{not} Philly {not} Cheese {not} Steak

This is a post about something that isn’t at all what it claims to be.  Does that even make sense?  It’s a Philly Cheesesteak that’s not made in Philadelphia and doesn’t contain steak or (anything you can legally call) cheese.

So, yeah, it involves processed cheese food product.  Sue me.  Sometimes I feel the need to fall back on childhood favorites and flavors.

A couple of months ago, my husband mentioned that he wanted a “chicken Philly Cheesesteak” for dinner.  First of all – how can it be a cheeseSTEAK if it’s made with chicken?  Second of all – I’d been trying to avoid purchasing processed foods, and American “Cheese” and Cheez Whiz – two commonly used ingredients in traditional Philly Cheesesteaks – are among the most processed foods you can buy.

As an aside – did you know that you can buy organic American cheese? Also, according to America’s Test Kitchen, you can make it at home.

Anyway – I decided to give it a whirl.  I grew up eating cheesesteaks made with beef (when I was little, my mom and I would go about once a month to this little hole-in-the-wall place that was near our house and get the mushroom cheesesteak.  I’m sure it wasn’t authentic, given that it was in a suburban shopping center in Marietta, GA, but I have very fond memories of that place.  I would watch the guy chopping away on the flat-top grill, mesmerized by the little piles of meat and cheese all lined up just so), so I wasn’t really sure how this chicken version was going to taste.

First, I began by softening a cup of thinly sliced onion and a cup of thinly sliced bell pepper in a tablespoon of oil.  I let it cook down slowly, getting good and caramelized (I just got in a hurry and typed that last word “caramilized” and one of the spell checker’s suggestions for a replacement was militarized.  Spell check is weird).

I removed the softened onions and peppers from the pan, and added about a pound of thinly sliced chicken breast meat (seasoned with salt and pepper) to the pan.  I let it go until it was nice and browned on all sides.  Then I removed the chicken from the pan.

To make individual sandwiches, I added between two and three ounces of chicken back to the pan, along with a little bit of the onion and pepper mixture.  I used a pastry scraper (or a flat spatula) to chop the mixture into smaller pieces.

I covered that with a slice (or two) of cheese (yes, I’m using processed cheese – you can use provolone if it makes you feel better.  Just know it doesn’t melt as nicely) and poured about a quarter cup of water into the pan.  I covered this with a lid to let it steam and allowed the cheese to melt.  Once the cheese started to melt, I uncovered the pan and used my pastry scraper/spatula to mix everything together – the little bit of water that’s left in the pan helped to make a nice sauce (plus it deglazed the pan nicely – adding all that good brown flavor to the mix).

I piled the whole thing into a whole-wheat roll and topped it with a few slices of fresh jalapeno.  I like things spicy, so feel free to omit that last bit if you’re averse to heat.  Served with a cold beer, it was mighty tasty.

So, you know, NOT a Philly cheesesteak per se, but something that mimics it pretty well.  And my husband and kids thought it was pretty good, too.

Chicken Cheese{not}steak

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 20 minutes

yields: 4-6 sandwiches


  • 1 lb. chicken breast meat, thinly sliced into strips
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil (olive or grapeseed)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-6 slices mild white cheese (Provolone or American are traditional)
  • 4-6 whole wheat hoagie rolls
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat
  2. Add the oil and the sliced onions and peppers.  Cook until softened and caramelized – about 10 minutes.  Remove from pan.
  3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pan.  Cook until browned on all sides and cooked through – about 8 minutes. Remove from pan.
  4. Add 2-3 ounces of cooked chicken and some of the onions and peppers back to the pan.  Chop into smaller pieces using a flat spatula.
  5. Add a slice of cheese.  Pour a little water in the pan and cover to steam.
  6. Remove lid and use spatula to mix everything together.  If there’s still too much water in the pan, let it cook a bit longer to evaporate.
  7. Scoop it all into a split hoagie roll.
  8. Repeat with remaining chicken, onions, cheese and rolls.
  9. Enjoy!

Oh!  One more thing – sometimes I saute a bunch of sliced cremini mushrooms along with my onions and peppers.  Actually, I really prefer to do this – those mushrooms just add a depth of flavor that you don’t get otherwise.  I just forgot to get any at the store the day I made these.  I’ve been thinking you could do a vegetarian version just using mushrooms, onions and peppers – I don’t think I’d miss the meat.

Risotto Carbonara: Or, How I Threw Down the Integrale Gauntlet

Okay, so this is a completely shameless move on my part.  Here I am, over a month since my last post, and I come tripping back onto the scene with this.

And what, exactly, is this? you might ask.

This, my friends, is Risotto Carbonara.  Risotto all dressed up with bacon and eggs.  Or, dressed down, as the case may be.  It’s my favorite pasta dish in creamy short-grained rice form.  Only this time, it’s not masquerading as “healthy” because I added some kale or courgettes to pump up the nutritional value.  Nope – this is down and dirty deliciousness.

Now, I’ve done risotto before.  I’ve even done healthy risotto before.  But this is different.  This is part of a Marx Foods challenge featuring their Integrale Rice.  According to the Marx Foods website, Integrale is:

an Italian brown risotto rice. Like all risotto rice varieties, slow cooking integrale rice on the stove top with multiple infusions of stock causes it to absorb the stock’s flavor and release starch into the pan, thickening the remaining stock into an incredibly delicious sauce.

