Food ‘n Flix: “The Help” Round-up~

31 08 2012

I knew when I first read The Help that I had to see the movie.  Well…the movie came out and I was swamped with extra things going on, and I never got to see it.  I could hardly WAIT for it to come out in a home version.  I was worried…movies very rarely compare with the books, but this one does an extremely good job.  Yes, there are a couple of places where artistic license comes in to play…but how much more impressive it was to have Mae Mobley utilize one of the commodes on Hilly’s front lawn!!  It’s my pleasure to host this little tea in honor of our Food ‘n Flix selection of the month…The Help.  I’m so tickled that we have such a huge turnout for this round-up!  You’ll see…there are so many great dishes this month!!  Go get your favorite beverage and anything else that might be nagging in the corner of your mind, because we’ve got one heck of a spread!!

From Debbie at Granny’s Southern Cooking we have a gorgeous Mississippi Mud Pie.  Being a California girl, it had never occurred to me that the towering frozen mousse I’d been served in the past simply wasn’t authentic Mississippi Mud Pie.  And then…all the lights came on and I “saw” Mississippi “mud” and “rocks”, in a pie shell!!  Gosh, what a difference when you go to the area where a recipe originated!  Here in sunny (smoky) California, it’s been fancied up so there are no rocks…no mud…  I love this!  Debbie says, “Enjoy y’all! This recipe is pure chocolate heaven and yummy in your tummy too…”

Next we have Elizabeth from The Law Student’s Cookbook.  Elizabeth said, “The movie left me hankering for hush puppies, for deep fried soft shell crab, and most of all, for chicken and dumplings.”  Elizabeth made Chicken and Dumplings for us.  She said it reminded her of her Aunt…”And it still felt good and felt right and reminded me of my Aunt Beau when I made it.”  What a beautiful tribute to a beloved family member!

Please join me in welcoming  Kate of Katie-Kate’s Kitchen!!  This is Kate’s first post with us.  She’s had her eye on our group for awhile and finally has the chance to join in on the fun!!  I’m sure I speak for all of us when I saw we hope you enjoy your time cooking with us!!  We have a really great group, and the best Moderator ever!  Kate has been making Southern Fried Chicken (with or without the skin).  Kate got high praise from the man of the house, who deemed her chicken “better than Chick-Fil-A fried chicken!

If you’ve seen this movie, you know there are lots of scenes where “Coca-Cola” makes a cameo appearance.   Girlichef, Heather, says, “I’m a Coca-Cola girl.  Always have been.”  And she proves it with this decadent submission: Peanut Cola Cake.  I think this is as close as we get to anything that resembles Minny’s Caramel Cake.  This one’s on my list to make!

“What could be more Southern than okra?” asks Debra at Eliot’s Eats .  She prepared  Spicy Southern Fried Okra to go with her “Copy-Cat Chik-Fil-A Chicken“.  I was glad to see this recipe!  Imho…Okra is kind of an acquired taste if you didn’t grow up with it.  I kind of imagine like maybe artichokes might be in the south… Debra takes us through the necessary steps, and there are a few…but she solves that by suggesting we process a quantity and keep some in the freezer.  Debra has a favorite quote from our movie that she’d like to share…with the appropriate grammatical corrections, of course… “You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important. ” as spoken by the maid, Aibileen to Mae Mobley.

Just as it is at Southern picnics and get-togethers, fried chicken was a popular dish in this round-up!  The more the merrier!  This rendition of southern fried chicken comes from Tina of  Squirrel Head Manor, and is called Buttermilk Fried Chicken.  Tina touched on a few quotes and a couple scenes that stayed with her.  One of those comes from Minny: “Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life.”  I couldn’t agree more.

While we’re on the subject of fried chicken, before we slip into back to back desserts, I’ll throw my Fried Chicken on the table as well.  It was the first thing that came to mind when I knew I had to host this movie!  Thank you all for jumping in!!  Now…on to the desserts!

Deb from Kahakai Kitchen said, “After seeing the many glasses of iced sweet tea consumed throughout the movie, I knew I wanted to make something featuring this Southern staple.”  Deb has pushed her way out of the proverbial box by tuning  southern sweet tea into a cooling treat for those hot summer nights,  Southern Sweet Tea Ice Cream (a non-dairy ice cream that is incredibly sweet and creamy) 😉  Deb also posted the most comprehensive review of our Flix of the month…thanks Deb!

