HOME & HILL

Spring Picnic | for the love of the south

Tennessee. This is a lovely state in which I’m grateful to call my home. I’m enjoying discovering sweet family farms that sell fresh eggs, with their only advertising being a hand painted sign leaning at the front of their fence. Farmers markets with some of the most passionate farmers tending to their stands, making sure you choose the best possible produce for your weekend meals, and the whispers of the South’s history being sung in the graveyards and historic battlefields. I’m educating myself in tobacco-scented sorghum, golden benne seeds and wild emerald green ramps.

Thyme & Garlic Infused Fried Chicken | for the love of the south

It’s no secret that I’ve been enraptured by Tennessee’s seasonal displays of autumn and winter, but as I pass the gently green rolling hills of Franklin, white petals blow in the wind like gently falling snow. I begin to realize this is easily my favorite season yet. Lovely dogwoods and cherry blossoms reveal their beautiful blooms, enticing us for a picnic so we can revel in nature’s spring splendor.

Homemade Potato Chips | for the love of the south

So in preparation of a lovely spring picnic, I decide to create a menu of thyme and garlic infused fried chicken, gently bathed in buttermilk and cayenne pepper, paired with crisp homemade potato chips and a wonderful sweet delight of floral elderflower marshmallows.

Elderflower Marshmallows | for the love of the south

I pack all the picnic treats in a vintage wooden basket. Nestled paper bags filled with chips, silver bento boxes of marshmallows, and a lovely milk glass dish of fried chicken line the basket. Packing up anything, especially food, reminds me to take a piece of home with me wherever I am going, or in this case, my kitchen. As I pull out my everyday flatware, white flour sack dishtowels, silver Laguiole knives, and Mason jars filled with lemon slices among the green grass and blushing blossoms, I am reminded of my sweet home on a hill in Tennessee.

Spring Picnic | for the love of the south

I am grateful to be able to contribute to the lovely quarterly, Home & Hill, which is dedicated to people who love this state as much as I do. You can find these recipes exclusively in Home & Hill Issue No. 3. You can order the magazine here!

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THE HUNT

Crème Fraîche Deviled Eggs | for the love of the south

As Easter service concluded, a parade of bright hats, pastel suits and white patent leather shoes raced out of church. I remember all the little girls dressed in floral dresses with such realistic flower prints that seemed to attract and confuse bees. Fidgety little boys donned their itchy baby blue seersucker suits and had uncharacteristically slicked back their hair. All of us were in a hurry for the same reason. We were on our way to The Hunt. We arrived prepared with baskets in hand. My basket was white with bright yellow plastic “grass” hanging over the sides. I decorated the wide, plastic handle with pastel eggs, baby chickens, and teeny bunny decals with little stickers spelling out, “Happy Easter.” (I was very proud of my decorating skills.)

Crème Fraîche Deviled Eggs | for the love of the south

All of the kids were instructed to remain inside and not to peek out the window as the adults “hid” the eggs, mostly in plain sight for the younger kids and in the nooks and crannies of the trees and in the overgrown monkey grass for the older kids. Our baskets filled up with the colorful, hand dyed eggs. Before we knew it, The Hunt was over and it was time for the adults to count our spoils, declare a winner and commenced shelling the eggs to make the best deviled eggs in the whole wide world for our Easter dinner. What I loved most about these eggs is that they were slightly hued from being dyed the day before. I adored that. Easter was the only time of the year when I could eat blushing pink, buttercup yellow and robin egg blue eggs. I cherished deviled eggs because they only seemed to grace our table at special occasions. Now, whenever these reverent beauties are prepared in my kitchen I am reminded of the mad dash of Easter attire and disheveled baskets in absolute eagerness of The Hunt.

Crème Fraîche Deviled Eggs | for the love of the south

Recipe: Crème Fraîche + Lemon Deviled Eggs

Serves 4

Note: Growing up, these eggs were a treat to have on our table. I, however, cannot wait for a special holiday to make them, so I whip these up at least once a week to devour as a midafternoon snack. Also, if you can’t get your hands on crème fraîche, you can use sour cream in a pinch.