However, because the outer bran is left on, the finished risotto has a nuttier brown rice flavor, distinct grains, and a little more chew to its finished texture. The bran also includes additional nutrients not found in white risotto rice.

Since I’ve done brown rice risotto before, I knew this challenge was right up my alley.  The first round of the challenge asks 15 participants to develop a savory risotto recipe featuring the Integrale rice.  I knew I wanted something that would showcase the creamy, starchy consistency of the finished product, but that would also allow the toasty, nutty flavor profile of the whole-grain rice to shine.

I settled on a carbonara preparation for a few reasons.  First – bacon.  I mean, who doesn’t love bacon?  For this I chose an Italian-style pancetta.  I usually like to use an American-style bacon when I make carbonara because I like the smokiness it imparts.  Pancetta is traditionally not smoked, so it has a milder flavor profile.  I didn’t want the rice to be overpowered by the bacon, but rather complemented by it.  Second – Parmigiano Reggiano.  Nutty, salty, umami goodness.  Seemed like a perfect accompaniment to the nutty nature of this rice.  Third – egg yolks.  In a traditional pasta carbonara, raw eggs are stirred into hot pasta along with Parmigiano Reggiano to create a rich, creamy sauce.  For the risotto, I opted to top the finished product with a barely-poached egg so that the golden yolk could mix in with the creamy rice right at the very end.

The end result was nothing short of delightful.  Salty, creamy, nutty, slightly acidic (thanks to the addition of a dry white wine during the cooking of the risotto) – a perfectly balanced mix of flavors and textures.  The rice maintained its integrity throughout the cooking process, and was left slightly al dente, while still releasing its starches to create a creamy sauce that enrobed each grain.

Before I give you the recipe, let’s just discuss the details of this challenge.  Starting tomorrow (May 30), you can vote for your favorite Integrale recipe over on the Marx Foods website.   I think there are 15 of us, and I would sure appreciate your vote.  10 bloggers will proceed to the next round, which should be fun because it’s all about dessert risotto (and I’ve already got some good ideas up my sleeve for that one – it would really be a shame if I couldn’t share them).  So, you know, if you feel like it, head on over there and vote tomorrow.

Risotto Carbonara

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yields: 6-8 servings


  • 2 cups Organic Italian Integrale Rice
  • 1/4 lb. pancetta, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I used a Portuguese Vinho Verde because that’s what I had in my fridge)
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock, heated
  • 2 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, plus more for garnish
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 eggs, poached
  1. I like to begin by placing my chicken stock in a stock pot over medium-low heat on a burner next to the one I’ll be using to cook my ristto
  2. Heat a chef’s pan or large stock pot over medium heat
  3. Add the diced pancetta and cook slowly, allowing the fat to render out before the meat gets too brown.
  4. Once the pancetta is brown and crispy, remove it from the pan, leaving the rendered fat behind in the pan.  Reserve the cooked pancetta
  5. Add the diced onion to the pan, sauteeing until translucent
  6. Add the rice to the pan with the onion and fat from the pancetta.  Sautee the rice in the fat, stirring it around to coat all of the grains.  Cook until grains have become to look opaque in spots.
  7. Add the cup of wine to the pan, stirring the rice until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  8. Begin adding the hot stock a cup at the time, stirring after each addition until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Keep adding stock a cup a the time until the rice is al dente.  I used between 6 and 8 cups this time.
  9. Turn off the heat and add the grated cheese and all but about a tablespoon of the cooked pancetta (reserve a little for garnish).  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.  I like a lot of pepper.
  10. Spoon the risotto into flat pasta bowls – it should spread to fill the bottom of the bowl, but not have much excess liquid.
  11. Top with a very lightly poached egg and garnish with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crispy pancetta.
  12. Enjoy!

Disclaimer:  I received a box of Organic Italian Integrale Rice free from Marx Foods as part of my participation in this contest.  The preceding opinions are my own and I was not otherwise compensated for this post.

Hen House Drama, a Timely Pardon, and Cornmeal Pancakes

Before I get started, I want to give a warm welcome and sincere thank you to any of you who found life, in recipes through Freshly Pressed.  I was completely surprised (pleasantly so) when I saw that one of my posts had been featured the other day.  I am beyond grateful for all of your thoughtful comments and words of encouragement.  If you like what you’ve seen so far, I invite you to keep up with the blog through Facebook, Twitter, or RSS feed.  You can also follow me on Pinterest

In the spirit of full disclosure, our adventures in backyard poultry rearing have not been without, um, shall we say,  challenges.  We started back in April with three Rhode Island Reds – Fred, Tweety and Sally.  Things seemed great at first – we were getting three eggs a day, the chickens seemed happy (we let them free range during the day, and put them back in the coop at night), and it wasn’t a tremendous amount of work.  We made sure they had food, water, and fresh air, and they provided us with a dozen eggs every four days. It seemed almost too good to be true.

