A Southern Grace: September 2010

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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