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!