December 29th, 2009

Christmas-Chestnut Inspiration, with limas?

2 limas hero

Here’s a tale of food blogging interconnections….

I have been reading a most splendid foodblog written by a British woman living in Rome; please go meet rachel of rachel eats. Several of her December posts featured Chestnuts in marvelous incarnations–pâte, soup, cake. Both her pictures and prose really got me longing for them, in some fashion. Alas, with other holiday goings-on, I never got ’round to chestnut hunting.

But I did read the small print on my brand new bag of Christmas Lima Beans from Rancho Gordo, where it mentioned that they were also called Chestnut Limas, due to their exquisite chestnutlike flavor. For those of you who may not know about Rancho Gordo, these are the guys growing all manner and form of wondrous heirloom beans, sought out by fine chefs across the country. And, they make it pretty darn easy for you to get them, too. (a favored stocking stuffer in this household…)

rancho gordo lady

I discovered them through another blogger,
claudia of the esteemed cookeatFRET, through whom, I believe, is also how I found rachel.

So here we come full circle. Rancho Gordo’s Christmas Limas, made into this simple stewy-soup influenced by two foodbloggers, satisfied my two desires: I got to cook up these festive heirlooms during festive times, and I got to have a tasty hint of chestnut.

Trust me, these full-bodied, creamy limas will dispel any unpleasant notions and ill childhood memories of the others, (those awful starchbomb Fordhooks that make me shudder and quease now as I type.)

The pity that Christmas Limas do not retain their gorgeous color and mottling as they cook is replaced by the pleasure of their rich flavor.
Indeed, they have a layer of chestnuttiness…..

You could make this recipe more elaborate, with the addition of something meaty, like mushrooms, pancetta, or spicy chorizo—but there is enough serious-goodness inherent in this already very meaty bean. Keeping it simple best showcases that.

Thanks and shoutouts to foodblogging sisters rachel and claudia for sharing great information and sparking inspiration.

soaking limas

Christmas (Chestnut) Lima Bean Soup
2 T. Olive Oil
1 large Onion, diced
3 fat cloves of Garlic, minced
1 piece of red (or orange) sweet bell pepper, small dice
Sea Salt (about 1 t.)
Black Pepper (scattering of cracked )
Red Pepper Flakes almost 1/4 t.–could be as little as a pinch
1 cup Christmas Lima Beans
4 cups vegetable stock, or water, or combination

The night before: place one cup limas into a pot and cover with filtered water. Limas will more than double in size. Drain, but reserve soaking liquid.


The day of:
In a deep saucepot, saute onions, pepper, and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent, with edges beginning to brown. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir in drained limas, then add reserved liquid, then stock/water. Stir well and bring to just under a boil—a rolling simmer. Let this cook along uncovered for about two hours, stirring occasionally. The limas will soften, yield creaminess, giving this soup a thick velvet texture. As the beans cook, the liquid can get very thick. But, it’s so forgiving; if you want it thinner, just stir in some more water.

Makes 4 servings.

sauteeing 1

Simple elements form the base: garlic, onion, sweet pepper. This is what I had on hand. A little chopped leek or celery would be nice, if you’ve got it.

sauteeing 2

Letting the beans roll around in the saute before adding liquid is a very good idea.

chestnut lima soup

I am crazy about this color.
For a heartier meal, serve over rice, garnish with arugula.

closeup red

I like to place a clump of arugula on top of the rice, and then spoon the Christmas Limas over—collapsing the greens. Delicious.

Posted in Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan | 7 Comments »

December 22nd, 2009

Olive Oil Carrot Cake, belated blog birthday post

carrotcake 1

One Year Old. (not the cake….the blog!)

I hadn’t intended for this post to be a dessert one, but suddenly, in the whirl of The Season, I realized that this little Good Food Matters blog had passed a milestone. A whole year old on the 16th. (!)

So, in honor of It–the persistence of its existence—and You, the persistent dear reader, I present this most delicious cake, recently made for our friends visiting from Italy, and their guests.

Now, there are carrot cakes, and there are Carrot Cakes. I took my long-time, well-proven recipe and tweaked it by substituting fruity olive oil for the common, neutral vegetable oil. What a difference!

The result was extraordinary—the richness of the olive oil enhanced and deepened the spicing of the cake, while retaining moist texture.

That, coupled with raisins, organic carrots which are sweeter, and you can effectively cut back on the sugar. (Had there been pineapple in the house, I would have included 1/2 cup of diced bits, too.) My original recipe called for 2 cups, but I found that 1 1/2 cups total, combining both brown and white sugar, was just right. However, if you like a sweeter cake, boost the sugar back up to 2. It’s okay.

