cobbler-ing with the ‘rents

Summer is for fresh fruits and cobblers. This Southern girl will never feel like a Northern zip code means changing anything about that. This weekend, thankfully I was able to get my fill.

My parents went this past week and picked some fresh peaches at a spot in New Jersey. Peaches from the local store – or, better yet, local market – works as well.

The best thing about cobbler is it is incredibly easy. You don’t need to spend a ton of time perfectly rolling out or chilling your crust layer. Nope. Skip that silliness. Cobbler has you covered. And the end result is equally tasty.

My mom found this easy recipe from Southern Living. The longest part of this prep time was peeling and slicing up the peaches (you want to make sure to cut out any bad spots and, of course, the tougher spots leading up to and including the pit). Once that was ready to go, the rest went quickly.

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 cups fresh peach slices
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Ground cinnamon or nutmeg (optional)

First, melt the butter in a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.

Separately, mix up the batter by combining the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt and then adding the milk. You will want to stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Then pour batter over butter, but do not stir.

peachesonstove

Finally, bring the remaining 1 cup sugar, peach slices, and lemon juice to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Then pour over the batter (again, do not stir). You can then sprinkle with cinnamon if you want (or, as we chose to do, put a lot on top!).

CobblerTogether

Bake at 375° for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve cobbler warm or cool.

CobblerDone

 

(If this post had its own soundtrack, it would be this, since I couldn’t stop singing it on Sunday while we baked this.)

bbq and a road trip to jack daniel’s

During my recent trip to Alabama, we decided to take a trip on the last day up to Lynchburg, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. The tour was amazing. The distillery is much larger than I’d anticipated – so many buildings making up their production (everything is produced in Lynchburg, a town officially with only 361 residents!). Here we are posing with Jack, in front of the caves where they get the cave water that comprises 40% of the whiskey.

On the way back to Huntsville, we made a stop for some high quality BBQ. I’d yet to visit New Hope BBQ but had heard nothing but the best from my parents. There’s not a ton of seating, essentially only a strip of tabletop space running the width of the building. Many people grab it to go or, come warmer temps, will eat outdoors at their picnic tables.

I had to go with my staple Southern fave, pulled pork. Unlike BBQ restaurants in NYC, I love that their BBQ was not about the fancy overall experience. No. It’s all about the food itself. It wasn’t quite a “meat & three”, but I went for two sides – their coleslaw (vinegar based) and mac ‘n cheese. The mac ‘n cheese was nice and creamy – not too heavy. I was excited to see they not only had Milo’s iced tea, a favorite of mine, but they even had a variety with Splenda. The sauces were on the more vinegar side, which I layered with their smokey rib sauce. I have to say, I’m spoiled from being able to have BBQ in NYC any time soon. So good.

We even ended up springing for some dessert, even though we had just had some wonderful complimentary mini Moon Pies from the store in Lynchburg in celebration of Pi Day. That day’s special dessert was lemonade cake, so we decided to give it a try. It was an interesting combination of tart and sweet, managing somehow to truly be both. A nice finish to a wonderful meal.

New Market BBQ – 5601 Winchester Rd, New Market, AL – 256.379.5525
No Reservations / Carryout Available

family traditions: homemade cinnamon rolls

Typically I get to go home to Alabama once a year for Christmas. That means I naturally think of home now in the context of Christmas foods, holiday themed decor, and colder temps, all capped off with a soundtrack of carols and the like. When I took T to Alabama for his first visit, cinnamon rolls had to be part of the experience, Christmas or not (served along with homemade chili, naturally).

The biggest “ingredient” this recipe requires? Time. All of your time. Special thanks to mom for spending so much time year after year putting these together. It did not go unappreciated.

Ingredients

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°)
  • 2 cups lukewarm milk (scalded then cooled)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or shortening
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg
  • 5-6 cups unbleached flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in the milk, 1/2 cup sugar, oil, baking powder, salt, egg, and 2-3 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth – ideally using a Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook attachment. Mix in enough flour for it to start to stick to the hook (or stick to the spoon, if you are mixing by hand), likely somewhere between 3-4 of the 5-6 cups of flour.

If you have mixed by hand, turn dough onto a a well-floured surface (can cover your counter with wax paper). Knead until smooth and elastic. If you mixed with a Kitchenaid, you can spoon the dough into a large, greased bowl. Cover and let it rise in a warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours. Dough is ready if you see an indentation after you touch it.

Grease two oblong pans, 13×9 inches. Punch down the dough and divide in half. Roll one half into a rectangle, measuring dimensions of 12×10 inches. Spread with half of the butter. Mix 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the rectangle.

Roll up, starting with the wider side. Pinch the edge of the dough into the roll to seal. Stretch the roll to make it even.

Slice into 12 slices. Place them a bit apart in one pan. Repeat with the second rectangle of dough.

You can cover with aluminum foil for and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours (to no longer than 48 hours) and then bake. If you want to bake the same day, place the pans in a warm place until the dough rises to double, around 30 minutes. Pro-tip courtesy of Mama Ruth: cover with towels and put a kettle of hot water on. It’ll make the yeast plump up perfectly.

Preheat oven to 350°. Remove foil from pans (if you’ve refrigerated overnight). Bake until golden for 20-22 minutes (longer if refrigerated).

Frost prior to serving. A simple recipe for frosting is mixing 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla until smooth. I personally am a bit more generous with icing, so the above does not make enough for the two pans of 24 rolls. I recommend adding a small bit of milk to each spoonful of powdered sugar to make as much as you need to ice. Vanilla extract is a nice addition – another great option is almond extract.

Hope you enjoy them as much as my family has over the years.

fried chicken & whiskey buttermilk pie at hill country chicken

As a last dinner of sorts prior to her moving to London, my friend Anna and I made plans to go to Hill Country Chicken, a spot she recommended and that I’d been meaning to try for quite some time. The atmosphere is very casual – no table service. Instead, you walk up to the display counter, order, and then seat yourself.

When I walked in, I thought it was interesting to see that you could either order set dinners or order by the piece. Smart – so not hungry? Grab a chicken breast and a side, and you’re done. And that’s exactly what I did. I added their “blistered corn salad”, which was a spicy flavorful take on corn salad. And of course, I had to get one of their buttermilk biscuits, which was big, flaky, and fluffy – an essential addition to the meal.

Fried Chicken Dinner - Hill Country Chicken

Fried Chicken Dinner - Hill Country Chicken

And with so many options in their display, dessert was a must try. They have certain daily offerings as well as daily specials, one of which this day was their margarita pie with a pretzel crust.

How to decide?!?

How to decide?!?

And so much more!

And so much more!

I finally decided on the banana cream pie and the whiskey buttermilk pie. I couldn’t resist the banana cream pie and it’s awesome whipped cream topping – and it didn’t disappoint. The topping was vanilla bean flavored. If someone wanted to take vanilla bean ice cream and make it into a topping, this is what it would be. So good. And the filling was just slightly sweet and creamy. Perfect.

Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie

And a peek inside

And a peek inside

I tried a bite of the margarita pie, which was actually quite good. It was slightly less tart than a key lime pie and definitely tasted more like a margarita. And the pretzel crust was a nice touch. I’d be curious to see that with other desserts, but it worked well as another tie in to your traditional margarita. The whiskey buttermilk pie was also quite good. I usually like buttermilk pie just fine, but sometimes it seems a tad bland and lacking something. In this case, the whiskey brought that necessary something. Don’t like whiskey? Then this is not the option for you. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed it.

Whiskey Buttermilk Pie

Whiskey Buttermilk Pie

And next time, I already know what I’ll be trying… one of the worker’s recommended it as their most popular, but I couldn’t bring myself to choose it over so many other Southern staples. But next time, for sure.

Crème brûlée

Crème brûlée

Hill Country Chicken – 1123 Broadway (at 25th street) – 212.257.6446

king cake: me versus yeast

This past Monday was Dixie’s birthday. As per my usual tradition, I used this as an excuse to pack my apartment with some of my most favorite NYC people for a brunch. After realizing last year how close February 21 is to Mardi Gras, I decided to order a king cake from Gambino’s. It was delicious and made for a fun colorful addition to the brunch spread. This year though I was feeling a bit adventurous. I could make my own … right?

The steam from the kettle helped in getting the dough to rise properly (great tip from mom).

The steam from the kettle helped in getting the dough to rise properly (great tip from mom).

I used this recipe from SouthernLiving, and halved the ingredients to make only one cake. Having never baked with yeast, I thought it would be best if I did a trial run. Best decision ever. I was worried the yeast wouldn’t rise properly, or that I’d over mix or knead. Turns out that wasn’t the problem. I chose to fill mine with cream cheese, as that’s how I prefer my king cake. The recipe makes a fair amount of filling, so I believe I used a bit more than I needed to. I also didn’t fight the dough’s tendency to want to ball back up. Even though I stretched it into am oval, it kept going right back to it’s original circular form and I figured it wouldn’t look perfect, but would taste fine.

Final Product - Test Run

Final Product - Test Run

Wrong. This made the cake too thick and caused issues in baking. I didn’t want the exterior to dry out, which ended up meaning it wasn’t done all the way through. Don’t get me wrong. It was still good, but it required strategic eating to avoid the dough-y portions. And yes, it came out looking like a giant donut!

For the actual brunch, I prepared the cake a day in advance and waited to ice the cake until the morning of. I used a bit more flour in the final step before kneading, which is what I believe made the texture come out on the drier side as compared to the first one. This time, I fought and rolled the dough out to a much longer dimension on the sides. I also bought an 11″ x 15″ baking sheet to better accomodate the cake. I only used a thin layer of the cream cheese filling, and opted to add a sprinkling of cinnamon as well after spreading the filling (the recipe says to omit the cinnamon, but I found it needed a bit something extra after trying the first time).

Rolling up the dough rectangle

Rolling up the dough rectangle

When I took the roll and connected it into the oval, again I found the yeast fighting to pull itself into a circle. This time though, I prevailed! It did mean that the top layer did tear back in a few places and the top surface became less smooth, but I figured the cake actually cooking correctly was priority over maintaining the cosmetic aspect.

The surface was a bit bumpy, but the glaze helps to eventually hide this.

The surface was a bit bumpy, but the glaze helps to eventually hide this.

The recipe says to bake for 14-16 minutes, but I baked mine closer to 18-20 (in part just a precaution due to it not having been done the first time).

Finished King Cake

Finished King Cake

Thank goodness this one came out just perfect. If I can manage to make it work on my 1′ x 1.5′ counter space, I’m confident you can too. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Pooped Birthday Girl

Pooped Birthday Girl

buttermilk biscuits: the need to knead

Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Biscuits

One of the many things we made while I was home with my family in Alabama were homemade buttermilk biscuits. If you have never had them, they are simply the best. With the thicker, richer flavor of full-fat buttermilk, how could they not be fabulous? Sure – you can buy them frozen in the grocery store in a pinch, but it really is super easy to make them yourself, and the difference in taste is very noticeable. This recipe is great, yielding a nice pan full of fluffy biscuits. My mom copied this one down by hand, so we’re not exactly sure it’s origin.

Ingredients

  • 3 C Plain Flour
  • 1 TBSP Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 C Sugar
  • 3/4 C Butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 C Buttermilk (enough to bring crumbs together)
Combine first five ingredients. Stir well. Cut in butter (with pastry blender) until just crumbly. Add buttermilk until just moistened (you want it to roughly clump together). Shape into a ball an knead 4-5 times. Roll to 1/2″ thickness (height of a biscuit cutter) on lightly floured surface. Cut desired size (I recommend getting a round cookie cuter or biscuit cuter to assist). Most recipes tell you to keep them spaced a bit apart, but from cooking with my mom, I’ve learned they usually rise better if they are closer to the others on the pan. Just something to consider as you’re making them.

If you don’t want to cook them right away, you can place them on a sheet and freeze them for 35 minutes or so. Take them off and pace in a bag and return to the freezer. They will cook better later if you set them out a bit to defrost a bit.

Place on lightly greased baking sheet or pan. Brush with milk or put a bit of butter on each biscuit. Bake 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or lightly browned.

perfect corn bread

Mixing the Cornbread

Mixing the Cornbread

Preparation for Christmas is in full swing over here, as I’m sure it is on your end. Since my family dined out for Thanksgiving, Christmas is the holiday where we do the more traditional full Thanksgiving meal. Earlier today, I made sausage balls, our usual holiday appetizer of choice. Next thing up was cornbread, which will be used for dressing tomorrow (similar to this preparation posted from Thanksgiving last year).

Now while I have bought the boxed variety in a pinch, there’s truth in the fact that you just can’t beat the real deal. Especially when, ehem, it’s this easy. 8 ingredients. Not too bad at all. Even the infrequent cook (oh say yours truly) can manage such an order. This one comes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup shortening

I took the shortening and placed it in the oven to melt. Recipe says to sift flour with sugar, baking powder, and salt. I skipped the sifting and opted to stir. Stir in the cornmeal. Then you add the eggs, milk, and the now melted shortening.

Recipe says to beat with a rotary or electric beater until just smooth. I just stirred real hard. Same difference. Don’t overbeat though!

Pour into a greased 9x9x2 pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes. And voilà! Enjoy!

Nice golden brown. Perfect!

Nice golden brown. Perfect!