Monday, February 18, 2013

My Grandma's Old-Fashioned Custard

Let me tell you some things about my fantastic Grandma Byrd (aka the Ole Biddy).

(Audrey Mae James Byrd in 1916)

#1: She was born 5 months after the Titanic sank.
#2: She was hilarious and had a great laugh.
#3: She was an independent woman who knew how to spend money.
#4: She could COOK.  Like you cannot believe!
#5: She could do all sorts of handiwork--embroidery, knitting, crochet, you name it.
#6: She taught me how to whistle.  She was the BEST whistler!

We really want to focus today on #2 and #4.  My favorite memories of my Grandma are her getting so tickled at stuff and just cackling away.  This was usually done when she was in the kitchen, and everyone usually migrated toward that area if she was there.  She was a great conversationalist and had a story for almost everything she ever cooked or baked.

Which leads me to one of the Hubby's favorite desserts: her blissfully simple custard.

One other man springs to mind that loved her custard--my Dad.

Grandma's custard recipe is old but it is very simple.  Custard, or to purists, crème moulée, is any type of sweetened custard thickened with eggs only.  There are variations of custards, from pastry cream used to fill éclairs, all the way to savory custards found in quiche.  We are sticking with the basics.

For this custard, you will need the following:

5 eggs (I use organic, grade AA, large or extra-large)
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups of whole milk

(If you have almond extract, I highly recommend adding about 1/8 tsp.  If you don't have it, don't sweat it.  It just makes the vanilla a bit more pronounced.)

You do need a little (or big, whatever!) strainer like the one in the pic, or a piece of cheesecloth.

Preheat your oven to 325*F.

In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, salt, and extract(s).  Set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan over low-med heat, scald 4 c. of milk, stirring often.  Scalding means to bring it to just under a boil.  If it is steaming, you know it is ready.  Do not bring it to a boil!   You can use a thermometer if you want--let it get to 180*F.

Whisk milk into egg/sugar/salt mixture, quickly.  Stir all together.

Pour over strainer into individual custard cups, corningware ramekins, or similar ovenproof bakeware that have been placed in a bain marie (water bath--hot water about half-way up the outside of the cups or dish).  You can also go the easy route, and just put it in a 2 quart casserole.  Keep in mind the individual cups will cool faster.

I sprinkled cinnamon on some and fresh grated nutmeg on others. You can then place the entire dish, uncovered, in a preheated 325*F oven for 40-45 minutes.

How do I know when it's ready?

You will take a sharp knife and just stick it right down in the middle of the custard, as if you were testing a cake.  It should come out clean, like this:

This may not look clean to you, but it is.  If the custard was not set, the knife would be covered in pudding.

Take them out of the water bath immediately to cool on a rack. Let cool completely.

You can serve them at room temperature, or you can chill them.  If you go the fridge route, be sure to take saran wrap to the top of them, be sure to press the saran down directly on top of the custard to prevent the top from being too thick.

mmmmm....eggy creamy goodness. 

See?  I told you it was simple!  And, there's so many ways you can go with this basic custard.  You can turn it into a brulée by firing up a little sugar on top with your kitchen welding equipment; if you don't have a torch you can put them on a cookie sheet and stick 'em under a broiler (be sure to watch them carefully).  You can also drizzle caramel over the top and call it a flan.  Something else that is really outstanding is Smuckers Boysenberry Syrup with just a couple of fresh blackberries. 

I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step; but I really hope you enjoy the custard.  I am happy to share it with you!

Drinking the Grape Kool-Aid

My Mountain Laurels are blooming.

Aren't they lovely?  Clusters, much like fruit, of purple and lavender blooms that smell like grape kool-aid.  No kidding!   They're fantastic.  We have three shrubs in our backyard, and today is the day they decided to pop.  I am so excited.  This is when I love macro.  My camera may be old, but it can really put out some stunning images sometimes!

Just wanted to share!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day for Teachers

I found an adorable idea on Pinterest not too long ago.  It was a gift for teachers for Valentine's Day--a bowl full of fruit with cute little stickers on them.  I thought that was a great idea for Paige's Mother's Day Out group--teachers and admins--since they were going to be eating a lot of chocolate today. The fruit could be a healthy alternative.  Because, you know, everyone wants to be healthy on Valentine's Day. LOL.

My sister-in-law Jennifer sent me a template for me to use with my plain sticker paper (just use a paper punch when you're done printing).  I went to H-E-B and bought $26 worth of Honeycrisp apples, $5 worth of Clementines, and then drove to Hobby Lobby where I paid less than $9 for a cute basket with a handle.

Here are my beautiful apples after being washed thoroughly:

Honeycrisps are so big and delicious!  Green stems mean super-fresh.

...and yummy, easy-to-peel California Clementines. 

here they are, all finished.

The oranges say "Orange you glad you're my Valentine?" 

The apples say, "You're the Apple of my Eye".

