I’ve never talked about it here, but one of the food hats I wear is that of restaurant critic for our newspaper, The Tennessean. For over six years, I’ve been covertly dining around town and writing columns about my experiences. “Dream job!” so many people say to me. I smile and respond, “Yes and no.” Like most jobs, it has both its up and down sides.
I enjoy being out in the community, and this work allows me to go to many many places, sampling many many dishes (some wonderful, some less so) that I would otherwise not be in a position to do. While I don’t believe that any of my negative reviews have put someone out of business, I do think that my focus on an eatery, be it brand new or one of the old and perhaps forgotten ones, can make a difference in terms of its success.
Dining out at least two times a week, eating a wide variety of foods can wreak havoc on a body. No matter if it’s high-end, chef-driven, farm-to-table, mom-and-pop, ethnic, or low brow, restaurant food simply is richer, more calorie laden than what I cook at home. (Plus I wind up eating more than I normally would.)
I’ve adopted a plan: VB6. Vegan Before 6pm It’s not new. Mark Bittman, cookbook author and former New York Times food columnist, introduced this concept a few years ago. He would eat strictly vegan–no meat, no eggs, no dairy—throughout the day. Instead, lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. After 6pm, he would eat, in moderation, whatever he wanted.
He found it to be effective-simple-flavorful way to shed unwanted pounds and overall improve health.
I’m only on day 3 of this new approach. I have confidence that this will help–I’ll let you know in weeks to come. In the meantime, I wanted to share this especially delicious soup I recently made that satisfies any number of dietary criteria:
It is vegan. (No meat, eggs or dairy)
It is gluten free. (No wheat)
It is paleo. (No dairy, wheat and cereal grains, potatoes, legumes)
It is whole 30. (No meat, dairy, wheat, grain, legumes.)
Did I mention that it is truly delicious? (Smile)
It is easy to make! (might be the best part.)
I found the recipe on the New York Times cooking website, and its sunny appearance appealed to me. The recipe is by the esteemed Melissa Clark, who notes that the soup’s beauty is that once you make it, you don’t need a recipe. Any number of vegetables and variations are possible.
Of course, I made a few alterations.
Cauliflower is the versatile wonder-vegetable. Simmered and pureed, it gives the soup its velvet body. Carrots add bright sweetness; onions and garlic are ever the work horses in anchoring the soup’s foundation.
But, it’s in the layering of spices and lemony herb oil that brings true dimension to the dish, and soulful satisfaction in the eating.
Be sure to toast the coriander seeds in the skillet to release the aromatic oils before crushing them with your mortar and pestle. Lemon zest and juice stirred into the olive oil-cilantro mixture really make it sing.
CARROT-CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH LEMONY CILANTRO OIL
adapted from Melissa Clark, Cooking New York Times
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 quart vegetable stock
zest and juice from one lemon
½ bunch cilantro, leaves finely chopped
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until warm. Stir in onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute. Add carrots and cauliflower. Season with salt, turmeric, and curry powder. Pour in vegetable stock. Cover and bring mixture to a simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Meanwhile, make the garnishes—toasted crushed coriander and cilantro pesto oil.
Recipes are below:
Remove the soup from the heat. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Taste for salt and adjust.
Ladle into warm soup bowls. Sprinkle toasted crushed coriander over each, then spoon and dot a little cilantro pesto oil and serve.
Makes 4 servings
In a small skillet over medium heat, toast coriander seeds until fragrant and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and coarsely crush.
Cilantro Pesto Oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
zest and juice of one lemon
salt, to taste
In a small bowl, add the olive oil, cilantro, lemon zest and juice. Stir well.
Add a pinch of salt to taste. Stir well again.
When I decided to make Maggie’s Momma’s Pinwheel cookies last month, I purchased a large bag of dried pitted dates to get the job done. Turns out, that recipe made a whopping 5 dozen cookies, (enjoyed by many in our home, including a wily three-year-old grandson, who loved reaching into the jar to snatch one or two) and required less than half the bag in the process.
What to do with the rest of those dates? It’s not that I mind storing them in my pantry; dates do keep well. But it seemed like a good opportunity to use them in other applications—and not just desserts.
Despite their dulcet nature, dates are healthful to eat, providing an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. They are fat and cholesterol free. While they may seem like sugar bombs, dates have a low glycemic index too.
It didn’t take long for me to come up with two delicious uses. In both instances, a particular spice paired with the fruit, making each dish exceptional.
The first recipe, Jeweled Jasmine Rice, is taken from my cookbook. I made it with a variation. I used basmati—it’s what I happened to have at the time. But really, any aromatic rice would work splendidly. I warmed a trio of dried fruits–apricots, craisins, and dates, oh my–in a skillet with turmeric and pistachios. Wonderful scents filled the kitchen.
Once the rice is cooked, fold in the spiced mixture. The fruits do glisten like jewels.
Here’s the trick to light fluffy rice–with grains separate, not clumped. Soak and rinse. My friend Muna taught me this long ago. It makes the rice more receptive to flavors, and will cook in less water.
