Gobbling Up Our Turkey Shaped Cornbread

This is what happens when Martha Stewart inspires you way too much.  I try not to watch her show much anymore because I am the type of person that sees her do something and then I become obsessed with the idea and have to try it.  The problem is that I only complete about 50% of the things that I see her do.  Sure, I made this Thanksgiving cornbread in the special turkey pan she used, but still lingering are projects that I haven’t done, like making wax initials with a letterpress, wax sticks and a glue gun, glittering some pine cones for a crystal bowl I have on my dining room table and embossing my velvet Christmas stockings with a faux bois finish.  I’m serious, I actually have everything you need to do these projects.  They are in my hall closet.  However, the only thing I don’t have is time.  Oddly enough, when I do have the time, I just don’t have the energy.  I see Martha wincing now.

I turned on Martha’s show only once leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was the show where she made these cornbread turkeys.  I was obsessed and knew that it was happening again….the urge to make something beautiful that she made.  I ran to my computer and frantically searched for the right turkey mold pan.  I found it on Amazon.com.  I had it sent via overnight FedEx, which cost me about as much as the pan.  I received the pan late Wednesday evening and knew that it was perfect for the recipe to be made on Thanksgiving morning.  I was right on schedule.

The cornbread recipe to fill the mold was very simple to make.  The cornbread is actually a little more dense than the cornbread recipe I usually make, but still very delicious.  The addition of the jalapeno peppers and the cheddar cheese was a nice addition to the cornbread recipe.  They both gave the bread a little punch.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups fresh (from about 3 ears) or thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 jalapeno chiles, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 5-cup turkey-shaped pans with cooking spray.  Melt 1/2 cup butter and let cool.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high.  Cook corn, jalapeno, and shallots, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add eggs; whisk eggs into flour mixture.

Whisk together melted butter and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture, along with corn mixture and cheddar.  Mix until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.  Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool slightly before inverting onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I know Martha will do something that I will see or hear about and the free-for-all will begin all over again.  What will it be?  Hand felted Santa suits, carve your own reindeer antlers, a simple dinner for 100?  If you find out, please don’t let me know.  Well, maybe just a hint is fine.  Do you stalk have a favorite famous personality that you like and follow?

First Pie Of Fall – Making A Concord Grape Pie

This is a slice of our first homemade pie of Fall, a Concord grape pie.  Like many people, hearing about a grape pie is a new thing.  An oddity in the homemade pie world.  I mean, how many times have you ever seen a grape pie in your life?  I have never seen one for sale at the supermarket or at a bakery.  However, when I was a young child growing up in Iowa, my grandmother made grape pies all the time when grapes were in season.  So when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to give it a try.  Remembering the taste of her grape pie made me want to make this.  Although not a common pie, grape filling is a really good way to fill a pie crust.  I do have to disclose that my grandma’s grape pie was different from my grape pie in one major respect.  Hers always had a lot of seeds in the filling.  I remember eating her grape pie and chewing on a seed and whining, “Grandma, there is a seed in the pie.”  She would reply, “Just shut up and eat it.  Do you think I have all day to sit and seed grapes?”  It is true that the grapes you use for this recipe, Concord grapes, contain a lot of flavor and a lot of seeds.  You can spend a lot of time scraping the seeds out of the pulp with a knife, but I have discovered a way to do it in a much faster manner.  I boil the pulp for less than 10 minutes and then strain the seeds out through a sieve.  To start this recipe, you need to find some Concord grapes.

Concord grapes are large, sweet grapes that appear dark purple (almost black) in color.  They have thick skins and are in season in my neck of the woods for a very short amount of time.  Most of the time, you see them in Connecticut at the beginning of October through the middle of November.  Originating in the 1840s near, not surprising, Concord, Massachusetts, the most familiar American grape is the Concord grape.  Winter hardy, the vigorous plants can produce up to twenty pounds or more of the fruit per vine per year.  Well-established grapevines can produce quality fruit for more than forty years.  The Concord grape is responsible for making the famous and popular Concord grape jelly that we all know and loved as kids (and probably as grown ups too).  Here’s how we made our first pie of the Fall…our Concord grape pie.

