Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pumpkin Crunch Cake with Caramel Bourbon Sauce

What a beautiful fall weekend we had here in North Texas. Perfect weather for a trip to pumpkin farm. Of course, a trip to upstate New York to visit Ruthy's pumpkin patch would have been much more fun, but the drive was just too far. So we opted for the next best thing.
Believe it or not, there's a working farm smack dab in the middle of suburbia and every year from late September until Halloween, they open to the public for a fall spectacular complete with a farm animal petting zoo, a corn maze and plenty of food offerings. Yes, I nabbed me a big ol bag of freshly made kettle corn. I can't get enough of that stuff.
And they have pumpkins of every shape and size, though their prices aren't near as good as Ruthy's. I mean $5 pumpkins, no matter what the size? No body can beat that.
Of course, our pumpkin farm doesn't grown their own pumpkins like Ruthy's does.
Our youngest grandson came in for the weekend.
Elijah had fun playing amongst the pumpkins, petting the animals, eating his ring pop and playing on the tractor.
The big kids, like Uncle Dayton, had their fair share of fun, too. I mean, what can be better than a cob of freshly roasted corn?
After being around all those pumpkins, I couldn't wait to bake something pumpkiny, so I decided to make a pumpkin crunch cake with caramel bourbon sauce. Yeah, that's a pretty fancy name, but it's easy to make.

Let's start with our ingredients for the cake.

  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin puree, also known as solid pack pumpkin or 100% pure pumpkin
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup white sugar (if you prefer to use all white sugar, increase to 1 cup and omit the brown sugar)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark, whichever you choose
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (if you don't have pumpkin pie spice you can use 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground ginger, 1/2 tsp allspice and 1/2 tsp ground cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 2 cups roughly chopped pecans
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Now take out your favorite 9 x 13 baking pan, butter it and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk your pumpkin puree, evaporated milk and eggs.
Now add the sugars, vanilla, spices and salt.
And whisk until smooth.
If you're thinking this sounds just like pumpkin pie filling, you'd be correct, except we're going to pour this into our buttered pan.
Sprinkle your cake mix over that.
And at this point, especially if you're from the south, you're thinking it's a dump cake. You would also be correct, but Pumpkin Crunch Cake just sounds so much fancier, don't you think?

Cue on the pecans!
Most recipes call for one cup of pecans, but if it's a Pumpkin Crunch Cake, I want there to be some real crunch so I use two cups.
Sprinkle those over the cake mix.
Then drizzle the melted butter over the whole thing.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until set.
Cool completely before serving. You can also chill before serving, if you so choose.

About that caramel sauce.
So a while back a friend gifted me with a bottle of Vanilla Bourbon Extract.
It has sat on my counter for months while I wondered how I might ever use this. Then I remembered this amazing apple pie we used to get at one of our favorite restaurants and they served it with a Bourbon Caramel Sauce.

That was all the inspiration I needed.

Okay, so for the caramel sauce, you only need five ingredients.

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark)
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract bourbon (yes,  you can also use regular vanilla)
In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt over medium-low heat.
Continue whisking gently until mixture thickens. This can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on your stove. I have a glass cooktop, so it took me 15 minutes. If you have a gas cooktop, things will likely progress much faster. Whatever the case, don't try to rush things by turning up the heat. In the world of caramel, that's bad joo-joo.
Add the vanilla and continue to cook a minute or two longer to thicken.
Remove sauce from heat and cool.
Pour into container and refrigerate until cold.
When ready to serve, cut a nice hunk of your cake, top with caramel sauce (if you want to nuke it for a few seconds to warm it like my son, you can do that now) and then garnish with whipped cream.
I love the pumpkin flavor, the spice, the crunch of the pecans, and that bourbon caramel sauce adds just the right touch to take it from ordinary to extraordinary. And who doesn't like extraordinary?

Now it's your turn. How is fall shaping up in your neck of the woods?