This recipe will make two 9″ layers, or one 9″x13″ rectangle. For my friends’ party, I doubled the recipe to make this grand confection.

The cream cheese icing is rather silky, luxurious, and also not-too-sweet. Fresh lemon juice and zest, along with vanilla, enliven the butter-cream cheese blend. Be sure that both are soft before you cream them together—that way they will marry smoothly.

After the two are well blended, I add the lemon and vanilla. The flavors infuse better. Confectioners sugar is added last, which you are welcome to increase to your taste. I like that dulcet tang to come through, and so am judicious with adding the powdery stuff.

So, here’s to a blog birthday, and all the season’s best.

From here at Good Food Matters,
I wish you all love, health, and happiness,
and, of course,

good food and company.


yummy carrotcake slice

Olive Oil Carrot Cake

1 cup Olive Oil
3 cups shredded Carrots
1 1/2 to 2 cups Sugar—divide equally between Brown and White
4 eggs
1/2 cup Pecans
1/2 cup Raisins
2 cups All Purpose Flour
2 t. Baking Powder
1 t. Baking Soda
1 t. Salt
2 t. Cinnamon
1 t. Nutmeg
1 t. Ginger
1/2 t. Cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and lightly coat cake pans.
Using a mixer, blend all the “wet” ingredients together. Add raisins and pecans, pineapple too, if you like. (These ingredients are optional. You can make it simply carrot.)
Add dry ingredients and mix until all are well-incorporated.
Pour into baking pans, and place into the middle of the oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until center tests done.

Allow to cool. Remove from pans. Let cool further before icing.
Note: This cake freezes well. It also stays moist for a long time, wrapped, so you can safely make the cake in advance.

Cream Cheese Icing
12 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
4 oz. (1 stick) Butter, softened
3 T. (or more) fresh Lemon Juice
1 T. Lemon Zest
1 T. Vanilla
1 1/2 cups Confectioners Sugar

Using an electric mixer (I am fortunate to have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer–and I use the paddle attachment for this.) cream the softened butter and cream cheese together. Add lemon juice, zest, and vanilla and mix well. Add the confectioners sugar–about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing until smooth.

Taste for lemon and vanilla, as well as sweetness; add more as you see fit.

carrotcake 2

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 16 Comments »

December 16th, 2009

Chutney-stuffed Brie in Puff Pastry, holiday style


Tick Tick Tick Tick… Counting down to Christmas and Year End…..
Time has accelerated, don’t you think? It always does, this time of year. There’s an energy, positively frenetic, that builds on itself, days spinning out ad delirium as we dart and dash about wrapping up loose ends, wrapping up presents,

wrapping up brie.

What, No Brie Wrapping, you say? And, why not?

It’s so very festive, and much more fun than trying to fit shiny paper in tidy corners around a big box, and tape without tearing, and not misplace the scissors under the mounds of wadded gift wrap, tissue paper, bows, ribbons, and the odd pieces of plastic holly that surround you on the floor. Promise.

Step away from all the trappings of gift wrapping. Consider stashing that book/scarf/bracelet/salad bowl/teddy bear into a shiny bag and mosey on into the kitchen.

Simple elements are involved: a round of brie, a package of puff pastry, some chutney. Any chutney will do, really.
My Of-The-Moment one is Apricot-Cranberry.

Oh, and a sharp knife, and a little confidence in your creativity. You can do this. Free-form works. Abstract works. Childlike wonder works.

(In the days when we were both impoverished hippie artists doing bits of catering-for-cash , my friend Teresa, now a food stylist, and I, now a recovered caterer, decided that bad fine art often made respectable food art. There’s a world of possibilities…)

Meanwhile, here’s a presentation that everyone will tear into—oh melty cheese and chutney—you’ll find yourself surrounded by love and gratitude. And no rumpled gift wrap.


split brie 1
Cut the brie across the center

filled brie 2
Spread a generous layer of chutney onto the brie

brie burger
The big brie burger…..

wrapping brie

Cutting the corners at an angle will give you pieces to wrap around the middle. The main idea is to secure the brie in the pastry, giving yourself a nice canvas for your design. I made a wreath, but you could make a sunburst, snowflakes, trees, ornaments, leaves, anything you fancy. Work with pastry that is cold; it cuts better. As it warms, it stretches more readily, and can be twisted, or rolled into balls. You can move the pastry in and out of the refrigerator as you work. It is very forgiving.

pierce brieready to bake brie

Piercing the contours of all your shapes will add dimension while keeping the brie from exploding (!)

