A Southern Grace: October 2009

October 29, 2009

boo, i say. boo.


Not "Boooooo!" like the noise an unhappy crowd makes, but "BOO! Boogity-oogity!" in the scare-some-hapless-kids-into-wetting-themselves sense. That's what I meant.

Two is always better than one, is it not?
Not that I would intentionally do such a thing, of course.

We all know that I'm not the most creative person, so my offering for Halloween this year relies heavily on the random colors associated with the holiday. I made fudge, and I made it to be black and orange. Isn't that clever? I'm actually quite proud of myself.

I know this recipe by the name Easy Bars, and I have a story to share:

In elementary school, we had to occasionally give presentations to our classmates, teacher, and some judges from around the community. One year, I decided I would present the preparation of a tasty and aptly-named treat called Easy Bars.

It's important to note that one hard and fast rule for any food presentations was to never lick your fingers or utensils. I knew this. However, I became so flustered at one point that I stuck pretty much my entire chocolate-covered fist into my mouth. Can we say humiliation? I think so. I painfully groped my way to the end of my spiel and promptly bolted to the bathroom in tears.

After I had pulled myself together a few hours later, I came back and offered the judges some of the finished product, giving the excuse that I had waited to serve the goodies because I didn't want to spoil their lunches (even as a child I was pretty shrewd). I got a blue ribbon.

Thus marked the beginning of the end of my career as a public speaker.

Fact: Marshmallows are more tasty than they have a right to be.
These are good. These are simple. Make them, but don't lick your fingers. And have a thrilling Halloween.

Easy Bars, Halloween-Style
1/2 cup peanut (or almond) butter
1/4 cup margarine
1 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 bag mini marshmallows

1/2 cup peanut (or almond) butter
1/4 cup margarine
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 bag mini marshmallows

For each layer, do the following:
Melt the peanut butter, margarine, and chips in the microwave and mix until smooth. Do not lick your spatula. Stir in the vanilla. Do not lick your spatula. Fold in the marshmallows and mix well. Do not lick your spatula. Dump into a buttered or lined 9x9 pan. The order of the layers is completely up to you. Place in the fridge until set and slice into squares. Now you may lick your spatula.

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October 26, 2009

tnt, tomato-style


Never in a million years would I have expected the sweet, subtle flavor of tomatoes to morph into something with such a wallop-packing punch after just a few hours of cooking down.

Explosive, I tell you. Dy-no-mite.

I returned from Pennsylvania with a load of tomatoes from my grandpa's garden, and although I tried my hardest to eat them before they turned to the dark side, I eventually accepted that it would never happen. When I began searching for ways to use them, I focused mainly on things other than your typical tomato soup, gazpacho, salsa, and the like. My interest immediately drifted toward condiments. I considered making some spicy ketchup or tangy chutney, but I ultimately couldn't get past the notion of a sweet tomato jam.

Sweet and spicy, to be exact. There's brown sugar and cinnamon on one hand, and diced serrano pepper and dried red chile flakes on the other. This stuff cooked and cooked and cooked, and FINALLY after about two hours, the liquid had vanished and left me with a thick, full-o-flavor spread.

Punch-Packin' To-mah-to Jam
(based on this recipe from one awesomely dynamic duo)
1 lb tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
3/4 c brown sugar
1 hot pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (more or less to taste)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and gently. Cook about two hours or until the mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency. This all depends on how juicy your tomatoes are and the amounts of liquids added.
Spoon the tomato jam into sterilized jars. For longer storage, can in a water bath (cover with water about 1″ above jars and simmer for about 15 minutes) or just store in the fridge a couple of weeks.

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October 19, 2009

facing the first frost


There was frost covering my windshield every morning last week. The vile, bitter cold has officially arrived, and I'm not happy about it.

Aside from contributing to my misery, cold weather also triggers another reaction--a craving for hot chocolate. I have in my possession about five winters' worth of mixes, including interesting (and delicious) flavors like chocolate hazelnut and mint chocolate. The second I saw Peabody's post about a cake making use of hot chocolate mix, I set out to make a batch for myself.

Since I'd be taking these baked goodies to work, I chose to use my least favorite hot chocolate flavor in the cake. Any guesses as to which flavor I don't particularly like? If you guessed chocolate raspberry, you win! I usually like the combination, but that artificial raspberry flavoring is just downright nasty. I doubted my co-workers would mind--I'm seriously convinced they'll eat anything.

