simple suppers: kefta shakshuka

kefta shakshuka on millys-kitchen.com


It’s 75° and sunny in Seattle today. I’m writing this from the dappled shade of my backyard. The forecast is calling for for more balmy weather and I’ve got summer on the brain.

We’re not quite officially there yet, I know. And in Seattle, things could take a turn towards the drizzly at any moment. So it’s never a great idea to get your hopes up regarding picnics and trips to the beach. But I’m throwing caution to the wind and spending the afternoon dreaming of all the summer fun I intend to have this year!

kefta shakshuka on millys-kitchen.com
kefta shakshuka on millys-kitchen.com

In order to ensure that my workaholic side doesn’t grab the reigns and derail the whole enterprise, I’ve decided to make public all the magical summer moments I’d like to make happen this year. There’s something powerful about declaring your intentions to the world; plans and projects I share with others always seem to come to fruition just a bit more easily. A little accountability in the fun department never hurt, either!

 So here it is, my Summer Fun 2016 Wishlist:

  • Throw a backyard barbecue to get to know all my new neighbors better.

  • Always have a chilled bottle or rosé on hand for an impromptu cocktail hour.

  • Go camping in the San Juans.

  • Head back to Wichita to visit my bestie, her new man and her sweet babes.

  • Eat watermelon.

  • Go garage saling.

  • Host the fried chicken supper I’ve been promising Beau since our first date. (Oops!)

  • Take a road trip to Vancouver, Canada (which appears to be a pretty happening town).

  • Make popsicles.

  • Plan a picnic.

  • Stand in the garden eating sun-warmed tomatoes off the vine.

  • Summon the courage to swim in frigid Lake Washington.

  • Grilling, grilling and more grilling! (Especially, ribeyes with hot sauce butter. The best.)

  • Throw a pop-up dinner with my awesome friend, Kyle Wisner.

  • Paint my nails a bright, summertime-only color.

  • Become a regular at my new farmers market.

  • Finally master the art of flaky, mile-high southern style biscuits. (I’m looking at you, Brian.)

  • Pick wild blackberries.

  • Remember to take a vacation from my phone from time to time.

  • Bake a pie.

  • Read a novel.

  • Cut roses from the garden.

  • Spend time laughing with friends.

There. That seems doable, don’t you think? I’ll be checking in with you periodically to let you know how I’m progressing. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you have planned for the summer. Drop me a line in the comments below if you feel like sharing!

To help you clear your calendar for a little more summer fun, I have a new Simple Supper for you this week: Moroccan Kefta Shakshuka.

kefta shakshuka on millys-kitchen.com

Remember that photo shoot I did with my friend, Mehdi? Well he also showed me how to make this savory, spicy and delightfully easy dish. The whole thing comes together in about 30 minutes. And this gorgeous shakshuka makes a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (Plus, meatballs!)

I hope you like it. And I hope this Simple Supper leaves you some extra space for summertime awesomeness!




P.S. Speaking of fun, I’m working on two new culinary retreats for this fall! In September, I’m teaming up with my friend, Rachael Coyle (who also happens to be an über-talented pastry chef and owner of Coyle’s Bakeshop), to bring you a week of cooking, tasting and soaking up all the beauty that is Paris.

I’m also finalizing the details on a culinary retreat in Lisbon and Porto this October. If you’ve been following along here, you know how crazy I am about Portugal! And I’ve added some exciting new activities this year. 

As always, I’ll open registration to my mailing list before the general public. These retreats will sell out fast, so sign up here to make sure you get early access. Details coming your way early next week!

kefta shakshuka on millys-kitchen.com

Kefta Shakshuka

  • 1 lb ground beef chuck
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 4 ½ teaspoons Villa Jerada kefta rub, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus additional to taste
  • 1 small onion, grated on the large holes of box grater or finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Villa Jerada harissa
  • Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • Whole cilantro leaves, to serve
  • Crusty bread or pita, to serve (optional)

*Notes: I love, love, love Mehdi's Villa Jerada spices and olive oils. I can’t recommend them highly enough. You can find stockists at the bottom of this post.

