A Southern Grace: November 2008

November 27, 2008

you could've fooled me


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Turkey Day!

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November 24, 2008

tag team thanksgiving


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

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

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

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

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

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

...it hardened right on top. Phew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And hey--Happy Thanksgiving!

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November 21, 2008

the magic words


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

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

Cinnamon. Streusel. Topping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 19, 2008

hello jollies


I know they're called Hello Dollies, but you know I can never leave well enough alone, and come on--who the heck is Dolly?

Dolly Parton? Eh, she has a theme park named after her, so she certainly doesn't need to have these luscious bars named after her.

Dolly the sheep clone? Totally artificial and undeserving. I'm hereby taking it upon myself to rename them Hello Jollies, since they inevitably make the consumer happy.

What's not to love? Eh, I suppose there are some folks out there who might not like a component or two of these tasty treats (like my little brother, who is inexplicably anti-coconut). The good news is that you can pretty much toss in or take out whatever you want! So here's my version, made the way I like 'em.

Hello Jollies
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup of shredded coconut
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs in an 8x8-inch pan. (I used my new silicone square pan, as these suckers have a tendency to permanently adhere to metal dishes. It worked quite nicely.) Mix well and pat down to form the crust. Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and coconut on top of the crust. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the whole mixture.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top becomes light brown.
Let cool in the pan for at least half an hour, in the fridge if necessary, and cut into reasonably-sized (an adjective very much open to interpretation...) bars.

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November 16, 2008

resistance is futile


I'm not sure when my resentment of Rachael Ray began. Perhaps it was when I saw her face on a Dunkin' Donuts commercial, on the cover of three magazines, and plastered all over Barnes & Noble all in the same day. Perhaps it was when she called her viewers "kids" for the 2938th time. Perhaps it was when I realized that she had the best job ever and that I was extremely jealous of her.

Yes, I resisted as long as I could, but yesterday I finally caved and made a Rachael Ray recipe.

To be honest, it's a shame that I avoided it for so long. Just because the woman has built an empire doesn't mean she can't occasionally make good food. I guess I'm slowly coming to terms with my envy.

I haven't eaten a lot of French toast in my life--I'm more of a pancake person--but for some reason, I was craving it pretty fiercely all week long. I did a quick search and found Rachael's recipe to be one of the more unique and appetizing, so I picked it.

I always have granola on hand, and I ended up using a bit more than the amount called for in the recipe. Also, oddly enough and most unexpectedly, I added cinnamon. The result? The toast had a gooey, spicy center surrounded by a crunchy coating. In other words, it was wonderful.

Crunchy Cinnamon French Toast
(based on a recipe by Ms. Ray)

1 1/2 cups granola of choice
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
bit o' nutmeg
4 slices bread
2 tablespoons butter

In a wide dish, beat the eggs, milk, and cinnamon. Add the bread and soak until saturated. Transfer the bread to the granola crumbs (previously pulverized, if need be) and heavily coat each slice.
In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the granola-coated bread and cook until golden, about six minutes per side. Douse with syrup and enjoy.

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November 13, 2008

different strokes for different folks


Chances are good that if I frequent your blog and you've made something with the words "spicy" or "chipotle" in the name, I've proclaimed my love for whatever you made. I lurve me some fiery foods.

(too bad everything except the two beans in the middle is out of focus)
(eh, they're the most important component anyway)

I love them so much, in fact, that when I make a spicy dish to share with others, I have to remind myself to hold back on the chile powder, cayenne, chipotle peppers, what-have-you. Most people don't have the tastebud/esophageal/intestinal fortitude with which I was blessed.

That being said, this soup was made for me and me alone, so I spiced it up to my heart's content. It was perfect for a chilly fall day.


I got tagged by the ladies of Equal Opportunity Kitchen and asked to list five things I'd like to have on a deserted island, ignoring all issues with food storage. Here's my list:

Milk. It does a body good.
Cinnamon. I simply can't live without it. It might even make sand taste delicious.
Chickens. Roosters and hens. That way, I've got a steady supply of eggs and chicken meat, my proteins of choice.
Beans. They're good for the heart, and bonus--upon digestion, they produce a formidable weapon...
Coffee. It's my other addiction, plus coffee breath is another weapon for my arsenal. You always have to be ready to battle The Others.

(Evil Chef Mom Krysta interpreted the tag in an entirely different way, and I must say that her top two selections render my entire list pointless...)

Finally, if you've heard of Michael Ian Black and appreciate his dry, sarcastic sense of humor, you'll probably enjoy his blog. Even if you don't like him, I think you'd get a kick of out his fruit smackdown. The final battle is rather lewd, but the rest is pretty funny.

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November 10, 2008

how bad could it be?


Really. If chocolate is involved, chances are good that a recipe will yield something quite delicious, or at the very least, edible.

