Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Food Blog Cookie Swap: Lemon Shortbread Cookies

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For the third year in a row, I’ve participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, created by fellow food bloggers Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen. This means I agree to mail a dozen cookies each to three different food bloggers and receive a dozen cookies each from three other food bloggers. The participating bloggers are from around the country and also from several destinations internationally. This year, there was a $4 entry fee which benefits  COOKIES FOR KIDS’ CANCER, a national non-profit organization committed to funding new therapies used in the fight against pediatric cancer, which claims the lives of more children in the US than any other disease. Between the entry fee, matches from participating brand sponsors including Oxo and others, and other donations, we raised more than $13,000!! Pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Check out my Lemon Ricotta Cookie recipe from 2011 and my Spicy Molasses Cookies from 2012.

This year, I decided to tap a friend for recipe inspiration. Audrey Auld is an accomplished singer songwriter who lives here in Nashville, though she’s originally from Tasmania. Through her Aussie roots, she’s introduced me to a number of new recipes and foods including Christmas Pudding, which is actually like a really dense and really delicious fruit cake, and Anzac Cookies, which have a toasty, unique flavor thanks to the Golden Syrup in them, an Australian product that’s kind of like our molasses. She also makes these incredible shortbread cookies, and that’s the recipe I had my eye on for this year. Here’s a pic of us cooking. Don’t we look adorable?!

Food Blogger Cookie Swap - Lemon Shortbread Cookies

A few weeks ago I invited myself to Audrey’s house to learn the shortbread recipe. Shortbread is originally Scottish, and since Audrey’s roots are Australian, there are many UK-influenced recipes in her background. She remembers her Grandmother making this recipe when she was young. It’s really quite simple in its composition (it’s just sugar, butter and flour); the trick is getting the texture right. The recipe is all about feel, and that’s what I wanted to learn from Audrey.

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First you cream the butter and sugar. I’ve learned recently that when recipes call for this step, it’s really important that you cream the heck out of that butter and sugar. You’ll whip in air which will give the cookies lift during baking. Audrey and I creamed our mixture for 25 minutes or so. In the end it had even turned a lighter color, so we knew it was done.

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Next, we added about 2 1/2 cups of flour to the mixer to work in. The recipe calls for about 3 3/4 total so once we were done with the mixer, we kneaded in the remaining flour for about 5 minutes on the countertop. When it’s done, it shouldn’t be sticky at all, but smooth and pliable.

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Next, roll out your dough. It should be about 1/4-inch thick. Don’t make it too thin.

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We used all manner of festive holiday cookie cutters to cut out the shapes. It was glorious! Really got me in the mood for Christmas. One of the most important steps is pricking the cut-out cookies with a fork. This has something to do with air flow during baking. All I know is that the tine marks must be done evenly and in a way that makes sense because you’ll see them in the finished product, so we added buttons to the angels and ornaments to the Christmas trees.

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You can see from this picture how thick these are. That’s a key element so they don’t burn.

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Once they’re done baking, they’ll just barely be browned on the bottom. Don’t overbake or they’ll be tough, and don’t underbake or they won’t have that great color and will look kind of anemic.

The whole process was so much fun. I loved learning a recipe from a friend! While they were baking, she served me squash soup and a glass of wine, and we caught up. Now that’s a fine afternoon. Thanks Audrey!

The next weekend I picked up my Christmas tree with my husband and we went home and decorated. With carols blaring, I attempted to make these myself for the cookie swap. It was so festive! Here’s my freshly cut tree.

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I have a Meyer Lemon tree, and love incorporating the lemons into my cooking this time of year. So I added the zest of two Meyer lemons to the batter which gave the cookies a citrusy kick. Audrey also typically uses salted butter, but I had unsalted to I added a bit of salt in. I also didn’t cut out my cookies with cookie cutters in part because I didn’t want them to break during shipping. I also realized I don’t have ANY cookie cutters! (Hint: Mom – I could use some for Christmas!) Instead, I rolled the batter into balls, then pressed them down on the cookie sheet with my thumb to flatten them slightly, making sure they didn’t get too thin. I don’t think I used quite enough flour in my version as they spread out quite a bit. They were still tasty, though.

Once they were cool, I wrapped them up and shipped them off.

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What a great day! Thanks, too, to the brand sponsors of this year’s Cookie Swap, Oxo, Dixie Crystals, Gold Medal Flour, and Grandma’s Molasses. Hmm…what to make next year?

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Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Yield: 36 cookies

The key to these cookies is texture. Make sure you add enough flour so the cookies have body. Otherwise the butter in them will cause them to spread out and lose their shape. Beyond lemon zest, add rosemary, black pepper, lavender, cinnamon - any flavor you want! Or just enjoy them plain.

Ingredients:

2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks) at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
zest of 2 lemons
4 1/2 cups flour, divided

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer well, until light and fluffy and slightly lightened in color, 20-25 minutes.

