Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Light My Fire

Oh Man!!!! Do you feel that!? The sun is out! The smell of fresh cut grass is in the air! Sprinklers are filled with children and sidewalks are covered in multicolored chalk! Yes, ladies and gentlemen: summer is here. And along with summer comes grilling and bikinis. And since no one wants to see me put on a bikini, lets talk about what to put on the grill. Sound good to you? AW will thank you. My children will thank you. And my neighbors will thank you.
     First we'll chat about the method. Now, there is a great debate between charcoal and gas. "Taste the meat and not the heat," is what my brother, a proponent of propane, says. I personally would rather cook on charcoal. I enjoy the smells and smokey flavors that get added to the food. It's like adding extra seasoning to your food. However you choose to grill is up to you but there are few things to keep in mind: Be patient, don't press or poke, be safe, and don't be intimidated.
     Be patient: Don't rush things on the grill. If the grill is too hot you'll burn your food and end up at McDonald's. If you pull the food too soon, you may end up eating undercooked food. Just be patient and keep an eye on things. If you're using charcoal, let your coals get a layer of grey ash on them before you start cooking. If using gas, preheat the grill for an even temperature. Leave the lid closed unless you are flipping or checking for doneness. Follow recipes carefully until you become more familiar with which method is best for that particular dish. Once you are comfortable preparing different cuts of meats and poultry, feel free to experiment with fish, vegetables and fruits.
     Don't press or poke: We've all seen it and most of us have even done it. We want that burger now, so we take our spatula and press down on that burger and get the big flare up that causes oohs, aahs and second degree burns to your face. That flare up was caused by all the flavorful juices you just squeezed out of your food. Spatulas are made for flipping, not pressing. When you press your food, you dry out your food. Same goes for poking. When you jab your steak or chicken with a fork,  you leave holes in it for the juices to escape. Use tongs to turn your whole pieces of meat. The only time you should poke the food is when using an instant read thermometer to check for doneness.
     Be safe:  Nothing ruins a good cookout like a trip to the ER. Make sure you move your grill far enough away from your house so that the "one in million" ember doesn't light your house up. Also, while smoke is good to torment the neighbors, it may not be good for it to all go in your house so make sure nearby windows are closed. Make sure you use mitts and long handled grill tools to protect your hands from the heat. Be especially careful with propane. Many a people, including myself, have lost eye brows, eye lashes and even some hair due to a build up of gas in the grill while trying to light it. Keep a spray bottle handy with water in it (or a beer in your non-spatula hand) for small flare ups and perhaps an extinguisher for larger ones. One more thing: Don't wear flip flops or sandals while cooking on a grill. Nothing sucks more than dropping a hot coal or even hot food on the tops of your feet. Yes, I've done that, too.
     Don't be intimidated: If you spend too much time worrying about ruining the burgers or burning the chicken, you're going to get so worked up that you end up doing both. Grilling is super simple. There are so many TV shows that try to make it way too complicated. BBQing can be complicated because of methods, timing, materials, using whole sides of beef, etc. but grilling in the back yard can be pretty easy. Just relax and keep an eye on your food but you don't have to be overbearing like a dad with a teenager.
     So just take your time, don't molest the meat, be safe, and relax and everything should be just fine.
     Now, my "go-to" grill favorites are ribs and burgers. There are different ways to make ribs that usually depend on geography. There is Carolina style, Memphis style, Kansas City style, and you know that Texas is there, too. There's dry ribs (just a spice rub and maybe a basting spray) and wet ribs (with a lot or a little BBQ sauce). I personally like my ribs dry with my homemade spice rub and sauce on the side. The natural flavor of the meat enhanced with the rub hits the palette just right. I will never turn down "wet" ribs but if I make them, they're dry.
     Now lets briefly talk about another mainstay to the back yard grill: burgers. Pretty simple, right? Go to the frozen food section and grab a pack of beef bricks and toss them on the grill, right? Rhetorical question, Farley. Make them yourself. It's easy and satisfying. Fresh beef tastes better than "previously-frozen-for-God-knows-how-long" patties. It's also usually cheaper to make your own as well. They can be as simple as salt, pepper and bread crumbs or an egg (to hold it together) or you can add all kinds of stuff from apples and sausage to Worcestershire.Once you make a good burger in your kitchen, you'll never buy them again.
     So (finally) I present to you my famous ribs and burgers just in time for the Fourth of July. I hope you enjoy the food you eat and the company you keep. Please be safe this holiday week(end), put aside differences, celebrate the independence of this great country, and have a drink for those that are protecting it. Now I'm off to the store for charcoal and a new banana hammock. For some reason AW keeps hiding mine.

