North African Wedding Soup

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This is another one of the recipes that we decided to make this blog for… It’s one of my favorite Pinterest finds, from what’s become a favorite blog – Little Spice Jar. We always tweak our recipes a little bit and this was no different. But, per usual, we’ve forgotten the changes we made from the last few times we made it. So this time, we’ll cross our fingers that it turns out to be the best version we’ve ever made and actually write it down.

These little meatballs are so full of flavorful spices, and the meatballs actually flavor the soup broth itself. This broth has such depth, and the aromas floating through your kitchen are so enticing. The flavors build and build the more you eat. And actually, this is one of those soups that is so much better as a leftover. Do what we did and eat it for dinner, but then enjoy the leftovers for lunch for the rest of the week. Feel free to tweak the spices based on your personal preferences, but keep it spice-heavy! It is not super spicy, so if you want it that way, go ahead and increase the spice level. You may have noticed if you’ve read our blog a lot that we love the flavors of the Middle East and Northern African. No exception here. If you’re not familiar with or unsure of the cuisine from this part of the world, please let this soup be your gateway drug. You won’t be disappointed!

Why is this called North African wedding soup? Well, every time we make it, it makes me think of Italian wedding soup – the small meatballs, couscous in place of the orzo, and of course, North African spices in place of Italian flavors. Even more confirmation for this name? Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary! North African wedding soup it is! (I have no idea if there is actually a traditional North African wedding soup – if there is, this is not it!)

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One of my favorites from our wedding ❤  Photograph by Lauren D. Rogers Photography

Mini Meatball Spiced Soup

(Adapted from Little Spice Jar)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of chopped carrots
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the beef, tomato paste, and spices through nutmeg. Combine well.
  3. Then form into small meatballs and place on a lined cookie sheet. Bake for ~10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  5. Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the pot and top with several turns of black pepper, the Aleppo pepper, and the fresh thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are fragrant/browning and carrots have begun to soften, ~10-12minutes.
  6. Pour beef broth into the pot and adjust heat to a light simmer.
  7. Add the meatballs and the couscous, partially cover if needed, and continue to lightly simmer for ~15 minutes, until the couscous is soft and tender.
  8. Taste and adjust for salt as needed, then serve.
Serves 6-8
Quick response to a question I’m anticipating. Why bake the meatballs, won’t they cook in the broth? Yes, they would. Baking them briefly allows for two important things in my mind – 1) it helps the meatballs hold their shape and 2) allows the meat to leech some of its fat somewhere other than your broth. Yes the fat tastes delicious and yes, you’re losing some of the spiced flavors, but it can definitely make your soup cloudy and oily. 
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Friendsgiving 2017

“The best part of life is when your family become your friends and your friends become your family.”

I love that “Friendsgiving” is a thing now. I just learned that while obviously friends have been gathering for meals for a long time, “Friendsgiving” became a thing, marked by its entrance into the Urban Dictionary lexicon in 2008. The sentimental part of me, of course, loves our relationships with our friends. But let’s not lie… I also really like eating Thanksgiving dinner twice!

We’re so lucky that we found a new friend-family group to be a part of down here. Being in the challenging program that we’re in is hard enough, but these people (plus some missing from this picture!) make school and the distance from our families so much more bearable!

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Our contributions to the amazing, delicious Friendsgiving table were Dinner Rolls & Pretzel Bun Stuffing.

Our friends are also wonderful cooks, thank goodness. Their contributions:

Brandon – juicy smoked hens 🐔🐔

Nate & Karen – not-your-grandma’s green beans & decadent mashed potatoes

Matt & Sara – a flavorful, slow-cooked pork loin, gravy (my favorite part of any meal!), & white cheddar mac n cheese – not to mention, they host Friendsgiving each year!

Victoria – cranberry sauce & an entire basket of cookies

Cali – Gingerbread GIRL funfetti cake, decorated with gumdrops, M&Ms, & Skittles – pretty impressive for a kindergartner 💁🏼‍♀️

I didn’t take enough pictures, or very good ones…

Hope everyone else had as great of a Thanksgiving and/or Friendsgiving as we did!

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(And better than Garfield…)

 

Pretzel Bun Stuffing

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Have you ever been in a restaurant and decided on a nice, big, juicy burger for dinner? You’re super-excited and think nothing can be better than your highly anticipated burger? So you place your order with the server, and then s/he asks you, “Do you want that on a regular bun or a pretzel bun?” Literally NO ONE EVER has responded with, “Ehh, just give me the regular bun.” Why? Because even though you were excited about that highly anticipated, big, juicy burger in and of itself… a pretzel bun just makes everything better!

Ok now, translate that sentiment to Thanksgiving stuffing. We made this stuffing entirely from pretzels buns. When we made stuffing last year for Friendsgiving, we added a few pretzel buns for a little surprise, and it worked well. So this year, we decided to up the ante and go with 100% pretzel bun! The idea of pretzel bun stuffing inspired me to add a few non-traditional touches to this recipe, but it’s not so non-traditional that people will turn their noses up at it. Honestly, given the overwhelming herbaciousness of the stuffing (with very traditional herbs!), you’d never notice the extra ingredients. But you will know just how delicious it tastes as you inhale it!

