Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm not here...

...but you can find me at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Turkish-Style Beef + Eggplant Sandwiches

For the second week in a row, we got some beautiful lavender-skinned eggplants in our CSA box. Long and slender, they were just begging to be cooked into something delicious. I also had some ground beef in the freezer, and the two knd of came together in my mind as a nice filling for a weeknight sandwich, sort of loose-meat style.

I roasted the eggplant and browned the meat with a whole mess of garlic and some sliced onions. When the eggplant was tender and browned, I tossed it in with the meat and added a handful of fresh herbs.
I then piled it into a flatbread wrap, and dolloped on a sauce of thickened yogurt spiked with hot pepper flakes and a little lemon juice. It was, in a word, mouthwatering. We loved it and ate every. last. bite.

Turkish-Style Beef + Eggplant Sandwiches
serves 2 with leftovers for lunch

3 Japanese eggplants or 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or dill, or a combination of both
2 teaspoons freh lemon juice
2 flatbread sandwich wraps or pitas, warmed (or any flat, wrappable bread you like)

Yogurt Sauce
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt
Pinch red pepper flakes
Chopped dill and/or mint

Preheat oven to 450º. Toss eggplant with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a big pinch of salt; place on a large rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 12 minutes, or until eggplant is browned and soft.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the beef, breaking it apart with the spatula. Toss everything to combine, and cook until beef is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

Add eggplant to skillet, and toss. Add herbs and lemon juice, and toss to combine. Combine the yogurt, lemon juice, salt, pepper flakes, and herbs. Stir to combine.

Spoon filling into bread, dollop with yogurt sauce and serve.

{serve with oven fries for even greater success}

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Change is Gonna Come

Big announcement coming soon...

Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

'Mater Love

I found out this weekend I was chosen to participate in Foodbuzz's 24, 24, 24 dinner for the month of August. Here's an explanation of the event from, which is linked to last month's event:

"Showcasing posts from 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publisher bloggers, the monthly Foodbuzz 24 highlights unique meals occurring around the globe during a 24-hour period."

I submitted a menu last week and got picked. Woo! My idea was to have a farewell to tomatoes menu, since (at least in Alabama) summer 'mater season comes to an end in late August. I get $250 from Visa Signature to help me buy the ingredients, too. Fabulous.

Here's the menu...I plan on getting as much as I can from farms and other local sources. I'll keep you updated as I prepare for the meal, which will be a week from this coming Saturday (August 29).
  • Tomato gin or vodka fizz
  • Tomato, cucumber & goat feta napoleons with basil oil
  • Chilled creamy tomato-dill soup
  • Locally raised trout in tomato aqua pazza, topped with fresh tomato relish
  • Candied cherry tomatoes on squares of dark walnut bread spread with honey-sweetened ricotta
  • Matched wines
More to come...

Our Eats This Week

Keeping it pretty quick and easy this week, but I promise to have recipes for the pitas and the Spicy Tomato Shrimp...

- Chipotle–Black Bean cakes (ccokbook re-test), fresh corn on the cob, squash
Tuesday - Middle Eastern–style roasted eggplant and ground beef pitas, oven fries
Wednesday - Spicy Tomato Shrimp, fresh field peas and rice
Thursday - Flatbread (cookbook) and salad

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Color Purple

{This is an edited re-post of one I wrote when this blog was in its infancy. It's appropriate for this time of year, so I wanted to share it again}

The plums in the market right now are so lush, the skin so purple it's almost black. I love the flavor dichotomy of ripe plums — the first bite of skin and fruit is tart, but as you get closer to the pit, the flesh gets sweeter. There are 2,000 varieties of plums, but only about 20 types are generally sold in the U.S., including classic purple ones, red ones, green ones and even red-flecked pluots, which are a cross-breeds of plums and apricots.

I love to cut them into chunks and mix them with cantaloupe, fresh lime juice, mint and a touch of sugar. The combination of the flavors and textures of the different plums made for a lovely mix. The smaller, green ones are tart and firm, while the darker ones are sweet and softer. The melon added another layer of flavor, while the lime and mint added some depth. You could certainly sub out the cantaloupe for honeydew, and add in some peaches, blueberries or any other summery fruit you think would work well. This keeps well in the fridge — it's just as good (if not better) the second day—if it lasts that long.