In our mostly vegetarian household, we love this dish on its own. But it makes a terrific accompaniment to something grand and meaty.
Serve this with ginger-roasted chicken, a plank of seared salmon, roast leg of lamb, or grilled pork tenderloin and chutney.
The second is baby spinach salad with dates and toasted almonds, adapted from the popular Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi.
My cousin Cathy served this to me last summer and I went crazy for it. It’s unlike any salad I’ve ever had, and I didn’t immediately identify the dates in it.
I learned that they are lightly “pickled” with red onion and a pinch of salt. A clever move: Pita bread, torn into bite sized pieces, becomes this salad’s crouton. It gets a crispy turn in the skillet with almonds and the Middle Eastern staple—sumac. It is prized for its tart, almost lemony taste and dark red color. Look for it at any global market or grocer.
Something about how the sweet and savory elements combine in this salad made me think “Bacon?” but only for a moment. What it achieves is Umami–savory deliciousness.
The salad is simple to make and a pleasure to eat.
Do you have a date recipe you’d like to share, or a recommendation? Despite making two of these salads and a big batch of rice, I still have dates-a-plenty in my pantry.
In the meantime–it’s a new year!
Here’s my wish for you:that 2016 is full of health and happiness, and, of course, good food.
JEWELED AROMATIC RICE adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ½ cups aromatic rice, such as jasmine or basmati, soaked in a bowl of water for 10 minutes and rinsed
4 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup pitted dates, chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, slivered
1/3 cup raisins, craisins or currants
1 teaspoon turmeric
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add onions, garlic, and salt. Sauté until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rinsed rice, and stir to coat the grains with other ingredients. Pour in the water and stir well. Increase heat and cover.
When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to very low. Simmer for 5 minutes. Keep covered and remove from heat. Let the rice sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes.
Melt butter in a skillet on medium heat. Stir in pistachios and cook for about 5 minutes, letting them “toast.” Stir in apricots, raisins and turmeric. When all of the ingredients are well combined, remove from heat.
Fluff the cooked rice with a fork. Fold in sautéed mixture and serve.
Makes 8-10 servings
JERUSALEM SALAD adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
1 tablespoon wine vinegar (can be red or white)
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
3 ½ ounces dates, preferably Medjool, pitted and quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 small pitas, roughly torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
½ cup whole unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
½ teaspoon chile flakes
5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.
Meanwhile, heat butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add pita and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring all the time, until pita is golden. Add almonds and continue cooking until pita is crunchy and browned and almonds are toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chile flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.
When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves with pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add dates and red onion, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, the lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings
I have a friend who has a nice philosophy about food. If ever asked, “What’s your favorite _________?,” —-and you can fill in that blank with burger, cupcake, taco, milk shake —- she’ll respond,
“It’s the one I’m eating now.”
I love that comment, her expression of pure appreciation, relishing the delicious moment in whatever form it takes.
I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, but I have my opinions. Yes, we all know there are hundreds of thousands “Best-Ever” cookie recipes circulating the ‘net. I won’t make that claim. But these three current faves follow my holiday baking protocols:
1. They are easy to make, even in big batches
2. They are different in flavor and appearance
3. They have great taste, without being overly sweet
4. They keep well in a cookie tin, ideal for gift-giving or sharing at home over coffee or tea
Scroll on down for Maggie’s Mama’s Date- Nut Pinwheels, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies, and Glazed Lemon Rosemary Shortbreads.
Maggie’s Mama’s Date-Nut Pinwheels
She and I baked these beautiful pinwheels on the fly last year–and they were so good, I had to make them again. This recipe was handed down from her mama, also an excellent cook, and the dough actually benefits from being made up ahead of time, wrapped, and frozen.
If Maggie ever saw rolls wrapped in wax paper in the family freezer, she knew that her mama would soon be baking the date-nut pinwheels. So much anticipation! Those cookies signaled the Christmas season.
There are two parts to the recipe–the brown sugar dough, and the date-nut filling. Living in Louisiana, Maggie’s mom always used pecans, but walnuts work just as well. The only update that we made to this old-fashioned recipe was substituting butter for shortening in the pastry.
Here’s an i-Phone image of Maggie’s recipe, circa 1977, handwritten on loose leaf notebook paper with a Bic green ink pen. (in the South we don’t just say “pen,” we say “ink pen.” A means of differentiating it from its Southern sound-alike “pin,” I suppose.)
Next up, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies
These might look like ordinary oatmeal cookies, but don’t be deceived.
Joy Martin, a fine baker (winner of many blue ribbons at county fairs) and avid potlucker brought these ingenious treats to one of our Third Thursday Community Potlucks several years ago. She took a basic oatmeal cookie recipe and elevated it with chocolate chips, walnuts, orange zest, and the warming Hindi spice blend, Garam Masala.