And that’s because it was.  We lost Fred in August to what we believe was a black widow spider bite, and we lost Tweety in October to a predator of some sort or another.  We didn’t want Sally to be lonely, so we found her four new friends – Spot and Dot, two lovely black and white Barred Rock hens, and Fred, Jr. and Tweety, Jr., a couple of Ameraucanas.  We promised to keep them safe, well fed and watered, in exchange for eggs.  We were looking forward to four or five eggs a day, perhaps enough to share with our friends and neighbors.  This was in November.

At first, Sally wasn’t terribly keen on her new coop-mates.  In particular, she decided that Tweety, Jr. was her nemesis.  Every time that poor hen would get close to Sally, she would peck at her and pull her tail feathers out.  Tweety, Jr. became scared to leave the corner by the nesting boxes – she would huddle there, trembling, trying to make herself as small as possible.  Sally was like the schoolyard bully, exerting her dominance over the new kid on the block.  I’m not sure what it was about poor Tweety, Jr. (maybe it was her name), but after a while Sally left her completely devoid of tail feathers.

In addition to this little pecking-order drama, the egg production was not what we’d hoped it would be.  For a while, it was only Sally laying.  Then occasionally one of the Rocks would lay – either Spot or Dot.  We know it wasn’t an Ameraucana because all of the eggs were of the brownish variety – Ameraucana eggs are greenish blue (part of the reason we chose the breed).  From late October to late January, there was nary a green egg to be had.  We’d been told that the hens were 8 months old when we got them, so they should have been of prime laying age.  Had we been swindled?  Were these gals completely infertile?  Was the trauma being inflicted upon them by that bully Sally too much to handle?  We weren’t sure.  What we did know was that they were eating an awful lot of feed and not producing anything in return.

Over time, the drama subsided, and Tweety Jr.’s tail feathers began to fill in again.  Both Rocks began laying regularly, and things seemed to be on a more even keel in the hen house.  When the weather began to get cold (for those two days back in January) we decided we need to put a heat lamp in the coop to keep the water from freezing overnight.  The light seemed to make things even better – the egg production from Sally, Spot and Dot increased.  Tweety, Jr. and Fred, Jr., though?  Not so much.

My mother and my husband have “joked” on more than one occasion about sending the Ameraucana’s to the stew pot.  I chose to ignore them.

The other day I went out to the coop, as I do in the afternoon, and I lifted the door to the nesting boxes.  There, nestled in the straw, were four eggs.  Three brown and one green (!).

And there was much rejoicing.

The (theoretical) trip to the stew pot has been stayed.

This morning I used that beautiful green egg in some cornmeal pancakes I’ve been wanting to tell you about.  I made them for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since.  I make whole-grain pancakes all the time – usually a mixture of rolled oats and freshly ground wheat – but this is the first time I’ve really delved into the cornmeal variety.  I think it’s because I’ve been getting all of this lovely freshly ground meal from Rockin’ S Farms – I really want to showcase it.  The sweetness of the corn lends itself really nicely to a pancake application.  Together with some local raw honey, cultured buttermilk, and those coveted eggs from our backyard flock, they make for a delightful breakfast. 

Honey, Buttermilk and Cornmeal Pancakes
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
yields: 16 4-inch pancakes


  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 2/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup honey (I’ve also used molasses here, for a deeper flavor)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, eggs and melted butter
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Do not overmix.
  4. Ladle by quarter-cupfuls onto a hot griddle.  Allow to brown on the first side before flipping to the second side.
  5. Serve warm with warm maple syrup, honey or fruit compote (I used some warm blueberry jam).
  6. Enjoy!

Why I Love Southern Food; A{nother} Hash Recipe; And a Giveaway Winner(!)

Lordy, Southern food has been in the news a lot lately.  From Paula Deen to Trisha Yearwood to Hugh Acheson, there’s been a lot of talk about what southern cooking really is. I know I’ve written about it before, but I thought it warranted a bit more discussion.  I mean, I’m a southerner, and I cook, so I guess you could say I’m a southern cook.  I grew up watching other southerners cook, both men and women, and I’ve learned a thing or two from each of them.  Mostly what I know is that, for the most part, southern food is simple.  It’s based on seasonal foods that come from the land, and it’s highly flavorful.

I love the tradition of southern food.  I love that it’s based on an agrarian lifestyle, one where food is grown within a community and consumed within that same community.  And while the fats of choice in southern cooking have traditionally been animal fats in the form of lard, butter and tallow, I’m okay with that too.  There are more and more studies every day that show that fats from pastured animals are actually good for us in moderation.

Moderation is also a common thread in southern cooking (and eating).  I can remember being at my grandparents’ house in Mississippi when I was young.  Supper was often a simple bowl of white beans spooned over cornbread.  Or a plate of garden vegetables to accompany a few fried fish that had come from the lake earlier that day.  And yes, the fish were fried (probably in Crisco, because that was all the rage those days), but they were small and the majority of the meal was made up of vegetables in the form of green beans, tomatoes, green onions and peppers.

To this day, this is how I prefer to eat.  A little bit of protein, accompanied by some farm fresh vegetables.  In my mind, this is the epitome of southern food.  Simple, fresh, seasonal.

Even when those seasonal vegetables might not be my favorite, I’m making an effort to learn to like them.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a rutabaga hash that I’d made for breakfast one morning.  In that post, I mentioned that I’ve never really been a fan of rutabagas (also known as turnips) because of their bitter, earthy flavor.  The problem is that they are in my CSA bag every week.  And I am beyond grateful to have the resource of a local farm that brings me farm fresh vegetables on a weekly basis, so I’m not about to complain.  So I just have to make every effort to embrace the rutabaga

This time, I shredded them using the large shredding blade on my food processor.  Then I salted them and let them  sit for five minutes or so.  The salt drew out a lot of the liquid, which also removed much of the bitterness. I placed them in a clean kitchen towel and twisted it tightly to squeeze out as much of the liquid as  I could.

Then I sauteed them in some clarified butter with some kale and pulled pork.  The earlier version of rutabaga hash was good, but it wasn’t great.  The cubes never got good and crispy the way I like, they just kind of got soft and mushy and wet.  They tasted alright, but I felt like they needed a little tweaking.  The shredded version?  Crispy, brown, tender, flavorful – really great.

I served it over some heirloom pencil-cob grits and topped it all with a couple of poached eggs.  It was a quintessential southern dinner – local, seasonal and fresh. 

Pork, Rutabaga and Kale Hash

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 15 minutes

serves: 2


  • 3 small rutabagas, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup kale, shredded
  • 1/2 cup pulled pork (could also use pot roast, corned beef, or leave out meat altogether)
  • 2 teaspoons clarified butter

  1. Place shredded rutabagas in a stainless steel bowl, and toss with 1 teaspoon salt.  Let sit for five minutes to draw out the water.
  2. Place on a clean kitchen towel, pull ends of towel up to create a little pouch.  Twist tightly to squeeze out as much water as you can.
  3. Heat an iron skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add clarified butter  to pan and melt.
  5. Add the kale, pork and rutabagas.  Cook over medium heat, stirring periodically until crispy and brown.
  6. Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper as necessary.
  7. Enjoy!

If you, like me, are not a fan of the humble turnip, give this method a try.  The salting and draining really mellows out the flavor, and it helps in the crisping process.

And finally, for the announcement you’ve all been waiting for, the Whole Foods gift card giveaway winner.

There were 32 entries into the contest.  I wrote them all down in the order in which I received them, and then I went to random.org to choose a winner. 

Congratulations, Natalie!  Email me your address at lifeinrecipes[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll arrange to have the gift card mailed to you. You’ll be making over your pantry in no time.

Thank you to Harry’s Farmers Market Alpharetta for partnering with me on this generous giveaway!

Bread, My Fickle Mistress

I’ve been baking all of our family’s bread for the last year, and it has been one roller-coaster of a ride. Every two weeks or so, I bake four loaves of bread.  My husband and oldest son eat a sandwich for lunch every weekday. Sometimes we have toast for breakfast.  Sometimes I just like to eat a piece of bread with butter for a snack.  We like bread.

When I first started the process of grinding all of our wheat and baking all of our bread, I was pretty successful.  I used this recipe, and it proved to be a good one for about the first six months.  Then something happened.  I’m not really sure what it was, but my loaves went from being light and soft to dense and hard.  The gluten didn’t develop, they tasted a little too yeasty and they fell apart easily when you tried to slice them.

But, I soldiered on.  And the boys were troopers – they kept eating their daily sandwiches on this failed bread-like substance.  I tried a variety of things to help remedy the problem – more liquid, less liquid, a different combination of flours (more red wheat, less white wheat, more kamut, some soft white wheat), honey vs. molasses vs. maple syrup vs. sucanat, butter vs. coconut oil – you name it, I tried it.  Every so often, I’d get a good loaf or two, but the next time I tried to replicate what I’d done, it was back to dense bricks.

I could even tell in the mixer that it was going to be a failure.  Instead of long, rubbery strands of gluten, the dough would just come apart in short, stubby wads.  Windowpane test?  Forget it. I was beginning to think that maybe bread and I just weren’t meant to be.


Then the other day, I saw this post for Oatmeal Sandwich Bread over on Art & Lemons.  She described it as “soft” and “pillow-like,”  and I knew I needed to try it.

Her recipe was based on one from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain

Note to self: buy this book.  Soon.

Anyway, the recipe seemed simple enough, and it used a technique I hadn’t tried before – autolysis.  This is where you mix the dry ingredients and liquids together and let them rest for 30 minutes before adding the salt and kneading.  From what I gather, this allows the flour to better absorb the liquid, thereby allowing for more effective gluten development.

The first batch I baked came out perfectly.  Soft, pillow-like loaves with tons of flavor and a beautiful open crumb.

The second batch?  Yea – not so much.  Flat failures.

Bread, why do you hate me so?

But once again, I soldiered on.  I turned to ye olde interwebs to discover the source of my problem, and I think perhaps I’ve been overworking my dough.  It seems, based on a number of sources, that if you over-knead your bread or if you let it over-rise, the gluten strands can break.  Who knew?  I’ve been abusing my bread all this time. Here I was blaming the bread, when all along it was me.

