Monthly Archives: April 2012

Jessica’s Bridal Shower!

My beautiful best friend, Jessica, and her man, Brent.

My mom says I’m the only person she knows who would blindly try out new recipes for my best friend’s bridal shower.

Mom also said I was the only person she knew who would attack her own wedding dress with scissors and a needle to make last-minute adjustments the week before the big day.

Apparently, I’ve got a thing for high-stakes wedding roulette. And the odds, so far, have been ever in my favor, as both my dress and the food for Jessica’s shower turned out pretty darn good.

My goal in altering my wedding dress was to pare down the extravagance. Originally, the gorgeous gown had boasted a glamorous, but cumbersome, cathedral train. Our wedding was much too informal for this fanciness, so I gathered up the dress and gauzy overlay, snipped off a boatload of extra fabric, and created my own permanent bustle to make the train a short sweep instead.

Not perfectly professional-looking, but pretty (and much easier to dance in).

Planning the food for Jessica was kind of the same. Her one request for the shower (not to mention for the wedding in the mountains this weekend) was a batch of my pimiento cheese, which she loves, so of course I had to oblige. 🙂

And once I knew I was making that Southern staple, the tone was set for the rest of the menu. My goal was to serve the kinds of things you’d expect to see at a rural Georgia wedding shower, but with some unexpected twists here and there. I didn’t want to be snooty or pretentious, so I tried to keep it simple.

The shower spread, in my lovely mother's lovely kitchen.

The menu:

* * * * *

French onion dip from scratch? But everyone knows that French onion dip is made with a tub of sour cream and a packet of Lipton’s soup mix!

The thing is, I don’t keep either of those things around my house…and I kind of wanted to tackle the challenge of creating this processed potluck party item using real ingredients. A web search provided several recipes to use as models, and my finished dip most closely followed this one from The Craving Chronicles.

Check out my mom's fancy-schmancy chip bowl! And my cute labels.

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped (I used one yellow and one red)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fat-free Greek yogurt

Step-by-step:

  • Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the onions, garlic, and salt, and cook until the onions are nice and golden brown.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
  • Allow the onion mixture to cool.
  • Stir the onion mixture into the Greek yogurt and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. (I think keeping mine in the fridge overnight really helped the flavors mesh!)
  • Serve with some thick, ridged potato chips (perfect for picking up chunky dip without breaking).
  • Yield: about 2-1/2 to 3 cups

The verdict: Wow! I enjoy the sour cream + powdered Lipton variety, too, and this wasn’t quite the same (as at least one of Jessica’s family members pointed out), but the flavor was rich, salty, creamy, and tangy, just as I hoped it would be.

* * * * *

Another made-from-a-mix store-bought staple is the sausage ball, traditionally made with breakfast sausage, Bisquik, and cheese. I had some yummy, spicy sausage in the freezer from Moonshine Meats, but Bisquik is another convenience item that I’m too stubborn to keep around. You can make your own Bisquik, but I ran out of flour after making the biscuits and the cake (recipes coming up shortly!). So, I decided to basically follow this recipe, but substitute cornmeal for the flour.

Sausage balls!

What’s in it:

  • 1-1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup butter or bacon/sausage grease (I had leftover sausage grease in the fridge, so that’s what I used)
  • 1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
  • 4 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray).
  • Whisk together the cornmeal, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • Use a pastry blender, fork, or food processor to incorporate the butter/grease until your mixture looks coarse and kind of crumbly.
  • Mix in the sausage and shredded cheddar. (You’ll probably need to use your fingers!)
  • Pull off 1″ round balls of dough, roll between your palms, and place on the baking pan in a single layer.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until your sausage balls are nicely browned.
  • Yield: about 4 dozen

The verdict: These were super spicy, but delicious! I didn’t miss the Bisquik flavor at all and got a lot of compliments, especially from my mom and Jessica’s Granny Cilla. (And if Granny Cilla’s happy, everyone’s happy! :)) You could easily cut down the spice by using mild or medium sausage instead of hot.

Bonus: Using cornmeal instead of flour made these almost taste like a hush puppy, one of my very favorite Southern sides.

* * * * *

Now y’all know how much I love biscuits, right? Well, I knew that regular-sized biscuits wouldn’t be the right size for a finger-food afternoon shower, but I have a cute little 1-1/2″ round cookie cutter that I thought might make perfect bite-sized mini biscuits.

Aww, look at the little baby biscuits!

