Sunday, January 13, 2013

Eggplant Pasta


I definitely enjoy pasta, but I like it best when there’s some texture to it – when it’s more than just pasta and sauce. Last January, I made a bread crumb and caper pasta that was quite delicious. It was from The Gourmet Cookbook, a gigantic tome from Ruth Reichl and the former editors for Gourmet magazine.  It has more than 1,000 recipes and is a great resource - it’s my go-to cookbook for recipe ideas.

Cover of "The Gourmet Cookbook: More than...

I decided to recreate the dish with a few additions. First, I roasted half an eggplant with just a bit of cooking spray to a) keep it from sticking and b) because eggplant is really absorbant and since there’s already 1/4 cup olive oil in the pasta sauce I wanted to minimize it here. 

Next I chopped my garlic (fresh from the garden – Andrew grew it last spring!), chopped a piece of bread for bread crumbs (you can also use store-bought for this), and got out my other ingredients.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mandoline Discovery

Wow. I just discovered the magic of the mandoline. If you’re not familiar, a mandoline is a cooking utensil used for slicing efficiently. I’d purchased a Benriner Asian Mandoline based on a recommendation from a chef friend at least a year ago, but hadn’t gotten around to using it. My friend likes this brand because it’s thin, small, and very sharp. I loved it! It was like magic. Tired of wrestling baby carrots to chop? Need to slice an apple fast? Don’t feel like cooking radishes, beets or a fennel bulb? Try a mandoline! They’re very easy to use I haven’t worked with all these things yet, but I did make a kick ass salad.

That’s apple, celery, fennel sliced very thinly, a few salad greens and parsley, and a lemony vinaigrette with a few shavings of Parmesan cheese. I made this on New Year’s Day for some friends. This would be delicious for brunch with eggs, lunch with soup or dinner with anything! I could also see tossing it with some cous cous and shrimp and calling that dinner. Yum!

Do you have  a favorite cooking tool of the moment?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kicking Off a Meat-Free Month with Tunisian Chickpea Stew

It’s January 2, and that means I’ve made my vegetarian-month pledge for the third year in a row. My husband and I go meat-free in January to cleanse from the holidays and generally start the year on a lighter note. I also enjoy this time because it forces me to cook outside my comfort zone. Last year I made these cute little Breakfast-For-Dinner Egg Cups, for example, but not before going out with a bang with our Porter Road Butcher Last Supper.

This year, in addition to pledging to eat vegetarian for one full month (with the occasional piece of fish), I promise to:

  • Experiment with one new grain (farro, spelt, millet, etc.)
  • Do something Asian, and I don’t mean stir-fry
  • Sign up for a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share

For my first meal, I whipped up a take on Lablabi, a Tunisian stew that “captures the sunny flavors of the southern Mediterranean,” as Organic Gardening magazine puts it.

I didn’t have harissa, a spicy red-pepper paste, so I improvised. My husband loved it – he (jokingly) said it wasn’t the watery, mushy goulag he thought it was going to be. Wow – what a guy!



Tunisian Chickpea Stew

Yield: 4

Total Time: 30

The stew base is very simple - it's the toppings that make the dish so flavorful!


3 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4-6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 slices day old bread, torn into small pieces

sun-dried tomatoes jarred in oil or dried (I used dried), roughly chopped
chopped parsley
green onions
extra virgin olive oil
lime wedges
dollop of plain greek yogurt
Sririacha Thai Chili Sauce


Add chickpeas to a medium saucepan with 4 cans of water (from chickpea cans), garlic and salt. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add cumin, coriander and red pepper and let simmer 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, tear bread and place in shallow soup bowls. Chop items for toppings. When soup is ready, ladle soup and broth over bread and top with toppings. Garnish with the first four ingredients, then drizzle with oil and squeeze a lime wedge over each. Serve with a dollop of yogurt with a squirt of Sriracha on top.

Recipe adapted from Organic Gardening, Vol. 60:1

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

DIY Edible Gifts

I love to give gifts. I heard recently that gift giving is a way to express your relationship with others – if you find something a friend or family member really likes, it illustrates how well you know them.

