Monday, June 28, 2010

Grits, Grits, And More Grits

One thing about living outside of the South is the unavailibility of Southern foods. It took many years for grits to even make it to Pittsburgh grocery shelves and when they did, it was in the form of instant grits. Greens are not common, and are mostly found at Wal Mart (I grow my own so that helps!). Any variety of beans is on short supply and any mention of ham hocks usually gets you funny stares and a "what's that?" from the locals. So when my husband asked me back in May what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I wanted some South in my mouth and to order me up some of my favorite Southern staples on line- White Lilly flour, Dixie sugar, Dukes mayo and real grits. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to taste that first bowl of grits! Usually I have to visit home to get some and now I can make it for myself. What a treat! A little honey and butter on top and if I close my eyes, I'm home!


2 1/4 cups of water
1/2 cup of grits
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. butter

Mix all four ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. If grits become too thick, add a bit of water. Serves 2 large bowls or 4 smaller bowls.

"No self respectin' Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits."
-Mr. Tipton, My Cousin Vinny

"Don't that just butter your grits?"
-Southern saying

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chocolate Banana Cake

Tired of the same old banana bread? Well, I've got a great recipe to share that I think you'll love! I found this recipe on Joy of Baking. And you know me and chocolate, I could not resist, especially when I saw that the icing is Chocolate Ganache. But don't let the fancy name fool you. It's just good chocolate mixed with cream. I threw this cake together in between chores this afternoon and was very happy with the results. The flavors of chocolate and banana go together very well, neither one of them overpowering. The only thing I changed in the recipe was to use half applesauce half oil instead of all oil in the cake. This would be a great cake to take to a picnic or any gathering this summer.

Chocolate Banana Cake

2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium sized)
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
1/2 cup safflower or canola oil (I used 1/4 cup applesauce 1/4 cup oil)
1 1/2 vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 11 inch baking pan with Pam.
In a medium bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients, blending well. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the next 6 ingredients (eggs through vanilla) mixing until blended. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until just blended. The batter will be thin.
Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until center springs back with light touch.
Cool completely.

Chocolate Ganache

8 ozs of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks (I used Ghirardelli chips)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tblsp. unsalted butter (I used salted)

Place chocolate in a medium size glass bowl. Set aside. In a saucepan, heat cream and butter over medium heat. Stir and bring to a boil. Remove immediately. Pour over chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir until blended. When completely cool, beat with mixer until soft and fluffy. Spread over cake.

"Life without chocolate is like a beach without water."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Red Velvet Cream Filled Cupcakes

What is it about Red Velvet cake that is so appealing? It's a classic Southern dessert that never gets boring. When my new cookbook Southern Living Comfort Food arrived in the mail last week, I could not wait to try a recipe. My middle daughter begged for the Red Velvet cake. The recipe in the book was for a three layer cake but she wanted cupcakes so I cut the recipe in half and made cupcakes instead. Then we decided we wanted to fill the cupcakes with cream, something I'd never done before. But I found out it's super easy. The usual icing for this recipe is cream cheese but my middle one doesn't like cream cheese so I tried another regular white icing. The recipe turned out bad so next time, it's the cream cheese icing. She can just scrape it off :)

Red Velvet Cream Filled Cupcakes

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1/8 tsp. baking soda
4 oz sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1 oz. bottle of red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.
Stir together flour, cocoa, and baking soda in another bowl. Add to butter mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla; stir in red food coloring. Spoon batter into lined or greased cupcake pan, filling about 2/3 full.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted comes out clean. Remove cupcakes onto a wire cooling rack. Cool throughly.

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
sugar to taste

Whip the heavy whipping cream with a mixer until stiff peaks form. Add sugar to taste.

Using a decorator's bag and a long decorating tip (Joann's has these available with the cupcake supplies), fill the bag with the whipped cream. Insert the tip into the top of the cupcake about half way and squeeze the cream inside until the top moves up slightly. Cover with icing. Keep in the refridgerator.

"Cakes nourish much more than the body. They feed the soul."
-Southern Living Comfort Food cookbook

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

School's Out Campfire Meat Buns

School was over as of last Friday so the fun has begun! The kids are behaving themselves so far (which I'm very grateful for!) and it's been a non stop hub of activity with friends coming and going. We spent most of last week searching for our lost cat Cleo, but to no avail. Over the weekend we talked about her a lot, each of us expressing our feelings about what a great cat she was. We are slowly picking up her food bowls, blankets, and litter pan, dragging it all out as much as possible to avoid acknowledging she is actually gone.

