Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cheese Grits with Andouille Sausage for Breakfast

Are you a fan of grits, that coarse grained, stone ground corn most often associated with Southern cooking? I'm no Southerner, unless months afloat in SouthEast Alaska count, but I do love grits. Just serve me some grits, an indulgent bowlful of ooey gooey, creamy cheese grits; plain buttered grits, bacon and black pepper grits, cheesy grits, shrimp and grits, grits covered with a sausage gravy or a mushroom ragu... You get the idea, and what could be better on a cool, drizzly morning, than a heaping mound of grits for breakfast? Well, how about a pile of peppery cheese grits topped with a handful of spicy Andouille sausage coins? Add a swirl or two of warmed maple syrup, just because. 

That bowlful of heaven can make me forget any dreary weather outside the raindrop-streaked kitchen windows. Cheese Grits plus Andouille can fuel both body and soul, whether I head out for an adventure, or plan to hang out inside, curled up under a blanket in a comfy chair, reading and listening to the rain.    

Cheese Grits

2 1/2 cups chicken stock (or use salted water)
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup stone-ground grits*

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
a generous knob of butter 
3/4 cup shredded cheese (I mixed Tillamook Smoked Black Pepper White Cheddar and some fresh Parmesan), more or less as desired
2 spring onions, both white and green parts, sliced thin 
Sea salt and white pepper (I love to finish with a sprinkle of smoked salt)

To make the grits: 
Use a heavy bottomed 3-quart pot and bring the chicken stock to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the milk, then slowly whisk in the grits. When the grits begin to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon so the grits don't stick and scorch. Cook according to the package directions, or until the mixture is smooth and thick (simmered about 35 minutes on my stovetop using the Charleston grits shown below). 

Remove from heat and stir in the cream, butter, cheese and green onions; season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more milk or cream as desired for looser grits; they will set up and thicken a bit as they stand.

1/2 link of Hempler's Andouille sausage per serving, sliced into thick coins and seared in a hot skillet until heated through, releasing the fat. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to each bowl of warm grits. 

Note: Accompany with a variety of hot sauces for those, like RL, who doses everything with a shot of green Tabasco, or Cajun Sunshine, or Sriracha, etc.

*I prefer coarse, stone ground grits, but when pressed for time I've turned to Albers quick-cooking grits for good results in under 10 minutes. That's Albers Quick Cook, NOT instant grits which turn out as mushy and tasteless as wallpaper paste, or what I imagine wallpaper paste would taste like if I ate any, which I haven't. Maybe less unpalatable than poi, which I have tasted and now avoid? Not even as tasty as the jarred white paste we nibbled on in kindergarten? Now I'm off topic - sorry.  The point is, I want my grits to have some definite corn flavor and a little crunchy texture in each bite.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Apple-licious Brown Bread

It's apple season; time to make applesauce, rustic apple pie, apple sweet rolls, apple crepes, apple pancakesapple coffee cake, apple quick bread, apple torteeverything apple! It seemed a good time to try apples in Boston brown bread. Why brown bread? Why not, I've never made it before and it does seem to fit the season.

I found a recipe for Steamed Brown Bread in Betty Crocker's New Picture Cook Book, a 1961 volume older than some of my friends, and compared it with a 2014 recipe for Easy Boston Brown Bread found online at The ingredients in the two versions were remarkably similar, calling for a mixture of flours including cornmeal and whole wheat, baking soda, buttermilk and molasses. The BIG difference was in the suggested steaming times, 3 hours versus 35 minutes. Wow! Granted the specified container sizes varied from 1-1b coffee cans to 14-oz food cans, but that's still a puzzling time variance. It didn't matter since I confused things further by making a half-recipe in a 28-oz can (left from the hominy I used in this week's posole). OK, forget the math, I would guesstimate the timing.   
Photo: 14-oz can vs 28-oz can, with corresponding height difference as well.
The online recipe became the starting point, with a few tweaks and the addition of one coarsely-grated Fuji apple and some Penzey's Apple Pie Spice. After grating the apple, I squeezed out the excess liquid and let the shreds sit in a strainer while prepping the other ingredients. Some 2% milk plus one tablespoon of white vinegar substituted for buttermilk; it clumped and thickened while the grated apple drained. I used regular rather than blackstrap molasses and whole wheat flour instead of rye flour. 

The recipe recommended steaming the batter in foil-covered cans set in a lidded pot of simmering water until the bread "set and gently pulled away from sides of can, about 35 minutes. A skewer inserted into the center should come out with moist crumbs." Essentially if you can simmer water, you can make brown bread.