- I always double grind the meat for my meatballs. I think it makes them extra tender and moist. I either ask the butcher to do it for me or just throw regular ground meat in my food processor for about 20 seconds to get a finer texture and more even distribution of fat. Of course, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t double-grind the meat (and Mehdi didn’t for this recipe) but think it makes a mighty fine meatball. 

- I think these kefta would be beautiful with lamb instead of beef or a mix of half-lamb, half-beef.

kefta shakshuka on millys-kitchen.com

First, make the kefta (meatballs): combine the beef, ¼ cup of the chopped cilantro, 2 ½ teaspoons of the kefta rub, 1 teaspoon salt and the onion in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine. (I think it’s easiest to mix with your hands.) Using your hands or a small scoop, shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and chill for at least 20 minutes. 

While the kefta are chilling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the tomato, tomato paste, remaining ¼ cup chopped cilantro, harissa, the remaining 2 teaspoons kefta rub, a generous pinch of salt and pepper and the water. Cook until the tomato has broken down and the mixture has thickened to a sauce-like consistency. Add the kefta. Cover and cook until the meatballs are almost cooked through, about 10 minutes. Use a spoon to make an egg-sized hole in the shakshuka. Crack one of the eggs into the hole. Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the eggs reach desired doneness, about 10 minutes for medium-soft. Sprinkle the eggs with a little salt. Scatter the whole cilantro leaves over the shakshuka and serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe by Mehdi Boujrada

kefta shakshuka on millys-kitchen.com

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com
cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com

We had  a dinner party last week to celebrate my friend Sanda being in town with her family. For those of you who don’t know her, Sanda is a talented photographer and a fantastic cook. Oh, and she happens to be the voice behind the beautiful food and lifestyle blog Little Upside Down Cake. No pressure.

I invited several Seattle friends to join us, including other accomplished cooks and food aficionados, and set about crafting my menu. 

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com

I knew that there were several food allergies and restrictions to take into consideration. It was only when I tallied them up that I began to doubt the genius of my plan. Between the 10 of us, there were half a dozen major dietary restrictions.

Full disclosure: I am an inveterate omnivore. There is nothing I don’t or won’t eat. (Well, tripe and I have some issues, but that’s another story…) I know there are LOTS of people who don’t or can’t eat various foods these days. But somehow I don’t really have any of them in the circle of friends I cook for often. And so I’ve been sailing along cooking and eating whatever I please and not thinking twice about anyone’s special dietary needs.

Until last week. 

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com

I’m a little embarrassed to say that working out a menu without wheat or dairy or corn or oats or pork or alcohol that was at least kid-friendly-ish was more of a challenge than I expected. Perhaps no one knows this better than Beau, who had to listen to me whine and moan about it for at least a week beforehand. (Have I mentioned what a good husband I have?)

I was jolted awake late one night by thoughts of dinner party disaster and proceeded to spend the next several hours “brainstorming”. Beau found me at 6 the next morning, huddled under a pile of cookbooks on the couch muttering vaguely about gluten-free desserts and how to put together an appetizer course without charcuterie. He pried the cookbooks from my hands and ushered me back to bed. 

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com
cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com

Eventually, I decided I was being ridiculous (even by my own weird and obsessive standards) and that I needed to stop freaking out and just do my best and hope the dinner would go over well. 