This time, the third time really was the charm.  This bread is kind of spectacular.  I mean, if sandwich bread can be spectacular. I think I’m in love (again).

Whole Grain Sandwich Bread (adapted from this recipe at Art & Lemons)
prep time: 45 minutes
rise time: 2 hours
bake time: 30 minutes
yields: 2 1-lb. loaves


  • 2 cups warm water
  • 3 Tablespoons honey (could also use maple syrup or molasses)
  • 4 Tablespoons cultured butter, melted and cooled (could also use coconut oil)
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups freshly ground hard white wheat, sifted
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
  1. Combine water, honey, butter and yeast in the bowl of your electric mixer and let sit for 5 minutes so yeast can bloom
  2. Add the flour and oats to the water mixture and stir to combine.  Let rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and knead in the mixer, using the dough hook attachment, for 6 minutes.  Dough will be a little sticky and should slap the sides of the bowl as it mixes.  It should be very elastic (long, rubbery strands of gluten) after six minutes.
  4. Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place for one hour (I usually preheat my oven to 150F, then turn it off and set the bowl in the warmed oven).
  5. After an hour, the dough should have doubled in volume.  Scrape it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.
  6. Grease two 1-lb. loaf pans
  7. Divide the dough in half and knead one half a few times, forming it into a loaf-shaped rectangle.  Repeat with the other half
  8. Place the dough in the loaf pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap
  9. Let rise in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in bulk.
  10. Preheat the oven to 350F
  11. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and transfer the risen loaves to the oven (take care not to deflate them)
  12. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating them after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking.
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Allow to cool for at least a couple of hours before slicing.
  14. Enjoy!

Sockeye Salmon with Whole Wheat Pasta

I feel like I’ve been terribly negligent in keeping you all updated on my Whole Foods Pantry Challenge.  Because I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to see just what I’ve been cooking with all of those pantry staples – right?  Like you have nothing better to do than sit around wondering about my meal-planning abilities.

Mostly you’re probably just wondering when I’m going to get around to choosing a winner for that awesome $50 Whole Foods gift card.  Don’t ask me why I decided to make that contest go the whole month of January.  In retrospect that seems like an awfully long time.  However, the good news is you still have a week left to enter, so get on it if you haven’t already.  Just follow the link above, or tweet: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.  If you’ve already done both of those things, then yay! you’re entered (don’t do it again, though, because you can only enter twice – once in the comments and once on twitter).

Today, I’m talking about salmon.  Which I always want to pronounce saL-man (as in Salman Rushdie).  It’s annoying.  However, it tastes good, and it’s good for you, so I eat it despite the fact that I practically embarrass myself every time I have to ask for it at the fish counter.

I don’t buy salmon (rushdie) often, because I like to buy wild-caught, preferably Alaskan (because their fisheries are reputed to be some of the most sustainable) and that can be expensive.  Luckily, every so often Whole Foods will run a sale, and you can get whole salmon filets for $7.99 a pound (normally it costs $14.99 a pound).  When that happens, like it did this past Friday, I like to stock up.

Today was one of those days where I just didn’t want to do much of anything.  Last night I helped a friend out by catering a dinner for 50 people at her church, so I was tired.  Exhausted really.  And the last thing I wanted to do was spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  It was a lazy, rainy Sunday, is what it was.

At almost 5:00 this afternoon, I remembered that I was supposed to do the Week 4, Day 3 workout in my Couch to 5K program (I bet you thought I’d given up on that, since I haven’t really talked about it in the last three weeks.  But I didn’t – I’ve been very good.  In fact, today I did something I never thought I’d be able to do – I ran for 20 minutes straight without stopping.  I realize that for some people that is a small feat, but for me (who could barely run for one minute when all of this started), it’s huge).  Despite the fact that the last thing I wanted to do was get on the treadmill and run, I made myself put on my workout clothes, lace up my running shoes, and do it.

The point of all that (aside from giving myself a huge pat on the back) is to say that I usually try to have dinner on the table by 6:00.  If I didn’t start my workout until almost 5:00, that means I didn’t get finished with the workout until almost 5:30, and that means I had fewer than 30 minutes to get dinner ready.  Luckily, fish is fast.

Seared Sockeye Salmon over Whole Wheat Pasta in a Saffron Cream Sauce

adapted from this recipe from Cooking in Sens

prep time: 5 minutes

cook time: 20 minutes

serves: 6-8


  • 1 1/2 pounds wild-caught sockeye salmon, cut into 4-oz. portions
  • 1 pound whole wheat pasta (I used the spaghetti I bought at the beginning of the month, for the pantry challenge)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup dry white whine
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 4 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in boiling water (also from the pantry challenge)
  • parsley for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Put a large pot of well salted water on to boil. Cook pasta.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add the diced onion and cook until traslucent.
  4. Add the wine and saffron, stir in the mustard and mascarpone.  Cook to thicken a bit.
  5. Add the sundried tomatoes.  Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper as needed.
  6. When the pasta is al dente, add it to the the cream sauce and stir to combine.
  7. Heat a large iron skillet over high heat.  Add the olive oil
  8. Season the salmon filets with salt and pepper.  Place them in the skillet, skin side down.  Cook for 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.
  9. Serve  salmon over the pasta, garnish with some chopped parsley.

