A Southern Grace: 2010

December 21, 2010

sandwich of choice


When I think about the uses for orange as a flavor, desserts aren't the first thing that pop into my head.

Morning beverage tops the list, followed closely by pork enhancer and frequent partner of the cranberry.

That may all be changing now, thanks to these unique and dainty little sandwich cookies. Granted, my love for them has a lot to do with the cinnamon-spiked buttercream frosting gluing the cookies together, but I'm sure you've come to expect that from me by now.

How do I judge how much frosting to use between the melt-in-your-mouth cookies? Like so:

-If, when I take a bite, frosting does not squirt out, then I haven't used enough.
-If, when I take a bite, frosting squirts out onto the floor or my lap, then I've used too much.
-Alternatively, if I've only sandwiched 10 cookies or so out of a 40-cookie batch and run out of frosting, then I've used too much.

Just kidding--you can never use too much. Make more frosting and continue.

Orange-You-Glad-They-Exist Milano Sandwich Cookies
(based on a recipe by Gale Gand)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Freshly grated zest of 2 medium oranges
2/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
pounds and pounds of your frosting of choice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
With a mixer, beat the butter, orange zest, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt and mix. Add the sifted flour and mix until smooth. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Form into two thin disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Sprinkle a suitable surface with flour, place disk of dough on it, and sprinkle a little more flour on top of that. Then roll it out to a thickness of about 1/4-inch. Cut into shapes, dipping the cutter into flour as you go, and place the cookies a little apart on lined baking sheets.
Bake for 6 to 10 minutes; obviously it depends on the shape you're using and whether they are on the upper or lower shelf, though you can swap them around after about 5 minutes. When they're ready expect them to be tinged a pronounced gold around the edges; they'll be softish still in the middle, but set while they cool.
Fill with your favorite frosting, whether it be chocolate ganache or cream cheese. I went the cinnamon buttercream route and it took me to a happy place.

read more words!

December 18, 2010

all together now...



Yes, they rip up my carpet (and my skin), and yes, they've learned how to open my medicine cabinet and remove things like my flossers and tweezers, and yes, they seem to miss the litter box more often than they hit it, but how can I not love them?

Congrats to...Hornsfan, the winner of my Ghirardelli giveaway! Send me an email, would ya?

read more words!

December 14, 2010

the secret of the ooze (and another giveaway)


What IS it about oozing glazes, fruit juices, syrups, and sauces (to name a few palate-pleasers) that gets those saliva glands achurnin'? I'm fairly certain that no other family of images whets my appetite more.

What is it about simply seeing such drippage and seepage that instantly gives me a powerful craving for sweet treats that aren't within my reach? We may never know.

Regardless of the messy pool of drool and frustration that ensue, those pictures are what keep me coming back to the world of food blogs day after day.

Are there any specific types of food porn that make you particularly weak in the knees and thankful for that chair in which you're sitting?

I'm sure some folks are partial to the savory end of things, and although I do enjoy the juicy-burger-with-melted cheese shots, I'm much more partial to desserts.

I blame (and thank) my grandmothers, two super-sweet ladies who happen to be super sweet-lovers.

Here's hoping you soon see your favorite drool-inducing dish in THREE dimensions, rather than two. To aid in that endeavor, I'm giving away a handful of coupons for Ghirardelli's new LUXE MILK Chocolate, whether you prefer almond, hazelnut, toffee, or pure chocolate. I'll randomly pick a winner on Saturday, December 18th. To be eligible for the win, simply leave a comment on this post telling me the best and most thoughtful gift you've ever given someone--I like to hear about generous souls. Good luck!

read more words!

December 8, 2010

as pure as the (un)driven snow


Driven snow is gross, right? So where did that saying come from? I like my snow untouched and pristine. (In related news, I don't like my snow in ball-form on its way to my face or in any shade of yellow...)

Okay, so by driven, the writer means wind-blown into fluffy drifts, but all I can envision when I hear that phrase is the nasty, sullied, dirty snow along the side of the roads.

