Thursday, July 28, 2011

Katie's Carrot Souffle

A very good friend of mine from college had her first baby this week, a healthy little boy.  He's precious, and he does not yet have any idea what a wonderful family he's been born into.  He also has no clue what's in store for his taste buds.  You see, his mom's a great cook, and she simply can't resist baking and cooking delicious food for people to enjoy.  She loves to see their faces light up as they eat a homemade gourmet dinner or a bakery-perfect baked good.  She's always whipping up something creative in the kitchen, which was an advantage for myself and our other roommates in college!  

In honor of my friend and her new addition, I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes of hers, a carrot souffle.  It's similar to a sweet potato souffle, but, rather than heavy or syrupy, this souffle is light and fluffy.  It's also full of vitamin A, good for your eyes!

Southern Spoon blog: Carrot Souffle
Katie's carrot souffle: yum!

I've reduced the butter and sugar from the original recipe to make a slightly lighter souffle. If you have unrefined demura cane sugar or turbinado sugar on hand, use a tablespoon of it as part of your sugar measurement.  This is a delicious side dish to serve for dinner any day, and it's also a great addition to a Thanksgiving or Christmas buffet.  

I've only made this recipe in a round, 1.5 quart dish, but I'm sure it would also work well baked in four or five individual 8 oz ramekins, reducing the cooking time to about 20-25 minutes.  

Katie's Carrot Souffle
5-6 servings

1 lb carrots, washed and peeled
pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or 2 1/2 tablespoons gluten-free flour plus 1 teaspoon Xanthum gum if cooking gluten-free)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Chop the carrots into 1/2-inch coins.  Place them in a pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt and cook for about 15-20 minutes, until tender and a knife cuts through them easily.  Drain the carrots, reserving 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, then return them to the pot with the reserved liquid.  

Mash the carrots thoroughly with a potato masher until smooth (or blend with a food processor or blender), then add the melted butter, stirring well to combine.  Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Whisk  in the remaining ingredients, stirring until just combined.  

Pour into a lightly greased 1.5 quart baking dish.  Bake at 350F/ 175C for 40-45 minutes, until about doubled in size and the middle looks set.  Serve immediately, or chill overnight and re-warm in a hot oven (covered with foil) or microwave before serving.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ceviche-Style Tacos

Ceviche!  Fun to say, and even more fun to eat.  Ceviche is a wonderful Peruvian dish of raw fish 'cooked' with citrus juice and mixed with peppers and vegetables.  The fish is not actually cooked, but it does turn firm and opaque when it marinates in the citrus juices.  I had frozen fish on hand, so I poached the fish for 5 minutes first, but if you have ready access to very fresh fish, do use that instead.

Southern Spoon blog: Ceviche-Style tacos
Colorful ceviche ready to serve with mini homemade tortillas
Ceviche is often served with tortilla chips, but I've recommended serving this recipe with small homemade tortillas so that guests can make mini tacos.  To complete the meal, peel a sweet potato and slice it into 1/2-inch thick slices, boiling the slices for about 10 minutes until tender.  Arrange the warm sweet potato slices on each plate, and add a salad of chopped mango and kiwi fruit.  The flavors go beautifully with the ceviche, and make for a filling dinner.  

This is perfect for a summer meal, and especially fun for a dinner party.  Serve the ceviche in individual wine or martini glasses garnished with a lime.  Set a glass on each plate alongside a short stack of mini tortillas, boiled sweet potato slices, and mango and kiwi fruit salad.  Enjoy!

