Cardamom Crumb Muffins

May 30, 2014


Cardamom might be the most underappreciated spice out there. Sure, it’s expensive, but not, like, saffron expensive. And a lot of people think it’s this incredibly exotic, inaccessible Indian spice. Exotic? Perhaps. Inaccessible? Pshaw! It has the most amazing perfume, but not overpowering. I made these muffins following Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for allspice crumb muffins (from Baking: From My House to Yours), subbing the cardamom for the allspice. They were a big hit, and I suspect if I had used cardamom that wasn’t a bazillion years old (such as, freshly ground!), they would have been even more scrumptious. They’re very easy, so make them this weekend!

Cardamom Crumb Muffins

For the Streusel:

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

3/4  teaspoon ground cardomom

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

For the Muffins:

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 stick  unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 large eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature

1/4 teaspoon  vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon


Prep: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper cups (or use ungreased silicone muffin pan without paper cups).  Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Streusel:  Combine the flour, brown sugar and cardamom in a small bowl.  Add the bits of cold butter and toss or cut in with a pastry cutter to get irregularly shaped crumbs.  Refrigerate until muffins are ready.

Muffins:  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt.  Stir in the brown sugar, braking down large lumps.  In another bowl, whisk the melted butter, eggs, milk, and vanilla together until well combined.  Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, stir gently but quickly.  Add the lemon zest. The batter will be lumpy.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.  Sprinkle some streusel over each muffin, then gently press the crumbs into the batter with your fingers.

Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.  Cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the muffins from the pan.

Duck Fat Skillet Cornbread

November 28, 2011

I didn’t grow up with cornbread, and most of the time, the stuff I taste is just OK. It’s usually too dry or too sweet or too anything. I feel like Goldilocks, because I could never find the cornbread that was just right.

That changed a couple of years ago when my buddy Pableaux came through town on his “Red Beans & Rice Tour.” He’d visit friends. The friends would invite other friends. Pableaux made red beans and rice and cornbread. Everyone ate.

Pableaux’s technique was pretty simple: Heat up a cast iron skillet. Melt fat in the skillet. Pour melted fat into the cornbread batter. Stir. Add back to the skillet. Bake. And the thing is, this cornbread was just right. The bottom was good and crispy. The cornbread was moist, with the sweetness coming from the cornmeal, not a lot of sugar. And it was rich. I wanted a second piece. And a third. It was that good.

And so, Pableaux’s cornbread is now mine, as I use his technique, following the Lee Brothers‘ recipe for skillet cornbread. But where I differ is that I use duck fat. You can use shortening or butter or lard or bacon drippings, but I use duck fat, because I always have a lot around and, well, it makes the most kick-ass corn bread around. Now that it’s chili season, you need some kick-ass corn bread. So have at it.

Duck Fat Skillet Cornbread (Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook)

3 Tbsp. duck fat
1-1/2 c. stone-ground cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 large egg
1-1/2 c. whole buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450. Add duck fat to 12″ cast iron skillet and put in the oven. Allow skillet to get really hot! Meanwhile, mix dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients into another bowl. Add the wet stuff to the dry and mix until it comes together. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven, swirl a bit to make sure duck fat coats the sides, then pour the molten duck fat into the batter. Stir until combined and pour batter into skillet. Bake for about 15 minutes until the top is golden brown.


Recipe Failures

April 27, 2011

Sometimes I come up with a great idea for a recipe, and it fails miserably.  This happened to me at lunch today, when I sneaked home to grab a bite.

We had a bunch of Easter ham in the fridge, a gift from a friend, and I was getting a bit tired of the regular old ham sandwiches I’ve had this week.  I wanted something different. Something I hadn’t had in ages.  Aha!  Ham salad!

Before you start gagging, I must confess that I’ve always loved ham salad — even when it’s the nasty grocery store deli case glop.  My love for ham salad came from my childhood, when my mother fed us a similar concoction that we called, “pickle and baloney” sandwiches.  My mom would buy a big hunk of bologna from the grocery store — not the pre-sliced stuff, but the solid, cylinder found in the deli case.  She’d break out the meat grinder and throw some sweet pickles into the mix.  It would be a course grind of bologna and pickles, and she’d pull it together with some Miracle Whip (no mayonnaise in my childhood home).  I loved that shit, and whenever I found a pickle and baloney sandwich in my lunch bag, I thought I was being treated to something damn special.

Over the years, my mother stopped making pickle and baloney, and she would buy ham salad from the deli instead.  It wasn’t the same as my old favorite, but I still liked the stuff.

And so, when I went home today, I was going to make some ham salad.  I mean, how hard is that — ham, pickles and mayo.  Maybe a little celery for some crunch.

But then I realized we had no sweet pickles.  Damn!  You have to have that sweet element to make ham salad work.

So, with no pickles, I had to come up with Plan B.  What is sweet that goes with ham?  I was thinking of what goes well with prosciutto, and of course, I thought of figs.  But it’s not fig season.  I do, however, have lots of fig preserves in the pantry.

THAT’S IT!  Ham and fig preserve salad!

So I minced up the ham, and finely chopped the fig preserves, added some mayo to bind it all.  A little salt and pepper.  Onto some bread it goes, and then I take a big bite.


It’s sweet.  Too sweet.  What I forgot is that the pickles didn’t just add sweetness, they added acidity to balance out the sweetness and to cut the overall richness of the ham and mayo.  My sandwich didn’t have that.  I could have added some vinegar, but that wouldn’t have kept the acidity with the fruit, which I wanted.

I ate half the sandwich and gave up, despondently.

Hmm, I wonder how mango chutney would work?

Bake Some Bread, Dammit!

January 18, 2011

Photo courtesy of Carri Thurman by way of Michael Ruhlman

Michael Ruhlman is running a series on bread baking over on his blog, trying to get folks to bake bread.  Of course, I’m a sucker for bread, having baked for nearly 20 years (including my mad scientist days when I was in law school and had multiple types of sourdough starter sitting in my kitchen).  When I saw one guest blogger post a story and recipe about ciabatta, I knew I had to make it.  First, I love ciabatta, with its rustic shape and straight-forward flavors.  Second, this recipe  comes from a bakery — Two Sisters —  in one of my favorite places in the world, Homer, Alaska (also home to the best pizza in Alaska, Finn’s).  This recipe is of the “no knead” variety, which I typically like because of its simplicity, but which I usually don’t love, because the full flavors you desire aren’t usually completely developed.  This recipe was a bit different — it was a two-stage process, where a dense starter with a minimal amount of yeast sits on the counter for at least 12 hours.  Then warm water is added, and you break up the starter into small clumps before adding more flour and yeast.  It’s a very wet dough, but it’s perfect for the rectangular “slipper” shape of a ciabatta.

And, quite frankly, it was the best bread I’ve ever made.  I’m already craving this bread and hope to make it again very soon.  Thanks to Carri Thurman of Two Sisters Bakery and to Michael Ruhlman for publishing her recipe (and allowing me to reprint it).  I’ve made a couple of minor changes, based on what I had in the house on Saturday.

Recipe by Carri Thurman

To make the starter:

  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon rye flour
  • 3 cups/14 ounces/400 grams bread flour (I used King Arthur, but unbleached all purpose flour is OK)
  • 1 cup/8 ounces/240 grams tepid water
  • ¼ teaspoon/1 gram active dry yeast dissolved in 1 cup warm water (set aside)
  1. Combine the flours and tepid water in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of the yeasted water (that’s correct, just 1 teaspoon — discard the rest)
  3. Mix it into a firm ball, kneading it  just a bit.
  4. Cover the bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours

To make the dough:

  • 1 teaspoon/4 grams active dry yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups/15.5 ounces/430 bread flour (or unbleached all purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon/.4 ounces/11 grams salt
  1. Cut the dense starter dough into 6 or 8 pieces and put them in a large mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups/450 grams warm water over it and let sit a few minutes to soften. Break it up more with your hands.  Don’t worry about small-sized chunks.
  2. Add the additional flour, salt and yeast,  and using a wooden spoon, beat the mixture together well. It will resemble a stiff pancake batter and appear quite rough, but still don’t worry about those chunks of  starter dough. Let the dough sit, covered lightly, in a warm spot.
  3. Come back to it every 20 minutes or so and pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and into the center using a rubber spatula or dough scraper. Do this four times. After the last turn you will be able to see that the dough has become smoother and more uniform, now cover and let it finish rising for another hour and a half. Total rising time for this period should be 2 ½ to 3 hours.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a well floured surface and fold together lightly. It will be fairly wet. Divide into two equal loaves and either pull apart into a flat focaccia style or fold the two ends into the center, like folding a letter, to form rectangular mound.
  5. Place loaves on parchment paper lined sheet pan side by side for final rise, 30 to 45 minutes.
  6. Prep your oven by preheating to 450 degrees F/230 degree C and putting a baking stone or a cast iron griddle on the middle rack.  If no stones/griddles, just back on the sheet pan.
  7. When ready to bake, lightly flour the tips of your fingers and deflate some of the bubbles; don’t worry, it’ll bounce back in the oven.
  8. Cut the parchment paper between the loaves to separate, and slide each loaf right onto to the stone or griddle. Or keep it on the pan.  Whatever.  Spray the loaves and oven with some water from a spray bottle to create some steam.  Bake until dark-ish golden brown and internal temp reaches 200 degrees F, approximately 25 minutes.

Makes two 1-3/4 pound ciabattas

Adult Gingerbread for the Holidays

December 24, 2010

I love gingerbread.  It’s always been one of my favorite flavors, particularly when served warm with some soft cream.  It represents the essence of winter comfort food, not too sweet, with depths of flavor beyond most other desserts.  But that depth was sometimes illusory, as it was just a smack of molasses paired with a touch of ground ginger.  This holiday season, I wanted more flavor.  I wanted more complexity.  I wanted a goddamned adult version of gingerbread.

Thank goodness for Karen Barker.

Barker, the co-owner and Beard Award winning pastry chef of Durham’s Magnolia Grill, has the hand’s-down-bet-the-farm-you-can-take-it-to-the-bank-absolute-best gingerbread you’ll ever taste.  This isn’t one of those pale cakes that you whip together in 2 minutes that will still taste just fine.  This is a dark, foreboding-looking gingerbread, with three types of ginger, coffee, black pepper, and dry mustard in it.  It’s a gingerbread that has some kick, without being piquant.  It’s not a dense cake, but it’s really rich.  And when paired with something somewhat sweet, like Barker’s Hot Buttered Rum Raisin Sauce and some vanilla-nutmeg ice cream — oh, my.

And that’s what my guests were saying last week when I concluded a 6 course dinner party last weekend.  This dish is a winner.  This gingerbread means business.  And hell, yeah, I made three of those cakes, so there was plenty for breakfast the rest of the week.

Not-Afraid-of-Flavor Gingerbread

  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp peeled, very finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9X9X2 square pan or a 10X2 round pan. Line bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ground ginger, dry mustard and salt.

With a mixer, cream butter with the sugar and the fresh and crystallized ginger. Add eggs one at a time to blend.

Slowly add the oil and then the molasses. Mix to blend.

Gradually add the flour and spice mix until just barely blended, scraping bowl as needed.

Heat up the coffee in a small saucepan to a simmer, add the baking soda, stir, and add to the mix. Add the orange juice until fully combined. The batter will be thinner than what you would expect.

Pour batter into the pan and bake at 350F for about an hour and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan. Invert onto parchment paper, and then flip back over onto serving platter. Eat. And then eat some more.

From “Sweet stuff: Karen Barker’s American Desserts” by Karen Barker, University of North Carolina Press

Creamed Corn: Simplest Recipe in the World

December 7, 2010

Damn iPhone images stink!

One of the favorite dishes in the McCord residence is creamed corn.  No, not that crap from a can — freshly made creamed corn, with kernels freshly cut from the cob.  It’s a dish I make fairly frequently, and it’s good in the summer with local corn and in the winter with Florida corn.  The corn infuses the cream with its sweetness, and the cream holds it all together.  It goes well with just about anything.

And the best part of all is that  it’s so damn simple!  It’s so easy that I’m not going to give you a real recipe; I’m just going to tell you what to do.

  1. Shuck the corn and cut kernels from cob.  Scrape cobs with back of knife into corn dish.  (TIP: Put a clean kitchen towel over your cutting board.  The kernels won’t bounce away as much with a naked cutting board.)
  2. Melt some unsalted butter in a skillet.
  3. Add corn and the goodness scraped.
  4. Cook over medium heat until it starts to brown.
  5. Add some cream to bring it together.  You want enough cream so the corn cooks in the cream, rather than the cream just evaporating away.
  6. Cook until somewhat thick.  There will still be some residual cream, but it’s all good.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste.  Some freshly ground nutmeg is killer.
  8. Devour.

Really, that’s a lot of steps for something that’s as simple as this:  Brown corn in melted butter.  Add cream, cook, season.

You’ll thank me for this dish, and you can even add it to your Christmas dinner.  And for you lazy folks out there, Whole Foods often sells corn that has been freshly cut from the cob.  It’s not as good, as you don’t get the cob scrapings, but it’s still pretty damn tasty.  Regardless, you’ll put thoughts of the Del Monte Creamed Corn far behind you — just where it belongs.

The Best Community Cookbook Ever — And Two Events to Celebrate It

October 12, 2010

Yes, I love the Southern Foodways Alliance.  Yes, I’m a member.  And yes, I’ve even been nominated to be on its Board of Directors.  So it should be no surprise to you that I’ll do just about anything this organization asks of me — not just because I’m a good soldier, but because there’s nothing this organization does that I don’t support.  Whether it’s a fundraiser for their film or oral history initiatives or for scholarships for burgeoning food writers, I’m going to spread the word.

This time, however, it’s different.  This time, the event is to celebrate a cookbook.  A fantastic, spiral-bound, community cookbook, suitably named, “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.”  The cookbook  is divided into chapters that represent the region’s iconic foods: Gravy, Garden Goods, Roots, Greens, Rice, Grist, Yardbird, Pig, The Hook, The Hunt, Put Up, and Cane.  It’s been edited, written and compiled by some of my favorite people in the world, including April McGreger, baker and pickler extraordinaire of Farmer’s Daughter in Carrboro, Chapel Hill’s great cooking instructor, Sheri Castle,  and Sara Roahen, author of the fantastic book on New Orleans, “Gumbo Tales.”  Heck, I even submitted a recipe for the book — and yes, it is a recipe for cooking one type of varmint.

To celebrate the release of the book, there are not one, but two events planned for this weekend in Chapel Hill.

The first event is this Friday, October 15th, at Foster’s Market in Chapel Hill (750 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd).  This event is a book signing and is free to the public — and, yes, there will be a little bit of food there.

The second event has a lot of food, and this is a ticketed event.  It will be on Sunday at 4:00 PM at Chapel Hill’s 3CUPS (227 South Elliott Rd.).  If you just want to come and eat, it’ll cost you $25.  If you want one of these awesome cookbooks (all the cool kids have them), then that will cost you an additional 15 bucks.  That’s less than the Amazon price!  So, you get a soon-to-be iconic cookbook, lots of great food (with both cake and pie, as there will be a debate about which is better), lots of social interaction with writers, and all on a Sunday evening!  And because it is 3CUPS, there will be wine.  Tasty, wonderful wine.

So, get off your butt and head to Chapel Hill this weekend to buy a book — the best community cookbook ever!  And if you need more information, just check out the SFA’s Blog.