And when I found a biscuit recipe on Ezra Pound Cake that also included toasted pecans, I knew I had to make them. Of course, since I don’t keep sour cream around (which seems to be a common problem in this post), I made some substitutions.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans
  • 5 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. (Sounds a lot like the beginning of the sausage balls, huh?)
  • Put the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, brown sugar, and toasted pecans in the bowl of your food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.
  • Add the butter and process until your mixture is coarse and crumbly. (Deja vu all over again….)
  • Add the buttermilk and process just until your dough comes together.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently pat down to a 1/2″ thickness.
  • Cut out with a biscuit cutter, a lightly floured drinking glass, or, in this case, a cute little cookie cutter.
  • Arrange biscuits on your baking sheet. Sides touching if you want them soft around the edges, space between if you want crispier edges.
  • Lightly press together dough scraps to cut the rest of your biscuits out.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are light golden brown.
  • Serve with butter, jam, or cheese.
  • Yield: about 3 dozen

The verdict: These little biscuits were adorable and tasty! I served them with FROG jam (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) at the shower, but Micah and I discovered the next morning that the leftovers were also delicious with butter (because, let’s face it, what isn’t delicious with butter?) and with pimiento cheese.

* * * * *

Of course, a bridal shower isn’t complete without cake. And I really, truly thought about ordering a cake from one of Athens’ own excellent local bakeries. But, glutton for culinary punishment that I am, I decided I had to bake dessert from scratch instead. The recipe had four basic parts: yellow cake, strawberries, pastry cream, and whipped cream. On my way to the shower, I felt pretty confident that the cake would taste good…but I worried a lot about it falling apart. Fortunately, it managed to (mostly) stay together, at least until we cut into it.

See the spare tire around the middle? That's pastry cream and strawberries, just waiting to burst out the seams. A delicious disaster!

For the cake: I followed Crummb’s recipe for The Ultimate Butter Cake, which I doubled to make two 9-inch layers. I also substituted buttermilk for half of the milk in the recipe because I had some that needed using. The resulting cake was just as moist, buttery, and delicious as I hoped it would be!

For the berry filling: I washed, hulled, and sliced about 2 pints of fresh strawberries, sprinkled a little sugar on them, and let them sit for about 30-45 minutes. This got them nice and sweet and juicy.

For the pastry cream: I used a fantastic recipe from Sauce Boss, subbing extra vanilla extract for the balsamic vinegar and throwing in an extra egg yolk for added body.

For the icing: I made vanilla whipped cream by whipping 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract until it was nice and stiff.

All of the components can be made a day ahead, though you might have to re-whip your whipped cream if it sits too long, and you have to make sure you press some plastic wrap into your pastry cream or it’ll form a yucky skin on top.

To assemble:

  • Make sure all of your finished components are cold! This will keep your pastry cream and whipped cream from running too much and making a drippy mess (which would taste fine, but won’t look too pretty).
  • Start with one 9″ cake layer. Poke lots of holes in it with a fork or skewer. Why? You’ll see…
  • Pipe a ring of pastry cream around the edge of the cake. This will help keep your strawberries from sliding out.
  • Add a generous layer of the macerated strawberries, reserving a few for decorating the top of the cake. Pour all those yummy strawberry juices over the strawberries. The holes you poked a minute ago will soak up all this deliciousness quite nicely.
  • Top the strawberries with a layer of pastry cream.
  • Add your other cake layer and smooth a little more pastry cream around the seam, just to help hold things in a little better.
  • Frost the cake with the whipped cream and decorate with more strawberries.
  • Yield: one very tall, gooey, delicious cake!

The verdict: this cake took a lot of steps, but the finished product was both beautiful and tasty! The combination of the buttery cake, rich pastry cream, sweet strawberries, and fluffy whipped cream was pretty much perfect. The only downside was that once I started cutting the cake, it pretty well fell apart, mostly because my middle layer was too thick and slippery. If When I make this cake again, I might split each layer into two (for a total of four layers) so that I can fill it with several thin layers of pastry cream and strawberries instead of one thick one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing!

* * * * *

Jessica has been my best friend since 5th grade–it’ll be 21 years in August!–and I love her dearly. She was the maid of honor at my wedding back in 2009…

Eric, me, Micah, and Jessica
July 18, 2009

…and I feel so fortunate to be matron of honor at her wedding in just a few days!

Just like with my last-minute alterations, the menu I made for Jessica’s shower wasn’t quite perfect, and if I could do it over again, I might make a few minor changes. But while my cooking is far from professional, with plenty of technical imperfections, the most important thing to me was to pour my heart into making delicious food for someone I love.

Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

whoa, thanks!

Assia’s Kaleidoscope is one of my favorite blogs, and one of the first I started following when I entered the blogosphere back in March. This gal makes beautiful baked goods, scrumptious-looking savory dishes, and the prettiest Easter eggs I’ve ever seen. Not only that, but her photos are simply gorgeous. Visit her blog and I guarantee you’ll be impressed. It’s the kind of blog I hope this one might become, one day when I’m better at both cooking and photography. 🙂

So, I’m both honored and flattered that Assia nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award!

It’s surely not deserved, but I’ll accept it humbly and say thanks to Assia.

