Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pre-Thanksgiving Celebration

This picture isn't the best. You can't really tell what anything is and the portion-size on that white stuff looks way too big. Actually, this plate is comprised of 3 turkey cranberry raviolis, sauteed kale, roasted squash puree, and store-bought whole berry cranberry sauce (for some reason I always like it better than any homemade version I've ever tried).

I made this ravioli two years ago for a pre-Thanksgiving feast we had then. To be honest with you, it was so good that after my first bite I exclaimed, "This is just as good as when I learned to masturbate." That's very crude, I know, but masturbation is healthy, do it before you marry too early or sleep with a loser, I'd say.

I had a similar experience the first time I had butter on a baked potato although I would describe that as a religious experience.

The ravioli gravy turned out a lot better this time, I thought. It thickened up a lot better. The trick is being a really vigilant stirrer. Don't leave it unattended for the entire duration of making the gravy. Stir constantly...which is easy for us because Mark loves to stir so much so that I make fun of him for it. He's a compulsive stirrer.

Turkey & Cranberry Ravioli
from Giada at Food Network

Serves 6

* 1 lb pound ground turkey, preferably dark meat (I used an 85/15 ratio)
* 1/2 c. tablespoons cranberry sauce
* 1/2 c. tablespoons grated Romano
* 6 tablespoons bread crumbs
* 6 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
* 1 egg
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 80 store-bought wonton wrappers


* 1.5 sticks butter
* 4 shallots, chopped
* 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
* 1 c. chicken broth
* 1/2 c. tablespoons heavy cream
* 1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


To make the ravioli: in a medium bowl, stir together the turkey, cranberry sauce, cheese, bread crumbs, parsley, egg, salt, and pepper. Place 10 wonton wrappers on a work surface. Brush lightly with water using a pastry brush. Place 1 tablespoon of the turkey mixture on each of the wonton wrappers. Top with another wonton wrapper. Push out any air bubbles and press the edges tightly to seal. (I don't recall this being a big deal last time, but Mark had a lot of trouble with these this time. He did a lot of shouting. The comments on the recipe suggest alternatives such as making the meat mixture into a loaf and cover it with the gravy or turn the meat mixture into meatballs and serve with pasta and sauce. I like the lightness of the wonton wrappers. We're going to remake this for Mark's parents later this week and we plan to make the meat mixture into meatballs and serve it with the gravy on top of fresh pasta).

To make the gravy: in a medium, heavy skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir until cooked, about 1 minute. Slowly add the chicken broth, stirring quickly to avoid lumps. Add the cream, parley, salt, and pepper and cook, without boiling, for 2 minutes, stirring often.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook until tender but still firm to the bite and the turkey is cooked, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Drain the ravioli into the gravy and stir to coat. Serve immediately in individual dishes, drizzled with the remaining gravy.

The kale was a simple saute. I heated some olive oil, added in some leftover chopped onion (about 1/4 c.), 3 chopped garlic cloves, 2 tsp. red pepper flakes and some S & P. Then I added the kale until the skillet was full, put the lid on and let it wilt down, then added more until the kale was all in the skillet. I used one bunch. The best tip I know when preparing any type of sauteed greens is to just chop them really small. That makes the finished product have a glorious texture. I take the spines out of my kale/greens and put them in a freezer bag for future veggie stock endeavors. Otherwise, you just chop them very finely and they can go into the pot with the greens. I used some chicken stock and a tiny bit of cream to add liquid if the skillet got too dry.

Many hours before the meal was to be served, I prepped the squashes. I cut the ends off of a medium-sized butternut squash then cut it in half. I cut an acorn squash in half, placed both squashes in a big, rimmed casserole dish and sprinkled them with S & P, drizzled them with olive oil, and roasted them for an hour at 400 degrees. Afterward, I checked for doneness by poking them with a fork. The acorn squash was done, so I took it out, but the butternut still had a ways to go. I roasted it until it was done, about 45 minutes more.

After the squashes were cooled, I spooned out their flesh (I love the sound of that statement) and set it aside. In a small saucepan I sauteed 4 strips of chopped bacon until they were done. Because I was using center-cut bacon, the rendered fat was not significant. I added the squash flesh, mashed it with a potato masher, added chicken broth until it was the desired consistency, then added 1 tsp. of cayenne pepper. That's it, kids. Check for S & P and you're good.

We had several folks over that night. Claudia brought a delightful feta-cream cheese dip that I wish I'd eaten more of, Shane & Sarah brought some of my favorite chocolates which came in handy, because we were too lazy/full to finish our cookies for dessert. Randy picked up the slack in the gravy-making when Mark left his post. Other than Claudia wishing a palsy upon me, the night went pretty well. Little Margot got to meet our friends and was adored by all.

My friends Jeff & Susan were expected to be there, but were not because I called the wrong Susan in my phone, leaving all the pertinent info on her voicemail. The right Jeff & Susan thought I left them hanging, I'm sure. The Susan I called sent me a bewildered email on Monday morning.

This is Margot with a lamb friend:

She has a cold and some eye issues right now, but she's on the mend.

I'm kinda ashamed to say it, but we've been bitten early and put up our tree.

Gnocchi is too fat to climb in it like a squirrel this year, thank goodness.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Two Soups

Lately I'm only interested in making soup. The act of eating soup is one of my favorites (I can tell you honestly that I like it more than pasta, though it may not seem that way) and the ones I am most attracted to are usually easy and quick. Though I'm an avid menu planner, some nights I'm just all out of ideas. I know I'm at my best when I devise a lovely soup out of my pantry rather than going for the ever-so-easy frozen pizza pitfall (we usually dress them up a bit with spices and whatever veg we have hanging around, but a $5 frozen cheese pizza is hard to beat at times).

