Friday, July 29, 2011

Not Your Granny's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Unless your granny likes a kick of rum and cardamom.  Seriously, it was cardamom craziness.

Does your granny use fresh pineapple?  Okay, I'll stop talking about your granny.  Because maybe she makes an out-of-this-world pineapple upside-down cake.

I'm fairly certain I've never had pineapple upside-down cake before this one.  Who knows why?  I love pineapple, and I love cake.  The best thing about this cake was definitely the fresh pineapple because we'd let one get really ripe on our counter.  After my mom cut it up I taste tested a piece.  For good measure of course.  Gaw, it was sweet and pineapple-y and yum.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Easy Leek Tart and My New Favorite Thing

Before I get into the feature food for today, I have to tell you about my new favorite snack.  As in, I just made this and ate it and fell in love.  Pardon my run-on sentence.  I've been eyeing the honey at Fresh Market the past few times I've been in there.  I caved today and bought some raw tupelo honey produced by The Savannah Bee Company.

The label says it never crystallizes and has a buttery taste and smooth texture.  Um yeah.  Honeys are sort of like snowflakes; no two are exactly the same.  The notes of honey are determined by the flower the bees decide to snack on that day. So this tupelo honey will taste different from orange blossom honey or clover honey.

I bought this almond butter packet the other day (also from Fresh Market) mostly because I thought it was brilliant marketing.  I've always wanted to try almond butter but didn't want to invest in a whole jar of it if it turned out I didn't care for it.  Enter this little squeezy pack of Justin's Almond Butter.  I'm pretty sure I saw him on the Cooking Channel the other day after I'd bought this.  Anyhow, it's enough for a sandwich or two, so I used some today.

So I made a half sammich with the honey and almond butter.  Remember those kind of gross sandwiches they served at school with peanut butter and honey that may or may not have been from 1995?  Yeah, there's no competition.  I don't have a picture of it because I ate it and then decided to tell you about it.  Oops.  Do yourself a favor and buy some good honey and a packet (or two...or a jar) of almond butter and make a sammich.

Now for the big to-do.  I made an easy leek pastry last night with goat cheese and prosciutto.  Yummm.  Truth be told, my mom and I probably could've eaten it as dinner, but we both ate two slices and a bowl of chili.  Overkill.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rainy Days and...Tuesdays

We've had three straight days of rain.

Lots of this.
And this.

Not that I'm really complaining because heaven knows we've needed some drought relief.  The first day cooled off the temps so much it was actually pleasant to walk onto the porch during the day.  It's gotten a little muggier since then but nowhere near the relentless heat we and most of the country have been feeling.

I actually like when it rains because I like a nice summer storm.  I don't mind the thunder and lightning except that it absolutely terrifies Puddin.  He's phobic.  Even the flash from my camera freaks him out.

Note:  He was quite comfortable in this picture.  There was no thunderstorm, and he had a comfy bed to lay on.  Of course, I had to work around him when I made up my bed.  He didn't mind.

Anyhow, the thing is, the rain sort of kills my mojo.  Crazy, right?  It eliminates any desire I have to go to the grocery store.  Wah.  I have an idea floating around in my head though for tonight.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I can pull it together!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oreos. 'Nuff Said.

I can't contain myself......I made Oreos!  Or as Martha calls them "Cream-filled chocolate sandwiches."
Don't lick the screen.  Talking to myself again.

Oreos are one of a thousand guilty pleasures I have.  I never buy them because I don't want to spiral down a path of self-destruction.  But everything is better homemade right?  I mean, not better for you as you'll see in the recipe, but these cookies have the distinct taste of not tasting processed.  Know what I mean?

And clearly because it's a 1000º outside, baking is a good idea!  Um, not really.  I'm a glutton for punishment.  But once I get set on making something, I have to make it.  Ask Will.  He knows.

Confession:  I kinda didn't follow the directions and definitely not on purpose.  My bad.  I don't think it affected the outcome in a noticeable way, but when I make these again (and I will make these again) I'll be extra-careful to follow the instructions.  Sorry, Martha.

Yummy stuff: butter, egg, Dutch-process cocoa powder, and sugar.

