A Southern Grace: May 2011

May 30, 2011



How did we decide that the term 'Neapolitan' should refer to something from Naples? By my calculations, Napletonian (almost an anagram) is much more fitting.

It seems like my best creations are often the ones I have the most trouble photographing.  Sigh.

Regardless of the origin of the word, nearly everyone knows that a bucket of Neapolitan ice cream is simply the combination of three classic and popular flavors--chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. I'd be willing to bet that in your family, there are several people who fight for the chocolate and some who do battle for vanilla, leaving one or possibly two to eat the strawberry. Yep, in my experience, it's the strawberry that gets left behind, gathering ice crystals. Agreed?

I think it's a great idea to package multiple flavors together, and I think chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry make a great team. If it works for ice cream, why not apply it to cake? I'm definitely not the first person to do this, but I took the idea and made my own adjustments. You should, too.

Moist cake, made more tender by the addition of some jam between the layers, and frosted with the most supreme of all frostings, swiss meringue buttercream stuffed with sweet, ripe strawberries. Happy Memorial Day indeed!

Napletonian Cake
One recipe of your favorite chocolate cake, halved (or you could just make two 9-inch rounds and freeze one)
One recipe of your favorite vanilla cake
strawberry jam
strawberry meringue buttercream (recipe follows)

Assembly is easy. Plop a layer of vanilla cake on your serving piece and slather on some strawberry jam. Plop the chocolate layer on top of that and slather on some more jam. Place the other vanilla cake layer on top of that, and then frost the sides and top with your luscious buttercream. Refrigerate for an hour or so to let things meld.

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream
(from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes)

1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries (8 ounces), rinsed, hulled, and coarsely chopped
4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature

Puree strawberries in a food processor. Combine egg whites and sugar in the heatproof bowl of a standing electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, mix until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.

With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula and switch to the paddle attachment; continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Add strawberries and beat until combined. Stir with a flexible spatula until the frosting is smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

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May 23, 2011

viva italia! (also, a shabby apple giveaway!)


While it's true that I don't eat a lot of Italian cuisine, it's also true that I'd absolutely love to visit Italy one day.

Pizza's was an Italian creation originally, right?
I know we've Americanized it to no end, and this is a perfect example of that--baked beans, ham, and lots o' mozzo.
Not a tomater in sight.

It doesn't look like that'll be happening any time soon, but while I wait for some lephrechauns to bring me a pot of gold (yes, Ireland's a nation I'd love to experience as well)(also, Scotland and Australia, to name a couple more...), I'll have to settle for eating food conceptualized there and wearing clothes inspired by its atmosphere.

That little preface brings me to my giveaway. Have you heard of Shabby Apple? It's a really exciting company which makes it a point to offer stylish dresses that allow you to look fabulous without having to compromise anything else. They're also committed to helping women in many nations and are supporting the fight against global poverty by partnering with Unitus, which is a non-profit organization that accelerates access to life-changing financial services for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Shabby Apple donates 5% of its net sales to support work in India (where Shabby Apple Dresses has sourced many of its dresses and the textiles used to manufacture its dresses). Every $100 donation from Shabby Apple Dresses provides at least 20 women with access to financial services and the chance to live a life without poverty.

Pretty admirable, right? As if that weren't enough, their dresses are amazing! To get the word out, I'll be offering one random comment-maker her (or his...) choice of the following dresses from the Roamin Holiday line:

Da Vinci.


To win your pick of these dresses, leave a comment telling me either a place you'd like to visit or the best place you've ever been (even if it's that spaceship into which you were abducted or Grandma's house right down the street). For an extra entry, like Shabby Apple on Facebook, but be sure to let me know that you did so in another comment. I'll close the comments in a week, on May 30th, and I'll contact the winner shortly thereafter. Leave an email address so I can contact you, and good luck! The giveaway is only open to US residents--sorry, all you Italians (and Irish and Scottish and Australians)!

I think you'll all find the Shabby Apple company a dream with which to work and shop!

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May 16, 2011

be still, my heart


Hummingbirds are pretty incredible little creatures, and I think I'd like to be reincarnated as one. First and foremost, they can fly backwards. Secondly, all they eat is nectar. Finally, I just read that their hearts can beat as many as 1260 times per minute. That's a lot. Clearly, they have some fierce metabolism.