The bread did pull away from the sides of the can after 35 minutes, but the skewer came out heavily coated. I left the can in the simmering water for another 15 minutes before moving it onto a cooling rack.

On day one the brown bread was quite moist, almost too moist according to RL, but the flavor was rewardingly deep and tangy. The apples lurked in the background with no overwhelming appleness in taste or texture, but the cinnamon and nutmeg from the added apple pie spice blend hinted at apple pie. Nonetheless, the result was a huge improvement over any grocery store can of brown bread. 

Breakfast on day two included thick slices of the brown bread, crisped up under the broiler and slathered with softened cream cheese. Delicious! and now it's time to empty some more cans and make another batch, a double batch this time with a little less molasses. Apple Brown Bread was indeed, an Apple-licious treat.

Apple Brown Bread
based on a recipe from seriouseats

1 very large or 2 medium apples, shredded and drained in a strainer
1 cup buttermilk (or vinegar soured milk)

1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp Apple Pie Spice

2/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup raisins

1 tablespoon flour (to coat the apple shreds)
Apple butter or cream cheese to serve alongside

Shred the apple(s), squeeze to remove juices, and place in a strainer to drain. 
Prepare the vinegar-soured milk if using.
Grease 3 squeaky clean 14-oz cans.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Toss the apple shreds with the tablespoon of flour to coat and add to the bowl. 
Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and whisk until smooth.

Divide the batter between the cans. Drape a square of foil over each can and press to fit firmly. Set cans on a rack in a large pot and fill with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of each can.

Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. When the water simmers, reduce heat to low and simmer until breads are set and pull away from the sides of the can. Test with a skewer inserted into the center after 35 minutes; the skewer should come out with moist crumbs. 

Remove cans from the pot of water and place on a baking rack. Remove the foil and let cool in the can. Run a knife around the inside of the can to loosen the bread; turn the can upside down and tap it to remove the bread.

Cut thick slices and serve with apple butter or cream cheese. Optional: Toast under a broiler to reheat and firm up top and bottom. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts for an appetizer serving.

Submitted to #TwelveLoaves:
#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess and run with the help of Heather of girlichef, which runs smoothly with the help of our bakers. Our host this month is Heather from girlichef, and our theme is Apples. For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month’s mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves Pear Breads! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GlutenFree Double Chocolate Brownies - a Krusteaz mix

That brittle crunching noise you hear in the background, that's the sound of me eating my words... again... the ones proclaiming that I don't use boxed mixes... except for occasional bundt cakes. Sigh. Let's get the disclosure out of the way. While attending a food blogger event last month, #IFBC 2014I gathered up a box of this mix along with a ton of other samples from sponsoring vendors. Some products I shared with friends, several I have used at home, while others still languish in my too-full pantry. On Monday I was in a rush and grabbed the box of Krusteaz Gluten Free double chocolate brownie mix to bake a quick treat.

We have some house projects underway, providing an excuse to bake up some cookies or snack bars to feed the crew. The workers welcome any homemade treat, but I usually bake from scratch. Box mixes rarely make an appearance in my kitchen, but Krusteaz is a respected, local, family-owned company and the GF label piqued my curiosity: how would a GF version of brownies compare with the homemade variety? The short answer is "very well, indeed."

A 1-hour mix and bake
Adding one egg, 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup cooking oil to a box mix was an easy start. Stirring to mix and spooning into a lightly greased 8x8" glass baking dish required no effort. I couldn't resist temptation and sprinkled a small handful of chocolate chips over the top, just because an already-opened package caught my eye in the open cabinet. Why not up the chocolate chip ratio, just a little? The Krusteaz box listed a range of cooking times, 48-52 minutes for an oven preheated to 325 F, variable no doubt to account for temperature variance in ovens. There was a note to add an additional 5 minutes for glass pans. Krusteaz added a warning not to over bake, the brownies might look underdone but would firm up as they cooled. I did the math, crossed my fingers and set the timer for 55 minutes. The brownies pulled away from the edge of the pan, a cake tester emerged with no telltale crumbs, so 55 seemed like the magic number.

