Sugared Doughnut Holes

This month’s Daring Baker’s challenge proved to be just that: a challenge. Through a serious of hilarious events, my procrastination meant that when I had an urgent phone call to come into work, I had to leave my sponge proofing for not one, but six hours. I didn’t have any more honey to remake the sponge, so it became a “make it work” moment. Instead of being a beautifully molded bambloni stuffed with lemon curd (which you may still see later), I made drop doughnut holes rolled in a chili curry sugar mixture. Not my original plan, but these were delicious. They’re super light, and quite frankly, they put those dense doughnuts from the grocery store to shame.


Adapted from Food and Wine

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
1 1/2 envelopes active dry yeast (3 1/4 teaspoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 tablespoons milk
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 cups peanut oil for frying

For the sugar mixture

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, mix the water, yeast, honey and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the flour. (Alternatively, whisk the ingredients by hand.) Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 1 hour.

Return the bowl to the mixer, fitted with a dough hook. Add the remaining 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of flour, along with the milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and the salt. Mix at low speed until blended, then add the butter and knead at medium speed until silky but sticky, about 5 minutes; the dough will not pull away from the side of the bowl. Using an oiled spatula, scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. The dough will not rise.

In a large saucepan, heat the peanut oil to 360°. Line a rack with paper towels. If you made your dough correctly, you should be able to roll it out to a scant 1/2″ thick and cut it with a 1/2″ biscuit cutter. I, however, had soupy dough, so I just took spoonfuls and dropped them into the hot oil.

Cook until golden brown on both sides, maybe a minute or two, and drain on paper towels.

Combine the sugar mixture in a large bowl, and toss the doughnuts about eight at a time in the sugar. These are fantastic served warm with a big glass of milk.

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Bryan and I spent last Thanksgiving with his family, and being a good Southern girl, I refused to show up empty handed. My normal go-to would have been brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or pumpkin pie, but his aunts already had that covered. I assumed Bryan would know his family’s likes and dislikes better than I, so I enlisted his help.

“Baklava,” he said, with no hesitation. “Make baklava. They’ll love it.”

So I made baklava. It’s considered a challenging dessert to make, which I didn’t know until I showed up with baklava in hand. From a time perspective,  I could see the difficulty, but with a steady hand and a bit of patience, baklava is actually pretty simple. This recipe is based on Bryan’s mom’s traditional recipe, and I’ve given it a bit of a modern twist.

Bring this to the next gathering of your Middle Eastern friends, and you’ll wow them with your chutzpah. And your awesome baking skills. It won’t disappoint.


1 pkg phyllo dough, thawed (do not bend)
2 sticks melted butter
1/2 c pecans
1/2 c almonds
1 c pistachios, shelled
2 T sugar
2 T cinnamon

For the glaze
1 c water
2 c sugar
2 T rose water

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and pour into a bowl.

Grease a 9×5 glass baking pan thoroughly, and preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a food processor, grind the nuts into very small pieces. It’s okay if you have some larger bits, but to be most traditional and “correct,” you want them to all be a uniform size of about 1 mm.

Toss the nuts with cinnamon and sugar.

Lay down one sheet of phyllo dough, and brush with melted butter. Repeat with 5 more sheets of dough, then sprinkle nut mixture in an even layer over the phyllo dough.

Repeat until you’ve used all of the nuts and dough.

Pour the rest of the melted butter over the top of the baklava and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a light golden brown.

While the baklava is baking, melt the sugar and water together over medium-low heat, and reduce until it’s viscous.

When the baklava is finished baking, let cool until it’s warm, then add rose water to the glaze. Pour the glaze over the baklava until it’s filled about 1/4″ from the bottom. Let it soak into the baklava, and repeat. Add as much or as little as you want, keeping in mind that the glaze is the fragrant, sticky, sweet finish.

Cut into small squares and serve with coffee or hot tea.

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Shish Taouk with Za’atar-Spiced Grilled Vegetables

Middle Eastern food is one of my favorite food regions of the world. It’s unpretentious, using herbs instead of sauces to heighten the flavors of rice and often grilled meats. Unfortunately, it’s also highly underrepresented, which is why I was so excited that this month’s Monthly Mingle, hosted by Dirty Kitchen Secrets, featured Lebanese food.

