Friday, December 07, 2007

Cornbread Yeast Rolls

I absolutely love it when I try something new, not quite sure if it will work out, and end up with fantastic results. These cornbread yeast rolls are the perfect example. I say over and over how much I love cornbread. One of our favorite things to eat it with is super-slow roasted pork, shredded and topped with our favorite Memphis-style barbecue sauce.

The thing about my traditional skillet cornbread is that it's kinda crumbly. Doesn't really hold up as a sandwich bread, especially if you're filling it with luscious, spoon-tender pork smothered in sauce. After dealing with messy cornbread sandwiches one too many times, Mike had enough (I never really tried making a sandwich with cornbread in the first place, so I didn't much care). He asked if there was a recipe that existed somewhere in the wide world of food for cornbread that was better suited for sandwiches, but still deliciously corny.

I enthusiastically affirmed that such a thing does exist, since I've seen yeast cornbread recipes before, most recently here on a blog I read all the time. So, I set out to find a recipe that I could easily adapt to make big, sturdy sandwich rolls. I didn't have far to google before I found this recipe on I had no idea if it was reliable, but most of it made sense to me, and it contained all the ingredients I thought were needed to produce a tasty cornbread.

This bread is so delicious! The even crumb is fine and tender, yet sturdy enough that it doesn't turn to mush when it comes in contact with barbecue sauce and creamy coleslaw. Thanks to honey and plenty of corn in the dough, it's slightly sweet and full of corn flavor. Make no mistake, though--this does not have the cake-like texture of a quick bread--it's a sandwich roll through and through.

You can, in fact, bake it as two full-size loaves and slice it for sandwiches, but rolls give you more of that glossy, burnished crust to enjoy. The pork, by the way, is so easy to make, it barely requires a recipe.

Super-Slow Roasted Pork:
Season a 3-4 pound Boston butt pork roast (spice blends are handy for this), wrap it tightly in foil and place in a roasting pan. Roast at 275 degrees for 4 hours (or an hour per pound). You don't have to look at or even open the oven during cooking. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes, then effortlessly shred it up. You can't overcook it, and it's the finest pork roast you'll ever eat. We heard about this cooking method on the radio show (podcast actually), The Splendid Table, a few weeks ago and adapted this recipe on their website.

Cornbread Yeast Rolls
Adapted from this recipe on
If you love cornbread, but want something different, try these rolls. The recipe is very friendly, so no special knowledge or tricks are required. I used my stand mixer, but I think you could make them by hand with a little elbow grease. When measuring your flour, lightly spoon it into measuring cups and level with a knife.

Makes 12 sandwich-sized rolls

1 cup warm water
1 tbs. sugar
1 (7 gram) packet active dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, divided
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 2/3 c. cornmeal
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 (7 oz.) can corn, drained well
2 tbs. coarse cornmeal (optional)
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Combine the water and sugar in a bowl. Add the yeast and gently stir. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, or until yeast forms a foamy layer on top of water.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 1 cup of the whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Add the yeast mixture and mix with the dough hook attachment on low speed until combined. Add the salt, cornmeal, melted butter, honey, eggs and corn. Continue mixing on medium-low speed until combined.

With the mixer running, add the remaining 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Continue mixing until you have a slightly sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of bowl. If dough is too wet, add the remaining 1/3 cup of flour slowly until the dough holds together and pulls away from the bowl. I used nearly all of the flour. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 1 minute, then transfer dough to a large bowl, coated with olive oil. Turn the dough over once inside the bowl to coat it all over with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then with a dish towel and leave it to rise in a warm place until roughly doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with coarse cornmeal, if using. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for a few seconds, then divide into two pieces. You can stop here if you want to make two rustic loaves, or you can divide each piece into 6 balls to make rolls. Knead each ball once or twice and place on the prepared baking sheets with seam side down. Cover the rolls with a kitchen towel and leave them to rise a second time for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until they puff up noticeably. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Right before you put them in the oven, gently brush the rolls with the beaten egg to add a nice gloss to the finished rolls. Bake for 20 to 25, switching the positions of the baking sheets halfway through. Remove from oven when rolls are golden on top, browned on the bottom and sound hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then finish cooling on wire racks.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Black-Eyed Pea Stew and Creamy Corn Muffins

In my last post, I wrote, if a meal consists of a comforting stew and some homemade biscuits or corn bread, life is good. Well, I wasn't just trying to convince you to make my Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Grain Herb Biscuits (which you should!)--I really meant it. This is another meal that proves my theory.

As I was looking at my list of TBB recipes ("to be blogged"), I saw this stew and these easy corn muffins. Both recipes are from October's Cooking Light, and I tried them out a few weeks ago, but am just getting around to posting now. I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, so sometimes things get stuck in the blogging pipeline!

