Easy Southern Peach Cobbler

peachcobbler

As usual, we headed down to Pepper Place market this morning for some locally grown produce and I just couldn’t resist some freshly picked Chilton County peaches. I did my part to help the local economy and bought a big basket full. Chilton County peaches are some of the best peaches you can buy and some think they are more tasty than their counterparts across the border in the peach state.

Although I definitely don’t need the added sugar in my diet, I’ve got a peach cobbler in the oven as I type this. My recipe was handed down from my grandmother and it’s easy and foolproof. So go pick up some delicious ripe peaches and give this one a try. You’ve probably got all the ingredients in your pantry or frig!

  • 4 cups peeled, chopped peaches
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup milk (we only buy half and half because we use it in our coffee and it works just fine but will produce a richer crust, but what’s wrong with that???)
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350F. Pour the melted butter into a 13″x9″ Pyrex dish. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and milk. Mix well to combine and remove lumps. Pour the batter over the melted butter but do not stir. Next top the butter with the peaches, again do not stir (as the cobbler bakes, the crust rises and the peaches fall). Sprinkle top with lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve with a scoop of some rich vanilla ice cream. Cobbler can be stored at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

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Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

lava cake

 

Here’s an easy dessert you can serve at your next dinner party and really impress your guests! This recipe is adapted from Paula Dean’s recipe.

  • 6 1oz squares bittersweet baking chocolate
  • 2 1oz squares semisweet baking chocolate
  • 1 1/4 sticks sweet cream unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 whole large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp strong brewed coffee or espresso

Preheat the oven to 425F. Lightly grease 6 custard cups or ramekins.

In a Pyrex bowl (or any other microwave safe bowl), melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, until melted and well blended. Add the flour and powdered sugar, then stir in the eggs and egg yolks and mix until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and the coffee.

Divide the batter evenly between the custard cups. Arrange custard cups on a baking sheet and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center still slightly jiggly.

Run a knife around the edges of the custard cups and invert the cakes onto dessert plates. Let sit for 3-4 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar and garnish. Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

Country Gravy Potatoes

One of the biggest drawbacks to running a daily cafe in corporate dining is that you have the same customer base each and every day of the week. That’s great, when it comes to cooking food you know your customers like, but not so great when it comes to keeping ideas fresh and changing regularly. No one wants to eat the same sides more than once or maybe twice a week, so I’m constantly trying to come up with new ways to cook familiar dishes.

In the cafe, I normally offer 2 entrees, 1 or 2 starches, 4 vegetables and a hot dessert on the line each day at lunch. Mashed or creamed potatoes are a customer favorite. They would probably love to eat my mashed potatoes the same way EVERY day, but my creative mind won’t let me put out the same food like that. Because my grocery company missed our scheduled delivery last Thursday, Friday’s menu had to be changed last minute to include food I had in stock. We normally offer fish on Fridays but seeing as I had no fish in stock, we ended up serving country-fried pork chops. Well, pork chops didn’t go with the rice pilaf I was planning to offer with the fish; they called for some good ole country mashed potatoes. Since I’d already served mashed potatoes twice last week (on different days), I had to fire up the creative juices and come up with something a little different. That’s how this recipe came about and this recipe was incredible. My customers bought all the potatoes and I caught my dishwasher scraping the empty pan with his fingers before washing it, so I figured I’d share this “hit” with you. It’s really quite simple so I’m omitting the steps where you boil your potatoes and starting the recipe where I started it. Give this a try sometime and I think you’ll be as impressed as my customers were.

First, I boiled unpeeled russet potatoes (I wanted a smashed effect rather than I mashed effect, so I cleaned them well but left the skins in tact).

Once the potatoes are cooked (until tender) and drained, put them in a large bowl. With the back of a serving spoon, mash the potatoes so that they have some larger “chunks” in them for this country-style recipe. Set the potatoes aside and work on the gravy (which can be made while the potatoes are cooking if you’re multi-talented in the kitchen).

For the gravy:

  • 4 tbsp fat (bacon grease, butter or oil, your choice)
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk, scalded
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt

In a large skillet or a saucepan, heat the fat over medium high heat. Saute the onion until tender, then add the flour and cook into a roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a light tan color. Whisk in the scalded milk and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of basic biscuit gravy (which is really all this is). Add the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Pour as much of the gravy into your smashed potatoes to get a soupy wet, loose mashed potato (it will thicken as it sits). At this point, taste the potatoes and adjust seasonings to your taste. You can add some snipped chives or some Parmesan cheese, or even some roasted garlic if you prefer. If for any reason you over-pour the gravy and get your potatoes too loose, you can thicken them back up by sprinkling some flour over them and stirring well (old kitchen trick that works in the recipe because you have a flour based gravy).

If you’ve got any gravy you didn’t use, it can be refrigerated for another use. It will thicken in the frig, but you can thin it out with a little milk.

Homemade Cornbread

Until I was asked by a reader, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve never shared my recipe for homemade cornbread. I never realized so many people use a pack to make cornbread (not that there’s anything wrong with a pack, but if you don’t have one in your pantry you can easily make cornbread out of stock pantry items).

I’ve been making cornbread since I was a kid. I’ll never forget the recipe my grandmother gave me over the phone to make hers. It was, 2 handfuls of cornmeal, 1 handful of flour, 1 egg, a pinch of soda and enough buttermilk to make it wet. I’ve added butter to my recipe for a richer cornbread but I still use my grandmother’s recipe when making cornbread for dressing at Thanksgiving.

The trick to good southern cornbread is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I have several, but the 2 I use for making cornbread are an 8.5″ diameter pan (for enough for 2 people) or an 11″ diameter pan when I need enough for a few people. This recipe is using the smaller pan but I’ve made notes for the larger.

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make cornbread using a muffin pan, sheet pan, etc. The advantage to the cast iron is you get a nice brown crunchy crust where a sheet pan or muffin pan will yield a more “cake like” cornbread.

First, put 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil in a room temp skillet. Put the skillet into a cold oven and preheat to 400F. While the oven and pan are preheating, mix up your cornbread as follows:

  • 2 cups hot-rise (self-rising) cornmeal (I use white but yellow works just the same)
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I have always used non-fat cultured buttermilk because my grandmother did)

Whip up well using a wire whisk.

When the oven has preheated, remove the pan and pour the hot oil into the cornbread mix. Stir well to incorporate. Sprinkle bottom of skillet with cornmeal, lightly. This will ensure the cornbread won’t stick in the case that your iron skillet is not well seasoned. Pour the batter into the skillet. You will hear it sizzle as the batter is poured in.

Bake at 400F for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and set.

If you’re using a larger pan, double the recipe. Also, if you don’t have self-rising flour and cornmeal, put a pinch (about a teaspoon) of baking soda in for a small pan or a couple of pinches for a large pan.

I’ve got a pan in the oven right now to go with the fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and fresh green limas I have cooking on the stove. Nothing like a good country Sunday dinner!

 

California Swiss Casserole

 

At work, I feed about 400 people each day and I try to have as little repetition as possible in my vegetables during the week, so I have to get creative and come up with different, less common recipes. The inspiration for this casserole came from one of my grandmothers, who always made her broccoli casserole with Swiss cheese. This is more of a “mixed vegetable” casserole. If you don’t have the fresh vegetables on hand, you can substitute 2 bags of California Blend mixed vegetables, available frozen at most supermarkets. That’s where the name of this recipe comes from.

California blend is a common foodservice vegetable blend of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots that I’m sure you’ve had, or seen, at catered dinners, luncheons, etc. Usually, the vegetable blended bags contain “less than superior” cuts of vegetables with a lot of stalk and stem, so I try to make this with fresh vegetables whenever I have time to plan ahead.

  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 1# bag of baby carrots
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 can Cream of Celery soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced onions
  • 1/2 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1 cup French Fried Onion pieces (like you put on a green bean casserole)

Cook broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in a pot of lightly salted simmering water for 10 minutes or until tender but still colorful. Drain. Add the onions and Swiss cheese to the vegetables.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, flour, soup, milk, melted butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and mix well. Fold in the vegetables.

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased (I spray with PAM) 9″x13″ pyrex baking dish.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then sprinkle with the French fried onions and bake 10 minutes more, until casserole is bubbly and onions are browned.

 

Southern Fried Chicken

 

This week, I’ve been enjoying some time off from work, so for dinner tonight, I decided I’d cook up a big “country” style dinner. Nothing says country like some fried food and nothing fries food as well as my great-grandmother’s iron skillets. I have no idea their age; she received them as wedding presents in the first decade of the 20th century and they weren’t new when she received them. They were passed to my grandmother and then to me, and I treat them like they were gold plated! They NEVER have seen the inside of a dishwasher, and only when I cook something like creamed corn, do I even put soap in them. Normally, they get a swish of hot water when the pan is still hot, then they are wiped out and dried off for the next use. Because of years of this kind of use, they are slicker than any non-stick pans available on the market today.

Tonight’s dinner consisted of fried chicken, fresh lady peas, fried fresh okra, boiled heirloom potatoes with a little garlic butter, a pan of cornbread (must for a southern dinner) and a pitcher of sweet iced tea.

Since I am constantly asked how I make fried chicken with such a delicious crust, I thought I’d share that recipe with you this week. There’s really nothing special about my fried chicken, but my customers love it. Some people double bread their chicken, and I’m know to do this when making homemade chicken tenders, or frying boneless skinless chicken breasts, but for good ole’ bone-in chicken, simply follow this recipe:

1. Find a bowl (or a pot if you don’t have a large enough bowl) that’s large enough to hold the amount of chicken you’re planning to cook.

2. Wash the chicken and place it in the bowl. Cover chicken with non-fat cultured buttermilk, and let it soak for at least 20 minutes.

3. Find a second large bowl or pot. Take the chicken out of the buttermilk and put into the second bowl. Using a 5# bag of flour (all purpose or self-rising, whatever you have on hand), pour the flour over the chicken. You need to use enough flour to totally incase the chicken. The chicken has to be embedded in this big bowl of flour, so yes, you’re going to end up wasting a good bit of flour in the end. Toss the chicken to coat well, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss some more and then let the chicken stay in the flour for at least 20 minutes before frying.

4. To fry the chicken, use either an iron skillet, large teflon coated skillet (if that’s all you have), a stock pot or a deep fryer if you have one. Get the grease good and hot. On the stovetop, I usually cook on medium high. In a deep fat fryer, 375F is ideal. To test and make sure your oil is hot enough, sprinkle a little flour in and see if it fizzles and bubbles. Cook the chicken in one even layer (if using a pan) for 8-10 minutes, then flip and cook 8 more minutes (actually your cooking time will depend on the thickness of your chicken and if it’s white or dark meat). White meat cooks faster than dark meat, so to make sure your chicken is cooked thoroughly, invest in a digital meat thermometer.

White meat chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165F. Dark meat requires an internal temp of about 180F or it will be pink on the bones.

Tip # 2.. DO NOT drain the chicken on a paper towel/plate. This makes the crust soggy. To keep the crust crispy and allow the grease to drain off, place a cooling rack (like you use for cookies) over a plate with a paper towel on the plate (in between the rack and the plate). Drain the chicken on the rack. That’s how we keep chicken crisp in the restaurants while holding for service and that tip works with anything fried with a crust.

For fried okra, follow the same steps, but use cornmeal instead of flour!