Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Taxman Cometh


I shall never use profanity except in discussing house rent and taxes. - Mark Twain

As a housewife, I worry about my mind going soft. And I'm not alone: plenty of my friends with children have found themselves devoid of a grown-up conversation for weeks, even months on end. And I don't even HAVE kids. So that leaves me with just a dirty house and the voices in my head, and though they are all fabulous, fascinating women, I can't help but wonder. What would that do to a nutcase like me?

Did I mention I'm a CPA?

I have my own business, of which I am very proud. My clients are like family; I love each and every one of them. But I firmly maintain that Mike is my favorite client, so I'm happy with my company remaining small and manageable. Towards the end of the month (ahem, now. notice all the posts lately?), everything is wrapped up for my clients. I find myself alone with Dante, the dirty house, and myself, and a girl can only do so much cleaning before it becomes a neurosis. So then I get bored.

I'm at my most dangerous when bored.

The other day I scrubbed the toilet seat so much that the paint came off. Did you know that was even possible? And I thought, "OK God. Is this a sign? I'm not sure what else to do with myself today. But I bet You can come up with something." I sat down to my computer to find an email from my friend Beth. She wanted to know if I knew of somebody who wanted to work during tax season.

Do I ever! Thanks God!

Over the past few weeks I've been looking forward to rejoining the work force on a part time basis with some really nice people. I've also worried: it's been a while since I did taxes. What if I'm too slow? What if I miss a deduction? What if all those cleaning fumes burrowed into my brain and my mind HAS gone to mush? What if I'm more hindrance than help? What if what if what if. So I splurged and bought myself some brand-spanking new drafting pencils.

And now I can't wait.

Photo courtesy of ecrater.

Not Yo' Mama's Bran Muffins


Bran muffins. Blech.


You know the ones. They're always the last lonely flavor in the bottom of the basket. Nobody wants to try one for whatever reason, but it's 11:45, you forgot your lunch, and it will just have to do. Feeling fortunate to have anything to eat, you choke one down and promptly decide to survive the rest of the day on hot chocolate packets mixed with coffee. Five hours later, you're still buzzing only to come crashing down into a total grumpfest once you get home.

Your poor housemates don't deserve that kind of treatment.

But these bran muffins? THESE bran muffins are fabu. Trust me. They have enough sugar and buttermilk to render them completely the opposite of whatever you're hoping for when you hear the word "bran." BUT they're still classified as bran (hey, it's in the name), so technically you're being very responsible and healthy when eating them.

Well, that's my excuse.

Oh, and the best part? Put the batter in tupperware, and it'll keep for 6 weeks. SIX WEEKS. Which is a good thing, as it makes a heckuva lot of "bran" muffins. Imagine. Getting up. Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Pour up the batter in a pan and pop them in the oven. Take a quick shower. BAM. Insta-healthy-breakfast.

Don't forget the butter.

6 Weeks Bran Muffins
6 cups All Bran (small box)
2 cups boiling water
1 cup shortening
2 1/2 cups sugar (more or less)
4 eggs, beaten
1 quart buttermilk
5 cups flour
5 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons salt
  • Pour 2 cups All Bran in large bowl.
  • Pour boiling water over it and let stand while assembling other ingredients.
  • Melt shortening.
  • Mix rest of All Bran and sugar, eggs, and buttermilk.
  • Sift flour, salt, and soda together.
  • Combine everything in the first large bowl and mix well.
  • Cover tightly and store in refrigerator overnight.
  • Lightly grease a muffin pan. NOTE: Do not use muffin papers with this recipe! The muffin will stick like glue to the paper and make you cuss. Just a light spray or buttering should spring them right out.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
  • Batter will keep for up to 6 week in the refrigerator.
Thanks to my friend Dot Hawthorne for keeping the current muffin mania alive.

Photo courtesy of Zinke.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies


Hi, my name is Fran. And I am a bad neighbor.


A while ago I noticed that a house down the street exchanged hands and that a nice new family had moved inside. I made a note to take them a happy once they settled in. And for a while I have seen the lady of the new household walking her dog up and down the street. Every time we passed, I'd speak and make a note to take them a happy later this week. Later this week turned into this weekend, which turned into next week which was forgotten until I saw the lady and her precious pup once again on what is quickly becoming Wisteria Lane.