Shep's Famous Ribs
2 Rib Racks (full or baby back)
1 Recipe Dry Rub

Dry Rub:
2 Tbs Onion Powder
2 Tbs Garlic Powder
2 Tbs Dried Thyme
2 Tbs Oregano
2 Tbs Paprika
2 Tbs Coriander
2 Tbs Seasoning Salt
1/2 Tbs Cayenne
1/2 Tbs Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and store in an air tight container. It'll stay fresh for about 4-6 months.
Rubbed and ready to grill

Lay your ribs out on a board or counter top and massage a generous amount of rub onto both sides,
ensuring that you get into all the cervices. Place your ribs bone side down on a grill at medium heat (about 350) set up for indirect cooking.* After about 20 minutes turn the ribs over. Wait 15 minutes and check for doneness with an instant read thermometer. It should read 160 when it's time to pull them from the grill. Cover them loosely with foil and let rest for 15 minutes. Make sure you use a sturdy knife and separate the ribs by cutting between the bone. Serve as is or with sauce on the side.
After the resting period.

*Medium heat is easy on a gas grill but on a charcoal grill you can get an oven thermometer and put it inside the grill. Indirect cooking on a gas grill means turning off the center burner and just using heat from the outside burners. For charcoal grills, make two piles of briquettes when first putting them in the grill. One pile on the right and one to the left leaving the center empty. Don't put the ribs directly on the heat source.

Ranch Onion Burgers
3 lbs Ground Beef (80/20 fat ratio)
1 packet Ranch Dressing Seasoning
1 packet Lipton Beefy Onion Soup Mix
1 packet Italian Dressing Seasoning
1/3 Cup Bacon Pieces
2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 Eggs
3/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
12 Slices Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (optional)
Ready to mix

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand. Once fully combined, Using your hands, loosely form eight patties.  Do not overwork the meat, otherwise the burgers will turn out tough.  Try to make your patties a little bit larger than your bun as they will tend to shrink while cooking. Once formed, make a dent with your thumb in the center to prevent the burger from plumping in the center. Cook over medium high heat. Your want to sear the meat and keep those juices inside. About 4 minutes on one side and 3 on the other for medium/medium rare. Remove from grill and let rest 2-3 minutes under tented foil. While meat the is resting, lightly butter your buns and place butter side down on the grill for 45-90 seconds. Move patty to toasted bun and top with cheddar cheese. Continue to top with whatever toppings you choose. I suggest green leaf lettuce, beef steak tomato, red onion, horseradish mustard, and mayo but the possibilities are endless.
Ready to eat!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The request line is open....

     So for this week I fulfilled a couple of requests. The first request was from one of my friends for a special dessert that I've made in the past. After I made the dessert and my awesome wife (AW) posted it on Facebook and I was asked if the dessert could be featured in an upcoming blog. So let me thank Ali for asking for dessert and Cindi for letting me know that people actually read this.
     But I guess the original request came from AW about a year ago. I was making pizza for everyone one night when she asked if I could make a dessert pizza similar to what the pizza chains offer. After some thought I decided that I didn't really like any of those offerings. No matter how much brown sugar, butter, chocolate, or cinnamon they would put on the dessert, it was still just all that stuff piled onto a hunk of unseasoned, plain pizza dough. A sweet beginning with a lame finish. So the first step was going to be creating a sweet crust that would stand up to toppings and taste buds.
     The next item on the agenda is what to put on it. That is when AW stepped in again with inspiration. She suggested that since I wasn't making a dessert pizza that we make S'mores. The light bulb lit up like it was being powered by the Flux Capacitor! A S'mores pizza! S'mores are the perfect combination of flavors and texture. Also, I don't think I've ever heard someone who is offered a S'mores (or would it be S'more?) respond with "Eww! I hate S'mores." Now I just had to figure out how to put it together.
     Staying with the pizza theme I decided to substitute tomato sauce for chocolate sauce and cheese for marshmallows. For additional toppings maybe some smashed up graham crackers for flavor and some crunch. Then I set to work trying to figure out the crust.
     The first version was my standard dough with some sugar, butter, and crushed up graham crackers but it was too bland. The second attempt was much like a cheesecake crust but it didn't hold together like a slice of pizza as I had hoped. I figured my third attempt had better be "The One" or else my family would slip into a sugar coma from which there would be no escape.
     Then once again AW stepped in to remind me that S'mores are made like a sandwich so if I have graham crackers on top, I should have graham crackers on the bottom. I told her about the cheesecake type crust and she said, "How about a cookie?" 1.21 jigawatts of power lit up the bulb this time. So with a new direction, I started to experiment with different cookie recipes and finally found the perfect cookie for the base of the S'mores pizza.
     So after much trial and error (if the byproduct of the error is cookies, is it really an error?) I present to you "Shep's Fantabulous S'mores Pizza". Thanks for reading and enjoy!


