Nap Time and Pound Cake

Like many soon-to-be new moms, I had lots of plans for my maternity leave.  Days of snuggling with our little bundle, then while he napped, I would have a chance to organize the linen closet, finish painting our bathroom, put together his fabulous baby book, and most certainly prepare delicious meals and bake oodles of goodies.  Yes, these 10-12 weeks would be just like a Lifetime movie.  Right?  Right…
During the first few weeks, I was thankful and blessed to have meals we’d frozen ahead, and wonderful friends and neighbors who kindly brought over food for us as well.  The linen closet remains a disaster.  Our bathroom will never be finished (to be fair, it’s been in this state of limbo for about 10 months).  Much like showering daily, I didn’t actually begin cooking until the near the end of week two.
Once I had gotten the hang of cooking in stages (starting dinner at 4pm, knowing when Miles would probably be up to eat next, so I could manage to get dinner on the table at a somewhat reasonable time) I decided to attempt baking.
Knowing that my sweet little boy can have a somewhat unpredictable sleeping/feeding schedule when he hits a growth spurt, I thought that cookies would be a fairly safe choice for my first baking attempt post-baby.  Seems easy enough; mix a few ingredients, pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes a batch.  Simple.  Until I realized that baking four or five batches of cookies (or attempting to) actually belongs on the “ways to wake up your newborn” list.  Putting cookies in the oven inevitably calls for a diaper change, feeding, or general fussy time.  And so, you’ll spend the next hour or two running around like a crazed woman: checking the oven, checking diapers, burping a baby, yelling at the dog (why does she follow us everywhere?!)  And you’ll probably burn your cookies, too.  It will not be the relaxing baking experience you had imagined.
The key to baking and parenting a newborn simultaneously (besides waiting until you’re husband is home so you can have a few glasses of wine while baking…) is to choose a baked good that requires a longer baking time; and something you only need to remove from the oven once.  Preferably while baby is sleeping.  I know this for a fact, after my attempts to remove dinner while hauling Miles around the BabyBjorn ended with a pulled back muscle (but the kid didn’t fall in the oven, so we’ll call that a win). 
My two favorite desserts with lengthy bake times and little follow-up needed once popped in the oven are cheesecake and pound cake.  I have yet to bake a cheesecake while on leave; those require more prep, so we’ll save that for week eight.  But a pound cake is a great choice…pretty simple to throw together, and one of those “no fail” recipes that everyone loves.
Sour Cream Pound Cake
3 cups cake flower, plus a little extra for flouring the pan
2 ½ cups white sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, softened
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 oz. sour cream
*You’ll also need a bundt pan.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Butter your bundt pan, then sprinkle with flour and set aside.  Sift together all dry ingredients and set aside.  On medium speed, cream your butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, then add your vanilla extract.  Sift half of your dry mixture over your butter and egg mixture, then gently fold with a spatula.  Add your sour cream, and continue stirring gently.  Add the remaining dry mixture, stirring until the flour is completely incorporated.  Pour batter into your bundt pan, then gently tap on the counter to remove air bubbles.  Bake for one hour, or until the top is golden brown and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes on a rack before removing.
Tip for removing your cake: once flipped onto your plate or dish, gently tap the bottom of the bundt pan with a spoon or knife handle before lifting.
Marbled Sour Cream Pound Cake: I love a good marbled pound cake, and that’s easy to make with this recipe.  Melt four or five semi-sweet chocolate baking squares in a double boiler (or in the microwave; just set your power to medium, and stir every 30 seconds until melted).  Take about half the cake batter, and in a separate bowl, combine it with the chocolate.  Alternate vanilla and chocolate cake batter in your bundt pan, swirl with a butter knife, bake as usual.
We like to serve our pound cake with fresh berries, and a decent amount of Reddi Whip or sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.
While I cannot become the Super Suzy Homemaker I’d envisioned while on leave, I have found that enjoying every minute that I can with Miles far trumps testing out a fancy new recipe or organizing towels by size and color (although I have managed to put together an impressive baby book; that was very important to us, as Miles will need to know all about the first time he peed on me, and I’ll need to show all his embarrassing bathtub photos to his future girlfriend).   