That bit of citrus coupled with the aromatics of cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, clove, fennel, black pepper, and bay leaf brings incredible dimension to the cookie. The spice mix is remarkable in this sweet application, imbuing as much flavor and satisfaction here as it does in savory dishes.
These drop cookies are truly delicious, and I had to include them in my cookbook. Joy happily contributed her recipe, which makes a huge batch–at least 5 dozen. (Potluck standards, don’t you know!)
You can cut it in half without sacrificing anything. Customize them, too, if you like. I added a handful of dried cherries to the latest batch, which added luscious dark fruit pops to some bites.
Last, but not least, I give you the delectable Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Shortbreads.
Marla brought these brown-edged, butter-rich cookies to a potluck and I fell in love with them. There’s lemon zest and finely chopped fresh rosemary folded throughout the dough. The glaze is a whisk of olive oil, fresh lemon juice and confectioners sugar. Fresh rosemary leaves embellish each one.
The recipe also found in my cookbook, these cookies have become one of my signature offerings at my book presentations and signings. They are easy to make (you can make the dough up ahead of time, shape it into a log, wrap and refrigerate it until ready to slice-and-bake) They transport well. They are pretty, and not too sweet. Lemon and Rosemary–how can you go wrong? People go crazy for them. Every time.
I’m convinced I’ve sold more books because of them! (Thanks, Marla.)
LEMON-ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD COOKIES (from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)
For the shortbread:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 large egg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons water
rosemary sprigs for garnish
In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add zest, rosemary, egg, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down bowl. At low speed, add flour and mix just until combined; do not overmix.
Roll dough out between two large sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Chill dough for 30 minutes. (or form into logs; wrap and refrigerate overnight. then, slice into rounds.)
Preheat oven to 350.
Cut out dough using your favorite cookie cutters. Place cookies onto parchment-paper-lined baking sheets, and bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove to a wire rack.
Make the glaze by combining powdered sugar, olive oil, lemon juice and 2-3 tbsp of water as necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency. Drizzle and spread glaze over each cookie and top with rosemary sprigs.
Makes 35 to 40 cookies
GARAM MASALA KITCHEN SINK COOKIES (from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried cherries (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, orange zest, orange extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and Garam Masala. Beat the flour mixture into the creamed sugar mixture a little at a time until combined. Fold in oats, toasted walnuts, chocolate chips and dried cherries.
Drop rounded tablespoons full onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.
Makes 5 dozen
MAGGIE’S MAMA’S DATE-NUT PINWHEELS
2 1/4 cups pitted dates, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, well beaten
4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Combine the dates, sugar and water in a saucepan set on low hear. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add nuts and cool.
Meanwhile, beat the butter until fluffy and add the brown sugar gradually, work until light.
Add the eggs and mix well.
Add remaining ingredients (sifted together) and mix well.
Cover and chill thoroughly.
Roll out chilled dough and spread with filling.
Roll up tightly, wrap in plastic, and place into the freezer
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove rolls from freezer. Unwrap and slice about 1/2 inch thick and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.
Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Makes 5 dozen pinwheels
HAPPY HOLIDAY BAKING TO ALL!
Right now, I’m sure many of you are forming your Thanksgiving plans–choosing recipes, composing grocery lists, plotting your course to the Thursday feast. I am too; we’ll be driving to DC to spend the holiday with my daughter, son-in-law, and precious grandson. Plenty to be thankful for, in that one sentence alone.
We live in uneasy times. I think we always do–it’s in matters of degrees. The impact of global unrest, of violence, fear, loss and anguish has felt extreme to me of late. We all feel it, its heaviness, its power to constrict. I remind myself to keep an open mind, and even more so, an open heart. We’re all connected, part of a great family living on this planet. An open heart keeps those darker forces at bay, keeps the creative compassionate flow vital and moving between us.
Before I sign off, and wish you all love and peace, I want to share this totally retro recipe.
It’s similar to Swedish Meatballs, although there’s no nutmeg or allspice in the mix. It’s more of a Stroganoff–the meat seasoned with grainy mustard and Worcestershire. The beefy gravy is folded with sour cream. So 1960s. I can remember my mom making these, serving them in a chafer for festive gatherings with frilly toothpicks. On the flipside, I also remember the ghastly 1970s boxes of Hamburger Helper with a stroganoff version that she would simmer in a skillet for supper.
I hadn’t thought of them, these meatballs in sour cream, which, despite their “throwback” quality, are really quite delicious. I was reminded of them by a woman in a cooking class that I teach at Magdalene House. We were discussing what we could prepare for our December class, and she asked if we could make them. (potato latkes, too!)
Why not? Last week, I resurrected my recipe, jazzed the sauce with oyster mushrooms (!) and tested ’em out at our potluck. I served the stroganoff meatballs over a bed of buttered egg noodles.
Woo-hoo! Everyone went crazy, devouring every last one. “What inspired you to make them?” “My parents used to serve these at every party.” “Oh my goodness, I haven’t eaten this in years.”
The dish is hearty and potent, triggering memory, delivering comfort and taste. Well-worth bringing back—from time to time. You might like to serve a batch at a festive gathering of your own.
Here’s my wish, which is for myself, as much as for you:
As we move into the season of plenty, but also a time of rush and stress, remember to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Savor the moments together. Breathe deeply. Express gratitude. Feel joy. Be light.
3 pounds ground chuck
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, mix and mash everything together until well-incorporated. The beef mixture will feel lighter and have a glossy look when that is achieved.
Form small (as in smaller than a golf ball) meatballs (again using your hands, or a small ice cream scoop) and arrange them on baking sheets.
Place into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside while you make the sauce.
(After they cool, you could place them into freezer bags and freeze for later use.)
Makes 6 dozen meatballs
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, torn or chopped
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 quart beef stock
1+ cup sour cream
1 bunch green onions or chives, chopped
Place large pot on medium heat and melt the butter. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the mushrooms. Saute until golden. Add the cooking sherry and stir well. Let the sherry reduce, then add the flour. Stir vigorously to coat the mushrooms and onions.Let the flour gently “cook” for about a minute. Pour in the beef stock, stirring well. Season with salt, coarse ground black pepper. The brown gravy will begin to thicken.
Add the cooked meatballs. Simmer for 5 minutes. Fold in the sour cream, making sure it melds into the gravy. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with chopped green onions or chives.
Serve over a bed of egg noodles.
Serves a crowd–15 or more guests
Confit: from the French word confire meaning “preserved”
a confit is any type of food cooked slowly, often in fat, as a method of preservation.
If the stars align and I happen to be shopping at Costco soon after their shipment of chanterelles arrives, I am able to delight us all with something delicious using these wild mushrooms. (The Costco price, around $10 a pound, makes them irresistible.)
Some years it works out, prompting me to make the likes of chanterelle tart, risotto, and savory bread pudding. When I discovered the cache this year, I knew in an instant that I could use them on crostini for a party I was catering. (toasts, slathered with butternut squash puree, topped with simmered chanterelles and shallots.)
Um, yes. I fell off my no-catering wagon, and put together a fall-inspired menu of passed hors d’oeuvres for a fundraising event last Thursday evening. 150 guests! It was for a noble cause–Radnor Lake State Natural Area--an extraordinary 1000+ acre preserve in the heart of a Nashville suburb.
So, while I was figuring how to prepare these for the event, I wanted to learn a way to preserve the golden beauties. Add some staying power to their ephemeral nature.
We’re all familiar with duck confit; wouldn’t confit of chanterelles work?
A little interweb research confirmed my suspicions.
The Earthy Delights Blog, devoted to hard-to-find funghi, truffles and such, has an informative post about the confit in question: a slow savory meld of chanterelles, onions, garlic and dried apricots (fitting–the mushrooms themselves have a stonefruit essence) in olive oil and chicken stock.
I adapted the recipe, opting for vegetable stock instead of chicken, adding a splash of sherry vinegar and some fresh thyme. (For those of you with certain dietary concerns, my version is vegan and gluten-free.)
The result? A jammy mushroom mix that is exotic,
supple, sweet, meaty, with a little sherried vinegar tang…truly luscious.
Guests clamored for the chanterelle crostini at the Radnor Lake party. (Overall a huge success, by the way, wherein many guests asked, “Who’s the caterer?” Knowing that I was doing this as a one-time thing, my friend Bev came up with the best answer: “It’s Anonymous Catering.”)
Days later, I cooked some brown rice and ladled gently warmed confit and juices over the top for our dinner. Some still remains in my refrigerator–enough to fold into omelets, or spoon over creamy polenta, or blend with sour cream and dry mustard for a stroganoff sauce.
Refrigerated, the confit keeps a month (if it lasts that long.) You can freeze it too, for up to six months. Perhaps I’d better go back to Costco and get some more—if they’re still in stock!
CHANTERELLE CONFIT (adapted from The Earthy Delights Blog)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned and cut (or torn) into 1/2″ strips and pieces
1 large onion, small dice
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
pinch crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the chanterelles, onions & garlic and saute until the onion becomes translucent and the mushrooms begin to soften. (15 minutes) Stir often, making sure that the ingredients cook evenly. Add the diced apricots, sugar, salt, pepper and crushed chili, then pour in the sherry vinegar and vegetable stock. Add the sprigs of thyme.
When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and the mixture thickens. ( 40 – 60 minutes.) Taste for seasoning and set aside to cool.
Spoon the confit into a clean glass jar and top it with a pour of olive oil. Cap it and refrigerate. This will keep for a month. You may freeze the confit for up to 6 months.
The first time I recall eating a fried pie was almost 25 years ago when I was on a little fall jaunt, driving the backroads of middle Tennessee. Back then, Bill and I had a notion that we’d run a little rural B&B (complete with its own vegetable garden providing our produce for meals, a glorious flower garden as well.)