6 hardboiled eggs, shells removed, cut in half lengthwise

4 tablespoons of crème fraîche or sour cream

2 teaspoons of whole grain mustard

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Gently scoop the yolks out of the hardboiled eggs. Place the whites on a plate and place the yolks in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the yolks. Stir the ingredients together while breaking up the yolks with the back of a fork. Taste the deviled egg mixture for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Using two teaspoons, scoop deviled egg mixture into the egg whites. Garnish with more lemon zest, black pepper and cayenne.

 

 

 

 

GUILTLESS PLEASURES

Ghirardelli Intense Dark-3

There are some things in life which people call guilty pleasures, but I think pleasure is something we should seize, not something we should feel the least bit guilty about. If something gives you gratification, embrace it, and if at all possible, allow that pleasure to be part of your everyday life, especially if that indulgence can be found in the kitchen, which many of mine are. One of my pleasures comes in the form of sinisterly dark chocolate, perfectly paired with sea salt and smoky, chicory coffee.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark | for the love of the south

Slowly cracking open the fridge, I pull out a cherished square of chocolate that I secretly tucked away for safekeeping. To its gleaming, chilled surface, I sprinkle on tiny shards of winter white salt. The contrast between intensely dark chocolate and starkly white salt gives me a certain, unspoken gratification. The kettle begs for attention as it whistles from the stove, steam rises from the coffee press, and I magically become transported to a place all my own. I sit on the counter in my kitchen, dark chocolate speckled with crunchy sea salt in one hand and earthy chicory coffee in the other and become lost in downright decadence. When my days are filled with so many things that plead for my attention, it’s in these moments that I take time out for myself, which is something I never feel guilty for.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark | for the love of the south

This cast of characters always has a place in my home, but even when I’m far away, I know if I have a piece of dark chocolate sprinkled with salt and an afternoon cup of coffee, I can delight in my daily pleasure and never feel the least bit remorseful. I think that’s the way pleasures in life should be, or at least the ones that take place in the kitchen.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark | for the love of the south

Many thanks to Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate for sponsoring today’s post and allowing me to share my perfect pairing. If you would like to share your perfect pairing as well, upload your Ghirardelli Intense Dark photos here or #IntenseDark on Instagram. I’d love to hear what y’alls favorite pairings are!

THE PRODIGIOUS GRAPEFRUIT

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake | for the love of the south

While driving down the long, dusty road to Lacassine, Louisiana, cleared sugarcane fields revealed new life from the rich soil and a mellow, sweet fragrance filled the warm air. I imagined the empty field later in the year, taking over the landscape with its towering pampas-like foliage. As I became entranced by the pale jade landscape, we crept closer and closer to my great grandma’s house.

I tiptoed across the tiny, white shells in my great grandmother’s driveway and peaked around the corner of her small, whitewashed house and stepped into the garden. To me, this was an enchanted backyard, filled with life from one end of the tiny lot to the other. Strategically placed rows of perfectly ripe tomatoes and fingerlike okra pods smelled of sweet grass as I walked by. Tiny yet vibrant red and green peppers pirouetted in the breeze, reminding me of flickering Christmas lights. A protective fig tree magically became the perfect umbrella to take refuge under in the midst of afternoon showers, and near the back of the property, there was a gaggle of disgruntled chickens that became ruffled around the feathers if you got too close to their coop.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil  Pound Cake | for the love of the south

On this particular trip, I decided to keep my distance from the foul fowls and kept to the side of the house, close to my grandmother. She was reaching over her head, picking what looked like spotted yellow basketballs. Quietly and curiously, I filled as many plastic shopping bags with the enormous unidentified fruit as I could and piled into the backseat of the car. I remember how the combination of the saccharine air from the sugarcane fields and the fresh scent of the mysterious citrus resting on my lap made my mouth water.

