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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I'm Sitting on a Mountain of Stumps

I emerged from the long weekend with a bunch of almost overripe bananas and a hankering to transform them into something . . . not boring and not banana bread. I wanted less "What Not to Wear," and more "Extreme Makeover."

According to Bon Appetit, this delicious muffin recipe is from Evelyn's Coffee Bar in Banff, Canada. I've never been to Canada, but now I know twice as much as I did about the Canadian people. I already knew that they pronounce their "abouts" in a peculiar way, and now I know that they have absolutely killer chocolate chip banana muffin recipes.

With literally five minutes of prep time, you can go from old and busted to new hotness in 40 minutes flat. Let's see Dr. 90210 do that. These muffins are short and dense and don't rise or fluff up much at all (butter much?). Their shape reminds me of little Jiffy cornbreads, and I guess they really don't have tops on them like traditional muffins. They're almost like delicious little muffin . . . stumps? Hmm. I guess we have a situation here.

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffin Stumps adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 12

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 overripe mashed bananas
1 large egg
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 milk
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 and grease a 12 regular-sized muffin cups. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a mixer, mix the bananas, egg, melted butter, and milk. Stir in the dry ingredients until just blended, and then stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and bake them for about 34 minutes, or until they are golden and a tester comes out clean. Cool the muffin stumps on a wire rack.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pleasing With Pork Fat

If you happen to find yourself hosting an impromptu dinner party, I have several pieces of advice for you. First, in order to grease the wheels of your culinary creativity, you need a drink. Drink copiously. Hurry. Saturday found me and my houseguest BB preparing for our small party. BB has it bad for bitters, and I've almost converted, so we started out with a negroni. And how appropriate that we would enjoy an aperitif, as we were about to consume a ridiculous amount of beef, grain, greens, and chocolate. We were obviously in desperate need of serious appetites. The bitters were clutch.
I need for my cousin BB to come down and cook with me more often. We made him chief of "quality control," meaning that he was in charge of preventing me, by force if necessary, from getting frustruated and "improvising" too much with our recipes. And by "improvising," I mean "ruining." See, e.g., "No. You cannot substitute your gardenia-scented body powder for cornstarch."

He also brought along his 7 1/4 quart Le Creuset, that ridiculously good looking and effective red cooking vessel. I'll admit that it occurred to me at one point to beat him over the head with it and run away, clutching the pot in my arms, loving it and petting it and making it my very own. Would that have been wrong? Probably. But justified? Surely.
My Precious.

Let me also tell you what all authorities on the subject consider to be the Number 2 secret to a successful dinner party (after the booze, of course): bacon. You could serve bacon-infused vodka and be done with it, or you could take our lead and just throw bacon all over every.single.thing. You will be satisfied; your guests will flat want to make out with you. Also, do me a favor and do not ever infuse vodka with bacon.

Then, THEN, when they think they can take no more, when they have fallen out of their chairs, when they are pleading with you, "Please, enough pork fat, enough savory goodness, our arteries are fully clogged, no more bacon," you say...okay, fine. Now TIME FOR THE DIABETIC COMAS! BB and I improvised our way into what was a heavenly Blood Orange Ginger (Campari?) Chocolate Cloud Cake, if I do say so myself.

My final piece of advice? Waivers of liability.

The Negroni
1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth

Spinach & Apple Salad with Crunchy Almonds
from Bon Appetit
Serves 6-8

1/4 cup minced onion
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup blanched slivered almonds (about 3 ounces)

1 10- ounce bag ready-to-use spinach leaves
2 medium-size red-skinned apples, quartered, cored, thinly sliced

Combine onion, cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, sesame seeds and paprika in small bowl. Mix in 2 tablespoons sugar. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add almonds. Stir until almonds begin to color, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over. Stir until sugar melts and begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer almonds to bowl and cool. (Dressing and almonds can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover separately and let stand at room temperature.)

Combine spinach and apples in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Mix in almonds. Serve salad, passing any remaining dressing separately.

Beef Braised in Red Wine from Gourmet
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (3- to 3 1/2-lb) boneless beef chuck roast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 (4- to 6-inch) sprigs fresh thyme
2 (6- to 8-inch) sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups Barolo or other full-bodied red wine such as Ripasso Valpolicella, Gigondas, or Côtes du Rhône
2 cups water

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Heat oil in pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.

Meanwhile, pat meat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Brown meat in hot oil on all sides, about 10 minutes total. (If bottom of pot begins to scorch, lower heat to moderate.) Transfer to a plate using a fork and tongs.

Add pancetta to oil in pot and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sauté, stirring, until garlic begins to soften and turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a simmer, then return meat along with any juices accumulated on plate to pot. Cover pot with lid and transfer to oven. Braise until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Transfer meat to a cutting board. Skim fat from surface of sauce and discard along with herb stems. Boil sauce until reduced by about one third, about 5 minutes, then season with salt. Cut meat across the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices and return to sauce.

Creamy Polenta from Gourmet
Serves 4

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking) or yellow cornmeal (5 oz)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Bring water and salt to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, then add polenta in a thin stream, whisking. Cook over moderate heat, whisking, 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cover pan, then cook at a bare simmer, stirring with a long-handled spoon for 1 minute after every 10 minutes of cooking, 45 minutes total. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until incorporated.

Bacon-Wrapped Green Beans adapted from my mother
Serves 4

Three handfuls fresh whole green beans
Thin Sliced Bacon, sliced in halves
French Dressing (yes, from a bottle!)

Boil the green beans for about 4 minutes. After the beans cool, wrap bunches of five or six beans with the half slices of bacon and place them on a large baking sheet. Pour the dressing over the bunches, covering each one with about a tablespoon of dressing. Cook them at 350 for about 12 minutes or until the bacon is done and crispy.

Blood Orange Ginger (Campari?) Chocolate Cloud Cake adapted from Nigella Bites

9 oz. dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
3/4 cup sugar
juice of 1 blood orange (optional)
grated zest of 1 blood orange (optional)

for the cream topping:

2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 cups double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice of 1/2 blood orange (optional)
1 teaspoon Campari
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
half teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line the bottom of the cake tin with baking parchment.

Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or a microwave, and then let the butter melt in the warm chocolate.

Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/3 c. of the caster sugar, then gently add the chocolate mixture, the juice and zest.

In another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk until the whites are holding their shape but not too stiff. Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the centre is no longer wobbly. Cool the cake in its tin on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.

When you are ready to eat, place the still tin-bound cake on a cake stand or plate for serving and carefully remove the cake from its tin. Don't worry about cracks or rough edges: it's the crater look we're going for here. Whip the cream until it's soft and then add the vanilla, ginger, juice, Campari, and sugar and continue whisking until the cream is firm but not stiff. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, easing it out gently towards the edges of the cake, and dust the top lightly with cocoa powder pushed through a strainer.