Tupelo Honey Pistachio Butter

Honey nut butter

Honey nut butter

I love nut butters. Besides the dairy, salted variety, I would argue that they might be the best thing to happen to sliced bread since these people started selling their wares. Peanut, almond, cashew, pecan- each one is unique in the the way they upgrade a brown-bag lunch (and make me feel like a slightly more sophisticated sandwich maker).

A few weeks ago, I caught the pistachio butter bug. After a friend of mine explained how delicious it was- and how shocked he was that I hadn’t tried it yet- I knew I had to have it. In my zeal I scoured the shelves of our local health food chain, the health food chain’s sister store, then the sister store’s even smaller step-sister store. Nothing. I searched online and quickly realized that my nut butter pride came with a (monetary) price. I now had to find unsalted, unroasted, raw pistachios in enough time to not go crazy.

I might be slightly emotionally exaggerating here, but I have never been one to lack in passion for a quality food product.

By this point I had run out of gas and time, and the pistachio butter craving was threatening to lead me in a last-ditch drive to Seattle, Washington. In conclusion, and to echo the incredible Tim Gunn, I had to make it work. What I could find was salted, roasted pistachios in the shells (thank you Sally Hansen for saving my fingernails after cracking those suckers); Tupelo honey, and sea salt.

We faked it until we made it with this recipe my friends and it is fabulous. The sunshine-y taste of the Tupelo Honey gives a lightness to the salty richness of the roasted pistachios. This spread is heaven on an apple slice with a little extra drizzle of honey. Or, brown bag it with apple butter and/or strawberry jam. Use it in a macaroon or spread it on french toast before it’s fried. Or, eat it with a spoon out of your refrigerator until the craving subsides. Which for me, unfortunately, was way too far into the batch to turn back at any healthy point.

I hope you enjoy this take on a sweeter, Southerner-er version of a nut butter favorite. Maybe it’s the heat, maybe it’s the humidity, but let’s get nutty people!

Tupelo Honey Pistachio Butter

What You Will Need

6 tablespoons canola oil

5 tablespoons hot water

1/2 lb roasted, salted pistachios

2 1/4 teaspoons tupelo honey

2 pinches sea salt (to taste)

What You Will Do

1. BLEND!

2. Seriously; All you need to do is put the canola oil, hot water (make sure it is hot; this gives it the right consistentcy and makes the butter easier to blend), pistachios, honey, and sea salt in a blender and press pulse. Or Mix. Or whatever suits your fancy unill it is the consistency of a nut spread. Let it run until it is smoothy and creamy, taste it, and if you would like it a bit thinner, just add more hot water by the teaspoon, and adjust the saltiness by small pinches if you like it with a little more kick.

Red, White and Bleu Coleslaw

A summer side MVP

A summer side MVP

It’s hard to get excited about coleslaw.

In the South, the shredded green lettuce routinely fades into the summer barbecue background, alongside baked beans and summer watermelon, once the true star of the show- salty smoked pork-arrives.

And don’t get me wrong- dry rubbed, tenderly glazed, and artfully pulled pork (substitute beef here if you are west of Mississippi)  deserves every bit of attention it gets. No barbecue would be the same without it. But this year I wanted to get in the coleslaw spirit; to create a recipe that actually stood next to a platter of beautiful chopped meat. A side that I would be motivated to go back for seconds on. Maybe even save extra stomach room for it instead of banana pudding. Maybe.

This recipe confidently held it’s own in more ways than one. As opposed to a mayonnaise-laced version, this is light and summery, with the rich smokiness of gorgonzola and tart sun-dried tomatoes to give it interest and pop. Plus, what’s more fun than an excuse to theme food around a holiday? I envision this coleslaw hitting a home run at all of your summer parties- Memorial Day (next year), Fourth of July, or any event themed around America, nautical elements, fireworks, or park weddings.

So stand up for coleslaw at your next meat-themed cookout. With this secret, sparkler weapon at your side, I promise you’ll be the hit of the backup sides.

Red, White and Bleu Coleslaw

What You Will Need

For the salad

8 cups coleslaw mix

4 cups shredded red cabbage

2/3 cup scallions

14 sundried tomatoes

5 ounces crumbled gorgonzola

For the vinaigrette

1/3 cup good olive oil

1/3 cup sun-dried tomato oil (strain your sun dried tomatoes from the jar and save the remaining oil)

4 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

What You Will Do

1. Whisk together olive and tomato oils, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl until combined. Set aside. (This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated if needed.)

