Using Booze To Make Holidays Even Brighter

This little drink can really make roasting chestnuts on an open fire or going over the river and through the woods a lot less painful.  It is a juice and vodka drink that we call a Pomatini.  It is made with fresh squeezed pomegranate, grapefruit and lime juices.  We made the drink on Thanksgiving morning and actually sat our Pomatini filled decorative pitchers outside so that the drink could cool down before serving.  During our appetizers before the big Thanksgiving meal, we poured, shaked and drank Pomatinis.  Wow, it sure worked to make good food taste even better.  We decided to make these drinks because pomegranates seemed so Thanksgiving-like.  If you think of it, you could really justify this drink for any holiday or occasion–the reddish color fits in well with Christmas festivities or the juice make-up is perfect for a July 4th party.  So the next time you have a get together, consider the Pomatini!

Ingredients for the Pomatini (fills half of a large decorative pitcher):

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup

Directions:

Combine pomegranate juice, vodka, grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup and then pour into decorative pitchers.  Continue recipe, making it in the proportions provided, until all of your pitchers are filled.

Add ice to chill into the pitcher or pour drink into a shaker filled with ice.  Strain drink into a chilled martini glass.

Ingredients for Simple Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water

Directions:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.  Let cool.

So why not use our Pomatini to help reduce your stress level during your next holiday get together or party?  Be warned, if you drink more than a couple of these Pomatinis make sure you use a designated driver when you go outside to drive your sleigh around.  What great cocktail recipes do you make during the holidays?  

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?

A Sweet Little Drink From The Devil Sisters

This is a sweet little drink we enjoyed this weekend at a party in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  From the three open bottles of champagne, you can tell that it was pretty popular.  It is a drink that is on the sweet side.  What could be better….a sweet drink to enjoy on a sweet day.  My two friends that grew up in Iowa with me (they are sisters) from Peonies From Heaven had this drink and then made it at the party.  I don’t recall hearing the name of the drink.  I’m sure they didn’t invent it (although I’m sure they would claim that they did if you asked them), but I’ll go ahead and name it in their honor.  Because they have a wild streak and take every opportunity to harass me (I don’t deserve it) along with it being close to Halloween, I’ll name it ‘The Devil Sisters’ Champagne Brew’.  All kidding aside, this champagne brew is delicious.  Make sure to have the following ingredients on hand:

  • Champagne of your choice
  • A bottle of St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • A bottle of orange bitters
  • Sugar cubes
  • Fresh oranges

The Devil Sister’s Champagne Brew:

Take a champagne flute and fill it about 3/4 full with your favorite chilled champagne.  Then add about half of a shot of the elderflower liqueur into the flute.  Next, drop in one sugar cube that is generously soaked in the orange bitters.  Garnish by dropping in a slice of fresh orange peel.  Enjoy!!

I’ve seen more and more drinks that are being made these days with the elderflower liqueur.  I’ve read that it is an artisanal French liqueur made from hand-picked elderflower blossoms.  The starry white flowers are gathered by 40-50 folks pedaling the Alpen French countryside picking the flowers that is then distilled into this liqueur.  It is blended with a small amount of citrus and natural cane sugar to accentuate the subtle flavor of the elderflowers.  The resulting liqueur is delicate and balanced with fresh floral aromas and flavors and hints of pear, apricot and grapefruit zest.  So if you are looking for a sweet little brew, go ahead and give this one a try….and let me know what this is called if you know its name.  Have you ever used elderflower liqueur in any of your drink specialties?

Fried Ricotta Cheese – Two Ways

This is the question-if you decide to fry ricotta cheese, do you make it a savory appetizer or a sweet dessert?  That was the decision we had in front of us and so we decided to do both in the same meal.  This means we started off our little dinner party with a savory fried ricotta dish and ended the meal with the same fried ricotta made into a sweet dessert.  Most people equate fried cheese to the fried mozzarella sticks you get in your typical bar or tavern fare.  However, our Italian recipe for fried ricotta, known as ricotta fritta, has a subtle texture and flavor that works better being turned into a first course or dessert than its more famous mozzarella cousin.  The creamy texture of the ricotta fritta also cannot be beat.  So here is our recipe for ricotta-two ways.