Add salt and zest, then add about 2 1/2 cups flour. Mix in stand mixer until just combined. Sprinkle another cup of flour on the counter or a board and work in to dough by hand. Add remaining cup of flour as needed until desired consistency is achieved. Dough should be smooth, yet pliable and not sticky. When poked with a fork, holes should keep their shape.

Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut out shapes and place on rimmed baking sheet. Prick with fork tines in at least one place. No need to grease cookies sheets due to butter content in cookies. (!)

Bake 20-25 minutes, until bottoms are slightly browned. Let cool on baking racks.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Feast Before the Feast

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A version of this post also appeared in the Tennessean, here

What do you eat for lunch on Thanksgiving day? For the last several years I’ve sworn I’ll have a light bite at breakfast then save up for the big meal. I’ll have some fruit, I say, abstaining from many extra calories, so I can truly indulge in the evening. I’ll appreciate the meal so much more, I tell myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do that.

Growing up, it was way easier, since we ate Thanksgiving dinner around two in the afternoon, which, I suppose, actually makes it Thanksgiving lunch. But I’d still snack. There are appetizers galore, people! For the last several years I’ve been enjoying Thanksgiving at my in-laws’. Their tradition is to eat Thanksgiving dinner around six o’clock – which I think is actually more the norm. But, that’s a much tougher schedule to keep if you’re planning to abstain from much snacking after breakfast.

It’s easy to see why it’s so hard to eat light on Thanksgiving day. For starters, the house is filled with the aromas of arguably the best meal of the year. Next, I usually lend a hand in the kitchen, and feel the need to taste this or that. Plus, the house is stocked with snacks, treats and all manner of delicacies just asking to be nibbled. (I love Thanksgiving!)

Over lunch recently, my colleague and I discussed this conundrum. What if, we toyed, there was a special lunch item planned. If this were to work, the dish must be filling enough to get through the day yet light enough to still appreciate the feast. This dish must embrace the flavors of the meal to come, but not overshadow or duplicate any part of it. It also must be easy to prepare and cleanup. It would also be nice if it felt festive in some way, since Thanksgiving is as special as it is.

As I was pondering this conundrum later that evening I pulled out my copy of “The Gourmet Cookbook,” a ten-pound thome of nearly 1,000 pages edited by famed Gourmet magazine editor, Ruth Reichl. I found my answer: Creamless Creamy Butternut Squash Soup.

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This recipe fits the bill. It’s easy, quick, can be served without many dishes – one pot and some mugs for serving – and requires mostly only ingredients you’d almost certainly already be buying for the main meal. It’s also filling but without any cream or much fat it won’t weigh you down. It isn’t delicate – you can make it early and hold it till lunch, or prepare it altogether the day before. Its “wow” factor is the crumble of fancy Italian amaretto cookies on top. Amaretto cookies are also known as Italian meringues, and can be found at specialty Italian stores, such as Lazzaroli Pasta here in Nashville (Germantown). The sweet-crunch nicely complements the lightly spiced squash soup.

Warning: this dish is only the perfect pre-feast course if you purchase already peeled and diced butternut squash. In its whole form, butternut squash can be a beast, and probably not something you want to wrestle peeling, seeding and chopping when you’ve got a kitchen full of other food to prepare. This time of year you can find convenient butternut squash options, such as already-peeled and -chopped squash shrink wrapped in the produce aisle. Some grocery stores – including Costco, Super Target and the Turnip Truck – also sell it in chopped form in the frozen aisle.

As I write this, I realize how thankful I am to live in a time and place where I can actually spend energy plotting a precursor for the feast of the year. I’m also thankful for good food and good recipes, and extra thankful for friends and family to celebrate with. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Creamless Creamy Butternut Squash

Yield: 6 servings

The soup gets its creaminess from the thoroughly blended starchy potatoes, silky squash and smooth carrot.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and diced
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 ½ to 4 cups hot or boiling water
1-2 amaretto Italian meringue cookies (such as Amaretti brand) crumbled

Directions:

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Saute onion, carrot and celery until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add potato, squash and water, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to simmering for 20 minutes, until potatoes and squash are cooked through.

Either using a stick/immersion blender or an upright blender, blend the soup for 1 to 2 minutes until very smooth. Blend in batches in upright blender if using.

Recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, January 2001

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunflower Seed-Crusted Chicken

I love sunflower seeds. They have a wonderfully nutty flavor, they’re inexpensive, and I love their size – unlike other larger nuts/seeds that may require chopping (almonds, pecans, walnuts), sunflower seeds can be tossed into all manner of things as is. I put them in everything, including salads, as a topping on soups, in rice and pasta dishes, and more. So when I saw a recipe for a sunflower seed crusted-chicken in the newspaper a few months ago I clipped it.

