Southern Baklava

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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.

Southern Baklava

Ingredients: 
  • 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
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. (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.)
  3. 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.
  4. Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, combine pecans and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
  6. Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
  7. 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.
  8. Now spread the pecan-sugar mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and then drizzle with more clarified butter.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
  12. Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
  13. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  14. Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
  15. Pour the syrup over top, along the cut lines.
  16. 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!

Corn Cacio e Pepe

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Happy Mac n Cheese Day! When we realized that was today, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity! We love mac n cheese around here – from the classic Kraft blue box to the most upscale restaurant variation. The dish we made tonight falls somewhere in the middle. The pasta did come from a box – sorry, way too hot and pregnant to make my own pasta tonight – but cacio e pepe always seems a little fancier than American mac n cheese, just by virtue of its non-English name! In reality, Cacio e pepe is just as simple and homey to Italians as our American mac n cheese is to us, but we can always pretend to be fancy! (PS: you can check out our other mac n cheese creations too on this important day of celebration – Summer Mac n Cheese and Goat Mac). This recipe is courtesy of Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, one of Selim’s favorite blogs, who now has a column in our favorite magazine, Bon Appetit! This variation adds corn for a sweet, summery update. If you check out our previous attempt at a classic Cacio e Pepe, we followed some very specific instructions to make our cacio e pepe not fall victim to clumpiness, which worked beautifully. Deb’s recipe is simpler, without additional fat of butter and/or oil, so we decided to try her way this time. It’s not quite as silky as our other recipe, but definitely wouldn’t call it clumpy! Happy with the result and the saving of a few calories. Our only change from her recipe was to add a little Aleppo pepper, which I really enjoyed.

 

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Corn Cacio e Pepe

(Adapted from Bon Appetit)
Ingredients: 
  • 16oz medium sized pasta
  • 3 ears corn
  • 8oz Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, grated
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • [Reserved pasta water]
Instructions: 
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the ears of corn for ~5 minutes and then remove to the side. Once cool enough to handle, slice the kernels off of the cob.
  2. Return the water to a boil and add salt liberally. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
  3. Drain and set the pasta aside in a large bowl. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid.
  4. While the pasta and corn are cooking, combine the cheese and peppers in a medium bowl. Mash together with the 1/3 cup cold water until a thick paste forms.
  5. Combine pasta, corn kernels, and cheese paste. Toss together. Slowly add pasta water, stirring continuously until you reach your preferred sauce-like coating consistency.
  6. Serve topped with additional cheese and pepper as desired.
Serves ~4

Summer Mac n Cheese

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There are some dishes that just scream a certain season to me. A big pot of chili or anything involving a gourd in the fall. Hearty, meat-heavy dishes that are roasted or stewed or crockpot-ed in the winter. But summer… Probably the most seasonally iconic dishes are summer ones! There are just so many – burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, popsicles, salads topped with fruit, triangles of juicy watermelon, and a newspaper-covered picnic table with Old Bay seasoned whole crabs piled on top! Right up there at the top of the summer food list is caprese salad. Fresh, cool, and best with ripe summer tomatoes, caprese salad is definitely quintessential summer fare. So today when coming up with this dish, I thought that the mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil of a caprese salad would make for an interesting summery twist on Mac n cheese!

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We have a caveat to our post today though. Neither of us actually ate this dish. I made it for our friends who just had a new baby! They swear it was good, so we’ll just have to take their word for it. Relatedly, the base Mac & cheese recipe here (also the base for Goat Mac), is a great option if you want to make something ahead to bring to someone! You can make it up until the last baking part and then whomever you bring it to can bake it for the appropriate length of time later (which you may need to increase by 10 minutes or so from the immediate baking time as below).

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Summer Mac n Cheese

  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 5 cups dry small pasta (penne, farfalle, elbows, etc)
  • 16oz mozzarella cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • ~10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Instructions:
  1. Pre-heat the oven 400 degrees.
  2. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat until very lightly simmering. Meanwhile, bring a large pot over water to a boil.
  3. Once the large pot of water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
  4. In another saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat. When the butter has melted, begin to slowly whisk in the flour. When the flour is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat.
  5. Meanwhile, place the grape tomatoes in a bowl and toss them with the olive oil, 3 chopped basil leaves, and salt & pepper.
  6. Roast them on a small sheet pan for ~15 minutes, until they are just starting to wrinkle and split. Remove from the oven.
  7. Moving back to the stove, slowly whisk all of the milk into the mixture. (It will initially get incredibly thick, then begin to thin out.)
  8. When all of the milk has been added, return the pot to medium heat and whisk continuously for ~3 minutes.
  9. Now add in the cheese and continue whisking.
  10. When sauce has come together, combine the sauce with the pasta and place in baking dish. Top with the tomatoes and remaining basil.
  11. Bake for just an additional 10 minutes, so it all firms up.
Serves 6-8

Ballpark Stuffed Peppers

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This isn’t the first time we’d tried a riff on stuffed peppers around here. I loved our last creation – Chicken & Couscous Stuffed Peppers, probably because I like anything with pearl couscous. This variation goes pretty much the opposite direction and is stuffed full of rice, cheese, and the American classic – hot dog. Think of it like a reverse loaded hot dog! A delicious, messy ballpark hotdog, stuffed inside a pepper instead.

We use Stadium/Ballpark mustard in our recipe (and pretty much anytime we need mustard). It’s a Cleveland thing – a mild brown mustard that has been used at the Cleveland Indians ballpark for decades. Apparently there’s a controversy about it – here’s the story. When Selim moved to the Mid-Atlantic, he was mildly appalled that he couldn’t find it in stores and that I had never heard of this miraculous substance. I was a bit skeptical, but he was right. Stadium mustard is definitely a family favorite for both of us now. We bring home a few bottles of Bertman’s every time we go to Cleveland.

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Ballpark Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:
  • 3 large bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 hot dogs, chopped
  • 1 tbsp mustard (see above for our favorite)
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup + cheddar cheese
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Prepare the rice – in a small saucepan, cover rice with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. After it’s boiled, reduce heat to low and cover until water is absorbed & rice fluffy.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and toss with the oil. Then add the hot dogs to the dish and cover. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, until the hot dog pieces have crisped up a bit and the onions are soft and fragrant.
  4. Once cooked, stir the onions and hot dogs into the rice, along with the cheese, mustard, and hot sauce.
  5. Stuff the rice mixture into the peppers.
  6. Place the peppers upright in high-edged oven-safe dish. Add a thin layer of water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Serve topped with an additional sprinkle of cheese if desired.
Serves 2.

Cheese & Herb Monkey Bread

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)

Ingredients:

  • 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
Instructions:
  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  4. Mix together the two cheese in another bowl. Remove 1/2 cup to another small bowl.
  5. Add the garlic and herbs to the main bowl and toss together. 
  6. 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. 
  7. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into small squares. Roll each square into a ball. 
  8. 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. 
  9. Sprinkle the dough balls with the reserved cheese.
  10. 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. 

Serves 4-6

Roasted Patatas Bravas

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If you’re anything like me, when eating at a Spanish tapas restaurant you can’t pass up the quintessential tapas dish – patatas bravas. These little potatoes are a little spicy and a little tomato-y and just perfect dipped into a classic garlic aioli! We made a super garlicky aioli to go with ours, and it was delicious! Traditionally, these potatoes are fried and then topped with a spicy tomato sauce. But tonight we roasted our potatoes, after they had been tossed in the tomato sauce. The results were crispy and flavorful, with a soft interior to each bite. This is a great side dish for a group and is a pretty convenient dish to have to make when entertaining guests. So much can be done in advance – the potatoes can be chopped and tossed in the sauce well before cooking, and if you want to make an aioli (hint: you do!) that can also be done in advance.

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We had ours tonight with a less traditional accompaniment – steamed Chesapeake Bay blue crabs! Don’t be skeptical… they worked perfectly together! We ate this delicious summer smorgasbord with Ally’s aunt, uncle, and cousin. Up next we may just share the gorgeous summer salad you see in the corner of the picture below, courtesy of Ally’s cousin Emily!

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Roasted Patatas Bravas 

Ingredients: 
  • 4 Russet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 15 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 1+ tsp salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Chop potatoes into bite-sized chunks.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together all of the remaining ingredients.
  4. Toss the potatoes in the bowl and coat with the sauce.
  5. Spread the potatoes out on a cookie sheet (or two), avoiding overcrowding. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping them over roughly halfway through.
Serves ~6 as a side

Summer Turkey Kofte

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We’ve chatted about köfte here before (see our post for Sultan Selim Kofte). Usually they are made from lamb and/or beef, but really köfte can be anything. The origin of the word is from the classic Persian, meaning “to pound” or “to grind.” This obviously describes the ground meat, but really works for many other ingredients. We’re having steaks tomorrow night (a new attempt – in the cast iron skillet, on the grill!) and didn’t want red meat two nights in a row, so we thought we’d try our hand at some white meat köftes.

With the lighter turkey and the addition of the cilantro, these were a perfect summer dinner. They’re so flavorful, that when I was eating them it actually took me a minute to remember that they were turkey instead of a heartier meat. We grilled ours for ultimate summer-ness, but they would work well in a pan or under a broiler I suspect. There is a lot of delicious juice, so you want something to soak it all up. We had ours with flatbread, which was perfect for mopping up the plate, but rice or couscous would be great too.

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Side note: You may notice in our pictures that we skewered ours on the grill. This is definitely unnecessary and probably hurt us a little bit. Next time I’ll put them directly on the grill. 

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Blue Ridge Mountain sunsets just make dinner that much better!

Summer Turkey Kofte

Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb ground turkey (85/15)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp sumac
  • 1 tbsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 turns fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Combine all of the ingredients together. Can be done ahead of time and refrigerated for enhanced flavor melding.
  2. Get you grill ready or place a grill pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Form oblong köftes. Grill over medium-high heat for just 3-4 minutes on each side.
  4. Serve with rice or flatbread. Hummus, veggies, feta, and/or tzatziki would go well too!
Serves 3-4