Tag Archives: food

122. Bread Pudding, the Kind You Eat With a Spoon

26 Feb

Two Sister's Prize-winning Bread Pudding

Two Sister’s Kitchen Prize-winning Bread Pudding

On my last trip to MS, I enjoyed something I hadn’t had since forever (or a few days shy of it anyhow): bread pudding. Ok, I should qualify this by saying that have tasted quite a few menu items called bread pudding, but here in the Pacific Northwest, emphasis is on the bread, while pudding is an afterthought. Sure, the name leads off with “bread” and said ingredient comprises most of the dish, but in my mind pudding trumps bread every time. Although to be fair, bread should be considered a high card in my Richard Simmons Deal-a-Meal deck. Anyone remember those?

Attention restauranteurs: If a dish requires a fork–or worse yet, a knife–for successful consumption, it ought not be called a pudding. Unless one is British and in the habit of calling any and all sweet endings to a meal “pudding.” Yep, Gordon Ramsay, I’m giving you a pass, even though I’m still holding a grudge about how you made gnocchi look so simple to make on one of your TV shows. It. Is. Not! But I digress…

Based on my traumatic experiences with red velvet cake around these parts, I realize I’d be better off avoiding any semblance of bread pudding here, but that’s nigh impossible. Like Sam in Quantum Leap, I keep ordering the stuff hoping each time that the next bread pudding will be the metaphorical “leap home.”

I can’t tell y’all how many times I’ve succumbed to the siren song of a delectable-sounding dessert listing only to be served a slice of chewy so-called bread pudding. Yes, folks, a slice! I’ll happily devour slices of cake, pie, tarts and, of course, bread. But if there’s any way to slice it, pudding isn’t pudding.

Delicious? Probably. Pudding? Not so much.

Delicious? Probably. Pudding? Not so much.

As soon as I caught a glimpse of the bread pudding at Two Sister’s Kitchen in Jackson, MS, I knew I’d have to pace myself. While I would’ve loved to dig in to more crispy, crunchy fried okra and scrumptious salty biscuits, I managed to save room for the bread pudding. It was speaking to me, y’all. With a megaphone.

When the waitress asked my sister and I if we wanted the B.P. with or without hard sauce, the answer was quick: Duh! When offered the choice between something sweet and something sweet with something sweeter on top of it, these two sisters always go for the latter.

Extra! Click pic and read all about it.

Extra! Click pic and read all about it.

Lo and behold, this was everything B.P. should be–warm, mushy, spoonable, and sweeter than Tupelo honey. I didn’t detect any of the so-called hardness in the sauce (hard as in liquor), but occasionally folks skimp on it either for economic reasons or perhaps to appease Baptist patrons.

Also, this particular B.P. featured nary a raisin, which I considered part of its charm.

I wish I could serve up a scoop of this delicacy to anyone who’s only ever experienced it by the slice. Since that’s a wee bit impractical, I’ll leave y’all with a recipe.

Why didn't somebody tell me about this!!

Why didn’t somebody tell me about this!!

A couple of caveats, I think there ought to be a higher ratio of liquid to bread, seeing as mine always leans a little too far toward the slice-y side for my taste, but I haven’t quite figured out the proper proportions. Next time, I’ll add an extra cup of milk and see how it goes…

I usually manage to botch the first batch of hard sauce, but when I made this for my book club potluck brunch on Saturday using the following recipe, it turned out beautifully (and tastefully). Folks were pouring it on top of everything: baked Bananas Foster oatmeal, apple cinnamon muffins, rhubarb cake, even–wait for it–fresh blueberries. (We may be nerdy book lovers, but boy can we cook!)

Also, while planning ahead is not part of my DNA, I find that prepping this the night before allows time for A. Bread to reach maximum saturation and more importantly, B. sleeping in.

Where’s your favorite place to order bread pudding? Have you ever tried the oh-so-decadent Krispy Kreme variety? Please do tell!

Sort of Authentic Southern-Style Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit with a little help from Paula Deen.

For the pudding:
7 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
3 cups whole milk (or 2%, if that’s how you roll), warmed up a bit
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-lb. loaf of bread (I like to use brioche or challah, but most any non-savory bread ought to work, except maybe Wonder)

(Note: Additional ingredients are needed for topping and sauce, so read on to make sure you have everything or–if you’re like me–workable substitutes.)

If your bread isn’t already stale, tear it to bits and toast in the oven till slightly brown. By the time you gather the other ingredients, it should be ready.

Butter a 9 x13 baking dish and find somewhere to stash it till needed.

Whisk eggs in large bowl. Add milk, sugar, cream, melted butter, and vanilla then whisk to blend well. Toss in the bread and mush it around till everything’s saturated. Pour it in the baking dish and refrigerate overnight or at least a couple of hours.