And the cycle would continue.

Finally last week the rain cut Dante's and my walk short and I firmly decided to use that time to do something good. To become a real person, ditch my awkward shyness, throw out all excuses, and march myself right up and introduce myself to that nice new neighbor lady.

But first I wanted to make some cookies.

It's funny how you can find the best recipes in the most unexpected places. This one is from the inside of a Land O Lakes Butter carton. But I absolutely love it.

Chewy Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) LAND O LAKES butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 12-ounce package real semi-sweet chocolate chunks or chips
  • Heat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • Combine butter, sugar, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy.
  • Add eggs and vanilla.
  • Continue beating, scraping the bowl often, until well mixed.
  • Reduce speed to low. Beat, gradually adding flour mixture, until well mixed.
  • Stir in chocolate chunks.
  • Drop dough by 1/4 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 10-14 minutes or until light golden brown. (DO NOT OVERBAKE.)
  • Let stand 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Remove from cookie sheets.
  • Makes 26 jumbo cookies.
Warm cookies in hand, I did march myself right up to meet the lovely new neighbors. They are from Pennsylvania, and it turns out they have been here since August. AUGUST. August. Which means I'd been putting off a visit for half a year. So I suppose they aren't so new as neighbors anymore. How embarrassing.

But I'm so glad to know them now. The husband works down at the power plant with Mike, and they know each other, reaffirming my belief in Clinton's small-world-ness.

So now you know how to be a good neighbor AND how to make damn good chocolate chip cookies. I just love this patronizing ad from the 1950s. Betty who?

Cookie photo courtesy of ehow.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Trophy Wife Blueberry Muffins

This is my favorite mug. Mike bought it for me on our trip to Seaside, Florida, to celebrate our first anniversary. I actually bought the button pin version back in April of 2007 on my legendary bacheleorette trip to Memphis, Tennessee, so Mike knew I liked the symbol. Trophy wife. You know what? Yeah. It fits.


We are each other's trophies, and we both have it made in the shade: he has somebody to feed him and take care of the house and everything that goes with it, and I have somebody to keep me in the state to which I have become accustomed.

It's kind of a Gift of the Magi thing really. Before we married, I asked Mike what he was most looking forward to about marriage. Having been a bachelor for 14 years with only the company of a (very mean) cat, he responded, "Having a reason to come home." So I am happy to make it a point to be home for him every night with supper and his lunch for the next day waiting.

But enough mushy stuff. Sorry if I made any of y'all out there gag.

These blueberry muffins are fan-freakin'-tastic. And yes, I know I'm completely and utterly stuck on Foster's Market. The ingredients are all wonderfully basic and usually found in my pantry. And her methods are solid and time-tested to produce really great baked goods. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of this cookbook, as there are entire chapters devoted to entrees and such, but they are much more fancy for the likes of me.

In other weekend news, Mike is currently out in the yard creating a border for the flower beds out of bricks from Mom's fallen wall before it rains. Since I spent the morning at a fabulous yoga workout and lunch with Asher and the gang, I'm going to shower my trophy self to get ready for supper with Dad and Carrie Ann tonight. Am doing a damn fine job of un-doing all the good work I accomplished at yoga this morning. Then tomorrow Ying and I are shopping for my bridesmaid dress for her upcoming nuptials.

We are also considering where we want to go to celebrate our third anniversary. I brought it up this morning over the blueberry muffins. Mike suggested we "find a haunted bed and breakfast in Louisiana and camp out a while." After watching The Skeleton Key, I'm not so sure about that. It's his turn to pick, and I know how he loves the beach, so I was thinking about going back to Destin, where he asked me to marry him in the first place. Or we could save up some vacation time and head down to Belize, where he has always wanted to go scuba diving. Any thoughts or suggestions would be very much appreciated!



And trophy dog is snoozing on the couch next to me.

These blueberry muffins are the only ones that we've made every day since Foster's opened over a decade ago. That's over four thousand days of blueberry muffins! Our customers demand them; they're delicious plain or with butter. Adding finely chopped blueberries to the batter–in addition to whole berries–is the key to these moist, flavorful muffins. They freeze well, so make an extra batch for hurried mornings.
Makes 1 dozen muffins
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder (I use 3 teaspoons for higher-rising muffins.)
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
¾ cup milk (I use buttermilk for fluffier muffins.)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries (see Note)


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Line 12 large muffin cups with paper liners and spray the top part of the pan lightly with vegetable oil spray.

