Texas Sheet Cake

Texas Sheet Cake Piece

This cake makes me homesick for Texas. It’s a classic. And no, you cannot substitute any other nuts for the pecans. : ) My kids won’t eat anything with nuts, so if I’m feeling nice I will make the cake and only put the pecans on half the cake. The cake still tastes good, but it is not the same.

Texas Sheet Cake

Texas Sheet Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
1/2 butter
1/4 unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 2 teaspoons lemon juice and enough milk to make 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs

For the frosting:
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Spray a 13 X 9-inch pan with cooking spray and dust with 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Combine the water, butter, and cocoa in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Add to the flour mixture and beat with an electric mixer until blended. Add the buttermilk, vanilla, and eggs; beating well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 375° for 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool.

For the frosting, combine the butter, milk, and cocoa powder in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and gradually add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Spread over the hot cake. Sprinkle the cake with the chopped pecans. Let the cake cool completely before serving.

You can bake this cake on a 15 x 10-inch jellyroll pan. Just cut the baking time to about 17 minutes.


Quick Pickled Jalapenos

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I planted 8 jalapeno plants in my garden this year. So far they have survived the copious amounts of rain we have gotten, leaf-footed bugs, and hornworms. They are producing a fair amount of peppers, although they are not as hot as we would like.

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Last week my husband was out of town and I picked a bunch of peppers. I decided to pickle them since I could not eat them all by myself. These quick pickled jalapenos are not processed in a water bath, so they are kept in the fridge. I actually like them this way because they stay a little crisper. If you would like, add some sliced carrots to the jalapeno and onion mix.

Quick Pickled Jalapenos

10 fresh jalapenos
1/2 small onion, slivered
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (or pickling salt)

Bring the vinegar, water, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat as soon as the solution comes to a boil. Let cool slightly. Meanwhile, wash the jalapenos and cut off stem end. Slice into rings (or cut into quarters), Place the jalapenos, slivered onions, and smashed garlic clove into a clean Mason jar. Pour the pickling solution over the jalapenos and screw on the lid. Allow to cool on the counter and then refrigerate. Let pickle for 2 to 4 weeks in the fridge before eating.


Queso

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I’m a Texan so when I think of chile con queso I automatically think of Velvetta and Rotel. I’m perfectly fine with admitting that. That stuff tastes good. Normally, I would look down my nose at a processed “cheese food” product, but it really is essential for the smooth texture of a Texas-style queso.

I would love to create the perfect Texas-style queso without using processed cheese. I have tried. Over the years, I have made many different versions. Some turned out well, some didn’t. This particular version turned out fine, maybe even better than fine. I even reheated leftovers in the microwave the next day and it was still fine. Sometimes when using “real” cheese to make queso it can clump up or become a stringy, greasy mess. I didn’t have that problem with this version.  Make sure to lower the heat and stir a lot to make the queso smooth (although it won’t be smooth like a queso made with processed cheese). You can add more milk if needed.

I love chunks of fresh avocado (and even pico de gallo) in my queso. You can add other ingredients like black beans, chili, chopped fajita meat, or cooked ground beef to make the queso a little more substantial.

Queso

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and finely minced (you can substitute pickled jalapeno or roasted poblanos)
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeds removed, and finely chopped (or use1 – 2 tablespoons canned diced tomatoes)
4 teaspoons flour
8 ounces of cheddar and monterey jack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

In a bowl, toss the cheeses with the flour and set aside. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and then stir in the cheese and milk. Lower the heat to low and cook, stirring, until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve immediately with tortilla chips.


Jalapeno Poppers

I helped make 100 jalapeno poppers for my friend’s 40th birthday party in Texas this past September. They were a big hit. It’s no surprise because Texans love jalapeno poppers. Upon my return home, I made them for my husband and he LOVED them too. I also made them recently to serve as an appetizer for our Thanksgiving meal. Again, they were a big hit. Obviously, you can’t go wrong with these. They truly are wonderful.

Jalapeno Poppers

25 fresh jalapeno peppers
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 package bacon, cut in half
toothpicks

 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash the jalapenos peppers and dry. Cut off the stem end and then cut in half, long-wise. Clean out the seeds. You may want to wear disposable gloves while working with the peppers.

Mix the softened cream cheese and shredded cheese together. Mix in any other seasonings you may want (ground cumin, chopped cilantro, salt, pepper, etc…). At this point you may also add cooked crab meat, chopped shrimp or other ingredients to the cheese mixture. Using a knife, fill the jalapenos with the cream cheese mixture.

Wrap each stuffed jalapeno with a half strip of bacon. Secure with a toothpick.  You may want to pre-cook the bacon half-way before wrapping the poppers. I think this makes the bacon crisper on the end product. I usually line a plate with paper towels and place the bacon on top, covering with more paper towels and zapping in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes. You want the bacon to still be pliable.

Place the jalapeno poppers in a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp and the cheese in the poppers has begun to brown on top.

Remove the jalapeno poppers from the oven and serve warm.

Jalapeno poppers can easily be made vegetarian. Don’t use bacon. They are still awesome.


Candied Pecans

I made these candied pecans to add to salads.  They are excellent on a salad of mixed greens, fresh fruit (strawberries, mandarian oranges, pears), goat cheese and sweet poppyseed dressing or raspberry vinaigrette.  They are also wonderful for snacking. 

Candied Pecans

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch cayenne
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

In small bowl, mix together sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and cayenne.

In medium skillet, combine butter and sugar mixture. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar has melted.  Once sugar has melted, add the pecans and stir until the nuts are coated.  Pour onto a sheet of aluminum foil and let cool completely.