We’d take day-drives out of the city in different directions to explore. What were we looking for? A cool abandoned home in a bucolic setting that we could convert. Or an inn already in existence that we could buy. We’d stay overnight at some to get a feel for how people ran them. Romantic notions of our quaint B&B got dispelled once I realized
1) While running a catering business was a millstone, it was featherlike compared to running an inn. Weight of the world.
But here’s the thing. It’s good to follow these ideas out into the real world. How else are you going to know if it’s what you really want? And, there’s the adventure, always ripe with discovery–
–such as the fried hand pies.
It was on one of those off-the-beaten path drives when we came upon a lone cinderblock building with a walk-up window and a rough hand-painted sign: FRIED PIES $1
(I know; we fry a lot of things in the South.)
“Let’s stop,” I urged. Bill pulled over to the building’s side and I hopped out. I peered into the little window. “What kinds do you have?”
“Peach, apple, blackberry, chocolate, lemon,” recited a small measured voice from the dark interior. I handed the woman $5 and returned to the car with a sack containing one of each, individually packed in wax paper bags.
They were still warm.
We motored on until we came to an open rise on the road, overlooking a valley. There we parked. Pastures below were dry and browned. Colors of the season dotted the surrounding hills, with maples flaming orange and burgundy. Leaning against the car, we sampled the goods, sharing a thermos of coffee.
I thought the pies would be greasy, but they weren’t. I thought that the chocolate might be bizarre, but it was surprisingly delicious. Each one, a half-moon with crimped edges that fit right in your hand, had golden flaky crust. Grab and go! Bill loved the peach-filled crescent. The apple had a sandy dusting of cinnamon sugar and may have been my favorite.
I doubt that we could find that pie place again. In all likelihood, it no longer exists.
But, while I recipe-tested these gingery-apple treats this week for Edible Nashville magazine, I was reminded of those fall drives, and a younger version of me, chasing down a different dream.
FRIED APPLE HAND PIES adapted from Chef Matt Farley of The Southern
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced
2 Gala or Honeycrisp apples, cored and diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Melt butter in a skillet set on medium heat. Add sugar and cook for 5 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken. Add apple cider and cook for another minute.
Stir in the apples and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes. Add cinnamon and lemon juice and cook for 10 minutes or until apples are tender. Turn out on a sheet pan to cool.
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick ) unsalted butter (diced and cold)
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
Place flour, sugar and salt into a food processor fitted with the steel (or pastry) blade and run for 15 seconds.
Add butter and pulse until butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. In a bowl whisk the eggs and the yolk and add to flour mixture. Pulse until clumps form.
Turn out onto a table and knead for 1 minute or until dough becomes smooth. Wrap tightly in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours.
Place the ingredients into a bowl and whisk vigorously until the egg whites and yolks are mixed together.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Place both into a bowl and mix until well-blended.
All-purpose flour, for dusting surface
Canola or vegetable oil, for frying pies.
Dust a clean surface with flour and roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut into 4 inch rounds. Brush egg wash around the edges of the dough.
Place approximately 3 tablespoons of chilled apple filling on dough.
Fold over into half moon shapes. Using the tines of a fork seal all of the edges.
Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
Place vegetable oil in a pan about 1 inch deep. Heat to about 360 degrees or until flour immediately bubbles when sprinkled in oil. Lower the pies (a few at a time) into the hot oil (do not crowd!)
Cook pies about a minute and a half per side or until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels. Toss in cinnamon sugar mixture and serve.
Makes 12 hand pies
The Plus Element
That’s what my friend Maggie calls it. On any path to mastery, there’s always one more step.
I think that’s why I both enjoy and feel challenged by my kitchen calling.
Thirty plus years on this culinary path, and I am still learning.
Thirty plus years, and I am still excited about food.
Today’s post shares two of my most recent discoveries, and they couldn’t be more disparate.
The first took its inspiration from a meal at a new vegan-raw food eatery AVO.
The second was the product of a little pre-Thanksgiving research and experimentation.
I served both at our last potluck, to raves.
AVO (as in avocado) is Nashville’s first full service vegan raw food restaurant. (Nothing heated above 118 degrees, can you imagine?) I was beyond surprised by how delectable–and creative—it’s offerings are. No-bake sea salt chocolate “cheesecake” made from soaked cashews pureed with coconut milk, maple syrup, and bitter chocolate. Pad Thai noodles made from threads of zucchini, daikon, and kelp in a spicy almond-based sauce.
And a remarkable tabbouleh, made from pulverized cauliflower curds.
And while I’m less likely to attempt the mock cheesecake (despite its incredible, creamy mouthfeel, and rich, deep chocolate taste) the tabbouleh-style salad using cauliflower as its grain is nothing short of genius.
Finely chopped by hand, or pulsed in a food processor, the curds have the right appearance. The texture is a ready receptor for the lemony vinaigrette. The taste is convincing–bright, fresh, healthful and delicious. To the ever-growing repertoire of dishes where this species of Brassica oleracea mimics something else (like mashed potatoes, or piccata, or pizza crust…) add this recipe.
Isn’t cauliflower the versatile one?
