Saturday, June 21, 2014

Banana Pudding Time

Banana pudding time folks! The 4th of July is almost here, and I can't think of a better way to end a summer barbecue than with a bowl full of made-from-the-box vanilla pudding, ripe bananas, Nabisco Vanilla Wafers, and creamy Cool Whip. Sorry--this is an old-fashioned pudding that our mothers and grandmothers used to make. In Texas we don't mess with perfection.

Classic and just good all around--banana pudding!

I remember several years ago when I first visited Savannah and waited in line to eat at Paula Deen's restaurant The Lady and Sons. Fried chicken amazing--couldn't get enough, collard greens perfect, biscuits absolutely divine...but the banana pudding filling tasted like it came out of a can. Definitely not homemade or even made with instant Jello pudding mix--in my opinion. I was so disappointed it nearly ruined my meal. Thankfully, I was extremely full and survived this dessert disaster. To this day I'm still not sure what about that pudding was so disappointing--it just didn't taste like the dessert my mother always made for Sunday dinners and family barbecues...and it is really hard to mess up banana pudding in any way, shape, or form. 

My friend Gina Schroeder's recipe for banana pudding has a few truly Southern ingredients that are pretty much must haves for any version of this dessert: condensed milk, instant Jello boxed pudding mix, and frozen Cool Whip. Just go with it OK? You'll be coming back for seconds or thirds, if there are miraculously any leftovers. In my mother's book, this would be a fancy version because of the "French" vanilla instant pudding and sour cream. Helen Elizabeth followed the directions on the back of the Jello box, just  like any other 1960's mom with 4 kids would do. And we were thankful just to have dessert in those days!

Yes, the box recipe could maybe/possibly be improved with a homemade cream filling, caramelized bananas, and freshly whipped cream. Or perhaps one could make homemade meringue to put on top and brown in the oven for a more dramatic appearance. But why would you want to do that and tick off your grandmothers, mothers, or great-aunts? Trust me they might haunt you for life. I think the "instant" part of this recipe may be the saving grace on my end.

Keep it simple and enjoy what I think is one of the South's truly grand desserts. Remember you're sharing with family and friends at a backyard barbecue. This is what Texans eat when they are with family, along with chocolate Sheath Cake and peach cobbler with Blue Bell Peach ice cream. We wouldn't have it any other way.


OK--I decorated the top a little with crumbled wafers. That's about as fancy as it is going to get.

Gina's Banana Pudding
printable recipe
Serves 8-10

2    3-1/2 ounce boxes of Jello Instant French Vanilla Pudding
2    cups of milk
1    can of Eagle Brand condensed milk
1    8 ounce carton of sour cream
2    teaspoon vanilla extract
1    12-ounce box Nabisco Vanilla Wafers
6    ripe, but still firm bananas
1    pint frozen Cool Whip, softened overnight in refrigerator 
Mix pudding and milk together until blended. Add Eagle Brand milk, sour cream, vanilla, and 1/2 of the Cool Whip.

In a glass bowl, layer pudding, vanilla wafers, and bananas. Repeat until you run out of pudding. If you prefer you can crumble the wafers, but we like them whole for that soft cookie taste.
With a wire whisk or hand mixer, whip remaining Cool Whip until fluffy. Spread on top of pudding. Sprinkle topping with crumbled vanilla wafers.
Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chili-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs with Espresso Barbecue Sauce--thoughts of Franklins?

Ready for the grill!
This is the kind of summer recipe you will love--almost all of the work gets done in the oven at your convenience. The cooked pork ribs are then brushed with a homemade barbecue sauce that starts with a bottle of good-quality sauce, grilled briefly, then they're ready to serve. The sauce has just a hint of coffee and beer--which might seem like a strange combination, but it's amazingly good! It reminds me of the yummy sauce served at Franklin's BBQ in East Austin. Smokey, a hint of coffee, touch of chili powder and cumin, and a little tang from that bottle of beer to wake up your taste buds.

Baby back pork ribs get a dry rub, then cook slowly in the oven in dark beer.
Almost all the cooking gets done inside in the cool air conditioning. You can make the ribs and sauce a day ahead, then warm them on the grill for 3 minutes per side. You don't have to share that part with your guests.
A brush of the smokey BBQ sauce and a few minutes on the grill and they are ready to serve.
Baby back pork rib meat, when cooked properly, should fall off the bone when you take your first bite. The meat is coated with a dry rub, then basted with sauce as the ribs char for a minute or two on the outside grill. You can skip this step if you like, but they do look great when you take the time to hit the grill briefly. Your choice. Too hot outside--skip the grill. No one will turn them down either way.
Yes--they are that good!
Be sure and buy baby back pork ribs for this recipe and pre-slice before baking. Makes serving much easier and eliminates having to cut hot ribs. Any beer works. I've used Dos Equis, Tecate, Newcastle Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and others I don't even remember. I prefer an Ale in this sauce recipe, and never use light beer. Your choice. I don't drink beer, so I usually use what is in the fridge. The combination of beer, brown sugar, and espresso powder will knock your socks off. You can add a little more heat with Tabasco powder or use a Chipotle-style chili powder if you like. Try it this way first though and let me know what you think.

The best part--you really don't have to have an outside grill (apartment dwellers) to have great baby back ribs! Pass it on...