3. Combine or sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.

4. Whisk together the butter, eggs, milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a separate bowl until well combined.

5. Place 1 cup of the blueberries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse several times until coarsely chopped. Stir the chopped berries into the egg mixture.

6. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until the dry ingredients are moist and blended. Do not overmix. Fold in the remaining whole blueberries.

7. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pan with a large ice cream scoop (⅓-cup scoop). The batter will come to the top of the paper liner or pan.

8. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

9. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Turn the muffins out of the pan and serve immediately.

Belize photo courtesy of the National Geographic.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oh hail.


Last night was a wild ride. We knew storms were coming, just not sure when. Dante and I cut a walk short because it started raining, and don't you know as soon as we stepped inside the house the sun came out. The weather yesterday afternoon was so calm and pleasant that I was lulled into a false sense of security, basking in the balminess of having all the windows and doors open. Kearney tried to eat a shrew. You know, the usual at the Peacock house. Little did I know I'd hear tornado sirens twice before the night was over.


Around 5:30, I set out to Ridgeland for a meeting at one of my clients' offices. The lightning on the Natchez Trace was spectacular, and before long I realized the hair on my arms and the back of my neck was standing on edge from the charge. Once I entered Ridgeland, I heard my first set of sirens for the night but figured I'd be safe in the brick walls of our meeting place. Remembering the tennis-ball-sized hailstorm in Jackson in the early 1990s, all I could think about was that I bet Nissan's hail cannons will finally have a good test run. You know you're getting old and cynical when your biggest worry during a storm is that your car will be dented by hail.

The meeting adjourned, and I drove home safe and sound. It didn't even rain on me, so I pulled into the garage, had supper with Mike, and went to bed thinking it had passed.

Movie-worthy thunder and lightning woke us up around 11 last night. We had watched The Skeleton Key last weekend, so we had a good time joking around about the spookiness of it all. Kearney and Dante were edgy. We cuddled up and tried to sleep when I heard twigs and small limbs hitting the roof. Remembering the limb from July, I said a little prayer that the whole tree didn't decide to follow suit. After a few minutes, I realized that was an awful lot of twigs to hit the roof.

OH HAIL.

I sat bolt upright in bed and exclaimed, "Oh Mike, your car!" Of course he had already figured it out, so he was resigned to having a pocked vehicle. Poor guy. I laid back down and commented, "You know, in the year and a half we've lived here, I've never heard the tornado sirens. I bet we can't hear them because of the retaining wall."

Not two seconds later, we were almost knocked out of bed by the sirens. Turns out, yeah, you can hear them. Even with the retaining wall.

So all four of us went to the living room to find out what Barbie Basset had to say. It's times like these I really miss Woody Assaf. He always had a great time during storms. Dante was thisclose to us all night long, and when Mike swung his legs out of bed this morning, he stepped on the poor pup, who was all huddled up as close to the bed as he could be.

The hail was officially classified as golf ball sized, but a few pieces seemed bigger than that. I'm very surprised the dining room window didn't break, as it sounded like some guy was throwing rocks directly at it. Short story long, we didn't have any damage; just some debris and mud on the sidewalk. Mike's car even came out unscathed according to my inspection this morning. If the engineer does find a couple of dents, I have no doubt they can be vacuumed out.

During our walk this beautiful morning, I smelled mud and crawfish.

Photos courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Update: when I wrote this post, it was still dark outside, and though I went out with a flashlight to look, we believed the vehicles emerged unscathed. Unfortunately, I was incorrect: in the light of day and once they dried off, Mike noted that there are dents all over both his car and the pickup. Yuck. I guess that's why God made insurance.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

X-Rated


I owe somebody a bottle of booze.

It all started last Saturday afternoon. It was raining. The weather had been rather cold and punk for weeks on end. As in the beginning of Carmina Burana, I had had enough. All this darkness, cold, and dreary was past being on my nerves. So I decided to bake a pan of my cheyenne pepper brownies. You know, the brownie that bites you back.

