Cooking & Baking My Way Through Culinary School

My second semester of culinary school is moving at an exciting pace. I’m finally beginning to feel comfortable in the professional kitchen, getting my bearings and learning how to use the large scale equipment. Continue reading “Cooking & Baking My Way Through Culinary School”

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Pumpkin Spice Pie with Buttermilk Whipped Cream, anyone?

Pumpkin Spice Pie
Pumpkin Spice Pie

It doesn’t get more traditional than good ol’ pumpkin pie. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it! Inspired by Paula Deen’s Maple-Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie in the magazine “Paula Deen’s Fall Baking,” this recipe is a slight variation of the original, but doesn’t deviate too far off the course. Have you ever heard of Buttermilk Whipped Cream? That is a new one on me, and boy am I glad I discovered it. Thank you, Paula! Whatever you do, resist the urge to eat this pie with standard Cool Whip. Take the extra 5-minute step to make Buttermilk Whipped Cream. You won’t regret it! I took the liberty of using Pumpkin Spice Syrup instead of maple, and added just a touch more sugar. Sweet and creamy, it’s mouth-watering served warm or cold. Enjoy a slice with a cup of hot coffee and a good friend. Add this dessert to your Thanksgiving table or Autumn baking list and your entire home will beckon the changing leaves!

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Pumpkin Spice Pie
1 (15-Ounce) can pumpkin
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup of Pumpkin Spice Syrup
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon (or more to taste) pumpkin pie spice

One 9-inch store-bought frozen pie crust (I’m not above it!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin and next 8 ingredients. Roll thawed pie crust over 9-inch pie plate, crimping edges with a fork. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake for 85 to 95 minutes or until center is set and a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Buttermilk Whipped Cream
(Makes about two cups)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon good pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large bowl, beat cream with a mixer at high-speed until soft peaks form. Add all remaining ingredients, and beat until stiff peaks form. Plop a big dollop on top of a slice of pie, then sprinkle with cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Then EAT!

 “What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes? Where’s the cranberry sauce? Where’s the pumpkin pie?” ~ Peppermint Patty

Black Bananas Get A Second Chance

Ugly, black bananas transformed into beautiful, creamy banana cake. That is all.

I never purchase bananas at the grocery store with the intention of letting them rot on the counter top, but life happens. Good thing really ripe bananas are still usable.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? After peeling the ugly, outer exterior off of these bananas, I tossed them in my Sunbeam mixer with sugar–and magic happened.

This is a cool trick, thanks Barefoot Contessa. Often, recipes call for room temperature eggs, but if you’re like me and forget to take your eggs out the night before, just place them in warm water for 5 minutes while your other ingredients come together.

Chopped walnuts and bananas were meant to be together.

I never understood this step. Why not just measure the ingredients and toss them in the mixer? Because something about sifting the dry ingredients gives you a nice, light and airy batter. It doesn’t take long, just do it.

Add sifted ingredients to the banana and sugar mixture…look how beautiful that is!! GOOD GOD A’MIGHTY!! It tastes amazing. Check out that swirl action.

Gently stir in walnuts.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan. I cannot emphasize preparing your pan enough. There is no worse feeling than pulling a warm, delicious looking and smelling cake out of the oven only to have it stick to the pan and come apart when transferring it to a wire rack to cool. Butter and flour that thing real good!!

Perfection.

Not quite finished. Next step: Make frosting. This frosting is to die for. I mean it. Room temperature butter and cream cheese meet pure vanilla extract and confectioner’s sugar and a creamy, thick, bright white frosting is born. To bring butter and cream cheese to room temperature, leave them on the counter over night or just sit them on the stove top while the oven gets warm.

 Pile it high on top of the completely cooled cake. I love the contrasting colors here.

Decorate with whole walnuts. Simplicity at its finest.

And to think I almost threw those bananas away.

The entire recipe for Old Fashioned Banana Cake can be found in Ina Garten’s cookbook, Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That? 

Ina Garten Takes French Toast to New Heights


Recipes that taste amazing but don’t require you to stand over the stove for hours rock my world! This one, Ina Garten’s French Toast Bread Pudding is one that’s hard to beat. Barefoot Contessa, you’re really onto something here! Thank you for coming up with this extremely inventive, awesome twist on classic french toast.