After re-reading this I promise not to watch Back to The Future ever again before writing a blog.

After the cookie was done but before toasting the marshmallows

2 Cups graham cracker crumbs (about a package and a half)
1 1/2 Cups flour
1  tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Cup butter, softened
3/4 Cup sugar
3/4 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 Bag mini marshmallows
1 Bag milk chocolate chips
1 Cup heavy cream
Extra graham crackers for topping, broken into chunks.

Cookie Crust
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Combine graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, sugar and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract; add flour mixture in batches until combined. Spoon entire batch onto a 16 inch greased pizza pan (one without holes in it) and spread out evenly, leaving approximately an inch around the edges for expansion during cooking. Bake for 20 minutes* and promptly remove from the oven and set to the side to cool slightly. 

Chocolate Sauce
Pour the milk chocolate chips into a heat safe bowl. In a medium sauce pan, heat heavy cream until just to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid scorching the cream. Once heated, pour over milk chocolate chips and wisk until you have a smooth texture. Set aside to cool slightly

By now the cookie should be cool enough to handle. About an inch or so from the edge of the cookie  press down to make kind of a moat to prevent the chocolate from spilling over the sides. You can either use a measuring cup to spread the chocolate sauce or pour it directly from the pot onto the cookie. Reserve a bit for topping. Pour the marshmallows onto the chocolate while trying to spread them as evenly as possible. Top it with some broken graham crackers and drizzle some left over chocolate sauce on top. Place in the middle of an oven under a broiler. Watch carefully so as not to scorch the graham crackers or burn the marshmallows (I don't even close the door. I just watch it until nice and toasted). Once it's toasted to your satisfaction, remove it and serve warm** with a side of my personal favorite, homemade vanilla ice cream.

So good you'd fight your Grandma for a piece!
* 20 minutes is an approximate time. Final cooking time will depend on your individual oven and type of pan you use.
** A tip when using a pizza cutter to cut the pizza while warm is to rub the blade with butter. That way the melted marshmallows won't stick to the pizza cutter and make a mess of things.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'll make my own, thanks.

