Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stuff You Need
Sorry guys...or the two or three of you who read my blog...I originally intended the "Stuff You Need" feature to be on Mondays. But this week has been crazy, so I hope you won't abandon me for doing "Stuff You Need" on Wednesdays from time to time.
So, I know it's been killing you. What do you need now? You need...

a Silpat!

What the heck is a Silpat? It's a super-nonstick baking mat made of fiberglass mesh and silicone. You never need to grease it. Nothing will stick to it...nothing. They're perfect for biscuits and cookies. Don't you hate it when you bake cookies or biscuits and the bottoms get too brown and then stick? Not'll have perfect bottoms that slide right off the baking mat! Have you ever seen those baking challenges on Food Network? You know where they try to build a practically life-sized building out of cereal and marshmallows or something equally crazy? Well...when those chefs are making sugar decorations, what do they use to mold their sugar on? A Silpat! Because NOTHING will stick.

One thing I need to make sure you understand...this thing is not a cutting board. If you cut on it, you could release the fiberglass mesh into the food, and that can't be good for you. They're strictly for baking.

Where can you get a Silpat? (Or two...because you need at least two.) Mine came from Bed, Bath, and Beyond as a wedding gift. They're also sold at Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy's, and a ton of other places. They come in different shapes and sizes (even an octogon shaped one for the microwave!), and you can check those out, as well as a list of FAQs at

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chocolate Cream TartWow. This was great! I know lots of TWDers were saying that it was "chocolate overload", but I loved it. I have a hard time having too much chocolate, though...I'm not sure that it can be done! And I guess I should say that I really made a chocolate cream pie, not a tart, since I don't have a tart pan. That will have to go on the wish list, since we've got another tart coming up in May. Anyhow...regardless of the pan it was in, it was super-chocolate deliciousness! Over all, the pie wasn't overly sweet, it was just dark chocolatey goodness. Definitely a keeper. I would like to try it sometime with the plain sweet tart dough, just for those who don't like the overwhelming chocolate flavor. The process of the Chocolate Cream Pie began last night at about 8:30...let's check it out:
First, we have the ugly, patched up crust. Who cares about the lumps and patches? Nobody will see it because it's gonna end up slathered in chocolate pastry cream...which turned out to be silky and delicious. So delicious, in fact...that after I spooned most of it in the pie shell, I ate what was left straight from the spoon. Then I licked the bowl clean. (Kidding...kind of. I used a spatula to get it out. I do have my limits.)

Would you just look at all that chocolate? I was getting giddy at this point. I have had this tart on my mind all day long. It's a wonder I got any work done. What's the next step?Whippin' some cream, ya'll...whippin' some cream...

Here's a lame, amateur attempt at an artistic photo of the pie...And now...a slice of chocolate cream goodness...

Tonight, David and I had help devouring this delicious confection. My parents and my Great-Aunt Sarah came over, and this is what we had left after we attacked the pie with reckless abandon:This pie was worth every sinful calorie. I'm going to bed now so I can get up at 5am to get my butt kicked by Jillian Michaels. She's got her work cut out for her after Dorie's awesome Chocolate Cream Tart! We can all thank Kim, of Scrumptious Photography for choosing this pie! Head over to her beautiful site for the recipe!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thrifty Thursday!
It's Thrifty Thursday again! One of the most thrifty things I do is that I cut David's hair. Yes...I cut his hair...with clippers! I can only do one "style" (I use the term loosely) though, but David seems to like it. Shirley, my mother-in-law gave me a hair cutting lesson either right before David and I got married, or right after. I was terrifed (and I still am!) to cut his hair, but so far (about 2 1/2 years now), and we haven't had any real mishaps. One time I did use one clipper that was a little too short, but there was no real harm done. If you've got a willing husband, cutting his hair might be worth a try! It seems like I cut David's hair about twice a month, and I figure it's saving us about $20 each month. Pretty thrifty!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four-Star Chocolate Bread Pudding