Immediately when we got back to the house, my grandma grabbed a large carving knife and split the colossal clandestine citrus in half, revealing blushing pink flesh. My grandma smiled proudly and said in her sweet Cajun accent, “Dat’s a biiggg grapefruit!” My mouth dropped in sheer disbelief, and we both started laughing and began ripping into the slightly sweet and tart flesh.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake | for the love of the south

With a mouthful of ruby grapefruit and pink juice dribbling down my chin, I wondered what the secret was to the gigantic, sugary grapefruits that grew in my great grandmother’s backyard. Suddenly, I recalled the soft, spring breeze coming from the sugarcane field across the way and became sweetly satisfied in solving the mystery of the prodigious grapefruits.

Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil  Pound Cake | for the love of the south

Recipe: Grapefruit + Raw Cane Sugar + Olive Oil Pound Cake

Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 Loaf Cake

Note: If you don’t have plain yogurt or buttermilk in the fridge, have no fear. Just add 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice to 1/3 cup of milk and let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes to get nice and funky! It works perfectly in a pinch! 

Using the zest and juice from 2 medium-sized grapefruits for this recipe usually makes enough leftover juice for a simple glaze. Just whisk ½ cup of powdered sugar while slowly adding the leftover grapefruit juice until you have a smooth, thick glaze. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and serve!

1 ½ cups (190g) of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

¼ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

2 tablespoons (30ml) of grapefruit juice, plus 1/3 cup (80ml) for syrup

1/3 cup (80ml) of buttermilk or plain yogurt

2 tablespoons of freshly grated grapefruit zest (from 2 medium-sized grapefruits)

½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for syrup

½ cup (95g) of raw cane sugar

½ cup (120ml) of olive oil (choose a mild olive oil, not extra virgin)

2 eggs, at room temperature

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×5” loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a glass-measuring cup, combine 2 tablespoons of grapefruit juice and buttermilk (or yogurt).

In a large mixing bowl, add grapefruit zest, ½ cup of granulated sugar, and raw cane sugar. Rub the zest and sugars together with your fingertips. Whisk in the oil until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures to the cake batter, beginning and ending with the flour.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter a few times, releasing any bubbles in the batter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with 1/3 cup of grapefruit juice in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

When the cake has finished baking, let it cool for 10 minutes and invert onto a cooling rack with a tray underneath. Poke holes in the cake with a skewer or toothpick and brush the grapefruit syrup over the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely while absorbs the syrup. Serve the cake all by itself or create simple glaze to pour over the top  (see note). Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WELCOME HOME DARLIN’

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

The smell of freshly painted walls and sawdust lingers in the air as I sit in the newly renovated house. For the past few months, I have been living in between two places, my loft in Nashville and my in-laws newly renovated home in North Alabama. The house was Michael’s grandmother, Meme’s, home just one short year ago.

Many moments were spent sitting in the short, beige chair in the den listening to Meme’s laughter. She laughed so hard the entire room had no choice but to be engulfed and embraced by her happiness. There was never a time when I didn’t get lost in her hugs or wasn’t welcomed with a smile that filled her entire face and a greeting that didn’t involve the word darlin’ in it. Everywhere she went seemed to be filled with life. Even as I sit here in this beautifully remodeled den, the echoes of her stories live on in my mind, countless prayers she prayed for the ones she loved, and the moments she spent visiting and giggling with her beloved family.

There is a beautiful foundation in this home. There is groundwork of love that has settled in the floorboards, it echoes in the hall and is audible in the laughter this home will be immersed in for years to come. Life springs from this home, it’s a place of healing, of rest. What a beautiful place for Michael’s parents to start their new season of life. I can see Meme, sitting across the way from me, with that contagious smile saying, “Hey, darlin’.”

Now, as I walk up the stairs from the lower den into the kitchen, I am greeted with a warm smile and a, “Hey, darlin’,” from Michael’s mother. Some things we pass on, whether it be a warm smile that can light up a room, a place to call home or a simple phrase that can make you feel like you’re home even if you are miles away. Welcome home, darlin’.

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

Recipe: Pimento Cheese & Thyme Gougères

Inspired by Southern Living

Makes 24

Note: This recipe combines ones of my favorite Southern treats and the wonderful, traditional French gougère. This is the kind of food that must be shared with others! It makes for a great hors d’oeuvre, appetizer or a lovely midafternoon snack to be washed down with sweet tea.

The gougère dough can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use. Also, you can freeze completely cooked and cooled gougères for up to 1 month. To reheat, place the frozen gougères on a baking sheet, cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until warmed through.

½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, cut into cubes

¾ teaspoon of kosher salt

1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour

1 (4 ounce) jar of diced pimento, drained

4 eggs

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) of finely shredded sharp cheddar

1 ½ teaspoons of whole grain mustard

½ teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves

½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan, combine butter, salt and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for another minute until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the side of the pan, forming a ball.

Reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. At this point, the dough will begin to dry out. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the drained pimentos and drain again on a paper towel.

Add eggs to the slightly cooled dough one at a time, stirring well between each addition. At this point, you will feel as if you completely ruined the dough, but trust me. Just keep stirring. Add pimentos, cheese, mustard, thyme leaves, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Keeping stirring until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, create 1-inch mounds of dough, 2 inches apart either by piping the dough using a plastic bag or by using a small cookie dough scoop or a tablespoon. Whisk yolk and 1 teaspoon of water together and brush onto gougères.

Bake gougères until puffed and golden, about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Enjoy!

THE PERFECT ROAST POTATOES

The Perfect Roast PotatoesRight down the street from where I lived was a tiny, taupe elementary school sweetly nestled next to a convenience store and a beloved grocery store. Tucked in between the worn hurricane fence and the textured brick façade of the school was a small, modest plot of dirt where Mrs. Benoit’s 2nd grade class were to conduct very important physical science experiments.

The entire group marched outside onto the magically damp, dark chocolate lot. We fashioned furrows with our hands, gently created holes with our index fingers and dropped tiny seeds into the hollows. We covered them with mossy, murky soil, gave them a drink and hoped they slept tight under the soil and not to let the bedbugs bite.

The Perfect Roast PotatoesDaily during recess, I took a quick peak at the petite garden. My heart filled with delight as I began seeing little sprigs of green hairs and emerald leaves peaking through the soil and stretching out in the sunlight like a small child awakening after a midafternoon nap.

Then, on one bright and sunny day, Mrs. Benoit told us to retreat to our adored garden we had been tending to for quite some time now. She handed out little shovels and gardening gloves and directed us on how to tend each row of veggies. I was assigned to a short row of mysterious emerald fronds while the rest began plucking beautiful vibrant green cucumbers and juicy red tomatoes off their vines. Immediately, I became chartreuse with envy but quickly shrugged it off and stayed on task.

The Perfect Roast Potatoes Rising to the challenge, I lowered my shovel, confronted the bright green shrub and gave it a good yank. All of a sudden with a zip I flew onto my back, holding what seemed like a clump of mud. Desperately, I shook myself off trying to clean the dirt from my clothes without attracting too much attention to myself. Then, I stared at my fist and gasped. I ran over to Mrs. Benoit screaming, “ I think I just harvested turtle eggs!” She just laughed and said, “Honey, those are potatoes.” My eyes became as big as golf balls in sheer disbelief. I never looked at a potato the same way ever again.

This is the best roast potato recipe ever. These little beauties are quite addictive, and they will disappear in mere moments. Breaking through these perfectly roasted potatoes, listening to the cartoon crunch, inhaling its meaty aromatics and allowing the creamy, fluffy insides of the potato fall on your tongue like warm, buttery clouds, makes every second spent cooking them, tending to them, worthwhile. Enjoy!

The Perfect Roast PotatoesRecipe: The Perfect Roast Potatoes

Inspired by Jamie Oliver

Serves 4 as a side

Note: Parboiling the potatoes, adding them to hot fat and slightly crushing them after they have cooked ¾ of the way, helps create a fluffy, insanely crunchy roast potato. Also, you can substitute clarified butter or duck fat for the olive oil for a less healthy option. I won’t tell!

1 bulb of garlic

3 sprigs of rosemary

1- 1 ½ pounds of baby potatoes, peeled

Olive oil

Sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Crush the bulb of garlic, leaving the cloves in their paper jackets and pluck the leaves off of the rosemary sprigs.

Place the potatoes into a pot of cold water, covering the potatoes by about 1-inch. Season the water with salt and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain and allow them to steam dry for a few minutes. Then, shake the colander until the potatoes start to look fuzzy and blurred around the edges. This step will help create a crunchy roast potato!

Place a skillet on medium-high heat (or place in the preheated oven until hot) and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic cloves, rosemary leaves and potatoes and place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the skillet out of the oven, gently flip the potatoes and smash them slightly with the back of a fork. Place them back in the oven for 30 more minutes, or until the edges are crispy and golden brown. Serve immediately.

FAREWELL WINTER

Pecan Chicory Cream Dutch BabyWe were teased. Teased by pleasant weather, by the tiny, pointy buds resting on the trees and the brilliant yellow daffodils, which magically emerged from the earth. Spring was surely on its way. Then, surprisingly, I woke up last Monday morning to a wonderful, winter wonderland. Slightly muddled but still enchanted by the snowy spectacle, Michael and I grabbed our coats and boots we had hastily stashed away in the back of the closet and set out on our last possible snow day of the year.

We took a stroll, arm in arm, through sleepy downtown Franklin and wandered closer to one of our most beloved spots, the beautiful and historic Carnton Plantation. The Carnton Plantation became famous during the Civil War for reasons I will lovingly spare you from. We slowly trekked the frozen ground, taking in the stillness of the landscape. Vibrant daffodils stared at us with their luminous, trumpet faces, reminding me to cherish this passing winter’s day.

The only sounds on the estate were the crunching of my black wellies underfoot and the soft, trickle of snow falling to the ground. Everything was still. It gave me a chill how eerie the plantation grounds felt. Here, on the same land where many men fought on crimson soil, we stand in bliss over a blanket of white snow.

After rambling through the main manor, we made our way to the back of the grounds where a secret, swampy area teems with life. We spotted a family of mallards having a morning swim, each of them taking turns ducking under the glassy surface, only to have beads of water swiftly glide off their backs.  Fog slowly crept across the water like a fold of delicate tulle gently, slowly unraveling from its seams. Flotsam from an old, cockeyed structure in the swamp jarringly thumped against the side of the building, waking us from our wintery daydream.

Carnton PortraitWe ran back to the car with stiff, frozen limbs and glided away. I sat there thinking of winter and hoping this was its farewell finale. If this was winter’s way of saying goodbye, then I believe the occasion calls for creating something special with the rest of the lovely pecans I’d been hoarding. This pecan and chicory cream is earthy and slightly surreptitious in nature, just like our winter spectacle. Hopefully I’ve taken off my heavy coat for the last time this season. Until next time dear winter…it’s been grand.

Recipe: Pecan & Chicory Cream

Makes about 1 ½ cups

Note: Pecan & Chicory Cream can be covered on toast, cake or spread across the top of a Dutch Baby (recipe below) sprinkled with pecans, powdered sugar and melted chocolate!

200g of slightly toasted pecan halves

1 cup of heavy whipping cream, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons of cane sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

2 tablespoons of recently brewed chicory coffee

Pinch of salt

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Boil for 10 minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the cream so it doesn’t boil over. Take off the heat and place in a blender and blend until smooth, adding more whipping cream if needed. The texture you are looking for is a smooth paste. The pecan cream should have grain but it should be spreadable. Keep chilled until ready to use.

Recipe: The Perfect Dutch Baby

Serves 2

Note: You can also make the batter ahead of time for a speedy breakfast. Just blend the ingredients together and stash the batter in the fridge overnight. Continue with the rest of the recipe as follows.

¼ cup of all-purpose flour

¼ cup of half-n-half

2 eggs

2 tablespoons of sugar

Splash of vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Combine all of the ingredients with the exception of butter in a blender and blend until smooth. Set aside.

Once the oven has preheated, place the butter in a 10-inch skillet and place in the oven until all the butter has completely melted (this will only take a few mintues.) Take the skillet out of the oven and brush the melted butter up the sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the buttered skillet and immediately return it to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are golden. Enjoy!

 

 

KING FOR A DAY

Mardi Gras King Cake | for the love of the south

The cool, brisk air gave me goose bumps as I waiting in line for my class to proudly march out in the Mardi Gras parade. My blacked out teeth were chattering from the cold and my blonde, matted hair (teased to ultimate perfection) was being bullied every which way by the wind. My clothes were baggy, carefully mended with pastel yellow and pink patches, which was a very poor wardrobe choice on my part seeing how the patches did not shield me from the biting wind very well. Nevertheless, I held my head high and braved the bitter chill. We, the 1st grade class of St. John Elementary, were the Krewe des Hobos, and I must represent with great pride.

Every class had their own krewe (pronounced crew). Like the traditional Mardi Gras parade, each grade dressed up according to their assigned group, or krewe. Waiting anxiously in line were the Krewe des Pirates, Krewe des Cowboys, Krewe des Indians, and, of course, Krewe des Hobos. When our teacher let this bunch of 6 year olds choose what they wanted to be for Mardi Gras, it was almost unanimously hobos, with the exception of Maggie Mouton, who wanted the entire class to dress up like fairies. Her request was seriously considered in pure silence and an impressive array of spit wads. Hobos it was!

We gathered outside the building, teachers and parents waiting with their point-and-shoot cameras and camcorders (which were roughly the size of an ice chest back then). We began parading around the school in decorated red Radio Flyer wagons while tossing tangled plastic beads, root beer Dum Dums and half melted chocolate coins out of our pillowcases to the lucky participators. Purple, green and gold beads littered the power lines, tree limbs and street signs forever after, to serve as a reminder of the day I felt like a king, disguised as a hobo, in the Mardi Gras parade.

*This article was originally posted on Coca-Cola

-In honor of the Mardi Gras season, Relish.com asked me to write a New Orleans City Guide to Good Eating! You can click the link to read more.

.Mardi Gras Beads & Coins | for the love of the south

Recipe: Roasted Pecan King Cake with Buttermilk Icing

Serves 6-8

Note: I used small pieces of gold leaf to decorate the cake, but you can use whatever you like, whether it be colored sugars, edible gold and silver pearls or colored icing!

Filling:

1 cup of pecan halves

1 tablespoon of cinnamon

½ cup of light brown sugar, packed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Toss the pecans onto a roasting pan and toast for 5 minutes in preheated oven. Whenever the pecans come out of the oven, roughly chop the pecans. Let the pecans to cool for a few minutes.

Combine cinnamon and brown sugar together in a small bowl.

Dough:

1 cup of warm water (110-116 degrees)

1 package of dry active yeast (1/4 ounce package)

2 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing

1 tablespoon of kosher salt

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 egg, slightly beaten, for egg wash

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Allow the yeast to bloom for 5-10 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add 2 tablespoons of melted butter and salt. Slowly begin to add the flour until you have incorporated the entire 3 cups of flour. Continue mixing until the dough comes together and gathers around the hook attachment. Place the dough in a large, butter-greased bowl. Flip the dough over once so the top and bottom of the dough is slightly greased. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in a warm spot for 1-1 ½ hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough in half.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until thin and slightly rectangular (don’t worry if it’s not perfect!) Lightly brush the dough with melted butter, leaving a 2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar cinnamon and pecans onto the dough.

