March 24th, 2014

Fresh Starts: Sourdough and Spring


It is officially Spring, and I feel certain that most of you feel the same as I do—Bring It!

This winter has felt long. Despite the emergence of hyacinths, daffodils, and profuse blooms on my weeping cherry tree, it still threatens brief yet chilling returns. Nonetheless, I am pressing on. Days grow longer, and will grow warmer.


For me, Spring is a time for ambitious things: cleaning the house, clearing the yard, churning the earth, planting. This opens the way for all fresh starts.

To this (ever-growing) list I have added a baking challenge.


I have long been curious about sourdough starter: how it works, how it needs to be maintained, what its possibilities are with breads, rolls, cakes and such. However, I’ve resisted baking with it in the past. On numerous occasions, friends have offered me a scoop of their starter, but I’ve said, “No, thanks.” It felt like too much of a commitment–one that I didn’t think I could honor over the long haul. If properly fed, stored, and used, sourdough starters can last for years and years.


My friends at Bella Nashville make remarkable wood-fired sourdough breads and pizzas using a starter that can be traced back a millennium to Napoli Italy. This one, which I purchased from King Arthur Flour, is the descendant of one that began in pre-Revolutionary War New England.

A couple of thoughts: because the starter relies on your flour, your water, your environment—your bread will taste different than someone’s in New England or Santa Fe New Mexico. It’s personal.

There’s also mounting evidence that bread baked with starter has greatly reduced gluten. It is more digestible than bread quickly made with commercial yeast and flour.


Since its arrival in my home 3 weeks ago, I’ve baked breads and sweet rolls using the starter four different times. With each batch, I’ve learned something new. And each time, the results have been better than the time before. Practice, practice.

But the upshot is this: Using the sourdough starter is fun and easy. I want to encourage you to not be daunted by the idea of it, as I was for so many years. There is not much actual labor involved in baking the bread.

Time and Forethought: that’s what is really takes.


Check out the ingredient list for the basic recipe. It is beautifully simple: flour, starter, water, salt. No additional yeast! It makes 2 loaves, (or one loaf and a batch of sweet rolls) and can be readily augmented with different flours, grains, seeds, herbs, dried fruits and the like. Maggie tells me that adding a cup of rolled oats to the dough imparts wonderful flavor—I can’t wait to do this.


For the first two tries, I used only unbleached bread flour. The following two, I made it with a combination of unbleached and whole wheat flours, and a little bit of sugar. A tablespoon of sugar seemed to balance yet enhance the tangy sour taste. The whole wheat brings more texture, interest, and nutrition to the dough, without being dense. The bread has a nice crisp crust and soft, yet sturdy structured crumb. And the flavor–Incredible!

Let’s just say that I won’t be buying bread for a while. And should I have too much bread in the house, there’s always sourdough croutons to consider, or stratas, bread puddings, and stuffings, like this one from Cooking Light with pears and sausage.


I also made sweet rolls. I rolled out the dough for one “plain” sourdough loaf into a flat rectangle and spread it with a cup of blueberry preserves.



Even better was the whole wheat combo dough, rolled out and filled with the much loved mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, pecans, and golden raisins.

Make a loaf of bread and a breakfast treat at the same time.



EXTRA TANGY SOURDOUGH BREAD adapted from King Arthur Flour
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
5 cups unbleached bread flour (or in variation of 3 cups unbleached bread and 2 cups whole wheat)

The day before you plan to bake:
Pour 1 cup starter into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the lukewarm water and 3 cups bread flour. Beat vigorously. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest at cool (68-70 degrees F is best) room temperature for 4 hours. Then refrigerate overnight, or 12 hours.

The morning of the day you plan to bake:
Mix the remaining 2 cups flour (here is where I augment, depending on my desired result. 2 cups whole wheat flour yields luscious results!) in a bowl with the salt and sugar. Remove the spongy overnight-proofed dough from the refrigerator. Combine this with the mixed dry ingredients and knead into a smooth soft dough. If you are using a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix for about 10 minutes. Place into a large lightly buttered (or oiled) bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 5 hours. The dough will be almost doubled.

Divide the dough in half and shape into loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover, and let rise for 2-3 hours. The loaves will double in size.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slash the tops of the loaves and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack.



For the Cinnamon-Pecan-Raisin Filling
1 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar (such as Demerara or Turbinado)
1/2 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted butter

Place pecans, brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon into a small mixing bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix well.

Make the Sweet Rolls

Divide the dough (this is after it has had its 5 hour rise) into two pieces. You may want to use one piece for a loaf of bread–shape it into a loaf, cover, and set aside for its second rise.

I did not flour the work counter first–the dough was pliable not sticky. You are welcome to lightly flour your work surface, if you prefer.Roll out the remaining piece into a rectangle.

Spread the cinnamon-pecan mixture over the rectangle and roll it up into a cylinder, jelly-roll fashion. Cut into rings about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking pan or dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.

Cover and allow the rolls to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a baking rack. Drizzle with glaze (recipe below) and serve.


For the Blueberry Filling
1 cup blueberry preserves

Liberally spread the filling across the surface of the rolled-out dough. Roll up the dough into a long cylinder. Cut into rings, about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.

Cover with plastic and allow the rolls to rise for 2 hours in a warm place.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown–about 20 minutes. Place on a rack to cool and glaze, if you like.
Makes 16-18 rolls

1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
a few tablespoons half-and-half

Place the powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla into a small mixing bowl. While stirring, add a few tablespoons of half-and-half until you reach a smooth pourable consistency.

Drizzle over the somewhat cooled rolls and serve.




Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Recipes | 20 Comments »

September 25th, 2013

Crepes and the Cover


A leftover shank of baked ham and looming potluck dinner: this was my dilemma, my quandary, my challenge last week.