Ceviche-Style Tacos
4-5 generous servings

4 white fish fillets (such as tilapia, haddock, or halibut), frozen, or very fresh
1 lemon
1 lime
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 pickled onions, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and very finely chopped
2 bell peppers, any color
2 hot peppers (such as jalepenos or serrano peppers)
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce (Tabasco or Cholula)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 avocados

To serve:
4-inch tortillas (make sure they're gluten-free if cooking g-f) 
additional lime slices

If you're using frozen fish, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and poach the fish for 5-6 minutes, until opaque.  Remove fish and coursley chop into 1/2 inch pieces.  Arrange pieces in a shallow glass or ceramic dish with a cover.  Grate the lemon rind and squeeze the juice from half of the lemon over the fish.  Grate the lime rind and squeeze the juice from half of the lime over the fish.  Sprinkle with pepper. Cover the fish and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, or overnight.  

Wash and cut the bell peppers in half.  Broil the pepper halves, skin side up, under a hot oven broiler for about 5 minutes, until beginning to blacken on top.  Turn the halves over and broil, insides up, for about 5 more minutes.  Remove from oven and place in a plastic back so that they steam for a few minutes.  After they've steamed, peel off any blacked skin and discard skin.  Shop coursely and place into a large bowl.  

Add the purple onion, pickled onion, carrots, and peppers to the bell peppers.  Add 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1-2 teaspoons hot sauce, the remaining juice from the lemon and lime, and pinch of salt, tossing to coat.  Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, or overnight.

After the fish and vegetables have chilled, dice the avocado.  Add the avocado and fish to the vegetable mixture, stirring gently to incorporate.  Serve immediately.

Serve with mini tortillas and lime slices so that guests can fill their tortillas with ceviche to construct mini-tacos.  If serving gluten-free guests, make sure the tortillas are gluten-free corn tortillas.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Raisin Scones

We had some Texan friends visiting this week and made sure to introduce them to a few English delicacies.  Fish and chips with mushy peas at our favorite pub was included on the list, and they were even brave enough to try marmite on hot buttered toast! 

On their last day here, I baked up a big batch of these raisin scones to serve for tea.  They are light and soft, rather than the dense and hard scones you're often served in a cafe.  

These are best eaten on the day they're made.  Serve with stirred clotted cream (or butter if clotted cream isn't readily available) and strawberry jam. 

Raisin Scones
makes about 20 scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup cold water

Preheat the oven to 375F/ 190C.  Grease a 9x9 inch metal baking pan.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two knives.  Stir in the raisins.  Add the milk and water, tossing with a fork just until the mixture comes together (it will be pretty sticky, as if it has too much liquid).  

Turn dough out onto a liberally floured surface.  Knead about 10-15 times, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the surface.  

Roll out to a 1 inch thickness.  Cut out circles with a 1.5 or 2 inch round cookie or biscuit cutter.  Place the rounds so that they are touching each other in the greased baking pan.  Brush the tops with a little milk.

Bake at 375F/ 190C for about 12-15 minutes.  Serve immediately with butter (or clotted cream, freshly stirred) and jam.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Herbed Tart with Eggplant, Marinated Sardines, and Mozzarella

In trying to incorporate more Mediterranean food into my cooking, I've enjoyed experimenting with sardines.  They're less salty than anchovies, full of protein and healthy omega 3s, and they are less 'fishy'-tasting than you'd imagine.  

For this savory tart, I marinate the sardines in herbs and olive oil, creating a filling and delicious addition to the eggplant, bell peppers, mushrooms, and creamy mozzarella.  Fresh and dried herbs are used in the crust and the tart filling to intensify the flavour.  It's a beautiful dish to serve to company, and even less-adventurous eaters will be asking for seconds.

