June 2011 archive

Buttermilk Pudding Cakes with Sugared Raspberries are Better than Eastern European Facelifts

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Last week I celebrated a birthday.  I suppose I could be coy and not name the actual birthday but screw it, I’m 38 and all the secret Eastern European face lifts and Botox in the world isn’t going to make that change.  But lots of delicious cakes make it less painful.

I’ve never held back in proclaiming my love for the golden elixir that is Cruze Farm Buttermilk.  I’m pretty sure the cows that this buttermilk comes from are fed rainbows and daisies.  So when I saw a recipe for Buttermilk Pudding Cakes from The Lee Brothers’ new book, Simple Fresh Southern Knockout Dishes with Down-home Flavor, I knew I had to make them.

My little sister is staying with me for a while and while these were baking, she came into the kitchen and told me that my kitchen smelled like angel breath.  While eating the cakes, she told me that the cakes made the raspberries taste like candy.  And later I’m pretty sure I could decipher the word ‘awesome’ as she mumbled it around a mouth full of buttermilk cake.  She is so right.  These cakes are awesome.  They’re rich and buttery without being heavy.  They’re the perfect size for a light summer dessert and if you’re not feeling like eating light that night, eat five of them.  I can’t wait to try these cakes topped with blueberries and lemon curd or maybe with a peach sauce.  These are a dessert that you’ll make over and over, simply because they’re so easy and quick to make.  And because they make your kitchen smell like angel breath.  Add to that the fact that they’re wonderfully delicious and they’re just about the perfect summer dessert.

Based on my extensive research, I’m pretty sure that eating these cakes makes you younger.  So forget subjecting myself to skin pickling and cat-eyed makeovers of the Kardashian clan. I’ll be warding off the old with these babies.

Buttermilk Pudding Cakes with Sugared Raspberries
Adapted from The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern Knockout Dishes with Down-home Flavor
Makes 8 cakes

Buttermilk Pudding Cakes:
3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Sugared Raspberries:
8 ounces (2 cups) raspberries
1/4 cup sugar

Whipped cream (optional)

1)Heat the oven to 425 degrees with the rack positioned in the upper third of the oven.  If you don’t have a nonstick muffin pan, grease the cups with butter and dust with flour. Set pan aside.

2) Sift the flour with the baking powder into a medium bowl.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until they’re creamy and yellow.  Then whisk in the buttermilk, vanilla, sugar and butter.  Batter will look curdled – this is ok.  Add the flour mixture and whisk until the batter is combined and smooth.

3) Divide the batter among 8 standard-size muffin-pan cups, filling them two-thirds full.  Bake for 9 minutes (We needed to bake for 11.5 minutes).  Check the cakes by inserting a knife between the rim  of the cake and the muffin cup so you expose the side of the cake.  If the side of the cake appears evenly browned, the cakes will hold together when inverted and are done baking.  If not, bake for another minute and check again.  Invert onto individual small plates.

4)While the cakes bake, place the raspberries in a bowl.  Sprinkle them with the 1/4 cup sugar and gently toss them with your hands so that all the berries are lightly dusted in sugar.

5)Top each cake with whipped cream (if using) and berries.  Serve.

How to Make an Olla or Why Having to Use Southwestern Drought Techniques in the Southeast Is All Kinds of Wrong

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We are into week two of the crazy late spring heat wave that struck us last week.  It’s been over 90 (and often as high as 96) every day this past week and there’s no sign of it cooling down anytime soon.  Our grass is getting crispy and the only reason we have to mow is because all the weeds are going to seed after having a raucous weed orgy in a desperate attempt to procreate before they die.

Note the hot weed fornication going on in the background.

This type of dryness and heat makes me very anxious for our area farmers.  This kind of heat isn’t out of the ordinary for late July and August but it’s usually combined with high humidity and afternoon thunderstorms are very common.  This weather reminds me very much of the summers we had drought conditions and I’m doing everything I can to get my garden ready just in case we are dealing with that again.

A few years ago, we experienced a couple of very hot, dry summers so we put in a drip irrigation system in our garden beds.  We also mulch heavily and try to make sure our soil has as much organic matter in it as possible by using lots of compost.  Even doing all this, we noticed a reduced yield from our garden and we were concerned with how much water we were using.  I started doing some research into water saving techniques used in drought prone areas.  That’s when I discovered ollas.

Ollas were routinely used in the Southwest as a way to irrigate plants and conserve water.  An olla is an unglazed ceramic jar, typically with a very narrow neck.  These containers are buried in the garden so that the neck sticks up out of the ground.  They are filled with water and the water slowly seeps from the jar into the soil, thus watering the plants.  Ollas pretty much eliminate any run-off or evaporation of water, allowing almost all of the water to go to your plants roots.

Ollas are gorgeous looking jars and they seemed to be the answers to my prayers.  Unfortunately, they also seemed to be rather expensive, especially when I had to factor in the cost of shipping them.  Then I began to wonder if I could make one.  However, the last time I worked with ceramics was when I created a pot for my Mom for mother’s day when I was 12. It had to be one of the ugliest monstrosities I’ve ever seen and just the fact that my mom was willing to display it in our house proves her unconditional love for me.  For the love of God, it was poorly made and a horrible Pepto-Bismol Pink.  I was secretly grateful when my Cat from Hell (AKA Snow White) sacrificed it up to the pottery gods.  Needless to say, while I’m willing to give pottery another try someday, I didn’t hold a lot of hope out for creating an olla of my own in a ceramic studio.  I still wanted to try ollas though.

Back when I learned about ollas, there wasn’t a lot of information out there on how to make them yourself.  I did find some information on how to make your own ollas from the Santa Fe Master Gardeners Association and Austin’s Water-wise enews. So I set out to make my own using two terra cotta pots, silicone sealant and a milk cap.  They were easy as pie to make so I made four of them and placed them in my raised beds.

I actually used two pepper beds as my test and control beds and by the end of the summer, I was convinced that the ollas had made a noticeable difference.  Both beds have received equal amounts of sun and water (they’re both connected to my drip irrigation system) and the soil was similar.  Both beds were planted with a mixture of sweet and hot peppers with a few flowers planted as well.  The pepper plants in the bed with an olla in it were noticeably fuller and greener and out produced the other beds in terms of pepper production.

My garden beds are 3 feet by 4 feet and I think one olla per bed this size works well.  I can’t dig them in as deeply as they can in the Southwest (thank you East Tennessee red clay) and the necks aren’t nice and narrow so they do take up more space but I think the trade-off is worth it.  What I usually do is plant my vegetables around the perimeter of the beds and then plant flowers and herbs around the olla.  I also keep the open hole at the top covered with a small rock to keep small critters from crawling into the olla.  If you’re so inclined, I’m sure you could craft a cover for these from a clay saucer and decorate it.  I wanted to bedazzle a cover but a squirrel ran by and distracted me so I put that idea on hold for a while.

Over the years we’ve placed them in other beds and we added a few more this weekend so I took some pictures so that I could show you all how to make them.  I tried to include all the instructions you would need to make them, even for those of you who get frightened when you walk into a Lowes.  If you have any questions, just ask me in the comments.

Equipment Needed:

  • Two 8-10 inch terra cotta flower pots (I use both 8 and 10 inch ollas)
  • Silicone caulk (make sure it’s marked as being appropriate for exterior use) & caulk gun
  • Something to plug the bottom hole: milk cap, broken bits of tile, stiff plastic cut out of old plastic pot or milk bottle – it just needs to cover the opening of the bottom by at least a half inch on all sides.
  • Utility Knife
  • Cardboard to set the pot on while you’re working on it because if you’re like me, you’re going to make a mess

When you buy the flower pots, make sure you check to see that the top lips of each pot match up reasonably well so that you can make the tightest seal possible.

Load the tube of caulk into the caulk gun.  Cut the very end of the tube of caulk off at an angle.  Down inside the plastic tube, there is a seal that needs to be punctured with something long and thin, like a screwdriver.  Now you’re ready to caulk the hell out of something!

Using a gentle, steady pressure, squeeze the caulk gun so that caulk comes out evenly and caulk around the outside perimeter of the lid.  If you’re using tile of a bigger piece of plastic, make sure to apply a decent amount of caulk around the edges.

Place the lid in the bottom of the pot so that the hole is sealed.  Press firmly, but not so firmly that the caulk all squirts out.

Next, apply caulk all around the top edges of the pot.

Place the other pot on top of the caulked pot so that both of the tops meet.  Make sure that the tops match up on all sides.  Press down lightly, but not so firmly that all caulk squishes out.

Look and see if there are any gaps that need to be filled in.  If so, fill in from the side with the caulk gun.  You can also use your fingers to smoosh caulk into any areas that need filling.  You don’t have to worry about this looking pretty because it’s going to be underground.  Let this dry for at least 24 hours and then fill with water to check for leaks.  If you find a leak, gently tip over to let water run out, let dry in sun and reapply caulk in the area leaking.  Test again for leaks.

Dig a hole in your garden where you want to place the olla.  You can place the olla as deep as you’d like.  Many people dig their ollas down so that the olla is almost level with the ground.  I would do that but I don’t like to drive myself insane by chipping millimeter by millimeter away of solid, red clay over several hours using a only a shovel in the sweltering heat.  I dig down until I want to kill someone and then I place my olla.  Most of mine stick up a few inches from the garden bed.  One sticks up more than that due to tree roots.

Place the olla in the hole and fill in dirt around it.  Pack the dirt in reasonably tight.  Fill with water and cover the hole on top with a rock or your custom bedazzled cover. Your garden bed is now ready to plant.

The easiest way I’ve found to check the water level is to use a long stick.  Put the stick through the hole in the top and push down until it hits the bottom.  The area that’s wet shows you where the water level is.  I’ve found that my ollas need to be refilled anywhere from 2 to 7 days.  It really depends on how much rain we get or how much we have the irrigation system on.

I’d recommend taking them inside in the winter, especially if you live somewhere with more severe winter weather.  To be honest, I’m lazy so we’ve left ours in the garden over the last few years years and none of them have sprung any serious leaks.  I also mulch over them fairly heavily come late fall.

I’m an olla convert.  They really have made a difference in my garden.  It does disturb me that I’m employing Southwestern drought techniques in a garden that is less than 40 miles from a temperate rain forest but besides using use less carbon fuels and conserving water, there’s not a lot I can do about that.  I’m counting on ollas to keep my garden going this summer if worse comes to worse.  But I’m still worried about the farmers.

 

Sweet Tea-Brined Chicken & Melting Our Way into Summer

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Today, I’m considering turning my food blog into the only non-cooking food blog out there.  I never want to cook again. I plan on living the rest of my life on cucumbers, sandwiches, sweet tea and frosty glasses of booze.  Or at least until the temperatures in my kitchen fall below 90.

Living in an old house is a wonderful adventure.  It also can bite the big one.  Our kitchen has no walls and no A/C.  So the only way we have to moderate the temperatures is to not turn the oven on and to only use the stove for short periods of time.  We also keep it as dark as a tomb.  Shades only get raised for pictures, then they’re closed again and we shuffle around in the darkness, praying that a cat doesn’t trip us.

I made pimento cheese the other day to post on the blog.  It’s delicious.  Two different kinds of cheese, piquillo peppers and all sorts of goodness.  And it looks like it was made out of Velveeta, red construction paper and glue.  It looks like a giant, gooey, orange hot mess.  All because it is so freaking hot in our kitchen.  So that recipe will come another day when I can make the pictures look as appetizing as they should.  Instead, I want to talk about chicken.  This delicious, amazing chicken.

It’s wonderfully moist and smoky and sweet and salty. The garlic, lemon, onion and tea add complexity to the brine that transfers to the chicken.  It’s fabulous hot off the grill and it’s equally delicious when you sneak into the kitchen late at night, stand in front of the fridge to cool off and eat it like a thief in the night.  It’s the perfect summertime recipe. You don’t have to heat up your kitchen and it is delicious. It also goes well with frosty glasses full of booze. What’s not to like about it?

Sweet Tea-Brined Chicken
Adapted from Southern Living
Makes 6-8 servings

2 family-size tea bags
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, halved
2 (6-inch) fresh rosemary sprigs
1 tablespoon freshly cracked pepper
2 cups ice cubes
1 (3 1/2- to 4-lb.) cut-up whole chicken

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Remove from heat, cover and let steep for ten minutes.  Discard tea bags.  Stir in sugar, kosher salt, onion, lemon, garlic, rosemary and cracked pepper.  Stir until the sugar dissolves.  Cool completely (45min to an hour) and stir in ice cubes.

Pour mixture into a large zip-top bag.  Add chicken to bag and let marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.  Remove chicken from bag and pat dry with paper towels. Discard marinade.

If you are using a gas grill turn on the burners on one side, close the lid until the temperature reaches approximately 350 degrees.  For a charcoal grill, place briquettes along one side and wait until they’re gray and no flame is present.  Place the chicken skin side down on the grill on the opposite side of the lit burner or charcoal, away from the direct heat, and put the lid back on the grill.  After 20 minutes flip them over and cook for another 40 to 50 minutes with the lid on.   If you have a meat thermometer, the chicken should be at 160 degrees.  Remove the lid and place chicken directly over the heat, skin side down to crisp the skin.  Remove to a platter, let stand for 5 minutes and serve.

 

 

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