     Have you ever walked through a grocery store and saw something that, just by name alone, should be utterly satisfying. Example: chicken and dumplings. Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and satisfied? While doing the monthly pilgrimage to the local grocery store I had one those experiences.
     I was traveling down the soup isle and saw a large, blue can of soup labeled "Chicken and Dumplings". Now, I know I should know better than to expect the fond memories of my Gramma Marshal's chicken and dumplings to be found in a can but I couldn't stop myself. I had an immeasurable craving for those dumplings. The firm yet chewy texture. The amazing homemade broth. The massive chunks of chicken and vegetables. Like a Homer Simpson kinda moment. So I lifted The Can and gently placed it right next to the eggs and bread at the top of the cart so it could be protected. While at the checkout, and against the bagger's advice, I asked that The Can be bagged with the bread so it would receive special treatment. When I arrived home, I brought The Can into house, retrieved it from the bag and tossed aside my freshly smashed bread.
     I opened The Can.
     I poured the contents into my soup pot.
     I saw....something not completely right. The dumplings were small. Like "the size of an almond" small. "Well," I thought to myself. "Maybe they'll expand as they cook."
     Also, the smell was off. Instead of the aroma of chicken, celery, carrots, and onions, I smelled....nothing with a touch of metallic something. "Maybe that will right itself during cooking as well," I hoped.
     Once heated to just the right temperature, I poured the concoction into a bowl and sat down to enjoy it. While the dumplings had not gotten any bigger the smell had gotten significantly better. I was thinking that maybe this will be OK after all. I spooned that first bite up, closed my eyes, emptied the spoon on to my waiting taste buds, and waited for greatness.
     And waited....
     And waited some more.
     There was no greatness to be found. What was found was mushy vegetables, flavorless broth, stringy particles of what may or may not have been chicken, and bland bits of dough that I can assume to be a poor attempt at dumplings.
     So instead of awesomeness, I managed to locate feelings of emptiness and disappointment. But those feelings passed quickly. I was now determined to right this wrong. I was motivated. I was dedicated. I was...hungry. And I wanted chicken and dumplings.
     I gathered all my ingredients, found my grandma's recipe and got started. What came out of that pot at the end of the cooking process can only be described as what I like to call "Awesome Sauce". Even Sean liked it! So my friends: I present to you a recipe for chicken and dumplings. It'll warm you up on a chilly day and satisfy you any other day. Also, it's guaranteed not to make you question your shopping decisions. Enjoy.

Photo by Heidi Shepherd

Ingredients and directions

2-2 1/2 lbs Chicken parts (You can use boneless, skinless but whole pieces will add a deeper flavor)
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 bunch thyme
1 bay leaf 

 1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Large onion, chopped
2 Carrots, peeled and sliced

1 Cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
3 Cloves finely chopped garlic



2 Cups all-purpose flour  
1 Tbs baking powder
1 Cup heavy cream
2 Tbs salted butter
1 tsp dried parsley leaves 

1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a very large saucepan or Dutch oven, add chicken, chicken broth, thyme, and bay leaf to cover. Turn on heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. *Note: You can poach the chicken on a low simmer and start with cold stock so the chicken cooks evenly or I like to throw it all in a crock pot so it cooks low and slow in its' own juices. Once the chicken is cooked, transfer to a separate dish and let cool. Reserve broth and toss out the thyme and bay leaf. Shred the chicken once it has cooled. Use your hands or a fork and make sure to get all the meat off the bone. Discard the skin and bones.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and pepper, to taste into a large bowl. In a medium saucepan, bring heavy cream, butter and herbs to a low simmer then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until well combined. Use your hands to form the dough into dumplings and set to the side. 

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add oil. Once oil is hot, add onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Saute until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add reserved broth to Dutch oven with vegetables and add the chicken. Bring to a low simmer. Add dumplings one at a time into the simmering soup. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste, if necessary.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Drunken Dessert

     So, a couple of weeks ago I showed you guys a (mostly) sugar free Tres Leche cake. Now we go to the opposite end of the spectrum. And when I say “you guys” I mean all six of you that actually read this.

     While I was in the Army, I was privileged enough to visit several different parts of our great country. While some places made me long for the Great North West, I could actually see myself setting up a homestead in other. One of those potential roosting spots was Kentucky. For those of you that are unaware, Kentucky is full of history, attractions, world class horse racing, and great food. It also happens to be the birthplace of bourbon.

      Now, I love bourbon. I love bourbon straight, over ice, or with Vanilla Coke. I love bourbon in my bread pudding, in my BBQ sauce and in my apple cider. A good bourbon on a warm spring day conjures thoughts of southern hospitality and images of wrap-around porches with a rocking chair. And what goes well with bourbon while you're sitting in that rocking chair and waving to your neighbor? Roasted pecans. Whether you call them “pee-cans”, “p-cahns”, or even “pee-cahns” they pair well with bourbon or just a handful by themselves.