They're living the good life...until they fly into a window or get snatched by a cat.

Who cares about hummingbirds, you ask? Yes, they're fun to watch flit to and fro and they're very pretty critters, but my favorite thing about them doesn't really have anything to do with them--it's the cupcakes to which they lend their name.

This interesting blend of flavors and textures makes me wonder who first decided to throw them all together. It's all a little bit tropical, and it all works together beautifully. The proportions are just right, and the resulting cake is so moist and so magical and so darn tasty that it makes my heart flutter to even recall my last bite. If you've never tried hummingbird cake, you should make it a point to do so!

As far as I know, this is her first and only kill. I'm horrified and strangely proud at the same time.

I-Wish-I-Had-the-Metabolism-of-a-Hummingbird Cupcakes
(from good ol' Martha)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (a little extra wouldn't hurt...)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 large)
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
cream cheese frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with paper liners; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter, vanilla, and sugar until combined, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Beat at medium speed until mixture is pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
In a medium bowl, stir together banana, pineapple, walnuts, and coconut. Add to egg mixture, mixing until combined. Stir in flour mixture.
Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake.

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May 8, 2011

smooth like a velour tracksuit


Have you ever owned any velour clothes?

That stuff is awesome--it makes you want to pet yourself. Okay, so it's not velvet (sorry, George), but I'll take it in a pinch. What can I say, clearly fashion has never been my thing.

Baking, on the other had, is one of my things. This latest piece of evidence is a classic pie that's rich and flavorful and yes, smooth like velour. It requires a lot of attention (chocolate scrambled eggs, anyone?) and elbow grease to make, but the calories rewards are many. I recommend using some high quality chocolate, but let's be honest--a bag of Hershey's morsels will get the job done.

Just as a side note, I've been known to mix up the flavors in this pie from time to time lest things get boring, and my favorite variation to date is mint chocolate chip. Simply add a little mint extract in place of some of the vanilla and stir in about half a cup of morsels or chunks after the thickened filling has cooled a bit. A little snag in the velour in the form of a chocolate chip isn't too bad...no, it's not too bad at all.

Happy Mammy's Day to all you spawners out there!

Chocolate Cream Pie for the Non-Fashionista
1-1/2 cups finely crushed Oreo cookie crumbs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-1/4 cups half and half
4 large egg yolks, slightly beaten
1-1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

To make the crust, generously butter a 9-inch pie dish. In a large bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and the melted butter. (You can crush the cookies in a food processor or blender.) Using your fingertips, firmly and evenly press the mixture into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes, then let cool completely.
To make the chocolate filling, in a stainless steel pot, combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Slowly whisk in the half and half, then bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and stir until soft tracks appear. Remove from the heat and pour a third of the heated mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour this back into the pot and mix well. Return to the heat and stir constantly until it starts to thicken, about 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat again, stir in the vanilla, then pour the thickened mixture over the chocolate and butter. Stir until smooth, pour into baked crust, then chill for 2-3 hours before serving.

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May 1, 2011

the south shall rise again!


You've no doubt seen pictures of the wreckage caused by tornadoes in the South on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

They tore right through my neck of the woods, leaving the land and structures owned by my stepdad in terrible shape. "Devastating" was the word used by my mom to describe the effect of the tornadoes, and she was understating it. Don't worry--all my humans and pets are fine, but it'll take awhile to get everything sorted out, that's for sure.

In an effort to boost the spirit and morale of my fellow Southerners, I hereby trot out the one and only pimento cheese sandwich. This is a taste sensation that originated in the South and is something every person should try at some point in his or her life.

It is, I believe, the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich--a salty, spicy, and ooey-gooey blend spread between two pieces of crispy, buttery toast. It's happiness in sandwich-form.

Don't forget about my MAVEA giveaway, and more importantly, count your blessings and pray on!

Tornado-Proof Pimenter Cheese Sandwich
1 (3-oz) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup pimentos, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
black pepper and cayenne, to taste

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix with a spatula until well blended.  Eat. My method of choice: Slather the cheese on a slice of toasted, buttery bread, then pop it under the broiler for a minute to melt the cheese and make it warm. Top it with another slice of toasted, buttery bread and consume.

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