Homemade Margaritas (Two Recipes!)

Happy Cinco de Mayo! 🇲🇽🇲🇽

As a general rule, Americans aren’t usually celebrating the correct thing when we get excited about Cinco de Mayo. Rumor has it that most Americans think this day is Mexico’s Independence Day, which it is not. Instead Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican victory over France at the Battle of Puebla. But hey… any excuse for delicious Mexican food. Or drink!

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When we decided to make homemade margaritas tonight, Ally immediately thought about the margaritas our favorite Texans make for us. Texans know authentic Mexican better than anyone else in the country who is not Mexican, so we got their recipe – see Texas Margarita below. Since we were talking about tequila and margaritas, Selim had to share his personal recipe as well! Two margarita varieties in one post!

Notice the color of our margaritas, an appealing greenish-brown. Since we hand squeezed (yes, by hand, no electric or plastic juicer, just muscle) the limes, they keep their pale green hue instead of the neon green from marg mixes. Plus, we don’t use traditional white sugar in any of our cooking endeavors, instead we keep turbinado sugar in our pantry at all times, which is a clear brown in color and has way more depth of flavor.

Selim loves tequila (it comes in 2nd after wine, obviously). There are three “kinds” of tequila: joven, reposado, and añejo. Joven means young in Spanish and is often referred to as silver or white tequila. Joven is unaged and is really just the distillate from the agave; think of it being similar to the white grain alcohol before it’s aged in barrels and becomes whiskey. Reposado means rested and this tequila has been aged a minimum of 2 months in oak barrels. Añejo means aged and this tequila has been aged a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels. Barrel aging imparts complexity by adding notes of vanilla, cinnamon & spices, caramel, toffee, and so much more depending on oak type (American or European), new or old barrels, duration of aging, and of course… terroir! For those who have written off tequila as some inferior liquor, think again. To get back to the initial sentence, Selim loving tequila… He likes to highlight the tequila in his drinks, that’s why his pseudo-margarita only has three ingredients. Simply made, yet complex in taste. Always good tequila (we like Espolón), fresh squeezed lime juice, and local (terrior!) honey. Enjoy!

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Texas Margarita

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4+ limes ⇒ 1/2 cup lime juice + 1 strip of peel
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • Coarse salt, if desired
Ingredients:
  1. Prepare simple syrup. Over low-medium heat, stir together the sugar and water. Watching closely, after the sugar dissolves, add the strip of lime peel. As soon as bubbles appear, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
    • (You can make a larger batch of simple syrup if desired to keep in the fridge for later use. Just maintain 1:1 ratio.)
  2. Prepare drinks once simple syrup has cooled. Mix together 1/4 cup simple syrup, lime juice, tequila, and orange liqueur. Shake or stir to combine.
  3. Salt the rim of two glasses if desired. Pour drink into glasses over ice.
Makes 2 drinks

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Selim’s Margarita

Ingredients: 
  • 4+ limes ⇒ 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1.5 oz (~1/6 cup) honey
Instructions: 
  1. Vigorously stir tequila into honey – it’s thick.
  2. Add tequila-honey mix to cold shaker with lime juice and shake.
  3. Divide into two chilled coupes glasses. Serve!
Makes 2 drinks

Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

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Happy first day of spring! Or if you’re of Persian descent, Happy Nowruz! Nowruz literally translates to “new day” and is the name for the Persian new year, which occurs on the vernal (spring) equinox. The holiday has been celebrated for thousands of years and is a holy day from the Zoroastrian tradition, though it is a completely secular celebration for most, especially in the modern day. It has been a long-standing national holiday in Iran and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Caucasian and central Asian countries have declared it a national holiday for themselves as well. The holiday welcomes spring with a variety of traditions. Spring cleaning, visiting friends and family, a Santa Claus-like figure called Amu Nowruz with gifts for children, an elaborate table setting called haft seen, other festive decorations, and of course, eating are all parts of the traditional celebration.

