Gumbo Ya-Ya

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I’ve never been to a Mardi Gras celebration before. I’ve never been to New Orleans before. I think I would like to go to both one day, despite my being an introvert. Mardi Gras just so I can say that I did it. New Orleans, mainly for the food (of course).

And speaking of food, another disclosure: until now, I’ve never even cooked or had real gumbo before. That one, I’ll concede is a bit more serious. I’ve made Jambalaya several times before, but gumbo was something I hadn’t tackled. I wouldn’t even order it in a restaurant if it was on the menu. Why?

Sigh. Well…the word ‘gumbo’ itself derives from the vegetable okra and….I don’t like okra.

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Actually, false. I don’t not like okra. I kinda hate it. A lot.

I know. But it’s true. I just can’t get with that gelatinous inner texture. Triggers my gag reflex. And since just about everyone cooks gumbo with okra, I just steered clear of it. Not because I didn’t think I wouldn’t like the rest of the stew that is the dish itself. I always knew that when made correctly, it was probably delicious. I just didn’t want it with that darn okra inside.

This year though, it finally hit me: if I was so curious about gumbo, why not just make it for myself WITHOUT the okra?

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*taps temple* See? Thinking.

Gumbo purists who believe gumbo isn’t gumbo without okra may want to just stop reading right here and move along. Personally I don’t recommend it, as this stuff I’m peddling today is damn tasty with or without your funky okra, but hey, it’s your world.

In my view, as long as your gumbo has a delicious base of well-seasoned broth and meat, then it’s still a gumbo worth trying. This one has both, mainly because it’s a genuine from scratch process from start to finish. That’s right, Buttercup: not only are we starting out with fresh meat, we’re making our own chicken broth.

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Don’t freak out. It’s not that serious, I swear it’s not. Making chicken broth is simple; you throw a whole bird in a stock pot with some water, herbs and veggies, and as the saying goes, set it and forget it for a while. It’s an extra step, but you’d be surprised the difference it makes, especially in a dish like gumbo where the broth is so essential to its success.

The only other laborious part of making gumbo is the roux: the flour-oil mixture you make that serves as both a slight thickener and a flavor booster. So long as you stay attentive to it, keeping a watchful eye AND a regularly stirring hand, it should turn out fine. After that, you’re pretty much done doing ‘work’. Just dump in your broth, spices and veggies and let that sucka go until the flavors have melded and it tastes like money.

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We’re huge meat lovers ’round here, so I not only had the chicken from the scratch-made broth, but smoked andouille and smoked turkey sausage in my gumbo as well. The flavor that the sausage adds is pretty much everything. Don’t leave at least one type out. As for the rest, I know that gumbo proteins can range from chicken, sausage, shrimp or even crawfish. All of these would be delicious in this; just add the meat towards the end so that it doesn’t overcook in the time it takes for the gumbo flavor to develop in the broth. As for veggies, well…I’m gonna just recommend that you do what works for you. That means if you like okra, throw it in. If you’re like me and you don’t, forget about it. If there’s another veggie that tickles your fancy, I’d say go ahead and throw it in there too. This is for Mardi Gras. Who cares about rules? Laissez les bon temps rouler, eh?

Oh! But please, PLEASE don’t leave out the scoop of rice on top. That part I must insist on.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #159, co-hosted this week by Zeba @ Food For The Soul and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative CookY’all be easy.

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Gumbo Ya-Ya

Recipe Adapted from Emeril Lagasse

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Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken (about 6 pounds; you can use 2 3lb. Chickens if you like)
  • 16 cups water
  • 2 medium-size yellow onions, quartered
  • 2 ribs celery, each cut into 6 pieces
  • 4 bay leaves, divided
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 pound andouille or other smoked sausage, finely chopped, plus 1 pound smoked sausage, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions or scallions (green part only)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

 

Directions

In a large heavy stockpot, place the chicken, water, the quartered onions, celery ribs, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of the cayenne pepper together. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Partially cover and allow to cook for about 2 hours, until the chicken is tender.

