Posts Tagged With: southern

Happy New Year!

I know it’s been a while, and a food blogging comeback isn’t necessarily in my list of New Year’s resolutions (though I do hope to keep up a little better in 2013)….but Micah and I just enjoyed a fabulous New Year’s feast that I absolutely had to share with you!

A customary meal on January 1st includes cornbread, collard greens, black-eyed peas, rice, and some sort of pork, with the idea that all of these foods will bring you good luck, wealth, and prosperity in the coming year.

Micah and I certainly would love to have a nice, lucky 2013…but y’all should also know by now that we have a hard time playing by the rules. 🙂

So, here’s what we enjoyed for our not-so-traditional New Year’s feast:

New Year's tacos!

New Year’s tacos!

Pork belly tacos on corn tortillas with black-eyed pea hummus and collard greens, plus some buttery basmati rice seasoned with smoked paprika, sweet onions, and crispy crumbled bacon.

To answer the most important question: yes, this tasted just as delicious as it looks!

I know I haven’t been around much lately and I miss you all terribly!–but I promise, we’re still cooking up a storm, and I do plan to pop into the food blogging world every now and then to see what you’re up to, too. 🙂

Here’s wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and delicious 2013!

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a perfect 30th birthday, and a perfect field pea soup

I love a good birthday cake, especially the carrot cake we got from Big City Bread for my 30th birthday party a couple of weeks ago:

thanks to Micah’s mom for the candles and to my friend Alice for the lovely photo!

The folks at Big City were super nice, by the way, and offered to let me sample several tasty cakes before picking one. But when they sliced me off that first little sliver of this cream-cheese-and-carrot decadence, that was all the convincing I needed.

I received some very thoughtful presents, too.

The best gift, of course, was a fantastic gathering of friends and family at our house for my birthday party, complete with food and booze and some cheesy 80s music to commemorate the decade of my birth.

From my sweet, sweet husband: a clean house, two four-packs of my very favorite fancy beers (Wild Heaven Invocation and Ode to Mercy), lots of yummy birthday pizza from Transmetropolitan (including the best combo ever, bacon + artichoke hearts), and a classy date at Five and Ten the night after my birthday.

Money from the folks (always appreciated), a lovely bottle of Malbec from Dave and Kim, hand-drawn pictures and a birthday card from my niece Lilly, and a gift certificate to Avid Bookshop (yay!) from her uncle Jason.

From Eric and Jinny, a bottle of chamomile grappa (perfect for sipping after a swanky date-night dinner), and from my good friend Amy, a very pretty tea set with a mint-green teapot, two mugs, and packages of green tea and cookies.

Scratch-off lottery tickets (not winners–oh well!) and cute sticky notes from some school pals, plus a pretty handmade necklace from my fourth grade Froggy Friend!

I’ve got a pretty dang sweet crew of friends and family, if I do say so myself! What a perfect birthday.

So imagine my surprise when I returned to school the following Monday to find one more present waiting for me on my desk, a pink gift bag from my friend Leigh, with a note that read: “I’ve picked some field peas from my garden (purple-hull/crowder). If anyone knows what to do with these, it’s you! :)”

My birthday had already been wonderful, which made these pretty peas the proverbial icing on the cake:

I don’t mean to brag, y’all, but I think this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken, ever

I spent last Saturday morning sipping coffee, baking muffins, and shelling those pretty little peas:

they’re lovely without their shells, too

Then it was time to come up with a recipe. I winged it, as usual, having never made soup with fresh field peas before, and let me tell you guys–the results were nothing short of spectacular.

not the prettiest photo I’ve ever posted, but I think you still might be able to tell that this soup was
packed with veggies, full of flavor, and perfect with a hunk of toasted homemade sourdough

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup diced bacon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 6-8 big cabbage leaves, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup freshly shelled field peas
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked, if you have it)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 cups stock or broth (I used pork)
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the bacon in a big saucepan over medium heat and cook until it starts to crisp and the fat has rendered out.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and carrots, and saute for about 5 minutes or until they start to get tender.
  • Stir in the cabbage, field peas, marjoram, paprika, and lemon zest. Mix until everything’s coated with the bacon fat and seasonings. (At this point, things are going to smell really, really good.)
  • Pour in the stock or broth, add the vinegar and bay leaves, and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
  • Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until until the peas are cooked through and the veggies are falling-apart tender.

