A Southern Grace: July 2009

July 31, 2009

my buddy, my buddy


Remember that doll? Well, I guess I don't remember the doll as much as I remember the jingle--"My buddy, my buddy, wherever I go, he goes..."

That's neither here nor there, except for the fact that these stellar bars are inexplicably entitled Chocolate Peanut Buddy Bars. I don't really get it, do you?

This recipe, originally discovered on the back of a bag of chocolate chip morsels, has been a favorite in my family for quite some time. The Great Mambino especially loves 'em.

I followed the recipe except for two things--I used Barney butter (it's baaaaack), and rather than using some of the morsels for a frosting, I put them all in the batter. That's just how I roll. OH, and I sprinkled the top with some chocolate salt, a wonderful gift sent to me long ago by Katie of Salt and Chocolate (appropriate blog name, yes?)--a long-overdue thanks, Katie!

They're moist, chocolatey, and aromatic, and they truly melt in your mouth. Perhaps if you make them and realize how wonderful they are, you'll forgive me for getting that jingle stuck in your head...

Oh, and in case you were curious, the beasts are keeping me busy:

My buddies, my buddies.
And I'm so glad the plunger's in the background--talk about a party pooper
(insert rimshot here)(and go ahead and groan).

Now if I could just teach them to lift the lid and use it.

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July 28, 2009

these ain't yo mamsta's biscuits...


...they're MY mamsta's.

And they're heavenly.

Imagine, if you will, the most feather-light, melt-in-your-mouth biscuit you've ever eaten. These are better. That being said, even though I have the recipe, I'm convinced that it'll be years and years before I'm able to replicate it. Apparently it's more about the technique than the ingredients, and I haven't yet mastered my Mama-lama (ding-dong)'s methods.

These biscuits are the perfect vehicle for any number of things, from sausage patties to chokecherry preserves, from pepper jelly to bacon, eggs, and cheese. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack--they're delightful on all occasions.

Mammy's Beautiful Biscuits
2 cups self-rising flour
2-3 heaping tablespoons shortening
dash salt
bit o' milk

Cut shortening into the flour. Make a small well and fill it with milk. Stir briefly and turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead just until dough comes together and pat out to a thickness of about 1/2". Cut out the biscuits and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes. Turn on the broiler for the last minute or so to brown the tops, but watch them closely--nobody wants burned biscuits!

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July 23, 2009

the phoenicians


Are you the type of person who gets hooked on a type of food and eats it at every opportunity without getting the least bit tired of it? I am. My obsessions usually last a month or two, sometimes less, sometimes more.

My latest fixation is the pita wrap--any and all Mediterranean-style chicken and flatbread combinations are welcome in my mouth (preferably not at the same time). It began with the chicken gyro from that little diner in Willis, VA, and has since escalated. That said, I’ve taken it upon myself to discover the tastiest Mediterranean pita wrap in the Albany area (so far I’ve found 13 potential restaurants). I realize this doesn’t interest the majority of you, but hopefully it’ll be a useful resource for my readers in the Capital District. (Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?) Plus, it gives me an excuse to eat a lot.

My first excursion took me to The Phoenicians Restaurant, which I picked solely due to its recognition as the Best Middle Eastern food by the Metroland powers-that-be. I’ll be the judge of THAT, thank you very much.

Upon entering the small building, the first things I saw were two vertical rotisseries, each slowly rotating a huge hunk o’ meat. That settled it--I’d have to get the chicken shwarma. I placed my order, requesting just tomato and lettuce as toppings, with the garlic sauce on the side.

Service was prompt, and before I knew it, I was gleefully ripping into my wrap. First impression, of the visual variety: Disappointment. The pita was thin and falling to bits, the tomatoes were anemic, and the chicken was sparse and didn’t appear to be very moist. I tried not to let the aesthetical let-down cloud my judgment of what was to come. Second impression, of the flavor variety: Dry and relatively lackluster. I could detect no seasoning in the chicken, which I guess I should’ve expected since it was shaved right off the spit. I added the sauce. Third impression, also of the flavor variety: Hello, garlic! This was some powerfully pungent sauce, and although it did provide some wet for my whistle and a whole lot of attitude, I just couldn’t seem to find a happy wrap-to-sauce proportion.