Plum and Melon Salad
makes about 2 1/2 cups
1 or 2 medium purple plums, pitted and cubed
1 small green plum, pitted and cubed
1 medium red plum, pitted and cubed
1 pluot, pitted and cubed
1/4 t0 1/2 cantaloupe, peeled and cubed
Juice of one small lime
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint

Combine everything in a large bowl, toss to coat fruit in juice and sugar. Cover and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour. Stir before serving. Keeps up to four days, refrigerated.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Runaround

My week has felt pretty crazy so far, and it's only Tuesday! Of course I determine how well a week is going by the meals I cook and eat...

The past 2 days have been strange. First, Jason hurt his ankle playing basketball early Monday morning, so he's been needing extra help and hasn't been able to do everything he normally is able to. (He is a superman husband, I tell you. He is so helpful when he's not down to 1 good foot.) Anyway, when I came home from work yesterday, I made dinner, and then tested two recipes, did a huge load of all the dirty dishes, then cleaned the kitchen. Even though it was all fun (for the most part), I was on my feet in the kitchen from 5:30 pm until almost 10.

This morning, I woke up 10 minutes after I am supposed to be at work. Lovely. So I scrambled around and rushed out the door. I had deadlines galore at work, scarfed down Subway for lunch, then ran home to take Jason to the doctor for x-rays. (His ankle had gotten more swollen since yesterday, but it's not broken—just sprained, thank goodness.) By the time we got home at almost 6:45, we were famished, so I hastily threw together some veggies and squeezed in one cookbook test. Ran errands after dinner, and am just sitting down with a glass of wine to decompress.

I tell you this to let you know that food hasn't been at the forefront of my mind. But I have been saving pictures of these tacos we had a while ago, because I didn't really have much of a recipe for them. But they're a perfect thing to share during a busy week, because they require little effort for a delicious payoff.

Remove the skin from a rotisserie chicken, then shred the meat. (I shred the white meat and save the dark for other things, but you can mix if you like.) Throw it in a skillet slicked with vegetable oil, and toss around until warm.

In a saucepan, warm up a can of drained black beans. Add some cumin and a grated clove of garlic, if you feel like it. With a potato masher, mash the beans until they're smooth with a few chunks.

Wrap a stack of corn tortillas in a damp paper towel, then pop in the microwave for 30 seconds or so. Leave them in the microwave until you're ready for them.

Shred some lettuce. If you're feeling ambitious and tomatoes are in season, dice a tomato and 1/4 of a sweet onion. Add minced cilantro and a glug of olive oil. Season with salt.

Pile everything on the warmed tortillas, and garnish with sour cream, if desired.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Quick and Easy Lemon-Dill Green Beans

This isn't exactly a recipe, but this is how I throw together a quick, and delicious side dish.

Place the freshest green beans you can find in a deep skillet with a lid. Add about 3 to 4 tablespoons water, depending on the thickness of the beans. Use more water for thicker beans, less for skinnier ones. Drizzle with about 2 teaspoons olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt. Toss.

Cover, and turn heat to high. Let beans steam for about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the beans. When they are just barely tender, uncover skillet. Keep heat on high, and let water evaporate while the beans pick up a little bit of color from the oil, tossing constantly.

When the water is gone, turn off the heat. Add the zest of 1 lemon and a lot of dill (like, a quarter cup. Or more.) Sprinkle with extra salt and fresh pepper, and taste. Add a bit more oil or even a pat of butter for good measure. Serve.

Alabama Locavores

Our CSA box was full to the brim with the most gorgeous produce yet! I am so excited to get these beauties on our cutting board, in our pans, and into our awaiting mouths and bellies. Behold, the loveliness that is the early August harvest...

Here's how we'll enjoy them this week...

- Brunch: Eggs with Cajun salsa, fried okra, and corn cakes
Dinner: Cavatelli con Vongole et Spinaci (cookbook test)
Monday - Asian-Style Veggie Night: grilled baby eggplant with miso dressing, Broccoli with Puri Puri Sauce (cookbook test), Black Eyed Peas with Ginger Soy Sauce (cookbook test)
Tuesday - Beef Brewat Rolls (cookbook test), cucumber salad
Wednesday - Chicken curry with CSA veg, rice
Thursday - Black-Bean Chipotle Cakes (cookbook re-test), millet, CSA veg

{beautiful fresh soybeans, perfect for an afternoon snack!}

Monday, August 3, 2009


Sopa Azteca is essentially a tomato-chicken broth you ladle over fried tortillas and avocado chunks. I tested a version of this Mexican classic the other night for the cookbook I'm helping with. Though I can't share the exact recipe here, there are a multitude of recipes to be found online, and I'm sure they're all pretty delicious.

