Friday, October 31, 2008


When I met Alton Brown, I was so nervous that I blurted out, "My name is Fran Peacock, and I can make fudge." His response?

"That's the sexiest thing a woman has ever said to me."


This is probably one of the most difficult recipes I've ever done. It was my grandmother's. I'm not kidding when I say it works best at 45% humidity and below. 30% humidity is ideal, so when I make it, I feel fall and Christmas coming. I have a mini weather station in the kitchen that tells me when to make fudge, so if your fudge doesn't work, blame it on atmospheric conditions.

There are three types of fudge: spoon fudge usually occurs when the candy isn't beaten long enough and never sets up. Sugared, crunchy fudge occurs when the fudge is messed with during the cooling period and sets up too much (the sugar starts to bond, forming crystals). And perfect fudge, which is so good you'll find yourself eating half the pan.

5-6 Tablespoons cocoa
3 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons Karo light corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup (9 ounces) evaporated milk
2/3 stick butter
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 cups pecans (optional)

  1. Butter very well an 8x12 or 9x13 Pyrex casserole dish.
  2. In a 2 qt saucepan, mix cocoa and sugar.
  3. Add Karo, salt, and milk.
  4. Boil to soft ball, and keep it at soft ball for 2-3 minutes (240 degrees by candy thermometer, or when a pinch makes a line - see below).
  5. Pour into a mixer bowl over butter.
  6. Allow to cool until you can hold your hands firmly around the base of the bowl without cursing. WHILE COOLING, DO NOT STIR. This leads to sugared fudge.
  7. Add vanilla.
  8. Hook bowl up to mixer and beat the hell out of it at high speed. Don't do this during a football game: be prepared to stand over the mixer for 15-30 minutes, watching it. If you hear a slapping sound when the paddle makes a round, you still have a while to go.
  9. Beat until the fudge loses its gloss and just begins to hold its shape when you stop the mixer.
  10. Unhook bowl from mixer and quickly stir in the pecans with a spatula - the fudge should be thickening quickly at this point and somewhat hard to stir around.
  11. Dump the whole mess into the Pyrex dish and lick the bowl.

"When a pinch makes a line," is how my grandmother and mom did it. While the stuff is boiling, take a teaspoon and get some out of the pot. Drop it in an awaiting bowl of cool tap water and watch what happens. Then pick it up out of the water - if you can shape the chocolate in a line along your finger, you're at the right temperature. Hard ball forms a hard ball. Soft crack candy will crack somewhat when it hits the water but still be flexible, and hard crack is so hot, it cracks to rigid pieces. I think. That's the old school way to do it, and I've only ever seen it done. I'm more of a thermometer girl, myself.


The #*@&! cat came back around 4:30 this morning. Mike's still sleeping. I should be running, but the wierd sleep schedule is catching up to me. So I figured I'd give some details on the recipes from yesterday. I'm going to do it in 4 separate posts, so I'll have the name of what I'm doing in the title for easier reference.

For me, good, fluffy biscuits are like the Southern Holy Grail. I can't believe I took them so for granted in my grandmother's house. And it irks me that the ones at Kentucky Fried Chicken are so damn good, yet have never touched human hands. I've even kept a biscuit journal with notes on exactly what I've done. So goes the search for the perfect biscuit recipe.

Here's the real recipe that I'm currently working with, per Robert St. John and Wyat Waters' Southern Seasons: Contemporary Regional Cuisine, page 33 "Tasso and Biscuits with Blackberry Preserves:

2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Poultry Seasoning (recipe page 111)
1/2 cup butter, cut into small cubes and frozen
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup blackberry preserves
1/4 pound tasso ham, shaved very thin

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and poultry seasoning; pulse to mix. Add the frozen butter, pulsing until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Pour buttermilk mixture into the well and gently blend together the dough, being careful not to overmix.

Allow the dough to set for 10 minutes and then turn dough onto a floured surface. Gently knead dough for 1-2 minutes. Roll out to 3/4 inch thickness. Cut 1 1/2 inch circles form the dough and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the tops wiht melted butter.

Bake 12-15 minutes.

Cut biscuits in half lengthwise. Spread 1 teaspoon of blackberry preserves on the bottom half of the biscuit. Add 2 thinly shaved pieces of tasso and replace the top half of the biscuit. Serve warm.