I need you to understand that this wasn’t a bad wrap--I had no trouble eating it in its entirety and enjoying myself as I did so. The highlight for me was the occasional crunchy bit of chicken; too bad they were few and far between. Meh, you could do much worse for $6.99 + tax. However, I certainly hope the eaters from Metroland sampled and were impressed by some other dish.

My mission has now taken a turn for the serious and I vow to find something better on my next trip.

The Phoenicians Restaurant
(located between Rt. 155 and Colonie Center)
1686 Central Avenue Colonie, N.Y. 12205
(518) 464-4444

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July 21, 2009

the perfect food?


Sometimes it's totally worth going the extra mile and making something from scratch.

To me, carrot cake is one of those things--the mixes just can't touch a cake made from freshly-grated carrots, slathered with the perfect creamy frosting, and garnished with properly-toasted coconut.

The Mamburger and I made this cake over the holiday weekend. She grated the carrots and I (happily) did the rest. That Mamster of mine, she knows how much I love to bake and is perfectly content to let me rip around the kitchen.

Although recipes for carrot cake abound, I think this one may be the best I've eaten. It has pineapple and coconut, and it would've had walnuts if the ones on hand hadn't been shockingly rancid, despite being stored in the freezer. The frosting is cream cheese, of course, and to give the crunch that the walnuts would've provided, I sprinkled smothered the finished product with toasted coconut.

As we feasted on the delicious, moist, and flavorful cake, someone suggested that a person could live off of carrot cake. Think about it--you have each of the food groups represented:
-vegetables and fruits = carrots, pineapple, and coconut
-grains = wheat flour
-protein = walnuts (in an ideal cake)
-dairy = cream cheese and buttah
-fats and sugars= I don't think I need to expand on those.

Who knew? Carrot cake is the perfect food. That knowledge makes the second and third slabs a little less guilt-inducing...

Complete-Meal Carrot Cake
(adapted from this recipe)

1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup flaked coconut

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk
dash vanilla
1 1/2 cups coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.
In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and oil. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Beat in the vanilla and pineapple.
In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the wet ingredients and beat just until moistened and smooth. Stir in the carrots and coconut. Divide evenly among the pans and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting and decorating with the toasted coconut.

To make the frosting, cream the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla until smooth. Add the powdered sugar a bit at a time and beat until creamy. Add the milk to obtain the proper consistency.

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July 16, 2009

a southern summer staple


If you've ever eaten a full meal at a Southern table during the summer, chances are good that you ate some homegrown squash. In my family, chances are good that the squash in question was fried.

I first remember eating fried squash at my grandma's house, along with a plethora of other things--cornbread, green beans, peas and dumplins, either mashed potaters or taters in white sauce, and corn on the cob, to name a few. The method is simple but a bit time-consuming, especially when you consider all the other things going on simultaneously in and around the oven.

No one ever left the table hungry, that's for darn tootin'.

Fried Squash
(as taught to me by my grandma and ma)

2-3 yellow summer squasherinos
1 egg, beaten in a bowl
1/2 cup cornmeal, possibly more
salt and pepper

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and melt a tablespoon or so of butter until it sizzles.
Cut the squash into approximately 1/4" thick slices. Dunk each slice in the egg mixture and then dredge it in cornmeal. Place carefully in the heated pan, add salt and pepper, and fry until brown. Flip to fry the other side, add salt and pepper, and apply more butter as needed--you must never get a dry pan. After both sides have browned, remove to a plate lined with a napkin or paper towel to drain. Eat as soon as possible.

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July 13, 2009

my latest acquisitions


Meet Zappa:

Meet Bella:

I've been contemplating getting a cat for awhile now, and sucker that I am, I walked away from the Adoption Center at PetSmart with two. I just couldn't help myself.

Can you guess why I'm calling him Zappa?

So it's a little bit of a stretch. Whatever, I like it.

He's a frisky little fella who plays hard and sleeps hard. He purrs when he eats, prefers to play with a plastic bag or Bella's tail rather than the silly toys I got, and of all the soft spots around my apartment, he chooses to sleep amongst the wires. I guess he likes the simple things in life.

Bella is all kinds of special; for one thing, she's polydactyl. She has an extra digit on each paw, and it makes her look like she's wearing little mittens--sooo cute.

