Posts Tagged With: kitchen disasters

not-so-quick lunch – 6.29.12 – a tasty salad (and why I shouldn’t tempt fate)

Some foods just don’t make sense.

Some are oxymorons, like jumbo shrimp.

Others are food products that don’t exist in nature, like fat-free cheese, meatless chicken nuggets, and non-dairy creamer.

And then there are foods that flat-out laugh in the face of the laws of science: baked Alaska, fried ice cream, fried mozzarella sticks, Paula Deen’s deep-fried butter balls.

How do you heat something that’s supposed to melt–a substance that should barely survive room temperature, much less a 400-degree oven or a vat of bubbling oil–and end up with a cooked item that retains its shape like a solid rather than oozing like the liquid it rightfully should be?

I’ve never trusted myself to cook any of these nature-defying treats because, frankly, I have a hard enough time avoiding kitchen disasters when I follow recipes that do make sense.

The more I cook, the better I succeed at averting catastrophe, but some rules just weren’t meant to be broken.

At least, not by a klutz like me.

I’ve dropped entire pans of cookies on the floor; turned out many a busted Bundt cake or pan of crumbled cornbread; shredded wooden spoons with the whirring blades of my blender; burned my hands, arms, and face–yes, my face–making mashed potatoes.

Kitchens are minefields, and it’s a wonder I haven’t yet blown off my legs.

Over the years, I’ve come to terms with my kitchen clumsiness, often taking extra precautions to compensate for being accident-prone.

I make Micah pick up heavy things like Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets.

I stand on stepstools instead of tiptoes to reach glass items on high shelves.

And I tend not to cook things like baked Alaska or fried cheese because, really, why push my luck?

So when the folks at Putney Farm shared gorgeous photos of a salad topped with golden brown and crispy baked goat cheese,

  1. I should have stopped before even reading the recipe.
  2. I should have definitely not commented on their post about how intimidated I am by science-defying baked cheeses, which only invited an encouraging reply from the friendly folk at Putney Farm.
  3. I should have absolutely not let the thought cross my mind that we happened to have goat cheese in the refrigerator and panko bread crumbs in the pantry.
  4. And, once instilled with ingredient excitement and a false sense of security, I should have without a doubt NOT attempted to bake that goat cheese myself.

Especially while also juggling a salad spinner full of greens, a pile of tomatoes and pickled beets to slice, a vinaigrette to whisk, a cast-iron skillet of bacon to crisp and pecans to toast and peaches to roast.

But I did read the recipe, did comment on it, did receive warm encouragement, did scan the contents of my kitchen for the needed ingredients, did bake my own goat cheese in the midst of all my other salad prep.

I tempted fate.

And when you test the kitchen gods, you’d better be prepared to deal with the consequence.

The consequence should’ve been a golden brown and crispy disc of firm but gooey cheese, solid enough to pick up and place atop my crisp, cool salad, but baked just enough to ooze creamy goodness into every green bite. A delicious trophy rewarding my culinary bravery.

Instead, my consequence was a searing hot baking sheet flowing with a lava-like lake of breadcrumb-speckled, melted, messy goat cheese.

My cheese didn’t defy the laws of science.

It followed them precisely.

Not pretty.

But damn it, I wanted goat cheese on my salad, and I hadn’t endured that harrowing trial just to scrape my cheesy clustercuss into the trash.

Instead, I scraped that gooey, gloppy puddle together into two misshapen globs and slapped ’em onto our salads anyway.

It wasn’t pretty, but we ate it.

And it was good.

well, okay, the salad was pretty…but the goat cheese was not

What’s in it:

  • 4 ounces goat cheese (use something kind of firm, NOT Humboldt fog  this is where I went wrong)
  • a little bit of olive oil
  • a handful of your favorite herbs
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3-4 cups salad greens
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1/4 cup halved pecans
  • 2 small peaches, quartered
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 cup pickled beets, sliced into slivers
  • a quick vinaigrette (2 teaspoons brown mustard, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 4 tablespoons olive oil, salt & pepper to taste)

Step-by-step:

  • Cut or mold your goat cheese into discs. Sprinkle the discs with herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and let marinate while you preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Dredge the discs of cheese in the breadcrumbs to lightly coat them on all sides, arrange them on the pan, and bake for about 6 minutes. Pray your cheese doesn’t spread like frosting all over your pan. 🙂
  • Meanwhile, heat the bacon in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Cook it until it’s nice and crispy, then remove the bacon to cool–but leave all that tasty bacon fat in the pan.
  • Add the pecans to the skillet and cook ’em in the bacon grease until they start to smell warm and toasty–just a few minutes–then scoop out the pecans and add the peach quarters, cut sides down.
  • By this time, your cheese should be out of the oven. That’s good, because now it’s time to put your skillet o’ peaches into that 400°F oven and roast the fruit for about 10 minutes while you assemble your salad.
  • Divide your greens between two really big plates. Artfully decorate the greens with tomatoes and beets. Crumble one slice of bacon over each salad, then sprinkle on some toasted pecans.
  • Whisk together your vinaigrette if you haven’t already, then drizzle it over the salads.
  • Top your salads with warm peaches and your (hopefully lovely) baked goat cheese crouton.

What this salad wasn’t: easy to make, stress-free, boring.