(Thanks, Assia!)

Now, there are three parts of accepting this award: thanking and linking to the nominating blogger (done), sharing seven interesting things about myself, and nominating seven more blogs for the award. So, here goes!

Seven things about me:

  1. I’ve been to Europe and South America, but never to the west coast.
  2. I have two cats. Both fluffy. One ginormous ginger named Cheesepuff, and one tiny tabby named Magellan.
  3. Micah and I got married at one of our favorite restaurants in Athens, Farm 255.
  4. We plan our vacations around where we want to eat.
  5. I can’t ride a bicycle. Seriously. (I own one, though, and Micah keeps saying he’ll teach me!)
  6. My mom is an undefeated (6-0) amateur kickboxer.
  7. I’m kind of a slob, a terrible driver, and habitually late for most things (but have lately been improving on all fronts).

Seven blogs I’d like to nominate:

  1. Sauce Boss – a self-proclaimed “Culinary Dark Genius”–need I say more? (an amazing pastry cream recipe, too!)
  2. Boozed + Infused – infusing booze with carrots? oatmeal? mushrooms? fascinating!
  3. Memoirs of an Amateur Chef – lots of great recipes, and she grows her own mushrooms! (could they go in Boozed + Infused’s vodka…?)
  4. Throve – makes beautiful juices, and shares my love of fruits, veggies, global flavors, and kitty cats 🙂
  5. Life, in recipes – read the latest post, The Return of the Prodigal Blogger, and you’ll love her, too
  6. Growandcook – someone who shares my taste in food and my sense of humor
  7. The Ranting Chef – great recipes, fun guest posts, and product reviews

I was planning to end this post here, but then…

Throve nominated me for a 7×7 Link Award!

I feel honored and flattered to be getting all this attention. I hope I can live up to the hype. 🙂 Thank you, Throve, for so kindly thinking of me!

For this award, my job is to thank and link to the nominating blogger (yep), list seven random facts about myself, list seven of my posts in the seven different categories (see below), and nominate seven more bloggers. So, let the lists of seven items continue!

Seven (more) random facts about me:

  1. I used to have a bad clothes shopping habit. Now, I have a bad borrowing-too-many-books-from-the-public-library-at-once-and-not-having-time-to-read-them-all habit. (And I haven’t bought a single brand new clothing item since December, unless you count bridesmaid dresses.)
  2. I do not have, and have never had, any wisdom teeth. Does this make me a freak of nature or more highly evolved…?
  3. I can wiggle my pinkie toe independently of my other toes. A guy in high school called me an ape for this.
  4. Foods I dislike: mayonnaise, raw onions, raw mushrooms, coleslaw (unless it’s made with vinegar instead of mayo)
  5. Foods I love: chocolate hazelnut spread, cheese, good pizza, more cheese, handmade pasta, and cheese
  6. I like board games, but I really, really suck at video games.
  7. I once baked a pie on Georgia Public Television.

Seven posts in seven different categories:

  1. Most beautifulbacon, mushrooms, and asparagus (with an egg)
  2. Most surprisingly successfula series of unfortunate events (long night, long post…)
  3. Most controversial – I got a lot of flack from my flesh-and-blood friends and family about the not too offal post 🙂
  4. Most pride-worthy – an Ethiopian feast!
  5. Most underrated – the beef stew we made the other night – so yummy, but not very popular with the clickers…
  6. Most helpful – my first whole wheat oatmeal muffins post–you can put anything in these and they’ll be good!
  7. Most popular – it’s a tie between Paula Deen married Alton Brown and they made a meatloaf baby and not my Mammaw’s pimiento cheese

Seven more nominations:

  1. Frozen Moments – amazing recipes, plus breathtaking photos of Alaska!
  2. The Postmodern Housepartner – someone who shares my love of avocados, asparagus, and deviled eggs
  3. Going Dutch – visit for gorgeous tulips, an adorable little girl, and some great recipes
  4. domestic diva, M.D. – funny stories plus good, simple, yummy recipes (and Fiesta dishes like mine)
  5. glutenvygirl – great recipes whether you’re gluten free or not!
  6. Kitty’s Dolceforno – some delicious baking going on here….
  7. feed the piglet… – so many cool burgers and fritters, both meaty and meat-free

And now, for a taste of things to come….

…my best friend is getting married in 8 days!

Jessica and I have been friends since 5th grade (it’ll be 21 years in August), she was maid of honor at my wedding, and now I’m matron of honor in hers. We’re looking forward to traveling to a cabin in the mountains for a small, intimate ceremony on the 28th, but before that….her bridal shower is Saturday (tomorrow!), and since I love this gal so much, I’ve been cooking up all sorts of Southern delicacies for her and her guests. What tasty morsels are in store? Stay tuned for a full report this weekend. 🙂

Congrats to Jessica and Brent!