My recipe takes the Middle Eastern mainstay, and flips it further. Instead of flat leaf parsley, I chopped a mound of tangy peppery arugula to fold in with the cauliflower. I “quick-pickled” thinly sliced red onions, for spark and color contrast. I added finely chopped broccoli. I even cooked up a batch of pearled couscous, to extend the salad for our group. (It didn’t need it.)
The second trial is the “Dry Brine.”
We are all familiar with brining–immersing a hunk of meat or poultry in a highly seasoned-salted bath for an extended, which acts as both marinade and tenderizer. I’ve brined pork roasts to my satisfaction, but my efforts with turkey have not entirely pleased me.
The flavor was there. The juiciness too. But the skin never got that same compelling crackle.
And the gravy–not that rich brown.
I attempted dry brining a turkey breast. So easy and less cumbersome. It was always a challenge to find a receptacle Large enough to hold the brine-and-bird, much less fit it into the fridge without making a sloshing mess.
Create your dry brine blend of salt, pepper, and herbs. Sprinkle all over the bird. Place into the refrigerator UNCOVERED for 24 hours. Remove the next day, thirty-minutes before roasting–let it lose some of the chill while you preheat the oven. Drain off any collected liquid at the bottom of the pan. Slip some pats of butter underneath the skin.
It’s a WOW.
Crisp browned skin, tender, juicy meat, wonderful infusion of seasonings. And this was for the breast—which can get dry. I’m looking forward to using this technique on a whole turkey for our grand Thanksgiving feast. Another step on the path.
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly
1 head cauliflower, washed and cored
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 head broccoli, washed and stemmed
2 cups arugula, stemmed and coarsely chopped
Quick-Pickle the Red Onions: In a separate bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, salt, black pepper, and sugar together. Add the red onions. Cover and allow the mixture to soften and pickle the onions—about 15 minutes.
Break the head of cauliflower into manageable sized pieces. Finely chop the curds and stems.
If you prefer, you may use the food processor and pulse them into fine pieces. Place into a large bowl.
Add lemon and juice. Season liberally with salt and black pepper. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat the pieces.
Fold in the arugula.
Finely chop the broccoli. Add it to the salad.
Drain the pickled red onions and fold them into the salad as well.
Taste for seasonings and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
DRY-BRINED AND ROASTED TURKEY BREAST
8-10 pound turkey breast
4 tablespoons butter
Poultry Dry Rub:
3 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Rosemary
1 tablespoon Thyme
1 tablespoon Ground Sage
1 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
The Day Before Roasting:
Rinse the turkey breast under cold water. Pat dry. Sprinkle the rub over the entire breast, pushing some underneath the skin. Place onto a baking pan and refrigerate uncovered, overnight.
Remove the turkey breast from the refrigerator. Drain off any liquid which may have collected on the bottom of the pan. Cut the butter into small pats and slip them underneath the skin.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the turkey breast onto the middle rack and let it roast undisturbed (and uncovered) for 1 1/2–2 hours. Check the turkey after an hour and rotate the pan.
I recently spent a week in New York City helping my girlfriend Pat pack up her apartment, a studio on the tenth floor of a grand old building overlooking Gramercy Park.
Rare and remarkable are two words for Gramercy Park, secluded within the heart of this electric city. Four short blocks of mid-rise brownstones surround the gated haven full of shade trees and flowering plants. No major streets, no rumbling traffic, no Lexington or Madison avenues barreling through. It’s a neighborhood that still feels like old New York.
Pat’s building, constructed in 1909, is unique to the square; the facade of the 12 story landmark is white terra cotta, Gothic in design, with ornate detailing. At the entry stands a smiling doorman in dapper uniform to greet you; inside is a gilt vestibule with a reception and two narrow elevators. Step inside those gleaming brass doors for a lift up to 10T.
Pat’s apartment measures right at 330 square feet. Yes, it’s small. Basically a room and a bath. Tall ceilings, wide windows, minimal furnishings, and a couple of strategic angles that trick the eye into thinking there is something more around the corner all combine to give it a more spacious feel.
I dubbed it her “Gramercy Palace.”
When you are out in the frenetic thrum that is Manhattan, a nest such as hers is the ideal respite–all you need, really. Over the years, I have enjoyed staying in its cozy quarters.
Change happens. And one begets another. Last fall, Pat’s husband died. She quit her high-powered job of many years. Then, she got an unsolicited—and generous—offer for her apartment. The end of a cycle. The closing of a life chapter.
When I learned that Pat was selling this special place, I wanted to be there to help close things out, say good-bye. It wouldn’t take the whole week to pack. We wanted to relish the final days at The Palace, and soak up as much of the city, from the perspective of being a resident rather than a visitor.
As someone who was born in New York (Queens) there is always a part of me that yearns for time there. Partly to reconnect with the place, and its magnificent and gritty sense of place. The city is potent with memory—each visit serves to recall visits gone by while creating new experiences. Making memories.
This time, I got a good dose.