The results  
Anticipation grew as the enticing aroma of chocolate  wafted through the house... these had better not disappoint! Cooling seemed to take forever, but I fended off the taste testers until the pan approached room temperature. The outer crust, rimming the pan, was firm but not hard while the center remained soft and a bit gooey. Thus the 4 corners were finger friendly, 8 brownies had at least one firm, cleanly cut edge that was easy to handle, and the 4 squares in the middle were a moist and crumbly mess that required a fork. No one complained though, these brownies were the real deal with a deeply rich flavor. Notice I didn't say good for gluten free brownies. No, these were pronounced good brownies, period, end of statement. I prefer firm brownies, so I always reach for a corner piece. RL enjoyed a softer edge piece (or two), and the crew just smiled and said "thanks." The messy foursome in the middle of the pan disappeared, one bite at a time, as we cruised past.     

The brownies didn't need my extra handful of chocolate chips, but I might add some nuts or shredded coconut to the next batch - just because.

Would I use this product again? YES (notice the all caps for enthusiasm).
Would I recommend it to others? Again YES, to anyone, not just GF bakers.
Will I continue to make brownies from scratch? Probably yes in the house kitchen, unless I'm pressed for time or am missing some ingredients. But this mix will become a staple in the boat galley, replacing the current Ghiradelli mix, so I am prepared to bake brownies for anyone, any time and anywhere.
Will I stop dissing box mixes? Maybe, but some habits are hard to break. It might require a lot more brownies and bundt cake.

SugarBrown Rice Flour (Rice Flour, Rice Bran), Chocolate Chips (SugarChocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Milk Fat, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor), Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Soybean Oil. Contains 2% Or Less of The Following: Salt, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Bicarbonate.
Nutrition Facts from Shopwell
Serving Size 3 Tbsp Mix
Servings Per Container 16
Amount Per ServingCalories140
Calories from Fat 25
% Daily Value*Total Fat 3 g 5%
Saturated Fat 1 g 5%
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Sodium 105 mg 4%
Potassium — —
Total Carbohydrate28 g 9%
Dietary Fiber 1 g 4%
Sugars 20 g
Protein 1 g

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Going Bananas! with a sweet banana topping over chocolate banana faux ice cream

It's Secret Recipe Club time again; time to reveal Shelley of C Mom Cook as my assigned blogger for October and feature a recipe (or two) from her blog. With SRC membership around 150, it's always exciting to see which blog is mine for the month, a familiar site or one totally new-to-me. I was pleased to be assigned C Mom Cook, I know this blog from Shelley's participation in so many other food challenges (SourdoughSurprises, DaringBakers, DaringCooks, BreadBakingDay, TwelveLoaves and of course SRC). As the mother of two active children I've often wondered where she finds the time to be such an adventurous cook?! Shelley notes in her blog:
"I love food and almost everything involved with it - preparing it, eating it, sharing it. I am a stay at home mom to two wonderful children and it is my goal to share this love of food and the appreciation of the process with them as they grow... I love to try new recipes and learn new things, and to impart my love of fresh, homemade foods to my family."
Check out her blog, you're sure to find more than one recipe to tempt you. I bookmarked several savory recipes, but my recent experience with cardamom ice cream drew me to a dessert, Chocolate Banana Faux Ice Cream. What's better than a bowl of ice cream? that's easy, ice cream with a topping. Pan-Fried Cinnamon Sugar Bananasa riff on Bananas Foster, joined the party. I couldn't resist the temptation to add a boozy finish with a hint of orange zest, just for fun. 

Why the additions? The Flavor Bible, a data-packed reference book by Page & Dornenburg, suggests cinnamon, sugar, rum and oranges as good flavor pairings with bananas. After hearing the author's presentation at #IFBC 2014, I reserved their book at the local library. Now I'm having fun playing with new flavor combinations and tweaking recipes, sweet banana topping and chocolate banana ice cream included.

The taste test got off to a rocky start - really rocky. The frozen dessert was as hard as a rock and could not be scooped, even with a heated metal scooper, until it sat out on the counter for 4 or 5 minutes. The faux ice cream had a slightly grainy texture, freezer induced I suppose since the mix came out of the blender quite stiff but silky smooth. The not-too-sweet frozen chocolate, banana and orange blend was pleasant enough, but served by itself was not a huge hit. No one wanted a second sample. Fast forward to another serving topped with the warm and buttery, brown sugar coated bananas and my taste testers were happier. After the topping was finished with a flambĂ© of rum and a sprinkle of fresh orange zest, voila! magic happened. That topping would make even cardboard taste good - just saying.   

Topping a la Bananas Foster 
adapted from C Mom Cook

2 ripe but still firm large bananas, cut into 1/2" coins

4 ounces butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 ounces dark rum (optional)
freshly grated orange zest (optional)

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the sugar and cinnamon and stir together until the sugar melts. Add the banana rounds and cook over medium-high heat until warmed and lightly caramelized on both sides, flipping only once so the bananas don't fall apart.

