I made that!

Introducing the Strawberry Cake

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Celebrating with Cake!, Southernness by brandi on September 26, 2011

There’s no getting around the fact that strawberries make things pink, which given my obsession with all things strawberry flavored, inherently makes me a sucker for pink food. But there’s one pink food that totally beats all the other pink food out there: strawberry cake. It’s a southern staple, a cake I hunt for every time I’m in Alabama. I’ve been perfecting my recipe for several years, but was waiting to share it until after teaching it in my Southern Cakes class at The Pantry (so much fun!). And it was hard keeping it to myself. Especially after a certain magazine that shall remain nameless (shame on you!) printed a particularly icky version (strawberry extract? gross!). But the truth is, like most southern cakes, this cake comes from a humble place. Try finding a great recipe online and it’s easy to be turned off by the miles of recipes calling for yellow cake mix and strawberry jello. Hence the several years… But alas! I can now have my pink cake and eat it too.

It starts with a bright batter flecked with puréed strawberries.

And ends with layers of perfect strawberry cream cheese frosting.

Now go find yourself an 8 year old girl’s birthday party, while there’s still one more week of strawberries at the market!


Yield: 1 three layer 8″ cake

10 ounces (2 1/2 cups) cake flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 vanilla bean

4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature, beaten

1 cup pureed strawberries

1 teaspoon lemon zest

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8” cake pans and line with rounds of parchment. Set aside.

– In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

– In another medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, and almond extract. Set aside.

– Split and scrape out the seeds from the vanilla bean. Rub the seeds into the sugar. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and vanilla sugar with the paddle attachment until it forms a paste. Add the eggs in a slow stream, beating well after each addition. Beat for 1 minute at medium speed. Gradually add the buttermilk mixture and beat for 1 minute at medium speed.

– Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in the pureed strawberries and the lemon zest.

– Spoon into the prepared cake pans and bake until the cakes spring back when touched lightly in the center. Cool before removing from the pan.


1 pound cream cheese, room temperature

6 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup powdered sugar

6 tablespoons strawberry jam

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons∑ lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

– In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth.

– Sift in the powdered sugar, and beat on low speed until incorporated. Add the strawberry jam, vanilla, lemon juice and salt, and beat well to incorporate. If the frosting is lumpy from the sugar, bump the speed up to medium-high continue beating until smooth.


Homemade Hot Sauce!

Posted in Don't BUY it, MAKE it!, I Like Salt Too, Southernness by brandi on September 7, 2011

Sunday night we had our first Down South dinner at The Pantry. Boiled peanuts, homemade saltine crackers with pimento cheese and smoked ham, succotash, fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits. I have to admit, it was kind of amazing. Maybe I’m biased to Southern food in general, but there was something beautiful about watching complete strangers sit around the table and get in there with their fingers. The thing that threw it over the edge for me?

Homemade hot sauce.

You know the stuff. It’s pretty. It’s hot. It’s usually that  awesome shade of orange that I can never find a paint chip to perfectly match. It makes me drool a little just to think about it. I’ve been buying this one brand, Youk’s, for years. The problem is that they only sell it online or in San Francisco, at this restaurant called Maverick. Needless to say, carting it back to Seattle after every trip got a little tedious. And once you’ve had the good stuff, it’s just hard to go back to Tabasco or Tapatío. If you’re as much a fan of the stuff as I am, then this is a very good day. I made it with my friend Brandon one day, a couple of weeks ago. It was kind of a shot in the dark, involving us poking around on the web for Southern-style recipes, then just winging it. It actually surprised me with how good it is. Who knew I had such little faith in myself? Anyhoo, get yourself to the farmer’s market before the peppers are gone, you’ll thank me.

We started by tossing some fresno chiles in olive oil and then roasting them in the wood-fired oven at Delancey for a bit. After they got nice and browned, we pureed them in a food processor with just enough vinegar to make them move around in there comfortably.

Then we placed the whole blob of pepper paste in a strainer and smashed it through. We took the liquid that came through and adjusted it with more vinegar, some water and lots of salt. And that’s it. So darn simple.

And crazy good. We made about 6 cups of it and have already gone through a quart. In two weeks. There’s been a lot of heartburn at The Pantry this month, but no one’s complaining.

