Monday, December 16, 2013

Homemade Marshmallows - Yes, Virginia, It's Candy

A few years ago, homemade marshmallows were all the rage on cooking bulletin boards I frequent. I gave it a try. They were OK but kind of chewy and underwhelming. I thought, "Well, I've done that now. Meh." Then my sister Kellie tried them last year, and discovered where my effort probably had fallen short (or long, actually). It's been a while, but with the cold weather and the increased consumption of hot cocoa, I thought I'd try again. The improved result is below. They aren't difficult, but there are two crucial things you have to get right.

In a way, marshmallows are cubes of super-whipped Jell-O. A sugar & corn syrup mixture is cooked to 240F, then beaten into softened unflavored gelatin. The mixture is whipped and whipped at high speed in a stand mixer, and fluffs up into clouds of sticky goodness. Given that the syrup is cooked to a specific temperature, marshmallows are, by definition, candy.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Buttermilk Scallion Corn Cakes

A traditional staple of the Southern table is cornbread, whether made in a skillet or as muffins or cornpone. Another option is to take that same batter and turn it into corn cakes. I'd long suspected that my mother's simple Georgia cornbread recipe would make excellent corn cakes. I put the idea to the test recently, tweaking the recipe just a bit to make it suitable for griddle cooking, and a little more interesting than just plain corn cakes.

It's common for corn cakes to include corn kernels for a little texture. Instead I went the flavor route and did a riff on Asian scallion pancakes. The result was very satisfying. They were good all on their own as a side; even better with some butter. (Isn't everything?) Next, I used the scallion corn cakes as a base for for serving chili, and that was definitely a winner. I can imagine the would be a good base for any sort of stew, or pulled pork or beef.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mini Chocolate Empanadas

It was a tough week. It started on Sunday with a difficult evening on the personal front, then it evolved into a long work week. (Because we can't let personal issues get in the way of work, can we?) I'm not a chocoholic, so I'm not a person who keeps bags of Hershey's Kisses around for emotional emergencies. Still, I'd been thinking for a while about experimenting with an idea I'd had for chocolate empanadas, and even I am not immune to the power of chocolate. So, it seemed as good a time as any to give it a go.

Mini Chocolate Empanadas

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chef Charlie Trotter Passes

Sorry for the lack of posting lately ... I have some topics in the hopper just waiting for a lull in a very busy fall. In the meantime, it's worth noting that Charlie Trotter died today. For those who are relatively new to the foodist world, the name might not mean much, because he doesn't fit the mold of the current "celebrity chef." A lot of what we take for granted in the current American restaurant and food landscape is due to the vision and efforts of Trotter, however. He opened his landmark Chicago restaurant in 1987 and many darlings of today's national food press are proteges or friends. If you were lucky enough to catch his short PBS series The Kitchen Sessions, you were able to see a master at work. I'm proud to say I own autographed copies of the book from that series and of his "Dummies" book.

This article from The New York Times gives a little insight into how influential he was in shaping the way we eat in 2013.

Charlie Trotter, Chicago Chef, Dies

A few other points worth mentioning:
  • Tasting menus are all the rage in fine dining. He started the trend.
  • Ditto vegetarian tasting menus.
  • Trotter's was the first restaurant I'd heard of to pair non-alcoholic beverages with courses. I've since enjoyed similar service a couple of times at Nashville's Catbird Seat restaurant.
  • Trotter also introduced a "chef's table" that was in the kitchen of the restaurant; now chef's tables or counters are all over the place. In fact, the entire Catbird Seat restaurant is essentially a chef's table.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fudgesicles - Frozen Chocolate Treats for Summer

A couple of years ago, home made popsicles popped up on the foodie radar. The recipes I ran across were a far cry from the frozen Kool-Aid pops we made when I was a kid. Instead, a wide range of fruit, flavorings, and liquids were used to create frozen treats in all colors of the rainbow and with a variety of flavors and textures. The game was on in the SingleGrrl Kitchen.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Chronicle of Annoyance: 15 Pet Peeves of the Food World