Make one large tart or divide the mixture into small tart dishes for individual servings.  Serve with crusty french bread and a side of steamed asparagus tossed in a spoonful of melted butter and squeeze of lemon.
Snapped a picture just before the tart went into the oven 

Herbed Tart with Eggplant, Marinated Sardines, and Mozzarella
Serves 4

Marinated sardines:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
pinch of crushed sea salt (omit if sardines are canned in brine)
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon coriander (cilantro) seeds, slightly crushed
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 cans sardines, in olive oil or brine, preferably boned and skinned

Tart Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water

Tart filling:
2 eggplants, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
2 green onions, washed with both ends trimmed
1 red bell pepper, sliced
3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 balls reduced-fat mozzarella
8-10 fresh thyme sprigs
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

Mix all of the marinade ingredients (except for the sardines) in a small bowl.  Rinse the sardines and then place them in the bowl of marinade.  Cover and refrigerate at least 20 minutes, or overnight.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients for the crust. Cut in the olive oil using a pastry cutter, then add the water, cutting with the pastry cutter until it is just all sticking together.  Turn the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap or a plastic bag, wrap the plastic around it tightly to form a ball, and place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, or overnight.

Spray a baking pan lightly with oil, and arrange the eggplant slices on top in a single layer (you might have to do two trays).  Sprinkle eggplant lightly with salt and 1 teaspoon dried oregano.  Place the two green onions on the baking sheet, as well.  Bake at 390F/ 200C for 10-15 minutes, until beginning to brown.  

Remove the tray from the oven, setting aside the green onion.  Stack the eggplant slices together, and place them in a plastic bag so that they can soften in the steam for about 10 minutes.  

Lightly spray a 10-inch tart pan (or 5 4-inch tart pans) with oil.  Remove the dough from the fridge, and place it between two sheets of plastic wrap, or in the middle of a large plastic bag.  Roll out as thinly as you can with a rolling pin (into one large disk, or 5 small discs, depending on the size of your tart pan).  Lay the dough in the tart pan, and press the dough out and up the edges of the pan with your fingers if you need to.

Bake crust for 10 minutes at 390F/ 200C.  Remove from oven.  

Arrange thin, halved slices of the mozzarella on top of the crust, placing the pieces of cheese about 1 inch apart.  Arrange one layer of eggplant slices on top of the mozzarella, then top with another layer of mozzarella.  Add another layer of eggplant, then arrange mushroom slices on top of the second eggplant layer.  

Using kitchen shears, cut the roasted green onions into thin slices over the mushrooms, then sprinkle evenly with garlic slices.  Arrange marinated sardines and bell pepper slices around the tart.  Sprinkle with the fresh thyme sprigs, fresh ground pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon of oregano.  Top evenly with freshly grated parmesan.

Bake at 390F/ 200C for about 15-20 minutes, until the edges of the crust just begin to turn golden and the cheese is melted.  

Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nancy's Famous Peach Cobbler

Today is my mother's 60th birthday, and I wish that I were in the same country so I could celebrate with her tonight.  My mother is an incredible cook, a true SouthernSpoonBelle.  Growing up there was always a delicious meal laid out each evening at home, so that dinner time was a chance for the family to sit back, dig in, and catch up on the day's activities.  I am so grateful to my mother for creating that memorable space for us each evening, centered around a wholesome, homemade meal.

On special nights there would be dessert.  Oh, can my mother make a good dessert.  Brownies, cookies, cakes, pies, cobblers, homemade ice cream... without fail, they are always delicious. Her peach cobbler, in fact, is proven so: voted best dessert at a Baptist church bake-off a few years ago.  That's high praise.

She started making peach cobbler in the summers, after our family would bring back crates of peaches to the house following our annual peach-picking outing.  She would make a fresh cobbler and homemade vanilla ice cream so that we could enjoy our spoils, then she'd skin and slice the rest of the peaches.  I'd often stand at the kitchen sink to catch the peach skins as they coiled off of her paring knife, not wanting any bit of the fruit to be thrown away!  The fresh peach slices would then be piled into freezer bags, ready to be made into cobbler anytime we felt like it, even in mid-winter.
Southern Spoon blog: peach cobbler
Mom's peach cobbler on the dessert table at my brother's wedding...
 picture courtesy of my talented cousin!
This cobbler is so good that my brother and his wife requested it to grace the dessert table at their Louisiana Southern-plantation-style wedding recently.  They served a selection of their favorite family sweets to guests, and Momma Nancy's Peach Cobbler was a hit.  If I haven't convinced you yet, try it yourself... just make sure to use peaches that are in-season and ripe.  Mother's homemade vanilla ice cream is the best accompaniment, but store-bought vanilla ice cream will do.  Enjoy... and Happy Birthday to Nancy!