Yield: 6-8 servings"

OK, so here's how I do it, all basically the same except:

As for the ingredients, I leave out the Poultry Seasoning. This is for a savory biscuit, and I don't want savory in the morning when I'm having my biscuits and coffee. 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt is WAY TOO MUCH. I keep it at 3/4 - 1 teaspoon, with 1 teaspoon meaning every now and then you still get a bite of SALT.

Buttermilk, unfortunately, cannot be replaced with normal 2%. I've tried. It produces a biscuit, sure, but you could chip a tooth on it. The good news is you can get buttermilk in pint size (2 cups per bottle), it keeps longer than regular milk, and you can use some to marinate that chicken you're gonna fix with the biscuits or to make a chocolate buttermilk cake I'll hopefully post one day.

Tasso? Do you really think the Kroger in Clinton, Mississippi, carries tasso?? (Cajun-spiced ham. I had to look it up.) I just use this as a basic biscuit recipe and eat them with whatever I want.

I think the ingredients could easily read: 1/2 cup frozen butter (that's one stick), cut into 8 pieces (the above list is saying that you have to cut the butter in pieces before you freeze it. That's silly. I keep butter in the freezer anyway.) The butter must be frozen because that's what makes biscuits fluffy: the steam from the thawing out butter creates millions of mini-pockets of air within the bread. It's the same concept as pate a choux ("pat-a-shoes:" the basic bread part of an eclair) but pate a choux hopefully gets one big steam pocket for cream inside.

When kneading, use only as much flour as you need to keep the dough pretty much not sticking to your board and rolling pin. The dough should be deceptively moist, and it's ok for bits to stick here and there: too much flour incorporates into the dough and makes a tough biscuit.

To get a higher biscuit, spread the dough in a rectangle. Fold it into thirds like a letter, one third to the middle, then the other third to the middle. Then spread it out again and do the same thing. This is the same concept as puff pastry, only puff pastry has thousands of microscopically thin layers, and even Alton Brown lets a machine take care of it.

So there's my experience so far with biscuits. Any suggestions, questions, comments, or other hoo-hah can always be sent in comments or emails! And if you know me well enough to have my cell phone number, you're more than welcome to call.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Biscuits, Fudge, Divinity, and Chicken Spaghetti

Those were on today's docket in the kitchen.

The biscuits were OK, but not as good in texture as the first time I made them from the Wyatt Waters cookbook Mike gave me for Christmas last year, page 33. I think I put in too much flour during the kneading process. But they were nice and high: I attribute that to the letter-folds I did during kneading. They're also still very rich, possibly from the butter or the kosher salt. One teaspoon still seems like a lot.

The fudge was good, not as good as what my friend Linda made for Christmas last year, but good nonetheless. I got distracted, and it started to set up in the bowl, so it didn't get as many nuts mixed into it. But the good news is that it's creamy, yet it set up enough in the Pyrex dish that it never touched the sides. It was also the first time for me to use the Calphalon Contemporary on fudge, and I think it went very well. There was a bad burnt smell right after I poured it up on the butter after boiling to soft ball, but it didn't affect the final product at all. I think maybe something scorched in the pan.

The divinity was a learning process. I still can't do it as well as the first time around. I decided to put pecans in there because, well, I had pecans instead of walnuts. I had the candy beaten to a fair-thee-well; it had lost its sheen and was holding its shape. But I added the nuts and kept on beating in the mixer, and the sheen instantly returned, as did severe and complete loss of shape. As in, the final products are blobs instead of doots. I realized too late that beating the pecans in with the mechanical whisk released the oils of the nut, thereby messing up the whole structure of the candy. Damnit.

The chicken spaghetti was normal in taste (I've finally managed to remember the right amounts of ingredients! 8 ounces velveeta [forgive me, Great-Grandmother. I have sinned.], 1 can quartered artichoke hearts, 1 can black olives, 1 can mushrooms, 1 can rotel, 1 bag frozen three pepper and onion blend, a little olive oil, and a mess of chicken and noodles). I made it with farfalle instead of regular pasta. The last time I used bowties was in a crawfish nita I made about this time last year, and eating the pasta just reminds me how good that nita was. I need to (ha, no pun intended!) pull that recipe out again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beer Battered, Fried Onion Rings

My dear husband's 8-year-old big mean inside cat ran away yesterday. Mike went to bed at 10 AM, and when he woke up at 3 PM, the front door was wide open, and Kearney was gone. We have seen neither hide nor hair of him since. Mike's pretty upset about it.