In a nutshell, you bread chicken cutlets in a breadcrumb-sunflower seed mixture then pan-fry them. I didn’t use much oil at all (less than the recipe called for), and the breading stayed on the cutlets just fine. You do have to rough chop these sunflower seeds but since you’re only using 1/4 cup, it’s quick and easy.

You could serve these by themselves with sides, but I topped one of my patented garbage salads with them, which was chock full of roasted veggies, herbs and greens, that I’ve talked about here and here, and it was super fantastic. Hope you enjoy!

Sunflower Seed-Crusted Chicken

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Sunflower Seed-Crusted Chicken

Yield: serves 4

Total Time: Less than an hour including soaking time.

Thank goodness Tim Sacks taught me the F-E-B trick for breading and frying! I used to always forget which order to dip in egg, dredge in flour, etc. No more! Like the month, F-E-B, first dredge in Flour, then Egg, then Bread. Genius.

Ingredients:

1 pound chicken cutlets
1 cup milk plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar, or buttermilk
1 cup flour
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
2-3 eggs
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, crushed
3-4 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, lightly chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions:

Soak chicken milk/vinegar mixture or buttermilk for 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile, assemble breading ingredients.

Using a deep plate or shallow dish, combine flour and cayenne and season with salt and pepper. In a shallow dish or bowl, crack eggs and whip with a fork until frothy. On another plate or shallow dish combine breadcrumbs, rosemary and sunflower seeds.

Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from milk mixture and pat dry with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge cutlets in breading mixture in this order: Flour, egg, breadcrumbs/sunflower seeds.

In batches being careful not to crowd chicken, sear each cutlet 3 to 5 minutes on each side until chicken is cooked through. Let rest a minute or two once done and slice diagonally. Serve with sides or over a garbage salad.

This recipe was adapted from Sunflower Seed & Herb-Crusted Chicken from the Tennessean in April 2013, here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Falling for Roasted Vegetables

This post also appeared in The Tennessean, here.

I get especially excited about roasting each fall. I love firing up the oven and filling the house with the warm aroma of something homemade. It’s especially nice if it’s cold outside.

Roasting is essentially the same thing as baking. They’re both dry heat cooking methods using the oven. The difference is the food being cooked. To me, roasting usually applies to meat or vegetables that need cooked on the inside, and get crisp and caramelized on the outside. Baking applies to food that is assembled or mixed up and needs to rise.

Roasted vegetables are delightful. They’re impressively delicious, easy to prepare and inexpensive.

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Sturdy root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips lend themselves nicely to roasting. But beyond roots, you can roast most anything. Crisp up okra slices to make them less slimy. Eggplant and their skins roast beautifully without becoming bitter. If you’ve never had roasted broccoli you’re missing out! Don’t forget about Brussels sprouts – they are like a whole other vegetable when sliced and roasted. Keep in mind that vegetables with a higher water content (the broccoli, for example) will cook faster than their more dense counterparts. If you’re going to roast lots of different kinds, roast them on separate baking sheets so you can take the more delicate ones out first.

I also like roasting vegetables because roasting is a forgiving cooking method. Don’t get me wrong – it’s possible to over- or under-cook them. There’s just a lot of room for error. It’s also a hands-off process. Chop of your vegetables, toss them in oil, then pop them in the oven and forget about them for 30 minutes or so while you prepare another part of the meal.

Lastly, roasting can be a healthy way to prepare flavorful food. A fat like oil or butter keeps the veggies from sticking to the pan and promotes better browning, but you don’t need much. The caramelization that happens when the natural vegetable sugars cook and brown adds a lot of flavor.

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Following are a few more tips.

  • Leave the skin on. Skins are rich in nutrients, and I like the way they taste when they’re roasted. Plus, it saves a lot of time NOT to remove them.
  • Use an acid. Right before serving, toss roasted vegetables with the juice and/or zest of lemons, limes or oranges. Vinegar, like apple cider, balsamic and red wine, is also wonderful. The acids balance the sweetness that comes out during roasting.
  • Slice and dice uniformly. It’s important to dice your vegetables into uniform sizes so they cook more evenly.
  • Go for garlic. If you dice your vegetables into about three quarter- to one-inch cubes, they’ll be about the same size as whole peeled garlic cloves. Roasted garlic is magical. Raw garlic can have an abrasive, sharp flavor while the roasted variety is sweet, complex and practically melts when it’s done.
  • Foil is your friend. Roasting vegetables can seriously stain your pans and be hard to clean. Save some time and line them with foil before tossing on the veggies.
  • Give ‘em space. If the vegetables are crowded on the baking sheet, they’ll steam instead of roast. They’ll still cook, but you’ll lose the crispy, browned bits.

