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Beignets

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Last month we traveled to New Orleans for my sister Lauren’s wedding. We’ve adored Bradley from the start and it was a joyous experience watching on as they took this big next step together. Even better was the opportunity to celebrate these two with our families in the city that they love so much.

 

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As I mentioned before the wedding we decided that the best way to make this trip affordable and also maximize forced family bonding was for us to carpool in a rented minivan with my brothers Reid and Ryan and Ryan’s girlfriend Erin. So the Saturday before the wedding Dan and I drove to Durham, picked up the boys and the van, and then drove to Charlotte for Erin. The original plan was to stay the night in Charlotte and then start the 10 hour drive to New Orleans early Sunday morning. But the nice/insane thing about younger brothers is that they’re up for things like pulling all nighters in a rental van driving through the rural South. Sure! We all said. Let’s drive all night! We’ll be getting there as the world wakes up, ready to eat po’ boys and live it up in New Orleans! Who needs sleep?

 

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Ryan, Erin, and Reid at the Friendship Oak. Sadly the only two pictures of Dan and I together the entire week were blurry. The sad cost of being behind the camera.

 

We made it safely with no hiccups (save that one victim of vehicular possumslaughter in the middle of Alabama somewhere at 2am) and arrived in New Orleans just in time for lunch with Lauren and Bradley (after a memorable stop in Gulfport to see the 500 year old Friendship Oak). After a sandwich and a nap we were ready for a crawfish boil with Bradley’s family to get our week started on the right foot. And while most of the week was a blur of wedding projects and parties, Sunday stands out as one of my favorite family days, ever. I loved that we had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Bradley’s family before the wedding, and it made my heart happy to see how much they’ve welcomed Lauren as one of their own.

 

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Dan and I photographed the wedding and its surrounding events, which was amazing and also insane. I loved being able to be there for their special moments, to help capture one of the most important days of their lives. And since I was also the Matron of Honor I had the rare opportunity to really throw myself into the wedding, to see it from the inside out. I relished being the sister of the bride, and since Genevieve is constantly threatening elopement this may be my one shot at the job. I like to think I did alright.

 

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Elena, Lauren, & Genevieve,  Bachelorette party

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One of the things I was most excited about in visiting New Orleans was the eating. You know me, I love to eat my way through every vacation, and this was no exception. We ate well. We ate a lot. We indulged. Mostly in beignets. Every day included at least a few iced cafe au laits and beignets a’plenty. From the famous Cafe du Monde to freshly fried dough in City Park we were not shy in our beignet consumption. In fact, some of us got very into it.

 

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Ryan enthusiastically coating himself in beignet powdered sugar, horrified child in the background.

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photo by Dan

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Inside the tornado of to-do lists we threw a bash of a bachelorette for Lauren in the Marigny (complete with lots of live music), hung out on some giant live oak trees, watched Ryan dig a hole with an old man, had the obligatory Bourbon Street experience (mine was at 9am on a run but Gen, Erin, and the boys did stay out until 6am one night), had take out daiquiris, explored the French market, played plenty of music on the back patio, cooked a big catfish dinner together as a family, and listened to Genevieve and Naoise say “only in America” about one gazillion times. Plus so much more I can’t even remember it all to list it. Did I mention the beignets?

 

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photo by Lauren’s bridesmaid, Caitlin. From left: Genevieve, James, Janet, Bradley, Lauren, Elena, Ryan, Reid, Dan.

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Cousins! From left: Mary, Elena, Lauren, Genevieve, Elizabeth. Photo by Dan

 

All in all, the wedding was perfect. There were moments when it seemed the world might end (as with all weddings), but I’m of the school of thought that quirks enhance the experience, so the more the merrier! At the end of the day Lauren and Bradley were married, the family had a raucous good time, and their love and happiness were infectious. Congratulations, Lauren & Bradley!

 

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We’ll definitely be back to New Orleans soon to visit (with a bit less on our figurative plate next time and more on our literal plate, I think), which already has me hungry. Until then, I’ll have to make do with beignets at home. These were simple to throw together and hit the spot. They absolutely satisfied the beignet craving that strikes every time I look through the wedding photos!

