On S’mores and stupid, stupid ideas

So, one year on a whim, and because it was summer, I made a S’mores pie to share with my sweets-loving family. It was so well received that I decided to do it again the next year.

Since I’m doing sheet pans this year, I wanted to try something different. Pretty early in the year, well before cookout season, I Googled to ensure that sheet pan S’mores recipes abounded. No surprise, they did.

My plan was set. When we had our Crippes clan get together, I would surprise everyone — particularly my cousin Madison who raves about the S’mores pie — with sheet pan S’mores.

Sheet pan S’mores ingredients, except I think I skipped the salt.

When I finally started looking before the mini-family reunion, I of course, saw several recipes that were simply laying graham crackers onto a sheet pan, topping with Hershey’s, and a marshmallow, and calling it good. I couldn’t do that. I had to impress. So, I found something that was a little more effort. A pseudo graham cracker crust, semi-sweet chocolate chips for ease of melting, and a beautiful broil to make the mallows just right.

What an idiot.

I was nervous from the outset. Despite following the recipe — a random site I won’t link to so as not to besmirch a recipe that didn’t work for me or to discredit them where I deviated slightly from the recipe — the crust didn’t seem like it came together all that well. Oh well, I said, once it bakes, it’ll probably be better. I baked it, and it looked fine. So far, so good.

Then, I added the chips, and let them sit. They didn’t melt well. Then, I put them back in the oven to melt better and for ease of spreading. No dice. OK, use up some more mini chips from my Aunt Sue’s supply. Give up on spreading when still nothing worked.

Finally, broil the marshmallows on top. Perfection.

Cut into the monstrosity I’d created, and &#*S@%#, the crust didn’t really work after all.

The good news is that no one cared. My aunt who is a professional caterer and foodie like myself gave encouraging tips and troubleshooting advice. My cousin Maddy couldn’t have been more pleased no matter how messy, and everyone else, enjoyed them as well.

I guess it turns out that no matter how badly you mess up S’mores, they’re impossible to screw up. For that, I’m quite grateful. But next time, I’ll stick to the campfire.

OK, OK, it looks pretty good, and OK, it tastes pretty good too. But it’s even more messy than the ones made by campfire.

Here’s what I did for any adventuring souls, or those who want to figure out what I did wrong:

Ingredients

  • 1 (13.5 oz.) box graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ c. (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ t. cinnamon
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ (~12 oz.) bags semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 36 marshmallows (they make square S’mores-specific ones now!)

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, butter, cinnamon, sugar, and the two eggs. Pour and press mixture into a large, rimmed sheet pan. Bake for about 10 minutes until golden.

Spread on the chocolate chip pieces, and allow to melt. Perhaps by putting in the oven if spreading isn’t going well?

Let cool for 30 minutes or until close to ready to serve.

Heat oven to broil.

Place marshmallows on top of the chocolate, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the mallows are cooked to desired brownness, watching constantly. Serve immediately, and enjoy the mess!

Piece of (strawberry short) cake

I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but for the third week in a row, I was in search of a recipe that was easy and quick. In fact, this is the first time this year that I made this week’s recipe on the same day I posted my blog.

Like any (recovering) journalist, I live for a deadline.

Thankfully, I picked another recipe this week that not only was as simple as it seemed but came together with little effort. I needed the latter after losing an altercation with a cat that has left my right hand only partially usable.

Strawberry shortcake bars also happen to be delicious and the kind of treat that will please my in-laws as we head to St. Louis this weekend to see them.

Strawberry shortcake bars ingredients (sans flour because I keep it in a big honkin’ container because I use that much).

Everything’s coming up Christinia!

Because I’m cutting it down to the wire (again), two quick notes on this recipe:

  • It’s pretty strong on the shortcake, which I like, but it may be a bit dry for others’ tastes. If that’s not your thing, maybe cut down on the flour or add a little more whipped cream to the topping.
  • It doesn’t specifically call for it, but a stand mixer works really well for this recipe. Creaming both the cake and the topping is enough of a pain when one’s hand is healthy but it was pretty much a requirement for me this week. A hand mixer would also work, but I really appreciated saving the labor this week.
Fresh from the oven (and cooled) and it was amazing.

Here’s what I did, mostly following a recipe I found randomly online:

Ingredients

For the bars:

  • 1 c. (or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus a little more for coating the sheet pan (I used to use salted but we’re *trying* to be healthier)
  • 2 c. sugar (like I said, trying)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 5 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • ½ t. baking soda

For the topping:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream, whipped (or 8 oz Cool Whip but I like real cream, again, trying)
  • About 1 lb. strawberries, sliced

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees, and grease a large rimmed sheet pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Then, add the eggs one at a time until well incorporated. Add in vanilla and stir until combined.

In a separate large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add to the wet mixture and beat until combined. (The dough will look like cookie dough.)