Mutant paw! You could almost say she has MAN HANDS!

She sleeps in my lap, nestles in my hair, and pretty much won't leave me alone, but that's okay because Zappa ignores me completely.

She seems to be more of a ham for the camera too.

For the record, if she had been male, I would've had to call her something from one of the best movies ever. Not Count Rugen--he was evil--but perhaps Inigo. Or Fezzik.

I promise not to inundate you with kitty pictures, but I had to share. I'm a proud mama. :)

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July 9, 2009

have faith, young grasshopper!


Have you ever gotten halfway through a recipe only to take a look at what you've done and question if it's even worth continuing? Sometimes my batter or dough looks so peculiar and unexpected that I begin to doubt a)the reliability of the recipe and b)my execution of said recipe (usually in that order--surely it couldn't be a mistake on my part...).

This was one of those instances. I very nearly took my mixed batter and transferred it directly to the trash can. Thankfully, wasting things goes against every fiber of my being, so I pressed on.

Here's the short story: I've made lots of muffins, and the batter is almost always pourable or, at the very least, easily spoonable. What I ended up working with here was more reminiscent of cookie dough, which certainly gave me pause. It was so thick that there wasn't even a glimmer of hope that it would spread out nicely in the muffin cup.

Regardless, I spread the sticky stuff out as much as I could and tried my best to mask the inevitable hideousness with blackberries and cinnamon-sugar. I then popped the tray into the oven and walked away, fully expecting to see ugly little mounds of cooked gunk upon my return.

Well, whaddya know, there's a happy ending to this story--everything worked out splendidly. The batter puffed and baked beautifully, resulting in something very similar in smell, taste, and texture to your typical bakery-style blueberry muffin.

I consider that success.

Gotta-Have-Faith Blueberry Yogurt Muffins
(inspired by this recipe)

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt (I used blueberry-flavored
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup blackberries

3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with papers or appropriately grease.
In a small bowl, combine topping ingredients and set aside.
In a larger bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and eggs. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon; stir until combined.
Spoon and scrape the batter into the prepared cups. Push the stiff stuff down with blackberries and liberally sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon-sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes for mini-muffins and about 25 minutes for regular muffins, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.

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July 4, 2009

happy mint-dependence day!


Sometimes you just need to step back and stop thinking. Turn off the ol' idea-machine. Let the engine cool down.

Leave your brain alone for a minute and it might surprise ya.

I spent way too long looking for and thinking about something festive to make for my coworkers in celebration of Independence Day. Ideas were few and far between, and none of them were good. I got frustrated and finally gave up, deciding not to make anything. Shortly thereafter, I had a miniature epiphany, and the Mint-dependence Day flag was born.

(I left the red part a bit swirly intentionally. Swirls are pretty.)

These are your typical cream cheese mints, which I've done before. A little food coloring, a little artistic positioning, and the result is a patriotic display of sweetness. It's not an outstanding production, but it satisfied me (and my co-workers, who I'm convinced will devour just about anything).


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July 1, 2009

no pathogens here


What a shame that something as delightful as cookie dough would be contaminated by something as nasty as E. coli.

What great fortune that I can make my own cookie dough, and that I can eat it willy-nilly.

Rather than eating cookie dough straight out of the mixing bowl like a heathen (ah, who am I kidding, I do it all the time), I decided to take a more sophisticated route. I saw some oatmeal cookie balls on Deborah's wonderful blog Taste and Tell and thought they'd be the perfect quick-fix.

Indeed, these are great little bites. I followed Deborah's recipe pretty closely, and my only advice is this: Chill the dough very briefly before rolling it into balls--it makes the process much less messy.

One more bit of advice: Always make (and eat, neanderthal-style) your own cookie dough.

E. coli-Free Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Balls
(personalized from this recipe)

2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (clearly, all oatmeal raisin cookie replicas should contain cinnamon)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 cup golden raisins, chopped
1 cup powdered sugar

In a large bowl, combine the oats, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa. With clean hands, mix in the water, vanilla, butter, and peanut butter to form a dough. Add in the raisins.
Chill the dough briefly, then roll it into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar until thickly coated. Pop into the fridge for at least 20 minutes before serving.

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