Thursday, February 15, 2007

Don't Panic Soup

The weather here recently has been lovely. Highs have been in the high 60s and low 70s. California weather. Shorts and long sleeves weather. Perfect weather. The skies have been blue and the sun has been shining, and I have been feeling awfully sorry for all those people enduring record freezing temperatures with sleet and snow as I sip lemonade with the windows open. I wanted to tell y'all that you should all move down here. I was going to say that I would meet you at the airport, and to bring a beach book.

That was, until, I got what my smug mug deserved for all that gloating. The cold! The bitterness! Overnight, it will get below freezing! You laugh, yes. But this is the Deep South, and we no likey cold weather. I am told that it once snowed here in 1989. I remember it snowing that year back home, at an near-equal latitude on the opposite side of the state. I built a tiny snowman on the back of my mom's mauve station wagon and we still have a tupperware container of that snow in the deep freezer. So it snowed here that year too and they closed the causeway to the mainland and that would have been about the time that I freaked the hell out.

Should it ever snow here again, I have the remedy for the stranded snowbird whose island has suddenly become very small. Elise's Friend Claire's Roasted Red Pepper Potato Soup is warm and comforting and actually quite healthy. I would imagine that you could sip on this soup and totally forget that you are on a small land mass surrounded by ocean with no immediate prospects of getting off without being shot in the process. It's the hotness on a cold night like this one, or on every night if you live somewhere insane like, say, Atlanta. I used soy milk in place of the cream to save calories and two lactose-induced sick days, but using cream or milk with lots of fat and calories can only make it better. You probably need to bulk up for that blizzard anyway.

This is also my contribution to February's Soup's On, hosted by A Veggie Venture, where you'll find lots of warm fuzzy soup recipes this month.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

At a little party this weekend, my friend M made two batches of cookies: the first soft and chewy, the second brown and crispy. Wasn't that thoughtful of her? Which batch would you want? I much prefer my cookies well done and crisp around the edges. I want my cookies Kate Bosworth thin, bordering on burning. Take your mushy soft baked goods elsewhere. And by "elsewhere" I mean "leave them with me and I'll make sure they don't go to waste."

These cookies are about as crispy as it gets. In under 30 minutes prep time and using only ingredients I already had on hand, I had these delicious little throwbacks to Fall. But guess what else? They're from Fitness magazine, y'all. 94 calories each. You won't believe that when you have one, but it's true. Squee! I am serious about the squee, they are goooooood and my house smells like awesomeness.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies from Fitness

3/4 c. old fashioned oatmeal
3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp. apple butter
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, salt and connamon; set aside. In a large bowl, blend butter, apple butter, and sugars until smooth. Add egg and vanilla; belnd. Add oat mixture; blend. Drop batter, 1 tablespoon at a time, onto parchment lined baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly on baking sheets, then cool completely on racks. Makes 24 cookies.

Sunday, February 4, 2007


When I heard that the pot-luck Superbowl party I was attending would have a Mexican theme, I was nervous. Number one, would I be expected to perform my world famous rendition of Un Elefante Se Balanceaba? And number two, how unacceptable would it be to just bring a bag full of Taco Bell? What about with extra mild sauce?

I'd literally never cooked a single Mexican dish before in my life. I wanted my contributions to be worthy of what
would prove to be a life-changing halftime show (seriously, I'll never be the same), but I am just horribly inept when it comes to the caliente. What I wound up putting together involved no tortillas, cheese, or meat, and would probably have been of questionable authenticity to my companions had they not drowned it all in Corona.

I decided to make The Homesick Texan's Texas Caviar. This stuff is so good, and it only gets better the longer it sits in your fridge. I love me some black eyed peas, and I basically made it according to her recipe except that I added about 400 times the cilantro. I also love me some cilantro. I can get behind any recipe where the instructions are "mix everything together."

Of course, I also managed to zero in on the single appropriately-themed recipe in Martha's Baking Handbook: Mexican Wedding Cookies. I love love love wedding cookies. You know those Danish wedding cookies that come in the giant pink box? Ridiculous. At my own wedding someday, I am planning to serve those with a side of more of those, followed by a special dessert made of stacks of those with a cup of more and more and more of those. Anyway, these are like that, except more...Mexicany.

Finally, I deep-fried a bunch of buttery dough and then rolled it around in cinnamon sugar. I am told these are called "churros" in Mexico, but I call them "worth the triple bypass."


Texas caviar From the Homesick Texan

4 cups of cooked black-eyed peas (or 2 16-oz cans), drained and rinsed of all juice
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, green part only
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 canned or fresh jalapeño chiles, chopped
1 can Rotel tomatoes or 1 ripe, chopped tomato
3/4 cup olive oil
Juice from one lime
1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced

Mix everything together, chill for four hours. Serve with tortill
a or corn chips.

