Dough Deprivation

Holidays are the time for warm embraces, fireside escapes and something familiar to devour in quantities that you would normally be ashamed of. Unfortunately on this holiday, I am not traveling back home. No smoked turkey legs especially reserved for me, no macaroni and cheese casserole that clung together with the help of 2 pounds of cheese, and worst of all, no rolls. No rolls. No hot, buttery rolls… this is the first time in my life where I have to face the realization of those words. As the thought rolled around in my head of how to replicate Grandma’s recipe, I could not help but get caught up in the magic and memory of how it all happens.

Grandma set out her “bread-making bowl,” which was an old glass Pyrex slightly scratched at the bottom, bread flour, sugar, oil, yeast, water and salt. There was a silent role call as Grandma made sure that the cast of characters was present. Slowly pouring the warm water into the bowl, she added the yeast, oil and sugar. Letting it gurgle and billow for a few minutes, she then added the salt by measuring with the palm of her hand. Slowly, she added the flour by the scoopful, stirring in between each scoop, causing the flour to puff up like tiny clouds around the base of the bowl, creating a sheer, white film of evidence around the Pyrex. Once the dough was declared ready to rise, she popped the dough into the corner of the kitchen, covering the bowl with a white tea towel and folded the towel over and under the bowl as if she were tucking it into bed.

Honestly, I usually missed the rest of the steps because chatty cousins, or more likely, the dessert table easily distracted me. But, luckily, there was a clock that was built inside of me, a special timer that went off just in time for me to know that the rolls were making their début from the oven. There are many hard decisions to make in life. Scorching your mouth on hot, buttery dough just shouldn’t be a decision that one should be responsible for making. It’s a basic human right that should not be frowned upon.

So, here I sit in my kitchen, overwhelmed with flour and memories, attempting the recreate my grandmother’s rolls for holidays away from home (measurements included.) Something about this small gesture makes me feel closer to my family. I pray that you and your loved ones are together for the holidays, and if not, I pray that you can feel the warmth from their hearts and hugs through familiar, heartwarming holiday vittles.

“Distance means nothing when your kitchen smells like home.”-Luisa Weiss

Recipe: Makes 12 Large Rolls

2 packages of Rapid Rise Yeast

2 cups of warm water*

½ cup of sugar

1 stick of butter, melted, plus more for brushing

2 tablespoons of salt

6 cups of bread flour

*Note: The water should be warm to the touch, not lukewarm or hot, just warm like a perfect bath!

Combine water, yeast and sugar together in an electric mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Let the yeast start to bloom and froth for about 5-10 minutes. Add 1 stick of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of salt to the mixture. Mix to combine. Add 3 cups of flour to the mixture and combine on low for just a minute. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough begins to form in a ball. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl and let sit for 1 hour in a warm spot (or until doubled in size.) Punch down the dough and divide into 12 equal pieces. Coating your hands with flour, form each piece into a ball and place into 2 greased pans (I used 2 8-inch cake pans.) Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 3500

Uncover the rolls and brush the tops lightly with butter. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top. Once the rolls are out of the oven, brush with more butter and, with a fork, pick up the sides of the rolls for a few moments to allow the steam to escape (this ensures that your rolls with not get soggy!) Enjoy!


It’s the Great Apple Pie

I never liked apple pie. This will not be a post about how my grandmother made pie and how I sat at her knee while she taught me how to perfectly peel an apple. Honestly, I cannot remember ANYONE in my family that made apple pie. And anytime we were out, I opted for the pecan, pumpkin or lemon meringue pie, never the apple.

I was a willful child. I didn’t like apples naturally (unless covered in sugar.) Therefore, I never ate apple pie. EVER. But then, as I began to grow and mature, I started to figure out why I didn’t like certain foods. When it came to apple pie, I hated the crunchy texture of the apples and the mixture itself was too sweet. So, I made an apple pie for apple-pie-haters like myself and have been able to win every single one of them over. Cooking down the apples before baking creates a silky, buttery texture, and pairing the filling with a salted caramel forms a lovely balance between sweet and salty (which I adore.) So this apple pie, I can honestly say is the best apple pie in the world (or at least in mine!)


