A Southern Grace: March 2009

March 30, 2009

oatmeal cookies in a different form


I like oatmeal raisin cookies--it's easy for me to convince myself that they're healthy. Plus, it seems like they're always redolent of cinnamon, which can never be bad.

What if I could have the same pseudo-health benefits and cinnamon aroma in half the time and with less than half the effort? Win-win.

It's time again for Taste & Create, the blog event in which bloggers get paired up and must make a dish from each other's recipe archives. My partner for this go-round (XVII) was Stef from Cupcake Project. I was actually paired with her once before, and I attempted to replicate her Sweet Potato Casserole Cupcakes. They were delightful, as are all of her clever and creative concoctions.

This time, I picked her Oatmeal Raisin Cupcakes with Maple Glaze. Isn't the very idea of it pure brilliance? I can't believe I haven't come across it before.

I made absolutely zero changes to her cupcake recipe, and they couldn't have come out better. I just love when the aroma of cinnamon fills my apartment. The texture of the cupcakes is quite unique, and I suspect that the vinegar has something to do with that--after all, it's not a common cupcake ingredient. They're soft and pillowy and just break down right in your mouth, but at the same time, there's a bit of a chew from the oats. Nice.

Stef used maple extract in her glaze, and instead of buying some, I used a different recipe. Although I'm sure the original glaze is good, I thought this one was completely perfect--it was extremely tempting to just take the mixing bowl and spatula, have a seat, and revel in its tastiness.

Great recipe, Stef--you're a superstar!

read more words!

March 23, 2009

island in the sun


This lingering 30-degree weather makes me wish I lived in a tropical climate. Such warmth. Year-round warmth.

I say that now, but as someone who's known me for 25 years, I'm fairly certain that I'd find something to gripe about. That's just how I roll.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Oh! Nuts, a fabulous company offering everything from nuts (duh) to dried fruit to coffee and more. They were kind enough to send me some of their goods to sample and evaluate. I received some cherry rock candy and ice cream sundae malted milk balls, both of which made fantastic noshes. They also sent some cinnamon almonds (they know me without even knowing me!), dried apple slices (more on these items later), and macadamia nuts.

The macadamias are spectacular. First of all, they're massive. Gigantic. Gargantuan. Further, they're already shelled, salted, and roasted, so the work has already been done--all you have to do is chew!

I wanted to use a few of them in a dessert and, feeling a bit despondent about this weather, I had as close to an epiphany as I ever come--a tropical version of Hello Dollies. Instead of walnuts or pecans, I used the macadamias, and instead of chocolate chips, I went with white chocolate (I'm not sure what's island-like about white chocolate, but let's just go with it, okey-dokey?). I kept the coconut and tossed in some dried banana too, just to carry on with the tropical theme.

Unsurprisingly, they're delightful bars. Crunchy, salty, sweet, chocolate-ridden--could one ask for more?

Yes, one could. One could ask for a little warmth.

Aloha Dollies
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1/2 cup dried banana pieces
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs and place in a 8x8" baking dish, patting the mixture down evenly with your hands. Sprinkle on the white chocolate chips, coconut, macadamia nuts, and banana pieces on top of the crumb mixture. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the entire mixture.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is light brown. Let cool completely before slicing.

read more words!

March 17, 2009

the only thing irish about these...


...is the color of the frosting. Sad. And here's a question--why is green associated with St. Patrick's Day anyway? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

[Hey, speaking of Matthew Broderick (aka Ferris Bueller), his father was of Irish descent! So that makes two weak links to Ireland in this post!]

I make no bones about the fact that I'm extremely uncreative, and this is just further proof of that. I wanted to make something for St. Patrick's Day and use my sourdough starter (known fondly as Eb) at the same time, and this is the best I could do.

Meh, whatever. The end result is delicious. And speckled. AND if I happen to forget to wear green today, I can just smear some frosting on my face and avoid getting pinched (and have a snack for later).

Rainbow Banana Bread
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mashed banana
1 cup sourdough starter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips and M&Ms, dusted with flour

Peanut Butter Frosting (drool) + a drop or two of green food coloring

Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tin and/or spray loaf pan(s).
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, egg, bananas, sourdough starter, and vanilla. In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, stirring just until blended. Fold in the chocolate and spoon into muffin cups (or loaf pan). Bake for about 20 minutes (30 minutes for mini loaves) or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

read more words!

March 14, 2009

the real reason muffin wrappers were invented...


Although muffin wrappers are useful when it comes to cleaning your muffin tin, that's not their primary function. No, their major role, at least for me, is to act as an obstacle between me and said muffins. If the wrapper wasn't there, I'd tear into those suckers willy-nilly until my stomach seams popped.

Especially when said muffins are miniature AND taste like pecan pie.

You've no doubt seen these pecan pie muffins before, and I didn't make any special changes. Just know that they're addictive and delightful, and if you haven't yet experienced the wonder that is the pecan pie muffin, you really should. And heed my words, folks--use the muffin cups.

