Well, it’s already February, and I haven’t even wished you a Happy New Year. What a slacker!!! Happy New Year, my friends! I hope your holidays were spectacular and that you’ve welcomed this brand new year with gusto. I wonder if you’re sticking to your resolutions…
I’ve been happily busy cooking for clients these last few months, especially focusing on meeting the needs of those with allergies to gluten, dairy, chicken and eggs, soy, mustard, malt- you name it! Essentially, I’m embracing the challenge of creating scrumptious meals that omit these allergens without omitting flavor, texture, color, or comfort. It is a puzzle that I welcome with open arms on a daily basis, and the feedback from my clients has been overwhelmingly positive. Yay!
I’ve had little time to sit down and write, but I’ve been chipping away at this post for over a month. And I can’t move forward without sharing all of December’s goodies with you! Seriously, I tried to tell myself to just skip over all the holiday stuff, because it was sooooo 2013. But, I couldn’t. I think it’s kind of like trying to leave my house for vacation without cleaning it, which I cannot physically do. Oy vey.
So, here are the many splendid culinary-related highlights from our holiday time, which was a veritable boatload of fun, friends, family, and food. I’ll provide lots of recipes and tips that can be used all year long, so settle in, and enjoy! 😉 And then I will be able to move on with my life and my plan (ironic as it may be) to offer shorter, more user-friendly blog posts in the months to come. Heh, heh. I see what y’all are pinning on Pinterest.
First on the docket of Share-a-rama: a special partay! Adam and I catered a small Christmas soiree for some legit rock stars in a fabulous home in Atlanta. Not kidding. The band shall remain nameless, since they deliberately and gently requested a “leave your phone at the door” policy, so as not to broadcast any celebratory shenanigans to the free world. The theme of the bash was “Southern Gentleman” with a focus on excellent bourbon and sweet hospitality. And I’d say the whole thing was a smash hit.
Adam made his pimento cheese- you know, the one that people are always trying to marry him over?
Adam’s Pimento Cheese:
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 oz medium cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 Cup roasted red peppers/ pimentos, diced
1 Cup mayonnaise
Good pinch of granulated garlic and salt
Lots of freshly cracked black pepper
2 T of the brine from the pepper jar
Simply combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir/ smash until they become one. Taste. Your pimento cheese mixture should have a little tang to it, and the texture should be spreadable. Tweak seasoning to your liking. Before serving, allow the cheese to come to room temperature, or close to it, so that it’s easy to scoop and shmear.
Naturally, I wanted to make these the best deviled eggs in America, so I did a bunch of research online and ended up believing some woman who seemed to be a clear expert on the subject. She instructed me to turn my box of eggs on its side for at least twelve hours to center the yolks. That sounded brilliant to me, as I like things to be centered (don’t read perfect), so I did it.
Um, epic fail. Do you see how close that yolk is to the edge of the white part?!? The yolk is trying to escape! LAME. I was not amused at this juncture, but I did not have the time nor the eggs to start again. Here’s what I think is important to remember when deviling eggs.
*Use old eggs when possible. Fresh eggs don’t work as well as an older batch. This means you need to plan ahead- and that’s tricky business.
*Let your eggs come to room temperature before boiling.
*Place eggs in a large pot of cold water, and be sure they are fully covered by the water. I add a sprinkling of both salt and baking powder to the water, because both are supposed to make the peeling part easier, and I’ll take any help I can get with that task.
*Bring the pot of water up to a rolling boil and then turn the burner off. Cover the pot and move it to a cool burner. Let the eggs sit for 15 minutes (for 12 eggs).
*Place cooked eggs in a bowl full of ice and water (icebath) and let them cool down.
*When cracking your eggs to peel them, begin by smashing the bottom of each egg. There’s a pocket of air that needs to be freed first. Then crack your eggs all the way around. When peeling away the shell, I find it helpful to peel under a stream of cold water. Sometimes the water can get between the membrane and the egg white and make the job easy peasy. Not always, but sometimes there’s that golden moment when it feels like a beam of light is shining right down on me in my kitchen.
*Don’t get frustrated. Sometimes, peeling eggs can be excruciating. It’s one of those single-tasks that monopolizes your fingers, eyes, brain, and patience for longer than feels bearable. Stick with it. Deviled Eggs in your mouth = worth the time and energy.
*Use a sharp knife to slice the eggs in half. Be gentle, but authoritative. Sawing back and forth will give you jagged whites.
*Use a small spoon like a teaspoon from your silverware drawer to gently coax the yolks out into a bowl. Then add the flavah.
Filling for 12 eggs:
1 small shallot, minced teeny tiny
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
small handful fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped small
1/2 Cup of mayonnaise (for starters)
1 T dijon mustard
good pinch of salt and pepper
paprika for dusting
Use a fork to mash the egg yolks. Then add all of the ingredients to the bowl of yolks and stir to combine the ingredients well. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. If the mixture is too dry, add more mayonnaise until you are happy with the consistency.
Cut off the very tip of the corner of a large Zip-lock bag. Err on the side of cutting your hole too small. You can always cut it bigger if necessary, but you can’t make the hole smaller! You will use this as your piping bag, unless you have a fancy piping bag- then use that! Scoop your egg yolk mixture into the bag and shimmy it on down to the corner you’ve cut. Twist the bag above the yolky filling and squeeze the liquid gold into each egg white shell. You can swirl in circles or you can start very close to the concave middle and pull the tip of the bag up and away as the center becomes filled. Once all of your eggs are filled, dust the whole lot of them from high above with a light sprinkling of paprika.
Try not to eat more than one before serving them to your guests. I dare you. These guys are completely addictive. Creamy, savory, just tangy enough. Divine.
The Sweet Potato Biscuits above elicited the most positive buzz of all the items we served at the party. Adapted from the book Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart, Adam performed several practice runs (with a fabulous sous chef by his side) before pronouncing them fit for company. These sweet potato biscuits are crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, not overly sweet, and sturdy enough to act as a transportation system for any number of delicacies- from hand to mouth to belly.
Sweet Potato Biscuits:
Makes 9 (3-inch) biscuits.
1 Cup cooled mashed sweet potatoes, not packed tightly! We baked ours, then scooped the flesh out of the shells, mashed them gently and allowed them plenty of time to cool down. You can execute this part ahead of time.
2 Cups all purpose flour, plus 1/4 Cup to flour your counter
1/2 t cinnamon
1/3 C chilled shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 t sugar
2 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
good pinch of salt and black pepper
2 T butter, melted
Preheat oven to 450°.
Use butter to grease a sheet pan all over. Choose a pan that is light in color.
Use a fork to mix your flour, cinnamon, sugar, baking powder, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Scatter the shortening around the bowl and use your fingers to incorporate it with a pinching or snapping movement, until the mixture is well-crumbled with no pieces larger than a pea. It’s important to work quickly so the mixture stays cold.
Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the sweet potatoes. Mix quickly with your hands to incorporate the sweet potatoes into the flour. Once the mixture starts to come together, sprinkle flour onto your work surface and move the hunk of dough to the counter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, as well as your hands.
Fold the dough in half and pat it out into a 1/2 inch – 3/4 quarter inch high round. Re-flour the top, fold it, and pat it out again.
Grab the biscuit cutter of your choice. We used a 3″ round. Cut biscuits from the palette of dough, being mindful to cut them close together. You can reform the scraps into another ball and pat it out gently to cut another biscuit.
Place your biscuits onto your cookie sheet and bake for 8 – 10 minutes. Then, brush the tops of each biscuit with melted butter. Cook a couple more minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
Remove from the pan and serve hot or at room temperature.
We made a few more appetizers as well…
including a shrimp and grits that was much like this recipe, except that I didn’t add kale to the grits. I did add a hearty splash of heavy cream to the Cajun tomato sauce to raise the level of decadence for the occasion. And it was slammin’!
We also did a quick pickle on fresh, local beets, carrots, kohlrabi, and radishes using this Smitten Kitchen recipe as a guide. We doubled the recipe, opted for champagne vinegar, added sliced red onion and whole cloves of garlic to our jars, and ended up diluting the pickling brine with a good couple cups of water. Note- you definitely want to pickle your beets in a separate jar in order to preserve the color of the other veggies. The pickled vegetables were full of intense, bright flavor and their texture was crisp and delightful. I think they brought lovely color to the party too!
For the main event, we served a pork butt that I slow cooked for a full twelve hours in a sassy sauce made of bourbon, apples, apple cider, maple syrup, onions, celery, peppers, garlic, and smoked paprika. It was simply luscious.
Slider rolls, fresh jalapenos, and mustard were provided for those who wanted to make little sammiches. Most people just piled the tender pork onto their plates with a healthy scoop of old-fashioned southern green beans
and bacon roasted brussel sprouts.
The green beans were so simple that there’s almost not a recipe to share. I followed my friend Leigh’s (party host and Super Chef) easy instructions, and she said they turned out perfectly! I didn’t even use garlic. Whaaaaatttt???
Old Fashioned Southern Style Green Beans
Wash your green beans and snap off the stem end. Then, snap the beans in half or thirds. You want your segments to be about 2 – 3 inches long.
In the bottom of a large pot, heat a hearty drizzle of olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add your green beans (in batches if necessary) and season with salt and pepper. Saute the green beans to brown them a bit. Once you see great color on the beans, cover them with water and add some more salt and pepper. Cook beans for a while- like a long while, until they are soft and dark green. Taste along the way…I had to add a fair amount of salt to really flavor the beans. In the end, they should be super tender and just kind of melt in your mouth. If I weren’t keeping these green beans vegetarian, I might add a smoked hamhock or some salty pork product to infuse more natural salty flavor.
Bacon Roasted Brussel Sprouts- a winner every single time. All of my clients are obsessed with them.
1.5 lbs brussel sprouts
2 pieces good quality bacon, chopped
Preheat your oven to 400°.
To prepare your sprouts, cut off the bottom of each one. Slice them in half, and remove outside layer of leaves. Place your little cabbage halves and bacon on a sheet pan. Drizzle heartily with olive oil, as these guys soak it up like it’s their job, and season with ample salt pepper. Toss the bacon and sprouts to coat everything well, and then spread them out into an even layer. I prefer to place each half cut-side down on the pan, but that’s just me. Roast for about 12 – 15 minutes, and check for browning. Once that first side has a deep, golden brown color, flip the sprouts with a spatula or tongs or deft heat-resistant fingers. Cook another 10 minutes or so on the other side or until the sprouts are a lovely roasty brown and the leaves and bacon turn crispy. Remove to a bowl to serve hot.
These brussel sprouts are like savory candy. My clients can’t get enough of them, and the party-goers loved them too. And one woman, who recently opened her own restaurant in Atlanta, was quite taken by these little gems. I take that as a supreme compliment!
Warning- they go quickly- so you may want to double the recipe and use two sheet pans. I’m just sayin’.
This soiree was a smashing success, and I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to cook for such wonderful, kind people. There’s nothing like getting hugs from strangers who love the food I create. I am grateful.
Movin’ right along to our own holiday fare, I’ve got two more recipes to share.
(Poem. Sorry. Or, you’re welcome.)
On Christmas Eve we had dinner at our friends’ parents home, where a laid-back vibe and simple meal were absolutely perfect.
And for dessert, Adam made this melt-in-your-mouth, slap yo mama pound cake. He omitted the almond extract and amped up the vanilla. Moist and decadent without weighing you down, this recipe is a keeper.
Then we hopped on over to our pal’s backyard for a fireside gathering under the Christmas Eve stars. Lovely. On Christmas Day, we managed to cook and eat our faces off, despite a kitchen under construction.
Nothing can keep those Faircloths from hosting their family and extended “family”on a holiday. Thank goodness.
Oh, you know there were bacon roll-ups. Gone in record time.
To accompany the turkey and ham, Adam and I made three fresh side dishes that could be eaten cold or at room temperature, since we weren’t sure if we’d have access to a working oven this year. This potato salad was tangy and delish with crunchy bits of celery complementing the al dente potatoes.
It was a lot like our Ridiculous Potato Salad, but without the pan-roasting part, which takes a lot of time, pans, and sweat. (The result is always worth the work, but we didn’t have that kind of time on our hands.)
The star dish for me was this Quinoa Salad.
Crisp apples paired beautifully with creamy, smoky gouda cheese. Roasted fennel, shallot, and butternut squash brought forth sweet notes and built layers of complexity, and toasted hazelnuts, fresh parsley, and champagne garlic vinaigrette tied it all together into harmonious salad bliss.
Quinoa Salad with Butternut Squash, Apples, and Fennel
1 Cup red or black quinoa, cooked in 1 2/3 Cup chicken or veggie broth. Cooled.
1 1/2 – 2 Cups hazelnuts, toasted in a dry pan over medium low heat until toasty, cooled and chopped in half (or roughly chopped)
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1/2 inch – 1 inch cubes
2 small or one large fennel bulb, core removed, bulb cut into chunks. Save a couple T of the fronds to add to finished salad.
2 shallots, cut into quarters
2 ripe apples, washed and diced- squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them to prevent browning
1 Cup or so of gouda cheese, cubed small
big handful fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
2 T champagne vinegar
3 cloves garlic
squeeze of honey
good pinch salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients except olive oil in the cup of an immersion blender or in a small food processor (or you can do this in a bowl). Pulse to combine and break down ingredients. Then, blend continuously while you slowly stream in olive oil- about 1/3 – 1/2 a Cup. Continue to whir the ingredients until you can see/ hear the dressing emulsify. Once the vinaigrette has come together, taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
Preheat oven to 400°.
Toss butternut squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on a sheet pan for about 15 minutes, stirring twice during cooking time. You want a little bit of caramelization to occur around the edges. Remove and cool.
Lay fennel and shallot pieces out on another sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook about 5 minutes and then flip the pieces. Cook another 5 minutes or until softened and slightly browned. Remove and cool.
Then, mince up both the fennel and shallot.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled quinoa with gouda, apples, roasted fennel, squash, and shallot, parsley, chopped fennel fronds, and hazelnuts. Drizzle with your dressing. Toss to coat all of the ingredients well. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Yum!
Peas and Carrots with Herb Oil
This is a great go-to recipe that comes together quickly and brings a fresh brightness to the table, even in the dead of winter.
For the carrots: Preheat oven to 400°.
2 or 3 bunches of rainbow carrots, peeled.
Place peeled carrots on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for about 15 – 20 minutes, spinning the carrots three times during their stay in the oven. When carrots have nice color on them and they are pierceable with a fork or toothpick, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.
Cut your carrots into 2 – 3 inch chunks.
For the peas:
2 Cups sweet peas, thawed.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Salt the water when boiling. Add your peas and cook for 1 minute. Then, drain peas into a colander and rinse them with cold water or plunge them into an icebath to stop the cooking. Let the peas dry while you make the herb oil.
For the herb oil:
1 Cup finely chopped herbs- basil, parsley, and mint
pinch of red pepper flakes
juice of a lemon
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/3 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I used 1/2 Cup originally, but I think 1/3 would be enough.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Herbs will only stay bright green for a couple of hours, so you don’t want to make this too far in advance.
Drizzle herb oil over your peas and roasted carrots. Gently toss to coat the veggies in the herb oil. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
Easy to construct, easy on the eyes, and easily demolished by a crowd. Sweet, salty, herbaceous, and good for you! The herb oil can be used in a billion different ways to add a burst of flavor to your dinner table. Play with it and make it your own!
WOOHOOO! That’s all for now, folks. I hope you’ve found some inspiration along this stroll down holiday memory lane. I sure feel relieved that I’ve been able to share all of this goodness with you.
Happy cooking and eating to you,