Friday, October 29, 2010

Spiced Beef Cornbread

 Halloween is by far my favorite holiday.  I think now, as an adult, it is because it is the kick off to the holiday season. As a child it was because my neighborhood knew how to give Halloween a proper celebration.  And it wasn't really the kids as much as it was the parents who led in the haunting of our East Texas neighborhood.  Freddie Kruger would hobble down the streets, Jason would quickly stumble down the path and the guy from Texas Chainsaw Massacre would chase you down the streets ripping his unchained chainsaw (I had never ran so fast!)

My dad, dressed in all black, red faced, donning a black wig and horns was a first class Lucifer.  He would jump out of the tree and startle trick or treaters, that is until one unfortunate Halloween when he threw his back out.

Even though our neighborhood Lucifer had been benched, my dad took on a new (and more brilliant) Halloween persona the next year.  "The Pumpkin Man" was dressed in flannel, overalls, work gloves and boots and had a gigantic pumpkin for a head.  He sat by our front door like a lump while my mom fussed with his clothes (mainly to make it look like she was stuffing him with hay-it was such a great act.)  

Parents would walk up to the door with their little ghosts or goblins and "Pumpkin Man" would move ever so slightly.  "Pumpkin Man" never really made any fast or sudden moves, he'd just creepily turn toward the crowd or brush up against a parent's arm.  That Halloween persona scared many people, kids and adults alike and a number of candy bags were left behind on our front porch.

One year after the debut of "Pumpkin Man," I was sitting in my 8th grade class listening to my fellow students talk of their Halloween plans.  Of course many planned to visit my neighborhood, even though they lived across town.  One boy blurted out, "I know one thing, that Pumpkin Man better not get me!"  Without looking at the boy I sat their smiling, amazed that he was remembered and known. All I could think was, yep, that's my dad!
Spiced Beef Cornbread would be a perfect meal for Halloween night.  Not because it is spooky, but because it is easy, filling and good.  Whip this up in no time and send your trick or treaters out the door.  It has a nice warmth from the cinnamon (yes, cinnamon) and I love the cheesy cornbread topping.  Great dish for a fast, fall meal.

Spiced Beef Cornbread Cobbler
4 servings
adapted from Gourmet December 2006

1 medium onion, chopped
4 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, medium diced
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 t. sugar
¼ t. ground cinnamon
½ t. cayenne
¼ t. ground allspice
¼ t. pepper
¾ t. ground ginger
1 ¼ t. salt, divided
14-15 oz. canned crushed tomatoes
2/3 c. yellow cornmeal
1/3 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/3 c. whole milk
1 large egg
2 oz. coarsely grated sharp cheddar (1/2 c. plus 2 T.)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a 9-½ inch pie/tart/casserole plate.
2. Cook onion in 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add carrots and cook until soft. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute.
3. Add beef and cook, breaking up large chunks, until no longer pink. Add sugar, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring until incorporated. Add tomatoes and briskly simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about ¼ cup, 8-10 minutes.
4. While beef simmers, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together milk, egg, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a small bowl, then stir into cornmeal mixture until just combined. Fold in ½ cup cheese.
5. Spoon cooked spiced beef into pie plate with a slotted spoon. Spoon 4 mounds of cornbread batter over beef, then sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons cheese over batter. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted into center of cornbread comes out clean, 15-25 minutes. Serve warm.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Snickerdoodle Mini Muffins

The other day I saw a tee shirt advertised in a magazine that said, "Muffins are just ugly cupcakes."  For some reason I took offense to this, gasped, and quickly came to their defense "ARE NOT!"  Except, there was no one to argue this point with, the only other person in the room was BabyBoy, and there is not much talking coming from him!  Regardless, I found this statement to be wrong.

I love muffins.  They are so cozy and warm and I find myself "popping the top" much like Elaine had done on Seinfeld (except I eat the stumps too).  Similar to pancakes, the secret to a great muffin, besides using fresh ingredients, lies within the mixing.  Overmixing can produce a rubbery, rather than fluffy, texture.  And I suppose then, and only then could a muffin be called ugly!

Making Muffins, Step By Step
  1. For best results bring milk, eggs, and butter to room temperature.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in another.
  3. Make a well in center of dry ingredients.
  4. With a large rubber spatula, fold wet mixture into dry one, with few strokes as possible.
  5. Fill buttered muffin tins about three quarters of the way with batter.  This leaves enough room for a crumb topping and makes muffins that are the right size for snacking.