What it was: a tasty mix of hot and cold, crispy and gooey, sweet and salty, light and hearty. Delicious, and pretty perfect for a summertime lunch.

Even if it was a disaster.

you know how people turn their Christmas trees to “the good side”?
yeah, same with a sloppy mess of a baked goat cheese salad.

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Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

gluten-free experiments – strawberry coffee cake, crustless carrot quiche

Y’all, I’m in the middle of something really incredible.

It’s called the Red Clay Writing Project, which is part of a larger program called the National Writing Project.

The Red Clay Summer Institute, which I’m about halfway through right now, is sort of like a writing camp for teachers. We meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day for three and a half weeks in June, and during that time we….

  • write
  • talk about writing
  • read about writing
  • write about writing
  • share our writing
  • read and listen to others’ writing
  • reflect on how we can build safe writing communities in our classrooms
  • explore why it’s important for us to share our voices and for our students to share theirs
  • discuss ways we can support our colleagues as teachers of writing

And that’s just the short list. This thing is intense, overwhelming, and absolutely amazing.

I’ll share more about my experience in Red Clay once it’s over, but for now, I want to talk about food.

Since we meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day, we are together at breakfast time and lunchtime, and so one of the things that we do is take turns bringing food each morning to share with the group. Of course, this is right up my alley. 🙂

I was originally planning to revisit some of my favorite muffin recipes until I learned that two folks have a gluten intolerance–which makes whole wheat muffins a not-so-inclusive choice for sharing. And I really wanted to make foods that everyone could enjoy.

Thus began my research into gluten-free baking, from which I learned that there are all sorts of interesting flours (rice flour, teff flour, chickpea flour, amaranth flour) that gluten-free eaters deal with when they want to bake, not to mention the xanthan gum and guar gum that often contribute to creating a pleasing texture in GF baked goods. I don’t keep any of these items in my pantry, which just made finding workable recipes more a of a challenge.

I also follow several awesome gluten-free blogs, a couple of which I nominated for some blogging awards a couple of days ago–but I still struggled to find a recipe that I was really excited about making in large quantities for this particular purpose (and that didn’t require all those fringe flours).

Honestly, I got pretty frustrated. There are so many phenomenal web resources for gluten-free eaters, but it’s really freaking hard to find recipes on these sites that contain normal pantry ingredients.

All I wanted to do was figure out how to make a gluten-free coffee cake without making a trip to the store, and it just wasn’t happening.

Then came the “Aha!” moment.

Cornmeal is gluten-free. So is almond flour–and although my cupboards contained no almond flour or almond meal, I did have a tub of raw almonds that I could whir around in the food processor.

So I revised my search terms, removed the word gluten-free from my vocabulary, and looked instead for a recipe that included the words cornmeal, almond, and cake.

Jackpot!

Simple Bites offered a recipe for Lemon, Cornmeal, and Almond Cake, which, of course, I made completely differently than they suggested based on what I had in my kitchen. My version was different in that….

  • I doubled it to fit in my Bundt pan instead of a single 9″ cake pan (better for sharing with 20+ folks).
  • I didn’t include lemon juice or zest (we didn’t have any).
  • I used a different proportion of cornmeal to almond meal (there were only 8 ounces of almonds in the cupboard, so when I doubled the recipe, I didn’t have enough to also double the amount of almonds, but I did have extra cornmeal).
  • I added strawberries (just because).
  • I did a few steps slightly out of sequence (just because).

Not surprisingly, my version ended up looking a lot different from theirs, too:

very pretty Simple Bites cake on the left, my funky cake on the right

I wasn’t happy about how this cake turned out, especially since much of the top of the cake (plus gobs of melted butter) stayed in my Bundt pan when I turned it out onto a plate. The final product was also much sweeter, denser, and richer than I was going for–more like dessert than breakfast. In fact, I was kind of embarrassed to bring it in. (Did you happen to read my ramblings about vision the other day? Well, let me tell you–this cake didn’t achieve the vision I’d anticipated at all.)

But, surprisingly enough, it was quite well-received by my fellow Red Clay participants, several of whom asked for the recipe.

So, here it is. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 8 ounces raw almonds OR 8 ounces almond flour/meal
  • 1-1/3 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pint strawberries, cut into 1/4″ pieces

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F and grease a 10″ Bundt pan.
  • Mix your dry ingredients:
    • If your almonds are whole, toss them in the food processor with the cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse until the mixture takes on a coarse, sandy-looking texture. (Don’t go for too long, or your almond meal might become almond butter!)
    • If you already have almond meal or flour, whisk it together with the brown sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to cream the butter and sugar together until they’re light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs–one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated before you add the next one.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until combined. (My mixture was pretty thick.)
  • Fold in the strawberries.
  • Pour the batter into your Bundt pan and bake for 60-70 minutes.
  • Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a plate or cooling rack.

If you make this recipe, please let me know in the comments how it turns out for you! I would especially like to know whether or not your final product is swimming in a pool of butter at the end of the process.

(If I make this cake again, I’ll reduce both the butter and sugar by at least one fourth in the hopes that it will be less of a disaster. :))

one more, just because

Since I brought in something sweet last week, I decided for this week’s gluten-free adventure to take a savory path. Having made some mini quiches for Dave and Kim‘s shower last weekend (post about that coming soon!), I had little eggy pies on my mind. But even the crustless quiche recipes I’d found still called for a little bit of flour to be whisked in with the eggs for a little more structure, so I had to do a little more searching.