I'm fond of topping soups with a salad of sorts which isn't always necessary, as was the case with this wonderful Roasted Tomato Soup from our lady Ina:

It required nothing. We had it with big crusty pieces of bread, but they weren't required. If I were going all out, I think it'd be great topped with shavings of parm or romano (or both), fresh arugula, and avocado, but it was wonderful all on its own...robust and hearty. I made sure not to puree it completely, leaving it nice and chunky.
  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil (I only used enough to lightly drizzle the maters)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-ounce) canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (I used dried, like 2 tablespoons. I don't know what it is with me, but basil has just been turning me off lately)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (used 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 quart chicken stock or water (I used chicken stock)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

I have no idea why Ina calls for all of that olive oil. She tends to be a little on the crazy side when it comes to adding fat/expense to recipes. It always seems like she's cooking her last meal or something. Heck, I may order the deep fried Chicken Crispers at Chili's, but I don't act like that at home (disregard upcoming fried chicken post, please). I don't see the need.

Regardless, I made this soup a couple of weeks ago when tomatoes still seemed decent around these parts, but as it turned out, mine were kinda flavorless, even after the roasting. I maybe should have roasted them longer or added some sugar to them before roasting to accentuate their natural sweetness. I ended up adding about a tablespoon of sugar to the soup after I pureed it. Roma tomatoes usually look okay year-round, so I think you could make this at any time if you just added a little sweetness to them...honey, agave, sugar, whatever floats your boat.

The soup was incredibly rich and really good on the reheat (as is the case with most soups).

The next soup was recommended by my good friend, Amanda.
Tortellini Tomato Spinach Soup
from RecipeZaar

SERVES 4 -6 (change servings and units)
* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 1/2 cup minced onion (about 1/2 small onion)
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 4-6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
* 1 (14 ounce) can whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
* 1 (9 ounce) package fresh tortellini or dried tortellini
* kosher salt
* cracked black pepper
* 10 ounces fresh spinach or frozen spinach, defrosted and chopped
* 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)


1. In a soup pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat.

2. Saute the onion and garlic, stirring often until onions are translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add broth and tomatoes, turn heat up to high, and bring to a boil.

4. Add the tortellini and cook according to package instructions.

5. When tortellini is almost done, add spinach and taste, adjusting seasonings with salt and pepper.

6. Serve immediately.

7. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

I used fresh spinach and veg broth. I also added in some roasted quartered button *mushrooms I had leftover from a salad earlier in the week. They added a nice meatiness.

I have to emphasize that you should be very careful to not add the tortellini in until you are ready to eat. I buy the frozen kind and it cooks in less than two minutes. If you let it sit in the broth too long, they get bloated and fall apart. If you aren't feeding a crowd and expect to have leftovers (the 2 of us ate on this at least 3 times each), I would recommend cooking the torts in a separate pot according to package instructions. Once al dente, drain them and reserve separately from the soup. To serve, spoon some torts (this also helps you to limit your fat intake as well, as you only get as few or as many torts as you'd like) in your bowl and ladle the soup on top.

*The mushrooms were tossed with olive oil and shoyu (could use soy sauce) and roasted for 40 minutes in a roasted a 375 degree oven (stir twice during duration).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stuffed Poblanos

That Ezra Poundcake, she's always ahead of the game. I was just about to post about these peppers which we've been making for over a year, and she goes and does a good job of it. We make these peppers quite often, most recently a couple of weeks ago when we decided to be work-week vegetarians. They're simple and usually only require us to pick up the peppers as everything else is stocked in our pantry (Our well-stocked pantry is my crowning glory. I'm very proud of it.). And those peppers, they can be procured a few steps from my house. I do not have to drive for this recipe! It trumps frozen or pick-up pizza.

Stuffed Poblanos from Everyday Food


Serves 4

  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes in puree
  • 1 jalapeno chile (ribs and seeds removed, for less heat), minced
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves (2 whole, 1 minced)
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 can (19 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese (we use cabot cheddar)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 large poblano chiles, halved lengthwise (stems left intact), ribs and seeds removed


  1. Preheat oven to 425. In a blender, combine tomatoes in puree, jalapeno, half the onions, and 2 whole garlic cloves; puree. Season with salt. Pour sauce into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine beans, cornmeal, 1/2 cup cheese, remaining onions, minced garlic, cumin, and 3/4 cup water; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Dividing evenly, stuff poblano halves with bean mixture; place on top of sauce in baking dish. Sprinkle poblanos with remaining 1/2 cup cheese; cover baking dish tightly with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake until poblanos are tender, about 45 minutes. Uncover, and continue to cook until sauce is thickened slightly and cheese is browned, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let cool 10 minutes.
I'm lazy as all get-out and I don't have good, fast, efffective knife skills, so I usually chop the onions and garlic in the food processor before I start this recipe. Also, I grate the cheese in the food processor before I start this recipe, without cleaning out the bowl, really. I mean, it's all going to the same place and it saves me time. Even though I don't have to wash dishes by hand anymore, I still try to conserve dishes.

We don't repeat many recipes in this house, but this one, as I said before, is made every couple of months. I tend to cook it less by about 10 minutes or so because I like the peppers to still be crunchy and not so soft. I agree with old Ezra in that the recipe could be tweaked to your interests, but I don't mess with what ain't broken. This is one of our favorites as it is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Turnip Green and Roasted Acorn Squash "Empanadas"

Mark Post!

