A Southern Grace: 2008

December 31, 2008

apple dapple dream


Apparently the apple industry is pretty big in NY, which is convenient for me, 'cause I kinda like apples. However, what I really like is apples ensconced in moist cake and topped with a rich, buttery caramel glaze.

Other than the apple chopping, this apple cake is extremely quick and easy. Travesty of travesties, there was no cinnamon in the original recipe. After picking myself up off the floor from my initial shock (whoever heard of an apple dessert without cinnamon?), I quickly remedied the situation and dumped in two heaping teaspoons.

Did I mention that this is a moist cake? It's already moist from the applesauce, and then the glaze, having seeped into every pore, just serves to make it that much more moist. Glorious is what it is. Glorious and mouth-watering and I'll-rip-the-door-off-the-oven-if-it's-not-done-soon aromatic. In other words, it's delicious. Mmmkay?

Apple Dapple Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups finely chopped apples

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine eggs, oil, applesauce, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Stir in apples.
Spread the batter in a greased and floured 9 x 13-inch pan. Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes.
For the glaze, combine the brown sugar, butter, and milk in a small saucepan. Cook and stir until bubbly and all of the sugar is dissolved. Cool slightly. Drizzle warm over cake when it has cooled for 5 minutes, so it can seep into the cake and keep it moist and completely irresistible.

And by the way, here's to a prosperous and joyful 2009.

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December 22, 2008

balls o' meat


If you think about it, the name "meatballs" is a little icky. I guess it's no worse than "meatloaf." My little brother refuses to eat meatloaf, yet he loves meatballs, which is interesting because they're basically the same thing. Perhaps it's all in the name. Or shape.

Or perhaps he's just odd.

This post, a respite from all the Christmas cookies and sweets, features two varieties of those ubiquitous balls o' meat. The first batch is from the ever-popular recipe entitled "Manhattan Meatballs." (Anybody know if they actually originated in Manhattan? Just curious.) I chose to make these for our office's winter holiday party over all others for a very significant reason--I had apricot preserves festering in the fridge.

The sweet, fruity, and slightly spicy sauce was wonderful! I suspect it may have had something everything to do with the barbecue sauce I used--'twas a honey-chipotle blend. My co-workers had some nice comments about the meatballs and actually made the effort to say them to me, and I have to agree--the balls were delicious.

The only other kind of meatball I've ever really tried is made according to a recipe that my grandmother has used for longer than I've been alive. I think it's safe to say that it's a winner. The balls are nowhere near as sweet, but still extremely tasty.

So...which type tickles your fancy?

Sweet & Sour Meatballs
(time-tested by my grandmother)
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 cup oats
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon onion flakes

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar

Combine the first six ingredients and shape into balls. Place in a large baking dish. Mix up the sauce and pour it over the balls. Cover the dish and bake at 350 degrees for an hour, or until heated through.

Sweet & Sweet Meatballs
(from Kraft, among others)

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons salt
10 oz. apricot preserves
1 cup barbecue sauce of choice

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix the meat, bread crumbs, onion, eggs, parsley, and salt. Go ahead, use your paws. Shape into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter. Place in 2-qt. casserole dish. Mix the preserves and barbecue sauce and evenly pour over the meatballs; mix lightly. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally.

I think this'll probably be my last post until the Christmas excitement fades away. I hope ya'll have a safe and happy holiday!

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December 20, 2008

i've been converted


My cheese of choice has always been pepper jack, and the spicier, the better. If a dish in a restaurant is festooned with cheddar or blue or (gasp) feta cheese, I'll ask for replacement pepper jack or no cheese at all. It's true.

I'll now add brie to my list of acceptable cheeses, because if it's always as good as that made by President, I'll like it just fine.

The kind folks at President offered to send me a log of their brie, and I gladly accepted. When it arrived, I was delighted to find that they had included some crackers and cranberry relish as well. Such generosity!

I opted to share my bounty with my co-workers at our holiday luncheon. After sampling the combination of crisp cracker, smooth and tangy brie, and sweet, tart relish, I regretted that decision. It was delicious--those folks know what they're doing.

Unfortunately for me, my co-workers are like vultures and there wasn't a shred left for me to bring home. Fortunately for me, I know where to find more President brie and can recreate this little appetizer in no time at all. For more ideas, you can check out Robin Sue's post on her blog Big Red Kitchen or see what Veronica of Supermarket Serenade did with her log o' brie.

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December 18, 2008

saltines have never had it so good...


...and neither have I. Quick, easy, and undeniably drool-inducing--what could be better?

Yep. This is good stuff. Perhaps you've tried or at least seen the variety using matzo. I'm here to tell you that if it's at all possible, this version is even better. I think the salt on the crisp crackers combined with the rich, semi-sweet chocolate and crunchy, buttery toffee makes for the perfect candy, any minute of any day of any month of any year. It's probably best to save it for the holidays, however, unless you want to add some more junk to your trunk...

*This post has been updated with the answers to many common questions (such as why the order in the picture is different from the order in the recipe...)! Read more here and here. Print the recipe here.

Terribly Terrific Toffee
(printable recipe!)
1 cup unsalted butter (no margarine allowed)
1 cup brown sugar, packed tightly
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
40 saltine crackers

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a 15x10-inch jelly roll pan or a 12x17-inch cookie sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Lay a flat layer of crackers out on the foil. Melt the sugar and butter until a boil is reached. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5-6 minutes or until mixture is thickened and sugar is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture over the crackers and spread to coat evenly. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the toffee becomes bubbly. After removing the pan from the oven, let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips, let them soften and melt, and then spread them into an even layer. (You can add nuts, cracker crumbs, or whatever else floats your boat at this point.) Let cool and, if desired for expediting purposes, refrigerate until hardened. Break into pieces the size of your choice. I personally prefer a hand-sized chunk.

GADZOOKS, Christmas is in one week! Gracious me.

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December 16, 2008

worse than caffeine...


...and by worse, I mean far, far better.

Seriously--this is addictive stuff for any peppermint fan, and it just so happens that I am a lover of all things peppermint. No, lover doesn't really cut the mustard. I'm a peppermint-infatuate. A peppermint-fiend. President of the Peppermint Fan Club. You get the picture.

These things being said, it's no surprise that I only allow myself to make this treat once a year. Self-control seems to fly right out the window when my tongue hits that first creamy, sweet, minty bite. It's imperative that the candy be bagged immediately, securely tied with a double-knotted string, and into the hands of my friends and neighbors as soon as possible.

Did I mention that this fudge is kinda tasty?

I-Can't-Stop-Putting-This-In-My-Mouth Mint Fudge
(based on this recipe)

12 ounce package vanilla chips
16 ounce can vanilla frosting
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
8 drops red food coloring
crushed peppermint candies or candy canes or a smattering of peppermint sprinkles

Line an 8-inch square pan with wax paper. Melt the vanilla chips in the microwave, stirring until smooth. Mix in the frosting and peppermint extract. Spread the creamy goodness into the prepared pan. Drip the food coloring over the fudge and swirl decoratively with a knife. Sprinkle with crushed candies and chill until set.

Good luck trying to pace yourself.

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December 13, 2008

roll me out the door


My ideal roll has a soft and fluffy interior and a crusty, crunchy, browned exterior. Believe it or not, Eb accomplishes this quite nicely.

It's pretty easy, too--I simply use my recipe for whole wheat sourdough bread, but instead of dividing it into loaf pans, I pinch off little balls and let them rise in a round cake pan.

Voila--the resulting rolls are just the way I like 'em.

They pair pretty darn well with some pepper jelly, too...

...as does turkey, ham, cheese & crackers, and a heck of a lot of other things.

It's good stuff. Magical, even. Maybe if I can wrest the recipe away from the fella (yes, fella) who made it, I'll share it with ya'll.

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December 10, 2008

back in black


It's been far too long since Eb made an appearance, wouldn't you say? Never fear, he's still alive and kicking, and he's currently contributing to some very moist and magnificent muffins.

I've found that you sure don't come across the combination of bananas and blackberries very often, and that's too bad. The sweetness of the bananas nicely balances the tart, tart, tarty-tart blackberries. Throw in some of that tangy sourdough flavor, and you have a real winner on your hands (and in your mouth)(but hey--not on your hips).

Added bonus: Blackberries have a knack for making foods right purty, too.

Blackberry Banana Muffins
(adapted from this recipe)

1 1/2 cup banana baby food (ah, perks...)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sourdough starter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease or line your baking vessel or choice (I used a mini-muffin tin and a mini-loaf pan. Apparently mini = marvelous.) Mix the oil into the bananas in a large mixing bowl. Add in the sugar, egg, vanilla, and starter. Stir in the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the blackberries, and stir until just incorporated. Divide the mixture into the prepared pan(s). For mini-muffins, bake for about 20 minutes. For mini-loaves, bake for about 25 minutes. For loaves, bake for about 1 hour. Rely on the toothpick test. My yield was 24 mini-muffins and 6 very short and squat mini-loaves.

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December 7, 2008

apple of my eye


I love apple pie.

Love. It.

It's truly my dessert of choice, and all modesty aside, I make a fierce one. And by fierce, I mean wonderfully-crusted, cinnamon-scented, and jam-packed with apple goodness.

I'm not sure why the apples look like sweet potatoes...perhaps they've been stained by the years of contact with cinnamon. Niiiice.
(And yes, that is indeed extra cinnamon sprinkled on top of the apples.)

Mamboree and I had a massive apple pie filling canning session a couple of years ago, so I haven't had to cook one up from scratch for a good while. I also have a go-to crust recipe, but I mixed it up a bit for this particular pie, using a combination of butter and shortening rather than all shortening. I've read that butter contributes to flavor while shortening is key for texture and that blending the two makes for a perfect crust, but that wasn't what I found. I think I'll stick with the old stand-by for a bit longer.

Yes, that is indeed extra, extra cinnamon sprinkled on top of the crust.

With my extra dough, I used cookie cutters to make some stars and cute little men. Gingerbread men? Pshaw. Give me pie-crust men!

As you wish.

Of course, the pie was consumed with a schlop of vanilla ice cream, but since I haven't figured out how to take a picture of ice cream before it melts into oblivion, there is no photographic evidence. You'll have to take my word for it.

Canned Apple Pie Filling (with just a hint of cinnamon)
(yields about 7 quarts)

4 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
10 cups water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 pounds apples of choice, peeled, cored, and sliced

In a large pot, mix sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add salt and water and mix well. Bring to a boil and cook until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
Sterilize canning jars, lids, and rings by boiling them in a large pot of water.
Pack the sliced apples into hot canning jars, leaving about a 1/2-inch headspace. Fill the jars with the hot syrup. Put the lids on the jars and process in a water bath for 20 minutes.

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December 5, 2008

smells like bean spirit


Most of my most beloved smells originate in the kitchen: hot apple pie (or, let's be serious, anything involving cinnamon), coffee, and Eb and his freshly-baked sourdough bread, to name only a few. One of my less-obvious favorites is the aroma of spicy baked beans as they bubble away in the oven.

I hesitate to say it, but isn't it unfortunate how something can smell so good at first, and then a few hours later be so foul and offensive?

[I'm sorry--is that distasteful blog content? Meh, it's a fact of life. But seriously, if you're repulsed, I apologize. My excuse is that I was raised sandwiched between two brothers.]

This is a recipe that I've tweaked and honed until it suits me perfectly. I'll bet you have your favorite version of baked beans, too, and I hope you'll agree--they're worth the inevitable trouble...

Blissful Baked Beans
1 15-oz can pork & beans
1 15-oz can northern beans, drained
2 cups Fordhook lima beans
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 10-oz can diced tomatoes with chiles, partially drained
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown mustard
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon chile powder
1 teaspoon oregano

Combine all ingredients and stir. Pour into large baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until amount of liquid of choice remains, stirring occasionally. Consume with a side of

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December 3, 2008

upside down or inside out


For some reason, German chocolate cake doesn't really excite me. I love both coconut and chocolate, so what's my deal? I wish I knew.

One of our Thanksgiving desserts was an upside-down German chocolate cake, expertly-made by my dear grandma. This is not to be confused with the inside-out German chocolate cake, which is different (but no less decadent), with multiple layers of coconut-pecan filling and a chocolate ganache. This upside-down version is simply and magically composed of pecans and coconut on the bottom of a frosting-less chocolate cake, speckled with blobs of cream cheese goodness (see below).

It was a big hit with my family (after all, you saw that behemoth box of chocolates we attacked). You and yours might like it, too.

Me? I'm sticking with apple pie.

Upside-Down German Chocolate Cake
(a la my Grandma Alma)
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup coconut
1 package German chocolate cake mix
1 pound powdered sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup margarine, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch pan.
Scatter the coconut and pecans around the bottom of the pan. Prepare the cake mix according to directions on box and pour the batter over the nuts and coconut. Mix cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar until well-blended and drop by spoonfuls onto the top of the cake. Bake for 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

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December 1, 2008

had enough?


Apparently, I haven't. I can peruse Thanksgiving post after Thanksgiving post after after-Thanksgiving post and not get tired of seeing your turkeys, cranberry sauces, and pies. What's more, I can eat our own leftovers for meal after meal after meal and still crave 'em the next day.

So, without further ado, here's (part of) our spread:

turkey--still good four days later

dressing--we don't call it stuffing unless it was actually inside the bird at some point

sauce of the cranberries

eggs of the devil

sweet potater casserole

cole slaw--the version that I've yet to match

the 4-pound box o' chocolates that we worked on all weekend...

Thank you, Thanksgiving!

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November 27, 2008

you could've fooled me


If I didn't make this cake with my own two hands, two feet, and left elbow, you'd have a hard time convincing me that there was sweet potato involved.

Gigi of gigi cakes and Katie of Apple and Spice have started a group specifically for cake lovers aptly named The Cake Slice. I, being a cake lover, signed on immediately. Each month a different three-layer cake is made by the members, and the chosen cake this month was Sweet Potato Cake with Chocolate Cream Frosting and Orange Filling from the book Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alicia Huntsman and Peter Wynne.

Another sweet potato cake, eh? All righty. Although I stayed true to the book's cake recipe (using sweet potatoes from my grandpa's garden), I changed up the rest. For one thing, I opted to go with my favorite frosting recipe instead of the suggested chocolate version. I'm sure none of you will be shocked to find that my favorite frosting recipe is composed of cinnamon and cream cheese, first introduced in my ode to cinnamon.

The other change was an effort to make it more Thanksgiving-friendly by using cranberry juice instead of orange juice for the filling. It didn't color the frosting as much as I had hoped, but it was a lovely little tart surprise nonetheless.

This cake was pretty darn fabulous. The sweet potato doesn't affect the flavor at all as far as I can tell, for better or for worse. It does, however, keep the crumb extremely moist, which is very important to me. The cranberry flavor is detectable, but only, I suspect, because I knew it was there. Really, the predominant flavor is cinnamon, which explains why I enjoyed the cake so much.

If you're wondering why my cake looks so dang small, it's because I only made one-third of the recipe and baked it in three mega-muffin molds. I cut each little cake in half and got two miniature three-layer cakes out of the deal. All for me.

Check out the other Cake Slice Bakers for more sweet potato goodness.

Happy Turkey Day!

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November 24, 2008

tag team thanksgiving


A few weeks ago, I was asked if I'd like to join some of my favorite lovely lady bloggers in a Thanksgiving blogging event.

We decided to have each person contribute a different course for Thanksgiving, making something of a complete menu for you readers. MOST unfortunately, I got stuck with dessert. (I sure hope your sarcasm detector went off; if not, get that sucker checked!)

Prah-leen, pray-leeen, peee-can, pa-cahn--regardless of how you pronounce the words, the combination of brown sugar, butter, and nuts is pretty much irresistible, especially slathered on top of a delightful sweet potater cake.

I've had this particular recipe bookmarked since the second I came across it. Sweet potatoes, bananas, and cinnamon united in cake form and topped with a thick, sweet praline frosting--you'd better believe I'd give it a shot! It was everything I hoped it would be.

I experienced multiple "OOOH ME" moments during the process. First, I chose to bake the cake in a tube pan. I would've gone with a bundt pan, but alas, I don't have one (and the Christmas list grows...). It took a lot longer than the 50-60 minutes indicated in the recipe, but I should've expected that, as that was the time for two loaf pans. Secondly, the cake itself grew into a grotesque and hideous monster rather than a nice, smooth cake. Witness Exhibit A:

Yikes. The third heart trauma occurred in the making of the praline frosting. I desperately wanted to cover the crags and crevices in the cake, so I really needed the frosting to be a good one. I let it cool and let it cool and let it cool, and it was still so runny that I was afraid to top the cake lest I end up with a praline-topped kitchen floor. I finally bit the bullet and spooned it on, and except for a few rather attractive dribbles...

...it hardened right on top. Phew.

Did I mention that it was tasty? Although the cake was good (very bread-like, with both the sweet potato and banana flavors detectable), the frosting was simply stellar. Stellar, I say. And that's coming from a person whose least favorite nut is the pecan.

So, now that your appetites are sufficiently stoked, go check out the rest of the spread:

*A masterfully-prepared turkey from Sue of Feel Good Eats.
*Fennel, Apple & Cranberry Stuffing and Brussels Sprouts with Virginia Ham a la Tiffany of The Garden Apartment.
*Two stunning dishes from Amy of Eggs on Sunday--Squash and Apple Bake and Celery Root, Parsnip and Apple Puree.
*Finally, from Kristin of The Kitchen Sink comes an Apple and Pecan Tart.

Sweet Spud Cake with Pray-leeen Pa-cahns
(based on this recipe)

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 ripe bananas
2 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease up a bundt pan, 2 loaf pans, or whatever dish you desire.
Blend oil, eggs, bananas, and sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Add salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and flours; blend well. Beat in the milk and sugar. Pour into pan(s) and bake for 50-75 minutes depending on pan of choice, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Praline Topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup pecans, chopped
2 cups powered sugar
1/4 c. water

Cook butter and brown sugar over medium heat for 4-5 minutes until caramelized. Add pecans and remove to a bowl and cool slightly. Measure powdered sugar into a bowl and stir in water. Whisk until smooth. Using a fork, mix glaze into pecans, breaking up praline pieces while stirring. Spoon over cake and allow to harden and cool.

And hey--Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 21, 2008

the magic words


No, not abra-cadabra. Not pretty please with a cherry on top.

Three little (well, more like medium-sized) words with the power to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary...

Cinnamon. Streusel. Topping.

More specifically, cinnamon streusel topping resting upon a tub o' pulverized butternut squash. (I told you it'd be back.)

Even if you don't particularly like butternut squash, I think chances are good that you'll enjoy this casserole. The puree itself becomes slightly fruity and quite sweet, and the topping just takes it above and beyond. Obviously.

I debated attempting this casserole for awhile. The idea stemmed from my undying love of sweet potato casserole, so the recipes are similar. Although replacing the sweet potaters with butternut squash made for an impressively tasty dish and I'm very proud of my creation, I'd still pick the original in a nanosecond.

Streuseled Squash Casserole
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, cooked, deseeded, destringed, and mashed
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons orange juice

1 cup quick oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the casserole ingredients, mixing well. Pour into a lightly greased 2-quart casserole dish.
Combine the dry topping ingredients. Cut in the butter with two knives or a pastry cutter until the mixture becomes crumbly. Sprinkle on top of the squash and bake for 1 hour or until set.

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