Again, cornmeal came to my rescue when I found this recipe for Crustless Carrot Quiches from Better Homes and Gardens. Well, actually, I found an adapted version of it that, for some reason, called for more eggs.

Again, I both doubled and changed the recipe, because that’s just what I do.

And, again, I kind of wish I had been able to adhere to the original ingredients and instructions, because I wasn’t in love with the results.

kinda cute, but not Better Homes and Gardens cute….

These weren’t terrible. Some people even told me they liked them. But I didn’t. The flavor was pretty good, but the texture was way off: kind of grainy (maybe from the cornbread?) and not as creamy as good quiche ought to be (maybe too much egg and not enough other liquid like milk/cream/yogurt?). I don’t know. I might make some variation on these again, but I wouldn’t follow either of the two recipes I linked to above. (Of course, please feel free to follow the links and the recipes if you’re so inclined.)

I wouldn’t follow my own version again, either, but I’m posting it anyway because one person asked me for it! (So, maybe, these weren’t as bad as I thought they were…?

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, shredded (about 3 cups)
  • 9 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt (but I thought it needed a bit more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar (the original recipes called for more–this would’ve helped!)
Step-by-step:
  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease two 12-cup regular muffin pans (or you could do a whole bunch of mini-muffins and cook for a shorter amount of time).
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the carrots and cook for about 2 more minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. (At this point, I’d probably throw in a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt for some added creaminess, plus more cheese than I used.)
  • Add the carrot mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
  • Divide the mixture among your 24 muffin cups–this will be about 2-3 tablespoons per cup.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until set.
  • Allow to cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then remove the quiches to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

Next week, my group brings food on Monday and then on Friday, so I’ll have two more gluten-free experiments to tell you about soon. Hopefully, they’ll go better than my first two. 🙂

In the meantime…

that’s me on the bottom right…

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

guest photo: Micah’s Paula Deen-inspired burger

Okay, so Paula Deen makes a burger topped with bacon and a fried egg, then sandwiched between Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Except for meatloaf, I tend to avoid Paula Deen’s recipes since they’re often outrageously unhealthy (aforementioned burger included).

But my best friend Jessica got married over the weekend, and instead of hiring caterers for a traditional reception, she got her brand new hubby Brent to grill us all burgers and hot dogs. Besides the usual ketchup, mustard, and pickles, we also had a batch of my pimiento cheese to slather on our burgers (Jessica’s special request). Once you throw in beer, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookie cake…well, it was a delicious and fun post-wedding feast!

Here’s where it get’s weird.

See, we’d gotten a few dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast (also the bride’s request!), and there were a few left over.

So my ever-experimenting husband decided he wanted to use one as a hamburger bun. Micah sliced that doughnut in half (rather than using two whole doughnuts–probably a good call), and Brent obligingly added it to his stack of stuff to char.

But since we had no bacon and eggs in the cabin, Micah topped his burger patty with pimiento cheese (gooey), slivers of cut-up grilled hot dog (smoky), and dill pickle chips (crunchy).

And then he snapped this photo:

creepy mutant burger....

You’re probably thinking, “Hmm….not sure that’s the best idea…?”

Or, if you’re a parent who’s used to your kids putting together weird stuff and then turning up their little noses, you might be thinking, “You made it, now you gotta eat it.”

Or, if you’re a frequent viewer of Man Vs. Food, you might be thinking, “Food won.”

You’re probably not thinking, “Damn! That looks tasty!”

With good reason.

Micah ate the whole thing. Not because he liked it, but because he didn’t want to waste it. He said he wouldn’t make a burger like this again.

I tried a bite, and honestly, although the hot dog and pimiento cheese were strange additions, it was definitely the Krispy Kreme doughnut that transformed this strange concoction into a kind of gross one.

Experiment complete. Lesson learned.

(At least until the next time Micah’s confronted with burgers and a buffet of unlikely toppings. :))

Categories: people | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

non-muffins for Monday – 4.19.12 – granola bars

When I saw a recipe for granola bars on Frugal Feeding (and saw how lovely those granola bars turned out), I was sure that I had to make them. Y’all know how I love my morning muffins during the week…but branching out is always nice, too. And Micah and I are big fans of granola, though mine never turns out quite as crispy-crunchy as my favorite store-bought brand, Goodness Gracious Granola (which is delicious, albeit a tad pricey for everyday eating).

Of course, actually making these granola bars proved more challenging than I imagined, partly because I converted the metric measurements to cups (not that I have anything against weighing ingredients to the nearest gram–just thought that if y’all wanted to follow my recipe, you might want it in cups instead).

Another change I made (but probably shouldn’t have) was reduce the sugar and fat in the recipe by just a little. While this did make my granola bars a smidge healthier, it also made them a good bit crumblier.

Finally, because my mixture looked so crumbly, I added an egg (which made my granola bars intentionally un-vegan, unlike the original recipe).

The final product:

just look at all those oats!