Our last dish comes to us from Malice of Malice in Dunderland.  Malice has joined us from Puerto Rico!  Malice, welcome to Food ‘n Flix, and I hope you enjoy the time you spend with us!  Malice has created a  Pineapple Upside Down Cake.   She selected this dish because it was what Celia Foote was trying to make when Minny showed up to apply as a maid.  Malice really captures the essence of Celia in her post, and her Pineapple Upside Down Cake looks pretty darn tasty too!

Thank you, ladies, for joining me today!  I’ve had just the best time visiting with all of you!  Look at all the lovely food you’ve shared…and memories…  And I agree with Debra of Eliot Eats…this is an important message to take away, especially those of us who work with children…


IHCC: Rick Bayless August Potluck~

25 08 2012

The I Heart Cooking Clubs prompt for the week is: Rick Bayless-Potluck…perfect!  I totally missed the concept the first couple weeks I dabbled in IHCC, so this is a great time to play catch-up!  When I started here, I only had 1 Rick Bayless cookbook, and I wasn’t overly impressed with it…mostly because my favorite Mexican cookbook bar none, comes from a different region of Mexico, and the recipes are slightly different.  However, visiting the other cook-bloggers each week, I started seeing a different side of Mr. Bayless, and had to go “in search of” some of his other books.  I’m so glad I did!!  Delivered to us with impeccable timing, Mexico…One Plate at a Time showed up Friday morning, I found a perfect recipe for dinner that night, and here we are, within the time limits, with not one, but TWO Rick Bayless recipes!!

For my submission, I chose Rick’s “Quick-Fried Shrimp with Sweet Toasty Garlic” (Camarones al Mojo de Ajo).  I made one third of the recipe, and fell totally in love.  Even though I messed up the order of some of the steps and didn’t quite make the mojo the right way, it was to die for.  That’s it.  Nothing more to be said!!    To accompany the shrimp, we had Rick’s “Classic Mexican White Rice” (Arroz Blanco).  It was a really good accompaniment with the spicy shrimp, and it helped catch the wonderful extra mojo in the plate!  I’m really sorry, but I do my best to respect copyright law, so I don’t publish recipes from cookbooks.  You may be able to find these recipes on line, but you can certainly find them in Rick’s book, Mexico…One Plate At a Time.

The Quick-Fried Shrimp with Sweet Toasty Garlic were pronounced an instant keeper.  Oh my.  Shrimp, quickly fried in a smoky garlicky oil…with a hint of lime and a sprinkle of cilantro, what could be easier?  It is a bit time consuming, as the garlic needs to simmer in hot oil for about half an hour…just slightly longer than the rice needed to cook.  Serve with a lightly dressed salad on the side, or better yet…avocado halves, and you’ve got a perfectly wonderful supper with little work.  What a find for a Friday evening, after a full week at work!  I found I needed to cook the rice just slightly longer than the recipe recommends initially.  I suppose that all depends on how old the rice is!  The other ingredients are things you normally have around the kitchen…broth, onions and garlic.  The secret is all in how it’s put together.  Oooh…I wonder how rice would taste after being toasted in the toasted garlic oil left from the mojo de ajo…  And don’t make the mistake I did…  If you’re making the mojo…make the whole batch no matter how many shrimp you plan to cook.  You’re going to simmer garlic for half an hour no matter what.  The mojo is so good you’ll want the remainder for other reasons, so do the whole recipe from the start.  My kitchen smells heavenly and I’m heading in to make my second (full recipe this time) batch.  We love garlic, and this mojo is right up our alley!!

Cook the Books and Food ‘n’ Flix: Home Cooking either way~

25 08 2012

Cook the Books meets Food ‘n’ Flix in the arena of “Home Cooking” here at Can’t Believe We Ate…  The character Minny, from the movie The Help, our movie selection of the month, has quite the reputation in town as a cook.  One of her specialties is fried chicken.  Interestingly enough, Laurie Colwin gives us her recipe and method for frying chicken in her book, our current Cook the Books selection, Home Cooking.  We’ll end up having a little comparison here before we’re finished.  Aside from cooking, this book and movie couldn’t be farther apart!

Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking is a collection of short food essays full of reminiscences.  Ms. Colwin delights her readers with her real-life recollections of various foods along with recipes or techniques.  I was actually inspired to make roast beef when I first read the book in March, yet fried chicken called out to me when I re-read the book in August.   My family is particularly fond of my fried chicken, however, I’m usually willing to try a new technique.  I didn’t think there would be all that much difference.

I’m sorry that Minny didn’t share any of her recipes with us.  We do get some left-handed cooking lessons from her as she “teaches” her mistress, Celia Foote, how to cook.  Personally, I’d love to have the recipe for Minny’s Caramel Cake.  That has me puzzled and intrigued…there are so many ways one could go about creating such a decadence.  But we’re frying chicken…so let’s get back to it.

Ms. Colwin and I agree that chicken benefits from a buttermilk bath.  She recommends soaking the chicken in plain buttermilk, and that’s where we start to differ.  I almost always brine my chicken because most chicken has no flavor.  Add some salt, garlic and onion powder to the buttermilk and soak away.  Soak or marinate the chicken for at least 45 minutes.  If you created a buttermilk “brine” 45 minutes will probably be enough.  However, gently salting the buttermilk and seasonings will make a great overnight bath for the chicken.

Breading the chicken is next.  So far, Ms. Colwin and I are right on track… Season your flour the way you want your chicken to taste when it’s done.  Taste the flour to get it right.  It will taste a little, well…floury, but it’s the balance of salt and other flavorings that you want to work on.  I use salt, garlic powder-granules, onion powder, and freshly ground pepper for my base.  It’s kind of my universal seasoning.  Sometimes, especially for chicken, I add paprika…or smoked paprika…Yummmm!   When the flour is the way you think you’ll like it, put it either in a bag (for shaking) or a shallow dish.  Ms. Colwin and I will depart a bit here… Ms. Colwin breads her chicken straight from the buttermilk.  Shaking off the excess milk, she drops the wet chicken pieces into a bag and flours them generously.  Knock off the excess flour, and set aside for a moment until you have enough prepared pieces to fill your pan without crowding it.  What kind of pan?  A chicken fryer…  There really is such a beastie.  It’s a good sized (12 inch or so) straight sided frying pan with a lid.  The best pan, bar none, and Ms. Colwin and I are in lock-step on this one, is a cast iron chicken fryer with a heavy lid.  I inherited mine from my mother, who prepared chicken precisely by Ms. Colwin’s method, religiously…until I brought boys home from church for Sunday dinner.  Out of nowhere, she served up a platter of the crispiest, crunchiest lightly crusted chicken I’d ever seen.  I was amazed and delighted!!  She never fixed chicken that way just for us…I brought the guys home for dinner a lot after that!

I do things a little differently…  I dry my chicken pieces a bit so they aren’t wet and sprinkle them with a light dusting of the flour mixture, just enough to make my take the breading I’m about to add…it’s kind of a double breading.  I dip the lightly floured chicken in a fresh buttermilk bath, and flour it in the same manner as above.  The difference is that the chicken actually gets a really decent crust going.  It still can’t sit around long before frying…it will get soggy and that doesn’t crisp up quite right.  I can drop my pieces right into the hot oil, because I don’t cover my fryer.  I keep the heat just a little lower, still “deep frying” but on the lower end of the temperature range.  More like 350° rather than closer to 375°.  I liked Ms. Colwin’s tip about cutting the breast halves down even farther, so they cook more quickly.  What a concept!!  Why didn’t I think of that?? *Ü*

Ms. Colwin prefers a steam-frying method for cooking her chicken…she has you place a tight lid on the chicken and turn the chicken twice before removing the lid to finish the cooking.  I followed the technique, but found I over-cooked my chicken that way.  From the first pan on, I open-fried the chicken, as in the picture below.

I think this was the last pan full of chicken I cooked…using the single breading method.  I had a rather large package of boneless, skinless chicken half-breasts that needed to be cooked.  Having a plate of fried chicken got me past a lot of obstacles this week, and I was glad for it!