Adding insult to injury, work put him on call this weekend, even though he has asked since he started in July to get this weekend off so we could go to the GA Tech football game in Atlanta. Since our trip is in jeopardy, and I'm willing to move heaven and earth to put a smile on Mike's face, I offered to make chili dogs and onion rings like we would have had at the Varsity while we get irresponsibly drunk at home here in Clinton.

So now I have to figure out onion rings.

4 onions
1 cup flour
1 cup beer
a pinch of salt
a pinch of pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup Louisiana hot sauce (optional)
1 quart of vegetable oil for frying

1. Set the oil to heat at 350 degrees.
2. Mix flour, beer, salt, pepper, and optional hot sauce (doesn't make them spicy - just adds more flavor) in a medium bowl.
3. Peel the onion, slice, and separate into rings.
4. Dredge the onion in the beer batter and drop lowly and slowly into hot oil
5. Fry for about 3-4 minutes, then turn over to fry for about the same time, until golden brown.
6. Put fried rings on a paper towel, shake with salt and pepper to taste.

I had a plate of these for supper tonight. That's it. Just one big onion beer battered and fried. With some ketchup. And the extra 4 ounces of beer. Again, never trust a skinny cook. Mental note to run 2 miles tomorrow morning, as it's too late to get my endorphins going and have any hope for sleep without Mike in the house.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Huh. look at that. Fran's started a blog.

Grief can do wierd things to a person. I can't define it. Everybody says, "you've been going through so much lately," "we'll get through this together," "I know what you're going through..." Am I really in a state of grief? Do I even have the right to grieve? It's something I don't understand.

Maybe it's just a matter of feelings during a day. Getting out of yourself. Going to help somebody, try new things, keep living life. And then there's the twinge of guilt for letting life keep on going. But when does it end? Wouldn't it be nice if the grief fairy came over to let you know you're out of "time out?" After the first volley of not wanting to get up for two weeks, I realized Mike and I had to eat. So I dragged myself back into the kitchen.

And I made eclairs. Apparently a challenge is good. Since then I've mastered fried chicken, and I've even made an edible batch of biscuits.

I was in a local housewares shop this morning, and I had two ladies older than my mom ask me stuff that seemed second nature to me. Like, will this food processor chop nuts (no, that one will make nut paste. You want the nut chopper from Williams-Sonoma.) and will this pan work with egg-dipped fish (yes, as long as you use a silicone spatula that's heat resisitant up to 500 degrees or a nylon one that's heat resisitant up to 400. Don't use cooking spray, don't use a steel scrubber, only use olive oil sparingly.) Wonder if that means I have a knack?

Also, having inherited my grandmother's inability to follow a recipe, I'm always making stuff I'd like to try again, but completely omitting the "write it down" part. So since I type faster than I write, I figured this would be a good place to make notes.

My great-grandmother Leila was widowed at my age: 28. She had two children and one on the way. Having received a college education, she knew she had to provide the same to her two boys and a girl (my grandmother). With everyone around her telling her she was a fool, Leila sold the family home in Lineville, Alabama, and bought three houses on Tumor Street in Auburn. At the time, the college there was called the Alabama Polytechnical Institute. Leila rented out two of the houses, lived in one, and ran a boarding house in that one in which she fed 2 shifts of 75 boys breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week. I have the bell that she used to call them up from the basement where they would wait and the box she used for recipes. My grandparents met there: my grandfather worked for Leila while he put himself through veterinary school. My grandmother and two great uncles went on to achieve multiple degrees at Auburn. My grandmother was a home ec major, while Forest and Robert were both engineers, like their dad was. I don't think it's coincidence that I married an engineer myself.

So here I go. Don't tell Mike. He thinks blogs are by people who are full of themselves. I think I'll just use this one as a cooking journal and maybe a little bit of therapy.

Never trust a skinny cook.


Made by Lena