What’s in it:

  • 2-1/3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2/3 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • some water (I didn’t measure it)

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9″x13″ baking pan or line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the oats, pecans, cranberries, coconut, cinnamon, salt, and flour.
  • Heat the maple syrup and brown sugar together in a small saucepan until the brown sugar has melted. Add a little water to make a thick, caramel-y syrup.
  • Stir the sugars into your dry mixture.
  • Stir in the oil and the egg.
  • Add a tiny bit of water. Fret, because your granola mix still looks pretty dry. Add a little more water. Fret.
  • Resign yourself to having crumbly granola bars.
  • Press the mixture into your baking pan, or dump it onto your cookie sheet and form into a rectangle.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.
  • Let cool completely before attempting to cut into bars, which will probably fall apart anyway.
  • Resolve to follow the original recipe next time instead!

I suppose flouting the posted proportions earned me the fragile mess this recipe turned out to be. But although my granola bars disintegrated into, well, granola….they did taste really good! I’ll very likely attempt these again soon…but I won’t wing it quite so much next time. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

supper tonight – 4.16.12 – gnocchi with mushrooms and sage

Ah, gnocchi. When prepared correctly, these little potato dumplings make for a delicious, hearty meal. Imagine delectably light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness. That’s how good gnocchi feels in your mouth.

Bad gnocchi is dense and heavy, sitting in your belly like a rock for hours after you eat it (because, if you’re like me, you just can’t bring yourself to waste it, so you slather on some sauce and choke it down anyway).

Hm. Now that I think about it, my first attempt at gnocchi sounds suspiciously like my trial run with biscuits. Both kitchen disasters were precipitated by a heavy hand with the flour and, well, heavy hands in general. Over-kneading a mix that’s already got too much gluten activating is a surefire recipe for dough-bombs. Not so good.

That said, we did not make gnocchi last night.

This dinner started back in January. I was laid up in bed after a hernia surgery, so my sweet husband took over pretty much all the kitchen duties while I convalesced. We had way too much milk that was about to turn sour, so Micah made a quick batch of ricotta (no cream, just 2% milk+salt+lemon+heat). Then, we had this massive bag of potatoes that my grandma gave us because she bought it…and then realized her doctor told her she wasn’t supposed to eat potatoes. (Don’t ask–I honestly can’t explain.)

Anyway, so we had a crap-ton of spuds plus about a cup of save-the-milk-before-it-rots ricotta, and it immediately made sense to cook this gnocchi recipe from Mike’s Table. (Not the sauce, just the gnocchi, possibly with substitutions…? I can’t tell you how the gnocchi making process actually went, because I was lounging in a lazy haze of prescription drugs at the time. I can, however, relate that these gnocchi are pretty darn ugly, misshapen, odd sizes…but they taste really, really good.)

Anyway, the thing about this recipe is that it transforms a boatload of potatoes into…a boatload of gnocchi. So we ate gnocchi that day in January (with some other kind of sauce Micah made using some other random leftovers), but then we froze a big bag of it for later. And since gnocchi’s pretty rich for everyday eating, we’ve still got a good bit in the freezer.

Fast forward to yesterday, when neither of us really felt like cooking, but we had some lovely mushrooms in the refrigerator that were about to not be very lovely anymore. (Speaking of mushrooms, anyone ever try growing your own? Apparently, it’s a great idea! :))

We adapted a recipe for gnocchi with a sage butter sauce, cutting the two-serving recipe down to one because, really, is it advisable to cook dinner for two with a half stick of butter on a weeknight? (Delicious, sure, but not advisable.) And we added our mushrooms (not part of the recipe) at the beginning of the process in the hopes that some butter would soften them up a bit (it mostly did).

Not the prettiest dinner (and why is the upper half blueish? I don't know!), but this simple meal sure was tasty.

What’s in it:

  • 2 servings of gnocchi (we ate about 12 each, but it depends on the size)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, slivered
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons shredded parmesan

Step-by-step:

  • Start a large pot of salted water to boil.
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Add the mushrooms and garlic to the skillet and get them nice and buttery while you wait for your pot to boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, add your gnocchi and set a timer for about 2-3 minutes. Or, if you’re using store-bought gnocchi, follow the directions on the package. (These babies are done when they float to the top.)
  • While your dumplings cook, turn the skillet up to medium and stir in the sage, salt, and pepper.
  • When the gnocchi are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the skillet. Toss lightly in the buttery mushrooms until your dumplings are coated in herby, garlicky goodness.
  • Divide the gnocchi between two bowls and top with shredded parmesan.

While the recipe we adapted referred to the finished product as a sauce, the way we cut it down made it more like a glaze that coated our mushrooms and gnocchi. But really, if your dumplings are light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness, they don’t need sauce anyway. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

supper tonight – 4.2.12 – not too offal…

My Pappaw loved braunschweiger (also called liverwurst…?) on crusty bread with brown mustard. I remember cutting myself a little sliver of this spreadable liver sausage when I was about five or six, reasoning that if Pappaw liked it, it must be good. And it was…kinda. But I don’t think he ever convinced me to try it again.

Then, somehow, inexplicably, I grew up to be a liver eater.

A few years ago, Micah and I got on a kick where we would make open-faced sandwiches by toasting a piece of bread topped with braunschweiger, thick-sliced tomato, and a generous helping of extra sharp cheddar. That was pretty darn tasty, and I’m kind of wondering–why has it been, like, three years since we made one of these?