Hello Friends - Yes, sometimes the mood strikes me and I dare to experiment in the kitchen.

On this occasion we were watching Top Chef and I was kind of bored. Wendy had an idea the other day to stuff steamed Kale leaves with spiced sweet potatoes and black beans, and with that fresh in my mind I entered the kitchen to look around for some unused goodies.

We had some acorn squash which we've had for a while. I got the idea to roast it and decided to roast some garlic while I was at it. I cut the squash in half, spooned out the seeds and "stringy-ness" within, and placed them in a little teflon coated roasting pan. They went into the oven at 450 degrees for an hour. In a smaller oven-safe dish I put 3 garlic cloves.

While those roasted away I looked for some green to use in the fridge. I didn't find kale, but I did find some turnip greens. I set up a soup pot and steamer basket, then steamed the leaves one at a time until they were tender enough to use as wraps, but not so steamed as to be mushy and unusable. I set the leaves aside on a paper towel, stacked up and drying.

To add some bulk to my recipe I pulled out the single remaining poblano pepper leftover from this weekend's stuffed peppers. I also grabbed a large onion, halved it, and then proceeded to chop both into tiny squares, about a half centimeter wide. I put some olive oil in a skillet and let them sweat for a while before cranking the heat all the way up to put a slight char on them.

By the time I finished my leisurely steaming and sauteing, which included long stretches of Top Chef watching, the roasted squash and garlic was ready to come out of the oven. I let them cool for 5 minutes, then while they were still a bit hot to handle I used tongs and my fingers to peel off the skin and also removed the overly browned spots on the inside of the squash. I cut them in half once more and then added them to a large mixing bowl with the roasted garlic. I got out my potato-masher, added a dollop of ghee from the fridge, and then mashed away until I had pulpy goodness.

Then it was seasoning time. I learn the most from watching Wendy do her thing, and she recently added some crushed cloves to some chili, which I thought was really interesting when mixed with the kind of cumin, chili powder flavors we typically use. So I put in a "shake" of cloves, cumin, and also cheyenne pepper. After folding in the seasoning, it was time to finish up my mix by stirring in the onion and poblano.

I then had my mix and my leaves. All that was left was the plating. I decided to set down my greens with the spine face down on the plate, then laid out the filling, pinching it into a tight column before folding in the "tail"and folding the sides up into a turnip green "Empanada" of sorts.

The final product was beautiful, surprisingly tasty with a complex flavor, some nice crunch because of the spine and pepper/onion mix, and a low but lasting heat from the poblano and cheyenne pepper.

The cloves actually read well, which was a refreshing surprise.

wf note: These were really good. I love it when my little darling gets inspired to get in the kitchen. I try to stay out of it for the most part because I tend to be a little overbearing when I'm head chef. I'll answer simple questions if he has them, but I try to physically stay out of the kitchen because I tend to get a little Kate Gosslin sometimes. He did really well and this was a nice healthy snack for our Top Chef viewing.

Our week of vegetarianism is going pretty well except for one slip-up that was totally uncalled for, but we both consented to it. We enable each other, me and this boy. However, come tomorrow afternoon, I'll be shoving bacon in my mouth by the handfuls. Not really. Surprisingly, I haven't had any cravings or anything, but I will be glad to be eating someone else's food. We're going to Basil, my favorite restaurant in Nashville as of late. We went there last weekend with the sibs and I realized that I couldn't remember our last trip to a restaurant, minus some CADs we had gift cards for. We have literally cooked all of our meals for months except for a couple of take-out nights from Baja Burrito. Between the two of us, we couldn't remember our last meal out at a "sit down" restaurant--other than when I was in Rome, GA for a conference with Liz. I get so tired of my own food I've been skipping meals lately (which can't be too bad as could stand to lose some weight).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Best Burger Endeavor Ever

I know there's no burger in that photo. Somehow we didn't get any pics of the actual burgers, but they were sort of second fiddle anyway. We just mixed the meat with our favorite tamarind glaze and grilled them.

What was really lovely about these burgers was that everything was completely homemade. The August/September issue of Saveur, which was devoted to all things burger, inspired us. Mark made their recipe for Sesame Seed Buns, which were easy as

They were so divine that I had to eat one hot out of the oven before the burgers were ready. The recipe from Saveur can be found here.

The night before I made these delicious pickles that were so easy and delectable I don't think I'll buy pickles again.

I'm now daydreaming about all the other things I must pickle: okra, banana peppers, jalapenos, etc.

I got the recipe from one of my favorite blogs The Chubby Vegetarian.
I'm going to post it here, because you really have to try this. It is soooooo easy and cheap.
The Chubby Vegetarian's Refrigerator Pickles
2-3 cups white vinegar
2-3 pickling cucumbers
palmful dried dill
palmful of whole coriander seeds
3 whole cloves garlic
1/4 cup salt
1/8 cup sugar

Thinly slice cucumbers. I use the slicer blade on my food processor which works perfectly for this. Arrange cucumber slices in a glass container that is just big enough to hold them. You don't want a lot of extra space. In a pot over high heat add the vinegar and the rest of the ingredients. You will only need enough vinegar to cover the sliced cucumbers. Cook vinegar mixture until all of the salt and sugar has dissolved and it has started to boil. Pour the hot vinegar over the raw cucumber slices, allow it to cool on the countertop, cover, and stick it in the fridge. They will be ready the next day and will keep for about a month.