Recipe: Makes 1 8-inch Caramel Apple Pie

For the Filling:

3 golden delicious apples

3 honey crisp apples

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons of flour

1 teaspoon of apple pie spice

1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon

1/3 cup of raw sugar

1/4 stick of butter

Peel, core and slice apples. Put apples in a large bowl with lemon juice to prevent browning. Add flour, apple pie spice and cinnamon to bowl. Mix to combine. In a large pan, melt butter and sugar in pan. Add apples to the pan. Cook down on medium heat for about 25 minutes. Let cool before handling.

Salted Caramel:

1 cup of sugar

1/4 cup of water

1 stick of butter

1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 teaspoon of fine sea salt

Combine sugar and water over low heat until dissolved. Add butter and bring heat up to medium. Bring to boil. Keep an eye on the pot! Whenever the liquid turns amber, take it off the heat and add the cream and vanilla. It will splatter a lot so stand back. Keep stirring until smooth. Bring back to low heat and add salt. Let cool for a few minutes.

For the Pie Crust:

2 ½ cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

3 tablespoons of sugar

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 stick of butter, cold and cut up into cubes

½ cup of shortening, cut up in small pieces

6-12 tablespoons of ice cold water

1 egg, slightly beaten

In a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and shortening to the flour mixture. Pulse to combine all of the ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the cold water, tablespoon-by-tablespoon, pulsing in between tablespoons. Seriously, pulse. You don’t want the heat from the motor interfering with the consistency of the dough. Add water until the dough comes together into a ball. The dough should not be sticky or crumbly. Divide dough in half and shape into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To Assemble:

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon of raw cane sugar

Preheat oven to 4000

Take one of the prepared piecrusts from the fridge and roll out piecrust out onto a lightly floured surface until about 9-inches in diameter. Place the dough into an 8-inch pie plate. Place ½ of the prepared filling into the pie plate as well and top the filling with half of the caramel. Continue with the rest of the apple filling and caramel sauce. Roll out the second disk of dough and place it on top of the pie. Crimp the edges of the 2 piecrusts together. Create a slit on the top of the crust to allow the steam to escape. Brush the top of the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle with raw cane sugar.

Place in a 4000 oven for 20 minutes, then rotate the pie and decrease the temperature to 3750 for another 20-25 minutes (or until the top is golden brown.) Let cool for a few moments to allow the filling to set. Enjoy!


Comforting Cravings on a Cold Night

I sit in the stillness of a quiet evening beneath an amber flame, warming my bones from the frigid, damp southern weather. I have conflicts on these evenings. Yearning for a warm morsel, but my body cannot seem to move from the heat of the fire. So, like in any good relationship, I compromise.  Throwing a wooly blanket around me, I swiftly walk to the kitchen like a fancy woman would in a long, tight skirt, except I am donning a plaid, woven bedspread. Nonetheless, I am on a mission. I crave the comfort of pasta, and not the skimpy sorts: the meaty, rich, velvety, luscious kind. I pour over the warmth of the flames from the stovetop as the sauces bubble and simmer. My spirits are instantly lifted. Ladling the white sauce over the dark, succulent meat sauce reminds me of the earth being blanketed by leaden snow. I gather up my vittles, traipse back to the fireplace, and gather with the ones I love over a warm, delightful meal. And in that moment, there is peace. In the midst of the chill, there is a gift, a gift of togetherness that both the bitter cold and the season bring. Give thanks for these moments when your heart and your tummy are both full and content.

Recipe: Serves 6

Bolognese Sauce:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 rib of celery

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Small handful of parsley, chopped

½ pound of ground pork

½ pound ground sirloin

1 Tbs. of flour

1 ½ cups of vegetable stock

1 14-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes

¼ cup of milk

½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Béchamel Sauce:

4 Tbs. of butter

4 Tbs. of flour

2 cups of milk

Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

1 pound of tagliatelle pasta, cooked till al dente

Fresh chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese, garnish

To make the meat sauce:

Put the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley into a food processor and grind until the vegetables are smooth. Coat a large pot with oil and sauté vegetables until fragrant and soft. Add the pork and beef to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in the pot while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Dust the tablespoon of flour over meat and vegetables. Add the stock, tomatoes and milk. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 ½ hours. Add Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss in cooked pasta.

To make béchamel:

In a small saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour. Cook for just a few minutes to cook out the “flour” taste. Add the milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Keep on low heat and keep stirring while the sauce thickens. The sauce is ready whenever it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

To plate:

In each dish, spread a few tablespoons of the béchamel onto the bottom of the plate (or on top if you prefer.) Serve the pasta over the béchamel sauce and top with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.