I'm disappointed. The Four-Star Chocolate Bread Pudding let me down. Correction. It was me...I think I know what happened. I didn't let my bread get stale enough. Or maybe I didn't get the right kind of bread. I made the bread pudding for Easter dinner, and I was in a little bit of a hurry, so I didn't get into making my own brioche, which I'd like to try sometime. I just bought a loaf of some kind of egg bread from my local Wal-Mart. I did leave it out to get stale, but apparently not long enough. I should have also used Dorie's toasting tip. The picture above (taken as I was chasing sunlight around my kitchen on Easter morning) shows how unappetizing the bread pudding looked. I'm not great with food photography, but I don't know how you'd make it look good. It had a good flavor, but my bread pudding pretty much had two distinct layers. There was the chocolate custard layer on the bottom, then the bread on top. It had a really good flavor, but I knew it wasn't right. I'm not sure that I'll make it again.
Sorry this post is so boring...I'm just not feeling the bread pudding. But if you are, you can find the recipe at Laura's blog, Upper East Side Chronicle. I'm really looking forward to next week's Chocolate Cream Tart though!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stuff You Need
This will (hopefully) be a new feature on The Sweet Life. Each Monday, I'll highlight "Stuff You Need" in your kitchen. This of my kitchen heroes:

The salad spinner! For anyone who eats a lot of salad, you definitely need this! My mother-in-law (Shirley), and my stepmom (Theresa), both told me for a couple of years that I needed a salad spinner. I was skeptical. Why in the heck would I buy a salad spinner? I always just bought salad in a bag. Then I began to do a little math (and I avoid math like the plague). David and I eat salad at least a couple of nights a week. We can very easily put away a bag of salad between us at meal time. A bag of salad costs about $2.59. A bag of three hearts of romaine costs $3.00. We can get about 6 side salads or 3 meal sized salads out of it. It's much more economical to buy the hearts of romaine! (Even my mathematically-challenged brain can figure that one out.) That leaves the problem of cleaning the lettuce, though. So I decided to buy a salad spinner and see what all the fuss was about. I went to the local Wal-Mart to buy one, and I was surprised to see that they ranged in price from $2.98 to about $30.00. I'm also no engineer, but I can see that there aren't a whole heck of a lot of mechanics involved in this thing, and I wasn't entirely sure I needed one, so I bought the $2.98 model (see above). I've been using it for several months now, and it's no worse for wear. I did have one "incident" though...I got my thumb hung up in the water hole while the salad was spinning. My thumb stopped the spinning action, the lid popped off, and I had a tornado of lettuce flying through my kitchen. But my thumb was still intact, and the problem was operator error, not the fault of the spinner. Have I conviced you to buy one yet? If you're on the fence, let me leave you with a pinch, the inner compartment (that actually holds the salad), can double as a colander in a pinch:See? I think even Alton Brown would approve, because the salad spinner ISN'T a unitasker. He says you should only have one unitasker in your kitchen! Do you know what it is? Leave me a comment with your answer. I don't have anything to give away to you, but you can have bragging rights as the first "Stuff You Need" trivia contest winner on The Sweet Life!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Chicken Salad...Mmmm!
As promised, I'm here with the Cranberry Chicken Salad recipe that I took to my in-laws yesterday for lunch. Last week, I put a whole chicken in the crockpot before work so we'd have an easy supper when I got home. That night, we made the chicken (which falls apart because it's so moist!) into baked chimichangas. Later in the week, we used some more of the shredded chicken to top a salad (one of David's favorite meals! Who would have thought a meat 'n potatoes kinda guy would love grilled chicken salad?!). We still had about 3 cups of delicious shredded meat in the fridge, so I thought I'd make us a nice chicken salad. I found the recipe on the back of the bag of Mariani Premium Sweetened Dried Cranberries.
Cranberry Chicken Salad
3 cups cooked chicken, cubed (I shredded mine)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Dash of lemon juice
Mayonnaise, to taste
Mix all ingredients together, adding mayonnaise to taste. Chill for at least one hour before serving.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Earl's Birthday Banana Cream Pie