 

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Lauren & Bradley’s surprise second line exit from the reception, complete with a full brass band! For more pictures keep your eye on the Pressed Magnolia blog, they’re steadily rolling out!

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Beignets

 

1 tbsp dry active yeast

1/2 cup hot water

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 cups flour, plus more for kneading

Oil for frying (we tried it with coconut- fantastic results!)

Powdered sugar to top

 

Mix the yeast and the water together in a large bowl. Melt butter, milk, and cream together in a saucepan and then pour into the yeast mixture. Stir in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and half of the flour. Knead in the remaining flour and then knead for 5-7 minutes or until stiff and fully incorporated. Transfer to a plastic bag and chill 4-6 hours or overnight.

 

Heat oil in a deep skillet to 375F. Flour a working surface and roll the dough out until it’s about half an inch thick. Slice the dough into 3×3″ or 4×4″ pieces. Fry about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly and then coat with sifted powdered sugar. Serve very hot and with an ice cold cafe au lait.

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4/100: Wayne County Pickled Radishes

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One late summer day I sat on the front porch of our family home in Morehead City, a house we call the Swamp House, with my five siblings. At the time our ages probably ranged from 8 or 9 to 14 or 15, my sister Lauren and I at the top and my baby brother Ryan at the bottom. Ryan, bless his heart, was the willing participant in a series of dares in the late 90’s and early naughts. Being the youngest of six with a penchant to prove himself (not to mention the desire to actually win some cash) meant that he would accept any dare thrown his way from doing a naked somersault on the trampoline during Thanksgiving dinner to, on this beautiful Crystal Coast afternoon, drinking all the liquid in a gallon jar of pickles.

 

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Our weeks at the Swamp House meant pimento cheese, pickled okra, pound cake, freshly caught fish fried in the small kitchen, big pasta dinners, seafood boils, and, of course, gallon jars of Mt. Olive dill pickled cucumbers. Eight or nine people can go through an alarming amount of pickles, especially when some of those people are teenage boys, and by the end of the week we were left with just the dregs. The brine. Normally dumped into the marsh but on this occasion repurposed for our entertainment.

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Ryan got ¾ of the way through the jar before he started (forgive me) looking a little green. Not really wanting to part with the money I’d bet (because that money was reserved for buying sour straws at the City New Stand) I was torn on whether to encourage him. His success meant an amazing feat of endurance and a lighter load in my wallet. And while I may have started out rooting for his failure it’s difficult to watch someone take on such a task without getting behind them. Ryan was the underdog. He was David and that brine was Goliath. Unfortunately, his story ends a bit differently than King David’s. Instead of defeating the legendary warrior Ryan sucummbed with mere cups of brine left, and puked into the marsh. I can’t say for sure but I’m fairly certain this experience may have soured him on accepting bets.

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Years later that is still what I think about every time I see a Mt. Olive pickle. Mt. Olive Pickle Company, located at the corner of Cucumber and Vine in Mount Olive, Wayne County, North Carolina, was formed in the mid 1920s as a way to save cucumbers that were going to waste. A Lebanese immigrant from nearby Goldsboro by the name of Shrickey Baddour teamed up with a sailor from Wilmington named George Moore to execute his plan of taking local cucumbers, brining them, and selling them to area pickle plants. Unfortunately for Baddour and Moore they weren’t able to scrounge up any buyers. With the help of the local business community money was raised to create a plant that would process and sell pickles and the Mount Olive Pickle Company was born, the fledgling investment of thirty-seven shareholders. Moore became the factory superintendent, Baddour became the salesman, and Wayne County was forever changed.

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As we walked through the streets of Mt. Olive in late April I thought about Ryan and his pickle juice and how that act of determination and will was more of a tribute to pickles than the North Carolina Pickle Festival (founded in 1986 by Mt. Olive Pickle Co). In fact, our house in late summer probably has more pickled products than the North Carolina Pickle Festival in its entirety. But that’s another story for another day.