2. Combine coleslaw mix, red cabbage, scallions, sun dried tomatoes, and gorgonzola.

3.  Gently fold the dressing mixture into the salad mix, taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. This can be made ahead of time and tastes better if it rests at room temperature for a few hours.

The International Biscuit Festival

A beautiful bonut

A beautiful bonut

If biscuit heaven was a place, I think I found it.

Knoxville, Tennesse- the home of neon orange football jerseys, Mabel, and this former food post– continues to impress me. Having spent the weekend consuming the most delicious olive and scallion hummus and tasting Vietnamese pho for the first time (which, in the words of a friend of mine, tastes like “angel tears”) I thought things couldn’t get better.

That was, until the International Biscuit Festival.

Turning the corner onto Biscuit Boulevard and finding a long stretch of red and white striped tents full of happy people blessing others with hot biscuits-knowing that I could try five of whatever biscuit I chose-was about like how a small child feels staring at a never ending stack of Lucky Charms, candy bars, and free iPads.

From the humming of a biscuit-themed songwriting competition to the smell of fresh dough sizzling in a deep fryer, it was a celebration of what makes Southern food so delicious- the buttery layers of comfort and warmth we lovingly call biscuits.

Since I was forced to choose-one of these biscuit masterminds below made a bonut people- below are my top five favorites. Hopefully these will inspire you to make your own biscuit combos- or visit Knoxville next year and experience it for yourself. I’ll be there-but next year I’ll probably buy two tickets  just so I can go through the line twice.

1. Green-Eyed Monster Pimento Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit, Tupelo Honey

A mind-blowing combination of spicy pimento cheese dough, buttered and sandwiched with fried jalepeno

A mind-blowing combination of spicy pimento cheese dough, buttered and sandwiched with fried jalepeno

2. Andouille Shrimp and Grits Biscuit, Applewood Farm House Restaurant

3. Candied Bacon, House-Cured Clabbered Cream, and Honey and Balsamic Reduction Buttermilk Biscuit, The Plaid Apron

Biscuits with balsamic glaze and clabbered cream

For those of you who have never tried it, clabbered cream is fantastic

4. Sweet Water Valley Smoked Cheddar and Onion Biscuit, The Tomato Head

5. Family Reserve Drop Biscuits (aka “bonuts”) with Sorghum Whipped Cream and Blueberries, Biscuit Love Truck

A lovely, sweet drop biscuit fried and filled with cream

A lovely, sweet drop biscuit fried and filled with cream

Horchata Milkshake with Cinnamon-Sugar Topping

Creamy, sweet and celebratory

Creamy, sweet and celebratory

Feliz el dia de cinco de mayo!

That was what my high school language teacher called “Spain-glish” for Happy Cinco de Mayo amigos/as! In celebration of all things Mexican, culinary, and ice-cream based, a friend of mine suggested I try my hand at making horchata.

The first time I heard this word I thought it was the one producers edited out of telenovelas on Telemundo, but upon further research I realized that in fact it is a delicious almond-and-rice-based drink, heady with cinnamon and a sweet vanilla flavor. Further confirmation found it’s way onto my kitchen table in this month’s issue of Food and Wine. Rick Ortiz’ version of the delicacy- spinning vanilla ice cream and condensed milk into the mix- sounded both comfortable and exotic. Definitely LuvCooks material.

!Que delicioso! Not only was this horchata easy to assemble, paired with churros and a pinata, it was a light and creamy trip to another flavor locale (and even more fun sipped through a straw). Which, with the weather as it is right now in the South, that sun-soaked vacation feeling might not happen until August.

Also, muchos gracias to Stephen Devries for making the shake look muy bonito.