Optional finish: remove the pan from the heat and drizzle in the rum. Return pan to the heat and ignite with a lighter or very long match. Stand back and flambĂ© the bananas, but watch out for the flame. Let the flame die down while the alcohol cooks out, usually 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle with the optional grated orange zest. 

Serve over ice cream... or crepes, waffles or a slice of cake.

Chocolate-Banana Faux "Ice Cream"
adapted from C Mom Cook

4 very ripe large bananas, sliced into thick rounds &amp
8 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons honey 

1/4 teaspoon orange extract

Place the banana rounds, cocoa powder, honey and orange extract in a blender. Blend until totally lump-free. It may take a while, but keep whirring and scraping down the sides until the mix is very smooth.
Pour into an airtight, freezer-safe container; cover and freeze until firm, usually 1-2 hours.

Note: my freezer froze it rock hard overnight, initially too hard to scoop until it sat out on the counter for several minutes.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cardamom Ice Cream

This rich, creamy, tease-your-taste-buds, homemade ice cream rocks the house as our new favorite dessert... or breakfast waffle topper... or late night snack... I first tasted cardamon ice cream as part of an awesome root beer float served at the recent IFBC's Taste of Seattle, but moved on since I don't make ice cream. Ah, but that was then. Heather at recreated the dish and her post sent me exploring in kitchen cabinets, searching through the farthest corners for my used-only-once ice cream maker. I was ready to to give homemade ice cream another try. Good decision!

Photo: Cardamom ice cream tops chunky homemade applesauce over apple-filled sourdough waffles... an applelicious combination.
Cardamom adds a distinctive flavor note, whether in Scandinavian baked goods or as a key ingredient in garam masala (think Indian curries). The spice can be too assertive, so I scaled back the suggested quantities, incorporating 8 whole pods but omitting the powdered cardamom completely. Ice cream begins with a flavored custard mix... custards often contain nutmeg and cinnamon... so I added 1/4 teaspoon of Penzey's Apple Pie Spice to substitute for 1/8 teaspoon of the more aggressive powdered cardamom called for in the original recipe. It worked.

Why have I avoided making homemade ice cream for so long? It's a simple process that uses standard galley ingredients, and a machine does most of the work. I did spend long minutes stirring and whisking the mixture over low heat until it thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, but that hardly qualifies as work. The real challenge was waiting for the machine to finish churning and for the freezer to firm up the mix. Disclosure: lacking patience, RL and I sampled often, cautiously dipping a spoon into the ice cream maker as it worked. 

Mmmmm, I loved the result at first bite, our brunch and dinner guests loved its unique flavor, and RL compared it favorably to his favorite Tillamook vanilla. The ice cream maker has moved onto a countertop where it hummed away churning out three batches during the past week. Three quarts in one week? Oh yes, it disappears quickly around here, and we're always ready for more. 

Photo: Cardamom ice cream - good to the last drop!
Try it, you're going to love Cardamom Ice Cream. I promise. 

Cardamom Ice Cream
adapted from Heather at girlichef 
Yield: almost 1 quart 

  2 cups whole milk
  1 cup heavy cream
  1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
  8 whole green cardamom pods, cracked open
  4 egg yolks
  3/4 cup granulated sugar
  big pinch of fine sea salt
  ¼ tsp Apple Pie Spice (Penzey's)
  a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
Place the milk and cream in a medium-large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the vanilla bean halves and cracked cardamom pods. Bring to a low boil over very low heat, stirring from time to time. Allow the mix to boil for 30 seconds; remove from the heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the vanilla bean and cardamom pods from the pot and discard; strain the liquid through a fine-mesh metal strainer and set back over very low heat.

While the liquid reheats, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together until thick and pale. Temper the egg mixture (To temper: slowly ladle 1/4 cup of the hot, flavored milk into the egg mixture, beating vigorously to incorporate; repeat). Add the now-tempered egg mixture to the pan of warm milk while whisking continuously to incorporate. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not let it come to a boil or it will clump and scramble. Whisk in the Apple Pie Spice and a splash of vanilla extract (optional).

Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Pour the custard into a gallon-size ziploc bag. Seal the bag carefully, pushing out any air, and submerge all but the sealed edge in the bowl of ice water. When the custard mix is completely cooled, pour it into the frozen insert of your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's instructions. (It takes 30 minutes in my Krups ice cream maker.) 

Transfer to a freezer-safe container; cover, freeze and hold until ready to serve.

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