Vegetarian Baked Beans

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I learned to make baked beans this way from my Grandmother.  I don’t think she ever had an exact recipe and neither do I.  My baked beans differ each time I make them depending on what canned beans I have in the pantry.  Minced jalapenos are a nice addition to the beans.

Vegetarian Baked Beans

3 cans of beans (I used pinto, navy, and kidney), drained
1 small onion, minced
yellow mustard
ketchup
bbq sauce
brown sugar
salt and pepper

Mix the beans together in a casserole dish.  Add the minced onion. Squirt in some ketchup and bbq sauce (about 1/4 cup of each) and a little yellow mustard (about 1 tablespoon).  Add the brown sugar (about 2 – 3 tablespoons worth).  Season with salt and pepper and stir well.  Bake at 350 degrees until hot (about 30 – 45 minutes).


Texas Pesto

Texas Pesto

I absolutely adore cilantro and always welcome ways to use even more of it.  Years ago I had a cilantro-pecan pesto at a Central Market in Austin, Texas and was hooked.  This recipe is very similar to the pesto I had in Texas.

This Texas Pesto is versatile.  I used some to make pizzas (pesto instead of tomato sauce) topped with mozzarella, onions, red bell pepper, black olives, and artichoke hearts…..they were delicious.  The pesto is also great as a dip with tortilla chips.  My friend, Donna mixes a few tablespoons in with rice for a pretty and delicious side dish.

Texas Pesto

2 cups fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno pepper (I used a whole chile)
1/4 cup toasted pecans
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil

Prepare the pesto by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.


King Ranch Chicken

King Ranch Chicken

King Ranch Chicken is a casserole named after the King Ranch in South Texas.  I don’t think the recipe originated at that famous cattle ranch, though.  It’s one of those regional recipes that has numerous variations.  Most  versions are made with canned cream-of-whatever soup.  I have never actually eaten (or made) King Ranch Chicken before, but I was curious as to why this dish endures in popularity (in Texas, at least).  What I have found out since making this King Chicken Ranch recipe I got from www.texascooking.com is that it is much like an enchilada casserole.  It’s familiar and comforting, but not too spicy.  This recipe is good. I followed it as written except  that I microwaved the tortillas to soften them instead of briefly frying them in oil and I added 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin to the sauce.   There are a few additional changes I would make if I make this casserole again.  First, I would use milk instead of buttermilk.  I didn’t enjoy the twang so much.  I would also use black olives instead of green or use less of the green.  I love green olives, but the flavor in this recipe was a little overpowering even for my tastes.  This casserole supposedly freezes well.

King Ranch Chicken

3 tablespoons butter
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken stock or broth
3/4 cup buttermilk
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium poblano, chopped
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
2 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded & chopped (or 1/2 cup canned tomatoes, drained)
2 tablespoons chopped pimientos

8 corn tortillas
3 to 4 cups cooked, diced chicken
1/3 cup sliced green olives
1/3 cup green onions, including tops, chopped
2 cup grated Longhorn or mild cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish or 3-quart casserole.

Make the Sauce:
Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and chili powder, and sauté for a minute or two. Raise the heat to medium. Quickly sprinkle in the flour and stir to mix. Pour in a small amount of the chicken broth, stirring constantly to remove lumps and allowing the flour to “cook” briefly.

Gradually add the remaining chicken broth and the buttermilk and continue stirring until sauce has thickened, 3 or 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sauce may be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

Make the Filling:
Warm a heavy skillet over medium heat, add the butter or olive oil, and sauté the chopped onion, green pepper, poblano, mushrooms, tomatoes and pimientos until onion is transparent, about 4 or 5 minutes. Fold into the mixture the diced chicken, olives and green onions, combining well. Remove from heat.

Assembling the Dish:
In a small skillet, heat about about half an inch of canola oil. Using tongs, dip the tortillas in the hot oil one at a time, for just a few seconds, so that they are softened. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with 4 of the softened tortillas. Layer the remaining ingredients in the following order:
Half of the chicken/vegetable mixture
Half of the grated cheese
Half of the sauce
The remaining 4 softened tortillas
The remaining chicken/vegetable mixture
The remaining grated cheese
The remaining sauce

Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F until casserole is heated through and bubbly. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Possible substitutions: A small can of Ro-Tel© tomatoes and chiles for the tomatoes and poblano, OR a small can of green chiles for just the poblano.


Fried Okra and Potatoes

Fried Okra and Potatoes

fried okra and potatoes

Growing up in Texas, we always had okra growing in the garden.  It seemed like we ate okra everyday in the summertime.  While living in Virginia, fresh okra wasn’t as available, even in the summer months.  Now that I am living in South Carolina, I am happy to have year-round access to fresh okra.  Now I can make this dish more often.  It has been a favorite of mine for most of my life.  It’s the ultimate in Southern comfort food.

Fried okra and potatoes goes great with black-eyed peas and cornbread or with fried fish.  I like it with ketchup.

Fried Okra and Potatoes

1 pound fresh okra
2 large potatoes (baking type — not new potatoes)
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Wash okra and cut off stem ends. Cut in 1/2-inch pieces. Peel potatoes and chop into 1/2-inch dice. Put okra and potatoes in large bowl. Add chopped onion to mixture. Sprinkle cornmeal, salt and pepper over mixture. Stir until cornmeal is evenly distributed throughout mixture.

Heat cooking oil in large skillet over medium heat (oil should be hot, but not smoking hot). Carefully spoon okra/potato mixture into hot oil. Fry, turning mixture occasionally, until potatoes are done and mixture is nicely browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain on paper towels.