Ingredients:

  • 15 ounces fresh ricotta , drained overnight
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Savory:

  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • Fresh basil leaves

Sweet:

  • 2 cups fruit jam or preserves (I used a jar of cherry preserves)
  • 1 cup whipped cream

Directions:

Put the drained ricotta in a bowl.

With an ice-cream scoop, scoop out tablespoon-sized balls of ricotta, and set them on a parchment-lined tray or sheet pan (you should have about twenty-four ricotta balls total).  Set the tray in the freezer, and chill the balls until firm, about 30 minutes.

Spread the flour on a small plate and the bread crumbs on a large plate. Whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt in a wide, shallow bowl.

Dredge the balls in the flour and gently flatten them into thick patties.  Coat the patties in egg, then dredge them until well coated in the bread crumbs, but not heavily so.  Return the breaded patties to the parchment-lined tray.

When you are ready to fry the patties, pour the vegetable oil in the skillet and set over medium heat.  The oil is ready when the tip of a patty sizzles on contact.  Drop the patties into the skillet in batches, so they are not crowded, and fry for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy.  Lift them from the skillet with a slotted spatula and drain briefly on paper towels.  Serve ricotta fritta while still hot.

For a savory appetizer or main course:  spoon a pool of hot marinara sauce onto each serving plate, set 3 fried patties in the sauce and scatter basil on top.

For a dessert dish:  top 3 patties with warmed preserves (or any fruit jam or poached fruit) and whipped cream.

In our little experiment, we found we liked the sweet version the best which is surprising because most of us at the dinner are not real dessert lovers.  Somehow the sweet taste of the preserves and cream played nicely off the creamy and tangy flavor of the fried ricotta.  Don’t get us wrong….there wasn’t any of the savory fried ricotta left over, so it must have been a crowd pleaser as well.  We’ll definitely be giving this versatile dish another go in our kitchen.  We hope you will too.  Do you have any cheese recipes that you use for dessert or for an appetizer that you would like to share?

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?

Still Southern In Connecticut – Chicken Fried Steak

This is some more good Southern eating.  If you couldn’t tell, we have remained Southern ever since our return from our Charleston, South Carolina vacation.  We have continued to research and read about the South Carolina low country and cook from our Southern cookbooks.  Did you notice that I said cookbook(s)?  Yes, we started with one and are now up to three Southern cookbooks.  With the kind of food we’ve been eating, what could be bad with more cookbooks?  Our latest dish was Chicken-Fried Steak With Vidalia Cream Gravy.  The pros of the dish:  it was delicious with a crispy, fried batter covering a thin layer of steak and was seasoned perfectly thanks to a special dredge that utilizes corn meal, flour, bread crumbs and salt and pepper.  The cons:  it is a little messy to make because any time you have to dredge steak through a corn meal coating, egg and buttermilk and then more corn meal coating, you are going to have some mess.  The other con:  not all people are comfortable frying in front of a big pan of super hot oil.  If you can get over these two cons, then you will be in for some delicious Southern comfort food that was a big hit at our dinner table the other night.

Again, this recipe comes from the favorite of our new Southern cookbooks, ‘The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook’.  Chicken fried steak is a great example of where leaner, tougher and cheaper cuts of beef actually perform better than the fattier, tenderer rib eyes and strips.  The steak cooks really fast in the heated oil.  I started our dinner with some slices of super fresh heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella cheese drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and some sea salt.

A big slab of cornbread was right beside the chicken fried steak and gravy.  Dessert was the remainder of our red velvet cake from the other day, since it kept very well in the refrigerator.  This meal made us proud to be Southern (ok, I know we are not, but I thought I’d slip that in).

Ingredients:

For the All-Purpose Fry Dredge:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons stone-ground cornmeal
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • A large sprinkling of bread crumbs for quick browning

A couple of notes:  this is a double batch from the original recipe in the cookbook.  I found that I needed more dredge than originally specified.  Also, it is important to find stone-ground cornmeal, which is much lighter and less coarse in consistency than non stone-ground.