What are your favorite vegetables to roast? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Balsamic Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Yield: 4 servings

This is a very simple recipe for roasted sweet potatoes and carrots with garlic and balsamic vinegar. You can substitute in other vegetables, use rosemary instead of thyme, or swap out the balsamic for another vinegar or even orange juice. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 to 4 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes, carrots and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss in thyme sprigs. Spread onto baking sheet and give it a shake to allow the pieces to spread out. Reserve bowl.

Roast, uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes until potatoes are cooked through and vegetables are browned. Run your forefinger and thumb down the thyme stem to remove the roasted leaves. Discard stems.

Using reserved bowl, toss cooked vegetables, garlic and thyme leaves with cumin and vinegar. Serve immediately.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Crock Pot Roasted Chicken, Four Meals in One!

There are few better aromas in this world than roasted chicken. I absolutely love the way my house smells on a crisp fall day when there is a delicious bird in the oven.

You can get a deliciously similar result by cooking a bird in a Crock Pot. I feel like the universe has been hiding this Crock Pot method from me all these years. The only flavor difference that I can tell between an oven bird and a Crock Pot one is the crispy skin. You can crisp up the Crock Pot version by  crisping it up under the broiler on a sheet pan if you want. Here’s the Best Whole Chicken in a Slow Cooker recipe from The Little Kitchen blog that inspired this meal and that uses this method. Here’s why I like it:

  • It’s totally hands off. Put in your bird with a mirepoix of veggies, turn it on low for 4-5 hours, run errands, leave the house, take a nap – no hassle or worry and it’s done.
  • The meat is so moist – it’s nearly impossible to dry out.
  • While the meat is cooking, the drippings and a stock renders in the base of the pot. It’s really rich and meaty and makes a great base for a soup later on.
  • Which leads me to my next point – the cooked chicken and stock allows for multiple meals down the road.

Here’s how one 3.5 pound bird fed my husband and me for a week straight.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I chopped up an onion, a couple large carrots and a few stalks of celery and placed them in the base of the Crock Pot. I rubbed the chicken with salt and pepper and placed it on top. Then I tossed in some thyme (rosemary or sage would also be good) and turned it on low.

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Then, four to five hours later, I had this beautiful bird (and a house filled with delicious aromas!). Notice all the liquid in the bottom of the pot. It’s a mix of the stock from the chicken bones full of gelatin, the drippings, and the liquid from the vegetables. I didn’t add any liquid at the start – this all comes from the cooking process.

That first night we had big garbage salads with greens, homemade croutons, cranberries, carrots and broccoli, scallions, feta and some kind of dressing. Delicious.

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I saved the liquid in a jar and froze it for a large pot of soup the next week. I’m not sure if it’s stock or broth but it doesn’t matter. It’s incredibly flavorful and rich. Once it cools, I skim the fat off the top. When making a soup with this, you have to add more broth or even just water as the liquid on its own is too rich.

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Monday night we also munched on the cooked chicken with salads. That night I assembled a chicken pasta dish to cook the next night. I just tossed chicken with cooked noodles, spinach, tomato sauce (which had onions and peppers in it) and basil. When I assembled it, I put in half the pasta mixture, then added a layer of cottage cheese and shredded cheese – my mother’s preferred lasagna binder – before adding the rest of the pasta. I topped it all off with some more shredded cheese. On Tuesday I baked it for 30 to 40 minutes and then sprinkled fresh parsley on top. We had that for at least two nights.

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Thursday night I made chicken tacos with avocado, spinach, tomatoes, feta, cilantro, sunflower seeds and salsa. To reheat the chicken I sautéed the already cooked/shredded pieces with some cumin and chili powder with a little bit of olive oil for flavor before putting it in the tortillas with the toppings. I paired this dish with mashed canned black beans seasoned with cumin and pepper. It was all on the table in less than 20 minutes

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With the Crock Pot method, I invested very little time and effort and ended up with some pretty tasty, filling, hearty and healthy meals for us. I don’t have a specific recipe for this, but I’m hoping these dishes are replicable with my descriptions.

Have questions? Leave a comment and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mayday Brewery

I had the good fortune over the weekend to visit Mayday Brewery in Murfreesboro, about 45 minutes Southeast of Nashville. It was an easy drive down I-24 and just a five-minute drive once you exit. It’s tucked away in an industrial park, but we had no trouble finding it using Google Maps.

I didn’t know anything about Mayday before going. I’d expected to be greeted by bearded hipsters who were too cool for school and maybe had just a teensy inferiority complex to Nashville. I’d expected a small-ish operation, just getting off the ground. I’d expected shabby chic decor with Edison bulbs and exposed brick, the decor du jour, it seems, for all new restaurants and bars.

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Boy was I surprised. It was more like walking into Willy Wonka’s beer factory. Mayday is a virtual funhouse with a Black Sabbath obsession and a tour guide named Ozzy. He’s raunchy, crass, and super proud of his beer – a unique character, to say the least! He was also on his way to inebriation and we were on the 3 p.m. tour. When we jokingly commented on this fact, he laughed and said, “just wait for the 5 p.m. tour!”