     So, now we know I love bourbon, pecans and, as seen in my previous blog postings, cake. So how do we put this all together into one sweet, mouthwatering treat? I think Bourbon Pecan Cupcakes with Bourbon Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting will do it just right. Also, after I made these they looked rather plain so I added a pecan brickle for a garnish. Now, believe it or not, a brickle is different from a brittle. Some will say they are the same but brickle is not heated as high as brittle and I think it as a lighter and airier texture as well.
     So strap on the apron and hand your keys over to someone in the living room because we're baking with bourbon this time and who knows, some of it might even make it to the cupcakes. Enjoy!
Photo by Heidi Shepherd
Ingredients and Directions:
1/4 Cup shortening
1/4 Cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 Cup light brown sugar
3 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 Cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1/4 Cup bourbon
1 Cup chopped, toasted pecans
 Bourbon-Brown Sugar Buttercream:
1/2 Cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 Cup butter
3 Tbs bourbon
1 Cup butter, softened to room temperature
3 Cups powdered sugar
Pecan Brickle:
2 Cups chopped, toasted pecans
1 Cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 Cups packed brown sugar
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat the shortening, 1/4 Cup butter, and 1 Cup light brown sugar at medium speed in a large mixing bowl until fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Add the flour mixture in batches with the buttermilk and 1/4 cup bourbon, beginning and ending with the flour.  Stir in the pecans.  Beat the egg whites at high speed in a medium mixing bowl (metal preferably) until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold into the cake batter.  Line your cupcake pan with liners and fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full with batter.  Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let them cool for about 10 minutes and then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
2.  While cupcakes are baking, heat 1/2 Cup light brown sugar, 1/4 Cup butter, and 3 Tbs bourbon over medium heat in a heavy saucepan, whisking often, until butter melts.  Continue to cook until mixture begins to boil, then boil for one minute, whisking constantly.  Remove from heat and cool completely.
3.  In a large mixing bowl, beat 1 Cup softened butter on high speed until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the cooled brown sugar-bourbon mixture until smooth. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until smooth. I like to always double my frosting recipes so I can just smother my cupcakes with frosting.
4. Do this last part after everything else is done. If you aren't completely focused on the brickle it is very easy to burn. Sprinkle the pecans over the bottom of a well-greased cookie sheet (you can use any pan as long as it's going to be big enough and has sides so the mixture doesn't spill out). Melt the butter in a medium, heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 280 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. Pour the hot mixture over the nuts and let cool. Once completely cool, break into bite size pieces and top the cupcakes with the pieces.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


      So if you haven’t guessed, my ultimate dream is to open a restaurant. I would love it if people came from miles around just to sample my fare. To be recommended by you to your friends and by them to their friends. Have a lazy Sunday breakfast at “Shep’s Place”. Grab a quick lunch bite at “Jim’s Diner”. Maybe even a dinner with the family at “The Shepherd Family Eatery”. But then I noticed that every time my family goes out to eat everybody wants something different. Or the menu is so varied that it takes 45 minutes for us to figure out what we want to eat. Obviously I would need a niche and a simplified menu that would also serve the masses.
     I was struck with inspiration one night while making pizza for dinner. I asked my son Sean what he wanted on his pizza and I think I insulted him. “Dad, I have the same thing on my pizza every time we have pizza.” Now, this is the kid who will take about three days to decide what flavor of Blizzard he wants yet he knows exactly what he wants on his pizza.
     Everyone has their pizza. Their “go-to” pie. Whether its ham and pineapple, pepperoni with extra cheese or the folks that like mushrooms and artichokes, you know what you are getting before you even walk in the door. And everyone likes pizza. Ever heard the expression "Pizza is like Sex. Even when it's bad...its still pizza."?  So with a simple menu and a focus, I just needed a name. And now it was my wife’s turn to inspire me. “Hey Babydoll, how do you want me to cook your pizza?”
     “Um…in the cast iron like always, ” she said with a roll of the eyes. Whenever I make a deep dish pizza, I use an 11 ¾” cast iron skillet that was handed down to me from my grandfather that used it when he was a cook for the rail road in the 1930’s. It’s well seasoned and gives a pizza crust a nice even bake with just the right balance of softness and crispness. Ding! Ding! Ding! "Shep’s Skillet Pizza" was born! So now I have a menu in mind, a niche and a name. All I need now is a rich, long lost uncle to pass away and leave me a fortune so I can buy a building, equipment, supplies, hire staff, and advertise. Don’t suppose you guys know anyone looking to adopt a very lovable me do you? No? Never hurts to ask.
     So until I have a restaurant to invite you to, I figured I’d give you a pizza recipe that you may see in the not too distant future at “Shep’s Skillet Pizza.” Enjoy.

