Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Multi-Layered Challenge--Overcoming Fears in the Kitchen

When I was growing up in Memphis, TN, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, no one I knew had a vegetable garden or even cooked with many fresh vegetables.

The exception being my mother—yes, my mother the non-cook—who couldn’t resist cooking up a “mess” of grocery-store turnip greens a couple of times a year. (This was a throwback to her childhood on a cotton farm in North Mississippi during The Depression, where everything she ate was local and organic).

Home gardening and local produce were so rare in my Memphis childhood; in fact,  it was an unspoken but definitely prevalent stereotype that people who grew their own food were either poor, or hillbillies. “City folk” which my mother became when she married my city-bred, white-collar father, shopped at the grocery for vegetables that came in cans or freezer bags.

Is it any wonder that I grew up having no clue about how to cook vegetables? And that I didn’t eat many of them for years because I didn’t like canned or frozen?

Fast forward to January 2006 (yes, that recently). I was in graduate school, and Chicago Man and I were on a months-long house sitting gig in Franklin, TN, so we had a huge kitchen and plenty of time on our hands.

I don’t remember exactly what prompted us, but we went on a vegan diet for about six weeks. We purchased a lot of organic fresh vegetables at Wild Oats (now Whole Foods), and I prepared them very simply, mostly sautéing and roasting, and we started losing weight naturally and feeling well. It was the first time I really connected good food with wellness, and processed food with ill health. Because prior to that, I had nothing to compare and contrast.

Then we moved my elderly mother to Middle Tennessee from Memphis, and for several months due to the hectic schedule, we went back to eating junk. Then May 2006 came, and the fledgling Franklin Farmer’s Market opened for the summer season. We went nearly every week even though it was an hour from our new home.

I experimented more and more with cooking fresh organic produce, but we still continued our dives into the cesspool of  junk and/or convenience foods.

Finally, in September 2009 I made the commitment to eat only fresh vegetables, organic when possible, and local when possible not only for our health but to support local farmers, and the environment. And not just veggies but meat, cheese, and eggs whenever possible. (We decided not to continue a vegan path at this time, but it's a possibility for the future).

The 2-hour round trip to Franklin got old quickly (and it’s not good for the environment), but fortunately in the past 12 months several new farmer’s markets have sprung up in Nashville. The one we most often go to is the West Nashville Farmer’s Market, operated by Good Food for Good People. And Yeah! This year they have a winter market in the old Tennessee Cheesecake factory on Alabama Street. It’s only about 20-25 minutes from our home.

This past Saturday, before a rare December snow set in, CM and I headed over to the market’s new digs to pick up a few items for the Dark Days Challenge. What we came away with was some tatsoi from Green Market Farm, and some Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese. (

I had tried tatsoi a few weeks earlier (see previous post at my other blog, and since we enjoyed it so much, and it’s so nutritious, I was eager to try it again.

The Kenny’s Cheese I purchased was Norwood, which their brochure describes as “Our version of Gruyere. It has a nutty, slightly sweet taste with complex musty and mushrooms notes.”

I describe it as yummy!

Kenny’s is just across the state line in Kentucky, and is a real asset to the greater Nashville area, being one of the few artisanal cheese makers in this region.

I decided to combine these two ingredients into a dish adapted from Ezra Pound Cake ( The keeper of Ezra Pound Cake, Rebecca Crump, also happens to be from Nashville and I’d love to have coffee and visit with her one day.

Rebecca’s recipe is titled, Baked Ziti with Spinach and Gorgonzola; mine is re-titled Baked Brown Rice Ziti with Tatsoi and Kenny’s Norwood Cheese.

To make this recipe, I had to make a Classic Bechamel Sauce. I have never made a Bechamel Sauce before for two reasons: 1) my perception that it’s too fattening, and 2) I was too scared to try to make it.

So, this challenge became a multi-layered challenge for me, not only to use local food but to overcome my cooking fears and fears of eating “fattening”, i.e., rich, food.

We ate this for lunch on a cold, snowy day and it was simply delicious and comforting, with the added comfort of knowing that the tatsoi added some nutrition and fiber. The finished dish reminded me of my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese in that the sauce/cheese combo kind of makes a baked custard. I think the Kenny’s cheese added a layer of nutty flavor, depth, and richness that I would not have achieved with “grocery store cheese”.