Whatever. I'm digressing, as usual.

In honor of our first real snowfall here in southwestern Virginia, I topped these moist, tender pumpkin bars with a thick, white chocolate glaze. I guess I could've done powdered sugar for a more realistic effect, but that just wasn't going to cut it on this occasion. The crunchy, super-sweet, frozen snow-like topping (combined with my space heater) made me very happy about the snow indeed.

Congratulations to Ally, the winner of my Tate's Bake Shop giveaway! Ally, I certainly hope you get that ring. :)

Snow-Covered Pumpkin Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 package (12 ounces) white chocolate chips, divided
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all sides.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in pumpkin puree (mixture may appear curdled). Reduce speed to low, and mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in 1 cup white chocolate chips. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in pan.
Combine remaining 1/2 cup of chips and oil and microwave in 15-second intervals until the chips have melted. Drizzle decoratively over bars. Lift cake from pan (using foil as an aid). Peel off foil, and use a serrated knife to cut into squares.

read more words!

December 3, 2010

mr (or mrs) versatility


I've decided that the apple is the ultimate fruit.

Your opinion may differ, but hear me out.

The apple can be used in savory applications (hello, pork!) as well as sweet ones. It's perfect for condiments, salads, breads and muffins, and heck, even garnishes. What other fruit can say all that?

The cherry? Perhaps, but you have to deal with those stinkin' pits. I love berries and find them the easiest fruits (or seeds) with which to work, but, like bananas, they don't usually slide so seamlessly into entrees. In contrast, dates and figs don't necessarily shine in desserts. Your citrus usually has to be peeled, which I find to be a hassle. There's no way around it--the apple is king (or queen)(queeng?)!

I am a lazy bum.

And what luck--the spherical stunners are in season! I made some muffins, which I'll admit required a bit of prep in chopping the apples, but hey--at least they didn't have to be peeled. That's a fiber bonus, folks. The chunks of pome lent moistness and lots of great flavor, and in combination with the crunchy pecans, created a very tasty morning treat.

And hey--if you have an argument for a superior fruit, I'd love to hear it!

**There's still some time left to enter my cookie giveaway. Don't miss your chance!

Almighty Apple Pecan Muffins
(kinda sorta based on this recipe)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large apples, cored, and coarsely chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grease and flour or line 12 muffin cups and set aside.
Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well. Mix in the buttermilk and vanilla gently. Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks and pecans.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the tops with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

read more words!

November 29, 2010

tis better to give than to receive (yep, it's a giveaway)


When I was a wee lassie, Christmas was all about the presents for me. Selfish, I know. Perhaps even Grinch-like. Yes, I got gifts for others, but only to merit something from them in return.

Times have changed, and while I still enjoy receiving a thoughtful present, I also find a lot of satisfaction in picking out just the right thing to give someone else.

You've no doubt recently become familiar with Tate's Bake Shop, as they've wisely been enlisting bloggers to review their goodies and host giveaways. (That has to be one of the best marketing strategies ever.) I was lucky enough to be contacted by the company and given the chance to sample my own batch and spread the love.

The package that I received contained three types of cookies (chocolate chip, white chocolate macadamia nut, and oatmeal raisin), as well as the Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook by Kathleen King. I won't lie--I ate the cookies before I could take pictures of them, but if you're curious, you can see Emily's shots on her site. They were the polar opposite of cakey--all very crisp, yet with a nice chew and the welcome taste of caramel. Very delicious indeed.

The cookbook is full of interesting recipes, and I decided to make one in an effort to validate Tate's. I picked the GORP cookies, named using an acronym with which I was unfamiliar until Rachael Ray used it on her show.  (It's tr
ue.)  Good ol' raisins and peanuts. Well, I changed it up a bit, using pecans as my 'P.' The recipe is good--it turns out a delightfully chewy and flavorful batch of cookies.

