Our Dinner at SpringHouse

My favorite restaurants have definitely changed over the years.

First it was Chuck e Cheese. My 4th birthday was there, along with Sarah’s 7th birthday. (We’re only three years and one day apart!) So of course, it was my childhood fav.

Then it was Olive Garden, because, well, they have tiramisu. And giant salads. And the Tour of Italy. All of which I can eat in one sitting. I simply must have Italian roots–that’s the only explanation for my Italian obsession.

Next came Maggiano’s in Nashville a few years ago. When Sarah and I visited with our Aunt Debbie, I was in heaven. Lots of bread (half of which I stuck in my purse when we left) and so much pasta. And the best part? With some of the menu options you get a FREE MEAL TO TAKE HOME. We were all over that. Hence, my favorite for years.

In high school I was a member of the Interact club which is involved with the Rotary Club of Foley. Every Friday we were invited to attend their meetings at the Gift Horse Restaurant. Let me put it to you simply: If you live in Southern Alabama and haven’t been there to eat, you are missing out. The second you walk in you’re transported back in time. And the food. Oh, the food.

The grand buffet holds everything from pasta salads and deviled eggs to hot entrees including fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, seafood gumbo, macaroni and cheese, famous fried biscuits, and, my all-time favorite: apple cheese.

Scared at the thought of such a side dish? Don’t be. I can’t keep track of how many times I have insisted that my friends and family try it. It is just that good.

Needless to say, The Gift Horse will always hold a special place in my heart, and will always be considered one of my favorites.

This past semester has caused me to add to my list.

Enter SpringHouse in Alexander City, AL (aka Lake Martin).

Let me just walk you through our meal from last week.

We ordered for appetizers lima beans with buttermilk aioli, cornbread crumbled over the top, and fresh dill along with an oven roasted tomato topped with goat cheese and crispy breadcrumbs. Unfortunately we were too hungry to even think about taking pictures.

For our entrees I ordered this fresh, beautiful, vibrant dish of vegetables (which is so unlike me–I usually prefer meat with my dinner), but I knew that it would be perfect.

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And it was.

I don’t know what my favorite component was…possibly the zucchini gratin, creamed corn, carrots, crowder peas, lightly pickled cucumbers, cornbread…such a hard decision.

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Have you ever considered the thought of eating stingray?

We hadn’t, either.

Our waiter was pretty convincing, so Matthew ordered it.

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No kidding, it was the best fish I’ve ever tasted.

And that squash was perfection.

I need to stop writing about this…my mouth is watering.

Next came dessert, which did not disappoint.

Matthew ordered the blueberry handpie with lemon curd ice cream.

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He stuck his fork in it and I yelled, “STOP! I have to take a picture of it!”

It’s just so beautiful. The crust was flaky and the blueberry filling was warm and sweet and tart.

And to finish, one of the best desserts I’ve ever ordered–ever–was the ice cream sandwich.

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This isn’t your ordinary ice cream sandwich.

Butter pecan cookies (thin, sweet and salty, slightly chewy) held together a thick layer of peach ice cream. That was the best ice cream I’ve ever had, as well. It tasted like I was eating a peach. The freshness was unbelievable.

Yes, I ate every bit of it.

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We were too eager to take a picture beforehand, so this is the “happy tummy” picture in the car.

Luckily, we went with our friends Kathryn and Chris back in May and managed to capture the beautiful views.

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The rolling hills make my heart happy.

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We’re SpringHouse believers! Are you?

Perfect Peanut Butter Pie for the Win!

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Can we talk about peanut butter for a minute?

It’s an honest-to-goodness magical food product.

Sweet, salty, thick, satisfying…it’s the first thing I turn to for breakfast and lunch (and occasionally dinner on busy days, especially when I have a research paper due the next morning). Paired with blackberry jam between a couple slices of white bread, it is comfort food like no other.

Slather some on Granny Smith apple slices and you’ve got yourself a perfect snack. Dad always thought that was the weirdest thing. I got the idea from the TV show “Blues Clues” when I was five and never looked back.

About a year ago I made homemade caramel sauce to drizzle over an apple pie, and I had so much left over. I thought, “What would go nicely with salted caramel sauce?” I put on my thinking cap and opened the pantry, looking for inspiration. It was as if the light from heaven beamed down on the jar of peanut butter.

Half a spoonful of caramel sauce + half a spoonful of peanut butter = heaven on earth

It’s like butterscotch times 10000000.

Try it.

That caused Matthew and I to literally make a blueprint of a pie…a Chocolate Caramel Peanut Butter Pie.

It took me until last Christmas to make it, but it was as good as we hoped it would be. Very, very rich but still delicious.

This week I wanted something a little more traditional.

In comes the classic peanut butter pie, which can be as simple or as involved as you choose.

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This is literally “easy as pie.”

I made a homemade graham cracker crust, but by all means, if you want to use a store-bought one then go for it! Go by the directions on the crust, load it with the filling, and you’re good to go.

Since I think peanut butter pies can tend to be a little one-note and heavy with peanut butter flavor, I added a chocolate ganache bottom layer that makes it reminiscent of a Reese’s cup. Don’t have chocolate chips or heavy cream? No problem, just skip that step.

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For the filling, if you don’t have heavy whipping cream you can use 1 cup of Cool Whip and use the rest of it to spread over the filling. I personally don’t think it needs the extra whipped cream on top, but it’s up to you!

I like this filling because I’m not a big fan of peanut butter pies made with cream cheese. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still amazing, but I think it takes on a tangy flavor.

Instead, the vanilla pudding mix gives it a more mild flavor and causes the mixture to thicken when combined with the milk, while the peanut butter gives it a warm, brown color. Then when you fold in the whipped cream it becomes light and fluffy. Yum!

Plus you won’t feel like you need to take a nap after eating it 🙂

Top with anything your heart desires. Reese’s cups, chocolate drizzle, whipped cream, roasted peanuts, or even a heavenly salted caramel sauce.

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*Note: For the filling, if you like a fluffier pie you can increase it to 1 cup of whipping cream instead of 1/2 cup. Either way, it’s delicious!

Graham cracker crust: Back in the Day Bakery | Peanut butter filling: adapted from The Baking Chocolatess

Picnics, Dancing, and Jazzy Key Lime Pie!

What a weekend.

Between all of the pie recipe testing, grocery shopping, and preparation for some of my family coming in for the weekend, I decided it was high time for a picnic.

Matthew came home from Auburn this weekend so in addition to pies, I whipped up some picnic favorites. Roast beef sandwiches, pasta salad with every veggie known to man, deviled eggs, fresh fruit salad, banana bread, fruity water, and rhubarb spritzer iced tea from Copper Kettle Tea Bar made for a perfect afternoon meal in the Foley Heritage Park.

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It brought me back to when I was a kid. That folded picnic blanket was made by my mom, and probably explains why I am obsessed with gingham. My sisters and I spent many an afternoon under the sycamores with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on that blanket.

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Ah, the memories…

We spotted an Airstream trailer parking near some festivities in the park, so we strolled over to discover that it served coffee! I ordered my typical hazelnut latté and Matthew enjoyed a café au lait. Talking with the owners was just as much of a treat as the coffee.

Before we knew it, it was time to go DANCING!

Seaside Stomp, a swing dancing workshop in Pensacola, FL, was kicking off the weekend with a dance complete with a live band.

We had a blast seeing all of our friends from Auburn and scenes from across the south.

Speaking of swing music, I can’t think of a better way to describe this week’s pie at Copper Kettle Tea Bar: Jazzy Key Lime Pie.

This one is rich, thick, and zesty! The almond graham cracker crust is inspired by my trip to Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah, GA almost 6 years ago. It adds a little extra flavor and texture to the creamy, refreshing pie.

key lime pie

When I spend time baking I enjoy listening to music that reflects my mood, the food that I’m preparing, or even the weather. More often than not, that music ends up being jazz.

I’m convinced that the sweet sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet alongside Ella Fitzgerald’s vocals make any pie taste better.

It’s funny how so many swing-era songs have desserts in the title–everything from “Banana Split for my Baby” and “Shoo Fly Pie” to my all-time favorite, “I Like Pie, I Like Cake.”

There’s one thing that may be better than listening to this music…that’s dancing to it!

This video pretty much encompasses everything I find to be joyful and perfect about swing dancing. Watch it if you like to smile.

And this may be part of the reason I’m growing my hair out again 🙂

Here’s to summer, jazz, dancing, and dessert!

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Filling recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen.

A Little Baker’s Dream

 

IMG_20160522_174150511_HDRChocolate and I go way back.