On top of all the other activity, my husband had a bad wisdom tooth pulled the other day (ouch!) and is in pain; enough pain to make him pop aspirins around the clock. He's having trouble eating, so when contemplating dinner last night, I was balancing kids running in and out and my husband's need for soft foods. When looking around for something to try, I found Christy's Southern Plate blog had a easy and tasty recipe for Campfire Meat Pies. They sounded so good I had to try them! I changed the recipe to include ground turkey mixed with mild taco seasoning and piled with 2% fat cheese, instead of the lunchmeat Christy's recipe called for (though that sounds very good too!). I also changed the name to "buns" instead of "pies" just for my own entertainment! Everyone in the family loved them. My son was asking for more today for dinner. A little too soon, bud, but we'll be making them again in no time!

Campfire Meat Buns

2 tubes of reduced fat Cresent rolls
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup water
taco seasoning to taste
4 oz. finely shredded cheese

Cook turkey in a skillet until all meat is browned. Add water and stir. Add taco seasoning to taste and blend. Once water is mostly evaparated, remove from heat.

On a baking sheet sprayed with Pam, lay out indiviual cresent rolls. On the wide part of the dough, add about 1 tablespoon of meat. Top with a tablespoon of cheese. Fold the cresent roll matching up the corners until the meat and cheese are contained.

When all cresent rolls are completed, bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly and serve.

"I don't think a really good pie can be made without a dozen or so children peeking over your shoulder as you stoop to look at it every little while."
-John Gould

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rest In Peace, Cleo

She came to us on a brisk October night in 1990. I was coming home from a late class and she was there, a little orange long haired cat meowing at me on my front steps. My first reaction was to stomp my foot near her and I said, "Shoo, kitty!". I was allergic to cats and knew I couldn't get near her. I went inside and mentioned the cat to my husband. He said he'd seen her and didn't know if we should help her. I reminded him I was allergic, but if he wanted to leave out a bowl of tuna and a makeshift bed outside, I was ok with that. Although I thought we couldn't take her in, the thought of turning away a hungry kitty tore at me. My husband and I made a deal. If the cat was still there in the morning, we would call the landlord and ask to keep her. I would just have to stay away from her and let my husband care for her.

As it turned out, the kitty was there in the morning and we ended up letting her in. She seemed so grateful. For the first few days all she did was sleep, eat and crawl up on my chest to purr and purr. At first I was nervous, thinking I'd be allergic. It turned out that if I was careful and didn't touch my eyes after I touched the cat, I was ok. So we slowly got to know each other during her recovery period. We took her to the vet and he cured her ear mites and told us she was probably about 6 months old, making up the birthdate of May 1st. We named her Cleopatra, after the queen. Since neither of us ever owned a cat, we took a while to learn about her and she, never owning a human before, learned about us. We later learned from our neighbors that shortly before she came to us, she had been going house to house meowing at the doors. Some people fed her, but no one let her in. To this day that story brings tears to my eyes.

Over the years, Cleo would come to see us at night while we watched TV and she would sit on my chest and purr, just like in those first nights. She did funny things like trying to jump onto a window sill that was covered in plastic for the winter. That earned her the nickname, KittySplat. But she was most of all a very stoic, intelligent kitty who seemed very determined to be above it all and except for her love for us, dignified in all situations.

We thought she might be lonely so we adopted a sister for her from the shelter. We named her Nephertiti. But Cleo never seemed to take to her too well, always wrestling with her and attacking her when she did something stupid, which was often. They did curl up together and groomed each other, but Cleo never seemed to need anyone else for companionship. She didn't seemed bothered when we had to put Nephie down at age 9.

Cleo also seemed to defy odds with her health. The only time she was sick in her life, before now, was when she had a bladder infection. She started meowing at me one day and led me down to her litter box in the basement. She got in, tried to go to the bathroom, and looked at me when she couldn't, as if to say, "See, I can't go. Something is wrong." I took her to the vet and sure enough, she had an infection.

As Cleo got older, we began to wonder if she was a super cat. She outlived three dogs and Nephie. She was only sick once. She survived three moves. Year after year, she kept going. She just seemed like she'd always be here. But recently, we noticed Cleo started to look bad. She stopped being able to groom herself, leaving us to shave off knots in her long hair, a miserable process for both of us. She also couldn't walk steps anymore. She started having accidents in the house, something she never did before. She was always a clean and meticulous. She seemed to be losing weight. I took her to the vet a few months ago, after trying everything to help her. They took blood and said she had thyroid disease and kidney disease. Basically, her kidneys were failing from old age and there was nothing they could do. They recommended a low protein diet and sent us home. Poor kitty. I asked the vet if Cleo was in any pain, they thought she wasn't. So we watched her. We gave her a low protein diet, with some of her favorite wet food here and there. She drank a lot of water, even out of the dog bowl at times. We moved her litter pan so she had everything in one area. We gave her a fluffy towel to lay on and kept an eye on her.