If you've always wanted to cook dried beans instead of popping open a can, here's your chance. It's hardly more work than straining and rinsing canned beans, as long as you allow enough time for your beans to transform from hard and dry to toothsome and creamy. If you haven't cooked dried beans before, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's totally worth it. I don't hesitate to use canned beans in a lot of situations, but I think they taste better when I cook them myself. Actually, it's probably more of a texture than a flavor thing. Just think of canned corn versus corn freshly trimmed off the cob--both have sweet flavor, but the texture of fresh corn retains that smooth snap even when cooked in a soup or casserole.

I can't believe I just used canned corn as an example above because these tangy corn muffins actually depend on a can of creamed corn for their excellent, moist texture. It goes to show that certain foods are more suitable for some recipes than for others. I wouldn't heat up a can of creamed corn as a side dish, but it's a perfect shortcut to a healthy corn muffin. As much as I love the classic Skillet Corn Bread I usually make to go with a stew like this, the scallions, sour cream, sharp cheddar (and even the creamed corn) in this recipe appealed to me--it's important to try variations on your favorite recipes to keep things fresh, don't you think?

Below is my adaptation of the Black-Eyed Pea Stew recipe. As for the corn muffins, I didn't change a thing (except using whole wheat pastry flour instead of AP), so here is the link to the recipe on Cooking Light's website. I like to make regular size muffins, but the recipe also gives directions for making them in mini muffin tins.

By the way, this Thursday is the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines for 2007. I love, these light, fruity, slightly fizzy young red wines from Beaujolais region of France. Though not everyone agrees, I think the best of these wines, made from the Gamay grape, are tasty, fun and easy to drink. Check back here on Thursday for the perfect meal to go with your stash of Nouveau!!

Black-Eyed Pea Stew with Kale

Adapted from Cooking Light
Don't bother slicing the turkey sausage; just squeeze it out of the casing directly into the pot.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 tbs. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 spicy turkey sausages (like Jennie-O Turkey Store brand), casings removed and meat crumbled
4 cups vegetable broth (I like Swanson's)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbs. cider vinegar
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
10-12 oz. bag chopped kale, mustard or collard greens

Rinse beans and pick over. Add to a large pot and fill with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans.

Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Add peas, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Cover and reduce heat; simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar, tomatoes and greens. Simmer 10 minutes or until beans are tender. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shrimp n' Cheesy Grits

Shrimp n' grits (or anything n' grits) is a southern thing. While I have to thank Southern cuisine for the combination of the recipe's two main ingredients, the similarities pretty much end there.

If you haven't tried grits before, now is your chance. It is a lot like polenta--in fact, sometimes it is hard to know the difference because of the various "quick" and convenience products you can buy. Hominy grits are made from cornmeal soaked in an alkaline solution to add nutrients. Masa harina, the cornmeal used to make tortillas, is made in a similar way. Polenta and corn grits do not get the alkaline treatment. By my observations, grits have a fluffier, "grittier" texture than polenta which is typically more smooth and pourable. I like quick-cooking polenta, and for grits I use Quaker Quick Grits (white hominy grits), not instant. I have also used finely ground masa harina as a substitute for both of them.

Now that I've done my best to make your head spin over the true nature of cornmeal products, I will get back to this recipe. Once you are past the southern roots, you'll see it is healthy (and low-calorie), super-quick to make (20 minutes, max) and very satisfying (the grits are flavored with Boursin cheese--mmm). Buy peeled and deveined shrimp, so all you have to do is pinch off their tails. I have made this with chopped tomatoes (both red and green, actually), but it looks so much prettier with the grape tomatoes. I also like their sweetness. Combining them with sauteed garlic and scallions results in an incredibly flavorful pan sauce for the shrimp.

This is one of my go-to dinners when I want something healthy and fast that does not involve feelings of deprivation. After the antipasto platter and tenderloin carpaccio salad I ate last night, that's sounding like a pretty good idea.

Shrimp n' Cheesy Grits
Adapted from a long lost copy of Shape magazine.
I am not giving exact quantities for the grits and chicken broth in this recipe because it will vary depending on what cornmeal product you use. Follow the package directions and make enough for 4 servings (it never hurts to make extra--they are addictive).

Serves 4 (cut in half for 2--leftovers don't hold up very well).

1 1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
salt and pepper
low-sodium chicken broth
Fast-cooking grits (like Quaker Quick Grits)
8-10 scallions, finely sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved crosswise
1/2 cup (4 oz.) Boursin Light cheese spread (Alouette cheese is also good), garlic and herb flavor

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive to a large skillet and heat to medium. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook, turning once, until done, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with any juices to a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the chicken broth to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, or until the tomatoes are slightly wilted. Stir in the shrimp and remove from heat.

