Jess’s Easy Peasy No-Funky-Stuff Chili

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People are always asking me for my chili recipe. Wanna know my secret? I don’t have one. The chili I make has no recipe and turns out a little different everytime I make it. Just like my gravy, it is a new experience every time…and I like it that way.

When I’m sick, it is hotter (because I believe in the “burn it out” method particularly with sore throats). When I am well, it is less hot, but more garlicky. When the Army sees fit to send me to some God-forsaken place without an Aldi grocery store, my chili suffers until I make a stock-up trip to wherever does have an Aldi (because no other brand will do, seriously). When I am sans hubby, it includes diced green chiles and jalapenos and real tomatoes. But alas, my husband, like so many picky family members out there, doesn’t like tomatoes or chunks of anything in his chili.

I like a bit more flavor in my food. Under no circumstances; however, will you ever find peanut butter, coffee, mustard, ketchup, beer, or cinnamon in my chili. This is very basic, home-cook-style version of a quick chili to warm your family’s bellies on a cold winter’s night…no funky stuff allowed! (Of course if you are into the funky stuff, adjust and make it your own, that is what cooking is all about, but for the rest of us…we’ll keep it simple.)

If left to his own devices, the man will make “chili” with ground beef and ketchup. I kid you not…ketchup. So even my milder batches of chili that I make chunk-free just for him are sometimes a bit too spicy for him. He has taken to chugging large glasses of milk and toning it down with crackers, but at least he stopped the whining. ūüėČ

So here it is, my slightly- wussified no-funky-stuff chili “recipe”. Perhaps you too have a family full of picky eaters who recoil at the idea of onions and veggies in their chili, but you are too proud to serve ketchup-y hamburger and call it chili. If that person is you, here is the solution.

Crumble 2 lbs ground beef into a skillet (or if you are lazy like me, into a big pot that you will later use to cook the chili in).
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Brown and season the ground beef. I like to season it with what I consider the basics + chili powder. That would be salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and chili powder. Do not skip seasoning the ground beef or you will have trouble getting depth of flavor in your chili.
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Once the hamburger is browned, drain in a colander and return to the pot. Add 1 small can of tomato sauce. This is how I get tomato flavor into it without using diced tomatoes which my husband would painfully pick out of every. single. bowl.
You may also add 3 cans of Dakota brand chili beans (from Aldi). Some people might say that is too many beans per ground beef…and they would be right, if we were putting other funky stuff in our chili, but we’re not, so go with it.
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Stir to combine and be sure your burner is turned to med-high heat. Add a can or so of water. It will not be a pretty color at this point.
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Now it is time to spice things up a bit! I have no measurements for the spices I use, but I will list them in the order of those I use the most of to those I use the least of in this recipe. The picture also shows them in this order to give you an idea of how much to try of each visually.

Chili Powder
Onion powder (remember you are entirely replacing onions with this)
Garlic powder (you can use fresh or minced if you’d like)
Salt
Pepper
Chile Pequin (also known as crushed red peppers)
Ground Cayenne

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Stir. Your chili should look like chili now, with a deep brick color.
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Once your chili is simmering, you can reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally, and continue to simmer for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on your patience level. I recommend tasting your chili at this point and adjusting your spices as needed to fit your tastes. The chili will begin to thicken up a bit with time till it looks more like this:
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Note: The pic above is after 15 minutes of simmering. Longer will truly thicken your chili as the liquid evaporates the longer it cooks.

Ladle into bowls and serve with crackers or cornbread, depending on your style. Or for my favorite application, layer chili in a bowl with shredded cheddar cheese, Fritos, and a dollop of sour cream and enjoy your homemade Frito Pie. Yum!
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Jess’s Pizza Pull-Apart Bread

PhotobucketIt isn’t too often that I come across a new recipe that I fall in love with, but recently I’ve been hitting the recipe jackpot. These are amazing! I’ve changed the recipe to make it my own, so here we go.

