Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recipes off the beaten path

If you’re traveling around the South this summer, you might want to pick up a copy of "Off the Eaten Path: Second Helpings.”

This Southern Living book is a guide of where to eat on "less-traveled trails” from Texas to Maryland. It also includes plenty of recipes for those of us who won’t be traveling to Chicken and the Egg in Marietta, Ga., for pimiento cheese fondue or to Blow Fly Inn in Gulfport, Miss., for seafood pasta with Monica sauce.

Author Morgan Murphy traveled the region, making stops at popular restaurants from barbecue joints to night clubs. He sampled the cuisine with such regional favorites as salsa fuego chili con queso in Fort Worth, Texas; peanut butter pie in Richmond, Va.; and Miss Hudson’s banana pudding in Birmingham, Ala.

Carrie Hudson has been making banana pudding for the meat-and-three eatery Niki’s West since 1957. It’s stories such as hers that make this cookbook not only a good source of recipes but a good read as well.

For instance, I enjoyed reading his description of Oxbow in Clarksdale, Miss. The restaurant is staffed by a chef who worked for Wolfang Puck and features decor from "found objects” such as wooden pallets and homemade light fixtures. Murphy sings the praises of the burgers at Oxbow, which include a "quickle,” a quick pickle that I tried over the weekend.

Other recipes I want to try from this book include buttermilk cornbread muffins from Weaver D’s in Athens, Ga., and the Stinky melt from Stinky & Coco’s Diner in Winchester, Ky. The Stinky melt is a combination of grilled cheese and a burger and is served on white bread. It looks yummy!

And I would love to visit Best Buns Bread Co. in Arlington, Va., or at least try one of the four recipes they shared: bacon-cheddar scones; blueberry-lemon muffins; English toffee cookies; and ginger crinkle cookies.

"Second Helpings” includes three North Carolina restaurants: The Admiral in Asheville; Dish in Charlotte; and Grady’s Barbecue in Dudley. If you aren’t familiar with Grady’s, it’s located at 3096 Arrington Bridge Road and is about a 40-minute drive from Wilson.

I enjoyed reading this book, looking at the photos of the interior and exterior of restaurants and reading about menus from other states. If I find myself traveling in these states anytime soon, I’ll be sure to pack this book when I go.

"Off the Eaten Path: Second Helpings” has a list price of $22.95 but it’s less online.

  • 1 English cucumber
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt*
  • 1/4 teaspoon pickling spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 bay leaf
Cut cucumber into 1/8-inch slices using a mandoline or V-slicer and place in a large glass bowl.

Bring 2 cups water, vinegars and next 5 ingredients to a boil in a medium-size nonreactive saucepan, stirring often, until sugar and salt dissolve.

Pour hot vinegar mixture over cucumber slices. Cool to room temperature (about 3 hours). Cover and chill at least 24 hours; store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

From Oxbow in Clarksdale, Miss.

"Off the Beaten Path: Second Helpings"

Notes: I used a knife to cut my cucumber. Also, these were too salty for my husband and me. I cut the salt in half the second time I made them. I did use an English or hot house cucumber, but pickling cukes should work fine. (Hot house cucumbers are wrapped in shrink wrap in the produce section.) There’s plenty of liquid if you want to use more cucumbers. I had fresh dill but wouldn’t have used it otherwise.

Quickles are served on a burger at Oxbow.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Simple strawberry cake

I couldn’t resist another strawberry recipe this week!

I still find myself heading out to pick strawberries twice a week to satisfy my family’s craving for a favorite fruit.

Today’s recipe is another one I found on the North Carolina Strawberry Association’s website, ncstrawberry.com. I was intrigued, once again, by the "something new” factor of this very simple recipe from Rudd Farm in Greensboro.

The new step involved mixing a can of cream cheese frosting with a tub of thawed whipped topping. I couldn’t imagine what this would taste like or even look like, but I had to try it.

I mixed the two ingredients with a spoon, and they combined for a sticky topping that reminded me of marshmallow cream or even 7-minute frosting. I immediately stuck my finger in the frosting to taste it and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Sweet and sticky and delicious!

The frosting tops a very simple cake. The layer is made from a yellow cake mix (follow box instructions). Once the cake has cooled, poke holes in the top with a fork, then pour sweetened strawberries with the juice on top before frosting. The cake is better once it has chilled in the refrigerator.

This would be a great cake to take to a covered dish dinner or for any occasion.

Not only will I be making this cake again (at my family’s request), but I can’t wait to try this new frosting combination on a pineapple cake!

Karla's Strawberry Cake
  • 1 box yellow cake mix (and additional ingredients as required by directions)
  • 1 quart strawberries, sliced
  • 3/4 cup of sugar*
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting
  • 1 medium-size tub whipped topping
Cook cake in rectangular pan as directed on box.

