Saturday, October 25, 2014

Simply Special

Buttermilk Biscuits
It was the custom in the everyday routine of my grandmothers and my mother to "make bread". That, for them, was biscuits and/or cornbread (yes, every day) and occasionally dinner rolls for the Sunday table. Rather rare in the modern kitchens of today. And I really don't understand why because it takes so little time to make it right and really good compared to some instant cornbread mix or a biscuit can that's opened by abusing the edge of the countertop. 

I can remember all too well my first attempt at cornbread. I literally stood on a step-stool while mixing up the batter, because I was too short to reach the top of the counter. Being allowed to help Mama at such a young age with such an important chore, sparked my desire to learn more and to perfect each thing as I moved along. That time in the kitchen with these three women was valuable to me. First of all, I was totally enamored with the whole process of cooking and secondly, Mama was determined to make me a better cook than she was when she and Daddy married. She knew exactly zip, nada, nothing. Opening a can was stretching it for her as she recalled her first feeble attempts at cooking. Daddy was evidently patient. Actually, Mama and I learned several things together as my curiosity grew. She allowed me to experiment and grow in what I found interesting, while giving me a hand and some sound advice. A pinch of this or a pinch of that, as I recall. We worked very well together around the kitchen island.

And Mama made great biscuits by-the-way. I devised my own style and method, different from hers. But no matter what path one takes, the simple task of biscuit baking is special to anyone sitting at your table, usually with a butter knife in one hand and a jam spoon in the other. This is one of my recipes in the little cookbook I wrote for my family. As simple as biscuits are, they're equally delicious.

Buttermilk Biscuits

 2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
I love this old bowl
A proper biscuit pan ~ Cast iron
Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar to a mixing bowl. Stir to mix well and remove any lumps, should there be any. Pour the oil and buttermilk into a measuring cup and mix well, being sure to incorporate both ingredients completely. Add to the flour mixture and stir gently while bringing the flour into the middle of the oil/buttermilk until all the flour is incorporated.

Stir together until it becomes a dough
Soft dough makes tender biscuits
Loosely scatter flour onto waxed paper
Bring the dough together and sprinkle flour on all sides
Pat out with floured fingers to create a rectangle ~ Cut into twelve biscuits
I used a floured dough scraper to cut into equal sized biscuits, or you may use a round biscuit cutter.
Note: I also employ the pinch method by flouring my hands and rolling the dough into a ball then placing it onto the pan. After all the dough is used, I flatten each one with my hand.

Place into a greased and preheated cast iron pan. I put the pan into the oven while it is preheating and add a smidgen of canola oil just before placing the biscuits into it. Bake at 375 until golden brown and delicious!
G, B and D!
 Serve to a grateful family!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

French Apple Cake

French Apple Cake
Apples are everywhere all through the year, but at the beginning of Fall they are absolutely the best. They're fresh and that's always the secret to fantastic food. Our state doesn't have an apple harvest of any import, certainly not like the NW, but we have those fresh delicious orbs available through our local produce purveyors. Which makes me happy. And while shopping the other day, I picked up a couple of varieties, Honey Crisp & Gala. My intention was to use them for an apple recipe I'd never made before. Then I began my quest. I did what I usually do, searched cookbooks on hand and trolled the Internet for ideas. This recipe really caught my attention; I actually saw it on Pinterest and followed a very long and winding trail through several blogs where it had been featured over and over. It is a recipe by chef/author Dorie Greenspan which she adapted from a cake made by a friend in France, Marie-Helene. It seems the lady didn't want to share the recipe, so she found a way to enjoy the cake by playing around with what she did know about it and this, her final receipt. It's in Dorie's cookbook, Around My French Table. The ingredient list is small and easily things you would have in the pantry, which makes it all the more desirable as a keeper recipe.

You definitely want to try this cake...simple, straightforward, a genuine apple experience. There are no warm spices in this recipe, the apple shines as the star of each slice with a back note of rum and vanilla. And as it's baking, the aroma, oh my! So lets get to the recipe, shall we?