Aside from this deli meat, I’ve somehow managed to sample plenty of other liver dishes in the last five or six years, maybe because I married a man who hates normal things like broccoli but loves to eat pretty much anything weird.

Micah and I enjoyed the beer-battered fried chicken livers at Farm Burger in Decatur, Georgia, so much that we asked for–and received–the recipe. (When Micah tried to replicate our magical crispy-fried liver experience at home, he managed to set the kitchen on fire…but we still got to eat some livers, and they were delicious, and our house didn’t burn down.)

We’ve had various liver pâtés and mousses at some of our favorite restaurants, and they’ve all been amazing. If you’re ever in Savannah, eat at Cha Bella and cross your fingers that the chicken liver mousse is on the menu that night. Same for Empire State South in Atlanta. And the butcher board at Farm 255 here in Athens often includes a liver mousse that’s perfect with some of their buttery grilled bread and house-made pickles.

Even a few controversial liver delicacies have made it onto our plates, including monkfish liver (which is freaking amazing, but unsustainably over-fished) and foie gras (even more heavenly, though the folks at PETA might challenge Chef Dan Barber to a knock-down, drag-out brawl over it one of these days).

Now that I’ve got the guts to try just about anything, I’m a liver lover at heart…but there’s one animal’s organ meat that I still can’t quite stomach.

The cow.

Micah convinced me that we should buy a beef kidney a few years ago. It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted. It looked, smelled, and tasted like cat food…but even Cheesepuff and Magellan wouldn’t eat it.

And, as you can probably tell from their fluffy
fatness,these guys don't usually turn down food.

Only slightly better was the beef liver, which we cooked just a few weeks after that awful kidney experience. We breaded it and fried it and sprinkled it with lemon juice and ate it on tacos, and it was….pretty gross.

So when one of our Moonshine Meats CSA orders a while back included a pound of beef liver, I tucked that little vacuum-sealed package deep in the cavernous reaches of our freezer and crossed my fingers that the appliance elves might make off with it before Micah remembered that he wanted to try cooking beef livers again.

He found that bag o’ beef liver last week and put it in the fridge to defrost.

Yay. More cow guts.

We looked at different preparations before finally settling on this recipe for Barbecued Beef Liver from Allrecipes.com, because the description promised,

“Beef liver simmered in a sweet and tangy sauce will tempt the picky eaters in your family! Even our teenagers like this.”

And one reviewer said,

“This recipe is the bomb!!!! The liver taste is gone. I eat it likes its hamburger.”

(Plus, we figured that smothering almost anything, even a hunk of organ meat, goes down easier with a heaping helping of barbecue sauce.)

So smother we did, with lots of barbecue sauce and a big pile of leftover mashed potatoes from Friday night’s dinner.

Notice how you can't really see the beef liver in this picture?
That's exactly what I was going for.

The mashed potatoes were delicious, of course. The barbecue sauce was sweet and tangy, just as promised. But the beef liver…well, it still tasted like beef liver. Thank goodness the ratio of taters to sauce to liver was something like 5:4:1.

If you like beef liver, by all means, try this recipe! And if you don’t like beef liver, just skip the first few ingredients and make the barbecue sauce, because it would be pretty tasty on pretty much anything…even, kind of, on beef liver. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 1 pound of beef liver, thinly sliced (we soaked ours overnight in lemon juice, though we also could’ve used milk)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup Pabst Blue Ribbon
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

Step-by-step:

  • Whisk together the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, canned tomatoes, and beer. Enjoy the rest of the PBR while you cook those stupid beef livers, if you have to. (If you don’t like beef liver, I recommend only doing this step and skipping all the rest.)
  • Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a plastic bag. Add the liver slices, seal the bag, and shake it up to coat the liver.
  • Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the liver pieces to the skillet and brown on both sides.
  • Pour in your barbecue sauce, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • To serve: put the liver at the very bottom of your bowl or plate. Ladle on a very generous helping of your delicious barbecue sauce, and pile on a big heap of mashed potatoes for good measure. Make sure every bite includes a tiny tidbit of liver smothered by plenty of the other stuff in your bowl.

Micah and I tend to agree on most food-related subjects, but as we ate supper tonight, he said he would make this recipe again. (Really?) I guess that means he’s in charge of finishing our leftover liver, since he’s clearly more of a liver lover than I’ll ever be.

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supper tonight – 3.25.12 – kitchen disaster + leftovers mashup = not too bad after all…

If you’ve been keeping up, you know these two things about me by now:

  1. I’m a walking disaster in the kitchen.
  2. I absolutely must use up every last little bit of anything leftover in my refrigerator.

Yes, I’m a Depression-era housewife scavenging scraps in a minefield. Nothing gets thrown away if I can help it, but I just might die in an explosion one day.

So tonight, for supper, Micah and I had an interesting challenge. Our leftovers included a big hunk of ham steak and some Branston pickle from the ploughman’s platter I enjoyed at the Royal Peasant Friday night, about two cups of potlikker (the last of it, unfortunately), and four cornmeal pancakes from last Sunday’s breakfast.

Yeah, about those pancakes….they were a disaster.

Here’s what happened: while looking for cornmeal pancake recipes a few weeks ago, I came across two that I really wanted to make. One from Hillbilly Housewife, which turned out quite tasty, and one from Mark Bittman in the New York Times, which I didn’t get around to trying until last Sunday.