Nancy's Famous Peach Cobbler 
Serves about 10

Cobbler Crust: 

3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup crisco
9-10 tblsp. ice water

Cut the salt and crisco into the flour with a pastry cutter or two knives.  Add half of the ice water, sprinkling it over the dough, toss the dough with a fork, then add the other half of the water, cutting with your pastry cutter or knives just until the mixture comes together.

Divide dough in half.  Cover half of dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the other half of the dough to about a 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut the dough into long strips, about 3 inches by 1 inch.  Place the strips of dough on a cookie sheet and bake at 425F/ 220C for about 7-10 minutes, until barely brown.

Cobbler Filling: 

1/2 cup butter
9 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tblsp. flour
dash of cinnamon
pinch of salt

Mix the butter, peaches, and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.  In a separate bowl, blend the dry ingredients, then stir them into the boiling mixture.  Stir until dissolved, about 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Remove the reserved dough from the fridge.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness in a 10x10 inch square.

Grease and flour a 9x9 inch baking pan or glass dish (glass works best).  Place one layer of the cooked crust strips on the bottom of the pan, top with half of the peach mixture.  Place another layer of the cooked crust strips on top of the peach mixture, then top with the remaining peach mixture.  Top the cobbler with the rolled out dough.  Press the dough with your fingers to the edge of the pan to seal.  Cut slits or a decoration in the dough (Mother cuts a seasonal decoration, initials, or a giant peach shape-- get creative!).

Place the pan on top of a larger pan or cookie sheet with a lip to catch any drips.  Bake at 375F/ 190C for 35-40 minutes, until the peach mixture is bubbling and the crust is beginning to brown on top.  Serve immediately with ice cream.  Can be refrigerated up to a week or frozen up to 6 months, sealed snuggly with foil.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Southern Stuffed Bell Peppers over Seasoned Greens

Currently eating this as lunch leftover from last night's dinner, and it's just as delicious the next day.  Black-eyed peas and shredded turkey or chicken, simmered in liquid smoke, come together beautifully in colorful roasted bell peppers.  Served over seasoned greens, topped with shredded cheese, and accompanied by cornbread, this dish couldn't get any more Southern. 

It's healthy and filling comfort food, fit for a family dinner, but a casserole dish full of stuffed peppers also makes a nice presentation on a buffet.  Put the tabasco sauce on the table for anyone who wants to spice it up a notch.  
Southern Spoon blog: Stuffed bell peppers over seasoned greens
Southern stuffed bell peppers over seasoned greens... black-eyed pea goodness
Southern Stuffed Bell Peppers over Seasoned Greens

4 hearty servings

4 bell peppers, various colors
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 teaspoons cumin, divided
2 teaspoons chili powder, divided
3 chicken or turkey breasts (or about 1 1/2 cups shredded, deli-roasted chicken)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 can black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3 teaspoons natural liquid smoke (mesquite flavor works well)
4 cups spinach, rinsed
1 cup freshly shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Turn on your oven broiler to medium-high.  Wash the bell peppers and split each in half, cutting from the bottom to the top of the stem, removing the stem and seeds.  Mix the olive oil, white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon cumin, and 1 teaspoon chili powder into a small bowl.  Brush the mixture lightly all over the bell peppers, and place peppers, skin side up, on a baking tray.  Reserve the remaining oil and vinegar mixture.  Place bell peppers in the oven, about 4 inches from heat.  Broil for about 3 minutes, then turn them over so that the fleshy inside is facing the heat.  Broil about 3 more minutes, then turn back over so that the skin is facing the heat.  Broil another  3 minutes, just until the skin begins to blister and peppers are softened.  Remove peppers from oven, and turn oven to 400F / 200C. Sprinkle insides with one teaspoon cumin.