The pecans that I used for these were outstanding. They came from the Pecan Store, which boasts the "freshest, yummiest pecans on earth." I believe it. In addition to pecans (which you can get covered in anything from butterscotch--swoon--to dark chocolate to cajun spices), they offer cookie and bread mixes, honey butters, salsas, and all kinds of jams, jellies, and sauces. The Pecan Store (a division of The Green Valley Pecan Company located in Arizona) is worth a look, because based on the pecans I received, its products are of the highest quality.

Meanwhile, as a pie lover and math nerd, I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't realize today was Pi Day until this morning. It's fair to think of these as pie in muffin form, wouldn't you say? I would. Happy Pi Day!

Pecan Pie Muffins
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine the pecans, brown sugar, and flour in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until foamy and stir in the cooled butter and vanilla. Add this to the dry ingredients, stirring until moistened. Pour into a lined muffin tin, or a sprayed silicone pan (if you like to live dangerously or are able to exhibit stellar self-control).
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan immediately and cool on wire racks.

read more words!

March 11, 2009

the brilliance of black beans


I don't discriminate against beans--I sincerely love them all. But if you twisted my arm (or, say, threatened to make me beanless for life), I'd have to confess that the black bean is my favorite.

Black Beauty, if you will.

I can't explain why I feel that way, but I do. Perhaps it's their unbounded versatility, or perhaps it's their hearty texture. Perhaps it's the way they turn the water purple when they're rehydrated from a dried state. I just don't know.

Although they make a fine accompaniment to almost any type of cuisine, I've found that they're rarely in the spotlight. The black bean deserves a little more recognition, folks! So here's my version of black bean soup, full of those glorious beans, sauteed veggies, and spice. Lots of spice. I love the texture created by pureeing the soup with my immersion blender, but that's an optional step.

Make it your own, but by all means, make it!

Black Bean Lover's Black Bean Soup
2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onions, chopped
1 cup serrano peppers, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon fresh-cracked pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups black beans, soaked, cooked, drained, rinsed, what-have-you
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles, undrained
4 cups chicken stock or water

Heat oil in a large pot, add onions, peppers, and carrots, and cook on medium high, stirring often, until soft and starting to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the spices and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the beans, tomatoes, and liquid. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with the lid barely cracked, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 60 minutes.

Purée with an immersion blender until the desired consistency is reached, or transfer about two-thirds of the soup in batches to a regular blender and purée, then return to the pot. Heat to desired temperature and devour.

read more words!

March 6, 2009

the classic


That's right, the classic. Like Frogger or Lord of the Flies. Like the Volkswagen Beetle or The Beatles. Classic--something of enduring interest.

I'm breaking out the tried and true peanut almond butter and jelly sandwich to remind those of you who haven't yet told me your favorite dish in which to use nut butter to hurry up and do so. There're five free jars of Barney Butter on the line here!

What, you want a recipe? Your wish is my command.

ABJ a la Grace
2 slices hearty, healthy whole wheat bread
2 large knife-scoops Barney Butter
2 massive dollops jelly, preferably of the apple cinnamon variety, but strawberry will do in a pinch

Slather Barney Butter on one slice of bread, and spread the jelly out on the other. Put the pieces of bread together such that the Barney Butter gives the jelly a big ol' smooch. Cut in half for easier consumption, and enjoy.

read more words!

March 3, 2009



That's what I said when this batch of bread came out of the oven...

...and that was putting it mildly.

Don't judge me too harshly, but I'm a sucker for "Notting Hill," and my favorite part (aside from the press conference scene at the end) is when the delightful Hugh Grant is attempting to shimmy over a gate and failing miserably. "Whoopsidaisies!" he says. It gets me every time.

Yes, this bread can only be classified as a big ol' "Whoopsidaisies!" Lesson learned: Don't use baking powder that's over three years old, and if you stubbornly insist on doing so, at least make sure you sift it.

Other mistakes: I didn't bake the bread long enough and shouldn't have spread the batter out into six mini loaves--the end result was more like a batch of way-too-moist and sticky rectangular hockey pucks.

I should've known that I was in for trouble when I had to dig my baking powder out with a knife. I foolishly soldiered on, though, not even pausing to break up the chipped-off clumps of the stuff. The result was the green, vomit-like growths you see above. They were scattered throughout my loaves, which had such potential--they were flavored with apple-blueberry baby food and speckled with dried blueberries.

I'll give you the recipe anyway, and maybe you'll have enough sense to use unexpired ingredients. The flavor wasn't bad at all, if you stayed far away from the parts tainted by the pesky baking powder. So I guess it wasn't a complete failure, and hey--at least Eb got a work-out. Speaking of sourdough, my big brother finally named his starter, cleverly dubbing it Barack Dough-bama. :)

Sourdough Blueberry Bread
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup apple-blueberry baby food
1 cup sourdough starter, at room temperature
1 cup dried blueberries, coated in flour

Preheat the oven to 350F. Generously grease or spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon into a small bowl.
In a larger bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, apple-blueberry baby food, and starter. Add this wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Fold in the dried blueberries and pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, covering the loaf with foil during the last 10 minutes if necessary to prevent overbrowning. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

read more words!