So. Who'd like to win their very own cookies? One fortunate (United States) reader will win a Tate's Bake Shop cookbook and a six-box cookie sampler pack. Huzzah! To enter the giveaway, just tell me one thing you'd like to receive for Christmas. Be as selfish as you want--we're all friends here! To double your chances, become a fan of Tate's Bake Shop on Facebook, and after doing so, leave another comment telling me that you did. I'll close the comments a week from today, Monday, December 6th, and the randomly-selected winner will be announced shortly thereafter. Good luck!

Bonus for everyone--use the discount code cookie to get 15% off at Tate’s Bake Shop’s online store from now until Dec. 31, 2010.

GORP Cookies
(from Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook by Kathleen King)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon water
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup cinnamon chips
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F; grease two cookie sheets or line them with Silpat.
In a bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.
In a bigger bowl, cream the butter and sugars; beat in the egg. Add in the vanilla and water; mix together until they are just combined. Add in the flour mixture and oatmeal; mix until combined. Add in the cinnamon chips, pecans, and raisins; mix until combined.
Drop 1/4 cup dough onto baking sheets and press the cookies down lightly. Bake for 15-17 minutes; remove the cookies and cool them on a wire rack.

read more words!

November 23, 2010

it's never too early for hot sauce!


After years of being anti-scone, I've decided they may be one of the most ideal breakfast foods. They provide your meat, cheese, and bread all in one handy-dandy triangle.

Plus, there's nothing like the zing of hot sauce to peel your eyes open first thing in the morning!

That's right. I took my now go-to savory scone recipe and tweaked it a bit, using turkey and provolone and squirting in a nice dose of my now go-to hot sauce, Cholula.

Have you heard of this stuff? I was sent all four flavors (original, chili lime, garlic, and chipotle) to sample and review, and I'm quite comfortable saying that each one is fantastic. I thought the chipotle version might work best in these scones, and I stand by that decision. It supplied just enough zip to get my blood flowing and spice up my breakfast wedge.

Crags and craters of cheesy chew-phoria.

Incidentally, the other flavors are terrific too, and so versatile. Chili Lime Bloody Mary, anyone?

Spicy Scones for the Slow Waker-Upper
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cold and cubed
1 cup buttermilk
two or three or twelve squirts of hot sauce
1 cup provolone cheese, shredded
1 cup ham, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine the dry ingredients and cut in the butter until a coarse, crumbly mixture is formed. Mix in the buttermilk, hot sauce, cheese, and ham using a fork until everything is moistened and then turn the batter out onto a floured surface. Form into 2 6-inch wide disks. Apply an egg wash and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then cut each disk into 6 wedges. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.

read more words!

November 19, 2010

setting the (candy) bar


Are you an Almond Joy person or do you prefer Mounds? Or, as a tragic option, do you eschew both, claiming that coconut is gritty and gross (I'm looking at you, Little Brother...)?

I consider myself a Mounds gal, but that's only because the whole almonds in an Almond Joy are so bulky and incongruent--there's no way to get a bit of almond in each bite unless you a)shove the whole thing in your mouth, or b)pop off the almonds and take a bite of candy bar followed by a nibble of almond. Ridiculous. If slivered or sliced almonds were used instead, I'd be all over it. Take note, Hershey's!

Having said all that, it's no surprise that I used sliced nuts in this Almond Joy-inspired cheesecake. Other magnificent components include a graham cracker crust riddled with coconut (which I consider a complete dessert in and of itself) and a creamy cake bedecked with chocolate chunks, toasted coconut, and a bit of coconut flavoring.

I'll admit that I'm not too keen on the flavor of almonds, but I do love the crunch the slivers provide. The amount of nuts used in this recipe is just right and there's none of that icky almond extract to muck up the flavor. What a relief.


A few days after I made this, I had a Zagnut candy bar for the first time. Zagnut, where have you been all my life? Why do you taste so good and have such an awesome name? Crunchy peanut butter + toasted coconut = amazing. Because of this discovery, I think my next cheesecake endeavor will involve a peanut buttery crust and a purely coconut filling. Oh, yeah.

