There’s a Man in My Kitchen

It’s interesting, isn’t it, to have people working in your home? Not like people installing a beautiful new brick and wood floor in your living area (sorry, my mind wanders) or the appliance repair guy, but people who actually live in your home, but normally don’t work there. People who, on a more typical day would not have set up a workstation at your kitchen table with all the requisite computers and blueprints and surveys the size of large tablecloths, miscellaneous papers and 10 pairs of reading glasses. People who are typically on their speaker phones in nice large office buildings with other people in the same types of places doing the same kind of things.

But now those people are in my kitchen.

As blessed as I feel and happy as I am that this ‘people’ has a job and is able to keep working through all of this in a safe, frequently Lysol-ed environment, the whole situation does present some unique challenges. And while I certainly don’t have the overwhelming task of crisis-schooling multiple children or the stressful worry of potential job loss, I did realize today that flexibility is key for everyone in these unusual times.

I quickly became aware of how noisy some of my daily tasks are. Washing dishes, doing the laundry, or running the vacuum cleaner all seemed to sound much like a freight train might if it rolled through the the living area and exited through the side door by the garage.

So. When I had a chance this afternoon to bake a little something sweet (but not too terribly sweet), I decided it needed to be something quiet. Something that did not require the banging of too many pans or heaven forbid, running the Kitchenaid. Something that would satisfy our “self-isolating sweet tooth” and yet not be over the top sweet.

These Cinnamon Chip Scones were just the thing to quietly stir together while business went on as usual here at Thomas Land Surveying and Pastry.

You’ve likely had something similar at Starbucks, but I promise these are ever so much better- especially while hot from the oven! You should try them in your own kitchen office.

Cinnamon Chip Scones

(Original recipe from Hershey’s)

Ingredients:

3 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

1 T. plus one 1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 2/3 cup (10 oz. pkg.) Cinnamon Chips

½ chopped, toasted walnuts (I substituted pecans)

2 cup (1 pt.) chilled whipping cream

2 T. melted butter

Additional sugar for sprinkling on top before baking (I used coarse Demarara sugar)

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 375. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets.
  2. Stir together flour, ½ cup granulated sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add cinnamon chips and nuts and stir well.
  3. Stir whipping cream into flour mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are just moistened.
  4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until soft dough forms. (just about 1-2 minutes) Divide dough into 3 balls. One ball at a time, flatten dough into circle (about 7 in.) and cut into equal triangles (about 6). Transfer triangles onto a baking sheet and brush with melted butter and sprinkle with additional sugar.
  5. Bake 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned on top.

Empanadas

On the left, 2 Apple Empanadas, and on the right JT’s Pumpkin Empanadas

Who’s been in the mood to bake?

Call it boredom. Call it stress relief. Call it pleasure.

It seems as if many of us are using our extra time at home to do some of the things that our typically busy lifestyles don’t allow. Baking is just one. I also hear that binge watching all “the things” is a big pastime right now. I’m not much of a TV watcher (or any other channel/mode), so I’ve been doing some yard work and spending lots of time in the kitchen-much to the chagrin of my jeans.

My guy JT absolutely loves empanadas. Primarily pumpkin, but others will do in a pinch. While I’m not a pumpkin fan, I can certainly get behind most anything else wrapped up in a warm, tender and flaky homemade crust! I typically pick up his pumpkin empanadas from our HEB, but alas, with all of the weirdness going on right now, HEB has to concentrate on a few other things than their regular bakery offerings. I applaud you HEB!

So.

Being industrious, I decided to make a homemade version of Pumpkin Empanadas for JT, and offer up some alternative fillings for those of us who prefer to limit our pumpkin eating to the month of November. So make sure you check all the alternative fillings at the end of the recipe (Both savory and sweet)

These turned out great if not particularly attractive (I know we eat first with our eyes?). But if you can get past the less than pretty exterior, you’ll find something awesome inside.

Let’s be serious- how many of you out there right now look less than your Sunday Best and more like your “why bother, I’m not going anywhere anyway Wednesday Worst” and yet we’re all lovely and delightful people inside?