It all started with a dream. Watching my mom and older sisters baking away in our farmhouse kitchen, I thought, “Hey, I want to do that, too!” I channeled all of the culinary confidence a six-year-old could possibly hold, tied my apron strings, and marched to the counter that happened to be just a tad too high for me.

My sister, Sarah, assigned me easy tasks such as handing her cup measurements and fetching vanilla extract in the pantry. We were making chocolate chip cookies. Emphasis on the chocolate chip. Sarah noticed that I wasn’t doing half bad at my menial responsibilities. To my surprise, she gave me arguably the most important job of all–the pourer of chocolate chips into the beautiful, buttery dough. With wide eyes, a half smile, and an expanding ego, I tore open the bag, held it by the bottom, and right as I lifted my hand to pour–you guessed it!–disaster struck.

Morsels. Went. Everywhere.

Everywhere, except into the bowl.

I’d never thought about how many chocolate chips are really in a bag, but after picking each one up off the floor and counter, I’d estimate approximately 2.7 million. Luckily, we had an extra bag so all of our effort wasn’t wasted completely.

I didn’t have high hopes in my dream of being a great baker coming true.

Fast forward a few years. I was more comfortable in the kitchen, a bit taller, and more motivated than ever to prove to myself I could make something delicious. I decided to make for my family chocolate chip cookies without any help. I pulled out the trusty Southern Living cookbook from our aged wooden bookshelf, gathered the ingredients, preheated the oven, and got to work. By the time I was finished mixing and ready to scoop the dough, I noticed it looked different than usual. A little stickier, more liquidy, but hey, it had chocolate chips this time! Surely an improvement. I went for it. Eight minutes later, the oven beeped and I opened the door.

“MOM!!!!!!” I shouted. “What’s wrong with my cookies?!”

It was one ugly, transparent, rock hard sheet with sad little hills of chocolate chips.

“Did you add flour?” she lovingly asked.

“Of course I did!” I answered in an irritated frenzy.

Then I thought about her question and hesitantly looked over at the unopened container of flour on the counter.

“Well, maybe I didn’t…” I said, absolutely defeated by the science of baking. All I wanted was a big bowl of mom’s spaghetti and to never think about chocolate chips or flour again.

About that time, dad came in the back door after working in the field and saw the sheet of cookie paper cooling and his discouraged daughter on the verge of tears leaning against the counter. He nonchalantly broke off a piece and tasted it.

“Anna Claire, this is so good!” he said with lit-up eyes. “I love crispy cookies!”

My spirits were instantly lifted. Despite dad’s “preferences,” Mom helped me put flour in the dough and make the rest of the batch. I didn’t let any of my siblings lay a finger on dad’s special “crispy cookie.”

Needless to say, I rarely forgot to add ingredients after that incident, but when I do, I can count on my sweet mom to help me fix the problem and dear ole dad to eat my creations with a genuine smile on his face.

The good news? There isn’t flour OR chocolate chips in this delectable pie!IMG_20160523_210446809

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Recipe adapted from Lee Ann Fleming, Food and Wine

Look Mom, We Made a Cookbook!

Wow, it’s been a whole year since I’ve posted. At least I have something to show for it.

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Last semester in my History of the Book in Theory and Practice course at Auburn we learned everything from how to tell which country a book was printed in by its font to the methods of using InDesign to create a quality artifact. Needless to say, I was in heaven from August to December. For the second half of the semester, my group chose three 19th century texts from Special Collections in Auburn University’s Library (two cookbooks and one etiquette book) and made a modern printed edition. The picture above is a photo of the printed copy, and below you can find the complete digital copy in PDF format. Although it’s not side-by-side pages, you can still get a feel for it. We had a wonderful time creating this from start to finish, and I truly can’t wait for the opportunity to do this again!

A Lady’s Table

Thanks to my fellow group members: Jordan Hays, Beth Lingerfelt, Anna Parsons, and Savannah Downey

And to my professors that made this possible: Dr. Emily Friedman and Dr. Derek Ross

Insight from the Journal of Years Past

Life oftentimes gets in the way of living.

For the past few months, somewhere between writing papers, answering the daily question, “To cook or not to cook?” and contemplating what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, I started to neglect my love for this blog. Looking back, I maintained my passion/obsession with swing dancing, which has brought me incredible amounts of joy and friendships across the southeast. Now, I’m trying to find a balance for all of my interests.

When I feel a wave of sentimentality, I am always drawn to my old journals. Those pages have two effects on me:

1. They invariably present the question, “How could I be so painfully immature?”

2. They produce another wave of relief that I have (thank you, Lord) grown up.

In regards to number one, how deep-thinking can an eleven-year old be?

Every now and then, however, I’ll come across an entry that really speaks to me and the situations I am facing. That insight recently came in the journal I received years ago from my beloved teacher, Mrs. Earley, who made a lasting impression on me to approach life with curiosity and kindness.  It’s unlike me to share my entries, but this one is an exception since it revolves around PIE!

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A bit abstract in its subject matter, but true nonetheless. I knew pie could teach lessons, even to a teenager!

With all of the darkness the world has to offer, there’s double the amount of goodness. You may have to dig at times but it’s always there.

To be happy or not to be happy? To keep a journal or not to keep a journal?

I vote a resounding “yes” for both.

Something for Your Sunday – Chocolate Hazelnut Pie

Chocolate. Hazelnuts. Pie.

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie full

 

Good combination, right?

I thought so, since Nutella is my absolute favorite food in the world.

If you don’t like luscious gooey chocolatey nutty goodness, it may be best that you exit this post at this time.

The thing is, I ate all the Nutella a while back and haven’t gotten around to restocking the pantry with more.

But we did have hazelnuts and chocolate chips! It’s all about making do with what you have.

This recipe is an incredibly easy “one-bowl filling”.

I made my favorite Pate Brisee pie dough as the sturdy, buttery, and flaky foundation.

Pate Brisee unbaked

And the best part is that the recipe makes two 9-inch dough rounds, so I just froze the other one for a rainy day.

The original recipe for this pie calls for bittersweet or dark chocolate chips, but I used semisweet and didn’t think it was overly sweet; however, milk chocolate would probably bring way too much sweetness to the table. Just go with whatever you have stashed away in your pantry and I’m sure it will be a success!

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie half

The best way I can describe this pie is like pecan pie’s sophisticated cousin. The chocolate chips melt with the corn syrup (the main ingredient in pecan pie) and the hazelnuts impart a nutty, earthy, almost exotic flavor. Make sure they’re still a little chunky when you add them to the filling. You want that crunchy texture.

I like this recipe because I prefer to save pecan pie for the fall, namely Thanksgiving. Well folks, as much as I would love for a cool breeze in this Southern heat, it is not happening any time soon. Although, I have been hearing Christmas music on the radio for the past couple days which blows my mind. I used to think that playing those songs before Thanksgiving was odd. They are taking “Christmas in July” to a whole new level.

Anyways, here is an all-year-round pie for you! You can listen to Michael Bublé Christmas while you’re eating a slice – you know you want to.

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie 1

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie 2

This one is going straight in my recipe box.

 

I’ll leave you on that note. Pie awaits me…

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie close up

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie

We All Knead Bread.

It has been quite some time since I’ve tapped into the primitive side of my baking.

In years past, I’ve made herbaceous rosemary foccacia, a flat Italian bread; a crusty baguette, a French classic that makes any meal better; and of course, my Aunt Mena’s butter rolls – fluffy richness guaranteed every time.

After flipping through the pages of our handy dandy Southern Living cookbook (“The Ultimate” to be exact), Sarah and I decided to try out the basic yeast dough. It did not fail us, my friends.

We made this cinnamon bread out of it –

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Loaf

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Loaf

– as well as a basic white bread.

What I mostly want to share with you, though, is the sourdough.

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“Sourdough bread has been around for centuries. Ancient Egyptians reportedly combined flour and water, and set the mixture outside where it captured wild yeast spores from the air. The mixture was the ideal environment for the wild yeast to grow. The mixture fermented naturally, leavening the bread and adding the characteristic tangy, sourdough flavor. This was the beginning of what we now call sourdough bread.”

– Southern Living

The history of food is so fascinating to me. I’m just glad that ancient Egyptians stumbled upon that fermenting process so that we can enjoy the distinctive flavor of sourdough.

With this easy recipe, you can enjoy it any time.

Sourdough begins with a “starter” which is a yeast mixture that develops its tangy flavor through fermentation. When you take from it to bake bread, you feed it with more flour, water, and sugar. It will last as long as you keep feeding it. It’s a great gift for bread bakers and is motivation to get in the kitchen and bake yourself – it should be used within 14 days.

Sourdough

Sourdough

This is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite homemade bread.

