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Cheaters’ Celebration Peanut Butter Pie

12 Jun

pbpie

Yesterday was the last day of school, praise God and all the angels above. Not that I don’t love our school (I do, mostly) and not that the kids didn’t have great years (they did, for the most part, usually, sometimes), but the math homework and the projects and the needing some obscure thing at 7:30 in the morning sorry I forgot mom, and the not-invited-to-camp-or-the-party drama and the runningrunningrunning all get to be a bit much by June. Right? If you’ve got a kid older than five, you’re nodding with a big hell yeah (if not, well, you’re either a remarkable parent, terribly detached, or on the verge of an intervention).

DH was traveling for work, which is not all that unusual, and the kids wanted lasagna for dinner. Fine–no worries. Lasagna it was and it was good and all were happy. But I needed a dessert, too. Something fun and unexpected and worthy of the occasion. We made it. But also really simple and easy. I’m tired.

A few weeks back, we celebrated a family birthday at one of our favorite restaurants. The place was crowded and not prepared and our food took a long time to arrive, and in an act of pure class that will keep me coming back forever, the manager came over and offered us all dessert on the house with his apologies–and we didn’t even complain. What we got, though, wasn’t a traditional peanut butter pie. This was a layer of graham cracker crumbs, a layer of vanilla custard, a layer of whipped cream, and powdered peanut butter on top.

Seriously among the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. That peanut butter powder works miracles on the layers below and it’s a thing of beauty. Like, I took a picture of it so I wouldn’t forget later.

Last night, I made it. And I have to say, I’m sort of embarrassed to pass this off as a recipe, because it’s so stinkin’ simple. Takes five minutes to put together. As a recipe, it’s totally cheating. But boy, it’s good. Really, really good. I see a summer staple born. You just need:

1 graham cracker pie crust

1 large box instant vanilla pudding mix

Milk, to the recipe on the pudding mix box

1 container whipped topping (or make your own)

3 tbsp powdered peanut butter (look near the real stuff in the grocery store–one brand is PB2 but there are several out there)

Mix your vanilla pudding according to the directions on the box and stick it in the fridge for about five minutes to let it set up a bit.

Once that’s set, spread it into the pie crust.

Smooth the whipped topping over that.

Sprinkle the peanut butter powder over that.

Cover and let it hang in the fridge for a few hours.

Honestly. Doesn’t get easier. Or yummier. I think it’s calling me right now, actually…

 

 

Happy Easter!

8 Apr

Couldn’t resist sharing this with you all–I followed the directions on the Betty Crocker website for this adorable bunny butt cake. Cute!

Enjoy your holiday!

 

Perfect Lemon Cake

26 Mar

I noticed yesterday that the leaves on the Japanese red maple tree outside my dining room window have burst open from their buds. This makes me a bit giddy for two reasons: First, I wanted a Japanese red maple for years and finally received one as a Mother’s Day gift, and it’s right outside that window where I can see it from both my dining room and my kitchen, turning my happy place even happier this time of year (I am not a gardener–things that spring alive with color year after year without any intervention on my part are my favorites). And second, it’s the last tree in our yard to leaf out. When its little red leaves pop open, spring is officially here. And that, my friends, means it’s time for lemon. Lots and lots of lemon.

I become a lemon freak when the weather turns warm and the trees get their leaves and things seem lighter and fresher all-around. Salmon with lemon. Pasta with lemon. Asparagus with lemon. Lemon everywhere, and especially mixed with flour and sugar and butter and eggs, because lemon cake is among the most perfectly perfect desserts this time of year. This one I especially like because it’s light and airy and doesn’t put me into a food coma half an hour after eating a slice (or two).

I made this for dinner with friends on Friday night. It took about 10 minutes to put together the cake, which I cooled, wrapped in plastic, and let sit on my counter overnight; this is a great trick with anything lemon, because it lets that amazing citrus flavor develop and shine. The next morning, the icing came together in five minutes (Side note: this is the most amazing lemon frosting I’ve ever tried. I could easily eat it all by itself with a spoon and be very very happy). The cake was frosted, wrapped gently, and put in the fridge to await dinner.

This really is best served cold. It also dries out after day 3, mostly because you only frost the top of the layers, leaving the cake’s sides exposed. I doubt eating it all before then will be a problem. The recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, and I haven’t changed a thing except some of the more onerous directions that seemed pointless to me (we’ll talk about that soon). Definitely worth adding to your personal recipe box–it’s a favorite around here. To make it, you need:

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (or 2 tbsp vinegar mixed into enough regular milk to measure 2 cups)
The zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the icing:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
The zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350. Spray two 8-inch round baking pans with Baker’s Joy or another flour-added spray.