Jess’s Pull-Apart Pizza Bread

1/2 recipe Jay’s Pizza Crust dough
mozzarella cheese, about 20 cubed pieces
sliced pepperoni

For topping:
olive oil
Italian seasoning

garlic salt
grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan. Divide the pizza dough into roughly 20 equal sized pieces. Take one of the dough pieces and press in a cube of cheese and two slices of pepperoni. Pull the edges of the dough down around the filling and seal. Place in the pan, seam side down. Repeat with remaining dough. Each piece of dough should be touching each other in the pan. (It may seem crowded, but will be fine.)

Lightly brush the tops of the dough with olive oil. Sprinkle on seasoning mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, with dipping sauce if desired.

It should go a little something like this…
Ingredients:
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Cheese in pepperoni in dough:
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Sealed around filling:
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Pushed together nicely in the greased pan:
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Brushed with olive oil:
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Sprinkled with spices:
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Fresh outta the oven:
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Try these as an appetizer or a snack…either way, your family will be thanking you!

Published in: on November 13, 2011 at 8:40 pm  Comments (1)  
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Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

I love sweet potato fries. Especially when they are paired with a good dip and are actually crispy. I’ve had trouble making my sweet potato fries crispy in the past, though. Until I found this method, that is!

It’s really simple, but a couple extra steps and it makes all the difference!

You’ll need:

1 large sweet potato

2 TBL olive oil

2 TBL cornstarch

Oil for frying

Sea salt to taste

 

That’s it, so let’s get started!

Peel your sweet potato and cut into 1/2 fries.

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Then put 2 TBL cornstarch in a large bag along with the fries and shake, shake, shake till the fries are coated in the cornstarch.
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Next, put 2 TBL of olive oil in a bowl or on a cookie sheet and coat the fries in the oil as well.
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Preheat deep fryer or bring a large heavy pot of oil to 375 degrees. Once at temp, place fries in oil (carefully):
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After 7 minutes, they should look kinda like this:
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Quickly upon removing fries from oil, sprinkle with desired amount of sea salt and toss to coat evenly on a paper towel-lined platter.
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All done! Now wasn’t that easy? These were the best, crispest sweet potato fries I’ve ever had and I hope you enjoy them as well. I served mine with french dip sammies. I’ll be making the french dips again and blogging that super easy recipe soon. They were so delcious!
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Published in: on September 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Amazing Ranch Dressing Recipe and Pinterest

I have a new obsession with Pinterest. If you don’t know what Pinterest is, you’re living in the dark ages and probably still have a myspace page that you update regularly. Seriously, folks, get with the program! Pinterest is a website that allows you to basically “bookmark” things you see online that you like, but you bookmark with PICTURES and a link to the website page you found it on.

It is incredibly useful to keep and organize all those websites you used to “favorite” or “bookmark” and forget about. By saving each link with a picture of what inspired you, it’s much easier to remember why you fell in love with the page/recipe/idea in the first place and I find myself actually trying recipes that might’ve otherwise been long-forgotten in my favorites folder before the age of Pinterest.

This incredible ranch dressing recipe is one such little nugget of awesomeness that I remembered to make tonight after pinning it awhile back. The original blog post that inspired me can be found here. It is beyond amazing and reminds me of the ranch dressing found at Gatti’s Pizza (which is a personal addiction of mine, I might add. I go there JUST for the ranch dressing. I wish I was kidding.)

So without further ado, here’s the ranch dressing recipe that I fell in love with tonight. I will never ever be able to buy ranch dressing again. Not even from a packet. As with most items, from-scratch is almost incomparably better. You. Must. Try. This. You will not be disappointed!