Not-Too-Almondy Almond Joy Cheesecake
(based on this recipe)

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
1 tablespoon coconut extract
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Optional garnishes:
chocolate shavings or drizzle, slivered almonds, toasted coconut

For crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap outside of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with foil. Finely grind cracker crumbs, coconut, almonds and sugar in processor. Add butter; process until moist crumbs form. Press mixture onto bottom and 1 inch up sides of pan. Bake crust until set and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Cool. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

For filling: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Mix in coconut and extract . Fold in almonds. Transfer filling to crust. Bake until cake is puffed and no longer moves when pan is shaken, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool completely on rack.

Run small knife around sides of cake to loosen. Release pan sides. Sprinkle with garnishes before serving, if desired.

read more words!

November 15, 2010

i'm here to pump(kin)...you up!


Oh, Ahnold. Why did you leave acting for politics? We've been unfairly robbed of your impersonation-worthy delivery of lame lines. Even more tragically, SNL has taken a massive nosedive in the years since Hans and Franz. Such loss, so sad.

As usual, I digress. You came here for food, and food you shall have. I made these cookies in a fit of pumpkin-loving madness. They're unique little noshes, with oats and chocolate morsels scattered throughout. Granted, my experience eating pumpkin is limited at best, but I don't recall seeing many recipes combining it with chocolate. It's a pleasant duo, to be sure. If you're sick of pumpkin pie as a Thanksgiving dessert or want to get a head start on the big meal, go ahead and make a batch of these--the dough freezes wonderfully.

Methinks even Mr. Schwarzenegger (a name actually found in the spell-check database!), Hans, and Franz would approve.

Punkin Cookies
(based on these beauts)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.
Combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla extract; mix well. Add flour mixture; mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned and set in centers. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

read more words!

November 1, 2010

bogged down


Can we talk seriously for a moment? No?

How about a hot second? Okay.

I was given the opportunity to read and review Harold McGee's new book "Keys to Good Cooking." Folks, there's so much useful information in this tome that I don't even know where to begin. There are chapters focusing on safety, kitchen tools, and basic cooking methods. There are pages and pages about meats, fruits and veggies, breads, and, my favorite, sweets. It's written in an easily-understandable fashion, with each chapter beginning with a simple introduction followed by bullet point after bullet point of practical factoids. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's a reference I'll be keeping within reach from now on.

Seriously. It's sitting on the desk beside me right now.

Fluffy. Fluffy like my hair on a humid day...but much more attractive.

In honor of the book, I made some cranberry pecan muffins. I know, what a way to celebrate, right? Handy tip #1: Cranberries stay fresh in the fridge longer than most fruits because of their high acidity. Handy tip #2: It's important to sort through the berries before using them in a baked good, as one sour gem can spoil the whole thing. Handy tip #3: To get a "shapely peak" (Harold's words--catchy phrase, yes?), avoid overleavening, fill the cups nearly full, and bake at a high temperature (400-425F).

Ah. I love science. And food. Ya done good, Harold.

Scientifically Superior Cranberry Pecan Muffins
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 400F. Line or spray 12 muffin cups.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients and stir into the dry ingredients just until moistened (batter will be lumpy). Fold in cranberries and pecans. Bake 15-20 minutes.

read more words!

October 25, 2010

what's black and white and red all over?


No, not a mime wearing lipstick, an embarrassed zebra, a sunburned penguin, a chocolate sundae with ketchup on top (which, might I add, sounds absolutely disgusting), a crossword puzzle done in red ink, or, the sneaky answer, a newspaper.

I'm talking about a surprisingly tasty cheesecake.

As you may remember, cheesecake is not something that makes me swoon. I find it tolerable at best. That said, I will gladly tolerate anything that looks as impressive as this treat, with its lovely layer of thickened raspberry goo, dark chocolate crust, and smooth and creamy cake.