I sliced mine with my mandolin, which made them paper thin and see-through. They were super good for snacking. I took them to our picnic with Dylan and Bethany and they were a real hit. I love the coriander seeds (I got these super cheap at the Indian Market).

I also made homemade ketchup, which has been on my "to make" list for over a year now. It was also easy and delicious but takes a little while (2 hours), so plan accordingly.

Chipotle ketchup
Recipe from The Homesick Texan (who wrote a lovely piece about Food/Memory for Saveur--that's how I found her blog)

1 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
28-ounce can of whole tomatoes
½ cup of apple cider vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar (I would cut back on the sugar next time. It was a little too sweet)
1 teaspoon molasses
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon celery seeds
3 chipotle peppers in adobo (Oh my! I used 1 because Mark's a baby, but I'd think 3 would be too much for me)
Salt to taste

On medium low heat, cook the diced onion in the olive oil in a medium-sized pot just until the onions start to brown a bit on the ends.

Add the tomatoes and their juice to the pot, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a spoon.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.

After an hour, puree the mixture, and then continue to cook on low heat until it reaches your desired thickness.

We used the leftovers to top our meatloaf. It gave it a nice crust and a "kick"--I hate when people say that, but here I am, saying it too.

These were, by far, the best burgers we've ever made, even if the mustard and mayo were a big fail. The mustard recipe was a good one, but you have to start 3 days in advance and I hadn't read that part. Mark's mayo didn't emulsify and was a thin, eggy mess. But really, the ketchup and the veggies were all we needed. I will make that mustard, though! I love mustard so much that I've considered a mustard-related tattoo, but then, I'm not a tattoo person. Richard Blias has a wonderful article about my beloved, hardworking condiment here. My favorite quote:
"And as condiments go, it’s the R rated version to ketchup’s PG rating. The beer to soda pop. For that matter, alternative music to pop music…sex to making out. And the reasons why are pretty simple from a pure flavor standpoint."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Soba Noodles with Tofu

The tofu kind of looks like croutons, but it's not.

I realized this was the first time I've ever prepared tofu. I used the Liz Thompson method of freezing the tofu, thawing it in the fridge, then slicing it into 4 slabs and sandwiching it between two plates lined with dish towels. I then place about 4 Norton Anthologies on top and maybe a Bible. I left it to drain for about twenty minutes while I prepared the broth.

The recipe called for several cups of water, but I used broth. The broth was infused with ginger, scallions, and garlic. The original recipe calls for removing these, but I did not. If I made this recipe again, I would definitely do this. The ginger was a little intense and I couldn't tell if I liked it or not.

Here are the ingredients:

Soba Noodles with Tofu in Ginger Broth (adapted from Body and Soul)
Serves 4 (I don't know what they consider a serving to be because it took us several days to eat all this)

- 8 Scallions (1 bunch approx.). Separate the green and white parts and loosely chop both.
- 2-3 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 8 ounces of soba noodles
- 1 package (14 ounces) extra-firm tofu
- 1 head baby bok choy, roughly chopped (I used two)
- 4 ounces snap peas (about 1.5 cups) trimmed and halved (I didn't measure mine, just used the package that I had)
- 1 red serrano pepper or red pepper, thinly sliced (I used one of my frozen Thai chilies)
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce (I used shoyu)
- Salt and pepper (I didn't add any, actually)
- Canola or Veg oil for cooking the tofu (I used olive oil)
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish (original recipe calls for black sesame seeds)

I also added a red bell pepper because I thought it needed a use.

1. Make the broth, add the scallions, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Let simmer for 20 minutes. Discard solids.

2. While the broth is simmering, prepare the tofu and sesame seeds:

For the tofu: Cut thoroughly drained tofu into small chunks. Heat about 4 Tablespoons of oil (just enough to cover the bottom of a nonstick pan) over high heat. Once it’s hot add your tofu. Let it cook for a few minutes on each side.

Remove the tofu to a paper towel to drain off some of the extra oil.

3. Toast the sesame seeds by adding them to a dry skillet and put them over medium heat. This should only take a minute.

4. After the broth has simmered and the solids have been discarded, add the soy sauce and soba noodles. Cook the noodles as per the package instructions, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and cook about 2-3 minutes.

5. Ladle into bowls and top with tofu and toasted sesame seeds.

This was quite nice and perfect for the chilly nights we've been having. I think it'd even be great without the tofu.

Enjoy in the company of a sleepy-eyed cat:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Weekend in Mid-September

As mentioned earlier, we have been hosting dinner parties at our place every couple of weeks. Unfortunately, we were without a camera for all of them except for the last, which took place at the end of September. Fewer folks were in attendance, as Sam & Randy were preparing for Sam's 9 month departure for France. Poor Shane & Sarah were sick babies. Kyle & Courtney have to work many weekend nights, but though there were fewer folks, we still had a great time...and didn't mind eating their portion of the food.

Mark attempts to eat two funnel cakes

Taking a cue from my good friend Amanda, I deemed the theme "Yo' Mama" allowing everyone to interpret it in any way they choose: a dish made by their mamas, a dish that reminds them of they mamas, or they could simply dress like they mamas (I hoped for more of this, quite frankly...oh, and also any kind of chip-crusted casserole for novelty's sake). I didn't take any pictures of the food I made because we've all seen it before: Miss Anna Laura's Meatloaf, Turnip Greens with Bacon, and Mashed Taters. I also made a veggie soup as an option for any potential vegetarians in the audience. I choose meatloaf because it's the first thing I remember helping my mom to cook. She didn't really like to cook, but there were a few of her dishes that I absolutely love and feel really nostalgic about. Meat loaf is one of them, though I was rather put off when I found out there were eggs in it! I ate it much more gingerly after that.