Heidi's favorite: Canadian bacon, pineapple and bacon.

2 1/2 Cups All purpose flour
1 Tbs Olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 pkg yeast
1 Cup Warm water ( about 110 deg)
1 Tbs Sugar
Corn Meal to prevent the dough from sticking to the pan
Olive Oil

Basic Pizza Sauce:
1 28oz can Crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp Salt
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1 Tbs Italian seasoning
Adjust the seasoning as you see fit for your particular taste.

Desired toppings


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, now is the time to put it in the oven.

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Combine the flour, salt and olive oil in a large mixing bowl. Add water mixture to flour and knead for 6-8 minutes
Cover and let rest in a warm place for 20-30 minutes then divide. Roll each dough ball out on a lightly floured surface to the desired size of pizza.
The Madison Seal of Approval
Sprinkle your cooking vessel (cast iron skillet, pizza pan, pizza stone [CAUTION: pizza stone will be HOT!]) with corn meal and place your rolled dough in. Poke several holes with a fork to let moisture escape from the inside of the dough during cooking. Lightly spread some olive oil on the dough to prevent the sauce from penetrating the dough and making it soggy.

Combine all the sauce ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste. Spread about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of sauce per pizza evenly over the dough. Top with one layer of cheese, then desired toppings and a bit more cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the crust.
Sean's favorite: Sausage, salami, bacon and pepperoni

 Note: With this recipe I can make a 12 inch deep dish, an 8 inch deep dish and a 14 inch thin crust.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Debunking "Satan's Sweetener"

      So I totally meant for this to be a weekly thing, and while that is still the goal it just takes a bit to get going. I figured I'd drop a few words, share a recipe and that would be it. It's a bit harder than that. For me anyways. I have a whole new respect for people who blog every week and especially those who blog everyday.
     This week's recipe is a new one for me. You see, I love sugar. Brown sugar, white sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, etc. I have always shied away from sugar free or reduced sugar recipes because of previous bad experiences with what I like to call "Satan's Sweetener" or artificial sweeteners. But something presented itself to me the other day while planning our monthly birthday potluck at work. My friend Angie is diabetic and can't have a lot of sugar. I was asked to make something with reduced sugar or sugar free. Since I want everyone to be able to enjoy the food I make, especially the desserts, I figured I'd give it a shot.
     Also the theme for this month's potluck was Mexican food. So with that theme in mind I figured a Tres Leche cake would be on the money. Light, sweet and even if you make it with sugar, it isn't alot. So this week I give you what was described by my friend Angie as "The best Tres Leche cake I've ever had."
Photo by Heidi Shepherd

Materials, ingredients and directions

Parchment Paper
Cookie sheet or platter with at least 1/2in to 1in sides
Electric mixer
Extra refrigerator space

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I like to grease my cake pans then flour them. For this recipe I used two 9 inch cake pans
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbs baking powder
4 large eggs separated
1 1/2 Cups Splenda
1/2 Cup whole milk
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 12oz can evaporated milk
3 Cups heavy cream divided
3 Tbs orange liqueur (one little airplane bottle of Grand Marnier was perfect)
2 Tbs powdered sugar
Cinnamon (optional)
Mandarin oranges (optional)

First combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.

Next, in a large (and preferably deep) mixing bowl, use an electric mixer, with a whisk attachment if you've got one, to whip the eggs whites until frothy. Gradually add the Splenda until you have stiff peaks. Proceed to put in the yolks one at a time making sure you are well blended after each yolk. Finally alternate adding the flour and whole milk until fully mixed.

Pour the batter into the waiting cake pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Flip the cake pans onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and they should come right out. Take a thick skewer (I used my instant read thermometer) and pierce holes throughout the cake.

Combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, orange liqueur and 1 Cup heavy cream in a medium bowl. Pour the milk mixture over the cake, cover it and refrigerate for at least 3 hours but preferably overnight.

