A Southern Grace: February 2010

February 26, 2010

what the what?


It's no secret that I enjoy a good carrot cake. Yes, it takes a little bit of elbow grease to grate the lovely cone-shaped veggies, but what a reward for your efforts!

The verdict is in: MOIST.
Imagine my surprise upon slicing into my latest production and finding that the vibrant color of those bestowers of beta-carotene had gone from orange to green!

I had no idea what could've caused such a transition (especially since this is my go-to carrot cake recipe and such a peculiarity hasn't happened before), so I did a little research on the interwebnets.

Apparently, carrots are pretty sensitive little roots and this color change happens quite frequently. The culprit is the baking soda--either the batter contains too much or it doesn't get mixed in evenly. Those pigmentation compounds don't get along too well with the mean ol' alkaline baking soda. Note to self: Incorporate baking soda more thoroughly next time.

Chock-full o' goodies.
Fortunately, this phenomenon doesn't stop the cake from being edible. Or delicious. Heck, it just adds more color to an already easy-on-the-eyes cake!

Now, about those carrots. I was recently quite fortunate to receive an amazing collection of seeds from Hometown Seeds. The package was dubbed survival seeds, meant to be stored in case a crisis were to occur. Here's what you get if you order the kit:

* An in-depth instruction booklet.
* Enough GMO-free,
non-hybrid seeds to plant 3/4 of an acre!
* Double water tight packaging.
* 5-year minimum shelf life, up to 10 years if frozen.

The package contains seeds for everything from peas and corn to lettuce and pole beans--quite a tremendous medley! My family just so happens to be garden-crazy, and they were thrilled to learn that the seeds were open-pollinated. We've already ordered some squash seeds (they have oodles of varieties) from this wonderful company. Take a look, order some seeds, and get some dirt under your nails!

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February 22, 2010

if looks were everything...


...I'd be all over this.

It's almost like it's looking right back at ya...
Wouldn't you say that's pretty easy on the eyes?

Sadly, it has two things going against it in my book--a)it's cheesecake (which, as you may recall, ranks pretty low on my list of cake preferences), and b)it's flavored with pumpkin, which I've never particularly liked. Regardless of the fact that it's not my cup of tea (or slice of cake, as the case may be), I know from various samplers that it's magnificent. It was made as a special birthday treat, and everyone (except me) gnawed away at it with their eyes glazed over. Apparently it was particularly decadent with some peach preserves spooned over the top.

Who says pumpkin has to be limited to the fall? That's like saying eggs should be limited to breakfast and cinnamon only belongs in desserts. Utter drivel. Gobbledygook. Nonsense. Hogwash.

Pretty Pumpkin (wince) Cheesecake (double wince)
(based almost entirely on this recipe)

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature (I used one full fat and two low fat)

2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon

To make the crust: Grease up a 9-inch springform pan.
Stir together the graham cracker crumbs, chopped pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press this crumb mixture evenly onto the bottom and about 1/2" up the side of the pan. Chill the crust for 1 hour.

To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 350°F and put a rack in the middle position.
Whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, milk, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until combined.
In a large bowl, stir together the granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.
Add the softened cream cheese to the dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the pumpkin mixture; beat until smooth.
Pour the filling into the chilled crust, smooth the top, and either put the springform pan into a shallow baking pan or place a pan on the lower rack in case the springform leaks. Bake until the center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool for 5 minutes, making sure to leave the oven on.

To make the topping: Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and bourbon in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 additional minutes.
Cool the cheesecake completely in a pan on the rack for about 3 hours.
Cover and chill the beauty until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove the side of the pan and bring the cake to room temperature before slicing and serving.

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February 18, 2010

a shmiscuit, a shmasket


Are there Sheetz stations where you live? If so, count your blessings.

Shmish-kit! If not, I feel your pain.

Sheetz truly is a one-stop shop (and no, they aren't giving me any swag to say these things)--you can fill up on gas, coffee, typical convenience store conveniences, and food. Not just any food, mind you, but tasty, hot, reasonably-priced, made-to-order food.

Sad news, folks--I've been Sheetz-less for the last two years. The stores just don't have a presence in NY--apparently they're limited to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. That said, I had forgotten how magnificent the big red shops could be. On a recent road trip, I found myself without many food options. I was filled with glee and anticipation upon seeing the Sheetz logo on an exit sign and promptly pulled in. I was not disappointed.

I ordered a shmiscuit. Come on. How can you not love a place that has shmiscuits. And shmagels. And shmuffins. That's just fun stuff. Anyway, my shmiscuit met all of my specifications and I was completely sated.

Since eating that shmiscuit, I've felt the need to recreate it at home many times. The method is simple: Bake and split biscuit. Apply cheese (pepper jack, of course), cilantro, salt, pepper, and meat (I chose turkey) as needed. Return to oven until cheese melts and meat is heated through. Consume.

