Pecan Praline Shortbread Bars

A tribute to my Cajun heritage……

History of Pralines

pralines
Pralines made by my sister

Pralines are a French dessert typically made with almonds or hazelnuts. Legend has it that pecan pralines became “a thing” when Ursuline nuns tossed pecans into the praline mixture because they had no almonds or hazelnuts. Others claim that pralines were named for the Duke of Choiseul-Praslin in France where pralines originated as one of those happy accidents….you know, like the discovery of penicillin. What we do know is that pecan pralines are truly a New Orleans dessert that were made famous thanks to African-American women who are credited with not only creating the shape of the pecan praline but also the recipe of the pralines we know today. New Orleans pralines have such a rich history and tradition as one of the first street foods. The shape and appearance of the praline has been compared to the murky swamps of Louisiana. The history of pecans has strong ties to the African-American culture as emancipated slaves made the pralines as a means of income. For more on this rich history, click here to read a wonderfully written article detailing the cultural ties of one of New Orleans signature desserts. Recipes were passed down from generation to generation and many families had their own recipe as a closely held secret.

Growing up all over the state of Louisiana, my fondest memories were always visiting my grandparents in LaPlace, LA. We would drive all day and arrive when it was dark outside. I remember walking into their house right into the kitchen where my grandmother would be standing at the stove cooking gumbo or rice and gravy. Thinking of the aroma of the food cooking on the stove takes me back to those days. The long green table in the kitchen/dining room where bourre games would go long into the night while my sister and I slept on the sofa bed in the next room; sitting on the red swing outside and petting Smokey, their gray cat; driving in the car sitting between my grandparents in the middle seat that was in the front of the car because I was the youngest. The case of cookies my grandfather had from his friend who worked for Nabisco who we affectionately called “the cookie man.” And the food…..all family visits and family gatherings were centered around the food. There was always a pot of something on the stove (gumbo, red beans, etouffee) that was served over rice, which was in the other pot on the stove and a big bowl of potato salad that would be spooned on top of the gumbo. Sometimes we’d cover the green table with newspaper and have a shrimp boil with potatoes and corn or a crawfish boil. I remember after the crawfish boil, the women of the family would sit around the table gathering up all the leftover crawfish meat (from the tails) and save all the abdomen shells and other parts to make a crawfish stock or a shrimp stock and stuff later for making etouffee.

Pecan pralines and red velvet cake were had on special occasions. I can remember my mom making pralines every Christmas for us to have. We always knew when the kitchen counters were covered with newspaper and wax paper on top what was happening that day. We also knew to stay out of the kitchen and not bother my mom because cooking pralines was a bit of a delicacy. My grandmother’s recipe doesn’t have any kind of cooking time associated with it. She could just feel it when the pralines were ready. This is the same recipe that has been passed down to all of us and I have far more trouble “feeling” my way to making pralines. Maybe with more practice….Instead, I have started making other pecan praline desserts. The dessert I have for this blog post is a pecan praline shortbread bar. I love love love shortbread and pralines so marrying the two together seemed like it could be a match made in heaven. And boy, was I right. If I may toot my own horn, these bars are so rich and tasty. Have a cup of coffee or a glass of milk with these babies.

Pecan Praline Shortbread Bars

For this recipe, I used a standard shortbread recipe like the one you can find here.

Pecan Praline Shortbread Bars

A yummy twist on a New Orleans favorite. 

Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Servings 6 bars
Author The Nerdy Cajun Chef

Ingredients

  • 1 c butter softened
  • 3/4 c powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c half & half
  • 1/2 c pecans
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.  Beat 1 cup softened butter until creamy.  Add in powdered sugar and beat butter and powdered sugar until they are combined.  Add 1 tsp vanilla and beat until vanilla is incorporated into the butter powdered sugar mix. Add in flour 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition to mix the flour.  You may have to fold in the last bit of flour with your hands or a spatula.  Press shortbread into bar mold or into an 8x8 pan.  For the bar pan, I make sure to leave a little bit of room for toppings.  With a fork, make some hold in the shortbread.  Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes.  I like to leave these a bit underdone so they are soft and chewy.

