Cacio e Pepe

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Number 10 on our Culinary Bucket List states, “Figure out how the Italians’ make pasta cacio e pepe a million times better than we can. Also, master that twirling the pasta at the table trick.” If you’ve ever been to Rome, you know what I’m talking about. Literally ever Roman restaurant we set foot in served some type of cacio e pepe. It draws in tourists’ attention for its theatrical table-side preparation, but turns out it’s also delicious! Not lying, I think my cousin Scottie ate cacio e pepe for almost every meal when we were in Rome after the first time she tried it.

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All of us in St. Peter’s Square! From L to R: Selim, family friend Henry, Ally, Ally’s brother Jeffrey, and cousins Scottie, Jayme, & Luke

How is it that good though? ‘Cacio e pepe’ literally means pepper and cheese. It’s that simple – pasta + pepper + cheese. But somehow, when we came home and tried to recreate it, it never turned out the same. It was mind-boggling – how are we screwing up something that seems so simple?? The cheese would get all clumpy, and we wouldn’t really get a “sauce” per se.

Well, apparently we’re not the only ones. I found this article from Serious Eats that addressed our dilemma, from the point of view of someone who knows way more about cooking and testing recipes that we do. Thank goodness for smart people! Read it and learn like we did. We followed all of the tips and tricks in the article and were rewarded with a much better result. While it’s still not as good as what we had in Italy, and we still don’t know how to do the twirl the pasta at the table trick, it’s good enough to share!

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Cacio e Pepe

(Recipe adapted from this Serious Eats article & recipe)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/3 cup AP flour (plus slightly more for dusting your counter, hands, etc)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 40 turns fresh ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2-3 tbsp pasta water
Instructions: 
  1. Start by making the pasta dough. On a clean, dry counter-top, mix together the flour and salt and form it into a volcano (a mound with a crater scooped out in the middle). Crack two eggs into that center well/crater.
  2. Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.) Once the egg is mixed into the flour enough that it’s not trying to run away anymore, switch to use your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You made need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
  3. Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.
  4. Once the dough has set, roll out and divide into quarters. Using the pasta roller attachment on the stand mixer, flatten out (to #4 if using KitchenAid’s model). Let the flattened dough rest on a floured surface. Then cut into spaghetti noodles using that attachment. [Follow your particular pasta roller/cutter’s instructions for doing these things.] Tip: keep your hands and the surface of the dough lightly floured during this process.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil with a dash of salt. Use less water than you typically would – just enough to cover the pasta.
  6. Add fresh pasta and cook until al dente. This only takes a few minutes with fresh pasta – it will take more like 6-7 minutes with store-bought pasta.
  7. In a second pan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil and the first 20 turns of black pepper over medium-low heat.
  8. Add 2-3 tbsp of starchy pasta water and the melted butter to the pan. Stir to combine with the olive oil.
  9. Using tongs, lift noodles out of their pot and place into the pan as well.
  10. Slowly add the cheese and the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil. Stir vigorously while adding the cheese so it doesn’t get clumped up.
  11. Add more pasta water as needed to ensure all noodles get coated with the sauce.
  12. Top with 20 more turns of black pepper and salt if you think it needs.
Makes 2 large individual servings, or 4 non-fat-American-sized servings.

Thai Turkey Meatballs

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I was browsing my ol’ faithful – Pinterest – when this recipe (eventually) caught my eye. I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest when it comes to inspiring my dinner. Love – well, what’s not to love? There are literally millions of gorgeous photos, leading you to so many different recipes. It also lets me check out other blogs I would’ve never found otherwise. But sometimes it’s almost TOO much. It certainly doesn’t help me narrow down my plan if I have no idea what I want to make tonight. Even though I try to organize my Pinterest into food categories, the options are still overwhelming. Let’s take my “Chicken Entrees” board. I started there because we had chicken in the freezer that probably should be eaten. Obviously, each of these dishes appealed to me in some instance, because I saved them. So why did I find reasons to not make any of them tonight?? Browsing this board, I first clicked on Senegalese Chicken Yassa – 💭💭 nah, takes too long to make. Then, oooh Chicken & Dumplings – 💭💭 ehhh, Selim probably won’t want that tonight. Chicken Tikka Masala –  💭💭 oh yum, but I’m trying to write a new blog post and we’ve already done a tikka masala on here. Greek Chicken Meatballs – 💭💭 welllll we did just go on a rant about Greek food, so probably should hold off. But meatballs, that sounds good… let’s go down that rabbit hole… ⌨️ “chicken meatballs” 🖱️ And many clicks later, here we are.