Meanwhile, fill a pot with water and bring to a low boil.  Add the turkey or chicken and simmer for about 15 minutes, until a breast sliced open is no longer pink.  Remove from heat, drain the water off, and shred the chicken or turkey with two forks.  Set aside. 

In the same pot, spray a little oil or cooking spray and return to medium-high heat.  Add the chopped onion.  Saute about 6 minutes, until soft and beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and saute another minute.  Remove one heaping tablespoon of the onion garlic mixture and put into reserved oil and vinegar mixture, set aside.  

Add the black-eyed peas and one cup of water to the pot with the remaining onion and garlic.  Add 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon chili powder, and the parsley and oregano to peas.  Simmer for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the shredded turkey or chicken, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water has mostly been absorbed or evaporated.  Remove from heat.  

Spoon the black-eyed pea mixture into each bell pepper half, topping with shredded cheese.  Leave any remaining mixture in the pot that won't fit into the bell pepper halves.  Return the pot to medium heat and add the spinach, stirring occasionally for about 2-3 minutes, until spinach is wilted.  

Pour one tablespoon of the reserved oil and vinegar mixture into the spinach, stirring to distribute.  Pour the remaining oil and vinegar mixture into the bottom of a large ceramic or glass casserole dish.  Spread the spinach mixture over the bottom of the casserole.  Arrange bell peppers on top of spinach.

Bake casserole dish at 400F / 200C for about 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and peppers are heated through.  Serve immediately with cornbread.


I can remember ordering beef ‘fajita’, or skirt steak, at Secos y Mojados, a restaurant across the border in Mexico that my family used to frequent in the summer when visiting relatives in South Padre Island, Texas.  Although it didn’t look like the type of fajita I was used to in San Antonio’s Tex-Mex restaurants, the meat was well seasoned and easy to eat.
onions & bell peppers sizzling away as homemade tortillas cook alongside for fajitas
This is the hubs’s favorite ‘Texan’ meal, and we make it once every couple of weeks for dinner.  Cook up the seasoned beef or chicken with onions and bell peppers, then place the filling in a serving platter on the table and serve with homemade tortillas. Top with sour cream or plain yogurt, fresh shredded cheese, chopped jalapeños or serrano peppers, and chopped avocado.  Good served with corn (cooked with a little finely chopped red or green bell peppers and sprinkled with a dash of cayenne pepper) and refried beans on the side.
Makes 7-8 hearty servings
3 or 4 chicken breasts or thin beef steaks
2 teaspoons fajita seasoning (I use nothing but Fiesta brand Fajita Seasoning)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2-3 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 bell peppers, any color

To serve: 

tortillas (gluten-free and/or grain-free if cooking g-f or paleo)
sour cream, plain yogurt, or cashew cream
shredded cheese (optional)
chopped jalepeños or chili peppers
sliced avocado
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of fajita seasoning on either side of the chicken or beef, and return the meat to the fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.  Finely chop the garlic, and slice the onion and bell peppers into long strips.  Heat the vegetable oil in a wide pan or skillet on high heat.  Add the onion and bell peppers, sprinkling with 1 teaspoon of fajita seasoning, and sauté for about five minutes.
Push the vegetables to one side and add the meat to the pan, searing for about 2-3 minutes on either side.  Turn the heat down to medium-high, redistribute the vegetables, add the garlic, and continue to cook the meat for about 6-7 more minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink in the middle (beef may remain slightly pink). 
Turn off the heat and remove the meat from the pan, slicing thinly across the grain into long strips.  Mix the meat back into the peppers and onions, and transfer to a serving platter.
Serve fajita meat hot alongside tortillas and toppings so that guests can pick up a tortilla, fill it with fajita meat, peppers, and onions, and top with desired toppings. Sour cream or low fat plain yogurt, fresh shredded mild cheese, chopped jalapeños or serrano peppers, and chopped avocado are excellent toppings.