Spread the mixture on the sheet pan, using greased hands to spread evenly onto the pan.

Bake shortcake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden.

Remove from oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, mix together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and remaining vanilla. Beat until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream, and chill until the bars are cool.

Spread the cream mixture on top of the shortcake, and then cover with the sliced strawberries. Eat immediately, or chill until ready to serve to in-laws, and enjoy!

Sweet simple sumptuous scones

A week late but I found the perfect “I don’t have time for this” sheet pan recipe.

The good news is it’s been another hectic week that meant I also didn’t have a lot of time to make something this week either; the bad news is, well, it’s been another hectic week. Please someone older than me tell me that life gets less stressful eventually.

Since I’m doubtful that someone will reach out to me, I’ll take solace in the fact that simple sumptuous scones exist and help make life worth living.

Lavender scone ingredients.

Lavender and lemon combine to make the perfect airy, floral, summery breakfast.

And as I might have mentioned, they’re fairly simple.

I’m not super picky when it comes to scones, and one of my favorites is Betty Crocker’s, but these had a nice fluffy texture that made it almost cake-like, while not really having more sugar than any other scone. They were a delight, and I’m absolutely sure I’ll make them again. I might even try to change it up and use different flavors, like my favorite raspberry and white chocolate chip.

Three quick notes:

  • The recipe calls for 2 sheet pans. I almost didn’t but decided to trust the recipe, especially since it’s from the the typically trustworthy Epicurious, and I’m glad I did. The scones don’t look so big but they expand, so use 2 sheet pans or bake in batches.
  • It also suggests serving with store-bought lemon curd. While lemon curd is a treat and does go well with the scones, lavender is such a subtle flavor that the lemon tends to overpower it, especially when lemon zest is already in the scones. So, use with that warning or feel free to pass if you love lavender.
  • Lavender made sound hard to come by, but my favorite spice shop Allspice in Des Moines has lavender flowers, and they ship if you can’t get to Iowa’s capital. And, if you don’t want to include them, I’m sure they’d be OK without it, if less exciting.
So delicious they help make bad days better.

Did I mention these were simple and amazing? OK, here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for light kneading
  • ¾ c. granulated sugar
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 2 t. dried lavender buds (recipe called for 1 t., but like I said, subtle; I also sprinkled just a few on top of each scone for plating purposes and for a bit more taste, but you do you)
  • 1 t. salt
  • ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 ½ sticks butter (preferably unsalted), cut into ¼-inch cubes
  • 1 c. buttermilk, plus more for brushing (2-4 T.)
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. demerara sugar, or granulated sugar, for topping
  • Lemon curd, optional and to taste

Directions

Heat oven to 425 degrees, and arrange racks on upper and lower thirds of oven. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the 3 c. flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, lavender buds, salt, and baking soda. Cut in the butter, using two knives, your fingers, or a pastry blender. Stir in the lemon zest.

Make a well in the dried ingredients and add the buttermilk and vanilla.

Stir slowly to mix. I found a fork worked really well.

Once a shaggy dough forms, turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead until the dough forms together.

Use your hands to pat into an about 10-inch by 6-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, and then cut each square into four squares. Cut each square into two triangles, so you have 16 triangles of dough.

Divide the triangles between the prepared baking sheets. Brush with the buttermilk and then sprinkle with the additional sugar.

Bake until scones are golden, about 13 to 15 minutes. Enjoy warm or at room temperature with lemon curd, if desired.

 

Getting back to my roots with a timely rhubarb pie

I had family in town this weekend, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by making a killer rhubarb pie to impress my mom and stepdad and also something that’d fit for my year of sheet pans.

Luckily, I came across a rhubarb crostata (if you didn’t know, and I didn’t, it’s basically a free-form pie) recipe from Food and Wine a few weeks ago and ripped out the recipe to make it for their impending visit.

Rhubarb crostata (pie) ingredients.

It was the perfect time for a lot of reasons, but mostly because my stepdad loves rhubarb and, frankly, so do the rest of us.

While he’s been the most vocal, I learned from Mom this past weekend that she grew up eating the stalks (home-grown) like they were celery and dipping them into a bowl of sugar. And my stepdad loves another rhubarb pie recipe that my sweetie’s mom made him growing up. And, well, I’m not in the habit of making things I won’t enjoy myself as well.

But another reason it was great is because it was so easy.

Sure, like any pie, it took time, but it was small, bite-size bits of active time followed by plenty of down time to do things like go buy the wine or finally eat lunch after a day of cleaning. It was perfect for being impressive and fitting my schedule.

Oh, and it was amazing.

It probably won’t replace the rhubarb custard that was my sweetie’s childhood recipe, but it is quicker and comes with a creamy topping that makes it a reasonable substitute when we’re in a pinch.

So full of filling and flavor. Yummy.