For the topping:
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and while you’re waiting mix together:

1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Sprinkle mixture as evenly as possible atop the bread pudding, then bake till puffed and golden–about an hour. (Oh, and you’ll want to put the casserole dish on a baking sheet. I did not and had a heck of a mess at the bottom of the oven.)

For the rum sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. rum
Cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

Bon Appetit says:
Stir brown sugar and butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add cream, rum, and spices and bring to simmer. Simmer until sauce thickens and is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

This took me WAY longer to accomplish. Probably because I usually opt for the less is more approach when it comes to heat. Also, because I don’t really know what a “simmer” looks like so every time a few bubbles started popping up, I panicked and turned down the heat. I stirred and stirred, but the stuff just wasn’t thickening. I considered tossing in some cornstarch, but didn’t. Finally, I turned up the heat, bubbles be damned, and it started to thicken up just a bit. Then I ran out of time and just poured the stuff in a faux Tupperware container and headed out. By the time I got to the book club brunch, it was just right.

Photo Credits: Bourbon Bread Pudding by awiskandaspoon, Flickr Creative Commons; Two Sister’s pics and BP Throwdown from eatjackson.com.

118. Goodbye Hostess, Hello Little Debbie

11 Jan

One of my Southern friends once confided in me that she suspected her boyfriend had taken up with another woman. “Who?” I asked. Her reply: “Little Debbie.”

Ah, yes, it’s difficult for any red-blooded Southerner to resist the siren song of that little tart. Or more accurately, that little fudge brownie, honey bun, powdered donut, Swiss cake roll, what have you…After all, not only is Little Debbie cheap (and easy), she’s ever-so well preserved.

Sure, Betty Crocker, Sara Lee, and Aunt Jemima may age gracefully on your pantry shelf, but I’m convinced that Little Debbie could survive the Zombie Apocalypse. That’s how I know Cormac McCarthy didn’t set his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road in the South. The never-named father and son happened upon a Coke that one time, but there was nary a Little Debbie snack cake to be found. Which just isn’t natural.

Breakfast of champions!

What sets Little Debbie apart from convenience store counterparts like Twinkies (R.I.P), Zingers, and such? Aren’t all cellophane-wrapped pastries created equal? Well, sort of. But also not really.

Each Little Debbie package features an illustration of a cheerful little girl in a straw hat who looks like she’d enjoy jumping rope or swinging on the front porch and would most likely never throw a Wii remote at the TV. That’s little Debbie, the granddaughter of the company’s founder, O.D. McKee (wouldn’t that be a great band name?).

Debbie does...everything!!

Debbie does…everything!!

While you may find the occasional single-serve Star Crunch or Pecan Spinwheel, you almost always have to buy Little Debbie snacks in the family pack. I see this as a metaphor for Southern relationships in general.

But even though you have to take 5 to 11 extra treats when one would suffice, they come individually wrapped, so you can enjoy them at your leisure.

When I packed up my car and headed west nearly two decades ago, my friends treated me to a going away lunch and presented me with a big bag of goodies for the road. I remember seeing Little Debbie smiling up at me from a package of Oatmeal Creme Pies. Though I haven’t had one in years, I can still recall the taste of freedom, independence, lasting friendships, nostalgia, and, of course, high-fructose corn syrup. Yum!

What Little Debbies are made of…

After snapping this pic in my local grocery store, I decided that it might be time for some homemade Little Debbie-style treats. I Googled upon The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for oatmeal creme pies, which I quickly added to my ever-growing to bake list. Also, I noticed that her avatar looks strangely familiar. Check it out and see if you agree.

Oh! And what’s your favorite Little Debbie treat? Please do tell!

115. Crisco–It’s Digestible, Y’all!

9 Nov

Surely this can’t be true, y’all. I’ve expounded on 114 topics and have yet to discuss Crisco? In my defense, I’ve lived outside the South for nearly two decades and have encountered this Dixie staple just about as often as I’ve seen folks back home wearing sweaters in July. (Not counting anybody in my sister’s house where the air-conditioner’s always set to “Arctic.”)

I’m happy to note that during my time as an expat, I’ve never once had a run-in with Crisco’s ugly step-sister, Butter-Flavored Crisco. While friends and longtime readers probably already know this, I feel I should mention that I’m vehemently opposed to butter-flavored anything that doesn’t derive said flavor from actual, made-from-cow-milk butter.

Don’t forget to add Crisco!

Oh, but I must fess up and admit that this wasn’t always the case, as evidenced by a recipe I ran across the other day. (Part of my ongoing family recipe collection project–after 10 years, I’m still in phase 1.) I found a chocolate-chip cookie recipe that called for Butter-Flavored Crisco, which I’d attributed to myself! My shock and horror was twofold: A. That I’d once considered BFC an appropriate ingredient and B. That I’d copied the recipe from someone and slapped my name on it, seeing as I “wrote” the recipe long before I started baking as a professional hobbyist.