When cake is done and cooled slightly, punch holes in it with a fork.

Combine strawberries and sugar and let sit until juice is formed. Pour the strawberry mixture over cake.

Mix cream cheese frosting and whipped topping. Spread on top of strawberries and cooled cake.


Rudd Strawberry Farm

* I only used about 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar. My berries were at room temperature (picked about 30 minutes earlier) and made plenty of juice with that amount of sugar.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Strawberry coffee cake

We eat a lot of strawberries at my house this time of year.

My son and I picked 10 pounds of berries Saturday. We shared some with neighbors and were still enjoying what was left on Monday.

We eat them for snack and for breakfast, we eat them in pies and shortcakes and even homemade ice cream.

And starting this year, we’re eating them one more way — in a delicious, buttery coffee cake.

I’ve always loved coffee cakes, but I had never really considered adding strawberries. I’ve only baked with strawberries in the last few years, and I’ve been pleased with all of those recipes.

I found many recipes online for strawberry coffee cakes, and I just combined a few of them to come up with one I knew I’d like. I wanted one that didn’t have an abundance of butter but did have sour cream. Although some coffee cakes had a stick of butter in the cake and another stick in the crumb topping, I limited mine to 2 tablespoons of butter in the cake and 3 tablespoons of butter in the delicious topping. The rich, butter taste of this coffee cake might make you think it had a lot more butter!

I choose brown sugar for the crumb topping instead of granulated, which I saw in several coffee cakes. I love the flavor of brown sugar, and it was a good choice for this recipe. When I was making the crumb topping, I was afraid I had way too much of the mixture for my cake. But I used it all anyway. I’m so glad I did!

As the cake cooks, the topping sinks into the cake and bubbles up some on top. The result is a beautiful golden brown topping that, when cut, reveals a layer of thinly sliced strawberries.

I had the cake warm from the oven, and thought it was delicious. I brought what was left to work and shared it with my co-workers, who told me they enjoyed it as well.

If you like strawberries and you like coffee cake, give this recipe a try.

Strawberry Coffee Cake
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 2 cups strawberries, thinly sliced
Crumb topping:
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons softened butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For cake, in a large bowl, mix granulated sugar and flour to combine. Stir in milk, egg, vanilla, butter and sour cream until smooth. Pour into 8-inch square baking dish prepared with baking spray or butter. Top cake batter with strawberries, overlapping if necessary.

In another bowl, combine crumb topping ingredients with a pastry blender or fork. Sprinkle on top of cake; there will be a lot, but use it all.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

The cake is best served warm.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Revisiting banana cake

When I started my food column almost 12 years ago, I relied on readers to send in their recipes. I made the recipes sometimes, but I didn’t photograph any of them.

Alma Barnes gave me quite a few recipes in those early years. Not only did she bring me the recipe, she also brought in the food for me to try. Her son, Keith, worked at The Wilson Times then, and she’d bring goodies for all of us to share.

One of those recipes was for a banana cake. In early 2003, Mrs. Barnes, who has since passed away, brought by a banana cake fresh from the oven. My co-workers and I quickly finished off that cake that had the wonderful aroma of bananas mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg. I first ran that recipe in my food column in February of 2003.

Lucky for me, I have a slice of banana cake on my desk for my morning snack. Yes, I’m still making that recipe 10 years later! The banana cake is one of my daughter, Anna’s, favorite recipes, and I enjoy making it for her.

The cake starts with a yellow cake mix that is "doctored” with a box of banana cream pudding mix, two ripe bananas and spices. It’s very simple to make, and the aroma from the oven is heavenly!

When I made the cake this week, Anna convinced my granddaughter to try it. Getting 4-year-old Sora to try anything new isn’t an easy task, but Aunt Anna was persuasive and made sure she didn’t tell her the cake has bananas in it. Sora ate her slice of cake and seemed to enjoy it. And in the process, the two of them have named it Anna Banana Cake. Since we often refer to Anna by that nickname, it didn’t occur to Sora, apparently, that the cake has bananas in it.

If you like the flavor of bananas and banana bread, I think you’ll really enjoy this delicious cake.

Anna Banana Cake
  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1 small box banana cream instant pudding mix
  • 2 mashed (very ripe) bananas
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour tube or Bundt cake pan. (I used Baker's Joy spray instead.)

Put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Beat 4 minutes on medium mixer speed.

Pour into prepared pan. Smooth in pan with spatula. Bake 50 minutes to one hour.*

Cool 15 minutes on cake rack before removing from pan.

Alma Barnes

*Mrs. Barnes called this cake Easy Banana Cake, but we renamed it Anna Banana Cake. My cake, cooked in a dark Bundt pan, was ready in about 50 minutes.