SHAKSHUKA

Going to see a counselor was one of the best things I’ve ever done.


The first time, it was just weeks after my father had died.  I was back in Tucson, completing my second and final year of graduate school, and at the gentle urging of several friends, I rode my bike over to Student Health Services and half eagerly, half gingerly sat through an intake appointment which led to a handful of meetings with the kind and straightforward Deborah.

Even though it made complete sense for me to see a counselor at that time and even to attend a small, student-run grief support group, which I eventually did, I was a little abashed about it at first.  Grateful as I am to have been raised in an atmosphere of “You can do anything you set your mind to!,” there are ways in which I find this messaging of independence to be programmed so deep that it actually gets in my way.  I do it to myself, of course—”I can do it!”—or, I should be able to do it alone.

With death, it was easier for me to be talked out of such insistence, to consider it an exception to my rule of stubbornness, to concede that it might make sense to consult a third-party who could help guide me through starkly unfamiliar territory.  And, as it turned out, having Deborah to suggest ways of coping, assure me that what I was going through was normal, listen to me pour out the thoughts & emotions I was sure my friends were tired of hearing all allowed me to keep my sanity and move through grief with much sturdier footing than I would have had alone.

But I never would have thought that I’d be back in a counselor’s office, as I have been in the last few months.  This time, nothing happened—nothing went wrong, no one died, no crisis was precipitated—but I found myself with some questions, some issues that were cropping up in my relationships (both with myself and with other people), some conversations that it made sense to have with a neutral third party, not to mention one who helps people comb over their lives for a living.

If I squint and tilt my head, I can remember a time when I would have been embarrassed to share this—there’s still so much stigma associated with counseling/therapy/psychiatry in this culture of ours.  But the truth is that any chagrin I might feel has been completely supplanted by how freaking wonderful it has been to see a counselor for the last few months.

At any point in our lives, we are living from the hip; we’ve never done this before, whatever this may be.  We’ve never been here, and nobody sent a road map.  Feel free to stop and ask for directions.

SHAKSHUKA
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Saveur

What is shakshuka?  An Israeli dish consisting of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce laced with feta and fresh parsley.  When you cook it, you leave your yolks runny so that when you break them open, the cheddar-y centers will spill out into the dish’s base, making an unctuous, lick-the-bowl mixture.

I have no idea how to pronounce “shakshuka” correctly, but that hasn’t stopped me from becoming obsessed with it.  What I do know is that a) it’s so freaking delicious and b) it’s a great and inexpensive way to feed a small crowd brunch or to feed your family a homey, ready-in-twenty-minutes dinner on a cold winter night.  Make it, my friends, you won’t regret it.

The original recipe calls for serving pita bread with your shakshuka, but I like toasted slices of ciabatta much better.

ingredients:

1 yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 jalapeños, minced (remove seeds if you’re nervous about the heat)
1 28 oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
eggs (I’ve fit as many as 10 in one skillet, but 6-8 also works)
salt
olive oil
bread

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, deep skillet.  Saute the onion and peppers over medium heat until the onion is translucent.  Add the garlic and spices and cook a few minutes more.

Toss in the canned tomatoes, then run a little (no more than a half-cup or so) water back into the can and pour it into the skillet.  Add salt to taste.  Simmer the sauce until it thickens up, 10-12 minutes.  Once it has pulled together a bit, crack the eggs over the sauce and cover the skillet.

After 5-6 minutes, your eggs should be cooked with still-runny centers.  Sprinkle the shakshuka with the feta and parsley and serve, scooping the saucy eggs into bowls and tucking some bread in alongside, for sopping up the goodness.

DUTCH BABY

Don’t worry, this recipe does not involve an actual baby.

See?  It’s a pancake.  Sometimes they are called by another name—German pancakes, and indeed, food historians suspect that the moniker “Dutch” is actually a corruption of “Deutsch,” which makes much more sense.  As for the “baby” part, I have no idea.  Perhaps the first tasters were so amazed that they cried out “oh baby?”

Whatever the etymology of the name, these pancakes are delicious and perfect when you have guests for brunch.  Pull the eggs out of the fridge the night before—they won’t spoil, I promise—just as with a good batch of popovers, room temperature eggs help insure that your pancake will puff.

In the morning, slip the pancake in the oven while you make coffee, fry bacon, etc.  So much easier than flipping individual pancakes like a short-order cook, but no less satisfying.  Heck, even Sonya, my breakfast-obsessed photographer, said, “I think I might like this better than a regular pancake!”  Oh baby, indeed.

DUTCH BABY PANCAKE

Should you be craving some “regular” pancakes, we’ve got a recipe for those, too.

ingredients:

3 eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup flour
¾ cup milk (go decadent, use whole or 2%)
2 T butter
1 T sugar
pinch salt

oven: 400˚
pan: 8-10” cast iron skillet or Dutch (ha! of course) oven

As the oven is heating, toss the butter in your skillet and place it into the oven to heat.  In the meantime, whisk together the remaining ingredients.

