined.
  5. Place about 1 tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup.
  6. Optional:  Top each unbaked muffin with 1 whole pecan.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Orange Pistachio Cake Recipe

This morning during Bible study I realized that cooking is one of my passions. I know, seriously! How could I have not realized that?  Food is the topic of my facebook status most of the time.  Also, I have been cooking since preschool, collecting recipes since I was able to read, writing this food blog for over a year, yet it wasn't until I was pondering Leah and how she found joy in the midst of her trials (her amazing story starts in Genesis) that I realized cooking is one of my passions. I love that I started living out my passion before I had even acknowledged that I had it!  I love that it was in the midst of a group of beautiful Christian women that I came to understand it.

As I was listening to these women discuss their zest for bike riding, sewing, playing the cello, organizing, and writing, I thought about this past weekend when I had thoroughly enjoyed making an Orange Pistachio Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting. I was in the kitchen by myself (a rare occurrence), listening to NPR on the radio, appreciating the large window in my kitchen that overlooks the backyard, and doing exactly what I wanted to be doing.  I even lost track of time (an even more rare occurrence for me).  Now I understand that doing what I love no matter how mundane is a way for me to embrace God's abundant life and to experience my passion.

The fact that I was baking the Orange Pistachio Cake at the request of my husband was an added bonus.  I carefully ground the pistachios, zested the orange, and measured the flour while enjoying every second of it.  Then I whipped the cream cheese, frosted the cake, and licked the beaters.  Next I decorated the top of this eight inch square confection with a star because my husband truly is a star of a dad.  My family loved the bright flavors of the cake and the creamy texture of the frosting.  I love that my passion for cooking is something that I can choose to enjoy and practice everyday.

Orange Pistachio Cake Recipe

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup (about 3 ounces) finely ground unsalted pistachio nuts
1 Tablespoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup sour cream

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan with Pam for baking or grease and flour the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside
  3. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and granulated sugar until the mixture is fluffy, thick and lightened in color, about 2 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the oil, then the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until thoroughly combined.  Add the finely ground pistachios and orange zest and mix until combined.  With the mixer still on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated.  Add the sour cream and mix just until no white streaks remain.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake the cake for about 40-45 minutes, until the top feels firm when touched lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Leave the cake in the pan for a rustic feel or use a small sharp knife to loosen the sides from the pan.  Invert the cake onto a wire rack.  Invert the cake again onto a wire rack so it is right side up.  Set aside to cool completely.
  6. When completely cooled, frost with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Crock Pot Pulled Pork Tacos Recipe

Pork Taco
Back in Maryland my mind would wander to crock pot cooking when the days got shorter and the nights got cooler. Come fall and winter I would get a yearning for flavorful slow cooked chowders and stews. Here in Texas, however, I am turning to my crock pot when the sunny days are longer and the nights are hotter. Although the temperature does reach and surpass 90 degrees in the North East, while living there I never embraced my crock pot as a way to avoid turning on the oven during warm summer days.

Starting my third summer in Texas has forced me to rethink my slow cooker, but when I browsed the 'crock pot' section of my recipe file, I found that it is filled with winter fare. Now I am on a search for more seasonally appropriate crock pot recipes. I ran across a page that I had ripped from a Real Simple magazine for Pulled Pork Tacos. This recipe calls for baking a boneless pork shoulder in the oven, but it is easily converted to cooking a pork loin in the crock pot. Although for years I have been a follow-the-recipe-to-the-letter type of girl, I am gradually starting to be a bit more experimental and free in the kitchen. My 13 year old daughter has always been extremely adventurous while cooking, so she often encourages me to branch out a bit. This recipe gave me the perfect opportunity to be less instructed and more inspired.

My inspiration paid off because my family and I loved our dinner of Pulled Pork Tacos. The meal was different enough from our normal taco night to impress my daughter and husband, but familiar enough to my sons that it didn't scare them away. I served the pulled pork with warm soft tortillas, Creamy Jalapeño Dip, shredded cheddar cheese, wedges of lime, and a variety of chopped veggies. Even better than the successful dinner was the fact that my kitchen stayed cool thanks to my new summer friend, the crock pot.