Whoever I fed those cookies to, I apologize. My bad. My very, very bad.

But back to Crisco, regular flavor. As far as I know, Crisco mainly serves two functions in Southern kitchens: deep frying and pie-crust making. That’s why you’ll often find a photo of crispy chicken or a double-crusted pie on the can. I can see how picturing just a glob of Crisco on the label might be detrimental to sales.

White wedding:
courtesy of Crisco?

Some folks even substitute Crisco for part or all of the butter in frosting and have the nerve to call it “buttercream,” but I try not to think about such unpleasant things. I know people will argue that it looks/holds up better, so let’s just agree to disagree. When it comes to food, I choose flavor over beauty every time. And for the love of Pete (whoever he is), please don’t use clear vanilla flavoring just so the frosting will be as white as the bride’s dress. Most likely, she’s not that pristine herself. But I’m not one to gossip.

Recently, I listened to a podcast that talked about the history of Crisco (not for research or anything, just because I’m nerdy like that). Turns out that two factors greatly contributed to its invention: Sinclair Lewis and the light bulb. The popularity of Lewis’ The Jungle (an expose on the meat packing industry disguised as a novel) made folks a bit leery of lard with passages such as:

They worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor…. their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting, sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

Yum! And the light bulb? Thanks to that handy invention, Procter and Gamble’s candle sales were flickering out, and they had an abundance of cottonseed oil nobody knew what to do with…

Until! A German chemist named E.C. Kayser showed up with a ball of fat he’d concocted in a lab. Yes, folks, this was the start of hydrogenation.

From Better Homes & Gardens, December 1934

After a few failed attempts at naming the product (“Krispo”–trademark issues; “Chryst”–um, maybe not, y’all), P&G settled on Crisco, an abbreviation of crystallized cottonseed oil. The ad guys knew better to tout this as some sci-fi food-like substance. “From our lab to your table!” Nope, they played off folks’ fears of accidentally ingesting uncle Bob and pushed the healthy, all-vegetable angle. Ads featured recipes and benefits galore: flakier crusts, lighter cakes, less expense, all natural, and my favorite “It’s digestible!” Really, y’all, they used that one a lot.

100 years later and folks still rely on Crisco for frying, baking, greasing up
pigs at the fair and whatnot. As Loretta Lynn told us in the 80’s “Crisco’ll do you proud every time!”

Do you use Crisco? Tub or sticks? What for? Please keep it PG, people.

Photo credits: Crisco can circa 1970 by RoadsidePictures, Flickr Creative Commons; cookie dough by Sara R, Flickr Creative Commons; wedding cake by Graceful Cake Creations, Flickr Creative Commons

Stuff I, Myself, Like

26 Oct

Available at Pink Tulip of Daphne’s Etsy store

I’m working on a super-secret new project for Stuff Southern People Like, which I hope to launch next week. Meanwhile, I wanted to share some fun stuff I’ve discovered on my recent travels along the information superhighway.

One of my most popular posts has been Butter My Butt and Call Me a Biscuit (and other Colorful Expressions), so I figure y’all will just eat this up. When I ran across the clip on YouTube, I was happier than a pig in slop (but also madder than a wet hen that I didn’t think of it first).

I’ve neglected, thus far, to post about one of my all-time favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, but this prompts me to get around to it sooner than later. It’s an audio clip from a lecture she did at UL Lafayette she did in ’62 that was found in a filing cabinet last year. I’ve transcribed it for my Yankee readers, seeing as her accent is thick as Tupelo honey.

“A few young Southern writers feel about the South the way Joyce felt about Ireland, that it will devour them. They would like to set their stories in a region whose way of life seems nearer the spirit of what they think they have to say. Better, they would like to eliminate the region altogether. But you cannot proceed at all if you cut yourself off from the sights and sounds that have built up a life of their own in your senses and which carry a culture in them. The image of the South is so strong in us that it is a force which has to be encountered and engaged. It is when this is a true engagement that its meaning will lead outward to universal human interest.” Flannery O’Connor

Faulkner as “The Sound and the Fury”
by John Sokol

I’m a writer, so I’m biased, but I just LOVE the intersection of literary and visual arts. Artist John Sokol does amazing portraits of writers using their own words. His rendition of Faulkner is my favorite, but y’all should check out the entire collection, which also includes Miss Welty.

On my recent trip to MS, I noticed that the Pacific Northwest trend of putting birds on everything has migrated down South. This clip from Portlandia offers a hilarious take on it. Note to Etsy types, if you want me to buy something, put a WORD on it. (Also, I must confess that I am also partial to stuff adorned with images of birds.)