This was for the entire staff, or roughly 20 people.  A creative, simple, inexpensive gift that you could actually do any time of the year.   They loved it!

Here's some free printable fruit tags: and you can buy sticker sheets from this gal here, for just $8!

Pin this for next year!  You won't regret it.  BTW, did I mention I am having a contest next week?  I sure am...stay tuned!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

America's Test Kitchen, Revisited: Devil's Food Cupcakes With Vanilla Crusting Buttercream Frosting

I made these a few years ago.  I have not really had the opportunity to make them again because I have two little girls that like vanilla cupcakes better than chocolate.  I have to tell you, though, that they are really divine.  They have such a rich, heavy, dark chocolate taste to them and they bake up lovelier than any box mix.  The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen. I made these for Valentine's Day, and as you can see here, for the festive occasion, I chose to color my homemade crusting buttercream a lovely shade of pink.

Here's the recipe, in case you'd like to make a surprise for your sweetheart.

For the cake:
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
4oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 tsp instant espresso powder
10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and preheat to 350F. Grease 2 12-muffin tins. Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the boiling water, chocolate, 1/2 cup cocoa, and instant espresso together until smooth. 

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat until incorporated.

3. With the mixer on low, beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients followed by 1/2 of the chocolate mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour and the remaining chocolate. Beat in the remaining flour until just incorporated. 

4. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared muffin tins (2/3 to 3/4 full), smooth the tops, and gently tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. 

5. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cakes, then flip them out onto wire racks. Peel off the parchment and flip cakes right side up. Let cool completely before frosting, about 2 hours. 


  • 1/2 cup solid high ratio shortening 
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1 tablespoon of meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon Clear Vanilla Extract (or extract of choice)
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (1 lb.)
  • 2 tablespoons milk

In a large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla and milk. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating on a slow speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. Keep bowl or covered with a damp cloth until ready to use, or it will begin crusting. Refrigerated in an airtight container up to two weeks. 

If you don't have high-ratio shortening, you can substitute with Crisco and about 2 T. half-and-half or heavy cream (or until your icing is at the right consistency). 

This is a great week for sweets!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Sweethearts": Chocolate Chunk Brownies

Brownies!  The very word conjures up images of my first attempts at baking from a box mix.  Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker.  The best brownies always came from a box, growing up.  Nowadays, I like to make my own. Callebaut is my favorite cocoa powder; I use it in a lot of my cooking and baking.  It has a lovely, smooth and heavily chocolate flavor, thanks to the dutch process of adding alkaline powder (potassium sorbate) to raise the ph of the cocoa and make it less acidic.  It mellows the chocolate and allows deep flavor and color to come through in sauces, candy, and mousse/puddings, where typical American style cocoa does better with baking in cakes and cookies.  When I make my Texas Sheet Cake, I use American cocoa for the cake and Callebaut for my icing.  It really does make a difference, and is delicious!

For brownies, I like to add chunks of bittersweet chocolate (Ghiradelli 60% cacao chips) to the batter.  The brownie is sweet enough on its own; what I try to accomplish by adding chips/chunks is change the texture and deepen the chocolate flavor.

If you have a heart-shaped cookie cutter, you can really come up with a cute way to surprise your loved one, whether it's your hubby, boyfriend, kid, teacher, or friend!

(my recipe is adapted from a 1983 issue of Sunset magazine)

  • Dark Chocolate Chunk Brownies

  • 1 bag of Ghiradelli bittersweet 60% cacao chips
  • 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) unsalted, organic butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 3  extra-large eggs 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • Preheat oven to 325*F. 
  • In a small saucepan, combine half the chocolate chips and the butter. Heat over low heat until chocolate is melted. Stir until mixture is smooth. Turn off heat. In a bowl, with a wooden spoon (not a mixer! you don't want cake!), beat eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Add chocolate mixture and stir until well blended. Add flour, about a third at a time, stirring after each addition just until blended. Add remaining chocolate chips and mix just until chunks are evenly distributed.
  • Scrape batter into a 9" square pan lined with parchment paper (overlapping on sides so you will be able to take brownies out later to cut). Bake in a 325° regular (or 300° convection oven) just until surface develops a thin crust and a fingertip pressed very gently in the center leaves a soft impression, 20 to 25 minutes; take care not to overbake. Cool completely in pan on a rack, at least 1 hour. Lift brownie out on parchment, peel off parchment, and set brownie on a board. Cut into shapes.  My heart cookie cutter is big, so I can only make 4 large hearts and then I cut the rest into small bite-sized squares.  Dust powdered sugar lightly on top and place in a wax-paper lined tin or small basket to give to the lucky guy, gal, or kiddo! 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sweets for Your Sweetie: Cranberry-Orange & White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Well, I'm down to 253.  So I am officially 39 lbs down since my surgery almost two years ago.  It's been a long tough road of learning what healthy eating is, and how to change my perspective about the way I eat and the way my body processing things.

