Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nama's Nut Bread and the Nama's Baking Project Kickoff

She called me Sugar.  She was an old Southern woman so it came out like, ‘Sugah’, but that was what she called me…

That’s more or less how I began my dedication to my grandmother at her funeral 4 years ago.  I was wearing her old dress and it fit like a glove.  I had on her white gloves that she used to wear when she read the newspaper, her lipstick (in her favorite shade of peach), and failed miserably to hold back the tears while I spoke of my love for her. It was one of the hardest but most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life.  I felt so exposed and vulnerable up there in front of a crowd of teary eyes.  I felt pressure to make it perfect, to hold myself together and speak from my heart.  I did OK.  I cried, I watched everyone else cry, which made me cry more, but I did it.  And Nama would have been proud.  She would have had some sort of critique about it, but she would have been proud nonetheless.

Nama was the best grandmother.  She was unorthodox in her grandmothering ways but that’s what made her so awesome.  She drank beer, she could carry on a conversation about the NBA, she complained about everything, talked too much and too loud, but she was always there for me when I needed her.  She took me shopping, and to the movies, and had an odd acceptance of my extreme fashion and makeup choices.  Some of my favorite getaways were just spending the night at her house.

She didn't cook a lot of elaborate things, and it wasn't very often that she did it.  That’s where she was different from most Southern Grandmothers.  She made me poached boneless, skinless chicken breasts, buttered white rice and lima beans for dinner.  She made the best scrambled eggs on the planet.  She opened a can of fruit cocktail and served it in depression glass.  She made strawberry shortcake out of the spongecake rounds you find near the strawberry goop in the produce aisle, topped it with cool whip and fresh strawberries that she sliced over the sink.  She always had green grapes and fresh squeezed orange juice in her fridge, Dove ice-cream bars in the freezer and sour cream and onion Pringles in the cupboard.  For Christmas every year she would make what we began to call Nama’s nuts, that were slow roasted pecans bathed in the perfect amount of too much butter and salt, and boiled custard that would make you wanna slap somebody.

But I don’t have any memories of her baking, or teaching me how to make pastry or cakes or biscuits, or all those traditional Southern grandma things.  I think she just stopped cooking once she became a single working mother to her three young children.  She left the cooking up to Lizzy, the woman who raised my mother and taught her things like how to make the perfect pimento cheese and chicken and dumplings.  But I recently got ahold of her recipe book she gave to my mother in 1990.  It's handwritten recipes passed down from Grannie (Nama’s mother) and Ninnie (Nama’s childhood best friend), and others she clipped out of the Sunday paper.  They’re all in her handwriting and each one has a note at the end of each recipe.  Sometimes the note tells the recipe origin or what she likes to serve with it, but sometimes the note just says ‘this one is just ok’. 

I’ve had the best time reading through it all.  And I’ve decided to pick out several of the recipes, the ones that seemed to mean a lot to her, and make them with my daughter.  My daughter loves to bake with me.  Just like I loved to bake with my mama.  I often wish my mother had those memories with her mom… but maybe sometimes things like this need to skip a generation in order to stay strong.  

I let my daughter pick out the first recipe from the book.  And she decided on something called Nut Bread.  In Nama’s notes she says it’s Grannie’s recipe and something she’s never tasted anywhere else, so it was a perfect choice to start with.  

But here’s the tough thing about this whole Nama’s baking project… I don’t follow directions.  Y'all know that.  I also don’t go out and buy things just because a recipe calls for it- I make do with what I have and change things up to make it my own.  That’s my cooking philosophy, always has been, and that’s why I started this blog in the first place.  But I couldn’t allow myself to do that this time.  I needed to stay true to these recipes in order for this project to be successful.  I wanted to taste the things that shaped Nama’s childhood.  So I needed to stock up on supplies...things I generally don't keep in my pantry.  Me and my little headed out to the store to buy such foreign things as dark Karo syrup, crisco, and more pecans that anyone should ever own... 


Nama loved pecans.  And I know that now more than ever, as every single one of her recipes has pecans in it.  The brownies, the cakes, the breads…pecans, pecans, pecans.  Just when you think you have a nut break… 

BAM! Pecans.  

So this Nut Bread, according to Nama, is almost like a cake, just a little less sweet.  

Spoiler alert- It’s freakin’ amazing…even with the Crisco.  

Perhaps especially with the Crisco.  

It's just that...almost like a cake, but not quite as sweet.  It's really, really good.  My son, especially loved it and has requested it for both snack and breakfast for the past several days.  I'll be posting more recipes in the days and weeks to come... I've really and truly had a wonderful time baking my way through this book and I'm so excited to be sharing it all with you.

But until then, I just want to say how amazing it is to have this recipe book in my possession. That’s what’s so wonderful about recipes- even for someone like me who doesn’t follow them.  If you have someone’s recipe, you can keep their memory alive for as long as you want.  And there’s nothing better than that.

Before I go, I’d like to make a little request. I’d like you all to think about the people you have in your life that you know have a great story to tell.  Whether its a story told my recipes, or just spoken words.  Someone who’s lived a long life.  Go find them, call them up, visit them, take the time to listen to them.  Trust me, you’ll wish you did when you had the chance.


NAMA'S NUT BREAD
(technically Grannie's Nut Bread, but I kinda like the sound of Nama's Nut Bread ;-)

First up- you'll need to sift your dry ingredients while you're creaming your shortening and sugar.

In the bowl of your standing mixer (or a large bowl to be mixed by electric beaters/whisk), place the following...
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-1/2 cup shortening, such as Crisco (I went all in and used the butter flavor)

Mix this with the paddle attachment until creamy and fluffy.

While this is happening, sift together into a large bowl the following...
-3 1/2 cups all purpose, (unbleached) flour
-1 heaping tsp baking powder
-1 heaping tsp salt

Set aside.

With the mixer still on, slowly pour in some of 1 cup of milk alternating with some of the sifted flour mixture until both are gone and fully mixed in.  



always important to clean as you go...

Continue mixing, on low speed, and meanwhile separate 2 large eggs into two bowls.  Whisk the yolks until smooth and then beat the whites until stiff peaks form.

Set aside.


Add in the beaten egg yolks and fully incorporate.


By hand, fold in the whipped egg whites.

my little sous chef helped out with the whisking...


By hand, stir in 1 cup of pecans, chopped.




Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan.


Drizzle 2 TB melted butter over the batter.


Bake in a preheated 325 oven for 15 minutesincrease the oven to 350 and bake for another 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out relatively clean.

DO NOT OVERBAKE

Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool in the pan until safe to handle, then remove from the pan and cool completely.


EAT!!


Oh.  And one more thing.  I just got a new tattoo.  It’s in Nama’s honor.  She would hate it.  But I love it and can’t stop staring at it.



Her handwriting, taken from her boiled custard recipe.

Enjoy your day.  XOXO

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cucumber Kiwi Cooler

I've kinda been on a healthy frozen cocktail ride lately.  I've become a bit obsessed with making delicious summery drinks without all the usual added sugar.  It's been a lot of fun!  Mainly because I get to lick the spoon...sometimes before cocktail hour has begun...which makes me feel super naughty.  

Nothin' like getting a little buzz before lunch.

I've posted my Healthier Pina Colada recipe, and my All-Fruit Margarita recipe...all which have become super popular.  (Honestly, if you haven't made them yet... why?)  But yesterday when I was prepping for a little get together at the house, I decided to make something new.  And honestly, the idea behind this cocktail came from what I happened to have in my fridge (isn't that how all my recipes come to be?)  I had a couple cucumbers and a big ole bowl of super ripe kiwis needing a home, so my imagination just kinda took over from there.

This cocktail has pureed cucumber, kiwi, fresh mint leaves, fresh lime juice, gin and a little agave nectar.  It's so refreshing!  And honestly...pretty darn healthy if you think about it.  It's very lightly sweetened by the added agave, and loaded with whole fruit and veggies...plus, since the kiwis contain so much fiber and vitamin C, I think we could call this thing a boozy smoothie.

Call it what you want (my husband said I should call it a Cucumber Kiwi Cooler), but just make it.  Make it today!  Or come on over to my house and have one.

Happy Memorial Day. 
XOXO

CUCUMBER-KIWI COOLER
makes about 5 cups

In a blender combine the following...

-2 standard cucumbers- peeled, seeded and cut/broken into chunks
-6 ripe kiwis, peeled
-the juice of 1 juicy lime
-big handful of fresh mint leaves
-1/2 cup of gin
-a squeeze of agave nectar (to taste)

Blend until completely pureed, then freeze until ready to serve

(You can also plan ahead and freeze your cucumber chunks and kiwis, thus eliminating the 'freezing before serving' bit.)


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Monkfish Tacos

Have you ever seen a monkfish?  It's a hideous looking creature.  Seriously.  Go google it.  I'll wait.

But don't let that scary thing steer you away from eating it.  Monkfish is delicious! They call it the poor man's lobster, and that's because when you cook it, it firms up to the texture of lobster...or more like a scallop if you cut it into pieces.

So when I saw some fresh monkfish on sale the other day, I had to get some.  And for some odd reason I wanted to turn them into tacos.  But I wanted something different than the traditional fish taco (cause I'm me) so I went a little nutty.  It had a lot of components...

-slow roasted, brown sugar cherry tomatoes
-cilantro pistou
-coriander pickled vidalia onions
-avocado crema

But it's really not as complicated as it sounds...promise.  And damn they turned out good.  Seriously amazing.  I also made my own corn tortillas because they're just too easy not to make and the flavor is incomparable.  My daughter helped me make those...and she loved every minute of it.

(You'll get 6 tacos out of this recipe, but will have leftover corn tortillas and avocado crema...I encourage you to get creative with those ;-)

And I promise I'll talk more soon.  I have some fun things planned that I'll be sharing here in the next couple of weeks... I'm hoping this will make up for my silence...

Dem tacos doh...

HOMEMADE CORN TORTILLAS
makes 16 small tortillas

In a large bowl combine the following...
-1 3/4 cup masa
-1 1/8 cups hot water
-a few pinches of kosher salt

Stir with a fork until combined, then switch to your hands to form a dough ball.

Allow the dough to rest for about 30 minutes.

Transfer to the counter and slice into 16 triangles...


Take each triangle and roll into a ball...

best sous chef ever...look at that concentration!

Take each ball and place between two sheets of plastic wrap and smush, then roll out as thin as you can with a rolling pin.  (If you have a tortilla press, use that.  I don't.  Clearly.)

Then place your tortilla in a dry cast iron skillet on medium high heat.

Flip when you see air bubbles form and the edges begin to turn golden brown.  Cook on the opposite side for maybe a minute more... 


You don't need them to be brown all over, just not raw anymore.

Transfer them to a plate and keep on cooking and stacking until you're done.

Cover with a damp paper towel and a tight wrapping of plastic wrap until ready to use.  If you're making these far in advance, remoisten a paper towel, wrap them again, and warm in the microwave til pliable prior to making your tacos.

CORIANDER (QUICK) PICKLED VIDALIA ONIONS

In a bowl combine the following...
-1/4 vidalia onion, thinly sliced (any other onion would be fine subbed)
-enough red wine vinegar to cover
-1/2 tsp ground coriander
-equal amounts of kosher salt and sugar

Mix well to coat, and set aside to pickle, stirring occasionally...this can be 30 minutes, or hours if you have the time.

BROWN SUGAR TOMATOES

Drizzle some olive or canola oil on a sheet tray, place 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes (you can also use sliced Roma tomatoes for this as well), shake to make sure each tomato is covered in oil, season with a good amount of kosher salt, a small handful of light brown sugar, and about 1/2 tsp or so of minced rosemary (dried can be subbed).

Place in a 350 degree oven and cook for 20 minutes, remove the pan and poke the tomatoes with a knife to get them to release their juices, stir to coat, then back in the oven for 20 more minutes, remove from the oven again and stir (the brown sugar will clump if you don't keep stirring), then back in for another 20 minutes.

Allow to cool

CILANTRO PISTOU

In a blender combine the following...

-2 fat handfuls of fresh cilantro (about 2 cups worth)
-1 large clove of garlic, peeled
-a fat pinch of salt
-good glug of extra virgin olive oil (you may need more while it's blending if things aren't moving along

Blend until you get a fine puree.
Store covered in the fridge until ready to use.

AVOCADO CREMA
this crema recipe makes more than you will need for these tacos

In a blender combine the following...

-1/2 large ripe Haas avocado
-1/2 cup sour cream
-the juice of 1 lime (heads up-you will need the zest of 1 lime to season the fish)
-pinch kosher salt

Blend until smooth and creamy.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to use

The hardest part about making the crema is forgetting to put the lid back on...  :-/



MONKFISH TAILS

For 6 tacos, you'll need roughly 1 lb. of monkfish tails...this should be two pieces.
You will want to season your fish about 1 hour before you're ready to cook, as monkfish holds onto a lot of water, and you need to give it time to release it

Cut the tails into bite size pieces and season with...
-enough kosher salt to cover each piece liberally
-the zest of one lime
-a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes

After your fish has been sitting in the seasoning for an hour in the fridge, blot with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.

Place the fish in a preheated skillet on medium-high, with a little bit of canola oil, season with more kosher salt and allow to brown before flipping.  Don't touch them for a couple minutes, until they become golden brown.


Flip and continue to cook for another minute on the other side, then turn off the heat and squeeze some fresh lime juice over the fish.


Next, assemble your tacos however you'd like...I got a little fancy with mine but that's only because it was picture day.


DONE!
One of the comments on instagram said the tortillas looked like flowers...
I thought that was adorable since my little flower girl made them each by hand

So.  So.  Good.

And we ate them with my All Fruit Mango Margaritas (pictured above), which I highly recommend you doing.  Follow this recipe for Raspberry Margaritas, but swap frozen mango for the berries.

Have a good one, guys!  XOXO

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Roasted, not Fried.

OK, so I’m about to share with you one of my and my husband’s favorite meals to eat on our weekly Friday night/date nights.  This is a big one, people.  Please stay seated and enjoy the show...

We’ve been making this meal since we moved back from LA almost 10 years ago.  The idea came from a meal we used to order on many a late and post-party night back in our younger and…more party-like days. There’s a restaurant called Bossa Nova on Sunset and it stayed open till 3:30-4 am every night of the week.  So… imagine how busy this place would get from about 2:30 til closing.  I don't suppose I have to tell you that there is nothing that tastes better after drinking too much than a big plate full of salty fat and starchy goodness.  But…the plates at Bossa Nova were soooo greasy.  I mean…they tasted awesome at the time, of course, but they don’t hold back on the fat and salt at Bossa Nova.  So once we moved away from LA we started making the meal at home, and 10 years later it is still one of our favorite meals to cook.  

My husband has always been the chef behind it, and it’s always amazing, (Love you, baby!!).  But the other night he wasn’t feeling well, so I took the reigns.  And considering I like to mess with stuff and do things my own way, I decided to play around with one particular part of the meal…the most favorite part…which sounds like an incredibly stupid thing to do…but turns out it was an amazing idea because I came up with something pretty damn cool.  

The entire meal consists of a pan-seared steak of some sort, topped with a pico de gallo, served with spicy black beans and fried plantains.  It.  Is.  Incredible.  The salty meat topped with the acidic and cool fresh salsa...the savory and spicy beans...the sweet and slightly salty plantains....AMAZING.  And...the plantains part is what I messed with…(scary, right?)  I decided to try roasting them instead of shallow frying them like my husband does to cut back on the fat.  We just don’t do fried foods, especially at home, and those plantains were the only thing that we ate that was fried.  That’s why I did it.  THAT’S why I messed.  It was a shallow-fry, but still…a fry nonetheless.  

Since these have been my husband’s specialty for years.  YEARS, I tell you!  I was pretty scared to serve them to him, and didn’t tell him what I did at first… but we both decided, at first bite, that they tasted EXACTLY like the fried ones.  It was unbelievable actually.  Just as tender, just as salty-sweet...so good!!!  The best trick I know, and the most important thing to remember when making plantains prepared like this is, whether you roast or fry them, just make sure you are using extremely ripe plantains.  I’m talking more black than yellow here.  I’m talking squishy.  I’m talking THAT ripe.  Once you have that part down, you're pretty much good to go.

And here, my friends, is what I did...

*ROASTED SWEET PLANTAINS
(Go ahead and plan on 1 plantain per person...or more ;-)

*Remember...start with plantains that look like these below or darker.  Really...mostly black is kinda what you're looking for here.  TRUST ME.


-Preheat your oven to 450 and lightly coat a large baking sheet with a natural cooking spray or canola/light olive oil.  You don’t need a layer of oil, but you want the entire surface of the pan to be covered so your plantains don’t stick.   

-Peel your (extremely ripe) plantains and slice, on the diagonal, into roughly 3/4 inch slices.


-Arrange your slices evenly on the greased pan and coat the top side of the plantains with either more of the cooking spray, or with more oil.  (The cooking spray makes a more even, thin coating, but use whatever you have!)  Season well with kosher salt and sugar (I use raw sugar...but, again, use what you have ;-)


-Place the pan in the preheated oven and cook for 10-12 minutes, checking to make sure the bottoms don’t burn.  Then flip them and season the other side the same way.  Put them back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes, or until both sides are evenly golden brown and tender.  (I don’t know your oven, so the times are approximate…)


Serve right out of the oven, (taste and adjust seasoning if necessary) and I highly, highly recommend serving these delicious babies with this meal:

*PAN-SEARED STEAK.  PICO DE GALLO.  SPICY BLACK BEANS.  SWEET PLANTAINS. 

Note-We use different cuts of steak each time, depending on what looks the best at our butcher, and pictured above is the most amazing and delicious 2 inch-thick Ribeye's I've ever laid my eyes on, but the meal is always this.

Make this ASAP, guys.  TRuuuuuuuust me.

(To check out when my sweet husband posted his shallow-fried plantain recipe years ago, click HERE)

Enjoy your day!!!  XOXOXO

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Healthier Margarita

Everyone loves a good margarita.  Right?  But here's the thing- I don't love them enough to order them out.  And here's why- unless I know the place is making them fresh, without a mix, without a ton of added and processed sweeteners, I'll go without.  There's nothing worse than taking a sip of a margarita, post guacamole bite, and tasting that it came from a bottle.  OK, that was me being dramatic but still- it ain't fun.

We make margaritas a lot at home.  And usually I like mine traditional, on the rocks, with no salt.  But sometimes I like to 'fun' it up a bit and pull out the blender.  (Blended things just make people happy, don't they? Think about it... When was the last time you were at a beachy restaurant and heard the blender start and not see 12 other people quickly change their drink order?  Never.)  So when I want a fun blended margarita at home, this is what I do... These are so so delicious, only sweetened with the fruit itself, and you can change out the fruit to be whatever flavor you'd like!

Make these this weekend.  K?  K.

ALL-FRUIT RASPBERRY MARGARITAS


In a blender, combine the following...

-1 (12 oz) bag of frozen raspberries or any fruit you'd like.  (Mangoes are especially awesome here)
-the juice of 1 juicy lime
-1/3 cup tequila 
-1/3 cup triple sec

Blend until completely smooth...the longer you blend, the more those raspberry seeds will break down.

Drink.  (Cups optional)


*Nutritional Breakdown:
(I'm not a calorie counter but for this case I wanted to show you what you're up against.

Standard margarita- anywhere from 450-600 calories, but that's only for 8 ounces.  How many times have you had a 1 cup sized margarita?  Never.  So, technically you're drinking closer to 700.

My all-fruit raspberry is only 240 calories for 1 large margarita... and by large I mean, well, look at that blender in the picture...then divide by two with your eyeballs (roughly 12 oz).

Damn I'm good.