Lebanese food is great, using primarily poultry and lamb as its protein. Often, the meat is marinated in lemon or yogurt to tenderize it, and flavored with za’atar, garlic, chilies, and other great herbs. I made Shish Taouk (Chicken Kebab in English, and Jujeh Kabab in Farsi), a dish that’s traveled across the Middle East during the many changes of empire lines of the region. The Lebanese version uses sumac in the marinade, in addition to more traditional ingredients. Tender and smoky, this dish is really fantastic.


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat
3 lemons
5 sprigs thyme
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 T sumac

Za’atar Ingredients
3 T dried thyme
3 T sumac

Grilled Vegetables
1 eggplant
2 zucchini
6 Roma tomatoes
2 med yellow onions

Cut the chicken into cubes that are about the same size, about 2″ x 2″. Don’t worry about too much precision here, but you want to make sure they’ll cook at the same rate.

In a shallow baking dish, squeeze the juice of three lemons (don’t worry about the seeds) over the chicken, add thyme sprigs, smashed garlic, and sumac. Marinate for at least one hour. The chicken should actually take on a whitish color when it’s ready to be grilled.

When you’re ready to grill, thread the chicken onto skewers and heat the grill to medium heat.

Quarter the onions and slice the eggplant and zucchini into large chunks. Thread the veggies onto skewers and season with za’atar. You can also add marjoram, savory, or any other spices you like. Traditionally, za’atar varies household by household anyway.

Grill chicken and veggies to desired done-ness and serve with Basmati rice. Sprinkle with additional za’atar if you want.

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Fire Roasted Corn and Tomato Chowder

With fall rapidly approaching, it means one thing. Soup. Well, maybe it means things like apple-picking and pumpkin pie, too, but for now, it just means soup. Specifically this smoky corn and tomato chowder. With the corn and tomatoes blistering over the hot coals on a grill, it’s the best of summer and fall. Oh, yeah, and it’s delicious, too. So delicious that Bryan and I nearly finished the entire pot in one sitting. You need to make this.


3 ears of white corn
6 Roma tomatoes
3 strips of bacon
4 large cloves of garlic
1 stalk of celery
2 c chicken stock
1 1/2 c water
3 T celery flakes
2 T minced onion flakes
2 sprigs thyme
kosher salt to taste

Pull the husk off of half of each ear of corn, and put your tomatoes on two skewers. Over a low flame, let the corn and tomatoes cook until the skin has blistered.

Let cool, then finish husking the corn, and slice the kernels off the husk.

Chop the bacon into 1-inch pieces.

Cook the bacon over med-low heat until just barely crispy.

While the bacon is cooking, mince garlic and chop celery.

Add garlic and celery to bacon once it’s ready. Cook for about one minute, then add corn. If you experience any sticking, add in a drizzle of olive oil as well.

Peel the tomatoes (the skin should slide right off), and cut in a rough chop.

Add chicken stock, thyme, and other spices. Reserve the water until your soup has simmered for awhile, adding only if needed.

Cover, and simmer for about an hour, until the tomatoes have broken down.

If you want your soup chunky, go ahead and serve it as is. I wanted to smooth it out, so I blended about 2/3 of the soup and added it back to the pot. The chowder was smooth with the perfect amount of crunch. Delicious.

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Wacky Cupcakes

This is a Depression-era recipe handed down from my Grandmother. Her family never had much money growing up, so this cake became a staple for her because it’s both inexpensive and decadent in taste. She, in turn, made this cake for my dad when he was a kid, especially for birthdays. To this day, this is one of his two favorite cakes in the world (the other recipe is coming soon, too), and I must say, it’s amazingly delicious. I actually prefer it in cupcake form, so that’s how I’m posting the instructions, but it makes a great sheet cake as well. For a fantastically moist, rich chocolate cupcake, you absolutely have to try this.