And I’m glad we finally made it. These meatballs are great! And are a likely a bit healthier than the last meatballs you made. We ate them over rice noodles, which was great, but I think they’d be perfect as an appetizer as well.

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Thai Turkey Meatballs

(Adapted from The Bewitchin’ Kitchen blog)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 + 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced + 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro
  • 5 large fresh basil leaves
  • 5 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine the first twelve ingredients (carrots through pepper – including the 1 tbsp of lime juice and 3 sliced cloves of garlic) in a food processor. Pulse until well-processed.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the mixture, ground turkey, and egg. Stir to combine well.
  4. Using your hands, form the mixture into small meatballs. (It will feel really wet!)
  5. Place meatballs on a lined cookie sheet.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Then flip and bake another 15 minutes.
  7. While the meatballs are baking, prepare the sauce.
  8. In a large, high-edged pan over medium heat, swirl together coconut oil and just a dash of the coconut milk.
  9. Add the remaining garlic (2 cloves, minced) and cook for a few minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
  10. Now stir in the red curry paste. Allow to cook for just 1-2 more minutes.
  11. Then add the rest of the can of coconut milk and the remaining 2 tbsp lime juice.
  12. Maintain the sauce over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it thickens up a smidge.
  13. When the meatballs are done, place the in the pan. Remove from heat. Coat with the sauce.
  14. Serve over rice or rice noodles or with toothpicks as an appetizer.

Spinach & Feta Börek

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Now that we’ve started using filo dough (see: Baklava – we’ve made it twice since posting it!), we’ve gained a little bit of confidence in working with the thin, finicky dough. So I knew Selim would want to tackle börek next. He loves börek – although it’s kind of hard to say it’s his favorite food, because there are about a million different types of börek. In Turkey, börek is essentially any dish prepared with yufka, which is (depending on when and where you read about it) the same as filo dough, the precursor of filo dough, or a slightly different texture from filo dough. I’m not educated enough to know which one it is. I do know that börek is delicious in every form I’ve ever had it and that this spinach-stuffed version is a quite traditional one.

I was eating some of this börek for lunch the other day in a breakroom at the hospital, when someone said, “Oh wow that smells delicious… What is it, spanakopita?” I could feel my husband cringing from a floor away. We’ll pause to let him go on his rant about Turkish food – how he would’ve answered had the friendly, innocent question been posed to him.

Selim: Many Americans love Mediterranean food and seem to always associate this with Greek food. So somehow, this has turned into Greek food being the most beloved cuisine, representing an entire region. Even more so, I feel like Americans think that the Greeks were the originators and only true architects of so many of the best dishes of the Middle East and Mediterranean. In fact, many of your favorites, originated elsewhere: baklava came out of the Ottoman palace kitchens in modern day Istanbul, while hummus was first documented in 13th century Cairo. The vast reach of the Ottoman empire and centuries of trading routes surely contributes to the regional spread of cuisine – you can find dishes with very similar ingredients and preparations, but different names from the Balkans to the Levant, the Caucasus to Northern African. (This is not to say that there aren’t amazing Greek chefs or delicious dishes of Greek origin – the Greeks truly aren’t the subject of my rant.) I just hate that other cultures don’t get their due. Obviously, I’m biased as I’m ethnically half Turkish, but I wish Turkish cuisine was more recognized, available, and beloved in the US. So in short, while similar, this is börek, not spanakopita.

Spinach & Feta Börek

(Adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen by Özcan Ozan)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 lbs fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup clarified butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 3 eggs, divided
  • 16oz feta cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • ~20 sheets filo dough
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Prepare the filling: cook the spinach briefly in boiling water over medium heat until wilted. Drain the water and squeeze the spinach to remove any additional water.
  3. Chop up the spinach.
  4. In a large pan oven medium heat, heat 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup clarified butter.
  5. Add the onions and spinach and cook for just 3-4 minutes until onions have softened.
  6. Allow the mixture to cool.
  7. Once cool, stir in the cheese, parsley, and 2 whisked eggs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  8. Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup clarified butter, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 egg, and milk.
  9. Brush this mixture on the bottom of a cookie sheet. Begin layering the filo dough, brushing each new layer with the butter mixture.
  10. Once halfway through the filo dough (~10 sheets), spread all of the spinach and cheese mixture out evenly.
  11. Resume layering the rest of the filo dough, brushing with the butter mixture as before, including a thorough coating over the last layer.
  12. Using a sharp knife, slice the börek into squares or triangles.
  13. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake an additional 20 minutes.
  14. Allow the börek to stand for 10 minutes before eating.

