Friday, October 26, 2007

Bites o' Pumpkin

Usually I read the Good Eating section of the tribune on Wednesday mornings. That didn't happen this week. Instead, I skimmed it Thursday evening. And, one day later, for the first time, I've actually used a recipe I've clipped from it. I've been wanting to make pumpkin muffins and just hadn't gotten around to finding the recipe I copied two years ago from a book in the summer and never made (it was June, pumpkin didn't feel right then.) But upon finding this recipe, or the precursor to this recipe, which I thought I had everything for, except the flaxseeds, so I figured I'd give it a try.

I then proceeded to not even read the instructions. Surprisingly enough, they turned out well despite changing the ingredients (upon running out of granulated sugar), the procedure, the temperature, and the size of the muffins. They were loaded with a bit too much chocolate (and no nuts), but since I took them over to my friend's house where we watched Brazil and Monty Python's Now For Something Completely Different, they worked out nicely. Somehow, my container had 1 1/2 mini muffins, which resembled little balls, left it in when I brought it home.

Expect to see a full size variation of this, chock full of cranberries and pepitas, soon. (Which goes with this disclaimer: muffins shows above are not exactly the recipe below-they have pecans, as well, and are "normal" sized.)

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Loaded Muffin Bites
based on Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Muffins in 10/24/2007 Good Eating
Makes about 24 mini-muffins

1 cup whole-wheat flour
2/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 heaping Tablespoons flax seeds (about 7 teaspoons)
1/2 cup water
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease 24 mini-muffin cups.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.

Place flaxseeds and water in a blender and whir until foamy. Add pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla and process on high until well blended. Stir into the flour mixture until combined. If it appears to dry, add a little water. Fold in chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter evenly (I use a small scoop with a release) into the prepared tin. Bake in oven about 15 minutes or until an indentation doesn't stay when pressed or a toothpick comes out just about clean. Let cool a few minutes in pan; remove and eat or cool completely on wire racks for later.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oven Love

I have a fear of deep frying. I've used an electric fryer (is that what they're called?) once to make shirini panjereyi, a fried cookie, with my cousin in Tehran, but the thought of tossing chicken in one and either a) not burning it b)not burning me c)getting it cooked through or d)not setting off the smoke alarm, seems rather slim. But maybe it is just an unrationalized fear.

But, with oven-fried chicken this tasty, who needs to worry about trying to figure out how to fry it? It can't be much easier than this....well, except that it might not need the breading if you left a crispy skin on...

Dinner last night was a group effort. It started on Thursday with Mom preparing the marinade and marinating the chicken while I made the ice cream base. Friday, Mom got caught at work and Dad at the dentist with my aunt, who had already helped by washing and cutting the kale-something that would have taken me at least half an hour. Mamanzari worked on breaking up the sausage and mixing in the onions for the stewed okra, Uncle Larry did the hard part of battering the chicken and arranging it on the roasting rack, and Aunt A brought over a cast-iron pan and helped whisk the ingredients for cornbread.

As to how the meal turned out... It wasn't our first time following the chicken or the kale recipe, though Mom made the kale last time and did most of the work for the chicken from start to finish. I think Nick may have helped her. I just made the grits... which were super cheesy and salty from thinking we'd had more grits than we did and grating far too much cheese.

This time though, it turned out a lot tastier. I followed most of the recipes (doubling the chicken and okra), except used cayenne instead of Tabasco for the chicken, bacon instead of ham for the kale, and italian sausage instead of breakfast sausage for the okra.

The cornbread, which was the easiest part of the meal, was a recipe from Uncle Larry. And it requires a cast iron pan, something we don't own. (I am definitely getting one soon. Ame wants to learn how to make the cornbread, and I can't show her without a pan. It's a good excuse.) I first had this cornbread two years ago while studying for finals. The girls, my mom, my aunt, and I, were on one side of the house reading/studying while the guys, my dad and uncle, watched a football game. For dinner we had chili and cornbread with a honey butter, I think. It was awesome.
We didn't have the honey butter last night, and the cornbread was dotted with scrambled eggs, but it was nevertheless delicious sopping up the stew.

Recipes (from October/November 2006 Eating Well):
Eating Well's Oven-Fried Chicken
Southern Kale
Stewed Okra & Tomatoes

Skillet Cornbread

recipe from Uncle Larry, but it says it is from Zinfandel Restaurant
Serves 8 if nobody wants seconds

2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal (also called polenta)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda.

Preheat oven with 8" cast-iron skillet in it to 425ºF.

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk in buttermilk.

When oven is preheated, remove pan and add butter. Swirl the butter around. If the butter does not melt, the pan is not hot enough.
Swirl the butter to coat the bottom and sides of the pan, and whisk remaining butter into the buttermik and eggs. Whisk in cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. A few lumps are okay.

Scrape batter into the hot pan. It should start to sizzle and rise immediately.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Invert onto a plate or basket and serve it while its hot!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pralines from New Orleans

The first praline shop I went into was disappointing. I'd read about it in a guidebook and it sounded like the description of fudge shops I'd been to where you can see them making the candy. They had samples, and they were tasty, but everything was boxed up, and while I saw a window to a room, it didn't seem to be used. But it was 5:30 at night.
We walked another block, and I saw another candy store. It had all sorts of candies, including pralines. I bought a box of ten pralinettes there because they looked even better.

The following day, in between bouts of pouring rain, and sometimes even during, we darted between shops in the French Quarter I found the New Orleans School of Cooking which I'd read about because they do cooking demonstration/classes every day. It was almost noon though, and the classes were 10-12:30. One of the things they always make though is pralines. Mom bought a praline for us to split, and its ingredients were the friendliest out of all the pralines we'd had: sugar, pecans, brown sugar, vanilla, butter, milk

I'd found my praline. I also found the New Orleans School of Cooking Cookbook with easy recipes. I'm guessing the praline recipe they teach is the one they use.

New Orleans School of Cooking Pralines

adapted from New Orleans School of Cooking Cookbook

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
6 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 cup milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Mix together all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over figure out heat, stirring to keep bottom from scorching, until it registers as softball on a candy thermometer (238-240). Remove from heat and continue stirring until thick and cloudy. Spoon onto a buttered piece of parchment paper and let cool.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Crescent City

I'm spending the weekend in New Orleans. It is my first time in New Orleans, and it has already been clear to me what the main thing to do is: eat.

And I'm sad to say, out of four meals so far, only one meal was truly something, two were okay, and then there was the one was with my mom that was part of her meeting, but that doesn't count.

Saturday Night, so far disappointed with New Orleans with the exception of going to Art for Art's Sake. Afterwards, we ate and walked down Bourbon Street. That is something I never want to do again. I'm not fond of drunk people with oversized beers, pounding music mixing together from all sides, and the strong scent of liquor mixed with vomit and urine. I find it disgusting-and not in an exhilarating way.
Sunday was much better. Despite twice getting caught in the on again/off again heavy rain in the morning. The first quick downpour led to my riding on a streetcar for the first time. As soon as it started moving, it stopped raining. No more than a minute we got off at the end of the line, halfway to our destination in the Garden District, it started pouring again. Mom thought we should hang out in the underpass until it stopped. The air was so damp that we gave up on having the umbrella dry even after the rain did stop.
The rest of our walk was pleasant. We saw pretty houses, and others that still needed to be repaired. There was a new looking AT&T store in front of a crumbling yellow house. That made some things clear.

When we arrived at Commander's Palace, mom was damp and excited to be inside; I, miraculously, was comfortable in the steamy weather. The recently redone hundred-year old restaurant was definitely worth the weather. We walked in, and a server led us through a line of servers that greeted us with warm smiles, through a dining room, up a flight of stairs, through another dining room, and into a smaller dining room with striped walls with matching curtains that blended right in. It seemed almost as if it should be tacky, but it wasn't in the least.

Our three-course jazz brunch was spectacular. Mom was worried when I said I wanted to go there for brunch and insisted we get a reservation that it was going to be all show and no taste. After she had a piece of garlic bread (made with real garlic and cheese) with her chicory coffee, she changed her mind. When she read over the menu, and our waiter said that the pecan-crusted gulf fish was drum, Mom insisted I try it. Drum is her new favorite fish. She had it a few nights ago for dinner, and was blown away. She was also thrown by the size of a soft-shell crab her friend had gotten, and decided to get soft-shell crab.

We started with salads, a romaine salad similar to a Ceasar, except with a buttermilk-black pepper dressing and toast points, and a Warm Rabbit and Apple Salad that had pears, apple, candied pecans, warm rabbit, and a sweet vinaigrette.
Our entrees were also wonderful: the pecan-crusted drum with lump crab and a corn bisque-like sauce converted me to a drum lover. Mom's scary large soft-shell crab with its crunchy fried exterior and melt in your mouth interior with a remoulade was delicious. And I never thought I really liked crab.

And the bread pudding souffle, the signature dessert, was that classic New Orleans bread pudding topped with a puffy meringue. Mom's praline sundae had a tasty cookie wrapped around it that I couldn't stop eating. Plus, I really like candied pecans. After our dessert came, the jazz trio came around to our table and asked what we would like to hear. Mom asked if they had anything original, and they just played covers, but they chose Down Yonder in New Orleans to play for us.

After breakfast- and yes, depite my long narration, that failed to mention the polka-dotted bathroom walls, there was more to our day than a delicious brunch - it was time to do some exploring.

It was raining again when we left the restaurant, so we took a cab to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and spent a few hours looking around in there. There was an exhibit that was a guy who changed his name twelve times in a year, changing his persona and style each time, until his twelfth name, which is what he still goes by thirty years later with a style he still produces works of art with.
We walked back to our hotel from the museum on the same street we'd walked back on the night before. I got a picture of a Lutheran Church the night before, and it looked so different in the daylight. The street where the galleries were also looked less friendly.

After spending a while in our room (I was doing some homework, Mom read the paper), we decided to explore the French Quarter. We took the wrong street the first time, Dumaine, but walking back to the hotel, we found the street to see. Royal. It's chock full of galleries, restaraunts, and cute shops. Right off of Royal, on Toulouse, was a used cookbook and music store called Kitchen Witch. I was so glad that when I saw the sign that said "Cook books" I turned back around and headed towards it with Mom. We spent probably half an hour in it, and the owners were so friendly, as were Bob, the official greeter who happened to bea cat that reminded me of Jack, Sophie, a large black dog, and another dog whose name I don't remember.
I ended up buying a new book that's pretty recent called "Ruby Slippers" a cookbook with stories about Katrina that was put together by a twenty-nine year old woman. So far it is interesting to read.

We also saw a portion of Bourbon Street that was residential. Not quite the Bourbon Street thought of, but more pleasant.

Now that I've discovered Royal Street though, the French Quarter doesn't seem like such a bad place.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Brownie Points

When I was little there was the brownie, and then there were all those other things that I wasn't quite sure what they were. Until I was nine or ten, those other things got my attention because they were devoid of nuts. Though I liked nuts, sometimes. Like in white chocolate macadamia cookies; I thought macadamia was the fancy name for white chocolate chunks. They were my favorite cookies. And I liked walnuts in my chocolate chip cookies too. Just like the brownies.

Then, the brownies started being in different varieties. There were the "original" ones - a fudgy brownie loaded with walnuts, raspberry brownies, and orange brownies. The orange ones then became my favorite, cool out of the freezer with their orange zestiness and smooth nutless texture. One brownie would last me a week.

Then, suddenly, the brownies stopped coming. I was shipped down to Arkansas with a box of brownies ("don't bring me any of those weird ones. I don't like them") for my grandmother's freezer, and never saw any again.

Every year when I go down to visit, Granma's friend asks me when I'm going to give her the recipe and Granma wants to know if they'll ever be made again. Dad told me the recipe once (I stopped listening when he got to 48 eggs), and the enormity of it overwhelmed and discouraged me. He told me it was straight from The Professional Chef. I looked through the book and never found it, and then, this past January, I found it. In the Professional Pastry Chef, that is. I e-mailed it to myself from his desk and then never did anything about it. Sixteen by twelve inches sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is.

So yesterday I decided I was finally going to tackle these little bad boys. And yes, they are bad. In the best possible way. I bought enough stuff to make a half-portion of the recipe, and then realizing I had no adequate pans, changed my mind and bought the rest of the ingredients I needed to make a whole recipe (which is actually 1/6 of the recipe my dad recited that had scaredme so much) and then didn't do anything about it. Until dinner time. We were all ravenous by the time we sat down to eat because I just had to get those brownies in the oven.

The sheer enormity of it all though meant dad had to do most of the heavy lifting. And stirring. And pouring. I'm glad we have an outrageously large metal mixing bowl, which we thought at first was too large. It was just right.

And the brownies. Well, they weren't quite as I remembered them, but they probably are. Partially because I was too impatient to let them cool (well, it is past my bedtime) and because some of the walnuts on top burned. Maybe for once nostalgia doesn't really make things taste better.

I can't wait until I see Granma's face on Christmas now.