1 1/2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
1 t baking soda
4 T cocoa (I used Ghirardelli ground chocolate and cocoa)
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla
1 T apple cider vinegar
4 T wesson oil
1 c + 2 T water

For the icing:
1/2 lb confectioner’s sugar
1 rounding T flour
dash of salt
1 t vanilla
2 1/2 T unsalted softened butter
milk to consistency (about 2-3 T)

In a wide, shallow bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt.

Make three holes in ingredients. I know this is unusual, but this actually is a necessary part. If you don’t make the holes, you’ll end up with a cake that can moonlight as a hockey puck.

Pour the vanilla in one hole, vinegar in another hole, and oil in the third hole.

Pour the water over all the ingredients.

Mix with a fork until just combined. Be careful not to over-mix the batter.

Fill a paper-lined muffin tin two-thirds in each cup, and bake 15-20 minutes at 325°F.

While the cupcakes are baking, it’s time to make the icing. Cream together all ingredients except the milk. Add milk until it’s a consistency you like. I used about 2 tablespoons. Keep mixing until it’s completely smooth.

Once cupcakes are out of the oven, let them cool completely before you ice them; otherwise, it’ll melt right off.

Ice the cupcakes to your liking, and enjoy. They’re so good, you’ll want to dive right in.

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Tuna Tartare

The weather has been absolutely stunning lately, so Bryan and I had to take advantage of it this weekend and go for a long hike off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We hiked up to some waterfalls and drank a bottle of wine we brought with us as fuel for the hike back. Wine is great fuel, right?

A view from the Parkway.

I don’t know if it was the hiking or the wine, but by the time we got home, we were both way too exhausted to grill the beautiful tuna sitting in our fridge. Fortunately, it was sashimi-grade, so a super simple tuna tartare was born, served over a bed of baby arugula and next to some delicious soy noodles. The perfect end to a wonderful day.


1/2 lb sashimi-grade tuna
1 T basil olive oil (or olive oil and 3-4 leaves of basil)
1 t mineral salt
1 t cayenne (mine’s a little old, so adjust based on your palate)

When it’s very cold from the refrigerator, dice your tuna into about 1/4″ pieces. Eat the errant uneven ones because you’re the cook here, and that’s your right as cook.

In a small bowl, toss with olive oil, salt, and cayenne. Cover, and let come to room temperature before serving.

To get the classic ring shape of tartare, you can cheat if you don’t have a ring mold and use a cookie cutter instead. Just lay your cookie cutter on the plate, and gently press the tartare into the circle. When you have the amount you want for a serving, remove the mold, and admire your handiwork.

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Whole Roasted Red Snapper

Roasting a whole fish seems a whole lot more daunting than it actually is. In fact, I had never even considered making it until I saw Alton Brown roast a whole fish on Good Eats. After that, I’d been on a mission to make a whole roasted fish, and yesterday they had a beautiful red snapper at the grocery store, so I knew it was time. This is a seriously no-fuss meal, but it really tastes impressive.


1 whole red snapper, cleaned and de-scaled, about 1/2 pound per person
1 bunch dill
1 bunch thyme
4-6 basil leaves
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 lemon, sliced thin

When selecting a fish, you want it to still be slimy-looking and have clear eyes. These are good signs of a very fresh fish. Unless you know how to clean a fish properly (and I certainly don’t), you can ask the fish monger to clean it, de-gill it, and scale it for you.

When you get home, pull up the top fin, and with very sharp scissors, cut it off. You’ll also want to cut off the side fins, and in the case of the snapper, the front fins as well.

Brush the fish with olive oil, inside and outside. Lay a bed of herbs below the fish, and stuff the cavity with the rest of them.

Make three incisions in the top of the fish, and lay three slices of lemon in the incisions (or on top of them if your fish is too small, like mine was).

Wrap the fish in aluminum foil, and bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes. Do not open the pouch in that 20 minute time span. When the fish has cooked for about 20 minutes, you can open the pouch and test for doneness. The skin should peel easily from the meat if the fish is cooked fully.

Filet (or flake if your filet skills equal mine), and serve. We had it with lemon-dill rice and Persian pickles.

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