Since my dear neighbor Missy likes them so much (and because I wanted to spread the fat around, so to speak), I decided to take half the pan to share with her. When I arrived at her back door, she and her mom had a glass of wine waiting for me. That and their fantastic company did the trick to lift my spirits and bring the sunshine out. And I've been a complete Eeyore lately.

But wait, there's more. I don't even remember how it came up, but on my way out the door Missy loaned me a bottle of X-Rated. Sounds rather like Love Potion Number 9, doesn't it? I guess she wanted to lift Mike's spirits too.

Get this. X-Rated Fusion Liqueur: A Sensuous Fusion of Ultra Premium French Vodka & Sicilian Blood Orange Mingling with Mango & Passion Fruits. That's what's on the bottle! But unlike "do-me shoes," I firmly believe this beverage has other applications in addition to seduction. The bright pink color makes it absolutely perfect for a girls' night out, a bunco party, or just a little something to make you giggle. I know it did me.


Oh, and hey, Valentine's Day is coming up!

As a general rule, I don't really enjoy sweet drinks. Sweet tea is a no. Even cranberry juice sometimes hits my ugh-finish-this-for-me-while-I-fix-a-gin-&-tonic bone. But this stuff? This stuff is sweet and SASSY. Mix it with champagne or orange juice or pineapple juice. Or ice. Or just drink it straight from the bottle. Mike had to keep me from doing that. Before I knew it, I'd mixed it with some orange juice and downed half the bottle in one sitting.

I'm his little boozehound.

Now I'm going to go clear out from my browser history all the crazy porn sites that I stumbled upon when looking for a picture of this stuff.

But tomorrow night it will definitely be one of our favorite Thursday Night cocktails.

X-Rated photo courtesy of (and great recipes can be found at) Spirit Me Away. Shoes photo courtesy of Saks, and pinup girl photo courtesy of art.com.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Foster's Market Oatmeal Banana Muffins with Chocolate Chips

Don't let the photo fool you: these are GARGANTUAN muffins from my favorite cookbook. This was my first time to make them. As the recipe called for a whole tablespoon of baking powder and buttermilk and this was my inaugural use of the jumbo muffin pan, I erred on the side of caution and didn't fill them all the way up. But I actually like them like this: the streusel isn't so messy, and the only way I can eat one is by sticking it in the microwave for 23 seconds, then cutting it in half.


It's like two muffins for the price of one.

But oh my are they delicious. The oats, bananas, and buttermilk give great texture, and the chocolate makes a heavenly combination. And of course I had to use jumbo chocolate chips in the jumbo muffin pan. They're so big I feel like a little kid again.

Make 1 dozen
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
2 1/2 cups all- purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • 2. Line 12 large muffin cups with paper liners.
  • 3. Place the oats on a rimmed baking sheet and lightly toast. Set aside to cool.
  • 4. Combine the oats, flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir to mix.
  • 5. Whisk together the butter, eggs, bananas, buttermilk and oil in a separated bowl and blend well.
  • 6. Combine the two mixtures and stir just until all the dry ingredients are moist. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  • 7. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin with a large ice cream scoop( 1/3 cup scoop).
  • 8. Place in the oven to bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops of the muffins spring back when touched. remove from the oven and let cool slightly. serve warm.
Recipe courtesy of Sara Foster.

Streusel Muffin Topping


I absolutely adore muffin tops. The ones on actual muffins, that is. I was a married woman before I learned the alternate definition of a muffin top, and if you don't know what one is, go ask a frat boy.


Sounds like I married a frat boy, doesn't it?

Anyway, my absolute favorite, most irresistible sort of topping for a muffin is the streusel variety. It goes well on any sweet muffin you can imagine and gives it a crunchy finish that has me coming back for more.

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 Tablespoons white or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or spice of your choice
Finely chopped pecans (optional)
2 Tablespoons shortening

  1. Mix dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Cut the shortening in with a fork until it has a sandy texture.
  3. Sprinkle over muffins and gently press into dough just before putting them in the oven.

Photo courtesy of Taste of Home.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tomorrow's Beef Stew


I have never been a patient woman.


Which makes me all the more happy and astounded at my fortune of marrying Mike Peacock. Don't tell anyone, but unbeknownst to yours truly, Mike carried my engagement around in his pocket for three months. THREE MONTHS.