Because the tomatoes here are SO good right now, and because we had tons from our CSA box, I used them in the version I made, but I assume it would be {almost} as good with canned tomatoes. I fried the corn tortillas and diced a beautiful avocado...those two garnishes make the soup what it is.

And although it wasn't in the recipe, I added one whole breast of chicken to the soup, and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Once cooked, I shredded the meat and added it back into the soup, making it a filling dinner.

I highly recommed making this soon. This recipe looks good, or just Google around until you find one that sounds good to you!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama

One of my favorite parts of living in the deep south is the selection of what we call Meat-and-Threes—essentially cafeterias serving up homestyle Southern food. A typical plate consists of a meat, such as pot roast, fried catfish, or fried chicken, and three veggies, such as slow-cooked green beans, collards, macaroni and cheese (while not actually a vegetable, it's considered one here), and my favorite, fried okra.

When I was little, we often ate at Picadilly Cafeteria, and I always—and I mean always—ordered fried okra as a side dish. Even the mediocre frozen kind (which is what you most often find) is good to me.

So when our CSA box had a bag of fresh okra, I knew what I had to do. I looked and looked for a recipe and found lots of fancy varieties, but in the end, I decided to go simple. Buttermilk and hot sauce, a dredge of cornmeal, and that's it. Even Jason, who's never liked fried okra, had a handful and enjoyed it. It was okra at its finest. Hot, crisp, and delightful.

{soaking in buttermilk & hot sauce}

Failproof Fried Okra
serves 2, but can easily be doubled

1/2 pound fresh okra, stems removed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
Tobasco or Frank's Red Hot (or similar)
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup cornmeal
Fine-grain salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place okra in a bowl, and cover with buttermilk and hot sauce. Stir to combine and coat fully. Let sit for 20 minutes while the oil heats. Pour oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy, high-sided pot to a depth of 1 inch, and heat over medium-high.

Put the cornmeal in a shallow bowl, and add a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Set aside. Remove okra from buttermilk mixture, shaking off excess. Dredge half of okra in cornmeal mixture.

Sprinkle a pinch of cornmeal mixture into the oil. If it bubbles quickly, it's ready. Carefully place the breaded okra in the hot oil, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. If the breading browns very quickly, turn the heat down.

Drain on a plate lined with paper towels; repeat with second half of okra. Serve hot.

Like a Bunny

I'm posting a quick menu today because I'm busy running around getting everything ready to be the food stylist for a magazine shoot tomorrow! I'm very excited, if not just a little bit will be my first time styling something that will actually be published.

Anyway, there's lots of prep work to be done. I promise to share as much as I can when it's over (it's going in the Nov/Dec issue of TeaTime, where I am Associate Editor) and when the issue is out, I'll be sure to share more!

In the meantime, here's our weekly menu...still testing recipes for the Disney cookbook, so that's a majority of our meals.

Sunday - Burgers, fried okra, summer squash, and sliced cucumber
Monday - Chicken paillards, couscous, Lemon-Dill Broad Beans
Tuesday - Northern Bean Soup (cookbook), green salad
Wednesday - Pasta with CSA Summer Squash and Tomatoes
Thursday - Escolar with Vegetables (cookbook)
Friday - Robusto Flat Bread with Romesco Sauce (cookbook)
Saturday - Cavatelli con Vongole et Spinaci (cookbook)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Food is Pretty

Because I can't share the recipes of things I've been making, I wanted to show you some of the beeeyoootiful produce we've been getting from our CSA box.

I know not everyone gets weak in the knees when they see perfect, golf-ball-sized onions, golden corn, and green-tipped zephyr squash that weep when you slice it...

but I do.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Wow, what a crazy 2 weeks it's been since I last wrote. To begin with, I dropped a gigantic bamboo cutting board on my left big toe on the Tuesday before last, causing almost a week's worth of a gauze-wrapped foot, hobbling on crutches, doctors visits, and a small amount of painkillers. Needless to say, I spent very little time in the kitchen. In fact, I only made one meal the whole week! It actually worked out well that our kitchen was in shambles until the following Sunday, because I wouldn't have been able to stand in front of the stove anyway.