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Wayne County is overwhelmingly agricultural thanks to a mild year round climate and long no-freeze season. And while Mt. Olive does employ as many 500-800 workers depending on the season, you’ll also find manufacturing and processing of other animals and vegetables. Not to mention the three local colleges. Its county seat is Goldsboro and it is surrounded by Wilson to the north, Johnston and Sampson to the west, Duplin to the south, and Green and Lenoir to the East.

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It seemed only fitting that for the Wayne County edition of Tasting North Carolina I honor the pickle, but it was also important to me that I stay within the confines of the local growing season, which meant that no cucumber pickles were put up this weekend (though my cucumber plants are doing wonderfully in the front yard garden). I picked up two bunches of radishes at our food co-op; one bunch went into a jar with salt, water, ginger, and rose peppercorns to lactoferment and the other went into a jar with vinegar, salt, ginger, and rose peppercorns to vinegar pickle. My vinegar pickles will be done by the end of the week and my fermented pickles will be done by the end of the month, which means before I know it I’ll have crunchy, delicious, sour pickles just waiting to be thrown in a salad, tossed on top of a sandwich, or mixed into pasta. No drinking the brine, though. Those days have passed.

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Lacto Fermented Radish Pickles

1 ½ pint mason jar

1 bunch radishes

1 inch ginger root

1 tbsp rose peppercorns

1 tsp kosher salt

2 cups filtered water

In a pot of boiling water, sterilize jar and lid.

Wash and thinly slice radishes. Dissolve the salt in the water. Place radishes in sterilized jar with peeled and sliced ginger and peppercorns. Pour water over until it reaches the top and the radishes are completely covered. Loosely cover and store in a cool, dark, place for 10-14 days, checking every few days to make sure everything is submerged. After the pickles have fermented they can be stored in the fridge for up to a month.

 

Vinegar Pickled Radishes

1 ½ pint mason jar

1 bunch radishes

1 inch ginger root

1 tbsp rose peppercorn

1 tsp kosher salt

2 cups distilled white vinegar

In a pot of boiling water, sterilize jar and lid.

Wash and thinly slice radishes. Place radishes in sterilized jar with peeled and sliced ginger, salt and peppercorns. Pour vinegar over until it reaches the top and the radishes are completely covered. Cover and place in the refrigerator. Let sit 24-48 hours before eating. These will last in the fridge for up to a month.

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Salt Crusted Snapper

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When Julia was here a few weeks ago we finally got the chance to try something we’ve been wanting to do for a while- salt pack a fish. Cooking fish with a salt crust seals all of the juices and moisture together, the end result being a rich and flavorful dish that comes with the benefit of a pretty stunning presentation.

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We picked up a whole pink snapper on the way home from Carolina Beach (we asked for the fish dressed- cleaned, gutted, and scaled) and stuffed it with lemon, butter, rosemary, and pepper. One pound of sea or kosher salt per pound of fish, 1 egg white per pound, and a drizzle of olive oil on top to add a little flavor, and the fish was in the oven.

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 We served it with braised greens and lemon quinoa and white wine, feasting on steamed crabs as an appetizer and ending the night with Caiphirnhas, full stomachs, and happy hearts.

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The fish was perfect- not too salty, wonderfully moist, full of flavor. And while this is definitely a technique I’d try again, it won’t be something that we do regularly. The amount of salt needed for the recipe makes this a dinner party dish, something we pull out when we want to impress.

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1 red or pink snapper, 3-4 pounds

4 pounds kosher or sea salt

4 egg whites

1 lemon

Fresh rosemary

1/2 stick butter

Olive oil

Pepper

At the fish market, ask for your fish dressed- gutted, scaled, and cleaned. Mix together egg whites and salt and preheat your oven to 400. On a large baking sheet make a bed of salt with half the mixture. Stuff your fish with sliced lemons, rosemary, pepper, and butter and place on top of salt bed. Drizzle with olive oil and use the remaining salt mixture to completely cover the fish, pressing the salt around the fish. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the fish is golden brown.

 

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