Surely the two could intersect–one should be able to be used in some fashion to satisfy the need of other.

But, what to make?
Deviled Ham Salad? Big Ham Biscuits? A creamy ham and mac-cheese casserole?

None of those seemed very exciting.
What would you make? I asked a friend.
A shrug, and
What was I doing with a big leftover bone-in baked ham anyway,
was her response.

I would have to try another method.
Sometimes you have to plant the notion or request in your mind and let it go. Wait and see what might come up to inspire you.


It took about a day, but for whatever reason while on an errand driving across town, a pleasant memory from almost 10 years ago bubbled up:

I was with Bill and my daughter in Paris. We had strolled the Luxembourg Gardens early one morning and were ravenous. Our meander led us down a narrow street with a row of vendors—Look, Crepes!

We watched greedily as the creperie chef combed the batter over the special griddle, deftly flipping the great thin round when the edges became golden and crispy, then splashing it with melted citrus butter, a rapid fold and shower of powdered sugar, and Voila!

Madeleine got one with fresh bananas. Bill’s had egg and cheese. And mine….


There, it is called a complete–a buckwheat flour crepe filled with ham, gruyere, and egg. Absolutely luscious, and substantial enough to sate a powerful hunger.

My potluck plan was set in motion.


The versatility—and ease—-of crepes is what makes them so appealing. The batter can be whipped up in minutes. The impossibly thin pancakes can be swirled and flipped in a small skillet–and stacked until ready to fill. And the fillings?

All manner of savory and sweet.

With sweet crepes, I’ll put a little sugar into the batter. With savory crepes, a combination of flours–all-purpose and buckwheat is nice. I didn’t have any buckwheat flour, but today’s crepe batter uses buttermilk to give it distinctive tang.


I made the batter early in the morning. In the afternoon, I began The Cook. It didn’t take long to pour, swirl, and flip. The crepes were thin and elastic, yet golden. Filling them with ham, cheese, and spinach-artichoke was like assembly-line work–a nice rhythm or repetition.


I decided to make a mornay sauce to bake onto the crepes in the casserole dish. This would add an enriching element, while keeping the crepes moist in the oven.

For other splendid crepe ideas and recipes, check out Cooking Light’s page here:

Oh, and here’s Why I had that big leftover Ham.

The Cookbook Cover! We are now at the stage of shooting the images for the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook.

On our first day, we (I say we, because I helped the team–photographer, food stylist, art director, editor—by making the dishes) shot the cover–a cool overhead of a potluck feast–along with 8 interiors. We have many more to go. I will keep you posted as the process unfolds—and I have something to show you.


1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons melted butter combined with
1 tablespoon olive oil

You can make the batter in a blender or food processor. I have found that this is the simplest way to achieve that smooth-smooth mixture that resembles heavy cream. The batter also should be made up ahead of time and allowed to rest–at least an hour, and up to overnight, covered and refrigerated.

I used a 6″ stainless steel skillet—easy to handle. I like the small size of the crepes for filling and serving. I think you will, too.

Place the flour, eggs, buttermilk, water, and salt into the blender or processor. Mix until well-combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Pour in melted and slightly cooled butter and continue to process. The mixture will be thinner than traditional pancake batter–but will coat the back of a spoon like cream. Cover and let the mixture rest for a minimum of an hour.

Heat the skillet on medium. Brush it with the butter-oil mixture. Pour approximately 2 tablespoons of batter into the skillet, tilting and swirling the skillet to move the batter as it covers the surface. In a minute, the edges of the crepe will become golden–time to flip. The other side cooks–browns–in half the time of the first side. Remove the crepe to a plate or platter, and continue the process.

You don’t need to brush the skillet with the butter-oil mixture each time—every 2-3 times works fine.

Makes 16-20 6″ crepes

1 tablespoon soft butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb. fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces quartered artichoke hearts, chopped
pinch of salt and cayenne
1 lb. thinly sliced ham
1/4 cup coarse grain mustard
1 cup shredded parmesan
1 cup shredded gruyere

Coat a baking dish or casserole with butter.

Place a large skillet on medium heat. Add the olive oil. Then, mound the spinach into the skillet. Stir, as the leaves collapse. Sprinkle in the minced garlic pieces and cook for a minute. Add the artichoke hearts and stir-fry them into the spinach mixture. Season with a pinch or two of salt and cayenne. Remove from heat.

Lay the crepe rounds out onto the work counter in rows. Cover half of the crepe with slices of ham, dab of mustard, tablespoon or 2 of spianch-artichoke mixture, and a sprinkle of the cheeses. Beginning with the ham side, roll the crepes and place them into the casserole dish(es).

When you are ready to bake and serve them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the Gruyere Mornay sauce over the crepes. Sprinkle extra cheese, if you like, or dot the surface with strips of sundried tomatoes or sage leaves.
Place in the oven and bake until bubbly–25-30 minutes. Serve

3 tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded Gruyere
white pepper
sundried tomatoes or fresh sage leaves (optional)

Place a 2 quart saucepan on medium heat. Melt the butter, then stir in the green onions, cooking to soften–about 1 minute. Stir in the flour, allowing it to coat the green onions, absorb the butter, and make a light roux. Stir constantly, and don’t let the flour brown.
Pour in the milk. Stir-stir-stir! Over the next 10 minutes, the mixture will thicken. When it comes to a simmer, stir in the cheese and remove from heat. Stir until the cheese is melted throughout and incorporated into the sauce. Season with salt and white pepper.


Food-stylist Teresa Blackburn at work on set at photographer Mark Boughton’s studio. At this time, we were working on placement of dishes to fit within the format of the book.