Annie’s Ranch Dressing

Ingredients:
¬ĺ cup mayonnaise
¬ĺ cup sour cream
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup buttermilk
1 small bunch chives
Small handful parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped
¬Ĺ tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender or food
processor starting with ¬ľ cup of the buttermilk and blend for 10 seconds.¬† Check
the consistency and taste and blend in additional buttermilk as desired.  Taste
and adjust seasonings as necessary. Dressing will be thin, but tasty! Store in an airtight container in the
refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
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Homemade Fried Chicken…it’s not as scary as it sounds (Part Two Frying)

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Now that we’ve addressed the brining aspect, I’ll show you how I bread, fry, and bake my chicken. Yep, you read it right, I fry then bake it! This alleviates a common concern for many home cooks which is whether or not they’ve cooked the chicken enough. It also serves another purpose in that the way we bake it allows for the grease to drip off and you end up with crispy NOT greasy chicken…but still with all the flavor of fried chicken! So let’s get started.

For this you’ll need one whole cut-up chicken with the bone-in (preferably already brined as in Part One), about 2 cups flour, salt and pepper, oil/shortening, and approximately 2 cups buttermilk. Just like your grandma used to do it. I’ve tried adding other seasonings in and we just didn’t like it…so maybe grandmas all over the world had it right the first time. Simple is sometimes best!
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Put your buttermilk in one container (a bowl, pie tin, or shallow dish works nicely) and heavily salt and pepper it:
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Do the same with your flour…lots and lots of salt and pepper and mix together with a fork or whisk in a shallow bowl or pie plate!

Next you’ll need to preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and¬†put a metal cooling rack inside of a sheet pan. This is where you’ll put the chicken when it is done being breaded before it goes into the frying pan.

Also begin preheating your oil in a deep skillet or pan. You’ll need at least an inch or so deep of vegetable, canola, or peanut oil…or Crisco vegetable shortening, whichever you prefer. You want the oil to reach at least halfway up the sides of the chicken while frying to get an even browning effect. I usually turn my burner to a 6 or just above the medium heat setting at this point. The oil will preheat while you bread your chicken for frying.

The order you bread in is extremely important so we start with a thin flour coat. Dip one chicken piece at a time in flour mixture, turning to coat evenly.
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Take the lightly floured piece of chicken and move it to the buttermilk dish, coating completely in buttermilk.
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From the buttermilk, back to the flour for the final flour coating.
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Once your chicken is fully coated in the 2nd layer of flour mixture, you are done with it and you may move the chicken to the cooling rack inside the sheet pan until you have repeated the process with the rest of the chicken pieces.
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Next it’s into the frying pan for your little chicken. You can take one droplet of water and drop into the pan of oil to test if the oil is hot enough. If it is, the water will pop and sizzle, if not, it will just kinda sit there with no reaction. The temperature of the oil is very important and is not to be rushed. Putting fried items into oil that is not yet up to temperature will result in soggy, icky fried items. Never underestimate the power of a properly temped cooking device!

So, into the oil your chicken goes. Carefully place the chicken in. Do not throw or drop the chicken or you could end up with a nasty hot oil splash. Slowly and carefully, place your chicken in the pan of hot oil. Do NOT move the chicken once it is in the oil, you’ll lose breading if it is moved before the breading has crisped up properly.

It should look a little like this…see how the oil is bubbling up the sides of the chicken? That’s what you want to see:
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Leave chicken on the first side for 5-6 minutes, then flip ONCE. Constantly flipping fried items is another big mistake many new fry cooks make. You’ll never get to golden brown and delicious if you flip more than once. So turn the chicken and fry for another 4-6 minutes or until lightly golden brown on the 2nd side.

Remember that cooling rack in the sheet pan from earlier? Now’s the time to grab that. Place the fried chicken on the cooling rack in the sheet pan and pop in the oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes while you finish up the other details of your dinner.