Cleo always loved outdoors. She was an indoor kitty, but would meow at us to be let out. Most of the time, I would let her go. Though I was scared she wouldn't come back, she always did. I think she just looked around, ate some grass and came back. Smart kitty. But in the last few months, I was too scared to let her go out without keeping an eye on her. She only asked a few times to go out anyway. I think she was too sick.

This past Sunday, my husband stayed home from church to deal with the weekend flooding in our basement from all the rain. He left the glass sliding doors open for the dogs to go out so he could work on the basement, never thinking that Cleo would go out. She spent most of her time sleeping in the other room. She had been acting strange all week and truth be told, we actually considered putting her down. We wanted to wait to see if she seemed to be in any distress. She had acted so strange when the rain came, putting herself underneath a leaking window, letting the rain hit her in the back. It was odd for a cat who always hated water.

By afternoon, we were home from church and lunch was cleaned up. I asked my husband if he'd seen Cleo. He said he hadn't. We looked around the house and couldn't find her. He told me then that he had left the door open and we figured she might have slipped out. I went outside and called her. Nothing. We waited. We thought for sure she'd show up. By nightfall, still nothing. In the morning, we started to wonder if she was in trouble. I had heard that cats wonder off to die, but I couldn't imagine that would happen to us, to Cleo. But as the days went on and we had one night in the 40's, I started to realize she wasn't coming back. We looked every where, all through our yard, in the woods, on the next street. We told neighbors about her in case they saw her. Nothing.

She's gone. I can feel it in my bones. She would never do this normally. And she was too sick to go far. She is a smart kitty and knows how to come home. We've called her and the dogs have been barking, so she would hear us and know to come home. I can't stand the thought of her laying out there, by herself, dead. I could use the closure of a least having a body to mourn over. But knowing my smart kitty, she hid herself well in a small cozy place to rest her bones.

I think it's time to let go. Cleo, my wonderful baby kitty, rest well. We will always love you. I'll be seeing you in Heaven someday, where I know you've already taken over as queen of the animals. My smart kitty.

"Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat."
-Mark Twain

Monday, June 7, 2010

New York Style Cheesecake

I used to make cheesecakes all the time, before I had kids. I used a wonderful recipe that always turned out great. My husband even encouraged me to sell them, an endeavor that never quite panned out, unforturately. It would have been fun. I've since missplaced that great recipe so when daughter number one asked what a cheesecake tasted like, I had to make her one. I found a to-die-for recipe on Joy of Baking. The recipe steps seemed daunting, and I thought a time or two about modifying them, but I decided to follow it through the first time and see how it turned out. I'm so glad I did. This cheesecake is restaurant quality and tastes fantastic! It's so hard having it close by in the fridge cause it just keeps calling my name. If you get the time, make this cake. You'll be so glad you did.

New York Style Cheesecake

For the crust:
2 cups of graham wafer crumbs or finely crushed vanilla wafers or gingersnaps (process whole cookies in a food processor until they are crumbs)
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted (they recommend unsalted, but I used salted)

For the filling:
4 8 oz. size cream cheese, at room temperature (they recommend full fat, I used Neufchatel cream cheese)
1 cup granulated white sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

1 cup sour cream (they recommend full fat, I used reduced fat)
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Butter, or spray with a non stick vegetable spray, a 9 inch springform pan. Place the springform pan on a larger baking pan to catch any leakage while the cheesecake is baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center of oven.

For Crust: In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of the springform pan. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

For Filling: In bowl of your electric mixer place the cream cheese, sugar, and flour. Beat on medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes), scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the whipping cream, lemon zest, vanilla extract and beat just until incorporated. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour in the filling. Place the cheesecake pan in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes and then lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees and continue to bake for about another 1 1/2 hours or until firm and only the center of the cheesecake looks a little wet and wobbly. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Spread the topping over the warm cheesecake and return to oven to bake for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully run a knife or spatula around the inside edge of pan to loosen the cheesecake (helps prevent the surface from cracking as it cools).

Let cool before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating. This cheesecake tastes best after being refrigerated for at least a day.

Serve with fresh fruit or fruit sauces.

Makes one - 9 inch cheesecake.

To freeze: Place the cooled cheesecake on a baking pan and freeze, uncovered, until firm. Remove the cheesecake from the freezer, wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil and place in a freezer bag. Seal and return to freezer. Can be frozen for several months. Thaw uncovered cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

Tips: Sometimes the surface of the cheesecake cracks. To help prevent this from happening do not overbeat the batter, especially when creaming the cheese and sugar.

Another reason for cracking is overbaking the cheesecake. Your cheesecake is done when it is firm but the middle may still look a little wet.

Also, make sure the springform pan is well greased as cracking can occur if the cheesecake sticks to the sides as it cools.
Source: The Joy of Baking

“....I can dream away a half-hour on the immortal flavor of those thick cheese cakes we used to have on a Saturday night.”
-Mary Antin, 'The Promised Land'