Easy as Cake

Mom and I once took this great class on canning in Chestertown, MD. It was, in fact, extremely educational and highly inspirational. But somehow we clearly missed the memo that you’re supposed to can your fruits and vegetables and not your…  sometimes foods.

This is clearly not a fruit or a vegetable, but it's so much better...

You see, today was Francesca’s fake birthday, so her class could celebrate her turning six exactly two months before she actually does, and I was assigned the task of the red velvet cupcakes (I know, we’re so typical, but at least we use the best red velvet recipe ever). But since it was early in the morning, 9:30 I believe, I wasn’t thinking straight and I joyously underestimated the momentous quantity of batter a doubled version of this recipe can make. Twenty-four servings of cake, you see, is not the same as twenty-four cupcakes. And so rather than face seventeen kindergarteners with a pile of cupcakes the size of Mount Everest, I decided to keep the excess and get creative. I started with the classic cake-in-a-cup I’ve wanted to try for so long. And while it was fun (and in my mind ever so clever, which I can say because I didn’t come up with it), the only oven-proof mugs we had were white, and oh so opaque. I knew that if I covered the top with frosting, nobody would ever get to see the beautiful red we love so much. Because seriously, what’s the point of using a whole bottle of food coloring if nobody gets to see it?

Doesn't it kind of look like a sundae?

And then I remembered. Tucked away in the next room was a huge box of Ball’s Canning Jars. I bought them to use as drinking glasses in my suite next year, but if I’m going to take ownership of the glasses, certainly nobody would object to me baking a little cake in them first, would they? And thus the canned cake was born. (Question – does anyone know why it’s called canning when it’s clearly done in jars?) These cakes are pint sized, which seems to lend itself perfectly to large individual servings. Any smaller would be sad, any larger would take a millennium to bake.

To make these fill the jars up approximately 1/3 with batter and then just bake them for approximately 35-40 minutes. (The original recipe called for 30 minutes for a normal cake layer in a pan. You can bake these with any kind of cake you want, but remember to add 5-10 minutes to cooking time, and monitor them closely because it may vary by cake). And they’re fine to put in the oven because canning jars are made to be boiled! Just don’t dip them in a pool of ice water when they come out of the oven and you shouldn’t have to worry about cracking. Then just fill the last third with whipped cream or frosting and screw the top back on for nostalgic effect. The end. As easy as cupcakes, and so much easier than pie.

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Lights, Camera, Action

College is a never ending whirl of excitement. Classes are crazy but fascinating, the weather in New York is beautiful and perfect for exploring, and most importantly of all, Restaurant Week was extended to Restaurant Month, so I’m finally full (albeit out of money).

But most exciting of all, this weekend my friend Alex has commissioned me to feed his film crew! Which means I’m cooking! For people! In a kitchen! Last night they had their first production meeting, tomorrow they’re shooting and by Sunday they’ll have a movie. Team Fishmonger is entering a 48-hour eco-friendly film contest for an opportunity to screen at Cannes. They’ll receive prompts tomorrow morning and in two days they have to have a film. I’m responsible for making sure they don’t die of hunger along the way.

(No Pressure)

To celebrate the project, I started them off with a pair of Miss Mary’s [Multipurpose, Magic] Fudge Pies, a remnant of our trip to Tennessee. Last night they were good luck pies, but they can serve every purpose, from “please be my friend” to “sorry you just got dumped.” I’ve used them in every situation possible. And they never fail. They’re magical.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t even a little bit make up this recipe – all credit goes to Miss Mary Bobo and Jack Daniel, for creating something that cannot be improved upon. Once you try this pie you will never make any other pie again. It puts a positive spin on the world. And that is how I know this team is going to win. And why I will accept full responsibility when they do.

Stay tuned for more photos and recipes from the set!

 

 

 

Miss Mary’s Fudge Pie

From: Adapted from Jack Daniel’s Website

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup (½ stick) butter
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 1 tablespoon Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
  • 1 (9-inch) graham cracker pie crust (See Below)

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. 
  2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. 
  3. Pour in bowl and stir in sugar and cocoa powder. 
  4. Stir in eggs, evaporated milk, and Jack Daniel’s. 
  5. Pour into the piecrust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until set. 
  6. Cool completely. 
  7. Serve slices with a dollop of whipped cream sweetened with sugar and a little Jack Daniel’s.

Graham Cracker Pie Crust

From: Gabrielle Siegel, Adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients:

  • 10 Graham Crackers
  • 5 Tablespoons Butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. Break graham crackers in food processor until they reach a sandy consistency. 
  3. Don’t over process them. 
  4. Melt butter in saucepan and stir in graham crackers. 
  5. Press graham crackers into a 9-inch pie pan and pre-bake for 10 minutes. 
  6. If you’re making this for a pie that doesn’t go in the oven, bake for around 15 minutes, or until golden brown. 
  7. But honestly you shouldn’t be making other pies.

