Friday, July 31, 2009

Two Days Later.....

This still makes me laugh.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sweet Peach Muffins with Brown Sugar Streusel Topping

Our Aunt Nancy gave me a copy of The Foster's Market Cookbook last Christmas. Signed and inscribed to me by the author, it is truly one of my favorite cookboooks. It reminds me that I desperately need to invest in a cookbook holder, as I just dropped about half a stick of butter on the pages of such a special prize. Yes, I cussed. Loudly. At least I'll know which recipes I've tried by the flotsam on the pages.

At any rate, these are divine. As I cannot follow a recipe to save my life, the walnuts were replaced with pecans. And I put a little extra butter in the streusel. AND I doubled the dark rum. I'd take Sara's advice: these muffins are best when served warm.

Brown Sugar-Walnut Streusel Topping

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts (OR PECANS!)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • Combine the walnuts (OR PECANS!), flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and stir to mix.
  • Add the butter and mix well until blended.
  • Set aside or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.
Muffin Batter

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teapsoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 Tablespoon dark rum (divine!) or pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups peeled, pitted, chopped peaches

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Line 12 large muffin cups with paper liners and spray the top part of the pan lightly with vegetable oil spray.
  • Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  • Whisk the eggs, butter, sour cream, and rum in a separate bowl until well blended. Fold in the peaches.
  • Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir just unil moist and blended. Do not overmix.
  • Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan with a large ice cream scoop (1/3 cup scoop). The batter will come to the top of the paper liner or pan. Sprinkle with Brown Sugar-Walnut Streusel Topping and lightly press the topping into the muffin batter.
  • Bake 30-35 minutes, until the tops of the muffins spring bakc when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Turn the muffins out of the pan and serve immediately.

Variations: almost any fresh or frozen fruit (except for very soft fruits like bananas, papaya, or mango) can be substituted for the peaches. Try blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries. In autumn, try chopped fresh apples or chopped pears.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Marvelous Medora

Check out what I won in a giveaway from the talented Hannah!

They are different and light and healthy and oh-so delicious. We highly recommend them!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Second Favorite Chocolate Cake

I'm not a by-the-book kind of person. Never have been. Not a good thing, not a bad thing - just the way I am. It helps with some recipes, is necessary for some dishes, helps out a lot with ingredient flexibility, and screws some receipes completely up.

As baking involves precise science, it stands to reason that the recipes I screw up the most are those that involve baking. So when I was looking through Mom's Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1953 Edition, and found this Feathery Fudge Cake with Chocolate Satin Frosting, I was determined to slow down, focus, and follow it to the letter, technique and all.

2/3 cup soft butter or margarine
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups ice water
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cream together butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla 'till fluffy (beat 5 minutes at high speed on mixer, scraping bowl occasionally to guide batter into beaters, or beat 5 minutes by hand.
  • Blend in chocolate.
  • Sift flour with soda and salt.
  • Add to creamed mixture alternately with ice water, beating after each addition.
  • Bake in 2 paper-lined 9x1 1/2 inch round pansin moderate oven (350 degrees) 30-35 minutes or until done.
  • Cool completely, then frost.
3 1/2 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
4 1/2 Tablespoons hot water
1 egg
1/2 cup soft butter or margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Melt chocolate in mixing bowl over hot water.
  • Remove from heat.
  • With electric mixer, blend in sugar and water.
  • Beat in egg, then butter and vanilla.
  • Frosting will be too thin at this point, so place bowl in ice water.
  • Beat 'till of spreading consistency (I beat it for about 9 minutes).
  • Frosts tops and sides of two 9-inch laters.
Usually the first time I bake a cake, I'll do only a half-recipe, or one layer. I'll cut the layer in half and make a half-cake. That way if it's screwed completely up, it's still only half screwed!

And in case you were wondering, my favorite chocolate cake by far is Mom's buttermilk chocolate cake with fudge icing.

Miracle Apple/Pear/Potato Peeler, Corer, Slicer

It slices, it dices, it Julienne fries!