French Apple Cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 apples
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons unsalted butter

The method as I prepared the ingredients:

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper (my favorite) or into a small bowl. Peel, core and cut the apples into chunks. Melt the butter and cool slightly. Into a mixing bowl add the eggs and sugar and whisk until well combined. Splash in the rum and vanilla and stir. Add half the flour mixture and half the melted butter. Stir to combine. Add the remaining flour mixture and butter and stir until you achieve a smooth batter. Toss in the apples and fold in gently with a spatula. Pour into a buttered and floured pan, place into a pre-heated oven set at 350 degrees and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The top of the cake will be nicely browned and slightly firm to the touch. Remove and cool before slicing. 

Note: Three things actually... 1) It is recommended to use a springform pan for this cake and if I planned on serving it as a special dessert for guests I would certainly heed that suggestion. But Mama's VERY old cake pan was calling to me today and so I used it. 2) Use different apples for this, which creates a textural difference in the way they bake. I used only the two I had on hand, but you could use four different types.  3) Whipped creme would be gilding the lily, but it would also be divine!

Mama's old cake pan

To begin...

Apple chunks on waxed paper waiting for the batter

First mixing of wet and dry

In go the apples for the folding

Into Mama's old pan ~ I would love to share a slice with her today
Ready for the oven ~ As you can see it's all about apples

I bet you'd love a slice of this beauty

A slice on Mama's Blue Willow ~ A snowy dusting of powdered sugar

It slices like a dream ~ Almost pudding like texture
I'll definitely make this again ~ So delicious

Friday, June 20, 2014

Puff Pastry Unlimited

Piping hot from oven
When I clean out my fridge and freezer I usually find things I've totally forgotten. Of course most of them get tossed due to the condition. Forgotten leftovers and such. But in this case it was an unopened box of Puff Pastry in the freezer. A happy find. I try to keep it on hand, particularly around the holiday's for appetizer bundling. Brie for example, tucked snugly in with a drizzle of local honey and sprinkled with English walnuts. That's a favorite for Christmas and New Year celebrations. 

But there is an unlimited number of possible stuffing's to enjoy. The Horn Player actually (sit down now) said he would like spinach as a main ingredient. I know, that's a veggie, but hey, I'm giving it a try if he will eat it. Fruit, that's next since Summer is in full swing here in Dixie. I'll report back on my inspirational results. 

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It seems I'm really into the instant gratification type of cooking lately. My last post was an appetizer style nosh and now this. It's always a good time to test an idea, however. This is rich, gooey and quite tasty. But it isn't something you'd want to make very often. I think it would be very nice if thinly sliced and served as a heavy hors d'oeuvre. This time I divided the sheet of pastry into four equal blocks, but of course you could use the entire sheet and make one large roll. That would be super served on a long cutting board for a buffet supper. I'm thinking little bowls of pickled items served alongside would be perfect to counter the richness of the pastry and its filling. So many ideas with Puff Pastry.

Roll one piece of Puff Pastry into a larger rectangle as thinly as you can without tearing the tender dough. Cut into four equal sections and cover with a towel to prevent drying while you assemble the other ingredients.
Freshly grated Extra Sharp Cheddar
A serpentine drizzle of Ranch Salad Dressing
Cheese layered over the Ranch, then cooked bacon (not crispy)
A slice of Honey Roasted Turkey from the deli goes on next
Rolled up like a burrito and sealed with a brush of water around the edges to button the packet up nicely ~ I added a bit of cheese to the top

Getting puffy while baking

Golden brown and delicious

Flaky pastry, creamy Ranch, smoky bacon, sweet honey turkey and gooey cheese
Oh yum!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Naan Sense

Saturday was a busy day, chores and all that. Outside, inside and all around the realm we worked. By mid-afternoon it became apparent to both of us we hadn't eaten very much and the time had come to do something about that. I had bought a package of Naan a couple of days before, so I figured with a few more ingredients from the pantry and herb garden, I might just have a tasty nibble. A "pizzaesque" sort of thing. I always make my own pasta sauce, but I do store a red and white for emergency situations such as this. This time, no red sauce at all. Hmmm, Alfredo sauce in a pinch sounded doable. Let's go for it. I snipped a branch of basil from my patio herb patch and grated some Asiago cheese for the finishing touch. Hey, looking good now. Plus, I had a few fresh grape tomatoes in my fruit bowl that I'd bought on my last grocery buying trip and I do love tomatoes. Check this out...