  2. While the shortbread is cooling, make the praline topping.  Melt 2 Tbsp. butter and 1/2 c. brown sugar in a small pan over medium heat.  Add in a pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon.  Slowly add in half and half and whisk until incorporated. Cook for an additional 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Add pecans if you want to at this stage and let the mixture cool to room temperature.  Alternatively, place pecans on top of shortbread bars.  When the mixture has cooled, remove shortbread bars to a wire rack.  Pour praline mixture over the top of the bars and let it set for about 10-15 minutes.

My Pecan Praline Shortbread Bars

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. If you make them, drop a comment to let me know how they turn out.

 

Cheers!

The Nerdy Cajun Chef

Welcome to My Kitchen!

Deep breath, cross fingers, close eyes, jump….

Here Goes Nothing

I just moved across the country with the family. Just about everything that could have changed did….all at once. It was one of those moves where you have just a few weeks to get organized, pack up, drive 2200 miles with a 5 year old and 3 cats in 1 car and hope for the best. We bought a house based on internet pictures and a video taken with an iPhone (no, really). Needless to say, we still have boxes to unpack, pictures to hang and about a million other tasks. This has set my anxiety to level 100 in a flash. And when my anxiety gets going, I like to do something to check out for a bit. Enter my crafting obsession. I love love love to make things. Cards, soaps, lotions, outfits, stuffed animals…..I love it all. I’m starting this blog to share some ideas and projects I’ve been thinking about and putting together.

I speak sarcasm so please don’t take these entries too seriously. It’s all in good fun.

Pumpkin Porter Oat Bread

Ah, fall…..my favorite time of year. I am a fan of pumpkin everything (almost). This pumpkin porter beer bread does not disappoint. How I got to this recipe is kind of funny though.

Picture it…..the grocery store….2018. A 38 year old mom who is perpetually sleep deprived is trying to check out at the grocery store. Suddenly, she sees a black box with Pumpkin written on it and thinks “ooh, score. I can buy Pumpkin in bulk now.” Imagine her surprise when her husband asks why she got Pumpkin Porter when she doesn’t like beer. Please tell me you read that in a Sophia Petrillo voice? Golden Girls is still one of my favorite shows. If you haven’t watched The Golden Girls, stop what you’re doing and go watch.

But, back to this bread. I look at the box of pumpkin porter and think WTF am I gonna do with this crap? And then it hits me, beer bread. Baking bread is not my strong suit. But beer bread is so much easier because you don’t have to worry about proofing the bread and making the yeast all happy because….beer.

For this recipe, I added in oats because I thought oats and fall and pumpkin go together. This takes about 10 minutes to prep and an hour to bake. I added 1 teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour-oats mixture. I used brown sugar to give a little sweetness but not a lot to be overpowering. Ok, I really added the brown sugar because I was out of white sugar. Hard to believe I ran out of sugar before holiday baking season hit. I added a splash of rice milk to bring it all together because I’m at a higher altitude and I needed the extra moisture. If you’re not a half-mile above sea level, you probably don’t need the splash of rice milk.

I sliced the bread and served it with an amazing honey mustard chicken, green beans and a baked sweet potato for a very yummy feast.

Pumpkin Porter Oat Bread

Simple and easy beer bread perfect for fall.

Course Side Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 8 Slices

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats plus some extra to sprinkle on top
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 12 oz can of pumpkin porter beer
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 splash rice milk if needed.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

  2. Mix dry ingredients with a fork to break up clumps

  3. Add beer to dry ingredients and mix well.  If the mixture is too dry, add a splash of rice milk, or milk if that’s what you have.

  4. Transfer mixture to a greased loaf pan.  Pour melted butter on top of loaf and sprinkle with oats (optional).  Bake at 350 F for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool a bit before serving.