Earlier this week, I saw a presentation at Book Larder (a cookbook book store, y’all! Southern entrepreneurs, take note!) by two delightful young ladies who started up a candy business called Liddabit Sweets in Brooklyn. They just published a candy cookbook, which I cannot recommend highly enough for anybody who’s ever suffered from fudge failures and caramelization catastrophes. They demystify candymaking and include helpful troubleshooting photos. I’m still devouring the book and haven’t attempted a recipe yet, but I tasted their homemade marshmallows and was sold.

Caveat: Seeing as they’re east coasters, there are a few items missing from their candy repertoire–pralines, divinity, coconut balls, etc.–but don’t hold that against them. Also, they use way more walnuts than any Southerner would find socially acceptable, but it’s easy to substitute edible nuts.

Discussion question: When you buy Halloween candy, do you load up on the good stuff and hope for few trick-or-treaters or is that just me? What are your favorites? I usually go for Snickers, Almond Joy, and the occasional Kit Kat.

113. We All Scream for Blue Bell Ice Cream

12 Oct

The other day, my dad was telling me about some really good homemade ice cream he’d eaten. I said, “Was it actually homemade or was it Blue Bell?” He said, “Oh! It was the Blue Bell Homemade.”

That’s a flavor, y’all.

Once my parents discovered Blue Bell’s “Homemade Vanilla” they never looked back at the bad old days of ice and rock salt. Why bother if you can get yourself a half-gallon of homemade-ish ice cream for $5.99 at Kroger in less than ten minutes, depending on how fast the “express” line moves.

I, myself, was skeptical, but when I tasted the “Homemade Vanilla,” I had to agree that it was good stuff. Flavorwise, anyway. (I’ll spare y’all the commentary on high fructose corn syrup. You’re welcome!) But does it live up to folks’ claims that it “tastes just like homemade”? Sort of. But also, not really. Seeing as I haven’t had the opportunity to do a side-by-side taste test, I couldn’t say for sure. How can one possibly expect accurate results when comparing ice cream stored in memory with a spoonful “fresh” from the freezer?

Folks in Texas have been enjoying Blue Bell ice cream for the better part of a century. I’m not sure when distribution expanded to other Southern states and then up and over to parts of the midwest, but I do know when Blue Bell arrived in Seattle. The 12th of Never, unfortunately. Nor can the brand be found anywhere in Washington state, Oregon, or California, not for lack of trying on my part. One day, as I perused my grocer’s freezer a brief moment of elation ensued when I spotted the brand “Blue Bunny.” Alas, this was a case of mistaken identity…

A grocer’s freezer, not near me.

If you happen to be burdened with an overabundance of filthy lucre, the folks at Blue Bell will happily overnight four half gallons to your home or office for $129. Which at first glance seems a bit spendy, but seeing as I’ve been known to pay $4 for a scoop of Molly Moon’s salted caramel maybe the math works out. Sadly, I don’t have room for four tubs of ice cream in my freezer, so it’s a moot point. (Unless y’all can help me convince Geoff that I need a deep freeze.)

Blue Bell has a vast selection of regular and seasonal flavors, but I’ve only tried the “Homemade Vanilla.” I can’t recall finding any other kind in stock at my dad’s house. Of course, that doesn’t explain why I opted for the same flavor when I lucked upon a purveyor of Blue Bell while passing through a Texas airport terminal on a trip to MS last Christmas. Or why I got the same kind on the way back home.

Looking over their flavor selection, I’ve decided I need to branch out more. Sadly, I’ll miss the August flavors Southern Blackberry Cobbler and Strawberry Cheesecake. But maybe I’ll find the Pecan Pralines & Cream or the seasonal Christmas Cookies (which, it seems, is also a summer flavor known as Christmas Cookies in July).

Follow that truck!

What I’m really hoping to try is the flavor I heard about from my friend Julie who moved back to Texas for grad school last year. When she was surveying the Blue Bell selection, a friendly older gentleman kept pushing her towards his favorite, Banana Pudding, which he described thusly, “It’s like pudding, but it’s ice cream!”

Pass me the tub. Also, a spoon.

What’s your favorite Blue Bell flavor? And do you think the Homemade Vanilla is worthy of its name?

Photo Credits: BB Homemade Vanilla by kusine, Flickr Creative Commons; BB freezer display by headexplodie, Flickr Creative Commons; BB truck by .imelda, Flickr Creative Commons.

111. Hello Dollies, Goodbye Girlish Figure

12 Sep

A Hello Dolly by any other name still tastes as sweet

Folks up here call these delicacies “magic cookie bars,” but in the South they’re called Hello Dollies. Why, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps because they inspire folks to burst into song? I can, however, see why people think they’re “magic,” seeing as they’re easier than pie to make (even using storebought crust) and more addictive than crack. Not that I’ve actually compared the additive qualities of the two substances. I’m merely speculating. However, I’d be willing to wager that they’re easier to make than crack or at least crystal meth, considering all the complicated shenanigans on Breaking Bad.

Anyhoo, after I graduated from the Easy Bake Oven to the actual kitchen stove, Hello Dollies were some of the first baked treats I mastered. Considering that they’re nigh impossible to mess up, I think they ought to be adopted as the entry level Home Ec project as opposed to the more challenging Rice Krispies treats, which can potentially be disastrous. (Ok, maybe not for most people. But perhaps most people when faced with the conundrum of using large marshmallows instead of the traditional mini version might ignore their Home Ec partner when she suggests melting the marshmallows one at a time and thus avoid making “treats” that resemble concrete, only slightly more difficult to bite into.)

I can.

Folks, Hello Dollies are so easy to make that creating a bad one requires malice aforethought, such as substituting carob for chocolate chips, walnuts for pecans, or using fat-free sweetened condensed milk. As y’all may know, I’m of the opinion that the word “free” ought not be found in any dessert recipe. However, if you want to include that word in the price, by all means, go right ahead! I believe I’ve also made clear my position on alternate fat sources like margarine or the unfortunately named “Buttery Stick,” But in case you missed it, I’ll sum up: Just no.

For Hello Dollies, you’ll need just a few staples that are most likely already in your cabinet/fridge/deep freeze. Namely, graham crackers, butter, chocolate chips, flaked coconut, pecans, and sweetened condensed milk.

Once you’ve gathered all that and a baking dish (I prefer 8 1/2” x 11″, but they’re nearly impossible to find so a 9” x 13” will do), melt a stick of butter and put it in the bottom of said baking dish. Then crush up about one sleeve of graham crackers and mix them in with the butter to make a crust. I just keep adding more till I get a firm, not too buttery-looking foundation. Then layer on a package of chocolate chips, some shredded coconut (the pre-sweetened kind), and some pecans that have been chopped and toasted (forgot to mention that step).

Serving size: 1

Pop an opening on the can of sweetened condensed milk with the rarely used pointy end of a bottle opener, and then make an identical opening directly opposite the first (both on top of the can). Now, here comes the fun part: drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the top of the prepared layers. You could remove the top of the can and drizzle with a spoon or something, but it’s not nearly as exciting. (Did I mention I started doing this as a kid when I had more free time and was more easily entertained?)

Once you’ve drizzled all that will drizzle, carefully remove the top from the can with a can opener (beware the sharp points!). Scoop up the remaining sweetened condensed milk with your finger and lick. Repeat as necessary. Sometimes a plastic spatula is helpful for getting out those elusive last drops. Please note that eating sweetened condensed milk from the can like this is dangerous for children under, say, 27 so you should perform this task yourself. Oh, and also, you should put the pan in the oven and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until it looks brown and bubbly on top. I recommend eating this while it’s hot (also not advised for children) but room temperature also works.

Courtesy of sweet and talented Jessie aka CakeSpy. Click to visit her fabulous blog.

If you have any leftovers (hah!), they freeze and reheat nicely in the microwave. (The only reason I know this is because I live with someone who hates both pecans and coconut. However, if you take a pan of these to any gathering of three or more, you will come home with an empty baking dish. Not just empty — scraped clean!)

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little extra spendy, I’ll do a version of these I learned from my friend Gina (of the add-marshmallows-one-at-a-time debacle). Follow the same (half-ass, I know) directions but also add a package of butterscotch chips, a package of peanut butter chips, and a package of mini baking M & M’s.

When serving Hello Dollies, you might want to make sure there’s an adequate number of comfortable horizontal surfaces nearby because they’ve been known to cause sudden and prolonged sugar comas. Consider yourself warned.

Hello Dollies Quick Reference Recipe
1 stick melted butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup coconut
12 oz. package chocolate chips (more or less to taste)
1 cup nuts
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Make crust with the melted butter and graham cracker crumbs. Layer other ingredients as listed. Drizzle sweetened condensed milk over the top and bake at 350 until tan on top.

Ok, show of hands, who likes eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can?

109. Hushpuppies–The Best Use of Corn Since Bread

4 Sep

Hushpuppies by Sugarcrafter—click for recipe.

I recently dined at a place that sounded awesome on paper: Southern small plates. Which I realize sounds like an oxymoron to some and a tragedy to others, but small plates are all the rage here in Seattle. The concept comes to us from Spain where small portions of scrumptious appetizers (called tapas) are ordered and shared amongst friends. The plates tend toward the $3 to $5 range and you might need four or five to make a meal for two, which would make for an economical evening out were it not for the tasty (and spendy!) libations. (My friend Karen introduced me to a great Spanish tapas place recently, and I couldn’t resist saying, “Why, yes, I do believe I will have another lemon drop!” Fresh squeezed lemon juice, vodka, and a sugared glass rim. What’s not to love? Unless you’re Baptist, in which case the answer is “vodka.”)