Here’s how you do it:

Sourdough Starter

1 package active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)

Starter Food

  • Combine yeast and 1/2 cup warm water in a 1 cup liquid measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.
  • Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a medium size nonmetal bowl; stir well. Gradually stir in 2 cups warm water. Add yeast mixture and mix well.
  • Cover starter loosely with plastic wrap or cheesecloth – do not cover tightly. Let stand in a warm place (85 degrees F) for 72 hours, stirring 2-3 times daily. Place fermented mixture in refrigerator and stir once a day. Use within 11 days.
  • To use, remove sourdough starter from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature at least 1 hour.
  • Stir starter well, and measure amount of starter needed. Replenish remaining starter with Starter Food and return to refrigerator. Use starter within 2 to 14 days, stirring daily.
  • When sourdough starter is used again, repeat procedure for using starter and replenishing with Starter Food.

Starter Food

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup water

1 tsp sugar

  • Stir all ingredients into remaining Sourdough Starter thoroughly.

 

Now that you have the starter, you can get going on the bread!

Country Crust Sourdough

2 packages active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)

1 cup Sourdough Starter, at room temperature

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

2 large eggs, beaten

5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour

Vegetable oil

Butter, melted

  • Combine yeast and warm water in a 2 cup liquid measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.
  • Combine yeast mixture, Sourdough Starter, 1/4 cup oil, sugar, salt, eggs, and 3 cups flour in a nonmetal bowl. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. (You may need extra flour on humid days – the dough absorbs more flour.)
  • Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees F), free from drafts, 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
  • Punch down dough and divide in half; place on a floured surface. Roll each half into an 18-x 9-inch rectangle. Tightly roll up dough, starting at narrow edge; pinch seam and ends together to seal. Place loaves, sea side down, in two greased 9-x5-inch loaf pans. Brush tops with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove loaves from pans; brush with butter. Yield: 2 loaves.        Sourdough recipe courtesy of Southern Living

It may sound like a lot of work when you can just go buy a loaf at the supermarket.

And that’s true. You can buy whatever your heart desires.

But it’s more about the experience of baking bread that satiates my appetite. It’s part of my carefully thought-out summer therapeutic plan: Bake bread, eat bread, and repeat. I get my workout in there…somewhere between swing dancing and kneading the dough, everything balances out.

I wish that meant that I could have double the amount of sourdough slices!

Enjoy your fantastic Friday.

And a printable for you –

Sourdough

Don’t forget to browse through my other recipes here

A Sweet Mother’s Love

Peaches are currently occupying a large chunk of my life. The mere thought of the fresh aroma, sweet juices, and glorious texture of this season’s beautiful ripe summer fruit makes me very, very happy.

I thought I’d add to my peach repertoire on the good ole blog.

I’ve made a couple peach pies this summer, but I am still in the process of tweaking the recipe. A girl can only eat so many slices.

So here is an extraordinary Blueberry Peach Crisp. It’s an easy to assemble, easy to serve option for a last minute party or after-dinner dessert. If you already have the oven on for your meal, slide this crisp right in there and in less than an hour, you’ll start catching whiffs of those bubbly blueberries and peaches beneath a layer of warm, crumbly, crispy goodness. Oh, the joy. By the time you’re finished feasting on that roasted chicken or plate of spaghetti, your crisp will be ready!

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Growing up in the farmhouse, all eight of us would be sitting around the dining room table sharing stories from the day, enjoying the wonderful homemade meal that Mom prepared for us (as she did essentially every night…talk about a super-mom!) and right as the plates started clearing, I’d breathe in the scent of her peach cobbler baking in the oven. All seemed right with the world. Even doing the dishes afterwards wasn’t so bad, as long as that cobbler was in my life.

My mom really is a miracle worker. And knowing that she cherished every minute of raising her six kids is comforting and refreshing all at the same time. The love that poured (and continues to pour) out of her every moment gives me a ton of strength to try to better myself in order to help those around me.

I guess what I’m saying is to make everything you do special and enveloped with purpose. Sit at the table with your family for supper. If you’re alone, invite a friend over. Get to know those around you on a deeper level. In the digital age, distractions run rampant, but don’t get sucked into that nonsense. There’s a time and place for everything, and I think it’s about time we all try to recognize what it means to be present. Simplification helps.

As my dear mom always said to me, “Simplicity is happiness.”

I’ve been faithfully saying the same for quite some time now. Every time I make an effort to simplify my thoughts and actions, the reward is exponentially more fulfilling than fleeting accomplishments that further complicate my life. And I am fully aware that the world can throw curveballs without the slightest warning. That’s why we simplify – to be prepared for the unexpected.

Gee, blueberry peach crisp must stir up my philosophical principles.

Just look at it!

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I love this one. An updated peach cobbler I’d say, for the experimental days. The blueberries really add another level of flavor and complexity…a winning crisp in my book!

Thanks Two Peas and Their Pod for the great recipe!

Here’s the printable version for you –

Blueberry Peach Crisp

And don’t forget that you can scroll through all of my other recipes here

Enjoy!

 

 

We’re Talking Dough.

Today, I want to talk about the best pie dough. Ever.

It is the first pie dough I ever made. It has never steered me wrong. I got a little experimental the past couple years, branching out and trying different recipes with more ingredients that supposedly make it better.

But no.

A word of advice: Simple is better.

In all aspects of life.

Thank you, Martha Stewart, for introducing me to pate brisee back when I was a freshman in high school.

All it consists of is butter, all-purpose flour (not fancy cake flour), salt, sugar, and ice water.

Easy enough?

A few things to remember when you’re making pastry dough:

1. Keep your ingredients COLD. Don’t go crazy and freeze your ingredients and equipment, but make sure that after you cube your butter you stick it back in the fridge to firm up. It’s important for a nice flaky crust that won’t fall apart!

2. I’m just going to say it, and some won’t agree — don’t use a food processor. I’ve used it before, and the crust turned out tough and chewy. I’m sure it can be done with great finesse (I’m talking to you, Martha) but it’s not the same. And maybe it’s just because my favorite part of making pie is making the crust by hand. It’s a truly calming experience. Even when it doesn’t turn out perfectly, it’s all about the love that you’re putting into it. Nobody cares what it looks like, they just want to eat it!

So how do you make it by hand? With a pastry cutter.

pastry cutter

It works by cutting the cold butter into the dry ingredients and blending them into a coarse mixture.

This, and only this, is the reason I have biceps. Most notably, a right bicep.

So if you missed a workout, make pie dough. Problem solver right here!

Back on track. After you cut the ingredients together, leaving pea-sized chunks, add your ice water one tablespoon at a time. Switch to a wooden spoon at this point, because you don’t want to break up any more butter.

3. And now, feel the dough. Be the dough. You are the dough. (Miss Congeniality quote there, sorry.) It should still look pretty dry, but hold together when you squeeze it. I went for a long time adding water until it looked like a perfectly uniform ball of dough. It was harder to roll out and wasn’t flaky. Don’t over-mix it once you reach the right consistency.

4. As far as chilling, I used to wrap the flat discs in plastic wrap, but it was extremely irritating trying to rip a piece off the roll with my floury, sticky hands. Now I use plastic sandwich bags. Life saver. Gather half the dough and gently press it together, forming a ball. Pop it into the bag and press down, forming about a 1/2 inch thick disk. I try to press together the cracked edges so it is easier to roll out. Make it look as uniform as possible. Chill the two disks for, say, 30 minutes. An hour would be nice, too.

5. Here comes the scary part for most of us – rolling out the dough. One remark I must make:

YOU ARE IN CONTROL. DO NOT LET THE DOUGH BE THE BOSS OF YOU. YOU ARE A COMPETENT HUMAN BEING.

Seriously, stand up straight, get the rolling pin in your hand, toss some flour on the board and go at it! Just DO it. If you act like you’re scared, the dough will sense it and it just won’t work.

Work quickly so it doesn’t warm up too much.

Lightly flour everything – the board, the rolling pin, the top of the dough, maybe even your cheeks if you want to really get into it.

Starting in the middle, roll away from you, then turn counterclockwise about 45 degrees, not back and forth. It’ll shrink if you do that. Constantly move it, rotate it, whatever you have to do. If the edges crack, patch it up with some water and extra dough. No big deal! I usually roll it until I can place my pie plate upside down over it and there is about 2 inches of extra dough around the sides.

Now using the rolling pin, transfer it to the pie plate by rolling the dough around it and unroll it into the pie plate. Don’t stretch the dough. Gently press the inside, making sure the dough is touching the plate. Now trim the edges with scissors or a knife, leaving about a 1 inch overhang. Tuck the edges underneath so that it is even with the edge of the plate. Now you can crimp using your fingers, a fork, a spoon, or just leave it plain. Let it chill in the fridge until you fill it. Or you can freeze them for up to one month. Just let them thaw in the fridge before you use them.

