The Passion Fruits

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Tag: sides

Not-So-Southern Cornbread

So, I really wasn’t meaning to continue my ramble through Southern foodways, but here we are. I had some buttermilk leftover from my red velvet cake-making adventures and was looking for a good way to use it up when my daily Tasting Table email dropped fortuitously into my inbox with the perfect recipe for cornbread-one that called for buttermilk–courtesy of the chef at Carriage House, a restaurant in Chicago. And, for real, this is some EXCELLENT cornbread right here.

Southern purists will likely have to look away, though, as this is a sweet, light cornbread–more in the Northern style–that remains nonetheless redolent of corn and full of flavor. I happen to find it better than the more austere Southern versions, and really, how could I not with the embarrassment of riches stirred into the batter–honey, eggs, butter, butermilk, AND sour cream. Not so much healthfood, then, but there’s kale salad for that.

I also ended up baking it in a 9×13″ baking tin rather than a 12″ cast iron skillet, which shockingly even I do not possess. The world didn’t end, however, and I imagine that it’s actually easier to portion than the round would be.

Lightly sweet, lightly savory, totally delicious–and like all quick breads, absolutely dead easy. We’ve been enjoying it for several days now, with salad, with chili… just about anything, I think, could be improved with a few of these golden yellow squares served along side.

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Maybe They CAN Cook: Mrs. T’s English Roast Potatoes

Bland, industrial, cooked-to-death, greasy, occasionally tasty… but only when it’s chicken tikka masala. I think that covers the waterfront on English food jokes, yeah? Despite a significant renaissance on the British food scene, the associations with droopy chips and sad boiled dinners tend to cling like sulfurous fumes to overcooked cabbage. National pride wounded, however, Mr. T does insist that English food, cooked in the home, is a very different and delicious beast.

And these roast potatoes, courtesy of his mom–excuse me, “mum”–Mrs. T, fall firmly into that different and delicious category. Indeed, everything that I’ve eaten at home on our visits to London has been quite delicious. Both Mrs. T and her sister, Auntie T, are very accomplished home cooks. (I am currently on the hunt for Auntie T’s uh-mazing chocolate apple cake.) His brother, Artsy T, spent time as a restaurant chef; and even his sister, Dr. T, has significantly upped her game since the arrival of the niecelet.

In any event, roast potatoes. I imagine that these accompany the big, juicy Sunday roasts that one reads about in Charles Dickens novels–generally only towards the happy ending, though. They’re basically what would happen if French fries and potato chips had illict, delicious babies. Crack their crisply burnished, golden brown crust to reveal pale and creamy potato innards. People, particularly those who have never had a traditional roast dinner, flip the bojangles OUT when presented with these. English expats are similarly thrilled. For Mr. T, who is quite the potato connoisseur, these represent the acme, epitome, the ur-potato experience. In short, they pretty much make everyone ridiculously, deliriously happy.

They’ve even replaced mashed potatoes at the Thanksgiving table. The traditionalist martinet in me (oh yes, I’ve got one of those) was not pleased at first, but EVERYONE is just totally taken with them. The mash just can’t hold a candle to these golden beauties.

Said potatoes require a screaming hot oven, some time, and a lot of lubrication. Since the roast dinner is not something that gets a lot of play these days, certainly in the US at least, allowances have to be made. We use a mild olive oil rather than more exciting goose fat or beef dripping. That said, for extra-super delicious bonus points, Team Goose Fat is the winner. You’ve go buckets of that floating around, right? I’ve only made them once with goose fat–for obvious reasons–but, damn, they were really, really good. So, next time you’re roasting a goose, save those um, “juices”!

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The Txting Chf: Quick Garlic Bread for Tweens

Recently, the following text appeared on my phone:

“Garlic bread. Should I just make garlic butter and spread it on the bread and then bake it? If so, how do I make the garlic butter? :D

While I’m used to getting weird food questions and recipe requests from friends this was a new country heard from–my brother, WonderTwin1, who generally doesn’t know enough about cooking to muster a reasonable question in the first place. Interesting.

Of course, about a week before this particular text, WonderTwin1 started his new job manny-ing for a family on New York’s Upper West Side: three tween boys to corral, and on some occasions, feed. This is amusing on several fronts, but most immediately because WonderTwin1, unlike his brother WonderTwinA, can’t really cook. Garlic bread question notwithstanding, though, I’ve gotten far fewer frantic calls than I expected to…

But it’s early yet, and I’m hoping that WT1 will be able to give me a little bit more notice next time he needs to know the best way to reheat sliced flank steak (quickly, with some sort of sauce, and hope that your tweens are hungry and have good teeth) or easy garlic bread directions. I’ll spare you the txt version of the recipe I came up with on the fly, but here’s a slightly more formalized one in case you have a bunch of hungry boys fresh from soccer practice and are looking for some garlic bread.

Basically, we’re making a quick beurre composé, aka compound butter, aka butter with flavorful things smooshed into it. Here, garlic and herbs take the day, but the sky’s the limit. If you don’t want to make a full loaf of garlic bread, still go ahead and do the full batch of butter. It’s something that you’ll find any number of uses for… saute some spinach with it, or take a pat and rest it atop a hot steak… or even some of that sad leftover flank steak. Garlic butter will make ANYTHING better.
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Side Dish Surgery: Rescuing Scalloped Potatoes

During a recent Easter dinner debrief my mother mentioned that the scalloped potatoes she and WonderTwin A had prepared ended up being somewhat lackluster. A very sad day, particularly since scalloped potatoes–with their carbs and their cream and their cheese–don’t grace the table very often. If you’re going to cook and eat a dish like that, you want it to be awesome–and worth all the work it takes to make and then burn off on the elliptical.

As we zero’d in on the case of the poorly performing potatoes, Mom said that they’d prepared them in the usual way: layering thinly sliced rounds of potato with grated cheese, and pouring over a seasoned mixture of milk and cream before baking it all off. And though they turned out better than the mashed turnips Wondertwin A decided to add 3 tbs of RAW minced garlic to, the potatoes were still in need of some additional attention.

Having prepared them this way in the past myself, I’ve found the method just leaves too much to chance. There are too many variables–moisture content of the potatoes and cheese, ACTUAL temperature of oven, surface area and thickness of the assembled dish–to control properly to ensure that the result isn’t dry, soupy, or undercooked.

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