Ladies’ Lunch

In recent years, my mom and some of her good childhood friends have gotten together for a ladies’ lunch with all daughters, mothers, aunts, and sisters invited, too.  And absolutely no boys allowed.  It would be rude to invite them anyway because we have to talk about them.  Or at least the ladies want to hear from the daughters about any boyfriends on the scene.

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Although we got together for lunch, Glenda, this year’s host, had prepared quite a delicious feast: baked ham, green beans and potatoes, candied fried apples, butternut squash, cranberry sauce and rolls.  It was positively scrumptious and beautiful.  Glenda had set the table with lovely pieces of china and vintage dishes.

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Served alongside the food were lots of great stories about growing up together and how much the small town has changed.  There was quite a discussion about how hitch-hiking was no big deal back in the day, the new art gallery in town, and big personalities that everybody knew and loved.

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And, in true southern fashion, there were just as many desserts as there were dishes for the main meal.  Among them were jam cake with both dough icing (my favorite) and caramel icing (my mom’s favorite), chocolate cake, bourbon balls, coconuts balls, peanut brittle, cookies and more.

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I love my mom’s face in this picture.  I think she was saying, “Don’t be eying that caramel iced jam cake, lady.”  Just kidding. I think.

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We shared lots of laughs over good memories.  There were some really good ones, but if I told you about them I’d have to kill you.  Or at least I might not be invited back to ladies lunch.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump

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Tackling Tiramisu

There are very few non-chocolate desserts that I will give the time of day.  My absolute favorite non-chocolate dessert is butterscotch brownies, which continue to baffle me with their non-chocolaty deliciousness.  There are some things that cannot be rationally explained and I believe this is one of them.  Next on my list of acceptable non-chocolate desserts is tiramisu, but only a handful that I have tasted in my life are up to snuff.  One absolute deal-breaker is any trace of almond.  In my opinion, it does not belong in tiramisu.

I tried to make tiramisu once before in my life.  It was not a success.  I went a little overboard on the coffee and put in about twice what the recipe called for because those lady fingers just didn’t look saturated enough as I was assembling the dessert.  The next day, my tiramisu was sitting in a puddle.  The taste wasn’t bad, but I definitely had a texture issue to work out.  Unfortunately, I had volunteered to make this dessert because my mom’s boss and his family were coming over for dinner.  They were sports and cleaned their plates.   It was on that fateful day that I learned firsthand the valuable lesson that one should never prepare an unfamiliar dish for the first time when company is coming over, particularly company you would like to remain in good standing with.  Instead, I would highly recommend preparing something that you have perfected.

My mother did not get fired in case you were wondering.

Since my tiramisu had knocked me down instead of picking me up, it was a while before I was emotionally ready to tackle it again.  My neighbor Anna is Italian and a wonderful cook and baker, so I decided it was safe to try to make tiramisu again with her.

I only allowed myself to measure the dry ingredients and did not deviate from the recipe in the slightest.

For the most part.

When Anna and I were discussing the ingredients for the dessert, I offered to pick up the lady fingers.  She informed me that that would not be necessary as we would be making the cake portion ourselves because it would be a better texture and flavor.  Boy was she right on about that.

This recipe is a long one, but it’s not difficult.  It originates from Southern Living magazine, circa 1988. Heregoes:

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a half-sheet pan with wax paper and then butter and flour the wax paper so the cake does not stick.

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Separate 4 eggs and let them come to room temperature.

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Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and let it cool.

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Brew some potent coffee and put 1 cup of it aside to cool. (I would recommend drinking the rest of it if you’re sleepy because this is going to take a while.)  Add ¼ cup of sugar and a miniature of Kahlua to the coffee.

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Sift together 1 cup of all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon of salt.

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In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks and ¾ cup of sugar until light and thick.  This will take about 5 minutes so I would recommend stretching beforehand if using a handheld mixer.

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It will look something like this when it’s ready.

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Then pour in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1 teaspoon of ‘niller extract.

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I love vanilla extract.

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I also really like this nifty little gadget that allows one to dust cocoa powder on things.

Sorry, I got sidetracked by the idea of something chocolate.