Taste-wise, she ain't too shabby either. The subtle sweet-tartness of the raspberries really does a lot to balance out the tangy cream cheese and deeply decadent chocolate.

My goodness, that palate of mine is just growing up so fast! I guess that's what an unplanned hiatus does for a person. Maybe I should take breaks more often. Heck, the next thing you know, I'll be feasting on haggis, sweetbreads, and maggot cheese...

...but probably not.

Raspberries-to-the-Rescue Cheesecake
(from here)

1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries, partially thawed
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 (9-ounce) package chocolate wafer cookies
1/3 cup butter, melted

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine raspberries and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 2-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil (6 to 10 minutes). Continue boiling 1 minute. Remove from heat. Cool 10 minutes.
Heat oven to 325°F. Place cookies in food processor bowl fitted with metal blade. Cover; process until very finely chopped (30 to 40 seconds). Add melted butter; process until smooth (20 to 30 seconds). Press onto bottom of 9-inch springform pan; set aside.
Combine sugar and cream cheese in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream and 3 tablespoons cornstarch. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed. Stir in vanilla.
Pour half of cheesecake batter over crust. Spoon filling evenly over batter in pan. Top with remaining cheesecake batter. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until just set 2 inches from edge of pan. Turn off oven; leave cheesecake in oven 2 hours. Remove from oven; loosen sides of cheesecake from pan by running knife around inside of pan. Cool completely (about 2 hours). Loosely cover; refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

read more words!

October 18, 2010

it's that time again...


Yep, the pumpkin goodies are out in force.

Here we have yet another example of the growth of my palate (not the roof of the mouth, of course--that'd just be weird--but the whole sense of taste thing) since I've openly declared my distaste for the ubiquitous orange orb in the past. Things, they are a-changin'.

These muffins are awesome. I'll be honest--I think the simple fact that cinnamon* is the prevalent flavor has a lot to do with my high opinion of them. Heck, for all I know, I may still hate pumpkin itself, but the combination of pumpkin and cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg is a winner.

*Speaking of cinnamon, have you seen this? Hilarious.

What's next? Pumpkin pie? Pumpkin cookies? Pumpkin flan? Soup? Profiteroles? Challah? Pancakes? Fudge? I've seen 'em all, and I can't decide. What's your favorite (cinnamon-containing) pumpkin product?

Purdy Pumpkin Muffins
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup oil
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 (16-oz) can (2 cups) pumpkin puree
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin tin.
Combine the sugar and oil in large bowl to blend; mix in the eggs and pumpkin.
Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl; stir into the pumpkin mixture. Mix in the walnuts and raisins.
Divide the batter equally into the cups.
Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes.

read more words!

October 13, 2010

back with a bang?


Meh, it's more like I'm back with a gentle rat-a-tat.

I had hoped to return to you with an inspired and supremely superior food creation, but alas, you'll just have to settle for one of the most peculiar, interesting, and yes, delicious dishes I've had in quite some time.

Nectarines. I can't say I've ever had much use for them, but they were absolutely key in this simple yet complex side. In fact, I found myself rooting around, trying to make sure every bite contained some of the sweet, juicy fruit. If that didn't happen, the consolation prizes weren't too shabby--crunchy sliced almonds, hunks of salty and tangy feta, toothy chickpeas, bits of sharp scallion, and shreds of verdant basil were also scattered throughout the creamy couscous.*

*Can we say adjective abuse? I think so.

And how pretty is this bowl of yum? I love all the colors, and couscous is always a looker. (As a bonus, it's an extremely fun word to pronounce--have you ever looked at a person's mouth when he says it? Hilarious.)

Creamy and Colorful Couscous

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup
1 lb couscous or other small pasta
3 cups chicken stock
2 lemons, juiced and zested
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup nectarines, chopped
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup chickpeas
1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced

In a medium saucepan, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the couscous and cook until toasted and lightly browned, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Carefully add the stock and half of the lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the couscous is tender, but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the couscous.
In a large bowl, toss the cooked couscous with the remaining olive oil, remaining lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper and let cool.
Once the couscous is room temperature, add the remaining components. Toss to combine and serve.

read more words!