Mindy Obenhaus lives in Texas with her husband and kids. She's passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Beef Stock Revisited: cooking 101

My apologies to those who stopped by the Cafe to see how the sourdough project is coming along.

It is progressing! But I'm not quite ready to share my bread recipes, yet. The starter from last week is still alive, though, and that is fabulous. :)

We've had busy times around here (including a looming deadline), so I decided to revisit a recipe I shared a few years ago. So long ago that it was before Thatcher's time!

Yes, this post is from a Corgi life-time ago!

So as we wing our way towards winter, let's enjoy autumn while we plan for cold nights, short days, and hot soups!

Fun and Frugal: Beef Stock

Winter days, winter storms, early evenings, pale sun at noon...I love winter in the north!

Mid-day sun, January 11, 2013
This is the time of year I like to make stock...

Summer certainly isn't the time for it!

I simmer stock for up to three days on the back of the stove - that is NOT a good summer activity!

But when the temps hover between zero and 15 degrees (that's Fahrenheit  peeps!), the constant simmering liquid helps warm the house.

And the aroma? Heavenly. Drives the dog crazy :)

So, what is stock?

It's the original kitchen recycling project.

The foundational technique every chef learns.

The basis for soups, gravies and sauces.

In other words, Cooking 101.

Years ago when my husband was working at a hospital in Kansas City, the chef kept a stock pot on the back of the stove. He'd start with turkey, but then every bit of vegetable scrap generated by the kitchen staff (and this was a big hospital!) was thrown into the pot, along with additions of water as needed. Whenever stock was needed for a recipe, Chef Darrel would dip it out of the stock pot. Every five days (or so), he'd empty out the pot, save the stock, dispose of the bones/veggie pieces/etc and start over.

Our fore-mothers did the same thing - a pot on the back of the stove or at the edge of the fire. It was called a soup pot. Every scrap was saved and used for the soup.
It's a lot like quilting - every scrap saved and used.

And a lot like quilting, I now buy the ingredients for my stock rather than use leftovers.

We had a major winter storm move into our area on Friday, so with that forecast I hunkered down and started a pot of beef stock.

Here are the ingredients:

Beef ribs with the meat on - I bought mine last summer when Walmart was having a clearance and froze them until last week

Other beef bones: knuckle bones, steak bones, etc.

Important: the amount of ribs and bones you use depends on the size of your stock pot. I have a 20 quart pot, so I use a lot of them.

Also important: Do NOT use an aluminum pot - use stainless steel.

The great thing about these bones is that they're often pretty cheap - look for stew bones or dog bones at your butcher or grocery store. Try to find bones with some meat on them, and the marrow is extra good.

Joint bones or knuckle bones are especially important to include - healthy stuff in them thar bones!
Veggies: onion, carrots and celery. Wash the whole veggie and use as many of the leaves as possible. Chop them coarsely.

4-6 carrots
2-3 celery ribs
1-2 onions
parsley - fresh if you have it, but otherwise use parsley flakes

I like to buy carrots with the tops whenever I can find them.

But celery usually comes with leaves. Use the heart of the celery - you know, the part you throw away when you're cutting up celery sticks?

Start out by preparing the meat.

Put the ribs in a shallow pan or roasting pan and roast for one hour at 350 degrees. This browns the meat nicely and will give your stock a good color.

Meanwhile, put the rest of the bones (with or without meat on them) in your stock pot, cover with cold water and add 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar.

The vinegar leaches out wonderful minerals from those bones.

After an hour, add the cooked ribs and your chopped veggies (except parsley) to your stock pot. Add more cold water (up to a couple inches from the top of your pot), and bring it to a boil.

I know you're thinking "Cold water? Wouldn't hot water help the pot boil faster?". Well, maybe. But using cold water keeps your stock from getting cloudy. No one wants cloudy stock.

As your stock comes to a boil, yucky foam may form on top. Be sure to skim that off.

Now, put the lid on your pot and lower the heat on your burner so that the stock keeps moving at a bare simmer. You want to see movement, but you don't want the liquid to boil.