Naan on an ungreased baking sheet with a smear of Alfredo
Chiffonade of basil on The Horn Player's side of the baking sheet,
and chiffonade of basil and tomato on my side.
Shard-like grating of Asiago cheese scattered over both.
Bake in a 375 oven until the cheese is bubbly and melted. The Naan will brown a bit more and become nice and crispy. Slice and enjoy with a cold libation and if you like, a small salad for a great lunch or light supper. 

Note: This method could be used with any ingredients. These two are totally vegetarian, but you could add seafood or whatever you may prefer. I think crab meat would be divine here. And red sauce brings on so many more choices,  for example a hearty sausage such as thinly sliced Andouille and fresh oregano. Oh my!
Out of the oven with a bit of black pepper sprinkles. was delicious!
Very delicious!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Anny's Fried Chicken

Tidbit for the cook ~ Gone
What says Sunday Dinner louder than Fried Chicken? In my book, nothing! My childhood in the river-bottom community where I was raised left me with more fond experiences than I can count. We had wide open spaces to play and explore, close family relationships with grandparents and learning experiences through living the small farm life. And the incredible food we enjoyed remains such a strong memory. I can almost taste it simply by thinking of it. On any given Sunday we enjoyed Spring fryers straight from coop to frying pan to table, as well as pot roast resting in rich, brown drippings, with rice or creamed potatoes waiting for a drizzle of the meaty gravy.

Truly, our family was favored with great cooks and green-thumb gardeners. When you put those two talents together you get farm to table goodness. Having both maternal and paternal grandparents with years of experience at vegetable gardening, coupled with acres of rich river-bottom soil, well, the results were bounteous. There was definitely lots of hard work, but with abundant reward. Those garden patches gave us peas and butter beans straight from the vine and fresh thin-skinned new potatoes that were scrubbed clean, cooked right then and there, plopped into an old crock bowl and served naked with only salt, black pepper and fresh homemade butter. Now that's a taste unmatched. Simply divine! Corn-on-the-cob wonderfully sweet and chin dripping delicious was always a favorite of my brother and me. I love the squeaky snap when biting into a fun food like corn-on-the-cob. 

You want luscious? Well, while the potatoes were still fresh and new, we scrubbed them spanking clean and scraped off most of their red papery skin, boiled them in salted water and ladled over a sauce closely akin to Béchamel. We called it white gravy and speckled it with loads of black pepper. That dish is truly one of my very favorite potato recipes. 

Fresh tomatoes sliced, chilled and sprinkled with crystalline salt and dotted with black pepper were always sitting pretty on the dinner table. Fried eggplant and fried green tomatoes sat beside hot cornbread, sliced and ready to serve. And my favorite squash (Patty Pan) cooked down-low with a whole diced sweet onion and a generous nub of butter. Of course, at Ma's table there was always a bowl of green Cayenne peppers fresh from the garden. Their long skinny pods twisted and gnarled as if to warn of their heat. Wow, were they evermore hot, too. She made pepper sauce with them and we poured the peppery vinegar over everything from fried fish to field peas. It remains a staple in my kitchen to this day. Another treat was fresh crisp cucumbers and sweet onions that were sliced thinly and doused with a generous splash of vinegar and a sprinkling of sugar, chilled and passed around the table as day pickles. So cool and stimulating, a real palate cleanser with its piquant vinegar bite. 

Looking back to those simpler times is a comfort to me now. My culinary chops learned and earned there in that tiny community and family kitchens of my raising. And now, there are certain dishes that speak loudly to me of those days and times like no other. Fried chicken is definitely one of them. When I make my version, I like to think I'm surrounded by the matriarch's of our family putting in their two-cents worth. So my way to crispy fried chicken employs a little bit of both my grandmothers methods and of course, Mama too. This is how it goes. 

First, I was taught at a very young age the proper way to 'cut-up' a chicken. I still practice that today. It's way too easy and economical to buy the whole bird and do-it-yourself. Don't be intimidated by a task that is dead simple.