I didn’t have pine nuts and didn’t want vanilla (in case we might use leftovers in some savory dish later)–but otherwise, I followed Mr. Bittman’s directions exactly, because he’s kind of a smart dude who knows what he’s talking about.

Where did I go wrong? I have no idea. But somehow, when I got to the step where Mark Bittman’s batter was described as “spreadable but still thick,” my batter was a watery, soupy mess. I retraced my steps, double-checked my measurements…and I still can’t tell you what my mistake was.

Skeptically optimistic, I tried spooning a bit of my runny batter on the griddle. It spread super thin and bubbled like cornmeal lava. Undaunted, I let my test pancake cook for about five minutes (thinking that the longer side of Bittman’s “3-5 minutes” would probably serve me best).

After five minutes, I decided to check and see if my pancake’s underside was golden brown like Bittman said it would be. I can’t tell you whether it was golden brown or not, because my pancake turner did not succeed in flipping this little disc of cornmeal. Instead, I ended up with a strange, mushy polenta nugget, which tasted very good when I finally gave up on cooking it, but was most definitely not a pancake.

The batter is too thin, I decided….so I added more cornmeal.

Too much, apparently, because my end product tasted fine, but it was dense like a sope, not fluffy like a pancake. Copious amounts of maple syrup were needed, and the cakes were still pretty heavy and dry.

The recipe ended up making 12 pancakes, so the extras went into the fridge.

(There’s something so demoralizing about having leftovers of something you didn’t enjoy the first time around…especially if you’re neurotic about using those leftovers whether you like them or not….)

Fast forward to tonight, when I saw those stupid corn pucks taunting me from their little square plastic container in the fridge: Betcha can’t make us into a delicious dinner!

Armed with my potlikker (the elixir of the gods), and a few other quality ingredients, I set out to turn last week’s kitchen disaster into some kind of edible supper.

corn pucks + ham + Branston pickle + carrots + mushrooms + potlikker = not too shabby

What’s in it:

  • 4 leftover cornmeal pancakes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • about 4.5 ounces of ham, cubed
  • 3 small carrots, sliced on the bias
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms
  • 2 cups potlikker (you could sub your favorite broth/stock)
  • 1 tablespoon Branston pickle (you could sub a different tangy relish or chutney)

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F. Wrap the pancakes in foil and throw the packet in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.
  • While the corn cakes warm, heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
  • Add the diced ham and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the potlikker and Branston pickle. Simmer and reduce until your potlikker broth is good and thick and syrupy.
  • Put two pancakes on each plate and top with the mixture from your skillet.

The verdict? Dodged another mine tonight. No explosions. It really wasnt bad at all. The sauce was sweet, salty, tangy, smoky; the mushrooms and ham, hearty and savory; the carrots, sweet and tender. It was almost enough to redeem those disastrous pancakes. 🙂

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lazy brunch – 2.26.12 – buttermilk biscuits

When I was a kid, sleeping over at my Mammaw’s house on Friday nights meant an evening of the TGIF prime-time lineup (back when Jaleel White was Urkel on Family Matters, not a cool dude on Dancing with the Stars), followed by the early-morning aroma of biscuits baking in the oven.

This kind of biscuits:

image from Walmart.com

My little brother and I could easily split a whole can of these in a morning, slathered with Country Crock or split open and smooshed around some pan-fried sausage patties. I liked my biscuits a pale, goldish color, but Mammaw would always blaze them in her gas oven until they were as uniformly brown as a squadron of UPS delivery guys. Once Mammaw started letting me cook on my own, though, I would pop open the can all by myself and bake them to golden brown perfection.

I’d heard stories of people making biscuits from scratch. Like, mixing and kneading and stuff. Heck, I think I ‘d even read about the process in some historical fiction book or other. And of course I had experienced the euphoria of sinking my teeth into a crispy-crusted, flaky, fluffy homemade biscuit. Old people, other people’s grandmas, the ladies at the S&W Diner down the street or the Biscuit Barn here in Athens–they could craft these magical breakfast breads and all the fixins to go with them. But the only way I ever knew how to make biscuits was from one of these bright blue cans.

In fact, canned biscuits were the only kind I had ever made until about, oh, 2007. I was intimidated by real biscuits (and even a little scared to make ’em out of Bisquick, sure I’d figure out some way to ruin them).

One morning, back when we were still unmarried apartment dwellers, I woke up early on a weekend and romantically decided I was going to make Micah breakfast in bed. I found a biscuit recipe somewhere and set forth on my dough handling adventure.

Imagine a biscuit mating with a boulder and making little rock babies, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how this batch turned out. They were so tough and dry that Micah not-so-subtly suggested that some gravy sure would be good. (My gravy was stellar, by the way…but it still couldn’t save those poor, dry, overworked biscuits.)

A few more biscuit attempts failed just as miserably. Gravy reinforcements were called in again and again.