Then I left for London, and had a whirlwind week of incredible service, delicious food, and lovely company. I stayed at the Ritz London (not the relation) as part of a press trip sponsored by the hotel, and it was one of the most fabulous weeks I've ever had.

So now that I'm back, our kitchen looks wonderful, and everything is all put away—it's time to get cooking again. I've posted a fairly similar menu to the one I last did, because I wasn't able to make any of it while I was out of commission. As I mentioned before, I'm testing recipes for an upcoming cookbook, so those recipes will make up many of our meals the next few weeks.

- Veggie night: Tomato & Onion Salad with Mustard Basil Vinaigrette (cookbook), watermelon-feta salad (cookbook), sauteed squash, peppers, and onions from our CSA box
Monday - Chana Punjabi, brown rice, green salad with Coconut-Buttermilk Dressing (cookbook)
Tuesday - Simple grilled shrimp with grilled lemons, sauteed eggplant from CSA
Wednesday - Black-Bean Chipotle Cakes with Brown Rice (cookbook), TBD veggies from CSA
Thursday - Sopa Azteca (cookbook), TBD salad from our CSA box goodies

I'll post some before/after pics of the kitchen later! Have a great week.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Even though we're kitchenless, I'm still planning a few meals for the week. Oh, and I forgot to mention...I'll also be absent from blogland next weekend and the following week—I'm off to London for a work trip (!!!) so posting will be sparse until I'm home on July 24.

I'm currently testing recipes for a to-be-published cookbook {not mine, unfortnately!}, so I can't give recipes for a lot of the things I'll be making...but I'll still share what they are so you can see the fun things we're having.

Monday - Tonight we'll be eating from paper bowls, so I'll grab takeout soup from Whole Foods, and throw together a quick tomato salad with Mustard-Dill Vinaigrette (a cookbook recipe)
Tuesday - Black-Bean Chiptole Cakes with Brown Rice (cookbook test)
Wednesday - Chana Punjabi, brown rice, green salad with Coconut-Buttermilk Dressing (cookbook test)
Thursday - Sopa Azteca (cookbook test), TBD salad from our CSA box goodies
Friday - Robusto Flatbread with Romesco Sauce (cookbook test), TBD salad or side from our CSA box

Brief Hiatus

Our kitchen is in shambles, which is actually a good thing. Let me explain. When we moved in to our little rental cottage, we noticed the cabinets kind of stunk. No matter, we thought. We'll just let them air out, and all will be well.

Fast forward 6 months later, and they were still stinky. In fact, we realized the root of the problem was actually mildew or mold
in the wood of the cabinets. Gross. We were washing our clean dishes before using them because they smelled musty—completely ridiculous. Our lovely landlord took us seriously, though, and got the reno project started. First, we unloaded everything from our cabinets and put it all on our kitchen and dining room tables. It's crazy to see how much stuff we have! (And, we just had a yard sale. Sigh.)Then our landlord's handymen Juan and Juan (a father-son duo) started ripping out the old, moldy cabinets and started installing the new ones. When the old cabinets came out, it was obvious that the 1970s, gold-swirled formica counters wouldn't survive the renovation, so they're being replaced, too {halleluiah!}. Great to get new counters, but it means the whole project is taking a bit longer than we thought it would.

We've been without a kitchen since Friday morning...and it looks like it will be Tuesday at least before we have any semblance of a working kitchen. In the meantime, we're making do with takeout and eating out, with a few snacks and cereal on paper plates. Mostly, it's the lack of sink that's the hardest to work around...our stove and fridge are in place, and they left the old counters just resting atop the new cabinets, but it's not exactly the ideal cooking situation.

So, all that to say I'll be out of pocket for a few days until we're back up and running by mid-week. See you then!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Local Love

{photo via stock.xchg, as I don't have any farm photos of my own}

We {finally} did it—we joined a CSA. I’ve been trying to support local farmers via the farmers’ markets and produce stands, but the bulk of my shopping still happens at Publix. I’m a Publix girl all the way, but when it comes to fresh fruits and veg, the selection is less than inspiring. It can also be expensive, mainly because more than half of the stuff there isn’t even grown in America, let alone in Alabama. Even the produce at the stand isn’t all locally grown. Frustrating, since I know there are beautiful farms all around Birmingham, even one right in the middle of the city.

An explanation of CSAs, from the USDA site:
Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or “share-holders” of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production.