And this is the best part. You want that stock to simmer for at least 12 hours, up to 72 hours.

Seventy-two hours??? You mean THREE DAYS?


While the stock is simmering, all the healthy stuff from your ribs, bones, meat and veggies are blending together into the best stock you've ever had.

This time I let my stock simmer about 36 hours. It turned out a beautiful amber color. As it cooks longer, it gets darker. My last batch was so dark brown it was nearly black.

About thirty minutes before your stock is done simmering, add the parsley. (And I have to admit, I often forget this step.)

When the stock is done, it's time to store it.

First, remove the bones with tongs, and then strain the liquid through a colander or sieve.

If you're going to freeze your stock, cool it thoroughly in your fridge. Remove the fat that congeals on the top, and then put the stock into freezer containers.

Don't be surprised if your stock resembles brown jello. That's good. It means there's plenty of gelatin in your stock.

I don't have room in my fridge to let the stock cool, so I can mine in pint jars. It's necessary to use steam pressure canning - don't even try to use the water bath method like you do for tomatoes.

Here's what my winter storm project looked like at the end:

The jars weren't quite cool when I took this picture -
the solid fat rises to the top and you can remove it before
using the stock.

And, of course, Wynter got her share. When no one takes the dog out to play, she makes do with a yummy bone!

Oh, and the fun and frugal part? This fits the January requirements I shared last week: low cost, tasty, and low calorie.

Ten calories per cup worth of low calorie. Now that's the kind of frugal I like!

One more thing - you can use this same concept to make chicken/turkey stock and vegetable stock. The only differences are to cook the chicken/turkey stock for only about 12 hours.

The vegetable stock is made from the leftovers of cleaning veggies to eat - peels, stems, leaves, etc. Add water and cook for about 2 hours.

So, how about it? Are you ready to plunge into the world of making stock?


I no longer have time for the 20 quart stock pot full of goodness. Our beef supplier (local rancher) also changed processors, so I wasn't able to order bones with our half-beef last year...so no supply in the freezer.

But no worries! Now I quite often make my beef stock in the crock pot!

How easy is that?

I use the same principles outlined in the post below, but I make only about four quarts at a time instead of sixteen or so. Then I store the stock in the fridge and use as needed...within five days. If I'm not going to use it that soon, then I freeze it.

Jan Drexler loves her family, her home, cooking and just about anything made by hand. But she loves her Lord most of all.

Stop by Jan's website to learn more about her books: www.JanDrexler.com

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Easy Fried Rice and other Favorites

Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I've got a super easy dish for those nights when you need to go grocery shopping but don't have time. But first... the weather has changed!
Which was tough when we got up at 4AM to help out with the hot air balloon festival. They moved it from May to October and I was NOT ready for 1) the dark and 2) the cold. Nothing like trying to find the tabs and straps in the pitch darkness!
When the sun finally rose, it didn't really warm things up. Crunchy field grass.
But my kids were troopers (I was the one whining, as usual) and here they are waving off Mr. Tick Tock. (Yeah, we know he's sort of creepy looking but the school kids just love to see him flying over their schools.)
They also had tethered rides for kids who could come before school. Here are our friend Ingrid and Rorique and Bill giving little rides to the kids. After helping inflate, the volunteers help act as "balast", pulling the balloon down and weighing down the basket so people can get off and on. Maybe the only time when a few extra pounds works in your favor!
Oh, and we celebrated Halloween early because our old friend Mindy came to visit from Montana! Here are Edward (skeleto man) and Ana (as our dear Miss Jane Austen) getting ready to run through the corn maze.
So, I've been running toward a deadline so I'm not putting as much thought into cooking as I usually do (which isn't much, hahaha). I've just been grabbing items from the pantry and throwing them together. This is what we made a few nights ago and it was delicious! I realized that although I've posted about quick shrimp stir fry, healthy low carb egg rolls, California sushi,  , I hadn't posted anything about fried rice, which we eat pretty often. Missy posted about fried rice  but hers looks way nicer so... don't follow the link!