Turnip Greens always remind me of my great-grandmother Mama Della (pronounced "Deller") and grandmother Peg. Mama Della certainly knew her way around the kitchen and spoiled me with chocolate gravy and biscuits in the mornings after I had spent the night at her house. (I would often refuse her offers to cook me dinner and opt for a Gregg's Pizza (still some of the best pizza ever as far as I'm concerned--a place I'm also very nostalgic about), the pizza shop within walking distance, or Kid Cuisines. I regret the Kid Cuisine business, but I was a baby then, with undeveloped taste buds. Thinking of those undercooked mushy brownies kind of grosses me out right now. Either the dessert compartment would get completely under or over cooked--there was no in between). Peg, on the other hand, was a lot like my mom and only cooked out of necessity--which wasn't as often for her.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about my Mama Della as this August marked the 15 year anniversary of her death and it coincides with my sister and her family moving into her house. I'm working on a related blog post for the other, less food driven blog. We'll see if it ever will see the light of day.

But, back to Yo' Mama: I did make a hearty veggie soup that turned out pretty well. I had a lot of odds and ends from the CSA that were lingering and needed using up. I started by roasted some leeks, carrots, onion, various squashes, potatoes, garlic cloves, and tomatoes in salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Then I grilled some mushrooms, peppers, and some corn (not pictured, obviously):

They were also seasoned lightly with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I did all this roasting and grilling the day before. On the day of, I made decisions about texture. I wanted to keep the corn and mushrooms whole, while the rest was to be pureed smooth. So, I dumped the other stuff in a soup pot with a quart of veggie stock, a 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, a bay leaf or two, red pepper flakes, dried oregano (still the stuff from Lazzaroli's from Feb.), and dried thyme. I let that heat up and simmer for about 10 minutes. I pureed it with my immersion/stick blender. The roasted potato lightened the color, making it look and taste creamier (a good trick, as potatoes, though they have their faults, aren't as devious as cream). Afterward, I added the grilled corn and mushrooms.

I then had to decide if I wanted to add a noodle/pasta and what kind of bean, if any, I wanted to include. I made my decisions based on appearances: tri-color orzo and white beans, added after the soup was pureed. I used canned white beans and the best thing you can do for a canned bean, as you may know, is drain it into a colander and rinse it, giving it a few minutes in the sink before you add it into anything. This can cut the sodium by nearly half, or so I'm told.

After the orzo and white beans were added, I let it simmer for about 1o minutes, then tasted and adjusted the seasoning. There's no telling what I added, but if you've got good sense and a spice cabinet, I'm sure it won't be hard to figure out. Just do what you like.

So that was the soup. I didn't take a picture because it looked like pink in a bowl & who needs that? But trust me, it was good. Enjoyed by all, actually:

Jeff & Susan think it over

What about dessert?
Mark & Jeff had devised an unstoppable plan for funnel cakes in a phone conversation the night before. I tried to talk them out of it then and there, but they would not have it. Funnel cakes would be made.

& sugared

despite the lovely cakes Jeff & Susan had brought:

By the end of it all, we were sugar drunk, babbling incoherently. Brandon Socrates Amstrong was in attendance, a lovely lad I hadn't seen in more than a year

and it was a great crowd: Jeff, Susan, Brandon, Mark, and myself. Our discussions meandered from topic to topic. Raw meat, family bed, paint selections, nothing went untouched, not even the semicolon.

The Harbrace was consulted and, as it turns out, many of us harbor misconceptions about the semicolon.

It was a riveting night, kids.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


We were lucky enough to visit our dear friends Parker & Rachel in Washington, D.C. at the end of July. Parker is one of Mark's childhood friends and has always been close with his family, so much so that we joke that he or we are "Adjunct Family." Fran, his mom, is originally from Paris, TN, so we immediately bonded over the West TN connection. Fran Cohen is one of the most amazing cooks I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. The smell of her kitchen should be bottled and sold. I've always made special exception to eat anything I was offered by Fran Cohen, even lamb, which the idea of usually doesn't sit well with me. Heck, I'd go as far as to say that I'd eat a mayo-laden salad if she served it to me. I don't question Fran's food.

Fran would probably never offer me a mayo-laden dish as Parker has many, potentially life-threatening allergies: eggs, dairy, mushrooms, seafood, and nuts...I don't think I'm leaving any of them out. This, obviously, isn't great for Parker as he has to go to great lengths to explain his allergies to waiters/waitresses in restaurants. As I eschew eggs, dairy, and seafood (I have really tried to like it!), I am extremely empathetic to Parker's situation. I know first hand how blatantly uninformed and unapologetic some waiters/waitresses can be. Of course, Parker's situation is more serious, but geez, not everyone wants their food covered in white dairy. It's a treacherous, Ranch-obsessed world we're living it, don't blame me for asking about your "special sauce"!

Okay, that might be a bit of a mini-rant, but I've just had horrible experiences trying to avoid over-the-top dairy in my lifetime.

Anyway, we had a lovely time with Parker and Rachel in D.C. They put us up, drove us around, and made sure we hit up the best restaurants in D.C. That should be a post of its own and I might get around to that. I had one of the best meals of my life at Oyamel...appropriately enjoyed just before we visited the Holocaust museum (I figured I'd never want to eat again after that experience).

I don't think we experienced a bad meal in D.C. Rachel, like Fran, is an extremely knowledgeable and accomplished foodie. We spent our final night in town talking and preparing food. She's the only gal I know, other than me of course, who gets excited thinking about the possibility of making her own tomato paste. Hopefully we'll one day live in the same city and we'll spend many hours in the kitchen being food nerds together.

