Welcome to March! This month’s Cookbook Club selection is Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South, by Vivian Howard. If you’re a PBS watcher, Vivian is the chef at the center of the show A Chef’s Life. Selim loves that show, so this was a fun selection for us! Our first selection is a recipe she calls “Viv’s Addiction.” These spiced nuts really are addicting! We used slightly different spices than she does, but the addiction level is still there. I could not stop eating them as soon as they were cool enough to touch. I had to make myself save a few – I made them with the intention of them going in my work lunches! This recipe is clearly adaptable to essentially any spice you want, and we’re definitely planning to try a few variations.
Smoky Spiced Pecans
2 egg whites
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1 tsp coriander
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp smoked paprika
4 cups pecan halves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Then slowly add the salt and sugar while still whisking. Continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Then add the spices and whisk until combined.
Add the pecans to the bowl and stir until well-coated.
Spread the coated pecans in a single layer on a lined baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes. Then remove from the oven and flip the nuts over, breaking up clumps as able.
Repeat the steps above, stirring again at the 20 minute mark, and removing from the oven for good at the 30 minute mark.
Once cool, break up any nut clusters that are stuck together.
One of the greatest things about having a baby (other than, you know, the birth of a new human) is the fact that everyone brings you food. We’ve had some great meals and treats over the past 10 days courtesy of our wonderful friends and family. The only bad thing… sometimes we can’t quite finish everything! Ally’s aunt brought us a big box of bagels earlier this week, and the last few were starting to get stale. What to do…? Make bagel chips!
This is just about the easiest thing we’ve ever done and instead of wasting the last two bagels, we now have a bag of bagel chips for snacking! The possibilities are essentially endless. These two bagels we used were everything bagels, so we kept the seasoning savory. If you had a leftover sweet bagel, you could season with cinnamon or something else.
Easy Bagel Chips
2 stale bagels
1/4 cup oil
Herbs and/or spices – we used:
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp granulated garlic
Sprinkle of salt
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Slice the bagels into similarly sized pieces.
Toss with the oil and then spread onto a foil-lined cookie sheet. Ensure the chips are in a single layer.
I think Selim has a new favorite herb. Recently he’s been gravitating towards tarragon whenever it is a possible option to add to whatever we’re making (see our last post – Easy Herbed Ham & Cheese Quiche). So when I said I wanted to make some herby, savory stuffed dates, that’s what he suggested. I was inspired by Alia’s easy Ramadan date recipes, where she used chives in a similar manner.
Awhile back somehow we learned about the use of dates in Middle Eastern culture during pregnancy. Dates are healthy and good source of energy. But also, tradition holds that eating dates towards the end of pregnancy eases labor. The medical community has noticed – several studies have supported the idea that date consumption late in pregnancy decreases the duration of labor, lessen need for labor augmentation, and increases the likelihood of spontaneous labor. These studies are small and not randomized, so not perfect by any means. But given that there’s no harm in date consumption – we’ve decided to try to incorporate them into our diet a little more at the end of Ally’s pregnancy. Hence, we were inspired to bring a date appetizer to our family’s gathering this weekend!
Herby Stuffed Dates
~50 large pitted dates
1/2 lb feta
1 tbsp of the feta brine
5 turns of fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
Open up all the dates halfway. If you bought already pitted dates, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.
Stuff the feta filling into each date. We found that using a butter knife was easiest, though a piping bag would probably be even easier than that!
Happy Mardi Gras (Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, etc)! Here in the US, we associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans’ celebrations alone. But this week I reminded myself that not everyone celebrates with beads, King Cake, Cajun food, and exposed breasts. So I looked into worldwide traditions, with the hopes of picking a different dish to make tonight. (I wanted a surprise for Selim when he came home from work, so I was looking for his favorite foods and flavors!) I learned so much – pretty much every country with healthy Catholic or Orthodox Christian traditions has their own celebrations. In my browsing, I decided I should definitely have been born in Cyprus. There, Carnival is a two week celebration – the first week is “Meat Week,” or Kreatini, which is the last week eating meat is allowed until Easter. The second of the weeks is “Cheese Week,” or Tyrini, which leads right up until Ash Wednesday. Cheese week!? A whole week for eating cheese?! How did I not know about this until now?
Tonight we made these Cypriot sweet fried cheese pastries called bourekia. (I’ve also seen the spelling pourrekia, I’m not sure the difference, other than just translation into the Latin alphabet?) To be truly authentic, they should have Cypriot anari cheese inside, but given that isn’t entirely readily available in the US, the internet assures me that unsalted ricotta is an acceptable substitute. The rosewater and cinnamon take the cheesy filling and make it sweeter and full of the flavors of the greater Middle East and Mediterranean. I’m still mildly terrified of frying things, despite our recent forays into frying (Southern Fried Chicken & Shrimp Beignets), but we jumped head-first into our first fried treat tonight! Good thing we have our Culinary Bucket List to keep motivating us.