Chili-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs with Espresso Barbecue Sauce
Printable recipe
From Lovell's of Lake Forest, Illinois
Bon Appétit June 2003

2 tablespoons hot Mexican-style chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 table ground cumin
1 1/ teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds baby back pork ribs

1 12-ounce bottle dark beer

1 18-ounce bottle good-quality barbecue sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons packed golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder

Preheat oven to 400°F. Whisk chili powder, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper in small bowl to blend. Rub spice mixture all over ribs. Place ribs in heavy large roasting pan.

Boil beer in medium saucepan until reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Pour beer around ribs. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake ribs until fork-tender, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Combine barbecue sauce, 1/2 cup water, brown sugar, and espresso powder in heavy medium saucepan. Simmer until flavors blend and sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Ribs and barbecue sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool slightly, then cover separately and refrigerate.

Heat grill to medium. Brush ribs with barbecue sauce and grill until heated through, about 3 minutes per side at most. Transfer ribs to platter. Bring remaining sauce to simmer. Brush cooked ribs with more sauce, as needed and serve. Pass sauce separately.

Makes 4-6 servings. Can be doubled or tripled or multiplied as needed!


Monday, June 16, 2014

4th of July Cookie decorating ideas

The upcoming 4th of July celebration is as American as it gets. Flags fly, fireworks fill the nation's night skies, and families and friends spend the entire day together eating, drinking, and celebrating our country's birth. Red, white, and blue are the colors of the day. Streets are lined with American flags, and in Austin, boats tied together in the cove proudly fly Old Glory and fill their coolers with flag-decorated beverages cans...think Bud Light and Dr. Pepper. No garment or accessory is too gaudy or less-than-tasteful to wear--flag sunglasses, flag swimsuits, flag t-shirts, flag hats (tacky and patriotic). Americans look forward to this day probably more than Christmas. The only holiday that possibly competes with "The 4th" would be Thanksgiving. 

My son's 4th of July boat I said nothing too
tacky or controversial on this day of national pride!
Austinites can enjoy numerous cool lakes, springs, and creeks and have access to great food and lots of Texas beer every weekend in the summer, but we especially love the city-wide party day of July 4th! I should end this patriotic rant with a local saying: God Bless America...specially Texas!

Now that you understand our deep passion for this national day of celebration, let me tell you more about the traditional food and drink. On July 4th we drink lots of iced tea, icy cold beer, Lime-a-ritas, and frozen margaritas. The party doesn't begin until the homemade guacamole and queso, along with fresh salsa and store-bought salsas, fill the kitchen counter. Austinites love to fry just about anything in the food world--catfish, onion rings, okra, corn tortilla chips, pies (another post)--and we will stuff or wrap whatever spicy peppers we have with bacon. The ever-favorite cream cheese stuffed jalapeño and Gulf shrimp filled with jalapeño strips and wrapped in bacon, immediately come to mind. 

This the day when the grill is filled to capacity with Texas-sized burgers land on Texas-sized buns, links of local German bratwurst and knockwurst, jalapeño venison sausage from the season's hunt, and plain ole beef hot dogs for the kids. Beef briskets and chicken are smoked to perfection and baby back pork ribs are coated with a dry rub and then baked in beer until the meat falls off the bone. A quick baste with sauce and a sear on the grill and they disappear. The air is filled with smokey goodness throughout the day.

Baby back pork ribs with dry rub and long beer braise--oh my--recipe to follow soon.
Bowls of potato salad made from grandma's recipe with lots of real mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sweet pickles, sweet onion, hard-boiled eggs, and a dusting of paprika, sit alongside Pyrex dishes filled with crunchy coleslaw and Aunt so and so's poppy seed dressing. Someone always brings a tray of deviled eggs, which disappear immediately. Peach cobbler made with Fredericksburg peaches, Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, banana pudding, brownies, cookies, and watermelon slices fill the dessert table. It's a day of pigging out, relaxing in some sort of cool water source--pool, lake, spring, or creek--and consuming far too much to be floating in water as the fireworks fill the evening sky.

The night ends with a walk down to Lake Austin to see the firework display. Neighbors gather along the shoreline and boaters fill a portion of the lake by the Pennybacker Bridge for the final hurrah. The Finale is always spectacular and loud and applause and boat horns signal the end of the big celebration. We follow the path back home with lots of tired children and adults with sparklers set ablaze to light the way. 

Cousins enjoy the fireworks display on a warm July 4th evening in Austin.

This is how America celebrates its birthday every year--and in Austin we wouldn't have it any other way.

I thought I would share a few 4th of July Sugar Cookie decorating ideas to get you ready for the big holiday. Made by my nieces last summer. Quick learners! Cookies are always a fun project to do with my nieces, nephews, and friends' kids. After years of annual Christmas decorating cookie parties in my Austin kitchen, they have all become pretty adept at decorating techniques. With a few simple instructions on how to make these designs, my nieces created lots of red, white, and blue cookies last year for their dad's Air Force retirement party--a very patriotic event. Even the not-so-perfect ones got oohs and aahs. They tasted as good as they looked.

Begin with my never-fail recipes for sugar cookies and royal icing and invite the neighborhood kids over to make dessert for the 4th. The cookies freeze well, so make them now and have one less thing to do on a very busy and fun holiday.


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