Saturday, April 16, 2011

April: Southern Cuisine

It was with open arms and hospitality that only southerners can offer that April welcomed us into her home this week for the Southern Cuisine themed cooking club meeting. Thanks for all the delicious food, everyone, and thanks especially to April for opening her home and for using her amazing photo skills to take such beautiful pictures of the food.

Be sure to join us on May 12 at 7:30 at Carrie Christensen’s house for a truly unforgettable cook-off: CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES AND HOMEMADE ICE CREAM! Please, please come be a judge and taster if you don’t have time to make anything, because the more mouths we have the more accurate are the results of the judging!



A great turn-out!


Sautéed Greens


2 bunches Swiss chard

1 Tbs olive or grapeseed oil

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

sea salt

balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS: Rinse the greens well, remove stems and blot leaves dry with paper or kitchen towels. Chop leaves and set aside. Sauté garlic and oil over low heat until fragrant. Add leaves, turn heat to medium low, and cover until leaves wilt. When they turn bright green, add a pinch of salt and mix, then cover. As soon as all the leaves are soft, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and stir. Turn off the heat, but leave pan on the burner for a few minutes for the vinegar to be absorbed.


Gumbo Z’herbes


5 bunches, or more, of assorted greens (see note)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup of canola oil
1/4 cup of all purpose flour
2 quarts of reserved cooking water
1 cup of chopped onion
1/2 cup of chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup of chopped celery
Ham hock or ham bone
2 or 3 pounds of assorted diced meats (see below)

1 cup uncooked rice (I used brown)
1-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, or to taste
About 6 turns of freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning (like Slap Ya Mama)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
Red pepper flakes, optional
File powder, optional
Hot pepper sauce, optional, to taste


DIRECTIONS: Wash greens thoroughly (several times if necessary) and strip leaves away from the stems. Discard stems. Rough chop the greens and add them to a tall stockpot and cover with water. Add the onion and garlic, stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Scoop greens out of the cooking liquid (you'll want to reserve 2 quarts of the liquid) and set aside 2 cups of drained greens. Puree the remaining greens in a food processor and set aside.
In a heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot, heat the canola oil and stir in the flour; cook, stirring constantly until the mixture turns the color of peanut butter. Add the 1 cup chopped onion and the bell pepper and celery and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Scoop out 2 cups of the cooking liquid and begin slowly stirring that into the roux, until well blended; continue until you have added 2 quarts of the liquid to the roux. Add the pureed greens, plus the reserved whole greens to the pot, and stir in the seasonings. If you are using a ham bone or ham hocks, add those here. Cut any other meat you are using into equal sized pieces, and saute in a separate skillet with a bit of canola oil.  Add the meat and pan drippings to the pot of greens. Add the rice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 1-1/2 hours.
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Serve over hot rice, sprinkle with file, if desired, and pass hot sauce at the table.

Suggested greens: Choose at least five different forms of greens, though you can actually use as many as you like, but keep it an odd number of them for good luck.  Collards, turnips or mustard greens, kale, spinach, watercress, arugula, sorrel, chicory, cabbage, green leaf lettuce (not iceberg), carrot or beet tops, flat leaf parsley, dandelion greens are a few good choices. You can substitute frozen greens for part, but not all of the greens in the recipe, but try to use as much fresh as possible to balance it out.

Suggested meats to add: 3 to 4 pounds of a mixture of meats can be used, including Mexican Chorizo sausage, Italian sausage, Bratwurst or other raw ground pork (remove from casing and brown), smoked meats such as ham, smoked sausage, ham hocks, smoked turkey legs, wings, or smoked neck bones, stew meat, bacon, veal, or brisket, are all good choices. Cut any other meat you are using into equal sized pieces, and saute in a separate skillet with a bit of canola oil.  Then add the meat and pan drippings to the pot of greens.


Crazy Corn Casserole

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4 strips bacon

1 yellow onion, diced

1 red pepper, diced

4 green onions, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 16-oz. bag frozen corn, defrosted

2 8-oz. packages TGI Friday’s brand spinach artichoke dip

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream

1/2 tsp salt

a few twists of black peper

1/2 colby jack cheese, shredded

DIRECTIONS: Cook bacon, snip into bite-sized pieces with kitchen shears. Saute onions and peppers until golden. Add garlic and saute one minute more. Add corn and bacon. Nuke artichoke dip until just melted and add to pan. Add yogurt, salt and pepper. Mix to combine. Pour into a casserole dish. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until golden brown.


Southern Parfaits


1 package yellow cake mix

1 package Jell-O vanilla pudding

Fresh fruit

Whipped cream

DIRECTIONS: Prepare cake and pudding according to package directions, Layer cake, pudding, fruit, and whipped cream in mason cars until full. End with whipped cream and a few pieces of fruit for garnish.


Southern Split Pea Soup


Pecan Pralines


2 cups granulated sugar

1 cups half-and-half

1/3 stick butter

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups whole pecans  

DIRECTIONS: Combine all ingredients except the pecans in a heavy saucepan. Over medium heat stir mixture until it comes to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low and continue to stir. Spoon mixture up on sides of pan to melt any sugar that hasn't melted.

Cook until mixture reaches 238 to 241 degrees F on a candy thermometer or soft ball stage. Stir in the pecans. Remove from heat. Stir until the mixture begins to thicken and becomes creamy and cloudy. Drop onto parchment paper, buttered pan or buttered marble slab, using a spoon or ice cream scoop. Let cool.