We talked about Rachel doing some guest posts here, Parker-friendly, sometimes vegan versions of the recipes I post.

Anyway, thanks to the Cohen's, we were introduced to Momos. They served as a bookend meal for the trip. On our first night in town, we went to a Nepalese restaurant where we tried several different types of momos that they picked out for us. My favorite of which was a beef filled momo served in a spicy tomato sauce. Rachel recreated the meal for us on Saturday night.

This recipe is her own creation and it is divine:
Momo dipping sauce
Recipe by Rachel Cohen

¼ c. olive oil (or less, depending on taste)
½ a large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 ½ tsp. tumeric
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. ground cardamom
1 15oz. can tomatoes, undrained
½ c. cilantro, chopped

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, then add the olive oil and onion. Cook the onion until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for two minutes. Ad the tumeric, cumin, and cardamom and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the can of tomatoes along with their juices. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid is mostly reduced. Add the cilantro and cook for two minutes. Remove from heat and allow sauce to cool. Pour cooled sauce into a food processor and process until mostly smooth.

For the filling, she used this recipe:
Meat Momo Filling
from Taste of Nepal by Jyoti Pathak

2 ½ lbs ground beef, lamb, or whatever you prefer
1 c. cilantro, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 c.)
4-5 scallions (both white and green parts), finely chopped
3 fresh chilies, chopped (seeds removed if you don’t do spicy)
2 T. vegetable oil (use only if the meat is very lean)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. ground tumeric

Note: please, in order to avoid injury, use gloves when chopping the chilies. Just buy a box of disposable gloves and don’t sass. I’ve found that washing my hands afterward is never enough. Their are always some lingering burning juices! Though it makes for funny stories when someone touches a sensitive area with pepper hands, the pain is very intense. Don’t inflict it on loved one…or even enemies for that matter, I guess.

Tip: chop the chilies last, keeping the gloves on for mixing the meat. This way you don’t have to take your rings off, etc.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and ½ c. of water. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes, at room temperature, allowing the flavors to blend.

Rachel will now explain how to put it all together…

Assembling the momos: We use dumpling wrappers made from flour and water that we find at an Asian grocery near our apartment. You might be able to find egg roll wrappers at your grocery store, which I think might work—we don’t use them because Parker is allergic to eggs. (wf note: I use "gyoza wrappers" found in the frozen section of my Asian market. I buy a couple of packages and keep them in the freezer. The same is true for the chilies, put them in a zip lock in the freezer and take them out as you need them. My Asian market sells a massive amount of chilies for really cheap in the fresh produce section. Also, it'd be good to keep your garam masala in the freezer as well, as you probably don't use it very often).

Holding a wrapper in one hand, place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center and use the other hand to gather the edges and seal the stuffing inside by squeezing the edges tightly (wf note: I fill a small bowl of water and keep it beside my “assembly” area. I dip my finger in and cover the outside border of the wrappers—I’ve found this helps to seal them). Take care not to stuff it too full, or it will leak. Keep the filled momos and the unfilled wrappers covered with a damp cloth or paper towel.

Spray a steamer tray with cooking spray. Fill the base of the steamer with 3 to 4 inches of water and bring it to a full boil over medium-high heat. Place the momos in the steamer basket (don’t let them touch or they’ll stick together and fall apart when you try to separate them), set over water, cover and steam for 10 minutes. I have found that using a rubber or silicone spatula to gently lift the momos from the basket seems to work well to keep them from tearing apart when you transfer them to a plate.

These momos are excellent. We got home from D.C. late Sunday; Monday night we had momos for dinner. We've made this dish 3 times since and that's saying a lot given that we hardly do repeats in our house. The recipe above makes a ton of momos. The other night we scaled it down and only used 1 lb. of ground beef (our preference) and had enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

Momos are great dinner party food. A month or so ago we hosted a really successful get-together that couldn't have been easier. I simply made the fillings: a meat and a veggie, and everyone wrapped the momos together. I wish I had pictures, but that was during the interim of no camera. Kids got creative with their wrapping skills. We had team veg on one table and team meat on the other. It was real sweet.

The veg filling went like this:
Tarkaari Ko Momo
Mixed Vegetable Filling
Also from Taste of Nepal by Jyoti Pathak

2 tab. Vegetable oil
1 c. onion (1 medium)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tab. Ginger, minced
1 ½ tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. ground tumeric
1/8 tsp. black pepper
½ head cabbage, shredded (2 c.)
2 c. fresh spinach, coarsely chopped (I used swiss chard)
1 med. Carrot, shredded (1 c.)
1 c. cauliflower florets, cut into ½ in. pieces (I used more chard and cabbage just because they needed to be used)
1 medium potato, peeled, boiled, and finely chopped (1 c.) (I think sweet potato would be great)
1 tsp. salt

1. Heat oil over med-high heat. When oil is hot, add onion and garlic, cook 3-4 minutes.
2. Add ginger, coriander, cumin, cayenne, tumeric, and black pepper. Stir for 30 seconds.
3. Add cabbage, carrot, spinach, cauliflower, potato, and salt. Continue cooking and stir until the liquid evaporates and the mixture is nearly dry. This step is important so that the filling will not soak through the wrapper.
4. Cool until room temperature.

The veg filling was oh so spicy, not too much for me, but you might scale back the spice if you aren't into that kind of thing. You can really use any assortment of veggies...whatever you have around.