  5. I like to have this warm with butter all melted in the bread.  So so so good.

DIY Popsicles

DIY Popsicles

Ah, popsicles……frozen, messy treats that were the perfect treat on a hot summer day as a child.  We used to love hearing the ice cream truck music and beg our mom to let us get a treat.  Of course, the best popsicles were the ones in the bags because no sticky hands and no accidentally losing a chunk of popsicle when it fell off the stick.  I have fallen in love with the Pampered Chef Quicksicle maker because I can make my own frozen concoctions with only about 10 minutes in the freezer.  Moms out there will know that a 10 minute wait can sometimes save the day (especially when kids are hot, thirsty & hungry).  Oh, who am I kidding?!  A 10 minute wait saves the day when adults are hot, thirsty & hungry too.  Continuing on in my series of freezer treats, I give you an epic list of popsicle flavors to try at home.  There are even some boozysicles (is that a word?) for the adults.  Check out my tips for making your own popsicles first to help save you from the failures I had trying to make some of these.

Untitled design (13)Tips for Making Your Own Popsicles:

1. Use fruit juice or chocolate milk

2. If making “adult” popsicles (AKA ones with alcohol), use no more than 1 Tbsp. alcohol in each pop.

3. Fruit should be thinly sliced.

4. Before pouring liquids into the mold, make sure they are chilled so you don’t heat up your freezer molds.

5. Add a bit of a natural sweetener to something that is sugar-free.

6. Use fruit that is thinly sliced instead of the whole fruit (this is true for berries too).

7. If you are using alcohol, carbonated beverages, puddings, yogurt and/or ice cream, make sure to blend these mixtures with something else (fruit juice, for example).

8. For recipes with granulated sugar, dissolve in water and heat on the stove to make a simple syrup.  Then proceed with blending, pureeing, processing, whatever you like for the rest of the recipe.

For more tips on making your own popsicles (or paletas), check out this article from Epicurious.  Also, their blackberry, honey & yogurt popsicle sounds heavenly.  j/s

Recipes for making your own popsicles.

Popsicles for the Family

1. Kiwi Watermelon

2. Kiwi Strawberry: Use the kiwi watermelon above but substitute pureed strawberries in place of the watermelon.

3. Watermelon mint

4. Strawberry Lemonade

5. Key lime: My super easy hack for this is to use graham crackers at the cookie sides. Then spoon some key lime yogurt in the middle and freeze. This recipe is so easy and tasty that my husband made a second batch all on his own. He does not bake y’all….like, at all.

6. Mint Chocolate Chip

7. Cake batter

8. Cookies n’ Cream

9. Lemon Icebox Pie: Using a packet of lemon pudding, mix with dairy free milk (I like the Rice Dream Enriched) according to the packet directions. Pour into freezer molds and freeze. Before serving, dip in coconut cream (for dairy free) or regular whipped cream. Sprinkle crushed graham crackers onto the whipped cream layer (or cookie crumbs) and a little lemon zest.

Lemon Pie Ice Pops

10. Orange Strawberry

Boozy Popsicles

1. Corpse Reviver: This recipe is in the current BHG magazine, so it’s not up on the web as of this post.  I’ll keep looking for it though.

2. Adult Ice Pops from the folks at Better Homes & Gardens

3. 15 Boozy Ice Pops from the folks at Buzzfeed.

4. Followed by Buzzfeed’s 23 Boozy Ice Pops That Will Get You Drunk.  (please drink some water so you don’t dehydrate though.  k?)

5. Piña Colada

Let me know if you try any of these and how they come out.

Cheers!

The Nerdy Cajun Chef

Freezer Jam

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Have you always wanted to make your own jam? Have you been afraid to use pressure canning to preserve foods (I know I am)? Have you wanted to make your own jam but didn’t want to spend a fortune purchasing a pressure canner and all the accessories? Say hello to freezer jam! Make your own favorite jam recipes and experiment with new combinations. Store in the freezer until you are ready to use and then keep in the fridge. Yummy! Below are some tips for making freezer jam along with a list of my favorites.

What do you need?

**Freezer safe glass jars or plastic jars with tight-fitting lids**

Fruit: use fruit that is in season and at its peak of freshness. You won’t be cooking the fruit so it’s important to use ripe fruits. Trust me, you’ll know if the fruit isn’t quite right with freezer jam.