Remove the chicken from the pot, place on a plate or in a bowl and cover with aluminum foil until cool enough to handle. Strain the broth and allow to cool.

In a large pot or a Dutch oven, pour about 2 tsp vegetable oil and add the onions and bell peppers, cooking until they are softened and slightly translucent. Remove the veggies to a small bowl, and saute the sausage until slightly browned on both sides. Remove the sausage to another small bowl and set aside. Do not drain off the grease from the pot.

In the same pot, combine the vegetable oil and all purpose flour over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to make a roux until the mixture has thickened and is the color of milk chocolate, about 15-20 minutes. (Don’t walk away from it, roux can burn VERY easily.) Add the veggies, garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, remaining 2 bay leaves, remaining salt and cayenne and the Worcestershire sauce. Pour in the strained broth, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow to cook for about 1 1/2 hours, tasting and adjusting for seasoning.

Remove the chicken meat from the bones and roughly chop, then set aside. Discard the carcass. Place the chicken and sausage into the gumbo broth and allow to cook for about 15-20 minutes. Take off the heat and use a wide spoon to skim the fat off the surface. Sprinkle with the green onions and parsley and eat with crusty bread, or over rice.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

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I’m not an artsy person. I wish I was….but I just am not.

When I was growing up in elementary school Art Day was one I viewed with apathy at best and dread at worst, because I knew that my creation wasn’t going to be particularly pretty to look at. Most times I just hoped it wouldn’t be the worst of the worst.

I can’t really draw. I can’t paint. Sculpting with clay and the like never really produced much more for me than misshapen blobs.

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I don’t really have much of an artistic eye or decorating skills either, which is why I feel like sometimes my pictures on the blog suffer from not being ‘styled’ as pretty as I’ve seen them on other sites. Maybe I should take a class or something.

In the meanwhile, I do what I can to make art, ‘my way’. I’ve found that way to be through cooking and baking. I get to be creative with many a recipe canvas, and I’d say that on the whole, my results aren’t too shabby.

Case in point, today’s recipe.

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I view shortbread as a blank, albeit delicious canvas. It’s a great thing all on its own, but to be at its best, I think it’s largely dependent on what you can do to elevate it so that it’s your own artistic creation.

The possibilities of elevation really are endless: Herbs. Citrus. Chocolate. Nuts. Cheese. Tea. I’ve even seen booze flavored shortbread recipes. There’s something out there for anybody and any occasion.

So, naturally it makes sense that there should be one that’s geared towards a particular occasion coming up this week, right? You know which one I’m talking about.

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Last year at about this time, I did a riff on Red Velvet cupcakes that I flavored with the Oreo Red Velvet Cookies and Creme sandwich cookies. It was a big hit that got a lot of traffic, with admittedly, for good reason. After a little bit more brainstorming, and some more experimenting I’m pleased to announce I’ve found yet another way to take these yummy flavored Oreos and use them to flavor another great dessert: shortbread.

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Shortbread is, I think, a fail-proof recipe for baking. It’s almost impossible to mess up because there are only two things you have to get right: properly creaming the butter and pricking the holes in the finished dough just before baking. You get that right and you’ll have perfect shortbread every time, guaranteed. Because of that, it was relatively easy for me to see how it could be adapted into a Red Velvet flavor without compromising on the original very much. I took about 12 of the flavored Oreos and blitzed them in my Ninja until they were a very fine reddish powder; it made about 1/2 cup’s worth. I took that and incorporated it into a base recipe for regular golden shortbread, then also added vanilla and a bit of almond extract to that dough.

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I thought about maybe scraping the filling out of the cookies before crushing them because of the moisture affecting the dough, but ultimately decided against it. I’m glad that I did. The filling I think really helps that Red Velvet/Cookies and Creme flavor really come through in the finished product. To solve the issue of the filling adding too much moisture/pasty-ness, I added about 1/4 cup extra flour, which I think easily solved that problem.