Di. Vine. Bring on the day!

Satisfy my curiosity (and give me some new ideas)--what do you like on your breakfast shandwiches?

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February 14, 2010

THE day for splurging


Well, I may need to amend that. Perhaps the day after Valentine's Day is the optimum day to go hog-wild, as all of that glorious red- and pink-wrapped candy and chocolate will be on sale. Yippee-ki-yay.

Tower. Tastiness.

Behold my tower of tastiness!

Personally, I like to indulge on a daily basis, and making this cake took care of those desires for nearly a week.

Kate, the lovely lady responsible for the blog Serendipity, recently reached out to several bloggers and offered to send us some authentic Belgian chocolate if we'd promise to make something truly decadent and post about it on Valentine's Day. It's safe to say that no arm-twisting was needed.

As you've recently learned, layer cakes are usually my favorite type of cake. It's no surprise, then, that I chose to make a German chocolate cake for this event. However, since the chocolate I used was actually Belgian, the name obviously had to be changed to reflect that--it ain't German chocolate cake if you're using Belgian chocolate!

Let the drooling commence.
This depicts the proper filling-to-cake ratio, wouldn't you say? Blast--now I'm hungry all over again...

Frankly, you're fortunate to be seeing any cake at all--much of the chocolate that Kate sent went right into my belly. It's dark and deep and delightful--truly tasty stuff.

Now, how shall I begin my description of this dessert? Let's talk about the actual cake part, since that's where the chocolate found its new temporary home (as opposed to its permanent home, my caboose). The layers were light and moist, but not so crumbly that a slice would fall apart. No, the texture was such that the cake was able to support the copious filling that I compelled to add.

The filling. It filled both the cake and my belly.
The filling. No offense to the chocolate, of course, as it was marvelous in its own right, but the filling was my favorite part. Creamy and rich and laden with coconut and crunchy pecans. It was a true test of self-control to leave the huge bowl of the stuff sitting whilst I made the cake--I could've easily devoured at least half the batch. Indeed, it's the perfect compliment to the delicate and flavorful chocolate cake.

Kate, you're the bee's knees. Thanks for aiding and abetting my splurging. (Incidentally, how fun is that word? Splurge.) Go check out the other chocolate lovers (the links are listed here) and see how they used their bounty!

Blimp shot!
Happy Valentine's Day, folks, if you care about that sort of thing. If not, happy Anna Howard Shaw Day!

Belgian Chocolate Cake
(a majestic merger based on this cake and this filling)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup hot coffee
4 oz semi-sweet Belgian chocolate, a la La Maison Saive, finely chopped (ha--I made ya sing la-la!)

4 egg yolks
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 1/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups pecans, finely-chopped

To prepare the filling, first toast the coconut and pecans at 350F until the coconut is browned and the pecans smell nutty. (The timing will be different, so use separate pans.) Next, whisk the egg yolks in a medium saucepan and gradually whisk in the evaporated milk. Add the sugars, butter, and salt and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is boiling, frothy, and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes. Transfer this mixture to a bowl and whisk in the vanilla and coconut extracts. Then stir in the coconut. (Pecans are stirred in just before cake assembly.) Cool until just warm, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cool or cold, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

For the cake, first make sure that your oven is preheated to 350F and prepare two 8″ cake pans. (I actually used an 8" and a 10" to achieve that staggered look and had to deal with the batter division and baking time accordingly.) You can go all-out by lightly oiling, lining the bottoms with parchment, oiling again, then lightly dusting with flour, or you can just skip the parchment as I did and simply grease and flour--it worked out fine.
In a small bowl, pour the hot coffee over the chopped chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts. Let cool a bit.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk a few times to blend well.
In a larger bowl (we have a real Russian nested doll thing going on here, don't we!), beat together the eggs, milk, oil, and extracts. Add the chocolate-coffee mixture (assuming you haven't poured it down your gullet) and beat well. Finally, slowly add the dry ingredients and beat at medium speed for 2-3 minutes.
Split the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans and place them in the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center is clean after removed.
Cool the layers in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then remove them and cool on the racks completely.

To assemble the skyscraper of splendor, first add the chopped pecans to the filling and mix well. Then simply slather half onto one layer of the cake, nestle the other cake layer on top of that, and spread the remaining filling onto the tippy-top. You should have plenty, assuming you were able to resist eating it by the spoonful...

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February 10, 2010

a different kind of cake


Generally, my order of cake preference would go something like this (from least favorite to tops): cheesecake, bundt cakes, pound cake, cupcakes, sheet cake, layer cake. (Apparently, my love of frosting is quite the driving factor here, making cake simply a vehicle for the creamy, sugar-happy stuff. Driving. Vehicle. See what I did there?)

