Chocolate Bread

Bread and chocolate are two of my weaknesses. I discovered several years ago that the key to healthy weight for me, in addition to trying to stay somewhat physically active, is to reduce my sugar and carb consumption as much as possible. But I cannot fully give up bread. And I love a nice, dark, not overly sweet, chocolate.

So, when I was craving both the other day, I came across this idea. What could be better than chocolate bread?!?!?!

I have only started doing any baking at all over the last year. I always have flour, baking powder and baking soda on hand, but mostly just used it for thickening a sauce, making a roux, making cornbread, etc. When I started making this easy focaccia recipe (link), then I added instant or quick rise yeast to my pantry. I say this to tell you that most recipes I read for chocolate bread called for bread flour (I just have all-purpose) and active dry yeast (but not rapid rise). I also did not have “Dutch process” cocoa powder. Just store brand from Kroger. I don’t know if this would have turned out better if I’d used any of those more specific things, but my results didn’t seem to suffer for using the lesser options.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup whole or low-fat milk, heated until just barely warm
  • 1 envelope yeast (rapid rise, active dry, etc.)
  • 6 tablespoons of sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter (salter or unsalted)
  • 3 ounces (about 6 tablespoons) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate – you can use chips or coarsely chop up a bar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups of flour (all-purpose or bread)
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips or chopped chunks

Directions

Put the warm milk in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl), add 1 tablespoon of sugar, stir slightly to combine, then sprinkle the yeast over it. Set aside in a warm spot for 10 – 15 minutes or until bubbles form and the mixture get foamy.

While the yeast is activating, bring some water in a small saucepan to barely simmering. Set a metal bowl over the water and add your butter and 3 onces of chocolate to the bowl. Stir occasionally until the butter and chocolate melt and are smooth. Remove from heat.

Into your yeast mixture (once foamy) add the remaining sugar, egg, vanilla and salt. Mix to combine.

Stir in half of the flour and half of the cocoa powder, then the melted chocolate, then the rest of the flour and cocoa, combining as you go. Attach the dough hook to your mixer and beat for five minutes. If mixing by hand, stir for the same amount of time until smooth.

Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place for two hours.

Butter a 9 inch loaf pan. Stir in the chopped chocolate or chips, fold for about 30 seconds. Then transfer the dough to the pan, pressing slightly to spread it to the corners. Let rise for one hour.

Preheat your oven to 350. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes.

On the first night, we ate this for dessert with some ice cream and chocolate sauce. But since, I’ve consumed most of the rest for breakfast. Like now, as I write this, it is divine with a cup of coffee.

What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate

Katharine Hepburn

HOLA TAMALES!

We love a good, authentic tamale. In Atlanta, this isn’t entirely easy to come by. We’ve tried them at many restaurants, and have definitely found a couple that we’d happily eat again, but it is always something we wanted to try making ourselves.

Since we aren’t traveling or eating out these days, now was the time to try. Last weekend Robert went to the Buford Highway Farmers Market (BHFM) and raided the Mexican foods aisle in preparation for our first tamale making adventure!

This is an all day project. The pork should slow cook for 4 – 5 hours to really get tender and easy to shred. The corn husks also need to soak for 2 hours. The rest comes together really easily. So, while this is time consuming, it’s not difficult. Just plan to enjoy the process.

For the Pork and Corn Husks

  • 2 1/2 lb pork butt cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped white or yellow onion
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Mesquite or Smoky BBQ spice rub (or any all-purpose spice mix)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 16 oz bag of corn husks

Pour the chicken stock into a crockpot and set to high. Stir in the garlic, onion, cumin salt and pepper.

Season the pork cubes with the mesquite or BBQ spice all over and then add to the crockpot. Top with the bay leaves and give it a quick stir to combine. Let cook for 4 – 5 hours or until the meat is tender and easily shreds with a fork.

Two hours before the meat is done, start soaking your corn husks in hot water. I suggest cleanning out your sink and using this to soak. Otherwise a large pot will do. Put a plate or heavy pot lid on top to keep the husks submerged. After two hours – remove the husks from the water, drain and pat dry with paper towels.

When the pork is tender, strain it from the broth – reserve the broth in a bowl! – and then shred the meat with forks. Set aside.

For the Sauce

  • 3 dried guajillo chile peppers
  • 3 dried ancho chile peppers
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1 serrano
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
Red Sauce before blending

Remove the stems and seeds from the dried peppers and add to a medium pot. Destem the jalapeno and serrano peppers – you can also remove the seeds and ribs if you want a more mild heat. Add to the pot. Add the onion and garlic, too, and then add just enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a strong simmer and let cook for 15 minutes. Then turn off heat and let cook to room temperature.