Here’s a link to our CSA. I’m thrilled to finally be a part of one. There are manifold benefits to eating locally harvested food:
it’s environmentally friendly, since you’re lessening your dependency the mass amounts of fuel used to ship things halfway across the country (or world). It’s healthy, because you’re getting boxes filled with farm-fresh produce, eggs, milk, cheeses, and meats, many of which are organic or at the very least grown and raised as naturally as possible. It’s a great way to stimulate and support your local economy. American farmers, dare I say, offer a huge solution to the rising obesity crisis we face as a nation. By supporting these farmers, we can guarantee costs stay lower, so fruits and veggies can be more prominent in the diets of Americans.

I found ours by googling "Birmingham, AL CSA." I hope you'll look around to see what's out there in your community...I bet you'll find something, too.

P.S. While we're on the subject, can anyone spare $400 for Jason and me to attend this dinner, put on by the oh-so-gorgeous and swoon-worthy Outstanding in the Field? Anyone?

{photo via}

Go Fish

Sockeye Salmon was on sale at Whole Foods for just $10.99 per pound, which is fabulous, because it's usually close to $20+ per pound. So while I walked into the store thinking of shrimp, I walked out with a neatly wrapped paper package of richly red and beautifully marbled sockeye.

I'm a sucker for crisp skin on just about anything, so since the salmon had gorgeous silver-and-charcoal skin, I decided on a quick sear. The trick here is getting the salmon to room temperature, and making sure the skin is super-dry. I slid the fillets into a hot, nonstick skillet skin-side down. Then, borrowing a tip I saw on Anne Burrel's great Food Network show, I placed an oiled skillet on top of the fish to weigh it down. After it was mostly cooked, I flipped it and let it cook for only a minute or so. The result was crisp, nicely browned skin and perfectly cooked salmon.

I served the salmon over a simple mix of fluffy couscous (1 cup uncooked+1 cup broth), sauteed zucchini and green onions (2 each, chopped), and lots of chopped fresh dill (about 3 tablespoons) for a light, summery supper.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Something for Everyone

As I have mentioned before, my master's thesis was a project (not a paper). I developed a healthy eating magazine for parents with young kids, and for the magazine, I created healthy but yummy recipes that would get lots of good-for-you things into kids but still taste good. (I also took all the pictures, did all the layouts, wrote all the stories...)

The recipes were a hit with my tasters (my then-14-year-old brother and friends, who are now—unbelievably—17), but just because kids would like them doesn't mean grownups won't. The thought behind this meal is that the chicken and pilaf are plain enough for kids, while the pesto adds an extra somethin-somethin for the parents. These are printed verbatim from the magazine, hence the little tips, etc.

Bon appetit!

Sunshine Bulgur Pilaf
1 cup bulgur
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 diced orange bell pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon orange juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 sliced green onion

Bring stock to a boil. Place bulgur in a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling stock. Add in salt and bell pepper, stir and cover bowl with plastic wrap.

Let sit for 20 minutes or until bulgur is soft and liquid is absorbed. If necessary, drain in sieve, pressing out excess stock. Stir in olive oil, orange juice, green onion and black pepper. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Lemony Chicken Tenders
Chicken tenders are just that – tender and juicy. And they’re the perfect shape for dipping.

1 1/4 pounds of chicken tenders
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place chicken in a zip-top bag. Add olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper to bag. Squeeze and shake bag to evenly distribute marinade on chicken. Place bag in refrigerator for 30 minutes to marinate.

Preheat indoor or charcoal grill to medium-high. Grill chicken tenders until they are firm and cooked through.

Parsley-Feta Pesto
This pesto is deliciously mild and is lower in fat than regular pesto. Try the leftovers as a sandwich spread or veggie dip.

1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
2 tablespoons chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Toast walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 6 minutes or until fragrant. In a food processor or blender, blend the all ingredients until smooth.

Four-Minute Zucchini
3 large zucchini
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil

Slice zucchini into 1/2-inch-thick half-moon slices. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Place zucchini in skillet and toss in oil. Toss occasionally and cook until zucchini is bright green and golden-brown in spots. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

27 Years

I had a lovely birthday. Before I talk about the delicious gift that was waiting for me in the mail today, I have to share the rest of my day yesterday.