This was a groovy cake. The chocolate chips sank to the bottom (even though I floured them) and the marshmallows migrated to the top, forming a sticky, crusty shell. The cake itself was the teeniest bit dry and would certainly have benefited from Peabody's glaze, but since I wanted to make it eat-and-run-friendly, I skipped that part. If you ask me, this is the best possible use for raspberry-flavored hot chocolate mix--it seemed to make the faux flavor much more tolerable. Dare I say it? Tasty, even.

Hot Chocolate Cake (with a Hint of Not-Real Raspberry)
(based heavily on
this recipe)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup hot chocolate mix
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a pan of mini-loaf molds.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating between each addition.
In a small bowl, sift together the hot chocolate mix, flour, salt, and baking powder. In another small bowl, mix together the buttermilk and vanilla.
Blend half of the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture. Add the buttermilk mixture and beat. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients until just combined. Coat the chocolate chips and marshmallows with flour and fold into the batter.
Divide the batter evenly among the molds. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

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October 14, 2009

a flibbertijibbet! a will-o'-the-wisp! a clown!


Prepare yourself for the most convoluted post ever. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Oh, I have such undying love for The Sound of Music.** The soundtrack is one of the first CDs I owned, and I still listen to it all the time. One of my favorite songs is "Do-Re-Mi," the selection Maria uses to teach the youngsters how to sing. It’s clearly a miracle-working diddy, as they all picked it up in no time even though they hadn't ever sung a note...

What’s my point? Do-Re-Me-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do. Tea, a drink with jam and bread. I made jam. See the connection? It’s so obvious IF you know your song lyrics.

No, it's not even obvious then. Convoluted, see?

Truth be told, I've never had tea with jam and bread (or schnitzel with noodles)--I'm not a big tea drinker. I just saw the movie for the 290th time and the song was fresh on my mind. I did make jam, though, and I had it with bread.

I hope there's a song from The Sound of Music stuck in your head now. Any song will do. With that, I bid you auf wiedersehen, adieu. Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you.

**If you've never seen this movie, my apologies--I understand that the majority of this post makes absolutely no sense to you. My advice to you is to a)see the movie, and b)enjoy the picture of some tasty jam.

Fuss-Free Blueberry Freezer Jam
(from Ball)

4 cups crushed blueberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1.59-ounce package of Ball Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin

Combine the sugar and contents of package in a large bowl and mix until well blended. Stir in the crushed fruit and mix for 3 more minutes. Ladle the jam into clean jars up to fill line. Twist on the lids and let stand until thickened, about 30 minutes.

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October 9, 2009

the picture of purity


Sadly, it was impossible for someone of my limited photography skills to capture the pure, pristine whiteness of this cake with a mere digital camera. I guess you need two eyeballs (or maybe even just one) and a first-person viewing for that to happen.

Or maybe I just need to work on my picture-taking.

Regardless, you'll just have to take my word for the fact that this cake is beautiful. Tasty, too. After all, it's pound cake (which is clearly a grand concoction on its own, what with its dense texture, balanced sweetness, and fine crumb) slathered with a fluffy, smooth cream cheese frosting (unbeatable, and that's the end of that argument) and sprinkled with coconut (perhaps the most tasty of all meats)(just kidding)(or am I?).

It must be said that I usually prefer my coconut toasted, but in this instance, I wanted the as-clean-as-untouched-snow appearance to remain. Little speckles of brown really kinda takes away from that, don't you think? Kinda like yellow spots in otherwise white snow...

Coconut-Crusted Sour Cream Pound Cake
(from good ol' Paula Deen)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 cups coconut

Preheat oven to 325F.
Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the sour cream and mix until incorporated. In a smaller bowl, sift the baking soda and flour together. Add to the creamed mixture alternating with eggs, adding one at a time and beating in between. Mix in the vanilla and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for around 1 hour 20 minutes.

After cake has cooled, slather top and sides with as much cream cheese frosting as you can. Sprinkle Shower with the coconut.

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October 6, 2009



If you'd like to learn a little more about me and my love for the creamy goodness known as mashed potatoes, check out the guest post I did for 4 Reluctant Entertainers, a fabulous blog full of useful tips and treasures.

Did I mention mashed potatoes?

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October 3, 2009

ali baba


Alternate title: SEARCH OVER.