Beat sugar and butter together until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in your eggs.

Stir in 1 cup of the flour and all of your baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then mix in your buttermilk (or substitute), and then mix in the last cup of flour–stir in the flour on your mixer’s lowest speed so it stays light and fluffy and doesn’t activate the glutens. Finally, stir in your lemon zest and juice.

Split your batter between the two pans. Give each one a good, firm whack on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles (this helps you get an even-topped cake). Bake for about a half-hour, or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let cool, wrap, and leave on your counter overnight (if you have overnight–if not, just let them cool all the way before you frost them).

To make the frosting, dump all of your ingredients into your mixer and let it beat it all together. Gently frost the top of your bottom cake layer, then carefully stack the layers and frost the top of layer #2. Wrap carefully and store in the refrigerator.

Peanut Butter-Free Blossom Cookies

13 Feb

Y’all have seen the idea on Pinterest by now: You take a peanut butter blossom cookie recipe and make it with a heart-shaped Dove chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Cute, cute, cute.

Here’s the thing, though: peanut allergies are rampant, and if you want to send these little cuties in as a surprise in your kids’ lunchboxes, as I do, they can’t rightly have peanut butter in them. At least, I won’t send them that way. I know too many kids and one of my favorite people on earth who have nut allergies, and couldn’t live with myself if a cookie put them in harm’s way.

So today, I made up a batch of sugar cookie dough. Any one will do–choose your favorite. Only instead of rolling them out to cut with cookie cutters, use your palms to roll them into balls, with about a tablespoon of dough in each ball. Don’t squeeze them, or you’ll melt the butter inside and they’ll spread in the oven. You want a gentle roll. No heat.

Bake your dough balls as directed in your sugar cookie recipe. When they come out of the oven, gently press a Dove heart (or a Hershey Kiss) into the center of each cookie, and let them cool. My Dove hearts liquified (they held their heart shape, but they got soft and gooey), so I stuck them in the fridge after a few minutes to harden back up. And I have a perfect, nut-free treat to send in with my loves for lunch tomorrow (including the one I married–nobody tell!).

Happy, save, Valentine’s Day, gang!!

Homemade Samoas Bars

16 Dec

Sorry for the silence this week, gang. I am in full-on Christmas prep mode, which translates into my running around like a crazy person from early in the morning until late at night. And that means we’ve been relying on family favorite recipes–old faithfuls I can toss together with my eyes closed from stuff I have in the house. So there’s not been much to chat about here.

Thankfully, last night was cookie party.

Cookie party is a longstanding tradition for a friend of mine, who hosts a couple dozen women in her house the week or so before Christmas for a friendly exchange of baked goods. We talk and laugh and enjoy fantastic food and drinks (chocolate martini, anyone?) and then go around the room to talk about our chosen cookie and hand out baggies for everyone to take home.

The kicker is that my friend’s husband spends the next morning judging the cookies, and the winner gets a very nice prize. Things get a wee bit competitive–y’all should see the trash talk in my email box. We take our sugar and flour and chocolate very seriously.

I’m typing this waiting to hear the results of this year’s competition (I’ve never won but have come in second a few times–we have some fabulous bakers in the group!), but these cookies were a hit with my family. I found them on a few websites and adapted them a bit, but they’re basically bar versions of the Girl Scouts’ famous Samoa cookies, with a shortbread base, caramel and toasted coconut topping, and chocolate.

These were a little time-consuming and they’re messy in the kitchen: I’m not going to lie. But I’ll make them again because they’re very yummy. I tried to simplify the original recipe to get rid of individually dipping cookies in chocolate and a few extra steps, and they turned out really well (I think). You can also just make the caramel/coconut mixture, form it into balls on wax paper, and drizzle them with chocolate to make a candy and a gluten-free option if you want.

Let me know if you try these! You need:

Cookie base:

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup room-temperature butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Mix together your butter and sugar until they’re creamy. Beat in vanilla, and then mix in the dry goods. The dough will be crumbly–don’t worry. Dump it into your parchment-lined pan and use a piece of wax paper to spread it into a single layer (the wax paper will keep it from sticking to your hands). Bake for 20 minutes, or until its edges start to brown. Take it out of the oven and cool to room temperature.