This does little justice to the final image that Mark captured–but gives a peek at the process.

Posted in Breakfast, Casseroles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes | 26 Comments »

March 4th, 2013

The Girl Who Loved Maple Syrup

Easter Sunday, circa 1967, pre-Easter Brunch at The Loveless Cafe, Nashville TN

That’s me, the tall one with the goofy yellow hat and cat-eye glasses. To my right is my sister Carole, the stormy-eyed tough kid seething in her frou-frou dress (I hate puffed sleeves !) My hand rests on top of baby brother Jim’s head, The Boy, clutching his musical Peter Rabbit (here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail….) To my far left is sweet sister Barbara, demurring, (See, I really like my Easter outfit.)

This Brownie camera shot, no doubt taken by my mom, never fails to make me laugh. And not just because of our dorky of-a-time dress, or the family dynamic the image so aptly captures. It reminds me that sometimes the roots of your vocation are not obvious, but they are there, if you know where to look.

In this case, you’d have to look in that long plastic basket purse I was carrying.


Because it held a bottle of maple syrup.

Well, not this particular bottle, but you get the idea.

So, why?

You see, I was the ultimate picky eater, and I knew we were going to the Loveless Cafe for brunch. The only thing I wanted to eat—correction, would eat—at the Loveless was a stack of pancakes.

The problem, which I gleaned with horror from a previous visit, was that they served Karo with those pancakes. Ugh. The little pitcher was filled with corn syrup. My stack was ruined.

I was not to be thwarted this time. I ferreted a bottle of the prized maple out of the pantry and tucked it (despite the stickiness risk) into that mammoth purse, which I lugged into church and then to the tables of Loveless. Easter brunch was saved.


Pretty crafty, eh?

And while I grew up hearing and thinking that I was a pain and a hopeless food-hater, someone who lacked a refined palate, or any palate at all, I came to realize that the bottle of maple syrup tucked in my purse told a different story.


It gave a hint that maybe this girl who loved maple syrup knew more about food than she realized. I mean, wouldn’t we all prefer maple syrup over corn on pancakes?

I write this today with those of you in mind who are picky, or have picky eaters in your family. Don’t despair. Inside that person there could be a great cook or chef or lover of good food. It can take time for that to emerge.

Often the things we seem to most reject, are the very things we end up embracing.

Pickiness is just another step along the path.


Today’s recipe makes a simple but delicious bread pudding—sweetened with maple syrup—-but not too sweet. You could spark it with some cinnamon or nutmeg, or add more dried fruit. I kept it basic–maple and vanilla bean, with a handful of sultanas. I wanted the maple flavor to shine through.

Like all bread puddings, it’s a terrific way to use up stale bread. To me, It’s more of a breakfast bread pudding than a dessert, although it could go either way.

I served it warm with some yogurt and bananas (two other things that the long ago picky eater wouldn’t touch!) and an extra drizzle of maple over the top.


3 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup maple syrup
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 stale baguette, cut into cubes
1 cup sultanas
soft butter, to coat baking dish

Pour half-and-half into a large saucepan. Add vanilla bean. Heat until small bubbles form along the edges, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse the half-and-half. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean to get out all the vanilla paste. Stir in the maple syrup.

Place cubed bread into a large mixing bowl.
Pour vanilla-maple mixture over the cubes.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and cream until well combined. Pour over the cubes.
Add the sultanas. Stir the mixture well.

Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with softened butter.
Spoon in bread pudding mixture. Allow it to rest and absorb for 30 minutes.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. The bread pudding will become puffed and golden, and the custard will set.

Serve warm, with fresh fruit and yogurt, and, of course,

a pitcher of real maple syrup.


Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Casseroles, Desserts, Recipes | 26 Comments »

March 12th, 2012

Oyster Mushroom filled Crepes


There’s been quite a bit of buzz in our local food community about Whispering Creek Mushroom Farm. We’ve had limited access to exotic mushrooms, locally raised. Now and then, a few farms devoted primarily to raising vegetables have inoculated logs with shiitake mushroom spores, and sold the tasty results at the market. Even rarer, friends have foraged and found chanterelles they’ve been willing to share.

Now, we have great and frequent options.

Whispering Creek is our first Mushroom Only farm, located in Gallatin Tennessee, just north of Nashville. Back in the fall, I learned about their project. Over the winter, they began selling their goods to area chefs. Now, they are ramped up enough to sell to the public.

For the past two weeks, I’ve had the good fortune to buy their gorgeous Oyster Mushrooms through our Fresh Harvest Co-op.


Don’t these look amazing? Within the oyster mushroom family, Pleutorus ostreatus, there are many members–Blue, Golden, Phoenix, Italian, Pearl…


Each cluster is like a little village, with its own personality.

The elongated scallop shape of its cap, rather than its taste, gives the oyster mushroom its name. Although, preparing in butter with a little lemon and wine, releases a sweet, subtle anise essence and silkiness that you associate with the bivalve.


Most of the mushroom is edible, and I like to tear it into pieces, rather than use a knife. The woody bits can be made into a stock.

I should note that oyster mushrooms are packed with nutrients: zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, Vitamins B-1, B-2, C, and niacin.

Plus ergothioneine, a unique immune-boosting antioxidant.

There are so many good ways to showcase these beauties–in a risotto, entwined in ribbon pasta, scrambled into eggs, or sauteed and piled onto buttery toast. These mushrooms like stocks, fortified wines, and dairy. It’s an easy temptation to give over to dousing them in a pan of heavy cream.

For our Sunday brunch, I decided they’d be perfect cooked then rolled into a crepe.

I sauteed our oyster ’shrooms in butter, with some green onions, lemon zest, Marsala, and thyme. In the end, I tossed in a few knobs of cream cheese–a small but concentrated amount of dairy. It was just enough to melt into the mass and give it more body.

I resisted the temptation to make a sauce to top them. The mushroom saute was rich enough. In fact, it was hard not to grab a fork and just eat them out of the skillet!

Instead, I braised an array of greens, as a bed or base for the filled crepe. That slight bitterness brought balance, and another healthful element.



1/2 lb. Oyster Mushrooms, brushed clean and torn (or sliced into chunky pieces)
3 Green Onions, sliced
3 T. Butter
1 T. Lemon Zest
Juice of one Lemon
1/2 cup Marsala wine (cooking wine or sherry is acceptable)
1 T. fresh Thyme leaves
Black Pepper
2-3 T. Cream Cheese

Melt butter in skillet on medium heat. Add mushrooms and green onions. Saute for 5 minutes–mushrooms will soften and brown on the edges. Stir in lemon zest and juice.
Season with salt and black pepper. Pour in marsala wine and stir well. Mixture will reduce. Sprinkle in fresh thyme leaves. Add the cream cheese, in small knobs, into the mixture. Stir and fold, so that the cream cheese melts away into a creamy mushroomy mass. Add more marsala, or water, if mixture gets too thick.

Remove from heat.


3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
3 Eggs
3 T. Unsalted Butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 c. Milk
1 t. Salt

1 T. Butter–to grease the skillet

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, or immersion blender container, and blend very well, for 3-5 minutes. The mixture will seem like cream. Cover and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes–although you can make this batter a day in advance.

Heat your skillet–a 6″ sized pan is ideal. Brush with butter. Ladle a small quantity-3 Tablespoons–into the center, and tip the skillet so it spreads thinly over the surface. The crepe should be thin-thin! It will set up quickly. When the edges are browned, flip the crepe and cook for a minute more. Slide out onto a plate and repeat the process.

if the batter gets too thick, dilute it with a little water–beat well.

This recipe made 10 large crepes (I used a 9″ pan) , but would make 16 small (from 6″ pan)


a bed for the mushroom crepes
1 cup Kale, deribbed and chopped
1 cup Baby Spinach, chopped
1 cup Swiss Chard, coarsely chopped
3 cloves minced Garlic
3 T. Olive Oil
1 t. Sea Salt
Red Pepper Flakes–a few pinches

Place all cleaned and chopped greens into a deep pot, along with garlic, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes. Bring up heat to just under medium. Cover and simmer until greens are collapsed and tender, about 12 minutes.


Lay out cooked crepes onto a work surface. Place a few spoonfuls of mushroom mix at one end and roll. Place into a skillet or casserole dish. Repeat until you’ve used up all the mushrooms. Gently heat crepes in the skillet or in the oven.

Serve over warm bed of braised greens. Garnish with shredded pecorino romano.


Posted in Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 31 Comments »

September 21st, 2011

Apples and Potatoes/Breakfast for Dinner


What good meal could you make for under five dollars?

Slow Food USA initiated this cooking challenge, one which meshed nicely with our Third Thursday Community Potluck this month. In a rough economy, and an ever-widening “food gap,” knowing how to prepare tasty, nutritious food at an affordable price is a crucial survival tool.

Calling it “The $5 Challenge,” Slow Food encouraged potluck gatherings to share “true value meals.” Last Saturday, 30,000 people allover the country came together to dine on these good dishes, all made with fresh ingredients, and costing less, per person, than an Abe Lincoln. Recipes from these events will be amassed and shared.

Informally, our Third-Thursday group did the same, although we kept our potluck on its given day, rather than the Saturday, as suggested by Slow Food. In the quest for community—and tasty affordable food—we didn’t think a couple of days mattered. It’s part of our monthly pursuit anyway.

And, serendipity, we had already chosen a “Breakfast for Dinner” theme. That meal provides plenty of hearty, nutritious, and inexpensive dishes: Omelettes, vegetable frittatas, mock souffles, noodle kugels, cheese grits casseroles, and the like.


We know that cooking seasonally, using of-the-moment produce, is far more cost-effective.

In Nashville, fall is in air. Bushels of apples and potatoes are plentiful at the market. With that in mind, I chose to make a batch of fresh applesauce, and my crispy potato pancakes. Both are ridiculously simple, and “cheap” recipes–short on ingredients, but long on satisfaction.


I hadn’t considered applesauce in a long time, although it’s something that I associate, in a pleasant way, with childhood. It was one of the acceptable things that this super-picky eater would deign to let past her lips.

We always had jars of Mott’s Applesauce on the shelf, something my beleaguered mother could count on to spoon onto my plate, and not be met with eyes of abject horror or disgust.


But nothing could be easier than making a pot a fresh applesauce. Core and rough-chop the apples–leave their peels on. Cook them down with a little lemon, brown sugar, and cinnamon–that’s really it. (This could be adapted to a slow-cooker–throw everything into the pot, and let it go all day, while you work.)

The peels mostly dissolve as the apples soften into a chunky sauce, providing flavor, nutrients, and needed pectin to thicken. If you want a smoother sauce, you can run the cooked mixture through the food mill.

Ginger Gold Apples, with their pale green skins tinged with rosy blush, proved to be a good choice. They have a bright, pleasing balance of sweet and tart.


Pommes-de-terre, Aardappelen, Potatoes are indeed the Apples of the Earth! We love potatoes in all iterations.

My potato pancake, or latkes, recipe is gluten-free. Years ago I would add flour, but learned later that there was no need; there’s enough natural starch in the potato to accommodate. Eggs add a little protein, and help bind the crispy shreds together.


What’s not to love about these little potato nests? Crunchy golden brown goodness, with a hint of sweet onion in the mix…they make terrific accompaniments to any meal, breakfast or not.


What I must note about the $5 challenge: it’s an easier one to meet, if you are cooking for a group. (And, likewise, if that group is sharing dishes, in the potluck spirit!)

My big batch of potato pancakes cost just about $5, and fed a crowd. Making 30, that’s almost 17 cents a cake. The applesauce cost less, around $4, and was delicious in its own right, or dolloped onto the potatoes.

But I think that we would all be hard-pressed to consistently create well-rounded meals for under $5 a person, especially if cooking for one or two. And many today have less than that to work with.

I lead a charmed life, and I am grateful for it. I am generally frugal, but have the where-with-all to buy, cook, and enjoy more expensive foods. And that’s fine. But access to basic, affordable good food should be a right, not a privilege. It’s important to share our knowledge, so that people can cook delicious meals using fresh food for themselves and their families.

Have you got a favorite inexpensive dish to share?



6 large tart green apples, such as Ginger Golds
1/2 cup Demerara Sugar
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Lemon, quartered

Core and rough-chop apples. Place into a large saucepan on gentle heat. Add brown sugar, lemon quarters, and cinnamon stick. Cover and allow apples to cook on slow medium heat, for about thirty minutes. Stir occasionally. Covered, the natural juices will release, condense, and fall back into the apple mixture. The peels will mostly dissolve and add their natural pectin.

Remove cinnamon stick, lemon peels. Serve warm or cold.

Makes about 4 cups of applesauce.

POTATO PANCAKES (gluten-free)
4 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 large Yellow Onion
4 large Eggs
2 t. Sea Salt
1 t. Cracked Black Pepper
2 t. Paprika

canola oil for frying
1 T. butter to season the oil (optional)

Shred potatoes (I used the food processor with the shredder attachment.) and place into a large mixing bowl. Finely dice the onion and toss in with the potatoes.
In a separate bowl, whip eggs, sea salt, black pepper, and paprika together. Pour over potato-onion mix. Toss well so that everything is well coated.

Heat a skillet and pour in canola oil, about 1/2″. Melt in a tablespoon of butter, if you’d like to flavor this neutral a bit.

With a slotted spoon, scoop up a small mound of shredded potato mix and place in hot oil. Repeat until the skillet is filled but take care not to crowd. (I fit 4 at a time.) Cook for about 3 minutes—look for crispy brown edges. Wait for the right “brown-ness” before flipping with a spatula.

Rotate in the pan, as needed, so that the ‘cakes brown evenly.

Place cooked potato cakes onto a metal grid to drain, (or paper towels).

Note: As the mixture sits, some of the water from the potatoes will release into the mixture. This is not a problem. Continually stir, lifting out each mound with the slotted spoon, leaving some of that liquid behind.

Makes about 30 crispy potato pancakes


Posted in Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »

September 7th, 2011

Big Hot Biscuits: Just 2 Ingredients!


Shopping in haste I grabbed a bag of self-rising flour off the shelf instead of all-purpose. That error slipped unnoticed until I got home, and started unsacking the groceries. Argh. I don’t use self-rising flour. I have an attitude of disapproval towards it. Its ready-blend of salt and baking powder can get you into trouble.

I’m one of these control freaks–I prefer to put in my own quantities of leavening. As needed.

And, I’ve seen the tragi-comic results when self-rising is mistaken for all-purpose. I recall the layers of a certain multi-tiered wedding cake gone awry, at the hands of such an ingredient mispick.

Convinced that she was working with all-purpose, our baker Tonya added the baking powder and soda that her recipe called for. Super-leavened, the batter sputtered and foamed over the cake pans in rolling waves, forming strange baked stalagmites on the oven floor.


Nonetheless, it was not worth it to return the unwanted bag. I decided to see how I could use the nefarious flour. (Hint-Hint! If you have good recipes, tell me about ‘em!)

And then, I remembered some friends talking about Tammy Algood’s “Two Ingredient Biscuits.”

” It’s so simple and good, it’s crazy. Just 2 Cups of Self-Rising Flour and 1 Cup of Heavy Cream.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep, that’s it.”


Not counting, of course, the pat of cold butter and deep amber ribbon of sorghum you'll want to put on the biscuits, all hot-n-tenda from the oven.


Mixing up the dough should go quickly. Don’t overwork it. The trick to light biscuits is a light hand.


And, a wet sticky hand.


You could hand-form the shapes, or glob them, “drop biscuit” style, off the end of a spoon, right into the baking pan. I like to get out the rolling pin and give the dough a couple of turns to smooth and slightly flatten the surface, before I cut the rounds.

I don’t roll thin. Think Thick. Big Hot Biscuits is what its all about. As you cut the rounds, place them in a buttered cake pan, their sides touching. And, don’t worry about ‘em being perfectly round. I like a wonky-shaped biscuit. It seems honest.


A hot oven is key. Have it preheated to 450 degrees. If you like, (and I do!) slap a little sliver of butter on top of each biscuit before you put ‘em in the oven.

In less than 20 minutes, you’ll have fat, fluffy biscuits, ready for whatever fixin’s you like. Guess I’ll have to reconsider my anti-self-rising stance.


Biscuits connote The South, picnics, country ham, big breakfasts, sweet butter, sorghum. Have you tasted (or cooked with) sorghum? I’ve taken a fancy to this syrup only in recent years. Not to be confused with molasses,(a by-product of cane sugar) sorghum results from cooking down the cane of same-named plant. It’s flavor is distinctive: strong, but not overbearing; caramel sweet with a somewhat minerally edge.


And a gorgeous amber pour.



2 Cups Self-Rising Flour
1 Cup Heavy Cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Measure flour into a mixing bowl. Pour in cream and quicky mix together. This will form a mass. If it seems too dry, add a little slug of milk or cream—the wetness of the dough actually helps steam up the biscuits!

Pat dough ball onto a lightly floured surface, and with the gentle pressure, roll out the dough—but not thin–about 1/2″ thick. Cut into rounds–at least 2″ in diameter—and place each biscuit in a greased round cake pan.

Let the biscuits touch, as you place them side by side in the pan. Biscuits bake up taller and more tender when they touch, “shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Optional: place a sliver of cold butter on top of each biscuit before you put the pan in the oven.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Tops (and bottoms) will be browned, and the biscuit interior will be white and fluffy.

Serve immediately, with butter, sorghum, honey, blueberry preserves…
Makes 8-12 biscuits.


Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Recipes | 27 Comments »

June 15th, 2011

Swiss Chard-Roast Potato Frittata


I love my cast iron skillet. Sturdy, even-tempered, versatile: it does all the saute and fry work you need on the stove top, ( incomparable for crusty country-fried chicken) and it does equally well in the oven ( key to crisp-edged jalapeno-cheddar cornbread).

Or, as in the case of this frittata, it can pull double duty, moving seamlessly from stovetop to oven. And then, as a serving vessel, right to the table.

All it asks in return is to be kept wiped clean and well-oiled.

Maggie found this one for me at an antique/junk shop. It was in excellent condition–balanced, right heft in the hand, no warps, flaws, or rust. Although it had been long out-of-use, it was already seasoned. It didn’t take much to clean it up, “reseason” it, and bring it back to life.

Well-cared for, it could last a lifetime. Or two.


Sometimes, it gets lost towards the bottom of my pots-and-pans drawer, a mammoth hodge-podge of stainless steel, enamel, and glass. And I forget to use it!

But, I’ve put my trusty cast iron to work for today’s recipe: a frittata, versatile as the skillet in which it’s cooked.

For our brunch, I used swiss chard, green onions, and basil, all fresh-picked from my front yard garden. I wanted to include roasted potatoes, and thought they would make a tasty crust-like base for the dish.


It’s a simple plan. While your potato slices are roasting brown and chippy in the oven, you saute the chard and onions, and whip up your eggs. Once the chard is ready, you’ll line the bottom of the skillet with the potatoes, and layer the savory greens on top.


Pour the beaten eggs and scatter the caramel, nutlike gruyere shreds over the mixture. Begin cooking the frittata on the stovetop, but you’ll finish it off it the oven. In the time that the frittata sets, you can put together a zippy basil-green onion gremolata.


The Gremolata? It came almost as an afterthought. I had picked a few too many basil leaves, and had a couple of extra green onions sitting out on the counter. I had a lemon out for iced tea. All the ingredients were staring me in the face–waiting.

I didn’t want to make a full-blown pesto—just a bright, extra flash of flavor for our dish. With their combination of sweet herby greens and lemon zest, gremolatas accomplish that easily. You can imagine its versatility, too. (grilled fish, baked chicken, pasta, potatoes..)

When it comes to any style of eggs, Bill tends to be a ketchup guy. But, he was able to set aside his love of Heinz for the bright change-up that this brings.


1 large or 2 med. Baking Potatoes
Olive Oil
1 bundle Swiss Chard, washed and chopped–stems and leaves separately
a few fresh Basil leaves, chopped
1 small Onion, diced
a shake of Red Pepper Flakes
6 Eggs
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere Cheese
Sea Salt
a few grindings of Black Pepper

9″ cast iron skillet (or one that can also go into the oven)

Slice potatoes thin. Brush with olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and roast until slices are browned–about 12-15 minutes.

On medium heat, warm olive oil in your cast iron skillet, and saute chard stems and onions together, about 7 minutes. Stir in chard and basil leaves. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Saute another 2-3 minutes, until leaves collapse. Remove from skillet and place into a work bowl.

Potato slices should be brown. Remove from oven and arrange slices on the bottom of the cast iron skillet. (Keep oven on, however.) Spoon cooked chard over the potato layer.

Beat eggs well with a little salt and pepper. Pour over chard and potatoes in the skillet. Top with grated cheese.

Cook the frittata covered on the stovetop until almost set—edges will be slightly brown but the center a little wiggly–tis takes about 8 minutes.

Finish the frittata in the oven–another 5 minutes or so. The egg mixture will be set, and the cheese will be browned and bubbly.

Serves 4-6



1/2 cup Basil Leaves rough chopped
2 Green Onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T. fresh Lemon Juice, plus 1 t. zest
Salt and Pepper to taste

Mound the chopped basil and green onions together on a cutting board, and cut them up together–just a few chops. Put into a mixing bowl and add olive oil, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper. Stir well. Allow the flavors to develop and taste for acid and salt. Spoon over sliced frittata.


Posted in Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 28 Comments »

January 18th, 2011

Tomato-Mozzarella Strata


While I’m not big on resolutions, I decided to begin this year by making an effort to use up Good Things that I had in my pantry: Good Things, before they go Bad.

Too often I have been overly enthusiastic about a product, purchasing, for instance, too much stone ground wheat flour, only to have it turn rancid on the shelf because I didn’t do the bread baking I had envisioned. Or, I’ve been too protective of a product, like a spectacular bottle of reserve extra virgin olive oil, that I “saved” for special use, only to find it months later pushed to the back of the pantry, it, too, gone south.

So, when I was casting about my kitchen last week for a Sunday brunch treat for us, I realized that I had all the Good Things on hand to make this appealing strata:

Tomatoes from the 2009 canning season—–It’s 2011, what are you waiting for?
A bag of cubed bread in the freezer———No Time Like the Present
Fresh Mozzarella from a New Year’s purchase—Use It Now or Lose It
Summer Pesto——That’s why you put it up!


Stratas are simple. They are mock souffles, and lend themselves to myriad variations. The bread makes them somewhat sturdy, and therefore you can make rather sizeable ones. Once, one of our Third-Thursday Potluckers, Jen, brought a stunning Tomato-Goat Cheese Strata in an 10 qt. Le Creuset pot that was absolutely dreamy—deep, custardy, with a tomato essence that just tasted of summer. It was the hit of the wintertime potluck dinner!


On a chilling January afternoon, a taste of summer would be most welcome.

And, on this chilling January afternoon, my skillet filled with the tastes of summer. Ah, the acid-candy sweetness of my Brandywines and Lemon Boys. The peppery bite of Genovese basil.

I reminded myself that this is one of the true joys of canning tomatoes—-the first time you crack open the jar in winter. There, red-gold in your hand, are all those sweet aspects of summer-on-the-vine.

It transports you out of the winter drear into the tangle of an August garden.


I would have made my strata like Jen’s–with goat cheese. The tanginess that it imparted was terrific. But, some delectable Buffalo Mozzarella packed in liquid, stored in my fridge, was not going to remain delectable for long. It was begging to be used, and would be a creamy asset to this strata. Spoonfuls of my summer pesto would give the mild cheese pizzazz.


Very quickly, the baking vessel fills with glistening layers. You can even make the strata to this point, and refrigerate it overnight to bake fresh in the morning. It’s that easy!

But, the best part awaits you—-when it emerges puffed and beautifully browned from the oven. And, I promise, an airy scoop of this strata will bring last summer’s garden to this winter’s plate.

Bring it!


1 medium Onion, sliced thin
2 cloves Garlic, minced
Olive Oil
1 can (16oz) Tomatoes and Juice
3 cups Cubed Stale Bread
4-6 oz. fresh Mozzarella
4 T. Pesto
4 Eggs
1 cup Half-and Half
Cracked Black Pepper

9×13 casserole dish or 1 qt. size souffle dish

Heat a skillet, add olive oil, and saute onions and garlic until translucent. Add chopped tomatoes and their juice and continue to simmer. Season with salt, black pepper, a dash of red pepper flakes, if you like. When the sauce has cooked for about 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the stale bread cubes. Stir until all the bread is coated with the tomato mixture.

In a bowl, beat eggs and half-and-half together until blended. Whisk in a little salt and pepper.

Coat a casserole dish or souffle ramekin with olive oil. Spoon in a layer of tomato-bread mixture. Top with a layer of sliced mozzarella. Spoon some pesto over the mozzarella. Repeat the layering.

Carefully pour the egg mixture over the tomato-cheese layers. You can poke through the strata with a fork, or even a chopstick, to make sure the mixture gets through the layers.

Place into a preheated 350ยบ oven and bake until puffed and golden brown—about 30 minutes. Serves 4

Posted in Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes, Vegetables | 25 Comments »

December 4th, 2010

Spinach Souffle, simply



Dramatic, but daunting. The ideas we have about souffles, these grand poofs, these amazing gastronomic feats of egg magic, are indeed lofty. Unreachable. With the risk of failure seeming so great (oh no! deflated! defeated!) souffles are the stuff of the Cordon Bleu, the men in towering toques, reserved for the creme-de-la-creme.

Why bother?

But making a souffle is really not as mysterious or difficult or time-consuming as you might believe. Mais non, mes cheres. A French woman assured me of this.

A mother of three, Francoise has lived in many places around the world, due to her husband’s job. During her two years in Nashville, Francoise worked with us in the Culinary Arts Center at Second Harvest. We had fun cooking together, and I would ask her about the kinds of meals that she liked to make for her family. I was stunned when she told me that a favorite dinner was cheese souffle.

“It is so simple, my daughter often makes it,” she said.


Her daughter was fourteen at the time.

Noting my wide eyes and dropped jaw, she smiled. “I’ll give you the recipe.”

Inspired by Francoise (and her daughter!), I made her cheese souffle. It was a dream, and all negative thoughts about the dish vanished.

Today, I had some fresh spinach from the market, and a lone leek snatched from Gigi’s garden. I also had a small piece of Comte’, an artisanal cheese crafted in the Jura Mountains of France. It is similar to Gruyere, but creamier. It was one of Francoise’s favorites; when I saw the cheese at the store yesterday, it made me think of her. And, Souffles!

A souffle recipe is very adaptable, and with a little preparation, you can transform kitchen staples–eggs, butter, milk, cheese–into something savory and cloudlike.


The flavor base of all souffles is a roux, expanded with milk into a thick white sauce, or bechamel. To this, you add whatever vegetable saute or puree you would like. As I write this now, I’m imagining a roasted artichoke souffle or puree of asparagus, come spring. Hmmm.


Once you’ve created your base, it’s time for egg magic! Beating the yolks into the cooled bechamel mix helps form a rich custard. And beating the whites into soft wavy peaks is the trick to expanding that custard into a cloud.


A light hand is needed for folding the whites and custard together, but it does not have to be perfectly mixed. Some traces of white are bound to remain–it’s not a big deal.


Do remember to have the oven preheated. And, you’ll enjoy the crust made from the breadcrumbs and grated parmesan on the sides and bottom of the souffle. When it’s time to serve, be sure to scoop out some of the soft interior with the crusty edges.


Francoise also told me, “You must wait for the souffle, but it will not wait for you.” Patience is a factor, and yes, the souffle is best enjoyed right out the oven. But, no worries gathering everyone to the table. They will be eager to see your triumph, and dig their spoons into the savory ethers.


4 Eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons Butter, plus 1 Tablespoon Butter
2 T. grated Parmesan
2 T. Breadcrumbs
1 Leek, sliced
1 clove Garlic, minced
4 T. All Purpose Flour
1 cup 2% Milk
2 c. chopped fresh Spinach leaves
1/2 c. shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
1/4 t. each Salt and Pepper
pinch Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 2 qt. souffle dish or casserole with 1 T. (or so) butter, and dust with grated parmesan and breadcrumbs.

In a saucepan, melt 4 T. butter. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Saute leeks and garlic for two minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in flour and cook the mixture like a roux.

Slowly pour in the milk, and continue cooking until it becomes a thick, glossy white sauce. Stir in spinach and cook until the it is collapsed throughout the mixture.

Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese. Allow to cool somewhat before beating in the egg yolks, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. The whites should be stiff, but smooth, pliable—not chunky or granular. ( This happens if they are overbeaten.)

Add a couple of dollops of whites to the spinach mixture to lighten it.
Then, using a spatula, fold the spinach mixture back into the remaining whites in a gentle circular motion, until well incorporated.
(It’s okay if a few streaks or tiny lumps of white remain.)

Spoon into prepared souffle dish and bake in the center of the over for about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately! Serves 4.


Posted in Breakfast, Casseroles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes | 25 Comments »

October 14th, 2010

Caramelized Onion-Chanterelle Tart



It’s been a busy-busy two weeks since we last gathered at Good Food Matters, what with The 10-10-10 Wedding and all related pre-and-post preparations and festivities. I confess, part of it is a blur, a whirling happy extended dream sequence of flickering lights and flowers, dotted swiss organza, families, friends, more families, beautiful food, brilliant toasts, divine cake, crazy soulful dancing,

from which I’m only now awakening.

To be sure, I couldn’t have dreamt a lovelier occasion.

I figure my thirty years of working with food, catering countless receptions, was all for this moment. Friends and colleagues came together to help create a gorgeous event. So much love. So much gratitude.

In the midst of all the planning for the Big Weekend, I had decided to host a farewell brunch, especially for those who were traveling, on the morning after the wedding party.

I know what you’re thinking–what was she thinking?

But when you are a recovered caterer planning your daughter’s wedding, you feel invincible. You believe you can do anything. And, you know that you can do just one more thing. You think, Hey, it’s no big deal…Just a few people for bagels and schmear, a little fruit salad, maybe a quiche or two…

Towards the end of the wedding evening, as people were leaving, many with the same parting words, “I’ll see you at the brunch tomorrow!” it was clear that a much larger get-together was looming. And, in my rhapsodic mother-of-the-bride blur, it dawned on me: “What was I thinking?”

My, my. It would be a righteous early morning.

With the help of Bill and houseguest Carissa, we put together a pretty nice spread. One of the things I whipped up was this caramelized onion tart. Yep, whipped it up. You can too. It was much loved at the brunch of 35 guests; not a speck left. I didn’t (get to) eat any, but the word was Sublime, I was told.

I’ve recreated it today, so that you and I could enjoy it. And, guess what? Ours is even better! Because I found the delectable Chanterelle mushrooms at a discount (from $24 lb. to $16 at Whole Foods! sounds obscene, but you only need $4 worth) I decided to treat us. We deserve it!


The tart combines all those elements that create Umami, the “fifth taste,” savoriness.

There’s gruyere cheese, with its salt, and milky caramel richness. Onions cooked down to almost candy. Background herbal notes from fresh thyme. Little bites of sharpness from coarse grained mustard. And, finally…the chanterelle. Hmmm. Golden trumpets that need just a hint of heat and butter to become sultry sirens of umami.



If you make your pastry up ahead of time, and keep it refrigerated, it rolls out easily—and thin.


I learned this trick a long time ago–rubbing the mustard into the dough adds another layer of flavor.


Eggs and Half-and-Half comprise the custard. If you find the cheese called Comte, try it! It is as complex and wonderful to use as Gruyere.



1 c. All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 t. Salt
6 T. Butter, chilled, cut into pieces
3-4 T. Ice Water
later: 1 T. coarse grain mustard

In a food processor fitted with the pastry swivel, pulse together the flour, salt, and butter. Add water–3 Tablespoons to start–and pulse until the dough gathers into a ball. Add another Tablespoon of water if necessary.

Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour
—but does well to make in advance, and refrigerate overnight.Roll out dough on a flour-dusted surface until round, thin and pliable. Place into tart dish (I used a 12″ tart pan) and press onto the sides.

Coat surface with 1 Tablespoon Coarse Grain Mustard. Refrigerate until
ready to fill.

1 Tablespoon Butter
4 medium Onions, sliced lengthwise
a few sprigs of fresh Thyme leaves
2 cups Half-and-Half
3 large Eggs
1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
4 oz. Chanterelle Mushrooms, sliced lengthwise

Melt butter in a deep skillet on medium heat and slowly saute onions until soft, slightly browned, and very sweet. This may take fifteen minutes.

Season with salt and black pepper. When cooked, stir in the fresh thyme leaves, and place into a small bowl. In the same skillet, melt another tablespoon of butter and gently stir the sliced chanterelles until they are butter-coated, soft, and golden. Remove from heat.

Beat eggs and half-and-half together until well blended–no trace of egg yolk remaining.

Bring out the tart shell. Sprinkle a layer of shredded gruyere on the bottom.
(about half of what you have) Spoon in all the onions. Pour in the egg mixture. Place pieces of cooked chanterelle all over the top, along with the remaining gruyere.

Place into a 375 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, and mixture is set.

Delicious warm, or room temperature. Serves 8-10.



Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes | 32 Comments »