February 26, 2009

Sweet Honey Cornbread

I've been seeing a lot of cornbread recipes out there lately, and I have to tell you, I'm a big fan of the sweet versions. The savory ones that have a little kick to them just don't do it for me. Especially since I normally serve cornbread with soups and such that already have a bite to them, so the sweeter versions work to counteract a bit of that heat. Sorry, to all of you who think sweet cornbread is a bunch of bologna, but I like it!

This is my first time making cornbread entirely from scratch, and there really is nothing to it. It's so easy, I don't know why I even bothered with the mix in the first place. You can really taste the honey in these, but they aren't too sweet. They baked up beautifully, with a slightly crisp edge and a moist, crumbly center.  With a nice pat of butter, these are just perfection.

Instead of eating my little disaster of a gumbo, I ate 3 of these for dinner. :)

Sweet Honey Cornbread Muffins

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup AP flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
  • Preheat oven to 400℉.
  • Mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, butter and honey.
  • Combine the wet and dry, stirring with a wooden spoon just until combined.
  • Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and fill each cup with mixture till about 3/4 full.
  • Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until just golden brown.

February 24, 2009

New Orleans ain't so proud of me....

So the other day when I told you about the amazing fig cake, I neglected to mention the disaster that was the beginning of that meal. A little embarrassing considering we had company over (don't worry, they are good friends and are always given a fair warning that they will be used as guinea pigs). Most of my friends up here have never really had good southern cookin', so when given the chance, I like to introduce them some of my favorites. Since today most of the southern world will be spilling out huge pots of gumbo, I thought this would be the perfect time to share with you my own gumbo experience, and hope that yours will go much better! :)

I should go ahead and let you know that I really have no credentials to be cooking southern food, except for the fact that I've eaten my fair share. I grew up in north Florida, which is a combo of traditional southern types but also a lot of beachy, typical Florida people. Mom is from Tampa & Dad is from the backwoods of North Carolina. So I guess that heritage makes me half qualified. I didn't really get into my "southern roots" until I spent 4 glorious years in the wonderful town of Oxford, MS. People, you just don't get more southern than Ole Miss. If you've never been down there, I suggest you pull up next year's football schedule and book a ticket. You will be happy you did.

Anyways, I've already introduced the majority of my yankee friends (my husband was actually dubbed a "super yankee" by my best friends since he is from Canada) to things like biscuits and gravy and red beans and rice, but I thought I would do something a little more intense for dinner the other night. In the spirit of Mardis Gras, I decided to make a chicken-andouille sausage gumbo.

First off, I had to take apart a whole chicken - which I have no idea how to do. Good thing the chicken was just shredded to bits in the end because it was looking a little scary by the time I was done attempting to butcher it. I boiled the chicken down, creating a really nice stock, and then things began to get a little crazy. The recipe called for cooking oil and flour until it turned a dark caramel color. Well in about half the suggested time, mine had turned totally black (see the picture!). Ooops. Everything else went fine, but this black gunk made the whole dish taste bitter and slightly oily. It also stuck to everything and made for a serious clean-up session.

It's so disappointing when something so labor intensive and promising turns out like this. But I wanted to share since experiences like this, although unpleasant, are just part of learning to cook. Guess I have to get a little more in touch with my southern roots before I try something like this again! I'm not going to post the recipe, because at this point I don't know if it was me or it that caused the debacle, but if you would like it please let me know and I would be happy to add it for you. The one good thing that did come out of this meal, aside from the wonderful company, was some great made-from-scratch cornbread that I will share with you soon!

Hope everyone gets a big slice of King Cake today served up along side of a Hurricane (and no hangover tomorrow)!

February 20, 2009

The Vanishing Cake....

This cake rocks my world. It is sooooo good! This is the second time I've made it, and I'm telling you people, it is awesome. I'm surprised it even made it into the cake pan because I kept eating the batter! I made this one night when Pete and Dana came over for dinner, and they loved it as well. Between the four of us, this whole cake went up in smoke in less than a day. One day! Oh, my poor hips.

The cake is so moist and delicious, with bites of gooey fig jam and a to-die-for buttermilk frosting that seeps through the whole thing. Yes, the fruit and milk combo makes this a perfectly acceptable breakfast item. If it makes it to the next morning that is. And of course, it only gets better the longer it sits around.

Did you know that if you are out of buttermilk, you can substitute by combining 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice and 1 cup of milk and letting it stand for 10 minutes? I bet you knew that already. I learned this while reading this recipe about a year ago and it has been one of my go-to tricks ever since. 