There's a silly Disney Halloween movie called Hocus Pocus. It's about three witches from the original witch burnings 200 years ago in Salem, Massachusetts, coming to the present. I remember watching it with Katy and Sarah and laughing 'till I almost wet myself at Sara Jessica Parker bouncing around singing, "We're going to run amok! amok! amok!" There's one scene in the movie when Bette Middler walks into a kitchen and says, "Oooooooh, this must be the torture chamber."

Well, this little gizmo definitely looks like something from the torture chamber, but it is oh so handy to have around! I noticed it at the Revell Ace Hardware one day during a jaunt with Leslie and have thought about it ever since.

This thing is a hoot & a half. It takes a little getting used to, but after some practice, it's definitely worth it. You can just peel, core and slice, or peel, core, and slice an apple, pear, potato, or similarly composed fruit all at the same time!

My favorite thing to do is potatoes. I'll leave the peel on and just run them through the slicer/corer, which produces a potato slinky! Not sure what I'll do with slinky potatoes, but they sure are fun. Any suggestions?

Photo courtesy of MiracleGrill.

Pear Chutney

Remember Cindy's yard with the pears? And the dogs who loved them? We were able to glean a bushel of pears. In spite of the dogs, that was the easy part: the hard part was finding a recipe suitable for them!

The winning recipe was this pear chutney from Worth Savoring: Literary, Visual, and Culinary Creations from the Hills of North Mississippi by the Union County Historical Society - New Albany, Mississippi.

25 large, firm pears
1 pound dark raisins
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 Tablespoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
8 small, green, hot peppers
1 1/2 pints cinder vinegar
5 pounds sugar
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup salt
2 cups pecans

- Mix sugar and vinegar in very large pot in which you'll boil chutney.
- Peel and slice pears.
- Remove seeds from peppers and grind.
- Grind garlic.
- Mix well with spices (stir - do not mix with blender).
- Put all except for nuts in the pot with sugar and vinegar; stir.
- Keep nuts out until last.
- Boil for 30 minutes and add nuts the last 15 minutes.
- Pack in sterilized jars and seal.

Worth noting: this is wonderful served over cream cheese for an appetizer spread or is a delightful condiment for chicken or pork.

Be careful with those hot peppers. I used some mature jalapenos out of the backyard, and though they have made my hands sting a little bit before, I developed some pretty bad chemical burns this time. They stung and burned for about 7 hours after I was done with the chutney. I should've used gloves!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

452nd (and currently my favorite) Use for a Spork

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ah, What a Weekend

This weekend was truly possibly one of the best I've had all year! It was one of those weekends when everything just fell into place. Lots of activity, but no hassle. Charmed.

Friday morning, Mike and I woke up with no big plans whatsoever. We had pancakes with peaches for breakfast. Then we went up to Ridgeland to get Mike a haircut, as we're not sure when he will have time to get another one. Lunch was chicken nuggets at Wendy's - just what I wanted! And then we went to Mynelle Gardens to play with the camera and just enjoy the afternoon. It was hot in the sunshine, but really beautiful and breezy in the shade. I just love that place.

Then we went on a shopping spree. We were supposed to pick up some clothes for Mike, but I found a whole new summer/fall wardrobe. So exciting! Finally, we came back home to get ready for a celebratory dinner with Mom at AJ's Seafood in Ridgeland, which was soooooo good. I had the seared tuna special, and Mike had scallops wrapped in filet mignon. Thanks Mom!

Mike and I took the Natchez Trace in the twilight on the way home and saw turkeys, baby turkeys, and three deer. The weather was so perfect that Mike opened the sunroof, and we held hands listening to jazz and the crickets. We wrapped up the evening with a candlelit bubble-whirlpool bath for two complete with rose petals.

It was suprisingly like the day Mike asked me to marry him in Destin, Florida. We went to the beach and enjoyed the outside, had a quick picnic lunch, went shopping, then a lovely dinner on the beach. After we ate, we went for a walk on the shore, and he asked me to marry him. Years later, he said that he'd planned the day around proposing during the sunset, but I had too great a time shopping and took too long for that! It was still a gorgeous moment under the full moon.

Allow me a walk down memory lane in the form of pictures from July 11, 2006:

Just think - in this shot he was seriously considering popping the question right then, and I had not a clue!