Then I found this recipe on Food.com, and my life was forever changed.

picture taken 2/26/12, before I started this blog and before I dug my decade-old real camera out of a box in the den

These biscuits didn’t need gravy, sausage, Country Crock, or even jam. Somehow, they were amazing all on their own: crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and dang near perfect.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (the original recipe calls for 6, but I only had half a stick last time I made them and they were still great!)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 teaspoon lemon juice allowed to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes)

Step-by-step (another sitcom from the Friday night TGIF lineup!):

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease with cooking spray.
  • Dump the flour, baking powder, and salt into your food processor and pulse a few times to mix. (Or, mix in a bowl.)
  • Cut the butter into small cubes. Add it to the dry ingredients and pulse some more until it’s incorporated. (Or, use a fork or your fingers to work the butter into your bowl of flour.) The mixture will start to look and act a little more like Nickelodeon’s floam, with bigger grains than the powdery flour and a tendency to stick to itself if you smoosh it between your fingers.
  • Add the buttermilk and process just until the dough starts to form a ball. (Or, add it to your bowl and mix until it’s incorporated.)
  • Dump the dough out on a floured surface. It will be really, really sticky! Don’t mix in a ton of extra flour (as was my misguided instinct)–just sprinkle a little more flour on top.
  • Lightly pat the dough down to about 3/4″ thick. The recipe says to press, fold, and repeat about five times, but I skip this step and my biscuits are still pretty darn good.
  • Use a biscuit cutter, round cookie cutter, or drinking glass to cut out circles of dough. Don’t twist your cutter when you pull up–this apparently makes your biscuits a weird shape or something.
  • Move these pretty little dough circles to your baking sheet. I like to put my biscuits far apart so that each biscuit has crispy edges, but you can put them closer if you like your sides fluffy.
  • Bake for about 12 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

Enjoy with your favorite biscuit toppings: gravy, bacon and eggs, sausage, cheese, smoked salmon, leftover barbecue, plain old butter and jam. Or serve them with a Southern-style dinner of fried chicken, collards, and black-eyed peas. Or just eat ’em plain, because they’re that good.

I love my Mammaw, and memories of those weekend sleepovers with her still make me smile.

But I do hope that, when my future grandbabies spend the night with me, they’ll wake up to the early morning smell of these delicious homemade biscuits.

“Did you really eat biscuits from a can?” they’ll ask.

“Yep,” I’ll say as I pat my sticky biscuit mess onto the cutting board. I’ll cut my circles, slide them into the oven, dust the flour from my hands. And those kids will marvel as I relate tales of blue cardboard tubs bursting with a soft “pop!” and bulging with pre-made discs of dough.

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

date-night dinner – 3.11.12 – a series of unfortunate events

It all started harmlessly enough.

“Let’s defrost that salmon. It’s been in the freezer a while,” suggested Micah. I love seafood, but although wild-caught salmon is one of the healthiest proteins you can eat, it’s not something we can afford to buy all the time. We’d ordered this particular salmon fillet through our amazing online farmer’s market, Athens Locally Grown (though it was actually caught by a dude in Alaska named Doug), and it really was on the verge of earning a loitering citation from the freezer police.

Plus, it was date night. Usually, Friday night is date night, and we cook a fancier-than-on-weeknights meal (or sometimes eat out), splurge on some wine (since I rarely imbibe during the school week), and catch a movie or visit a local late-night spot for music and drinks. That Friday, we’d gone to a local Mexican joint for dinner with Micah’s family, and that Saturday, we’d somehow managed to visit the second location of the very same local Mexican joint for dinner with my family. So Sunday became date night, which worked just fine for me since I’m on spring break this week. And for date night, we needed something delicious.

Back to that beautiful, pink hunk of fish. Originally, we thought we might try a salmon recipe from one of our very favorite cookbooks, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South:

image from indiebound.com

The author of this fantastic cookbook is one of our neighbors, his kids attend my school, and his restaurants are some of my favorites I’ve ever visited, ever. We knew this recipe for salmon with marinated vegetables would be scrumptious…if we ‘d had the right ingredients. Which we didn’t. Not even any passable substitutes. So, we did what I pretty much always do when following a recipe won’t work. We improvised.

What we DID have in the fridge: parsnips, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, a LOT of carrots, a bag of clementines.

We decided to sear the salmon per Hugh’s instructions and make the lemony salmoriglio sauce from the book (subbing clementine zest for the lemon, ’cause that’s what we had).

But, instead of marinating all those vegetables we didn’t have, we were going to roast and mash the parsnips (which we’d never cooked before), saute the Brussels sprouts and mushrooms in some olive oil, and enjoy all those yummy, earthy flavors with a nice Pinot Noir.

Finally, since date-night dinners often involve dessert, I decided to thin out the overabundant carrot population of our produce bin by grating some of those Vitamin A-bombs into a cake and frosting it with something clementine-y.

Simple enough, right? Meat and two simply-prepared veggies, cake with frosting. Except, somehow, (almost) everything went horribly wrong.

Micah worked on the sauce and chopped parsnips for roasting while I started on carrot cake (which I very loosely based on this recipe). Thinking that it would cook more quickly (and be cuter) as cupcakes, I split my batter into muffin cups and put that pan in the oven so I could start on the frosting.

Cream cheese frosting is the perfect match for carrot cake, but alas, we didn’t have cream cheese (and rarely do). But these folks suggested making a similarly tangy-sweet confection from Greek yogurt, which we always keep around. So I loaded the bowl of my stand mixer with Greek yogurt, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and some clementine zest. My frosting was coming together nicely and turning a lovely shade of orange, but it was still a little thin, so I added some more powdered sugar. Instead of making my icing thicker, though, this somehow made it thinner, more like a glaze. It was much too flimsy to spread on cupcakes (why hadn’t I just made a cake, anyway?), so I decided to reduce it a little. Gotta think on your feet when you’re improvising, right?