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Pretzel Bun Stuffing

Ingredients: 
  • 8 pretzel rolls, torn
  • 1 high quality beef hot dog, finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, divided (1/2 cup + 1/4 cup + more)
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown mustard
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3+ cups beef stock, divided (2 cups + more)
  • 2 large eggs
Instructions: 
  1. Tear the bread & rolls into bite-sized pieces at least 24 hours prior to making the stuffing. Let sit out to dry.
  2. On the day you’re preparing the stuffing, place the bread into a large bowl.
  3. Toss your finely chopped hot dog into a pan over medium heat with just a splash of broth. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the hot dog has released a little fat.
  4. Add the 1/2 cup of butter to the pan, followed by the onions and garlic. Top with fresh ground black pepper. Saute for ~5 minutes as the onions soften.
  5. Now add herbs, salt, and 10 turns of pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes.
  6. Pour this mixture over the bread in the bowl and toss well.
  7. Melt another 1/4 cup of butter. Whisk together with 2 eggs and 2 cups of beef stock.
  8. Pour that mixture over bread. Stir until liquid is absorbed by the bread.
  9. Add additional stock by the 1/4 cup until the bread is saturated. Wait a few minutes between adding stock to ensure it all gets absorbed. (You want the bread to be very wet, but without pools of liquid in the bowl. I used just an additional 1/4 cup this time.)
  10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  11. Butter a large glass baking dish. Place the bread mixture into the dish.
  12. Butter a large piece of foil and cover the dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
  13. Increase oven heat to 450 degrees. Uncover and bake for a few additional minutes for a crispy top.
Serves 8-12.

Dinner Rolls

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At every family meal we have on my maternal side of the family, everyone gets really excited when they find out that my Aunt Bobbie has made the rolls or bread. She’s famous in the family for delicious, fluffy, homemade rolls and bread. At this most recent Thanksgiving, when she was slicing bread to place out on the table, my brother elbowed me and whispered, “Do you think anyone would notice if I just ate all the bread before dinner starts?” For the record Kev, I do think so…

We’re having Friendsgiving today this year, and so I decided to try to make her rolls. It’s never quite as good when you make someone else’s recipe that you love, but I thought it was worth the challenge. I adjusted a smidge from her recipe in the family cookbook, so we’ll know where I screwed up when it’s not the same!

Results? Pretty darn good, but shockingly, not exactly the same. Hers are fluffier. But these are still pretty fluffy, especially if you eat them right out of the oven! (How else would you want to eat them…?)

Dinner Rolls

(Recipe from my family cookbook, by Aunt Bobbie, obviously)
Ingredients: 
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water
  • 4 tbsp butter, divided
  • 3 1/4 tsp yeast
Instructions: 
  1. Sift together the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a bread hook.
  2. Stir the yeast into the warm water.
  3. Beat the egg and then whisk in the sugar. Then add 2 tbsp of melted butter, followed by the water and yeast.
  4. Pour all of the wet ingredients in with the dry. Start the stand mixer and knead for 3-4 minutes.
  5. {If needed, add tiny amount of flour or water to combat too sticky or too dry dough.}
  6. Place dough ball in a large, greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise for 2 hours.
  7. Divide dough into individual rolls. Bobbie suggests 24; we did 18. Place rolls on a baking sheet.
  8. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and generously brush on top of all the rolls.
  9. Set aside for another 2 hours to rise again. They should double in size.
  10. Finally, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Parmesan Roasted Sweet Potatoes

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Let me tell you about Thanksgiving… it is my favorite holiday! Two of my favorite things in the world are food and family, and Thanksgiving combines both of those. I love just sitting around, visiting with all of my extended family, while simultaneously grazing on heaping plates of carbs. And since both my mom and my dad have equally large families, we get to repeat this exercise in over-indulgence twice in the day! I like to stuff my plate with all the delicious things – turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, all of the vegetables, buttered rolls, and ladles full of gravy over top of it all! But you know what I’ve never been a huge fan of…? The sweet potato casserole. I think I feel like it doesn’t quite belong with the rest of the savory stuff and you don’t put gravy on top, so it really just doesn’t fit on my plate.

But this dish? This trades the extra sweetness of marshmallows for a more savory topping. If you’re more of a savory kind of person like me, you could substitute this out for the traditional sweet potato casserole for your Thanksgiving celebration. I certainly would prefer it… although I’m not going to lie, you might get some push-back from the traditionalists. These are easy to make (and quick compared to a lot of the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner), so tell the traditionalists to relax and take a bite! They’ll be converted by the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the potatoes combined with the slightly crispy topping.

Happy Thanksgiving! 🦃🦃🦃

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Parmesan Roasted Sweet Potatoes

(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 4 small-medium sweet potatoes
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 10 turns fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Slice the sweet potato, trying to maintain uniform thickness of ~1/4 inch.
  3. Lay them out on a foil-line cookie sheet.
  4. Mix together all of the remaining ingredients except for parsley. Brush the mixture over top all of the sweet potatoes.
  5. Roast for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Serve topped with a bit more Parmesan if you’re feeling greedy 🙂
Side dish for 4-6

Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

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We’re not really a picky couple when it comes to meat. We pretty much like it all. Our weekly routine usually consists of two nights of fish or other seafood, a night of beef, and pretty much the rest of the nights with chicken of some variety. We also love lamb, goat, duck, and all kinds of game meat, but get our grad-school-budgeted hands on those a little less often. But somehow, I feel like we always forget about pork. Every time we make pork, we always wonder why we don’t eat it more often. Fall and the cooler weather we’ve (finally!) been having made me think about doing a braised dish and this time, my mind went straight to the other white meat! I initially wanted to braise the pork in cider, with apples and potatoes on the side, a dish I make pretty much every fall. But then I realized that would end up being pretty darn similar to the Cider Chicken with Savory Fall Fruits that we made just two weekends ago. So I browsed our two favorite culinary magazines (Bon Appetit and Food & Wine) for some inspiration. Turns out, everyone braises pork in cider in the fall… But working back a few years, I came across the recipe we adapted this dish from – a different flavor profile that was exactly what I was looking for!

Speaking of different flavor profile… I was a little skeptical about the grapes. I thought the grapes might make the whole dish too sweet. I was happily wrong! While they do add a little bit of sweetness to the final product, it isn’t overwhelming. Even more interestingly, the grapes take on some of the savoriness of the pork. When you see them after they’ve braised for half the afternoon, you’ll notice that they’ve lost a lot of their color. I thought that might mean that they would’ve leeched out all of their flavor too. Not the case! As it turns out, the grapes ended up being my favorite part of the dish, so I’m glad I didn’t trust my first instinct to get rid of them!

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Braised Balsamic Pork with Grapes

(Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)
Ingredients: 
  • 3lb boneless pork loin
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • ~1lb black or red grapes (~3 cups)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups vegetable or poultry stock
  • 4 large fresh sage leaves
  • 2 springs of fresh rosemary
Instructions: 
  1. Season the pork loin with salt & pepper on both sides.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp neutral oil at just above medium heat (#6). Once hot, sear the pork on all sides, 3-5 minutes per side.
  3. Remove the pork to a plate on the side and lower heat to medium-low.
  4. After allowing a few minutes for the oil the cool slightly, add the garlic and onions to the dish. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Then add the grapes and top with the brown sugar. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Pour in the vinegar and simmer for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the stock and fresh herbs to the dish. Now also return the pork. Nestle the meat down into the dish (the top should still be exposed).
  7. Bring the liquid to a boil and then immediately reduce to low heat. Cover and cook at a very low simmer for 45 minutes.
  8. Flip the pork loin, re-cover, and cook at the same low simmer for another 30-45 minutes. [We suggest checking for doneness at the 30 minute mark, especially if you prefer your pork less than well-done!]
  9. Remove the pork loin from the dish and ensure it is cooked sufficiently with a meat thermometer (the FDA recommends a minimum safe temperature of 145 degrees for pork).
  10. Meanwhile, increase the burner heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Boil vigorously until the liquid has reduced and thickened. While the sauce is reducing, intermittently skim fat/oil/debris off the top. Also, remove the sprigs of herbs.
  11. Serve the pork sliced, topped with sauce.
Serves 8-12

Spicy Feta Dip

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Ok y’all, I know I say things like this all the time, but… This dip is SO easy to make and SO worth it. Bring this to your next family gathering, book club, or just make it for tomorrow’s dinner! It’s spicy without being overpowering. And everyone loves feta cheese!

On that note, now is a good time to talk about feta again. There is feta cheese and then there is feta cheese. If you bring someone from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Israel, France, or, you know, basically anywhere else in the world, to the United States and show them the crumbly stuff that we sell in our grocery stores as feta – prepare to be laughed at. It is just nowhere near as good as what they have. But fear not! We Americans now have access to much better qualities of feta (usually imported from Europe or the Middle East) pretty easily here. Trader Joe’s & Whole Foods will always have some, your local grocery store might in some areas, and if those all fail, it’ll give you the opportunity to check out your nearest Middle Eastern market or international food shop! Look for feta in blocks, usually in brine. It’ll be wet and have some holes in it. While it crumbles easily between your fingers, it shouldn’t be dry and pre-crumbled for you. Believe me, I was a lover of American grocery store feta for years, so I’m not judging. But do yourself a favor and upgrade! Mmmmmm… feta 🙂

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Also, you may have noticed if you read our blog semi-regularly (heyyy Baba, Aunt Suzanne, Mom 🙋🙋🙋), that we share recipes that make a wide variety of serving sizes. For example our Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese basically feeds an army, while this dip was easily eaten by the two of us tonight. This just goes to show you that we only share what we’re actually making for ourselves at any given time. We ate this dip with crudites to accompany some lahmacun tonight (perfect combo in case you were wondering!).

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Spicy Feta Dip

(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
Ingredients: 
  • 6oz feta
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice from a lemon wedge
Instructions: 
  1. Pulse all ingredients together in a food processor until smooth.
  2. Refrigerate until serving.
  3. Top with a drizzle of olive oil when serving, if desired.
Serves 4 as an appetizer