Buttermilk Coconut Pie

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There are many variations of this Southern classic. This recipe is my own version of a recipe featured in our local paper, from an Atlanta food writer who combined his mother’s recipe with one from a cookbook of Southern pies.

It uses buttermilk (a good way to use up any that might be sitting in the fridge) to make a dense coconut-filled base. It’s topped with enough sweetened whipped cream to make a top layer that fills the rest of the pie, keeping it light.

A garnish of toasted coconut covers any flaws and hints at what’s below.

Makes one 9-inch pie.

1/2 cup sugar (slightly more)
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. all-purpose plain flour
5 oz. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), plus more for garnish
1 9-inch pie crust (I used a pre-made frozen one and used it straight from the freezer)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 heaping tsp. sugar

Heat oven to 350F (175C) degrees.

In small bowl combine sugar and flour, using a fork to mix well. Add buttermilk, melted butter, beaten egg, and vanilla, and stir until mixed well and evenly. Stir in coconut.

Pour filling into pie crust. Place pie on baking sheet and bake approximately 30 minutes, until firm throughout and filling is slightly browned — but keep an eye on it toward the end.

As it bakes, put a handful of shredded coconut in a small pan and toast it on medium-low until browned, shaking the pan every couple of minutes to toast the flakes evenly. If you have a toaster oven, you can do this on a small sheet of foil and a regular setting, gently shaking the foil occasionally and removing the sheet as soon as the flakes are browned.

When pie is done, let cool on wire rack. Whip cream with sugar*, then spread with spatula over the cooled pie. Try to make it slightly higher than the edge of the crust. Sprinkle the toasted coconut on top. Tip: Sprinkle some at the edge to hide the gap between the whipped cream and pie crust.

*Start whipping the cream without the sugar. Once it is slightly thickened, that’s when you add the sugar. Then continue whipping until stiff.

Butter Caramel Cereal Clusters

cereal clustersI had lots of sweetened condensed milk in the pantry ever since I stocked up before the holidays. I wanted to use it up to clear some space, but I was surprised that the only recipes I had for sweetened condensed milk were for key lime pie and some custard tarts.

So I poked around online and mainly found recipes for frostings and little else. I found one recipe for a lemon meringue pie, but I have a recipe for that already that I’m quite happy with, and it doesn’t call for sweetened condensed milk. I also tried a butter cookie recipe but it turned out dry and not so tasty (my colleagues, who finished the batch, disagreed — but I know I can do better!).

Finally I found this recipe for cereal clusters, apparently popular in Latin America, and it was delicious. Easy to make, too — all you need is a pot on the stove, and there’s no baking involved. And it’s a good way to use leftover sweetened condensed milk because you can easily scale the recipe according to how much you have.

1 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
7 cups corn flakes

Line 2 baking sheets with well buttered foil or parchment paper. Place corn flakes in a large bowl and set aside. Have a bowl of water ready for your fingers later.

In a pot over medium heat, melt the sugar until it becomes deep amber and just begins to smoke. Add butter and salt and stir with wooden spoon until completely incorporated. Remove from heat. While constantly stirring, add sweetened condensed milk and stir until completely incorporated.

Quickly pour it over the cereal and mix gently until all flakes look covered. Using a soup spoon, scoop mixture out into approximately 2 Tbsp.-sized balls. Wet or butter your fingers and lightly press the clusters together, then place them on the foil or parchment to let cool.

Allow the clusters to set at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

(I adapted this recipe from seriouseats.com.)

Egg Fried Rice

This recipe requires day-old cooked rice, preferably steamed, so it’s a great way to use any rice left over from Chinese take-out. That’s what I used the other day, along with some long-grain rice I happened to have in the fridge. I chopped a couple of carrots and threw them in, along with a handful of frozen peas and some canned water chestnuts. You can add whatever vegetables you like, whether chopped or sliced. Scale the recipe according to how much rice you have.

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1 Tbsp. peanut oil (substitute canola/rapeseed oil if you need to)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups cold steamed white rice
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1-2 tsp. sesame oil
Vegetables as above

Heat a wok or large pan over high heat until a drop of water vaporizes instantly upon contact. Add peanut oil, swirling to coat wok evenly, and heat until hot and just smoking. Add eggs, tilting wok and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer on cooking surface, and cook 30 seconds, then add rice and salt and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, 2-3 minutes. Add scallions, sesame oil, and vegetables and stir-fry until combined well and heated through.

Coconut Macaroons

IMAG1990Easy and quick to make, these macaroons are just right for Easter or Passover, or as a special, light treat any time of year.

You mix the ingredients in one bowl and the macaroons bake for just 20 minutes. They stay chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside for days.

These are also nice to make if you find yourself with leftover egg whites from another recipe. I had one egg white left over from cooking last night, so on a whim I decided to make these to use it up — I just divided the recipe by four. I think I’ll do that again in the future. (It’s a good excuse for a treat!)

Makes about 62

14 oz. (1.16 kg) sweetened shredded coconut
6 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 egg whites
1 tsp. almond extract

Heat oven to 325F/160C degrees. Lightly grease and flour a couple of baking sheets.

In a large bowl, mix coconut, flour, and salt. Stir in egg whites and almond extract until well blended. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet (use a round tablespoon measure, if you have one, for the best shape).

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Immediately remove them from the baking sheets and let cool on wire rack.

*For Passover macaroons, substitute matzoh meal for the flour.

Spicy Southern Rice with Beans and Sausage

IMAG1949This is easy and delicious comfort food that you can make as mild or spicy as you like. I got this recipe years ago from a food company brochure — the kind where they call for their own brand ingredients even though you can use any brand.

I didn’t know what to call this recipe. The brochure called it “Spicy Cuban Stir-Fry,” but I don’t know enough about Cuban food to know whether it qualifies, and I didn’t want to offend anyone. Rice with beans is pretty Southern anyway, so there you go.

This would be a good way to use up leftover rice. And it’s ready in only 30 minutes.

2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 lb. sausage meat (I used mild Italian sausage, but use a spicier kind if you want more heat. I also used packaged ground sausage meat. If you can only find regular sausages, remove the casings and crumble the meat with your fingers.)
1 1.25 oz. packet taco seasoning mix*
The juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for sauteeing
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (omit if you want a milder dish)
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 11-oz. can corn kernels, drained
2 cups firmly packed fresh spinach, torn in rough pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine water and salt. Bring to a boil, then stir in rice and cover. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the sausage meat, taco seasoning mix, lime juice, 1 Tbsp. oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

In a large wok or 12-inch skillet, add a tablespoon or two of oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add sausage mixture and cook about 5 minutes or until sausage is cooked through.

Stir in cooked rice, beans, and corn and cook for about 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Add spinach and cook until it just begins to wilt.

*For those overseas who may not find taco seasoning packets in the store, here’s a recipe I found so you can make your own.

Roasted Cauliflower with Relish

Roasting broccoli is one of my favorite ways to have it — it’s a nice change from boiling or steaming it and dressing it with butter (although that’s pretty delicious too). We decided to try roasting cauliflower this time because we had a bunch of florets left over from crudites at a party. We both thought it was tasty, though I liked the relish and my husband did not.

The recipe, from Bon Appetit, gives instructions for using a whole cauliflower and cutting it into thick slices. I just used the florets and it worked fine. This recipe, by the way, is a great way to use leftover cauliflower — just scale the ingredients accordingly. I also used regular tomatoes (which were leftovers, too) instead of the plum tomatoes.

Implements you will need:
Cutting board
Large knife
Small bowl
Large oven-proof skillet
Large rimmed baking sheet
Blender

Serves 4

1 large head of cauliflower
1/2 cup pitted oil-packed black olives, finely chopped
3 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped or thinly sliced
3 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided, plus more
2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 plum tomatoes, cored and quartered

Trim the stem end of the cauliflower all the way to the base, leaving the core intact. Place cauliflower core side down on a work surface. Using a large knife, slice cauliflower into four thick “steaks,” starting from the center of the cauliflower and moving outward.

Some florets will break off during slicing. Finely chop them to measure about 1/2 cup. Transfer them to a small bowl and mix with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, 1 Tbsp. oil, parsley, and lemon juice. Season relish with salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 400F degrees (205C degrees). Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large, heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook cauliflower steaks until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side, adding 1 Tbsp. olive oil to pan between batches. Transfer steaks to a large rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven.

Reserve the skillet. Roast cauliflower until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, return the skillet to medium-high heat and add minced garlic and tomatoes, one cut side down. Cook until tomatoes are browned, them turn the tomatoes over and transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast garlic and tomatoes until tender, about 12 minutes, keeping the cauliflower in the oven.

Transfer the garlic, tomatoes, and 1/2 Tbsp. oil to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Divide tomato sauce among plates. Place 1 cauliflower steak on each plate and spoon the relish on top.

What to do with leftover tomato paste

I rarely buy cans of tomato paste because usually all I want is a little bit and I don’t know what to do with the rest. In London, I was able regularly to find tubes of tomato paste, which were convenient because I could squeeze out just a little at a time — however much I needed for a particular recipe. If they make that here in the States, I haven’t found it.

But I just read a clever tip that solves the issue of the cans. In “The Big Book of Casseroles,” author Maryana Vollstedt recommends freezing tablespoonfuls of tomato paste separately on a piece of foil in the freezer, and when they’re frozen, putting them in a bag for use later. I love it. Now I can get those cans and make full use of them.