Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rememberance of Things Past or Grits Souffle

A few weeks ago Alison sent around a picture of Jamie and Sam taking a lovely golden orb out of the oven - Belle's grits souffle, an old childhood favorite of hers. I remember Belle so well. She was a marvel. Everything she made was full of butter and sugar and tasted amazing. When I was a vegetarian I'd ask her, Belle, how do you feel? And she'd tip her head back, making her appear even shorter than her already not so big self, and roar out, I falafel! and bust up laughing. Her white stockings made a rustling sound as she sped around the kitchen, making cinnamon rolls, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, Carmelitas and grits souffle, apparently.

I remember Sue as the originator of the grits souffle recipe, but Mom clarified that it was originally Aunt Mary Harry's recipe and that Sue introduced it to us, since Aunt Mary Harry was on Henry's side of that marrying-cousins family. 

I also remember it as much flatter than the current photo. But I had fond memories of it none-the-less so set to work. Mom and Abby were coming for dinner and Downton Abby so that seemed the perfect opportunity. I planned porkchops with bitter winter greens from Epicurious to balance the richness and Pineapple Upside Downton Cake for desert (that's another story, but it doesn't have a happy ending).

The original recipe calls for heating milk and butter, adding the grits and cooking til thick, then beating for 5 minutes and baking in a souffle dish. Abby and Mom were due at seven and my unfailing belief that I could do just one more thing before getting ready meant I was late and not ready. Consequently, there was a temper tantrum, followed by some bellowed curses when the milk boiled over because I had it on too high because I wanted it to boil faster. Right. in my post-tantrum state of excess adrenalin I forgot the part about cooking the grits and just went right to the 5 minutes of beating.

The result mirrored the geographical deposition that you would see on a canyon wall. The lowest layer, the sedimentary layer, was like dry, tough cornbread; the next layer, the metamorphic layer, was a rich soft  custard of cooked milk; and the top, the igneous layer was a thin brown crust. Not inedible, but not far from it and nothing liking the memories of yore. No photos.

 The next weekend armed with real grits this time, I tried again. I started early, avoided temper tantrums, remembered to cook before beating. Huge success - just like I remembered.

Still curious about what Jamie had done, I called him up. He revealed that he had tinkered with the original "a bit", adding eggs (separated and whites whipped to soft peaks, then folded in) and Parmesan cheese. Apparently Alison had remarked, well, it's not what I remember, but it's not bad. I'm sticking with Alison on this one.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Healthy Cookies

Healthy is to Cookie as Decaf is to Coffee, Nonalcoholic is to Beer and Vegan is to Burger. Take the beef out of a burger, and you are left with squirrel food in a cylindrical shape. Take the refined and processed flours and sugars out of a cookie, remove the butter, disallow chocolate and again, you are left with squirrel food but in a slightly smaller cylindrical shape.
That said, I just read (skimmed) Super Immunity by Joel Fuhrman, MD. Joel Fuhrman, MD says that if you are going to eat white flour and white sugar you may as well lie in a bed of asbestos, French-inhaling Unfiltered Camels and sipping Tab. Also, it is January, time of the new leaf, the kale juice cleanse, the intention to stretch at least five times a week, the commitment to always apply moisturizer in short, upward strokes.
I thought I’d give it a whirl. I started with something called Chia Cookies (be still my beating heart) from Joel Fuhrman, MD, himself. Joel Fuhrman, MD wants you to soak some currents in hot water. I used raisins because I didn’t have currents. There may be some prohibition against raisins because they rarely appear in his recipes.*
Then he wants you to whiz up your rolled oats in a food processor. I skipped this step altogether. I whizzed up the raisin and water mixture. I combined the rolled oats, the raisin water mixture, some nuts and chia seeds, some apple sauce, some dried coconut, a little bit of almond butter and a tsp of vanilla. I formed this into cookie like shapes and dehydrated them in a 200 oven for 2 hours.

The result wasn’t totally disgusting. I ate about half of them. They were sweet and crunchy, the texture and consistency of Mrs. Bentley’s oatmeal cookies, if you haven’t had Mrs. Bentley’s oatmeal cookies in a long time and your memory of their specific texture and consistency is vague. And they are healthy, as long as you can be healthy and dramatically dyspeptic at the same time. Bottom line: I wouldn’t eat them if they weren’t healthy and I won’t be making them again.

Next I tried some carrot oatmeal cookies from 101 Cookbooks, my new favorite web site.

These have ww flour, maple syrup and coconut oil, along with carrots, ginger and rolled oats. There is even some baking powder and they are actually baked at 375.

Needless to say, they were better. But of course, less healthy. I’m divining a pattern and I don’t like the looks of it. Bottom line, I’m not sure I’d make them again because they were about as tasty as they were healthy, which is to say not enough of either.