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Before I get going, let’s start at the beginning. The brewery is housed in an old woolen factory that made blankets and seat belts during WWII. It’s enormous, and has a lot of character. To get to the brewing area and tasting room, we had to walk through a labyrinth of hallways.

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One hallway is lined with photographs of friends and family including Ozzy’s dad, Bobarino, who also looks like a character.

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At the end of this long hallway are strobe lights, indicating you’ve arrived at the brewing area. Also along this corridor is the ladies room. Make sure you go in and pose for a picture. I can’t describe what’s in there – you’ll have to see for yourself. And before we go any further, let me warn you that there are some vulgarities at this brewery. It’s nothing you can’t handle; just be aware if you’re taking Grandma.

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Case in point. The above hanging is one of a series of “velvet nudes” in the brewing area. Ozzy is quite proud of them, and kept mentioning them throughout the tour. I probably heard the term “velvet nude” mentioned 15 times!

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There are also album covers everywhere and a couple of drum kits. When Ozzy isn’t running the brewery (or working full time in the audit department at HCA) he’s rocking out as a member of, in his words, “the premier Black Sabbath cover band in Rutherford County.” They play live music at the brewery regularly. Don’t worry, that’s not a real person way up there on top of the wall, it’s just one of Ozzy’s mannequins.

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Once we got our $6 tour tickets, which also get you a Mayday pint glass and four samples of beer, we got started. Ozzy introduced himself and his helpers and explained how his beer is made. He’s been home-brewing since the 90′s and decided to open the brewery in 2009. Doors opened at Mayday in 2012. He also said he opened Mayday in part to show his HCA boss he, and I quote, “wasn’t a one-trick pony.” Quite a gesture considering he and his wife invested $1.2 million to get the brewery started!

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Along the tour he showed us some of the grains that go into the beer. He encouraged us to take one, which I did, and then immediately popped it into my mouth before being told to do so. It was at that moment I thought I was going to morph into a piece of grain myself, a la “you’re turning violet, Violet!” from Willy Wonka.

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We got to peek into the enormous tanks and learned how they separate the beer from the spent grain. See that tattoo on the back of Ozzy’s leg? It’s a bearded skull. Yep.

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Another one of the drum kits set up for band practice at the brewery.

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Here’s our crew, snapping photos and laughing our way through it. One guy kept wandering off and getting berated by Ozzy – I assumed he’d eventually fall into a tank of beer and get sucked through the tubes just like German kid Augustus in Willy Wonka.

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According to the Tennessee’s alcohol regulatory agency, each tank in a brewery must be named. Ozzy said instead of 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C, he decided to name his after the original members of Black Sabbath. Obviously.

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Turns out Ozzy’s dad, Bobarino, was an electrician. Whenever anything went wrong, he called it a “mayday.” Ozzy named the brewery after his Dad and even had the letters in the logo designed to look electrical.

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Somehow his two daughters came up and then he promptly showed us his full-back tattoo featuring his two girls slaying an evil octopus, which is the name of his India black ale. I have a feeling he shows this tattoo on every tour.

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In spite of his irreverence, Ozzy is crazy about beer. He enthusiastically taught us a lot about his brews and processes, and seemed quite knowledgeable. He encourages everyone to start homebrewing and suggested we all snap a photo of one of his beer recipes, which are hanging in front of each tank. He says there’s software that will convert the ingredients into homebrewing proportions for easy replication.

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And the beer is good. All his quirkiness and irreverence wouldn’t have been so funny if the beer was no good but that wasn’t the case at all. We sampled the first four listed above on the tour (the first one is called the ‘Boro Blonde,” named for Murfreesboro). The Velvet Hustle pale ale was probably my favorite. They were all smooth, balanced and really good. His wife is a redhead, and the fact that he has an Angry Redhead brew is a coincidence. Read the hilarious descriptions of all the beer on the website, here. There’s also a huge list of establishments that sell his beer around town.

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The tap room was packed by the time were were leaving. We saw people coming in for the first time for a tour, others sidling up to the bar for an afternoon pint, and still others coming in to refill their growlers. It was a great scene, and a perfect place to hang out on a Saturday.

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They also have a large patio and a food truck stationed outside so you can nosh while you sip.

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This room was off the tasting room bar area and is used for private events. In fact, the whole brewery can be rented out for events. We learned they hosted a wedding a few weeks back.

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On the way out, we learned you can pick up a “Jug of Fun,” a.k.a. a growler, to go.

Mayday Brewery

Overall it was a total blast. The beer is great, the host’s droll humor is weird yet welcoming, and the atmosphere is quirky and relaxed. I will absolutely be back to Mayday. I’m so glad to know more about this place. Grounded by its legitimately delicious beers, Mayday’s flourish of absurdity adds color to this town’s growing beer community. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more about Mayday in the future.