One distinct difference I noticed between Ms. Colwin’s method and mine, is that she’s right…the crust on her chicken gets soft once it’s refrigerated.  Mine, however, doesn’t.  We still have crunchy chicken the following day, and if I let it cool really well before packing it into the fridge, it’s crunchy for a couple of days.  We enjoyed this batch of fried chicken with potato salad.   I’m not saying mine is better than hers…I’m saying it’s two different methods with two different outcomes, and one should expect two different results.

So far, I’ve mainly chattered on about Ms. Colwin’s chicken, so now it’s time to give The Help a chance in the spotlight!  I’m the hostess at Food ‘n’ Flix this month, and I chose this movie.  Next month we’ll be watching a different movie…check my sidebar for “Coming in September” to see what’s next.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, with all it’s side stories and surreptitious meetings, spilling the secrets of the society ladies…  It’s hard for today’s youth to imagine the segregation and disparate treatment of anyone with a non-white skin.  Prejudice wasn’t known as such…it was more an accepted way of life…then.   While the storyline pretty much sticks to the lighter side of life around the southern plantations of the Sixties, it touches reality deeply in places.   I love Skeeter’s independence and verve.  I loved the depth of caring and empathy exhibited by Abileen…and I couldn’t possibly dislike Miss Hilly any more!  Southern cooking screams fried chicken to me…well, and a few dozen other things too, but chicken gets there first.  What I’d give to have a cook like Minny around!  Not to work for me!! Heavens no!  I’d want to learn about her magical kitchen tricks!

Speaking of tricks…there is one tiny detail I left out…when I mix up flour for chicken…I add a teaspoon of baking powder to it. It reacts with the buttermilk (actually, any liquid) and leavens the coating just a little bit…and that may have something to do with the lighter crispness of my chicken…but now you’re sworn to secrecy!

IHCC: Beach Bum a la Bayless~

17 08 2012

It’s been pretty hot this week.  The 5:00 p.m. temperature has been around 100° all week.  At least that’s what my car registered.  Not when I get in…when I get in it’s been registering 109°…I said it’s been hot! LOL!  So…what do you need when it’s hot like this?  You need refreshment.  Enter Rick Bayless and his Fresh Melon Cooler.  And please…bring on that BEACH!!

My selection for IHCC’s Beach Bum recipe collection is Rick Bayless’ Fresh Melon Cooler.  This time.  I admit to reading through every margarita recipe with an element of desire, but I also know that tequila and a beach only go together well for a very limited period of time…thus, the melon cooler.  I know…my age is showing…it has been all week! Oh well…on with our recipe!

The recipe is quite simple…melon, water, sugar, a squeeze of lime…mint or lemon balm are nice touches to add to the mix.  I added mint to my blender.  We found this thirst quenching, and a nice beverage for our supper.  The touch of mint made it just a tad more cooling.  The recipe came from Frontera’s web page, and he has a Fresh Limeade recipe as well…I have a quantity of limes…I think that’s coming up next.  I’ll let you know how that one goes!  Until then, I can’t wait to see what else shows up to the Round-up.  I wish I would have had the time to do ceviche…  I know, ceviche takes precious little time to put together.  The time factor would have been attempting to find ceviche quality scallops!  One of my absolutely favorite hot-weather meals is ceviche!!

IHCC: Feel the Heat – Thai Beef with Eggplant~

11 08 2012

The best way to cool off is to overheat yourself with chiles…it causes you to perspire without physical exertion.  It’s about as hot here as it gets, so having I Heart Cooking Clubs select “Feel the Heat” as cooking inspiration for the week was pure serendipity!  How fortunate for me that I’ve been on a Thai kick for a couple months now…

The chiles at the Farmers’ Market were gorgeous!  We had a great chat about how to use them green as well as red.  She told me to come back in a couple weeks when the red ones were ready… I’ll bet one bunch is more than enough red chile paste for a year for the two of us!