For this recipe, you’ll need a 9 x 13 x 2 in. baking dish and a large roasting pan. The recipe calls for a challah loaf, but my grocery store didn’t have one so I used what I could find—texas toast, a good thick white bread. If your bread is fresh, Ina Garten recommends toasting it in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. French Toast Bread Pudding requires a lot of time (it takes one and a half hours to cook) but when you sit down and take a bite, you’ll forget how long you waited.


I love using special ingredients like orange zest and extra-large eggs. However, the most special ingredient I used in this dish was that little jar of honey you see pictured above. I purchased it from a small shanty shack on the side of the road in the Tennessee mountains. It was just the right amount for this recipe.

The microplane is seriously one of my favorite kitchen tools. It’s perfect for zesting everything from lemons and limes to fresh ginger.

Kosher salt is often used in gourmet baking and it really makes a huge difference. Ina Garten has an amazing recipe for Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing and kosher salt is used in the icing. It intensifies all the flavors in a dish.

Order is important, especially in this step. Be sure to put your 9 x 13 x 2 in. baking dish into a larger roasting pan before layering the bread in the dish. Fill the roasting pan with warm water so that it comes about an inch up each side. This water bath will ensure the french toast stays moist during the long cooking process. Once the bread has toasted for 10 minutes, layer it in the casserole dish and pour the batter right down over the top. Let it soak for 10 additional minutes.

This is what the dish looks like after it’s been in the oven for 45 minutes, tented with aluminum foil. The egg mixture is just starting to set and the bread is beginning to brown. Remove the aluminum foil and finish cooking for 45 more minutes. I love how you can see the flecks of orange zest! While the dish baked, I poured myself another cup of coffee and watched my favorite shows on Food Network.

 You won’t believe how beautiful the egg mixture puffs up and how golden brown the bread gets. It really is a gorgeous dish. MAN ALIVE…bring on the syrup, butter and confectioner’s sugar!! I served the French Toast Bread Pudding with a side of thick-sliced, crispy bacon.

You can really taste the citrus flavor and the sweetness of the honey. I could hear the toast crunch with my fork when I cut into it. I will definitely make this dish again, only next time I’ll plan to bake it for brunch or get up at 6 a.m. to get started, but most likely for brunch. 🙂

The entire recipe can be found in Ina Garten’s cookbook Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?

Peanut Butter Blossoms – How Bad Can That Be?

Right after you pull them out of the oven, the chocolate kisses are inserted in the center.

You can have all the best cookbooks in the world, but sometimes, the best recipes are found simply on the back of packages. Earlier this week I bought some candy for my office and there on the back of the Hershey’s Kisses Package was my all time favorite recipe for Peanut Butter Blossoms. It all starts with shortening and peanut butter, and in the words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?” You just can’t go wrong with the classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate rolled in sugar. Not to mention how cute they look. As soon as they come out of the oven, you put the chocolate kisses in the center. The heat from the cookie slightly melts the chocolate and when you bite into it, its pure bliss. As I baked these, I listened to my Miranda Lambert Pandora Radio station and all was well.

Pour yourself a cold glass of milk and enjoy these next to the Christmas tree. Happy Baking to all!

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Saturday Makes for a Special Breakfast

Add crispy bacon and a little Country Crock light butter spread and breakfast is served.

Saturday mornings are my favorite time of the week. I love getting up whenever I wake up and not being forced out of bed by an alarm clock. I usually make something special for breakfast on Saturdays because I actually have time, unlike during the work week, when I grab a quick breakfast bar and maybe a piece of fruit and head out the door. This morning I made fresh blueberry muffins with a streusel topping and fried up some bacon to boot. I brewed some coffee and stirred in my pumpkin spice creamer and enjoyed drinking it from a real coffee mug and not my travel mug. Hey, it’s the little things. The best part is knowing tomorrow morning, there’ll be leftovers. 🙂

Childhood Reward Becomes Favorite Pastime

It all started when I was kid. I would go to the grocery store with my mom and if I was well-behaved while she shopped, I would get to choose a 99 cent cupcake from the grocery store bakery. I would peer through the glass window and size up each one, carefully determining which little delicacy would be mine. Even then, that small treat brought me so much joy. I’ve never met a baked good I didn’t like and baking is one of my favorite things to do. If I’m not cooking or baking in my spare time, I’m either reading about it or watching a related show on the Food Network.

I’m a huge fan of Ina Garten or the Barefoot Contessa as some know her. These fabulous beauties are her Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing. I’ve baked them a few times, but most recently for my 10 Year High School Reunion tailgate party. Totally worth it.

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