Crispy Avocado Fries with Melty Cheese Dip

Avocado Fries

Avocado Fries with melty chess dip

It’s starting to look like I moved to New Orleans as an excuse to deep fry my California vegetables, make melty cheese dip, live off Red Beans and Rice, and plate after plate of fresh beignets.  That’s to say nothing of the sazeracs and oysters.

Truth is, I moved to New Orleans for the suffocating humidity alone.  

Not true at all.  No one has ever ever done that.  

We’ve entered into the 12 most beautiful days of the year here in New Orleans.  After living here for one year, I’m talking like I know…

These are the 12 days when it’s perfectly warm with pleasantly bearable humidity, long pink sunsets, and almost cool evenings.  It’s the perfection before the wrath of summer.  It’s… well, it’s what California is like ALL THE TIME.  

Let’s not talk about it anymore… let’s just fry these avocados. 

Avocado Fries with melty chess dip

Can I tell you a secret about free avocados?  

If you’re in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans or Brooklyn you can place an order with the awesome people of Good Eggs and receive a free bag of avocados!  Seems like the very best idea. 

Photographs by the lovely Gabrielle Geiselman with styling (aka throwing food around) by me.  Gabrielle is my friend, neighbor, and fellow avocado fiend.  

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Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings

The days really are warming.  There are the prettiest strawberries in the market.  It might almost be time to daydream about watermelon wedges.  But… I still need soup.  The unapologetically comforting kind of soup with soft carrots, big bites of chicken, almost too much thyme, and the fluffiest floating dumplings.  

It’s Winter comforts in Spring.  Let’s bridge the gap.  You know… like wearing a light scarf or shoes with no socks… except this is food and way way delicious.    

Chicken and Dumplings

Boneless and skinless chicken thighs to start.  I like chicken thighs because they’re more fatty and flavorful than chicken breast.  Always go for flavor!  

The meat is seasoned well and browned in hot hot olive oil.  This is where the layers of flavor begin.  

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Cheddar Croissant Donuts with Honey Mustard

Cheddar Croissant Donuts

Cheddar Croissant Donuts

Can you even remember who you were before you knew that we could turn donuts into croissants and croissants into donuts?  I can’t remember either.  None of that time must have been important.  It’s like life before Instagram… can we even call that life?  

 What if we add cheese to croissant donuts?  What kind of maniacs would we be?  Like mad scientists with cheese on our lips and honey mustard in our hair.  

Well… here’s how!  

Cheddar Croissant Donuts

Golden brown.  Melty cheddar.  Not a care in the world… well, fewer cares at least.

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New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

It’s taken me entirely too long to get to soak my red beans.  A year!  I’ve lived in New Orleans a year and I’ve never soaked my red beans to make a pot of Red Beans and Rice.  Some nerve, really.  

Red Beans and Rice is a Monday night New Orleans tradition.  I thought Monday nights were reserved for red wine, salty popcorn, and M&M dinner… turns out I was totally mistaken.  All the way wrong.  

Red Beans and Rice is a Monday tradition because Monday was considered the “wash-day”…. laundry.  Red Beans could cook on the stove, mostly unattended, all day while the laundry was done.  Also, Red Beans could be made with the precious ham hock reserved from Sunday supper.  In other words, everything makes sense.  Ham, red beans, Monday laundry.  New Orleans is doing it right and I need to get my act (and my laundry) together.  

New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

Let’s get this pot on the stove!  

Classic Camellia Red Beans, dried but soaked.  

Major soup flavors like onion, garlic, celery, pepper, and pancetta.  

Parsley and thyme for fresh herb notes.  Bay leaf for base flavors. Good chicken stock for roundness.  

Lastly, smoked sausage, sliced, for that perfect layer of salty smoky pork.  

Rice too!  And it’s almost dinner! 

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Roasted Cauliflower, Beet, and Farro Winter Salad

Roasted Cauliflower, Beet, and Farro Salad

Roasted Cauliflower, Beet, and Farro Salad

I don’t seem to have a brain for meal-prep.  I’m guilty of wandering the grocery store aisles picking up cold cereal, crackers, a really expensive bar of soap and… little else.   I’m notoriously horrible at actually making myself dinner and, as it turns out, scrambled eggs with hot sauce make a tremendously fine dinner meal.  

Understanding my shortcomings, and being entirely tired of scrambled eggs for dinner, I’ve discovered that if I have a big bowl of something in the refrigerator, I’m saved.  

Something could be a big bowl of Carrot Jalapeño Soup, a big bowl of Apple and Fennel Salad, or something like this… with hearty roasted cauliflower and sweet earthy beets.  Farro makes the salad filling and solid.  

A big bowl of something.  Good, hearty, real food that isn’t scrambled eggs that you can eat straight from the fridge… if you’re into that sort of thing (and we’re all into that sort of thing).  

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Hearts of Palm Fries with lemon and jalapeño

Hearts of Palm Fries

Hearts of Palm Fries

 The old dip-and-fry.  It’s like the bait-and switch but much less tricky and much more delicious.  

I’ll dip and fry just about anything.  Onion rings, dipped and fried.  Raised donut dough, fried and dipped (preferably in sugar).  

This week Hearts of palm meet the fryer.  They’re tender and lightly pickled, made warm and crispy and spicy.  Have you ever had Heart of palm?  They come in a can, they’re slightly salty and soft… like canned artichoke hearts, but completely different.  They make very fine salads and fried bites… and that’s why we’re here.  

I also want you to know that I have Mardi Gras King Cake on my mind… I just have to get all of these salty fry things off my mind first.  King Cake is in our future.  

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Sausage and Mushroom Risotto

Sausage and Mushroom Risotto

Sausage and Mushroom Risotto

As I move through the days, the months, the year, the seasons, I’ve noticed that my body always tells me what I need.  These days it’s all citrus juices and earth flavors.  Don’t get me wrong, I generally move through my days filling my body with coffee and sugar in various forms, paying very little attention to the little voice inside me crying for baby carrots.  

These days my cravings have been undeniable.  I want big bowl of warm goodness that make me feel like I have my feet on the ground.  This earthy and salty risotto is undeniably grounding, comforting, warm, and otherwise perfect.

This is the first time I’ve made risotto on the stovetop.  I’ll walk you through my technique and mild panic.  

If the stirring is more than you can handle (no judgement, I get it), you can try this Baked Lemon Risotto.  One stir and some quality oven time.  A dream, really! 

And!  For sweeter Arborio rice indulgences:  Maple Ginger Rice Pudding.  In other words, I’m not leaving my house again until I need to go stock up on more rice.  Until then, I’ll have the Do Not Disturb sign on my door. Thaaaanks! 

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Whole Roasted Onions

whole roasted onions

  whole roasted onions

Here’s how this is going to go down, my friends:  whole roasted sweet yellow onions, roasted with olive oil and butter, roasted with rosemary, roasted whole, roasted to sweet submission.  

It’s cold.  I mean… really cold.  Here’s our chance to crank up the oven, throw these onions inside and lean against the oven door as they transform from sharp and bite-y to soft and sweet.  

Oh wait… you might be one of those people who think they don’t like onions.   I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.  You exclusively like whole roasted onions.  

Now let’s carry on. 

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Magic Mineral Broth

Magic Mineral Broth

Magic Mineral Broth

You know what we’re into these days? You know what the latest food trend is? Not cupcakes. Not red velvet this and that. Not macarons. We’re not even talking about single origin coffee beans or biodynamic wine. We’re talking about broth. Bone, mineral, and vegetable broth.  Yes.  Broth. It’s delicious.  

Homemade broth is never just about broth.  It’s a whole kitchen experience.  I make my broths over time.  The scrappy bones of a roasted chicken are frozen for a week.  Carrot stems and onion skins and ends are stored in a container in the refrigerator for a good while.  Limp celery is put to good use and potatoes just beginning to sprout are given a home. Have you read The Everlasting Meal?  This broth is very much in that spirit.  

It’s where the fresh ingredients in our kitchen meet the more tired ingredients… in a pot, for our extreme health.  

Bone broths are a tale as told as time, but they’re totally having a moment.  It’s rejuvenating with the powers of magnesium, potassium, calcium, and collagen.  It’s fantastic start to a hearty and healthful soup and naturally (or oddly), New Yorkers are sipping the magic broth from coffee cups.    

 I’ve taken to simmering a pot every month and sipping the broth as tea or making soups.  The smell alone makes me feel like a soup genius and it’s a tremendous way to bring together the entire kitchen, scraps and all.  

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All The Citrus and Some Of The Greens Salad

All The Citrus and Some of the Greens Salad

All The Citrus and Some of the Greens Salad

I take my salads very seriously. Similarly, I take my omelettes, sandwiches and daiquiris with equal reverence. I need to know the person making me an omelette and I prefer that they have a big floppy chef hat on (bonus).  I need to shake the hand of the person making my sandwich before they put plastic gloves on and add extra black olives to my situation (thank you!).  I like to know the middle name of the person making me a daiquiri… a fact I usually learn after the third of fourth daiquiri.  All of this to say, I love when people make me food, and I really like to know who they are before I enjoy it.  

Salads, though.  I like to make my own salads.  There’s a delicate balance of fruit and green, cream and crunch and nuts.  Let’s try! 

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Mushroom Kale Goat Cheese Quesadillas

Mushroom and Kale Goat Cheese Quesadillas

Mushroom and Kale Goat Cheese Quesadillas

Bloggers can be pretty predictable.  Since it’s December, you can count on most of us writing about tinsel and cookie swaps, peppermint coated this, mulled wine that… all the pine, all the Santa hats, all the sugar spice and nice.

Come January we’ll all be talking about salads and smoothies.  I don’t think we’re allowed to talk about fudge in January.  I think that’s actually against the law.

I have to shake loose from the holidays for a moment.  I mean… can we just sit at the kitchen counter and eat quesadillas for a while and not think about Winter cookies and holiday shopping?  That would be cool.

Let’s do that.

Ps.  The fact that these Mushroom and Kale Quesadillas are topped with sriracha makes them aaalllmost Christmas themed.  See how these holidays sneak in to stay?  Dang.

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Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar Beer Sauce

Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar Beer Sauce

Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar Beer Sauce

My mom had a few predictable and necessary things she’d have to repeat ad-nauseam to my sister and me at our family dinner table night after night.  There was the inevitable ‘sit still and someone please say grace’ followed by something like ‘do NOT kick your sister under the table’ or ‘stop staring at your sister when you know it bothers her and eat your fish sticks, thank you’.

My favorite/least favorite was ‘eat your vegetables, they’ll make you beautiful’.  The vegetables she was referring to were usually barely steamed broccoli or cauliflower served nearly raw (and yes, full of nutrients… which is entirely unimpressive to an eight year old).  If the (basically raw) vegetables weren’t eaten within three minutes of leaving the steamer they devolved into sometime entirely inedible to a child that wanted nothing more than a Happy Meal for dinner.  Eat your vegetables.  They’ll make you beautiful.  Eat them.  Eat them.  No seriously.  Eat them.

We ate them.

What my mom didn’t have in mind is that I’d grow up to simmer my dinner vegetables in butter and olive oil and serve them in a homemade Cheddar Beer Sauce.  I mean… Eat your vegetables!  (roasted and toasted and awesome!) They’ll make you beautiful.  (and so will the cheese sauce?)  Oh man.  Thanks mom / Sorry mom.

Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar Beer Sauce

Here’s how this happens.  Here’s what you’ll need:  a big head of cauliflower, a big pot to boil it in, butter, olive oil, lemon, and spice.

For the cheese sauce, all good things which include: milk, butter, beer, mustard, and Worcestershire.

Let’s!

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Kale, Avocado, Tangerine, and Sesame Salad

Kale, Avocado, Tangerine, and Sesame Salad

Kale, Avocado, Tangerine, and Sesame Salad

Forgive me, belly.  I’ve done you wrong.  I mean… I’ve done you so so so right, but wrong wrong wrong.

I’ve done you with too much macaroni and cheese.  I’ve done you with ALL of the gumbo in New Orleans, the smothered greens, the doughnuts, the doughnuts again… I’m sorry.  It was delicious so you’re welcome… and I’m sorry.

You deserve a break.  Enjoy this salad.  It’s just about time to start making fudge.  Hold on tight.

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Inside the Baker’s Kitchen + Creamy Spiced Squash Soup with Parmesan Thyme Popovers

creamy spiced squash soup

creamy spiced squash soup

I‘ve been thinking a lot about comforts.

As I’m preparing to host my first Thanksgiving in New Orleans, I’m thinking a lot about exactly how to make my guests feel comfortable.  I’m thinking beyond moist stuffing and sweet cranberry sauce, because comfortable house guests require much more than one fancy meal on a Thursday.

I’m gathering baskets filled with filtered water, fancy soaps, good hand cream, extra toothbrushes just in case, extra blankets for the bed, a lavender spray for the bathroom, and a refrigerator full of snacks and comforts.

It’s essential and ultra luxurious… and since I don’t often host a house full of family (loud, hungry, crazy crazy family), it would be fair to say that maybe I’m going a bit overboard.

I’ve made a giant batch of this creamy squash soup and added a bit of ground clove and freshly grated nutmeg to highlight the sweet squash.  Salty pancetta breadcrumbs add a bit of crunch, and the whole deal is waiting in the refrigerator for a Thanksgiving week lunch.

I expect to feel proud and accomplished, until I run out of popovers and someone asks for more.

inside the baker's kitchen

We’re back in the kitchen with KitchenAid and it’s time to work these shelves.  It feels like I’m going to have every pan and every appliance on their job this week.  For this creamy soup and crispy popovers, I’m using a few new favorites:  the 7-speed Hand Mixer which is a savior for quick baking jobs, and the Pro Line® Series Cordless Hand Blender for the smoothest, creamiest blended soups.

If you missed our first Inside the Baker’s Kitchen, be sure the check out these sweet and savory biscuits!

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Mushroom and Mash

Mushroom and Mash

Mushroom and Mash

I just realized something essential to my next week.  Um… this is my first Thanksgiving!  This is the first year, of my 33 years in the world, that I’m hosting my first totally-grown, matching-casserole-dishes, not-paperplate, make-all-the-pies THANKSGIVING at my New Orleans apartment with aaallll of my family.

I’m pretty sure this is a big deal.

I need a plan.  I really need a plan.

Nervously tapping my foot, biting my nails, and drinking toooooo much coffee is not a plan, right?  It’s the opposite of a plan.

I’m putting together a meal that is simple, casual, non-traditional, and filled with sides and pies.  I’m not cooking a turkey… which either makes me THE WORST person, or a genius.  Probably the worst, but even knowing that, I’m still not doing it.  We’re going to enjoy a giant pot of gumbo and aaalll of the Thanksgiving sides, including these fluffy and earthy mashed potatoes.

The plan is coming together (and also includes a triple batch of this Mac and Cheese).

Mushroom and Mash

Being bigtime thankful is also part of the plan.  Thankful for New Orleans, and visiting family, and warm gumbo, and mashed potatoes with roasted mushrooms.  Thankful for all of the good and the gnarly and everything in between.

The Internet wants us to succeed next week:

•  I’m definitely into group games… unless I have to act something out and hope people guess it:  10 Thanksgiving Games To Make The Holiday Fun For Everyone

•  These Molasses Spice Cookies are developing quite the reputation here in New Orleans.  I also love Jessica’s Thanksgiving Dos and Don’ts.  

•  I’m not making a turkey BUT I am ordering aaallll of the gumbo from Cochon Butcher.

•  Dijon Maple Green Beans sound like juuust the ticket.  They also have bacon and feta!

•  Deb’s Pretzel Parker House Rolls!  Just pretzel everything, thanks!

• Tracy’s Creamed Spinach should be an everyday thing, don’t you think?

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Inside The Baker’s Kitchen + Sweet and Savory Buttermilk Biscuits

biscuits sweet and salty

inside the baker's kitchen

Once upon a time I was a baker in a professional kitchen.  I’m talking about the kind of kitchen with bins of flour so large they you could climb inside and take a nap…. the kind of kitchen where you had to yell (and I mean YELL) ‘behind’, so no one crashes into your pan of scones on their way to the oven…. the kind of kitchen that was noisy, full of chocolate, hot pans, sheet trays for days, savory scones… and smelled REALLY GREAT.

I spent so much time in the professional kitchen that my home kitchen was as modest as it was tiny.  I had two mixing bowls, a spoon, and a spatula to my name.  Why bother with more than one cake pan when I make ALL of the cakes in a rowdy kitchen with thundering ovens?

My working kitchen these days is very different.  I have more than one cake pan.  I have more than a single wooden spoon, yes… and while it’s still a humble kitchen, there are a few tools in the kitchen that feel like necessary extravagances.

I want to take some time to talk about what I keep in my Baker’s Kitchen.  I think it’s important to know what’s over-the-top extravagant, and what’s a reasonable tool to stock.  Kitchen real-estate is a precious commodity.  Let’s only stock up with what we really need.

I’ve partnered with my very favorite kitchen brand KitchenAid in a 3-part series to show you some of my very favorite kitchen tools and baker’s tricks.  It doesn’t take a lot to coax great flavors and flakey crusts out of the oven.

Today we’re talking about my favorite 11-cup Food Processor.  It will have you making ALL of the biscuits, ALL of the pie crusts, and ALL of the pesto.  It’s the best, and super versatile!

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Baking Bootcamp: Gruyere and Green Olive Rolls

Gruyere and Green Olive Rolls

Gruyere and Green Olive Rolls

The first thing you should know is that it’s time for our THIRD installment of Baking Bootcamp with King Arthur Flour! Bring out your jazz hands. It’s about that time.

The second thing you should know is that we’re making the most delicious and chewy, salty and cheesy loaves. Like cinnamon rolls, hold the cinnamon, extra Gruyère and green olives.

The third thing you should know is that I always wanted to be a hand model so I’m beyond satisfied with myself here… that’s just my truth.

Gruyere and Green Olive Rolls

For our first baking bootcamp we piled berries high and braided bread for the Triple Berry Cinnamon Swirl Bread. You amazed me with your kitchen bravery.

For our second baking bootcamp we folded dough and made Apple Pie Biscuits. So stellar. You guys got all up in the season!

Now we’re taking a step to the savory side. Salty and soft. And we’re using an entirely new flour: King Arthur Flour’s Unbleached Bread Flour!

Baking Bootcamp Essentials III

Here’s what we’ll need:

1 • King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour.  High protein content for chewy and sturdy buns!

2 • I use this King Arthur Flour Bench Knife just about everyday in my kitchen. It’s perfect for scraping little dough bits from the countertop… something a sponge just pitifully attacks. You might also use the bench knife to slice though the center of the rolled dough. It’s sharp too! I love this tool!

3 • Kitchen fashion is important to me. Hedley & Bennett understands my needs for a functional, durable, totally chic apron. Not too frilly. I always want to be more badass than 50’s housewife-y in the kitchen.

4 • A good 9×13-inch baking pan is a kitchen staple.  The new ones are nice, mine happen to be covered in years of kitchen rust. Part of the charm!