My sweet coworkers (who are more wonderful than I could have even asked for) surprised me with colorful gerber daisies and a banner at my desk. I had a cheeseburger for lunch from my favorite local burger spot, Baha Burger. And for dinner, we enjoyed a fabulous meal at local eatery Bettola. I started with a Campari and soda, as well as Caprese salad with locally grown heirloom tomatoes and fior di latte mozzarella. For my entree, I chose Bettola's homemade tagliatelle with pork ragu bianco, which is basically a tomato-less meat sauce. To die for...the sauce was silky and perfectly seasoned. We all shared an almond cake for dessert and a bottle of Montepulciano wine. Love!

And today, I was so excited to find a gift from one of my best friends Peyton—two amazing artisinal chocolates that she found at a museum in Boston. The company, Taza Chocolate, uses traditional Mexican stone mills to grind the chocolate, giving it an interesting, rustic texture (i.e. not waxy in the least). How cool, too, that it's completely organic, and the cacao comes from a small co-op in the Dominican Republic. I couldn't wait to break into the salted almond variety, which was heavenly. The other one, infused with guajillo chilis (pictured above), is also delicious...the spice is very subtle and only announces itself right at the end before you a little surprise.

Salt and chili peppers might seem like totally strange things to some people to put in chocolate, but for me and my not-so-sweet tooth, it cuts the sugariness (even of dark varieties) and enhances the flavor of the chocolate itself.

Thanks, P, for such a thoughtful, tasty birthday gift!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Who's Your Beanie

It's hard to make black soup look good (especially when you're really hungry and don't feel like messing with it).

So. I realize I post about beans a lot. But let's be honest: what's not to love? Creamy, low-fat, low-cal, high-fiber...and flavorful, too. They're healthy and versatile, and they're oh-so convenient from a can. (Though we all know I prefer them from Rancho Gordo.)

I know it's been, like, a million degrees outside and soup seems like the last thing you'd want to be eating. But sometimes a soup can be so light and delicious, it doesn't feel like a winter meal at all. One night last week I set out to make another clean-out-the-pantry dinner to save money. I had a can of black beans, some leftover chicken stock, a getting-wrinkly jalapeno, and a fresh tomato, so I decided soup was in order. I just randomly tossed everything together and played around until it was right.

Success! It was so yummy I decided to make it again this week and write everything down so I could share it here. I hope you'll try it—if you want an easy and quick (and cheap!) weeknight meal, this is it.

Simple Black-Bean Soup

serves 2 as a meal
This soup is a perfect canvas for your kitchen creativity. I imagine the following would add more layers of flavor: roasted red peppers, a dash of cumin or chili powder, corn, and/or a garnish of crushed tortilla chips. This was enough for the 2 of us to have for dinner, with a little bit left over—a perfect lunch portion to pair with a salad or sandwich.

2 to 3 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 big or 3 medium cloves garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups chicken stock, divided
1 can black beans
1 medium fresh tomato, cored and diced
2 green onions, white and light green parts, sliced
Garnish: chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and salt, and stir to coat onion in oil. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes, or until onion is soft and starting to brown slightly around the edges. Add the jalapeno. With a microplane (zester), grate the garlic into the pot. Stir well to distribute the garlic.

Add 1 1/4 cups of the stock, and whisk to loosen any bits of caramelized onion from the bottom of the pan. Add the can of beans, including the liquid; add 1/4 cup stock to the can, swirl it around, then add to the pot. Increase heat to high, and boil soup for 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low.

Use a potato masher to mash the beans in the soup so about half of the beans are mashed and the soup is creamy. If the soup seems too thick, add remaining broth, a bit at a time, until you like the consistency. Stir in diced tomato and green onion; garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Our Menu This Week

Sunday - Big salads with chicken
Monday - Black bean soup, creamy lime slaw
Tuesday - My Birthday! (Eat out.)
Wednesday - Chicken with quinoa, tomatoes, and broccoli
Thursday - Shrimp skewers, couscous-green bean salad with dill pesto

Thursday, June 25, 2009


You may notice that Amuse Bouche got a little makeover. My fabulously talented husband Jason (whose portfolio will soon be found here) is helping me with a major facelift of the blog.

He started by surprising me with an all-new header. Isn't it fab?

Lentil Love

I don't have a recipe to share, just some ideas on making a simple, yummy dinner.

Cooked inky-black beluga lentils, sliced and cooked spicy Italian turkey sausage, and fresh spinach...sauteed together in a healthy splash of olive oil, and enlivened by 1 grated clove of garlic, red-wine vinegar, and a dollop of Dijon mustard. Serve with extra mustard on the side.

Easy, quick, healthy...what's not to love?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Roll Out

Last week when I was cooking from my freezer, I found the other half of this great whole-wheat pizza dough I made some time before the wedding. I never got around to blogging about it the first time around, but it's definitely worth telling you about. The whole-wheat flour adds a wonderful chewiness and nuttiness that you don't get with regular white pizza dough. It's definitely not traditional Italian-style crust, but we loved it.

I made a quick fresh tomato sauce by halving and seeding, then roughly chopping 4 fresh tomatoes. I simmered them in a glug of olive oil with 1 grated clove of garlic. Instead of salt, I added about 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste. The one I have has butter in it (or some such thing) which added a lovely creaminess—but just a touch. Off the heat, I stirred in a few big pinches of fresh basil chiffonade.

Plain and simple mozzarella was sprinkled on top, and the whole pie was baked at 400
° until the cheese was bubbly. Belissima!

Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

{From Cooking Light magazine}

Especially since it's been so hot out, our air-conditioned kitchen isn't exactly warm and free from drafts. So what I like to do it fill a pan or bowl with superhot tap water, and put the dough and the water-filled bowl in the oven (but don't turn the oven on!). It creates a nice warm spot for the dough to rise.

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (100° to 110°)
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Cooking spray

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, oil, and salt to yeast mixture, stirring until well-blended. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size. (Press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. Divide dough in half; roll each half into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface.

{katie note} We always par-bake the crust because we like our pizza extra crisp. If you do, too, place the un-topped dough on a preheated pizza stone or a baking sheet on which you've sprinkled a bit of cornmeal. Lightly prick the dough with a fork, and bake at 400° until it's lightly crispy. Top, then bake again until crust is brown and toppings are hot and bubbly.

Also, as I mentioned, the dough freezes quite well. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and then in foil. Then place the dough in a freezer bag, mark it with the date (and with what it is), and freeze for up to 3 months.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Like a Schoolgirl

{photograph from}

As you might remember, I have a major food crush on the California-based sister restaurants Zazu and Bovolo. Today as I was drooling over my monthly Bovolo email, at the very bottom in teensy tiny font, like oh by the way, it's not big deal, but... it said "Out and About: DISNEY WORLD's PARTY for the senses at Epcot, Florida on Saturday, November 7. come with us!"

Yes, hello— Party for the Senses is only the coolest, most swoon-worthy of food parties out there. It's a gathering of some of the most incredible restaurants around the country, all offering bite-size tastes of their cuisine. It's a pleasure I've been fortunate to indulge in only once. And now, knowing that Zazu and Bovolo will be there...well, let's just say Southwest just booked two more passengers on its Nov. 6 flight from Birmingham to Orlando.

I'll hopefully get to meet the's hoping I'm not too geeked out to make intelligent conversation. I'm that excited. It's like a first date with a really dreamy boy, only this boy tastes like bacon.

{aside to Jon and Jason: haha, the e-mail from Bovolo says Epcot, Florida.}

edited to add: I just realized that my first post on these gems was almost exactly one year ago. Fate.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chez Nous

Our French bistro-inspired dinner was magnifique. The sauce tasted pretty close to the ones we had in Paris, the filets were tender and delicious—I didn't get the skillet hot enough to get a nice, crusty sear on the steaks, but I think that was the only hiccup in an otherwise delicious meal.

I'll just link to the recipes I used...I followed everything to the letter for the green peppercorn steak sauce and the clafoutis. For the individual potato gratins, I just sliced Yukon golds thinly with the mandolin, layered them in the buttered dishes, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and then poured a mixture of heavy cream and whole milk over them. Topped with a bit of Gruyere, and baked for 45 minutes. Voila.

Here's a glimpse of our lovely evening...

{our delicious red}

{salade vert with classic vinaigrette}

{nice and rare}

{the guys}

{plum clafoutis}

What a Guy

So the other weekend, as I was busy making homemade hash browns in my new cast iron skillet, Jason was busy with a project all his own.

I turned around just in time to see him putting the finishing touch—a fresh, plump strawberry—on some bright, bubbly mimosas.