We had some leftover so I had some for breakfast this morning, and then went for a run in the 26 degree weather. It was the best run I’ve had in months. Maybe this dish takes carb loading to a new level, and using it as running fuel alleviates any lingering "fat fears".

 Chopped tatsoi--it's so pretty--all purply and spring green-ish. Oh, and it turned some of the pasta purple!

The finished dish, in all its creamy deliciousness

My first Bechamel sauce; I feel like the proud parent of an overachieving child!

2 ½ tablespoons of unsalted butter

2 cups Classic Bechamel Sauce (recipe to follow)

4 ounces of Kenny’s Norwood cheese, grated (or same amount of Gorgonzola or any other white cheese)

1 pound of tatsoi (tatsoi cooks down like spinach, but is more dense and chewy than spinach and has a slight bitter taste that I think enhances the dish).

1 medium onion, minced (I omitted this ingredient since CM and I are unable to eat onions—wah! Just had to say that.)


Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1 pound of ziti (I used gluten-free brown rice ziti from Trader Joe’s. I sometimes feel guilty about shopping at Trader Joe’s because it could hardly be called local; however, they have absolutely hands-down the best gluten-free brown rice pasta I’ve ever tasted. It makes all the difference to use a gluten-free pasta that is not gummy when cooked.)

¼ cup freshly grated Romano (or other Italian cheese)

Grease a 9x13 baking dish with butter, preheat oven to 375 degrees, and prepare pasta.

Wash, lightly dry, and chop the tatsoi, then set aside.

Into a large bowl (that will eventually hold the pasta and greens), pour the hot Bechamel and then add the Kenny’s cheese.

Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a deep pan, and add onion if using. Saute the onion over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Stir in the tatsoi and add salt to taste. Cook until tatsoi has “cooked down”, around 5 minutes.

Add the tatsoi mixture to the bowl with the Bechamel and cheese and stir.

Add nutmeg to taste, and more salt to taste if necessary.

Stir in the cooked pasta and toss to coat.

Transfer the mixture to the greased baking dish and sprinkle the Romano (or other Italian) cheese on top.

Bake in the 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes. Stir a couple of times to ensure that the pasta has absorbed the liquid. The mixture will begin to turn brown on the top when it is ready.

Recipe for Classic Bechamel Sauce from Rebecca of

3 cups of whole milk (I used 2% because that’s all we buy at our house)

¾ stick (6 tablespoons) of unsalted butter

4 ½ tablespoons of unbleached all-purpose flour (I used the exact same amount of Betty Crocker gluten-free baking mix and it worked perfectly. I know, I know…it’s a convenience food, and definitely not local. More on that for another post).

½ teaspoon of salt, or to taste

In a small saucepan heat the milk till scalded (not boiling). This is always the part that scared me—I just had to rely on my intuition as to when it was hot enough, but not too hot. I find cooking on an electric stove challenging to begin with, but it will have to do until we move into our new home.

In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When butter is foamy, whisk in the flour. Do not let the flour brown.

Add the milk in small amounts and continue whisking until you have added all the milk.

Add salt and stir over medium-low heat until the consistency of heavy cream, 3-5 minutes. Use immediately, or store up to two days in the refrigerator.

This sauce came out perfectly, even using the GF baking mix! Woohoo!

What’s your favorite local dish? Are you challenged by fears in the kitchen? I invite you to share your local food journey, your experiences overcoming cooking fears, or whatever else strikes your fancy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sauerkraut Salad, Pimento Tongues, and a Whip 'O Gold

I love to peruse the "free" bin at McKay's Used Books in Nashville ( because I almost always find a vintage cookbook of one era or another.

One, called Pioneer Cooks (the telephone co employees, not Laura Ingalls Wilder & fam) was from the '80s and was so bad I actually took it back to McKay's and recycled it in the freebie section.

The gods of cookbook karma must have been smiling on me for giving it another life instead of tossing it in the garbage because that same day, I scored a good one.

It's titled "Favorite Eastern Start Recipes: Olde Family Favorites" (in an Old English font), and contains menus! Woohoo! I love vintage cookbooks with menus!

Here's a photo of the cover. No date, but Chicago Man and I think it's definitely '60s, if not '50s.

Aren't the colors lurid? I love it!