This hearty soup makes a meal for 2 or 3 with sourdough toast, buttermilk biscuits, or hunks of warm homemade cornbread.

Make the portions a little smaller and you’ll have the perfect starter for a Southern-style feast of summer veggies and crispy fried chicken.

And when you slurp up your first spoonful of this savory soup, you’ll swear it must be your birthday (even if it’s not).

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quick lunch – 7.2.12 – a bowl of Southern summer goodness

Summer in the South is a magical time.

A time when tomatoes plump to their juiciest fullness, when squashes just grow and grow and grow, when sweet corn practically bursts from its husks, when a myriad of hot and sweet peppers are ripe for the picking, when okra pods stretch to that perfect two or three inches, when pungent onions and garlic just beg to be dug up and sauteed in a bit of butter to mellow out and flavor everything you eat.

A time when, goshdarnit, I just can’t get away from Athens Locally Grown or Daily Groceries without spending ungodly sums of money on all those gorgeous, flavorful local veggies.

And, since I’m a teacher, summer is also the time when I can cook at least two meals a day if I want–and that’s quite often the case, because heaven knows there’s not so much time for culinary tomfoolery once school starts back in August.

So when I surveyed the contents of our kitchen a few weeks ago after a particularly splurge-y spree at the market, looking for lunchtime inspiration, here’s what I found:

all that’s missing is one of those fancy wicker cornucopias

A most inspiring collection of colors and flavors, if I do say so myself.

So I set to slicing and dicing and sauteing and stirring, and here’s what I came up with:

bright, beautiful, delicious!

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 2 cups stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium sweet onion (or, in my case, 3 tiny ones), diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, quartered and sliced
  • 1 medium summer squash or zucchini (I used zephyr), quartered and sliced
  • 1 ear of corn, cut from the cob
  • 6 okra pods, thinly sliced (the smaller okra is, the sweeter and more tender it’ll be–look for pods that are 2-3″ long)
  • a big handful of cherry tomatoes (ours were sungolds)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a big handful of fresh basil, cut into slivers

Step-by-step:

  • In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the quinoa and toast it in the oil for about 5 minutes.
  • Pour in the stock/broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
  • Cover the quinoa and let simmer for about 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • While the quinoa cooks, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes or until the onion starts to look translucent.
  • Stir in the squash and corn. Saute for another 5-7 minutes or until the squash is almost tender.
  • Mix in the okra and tomatoes and cook for about 5 more minutes.
  • Add the cooked quinoa to the skillet and stir just until the mixture is combined.
  • Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Divide your veggies and quinoa between two bowls and top with the fresh basil.
  • Eat up!

Our bowls of Southern summer goodness were enjoyed warm as a light but satisfying entree. For dinner, add your favorite protein for a heartier meal. (I’m betting shrimp would be amazing.) Or try this recipe as an excellent summer salad. Just chill it in the fridge for a few hours to serve cold alongside smoky burgers, crispy fried chicken, or your favorite grilled seafood.

And, of course, I whipped this meal up from a huge heap o’ veggies that I happened to have on hand, but you could easily adjust the recipe to match your own vegetable availability and tastes. As long as you use what’s fresh and in season, there’s really no way this quinoa veggie bowl could turn out anything less than fabulous. 🙂

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supper tonight – 6.25.12 and 6.28.12 – pork (belly) ‘n’ beans – a guest post from Micah – plus 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes!

I was much too busy with Red Clay to help Micah cook dinner Monday night, so he whipped up an amazing (and very fancy) meal for us all on his own. I snapped some photos and told him his delicious supper would go up on the blog if he would write up a post about it. So he did, and here it is!

*   *   *   *   *

Hi. I’m Tanya’s main squeeze Micah and her very first official guest blogger.