Ingredients:

Directions:

On a lightly floured work surface, roll 1 piece of pie crust dough into a 13-inch round.  With a dry pastry brush, sweep off the excess flour.  Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate, pressing it into the edges.  Trim to a 1-inch overhang all around.  Crimp edge as desired.  Chill pie shell until firm, for at least 1 hour.  Repeat process for rolling out dough.  Using a 4-inch grape leaf cookie cutter, cut out 4 leaves from dough. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

So now here’s the trick for removing the seeds from the grapes in a pretty quick manner.  Remove the skins from the grape pulp by pinching the ends of each grape, reserving both the pulp and skins separately.  Discard any accumulated liquid (you don’t want your pie to be too juicy).  Literally, just pop the pulp right out of the skins with a squeeze of your fingers.  Here’s the skins:

Now, here’s the pulp:

Place pulp in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cook until the seeds separate from the pulp and the pulp breaks down, less than 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into the bowl with the reserved skins.

Here are the seeds left over after your straining is complete.  Discard them.

Let cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Remove grape mixture from refrigerator.  Stir in sugar and cornstarch.  Pour into the prepared pie shell.  Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water.  Brush edge of pie shell with egg mixture, reserving any remaining egg mixture.  Transfer pie to oven; bake 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until filling jiggles when shaken, about 30 minutes.  Transfer pie to a wire cooling rack; let cool overnight.  Two things to remember on this step:

  • Do not overfill your pie crust with the grape filling.  It does expand and you don’t want it to overflow.
  • When you give your pie a little shake and see the filling jiggle, your first instinct is to think your pie is not cooked enough.  It is.  Remember all the cornstarch you put into the filling?  As the pie cools, the cornstarch thickens the juice and sets it firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove reserved grape leaves from refrigerator and brush with remaining egg and water mixture.  Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack; let cool.  Before serving, place grape leaves on top of filling.

This pie has a great flavor.  Great flavor that also surprises the folks that you serve it to.  Maybe your friends have had a grape pie?  My friends seem to be shocked that I used Concord grapes to make a pie.  After one taste, they all want the recipe.  Since time is running out on Concord grape season, get to your supermarket and pick up some Concord grapes and make this tasty and different dessert.  You’ll be glad that you did.  Have you ever eaten a grape pie before?

The Sure Sign Of Fall – Making Pie Crust Dough

This is a the first pie crust of the season here on Glen Road.  Even though pies can be made any time of year, it seems we prefer pie more in the Fall and Winter seasons.  Our first pie is always made around Halloween and this year is no exception.  Making pie crust dough always brings about a little bit of anxiety for me.  No matter how many times I’ve made a crust, I am always nervous about the part of picking up the rolled dough and placing it in the pie plate without tearing or ripping the dough.  Even though I’ve made lots and lots of pies, I can’t ever seem to shake my crust anxiety.  That’s why it is important to find a crust recipe out there that works for you.  There are many….ones that use butter versus vegetable shortening, ones that use sugar versus salt, ones that use a pastry blender and ones that don’t.  Experiment with the many recipes out there until you find one that works for you.  Once you determine the right one, stick to it.  The more you use it, the easier it will be to make a crust that is flaky and golden.  Like they say, practice makes perfect.

My favorite recipe mixes everything up in the food processor.  It’s pretty quick and pain-free.  The crust always turns out flaky and browns very easy in the oven to golden without burning.  I make sure everything is cold when I add it to the flour, sugar and salt.  The butter is cut into cubes and then I place it back in the refrigerator to cool down again.  The water I add to the mixture is ice-cold.  After I form my crust into the pan, I place it back in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Popping a super cold crust into a super hot oven produces a flaky pie crust that does not pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cold, cold, cold!!  So here’s how I have been making pie crust dough for at least the last ten years:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions:

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined.  Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about three pulses of the food processor (remember, your butter is already in small pieces so you don’t want to chop it up much more).  With the machine running, add water in a slow, steady stream until mixture just begins to hold together.

Shape dough into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour to 2 days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).