You're Not So Ugly Snickerdoodle Mini Muffins
yield 2 dozen
Print Me!!!

10 T. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
1 c. sugar
1T. plus 1t. ground cinnamon
1 ½ c. flour
2 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
½ c. buttermilk
1 large egg

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a mini-muffin tin, and set aside. In a small bowl, combine ½ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining teaspoons cinnamon; whisk to combine.
3. In a separate small bowl, combine 6 tablespoons butter, remaining ½ cup sugar, buttermilk, and egg; whisk to combine.
4. Using large rubber spatula, fold butter mixture into flour mixture; use no more than 10 strokes. The mixture should be lumpy.
5. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each prepared cup, and bake until tops are nicely golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool in pan 10 minutes before transferring to rack to cool
6. Dip top of each muffin in remaining 4 tablespoons melted butter and roll in reserved cinnamon mixture. Serve warm or room temperature.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dr. Pepper Peanut Brittle

I don't know why I think of Halloween every time I think of peanut brittle.  My grandmother made peanut brittle during the holidays and it always made its presence on the table at their annual Christmas Eve party, but I always think of it as a Halloween snack.  Maybe I should ask her if she made a batch during Halloween and the thought of it is trying to break through my subconscious.

This however, is not her recipe for brittle.  I started making Dr. Pepper Peanut Brittle when my husband was trying to kick the habit...of Dr. Pepper, I should say.  He was a serious addict.  One night he brought home a 3 liter bottle, yes, a 3 liter bottle of this stuff-it was gone in a day and a half.  I hate Dr. I know, and he knew who drank that whole bottle.  After me making some serious fun of him, and maybe a realization of a dependency, he decided to ween off of it.  He has been "clean" for several months now.  As a treat I make him this special little brittle.  It is so good and...addicting (OH NO!! What have I done???)

Dr. Pepper Peanut Brittle
Print Me!
1 ¼ c. sugar
¾ c. butter
1 ½ t. salt
¼ c. Dr. Pepper
2 c. lightly salted peanuts
½ t. baking soda

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with pan sprayed foil.
2. Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan and cook on medium heat bringing it to a boil, stirring often.
3. Once the temperature has reached 290°F on a candy thermometer, remove from heat and add peanuts. Stir. Add baking soda, and stir to combine.
4. Pour mixture onto foil lined baking sheet and cool until hardened. Break candy into shards.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Sort of Philosophy and Creme Fraiche

Doing What I Do Best:  Baking For The Boys
A Sort of Philosophy
A few years ago my mom and I threw my sister a baby shower. We split the responsibilities and I happily took the post of menu planner/caterer (duh-that's my gig). So I sat down and worked up a menu, planned the table set up (my husband would divorce me if I used the term tablescape-he hates that term), get the idea. Weeks before the shower my mom called and asked about the menu and I rattled off my ideas.

"What beverage?" she asked. "Oh, I was thinking of an easy punch called mock champagne, it was the most popular beverage we served at weddings when I catered." Silence. I could tell she wasn't buying it. Over the weeks she called a few more times with the same question, and I always had the same answer and she always had the same response.

Finally, the conversation changed and went a little something like this: "What beverage?" "Mock Champagne, take one bottle of Canada Dry and one bottle of any blend white grape juice and pour it a bowl. It is good. Very popular drink from that caterer I used to work for." "Oh, do you think people will like it?" I finally cracked, "Mom, do you really think I'd just put shit out on the table?" 

The point of this story is to share how I feel about this blog. I'm just not going to post mediocre recipes so I can fill my archive box to the max. If the food is good, I'll share, and if not...sorry it just won't make the cut.

I'm not here to make money either, not that there is anything wrong with that-I just don't want to worry over something that is essentially my hobby. I'm not here to become popular or to impress anyone either. Am I looking for a book deal?  No.  I'm just here to share good, quality, unpretentious, budget (most of the time) and family friendly food with folks...and maybe make a few new friends along the way.

DIY: Crème Fraiche
Now on to the recipe. Here is an easy and great recipe for crème fraiche. I have difficulty finding crème fraiche at my everyday grocery store. I knew exactly what aisle it was housed on when I worked for a specialty food store years back and I must admit, it was quite pricey. This recipe uses a bit of time and a few staple ingredients (I used left over ingredients from my son's birthday party)-that's it.
Crème Fraiche
I see creme fraiche caramel and creme fraiche based ice cream in the near future...

2 cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons sour cream
• In a small bowl, combine the cream and sour cream, and mix well. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight. Refrigerate until thickened.