A whole bird washed (yes I wash my chicken) and dried ready for the process.
Note: The process of breaking down a whole chicken into frying pieces begins by removing the wings. Then to the running gear, remove it and cut in half.  Done, a thigh and a drumstick, every kiddo's favorite piece. Then remove the wish-bone from the upper breast if you like. My little brother and I always made a wish on the 'pulley bone' as we called it. Then cut the breast in half and the back in half and you have a deconstructed chicken. I usually fillet the breast halves and leave the 'tenders' next to the bone. I also remove that narrow bone attached to the top of the breast as seen in the first photo here. It's my nibble while cooking. Ma always gave my brother and me that little bite before dinner to make us happy until dinner was ready to serve. I miss her so much.

As you can see I'm using only half the chicken. Just The Horn Player and yours truly for dinner so there's no need for a bunch of leftovers. So I cut the bird in half with kitchen, aka poultry, shears by using the backbone as a guide. Beginning at the neck, cut alongside the backbone all the way to the Parson's nose and voila, first step done. Next lay the chicken out flat, skin side down and using a sharp knife or the shears again, break through the breast bone and continue until there are 2 halves of chicken. You may need to put a bit of muscle in the breast bone area, but it isn't that tough to do. You can also completely remove the backbone if you like by cutting alongside just as you did in the first step and discarding it. Now, wasn't that easy.

I season with a dry rub mixture that, to me, is perfect. I usually make up a batch and use the amount I need to season the chicken and reserve the rest for later. It's also good on pork chops.

4 tablespoons coarse Kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried sage or poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder

Sprinkle the seasoning mixture over the chicken and toss around coating every piece of chicken well. Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or so for the spices to meet and greet one another. I use waxed paper pressed down against the chicken to cover. I love waxed retro.

Into the fridge
Remember I mentioned I feel so connected to Ma and Mammy when I cook. This is one of those times. Mammy used nothing but all-purpose flour to coat her chicken and Ma used nothing but white corn meal. So, you can guess what I do, I bet. Half all-purpose flour and half white corn meal. I add a bit of paprika to the dredge and mix it in. Mama loved paprika. Place the chicken pieces in one at the time and coat very well.

The flour/meal combination adds so much crunch to the chicken. It's frying and getting nice and crispy. I use cast iron to fry my chicken in just enough hot oil to come up about half way on each piece of bird while it's frying. I love cast iron.

Thigh (my favorite) and drumstick

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Louisiana Strawberry

Louisiana Strawberries ~ Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
I recently purchased this luscious flat of Louisiana strawberries from our local 4-H club. I couldn't resist supporting our local 4-H and our local Louisiana strawberry farmers. An annual benefit the likes of this is right up my alley. Who wouldn't want ripe, sweet strawberries? What a fantastic thing to sell.

The afternoon they were delivered I was of course working, however, going home to a chore like processing strawberries is not a chore at all to me. I reserved two boxes to just enjoy. The's how I did it. I used the dry sugar method which is a bit of a misnomer since the sugaring process creates copious amounts of juice.

First, I removed and discarded the caps and tossed the berries into a bowl for a cool bath. I rinsed them twice to be sure they were spanking clean. Next, I carefully laid them onto a super clean cotton kitchen towel to dry. After draining and drying sufficiently I tossed the berries back into a large bowl and added the sugar, one-half cup sugar per pint. I had six boxes so three cups of sugar. After sprinkling the sugar over all the fruit, I very carefully and gently mixed the sugar and berries. Then I allowed them to sit at room temperature until the sugar melted. I stirred them carefully again and sealed them, juice and all, using my fabulous Food Saver. I ♥ my Food Saver a bunch. I happily found room in the freezer for four brilliantly red bags of this delicious fruit.

Perfection in a fruit!

A bath in cool water.
They look happy, don't you think?

Big, sweet and juicy ~ And the color is striking
Showered with sugar
Ready to seal
Four bags of sweetened, crimson strawberries in the freezer for tasty pies or cakes or as a topping for creamy cheesecake

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I'm thinking strawberry jam, à la minute, for a weekend brunch will probably be my first creation with one of these bundles of Spring

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Tastes like home