Ok, back to the hushpuppies, y’all…

They looked sort of like these,
but slightly more burned
and the sauce had an orange hue.

So at the Southern small plates joint the first thing I ordered was hushpuppies. This is a mistake I’ve made repeatedly in Seattle, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive five overcooked spheres of dough, each roughly the size of a gum ball. Maybe a jumbo gum ball, but still. I’m not usually a numbers person, but I couldn’t help doing the math: this $6 plate worked out to $1.25 per hushpuppy. This might have been ok had they been delicious or even edible. Upon taking the first bite, I discovered that the “hushpuppy” interior was an odd shade of orange speckled with bits of red bell pepper (a departure from the typical Seattle hushpuppy add-in: jalapeños). Despite the peppers, the hushpuppy was oddly flavorless, not to mention DRY, but I guess I just did. Perhaps that’s why they were served with a dipping sauce. I dunked the second hushpuppy in the orange dipping sauce, which rendered it even less appetizing than the first. Ick! I’d go on recounting the culinary infractions at this particular establishment, but that would require thinking about them again. In retrospect, I should have known the place would be a disappointment when I saw the dessert selections, which included: fruit cobbler, cheesecake, and ice cream. Fruit cobbler and ice cream (priced separately!) might pass, but I’ve never considered cheesecake to be a Southern delicacy. Delicious? Indeed. But not Southern, y’all.

Now that I’ve rambled on about what all hushpuppies are not, I’ll attempt to explain what they are. Your basic hushpuppy features a batter made from cornmeal, flour, and milk. Some people add an egg or occasionally a diced onion. You drop a blob of batter into hot oil and in a minute or two you’ve got a moist, delicious—if somewhat bland—hushpuppy. Sometimes they’re roundish, sometimes tubular, sometimes abstract shapes, but usually, yes, a little bland. That’s how we like ‘em, y’all!

What tends to give Southern hushpuppies flavor is that they’re fried in the same oil as the catfish. According to my dad, hushpuppies were invented at a fish fry on account of a yapping dog. Supposedly, the cook dropped some catfish batter into the oil, tossed it to the dog and said, “Hush, puppy!” Various versions of this tale exist on the Internet, but it seems a bit farfetched to me. I mean, who first wrestled the fried dough away from the dog and decided it tasted good? And also, anyone who’s dealt with dogs at suppertime knows that tossing food at them doesn’t make them hush for more than a moment. After that, they commence to begging more loudly and aggressively than ever. So this may or may not be how hushpuppies were invented, but it does make a great story for kids.

In Seattle where there’s a dearth of catfish, you’ll generally find hushpuppies served as a side with BBQ (not a bad idea—Southern restauranteurs take note!). After my seemingly endless convalescence last summer, my friend Linda kindly took me to a BBQ place in the next town over (recommended by my friend and fellow Southern small plate victim, Tricia). Lo and behold, it was the first place in Seattle where the pulled pork didn’t require sauce. Better still, the tender, smoke-infused meat was served alongside some large, fluffy hushpuppies! Made from scratch, fried to order, and dusted lightly on the outside with a little salt. Yum! They come with the meal, and you can get an extra side of five hushpuppies for $3. Twice the size of the trendy joint, half the price, and 100 times tastier.

What’s your favorite place to get hushpuppies? Are there any BBQ joints in the South that serve them? Please name names, seeing as I get back for a visit at least once a year.

Photo credits: Hushpuppies by Sugarcrafter, Other Hushpuppies by Martin & Jessica O’Brien–Flickr Creative Commons, Slap-yo-mama Hushpuppies by Jeff Balke–Flickr Creative Commons, Hushpuppie sign by pecanpieguy–Flickr Creative Commons.

107. Coconut Cake–Paradise on a Plate

28 Aug

Four layers of coconuttyness by The Thrillbilly Gourmet

If you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time, you’ve most likely dined in one of Tom Douglas’s many fine establishments. Seeing as they’re second in number only to Starbucks, it isn’t hard to do. Unless you are broke and have no generous friends. Then it could be something of a challenge seeing as Tom doesn’t give it away.

“How does this relate to Southern coconut cake?” you may be wondering. Well, actually, it doesn’t. It relates to Tom’s triple coconut cream pie. I believe that means there’s coconut in the crust, filling, and whipped cream, but honestly, I’ve never slowed down enough to check. This is some MY-T-FINE pie, my friends. But what it isn’t is good old-fashioned coconut cake. Apparently, folks around these parts fail to recognize the awesomeness of said dessert. Either because they’ve never had it or because they don’t know what’s good.

Every Seattle baker and his/her Facebook friends are doing renditions of red velvet cake that range in flavor from so-so to what Gordon Ramsay might refer to as “the dog’s dinner,” but nobody’s even attempting coconut cake. Well, some of the local cupcake places sprinkle a few flakes of coconut on top of buttercream icing and call it coconut, which I suppose it technically is. But no. To my mind, coconut cake was, is, and forever shall be comprised of no less than two, but preferably three or more layers.