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Don’t mind these mannequin legs on the way out. It’s all part of Ozzy’s vision.

Have you been to Mayday? What’d you think?

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nashville Cooking Classes

A version of this article also appeared in the Tennessean.

Cooking classes aren’t just for acquiring new kitchen skills. Sure, you’ll learn something, but there’s so much more to them. Food connects us to cultures, traditions and family, and there’s always something new to learn. I love seeing what lense of experience and knowledge an instructor puts on a class. You could take the same class from three different instructors and come away learning very different information from each based on their backgrounds, experience and interests. And whatever the class, you’ll get to enjoy delicious food.

Nashville Cooking ClassesA recent local cooking class picture with Chef Paulette Licitra (far right).

If you’ve never taken a cooking class, there are a few things to know. First, there are different formats. Generally speaking, hands-on classes allow you to dive in and actually prepare a meal. Demonstration classes usually mean you’ll watch while someone else does the work. Some classes are a combination of the two. Sometimes you’ll enjoy a full meal; other times you get  just a taste. You can usually tell what kind of class it’s going to be by the cost. Because the hands-on, full-meal classes require more food and take more staff time, they’re usually more expensive. Make sure you ask what kind of class it’ll be on the front end so you’re not surprised.

Cooking classes are also great entertainment. It’s a  special person who can cook and teach a class in an educational and entertaining way. Consider a cooking class for your next date night, girls’ night out, Mother’s or Father’s Day gift, or corporate team-building activity.

One of my favorite local cooking class experiences has been with my friend Paulette Licitra, an Italian chef in Bellevue. Paulette’s classes cover all manner of Italian dishes (and other cuisines, too), and she often teaches how to make fresh pasta. I’d always wanted to learn how to do this but was intimidated by the process. Taking a class to learn seemed like a good ideas since so much of the process is done by feel.

The first time I took one of Paulette’s classes we made “handkerchief” pasta, which is small squares of dough that fold over on themselves in the sauce like cloth handkerchiefs. During another class we made homemade ravioli with a variety of fillings. Both were surprisingly easy, and oh-so delicious.

We’re lucky in Nashville, to have a variety of cooking class options. Following is a roundup of some of the ones I’ve been tuned into lately. If you know of others not listed here, please leave a comment below. Buon Appetit!

Nashville Cooking Class Roundup

Williams Sonoma
Green Hills Mall, (615) 292-5066
Recent class topics have included cooking with wine, making pizza, knife skills and making ice cream. Technique classes are free, include a demonstration of the featured dish and take place at 3 p.m. on Sundays. Call for upcoming classes.

Nashville Farmers’ Market
Grow Local Kitchen, http://www.growlocalkitchen.org
Located in the Market House of the Nashville Farmers’ Market, the Grow Local Kitchen offers hands-on and demonstration classes. They recently held a preserving class called “Yes You Can!” Upcoming classes include “Biscuit Lab” and “Cornbread Lab” (multiple dates) where guests will learn tips for mastering these Southern Staples. Visit the Grow Local Kitchen site above for details.

Buttermilk Road
http://buttermilkroadsundaysupper.com/
Lisa Donovan is pastry chef at Husk Nashville and mastermind behind Buttermilk Road Sunday Suppers, a pop-up dinner series. Her September 8 Southern Basics Cooking Class sold out fast. The class was set to cover biscuits, pie dough and hand pies. Sign up for email updates on her website for future classes.

Whole Foods Salud Cooking School
Green Hills, http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/service/salud-cooking-school
Hands-on and demonstration classes cover topics like “Hosting the Perfect Tasting Party,” “Summer Bounty: Corn,” and “India: A Cook’s Tour.” Reserve your space and get more information online.

Italian Cooking Classes by Chef Paulette Licitra
Bellevue, chefpaulette.net/about
Paulettes classes hold six people and last about three hours. Recent class “The Tasty Italian” featured Fresh Tomato-Ricotta Tortellini in Tomato-Herb Pesto Sauce, Baked Cod with Crispy Parmigiano Crumbs & Parsley Sauce and Creamy Ricotta-Pinoli Tart w Limoncello-Soaked Strawberries. Winter class schedule will be released soon. Visit her website to sign up for her email list.

The Casa Azafran Community Center
Nolensville Road, www.facebook.com/CasaAzafran
Led by Conexión Américas, Casa Azafran is a nonprofit collaborative committed to the social, economic and civic integration of immigrants of all cultures. Cooking class topics have included Colombian cooking by the owner of Latin restaurant Guantanamera, and making homemade pizza by Carlos Davis from Riffs Fine Street Food truck. A website launches soon. In the meantime, visit the Facebook page for class information.