September 30, 2010

ah, the power of puff pastry


It's time for another confession. Back when all the Daring Bakers were making puff pastry from scratch, I was overwhelmed with feelings of respect, obviously, but also of smugness. I kept saying to myself "Suck-ahs!" because the ease of preparation and high quality of the storebought stuff has always been and will probably always be good enough for the Gracemeister.

I'm no fool--I understand that if successful, the pride and sense of accomplishment one would have after preparing puff pastry from scratch would be incredible. I can only assume that it tastes better than the Pepperidge Farm version too. So I tip my hat to you folks--well done!

Me, I'll stick with the easy stuff until I stumble upon the fountain of ambitiousness and take a drink. :)

Behold, my recipes for some awesome beastly pastries:

Bear Claws
1 cup almonds, ground
1 cup pecans, ground
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 sheets puff pastry, ambitiously homemade or lazily storebought

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To prepare the goo, simply mix together the nuts, eggs, and sugar until well-combined.
Roll the thawed puff pastry into a large rectangle (9 x 12 inches, give or take) and make twelve 3-inch squares. Apply an egg wash to the top of each square. Plop about two tablespoons of goo onto each square and form it into a log on the bottom end. Roll the bottom about one-third of the way to the top and then fold the top down to meet it. Press gently to seal. Make four diagonal slits into the bear claw-in-progress. Pinch to form the traditional shape, egg wash the top, and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Repeat with second sheet.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on wire rack and top with a powdered sugar glaze if so inclined.

Elephant Ears
2 cups granulated sugar
cinnamon to taste
dash o' salt
2 sheets puff pastry, defrosted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Pour 1 cup of the glorious mixture on a flat surface. Unfold each sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar and pour 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly on the puff pastry. Roll the dough into a 12 x 12-inch square and press the sugar into the puff pastry on top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold one half over the other half as though closing a book, making 6 layers. Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices, cut side up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Repeat with second sheet.

Bake the cookies for 6 minutes until caramelized and brown on the bottom, then turn with a spatula and bake another 3 to 5 minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

read more words!

September 17, 2010



Having just dazzled you all with my impressive knowledge of multiple languages, I'll now take this opportunity to bring praise to my native tongue.

There's a lengthy list of words in the English language that I find extremely entertaining to say. I'm sure many of them have their origins elsewhere, but we Americans seem to have claimed them as our own.

Discombobulate. Thwart. Indubitably. Kumquat. Sassafras. Goiter. The list goes on and on.*

*I've just realized I'm way too easy to amuse...

A word that I've recently added to the list is Waldorf. Now, I've never stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (and probably never will), but I have seen Serendipity and Coming to America multiple times and it's featured in both of those charming flicks.

Are you asking yourself why you should care? I do have a point. The Waldorf-Astoria is responsible for a classic side dish that I've come to love--Waldorf salad. This seemingly random combination of ingredients plays together quite nicely in the mouth--crisp, juicy apples, crunchy nuts and celery, and sweet, chewy raisins, all slathered in a slightly tangy, creamy sauce. Plus, it's extremely easy to make.

And let's not forget how enjoyable it is to say the name out loud...

WalDORF Salad (Go on, just say it. The name's Dorf. Wal Dorf. Ha.)
1/2 cup walnuts halves, sliced almonds, pecan pieces, what-have-you, toasted
1/2 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 lemon, zest finely grated
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large crisp apples, such as Gala, cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 ribs celery (with leaves), sliced into 1/2-inch-thick pieces (leaves chopped)
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 lemon, juiced

Whisk the yogurt, mayonnaise, parsley, n
utmeg, honey, and lemon zest in a large bowl and season generously with pepper.
Add the apples, celery, and raisins to the bowl, and sprinkle with the lemon juice; then toss with the dressing. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

read more words!

