The Shiksa’s Shakshuka

I’ve been meaning to try the shakshuka recipe from The Shiksa in the Kitchen for ages.  Tori’s blog, which focuses on food history and culture while spotlighting Jewish and Israeli recipes, is one of my favorites.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that she’s my food blogger hero.  Her recipes are presented step-by-step with clear photographs; she always includes a back story that is very engaging; the dishes she presents are invariably fun and delicious; she is a fellow history nerd; her photography is amazing; and, reading her blog, I always, always learn something.  If you’re confused and/or offended by her choice of moniker, read her explanation here.

I became interested in Judaism and Jewish culture in 2009 when my best friend invited me to attend a class with her at Congregation Shir Ami in Cedar Park.  One of my favorite things about Jewish culture is, of course, the emphasis on food and celebration.

Though I have little interest in eating kosher (after two years as a vegan, self-limiting my culinary options and segregating myself from almost everyone else through ideological food choices, I can’t see myself ever going down that path again), I find the history of Jewish food fascinating.  It is a story of adaptation and innovation, stretching over six continents, and underpinned by a deep, joyous love of food and community.  And it’s not all gefilte fish and matzoh balls, as evidenced by the diversity of mouth-watering recipes on Tori’s blog.

I had planned to make more Italian hot beef sausage with cheesy mashed cauliflower last night, but then Tori reposted the Shiksa’s Shakshuka, and I was reminded that I still hadn’t given it a try.  It has always looked so good–I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years since she posted it, and I hadn’t tried it yet!  So last night, having all the ingredients on hand, I whipped up a batch.  It was easy, affordable, and filling.

We love eggs for dinner at my house, so it was a winner.  In addition to adding two homegrown serrano chiles for added heat, I did make a couple of changes to Tori’s recipe: I used a yellow bell pepper that I had on hand, and I added a splash of red wine!  L’chaim!

Go check out Tori’s amazing post about this popular Israeli dish, and get the recipe here.


Bon Bons by Serena

Y’all know I love local products, smart design, and delicious treats. This one’s a three-fer!

Austinite (via New York City and Tyler, Texas) Serena Hicks is cranking out the bon bons! Last night I had the opportunity to sample her delicious creations at the Austin Social Affair at the Rattle Inn. Recently featured in the Austin American-Statesman, Bon Bons by Serena is generating a lot of well-deserved buzz.  If you’re still looking for a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for that special foodie in your life, look no further!

Serena currently offers four unique and addictive bon bons:

The Matriarch is inspired by Serena’s 84-year-old grandmother, and they’re made using her original, vintage recipe! Described as a “classic vanilla shortbread cookie hand stuffed with a maraschino cherry, hand dipped in a vanilla frosting,” this sweet treat is my favorite in the line. The cherry’s bright flavor and smooth texture is a nice complement to the buttery exterior.

The Susie Q is named after Serena’s mother and incorporates ingredients from her favorite cocktail: brown sugar and dried apricot, hand dipped in a 100% Arabic coffee bean liqueur frosting and topped with an espresso bean!

The boy’s favorite was The Texas Treat, a basic vanilla shortbread bon bon containing a Texas pecan, then hand dipped in Texas whiskey and chocolate frosting. His favorite part? Serena uses Balcones Baby Blue Whisky, homegrown in Waco!

Finally, the Brown Sugar Kiss bon bon is a brown sugar confection with a kiss of chocolate on the inside and outside! The dough is wrapped around semi-sweet chocolate morsels, hand dipped in a semi-sweet chocolate sauce, and then finished with a banana chip. Fancy!

You can order bon bons in adorable boxes of four or luxurious boxes of twelve on the Bon Bons by Serena web site–she even delivers! These little treats are a great gift; the expert design and packaging makes the most of a great product and inspires a real sense of occasion. Serena also does catering.

And be sure to check out Serena’s blog for all the latest from the bon bon curator! This is a local food business to watch.

Bon Bons by Serena
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Shanita’s Arroz Verde con Puerco

One of the first things I did when we got back to Austin after the New Year was email Shanita with an order for two jars of Hal’s Hot Love!  The fridge was near-empty, and so I subsequently made a run to Wheatsville to stock up on all the basics (for us: coffee, butter, eggs, and grits!).  I noticed some moderately priced, pre-sliced pork, so I grabbed a portion, having no idea what I would do with it.  I’m not really a big pork eater; I don’t really enjoy pork chops or ham–just bacon!

When Shanita dropped off our salsita order, we started talking about recipes, and she suggested I use some Hal’s to spice up the rice I was considering cooking.  Thus a brilliant idea was born–I will be having Shanita’s Arroz Verde regularly!  I decided to throw the quickly pan-cooked pork in there, along with some sliced green bell pepper and a garnish of homegrown jalapeños.  So easy! This one was a surefire, spicy winner.

2 cups white rice
1 Tbsp butter
1 lb. sliced pork (I used boneless chops)
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced lengthwise
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup Hal’s Hot Love jalapeño and roasted garlic salsa
1 raw jalapeño, finely sliced

1. Combine rice, a dash of salt, and about 4 cups of water in a medium stock pot and bring to a boil. Stir; reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if necessary.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add pork, bell peppers, cumin, and half the black pepper. Sauté until pork is just cooked through (you do not want to see any pink meat), about ten minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Drain rice and return to stock pot. Away from the heat source, drizzle in the cream, salsa, salt, and the rest of the black pepper and mix thoroughly with a large spoon.

4. Spoon portions of rice out into bowls, and top with pork and pepper mixture; garnish with jalapeño slices and serve immediately.