Once the oven has pre-heated, check the skillet.  When your butter is nutty-brown and slightly foamy, pour in the pancake batter.  Return to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pancake is puffed and golden.

Cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve.  I like mine with a healthy dusting of powdered sugar and squeezes from fresh lemons; Jill prefers hers with syrup and berries.

VARIATION—When browning the butter in the oven, include some thinly sliced apple and a dash of cinnamon.  Pour the batter over the whole mess and bake the same as above.  Makes a lovely treat, especially in fall or winter.

DEVILED EGGS

We joke about it a lot, just how different Jill and I are on paper.

There’s the age difference (19 scandalous years), the skin color difference (she’s white, I’m brown), the religious difference (she was raised Pentecostal, I was raised Hindu), and too many personality differences to count.  But rarely do these differences occur to us as stumbling blocks; in fact, they rarely occur to us at all.

We forget our age difference—“Oh wait, you wouldn’t remember that, you were three in 1985,”—and I have, more than once, asked Jill to borrow her concealer, only to realize that “pale beige” isn’t really going to work for me.

Truth be told, the biggest difference between us, or at least the one that occurs like the biggest, is the class difference.  Jill was raised in a solid, blue-collar family in Shreveport, Louisiana; I was raised in a decidedly white-collar suburb of Memphis, Tennessee.  We may both be Southern women, but the ways of life to which we grew up accustomed are very different.

Jill grew up gardening, hunting, pickling, and canning—that’s how her family got their food.  And though her parents, through their frugality and hard work, could easily now afford not to do any of that anymore, they still do.  Because it was never just a strategy, it was (and remains) a way of life.

Of course, this way of life has recently become trendy.  More and more people are starting to see the value of growing their own food, or at least knowing where it’s grown.  Food writers like Michael Pollan and Hank Shaw are helping to remove some of the ignorant stigma against those who have the courage to kill their own dinners.  And pickling and canning have seen a real resurgence in the last few years, one which I suspect will only grow.

Last month, in May, I was asked to participate in an incredible grassroots event here in Houston, Outstanding In My Backyard (OIMBY).  The event featured local chefs and home cooks using local ingredients to create a literal backyard feast.  We raised over $5000 for the Houston Food Bank and hope to double that number when cookbooks featuring recipes from the event go on sale later this summer.

It seemed only appropriate for an event like OIMBY that I cook a dish that has always been Jill’s signature—deviled eggs—using the okra that her parents grew, and that she pickled & canned.  For Jill’s family, this “new” emphasis on local, fresh, and organic isn’t new at all, it’s the way they’ve lived for generations.

DEVILED EGGS
serves 6-8 as an appetizer

ingredients:

2 dozen farm-fresh eggs, hard-boiled
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 dozen pickled okra spears, roughly chopped*
2 T pickling juice from the okra
smoked paprika (optional)

Slice the eggs lengthwise & gently turn the yolks out into a large bowl.  Mash the yolks with the mayonnaise, mustard, okra, & okra juice.  Stir mixture until it’s fluffy but not wet, adding more okra juice if necessary.

Spoon a rounded tablespoon of filling into each hollowed-out egg white half, mounding it up as high as you like.  Continue until all of the eggs have been filled; garnish each egg with a generous sprinkling of paprika.

*Substitute cucumber pickles.  Note: I prefer the texture of hand-chopped pickles to that of pre-made pickle relish.

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BUTTERMILK BISCUITS & ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS

I love breakfast.  A nice, leisurely, tummy-stuffing, weekend breakfast (or maybe brunch, depending upon your sleeping habits).  There’s really just nothing like it; something savory with something sweet, a big steaming mug of coffee, the scrape of fork against plate where the syrup was.  Sigh.  Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry.

biscuit & omelet

Going out for breakfast or brunch is one of my favorite indulgences; I have favored spots in every city I’ve lived in.  I dream about the huevos rancheros at Baby Barnaby’s & the cheese grits at Brother Juniper’s, but when push comes to shove, I’m actually much more likely to make a big breakfast for myself.

No changing out of your pajamas, no standing in line with your stomach growling, no having to hear “Actually, we’re out of bacon.”

Having friends over for brunch can be a really economical way to entertain, much cheaper than throwing a dinner party.  Plus, everybody loves breakfast!  It’s comfort food at its best.  Throw in some mimosas or Bloody Marys and everyone’s happy.

Okay, enough about that, I know you’re thinking “what the heck is a Ziploc-bag omelet?”  It’s basically the best magic trick I know, making individual omelets in Ziploc bags.  Totally solves the problem of how to fix eggs for a group, since this person doesn’t like mushrooms and this child can’t stand onions.  Plus, it is SO much fun to do—great to do with kids, though we’ve definitely made them with all adults and they had a good time, too.