Earl is my super-awesome father-in-law, and his birthday was April 10. I offered to make him a pie for his birthday, but his sister-in-law had already baked him a cake, so we were forced to continue the celebration today! I started my Banana Cream Pie adventure last night at about 8:30...pretty late to start making pastry cream (I thought), but it went together like a dream!
First, I got all my ingredients together and ready to go:

After I boiled my milk, I poured it into the rest of the ingredients for pastry cream and whisked away:

Everyone said that the pastry cream would thicken up really quick, and they weren't kidding! It smelled divine...almost like Christmas, which was kind of weird since it's April and 70-some degrees outside, but divine nonetheless. This pastry cream process (plus making my pie dough) left me with a huge mess to clean up at about 9pm, but I got it done.

This morning, I rolled out my pie dough, let it chill for a bit, then baked it off so it would be ready for pie assembly:

Isn't it pretty? I was pretty impressed. I am now a convert to using Dorie's pie crust. And this pie crust has even gotten shortening reinstated at my mother-in-law's house. Earl told her she could buy some, as long as she uses it to make pie crust. (It's only 2 1/2 tablespoons, after all. But I didn't tell them how much butter. And yes, Earl, it's REAL butter. Land O'Lakes Butter...because it was on sale!)

Right before heading over to Earl and Shirley's house this afternoon, I made the whipped cream topping and assembled the pie. Didn't it turn out nice?
Earl was ready to dig in! (See the big red scrape on the side of his cheek? Shirley ran him into a hedgeapple tree while they were out on the 4-wheeler. His side of the story: We were in a wide-open field, then all of a sudden she runs me into a hedgeapple tree! Her side of the story: He should have been more alert! At any rate, it's a little funny. He prefers to be addressed as "Scarface" now, rather than Earl.)
Here's David's big '0l slice of the pie:
The four of us really put the hurt on the banana cream pie this afternoon, but we needed our strength to go pick up limbs that were down all over the farm. As Earl says, "Picking up limbs is BORING."
I think I'm pretty much caught up with the Tuesday's With Dorie group now. This was the pie I was supposed to make when I made the Devil's Food White-Out cake for my Mom instead. For the recipe, you can go to Amy's blog: Sing For Your Supper. I still owe Earl my recipe for chicken salad...I'll get that up tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesdays with Granny
Nope, it's not another online baking group I've joined. It's just a little post about my my wonderful Granny, who passed away almost 10 years ago. Granny was (and still is) just about my favorite person in the world...she was definitely my mentor, and I miss her every day. She and I were inseparable! From the time I can remember until I was well into my teens, I spent every Saturday night with Granny and Grandydaddy, and she watched me on Tuesdays and Thursdays while my Mom and Dad worked. She and my grandfather ran a tiny little grocery store in Sulphur. I have so many fond memories of times spent with her, but cooking was not one of them! Granny didn't really cook, but man, she made good tacos! My mom and aunt always said that Granny's recipes looked like this:
Step 1: Open can with can opener.
Step 2: Place contents into saucepan and place on burner.
Step 3: Turn burner on HIGH.
Step 4: Boil, boil, boil!
Despite this fact, she cooked Sunday dinner for our whole family after church every single Sunday. Those were some of my favorite times. She also made mean roast beef. YUM! So, while Granny was a lot of things, she wasn't a fantastic cook. But there were a couple of things she made that we all loved, and this post is about one of them: Apricot Salad. My nearly 30 year old brain can get a little fuzzy at times, but I'm pretty sure that we had apricot salad with just about every holiday meal. This past Easter, I knew that I had to include apricot salad as part of my contribution to my husband's family's Easter dinner. They didn't know how much having that apricot salad meant to me, but every bite I ate reminded my of Granny and all those special times we had together! It's so simple to make, and so good! (And it requires boiling a liquid on HIGH!)