Chutney-stuffed Brie in Puff Pastry
1 Box Puff Pastry
cracked black pepper
your favorite chutney (recipe below)
1 round of Brie

cookie/baking sheet pan

Allow puff pastry to thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Split brie in half and spread one side with chutney. Close up like a sandwich. Place, centered, onto a sheet of puff pastry and sprinkle with pepper. Cut a square of puff pastry and place on top.
Cut the corners of the bottom piece at a diagonal, and wrap around the sides of the brie. Seal edges by gently pinching the dough together. If it won’t stick, moist with a little water.
Flip the brie over so that the bottom is now the top.
Decorate, by cutting or carving shapes with a paring knife and place on the brie.
When your design is set, gently pierce around the shapes with the tip of your knife. This enhances the design AND prevents the brie from popping and oozing when it bakes and puffs up.

You can wrap and decorate your brie ahead of time–a day or so before serving (I have even frozen them at this point.) Cover in plastic wrap.

Ready to bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes, until pastry is puffed up and golden brown.

Remove and cool slightly. You can dust the top of the pastry with a little paprika or chives. Place on serving tray, decorate with fresh fruits. Enjoy with wine.

Apricot-Cranberry Chutney

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and ginger together, stirring over moderate heat for about two minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Turn the heat to low and allow the mixture to cook for another 15-20 minutes as the dried fruits absorb the liquid and thicken. Stir occasionally. Allow to cool to room temperature. Makes 1 ½ cups.

brie on coffeetable

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes, Sauces | 10 Comments »

December 7th, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake, cultured whipped cream

pumpkin cheesecake hero overhead

Bill always wants a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Never before, and rarely after the big feast, and yet it is a dessert that he looks forward to eating with gusto. This year, in a move to enliven tradition, I chose to make this pumpkin treat instead.

While it is a cheesecake, it doesn’t have the same heft, that ponderous commitment to dessert that defines cheesecake. This one has all the spiciness of pumpkin pie, with the cream cheese imparting a nice tang. The gingersnap-pecan crust, simple to make, adds a distinctive crunch.

The best part, however, is the cultured whipped cream. It’s part creme fraiche, part mascarpone, totally divine.

And, one of those happy accidents.

My original intention was to make creme fraiche, but I got started a day late. After stirring in the buttermilk, I waited a bit, and on a whim decided to stir in some fresh clementine juice. (Hurray, the clementines are here!)

Overnight, the mix thickened somewhat, but acquired a more complicated and pleasing flavor–slightly sour, slightly citrus.

It whipped up beautifully, sweetened with a little confectioners sugar, and made a stunning accent on the pumpkin cheesecake.

Verdict: Enjoyed by all. Even Bill approved of the little change-up.

And, while we may or may not see pumpkin in some sweet form until next year, the cultured whipped cream will be showing up with another delectable dessert soon. Very soon.

gingersnap crust

Pumpkin Cheesecake Gingersnap-Pecan crust
12-14 Gingersnaps
1 cup Toasted Pecans
2 T. melted Butter

In a food processor fitted with a swivel blade, pulse the gingersnaps and pecans together. Mix with melted butter in a bowl, and press into a 9″springform pan. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Remove and cool.

pumpkin cheesecake mix

overn ready pumpkin cheesecake

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
1 lb. cream cheese
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
3/4 cup Sugar
1 lb. pumpkin (one 15 oz. can works)
2 eggs
1 t. Vanilla
1 t. Ginger
1 t. Nutmeg
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. ground Cloves
1/4 t. Salt
a pinch or 2 White Pepper

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugars with the cream cheese. (I used a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the whisk attachment.) When smooth, add the pumpkin and continue mixing. Then add the eggs, vanilla, and all the spices. Whip until smooth and fluffy.

Pour into springform pan and place in the center of a 350 degree oven. Fill a baking dish with water and set on the rack underneath the cheesecake.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until knife comes clean. Cool, then refrigerate.

Decorate with cultured whipped cream and pecans before serving.

Serves 12 or more.

another p-cheescake

cultured whipped cream

Cultured Whipped Cream
1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 Tablespoon Buttermilk
1 Tablespoon Clementine Juice (or orange/tangerine)

4 Tablespoons Confectioners Sugar
2 teaspoons Vanilla

Pour heavy cream into a glass bowl and stir in the buttermilk. Let this sit out for about an hour, and occasionally give it a stir.
Then, stir in the clementine (or whatever citrus you fancy) juice.
Again, let this sit out for an hour or so, stirring occasionally.

Refrigerate overnight.

Before serving: Whip the cultured cream with confectioners sugar and vanilla.

Pipe or dollop onto the pumpkin cheesecake.

vertical pumpkin slice

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 10 Comments »

December 1st, 2009

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

plate of t-day food

Like many families, we have a number of “must-have” dishes at our holiday gathering—Thanksgiving being a time for traditions. There would be outcry if sage roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry-walnut relish, and sweet garlic smashed potatoes didn’t make their annual appearance on the table.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s good, here and there, to break from tradition, enliven the usual players, or introduce something different to the menu.

Three years ago we spent our most exotic Thanksgiving in the lakeside town of Bahar Dar, Ethiopia. On that sunny Thursday, Bill and I met up with daughter Madeleine at her work, and took a long walk to an old resort hotel on Lake Tana. There, we dined outdoors in a tropical-like setting: flora in full bloom, trees full of brilliantly colored birds, some clustered with sleeping bats.

For the area, it was a lovely, yet pricey hotel, frequented mainly by Europeans, and offered unremarkable food. Bill had eggs and dabo–a crusty yeasted bread. Madeleine, the more seasoned diner of our troupe, piled her plate from the buffet with lamb tibs, lentils, and a beefy wat. I had been battling a “stomach thing” and recall having penne with tomato sauce, injera with cooked greens and carrots, some sort of melon.

As it resembled Nothing of the big T-Day of our heritage, the three of us laughed and called it the “Anti-Thanksgiving.” Nevertheless, there we were, together, and happy.

Since that extreme Thanksgiving, I have become mindful of the significance of family traditions—and how sometimes it’s worthwhile to bust them up a bit.

chard-butternut gratin hero

This year, along with the traditional faves, I added a couple of new things. A Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap-pecan crust and cultured whipped cream. (post on this very soon!)

And this chard-butternut squash gratin, which was especially relished.

I was inspired by a Smitten Kitchen post that similarly paired sweet potatoes and chard in a gratin. Recognizing that while oh-so-different, there’s a great interchangeability of sweet potatoes and winter squashes in recipes. I chose to use my butternuts in the casserole.

butternut and chard

The colors from the ruby chard and roasted squash were vibrant.
The green onion bechamel richly brought the chard heat and butternut sweet together.

Overall Delectable–worthy of repeating—holidays and any days.

And, tricky. My mom thought that the cheesy spinach-potato casserole was awesome. And so different! I kept mum. My dad wouldn’t have touched the dish had he known that it contained no cheese, spinach, or potatoes.

Here’s to traditions: the cherished knowns, and those in the making.
Mostly, here’s to being together.

Swiss Chard-Butternut Squash Gratin

2 medium Butternuts, peeled, sliced thin
Olive Oil
1 bunch Swiss Chard, washed, stemmed. Chop stems, and
Coarsely chop leaves. As cooking times vary, these will be cooked separately
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1/2 cup White Wine
1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
Red Pepper Flakes (used in pinches–you decide how hot!)

roasting butternut slices

Lightly oil and roast the slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the chopped chard stems in olive oil on medium heat in a deep skillet or saucepan for 7 minutes. (I used my now-beloved Fig LeCreuset! What ever did I do without it?)
Add minced garlic, and sprinkle with sea salt and red pepper flakes.
Add chopped chard leaves.
Stir well, then pour in white wine and vegetable stock.
Continue cooking for another 5 minutes, folding the leaves throughout the mix.
When the leaves are “cooked down” and tender, remove from heat.

sauteeing chard stems

Make bechamel sauce. Then, follow directions for the gratin assembly.

Green Onion-Chive Bechamel
2 Tablespoons Butter
4 Green Onions (scallions) chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Chives
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose Flour
2 cups lowfat Milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté green onions in butter until softened, about three minutes. Add chives, then rapidly stir in flour, allowing it to slightly cook and coat the onions. Pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Gradually the flour-cooked onions will incorporate smoothly into the milk, and the sauce with form. Simmer as it thickens, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

saucing the gratin

Layer the bottom of your casserole dish with bechamel.
Cover with a layer of roasted butternut squash rounds.
Then, add a layer of sauteed chard.
Top with bechamel.
Repeat–squash, chard, and top finish of bechamel.

Note: this can be made ahead and refrigerated at this point.

Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, slightly longer, if it’s coming out of refrigeration–until sauce is bubbly and brown-edged.