And the whole time I had no idea of his intentions. And when he was finally ready to make his intentions known? On July 11, 2006 on that elegant white sandy beach, with the breeze in our hair, the surf on our toes, full moon and our own private fireworks show overhead? When he asked, "What do you think of getting married?" Do you know what I said?

"Well, I don't know. To whom?"

Thus began an infamously complimentary relationship in which he is the stoic solid rock who keeps our life steady and stable and I am the catalyst who makes things happen right now.

So you can imagine my chagrin and horror when I took the first bite of this stew on the day it was made and wanted to promptly spit it back out. It was so bland. Cafeteria mashed potatoes and grits bland. And no amount of salt, pepper, or Tabasco could help it. I was distraught. I was disappointed. I was kicking myself for wasting so much meat with an off-the-top-of-my-head recipe.

Mike was eating it.

So I thanked him for choking down such bland stew and promised to throw it out and have something fresh for him the next day. He said, "Why? It'll only be better tomorrow."

And you know what? It totally was.

2-3 pounds stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
3 Tablespoons corn starch
3-4 potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound bag of baby carrots
Salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste

  1. Combine the meat, onions, garlic, broth, wine, seasonings, and bay leaf in a crock pot.
  2. Cook on low for 4 hours.
  3. Take out one cup of liquid and thoroughly mix the corn starch to that reserved liquid.
  4. Return corn starch mixture to the crock pot.
  5. Add potatoes and carrots if you want them fully cooked or wait until later in the cooking process for more crunchy vegetables.
  6. Cook for another 4-8 hours.
  7. (The hardest part for me) Refrigerate overnight and reheat in a regular pot on the stove.
  8. Goes rather well with biscuits.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cold

Did I mention it's a bit nippy down South?






The pond below didn't freeze over only because of the two pumps keeping it moving.
This pond behind Mike wasn't so lucky. It froze completely across.


Obviously hell itself has frozen over.

Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we'd all have frozen to death.
- quoted in Mark Twain and I, Opie Read

Hot Buttered Rhum


We have yet to try hot chocolate and rhum, but the sign in the photo above has forever changed the way I spell Mike's favorite liquor. And I really like that the skull is smiling over its crossbones. We figured it was almost as cold here as it gets in Prague, so we decided to have a warm drink for our Thursday night cocktail.

They know how to do cold in Prague. We had seen the picturesque vistas of the Czech Republic covered in snow, yet we were still somewhat shocked by the chill that greeted us in September. The highs on some days were in the low 50s, and we were both glad to have packed in layers.

We soon realized that the Czech eat as if they are storing up for a long, hard winter. Lots of beef, potatoes, dumplings sausage, onions, and gravy. Good Lord at the gravy. And goulash. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner: goulash and gravy, goulash and gravy, goulash and gravy. I once ordered a grilled chicken salad for lunch and received a side order of goulash and gravy, courtesy of the house. And believe it or not, scrambled eggs and goulash really isn't that bad.

Try as I might, I did not eat the first green thing during our entire stay.

But they make up for it in knowing how to drink. I suppose they have to do it to keep warm. Arguably the birthplace of absinthe and beer, these people take it to an art form. On the train from Prague to Munich, we stopped at a place called Pilsner. Sound familiar? And there is a centuries-standing rivalry between the Czech Republic and Germany as to who makes the better brew.

Let me share with you my most recent observance on warm alcoholic beverages: they go down smoothly. Too smoothly. Because you usually can't taste the liquor and are trying to fend off a chill, they creep up on you, and before you know it you're putting leftovers in the dishwasher and dirty dishes in the fridge. Not that I would know from personal experience or anything.

I also have to share that I was puttering around the kitchen while Mike worked beside me on this new drink of ours. And I noticed there was a tub of Country Crock on the counter. I looked at the tub. I looked at Mike. I looked back at the tub. And he was all, "What?" And I was all, "Hot Country-Crocked Rhum?" And then he let me bring out the real butter.

Roughly translated: You must be at least this tall or 18 years old to drink. Or really cold.


Hot Buttered Rhum
2 ounces rhum
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4-6 whole cloves
Boiling cider (to fill)
1 teaspoon butter
Garnish: spiral of lemon peel
  1. Stir the spices and rhum in a mug and fill with cider.
  2. Garnish with the lemon peel.
  3. Float the butter on top.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pork Florentine


Cabin fever.