Think about that- inside counts, outside questionable.

So, two things-

  1. Are you a pumpkin fan?
  2. Make these today!

Empanadas

Lu at Hobnob Kitchen

Empanada Dough

2 cups all purpose flour

½ t. salt (kosher)

About 1/2 t. ground cinnamon

2/3 c. shortening

1/3 c. ice cold water

Pumpkin Filling

0ne 15 oz. can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

½ c. sugar

½ t. ground cinnamon

¼ t. ground ginger

½ t.salt (kosher)

To Make the Dough: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and cinnamon. Add the shortening (I add mine in several globs instead of all together) and pulse until it looks like little peas. Then slowly pour in the cold water while continuing to pulse- just until the dough comes together. Don’t overmix or the dough will be tough.

Divided the dough into 4 balls and wrap each one individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

To Make the Filling: In a medium bowl combine the pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt and stir well to combine.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one of the dough portions from the fridge. Divide it in half. Roll each half into a ball on a slightly floured surface, and then roll the dough into a circle about 5 inches wide. (Don’t panic if it doesn’t look anything like a circle at this point!). Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the pumpkin filling into the center of each circle. You must not put too much filling or you’ll have a mess on your hands.

Fold over. Now you can clean up the edges by trimming with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. Press the edges to seal them with your finger, or use a fork to crimp the edges. Repeat with other dough portions or save them for later.

Place the empanadas on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Optional: Beat one egg until frothy and brush the egg onto the tops of the empanadas. Sprinkle with sugar!

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Alternate Fillings:

Any Canned Pie Filling you like!

A cream cheese/powdered sugar mixture.

Lemon curd from a jar!

Or

Make a savory empanada with browned ground beef with potato, cheese and spices, or chicken and green chilis- the options are wide open.

Cookie Cure

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but it seems that things have been a little off- kilter lately.

Or maybe it’s just me?

A lot has changed in the last couple of weeks:

Running into the store for a few things? Not as easy or casual as it used to be.

Getting up and going to work with my awesome Aggie student athletes? Most of them are at home and taking all their classes on-line. I’m not even sure what to do with myself.

As much as I miss seeing my students, going to lunch with friends, and meeting with my Bible Study group though, I’m grateful for my time at home. I’m cleaning, organizing and cooking. So as much as I want to respect everyone’s time and the awkwardness of our current lifestyle situation, I decided that sharing a recipe here and there just might be what we all need!

These cookies are the order of the day over here- and they’re just about the best ever. You’ve heard of them, I’m sure- Neiman Marcus Cookies (or the $250 cookie). There are multiple recipes out there for these, but this is my tried and true favorite.

I took the liberty of adding a teaspoon of Instant Espresso powder to this recipe (I may not be a coffee drinker, but I am also not ignorant to the insane flavor boost coffee can give baked goods!) And if I do say so myself, that makes me practically a genius!!

I hope you’ll try these this week!

Love to you all!

THE $250 NEIMAN MARCUS COOKIE

INGREDIENTS:

  •  2½cups rolled oats
  •  2 cups all-purpose flour
  •  1 teaspoon baking powder
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  •  ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  •  1 cup butter(at room temperature)
  •  1cup granulated sugar
  •  1cup light brown sugar
  •  2 eggs
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (this time I used some chocolate chips and some chunks)
  •  4 ounces milk chocolate(grated or finely chopped)
  •  1½ cups chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. (I use Silpat)
  2. Blend the oats in a food processor or blender to a fine powder. In a medium bowl, whisk together the blended oats with the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until incorporated. With a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips, grated chocolate and walnuts.
  4. Roll the dough into 2-ounce balls (or about 2 heaping tablespoonfuls worth) and place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time until the edges are set but the center still looks undone, about 10 minutes. Cool the cookies completely on the baking sheets.