This soup isn’t a traditional Nowruz dish, but most of those gorgeous dinners and sweets involve a little more time than we have on this weekday evening! Actually, I’ve found several variations of my source recipe around the internet – apparently they’re attempts to copycat a beloved soup at a Persian restaurant in Chicago called Reza’s. So we’ll consider this soup a stepping stone towards a real Nowruz celebration one of these years coming up! (I really wanted to make ash-e reshteh, but didn’t have all of the ingredients. It seemed like a cop out to fudge on the ingredients of the traditional Nowruz first night soup, so we bailed on that idea. Maybe next year!) We made another lentil soup recently (Turkish Red Lentil Soup), and while there are some similarities to this one, the flavors end being totally different! This soup is hearty and filling (thanks lentils!), but seems like a perfect welcome to spring with its bright and tangy flavors. Consider it the perfect culinary bridge between winter (warm, hearty) and spring (bright flavors)!

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Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium tomatoes (or a 15oz can crushed tomatoes)
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp (+) sumac
  • 1 tbsp dill
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2/3 cup red lentils
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional toppings: yogurt, feta cheese, lime wedges
Instructions:
  1. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Season with pinch of salt and a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant.
  2. If using fresh tomatoes, chop quarter them and blitz them in a food processor. Then add the tomatoes, along with the stock, herbs, and spices (except for the fresh parsley).
  3. Bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes.
  4. Now add the lentils and return to a simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until lentils are cooked.
  5. Add the chopped parsley and cook for just another few minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
  6. Serve with additional sumac, parsley, or a squeeze of lime on top if you like. A dollop of yogurt or a few chunks of feta would also be delicious!
Serves 4 as an entree; ~6-8 as a starter or side

Our Dublin Coddle

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While the rest of you are celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day, I’m vacillating between the five stages of grief over UVA’s loss last night. I guess this post is helping me move past the denial stage, given that I just wrote the words “UVA’s loss.” My very caring and loving husband, is being even nicer to me than usual, which is actually relevant to this dinner. Selim is basically the opposite of a simple meat and potatoes kind of guy, whatever that is. This dinner, which not only checks the box of timely blog post, but also caters to my wanting to wallow in comfort food self, is definitely not what he wants to have for dinner tonight. Yet, here we are.

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I love this team and all of these guys! Proud of them & their season! We’ll choose to remember this moment instead ❤ [Photo by Matt Riley, primary photographer for UVa Athletics]
I, however, love a simple carb-filled dinner of sausages and potatoes. Dublin coddle is basically just that. Recipes for Dublin coddle should include pork sausages, potatoes, and onions. Many don’t include much more than that and water. Parsley is a common garnish. We’ve added a few more ingredients for a little more flavor, as you can see. We also didn’t cook the dish the way the Irish mothers back in the day would have. This hearty winter dish dates back to the 1700s and many believe started out as a way for Catholic mothers to use up meat before Fridays during Lent. I think we turned our version into a flavorful dish that still pays significant homage to the original. And honestly, since the “original” was basically a vehicle to use up leftovers, variations from household to household are basically a given. So, I give you our personal version! I’m not going to lie, though the sausage and potatoes are delicious, I think my favorite part is all the onions! They absorb all the delicious flavor from the broth and are just perfect! This dish may not look like much (the stews and braises that we tend to favor never do), get past our humble photos and give it a whirl the next time you’re feeling Irish.

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And, from an approximately 18.9462874% Irish person on the day when everyone claims to have Irish ancestors:

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! 🍀☘️🍀☘️🍀

 

Our Dublin Coddle

(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 5 slices of thick-cut bacon
  • 1 lb pork sausages (traditional Irish bangers would be the most legit option)
  • 2 large onions, sliced into rings
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups broth (vegetable, chicken, etc)
  • 3/4 cup stout beer
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp brown mustard
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 lb potatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Chop the bacon roughly and cook in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Stir occasionally until they are brown, but not yet crispy. Then remove to the side.
  3. Place the sausage whole into the dish with the bacon grease, still over medium heat, and brown on all side. (You do not have to cook them all the way through at this point.) Once browned, remove these to the side as well.
  4. Now add the onions and garlic to the dish, stirring to coat in the remaining bacon grease. Top with 10+ turns of fresh black pepper. Partially cover and cook, until softened and browning, roughly 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, whisk together the broth, beer, worcestershire, mustard, and thyme.
  6. Remove the onions/garlic when they’re done and again set to the side.
  7. Add the potatoes and a splash of liquid stock mixture to the dish. Stir to coat and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook potatoes for ~5 minutes.
  8. Slice the sausages into large chunks and then return all of the removed ingredients to the dish. Remove from stove heat and stir everything together.
  9. Top with the stock mixture and add the bay leaves.
  10. Place in the oven, covered, for at least an hour. Keep cooking up to an hour and a half if the potatoes aren’t cooked to your liking at the hour mark.
  11. Serve in bowls with a good amount of broth. Add a dash of salt if you think it needs (save this for the end, given that your bacon, sausages, and even broth may have a fair amount of salt in them).
Serves 4-6

