Happy Labor Day Weekend! The unofficial end of summer has arrived. You’d be hard-pressed to know that here though, given that it’s going to be sunny and in the upper 80s. We’re spending our weekend at “The Land” as we call it – in rural Amherst County. While we still have the last remnants of summer with us, here are some bright, summery muffins with summer favorite blueberries. These muffins come together pretty easily and are juicy and tart, not overly sweet. The perfect thing to have available for snacking over a long weekend!
Today marks my first full week of being home with the baby on maternity leave alone and Selim’s first week being back at work. I’m learning that neither is easy. Selim has to get up early, after having frequently interrupted sleep all night, go to work all day, and be separated from this little baby he loves so much. Me, I don’t have to do most of those things, but my life completely revolves around this little 8 pound dictator. We’re lucky though – from what we understand, she’s a really good baby. (Of course, we think she’s the best baby in the entire world…!)
But I wanted to celebrate our first week back at work/home alone and have been thinking about making this cake all week. We have some lovely summer blueberries and several lemons that have been staring at me from our kitchen all week. I got this recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Seasons & Suppers (as I’ve mentioned several other times on here… Other recipes of hers that we’ve tried & shared here: Prosciutto & Basil Topped Lemon Ricotta Pappardelle & Maple & Mustard Pork with Shallots). Every recipe from this blog looks amazing, partially due to her gorgeous photography, and every single one I’ve been has turned out wonderfully! The original recipe is just for lemon cake; I added the blueberries after thinking about the combination of lemon and blueberry for the past week. Most of the blueberries sunk to the bottom while baking, making this feel like halfway between a crumble and a cake at the end. It’s moist and flavorful; definitely a keeper even if it doesn’t exactly look like a cake in the end! Also, don’t be alarmed when your pour the liquid “sauce” over the cake batter at the end. It seems like a lot of liquid and maybe a bad idea and maybe you misread the recipe – don’t worry!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 10 inch cast iron skillet (or a similarly-sized baking dish) with some extra butter.
In bowl of stand mixer, cream together the butter and 1/2 cup sugar. Once combined, add in the juice of 1/2 a lemon.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the 2 eggs together, then add them to the mixture. Follow this with the vanilla and milk.
Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add this into the mixture. Once combined, gently stir the blueberries in by hand.
Now, spoon the batter into the greased skillet and spread out evenly.
In another bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the cornstarch. Place the remaining juice from the other 1 1/2 lemons in a measuring cup. Additionally, fill to the 1 1/4 cup mark with hot water. Whisk this in with the sugar and cornstarch mixture.
Once combined, gently pour over top of the batter and immediately place in the oven.
Selim’s father is one of our most loyal blog readers. He’s been telling us for years that we should try a twist on the traditional baklava that we usually make. Our baklava recipe is a fairly traditional Turkish one and incorporates tips from him. But he’s been suggesting that we try to make a Southern twist on baklava using pecans instead of more traditional nuts like walnuts or pistachios. We’ve thought this was a great idea, but just never have gotten around to doing it.
Lo and behold, we had our baby last week (she’s pretty awesome), and Selim’s father is in town from Texas to visit and meet her this week. Texans seem to love pecans, hence how we got to this point! Since he’s here, we decided to put him to work and today he and Selim gave Southern Baklava a whirl. The main difference, outside of the substitution of pecans, is the addition of cinnamon and maple syrup.
1 1/2 cups unsalted, clarified butter
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
1 cup maple syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 cups pecans
~40 sheets of filo dough (usually 2 packages)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
(If you have clarified butter, melt the appropriate amount. If you only have regular butter, melt it in a saucepan and then skim off the foam and slowly pour the liquid into a bowl making sure to not transfer solid milk fats which are at the bottom.)
Prepare the syrup: combine cold water, 2 cups of sugar, the maple syrup, and whole cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat to barely a simmer. Continue cooking for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, as the cinnamon sticks open up and the syrup thickens.
Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, combine pecans and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
Place a sheet of filo dough in the pan. Brush with more clarified butter. Continue in this pattern until you’ve placed half of the sheets (~20) of filo dough in the pan.
Now spread the pecan-sugar mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and then drizzle with more clarified butter.
Return to the pattern of layering dough and clarified butter until you use all of the rest of the filo dough sheets. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.
Take a very sharp knife and dip it into hot water. Slice down halfway through the height of the dough into the size and shape of baklava pieces you want at the end.
Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
Pour the syrup over top, along the cut lines.
For best results, let sit for a day before eating. This is hard to do and it’s still delicious if you eat it immediately. The longer the syrup soaks in, the better though!
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.
It seems like people have very strong feelings about cast iron skillets, positive or negative. Those who don’t own or use cast iron skillets regularly sometimes are scared of using them, because they think they’re hard to care for. The seasoning of the skillet is a little intimidating unless you’ve read a little bit about it. But on the other hand, those people who own and use cast iron skillets really love theirs. Prior to this past Christmas, we probably the only South Carolinians who didn’t own one.
We’ve been using it these past months for burgers and steaks, and we definitely are on Team Cast Iron Skillet now. But we also got a cast iron skillet cookbook for Christmas and had yet to make anything out of it. These scones were our first choice out of there and accidentally, were perfect for today! We didn’t plan it that way, but what is more perfectly British than a scone? And on today, Royal Wedding Day, where Americans pretend we didn’t rebel against the crown and join the rest of the world in being awe-struck by the pageantry of it all, what better day to share this scone recipe! We’ve now moved on from watching the Royal Wedding to English Premier League soccer football, so we’re basically British today 🇬🇧
We really enjoyed these scones. They aren’t overly cheesy, but have a nice flavor. We topped them with our Bacon Jam, which was basically magical. They stayed nice and moist in the middle, which is great since I think some dislike scones, thinking they’re too dry. And honestly, they’re really nothing like what you think a traditional British scone would be. You probably wouldn’t serve this with clotted cream or Earl Grey. They taste like they came from a Southern cook, instead of a British one, but we’ll pretend.
Cheddar & Shallot Skillet Scones
(Adapted from Home Skillet, by Robin Donovan)
8+ tbsp very cold butter*
2 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 large eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp Frank’s Red Hot sauce
3 turns fresh ground black pepper
*COLD butter is important. Try this: place the butter in the freezer for 30 minutes prior to making the scones. Use a grater to cut into small pieces.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking powder.
In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Whisk together the liquid ingredients and then stir in the cheese and shallots.
Work the cold butter into the dry ingredients. Gently combine with your hands.
Stir the bowl of wet ingredients into the dry bowl + butter. Don’t over-combine, as best you can.
Once the dough has just come together, flour your hands and counter-top and then knead the dough just a few times.
Grease the cast iron skillet with butter. Turn the ball of dough into the skillet and pat down until it completely covers the bottom of the skillet. Slice the dough about 2/3s of the way through into triangles. (Cutting 8 slices is easy, but you can go bigger or smaller.)
Bake for 18-20 minutes.
Allow to cool and finish the slice all the way through before serving.
This is our last batch of end-of-the-rotation thank you treats. Why? Because this week we are completing our LASTclinical rotation!! We graduate in almost exactly ONE MONTH, on May 11th! We’re really looking forward to be gainfully employed adults again.
But don’t worry, we have one more delicious treat for this last month. These cookies are soft and almost cake-like, as is typical of Italian cookies made with ricotta, and full of bright citrus flavors. I think they’re just perfect for spring! Light and bright = spring, right? While Pinterest-ing, I kept coming across people saying how they usually “don’t like ricotta cookies because they’re boring.” Is that a thing? Who are you people who don’t like light, fluffy, cake-cookies? The whole point is that they TASTE good right??
We may have mentioned it once or twice, or a million times, but Selim definitely has the sweet tooth in this family. I could eat chips & dip for the rest of my life, but Selim could easily subsist on sweets, especially chocolate! We like to joke that he has a separate dessert stomach. It’s amazing – he can be stuffed after a dinner out or something big that we cooked at home, and then not five minutes later, he’s asking for the dessert menu or if we have any chocolate hidden in the house.
So when I decided to attempt rugelach for our Hanukkah dinner this year, I browsed a lot of recipes. I personally was enticed by the many recipes with nuts and cinnamon sugar, but I knew I had to make chocolate for Selim. I decided to stick with the more American preparation, that generally includes cream cheese in the dough, as opposed to a more yeasty Israeli preparation.