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Take the chicken out of the oven and serve to a delighted audience! Check out the incredibly moist delicious chicken breast, here. See that glistening? That’s juicy wonderfulness and FLAVOR. It’s definitely worth your time to give chicken frying another chance!
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Homemade Fried Chicken…it’s not as scary as it sounds! (Part One-Brining)

I know everyone likes to think that frying your own chicken at home is some incredibly daunting task only to be performed by the most amazing cooks…but it’s not. I admit it can be a litle scary wondering if you’ve cooked your chicken thoroughly by the time the crust is golden brown, but if you follow a few easy steps, you too can be a master of homemade fried chicken that looks as lovely as this:
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The first step for making fried chicken that is juicy and flavorful begins with the brine. A couple of hours of brining will allow your chicken to remain moist despite the extreme temperatures of frying and will allow the chicken to cook more quickly as well.

Brine Recipe:
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Dry Brine Ingredients:
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It should also be noted that the salt to water ratio needs to remain the same, but everything else can be added, deleted, or substituted as they are just for imparting flavor to the chiken while brining.

Combine ingredients for the brine in a large pot/bucket/ice chest. You will also need ice packs to keep the brine at a safe temperature for a couple of hours during the brining process. Place your rinsed chicken pieces (I buy whole cut-up chickens for this dinner. They should weigh around 6 lbs and have the bone-in.)

The chicken pieces will likely want to float somewhat and look something like this:
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This is where you use ice packs (or another food-safe heavy item) to push the chicken pieces below the surface. It might look something like this:
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Now put your brining chicken in the fridge or add ice if you haven’t used ice packs. It’s super important to keep your chicken at a safe cool temperature for the next 2 hours.

Another note, once the chicken has finished brining, dump the brine. Do NOT reuse it. And be careful to wash everything that has touched the chicken or brine very well. Raw poultry can harbor food-borne illnesses, so it’s very important to properly cleanse anything that has come in contact with it.

Many people want to know if they can skip the brining part and the official answer is yes, you can. But once you’ve had brined chicken and un-brined chicken, you’ll never want to skip this step again, it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Now on to part two-the actual frying of the chicken.

Published in: on September 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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He’s back, I’m back, and we’re hungry!

Most of you have noticed that it’s been a really long time since I updated here. That may’ve had something to do with Army Dude (aka my husband) taking a nice little year-long vacation to Sunny Iraq. He’s back now (yay!) and so am I…because I just don’t cook much at all while he’s away. After a year of having Dominos on speed dial, I’ve ventured back into the kitchen and thought I would share my excitement with you by getting my bahootie back to blogging!

One of the first breakfasts I made for Army Dude was some French Toast. French toast is usually pretty simple and most people know how to make one version or another. But this french toast is the kind you crave at midnight…it’s just that good.

First, gather your ingredients. You’ll need the following:

1 cup half-and-half

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons sweetened french vanilla coffee creamer (other flavors work, too, or warm honey can be substituted)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 (1/2-inch) slices of challah, brioche, or french bread, stale

4 tablespoons butter

The night before, whisk together the first 5 ingredients to make your custard.
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Put custard in the fridge and set bread slices out on cooling racks to dry up overnight (4-8 hours).

The next morning, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour custard into a shallow dish (a pie pan works nicely). Prep a large cookie sheet/jelly roll pan by putting an oven-safe cooling rack inside of it.

Dip the bread slices, one at a time, in the custard mixture and let soak for 30 seconds on each side.
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Once soaked on both sides, remove the slices from the custard and place on the cooling rack in the cookie sheet pan to allow excess to drip off. Let sit for 1-2 minutes.
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Butter a large skillet or griddle on medium-high heat. Place bread slices in skillet and cook until lightly golden brown, flipping only once. This should take about 2-3 minutes per side. Once browned, put the toast back onto the cooling rack inside the sheet pan and pop into the oven for 5-7 minutes.
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Serve immediately or turn off the heat in the oven and let them stay warm while you finish the rest of breakfast. Serve with butter, maple or fruit syrup, and powdered sugar. Yum!