A word about the cocoa powder.  It's a little on the pricey side, but it's generally not advisable to switch it out for natural cocoa powder (like Hersheys).  Dutch-process is a little different from natural cocoa powder in that it has an alkali added to it to neutralize the acidity naturally found in chocolate.  Both have their places in baking, and a recipe will generally specify Dutch-process if that's what is needed.

Not as yummy but quite necessary stuff: All-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

I started by sifting together the dry ingredients.
That's the cocoa powder, flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Cocoa powder tends to lump up in the box, so sifting is a mandatory step.  It also helps distribute the baking powder and soda.

Almost there.


Butter and sugar get creamed together until they're fluffy.  Like a teddy bear.  Ok, not really like that at all.  Oh, here's oopsie #1.  There should be two more tablespoons of butter in there.  Doh.  I confused the amount of butter in the filling for the butter in the cookies.  I am...ashamed.  Remember, 1 stick plus 2 tbs of butter.  It will be my mantra next time.

Then a room temperature egg made its way into the bowl.

I added the dry ingredients in 3 additions.  I added in additions.  I'm a poetess.  But seriously, folks, I scraped down the sides between each addition just to be sure it all got incorporated.

I scooped rounded teaspoons of dough and placed them about 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Martha and I differed in this respect.  Her instructions say to dip the bottom of a glass in sugar and gently press down on the dough to flatten it.  I just used my finger.

Baked in a 375º oven for 9 minutes, I got these...
I'm not entirely sure why some of them have crackle tops and some came out smooth.  I suspect it has something to do with the smooth ones being baked on the lower rack.  Oopsie #2- I didn't rotate the baking sheets halfway through baking.  Again, I don't think it wildly affected my cookies, but I generally don't like to ignore Martha's instructions.

Filling time!

Powdered sugar, butter, vegetable shortening, and vanilla extract.  Ignore the corn in the background.

Powdered sugar got sifted.  Holy moly.

After I combined the butter and shortening, I began adding the powdered sugar, again in stages.

When it was all combined and fluff-tastic, a tablespoon of vanilla extract.  That's a lot of vanilla.  Luckily, I lurve vanilla extract.  Hardcore.

I flipped over every other cookie so I had a top and a bottom for each sandwich.  I spread a good thick coat of icing on the bottoms.  I had a little filling left over, and I'm not inclined to waste the good stuff; so I went back around and added more filling to the ones that looked a little skinny.

A gentle squeeze made sure the tops weren't going anywhere.

Looks a little like a double-stuf, no?  Mine are a little more, um, rustic than Martha's.  Tastes just dandy anyhow.

The best way to enjoy an Oreo:  with a glass of milk.  The milk really does help cut the overall sweetness of the cookie with a reliving-your-childhood sort of satisfaction.  Just as good:  with your afternoon coffee.  As long as your coffee doesn't have sugar in it.  Because that could put you in a coma.

I also have to show you this tart I made.  Let's just say it puts the puff in puff pastry.
Hah.  The flavors were all great: Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, and prosciutto.  It was just a little...unexpected.  I'll refine this before I do a post about it, but it's easy and good for a light dinner or appetizer.

This was a white blend I found at Fresh Market.  Hot to Trot.  I'm a sucker for funny names.  It was fruity but not too sweet.  Nice for a light meal.

Domesticated Oreos (makes 25-30)
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 c sugar
10 tbs (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

Cream Filling:
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c vegetable shortening
3 1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tbs vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 375º.  In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl or electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg and combine.
  • Gradually add sifted ingredients on low speed.  Beat until well combined.
  • Drop rounded teaspoons onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  With slightly moistened fingers, gently flatten dough.  Bake until cookies are firm, about 9-11 minutes.  Let cook on wire racks.
  • While cookies cool, prepare cream filling.
  • Cream butter and shortening until combined.  Gradually add powdered sugar on low speed and beat until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla extract and beat until combined.  Keep at room temperature until use.
  • When cookies have fully cooled, spread or pipe filling onto half the cookies.  Place the remaining cookies on top and gently squeeze together.  Store in airtight containers for 2-3 days.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Atoning for the Fried Food

What do you eat the day after having a meal chock full of fried?  Something on the light side.  Balance.