Besides containing over 2,000 recipes and of course, the menus, which I'll get to in a minute, this cookbook contains charming vintage drawings like I remember from childhood. Here are a couple:

Not so much has changed, at least at my house!

And the back cover; again, with lurid colors, this time of gelatin molds.

The sliced olives with pimento "tongues" on the first mold are hilarious! I will have to search the book for that recipe.

Now, for the menus. I was a bookworm as a kid. My dad would take me to the library each week, and it was nothing for me to check out 10 books at a time, and return them the following week. 

But one of my favorite books was right in my mother's kitchen drawer: her 1940s era Good Housekeeping plaid-covered cookbook, with menus! I read those menus over and over. 

Maybe because my mother did not cook, the idea that someone would actually put together a meal with appetizer, main course, vegetables, salad, bread, dessert, and a beverage, was fascinating to me. (or maybe I had a past life as a recipe tester in the 1930s and '40s, I don't know!)

And the foods in those menu sections were so different from what I was used to eating. They were written by people north of the Mason-Dixon line so of course turnip greens, cornbread, and pork barbeque never appeared.

In this Eastern Star cookbook, my absolute favorite menu thus far is:

Tomato Juice
Congealed Sauerkraut Salad (OMG)
Ham Loaf (OMG again)
Candied Yams, Buttered Broccoli (a vegetable I never tasted till I was an adult)
Hot Biscuits
Cake Squares with Pineapple Sauce

Here's another good one:

Tomato Juice (a nice aperitif, I guess)
Tossed Greens
Surprise Meat Loaf
Mashed Potato Nests Filled with Creamed Peas (I actually think this sounds good because I love creamed peas)
Bread Sticks
Coffee, Tea, or Milk
Whip O'Gold Cake (love the name)

Can you imagine cooking like this on a regular basis? Just the baking alone would wear me out, and I love to bake. But I usually only do it on days when I am serving frozen Reggio's pizza for dinner.

The interesting thing about these menus is, they are all attributed to ladies of the Eastern Star (mostly in the Midwest and Alabama), but I haven't found the corresponding recipes in the cookbook!

I have found Filipino Meat Loaf (why it's called that, I can't tell) but no Surprise Meat Loaf. :( I wanna know what the surprise is!

So I'll keep searching and reporting here on all the treasures contained in this cookbook because I believe you, like me, probably love vintage recipes :)

What's your favorite vintage cookbook?

Friday, November 26, 2010


I am an avid Biggest Loser fan, so I really enjoyed the Biggest Loser Thanksgiving Eve special, Where Are They Now?

Sam's proposal to Stephanie made me teary, Sione's trip to his family's native country of Tonga was inspiring, and I am pulling for O'Neal to succeed with his new Fitness North ( business.

I loved everything about the show, in fact, except the advice about food.

Now, before I start in on that let me say that since September 20, 2009 I have lost 70 lbs and have about 70 more to go. A lot of my success and inspiration has come from the Biggest Loser tv program, and following the Biggest Loser "diet" (can we delete that word from the English language, please? because it's meaningless, at least in our modern context of food deprivation).

So several months ago, I realized that I love food and I want to eat  healthy, natural food that I enjoy and not focus so much on calories. So I did that and still lost weight, although at a slower pace.

That's why Danny's (Season 8 winner) tip about eating cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, and Curtis Stone's roasted turkey breast instead of dark meat, didn't digest too well with me.

I realize that mashed potatoes, traditionally made, probably have a lot more calories than making "fauxtatoes" with cauliflower. And that Curtis' turkey breast is probably delicious and has fewer calories than eating dark meat, but dammit...I love dark meat, and I love mashed potatoes.

What is so wrong about eating a normal portion of dark meat and a normal portion of mashed potatoes--if that is what you love?

I have been on a perpetual diet since I was 12, except for about seven years where I decided to hell with it, that I was going to eat what I wanted, and gained a lot of weight. Mainly because I just couldn't stop eating things I'd deprived myself of for years, and also because I was not dealing with emotional issues, and low self-esteem.

When I was on my perpetual diet, I did a lot of silly things like using lemon juice on baked potatoes instead of butter, not eating bread--and I am not talking about a slice of Wonder bread, I'm talking about good French bread or good homemade wholegrain bread, eating fake, weird margarine instead of real butter, and going years without eating really good mashed potatoes.