Directions:

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper together twice.  Stir in the bread crumbs and turn out onto a flat surface and dredge according to recipe instructions making sure to shake off any excess.

Ingredients:

For the Chicken-Fried Steak and Vidalia Cream Gravy:

  • Peanut oil for frying
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup whole or low-fat buttermilk
  • Four 6-ounce beef top round steaks, about 1/2 inch thick (look for meat labeled top round bracciole meat)
  • 1 jumbo Vidalia onion (about 12 ounces), trimmed, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • All-purpose dredge

Directions:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Place an ovenproof platter on the top rack.  In a 12-inch skillet or saute pan with a candy thermometer clipped to it, place enough peanut oil into the pan to fill it to half way and heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350 degrees.

  Be careful…very hot!

Whisk the egg with the buttermilk and pour into a shallow bowl.  Place the fry dredge on a wide plate.  Working with 1 steak at a time, envelop the steak in a single sheet of plastic wrap and pound several times with a mallet to tenderize.  Coat the steak in the dredge and shake off any excess.  Dip in the egg wash to coat both sides.  Allow the excess to drip off and then coat again in the dredge.

  See, a little messy!!

Shake off the excess and place the steak immediately into the hot oil.  Fry, checking the temperature of the oil and adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the temperature at 350 degrees, until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain off any excess oil and then transfer to the platter in the oven.  Repeat with each steak.

When all the steaks have been fried and are warming in the oven, discard the used oil in the skillet and return the skillet to the burner.  Add the onion, the butter and a pinch of salt and saute over medium-high heat until the onion is soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.

In a small bowl, vigorously whisk the flour into the broth until no lumps are left.  Pour the broth and the milk into the skillet and add the pepper.  Bring to a simmer and simmer gently, stirring, until the gravy has thickened to the consistency of melted ice cream.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, place the steaks on a dinner plate and ladle a generous amount of gravy over each.

Whoever came up with putting the crispy part of fried chicken onto a steak should be considered a genius.  The mellow cream gravy with the onions combined with the well-seasoned coating and the steak made for a delicious main course.  So we figure if we continue cooking like this for at least another week, we should get our honorary Southern citizenship papers or at least be allowed to speak with a slight Southern accent.  Change it up for your family and try this chicken fried steak and gravy recipe.  It is a delicious change of pace.  Have any of your vacations inspired you to change it up in your kitchen?

Good Eating – Hot Pepper Jelly

This is the easiest appetizer in the world to make.  For as easy and low-key as it was to make, it was the hit of the night.  It is some hot pepper jelly spooned over cream cheese.  When everyone took a cracker and dipped it into the jelly and cream cheese, there was not a person at our house that didn’t declare that this was delicious.  Why is this always the case?  The food you spend hours preparing is o.k., but the simplest fare, like our hot pepper jelly, is the rage of the evening.

To add insult to injury, I didn’t even make the jelly.  No, it was in a jar and comes from a company named Mrs. Sassard’s in South Carolina, a family run business that has been selling its home-made Southern specialties since 1917.  Now operated out of the family home, the company hopes to expand into larger space and add new equipment, products and a Web site over the next few years.  In addition to the jelly, Mrs. Sassard’s also makes and sells a number of other relishes and preserves, like artichoke relish and pumpkin chip preserves.

For the purists out there, I also have a recipe if you would prefer some homemade hot pepper jelly.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh hot green pepper, such as jalapeno
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 4 ounces pectin
  • 4 drops green food coloring
  • 6 (1/2-pint) canning jars with lids

Directions:

Process bell pepper and hot pepper in a food processor until finely minced.  Combine pepper mixture, vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil.  Remove from heat and add pectin and food coloring.  Pour into sterilized jars and seal according to USDA guidelines for sterilizing jars/lids and canning.

I know this doesn’t look like it would taste so good, but as they say, looks can really deceive.  Whether you track down a bottle of this jelly like I did or make your own, give this hot pepper jelly a chance at your next get together.  The peppery taste with a hint of heat mixed with the creamy texture of the cream cheese on a cracker can’t be beat.  Again, it is also so easy!  Have you ever eaten hot pepper jelly?

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?