Chocolate Rugelach

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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.

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Chocolate Rugelach

(Adapted from the following sites- here & here & here!)
Ingredients: 
  • 4oz  butter, softened
  • 4oz regular cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cups flour (+ additional for dusting)
  • 4oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp + 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg
Instructions: 
  1. Allow the butter and cream cheese to sit out so they soften.
  2. Combine the butter, cream cheese, regular sugar, 1 tbsp brown sugar, salt, and vanilla in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cream all of these ingredients together.
  3. Slowly add the flour in while the mixer is running.
  4. Once well-combined, turn out onto a floured counter and knead into a ball. Divide the ball into two equal pieces and flatten slightly into round discs.
  5. Refrigerate dough for at least an hour.
  6. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 tbsp brown sugar with the cocoa powder and 1/4 tsp cinnamon.
  7. In another bowl, whisk together an egg with the remaining 1/4 tsp of cinnamon.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  9. After the dough has chilled, remove each disc, one at a time from the refrigerator to work on.
  10. Roll out into a large circle. Sprinkle with the sugar-spice mixture, leaving a slight edge. (Remember to only use 1/2 of the mixture – or make more, whatever…!)
  11. Now top with chopped chocolate.
  12. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough like a pizza, into 8 pieces. Roll each one up, starting with the wider edge.
  13. Place the rolled up rugelach on a lined cookie sheet. Brush with cinnamon egg wash.
  14. Repeat steps 9 through 13 with each piece of dough. Keep dough refrigerated until using/ready to bake.
  15. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
  16. After removing from the oven, let cool on a wire rack.
Makes 24

 

Potato Latkes

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If there’s any dish that just screams ‘Hanukkah,’ it’s potato latkes. Latkes are traditional Hanukkah fare not for the dish itself, but for the oil its fried in. Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights; it celebrates the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days. Over 2000 years ago, the city of Jerusalem was under Syrian-Greek control. Specifically, the king Antiochus IV Epiphanes reversed the rule of his father in allowing Jews to practice their religion and began persecuting the Jewish people. Their religion was banned, they were ordered to worship traditional Greek gods, many were massacred, and the Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. A Jewish rebellion broke out, led by the Maccabees, which eventually drove the Syrian-Greeks out of Jerusalem. Once this occurred, the Jews set about cleaning and restoring the Temple. Once the Temple was rededicated, there was only a small amount of oil, enough that would keep the menorah lit for one day. The flame was supposed to stay lit continuously, but no one knew how the oil would last. The miracle was that the oil lasted for eight days, until the supply could be replenished. Jewish sages of the time proclaimed this miracle and thus created the holiday of Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights!

For this recipe, I used Tori Avey’s recipe and tips & tricks to try to make this the best batch possible. The goal is to have a crispy exterior with a warm and soft interior. Traditionally, you would top your Hanukkah latkes with applesauce or sour cream, but since we ate our with the delicious Wine & Honey Brisket that had plenty of pan sauce in which to dip the latkes if needed!

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Potato Latkes

(Adapted from toriavey.com)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 medium Russet potatoes (~1lb)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal/crushed matzo crackers
  • 2 egg, whisked
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Few turns of fresh ground black pepper
  • Oil
Instructions: 
  1. Peel and then grate the potatoes. Submerge the potato shreds in cold water while working.
  2. Quarter the onion and then run it through a food processor.
  3. Drain the potato shreds through a doubled cheesecloth.
  4. Add the onion to the potato in the cheesecloth. Squeeze as much of the liquid out as possible.
  5. Combine the potato and onion with the matzo meal, the egg, salt, and pepper.
  6. Pour enough oil into your pan to form a layer ~1/8th inch thick. Goal temperature for frying = 360-375 degrees – you can check with a candy thermometer if you have one.
  7. Form a small patty with your hands, roughly 3 tbsp worth. Test this first one to make sure your oil is a good temperature. Should be 2-3 minutes per side, yielding crispy brown edges with a soft interior.
  8. Set the latkes on a wire rack to cool, with paper towels underneath. Serve while still warm.
Makes 8-10 latkes

 

Hanukkah Feast 2017

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Today is the Friday of Hanukkah for 2017. We’re not Jewish, but always have thought that this blog was a great excuse to cook and sample foods from all of the world’s countries, cultures, and religions… Holidays just seem to be the logical place to start.

Selim loves Jewish food. He grew up in Cleveland, which has a melting pot of European immigrants and their descendants. Lucky for Clevelanders, that means that their city is full of a variety of delicious foods. I think he mostly loves Jewish food for it’s delicious desserts, but those are just a gateway. I’ve been working nights and off-shifts this month, meaning that there a quite a few days when Selim’s gone all day. Which has allowed me to cook all day and have quite the surprise waiting for him when he got home this afternoon! We usually do pizzas or something easy out of the freezer on Friday night, so I think tonight’s dinner will be quite the upgrade.

Check out what I’ve made:

Wine & Honey Brisket

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Potato Latkes

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Chocolate Rugelach

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Hope you enjoy! And…

Happy Hanukkah! 

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Wine & Honey Brisket

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When I decided to make surprise Hanukkah dinner tonight, I knew I wanted to make latkes and dessert, but what to make for a main dish…? I’ve never made brisket before, but I don’t live under a rock. I know that this cut of meat is beloved by Jewish bubbes and Texas pit-masters alike. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever made a brisket before, but tonight seemed like the perfect night to give it a whirl!

Brisket is a cut that comes from the chest of the cow. It is a tough cut of meat, with a lot of connective tissue to support the cow’s weight. Hence, it requires a long, low, slow method of cooking to tenderize it sufficiently. Those Texas pit-masters like to smoke over low heat for long periods of time, but Jewish cooks traditionally braise it. We love any kind of braised meats, as we’ve mentioned a few times (check out our Braised Balsamic Pork with GrapesKimchi Braised Chicken with NoodlesRed Wine Braised Beef, or Braised Chicken Thighs with Middle Eastern Spices).

This recipe is an interesting mix of sweet and savory. The honey and balsamic add sweetness that balances out the meat and onions. The meat comes out so tender, but the sauce and vegetables really make it. I’m not going to lie – I think I actually liked the onions and the carrots even better than the meat.

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Wine & Honey Brisket

(Minimally adapted from Leite’s Culinara, recipe originating from Modern Jewish Cooking)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil
  • 3 1/2 – 4lb brisket
  • Salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • cup + 1 cup red wine
  • tbsp + 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 6 large whole carrots or a few handfuls of baby carrots
Instructions: 
  1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Generously season both sides of the brisket with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides, several minutes per side.
  3. Remove the brisket from the dutch oven and set to the side.
  4. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of red wine. Add the onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar.
  5. Cook, stirring occasionally, for ~ 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the other cup of red wine with honey, remaining 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, and stock.
  7. Nestle the carrots under the onions. Then place the brisket on top of the vegetables. Pour the wine and honey mixture over top.
  8. Cover and place in the oven. Braise for 2 hours. After those 2 hours, stir the vegetables and flip the meat. Re-cover and braise for another 2 hours.
  9. Remove the brisket from the dutch oven. Place on a cutting board and tent foil overtop. Allow to rest for ~15 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile, return the dutch oven to the stovetop. Simmer the pan sauce and reduce it while the meat is resting.
  11. After resting, slice the brisket on the perpendicular. Serve with the onions, carrot, and topped with pan sauce.
Serves 6-8 (the brisket shrinks considerably as it braises)