Sugar & Spice Makes Everything Nice


Shopping days for a child can be compared to wondering aimlessly through a desert. Waiting for my mom to checkout at the JCPenney register felt like an eternity. I began to hate the words “department store” at a young age. Long aisles of clothes felt like waves trying to engulf me, yet enticed my mother to “just try on a few things.” Store after store, foot after foot, my tummy began to growl and my feet began to hurt. A sea of people drew me closer and closer to my mother’s side, and finally, I just held her hand and closed my eyes.

Looking back, that probably seemed quite odd to the passer-byers, but I didn’t notice. I knew what I was doing. I knew that just around the corner was heaven, well heaven to a tired 5 year old. With my eyes firmly shut, hand securely wrapped around my mother’s, I began to inhale the most wonderful smell in the world. Cinnamon and sugar filled my little sniffer. I squeezed Mom’s hand tighter and began to jump up and down shouting, “Cinnamon sugar pretzels, cinnamon sugar pretzels!” My aching feet were no longer achy, and my tummy began feeling instantly better. My patience was about to be rewarded in the form of a soft, warm, pillow-like pretzel that had face-planted into a shallow pool of cinnamon-sugary goodness. I was content. I was happy. I was the poster child for Auntie Anne’s pretzels. I left the little kiosk with one hand still snugly wrapped around my mom’s, a soft pretzel in the other, and a smile on my face.

This recipe brought me back to my go-to mall treat, and as I opened the oven door to take these little darlings out, I inhaled, closed my eyes, and magically, in that one moment, I was 5 again. These babies are that powerful.

Recipe: Makes 8 pretzels

1 cup of milk

1 package of yeast

¼ cup of sugar

4 tablespoons of butter, melted, divided

1 tablespoon of salt

3 cups of all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons of cinnamon

½ cup of sugar

Heat milk just until it comes to a simmer. Add sugar. Stir until all of the sugar has dissolved in the milk. The milk should be warm after the incorporation of the sugar, not hot to the touch. If the milk is too hot, let cool for a few moments before adding the yeast. Once the milk is warm, add the yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes. The yeast will puff up and become frothy. Add the yeast mixture to a mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter to the mixture and salt. Combine on low speed. Add 2 cups of flour. Combine until almost completely incorporated. Then add the remaining 1 cup of flour. The dough will start to gather around the hook after a few minutes of mixing. Drop the dough into a medium sized bowl greased with butter. Let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Once the dough has risen once, punch down and form into 8 equal pieces. Gently roll each piece into a rope about 12 inches long. Shape the dough into a “U” shape. Then bring the ends, one at a time, to the base of the “U” to form the traditional pretzel shape. Continue with the rest of the dough. Place onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Let rise again for another 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 3500

 Combine cinnamon and sugar in a small, shallow bowl.

Brush tops of dough with butter and sprinkle tops with the cinnamon and sugar. Bake pretzels for 18-20 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Brush the tops with more butter and rub in cinnamon and sugar. Enjoy!




It’s a Caramel World in the Autumn

Time changes with the leaves. As I watched the first leaf of autumn tumble and weave through the wind from the security of its resting place, I could not help but stand in pure wonder. For this moment, this one moment, this spray has the stage. It has grown strong, withstanding the earth’s beating and here it is, giving itself up for the season, for the beautiful display that surrounds me. It dances, slowly weaving and tumbling. And for that one moment, this ruby and amber specked leaf has the floor. It is gently swept to the ground, left to be the first to fall, and soon to be joined by many others. It’s whole existence ends with a whisper. But oh, what a sweet whisper.

These caramels remind me of the untold leaves that scatter through the grass on an autumn day, russet and elegant. Even the sound of the bubbling sugar cooking away reminds me of stepping onto crisp, fallen leaves. So as you unwrap one of these treasures, listen to the crackling of the paper and let it remind you of the marvel of leaves crunching under your feet. Hear that? Oh, what a sweet whisper.