Gordon Jewish Community Center
Belle Meade, www.nashvillejcc.org
Cllass topics have included cooking with herbs, making Shakshuka (a popular Israeli baked egg dish that I blogged about), and how to bake Challah bread. Classes are open to any interested community members. Visit the website for more.

 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Beyond Basil: Parsley Pesto

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Every season I seem to have a favorite item from the garden. This spring it was lettuce. I couldn’t believe how incredibly easy it was to grow. I also found it really gratifying to harvest right before dinner. More than other vegetables, there’s really something special about super fresh lettuce.

This summer I’m into my herbs. I planted a standalone herb garden for the first time, and I’ve got rosemary, oregano, basil, dill, cilantro, thyme, mint and parsley growing. I’m especially pleased with my parsley.

Italian flat leaf parsley is easy to grow, it doesn’t bolt when it gets hot like so many other herbs (bolting means flowering quickly, which causes bitterness), and it tastes great. If you don’t have much space, parsley grows well in a pot on a patio, too. Just make sure it gets lots of sun and water.

Beyond Basil: Parsley PestoA wonderful use of my garden parsley: Parsley Pesto

These days I’d call myself an adventurous eater, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really embraced parsley. Olives were also on that list, and now I think of them as a real treat to have with cocktails or as a snack before a meal. I add parsley, with its bold, herbaceous flavor, to pasta, salads, soups, pizza, meats, egg dishes, casseroles, sauces and more. It adds a touch of freshness to everything it touches, plus it makes everything look better. That bright bolt of green is the first thing on the plate that catches your eye.

A recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine featured a parsley pesto on the cover, and I was intrigued. I love chimichurri, an Argentinian condiment composed of parsley, vinegar and oil, served with grilled steak. But I’d never made a pesto out of parsley before. Since I’ve got a bumper crop this year, I decided to try it out.

The dish originally called for spaghetti, but since I had orzo — a toothsome pasta shaped like a large grain of rice and popular in Greece — I decided to give it a Greek flavor profile. I used feta instead of Parmesan, and added in cherry tomatoes and lemon juice. I liked that the original recipe called for almonds instead of pine nuts. Pine nuts are expensive and can go rancid quickly, plus I rarely have them on hand. Almonds, for me, are just the opposite.

Orzo with Parsley Pesto is easy to make with minimal cooking time so the kitchen doesn’t get so hot. It would also be great served cold as a summer side at a cookout. To make it more of a main-dish meal, add shrimp or grilled chicken. For a vegetarian take, I served this with a fried egg on the side.

I also want to give a plug to the immersion blender or stick blender. I have a KitchenAid model kind of like this one that comes with a food processor attachment. The bowl is small, so I had to make the pesto in two batches, but it’s so much easier to clean than my enormous 14-cup food processor.

Cheers to parsley, the star of my summer garden. I’m excited to see catches my eye this fall. Stay tuned!

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Orzo with Parsley Pesto

To keep extra or purchased parsley fresh, trim the stems then place the bunch in a glass of water and keep it in the fridge.

Ingredients:

1 lb. orzo
Kosher salt
½ cup unsalted, roasted almonds
4 cups packed fresh flat leaf parsley leaves (small, thin stems are fine - just remove the thicker onces)
¾ cups chopped chives or green onions (green parts only)
¾ cups olive oil
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for serving

Directions:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving at least a cup of the starchy pasta water.

Meanwhile, pulse almonds in the bowl of a food processor until well-ground. Add parsley, chives, oil and cheese and pulse until desired smoothness is achieved (I like mine with some texture). Season thoroughly with salt and pepper.

Toss tomatoes with pasta, then add pesto. Starting with pesto, scoop spoonfuls into pasta, alternating with tablespoons of reserved pasta water until the right consistency is achieved.

Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, June 2013

**Please note: This post also appeared in the Tennessean today

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Best Egg Salad

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I’ve always loved egg salad. My mom used to make it for us as a kid, and it was one of my favorite lunches to take to school. I can remember watching her make it. She’d just pull a bunch of stuff out of the fridge and whip it up – no recipe, no measuring, no fuss. Simple and delicious.

When I moved to Chicago and started packing lunches for work, I started tinkering around with the recipe. I began adding various ingredients because I thought they’d taste good, but also to stretch the recipe without just adding more eggs. I’d add white beans or chickpeas, carrots, celery, onions, sunflower seeds, horseradish, tomatoes, pickled veggies, sometimes spinach or greens, herbs – literally whatever I had on hand. My “egg” salads became “egg and crunchy veggie” salads very quickly.

The-Best-Egg-Salad-1

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the Hellman’s Light Mayo I’ve always included. Don’t even talk to me about Miracle Whip. The binder is always 4 parts mayo to about 1 part Dijon or spicy mustard.

Following is a variation I made this weekend, and I really think it’s one of the best egg salad recipes around. Check out my post on the best way to hard boil an egg, if you have questions. I compare three popular methods. And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my hens for the eggs! I just love these birds.