I’m also the resident cook/curer of all things carnivorous in our household and a dabbler in what Tanya has coined “boozy infusions.” These are simply booze that has been infused with something (preferably non-toxic) that you think it should taste more like. But I’ll go into further detail about those adventures in a future guest post.

The reason I’m writing is to tell you about this here dinner:

beauty and substance – a perfect combination

I’ve recently begun to discover my roots. In other words, I’ve become enamored with Southern cooking.

I’ve long had a taste for the tasty. But whenever I’d think about the great food cultures of the world, I’d think about French, Italian, authentic Mexican, Japanese, etc. Never did Southern cross my mind. Only recently have I discovered what has been right in front of my face (and in my mouth) my whole life.

This has a lot to do with the rise of our local celebrity chef, Hugh Acheson. I know Tanya has mentioned him before. He’s the man who has put Athens, Georgia on the culinary map. His specialty is Southern cuisine with a modern twist.

After we visited his restaurants and read his cookbook, A New Turn in the South, a lightbulb went off in my head. The South does have one of the finest food cultures in the world. In bridging the traditional cuisines of three continents (North America, Africa, and Europe), we Southerners have created something greater than the sum of its parts.

Sure, it’s been hijacked and bastardized by the Paula Deens of the world, but trailblazers like Hugh are taking it back. This makes for an exciting time to be a foodie in the South, and it has made me want to incorporate a little Southern charm into almost everything I cook.

Including the meal I’m telling you about here, which fancifies butter beans and quick pickles with a little bit of pork belly. Voila!

Wait, that’s French. Let’s try again.

Here it is, y’all: my Pork (Belly) ‘n’ Beans.

First, there are two things you’ll want to make ahead: pork belly confit (I followed these directions from Belly Love) and pickled beets (made following thismodernwife’s recipe). These’ll keep in the fridge for a while, so make them when you have time and keep ‘em around for this meal.

(As you can probably tell from the preceding recipes, and Tanya can confirm, I prefer to read things with lots of pictures.)

Ingredients:

  • For the butter bean puree (you’ll have extra left over):
    • 2 cups dried butter beans or baby limas
    • 6 cups stock or broth
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 3/4 cup heavy cream
    • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
    • salt and pepper to taste
  • Everything else:
    • two 2- to 3-ounce pieces of pork belly confit
    • 2-4 tablespoons pickled beets, sliced into thin strips
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

What to do:

  • Put beans, stock, onion, and garlic into a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or big pot. Cook until tender (about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker or several hours on the stove/in a slow cooker).
  • Puree with a stick blender or in batches in the regular blender until smooth.
  • Add cream, lemon juice, and paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste.
  • Strain with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer. (Bonus: The solids that are leftover make good bean dip.)
  • Add the liquid back into a saucepan and cook on medium low heat to reduce it until it’s good and thick.
  • The last step is to crisp up the pork belly. Add the pieces to a skillet over medium heat and cook each side until brown.
  • To serve, ladle about ½ cup of butter bean puree onto each plate, add the pork belly, top with slivers of pickled beets, and garnish with parsley.
  • Eat up!

*   *   *   *   *

Tanya here again. I just want to reiterate how good this was! Micah and I usually work together in the kitchen, but this recipe was entirely his creation and entirely, mouthwateringly, perfectly delicious.

The best part? We had enough of all the fixins that, after having this meal Monday night with a tomato cucumber salad, there was still plenty for us to enjoy it again yesterday, this time with the last of my peach tomato gazpacho.

Oh, and for dessert? We made some fantastic 3-ingredient microwave chocolate cakes, thanks to Stephanie at a {modern} christian woman.

topped at the last minute with the remnants of a pint of
cherry vanilla Häagen-Dazs that we found hiding in the freezer

Gluten-free friends, these are made from egg, powdered sugar, and unsweetened cocoa, so you can enjoy them, too! 🙂

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supper tonight – 5.21.12 – hoppin’ john griddle cakes

Before you read on, I must tell you that this recipe lacks two main hoppin’ john ingredients: rice and salt pork. So it’s not quite exactly hoppin’ john.

Confused about who John is and why he’s doing all that hoppin’, anyway?