Did he look nervous? Not at all!

It's a done deal!
OK, back to this weekend:

Saturday morning started with the alarm clock ring at 6 AM. By 6:30, we were on the road to Cindy's garden in Hazlehurst with Dante in tow for a morning in the country. The air was cool and moist with dew, and Junior the yard dog welcomed us up the dirt road. We found Pipper the dachsund in her favorite spot - the butterbean patch - and had a good visit with James.

Mike and I decided to pick some pears out of the dogs' yard. We didn't know that Cindy usually knocks pears out of the tree for the dogs, who love them, so our efforts quickly devolved into Mike knocking a pear out of the tree, followed by a mad scramble between me and the pack to beat each other to the prize. Hilarity and barking ensued.

Next Mike and I headed out to have a picnic lunch on the boat, complete with the best watermelon I've ever tasted. We just enjoyed the idyllic weather, the afternoon, and each other's company until about 3. Then we headed home, cleaned up, and went to dinner with good friends at Sal & Mookie's pizza shack.

Today we're just taking it easy. Watched Australia, which was long and lovely. Baked chocolate peanut butter cookies and had leftover pizza for lunch. Now I'm baking some cornbread for butterbean, crowder pea, corn, and chicken supper tonight at Mom's house.
Here's to hoping your weekend was just as lovely!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Squash Casserole

This is the naked casserole, before topping with Japanese breadcrumbs.

Squash. What a word. It's just barely "squat," a word I've never really liked, but at the very end it mushes all out. I'm sure squash is infinitely more versatile than the two ways I like to cook it: grilled or casseroled.

Once upon a time I tried spaghetti squash pesto - some brilliant internet nutritionist had written a column on the grand extra vitamins and minerals you could consume simply by replacing spaghetti with spaghetti squash! You know what you get when you try to replace spaghetti with spaghetti squash? An overcooked, fibrous mess your husband won't eat.

But this squash? This beautiful unassuming yellow summer squash never lets me down. Again, thanks Cindy - all the vegetables and rosemary in this dish came from either her yard or mine! This recipe comes completely off the top of my head, but it makes me think of Paula Deen: you can never have too much butter.

5-8 yellow squash, depending on their size, cut into 1/2 inch slices
2-3 green bell peppers, depending on taste
1 red jalapeno or other spicy pepper (optional)
1 small onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 egg
6 sprigs rosemary
1/2 to 3/4 cup white wine
Japanese Panko breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper to taste
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large saucepan, cover squash, peppers, and onion with water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and boil for 6 minutes if you like it a little more firm, 10 if you like it soft.
  • Drain vegetables and very thoroughly pat dry. You can use paper towels, but I use a flat clean kitchen towel that won't release fibers.
  • In a large bowl, combine 1/2 of the butter, all of the cheese, egg, rosemary, white wine, and salt & pepper to taste. A little Tabasco might be good too.
  • Add vegetables and stir until well combined.
  • Pour into casserole dish.
  • Combine the breadcrumbs with the rest of the melted butter and top casserole.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, until brown & bubbly.

Crock Pot English Roast

Mike passed his oral boards last Tuesday! In celebration, I decided to thaw out some thick, juicy steaks to grill. Due to unfortunate labeling, I accidentally thawed out a thick, juicy English roast instead. Oops.

So the challenge here was to come up with a dish with the same flavors as a thick, juicy steak but in the form of a roast. Our good friend Chris gave us the best crock pot in the world for our wedding. But I forget that "crock pot," is no longer PC - now all the fancy-pants epicurial stores are calling them "slow cookers."

In my generation, the phrase "crock pot" invokes images of that avacado green cylinder with the brown porcelain interior. Do you remember it? I know of a newlywed husband who couldn't find the crock pot because it wasn't green.

But I digress. I usually do a crock pot red meat with a cream sauce, but it's summer, and cream just seemed too heavy. And it's definitely not something you would find on the grill. So I came up with this:

3-4 pound English roast, well marbled
Large onion
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1 cup red wine
3-4 cloves garlic
Salt & pepper

Meat tends to cook down, so it's important to cook it in liquids that are full of flavor.
- Peel onion and slice in 1 inch thickness. Line bottom of crock pot with onion.
- Salt and pepper the meat and place on top of the onion.
- Combine vinegar, oil, wine, and garlic and pour on top of meat. The liquid should come up to the bottom of the meat. You can add more liquid or water.
- Set for 8 hours on low (most tender meat) or 6 hours on high and try not to dig in too early!
I know you're what you're thinking. SHE DIDN'T SEAR THE MEAT!!! IS SHE CRAZY?!? Nope. I very rarely sear the meat. For three reasons:
1. Alton Brown did a whole show on it. He scientifically weighed and measured the juiciness of an English roast before and after roasting and compared those that were seared and not seared. Guess which one was juicier? The non-seared one! Think of it like really sunburning your skin. It's just unnecessary damage.
2. It dirties up a pan, two forks, a spatula, the counter, and quite possibly the floor if you lose a firm grip on the meat. If you DO decide to sear, don't stick a fork in it: more unnecessary damage.
3. I'm lazy.

Photo courtesy of the Cook's Thesaurus.

Canned Rosemary Tomatoes

I love this shot of our tomatoes. And a small part of me hated to peel, quarter, and stick them in a jar, but this is probably the 18th pound of tomatoes to make its way through the kitchen in the past few months, and I'm quickly running out of ideas for recipes. These babies will make some awesome sauce, salsa, bruschetta, etc. later on.

So I did the usual canning preparations: sterilization, blanched and peeled the tomatoes, and quartered them, but as I was filling the jars, I thought hey, I have rosemary right in the backyard, so I stuck a few sprigs in there for extra measure. We'll see how that works out in a few months.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Is not for the faint of heart. Thanks to Cindy's garden, we were inundated with all sorts of fabulous fruits and vegetables. So I decided to preserve some of them for later. Nothing's better than coming in from a cold January day and opening a can of fresh summer 'maters.

And as I type this, I just now realized, as a full-grown adult, that in home canning, you don't use cans. You use jars. So why the hell do we call it canning? Because that's just what it's always been called.

In case you haven't seen your grandmother do it, basically, you sterilize in boiling water (NOT the dishwasher, even if you have an antibacterial cycle. I do both just in case.) everything that will come into contact with the food: jars, rims, lids, thermometer, a funnel, tongs, jar holders, measuring cups, everything. Fill the jars with acidic fruit or cucumbers with vinegar to pickle, put on the lids and rims, and process them in a vat of boiling water to create a vacuum seal against stuff like botulism. Mom's 1934 edition of the Joy of Cooking even says that the canning process has been largely abandoned, but if my grandmother could do it, then by golly, so can I. (No pun intended.)

And anyway, just like something you buy at the grocery store, if the button on the lid pops up after sealing and before you open it, DO NOT EAT IT. Simple.

Here are some sweet bread & butter pickles just after I put them in. Just incorporating the room temperature jars will briefly bring down the water temperature, but it comes back up pretty quickly. It's an interesting study in thermodynamics.

Did I mention it's super-hot work? It was 90.3 degrees IN THE KITCHEN! I opened all the windows and found myself really enjoying the cool 84.9 degree breeze from outside.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shelling Butterbeans

A glimpse into my favorite Saturday morning activity. Snap, unzip, pick, plonk, throw Dante's bone. Repeat. Invariably my brain will misfire due to lack of coffee, and I'll put the zipper with the beans or even worse, throw beans instead of the bone!

What is so homey about shelling peas and beans? I enjoy doing it all by myself (with Dante's help of course), but there's no better conversation starter than sitting around the kitchen table one hot summer evening, optional gin & tonic next to you, shelling. It does a body and soul good.

Maybe it would help Congress figure out which end is up.

Thank you Cindy!

Our good friend Cindy has a garden that would rival anything you could see framed on the walls at the local county co-op. I can't believe how much she is growing! Tomatoes, butterbeans, cucumbers, blueberries, blackeyed peas, squash, jalapenos, bell peppers, jalabells, sweet corn, silver queen corn, baking apples, okra, you name it, Cindy has it!