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In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites on low speed until they are frothy and then add in ¼ cup of sugar.  Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and beat the egg whites until they are stiff but don’t overbeat.

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Add half of the egg white mixture and half of the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture.  Fold the mixtures together until combined.  Repeat with the remaining half of the mixtures.

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Pour the batter onto the sheet pan.

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Spread the batter evenly across the sheet pan using a spatula.

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Then pop it in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and the center springs back.

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Let it cool for a few minutes in the pan and then turn it out onto wax paper and let it cool completely.

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Carefully remove the wax paper from the bottom of the cake as that is not a texture you want in your tiramisu.

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Then, cut off the edges of the sponge cake so no one has to experience a crunchy/stiff bite of tiramisu. Remember, it’s all about texture.

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For the filling, beat 1 cup of heavy cream until it forms peaks.

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Then beat together ½ cup sugar and 1 pound of mascarpone cheese.

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Fold together the mascarpone mixture and the heavy cream.  If you’re feeling rebellious, add a few drops of vanilla extract into the mixture.  In my experience, a little extra vanilla extract never hurt anything.

It was Anna’s idea.

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Next, cut the cake in half and place one half on a serving dish.

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Brush half of the coffee mixture onto the cake using a pastry brush.

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It should look something like this.

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Dust the cake generously with cocoa powder.

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Then sprinkle on some chocolate shavings.

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Spread half of the filling mixture over the first layer of cake.

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Easier said than done. Don’t be alarmed if some of the chocolate shavings get mixed in.  No one will ever know and it will still taste good.

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Repeat this process with the second layer of cake and filling.

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Coffee mixture…

Cocoa powder and chocolate shavings.

Filling…

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Some more cocoa powder…

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Smooth the sides with a knife.

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Decorate the top with dark and white chocolate shavings.

Then let the cake sit overnight in the refrigerator and enjoy the next day (preferably not with your mom’s boss unless this is at least the second time you’re making this recipe).

Here are the recipe cards:

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(We deviated from the recipe a little bit by adding Kahlua instead of sherry or Marsala.  Don’t tell anyone.)

Y’all hurry back,

Sugarlump

Absurdly Simple Chocolate Sauce

When I crave chocolate, I MUST have it.  One chocolate item that really satisfies my cravings is chocolate sauce.  I’ve even been known to eat it straight.  I am not ashamed.  Dark chocolate is good for you. Now, I am … Continue reading

Strawberry Shortcake for Breakfast

Several years back, Grandmother and Aunt Anna introduced me to strawberry freezer jam, which I of course ate on a warm biscuit for breakfast just as I normally do with other homemade jams.  It didn’t take me long to realize that this was basically strawberry shortcake in breakfast form.

Let me show you how to get some of this in your life.

First, we make the jam.

You will need fruit pectin to make the jam nice and thick.  You may need more than one package, depending on how many pints of jam you would like to make.  The instructions for how to make this jam as well as the ingredients and their quantities can be found in this box or here online, but I will take you through the steps with pictures because I think you’re swell.

You will also need some clean mason jars with lids.  I forgot to take a picture of these, but I’m sure you know what they look like if you’re interested in making jam.

Next, you must procure some strawberries.  But not just any strawberries.

It is absolutely CRITICAL that you start with fresh and perfectly ripe berries.  If you do a little drive-by test with your nose, you should be able to smell their sweetness.  It also doesn’t hurt to take a bite of one of the berries to confirm that on the inside they are not tough and white and tart, but instead juicy and red and sweet.

You don’t actually need this many berries unless you want to make over a dozen pints of jam, which you very well might once you taste this jam on a biscuit.  Grandmother and I got a little ahead of ourselves on the quantity of berries we purchased and probably only used ¼ of this box for 4 pints of jam.  We did, however, manage to eat the leftover berries for dessert in the form of strawberry shortcake just to mix things up. Ha.

Once you have determined that these berries are indeed perfectly ripe and sweet, please wash them.

Then, hull the strawberries to remove the greenery.

Measure out 2 full cups of strawberries.  Really pack them in so you maximize the strawberry-ness.