Churros Adapted from Food & Wine

2 sticks unsalted butter ( 1/2 pound)
Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 large egg white
1 cup sugar
1 quart vegetable oil, for frying
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1. In a large saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cups of water to a boil with the butter and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Remove from the heat, add the flour and stir vigorously until incorporated. Return to moderate heat and cook, stirring, until the dough pulls away from the side, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat the dough at low speed for 1 minute, just until slightly cooled. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat in the eggs and egg white, one at a time. Transfer the dough to a bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until cooled to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
3. In a large saucepan, heat the oil to 375°. Set a rack on a large baking sheet and cover with paper towels. In a pie plate, combine the cup of sugar with the cinnamon. Scoop the dough into a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
5. Working quickly, squeeze 6-inch lengths of the dough into the hot oil, cutting them off with a knife. Fry no more than 8 churros at a time; they expand a bit as they cook. Fry over moderately high heat, turning once or twice, until browned, about 8 minutes. Drain the churros on the rack for 2 minutes, then toss with the cinnamon sugar in the pie plate.

Mexican Wedding Cookies
from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Makes 6 dozen

1 c. pecan halves
2 c. confectioners' sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350ºF, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a food processor, combine pecans with 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar; pulse until nuts are finely ground. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar-nut mixture, flour and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough just comes together.

Roll dough into 3/4 inch balls; place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through, until cookies are pale on top and lightly browned on the bottom, 10-12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool. Place remaining confectioners' sugar in a shallow bowl and roll cookies in it to coat completely.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Can y'all believe that tomorrow is FEBRUARY already? Was it not JUST Christmas? I think so. It was JUST Christmas and now it is almost Groundhog Day. I'm 99% certain that Thanksgiving was last week and now January is over. Hands up if you've lost track of all time.

The purpose of this calendar review session is, of course, to remind you that you have
exactly two short weeks to get ready for Valentines Day. Boys, get ready to shower your lady with expensive yet meaningful gifts including but not limited to diamonds and Prada. Girls, start practicing your "you shouldn't have!" face. The eyebrows are key.

Thinking about Valentines Day has me thinking of the perfect gift for your baby daddy, especially if you want to secure a place in his will, I mean, heart. It is chocolate, of course. If he doesn't like chocolate, get rid of him. He's defective.

This dark chocolate mousse is from Thomas Keller's Bouchon and it is straight DIVINE. I've actually been to Bouchon myself, but it was such a ridiculous out of body experience that I can't even remember whether we had dessert. After the spectacle which the wait staff no doubt later re-enacted in a one-act play entitled "Country Come to Town," the events become foggy.

In any case, had I eaten this mousse, I would've remembered it. The first bite will get you a "SWEET MARY MOTHER OF JESUS." The second, a "YOU ARE MADE OF SUNSHINE." The third secures the Prada.


Listen to me CAREFULLY:
1. Do what it says on the temperature of the chocolate. For real; and
2. Use GOOD chocolate. If you use freaking baking squares to make this mousse, I will come to your house and abuse you in the worst ways (that's me, not Thomas Keller. Thomas Keller will probably not ever come to your house, sorry).

Mousse au Chocolat Noir

4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons espresso or hot water
1 cup cold heavy cream
3 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine the chocolate, butter, and espresso in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not simmering, water, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool until the chocolate is just slightly warmer than body temperature. To test, dab some chocolate on your bottom lip. It should feel warm. If it is too cool, the mixture will seize when the other ingredients are added.

Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks, then refrigerate. Once the melted chocolate has cooled slightly, whip the egg whites in a medium bowl until they are foamy and beginning to hold a shape. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat until soft peaks form.

When the chocolate has reached the proper temperature, stir in the yolks. Gently stir in about one-third of the whipped cream. Fold in half the whites just until incorporated, then fold in the remaining whites, and finally the remaining whipped cream.

Spoon or pipe the mousse into a serving bowl or individual dishes. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. (The mousse can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

Makes 8 servings.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dixieland Delight

Whenever I cook with my parents, I always try to force healthy foods onto their menu. This salad was their single concession to me for this weekend's feast. Of course, it's probably a gross misrepresentation to call it "healthy." What I mean when I say "healthy" is actually "the color green, coated in sugary goodness." I'm told there are vitamins in there somewhere.

Winter salads are so hot right now, so having discovered several items of interest in my parents' pantry, I decided to come up with one of my own. The bad news is that when trying to make a fresh and exciting salad in a tiny South Georgia town, you don't exactly have a lot in the way of ingredients. You have exactly two grocery options and both of them are identified by some version of the word "dixie." The good news is that you also are in the mayhaw capital of the world, and you have jars upon jars of the finest jelly sitting around.