 

Hot Salmon with Pineapple Salsa

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When I think about a dinner that screams SUMMER! – for whatever reason, my go-to is fish with a fruit salsa. I don’t know about y’all, but I always am more interested in fish in the summer – I can mentally transport myself to the ocean and pretend that fish just got hauled in a few minutes beforehand. And as for fruit salsa, that’s kind of a no-brainer. Who doesn’t appreciate the sweet, juicy bounty of summer harvest fruits? As you can see from one of our first recipes from last summer, I have a template when making a dish like this. Salmon (my favorite fish of the easily-accessible-at-the-grocery-store varieties) + spicy flavoring on the salmon + cool, juicy, & sweet contrasting salsa. Hey – if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?

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Hot Salmon with Pineapple Salsa

(Salmon inspired by Little Spice Jar blog)
Ingredients: 
  • Salmon
    • 2 salmon portions (~5-6oz each)
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 tbsp hot sauce (we used Frank’s)
    • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 5 turns fresh ground black pepper
    • 1 tsp paprika
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
    • Pinch of ancho chili powder
  • Salsa
    • 2 cups diced pineapple
    • 1/2 medium onion, diced
    • 1 bell pepper, diced
    • 3 tbsp lime juice
    • 3 turns fresh ground black pepper
    • Pinch of salt
Instructions: 
  1. Prepare the salsa. Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate until time to eat.
  2. Whisk together all of the ingredients under the salmon bullet, except the salmon itself.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Place the salmon portions on a piece of foil large enough to fold around the salmon.
  5. Paint the hot sauce mixtures on all sides of the salmon.
  6. Close the foil around the fish, pinching the edges closed.
  7. Bake on a cookie sheet for ~15 minutes. [FDA recommends a safe minimum temperature of 145 degrees F.]
  8. Open the foil and turn oven to broil. Broil, which watching closely, for just a minute or two to crisp up the top.
  9. Serve salmon with salsa on top.
Dinner for two. There is a lot of salsa – we intended it to be a topping/side dish, but it’s plenty to serve with 4 or 6 portions of fish.

One Year Blog-iversary

Selim is Salt Bae

Today is the one year anniversary of our very first blog post! Honestly, we’re pretty proud of ourselves for keeping it up! People are always asking how we have time to do this with our busy school and clinical schedule – honestly I don’t really know. I think the creative outlet has helped us, plus we both really like to eat and cook. This has been quite the adventure for us. It adds a little bit of time to our dinners, but gives us motivation to keep trying new things. Just the other night, Selim, looking down at a tray of baklava, said, “I’m glad we started our blog. I would have never tried making some of these things otherwise.” Let’s look back over our first year!

Overall favorite dish:

♥ Ally – So hard to choose… but I think I have to go with Spinach & Feta Gözleme

♥ Selim – Lahmacun

 

Most difficult dish:

♥ Ally – Baklava

♥ Selim – Homemade Pasta Carbonara

 

Most unique dish:

♥ Ally – Balsamic Basil Blackberry Pizza

♥ Selim – Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese

Most liked dishSpiced Blueberry Pie

Most viewed dishBay Scallop Risotto

Most pinned dishBay Scallop Risotto

Number of followers: 17 (watch out – we’re about to go viral 😂)

Number of unique blog visitors: 991

Number of blog posts: 90, including this one

Countries from which people have visited our blog: United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Namibia, India, Brazil, France, Sweden, Romania, the Netherlands, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Hungary, Greece, Singapore, Qatar, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Poland, Ghana, the Czech Republic, Malaysia, Colombia, Turkey, Bahrain, Indonesia, South Korea, Ireland, Chile, and Russia! (This might be my favorite statistic!🇨🇦🇳🇦🇳🇿🇧🇭🇧🇷🇫🇷🇬🇷🇺🇸🇹🇷🇨🇱🇩🇪🇰🇷)

Most used tagQuick & Easy

Number of times Selim has asked to change our header photo: at least 8

Most loyal blog readers: Ally’s aunt Suzanne & Selim’s father

Least loyal blog reader: Ally’s mom – “Oh honey, I still don’t really know what a blog is.” (Said just last weekend!)


This was quite the first year we had! Looking forward, in the next year we hope to:

  • Make more Turkish recipes
  • Finally share Selim’s perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe
  • Continue to work on our Culinary Bucket List
  • Convince Ally’s mom to read the blog
  • Improve our photography skills
  • Share more about our favorite wines
  • Use our blog Instagram more frequently (follow us @bonappetitbabyblog & #bonappetitbabyblog if you want to see incredibly infrequent Instagram posts)
    • [Side note: we used to use #bonappetitbaby – but since that Katy Perry song came out, the hashtag has way more pictures of scantily clad women and weird memes than it does food – thanks for ruining our hashtag Katy 🙄]
  • Finish graduate school! (May 2018 gets closer by the day!)

