Thursday, February 25, 2010

Classic Sour Cream Coffee Cake

As the song goes, to everything there is a season, turn turn turn, and a time for every purpose under Heaven. Now is the time for me to make hay while the sun shines. To work long tax hours and eat Stouffer's lasagna along with cleverly frozen soups and casseroles.

But the geek in me is loving it. The tax part at least. When I have a really tough one and it balances, man, there is nothing in the world like it. I want to jump up and down and holler.

The thawed out eats? Eh. It's worth it. Spring is coming.

But as you know I'm a sucker for baked goods, especially at breakfast. Mike likes cereal. Cereal! Blech. It is cold and wet. So I usually have to share my breakfast stuff so I don't gain 50 pounds. Who better with whom to share than my coworkers?

This is a coffee cake by Sara Foster that I made earlier this week to fend off the frost. Coffee cake must be in the air because my good friend Missy invited me over for some this afternoon. She won't tell me how she made it, but you know what? Hers is totally better.

Makes one 10-inch cake
1/3 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
(And you know I added a couple handfuls of mini chocolate chips.)
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sour cream
Confectioners' sugar

Prepare the filling:
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, and pecans; set aside.

Prepare the cake:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a 10-inch nonstick Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside.
  • Into a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, starting on low speed, then increasing speed to medium.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of the bowl.
  • While beating on low speed, add the flour mixture, alternating with sour cream, and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just until well combined, scraping down sides several times.
  • Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with the reserved filling. Top with remaining batter.
  • Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
  • Let cake cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack to cool completely.
  • Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Surprisingly Easy Mashed Potatoes

I have never in my life made mashed potatoes. I've fried 'em, baked 'em, put them in a salad, used them in stews, you name it. But somehow I never made it to mashing them. Then somebody sent me this YouTube video, and after I picked myself up off the floor from laughing, I made a decision.

If Snoop Dogg can do it, I can too.

I didn't use the ingredients in the above video, but I loved the idea of using the KitchenAid to mash them. Maybe that's why I never fixed them in the first place: sure, all those potato masher devices at Williams-Sonoma would burn a lot of calories, but they required a special purchase and extra drawer space and looked like a lot of work.

But I can dump anything into the KitchenAid.

So I pulled out four potatoes from the pantry. Yes, I will admit they were somewhat past their prime and starting to sprout eyes, but I didn't let that sway me. First things first: soften them to achieve the desired consistency. So I washed them, peeled them, roughly chopped them into 1 inch cubes, and boiled them in salted water like they were pasta for about 20 minutes, or until soft.

Then I drained the water, dumped the potato chunks into the mixer bowl, and started it on slow. Now what to put in for flavor? I went with the classic salt, pepper, half a stick of butter, Tony's, and rosemary. And a little buttermilk. Some people like chicken broth, sour cream, cheddar cheese, basil, minced onions, oregano, and my personal favorite blue cheese. Have fun with it. The more fun it is, the more fancy they will be. Once they tasted right, I sped up the mixer and whipped them to a fare thee well. Delicious.

I'll have to try a little 'yakyak next time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snow Day

If you live anywhere close to Mississippi, you are well aware that we had a little snow last Friday. The official count was 5 inches in Clinton. Everyone has asked me if Mike went to work; of course he did. Somebody has to keep the nuclear power plant running. He was out of the house by 5:50 and slowly made his way down 61 to be in Port Gibson by 7:30. His brake lines froze toward the end of the trip, so stopping was somewhat problematic. But temperatures rose above freezing, so he was able to come home safely later that evening.

Meanwhile, Dante and I jumped in the truck and took some pictures.

He loved the snow. He would bounce and pounce and run and bark, eating as much snow as possible in the process.
These bushes are usually straight enough for an adult to walk underneath them.

There was a Norman Rockwell-worthy snowball fight down the street, complete with cardboard boxes and summer pool intertubes put in the facility of sleds.