Once cool, strain and add the ingredients to your blender. Or back into the pot if you have an immersion blender (stick blender) to use. Puree until smooth. Then strain the sauce to make sure it’s not got any lumps. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the Masa

  • 2 1/2 cups of lard or manteca
  • 2 1/4 cups of masa mix
  • Reserved meat broth from the pork (should have about 4 cups)
  • The red sauce you just made
  • Salt and pepper

Measure out the lard or manteca, then add to a small pot and melt over medium low heat.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the masa, salt and pepper and mix well.

At this point you are going to start adding the lard, broth and sauce to the masa mixture. You will keep adding a little at a time until the masa is combined, moist, sticks together and is easily spreadable on the corn husks.

Start by adding about 1 cup of the lard and 2 cups of the broth. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Add 3 – 4 tablespoons of the red sauce. Pour the rest of the sauce into the pork and mix to combine.

Now, lightly flour your hands, becasue the rest of this mixing needs to be done by hand and not with that spoon. Start working the dough, continue adding broth and lard about 1/2 cup at a time until it reaches the consistency you want. You may not use all the lard.

As you fill your husks, you may have to add more broth if the mixture starts to firm up, so keep the remaining broth handy.

Put the Tamales together and prepare to steam!

You’ll need a steamer, tamale pot or similar contraption to steam the folded tamales. We used my large stock pot, put a bowl in the bottom and set my steamer basket on top. Then a coffee mug on top of that to prop the tamales against. Worked like a charm!

Take a corn husk with the smooth side up and spoon about 2 tablespoons of the masa mixture on the husk. Smooth out to create a thin layer of the masa on the husk. Top with 2 tablespoons of the pork down the center. Then fold the husk over to create a delicious little masa/pork envelope. Think ‘tuck and roll’. Then fold the long end of the husk underneath. Repeat.

Stack the tamales up until you’re done rolling them all and then add them to the steamer pot, standing upright if possible, folded end down. Cover the top with the remaining husks to help keep the moisture in and cover with a lid. Note: if your lid doesn’t fit (ours didn’t) cover with the remaining husks and then aluminum foil.

Steam the tamales for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until they easily release from the husks.

The Fresh Chile Co.’s Pure Green is perfect with tamales!

For serving, I really enjoy a great verde salsa with tamales. You can definitely make your own, but there are also a lot of amazing options out there to purchase.

My current favorite is the Pure Green Chile Roast from “The Fresh Chile Co.” Their sauces and salsas are amazing!

I hope you will enjoy your next food adventure as much as we enjoyed this one!

But I always felt that I’d rather be provincial hot-tamale than soup without seasoning

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sheet Pan Stuffing with Pancetta


You know what’s super fun? Making it yourself when for years you only used the stuff in a box. I mean, I always “doctored” up the box stuffing, too. Added fresh onion, garlic and herbs with some additional seasoning. I still have a box in my pantry – which I am sure I will still eat at some point.

But this homemade stuffing is so, so good. Like happy dance good.

This is great with roast chicken. We’ve also had it with turkey. You can add or subtract ingredients as you choose. The first time I included Brussels Sprouts leaves, the second time I used kale. This last time, we skipped the leafy greens altogether and just used some extra herbs.

Here’s what you’ll need

  • 1 large loaf of crusty bread – I like to use a nice garlic roasted italian for extra flavor
  • 2 ounces of pancetta, proscuitto or bacon
  • 4 tbsps butter
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup of sherry or white wine
  • 1/2 to 2 cups of chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bunch of sage, thyme, parsley or a combo (use more of this if you skip the greens)
  • salt and pepper
  • If you want to use the Brussels Sprouts or greens you’ll need about a 1/4 lb.
    • For the sprouts – core, remove and separate all the leaves
    • For other greens – remove stems, roughly chop

Here’s what you’ll do

Preheat the oven to 275

Tear or slice the bread into cubes about 1-inch in size

Spread the bread on sheet pans – use two if needed since the cubes need to be in a single layer. Place the pans in the oven for about 45 minutes. Then set aside to cool. Once completely cool, transfer the bread to one large mixing bowl.

Preheat oven to 350.

Place pancetta in a large saute pan over medium to medium low heat. Cook until fat is rendered and pancetta is crisp. Be careful not to burn it. Transfer the pancetta to a plate.

Add 4 tbsps of the butter to the saute pan along with the diced onions and celery. Add a pinch of salt and cook for 2 – 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook until translucent, about 2 more minutes. Then add the fresh herbs and greens if using. Toss to coat then transfer the contents to the bowl with the bread.