I had a sort of craving for a quinoa salad.  "Quinoa?" you say?  Oui.  Prounounced keen-wah, it's an ancient grain from South America.  The Incas used to eat it.  And what's good for the Incas is good for me. Or y'know, this is just really tasty.

It's an incredible source of protein considering it's a wee bitty grain, and it has all 8 amino acids.  That's gotta be good for you right?  It's gluten free for those who can't tolerate the stuff, and on top of that it's incredibly versatile.  You can eat it as a salad like I did or use it as a filling in different dishes.  It goes well with a variety of flavors AND you can make big batches of it to freeze and pull out whenever you need 'em.  Handy, no?

So given the nutritional bounty available from quinoa and the fact that I actually like it, I made a yummy little salad full of fresh vegetables and a little fruit.  Avocados are fruit aren't they?

Anyhow, I started by preparing my quinoa according to the package's instructions.  Do yourself a favor and get pre-washed quinoa.
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil

When the water is boiling, add 1 cup of quinoa.  Lower the heat to a simmer and cover for about 15 minutes.

For the veg...
De-kernelize one corn.  Or more if you like.

Toss it in a pan with a tablespoon of canola oil

Give half a bell pepper a large dice

Add it to the corn along with the pepper of your choosing.  We had a horn pepper hanging around.  Honestly, I'd never seen a horn pepper before.  It was in the process of turning from green to red, so it wasn't the prettiest color I'd ever seen.  It provided a subtle heat that I really liked.  It didn't punch you in the face y'know?  Anyhow, I left the seeds and membranes in since my mom said it wasn't terribly hot to begin with.  If you're averse to heat, take out the seeds and membranes or leave out the pepper altogether.

Some minced garlic and half a large tomato (or a medium one) round things out

Just let that go for a bit, stirring it around every once in a while.

I made a lime not-quite-vinaigrette for a dressing.  I juiced two limes with my handy juicer, added salt and pepper, and 1/2 tsp cumin, although I would've been okay using more.  Whisk in a little olive oil and voila!  Almost-vinaigrette.  I say almost because I didn't use the proportions that make it a real vinaigrette.  I wanted the tang of the lime to be really bright in the salad.

When the quinoa has absorbed all the water, take it off the heat and fluff it with a fork.  Yes, fluff it.  Transfer it to a large bowl.

Pour the veggies in the bowl with the quinoa.  Time for the avocado!  Cut the avocado around the pit and twist it firmly but gently to separate the halves.  If you've got a large knife, give the pit a good whack with the knife so it sticks in the pit.  Give it a twist and the pit should come out easily.  Don't cut your hand off or anything though.

Slice the flesh vertically and horizontally without cutting through the skin.  If the avocado is nice and ripe the flesh will come out easily.  You can use a spoon if it needs a little encouragement.

My mom bought this peppercorn feta at The Pig.  Yummmm.  Sprinkle a little (or a lot) on the quinoa.  Of course regular feta can be used if you can't find awesome peppercorn feta.  Cotija cheese would also be nice in this.

Purty!  Drizzle the lime almost-vinaigrette over it.  The citrus keeps the avocado from turning brown, even the next day.  Toss it together and you're done!  It'll serve at least 4 as a side dish.

The corn has a sweetness to it, the avocado is wonderfully creamy, the pepper gives some heat, the feta a nice salty bite, and the lime brightens everything.  I ate two bowls for dinner.  No joke.  It's also good cold the next day for lunch.  I should know.

Easy Quinoa Salad (serves 4)

1 c quinoa
2 c water
1 tbs canola oil
1 corn, kernels removed
1/2 bell pepper
Hot pepper (jalapeño, serrano, horn, etc) to taste
1/2 large tomato (or 1 medium),  large dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 avocado, diced
Feta to taste

For lime almost-vinaigrette:
2 limes, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cumin

  • Boil water and add quinoa.  Turn heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tbs canola oil.  Add corn and cook ~5 minutes.  Add bell pepper, hot pepper, tomato, and garlic.  Continue cooking another 10-15 minutes.
  • Fluff quinoa with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.  Add hot vegetables and avocado to quinoa.  Drizzle lime mixture over quinoa and add feta.  Give it a good toss.  Serve warm.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Occasional Deep-fried Day

Y'know, some days you just want something fried.  Or everything fried, whichever floats your boat.  I try not to have too many days like that, but hey, everything in moderation.

