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Recipes and food musings for the global home cook.

Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to slice your brownies, top with raspberry coulis, and sprinkle with powdered sugar. (The Gourmand Mom)

World’s simplest homemade fudgey brownies and raspberry coulis

By The Gourmand Mom / 02.13.13

Without question, the worst part of baking is the mess. I love to bake, but I can’t stand the mound of dirty mixing bowls, measuring cups, spatulas, pans, and measuring spoons that it results in. For me, simple recipes which utilize minimal ingredients and one-bowl preparation are always attractive. Don’t get me wrong. Quality and taste will always be my top priorities, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to achieve those ideals in the simplest way possible.

One way to do this is to bake a pan of brownies. When it comes to brownies, I like them dense, chewy and super fudgey. After reviewing the ingredients in several fudgey brownie recipes, it occurred to me that I could probably make the world’s simplest fudgey brownie recipe; so simple that you’ll probably never need to read this recipe again; so simple that using a boxed brownie mix will start to seem like hard work. So, last week, I tested my idea. And, it worked. It worked perfectly. Gooey, fudgey brownies that were easier than a piece of cake to make.

Here’s the deal… 1 stick butter + 1 cup chocolate chips + 1 cup sugar + 1 cup flour + 2 eggs, mixed in 1 saucepan and baked in 1 baking dish = 1 delicious batch of brownies. Five ingredients total; one of each, except the eggs. You’ve got to use two eggs. It’s simple. It’s memorizable. It’s totally chocolicious.

Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ve got a few options. You can add a little salt (up to 1 teaspoon), if you’re like me and like that touch of salty flavor to your baked goods. A tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder will deepen the chocolate flavor; another plus in my book. Then, throw in whatever little add-ins you like; chocolate chips, nuts, shredded coconut, candied citrus peel, etc. Go wild.

For Valentine's Day use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to slice the brownie, and top with a quick raspberry coulis (see recipe below). If you're feeling extra fancy, you can even sprinkle it with powdered sugar.

Simplest Homemade Fudgey brownies

Ingredients
 

1 stick of butter

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (optional, for a darker chocolate flavor)

Up to 1 teaspoon salt (optional)

Optional add-ins (nuts, coconuts, candy, candied citrus peel)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8×8-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips and butter until smooth, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Add in the salt and cocoa powder, if desired. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Stir in the flour. Add the eggs and stir until well blended. If desired, stir in extra add-ins. Bake for about 35 minutes. Cool before cutting.

For the Raspberry Coulis

3/4 cup raspberries

1 tablespoon sugar

For the raspberry coulis, puree the raspberries with the sugar. If desired, pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

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This dish combines many wonderful flavors, a faint hint of licorice, a bite of garlic, and bright tomato blend with a buttery broth. (Blue Kitchen)

Mussels with fennel and star anise

By Blue Kitchen / 02.13.13

A funny thing happened on the way to this recipe, and it illustrates the twists and turns that often occur in our kitchen. The idea to do something with mussels started with a comment on my Black Bean Soup with Ham Hocks post, oddly enough. In passing, reader Dani H. mentioned that she’d finally gotten around to cooking the Moules Marinières recipe I’d posted a couple of years ago. The next day, I came across a recipe for mussels using fresh ginger and lemongrass. OK, the delicious, easy-to-cook bivalves were back on my radar screen.

Lemongrass, ginger, and fresh mussels were acquired. I was busily mapping out how I would make the recipe my own. Then I took a quick look at past Blue Kitchen mussels recipes (and was shocked to find four of them) and realized I had cooked mussels with lemongrass and ginger already. Granted, it was a curried version, but it still seemed like time for a new direction. 

Sticking, for the moment, with the Asian direction the ginger and lemongrass had suggested, I thought of star anise. This seed pod of an evergreen tree grown in China, Vietnam, and Japan is a staple in Eastern Chinese cooking. It also is featured in Vietnamese and Indian cuisines.

I assumed my search for “mussels star anise” would yield Asian or Asian-influenced dishes. Instead, numerous recipes took advantage of its distinctive licorice taste to enhance that same flavor in fennel. This appealed to me for a couple of reasons. First, we’ve been enjoying cooking with – and eating – fennel bulbs lately. Ziti with Sausage and Fennel has become an instant favorite at our house. And second, this unexpected mash-up of ingredients from different corners of the globe is at the heart of much of Blue Kitchen’s approach to cooking.