Serves 10-12.


Madeleine, Bill, and I at Tis Abay, where the Blue Nile, after exiting Lake Tana, plunges over a 45 meter rock gorge.

Posted in Recipes, Vegetables | 7 Comments »

November 24th, 2009

And The Winner Is…

another beefy hero

Recently, Whole Foods and Le Creuset co-sponsored a pre-Thanksgiving fundraiser at our Second Harvest Food Bank. For a mere $5.00 donation to Second Harvest, you got to sample quite the array of T-Day mainstays and sides, as cooked up by the Whole Foods catering department.

Tasty stuff, too–including free-range heritage bird and gravy, green bean casserole, potatoes au gratin, sour cherry and pecan pies.

And, you got a raffle ticket–for which, Le Creuset donated a 5 1/2 qt. Dutch Oven as The Prize.

The luck of the draw: I won the raffle! I couldn’t believe it. Happy, happy. I was so tickled by this, I felt like a big goofy kid. Sometimes, it’s really nice to win.

The Le Creuset store manager, Joseph, let me pick out the color. I had get the Fig. Isn’t it gorgeous? This is my second raffle win in as many years (in the spring of ‘08 I won 2 blueberry bushes in a drawing at our farmers market) so, I guess you could say that I’m on a roll…

the raffle prize

And, I must say that this wondrous Dutch Oven came into my possession at the most timely of moments–our Third-Thursday Community Pot Luck Dinner was coming up, and I had wanted to make some winey-frenchy-stewy dish using beef rump roast I purchased from Walnut Hills Farm. The recipe is part Boeuf Bourguignon, part Boeuf à la Mode–we’ll call it Boeuf à Ma Mode..(that’s beef, my style)

in the marinade

The heavy enameled cast iron pot went right to work, marinating the meat overnight.

Marinade (for about 5 lbs. Beef Roast)
2 cups Red Wine
1/4 cup Olive Oil
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
several sprigs fresh Thyme
Salt and Black Pepper

Mix up these ingredients and pour over the beef. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator, turning the meat at least once, after several hours.

browning the meat

The next day: Remove the beef from the marinade—save the marinade—and brown it well on all sides. While it’s browning, you can get your veggies ready.

Boeuf à Ma Mode
Marinated Beef
2 Shallots, chopped
2 large Onions, diced
3 ribs Celery, small dice
4 Carrots, small dice
2 Bay Leaves
Reserved Marinade
2+ cups Red Wine
2+ cups Vegetable or Beef Broth
1 lb. Cremini Mushrooms, chopped
2 T. Butter
Salt and Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Dark Roux
Fresh Thyme and Rosemary

sauteeing the vegetables

Sauté the vegetables in the browned drippings left by the meat–add a little more olive oil, if needed. These sturdy ones will go far in forming a rich flavor foundation for this stew, and will actually cook down so far —over time with the meat—as to almost disappear.

add broth

After you return the meat to the pot, pour in the wine and broth, and toss in the bay leaves.

Then, just cover, turn the heat down low, and forget about it for four hours. In the meantime, you can get your mushrooms ready.


Brown the mushrooms in butter, salt, and black pepper in a separate pot. Enhance with red wine.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the pot and cut into bite-sized pieces. (discarding any fat or gristle.)

Thicken the stock with your roux, stir in mushrooms and meat. Simmer and serve.

This rich savory stew served a lot of folks at the Third-Thursday dinner.

pot of beef tips

Delicious spooned over noodles or rice, this beautiful beef stew also makes a special, hearty meal when served with this colorful roasted winter vegetable medley. A real winner!

beefy hero

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Soups/Stews | 10 Comments »

November 16th, 2009

First We Make a Roux

hero 1 gumbo

Periodically, as GFM readers know, I duck out of city life–if only for a few daytime hours–to clear my head, breathe in a little countrified air, and cook up something tasty with prima-donna- south-louisiana-cuisinière-extraordinaire, friend Maggie.

Seeing as we each had a little bit of this and a little bit of that, between us, we realized, were the fixin’s for a my-t-fine gumbo.

I had a pound of shrimp and a chicken breast in my freezer. Along with one lonely piece of andouille sausage, Maggie had the veggies, including tomatoes, peppers, and okra harvested from her garden.

And, the essential oil–flour–cast iron skillet. Roux!

Gumbo-making is really an easy process, but you need to allot a chunk of time for the roux. About 1 hour and 10 minutes, in this case. Once made, though, it will last a long time, and serve to thicken sauces and soups, adding that particular toasty note.

