July 2010


I’m finally wrapping up the posts from my southern meal (see previous pasts on catfish, peas, and collards) and I’ve saved the best for last: dessert, of course!  The funny thing is that what I made for dessert was actually something I grew up eating for breakfast on special occasions. Sometimes my parents would make this when my sister or I had sleepovers, and our friends would often react with skepticism to the idea of eating biscuits with chocolate gravy. But after the first bite, all traces of skepticism left their faces.  If you’re feeling skeptical too, trust me, this stuff is GOOD.

The biscuit recipe is good on its own and I would recommend it for breakfast biscuits to accompany eggs and bacon or to serve with dinner if you make fried chicken or something like that.  However, along with the chocolate gravy, they make a great indulgent breakfast–or perhaps a brunch–or a yummy dessert!

The biscuits are easy enough to make. Once you are done mixing in the buttermilk, don’t worry if your dough is sticky.   This is normal.  Just flour a work surface and turn the dough out of the mixing bowl using a spatula. In hindsight, I think I patted the dough too flat. I would aim for a slab of dough that is about 1 inch thick (I noted this in the recipe below). Another trick that I haven’t tried, but recently read about, is to preheat the oven above 400 degrees (say 475 or 500) and then turn it down to 400 once you put in the biscuits. This way the oven doesn’t dip below 400 when you open the oven door. This is supposed to ensure that your biscuits rise properly (which as you can see, mine did not!).  Luckily, since I was breaking them into pieces and dousing them in chocolate, this didn’t matter too much!  The next time I make them I think I will also put the cut-out biscuits close together on the baking sheet so they are barely touching.  I remember my Dad doing this and I’m not sure what it does, but it might make a difference…

Now that I’ve caught up on these posts from the past, I’ll be excited to share some of the stuff I’ve been making more recently! I’ll try to include some healthy stuff in there since I’m now remembering that this was my original intention with this blog. Ha!  I really did mean well, but five (out of 11) posts containing bacon, obsene amounts of sugar and/or chocolate later, that’s pretty laughable!

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Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy
from my Granny Dalrymple

Ingredients

Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ cup butter at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk

Chocolate Gravy
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 ½ cups milk
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 Tbsp butter

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. To make biscuits, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and mix together using your fingers or a pastry knife until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add buttermilk and mix together with a fork until it forms a soft dough. Don’t overwork the dough.

2. Flour your work surface and press dough out with your fingers to a thickness of 1 inch. Using a round cookie cutter, cut out biscuits and put them on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until biscuits have some color.

3. While biscuits cook, mix sugar, flour, cocoa and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring with a whisk often until sauce thickens. It should be thicker than hot cocoa, but not as thick as hot fudge. Add vanilla and butter and remove from heat.

4. To serve, crumble biscuits in separate bowls and pour on chocolate sauce.


I know.  I’m really dragging out this one dinner I made almost a month ago.  It’s just that I got busy with field work, didn’t have the recipes with me at the field station to post, and then did all this other cooking that got me distracted.  Good thing I started readying The Help.  If you haven’t read this book, go get it at the bookstore or library!  Yes, like right NOW!  I’m only half-way done, but I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorite books of all time!

So what does this book have to do with southern cooking?, you’re probably wondering.  Well, not much, other than the fact that it is set in Jackson Mississippi during the civil rights era and portrays the relationship between white families and their hired “help” (African American women) who do pretty much everything–including cooking–for them.  Aside from all the talk of cornbread, fried chicken, and caramel cakes, just reading the dialogue’s true-to-form southern accents makes me crave southern food.  So anyway, I have been inspired to tell you about the other side dish I made to accompany the blackened catfish and black-eyed peas in my southern feast: collard greens!

Ironically, I never knew I liked cooked greens until I moved to California.  In the south, people tend to boil them for a long time, so you end up with limp greens that have lost most of their “greenness.”  When I came to California I discovered swiss chard and how delicious it can be when sautéed simply with olive oil and garlic.  This opened my eyes to the wonderful world of greens and a new cookbook I recently bought, Greens Glorious Greens!,  has introduced me to a ton of new ideas for how to prepare them.  I came across several collard green recipes in this cookbook and decided to try the quick southern-style  collards with bacon.  You do boil these greens, but only for 6-10 minutes, so they retain their shape and a bright green color.  Then you sauté leeks and the quick-boiled greens in rendered bacon fat.  ooooooh yeah.