Homemade Wheat Rolls and Chicken Salad




Derby Pie


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fondant 101

First, a few details about fondant: it’s an edible clay made of sugar that you can roll out, cut, and sculpt to decorate your cakes. You can buy commercial fondant at craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s, or you can make your own fondant at home out of marshmallows. The commercial fondant is very smooth, predictable, and stiff enough to work extremely well for sculpting, making ribbons and bows, and other 3-D decorations. However, it’s quite expensive and doesn’t taste particularly good. The marshmallow fondant tastes YUMMY and is cheap, but it takes time to make, doesn’t always come out exactly the same, and is very soft and stretchy, which makes it challenging to use in sculpting or 3-D decoration. Some ways to work around this problem are to chill the fondant very well before attempting to cut ribbons, bows, or to make figures. You can also mix half marshmallow fondant with half commercial fondant for a stiffer product. Any 3-D figures or decorative pieces that need to stand up or hold a certain shape ought to be made several days ahead of time and given time to dry for maximum success.

At the fondant 101 class the sisters learned how to make marshmallow fondant, then used pre-made batches to cover and decorate their own cakes. Here is the recipe:

1 16-oz bag mini marshmallows

2 Tbs water

1 32-oz (2 lb) bag powdered sugar (you will only use about 3/4 of the bag)


Place the marshmallows and water in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring between each, until marshmallows are completely melted. If the mixture seems very hot, continue to stir, or let sit on the counter for a few minutes, to let it cool down. (Overly hot marshmallow mixture can lead to lumps of powdered sugar in the fondant.) Stir in about two cups of powdered sugar until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Use shortening to grease a large circle on your countertop, and then grease your hands very well. Pour the mixture onto the circle, pour more powdered sugar over, and start kneading the dough to work in the sugar. Since Colorado is so dry you will not use the entire 32-oz bag. Continue adding sugar and kneading until the dough (very much like bread dough) becomes smooth, elastic, and loses most of its stickiness. Form into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

When you’re ready to use the fondant, remove it from the plastic wrap and microwave it for 8-12 seconds—just enough to take the chill off and to soften it a little, without heating or melting it.

Use a sock or nylon filled with cornstarch to dust your work surface and keep the fondant from sticking. As you roll out your circle, continually run your hands underneath it to ensure that it is not sticking to the countertop, dusting underneath the fondant each time with your sock.

Take your chilled cake out of the fridge (a cold, firm cake is much easier to cover; havING the frosting dry and firm will keep it from smearing on your fondant). I like to spritz my cake with a little water (in a spray bottle) to help the fondant stick. Using your hands or your rolling pin, transfer the fondant circle onto the top of your cake, then begin smoothing with your hands on the top of the cake and down the sides. You want to press, smooth, and stretch the fondant around the sides of the cake to avoid wrinkles and pleats. Once the cake is covered and the fondant is smooth, press the fondant firmly into the base of the cake with the sides of your hands, then, using a pizza cutter or a small knife, cut around the base of the cake to remove the excess fondant. Wrap the excess tightly in plastic wrap until you’re ready to use it to decorate.

A word about your frosted cake: it doesn’t matter if the frosting isn’t perfect, if it has crumbs in it, for example, because no one will see it. The most important thing is that it be smooth. Lumps and bumps in your frosting will be lumps and bumps under your fondant, so use a large metal spatula or a dough scraper (with your cake on a lazy susan) to get the frosting as smooth as possible and to get the cake as uniformly shaped as possible. If your cake is lopsided, you can usually even it out by building up the frosting on one side.

You can tint fondant with food coloring—just put some shortening on your hands (because it will get STICKY), and wear gloves if you don’t want to stain your hands.

Once you’re ready to decorate, simply think of the fondant as fabric that you can cut into a variety of shapes (using cookie cutters or an small knife) or drape in swags, or as clay that you can mold into balls, flowers, or figures. When you attach things to the fondant you do not want to use water, because if any drips onto your cake it will be sticky and shiny and will not dry, and you will have SPOTS! I use vodka because the alcohol evaporates immediately and does not stain the fondant. As most of you probably don’t have access to a jug of vodka, you can also use lemon juice or clear extract (vanilla, almond, etc). Be sure to use a CLEAN paintbrush to apply the liquid.

And the pictures!

Kathy has covered her cake and is starting to build her tulip design:



She mixed food coloring and vodka to make paint for her tulip so that she could have gradations of color rather than tinting the fondant itself.



After painting she used an edible marker to add other details.



All done!



Becky used pink and yellow fondant to make a gumball border around the base of her cake.



Then she used cookie cutters to create flowers for the top of her cake.



Raechel made a batch of pink fondant to put stripes on her cake.



Our lovely assistant Kendra works on fondant roses for Raechel’s cake.



Here is Raechel’s finished cake.



The ladies in the second class dug right in and starting rolling and covering.



Ami makes sure her fondant is smooth and dry.



Allison checks for stickiness.



Amy’s friend Cindy works her biceps rolling out the sugar paste.



Ami is beginning to trim off the excess fondant.



Camille is covered and is starting to trim.



Joanna uses her hands to perfectly smooth her fondant covered cake.



Allison looks like a pro as she removes the excess.



Allison made a great start on her Angry Ducks cake—we can’t wait to see the finished product.



Amber’s tic-tac-toe cake.



Joanna’s beautifully simple ode to spring.



Camille’s adorable Mardi Gras Valentine cake.



Amy and Cindy’s team effort: a completely adorable celebration cake.



They’d better wear the same clothes when they eat it, because it all just matches too well.



Ami decided to decorate her cake for a friend who just had a baby named Charlotte, so she cut out blocks to spell out the name while Kendra worked on a teddy bear for the top. You can see by his slouched position that marshmallow fondant is tough to use for sculpting!

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