Roll the dough up tightly, longwise, beginning with the side closest to you (this step is a lot like making homemade cinnamon rolls.) Once the dough is in one long, snake-like shape, pinch the seams together (using the melted butter as an adhesive agent), and begin rolling the dough out with your palms gently until the length reaches about 1 ½ feet (depending on the length of your counter space!) Be very gentle when rolling out the dough, the pecans can easily cause a tear in the dough if too much pressure is applied. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Place the two snake-like logs of dough side by side. Pinch together two ends of the logs and adhere with melted butter. Gently begin braiding the dough while forming the dough into a circle. Pinch the ends together and tuck under the king cake. Cover and let rise for 1 hour in a warm space.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Once the dough has risen for the second time, place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with slightly beaten egg. Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Allow the cake to cool completely on a cooling rack. Decorate with icing (recipe below) and gold leaf if you wish!

Icing:

¾ cup of powdered sugar

2-3 teaspoons of buttermilk

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and one teaspoon of buttermilk. While whisking, add a little more buttermilk until the mixture is thick and smooth.

VALENTINE’S DAY + A SWEET GIVEAWAY

Triple Threat Chocolate Cookies | for the love of the south

When I was a little girl, I let people know how much I loved them by stretching out my arms as wide as I could while saying, “I love you dissss much….” Giggles and cooing commenced, and I smiled, knowing my audience of family and friends were well pleased. Now that I’m grown, my affection is shown over a cup of coffee and conversation, a sweet handwritten letter, or, more commonly, a plate full of goodies.

There is something about Valentine’s Day that always makes me exultant. Rose and crimson blossoms strewn across the markets, lovely angelic cards being sent to loved ones, and the best part of this holiday is the divine excuse to eat piles and piles of chocolate. Whenever I began to think of what to prepare on this special day, I immediately started thinking of chocolate. Since it is a natural aphrodisiac, I figured a triple chocolate cookie would be the best dessert to make for Michael (also known as a triple threat)!

Barefoot and giddy as a schoolgirl, I threw on my crinkled, linen waist apron and began tearing through bags and bags of chocolate. Chopping the deeply rich morsels while watching thin tatters of chocolate wrinkle and pucker under the weight of my knife gave me a pleasure all its own. Ella Fitzgerald kept me company as she continued crooning about “These Simple Things” in the background.

Triple Threat Chocolate Cookies | for the love of the south

I melted the chocolate gently, stirring the gravel-sized matte shards until they slowly but surely gave way and became a gleaming pool of silken chocolate. Adding the melted chocolate to the batter magically transformed the mixture to an almost mousse-like consistency. I was already in heaven. Once the cookies bake and cool to a lacelike chocolate crisp, the only garnish these beauties need is a crowning glory of smooth and shiny glaze.

These triple threat cookies are a lovely display of affection, satisfying whoever is on the receiving end. I gave a plate full to Michael and watched him bite off the edge of the cookie. It shattered under his teeth and chocolate crumbs tumbled down into the depths of our taupe couch. He looked at me in sheer satisfaction. With impeccable timing and a humble heart, I asked him how much he loved me. He smirked, stuck a cookie in his mouth and with his arms stretched out as wide as he could, he said, “I love you this much!” Be still my heart…

Mohawk Valley Raw Honey Giveaway | for the love of the south

{Because y’all are the bee’s knees, I’m giving away an array of wonderful Raw Honey from Mohawk Valley Trading Co. All you have to do is leave a comment below, letting me know your favorite Valentine’s Day sweet treat! The contest ends at midnight on February 16th, and the winner will be chosen and contacted on February 17th!} Congrats to Emily who is the winner of the raw honey!

(A little about Raw Honey from Mohawk Valley Trading Co.: If you are planning to use honey for its health-benefits, it must be raw honey. Heating honey (pasteurization) destroys the all of the pollen, enzymes, propolis, vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, and aromatics.)

Recipe: Triple Threat Chocolate Cookies

Inspired by Bon Appétit

Note: You can use your favorite chocolate in this recipe whether it is milk, dark or bittersweet chocolate. Also, you can make this dough ahead and keep it in the fridge. I would keep it stored in a container rather than try and make a log out of the dough (trust me, it’s too soft)!