Categories: links, people, recipes | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

supper tonight – 4.18.12 – carrots & green beans with lo mein noodles

Today was one of those days.

The steady patter of pouring rain on our bedroom window’s metal awning at 6:00am made getting out of bed hard. A headache–not agonizing, but just enough to notice–made it a little harder.

(Even without rain or pains, our bed is much too comfy-cozy to tear away from, especially when it’s still dark out.)

Trudging to school through downpour and puddles didn’t help (though at least I had my umbrella and galoshes).

Forgetting to take Tylenol before I went to school kind of stunk, too. Especially when I discovered I didn’t have a travel-sized bottle of meds in my bag after all.

The 3:00-4:00 meeting after school that lasted until 5:10? Icing on the cake.

An hour-long trip to Best Buy (still in the rain) for a type of camcorder-to-computer adapter cable that apparently doesn’t exist? Sprinkles, I suppose.

So when I got home after 6:00 and we still had to cook dinner, what I really wanted to do was call in for pizza. Or Chinese takeout. Or pretty much anything that would require no effort.

But, of course, there were the green beans.

When I made all that Ethiopian food last week, I had one recipe that called for 3/4 of a cup of fresh green beans. The only packages at Earth Fare contained well over twice that. I was left with a bunch of leftover green beans, and fresh ones don’t keep for very long. These were really starting to get past their prime a day or two ago, but last night we decided to use the also-almost-too-far-gone mushrooms instead. And the green beans waited another day. So tonight…well, it was time.

Also in our refrigerator was a zip-top baggie of fresh lo mein noodles. No, we didn’t make these. We got them from a pretty damn awesome Asian Grocery called Fook’s Foods. Why does this place rock our socks off? Well, for starters, they sell delicious one-pound blocks of nice, firm bulk tofu for 89¢. Plus spicy, tangy kimchi by the pound. And really good ramen noodles (not an oxymoron). And sometimes, freshly caught shrimp or crabs from the Georgia coast. And, as evidenced by our supper tonight, deliciously fresh lo mein noodles that cook up in about 5 minutes.

Chopping a few veggies and whisking together a quick sauce yielded a pretty tasty noodle bowl that brightened our rainy day:

And in the background, chopsticks. Why not?

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • about 1/2 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed
  • 2 cups stock or broth, divided into 1-1/2 and 1/2 cup measures (we had beef in the fridge, but use your favorite)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • juice from one lime
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sriracha (spicy chili paste)
  • 1 pound fresh lo mein (or use your favorite packaged Asian noodles)
  • fresh cilantro for garnish

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, and onion, and saute until translucent.
  • Add the carrots, green beans, and 1-1/2 cups of stock.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover for 10 minutes or until your carrots and green beans are nice and tender.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice, sriracha, and remaining 1/2 cup of stock.
  • While the vegetables cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for your lo mein. Fresh will cook to in 4-5 minutes, but if you used packaged noodles, just follow the instructions on the box.
  • When the vegetables are finished, add the sauce mixture and stir to incorporate. If it seems thin, turn your heat back up to medium for a few minutes to reduce it a bit.
  • When the noodles are finished, drain them in a colander and run cool water over them to stop the cooking and keep them from sticking.
  • Add the noodles to your skillet of vegetables and sauce; then, toss it all together and cook for about one more minute to reheat the noodles.
  • Serve into four bowls. (In our case, two were portable containers with lids for lunch tomorrow.) Top with fresh cilantro.

We’ve made better stir-fry dishes before (usually involving cubes of Fook’s Foods tofu, pan-fried in the style of our local vegetarian mecca, The Grit). But for how easy this was to prepare, it was pretty darn tasty, and just the kind of warm, hearty comfort-food pick-me-up I needed after a long, soggy day.

Categories: places, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

supper tonight – 4.16.12 – gnocchi with mushrooms and sage

Ah, gnocchi. When prepared correctly, these little potato dumplings make for a delicious, hearty meal. Imagine delectably light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness. That’s how good gnocchi feels in your mouth.

Bad gnocchi is dense and heavy, sitting in your belly like a rock for hours after you eat it (because, if you’re like me, you just can’t bring yourself to waste it, so you slather on some sauce and choke it down anyway).

Hm. Now that I think about it, my first attempt at gnocchi sounds suspiciously like my trial run with biscuits. Both kitchen disasters were precipitated by a heavy hand with the flour and, well, heavy hands in general. Over-kneading a mix that’s already got too much gluten activating is a surefire recipe for dough-bombs. Not so good.

That said, we did not make gnocchi last night.

This dinner started back in January. I was laid up in bed after a hernia surgery, so my sweet husband took over pretty much all the kitchen duties while I convalesced. We had way too much milk that was about to turn sour, so Micah made a quick batch of ricotta (no cream, just 2% milk+salt+lemon+heat). Then, we had this massive bag of potatoes that my grandma gave us because she bought it…and then realized her doctor told her she wasn’t supposed to eat potatoes. (Don’t ask–I honestly can’t explain.)

Anyway, so we had a crap-ton of spuds plus about a cup of save-the-milk-before-it-rots ricotta, and it immediately made sense to cook this gnocchi recipe from Mike’s Table. (Not the sauce, just the gnocchi, possibly with substitutions…? I can’t tell you how the gnocchi making process actually went, because I was lounging in a lazy haze of prescription drugs at the time. I can, however, relate that these gnocchi are pretty darn ugly, misshapen, odd sizes…but they taste really, really good.)

Anyway, the thing about this recipe is that it transforms a boatload of potatoes into…a boatload of gnocchi. So we ate gnocchi that day in January (with some other kind of sauce Micah made using some other random leftovers), but then we froze a big bag of it for later. And since gnocchi’s pretty rich for everyday eating, we’ve still got a good bit in the freezer.

Fast forward to yesterday, when neither of us really felt like cooking, but we had some lovely mushrooms in the refrigerator that were about to not be very lovely anymore. (Speaking of mushrooms, anyone ever try growing your own? Apparently, it’s a great idea! :))

We adapted a recipe for gnocchi with a sage butter sauce, cutting the two-serving recipe down to one because, really, is it advisable to cook dinner for two with a half stick of butter on a weeknight? (Delicious, sure, but not advisable.) And we added our mushrooms (not part of the recipe) at the beginning of the process in the hopes that some butter would soften them up a bit (it mostly did).

Not the prettiest dinner (and why is the upper half blueish? I don't know!), but this simple meal sure was tasty.

What’s in it:

  • 2 servings of gnocchi (we ate about 12 each, but it depends on the size)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, slivered
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons shredded parmesan

Step-by-step:

  • Start a large pot of salted water to boil.
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Add the mushrooms and garlic to the skillet and get them nice and buttery while you wait for your pot to boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, add your gnocchi and set a timer for about 2-3 minutes. Or, if you’re using store-bought gnocchi, follow the directions on the package. (These babies are done when they float to the top.)
  • While your dumplings cook, turn the skillet up to medium and stir in the sage, salt, and pepper.
  • When the gnocchi are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the skillet. Toss lightly in the buttery mushrooms until your dumplings are coated in herby, garlicky goodness.
  • Divide the gnocchi between two bowls and top with shredded parmesan.

While the recipe we adapted referred to the finished product as a sauce, the way we cut it down made it more like a glaze that coated our mushrooms and gnocchi. But really, if your dumplings are light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness, they don’t need sauce anyway. 🙂

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supper tonight – 4.12.12 – an Ethiopian feast!

I mentioned a while back that I was reading the book Cutting for Stone (which, I’m ashamed to admit, I still haven’t finished–things really have been busy around here!).

Anyway, my book club meets monthly, and last Thursday it was my turn to host the group for dinner and conversation about the novel. The story is set mostly in Ethiopa, so I decided I would try cooking some native dishes for us to enjoy.

We have one vegetarian in our group, so my search centered around recipes that she could enjoy with us, and except for the chicken stew, the entire meal was not only vegetarian but also super-easy to veganize. Also, each individual recipe was quite easy, though cooking all of them in a few nights proved a bit of a challenge. 🙂

I quickly figured out that before you can cook Ethiopian food, you need two key ingredients:

  • Berbere: a spice mixture that combines the heat of dried chiles with the cozy warmth of all those great pumpkin pie spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice)…not to mention a couple of ingredients that I had to shop for (fenugreek, cardamom pods).
  • Nit’r qibe: a spiced butter that aromatics are usually cooked in before other ingredients are added.

So, my first task was making big batches of berbere and nit’r qibe, because almost every recipe I found called for one or both, and I figured they might be good things to have around the house for future cooking adventures. And let me tell you, I fully intend to keep both of these in stock at all times, because they’re really damn good.

I also went ahead and mixed up dough for injera, the traditional Ethiopian sourdough flatbread that customarily serves as both dish and eating utensil. I still planned to provide plates and forks to my guests, but thought the bread would be good for sopping up all the stews and veggies I was making. If I were Ethiopian (or had access to a really good African grocery), I would’ve used teff flour, but I had no idea where to find that, so I followed this recipe instead.

Well, my injera dough was nice and thin like crepe batter, just like the recipe said. My pan was nice and hot, a solid medium-high, just like the recipe said. My dough spread thin and got nice and bubbly on top, just like the recipe said.

But  (why is there always a “but”?) somehow, despite being less than tortilla-thick, my bread was sticky and doughy in the middle no matter how done the outside was.

So, I scrapped that kitchen disaster and got Micah to implement the back-up plan, a mixture of white and brown basmati in the rice cooker. Not the traditional starch for an Ethiopian meal, but it was perfectly fine.

What did we eat with our not-so-Ethiopian rice?

The finished feast:

clockwise from 9:00 - fosoleay, atar alecha,
doro wat with hard-boiled eggs, misr wat,
gomen wat (plus rice in the middle)

Not only was dinner delicious, but we enjoyed a yummy pre-dinner snackie called dabo kolo. These are spicy little peanut-sized nuggets, kind of like a cracker. They’re traditionally fried, but mine were baked per the recipe I used and still ridiculously addictive! In fact, we kind of ate them all before I could snap a photo. But this is what they look like:

well, okay, these are much prettier than mine turned out!
(image from abreadaday.com)

Finally, I was at first saddened to learn that Ethiopia doesn’t really have a traditional dessert. But I did read about a traditional layered fruit drink that sounded light, sweet, cool, and pretty much perfect for ending our hearty, spicy meal. So I made my own version with pureed honey-sweetened avocado, mango, and strawberries:

So thick, you have to eat it with a spoon. The avocado at the bottom was the best part!

Micah and I are still enjoying the leftovers from this delicious feast, though I’m sad to say we’ve already devoured the dabo kolo snackies as well as the entire batch of split peas, so I need to make more. Soon.

I knew nothing about Ethiopian food before last week, and I have no idea if my dishes would pass muster with the natives, but I do highly recommend all of these recipes if you’re eager for some culinary globe-trotting. 🙂

Categories: places, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

date night dinner – 4.7.12 – stuffed dates, beef stew over polenta, and a third wheel

Before I came along, Micah and his best friend Eric were pretty much inseparable. They played tennis and video games together, ate together, and even occasionally slept on Micah’s futon together. Purely platonic, I assure you, but these guys are close.

Eric met his wife Jinny in the summer of 2006, the same summer Micah met me, so the four of us have shared many a double date. But sometimes, one of us won’t be around to hang out, so 75% of our foursome ends up on a three-person date night.

Jinny had to work last Saturday evening, so you could say Eric was the third wheel for our date night dinner. But I’d like to counter that when Micah and Eric get together, their bromance wields a power so strong that I am most definitely the spare somebody in the room. And this doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, because who am I to stand in the way of true love? 🙂

Plus, the meal we were planning for that particular dinner was going to make plenty more than we could eat anyway, so why not share the bounty with a good friend?

sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy, yummy

Our pre-dinner snackie: celery and manchego stuffed dates, inspired by a dish at one of our favorite fancy restaurants, The National. We can’t really afford to eat at this upscale eatery as often as we’d like, but when I found some nice looking dates at Daily Groceries, and then we spotted some manchego in the cheese case at Shiraz last weekend, we knew we had to try to replicate our favorite National appetizer.

What’s in it:

  • 8 pitted dates
  • about 1.5-2 ounces. aged manchego cheese (you could sub sharp white cheddar with good results)
  • 1 small stalk of celery
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • smoked paprika, salt, and pepper for sprinkling

Step-by-step:

  • Slice the dates almost in half lengthwise so that they’re still attached on one side (kind of like you would a hoagie roll for a submarine sandwich).
  • Cut the cheese into 8 sticks that are about the same length as your dates and about 1/4″ thick.
  • Cut the celery into 8 sticks about the same size as the cheese.
  • Stuff each date with a piece of celery and a piece of cheese.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with smoked paprika (a little goes a long way), salt, and black pepper.

Our taste buds suitably tickled, it was time for the main event: a beef, carrot, and sweet potato stew that had simmered all afternoon, served over creamy polenta:

Warm and hearty, perfect for sharing with the one you love (and his best friend).

This was one of those magic one-dish concoctions where I winged it and hoped for the best, and it didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty freaking amazing, maybe even better as leftovers for lunch later in the week.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound beef stew meat (you could probably also use this recipe to make a delicious pot roast or short ribs)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • zest from one lemon, one lime, and one orange
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl or plate.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned.
  • Return the beef  to the pot (plus any delicious juices that might have dripped from it). Immediately add the red wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits.
  • Add everything else! Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • At this point, you could simmer the stew on the stove at low heat OR stick it in a 300°F oven for several hours until the beef and veggies are tender.
  • We wanted our stew to be thicker than this turned out, so Micah used a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and vegetables into a covered serving dish, left the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven, and reduced the sauce until it was nice and thick, more like a gravy. Then we stirred it back into the dish of meat and veggies.
  • Serve over your favorite starch–polenta, grits, rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, gnocchi….gotta love those carbs!–and top with some chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Enjoy with the rest of that bottle of red wine!

This will come out seasoned kind of like a good pot of chili, dark and smoky from the chipotle and coffee and cocoa, but brightened up by the tomatoes and citrus zest. The beef was falling-apart-moist and juicy, and the carrots and sweet potatoes were sweet and tender.

Next time you end up being the third wheel, share a meal like this with the sweethearts and I guarantee you’ll all be feeling the love. 🙂

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lazy brunch – 4.7.12 – oatmeal with apples, dates, and pecans

I wasn’t a big fan of cereal for breakfast when I was a kid. Partly because my mom only bought the very plain varieties, and partly because I was such a slow eater that I refused to put milk on my cereal lest it become a soggy, sodden mess. So I would snack on dry Cheerios or Kix like they were potato chips, but I didn’t usually eat them for breakfast.

My childhood morning meal of choice? Oatmeal, of the instant-from-a-packet variety. And for some reason, Mom didn’t insist on buying plain oatmeal. Instead, she either bought the variety pack (which inevitably included a few packets of unflavored oats), or she would buy whole boxes of my very favorite flavor, maple brown sugar. Mammaw would microwave me a bowl of this stuff just about every morning before school, from kindergarten until sometime in middle school (which I think is when I discovered how much I love bagels).

I remember the first time I tried real oatmeal: slow simmered on the stove…thick with big, fat rolled oats instead of the quick-cooking variety…lightly seasoned with butter, a pinch of salt, and just a touch of sugar. That old-fangled oatmeal was substantial and creamy, and it didn’t taste like maple or brown sugar, and I had to chew because the oats actually had some texture.

It kind of grossed me out.

But as I grew up, I somehow figured out along the way that this was how oats were supposed to feel and taste. Now, I prefer my oatmeal made from real whole grains, and it’s been a while since I revisited the done-in-two-minutes-oats of my youth. While old-fashioned oatmeal takes a lot longer to cook, it might be just about the most satisfying thing to warm up with on a crisp spring morning.

So when I rose well before Micah last Saturday and decided to wake him with breakfast in bed, and it was a little cool in the house, and we had an apple and some dates and pecans in the kitchen just begging to be cooked…well, how could I resist?

Don't you feel warm and cozy already?

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • 2 dates, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

Step-by-step:

  • In a small saucepan, bring the oats, milk, water, and salt to a low simmer. This will cook for about 20 minutes until it’s nice and thick and creamy.
  • In a small skillet, melt the butter on medium heat.
  • Add the pecans and cook until lightly toasted.
  • Add the apples, dates, maple syrup, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a thick glaze.
  • Stir half of the cinnamon into the pot of oatmeal and half of it into the skillet of fruit.
  • Divide the oatmeal into two bowls and top with the fruit and nut mixture, or go ahead mix the fruit and nuts into the oatmeal before serving.

How did it turn out? The oatmeal was thick, creamy, and just a touch salty (exactly how I like it), while the apples and dates added just the right amount of sweetness. The best bites were the ones with some crunchy toasted pecan, and when I make this again, I’ll probably add more nuts.

What’s your favorite oatmeal add-in?

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supper tonight – 4.5.12 – cauliflower soup & grilled cheese

Sorry it’s been a while (crazy week!), but..

…remember last Tuesday night when I really wanted to make Growandcook’s cauliflower soup, but we ended up making pizza instead?

Well, just as I predicted, we polished off the leftover pizza that Wednesday night (it was just as good the second time, by the way), so Thursday night was soup night!

I couldn’t follow the original recipe exactly as I didn’t have all the ingredients in the same amounts, so I subbed garlic and onion for the leeks and Greek yogurt for the heavy cream. I’m sure this version tastes a little different than it was supposed to, but it was thick and creamy and delicious! And, just as Growandcook promised, it did indeed make excellent leftovers to take to work the next day with some crusty bread and fruit.

Those bright red swirls of smoky, spicy chili oil turned this already-great soup into something really special...

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3/4 pound cauliflower florets (we used frozen, but fresh would be better)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil for drizzling (we used Bobby Flay’s guajillo chile oil, which was rich and smoky with just a touch of heat, not to mention a gorgeous shade of fiery red!)

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat.
  • Add the garlic and onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cauliflower and chicken stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer until the cauliflower is nice and tender. (Frozen only took about 5-7 minutes, but fresh will take longer.)
  • Use a stick blender to puree the soup in the pot, or transfer in batches to your regular blender and puree until smooth.
  • Add the yogurt and nutmeg. Blend a little more, until your soup is thick and rich and creamy. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Divide into bowls (2-4, depending on if this is a main course or starter/side).
  • Drizzle with good olive oil, chile oil, or if you’re feeling fancy, truffle oil. 🙂

It’s that easy! And tasty! We enjoyed our soup with grilled cheese sandwiches:

crispy-crusty-gooey-melty grilled cheese...mmm....

A perfect quick-and-easy weeknight supper.