I did a lot of things to avoid eating food I love, to avoid gaining weight, because what I was really avoiding was loving myself. All I was really doing was masking the real problem, which was that I did not know how to love and nurture myself.

"Diet gurus" will tell you not to equate food with love, but what is food if not a healthy, loving way to nurture yourself? Not Twinkies, not Big Macs or jarred, oversalted Alfredo sauce, or fish sticks and chicken nuggets, but real, wholesome, unprocessed healthy food.

That's love. That's loving myself.

And now I'll tell you a secret: I have no idea how to make really good mashed potatoes with real milk or cream, and butter. But I'm gonna learn. Because I want to love myself even more than I already do.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Menu 2010

I am excited about this year's Thanksgiving dinner, as it combines a few of my family traditions, some green bean casserole for Chicago Man, and lots of new, and hopefully exciting, and flavorful dishes that will become a tradition. It's also my first gluten-free Thanksgiving.

So here is my menu:

Herb Roasted Turkey (no basting, no brining)
Bread and Fruit Stuffing from, made over into gluten free
Traditional relish tray: olives, pickled peaches, celery, bread and butter pickles, 
and this year, candied apple rings as a nod to my grandmother who always served them at family meals
Raspberry/Cranberry Jello Salad (old-fashioned, not healthy, but refreshing and traditional)
Tyler Florence's Mama's Candied Sweet Potatoes 
(because they are the closest I've found to my grandmother's lost recipe)
Green Bean Casserole (purchased from Trader Joe's)
Slow-roasted Balsamic Root Veggies from
Cranberry Relish w/ orange zest and blackberries
(snagged the blackberry idea from Bobby Flay on the Thanksgiving Throwdown w/
Sister Schubert rolls for my mama
Poppyseed rolls for Chicago Man
No rolls for me!
Gluten-free Apple Cheesecake from 
w/ Fleur de Sel caramel sauce from Trader Joe's
Pumpkin Mousse

The recipe I decided to share here this morning is the Balsamic Root Vegetables from I love the new, updated Southern Living magazine and have tried several recipes over the past year since I re-subscribed.

This sounds wonderful; I will let you know later how it turns out. I made a few of my own substitutions which I will share in parentheses. Here are a few of my root veg before I cut them up. I purchased organic at

1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes
1 lb parsnips (I used baby turnips)
1 lb carrots
2 large red onions, coarsely chopped (I omitted these because I am allergic to onions; hoping it will not affect caramelization)
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 TB light brown sugar
3 TB olive oil
2 TB balsamic vinegar (I used fig-infused)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Peel first 3 ingredients and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Combine parsnips, carrots, onions, and cranberries in a lightly greased 6-quart slow cooker; layer sweet potatoes on top.
Whisk together sugar and next 4 ingredients in a small bowl; pour over vegetable mixture. Do not stir.
Cover and cook on high 4-5 hours or until vegetables are tender. Toss with parsley just before serving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How I Learned To Cook: Thanksgiving 1989

My mother was not much of a cook when I was growing up—we mostly ate out or ate frozen dinners--but once a year she went into Mrs. Cleaver mode and put a tasty, home-cooked meal on the table.


Maybe that’s why it was and still is, my favorite holiday.

Instead of KFC takeout, cafeteria food, or aluminum trays with greasy, soggy fried chicken with coating like cardboard (ugh) or roast beef that had no more resemblance to beef than my mother had to Julia Child, on Thanksgiving Day and for a few days afterward, we had real food.

The meal began with a relish tray consisting of celery sticks (with the leaves on), triple-stuffed olives (exotic for Memphis in the ‘60s), sweet bread-and-butter pickles (only Mrs. Fanning’s would do) and round, savory pickled peaches from a jar. It was a cool, crisp, green and orange contrast to the brown and tan food that was to come.

Then there was the turkey, roasted in her too-small roaster that dated back to her wedding in 1949; canned LeSeur peas (I still love them, for sentimental reasons), and soft, gooey baked sweet potatoes (fewer calories than candied).

Seessel’s grocery supplied the light, melt-in-your mouth buttercrust rolls, and also the tangy cranberry-orange relish with real pieces of orange peel.

