A Southern Grace: March 2008

March 31, 2008

hot diggity dawg!


Well, what do you know. Looks like I need to take back all my negative words about TasteSpotting, for they have deigned to post one of my pictures. I do believe that I'm in shock.

As it turns out (in my case, at least), the secret to getting posted is that someone else has to submit your photo. So I thank you, April in CT. You are my hero.

Things a sweet potato casserole can do:
-make me swoon
-earn me some r-e-s-p-e-c-t from TasteSpotting
-fight cancer
-morph into a cupcake
-remind me to call my grandma
-if overly-consumed (as I am wont to do), turn my palms, soles, knees, and nasolabial folds yellow-orange...(yes, I'll let you know if that happens)
-provide fuel for my car
-hammer out Beethoven's Fur Elise on the piano

Yeah, just kidding about that last one...or am I? Never underestimate the power of the sweet potato!

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March 30, 2008

a dessert masquerading as a side dish


Oh, beloved sweet potato casserole. Who do you think you're fooling? Sure, you may be served alongside a baked ham or roasted turkey, but you're no side dish. Something so naturally sweet topped with brown sugar, cinnamon, coconut, and oats is clearly dessert. I'm on to you, sweet potato casserole. I'm smarter than I look.

Given my sweet tooth, it's no surprise that sweet potato casserole is my favorite side dish (if you're comfortable calling it that). I've already confessed that it usually takes up a good chunk of my plate during holiday meals.

This recipe is loosely based on the one taught to me by my grandma. I say "loosely based" because I've tweaked it over the years and made it my own. The end result is a smooth and creamy cinnamon-tinged sweet tater base with a crispy, coconutty, cinnamon streuselicious topping (I do love me some cinnamon...). It's so dessert-like, I'd say I feel guilty eating it as a side dish, but that would be a blatant lie. And I may be a lot of things, but I'm no liar.

Sweet Potater Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled, and mashed
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk (more or less, to desired consistency)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Streusel Topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup margarine or butter, cold

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine sweet potatoes, sugar, egg, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon.
Pour into 9x9" greased baking dish or a casserole dish of similar size.
Mix the topping ingredients together, cut in the margarine or butter until crumbly, and sprinkle over the potato mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until the topping is properly brown and crunchy.

Interesting side note: Sweet taters have lots of anticancer properties, mostly stemming from their beta-carotene, which may protect DNA in the cell nucleus from cancer-causing chemicals. Because of this, I'm using this post as a contribution to an event created by Chris at Mele Cotte--the second annual Cooking to Combat Cancer. I would be remiss if I didn't say just how much I respect and admire people who attack cancer head-on. I can only hope that I would be that strong in such a situation.

On a lighter note, tomorrow is Tater Day, certainly a day worth celebrating!

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March 28, 2008

snow and skewers


Snow. Boo.

I thought I was done wreaking havoc on my steering wheel with my iron grip, but no. It's not over yet.

When I left this morning, I secretly hoped that my new, freshly-installed NY license plates would magically enable me to properly drive in these conditions, but no. There's no magic here.

Another stinker is the fact that, even though I just got one headlight replaced on Tuesday, the other one is now out. Perhaps the service center just swapped the bulbs.

One more gripe: Just when I thought I was in love with Hannaford, scandal erupts. Fortunately, my credit card company is right on top of things and has already given me a new account number. Ironically, I've finally memorized my current account number.

Sigh. At least there's one good thing about today. It's National Something on a Stick Day. My skewered item-of-choice is the shish kebab, preferably served with a perfectly puffed pita and some hummus.

If for some reason (such as relentless snow) I were unable to obtain this delightful combination or the ingredients to make my own, I would settle for the one and only tornado potato:

Of course, chances are slim that I could get to one of those, either.

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March 27, 2008

blonde ambition


First of all, I'm about as far from blonde as you can get. Further, when given the choice between two fellas of different hair color, I typically go for the darker-haired one. That being said, there is one instance when I prefer light to dark--in my bar-type desserts. For some inexplicable reason (given my love for chocolate), I like blondies better than brownies.

I felt the itch to bake yesterday, and even though I got home late and had other things that needed to be done, I fired up my oven and raided my cabinets. What can I say--I've got distorted priorities (although some would argue that my priorities are perfectly in order).

My cabinets were pathetically bare. I was able to come away with a couple things begging to be used--some orange-flavored dried cranberries and a chocolate power bar left over from the Naturals Expo. Hmm. After rummaging through my myriad of recipes, I found this one from Smitten Kitchen. Deb always does good work, so I knew it would be a winner.

Here's her recipe with my additions:

Blondies by a Brunette
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup orange-flavored dried cranberries
1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped

Spray an 8×8" pan. (Sadly, I don't have an 8x8" pan, so I used a 7.5x11.75" pan instead. What a random size. Anyway, that's why my blondies are a bit thin.)
Mix melted butter with brown sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla.
Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in cranberries and chocolate.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle

Are they delicious? Definitely.

What's my next purchase? An 8x8" pan.

Did that other stuff get done? No. No, it didn't. Whoopsidaisy. :)

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March 26, 2008

i yam what i yam


Rumor has it that it's Spinach Day.

I, like Popeye, enjoy spinach, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to share some recipes from some of my favorite blogs.

I hit the jackpot at The Kitchen Sink, with enchiladas, lasagna, and empanadas.

Also striking my fancy is this spinach pie from Paola at In My Life.

I love hummus, and I think this spinach and pine nuts version from 28 Cooks might be worth a try.

Creamed spinach is not something I typically enjoy, but if you toss in enough cheese, it just might hit the spot. The minds behind What We're Eating think so.

How about some soup? Here's one from Susan at FatFree Vegan Kitchen involving quinoa, my new true love. Another winner is this white bean masterpiece from Chuck at Sunday Nite Dinner. I do love me some beans.

I had to include this impressive spinach linguine from Sarah at Food and Paper. Awesome.

My favorite way to eat spinach right now is in a nice fresh salad, like this one from Peter at Souvlaki for the Soul. That blueberry vinaigrette sounds amazing!

Eat your spinach, people!

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March 24, 2008

there's no place like home


I hopped on a plane and went home for Easter weekend. I didn't realize just how much I missed those goobers also known as my family until two of them rolled up to the curb to pick me up from the airport.

I got in half an hour early, but that was okay--it gave me a chance to sit and bask in the sunshine WITHOUT A COAT. Oh, Virginia, how I've missed you and your mild weather.

It was lunchtime, so the three of us (Mammalicious, Lil Bro, and I) cruised over to TGI Friday's for some grub. As you probably know by now, I have a tendency to morph into Goldilocks when I eat out. Lil Bro says my expectations are too high, but he's a self-proclaimed "baby bear."

I've never been disappointed by TGI Friday's; I guess there's a reason you should never say never. My first inkling of a less-than-satisfactory meal came when Lil Bro received his side salad (if you can call it that). It was composed of about 10 pieces of lettuce, one crouton, a quarter-sized sprinkling of cheese, and two or three cherry tomatoes. It was just pathetic.

For my entree, I chose the California Club Sandwich (I guess I'm wishing I was still in CA...), which sounded great--avocado (yum!), turkey, ham, jack cheese, tomato, and lettuce on ciabatta, how could you go wrong? They managed. The amount of avocado on my sandwich cannot even been considered a dollop. Not a smear. Honestly, it looked like someone with a head cold had sneezed into their hand and wiped their palm on my bread. No thank you. The meat consisted of a very thin slice of ham and two very thin slices of turkey. The bread was stale. I was thoroughly disappointed. Mamster and Lil Bro were satisfied though, so maybe my standards are indeed too high.

Moving on.

We had our Easter meal on Saturday since my flight back to NY was mid-Sunday. All my grandparents came over to our house, and it was so terrific to see them. They dote on me. :)

We had wonderful food for every meal--Friday dinner was brown-sugar basted ham, sweet potato casserole (you know it!), fresh steamed broccoli, and sourdough wheat rolls with the help of Eb's ancestor (Mammicus refuses to name her starter).

Easter lunch was rotisserie turkey...

...my special baked beans...

...my grandma's green beans...

...fresh pineapple, so juicy and luscious...


...and Mammacita's favorite--scalloped potatoes:

It took a double team to carve up that beastie of a turkey:

Big Bro and his wife provided musical entertainment--she's extremely talented and he's becoming quite an adept guitar player. He's also a blossoming bread maker:

Mammy gave him a cup of starter (which he'd better suitably name) so he can make his very own sourdough back at his home in NC.

I had a great trip, and it was over all too soon. There really is no place like home.

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March 20, 2008

taste & create vii--they call me tater...cupcake?


Grandma’s influence strikes again!

Whenever we have a holiday or birthday meal, we always assign my grandmother to bring her sweet potato casserole. It’s magnificent. Perhaps it’s the pineapple mixed with the sweet potatoes, or perhaps it’s the coconut and pecans in the streusel topping (no marshmallows here, folks). Either way, it’s like candy to me and it usually takes up more than a quarter of my plate. If you saw the other foods in the spread we usually have, you’d realize that this is saying a lot for them good ol' taters.

My belabored point is that I love sweet potato casserole. Many moons ago (last October, to be exact), as I was scanning some of my favorite blogs (Cupcake Project, to be exact), I happened upon an interesting recipe. In fact, I did a double-take. Sweet potato casserole...cupcakes? Why, yes, yes it was. Hmm. I bookmarked the recipe, adding it to the abyss of recipes I’d like to try, and promptly forgot about it.

Twas fate, my friends, which brought that recipe to my attention again. I've been paired Stef from Cupcake Project for Taste & Create VII.

Although she has many, many amazing, unique, and incredible cupcake recipes, I clearly had to pick the Sweet Potato Casserole Cupcakes.

[I feel a bit guilty that I only have about 15 recipes posted on my site, most of which involve a sourdough starter. Sorry Stef!]

What did I think? These. Were. Breathtaking.

*I used pureed sweet potatoes from my grandpa's garden, which explains why mine are a little lighter in color than Stef's, who used canned puree.
*I skipped the filling. I know, I know--I'm a slacker.
*I used about twice as much icing as Stef, but I'm a professed icing girl. Plus, it happened to be one of the most wonderful icings I've ever eaten, so that might've had something to do with it. Me like caramel.
*In an attempt to make these more like Grandma's casserole, I added some coconut on top. Others I topped with glazed walnuts. (I liked the coconut ones better.)
*Cupcakes are not my forte, so I don't own any cups or even a tin pan. I used my silicone muffin pans instead, so that's why there're no festive paper liners to be seen.

This is a top-notch recipe, and I'd like to give Stef a hearty pat on the back for coming up with it. Nicely done, milady! Keep up the good work!

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March 19, 2008

free. all-natural. food.


Understatement of the month: The Natural Products Expo West was awesome.

Things I found out on Thursday:
-5.5 hours is much too long for me to sit still, even when there are views like this...

...and this...

...and this:

It's especially tedious when there are people crowding me. Please, fliers--there's a reason it's called personal space.
-Southwest Airlines supplies a lame-o snack box.
-Gambling is not for me. I'll leave it at that.

(We changed planes in Vegas.)

-I am currently nowhere near aggressive enough to drive on the highways in Orange County, especially during rush hour (that's some bad timing on our part).
-Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. will always hold a warm place in my heart, for although I find shrimp revolting, their strawberry shortcake is the very best I’ve ever had:

(Two spoons...I laugh. It was mine, all mine.)

Pathetic picture (apparently there was no time for proper focus), but seriously delicious dessert. The biscuit was soft and buttery (and huge!), the strawberries were fresh, and there were two sauces--one strawberry and one vanilla. The vanilla sauce was magical. I could go on for hours about that sauce. I was super impressed by the strawberries as well, but I should’ve known they’d be great out there in CA--there was even a field across the street:

Strawberry fields forever.

On Friday, the expo began. If you are unfamiliar with this mecca for lovers of all things natural, allow me to introduce you. It's a collection of "thousands of new products, cutting-edge trends, engaging speakers, informative seminars, and endless networking opportunities." There were more than 2,800 exhibitors!

Okay, first things first. We foolishly ate breakfast before going into the convention center. How was I to know the extent of good eats awaiting me farther up the road? But IHOP it was, and my co-worker got the Horton Hears a Who special of "who-cakes" (and green eggs and ham):

According to my co-worker, they were pretty good. He doesn't like squash or tomatoes though, so what does he know?

Now, to the expo. What can I say? Where are the words?

Amazing. Overwhelming. Heaven on Earth.

Even walking up to the convention center, I was met with exhibitors foisting their goods on me. Yogurt, power bars, granola? Yes, please.

Then I passed through the entrance and the clouds parted. Cue the choir of angels! It was incredible. Exhibits as far as the eye could see...and I was only in the first of five massive rooms.

My list of most impressive exhibitors (classified as such if they offered a variety of free goods) is extensive.

Ones you’d expect to be awesome:
-Morningstar Farms (aka my lunch booth, day one)
-Kashi (I really believe that they can do no wrong)
-Horizon Organic (surprisingly delicious new yogurt flavor=maple)
-Amy’s Kitchen (aka my lunch booth, day two)(I highly recommend the black bean tamale verde)
-Burt’s Bees (free chapstick!)(yes, I ventured into non-food territory)(so sue me)
-Fage (that’s some thick yogurt)(suggestion for next year--how about some cucumber, dill, and pita on the side?)
-Green Mountain Coffee (all coffee, all day long--a frequent stop)
-Bear Naked (not only was there an Australian man behind the table, but he gave me an entire huge bag of granola)(swoon)
-Tazo (my favorite chai OF ALL TIME)
-Stonyfield Farm (please go to this site and check out their yogurt election)(how funny that “yopublicans” are whole milk and “demogurts” are fat free)(tasty vanilla chai got my vote)
-Scharffen Berger (free bars of amazing chocolate, need I say more?)

Newbies (to me, at least):
-Crummy Brothers (awesome name, awesome cookies)
-Feed Granola Co. ("America’s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs" indeed!)
-Just Desserts (we’re talking whole pieces of pie and cake and cookies)(no measly bites here)(and it was goooood)
-Explorer's Bounty (quite possibly the best chocolate-covered macadamia nuts I've ever put in my mouth)
-Organic Valley (strawberry milk, a personal favorite)
-Bare Fruit (crunchy all natural dried fruit)(I took a shoulder-bag full)

Last, but most certainly not least...
-The Fartless Factory (so cute, and even their bags are encouraging—"may all yours be quiet and brief")

Two guest speakers that I wish I could've seen (but missed due to meetings) were Tre Wilcox of Top Chef fame and Mollie Katzen, cookbook author extraordinaire. Such is the life of a successful businesswoman. :)

You'd think that noshing all day would stomp out my appetite for dinner. Not so. Night one was The Cheesecake Factory, my true love. I got the stuffed chicken tortillas, which are packed with chicken (hence the name) and topped with cheese and tomatillo sauce. Possibly the best part were the sides--corn cakes, black beans, and salsa. It was so, so good. Of course, I was forced to get the strawberry shortcake in order to do a proper comparison with Bubba Gump's phenomenal dish. I must admit that Bubba's was far, far superior. I guess it's called The Cheesecake Factory for a reason.

(Sidebar: Coincidentally, I was just telling Mike about my love affair with strawberry shortcake, and he's got an awesome recipe just begging to be tried out.)

For dinner on night two, we went to Downtown Disney and ate at the Rainforest Cafe. I sat next to a fish...

...and got the jungle chop salad. They weren't kidding about it being chopped! It was chicken, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and red cabbage, chopped to oblivion, and topped with candied pecans (yum!), blue cheese crumbles (not a fan), and dried cranberries. I'd never had anything like it, and it was fun and yummy.

The temperature was in the 50s and 60s during my outside hours. An improvement, yes, but I was hoping for more. I was forced to sneak out of the show a couple of times to bask in the 70-degree daytime weather. One has to get her vitamin D, after all. However, I didn't realize just how awesome it was in CA until I deplaned in Albany and was met with a frigid gust of wind and temperatures in the single digits. Sigh.

All in all, a fabulous trip. My bag was about twice as heavy on the way back, but I shan't complain--it was full of free, all-natural food.

The end.

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a riesen to live


It's National Chocolate Caramel Day, or as I like to call it, National Day to Celebrate the Marvelousness and Superbitude that is the Riesen Chocolate Chew.

I'm obsessed with this candy. I love it so much that I actively rebelled against my orthodontist's orders and ate it whilst I was a brace-face (ah, such a proud time in a young girl's life).

Confession: The chewy little buggers pulled the brackets off my molars more than once, but I kept eating them.

Come on, it's not like orthodontia is expensive or anything...

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March 8, 2008

a veritable rainbow!


This may just be the purdiest dish I’ve ever thrown together.

Red and yellow, black and white (we are precious in His sight). Green. Maroon. Beige.

I call this concoction Bean Salad (creative, right?), and every version is different. This particular batch would benefit greatly from some cilantro, by far my favorite herb, but I went to two grocery stores in pursuit of it and came back empty-handed (and therefore slightly depressed). I don't usually include quinoa, but since it's my new go-to ingredient, I threw it in too.

This is so easy that I'm almost ashamed to post it as a recipe, but hey--I wanted to share the pretty pictures. :)

Bean Salad
1 15 oz can black beans
1 15 oz can kidney beans
1 4 oz can green chiles
1 16 oz can diced tomatoes
2 bell peppers, diced
1 cup corn (scrawny shoepeg was all I had on hand)
3/4 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup cilantro (by way of my imagination)
salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, oil, and red wine vinegar to taste

Drain canned goods. Rinse beans. Combine all ingredients in large bowl. Stir. Chill. Eat.

And eat some more.

Although not a traditional breakfast food, Mansi of Fun and Food has encouraged me to submit this dish to Weekend Breakfast Blogging #20. The theme this month is balanced breakfasts, and the stipulations are that the dish must be vegetarian and contain foods from at least two of the food groups.

With quinoa, peppers, corn, and beans in the mix, this bean salad definitely meets those criteria.

And hey, I've got a huge plastic container full of the stuff in my fridge...maybe I should start eating it for breakfast.

And lunch.

And dinner.

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gaga for greek


Chances are slim that any of you will ever wander into Liberty, NY, but if you do, and if you like Greek food, you really shouldn't leave until you eat at Yiasou Cafe.

I happened to be in Liberty (incidentally, a fun word to type) last week for work, and the guys that my co-worker and I were meeting highly recommended that we give Yiasou a shot on our way home.

It's a very unassuming little 15-table cafe somewhat hidden alongside a few offices, but I suspect that those tables are full most of the time.

The menu listed your typical Greek fare--souvlaki, gyros, dolmades, spanikopita, etc. My poor co-worker claimed to have had Greek food before, but I could tell he was a bit overwhelmed. He ended up getting a chicken caesar salad, which is fine for him, but boring for me. I got chicken souvlaki, and it was awesome. The chicken was wrapped in a lovely pita (while not the best I've ever had, still yummy) and slathered in tzatziki sauce.