Warm, fresh tortillas are a staple that many Southerners take for granted.  Restaurants throughout the South make their own tortillas, and many grocery stores in Texas make their tortillas on site. By contrast, England’s grocery stores, if they have them at all, stock only overpriced, flavorless ‘wraps’ and packaged tortillas full of preservatives. These are not the real thing, and I refuse to eat them or serve them to guests!
homemade tortillas @ Southern Spoon blog
stack of homemade tortillas ready to serve
This tortilla recipe is very easy. Though they do take a few minutes to mix up, roll out, and cook, they are tasty and you have the assurance of knowing exactly what they contain. If you have masa flour (a Mexican flour made of corn) on hand, use a cup of that as part of the 4 cups of flour called for; if not, use a cup of wheat flour as a part of the flour– it gives the tortillas a more distinct taste.   
homemade tortillas @ Southern Spoon blog
homemade tortillas cooking on my grandmother's griddle
Make sure the griddle is very hot for the first tortilla, or it may stick to the pan. (Trick my mother taught me: fling some water on the pan, if the drops dance across the griddle, it’s hot enough). You may have to turn the heat down a bit after cooking your first few if they start to brown too quickly.
I often cook tortillas on a separate griddle alongside fajita meat, timing it so that I’m finished cooking the last tortilla just as the fajita meat is ready.
makes about 8 tortillas
4 cups flour (or 3 cups flour and 1 cup masa flour; or 3 cups flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1  1/4 to 1 1/2 cups warm water
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in oil with a biscuit cutter or a fork. Mix in enough water to form a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times, until dough comes together. With floured hands, roll dough into egg-sized portions.  Let the dough portions sit for 15 minutes.
Using a rolling pin or a tortilla press, flatten each dough portion into a thin circle. Cook on a skillet over high heat for about 1 minute on each side or until little dark spots begin to appear and the dough is cooked through.
As you are cooking the tortillas, pile finished tortillas in a tortilla holder or on a plate covered with a dishtowel to keep them warm and soft.
Place any leftover tortillas in a bag in the freezer. To defrost, microwave for about 30-45 seconds on medium-high.

Mexican Chocolate Cake with Orange Chocolate Glaze

In Texas the cuisine of the South meets the warm flavors of Mexican cooking.  This dessert is a fusion of both worlds: a dense chocolate bundt cake with unexpected scents of cinnamon and a lingering spicy note (a result of the cayenne pepper and balsamic vinegar) that encourages you to take another bite.  It’s also cholesterol-free and vegan since it contains no butter, milk, or eggs.
The cake is delicious on its own, but it also benefits from the addition of an Orange Chocolate Glaze, which I’ve included below.  My English relatives and friends might be tempted to douse this dessert in cream, but to do so would mute the subtle spice combination of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and balsamic vinegar.  Hold the cream!
This recipe makes a ‘short’ bundt cake (it will only rise about half to three-quarters of the way up the baking pan) so cut thick slices to serve.
Mexican Chocolate Cake
Serves 12-14
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
scant tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla
Orange Chocolate Glaze (below)
Combine all cake ingredients in a bowl and mix just until combined.  Pour batter into a greased bundt or tube cake pan.  Bake at 350F (180C) for 25-30 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes, then invert out onto a plate and cool completely.
Drizzle with Orange Chocolate Glaze, if desired.  Keep leftover cake refrigerated if you add the Orange Chocolate Glaze, otherwise, store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Orange Chocolate Glaze
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3-4 tablespoons orange juice
Stir powdered sugar and cocoa together, then gradually add orange juice until the glaze reaches a consistency where it will thinly coat the back of a spoon.