  1. Spicy grits (or any spicy starch) served with a spicy main dish.
    The grits with shrimp and grits can be plain or enriched with cream, butter, cheese, but please ... Take a lesson from the hot chicken restaurants who serve plain white bread with the incendiary bird:  The starch should be a soothing counterpoint to the spicy shrimp. Same with grits served with barbecue. Ditto cornbread, cole slaw, mac and cheese, etc. Leave out the peppers and give the diner's taste buds a break.
  2. People who refer to themselves in the third person as a "chowhound" (or worse, "hound") on the Chowhound forums.
    It's not cute. Stop it.
  3. Referring to barbecue as " 'cue."
    Or spelling it "barbeque" as I saw recently in a online ad for WalMart.
  4. Use of commodity tomatoes between June 15 and September 15.
    You may not be a "farm to table" restaurant, but there's no excuse for not calling up Howell Farms and getting some real tomatoes during tomato season.
  5. Pies where the crust has not been pre-baked.
    Pour a wet mixture into a raw crust and the end product will have a gummy, limp crust. If pie is the new cupcake, then bakers are going to have to get used to blind baking crusts. (Note: Lisa Donovan of Husk Nashville is exempt from this rule.)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Creamy Goat Cheese Pasta with Asparagus at the Hip Donelson Farmer's Market

In the early days of this blog, I wrote about doing a riff on an asparagus and pasta recipe from the Everyday Food show on PBS. I didn't post a full recipe, but linked to the recipe on the show's web site. The show and its monthly magazine are long gone, and the recipe is now folded into the database for the larger Martha Stewart empire.

It's still a favorite of mine, although I usually make one of my variations rather than following it to the letter. The primary variation is what I demonstrated yesterday at the Hip Donelson Farmer's Market. The market is held every Friday and has a small -- but high-quality -- group of produce and food vendors, as well as a cafe run by a rotating list of local restaurants. There's live music and one or two cooking demonstrations offered by volunteers like me, using produce available that day from the market.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cooking Demo at the Hip Donelson Farmer's Market

Just a quick note to say that I'll be doing a cooking demo at the Hip Donelson Farmer's Market tomorrow (Friday, May 31). The market opens at 4:00pm; my demo will start at 5:30pm. The demos at the market feature seasonal produce available that day from the farmers. Handouts with the recipe I use will be available at the demo. I will also post the recipe here afterwards.

Come on out and support local farmers and the community! For directions, see

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kraft, Duke's, or Hellman's? Or Blue Plate? Or ... ?

A few days ago, Karl Worley of Biscuit Love Truck here in Nashville posted an experimental recipe for pimento cheese on Twitter. The recipe specified Duke's mayonnaise. Lesley Lassiter, of Lesley Eats and Bites Blog (on the Nashville Scene), offered the opinion that she preferred Kraft mayonnaise. This launched a lively (friendly) debate amongst Nashville food enthusiasts about the Mayo of Choice. Before long Karl predicted that the headline in the next day's newspaper would read "Local Bloggers Tip Food Truck Over Mayo War." BJ Lofback of Riff's Truck dubbed the discussion #mayogate, participants started reaching out to chefs and food writers. Lesley wrote a fun post summarizing the mayo war on the Scene's web site, and the debate has continued. As for me ...

When I was growing up in the Atlanta area, my mother and my paternal grandmother (Nanny) used Blue Plate primarily, if not exclusively. At that point I just considered mayonnaise a necessary moistener for sandwiches and potato salad. (I was also fascinated by the water tower at the Blue Plate plant in a neighboring town: It was painted to look like a jar of Blue Plate! For a grainy B&W picture, after the brand changed to Mrs. Filbert's, see When I was old enough to stay overnight with  my maternal grandmother (Celie Mama), though, I discovered that she used Kraft. Kraft mayonnaise was a revelation to me. It had a stiffer texture, which I liked, and a lemony tang that seemed to enhance the overall taste of the food. When I was on my own and buying my own groceries, I made a beeline for Kraft and never looked back.

Sure, with the advent of food TV I started hearing that these famous chefs preferred Hellman's, and even went so far as to specify it in their recipes. I tried it. It was fine. But it was not what I wanted when I wanted mayonnaise. As for Duke's, despite its reputation as an iconic Southern brand, I'd never HEARD of it until a few years ago, when it started to be touted as an iconic Southern brand. I'd be willing to give it a try, but I've never been able to find it in less than a quart size jar. I don't buy quarts of mayonniase as it is -- a pint can last me forever. So, if you ever see Duke's for sale in a half-pint jar, let me know.