This was a hit with the entire family.  The youngest asked for seconds, and the oldest barely complained (which in my book is a huge accomplishment).  My husband, who isn’t a huge fan of salmon (he prefers the milder, whiter fishes), even liked it.  The sauce was light and mildly floral from the saffron.  The pasta had a nice bite to it, and the salmon was delicious – crispy skin, nice sear, tender and flaky on the inside (please don’t chastise me for the layer of albumin sneaking out in that picture above.  I realize it’s not cooked to Top Chef perfection, but it was good enough for us).  If you’re looking for a quick, flavorful and relatively healthy meal, this is a a good one.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins

Friends, I just can’t accept the fact that it’s the middle of December.  I just. can. not.  How is it that there are fewer than two weeks until Christmas?  Where has the month gone?  I need for time to just slow down. Take a breather. Relax.


For one thing, it just doesn’t feel like December.  It was 65 degrees outside today.  There I was, out in the garden, picking collards and broccoli and lettuce.  Relishing the warmth. Feeling slightly off kilter because it IS December, after all, and my garden is still offering up all sorts of goodies.

December.  Last year it snowed on Christmas.

I’m kind of torn.  I love the fact that the kids can still play outside in the afternoons, but I miss having a fire every night in the fireplace.  I love the lovely greens still coming out of the garden, but I would also love it if it snowed one day soon.  I want the best of both worlds.  I guess I just need to learn to be thankful for what I’ve got.

I had a meeting the other morning at the school where I used to work.  I was supposed to be there at 8 a.m., but Atlanta traffic had other plans for me.  As I was sitting there, surrounded by every commuter in the metropolitan area, I praised the fact that my new job is three miles from my house.  I used to drive 50 miles round-trip.  Every day.  Now it’s ten at the most – and that’s because I have to drop the little one off at day-care beforehand.  I know I’m thankful for that.

Because it was an 8 o’clock meeting, I wanted to provide some goodies that we could munch while we chatted.  I had recently dried a bunch of cranberries in my dehydrator, and candied some orange zest using honey in place of the granulated sugar.  I love the combination of orange and cranberry, so I decided to bake a variation on this crumb cake I made last year, but making muffins instead.

Streusel-topped Cranberry Orange Muffins
adapted from the Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook
prep time: 15 minutes
cook time: 35-45 minutes
yields: 1 9-inch square cake
For the topping:
1/2 cup sucanat (or firmly packed dark brown sugar))
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
generous pinch of salt
For the batter:
2 cups freshly ground flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup plus honey granules (or granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup half and half
2 large eggs
1/4 cup coconut oil
4 large pieces candied orange peel, chopped

1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries, reconstituted in 1/2-cup of  apple cider

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, and butter.  Pulse the it until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Set the mixture aside in the refrigerator.
  3. Add the reconstituted cranberries, along with the liquid, and the candied zest to the food processor.  Process until the berries and zest are chopped
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  5. In a large bowl, co tmbinehe sour cream, half and half, eggs,  and oil
  6. Add the flour mixture to the sour cream mixture and stir just to combine.  Fold in the cranberry mixture.
  7. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.

What’s nice about these is that the muffins themselves are not too sweet (the tart cranberries take care of that), so the sweet streusel topping really contrasts nicely with them.  The original recipe called for using fresh cranberries that have been chopped in the food processor, but I think the dried ones work equally as well.  I definitely like the addition of the candied zest.  They were a big hit with my kids, and with my fellow meeting attendees.  I think they would also be a delightful addition to your holiday breakfast or brunch table, if you do that sort of thing.

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup

And so my first week of work has begun.  I’ve jumped in with both feet, welcoming the adult interaction and the intellectual stimulation.  I’ve already got projects to work on and I’m being challenged beyond what I thought I’d be.  It’s nice.

At home, we’re busy decorating and planning.  The tree has been lit and decorated and the lights have been strung about the outside of the house.  The children are all atwitter with the anticipation of Santa’s arrival, and the ornaments dangling from the fragile branches of the tree are almost too much for the youngest to resist.  He’s just so curious and excited all of the time, eager to touch and explore everything.

We’re talking about the meaning of Christmas. We have a small wooden nativity that the children are allowed to touch and manipulate.  We talk about the different members in the scene, and my oldest takes care to gather all of them around the tiny baby in the manger.  He wants them all arranged just so – in a tight circle, gazing down at the swaddled infant.  He’s very particular, and gets quite agitated when his brother decides that the various figures need to be scattered about the house.  I spend  a good amount of time fishing them out from under the sofa and from between the cushions.  At least they’re interacting with them and curious about them – right?  It gives us ample opportunities to share the Christmas story.

Amidst the joy and the lights, and the work obligations, I’ve been a little bit remiss in my cooking duties.  Luckily, my work schedule is only part-time, so I do still have some time available during the week to focus on food.

