Cookies Are Good (& So Is Derek Hoke’s New Album)

Vanilla Wafers on vintage plate and *brand new* Dolan Geiman table cloth!

We don’t actually eat many sweets but I love making desserts, especially for guests. My Momma brought me up right! However, unlike my Mom, I tend to gravitate towards desserts that aren’t too sugary. I often use less sugar than a recipe calls for (to which Grant always reminds me, “We are in the South now, people like things sweeter!”), use alternate natural sweeteners, or just select recipes that are naturally less sweet. These recent dessert recipes struck a chord with me.

Vanilla Wafers with Noble Springs Dairy fresh chevre.

I took that Vanilla Wafer recipe (I altered it a little so am posting here again) and first paired it with some fresh chevre from Noble Springs Dairy. This was a special flavor, chocolate, that they don’t always have but you could easily make up some of your own, I would think, starting with a plain chevre. These would also be delicious with their Apricot Honey Chevre!

Vanilla Wafers
½ cup Unsalted Butter
½ cup Raw Cane Sugar
¼ cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 ½ cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350. With a mixer, mix sugar and butter together until creamy. Add egg and vanilla and mix. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix. Refrigerate for about half an hour. Roll dough out to ¼” on a well floured board or pastry cloth. Cut with a small cookie cutter. (Or you can form dough in a log and slice.) Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet and they will crisp up.

My Dad and Stepmom were recently visiting and I used these same vanilla wafers to make Banana Pudding. I used little ramekins and tiny jars to make individual servings.

I found this Vanilla Pudding recipe to work well. I combined a Real Simple recipe with a Martha Stewart recipe and came up with this…

Vanilla Pudding
½ cup Cane Sugar
3 Tbsp All Purpose Flour
½ tsp Sea Salt
2 cups Whole Milk (I used local Hatcher Dairy milk)
2 Egg Yolks (I used local Willow Farms)
2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 Vanilla Bean

Whisk together sugar, flour, and salt in a saucepan. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add both the seeds and the pod to the pan. Pour ¼ cup of the milk in and whisk it together to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining milk and the yolks. Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it starts to thicken, about 15 minutes. DO not allow it to boil. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the butter. Pour into a bowl or, if making individual Banana Puddings as I did, have tiny jars or ramekins laid out. Place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each and then place about 5 slices of banana on top of the cookie. Pour pudding over and then top with another cookie or cookie crumbs and cover with wrap. Let cool and then refrigerate for at least one hour.

Inspired by my friend (and pastry chef at City House) Rebekah’s amazing homemade cookies, in particular here- her graham crackers, I decided to try to make my own. I looked at many recipes online and adapted this one from Smitten Kitchen (which she had adapted from a couple other sources). Mine went like this…

Graham Crackers
2 ½ cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
¾ cup Brown Cane Sugar
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Sea Salt
7 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
¼ cup Honey (I used local Wildflower.)
1 Tbsp Molasses
5 Tbsp whole milk
2 tsp Vanilla Extract

For the topping, mix together:
2 Tbsp Cane Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon

Mix the flour together with the sugar, baking soda, and salt in a big bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix the honey with the molasses, milk, and vanilla using a whisk. Add the butter to the flour mixture. I just used my hands to gently crumble the butter while mixing it with the flour, as I do for making pie dough. Then once the butter is incorporated and not larger than rice grains, I poured the honey mixture in and combined. Divide the dough into two portions and pat into a rectangle about 1” thick and wrap it up. Chill for an hour or two. Flour a dough board or pastry cloth. Roll the chilled dough out to ⅛” thickness. Trim the edges to form a straight edge on all sides. Cut into desired sizes. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar and place crackers on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Of course, the thought of graham crackers always brings to mind homemade S’mores so I searched for a more natural recipe for marshmallow cream and found one from Bon Appetit that sounded promising. I added a some cacao powder to include the chocolate element and made these little S’more Sandwich Grahams!

Homemade Marshmallow Creme
¾ cup Cane Sugar, divided
¼ cup Water
¼ cup Cacao (I like Navitas brand.)
4 Egg Whites
½ tsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Vanilla

Combine ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the cacao. Occasionally swirl pan and brush down the sides with a wet pastry brush. Using a candy thermometer, simmer until thermometer reads 240. Place egg whites, salt, and vanilla in a bowl and mix on high until frothy. Slowly add the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Whip until peaks form and then pour the hot syrup into the meringue in a slow, steady stream while whipping. Increase mixer speed to high and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to medium and whip until meringue is cool. Use this to sandwich between two homemade graham crackers! YUM!

I can only imagine that these homemade grahams would also make an amazing crust for your favorite Key Lime Pie recipe. I have never made a Key Lime Pie- mostly because I never need to. Our friend and Red Barn Round-Up cohort, Allison, makes the best! She very kindly agreed to share her recipe here.

Allison makes all sorts of yummy treats!

Allison’s Key Lime Pie is a regular to our Red Barn Round-Up parties, as pictured on far left.

Allison’s Key Lime Pie
Allison originally got her recipe from the bottle of the Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Juice! The trick, though, is a good crust. They say graham cracker, but she makes hers out of crushed gingersnaps. She says a mix of half graham cracker crumbs and half gingersnap crumbs works well, also.

9″ graham cracker pie crust (or gingersnaps)
14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
½ cup Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice

Combine milk, egg yolks and lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie crust and bake at 350º for 15 minutes. Allow to stand 10 minutes before refrigerating.

By the way, did you know that Derek Hoke’s favorite pie is Key Lime Pie? It is.

Grant’s been playing with Derek Hoke for a couple years now. It was actually Allison who first introduced us to Derek’s music, specifically, his first album, Goodbye Rock N Roll. (I love that album.) Grant started playing for him shortly thereafter.

Grant & Derek at the 5 Spot. August, 2010.

And speaking of Derek Hoke, last week was Derek Hoke week in our neighborhood. His brand new, very anticipated album, Waiting All Night, was just released. This follow up album, produced by Dexter Green, features eleven new Hoke songs and world-class musicians. It is pretty awesome. Last Monday he was interviewed on my favorite radio station, WSM, where he and the band played a couple songs and talked with Bill & Charlie (my fav!). Then on Tuesday, he had his album release party at the celebrated 5 Spot and played to a packed house.

Derek Hoke Album Release party. 5 Spot. August, 2012.

He even has new merch! That’s right. You heard me! Hurry up before it sells out! Then on Sunday, he and the band (who were dubbed “The Hoke Ridge Boys” for last week) did an in-store at The Groove record store. Allison and I provided treats (cookies and biscuits and pies, oh my!) and dj Tim Hibbs played some of the best music ever heard from a vintage 45! All in all, it was a good week for Derek Hoke, but it doesn’t stop here… get a copy of the new album now and watch the new video here (featuring a special guest appearance by our friend Rose!).

Listen out for interviews (NPR y’all!) and upcoming shows. And, there’s always $2 Tuesdays at the 5 Spot… always Derek Hoke, always fun, always $2. See you there!


Dreaming of Spain (As I Listen to Davis Raines)

Grant and I love Spanish food. For years, we have dreamed of traveling to Spain to experience all the amazing food and wine first-hand. While living in Seattle, we settled for celebrating special occasions at one of our favorite restaurants, Harvest Vine, and shopping for all of our favorite Spanish ingredients at the Spanish Table down near Pike Place Market. Grant learned to make an incredible Paella from an old Spanish man who he knew through his wine job way back when. Now, living here in middle Tennessee, we still dream of our future trip to Spain and enjoy a Paella feast from time to time made with ingredients we’ve either ordered online, had friends bring to us, or scraped together serendipitously through various trips all over town.

Big Smokey’s Paella, March 2012

A couple years ago we stumbled upon an Anthony Bourdaine episode in which he was in Spain, enjoying the grilled Spring onion festival with a family in the countryside. We were reminded of this last week as we grilled up a bunch of vegetables, and decided to throw some spring onions on.

As we tasted them, we were immediately reminded of our friend, Bray’s Romesco Sauce and thought that would be the perfect dipping sauce for the sweet grilled onions.

This is one of Bray’s most famous dishes so I immediately contacted her for the recipe. Meanwhile, the spring onions had run their course and were no longer available at the farmer’s market but we found some red scallions and some green onions and we made it work! We also grilled some potatoes and zucchini to enjoy with it and decided to grill the red peppers for the Romseco instead of using jarred roasted red peppers which the recipe originally called for. Here is our adaptation of Bray’s recipe which she originally adapted from an Epicurious recipe.

Grilled Pepper Romesco Sauce
1/3 cup Whole Raw Almonds, blanched to remove skins and then toasted
1 slice Whole Grain Artisan Bread, torn into pieces
1 Garlic Clove
½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
½ tsp Smoked Paprika
1 large Grilled Red Pepper, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
½ tsp coarse Sea Salt, or to taste
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 Tbsp water to thin out a little

Finely grind almonds, bread, garlic, red pepper flakes, and paprika in a food processor. Add grilled peppers, vinegar, and salt, then purée, adding oil in a slow stream. Add a little water to thin out (because grilling the peppers makes them drier). We found the sauce to be so versatile- delicious as a dipping sauce but also amazing on sandwiches, over pasta, as a bruschetta topping, and as a side dish on top of grilled potato rounds! YUM!

(Side note: I never knew how easy it was to blanch almonds. All you have to do is throw the almonds in boiling water for 1 minute exactly. Remove from the water. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Squeeze each almond in your fingers and the skins slip right off! Easy! The whole process took about 10-15 minutes.)

Speaking of sauces, we had a major heat wave this week and suddenly, our poor little raised bed garden was in danger! I saw the basil begin to shrivel up so I picked a bunch of it to save it and made a couple different pestos. I made a classic walnut one with the Genovese basil and with the Thai Purple basil, I combined it with a little lemon basil, cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes, sea salt and olive oil for a Thai sauce. Not yet sure exactly what we will make with it but I think it would be great as a marinade for a grilled chicken satay, a start to an Asian salad dressing, or to top a piece of grilled fish.

Also last week, I finally got to hear the great songwriting and sound of Davis Raines. This guy is the real deal, y’all. He’s from Alabama and he has an old school country music vibe. I felt like I had discovered a lost country music soul! Listening to his new album, Santa Maria Hotel, I am sometimes reminded of Merle Haggard and occasionally he conjures up a little of Wayon’s spirit with some cut-time drum beat but this album is not a copy cat album of any sort. It is all Davis Raines and really great. What a great list of musicians on this album, too- you need this album! (You can see a youtube of a Nashville performance at Douglas Corner here.)

Davis Raines at the Station Inn June 2012 (phone photo!)

I’m going to make some more of those homemade Vanilla Wafers this weekend to enjoy with some homemade Peach Ice Cream!!!

Vanilla Wafers
½ cup Unsalted Butter
½ cup Raw Cane Sugar
¼ cup Brown Sugar
1 Egg
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 350. With a mixer, mix sugar and butter together until creamy. Add egg and vanilla and mix. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix. Refrigerate for about half an hour. Roll dough out to ¼” on a well floured board. Cut with a small cookie cutter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet and they will crisp up.

And I close with this little tip- Vinho Verde helps keep you sane during the heat wave!

Stay cool, y’all!