I haven't made the following recipe, but wanted to present it as an option:
Tofu Momo
Also from Taste of Nepal by Jyoti Pathak

2 tab. Vegetable oil
1 med. Onion, finely chopped (1 c.)
4 c. chopped fresh mushrooms (about 1 ½ lb.)
2 c. firm tofu, chopped into small chunks
2 med. Red potatoes, peeled, boiled, and finely chopped (2 c.)
1 small red or green bell pepper (1 c.)
2 hot green chilies, finely chopped (wear gloves!)
2 med. Garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp. ginger, minced
¼ c. cilantro, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cumin, ground
¼ tsp. coriander, ground

1. Heat oil over med-high heat. Add onion and cook until it softens, 3-4 minutes.
2. Add mushrooms, tofu, potatoes, bell pepper, green chilies, garlic and ginger. Cook stirring frequently until all the water has evaporated.
3. Add cilantro, salt, cumin, and coriander.
4. Let cool to room temperature.

So that's momos. They're great. We're planning to make them for sibs weekend in two weeks!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mac & Butter

I had a very ambitious plan for Saturday. I decided to cook like mad. It's been a while since I've spent the day in the kitchen, so I was craving that experience. I intended to achieve the following:
1. Spring Roll Salad with accompanying sauces
2. Pumpkin Curry
3. Homemade butter
4. Ricotta

I woke up at 9 a.m. (a virtuous early hour for me) and headed to the Farmer's Market. As a CSA member, I hadn't gone to the FM this summer. Besides, I didn't have a very high opinion of the FM based on previous experiences there. Though it is somewhat obvious what is locally produced, I found some of the vendors a little shady when I'd ask them about their products. I have reason to distrust them when I see the packaged celery that I could just as easily buy at Kroger or the apples with produce code stickers still attached.

I'd heard that things were different this year and that is absolutely true. It was so nice to see that they now separate the local vendors from the others. There are also vendors selling meat, bread, and dairy. I was very excited about the local dairy and picked up a half-gallon of milk and a quart of cream.

I knew what would become of that lovely cream:

Butter is incredibly easy to make, kids. You just pour the cream in your food processor, crank it to it's highest speed and let it go for 11 minutes. It will change consistency a couple of times, but when it turns into a big lump, well that's butter. Dump it into a fine mesh colander and let it drain for a bit. That's it.

So easy it's ridiculous almost and the resulting butter is so heavenly that when I stuck my pinkie in for a taste, my first inclination was to eat a bowl of it like ice cream. You'll be glad to know that I had just enough self-control not to do that; so I did the next best thing with it...I made Ina's mac and cheese. I had just seen her make it on her show that morning when I came in for a lunch break in my ingredient-gathering mission.

Ina's Mac & Cheese


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Good olive oil
  • 1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced 1/2-inch
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and caps sliced 1/2-inch
  • 3 tablespoons cream sherry
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound pasta, such as cavatappi
  • 3 ounces white truffle butter (recommended: D'Artagnan) (I used my homemade butter instead)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart whole milk, scalded
  • 12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 1/2 to 3 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (I used some of Mark's homemade bread)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan, add the mushrooms, and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are tender. Add the sherry and continue to saute for a few more minutes, until the sherry is absorbed. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the truffle butter in a large (4-quart) saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the white sauce is thickened and creamy. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, the pepper, and nutmeg.

Combine the pasta, sauce, and mushrooms in a large bowl and pour them into a 10 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish.

Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until they're minced. Add the bread crumbs and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the crumbs are golden brown. Serve hot.

There is something that comes over me when I decide to make an Ina recipe. I go a little overboard and buy the pricey stuff. I stood in Kroger staring at the cheese for a freakishly long amount of time trying to decide whether I should spend $20 to get the amount of Gruyere Ina had requested of me. I nearly got a headache and finally decided that one $9 brick of cheese would just have to do. I had a ton of cheddar from Sam's (Cabot brand) and I figured I'd make up the difference with that.

Ina certainly is the direct opposite of Sandra Lee. I loathe that woman almost as much as Anthony Bourdain does, but I have to say Ina could tone it down a little with the expensive ingredients.

Anyway, I made the mac and it was divine:

If you're in the greater Nashville area, please come to my house and take some of it off my hands. It's too much really.

The pumpkin curry and the ricotta didn't happen yet...but they will.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spring Rolls Two Ways & A Birthday Picnic

Oh my, sometimes the best things we put on our table are the simplest. I was craving some deluxe spring rolls, fresh not fried.

potential fillings: cucumber, cilantro, romaine lettuce, avocado, mango, carrots, scallions, and peanuts. Sauce options: a delicious tamarind shoyu sauce from 101 Cookbooks & some peanut sauce from a bottle (very god actually--Whole Foods brand)

You can't seem to find fresh spring rolls anywhere around here. If only I could be as lucky as my friend Amanda who lives right down the street from the best Thai place ever: Jasmine.

Making spring rolls at home is easy and fun, though. We really should do it more often. I like to make a big platter of potential fillings and everyone (in this case it was just me and Mark) builds their own, so to speak. On this particular evening, Mark opted for massive spring roll burritos, filling them to their breaking point, which required the use of many napkins. I had trouble rolling mine as well, so I chopped everything up and ate with a fork thinking of ways to turn it into a salad. I guess it had been a while since I had printed the sauce recipe, because it is actually for a salad!

The sauce was incredible and I think it'd be a great one to have around for a stir-fry.
Tamarind Dipping Sauce
from 101 Cookbooks

2 tablespoons natural sugar, preferably maple sugar or evaporated cane juice
6 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon shoyu
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely slivered seeded red serrano or Thai bird chile

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, and warm over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the lime juice, tamarind concentrate, and shoyu, stirring until smooth. Let the mixture cool slightly, and then stir in the cilantro, garlic, and chile. The sauce should be tangy and slightly sour. The sauces will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days.

Makes 1/2 cup.

When Bethany invited us to her birthday picnic at Arrington Vineyards, I knew I wanted to make the salad with the roasted shallot peanut sauce mentioned in the original post. Bethany's birthday parties are always a good time. Last year we had a picnic at a winery in Shelbyville and fabulous meal prepared by Dylan. I'm still thinking about that Thai Basil ice cream!

Anywho, here's what this year looked like:

Israeli Couscous salad prepared by Dylan

Lentil Salad

My interpretation of Heidi's Spring Roll Salad with Roasted Shallot Peanut Sauce

B'day Cake

Today was not a good day for a picnic as it was 56 degrees and raining, but it was a nice set up as they had outdoor heaters at the winery. I'd definitely like to go back on a nice day. This winery was very picturesque. Not to mention it's owned by Kix Brooks...oh, Brooks & Dunn, you've been good to us.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Makeup Mega Post

Bet you thought you'd gotten rid of us for good, but alas

we creep right back in again.

This summer's brought a lot of changes in our lives. I have no job! What did I do all day? Go crazy, discover Facebook, become a Facebook addict, read a lot of great fiction, sun my legs a little in a cheap lawn chair, oh, and buy a new house!

My new workshop:

My favorite room in the house. Life with a dishwasher is just spectacular, y'all. As adventurous cooks, I estimate we did about 2 hours of dishes a week (at least!) at the old place. A dinner party took nearly a week to recover from, but not anymore. We've been having potlucks every two weeks for the last 2 months and it literally takes two loads in the dishwasher and that's all! We don't have to prerinse really either. We got a good machine on our side now. We let people eat off of real plates, drink out of real glasses! But they're forced to use plastic cutlery. Somehow we run out of silverware before dinner actually gets served, got to work on that. I plan to buy some sets with the birthday/housewarming money my generous mother-in-law has been sending me. I told Mark we should pop out some kids and we'd really be in the money! Oh Deej, you're the best.

So anyway, I'm going to highlight some of the tastiest of our exploits with brief discussion and links to recipes:

This is the pulled pork we made in April frozen and reheated in May with fresh corn and southern style green beans boiled to death with new potatoes. The pork froze really well. It tasted as good as it did the day we made it.

Neely's Grilled Corn Salad

This was really good. We grilled the corn on our grill pan indoors as we didn't want to light up the grill for just corn. The salad actually kept pretty well for a couple of days, but that's coming from me. I tend to like wilty salads because I'm gross like that.

We had the salad with some lovely burgers. Mark had his covered in our favorite cheddar.

You know, to this day, I've never had a cheeseburger and I don't really want to either.

We got the beef from our coop. It's a little pricey, but it really tastes a lot better...perhaps because I don't feel as guilty eating it knowing it was raised by honest local farmers in humane conditions. The coop now sells all kinds of meat, from filet mignon to chicken bologna, they got it. As soon as I'm gainfully employed again we're going to get some really nice steaks. Oh, that list (Things to Purchase When Gainfully Employed Again) is getting longer by the day. I mourn for our Saturdays at Whole Foods. I can't even let myself go in there anymore. However, there's something to be said for living frugally. We should have been living like this all along.

We joined a CSA this year, which has been nice if not a little bit overwhelming at times. Every Monday I take my basket to pick up our veggies. I soon realized this little basket wasn't going to cut it all by its lonesome, but it works hard for us and has many uses as you can see:

I've been trying to think of creative ways to use up all this beautiful produce and clean out my freezer. This little dish attempted to do both.
Giada's Roasted Cod with Lima Beans

I used frozen Limas and cod (not such a good idea as it turns out). The fish was a very unnerving texture and the extras I added to the Lima beans overpowered everything, namely the mint. I have no idea why I put that leaf of lettuce in there. I mean, I like it wilty sometimes, but this didn't work.

We ate it with a glorious salad alongside.

The recipe came from my friend Amanda's mom Patsy. It was just an assortment of veggies cut really small: zucchini, peppers, cukes, tomatoes, etc. The dressing was a simple vinaigrette. I topped mine with a copious amount of avocado (love of my life these days).

Whew this post is long! Almost finished though.

Being in the CSA has introduced me to some new and interesting ingredients, namely garlic scapes. I'd heard of garlic scape pesto and considered using my share to make that, but then I found this little number.
White Bean and Garlic Scape Spread

It was a little intense, so I topped it with some of the chopped veggies leftover from Patsy's salad. It was very yummy. In fact, I wish I had more of those garlic scapes. They have a lovely grassiness about them.

It was on this very night that my camera broke. I've been in mourning ever since and as a result, I've abandoned this blog. That night I served a beautiful roasted chicken which was so good I've made it a couple of times since. I've mastered the big bird, guys. Well, now that I have one of those probe thermometers that you stick in and it beeps whenever the chicken is done.

My camera didn't break entirely. The display screen is messed up which means we can still take pictures, but we just don't know what of. Hence

what was a perfectly acceptable kitten love fest looks more like photos of an illicit affair: caught red handed.

I'm hoping to get a new camera soon (when we get our gov't check--thanks Mr. Obama).
Until then, I'm determined to post crappy pictures because the food we've been making lately has just been too good not to document.