As I sat home on Tuesday, thinking about dinner and dreading the inevitable battle of wills that has become the standard with my two-year-old at the dinner table, I decided soup would be my best bet.  It has been unseasonably warm over the last few days, but the dreary, rainy  weather welcomed the idea of warm, nourishing soup.  I’d been to lunch with a friend over the weekend (she’s hilarious, and she writes about food – of course we’re friends) and we’d both ordered soup and salad.  I chose a wild mushroom number and she went with an onion soup.  Both soups were cream based  (much to my friend’s surprise), and they were both hearty and flavorful.  I really wanted to replicate that same rich creamy texture and deep flavor at home.

This isn’t really a recipe per-se.  It’s more of a bunch of stuff I had in the fridge that I threw together on a whim.  Sometimes, those are the best meals, though – for some reason the stars align and the seas part and you’re left with a perfectly satisfying meal that took very little effort and actually helped you clean out the fridge a little bit.  This is one of those meals.  I imagine you could use just about any vegetable here – just roast the heck out of it, and then whir it up with some broth and half-and-half.  I’m trying to think of a vegetable that wouldn’t work here, and I’m drawing a blank.

In this case, I had a pound of mushrooms in the crisper, along with about two cups of broccoli florets and a bunch of asparagus that our neighbors gave us before they left for a cruise (lucky ducks!).  I decided to roast them all at 400F until they got good and brown and toasty.  I just tossed them with some olive oil and salt and pepper and spread them out on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.  They roasted for about 35 minutes.

While that was going on, I caramelized a thinly sliced onion in some butter in an enameled stock pot on the stove.  Once they were nice and golden brown and sweet and buttery-delicious, I added about 1 1/2 quarts of turkey stock (because I had some left over from Thanksgiving.  You could also use vegetable broth or chicken stock).  To this I added the roasted veggies, and I pureed it all using my stick blender.  I topped it all off with about a cup of half-and-half, and added half a cup of parmesan cheese.  Then I tasted it for seasoning and added salt and pepper.

I loved this soup.  And what’s better, my kids actually liked it.  No complaining, no moaning and groaning about how many more bites they had to take before they could be done.  Just quietly eating and cleaning their plates.  Broccoli and asparagus soup.  Who’d have thought?  It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but it sure did taste good.  And I guess, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.

While it’s not really a recipe, here’s my estimation of the amounts I used and how long it took:

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Soup
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 45 minutes
serves: 6-8


  • 1 lb mushrooms
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 lb. asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 1/2 quarts stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

I think this one might become part of our regular repertoire.  What are some of your favorite autumn and winter soups?

Unexpected Beauty And a Recipe For Apple Cake

There are places in this world that have become embedded in my soul.  Something about the history and atmosphere and architecture and general overall there-ness touches me and leaves a mark that can’t be erased.  They aren’t always grand or spectacular; sometimes – rather often actually –  they’re quiet and small and simple.

Christ Church, Frederica is one of those places.  An historic church in the Christ Church Parish of St. Simons Island, nestled among giant live oaks and old crepe myrtles festooned with spanish moss, there is something magical about the gothic-style building and the cemetery grounds surrounding it.  It’s quiet, peaceful, simple.  You can feel the weight of history there.

We stopped here on our way back from touring a golf course.  It was almost an afterthought – not a scheduled stop on our route.  In fact, we were late getting back because so many of us couldn’t tear ourselves away.  Our tour guide spoke to the abundance of churches on St. Simons Island, saying that he believed you couldn’t visit a place of such beauty and not believe in the existence of a higher power.  You feel that here.

When you walk through the weathered wooden gate, surrounded by moss-covered red brick, you are struck by the serenity of the place.  There are cars going by on the road just behind you, but somehow you are sheltered from all of that.  The light filtered through the trees falls just so, dancing haphazardly in the breeze.There is unexpected beauty here – dried brown leaves on the roof of the entry gate, dappled sunlight through moss-covered trees, gray-green shingles and heavy wooden beams.  Even the hint of a yellow leaf through the dried fronds of a fallen fern, with the bokeh created by the light coming through the trees above, takes my breath away.

As you walk among the tombs and gravestones, there are little tokens left by visitors.  Some might even make you chuckle quietly to yourself.  Rachel and I joked that Bo and Luke were laid to rest here.  Irreverent?  Maybe – but I don’t think we were the first to think it.

There are small surprises around every turn.  These soft pink camellias were nearly hidden from view behind a large oak heavily draped in moss.  Had I not been looking for treasures, I might not have spotted them.  Sometimes I think my camera seeks out these little gems – like it’s leading me to capture fleeting beauty.

The interior of the church is just as lovely as the surrounding landscape.  Every stained glass window is unique and the exposed-beam ceiling and warm-wood pews are a testament to the workmanship that must have gone into the construction of the building.  This is a church that is well loved and well used.  And it is still an active Episcopal church, with daily morning and evening prayer, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday Holy Eucharist services.As with many churches, The Episcopal Churchwomen of Christ Church put together a cookbook of their best loved recipes.  Being a lover of church cookbooks, I couldn’t resist purchasing one while I was there.  In many ways it is a typical church cookbook, with scads of casseroles, gelatin-based salads and more variations on brownies and pound cakes than you might think possible.  There are some hidden gems, though – I especially like the chapter at the end titled “Men Cook, Restaurants, Olde Time”.  There you’ll find a “Cure for Dysentery or Diarrhea” alongside “Martha Washington’s Boston Cream Pie.”