Giving the gift of good food is always a great way to show someone you care. A few years ago I started the tradition of making an edible gift for family and friends, and it’s been fun to come up with new ideas each year. The first year, my Dad’s side took an extended family trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia. On the way home, I purchased a bushel of in-season Georgia peaches and made peach preserves. My family loved receiving a vacation memento, and I loved having the jars made up and done months ahead of time!

I’ve also grown and dried herbs, picked blueberries and blackberries and made jam, and even made a healthful granola that I shared with friends in the New Year when I got behind at Christmas.

This year, my husband and I got two backyard chickens that we keep for egg production. (Click here and scroll down for a picture!) We also have a Meyer lemon tree that we keep outdoors in the summer and move indoors each winter. With fresh eggs and lemons on hand, I decided to try my hand at lemon curd.

If you’ve never had it, lemon curd is a rich, lemony spread made with eggs, butter, sugar and lemon juice that is delicious on muffins, sweet breads, biscuits or on its own served with berries. It can also be poured into a pastry shell and baked for a quick tart. And, it’s SUPER easy to prepare.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Spicy Molasses Cookies

Food Blog Cookie Swap 2012 is upon us! Lindsay over at Love & Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen created this fine program, and I’ve taken advantage of the fun two years in a row now. Here’s how it works:

1) Join Cookie Swap and donate $4 to Cookies for Kids with Cancer
2) Bake 3 dozen cookies
3) Mail 1 dozen cookies each to three food bloggers who you’re matched with
4) Get 3 dozen cookies in the mail! What’s not to love?

Like last year, I decided to bake a cookie with a savory twist. I chose Spicy Molasses Cookies because I love a chewy cookie and I love the depth of flavor molasses has. I looked at lots of molasses cookie recipes but chose this one by Wendy Rusch on The recipe was straightforward, the combination of spices – ginger, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper – appealed to me, plus the recipe got great reviews at Just A Pinch. If you’re not familiar, Just A Pinch is a recipe and coupon social network, and you should totally check it out. Oh, and I work there. :)

The cookies come together easily. You mix the wet ingredients together, then you add in the dry ones and gently mix.

I rolled them into balls, rolled the balls in sparkling sugar, then baked them. Ten minutes later they’re done! After that amount of time they’re just barely set and will fall as they cool, but I think that makes them chewy.

They’re divine with a tall glass of milk. I really like that spicy kick – the black pepper especially adds just the right amount of heat.

For my matches, I stacked them up on top of one another, their sparkling sugars twinkling in the sunlight, bagged them in craft bags and tied them with a festive ribbon.

I tied on little luggage tags stamped with a “To:, From:” tag and addressed them. Then I shipped them off to my matches, Jennifer @ Mother Thyme, Jessica @ Kettler Cuisine and Dea at The Baking Robot! I love going to the post office around Christmas time. It feels old-fashioned and festive.

What fun. Thanks so much to Lindsay and Julie for organizing this! I’ll post the cookies I got when they arrive. I can’t wait!


Spicy Molasses Cookies

Yield: 2 dozen

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

These spicy little numbers are addictive! The addition of black pepper to the molasses gives them just a hint of heat.


1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
get recipes @
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (about 10 turns on mine)
Sparkling sugars or turbinado (raw) sugar for rolling


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with oil; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together shortening, butter, sugars, egg and molasses with a hand mixer until creamy.

In a medium bowl mix dry ingredients with a fork. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Roll into 1-1/2" balls, roll in sparking sugar, and place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 10-11 minutes.

**For smaller cookies, roll 3/4-inch balls and bake for just 7 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Wendy Rusch at

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Monday, December 3, 2012

I made biscuits!

That’s right. I woke up on Sunday morning, wanted biscuits, and made them. Ha! Do you know how easy biscuits are to make? I’ll tell you.

You combine flour, baking powder and sea salt. Then add extra cold butter grated into other ingredients, which will help make the biscuits flaky. Then pour in milk or buttermilk and bake.  Voila!

