A Southern Grace: May 2009

May 30, 2009

ayples and banaynays


Remember that song? I'm not crazy, I promise--there is a song.

Moving on. I made another sourdough bread, complete with a special ingredient and a smidge of a disappointment.

I had high hopes for this bread. Bananas, apples, banana-peach-applesauce. That sourdough twang. Cinnamon. Awesome. And truth be told, it does taste magnificent...if you can get it to your mouth.

Yeah, it's crumbly. Quite crumbly. My slices (cut waaaay too thin) practically disintegrated upon contact. I attribute this to two things. First of all, the fat involved is shortening, which I should've known isn't the best at holding things together based on my experiences with it in pie dough. Secondly, I forgot to rehydrate the dried apples, so they undoubtedly sucked out a lot of the moisture that should've been present.

How misleadingly sturdy it looks.

These belated epiphanies aside, I think I'll try this recipe again. The flavor's there, dang it. However, I won't make the same mistakes, and I might go with muffins instead of loaves.

Ayple and Banaynay Bread
(adapted from this recipe)

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 banana, mashed
1/2 cup applesauce (I used
Beech-nut Homestyle Peaches, Apples & Bananas)(go team!)
1 cup sourdough starter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried cinnamon apples, rehydrated and drained well

Preheat oven to 350F and grease whatever pan you'll be using.
In a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar, add the egg and mix until blended. Beat in the banana, applesauce, sourdough starter, and vanilla. In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture and diced apples to the wet ingredients, stirring until just blended. Pour into pan of choice, whether it be a 9x5" loaf pan or a tray of mini-loaf molds. Bake for 1 hour for one big loaf, 35-40 minutes for mini loaves, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before attempting to slice.

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May 27, 2009

i'll take my daily apple* in cookie form


*because "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" and all that...

I'm so tired of oatmeal raisin cookies (although that's not to say I won't eat them when they're available). Why should raisins get all the glory? There are many other and arguably tastier dried fruits out there. Blueberries and cranberries, for example. Better yet, how about CINNAMON APPLES?

You may recall that I received a bounty of treats from Oh! Nuts a while back. Among the goodies were some macadamia nuts (used in some mighty tasty and tropical Aloha Bars) and some sliced dried apples. I've been munching on the apples ever since, but I thought they'd be a unique and perfect add-in to some hearty oatmeal cookies.

Believe it or not, I don't have a go-to oatmeal cookie recipe, but the tried-and-true King Arthur Flour site seemed like a reasonable place to start. While the cookie base was good, I'm certain it could be better, so I won't be stopping my search here. Let me know if you have a winning recipe.

I said that the cookies were good, and I meant it. Chewy and soft, with an appropriate batter-to-mix-in ratio. The apples were definitely a welcome addition, especially since I smothered them with cinnamon before rehydrating them in hot water. The crunchy pistachios and tart cranberries didn't hurt either--I particularly enjoyed their vibrant green and maroon colors.

Doctor-Repellent Oatmeal Cookies
(adapted from this recipe)

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
2 cups rehydrated dried apples, drained very well
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pistachios

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease baking sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, shortening, sugars, vanilla, salt, and vinegar. Beat in the egg, then the baking soda, flour, and oats. Stir in the apples, cranberries, and pistachios.
Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on a rack.

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May 22, 2009

quick fix (and a lucky winner)


Most of you know what it's like to drag yourself home after a long day of work and need something to fill your belly immediately. I've found something that works quite well for me and also offers endless possibilities:

Tortilla pizza!

Think of the options here, folks--different cheeses, various sauces and spreads, oodles and oodles of toppings. It all depends on what you have in your fridge or cabinets.

This particular evening, I combined my rosemary-happy bean spread with some sun-dried tomatoes (swoon), chopped spinach, and mozzarella cheese. I slathered, I piled, and I sprinkled, and then I baked the sucker on a cookie sheet at 400F for about eight minutes--perfection.

Yeah, it hit the spot, and just in the nick of time.

Streeeetch it out.

As for the winner of the perfect pasta package, congratulations to Lynda from Lynda's Recipe Box, who said:

"I seem to love most pasta dishes, but earlier this year I had one in a restaurant that was angel hair pasta with a pesto cream sauce, chicken and sundried tomatoes! YUM!"

We have similar tastes, Lynda--that dish sounds exactly like something I would order. Enjoy your goodies!

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May 19, 2009

the case of the sinking streusel


When I think of a streusel topping, an image of a crumbly, golden brown sprinkling of absolute delight promptly comes to mind.

Well, it promptly comes to mind right after this:

By definition, a streusel is a crumbly mixture of fat, sugar, and flour and sometimes nuts and spices that is used as topping or filling for cake. So naturally, that's what I was expecting to see when pulled my coffee cake muffins with a streusel topping out of the oven, but it's not what I got. Nope, I got something far more exciting--craters!

My guess is that because the proportion of sugar-to-flour was so lopsided, the sugar overwhelmed the binding power of the flour (hee--that rhymes) and that resulted in those sunken pits of caramelized goodness. Whatever the reason, you'll find no complaints here. In addition to that sweet surprise, the muffin itself was quite lovely--light, moist, and spicy, full of nutty crunches and fruity chews.

Bonus--Eb got a workout.

Cratered Coffee Cake
(adapted from this recipe)

2 cups starter (hello, Eb!)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon (don't you judge me)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon (I repeat, don't you dare judge me)
1/4 cup margarine

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and lightly flour a 9x13-inch baking pan, line a muffin tin with cups, or spray down your silicone baking molds.
In a large bowl, stir together the starter, oil, eggs, and sugar. In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the pecans and cranberries and toss to coat. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and mix well; break up any flour clumps that form. Pour into the prepared pan(s) and sprinkle with the topping (see below).

To make the pseudo-streusel, combine the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Cut in the margarine until the mixture resembles very coarse crumbs.

For a cake, bake the batter for 30-40 minutes. For muffins, bake 20-25 minutes. For mini muffins, bake 15-18 minutes. Test with a toothpick for best results, but be sure to test the muffin part and not the caramel caverns.

I heart hearts.

And hey--don't forget about the giveaway!

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May 15, 2009

pass the pasta (giveaway alert)


I recently realized that I've posted woefully few pasta recipes. Since lasagna, ravioli, and even plain ol' angel hair with butter and parmesan are staples for me, that deficiency needs to be taken care of posthaste.

I might not have noticed the pasta shortage had I not been contacted by Sara, a representative of Garofalo Pasta. She offered to send me some samples of their whole wheat line in return for a review, and I eagerly accepted. This is a company that's been going strong for over 200 years, so it's obvious they're doing something right. What's more, they take great pride in using only the finest raw ingredients, and I can tell you that it's apparent when you take that first bite of their pasta.

I received capellini and whole wheat farfalle. Their product site suggests pairing the farfalle with thick tomato-based or cream sauces. Upon reading this, I immediately remembered a post I'd recently seen and bookmarked--pasta with mint yogurt sauce.

I've been looking for ways to use yogurt in cooking, especially thick and luscious Greek yogurt. My brand of choice is Oikos, from Stonyfield Farm. You'll be seeing more yogurt-happy recipes in the future, assuming I'm able to resist eating the rest of my stash straight from the tub.

So this was perfect. I cooked the pasta and coated it with that mixture of Greek yogurt and mint. Since I've really grown to love the combination of peas and mint, and since peas in pasta are always fun, I decided to toss some of those in, too. The crimson pieces you see are sun-dried tomatoes, which could quite possibly be my favorite component of any pasta dish ever created. This is seriously easy and seriously delicious (thanks to some seriously high-quality ingredients).

Now, what's this about a giveaway, you ask? Well, the folks at Garofalo are ready, willing, and able to send one lucky winner a perfect pasta package containing three cool types of pasta--spaghetti, calamarata, and whole wheat penne rigate. Just imagine the magical dishes a person could create with those! In order to put yourself in the running, leave a comment describing the best pasta dish you've ever had. Were sun-dried tomatoes involved? Was it homemade or in a restaurant? Give me some meaty answers (or vegetarian, as the case may be)! Comments will be accepted until whenever I wake up next Friday, May 22nd, and I'll reveal the randomly-selected winner that morning. Good luck!

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May 12, 2009

'twas mint to be


Brownies are a fickle, fickle beast. Overbake them just a minute and they become dry and crumbly and completely unappetizing. Take them out too soon and they're doughy and sticky and gross.

However, it's totally worth the trouble if you can get 'em just right.

I'm happy to report that the beauties were just right. I've done brownies before--one batch with a layer of mint, one batch with a regular ol' cream cheese swirl, another batch with a peanut butter portion, and a sourdough batch that ended up more cakelike than anything else.

This batch sort of combines two of those--it's a mint chocolate brownie with a hint-o'-mint cream cheese swirl, and it is DECADENT. I'll go ahead and state it--it's the best brownie I've put into my mouth to date. They're moist and fudgy, with that fabulous and somewhat unexpected tang from the cream cheese and a delicate and subtle minty flavor.

On top of all that, I happen to think that swirled brownies are among the most beautiful of all desserts, and that's saying a lot. There's something about the contrast of black and white in a random yet decorative pattern of twists and turns that I really enjoy.

I'm most excited when an inadvertent heart forms, but I'm sappy like that.

Mint Swirl Brownies
(adapted from this recipe)

6 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 ounces mint chocolate, chopped (I used Hershey's Extra Dark Pure Mint)
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
5 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon mint extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch square pan with non-stick spray or grease lightly.
Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave or over low heat, stirring until smooth. Beat in the sugar and eggs. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder, and salt, then add in the vanilla. Spread evenly in the prepared pan. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, egg yolk, sugar, and mint extract until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips. Distribute the cream cheese mixture in eight dollops across the top of the brownie mixture, then take a dull knife or spatula and swirl the cream cheese mixture with the chocolate batter. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the batter in the center of the pan feels just set. Let cool, then cut the brownies into squares, rectangles, hearts, what-have-you.

By the way, have you seen these? Not only are they colorful, they're extremely handy. I love the fact that you can squish them into a pour-friendly shape. (Bonus: You can get in a forearm workout while your goodies are baking.)

I'd been eying them for awhile when Jenna from KaTom Restaurant Supply offered to send them to me in return for a review. Here's my review: They're an awesome kitchen tool. Get some for yourself immediately. Incidentally, KaTom also offers a plethora of other items, from hand-held burger presses and ice sculpture molds to pancake apparatuses (apparati?) and pizza peels. It's a site worth perusing (and using), to be sure!

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May 8, 2009

pure puree


If ever I was tempted to double-dip*, it'd be with this delightful bowl o' beans.

*Every single time I think about dip, I can't help but recall George Costanza and his infamous double-dipping. What a great character.

I've been looking for ways to use a bottle of truffle oil that I recently received, and when I saw Lisa's post about a white bean and zucchini puree, I was hooked.

This appetizing appetizer took me all of 5 minutes to prepare, I kid you not. I suspect it could've taken me even less time to eat every last bite, but I was able to show some restraint. It's hearty and savory, with the rosemary perfectly complimenting the mild white beans.

The kicker for me was the touch of truffle oil drizzled on top, and I need to give a big THANK YOU to Heather for sending it my way. I'd never even tasted the earthy oil before, and I'm so glad I did--it adds a richness that would be sorely missed.

Side note: Although this was a terrific mash of beans, it can't compare to the best white bean puree I've ever eaten. Then again, that might've had something to do with the atmosphere and my fellow picnickers.

Truffle-Oil-Happy White Bean Puree
(inspired by this recipe)

2 15 oz. cans white beans, rinsed and drained (I actually used a mixture of pinto and northern beans)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
truffle oil

Blitz the beans in the container of a food processor with a healthy pinch of salt. Add the olive oil and process until the mixture is smooth, or textured to your liking. Taste and reseason as needed, then add the lemon juice and rosemary and pulse the mixture again. Serve in a bowl (dip-style) with the truffle oil drizzled on top, or go fancy-shmamcy spread-style and slather the puree on crostini and garnish with truffle oil. Either way, don't forget the truffle oil.

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May 5, 2009



Flaky is a word that seems to have mostly negative connotations. For example, a flaky person is someone who's scatterbrained or ditzy, and a flaky scalp implies poor hygiene (which is usually not the case)(not that I have dandruff or anything)(really)(not that there's anything wrong with that)(if it is, in fact, unavoidable).

On the upside, a flaky pie crust is terrific, and I've just discovered that a flaky bar is pretty outstanding too.

Okay, so this is a different kind of flakeage altogether. These bars are made flaky by the use of cereal flakes--Caramel Nut Crunch, in this case. They bear a strong resemblance to your good ol' Rice Krispies (or Cheerios) Treat, but they're much more sophisticated. How so, you ask? Why, there's coconut in them! And sliced almonds! And bits of caramel-coated nuts!

These bars are easy to throw together and really tasty. The original recipe called for corn flakes, but I truly doubt that a version using Caramel Nut Crunch could be improved upon--the cereal adds a sweetness and nuttiness I suspect no other selection would provide.

Those caramel clusters are something else, folks.

Ah...I do love a quick fix. And the next time someone calls me flaky, I'll take it as a compliment.

Flaky Marshmallow Bars
1/3 cup butter or margarine
1 10 oz. package marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup shredded coconut
4 cups flaky cereal

Grease a 9x9-inch pan or line it with wax paper.
Melt the butter in the microwave; add the marshmallows and heat at 30-second intervals until melted and combined. Stir in the vanilla and cinnamon. Dump in the flakes and coconut, and stir to coat evenly. Press into the prepared pan and let set before cutting into bars.

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May 1, 2009

goodbye, ruby tuesday


Would you willingly pay $9 for this?

Seriously. The picture does it too much justice.

I wouldn't.

I understand that there are some complexities involved in preparing and serving food that's meant to be eaten in a sit-down restaurant to-go (or TueGo, as the case may be), but come on. My lettuce was wilted, my bun was squashed, and my fries were nasty.

If this burger hadn't been a free birthday burger, I would've been really, really angry. I guess I was only kind of angry, and I took it all out on the burger, eating it in record time.

Yeah, it turned out to be pretty tasty. I guess I won't quit on ol' Ruby after all.

In other take-out news, I recently had what can only be described as the best chicken gyro to ever pass between my lips.

Seriously. The picture doesn't come close to doing it justice.

What makes this epiphany even more exciting is the fact that it came from a restaurant about half the size of my apartment. Yep, the place is a legitimate hole-in-the-wall eatery but boy, the lady in the kitchen makes a mean gyro. So if you're ever passing through the teensy-tiny town of Willis, VA, take a pit stop at Dino's!

NEWSFLASH: It's Friday. Happy Friday. Happy May.

Bring on the May flowers.

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