I tried one more, also from 101 Cookbooks. These are called Nikki’s Healthy Cookies. Healthy, right there in the name. How encouraging. And they call for chocolate chips. Downright propitious. This recipe has you mix up some mashed bananas, some coconut oil (oleagine of the Gods apparently) rolled oats, almond meal, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, baking powder and those promising chocolate chips. They are baked. And they are good. And they are pretty healthy. I used dark chocolate. Next time I’ll skip the cookie shape and form them into rectangles, bake them a little longer so they are a crispy and eat them as a bar. They could happily sub in for a Clif bar on a hike or long bike ride.

The healthy cookies are definitely healthier, or at least not as unhealthy. All whole grains, some of that miracle oleagine, some fruit, vegetables, nuts, chia seeds. But since it is January, and the real goal of the new leaf, besides no colds, no flu, no MRSA, is no cellulite. So are these cookies less fattening? Sadly, no. The Nikki’s cookies come in at a little over 100 calories per. A quick search of Tollhouse cookies puts them at 100 calories per. My favorite salted butter chocolate chip cookies probably have twice that, but they are bigger.
The healthy cookies might be less fattening in the long run because I just won’t eat as many. It’s like having a bag of yogurt covered pretzels in the cupboard. They have zero calories because I won’t go near them.

*Joel Fuhrman, MD’s recipes: Black Bean Brownies which contain 2 cups of cooked black beans. Mighty Mushroom Stroganoff with a sauce made from cauliflower, white beans, hemp milk, a salt substitute and some nutritional yeast. The Acorn Squash Supreme calls for acorn squash, apricots, pineapple, raisins and a salt substitute. These are the kind of recipes that make Mollie Katzen want to go out with Ray Kroc for a steak tartare binge.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Red Velvet Cake Reprise

Rob's birthday was last week and Annie agreed to let me make the cake. I have been to a shocking number of parties lately where the "cake" was purchased at Costco. This is so very wrong in so many ways. These are parties where the rest of the food is prepared right there in the host and hostess's kitchen.
When did it become acceptable to serve a "purchased" dessert? Other than ice cream, and in the summertime at a casual get together, Popsicles, one should never serve a "purchased" dessert. It is disgusting, unattractive and unhealthy, full of chemicals, trans fats and ingredients processed from other processed ingredients, the final product being to cake as Tropical Fruit Pop Rocks is to a mango. The "cake" has a crumb so uniform it could be used in a science fair project on geometry, the "filling" is usually lemon the color of a fluorescent light bulb and similarly created, or glutinous "fruit" from the flavor palette of Bonnie Belle Lip Smackers or White Owl Blunts and with the mouth feel of river sludge. The "frosting" is made from some low rent Crisco that coats the roof of your mouth with a grease slick impervious to all known detergents, and enough high fructose corn syrup to hurl you into diabetic shock.
I was delighted to be allowed to actually bake a cake for Rob.
I pulled out a number of cook books, read and reread.

I considered a mousse cake, but rejected that idea as mousse can be tricky, the cakes are usually not pretty, and I don't have a 12" springform which I would have needed to make a mousse cake for 20. I considered a chocolate caramel cake and rejected that because Annie doesn't like chocolate and having never made it before, I was scared that the cake would be dry. I thought long and hard about a spice cake and finally accepted that for me, spice cake has been failure followed by disappointment followed by defeat.
Chocolate dump cake? Too dump-ish. Carrot cake? Too healthy. Lemon cake? Too boring. Yellow cake with Chocolate icing? Too boring. Coconut cake? I'm tired of it. I settled on Red Velvet Cake.
Although I have not been enamored of RV cake and I know you think it is gross, I went with it because it is popular, Southern and festive. We live in VA; this was a party; an audience inured to the horrors of Costco cakes wouldn't have any reservations about a cake the color of a Twizzler.
From my previous experiments, I knew that the recipe would have to use oil not butter, and would need red food coloring, never mind my visceral aversion to both the ingredient and the resultant hue. (Talk about viscera!) And I knew that none of the recipes I had previously tried would do.
I found a recipe for Southern Red Velvet Cake on Cookstr. It is from The Neely's. There were 3 comments and all were effusive in their enthusiasm and praise. It contained oil. I went for it. I wanted three 10" layers. I made one and half times the recipe, I doubled the cocoa powder and I added pecans to the frosting.
The cakes baked up with nearly burnt and crusty tops, maybe because I had to bake them longer because the layers were so large, maybe because my ovens are too hot.

I sawed off the top 1/2 inch and still had three very tall layers. The frosting was quite gooey and drippy and the cake began to slide and list as soon as it was frosted. I secured it with four dowels.

It was delicious. Festive, traditional and very popular.

I wish I had brought some home.