The dough is a really satisfying texture. It’s not too wet or too dry, but perfectly mixed and easily pliable. Make sure you don’t overmix it though. If you do, the gluten protein will become overactivated and thus tough. You want to knead bread dough a lot to get those gluten proteins working together so you have a chewy dough, but you don’t want this when you’re making biscuits.

Then you roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thick and cut out biscuits with a glass. I used a 1/2 pint jar but you could really use anything. Just make sure they’re even. Then bake for 8 minutes or so in a very hot oven and you’ve got biscuits!!

Are these lovely or what?! I ate them with strawberry jam and an egg from my chicken, Ruby. She’s the red head on the right!

I highly suggest you make biscuits the next time you have an extra 20 minutes in the morning. It was totally satisfied and completely easy!


Meme's Biscuits by Virginia WIlls

Yield: 8-10 biscuits

Cook Time: 8-10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Such simple, delicious biscuits! The recipe is from a gorgeous cookbook filled with Southern recipes from the author's childhood called "Bon Appetit, Y'all" by Virginia Willis.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold, unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk


Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix with a fork until combined.

Remove butter from fridge and grate over the largest side of a box cutter into the dry ingredients. Mix butter shavings into dry ingredients. Add milk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you then fold it back over yourself. Turn the dough each pass and repeat 8ish times. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out to roughly 1/2-inch thick. Cut biscuits out with a glass or pastry cutter evenly (I used a 1/2 pint jar).

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet making sure they're not touching (they'll be crispy if they're further apart).

Bake 8-10 minutes until tops are beginning to brown. Serve warm!

Recipe adapted from Meme's Biscuits in "Bon Appetit, Y'all" by Virginia Willis.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fakesgiving Favorites

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite times of year. Celebrating a delicious meal with people you care for while giving thanks is, I think, an easy concept to get behind.

Several years ago my girlfriends and I started a tradition of preparing a Thanksgiving meal for our group of friends before we all went our separate ways for the actual holiday. The first year we decided to do this, to accommodate schedules, we held our feast in October. Because of this timing, we began calling this event Fakesgiving. The name stuck, and we’ve carried on this tradition ever since.

The first year of Fakesgiving, in our small apartment, we pushed our couch to the wall and lined up our only proper table, an end table and a card table, then surrounded our creation with a smattering of mismatched chairs, stools, benches and even a box to create seating for about 15 people. We decorated with gourds, candles and mismatched placemats, and we all prepared our favorite Thanksgiving dishes from our family feasts. Over dinner (and a healthy dose of red wine!) we shared stories and caught up. It wasn’t fancy, but those friendly dinners are some of my favorite memories to date and I think embody just what Thanksgiving is supposed to be.

I’ve shared one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes below for porcini mushroom gravy. It’s vegetarian, but I guarantee your carnivorous friends and family won’t know the difference. It’s rich and savory, and while I love a good old-fashioned gravy made from pan juices, this is one to try. Plus, since it doesn’t require the drippings from the bird, you can make it the day before and reheat it.

My delectable porcini mushroom gravy.

Thanksgiving food is so delicious – think of those pies, mashed potatoes, the turkey – why not have it more than once a year?! Keep in mind Fakesgiving can be celebrated any time, not just in the weeks around the fourth Thursday in November. Enjoy your holiday tomorrow, and just remember, if you get a craving for gravy come June, don’t forget Fakesgiving!

This post also appeared in the Tennessean, here. In the published piece you can also find my recipe for Nutty Whole Grain Apple-Raisin Stuffing.


Porcini Mushroom Gravy

Yield: 6 servings

This recipe is adapted from a Viking Cooking School recipe. Find dried porcinis in the produce section of nicer grocery stores (Publix carries them in Nashville).


5 cups vegetarian broth
¾ oz dried porcini mushrooms
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white white
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Bring dried mushrooms and broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat, cover and let steep 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, coarsely chop mushrooms, then add back to broth. Reserve mushroom/broth mixture.

2. In a small non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter with flour until a paste forms. Set aside.

3. In a medium skillet, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add garlic, parsley, thyme and rosemary, and saute until fragrant. Add in mushroom/broth mixture and wine, and simmer for 30 minutes. Whisk in flour/butter mixture. Boil until reduced to 4 cups. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Inspires Baking

Every fall, I get crazed for baked goods. Like no other time of year, dishes like baked apples, bread pudding, homemade muffins, and pies – glorious pies – scream my name. To me, a warm scone or bar on a crisp fall morning with a steaming cup of coffee sounds like pure heaven.

Ironically though, I rarely bake. I love cooking and do it almost every day, but baking is another story. I like to improvise when I cook, tossing in a little of this and a little of that. And if something doesn’t turn out, I can usually guess why. Baking isn’t like that. It’s a science – a formula is required, and I always hated chemistry.

Luckily for me, there’s a truly amazing bakery a few blocks from my house in East Nashville. Sweet 16th, A Bakery, is quite a treat. On a recent morning I stopped by on my way to work and indulged in a super-moist, heavenly-scented Autumn Pumpkin Muffin and a cup of Drew’s Brews coffee. I also grabbed a square of Lemon Blueberry Coffee Cake for a mid-morning snack. Other items for sale that day were Coconut Macaroons, Pear Almond Coffee Cake, Cherry Cranraisin Walnut Coffee Cake, Sweet Irish Coconut Cakes, Blackberry Oat Squares, several kinds of scones including Toasted Coconut Lemon Scones, Classic Chocolate Chip Brownies, an assortment of cookies and more. And that was just one display case. On the other side they almost always have several kinds of cupcakes, a Yazoo Stout Bread Pudding (to die for), and savory items like quiche, lasagna and mac and cheese to go. They also serve soup, salads and the Dos Papas (two potatoes) Burrito – a must try. Everything they make is fresh, flavorful and vegetarian.

Dan and Ellen Einstein own the place, and are really lovely people. They baked cookies for my wedding and have helped me out on many occasions with special orders for events. As I got to thinking about baking, I decided to call up Dan and ask him for some tips, thinking this cook might just try her hand at baking sometime soon. Here’s what he offered:

  1. Good ingredients matter, especially with flour, butter and chocolate. If you skimp, you’ll taste it
  2. Practice makes perfect – learn from feel and those around you who have baking experience. [The holidays are coming - make a date with Grandma!]
  3. Don’t get frustrated if something doesn’t work. Not every recipe he and Ellen prepares makes it to the display cases. Even recipes seasoned bakers have made dozens of times can fail.

Keeping his advice in mind, I decided to bake up some oatmeal raisin cookies on a recent Sunday. They were delish! When they were finished, I enjoyed them with a tall glass of milk on my patio as I watched the leaves fall – craving satisfied. Granted they may not have baked out just right – they’re a little bit tall – but they tasted great. The addition of banana in the batter made them super moist and gave just a hint of banana flavor. Will I bake more this season? Probably. But it’s good to know I’ve got Sweet 16th right down the street as a backup, just in case.

This post also appeared in the Tennessean.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Feast of Traditions

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in the Jewish faith. Yom Kippur is marked by a 25-hour fast which began at sundown yesterday. Today is traditionally spent at home with family in self reflection, quietly atoning for the sins of the year. The fast is broken by a feast at sundown tonight.

I’m not Jewish, but I’ve just married a Jewish man (last Saturday, in fact!). In an effort to connect with his family, I’ve begun learning about and practicing the food traditions he grew up with. I’ve always found it fascinating to learn about a new culture through food. And in Judaism, there are some fascinating – and delicious – food traditions!

At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, apples and honey are traditionally served, along with other sweet dishes with the hope of a sweet New Year. During Passover, leavening is avoided so traditionally matzo ball soup is served which is made from matzo meal, or unleavened bread. I’m told this is because when the Jews were leaving Egypt, there was no time to make their normal bread, so they made what they could without the yeast. A seder plate is also prepared which typically contains parsley, horseradish, an apple/honey mixture called haroset, a roasted lamb shank and a boiled egg, all of which are loaded with symbolism. Hanukkah is celebrated with fried foods to symbolize the shortage of oil for the lamp to light the temple that should have lasted for only one day but miraculously lasted for eight.