Add the wine or sherry to the pan and cook until nearly reduced, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add this and the pancetta to the bowl, too.

Then add half the stock, salt and pepper to the bowl and toss everything together until combined. Taste. Add more salt if needed at this stage. Whisk the egg with the remaining stock to combine then add to the bowl. Toss to combine again. Each cube of bread should feel saturated with liquid. If there’s extra liquid in the bowl – let the bread sit and soak it up for a bit longer. If it seems dry, add more stock.

Grease your sheet pan(s) lightly with butter. Transfer the stuffing to the pan and cover with foil. Bake at 350 covered for 30 minutes. Then uncover, increase the temp to 450 and cook for an additional 10 – 15 minutes or until browned. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Let rest 5 minutes before serving.


Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.

Anthony Bourdain

Bolognese Style Sloppy Joes


Sloppy Joes remind me of being a kid. Remember those “manwich’s” from a can, just add beef? On hamburger buns?

This is a very grown up version, made with italian sausage, a slow simmering sauce and served on a quick homemade rosemary, garlic focaccia, with shaved parmesan cheese. I could eat it every week. It’s just that yummy. It also comes together pretty quickly for a weeknight meal, the longest part is the one-hour focaccia, so you can always skip that and serve the bolognese sauce on store-bought bread.

For the Sloppy Joes

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb sweet italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tsps Worchestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Shaved parmesan cheese (or whatever cheese you like)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add the sausage and cook, stirring often to break up the sausage. Add the onion, bell pepper, carrot and garlic. Cook stirring often until the sausage is cooked through and veggies are soft.

Add the wine and cook over medium-high hear, stirring often until the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, brown sugar, Worchestershire sauce, salt and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes.

For the Rosemary-Garlic Focaccia

  • 3/4 cup warm water (heat in the microwave for 10 seconds and stir)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast (1/4 oz package like Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise)
  • 5 1/2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp grated parmesan
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Place the warm water and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attached (you can use a hand mixer if that’s what you have). Stir well to combine. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir just a little. Let stand until foamy – about 5 minutes.

Turn the mixer on low and add 1 cup of the flour and 3/4 tsp of salt. Mix just till combined.

Add 2 tbsps of the olive oil, garlic, parmesan and 1/2 tsp of the fresh rosemary.

Gradually add 1/2 cup of the remaining flour, then just enough of the remaining 1/4 cup until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl (you may not need it all).

Preheat the oven to 200. Grease a cast iron skillet with 1/2 tbsp of the olive oil.

Lightly flour a surface, remove the dough and place onto the surface. Flour the top and then gently shape the dough into a flat disk and place in the skillet.

Gently press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan and then about 1″ up the sides. Cover with a clean dish towel, turn off the oven, then place the skillet in over for 20 minutes to rise.

Remove the skillet from the oven and increase heat to 400.

Brush additional olive oil over the top of the bread. Sprinkle with salt. Make a few indentions into the top of the bread with your thumb.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until slightly cooled.

Cut the focaccia into four pieces and top with the bolognese and cheese!

The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in it’s evocation of innocence and delight.

M.F.K. Fisher

So, you want to charcuterie?


Want to wow your friends? Impress your neighbors? Inspire your Facebook and instagram followers? Feel like you can’t “cook” but still want to do something more than order pizza when your family comes over? I have just the thing for you!

First, don’t be intimidated by the word charcuterie (pronouced ‘shahr-ku-tuh-ree’). It really just means “cold, cured meats”, though it has come to also mean the artful arranging of cured meats, cheeses and other accompanying foods. You can just as correctly call this a ‘grazing board’ or merely say ‘meat and cheese platter’, if you prefer.

Second, there really aren’t any rules, so don’t stress over it. There are some tips and guidelines I am going to share with you, but you can take them or leave them. Your board, your decision. If you think it’s beautiful and the foods you choose are ones you will happy nosh away on, then you’ve succeeded.