And there is something special about a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet–it just does a righteous job taking roux to deep mahogany .

step 1 flour

Maggie’s skillet almost disappears on her black stovetop!

step 2

The wooden spoon feels like the right utensil for stirring.
This is low heat, low tech, baby! Feel the love.

step 3

Oh, yez—it’s gettin’ thick.
Keep moving the flour/oil around in the skillet so that it won’t stick.
Don’t turn your back so it won’t burn—
that would spell the bitter end to the batch!

step 4

Whoo-hoo! So shiny and pretty!
Once the roux begins to really get that rich dark red-brown color, remove it from the burner. The residual heat in the skillet will continue to cook it somewhat.
Your roux is good-to-go.

The Roux
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups unbleached white flour
cast-iron skillet, wooden spoon, a little over one hour of your undivided loving attention. It’s a zen-thing.

makes about 2 cups of nice, dark roux.
Now, on to the Gumbo….

Some make gumbo with shrimp and andouille sausage.
Some make it with chicken and andouille sausage.
We decided to go for the whole she-bang,
because we could. But the beauty of gumbo is that you can take it whatever direction suits your fancy. If you want to make it with a turkey kielbasa, that’s cool, too.


Maggie maintains that gumbo should have good kick—but not be fire-breathing fierce. That’s why it is traditionally served with hot sauce on the side.

You’ll find that this gumbo will develop more heat over time—thanks to the andouille. It’s better the next day, if it lasts that long.

She also believes that no herbs are needed; if you have good stock, smoky-hot sausage, vegetables, and your brown-gold, you’ll have abundant flavor.

okra in the pot

After you’ve sauteed “the trinity,” it’s time to throw in the okra.

add the roux

Spooning in the roux: Isn’t the contrast amazing?

ready to serve

Everything Gumbo (Shrimp, Chicken, Andouille Sausage)

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Onion, diced
2 Bell Peppers, diced
3-4 ribs Celery, leaves included, chopped
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 cups chopped, roasted Okra
2 cups Tomatoes and juice
1 piece about 1/4 lb. Andouille Sausage, sliced thin
1 cup Roux
1 Chicken Breast, roasted, meat pulled, chunked, pan deglazed for chicken stock (you can use whatever piece(s) of chicken you like)
1 lb large Shrimp, peeled and deveined–reserve shells for stock
Stocks: 2 cups shrimp stock, 2 cups roasted chicken stock**
a couple of pinches or so of cayenne–you decide

Heat olive oil in a stockpot on medium and add “the trinity”–onions, bell peppers, and celery. Sauté until onion is translucent and begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the okra—frozen chopped okra from the supermarket works just fine—most of us don’t have 15 bags in our freezer harvested from our garden like Maggie does!

Then add canned tomatoes and juices. The okra will begin to cook down–adding its own thickening power. Add shrimp stock, chicken stock. Stir well, and put in the andouille sausage. It will impart smokiness and a distinctive kick.

NOW it’s time to stir in the “brown-gold”—the mixture will get all glossy. You can tweak viscosity with more or less liquid or roux.
Taste for salt, and season.
Chicken next.
Last thing: the shrimp. Stir them into the hot pot, cover, and remove from heat. This way the shrimp will cook, but won’t toughen or get mealy.

Serve over jasmine rice. Wow.

Makes over 3 quarts.

the spread_001

**shrimp stock is made quickly–like in 15 minutes of simmering shrimp shells in 2-3 cups of water with a piece of onion, lemon, celery leaves, salt and black pepper.
**chicken stock is made by simply deglazing your chicken roasting pan with 2 cups of water and scraping up all the browned bits

shrimp stock

Posted in Recipes, Soups/Stews | 7 Comments »

November 9th, 2009



We have a good friend, Roger, who was born in South Africa of Hungarian parents, and therefore grew up immersed in an amalgam of food heritages.

He speaks–rhapsodically–of Peri-Peri Prawns, jumbo crustaceans caught in the Indian Ocean, spiced and grilled in a sweet-hot Portuguese-Mozambique meld…
… and, in turn, of traditional Eastern European dishes: hearty gulyas, savory stews infused with true Hungarian paprika—soul-stirring fare that speaks of Franz Liszt and gypsy violins and bleak romantic countryside rolling along the Danube.

the bag of paprika

Early in the summer, Roger gave me a bag of The Real Deal, which is what you must have in order to create this rich and rustic cuisine. Most paprika that we find at the grocery is flavorless, and used only for a dash of color over deviled eggs and such. Look for Hungarian on the label.