Hot Sauce Recipe:

1 lb Fresno chiles

15 TBSP distilled vinegar

1 TBSP water

1 3/4 tsp kosher salt

– Trim the stems off of the chiles, leaving the base that the stem attaches to. Rumor has it that that part gives great flavor. Who am I to challenge a good culinary rumor?

– Toss the chiles in enough olive oil to coat them. Then roast them in a broiler, or grill them if you can. The goal is to get a nice char on them.

– Puree them in a food processor or blender with enough vinegar to keep them moving.

– Strain them through a fine sieve, smashing the whole time to get as much of the pulp as possible.

– Add the water, salt and the rest of the vinegar and pop in the fridge to chill for a few days. You can certainly eat it immediately, but it only gets better with time.

Fried! Pig! Skin!

Posted in All Things Pork, Don't BUY it, MAKE it!, I Like Salt Too, Southernness by brandi on February 8, 2010

Dear Pork,

You did it again. You made me fall in love with you all over. It started months ago, you see. Living in San Francisco. There was this guy, Ryan Farr his name was. He was making magic with pork skin, and his chicharrones were showing up all over town. I was deeply jealous. I hated him for knowing you in a way that I didn’t. I mean, I grew up in ALABAMA – I should be frying pig skin in my SLEEP! Why wasn’t I grandfathered in on the secret? And rumor had it that this Mr. Farr was taking his technique with him to his grave. So I was on my own to find my way into your heart/skin. All hope was seemingly lost, months of searching were fruitless. But then it happened. I read somewhere that the new Momofuku cookbook was spilling the beans. Step by step directions for perfect chicharrones. I ordered some fatback from my new favorite butcher shop and left the house 5 minutes later to buy a copy. There was no stopping me now.

When my fatty skin came, I was enthralled. You looked so innocent, like a topographical map of a Washington state. I could have stared at you all day, folding you into different shapes.

But we were at the beginning of a long journey together, so I needed to get to work. First I separated your skin from your fat.

I put your skin in a pot of water and boiled you for 1 1/2 hours, long enough to soften up the fat left clinging to you.

The rest of your fat I cubed up and put in another pot, with a bit of water. Because when you have that much fat sitting on your kitchen counter, you might as well render some lard.

After your skin was done boiling, I stretched you out and placed you in the fridge. There you chilled for another 2 hours. Then I set about the arduous task of scraping off every last bit of fat. The book recommended the side of a spoon, but I had to use a knife. Because this was OUR moment and I wanted you to be perfect. Then I popped you in the dehydrator and let you do your thing overnight.

In the meantime, I still had some fat melting away on the stove. It took 8 hours, but eventually you released all your juiciness.

I strained you, smashing to get every last drop of liquid fat.

And was very pleased with your color, almost perfectly clear.

When you cooled, you were beautiful. Snowy. Pure.

I slept well, knowing that when I awoke the next morning, you would be ready for me. And you were. 12 hours in the dehydrator had left you thin and leathery. I broke you into tiny pieces.

I heated your lard to 390 degrees and tossed in your skin, one piece at a time.

It was magnificent to see you puff up to 5 times your size. I like to think that was you swelling with love.

I tossed you in a spice mix I had prepared earlier. And you were glorious. Light, fluffy, melt in my mouth glorious. You were a lot of work, but Pork skin, you were worth it. Thank you.

Spice Mix recipe:

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp white pepper

1 TBSP salt

1 TBSP sugar


Posted in All Things Pork, I Like Salt Too, Southernness by brandi on February 4, 2010

This isn’t really a post. It’s more like a mention, because this was the tastiest jambalaya I’ve ever made. I didn’t really take photos, mostly because the beauty of cooking jambalaya is that everything just gets thrown into one pot (preferably an extremely large one). So it’s not the most interesting process, but it is a fantastic dinner.

This is basically John Besh’s recipe, from his new cookbook (which makes me want to hit up the state of Louisiana something fierce). I only changed a few things, mostly not using converted rice (uncle Ben’s) and omitting the celery salt. Because celery salt makes me uncomfortable. Not sure why.

Shrimp, Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya Recipe:

Serves 6-8

12oz andouille sausage, diced

8oz fresh pork sausage, removed from casings

8oz bacon, diced

1 oz butter

2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

2 celery stalks, diced

1 large onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1 dried bay leaf

2 1/4 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 1/4 cups white rice

1 15oz can crushed tomatoes

2 1/2 cups rich chicken broth

1 1/4 lb shrimp (preferably Louisiana white), peeled and deveined

– Preheat a large cast-iron pot over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add the sausages, bacon and butter. Cook the meat as evenly as possible, stirring slowly, until the fat is released.

– Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the pot. Once the chicken has browned, about 5 minutes, add the onions and cook for 15 minutes. Add the bell pepper, celery and garlic. Continue to stir, allowing the ingredients to brown without burning, about 5 minutes.

– Add the thyme, bay leaf, paprika, cayenne, and rice. Keep stirring for 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat.

– Add the tomatoes and broth, raise the heat back to high until the liquid boils, and then cover and reduce to a low simmer until rice is almost cooked through, about 25 minutes.

– Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, and add them to the pot. Keep the pot covered for an additional 10 minutes before removing from the heat. Season to taste.

The Henderson Family Chocolate Meringue Pie

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Certified Pie Ninja, Southernness by brandi on November 28, 2009

It’s not so big here on the west coast, but in the South every family has a chocolate meringue pie recipe. It’s a source of pride, even if it involves cool whip and instant jello pudding (yuck!). This pie has been in my family as long as I have (I suspect longer), and I am proud to say that it is about the only thing my father makes from scratch — well, except for the crust, but one day I’ll show him the light. It’s a fairly simple pie, but it does take a little while to set up, so it’s best to be made in the morning or the day before it’s to be eaten.

First, since this pie will not be baked, a completely baked crust.

Then I made a chocolate pudding, which mostly involves a lot of stirring. Since there are egg yolks in the pudding, I poured it through a sieve.

And then filled my pie shell.

Then I made a meringue (actually my friend Pantea made the meringue, because it was Thanksgiving and I was doing 13 other things).

We used our fingers to pull strands of meringue into points, and then torched them until they were nice and golden. A word of warning: this is a messy pie. But it’s worth it.


1 single crust pie pastry


2 cups sugar

6 TBSP flour

6 TBSP cocoa

1 tsp salt

6 egg yolks

4 cups milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 oz unsalted butter


5oz egg whites

10oz sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

– Roll out pastry into a 12-13 inch circle, transfer and center into 9 inch pie pan. Place in freezer for 20 minutes.

– Line with foil, fill with weights (dried beans) and then bake in 400 degrees oven for about 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown and look set. Lower temperature to 350 and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans and continue baking for another 10-20 minutes, until fully baked. Set on wire rack to cool.

– Mix sugar, flour, cocoa and salt in medium bowl. Mix in egg yolks. Mix in milk 1/2 cup at a time, to prevent lumps.

– Pour mixture into heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. How long this takes seems to depend on whether the gods are smiling on you that day. But it should be really thick and starting to boil.

– Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla extract. Pour through sieve into bowl.

– Pour into cooled pie shell and chill in fridge for at least 4 hours to firm up.

– Place sugar and egg whites in kitchen-aid bowl. Place bowl in pan of simmering water and heat, stirring constantly, until the whites reach a temperature of 140. Remove from heat and whip on medium high until the meringue has cooled and tripled in volume. Beat in vanilla extract.

– Spread over cooled pudding and shape. Use a propane torch to toast meringue edges. Keep in fridge until ready to eat.

Just Another Dirty Southern Brunch

Posted in I Like Salt Too, Playing With Yeast, Southernness by brandi on November 15, 2009

Sometimes I just have these cravings…Southern cravings. They come on fast and hard and suddenly I just NEED to recreate something from my younger days. Yesterday I was entertaining friends for brunch. The night before, I was flipping through cookbooks, trying to find something complex and interesting to make. I was feeling particularly uninspired until I passed over a recipe for angel biscuits, which are basically biscuits leavened with yeast along with the more traditional baking powder. My mouth instantaneously started drooling as I recounted the feathery light biscuits the South is known for. And then there was nothing else I could possibly cook. There was no complicated quiche, no perfectly stacked benedict and certainly no fancy-pants pastry that could substitute for that biscuit. Thus, it was on.

And of course, where there’s biscuits, there’s bacon gravy.


But the biscuits. Did I mention they have yeast in them?


And of course, lard. Yes, I keep a block of lard in my freezer.


I rubbed the lard with some butter into my flour mixture.


And then poured in the yeast and some buttermilk.


I mixed (but just barely) that into a dough, pressed it out and stamped out my biscuits.


Then I let them rise by the fireplace until they were nice and puffed.