For all y’all non-Southerners, here’s some background:

Hoppin’ John is a classic soul food dish of field peas (or black-eyed peas) and rice, traditionally served on January 1st, often with a side of collard greens and some iron skillet cornbread.

Legend has it that this magical plate of food will bestow the eater with wealth and good fortune in the new year–and considering this meal’s easy-on-the-wallet ingredients and its hearty, homey flavors, I’d say it succeeds on both counts.

Anyway, rice and salt pork aside, our dinner last night did include the obligatory beans, greens, and cornbread, and it was certainly a fortunate experiment.

PBR not required, but highly recommended for maximum satisfaction 🙂

What you can see: savory cornmeal pancakes topped with a mess o’ collard greens.

What you can’t see: all the sweet, spicy, tangy potlikker those griddle cakes absorbed, plus a hearty layer of black-eyed pea hummus smeared between them.

Man, oh man.

What’s in it (the collard greens):

  • 1 tablespoon butter (or bacon/sausage grease for some yummy, porky flavor)
  • yield from 1 pound of collard greens, stems removed, washed, and chopped
  • 1 cup broth/stock (we used chicken)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (we used habanero hot sauce from TaylOrganic, a local purveyor of excellent canned goods)
  • 1 tablespoon sorghum syrup (you can sub molasses or brown sugar)

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the fat of your choice in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Toss the collard greens into the fat and stir them around for about 10 minutes or until they start to wilt.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10-15 minutes or until the collard greens are tender.

(Most collard green recipes call for the leaves to be boiled in large quantities of liquid for an hour or more, but we thought these turned out perfectly tender in very little liquid and less than half the time. Maybe the 10 minutes of sauteing helps…?)

What’s in it (the cornmeal pancakes–heavily adapted from this recipe):

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

Step-by-step:

  • Heat a skillet or electric griddle on medium to medium-high heat (about 350-375°F)–you’ll know it’s ready if a drop of water will skitter around on the surface.
  • Mix together the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Pour the water over the dry ingredients and mix to form a thick paste.
  • Stir in the melted butter, then the eggs, then the Greek yogurt.
  • Use a ladle or measuring cup to spoon about 1/4 cup of batter onto the griddle for each pancake. (I got 8 pancakes doing it this way.)
  • Cook the pancakes for about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until they’re nice and golden brown.

(My pancakes omit the sugar from the original recipe because true Southern cornbread isn’t sweet, and I also left out the flour to really play up the cornmeal-y taste. I also subbed Greek yogurt for the buttermilk, just because I could. 🙂 Finally, I skipped and combined some steps at the beginning. Blame my friend Lazy for that one.)

If you follow all these steps, you’ll have four servings, with two pancakes per person. But, of course, if you’re really hungry or just don’t want leftovers, you could easily make two massive servings instead. (We were tempted to do this, but decided we didn’t want to have to roll ourselves away from the table!)

To put it all together, start each plate with one cornmeal pancake. Top it with a generous dollop of black-eyed pea hummus, then another pancake, then a towering pile of collard greens. Finish by spooning a good-sized ladle of potlikker over the top of the whole thing. Enjoy with beer, or an ice-cold glass of sweet tea.

I promise–you’ll feel quite lucky indeed.

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party snacks – 5.18.12 – black-eyed pea hummus

Growing up in rural Georgia, I didn’t learn much about food culture as a kid.

My mom’s part German, part Italian, so I did eat her homemade meatballs, and I watched her mom (my Mammaw) top hot dogs with sauerkraut (which I was pretty much disgusted by until I was an adult). And, of course, Hartwell has its small-town, Americanized versions of Mexican and Chinese food, so I snacked on plenty of quesadillas and egg rolls, enchiladas and moo goo gai pan.

I was never squeamish about eating foods that the Hartwell folk considered weird, but there just weren’t many opportunities to try anything exotic. I tasted sushi for the first time as a teen one evening before a concert in Atlanta. Fancy cheeses like brie and Roquefort weren’t even on my radar until I studied abroad in France my freshman summer in college. And at some point during my college years, the word hummus became part of my vocabulary.