Here’s what I did, sticking close to the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. and 2 T. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 t. salt, divided
  • 1 ½ sticks butter
  • ¼-½ c. ice water
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 2 lbs. fresh or frozen rhubarb, thawed, cut into ½-inch pieces, divided
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • ¼ c. chopped candied ginger, chopped (I did a heaping cup because we like ginger too)
  • Zest from one orange
  • 1 egg, mixed with 1 T. water
  • 2 t. demerara sugar
  • 1 (8 oz.) container mascarpone
  • 2 T. heavy cream
  • 3 T. powdered sugar

Directions

Make the crust: Combine flour, 2 T. granulated sugar, and ¾ t. salt in a medium bowl. Cut butter into chunks and add into the flour mix using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers, until pea-size chunks form. Slowly add the ice water and stir until the mixture starts to come together. Pat into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Make the filling: Stir together the remaining 1 c. granulated sugar, the remaining salt, and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Add in 2 c. of the rhubarb and the lemon juice, and cook over medium heat stirring frequently. Cook until the mixture has thickened and the rhubarb has broken down (it’ll look like a lumpy jam). The recipe says this takes about 12 minutes; I didn’t time it exactly but it felt like nothing was happening and then it was totally thick, so keep a good eye on it.

Meanwhile, place the remainder of the rhubarb into a large bowl. When the cooked rhubarb mixture is done, pour it over the raw rhubarb. Add the chopped ginger and orange zest, and stir until well combined.

Put together the pie: Unwrap the dough, and roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 13-14 inches. Transfer to a parchment-paper lined rimmed sheet pan, and cut into a 12-inch round, discarding scraps. Spoon the rhubarb mixture onto the dough, trying to leave about 2 ½ inches around the border; I did less and it was a really full but it worked. Pleat the edges as necessary and press down to secure.

Finish the pie: Brush the dough with the egg wash and then sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Refrigerate, uncovered, for about 1 hour until the dough is firm. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The recipe says to cool completely before serving but we liked it better the second day where we re-warmed it, so I’d say cool for an hour or 2 and then enjoy with whipped mascarpone!

Whip mascarpone for serving on top: While the pie cooks, or before serving, mix together the mascarpone cheese, the powdered sugar, and heavy cream. Use a hand blender or a whisk to blend for 1 to 2 minutes until fluffy. Serve on top of the warm pie and enjoy!

In with a fizzle

Happy 2018!

I’ve been blogging about food for a decade now, but this is the first time my platform has been my own. If you’re a follower of my work the past few years, the format is going to be mostly the same. If you’re new here, my blogging habits are a weekly adventure in a common theme for a year.

In the past I’ve done pies, breads, casseroles, and soups and salads. This year I’m taking Mom’s advice, and I’m going to start doing a year using a common kitchen item. Starting with my underutilized sheet pan. (Still taking suggestions for 2019.)

The point of the exercise, aside from enjoying good food and filling my body with nutrients, is to show the versatility of the cookware already lurking in most kitchens.

I thought I’d start off with something easy — peanut brittle — and managed to bungle it both times. Alas.

Peanut brittle ingredients

It made me think some about failure, which I might address in a future blog post. But for now, it’s best to just quote the man from Indiana, John Mellencamp: “What is there to be afraid of? The worst thing that can happen is you fail. So what? I failed at a lot of things. My first record was horrible.”

I feel the same way about cooking, and in particular about this week’s failure. If I had given up making candy the first time I failed at it, I would have stopped trying in about 7th grade, when I determinedly failed to make taffy. And I’ve totally successfully made peanut brittle before; it just didn’t work out that way this time.

This picture, while not great, shows not-quite-right peanut brittle. You can see bending of the candy rather than the brittleness implied in the name.

Impatience and inattention have been my downfalls, but you know what, I’ve got a whole year to keep succeeding at sheet pan recipes. Or getting up off the mat and trying again.

In the meantime, here’s what I should have done with peanut brittle and actually listened to Betty Crocker’s sage advice:

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ t. baking soda
  • 1 t. water
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 ½ c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 c. light corn syrup
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 lb. shelled unroasted peanuts

Directions:  

Heat oven to 200 degrees, and butter 2 sheet pans measuring 15 ½ x 12 inches (or so) and keep them warm in the oven.

Mix together the baking soda, 1 teaspoon water, and vanilla in a small bowl. Set aside.

Mix together sugar (1st attempt mistake, leaving out the sugar!), 1 cup water and the corn syrup in a 3-quart saucepan (or so). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (2nd attempt mistake, it wouldn’t budge from 225 degrees, so I tossed in next ingredients anyway!).

Once at 240 degrees, stir in the butter and peanuts. Cook, stirring constantly, to 300 degrees. Immediately remove from heat and quickly stir in the baking soda mixture until light and foamy.

Quickly pour about half the candy mixture onto each sheet pan and spread until about ¼ inch thick. Cool for at least one hour; then break into pieces, and enjoy!