So now that I've gotten that out of the way, allow me to show you what an indulgence looks like:

This is not your ordinary average cranberry cookie that you've no doubt seen all Christmas long. Oh, no.  This is a collision of three different flavors that somehow, by the goodness of Mother Nature, blend together in a sublime pop of deliciousness the moment it is crushed between your molars.

^^flair for the dramatic.

The first thing you must do is soak about 3/4 c. of Ocean Spray Craisins (or other dried cranberries).  Soak them, you say?
Now that I have your attention...

Soak the dried cranberries in 1/3 cup of Orange liqueur.  This can be Curaçao, Patron Citronge (my favorite), Grand Marnier, Cointreau, et al.  Soak them overnight if you can...but if you can't, then cook them in the liqueur in the microwave for about 30-40 seconds, then let sit for two hours.  You will need to drain them just before using.

The reason you are soaking them is twofold:

1. to plump them up
2. to give them flavor

They will NOT taste like alcohol.  I promise.  The alcohol evaporates during the overnight soaking, and the baking process helps with that as well.

In a medium bowl, stir together:

1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Set flour mixture aside.

In a larger bowl, cream 1/2 cup of butter until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes on medium). 
Add 1/2 c. sugar, and 1/2 c. light brown sugar
Add 1 tsp. vanilla
Add 1 egg
Add 2 tsp. orange zest (approx. 2 med oranges' worth)

Mix until blended. 

Slowly add flour mixture until incorporated, then add:

1 c. uncooked oats (Quaker, etc)
the soaked & drained Craisins
5-6 oz white chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli)

stir or mix until incorporated.

Using a level scoop (I use the medium scoop from Pampered Chef but you can also use 2 level T. for each cookie), space cookies 2" apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or using a silpat.

Bake in a preheated 350*F oven for 10-12 minutes. Yield is about 28 decent-sized cookies.

Cool on a rack and then put in a super duper cute box with ribbon, a mini galvanized pail, or kraft paper bag and give away as gifts to teachers, hubbies, ungrateful children, etc!  Me, I gave some to my daughter's bus drivers as a surprise treat. Save some for yourself, too.  Gotta be sweet to yourself, right?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Good Reasons to Stop Using Your Debit Card and Start Paying in Cash

It is a published fact that people on average spend more when they are using their debit cards. Just do a Google search and you'll find numerous articles on the Art of Overspending with a Debit Card.

I am the budget-keeper in our household.  This is a weighty responsibility for me, as I never really was  one to balance my checkbook (back in the days when we all had checkbooks to balance).  I have always been more of a "I'm pretty sure I have that in my account" kind of gal.   And, I usually did.  This was back when I was single and had no family to take care of.

Fast forward several years, and I have the same attitude, but with a debit card.  My kind of bookkeeping is dangerous to one with a debit card.  Groceries are $208 and I only have $140 in cash?  No problem!  Put it on the debit card.  Later on, I marvel that I am still are walking around with $140 in my wallet and I haven't spent it yet.  I believe they call this "delusional".

After doing a bit of research, I've decided to stop using my debit card at the grocery store for the entire month of February.  Yes!  Another 30 day challenge.  I love them--they keep me on my toes!  I am also  severely restricting my budget.  I don't know if anyone even reads my blog but if you do and you use, you know what I am talking about when I say the fear of God was put into me when I noticed huge chunks of my monthly spending on the "pie chart" diagram was devoted to H-E-B, SuperTarget, and Walmart.  I thought, with horror, that one family of four could not possibly spend $800 in January and $1200 in December....on GROCERIES???  I had to go back and look at my spending habits, so I reluctantly logged in to my bank account and re-traced my steps.

I began to notice a pattern.

I'd spend $175 at HEB and you can tell that's my weekly grocery shopping.  Two days later, however, I'd be at SuperTarget picking up 1) things I can't get at HEB and 2) about a thousand other things I don't need.  That bill would be a little lower, but still, between $40 and $80.   That wasn't my only pattern; the other one was that one of us--either Matt or myself--was at a grocery store of some kind twice or three times a week.  That's almost $300 on groceries a WEEK!  And that doesn't count our trips to Costco, which effectively, run us about $300 for the month.

The debit card makes all of this possible for a spender like me.  I have to reel myself in if I am to be the savior of our household accounts.  So, I'm going to experiment.

$150 per week, cash only.  Debit card stays home.
Costco is once a month, cash only, $200.
Coupons are acceptable but only for things I actually use (4 cans of Aqua-Net for $1 do not count)

I've already spent $50 at the grocery store this week.  The guy looked at me like I was crazy when I was counting some coins out.  I realized I must look like an old batty woman.  I don't care, though.  I earned my stripes and I will stand there and count what I must so that I can rehabilitate myself.  He'll just have to wait!

Hey, patience is a virtue.