I chose this dish because the chiles are the key to the enjoyment factor of this dish.  Thai Bird Chiles are one of the hotter chiles, yes, right up there with habaneros.  You have to develop a tolerance to the heat.  Be gentle.  You can add heat in other ways and at other times.  I taste tested one of the green chiles…still searingly hot to my palate, but I could taste the difference between this and what I’m used to with the red chiles.  Kind of like the difference between a green and red jalapeno…only intense!

Thai Beef with Eggplant~

1/2 pound chuck steak (carne asada beef without seasonings)
2 small round eggplants, cut in 1 inch wedges
1/2 package medium rice noodles
2 scallions (green onions), sliced and separated: white for cooking; green reserved for garnish
2 limes
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoon palm sugar
1- 3 tsp. Tamarind paste, or to taste
3 cloves garlic, slivered
1-4 Thai bird chiles, or to taste (be careful…)
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves

Rice bran oil for cooking

Beef marinade:
Juice of 1 lime from above
1 Tbsp. fish sauce, also from above
1 clove slivered garlic from above

Cut beef across the grain into thin strips about 2 inches long.  Combine ingredients with beef and refrigerate 20 minutes.  Start noodles soaking.  “She Simmers” recommends soaking rice noodles in room temperature water until they are pliable and will wrap around your finger without breaking.  Drain and set aside, but don’t allow them to dry out.  I often cut the noodles 3 times with scissors before I cook them.

In a small mortar, grind the garlic and Thai chiles (Serrano chiles may be substituted) to a paste.  Add the palm sugar and make a smooth paste.  Transfer sauce to a small bowl and add fish sauce and tamarind paste to taste.  You want a balanced sweet-salty-hot-sour kind of flavor.  This is highly subjective.  I start with 1 Thai chile, sliced very thinly, and work the paste until I almost can’t stand the heat.   Mixed with the rest of the ingredients, it usually balances out pretty well.  It’s easy to add extra heat with chile paste, but I haven’t found an effective way to take the heat out yet!

Remove the tops from the eggplants, and cut in half from top to bottom.  Turn onto the cut side and cut in half from top to bottom again (4 quarters).   Cut the wedges across the equator of the eggplant into 1 inch long pieces, or as close as you can get to it.  The idea is to have pieces the same size so they’ll cook at the same rate.

When you have everything together, pull out your trusty wok or some cooking vessel that will give you the same heat retention and release that the wok will…  Heat your pan over high heat, add a little oil to the pan (rice bran oil has a higher smoking point than peanut oil) and sear your eggplant pieces.  Remove from the pan.  Add a bit more oil and stir fry the drained, marinated beef.  Cook, stirring the wok and tossing the meat, until the meat is no longer pink.  Add oil to the pan, and add the drained noodles.  They will cook with the moisture they absorbed while soaking.  Toss the noodles in the hot oil with the cooked beef for a few moments.  Add the eggplant and toss to distribute.  Drizzle cooking sauce onto the whole and toss to mix.  Place each serving into a bowl and garnish with green onions, lime wedges and chopped peanuts if desired.  This was enough for 2 adults as a one-dish meal.

IHCC: Green…is the Pesto on my true love’s plate~

5 08 2012

In the past year, I’ve fallen away from most of the cooking groups I was with, or they’ve fallen away…one or the other.  The upshot of this is that I no longer have anything that steers me in any particular direction when putting together weekly menus.  I’ve found I don’t particularly care for that!   “Monthly” groups aren’t quite enough help either…and then I stumbled upon IHCC…scheduled but not overly rigid…enough flex to be creative…I like that!  Since “Green” is the theme of the moment…I chose to make Genovese Pesto as my first dish.

It is said that our sense of smell is closely associated with memory…which explains why when we smell certain things, we are instantly transported in our minds to another place and time…  Basil is a memory trigger of Summer for me.  When I smell Genovese Basil, “summer” comes flooding into my head.  Seeing the tubs of freshly cut basil at the Farmers’ Market yesterday helped me truly understand why there’s this particular association…it’s hot outside…the basil is so aromatic you can smell it two vendor’s stalls away…  It’s been awhile since I’ve made pesto, we were on a mission for the day, so ravioli with pesto sounded like the perfect thing to choose for dinner, and for our Green dish as well!  Truthfully… I had a few candidates….anything in poblano cream…chile rellenos…som tam (seriously, can you eat it too often?)…  However with the beautiful bunches and the scent in the air…I had to cave!