Crock Pot Pulled Pork Tacos Recipe

2 to 2 1/2 pound boneless pork loin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 to 2 jalapeños, sliced into rings and seeded
1 red onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup water
1 cup apricot jam or preserves
flour tortillas
A variety of taco accoutrement such as shredded cheese, lime wedges, thinly sliced yellow and orange peppers, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, pinto beans, etc.

1. Spray crock pot with cooking spray. Place chopped jalapeños and red onions in bottom of crock pot. Add 1/2 cup water.
2. Rub pork roast with salt, pepper, and cumin. Place rubbed roast on top of onions and jalapeños in crock pot. Pour apricot jam or preserves on top of roast and spread to cover.
3. Put the lid on the crock pot and cook for 4 to 6 hours or until internal temperature of meat is 200 degrees and meat is easily shredded.
4. Remove meat from crock pot and place it on a large platter. Using 2 forks shred the pork, cutting any large chunks with a knife. Return shredded pork to crock pot.
5. Strain onions, jalapeños, and juice from crock pot. Discard onions and jalapeños. Pour juice back over meat. Stir to coat and cook meat on low for an additional hour. Test for seasoning and add salt or pepper as needed.
6. Serve shredded pork with soft tortillas and your favorite taco toppings.

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Linked to Savory Sunday

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Caramel Brownies Recipe

Caramel Brownies
Nothing says "Welcome back from camp!" like a home cooked meal. Making favorite recipes for a loved one who has been away communicates, "I know what you like.", "You are worth all the time it took to plan and prepare this dish.", and "Let's gather around the table and talk about all that's conspired while we've been apart."

In my twenties I resisted and even resented the fact that in my family food was the main love language. "Got bullied on the school bus - here's some fried chicken, broke up with your boyfriend - let's bake a big coconut custard pie, or did well on your report card - we're gonna grill some steaks tonight!" Now that I'm entering my more mellow forties, I've embraced food as one of the many signs of love. Along with hugs, kind words, a listening ear, and being present as much as possible, preparing and sharing food has the potential to be a valid form of affection.

Yesterday, I chose to show affection to my daughter with tons of hugs, lot of chatting, a home cooked family dinner, and a freshly baked pan of gooey Caramel Brownies. This recipe comes from a page of my mother's September 2009 Family Circle magazine. Now that I live 1,531 miles away from my parents, my mom has been forced to show me love by mailing me recipes instead of actually making them for me. She knew Caramel Brownies would be a hit with my husband and kids because we love chocolate and have yet to meet a brownie that we didn't like. She was right! We adore the creamy melted caramel that is nestled between the two gooey chocolate brownie layers.

I'm even more fond of creating this dessert since I discovered Kraft's caramel bits. Although opening a 12 ounce bag of caramel cubes has the potential to be a fun family affair, I'm smitten by the convenience of dumping little caramel knobs directly into the pot- no peeling or sneaky sampling necessary.

According to Eleanor Roosevelt, "Absence truly makes the heart grow fonder." According to Heidi, "Caramel Brownies make the homecoming sweeter!"

Caramel Brownies Recipe

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter)
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 bag (12 ounces) chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
1 package (14 ounces) soft caramels
1/4 cup heavy cream

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil. Spray foil and sides of pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt together butter and unsweetened chocolate in microwave oven for 2 minutes, stir until smooth. Whisk in eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla. Stir in pecans, if using. Spread half the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1 cup chocolate chips or chunks.
  3. In a medium-size saucepan, melt together caramels and heavy cream over medium-low heat until smooth, and 5 minutes. Evenly pour over batter in pan. Spread with remaining batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips or chunks.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until top is dry to the touch. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack. Grab foil and lift brownie from pan. Cut into squares and serve.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Royers Round Top Cafe Review

Royers Round Top Cafe
This is me giddy - giddy because I'm away for the weekend with my husband sans kids, giddy because I had just experienced one of the top ten meals of my life, and giddy because I was now an acquaintance of Bud Royer, a.k.a The Pie Man. Yes, happiness, creativity, and funky charm abound at Royers Round Top Cafe in Round Top, Texas and I am just giddy about it!