I’m no expert in these traditions, but I’m an enthusiastic student. So far I’ve ventured into beef brisket and latke territory for Hanukkah. Latke’s consist of shredded potatoes mixed with seasonings and egg, shaped into flat little pancakes and fried in oil. They’re traditionally served with applesauce and sour cream. I tried my hand at matzah ball soup last Passover. Matzo balls are fluffy, doughy balls traditionally served in a chicken soup with parsley and carrots. My matzah balls weren’t as fluffy as they should have been, but practice makes perfect!As a wedding gift, my mother-in-law wrote down several of the well-known and -loved family recipes for me, one of my very favorite gifts of all. One of the recipes was for kreplach, a dumpling typically filled with ground meat or potatoes, fried, and served in chicken soup. Both of my husband’s parents challenged me to master the kreplach as it’s one of the family’s favorites, but rather involved.There was also a cookie recipe from my husband’s grandmother. Charlotte’s Split Second Cookies are a family favorite for sure – they’re simple butter cookies with a layer of jam down the center, and they bring back lots of memories for him. I’ve had these cookies many times at my in-laws, and I absolutely love them with a glass of milk. You could enjoy them any time of year, but they might also be served as a snack to break the fast today on Yom Kippur, as I’ve learned it’s traditional to have something sweet right away as your blood sugar is low after the 25-hour fast.My husband tells me his grandmother Charlotte would often have these ready for him and his sister when they came for visits. They’re easy to throw together at the last minute and the recipe calls for mostly staple pantry ingredients. They also freeze well. This winter I intend to make dozens of these in advance of the holiday cookie season and unfreeze them as I need for guests, holiday gifts, etc.

Beyond their tastiness and convenience, what’s most important about these cookies is the tradition of them. I loved hearing about my husband’s memories of his grandmother’s kitchen, and eating these cookies with her. And I look forward to making these cookies – and lots of other traditional foods – for our family in the years to come.

before baking

after baking


This article also appeared in the Tennessean.


Charlotte's Split Second Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen, depending on how you slice them

These cookies are addictive!! I made mine with raspberry and blueberry jam. Apricot is also delicious.


3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup raspberry jam (or any flavor jam)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well, until a soft dough forms.

Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each into a 12-inch x ¾-inch log. Place 4 inches apart on two greased baking sheets. Make ½-inch depressions down center of logs. Fill with jam.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, till lightly browned. Cool in pan for 2 minutes. Cut diagonally into ¾-inch slices. Put on wire racks to cool.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Properly Browning Mushrooms

Sometime last year, I read an article in Cooks’ Illustrated about browning mushrooms. I wish I’d kept it! I love mushrooms and find myself cooking them quite a bit, and the tips they provided were good ones. So here’s a mushroom primer from what I remember about that article.

  1. Slice mushrooms yourself. The pre-sliced ones may be more convenient, but they’ll just taste fresher if you do it yourself, right before you’re ready to cook them. The more surface area exposed, the more they’ll dry out.
  2. Once you purchase mushrooms, store them in a brown paper bag in the fridge. The styrofoam and plastic you get them in from the grocer keeps them from drying out, but it keeps them from breathing too, and if you’re not careful they’ll get mushy!
  3. Don’t use water to wash them. The excess left on them will cause them to steam when you cook them instead of brown them. Use a veggie brush or a paper towel to brush off any dirt of debris on them.
  4. When sautéing, toss sliced mushrooms into a preheated nonstick skillet dry, stirring often. The water in the mushrooms will start to bead on top of them. Once they really get going, add a bit of oil to keep them from burning. See the before and after shots below.

No oil has been used yet.

At this point, I’d add just a bit of oil to make sure they don’t brown too much. I’d also salt them now.

Do you have any mushroom cooking tips?