Fig Travels: Nashville and Fried Chicken

You haven’t been to Nashville if you can’t come home raving about your favorite “meat ‘n’ three” spot. The hometown of Country Music is also the birthplace and epicenter of this heavenly rich comfort food package. A meat ‘n’ three consists of one meat, fish or poultry dish and three “vegetables,” (i.e. baked beans, cole slaw, candied sweet potatoes, squash casserole, mashed potatoes, fried okra and, yes, macaroni and cheese). Nothing in the world is more comforting or more delicious and as for calories, with food this good, honestly, who’s counting?

Ask 20 Nashvillians their favorite place to have this uniquely southern meal, and you’ll get just as many different answers, but The Loveless Café was, hands down, our favorite. The biscuits served with all natural homemade jam, and fried chicken that blew us away. You have to taste it to believe it, and fortunately, we’ve included our own perfected version of their fried chicken below so you can!

Locals and tourists have been coming to Loveless from miles around for more than 50 years, ever since Annie Loveless first started serving her unusually light and tasty biscuits. An anointed “keeper,” most recently Carol Fay Ellison who sadly passed away in April, guards the secret recipe. No biscuit comes close to being as flavorful and airy as a Loveless Biscuit, and our (perhaps impossible) dream is to one day recreate the taste in our own test kitchen. And after devouring our little pieces of heaven with peach and blackberry jam, our immense platter of golden fried-to-perfection chicken arived. Thank goodness we ordered it family style because we just couldn’t stop eating.

Here is our version of this classic southern comfort food inspired by the Loveless Café’s own cookbook. But first, please keep in mind that there are some essential ingredients and tools that are important to assemble if you want to make your chicken truly special. We are just as health conscious as many of our readers, but we believe in cultural food immersion, and that means eating like the locals. After the jump you’ll find a breakdown of what you may need to make these and many other first-rate southern dishes.

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Fig Travels: The Deep South

I’ve traveled to France, the Mecca of haute cuisine, many times and I didn’t think there could never be another regional food that would ever satisfy me as much as a perfectly cooked steak au poivre and a good glass of Bordeaux wine. Our road food trip to the Deep South was probably one of the last places I thought my stubborn belief system would be rattled, but I’ve been humbled.

French cuisine is still of course dear to me, but now I know how utterly fantastic, and complicated, real southern food is. Down-to-earth Southern fried chicken is not simple at all: we’re still perfecting the art of duplicating the texture, taste, and even the color. In fact, we could cook a le creuset filled with beef bourguignon faster. The same goes for so many other southern treasures we sampled. The biscuits from The Loveless Café in Nashville, TN are so buttery, rich and yet airy, they rival the best croissants anywhere. We’re not sure they can be replicated, although we’ll let you know if we succeed.

Clockwise from top left: Fried Okra, Nashville, TN; Sign at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House, Lynchburg, TN; Basket of cornbread, Lynchburg, TN.

On our southern food odyssey, we also learned that barbeque ribs and pulled pork as we previously knew them, are oversimplified. The variations and interpretation of great barbecue are almost endless. Some places even offer barbecue nachos. Even in the epicenter of barbeque, they are still reinventing it every year at the annual Memphis in May barbeque world championship. The same is true for Cajun cooking; the possibilities and interpretations of local favorites – etoufee, gumbo, bisque and the countless versions of “blonde” and “dark” rouxs – would stun your taste buds.

Clockwise from top left: Crawfish pie, Breaux Bridge, LA; Bicycle street scene, New Orleans, LA; Beignet Machine at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA; Francesca enjoying a beignet, New Orleans, LA.

Non-natives usually think of chicken and pork dishes first, but the variety of southern seafood dishes also blew us away. The catfish from the Mississippi Delta is succulently sweet and juicy, but our favorite local seafood specialty turned out to be oysters; we had oysters fried, raw and even, charbroiled. Oysters Rockefeller was invented it the Deep South but you haven’t had an oyster, really, until you’ve had one on the grill.

It is hard to figure out just what make southern food so mouth-watering and addictive, but one thing I noticed is that Southern cooks are not afraid of abundant flavor and seasoning. We never needed the salt and pepper shakers. There were unexpected ingredients along the way too, like Jack Daniels in fudge pie or copious amounts of turmeric in some of the ribs. But whatever the surprising ingredient was, it was always perfectly balanced.

Clockwise from top left: Rice at Rendezvous, Memphis, TN; Barbeque sauce at Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN; Ribs at Blues City Cafe, Memphis, TN.

For the next few posts, prepare yourself a nice glass of sweet tea – we’re going to chronicle our travels, and along the way, we will give you the recipes to create some of these southern gems for yourself!