The Tips

  • Decide upon a selection of varying flavors and textures that compliment one another
    • Meats – salami, proscuitto, pepperoni, ham, etc.
    • Cheeses – an assortment of hard and soft cheeses, slice the hard cheeses partially and leave a portion of the whole brick for display.
      • Hard: parmesean, smoked gouda, sharp cheddar
      • Soft: Boursin’s garlic and herb gournay, Gorgonzola, brie, goat cheese
    • Veggies – carrots, cucumber, sliced peppers, celery, fresh green beans, snow peas, endive, raddichio, cherry tomatoes (think COLOR)
    • Pickles – I always include something that will add a briney element, pickles, capers, pickled okra, olives, etc.
    • Dried goods – I love to use okra chips, dried fruits (cranberries, rasins)
    • Nuts – whatever you like! Pistachios are my favorite. These are great for filling in litle empty spaces in your board. Just pile them in there.
    • Fruit – sliced apples, pears, figs, dates, grapes
    • Spreads – you will want some that are sweet, like fig preserves or honey, and some that are savory, mustards are my go-to. Hummus works really well, too.
    • Crackers, pita bread, or toasted, sliced baguette (or a combination)
  • Choose a board that works for your event or evening. It doesn’t have to be fancy – one of the ones I’ll show you later is just a large piece of wood covered with contact paper.
    • Your board should be just large enough that you can completely fill it up. No empty spaces.
  • Pick out bowls or ramekins for the spreads that will fit on the board itself. You can put some of these beside the board instead in a pinch, but in most cases, I like to include them directly on the board.
  • Think about adding some height. Rather than everything being the same level, I like to use a couple of jars that stand up a little higher and put the okra chips or green beans in those for even more visual interest.
  • Garnish. Add a few springs of rosemary or some parsley to the board.
  • Keep things you like on hand. The dried items like chips, breads, etc., will keep in the pantry and I always have some various cheeses and meats in the refrigerator. This makes it easy to throw together an impromptu board if you have last minute guests!

The Examples

Below are several examples of boards I’ve done over the last year. As you can see, some were very elaborate and huge, others were much smaller and made much more quickly.

I enjoy supplementing the board with other items, depending on the nature of the event. Hummus varieties, onion dips, baked brie, spinach dip, lemon-thyme veggie dip, deviled eggs. You will see some of this in the photos, as well.

Recipes

If you do want to add some homemade elements to the spread, here are some of my go-to, easy, favorites.

Lemon-Thyme Veggie Dip
  • Zest and half one large lemon
  • Remove the leaves from a large bunch of thyme and run your knife through them to slightly chop (you want about 3 tablespoons of leaves, plus a sprig or two to garnish)
  • Mix one cup of mayo and one cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Combine the lemon zest, juice of half the lemon and the thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • Taste and add more lemon juice and S&P to taste
  • Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving
Spinach Dip
  • Saute up 3 minced garlic cloves and one medium shallot
  • When soft, add two pakages of pre-washed baby spinach and wilt down
  • Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and fresh grated nutmeg
  • If your spinach seems very wet, remove it from the pan and drain or squeeze out in a clean kitchen towel. Otherwise, procced to the next step.
  • Stir in 4 ounces of cream cheese, 1/2 cup of grated parmesean and 1/2 cup of grated mozzarella. You can also add some sour cream or increase the cream cheese if you like it creamier.
  • Melt it all together
  • Once combined move the mixture to a glass bowl or dish and refrigerate till you are ready to serve. Give it at least an hour for the flavors to combine and it to fully set and cool.
Onion Dip
  • In a saute pan over medium heat, warm up 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then add 1 1/2 cups diced or sliced onions. Cook until they are carmelized. If browning too fast, reduce the heat.
  • Set onions aside to cool.
  • Mix 1 1/2 cups of sour cream, 3/4 cup of mayo, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp pepper, salt to taste
  • Add the onions once cooled completely
  • Refrigerate for 20 – 30 minutes and stir again before serving
Baked Brie
  • You’ll want a wheel of brie, rather than a wedge. French preferably. 13 oz is a good size. Place in a small iron skillet or other oven safe dish.
  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Microwave together about 1 1/2 tbsps of fig jam or honey and 1/4 cup dried figs or dates and 1/4 cup shelled, chopped pistachios. Only needs 30 seconds. Stir to combine well.
  • Spread a thin layer of jam or honey on top of the brie and then pile on the microwaved mixture
  • Place skillet on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes
  • Let brie sit for 5 minutes before serving
“Top your own” Deviled Eggs
  • Bring a pot of water to boil. Add however many eggs you want to prepare. Then lower the heat so water is at a low boil. Let the eggs boil for 10 – 12 minutes. 10 will give you creamier yolks.
  • Get a bowl of ice water ready. When the eggs are finished boiling, carefully remove them from the pot and place in the ice water. This will cool them down fast and make them easier to peel.
  • Peel the eggs. Half them and remove the yolks. Put the yolks in a bowl or into your food processor. Place the whites on a cookie sheet.
  • Mix up the yolks with about 1/4 cup (for every 6 eggs) of any combo of mayo, sour cream, plain yogurt.
  • Mix in something spicy – mustard, hot sauce, etc.
  • Mix in something tart – try lemon juice, white vinegar, rice vinegar, pickle juice
  • Mix in some salt – in place of just salt, you could use anchovy paste, fish sauce, or something else salty
  • Mix in your food processor till smooth. Taste and adjust as needed.
  • Put your filling in a plastic food storage bag, snip off one corner and use this to pipe the filling into the egg whites.
  • Refrigerate while you prepare toppings
  • Optional toppings:
    • Thinly sliced jalapeno
    • Bacon, procuitto or pancetta (crisped up)
    • Roasted red pepper, chopped small
    • chives or green onions, sliced very thinly
    • Any fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, cilantro, taragon
    • Spices: paprika is a classic, try the smoked variety
    • Finishing salt
  • For this I like to put all the toppings in small bowls with the tray of eggs and allow my guests to top their own. I top up a few “examples” with various combinations of the toppings and then each person can “top their own eggs”.