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Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How to make a beef pot roast in a Crock Pot!

Here’s how I make my roast in a crockpot (otherwise known as a slow cooker)…with a short disclaimer. I typically would be using 1 lb of carrots and about 4-5 potatoes cut up in the Crock Pot with my roast. This particular time; though, I used a full 2 lbs of carrots and did the potatoes on the stove to make mashed potatoes. You may also add an onion, cut into wedges or pearl onions-we just don’t care for chunks of onion in our food.

So let’s get started.
In my previous post, you saw how I peel my carrots (and potatoes are done the same way), so we’ll start with my already peeled carrots:
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Cut once, and lined up for the next cut.

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Each carrot is cut into thirds. I do this because I’m going to be cooking this low and slow for a long time, and I don’t want mushy little carrot coins when the roast is done cooking! You can do any shape you’d like, really, I just find this easier than making a million cuts. Just remember the smaller the piece of food, the faster it cooks, and the larger it is, the longer it will take to cook.

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My 2 lbs of carrots in the crock pot.

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I mix up a spice blend, b/c I like to rub it into the roast before searing. *Note: That was the closest recipe I could find to what I use for a spice rub. Searing is entirely optional, by the way. It’s something I do, lots of people don’t and if you don’t want to, you can just skip the whole searing section of this post.

The roast after the spices have been rubbed on:
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Next, I put a touch of olive oil (or regular oil is fine, too) in a pan and turn it on medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, but not quite smoking, I put the roast in the pan, and sear the roast for 30 seconds on each side. Just long enough to get a nice brown coat on it.
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The roast in the crock pot with the carrots (this would be the time to add those onions and potatoes-cut into quarters):
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Next, I simply add enough beef broth and water to cover the roast and veggies (2-3 cups of broth, 2-3 cups of water), and add whatever spices sound good (onion powder, garlic powder, seasoning salt, pepper, Italian seasoning  a touch of cayenne):
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And put the lid on, turning the Crock Pot on low. It will cook for 10 to 12 hours on low. You can usually go ahead and eat it in 8 if you need to, but the longer you cook it the more tender it will become.
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There is no need to stir…that’s the beauty of a slow cooker!

Once the roast is done, you can take out your carrots (and onions and potatoes) and put them in separate bowls:
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Take your roast out and put it on a platter:
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Now would be the time to use the broth/juices in the crock pot to make gravy if that is your desire. I’m sorry I don’t have a tutorial on the gravy just yet, but it’s coming.

And finally, serve to your happy family!
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How to peel carrots without cleanup…

I love to cook, but I hate to clean up. Most people feel the same way, I’m sure. So when I discovered this method for peeling potatoes or carrots without having to pick up peels for days afterwards, my life has been much happier!

It’s a simple concept, really, and one that seems to be more effective than any other I’ve tried. Grandma always peeled into a bowl or onto a cutting board. Then you had to scrape the slippery peelings out of the bowl into the trash, which was messy.

Mom always peeled over the trashcan…which was a vast improvement over Grandma’s method, but I never got all the peelings into the trash, so I’d still be down on my knees, scraping up those slippery peelings that missed the trashcan, plus my back would hurt from bending over to try to get the peelings in the trash…so that wasn’t the best option.

The third generation (that’d be me) approaches it all differently. I still use Mama’s potato peeler, but cleanup is a breeze with the new method.

First, you cut off both ends on a flexible cutting mat:
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Then, place a plastic grocery bag in an empty sink. Spread it out as open and wide as you can get it. Then begin moving your peeler (or a paring knife if you don’t have a peeler) from one end to the other of your carrot.
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The peelings will conveniently fall into the grocery sack, like this:
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When you are finished, simply tie the bag closed and carry it to the trashcan (or dump into your compost pile if that’s your thing). No slippery peels to clean up, no mess on the floor, and the bonus is that your back doesn’t hurt from bending over at an awkward angle to peel into the trashcan!