I’m not going to lie, these were good, but not perfect. I’m happy enough with the result to share, but I need to work on the dough. I’m not 100% content with that. The filling however… Perfect! Sweet, but not overly sugary, with a delicious blend of flavors. The hint of rosewater is excellent!
Cypriot Carnival Bourekia
(Adapted from this publication from Toni Buxton & the Cyprus Tourism Organisation)
4 cups AP flour
1 cup neutral oil
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup cold water (+ more if needed)
1 1/2 cups unsalted ricotta cheese
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp rosewater
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Oil, for frying
Mix together the four, oil, and salt. Knead together, adding small bits of a cold water if needed to create a smooth dough ball.
Wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir the cinnamon, sugar, and rosewater into the ricotta cheese.
After the 30 minutes, roll out the dough and cut out circles. Use the base of a glass to stamp them out. You want the dough to be fairly thin – mine were somewhere between 1/8th & 1/16th of an inch.
Spoon a small dollop of the cheese mixture into the center of each circle. Brush water on the edges of the dough circles and fold over into half-moons. Crimp edges together.
Heat the oil in a heavy, tall-sided pot to 365 degrees. Fry the bourekia in batches, taking care not to crowd the pot, for 3-4 minutes.
Remove them to a paper towel to drain and dry. Dust with powdered sugar prior to serving!
Growing up, when we were having a special treat or the whole extended family was together, my grandmother would make us her ‘sticky buns.’ Now that she has passed away, my mom thankfully has taken on the responsibility of the sticky bun making! It was only after I was probably in my mid-20s that I realized what we called Grandmom’s sticky buns was what most people call monkey bread. You know what I’m talking about… those sweet, sugary, pull-apart balls of doughy deliciousness that taste of cinnamon and frequently have chopped nuts attached! (This is a point of contention in my family – nuts or no nuts?! The two parties are bitterly divided and therefore Grandmom and Mom make one dish with and one dish without the nuts. I’m on Team Nuts, for the record.) As I was writing this post, I decided to look up the history of monkey bread. Fun facts for your bank of useless knowledge:
Monkey bread was termed such because we eat it using our fingers, pulling apart each chunk, which was thought to mimic the way monkeys eat.
Alternative names include: monkey puzzle bread, sticky bread (I guess this is where we got our sticky buns moniker!), pinch-me cake, bubble bread, and Hungarian coffee cake.
The origin of this treat is probably the Hungarian-Jewish arany galuska, brought to this country by Eastern European immigrants in the late 1800s.
American monkey bread differs from arany galuska as each dough ball is dipped in butter, which was not part of the original recipe.
So there you have it – more knowledge than you ever knew you needed about monkey bread! Now this version is a savory adaptation of the sweet breakfast tradition. The base concept is the same; dough balls, dipped in the butter, stacked haphazardly prior to baking, and eaten pulled apart with fingers. While I love the original, this cheesy, herby version is amazing! It’s an amazing alternative to regular bread to accompany dinner, but it definitely would still work as a breakfast dish.
Cheese & Herb Monkey Bread
(Adapted from Home Skillet, by Robin Donovan)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted & divided
1 cup warm milk
1/3 cup warm water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp yeast
3 1/4 cups AP flour
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups Asiago cheese, shredded
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
3 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
In a large bowl, combine 2 tbsp of melted butter, milk, and water. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Let the mixture sit for ~10 minutes, until frothy.
Stir in the flour and salt. As it comes together, switch to kneading the dough with your hands. Once you have a dough ball, place it in a clean bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the two cheese in another bowl. Remove 1/2 cup to another small bowl.
Add the garlic and herbs to the main bowl and toss together.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface until roughly 1/8th inch thick. Spread the cheese mixture onto half of the dough and then fold the other half over top.
Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into small squares. Roll each square into a ball.
Using the remaining melted butter, brush butter on all surfaces of your cast iron skillet. Then dunk each ball into the butter prior to placing in the skillet. Layer the balls across the bottom of the skillet and then stack into further layers as needed.
Sprinkle the dough balls with the reserved cheese.
Bake for 40 minutes in the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes prior to eating. Run a knife around the edges and then flip the skillet over onto your serving platter.
Ever eat a delicious bowl of french onion soup and think, ‘wow, this is really good, but I wish I had some meat!’ Yea, me neither, because a bowl of french onion soup is a treasure just how it is. BUT, if you were thinking that, you could turn to this handy recipe for French Onion Meatballs, that combine the flavors of french onion soup with some juicy meatballs. These meatballs are smothered in a savory gravy – the definition of comfort food!
I came across the inspiration for this recipe on Pinterest a few weeks back (see: Cupcakes & Kale Chips) and have been thinking about it ever since! An NFL Sunday afternoon, with weather that finallyfeels like fall, turned out to be the perfect day to try it. It does take a fair amount of active time to make this, which is why I did it on a weekend afternoon, where I could half watch/listen to the football games (and chat with Selim!) at the same time.
We ate our meatballs on top of some toasted baguette slices, smothered in the gravy, which I cannot recommend more highly. I also ate some plain in a bowl – that’s excellent too. I’m thinking it would be amazing over top of rice or some egg noodles, OR as a seriously messy appetizer with some toothpicks. The onion flavor is the star here, as in traditional french onion soup. But I think the thyme comes through really nicely, giving it an herbaceous quality as well. Simmering your meatballs in the gravy keeps them nice and juicy. And speaking of the gravy… I was eating it with a spoon. Caramelized onions, beef broth, red wine… if you’re not licking the spoon, then I’m worried about your taste buds.
Begin by caramelizing the onions. Heat the oil in a medium pan over just under medium heat. Once the oil is hot, toss in the onions and stir to coat in the oil. Season with 1/2 tsp salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper.
Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are caramelized, at least 30-40 minutes, perhaps as long as an hour!
While the onions are cooking, prepare the meatballs. In a large bowl, combine the beef, eggs, fresh herbs, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, bread crumbs, 1/2 tsp salt, and 10 more turns of fresh black pepper.
Form the meatballs by wrapping meat mixture around the small cubes of cheese and forming medium-sized meatballs.
Once the onions are done, deglaze the pan with the red wine, making sure to scrape up all the delicious, browned, stuck-on bits.
Bring the wine to a simmer and add in the meatballs. Continue simmering, with the lid off, for 5-6 minutes, browning the meatballs on both sides.
Now add the beef broth and bay leaf to the pan. Cover and lower heat slightly if needed, so liquid is still simmering. Cook another 15 minutes.
While that is cooking, prepare a beurre manié by kneading together the butter and flour and forming a little ball. (I do this in a ramekin with my fingers.)
Remove the lid from the pan and add the beurre manié. Adjust the heat so the liquid is still simmering (if need be) and stir occasionally until the sauce has thickened. This may take another 10+ more minutes.
Discard the bay leaf and serve topped with the additional shredded cheese. Spoon over a crusty baguette or on top of any type of starch. Garnish with additional parsley if desired.
Here in Richmond, we’re lucky to have been spared the worst of Hurricane Florence. Earlier in the week, Florence’s path was supposed to curve up through central Virginia, so Richmonders did the mad dash to clear water and bread off of grocery store shelves, buy every generator available, and stock up on candles. I was getting gas on Tuesday and pseudo-patiently waited in line for about 15 minutes, since everyone else was getting gas too, only to pull forward when it was finally my turn and immediately get cut off by an elderly woman who laughed at me as she flipped me the bird. So that was ridiculous. But luckily for us and not so luckily for the Carolinas, Florence stayed south, so we’re just getting some drawn out gray days with a little more breeze than normal and on & off rain through the weekend.
Since it’s not really nice enough outside to do much of anything, but it’s certainly safe to travel in this area, we’re having a New Orleans style feast at Ally’s aunt and uncle’s house. Aunt Lori is making gumbo and cornbread, so we decided to make an appetizer that matched her theme. I think we all (sub-consciously or not), associate New Orleans with hurricanes since Katrina, so there’s that too I guess. Ally loves Emeril, so of course we turned to him for our appetizer inspiration. Crawfish beignets are a classic New Orleans festival treat, so we went with that – adapting our recipe from Emeril’s recipe for crawfish beignets, substituting shrimp for the crawfish, plus a few other little tweaks. Ours are a little spicier than Emeril’s too! If you were in New Orleans, you’d probably have these with remoulade on the side, but we decided to whip up a Lemon Aioli. Our Super Garlic Aioli would probably be delicious too!
As we were making and eating these, the question came up… Why are these beignets? A couple people remarked that they reminded them of the conch fritters you get in the Caribbean. So why aren’t these ‘fritters’? I googled it and literally the first line of the Wikipedia page on beignets says, “Beignet, synonymous with the English ‘fritter’…” So there we have it! These are beignets because they’re from French-Creole New Orleans!
Stay safe Carolina friends – we love you 🖤🖤🖤
2 tsp neutral oil
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz fresh shrimp, coarsely chopped
1 tsp salt
8 turns fresh ground black pepper
~3/4 cup green onions, finely chopped (white & light green parts)
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying
Heat the 2 tsp of oil over medium heat in a medium sized pan. Once hot, add the garlic and bell pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes until softened a bit.
Now add the chopped shrimp and season the pan with the salt and pepper. Cook for another 2-4 minutes with the lid on until shrimp have lost their translucency. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs together. Stir all of the remaining ingredients, except for the flour (and the ‘oil for frying,’ obviously), and the shrimp mixture into that bowl. Add the flour last, stirring as you go. Add the last 1/4 cup slowly, stopping if your mixture gets too thick.
If you have deep fryer, whip that out, otherwise fill a tall-sided pot no more that 1/3 full with oil. Heat to 365 degrees.
Once oil is hot, drop dough by spoonfuls into the oil. Do this in batches – don’t over-crowd the pot! Fry for ~3 minutes until golden and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to a wire rack or a paper towel lined dish. (Try to maintain the temperature of the oil – if it’s too hot the outside will crisp (burn) very quickly and the inside will remain raw.)