I would love to see photos and hear stories about your own charcuterie adventures! Please send me yours here or on Instagram! (Or invite me over!)

Happy Entertaining! 🙂


One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

Luciano Pavarotti

French Onion Soup

It is a difficult thing for me to not order the French Onion Soup every time I see it on a menu. There is something so comforting and satisfying about the delicious broth, perfectly softened onions, with a toasty crouton and gooey cheese… Who wouldn’t want to try every single different chef’s take on this?

After I made a big batch of my bone broth recently, I decided to use some of it to make my own variety. And while I have never met a version of this I didn’t like, there is something more to be said for doing it yourself. Even if that “something” is just that now I don’t have to go out to eat to enjoy it!

Some notes first

  1. No, you don’t have to find French onions, as a certain uncle of mine asked. Your favorite yellow or white variety will do.
  2. You do need the right bowls…. Ok, so maybe need is overstating, but the bowl does have to be able to go into the oven under the broiler to melt and brown the cheese. And the right bowls (you know the ones I mean) really add to the overall experience.
  3. Use homemade beef stock or broth if at all possible. Store bought works in a pinch, but it’s just not the same.

Ingredients

  • 8 – 10 cups of beef broth or stock
  • 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 4 lbs of onions, thinnly sliced
  • 6 springs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons of sherry
  • light olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup of shredded or grated parmesean
  • 1/4 cup of shredded or grated mozzarella
  • 4 slices of havarti
  • 4 thick slices of sourdough, french or italian bread

Directions

Heat the olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom) in a large pot over medium heat. Place the garlic, cut side down, in the pot and cook until golden brown. Transfer garlic to a plate. When cooled, remove the cloves from the skins.

Add the onions to the same pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook. Stir occasionally until the onions start to darken, then more frequently. This will keep them from overcooking. Cook till golden, but not mushy. This will take 60 minutes or so. If the onions are browning too fast, reduce your heat.

Add Sherry and stir, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the stock. Then add in the thyme, bay leaf, and garlic. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by 1/4, stirring occasionally. Cook until onions are tender, about 45 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, you’ll prepare your croutons.

Heat oven to 250. Place your bread sliced on a baking sheet.

Then, place the minced garlic in a small bowl or ramekin with the two tablespoons of butter. Heat for 30 seconds to melt the butter and start infusing the garlic flavor into it. Brush the bread sliced liberally with the garlic butter. Then pile the shredded or grated cheeses on each slice. Bake the cheesy, garlic-y bread in the oven until the cheese is melted and the bread is crispy.

Heat broiler.

Divide your soup between bowls, top each once with a crouton, then a slice of havarti. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and broil until your cheese is melted, bubbly and starting to brown. Let cool for a minute or so before serving.

Feel free to play with this and use different breads, different cheeses, other herbs, add some shallots or leeks (or both!) instead of just onions. Mix it up!

Really, that’s one of my favorite things about soup. It never has to be done just one way, it’s not just one thing. It’s all things and everything, and it’s pretty hard to mess it up beyond repair. You can always add a bit more of this, a dash of that, balance the flavors out, adjust the volume with some more stock, wine or water. Soup can be warmed back up the next day and eaten as is, or turned into something completely new.

Soup’s kinda like life that way.

“Writing is a lot like making soup. My subconscious cooks the idea, but I have to sit down at the computer to pour it out.”

Robin Wells

Low-Country Chicken and Dumplings

My parents both spent most of their growing up years in or around the waters of South Carolina. Dad’s heart is in the marsh and Mom’s toes (literally and figuratively), the sand. Dad often says that God created the South Carolina low-country last, everything before that was just practice.

