Make A Classic Southern Dessert: Hummingbird Cake

Photos by Molly Dunn
It's a classic Southern dessert, and it's downright divine.
If you're from the American South, then there's a 99 percent chance you have heard of Hummingbird Cake. To me, Hummingbird Cake is like a cross between Pineapple Upside Down Cake and banana bread. When you add the sliced bananas and pineapple chunks to the batter, its texture is much thicker than an ordinary vanilla cake, more like that of banana bread, and when baked, it is caramelized and sticky like a Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

But, why is it called Hummingbird Cake? Do hummingbirds eat bananas? Pineapples? Pecans? Cream cheese frosting? The only thing I have seen hummingbirds eat is the red sugar water my mom puts in their feeder.

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Lonely Leftovers: Get More from your Spinach-Artichoke Dip

Photo by Ninacoco
Spinach and Artichoke Dip in its original form

Someone once told me that it's not a party without spinach and artichoke dip. Keeping this old adage in mind, I made a batch of the gooey three-dairy dip for my recent housewarming. Only I forgot to take the casserole out of the oven until everybody had filled their bellies with Lone Star. Not wanting to put an entire container of cream cheese to waste, I wrapped seven-eights of the stuff up in tinfoil and put it in the fridge.

Unless you're having another party sometime really soon, there is not that much that you can do with old artichoke dip. I can tell you firsthand, it's not like hummus. Snacking on this Super Bowl Sunday staple alone in early April makes you feel pretty bad about yourself.

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Dish of the Week: Chicken and Chorizo Empanadas

Categories: How To, Recipes

Photo by Chris Perkins
Empanadas have endless possibilities. Make them baked or fried, sweet or savory.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

Empanadas, stuffed and fried bread or pastries, are popular all over the world, especially in southern Europe, Latin America, the U.S. Southwest and Southeast Asia. Deriving its name from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap or to coat in bread, the pastry first appeared in medieval Iberia, mainly Galicia (Spain), Portugal and Llión, during the Moorish invasions. Along with the Italian calzone, it is believed to have been a derivative of the Indian samosa.

Tuna, sardines and chorizo are common Galician and Portuguese fillings, but today you'll find the street food filled with a variety of seafood, meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit.

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Corn on the Cob, Five Ways

Categories: How To, Recipes

Photo by Ryan
Perfectly grilled corn deserves so much more than salt and pepper alone.
The sun is out, and it's (hopefully) here to stay, so now is the time to enjoy some al fresco dining. And what better way to enjoy the warm weather than with the classic picnic and poolside barbecue fare, corn on the cob? While we obviously love our corn stick with the classic combination of butter, salt and pepper, there are plenty of flavorful toppings that bring a bit more thrill to the affair.

From a mayo-slathered Mexican favorite to a pistachio-crusted wonder, here are Five Exciting Ways to Top Corn on the Cob.

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Dish of the Week: The Cuban Sandwich

Photo by Tammy Gordon
The Cuban sandwich is typically pressed on a plancha or a flat grill top, making each side buttery crisp.
From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

When it come to classic sandwiches, the pressed Cuban sandwich is easily one of the best. Made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on crusty Cuban bread, the sandwich is a staple in Southern Florida.

That's because (according to some), though the sandwich may have been born in Cuba, it was raised in the States. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cubans frequently traveled back and forth between their country and neighboring South Florida. The primitive form of the sandwich is said to have been developed as a lunch for cigar factory workers in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and later, Key West in the 1860s. In the 1880s, the cigar industry shifted to Ybor City, a culturally diverse neighborhood of Tampa. There, the Cuban, Spanish and Italian influences of the neighborhood morphed the lunch staple into the Cuban sandwich as we know it today. In Tampa, you may even find Genoa salami layered in.

The sandwich is assembled on lightly buttered Cuban bread, then toasted in a sandwich press called a plancha (similar to a panini press but without the ridges). In its best form, it's layered with mojo-marinated roast pork and good-quality ham.

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How To: Pavlova for Easter

Photos by Molly Dunn
Pavlovas are light and sweet, especially when topped with mixed berries and whipped cream.
Each Easter, I search for a beautiful spring dessert that's light, fruity and, most important, beautiful just like the season and the holiday. While clicking through various dessert slideshows on Food Network, Bon Appétit and Southern Living's websites, I saw that there was one thing they all had in common -- each included a pavlova.

What exactly is a pavlova? It's a giant meringue topped with sweet whipped cream and fruit. And there are several variations where the meringue is flavored, or topped with a chocolate whipped cream instead of a plain whipped cream. Although the decoration process is simple, the preparation and hands-on cooking process are a bit challenging, but certainly doable.

