The Perfect Chocolate Sheet Cake

Posted by Robin

So my big boy, Carver, turned 4 – four! I’m kind of in disbelief – a few weeks ago.

My no-way-can-I-sit-through-a-restaurant-dinner-unless-the-following-conditions-are-in-place boy (I know a lot of parents out there can relate):

  1. Loud surroundings (If the restaurant’s already loud, it won’t be a biggie if my guy has voice modulation challenges – sometimes the garlic knots are so good you gotta give a shout out. His version of, “My complements to the chef.”)
  2. A make-shift corral – a booth is essential so that we’re not tempted to jump up and do cartwheels across the joint. In a booth, we can be relatively confined. (Note: do NOT allow child to sit on the outside – just don’t do this to yourself.  Remember why you got the booth in the first place.)
  3. Appetizers – Food has to come out fast. And we’re at an age where goldfish crackers we bring are just not satisfying.  Chips and a mild salsa are ideal, but rolls will do – anything that can keep the child busy while the rest of the table displays the patience of Job by comparison – something crazy like 3 minutes before we have carbs works for the rest of us. J

But I digress.  Isn’t he so stinking cute?!  And he is such a very sweet boy too – just a man…On. The. Move.  It’s just a real-life part of his awesome energy – with my daughter we’d been frequenting P.F. Chang’s for ages by now.  Nope, not this guy.  And that’s okay.  It’s saved on the dining-out budget.

At 4, he loves dinosaurs, trucks, …The Big Hungry Bear (by Don and Audrey Wood), sharks, whales, a bear named Wheezy, and his puppy blanket (complements of Aunt Kathy when he was born).  So happy to have this little guy who is hilarious, performs segments of his favorite movies at random, and still loves to snuggle after bath time.

He is a huge fan of all things chocolate, especially chocolate frosting.  And his mama is especially fond of sheet cake in particular.  I’m not usually a big frosting person, but I make an exception for this one.  That dark, rich flood of warm icing is irresistible (exhibit A below – it’s impossible not to sample a little from the edge).  And it’s even better when it’s cooled to room temperature, as is so for just about all chocolate desserts in my opinion.  There is intense debate within the family as to whether pecans belong in the frosting on this one, but Barry’s allergic so I leave them out. Easy decision for us.  You could always frost half of it, add nuts, and make it halvsies if you truly cannot decide.  It’s a tough call, and life is just too short to not have it both ways when it comes to frosting some days. If you’re already having sheet cake, you may as well commit to the indulgence.

Cake Ingredients:

2 c. flour

2 c. sugar

1 c. water

½ c. Crisco

1 stick margarine

5 T. cocoa

½ tsp. salt

2 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

½ c. buttermilk

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

Cake Instructions:  

Preheat oven to 400° F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and sugar.  In a sauce pan, bring to boil water, Crisco, margarine, cocoa, and salt.  Pour chocolate mixture into flour and sugar. Mix slightly; then add eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla, and cinnamon. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes in a greased & floured sheet cake pan until a toothpick comes out clean.  Immediately begin making frosting.  You want the cake to be warm (but not hot) when you frost it.

Frosting Ingredients*:

5 T. Cocoa

1 stick margarine

7 T. milk

1 box of powdered sugar (1 lb.)

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Frosting Instructions: 

Bring to a boil 1 stick of margarine, milk, and cocoa. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, vanilla, and pecans if desired – just need it to stay warm enough to be able to pour your frosting over your cake…because that is beauty, right there.

*I sometimes double the frosting to have an abundance for the cake (just don’t overflow your sheet cake pan) and have some leftover to eat on its own. This is a judgement free zone here at Four Sisters Dish.  🙂

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Asian Beef & Broccoli

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Posted by Erin

The only “vegetables” (even if you can call them that) I at as a child were potatoes and hominy.  Hominy… not sure that even qualifies as a vegetable, it’s so over-processed.  My mom tried everything to get me to eat my vegetables.  She tried making me sit at the table until I ate them… I was apparently a very strong willed child.  She tried seasoning them differently or “hiding” them in casseroles… I didn’t fall for that.   She even tried paying me.  That one actually worked… until she quit paying me, then I quit eating them.  My poor mom.  Fortunately, my taste buds have changed and now I’m a lover of all foods, meat and vegetables alike.  Luckily for me, my kids are a lot better eaters than I was as a child.  One of their favorite veggies is broccoli so we have it a lot.  We like it roasted, steamed & seasoned, covered in cheese, or incorporated into a dish such as this one.  This Asian Beef & Broccoli is a one-pan meal, which you know I love!  (Okay, two pans if you count the one you cook the rice in.)  It’s fast & easy to prepare and tastes like Chinese take-out!

Ingredients:

½ c. beef broth (I use water & beef bouillion)

3 T. cornstarch, divided

2 T. sweet chili sauce (found in the Asian section of the grocery store)

4 T. low sodium soy sauce

1 T. garlic, minced

½ tsp. fresh ginger or ginger paste

¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1 T. sesame oil, divided

1 (12 ounce) bag frozen broccoli florets, thawed and drained on paper towels (I chop them smaller so they spread more evenly throughout the dish & cook faster.)

½ a medium onion, chopped

1 lb. tenderized round steak (a.k.a. cube steak), trimmed and cut into small strips

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. onion powder

Salt & pepper

Cooked rice, for serving (We also like to have more soy sauce on hand to season our rice.)

 

Instructions:

In a small bowl, combine beef broth, sweet chili sauce, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, minced garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes (if desired); set aside.

In a large skillet or wok, heat ½ tablespoon sesame oil over medium-high heat.  Sautee the broccoli, stirring frequently, until it gets some brown coloration on it.  Turn off heat, remove broccoli from the pan, and set aside.

In a bowl or plastic baggie, sprinkle steak strips with corn starch, garlic powder, onion powder, and a dash of salt & pepper; toss to coat.

Heat remaining ½ tablespoon sesame oil in the skillet again over medium high heat.

Add beef; cook and stir until brown and juice runs clear.

Add broth mixture & broccoli to pan with beef.

Reduce heat to low.

Simmer & stir about 5 minutes, until broccoli is tender and sauce is thickened.

Serve over rice; add more soy sauce, if desired.

 

Weight Watchers info:  Each 8 ounce (weight) serving is 6 SmartPoints; makes 4 servings.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower – Two Ways (Spiced & Buffalo Style)

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Spiced Cauliflower

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Buffalo Cauliflower

Posted by Erin

Both these cauliflower recipes are pretty much on repeat in my house.  Raw cauliflower?  Nope.  But roasted cauliflower is amazing!  I like it with several different seasoning variations but these two are my favorite. Both my kids even like the spiced one… one insists on dipping in ranch dressing but I still consider it a win!  My son will eat the buffalo version, but I’m not going to lie — it’s too spicy for my daughter.  My husband, Albert, and I love both versions.  Sometimes we make the buffalo version and just eat it all by itself (with Ranch) for lunch.

For our fellow Weight Watchers, the Buffalo version is zero SmartPoints.  The Spiced version is 4 Smartpoints for the entire recipe (divide as you wish or eat the whole thing) because of the olive oil.  You could easily make it zero SmartPoints as well by coating the cauliflower in cooking spray instead of oil.

Spiced Cauliflower Ingredients:

1 large head of cauliflower, washed, stem & leaves removed, cut into small pieces

1 T. olive oil

1 tsp. granulated garlic

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. paprika (I used smoked paprika but you can use either.)

¼ tsp. chili powder

¼ tsp. onion powder

¼ tsp. garlic salt (regular table salt is fine if that’s all you have)

dash of cayenne pepper

nonstick cooking spray

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Spray a large sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.  In a small bowl, combine olive oil and all spices.  Pour spice/oil mixture into a gallon size resealable baggie.  Squish (Yes, that’s a technical term.  Ha!) the oil mixture around to coat the bag.  Open the bag and pour in the cauliflower pieces.  Squish it around again to evenly coat the pieces.  Pour the coated pieces onto the prepared sheet pan and spread evenly into one layer.  Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the edges & small pieces begin to brown.

 

Buffalo Cauliflower Ingredients:

Cauliflower (one or two heads), washed, stem & leaves removed, cut into small pieces

Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce

Cooking spray

Foil (highly recommend – the cooked-on sauce is hard to scrub off)

Ranch or blue cheese dressing for dipping, optional

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Cover a sheet pan with foil.  Coat it with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.  Place cut cauliflower in a gallon size baggie.  Pour in Frank’s wing size, a little at a time, sealing and shaking the bag to coat the cauliflower each time.  Add more if needed, until all the pieces are LIGHTLY coated.  Spread the cauliflower on the prepared sheet pan; roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Serve with Ranch or blue cheese dressing.

Oven Barbeque Chicken

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Posted by Kathy

This recipe has been floating around our family for quite some time.  It is quite simple to prepare and get into the oven on a busy night.  The homemade barbeque sauce is the perfect mix of tangy and sweet.  We are certain this will be a family favorite of yours soon too!

 

Ingredients:

4 to 6 large chicken breasts cut into thirds (as equal in size as possible)

3 T. oil

1/3 c. sliced onion

3 T. butter

¾ c. catsup

1/3 c. apple cider vinegar

¼ c. molasses

1/3 c. water

2 T. prepared mustard

1 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 clove garlic, pressed (or ½ tsp garlic powder)

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350˚

Spray a 9×13 glass baking dish with non-stick spray.

Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper.

Place oil in large skillet.  Brown chicken in hot oil on each side.  Remove to plate.

Add butter into skillet. S auté onion in the butter until soft.  Add remaining ingredients to skillet.  Simmer sauce about 15 minutes, uncovered.

Place chicken pieces into baking dish and cover with sauce.  Bake 45-60 minutes, basting occasionally, until chicken is cooked through.

Cookies & Cream Cake (and a one-of-a-kind birthday theme)

CookiesNCreamCakeLogo

Posted by Erin

So my daughter recently turned 10.  Double digits!  Shortly after her last birthday, on the way home from school one day she said to me, “Mom, guess what?!  I have the same birthday as Thomas Jefferson!”  As I replied, “Wow, that’s cool!” I noticed she looked thoughtful.  “By the way,” she asked, “who is Thomas Jefferson?”  Ha!  I laugh every time I think of that story.  Silly, sweet girl.  Anyhow, ever since she learned more about this mystery man who shares her birthday, she’s wanted to have a Thomas Jefferson themed birthday party.  Of course I had to oblige.  So I give you (drumroll please), a presidential birthday party complete with TJ’s face on the cake, a vintage Thomas Jefferson Value Book, and a $2 bill banner.  Nothing fancy but my girl was super impressed… plus I let her keep the $2 bills.

The cake was also her choice.  She loves to bake with her momma and is often coming up with new recipes.  This one was a success.  We combined our favorite cake-mix-based chocolate cake recipe with our favorite buttercream recipe and threw in some crushed Oreos.  It resulted in a rich, creamy cake, reminiscent of a milk-dunked Oreo.   I’m sure Thomas Jefferson would approve.  🙂

Cake Ingredients:

1 box chocolate cake mix (I used Duncan Hines)

1 small box instant chocolate pudding (dry)

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup vegetable or canola oil

½ cup buttermilk *see note on how to make, if you’re like me and don’t keep buttermilk

½ cup strong coffee, cooled (to enhance the chocolate flavor – or use more milk if you’d rather)

½ T. pure vanilla extract

1 cup mini chocolate chips

1 cup crushed Oreos

 

Cake Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Grease & flour 3 9-inch round pans; set aside. (I also line the bottoms of my pans with parchment, cut the shape of the pan.)

Whisk together the dry pudding mix and cake mix.

With a mixer, blend in eggs, sour cream, oil, buttermilk, coffee, and vanilla until smooth.

Gently stir in chocolate chips and Oreo crumbs.

Divide the batter evenly among your pans.

Bake for about 35 minutes until toothpick comes out mostly clean.

After 10 minutes, remove from pan to wire rack.  Cool completely before frosting.

 

Frosting Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) real butter, softened

4 cups powdered sugar (approximately)

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup to ¾ cup heavy cream

2/3 of a family size Oreo package, crushed

 

Frosting Instructions:

Making frosting isn’t an exact science…

Start with 1 cup softened butter, mix on high until fluffy & smooth.

Add 2 cup powdered sugar, some of the heavy cream and 1 tsp vanilla; blend until smooth.

Add the crushed Oreos, more powdered sugar, and more heavy cream until it reaches the desired consistency (and desired taste – Yes, taste as you go!)

 

Place one layer of cake on cake plate or platter.  Cover the first layer of cake with frosting, add the second and third layer with frosting between those as well.

End by frosting the sides of the cake & sticking on a few whole Oreos for decoration.

 

I found this cake was better refrigerated… more like an Oreo dunked in cold milk!

 

*To make buttermilk, warm your milk in the microwave or on the stove just until it’s barely more than room temp.  Not hot!  Stir a ½ Tablespoon white vinegar into your ½ cup of milk.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes.  Ta-da!… buttermilk!

Asian Lettuce Wraps

IMG_0416Posted by Tracy

When your favorite Asian restaurant is an hour from home, you learn to improvise – or at least I do.  I’ve learned to make my two favorites: Lettuce Wraps and Orange Chicken (I’ll share the chicken recipe with you later).  I’ve tweaked these Lettuce Wraps to my family’s liking by adding a little spice.  We had these for dinner tonight and they’re delicious – and at 6 SmartPoints per serving (for four servings) you can eat a lot! All you’ll need to do is remember to buy some fortune cookies.

 

Ingredients:

1 pound 99% fat free ground turkey (I’ve also used very lean ground chicken)

1 medium onion, chopped (about ¾ c.)