It was all delicious to me, but the real star was the traditional Southern cornbread dressing and giblet gravy, both made entirely from scratch.

My mother got the recipe for the dressing and gravy from a co-worker. The dressing took an entire muffin tin of homemade cornbread and nearly a whole loaf of white bread, toasted, plus some home-stewed chicken and broth with poultry seasoning, onion, and celery bits, and it was savory, dense, juicy, fatty—my first comfort food. And oh my gosh…maybe I can actually use the word unctuous in a sentence after hearing it a dozen times on Top Chef. Ok, when I was growing up my mother’s dressing was unctuous.

The gravy was thick and rich, and made with the turkey’s giblets, heart, and neck, and pan drippings, and contained yellow and white chunks of hard-boiled egg.

The best part was, since there were only two of us, we had several days of leftovers.

My mother continued to make this same meal at Thanksgiving for years, only varying by sometimes buying canned cranberry sauce instead of the orange relish.

I never wanted to change a thing; I relished its sameness, that it was one thing I could always count on, until Thanksgiving 1989.

I wasn’t much of an adventurous cook then; in fact, like my mother, I rarely cooked at all although I did enjoy baking.

But a week before Thanksgiving, a recipe in the newspaper caught my eye.

It was for pearl onions, pears, Brussels sprouts, and kumquats roasted with thyme and honey. For me, exotic and adventurous! And technique-wise, definitely a few steps beyond popping a frozen dinner in the microwave.

So, off to the grocery I went, and somehow managed to find fresh kumquats. They were pint-sized, and came in a blue cardboard carton. The pears were easy, of course, and then I found the pearl onions and Brussels sprouts. I had to use dried thyme as fresh was unavailable in Memphis, TN groceries 21 years ago.

I made the dish at home and took it to my mother’s Thanksgiving morning. It turned out perfectly, and it was a turning point for me.

Given its success, I began spreading my culinary wings and awoke a real passion for fresh food seasoned with herbs. And the memory of that Thanksgiving, and the wonderful feeling I got from creating an "exotic" (remember--this was Memphis) dish is one of my most favorite memories ever.

As for Thanksgiving, our meal has changed gradually over the years, as have our lives. Last year, in an effort to eat healthier, I asked my mother to not make the dressing. I think she was relieved. It’s a lot of work, and she is 88 now. Chicago Man joined our family a few years ago, and the dressing was not what he was used to, so he does not miss it.

And OK, the heavy, fatty dressing no longer seems unctuous to me since I’ve been eating lighter.

Also, since last Thanksgiving I’ve gone gluten-free so I had to seek out other ways of making dressing.

So this year I am making a package of Bob’s Red Mill ( gluten free cornbread, combining it with rice bread, and adding celery, apple, fresh thyme, dried cranberries, walnuts, raisins, and apricots, and using vegetable broth instead of the more fatty homemade chicken stock.

And as for that Brussels sprout/kumquat/pearl onion/pear recipe that expanded my culinary horizons…I hadn’t made it in maybe a decade and wanted to try it again. Alas, I lost the original recipe, then found it on But I could not find any kumquats this year in Nashville so it will not be making an appearance on our table.

Here is the recipe anyway, and next year I will search high and low for kumquats to make this recipe because now that I’m over 50 it’s all about expanding, letting go, and weaving the old and new into one perfect plate.

(this version I found at uses preserved kumquats and I could not even find those in Nashville!)

2 pts. Brussels sprouts
24 white pearl onions, about 1 inch in diameter
2 (10 oz.) jars preserved kumquats
2 or 3 lg. semi-ripe pears, peeled, cored & quartered
1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. pure maple syrup or honey
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. chopped mint (garnish)
Cut a very thin slice off the bottom of each Brussels sprout and remove outer few leaves. Cut an X in bottom of each sprout.
Place sprouts in a pot of boiling water and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain, run under cold water, pat dry and reserve.
Drop onions in another pot of boiling water. Cook for 7 minutes. Drain, run under cold water and pat dry. Slice roots off and remove outer peels, leaving onions whole. Reserve.
Drain kumquats and rinse with water to remove syrup. Reserve.
Cut pear quarters lengthwise in 1/4-inch slices.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place cider, maple syrup, butter and thyme in a small saucepan; heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally.
In a 9 x 13 x 2-inch ovenproof dish, lay the vegetables in four rows crosswise. Begin with onions, then Brussels sprouts, kumquats and pears, standing pears so that round uncut edges show on top.
Pour cider mixture over top and sprinkle with pepper. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes, basting twice. After 45 minutes, remove foil and bake 15 minutes more, until fruits and vegetables are glazed and browned on top. Baste before serving. Sprinkle with chopped mint. Serves 12.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Food Writing As Therapy--Who Knew?

