Special, For Sure

So, I have a confession. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I’d want people to remember me by. But it’s something that you should know about me, regardless.

I sort of have a sort-of addiction to reality TV. But I’ve come a long way, really I have.

I used to watch The Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, Real World,  The Amazing Race, Chopped, The Next Food Network Star, and pretty much anything on MTV and Food Network. Oh yeah, and The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Thanks for reminding me of that one, Caroline!

Now, I only watch Survivor and Top Chef. Well, and The Next Iron Chef. Duh. Yes, just three! Somehow, my ultra-long list of guilty pleasures was whittled down to just three lil’ ol’ shows. I consider myself fortunate, because I never got into the Real Housewives of Blank or the Extreme Makeovers or the Biggest Losers or the Kardashians or whoever the famous rich people shows are about these days. Heck, I only watched 1 little season of American Idol. And I could care less about The Voice because I don’t like any of the hosts. So….. maybe I’m not that addicted, after all?

Frankly, I could cut out Survivor, but Chris would just die. We’ve watched it for. so. long. that we just can’t stop now!, he says. And truthfully, there is always someone to laugh at, although this season I’m almost embarrassed to be a girl since these chicks can’t seem to get it together. But whatever.

But I can’t not watch Top Chef. Yes, sometimes it’s a train wreck. Yes, sometimes I wonder how certain people even make it to being on the show. And yes, I’d just love to see what happens when the cameras aren’t rolling on those judges because I swear they are three sheets to the wind every night. But I do look forward to it every week, and sadly the last season just wrapped up, so I’m Top Chef-less for a bit.

Ed Lee was one of my favorites this season. I think he made it to the final 5 before he got the boot, although I’d expected him to be in the top 3. I do think the final 2 were the ones who deserved to be there, but even so, Ed was always a favorite of mine and for good reason – he effortlessly combined Asian and Southern comfort food – my favorite cuisines. What’s not to love?

Anyway, Ed already gets plenty of media attention, because he’s awesome, so I’m sure that not winning Top Chef won’t hold him back in the slightest. A while back, he was featured in Food & Wine, and he shared a recipe for these corn griddle cakes that I could not stop thinking about. And since we aren’t usually up and cooking breakfast on the weekends, I didn’t want to wait until we had company to try them, so instead we just had them for dinner one night, and I froze the rest so I could have them on a special morning when we’re out of cereal and oatmeal.

The griddle cakes are so freakin’ tasty that I could probably eat them straight outta the freezer (well, with a little zapping…), but the orange-honey butter adds a perfect element of sweetness, reminding you that these aren’t just everyday breakfast cakes. They’re special, for sure.

Other cornmeal-containing lovelies:

Zucchini Cornbread (aka why my butt’s so big. go ahead, read the story..)
Hushpuppies (these didn’t help, either)
Cornmeal-Blueberry Cookies
Rhubarb-Cornmeal Tarts
Andouille & Sweet Potato Pie

Corn Griddle Cakes with Sausage and Orange-Honey Butter
adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2012; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
orange-honey butter
6 T unsalted butter
1/2 c honey
1 1/2 T finely grated orange zest
salt and pepper

corn cakes
6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cooking spray, or olive/grapeseed oil
3/4 c(about 7 ounces) breakfast sausage, casings removed
1 1/2 c fresh (or frozen, thawed) corn kernels
1 c yellow cornmeal
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 T sugar
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly cracked black peppercorns
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/4 c buttermilk
2 large eggs
6 scallions, chopped

instructions
orange-honey butter
Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in honey and orange zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

corn cakes
Cook sausage in a 10-12″ cast-iron skillet or other large heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a small bowl. Add corn to same skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned, 5–6 minutes. Transfer corn to bowl with sausage and let cool.

Whisk cornmeal and next 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk and eggs in a large bowl; add dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Fold in sausage, corn, and scallions.

Heat 1 T butter (or oil or spray) in skillet; working in batches and adding butter as needed between batches, add batter to pan by tablespoonfuls. Cook until cakes are crisp and golden brown, 2–3 minutes. Turn cakes over and cook until browned, 1–2 minutes longer. Transfer cakes to paper towels to drain. Serve warm drizzled with orange-honey butter.

Survival of the Fittest

The day I was born, my dad near about had a heart attack, or at least that’s the story. My parents are both fair-skinned and light-haired. Although technically, my mom truly does have dark roots but you don’t really notice them because she still gets her hair “frosted”. Last time I checked, that’s a pretty common ‘do for her age group. Anyway, I came into the world writhing and crying, full of life and all that good stuff. But I also came out with something that really threw my dad for a loop – I had a head FULL of nearly black hair. WTF?

I would have been confused too.

Anyway, clearly there are no paternity issues. Just like most of us, I recognize that I have some traits from my mom, and some traits from my dad. Some are good, like my big brains, blue eyes, and relatively normally shaped symmetrical head, and some are downright nasty, like my cankles, my big knees, and über mushy upper arms. I mean seriously – you’d think there would have been a selective advantage against such atrocities, but as it turns out cankles and big knees are all kinds of sturdy, so I guess that’s a good thing. The fat arms? Well, I suppose in the event that I’m stranded in Antarctica, it would take me a little bit longer to use up my own mush before I start gnawing on the arms of my friends.

Aside from all that loveliness, I try not to complain too much. Sure, I have a hard time finding boots that zip up over my cankles and ginormous calves (that I’m pretending are all muscle; laugh it up, Simpson!), but all in all I’d say things could be much worse. Yeah, I am as close to legally blind as you can get (dramatic, much?), but that’s nothing a pair of contacts and ultra thick glasses can’t fix.

Then you get the traits that are sorta ‘give or take’. I don’t mind having thinnish hair because it dries quicker. I don’t mind being short because I can make people do stuff for me with a quickness, and it’s always easier to take in length on pants than to let it out. I don’t mind having boobs because at least I didn’t have to stuff my bra when I was 14. Plus, boys generally like boobs. So I guess that’s good.

And then there’s the butt. Hoo boy. Again, there definitely is no denying my true lineage, but I swear there has to be some African American ancestry somewhere in one of my family trees. I guess it’s not impossible, being Southern and all… Because this is the truth: I have a little bit more rhythm than a lot of white folk (and I mean a little bit more…. I am no Beyonce for sure). I have slightly fuller lips (at least the bottom one) than a lot of white folk. Last but certainly not least, I have a ginormous ass for a white chick. It’s not proportional. It’s not right, and I have no idea where it comes from. It’s just not natural.

Here’s where the story gets funny. Because of said unnaturally large ass, I seemed to get harassed by the vast majority of black boys in my school. Maybe it was stylish for a regular looking white girl to wear such an unusually large backside, or maybe there’s some other reason why black boys (and a handful of white boys) like girls with junk in the trunk. Who knows. Either way, I remember one specific group of guys in high school who taunted me almost daily. How rude, right?! But I remembered it, not because of the fact that it was nearly daily, but because of what they said to me every. single. time.

“Girl, you be eatin’ all your cornbread!”

And with that, friends, I have embarrassed myself in front of the whole internets (but only slightly), and! I have given you a great recipe for cornbread. I won’t lie – I do fancy a piece of cornmeal-laden bread every now and then, but it’s not like I ate it all the time as a kid. I’m gonna chalk it up to science, and swear there’s some genetic influence quite a few generations back. Selective advantage? I won’t even try to answer that…

Zucchini Cornbread
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1 loaf 

this is a really good cornbread recipe, so let’s start with that. it’s not moist, so don’t expect a texture like banana and pumpkin breads. it’s drier, but it’s buttery (with browned butter – yum!) and has just enough sugar to provide a little sweetness, too. You don’t notice the zucchini much, but at least you’re getting veggies, if only a little dab! and to be honest, this is NOT the way Southern cornbread tastes. Southern cornbread is not as sweet, and maybe even a little more dry, a bit heftier. either way, it’s a great side item to a stew, or perhaps Thanksgiving? I ate it as a late-night snack this week, but that could lead to ill effects, as we’ve already discussed…

time commitment: 3 hours (includes cooking + cooling time; only about 30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c skim milk
1 large zucchini (about 10 ounces)
1 c spelt flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c sugar
1 t baking powder
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t baking soda
3/4 c medium-grind cornmeal

instructions
Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 F. Spray or butter a bread pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter solids at bottom of pan turn golden brown, about 3 minutes. Scrape butter into a medium bowl. Set aside and let cool. Whisk in eggs and milk.

Peel and coarsely grate zucchini. Add to bowl with butter mixture and stir until well blended.

Whisk together both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl. Whisk in cornmeal. Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend (mixture will be very thick). Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.

Bake bread until golden and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 55 minutes. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack. For best flavor, make a day in advance.