Mom and Dad moved inland to metro-Atlanta when they were a very young couple. It was not supposed to be a permanent move, but then babies and life happened, so here we stayed. But when my brother and I were kids and on up into our teen years, we spent many summers on the beach in Surfside, S.C. where my maternal grandparents had a house.

We would fill the tiny beach house with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and the occasional stow-away friend, bathe babies in the sink, walk barefoot to and from the beach, read Nancy Drew while laying on the sand, rinse our feet with the water hose, dry our towels on the porch railings. Our summers were the stuff dreams are made of.

Just a few miles away from Third Avenue South is Pawley’s Island. An incredible place where the land meets both the ocean and the marshes. It’s in our blood. When I get to this spot on the planet, I breathe in the salty, marshy air and let it heal me.

This year the family rented a house on Pawley’s for a mini-reunion. My grandmother still lives close by, but most of the rest of us are in Georgia now. It had been years since all the cousins had been together with our grandmother, so this trip was really to rectify that problem.

We spent a lot of time sitting around in our pajamas and letting the breeze blow through that house, while making massive amounts of coffee and eating my aunt’s homemade cinnamon rolls. I was asked to take care of dinner one evening of the trip, which I was more than happy to do. I chose to make Chicken and Dumplings, because it’s October and that’s comfort food time. It also would be enough for a crowd and keep for leftovers the next day.

The Chicken and Dumplings

This recipe is one I originally borrowed from Guy Fieri. But I have been making it so long now, and adapted certain things along the way, so I consider it mine now. It’s a favorite among my friends and family, I’ve made it for several family dinners and a few people request it as soon as the weather turns chilly.

I am calling this one “Low-Country” because that’s where I made this particular batch and I wanted to honor that and my grandmother, who loved it and took the leftovers home with her when the rest of us had to head westward away from the water. I consider that a huge compliment.

The Ingredients

For the Soup:

  • 10 cups of chicken stock (homemade if possible, see post here for my recipe)
  • 2 lbs cooked, shredded or chopped chicken
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery with leaves, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

For the Dumplings:

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsps baking powder
  • 4 tsps sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 2 tsps dried herbs (I used dill and thyme)
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Assembly

Heat all the stock in a large dutch oven over medium heat.

In a sauté pan or skillet over medium heat, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom and the diced veggies. Sauté till the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes) and then add the garlic and crushed red pepper, sauté for another minute. Then add the veggies to the warm stock.

Add the butter to the same sauce pan and when completely melted, add the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Then slowly ladle about 2 cups of the hot stock to the roux, combining. Then add the mixture back into to the stock and veggies and combine. Add the cream and chicken to the soup and keep at a low simmer while you make the dumplings.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the dumplings. In a separate medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients, adding the butter last.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and very gently fold together with a spatula until just combined. (Don’t over mix!)

Using two spoons, shape the dough into golf ball sized biscuits and drop them into the hot soup. Cover with a tight fitting lid and allow the dumplings to cook for 15 – 20 minutes over low heat.

Ladle into bowls and serve hot. Provide some various hot sauces for your guests if they like a little more heat. It’s great with a touch of Tabasco.

Take your bowl of dumplings out to the porch.

The front porch view is the beach and the ocean. There are rocking chairs, porch swing and a hammock. The breeze is coming off the ocean and it’s just chilly enough for the hot soup to really feel like it’s warming your soul.

The back porch is screened in, but since all the doors are open the breeze is coming right through the house from the beach side. You can see the grasses blowing in the wind, while the egrets and your father fish in the marsh.

I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. ~ Pat Conroy

Tomato Galette

This recipe popped up on my Instagram feed in a post from Bon Appetit a few weeks ago and it was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in ages. I saved the post because I knew that eventually I would have to try it. That is if I could get over my fear of messing up the dough.

See, I am really not a baker. I have a gorgeous KitchenAid stand mixer that I got on close out at Williams Sonoma because it was the most amazing color (they called it Clementine), but my husband just says it’s ‘the most expensive mashed potato maker ever’. Though to be fair I also use it to make whipped cream.

So, anyway, dough intimidates me.

But the recipe for this didn’t sound too difficult, so I decided to give it a try on one of those Saturdays at home when I had lots of time to play in the kitchen. Of course, the day started at my favorite produce venue, the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. They didn’t disappoint me.

Just look at these heirloom tomatoes!


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 3 – 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 4 oz. firm cheese like Asiago, parmesan or fontina, finely grated
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped chives

Tips

First, if your food processor is small like mine – 4 cup capacity – do the pulsing of the flour, salt and butter in two matches to avoid over mixing it.