 

And there you have it! Pie dough made easy.

One more trick for you. I’m on a roll.

You’ll probably have a bit of leftover dough, but don’t throw it away! Roll it back out and cut into 1 inch strips, then place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake at about 400 degrees (or whatever temp your pie is baking at) until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes.

They are absolutely incredible. It really highlights the simplicity of the buttery, FLAKY crust and will hold you over until you can slice into the pie!

I hope these tips have encouraged you to try making your own pie dough or perfecting your own recipe. Most importantly, have fun while doing it!

Happy dough-making!

Pate Brisee

 

Lovely Lavender

Summer weather is just around the corner, but summer break is definitely here! It has been a nice change of pace not having to focus on schoolwork, but rather on, well, life. And life currently includes working – a.k.a. BAKING! I have learned so much in just a matter of a couple months, and I am so thankful to start applying the tricks and techniques that we use in the bakery setting to my own kitchen.

It’s a blessing sent from heaven.

Needless to say, I love my job. And an added bonus is that my sister Sarah is working with me! We have a great time together listening to Michael Bublé Pandora radio and whipping up more breads and cupcakes than we can count on our hands. I promise my baked goods taste better when there is big band music in the background.

Speaking of Michael…I will be seeing him in concert in Memphis this summer with my brother, Robert! I am beyond excited. Sibling bonding time at its finest. Maybe he’ll let me play all of my swing CDs during the drive up there….whatcha say, Rob?

Back on track: Food.

Actually, let me detour again.

Robert built us a raised flower bed a few weeks ago for us to grow some herbs, and they are really coming to life!

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Especially that parsley.

Mom and I went a little crazy the last time I was home at the farmer’s market. She equipped me with all of these wonderfully aromatic herbs, and they have certainly been making our spaghetti taste extra delicious.

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I definitely need to put the lavender on the bottom right in a larger pot and let it spread its wings! Or roots, rather.

 

I thought it was about time to make something sweet out of the herbs. That explosion of peppermint will be utilized soon, but for today…..

how do lavender cookies sound?

As this post’s title suggests, the chopped fresh lavender leaves make these cookies quite lovely.

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Perfect for a little tea party.

Or just a Thursday afternoon with a cup of hot Earl Grey tea and a book! That’s my kind of day off.

You may be uneasy about lavender, or anything green in your cookie. Be not afraid, my friend. All it does is add a delicate floral aroma, and a bit more interest to what would otherwise be a plain sugar cookie (which would work with this recipe also).

I like these because they are soft and incredibly tender, but they hold their shape well and will store nicely. If you want you can substitute the fresh leaves for dried leaves, lemon zest, or even leave them out if you don’t have any. I’d just add a bit more vanilla extract to give it some flavor. Play around with it! It’s a great basic recipe!

And here it is:

Lovely Lavender Cookies

If anyone has recipes or ideas for cooking or baking with herbs, please let me know! It is so satisfying walking into my backyard and cutting those beautiful leaves, then making something delicious out of them. As I mentioned before, I need to use that peppermint soon or it might explode!

You enjoy the rest of your day, and whip these up. It will relax you. Lavender has that effect on us, right?

 

 

Let Them Eat Cake

Tomorrow, April 8th, is a special day for two amazing gals – Kayla and Kathryn!

Little Miss Kayla is simply the funniest person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Her presence alone puts a smile on everyone’s face, and I just love being around her! We met through Food Science at Auburn, and I’m sure she will go on to do great things in the field.

And Kathryn, what can I say. She is lovely. We are in the Trinity college group together, and she is also president of the Auburn Swing Dance Association. Her passion for swing dancing is literally contagious. She has taught me SO much the past few months. I just adore Kathryn, her sweet demeanor, and her c-c-c-curly hair!

Here’s a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to both of these awesome girls!

Last Friday, our Food Science friends, Emma and Richelle, threw Kayla a surprise birthday party. I was so happy to bake the cake for her! Which flavor you ask?

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White Wedding Cake allllll the way.

I discovered Recipe Girl’s version a couple years ago and instantly fell in love. I think it’s impossible to mess it up, and delicious success is just about 40 minutes away. And the best part – it uses a boxed mix as the base with a variety of other ingredients to enhance the flavor. Trust me, I’m not one to use those often, but it is worth it here.

You will go crazy over this cake because it is incredibly easy to prepare (just throw everything into one bowl and mix), bakes to a substantial yet light consistency, and is a definite crowd-pleaser! Think about it. Not everyone likes strawberry or chocolate (even though the latter is beyond my comprehension). Chances are, the delectable simplicity of white wedding cake will go over quite well at your next shindig.

kayla birthday

Photo creds: Emma Williams

Kinda like this one!

Check out the recipe here and the perfect buttercream frosting here!

If cakes aren’t your thing, make cupcakes instead! This recipe will make 36 of them. Try not to eat all of them by yourself…harness your self-control. You’ll need it!

And handy documents for you:

White Wedding Cake

Buttercream Frosting

A Nibble of “cioccolata”

This afternoon at the university, I attended a guided tasting tour of Italian chocolate by Francine Segan, a noted food historian, public speaker, and author.

She has been featured on Food Network, Today, and in multiple magazines around the world, among many other things!

I don’t know what was more fascinating–the history of the decadent treat we all know and love, or Ms. Segan herself.

Her vibrant personality and extensive knowledge of all things culinary captivated us all. I have to be honest…sometimes my mind drifts during ‘lectures’ even if it is on a topic in which I am interested, but not this time!

I have never heard much in the past on Italian chocolate in particular. I always figured Belgian or Swiss chocolate was supreme. Ms. Segan informed us of the significant footprint that early Italian chocolatiers had on the chocolate we enjoy today (every single day if you’re anything like me!).

They were the first to take the cacao bean from other European countries (who mostly enjoyed it with sugar) and transform it into an ingredient that could be used in savory dishes, and even pair it with other complimentary flavors such as orange and hazelnut.

In fact, Italy has an additional classification of chocolate. The typical white, milk, and dark chocolates are joined with another type–Gianduiotto. 

 

Its upside-down boat-like shape is made up of a mixture of cocoa powder, sugar, and hazelnuts. I knew I liked Italians. We didn’t taste this little beauty, but something tells me it could rival Nutella!

Fortunately, we did taste a variety of authentic Italian chocolates, from white to extra dark to stone ground Sicilian chocolate with a lovely hint of orange. The latter was my favorite–nothing like anything I have ever tasted before. Unlike the others that melted on my tongue rather quickly, this one required a bit of ever-so-slight chewing. The amazing thing was that after, literally, two chews, it instantly melted, coated my mouth, and left behind a few tiny chunks of the chocolate. It reminded me of the reason we add nuts to our desserts, because we want texture, right? Here, the chocolate itself added the texture, all because of the delicate and quite laborious way it was processed. Go Sicily!

And a fun fact: In Hershey’s early days, when they were still trying to figure out how to stabilize milk, they began selling chocolate with slightly rancid milk. Think about the last time you ate a Hershey’s kiss–it had a twinge of sourness, yes? Once they implemented the new way of stabilizing, the customers didn’t like it! So, a tiny bit rancid (but completely safe) milk it was.

Overall, it was a very pleasurable experience. I was delighted to meet Francine Segan and hear about her journey, as well as converse with other food lovers in attendance.

Chocolate really is a wonderful thing. Appreciating good chocolate and savoring its flavors makes quite a difference in your experience of eating it. I am so grateful to have opportunities like this to learn more about ingredients, others, and even myself!

***Update: Last night, I threw in a square of leftover Italian dark chocolate from the event (how it lasted that long I have no earthly idea) into my spaghetti sauce, and I have to say that it was the absolute BEST sauce I have ever made. I usually add a dash of sugar to cut some of the acidity, but I just added the chocolate this time. It offers such a depth of flavor that you can’t get from granulated sugar. Perfection. Please try it.

It’s Friday Pi Day!

Something worth celebrating.

Although I dislike despise math, I’ve always been partial to good ol’ 3.14 .

 

And yet another reason to celebrate–today is also Albert Einstein’s birthday! Go Al!

…and I also get to go swing dancing tonight! Today is a good day.

Also, The Pie Notes is featured on the Auburn Poultry Science website in the March student spotlight section. It was such an honor to be recognized! The article is so well written, and another Auburn blogger in the agricultural field, Anna Leigh Peek, was also featured. Her blog is so interesting!