Pecan Fig Cake with Buttermilk Glaze

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in a little bit of hot water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fig jam or coarsely chopped preserved figs
1 cup pecans

Buttermilk Glaze:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch or flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 350℉.
  • Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
  • In a large bowl, beat eggs for a few minutes or until they become light yellow and smooth.
  • Add sugar and oil and beat well to form a smooth, thick batter.
  • In a separate small bowl, sift together the flour, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and salt.
  • Add 1/2 flour mixture to egg batter and stir with a large spoon to combine.
  • Add buttermilk. 
  • Add remaining flour mixture, baking soda and vanilla extract, stirring to combine.
  • Gently stir in figs and pecans, just mixing till evenly distributed.
  • Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is browned, firm on top and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Cool cake in pan on top of a wire rack for 15 minutes.
  • To remove, run a table knife around the pan and gently turn the cake out.
  • Prepare glaze while the cake bakes.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine the buttermilk, sugar, butter, cornstarch and baking soda, and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Remove at once, stir well and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  • Stir in vanilla.
  • Once cake has slightly cooled, pour glaze over top. If desired, poke small holes in the cake so that the glaze can run inside. (I actually did this while the cake was still in the pan, which made the glaze on the bottom of the cake. Still delicious and less of a mess!).

February 18, 2009

Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

The weather is so sneaky. It had just barely started to warm up here last week, and now it's back to freezing again. After spending a few days in sunny Orlando, I was beginning to think that winter might just be heading out the door. Ha! It doesn't look like the coldness will be leaving us anytime soon. Plus, we are headed back up to Toronto this coming weekend, so I have a feeling we will be getting more than our fair share of winter weather.

The one (and pretty much only) good thing about the chilly weather is that you get to sit in the comfort of your heated home eating soul satisfying soups and stews. That's exactly how I plan to cope the next few months. So I decided to give another one of Giada's soup recipes a try after my last attempt didn't go so well. I've had this bookmarked for forever and am so glad that I finally tried it. It is very hardy with big, beautiful chunks of butternut squash. The sweet squash, savory meat, tangy sun-dried tomatoes and herb combo make for a very unique flavor. This dish just feels special because of how many layers of flavor it has. You would never know that it was easypeasy to whip up. This is also pretty economical for those of you who aren't so sure the stimulus bill will pull us out of this funk.

Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 pounds of stew beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 cup Marsala wine
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3-4 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
rice, optional
  • Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot.
  • Add onions, garlic, rosemary and thyme and saute for about 2 minutes, or until the onions have begun to soften.
  • Toss beef with salt, pepper and flour, then place in pot over medium-high heat.
  • Cook beef until browned, about 5 minutes.
  • Add wine, and using a spoon, stir-up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot.
  • Add squash and tomatoes.
  • Add just enough broth to cover the squash.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.
  • Adjust salt and pepper to taste, garnish with parsley and serve over rice, if desired.

February 13, 2009

All my Single Ladies!

Being single on Valentine's Day, well, stinks. Everyone is all lovey dovey and on crazy sugar highs, and the single people are for the most part neglected in all the hooplah. Seeing as I have lots of beautiful, smart and just downright amazing single friends (oh, you know who you are!), I thought I would post something just for them for Valentine's Day.

It is very rare for me to cook for just myself. If Brad is out on work and I'm alone for a night, I usually grab for the nearest box of cereal and pray that the milk hasn't gone bad. It all comes down to not really wanting to put the effort into making something and then dealing with the clean-up when it's just for me. Well, sometimes you are worth this extra bit of effort, and Valentine's is no exception!

So here's a dish I found that is made for one very hungry guy or gal (or you will have some nice leftovers for lunch the next day). It's just as simple as reaching for the blue Kraft box, but so elegant and delicious, and it only dirties one pan. Winner! So to all of you without plans on Saturday, make this pasta, light some candles, open a bottle of wine and enjoy it all just for you. Cause baby, you're worth it! (No, I'm not endorsing a makeup company here...)

