Saturday, September 24, 2011

Steel Plate Magnolias

I spent the first 20 or so years of my life in the West among cowboys and lumberjacks (and yes, I DO know all the words to the lumberjack song). But after that I ended up living in the South. That was something I hadn't planned on, for quite young, I married a Canadian pilot, expecting to continue the Western life, playing with airplanes and making a home in the mountains. But fate intervened, with those dreams going down in flames and I somehow ended up remarried and living in the South, on 40 acres with cows, a horse I named Elmer, and a couple of black labs.

The blending of the background of my acquired language patterns was a bit rough ("would y'all like seconds, aye") but I soon found my niche, mostly through my cooking. For just as Southern women know their elegant gentlemen:

Men in uniform
Men in tuxedos
Rhett Butler

They also know the three deadly sins.

Having an unkempt home
Having bad manners
Cooking bad food

But even after 10 years there, I never quite became a Southern gal. I never could get the exact GPS coordinates of "yonder" and didn't get a handle on exactly how much catfish, peas and beans made up a "mess of". They even tried dragging me off to a "beauty salon" ("I thought you said Saloon!!") and forcing me into big hair to have a portrait taken.

Still, although I picked up a slight accent over time, I was a "Northerner", favoring a six shooter and going west to play weekend warrior for my employer. I didn't do my nails, and after "BigHairGate" I got my hair done where I was based. Plus, I never could sit all the way through that classic Southern Chick Flick "Steel Magnolias". There's just not any good action in it. Maybe if I rewrote the script.

Shelby: Truvy, you know what you need in here? You need a radio, takes the pressure off of everyone feeling they have to talk so much.

Truvy: I had one once, but we took it out back to blow it up with some with C4. (KABOOM!!!) OK, time's up, time to take those perm rods out.

That's why I don't get to write scripts.

But the cooking skills and recipes I gained down south are some I treasure. Many of the dishes I'd never had growing up. Grits, Frito chili pie, biscuits and gravy, sweet potato pie and the growing lust for a small piece of fried dough known as the Beignet - which, in Home on the Range speak, is "happiness squared." I had it for the first time on a trip to Louisiana, and I never looked at a plain old donut in the same way again.

The word beignet (pronounced beyn-YAY) comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning "to raise." In French it means "fried dough". They are a distinct New Orleans speciality, a fried, sweet dough, often cooked in cottonseed oil and usually dusted with powdered sugar.

They're sort of the early ancestor of the raised donut and when you hear people in New Orleans say "Goin' fo' coffee an'doughnuts", what they really mean is that they're going out for coffee and a little plate of beignets.

The coffee traditionally paired with them is café au lait. In New Orleans, that is strong dark roast coffee and chicory, served with equal part hot milk. Chicory was originally added to the coffee to stretch short supplies, but it was found to create a richer, smooth brew that is good on its own and works wonderfully with the milk.

There's only a couple of bakeries around Indiana that have them, but as they are best freshly made, hot with a soft, tender middle, why not make your own (recipe in the comments for now).
click to enlarge

They're a perfect pairing with that morning cup of coffee before a Steel Plate Shoot to give you a little energy. Because this "almost Southern gal" does know the fourth deadly sin.

A really bad grouping.


  1. Beignets

    3/4 cups lukewarm water
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1/2 envelope active dry yeast (measure it out, don't estimate it, should be around 3 tsp)
    1 egg, slightly beaten
    1/2 teaspoon plus one pinch salt
    1/2 cup evaporated milk
    3 and 1/2 cups bread flour
    2 tablespoons lard (or shortening)
    Nonstick spray
    Cottonseed oil, for deep-frying (or use canola)
    about 1 and a half cups of confectioners' (powdered) sugar

    Place the warm water and sugar in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the top to dissolve. Let sit 10 minutes.

    In another bowl, beat the eggs, salt and evaporated milk together. Add the egg mixture to the yeast mixture in the larger bowl. In a separate bowl, measure out the bread flour. Add half of the flour to the yeast mixture, stirring to combine. Add the shortening and continue to stir while adding the remaining flour. Remove dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.

    Spray a clean, large bowl with non stick cooking spray. Put dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap or towel and let raise in a warm place free of drafts for at least two hours and as much as 6. Preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

    Add the confectioners' sugar to a paper or plastic bag and set aside.

    Working with small bits of dough (about the size of a baseball) roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into 2-inch squares. Try and not make the dough any thicker than that or it may develop air holes as it fries.

    Heat your oil for frying in a deep and wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat to 360 degree F (180 degrees C).

    Slide dough carefully into the oil to avoid splattering and deep fry until they puff up and are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, flipping them with tongs as they cook. The beignets should rise to the surface of the oil as they begin to puff up, if they don't, your oil is not hot enough.

    Remove them carefully and let drain on paper towels until just cool enough to handle them without burning you fingers. Place them in a clean paper bag in which you've put the powdered sugar. Shake gently to cover or simply dust the tops of the beignets with a sifter full of powdered sugar.

  2. At my house we pronounce that "bung nuts", but either way they are mighty tasty.

  3. Love the hair!

    The beignets look good too.

  4. Very nice picture. Here's a variant I had at a friend's home. He was from Louisiana. Granulated sugar and cinnamon. I think the ration is 16 sugar to 1 cinnamon.

  5. Beignets!11!!!one!

    I wish I could have breakfast every morning at Cafe du Monde...*sigh*

  6. Oh I can already imagine that going straight to my hips....

    You just gave me an excuse to haul out the deep fryer and pick up some chicory coffee. The husband is REALLY going to hate having that as his brunch tomorrow.

  7. Brigid: Your food porn just kills me!
    (But, I'll keep coming back!, even if you have big hair)

  8. New Orleans. Two syllables or three.

  9. Hot fried dough. It's a universal comfort food! I have the Swahili version (Mandazis) ready to go for tomorrow...

    I think I'm the only American female born before 1975 who never set foot in the Glamor Shots booth! Just one more reason to be grateful for my overseas upbringing! :)

  10. Dori - I think they should replace water boarding with Glamour Shots. Hell, Al Qaeda would give up in a week.

    The fried bits of doughy heaven went to some pals who were helping a friend with his farm while he was in the hospital. I made the morning run with hot fried dough, vowing NOT to eat one. Somewhere north of town I think I went into a hypnotic state while driving and when I came to my senses there was powdered sugar on my shirt.

    I did save two to share with a friend I'm meeting for supper tomorrow.

  11. Thank you for the recipe, we will try it out just as soon as the temps drop around here. We are still at 90 daily.

  12. Damn, the last time I had beignets was at Dookey Chase pre-Katrina.

  13. Those look so-ooo good...

    When I saw the big hair... the memory of the movie "Valley Girl" and a bad date in the 80s almost entered my mind...

    I said almost...

    Dann in Ohio

  14. Awesome picture, Brigid. My ex-wife got sucked into doing the Glamor Shots thing. Soft focus lens, big hair, funniest thing I ever saw. It went into a closet and as far as I know when we split it went into a closet in her new home.

    Thanks for the recipe. I will have to make them for dessert when I finally get around to trying the Cornbread Waffles recipe that is still sitting on my kitchen counter.

    Keep giving us good ideas for comfort food.

  15. Mmmm, beignets. I've never been to New Orleans, but I've had fresh beignets. In Charleston, SC, you can buy them fresh on a Saturday morning at the Marion Square crafts market from a pushcart vendor.

  16. I lived in New Orleans for about 6 months not too long ago, and loved getting beignets when we had work teams in town! You wouldn't happen to know of any places near Fort Wayne that carry these tasty little pastries, would you? *fingers crossed*

  17. It's two syllables, "Nawlins" !

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. Gotta have em with GOOD coffee (with chicory)... And yonder is just a 'bit' down the road... :-)

  20. Re: First picture, steal plate - that's more "arty" than one of those decorative plates....I don't know if that would fall under #22 in the HOTR Woman list, but it would be interesting enough to hang on a wall (and more meaningful, too).....

  21. BEIGNETS!!!

    These are to me what kryptonite is to Superman...only I die happier.

    Only good ones come from Cafe DuMonde, however, and then only after midnight.

    But yours...yours look like they could beat DuMonde's hands down.

    PS--LOVE the 80's hair.

  22. Dori, you're not alone. I've managed to avoid every "glamour" photo place in the country, I think.

    As for beignets, I just might give them a try. No deep fryer, but a cast iron dutch oven will substitute nicely -- worked for my ancestors, after all.

  23. Murphy's Law - agreed on the best ones. They have a mix now in the stores, but they're so easy to make I'm not sure why you'd need one.

    MAJArkay - I clean up pretty well when needed but I plan on going to my grave without hairspray touching my head again.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..