What a dreamboat.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Our Eats for the Week

Last week, I tried really hard to eat out of our pantry and freezer, and as a result, I saved quite a bit on our grocery bill—I only spent $50 total for the whole week! I'm going to do my best to do it again this week...especially since my good friend Joanna gifted me with 2 grocery bags FULL of pantry staples. (She and her husband, Jason, are moving away from Birmingham :( and she didn't want to move any of the food in her kitchen.) She has great taste, and a lot of her gifts to me were wonderful things like quick-cooking barley, roasted jalapenos, roasted red peppers, cans of beans and tomatoes, couscous, arborio rice...etc. So the menu this week will be based on some of the things in there.

Tonight, though, we're having Joanna and Jason over for a last dinner together at our house. To share from of our Parisian honeymoon, I'm making a traditional (or, as traditional as possible) French bistro meal.

Le Menu
Champagne, olives, baguette
Plat du Jour
Filet de Boeuf avec Sauce au Poivre Vert {steaks with green peppercorn sauce}
Gratins Dauphinois {individual potato gratins}
Salade Vert {green salad}
Le Dessert
Clafoutis aux Prunes {plum clafoutis}

The rest of the week...
Monday- Chicken, veggie & udon-noodle bowls
Tuesday- Black-bean soup, spinach salad
Wednesday- Lemon-harissa chicken, couscous
Thursday- Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez's Chana Punjabi (via The Wednesday Chef)

Friday, we're off to Danville, Kentucky for the Brandon Family Reunion 2009! We're sure to enjoy some great Southern cookin'.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Food, Inc.

This film stokes the small flame that burns in me...
and I have a feeling that after I see it, it will become a giant wildfire.

p.s. Sign this petition

Sunday, June 7, 2009

This Week's Menu

Sunday - Tilapia, millet-veggie salad with tomato vinaigrette
Monday - Spinach-cauliflower tart, green salad
Tuesday - Chicken paillards with lemon pan sauce, brown rice, green beans
Wednesday - Pasta with roasted veggies
Thursday - Turkey burgers, salad, homemade potato chips

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mr. Bean

If you are like me, regularly drooling over fabulous foodie blogs like, chocolate and zucchini, and Last Night's Dinner, you've hopefully heard about Rancho Gordo beans. But if you haven't, consider this my hearty endorsement.

I must admit, I'm not tough to please in this department. I love beans. Refried beans, lima bean soup, black beans and rice, white bean dip, three-bean salad...I love 'em all. But aside from once making the aforementioned lima bean soup with a ham hock and Publix brand dried limas, I'd never cooked beans from scratch. Why take all that time when canned beans are so easy?

...Because they taste so much better, that's why. Truly. And Rancho Gordo heirloom beans...well, they're in a class all their own. I'll let their Web site explain more. I got my dad a few varieties for Christmas, and he loved them, so I'd been meaning to order some myself. I finally got some, but then it took me a month and a half to get around to cooking them. But, the day finally came, and I am here to report that They. Were. Awesome.

I ordered black beans, craberry beans, and Christmas Limas. I decided to try the Christmas Limas first. I soaked them for 5 hours, then cooked them for another 3 1/2 hours. With nothing but water and a dash of salt in the last 30 minutes of cooking, the beans cooked beautifully and created a mohogany-colored pot liquor. The beans themselves were nutty, tender, and creamy. Fabulous.

I ate a bowl—plain, save for some Louisiana hot sauce—for lunch one day, but I wanted to try a little something more...exciting, so I built a vegetarian salad using the beans, some veggies, a zesty lime dressing, and a few handfuls of cooked whole-wheat couscous. It ended up being a light, filling, healthy one-bowl meal.

Veggie-Couscous Bowls
serves 4 as a side, or 2 for dinner with leftovers
Of course I now must recommend dried heirloom beans for this salad, but if you must, canned beans will work in a pinch. One 14.5-ounce can of drained, rinsed black beans or butter beans would work well here.

1 small lime, zested and juiced
Extra-virgin olive oil (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado
3/4 cup vegetable broth
2/3 cup whole-wheat couscous
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 pound dried Christmas Lima beans, cooked and drained

In a medium bowl, combine the lime zest and juice. Whisk in olive oil, tasting as you go, until you get a dressing that you like. (We like ours on the very tangy side, but just keep tasting as you drizzle.) Add salt and a few grinds of pepper. Dice the avocado, and put it directly into the dressing. Set aside.

Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan over high heat, and then stir in the couscous. Remove from heat, cover, and let steam for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

In a large bowl, combine the avocado and dressing, cucumber, red pepper, and beans. Toss gently to combine. Add the couscous, and toss to evenly coat everything with the dressing. Serve.