I have been waiting for the right time to put this Paprika to good use—so that I can say Paprikash! with bravado—I love the sound and rhythm of the word. This meant waiting for Tennessee warm weather to shift.

November: The time for Chicken Paprikash! has arrived.


It gave me the chance to do a little research. I found the most intriguing information from Marc of NoRecipes .

Marc has a great foodblog, and his story about Japanese and Magyar/Hungarian languages running parallel root lines is fascinating. I also appreciated some of his recipe tips (even though it’s a “no recipe” recipe site) and adapted my recipe from his.

browned chicken sauteed veg

There are not many ingredients—it’s really how they are prepared that makes the difference. Browning the chicken well, with salt, pepper, and paprika helps to form a flavor-packed foundation for the Paprikash. Cooking the peppers and onions with the browned bits left in the pot from the chicken lends a richer, deeper note to the stew.

Chicken Paprikash

Olive Oil
2-3 Bone-in, skin-on Chicken Breasts
Salt and Black Pepper
2 large Onions, chopped
2 Red or Yellow Bell Peppers, diced
2 Banana Peppers or 1 Poblano Pepper, diced
1/3 cup Hungarian Paprika
1 1/4 cup Vegetable Stock (or chicken stock)
1 cup Sour Cream

In a large skillet on medium heat, slowly brown the seasoned chicken breasts (dusted with salt, pepper, paprika) in some olive oil, taking care to brown all sides.

Remove the chicken and add diced peppers and onions. Sauté until soft and somewhat caramelized, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan left from the chicken.

Pour in vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if that’s what you have.)
Add the paprika, and stir until it is well mixed. Return the chicken breasts and braise for 30 minutes or so.

Remove the breasts, discard the skin, and pull the meat off the bones. Cut into bite sized cubes and return to the skillet. Fold in the sour cream and continue simmering. Taste, and adjust for seasoning. Serves 4.

Lovely over egg noodles! Paprikash!

smothered in skillet

The whole chicken breasts,smothered, simmer in the paprika-infused broth (which the paprika causes to thicken.)

off the bone with sour cream

The meat is pulled off the bone, cut into chunks, and returned to the stew. At this point, the sour cream is folded in, and gently warmed.
The chicken will continue to cook.

closeup purple hero(2)


There, I have said it enough.

Savory-sweet, with a little heat, this is comforting, cold weather food: delicious over egg noodles, garnished with fresh chives and dillweed.

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 11 Comments »

November 2nd, 2009

A Simple Autumn Supper

hero overshot pork

Now is the ideal time for these good things: pork and sage and honey poached pears and roasted sweet potatoes.

Have you ever grown sweet potatoes?

Earlier this summer, I found one abandoned in the back of my pantry that had sprouted and thought I might try my hand at it.

Following some instruction I found online, I submerged my forsaken one in a bowl of water. After a couple of days, the sprouts leafed out and had the makings of vines. I carefully snapped off these baby vines, (called “slips”) and placed them into a water-filled jar to root.

Again, growing quickly, threadlike roots formed, making 5 individual sweet potato plants. Over the 4th of July holiday, I moved them into their new home at The Hooper Garden. They grew vigorously, suffering only one setback of bunny munching, a tangle of vines competing for space with the wiley watermelon.

Last week a tinge of frost blackened many of the leaves, alerting me that it was time to harvest.

swwet potato basket 2

It became a treasure hunt; I had no idea how these tubers grow, nor how deep! So, I began my cautious dig for these buried treasures, (thinking about the truffle seekers!) following the viney trail and its vast underground network of roots. What a wonder–there were lots of them, some GIGANTIC, some regular, some baby sized.

Nature offers some pretty incredible returns—here’s the math:
One sprouted tuber produced Five plants produced Twenty-five sweet potatoes. Impressive.

Looks like I’ll be making lots of sweet potato treats!

For my initial use, I wanted to make it a part of a simple autumn supper.

I generally don’t eat much pork, but I had a piece of boneless loin, a thick medallion that I had gotten from West Wind Farms. It seemed a natural to companion it with roasted sweet potato slices and my honey-poached pears. The sage plant on my front steps is flourishing, another cool weather cuisine associate, which I like to place directly onto the pork and sauté. Crispy sage leaves are delicious.

pork-pear ingredients

This entire meal takes about thirty minutes to put together. Roasting discs of sweet potatoes couldn’t be simpler—just lay them out on a baking pan, brush with a little olive oil, dust with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes in a hot oven, say 425 degrees.

roasted sweet potato chips

True, these are odd shaped. I had to cut away a blemish or two.