In determining which recipe to make first from the Christ Church cookbook, I knew I wanted something rather simple that would reflect the unexpected beauty found on the grounds and in the building.  I adapted this apple cake from a recipe for “Apple Dapple Cake” by Mary Jane Flint, but I changed quite a few things along the way.  The original sounds delicious, and it certainly inspired the cake you see above. But, if you want the original recipe, you’ll have to order a copy of the cookbook for yourself (all proceeds from the sale of the books go to help charitable organizations on St. Simons Island and worldwide).

Oatmeal Apple Cake
prep time: 10 minutes
bake time: 45 minutes
serves: 12-14


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 cups apples, chopped
  1. Grease and flour a 10×18 inch pan and preheat your oven to 350F
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients
  3. Stir together the sugar, apple butter, butter and eggs
  4. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients
  5. Fold in the chopped apples
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Serve plain or topped with unsweetened cream, creme fraiche or yogurt.

I’ve actually eaten this for breakfast every morning this week.  With a cup of hot black coffee, it’s just what I want to start my day with.  Mildly sweet, moist, full of autumn apple flavor – it’s reminiscent of baked oatmeal, but all grown up.  There’s something really lovely about it – it’s beautiful in its simplicity.  Unexpectedly so.

Father, we thank you for this meal, for our lives, for other people, for beautiful things, for goodness, and for You.
~Christ Church Cookbook

The Story of post-Thanksgiving Gumbo

There has been a tradition in our family for a number of years now of making gumbo with our leftover turkey on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure exactly when it started, but Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving until we’ve made gumbo.

My aunt even brings her own container to take it home in when she comes to visit.  This year she was unable to join us, but we were thinking of her while we made it.  If we could ship it long distances, it would be on its way to Florida as I type.

I claim a pretty mixed-bag of southern roots.  I was born in Mississippi and  raised in Georgia (spending large portions of my childhood summers in the Mississippi countryside).  My mother was born in Texas and grew up between Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Her mother was born and raised in Louisiana, and her father was born and raised in Mississippi.  My father’s people are strictly Mississippi as far as I know (although now we’re all scattered throughout the US).  Needless to say, my heritage is southern, through and through.
This particular recipe hearkens back to my Louisiana decedents.  It is a pretty even mixture of the Cajun and Creole versions as it uses both a brown roux and file powder as thickeners, and it has a tomato base.  Sometimes we add shrimp, sometimes not (this version is completely sans seafood), but we always add andouille sausage for extra flavor – this year we’re using my house-made andouille and fresh turkey stock.
Turkey neck, backbones and carcass simmering away with celery, onion and carrot to make a lovely dark turkey stock.
You can throw in pretty much anything you might have on hand, meat-wise.  One year we added wild duck to the mix because my cousin had bagged a few on a recent hunting trip.  When we are in Florida for the holiday (although it has been admittedly too long since we’ve gotten down there for Thanksgiving), we add lots of seafood.  If you’ve got venison, toss it in there.  The beauty of gumbo is that it’s a perfect vehicle for using up various bits of leftovers you might have lying around the fridge and freezer.
Now, I like okra in my gumbo, but my mother does not.  As she will be enjoying the final product with us, we will not be adding okra to this pot.  However, please feel free to add it to yours – it can only make it better (in my oh-so humble opinion).
The bones of this recipe are adapted from David Rosengarten’s Dean and Deluca cookbook.  If you’re familiar with Mr. Rosengarten, you know he is quite the food historian; therefore, I trust his recipes for their authenticity and their consistency. The adaptations here are that I use turkey stock in place of seafood stock or clam juice, and I use turkey in place of the crawfish he suggests.  Otherwise, I follow his recipe pretty closely.
Spicy Red File-Thickened Gumbo
with Turkey and Andouille
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 4 hours
serves: 8-10
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 cups minced onion
2 cups minced celery
1 cup minced green bell pepper
1 cup minced red bell pepper
1 cup minced scallions or green onions
2 quarts plus 1 cup turkey stock
two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 cloves
1/2 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-2 pounds andouille sausage, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1-2 pounds cooked turkey meat
1-2 tablespoons file powder
cooked rice as an accompaniment

Heat stock in a large stock-pot.

Flour and oil, before they have become a dark roux

In a large skillet, make roux by combining oil and flour.  Stir constantly with a flat wooden spoon or a roux whisk over medium-low heat until mixture turns a redish-brown color.  If you think it is getting too brown or about to burn, immediately remove it from the heat.

Dark, reddish brown roux

Add chopped garlic, onions, peppers, celery and green onion to the roux to stop the cooking.

Add the roux to the hot stock and whisk to combine.  Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cayenne and cloves.  Now add the sausage and the turkey.

Let simmer over low heat for 3 hours or more.

Serve over boiled rice.  Add hot-sauce, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of file powder to individual bowls.  Do not add file powder to gumbo while it is cooking, as it will result in a stringy-textured end product.

I recommend this as a different way to use up that leftover turkey you’ve got taking up space in your fridge.  You’ll probably still have some left for turkey sandwiches, but this will give new life to what might otherwise be considered boring Thanksgiving leftovers.