We saw the Broadway play, Hamilton. (Hard to imagine, but this Hip-Hop musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton is one of the best things I have ever seen.)
We went to museums: MOMA and the new Whitney. We strolled the Highline. We met friends for drinks in different neighborhoods. We ate at some wonderful restaurants.
I also did some cooking.
Union Square, with its open air Green Market (open 4 days a week!) is an easy walk from the apartment. From an array of vendors, I purchased heirloom tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, corn, basil and melon.
Walk a bit further south, and you’re in Little Italy. Pat’s sister Lynn and I jaunted over to Alleva Dairy, the oldest Italian cheese store in the city—and the United States. Lynn bought sausages and I got pasta and a ball of luscious burrata.
It was fun to cook in the tiny kitchen and dine on a fresh summer feast. Bittersweet. A last supper, to be sure. Are other New York adventures still to come? No telling when, but I feel certain they will.
ZUCCHINI-LINGUINE TANGLE WITH SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE
3 small zucchini (small size is more tender)
1/2 pound linguine
salt and black pepper to taste
Sweet red bell pepper-tomato sauce (recipe below)
toasted pine nuts
Place a large pot of salted water on medium high heat and bring to a boil.
Trim the zucchini ends and slice it lengthwise into thin slabs. Take each slab and slice it into long thin julienne strips.
Cook the linguine according to package directions.(about 10 minutes) Drain and set aside.
Return the pot to the stovetop. Set the heat on medium and add olive oil–about 3 tablespoons.
Add the zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and saute for 2 minutes—so that the zucchini becomes pliable. Stir in the linguine. Toss until the two are entangled.
Ladle the red sauce into each bowl. Top with the pasta. Garnish with grated pecorino-romano and toasted pine nuts.
Sweet Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce
3-4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut in half
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Place red bell pepper and tomato halves onto a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath the peppers. Brush the tops with olive oil.
Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the skins of the peppers and tomatoes are blackened and blistered.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
WATERMELON-PEACH SALAD WITH BURRATA
4 cups large dice watermelon
2-3 peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
1/2 jalapeno, cut into very thin rings
1 bunch of basil (or mint) finely sliced
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 round of burrata
salt and black pepper
Place cut watermelon, peaches, jalapeno and basil into a large bowl. Pour lime juice and olive oil over the salad. Gently toss.
Place the round of burrata in the center of the salad. Drizzle a little more oil over it. Season with salt and black pepper.
When serving, break into the burrata so that shreds and the creamy inside become mixed with the fruits.
Puttering in the garden. A dip in the pool. A day trip to the country. Stirring a pot of blackberry jam. Tomatoes, and more tomatoes, at every meal.
That’s the summer in my mind.
I’ve caught glimpses of that idyllic summer, even taken the occasional dip and day trip. For the most part, that slow carefree pace has eluded me. It’s not a complaint, don’t get me wrong. In the life of a food writer-educator-recovered caterer-grandmother, you gotta roll with whatever assignments come your way! From cooking camps to grandson care, life has been full.
But, here I am. And, I have hopes for a languid August. Beautiful produce is coming into the markets; look at that bounty. I haven’t stopped cooking. Here are a few summer dishes I’ve enjoyed.
ROASTED TOMATO-PESTO FRITTATA
Have your heard of Juliet tomatoes? They are a paste variety that look like mini-romas. I really like them for certain applications. Thick sauces. Salsa. Ketchup. And, they slow-roast into meaty ovals of sweetness.
I used them, in their slow roasted state, to make this frittata. The process started on the stovetop in my cast iron skillet, and finished in the oven.
A frittata is a fast and versatile recipe to have in your repertoire. You can find numerous variations here. I served this for an impromptu brunch for friends–it couldn’t have been simpler, and more satisfying.
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup cream (you may substitute half-and-half or whole milk if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 pound roma or paste tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a 9 inch cast iron (or oven safe) skillet with butter.
Beat eggs, cream, salt and black pepper together until no traces of yolk can be seen.
Place skillet over medium heat.
Pour in the egg mixture.
Add the tomatoes, dollops of pesto and shredded cheese. Cook on the stovetop for about 5-7 minutes.
Place the skillet into the oven to finish—about 15 minutes.
SPICY SUMMER-YELLOW VEGETABLE SALAD
One of the teen cooking camps I taught at the food bank was all about “Street Eats.” We explored cuisines around the world, from the standpoint of what you’d buy from a street vendor, pushcart, food truck: some times the most delicious dishes ever! One day, we made Mexican fare—grilled fish tacos, pickled cabbage, churros dusted with cinnamon sugar, and elotes—those spectacular ears of grilled corn slathered with lime-and-chili spiked mayo.
We had a few extra charred ears which I brought home. They soon wound up in this salad that celebrates summer yellows: wax beans, sweet bell pepper, onion, sungold tomatoes and crookneck squash. I blanched the beans (fresh picked from a friend’s garden!) in water seasoned with garlic and bay leaf. I sauteed the peppers, onion and squash. I scraped the grilled and slathered kernels off the cob, and mixed the whole she-bang together. Finished with a scatter of sungolds, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. Mercy. Summer in a bowl. It was so so good.