Beignets

Years ago, as a young wife, I left Texas and most everyone I knew to move to the small Louisiana oil town of Morgan City. To me, Morgan City was absolutely in the middle of nowhere. It was most decidedly not in the middle of everything” as the Chamber of Commerce liked to advertise, touting it’s location” approximately 70 miles west of New Orleans, 60 miles south of Baton Rouge and 60 miles east of Lafayette on scenic Highway 90“. But I fell in love with our adorable little blue Victorian home, the huge live oaks dripping with moss, and the Atchafalaya River in my backyard. Literally. In my backyard. Along with the requisite alligators, which is another story for another time.

Less than two weeks after the big move I discovered I was expecting my first child (surprise!) and just 15 months after welcoming my first son, I was once again racing the “60 miles up scenic Highway 90” to Lafayette to give birth to my second son (Whew!) So, (as new parents everywhere will understand) I was just a bit busy for the first 2 or 3 years after being dropped smack dab in deep, deep Cajun Country.

Childbirth, especially twice in 15 months, and then the subsequent craziness of caring for 2 little boys, quite possibly fried a large majority of my brain cells. Yes, I’m pretty sure I was smarter once upon a time, but I wouldn’t trade that lost gray matter for anything in the world.

Although a lot of my time in Louisiana was lost in a blur of baby love and diapers and cleaning and painful Lego foot injuries, there are two things that are forever stored in my memory about that time and place:

  1. The Cajun dialect. That accent. The pure joy I got from hearing my authentically Cajun neighbors talk. Still, to this day, if I hear a Cajun accent in a store, a mall, a football stadium, a bathroom!, I’ll stop and beg the person to talk to me. It’s probably a bit scary for the other person, but still, it’s absolute heaven for me.
  2. The FOOD. Oh my gosh, the food. Things I had never even heard of, much less tasted before I got there, became the food of my soul. Gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, the po-boys! I could go on and on.

It was at the famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans where I first tasted a beignet, and it was, as popularly advertised, insanely good. Practically transcendental. The fact that I came perilously close to death from aspirating powdered sugar, fades in comparison to the delight of the unforgettable first bite of that sugar-coated billowy nugget of fried dough.

While technically not Cajun, “beignet” is a french term for simple fried pastry. The origins of this tasty sweet can be traced back to ancient Rome, and it has evolved into various forms.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of beignets since that first trip to Cafe du Monde, some maybe even tastier than that first one (it’s hard to tell when you’re swooning), and they remain one of my favorite sweet indulgences.

So occasionally, when you’ve been betrayed by your oven, yet you’re craving something sweet and bread-y for breakfast, and a trip to New Orleans seems like a lot of trouble (I mean I’d have to change out of my pj’s and all, maybe brush my teeth…), and the time required to make an authentic yeast-risen beignet seems like an eternity, then you make a faux version of your favorite using puff pastry.

It couldn’t be smpler.

Here’s how you do it.

Puff Pastry Beignets

Ingredients:

One sheet puff pastry

about 3-4 cups vegetable or canola oil

powdered sugar

Directions

Here’s all it takes, really.

1.Heat about 3-4 cups of oil (vegetable or canola) over med-high heat.

2. Remove a puff pastry sheet from the freezer. Let it thaw long enough that you can easily unfold the sheet. Cut it into approximately 12 squares.

3. While the dough is still pretty cold drop a few at a time in the hot oil and fry (turning to make sure it cooks evenly) until golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

**Friendly warning- if you let the dough get too warm before frying, all kinds of weird things will happen- the layers of the pastry literally fall apart and make a mess. Ditto if your oil is not hot enough!

Enjoy!!

Mandarin Orange Cake

Do you ever do things just to spite yourself? I know that sounds awful and very un-self-healthy and all, but really.

Let’s say you’ve been working outside at the farm fixing fence all morning. Well, to be more clear, you have handed things to the main fence-fixer and gotten yourself wrapped up in the darn wire innumerable times. Oh, and you’re having a great time because freezing wind and barbed wire are two of your very favorite things. But you feel like you’re incredibly helpful. Practically professional.

And people are coming to your house later that night for dinner- not the farm house, but your other house, where you’re currently not. You’ll get back there in a few hours and pull together the already planned entree and bread (your awesome friends are bringing all the sides!) and then you’ll make the dessert.