Texas Brisket

Brisket is a great cut of beef, tender and falling apart at the touch of a fork if you cook it correctly.  I tend to cook white meat most often, but sometimes I just crave a good dose of iron and protein.  This brisket is my favorite red meat dish.
This recipe is my mother’s, passed down to her by a friend of my grandmother’s.  It’s mouthwatering, and the leftovers make delicious sandwiches.  Serve with a side of mashed potatoes and green beans for a well-rounded, hearty meal.
Texas Brisket
7-8 hearty servings
5-6 lb. brisket (trimmed)
3-4 tablespoons liquid smoke
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce (make sure it’s gluten-free if you’re cooking for someone who is gluten-free)
1-2 teaspoons garlic powder
1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Place the brisket on a large sheet of heavy foil.  Pour the liquid smoke and soy sauce over the meat, and sprinkle with the garlic powder and pepper.  Wrap the foil fairly tightly around the meat.  Bake at 450F (230C) for 30 minutes, then turn down the oven to 300F (150C) and cook for 4-5 hours, until done and brisket flakes away with a fork.
Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes before slicing, and make sure to ladle the juices atop the meat to serve.

My Mother's Brownies

There will be many cookies, pies, cobblers, and cakes to come, but first I give you a staple of the American sweet tooth: the brownie.  This is my mother’s recipe, probably adapted long ago from some Junior League cookbook.  They are the perfect balance of cakey and fudgey, and they taste even better the day after baking.
homemade brownies warm from the oven, dusted with powdered sugar
I don’t think I had ever tasted ‘brownies from a box’ until I went to high school, where friends brought brownies that they had ‘made’ (added an egg and some oil to a mix) at home to share with the girls. I was always sorely disappointed with the flavor and consistency of those imposter brownies. Once you try these you’ll understand why.
moist, cakey-fudgey brownies
I find that a metal baking pan works best to make these, as a glass pan creates edges too crispy for my liking.  Pull the brownies out of the oven just when they look ‘set’; when you slightly shake the pan the middle shouldn't wobble.  The typical ‘stick a knife/toothpick in to see if it comes out clean’ won’t work here, you want them to be somewhat fudgey when you take them out of the oven.  Cut into smallish rectangles– they’re rich. Great served with ice cream.
homemade brownies + vanilla ice cream
makes 20 small brownies
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar (sometimes I use 1/2 cup raw sugar and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar)
1/2 cup butter
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (to garnish)
Melt the butter and cocoa in a pan over medium heat, stir together and remove from heat when melted.  Cream the eggs and sugar in a bowl, then stir in the melted butter and cocoa mixture.  Add the vanilla and flour, stir till just combined.
Pour batter into a greased 8×8 inch metal pan, and bake at 325F (160C) for 18-25 minutes, or just until the middle of the brownies are ‘set’ and don’t wiggle when you give the pan a slight shake. Do not overbake or the brownies will be too dry.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, then dust with sifted powdered sugar.  Cut into small rectangles.  Serve, or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Add 1 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts to the batter when you’re stirring in the vanilla and flour; proceed as directed.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cornbread Muffins

The wholesome texture of cornbread embodies home cooking. Whip up a batch of cornbread muffins to go with any dish and the whole meal immediately feels 'made from scratch'. These muffins can be made savory or sweet, spicy or mild: whatever you're in the mood for.

Purists (including my Southern mother) use a cast-iron skillet, which produces a crispy crust and makes the bread perfect for crumbling into chilli or stew. I like to make cornbread in a muffin tin so I can pile a steaming platter of the golden bread in the center of the table and let everyone help themselves. I also add a little plain yogurt to the mixture, making the muffins more moist than the crumbly cornbread you may have tried in the past, and adding a little more zing to bring out the tartness of the buttermilk.

I've listed some suggested variations of this basic recipe at the end of this post. If you're cooking gluten-free, substitute 1/2 cup gluten-free flour for the 1/2 cup flour.

