Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Heritage of Southern Cooking: Vidalia Onion Pie

Yes, I'm still on my southern cooking kick.  Can you blame me?  After those biscuits and catfish fillets?  The stuff is amazing!  So I decided to veer off the pavement onto the dirt road a little and make something a bit non-traditional.  Have you ever eaten an onion pie?  Yeah, me neither.  But this one is special.  It's made with Vidalia onions, the ones that are sweet.  So I promise this pie won't make you cry, unless it's from overwhelming happiness.

Vidalia Onion Pie
From The Heritage of Southern Cooking by Camille Glenn

3 tablespoons butter
5 medium Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
1 partially baked 9-inch pastry shell
1 cup grated aged Swiss cheese
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
Cayenne pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat until they are limp but not the least bit brown.  Drain the onions and arrange them in the pastry shell.  Cover the onions with the grated cheese.  Beat the eggs, egg yolks, milk, and cream together.  Season with salt and cayenne pepper, and pour over the cheese.

Place the pie pan on the lower shelf of the oven and bake until the pie has puffed in the middle and is golden brown all over, 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 6 servings

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ina Garten: Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing

After making peanut butter cupcakes with a chocolate ganache icing, I started to wonder if it could work the other way, too.  Okay, okay, I was really just thinking how I could make the equivalent of a giant Reese's peanut butter cup.  There's a surprising amount of options when it comes to peanut butter icing.  But Ina's never done me wrong.  In fact, I think she tends to err on the side of fabulous in all the right ways.

Kathleen's Peanut Butter Icing
From Ina Garten

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
⅓ cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bill Neal's Southern Cooking: Creamy Mushroom Chicken and Dumplings

How do you improve on chicken and dumplings?  That is an excellent question.  And one I thought was silly until I saw the recipe for this dish of beauty.  You improve on chicken and dumplings by dumping a bunch of mushrooms and cream in it.  The answer was so obvious.  Now I'm wondering if maybe I should throw some bacon in next time, too...

Creamy Mushroom Chicken and Dumplings
Adapted from Bill Neal's Southern Cooking

1 cooked rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed
3 ounces chicken, duck, or goose fat (or unsalted butter)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 cups white mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
9 tablespoons flour
6 cups chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
Ground black pepper
Hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco or Frank's)
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 large egg plus enough whole milk to equal ⅞ cup

Pull cooked chicken into bite-size pieces and set aside.

In a large pot, cook onion in chicken fat until translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until water is released and then cooked away. Add garlic and cook another few minutes. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and combine. Cook for a few minutes, but do not let flour brown. Add chicken stock, heavy cream, black pepper, and hot pepper sauce and stir to combine.

Bring liquid in pot to a simmer, and allow to bubble for about 15 minutes. Add chicken, and continue to simmer another 15 minutes. The liquid will thicken slightly.

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together in a small bowl. Make an indention in the middle for the liquid ingredients. Beat egg with milk and pour into the small indention. Mix liquids with dry ingredients until a dough is formed. Drop in small spoonfuls over chicken stew, stirring to make more room. When all dumplings are in the pot, cover with a lid and simmer slowly for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bite-Size Desserts: Peanut Butter Mini Cupcakes

What is the ideal pairing?  I'm sure there are plenty of contenders, but I think I'm going to vote for peanut butter and chocolate.  I mean, you can't beat a Reese's peanut butter cup.  Those things are fantastic.  And these were a slow, sweet waltz in my mouth. The cake has a tender crumb, and the frosting has a rich, deep chocolate flavor. I highly recommend you make a batch of your own. I dare you to still have some left two days later.

Peanut Butter Mini Cupcakes
From Bite-Size Desserts by Carole Bloom

¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of kosher or fine-grained sea salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
⅓ cup smooth peanut butter
⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup half-and-half
Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Frosting
¼ cup salted peanuts (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Use two 12-cavity 2-inch round silicone mini muffin pans. Place the mini muffin pans on a baking sheet.

Over a medium-size bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the salt and toss together to blend.

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the flat beater attachment or in a large bowl using a hand-held mixer on medium speed until it's fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the peanut butter and blend together until smooth. Add the brown sugar and beat until creamy, about 1 minute.

In a small bowl, use a fork to lightly beat the egg and vanilla together. Beat this mixture into the peanut butter mixture. Stop frequently and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The mixture may look curdled as the egg is added, but as you stop and scrape down the bowl, the mixture will smooth out. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture in 3 stages, alternating with the half-and-half, and blending well after each addition.

