April 29, 2012

Battle Literary Food: Corn Pone and Fried Chicken

My inspiration came from The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. You've probably read the book and since this is a food blog I won't get into all the details.  Just in case you haven't read it, the most general overview of the setting is that it takes place in the deep South during the 1960's and is a story about the lives of the black maids who worked in the homes of the white women of Jackson, Mississippi.  
The friendship between Celia Foote and her maid Minny was one of the most memorable parts of the story, for me.  Celia grew up in Sugar Ditch, a poor area of low-country Mississippi, and had married into money.  Minny was hired by Miss Foote to clean her mansion and provide some sorely needed cooking lessons. Celia's skills upon Minny's arrival were zero; except of course for a simple corn pone.  
"Must be something you know.  What your mama teach you growing up?"  She looks down at the webby feet of her stockings, says, "I can cook corn pone."  I can't help but laugh. "What else you know how to do sides corn pone?"
Corn Pone is a very simple, flourless and eggless pan bread made with white cornmeal and water and is baked in a cast iron skillet coated in hot oil.

I used this recipe:
2 cups white corn meal
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups of cold water
4 tablespoons oil (I used coconut oil)

Heat the oil in the cast iron skillet in the oven while the temperature reaches 475 degrees.  Mix the white corn meal, salt and water until you have a mushy, pancake batter consistency.  Pour the batter into the heated pan and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until it starts to brown just a bit on top.   
I think I should have used a more fine, white corn meal for this recipe, or perhaps prepared the pone like pancakes instead of pouring all the batter into the bottom of the cast iron skillet. This is not a dish I would make again but we drizzled some honey on the finished product and the taste improved greatly!

After Celia discloses her non-existent cooking skills, Minny's first cooking lesson commences: fried chicken.
"Chicken's been soaking in the buttermilk," I say.  "Now mix up the dry."  I pour flour, salt, more salt, pepper, paprika and a pinch of cayenne into a doubled paper sack.  "Now.  Put the chicken parts in the bag and shake it." Miss Celia puts a raw chicken thigh in, bumps the bag around.  "Like this?  Just like Shake 'n Bake commercials on the tee-vee?"  Real careful I lay the dark meat in the pan.  It bubbles up like a song and we watch the thighs and legs turn brown.  I look over and Miss Celia's smiling at me."What? Somethin' on my face?" "No," she says, tears coming up in her eyes.  She touches my arm.  "I'm just real grateful you're here."
I have never made fried chicken, either.  I followed Minny's recipe for the most part; minus the cayenne and with the addition of a teaspoon of garlic powder.  I used coconut oil to fry the chicken (Minny used Crisco), it turned out well and my taste-testers complimented me on the finished product.  I recommend salting the chicken once it's almost done frying to give the crispy outer edges more flavor.  It was lacking in the salt department, for my tastes.
I apologize for putting this post up a little later than expected, my oven broke earlier this week :( and I had to take my smackdown recipe on the road.

Can't wait to be AMAZED at what everyone contributes to April's culinary smackdown!

April 18, 2012

Tour de Monmouth- Stop #1- La Mexicana

The Tour de Monmouth Street is an adventure that's been rolling around in my head since late fall.  I believe the idea hit me one day as I was headed north up Monmouth Street and nearly collided with the car in front of me because I was too busy gawking at all the restaurants I've never tried.  Then I thought, "I know!  Why don't I actually patronize all of these restaurants instead of just staring at them!"  Great idea, indeed.  So, over the next few months (or perhaps between now and the end of summer), I hope to do complete a tour of all the eateries on Monmouth Street in Newport, KY.

My first stop brought me to La Mexicana.  I've heard nothing but crazy-good gossip about their tacos and little Mexican grocery store for years. Yes, I realize the ridiculousness of this being my first trip.