While the sweet potatoes roast, you can pan-fry the pork. After I rinse off the meat and pat it dry, I rub it with olive oil. Then, I place the sage leaves directly onto the meat, salt and pepper it, and then dust it in flour.

I heat some more olive oil with a little butter in a skillet. When that is heated, butter bubbly, put in the pork. I cook it about 7 minutes a side, let it brown, then flip and repeat. After it’s cooked, I deglaze the pan with some water, stirring the cooked-on bits. The small residue of flour will help this to slightly thicken.

in the skillet

Remember those honey-poached pears? Gently warm those on the stovetop.

Now, to assemble your plate:
Start with the sweet potato discs as your base.
Place the cooked pork medallion on top.
Spoon over the warmed pears.
Drizzle with your deglazed brown sauce.
Garnish with fresh sage.

sideview closeup pork

And enjoy!

a good dinner

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 11 Comments »

October 26th, 2009

An Apple Appetizer


Do you have a favorite apple?

With all the tempting varieties showing up at our farmer’s market this week, I would be hard pressed to give an answer. And, some apples are better suited for baking, others for simple out-of-hand eating. Pairing apple types–say, your sweet Jonah Gold with a tart Honeycrisp in a salad or green Granny Smith with an Arkansas Black layered in a Tarte Tatin–adds surprising complexity to a dish. Maybe it’s better to have Favorites, with the notion that the next best ones have yet to be sampled…

Last week I was in Manchester, Tennessee, talking to the ladies of the garden club about Food. That’s broad, I know. And, I can hold forth on any of the myriad aspects: growing and preserving, cooking techniques and recipes, health concerns and education, community…It’s one of our common denominators; a conversation about food can lead anywhere!

We discussed hunger and food security issues, and the importance of supporting our local food producers when and where we can. Being ladies who have long been cultivating beautiful living things, they well understood what it means to eat seasonally.

Maybe that’s when the topic of apples came up. There’s a wonderful orchard not too far from them in Pikeville, Tennessee. (That’s about 140 miles southeast of Nashville, as the crow flies.) Up on Walden Ridge, the Oren Wooden Apple Farm grows 18 varieties, with the Pink Lady Apples–crisp, sweet beauties that are remarkably versatile–being the most prized.

Serendipity! This led to a quick recipe demonstration I had already planned to give, one that would benefit from being prepared with the prized Pink Lady.

simple ingredients

This delicious appetizer requires nothing more than the right ingredients, plus a knife and bowl. I used a Gala and a Jonah Gold. Try the recipe with your favorite crisp “eating” apples and a fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Toasted almonds or walnuts work equally well in the recipe–you make the choice. Mild goat cheese creams and coats the apples as you toss the ingredients. Bright green onion, salt and pepper balance the sweetness, give it edge.

In under fifteen minutes, you’ll have a fall appetizer,
ready to enjoy with a glass of Riesling.

Belgian endive leaves provide totally edible support. And, the floral mandala makes a knock-out presentation. Perfect for my garden club friends.

Update! An email from Manchester just alerted me to the coming Pink Lady harvest at Wooden’s. Fantastic! A box of these lovelies could be coming my way soon.

chopped up

mixed up ready

Belgian Endive stuffed with Honeycrisp Apples, Goat Cheese, and Walnuts
4 firm heads of Belgian Endive
2 Apples, (try Honeycrisp, Gala, Pink Lady)washed, cored, diced into small pieces
4 oz. plain Chèvre log, crumbled
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Orange Zest
1 Tablespoon fresh Orange Juice
2 Green Onions, tops included, finely sliced
½ cup Walnuts or Almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ teaspoon Sea Salt
A few grindings of Black Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar for drizzling

Rinse and dry endives, trim the bottom (root end) to separate leaves. Set aside.
In a bowl, toss diced apples and crumbled goat cheese with extra virgin olive oil and orange juice until lightly coated. Add green onions, nuts, dried cranberries, salt and black pepper. Stir gently until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated in the mixture. The goat cheese will cream slightly and coat the apples. Place a small spoonful at the base of the endive leaf—enough for one bite—and lay the leaf on a plate. Continue, placing each leaf in a circular pattern on the plate. Then, drizzle a small amount of balsamic vinegar onto each mound of apple-goat cheese-nut salad. Serve. Makes about 48 leaves.

side view close up(2)

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fruit, Recipes | 10 Comments »