1/2 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut into julienne strips
1 golden bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 ears of corn, cooked: grilled, oven roasted, boiled
1 cup sungold tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
Elote Dressing (recipe below)
Fill a skillet with water and place over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cook the wax beans ( a few at a time–do not crowd) until tender-crisp–about 4 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Empty the skillet, dry it, and place over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the squash, peppers and onions. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, place the wax beans and sauteed vegetables. Scrape the corn kernels into the bowl. Add the sungold tomatoes, cilantro, and Elote dressing. Toss well and serve.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4-1/3 teaspoon cayenne
lime juice from 1 lime
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup grated cotija or parmesan cheese
Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
Makes a scant cup.
MANGO BLUEBERRY LIME YOGURT PARFAIT
What do you do when you have a ripe mango, a pint of blueberries, a container of plain Greek yogurt and a lime? This is the answer. Easy-Pretty-Tasty-Healthy.
This one is barely a recipe.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of your favorite honey
1 lime—juice and zest
1 pint blueberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 ripe mango, peeled and sliced
Place the yogurt into a bowl. Add lime juice, zest and honey. Stir until well combined. Taste and adjust for sweetness, if desired.
Set up 4 glasses (or whatever serving vessels you’d prefer.) Place a dollop of yoghurt in the bottom of each. Follow with a handful of berries, a few slices of mango, and repeat the layering until the glass is full. Garnish with basil or mint leaves and serve.
Welcome the return of
Neighbor Ray’s petite green beans, true haricots verts
grown in his meticulous urban backyard garden.
Sleek and delicate, just picked and crunchy sweet.
The sack still holding the day’s warmth.
A summer highlight that had gone missing for a couple of summers.
Two years ago, Ray’s crop did too poorly. Pests and such.
Last year, I was out-of-pocket. Book promotions and such.
But this year, they’re back.
And I’m back. Thank goodness.
As I’ve done in productive summers past, I’ve created a dish to celebrate them.
This time, I gleaned inspiration from a favorite local chef, Roderick Bailey of The Silly Goose, who makes a bowl of green beans and yukon gold potatoes, nestled in a pool of hazelnut romesco sauce. He finishes the dish with shavings of Manchego cheese and a flourish of paprika oil, in Spanish tapas fashion.
Now, in my pantry and fridge I had many of the ingredients to replicate. Those golden potatoes, buttery companion to the beans. I had cremini mushrooms to add to the mix, impart their own kind of meaty umami.
As for the romesco, I had ripe bell peppers. An anaheim too, for a mild kick of heat. A couple of tomatoes. Half an onion. A piece of shallot. The critical sherry vinegar.
A few missing elements, though. No hazelnuts, nor Manchego cheese. No paprika oil, either.
No matter. I could still achieve a luscious base for the dish. A simpler romesco. I even eliminated the soft breadcrumbs often used as a thickening agent in traditional preparations. Let’s keep it gluten free. The peppers, once roasted and pureed with a splash of vinegar, a teaspoon of paprika, would have rich body and deep flavor.
It all comes together with minimal work. Blanche the slender green beauties–done in just minutes. Roast potatoes and mushrooms. Roast, then puree peppers, tomatoes, onions and the like. Pool and spread the romesco. Arrange the vegetables; let them settle into the sauce.
(If you have Manchego, or toasted hazelnuts to garnish–go for it.)
Stand back and admire the brilliant composition of colors and textures.
Then, dig in.
For other ideas for preparing and serving romesco sauce, visit here.
RAY’S BEANS AND ROMESCO
1 pound haricots verts, or young thin green beans, stems removed
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into cubes
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
coarse ground black pepper
Bring a large skillet of lightly salted water to a boil. Put in the beans and cook for 3 minutes. Plunge them into an icy bath to cease the cooking and set their bright green color. Drain and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cubed potatoes onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place quartered mushrooms onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat.
Place each pan into the oven and roast until the potatoes are crisp and lightly browned, yet have soft cooked interiors—about 20 minutes. The mushrooms will roast more quickly, about 15 minutes.
Set both aside and make the romesco sauce.
SIMPLE ROMESCO SAUCE
1 red (or yellow or orange) sweet bell pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 Anaheim pepper, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon paprika
Place peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil and dust with salt.
Roast in the preheated 425 degree oven until the skins of the peppers are blistered—about 20 minutes.
Remove and cool. Peel and discard the skins of the peppers and tomatoes.
Place the vegetables into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Pulse and process.
Add the sherry vinegar and paprika.
Pulse and process until smooth. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Pour most of the romesco sauce onto the bottom of a shallow bowl.
Toss the green beans, potatoes and mushrooms together. Place on top of the pool of romesco.
Dot the vegetables with remaining sauce and serve.
Makes 6-8 servings
Note: This is delicious served warm or room temperature. Enjoy!