I think it went over just fine. I ended up making dishes from all over the Mediterranean--lamb with pistachio-mint pesto, roasted beets on white bean hummus with fresh herbs, heirloom tomatoes with a currant-pine nut vinaigrette. And for dessert, I decided to keep it as simple as possible and came up with these Cardamom-Roasted Plums. 
I halved ripe plums from the farmers market and tossed them with brown sugar and a little fresh orange juice to highlight their sweet and sour character. Then I added a cinnamon stick and some ground cardamom because plums + cardamom = deliciousness. I finished with a drizzle of olive oil to ensure a silky texture and roasted the plums in a hot oven until they released their juices and made a gorgeous jewel-toned sauce. I spooned the warm plums and sauce over vanilla ice cream for the dairy lovers and this really delicious frozen cashew cream for those not so into dairy. 

They were my favorite part of the meal. 

Besides the company, of course. And the reminder that challenges often yield the sweetest rewards.

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com

Cardamom-Roasted Plum Sundaes

  • 1 ½ lbs plums, halved (or quartered if large) and pits removed
  • Juice of one large orange
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar (loosely packed)
  • Pinch kosher or sea salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Vanilla ice cream, to serve

*Notes: You can use any kind of plums or pluots you like. Feel free to mix for variety of texture and flavor.

- Don't stop at ice cream. Roasted plums are delicious on yogurt, fresh ricotta, oatmeal, rice pudding... And if you add a bit less sugar, I bet they'd be quite nice on roast pork or duck, too.

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com

Preheat the oven to 450° F. 

Place plums cut-side-up on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Pour the orange juice and water over the plums. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cardamom and salt over the plums. Nestle the cinnamon stick down among the plums and drizzle the olive oil over the top.

Roast in the preheated oven until the plums are soft (you want some to be falling apart) and their juices have thickened slightly, 15-25 minutes. The time will vary depending on the size and ripeness of your plums.

Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

To assemble the sundaes, scoop the vanilla ice cream into bowls or cups. Top with warm plums and sauce and serve immediately.

Makes enough plums for 8 sundaes.

cardamom-roasted plum sundaes // millys-kitchen.com


Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

The first time I tasted lebkuchen was at a Christmas market in Aachen, Germany. I was studying in Brussels at the time, lounging around on a grey Sunday morning, when my friend, Gösta called. Finding the city insufficiently snowy and festive, he proposed we take a day trip to Germany to experience a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt and some true holiday cheer. I was pretty content under my duvet. But Gösta is Swedish, and so clearly an expert on both snow and holiday cheer. And he was driving. I rallied.

We called two other Swedish friends, Katinka and Joakim, folded ourselves into Gösta’s tiny car and headed out of the city. As we approached the German border, flakes began to fall. By the time we arrived in Aachen, the city and market were as festive and snow-covered as Gösta had predicted. 

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

The market was on a square flanked on all sides by tall, stepped facades that recalled sugared gingerbread houses. Strings of white lights glowed from rooftops. Beneath, there were wooden huts selling hand carved ornaments, dense fruit breads, sprays of holly and twisty peppermint candies. The market smelled of roasting nuts and sizzling wurst, which we ordered with sautéed onions and a smear of spicy German mustard.  And there was glühwein, warm mulled wine, that we drank huddled close beneath eaves the eaves.

After the sun had set and the temperature plunged towards truly frigid, we decided it was time to head home. As we wound our way back through the market, we found ourselves on a side-street, in front of a small bakery, its window piled high with German Christmas cookies. Crisp, stamped springerle. Iced cinnamon stars. Humble pfeffernüsse in their jackets of powdered sugar. And another I’d never seen before: pillowy spice cookies emblazoned with blanched almonds and washed with a thin sugar glaze. Lebkuchen. I ordered a heart shaped one, tossed it in my bag and forgot about it.

Excavating my purse several days later, I discovered the slightly smashed cookie. I took a bite. Not only was it still good, it was glorious. Tender. Subtly sweet. Tasting of almonds and honey. And spice. There was cinnamon for sure. And ginger maybe. Something woody and warm like nutmeg or cloves. And something floral like cardamom. And the whole thing was laced through with a ribbon of citrus that kept it from being either too sweet or too dark. 

It has been my favorite Christmas cookie ever since.