If you're unfamiliar with this cucumber-dill yogurt sauce, you're missing out. It's so cool and creamy, and the perfect compliment to the spices and flavors of the chicken.

My meal was $5.95 and my co-worker's lettuce, chicken, dressing, and cheese (can you tell I'm not a fan of the caesar salad?) was $10.95. I felt the need to balance out the cost (hey, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it), so I ordered some of the amazing-looking baklava that caught my eye immediately when we entered. Friends, it did not disappoint. It was fresh, crispy, sweet, and delightful.

So, if you're ever driving along RT-52, stop in and make your belly happy!

Atmosphere: B (every time someone came in, which was often, a gust of cold, frigid air filled the room)(maybe it was just poor table-selection on my part)
Service: A (even though the waitress said "ji-ro"...)
Food: A+


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March 5, 2008



Attention, fellow foodies: I need to pick your brains!

My dear cousin has asked me to make an array of desserts for her wedding reception this summer. I have a few ideas, but I'd love to hear what you all have to say.

Here are my oh-so-stringent criteria:
1. First and foremost, it must be delicious.
2. It should be tried and true.
3. I'm going for elegant, but not unreasonably so (we're not fancy-shmancy folks).
4. Both finger foods and spoon-or-forkers will be fine.
5. Ideally, it could be made in advance and not require refrigeration.
6. Sugar-free or diabetic-friendly recipes are encouraged!

If I had more readers, I'd make this some sort of event. However, I still consider myself a baby blogger, and I suspect I wouldn't get many entries.

So please feel free to include full recipes, links to your old posts or other websites, or even cookbook recommendations in the comment section. I hope you can (and will) help!

Many flanks!

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March 3, 2008

cinnamon swirl bread for apples & thyme


SNL used to be awesome. I particularly enjoyed the early 90s, with Chris Farley, Mike Myers, and David Spade, just to name a few. One recurring sketch that really makes me chuckle involves Richard Laymer ("The Richmeister")(played by Rob Schneider), an office worker who annoys people by giving them nicknames. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can read a sample transcript here.

I like the skit so much that I’ve taken it upon myself to give my dear mother several nicknames of her own. Perhaps you’ve noticed. Mamster, Mammacita, the Mamminator, Mamburger, Mama Lama Ding Dong, etc. They’re just terms of affection for the lady who kindly gave me life.

I have a point.

Mamby Pamby introduced me to the wonder that is sourdough bread and I haven’t properly thanked her. She got the starter from a co-worker and gave me some to bring with me to the cold, harsh north. It gives me something to do every two weeks or so, keeps my belly full, stirs my creative juices, and reminds me of home and the Mamburger.

I stumbled upon a blogging event called Apples & Thyme, which celebrates time spent in the kitchen with mothers or grandmothers. I’ve already mentioned one thing that I gleaned from my grandmother’s kitchen--her fabulous peas & dumplins. For this event, I thought I’d honor Mambalaya AND feed hungry Eb (effectively killing two more birds with one stone, which I love to do).

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with cinnamon. I had this recipe from Two Fat Als in the bottomless chasm that is my collection of “to-try” recipes. Although I used sourdough and they did not, it was my inspiration.

I fed Eb and made the dough as previously documented. (For the unacquainted, Eb is short for Ebenezer, my sourdough starter.)

After the first rise, I divided my dough into three hunks, one of which got further divided into eight little chunks for my mini loaf pan (a gift from the Mammologist). Then I stretched each portion of dough out and liberally sprinkled on a layer of cinnamon-sugar. I rolled them up and left them to rise in their designated pans.

They rose beautifully and baked up nicely. I was (and still am) delighted by the gorgeous swirl in the bread. These pictures don't do it justice, but look how purdy:

Thanks, Mammy, for helping me become a bodacious and bizarre bread maker.

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