Greasy goodness.
The list is not set in stone, of course. Coconut pound cake moves up in the order and inadequately-frosted layer cakes move back. Cinnamon-centered anything automatically gets a high ranking, and on it goes.

But wait! Those are all sweet! There are other cakes to be taken into consideration...

Pancakes, for one. Or any type of bean cake-pattie-burger. And we must never overlook the potater cake.

Now, to be fair, there are recipes for true potato cakes, fluffy and probably chocolate-laden. But I'm here to discuss the savory side. You have your latkes (also known as potato pancakes), which are made of grated potato, flour, egg, and perhaps some seasoning and shallow-fried. There are also potato scallops or fritters, which, as I understand it, are common in parts of Australia, New Zealand, and England and involve deep-frying slices of batter-coated taters. (Why these aren't popular in America as well, I do not know.) Another variation from our neighbors across the pond is the Scottish tattie scone, a flatbread-type creation making use of mashed potatoes and a rolling pin.

This is none of those. I suppose it can be considered a combination of latkes and tattie scones, as it consists of already-mashed potatoes that are shaped into patties and pan-fried. Tatkes. That's what they are. Wanna know what else they are? Delicious. Tempting enough to cause one to rouse in the middle of the night and grope blindly to the fridge for a bite. Powerful, I tell you.

2 cups leftover mashed potatoes (unless you want to make a batch solely for this purpose, which is completely acceptable and understandable)
1/4 cup flour, or possibly more or less, depending on the moisture content of your taters
salt and pepper, to taste
other seasonings, as desired (I think rosemary is awesome)
oil, butter, or some combination thereof

Heat a skillet to medium-high heat and add a proper dose of fat.
Add the flour, salt, pepper, and other seasonings into the mashed potatoes and incorporate well. Form patties a bit smaller than the size of hockey pucks and let them sit for a few minutes to set up. Gently place the cakes into the hot skillet and let them fry until brown. Carefully flip the patties and then extract them when the other side has browned. Eat 'em while they're hot (or ice-cold as a midnight snack--no one's judging you).

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February 6, 2010



...aroo? No. Do I look like a rhinestone cowboy?

...naked? No. Get your minds out of the gutter.

Buckeyes. Much preferred, wouldn't you say?

Now I'm not from Ohio and I don't know very much about the state itself (other than the fact that Cleveland rocks, but Drew Carey told me that...)(Yeah, I watched his sitcom.)(I knew him before The Price is Right, which incidentally doesn't hold a candle to the other show he hosted.)(The show to which I'm referring was called Whose Line Is It Anyway, for those of you keeping track.)(Colin Mochrie is brilliant and hilarious, but I digress...). However, as the source of these little nuggets, I fully appreciate the place. I mean, come on--chocolate-covered balls of sweet peanut butter confection? Outstanding.

Yes, they take a little time and effort to make. Yes, it can be a fickle and frustrating process. Is it worth it? Totally. I didn't need Mr. Carey to tell me that.

What's your state's culinary claim-to-fame?

Eyes of the Buck (hmm...that's a wee bit morbid)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup shortening

Line a cookie sheet or four with wax paper. In a large bowl, mix together the softened butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla with a wooden spoon.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Set them on the prepared cookie sheets and insert a toothpick into each ball. Chill in the freezer until hard, approximately 30 minutes.
Melt the chocolate chips and shortening together over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly dip the frozen balls into the chocolate and place back onto the cookie sheets. Be sure to leave a little peanut butter showing! Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, approximately 2 hours. Oh, and don't eat the toothpicks.

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February 3, 2010

steak a la switzerland?


That's why it's called swiss steak, right? 'Cause it's from Switzerland?

Wrong. The name doesn't refer to Switzerland, but to the process of swissing. How does one swiss, you ask? Well, what a timely and appropriate question--I, for one, had absolutely no idea. Apparently, swissing simply means pounding the heck out of something in order to make it softer and more tender. So, if you happen to have a hunk of leathery, less-than-appealing meat (like round, for instance), swiss(ed) steak is the dish for you. The meat gets bashed, coated with flour and other seasonings, braised, and served with a thick, tomato-based gravy.

The moral of this story is that you mustn't discriminate against the tough and rough cuts of meat. They can be brought into submission (whilst you can get out a little aggression) and made perfectly edible, nay, delectable.

Steak That's Been Swissed
(from good ol' Paula Deen)

1 round steak (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt and pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups diced or broken-up whole tomatoes
1 cup water
1 medium onion, cut into strips

Cut the steak into serving-size pieces, whether they be strips or chunks. Dust meat with flour and season with salt and pepper.
In a heavy skillet, brown both sides of the meat in vegetable oil. Transfer it to a Dutch oven or casserole dish. Combine the tomatoes, onion, and water. Pour this over the steak and simmer over low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. If necessary, add more water to keep the meat partially covered.
Season with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve.

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