I got my Greek yogurt frosting/glaze thickened to a spreadable consistency around the time that my cupcakes were ready to pull from the oven. They were beautiful and smelled delicious. But (why is there always a but?), as soon as I tried to get one out of the pan, I could tell they weren’t done yet. Back into the pan, back into the oven. The tops of the cupcakes, once pretty little rounded mounds, fell and wrinkled. At least I could cover them with frosting, and at least (I hoped) they would taste good.

Ten minutes later, those cupcakes were still raw in the middle. “I’m giving these stupid things five more minutes, and then I’m calling it,” I grumped at Micah, and he agreed that this was probably a good idea. Five minutes later…well, they weren’t done, and I muttered some words that aren’t so polite.

In a hangry (hungry + angry) rage, I scooped all those ugly, smooshy cupcakes into a pie pan, mashed them together with some of my gooey clementine stuff to hopefully keep the resulting dessert from being too dry, and stuffed that on-the-fly mess of a cake back into the oven for the fourth and final time.

Meanwhile, we checked the parsnips, which theoretically were roasting in the other oven. Except that instead of becoming crispy-edged, soft-centered, caramelized nuggets of sweet-and-starchy goodness like any respectable roasted vegetable, these babies dried out and shriveled up like a chain-smoking grandma. Still hangry, I scraped those dessicated veggie bits into a saucepan on the back burner, dumped in some milk to rehydrate them, and started them a-simmering.

Now that the cake and parsnip disasters were as averted as we could hope for, it was time to turn our attention to our salmon, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms. Micah had gotten everything cut and ready while I was battling the cake, thank goodness.

Micah was in charge of the fish because, well, meat is usually his job. He oiled up our biggest skillet and started heating it to sear the fillets. Those poor slabs of fish were goners as soon as they hit that hot pan. Despite Micah’s best efforts, they stuck. Bad. Turning them a few minutes later proved to be nearly impossible, and the second side stuck, too. This salmon might turn out to be delicious (please, oh, please! let it be delicious!), but it was ugly as sin.

While Micah fought with that sticky fish, I pulled my cake-like-concoction out of the oven, discovered it had miraculously not stuck to my pie pan, but was a bit concerned when it turned out onto the plate in one big, rubbery disc. I crossed my fingers that smearing it with the rest of the clementine frosting might be enough to make it edible, then turned my attention to the vegetables.

The parsnips had undergone an impressive transformation, swelling with milky tenderness, and I tackled them with my hand blender, bent on making this part of dinner not a disaster. One press of the “blend” button sent scalding hot milk and parsnip bits onto my forearm, which immediately reddened (and hurt like hell). More choice words. A big splash of cold milk into the pot. Another push of the button, and this time no mashed veggie shrapnel–just the smooth whir of blender blades as those stubborn parsnips finally accepted their fate. But, since they were now cold, I put them back on the back burner to reheat, and I crossed my tired fingers.

One side dish down, one to go. We heated some olive oil in a skillet and added the Brussels sprouts. They made a delightful sizzle when they hit the hot oil, and we sauteed them with their cut sides down to get those little baby cabbages nice and brown. Mushrooms were added, everything turned a beautiful color, salt and pepper were sprinkled, and this pan of veggies was done. Yep, sprouts-‘n’ shrooms, you guys got one measly little paragraph of this tale because you were kind enough to cooperate.

Time to cross our fingers and plate. Stubborn mashed parsnips, then scarred salmon, then those obliging Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, finally a big drizzle of lemony sauce:

Prettier than we expected, but we still hadn’t tasted it. If this dinner sucked, we had endured two hours of pain and suffering for nothing. It might be enough to make me cry.

Micah lit some candles, poured the wine, and tried for all the world to act like we hadn’t just suffered through kitchen hell. We carefully filled our forks with a little bit of everything and took a bite. Chewing thoughtfully, Micah raised an eyebrow at me. Swallowing just as thoughtfully, he raised his glass. “Good dinner,” he said.

I had to agree. It was good. The salmon was rich and fatty, as it should be. The veggies were earthy and rustic, as planned. The citrusy salmoriglio sauce brightened every bite. The Pinot was not a perfect match, but it definitely worked.

We ate every bite on our plates, drank up every drop from our glasses.

It was time for dessert. I spread the frosting on the cake, then cut it into wedges and prayed for a miracle.

It was okay. The texture of the cake was weird and dense and chewy, and the frosting was perhaps a tad too sweet. Still, the flavors were delicious. Not a total failure, but certainly not a success.

Sometimes, I feel really confident as a cook. A meal will come together exactly as planned, we’ll groan in pleasure with every bite, and we’ll leave the table pleasantly full and still musing on just how damn good that meal just was. Then, there are nights like this one, when I’m not sure if I’m cooking or fighting to the death in the Hunger Games. But ultimately, despite all the drama, this story was less tragedy and more comedy of errors, with everything (sort of) working out.

In the end, nights like this remind me that I’ve still got a lot to learn in the kitchen. That’s probably a good thing. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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