It hasn't completely set in yet, as Mike and I set out for a quick trip to Walgreen's and to put gas in his car this afternoon. But when the high in Mississippi is 28 degrees, well, we just don't get out that much. And it's snowing in Atlanta. You should have SEEN the hordes at the Kroger on Wednesday; that's how I realized bad weather was on the way. If a snowflake is spotted in Texas you can bank that there will be a run on bread and buttermilk in Mississippi.

We're trying to keep busy and moving in the house, but there's only so much we can do inside. The neighborhood pond has frozen over except for where the two pumps keep water moving, and even those circles of movement are giving up to the ice. Our bodies aren't accustomed to this kind of weather, and we both get instant brain freeze upon walking outside.

The cat and dog L.O.V.E. it.

It's like somebody has set them both on fire. I suppose it's a function of movement = warmth, but when the dog isn't curled up shivering next to me for MY warmth, he's frisking and running laps through the house and being as much of a pest as he can be to Kearney, who has taken up residence in Dante's bed. When Kearney isn't bedded down, he is begging, pleading, DEMANDING that we let him outside RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

So I figured I'd pull out an old recipe that I developed back in April of 2008. This was a matter of me wandering around the grocery store thinking, "Hmm. I like pork. And I like spinach. Let's put them together." And this is what I discovered. It's actually more of a springtime/summer dish I suppose, but you can raid your freezer and pantry and probably come up with something similar and probably tastier. The basic premise is to wrap meat up around something savory and roast it. Pull out some puff pastry, wrap that around the meat, and bam! Wellington.

And afterward you can huddle around the open oven for warmth as it cools down.

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Roast time: 30-40 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
Pan Preparation: lightly greased cooling or roasting rack, kitchen twine

1 ½ - 2 pound pork tenderloin (can be marinated overnight)
2/3 - 1 cup olive tapenade
16 ounces frozen chopped spinach, seasoned and cooked, drained, and squeezed dry
½ – ¾ cup feta cheese crumbles
  1. Preheat oven to 425, and salt and pepper the outside of the tenderloin to taste.
  2. Using a very sharp knife, and being careful not to slice all the way through the meat, make a rectangle of pork.
  3. Make a long horizontal slice about ½ inch from the bottom of the pork, to about ½ inch from the other side.
  4. Open up the pork like a book, and make another incision, again toward the bottom of the meat, ½ inch shy of the opposing side. Press down to flatten.
  5. Lightly grease a roasting rack with cooking spray, and line the pan with aluminum foil. Set the opened pork on top of the roasting rack, perpendicularly to the rings of the rack.
  6. Spread the olive tapenade evenly on the pork, pressing into the meat.
  7. Spread the spinach on top of the tapenade, again, pressing down to flatten.
  8. Top the spinach with feta crumbles.
  9. Slowly roll up the pork lengthwise, and tie with kitchen twine.
  10. Roast pork for 30-45 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 155-160 degrees.
  11. Allow meat to rest for 5 minutes after removing from oven.
Cats photo courtesy of icanhascheezburger.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lessons Learned from Chocolate Cake


Yesterday was a complete waste of makeup. I won't go into it here, as I whined and complained plenty to close friends yesterday. You know who you are, and I thank you.

A few days ago, my friend Karli sent me a link to one of my new favorite blogs, The Way the Cookie Crumbles. The author had recently baked a recipe for a Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake that looked to die for. Yes, the photo above is from The Way the Cookie Crumbles. I might post photos of my cake later. Let's just say this cake is a prime example of why counter irritants do not help.

In my distraction, everything that could have gone wrong in the icing and construction of this cake went wrong, wrong, wrong. I forgot to tightly wrap and chill the cakes so they wouldn't be so crumbly, and BOY WERE THE CRUMBLY. I forgot that one part of the cake was so fresh that it split in half when I took it out of the pan, and of course that's the second one I picked up, so the two halves are going their separate ways on top of the cake. I tried to stitch it together with toothpicks but only used two, lest it become a frankencake.

The good side is it's such a fresh, moist, succulent, fluffy cake that it just falls apart and melts in your mouth. Meanwhile my grandmother is rolling in her grave that there is such a crumbly-iced cake sitting on the island in my kitchen.

I covered it with sprinkles. Everybody loves sprinkles. (Please click on the link. You'll laugh. I promise.)

It looks dreadful, but you know what? It tastes damn good. Best chocolate cake I've made in a long time. And I figure that's a good lesson to take from it. Sometimes life doesn't look so great. Often it's discouraging and things don't work out the way you want them to. Too many plans are forgotten or dissolve, confusion and disappointment ensue, and stuff just plain falls apart.

But at the end of the day, it's still sweet.

Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake
FOR THE CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (I used 1 full teaspoon to make a fluffier cake.)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled (optional)
GETTING READY TO BAKE:
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment or wax paper.
  3. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
TO MAKE THE CAKE:
  1. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy.
  3. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is thoroughly blended into the butter.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, then the yolks one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  5. Beat in the vanilla.
  6. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; add the dry ingredients in 3 portions and the buttermilk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); mix only until each new batch is blended into the batter.
  7. Scrape down the bowl and, if you want, add the melted chocolate, folding it in with a rubber spatula.
  8. Divide the batter between the cake pans.
  9. Bake for 26 to 30 minutes, or until the cakes feel springy to the touch and start to pull away from the sides of the pans.
  10. Transfer the cakes to racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners.
  11. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (Once the layers are cooled, they can be wrapped airtight and left at room temperature overnight or kept frozen for up to 2 months.)
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE:
  1. Place one layer top side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
  2. Frost the top of the layer, then cover with the second layer, top side down.
  3. Frost the sides and top of the cake, either smoothing the buttercream for sleek look or using a spatula, knife or spoon to swirl it for a more exuberant look.
  4. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour (or up to 1 day, if that’s more convenient) to set the frosting, then bring it to room temperature before serving.
Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting (frosting pictured here)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (about) (Give or take a cup, depending on how thick you want the frosting to be.
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Cream the cream cheese and butter until fully incorporated and smooth.
  2. Add the powdered sugar until desired sweetness and consistency is reached.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon heavy cream, whip until light.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mexican Cider

video


I have been looking for a warm adult beverage for these cold winter nights ever since the first snap in November, and this one sent to us from my friend Lorena was just the ticket! It served as our aperitif before going out to dinner for New Year's Eve and doubled as our Thursday Night Cocktail.

2 quarts apple cider
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 2/3 cups Tequila
1/3 cup orange flavored liquor, like Triple Sec
1 or 2 lemons sliced thinly for garnish
Cinnamon sticks for garnish

  1. In a medium pot, combine the apple cider and lemon juice.
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and reheat to a simmer.

This stuff goes down very smoothly and will sneak up and have you giggling incoherently before you realize it. Remember, one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.

Careful, it's hot.
Disclaimer: this was actually just hot cider, sans tequila. Mike was on call for New Year's Eve, so he had to go the non-alcoholic route. More tequila (and a designated driver) for me!

Happy New Year!


My family has a few strict rules born of superstition and bred in convenience. For instance, all Christmas decorations must, MUST be put be completely put away by midnight on December 31st. A conversation held by Mike and me early last week:


Me: I'm taking the tree down on Tuesday so it can be on the street by Wednesday.
Mike: They're recycling the Christmas trees on Saturday (the SECOND), so why don't you wait to take it down until I'm here to help you?
Me: I don't care when the hell they're recycling squat. The tree will be down and OUT OF MY HOUSE on Wednesday.

See what a lifetime of musts will do to a woman?

Another must involves what one eats on New Year's Day. It doesn't matter how much you eat, but everyone must, MUST eat at least one bite each of greens, black eyed peas, ham, and grits. The greens represent money for the year, the peas good health, the ham prosperity, and well, we forget what the grits stand for, but they go well with everything else.

All my life, somebody who knew what they were doing made greens for us. But New Year's Day lunch was up to me this year, so I had to gird my loins and tackle a great Southern challenge: good greens made from scratch.

Have you ever tried canned greens? Don't. Just don't.

How to do greens? I seem to remember hamhocks were somehow integrally involved. So during my Wednesday morning Krogering, I picked up a few along with four bunches of collards. I figured smoked ones would be best. As I was looking them over, a little lady asked me, "Now, what's a skinny white girl like you know what to do with hamhocks?" To which I had to respond that Daisy's dead, Mattie's up in years, and CJ's husband won't let her come down to Clinton from Canton, so it's up to me. That seemed to appease her.