I decorated half the shortbread with a simple white icing and some leftover crushed cookie crumbs, but as you can see I left half plain for the simple reason that I think it tastes pretty darn good all on its own without needing it.

Side note, didn’t the red cookies add such a pretty pink color to the dough? I love that. I love this recipe. It makes me feel like in spite of being artistically challenged with a paint brush or modeling clay, I just may be an artiste in the kitchen after all.

Happy Fiesta Friday #158 (co-hosted this week by Ai @ Ai Made It For You and Petra @ Food Eat Love.). Also, Happy early-Valentines Day to all of you who will be doing something special with a significant other. Have a good steak and some chocolate, or something.

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Red Velvet Cookies and Cream Shortbread

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus 1/4 cup if needed
  • 1/2 cup crushed Red Velvet flavored crème sandwich cookies (about 10-12), plus more for decoration (optional)

For Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray two nine inch cake or tart pans with cooking spray.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or  using a large bowl with a hand held mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar and extracts until light and fluffy.

Add 2 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time. Then fold in the crushed cookies. The dough should be able to hold together if pressed with your fingers. If it still seems too sticky, you may add the extra 1/4 cup of flour.

Divide the dough in half. Using your hands, press each half into a pan, using a spatula to smooth out the surface. Prick holes evenly across the surface of the dough. (This will keep it from bubbling up during baking.)

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, until deep golden brown at the edges.

Wait for about 2-3 minutes, then turn shortbread out onto a plate. Using a pizza cutter, bench scraper or sharp knife, cut into desired shapes. (Note: you HAVE to cut the shortbread while it is still warm. Cutting it when it’s cold will only cause it to crumble and fall apart).

Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

If decorating, combine the powdered together in a small bowl. If the glaze is too stiff, you can add more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon; don’t add too much though, or it will become too runny to set on the shortbread. Dip a fork into the glaze and allow it to drizzle off the tines and on top of the shortbread in desired design. Sprinkle the crushed cookie crumbs on top. Allow to sit for about 20-30 minutes until glaze hardens.

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Pulled Brown Sugar Chicken

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There are, naturally, plenty of Golden State Warrior fans to be found out here.

I’ve kinda become one myself for various reasons.

First, one of their starting power forwards, Draymond Green, went to my alma-mater Michigan State University. In Spartan country, we have a saying of “We Bleed Green”meaning that no matter what happens or where we go, we’ll always be Spartans and the ‘green’ (from our school colors of green & white) will always flow through our veins. I tend to follow college athletics more closely than the pros, but if there’s a Spartan on the team,  I’ll usually be rooting for them to win by default.

Yeah, it’s that serious.

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The other reason I tend to root for Golden State is that I just like the Curry family; Golden State’s point guard Stephen, his wife Ayesha, and their two kids. Lord knows they’re an attractive bunch, but I also like that Steph and Ayesha have been together since they were kids and by all appearances, seem happily married. I’m sure most of us sports fans remember the post-game press conference a little over two years or so ago when Steph brought their eldest daughter Riley with him in front of the cameras and she completely stole the spotlight with her charisma and spunk. That was so cute to me.

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After that press conference, I noticed a definite spike in the branding of Steph Curry as a ‘family man’, with a brighter spotlight on his wife and kids and the dynamic they have as a family. As it turns out, Ayesha Curry is a foodie and a lover of cooking and baking, which, is another detail about her that makes me a fan. She recently opened a pop-up restaurant to showcase her cooking skills, landed her own show on Food Network, and this past fall released her very own cookbook, “The Seasoned Life.”

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As both a GSW and Curry family appreciator, (and an avid cookbook collector) I knew that I wanted the book. My older sister made it a birthday present for me and as soon as it arrived in the mail from Amazon, I immediately started thumbing threw it for the first recipe to try out.

You guys know me well enough to know that it was DEFINITELY gonna be something with the word ‘chicken’ in it. But I do think that even if it wasn’t my favorite protein, I still would’ve picked this dish first. In the recipe notes, Ayesha herself says that if there is any recipe that someone has to try from the book, it’s this one. Upon testing that theory, I gotta say that I totally understand why.

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The title may be somewhat misleading or off-putting; for some people brown sugar with chicken may sound like a clash of ingredients and flavors that just shouldn’t mix, but au contraire. The brown sugar is but one of the ingredients in one of the best damn sauces I’ve EVER had; the sweetness is balanced with soy sauce, fresh ginger and garlic. It friggin works. Trust me.

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The chicken first gets seared over the stove,then baked in the oven until it’s fall apart tender and the sauce has thickened into syrupy, sticky, sweet/salty/slightly spicy stuff that is honestly delicious enough to slurp up all on its own with a spoon.

I mean, my GOD, is it good.

Ayesha hit a solid three pointer, Curry-style with this chicken. It’s officially received the Cooking is My Sport Stamp of Approval. So, I guess she can say that now she’s *really* got it made. Smile.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #157, co-hosted this week by Andrea @ Cooking with a Wallflower and Su @ Su’s Healthy Living.

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Pulled Brown Sugar Chicken

Recipe Adapted from “The Seasoned Life” by Ayesha Curry

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Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Garlic powder & onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • About 2 stalks of green onion, chopped

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take a fork and prick the chicken breasts all over evenly. Season both sides generously with the kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.

In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter with oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken in the pot (working in two batches if need be) until both sides are browned, about 3-5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate when they are done and cover with foil.

Add the onions to the pot and saute until they are translucent and softened. Halfway through, add the minced garlic and continue to cook until the garlic becomes fragrant—don’t let it burn. Pour the chicken broth into the pot and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom bits up with a wooden spoon.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, dark brown sugar and ginger. Pour the sauce into the Dutch oven and let it cook with the onions and garlic for about 2-5 minutes until sauce has slightly thickened.

Add the chicken back to the pot, cover with lid (or aluminum foil) and place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and continue to bake until the chicken is tender and can be pulled apart with a fork and the sauce is thickened, about 30 minutes more.

When chicken is done, sprinkle with green onion and serve atop rice if desired.

Texas BBQ Pot Roast

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It’s January. It’s cold outside. In most parts of the country, the weather is pretty crappy. It still gets dark pretty early in the evening. It’s Friday afternoon.

And you-know-who is now the president.

All of the above means that we deserve some MAJOR comfort food.

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I almost didn’t post this recipe. Almost. The lighting on the day I cooked it was REALLY bad, to the point where there was barely any sunlight outside at all and very little natural light to shine on the food.

All my fellow food bloggers out there know that shooting pictures of monochrome ‘brown’ foods like beef are difficult enough as it is, but without sunlight? Eh. It’s not picnic, I’ll tell you.

But ultimately I decided, what the heck? It’s a few hunks of beef. I think it looks like a few hunks of beef. Maybe not as pretty as they could be, but what makes a dish at the end of the day is the taste.

And I promise you, it does not fail to deliver on that.

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There’s not many bells and whistles to this dish. It takes the sweet and tangy flavors that remind me of barbecue and infuses them into a hunk of beef that is cooked low and slow in the oven until fork tender. It’s no grilled so we obviously don’t have that charred, charcoal flavor, but…it’s still pretty great stuff.

In fact, upon tasting, my older sister remarked that the sauce that it produces is VERRRRRRY close to the homemade barbecue sauce that our grandmother always made for holidays when we would grill out.

Which suffice to say, is very high praise indeed.

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The low roasting temp makes the beef come out so juicy, moist and tender. The sauce that it makes is the perfect blend of sweet and tangy flavors. It made for an absolutely delicious sandwich, guys. I mean, wow. I ate mine with caramelized onions and peppers and pickled gherkins, as pictured. But however you’d like to eat it, I guarantee you’ll be satisfied.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #155. Y’all be easy.

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Texas BBQ Pot Roast

Recipe Adapted from Family Circle Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 1 pot roast (about 4-5 pounds), such as bottom round or chuck (I used a London Broil cut)
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1 cup bottled barbecue sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory Brown Sugar)
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken or beef broth
  • 1/8 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon or Honey Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 large onion (1/2 pound), chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, sliced
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prick the meat all over with a fork or knife on both sides.

In a small bowl, combine the onion powder, smoked paprika, pepper and seasoning salt. Rub the mixture evenly over both sides of the meat.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch Oven or pot over the stove over medium high heat. Just before it starts to smoke, sear the meat in the pot until a crust forms on surface, about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove the meat to a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Set aside.

Place the onions and green pepper together in the Dutch oven and sauté them in the residual oil and drippings until just tender/translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about one minute more until the garlic is fragrant.

In a medium bowl, combine the barbecue sauce, vinegar, broth, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and chili powder. Pour into the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.

Add the meat back into the pot, cover and place in the oven. Roast for about 3 to 4 hours, until the meat is fork tender, turning the meat every hour or so.

Let the meat stand in the pot for about 30 minutes. In the meanwhile, drain off about 2 cups of the liquid from the pot and place in a small saucepan. Bring the liquid in saucepan to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and allow to simmer until thickened into a sauce. Skim off the fat on the surface, then serve with the meat.

Shakshuka

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Today, we’re going to have a little chat about eggs and tomato sauce.

More specifically, egg and tomato sauce for breakfast.

Say whaaaa?

I know. That was my initial reaction too. But just hear me out, because it’s not as out there as it may sound.

 

I know more than a few of you guys have heard of Eggs in Purgatory, right? How about Huevos Rancheros?

This really isn’t so far off from those dishes.

I first heard of Shakshua from watching a cooking show where the host said that they first tried it at a tiny hole in the wall spot in Jerusalem, Israel. It was a meal that was regularly eaten for breakfast/brunch. Normally, I tend to not go much more ‘savory’ than an omelette for breakfast in my preferences, but this dish caught my eye because it just looked SO good. It stuck in my head–and you guys know what happens when a particular dish gets stuck in my head. I just have to try it for myself.

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So. Shakshuka. After you’ve tried to say it three times fast, you’re probably wondering what it is, right?

The base is a tomato sauce of peppers and onions that’s heavily seasoned with garlic and smoky spices, then has eggs poached inside of it. It’s also mostly eaten with pita bread that gets dunked in the sauce. The foundation was a great starter for me to start with, then add some of those personal ‘Jess’ touches.

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Most of the traditional Shakshukas I’ve seen were vegetarian friendly, with either chickpeas or mushrooms giving the sauce the ‘meaty’ texture. But, well um…we’re carnivores around here so I knew that there was no way that meat was NOT going to make an appearance in a dinner I made. Not a lot; but enough to make it’s presence known. I used ground beef, but ground turkey or sausage would work just as well for any other carnivores. (Oh, and you can absolutely throw in the chickpeas WITH the meat too. Extra protein is nice.)

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The second major addition I made to the recipe was a particular spice that I got introduced to a little while ago called ras el hanout. It’s a Moroccan spice blend that’s very smoky, slightly sweet, a little bit spicy, and extremely delicious. It’s often used in curries or in rice/couscous, but I thought that it would work pretty well to liven up that acidic and potentially flat tomato flavor of the shakshuka sauce. I was right. For my American friends, you can find a pouch of the ras el hanout at World Market for a very inexpensive price. If there are any Middle Eastern markets in your area then they’ll most likely have some there too. You can of course find it on Amazon too. However, if you’d rather do without, that’s fine: just substitute it with additional cumin.

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After you give the sauce time to cook down, it becomes robust and slightly thick with the added body from the meat and veggies. The flavors are really outstanding. You’ve got the acidity from the tomato, the smoky punch of flavor from the ras el hanout/cumin/paprika, the slight sweetness from the honey and the added flavor that the meat itself gives to it. You’ll kinda feel a little indulgent adding the eggs to finish the dish off, but who cares? I sure didn’t. Cook them until just set, then feel freed to spread and drag that runny yolk all through the sauce.

I got myself a short stack of sturdy pita bread and ate this dish entirely with my hands, using the bread as a spoon to dip and scoop up every single bit of the meaty/eggy sauce. And yes; I absolutely did use it to scrape the last bits up off the bottom until I’d pretty much wiped the bottom clean. Do.not.judge.me.

I hope you guys at Fiesta Friday #153 are hungry. I brought some Shakshuka and pita to share. Thanks to this week’s cohosts, Quinn @ Dad What’s 4 Dinner and Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes.

Shakshuka

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • One large sweet Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
  • One red bell pepper, thinly sliced,
  • 7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 heaping tablespoons ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons cumin
  • 1 heaping tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 (28 ounce can) of pre-crushed tomatoes (or 1 -28 oz. can of whole, peeled tomatoes that you crush with a potato masher or whisk yourself)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • About 1 1/2 cups of browned ground beef, turkey or sausage (optional)
  • 4-6 large eggs
  • Handful of spinach, roughly chopped
  • Pita bread, for serving

 

Directions

Heat the canola oil in a large cast iron or non-stick skillet that’s around 2 inches deep. Add the red bell pepper and saute until softened and pepper begins to get limp, around 3-5 minutes. Add the onions and stir together with pepper until both soften and become slightly charred.

Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant about 1 minute more.

Add in the tomato paste,  ras el hanout, cumin, and smoked paprika. Allow to cook for about 2 to 3 more minutes until the spices release their fragrance, stirring frequently.

Add the crushed tomatoes, honey, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to just barely a simmer. Stir in the meat, if using. Allow to cook for about 15-20 more minutes until flavors have blended and sauce has begun to reduce/thicken. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt & pepper if needed. (If sauce becomes too thick, you can always add about 1/2 cup of water and stir to loosen)

Using a spoon, make small wells in the sauce around the perimeter of the skillet. Carefully crack eggs into the wells, spooning some of the sauce onto the whites and sprinkling some salt & pepper onto the eggs. Cover the skillet, reduce heat to lowest setting and allow to cook until eggs have cooked— whites just barely set and yolks have begun to firm—about 5-8 minutes.

Sprinkle sauce with the spinach and serve with the pita for dipping.

Cranberry Scones

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As the song goes, “Christmas is the time to say I love you”.

I’ve got a few different love languages, but as you can probably imagine, my primary one is through cooking and baking. I don’t do either for just anybody.

I don’t love just anybody. If I’m feeding you, I care about you. I like you a lot. You’re my peoples. (That or I’ve got an overabundance of food I want to get rid of. Or you’re paying me to do so; my ‘love’s’ for sale in that respect.)

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If I’m fluent in the love language of baking, then I’d say it’s a fluency in the ‘dialect’ of coffee shop pastries. There’s just always been something about the goodies in the big display cases of coffee shops that makes me excited.  Cinnamon rolls. Banana bread. Muffins. Donuts. Bagels. Coffee Cake. Cookies.

SCONES.

C’mon, how can all that buttery, sugary goodness NOT scream ‘I love you’ when you’re hungry and salivating?

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I’m convinced that there’s nobody who won’t feel loved if you feed them a scone. A good one anyway. I’ve heard some people say that they don’t care for/hate scones and immediately I know that they’ve just never had one that was made right. Made with love.

I feel sorry for them–because everyone deserves one of those.

More specifically…one of these.

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I had some leftover cranberries chilling in my refrigerator and I didn’t want them to go to waste. I figured that cranberries were a nice ingredient to complement both the Christmas season and the theme of the series we’re in.

I also just felt like making scones; it’s been a while since I have, about a year and a half I think, and as far as I’m concerned that’s just far too long to go without.

Making a good scone is very similar to making a good biscuit; how you treat the butter and handle the dough is going to determine the success or failure of just about the entire result. So, a couple things:

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more: freezing your butter ahead of time is the best decision you can make. The colder the butter is, the more flaky the scone will be. Having said that, I’ve found that the best way to ‘cut’ it into the dough is to use the large holes on a box grater. The pieces will be just the right size and they’ll distribute far more evenly into the flour that way than they would if you just cut the stick of butter into cubes with a knife.

I’m wary of using cups or biscuit cutters to cut my scones (and biscuits). Supposedly so long as you don’t twist when you press down, it doesn’t affect the layering, but I’ve never found that to be the case. For some reason, it always hinders the rise for me. So, I always just default to using my bench scraper to cut the dough into squares or wedges. Works every time.

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Finally, just before I bake I will always let my cut scones (and biscuits) chill out in the freezer for about 20 minutes. I can’t remember where I read it or the scientific explanation, but this also helps the finished product expand and rise higher. So don’t skip that step if you can help it.

Following all of the above tips will get yo these: and don’t they just look delectable? Buttery, flakey dough with plentyof layers. Sweet and tart fruit throughout. Crunchy sugary goodness sprinkled on top. The Christmas “I love you.” that you’ve been craving all year.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Stuffing Bread

Day 2: Pumpkin Crunch Tart

Day 3: Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Day 4: Dulce de Leche Hot Chocolate

Day 5: Almond Stamped Cookies

Day 6: Spiced Cookie Bark

Day 7: Demerara Sugar Buns

Day 8: Sugared Shortbread

Day 9: Hot Chocolate Marble Pound Cake

Day 10: Cranberry Scones

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Cranberry Scones

Recipe Courtesy of The Kitchn

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 small orange or clementine, zested
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup milk
  • Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling, optional

Directions

Heat the oven to 350°F and prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment or lightly spraying with spray oil.

In the bowl of a food processor, whiz the cranberries with the brown sugar and orange zest until lightly chopped. Remove to a separate large bowl. Back in the food processor, whiz the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the chilled butter into small pieces and pulse with the flour in the processor just until roughly crumbled.

Mix the flour and butter mixture with the cranberries in their bowl. Add the milk and stir just until the dough comes together; it’s fine if there is still crumbly flour.

Sprinkle the countertop or a board with flour, and dump the dough out on it. Cut out rounds using a biscuit cutter or glass, or pat into a thick circle and cut into wedges.

Sprinkle the scone tops with the turbinado sugar. Freeze for 25 minutes.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until just golden. Serve warm.

Demerara Sugar Buns

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Everyone knows that little kids love to wake up bright and early on Christmas morning so that they can dive right into the presents, while the adults just wish they could sleep in, am I right?

Well…what if I’m not?

What if there were something that would make us grown-ups want to get right out of bed early on Christmas morning and come clambering down the steps like excited rugrats too?

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If there’s anything that can do it, I’d say it be food. And in the personal case of THIS adult, (short of, I don’t know loan forgiveness or a winning Powerball lottery ticket) then I’d think more specifically, it would be the smell and anticipation of a good Christmas breakfast.

I’ve had some of the shortest sleeps of my life the night before I know I’m going to eat good the next day. At times, it really can be like being a little kid struggling to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. I’ve put roasts in the slow cooker late at night, then absolutely woken up bright and early the next morning, rushed into the kitchen and lifted the lid just because the smells coming out of it were too tantalizing to leave alone and I had to see/taste the results.

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Baked goods are a major Achilles Heel of mine. Always have been. Rich, buttery doughs that are slathered in thick icing/glaze or sugar make me salivate at the mouth and weak at the knees (not to mention chunky in the derriere, but let’s just focus on positives here, shall we?)

The smell of them is a very close second to the taste. To me, the smell of baking pastries is just how you’d imagine Christmas morning would smell if you could capture it inside an air freshener. It makes me kinda curious as to why no one’s gotten on that yet; surely some company out there must be able to do better than those sugar cookie flavored candles that really just  act as triggers for your gag reflex.

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You know what smell would make an *awesome* holiday candle?

Demerara Sugar Buns.

Come on: doesn’t it just sound like it belongs on a candle label? (Either that, or used as the stage name of a Burlesque dancer.)

The presents underneath the tree are always going to be what gets the kids out of bed–but I promise one thing and it’s that the smell of these buns baking in your oven will prooooobably be enough to make the adults curious enough to at least wake up and call out what’s for breakfast. It’s just…glorious, you guys.

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The dough is both all purpose and whole wheat based, which gives it a faint nuttiness that pairs very well with the nutmeg that I added to give it an earthy spice. For shaping, I couldn’t make my mind up between wreaths and spirals, so I did both. The spirals proofed and baked prettier than the wreaths and in the future I’d probably just stick to the spirals, but you can shape these into whatsoever shape your heart desires; heck, you could even just leave them as simple balls of dough if you’d like. It won’t affect the taste, promise.

Aside from it’s awesome flavor, you can probably guess that the best part of biting in one of these babies is that crunchy layer of demerara sugar that sprinkled on top. Because it’s sprinkled on before baking, it also becomes caramelized in the oven, giving an even richer, sweeter flavor to the buns overall.

I know I don’t need to state the obvious, but I will anyway: these are delicious. Slice one in half when piping hot, slather with butter and jam and you’ll swear it’s a Christmas miracle.

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Stuffing Bread

Day 2: Pumpkin Crunch Tart

Day 3: Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Day 4: Dulce de Leche Hot Chocolate

Day 5: Almond Stamped Cookies

Day 6: Spiced Cookie Bark

Day 7: Demerara Sugar Buns

 *******************************************************

Demerara Sugar Buns

Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

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Ingredients

  • 1 ¼-ounce envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk, warmed
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus melted for brushing (about 4 tablespoons)
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided (plus more for sprinkling)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup Demerara sugar, plus more

 

Directions

Whisk yeast, milk, and maple syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer just to combine. Sprinkle the 1 teaspoon of white sugar on top then let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Whisk in eggs and the 6 tablespoons of butter.

In a small bowl, combine the salt, whole wheat flour, 2¾ cups all-purpose flour, and nutmeg.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the mixer and mix on low speed with dough hook until a shaggy dough forms. Increase speed to medium and mix until dough comes together into a smooth ball and pulls away from the sides of bowl, 10–12 minutes.

Place dough in a buttered large bowl and cover. Let sit in a warm spot until doubled in size, 1–1½ hours.  Meanwhile in a small bowl combine the 1/3 cup of demerara sugar with the 1/3 cup white sugar in a small bowl. Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface; divide into 3 pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time and keeping the other pieces covered in plastic wrap, roll out dough into about a 12 x 8″ rectangle. Sprinkle with one-third of sugar mixture and cut crosswise into 4 pieces (you should have four 8 x 3″ rectangles). Roll up each piece to make a long rope; squeeze ends gently and pinch along seam to seal. Tug rope to stretch so it’s about 10″ long. From here, either roll the ropes up into coils (like you would a spring), or shape into wreaths (there are MANY tutorials online that will show you how to do this).

Gently transfer buns to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap & a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about another 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the 4 tablespoons of melted butter and brush over the proofed buns. Sprinkle with more Demerara sugar. Bake for 12-20 minutes until buns are golden brown and the sugar on top has started to caramelize. Allow to cool for about 10-12 minutes. Serve with butter & jam.