September 12, 2010

tres leches? tres bien.


That's right, folks. I have a masterful command of not one, not two, but THREE languages. Four, if you count Pig Latin. Pretty impressive, right?

Okay, so maybe masterful is the wrong word. Maybe I only know a few phrases here and there. I'm the most familiar with Spanish, having taken it throughout high school and college. Party days in those classes almost always involved tres leches cake, and that was awesome. I enjoy the unique, uber-moist and squishy texture of the stuff. That said, when I saw Mel's version flavoring it with my beloved coconut, I marked it down.

I loved this cake. I'm a fan of how it dissolved in my mouth and flooded my taste buds with coconut flavor; however, I can understand why some people might not particularly enjoy the mouthfeel of a tres leches cake. It is fairly weird. This would be a good dessert to make for someone who, say, recently had their wisdom teeth removed. I'd describe it as walking the line between cake and pudding, which is no mean feat!

It's geshmak and rumptious-scay. Sláinte!

Pastel de Tres Leches y Coco
(based on this recipe)

1 box of yellow cake mix or homemade yellow cake recipe

Milk Syrup:
1 can (15 ounces) cream of coconut
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

1 12-oz container of Cool Whip
1-2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and aside. Prepare the cake mix according to box or recipe instructions and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the milk syrup by mixing the cream of coconut, evaporated milk, milk, and extracts until smooth.
Pierce the cooled cake all over the top with the tines of a fork or a thin wooden skewer. Poke it good--the more pokes, the more the syrup will soak into the cake. Using a large spoon or ladle, spoon some of the milk syrup over the cake. Let the syrup soak into the cake, then continue spooning the syrup on top until all of it has been used up. When you have finished, not all of the syrup will be completely absorbed and might be pooling on the top but that’s okay--it'll absorb eventually. Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until all of the syrup is absorbed, 2 hours. Before serving, spread the Cool Whip across the top and sprinkle with the toasted coconut, if desired. Note: This is one of those cakes that just gets better with time--pace yourself.

read more words!

September 7, 2010

say again?


What's that now? I beg your pardon? Hmmm?

That's the reaction I got when I announced that I had made pineapple muffins. For a hot second, I was miffed that puzzlement was the first response rather than excitement, but I quickly realized that my eaters were right--pineapple is a rare ingredient in baked goods.

Yeah, you've got the ubiquitous ol' pineapple upside-down cake. Yes, anything pina colada is bound to involve pineapple. But really, there's not much, is there? And what a shame--it's such a tasty fruit...when it's fresh and ripe. Occasions when it's not fresh and ripe, however, are another story.

I recently had some fresh pineapple that got sadly overlooked in the fridge to the point where it could no longer be classified as tasty. I couldn't bear to waste it, so I hunted down a muffin recipe, confident that what the fruit lacked in flavor it would make up for in moistness.

Hot dang, I was right--the handfood I made had a marvelous crumb, and the slightly soured pineapple magically became delicious again. In a moment of weakness, I spiced them with ginger rather than cinnamon, and while it was good, cinnamon would've been better. For me, anyway. I have a thing for cinnamon.

Pineapple Pecan Loaves
(based on this recipe)

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 (3 ounce) package vanilla instant pudding mix
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 cup fresh pineapple, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup oil
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 425F and hose down pan of choice.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, pudding mix, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, sour cream, pineapple, and oil. Add the egg-pineapple mixture to the flour mixture and stir until moistened. Fold in the nuts. Spoon the thick batter into the prepared molds and bake until the toothpick test is passed, about 15 minutes for muffins and 25 minutes for mini loaves.

read more words!

September 3, 2010

getting creamed


Seeing something swimming in a creamy sauce automatically calls to mind two words--rich and delicious. Would that be true if SPAM® (er...I mean spiced ham) was involved?

The answer is yes. After all, what better way to make something with a bad reputation (however unfair) more appetizing than to nestle it in a pool of creamy, flavorful goo?

