A Southern Grace: January 2011

January 25, 2011

turtles? really?


I'm not sure which schmo first dubbed the combination of rich chocolate, soft caramel, and toasted pecans, but I am sure that he could've come up with a much better name than 'turtles.'

Yes, I know certain regions of the world find actual turtles to be a yummy soup meat, but I have zero interest in consuming the critters. Why? I think it's because I feel sorry for them--anything that moves that slowly deserves at least a little bit of sympathy. Am I the only one who's tempted to stop the car and help a turtle cross the road when I drive up to one? Eh, maybe I am.

Moving on. These bars do not contain real turtle, and they are delicious. I'm pretty sure a layer of thick, chocolate-shmeared and pecan-studded caramel atop a shortbread crust is the definition of decadence. The name 'divinity' must've already been taken by those meringue-y candies at that point. Too bad.

Turtle-free Turtle Bars
(based on these)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup pecans

Caramel Layer:
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
touch o' salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the crust ingredients in food processor or mixer and whirr until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Press onto the bottom of an ungreased 13x9-inch baking pan.
Combine butter, brown sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the entire surface of the mixture begins to boil. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour evenly over crust.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until entire caramel layer is bubbly, being careful not to overbake. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips; allow to melt slightly (2 to 3 minutes). Swirl the chips leaving some whole for a marbled effect. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the chocolate and press in slightly. Cool completely; cut into bars.

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January 19, 2011

expiration date debate


I know some people who will go ahead and toss a product that has reached its expiration date, regardless of whether or not it's still edible. This causes me great pain because in many cases, the food in question is perfectly fine and just as delicious and usable as the day it was made.

Take, for example, sour cream. Folks, it's sour cream--it's already soured. So until I see green stuff growing on it, I deem it acceptable for use. The same goes for yogurt and cheese. I don't shy away until mold rears its ugly head (although I clearly do my best not to let it reach that point!). Incidentally, the one exception for me is milk. When that expiration date is reached, I very tentatively sniff the stuff, and if I pick up even the slightest whiff of sourness, the stuff's not going anywhere near my cereal. Period.

Whether or not you subscribe to my way of thinking and whether or not your sour cream is fresh, these muffins are amazing. We can argue about many things (nature vs. nurture, Team Jacob or Team Edward, cats or dogs), but we can't disagree that individual portions of moist coffee cake topped with crunchy, sugary streusel is absolutely delicious.

I sincerely hope that your opinion of me hasn't diminished since you've learned of my reckless and devil-may-care ways with food. However, it's important to note this fact: I haven't been poisoned yet.

Knock on wood.

Spectacular Streusel-ized Sour Cream Coffee Cake Muffins
(based on these beauties)

1 1/2 cups pecans, finely chopped
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
tablespoon lemon zest (2 lemons)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup plus 2
tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2
teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon salt

For the Streusel: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. In a large bowl, mix the pecans with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt, making sure to break up and incorporate all of the brown sugar. Stir in the butter. Set aside.

For the Muffins: Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin. In a mixer, combine the butter, lemon zest, and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the egg, and then the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl and beat on low speed until just combined. 

Fill the prepared muffin cups with batter so they are about 1/3 full.  Sprinkle a generous tablespoon of streusel over the batter in each cup. Divide the remaining batter among the cups, and sprinkle the muffins with the remaining streusel.

Bake, rotating the muffin tin halfway through, until the muffins spring back to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer the tin to a wire rack and let stand for 10 minutes. Turn out the muffins onto the rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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January 11, 2011

chip off the ol' block


Lest you folks mistakenly think I'm on the diet train this new year (sacrificing frosting, and all...), I've prepared evidence proving otherwise.

So what have I prepared? In a word, gravy. In three more descriptive and delicious words, chipped beef gravy.

It's a simple concept--make a roux, add your oh-so-salty beef, spices, and seasonings--but the combination atop a warm and fluffy biscuit is one of my favorite things to eat. I know a lot of people cringe when they think about gravy, but it's not really all that bad. Sure, there's some butter involved, but let's be honest--butter is in everything. Everything worth eating, at least...

Definitely worth eating.

In college, my friends and I became addicted to chipped beef gravy. We ate ridiculous amounts of the stuff and even planned our schedules around the rare days that it was served in the cafeteria. Looking back, it's probably a good thing that chipped-beef-gravy days were so infrequent--I'm not kidding when I say we ate ridiculous amounts. Bowls full. So I guess in that sense, gravy can be a bad thing.

Moderation, my friends. Moderation.

Champion Chipped Beef Gravy
(makes 3 impressively-sized portions)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
4 ounces dried beef lunch meat, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
the tiniest pinch of nutmeg
dash Worcestershire sauce or, even better, hot sauce (if you're feeling frisky)

Add the butter to a large saucepan set over medium heat. When melted, sprinkle in the flour. Whisk constantly until there are no lumps and the roux has slightly darkened.
Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Keep whisking until there are no lumps. Cook until the sauce thickens, just a couple minutes.
Add the nutmeg, a dash of some sort of flavorful sauce, and a crack of fresh black pepper. Stir well, and then add the dried beef. Cook for a couple minutes to warm the beef. Season the mixture with salt to taste, then dump onto biscuits or toast (or a shingle...) and devour.

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January 6, 2011

resolved to evolve?


Nah, not really. I'm not a person who usually makes New Year's resolutions (except for that one time when I resolved to make a resolution--WIN!), but I'd like to share an impromptu decision I made around the first of the year.

I'll now be striving to appreciate a cake for more than just the frosting that bedecks it, a noble goal for this sugar-loving girl, to be sure.

So, you ask, what caused the sudden change of heart? A very special cake indeed. Laden with pecans and pineapple (and interestingly, no fatty fats of which to speak), the texture and degree of moistness in this treat make frosting completely unnecessary. Yeah, I said it.

If you don't think you can match my feat of strength here (she says sarcastically, knowing that the next dessert she made was a batch of brownies coated with butterscotch goo), a fitting frosting would be cream cheese. Mmm...cream cheese frosting. This may be harder than I thought.

Pineapple Pecan Party Cake (Sugar Blanket Not Required)
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained

Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 13x9-inch pan or 2 9-inch round pans.
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and pecans. Combine eggs, vanilla, and pineapple; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake for until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean--32-38 minutes for a 13x9-incher or 24-30 minutes for the rounds. Cool completely on a wire rack.

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