I can’t tell you the first time I tried this tasty chickpea dip. It was probably at some party with a group of my more cultured college friends (the ones who grew up in the Atlanta burbs), and I probably smeared it on some pita points or raw veggies. There was no revelation, no magical, memorable moment when this amazing stuff brought me to tears. But sometime in my early twenties, I realized I loved hummus, and that was (conveniently enough) around the time when it became pretty easy to find in the deli section of most grocery stores.

When Micah and I got married at Farm 255 here in Athens back in 2009, one of the foods we chose to have on the buffet was the Farm’s homemade hummus, which is pretty awesome. Some of the Hartwell folk weren’t so sure about it, but we gobbled the stuff down.

Varieties of hummus abound, many made with the traditional garbanzo beans, others more outside the box, like Frugal Feeding’s butterbean hummus and Hugh Acheson’s boiled peanut hummus.

My newest incarnation of this now-ubiquitous party snack showcases the deliciousness of a humble home-style favorite: the black-eyed pea.

What’s in it:

  • 1-1/2 cups dry black-eyed peas + water to cook them in (shortcut: 3-1/2 to 4 cups canned peas)
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Step-by-step:

  • I used a slow-cooker to get my dried beans done overnight. 8 hours on low heat did the trick. You could also cook them on the stove, or just buy them precooked and canned (in which case you will most likely need to reduce the salt in this recipe!).
  • Put all of the ingredients in your food processor, reserving some of the cooking liquid (or canning liquid) from the black-eyed peas.
  • Process until your hummus is thick and creamy, adding extra liquid if necessary to get the right consistency.
  • Enjoy with chips, crackers, veggies, or whatever you feel like dipping! (Next time, I might try making mini cornmeal pancakes and topping them with the hummus. Mmmm….)

This stuff is so deliciously addictive. I’ve made it for two parties in the last two weeks, and it has been a huge hit! The cider vinegar adds a terrific tang, reminiscent of homemade pickles or the potlikker from a mess o’ greens. And the smoked paprika lends an almost bacon-y flavor. It’s amazing!

got a few cracker crumbs on my bowl of dip…oops…

My Southern-inspired hummus hasn’t traveled home to the boonies with me yet. When it does, I might just call it black-eyed pea dip so as not to frighten the locals. Then maybe, just maybe, for at least one adventurous Hartwellian, it could serve as gateway grub to other excellent ethnic edibles. 🙂

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Jessica’s Bridal Shower!

My beautiful best friend, Jessica, and her man, Brent.

My mom says I’m the only person she knows who would blindly try out new recipes for my best friend’s bridal shower.

Mom also said I was the only person she knew who would attack her own wedding dress with scissors and a needle to make last-minute adjustments the week before the big day.

Apparently, I’ve got a thing for high-stakes wedding roulette. And the odds, so far, have been ever in my favor, as both my dress and the food for Jessica’s shower turned out pretty darn good.

My goal in altering my wedding dress was to pare down the extravagance. Originally, the gorgeous gown had boasted a glamorous, but cumbersome, cathedral train. Our wedding was much too informal for this fanciness, so I gathered up the dress and gauzy overlay, snipped off a boatload of extra fabric, and created my own permanent bustle to make the train a short sweep instead.

Not perfectly professional-looking, but pretty (and much easier to dance in).

Planning the food for Jessica was kind of the same. Her one request for the shower (not to mention for the wedding in the mountains this weekend) was a batch of my pimiento cheese, which she loves, so of course I had to oblige. 🙂

And once I knew I was making that Southern staple, the tone was set for the rest of the menu. My goal was to serve the kinds of things you’d expect to see at a rural Georgia wedding shower, but with some unexpected twists here and there. I didn’t want to be snooty or pretentious, so I tried to keep it simple.

The shower spread, in my lovely mother's lovely kitchen.

The menu:

* * * * *

French onion dip from scratch? But everyone knows that French onion dip is made with a tub of sour cream and a packet of Lipton’s soup mix!

The thing is, I don’t keep either of those things around my house…and I kind of wanted to tackle the challenge of creating this processed potluck party item using real ingredients. A web search provided several recipes to use as models, and my finished dip most closely followed this one from The Craving Chronicles.