Pectin: 1 packet plus 3/4 c. water.

Sugar

How to make freezer jam

  1. Prep the fruit:  wash all fruit, remove stems, pits, cores, etc and mash the fruit in a bowl with a potato masher or toss in your food processor.
  2. Add the sugar to the fruit and fold to mix.  Let this sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Add 1 packet of pectin to 3/4 c. boiling water.  Whisk the pectin until dissolved.  Remove from heat.
  4. Add pectin-water mixture to the sugar fruit mixture and stir to mix. Let the jam thicken and spoon/scoop/ladle into your freezer safe jars.

Helpful Tips  Untitled design (11)

  • Freezer jam is good in the freezer for up to 1 year (so, put a date on those jars please) or in the fridge for 3 weeks.
  • Wash and thoroughly dry all jars and lids before use.
  • Follow the steps above in order.  Pectin will not dissolve in water that is not boiling.  Also, let the fruit and sugar mingle a bit.
  • Freezer jam will not be as firm as cooked and canned jam.  Just FYI…
  • Use smaller jars.  The jam only last for 3 weeks in the fridge, so smaller amounts will be more likely to get used and not go to waste.

 

Favorite Recipes

Favorite recipes

Raspberry-Peach Freezer Jam: I love love love raspberries. This is summer in a jar people!

Clementine Jam: If you’re a citrus lover, this jam is for you AND is pectin-free!

Blood Orange Jam: I love blood oranges. I would have no trouble sitting down with a spoon and a jar of this jam and just eating it on its own. Hey, wasn’t there a Friends episode about Monica and her jam plan?

Blueberry Jam: My daughter eats blueberries by the pint and if I let her, she would eat this by the jar without hesitation. This link takes you to a printable recipe too, so an added bonus.

Piña Colada Jam: “I ordered a Mai Tai but they brought me a pina colada.”-Office Space. I have watched way too much TV I think. Every time I read piña colada, I have to read it in Milton’s voice from Office Space. In other news, if you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain….this jam might be just what you need in your freezer.

Need more ideas for freezer jam? Check out this list of 17 Freezer Jams. I’m looking forward to trying the jams with peppers added. I love the sweet and spicy combo.

Have you tried any of these recipes? Do you have a favorite freezer jam recipe that I haven’t listed here? Let me know and share the recipes. I love trying new recipes.

Cheers!

-The Nerdy Cajun Chef

Ice Cream Sandwiches

Well, we’ve entered the “feels like the surface of the sun” season out here in the Southwest. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is a hot meal when we are dealing with record breaking heat. I’m kicking off a week of frozen treats and tips for freezing foods with this post devoted to ice cream sandwiches. Is there anything better really? These are so easy to assemble and you can really flex your creative muscle with these. I’m offering suggestions for ingredients you can mix and match to make your own dreamy treats.

Tips for making ice cream sandwiches:

Ice cream sandwiches can be tricky and I’ve had my fair share of epic fails trying to make these. Here are a few tips to help you make amazing ice cream sandwiches.

  • use soft cookies: If you’re baking cookies from scratch or using pre-made cookie dough, be sure to under bake these. If the cookies are crispy fresh out of the oven, they will be like a rock coming out of the freezer.
  • use mini-sized add-ins: Adding in chocolate chips, peanut butter cups, cookie pieces, cake pieces or any other add-in? Remember, these will freeze and become hard when frozen. I recommend using mini-chocolate chips or candies. For larger add-ins, just chop them up before mixing into the ice cream.
  • make in small batches: Because you’ll be working with melting ice cream, I recommend making small batches at a time. You can always wrap individual sandwiches in freezer paper and store them in larger containers.
  • match cookie halves in advance: There is nothing more stressful than trying to find a cookie half to complete your sandwich while ice cream melts and drips all over the place. Not that I’ve ever done that before or anything. For this reason, I love to use my Pampered Chef Ice Cream Sandwich Maker. This ensures uniform cookie halves and is easy to assemble and release. As an added bonus, you can bake your cookies, brownies, cakes, etc in this handy gadget. As an even bigger bonus, you can toss this bad boy into the dishwasher when you’re done. Holy Dishwasher Safe Kitchen Gadgets, Batman! One more thing, since these are square, buy the square shaped containers of ice cream and slice that up into squares while it’s frozen. Boom, ice cream filling to match the size of the cookie part.