It’s not just the novelty, though; the omelets actually taste great, and without having to add any fat to cook them.  I’m sure someone out there is terrified by the thought of cooking food in plastic.  If that’s you, you probably shouldn’t try this.

Biscuits are also fun to do with kids—you’re going to get the counter messy anyway, so why not let them enjoy?  Two of my favorite kiddos in the world, Isabella & Antonio, whom I’ve known since they were each tiny babies, are always my biscuit souz chefs when I visit them or they visit me.  We use funky cookie-cutters (lobster or cactus-shaped biscuits, anyone?) to liven up things even more.

There are a million ways to make biscuits in this world; this happens to be my way. I’ve been experimenting with homemade biscuits for as long as I can remember and let me just say, these are really, really good.  I’m from Tennessee; I know a good biscuit when I meet one.

Have great weekend, ya’ll.  And eat something good for breakfast.

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

ingredients: buttermilk biscuits

4 T each, butter & vegetable shortening (don’t soften the butter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup buttermilk

extra 2 T butter, melted

oven: 425°
pan: heavy baking sheet, jellyroll pan, or cast-iron skillet

Place the shortening and butter inside a large bowl.  Add in dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, sugar, & salt—and, using your fingers, smush (yes, that’s a technical term) until you have a crumbly mixture, with large pieces.  The pieces shouldn’t be too small or too uniform—just no big chunks of fat.

Pour in the buttermilk and mix very gently with your hands (try to remember to take your ring(s) off; I always forget!).  The mixture will seem wet and as if there’s no way it could ever become biscuits.  Do not panic and do not overmix.

Turn the loose mixture onto a heavily floured surface, coating the dough once with flour on both sides before patting it out very gently to about a half-inch thickness.  Even though the dough still may not look completely together, trust me.  That’s how you want them—if you work with the dough too much = hard biscuits.

Using a biscuit cutter (if you are a good Southerner & have one, unlike me) or an upside-down water glass, cut out biscuit rounds from the dough, placing them close together on your baking sheet or in your skillet/pan.

Cobble together scrap pieces to do a second, and if needed, third round of biscuit-cutting.  Brush the tops of the biscuits with half of the melted butter and place them in the oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes; at about the 12 minute mark, your biscuits should have risen nicely but will look a little pale.  Brush with the remaining melted butter and finish baking.

Serve warm (of course) with more butter, honey, jam, sausage, pepper gravy, etc.  Or, if you are my father-in-law, ribbon cane syrup (ew).

ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS
(thanks to our friends Vicky & Lois for sharing this years ago!)

This is so simple that I can’t even rightly call it a “recipe”—it’s more like a formula or a magic trick. Every time I do it I’m halfway afraid it isn’t going to work, but it always does!

ingredients:

eggs (2 per person, or perhaps just 1 for tiny eaters) add-ins
Ziploc bags (sandwich-size)
a Sharpie or permanent marker

any omelet add-ins you like:

shredded cheese (cheddar, fontina, mozzarella, Monterey jack)
crumbled/chopped meats (ham, sausage, bacon or a meatless substitute)
chopped veggies (peppers, mushrooms, onions, green onions, spinach, asparagus)*
seasonings (fresh or dried herbs such as basil or thyme, hot sauce, etc)
salt & pepper

First, get a tall pot of water (the kind you’d use to cook a big batch of pasta) filled with water and bring the water to a boil.

To assemble the omelets, first have everyone claim a Ziploc bag & write his/her name on it.  eggs in a bagThen, using a bowl to help the bag “stand up,” crack two eggs into each one.

Instruct everyone to seal their bags and then smush up the eggs with their fingers.  Kids, naturally, l-o-v-e this part, so they’ll happily manage this step for everyone.

Then, have everyone open their bags back up and throw in whatever accoutrement they desire—just make sure not to overload!  Think in finger-pinches, not handfuls.

Once everyone’s loaded up their omelet-to-be, seal the bag and mix it all up again.

One last step, and this is important (the kids may need help with this one).  Unseal the bag so you can force all of the ingredients down to the bottom, then press the air out through the top and re-seal.

You should have a concentrated band at the bottom of your bag, and no, it won’t look very appetizing, but don’t worry!  I promise you this will taste excellent.

Bring your pot of water down to a simmer—don’t use a rolling boil or your eggs (and bag) will overcook.  Drop the bags into the water, one at a time—they’ll kind of bob up at the top, but that’s why you pressed all of the ingredients down to the bottom. going in the water!

You may need to kick the heat back up on your burner to compensate for the addition of the bags, but at this point, set a timer for exactly thirteen minutes and go about your business.

When that timer goes off, carefully fish the bags out of the water and onto a kitchen towel.  To serve, simply open each bag (there will be steam, so watch little fingers) and slide the omelet onto a plate.  Enjoy!

*If you decide to use asparagus, I recommend pre-cooking it in a little water, either over the stove or in the microwave.

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FATHER’S DAY BRUNCH: EGGS BENEDICT & BLOODY MARYS

dad

There’s a self-consciousness that comes with grief, the consciousness that the people around you:

a) have never experienced anything like what you’re going through,

b) are utterly at a loss for what to do to comfort/support you,

c) wish you would just “get better” already,

d) are terrified by the thought of death and hate you reminding them that their loved ones will die.

Sometimes I feel like “that girl who talks about her dead father all the time.”

In the filing cabinet of my brain and heart, food and my father are inextricably linked. One of the great ironies of it all is that losing my father, an unabashed epicure, sent me straight into the kitchen, where I got really good at cooking all kinds of things I wish I could make for him now.

For example, Eggs Benedict and an excellently spiced Bloody Mary—robust, made with love, fit for a king. It’s the brunch I’d make for my dad if I could.

Pray tell, what are you feeding your father (or husband, partner, uncle, grandpa, etc) on Sunday? Are you cooking at home or taking him out? Does your family have a Father’s Day culinary tradition? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Wishing all Dads a very happy Father’s Day, with lots of love from BJG.

EGGS BENEDICT (BLUE JEAN GOURMET STYLE)

EB--decorated, close-up

There are lots of variations on theme of EB; this is just how I happen to like mine.  I really don’t think you can go wrong if you stick to the basic premise of  layering toothsome pork product & gooey egg on top of crusty bread and slathering the whole thing in hollandaise.

A word about hollandaise.  It’s really not as fussy as everyone makes it out to be–at least, it has not been a culinary-pain-in-the-butt for me.  I’ve heard tell that you can make hollandaise in a blender, and if you have done so with success and think it’s way easier than my method, please do share.  I’ve made mine several times the old-fashioned way with great success, so if you’ve been afraid to try the stuff, I urge you to give it a whirl.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

spinach (either a package of frozen, chopped or a big bunch of fresh)

English muffins (traditional) or another bread product

Canadian bacon (substitute thick-cut ham or many slices of thin-cut ham)

poached eggs*

eggs, butter, water, fresh lemon juice (for the hollandaise)

salt & pepper, hot sauce (optional)

TO MAKE HOLLANDAISE:

2 egg yolks

juice from 1/2 a lemon

6 T butter, cut into cubes

salt & pepper

Combine the egg yolks with lemon juice in a small saucepan.  Whisk to combine over low heat; the yolks should thicken quickly.  Toss in the butter cubes and continue whisking until the butter has melted.

hollandaise step 2

hollandaise step 3

hollandaise fin

The mixture will become a bit lighter in color, which is a good indication that you’ve got things well-emulsified.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

TO ASSEMBLE:

The trickiest part about making this breakfast is the timing.  You basically want to save the hollandaise for last, because it does best when served very soon after it’s made–it’s a little bit diva like that (na-na-na-a-diva-is-a-female-version…okay, yeah I’m going to have that song in my head now.)

My plan of action is usually this:

1) cook spinach, season with salt & pepper, set aside

2) brown Canadian bacon in a skillet, keep warm in a low oven

3) toast English muffins, add to the low oven

4) poach eggs* & turn out into a paper-towel-lined platter in, you guessed it!, a low oven

5) make hollandaise

6) stack ’em: English muffin half on bottom, top with Canadian bacon, then spinach, then a poached egg.  repeat.  pour on the Hollandaise with a generous hand!

* The internet is full of wisdom for how best to poach one’s eggs; I’ve done them the old-fashioned way, in a pot of vinegar-spiked water and I’ve done them the lazy way, in an egg poacher.  However you get your eggs poached is fine by me!

BEST BLOODY MARY MIX

bloody mary

ingredients:

1 large bottle spicy-hot V8

Juice of 2 limes

2 T. white vinegar

2 T. prepared horseradish

2 T. Worcestershire sauce

1 T. garlic powder

1 tsp. celery salt

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

A generous glug of any of the following
olive juice, pickle juice, or juice from pickled jalapeños

Plenty of freshly-ground pepper

garnish: celery, spicy green olives, limes, celery salt

Combine all ingredients and store in a pitcher in the refrigerator. When you’re ready for drinks, first “salt” the rim of your glasses.  Rub the lip of each glass with a lime wedge; then, turn the glass upside down and onto a plate-full of celery salt.  Twist the glass to form a rim.

To mix a drink, combine 3 parts mix to 1 part vodka or gin over ice.  Garnish with a tall stalk of celery and a toothpick speared with an olive & lime wedge.

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