We had some shrimp in the freezer, so I decided to beer batter it and fry it up.  And if you're going to fry shrimp you might as well fry some onions right?  So glad you agree.

And because this is the South, cheese grits are mandatory.  Specifically, smoked cheddar cheese grits.

I like to prep the veggies first.  It makes things go smoother down the road.

I used half of the onion for rings, and the other half got a rough dice for sautéing later.

Next up is a bell pepper.
I used an orange pepper, but you could easily use yellow, red, or green.

I cut it into thick strips for a nice bite.

For the batter...
You need a cup of all-purpose flour

Add in 3/4 tsp of baking powder

Next is 1/2 tsp salt

And a good crack of black pepper

Crack and egg into the bowl and pour in 3/4 c beer
I used Fat Tire.  I suggest drinking the leftovers.

Whisk it together until smooth and toss in some of the onion rings

Heat about 1/2" of oil in a pan or use a deep fryer if you have one.

Shake the excess batter off the onion rings and carefully put them in the oil.  Grease burns ain't no joke.

You definitely want to batter and fry the onions first because once the shrimp are in there there's no going back.  Shrimpy onion rings would be kinda weird...unless that's what you're going for.

Flip the rings over to get brown on both sides and drain on paper towels when they're nice and golden.  You definitely want to keep an eye on these.  Sprinkle a bit of salt on them while they're still hot so it'll stick.

About halfway through the onions, start melting a little knob of butter in a pan over medium heat

Add in the diced onions and bell pepper sticks after the butter has melted

Fry the shrimp in the same manner as the onion rings.  Shake off any excess batter and add the shrimp to the pan with great care.  You only need to do a few at a time so the oil doesn't cool too much.  That'll make your shrimpies greasy.  Ew.

Woo!  Drain them on paper towels like the onion rings.

While shrimp are frying, boil some water for the grits.  When the water reaches a rolling boil, add in the grits according to the package instructions.  Most will tell you the proper water-to-grits ratio.  Turn down the heat so the grits are just simmering and add in salt.  I wouldn't be too heavy handed with the salt since we're adding cheese in later, but it does need some salt now.  It's next to impossible to get the salt level right after the grits are done.

When the grits are just about done, add in your cheese.  I just shaved slices of smoked cheddar in there and stirred it around to melt it.  I used 3-4 oz of cheese.  I usually eyeball it and taste it until I think it's cheesy enough.  Don't be afraid to taste things and adjust to your liking.  Add in a bit of butter at the end for good measure.

When your peppers are almost done, splash a little white wine in the pan.

When it's all done, put it together like so:
Spoon some grits onto the plate and top with the bell pepper/onion mix.  A sprinkle of green onions adds a little pop of color.  Onion rings on the side complete it.

I wouldn't call this shrimp and grits, a dish best served in the Lowcountry.  There's no tasso ham involved.  It's more like shrimp with grits...and onion rings.  No matter, it's all yummy.  Definitely eat it while it's hot though.  Or scarf it down like I did.

Here's the easy to follow version:

Shrimp with Grits (serves 2)
Batter adapted from

1 c all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 egg
3/4 c medium-bodied beer
1 onion, half sliced in rings and half large dice
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on
1 bell pepper, cut into thick matchsticks
2 tbs butter, divided
Splash of white wine
Smoked cheddar cheese

  • Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, egg, and beer in a large bowl.
  • Heat 1/2" oil to 375º
  • Add onion rings to batter and let soak a few minutes.  Shake excess batter off rings and add to hot oil a few at a time.  Don't overcrowd the pan.  Cook until golden brown and drain on paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt.  Onion rings may be kept warm in a 200º oven.
  • Heat 1 tbs butter in a small pan and add bell pepper and onions. Sauté until browned and add splash of white wine.
  • Cook grits according to package directions.  Add cheese and remaining tablespoon of butter at the end.
  • Add shrimp to remaining batter and cook in same manner as onions.
  • Serve bell pepper and onions over grits and top with shrimp.  Onion rings are served on the side.