Dear Cupcake Royale, more icing, please!

Why are Southerners so fond of layer cakes? Simple: more icing per square inch. (Sorry, y’all, but I’ve been out of the South so long, I can’t remember if the correct word is “icing” or “frosting.” Somebody help me out here.) With a cupcake or sheet cake, there’s only one sad, lonely layer of icing. And woe be unto you if someone serves you a slice from the middle. Which, incidentally, never happens with a layer cake. You always get a wedge that includes at minimum three layers of frosting–top, middle, and side–and quite often you’ll encounter an extra middle layer. Pardon me for going all mathematical, but that’s a 3 to 2 or 4 to 3 ratio, which always trumps 1 to 1. At least as far as icing is concerned.

Please note that I’m not a cupcake or sheet cake hater. Anyone who knows me will vouch that I’m an equal opportunity cake eater. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for layer cake every time.

You might think from the name that a Southern coconut cake would feature a fair amount of coconut, coconut milk, or even the dreaded “coconut” flavoring. Nope, many coconut cakes contain nary a flake of coconut. They’re usually regular old white cake all dolled up in coconut frosting. Heaps of frosting with heaps of coconut. Not that anybody’s going to snub a cake with actual coconut in it, but…(Sorry, y’all, I just got sidetracked looking at photos of/recipes for coconut cake on the Internets. But now you have my undivided attention again. Except that I’m hungry.)

Well, anyhow, what makes a Southern coconut cake special is that it’s always super moist and the icing is usually slightly sticky. If you encounter a dry coconut cake with dry icing, run! Ok, that’s a bit drastic. Perhaps you should merely mosey along. Unless there’s no other dessert option, in which case, you’ll have to make do.

Here’s where I should probably tell y’all the secret to making a traditional Southern coconut cake. Sadly, I haven’t the foggiest. I live with an avowed coconut hater, so this particular cake is pretty far down on my to-bake list, seeing as I’d have to consume the whole thing myself. Not necessarily in one sitting, but still. I’ve thought about making one as a party/potluck contribution, but that would involve procuring a cake carrier. Which would involve finding a place to stow said carrier when not in use, and my cabinets exceeded maximum capacity three mixing bowls ago.

A few months back, as I perused a cookware store, a book called “Southern Cakes” beckoned me to come hither. And thither I went. After one glance at the stunning coconut cake on the cover, I promptly added the book to my library queue. (A shout out to my friend Linda who clued me in that one could check out cookbooks from the library. Who knew? Just be careful not to spill.) I made a few of the recipes—including one called “Celestial Chocolate Cake,” which turned out to be worthy of its name. If you like to bake (or just drool over pretty pictures) I highly recommend this particular cookbook. Also, it makes an excellent gift. Hint, hint!

In the meantime, I’ll leave y’all with my grandmother’s recipe. As always, the directions/measurements are vague, so your results may vary.

P.S. What’s your favorite Southern cake? Please do tell!

My Mom’s Mother’s Coconut Cake

3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 t baking powder
1 pinch soda
1 t vanilla

There are no mixing instructions, so use your best judgment. Also, I have no idea how long it should bake or at what temperature.

Filling:
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
Coconut (No amount specified. Add however much you want, I reckon.)

Cook filling in double boiler until it thickens. Add vanilla.

I believe my mom once mentioned that it’s better to make the cake the day before you plan to serve it. But I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been able to wait that long to eat cake.

Photo Credits: Coconut layer cake courtesy of The Thrillbilly Gourmet, Coconut cupcake by Sea Turtle–Flickr Creative Commons.

105. Sausage Balls–Way Tastier Than They Sound

10 Apr

If you’ve never encountered a sausage ball in the wild, you might think of this delicacy as something one would find atop a mound of spaghetti, but you would be mistaken. A sausage ball needs no accompaniment. It’s complete in and of itself, seeing as it contains three major Southern food groups: meat, cheese, and bread.

Sausage balls couldn’t be simpler to make (unless some ingenious person comes along with a heat & serve version). After all, there are only three ingredients: sausage, cheese, and Bisquick. Even so, there’s no real consensus among Southerners as to the ratio of said ingredients. Even amongst my closest friends and family the battle lines are drawn.

Our designated sausage ball maker used to turn up with perfect sausage balls every time. (Which, consequently, is how she came to be our designated sausage ball maker. Word of caution: Refrain from bringing anything especially delicious to a party unless you have the means and motivation to bring the same dish to every subsequent party in perpetuity.)

All was well on the sausage ball front until our S.B. maker took up with someone who was firmly ensconced in the small & greasy camp. Imagine our surprise (and disappointment and complaints) when she turned up again and again with sausage balls that were practically Bisquick-free. Why, Sandy, why?