20 oz. of bittersweet chocolate, chopped, divided

¼ cup of all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 ½ cups dark brown sugar, packed

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

4 eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 tablespoons of sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Heat 8 ounces of chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate has completely melted. Let cool slightly. Keep the saucepan out for melting more chocolate for the glaze.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

In a mixer fitted with a beater attachment, beat brown sugar and butter together on a medium-high speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Switch to a whisk attachment and add eggs, vanilla and sour cream and whisk just until combined. Gradually mix in melted chocolate, whisking for a few more minutes (the mixture will begin to resemble chocolate mousse at this point.) Stir in flour mixture, and fold in 8 ounces chopped chocolate. Cover and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drop heaping tablespoons of dough about 2-inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating baking sheet halfway through, about 15-18 minutes. Let the cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes (this will seem like an eternity but they are well worth the wait!) Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Melt the remaining 4 ounces of chopped chocolate in reserved bowl and set over reserved saucepan of simmering water. Let chocolate cool slightly and drizzle glaze over cookies. Eat immediately if you cannot help yourself any longer (and do not mind chocolate smeared across your face), and for the more patient souls, allow to set for 15-20 minutes.

THE PECAN TREE

Homemade Louisiana Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Outlined against the illuminating midwinter sky, delicate black branches of the pecan tree gently wave like arthritic hands toward heaven in prayer. Emerald fruit the size of a newborn’s fist are scattered under the bowing boughs of the ancient pecan tree. Mossy jackets peel away like damp pieces of cardboard, revealing a black and brown tiger striped shell.

My grandfather is one of the most patient men I have ever met, and, therefore, the caretaker of the pecan trees. He is tender at heart, wrinkled around the eyes and deeply rooted. After gathering the pecans, he perches himself at the vast wooden kitchen table, his mighty, weathered hand grasps the pewter cracker. The weight of the metal breaks the shell, exposing the tender, sweet, earthy meat of the pecan. Meticulously separating the two halves from the center of the nut, he carefully places the pecans in labeled bags, with the exception of the occasional stragglers that just have to be tasted. It’s a sweet reward for tending to his beloved pecan trees.

Some years, the tree would be barren, either from drought or an autumn storm, which would strip the tree of all its green fruit. But, then, it’s prolific once again, as in life. Even though this past year the steadfast tree hasn’t produced well, he is still patient and tends to it, like a member of the family, waiting and caring for the tree in gentle spirits.

Straining Pecan Milk | for the love of the south

Recipe: Homemade Louisiana Pecan Milk

Makes 4 servings

Note: Making this recipes is like bottling pecan essence. If you can’t get your hands on Louisiana pecans, use whatever you can find. Just know there will be a difference in flavor when using grocery store pecans rather than fresh, local ones.

You can reuse the leftover strained pecan meal if you don’t like the idea of tossing it. I add some of the damp meal to cornbread batter, pancake batter or biscuit dough. It’s also yummy stirred into yogurt or oatmeal. You can also add it to a vanilla ice cream base to make a quick pecan ice cream!

1 cup of Louisiana pecan halves

2 tablespoons of local honey

1/8 teaspoon of kosher salt

Place pecans in a bowl and cover with water by 2-inches. Let stand at least 12 hours (the longer the pecans soak, the creamier and smoother the milk with be.)

Drain pecans and discard the soaking liquid. Place pecans, honey and salt in a blender. Add 4 cups of hot, filtered water to the blender and blend on low speed, increasing to high for at least 2 minutes.

Strain pecan milk through a tea towel or a fine-mesh sieve into a medium-sized bowl, pressing down on the solids. Toss or reuse the pecan meal (see note above.) At this point, adjust the sweetness and saltiness of the milk to taste. You can also add more water if you desire a thinner milk. I usually double strain my pecan milk, but the beauty of this recipe is that you can make the milk to your desired taste and texture! Enjoy!