Second, don’t skimp on the 2 hour chill time for the dough. It makes a difference.

The Method

Pulse 2 cups of flour and 1 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor to combine. Add the butter and pulse until it looks like a course crumbs with a few pea-sized pieces of butter remaining.

Transfer to a large bowl; drizzle with the vinegar and 1/4 cup of ice water. Mix with a fork, adding more ice water about a tablespoon at a time until a shaggy dough comes together. Turn out on a floured work surface and lightly knead until no dry spots remain. Pat into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

After the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 400.

Toss the sliced tomatoes, garlic and 1 tsp salt in a large bowl. Let sit 5 minutes so that tomatoes start releasing some liquid. Drain tomato mixture on paper towels while you get the dough ready.

Unwrap the dough and roll out on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper to about 14″ round and 1/8″ thick. Be gentle with this to not tear the dough. Transfer to a baking sheet still on the parchment.

Scatter cheese over the dough leaving a 1 1/2″ border. Arrange tomatoes and garlic over the cheese. Then bring the edges of the dough up and over the filling, overlapping as needed. Brush the dough with the beaten egg wash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Bake the galette, turning once, until crust is golden and cooked through – about 55 – 60 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet.

Sprinkle with lemon zest, chives and more cheese if you’d like. I also added basil to this because I still had some on hand from the ratatouille.

This came together much better than I expected for a first attempt. And since the galette method can be used in multiple different ways, don’t just think of it as a “recipe”. Mix it up! Try your own variations! And let me know how it turns out.


It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while  eating a homegrown tomato.”

Lewis Grizzard

Ratatouille

When I first saw the Disney Pixar movie of this name, I knew within the opening few scenes that it would become a long-time favorite. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I would also learn a recipe from it that I love almost as much as the movie.

Then there’s the life lesson – but we’ll get to that later.

In the epic climax of this tail, Remy the Little Chef, makes ratatouille for a food critic who is determined to shut down the restaurant, Gusteau’s. Anton Ego is quintessentially French and has no use for anything deemed less. Ratatouille, as Colette exclaims, is a peasant dish! Rustic veggies in delicious sauce surely won’t be enough to impress this determined critic!

Or will it?


Remy’s Ratatouille

First, you need a mandolin for this. A nice sharp knife is a wonderful thing, but to make all these thin slices and keep them uniform, the mandolin is a must have. Don’t be a hero, use the hand guard.

Second, make your own tomato sauce. It’s ok to use canned, crushed tomatoes to do it, but just don’t buy the sauce in a jar.

Third, slice all the veggies before you start assembling. You don’t want to have to pause and slice some more once you’re putting everything together.


Ingredients

The Tomato Sauce

  • 1 24 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • handful of basil leaves, sliced into a chiffonade (reserve some for garnish later)
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

The BĂ©chamel

  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt
  • white pepper

The Veggies

  • 1 large zucchini, leave some stripes of the peel on
  • 3 – 4 medium graffiti eggplants
  • 3 medium golden beets, peeled
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled
  • 2 medium new potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • basil leaves, torn
  • salt and pepper
  • Also, shave some parmesan cheese for serving

Make the tomato sauce first so it can simmer a bit while you slice the veggies. The béchamel should be made immediately before you start assembling the ratatouille.


Method

The Tomato Sauce

In a large pan over medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the garlic and cook till just softening. Then add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Add the crushed red pepper. Heat together until simmering and then add the basil. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer while you slice the veggies, stirring frequently.

The Veggies

Using the mandolin, slice all the veggies (except the garlic) to about 1/4 inch thickness or thinner if you prefer. Slice the garlic thin using your favorite sharp knife.

When you get to the end of each veggie piece, leave about an inch and slice the remainder with your knife, as close as possible to the size of the mandolin slices. These pieces won’t be as pretty, but just use them on the bottom of the dish and no one will ever know.

The BĂ©chamel

You are about ready to assemble, so go ahead and make the béchamel now.

Add the butter over medium high heat to a medium pan or skillet. Melt the butter and then add the flour. Whisk to combine and then stir to cook for at least 5 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Then whisk in the milk slowly. Once combined, season with the nutmeg, salt and white pepper.

So …. lemme ‘splain. I love fresh ground black pepper. I believe strongly in my pepper mill. I don’t even buy pre-ground black pepper. But in cream sauces like this I like the white pepper. It looks pretty. Sorry ‘bout it.

Put it together now

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put your tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish you’re using for the ratatouille. If splitting between two dishes, put half in each.