“In God, every end is converted into a new means”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recipe: Adapted from How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten

Makes 16 pieces

1 ½ cups of sugar

¼ cup of water

¼ cup of light corn syrup

1 cup of heavy whipping cream

5 tablespoons of butter

1 teaspoon of flaky sea salt (or 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt), plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon of vanilla

In a square, 8-inch baking pan, line with parchment paper that hangs over the edge by at least 2 inches (this will act as your handle to get the caramels out the of the pan.) Brush the bottoms and side of the pan with vegetable oil. Set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan, combine sugar, water, and corn syrup. Boil on medium-high heat until the sugar turns amber. Never stir the sugar at this stage, just swirl the pan. If you end up stirring, the sugar will crystallize.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat cream, butter and salt until the mixture simmers. Set aside.

Whenever the sugar mixture browns, take it off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture. Be careful because the mixture will bubble up rapidly! Add the vanilla and stir. Put the mixture back onto a medium heat and cook the caramel until a candy thermometer hits 245-2480 (firm ball stage.) Take off heat and pour into the prepared parchment lined baking dish. Let the caramel set in the fridge for an hour or two until completely cooled.

Once set, take the caramel out of the square pan and cut in half. Roll each half lengthwise (jellyroll style) into an 8-inch rope. Cut the rope in half and continue cutting each piece in half until there are 8 equal pieces. Repeat with the other rope. Sprinkle the tops of the caramel with fine sea salt. Wrap each piece with a 4×5 inch piece of parchment paper and keep in fridge until ready to enjoy!


When Life Leaves You Without Grits

All this happened before, and it will all happen again.

Poised with a list in hand and as focused as a camera, I whipped through the automatic doors to my neighborhood grocery store. Starting with the produce, I found myself gapping like a guppy at the pears and hoarded all of the shallots I could fit into my basket. An angel that must have fallen from heaven generously offered me a cup full of freeze-dried strawberries. Who knew?? They were lovely, tangy and I felt like an astronaut eating them.  I strolled through the deli section, sampled a little Virginia ham, and bought a pound! Oh, my shopping was going like gangbusters. But you don’t want to hear about a perfect shopping trip, do you?


It was in my moment of pure enthusiasm when I realized I was missing an essential ingredient for my supper, grits for the grits soufflé. I circled around the cereal, floundered around the flour, and ended up ogling inanely at almond butter for no reason whatsoever. Grits rained on my parade, or the lack of grits really. My head began to spin. I stared hopelessly at the lucky people passing me by, racing to the checkout line. In a desperate panic, I looked down at my basket. Life handed me ham, shallots and pears. Roasted pears could be for dessert, check. And for dinner, PIZZA. When in doubt, pizza. If ever there was an answer to question that’s questionable, pizza. Sautéed shallots drowning in hot butter seemed a lovely choice for a topping and paired well with the ham. A sprinkling of thyme for good measure should do the trick.

The results were better than I ever imagined. Thyme, ham and shallots are best friends in my book. And I am confident to say that no one even missed the grits.

Recipe: Makes 4 Individual Pizzas

4 pieces of thawed Basic Pizza Dough 

1 cup of favorite homemade or jarred red sauce

Sautéed Shallots (recipe below)

¼ pound of thinly sliced ham

½ cup of shredded mozzarella

Olive oil and cracked black pepper (to dress)

Fresh thyme leaves (garnish)

Preheat oven to 500o with a baking sheet or pizza stone preheating in the oven as well.

Roll out rounds of dough thinly onto a piece of foil lightly dusted with flour. Pour a few tablespoons of red sauce onto the dough. Scatter ¼ of the shallot mixture onto the sauce. Hand-tear ham and scatter on top and finish with mozzarella. Place the prepared pizza in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Dress each baked pizza with a drizzle of olive oil, cracked black pepper and thyme leaves. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough. Enjoy!

For the sautéed shallots:

2 tablespoons of butter

2 shallots, sliced

2 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves (or a dash of dried thyme)

¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small pan, melt the butter on medium heat. Add shallots, thyme and seasonings to the pan. Sauté shallots until softened but not browned. Set aside.


Friday Night’s Alright for Football

Friday nights in October were spent in chilly, silver bleachers of the Barbe Buccaneer’s football stadium in Lake Charles, Louisiana. At a young age, I adored these nights. Not because I enjoyed football, or even understood the game to be honest. It was the idea of everyone being together, cheering for the same team, and consuming vast amounts of food while watching others exercise.