Tomorrow I’ll post on how to make a crockpot roast with carrots and potatoes, but I wanted to show you my method for peeling potatoes and carrots first!

Mom’s Best Cake Recipe and Picture Tutorial

I have no idea where Mom found this recipe, but she had it as long as I can remember, and I haven’t found the same recipe anywhere online by the same name or ingredients…so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. It is named Best Cake for a reason. Not only is it very tasty and incredibly moist, but it is one of the easiest cake recipes I’ve ever seen (that doesn’t include a boxed mix)!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, cake baking isn’t my specialty. Cake decorating? No problem. Cupcakes I can do, but most non-box-mix cakes just fall on me-terribly! This one is almost flawlessly executed every time…and it’s even helped me place at a church cooking contest, so I can assure you it is worth the tiny bit of effort it takes to prepare it!

First, the recipe:
Mom’s Best Cake

2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. crushed pineapple (juice and all)
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. plus 1/4 c. pecans, chopped (save the 1/4 c. for decoration)
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 pan (metal or glass will work). Mix all ingredients together, pour into pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. (Cake will turn from white cake-colored batter to a chocolate cake color during baking, this is normal.)

Frosting:
2 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 stick butter or margarine, softened (shortening will work, too)
1 8oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter and cream cheese together, add vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Mix well until creamy-about 2 minutes.
Ice the cake in pan while still warm. Sprinkle pecans over the top for decoration. (Note: if you don’t like super-sweet cream cheese icing, try using 2 packages of cream cheese, and leave the rest of the ingredient amounts the same.)

Now for the tutorial:

If you didn’t buy already chopped pecans (which I typically do, but not this time), then you are going to need to chop the pecans into small pieces. That’ll take them from this:
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To this:
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Then it’s time to grease and flour the pan. Start with some shortening or margarine in the pan:
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Wrap your fingers in a paper towel like I do, or just use your fingers to spread the shortening around the pan evenly. Be sure to cover the bottom, sides, and corners well.

Once you’ve done this, grab some flour and toss it into the pan:
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Pick up the pan and gently tap it on one side, angling the pan so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered in flour. (The flour will stick to the shortening.) Once the bottom is covered, tilt the pan on one of its’ sides (do this over the sink or a trashcan to avoid a mess) and contine tapping and tilting until you’ve covered the entire inside of the pan with flour. Tap the non-sticking remaining flour into a garbage can, and you’re done with the greasing and flouring. Your pan should look something like this:
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Measure out your pineapple, being sure to include the juices. To accomplish this, I spoon the pineapple and juice into the measuring container. This recipe will use almost all of a 15 oz. can of crushed pineapple, but not quite-so do measure it:
Crushed Pineapple

Measure the remaining ingredients (careful to reserve 1/4 cup of the pecans for decoration later) and throw them all in the bowl. Order does not matter in this cake, I promise!
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Mix until thoroughly combined. Batter will be thinner than a cake mix usually is, so don’t panic. It should look something like this:
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Pour the batter into the pan, and it should level itself out pretty nicely b/c of its’ thin nature:
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Put the pan in the oven and bake the cake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. The cake will darken during baking, so don’t panic. It’s not burnt, really:
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While the cake is baking, you want to be sure to set out the cream cheese and butter/margarine on the counter to soften. I usually just toss them both in the mixer to soften:
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Once the cake is out of the oven, you may begin creaming the butter and cream cheese together:
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Then add in your vanilla and confectioner’s sugar:
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Mix until creamy…about 2 minutes should do it. Then it’ll look like this:
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While the cake is still warm, spoon the icing onto the cake and spread with a spatula:
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Be sure to get the icing to the edges of the pan:
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For a final touch, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of chopped pecans over the cake in a random pattern. Serve warm or cold…either way is good, but nothing beats that first warm piece of Mom’s Best Cake!
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