We had company over for dinner that night, and this salad (which Dad insists we call "leafy greens tossed with red onions, Washington apples, toasted South Georgia pecans, and Miller County mayhaw vinaigrette; I guess we're unsure of the onion's origin, or maybe it wasn't pretentious-sounding enough) was the surprising star of the show. Pretty good for people who won't eat their vegetables.

Winter Salad

For the Salad:
1 head endive, chopped
1 small bag of fresh spinach
2 apples, cored and sliced thin
1 red onion, sliced
1 cup toasted pecans

For the Dressing:
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
4 tbsp. mayhaw jelly
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup pecan oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine garlic, vinegars, jelly, and sugar in a small bowl. Mix in the sugar. Gradually whisk in the pecan oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the salad ingredients with enough dressing to coat.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Year of the Kumquat

The first time that I ate a kumquat, I was in the third grade. My teacher brought in a basket full of what looked like tiny little oranges. "Have some," she said. "You can eat the whole thing." This blew our minds. YOU CAN EAT THE SKIN OF THE BABY ORANGES!?! BUT YOU CAN'T EAT THE SKIN OF THE BIG ORANGES!! She explained the difference in taste between kumquats and oranges. To me, though, the only selling point worth mentioning was that you could eat the skin. YOU CAN EAT THE SKIN! I would later scream at my newborn sister.

Having somehow misplaced a startling number of brain cells in the intervening 17 years, I remember relatively little about being 8 years old. As it turns out, 1990 was the year that the Soviet Union collapsed, the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the year the Gulf War began, and the year my sister was born. And while I have faint, spotty memories of all of these events, the kumquats are vivid.

You know what though? I don't think I've eaten a kumquat since then. So today when someone at work brought me a bag from their tree, I was immediately nostalgic, and was immediately scheming about what to do with them.

Ultimately, I decided to candy them and save them for later. I think they'll make a really fancy and impressive addition to pancakes or ice cream or oh my gosh, bittersweet chocolate mousse? Or hey, HEY NOW...with vodka! Did you know that YOU CAN EAT THE SKINS?!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wherefore Art Thou Cupcake?

My teenage sister and her little boyfriend call each other "Cupcake." I feel like surely this is a fact that she would've shared with me eventually, even if I hadn't read those text messages she sent him and then started calling her "Cupcake" until she came after me with a sharp object.

Last week on Ugly Betty, Hilda's brief stint in the cupcake business drove her to the brink of madness and left her sobbing and re-examining whether she had ruined her life. Next time, Hilda should try Martha's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes. Because seriously, you only need one bowl, girl. When I finished mixing this batter, I was flat confused. Was that it? Just dump everything into this giant bowl? I read the recipe several times to confirm. This is, after all, the same woman who had me spend two hours wrapping paper-thin slimey fruit slices around one another to form a tart full of tiny nectarine rosettes, a task she described as "simple."

These are the perfect chocolate cake bases for any deliciously sweet frosting you can dream up. For the Cupcake Bakeshop and Vanilla Garlic Cupcake Roundup, I frosted one batch of these little chocolate vehicles with a quick orange white frosting. I was using the spoon seen here to frost, honest. Not to eat myself into a semi-conscious state of sugar intoxication.

As pleasing as these were to me, I was even happier with the second batch, which were frosted with Brown Sugar Toffee Buttercream. Let's's January 21? It's about time for you to break those resolutions anyway. Now get to it, Cupcake.


One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes From Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Makes 24

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 large whole eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 standard 12 cup muffin pans with paper liners.
Into the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Attach the bowl to mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; add the eggs and yolk, the milk, oil, vanilla and warm water. Beat on low speed until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide the batter evently among the muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake come out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool slightly.
Cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 day.

Quick Orange White Frosting Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Combine in a medium bowl and beat together until smooth:
5 cups confectioner's sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened

Add and beat until smooth:
Juice of 1 orange
Zest of 2 oranges or to taste
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat the frosting until it's smooth. Add milk or more sugar to correct the consistency to your liking.

Brown Sugar Buttercream With Toffee Adapted from Martha Stewart Baking Handbook

2 large egg whites

1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3/4 cup toffee chips

1. Put egg whites and sugar into the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Cook, whisking constantly, until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm to the touch (about 160°).
2. Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue beating until mixture is fluffy and cooled, about 6 minutes.
3. Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, several tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. (If the frosting appears to separate after all the butter has been added, beat on medium-high speed until smooth again, 3 to 5 minutes more.) Reduce speed to low ; mix to eliminate any air bubbles, about 2 minutes. Stir with a rubber spatula until frosting is smooth.

4. Stir in 1/2 cup toffee chips if desired, or top each cupcake with a sprinkle of toffee chips.