In reality, just getting a hot meal on the table is accomplishment enough in a hectic day.  Maternity leave has given me a newfound respect for stay at home moms…you ladies are forces to be reckoned with, for sure.  Happy baking!

Meatless Mondays

Over the past 9+ years, I’ve found ways to improve the way we eat in the Coke House.  I’ve replaced ground beef with ground turkey,white pasta with whole wheat pasta, white bread with whole grain, and white potatoes with sweet potatoes.  I add vegetables to things like my turkey meat loaf, to sneak in extra servings of those wonderful vitamins and minerals.  We don’t buy potato chips, candy or cookies; we don’t drink soda or caffeine (save for my daily cup of joe), and I no longer sweeten our iced tea.  Instead of ice cream, it’s frozen yogurt…and instead of regular, fruit on the bottom yogurt, it’s Greek.
Right now, you’re probably thinking there’s no possible way I could make this any more fun than it already is.  Well, guess what you’ve forgotten about?
That’s right…nearly every Monday, dinner is meat-free.  And, because it’s been such a success (seriously), I thought I’d share two of my all-time fave Meatless Monday recipes with you.  Both are delicious, easy to prepare, and will leave you with enough leftovers for a second meal.  Perfect, right?
Before I share these coveted recipes, let me preface with this statement: we are not vegan, vegetarian, or ovo-lacto-whateverarians.  This is one meal a week with no meat.  Trust me; if Publix puts New York strips on sale, I’m going to by an 18oz. package and we’re going to spend Saturday night eating delicious, grilled cow flesh, which I’ll most likely pair with a giant baked potato loaded with butter, Colby Jack cheese, sour cream and bacon bits.  Oh, and a salad.  You see, it’s okay to splurge…if it’s just that, an occasional treat.  Besides, Meatless Monday makes it totally okay for me to have a steak, or make a pizza, or eat an Oreo Brownie Explosion Sundae from Dairy Queen over the weekend.
The Cokes could never, ever, ever give up meat entirely.  As my wise cousin Wally once said, “If God didn’t want us to eat cows, why would He make them so delicious?!”  And so, with that in mind, here are my top two meatless meals…enjoy!
Roasted Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
One 3lb.+ spaghetti squash
2+ cups tomato sauce
Ricotta cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
*Yes, I realize there are missing “measurements” in my ingredients.  I don’t conform to The Man’s request of tablespoons and cups all the time.

Directions: Roast your spaghetti squash.  Oh, how do you do that, you ask?  Cut the squash in half lengthwise (tip: it’ll be really hilarious and challenging the first time you try it) brush it with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then roast it face up at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.  Once your squash is roasted, let it cool a few minutes, then remove the flesh with a fork.  You’ll find the flesh pulls apart in spaghetti-like strings; hence the name.
In an 8×8 baking dish, place your first layer of spaghetti squash.  Pour some tomato sauce over it, sprinkle on some mozzarella cheese, dollop some ricotta, and repeat the process one more time.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and voila – dinner is served!  
Mozzarella: I buy Sargento whole milk mozzarella in the block, because it’s gooey and delicious.  But you can use pre-shredded out of a bag, too.  I normally shred half the block (16oz.) and end up shredding more, to completely cover the top of the lasagna.  I also top the lasagna with some chopped, fresh parsley.
Sauce: If I haven’t had time to make my own sauce (see earlier post on sauces), I buy Barilla Arrabiatta.  It’s a spicy marinara, and it’s awesome in this dish.  It lends well to the sweetness of the spaghetti squash.  If I’m using jarred sauce, I’ll use the entire jar.
Polenta and Bean Casserole
This is a modified Weight Watchers recipe.
One can black beans, rinsed and drained
One can Ro-Tel tomatoes
16 oz. frozen corn kernals
16 oz. frozen lima beans
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 zucchini squash, chopped
1 cup salsa
Chili Powder
Ground Cumin
16 oz. tube polenta, sliced (available in produce section)
Shredded cheese (we prefer Colby Jack)
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients except the polenta and cheese in a large Dutch oven, bringing to a low boil.  Reduce heat to low, and simmer while covered 10 minutes.  Transfer to a large baking dish (9×13 pan) then arrange polenta slices on top.  Bake 25 minutes; remove, sprinkle with cheese, bake an additional 3 minutes.  Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.
We add sour cream and chopped green onion to ours.  It’s like a Tex-Mex Bean Fiesta in a bowl!  Really yummy, easy to put together, and perfect for a busy weeknight. 