What to use for the cookie part:

So many choices here to create endless possibilities for amazing desserts. My favorites include:

  • chocolate chip cookies
  • peanut butter cookies
  • waffles
  • stroopwaffle cookies
  • pies
  • brownies
  • churros
  • donuts
  • gooey butter cake cookies

There are endless possibilities for making unique ice cream sandwiches. Donuts and cake batter ice cream, lemon sorbet between sugar cookies and so many more.

My favorite flavor combinations

  1. Tiramisu: angel food cake with cappuccino ice cream. Freeze and dip in chocolate. *Friendly tip: after slicing your angel food cake, roll it with a rolling pin to flatten it out a bit.
  2. Dreamsicle: vanilla wafers and swirl orange sorbet and vanilla ice cream or orange cookies with vanilla ice cream
  3. Chocolate cake mix cookies with vanilla
  4. Brownies with peanut butter ice cream
  5. Waffles with maple ice cream or snickerdoodle ice cream
  6. Stroopwaffle cookies with coffee ice cream
  7. Chocolate cookies with mint chocolate chip ice cream: Devil’s food cake mix cookies are amazing to use with mint chocolate chip ice cream.
  8. Lemon bar ice cream sandwiches: shortbread cookie/butter cookie, lemon curd and vanilla ice cream for the filling
  9. Frozen Greek yogurt: add sugar, key lime juice, key lime zest, vanilla to Greek yogurt. Freeze between graham cracker sheets. Boom, key lime pie treats. For an added treat, after freezing these, dip them in white chocolate. You can do this with blueberries, strawberries, peaches, whatever kind of fruit combo you like. You can even get really fancy and make some shortbread cookies with basil and pair with a frozen strawberry Greek yogurt mixture.
  10. S’mores: cinnamon graham cracker sheets, caramel Greek yogurt, vanilla, sugar, splash of coffee or coffee liqueur, marshmallow cream, dip in chocolate

Which ones are your favorites? Let me know how these turn out when you try them.

Cheers!

-The Nerdy Cajun Chef

Meal Prepping Post 3: Going to the store

Welcome back to the third post in a series on meal prepping and meal planning.  Today we’re going to focus on taking inventory, going to the store and meal prepping.

Check your inventory

First things first: go through your fridge and freezer and see what you have and what may need to be used up sooner.  Have some veggies that have been hanging out in your fridge for a week?  Find a recipe to use those first.

Step 2: Look to see what’s on sale.  I usually pick 1 type of meat and focus meal planning with that type of meat first.  Is ground turkey on sale?  Then we’re having turkey burgers, turkey tacos, turkey stir-fry bowls, etc.  Are whole chickens on sale?  Great, buy 2 and roast both of them.  Save the bones to make stock and use the chicken for chicken salad, soups, sandwiches, wraps, etc.

Step 3: Pick your recipes.  It seems odd that this is step 3 for going to the store, but once you see what’s on sale, you can better plan your meals.  Several of the couponing sites will post sale ads several days before the sale, giving you extra time to plan.  This is the point at which you want to evaluate your week and see what your schedule will allow you to do.  Do you have a particularly busy week coming up?  If so, select at least 1 slow cooker meal and 1 sheet pan dinner.  Are you trying to spend less money this week?  If so, google for budget dinners.  Pick at least 1 recipe to double so you have ample leftovers.

Step 4: Write a list.  Yes, really, make a list and stick to it.  Also, eat something before you go to the store.  You’ll have more patience and avoid impulse purchases because you won’t be hungry.  Include a back up plan on your list.  This will cover working late, someone getting sick, a last minute school project that must be completed, etc.  I usually grab a frozen pizza to keep in the freezer.

Step 5: Go shopping!  I prefer to go early in the day because I hate crowds.  Talk about setting off my anxiety…..