There are any number of reasons to love mussels. They’re delicious and insanely versatile, playing nicely with all kinds of cuisines and flavors. Mussels are fast and easy to cook – in fact, about the only way to screw them up is to overcook them. They’re cheap too, especially for seafood. The most I’ve ever paid for them is $5 a pound – usually, they’re less.

One of the coolest things about mussels, though, is that they’re sustainable. Even – or perhaps especially – the farmed variety. They’re filter feeders, so farming mussels doesn’t require feeding them wild fish and doesn’t deplete the wild fish stock, as does farming of many other species. And they actually clean the water, instead of polluting it as some farmed seafood does. In fact, David W. Dunlap reported in the New York Times last summer that New York City was installing an artificial mussel bed in the East River. No, the city isn’t looking to get into aquaculture; their goal is to have the them help clean up the river.

Need another reason to love mussels? This dish just might be it. There are so many wonderful flavors working together here, from the faint, fresh hint of licorice from the fennel and the star anise to the bite of the garlic, the buttery, winy broth, the bright tang of the tomato and the briny goodness of the mussels themselves.

Mussels with fennel and star anise
Serves 2

A quick note: Prep everything else before you clean the mussels – or even remove them from the fridge. (See Kitchen Notes for more on handling mussels.)

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 whole star anise (available in Asian markets and many supermarkets)

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine [may substitute cooking wine or vegetable broth]

1 Roma (plum) tomato, diced

freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds mussels

chopped fennel fronds, for garnish

crusty bread or baguette

After you’ve prepped everything else and are set to cook, clean the mussels. Farmed mussels are fairly clean to begin with and require little effort. Scrub them with a stiff brush under cold running water, discarding any mussels with broken or cracked shells, or any opened mussels that don’t close when you tap them lightly on the counter. Remove the beards which may appear along the hinge side of the shell, using a sharp knife or pulling with your fingers. Set aside in a bowl.

Melt the butter in a large, lidded sauté pan over medium heat. Add the fennel, shallot and star anise and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Add wine and tomato and season generously with black pepper. Stir and bring wine to a boil before proceeding.

Quickly add mussels in a single layer and cover pan. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until mussels open, 4 to 6 minutes (you don’t want to overcook and make them rubbery). Remove from heat. Discard any mussels that don’t open, along with star anise. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to two shallow serving bowls. Spoon broth and vegetables over mussels. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve with crusty bread for sopping up the broth. Serve a simple salad alongside and you’ve got dinner.

Kitchen Notes

Just one note this time, but an important one. Treat the mussels right. When you eat meat or seafood, it means an animal has died for you to do so. Those of us who don’t hunt or fish are usually comfortably removed from that fact. Supermarkets, butcher shops and fishmongers wrap our fillets, steaks, chops and other cuts in plastic or paper for us, ready to be taken home and prepared. Mussels are another story. Like lobsters and a few other seafood choices, they’re live when you buy them. Remember that as you handle them.

Keep them cold. Ask to have them packed with a little ice when you buy them, and make sure the bag is left open, especially if it’s plastic; the mussels need to breathe. Then take them right home. There, store them in the fridge, without the ice. One fishmonger helpfully suggested putting them in a colander over a shallow pan; that way, they won’t end up sitting in any brine they cast off. Don’t put them in water; the fresh water will kill them.

For the same reason, don’t “rinse them in several water baths,” as some recipes suggest. It won’t kill them that quickly, but it will cause unnecessary irritation. And when it’s time to cook them, bring your broth to a full boil before adding them and cover the pan immediately after adding them. That will make the end as swift as possible. I say all this not to put you off eating mussels – or other seafood or meat, for that matter. Just respect the animals that feed us.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Scallops with Melted Leeks and Egg Noodles

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This cornbread recipe is packed with spice and filled with juicy crawfish. (The Runaway Spoon)

Mardi Gras recipe: crawfish cornbread

By The Runaway Spoon / 02.12.13

It’s Mardi Gras time, and so it’s time for crawfish. Crawfish cornbread is a recipe I have seen in many Louisiana community cookbooks over the years, and I’ve whipped up a batch or two in my time. I have no idea if this is a traditional Cajun recipe, or started its life on the back of corn bread mix box, but that doesn’t matter to me, because it is a sound idea that results in a delicious dish.

I’ve altered my version so it is packed with crawfish and has a nice level of spice. I use frozen crawfish tail meat, which is easy to find around here, but if you happen to have some fresh daddies around and want to pull out all that juicy flesh, please do so. This cornbread is lovely beside a bowl of Red Beans and Rice, but cut into small squares it makes a nice nibble. It is even hearty enough to serve with a nice green salad for a meal.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

Crawfish cornbread
Serves 8 – 10

2 cups yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning

6 eggs

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, finely diced

8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen corn, thawed

2 pounds crawfish tail meat, finely chopped

1 (4-ounce) can diced jalapenos

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Stir the cornmeal, baking powder, salt and creole seasoning together in a very large bowl. Stir in the eggs and oil and mix thoroughly. Add the onion, cheese, corn, crawfish and jalapenos and stir until everything is completely mixed together and evenly distributed.

Spread the cornbread into the prepared pan, smoothing out the surface. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes until golden and firm and a tester comes out clean. Let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving warm.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Red Beans and Rice - My Way

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The colored sugar sprinkles topping King Cakes for Mardi Gras each have a meaning: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

King Cake for Mardi Gras

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 02.12.13

Happy Mardi Gras! During my recent culinary trip to New Orleans, my friend Jen who lives locally brought me, among other things, a slice of King Cake from Gambino's Bakery. There's nothing like tasting authentic king cake from a fabulous bakery during Mardi Gras season. 

And then I did something unusual. I bought a cake mix. Yes. Even though I usually bake all my desserts from scratch, a mix seemed like the easiest way to try and make a King Cake mix on my own at home.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

There are plenty of recipes out there for making King Cake from scratch.  And someday I want to try this one from Emeril Lagasse. Even though I eschew cake mixes, I broke down and bought one for two reasons: (1) it was locally made and certified to have been made in Louisiana, (2) I didn't want to go out and buy purple, green, and yellow sugars separately. It's much easier to get them all in one package.

King Cake is essentially a brioche dough, with a ribbon of brown sugar cinnamon (or praline sugar) running through it, baked in an oval shape, glazed with royal icing, and sprinkled with Mardi Gras colors. Tradition decrees that a plastic baby (or sometimes a pecan) is hidden among the slices and whoever finds that plastic baby in their piece is responsible for hosting the next round of Mardi Gras parties. 

Note to any novice bakers: Do not bake the plastic baby inside with the cake, it will melt and make your cake unsafe to eat! The baby is usually tucked underneath the slice of cake after baking and serving.  I'm a personal fan of the Mardi Gras colors and I like a good brioche as much as the next person so it's hard not to like King Cake.

The mix made for a soft dough, which was a little concerning but I followed the instructions to the letter and hoped for the best.  After the first rising, the dough was still soft so I had to flour it liberally to handle it. I didn't bother with a rolling pin since it was so soft and I was able to shape it out into a rectangle with my hands, brush it with melted butter, sprinkle the praline sugar all over it and roll it up, jelly roll style.  With careful handling, it wasn't too hard to bring the ends together to form an oval and pinch the edges shut. Then I let it rise a second time until it had doubled in size before setting in the oven to bake. 

I didn't bother brushing with egg wash to make it brown nicely since it was going to get covered in glaze anyway.  The glaze packet also came with the mix and was likely just powdered sugar. I added vanilla and a little milk to until it was the consistency I wanted.  The fun part was sprinkling the colored sugars on top: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
 
The King Cake from the mix actually wasn't bad. It was a little more cake-y than the one from Gambino's bakery in New Orleans, but still tasty and the "cake" (more like a brioche) was complemented nicely by both the sweetness of the glaze and the crunch of the colored sugars. 

Next time I definitely want to make one from scratch and see how it turns out.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

Read about The Pastry Chef's Baking culinary trip to New Orleans here.

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A delicious stack of buttermilk pancakes topped with butter and maple syrup. (Tastes Like Home)

Buttermilk pancakes for Pancake Day

By Tastes Like Home / 02.11.13

Feb. 12, 2013 is Pancake Day. It is also Carnival Tuesday in Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Dominica – the last day of feasting and frolicking before the beginning of Lent.
 
While pancakes are enjoyed all year round, there is something special about having them on Pancake Day, especially the Guyanese-style pancakes which are more like the Portuguese malasadas, a direct influence of food of that country on Guyana. They are puffy nuggets of doughnuts. I like them the traditional way I grew up having them, with homemade syrup but for the past two years, I have also been rolling them into cinnamon sugar. They are so good with tea or your favorite hot beverage.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

The easiest way to celebrate Pancake Day, though, is with these classic buttermilk pancakes. Enjoy them with your favorite fruit toppings and syrup.

Buttermilk Pancakes

Makes 8 to 12 pancakes

2 eggs, room temperature

2 cups buttermilk, room temperature

2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

A pinch of salt

Vegetable oil

1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon and salt and set aside.

2. Whisk together the buttermilk and eggs.

3. Mix together the flour mixture and the buttermilk-egg mixture until just combined. Do not over mix. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Brush pan or griddle with oil and heat over medium heat. Add a couple drops of water to test if the pan is heated enough. If the water sizzles for about 3 to 4 seconds, it’s ready. If the water sizzle and dissipates almost immediately, the pan is too hot, reduce the heat.           

5. Pour batter 1/3 cup or 1/2 cup at a time, into the center of the pan, spread lightly if you like with the bottom of the ladle or cup. Let cook until bubbles form, run your spatula along the edges and bottom of the pancake, flip and cook until the pancake can be lifted without resistance.

6. Lightly oil pan or griddle and repeat the process until all the pancakes are made.

NOTES:

The warmer the ingredients, the more tender the pancakes and the higher they will rise.

Rest the cooked pancakes on a wire rack so that it does not sweat while sitting.

Keep pancakes warm in a 120 degrees F. oven.

If using a 1/2 cup measure, you will get 8 pancakes; if using a 1/3 cup measure, you will get 10 pancakes.

Related post on Tastes Like Home: Take Your Pick of Pancakes

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Shrimp remoulade is a spicy sweet dish seasoned with mustard and paprika. Serve over a bed of lettuce. (The Pastry Chef's Baking)

Travel: New Orleans and shrimp remoulade

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 02.09.13

Day 2 of Sur La Table's "Tasting New Orleans" culinary tour started off with a morning excursion to the Crescent City Farmers Market where locals sell fresh produce grown on their farms, freshly caught seafood (fish, shrimp, crabs, etc), homemade jams and jellies, baked goods, popcorn and kettle corn, popsicles, citrus fruits, locally grown strawberries and other fresh, local foods. 

We had our own personal tour guide in Poppy Tooker, a culinary icon in New Orleans who hosts "Louisana Eats!" on the Louisiana NPR affiliate station, brought the slow food movement to New Orleans, and was recognized by the International Association of Cooking Professionals with their first Community Service Award for her efforts during Katrina

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

And if that wasn't enough, she also won a Throwdown with Bobby Flay for her seafood gumbo.  Poppy's cookbook, "Crescent City Farmers Market Cookbook" features many of these vendors and it was great to meet some of them in person before reading their stories in her book.

Poppy introduced us to many of the vendors at the farmers market (while also buying fresh ingredients for our lunch). Their stories of rebuilding after Katrina and their tenacity in continuing their businesses are nothing short of amazing. It was wonderful to meet a group of people with such pride and knowledge of what they were doing and the hard work going into the success they were building. 

After the tour, we had some time to wander around a bit.  I bought a jar of Mayhaw Jelly from Briarhill Farms to take back for my mom as well as some kettle corn for me (naturally!).  Then our tour group of 11 people was taxied over to the New Orleans Cooking Experience, a cooking school where Poppy was waiting to show us how to cook the four-course meal that was to be our lunch.

This was probably one of the highlights of the trip for me. The ladies at the cooking school were so graciously charming and welcoming. I've sat in on cooking demos before and I went to culinary school for eight months to get my pastry certification but what set this apart was the rich culinary history Poppy shared with us as she went about making each of the dishes. I wish I had thought to take notes or even video but I think even that would have been a thin representation of how vibrant she was and how interesting the history was behind the dishes she was making.

Our first course was Shrimp Remoulade. I was a bit leery when it was being made as I'm not fond of mustard and the remoulade uses quite a bit of it. But I tried it and I'm almost embarrassed to say I couldn't eat it fast enough.  It was so good, didn't taste mustard-y at all and the fresh shrimp (bought at the Crescent City Farmers Market just that morning) in the remoulade sauce was delicious.  Poppy put it together effortlessly and it was just yummy.

Shrimp Remoulade

From New Orleans Cooking Experience

1 cup Creole mustard

1 bunch green onions

1/2 bunch parsley

1/2 cup olive oil

1 celery heart

4 tablespoons paprika (you want the sweet Hungarian paprika)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

juice of one lemon
 
 Combine green onions and parsley in food processor. Process together until finely minced  Add the remainder of the ingredients. Serve over boiled shrimp on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce or as a dipping sauce of savory calas.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

Read more about The Pastry Chef's Baking trip to New Orleans here.

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A waiter at Brennan's waiter in the French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, La., prepares Bananas Foster for brunch diners, (Mario Villafuerte/Special to the Christian Science Monitor Monitor/File)

Travel: New Orleans and bananas foster

By The Pastry Chef's Baking / 02.08.13

I just got back from a short culinary tour of New Orleans. I've always wanted to go to New Orleans and my main criteria was timing: I knew I didn't want to go during Mardi Gras, Superbowl Week, jazz festival or hurricane season (either too crowded or too risky, weather-wise). So when I saw a trip advertised in the Sur La Table catalog as "Tasting New Orleans" and that they were offering the 4-day, 3-night tour in January, the timing was perfect and I jumped at it.

It was actually more like a 2.5 day tour. Our first event was Monday night as a meet-and-greet at St. Marie Hotel's Vacherie Restaurant. We got a horse-drawn carriage ride around the French Quarter from our hotel on Bourbon St. to Vacherie where Elizabeth Pearce, a culinary historian, told us some good local stories.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

Afterward, we were on our own and I met up with a friend who lives in town. I had e-mailed her a list of foods I had to try (mostly desserts, of course) while I was in New Orleans and one of them was Bananas Foster.  Her husband suggested Palace Cafe which was owned by Brennan's, the restaurant that invented Bananas Foster in 1951. How could we go wrong?

Turns out we couldn't. We met at Palace Cafe on Canal St and got a front table by the window overlooking the street. Later on, we saw some of the Mardi Gras floats being transported in preparation for the upcoming parade. I got a steak and shrimp entrée but truthfully I was looking forward to dessert. 

It didn't disappoint. The waiter prepared the Bananas Foster table-side – heat the skillet, melt the butter and brown sugar, add the banana liqueur then the bananas until they caramelize but are still firm.

Of course, the whole point of getting Bananas Foster is setting the dessert on fire once you add the rum.  Although alcohol's not my thing, I have no problem with it being set aflame for a cool-looking dessert. 

The Bananas Foster was amazingly yummy. It was a great way to start off a culinary adventure.

Brennan's Bananas Foster

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter  

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup banana liqueur

4 bananas, cut in half 

 lengthwise, then halved

1/4 cup dark rum

4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan.

When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

RECOMMENDED: 13 Mardi Gras recipes

Read more about The Pastry Chef's Baking trip to New Orleans here.

Sign-up to receive a weekly collection of recipes from Stir It Up! by clicking here.

Served with a side of bacon, and a fruit salad, this broccoli, onion, and cheese quiche from 'The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook' was a winner for Sunday brunch. (Laura Edwins/Contributor)

Cookbook review: 'The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook' and Sunday brunch

By Contributor / 02.07.13

Raised on "Southern Living" recipes, sweet tea, and homemade pie crust, my bar for Southern-inspired cookbooks is set high. The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook, written by novelist Sherryl Woods with assistance from chef Teddi Wohlford, lived up to my expectations.

The book is based on recipes mentioned, or highlighted in the "Sweet Magnolias" book series, by Ms. Woods. The cookbook references characters from the novels, and is organized by events or activities that feature in the books.

From appetizers to dinner recipes, the cookbook captures everything from a girls' night out on the town to the menu of the book's fictional Sullivan's Restaurant. The section titled "Mama Cruz's Recipe File," feels like the recipes an old family friend or a favorite aunt would lend you.

Most of the recipes are straight-forward, made with simple ingredients. There are several go-to entries that would come in handy in most kitchens. There's a how-to for a dry corn muffin mix that can be made up ahead of time and stored for several months, a basic Hollandaise sauce, a simple salsa, and several quick recipes for smoothies and iced tea with only three or four ingredients and a few steps. 

There's a version of almost every dish you would want to see in a Southern cookbook; two options for macaroni and cheese, the requisite dozen biscuit and scone ideas, several recipes that incorporate grits, and a peanut butter pie that looks divine. 

But beyond the classic family favorites, the book is balanced with quirkier, more inspiring dishes such as Southern-style crab cakes from the brunch section, pork-stuffed tamales, Vadalia onion canapés, and cinnamon roll bread pudding topped with whipped vanilla bean creme.

I tried several recipes from the cookbook. First I made the three-cheese macaroni casserole, which I served with meatballs, and a salad for a weeknight meal. I've tried many macaroni and cheese recipes – from Martha Stewart's take, to the recipe that comes on the back of the box of pasta – and this one, quick to assemble and on the cheesier end of things, may be a contender for my all-time favorite. I also made the black bean chili recipe. A bit doubtful at first, I put my trust in Ms. Wohlford and the packet of El Paso chili seasoning called for in her recipe. In about 30 minutes I had a pot of perfectly seasoned, just spicy enough chili. I served it with a classic side from my Southern family – Jiffy corn muffins made from the box.

But for a true test of the book, I chose two recipes from one of the longest sections, invited a few friends over, and saw how "The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook" fared for Sunday brunch. I made crustless broccoli and three-cheese quiche, and cranberry-orange scones with orange glaze; I modified both slightly and prepared them partially ahead of time. Paired with a quick fruit salad, and a side of bacon, brunch was a success! And "The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook" has officially earned it's spot next to my "Southern Living" cookbooks.

Crustless broccoli and three-cheese quiche 

2 cups milk

4 large eggs, beaten

3/4 cup biscuit baking mix (such as Bisquick)

4 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped, steamed crisp-tender broccoli

1 cup canned French-fried onions (optional, see instructions)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup grated Swiss cheese

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

 2. Grease a 10-inch quiche pan (or tart pan or deep pie pan)

3. In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer on low speed, blend together the first five ingredients.

4. Stir in broccoli, French-fried onions, and the three grated cheeses. Transfer mixture to the prepared quiche pan. (Note: The French-fried onions struck me as a little too green-bean Christmas casserole-y, so I opted for about 1/2 a small onion, diced.)

5. Place in the center of the oven. Bake 45-50 minutes, until center is set and top is golden brown. (Note: My quiche baked for less time than the recipe called for, about 40 minutes. It rose a lot as it baked, but deflated a bit as it cooled.)

6. Remove from oven, let stand 5 minutes before serving. 

To prep the quiche ahead of time, I cooked the broccoli, chopped the onion, and measured out the cheeses. The next morning I made the egg and milk mixture quickly, and was ready to go.

Cranberry-orange scones with orange glaze

Makes 12 large scones 

Scones 

2-1/2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Grated zest of 2 oranges

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (which I never have, and sometimes use pumpkin pie spice as a poor substitute)

1/2 cup (one stick) cold cubed butter

3/4 cup pecan pieces (I substituted walnuts which I had on hand)

3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries (such as Craisons)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Combine first 7 ingredients, whisk together to mix.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

3. Using a handheld pastry blender or food processor, cut in butter until the butter is the size of small peas. (Dicing the butter into small chunks first really is helpful.)

4. Stir in pecan pieces and cranberries. Make a well in the center of the dough.

5. Pour whipping cream into center of the well. Blend until dough comes together, but do not overmix. (I used a wooden spoon to stir everything together and my hands a bit at the end.) 

6. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough in half, and form each half into a 6-inch circle. (About a 1/2-inch thick.) Note: You can wrap the dough in Saran Wrap at this point, and refrigerate overnight. Cut each circle into 6 pie-shaped wedges (I used a pizza cutter for this). Place 2-inch apart on a greased or parchment-line baking sheet.

7. Bake 15-18 minutes until tops are golden brown and centers of scones test done. Prepare glaze while scones are baking. Note: It may just be my oven, but my scones were done in less than 15 minutes. Set your timer for 10 minutes, and monitor them closely.

8. Remove from oven, and transfer scones to a cooling rack.

Glaze

2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (mine was not sifted)

Grated zest of 1 orange

2-3 tablespoons orange juice

Start with 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar and orange zest in a small bowl. Add a few drops of orange juice at a time, and stir or whisk constantly to combine. Continue adding orange juice and confectioner's sugar until you have enough glaze, and it's quite thick. Adding the ingredients slowly will keep the glaze from getting lumpy. Do not use too much orange juice.

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In-season persimmons bring a splash of color to a winter kitchen. Purée the sweet fruit and use to make a quick bread. (The Runaway Spoon)

Persimmon quick bread

By The Runaway Spoon / 02.06.13

Persimmons are the brightest spot in the barren, winter "fruitscape." Sure, citrus is there, but I miss the reds, pinks, peach, blues, plums, purples and greens of summer bounty.

But then there are these bright beauties, orange and smooth and shiny, with their frilly green caps. I have a tendency to overbuy, because I am so excited about a fresh winter fruit. And I am not always sure what to do with them. Sometimes they sit happily on my counter, making me smile at their lovely color and sheen until I’ve missed their usable moment. 

My simple, delicious solution is to make this slightly sweet, moist, persimmon-rich bread.

Fuyus are the squat persimmons, and best for baking. Cut out the green stem end, cut into chunks and purée them in the blender or food processor. Persimmon bread is a particular treat slathered with Meyer Lemon Curd.

Persimmon Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1 cup persimmon puree (from 3 – 4 ripe Fuyu persimmons)

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degree F.  Grease a standard loaf pan.

Cut out the stem of each persimmon and cut into chunks.  Purée the persimmons in a food processor or blender with 2 tablespoons water.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the persimmon purée and beat until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add flour mixture to batter and beat until smooth.

Pour into a loaf pan and bake at for 50-60 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool well before slicing.  Well wrapped, the bread will keep for a few days.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Meyer Lemon Curd 

Top sweet potato cupcakes with a brown-sugar cream cheese frosting, a candied pecan, and sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar. (nestMeg)

Sweet potato cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

By nestMeg / 02.06.13

I suppose I should be posting recipes that help people keep their New Year’s resolutions, not actively attempt to break them. That will have to wait for another day.

I’m currently testing cupcake recipes for a friend’s wedding. These passed the test. The last time I made cupcakes for a wedding I vowed only to do one wedding every two years.

I’m a woman of my word, it turns out.

The original recipe for these cupcakes comes from some sort of Food Network cupcake challenge, but I’ve modified it to suit my tastes. (And the happy couple, of course.)

If you make them yourself, let me know how they turn out!

Sweet potato cupcakes
Makes 18 – 24 cupcakes

2 cups mashed and cooled sweet potatoes, or one 16-ounce can

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Cinnamon sugar, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a few cupcake tins with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and eggs. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients and then the sweet potato purée.

3. Fill each cupcake tin cup three-quarters full of batter. Bake until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean – 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.

4. Once cooled, frost the cupcakes with the frosting, top with candied pecans, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Brown sugar frosting
Frosts 18 – 24 cupcakes

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature

2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar

4 cups powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add the butter and beat until well incorporated.

2. Add the light brown sugar and beat until fluffy, then stir in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until combined. Add the vanilla extract until fully incorporated.

Candied pecans
Makes 4 cups

Canola/vegetable oil, for greasing

1 egg white

4 teaspoons water

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with oil.

2. Beat the egg white in a bowl until frothy, then whisk water and the vanilla extract into the egg.

3. Stir the sugar, cinnamon, and salt into the egg mixture, then stir in the chopped pecans until they’re fully coated.

4. Spread the pecans onto the baking sheet and bake in 20 minute intervals, stirring the pecans before placing them back in the oven. Continue baking for about an hour.

5. Allow the pecans to cool on the baking sheet.

Related post on nestMeg: Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

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