I had to take Dante to the vet for his shots, but it was just a really pretty drive through a surreal landscape. The only danger was at the end when the truck slid on a patch of ice in our own driveway. I dropped it into 4 wheel drive low and plowed on up.

Around 11 AM, the doorbell rang. It was a delivery man bringing me a beautiful Valentine's Day bouquet from my sweetheart! Now that's what I call service.

We lost power around 8 AM, but even though Entergy's recorded message related that it wouldn't come back on until 6 Saturday morning, it was back up by noon. At which time everybody in the neighborhood started running their dryers.

And as of noon Sunday, the snow is still here. Global warming, my butt.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lazy Pimento Cheese

What food made you realize you'd grown up? Spinach? Black eyed peas? Chicken a-la-king? Which dish was the one that your mom would spend the entire meal trying to make you eat, only to meet your firmly clamped teeth, but five, ten, fifteen years down the road you realize hey, this stuff is pretty good?

I remember Cha-Cha trying to make me eat blackeyed peas. She finally managed it by carving the top out of a piece of cornbread and saying they were the eggs in a nest. I probably only ate a total of 10 peas, but that kind of creativity was entirely too much for a five year old to ignore.

Mike still doesn't like pimento cheese and probably never will, but I surprised myself the other day with a craving. It was a warm, beautiful springlike day outside, and my mind went directly to pimento cheese. Blech. Where did that come from? When I was a kid, I would have sooner had a mayonnaise sandwich than pimento cheese (blech). Even in my mind I would think of it not as simply "pimento cheese," but "pimento cheese blech."

What the hell is a pimento, anyway? As a kid I probably didn't like pimento cheese (blech) because it didn't taste like olives. Because after all, green olives are the only known source of pimentos, aren't they? Except for the Wal-mart brand, which replaced its pimentos with some red gelatinous substance that made me think of jelly beans. Hmm. Pimento-flavored jelly beans. Sounds like a case for Bertie Bott.

But I digress.

I did like my cousin Cliff's mama's pimento cheese, but he told me the recipe when I was tipsy, so there's no hope of my remembering it. So I bought 16 ounces of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Hey, if this was going to be an off-the-top-of-my-head recipe for something I didn't even think I liked, I wasn't going to put an awful lot of effort into it.

16 ounces sharp cheddar. Dumped into a bowl.

Ok. Now what? Pimentos! Took a 4-ounce can and dumped that on top of the cheese.

Pimentos and cheese. Need something to keep them together. What would Mom have used....

Mayonnaise! I added about half a cup. You could probably go lower-fat and use sour cream, but really. It's cheese. There isn't that much help for it.

At this point I stuck my head in the bowl and smelled to see what else it needed. I added a dash of garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. Then I added a few dashes of black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco.

And I stirred it all up.

But it was missing something to make it my own dish. So I gave it 4 or 5 liberal dashes of my favorite, Cheyenne pepper. And there you have it. Fran's pimento cheese.

Oh, and the green beans? They're green bean chips from the Fresh Market. Asher mentioned them the other day, and I had to find out what all the fuss was about. They're delicious!

An Ode to My Favorite Beverage

I remember my first cup of coffee. I was three. Mattie, my nanny, always had her tea at 4:30 in the afternoon, only she didn't actually have tea; she had coffee. Just the first of a myriad of Southern ironies we take as they come along. Wanting to be like a grownup, I begged and pleaded, and finally she acquiesced, granting my wish in the form of barely a drop of coffee in a demitasse cup with warm milk and a tad of sugar.

Of course I wasn't addicted then and could take it or leave it, truly happy in the fact that I was having tea with the grownups, not that I had a cup of jo in my hand.

My next tryst with coffee was during my teen years when my dad and I would drink it together. I suppose I was still the little girl wanting to be like the grownups because I took mine black just like he did. That first sip was a doozy. I had to concentrate not to screw up my face in a grimace. But I decided that if I was going to drink this brew, I might as well do it correctly and enjoy the nuances of flavor and depth instead of masking it with cream and sugar. And anyway, who knew when cream or sugar would be available?