I went into La Mexicana with the specific goal of ordering the tacos; asada tacos to be exact. When I realized how extensive their menu is I ordered some guacamole and a Corona while I mulled over my decision.  Then I spotted the sopes.  I've only had a sope at Nada; which is not what I would consider a traditional Mexican restaurant, but their sopes are super delicious and I love the concept in general.  So I passed on the tacos and went with the asada sope instead.

The chips and thin green salsa were both great.
The guacamole was probably one of the heartiest I've had and a small order is easily enough for 2 people. I loved the huge chunks of vegetables including tomatoes, green peppers and white onion.  Honestly, the chips, salsa and guac were enough to fill my belly.
Although it looks delicious, the asada sope was a let-down.  This was a terrible mis-order on my part.  When a restaurant is known for their tacos, and you go into that restaurant hoping for an order of tacos in your near future, and then change your order at the last minute, you will likely be let down. As I was.
If you are not familiar with a sope, it is a very thick pancake-like tortilla made with masa harina and then fried in a bit of oil.  The edges get a little bit crispy and it looks just beautiful.  The tortilla part was ok but I wasn't happy with the quality of the asada.  It reminded me of a pound streak that's been floured and fried and then ground very fine and served in a thin brown sauce. The meat simply could not stand up to the thick texture of the sope.  It was just, well, bleh.  I might order the sope again but definitely with a different meat selection.

Overall my experience was great, minus a let-down with my entree choice.  It won't keep me from returning to La Mexicana and I'll be back for tacos later in the tour.

La Mexicana on Urbanspoon

April 13, 2012

Skinny Legs

I have my favorite restaurants and then I have my go-to places; they’re not necessarily the best food or the most amazing service but they’re consistent, reasonably priced and they have a few menu items I enjoy.  Most of these places are pub-like in nature and are a perfect combination of bar and restaurant so you can go for a drink, or for food or both!

Skinny Legs, on Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue, is one of my go-to places.  When I don’t know where I want to go, I go to Skinny Legs.  When I don’t know what I feel like eating, I go to Skinny Legs.  See how this works?  I go here about once a month or so and I love it because I always know what to expect.  I have the same server every time, I can’t think of her name but she’s no-nonsense and gets us our food and drinks quickly. 

For a smaller establishment, Skinny Legs has quite a few flat screens that are visible whether you’re in the main bar area (smoking) or the smaller (non-smoking) area off to the left. 

For an appetizer my friend ordered the fried mozzarella. It's your basic mozzarella, no surprises here!

For an entrĂ©e I went with the Buffalo Chicken wrap and subbed a house side-salad with honey mustard instead of fries.  You can get this wrap with either fried or grilled chicken, I had grilled and it was delicious.  I always enjoy their house salad as well; leafy green lettuce topped with carrots, raisins and sunflower seeds and your choice of dressing.

My friend ordered the fried chicken salad, again, very basic but still a solid meal with a lot of that leafy green lettuce.

The drink special on Fridays after 7pm was $3 well drinks, I enjoyed a refreshing pineapple and vodka.

The bar room can get a little smoky, especially on a weekend.  I've never had a problem with smokiness sitting in the non-smoking area and the music selection is decent. On Friday and Saturday evenings around 10pm they move some of the tables out of the dining area for live music performances. 

If you're in the Bellevue area and hunger (or thirst) strikes, go to Skinny Legs!

Skinny Legs on Urbanspoon

April 8, 2012

Fruity Pebbles Cupcakes with Sour Cream Frosting

Fruity Pebbles cereal is a favorite from way back. When I was a kid, a box of these would be gone in no time.  So when the time came for cereal to make its way into my cupcakes I didn't have to give it much thought. I've also been very intrigued lately by Momofuku Milkbar's cereal milk and made some of my own to incorporate into this recipe.
I used a vanilla cupcake recipe from the Cupcake Project and added about 3/4 cup of ground Fruity Pebbles cereal.  The cereal milk substitution was fairly simple.  I poured a bowl of Fruity Pebbles into one cup of milk and let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  The milk really intensified the flavor and infused the cupcakes with even more Fruity Pebbles goodness.

Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake recipe from the Cupcake Project; minus the vanilla bean and with Fruity Pebbles cereal milk instead of regular whole milk:
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees
-1 cup sugar
-1 3/4 cup cake flour
-3/4 cup ground Fruity Pebbles
-1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
-1/2 tsp. baking soda
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/4 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
-2 large eggs (room temperature)
-1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
-1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
-1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
-2/3 cup whole milk, infused with Fruity Pebbles (or any kind of cereal)

Whisk the dry ingredients and add the butter until you get a somewhat crumbly mixture. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs, sour cream, vegetable oil and vanilla.  Combine the flour mixture and the liquid mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined; gradually add the milk and beat on slow speed until just combined.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 18-22 minutes.

Sour Cream Frosting:
-1/4 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1 cup sour cream
- 2 cups powdered sugar
-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Cream the butter until very fluffy and then add the sour cream.  Beat this for several minutes and gradually add the powdered sugar.  You can add or subtract as much sugar as you need depending on your taste. I read over several sour cream frosting recipes to get an idea of the ingredient ratios and then mixed this one together and taste-tested it until it felt right. The frosting is not as thick as a buttercream and slightly drippy.  It was the perfect consistency for dipping the tops of the cupcakes into the bowl of frosting; which made the frosting process very simple.  If you want a thicker frosting I suggest using a whole stick of butter, less sour cream, and more powdered sugar to thicken it up.

Someone should make a Fruity Pebbles Cupcake-scented candle, that's how fragrant it was.  The batter was a beautiful rose color. The baked cupcake lightened up in color just a bit but smelled heavenly, and if you look closely you can see little tiny flecks of all the multi-colored pebbles.
I'd say these cakes definitely taste best hot-out-of-the-oven.  I always try at least a one-bite taste test. I had one cupcake that was shaped funky so I pulled off the top when it was fresh from the oven and lathered on some sour cream frosting, yummers.  The frosting kinda melted into the cupcake, double yummers.
Party on the dining room table and a party in my mouth.  Although I chose Fruity Pebbles, any cereal that can be ground to a fine powder would work in this recipe.

Rainbow sprinkles on steroids.  Makes me want to sing Happy Birthday!

April 4, 2012

April Culinary Smackdown: A Tale of Two Themes

Just so y'all know, I'm still glowing from the popcorn ball victory and all the kindness of strangers!  My nephew, niece and I had so much fun creating the spheres and I give both of them all the credit for the flair. 

I quickly began the theme-picking process on a rush of adrenalin and wrote an entire post announcing my theme for April's Smackdown; Battle Doritos.  I felt great about it, slept on it, still felt good but not great, Googled "Doritos recipes" out of curiosity, found out Iron Chef did their own Doritos battle, felt kinda like a copycat, comforted myself with a bag of Doritos and then started over from scratch.

I dabbled with the idea of cupcakes, an obsession of mine lately, but I've been up to my eyeballs in cupcakes. Then it occurred to me. But what about books?  Food inspired by books. But not cookbooks!  You see, a few of the novels I've read lately, while not specifically about food, have had the common theme of food and recipes woven throughout their pages.  Since food is one of the great equalizers, I'm certain this theme exists in many other works of literature as well. 
So the official April Culinary Smackdown theme is: Battle Literary Food, (or whatever you want to call it).  It doesn't have to be based on a classic work of literature or anything, just a dish that is somehow inspired by a written work of fiction.
Can't wait to see your creations!

The Rules:
- Prepare at least one dish centered around this month's chosen theme and include at least one photograph in your post.
-Recipes are helpful but not required, please respectfully credit the source if you're using someone else's recipe.
-In order to participate, your post must be up no later than 11:59pm, Monday, April 30th.  (Did you know April is one of only 5 months not to contain 31 days?)
-A host post will be up on my blog a couple days before the deadline, you can link to your post in the comments of the host post.  Got that?
-I will try my best to have a winner chosen and announced no later than Wednesday, May 2.
-Have fun!