Like I said earlier, everyone you know has a different technique for making pie crust dough.  I like the easy technique the food processor provides.  My friends over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide make their pie crust dough with a pastry blender.  The choice is yours.  At the end of the day, you want a recipe that provides delicious, flaky and golden brown crust that you enjoy eating.

Also experiment with the edges of your pie crust.  There is nothing more beautiful than a pie with a gorgeous finish on the edge of the crust…whether its a simple fluted edge or one decorated with cut-out dough shapes into forms like leaves, hearts or flowers, that attention to detail makes a good pie a great one.  Have fun making your crust and don’t get nervous…like me.  How do you make your pie crust dough?

An Old Fashioned Barn Party

This is the entrance to our friends’ barn in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Every October for the last several years, we have met at this barn to take part in an old fashioned barn party.  The barn on my friends’ property is very old and is constructed of stone and wood.  The top has a floor made of wooden beams with several stalls on top that most likely once housed larger animals like cows, horses or pigs.  Underneath is another level that most likely housed equipment and smaller animals like chickens, ducks and geese.  Over the years, my friends have restored their barn to its original appearance and the party is held to help raise money for old barn restoration in the area, to sell high-end craft items to the guests and general public who attend and offer up a great way to see old friends and family one more time before the holidays.  We also ate lots of food and drank lots of drinks (from coffee to wine to champagne).

This year the barn party also tried to teach guests a few tricks of the trade from local artisans.  There were booths and workshops where guests could see the looming of thread, hear live music played by a local musical group, learn to knit, learn to tie a fly for fly fishing or learn to make some wine among other things.  Of course there was an apple pie baking contest followed by a cookie baking contest with prizes for the top three finishers.  Come enjoy a few of the pictures that we took during the day.

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By the end of the day, most of us had a bag full of craft goodies, a full stomach and an introduction to a new skill.  I am now a novice knitter learning in the class with some yarn and chopsticks for knitting needles.  It was also great to catch up with everyone, especially those that we don’t see on a regular basis.  It was a big day and a lot of work, but everyone had a great time.  Here’s to next year’s party!!  What Fall festivities go on in your neck of the woods?

New Advances In Corn Bread Technology

This is fresh, hot corn bread being cut into six generous wedges for serving.  Corn bread seems to be a very sensitive topic for people in the South.  When we were on vacation, I saw more than a couple of restaurants that made claims to serving the best corn bread in Charleston.  One claim I saw said it was the best due to the use of white corn meal.  Another claim said that they had the best because they used local stone-ground yellow corn meal.  I didn’t know there were so many choices available in the art of corn bread making as I usually enjoyed the one and only Jiffy-boxed corn bread as a child and have rarely eaten corn bread as an adult.  Now that we are back in Connecticut and still cooking a lot of Southern classics, I decided to look around and determine what I would consider the best corn bread recipe on the market.  Here is the first contender, again from the ‘Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook‘.  Since they haven’t steered us wrong since our return, I figured I’d give their recipe the first shot.  What interested me in this recipe was the title, Crispy Corn Bread.  I was envisioning a soft center and a crispy and chewy crust on top and that is just what we got.  To achieve this crispy corn bread, all I needed was a 12 versus a 9 inch cast iron skillet.  The larger skillet is the trick to obtaining corn bread that has that delicious corn flavor and carmelized crust, but because the batter lies thinner in the pan and only gets up to about a half-inch thick, you double the crispiness of the bread while retaining its moistness.  Because the crust-to-crumb ratio is very high, this corn bread is like a moist flatbread with a big corn taste.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal (yellow or white, the choice is yours)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (I added one more teaspoon than the recipe called for because I like it a little sweeter)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Butter and honey (or whatever) for spreading

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Grease a 12-inch skillet with the butter, leaving any excess in the pan, and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg until frothy and then whisk in the buttermilk.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix thoroughly.  Melt the butter in a small pan over low heat and whisk the butter into the batter.

When the butter in the large skillet is smoking, carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl around the butter to coat the bottom and sides evenly.  Pour the batter into the skillet.  It should sizzle.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden brown and the edge has pulled away from the side of the skillet.  Remove from the oven.  Cut the cornbread into 6 wedges in the skillet and serve hot, with the butter, honey or any other spread of your liking.

This corn bread was very good served in a big wedge beside our chicken-fried steak with vidalia cream gravy.  This was some good Southern eating.  Are you getting the point that I am in love with the Lee Bros. cookbook?  So far, no disappointments and some great food.  I’m giving this corn bread a score of 8 because I thought it needed to be a little sweeter (again, this is why I increased the sugar content in the recipe above).  Give this quick and easy corn bread recipe a try and enjoy the crispy crust the next time you are cooking up your favorite Southern dish.  Do you have any tricks for making good, old-fashioned corn bread?

Trying To Determine What Red Tastes Like

This is a slice of a wonderful red velvet cake.  Red velvet cake is a mellow chocolate cake with an intense red color.  A white cream cheese icing is traditional and, as you can see, my frosting ability is not too great.  Even so, the cake and the frosting did not disappoint.  Most chefs say that it’s hard to get a good red velvet cake recipe.  Many times they are bland without the proper amount of cocoa to give it the right chocolate taste.  Many times they taste too citrusy due to way too much orange rind or flavoring being added.  This recipe from the ‘Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook‘ is one of the best.  I think it blends the cocoa and citrus to great effect.  As you may recall, I am not a citrus or rind lover when I bake so I cut the recommended rind amount down to half of what was given.

Why the red color?  Obviously coloring the cake red does not give it any enhanced flavor.  If the cake was just white or yellow, would people like it any less?  I have to be honest and say that the answers to my questions were not easy to find on the internet or any of my cookbooks.  The best I could find was the red was probably added as a means to dress up a cake with no other flavor than some cocoa.  I guess I’ll buy that, but I was looking for somewhat of a more elegant answer than this.

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 2-3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon sifted cake flour or 2-1/2 cups sifted bleached all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pans
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup natural cocoa powder
  • 1 ounce red food coloring
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon orange zest (from 1–2 oranges)
  • 1 cup whole or low-fat buttermilk

For the icing:

  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 pound cream cheese (2 packages), softened
  • 1 pound (4 cups) sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk, if needed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-by-2-inch cake pans or line their bottoms with greased, floured waxed paper.  Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda together twice.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk the cocoa, red food coloring and water to a smooth paste, about 1 minute, and reserve.

In a large mixing bowl, beat 1 cup butter with an electric mixer until creamy, about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating about 15 seconds after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary, until the mixture has lightened in color and become fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, the vanilla, and orange zest, beating for 15 seconds after each addition. Add the red cocoa paste and mix until evenly incorporated.

Add the flour mixture to the butter and egg mixture in thirds, alternating with 2 additions of half the buttermilk.  Once all ingredients are incorporated, beat the batter 10 to 12 strokes with your spoon or spatula if using cake flour, 2 to 3 strokes if using bleached all-purpose flour.  Divide the batter between the cake pans and spread the tops evenly with the wooden spoon or spatula.

Bake until a cake tester or toothpick emerges clean, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then slide a thin paring knife around the edge of
the pans and invert the cakes.  Lift away the waxed paper, if using.  Cool the cakes completely on a rack, with their tops facing up.

In a large bowl, beat 3/4 cup butter with the mixer until creamy, about 30 seconds.  Add the cream cheese and beat until the mixture is fluffy, white, and very smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition, until the mixture is creamy, fluffy, and smooth.  If the frosting is too stiff, beat the milk into it to loosen it.

Gently ice the cake layers generously.  Spoon 1 cup of icing in the center of the first cake layer.  Working an icing or rubber spatula in gentle swirling motions, spread the icing from the center toward the edges of the cake until it forms an even layer 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick (if you need to add more icing, add it to the center and work it out toward the sides).  Carefully set the second cake layer on top of the first and ice the second layer in the same manner, beginning with a dollop in the center and working it out to the sides.  Then ice the sides of the cake.  For my cake, I cut each cake in half in order to have four layers.

Store the cake at room temperature, beneath a cake cover.  If you don’t plan to eat it for 24 hours, put it on a plate, tent it with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Remember to remove the cake from the refrigerator 1 hour or more before serving to take the chill off.

So I’ve determined that red tastes…delicious.  Again, the recipe above has cut the citrus recommended in half.  I could still taste a pretty good hint of citrus, so I might even go with less the next time around.  As for my frosting abilities, I think I need to take a class or just use chocolate frosting (which hides all sins) for the rest of my life.  Chocolate frosting forever…thinking about it, what could be bad with that?  What is your favorite kind of cake/frosting?

Charleston’s Hominy Grill Restaurant – Yum!

This is one of the first things you see when you arrive at the Hominy Grill in Charleston, South Carolina.  Painted on the side of the building, this waitress seems to assure you that inside you will soon be eating some great home-cooked food just like your Grandma used to make.  Nationally acclaimed and locally beloved, the Hominy Grill is a Charleston institution serving classic Southern specialties.  No cans are opened at the Hominy Grill.  All of the food is prepared from scratch with fresh, locally raised ingredients.  Chef/proprietor Robert Stehling first learned to cook at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC.  He then worked for several years in New York before moving to Charleston where he opened the Hominy Grill.  He received the prestigious James Beard Best Chef Southeast award in 2008.

When we first arrived, we knew we would have a little wait given the number of people who were outside on the patio already waiting for a table.  Given the gorgeous weather that Charleston is known for, waiting outside for our table was nice.  Although there wasn’t a bar to stand at, the Hominy Grill does have a window where you can go up to and order whatever it is you would like to drink during your wait.

After about thirty minutes, it was our turn to eat.  The six of us sat down at a table inside a nice bright room with what appears to be an old-fashioned stamped tin ceiling.

Next up, it was time to read the regular menu and review the daily board of specials.  Almost of the dishes offered were Southern classics made with fresh ingredients.  Right off, we knew that we would hit all three courses in our eating adventure–appetizers, main course and dessert.

We started off with fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing for the entire table.  Is there anything more Southern than that?  Did you know that there is not a special variety of green tomato that you grow to use when you make your fried green tomatoes?  You just need to gather unripened, green tomatoes off the vine and batter and fry them.

After polishing off the fried green tomatoes in record time, it was time to move on to the main course.  Take a look at this delicious dish of shrimp and grits, another Southern classic.  The shrimp was sautéed with mushrooms, scallions and bacon and then served over cheese grits.  In this dish, the bacon actually gave the dish a nice smoky and salty flavor when up against the smoothness of the grits and the tender shrimp.

What would the South be without something fried and then served with gravy and a biscuit?  The Hominy Grill did not disappoint and several of us ate the Big Nasty Biscuit with a fried chicken breast smothered in cheddar and sausage gravy.  When we saw this, all we could do is trick ourselves into thinking it only had 200 calories in it and then dig in.  Talk about some good eating!

BBQ was also on order at the Hominy Grill.  Southern barbeque is more vinegar based than other barbeques that you may have eaten.  I like the bite that this type of barbeque offers.  Here is the BBQ chicken sandwich with slaw.  Vinegar BBQ heaven!

Are you ready for dessert?  We were.  We kept it simple and delicious as you can see.  Nothing light about butterscotch pie and a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, huh?  The butterscotch pie was creamy and delicious.  It has been quite a while since I had eaten butterscotch pie and this was a light and flavorful treat.

Now onto the chocolate brownie with homemade vanilla ice cream.  Here’s the question–have you ever met a brownie a la mode that you didn’t like?  I haven’t and the Hominy Grill’s selection was as good as it looks in this picture.

What a great brunch!  At this point in a meal and after all of this food, all you can do is either go back to home base and take a long nap or walk it off.  We thought it best to do some walking which is probably the right choice after you just finished devouring something called the Big Nasty Biscuit.

When we go on vacation, we do some sight-seeing, but for the most part our favorite part of a vacation trip is getting to know the locals through eating.  The Hominy Grill in Charleston really got us acquainted with the food of South Carolina’s low country.  Given that they try to utilize fresh and local ingredients, the food was really delicious.  We hope you enjoyed our little eating frenzy at the Hominy Grill….we sure did.  Do you enjoy dining out a lot when you are on vacation?