A Southern Grace: May 2008

May 30, 2008

liz lemon says...


"I’m going to go talk to some food about this."

I adore Tina Fey, and 30 Rock rocks. So do these muffins.

This post has nothing to do with Tina Fey or 30 Rock except that her character's name on the show is Liz Lemon and these muffins contain lemon. Talk about grasping at straws. Leave me alone--it's Friday.

Even my burnt-out brain knows that the tastes of lemon and blueberry meld beautifully. It's been proven time and time again.

These little muffins a la Emiline at Sugar Plum are no exception. Yes, she used blackberries, but I had to go with what I had on hand--blueberry preserves. I also went almond-less, as the only almonds in my apartment are in my Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds (yum) and I didn't really feel like rooting around in the box and digging them out one by one.

My muffins aren't as pretty as Emiline's, but they're darn delicious and quite healthy. I'm sure Tina Fey's personal chef would approve. (Grasping at those straws, I tell you. Grasping.)(But wouldn't that be a great job?)

Lemon-Blueberry Swirl Muffins
(adapted from here)
makes 24 magnificent mini muffins

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/ cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 1/4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup blueberry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with cups.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, melted butter, egg, milk, lemon peel, lemon juice, and vanilla extract until well combined. Dump flour mixture into liquid mixture and stir until all ingredients are moistened.
Warm preserves in the microwave until a pourable consistency is reached. Add to batter and stir until desired swirl-beauty is achieved.
Pour batter into muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then lift muffins out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

(this calls for some wrapper-licking...)

More 30 Rock food-associated funniness:
Floyd: Hey.
Liz: Hey.
Floyd: Wow, hot dog times, huh?
Liz: I only eat them on special occasions.
Floyd: What’s the special occasion?
Liz: I decided to eat one.

Jack: Big night, Lemon? Let me guess, meatball sub, extra bread, bottle of NyQuil, Tivo Top Chef, a little Miss Bonnie Raitt, lights out.
Liz: No, I have something to do tonight, Jack.
Jack: Then you won't mind when I tell you that [whispering] Casey gets voted off tonight.
Liz: You monster! Why are you like this?

If you've made it through this discombobulated post, it goes without saying...but TGIF!

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May 28, 2008

garden update, week 2


Progress is slow and steady, but we all know that's what wins the race.

It's almost been two weeks since I potted my planties (not to be confused with my panties, which remain safely ensconced in my dresser).

The most exciting development comes from my jalapeno plant:

She's still a newborn, but growing up (or down, as the case may be) right before my eyes!

The poblano plant has some buds, so I'm looking forward to a massive increase in output soon:

The lone baby husky cherry red tomato has found some friends:

That big guy was impressive out of the gate two weeks ago, but he seems to have stalled. Maybe his chums will push him along.

I have a tiny little early bush girl tomato starting out nicely:

Right now she's the size of a peanut M&M, but I'm not fooled.

Finally, my zucchini plants are growing like mad. It's obvious that I've made a blunder here in planting so many in one trough, so my next step is to buy some more planters and do some relocating.

We've got buds!

Yes siree, I'm feeling cautiously optimistic.

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May 27, 2008

pasketti sauce


Lots of things remind me of my home in Virginia. I had an experience the other day that made me sorely miss the good ol' South. Don't worry, it's nothing tragic. Just a bit of a bummer.

As I was driving through my neighborhood that evening, I was feeling particularly friendly and happy. I met a man walking toward me and gave a smile and a nice wave. In return for my friendliness, I got the ugliest look from this man. Ugly doesn't even cover it. He looked at me like I had kicked a baby or put a cat in the microwave and turned it on. Is it really so strange around here to wave to a person you don't know?

Back home, there are 4 degrees of waving whilst driving. First, we have the head bob. (Can that be classified as a wave? I think so.) The chin goes up, sufficiently acknowledging the other driver or person. This is usually done when there's no time to use the limbs or if you're feeling particularly lazy.

Secondly, we have the finger raise. No, not that finger. This is a step up from the head bob, and involves lifting the pointer finger off of the wheel in greeting.

(Yes, that's a plate masquerading as a steering wheel. You work with what you've got--I really didn't want to go out to my car, sit at the wheel, and snap pictures. Had I done so, I would've been deserving of such filthy looks from passersby.)

Now it's important to note that the first and second degree waves are very often given to complete strangers. Chances are good that you don't even know the person in the oncoming car, but sometimes it's nice to greet him or her anyway. It's nice.

Thirdly, we have the complete hand raise. This is as it sounds, with the full hand coming up off of the wheel for a nice "hello."

(Let me know if you'd like the name of my manicurist...)

There are many varieties of this greeting, including the whipping of the wrist into a gun formation...

...or a slow, back and forth movement, just to name a couple.

The final wave is the full-fledged, enthusiastic, total-arm, "HEY, HOW YOU DOIN'?" wave.

Little Brother and I like to use this wave to startle oncoming drivers, or at the very least, make them think, "Did I know that person?" and see if they'll respond. More often than not, the other driver will wave back accordingly, even if he or she has no idea who we are.

That, folks, is one of the major differences between the cold North and the warm South.

What does this have to do with spaghetti? Not a durn thing, except that the experience made me think of home, which made me think of this sauce. It's been perfected by my Mamburger, and there's always some in the fridge or freezer. Little Brother is a spaghetti maniac--the size of his typical plateful would make your jaw drop. The boy can put it away. (The sauce is also one of the few things he has deemed worthy of learning how to cook for himself.)

Mammy's Pasketti Sauce (no, I don't actually call it that, but it is more fun to say)

1 lb ground beef, obesity to your liking (I use lean)
12 oz can tomato paste
1 1/2 cans water
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste

Brown beef, drain. (Mamster likes to leave a little of the fat in the meat. Me, not so much.)
Add paste, water, and seasonings and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Add to appropriately awesome pasta, such as this variety (radiatore?) sent to me by Melanie from My Kitchen Cafe:

Simple and delicious.

Moral of the story: If a stranger waves at you, wave back.

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May 25, 2008

a vehicle for blueberry syrup


I don't (usually) consider myself a food snob, but rarely do I eat at fast food restaurants. However, I can't deny my love for IHOP, if only for their Harvest Grain 'n Nut Pancakes.

In all actuality I think it may be the blueberry syrup that lures me there, which brings me to my next epicurean endeavor.

If you'll recall, the oh-so-generous Melanie from My Kitchen Cafe recently sent me some outstanding goodies from Utah. Included in my box was some wild blueberry syrup, so clearly, I needed to break out my pancake tools.

(glorious cast-iron skillet, how I adore thee)

I found a copycat recipe for those yummy Harvest Grain 'n Nut pancakes that got some pretty rave reviews, so I decided to try it out.

The 5-star rating on Recipezaar is completely deserved. Yes, they taste a bit different from IHOP's version, but certainly not in a negative way. They're hearty and healthy and quite scrumtrulescent (just seeing if you're paying attention, Little Brother), especially with the addition of cinnamon (of course) and copious amounts of that syrup.

(just look at that poised-to-drip droplet...mmm)

I'm here to tell you, friends and neighbors, that if you like blueberry syrup, you should order some from the Blackberry Patch. It's perfectly sweet, with a nice bit of texture created by the seeds. Frankly, I wanted to skip the pancakes and just tip up the bottle of syrup and guzzle. (I resisted.)

I now know that what IHOP calls "blueberry syrup" is a poor imitation of the real thing. I guess I never need to go to IHOP again (unless I enter sloth-mode)(which can happen at any time)(without warning).

Thanks again Melanie!

Would You Like a Little Pancake With Your Syrup?
Appropriately-Absorbent Whole Wheat Pancakes

(adapted from here)
makes about 8 3-inch pancakes and 1 sponge (my name for the sacrificial miniature pancake that I use to soak up and spread the oil on the skillet)

3/4 cup quick oats
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons chopped pecans
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 5-oz bottle blueberry syrup a la Blackberry Patch (just kidding--I only used half of the bottle...)

Lightly oil a skillet or griddle, and preheat it to medium heat.
Combine oats, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
In another bowl combine buttermilk, oil, egg, and sugar and mix until smooth.
Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients, add nuts and mix until all ingredients are moistened.
Ladle 1/3 cup of the batter onto the hot skillet and cook the pancakes for 2 to 4 minutes per side or until properly browned.

(yes, that's a book in the background...I do read occasionally)

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May 23, 2008

mother lode!


My neighbors are probably beginning to think that I'm running some sort of lucrative, scandalous, somewhat illegal mail-based service.

I'm not. It's lucrative, scandalous, and completely legal.

No, seriously, I've just been extremely fortunate these past few days. I earned some free chocolate and was the lucky winner of not one, but two blog giveaways! Plus, I've been doing some online ordering of my own, so I've had a package waiting on my doorstep just about every day this week.

First, the chocolate. Oh, the chocolate. This was a Blake Makes giveaway from Amano Chocolate. The package contained three bars of their insanely fabulous chocolate, which, except for a few chunks that have mysteriously disappeared (into mah bell-ay), is being saved for something special. My deepest gratitude, Blake and Amano!

Secondly, my comment on a Glam Dish post was randomly picked to be the winner of a stellar combination of goods. I got an autographed copy of Gale Gand's Short and Sweet: Quick Desserts with Eight Ingredients or Less, a Reddi Whip bowl, several coupons for free Reddi Whip, and two silicone baking molds (one for mega muffins and one for mini muffins). The molds will be used often, I'm sure, and having glanced through the book, I can safely say that lots of the recipes are begging to be tested. Many, many thanks, Amy!

Lastly (and most exciting), as the result of another random drawing by Melanie at My Kitchen Cafe, I was picked as the winner of a bundle of fabulous goodies from Utah.

She sent elderberry jelly and blueberry syrup (also known as motivation for pancake-making)...

...honey bran muffin mix and huckleberry honey (perhaps some homemade baklava is finally in order)...

...awesomely shaped pasta and a delicious-sounding sauce mix...

...AND key lime cookies and vanilla caramel pretzels:


Check out the box she chose to send these delicious, ultra-healthy treats in:

What a character. I'm absolutely floored by your generosity, Melanie--thank you so much! There's a lot of sensational cooking and baking in my future!

One gift that I didn't get in the mail but will gladly accept was an award from toontz at Okara Mountain.

It's given to blogs for their creativity (don't know about that...), design (if you say so, toontz!), and interesting material (on a good day.). Recipients also contribute to the blogger community, no matter what language (there we go--this I definitely do!).

See, I told you it was all legal.

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May 21, 2008

mentos--the freshmaker


I loved those commercials. You remember them, right? Goofy people face some sort of dilemma, pop a Mentos, and come up with some wacky, clever solution.

Cue cheesy grin and roll of mints...and scene.

These don't really have anything to do with Mentos (for one thing, they won't cause your coke to erupt)(and they're as yet unassociated with a maddening jingle), but the temperature is back down to the 30s and 40s here and my brain is foggy and confused. And they are minty...

These are my butter mints. They're quick, easy, smash-and-breakage-resistant, and tasty, and are therefore a shoo-in for the wedding reception.

Butter Mints
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract
food coloring (I used red decorating gel)
bit o' granulated sugar

In a mixing bowl, cream butter well. Blend in the powdered sugar gradually, mixing until smooth. Add milk, peppermint extract, and food coloring and blend well until the color is uniform throughout. (I had to resort to hand-kneading in order to achieve this.) Form better non-bitter butter batter (too bad botter isn't a word...) into small balls, roll in sugar, and press into molds. Let the mints set up for a couple of hours, or until they easily pop out of the mold. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.
Makes 3 to 4 dozen mints.

Butter mints--the cavity-maker!

One last thing: If you have an interesting sense of humor like I do, you'll appreciate this. I won't lie--it got a great big guffaw out of me.

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May 20, 2008

i don't think eb likes blueberries...


They look healthy, right?

(Double-cupped. Doh.)

Brown = healthy.

The thing is, they're not supposed to be brown. Or green. Or green-brown, which is their actual hue, although you can't really tell from these pictures.

Apparently there was some inner turmoil in my muffin batter which resulted in Eb turning what could've been a lovely shade of blueberry into a nasty-green-brownberry. He's a hard worker, that one.

I probably should've followed the instructions a bit more closely, as I see now that they say to mix quickly and spoon into cups. I was pretty pokey about it, and I guess I gave the sourdough starter too much time to interact with the blueberry preserves.

Guess what? The color doesn't affect the taste. They're delicious. There's a bit of that sourdough flavor coming through, but it's not too much and keeps them from being cloyingly sweet. The blueberry taste is there, too. I didn't add any cinnamon(!), but next time I will. A Grace-made blueberry muffin isn't a Grace-made blueberry muffin until it contains cinnamon.

Sourdough Brownberry Muffins
(adapted from this recipe)
makes 32 mutant mini muffins

1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup oil
1 cup Eb
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup blueberry preserves

Preheat oven to 425F.
Combine dry ingredients in small bowl. Combine wet ingredients in medium bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet ones.
Mix quickly and spoon into lined muffin cups.
Bake at 425 for about 15 minutes.
Gasp at resulting color and quickly consume in order to avoid embarrassment.