 So, I didn't take pictures of every step, which is BAD, BAD, BAD blogging! But I'll explain what's happening in this shot. We chopped carrots and celery into teeny tiny pieces and sauteed them for about five minutes with a TBS of oil. Then we scrambled three eggs into the veggie mix.
 This is the rice I made for the stir fry and I am VERY proud to say for once, I did not make sticky rice! Hooray!
 Add four cups of rice to the veggie mix and fry on medium high with 2 TBS of oil. Turn lightly and carefully with a spatula because it's really easy to make a big pan of mush at this point. (Don't ask me how I know.)
Oh, here's one of our sweet new kittens! They are so playful and into everything, we really have to watch out for them under foot. The other night I was removing a pan of chicken from the oven and one of the kittens puts its paws right on the inside of the door! Poor kitten. All it was thinking was the delicious smells, not the 400F heat. It didn't seem to be hurt but scared me to death, so now we're extra careful when we're cooking.
She's my new editor... So hard to please. So critical! All she wants is stories about tuna and tummy rubs. *sigh*
 Add two packets of fried rice seasoning an gently combine. I told you this was easy!
 Someone has come to inspect dinner... Here we added chopped chicken.
 One more shot of the sumach in the yard. SO pretty. I want to bring it inside!

Until next time! Be sure to stop by my author pages at Mary Jane Hathaway and Virginia Carmichael, or my blog at The Things That Last! 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Buffalo Chicken Dip (revisited)

by Missy Tippens

Okay, I've had a crazy week. My parents, sister and brother-in-law came in town over the weekend and were here until Tuesday. I only cooked standbys that I've shared here numerous times so don't have a thing to post. And then we had a water leak disaster! I had to turn off our water Tuesday morning (I'm so thankful it made it through the weekend before the water started dripping through the ceiling in the garage!). So I haven't cooked all week. Thus, I'm reposting a fun blog from 2012. It's a throwback to my daughter being in high school! :)

Buffalo Chicken Dip in a Pinch

Missy, here. On Monday after school, my daughter called while I was out running errands to ask if she could have some friends over to spend the night to celebrate exempting finals and being done with the semester. I told her that was fine. Then I had to go into emergency prep mode!

I hurried home to clean the kitchen and try to figure out if we had anything I could cook for dinner. Nope. Once I found out she'd invited 7 girls, I headed to the grocery store. I'd been craving spaghetti all day, so I decided that would be an easy one to pull together. Here's my dad's recipe for homemade spaghetti, although I ended up buying a jar of Ragu to hurry things along.

Then I found out a few of the girls would be playing in a basketball game or playing in the band and would arrive late. So I realized I probably needed a substantial snack as well. Oh, and breakfast!

So here's my grocery trip. Sister Schubert's cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Easy, and the kids love them. Hot dog buns for quick garlic toast under the broiler. 
Beef, noodles and sauce for the spaghetti. And I had my daughter look up a recipe for a buffalo chicken dip the girls have been raving about. For that, I bought a can of chicken and block of cream cheese (already had the other ingredients).

Once I got the spaghetti sauce cooking, I tackled the dip. Here's the recipe she found on Pinterest:

1 1/2 cups cooked and shredded chicken or 1 (12 ounce) can chunk chicken, 
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Ranch dressing
1/2 cup Buffalo wing sauce (such as Frank’s Red Hot, not to be confused with 
their pepper sauce. Start with less if you want and add more to your desired 
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

I went on a hunting expedition and found my tiny slow cooker. I thought it would be perfect for a single recipe of this dip.

And, in a nod to Virginia's favorite word in cooking, I'm calling this part of the recipe a "dump dip." :)

I dumped in the cream cheese and can of chicken.

I let this melt a bit, then added the rest of the ingredients and mixed them in with a fork. A couple of hours later, I was ready for the masses!

BTW, I only used about 1/4 cup Frank's sauce, and it was plenty spicy for me.

Serve with tortilla chips. We used Scoops. A great way to feed a bunch of celebrating, hungry teenage girls!