Less than 10 minutes after I posted my last entry, Pink Surprise, which wound up being about the demise of Britling's Cafeteria, I realized from a technical standpoint that I could have taken my writing to the next level and tied in the passing of my beloved grandmother, which happened around the same time.

And then the emotions hit, like I'd just been whacked with a 50-lb bag of flour.

My post was really about the loss of my grandmother, and my know, the one that didn't cook.

The thing about my mother is, she is still living. In fact, she lives with me and Chicago Man although when we move back to Chicago she will be going into a senior facility.

I'm fortunate in that my mother is only showing very early signs of dementia, but yet, the vibrant, witty, designer-clad woman who raised me is long gone.

What's left is a mother who never leaves the house except for a doctor's appointment and therefore wears the same ratty and sometimes dirty, housecoats and robes day after day; a mother who is in chronic pain and complains all the time, and a mother who never says thank you for anything I do, and who takes no interest in my health, my career, my life or really anything to do with me.

Therefore, I also am in chronic pain.

Yet, she dotes on the cats. She feeds them delectable treats, worries and frets endlessly if one of them sneezes, and talks to them constantly.

Yes, reader, I have resented my cats at times.

What occurred to me today, though, after writing my post, is that maybe she does not take any interest in me because if there is the slightest, least little thing wrong with me...a sneeze, a cut on my finger...her security and safety are threatened.

After all, she is dependent on me for everything: buying her groceries, taking her to doctor's appointments, ordering and picking up her prescriptions, driving 90 minutes round trip for her Merle Norman cold cream that she's been using since the 1940s...

The only thing she is not dependent on me for is cooking, oddly enough, although what she does could hardly be called cooking. She is supposedly on a "no-salt" diet laid out by a cardiologist nearly 10 years ago, so she mostly eats cheap cuts of meat broiled on the George Foreman grill, frozen or canned vegetables with no seasoning, boiled potatoes, bread, the occasional scrambled egg, and lots and lots of peanut butter.

Ok, and if anyone out there is thinking I should be doing her cooking, let's look at it this way: this is her last stand at independence.

But when we get ready to move her into a senior facility, I'm picking the one that has the best food.

Pink Surprise Surprises Me With Memories

This morning I connected with a "kindred spirit" via the Internet.

Her name is Amy Alessio and she lives and works in the Chicago suburbs. Amy is a young adult librarian, a writer, and a collector of vintage cookbooks and recipes.

I love vintage cookbooks and recipes, too, and recently started my own collection. I usually don't actually make the recipes...some of them are downright weird for today's tastes...but I love the window into history they provide.

Over the weekend, Amy wrote a blog post about Pink Surprise Salad:

From the name, you'd think the recipe was about cherry or raspberry Jello, or even a salad with beets. But no--the "pink" comes from catsup mixed with cottage cheese and a few other items: green onion, hard boiled eggs, and "salad dressing" which in the South is what we call Miracle Whip.

This recipe reminded me of one of my favorite cafeteria meals from my youth/young adulthood in Memphis. As previously mentioned in my blogs, my mother did not cook when I was growing up.

When she was single she developed a habit of eating at Britling's Cafeteria, a Memphis culinary institution for about 60 years until it closed due to the proliferation of fast food.

She saw no reason to discontinue that habit after she married, so we ate at Britling's at least once a week.

One of my favorite selections was something called, Lettuce Salad with Cottage Cheese Dressing.

It consisted of a crosswise slice of iceberg lettuce, with Cottage Cheese Dressing. I never knew exactly what was in the dressing, just that I loved its creamy, tangy taste. It did have bits of green onion and red and green bell pepper in it, but I never knew exactly what else: was it buttermilk? milk? Miracle Whip?

I guess I will never know now...I googled Cottage Cheese Dressing and came up with many possibilities but none attributed to the original Britling's.