You can start the grits while you cook the scallion-tomato mixture, or you can wait until the veggies are done and give your full attention to the grits. You should have them finished in 7 minutes or less. Use the package cooking time as a guide, but most grits thicken very quickly. If they don't taste done, add more liquid (hot water is fine) and keep stirring. This is how I do it: Using a whisk (this is the best tool to avoid clumps), pour the grits into the boiling chicken broth in a slow stream, whisking as you pour. Whisk constantly and turn the heat to the lowest setting as soon as the liquid starts bubbling again to avoid hot, splattering grits. Keep whisking until the mixture starts to thicken. When you reach a thick consistency, stir in the cheese. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you like. Remove from heat. You can cover the grits to keep them warm for a few minutes if you need to finish the rest of the meal.

Spoon the grits onto four plates and top with one-fourth of the shrimp mixture. Serve immediately.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Memphis Barbecue Sauce (for the perfect pulled pork sandwich)

This is what I cooked on the 4th of July: slow-roasted pulled pork with Memphis-style barbecue sauce. Piled onto fluffy cornbread with (healthy) collard greens on the side, this is Southern food heaven.

As I ate, I thought about how surprising it is that things have come this. There is not a lot of food out there I don't like, but Southern food is probably the last thing I ever expected to fall for. I grew up in Los Angeles, then moved to Boston-- I'm a city girl all the way. But I am glad living in Florida led me to try Southern cooking. So much of it is easy to prepare healthfully.

This barbecue sauce, for example, comes from the July issue of Cooking Light magazine. They also include methods to prepare smoked meat and roasts from the various parts of the southern U.S. Lacking a grill and a smoker, we just made the seasoning and basting liquid in this recipe for Memphis Pork and roasted it at 275 degrees for 4 hours. The meat becomes moist and tender, but the star is the sauce--it is a little tangy, a little sweet, and not too thick or too thin. Try it, and you will never reach for store-bought barbecue sauce again.

Memphis Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine. Here is the original recipe. I rewrote it here with a few notes for convenience.

Makes about 2 cups.

1 c. ketchup
3/4 c. white vinegar
2 tbs. light brown sugar
1 tbs. onion powder
2 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbs. mustard (I used Koop's spicy brown mustard)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper (cayenne)

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove and serve warm over shredded pork. May be made in advance and reheated. Keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Crispy Fried Chicken

In my last post, I promised you easy fried chicken to go with those biscuits, along with a few reasons why you can eat these Southern comfort foods without raising your jeans size.

Take my advice, and you will never again have to have guilty fantasies about yourself and a bucket of Extra Tasty Crispy:

• Marinate overnight in buttermilk—it makes the chicken so tender that you won’t feel horribly deprived if you don’t eat all the skin

• Use canola oil—so if you do end up eating more of the fabulously crispy skin than you planned, at least it will be cooked in heart-healthy fat

• Use tasty chicken pieces—go ahead and fry legs and thighs; the extra moisture and flavor makes them more satisfying than breasts, and they cook quickly

• Do greens on the side—this meal becomes a lot more nutritious if you serve simple greens (I did turnip; kale and collard are good too) sautéed in olive oil, lemon and garlic

• Make your own biscuits—They’ve only got 4 ingredients, not counting salt, so it’s too easy not to whip these up yourself; because you’ll use the best ingredients, they will be worth every buttery bite

Crispy Fried Chicken Leg and Thighs
Adapted from Food & Wine magazine and Tyler Florence for Food Network
Plan on marinating the chicken for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Serves 4

8-10 pieces of chicken (any combo of legs and thighs)
3-4 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
2 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1-2 tsp. ground cumin
1-2 tsp. Hungarian smoked paprika
½ tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 ½ quarts canola oil

Place the chicken pieces in a large heavy-duty Ziploc bag and pour in 3-4 cups buttermilk. Seal up the bag, swish the chicken around and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours. Flip the bag over a few times during marinating period so all the chicken has a chance to soak.

In another large Ziploc bag, combine the flour, salt, pepper cumin, paprika and cayenne. Add 3 or 4 pieces of chicken, seal and shake. Shake off any clumps of flour then press the chicken pieces so the remaining flour adheres well. Set chicken on a wire rack and repeat with remaining pieces.

Meanwhile, pour the oil into a large, heavy saucepan. Using a frying thermometer, heat the oil to between 350 and 360 degrees. Add 3 or 4 chicken pieces and fry, turning once, until the chicken is cooked through, about 12 minutes total. The temperature of the oil will drop when you add the chicken, so keep an eye on the thermometer and adjust the heat so the temperature stays between 325 and 350 while frying. When the chicken is done it will be well-browned, but if you aren’t sure, take one piece out and cut into it. You won’t be able to put it back into the oil if it isn’t cooked through, but you can finish it in the oven, if necessary. This is better than having a whole batch of undercooked chicken.