And she's been kind enough to share with us. It felt so good out in the field leaning over amongst the butterbeans and picking tomatoes that were warmed by the sun, butterfiles flitting around and Junior the yard dog keeping watch. The faint grit of dirt and Seven Dust between your fingers and the ripe fruit. You feel the generous breeze off the top of Cindy's hill, bringing to your nose the sweet smell of dirt and honest work and leaves of the various producing plants around you. The horses, ponkeys, and donkeys out in the pasture come up for their supper and a drip of sweat slowly works its way down the back of my neck. Time eases up and for a little while actually goes backward to more simple, happier times. We are too blessed.

Now I just have to learn how to can all of it!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Microwave Chocolate Cake for Two

Well, today is looking up. Mr. H. is on his way to fix the roof, the $#&*! cat is out of the attic, cable is back on, and Mike's work is running pretty smoothly. Today will be a big day with the roof, going to my client's office (yay for migraines retreating!), and dinner with great friends who have some awesome news.

Having said that, hello. My name is Fran. And apparently I'm a big fat kitchen snob. Maybe not so much a snob as I can't work a microwave to save my life. I don't have a microwave: I have a clock that occasionally warms stuff up.

Through the years good friends of mine whom I consider to be good cooks have emailed me recipes that involve cooking something in the microwave. COOKING it! Fully! Like, taking something from being completely raw to cooked in 3 minutes and expecting it to be edible. Omelettes, casseroles, nachos, fudge (FUDGE!), cakes, muffins, brownies, pralines, lollipops, in just minutes. I've tried, and I just can't do it right: it's always rubbery, chewy, burned, or unrecognizeable. Maybe I'm a throwback or missing a hurry up gene.

Now if I hear somebody say, "It's so easy! Just put it in the microwave!" my nose flies completely out of joint and I dismiss the recipe.

But in the spirit of a test kitchen blog, I'm going to start posting my experiments and how they really turned out. If you have any suggestions, please do leave them in a comment!
This is the recipe copied exactly from the email:

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (Micro Safe)

  • Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well.
  • Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour in the milk and oil and mix well..
  • Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.
  • Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
  • The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
  • Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.EAT!
  • (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

    And why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!!!!!

The cake in the email looked all goey and moist and delicious. Well, I'm not sure how dangerous this one would be. This is how it turned out:

I split it in two and served with ice cream. Mike was my guinea pig. I didn't tell him about my microwave experiment or my misgivings - just served it like it was any other old dessert and asked how it was. His reaction? "Well.... it's...... ok. Kinda chewy." And if you know Mike, that translates to "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO THIS CAKE?!?"

It's not completely awful. I can see where this cake would be ok after a long day of work with PMS when you fall into the front door and the only thing that keeps you from bursting into tears is the prospect of some warm semi-chocolatey-like substance and you don't have anything else in the house.

Maybe instead of oil, the lipid should be butter?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hell-in-a-Handbasket Blueberry Pie

Ever have one of those weeks?

Mike's oral boards have been postponed, and he's working on a difficult project at work, thereby further pushing back our visit to see his parents. My poor client for this afternoon has a migraine, so we'll have to reschedule sometime before Tuesday. A rogue limb went through the roof last night, the cat's in the attic, and the TV just crapped out. Yuck.

I'm fairly certain, however, that the TV crapping out has nothing to do with the cat, as he's still yowling piteously at the top of the attic stairs, only to hiss at me when I offer to come get him down.

So I decided ot make a pie. Sorry about the missing piece - that was my breakfast.

1 recipe double pie crust
2 pints fresh blueberries
3/4 cup white cugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter

- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Being careful not to bruise the berries (keep them whole), mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and blueberries together with your hand.
- Line pie dish with one pie crust.
- Pour berry mixture into the crust. It will seem very dry.
- Dot berries with butter.
- Lattice pie crust and crimp and flute edges.
- Bake pie on lower shelf for about 30-40 minutes, until crust is golden.

I think my favorite thing about this pie is how the warm blueberries pop in your mouth when you eat it. I don't know where the juice comes from - maybe some blueberries popped while in the oven - but it definitely has plenty of juice!


Made by Lena