2 oz. pine nuts

2 T. minced garlic

1 T. reduced-sodium soy sauce

¼ c. hoisin sauce

1 T. minced fresh ginger

1 T. rice wine vinegar

2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)

1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

2 tsp. Asian sesame oil

1 head lettuce or bunch of romaine lettuce

Instructions:

Rinse lettuce leaves, keeping them whole.  Set aside on paper towels to dry.

Cook turkey and onion together in large skillet.  Once turkey is approximately half cooked, add the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar, and crushed red pepper.  Continue cooking.

When meat mixture is fully cooked, add water chestnuts, pine nuts, and green onions.  Cook until green onions just begin to wilt.  Stir in sesame oil.

Spoon mixture into the middle of a large lettuce leaf.  Fold or wrap lettuce leaf around meat mixture to eat.

4 servings = 6 SmartPoints each

Grandma Anson’s Brownies

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With Mother’s Day right around the corner, we wanted to share a recipe that’s near and dear to our hearts.  With that in mind, the recipe that stands out is our Grandma Anson’s Brownies.

Early in our grandparents’ married life, our grandpa worked at a small town grocery store.  This brownie recipe was on a grocery store pamphlet that grandpa brought home.  Though it’s been adapted slightly over the years, it’s been a closely held family secret.  Don’t tell anyone that we told you.  🙂

Seriously though, this brownie recipe is the ONLY brownie recipe used by our entire extended family.  That may not make much of an impression right now but let me explain what I mean when I say the “entire” family.  Actually it might be best if I just show you…

MomsFamily

This is the Anson family…our grandparents and all 18 of their children.  (That’s our mom on the top left.)  Yes, Grandma gave birth to all of them.  All of them single births, no twins.  This picture was taken in the late 1960s, and it hangs on the wall in our grandparents’ house to this day.  Some things have changed.  Our grandpa has passed (We miss him so!), and all of these kids are all grown up.  Most have kids and grandkids of their own.  So, we have more than 50 first cousins on this side of the family and have honestly lost count of how many second cousins.  (If there is an Anson family member reading this, somebody get a headcount!)

You’d think with a family this size, we’d be out of touch with one another, but we’ve always been close.  As kids, we traveled to Grandma and Grandpa’s house every Sunday.  Everyone came!  The women would gather in the kitchen to cook and cackle…you could hear their laughter all over the house.  The men played cards or stood outside shooting the bull.  We kids would just play, play, play.  On any given Sunday, we literally had enough kids to form two full baseball teams for a game in the field out in front of the house.  From long games of hide-and-seek in the dark or serious handstand contests, to covert missions to steal homemade rolls before dinner…the list of wonderful memories at Grandma and Grandpa’s house is endless.

Ever-present in Grandma’s kitchen, you see why these brownies are near and dear to our hearts, a dessert classic passed down to all the kids and grandkids.  Aside from that, they taste amazing and have a perfect crusty top and chewy, fudgy center.  They’ve ruined all other brownies for us forever.  Allow us to share this heirloom recipe with you.  You can thank us later.

 

Ingredients:

1 c. vegetable shortening (the Crisco baking stick work well)

2/3 cup + 1T. unsweetened cocoa (we prefer Hershey’s)

4 eggs, very lightly beaten (see hint below)

2 c. sugar

1 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

pinch of salt

1 t. vanilla

1 c. chopped pecans (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Melt shortening and cocoa together in the top of a double boiler (you can melt this together in a microwave safe dish, though our Mom thinks this is sacrilege).  Stir to combine.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

Combine lightly beaten eggs and sugar in large mixing bowl.  Stir melted cocoa mixture into eggs and sugar.  Blend well.  Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined (do not whip).  Stir in vanilla.

If you really love nuts you can add some chopped pecans before you bake these brownies.  Personally, the four of us don’t understand why anyone would add something from the meat group to chocolate – but, if you’re in a nutty mood, go for it.

Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13 baking dish.  If you’re a short cut user like we are, use a baking spray with flour.  Our Mama says don’t mess with the batter once you’re spread it out or you don’t get the right crusty top.

Bake for 20–25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean.

Enjoy a really large brownie with some ice cold milk while you ponder why you ever ate brownies from a box.

*Hint #1 – If you’d like to eat these in the slightly overindulgent manner of our grandpa, you can butter the top of a warm brownie before you eat it.

*Hint #2 – We’re serious when we say “very lightly beaten” eggs.  If you beat the heck out of these eggs, these brownies become cakey.

*Hint #3 – For our high altitude friends add 1T. butter to the shortening and cocoa mix and an addition 2 T. flour.