Use tongs to take the cooked pieces out of the oil and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. Serve immediately or later, at room temperature.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits

This post is all about why you’ll never go to Kentucky Fried Chicken again. If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you’re not a big KFC fan, but that’s not important. I know my readers love delicious homemade food, from the healthy to the indulgent, so read on because I want you to have both!

You might contend that fried chicken and biscuits falls into the indulgent category, but it doesn’t have to be the antithesis of healthy eating. We made this classic southern meal for the very first time, and it was so good without being particularly difficult, that we plan on doing it again very soon.

I suggested to Mike that we try our hand at this meal because I really wanted an excuse to make homemade buttermilk biscuits. Being a quick bread, they are not very different from one of my favorite obsessions, the scone. The recipe in a recent issue of Food & Wine was incredibly simple, with only four ingredients. I made one small change and mixed the dough with my fingers instead of a pastry blender or other tool.

I recently read in Cook’s Illustrated that this method would help create a biscuit with more flaky layers because the butter would get pinched and flattened by your fingers instead of getting turned into coarse crumbs by a pastry blender or food processor. Since hand mixing is the easiest way to go, and my biscuits had plenty of flaky layers, I definitely recommend it. Keeping the dough cold (so the butter stays solid prior to baking) and using a sharp biscuit cutter that will not smash together the layers you have created, are also important steps.

In a very distant childhood food memory, I recall the KFC buttermilk biscuit being the best part of the meal, but my homemade version beats the memory hands down. They are even better than the Pillsbury biscuits that come in the paper can that pops open. I’ve written up the biscuit recipe today, and I will give you the fried chicken in my Wednesday post, along with some tips to make this meal just healthy enough to have it whenever you get nostalgic for dinner in a bucket, only tastier.

There are quite a few Buttermilk Biscuit lovers in the blogosphere; here are a few recipes:
Accidental Hedonist's Buttermilk Biscuits

The Buttermilk Biscuits on Baking Sheet rise gorgeously high

Orangette’s Buttermilk Biscuits are made with Southern Flour (I don't know what it is, but I think I'd like it)

Mile High Biscuits from Meathenge look especially tasty modeled by Southern Biscuit Barbie

Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Food & Wine magazine and Natalie Chanin
With so few ingredients, each one should be the best, so use a good quality unsalted butter that you really like. I used Plugra European style that you can find in most supermarkets. Kerrygold Irish butter and Organic Valley butter are two other brands that are delicious and widely available.

Makes 8

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter
¾ c. buttermilk

Prep the butter up to several hours ahead. With a floured knife, cut it into ¼ to ½ inch cubes. Spread the cubes out on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Whisk together the flour baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter, fold into the flour and combine, using your fingers to break up the chunks of butter into slightly flattened bits. At this point, the dough will still be very powdery and should not come together. Add the buttermilk and stir gently with a wooden spoon just until all the flour is dampened. If you still have a lot of excess flour, add a few more drops of buttermilk until you have a barely cohesive, shaggy mass of dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough together with floured hands. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to ½ inch thick. Use a floured metal 2 ½ to 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter into some flour with each biscuit. Place biscuits on the baking sheet. Collect the dough scraps, quickly re-roll and finishing stamping out biscuits. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until risen and lightly browned. Serve immediately with butter.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Simple Skillet Cornbread

Let your inner Southern granny shine through with my favorite recipe for cornbread. There are no frills like diced jalepenos or chipotle peppers here. This is simple, delicious food that depends on good quality, stone ground cornmeal and buttermilk for its moist, yet crumbly texture. The technique of adding melted butter from your oven-heated cast iron skillet to the batter is genius. You then pour the surprisingly light batter into the hot, butter-coated skillet and watch it sizzle as a crisp, brown crust immediately begins to form. I do have to recommend that you use a heavy, NOT nonstick skillet such as an old-fashioned cast iron pan, in order to form that lovely crust. If your pan is smaller or larger than my 9-inch skillet, just add or subtract a bit of baking time and tent the cornbread with foil if the top browns too quickly.

Whether you are eating this cornbread with Southern barbecue like we did in my previous post, or with another homey dish such as chili or fish stew, it will become a favorite in your repertoire. You can easily whip up the batter in 5 minutes and bake it while you prepare the rest of the meal. It's quite healthy in its simplicity, and I guarantee you will start looking for reasons to bake this bread (hint: it is also amazing topped with a runny fried egg for breakfast)!

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Hodgson Mill (on the back of the cornmeal bag)

1 c. stone ground cornmeal (164 g)
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour (134 g)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tblsp. honey
1 egg
1 ½ c. buttermilk
1 1/2 tblsp. butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder, soda and salt. Add the honey. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the buttermilk. Add the egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir to combine with your whisk or a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, put the butter in a 9-inch cast iron skillet and place it in the oven until the butter melts completely. Pour the hot butter into the batter and combine. Immediately pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve immediately or keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. This bread reheats very well in the microwave on low power.

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