The results of this experiment were no exception, although they were lacking in visual appeal...

I found a recipe for sourdough chocolate cake, but since cake is not conducive to grabbing and stuffing in one's mouth while running by the "freebie table" at work, I decided to try to turn them into brownies. To achieve this, I cut the eggs and baking soda in half. Like I said, it was an experiment. (Apparently I'm a scientist through and through.)

Putting the batter together was an interesting and unique process. My favorite part was adding the baking soda to the warm chocolate mixture and seeing it swell up and practically grow out of the bowl. The least enjoyable part was checking on my creation halfway through the baking time and seeing a surface full of dimples pits craters.

I saw it through, though, and it all worked out okay because they taste fabulous. There's a rich, chocolate flavor and a texture somewhere between cake and brownies. Hence, I give you...cownies.

Sourdough Cownies
(based on this recipe)

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter (active and bubbly)

To prepare the chocolate mixture, heat the chips and water in the microwave or on the stove. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Stir in the baking soda--beware, the mixture will foam. Let cool to lukewarm.
Meanwhile, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well. Mix in the vanilla, cooled chocolate mixture, and starter. Add the flour, cayenne, and salt and blend until the mixture is uniform.
Pour the batter into a greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Let set in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake the bars 35 to 40 minutes, or until a pick comes out clean.

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November 7, 2008

pump up the jam


The good: Jim and Pam from The Office (insert sigh here)
The bad: traffic jams
The ugly: toe jam

Blueberry jam definitely falls into the first category. Definitely.

Yeah, I did it. Forget Smucker's--I made my own blueberry jam, and it's darn good.

(bubble, bubble, toil and trouble)

I have a box of gelatin that's been glaring at me every time I open my cabinet, so I needed to find a jam recipe that used gelatin instead of pectin. Find it, I did.

After making the aforementioned jam (and tasting it to make sure it was magnificent)(it was), my next task was finding a fabulous recipe in which to use it. Find it, I did. Although Deb used fresh raspberries in her creation, I felt confident that using my jam instead wouldn't be a problem. I did have to bake them a bit longer, but that was all.

(helloooo, hunk o' buttah!)

These were some scrum-diddly-umptious bars, if I do say so myself (buckets of butter and sugar tend to have that effect...). There was plenty of that magical cinnamon flavor, and it was nicely accented by the sweet blueberry jam and hearty oats. Delightful.

Blueberry Breakfast Bars
(adapted from this recipe)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups oats
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups blueberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease up the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan. To make the crust and crumble topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Cut in the butter and until loose crumbs form.
Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the mixture and set aside. Pour the rest of the mixture into the prepared pan and push the crust into an even layer at the bottom of the pan. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let the crust cool.
Once the crust has cooled, spread the blueberry jam evenly on top. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly on top of the jam.
Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

(have you met Jim and Pam?)

Meanwhile, I hope you're familiar with this site. It's incredible and Wednesday's post was particularly inspired. And inspiring.

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November 5, 2008

it just occurred to me...


...why they're called acorn squash. Sometimes I'm so oblivious, I astound myself.

(mmm...squash guts)

Duh, Grace. They resemble acorns. Get your head out of the fridge, woman!

But really, it's kind of a stretch, isn't it? Except for the whole pointy-end thing.

Oh well. I've been seeing glazed acorn squash all over the place, so I decided to bake up my own. It was a good decision.

I sliced 'em up, coated them in some cinnamon-infused maple syrup (guzzle-worthy on its own, obviously), and roasted them at 400 degrees for about an hour, flipping them halfway through. The result was a sweet, smooth, succulent, and satisfying dish, made even better with a little bottle of cinnamon syrup on the side. For drizzling, of course. Not guzzling.

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November 3, 2008

sometimes i wonder what it's like to be creative


Methinks I'll never know.

We had a little Halloween luncheon at work on Friday, and I spent the entire week debating what to take. Since I like to spend at least six hours on a given post (I kid, I kid...I really kid), I have to show you what I came up with a couple days after the fact.

(my poor excuse for a costume)

I'll be the first to admit that I'm one of the least creative people in NY in America on the planet. What follows is the absolute best I could do (don't judge me).

Yep. Rice Krispies treats. Whoever came up with the first batch of these puppies deserves a monument in her honor, wouldn't you say? It's a real gem of a recipe.

(Meanwhile, have you seen the massive sheets they've created? They're for the real lover of Rice Krispies treats, like my pal James.)(Miss you, James.)

Anyway, some I decorated like eyeballs with a chocolate-covered blueberry in the middle, and others I molded into logs with an almond on the end and designed to look like a finger.

You've probably seen the cookie versions of these, so clearly they're not an original thought. Frankly, I'm just proud of myself for breaking out the decorating gels and actually personalizing them.

Hope you all had wonderful Halloween celebrations!

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