As someone who shies away from cooked cabbage because of its effects on the digestive system (overshare?), I had my doubts about this dish. Let's be honest--those issues could not possibly be helped by the presence of fried meat, am I right? Regardless of my hesitations and armed with Beano and optimism, I tossed this together for supper one night and was pleasantly surprised.

This was an interesting way to use spiced ham, and I'd recommend it, especially for those connoisseurs of hearty German-like fare among you. If your innards are sensitive to the power of cabbage, though, consider yourself warned...

The Gut Buster (or, Spiced Ham with Creamed Cabbage)
1 (12-ounce) can SPAM®, thinly sliced
1 head of cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons SPAM® drippings
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pan over medium heat, saute the sliced SPAM® until it becomes nicely-browned. Remove the SPAM® from the pan and add the cabbage. Cook until browned and remove from pan. Drain drippings from pan, reserving about 2 tablespoons. Add flour and cook until browned, then whisk in the milk. Cook until thickened and season with salt and pepper. Add the cabbage back into the pan and stir until warmed through. Serving suggestion: Place the SPAM® atop a bed of the creamy cabbage.

read more words!

August 29, 2010

pee-can, pee-cahn, pah-cahn


Confession: I'm one of those people who snicker or smirk when certain words are pronounced differently from how I've been raised to say them.

Examples: Coupon. Caramel. Mayonnaise. Pajamas. Scallops. Worcestershire. And a common one--pecan*.

*For the record, I personally say pah-cahn, with the emphasis on the second syllable. For the record, all three are correct.

It's taken me awhile to fully appreciate the pecan and all its many applications. While you still won't see me reaching for a handful of plain ol' pecans, all you have to do is salt 'em and toast 'em or toss them with caramel (that's with three syllables, if you please) and I'm excited.

My most recent use for the lovely nuts was a unique case. I often bookmark recipes that I see on other blogs, but rarely do I make them the next day. When I saw Karly's post featuring her twist on the gooey butter cake, I didn't waste a second.

All I had on hand was a lemon cake mix, but it worked out quite nicely. For obvious reasons, a butter cake mix would be better. Regardless, if you like both pecans and the traditional version of gooey butter cake (and honestly, how could you not?), this dessert is for you. The nuts in the bottom layer make it blissfully crunchy and rich. Yes, even more rich than the original. Paula Deen would be proud.

Say, what other words get pronounced differently depending on the region?

Gooey Butter Pecan Bars
(motivated by Karly's post)

1 box (18.25 oz) lemon cake mix
3 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 cups chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, 1 egg, melted butter, and pecans. Mix well and press into a greased 9×13-inch pan.
Cream together the cream cheese, 2 remaining eggs, and powdered sugar until well combined. Pour over the crust.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the center is set. It should be gooey, but not runny. Cool completely before cutting, 1-2 hours. Store in the refrigerator.

read more words!

August 25, 2010

heeeeeere's harold!


This is a bit of a different post for me, but when I was offered the chance to read and review Harold McGee's new book The Keys to Good Cooking and promote his book tour, I jumped at it. Leapt. Pounced, if you will.

I've been a fan of Mr. McGee since his information helped me explain the green carrot phenomenon a few months ago. His new book is full of useful and interesting facts and tips like that, for everything from meat preparation to candy making. For example, a simple step I never considered regarding the serving of meat dishes is preheating the plate:

Preheat plates to serve hot meat dishes, especially beef, veal, and lamb. As they cool below body temperature, meat fats congeal and the gelatin from connective tissue in long-cooked cuts becomes solid and rubbery.

Also, I always knew that one should store potatoes in the dark and never in the fridge, but I hadn't thought about why. Never fear, Harold's here:

Store potatoes at cool room temperature and in the dark, to prevent greening. At warm room temperatures, potatoes will sprout and decay. At refrigerator temperatures below about 45°F/7°C, they convert some starch into sugar and can brown too quickly and scorch when fried.

Get excited, folks. This is gonna be a fine read.

read more words!