I had never seen so many people consume so many peanuts at one time. As the stress of the game grew, or the heat of many in-crowd “conversations” (some like to call them insults) progressed, the peanut shells went flying. The burnt red skins along with the tan shells looked like tiny autumn leaves floating in the air. This was the closest I ever got to fall foliage in Louisiana.

So, there I would sit in the crowd, attempting to fit into the madness. I rested on the bleachers with a fist full of peanuts, trying desperately to crack them between my fingers like the rest of the seasoned adults. Finally, I did what kids do best. I used my God-given tools and cracked the shells with my teeth. And there, lying in my fingers was my prize. Happily continuing with my method, I became not only a spectator of this sport but a partaker as I downed an entire empty Coca-Cola cup filled with peanuts. The game was going into overtime, whatever that means, whenever I noticed that all of the peanut skins were not floating like the others. They were sticking to the shirt of the man sitting directly in front of me. My head began to fill up with ways to remove the peanut remnants without being caught. Suddenly, there was a gust of wind and I began to attempt to blow at the stranger’s shirt at the same time, hoping that no one would notice. Ineffective. Then, everyone started to stand up and cheer in unison. This was my chance. With both hands, I tenaciously started patting the back of the peanut- covered stranger. He turned around and just smiled at me with two thumbs up. I returned the gesture just in time to see a lovely scene of autumnal foliage flying around between us. Success.

This recipe takes me back to those chilly Friday nights, eating copious amounts of peanuts and loving every minute.

Recipe: Makes 1 Quart

2 cup of heavy whipping cream

½ cup of peanuts, plus extra for garnish if using, lightly toasted and chopped

6 egg yolks

½ cup of sugar

In a small saucepan, heat the cream and peanuts together until it begins to simmer. Turn off heat and allow the peanuts to steep in the cream for a few minutes. Strain mixture and discard peanuts. In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture has become pale yellow in color and thick. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour in cream. Whisk until all of the ingredients are combined. In a double boiler (or a pot of simmering water fitted with a larger bowl on top) stir the mixture together until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Put the ice cream base in the fridge until fully chilled, about 2 hours.

In an ice cream maker, freeze the cream according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a freeze safe container and allow to become fully frozen for another 2 hours or so. Garnish with toasted peanuts if desired


The Giving Pear Tree & Me

When I was a tot, there was a special place I would go to like clockwork whenever autumn would arrive. There, sitting on the edge of our property, was a pear tree waiting morning after morning for me like the most reliable of companions. Its leaves began to give way to the season and break with the breeze, like linking chains being severed to count down till the days of winter. The jackets of the fruit reflected the season with pale shades of buttery green and deep hues of burgundy. Its skin, vulnerable and speckled, much like the freckles on my nose. Imperfect perfection.

But I was not the only member of the family that adored these little gems. The dirt around the base of the tree was littered with partially eaten fruit and the finger pointed to one direction, our Dalmatian, Penny. She was quite fond of pears as well. Playing fetch with pears and Penny was fruitless because she devoured the little autumnal nuggets and ne’er returned.

In these mornings, I beat her to the giving tree, but in a matter of moments, I could hear her panting and whining over the fact I had hoarded all of the ripened fruit. In my thickest Cajun accent I would yell, “Noooo Penny, these are myyyy pears!” She sat beside me quietly, licking my sticky fingers while sweet nectar dribbled from my chin. After my feast, I got up, patted the auburn leaves off my denim shorts and put my arm around the trunk of the tree as a farewell gesture, thanking it for the adoring autumn pear.

Recipe: Inspired by Minimally Invasive & Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Serves 8

Roasted Pears:

4 Pears

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

2 tablespoons of water

1 tablespoon of sugar

2 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 3750

Cut pears in half lengthwise and core center. Place the pear halves cut side up onto a baking dish. Pour the lemon juice and water into the dish, sprinkle with sugar and dot the tops of the pears with butter. Place in the oven for 30 minutes. Flip the pears over and bake for another 30 minutes. You will know when they are ready whenever you can pierce the pear with a knife with no resistance.

Spiced Cream:

2 cups of heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 teaspoon of cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling

½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons of sugar

Combine all ingredients in a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk all ingredients together until stiff peaks form. Transfer the cream to the fridge until ready to use.

To Plate:

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

2 tablespoons of honey

Place cream at the bottom of the serving dish. Place 1 pear half per person onto plate. Sprinkle with cinnamon and drizzle with honey.