I initially heard about the town of Round Top, Texas (population 77) from my parents. They are antique dealers in my home state of Maryland who travel throughout the East Coast selling their classic country wares at antique shows. Two years ago when I told them that I was moving to Texas and taking their only grandchildren with me they were, of course, devastated, but after the tears had passed, they wondered, "Are you going to be anywhere near Round Top?" In fact, I did end up not too far from this antique collectors mecca and have just realized that when I'm really homesick all I need to do is travel down highway 290 for about an hour or so, explore the amazing little shops of Round Top, and then stop by Royers for a hot meal and a big hug from the Pie Man himself, Bud Royer.

Royers Round Top Cafe is a 40-seat restaurant that features gourmet meals, home cooked pies, and a mind-blowing atmosphere. Although my husband and I could have dined anywhere during our Saturday night alone, we chose Royers based on the information we read in the book The Round Top Experience by The Parisian Cowboys. Although the article was informative, it was the photo of the lit up "Eat Mo Pie" sign that convinced us. Who doesn't love a great slice of pie on date night?

Upon entering Royers, all my senses were stimulated by this small venue. I saw walls covered with meaningful letters, photos, and memorabilia; I smelled a cacophony of succulent meats and sweet pies; I heard a Beatles tune along with the low rumble of contented conversations; and I felt. . . at home! Pulling me out of my sensory stupor was the low, gruff voice of a man who offered, "You kids can sit at the back table on the left."

We happily complied and then began the arduous task of focusing our brains in order to ignore our creative and inspiring surroundings just long enough to read the menu. After no less than three visits from our pleasant and patient waitress, I decided on a glass of the Raspberry Iced Tea and the "L.I.T.S. - Life Is Too Short Platter, OMG!" As a menu item for "those who cannot decide", the L.I.T.S. features angus beef tips and veggies served over pasta with a delicate red wine cream sauce, succulent pork tenderloin with a peachy peppery glaze, and juicy grilled quail. All date night conversation came to a halt as my husband, who had ordered "Grilled Rack of Lamb OMG", and I began to experience our meals. When the waitress came back all I could manage was a goofy smile and exuberant nod. Yes, my plate was full, abundantly full.

Royers Round Top Cafe LITS Platter
Heidi's Full Plate is never too full, however, for a piece of pie which I soon found out is as famous as it is good. Throughout my entire Royers experience, I had been absorbing pie quotes which are sprinkled on the wait staff's eye- catching apparel, the restaurant's short story-like menu, and the unique interior decor. My husband and I read aloud to each other, "No pie left behind!", "Peace is Pie", "Remember the Alamode", and in all it's lit up glory "Eat Mo Pie". I chose the "Bud's Chocolate Chip Pie OMG" and my husband ordered "Sam's Coconut Chess", each with a scoop of Amy's Vanilla Ice Cream because, as the menu states, "We serve all pies with AMY'S ICE CREAM for 6.50. It cost .50 extra if ya’ don’t have the ice cream. IT IS SO WRONG TO NOT TOP YOUR PIE WITH AMY’S ICE CREAM!!!!!" The crust was rustic, flaky, and flavorful. The chocolate chip pie was fresh-baked-cookies meet grandma's-pecan pie. The coconut chess ala mode was a pina colada on a plate.

Royer's Pies

After paying our Texas-sized but well-worth-it bill, I asked our waitress if I could take a few pictures for my blog. She obliged and as I floated around the restaurant in all my giddy glory attempting to capture my Royers dining experience on film, I met The Pie Man himself! He was warm, inviting, and exuded a charismatic charm that was as sweet as his pie. I can't really remember exactly what I said, but I do recall that Bud gave me his full attention and in our five minute interchange he managed to inquire about my blog, my family, and my passions, in addition to giving me a free pie for the 'fam'.

Royer's Round Top Cafe
Now I have acquired a new date night destination that fulfills my desire for quality food, amazing pie, and guaranteed creative inspiration. I recommend that anyone who is within a hundred mile radius of
Round Top make the trek to Royers Cafe and anyone who is outside of that area either plan a vacation to this little town in central Texas or at least check out the website and order a mail-order pie or a bottle of marinade. I'm just giddy with all the possibilities!