Pasta Fake-Bake

1/4 pound penne pasta
1 tablespoon EV olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 cup frozen asparagus (or peas, broccoli, etc.)
black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 Parmesan cheese, grated
red pepper flakes
  • Preheat Broiler.
  • Bring a pot of water to boil on stove, salt the water and add the pasta, cooking to al dente.
  • Drain pasta and reserve 1/3 cup of the pasta water.
  • In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the butter and EVOO.
  • Add shallots and garlic and cook 3-4 minutes.
  • Add asparagus and cook another 2 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste, lemon zest and thyme.
  • Add pasta, ricotta and pasta water and toss to combine.
  • Top with grated Parmesan.
  • Place skillet under broiler for 3 minutes, or until top is slightly browned.
  • Add red pepper flakes, if desired, and enjoy!

February 10, 2009

Sweets for your Sweeties!

People seem to feel very strongly about Valentine's Day. Either they love it and get totally into it Martha Stewart style, or they think it's just Hallmark propaganda and boycott the holiday entirely (and share these feelings with any one within yelling range). Personally, I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I appreciate the holiday as a day to express to the ones you love how much they mean to you. We often get lost in the shuffle of our everyday lives, so why not take a minute and recognize those you love. This is not limited to only your main squeeze of the moment, but also to your family and close friends. Everyone appreciates a little card with a cute message! 

I don't, however, think this needs to be done with elaborate handmade crepe paper valentines or expensive gifts. Brad and I still feel like we are coming off the Christmas giving spree, so we rarely give gifts for Valentine's. Instead we opt for cards and food. We usually go to a nice dinner and spend the night drinking wine, eating great food and being sure to order something chocolatey and sinful for dessert. This year, we are actually upping the anti and taking a weekend trip to Disney! Wahoo! As a person who spent 18 years of her life never more than 2 hours away from the most wonderful place on earth, I'm looking very forward to revisiting with Mickey.

But getting back to my point that Valentine's is not solely limited to your honey, why not make a treat that can be spread around, instead of making a fancy chocolate souffle that will only cover one person on your "I love" list. Why not make mini-cupcakes that are decorated in a Valentine's motif?! Kitchy, yes. But it's the holiday people, work with me.

These little beauties are so delicious - moist and dense with a subtle sweetness and chocolate flavor that is only found in a truly special southern red velvet cake. And the frosting, oh the frosting. Cream cheese. I think it speaks for itself. I only used 1 tablespoon of red food coloring so my cakes came out a little pinkish instead of red, but still very festive. I also topped each one with Valentine's M&M's. These went to various places and people I had some of the best responses to these I've ever gotten. Go ahead - show 48 of your friends that you love them with these suckers and see if you don't at least get some candies and kisses in return.

Red Velvet Mini-Cupcakes
Adapted from How Sweet It Is Bakery - Ellen Sternau and Beth Pilar
Yields 48

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1-2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temp.
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
Valentine's M&Ms or other appropriate decorations
  • Mini-Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 325℉ and line two mini-cupcake pans with wrappers.
  • Mix all dry ingredients together and all wet ingredients together in 2 separate bowls.
  • Pour wet into dry ingredients and stir just until combined.
  • Immediately pour mixture into tins, filling about 2/3 of the way full.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, then cool completely.
  • Frosting: Mix butter and cream cheese until smooth.
  • Slowly mix in confectioners sugar and vanilla extract.
  • Place frosting in a piping bag (I used a star-shaped tip), and frost as desired. Or frost using a spatula.
  • Top with decorations.

February 8, 2009

Italian Wedding Soup

I love the canned Italian wedding soup you can find at any grocery store. The mini-meatballs, bits of pasta and flavorful blend of herbs are an awesome combination. So when I saw Giada making this soup, I knew I had to try it. I figured if the soup won me over coming out of a can, it would have to be amazing when made with my own two hands.

Unfortunately, I made a few changes to this recipe that I think kept it from being as glorious as I had hoped. The soups flavorings were all delicious, the real problem was with the meatballs. They weren't flavorful and were very tough even though I was careful not to overmix them. Obvioulsy I wasn't careful enough! I also made the mistake of just using ground beef because that was all our grocery store had (yes, I pretty much hate the grocery stores in my area. Whole Foods - why must you neglect us UESiders and position your stores in every other area of the island??). So the meatballs ended up tasting like balled up hamburgers. Less than stellar. This is what I get for messing with Giada!

I will try this one again and actually follow recipe to a "t," because the base of the soup was delicious and very flavorful. It was also really pretty with the green pieces of escarole and little strands of egg and parmesan. In the meantime, if anyone has any meatball tips I would love to hear them!!