Explaining Cobbler to a Yankee

Of all the desserts I love – and trust me, there are A LOT of them – I must admit, peach cobbler holds a special place in my heart.  Cobbler is one of those “any season” desserts, since you can use just about any fruit that’s in season, but there’s nothing quite like peach cobbler.  For me, it embodies the sweet, spiced, warm memories of Fall…there wasn’t a Thanksgiving that my mom didn’t make her famous peach cobbler.  Warm out of the oven with a heaping scoop of vanilla bean ice cream…it was heavenly!

I remember the first time I made a peach cobbler for my husband (the Yankee).  First, I tried to explain what a cobbler was.  Much to my chagrin, Evan’s response was something along the lines of, “So it’s like an upside down pie?”  Now, that sentence would make any Southern girl clutch her pearls…an upside-down pie?!  No, honey.  A cobbler is nothing like a pie.  But bless your Yankee heart, sometimes we forget you don’t have biscuits “up north”, and our Southern ways can be confusing.  Let me explain…
My husband has been an eager taste-tester for Southern cooking from the day we met.  The first time I had him over for dinner, I fried porkchops.  Don’t you know you’re someone special if you’re getting bone-in, double-dredged fried porkchops?  Evan sat at the table, and I proudly placed the heaping plate of comfort in front of him…and the first words out of his mouth were, “I didn’t know you could FRY a porkchop!”  Heaven help him, I knew then that we had a looong way to go.
About six months after that, we stopped by his parent’s house one afternoon.  Evan hadn’t seen them much over those six months, but I’ll tell you that when we first started dating, he weighed 135 pounds soaking wet. But again, that was before he met me.  The first words out of his mother’s mouth that afternoon were, “What have you done to my son?!”  And my simple reply?  “Why, I fed him of course.”  Again, those Yankees are unfamiliar with our Southern ways!
Nine plus years and 30 pounds later…Evan is quite the fan of the cobbler.  And so, without further ado, I’m going to share my famous peach cobbler recipe.  Enjoy!
Filling Ingredients
8 large peaches, cut into wedges (I don’t peel mine)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Spices as you like.  I use cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a dash of cloves.  Or, if I’m especially lazy, just use pumpkin pie spice (shhh…that’s one of my lazy baker secrets).
Biscuit Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick cold, unsalted butter, chopped into pieces
1/4 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss all filling ingredients together in a large bowl, then pour into a two quart casserole dish and bake for 10 minutes.  While the filling is baking, blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Mix in the butter with your fingers, until mixture is crumbly.  Stir in boiling water until just combined.  When filling is done, remove from oven and top with spoonfuls of your biscuit topping (it will spread as it bakes).  Pop in the over for another 25-30 minutes, or until your crust is golden brown.
Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or all by itself.  Right out of the casserole dish, if you’re like me… 🙂
Happy baking!

Bakin’ with Bacon

The title of this post should provide an instant indication of how awesome these recipes will be…because they happen to include a special guest appearance by my all-time favorite breakfast meat: BACON.  Well, unless we’re talking biscuits and gravy, then my favorite breakfast meat becomes sausage.  But, unlike its crumbly (yet delicious) step-sibling of breakfast, bacon has two of the qualities I find important in a dessert: salt and crunch.
People have mixed responses to bacon infused desserts.  Some are skeptical; others are curious, and a good handful know that if there’s one way to improve upon anything, it’s to add bacon.  Think about it…your tomato and mayonnaise sandwich seems a little dull, right?  Add bacon.  Your salad just doesn’t have nearly enough protein or crunch?  Bacon would go nicely.  Maple donut seems a bit bland?  Crumble some bacon on top, and you’ve got a convenient breakfast ring of pancakes, syrup and bacon – to go!  The porky possibilities are endless.
A few weeks ago, we finally took the plunge and had our first bacon baking experience: Maple Bacon Bourbon Cupcakes.  They were just as delicious and sinfully decadent as you’re imagining.  A simple (from scratch) chocolate cupcake topped with a maple bourbon frosting, with bacon crumbles on top.  We also added bacon and bacon drippings to the batter prior to baking.  The result was a Kentucky Derby breakfast brunch in one sweet little cupcake.
Be still, my heart!  And arteries.  And cholesterol.

Most recently, we decided to go the brownie route.  Brownies are, quite possibly, my favorite baked good.  There’s nothing quite like a gooey, warm, chocolatey, fattening hunk of brownie.  And what could possibly be done to improve upon one of the oven’s most perfect desserts than bacon?
Behold…the Caramel Bacon Brownie!
(insert delicious photo here…)
While I wish I’d managed to snap a photo of the entire pan, they just didn’t last long enough.  So, imagine a delicous brownie with swirls of caramel, infused with bacon.  Mmmm.
In fact, moments before I wrote this post, I found myself picking the crumbs of caramel, bacon and chocolate out of the brownie pan.   Anyone ever see the episode of Sex and the City, where Miranda can’t stop eating the chocolate cake?  She goes as far as to throw the entire chocolate cake in the garbage can, in an effort to banish the unwanted calories.  A few minutes later, she sneaks back into the kitchen, and takes a hunk of cake out of the garbage can.  Then, in utter disgust, she grabs a bottle of Dawn dish soap, squirts it all over the cake and slams the lid to the garbage can.  She then calls Carrie to revel in the embarassment of eating “garbage can cake.”  Yes, folks…that’s where I was headed moments ago…garbage can cake territory.
Personally, the brownies were better than the cupcakes, so that’s the recipe I’m sharing with you today.  I hope your physician thanks me later…
Caramel Bacon Brownies

Brownie Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
8 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional, but delicious)
Bacon Caramel Ingredients:
One package maple bacon, fried crisp (yes, fried)
6 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
Directions: First, we need to make the caramel…it needs some time to cool before getting plopped into all that brownie goodness.  Fry two strips of bacon in a medium non-stick saucepan, then remove (you can fry the rest in a larger frying pan, or if you prefer, bake it at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes – DO NOT MICROWAVE).  Once you’ve removed the bacon, add your heavy cream (to the bacon drippings), then set aside to cool.  In a medium sautee pan, melt the sugar over medium-high heat.  When the sugar has melted and turned an amber color, and the butter and heavy cream mixture.  Stir until butter has melted, then set aside to cool.  Crumble the rest of your bacon, and set aside.
Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler (or microwaveable bowl), then transfer to a large bowl and add the cocoa powder, mixing well.  Add the eggs, sugar, vanilla (and almond extract, if using), and then the flour.  Stir until combined.
In a greased and floured 8×8 pan (hint: just use Baker’s Joy), pour half the brownie batter.  Drop spoonfulls of the caramel, then a few sprinkles of the chopped bacon.  Add the remaining batter, drop the remaining caramel, and sprinkle the remaining bacon.  Swirl with a knife.
Bake for 35-45 minutes (mine took the full 45 and were still gooey and soft).  Caramel will not seem set when brownies are removed from oven; it will firm up a bit after cooling for about an hour.
These are a perfect blend of sweet, salty and rich chocolate…and definitely “eat with a fork” brownies.