And then baked them until they had a nice crispy crust. And oh boy, they were yummy. Pretty much the perfect biscuit. So good that it almost seemed like a waste to pour gravy all over them. Not that that stopped me.


But could I stop with the biscuits and gravy? No. I wanted more. I wanted dirty. I wanted pimento cheese. Chances are that if you live on the wrong (or right) side of the mason-dixon line, you’ve never heard of such a thing. Let me tell you, it is kinda gross. And delicious. Think cheddar. Mixed with roasted peppers (In the South they have these jarred pimentos, I have no idea what makes those so special or why you can only get them there). And mayonnaise. Oh yes, I went there.

But since I DO have my limits, I at least made my own mayonnaise. Because that jarred stuff gives me the willies.


In a big bowl I threw in shredded cheddar, finely diced roasted red peppers, paprika, cayenne and some black pepper.


And stirred in my mayonnaise. Like I said, Dirty. It was not a brunch for the delicate eater, and I suspect I actually scarred Tessa (even though I totally caught her dipping a finger in the pimento cheese when she thought no one was looking), but it was worth the heartburn.


ANGEL BISCUITS RECIPE (adapted from Edna Lewis):

1 package (1/4 oz) active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

5 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 TBSP baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 TBSP salt

4 oz lard, cold

4 oz butter, cold

melted butter for brushing the biscuits

– Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the room temperature buttermilk.

– Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt i a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Using your fingers, rub in the lard and butter, being careful to keep large flat pieces.

– Stir in the yeast and buttermilk and mix until just blended.

– Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times, to make smooth. Roll to a thickness of 1/2″ and stamp out biscuits.

– Place biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

– Brush tops with melted but and bake in a preheated 450 oven for about 12 minutes, until golden brown.

Bourbon Pecan Praline!

Posted in All Sugar All The Time, Southernness, The Candy Store by brandi on November 13, 2009

Yesterday a friend emailed asking me for a good southern praline recipe. I vaguely remembered someone making it at Tartine and found the recipe in their cookbook. I know, being from Bama I should consult some relative back home, or at least some dusty old stack of secret southern recipes. But the last recipe for candy my grandmother shared called for paraffin wax (like IN the brittle – YUCK!) and I have my limits. After typing up the recipe for her, it was all I could think about. I had all the ingredients already, so it seemed like a waste to NOT make some…

I started by toasting the pecans for a few minutes, to perk them up.


Then I mixed the sugar, cream, butter, salt, molasses and bourbon in a largish pot.


I let that boil, stirring occasionally, until it reached 240 degrees.


I let it sit in the pot cooling, still stirring occasionally, until it reached 210 degrees. I stirred in the toasted nuts, making sure to get them well coated.  Then I poured the mixture out on a sheet pan. I let it cool for 1 minute to start setting up, then sprinkled sea salt on top. Because I like my candy salty. You can omit that step if you prefer unadulterated sweetness.


After it cooled completely I broke the praline into chunks. And then started passing it out to anyone who walked by. Because this stuff is like crack. Pure candy crack. Definitely dangerous, definitely best to share it before I scarf it all down myself! And did I mention that it took like 20 minutes? So really, there are no excuses.



2 cups (10 oz) pecan halves

3 cups (21 oz) sugar

1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream

4 tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp unsulphered molasses

2 tbsp bourbon

sea salt (optional)

– Preheat oven to 325

– Spread pecans on baking sheet and toast for 4 minutes. Let cool completely.

– Line another baking sheet with parchment. Set aside.

– In a deep heavy bottom saucepan, combine sugar, cream, butter, salt, molasses and bourbon

– Cook over medium high heat, stirring to break up lumps.

– Bring to boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until it registers 240 on thermometer.

– Remove from heat and let cool until it reaches 210.

– Add the pecans and stir vigorously (you have to work fast because it will start to thicken).

– Pour mixture onto the sheet pan and let it cool for 1 minute.

– Sprinkle on sea salt.

– Let cool for an hour and then break into chunks.

So I finally cracked.