Italian Wedding Soup
Slightly Adapted from Everyday Italian - Giada De Laurentiis

1 small onion, grated
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 large egg
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 slice white bread, crust trimmed and torn into small pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
8-ounces ground beef
8-ounces ground pork

12 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound escarole
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
salt and pepper
cooked macaroni noodles (optional)
  • Meatballs: In a bowl, stir to combine the onion, parsley, egg, garlic, salt and bread.
  • Stir in the cheese, beef and pork.
  • Shape the mixture into 1-inch diameter meatballs and place on a baking sheet.
  • Soup: Heat broth in a large pot over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil.
  • Add meatballs and escarole and simmer for about 8 minutes, or until meatballs are cooked and escarole is tender.
  • Whisk together the eggs and cheese and gradually stir into broth using a fork to create thin strands for about 1 minute.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add in noodles and top with Parmesan, if desired.

February 4, 2009

The Creamiest Mashed Potatoes Ever!

So, "what makes these the creamiest mashed potatoes ever," you might ask. Because they are very little potato and a boatload of cream! These are not for your typical Wednesday night. They are ridiculously rich and ridiculously good. In the end, there is no semblance of a potato left. They had the consistency of really great grits (you know, the ones loaded with cream and butter - seeing a trend here?). I served these with the ribs in the last post and they were made even more yummy when loaded up with lots of good gravy.

Best part -- no peeling. Just boil the potatoes and garlic cloves in very salty water, send them through the food mill, and add all the bad for you stuff. Boiling the garlic with the potatoes is really a stroke of genius. It gives the potatoes a garlic taste without being overpowering. I think the next time I make these I actually might increase the amount of potatoes just to give it more texture - but if you like your potatoes creamy, this one is right up your alley.

Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, washed and quartered
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 stick cold butter, cut into 9 slices
  • Place potatoes and garlic in a pot and add water until potatoes are covered by 1-2 inches.
  • Generously salt the water (Anne suggests tasting it and making sure it tastes like the sea!).
  • Bring the water to a boil and cook for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are falling off a fork.
  • Drain potatoes and garlic well and then pass, in batches, through the food mill.
  • Meanwhile, bring heavy cream to boil in a small pot, then remove from heat.
  • Add 1/3 of the cream and butter to the potatoes and mix well.
  • Repeat in 2 more batches with remaining cream and butter.
  • If needed, add salt to taste.
  • Serve, or keep warm by covering with foil and placing in an oven on low heat.

February 2, 2009

Why not keep the Crockpot out?

You probably know by now that I am a big fan of the slow cooker/ crockpot/ working woman's best friend. It's just the easiest thing to cook in and produces phenomenal results with minimum effort. There is nothing better than coming home after a long day to house that is filled with the smell of stewing meat and promises of a delicious dinner. I owe my mom for this little obsession, and I am on a journey to spread the good news! You can imagine how excited I was to happen to pop into my friend's house the other day, only to find her slow cooker (a handmedown from moi) on the counter and obviously being put to good use.

I know many people used their slow cooker over the weekend for the big game, since it is a must for sports parties. So, why not keep it out for dinner this week and make these delicious short ribs. After cooking all day, they are absolutely falling off the bone and tender enough that you could cut the meat with a butter knife. Plus they cook in a wonderful sauce that is chock full of veggies and also makes a fantastic gravy (Brad ate the leftover gravy over rice and even froze some he liked it so much).

Again, this really took minimal effort and you could easily do it before leaving for work (grilled meat - best perfume ever, men will be falling over themselves). I just busted out my big grill pan and seared the ribs on all sides, then dumped them in the pot along with the other ingredients and forgot about it for 8 hours. Presto Changeo - Dinner is served!

Ale-Braised Short Ribs
Slightly adapted from Slow Cooker - Williams Sonoma
Serves 6

4-5 lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
salt and pepper
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
14.5-oz. can diced plum tomatoes, with juice
12-oz. dark beer
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup water
  • Preheat grill pan (or broiler).
  • Grill (broil) ribs, turning once, about 3 minutes per side.
  • Place ribs in slow cooker.
  • Place onions, garlic, squash, tomatoes and beer on top of ribs.
  • Cook for 5-6 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low.
  • Remove ribs and veggies from pot, and cover with foil to keep warm.
  • Skim off any excess fat with a slotted spoon.
  • Turn heat to high, and whisk together the flour and water.
  • Whisk water mixture into sauce and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce is slightly thickened.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve gravy over ribs and veggies (can place everything back in pot if desired).