Another fun thing to try is the cookbook’s recommended technique for quickly chopping the greens into strips.  After you remove the midrib from the leaf, you roll a stack of leaves into the shape of a cigar and then slice it crosswise into 1/2 inch thick strips.  I don’t know if this saved me any time since I took so many pictures of the process, but it at least made the chopping more interesting!  So there you have it: a complete southern meal.  Wait, did I just say complete?  Surely, SURELY you know there’s a dessert post coming soon…

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Quick Southern-Style Collards and Bacon
from Greens Glorious Greens!

Serves 2-3.

Ingredients
3 strips bacon
3/4 pound collard greens (6 or 7 cups, chopped)
2 cups water
1 cup thinly sliced leeks or onions
pinch of salt or to taste

Directions
1. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Fry the bacon until golden and fat is rendered. Remove bacon from fat to paper towels to drain. Pout off rendered fat to a metal container to reserve. Wipe out pan.

2. Wash collards, remove stalks, and stack 4 to 5 leaves. Roll like cigar and slice into thin strips, approximately 1/4 inch wide (note: I did 1/2 inch strips). In a large skillet with a lid, bring water to a boil. Add the greens and cook on high heat, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes for tough, older greens, 4 to 6 minutes for tender baby greens. Cooked greens should be tender but still bright green. Remove greens from cooking liquid to a bowl, using a slotted spoon. Save “pot likker” to drink.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the bacon drippings over medium heat. Add leeks or onions and sauté for 5 to 8 minutes, until softened. Stir in collards to coat with leeks and drippings.

4. Season with salt, if desired. Crumble cooled bacon over the hot greens.

As soon as I read the Wednesday Chef’s post about her experience in Italy with Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati (essentially grilled stuffed tomatoes on bruschetta), I knew it was something I had to try.  I immediately fell in love with the seemingly romantic and ceremonial process of cooking and eating the stuffed tomatoes, each on its own slice of grilled toast.  My old housemate and good friend was visiting Davis from Virginia over the weekend of the 4th, so we had a bbq to celebrate her return and the holiday.  With it being high tomato season and all, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try this recipe.

Did I mention that it was also very brave of me to try out this dish?  I wasn’t exactly following a detailed recipe.  The “recipe” in the original post was incredibly vague, but there were just enough details to give me inspiration, guide me through the process and help me come up with a recipe which I’ve now shared with you.  Since this is only the first time I’ve tried this, I’m sure there is plenty of room for improvement and if anyone tweaks the recipe with success, I’d love to hear about what you did!

I made the stuffing by sautéing chopped fennel in olive oil over low heat for about 15 minutes.  Once this was almost complete, I added 4 cloves of minced garlic and sautéed a couple minutes longer, until the garlic was aromatic.  I then combined this with bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and olive oil and filled the hollowed out tomatoes.  Then came the fun part.  We loaded all of the stuffed tomatoes into a grill basket and placed it over hot coals on the grill.  Once the bottoms of the tomatoes were blackened, we removed the grill basket and threw slices of country bread onto the grill until lightly browned.  The next steps of the process are highly personalized and I think that’s why everyone enjoyed this dish so much.  You prepare the bruschetta as you like, drizzled with olive oil and/or rubbed with garlic.

Then you take your stuffed tomato, flip it over onto the bread, remove the skin (which is much easier to do when the tomato has had some time to cool down!)  and mash it into the bread with a fork.  Then you take a bite!  And you roll your eyes and nod your head because it tastes that good, and you feel happy that you are enjoying fresh food with friends.

After making these I’m on a heightened look out for recipes with aspects of ceremony or group participation.  I sometimes let my desire for perfection isolate me in the kitchen, but making this reminded me of how much fun cooking can be when done with others.  Cheers to that.
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Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati
guidance from The Wednesday Chef

Makes 12 stuffed tomatoes.

Ingredients
12 medium tomatoes (preferably heirloom varietals with flat bottoms), cored and hollowed out (see picture in earlier in post)
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed of stalks and finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste
olive oil (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
Loaf of country bread, sliced to 3/4 inch thickness

Directions
1. Once you have removed the seeds and very-inner flesh from the tomatoes, salt the insides and invert over a plate to drain for about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the fennel in a dollup of olive oil over med-low heat for 12-15 minutes. At this point, add the garlic and sauté a minute or two longer, until the garlic is aromatic, but not browned.

3. Mix together bread crumbs, fennel and garlic mixture, parsley, and salt until combined. Then add olive oil to moisten the mixture. I added enough to make the mixture glisten a bit, but it was still pretty dry. You could add more or less depending on your taste.

4. To give the tomatoes a final chance to dry out a bit more, before stuffing them you can place them on a grill basket, inverted, or in the oven (right side up) under the broiler for a few minutes. Then you fill each tomato with stuffing and arrange them on a grill basket.