Chocolate Base

1 1/2 cup dark chocolate candy discs (I got them at the craft store) or chocolate chips.

When the shortbread is totally cool, melt the chocolate in the microwave and spread it over the cookie base. I used candy discs because they don’t melt at room temperature like chocolate chips do, so it’s easier to eat the finished cookies.

Let that come to room temperature or put it in the refrigerator until it’s cold and totally hardened up. Once that happens, use the parchment paper to carefully lift your cookie out of the pan in one piece. Line the now-empty pan with wax paper, and very carefully peel the parchment off the cookie, turn it chocolate-side down, and place it back in the pan (this sounds harder than it is, but take your time). You now have chocolate on the bottom and cookie on top.

Topping

3 cups shredded sweetened coconut

12 oz caramel candies

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp milk

Line a cookie sheet (with a rim) with parchment paper. Spread the coconut onto it in an even layer and bake it at 350 degrees, stirring it every five minutes or so, until it’s toasted and brown and crunchy. Watch it carefully, gang–it burns in a heartbeat.

Once that’s done, put your unwrapped caramels, milk, and salt into a large Pyrex bowl. Microwave it in one-minute increments, stirring in between (with a spoon at first and then with a whisk as it melts) until it’s all liquid–two minutes was plenty in my microwave. Working quickly, stir in your coconut.

Spread this mixture on top of the cookie base with the back of a spoon. You want to do this while the coconut mixture is still pretty warm–once it hardens, there’s no spreading it. It’ll want to separate from the cookie at first, but have patience–it’ll work out in a few minutes.

Once that’s done, let it harden up. And when that’s done, melt another half-cup of chocolate and use a spoon to drizzle it over the top. Cool completely and slice your cookies with a large, heavy knife. A pan makes about four dozen Samoas.

Whipped Cream Redux

22 Nov

You might remember that last August (2010), DH sprayed “Happy Birthday” in our driveway with a can of whipped cream, and that a few weeks later, it hadn’t quite vanished. Which made our family rethink that stuff that comes in the cans.

That picture up there? I took that this morning. Fifteen months after the sweet message landed on our concrete. Fifteen months of rain (including a hurricane) and snow and basketball and cars and people and garbage cans, and a lot of stuff…a lot more than goes in inside your body.

See what I’m saying, y’all?

You can see my original post on how easy it is to make whipped cream, and now that you’ve seen a real-world science experiment with that canned stuff, I’d urge you to rethink the convenience route. To make it a little more special for Thanksgiving, drizzle a little maple syrup in there while you’re whipping–it’s fantabulous. If you need it to travel, add a few pinched of cream of tartar, which will help it stand up longer.

Happy Thanksgiving, gang!

Bake Sale!

11 Nov

This weekend marks the annual Christmas Bazaar at my church, which includes a bake sale that funds need-based scholarships to our school. I always bake a lot, and this year was no different. But I wanted to show you these super-cute cupcakes in a jar!

I stole this idea–it’s on about eleventy-trillion different websites–but it came out so well that I had to give it a plug. You need jelly-sized canning jars (8 oz, I bought two cases at my local hardware store), a load of ribbon, some plastic spoons, tape, and your favorite cupcake and icing combo.

Let your cupcakes cool completely and then slice them in half, so you have a top and a bottom of each. Put your frosting into a piping bag with a star tip (a Ziploc bag with a small corner clipped off works great).

Place the bottom of a cupcake into one of the jelly jars. Pipe icing on top of it, being sure to go all the way to the edge of the cake, so you can see the icing when you look at the jar. Gently press the cupcake top down on top of that, and then ice that the same way. Put the lid on, tape a spoon to the side, and put some pretty ribbon around the top. Voila–instant bake sale happiness, and something people can walk around and snack on while they shop the rest of the show.

Two other quick tips: I made chocolate chip cookie cake for this sale as well. I made the batter a day ahead and stored it in the fridge, which saved me time on baking day and freed up my mixer for other things. I also used foil pans, which are both prettier wrapped up than naked bread, and let me double the cake recipe and get three loaves out of it (since the disposable pans are smaller than my regular ones). I also made my sweet white bread, as it’s always popular and keeps for a day or two, tightly wrapped.

Breads get wrapped up in their foil pans, first in regular plastic wrap and then in a layer of clear cellophane, and then tied with a bright ribbon and labeled with a pretty card. Pretty food sells.

I’d love to hear your great bake sale ideas–post them below!

 

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