I’m so glad I took on this quest for the ultimate chicken pita wrap. I’ve been eating some good food, seeing some interesting places (and taking some inadvertent tours), and meeting some really kind people. My latest excursion took me to a place I’d visited before--Ali Baba, eatery of the angry, hirsute man.

I didn’t dare take my camera with me this time, but it wouldn’t have mattered--the owner wasn’t there this time. The place hasn’t changed at all since my first visit, and I was especially elated to see the wood-fired oven (more on that later). I promptly placed my order for the chicken durum wrap, sauce on the side ($6.45 + tax). I also failed to resist the small appetizer plate, which included portions of five appetizers of your choice ($9.95 + tax). Variety may be the spice of life, but I think my life is sufficiently seasoned--I got two parts hummus, two parts ezme (super spicy tomato dip), and one part barbunya (giant white beans drenched* in olive oil and spices).

*Yeah, “drenched” may be an understatement. I went ahead and poured most of that grease off.

Far and away, the highlight of my day was watching the bread-making process. It began with the Breadmaster (as I’ve taken it upon myself to dub him) hacking off a bit of premade dough and rolling it into the perfect size and thickness for optimum puffing. To give you an idea of its elasticity, I witnessed him pick up the rolled dough and a whip it like you whip a wet shirt to get the wrinkles out. (Amusingly, he did this in the face of the kid hanging around the kitchen, flicking flour all over him.) He must roll out hundreds of those things each day, and he certainly has it down to an art.

Massive, providing many a moment of savory chew-phoria.

After rolling and flicking the dough, he sprinkled on some nigella seeds, placed it on a wooden paddle and slid it into the 460F wood-fired oven. This is the point at which I became mesmerized, spellbound, and completely captivated. The puffing is simply extraordinary--the totally flat disc becomes this perfect round ball of soft, pliable bread. I could be entertained for hours by this process, as long as I was fed a steady supply of said bread.

I’ll be honest--part of the reason I got the appetizer plate was so I could get another piece of lavash. You can imagine my disappointment when I realized it came with a smaller, thicker piece instead. Regardless of that downer, I still enjoyed what I was given.

The thicker bread was actually better for scooping up the hummus (a little bland) and ezme (it set my mouth on fire, so I loved it). The beans were scrumptious—slightly sweet and cooked to the point where they actually melted in my mouth, no chewing required.

Now, the point of my visit--the wrap. Apparently, the man misunderstood my request for sauce on the side, giving me extra sauce while still slathering the innards with it. So much for consistency within my reviews, but it was so darned delicious, I didn’t care. Perfectly creamy and dilled, with just enough garlic to let me know it was there. Although the glorious, matchless bread burst at some point in the making, I managed to devour the entire wrap with no problems. The chicken was moist and only very lightly seasoned, but that just gave me an excuse to use more sauce.

This is one terrific restaurant and I won’t be waiting another year to visit again. In fact, I expect to order exactly the same thing (with an extra piece of lavash on the side).

Ali Baba
2243 15th St.
Troy, NY 12180

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October 1, 2009

oreo shmoreo


I have a confession: I don't really like Oreos. If I could just lick scrape out the innards and pass the dry, grainy cookie part off to someone else, that'd be peachy keen with me.

So what was I to do with a little bottle of Oreo pieces meant to be used as an ice cream mix-in? Huh?

Here's what I, Queen of Imagination Lackers, did--I got a box of Oreo pudding mix, fed Eb, and knocked out some miniature muffins using the recipe that has now pretty much earned a permanent spot in my memory bank.

Chocolate goo? Check. Cream goo? Check check.

The flavor of the Oreos was actually quite subtle, which suited me just fine. The little breadlets were moist and faintly twangy from the sourdough and just sweet enough to justify eating them for breakfast or dessert.

Bella approves.

I do declare, this recipe just wins.

SourDOUGH OreO Muffins(oh)
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sourdough starter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 (5.1 oz) box instant Oreo pudding mix
1 cup Oreo pieces

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease down whatever molds you intend to use (I filled up 4 mini loaves and one miniature muffin tin).
In a large bowl, mix the oil, applesauce, eggs, milk, starter, vanilla, and sugar.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, pudding mix, and cookie pieces. Add this to the liquid mixture and stir thoroughly.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until done. This took around 45 minutes for my mini loaves and about 30 minutes for the muffins.

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