This is the fun part (other than the most fun part: eating the jam):  Mash the strawberries until completely broken down.   I suppose there are several ways to do this, but a potato masher is my weapon of choice.

Once the berries are mashed up well, add an absurd amount of sugar (4 cups).

Mix the sugar into the berries until dissolved and give them some alone time for 10 minutes.  Stir the mixture every now and then and make sure they are behaving.

Meanwhile, pour the package of pectin into a small pot and add ¾ cup of water.

Bring to a boil over high heat and stir the heck out of it so it doesn’t stick and burn or lump up.  Once the mixture starts to boil, continue cooking for 1 minute and you’d best not stop stirring.

Then carefully pour the hot, thickened pectin into the strawberry mixture after its 10 minutes is up.

(Its dissolving 10 minutes, that is. Its 15 minutes of fame, however, has only just begun).

Stir this mixture for a few minutes until everything is dissolved together.

Next, please save your heart some ache and use a funnel when pouring the jam into the jars.  This will drastically reduce the amount of jam that spills onto your counter, your paper towel usage, and, of course, the amount of jam that tragically will never make it to a biscuit.

Using, a ladle, pour the jam into the jars, leaving at least at least a half an inch below the rim of the jar as the jam may expand in the freezer.   Though it is tempting, filling the jars to the top with jam may lead to a misfortune similar to that warned against in the previous paragraph regarding the funnel.

Once you have successfully ladled all of the jam into the jars using a funnel, place the lids on the jars and allow allow them to sit on the counter for 24 hours before putting them in the freezer.

These keep for up to 1 year, which means you can enjoy this piece of heaven on a biscuit in the dead of winter.

Speaking of biscuits, let’s make some so we can eat what is effectively strawberry shortcake for breakfast.

(I suppose you could eat this any time of day, but I think it’s more fun to feel like you are getting away with eating dessert for breakfast.  But that’s just me.)

These are Grandmother’s wonderful biscuits.  They are small in diameter and relatively flat, which maximizes the surface area that develops a nice crust and minimizes any fluffy nonsense that gets in the way of the jam to biscuit ratio.

For the record, I have nothing against fluffy biscuits.  I actually prefer them with sausage gravy because they sop up all of the savory wonderfulness sausage gravy has to offer.  So, I guess it’s a texture thing.

ANYWAY, you would probably like me to stop blabbering on and tell you how to make the perfect strawberry freezer jam companion biscuit.

I’d be delighted.

First, measure out 1 cup of flour and dump it in a mixing bowl.

Then, please tell everyone to avert their eyes as you add 3 tablespoons of vegetable shortening (Crisco) to the bowl.

After you’ve extracted the shortening from the measuring spoon using CLEAN fingers, use your Crisco-ed finger to grease the flat cast iron skillet.  This was my great-grandmother’s and it’s the only skillet I’ve ever seen Grandmother use to bake biscuits in the 23 years that I’ve been enjoying them.

Translation: This skillet is very old and results in delicious biscuits without fail.  Try to find yourself one immediately.

Using a pastry blender, cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.

Add about 1/3 cup of milk and stir the ingredients together until combined.  It’s best to add most of the milk and hold a little bit back until you can gauge the moisture level of the dough.  You want it to be moistened, but not overly sticky or wet.

Using your hands, knead the dough 4 or 5 times and add more milk if necessary. Don’t overwork it, but knead the dough until it looks right.  It looks right when it looks like this.

The turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and press it down until it’s about ½” thick.  Or, if you’re real fancy, use a rolling pin.

Then, use a SMALL biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits.  (See tangent above for rationale).

Place the cut out biscuit dough on the greased skillet and pop it in the oven on 425 until biscuits begin to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.

These actually rose more than normal, but they still tasted good.

This is what the biscuit and jam (and butter if you’re absurd like me) looks like assembled and partially eaten.   I had to take a bite to show you what it looked like on the inside.  That, and I was so excited I forgot to take a picture until I had taken a bite.

That’s what strawberry shortcake for breakfast can do to you.  Or, FOR you, depending on if you are a biscuit half-eaten or half-left-to-eat kind of person.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump