October 30, 2009


For those of you not familiar with Twitter, the title of today's blog is what is affectionately known as a hashtag. It's a Twitter thing that helps Twitter users track a particular conversation or a trend. In this case, #PlateSwap helps me and other food bloggers chat about our Secret Santa project.

It's also why the first photo in this blog post features a nekkid, unplated plate. I wanted to be sure to show off my new #PlateSwap plate.

Thanks to the organizational skills of Cheryl Tan (aka @cheryltan88) and Ellise Pierce (aka @cowgirlchef) a few of us food blogger sorts exchanged plates with one another Secret Santa style. One of the goals was to add variety to the plates we use for our photos that accompany our blog posts.

In case you haven't noticed, in my case, this is a good thing. I'm very attached to my Correlleware plates. They're the gold-patterned dishes you see featured on my blog over and over and over again. These actually are fugitive dishes from my Dranny's set. During my next trip home, my goal is sneak some of my Mom's blue-patterned Correllware out in my luggage. (shh... don't tell her...)

I was the lucky recipient of the lovely plate seen here, which was sent to me by Paula Jones, author of bellalimento.com (aka @bellalimento). Paula deserves double bonus points in this adventure. She sent my #PlateSwap plate to me and it was returned to sender.


Apparently, my move to the new apartment messed up the delivery one way or another. I suspect that in the haze of moving, I shared the old address, not the new one. Lucky for me, Paula was kind enough to re-send it via priority mail. Like I said, double bonus points for Paula.

Shipping misadventures aside, it was so exciting to receive this gift and to be a part of the #PlateSwap. It gave me a chance to "meet" some other food bloggers and it was an excellent excuse to rummage through a my favorite, nearby antique store so that I could share a fabulous find with my Secret Santa recipient, Cathy Shambley, aka
ShowFoodChef.com and aka @ShowFoodChef.

As seen here, I've already started to put my #PlateSwap plate to work. This would be the results of an enchilada recipe I was experimenting with earlier this week. The recipe didn't quite turn out as I had hoped. Though I haven't quite determined what the "off" factor was for me. I guess that means I'll just have to try again.

You'll also see my #PlateSwap plate featured in the previous blog post. My Bacon Cheddar Scones are plated up on it. Those, I'm happy to say came out quite well. (phew!)

To Ellise and Cheryl, a special thank you for organizing the #PlateSwap. I loved the idea and can't wait to participate in future shenanigans with y'all. To Paula, thank you for the lovely plate.

Sweet and Savory Scones

Fast on the heels of hosting my first dinner party in my new apartment, I invited a couple of my girlfriends over for a "True Blood: Season 2" marathon (thank you hbo ondemand!).

Knowing we would need plenty of energy to see us through the day, top of mind was making sure we'd have enough food and drink to see us through hours of watching Eric and Jason, and wondering who in tarnation thought it was necessary for either one of them to bother with wearing a shirt. (i mean, really. a shirt? on either of them? *sigh* so unnecessary.)

Since it was a Sunday, my friends and I collaborated on a brunch menu. They brought fruit and veggie platters (my mom
would be so proud) and the fixins for fruity rum drinks and bloody marys (mom might question this one).

I volunteered to do the baking. (so selfless of me, don't you think?) Keeping with the brunch theme, I made an easy quiche using a recipe from my family's B&B days. This recipe also appeared at my Easter dinner. This cheater's quiche does
not count for the blog though. So, for the sake of my poor little blog, I decided to use a recipe for scones from "Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years." And, for the pure fun of it, I made a recipe for Bacon Cheddar Scones that I saw featured on Tastespotting.com, a site I love and adore. The featured Tastespotting photo was of scones made by Pink Parsley, and I used the recipe she posted on her site as well.

For whatever reason, I decided to make the Bacon Cheddar Scones first. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I wanted to nibble on two or three slices of bacon sooner rather than later. (photo note: the bacon cheddar scones above are featured on my #PlateSwap plate. loves it!)

In any case, the Bacon Cheddar Scones were relatively easy to make. Me and my trusty pastry cutter got along just fine, and I had the distinct joy of mixing the bacon, cheese and green onion bits into the dough by hand. The result was a pleasing ball of dough that did just what it was supposed to do when I rolled it out and cut it into triangles.

With those scones in the oven, I turned my attention to making the "Baking in America" scones. The exact recipe calls for currants. I hate currants. Raisins too. So, I made a substitution and set out to make White Chocolate Cranberry Scones.

These went so far awry that it's not even funny. At least I can say it was not my fault. Having made the Bacon Cheddar Scones, having read a few other scones recipes and having enjoyed more than my fair share of scones made by others, I knew what the finished product was supposed to look like.

So far as I can deduce, the dough for the second batch of scones was just plain ol' wrong. It was wet, sticky and did not have enough flour by any stretch of the imagination. The "Baking in America" recipe called for one cup of cake flour and one cup of all-purpose flour. Most other recipes I had seen, including the Bacon Cheddar Scone recipe, called for about three cups of flour.

"Baking in America" is a cookbook I loved reading. It's one of the first cookbooks I purchased despite it's shocking lack of pictures (i like pictures in my cookbooks). I wanted to have faith in it and in the belief that maybe I just didn't know what I was doing and that, somehow, someway, the recipe would magically turn out all right.

Well, it didn't.

Aside from substituting cranberries for currants and adding some white chocolate chunks, I followed the blasted recipe and the baking directions.

What a mistake. I should have gone with my gut and added about a cup of flour to the dough. Then, instead of a mass of chewy, not-scones, I would have had proper scones. The scones were edible and my friends liked the flavor of them, but the texture of them killed me. Under other circumstances, I would have chucked those suckers into the garbage. However, my friends are the sort I trust not only with my successes, but also with my failures.

While I will not pass the failed recipe on to you until, at some point, I figure out the right flour proportions, I will share with you the Bacon Cheddar Scones recipe, which came out just the right kind of savory and delicious .

Bacon Cheddar Scones - Makes eight scones
Adapted from Pink Parsley's Blog

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 ½ cups finely grated cheddar cheese
4 green onions, thinly sliced
10 slices of bacon
¾ to 1 ½ cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

I bake my bacon. As family, friends and readers of this blog know, frying is a dangerous activity so far as I'm concerned. (see here and here and here and here) If you're like me, then here's how you bake the bacon. Put some metal wire racks in a rimmed cookie sheet. Spray them with PAM cooking spray. Place the bacon slices side by side on the wire racks. They can touch just barely, but don’t let them overlap. Bake them for about 20 minutes or until they’re as crispy as you like them.

Or, you know, you can fry your bacon like normal people do. Either way, after they’re done, drain the extra grease off the bacon. When the bacon is cool enough, crumbled or chop the slices.

If you were baking your bacon, leave the oven heated at 400 degrees. If you weren't baking the bacon, now would be a good time to turn it on.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper into a large bowel. Using a pastry cutter (or forks or a couple of butter knives) cut in the cubes of butter until the mixture is crumbly. The bits of butter and flour will about the size of flattened peas, but not all of the flour will be incorporated at this point.

Add the grated cheese and mix with your fingers just until blended. Don’t over mix the dough though because the heat of your fingers will melt the butter too much.

Add the bacon, green onions and ¾ cup of buttermilk. Mix by hand until all the ingredients are incorporated.

If the dough does not hold together and is too dry, add more buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing lightly with each addition.

Do this until the dough is pliable and can be formed into a ball. Remember, don't overwork the dough or the scones will tough.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Using your hands still, pat the dough ball into an 8-inch circle about a
½ inch thick. With a large, sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges. You can make smaller scones, but be sure to keep an eye on them while baking so that they don't burn.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the scones on it with a little space between each one.

Bake 18-20 minutes or until golden brown.

These taste great warm. They taste great the next day. They also taste great on day three when you have to grab breakfast and run to the airport before you miss your flight (just saying, you know, in case you were wondering...).

A word on storing these. I baked these the night before the True Blood marathon with my friends. Once they had cooled, I stacked them on a plate, covered them tightly with foil and left them on the kitchen counter at room temperature.

After the brunch, I put them in Ziplock baggies and stored them in fridge, knowing that I might not eat the leftovers quickly enough before they started molding. Pop them in the microwave for a few seconds or in a toaster over for a minute or three to warm them up before eating them.

October 24, 2009

A Housewarming Dinner Party

I am, admittedly, a procrastinator. It's not the best of traits to have. However, I'm also a deadline-driven sort. The shorter the deadline and the crazier the expectations, the better.

Do you have a hand grenade that needs to be defused? After someone pulled the pin? No problem. Got it covered. (well, not an actual hand grenade. i wouldn't know what the heck to do with a hand grenade, but it makes for an interesting metaphor.)

These little tidbits of information about me are relevant because I recently moved. Quite frankly, without the right motivation, I would very likely unpack only what I really need and then curl up on the couch with a book and read and read and read. And watch football.

In any case, as a motivator to make unpacking boxes in my new apartment somewhat less onerous, I gave myself a deadline that also doubled as a reward. I invited a couple of friends over for dinner, which would mean I'd have to have things in some semblance of order before my friends arrived. Not to mention the fact that I'd have to have some dinner ready to put on the table.

I purposely kept things simple. In what still qualifies for a new kitchen, I didn't want to risk things going awry with a complicated menu. With that in mind, I decided to make Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Applesauce, Cole Slaw and Afternoon Tea. Plus, in terms of my cooking challenge, I made some decent progress and used three cookbooks. All of the dishes, except for the cole slaw, are new-to-me dishes and each comes from a separate cookbook.

The easiest of the three was Afternoon Tea from "Cowboy Cocktails." This was an easy drink. In fact, I'm not sure it gets too much easier. Iced tea (unsweetened) spiked with light spiced rum and slices of lemons and springs of mint for garnish.

Easy and refreshing. However, given the easiness of this recipe, I feel obligated to try one or two more recipes from this collection of drink recipes. I know. It's a terrible burden, but someone must undertake it.

Oddly enough, the second easiest recipe was the East Carolinian pulled pork, which came from "The South: The Beautiful Cookbook," a cousin to my beloved "Texas: The Beautiful Cookbook" from which I've made a few recipes (see here and here ). I'm sure this might seem like a controversial choice to some. After all, I'm from Texas. What the heck I'm doing going within sniffing distance of this kind of BBQ?

Well, I'll tell you why I made this recipe. I live in an apartment. I do not have a patio. I do not have a stovetop smoker. This is the only BBQ recipe I could find in my cookbooks that did not involve a grill, a smoker or a crockpot (i've made crockpot, bbq brisket already). This was a recipe with oven directions.

If it makes you feel better though, while I made the vinegary sauce from the recipe, I used Stubb's BBQ Sauce when it came time to make sandwiches. Regardless of your BBQ affiliations, this pulled pork dish was good. Well done, moist and flavorful with just the right amount of spicy heat. The leftovers were just as good.

As a side dish, I wanted to make homemade applesauce, especially since it's fall and I was making pork. My applesauce recipe came from "Joy of Cooking: All About Breakfast & Brunch." I've used this cookbook before, but I made muffins, which didn't count as a new-to-me recipe and, therefore, I felt that I couldn't check this cookbook off the list for the purposes of my cooking challenge.

I was nervous about making applesauce. The recipe didn't call for too much liquid and I was supposed to simmer the apples until they were soft. I was certain that, without constant hovering, I was going to burn the apples. I didn't.

Instead, I learned that homemade applesauce kicks store-bought applesauce's keister. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is going to become a go-to recipes. It takes some work with all of the quartering and coring of the apples, but it's definitely worth it.

As a motivator and a reward, I think the dinner was a success. I had a great time hosting my friends and can't wait to host another, even fancier dinner. More importantly, my friends also claimed to enjoy the meal. And I have no reason to doubt them since they went back for more drinks (what does that say about my friends, i wonder?) and cleaned their plates.

Applesauce - Makes 4 to 6 servings
From Joy of Cooking: All About Breakfast & Brunch

3 pounds of apples - choose a mix of apples for a better flavor
1/2 to 3/4 cup apple cider, depending on the juiciness of the apples
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, depending on tartness of apples
1 large cinnamon stick
1/2 cup white sugar or 6 tablespoons mild honey
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground mace (optional)

If desired, peel the apples. Then quarter, core and slice the apples into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Put the apples, cider, lemon juice and cinnamon stick in a dutch oven. Cover and simmer the apples over low heat until the apples are tender, but not mushy. Stir the mixture regularly.

Stir in the sugar or honey, nutmeg and, if you're using them the ginger and mace. Cook only until the sugar is dissolved and thoroughly mixed in. About 1 minute.

Remove from the heat. Discard the cinnamon stick.

If you peeled your apples, you can probably mash the apples with a potato masher or a wooden spoon. If you're like me and don't peel your apples, you'll probably have to use a blender to get the right texture. Just pulse the apples in batches.

And there you go. Applesauce. Homemade applesauce. You can serve it warm or chill it before serving. It's excellent either way.

October 17, 2009

Plan C Pinto Beans

Now that fall has arrived and is doing a very good impression of winter, I crave the kinds of foods that make you feel warm and cozy, and that fill the house with the scent of cooking.

Inspired by a chat with my parents, I really wanted a big pot of beans. And I was so proud of my organizational skills because I had all of the ingredients. I had the bag of dried pinto beans, a smoked ham hock, fixins for cornbread and assorted toppings.

However, after I’d sorted through the beans to pick out any possible stray stones and then set them on the stove for a quick soak, I learned that my preparations were foiled by the blasted ham hock, which had decided to grow a fine layer of icky fuzz. Lesson learned: smoked ham hocks actually can go bad.

No fears though. I had a Plan B because the grocery store just down the block from my place has a decent meat department.

Yeah. No dice. The darned store didn’t have a ham hock nor any other suitable replacement ingredients because it was Sunday and they were out of just about everything. Fabulous.

I huffed and puffed and kicked some pebbles around on the short walk home. After that mini-temper tantrum, I decided that this was not going to be the end of the world. I would be resourceful and follow my waste-not rule by using whatever I might have in the cupboards. The pot of beans might not be what my parents would typically make, but it would still be a darned good pot of beans.

Luckily, I remembered I had a container of McCormick’s smokehouse-flavored pepper. This is normal ground pepper, but with a bit of a flavor kick. Since the smoked ham hock had thwarted me, I figured this might make a decent substitute. I was right. Here's the approximate recipe.

Plan C Pinto Beans
- Makes about 8 servings
1 lb of dried pinto beans
1 can of Hunt’s Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 can of Ro*Tel
Smokehouse Ground Black Pepper from McCormick

Pick through the dried pinto beans to make sure there aren’t any fugitive rocks or icky beans. Rinse the beans (not the fugitive rocks and icky beans) in a colander. After rinsing, put the beans in a large pot filled with water about an inch over the beans and about a teaspoon of salt. Bring the beans to a fast boil and then let them soak, covered, for about an hour.

After the beans have soaked, make sure there’s enough water in the pot to keep the beans more than covered. Season the beans with one to two teaspoons of the smokehouse pepper and ½ a teaspoon to one teaspoon of salt.

Bring the beans to a boil again and let them simmer until the beans get nice and tender. This takes about two hours. Give or take.

Be sure to stir the beans occasionally. If too much water boils off, add more. You want to make sure that the beans can simmer easily and aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pot or burning.

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve the beans, stir in the cans of Ro*Tel and Fire Roasted Tomatoes.

At this point, taste test the beans. You may want to add some pepper or salt.

Serve the beans in bowls with cornbread. Top it with your favorite fixins. I like shredded cheese, sour cream and chow-chow.


Disclosure: Hunt's Tomatoes and Ro*Tel are made by the company for which I work, ConAgra Foods.

October 04, 2009

Bean & Veggie Soup

My obsession with cookbooks was one of the driving forces behind the start of this blog. In addition to cookbooks, I'm also obsessed with magazines. In particular, food and home magazines. House Beautiful is one the magazines I love the most. It has inspired me on more than one occasion.

However, while House Beautiful routinely features recipes and the like, the October 2009 issue was the first one that drove me into the kitchen. The weather also helped since fall had settled in and brought some cruddy, overcast, stay-indoors-all-weekend weather with it.

There was just one little problem. I didn't have the exact ingredients for the recipe. So, I did what made the most sense to me, I used the recipe as guiding post to make my own soup with the ingredients I had on hand.

The result was a hearty bean and vegetable soup that was even better the next day when I took in to work for lunch.

Bean & Veggie Soup - Makes about 4 servings
Adapted from a recipe featured in House Beautiful, October 2009

2 15oz-cans kidney beans, drained & rinsed
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 14.5oz-can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh, chopped parsley or 1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, combine kidney beans, chicken stock and garlic. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 20 or 30 minutes.

While the beans are simmering, in a separate skillet, saute the chopped onion and celery in the olive oil until soft and nearly translucent. This takes about 5 minutes.

Stir diced, canned tomatoes into the onions and celery. I used Hunt's Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (made by my company) for the extra kick of flavor. Season with the kosher or sea salt. Simmer for about another 4 minutes.

Add vegetable mixture to the beans. Season with fresh parsley or dried cilantro, depending on what you have at home.

Simmer for about 15 minutes so that the flavors combine.

Serve in bowls with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on the soup for garnish and flavor, and serve with a slice or two of bread to sop up the soup juices.