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supper tonight – 4.6.12 – grilled pork chops & veggies

The weather thwarted our outdoor steak plans last time, but a warm and sunny evening invited Micah outside on Friday to grill some pork chops.

The warm weather has also welcomed one of our favorite summer veggies to the party a little early—zephyr squash! I love any kind of summer squash—crookneck, zucchini, pattypan—but these buttery little heirlooms are absolutely the best summer squash I’ve ever had. And the fact that we got to enjoy them with asparagus (which is usually out-of-season by the time summer squash arrives) was pretty magical.

Micah’s masterpiece:

smoky, charred perfection

We topped our succulent pork chops with a stewed green tomato relish from our favorite cookbook, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South. Hugh serves the relish with crispy-crunchy pan-fried chicken, which we’ve made and devoured several times now. But we thought—correctly, I might add—that the relish would also be sublime on a thick, juicy, bone-in pork chop.

(And, as always, we made a few adjustments based on what we had on hand.)

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped pickled green tomatoes
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon water or chicken stock
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the fresh tomatoes, pickled green tomatoes, ground cayenne, and water or stock. Stir around and cook until the onions and tomatoes are tender and most of the liquid is reduced.
  • Toss in the chopped cilantro and parsley, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

The pork chops, squash, and asparagus, were cooked very simply: brushed with a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, grilled to perfection. The sweet, salty, tangy relish perfectly complemented the smoky-charred outside and tender inside of the pork chop, and the vegetables made a perfect side dish for those big, juicy hunks of meat.

Grilling season has officially begun in the Hudson household! Have you broken out the barbecue yet?

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supper tonight – 4.3.12 – arugula, goat cheese, and tomato pizza

Last night, I wanted to make Growandcook’s cauliflower soup for dinner.

Micah said he wanted something heartier than soup.

I said I could make grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it.

Micah said he wanted something heartier than soup and sandwiches.

I said I could save the soup recipe for later and make some nice, hearty pasta with arugula, goat cheese, and tomatoes.

Micah thought about it for a minute, agreed that pasta would be okay…but then said, “Just make the soup. I’ll eat something else if I’m still hungry.”

Argghh!

At this point, I was already a bit hangry (hungry+angry, see previous post about this here), and no matter how whole-heck-of-a-lot-much I love Micah, one thing that drives me absolutely bonkers is when he disagrees with me until I change my mind…and then decides to change his.

“So what are you in the mood for, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Pizza or something?”

Eureka! This conversation might’ve only taken you a minute to read, but I’m transcribing the condensed version. The actual exchange took at least five or six excruciating minutes.

My normal recipe for pizza dough (and bread, and dinner rolls, and calzones) takes a good three to four hours, as do many yeasty-dough-type procedures with mixing, rising, shaping, rising, and (finally) baking. No way in hell was that going to work.

So, my good friend Google helped me find many, many recipes with titles that combined the words “quick” and “pizza dough.” Some that required instant yeast (which I don’t keep around), and several that weren’t as expedient as advertised. Then, I found this little gem at Oven Love and decided to give it a shot.

The verdict? Although not quite as chewy-crispy-crusty as the long-rising recipe I know and love, this pizza was freaking awesome. And just as quick and easy as Natalie promised it would be.

I might've gone a tad OCD with the spacing of the toppings...

If you ever need to make a pizza from scratch in an hour or less, I highly recommend this recipe. Or even if you’ve got all the time in the world and just want to make a pizza really fast….well, this recipe rocks.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm (105-115°F) water
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, separated
  • 4 ounces fresh arugula (we used whole leaves, but would chop it next time for easier biting)
  • 4 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on how big they are
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F. Grease a pizza pan.
  • Put the yeast, sugar, and water in a large bowl (if you have a stand mixer, use the bowl for that).
  • Add the flour, salt, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix until the dough comes together, then knead for 5 minutes (by way of your stand mixer’s dough hook, or by hand on a lightly floured surface).

The dough really does turn out this beautiful! (image by Natalie from Oven Love - click to visit)

  • Press the dough onto your greased pizza pan, spreading it all the way to the edges. 
  • Brush with the 3rd tablespoon of olive oil.
  • If you like a not-so-crispy crust:
    • Go ahead and add your toppings (arugula, tomatoes, goat cheese) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    • Bake for about 15 minutes.
  • If you like a crispy crust: 
    • Slide your pizza pan in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. 
    • Remove the partially baked crust to a cutting board. 
    • Top with the arugula, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    • Bake for 8-10 more minutes directly on the oven rack. 
  • Stuff your face with piping hot, delicious pizza! 

The last step: give your husband a big hug and apologize for being so cranky earlier about cooking dinner. And plan to cook the cauliflower soup the day after tomorrow, because tomorrow night, you’ll want to eat the rest of this pizza. 🙂

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