Posted in I Like Salt Too, Southernness by brandi on July 29, 2009

I miss cooking. A lot. I’m on a little “holiday” from work, meaning I’ve got all the time in the world. But I’m not supposed to use my hands. It’s been 4 weeks or so since I started resting, and still no clarity as to what’s going on. I’m still in pain, and it seems to be spreading. Tomorrow I get to see a rheumatologist and start the lovely process of bloodwork. Good times…

In the meantime, I am bored. I’ve even resorted to arguing health care reform on my hometown’s local newspaper’s website. Sad. So tonight I cracked. I wanted food. Home cooked food. Despite my current useless culinary status, the CSA box just keeps on coming, and those veggies aren’t cooking themselves. So I went “comfort food”, to make me feel better about this annoying moment in my life. Creamed corn, caramelized carrots, lemony zucchini fritters, brown lima beans stewed in bacon. Easy stuff mostly. Stuff that doesn’t really need recipes or technique, just some attention. And some bacon of course.


And biscuits. Which was probably not the smartest move, but hey, at this point, what’s one more ibuprofen?


OK, I will officially stop feeling sorry for myself now.

An “I miss the south already” lunch

Posted in I Like Salt Too, Southernness by brandi on May 29, 2009

I’m back from 8 days of southern goodness: sleeping, swimming in the gulf, playing wii bowling, and most importantly eating. This time of year the peas are just showing up in the farmer’s markets, and I went on a mad spree snapping them up. I bought several different kinds, and brought back a bunch of these cream peas to keep in my freezer, to remind me of home. Though at the rate I’m going they won’t last long. I was home less than 24 hours before I was missing southern cooking and broke into them.


Peas are so perfect, that you hardly need to do anything to them. I started by cooking some chopped bacon and onion.


Then I added my peas, salt, lots of black pepper and enough water to cover them by about 1/2 of an inch.


I let those simmer for about 40 minutes, while I entertained myself ith some biscuits. Because one cannot have peas without either biscuits or cornbread. Rules are rules…


Everybody has their own biscuit technique. I like to rub in with my fingers a mixture of cold butter & lard. Then I stir in some buttermilk until it just holds together.


I stamp them out, the size always changes with my mood… today I was feeling medium biscuit sized.


Then I bake them until they have a nice crispy crust!


And by that time my peas are ready! There are few things better than a biscuit soggy with peas…yummmmm.


Cranky Day Leftovers (a.k.a Chicken and Dumplings)

Posted in I Like Salt Too, Southernness by brandi on April 13, 2009

I’m in a bit of a cranky mood. Long day with some…annoying news…all I wanted was a hot dinner, preferably one already cooked. And then I remembered the chicken and dumplings leftovers in the fridge. While last night’s pie wasn’t exactly a “success” (at least visually), my chicken and dumplings were deeeelish!

I started by pan frying some chicken thighs in olive oil until it was all brown and crispy.


Then I sauteed leeks, onions and carrots in the juices.


Then I added some flour. I toasted that for a bit and added some white wine. I let that cook down a bit and then added some chicken stock, my chicken thighs and some salt and pepper.


I threw on the lid and let it all cook down for about 45 minutes. Then I made some dumpling batter and dropped globs of it in to boil into perfect little dumplings. Some fresh tarragon and a bowl of fresh shelled English peas later and we were in business!


The great thing about chicken and dumplings (besides the obvious tasty fabulousness) is that you can make a giant pot and eat the leftovers for days. And today that’s about all I could ask for. Well, maybe a little leftover pie soup for dessert.

RECIPE (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated):

Note: Start the dumpling dough only when you’re ready to top the stew with the dumplings.

5 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium leek, cut into ½” pieces
1 medium onion, minced
6 TBSP AP flour
1/4 cup white wine
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup green peas
3 TBSP minced fresh tarragon leaves

2 cups AP flour
1 TBSP baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
3 TBSP butter

– For the Stew: Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken and cook until golden on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and remove the browned skin. Return the pot to medium-high heat and repeat with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil and the remaining chicken.

– Add the leeks, onion, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the pot and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Whisk in the wine, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, milk, thyme, and bay leaves. Nestle the chicken into the pot. Cover and simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, about 45 – 60 minutes.

– Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Discard the bay leaves. Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes, then skim the fat from the surface using a wide spoon. Shred the chicken, discarding the bones, then return it to the stew.

– For the Dumplings: Stir the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Microwave the milk and fat in a microwave-safe bowl on high until just warm (do not over-heat), about 1 minute. Stir the warmed milk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until incorporated and smooth.

– Return the stew to a simmer, stir in the peas and tarragon, and season with salt and pepper.

– Drop golf-ball-sized dumplings over the top of the stew, about 1/4 inch apart.

– Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the dumplings have doubled in size, 15 to 18 minutes.