Our spring break is sadly coming to a close, but it has been fun-filled…and sun-filled. We got to soak up some rays at the beach and do a little shopping. And it was also my fantastic friend, Frankie’s (aka Francesca, Frank-a-lank, Frankster, etc.) birthday this week!

frankie bday

We beep-bopped around town, ate way too much, and had too good of luck at the mall. We are dangerous in each others’ company. I love my Frank, though! As neighbors, we have some unforgettable memories, and I know we’ll continue to have a blast together!

And get ourselves in food-comas. It’s inevitable.

So today, I wanted a key lime pie.

There’s a couple reasons it’s a favorite of mine.

First, it was my Papa’s absolute favorite pie. I can hear him now saying, “I want a keeey liiime pieee.” He certainly had good taste in pies. I love my Papa so very much.

Second, back in 2010 my parents and I took a trip to Savannah and Charleston, which was definitely one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. We dined at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah once we arrived. With a view of the water and a laid-back atmosphere, we were in heaven. Dad loved the chargrilled oysters with a parmesan topping, and I ordered Paula Deen’s fried chicken, just in case we couldn’t make it to The Lady and Son’s the next day.

I simply had to have her chicken, and I was not disappointed. Her chicken was fried to perfection–crunchy, crispy, juicy, and tender. Maybe it had something to do with butter.

But the star of the show was dessert–key lime pie.

The graham cracker crust was filled with slivered almonds, and the tartness of the creamy filling coupled with the sweetened whipped cream sealed the deal for us!

The next day, we enjoyed Sunday brunch at The Lady and Son’s. It was everything I hoped it would be, and much more.

Thank you for your wonderful Southern food, Paula!

Charleston was so rich with history and culture.

 

Live oaks, southern drawls, seafood…can’t beat it.

I would love to revisit those cities and explore a bit more!

Moving on from my reminiscing session, here is a refreshing key lime pie that I whipped up in just a few minutes. Seriously easy to make.

key lime pie angle

And in honor of National Pi Day….

mini key lime pi pie

Mini “Pi” Pie

Mom picked up a few of these mini pie plates at TJ Maxx for me. So adorable!

Here’s the simple and delectable recipe. Enjoy your weekend!

Key Lime Pie with Almond Graham Cracker Crust

You’re a Peach, February

February, oh, February. You’ve been good to me.

Or should I say “février, oh, février” (in honor of my awesome French class).

I’m pleased to say that I am officially an English major, and I couldn’t be happier. Hopefully I will be able to incorporate food into my future career in some form or fashion, but only time will tell! I feel so blessed to have The Pie Notes as my little vacation from literature.

Life for Sarah and me has been much more…relaxing. Our classes are exponentially more enjoyable and spring is beginning to reveal its beautiful face! We have brightly colored flowers arranged in vases in almost every room at our house, and this evening I finally baked some peaches that have been staring me in the eye for a couple days. Every time I walked past them I got a whiff of that intoxicating aroma and I just couldn’t resist them any longer.

baked peach with streusel

My baked peach kinda looks like a scoop of ice cream. Now I want peach ice cream. That will be my next endeavor…

All you do for this is halve some peaches, brush with butter, top with streusel, and bake them to perfection.

And top with fresh, sweetened whipped cream and a drizzle of warm honey.

Oh, honey. This peach is good.

I can’t even explain how important every component is. The peach is tender and perfectly sweet, topped with a crumbly, spiced streusel. Then the smooth, freshly whipped cream (emphasis on the fresh–no Cool Whip here) cools down your mouth, and at the end you’ll taste that burst of honey. Ahh it’s just so delectable.

halved peach

We enjoy watching Brunch at Bobby’s and he whipped this up in his Southern Brunch episode. I put my own little twists on it:

Baked Peaches with Streusel Topping

We’re gearing up for our college church group’s spring retreat to Ellijay, Georgia this weekend. There will be hiking, lounging, swimming, and sightseeing, so I’m very excited!

Pictures will be taken, I promise. Probably of embarrassing moments on my part, like my last hiking adventure at Chewacla. Gracious sake’s.

Enjoy your weekend, and give these awesome peaches a try!

Peachy Keen

I take back what I said last weekend about wishing it was spring. Winter isn’t so bad when snow is involved.

It is AMAZING!

snow 2

rhonda snow

snow

Looks like we got a couple furry friends visit our front porch last night…

paw prints snow

(that is my footprint by the way)

The snowman fam.

snowmen 2

And now with a bit more sass..

snowmen

I’ve found that I am terrible at making snowballs, which means I’m terrible at making snowmen. That was as good as it was going to get!

I’ve been frolicking around all day. Trying to crack the super thick layer of ice on our cars, making snow angels, freezing to death. Yeah, it’s been a good day.

Since we are basically trapped at our house because of the icy roads, we’re running out of food. Not really, but you know how it goes–you always want what you can’t have.

I want chili, but we don’t have any ground beef.

I want chicken parm, but we don’t have chicken.

I want turkey burgers, but we don’t have turkey.

I guess I just want meat. And we don’t have any.

I shouldn’t complain though…I can’t believe all of the chaos that is happening on the interstates and roads across the South. Getting stranded in cars and sleeping overnight in schools are certainly not common occurrences. I hope that all who found themselves in scary situations made it safely home and are warming up next to a fire on this pretty Wednesday afternoon.

So we have peaches, and that’s about it. I was flipping through my pie book and the only other option was an old-time vinegar pie. This was made during hard times when vinegar was used as a substitute for cream and milk. It sounded like it could be good, but not as good as peach cobbler.

peach cobbler

This cobbler is a winner.

Although it’s not summer time, the fresh peaches Sarah bought smelled delightfully sweet and turned out perfectly in this dessert.

Enjoy!

Fresh Peach Cobbler

Ice, Ice Baby

What’s that I hear?

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Snow? In Alabama?

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Hallelujah!

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Little Lucy. Gotta love her.

Auburn has served me well this year. First the National Championship, and now two days off of classes for “winter weather.” Life is good.

ac and sarah snow

 

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Little Miss Rhonda is frozen to the core.

 

rhonda the honda snow

 

And so am I!

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You can always tell where a person is from judging by his or her reaction to snowfall.

I’ve been freaking out all day long. I’m definitely a Southerner.

I should be reading 20+ pages of Middle English British literature, but since I have the attention span of a four year old during major life events, I have been staring out the window waiting for the sleet to transform into flurries for the majority of my day. Besides, I’ve never seen snow fall from the sky, just a little accumulation on the ground.

Thank goodness it happened. Sarah was napping, I peeked out the window for the 438th time, and there it was–little happy flakes shimmying down from the sky!

I screamed and woke Sarah from her slumber. We proceeded to carry out the typical snow day activities, including her throwing a snowball at my face while I was opening my mouth to speak. In it went.

I’d rather not think about where that snow has been!

It was a blast, though. The snowflakes are still coming down pretty steadily, so hopefully it’ll still be there tomorrow for us to play in!

I’m such a child.

Especially since I have yet to do that assignment.

Procrastination at its finest right here.

No pies were made today to allow for maximum recess time. We have some yummy peaches just waiting to be devoured, so that will be coming soon.

Enjoy the snow, or the sleet, or the sun…wherever you may be!

And happy, happy birthday, Aunt Debbie! Love ya.

 

 

Dreamin’ of Spring

Why the cold weather? Is it really necessary?

My heart goes out to those in the north that have to live with this every winter.

I’m a Gulf Coast kind of girl. Which means I am not used to sleet and portable heaters and sleeping with fourteen layers of clothing.

And I’m certainly not accustomed to frozen pipes.

The one night I forgot to leave my faucets dripping in Auburn, the temperature reached the teens and the pipes froze. So I spent my morning frantically brushing my teeth with bottled water. At least I had already prepared my coffee the night before–that’s the important thing. Poor Sarah was outside on the phone with Dad all afternoon trying to fix it. I got home a couple hours after she did and I knew I had to leave or I would go crazy. After all, I’m pretty fond of taking showers, which simply wasn’t possible at the time.

So I packed my little vintage luggage in five minutes and headed home to see my parents with anticipations of warm weather and running water.

I got the running water, but…it’s cold down here. Not as frigid as Auburn, though. When I was almost home, sleet began hitting my windshield. Two minutes from the bay and there’s ice falling from the sky. Goodness.  But Mom and Dad always make it so nice when I come home, complete with a warm fireplace and freshly baked cookies.

Mom and I did a little browsing at the mall yesterday and later I got to see my sweet (and very well dressed) friend, Meagan!

meagan and ac

It was nice catching up over hot coffee. That’s my favorite way. If only we had a slice of pie to go with that…

I took care of that today.