Use a 1½-inch round ice cream scoop to divide the batter evenly among the cavities of the mini muffin pans.

Bake the cupcakes for 15 minutes, until light golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool the mini muffin pans on racks.

Use a small offset spatula, a rubber spatula, or a spoon to spread the top of each cupcake with the ganache frosting. Or fit a 12- or 14-inch pastry bag with a large open star tip and fill it partway with the ganache. Pipe the ganache onto the cupcakes in rosettes, covering the tops. Sprinkle the top of each cupcake with peanuts, if desired.  Serve the cupcakes at room temperature.

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Frosting
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (66 to 72% cacao content), finely chopped
½ cup heavy whipping cream

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium-size bowl.  Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and let it stand for 30 seconds. Use a heat-resistant spatula to stir the mixture together until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until thick but not stiff, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Whip the ganache in the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the flat beater attachment or in a large bowl using a hand-held mixer on medium speed until it holds soft peaks, about 1 minute.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dim Sum: Chinese Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp and Garlic Chives

What do you do with leftover dumpling filing?  You scour the internet until you find out that scrambled eggs with shrimp and chives is a thing.  A really delicious, super-easy-to-make thing.  And since there are eggs, it's a breakfast dish, right?  Well, it is now.

Chinese Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp and Garlic Chives
Loosely adapted from Dim Sum: The Art of the Chinese Tea Lunch by Ellen Leong Blonder

1½ teaspoon salt
½ pound Chinese chives, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in ½-inch lengths
4 ounces shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut in ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
½ teaspoon soy sauce
⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons

Bring 2 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the chives and blanch for 1 minute over high heat.  Drain the chives in a colander, and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.  Squeeze the chives dry and transfer them to a medium bowl.  (You should have about 1¼ cups.)

Combine the chives with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, the shrimp, soy sauce, white pepper, sesame oil, and eggs.  Scramble the eggs until the shrimp is pink and the eggs are cooked.

Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the butter, and when it has melted, add the egg mixture.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Guotie (Potstickers - Chinese Dumplings)

This month's Daring Cooks challenge was chosen by Jen from use real butter, and she chose to have us make Chinese dumplings from scratch, including the wrappers. Originally I wanted to do a clear dumpling, like har gow or chive dumplings, but for some reason, every time I tried to make the dough, it turned into sludge. I followed the same recipe I have used successfully in the past, but when I added the water, it didn't make a dough, but a watery mess. I still have no idea what went wrong, but after three tries, I decided to make something else.

For the challenge I ended up making a traditional flour wrapper. Unfortunately, I had a filling for a clear wrapper, so the dumplings tasted a little odd, but they still turned out. I have to say, after all of the work, I think the frozen wrappers at the Chinese grocery are worth the money. My wrappers seemed thick (even though you could almost see through them) and tough. I'm not a fan, but it was definitely an interesting experience.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Alton Brown: Southern Biscuits

This whole week in New Jersey has been raining and miserable, which seems to be a pretty accurate reflection of my job and life at the moment, so I really needed something amazing and homey and rich and flaky and warm to make me feel like it was really going to be okay. What I needed were biscuits. Not just any biscuits. Light as air, soft as silk, and tender at the heart. I am what I eat.

Southern Biscuits
Adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown and his grandmother Ma Mae

1½ cup all-purpose flour*
½ cup cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
2 tablespoons lard or Crisco shortening, chilled
1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 450F.

Sift both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in butter and lard until the mixture resembles small crumbs. Pour in buttermilk, and stir with a spoon until just mixed.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and pat with floured hands just until dough comes together. Handle the dough as little as possible. Pat into a 1-inch high round, and use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut straight down, then twist slightly to pop the biscuit round loose of the surrounding dough. Combine scraps, repat into a round, and cut additional biscuits.

Place the biscuits on a thick aluminum baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat to avoid burning the bottoms. Arrange in rows, with biscuits just touching. Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Serve warm with butter.

*If you're lucky enough to have a source for White Lily flour, you can use 2 cups of it and eliminate the cake flour.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Love Affair with Southern Cooking: Fried Catfish

After the horror of the oyster pie, I decided to go a little easier on myself and my southern cravings.  Find something that's not quite so far on the fringes.  Something that's so incredibly good that you spend 20 minutes trying to figure out exactly how much you can eat without making yourself sick.  You may think I'm kidding, but when you find yourself standing over the plate of hot, crisp catfish, don't say I didn't warn you.  And don't skip the lard.

Fried Catfish
Adapted from A Love Affair with Southern Cooking by Jean Anderson

4 (6-ounce) US-farmed catfish fillets
1 cup buttermilk
¼ cup self-rising flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoon lard

Lay the catfish fillets in a dish with high sides and pour the buttermilk over them. Let rest in the refrigerator for one hour. When the hour is up, turn the fillets and refrigerate for another hour.

When catfish is done marinating, combine flour, cornmeal, salt, and both peppers in a shallow dish. Take each fillet and shake gently to remove excess buttermilk. Lay in the dish with the cornmeal mixture, and pat the dry ingredients onto the fillets until well breaded. Gently shake off excess.

Heat half of oil and lard in a heavy frying pan or iron skillet. When the fat is hot, add the fish fillets. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip the fillets, add the remaining oil and lard, and cook an additional 4-5 minutes. Drain the fillets on a paper towel and serve hot.

Makes 4 servings

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gourmet: Chocolate Raspberry Clafoutis

What do you do with a ton of raspberries you picked that are staring at you from the shelf of the refrigerator?  Why, you get online as fast as possible and try to find a recipe that will incorporate every last one of those little buggers in a way that is interesting, satisfying, and hopefully sweet as can be.  I think I succeeded.

Chocolate Raspberry Clafoutis
From Gourmet magazine, March 2009

12 ounces fresh raspberries (2¾ cups)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 to 3½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter a 1½-quarts shallow baking dish.

Toss berries with granulated sugar and let stand 15 minutes.

Blend milk, butter, eggs, brown sugar, flour, cocoa, and salt in a blender until smooth. Scatter berries (with juices) evenly in baking dish, then pour batter over top.

Bake until slightly puffed and firm to the touch, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with chopped chocolate. Cool to warm, about 20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 servings

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My Mother's Southern Kitchen: Aunt Toot's Oyster and Almond Pie

So I decided that it was time for me to make some dishes that reminded me of the South.  Now note, I have never eaten any of these dishes previously.  So they are not treasured family heirlooms or any of that.  I just felt like I wanted something that was quite obviously southern.  So I hiked all the way to Chinatown to procure a quart of oysters to make this very southern oyster pie.  And then I proceeded to put one spoon of it in my mouth and make the kid yuck face.  You've seen it.  Where the kid is afraid to swallow and afraid to spit it out, so they just sit there with this look of misery and horror on their face?  Now, this has nothing to do with this casserole, per se.  It definitely has something to do with the fact that I am not southern enough to enjoy oysters, apparently.

Aunt Toot's Oyster and Almond Pie
From My Mother's Southern Kitchen by James Villas

⅓ cup slivered almonds
2 cups crushed soda crackers
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 quart freshly shucked oysters, liquor reserved
⅓ cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

To toast the almonds, spread them evenly on a baking sheet and bake, stirring several times, till slightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.  Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the crackers, nutmeg, and salt and cayenne pepper and mix well.  In another bowl, mix together the reserved oyster liquor, sherry, and Worcestershire.  In a 2-quart baking dish, arrange alternate layers of seasoned crackers and oysters, drizzling the oyster liquor mixture over each layer, dotting each layer with pieces of butter, and finishing with a layer of crackers dotted with butter.  Pour the half-and-half around the sides and bake 20 minutes.  Scatter the reserved almonds on top, baste with a little of the cooking liquid, and bake till the top is nicely browned but the pie is still moist, about 10 minutes longer.  Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, June 04, 2009


You know what makes any day brighter?  Guacamole.  I mean, how can you be sad when a dish of this creamy, happy goodness is set in front of you?  There are days when I literally just have guacamole for dinner.  You hit most of the food pyramid, right?  Okay, maybe not.  But that won't stop me from doing it again and again.


2 medium ripe Hass avocados
Juice of ½ lime
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
½ jalapeño pepper, seeds and membranes removed, finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
Dash of ground cumin

Scoop the flesh from the avocados into a medium bowl.  Mash the flesh with a fork.  Sprinkle with the lime juice and mix well.  Add tomato, jalapeño, onion, and cilantro.  Sprinkle with cumin and mix well.  Add salt to taste.  Additional lime juice, or any other ingredient, may be added to balance the flavors or to adjust for personal taste.

Makes 4 servings