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen
Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

When I moved back to the U.S., I discovered that almost no one on the West Coast has heard of lebkuchen. So several Christmases ago, I started my search for the perfect recipe. There are many, many versions of lebkuchen. Ones that strive to reproduce the cookie as it existed in 15th-century Nuremberg (the city in which it originated). Unfussy, American versions using molasses and omitting the traditional marzipan, adapted by German immigrants. Fancified modern versions baked as cupcakes and tarts.

I’ve been tinkering with the recipe for several Christmases. This is simply the version that I like best. There are lots of ground almonds to keep the cookie moist. A good hit of spice and a splash of rum to keep things festive. Three forms of citrus--candied peel, zest and juice--for complexity and to balance the dark spices. And this year, having run out of molasses, I made some with sorghum syrup, which produced my best batch yet. 

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

Baking these lebkuchen is a delight in itself. Like all good holiday traditions, it calls to mind cherished friends and family near and far. For me, each bite tastes of a German holiday market and a snowy afternoon spent wandering and laughing and drinking glühwein with good friends. 

*A note on ingredients: I prefer sorghum syrup for these cookies, which can be hard to find outside the South. But if you can get your hands on a bottle, its bright sweetness and tart edges will elevate these lebkuchen to some of the finest Christmas cookies around. Light molasses produces great lebkuchen as well. I think dark and blackstrap molasses overwhelm the flavor of the citrus and spice.

Also, I finally found a local source for back oblaten, the thin, edible wafer rounds traditionally used for lebkuchen! If you are in Seattle, you can buy them at PFI. They are also available from specialty sources on the internet. I have made these cookies many times without them, though, and back oblaten are not at all necessary for delicious lebkuchen.


  • 1 recipe glaze (see below)
  • 4 oz candied citrus peel, finely chopped (yields about ¾ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons rum, preferably gold or dark
  • 7 oz (1 ½ cups) whole almonds
  • 7 oz (1 cup) sugar, divided
  • 7 oz (1 ½ cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ cup light molasses or sorghum syrup
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 13 90mm back oblaten, optional
  • ½ cup whole blanched almonds, optional

For glaze:

  • 3 ½ oz (about 1 cup) powdered sugar

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon hot water

Combine the chopped citrus peel and rum in a small bowl. Stir to combine and set aside for at least 15 minutes.

Combine the almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor (a good blender will also work in a pinch). Process until the almonds have been ground to a fine meal. 

Transfer the almonds to a medium bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Stir well to combine.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, molasses or sorghum syrup and lemon zest until foamy. Add the nut mixture and the soaked citrus peel (with any rum in the bottom of the bowl) and stir until just combined. The dough will be quite sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. 

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Using a ¼-cup ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving at least an inch between each cookie. If you are using the back oblaten, arrange them on a parchment-lined sheet pan and then scoop the dough into the center of each one. Use your fingers to gently flatten the tops of cookies until they are ½ inch thick (wetting your hands makes this a little easier). If you are using back oblaten, leave a ¼-inch border of wafer around the cookie dough. Place three almonds very close together in the center of each lebkuchen (they spread as the lebkuchen cook). Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pans after 12 minutes, until the cookies are set but still soft in the middle. When in doubt, pull them sooner rather than later.

While the lebkuchen are baking, make the glaze: Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl to remove any lumps. Add the lemon juice and hot water and whisk until smooth. 

When the cookies are done, let them cool for a minute or two then transfer to a wire rack set over a parchment-lined sheet pan (to catch glaze drips). Brush the warm lebkuchen with glaze. Repeat if desired. Let the glaze dry completely (an hour or so) before storing.

Store lebkuchen in an airtight container with a small handful of apple peels or a slice of apple or orange. This keeps the cookies moist. The cookies will keep for up to 6 weeks this way and they get better as they age and the spices and citrus oils continue to blend.  

Makes a baker's dozen of large (4-inch) cookies

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen