Monday, September 3, 2012

New Blog

I've started a new blog over here, if you're interested.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Smoked Mushroom, Tomato, & Onion Pizza

Another Staycation meal that we had the luxury of time to produce:

Smoked mushrooms=big revelation. They are so delicious & meaty. I've described it before, but we basically smoke everything we put on the grill due to the fact that Mark has filled a disposable pan with smoke chips. Put a lid on it, poke holes in the top, & you're ready to smoke whatever you're cooking on the grill. It creates delicious results.

These mushrooms especially benefited from that cooking process. They absorbed all of that smoke, making them taste extra meaty.

Is it just me or does this blog seem kinda dirty? I don't know, I think it might be the slightly dirty birthday card I got from my sister-in-law earlier. Man, she's funny. Made my whole day.

Anyway, pizza is a serious issue in my house. After a couple of botched jobs, I nearly revoked Mark's pizza-making privileges. Turns out, he was using yeast that had died. can find several ways to test your yeast online. Make sure it's still alive, y'all. Otherwise, don't waste your toppings. & these toppings were primo.

We seasoned the mushrooms (creminis) with salt, pepper, and olive oil. We did the same to some sliced heirloom tomatoes.

We also made a packet of chopped onions wrapped in aluminum foil. They were cooked on the grill as well.

And, as it was Staycation, we splurged on some extra cheeses at Trader Joe's.

That's romano, fontina, & some really nice parm (in addition to the mozz, of course). We rationalized that we weren't spending money on a trip, so why not spend it on cheese? I'm serious with the cheese, y'all. When we were DINKS (double income, no kids), I spent $40 a week on cheese at Whole Foods. If we're ever flush with extra money in the future, God help me, the surplus will go toward cheese. It's the finest luxury.

This coming from a girl who hated cheese growing up. I'd actually make my mama order pizza without cheese. Oh, how the mighty fall. I started dabbling in college & as the story often goes, now I can't stop at "pizza" cheese.

The crust of this pizza was really good. We used this well-articulated recipe from one of my favorite blogs.

The sauce was my homemade marinara, made loosely from this recipe.

I make big batches of this stuff using the big cans of tomatoes from Sam's. That's another post entirely, folks.

Mark likes to paint on his Staycation. It's become a yearly thing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My favorite meal

This is my favorite meal ever:

Bloody filet, baked potato with basil garlic compound butter, & boursin creamed spinach. Cheese pizza is a close second in the all-time favorite meal category. However, this has become the "celebration/holiday" meal at the French-Barrett household. This is our Christmas dinner of choice.

Mark & I are now spoiled with filets. At Trader Joe's, you can get a pound of beef tenderloin for about $10. Then you can chop it up into 4 thick filets. As a result, I no longer eat steak in restaurants unless someone else is paying. Sirloin, my former favorite, is just far too tough after you've had steak like this.

I will say that I come from a long list of women who like their meat cremated. With that said, I did not ever enjoy steak until I had it bloody.

Preparing this steak is a very simple process. Take out your cast iron skillet, get it screaming hot, salt & pepper your filets (they need no other seasoning, really), then put them in for a good 2-3 minutes each side, then finish them in the oven.

We cheat and use a meat thermometer that dings when they reach a perfect 140 degrees. Be careful not to over do it as the meat still continues to cook once you take it out of the oven, especially if you leave it in the skillet. Let the beef rest at least five minutes before cutting it or else you'll loose some juiciness (that's a technical term).

Meanwhile, I've baked the potatoes directly on an oven rack at 400 for about an hour.

Now, on to the spinach. That beautiful, magnificent spinach could happily make my last meal. The boursin cheese is a really treat, but it only costs $3 at TJ's. It's $6 at Kroger! So, if you're making this meal, source your ingredients from Trader Joe's. You're begging to be punished if you go elsewhere.

Boursin Creamed Spinach
(adapted from "Cuisine at Home")
(makes about 2 cups)


For the Spinach Filling:
1/2 cup diced onion (sometimes I use shallots, they're sweeter & milder than onion. They literally melt into the sauce)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 package (5.2 ounces) Boursin Garlic & Fine Herbs cheese
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry of excess moisture
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
Salt, white pepper, cayenne pepper, and ground nutmeg to taste

For the Crumb Topping:
2/3 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs (made from 2 slices firm white bread) (I always use panko)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a shallow 2-cup baking dish with nonstick spray; set aside.

Saute onion in 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan over medium heat until soft, 5 minutes.
Add flour and stir to coat onion. Cook about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk milk and cream into onion mixture, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Simmer sauce for 1 minute.
Stir in Boursin, a little at a time, until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Remove saucepan from heat.
Add spinach, Parmesan, zest, and seasonings. Transfer spinach mixture to prepared baking dish.

Combine crumbs, 1 tablespoon butter, oil, salt and pepper. Top spinach with crumbs, pressing them to adhere. (Dish may be covered and chilled at this point to be baked later.)
Place dish on a baking sheet; bake until crumbs are golden and sauce is bubbly, 20-25 minutes.

Use an old towel to squeeze the moisture out of the spinach. I have a towel in my kitchen that is set aside for spinach squeezing alone. If you're going to have cooked spinach, frozen really is the best deal. It's one of my favorite frozen products, actually. I add it to all sorts of stuff, pasta sauce especially.

Sometimes I leave off the crumb topping, but if you're making this for someone truly special, add it. The crunch of the panko is quite nice. I've also made this with regular cream cheese & added in garlic & herbs. However, your best bet is with the boursin. It's a really nice treat.

Honey Bourbon Caramel Peach Pie

I'm spending these last weeks of summer trying to gobble up all the farmer's market produce I can get my hands on. It's a great time of year to buy peaches here in Nashville. They're so juicy & flavorful that you really don't need to dress them up. Eating them over the sink is one of my favorite ways to enjoy them. Or slice them & serve over ice cream. However, for our staycation this year, we wanted to try out a pie. It involved Bourbon Caramel. Need I say more?

This pie tasted great & it wasn't really that hard to execute. As the recipe indicates, the pie crust can be made a day in advance & I took advantage of that fact. What really blew me away with this recipe was the caramel. It was so easy & so delicious that I consider it dangerous.

I will be making my own caramel topping for ice cream from now on.

I'm not really one for desserts & I wish I had more accolades for this pie. It was delicious, but I have what I call a "food-labor block," which means if I work hard at perfecting something, it doesn't really taste that great to me. In fact, such meals or projects often have no taste. They're unremarkable to me because I've produced them. It's horrible, except for the fact that others enjoy the results of such experiments. & if there are leftovers, I usually enjoy them much more than the original meal.

Mark Barrett seemed to think this was the best peach pie he'd ever consumed. Who am I to dispute that fact?

On to the caramel:

You start out with the sugar, bourbon, and honey in a medium-sized sauce pot. You let the sugar dissolve & get browned just a little, then you take it off the heat & stir in the butter.

As you stir, the caramel gets thicker until it looks like this:

Then you drizzle that luscious caramel all over your spiced peaches (note: I didn't peel or process my peaches in boiling water. They were just fine without that business).

Then pour the peach caramel mixture into your pie crust.

Cover it with your second crust:

Mark had some extra time, so he spelled out our last name on the pie. He's cute like that.

Pie crust is not hard at all. Do not be intimidated. We make ours in the food processor, which makes things easier. You know it's ready to be rolled out when the butter is pea-sized. When you roll it out, make sure you have enough flour on your board. Otherwise, your crust will fall apart & you'll have to re-roll it which could result in a tough crust.

Overall, this pie wasn't too much trouble & it tasted divine, especially with some Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. I'm not much for desserts, as I've said, but a fruity dessert is the exception. That's why I'm having blackberry cobbler instead of birthday cake this year. It's my birthday week, y'all. I'm officially old. I'll be 29 on Saturday. Mark will be 28 on Sunday.

Honey Caramel Peach Pie
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2009
Recipe from Sassy Radish

Any kind of mild honey will work beautifully here. It will cook into a rich caramel, which coats the peaches and deepens their sweetness.

Pie Filling Ingredients:
3 lb ripe peaches
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided

Honey Bourbon Caramel Ingredients:
1/4 cup mild honey
2 tbsp bourbon
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

All-butter pastry dough (recipe below)

1 tablespoon whole milk

Pie Preparation:

1. Cut an X in bottom of each peach, then blanch peaches in batches in boiling water 15 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to stop cooking. Peel peaches and cut into 1-inch-thick wedges. [My note: I skipped this step, I was really short on time, and I just sliced the peaches, skin and all - the result, heavenly. I don't think the book club ladies minded at all!]

2. Toss peaches well with cornstarch, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Put a foil-lined large baking sheet in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

4. Bring 1/2 cup sugar, honey, and bourbon and water to a boil in a 1 1/2- to 2-qt heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber, about 5 minutes.

5.Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until butter is melted. Pour over fruit and toss (caramel may harden slightly but will melt in oven).

6. Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Chill shell while rolling out remaining dough.

7. Roll out remaining piece of dough into an 11-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin.

8. Transfer filling to pie shell, mounding it. Cover pie with pastry round. Trim with kitchen shears, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Press edges together, then crimp decoratively. Brush top all over with some of milk, then sprinkle with remaining Tbsp sugar. Cut 3 steam vents in top crust with a paring knife.

9. Bake pie on hot baking sheet 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Continue to bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 50 minutes more. Cool pie to room temperature, 3 to 4 hours.

All-Butter Pastry Dough
Makes enough for a double-crust 9-inch pie

Crust Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup plus 1 to 4 Tbsp ice water

Crust Preparation:

1. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

2. Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water 1 Tbsp at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

3. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball. Divide in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.


  • Dough can be chilled up to 1 day. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before rolling out.
  • Recipe can be halved if making a single-crust pie. Use a rounded 1/4 tsp salt and start with 3 Tbsp water.

  • Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Basil-Garlic Butter

    This butter is ethereal. I ain't kiddin' ya & I don't use that word lightly. Oh, & it's easy.

    I have quite a bit of basil growing in my backyard thanks to one very dear former student of mine who helped me pick out some very (as it turned out to be) prolific plants.

    Well, if you have basil, you're in business this summer. I've made 2 batches of this butter & I have 2 sticks softening on the counter for even more for this weekend's cookout.

    Just imagine with me the uses. It'll improve the taste of a number of items: baked potatoes, grilled corn, bread, of course, the back of your hand, etc.

    Here's how it goes:
    1. Take one stick of softened (to room temp, just leave it out overnight) butter & mix it with 1 packed tablespoon of freshly chopped basil & 3 freshly minced garlic cloves (I'm not proud to say it, but I have used the jarred variety on one occasion & no one went home crying. That batch received the highest praise, actually, though I think it's because I shared it with more people, hehe. Just imagine how much better it'd be with roasted garlic, if you have that kind of time on your hands or the foresight to plan ahead).

    I use unsalted butter, so I add salt to taste at the end, but if you're one of those crazy folks out there that buys the salted variety, you might want to taste before you season.

    & if you don't see fit to buy real butter, as my silver fox foodie crush says in "Kitchen Confidential," I cannot help you in any way.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Kale & Napa Cabbage with Smoked Chicken (& bbq sauce)

    & I'm back...again. I can't promise I will not abandon this blog again. It seems to be a trend, but I like to look back on it as a personal record of our food habits & experiments.

    I'm on summer vacation after completing my first three months of employment as a high school English teacher. It was an intense undertaking, but through it, I felt a self-actualization & fulfillment that I haven't felt in any other job or would imagine finding in any other job. I can honestly say that it is my calling.

    Am I good at it? Not yet, but I want so badly to be good at it & I've proven that I have the work ethic, so I think it's a good fit. One day I will be a good teacher.

    But school's out, y'all, & for some unknown reason, I was not rehired. So, I've done nothing school related for the last few weeks. It feels strange to get back into the routine I used to know so well.

    When I began teaching, Mark took over all the domestic duties. I really would not have made it without him. He got up at 6:30 every morning (even though he doesn't have to be at work until around 9) & made me oatmeal. Not just any oatmeal, this oatmeal. He packed me salads every day for lunch & made us crock pot meals for dinner. Sure, we ate a lot of take-out here and there, but we were supporting local business, hehe.

    Anyway, now I'm back to the meal planning & dish washing & it's a strange feeling indeed. Sometimes, maybe, I think I'm called to do this work. Then I look at my baseboards & know I wasn't meant to be a housewife.

    Enough of the commentary, on to the food.

    This is something I envisioned based on what I order at Calypso Cafe, another local place we've hit up quite frequently for take out in the last couple of months. I always get their chicken (either in sandwich form or as "skinless half white with 2 sides") with their delicious bbq sauce. My two sides are always the callaloo (greens stewed with tomatoes) and the bean & corn salad. When I get it, I inevitably end up mixing my greens with the bbq sauce.

    So, when my favorite co-op emailed saying that they had my favorite type of kale (lacinato, otherwise known as dinosaur), I thought of an idea to put it to good use. I'd try to recreate that light, sweet bbq sauce & cook the greens in that.

    But no, I couldn't recreate the sauce to my liking. However, there was an easy solution at hand: I'd purchase the sauce in pints from Calypso. It was really worth it & it was as cheap as making it at home. $4 for a pint is not bad at all. I'm going to continue my experiments to reproduce it at home, but until I find a recipe I'm satisfied with, I'll stick to buying theirs.

    So here is how I made this dish:

    I heated some oil in a pan, added a diced yellow onion.
    I let it brown. I added some garlic & cooked it for a minute. Then I added 2 cups of our homemade chicken stock & the chopped kale & chopped napa cabbage. I put a lid on it & let it cook down.

    In a separate skillet, I cooked 3 pieces of thick, hardwood smoked bacon from Trader Joe's (The bacon was good in the greens, but I won't find myself buying this stuff again. I prefer the leaner, center cut stuff for all other applications). When the bacon was done, I transferred it to a paper towel-lined plate. I poured the remaining bacon grease in with the greens, of course. After the bacon was cool enough to handle, I chopped it into small pieces and added that to the pot o' greens. I let the greens cook for about an hour or so on low heat, checking to make sure they had enough liquid. If not, I added more chicken broth. I also added a couple of glugs of Valentina's, one of our favorite hot sauces. I didn't add too much more beyond salt and pepper, if my memory serves me correctly.

    Meanwhile, Mark coated the chicken with salt, pepper, and olive oil & put it on the grill. He's fashioned a DIY smoker out of a disposable cake pan & lid. Basically, you just fill the pan with whatever type of wood chips you like & poke holes in the top. Then you just place it on the grill.

    The faux smoker yields excellent results. It ups the flavor of everything we cook on the grill, even hot dogs. & Mark comes in smelling all smokey & delicious, which makes me want to be near him all that much more.

    When both the chicken & the greens were cooked to my liking, I scooped out some of the greens in a bowl, layered the chicken on top, and drizzled on some of the bbq sauce.

    I'd decided not to cook the greens in the sauce as they seemed to be flavorful enough on their own & I dropped one of my purchased pints of sauce. Oh, the dangers of playing refrigerator Tetris.

    This meal was very nice & echoed the Calypso experience fairly well.

    I love a big pot of greens!

    Tonight we're using the leftover bbq sauce on some tortilla pizzas. Info on that later.

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Pumpkin Cake with Whipped Cream & Pecan Praline

    This cake was epic. It was a heart attack on a plate. A real treat. Not intended for everyday use.

    But if you ever have an occasion that calls for it, this cake is more than justified in its richness.

    A little more than a month ago (I'm not ashamed to say), I got out all of my food magazines for the months of November & December. I surrounded myself with them in the bed one Sunday afternoon & (like the pretentious foodie that I am) made a list of things I'd like to share with my loved ones over the holidays. This cake was one of them. It just looked so regal & impressive...and it was.

    I made this cake on a Friday while waiting to hear back from a job my ideal public middle school, the school I student taught in, the only school I'd ever send my children, the best middle school in Nashville,in my opinion. I was beside myself. At times, I felt like Marsha Brady in that episode where she's waiting for a boy to call & calls the telephone operator to make sure her phone is actually working.

    Well, I thought making this cake, my first ever cake from scratch, would make for a fine distraction. I won't lie to you. It was a lot of work & a lot of mess. Not to mention that I got two injuries in the process & two sinks full of dishes before I'd even thought of starting on dinner. But alas, I'd say it was well worth it.

    Anything flour-based usually is deferred to my husband to make. It's his area of interest. I hate dealing with the stuff. It's so messy & impossible sometimes. I've never succeeded in making a cake from scratch. The past two attempts yielded disgusting and weird results. I'd never made pralines or had any luck with making candy in the past. In fact, my last experience was an inedible, grainy almond brittle. What a waste as nuts are so expensive.

    But my pralines turned out well, except that they were a little too thick. I didn't smash them down good enough. They were fantastic, though. You really don't have to put anything in the skillet with the sugar. It takes a while, but it will eventually melt.

    I burned myself while pouring the pralines onto the parchment paper, but I didn't let it stop me. You do have to act fast or you'll end up with a big blob of praline.

    I also cut my thumb pretty badly zesting the orange. I haven't cut myself in the kitchen in a long time & I wasn't very happy that I'd been so sloppy, but baking intimidates me so much. It freaks me out. I'm so afraid I don't have it in me to be so precise.

    Surprisingly, my cake turned out really well. It was really moist & delicious. I took it to Parsons and shared it with my friend Amanda, her baby, Patsy, and my sweet husband. Then I took it to feed other family members & friends, because one should never find themselves alone with this massive clump of goodness.

    Pumpkin Cake with Whipped Cream & Pecan Praline
    from Rachel Ray
    • 3 cups granulated sugar
    • 2 cups pecans (about 8 ounces)
    • 2½ cups flour
    • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 2 cups packed brown sugar
    • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 3/4 cup milk
    • Grated zest of 1 orange
    • One 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
    • 3 cups heavy cream, chilled
    • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

    The cake layers can be wrapped and stored at room temperature up to one day ahead of frosting.


    1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Butter two 8-by-2-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Flour the pans.

    2. In a large skillet, melt 2 cups granulated sugar over medium-high heat until light amber, about 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the pecans and quickly stir to coat. Transfer the pecans to the prepared baking sheet and, using a metal spatula, spread in a single layer to cool completely. Place the praline in a sturdy resealable plastic bag and crush into pieces; set aside.

    3. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a bowl, sift together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar and the remaining 1 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until combined. Beat in the flour mixture in 3 parts alternately with the milk and orange zest on low speed until just combined. Add the pumpkin puree and beat until just combined.

    4. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer the cake layers to a rack to cool, about 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans, invert and peel off the parchment paper. Let the cakes cool completely on the rack, about 45 minutes.

    5. Meanwhile, make the frosting. Using a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. On low speed, gradually beat in the remaining 1-1/2 cups brown sugar and the vanilla until stiff peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

    6. Assemble the cake: Halve each cake layer horizontally with a serrated knife. Place 1 cake layer on a platter. Spread the whipped cream frosting on top about 1/4 inch thick; sprinkle with about 1/2 cup crushed pecan praline. Repeat with three more layers, saving enough frosting for the cake sides and reserving the last layer of praline. Spread the remaining frosting evenly on the sides of the cake and sprinkle the reserved pecan praline on top. Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before serving.

    Enjoy it with a relaxed cat.