All that's left is to take the remaining 2 Cups of heavy cream and 2 Tablespoons of powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Mix the ingredients together until soft peaks form. Place the whipped cream into the refrigerator until ready to spread it on the cake.

When the cakes are ready remove them from the refrigerator and place one on a platter and spread some whipped cream on it then place the second on top and go nuts with the whipped cream. Once you've covered the cake you can either garnish with cinnamon like a traditional Tres Leche cake or garnish it with mandarin oranges to help bring out the orange flavor in the milk mixture that has soaked into the cake.

I was going to have my wife take more pictures of the cake once I had garnished it with oranges and taken a slice out so I could show off the inside as well. The cake got eaten way too fast to even think about trying to save some for a photo op. Maybe I'll make another one and hide it so I can take pictures of it. In reality, I'll make another one and hide it so I don't have to share.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Anybody like cupcakes?

     So my wife and several friends have told me that I should start a blog to help get things off my chest or that I should be a chef so that I can put things in their belly. So I figured I'd start a food blog and see how things turn out.

     For my first trick I submit to you Seahawk Cup Cakes. I made these for some friends at work in honor of the NFL Draft last weekend. Plus I'm a die hard Hawks fan so I figured what the hell. Pretty easy to make and pretty freaking awesome.

Ingredients and Directions:

Preheat oven to 375

Sift together:
3 1/2 C cake flour*
1 Tbs plus 1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Combine in a separate bowl:
1 C milk
1 tsp pure vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
In another large bowl, beat until creamy:
2 sticks of butter
Gradually add:
1 2/3 C sugar
Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Add the flour mixture in batches, alternating with the milk until beating on low speed until nice and smooth.
In another large bowl** beat on medium until soft peaks form:
8 large eggs whites
3/8 tsp cream of tartar
Gradually add while beating on high speed:
1/3 C sugar
Beat until the peaks are stiff and not dry.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in about 1/3 of the whites into the batter mixture. Once combined add the rest. The next step is where the magic happens.
Stir in:
1 oz Wilton's Royal Blue gel icing color (WalMart)
2 drops Wilton's Violet gel icing color
Once it's all combined you should have a really bold blue color. It will lighten up a little during baking so if you want it darker or lighter just play with the color combination a bit.
Line your cupcake pan with paper liners and put about 1/4 cup into each one. Bake at 375 for about 22 minutes and then check them with a toothpick in the middle. If it comes out clean then your done. If not just bake them a bit more, checking every 2 minutes or so til done. Remove from oven and place on a rack to fully cool.

*If you don't have cake flour, you can make your own by sifting together 3/4 C plus Tbs of flour and 2 Tbs of corn starch for 1 C of cake flour
** If you use a chilled metal bowl, the eggs whites will stiffen quicker and have a fluffier texture
In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together:
3 C powdered sugar
1 C butter
Mix on low until blended then mix on high for about 3 minutes. Then add:
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 Tbs heavy cream
Beat on medium for about a minute and add up to 1 more Tbs of cream if needed for a smoother consistency
Now you can stir in:
2-3 drops Wilton's Black gel icing color
Like I said: I'm a Seahawks fan so I was going for a grey icing. mine actually turned a little purple so I compensated by using Duff Goldman's Cake Graffiti. Its' like silver spray paint for cake decorating. Worked like a charm. So either try for the grey frosting or just use the Cake Graffiti

Put into a heat safe bowl:
1 package white chocolate chips
Heat on the stove, stirring constantly, until almost boiling:
3/4 C heavy cream
Pour hot cream over the white chocolate chips and stir until smooth. Now you can add:
20 drops neon green food coloring
Stir in until fully incorporated.

Now that everything is done and the cupcakes are cool you can remove them from the pan. Scoop out a little bit of the center of the cup cake making a well and set it off to the side (my kids fravorite little snack). Spoon some of your neon green ganach into the well until flush with the top. Do this until all the cupcakes are full. Now just frost them with your grey or white frosting and spray them with Cake Graffiti. Here is where I put mine in the fridge for a few hours to let the ganache set up fully. Once they get to room temperature serve 'em up and enjoy. Now you have a very moist cupcake with a smooth frosting and tasty chocolate surprise in the middle. Feel free to customize them to any team color you want...except the Raiders