When I was single and in my 20s, I continued my mother's habit of eating out a lot. We usually revert to the way we were raised, at least until we discover deeper things inside ourselves (the way I discovered my passion for cooking).

I loved that Lettuce Salad with Cottage Cheese Dressing at Britling's because in the '80s I considered it both tasty and healthy...well, it was at least, healthier than say, macaroni and cheese. I enjoyed eating it with their hand-carved roast beef, a cornstick, and a vegetable...usually turnip greens. I always drank coffee with my meal, and loved going to the huge silver urn for my free refills.

It was a sad day for me when Britling's closed and lunch choices revolved around chicken nuggets and such.  And, it was a hospitable place. The cashiers, line servers, and tray-carriers had all worked there for years and knew my name and what I liked.

I miss it still, after nearly 20 years absence, but Britling's left me a legacy of good, plain, simple food that was both comforting and full of love. And some good memories of my mother, too. Maybe it wasn't so bad, that she didn't cook.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Creating a Legacy in Real Time: Crockpot Lasagna

My business, Golden Delicious Legacies, is all about helping families preserve their culinary heritage and stories. So, most of my clients' recipes are centered in the past: Grandma's crispy fried chicken, Cousin Mildred's silky chocolate pie, or Dad's family favorite barbeque sauce.

Sometimes, though, a culinary legacy is being created in "real time". And blogging and POD (print-on-demand) publishing has opened doors for home chefs to put their culinary creations out there in real time.

Stephanie O'Dea is a mother, home chef, and blogger ( who last year came out with a slow-cooker cookbook called Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking. ( This book covers everything you can cook in a slow cooker, from beverages to main dishes to "fakeout take-out.

Stephanie's book has become my go-to reference point for when I know I am going to be tired at the end of the today. I love putting everything together for a meal, layering it in the crockpot, and then doing nothing at 6 p.m. except dishing it up.

Our house is up for sale and we have two showings tomorrow, so today will be spent cleaning like a madwoman and helping Chicago Man with any last minute repairs and fix-its we need to take care of.

For this evening's meal I chose lasagna. I've made Stephanie's lasagna several times this year and it always turns out great, and seems so much easier to make than the traditional oven-baked kind.

So here's the recipe straight from Stephanie's book, that in my book is sure to become a classic:

1 lb ground beef or turkey, browned and drained
1 25 oz jar of pasta sauce
10 dry lasagna noodles (traditional; not the no-cook kind per Stephanie. And like Stephanie, I eat gluten-free so I use brown rice noodles. Today I did not have lasagna noodles so I am using brown rice spirals).
15 oz container ricotta cheese
1 lb sliced mushrooms ( also added some chopped bell pepper I needed to get rid of)
2 handfuls baby spinach (optional) I like to use this!
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced (optional) I usually omit this
8 slices mozzarella cheese (I didn't have slices today so I used grated)
2 cups shredded Italian-style cheese
1/4 cup water


Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Brown the ground meat on the stovetop and drain well. Add the jar of pasta sauce to the meat. Save the jar, you'll need it later.
     Spoon some of the meat and sauce mixture into the bottom of your slow cooker. Cover with a layer of uncooked lasagna noodles. Smear some ricotta cheese on the noodles, and add some mushrooms, a handful of spinach, and some egg slices if using. Put a few slices of mozzarella on top, and 1/2 cup or so of the shredded cheese. Add another spoonful of the meat and sauce mixture, and repeat layers until you run out of ingredients, or the crock is full.
     Put water into the empty pasta jar and shake. Pour the contents over the assembled ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.  Check about an hour before serving, and push down the top noodles into the liquid if they are getting too brown and crispy. The lasagna is done when the pasta has reached the desired tenderness and the cheese has melted completely and has begun to brown on the edges.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Possum, The Other White Meat

My mother grew up on a cotton farm during The Depression and I've been hearing her stories all my life.

I did not fully appreciate them, though, until I turned 50. Then I really started to listen, because I realized I was not just hearing our family's history, but the history of our country.

Since she, her parents, and her five siblings were on a farm, they had plenty of vegetables, eggs, and chickens to eat and milk to drink, but not much cash. One time, my mother said her "papa" showed her a penny and said it was all the cash money he had.