Cornbread Muffins

makes 1 dozen

1 1/2 cups cornmeal (I like to use yellow cornmeal, but white will do, too)
1/2 cup flour (substitute 1/2 cup gluten-free flour if cooking gluten-free)
1 tblsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk on hand, just add about a tsp of white vinegar to the measuring cup, then pour in 1 cup of milk, and let it sit for 5 minutes)
2 tblsp plain low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine the dry ingredients.  Make a well in the center, and add the eggs, milk, yogurt, and oil.  Whisk it all together just until combined.  Pour into a 12-cup greased or lined muffin tin (or into a greased 9 x 9 inch baking pan).  Bake at 400 F/ 200 C for 18-20 minutes, until risen and just turning golden brown on top.


Jalepeno Cheesy Cornbread Muffins
Add 1 or 2 seeded and chopped jalepenos (depending on how much heat you can handle), 1/4 tsp hot sauce (Tobasco), and 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese to the liquid ingredients.  Proceed as directed.

Sweet Cornbread Muffins
Instead of 2 tblsp sugar, add 6 tblsp sugar to the dry ingredients, and proceed as directed. These are especially good served with butter and honey.

Rosemary Parmesan Cornbread Muffins
Add 1 tsp dried rosemary, 1/2 tsp dried oregano, and 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan to the dry ingredients.  Proceed as directed.

Cornbread Veggie Muffins
After you've mixed the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, fold in 1/2 cup canned corn, 1 small shredded zucchini (courgette), and half of a finely chopped red bell pepper.  Proceed as directed.

Shrimp and Grits

I make this classic Southern dish from the Carolinas once every couple of weeks for dinner.  It's delicious, and it comes together pretty quickly.  Bell peppers ('capsicum' as my husband's homeland refers to them) are full of vitamin C and B6, beta carotene, and antioxidants, and the red ones have lots of heart-healthy lycopene.  Mushrooms also contain plenty of nutrients, and give the dish a wonderful flavor.  Seed and chop a small hot pepper for added heat and vitamins.  If you're cooking for someone who is gluten-free, replace the flour with one tablespoon of cornflour.

This dish always impresses company for brunch or dinner.  If you're worried about your guests' heat sensitivity, decrease the hot sauce a bit and just put the bottle on the table.  I usually serve shrimp and grits with cornbread muffins (with a chopped hot pepper added to the batter before baking).

Shrimp and Grits
serves 4 generously
1 lb. peeled shrimp
pinch of salt and pepper
2 tblsp flour (replace with 1 tblsp cornflour if cooking gluten-free)
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 bell peppers, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped green onions
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 tsp hot sauce (Tobasco)
1 lemon
* Cheese grits (recipe below)

Mix the pinch of salt and pepper into the flour, and dredge the shrimp in this mixture, set aside.  

Saute the bell peppers in the oil for about 5-6 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, saute for about 2-3 minutes, until tender.  Add the green onions, garlic, and shrimp, saute for about 2-3 minutes, until shrimp turn pink.  

Add the chicken broth and hot sauce, simmer on high heat for about 3 minutes (reducing the broth a bit so it thickens to a thin gravy-like consistency).  

Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze one half of the lemon over the shrimp mixture.  Slice up the other half of the lemon into wedges to serve.

Place a scoop of cheese grits in the center of each plate, and top with a scoop of the shrimp mixture.  Serve with lemon wedges and extra hot sauce.

Cheese Grits
1 (14 oz) can chicken broth
1 cup skim milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup  uncooked, quick-cooking grits
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 tsp hot sauce (Tobasco)
1/4 tsp ground pepper

Bring the broth, milk, and salt to a boil over medium heat.  Gradually whisk in the grits, and reduce the heat to very low.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes, until the grits thicken.  You may need to add a few tablespoons of water if it gets too thick too quickly.  

Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses, hot sauce, and pepper.