5. Grill tomatoes until they are slightly blackened on the bottom, remove from heat, and let sit to cool. Place bread slices on the grill and toast until lightly browned on both sides.

6. Drizzle toasts with olive oil, rub with garlic, and invert a stuffed tomato onto the bruschetta. Remove the charred tomato skin and then mash with a fork to spread the tomato over the bread.

Vicken’s birthday was last weekend and since I came up pretty short on cool presents this year, I thought the least I could do was make him an awesome birthday cake. The only potential problem with this idea is that Vicken isn’t that crazy about sweets. If only the tradition was to have Birthday Potatoes, he’d be in heaven. But decadent desserts just aren’t really his thing. This is why I was a bit surprised when he actually requested a chocolate birthday cake.

I immediately and selfishly decided that the cake had to be raspberry-chocolate since this is pretty much my favorite flavor combination ever, and then I came across a recipe from the June issue of Bon Appétit that seemed perfect. Everyone who had reviewed it on epicurious.com loved it and multiple people commented on the fact that it wasn’t overly sweet. It sounded perfect!

The recipe is for a 2 layer chocolate cake with raspberry jam and ganache frosting. It yields enough batter to use two 2-inch tall cake pans, which I didn’t have. Instead, I used my standard 1 1/2 inch tall pans and poured a shallow layer of leftover batter into a bundt pan as an experiment. I thought about using 3 standard cake pans, but was worried that I wouldn’t have enough ganache frosting to cover all of those layers. In hindsight, the ganache recipe makes way more than you need to ice the cake, so I probably would go with a 3 layer cake in the future. (In case you’re wondering, the bundt portion of cake yielded a cute little chococate cake wreath which I doused in leftover ganache.)

The original recipe has you top the cake with concentric circles of fresh raspberries, finished off with a dusting of powdered sugar. Once I got done pouring all of the ganache on the cake and creating such a beautiful, smooth, and glassy chocolate surface, I just couldn’t bring myself to cover that and up with white powder. So instead I covered the cake with 2 circles of raspberries and a ring of chocolate chips between them. I think you could get even more creative with how you arrange the raspberries on top, but I would definitely stick with my decision to leave out the powdered sugar again.

After eating a Mexican birthday dinner the other night, we didn’t have much room left for cake. We ate small slivers (which immediately hit the spot) and then put the mostly-whole cake back into the fridge. Another almost-half of the cake disappeared at the 4th of July bbq we had yesterday, and we’ll have to wait and see who eats the rest of the cake. Needless to say, I have a feeling my “diet plans” are going to get pushed back a few days.
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Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake
from Bon Appétit

Ingredients
Cake:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

Chocolate ganache and raspberry topping:
18 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, stirred to loosen, divided
2 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries
Powdered sugar (optional)

Special equipment: 2 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides

Directions
For cake:
1. Position racks in top and bottom third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Coat two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper rounds; spray rounds.

2. Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into large bowl; whisk to blend and form well in center. Whisk 1 cup water, buttermilk, oil, and eggs in medium bowl to blend. Pour wet ingredients into well in dry ingredients; whisk just to blend. Divide cake batter between prepared pans (about 3 cups each).

3. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. (If cakes form domes, place kitchen towel atop hot cakes, then press gently with palm of hand to level.) Cool completely in pans on cooling racks. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover cakes in pans and let stand at room temperature.

For chocolate ganache and raspberry topping:
4. Place chopped chocolate in medium bowl. Bring cream just to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Pour over chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until ganache is melted and smooth. Transfer 1 1/4 cups ganache to small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ganache is thick enough to spread, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Let remaining ganache stand at room temperature to cool until barely lukewarm.

5. Place rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Carefully run knife around pan edges to release cakes. Invert 1 cake layer onto cardboard round or bottom of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Peel off parchment paper. Place cake layer on round on prepared rack. Spread 3 tablespoons jam over top. Spoon dollops of chilled ganache over, then spread evenly.

6. Invert second cake layer onto another cardboard round or tart pan bottom. Peel off parchment paper. Carefully slide cake off round and onto frosted cake layer on rack. Spread remaining 3 tablespoons raspberry jam over top of second cake layer. Pour half of barely lukewarm ganache over cake, spreading over sides to cover. Freeze until ganache sets, about 30 minutes.

7. Pour remaining ganache over cake, allowing to drip down sides and spreading over sides if needed for even coverage and to smooth edges. Freeze to set ganache, about 30 minutes. (DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours before continuing.)

8. Arrange raspberries in concentric circles atop cake. Sift powdered sugar lightly over raspberries and serve.