Check out my mom's fancy-schmancy chip bowl! And my cute labels.

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped (I used one yellow and one red)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fat-free Greek yogurt

Step-by-step:

  • Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the onions, garlic, and salt, and cook until the onions are nice and golden brown.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
  • Allow the onion mixture to cool.
  • Stir the onion mixture into the Greek yogurt and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. (I think keeping mine in the fridge overnight really helped the flavors mesh!)
  • Serve with some thick, ridged potato chips (perfect for picking up chunky dip without breaking).
  • Yield: about 2-1/2 to 3 cups

The verdict: Wow! I enjoy the sour cream + powdered Lipton variety, too, and this wasn’t quite the same (as at least one of Jessica’s family members pointed out), but the flavor was rich, salty, creamy, and tangy, just as I hoped it would be.

* * * * *

Another made-from-a-mix store-bought staple is the sausage ball, traditionally made with breakfast sausage, Bisquik, and cheese. I had some yummy, spicy sausage in the freezer from Moonshine Meats, but Bisquik is another convenience item that I’m too stubborn to keep around. You can make your own Bisquik, but I ran out of flour after making the biscuits and the cake (recipes coming up shortly!). So, I decided to basically follow this recipe, but substitute cornmeal for the flour.

Sausage balls!

What’s in it:

  • 1-1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup butter or bacon/sausage grease (I had leftover sausage grease in the fridge, so that’s what I used)
  • 1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
  • 4 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray).
  • Whisk together the cornmeal, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • Use a pastry blender, fork, or food processor to incorporate the butter/grease until your mixture looks coarse and kind of crumbly.
  • Mix in the sausage and shredded cheddar. (You’ll probably need to use your fingers!)
  • Pull off 1″ round balls of dough, roll between your palms, and place on the baking pan in a single layer.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until your sausage balls are nicely browned.
  • Yield: about 4 dozen

The verdict: These were super spicy, but delicious! I didn’t miss the Bisquik flavor at all and got a lot of compliments, especially from my mom and Jessica’s Granny Cilla. (And if Granny Cilla’s happy, everyone’s happy! :)) You could easily cut down the spice by using mild or medium sausage instead of hot.

Bonus: Using cornmeal instead of flour made these almost taste like a hush puppy, one of my very favorite Southern sides.

* * * * *

Now y’all know how much I love biscuits, right? Well, I knew that regular-sized biscuits wouldn’t be the right size for a finger-food afternoon shower, but I have a cute little 1-1/2″ round cookie cutter that I thought might make perfect bite-sized mini biscuits.

Aww, look at the little baby biscuits!

And when I found a biscuit recipe on Ezra Pound Cake that also included toasted pecans, I knew I had to make them. Of course, since I don’t keep sour cream around (which seems to be a common problem in this post), I made some substitutions.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans
  • 5 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. (Sounds a lot like the beginning of the sausage balls, huh?)
  • Put the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, brown sugar, and toasted pecans in the bowl of your food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.
  • Add the butter and process until your mixture is coarse and crumbly. (Deja vu all over again….)
  • Add the buttermilk and process just until your dough comes together.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently pat down to a 1/2″ thickness.
  • Cut out with a biscuit cutter, a lightly floured drinking glass, or, in this case, a cute little cookie cutter.
  • Arrange biscuits on your baking sheet. Sides touching if you want them soft around the edges, space between if you want crispier edges.
  • Lightly press together dough scraps to cut the rest of your biscuits out.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are light golden brown.
  • Serve with butter, jam, or cheese.
  • Yield: about 3 dozen

The verdict: These little biscuits were adorable and tasty! I served them with FROG jam (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) at the shower, but Micah and I discovered the next morning that the leftovers were also delicious with butter (because, let’s face it, what isn’t delicious with butter?) and with pimiento cheese.

* * * * *

Of course, a bridal shower isn’t complete without cake. And I really, truly thought about ordering a cake from one of Athens’ own excellent local bakeries. But, glutton for culinary punishment that I am, I decided I had to bake dessert from scratch instead. The recipe had four basic parts: yellow cake, strawberries, pastry cream, and whipped cream. On my way to the shower, I felt pretty confident that the cake would taste good…but I worried a lot about it falling apart. Fortunately, it managed to (mostly) stay together, at least until we cut into it.

See the spare tire around the middle? That's pastry cream and strawberries, just waiting to burst out the seams. A delicious disaster!

For the cake: I followed Crummb’s recipe for The Ultimate Butter Cake, which I doubled to make two 9-inch layers. I also substituted buttermilk for half of the milk in the recipe because I had some that needed using. The resulting cake was just as moist, buttery, and delicious as I hoped it would be!

For the berry filling: I washed, hulled, and sliced about 2 pints of fresh strawberries, sprinkled a little sugar on them, and let them sit for about 30-45 minutes. This got them nice and sweet and juicy.

For the pastry cream: I used a fantastic recipe from Sauce Boss, subbing extra vanilla extract for the balsamic vinegar and throwing in an extra egg yolk for added body.

For the icing: I made vanilla whipped cream by whipping 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract until it was nice and stiff.

All of the components can be made a day ahead, though you might have to re-whip your whipped cream if it sits too long, and you have to make sure you press some plastic wrap into your pastry cream or it’ll form a yucky skin on top.

To assemble:

  • Make sure all of your finished components are cold! This will keep your pastry cream and whipped cream from running too much and making a drippy mess (which would taste fine, but won’t look too pretty).
  • Start with one 9″ cake layer. Poke lots of holes in it with a fork or skewer. Why? You’ll see…
  • Pipe a ring of pastry cream around the edge of the cake. This will help keep your strawberries from sliding out.
  • Add a generous layer of the macerated strawberries, reserving a few for decorating the top of the cake. Pour all those yummy strawberry juices over the strawberries. The holes you poked a minute ago will soak up all this deliciousness quite nicely.
  • Top the strawberries with a layer of pastry cream.
  • Add your other cake layer and smooth a little more pastry cream around the seam, just to help hold things in a little better.
  • Frost the cake with the whipped cream and decorate with more strawberries.
  • Yield: one very tall, gooey, delicious cake!

The verdict: this cake took a lot of steps, but the finished product was both beautiful and tasty! The combination of the buttery cake, rich pastry cream, sweet strawberries, and fluffy whipped cream was pretty much perfect. The only downside was that once I started cutting the cake, it pretty well fell apart, mostly because my middle layer was too thick and slippery. If When I make this cake again, I might split each layer into two (for a total of four layers) so that I can fill it with several thin layers of pastry cream and strawberries instead of one thick one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing!

* * * * *

Jessica has been my best friend since 5th grade–it’ll be 21 years in August!–and I love her dearly. She was the maid of honor at my wedding back in 2009…

Eric, me, Micah, and Jessica
July 18, 2009

…and I feel so fortunate to be matron of honor at her wedding in just a few days!

Just like with my last-minute alterations, the menu I made for Jessica’s shower wasn’t quite perfect, and if I could do it over again, I might make a few minor changes. But while my cooking is far from professional, with plenty of technical imperfections, the most important thing to me was to pour my heart into making delicious food for someone I love.

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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.

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party snacks – 3.17.12 – mini pimiento cheese sandwiches for Kim’s birthday!

My brother Dave’s fiancee, Kim, turns 24 today, and we’re celebrating at their house with a garden party!

In keeping with the theme, I made finger sandwiches: pimiento cheese on thin-sliced sourdough baguette. I usually bake my own bread, but there’s no way mine could be as yummy as this fluffy, chewy, delicious stuff from Luna Baking here in Athens.

And the gorgeous lime green dish was my Christmas gift from the birthday girl. It may be a pie pan, but I think it makes a lovely serving vessel for these yummy bites. 🙂

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lazy brunch – 3.16.12 – sweet potato grits with sausage and eggs

image from indibound.com

I don’t yet own this cookbook by Virginia Willis, but have a feeling I’ll have to stroll on over to Avid Bookshop very soon to buy a copy. Several recipes from the book were featured in American Profile a couple weeks back, including one for sweet potato grits.