Making meringues is not an easy task. You must have patience and must be completely focused on each step. One mistake and your meringue won't form properly. But if you follow all the steps and pay close attention to every detail, your meringue will be perfect.

After years of looking at pavlova recipes during the spring, I finally decided to make one. Ina Garten's Mixed Berry Pavlova is a great recipe to use for your first one. It's a plain meringue topped with a simple sweet whipped cream and raspberry sauce with mixed berries.

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Vegan with a Vengeance: Pizza

Categories: How To, Vegetarian

Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Vegan Pizza, pre-bake.
We'll get it out of the way right now: I'm being a bit loose in my veganism. I'm not eating any animals, dairy products, or eggs, but I'm not strictly avoiding sugar, nor actively eschewing honey. Call me a bad vegan. That's fine, because I'm not actually a vegan, I just play one on TV. Or for Lent. That's kind of the same, right?

I didn't figure it would be a terribly tough leap, as my family eats a varied diet with relatively little meat. Many of my routine meals either are or could easily be converted to fit vegan parameters, and I've done the vegetarian thing several times, for significant stretches. No big deal.

When I told my wife I planned to go vegan for Lent, she wasn't exactly thrilled. "It doesn't mean *you* have to go vegan," I told her. She was having none of that, though, complaining about the added time and labor costs of cooking two versions of dinner on a semi-regular basis. If I was vegan for Lent, so were they, at least when eating dinner together at home.

The kids had similar reactions. "What are you going to EAT?!" asked my oldest. I asked her to name the animal products we eat routinely, and she started ticking off animals: beef, chicken, pork, fish ..." She still had fingers left when she started trailing off, running out of foods with a face. "OK," I challenged her, "start naming fruits and vegetables." She spit out a good dozen, going full-steam ahead when I stopped her, asking if she'd gotten my point. "Yeah, I guess you can still eat most things," she said slowly, a surprised look on her face. While a bit reductive, the lesson points to a concept central to the way I'm approaching my temporary veganism, and equally central to what I've historically disliked about that diet and its more freewheeling cousin.

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Avocado Love: Three Things That Are Not Guacamole

Photo by Catherine Blanchard
Coconut Avocado Ice Cream
Lifetime Houstonians may not know what a luxury it is to have year-round access to avocados. Three short weeks was long enough for me to learn that there is only so much guacamole one person can eat. With five avocados still ripening in my kitchen, I thought there just had to be another way to use them. Turns out, there are many. Here are three of my favorite alternative avocado recipes.

Pureed avocados make for more than a great dip. Blend two with one garlic clove (minced), the juice of a lemon, crushed red pepper flakes, a glug of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste for a creamy pasta sauce; it is by far the cleanest, fastest and most vegan cream sauce out there. All you need is a cutting board, a knife and a food processor of some kind. I mixed all the ingredients with an immersion blender, adding a cup of pasta-cooking water at the end to thin out the sauce without adding unnecessary oil.

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Baking with Bacon Grease

Photo by Catherine Blanchard
Bacon Granola Parfait

So you're up on the locavore movement and appreciate organics, but what are your thoughts about nose-to-tail eating? You don't have to enjoy sweetbreads to get the most out of the meat you make on a weekly basis. To avoid creating waste, try putting side products to use. Bacon is a favorite in my family, so I spent the past week substituting everything from Crisco to sunflower oil with bacon grease. Fans of pork might not be surprised to learn that everything is better with the bacon.

The mission began when my sister sent me a recipe for granola, using five simple ingredients: oats, brown sugar, maple syrup, bacon fat and an oil of your choice. Feel free to change the ratios depending on how many people you have to feed, because this is a recipe that's (almost) impossible to ruin. (Who doesn't love a good maple-bacon combination?) I used five cups of oats with a quarter cup each of sugar, syrup and the fats. Preheat the oven to 215 degrees F. Mix the oats and sugar together before topping with the wet ingredients to blend. Once they're coated, transfer the oats to two baking trays. Bake for an hour or so, tossing every 15 minutes to ensure even color.

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How to Cook Asparagus Pretty Close to Perfect

Categories: How To, Vegetarian

Photos by John Kiely
You don't need a fancy pan to cook asparagus.

The first culinary sign of spring in much of the U.S. and Europe is asparagus shooting up from the soil. Americans generally cut them off to eat when they reach seven to nine inches in length, to prevent them from getting woody, but Europeans -- especially Germans -- cover them with dirt, to block out the sunlight and produce white asparagus, which are treasured for being more tender and less bitter.

Asparagus season starts in January in California, then moves north about this time to Washington, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where the asparagus will keep popping up until June. There's no asparagus season here on the Gulf Coast, as the vegetable requires ground freezes and a dry season.

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