On top of the sauce sprinkle the sliced garlic and torn basil.

Then layer the béchamel on top of the tomato sauce, garlic and basil.

Start spiraling on the veggies in a regular pattern around the dish. Once the dish is full, drizzle on a good bit of olive oil over the veggies and season with salt and pepper.

Cover with aluminum foil or parchment paper and bake for 45 – 60 minutes (depending on the size and shape of your dish). Once the veggies are soft when pierced with a fork or knife, uncover and cook for another 10 minutes.

To serve, scoop the ratatouille onto a plate or wide bowl, spoon some of the sauce from the bottom of the dish around the outer edge of the veggies and top with more of the chiffonade of basil and shaved parmesan cheese.

This is awesome on it’s own for a light dinner or as a side dish to grilled and roasted meats. I took this to a ‘Girl’s Night In’ a couple of weeks ago and it was a huge hit.


Spoiler alert:

Remy’s Ratatouille was also a huge hit with Anton Ego. The rustic simplicity of the peasant dish remained, even though the presentation was elevated with the mandolin sliced veggies and beautiful sauces. It reminded Ego of his humble childhood, the love he felt in that ratatouille his mom used to make, but it also satisfied the food critic he’d become.

“In the past,” Ego said, “I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

Bon appetit!

Anyone can cook.

Chef Auguste Gusteau (Ratatouille)

Three Meat, Three Cheese Lasagna

My recipe is adapted from What’s Gaby Cooking.

This lasagna is made by first putting together a slow cooking Ragu and then layering it with the noodles, cheese and a bĂ©chamel sauce for extra creaminess. There is very little tomato in the Ragu so it’s not what you would expect to get in most Italian restaurants in Atlanta. My husband prefers that, because he’s not a big fan of tomato based sauces. If you do like that, you can always add a bit of a homemade tomato sauce when you are layering the lasagna or add more tomatoes to the Ragu itself.

Remember that beef bone broth that I made and shared in a previous blog post? I used 2 cups of that in this Ragu instead of chicken stock for an even deeper flavor. You can definitely substitute chicken stock for the bone broth.

Ingredients

For the Ragu:

  • 4 ounces of pancetta, cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium celery stalk with leaves, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb of lean ground beef or venison
  • 1/2 lb of ground lamb
  • 1/2 lb of mild italian sausage, loose or removed from casings
  • 1 ounce of prosciutto, chopped
  • 2/3 cup of dry red wine
  • 2 cups of beef bone broth (here is where you can sub in the chicken stock)
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 3 whole plum tomatoes from a can, drained (reserve the rest for another use)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

For the BĂ©chamel:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • freshly ground nutmeg
  • white pepper
  • salt

For the assembly:

  • 12 – 15 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded asiago or fontina cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions

For the Ragu:

In a large enameled cast iron pot add a little olive oil and then the pancetta over medium high heat. Cook until some of the fat is rendered from the pancetta.

Add the onion, celery and carrot to the pot and cook until just beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook another 1 – 2 minutes. Then all the rest of the meats. Cook until the meats are a nice, deep brown.

Deglaze the pot with the red wine and then allow to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.

Add 1/2 cup of the bone broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is completely reduced out. Repeat with the next 1 cup, 1/2 cup at a time until reduced out. This entire process should take about an hour. If it is reducing too quickly, lower the heat. Remember you want a simmer, not a boil.

Add the last 1/2 cup of the broth and the crushed red pepper flakes. Partially cover the pot, keep heat at a simmer, and allow to cook for 1 hour, stirring frequently.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as you go. Cook uncovered for 45 minutes on medium low heat until the Ragu is thick and meaty.

For the BĂ©chamel:

Note: Make the BĂ©chamel right before you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and then gradually wisk in all of the flour. Allow the roux to cook for about 2 minutes, continuing to wisk periodically, to allow some of the raw flour taste to cook out. Then add the milk, about a half cup at a time, whisking continuously until all the milk is incorporated. Season with the ground nutmeg, white pepper and salt to taste. Remove from heat.

For the assembly:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In your selected large baking dish, add a thin layer of the béchamel sauce, then a layer of pasta, then another layer of the béchamel and a layer of the Ragu. Continue until you have used all your pasta. On top of the last layer of pasta, add a layer of the béchamel, then pile on all the cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 -45 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and bake uncovered for another 10 minutes. Rest 10 minutes before serving.

I like to serve this with good crusty bread and a very simple arugula salad, dressed with lemon, oil and vinegar with some shaved parmesan cheese.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”  

Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance