A Southern Grace: July 2008

July 30, 2008

zukes and maters


I wish I could tell you that this post is about a dish created solely from the bounty of my garden but alas, I cannot. Yep, I'm probably the only person in the world who can't grow zucchini.

Since I've decided that those evil zucchini plants are a lost cause (and really only serve as a reminder of my failure, sitting out on my deck, looking pathetic), I gladly accepted this behemoth from a coworker:

(shown with a day's wages for sizing purposes)

The tomatoes that you see, however, are from my garden. At least my time, energy, and money haven't been completely wasted (knock on wood). I think they're particularly delicious, but there's a small chance that I'm biased.

I didn't do anything fancy here. I sliced, oiled, salted, peppered, thymed, and roasted. I really liked the thyme in the dish I made from Holler's blog, so it came back out for this. 'Twas a good choice, if I do say so myself.

It's hard to beat fresh-from-the-garden goodness, even if the majority of it is from someone else's garden. Eh, maybe next year...

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July 28, 2008

cookie carnival!


Have you heard of the Cookie Carnival? It's an event in which Kate of The Clean Plate Club assigns the groupies a different cookie recipe to make each month. Sounds like fun, right?

This month, the assignment was Blackberry Almond Bars. They consist of a nutty, buttery shortbread crust (frankly, you can stop right there!) topped with a curd made from blackberries. I amended the recipe in three ways. First, I greatly prefer blueberries, so that's what I used. Second, I used an 8x8" dish rather than a 9x13". Finally, guess what I added to the crust? Go on, guess! Oh, you'll never get it. Cinnamon. Of course. I think I might have a problem.

(Yeah, it could've benefited from some powdered sugar to cover those blemishes. I kinda overlooked that part of the instructions.)

I've never curded before. (I have an aversion for the word curd, most likely because it rhymes with turd. Apparently, I'm a nine-year-old boy trapped in the body of a 25-year-old woman. Moving on.) The curding process seemed like quite a bit of trouble, but I can't deny that the end result was mighty tasty.

I'm fairly certain that Kate is always looking for new cookie bakers, so if you're interested, let her know!

And don't worry--it's safe to post this recipe, as it's also on the Williams Sonoma website.

Blueberry Almond Bars
(adapted from this recipe)

6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground toasted almonds
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Blueberry curd:
1 pint blueberries
2 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Lightly butter an 8x8" baking dish.

To make the shortbread, combine the butter, flour, almonds, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt until small lumps form. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom. Bake until the shortbread is golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Meanwhile, make the blueberry curd: In a food processor or blender, puree the blueberries until smooth. Pass the puree through a chinois set over a bowl, using a pestle to press on the solids and extract as much juice as possible; discard the solids. You should have about 1/2 cup juice.

In the top pan of a double boiler or in a nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the eggs and granulated sugar until blended. Then whisk in the blueberry juice, salt, and lemon juice. Set the top pan over but not touching simmering water in the bottom pan, or set the saucepan over medium-low heat. (If using a saucepan, take care not to heat the mixture too quickly.) Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula or spoon, until the mixture is warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes.

Begin adding the butter a little at a time, stirring each addition until blended before adding more. Continue cooking, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan, until a finger drawn across the back of the spatula leaves a path, 8 to 10 minutes more. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Pass the curd through the chinois set over a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Whisk to blend, then pour the curd over the shortbread, spreading it evenly to the edges.

Bake until the curd is set, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into individual bars, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Dust the bars with confectioners’ sugar before serving. (Oops.)

(Gratuitous Longaberger shot, just for you, Misti!)

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July 27, 2008

a tribute


The only things I knew for sure about Sher of What Did You Eat were that she created masterful dishes, loved cats, and wrote very well. However, that lack of familiarity didn't stop the tears from streaming down my face upon hearing about her untimely death.

As a tribute to Sher, Glenna from A Fridge Full of Food and Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen have encouraged bloggers to post a recipe from Sher's archives as a memorial for her. I knew in an instant that I wanted to participate.

My once-delicious coffee cake was bordering on stale and inedible, and Sher's wonderful butterscotch sauce and a little whipped cream quickly brought it back to good.

There's no doubt that Sher will be missed. May she rest in peace and may those who loved her be comforted.

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July 25, 2008

the music meme


Friendly reminder (Emiline, this means you!): You have two more weeks to submit your entries for Beat the Heat!

Speaking of Emiline (of Sugar Plum fame), she tagged me for the music meme.

These are the instructions:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your summer (or whatever season). Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

As you might expect given my tendency for randomness, this is a very eclectic list. Some of the songs are mainstream, some of them are pretty obscure.

1. Michael Buble, "Lost" I just love his voice--my favorite part of the entire song is when his voice deepens to what's sure to be its lowest point. Swoon central.

(Let me reiterate: SWOON.)

2. Seether, "Rise Above This" Rock on, you scary-looking men. Rock on.

I dare you not to be touched.

3. Weezer, "Pork & Beans" The title alone sold me, the video made it irresistible, and the fact of the matter is, it's a great song.

(Watch it. Feel free to laugh out loud.)

4. Sixx: A.M., "Life is Beautiful" Indeed it is.

5. Jack Johnson, "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" He's so fun. He just makes me think of a sunny beach teeming with attractive surfers.

(Surf's up, dude. Gnarly.)

6. Plumb, "In My Arms" It makes me sway.

7. Jesse McCartney, "Leavin'" Okay, you caught me. I'm a teenybopper at heart. I can't help but bounce around a little bit whenever I hear this. Leave me alone.

(Can't you just hear the tween-aged girls screeching? I don't screech.)

There you have it. I know this meme is quickly making the rounds, so if you haven't done and would like to, please do. You have my permission.

One more thing--look at what the rain has done to one of my tomato plants:

(We're talking a broken backbone here, folks. You just don't spring back from that.)

I think it's official--I'm a horrible gardener.

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July 24, 2008

ba-ba-ba ba-ba ghanoush


(belted out to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann", obviously)

I think most of us are familiar with the food guru that is Elise of Simply Recipes. None of her recipes have ever disappointed me or my fellow eaters. One day long ago I came across her version of baba ghanoush (a Middle Eastern delight combining roasted eggplant, nutty tahini, and amazing spices to form one heck of a dip) and I was confident that it would be a winner, so into the black hole of saved recipes it went.

(I like big butts.)

Fast forward a few months. I found myself with an eggplant and a craving for a spicy dip other than guacamole (which always seems to be present in my fridge). Finally, out of my abyss of an archive came Elise's recipe.

Of course, I couldn't help myself--I did some minor tweaking. I bumped up the cumin, one of my favorite spices, to 1 teaspoon and, although it's not pictured, there ended up being way more than 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro scattered on top. The end result was magnificent--creamy and smoky and perfectly zippy--and I found myself once again wishing for some homemade pita bread.

Because I've had my eye on this recipe for many moons, I'm submitting it to Ruth's Bookmarked Recipes event.

One bookmarked recipe down, approximately 295,923,524 to go.

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July 22, 2008

it's thyme for taste & create xii


Gird your loins and prepare for complete abuse of the thyme-time pun. You've been warned.

Although I missed a few episodes of Taste & Create (in which bloggers are given a partner and asked to recreate a dish from his or her blog), I'm back. My only excuse for not making thyme for this wonderful event is that I'm a lazy bum, but most of you already knew that.

Moving on. This thyme, Nicole paired me with Holler of Tinned Tomatoes. Have ya met Holler? I hadn't, but it was definitely thyme that I did. She's from Scotland, whose citizens I feel have perhaps the very best accent in the world. (The main competition? Australian.) Her blog is chock-full of goodness, and since she's a vegetarian, her archives are packed with meat-free delights. Plus, she experiments with foods from many different countries, which I completely appreciate.

After much inner struggle and lots of wasted thyme, the recipe I finally chose to make comes from Greece--giant beans in tomato sauce. I love beans and Greek spices, so I was pretty sure this would be a winner (and a good use of my thyme).

Indeed it was. The beans were present in two forms--some mashed into a smooth paste and some whole. Thyme was the predominant herb, and I didn't mind that one bit. I'd never seasoned with it before, but there's no denying that I like me some thyme. Holler recommends eating this with pita bread, which I'm sure would be delightful. In fact, I've been feeling such a strong urge for homemade pita bread that I very nearly cranked up the oven and made some. Alas, (shameless plug alert) the heat beat me this thyme.

I'm so glad I was paired with you, Holler! Dear reader, if you don't know Holler, get thee to her blog immediately! Thyme is of the essence!

Okay, okay, I'll stop now.

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July 20, 2008

start your own starter


I've been selfish. I've been making sourdough recipes left and right and I've never shared with you how to make your own Eb. I apologize.

I know there are several different types of sourdough starter out there, like that darn Herman, for example. Some take a lot more effort than others, both in making the starter and maintaining it.

This one's easy. With attention, you can keep this baby going for a long time. Plus, it apparently gathers wild yeast from the air and therefore gets better and better.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that you can use sourdough starters in both traditional plan-ahead rise-and-knead breads and quick, batter breads.

This particular starter is very versatile. And powerful. And hard to kill, which I find most advantageous.

Sourdough Starter
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 package (2-1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
3 tablespoons instant potato flakes

Starter Feeder and Bread

To make starter:
Mix water, sugar, yeast, and potato flakes. Let ferment on counter for two days. Then feed with starter feeder and continue with the instructions found in the link above.

UPDATE: Eb lives in the fridge until feeding time, which can be anywhere from 3 to 14 days after his last meal. (I've actually gone longer than two weeks without feeding him and he still did fine.) Upon feeding, he sits on the counter for about 8 hours, and then he's ready to go.

The most important step of all--name your new creation. Seriously. You'll form a stronger connection that way.

May your dough be sour and your bread delicious. That is all.

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July 18, 2008

beat the heat


I want to host an event. I realize that there are always oodles of events going on, being hosted by blogs much more popular than mine, but I need a diversion and I hope you'll humor me.

First, the theme. The weather outside is frightful. Some of you have been enduring absolutely thermometer-popping temperatures, and it's getting pretty daggone hot around here, too. For obvious reasons, most of us are avoiding turning on our ovens and stove tops. So for my event, I want your very best dish, whether entree, side, beverage, or dessert, that requires no heat to prepare. I’ll bet many of you have already come up with ingenious ways to avoid using heat and have yielded some delicious concoctions.

Second, the rules and guidelines. There are none. This can be something about which you’ve already written or a brand new post. As I said, it can be any course. The only qualification is that you aren’t allowed to fire up any heating appliances. [Although they do emanate some heat, ice cream makers and microwaves (I suppose...just for you, Ann!) are acceptable.]

Third, the prize. Of course there’s a prize. I have to offer some sort of motivation for you folks. The creator of the winning dish (which I alone will choose based on deliciousness, relevance, perhaps some visual appeal, and any other random factor I deem important--it's all in fun, folks) will earn a brand-spanking-new book entitled New South Grilling. That’s right--the prize for a contest completely eschewing heat is a book completely focused on heat. I’m whimsical like that.

If you want to enter (please do, even if you’re in the southern hemisphere and in the middle of winter), send an email to asoutherngrace @ gmail . com using the subject "Beat the Heat" and containing the following information:

-your name
-the name and address of your blog
-the name of your dish and the link to the post about it
-a picture of your dish (optional, but recommended)

Also, please link this page in your post and feel free to display the lovely logo above. If you don't have a blog but would like to participate, just send me your recipe, your name, and a picture, if desired.

The challenge is officially open when this post goes up and will close at 12 pm EST on Friday, August 8th. A round-up will follow shortly thereafter.

Come, let us join together to stop the sweat stains!

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July 17, 2008

an unanswered question


I foolishly thought you could find the answer (perhaps an answer would be more appropriate) to any question on the internet. Not so, people. I have absolutely scoured the web for the reasoning behind calling certain sourdough starters Herman and I can find nothing.

If you know the origins of the name, please do tell. However, even if there turns out to be a legitimate reason, I refuse to rename Eb. He's an Ebenezer, through and through.

Eb's latest accomplishment is a coffee cake. Since I was in a questioning mood, I wondered to myself just what defined a coffee cake. My go-to source for such inquiries says that a coffee cake is "a cake served with coffee or eaten at breakfast...typically flavored with cinnamon, nuts, and fruits" and that "sometimes has a crumbly or crumb topping called streusel." Ah, streusel. Even reading the word makes me swoon.

I should really remove all paraphernalia from my table before the photo session begins. Yes, that's a banana in the background. It's ripening nicely.

So according to that definition, this is definitely a coffee cake. It was a)eaten for breakfast, b)eaten with coffee, c)flavored (abundantly) with cinnamon, and d)streuseled. (I'll bet you didn't know streusel could be used as a verb. Now you know.)

I chose this particular recipe because it calls for two whole cups of starter, and I needed to use quite a bit since Eb was outgrowing his jar. Plus, even though I just made that phenomenal (all modesty aside, of course) cinnamon cake, I figured a little more cinnamon aroma in the apartment couldn't hurt. Also, unlike the cinnamon cake [that one was mine, all mine! (insert evil laugh here)], I'd be sharing this one.

Look at that crater. You could fit an entire Riesen chocolate chew in there. Awesome.

I only made one change to the typical coffee cake. Instead of having the streusel on top, I put it in the middle in hopes of creating a lovely, aesthetically-pleasing ribbon of buttery, cinnamon-happy goo. I also increased the streusel component since I figured that two cups of starter might be a bit overwhelming (and because it's butter, flour, sugar, and cinnamon--come on!). Ultimately, I think the sourdough flavor was still a bit strong, but it was undoubtedly a delicious cake.

Sweet and Sour Coffee Cake
(based on this recipe)

2 cups Eb, activated
2/3 cup oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a mini loaf pan (or your more traditional 9x13" pan) with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together Eb, oil, and eggs. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir until combined.
For the streusel, stir together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in the softened butter until the mixture resembles very coarse crumbs. Try to refrain from digging in with a spoon.
Divide the cake batter evenly into the loaf forms, filling them about 1/3 full. Sprinkle each with the streusel and top with the remaining batter.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the toothpick test is passed. (No, Floyd County footballers--not that toothpick test.) Cool on a wire rack.

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July 16, 2008

"the status is NOT quo...


...mmm, smells like cumin."

I don't know how many of you are Joss Whedon (and Nathan Fillion) fans, but if you appreciate his work as much I do, you'll probably enjoy his latest endeavor.

Go check it out, but for the anti-musical among you, be forewarned--there's a lot of singing involved.

"It's curtains for you, Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently-wafting curtains."

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July 15, 2008

tried, tested, true, and tasty


Mexican food is one of my favorite ethnic cuisines. Although it can end up looking like a heap of unidentifiable mush on your plate with everything oozing together (into what I personally consider to be a beautiful mosaic), it's almost always downright delicious. Unfortunately, it's also often really bad for those little tunnels we call arteries. The notion of combining oodles of cheese, deep-fried everything, and lardy beans in the same dish makes my little arteries quiver (and my mouth water...but that's not the point here).

The marvelous Equal Opportunity Kitchen family is hosting the second run of an event entitled Tried, Tested, and True.

For this round, they're promoting healthy recipes. I really wanted to show off one of my favorite Mexican dishes, but I had a little work to do to make it worthy of the descriptor "healthy."

Usually when I make my Mexican lasagna, I use fully-fatted refried beans, seasoned ground beef (or sometimes chicken), and handfuls of pepper jack cheese. This does not scream "good for you." On the other hand, some healthier components--black beans, peppers, corn, tomatoes, and cilantro--are always present in some form.

This time, in an effort to enhance the nutritional aspect of this delightful dish, I skipped the meat and added more beans and quinoa. Granted, this substitution isn't necessarily an advantage since it results in reduced protein, but there's also the reduced fat and increased fiber to consider. I went a little lighter on the cheese as well (I couldn't bear to sacrifice too much), and used whole wheat tortillas and fat-free refried beans (which turned out to be more tasty than the regular type). Egads, that's a lot of beans.

This is an extremely flexible recipe--you can obviously add whatever you like and remove the things you don't enjoy. I really like it my usual way--it's a bit more hearty and happifying (that's not a real word, but you know what I mean)--but I think these changes yield a perfectly acceptable compromise.

Mexican Lasagna
14 oz can enchilada sauce (you can go with 10 ounces if you like it a little less soupy)
6 small whole wheat tortillas
16 oz can fat-free refried beans
1 cup black beans
1 cup kidney beans
2 cups cooked quinoa
2 cups corn
10 oz can diced tomatoes and green chilies
2 bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup pepper jack cheese

Combine black beans, kidney beans, quinoa, corn, diced tomatoes with chiles, peppers, cilantro, salt, and spices in large bowl; mix well.
Spread some enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Cover sauce with two tortillas. Slather half of the refried beans onto the tortillas. Add half of the vegetable mixture; spread out evenly. Add half of remaining enchilada sauce. Repeat layers. Top with remaining tortillas and cheese.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly.
Commence happification.

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July 13, 2008

random is a good word for me


I got pelted with a couple of tags recently. Robin Sue of Big Red Kitchen and the Blonde Duck of A Duck in Her Pond both hit me with the "Six Random Things About Me" meme.

So, here goes...

Uno--My eyelids flutter continuously when I close my eyes. It's like permanent REM.

Dos--When watching movies, I'm more likely to cry about the death of an animal than that of a person.

Tres--In my 25 years of existence, I've successfully played the recorder, saxophone, piano, dulcimer, and guitar. Oh, and the jug.

