August 09, 2009

Blueberry Coffee Cake. Or Raspberry. You Pick.

This weekend, after blogging a bit about my family’s B&B days and after sharing a blueberry recipe with a friend, I felt the need to put that recipe to work for myself.

The below recipe is for Noni’s Blueberry Coffee Cake. Noni was our next door neighbor when we lived in Maine, and she shared this recipe with us. We, in turn, served the results to our B&B guests, who loved it.

As you can imagine, blueberry-containing dishes were a regular feature on our menu given that we were in Maine. And not just any ol’ part of Maine, but Washington County, Maine, where 90 percent of the nation’s blueberries are grown. That’s right. Ninety percent. Don’t believe me, visit this page then.

Unfortunately for me, while I love Noni’s Blueberry Coffee Cake as is, I don’t live in Maine anymore. Getting fresh blueberries in Nebraska is a little bit on the tricky side of things. And, don’t kid yourselves, those icky, faux blueberries from New Jersey don’t pass muster any whatsoever. No. Those come off of tall bushes and are artificially ginormous in comparison to genuine Maine blueberries, which have to be raked by hand from blueberry bushes that grow close to the ground.

In any case, having no fresh blueberries, I decided to follow my waste-not rule and used the frozen raspberries that have been sitting in my freezer for a couple of months now.

And you know what? It turned out a-ok. In fact, I liked it a lot. And so did my co-workers who were my guinea pigs today. So, there you go. Substitutes do work.

And now, the recipe...

Noni's Blueberry Coffee Cake
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, do not thaw) or a 12oz bag of frozen raspberries (do not thaw)
1/2 cup all purpose flour (to coat the berries)
1/4 cup sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350F.

Sift together 2 cups flour & baking soda. Set aside.

Cream together butter & sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly. Alternate adding flour mixture & buttermilk until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, toss blueberries in 1/2 cup of flour. Fold gently into the batter.

Spread batter into a well-greased 9x13 pan. (Note: This is a thick batter & you will have to spread it with a spatula to get it in the pan evenly. Don't work if you mash to berries a bit, the final result will be just fine.)

Lightly sprinkle with the extra 1/4 cup of sugar for a topping.

Bake 45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature for best taste.

Most importantly … Enjoy!

August 08, 2009

Food for Card Sharks

I think I might’ve fallen off the bandwagon or something.

I’m supposed to be cooking my way through my cookbooks and haven’t made even a teeny, tiny dent in them since June. In fact, I’m pretty sure that during the month of July, I didn’t touch a single one of them except to flip through one or two of them or to move a stack of them from one spot to another.

That’s sad. Really, really sad and maybe just a little bit pathetic too.

Last weekend, however, I felt like I might have turned the corner.

As the co-host for an evening of Euchre, it was my responsibility to bring food. And not just some little nibbles or bags of candy or something. I needed to bring my fair share of treats for about 12 adults and assorted children.

This was a challenge that I was totally up for.

I also knew that I could only get away with only just so much experimenting since I’d have to make all the food in a short amount of time and make sure it was good. None of these experiments where I spend precious time making something that winds up tasting horrid a la Bobby’s Pimento Cheese.

Knowing my friends, I knew sort of what I wanted to make. Knowing that much at least, I went with two recipes I’ve made before – Chiqui’s Creole Cream Cheese Dip and Pecan Chicken.

I modified the Pecan Chicken recipe a bit though. First, I cut the chicken so that it could easily be eaten in a bite or two rather than cutting them into strips. Then, because I forgot to buy more sesame seeds (the recipe calls for a quarter cup), I substituted two heaping tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. I also switched out the tablespoon of salt and tablespoon of paprika for a heaping tablespoon of Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning. Based on the reactions of the group and the return trips to the platter, these substitutions worked just fine.

Chiqui’s Creole Cream Cheese Dip was done per the instructions – except for one fatal flaw. I combined all the ingredients in my mixer rather than a blender. It makes a difference. The mixer on high speed wound up whipping the heavy cream, which gave the dip a weird fluffy texture. When I made it in the blender last time, I had an appropriately smooth, dip-like texture. So, basically, what should have been an excellent batch of dip was ruined by texture. I hate that.

I made up for one batch of dip gone bad with a different dip – Baked Bean Dip. I saw a photo of this on TasteSpotting, one of my most favorite Web sites, and knew it would be perfect for my group of Euchre-playing friends. Plus, it looked simple enough that I knew I could work into an afternoon of cooking without completely stressing myself out in the making of it and other recipes.

You can see the recipe for yourself at EatWellLivingThin’s Web site. My only tweak was to use a can of Ro*Tel instead of salsa. Based on the reactions of my friends and the fact that the pan was nearly empty by the end of the evening, I think it was a success. In fact, we cracked open a second bag of chips to scoop up as much as possible. Very satisfying.

My last recipe comes courtesy of Bakerella, who recently featured a post about Petit Fours and Cream Cheese Pound Cake. While I’ve gone through the nightmare of making petit fours myself, I could not resist Bakerella’s pound cake recipe. After making it for myself, complete with some strawberries and frosting, I have to say I’m glad I did not bother with trying to resist the temptation to make this recipe. This stuff was delicious and just a little bit decadent.

One of the nice things about this little cooking adventure is that I managed to make everything in less than four hours, including baking time. For me, that’s impressive since I can be so easily distracted by other things. Although, since I had a hard stop of having to be out of the house at a certain time in order to get to my friend’s house to set up before everyone showed up, I might have had more incentive to get everything done in a timely fashion. Personally, I do not think that this fact takes away from my accomplishment. After all, I made all four dishes as planned and didn’t dump one of them due to laziness or a distraction.

The only thing that would have made this night better would have been if I’d had the highest score of the night. I didn’t. Not even close. Boo…

Confessions of a Recipe Guinea Pig

As I may have mentioned one or two or a dozen times, I used to live in a B&B. This was a family business in Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the United States.

Now, first things first, don’t let those morons who live in Eastport, Maine, convince you that they live in the easternmost town or city or whatever it is they claim. They don’t. Oh. And those kids who went to Mt. Katadhin to see the first sunrise of 2000? Yeah. They didn’t see tiddlywinks because it was fogged in and overcast. Instead, Lubec saw the sunrise first. I watched it from brother’s bedroom window, in fact. After I’d been out for a good portion of the night celebrating. Oddly enough, there’s even photo evidence of my celebrating the incoming millennium. If I recall, correctly, my picture is right next to a picture of the Pope John Paul II in the New Year’s edition of the Bangor Daily News. I know. You’re jealous. I hope you can restrain yourself.

And that bit of digression has next to nothing to do with much of anything.

The point I was trying to make is that I used to live in a B&B. For those of you not so familiar with the lingo, that’s a Bed & Breakfast. In 1989, my family purchased a rather large house with loads of bedrooms and turned it into a B&B. After six months or so of renovations (it was supposed to be six weeks, but that's another story), we opened it just in time for the summer season of tourists that visit Lubec to go whale watching or to visit the easternmost point in the United States, which is at West Quoddy Head State Park (East Quoddy Head is on Campobello Island, which is in Canada – hence the reason a park named “West” is the easternmost point in the United States), and other touristy things.

Anyhow, again, I digress…

The reason my family’s ownership of a B&B matters to this blog is because of how it shaped my love of food and cooking. Not to mention my ability to talk to virtual strangers for hours at a time or to give you a tour of a building that would knock your socks off.

One of the distinguishing services we provided at my family’s B&B was a full, sit-down breakfast. No buffet. No stingy smorgasbord of muffins or cold cereals. Nope. Not at our B&B. My Mom and Dranny served guests a full, sit-down, bring-an-empty stomach, worth-getting-up-super-early-for breakfast.

As a kid living in a B&B, I had a lot of different jobs that varied as I got older. However, the one job that never changed much was my solemn duty of being a guinea pig for the recipes my Mom and Dranny tried. Let me tell you, that one was a tough job. I was “forced” to sit through many a test recipe to help determine if it was any good and if it was easy enough to make en masse for guests.

Yeah. Tough job. Especially when Mom and Dranny would test chocolate waffles with raspberry sauce, oatmeal pancakes with homemade apple syrup, egg blossoms and other assorted goodies.

I know. This time you're actually jealous. Please try to restrain yourselves though.

As we settled into the B&B routine and built a serious clientele of first-timers and return guests, my Mom and Dranny built up quite a collection of breakfast recipes. If I recall correctly, you could stay at our house for about a month and not have the same breakfast twice. And we had a few guests who would stay nearly that long thanks to a music camp for adults that set up shop in town.

That said, I’m not sure that we ever actually did that. If a guest was staying with us for that long, they typically wound up having a favorite breakfast or three that they would request and that we would make – assuming that it wasn’t an issue for another guest.

My Mom and Dranny don’t own the B&B any longer. They sold it a few years back and moved back to Texas. And let me tell you, while I loved being the breakfast guinea pig, I love celebrating winter holidays in Texas way more. I mean, c’mon. I get to wear flip flops on Christmas.

And, if I ask really nicely, Mom and Dranny even make up one of my favorite breakfasts from the B&B days.

Hmm… Speaking of…

Maybe I’ll make up some of those oatmeal pancakes or scrounge through my cookbooks for a new breakfast recipe or two. I’ll have to be my own guinea pig, but I can deal with that.