Yep, you heard me right. Sweet potatoes + grits = Southern food heaven.

So yesterday, when Micah and I were brainstorming brunch ideas to use up the last of some leftover sausage, that sweet potato grits recipe dropped by and said, “Hey, y’all!”

I made a few modifications to Ms. Willis’s recipe because I had polenta in the pantry (but no grits–for shame!), I wasn’t really in the mood to season my already-sweet veggies with cinnamon and ginger, and I didn’t really want to be cooking my breakfast for 45-60 minutes. (Especially since we’d already slept until 11:00. Ah, spring break, I will miss you so!)

We made a meal of the grits and sausage by topping the dish off with a sunny side up egg and some fresh cilantro:

Doesn’t that look tasty? It was. But don’t take my word for it. Or Micah’s. (We both licked our bowls clean.) Try it for yourself! (This will make a reasonably-sized brunch for two, or a big ol’ brunch for one. :))

What’s in it:

  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup polenta
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 pound of pork breakfast sausage
  • 2 eggs
  • a little more salt and pepper
  • a big handful of fresh cilantro

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven on warm (about 170-200°F).
  • Ms. Willis grates her sweet potatoes into the grits and then lets them cook for about an hour. I was too impatient for this, and it’s really quick and easy to bake sweet potatoes in the microwave–so that’s my recommendation. Get those tubers nice and tender, squeeze them out of the peel, and then mash them up real good.
  • In a small saucepan, heat your milk and polenta together over medium heat, whisking as it thickens. I’ve always heard that you should boil the cooking liquid first, then vigorously whisk in your polenta. But mine always turns out lumpy when I do it that way, and lumpy polenta ain’t good eats. (Well, actually, I’ve eaten and enjoyed lumpy polenta many times….but it’s even better when it’s smooth and creamy!) Yesterday, as an experiment, I tried whisking everything cold and letting it all heat together, and my polenta was nice and smooth. If you try this, please let me know if it works for you or if it was just a fluke for me!
  • Once the polenta is good and thick (about 10 minutes later), add the mashed sweet potato, butter, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. (Of course, you can always add more butter, salt, and/or pepper to suit your liking.)
  • Divide the cooked polenta into two oven-safe bowls and stick them in your warm oven while you tend to your sausage and eggs.
  • Brown and crumble the sausage in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Use a slotted spoon to top your bowls of grits with the sausage, then put those bowls back into the oven.
  • Pour off most (but not all) of the sausage grease from your skillet–you want to leave some to cook your eggs in!
  • Crack your eggs into the hot pan and cook them until the whites are cooked through and the yolks are just starting to firm up. To make sure the tops of your whites get done, you can put a lid over the pan for a minute or spoon some of the hot sausage grease over them à la the Pioneer Woman. Make sure to season your eggs with a sprinkle of salt and pepper while they cook.
  • Get your bowls out of the oven and slide the cooked eggs on top of the grits and sausage.
  • Finish with some fresh cilantro leaves on top.
  • Enjoy!

A note about the eggs: there’s some controversy over whether it’s advisable to eat them sunny side up. The odds are slim, but not quite none, that raw eggs could make you sick. And salmonella infections, from what I hear, are no fun. If you’re concerned, or just don’t like your yolks runny, then by all means, flip your eggs and cook ’em a little more.

But, anecdotally, I’ve been eating my eggs sunny side up or soft-poached for years (not to mention plenty of raw eggs in cookie doughs and cake batters), and have never once suffered a salmonella infection. Lots of other people do this, and I’d be willing to bet that the farmers who sell us our eggs are among this group.

Until I’m stricken with terrible salmonella poisoning, I’ll keep eating my lazy brunch eggs sunny side up, because there are few things in life that I enjoy more than piercing a golden egg yolk with the tip of my fork…letting it spill onto the rest of my food as a rich, thick, gorgeous sauce…and scraping up every last drop of that delicious stuff with a hunk of warm bread or (with a Southern-inspired meal like this) a fluffy buttermilk biscuit.

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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