Quatro--I avoid confrontation and rejection at all costs. I'm a delicate (and yellow-bellied) individual.

Cinco--Perhaps my biggest pet peeve (of which I have many) is noisy, sloppy gum-chewing and eating. I do not want to hear the saliva sloshing around your mouth. I do not want to see things coming out of your lips. Keep your trap closed, dang it.

Seis--I can tune into any Seinfeld episode, no matter how many times I've seen it, and thoroughly enjoy it. What a show.

And now you know--I'm an odd peacock.

I hereby tag Lisa of My Own Sweet Thyme, Katie from Other People's Food, Albany Jane of Albany Eats, and Ann of Velvet Lava. Let's hear some factoids, ladies!

On a completely unrelated note, my tomatoes are thriving--bring on that red! Plus, after not one but two false starts, my zucchini plants are blossoming once again:

Third time's a charm, right?

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July 12, 2008

a dearth of chocolate


As I was perusing my past epicurean endeavors, I came to the realization that I was seriously lacking in creations containing chocolate. Considering my love for this amazing ingredient/snack/meal, this was unacceptable. So, I baked.

I had some sour cream in the fridge that I wanted to use up, so my criteria for a recipe included the presence of sour cream and chocolate, minimal effort (sloth-mode once again rears its ugly head), and suitability for the work crowd. I found a lovely muffin recipe on Joy's awesome site that was perfect.

Joy calls these her "two-bite" chocolate muffins. I'm here to tell you that even though I have a pretty small mouth (I'll never be mistaken for Julia Roberts or Steven Tyler)(for a number of reasons, the least of which is mouth size...), one bite was all it took for me. They're itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, darn tasty little goodies, and it seems to be very easy to eat 4 or 5 before you even realize what you're doing. What can I say--I'm a sucker for the blessed union of chocolate and peanut butter.

Petite Peanut Butter and Chocolate Muffins
(based on this recipe)
makes about 36 almost-bites

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup light sour cream
scant 1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
0 teaspoons cinnamon (GASP.)
1 cup peanut butter morsels

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Measure all of the dry ingredients (including the peanut butter morsels--this way, they get coated with the flour and don't sink to the bottom of the muffins) into a medium sized bowl and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients and whisk together, trying to get as many lumps as possible out of the sour cream. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients all at once and stir to incorporate.

Grease or line a mini muffin pan. Spoon the muffin batter into the tin (batter will be thick), using about one tablespoon of batter per muffin cup (I told you they were wee). Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the muffin tins for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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July 11, 2008

what's in a name?


When perusing menus, there are certain words that jump out at me and automatically cause a particular dish to be seriously considered or immediately rejected. Is it the same for you? Personally, the words sun-dried tomatoes and black beans are winners, while anything containing those vile mushrooms and the entire seafood section are quickly crossed off. Another winning word is chipotle. So, as you can imagine, a restaurant called Chipotle definitely piques my interest.

I do love me some spicy food, and Chipotle's got it.

In case you're unfamiliar with this particular Mexican grill, you can get burritos, tacos, fajita burritos, burrito bols, or salads with your choice of barbacoa, chicken, carnitas, steak, or beans and guac (all of which come from critters that are free of antibiotics and added growth hormones, fed a vegetarian diet, and humanely-raised)(does that include the beans and guac?). They also have four stellar salsas from which to choose. I'll take a scoop of all four, thank you.

Chipotle is chain restaurant a lot like Moe's or Qdoba, if you've ever been to one of those.

Although I've never tried Qdoba, I do feel that Moe's is superior to Chipotle. One notable difference is the fact that Moe's keeps its salsas out in the dining area so you can get as much as your heart and tongue desire. (My heart and tongue desire a lot.) Another thing that puts Moe's above Chipotle in my eyes is the bowl-shaped tortilla used for their taco salad. That's some deep-fried goodness, folks.

What stands out to me as I check out the Qdoba website is the variety of sauces and salsas. There are 10 of 'em, ranging from your typical pico de gallo and guacamole, to more unique items like poblano pesto and ancho chile barbecue sauce. Yes, please.

I'll have to give Chipotle credit for one thing--it offers pig. Carnitas, to be exact. Seared, braised, and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves, juniper berries and freshly cracked black pepper. Doesn't that sound delightful? The naturally-raised aspect is nice, too. Plus, Chipotle clearly has the best name...

(...unless Moe's could somehow associate itself with this stud muffin. Then it'd be a toss-up.)

In a pinch, you won't find me discriminating--any of these places will do.

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