I always talk about enjoying the moment and not longing to be in a different place in life…but I wish it was springtime. Oh so badly.

So here is a little preview of sunshine and sandy beaches and white linen pants..

lemon meringue pie

Lemon meringue pie to ease the soul.

This has always been one of my favorites because my Granny makes it perfectly. Every time I indulge in a slice I think of being with her. Mine will never ever ever taste as fantastic as hers, but oh well! I try. I love you, Granny. And I love your lemon meringue pie.

Since I have some French homework to do before watching Downton Abbey tonight, I mixed it up a little and used a shortcut pie crust. It is ridiculously easy. I felt like I was cheating. No cutting in butter, no rolling, no chilling. Just mix, press into the pie plate, and bake!

lemon meringue pie closeup

Ahh, I love this pie. I was never a big fan of meringue – I always preferred whipped cream – but for some reason this meringue is enjoyable to eat. I’m not guiltily wiping it off to the side. I guess that’s what happens as you get older. I’ll actually eat raw tomatoes now, which is, frankly, a major milestone in my life.

joey with toy

I’m sure Joey would like meringue.

And lemon pie.

How about you?

(By the way, the pipes un-froze about two hours after I left. Oh well, everything happens for a reason. I got pie out of the deal!)

Shortcut Piecrust

Lemon Meringue Pie

Happy National Pie Day!

Thanks to my sister, Laura, I am now aware that January 23, 2014 is, in fact, National Pie Day.

After some research, I ended up at APC’s website (American Pie Council). I know what you’re thinking. I can’t believe this is a thing either. Funny, that looks like my initials…maybe they’ll hire me one day.

As it turns out, the new movie Labor Day, which I have been dying to see, premiering on January 31st has pie-making as a central theme. You know where I’ll be. Go to the previous link if you want to read more about it!

In honor of my new favorite day, here’s a classic apple pie.

apple pie

You really can’t beat it, especially when paired with vanilla ice cream. Honestly, I would be just fine eating the raw apples with the sweet, syrupy, cinnamon-y juices, but there’s something about slowly baked apples that stirs something inside me. Mark Twain hit the nail on the head with this one:

“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream… I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting.”

Okay, so maybe most of us aren’t roasting them on a hearth, but we can still appreciate those simple pleasures if we surround ourselves with loved ones and revel in the richness of their company. That’s what makes the difference. Don’t ignore what is happening right in front of your nose. I can be guilty of this. We must be present in the moment, not looking backwards nor anxiously awaiting the future. Be present, and all will be well.

 So, I have incredible news. We have a new oven!

It’s beautiful.

Every night, Sarah and I have been experimenting with new recipes and enjoying the tried-and-true ones as well. I didn’t realize just how much I adore cooking and baking until recently. So needless to say I’m pretty grateful for this appliance.

Sarah just made some yummy zucchini bread. Cute, aren’t they?

zucchini bread

And yummy they are. The little green specs of zucchini make me feel like I’m really healthy, but the flavors are not compromised whatsoever. It is a great way to sneak vegetables in your kids’ diets. Or your husband’s. Or your own, if you’re anything like me. Good job, Sarah.

Enjoy National Pie Day, whether you bake a pie, buy a pie, or just think about pie. Or channel your inner Mark Twain and enjoy a warm apple with sugar and a drench of cream!

…And to All a Good Night!

Well, Christmas is here.

It passed just as fast as it came!

I must say it was the best one so far, thanks to all of my loved ones. I hope that no matter where you are or who you are with, your Christmas is filled with peace and love.

And pie.

Ours certainly was!

And cookies and ham and turkey and eggnog.

First up was gingerbread baking.

gingerbread cutouts

Decorating was fun, once my brother Matt got a hold of the piping bag.

mattdecorating

This is his…creation.

gingerbread1

There was only one problem. He needed a sister.

gingerbread2

Aren’t they just, uhm, beautiful?

So much personality.

(If you’re wondering if that is her mouth, the answer is yes.)

Our Christmas Eve party was fantastic!

Sarah made some yummy “Moose Munch” that made her famous at Dad’s work.

moosemunch

We covered some pretzels and pecans with the leftover chocolate from the Moose Munch. That was a grand idea.

chocolate covered

And Toni, my sister in law (well, we can call her my sister…I frown at the term “in-law”), made her perfect Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese frosting with toffee bits on top.

When I say perfect, I mean perfect. She is famous in my book for her cupcakes. And other things as well. I just love Toni.

pumpkin cupcakes

Sarah made the Reese’s and Hershey Kiss cookies in the middle. Those were a hit!

Can you find my “Mele Kalikimaka” gingerbread girl?

desserts

…and Robert’s upside down Auburn cookie? (War Eagle!)

Don’t worry, Bama fans. He made one for you, too. See half of that scripty “A” ?

And it wouldn’t be Christmas, or a holiday in general, without pie. This is the Chocolate Pie that I adore.

chocolate pie

And my favorite non-dessert dish on our buffet, Rye Rounds.

Robert’s eyes start to bulge when he gets a whiff of these in the oven. They’re magical.

rye rounds

Maybe one day I’ll figure out why they’re not called Rye Squares.

It’s tradition, so Rye Rounds is just so Rye Right.

After all of our feasting, Robert read a few verses from Luke on the birth of Jesus beside the twinkling tree. That’s always a peaceful time for us.

The fellowship was amazing, especially since all of the siblings were together again. Robert is finally home from Texas, my sister Laura and her husband Blakeley made it over, and Matt and Toni were able to spend a couple days with us as well!

We all have a blast, and usually end up in tears from laughing so much!

We awoke to a chilly Christmas morning, so we warmed up with coffee and Stollen bread. It’s an old German recipe that we’ve made during the holidays for years and years. And years. It is sweet, comforting, and the true sign that Christmas has arrived.

Guess what I unwrapped?

pie book

I really love this book. I already read the whole thing.

There is a Tiramisu Pie for goodness sake.

I’m beginning to think that I keep receiving cookbooks just so that I will bake a pie for the giver.

And I am totally okay with that.

I will certainly be trying out some of these Southern pie recipes very soon!

But for now, I’m going to finish watching A Christmas Story 24 hour marathon with the fam and soak up the last bit of holiday cheer of 2013.

Once again, Merry, Merry Christmas! I hope your season has been filled to the brim with joy and love.

Simply the Best.

I have the BEST family, friends, and school in the world.

It was difficult, to say the least, leaving my warm, comfortable home after a relaxing Thanksgiving break. The food was phenomenal, the fellowship was wonderful, and the Iron Bowl was…….well…….unbelievable.

As much as I would have loved to have been in Jordan-Hare Stadium at that miraculous moment, sharing that experience with my family at home was epic. I know I’m biased, but Auburn and everything about it is magical.

I thought I had proof after the Georgia game. I witnessed “The Prayer in Jordan-Hare” five rows up from the in-zone. Magic.

But now, that proof is just reinforced. War Eagle!

This tree was still rolled after my class this afternoon.

rolled trees

Ahh. All I can say is I’m blessed to be a student during this incredible season. I’ll never take that for granted!

And it just kept getting better from there.

My nineteenth birthday would not have been the same today without the outpouring of love I received from everyone!

Including my sweet friend, Kat. After our 8 AM class we headed to Starbucks for some much needed coffee. She got me a white mocha and a peppermint cake pop. BLISS, I tell you.

starbucks

Thank you for making our early mornings so enjoyable–today, and all throughout the semester! I sure will miss it!

Amid our ecstatic Iron Bowl chatter in the festive Student Center, we even watched Santa and his reindeer being strung between the balconies.

student center decorations

It’s things like this that make me so happy. I guess you could say I’m easily amused.

This evening, Sarah (who turned 22 yesterday!!!) and I had a lovely dinner at Olive Garden. Our waiter brought out an adorable, delicious mini cake.

mini birthday cake

As you can see, there’s no flame. After our waiter sang “Happy Birthday to Anna-Kia” (he couldn’t comprehend Sarah’s silent word-mouthing) in a smooth jazzy voice, I was about to blow out the candle. Sarah reminded me that I had to make a wish. Before I knew it, I accidentally puffed a miniscule amount of air through my lips and that flame disappeared instantly. It was just gone! Hysterical moment. Luckily, I was thinking of my wish right as it happened. Hopefully that still counts!

Thanks again to all of my family and friends! This really has been one of the most special birthdays ever. And happy, happy birthday to you, Sarah! You deserve all the happiness in the world!

Stay Calm. Bake a Pie

Happy (early) Thanksgiving, everyone!