Occasionally, they needed to forage in the woods for meat. One winter, mama said her Uncle Claude returned home to Mississippi from his travels. Uncle Claude was a hobo during The Depression and for years afterward. I guess it just became a habit.

I've heard that "hobo" stands for homeward bound, and eventually Uncle Claude did return home to North Mississippi. I remember him when I was a small child. He was a grizzled old fellow that was always telling stories. I guess it runs in the family. My mother and her sisters welcomed him home like he was a king, and I am proud of that.

So back to the winter in the 1930s when Uncle Claude came home. During his travels he had learned to cook possum with "sweets"--sweet potatoes.

Mama's brother, my Uncle Edward, propped up a washtub with a stick, put some bait under it, and caught a possum. He fattened it up on acorns, and eventually it was ready for Uncle Claude to skin, dress, and cook it over a fire with the sweets.

My mama is a bit evasive about how it tasted; she comments more about how good the sweets were but said the possum was not that bad. I guess it was really tender. Uncle Claude learned how to cook in the hobo camps.

And, I guess if you are hungry you will eat just about anything.

Fannie Flagg, in her Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook, includes a recipe for roast possum, but it's a joke (kind of) because she does say, "For Yankees or anyone else who cannot locate possum, substitute pork." and the recipe directions refer to pork, thankfully.

But I wanted to post the recipe here since, even though it's kinda embarassing, possum is part of my culinary heritage. And since, like all the rest of our family recipes, Uncle Claude's is lost.  So here it is, Fannie Flagg's Roast Possum:

1/2 cup herb stuffing mix
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 plump possum or two 1-lb pork tenderloins
1 lemon, cut in half
1/2 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons bourbon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl; mix well. Rub tenderloins with cut halves of lemon and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make a lengthwise slit down center of each tenderloin, cutting to within 1/2 inch of bottom; open tenderloins. Fill centers with stuffing, pull outer edges of each tenderloin together over stuffing, and tie each tenderloin with kitchen string. Place on a rack in a shallow baking pan; bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until done. Transfer to a serving dish. Combine jam and bourbon and spoon over meat. Yield: 8 servings.

And be thankful you are eating pork and not possum!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If Cotton is the "Fabric of our Lives" Family Recipes Are Our Heart

Family dinners at my grandparents' house were special, and I know yours were, too.

My grandparents lived in a tiny white "crackerbox" house in the Buntyn-Normal neighborhood of Memphis, and even though it was only about 800 square feet, it never seemed small.

The kitchen and dining rooms seemed just right, even when my grandma has multiple casseroles in oven and pots, pans, and bowls all over the stove and countertops. Even when she added the extra leaves to the dining room table to accommodate out-of-town family.

My grandmother had several sets of dishes that she kept in a sideboard in the dining room. My favorite were a set of brown and white dishes with a Thanksgiving, or harvest, theme. She had purple and burgundy glassware to go with them. I wish I still had them. I don't know what happened to them after she passed away in 1983.

She always had a tablecloth on the table, and Wedgewood blue candles in silver candle holders. When I was old enough, she let me light the candles and then snuff them out with the snuffer at the end of the meal. I felt so special!

The food, of course, was amazing: succulent pork roast with savory tomato gravy ladled over mounds of rich, creamy mashed potatoes;  baked macaroni and cheese that managed to be crispy and creamy at the same time; sweet potatoes baked with tangy lemon slices and lots of brown sugar; crispy fried chicken; sweet, vinegary German potato salad, asparagus casserole with hard-boiled egg which I would not eat as a child but would love to try now.

My grandfather cooked, too, but differently. Navy bean soup, spaghetti, pork shoulder roasted to perfection in his backyard pit, and quail that he raised in pens also in the backyard.

Sadly, none of these recipes has survived. Nor were my cousin Lucille's masterful coconut and German chocolate cake recipes ever written down.

What we were thinking?

It's the same in Chicago Man's family--how would I love to have a slice of his grandmother's thick, homemade cherry cheesecake--but that recipe is lost as well.

Golden Delicious Legacies, a division of Golden Legacies, is dear to my heart. I want to assist others in p reserving their family's culinary heritage and the stories that go along with each recipe.

I love the whimsical name, Golden Delicious Legacies, that Chicago Man thought of, and I feel such passion and joy about helping others keep the essence of their family--their recipes--from being lost like ours are.