Hope you enjoy!

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Yield: 4 open-faced sandwiches

Prep Time: 10 minutes

I modify this recipe based on what I have on hand. I've added black beans and cilantro instead of white beans and dill, and tossed in additional items to this recipe like capers, celery, horseradish or olives.

Ingredients:

4 hard boiled eggs
3-4 carrots, chopped small
1-2 green onions, green and light green parts only, chopped (to taste)
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
fresh parsely, chopped
fresh dill, chopped
1/2 lemon (or less)
1/4 cup light mayo (I use Hellman's)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
4 slices whole wheat bread

tomato slices for serving, optional

Directions:

Peel eggs, and place in a medium bowl. Smash with the back of a fork. Add next five ingredients and mix to combine.

Squeeze about half of lemon juice from lemon half. Add mayo, mustard, salt and pepper to the edge of the bowl, mixing mustard into mayo together a bit before tossing with all ingredients. If mixture doesn't look too runny, add remaining lemon juice.

Toast four slices of bread and serve open-faced with egg salad spread on top. Delightful with a tomato slice.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An Egg-Celent Dish from a Friend

*A version of this post also appeared in the Tennessean.

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I love learning about new foods. A few weeks ago my friend Kristin introduced me to Shakshuka, a spiced Middle Eastern tomato dish with poached eggs. The day I first tried it, she brought over the spiced tomato base and we cracked in a few of our fresh eggs (we have three chickens – more on that here). Our group effort turned out great – after one bite, I was in love. This is my kind of dish both because of its taste and flavor but also because it’s a snap to make.

Shakshuka, it turns out, is an Israeli dish often served during Passover* when leavened bread and many grains are avoided. It’s filling, flavorful and has meal versatility in that it works for breakfast or dinner.

Shakshuka1

The dish starts out with a base of sauteed onions and peppers. Next, sweet paprika, cayenne and cumin are added to the skillet to toast for a minute before a can of whole tomatoes goes in. As the tomatoes and their juice reduce, a thick, velvety sauce develops. When I serve this for dinner I add in a can of chickpeas, too.

Shakshuka2I like using nonstick skillets when I’m not cooking with meat for easier clean up (stainless steel skillets promote better browning in proteins.)

Shakshuka3This is how I toast the spices. Clear a space in the veggies and make sure they are in direct contact with the skillet. I immediately mixed them together to keep them from burning, but kept them from the veggies for a full minute.

Shakshuka6In go the tomatoes and chickpeas!

Now the magic happens: toss in some feta, then crack several eggs into little nests that poach in the sauce. Before serving, sprinkle with fresh-chopped cilantro and a squirt of hot sauce (I like Sriracha) and you’ve got yourself a delicious dish and a gorgeous presentation.

Shakshuka7Look at those sweet little eggs. Thanks ladies! (that’s a shout out to my hens.)

Shakshuka8This happens in about 3-4 minutes once you cover the dish.

Your eyes will be the first to feast. As you tuck into the poached eggs, the warm yellow yolk flows into the nooks and crannies of the tomato pieces. You’d think Shakshuka was the national dish of Italy since its main elements carry the colors of the flag – bright red tomatoes and peppers, white poached eggs and green cilantro.

I’m a big texture person and I love how much is happening in this dish. The thickened sauce studded with softened feta and hunks of tomatoes, the tender egg whites and firm chickpeas, the crisp cilantro and caramelized onions.

Shakshuka9

Shakshuka would be great anytime of year but it’s especially nice in the summer since it comes together so fast and requires only short use of one burner. It’s also composed of mostly pantry staple ingredients, uses just one skillet and is on the healthy side with its focus on veggies and spices for flavor instead of much fat. Can’t ask for much more than that!

Thanks so much to Kristin for turning me onto this dish. Cheers to good friends and good food!

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Shakshuka

Yield: 4 servings

Total Time: 30 minutes

In many version of this recipe once the eggs are added the dish finishes in the oven I found the skillet method to be simpler and just as effective, plus you don’t have to heat up your oven during the summer.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes with juices
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
salt & pepper to taste
1/2-1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
4-6 eggs
chopped cilantro
hot sauce

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Once it’s shimmering, add onions and cook until beginning to turn translucent, 4-6 minutes. Add pepper, and cook until it starts to soften, 2-3 minutes more. Add garlic, stir to combine, then immediately clear a space in skillet to add spices, allowing spices direct contact with skillet. Toast for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes and cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Add chickpeas and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in feta.

Using the back of a spoon, make a pocket to crack each egg into. Cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes until eggs are just set. Don’t overcook.

Serve immediately with cilantro and hot sauce. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe in The New York Times May 3, 2013.

*Please note there is some debate on whether or not chickpeas are kosher for Passover.