Thanks for reading!

-Ally & Selim

Us at Ally’s cousin Meghan’s wedding the other weekend – they had amazing food, including a pickle bar!!

 

Rosemary Risotto with Asparagus

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I think risotto might be one of my most favorite foods in the world. It’s creamy, delicious, and usually at least a little bit cheesy. Plus, I feel like it’s a little bit of a labor of love. You don’t stand in front of the stove for a long time to make a dish for some one you don’t like – if you have to feed them at all, you go with something that takes way less of your time than risotto. [See our earlier post Bay Scallop Risotto for how I tried to woo Selim with my “fancy” risotto dish.]

Furthermore, I love risotto because it’s basically a blank canvass. The basics of a risotto are simple – short grain rice (usually Arborio, at least here in the US), slowly cooked in hot liquid, with frequent stirring. Generally, the dish goes like that: start with chopped onions sauteed in butter or oil, followed by the addition of the short grain rice. Then follows some wine and a hot stock, stirred until the grains of rice absorb the liquid. Of course there are some specific types of risotto: think risotto alla milanese with saffron and Parmesan cheese, or risotto al nero di seppia, a striking black dish made with squid and their ink. But for us at home, aside from the basic framework above, risotto is yours to customize!

Tonight’s dish is meant for two as a side dish, instead of the heaping main dish portions I frequently make. (Not gonna lie though – it was a pretty large side for two people.) Certainly you can upscale for a main course if you’d like though.

I’m actually pretty proud of this dish. I really enjoyed it. And I made it all by myself – didn’t follow any recipes or get inspiration from anywhere. A lot of times when I don’t have the guidance of a recipe (or Selim), I under-season things or just don’t combine flavors all that well. Not this time! All the flavors combined beautifully and it’s full of flavor! I hope others enjoy too!

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Rosemary Risotto with Asparagus

Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2+ cups vegetable stock
  • 1 heaping tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 cups asparagus (roughly 1 bunch), chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 8 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 3oz gouda cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
Instructions: 
  1. Over medium heat, warm the olive oil in a medium pan.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the vegetable stock until simmering.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the oil and cook for 3 minutes, until the onions have just begun to soften.
  4. Add rice and stir to coat in the remaining oil. Toast for 3 minutes.
  5. Pour in the wine. Stir frequently until the rice as absorbed the wine.
  6. Add the rosemary and black pepper to the dish.
  7. Lower heat slightly to a medium-low.
  8. Now begin adding the warm vegetable stock, one ladleful at a time, to the pan. Stir frequently until the liquid is absorbed.
  9. Repeat step seven over and over.
  10. Once the rice is expanding and getting creamy, taste a grain after every ladle or two. Once the rice has softened, but is still a smidge too al dente to eat, add the asparagus to the pan.
  11. Resume adding stock by the ladleful and stirring, but cover the dish the first time after you add the asparagus for just about 2 minutes, so the asparagus steams a bit.
  12. The rice is done when the dish is creamy, but each individual grain still retains its shape and a very slightly al dente texture.
    • Try this suggestion for a little more concrete/visual detail – or just eat once you think it’s ready!
  13. After your last ladle of stock has been absorbed, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese and lemon juice.
  14. Taste for salt and pepper, adjust as you like. (We didn’t use any salt in ours.)
  15. Serve with a bit more cheese or rosemary on top if you like!
Serves 2-4 as a side dish.

 

Citrus Chili Cucumbers

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I love cucumbers, but I basically eat them the same two ways over and over. (See: Fresh Avocado & Cucumber Salad & Mama Z’s Cucumbers) I’ve had this cucumber recipe pinned for literally years, but have never made it. It’s been pinned more than 119,000 times! Apparently everyone likes a nice cucumber… I’m glad I finally tried them. These cucumbers are different from my go-tos, which makes it a nice change. I usually don’t think light and fresh cucumbers need something like oil topping them, but it works well here.

Citrus Chili Cucumbers

(Adapted from Our Life in a Click blog, via Pinterest)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 large cucumber, sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 turns fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Whisk together all of the ingredients minus the cucumbers themselves.
  2. Pour liquid over top of the cucumbers.
  3. Eat! Marvel at how easy it was to make this delicious snack.