I also wanted to do blackeyed peas, so I bought three hamhocks: two for the greens and one for the peas. I probably could have just done one hamhock each, but this was a special dinner. Once home, I barely covered the hamhocks in water in the crock pot and cooked the heck of out them -about 12 hours on low - to tenderize the meat and create a lovely broth. At the same time, I soaked the bagged dried blackeyed peas to rehydrate them. And I marinated the pork loin.

I have to insert here that under no circumstances should you smell smoked hamhocks that have been in a crock pot for 12 hours straight. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not be anywhere closeby. Like lard, the smell isn't that pleasant. But have patience, and they will create for you the best damn broth in which to cook vegetables. Period.

Later on New Year's Eve, I actually cooked the peas and greens. Channeling Daisy, I drained the blackeyed peas of their soaking water and replaced it with 3 cups hamhock broth, 3 cups water, 1 Tablespoon salt, and a hamhock. And I set them on the stove over low heat.

I rinsed and washed the collards, cut out the thick veins in the middle, and chopped up the leaves. They filled my 6 quart stock pot to the top,but I knew they would cook down. To that I added two hamhocks, the rest of the hamhock stock, 3 Tablespoons salt (turned out to be too much - read on), 2 Tablespoons pepper, and for good luck, the left over Tom Turkey butter (4 ounces) that Mom gave us for Christmas. She gave us 2, and I thought it was a good gesture to melt down the last one on the last day of the year.

Love me some butter. Goodbye Tom Turkey, and goodbye 2009!
I set the greens over low heat too and let them cook for hours upon hours. Then I let the pots cool down enough to put them in the fridge and refrigerated them overnight. The next morning I decided the greens were a little salty (I forgot that hamhocks have their own sodium that develops over time), so I added 2 chopped potatoes to each pot to soak up the salt. Worked like a charm.

We don't like slabbed ham, so I had Mike grill a pork loin marinated overnight in teriyaki and cherriyaki sauce. And Mom was good enough to bring the grits. So our lunch was blackeyed peas, collard greens, corn bread (because you CANNOT eat greens without corn bread), cheese grits, and grilled pork with pear chutney.

Here's to a great 2010. I'll have to try turnip greens for 2011.

Hamhock photo courtesy of Dorsey Meats, blackeyed peas photo courtesy HowStuffWorks.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Hummus


We hope you had a beautiful New Year's Eve. As I've been in quite a Mediterranean mood lately, Mike took me to Petra for dinner. The food was excellent, the atmosphere a hoot, and the company exemplary. We didn't expect it to be such a party, complete with fireworks, champagne, and belly dancers.


Then last night we went out with some of Mike's buddies. More awesome company! Supper was at Keifer's, and I found myself once again craving hummus. I suppose now I've become quite the hummus connoisseur.

Anyway, a funny Adam Sandler movie, Don't Mess with the Zohan came on the TV this morning while we were finishing up our pancakes. It has its moments, and a running joke through the movie was hummus and fizzy-bubbly. So I decided it was high time I figured out how to make this stuff. I remember back in college one of my sorority sisters goofily (and rather drunkenly) saying it was made of chick peas and garbanzo beans (go ahead, say it. you know you want to.), so I set out to find an edible recipe, played around in the kitchen, and was very pleasantly surprised.

Tonight's supper? Sushi and hummus. So cosmopolitan. I might just turn into a chick pea or garbanzo bean myself.

1 can chickpeas or garbanzo beans
2-3 Tablespoons (1/2 lemon) juice of lemon
3 Tablespoons Tahini (you can find it at a superKroger)
1-2 cloves garlic
Red pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Pita bread
Olive oil, fresh parsley, and paprika, or a combination thereof, for garnish

  1. Reserve liquid from beans.
  2. In a blender, combine beans, lemon juice, Takini, garlic, and seasonings.
  3. Add about 1/4 cup of liquid in which beans were packed.
  4. Run blender, taste, and add seasonings or liquid depending on the consistency you want.
  5. The longer you blend, the fluffier it will be.
  6. Garnish with paprika, olive oil, and parsley.
Photo courtesy of The Nibble.

 

Made by Lena