Not a problem.

And further, if you have a lick of sense you won’t make a layer cake. Because 1) time, and 2) you are cursed with an inability to make a layer cake look right. You have suffered from this malady for years, but your catchy mantra is: THE NEXT TIME IT WILL WORK OUT GREAT!

Never mind that you will be crunched for time. No, never you mind. You will make a layer cake. You will.

So you do.

And that NEXT TIME WORKING OUT GREAT thing doesn’t really work out too great after all.

So what do you end up with? A sliding, uneven, gooey Mandarin Orange Cake that tastes remarkably awesome.

It would never be the beauty queen, but it might just be your best friend forever.

And if unlike me, you are blessed with a modicum of spatial awareness, a bit of unclumsiness, and an eye for scale? Yours might look just as good as it tastes.

I salute you.

Mandarin Orange Cake

This is so easy!

Ingredients: (for cake)

One Butter Recipe Yellow cake mix

4 eggs

1/2 c. oil (I used Canola)

1 (15 oz.) can Mandarin Oranges (drained of about 1/2 of the juice)

Ingredients: (for icing)

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/2 c. heavy cream

8-10 oz. powdered sugar

the juice of 1/2 lemon

lemon zest (about 2 tsp.)

1/2 of a 3.4 oz pkg. vanilla instant pudding

1 (15 oz.) can crushed pineapple (completely drained)

Directions

Beat the cake mix, eggs and oil together on medium high until well blended. Then using a spatula, gently stir in (by hand) the Mandarin oranges. Divide the batter into 3 greased and floured cake pans.

Bake at 350 for just about 20 minutes- be careful, they bake pretty fast!

Cool the layers, then remove from pans, place on waxed paper on a sheet pan and place in fridge (or freezer) to chill.

To make the icing, mix together all ingredients, beating on high to get the most volume. You may need to add more powdered sugar to get the right consistency.

Assemble the cake. If you’re fancy, you can trim the tops off the layers to make the cake more even, and if you’re not, well, you’re me…

Mom’s Cookie Bars

Chances are you have a favorite treat from your childhood- something that brings to mind fond memories of the person who made it, or simply transports you back to that glorious time when food magically appeared in your kitchen requiring absolutely no planning, shopping, cooking, or spending on your part.

These are that treat for me. My Mom made these every year around Christmas and then only by “Special” request for the rest of the year.

It’s a pun. Just wait.

We called them Cookie Bars, and I thought we were OH SO FANCY because while all my other friends enjoyed the occasional homemade Rice Crispy Treat, these Cookie Bars were made with Special K cereal. (See. The pun.)

In my kid mind, Special K was an adult cereal (not because it required an ID to buy it, but because it lacked all the sugar, colors and other trappings of a kid-friendly cereal).

And honestly, lest you begin to hope that these are a “healthier” Cookie Bar, let me just say this:

  1. They’re not.
  2. and…
  3. They’re delicious.

Really. If you’ve never had these you’re missing out. They’re super easy, and believe me when I say you’ll love them.

I finish mine with just a sprinkle of coarse Sea Salt. After all, we’re all just big kids, and it’s great to feel fancy every once in a while.

Enjoy!

Mom’s Cookie Bars

1 cupgranulated sugar
1 cupkaro syrup
1 (12 ounce) jarcrunchy peanut butter
6 cupsSpecial K cereal
1 (6 ounce) packagesemi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (12 ounce) packagebutterscotch chips

In a large Dutch oven melt together the sugar, karo, and peanut butter. Cook unil the sugar crystals are dissolved and the mixture just almost boils. Pour in the cereal and mix until combined. Press the mixture (careful! it’s really hot!) into a buttered 13×9 pan and press until even.

Melt the chocolate chips and the butterscotch chips in a double boiler or in the microwave. When they are melty and smooth pour over cereal mixture, smooth with a spoon and let cool.

Sprinkle with the coarse sea salt (only if you want to feel sophisticated) and cut into bars.