Although Auburn was gorgeous when we left a few days ago…..

fall au leaves

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but home. Spending time with family and friends during my favorite time of the year makes me very thankful. And one of the best parts is baking as much as I please!

Last Saturday was my sweet daddy’s birthday. My sweet daddy loves Coconut Cream Pie. And that is what he received.

coconut cream pie

For some reason, coconut cream pies have never exactly cared for me in the past. But this one loved me. It’s one of the best pies I’ve ever had!

And to be perfectly honest, I always despised coconut. Until I had it in pie-form. The coconut flakes are nice and toasty, which actually takes away a bit of the texture issues for some folks. Including me.

I realize that coconut pies are not on most Thanksgiving tables, but keep this one in your pocket for later on, after the pumpkin craze has subsided. The recipe is at the end of this post.

And now for the Thanksgiving pies!

We always make pecan pie and pumpkin pie. Tradition can’t be beat.

Earlier this fall I tried a recipe from The Back in the Day Cookbook and fell in love.

I fell in love with Bourbon Pecan Pie.

That splash of bourbon adds so much to it. So this pie will be making a splash on our table this year, for sure.

bourbon pecan pie

It took a lot for me to step outside of my comfort zone with this pie.

Martha Stewart’s Pecan Pie with a Pate Brisee crust was the very first pie I ever made by myself during the fall of my freshman year of high school. Pecan was my favorite all through the years, and it still is. Just with a bit o’ bourbon now.

So that’s where it all began.

I even prefer this crust recipe as well. It’s made with a combination of butter (which provides flavor) and shortening (which makes for a flaky crust).

I’ll still always love that Pate Brisee crust, but this old fashioned one is a little more foolproof. It rolls out well, is easy to handle, and bakes to perfection every time. I really encourage you to try it! Don’t be scared.

So, I know it may get a little crazy tonight and tomorrow, but don’t lose sight of why we’re actually eating this yummy food. Don’t just be thankful for what you appreciate in life, but give thanks. Slow down, stay calm, and enjoy every minute you have with the ones you love.

After all, food is just food.

Pie is just pie. (Did I just say that?)

But it’s the people around you that make any time of year special.

Including Sylvester, our 19 pound fresh turkey that my brother, Matt, and his wife, Toni, were so kind to pick up today at The Butcher Shoppe in Pensacola.

We’ve had a Tom, a Fred, and even a Jerry in the past. Sylvester seems to be a fitting name for this big ole bird.

This is the first year we’ve prepared a fresh turkey and used a wet brine, and I think it will be delicious! Between Matt and Mom, it can’t go wrong.

Well, I’m off to prepare some of that pie dough. If any of you have tips, tricks, comments, or thoughts on Thanksgiving and all that comes with it, I’d love to hear them!

I hope you have a truly wonderful Thanksgiving Day. Take care!

And I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this.

Here are the printables:

Coconut Cream Pie

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Old Fashioned Piecrust

Bark: A Bite of Delight!

It was a chocolate kind of day.

I felt I deserved to reward myself after a long, hard week. And (hopefully) passing a long, hard test this morning.

So, I decided to experiment with bark.

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My goodness, this stuff is delicious.

Basically all you do is melt chocolate, spread over a baking sheet covered with parchment, and sprinkle wonderful things over the top…or mix it in the chocolate, too. Then refrigerate it for a while to let it harden.

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This is white chocolate with crushed candy canes mixed in, then sprinkled with more. This is probably the most traditional version, and for good reason! It’s so refreshing and peppermint-y.

And a wonderful little sneak peek of the holiday season!

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This is where I had fun. Actually, I just dug through the pantry and found toppings.

Turns out they were all a success!

Now we break into pieces:

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Can you tell where I taste tested?

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Mmmm, chocolate.

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This is milk chocolate with peppermint and a white chocolate drizzle.

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Some with a peanut butter swirl, some with a Nutella peanut butter swirl, some topped with just granola.

I, of course, liked the Nutella with PB. Sarah liked the peanut butter with granola.

But we’ll save the inevitable Nutella discussion for another day.

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And then we have s’mores. I chopped up some mini marshmallows and graham crackers and there you have it! S’mores on a chocolate vehicle. Hmm, like an inside-out s’more.

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Tower o’ Bark.

The best kind of tower, in my humble opinion.

As you can see, I have a lot of this stuff.

Someone take it from me.

But if you want to make your own, here’s the incredibly easy recipe!

Basic Bark

Ingredients:

1 pound of chocolate (any kind you prefer)

Cooking spray

Toppings (whatever your heart desires)

Directions:

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on ends.

In a double boiler (a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), melt the chocolate slowly, stirring frequently. Once completely melted, pour chocolate onto parchment lined baking sheet. Spread in an even layer. (You can also microwave the chocolate–heat for 1 minute, then in 15 second intervals, stirring each time.)

Immediately sprinkle over toppings. Lightly press down to ensure they will stick. Refrigerate for about 1 hour, or until hardened. Break bark into pieces. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.

A Day on the Trails

Yesterday was a perfect opportunity to visit Chewacla State Park in Auburn.

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Beautiful, yes?

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Changing leaves just stir something inside of me.

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After a bit of walking, we made it to the top! It’s breathtaking up here.

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And after quite a bit of hiking and slipping down hills, we made it to the bottom. This awesome waterfall was our reward.

I wanted to get a closer look. The rock hopping began.

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Can we talk about how it looks like I’m playing a harmonica?

I’m not…I don’t know what I’m doing, actually. Who knows.

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Do you see it? Do you see Sarah soaring?

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I tried to soar, too. Right on top of a wet, slippery rock. My knee caught the fall, don’t worry. And my shoe soaked up about a pint of freezing cold water.

Uncontrollable laughter followed. Falling is hilarious, whether it’s me or someone else.

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We quickly made our way for dry land. But not before I stepped on a wobbly, insecure log on the edge of the bank.

My other shoe soaked up a pint of water.

It was fun.

Once we got back to civilization, we drove to the top of the mountain and had a picnic.

Granny’s signature turkey sandwiches, grapes, pistachios, and biscotti were on the menu. It was simple, it was rustic, and a wonderful way to end our hike.

Our sweet friend, Rebecca, invited us over to bake a pie yesterday evening.

It was successful.

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The whole thing is gluten free and vegan. Super delicious! We were all fighting over the crust leftovers and scraping out the filling in the bowl. I’m talking GOOD.

It has to chill for a few hours, so we had to head back home. After church today we taste tested.It was honestly one of the best pies I’ve ever had. The filling had such a complex pumpkin flavor, and the crust, made out of oats and pecans, complimented it nicely. I would definitely recommend it, even if you’re not on a vegan or gluten free diet.

Rebecca and her husband, Scott, really love the blog Oh She Glows and all of her recipes. That’s where they found this recipe for Sweet and Salty Spiced Pecan Crust and Pumpkin Filling. There’s a few other variations on the page as well.

I had a lovely weekend with some lovely friends. And a VERY lovely new friend.

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Her name is Noire. Rebecca and Scott are fostering her for a while.

I’ve never had such a connection with a dog before. She just cuddles without any resistance, gives me hugs, and stares up at me with those big brown eyes. I think she likes me because we both have dark hair. That’s a valid reason to adopt a dog, right?.

Mom…Dad…are you reading this?

I think Joey needs a friend.

Please?

Sipping Cider

First thing’s first.

Have you ever dipped a gingersnap in hot apple cider?

You probably haven’t, because the normal “dunkers” are Oreos in milk. Or biscotti in coffee. Or fries in a milkshake. (Maybe that’s weird, too.)

But, oh, how right the world seems when crunchy gingersnaps team up with spiced apple cider. It’s quite marvelous.

I recently realized that I could not leave my house without bundling up in a sweater or go to sleep without fuzzy socks. I knew the time had come. The time for hot cider.

Buried beneath about seven blankets last night on the couch, sipping my cider and working on an article for my alma mater’s newspaper, I felt I was missing a piece of the puzzle. That piece was a gingersnap.

I had quite a few left over from my gingersnap crust last weekend, which I am still daydreaming about.

So, I dipped that snap and all of my dreams came true again. Hey, maybe yours can, too!

 

Fast forward to today. We learned about healthy lifestyle choices, the BMI index, exercise guidelines, etc. in my Food Science class. I had a sudden urge to run and eat tofu.

Thankfully, those feelings passed once I left the room. I did walk briskly to my car, though.

Once I got home, Sarah and I decided to go grocery shopping since our fridge was looking a little sparse. On the way there, she expressed a very logical thought: If you are ravenously hungry when you go grocery shopping, you will buy absolutely everything in sight. On the other hand, if you are uncomfortably full, you won’t want to buy anything at all. Maybe just like a bag of lettuce and oatmeal. So what is the happy medium?

We decided it was Wendy’s.

Mostly because after all this food talk I realized I was ravenously hungry, and Wendy’s was right next to the grocery store.

But then I thought back to my class earlier in the day. “Portion control, balanced meals, exercise…”

Wendy’s.

But in all honesty, fried foods didn’t sound super appetizing at the time. I wanted something satisfying, yet energizing for our exciting little grocery shopping trip. As I made my way to order, somehow the sentence, “I’ll have a kid’s grilled chicken wrap with apple slices and a chocolate milk.” escaped my lips.

“Would you like a toy with that?” she asked with a confused grin.

I passed on the toy. But that was probably the best fast food experience ever. I think sometimes we forget that we don’t have to have fries or chips or sweet tea with our meal. Apple slices and chocolate milk are SO good. And this is coming from the pie girl, so you can trust me on this. No shame in TruMoo.

 

I’m gearing up for a fun filled weekend in Auburn, starting with a jazz band and ending with pie making.

Where pie making ends, precalculus begins. I better enjoy the former while it lasts!

I hope you all had a wonderful week…here’s to an even better weekend!

Tales of the Toaster Oven

November 2nd already? 4 weeks of classes left?

I’m a happy college student.

And an even happier baker.

This is without a doubt my favorite time of year to be in the kitchen, for obvious reasons. Seasonal fruits, warm spices, and hot chocolate in heavy mugs add a little something special to the season.

Normally, I’d be baking at least two pies a week to satisfy my extremely demanding autumn sweet tooth.

Baking requires an oven, yes?

Here’s my problem. My oven doesn’t work.

How’s that for irony? Anna Claire without an oven. Just the thought makes me chuckle.

I discovered this soon after I moved to Auburn in August. I was having separation anxiety from baking, since it had been almost four days (gasp) without picking up a whisk, spoon, mixing bowl…anything.

I turned my pantry upside down searching for ingredients. “Cocoa powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, WHERE ARE YOU HIDING?” I thought.

Then reality hit me square in the face. I have to actually purchase ingredients in order to bake.

But I was lazy back then. In the corner of my eye a box of brownie mix appeared. Although it was sinful and completely against everything in which I believe, I mindlessly picked it up. I was baking brownies that day. Period.

As I proceeded to crack eggs, measure water (It couldn’t even be milk, Betty Crocker?), and spread the batter into a pan, I noticed the “preheated” oven wasn’t so hot. I didn’t think much of it, since that thing was probably thrice as old as me. Patience. So I slid it on the rack with very high hopes and a very empty stomach. Thirty minutes was just enough time for me to finish up some Chemistry homework.

The time finally came.

I joyfully grabbed my mitts and opened the oven door, only to find a wet, unbaked pan of batter.

How was this torture happening to me.

What did I ever do to deserve this.

I’m not what you’d call a handy-woman, but I did know that a light was supposed to be on inside the chamber—a detail I failed to recognize thirty minutes earlier.

“Good bakers improvise,” I thought.

I reached above the refrigerator for the toaster oven, which had undoubtedly seen the days of World War II, or possibly as far back as the stock market crash. Which would explain why the heat setting on it doesn’t work. It’s basically off, or set at 450 degrees. But it was worth a shot.

I very optimistically gave it a shot.

Seven minutes later, in the midst of educating myself on chemical equations, I smelled something. And it wasn’t chocolatey brownies.

The smoke poured out of that toaster oven like a chimney in January.

Seven minutes is all it took for that dreadful appliance to turn my brownies into a smoking, burned rock. I believe I shed a tear. And then quickly left to buy cookies at the market.

Serves me right. That’s what I get for baking brownies from a box.

Since then, the toaster has been a bit more benign towards me. It’s never done my sister, Sarah, wrong though. She must have the magic touch with archaic appliances. Congratulations.

So now you know why I made a no-bake pie yesterday. Creativity is key.

And it’s also the reason I made this today:

Single slice with apple

A new show on Food Network, Heartland Table, inspired this recipe. Maple Butter Toast with Brie and Apples.

Are those angels I hear?

This is quite possibly the most delicious non-pie snack I’ve ever tasted.

Thankfully, I had a little company during my maple-butter experiment.

Meet Joey, my brother, Robert’s, basset hound.

one with joey

Joey likes Aunta Claire’s cooking.

sit

Sit, Joey.

sit more

Sit more.

good joey

That’s a good girl!

that was good

I’d venture to say that Joey approves of maple butter toast.

i love you aunta claire

I love you, Aunta Claire.

Gee, I love you, too, Joey.

If Miss Joey likes it, I’m sure you will, too.

Here’s how you make it:

Maple Butter Toast with Brie and Apples

Ingredients

½ cup maple syrup

3 tablespoons butter

Pinch of salt

8 thin slices bread (I used a baguette. Sourdough works, too. No pre-sliced bread!)

Spray oil for the plate

1 small disk of Brie cheese (or Camembert)

1 Granny Smith apple

Directions

Over medium heat, warm up a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron). When it’s pretty hot, pour in ¼ cup of maple syrup, 1 ½ tablespoons butter, and a pinch of salt. Let the butter melt, and add 4 slices of bread to the pan. Flip immediately, coating both sides with the maple syrup-butter mixture. Flip the slices frequently with a butter knife, making sure to absorb all of the mixture. When the bread begins to look toasty and lacquered (it doesn’t have to be hard, just shiny and toasted) remove from pan and place on an oiled plate to cool. This is when the bread will become nice and firm, just how we like it. Repeat with the remaining slices.

Cut a wedge of cheese and smear into the toast. Top with small dices of apple, if you’d like. I love the bit of tartness from the apple to cut the sweetness. I tried it with a Honeycrisp apple, but the flavor and texture gets a little lost in the cheese. Go with Granny Smith.

Serve immediately—great for entertaining!

Word Document:Maple Butter Toast with Brie and Apples

May I Say…

I’m glad to be here.

And I’m so very glad you’re reading this.

This crisp autumn day in Auburn has inspired me, bringing peace, focus, and contentment in my life. So what do we do when those three things are dwelling within us?

We make pie!

The no-bake version to be exact. “It just has to be pumpkin,” I told myself. But then my little chocolate conscience convinced me otherwise. I honestly felt like I was cheating on chocolate. That simply cannot happen.

So, I compromised with that naughty conscience.

Chocolate pumpkin pie.

But then, as I eagerly opened the door to go grocery shopping, I was caught by that wonderful breeze flowing through the house, softly picking up the ends of my hair (which would usually anger me–wind and my c-c-c-curly hair do not mix). I felt as if I was letting down the season as a whole. Chocolate pumpkin pie was simply not “fall-y” enough.

Chocolate pumpkin pie with a gingersnap crust.

Voilà. You’re welcome, November.

My soul was finally at peace again.

Here’s the recipe. Now would be a good time to mention I name all my pies. Some funny, some heartfelt, some downright ridiculous.

No-Bake Chocolate Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust

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This pie shall be named The Pumpkins and Puns Pie.

Ingredients

For the crust:

1 ¾ cups gingersnap crumbs

¼ cup packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoons cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

Whipped topping, for serving

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°.

Seal several gingersnaps inside a large Ziploc bag. Grab a rolling pin. Think about anything negative in your life. It could be paying taxes, telemarketers, drivers who fail to use blinkers, etc. For me, it’s analytic trigonometry at 8 A.M. every morning. Think of your chosen frustration, and whack those crunchy cookies like there’s no tomorrow. And when you think you’re done, don’t stop. Fine crumbs are the goal.

Take several deep sighs of relief. Besides, taxes aren’t until next spring. In a medium bowl, whisk together the crumbs and dry ingredients. Now add that melted butter and stir. If the mixture isn’t holding together when you squeeze it, add a tiny bit of water at a time until you reach the right consistency.

Pour the crumbs into a 9 inch pie plate, pressing evenly to cover the bottom and sides. Don’t worry about perfection. Stick it in the freezer for around 10 minutes to let it relax. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until your house smells like gingersnap goodness. Let it cool completely on a wire rack.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. This is incredibly easy.

Add all the ingredients into a blender or food processor (I used a Ninja blender). Blend until smooth. Done. (Unless you prefer some more sugar after tasting it.) Just don’t forget about that whipped cream you’ll be topping it with.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust, and pop it in the fridge for 3 hours. Overnight would be good, too.

Before serving, top with the whipped cream and maybe a few gingersnap crumbles. Enjoy, and happy fall!

Filling adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie

Gingersnap crust adapted from Martha Stewart

Word Document:

No Bake Chocolate Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust