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

Advertisements

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.

snow schmoe – baked cheese grits it is!

Baked Cheese Grits

Baked Cheese Grits

While I am on hold with American Airline, thought I’d put this time to get out this requested cheese grits recipe. No way am I one to stand in between others and some grits action! On my probable next to last morning at home (depending on if the snow plays nice), my dad chose to repeat a popular dish from earlier in my trip – cheese grits. Now, I’ve made them before myself, but they were a slightly different version. I’ve made them with sharp white cheddar (claimed to be XXXtra hot) which were pretty good, but more of a late brunch spin on the dish. For early to late morning, I feel  just regular medium cheddar is the way to go.

This recipe was halved (as the full thing makes enough for an army – if you have an army coming, then double away!) and is from Southern Living’s Annual Recipes from 1980. The ingredient list is pretty simple:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 cups uncooked regular grits (no instant!!!)
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups shredded medium-sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 1/2 eggs, beaten

Combine water and salt in a medium sized pan and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the grits and cook until done, following the directions indicated on the box. Remove the pan from heat. Add the buttter and all but about 1/8 cup of the cheese and stir until completely melted. Add a small amount of hot grits to the eggs, stirring well. You’ll want to do this fairly quickly so the eggs don’t overcook. Stir the egg mixture into the remaining grits. Pour the grits into a lightly greased 1 3/4 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the top of the dish with the remaining 1/8 cup cheese (this will make the top a bit crispier than the rest). Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Yields about 3 to 4 servings. Enjoy! I know I just did 🙂

Full Holiday Brekkie: Cheese Grits, Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits and Apple Butter, with Crisp Bacon

Full Holiday Brekkie: Cheese Grits, Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits and Apple Butter, with Crisp Bacon

(PS: Buttermilk biscuit recipe to follow shortly. Ahhh-may-zing!)

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!

mason jar: proof southern food isn’t automatically good

A Southern friend of mine was in town this week for a meeting, so I figured it was a perfect time to try Mason Jar. Armed with my 30% off code from Blackboard Eats, I made us reservations. For Monday. Monday night. As in Monday Night Football. No, I don’t watch professional football. I don’t care about NFL. I care about three other letters – SEC, as in Southeastern Conference (not Securities and Exchange Commission). If you are like me, MNF is not the right time to to to a restaurant like this, which is basically more of a sports bar.

They did have an excellent selection of Southern cocktails. There was their Arnold Palmer, which was sweet tea vodka, sour mix, and a splash of soda. There was the Mint Julep, made up of Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon, simple syrup, and mint leaves. I was also intrigued by the Mason Jar Manhattan, which was Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, raspberry liquor, sweet vermouth, and bitters. The specialty drinks were $10-$11. Their Mint Julep was good, but a tad on the watery side. I liked the crushed ice, but the mint was a tad to subtle for my liking. Hard to knock  them though since they at least offer it at all – and in a mason jar to boot.

Fried Pickles - The Mason Jar

Fried Pickles - The Mason Jar

We started off with some appetizers. I’d been gazing longingly at the fried pickles, so those were a must have, as were the pulled pork egg rolls. They were the more unique offerings they had available. The fried pickles were my favorite. I’ve only ever seen them at Southern Comfort on the Upper East Side. Mason Jar’s version was very lightly breaded, cooked to a point where they were slightly crispy. They were also very thin and were of varying degrees of thickness – confirming what I suspected. Homemade. Served with Ranch dressing, how could they not be amazing?  (Note: the menu noted horseradish mayo. Perhaps we lucked out, because we definitely weren’t served mayo). The pulled pork eggrolls were pulled pork in a homemade BBQ sauce with scallion & a hint of jalapeño. There were four pieces, just perfect for sharing. The pork was nicely seasoned and the BBQ sauce had a smoky flavor contrasted nicely to the jalapeño.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken - Mason Jar

Buttermilk Fried Chicken - Mason Jar

For our main dishes, we ordered the Buttermilk Fried Chicken and the mac ‘n cheese. I’d read good things about the fried chicken, which was served with buttermilk gravy, mashed potatoes, and jalapeño cornbread. Sadly aside from the cornbread, I wasn’t impressed with any of it. The chicken had no flavor. Instead of being juicy, it was watery and plain runny. The breading had no flavor, which was the same for mashed potatoes. I prefer mine to be slightly less salty, but I question if their kitchen had salt. Not usually a fan of gravy, I was left questioning what the white drizzle was – because that wasn’t gravy. I understand it was made from buttermilk, but so is my mama’s… this version? No flavor. Just a mechanism to further water down the chicken. Very disappointing.

The mac ‘n cheese was made using elbow macaroni which was tossed in a beer cheese sauce, then baked with panko bread crumbs. The portion size was very generous and overall, I’d say the dish was very cheesy. As opposed to most of the versions I’ve had lately, the cheese was not light and milky. It was definitely of a thicker, heavier variey – something which I’ve yet to encounter. It was actually a nice change. it seemed a very appropriate choice for a bar twist on the standard. In some parts, the bread crumbs were downright burned, but for the most part, it was just light-to-medium browned, adding the perfect topping to the dish. I’d definitely say skip the chicken and go for the mac (or maybe something else on the menu?).

While I expected the restaurant to be more bar than high level restaurant, I was expecting a bit more from the menu. I’ve been very impressed with the level of food you can find in many bars in the city (kudos to the likes of the Redhead). By the end of the evening, I was disappointed by not only the food but the inability to conduct a conversation without yelling at my friend. I’d probably come back again to watch a football game as it’s relatively open and well set-up for that. I’d have some fried pickles (or another appetizer, since that’s where Mason Jar really excels) and find a seat at the bar. However, this might be my one and only dinner outing here.

Mason Jar – 43 East 30th St (b/w Park & Madison Aves) – 212.213.3587
Reservations Accepted

fall’s best produce: fried okra

Have you ever had fried okra? A lot of people I’ve met here (AKA non-Southerners) have never had it. Many never have seen it. Some proof includes this display at a local grocer. Tomatillo? Not quite… but good try there. Sometimes you can find it frozen at the grocery store, but it’s just not the same as making it with fresh okra. I was very excited to find many of the vendors at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday. What a perfect surprise. So what, you ask, do you do with it? Well, I like it lightly breaded. In the South, sometimes you can even find it in the freezer section pre-breaded. Meh. Not a fan. Breading is too heavy. If it’s going to be breaded, I’m picky. So, here’s how you can do it. And it’s easy enough that even I can do it and do it quickly, with minimal mess in my matching minimal kitchen. I started with a little over 1/4 pound of okra (I wanted a large serving for one meal).

Wash the okra, and cut off the ends of each piece. Continue reading

dish buzz: tipsy parson

Tipsy Parson - Chelsea

Tipsy Parson - Chelsea

I originally made plans to try out Tipsy Parson on Monday. Southern food plus multiple types of juleps (including a frozen one)? Definitely interested. The date for the opening got pushed back to Wednesday and so my friends and I pushed back our plans as well so we could head to Chelsea to see if Tipsy Parson was all it taunted it would be. I also saw they were accepting reservations online via Open Table and went ahead and put one in for us, just in case.

Arriving in, I liked the set up. There’s a cozy seating area of a few plush couches at the entrance before you encounter the bar to the right and some bar-front tables to your left. If you go back past the bar, there’s a second room of just dining tables. I believe the tables along the bar were being treated as bar seating, though it was difficult to tell. It was reasonably easy to find a spot at the bar at around 6pm. My friends would then join me (so we were eventually a party of three) and we were able to find three chairs altogether at the bar. No need for a table. Continue reading