Granny's Apricot Salad
2 boxes apricot Jell-O
1 large can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1 container Cool-Whip (not the really big one)

Mix the apricot Jell-O and the crushed pineapple together in a medium saucepan. Bring contents to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. In a mixing bowl, mix the cream cheese, celery, nuts, and Jell-O/pineapple mixture. Fold in the carton of Cool-Whip. Pour into a 9x13-inch pan, chill, and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chocolate Amaretti Torte
This week, Holly of Phe/MOM/enon, picked the Chocolate Amaretti Torte. You can get the recipe at her website. I didn't get to eat even one tiny sliver of my torte! It was my entry in the Citizen's Union Bank Relay for Life bake sale fundraiser. My husband works at CUB, and they seem like they're always having a potluck or a bake off or a bake sale, which I love because it gives me a great excuse to bake! (And the CUB employees like it too!) I decided this week to kill two birds with one stone and make my TWD recipe for the bake sale, which was a pretty big leap of faith because I have never tried this recipe before! Anyway, I couldn't find the cookies Dorie said we needed for the cake. I even went to a specialty store in Louisville and couldn't find amaretti! So I bought some other kind of almond cookie, which was delicious! They were a little shortbready, but I thought I'd give it a whirl. Dorie says this torte is "15-Minute Magic" because it should only take about 15 minutes to get into the oven. I think it probably took me a little longer than that, but not by much. I was excited to use my food processor...I've never made a cake using it before! Dorie also said that the cake wouldn't rise much, but I think mine rose pretty much the same amount as any cake would. The batter was delicious, as was the glaze, so I figure they had to be good after baking! After I got the cake in the oven, I realized that I should have kept one or two of the little cookies to use as a garnish, but David and I had eaten them already. Oops! David said the bank folks thought the torte was from a bakery, so I guess the simple garnish of almonds didn't look too goofy. My torte brought $22.00 at the bake sale. I got third. The lady who won first place made 100 chocolate eggs and sold each one for $1. I think that's cheating. I thought the rules meant that the one single item bringing the most money would win. I don't mind being beaten fair and square, but I don't like to be beaten by a cheater! I missed out on some good Pampered Chef goodies! Oh, well...I'll know better next year! I'll have to make the torte again sometime so I can have a piece!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Belated Thrifty Thursday!
Sorry for being late on this week's Thrifty Thursday! I've been out of town for work, then I had today off, so I'm having a hard time keeping up with what day it is! Last night at dinner was when I realized that yesterday was Thursday! Then, by the time I finished up my cake for David's employer's bake sale today, Thrifty Thursday had completely slipped my mind! Anyway, I did have (what I consider to be) a brilliant idea for being thrifty! CONSIGNMENT SHOPS!
About a week ago, I made a pretty big change in my career. I went from providing direct care to adults with MR to working (again!) in higher education (for my alma mater!). In my old job, I wore jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes, and sweatshirts. I had to be able to move quickly and freely, but I didn't want to wear really nice stuff because I never knew what I might get on myself! In my new job, I need to wear very nice, professional clothes (not quite a suit, but at least nice trousers/shirts/etc.). This career shift coupled with a recent loss of 25 pounds means that I had nice professional clothes to wear, but they didn't fit! I didn't want to spend an arm and a leg on just a few pieces of clothing, so I decided to hit the consignment shop! I think a lot of people don't consider consignment shops because they think of them as just "the Goodwill" or something like that. Now, please understand I'm not knocking the Goodwill! I have found AWESOME clothes at the Goodwill (a super-cute vintage pink shift dress covered in cats and flowers comes to mind!), but it's not a place I can go to and know that I will come out with something fantastic every time. The secret is to shop around at a couple of good consignment stores so you know what's available. I've found one consignment shop that I consider my "go-to" store. It's called the Clothing Boutique in LaGrange. Here's secret #1: go to an "upper crust" neighborhood that has a consignment shop. The Clothing Boutique is in Oldham County, Kentucky's richest county. There are incredible deals. A few things I've found: a silk skirt from Talbot's ($10.50), a black pencil skirt from New York and Company ($10.50), black trousers ($11.00)...the list goes on! I love to look nice, but I hate to spend money! The consignment shop is my thrifty secret to looking like a well-dressed professional! Take some time and check out your local consignment stores (and don't forget the Goodwill!)'ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie

This week's Tuesday With Dorie assignment was Banana Cream Pie, chosen by Amy, who has a beautiful blog called Sing for Your Supper. However, I didn't make the Banana Cream Pie. I had every intention of doing so, but I have an excellent excuse for doing a rewind recipe. You see, yesterday was my Mom's birthday. As a part of her gift, last Sunday I handed her my copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours and told her to choose anything from the book and I'd make it for her. She said, "That cake on the cover looks pretty good, but I'll look and see what else I can find." Now, in my heart of hearts, I was thinking, "Oh, I hope she chooses the cover cake!" because the rest of the Tuesdays With Dorie folks got to make it (Devil's Food White-Out Cake) a couple of weeks ago, before I became a member, and I was oh-so-jealous! So she looked through the book and told me she'd like either the "cover cake" or the Black-and-White Chocolate Cake (pg. 258), but that I could choose. Then she said something to the effect of, "But they both look really complicated, so if you just want to make something else, that'd be fine, too." What?! Heck no! I was making one of those cakes for my Mom, if it killed me (of course, I knew neither of them would kill me. One might require an additional trip to the grocery, but that's no biggie). So I decided on the Devil's Food White-Out Cake:

Pretty, huh? The cake part came together pretty easily...really easily, actually. But man, was I scared of this frosting! I was super-intimidated by the idea of having to pour boiling sugar syrup into egg whites whipping around in my KitchenAid. But I sent up a little prayer and went to work, and it came together like a dream! I was so freakin' proud of myself! I have never made any kind of a cooked frosting before (or worked with a candy thermometer), so to get it together on the first try was amazing! And it sure was tasty, too! Like marshmallow clouds! YUM! Here's a picture of the inside of the cake:
There were about eight of us at Mom's party, and we put the hurt on this cake! I had to hurry up and cut a piece for David (who was absent) because I was afraid there wouldn't be any left. If you'd like to have the recipe for the cake, check out Confessions of a City Eater, since it was her pick. It's definitely worthy of a try, and I think Easter would be the perfect excuse! But if you'd like the recipe for the Banana Cream Pie, which is what the rest of the Tuesdays With Dorie participants made this week, you'll need to visit Amy's site. Next week, we're making the Chocolate Amaretti Torte! It will be my entry in CUB's silent auction/bake sale for their Relay for Life team. Cross your fingers, and happy baking!

*Also, check out She's Becoming Dough-Mess-Tic for a super-cool giveaway!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thrifty Thursday!

This is my first "Thifty Thursday" entry, and it'll probably be pretty short since I'm feeling pretty craptastic. Anyway, Thrifty Thursdays were started by Amanda of Amanda's Cookin'. It's a group of people just trying to be thrifty in all kinds of ways...home, garden, food, or kitchen. My contribution to Thrifty Thursdays this week is the frittata:

This one is a frittata I made using lots of leftover and frozen veggies I had on hand. They're great ways to use up those last little bits of ingredients you've used throughout the week. Last summer, my mother-in-law was overrun with zucchini from her garden, so I took a bunch of them off her hands, shredded, and froze them. This frittata has some of that zucchini, some leftover fresh spinach, some leftover red pepper, and some leftover mushrooms (along with some garlic and onions!). It was a great supper, really hearty (something David always appreciates)! There's really no just beat up some eggs, then throw in your "add-ins" and bake it until it's puffy and golden. We had some fried potatoes with this meal, too. So there you have first Thrifty Thursday!
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