Makes four servings.

The Vampire Lestat’s Linguine Carbonara

Tom Cruise gave me this recipe.

No, seriously. One day in 1996, I was watching Oprah. I always watched Oprah. In 1996, my schedule went like this: school, tennis, Route 44 Dr Pepper, batter crumbs from Long John Silver’s, Oprah.

In 1996 I was also obsessed, along with my pal Morgan, with Interview with the Vampire.  I lived within walking distance of the movie theater, and we went to see that movie at least four times.  To add a tangent to a tangent, this film also marked the beginning of the Brad Pitt Obsession of 1996.  Once, we made Morgan’s mom go to the local video store and check out every Brad Pitt movie they had.  I should probably apologize for that now.

As you may recall, pretty much everyone thought Maverick had been miscast as the Vampire Lestat, including the character’s originator, Anne Rice.  However, Tom totally delivered.  In fact, it was Interview with the Vampire that made me a Tom Cruise fan.  He was feline, cunning, sexy, homoerotic, intense, fearless.  It was an amazing performance.  It was like a French-speaking, blood-sucking cross of Alan Cumming and Robert Plant.

Anyway, to promote the film, Tom Cruise appeared on Oprah.  And he shared his pasta carbonara recipe with her.  Don’t believe me?

That recipe always stuck with me, and one recent weeknight, very hungry but at a loss for dinner ideas, I decided to make Tom’s carbonara from memory.  Of course, as with most recipes I adapt, the only substantial changes here are the substitution of shallots for Tom’s onions, and the addition of cream.  Oh, and I used linguine – but you could use whatever pasta you have on hand.

And, don’t forget: the vampire Lestat revealed that his kind are not really affected by garlic, after all.  So put plenty in there!

The Vampire Lestat’s Carbonara

1 lb. linguine
1 tsp olive oil
~6 bacon rashers
1-2 cloves garlic, micned
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 eggs
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large, salted pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and stir thoroughly.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, fry bacon in olive oil over medium heat until done and crispy. Set aside.

3. Skim some of the bacon grease out of the pan (you will probably have too much); drain and refrigerate for later use. Using about 1 tsp of remaining bacon grease, reduce heat to low and sauté the shallots and garlic for about two or three minutes, until fragrant. Do not burn.

4. By now, your pasta should be done (cook approximately 6-7 minutes, or follow package instructions for al dente). Drain and return to pot. Stir in the shallots and garlic. Crumble bacon into pasta in small pieces. Crack two eggs into the pot, add pepper, and stir thoroughly. Cover and set aside for 3-4 minutes. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs.

5. Once the egg is completely cooked, remove the cover and stir in cream and half the parmesan. The mixture should be rich, but still fairly light on the pasta.

6. Serve immediately, garnished with a dusting of extra cheese. Black olives are also a favorite at my house (as pictured).

Serves 4.

Eric’s Pesto Pizza

Though it took a few tries to perfect, this turned out to be an pretty straightforward recipe with a big flavor payoff. We’ve perfected the thin, crispy crust, and the addition of homegrown jalapeños and a dusting of fresh herbs really makes this pizza fresh and interesting.

Get thee a pizza stone and get to work!

Eric’s Easy Pizza Dough
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour
1 cup of lukewarm water
1 Tbsp of salt
Drizzle of olive oil
1 packet of instant yeast (~ 1 tsp)

1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Cover, and let it sit as long as you want (the longer it sits, the more sourdough flavor it will have).

2. About an hour before baking, remove the dough from the bowl and place in a foil “tent” (get a couple of large pieces of foil and wrap your dough up in them, with enough extra space for the dough to rise further – they tent does not need to be completely sealed).

3. Before preparing pizza base, flour your hands and work surface to avoid sticking. Fold the dough over a couple of times with your hands, and then make a medium-sized dough ball – this will become your pizza crust. The size of the dough ball will depend upon the size of the pizza you plan to make and the diameter of your pizza stone, so results here will vary.

Eric’s Pesto Pizza
Dough (as prepared ahead, above)
1/2 cup homemade pesto*
2 jalapeños, sliced**
sliced black olives, to taste
1 tsp fresh Mexican mint, finely chopped**
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped**
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/3 cup grated parmesan
2 Tbsp olive oil, halved***

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Meanwhile, drizzle one half of the olive oil on the pizza stone and spread with your fingertips.

2. Next, take the ball of pre-made dough in your hands, and spread it out on the stone so that it covers the whole thing thinly and evenly, curling up at the edges. You can make the crust as thin or as thick as you like, but for this recipe (and according to my personal taste), you will want to spread it comparatively thin.

3. Once dough is evenly spread on the stone, bake it in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.

4. Then remove the stone from the oven and turn up the heat to 400°. Meanwhile, spread the remaining olive oil, along with the pesto, evenly over the dough using a spoon. Sprinkle mozzarella over the pesto. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

7. Remove the stone from the oven; add olives, jalapeños, parmesan, and green peppers, then scatter the herbs over the pie.

8. Return entire pizza to oven and bake at 400° until brown and crispy, with the crust bubbling around the edges.

9. Carefully remove the pizza from the oven, wait a few minutes, then cut with a pizza cutter or wheel. Serve and enjoy!

Use any leftover dough to make bread!

*In this case, we used homegrown basil, olive oil, grated parmesan, some cashews, and some local pecans – a basic recipe can be found here.

**All homegrown!

***Infused with homegrown jalapeños and oregano – regular extra virgin will work fine, though.