We suffered through this for years seeing as nobody else could be bothered to step up and take over. Yes, sausage ball making is relatively simple, but it requires copious touching of raw meat. Also, you’ve got to purchase a gigantic box of Bisquick (there’s no small or even medium size), which will take up precious cabinet space for months or even years. Sure, the makers of Bisquick claim that it’s multi-purpose, but I’ve rarely seen it used for anything besides sausage balls or perhaps “homemade” Red Lobster cheddar biscuits.

“But do you NEED Bisquick?” one might ask. “Couldn’t you just use flour?” Oh, no, you absolutely could not. There’s not a brand of flour on the market that contains the all-important ingredient: partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil.

As far as I know, they have yet to start selling containers of that over by the Crisco. And, no, Crisco isn’t the same thing. It’s a unique blend of oil, fully hydrogenated oil, and partially hydrogenated oil. Yum!

My sister finally caved and started making her own version of sausage balls, which through the mystery of evolution became piggies. These still contain the requisite meat, cheese, and bread, but there’s no need to come in contact with raw meat, only meat juice from the cocktail weenies. Though I’m not sure which is worse.

What do y’all think? Do you prefer sausage balls, piggies, or some other meat/cheese/bread concoction that doesn’t involve touching unpleasant food or food-like substances?

Photo credit: Sausage ball photo courtesy of Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake, one of the best-named blogs ever!

103. Banana Pudding–Over-Ripe Fruit at Its Best

3 Apr

Southern banana pudding by Evil Shenanigans

One of the perks of being the child of a Southern Baptist preacher (besides, of course, having your most embarrassing childhood antics immortalized in sermons) is that folks occasionally show up at the house with food.

I would never admit to rating congregants based on the quality and frequency of their culinary gifts. But if I were to do such a churlish thing, the winner would be Donnie of the aforementioned chicken and dumplings. First runner up in the (imaginary, y’all) savory category goes to Vicky J.’s lasagna and garlic bread. However, Vicky takes first prize in the dessert category. “There’s a dessert category?” Does bacon come from pigs? (Surely, no one will argue that bacon can also come from turkey. That’s not bacon. That’s a travesty!)

Yes! We have no bananas...

Anyhoo, Vicky breezes past the competition with her banana pudding. Those of y’all who’ve never had banana pudding may be wondering how such a dish could ever win (an imaginary!) dessert contest. There’s not even chocolate in it, and nary a nut to be found. You might think of pudding as something only old folks, hospital prisoners, and people lacking tastebuds would eat. Oh, no. You’re probably thinking of banana-flavored pudding (or more often, chocolate-flavored, still no nuts).

Banana pudding is an entirely different creature. First of all, it starts with actual bananas. Not just any old bananas (or worse, new!). They should be slightly riper than you’d like with cereal, but nowhere near banana bread territory (or smoothie for Seattle folks). The other key components are pudding and Nilla Wafers.

Pick the middle one.

What makes Vicky’s banana pudding so delectable is that she has the optimal balance of ingredients. Some folks are stingy with the wafers. Some skimp on bananas. But Vicky’s banana pudding features an abundance of everything so that every time you dip the spoon, you get pudding, banana, and wafer all at once. (Anybody who eats with me on a regular basis has likely noticed that I’m a big fan of the “perfect bite.” It takes a bit longer to eat in this persnickety manner, but it’s worth it.)

When I went down to Memphis to welcome my newest nephew, Eli, my sister gave me a very important assignment (and if y’all know Jenna, you know how fond she is of giving assignments). She had Paula Deen’s banana pudding recipe and wanted me to whip up a batch and bring it to the hospital so she wouldn’t be forced to ingest institutional chocolate-flavored pudding or worse, green-flavored Jello.

One of the steps in Mrs. Deen’s recipe is to mix together a block of cream cheese with a can of sweetened condensed milk. I was tempted to stop right there and eat the whole bowl, but I feared the wrath of my sister and thus persevered.

Rather than use the traditional Nilla Wafers, Paula goes all fancy (and spendy) using Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies. I’m not sure they’re an improvement, but my tastebuds are heavily influenced by nostalgia, so I could be wrong. I’ve also heard of banana pudding made with Nutter Butter cookies, but haven’t tried it because I’d hate to end up on A&E’s “Intervention.”

While I’d never turn up my nose at Paula’s banana pudding, I’ll note that it IS made with boxed pudding mix (though thankfully NOT banana-flavored). I’ve tried my hand at a variety of banana pudding recipes over the years and my favorites are the made-from-scratch variety. Like my PerfectBite™, homemade custard takes a little more work, but it’s worth it. The next recipe I’m trying is from Evil Shenanigans, pictured at top.

What’s your favorite banana pudding recipe? Or if you don’t cook, where’s the best place to order it?