I immediately reached for my Classic Italian Cooking  by Marcella Hazan and read through the familiar recipe…then I reached for How to Cook Italianby her son, Giuliano Hazan.  The recipes are almost identical, calling for the same ingredients in just slightly different quantities…  Both the Hazan family recipes call for fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, romano cheese, parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil.  I was planning to use “olive oil” and realized that this is a fresh sauce, worthy of the EVOO…enter Stonehouse House Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil…which is actually grown in my “neighborhood,” meaning literally grown a few miles from my home.  I confess that I didn’t make the ravioli this time…and I didn’t realize I had some homemade in the freezer.  We selected a fresh Arugula and cheese ravioli from Trader Joe’s, and it really was a great combination.

Giuliano’s pesto recipe made enough for about 4 entree servings of pasta.  Marcella’s would have made 6 servings.  After hearing all the appreciative murmurings coming from the seat next to me during supper, I think this was a hit, and having 2 extra servings of sauce isn’t a bad thing.   Pesto also freezes very well…as long as you top the container with a bit of olive oil to keep the air out… Pesto oxidizes (turns dark) very, very quickly when exposed to the air.   Since I have enough basil to make another full batch, that will be what I do with the 2nd batch…it will be frozen for a meal in the future.

Next week the theme of IHCC will be “Feel the Heat” and be focused on chiles…  I can hardly wait to see where that leads me!  LOL!!  Especially since I just bought a branch of Thai Bird Chiles…she said they weren’t as intense when they’re green….we’ll see about that!!

Cook for Julia: Supremes de Volaille a Blanc~

5 08 2012

I owe Julia Child a lot when it comes to cooking.  She may have saved my marriage, and certainly my sanity through the years! You see, my husband and I had totally different dining experiences growing up.  Growing up in rural northern California wasn’t like being in the culinary bread basket.  At the time, this was strictly meat and potatoes country.  Meanwhile, my beloved grew up in southern California…land of Mickey Mouse, Los Angeles, Hollywood…and then he topped that off with a few years in the San Francisco area.  I knew I was in trouble the first time we went out to dinner…I didn’t recognize much of anything on the menu, except for the steaks.  I quickly learned to ask him to order for me… Then, fast forward a couple years, and we’re living off the grid, with lots of time on my hands, but virtually no opportunity to go out for a couples night.  Enter Julia Child and The French Chef Cookbook.

The French Chef Cookbook became my text book, and Julia Child, my teacher.  I tackled recipes that took hours to prepare…I tackled recipes that felt obscure to me.  I simply cooked…anything that appealed to us, regardless of the cuisine.  My first Julia Child recipe was Coquilles St. Jacques…complete with crepes whose batter required resting for hours.

The recipe I chose to begin celebrating Julia’s 100th birthday with is Supremes a Volaille a Blanc, which she paired with a risotto in Show 14 of her cooking series.  I substituted a stove-top risotto from Show 62, mostly because it’s August and I don’t use my oven much in August!  The chicken breasts were easy to put together…just a quick sear and finish in the oven (I used my toaster oven).  The risotto was my learning curve.  I’d never done risotto before…though I’ve been more than curious!  The risotto begins with very white rice grains which will simmer gently in hot broth until the grains soften and become somewhat opaque. Between Julia’s instruction and hearing Chef Gordon Ramsay in my head…I think I got this one okay!

Tasting Notes~
Although this plates rather pale and insipid in appearance, it doesn’t taste pale and insipid!  The risotto is tender but not mushy with plenty of flavor from the chicken stock and the vermouth…then there’s also vermouth in the pan sauce…the two dishes tie together nicely.  A dry white wine would have been a nice addition…perhaps a Pinot Grigio or a Viognier.  Add a side of sauteed spinach, or nicely cooked asparagus, and you’ve got a meal.

I hope to be able to visit a few more recipes in my Julia Child cookbooks… When I reviewed the recipes for this celebration I found several recipes I”m anxious to cook.  I hope to drop by a few more times during our  10 day celebration of America’s most celebrated Chef!!