Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

sticky-toffy-pudding-cakeI’ve always wondered why British people are so obsessed with Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake.  After all, I’ve had pudding cakes and they were fine.  Usually awfully sweet, but nothing worthy of hero worship.  Then one day, I decided to try making it.

My friend Donna and her husband Bob had come over for  dinner and brought a gorgeous carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and caramel sauce, which is the only way I will ever be able to eat it again.

There was some caramel sauce left over and I thought – Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake!  Fortunately Kumy loves dried dates and figs so we always have dates in the pantry.

I found a recipe on Mel’sKitchenCafe.com, made it and the world tilted on its axis. (Mel’s recipes are truly the best!)  The cake is tender, moist and not too sweet.  Kumy loved it plain.  I couldn’t resist the caramel sauce and cream on top.

Sooo good!   I understand now, British people.  I understand.

Ingredients for Cake

6 ounces dates, pitted and finely chopped (they’ll be quite sticky – but just power on through them!)
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Ingredients for Caramel Sauce   (I haven’t made this yet, but I’m sure it’s good.)

3/4 cup brown sugar
8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch of kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Additional heavy whipping cream for drizzling (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8×8 or 9×9 pan.  (I used a small rectangular pan.)

For the cake, in a medium bowl, stir together the dates, boiling water, baking soda and vanilla extract. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.

In a separate medium bowl, cream together the granulated sugar and butter with an electric mixer (handheld or stand mixer) until well-combined and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
Add the eggs and mix.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and mix until just combined. Fold in the dates and the water they soaked in until combined; don’t overmix.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 22-25 minutes. Cake is done when the top springs back from a touch.  Let cool.

Make the sauce by adding the brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the sauce is smooth, 5-7 minutes.

Serve cake warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of caramel sauce and a smaller drizzle of heavy whipping cream.  Your world will never be the same again.

Salade Nicoise

A really refreshing change from warm (albeit) comforting casseroles, try this lovely French salad, with its elements in heaps, rather than tossed together.

It’s basically an herby vinaigrette on a very hearty salad – with potatoes, tomatoes, tuna and hard-boiled eggs, meant to be served warm or at room temperature. I love it because it’s also a very forgiving recipe. As long as you’ve got some form of potato, tomato, lettuce and green beans it will be delicious!

It was perfect for a summer evening’s meal, after a good brisk walk.

INGREDIENTS

Vinaigrette

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Thai basil (could use any basil or 2 tsp dried basil)
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
3/4 tsp kosher Salt and
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Salad

1 can albacore tun in olive oil, removed and lightly drained
5 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 lb small young red potatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 container butter lettuce (or any nice lettuce), torn into bite-sized pieces
15 or so grape tomatoes, cut in half, or 3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
1/2 yellow or small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound green beans, stems broken off
1/4 cup olives (I used Castelvetrano but Nicoise olives are also recommended.)
2 Tbsp capers, drained

Make vinaigrette: In a jar, place the oil, vinegar, garlic powder, herbs, mustard and fish sauce if using. Cover with a lid and shake until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Marinate onion slices in a couple spoons of the vinaigrette in a small bowl.

Bring a pot of water to boil, add 1 Tbsp of salt and add the potatoes and eggs. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork soft. Remove the potatoes, immediately cut in half and toss in a bowl with a little more vinaigrette.

Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook 3-5 minutes. Remove and rinse with cold water. Peel and quarter the hard-boiled eggs.

On each plate, lay a bed of lettuce. Heap some of the tuna in the middle. Sprinkle the onions and tomatoes around the tuna.

Arrange the potatoes and green beans in mounds at the edge of the lettuce.
Arrange hard boiled eggs and olives in mounds on the lettuce bed.

Drizzle everything with the remaining vinaigrette and sprinkle with capers if using.

Can also be served without tuna as a vegetarian option.

Ali’s Bourbon Milk Punch

Ali just made these classic New Orleans cocktails for us and they were incredibly good, even dangerously good, especially with his addition of a little maple syrup.

How have I never had these before?  I think this may just be my favorite cocktail of all time!

Ingredients

1/2 cup bourbon
1/2 cup milk or 5 Tbsp milk and 3 Tbsp 1/2 & 1/2
2/3 oz sugar and 1/3 oz maple syrup
(in a 1 oz. jigger, fill  2/3 with sugar and 1/3 with maple syrup)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
crushed ice
freshly grated nutmeg

Add everything but the crushed ice into a cocktail shaker and stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Add a couple big spoonfuls of crushed ice, cover and shake vigorously.

Fill a glass halfway full of ice, and strain cocktail mixture over. Grate fresh nutmeg on top and enjoy. Makes two servings. (Or one big serving for Mom.)

The scent of the nutmeg combined with the light, sweet deliciousness of the milk punch is seriously good. Don’t wait – make these soon!

Chicken, Pepper, Tomato & Zucchini

chicken,zucchini,-peppers-aWe love dishes with good flavor and lots of colorful veggies – and this one fit the bill perfectly.  It’s based on a recipe from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. (Mel is a wonderful cook and she makes it with Orzo, but I felt like Couscous.)  I also changed out the veggies a bit.  I can’t wait to make it again!

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup dry couscous
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter

1 tablespoon olive oil
4-5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1 cup chopped red, orange and yellow bell pepper (can use green pepper, too)
2 cups halved grape or cherry tomatoes,
2 small zucchini, halved and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 tsp oregano  (I was out so I used 1 tsp Greek Seasoning.  You could also use 1/2 tsp oregano, a big pinch of basil and a little pinch of dill)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Bring water to a boil and stir in 1/2 tsp salt, butter and couscous.   Remove from heat, cover and let sit for at least 5 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large 12-inch nonstick or stainless skillet over medium heat. Add chicken, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and cook 6-7 minutes until golden on the outside,flipping halfway through.

Push the chicken to the outer edge of the pan and add everything else except the feta cheese.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring often until the mixture begins to dry up.

Push chicken back into the middle and nestle among the vegetables.  Continue cooking for another few minutes.  Check salt and pepper and add more Greek seasoning if needed.

Add 1/2 the crumbled feta and stir through.  Remove from heat and sprinkle on the rest of the feta.

To serve: Put a couple of spoonfuls of the Couscous in a wide flat bowl and top with the meat and veggies.

To make a gluten-free version – serve over rice or buttery mashed potatoes.

 

Easiest French Bread Ever!

French-BreadThis bread recipe is from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe and is the easiest and most consistent bread recipe I’ve ever used. It uses a clever proofing method, where you don’t even take the dough off the mixer, and you use ice cubes to create steam while it’s baking.

We love toast and jam and this simple, delicious bread is perfect for that and for sandwiches. I made two loaves yesterday with a cup of whole wheat flour substituted for a cup of the white flour, and I really liked the flavor and texture.

I’m sure you could add Rosemary and chopped olives, or other herbs and interesting things, but this bread doesn’t really need it.  But who knows?  Now that I’ve found a good recipe – I may experiment!

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4 cups warm water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp kosher Salt  (Mel uses a little less)
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 1/2 – 6 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour and 4 1/2 -5 cups regular flour)

Mix water, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl. If you have a stand mixer, use the mixing paddle to mix it.

Cover the bowl and/or mixer with a clean dishtowel and let the yeast get bubbly for 5 or so minutes.

Add the salt, oil and 5 cups of flour. Mix with a dough hook, or spoon for 6 or 7 minutes, adding flour as needed- 1/2 up to 1 cup flour, until dough is forming a nice solid mass. It will hang onto the dough hook and then flop back in the bowl occasionally. Only add flour if the dough is really sticking to the side of the bowl.  If kneading by hand, knead for several minutes until it’s smooth and elastic.

Leave the dough in the bowl and the dough hook in the dough. Cover the stand mixer and bowl with the kitchen towel again and leave it to rise for 15 minutes. Uncover the bowl, run the dough hook for 30 seconds or so and cover again. Repeat this process 3 more times. (You can also just leave it to rise, covered for one hour.)

Remove the dough from the bowl, split it in half, and spread it out into a sort of rectangle.  Roll it along the long end and pinch the ends and bottom so the dough holds together. Lay the loaves side by side, seam side down on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Slash the dough with a very sharp knife at an angle 2″ apart. Cover again with the kitchen towel and leave to rise for an hour.

Preheat oven to 375. Just before you put the bread in the oven, throw a few ice cubes in a metal oven proof dish and put it in the oven, on the lowest shelf.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating pan half way through. It should rise up and get nice and brown. Check it for doneness by turning the loaf over and knocking on it. If the loaf sound hollow, it’s baked.

Let cool before slicing. Slather with butter and call it a day.

 

Shrimp and Sausage Skillet Corn

shrimp-and-sausage-corn
Another tasty recipe from Southern Living, that’s easy and pretty quick. I made some substitutions based on what I had on hand. I like the idea of using sweet corn as a “starch”.  You could substitute almost any protein for the sausage and shrimp, and it would still be good.

Ingredients:

1 cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp butter
5 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup whole milk ( or 1/2 ‘n 1/2)
4 oz. cream cheese
(Or sour cream that accidentally froze, was thawed, drained and whipped. Just saying.)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp green onions (originally called for 2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped)
1 tsp olive oil
8 oz. any kind of sausage, cut into 1/2″ slices (I used smoked sausage and some other kind of sausage which was frozen.)
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails on
1 Tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
Little more salt and pepper

Heat butter in a cast iron skillet.  Add onions and cook for 5-6 minutes until nicely softened and starting to brown just a bit.  Add corn and cook another couple of minutes stirring frequently.

Add milk, cream cheese, salt, black pepper. and green onions.  Stir and cook for a minute or so. Remove from heat, and cover to keep warm.

In another frying pan, heat olive oil and saute sausage for 5-6 minutes.  when cooked and browning just a bit, remove to the top of the  corn mix – keeping some of the drippings.

Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper on the shrimp and saute in the hot drippings for 3-4 minutes, until pink and cooked through.(If the shrimp is frozen, it will probably release water. Just scoop the shrimp up and save the “broth” for another time.)

Toss on top of the corn and sausage mixture, and sprinkle with parsley.

Quick and good!

Borracho (Drunken) Beans

I’d never heard of Borracho (Drunken) Beans until just a few days ago. This recipe is from Kiki810 on Allrecipes – with a few minor changes.

Kiki uses two cans of tomatoes and 1/4 cup of pickled jalapenos. Being as there a quarantine and all, I didn’t have that but thought a can of diced tomatoes and one of Rotel might do. I also added a little cumin and bacon for a more smokiness. The beer cooks out for the most part, but leaves a nice complex flavor.

You honestly don’t need to soak the beans overnight, and there is some consensus that the beans taste better if you don’t.

Ingredients:

1 pound dried pinto beans, washed
2 quarts chicken stock or water
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle dark beer (can also use  light beer)
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (10 oz.)can Rotel tomatoes with jalapeno peppers (regular or mild)
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped or 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 ½ Tbsp dried oregano
1 ½ cups chopped fresh cilantro (I used stems also, roughly chopped.)
1 strip of bacon, chopped or 1 Tbsp bacon drippings

Wash beans and put in a large pot, covered 1″ deep with boiling water. Simmer 2 hours, stirring from time to time to prevent beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot and add water as needed.

Add all other ingredients, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally for another 1 1/2 hours. Liquid should reduce quite a bit – so it’s not soupy, but more stew-y.

Mash a few beans to thicken the sauce. Makes a great side dish, topped with a little cheese, more cilantro and sour cream. It’s also great as a taco with with cheese, sour cream, chopped fresh tomatoes and salad greens.

Leave out the bacon drippings for a great vegan version.