5 • Having Colorful Mixing Bowls is the kitchen equivalent of having a great black dress in your closet. Necessary treat.

6 • We’re going to need lots of medium shreds of Gruyere cheese. Box Grater to the rescue!

7 • I like a natural bristle kitchen brush in my arsenal.  Great for egg washing biscuits and rolls!

8 • The Pyrex glass measuring cup.  A forever kitchen classic.

9 • These wooden spoons just get better with time.

10 • Is it normal to have a completely mismatched set of Measuring Cups, or should I just treat myself to a matching set like this? Don’t answer that…

11 • Same goes for the Measuring Spoons… it’s nice to have a full matching set.

12 • I go through Paring Knives like I go through socks.  How is it possible to have them one day and then lose them the next? I don’t know.  Clearly I have an issue.

Gruyere and Green Olive Rolls

There are loads of resources to help you get from here to warm cheesy buns.

• All of these step-by-step photographs in the post were done by the incomparable Jon Melendez.

Baking 101: The Difference Between Baking Flours for all the nitty-gritty on bran and germ and protein content.

• King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Hotline is a fantastic resource for curious home bakers to discuss your fears, concerns and eventual successes. Give them a ring! It’s magic. 1-855-371-2253

Four Flours + Four Recipes Challenges + One Instagram #bakingbootcamp + Four Awesome Sets of Prizes!

The idea is simple!

• Make these Gruyère and Green Olive Rolls (they’re sooo delicious!) and take a picture of your creation!

• Follow @joythebaker and @kingarthurflour on Instagram

• Photograph your beautiful rolls and post them to Instagram with the hashtag #bakingbootcamp

• When you submit a photo, you’ll be entered to win a one year supply of King Arthur Flour and a Baking Essentials box valued at $250!! Official rules and details can be found here.

By entering the challenge you’ll also have amazing cheesy rolls in your kitchen, so… you really can’t lose.

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Curry Roasted Acorn Squash

curry roasted acorn squash (4)

curry roasted acorn squash (3)

I‘m back in my kitchen this week… back from making pies with you up and down the east coast… back from gently and not so gently asking you to buy my dang book… back to my roasting pan.

curry roasted acorn squash

This acorn squash was patiently awaiting my return.  Just sitting tight, waiting to be more than it already is.

I hacked my way through the protective skin (didn’t even lose a finger), removed the seeds, sliced, and drizzled.

This is the result of those efforts.  Let’s make it together… I mean, right!?

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Creamy Vegan Herb Salad Dressing

Creamy Vegan Herb Salad Dressing

Creamy Vegan Herb Salad Dressing

Consider me an occasional fan of tofu.

My parents were early adopters of tofu.  Remember back when health food had as much cheese and potatoes as tofu?  Sure… there was the weirdest brown rice ever, but we covered it in cheese and sauce and all was right with the world.

Nowadays, I’m an occasional tofu enthusiast.  Count me among the few who just realized that you can make a delicious dipping and salad dressing from TOFU!  Did you know this?  Were you keeping it from me?

This thick dressing is creamy, satisfying, and doesn’t read as tofu per say… not that that would be a bad thing, but you know what I mean.   This dressing is more Ranch in distinction.  Herby, bright, and almost so good you want to rub it on your face (which is weird).

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Roasted Tomato and Pesto Grilled Cheese

Roasted Tomato Pesto and Brie Grilled Cheese

Roasted Tomato Pesto and Brie Grilled Cheese

Here’s what we’re going to do:

We’re going to go to our refrigerators and gather all of the delicious things.  If those things are roasted, pesto-ed, and melty… that’s ideal.

Truth be told, sometimes all I have in the fridge is orange juice and bendy celery… that’s why God invented bourbon and those Chinese take-out menus at the bottom of my junk drawer.  Orange juicy and bendy celery aren’t allowed in this sandwiches.  Not on this day… when there is precious Brie and pesto in the refrigerator.

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