I like my coffee like I like my men: hot, strong, bitter and rich. Mike likes HIS coffee blonde and sweet, which makes me wonder why he likes me.

So Mom gave me a fancy pants coffee maker for Christmas when I was 16. Sure, she received a few odd looks, but I was thrilled. At this point I had been hooked for a while and limping along with our old percolator. That coffee maker ranks right up there with the Nintendo.

Over the years coffee and I have begun the morning together in all sorts moods and all sorts of settings all over the world. One Mardi Gras morning I had awesome coffee with a corn dog for breakfast on the corner of Julia and St. Charles. We have drunk coffee on the beach with toes in the sand. Coffee accompanied me at a sidewalk cafe for breakfast in Wyoming. I have endured Yankee "newspaper coffee," so named because it's so weak you can read the newspaper through it in a clear cup. And Mayan coffee and I did the salsa in Quintana Roo.

Most recently Mike and I had coffee while bumping along in Europe. It was both indulgence and a delicious way to stay awake for all that partying. Reminds me of what my friend Matt always used to say:

But it hasn't all been fun and games with my friend coffee. The first time Mike took me to Florida to meet his parents, nobody told me they drink "half-caff." Half-caff? What in the world is that? It didn't make sense to me. Completely unconscionable. On the Fourth of July, the fourth day we were there, Mike and I were sitting on a beautiful lakeside dock, watching beautiful fireworks. My head on his shoulder. Beautiful, sweet, loving moment. I mentioned that my head had been hurting a lot that afternoon and wondered aloud if it was all the water that found its way up my nose when I was trying to learn how to ski. THEN Mike mentioned the half-caff. My response?

Give me the keys to the truck and point me to the nearest grocery store. Now.

I'm not kidding. We went that night to get me come Cokes, chocolate, and those little coffee singles. I put one in with my cup of half-caff to supplement my caffeine addiction. His side of the story makes me sound a lot more mean.

Addiction is not pretty. There have been mornings at fish camp in which I filter the grounds with paper towels. Or a clean sock. Or sometimes nothing at all. Oh yes, I have been there. That desperation to have your first fix and then everything will be OK. Or getting out of bed on a Sunday morning because the headache tells you to. Slowly but surely, I have outgrown having that monkey on my back.

So about a month ago I decided to shake it off. For Mike's sake I have done it gradually with what I like to call the "scoop method." I used to take four scoops regular in our four-cup French press. So for about a week I took three scoops regular, one scoop decaf, then two and two, then one regular and three decaf, down to four decaf. I haven't had a fully caffeinated beverage since Thursday, January 14. Where's my chip?

And Mike is still fully intact.

But what is a French press, you ask? Only the best damn way to fix a cup in my humble opinion. And I have 16 years of experience.

Pull out the plunger and the attached top. Put coffee in the glass carafe - one Tablespoon per cup. Boil water in a tea kettle and pour that on top of the loose ground coffee, then put the top on with the plunger up. Let it steep for at least 3-4 minutes, slowly push down the plunger, and enjoy.

If I can do it before I've even had a cup, then you can do it. Believe me.

It's inexpensive, it doesn't require filters, and probably the best part is that you can clean it in the dishwasher and fully sanitize everything. You could put this baby in an autoclave for Pete's sake. That's important because the materials that actually touch your coffee in the brewing process can affect the taste. The fact that only very clean glass and the stainless steel filter comes into contact with the coffee makes for a better brew. And I like knowing there aren't any creepy-crawlies hanging out in some intricate coffee maker tubing.

Even though I have kicked the caffeine habit, I still do love my coffee. Currently my favorite is Peet's. Decaf, of course. Who would have ever believed it?

Photos courtesy of (in no particular order) Peet's,,, Williams-Sonoma, GourmetGal, ScienceBlogs,,


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