A Southern Grace: February 2008

February 28, 2008

hats off to you, gandhi!


I am currently fasting for a standard blood test.

It’s the most difficult thing I’ve done in a loooong time.

No food, drink (other than water), gum, or mints after midnight last night. Why in the world would they schedule the actual blood extraction for 11 am? Seriously! This would be challenging even for people who keep normal waking hours. However, I have two habits that are making this extra hard for me. First, I get up at 3 am. So when my test finally rolls around, I will have been without nourishment for 18 hours. Second, I’m a grazer--I’m used to eating many miniature meals throughout the day.

Needless to say, I’ve been drooling over every morsel of edible substance that I’ve seen for the past six hours. Working in a place where food is the business is not helpful. Neither are the nibblies that I have stashed in every single drawer of my desk...

And no coffee? I’m a wreck.

I will gladly accept any pity or encouragement you have to offer.

UPDATE: I made it. After waiting around for an hour for a two-minute process, I was finally allowed to stuff my face. I celebrated my survival at Ruby Tuesday with a scrum-diddly-umptious avocado turkey burger. Mmm.

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February 25, 2008

battle of the bran muffins


Come one, come all, to the Battle of the Bran Muffins!

I was tired of looking at the sad box of raisin bran sitting in my cabinet, so I decided to make some muffins. (Technically, it was no longer raisin bran, as I had picked out all of the raisins for my bedazzled bread.) I set out on an online search to find the ultimate recipe. Of course, I found zillions. I narrowed it down to two, both of which would help me clear out a few more things from my cabinets, still be healthy, and still probably taste good. I’m slightly abulic, so instead of painfully forcing myself to make a decision, I opted to try both recipes. Thus emerged the Battle of the Bran Muffins.

Recipe 1: The Classic Version
My idea of a classic bran muffin comes from the recipe I've had for years from a box of raisin bran. Just for kicks, I threw in some dried cranberries that have been hanging around for awhile. This recipe is tried and true and makes one heck of a good muffin.

2 cups pummeled bran flakes
1 cup buttermilk (I used the good ol’ milk + lemon juice combo)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup orange-flavored dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
Mix together bran and buttermilk; let stand for 10 minutes.
Beat together oil, egg, sugar, and vanilla and add to buttermilk/bran mixture.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add cranberries and stir to coat with flour (to avoid sinkage).
Stir flour mixture into buttermilk mixture, until just blended.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Recipe 2: The Healthy Version
No butter or oil at all? How can this be? Yes, friends, this is a practically fat-free muffin, made with whole wheat and applesauce. I had my doubts, but they're surprisingly moist and tasty.

2 cups pummeled bran flakes
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce (mine was cinnamon flavored, of course)
1 egg
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk (again with the lemon juice)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
Pour boiling water over cereal and let stand.
Mix together remaining ingredients and add softened cereal.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Although the healthy muffins are really quite yummy and guilt-free, I have to say that I preferred the classic version a bit more. I think it was actually the hint of orange from the cranberries that did it for me.

Eh, they’re both keepers. I'm a lover, not a fighter.

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February 23, 2008

cinnamon apple quinoa


Don't you love killing multiple birds with one measly stone?

(Man, now that I think about it, that's a pretty vicious expression. Oh well.)

Guess how many I killed...

Three! Three birds! AH AH AH! (That was me channeling ol' Count von Count.)

The Cinnamon Apple Quinoa I made represents three things:
1. It's the first time I've eaten or cooked with quinoa, and I'll go ahead and tell you now--I'm hooked.
2. It's my entry for Homegrown Gourmet #6. For this event, bloggers prepare a dish with local ingredients and write a post about it. Isn't that an awesome idea? The theme this time is breakfast, probably one of my top three favorite meals.
3. I'm also using it as my entry for Weekend Breakfast Blogging. This dish fits in nicely with this month's theme of healthy eats and meets all the criteria: nutritious, well-balanced, healthy, vegetarian, and can be served at breakfast. Check, check, and check.

Where do I begin? I purchased the quinoa at Hannaford in the bulk foods section. I got about 2 pounds of the mother grain for less than $3. Nice.

I prepared it as instructed by Canela y Comino--I rinsed two cups of it repeatedly, boiled it until it absorbed the water in the pot, and then let it steam. It's so pretty when it's cooked, wouldn't you agree?

Warning: Be sure you're static-electricity-free when dealing with uncooked quinoa. I learned this the hard way--when pouring it out, it literally leapt out of the bowl and onto my pants and floor. That wasn't fun. (Hallelujah for Dust Busters.)(Thanks, Little Bro.)

I should also mention that my percent yield was about 80%--I lost a lot of the little grains along the way. I hate to waste anything, but those suckers are small and really hard to round up.

Now, what makes this applicable to the Homegrown Gourmet challenge, you ask? Well, after the quinoa was prepared, fluffed, and properly salted, I added 1 cup of cooked apples. Not just any apples, mind you. Homegrown, gourmet apples. Apples from trees in southwestern VA, hand-picked, peeled, chopped, and cooked by my grandpa. They're his very own personal hybrid--there are no other apples like them. They're special.

I also added two heaping teaspoons of cinnamon, my most favoritest spice.

There we have it--Cinnamon Apple Quinoa. Delicious, nutritious, quick, and easy (except for a little static cling.)

Cinnamon Apple Quinoa
(makes about 5 cups!)
2 cups quinoa
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked apples
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Prepare quinoa:
Rinse under cold water until the run-off is clear.
Add to 4 cups of boiling water; add salt.
Reduce heat and let cook until water is absorbed.
Fluff quinoa, replace lid, and let steam for 10-15 minutes.

Add apples and cinnamon and stir to combine.
Eat immediately, because who can wait?

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February 21, 2008

sticky fingers


Sticky buns are beautiful...

(get this recipe from Bake or Break here)

...and oh-so-photogenic:

(look here for Tartelette's recipe)

Celebrate them today, for today is National Sticky Bun Day.

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February 16, 2008

two firsts (and coconut rotis)


This post marks both my first contribution to a little gathering of food-bloggers called Taste & Create and my first foray into Sri Lankan cooking.

For the unaware, Taste & Create works like this: Participants get paired up with another blogger and must peruse her (or his) blog and pick out a recipe to attempt. I signed up last month and got matched up with Kittens in the Kitchen, a gal from the UK. Although there are oodles of interesting recipes to be found in her blog, the very first recipe that I saw was the obvious winner--coconut rotis (or flatbread).

The ingredient list is short and sweet (well, not literally)--all-purpose flour, desiccated coconut (unsweetened), salt...

...and some butter for the pan. Optional additions include green chiles and onions. I had some green chiles in my cabinet, but I chose to leave them out this time. The next batch I make (and there will definitely be another batch), I'll give 'em a try. Raw onions are not a friend of mine, so if I ever decide to include them, they will be sauteed within an inch of their lives.

The method is surprisingly simple, especially after my lengthy battles with sourdough. I won't copy the recipe (you can and should see it here), but I will say that the dough was soft and very easy to work with. Pliable, if you will. It stretched right out into little disks, didn't really stick to my counter at all, and fried up beautifully. I was even able to execute a mid-air flip, which excited me to no end. In fact, I'm still giddy about it.

I know what you're thinking--"I'm glad, Southern Person, that they were sooo easy for you to make. But you're forgetting the obvious and most important question (perhaps the frigid climate has finally gotten to you...)--how did they taste?"

Folks, I'm here to tell you that I was very pleasantly surprised. I really shouldn't have doubted, since I love coconut and all breads that are flat. Coconut rotis are delicious, even by themselves, especially fresh from the pan. I suggest that you cook some up immediately!

Thanks, Kitten--I can't wait to try your other recipes, specifically those that go with delightful coconut rotis!

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ode to the jelly belly


I. Love. Jelly Belly jelly beans.

Well, most of them. Some of them will never come within a foot of my mouth:
A&W Root Beer
Buttered Popcorn*
Caramel Corn
Chocolate Pudding
Dr. Pepper*
Juicy Pear
Peanut Butter*
Pink Grapefruit*

*It's odd that I hate these flavors because I love the actual thing. I guess they just don't translate well into chewy, sugary nibbles.

Mmm, much better (escalating to my absolute favorite):
Bubble Gum
Cotton Candy
Crushed Pineapple
Pina Colada
Sizzling Cinnamon
French Vanilla
A&W Cream Soda
Toasted Marshmallow
Island Punch

I'm probably in the minority with some of those favorites, but hey--more for me...

Flavors I've yet to try:
Cafe Latte--probably not much different from cappuccino, which is vile
Caramel Apple--the real thing is delightful, but I have my doubts
Jalapeno--no way this can be good
Kiwi--perhaps...perhaps not
Wild Blackberry--sounds good to me

Eh, it's just not the same. I'm glad I can see colors--this makes the little suckers remarkably less appealing.

Thanks Mamster!

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February 13, 2008

my cup runneth over


Meet Little Brother...

...incognito and masquerading as Jackie O.

Over the past few months, he's been applying to graduate programs. For a doctorate. In English. Can you say over-achiever?

[I'll go ahead and mention here that although I stuck it out and eventually earned my Master's degree, I was pretty much sick of school about two weeks into that first semester. Apparently the ambition gene skipped right over me and went straight to LB.]

He's already heard from three schools, and I'm just chock-full of big-sister pride because he's been accepted to two (as if there was ever any doubt). Perhaps Meatloaf said it best: "Two out of three ain't bad."

Congrats, LB! My cup runneth over!

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February 12, 2008

bedazzled bread


I have been a bad care-taker.

I failed to feed Ebenezer during the designated two-week period. Yeppers, he went 16 whole days without eating, but did he curl up in a ball and quit on me? No, he didn’t. He forgave my mistreatment and together we made an amazing bread.

Atta boy, Eb.

The ingredients:

This was extremely simple to put together, as you can see in the recipe below. I was feeling so wiped out and wanted something easy, and this fit the bill.

I wasn’t sure if the bread would rise because of my inattention to Eb, but rise it did:

I never had a bedazzler (I wasn’t a fashion-conscious child...or adult...), but I’m sure they’re great fun.

The raisins and cranberries look like little jewels, right? Work with me here, folks.

Bedazzled Bread
2 c Ebenezer
2 T butter
½ c milk
1 t salt
2 T sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
½ c raisins
½ c dried cranberries
3 c bread flour

Measure Ebenezer into a large mixing bowl. Heat the butter and milk until the butter melts; add the salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add this mixture to Ebbie and mix well. Add the flour, one cup at a time (or, as Paula Deen says, "one cup at the time"), mixing vigorously for a minute or so between cups. Stir in the spices. Toss the dried fruit in some flour to keep it evenly distributed and add it to the batter. [I don't know if the flour-coating is completely necessary, but I've had so many bottom-heavy muffins and breads with sunken goodies that I didn't want to take a chance.] Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan and spoon the batter into the pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, or until dough rises to the top of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool on wire rack. Slice and revel in its bedazzled beauty.

P.S. Happy National Chocolate-Covered Espresso Bean Day.

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February 2, 2008

perfect peas & dumplins


The purposes of this post are threefold:

1-I'm introducing some of you to a magnificent Southern creation fondly known as "peas and dumplins" (adding a "g" to that word would be a travesty--don't even think about it!).
2-I'm providing a step-by-step recipe for my friends who love the dish and want to learn how to make it themselves.
3-I'm making my first submission to Meeta's Monthly Mingle. This month is all about comfort foods, so this is definitely a fitting dish.

I learned this recipe from my grandmother, who serves up peas and dumplins pretty much every day there are fresh peas coming out of my grandpa's garden. I watched, I learned, and now it's one of my favorite go-to side dishes.

The recipe is easy enough, but it does take some finesse and practice to get those dumplins just right. The end result is...well, it's downright comforting.


There are lots and lots of substitutions that could be made here. I used 1% milk because that's what I drink, but just use whatever you prefer. For example, my uncle (who likes to refer to skim and 1% milk as "white water") would probably choose to go with whole milk. The peas can be frozen or fresh, but I would highly recommend fresh if they're available. The type of biscuit is also up to you. I've tried several different kinds over the years, from regular to buttermilk, and from generic to Pillsbury. In the end, the best for me is plain ol' generic.

Brace yourself: I don't use measuring cups or spoons. I know, I know, how dare I! Grandma never uses them, so I don't either. It's all subject to change anyway, depending on your variables.

First, you must cook the peas. I do this by covering them in water in a big pot on the stove and letting them boil for a few minutes:

When they're fork tender...

...I drain the water and replace it with milk:

Use enough milk to completely cover the peas. You certainly don't want the little buggers to stick to the bottom of the pot.

Now add your salt, pepper, and butter.

You can use a little butter...

...or a realistic amount:

This is a Southern dish, after all.

Bring the milk to a boil, keeping a close eye on it. There's not a lot worse than scalded milk all over your stovetop. Once the butter is melted and the milk hits a boil...

...you're ready to toss in your biscuits.

It's time for a confession: I have an irrational fear of opening canned biscuits.

The anticipation of that POP just makes me crazy. The worst is when it doesn't pop at all and you hafta dig at it with a spoon and twist and turn until it finally busts. In the past, I've been a coward and have always gotten someone else to take care of that particular task, but this time I was forced to face my fear.


Pop your biscuits in like so:

Let the milk boil up over them for about two minutes before even touching them. Then go through and flip each one so the other side can cook. Be gentle. This is where a lot of practice comes in handy, especially when you're trying to decide when the biscuits have officially become dumplins. I usually don't let them go for longer than five minutes total. When the biscuits are no longer sticky and look just a little bit tough, it's time to stop. If you take them too far, they turn into little rocks, which isn't good at all.

That's it, you're all finished. If they're done correctly, the dumplins are like little pillows and the peas are soft but still burst in your mouth.

Comfort food, indeed.

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