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May 18, 2008

chocolate-covered ginger


To answer your inquiries:

Good stuff.

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taste & create ix--ginger biskies


What are biskies, you ask? It's quite simple, really (and sounds better than cookits):


This month marks the ninth occurrence of Taste & Create, a blog event which partners two foodie bloggers and has each make a dish from the other's recipe archives. I was fortunate enough to be paired with a blog that was brand new to me--Tangerine's Kitchen Hangout. Rachel's recipes include such a variety of dishes, many of them India-inspired. After much deliberation, I finally decided that the notion of "chewy gingery rocks" needed to be explored.

Rachel's instructions were simple and straightforward. However, my resulting batter wasn't pourable, but rather stiff, so I opted to form it into flat discs and go for mega-cookies. I don't know what I did wrong, but I must've done something right too, because these puppies were scrumptious.

The taste was cookie-like (the chocolate-covered ginger bits that I tossed in were a nice bonus) yet the texture was reminiscent of a flaky biscuit. I doubt I'll ever love any spice as much as I love cinnamon, but ginger is moving up in the ranks!

So while I didn't end up with chewy gingery rocks, I did find a new addition to my ever-growing blogroll. Thanks, Rachel, and nice to meet you!

Ginger Biskies
(based on Rachel's recipe, but Americanized)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons finely-grated ginger
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate-covered ginger

In a bowl, mix flour, ginger, sugar, and nutmeg. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the honey to it. Add the baking soda, and when the syrup starts to fizz, mix it into the flour mixture.

If your batter is as stiff as mine, mold it into discs about four inches in diameter. If it's pourable, pour dollops onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the desired color is obtained.

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May 16, 2008

my "garden"


My family has always had a stellar garden. My grandpa grows all kinds of corn, tomatoes, peas, taters, green beans, cucumbers, and carrots, to name a few. He also harvests apples and berries. On the other side of the family, my grandma grows green beans out the wazoo (some seasons she cans over 100 quarts). Our garden at home is full of goodies like peppers, cilantro, squash, and green beans. Yes, my family likes green beans.

(I'm a mother! This is my first offspring. She's gonna be a looker, right?)

Up until this latest move, I’ve still benefited (mooched, some might say) from those gardens. Unfortunately, it’s apparently quite a bit of trouble to ship fresh produce 700 miles. (Excuses, excuses, I say.) Thus, I’m forced to plant my own garden if I want to partake of any newly-picked fruits and veggies.

(Can we talk about how the phenomenal smell of cilantro lingers on my fingertips long after I harvest it and how happy that makes me? Man, I love this stuff.)

Obstacle #1: I have no land. I live in an upstairs apartment containing no soil of which to speak. (A dirt-free apartment had been considered a perk until now.) I do, however, have a little deck, so in order to overcome obstacle #1, I went to Home Depot and bought some pots and planters, as well as some soil.

Obstacle #2: Regrettably, I have no gardening knowledge. Even though I’ve been surrounded by it my entire life, I’ve largely ignored the methods. Doh. Perhaps green thumbs are genetic, in which case I’m all set. If not, I’m already poring over online articles and library books.

(Peter Piper picked a peck of poblano peppers. How many poblano peppers did Peter Piper pick?)

Obstacle #3: I have no experience with the NY climate. What grows well here? I don’t really know, but I do know what produce I like best. So, I got four varieties of tomatoes (golden jubilee, husky cherry red, roma, and bush early girl), two types of peppers (poblano and jalapeno), zucchini, and cilantro. Those seemed like a good start.

(Everything I read and past memories indicate that zucchini is a very prolific plant. Here's hoping I don't mess it up.)

Obstacle #4: Again, since this is a new climate, I have no idea what to expect in terms of temperature and summer weather. Sadly, I haven’t found anyone who can offer me any advice. Any pointers, New Yorkers? Since temperatures at night are still in the 30s(!), I’ve been using some common sense (also known as advice from the Maminator) and bringing my new babies in at night.

(No, your eyes are not deceiving you. I improvised for my shortage of pots by using old coffee containers and an ice cube bin. I knew there was a reason to keep them! Frugality at work, my friends.)

Yes, folks, I'm excited. Updates will be frequent, unless I fail miserably, in which case you'll never hear about my "garden" again.

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