So pull out your finest straws and sip to Mexican food, cinnamon milkshakes, and mas dias de las fiestas! (Lo siento Senora Downs…)

Horchata Milk Shakes (taken from Food and Wine’s Food Travel Special)

What You Will Need

  • 1 cup long-grain white rice, rinsed well
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 medium cinnamon sticks, cracked (I whacked my cinnamon sticks with a mortar and pestle until they were in large chunks or slivers. !Ole!)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 banana (2 ounces)
  • 1 pint to 1 1/2 quart vanilla ice cream (depending on how thick you like your milkshakes)
  • 1/2 cup ice

What You Will Do

  1. In a bowl, cover the rice with the water. Add the cinnamon sticks and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight; discard the cinnamon sticks. You might have to use a spoon to make sure any little pieces of cinnamon bark didn’t find their way into your rice.
  2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the almonds over moderate heat, tossing, until fragrant, about three minutes. In a small bowl, blend 1 tablespoon of the ground cinnamon with the sugar.
  3. Transfer the rice and its liquid to a blender. Add the almonds and puree for 2 minutes (keep on pureeing until all of the rice is blended and it is a uniform white color). Strain the horchata through a fine sieve into a bowl. I used a spoon to press the thicker mixture at the bottom of the blender through the sieve to release any remaining liquid.  Rinse out the blender.
  4. Return the horchata liquid to the blender and add the condensed milk, banana and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and puree. Add the ice cream and ice and blend (I like my milkshakes super-thick so I actually used a whole quart and a half to keep the shakes dense).
  5. Pour the shakes into glasses, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar on top and serve. !Comer bien!

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Toasted Chickpeas

Lovely, spicy soup

Lovely, spicy soup with crunchy chickpeas

Accidents happen.

A lot of times in cooking this is a good thing. You run out of cinnamon, scan your pantry, and decide that another spicy ingredient like chili powder would go great in those chocolate brownies. Or, you run out of lemon for your hummus and decide to use lime juice instead (so good; another post for another day).

But this accident was not one of those creative culinary breakthroughs you see on Cooking Channel where someone finds a miracle solution to pizza dough and builds a million-dollar food truck empire. This was more along the lines of, “Oh, my Lord, I have just dumped all of the soup I was supposed to bring to my food shoot on my carpet, down my purple pants and in-between my toes. And on my neighbor’s front door. Oh dear-and their door mat.”

This, by the way, was the first time I met my incredibly sweet neighbor across the hall. In an attempt to carry all of my food props, the food itself and my large purse in one trip to my car- because, heaven forbid I have to take two trips- I also tried balance my pot of soup on the steps next to her door. Instead, the pot slid forward, cascading in a slow-motion orange waterfall from my orange dutch oven down my (now-orange) lower half.

After the initial shock, squishing back into my apartment for paper towels and trying my best to sop up the thick, slightly warm mess from her surrounding steps and entryway, I knocked on her door, mustered my brightest smile and shouted a very overenthusiastic “HI! I just spilled sweet potato soup all over the entryway to your home. I AM SO SORRY!” She was, of course, incredibly gracious and wonderful and understanding. While I, on the other hand, had orange gew in my hair and was experiencing mild symptoms of a panic attack and/or emotional breakdown.

But the lovely blessing in disguise from this was the answer to the prayers I quickly uttered right after the pot of soup splattered down our hallway. In a final, last-ditch effort, I rushed back to the pot in my kitchen sink with the faint hope of any liquid left inside we could photograph. And you know what? A thin rim, silver-lined rim remained. It was a total loaves-and-fishes moment: like the miracle of feeding the five thousand (but with a tiny bowl and stage lighting).

The miracle continued as my talented friend Stephen DeVries took my offering and once again made the spread look gorgeous. I am so glad he did because, y’all, it is delicious. As a Southern girl far from the country of Thailand, I imagine it tastes like what that country would offer: spice, tons of flavor, and a sweet nuttiness from the potato and peanut butter combination. And the toasted chickpeas offer a fantastic spicy crunch to compliment the jalepeno and cilantro in the broth.

Take a Southern, Thai advenure this week- just try not to spill your luggage.

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup (This recipe was taken from the lovely blog Foodess.com)

What You Will Need

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (from 1 medium-large onion)
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped (seeds removed)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1½” pieces
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • ⅓ cup natural peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp minced fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • salt, to taste
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1 lime, cut in wedges (optional)

What You Will Do

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until just softened (and a bit translucent). Add jalapeno and garlic; saute for one minute. Stir in curry paste.
  2. Add chopped sweet potato, coconut milk and broth. Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn it back down to medium and cover. Cook until the sweet potato is very soft, about 20 minutes (I like to test mine with the back of a wooden spoon; if it gives gently when you press it, it is ready-to-go). Puree the mixture with an immersion blender, or do it in batches in a regular blender. (Does anyone out there own an immersion blender? I feel like if I had one I would be a total gourmand, much more like the Foodess, and it would save me from clumsily pouring boiling liquid into a blender. Be warned; if you pursue the blender method, do not fill the liquid up to the top of your blender! The steam will explode the top off and soup will go flying everywhere. Trust me.)
  3. Stir in peanut butter, cilantro, and a generous pinch of salt until combined. Stir, and adjust salt to taste. Add cayenne if additional heat is desired.
  4. Serve with more minced cilantro and lime wedges on the side. And chickpeas! And jasmine rice if you have some.

Toasted Chickpeas (This recipe is adapted from the wonderfully detailed Everyday Maven)

What You Will Need

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (if you have coconut, it would work great here)
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon hungarian paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 to 7 turns of fresh ground black pepper

What You Will Do

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Drain and rinse chickpeas and place them into a bowl. Add in oil and spices. Toss with a spoon until the beans are evenly coated.
  3. Scoop chickpeas onto a non-stick baking sheet OR a baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Leave any extra liquid in the bowl (don’t pour it onto the cookie sheet).
  4. Roast the peas for 15 minutes. Toss them again, making sure to evenly distribute them across the cookie sheet, and roast for another 15 minutes.
  5. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then place in a bowl and serve! (Make sure that you let these completely cool before you put them in the bowl; they get mushy if you let them cool together).

Now enjoy your tasty Thai adventure!

Bacon Sweet Rolls with Maple Glaze

Bacon sweet rolls

Most everything is better with bacon.

In the South, bacon might as well be one of the five food groups, alongside vegetables, biscuits and/or cornbread, cheese dip, and sweet tea. It’s the basis of any true Southern side item, tops most casseroles, and makes a great afternoon snack with the aforementioned tea.

While reflecting on what I could post that epitomized a truly Southern breakfast, this recipe for bacon sweet rolls caught my eye. Could there  be a way to take a cinnamon roll- perfect with it’s warm cinnamon smell wafting from the oven, soft in the center with ripples of vanilla icing- to another level? Is there a way to actually upgrade nature’s most perfect fried pork product? Can I personally contribute to a breakfast roll awakening in the kitchens of bacon-lovers everywhere?

I do not claim to know the answers to life’s most serious questions. This one, however- can bacon and sweet rolls coexist in perfect unity?- I can answer. With a resounding yes.

These rolls are why bacon makes most everything better. Filling, rich sweet dough swirled around salty, applewood smoked bacon that folds with brown sugar and butter into a wheel of national championship caliber (Did someone say 11:00 pre-game tailgate food? The other team’s fans will cheer for you). These are a first-meal treat in its highest form.

So don’t let all of that bacon go to waste on the side of your eggs. Wrap it in dough, throw it in the oven, and celebrate the South’s most perfect breakfast roll.

Also, a huge thank you to the incredibly talented Stephen DeVries for taking these beautiful photos. I don’t think breakfast has ever looked this good.

What a polite breakfast eater's plate would look like.

What a polite breakfast eater’s plate would look like.

Bacon Sweet Rolls with Maple Glaze (Recipe adapted from this great food blog)

What You Will Need

1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 TBSP brown sugar
Sweet Dough (recipe below)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, warm room temperature
1 pound bacon, cooked (I liked this brand, applewood-smoked), crispy and crumbled
Maple Glaze (recipe below)

Sweet Dough

1 cup warm whole milk
2 envelopes (4 ½ tsp.) active dry yeast
1/4 tsp. plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Stir milk (I microwaved mine until it felt pretty warm to the touch; typically it should be about 110-120 degrees), yeast, and 1/4 tsp. sugar in a small bowl. Let it stand until the mixture bubbles, about 6 minutes (you will see tiny bubbles rising to the surface). Stir it again.

Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, add the flour and salt and mix on low speed just to combine.

Add yeast mixture to the flour and mix on medium-low speed until dry shaggy mass forms, scraping down the bowl occasionally, about 2 minutes.

Add egg and egg yolk and beat on medium speed until well blended. Then add the sugar and beat until moist soft dough that resembles thick batter forms, about 3 minutes. (Keep on beating the batter here, even when it looks like it is already in dough form. It needs to become more like a silky batter than a thick dough.)

Add room temperature butter 1 tbsp at a time and beat on medium-low speed until almost incorporated before adding more, about 2 minutes (your dough will be sticky, not thick like a traditional bread dough). Beat dough on medium-high 2 minutes longer (make sure all of your butter is incorporated here).

Scrape dough out onto a work surface then gather together. Place it in a large bowl that is oiled or buttered. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 2 hours. Punch dough down; cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Peabody’s recipe was slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Maple Glaze

2 TBSP unsalted butter
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (the darker the better, go for the real Vermont thing if you can)
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

In a small saucepan, melt butter and syrup together over medium heat (watch the mixture because it comes together quickly).  Whisk powdered sugar into the hot mixture until smooth. Let cool slightly…if too thick add a little more maple syrup. Pour over rolls.

To Bring It All Together

Whisk both sugars together.

Turn cold Sweet Dough out onto floured surface; sprinkle with flour. The more flour the better here; when you roll it out it gets a bit sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out the dough to two 15 by 12 inch rectangles. I can never seem to make actual rectangles with my dough, it’s always more of a large oval, so whatever works for you will still be delicious.

Using fingers, spread the butter evenly over each rectangle. Sprinkle ½ sugar mixture and half of the bacon over each. Starting at one long side of each dough rectangle, tightly roll up dough jelly-roll style, enclosing filling. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut each roll crosswise into fifteen or sixteen one inch-thick slices. Arrange your  dough slices on a cookie sheet, spacing evenly apart.

Cover with plastic wrap; let them rise in a warm, draft-free area until the buns are puffy and doubled, about 1 hour 45 minutes.

Bake buns at 375F until deep golden brown. The cooking time varies here. I used a dark metal pan, and it only took mine about 15 minutes to cook. If you use a light metal cookie sheet, it will probably be more like 25 minutes. Just watch your rolls-because of the sugar inside of them, it can become a syrupy pool around your dough and burn them the bottom. Let the buns stand 2 minutes. Then cover with glaze and say hello to the best bacon baked bun of your life!

Aunt Annie’s Strawberry Layer Cake

Perfect strawberry heaven

Spring strawberry greatness

I wish I had an Aunt Annie.

If I did, I would ask for her for her home address so I could show up every Saturday morning and listen as she lovingly taught me to bake cakes.

The unfortunate reality is that this recipe was not easy to come by. I did not find it on Pinterest, or google “best strawberry cake,” or ask Pioneer Woman. No, this cake took me by complete surprise. And the moment I tasted it, I knew the recipe had to be yours.

Cake on a platter

At a recent photographer friend‘s birthday party, a coworker of ours arrived with a strawberry cake. I love strawberry cake. There is a bakery in my hometown that makes impeccable strawberry cake. But I had yet to recreate anything like it on my own. And to be completely honest, I almost didn’t try this one. I had been let down too many times, sure that it was going to be another missed attempt at strawberry greatness.

But my first bite was a game changer. This cake was pure strawberry; fresh, light and moist with chunks of strawberry, delicately sweet and airy. The frosting was whipped, dense with a strawberry punch. A perfect precursor of spring on a plate. With light streaming in from the cafe windows where we ate, I thought for a brief moment I was living and breathing happiness. And before I left my dream state, the slice was gone.

I think something's missing

My obsessive quest for the recipe began. The owner of the ingredients list did not want to share it (see egg salad dowry entry last week), and so there was one thing left to do: I stalked her. I came by her desk every day and told her I wouldn’t give up. I pled, whined, hid behind office doors to pop out and remind her I wanted it . Then one day, a lovely slip of paper appeared at my desk. A lovely piece of newspaper.

Newspaper recipes are a lost art. I know my generation has passed them over for quick reviews and input from social media sources; I can’t tell you the last time I read a local paper on a Sunday. But the great thing about recipes in the Food section is you know they were loved. Someone took the time to type it out from most likely a handwritten card. They knew it was worth printing and putting on everyone’s front door step. And that’s what I want for this blog- to share with you recipes that are loved, known, and appreciated.

And so, without further ado, I present to you the infamous (stalked) Auntie Anne’s Strawberry Layer Cake. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

A slice of strawberry

Aunt Annie’s Strawberry Layer Cake

What You Will Need:

1 cup fresh frozen strawberries, thawed (I washed two pints of strawberries, sliced a cup of them in half, then put that cup in a freezer safe bag for the cake. I then froze and thawed the rest of the berries to make sure I had enough juice for the frosting.)

1 box white cake mix

1 box strawberry Jello

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

1/2 cup water

2 batches strawberry butter cream frosting, recipe below

Fresh sliced strawberries and white chocolate coconut truffles for garnish if you like

What You Will Do

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Spray two (9-inch) metal cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Set them aside.

3. Drain your cup of strawberries well, reserving the juice for the frosting. I would go ahead and drain the rest of your frozen strawberries separately at this point to make sure you have enough juice.

4. Combine the cake mix, strawberry Jello powder and flour in a large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the oil, eggs, water and drained strawberries. Mix well on low for 30 seconds, then at medium speed for two minutes (make sure NOT to overmix here; it messes with the jello texture), scraping the sides of the pan as neccessary.

5. Divide the batter equally among two prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes. Check these at about 28 minutes to make sure they don’t over-bake. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for 10 mintues in the pan, then turn it out onto wire racks to cool for another 30 minutes.

6. At this point you can go ahead and frost the cake with buttercream. However, BAKERS ALERT– you will have a moister cake if you take these rounds, wrap them in plastic wrap first then aluminum foil, and freeze them overnight. Take them out of the freezer the next morning and let them sit at room temp until you need to frost them.

7. Garnish to your heart’s content with strawberries, white chocolate truffles, sprinkles, marshmallows, edible glitter

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

What You Will Need

1 stick butter at room temperature (This is important for your frosting to whip up to it’s peak fabulousness)

1/4 cup strawberry juice (Please, please, please don’t skimp on this; the juice makes this frosting!)

1 pound powdered sugar

What You Will Do

1. Using an electric mixer, mix the butter, juice, and sugar together on low until blended. Then cream the mixture on high until light and fluffy, about two minutes. The icing will start to form peaks and feel like a dense buttercream when it is ready.

2. Scrape the sides of the bowl and/or taste frosting as necessary.

BAKER ALERT (These are way too much fun) If you dip your icing knife or spatula into a bowl of warm water, it will help smooth the frosting without tearing the cake. Also, it is easier to make one batch of frosting for the layer between the two cakes, then make a second batch for the top and sides of the cake. This ensures even frosting in the center and on the outsides of the cake.

Spicy Egg Salad with Homemade Wheat Thins

Bright and spicy, a sweet twist on a Southern tradition

Bright and spicy, this egg salad is a sweet twist on a Southern tradition

Maybe it’s the bunnies, or the baby showers, or the easter egg dying I have been eying on Pinterest, but spring is in the air. And it has left me with a serious craving for egg salad.

Spring is a season for parties in the South, and a good egg salad recipe is very similar to the antiquated idea of a bride’s dowry- a pursuit to be taken seriously, most importantly because it ends up on your great Aunt Frances’ silver platter that was passed down through three generations and used at your next best friend’s wedding shower. The pressure is on to not mess this thing up- expectations are high, but unfortunately, egg salad is something that can easily over promise and under deliver.

Too much mustard and it’s stained a fluorescent sunshine color; too much mashing and your eggs end up the texture of warm cement; too much mayonnaise and it tastes about as bland as a jar of the stuff on a spoon.

This fact, as you might have assumed, drives me crazy.  Every recipe that winds up on this blog should be a winner- something you are proud to take to your great aunt Sally’s third cousin’s twice removed housewarming party. Something people will scoop onto their plastic plate, taste, and go, “This is fantastic! I must know you! And your recipes!”

Spicy and smoky-sweet from the paprika (I highly recommend Hungarian paprika here) with a liveliness and bright note of dill, this egg salad ushers in spring beautifully. And to top it off (no pun intended), the homemade wheat thins are a fabulous vehicle for the eggs. Well worth the extra effort, the crackers are crispy (depending on how thin you roll them), slightly sweet and deliciously nutty. Sprinkle them with a bit of flaky salt and voila- so much better than the version you tear open from a box.

Addictively easy and delicious

Addictively easy and delicious

I can’t wait to see all that spring has in store- for you, for me, and for our egg salads.

Spicy Egg Salad (This recipe was adapted from Meg’s Everyday Indulgence)

What You Will Need:

8 boiled eggs (This is the best method for boiling eggs, trust me)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (I like Duke’s brand)
2 tablespoons prepared Dijon-style mustard (I like Grey Poupon)
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup minced red onion
salt and pepper to taste
Homemade wheat thins (recipe below)

What You Will Do

1. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, dill, paprika, onion and salt and pepper.

2. Mash the mixture well with a fork, but make sure you don’t get carried away and form a paste. Egg paste never appealed to anyone; its best left for tooths.

3. Serve on your best silver platter with a plate of homemade wheat thins.

Homemade Wheat Thins (This recipe is adapted from none other than one of my favorites, Smitten Kitchen. Have I told you lately that I want to be like Deb when I grow up? Because I do.)

What You Will Need 

1 1/4 cups (155 grams) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (20 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) table salt, plus additional for topping
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (a friend of mine gifted me with this kind and I am officially addicted; it smells amazing)
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine, cut into small bits

What You Will Do

If you have a food processor:

1. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, paprika and butter in a food processor, pulsing the mixture until the butter is evenly disbursed in the crumbs. It looks like fine sand. Drizzle in 1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water with the machine running; run it until the mixture begins to form a ball. You might need more than 1/4 cup of water; just slowly add a little bit of water until the mixture darkens and clumps together.

If you don’t have a Cuisinart and love to work out your arms:

1. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, paprika and butter in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work the butter into the mixture until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water, stir with spoon until combined. Knead once or twice on counter.

2. Roll your dough out, half at a time, to a large, very, very thin rectangle-ish shape on a well-floured counter. Thinner than you even think necessary is best. I rolled mine out to be about 6 inches wide by at least twelve inches tall. Frequently check to make sure your dough isn’t sticking (this is an important step because it sticks easily); if it is, gently scrape a spatula underneath to lift it, then flour the counter again. Using a knife or pastry wheel, cut dough into about 1 1/2-inch squares. Dock crackers all over with a toothpick or sharp knife.  I sort of free styled the dots like I thought Emeril Lagasse would if he were making these. Bam!

3. Evenly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

3. Transfer crackers to baking sheets using your hands or a spatula, depending on how delicate they are. You only have to space them a little bit because they really don’t spread. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt if you’d like to approximate the salty exteriors of the store-bought crackers.

4. Bake the crackers until they are crisp and bronzed, about 5 to 7 minutes, but please keep a close watch on the first batch as thinner crackers will bake faster and the thicker ones will take longer. I also didn’t roll my dough out perfectly evenly, so some of my crackers cooked faster than others. If this happens, I recommend just sliding the thinner crackers off the sheet to cool and baking the others a few minutes longer, until the edges turn light brown or look crisped.

5. Cool the crackers in baking pans on racks. Crackers will keep in an airtight container officially for a week, if they can last that long, but mine have seemed to disappear. You can also freeze them in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper for a couple months.

Spicy Turkey Sausage and White Bean Soup

Makes you feel warm inside.

Makes you feel warm inside.

In the south, “winter” is a loosely defined term.

Sometimes it means 75 degrees, flip-flops, shorts, and a football sweatshirt. Other days, it is defined as freezing temperatures, layers, more layers, gloves, and a freak snowstorm which requires at least another layer.

But this week, we are in a weather gray zone. Not quite warm- it hovers around the lower fifties, upper forties; drizzly, with no snow; and fog. Fog in the morning, fog in the evening, fog in the noontime.

And it’s times like these that call for soup. It’s the one time a year I feel (somewhat) urban with my cooking, imagining myself walking home from the market around the corner, toting a super cool umbrella and handmade grocery bag, skipping up to my loft and making a big pot of stew from locally grown organic tomatoes, hand-fed chicken broth, and the cilantro I raised in my rooftop garden.

But, back to reality, my tiny foggy kitchen, and the February “Winter Comforts” issue of Bon Appetit. Their Chorizo and White Bean Stew recipe caught my eye- the flavor profile was spicy, balanced by the beans, and quick. Looking for a way to make due of what I currently had in my refrigerator (and not being able to retro-bike to my nearest fresh foods market) I substituted spicy Italian turkey sausage for the chorizo, splurged on fresh thyme at Publix, added some smoked paprika, and got simmering.

This soup hit the spot, easily one of the best I have made in a while, and made me long for the end of the in-between: when fog clears, the sun comes out, winter needs no definition, and it’s time for flip-flops again. But this time without the layers.

Spicy Turkey Sausage and White Bean Soup

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit

What You Need

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1b spicy Italian turkey sausage (or you could use mild for a sweeter flavor)
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 5 ounces baby spinach (about 10 cups)
  • Smoked paprika

What You Will Do

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Mine took about 23 minutes; I think turkey sausage links take a bit longer to cook through. Transfer the sausage to a plate.

2. Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet. Make sure you keep all of those delicious pork bits in the pan to saute with your veggies. Add the onion slices, garlic, and thyme sprig. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 5-8 minutes. I like to add the garlic later; at about six minutes. Because burned garlic is no good to anyone.

3. Add the rinsed beans and broth and cook, crushing a few beans with the back of a spoon to thicken sauce, until slightly thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Watch the soup here; mine needed a bit longer to thicken. When it is the consistency of a chili, it’s perfect. Season with salt and pepper. Add spinach by the handfuls and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes.

4. Slice the turkey sausage and fold it into stew; add water to thin, if you like. Normally I don’t like to add water because I feel it dilutes the flavor, but this is a thicker soup, so you have some room to play. Taste it again to make sure your salt and pepper ratio is working.

5. Divide the soup among bowls; drizzle with oil. I highly recommend sprinkling it with more paprika, and then some more just for good measure.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch Granola

Oats baked to a sweet, nutty crunch

Oats baked to a sweet, nutty crunch

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day!

For a blog devoted to luv, it is bit embarrassing that I missed the February 14 deadline for this recipe.

To be fair, the treat I planned to debut was a bit of a sweet-potato-biscuit disaster. Marshmallows melted with chocolate do not become marshmallow fluff, they become liquid Tootsie-Roll, and my gluten-free heart-shaped peanut butter cookies were a bit ambitious.

But, hope springs! And, if you are like me, and may have eaten one too many sugary hearts, truffles, cereals, cupcakes, and donuts this week, then this recipe might be a nice change of pace.

Plus, when it comes to nutty-sweet combinations, peanut butter and chocolate wins.  If chocolate combinations competed in a doubles tournament, pb+c would serve aces every time, win the trophy, and do a fantastic victory dance over the net. Strawberry-and-chocolate, vanilla-and-chocolate, banana-and-chocolate: no competition. Peanut butter and chocolate’s flavor profile is simply complimentary; rich whipped peanuts and sweet, dense chocolate: perfect. This is why the following confession is a bit embarrassing.

I have never posted a peanut-butter chocolate recipe on this blog.

I know, I know. I talk a mean game, but have yet to deliver. Maybe I have been waiting for the right recipe, maybe I was caught off guard by how dependable and delicious this recipe is-maybe I was afraid to commit to the first posting. But you know something good when you find it, and I can’t think of a better way to start a day than with a perfect pair for breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Crunch Granola

*This recipe has been adapted from Allrecipes.com version 

What You Need:

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter 

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon  (I like Saigon Cinnamon, it has a kick to it)

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups uncooked rolled oats

1 cup dry-roasted, salted peanuts

1 bar semisweet chocolate

What You Will Do

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine peanut butter, honey, agave, cinnamon, and vanilla, over medium heat, and stir until smooth.
  3. Place oats and peanuts in a large, shallow roasting pan or a 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pan. Pour warm peanut butter honey/agave mixture over the oats and peanuts and stir gently until oats are coated. Spread evenly in the pan.
  4. Bake, taking the oats out of the oven every 10-15 minutes, stirring to make sure they are evenly cooked. I did mine in two rounds of 15 minutes, then baked them for about 8 minutes more. Just make sure your oats are golden and a bit crunchy; you don’t want to burn the edges of the granola, or the peanuts.
  5. Burned peanuts are not delicious.
  6. Once the granola is done, put your cookie sheet on a baking rack to cool for about 15 minutes.
  7. While your granola cools a bit, use a vegetable peeler to peel half of your chocolate bar into small curls. Once you have passed the 15 minute mark, sprinkle the chocolate curls over the granola and stir to combine, making sure you coat all of the oats with the chocolate.
  8. Let the granola cool for about an hour, then chop the other half of your chocolate bar into small chunks. Sprinkle the chunks over your granola, and mix to combine.
  9. This makes a large batch, so you could easily feed an entire tennis team with it, or two large families, or yourself, if all you had to eat was this for a week.