And Miracle Whip? Don't even go there. Don't. Even.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Have a Burger Your Way at YourWay Burgers & Wings, Dallas

It's a bit of a coincidence that I've been on a burger tear as my work travels have taken me around the country. More by chance than design I've found myself at one gourmet burger joint after another in various cities. It's been a delicious bit of focused exploration, and I look forward to continuing the trend.

The most recent entry was during a trip to Dallas a few weeks ago. I stay and work in the north Dallas area when I'm in town. I had to make a run to a nearby FedEx Office to pick up a print job. I'd not been to this FedEx before, and I found that it was in a small strip of shops that contained several restaurants and a cake bakery. It was mid-afternoon, but I hadn't had lunch, so I decided to have a bite before heading to the hotel. After perusing the choices, I thought it would be fun to continue the ongoing burger research and chose YourWay Burgers & Wings.

YourWay is a small chain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The location I visited was in the suburb of Farmer's Branch. The space has a clean, simple, contemporary decor, with the majority of the tables and booths in the front, with the ordering counter and bar along the left side in the back. It's not a huge restaurant, and is longer than it is wide, but it had a comfortable feel and could easily handle a sizeable lunch or dinner crowd.

Friday, April 26, 2013

#BurgerDebate: Upscale Suburban Cleveland Edition / Michael Symon's B Spot Burgers

This past week work travels took me to suburban Cleveland. Like a lot of American cities, Cleveland is experiencing a food renaissance (coincidentally highlighted in today's Cleveland Plain Dealer). The contact for the company we were working for offered lots of great tips for restaurants, and reminded me that I was in Michael Symon country. My days were spent teaching, and evenings were spent prepping for teaching the next day; given my location and the work load, unfortunately I did not have a chance to get out and explore. Meals were in the client's cafeteria or my business-class hotel for the most part. They were serviceable, and one hotel dinner was actually quite good, but I was disappointed that I didn't have time to check out the scene.

Class was finished Thursday afternoon, though, and I wasn't due to fly back to Nashville until today. So, co-instructor Robert and I headed down the Interstate a few exits to check out an outpost of B Spot Burgers, Symon's casual pub. Symon was a key instigator in the Cleveland restaurant renaissance with Lolita, and has since gone on to open several other restaurants and to star in books (Michael Ruhlman's "... of a Chef" series) and various food-centric TV shows. I don't know if/when I'll ever make it back to Cleveland, so I leapt at the opportunity to check this chef off my list AND to continue the burger theme of the blog.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chicago and the Best Burger I've Ever Had

Every couple of months or so I go to Chicago for business. My wish list for Chicago restaurants I want to visit is very very long. The problem, though, is that I'm based in the West Suburbs when I'm there, and I don't have a lot of time to trek downtown, where most of them are located. Another problem with trying to visit Topolobampo or Girl and Goat or any of the other buzzy places is I usually don't know about my trip far enough in advance to be able to make reservations - they book up months ahead.

One one of my first trips last year, I stayed over the weekend and decided to try for a place that didn't require reservations for a late Saturday lunch. I hoped that the off-peak time would increase my chances of getting a seat in a reasonable time. Given the fondness for red meat in the population, it's no surprise that one of the most well-known restaurants in town is a noveau bar/diner that's famous for its burgers. Being a lover of good burgers myself, and hearing good recs from trusted sources (like Vivek Surti), I picked Au Cheval for my dining adventure.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Kiwi Mango (or Papaya) Salsa

My friend Scott did a residency program in Hawaii years ago, and visits whenever he can. One of the treasures he brought back from his first visit was a community cookbook. As you might imagine, it's a little different than than the typical Junior League cookbooks we have around the southeast. The ingredients are heavy on tropical produce and seafood, and influence of Asian cuisine is strong. One recipe he introduced me to years ago was a kiwi papaya salsa. The original version was meant to be served with a cheese such as brie, accompanied by thin, crisp crackers or lavash. Over the years I've adapted the recipe and make it frequently, substituting mango for the papaya. It's light, healthy, delicious, and is not only a good accompaniment to cheese and crackers, but is a great side or relish with chicken, pork, or fish.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Culinary and Other Adventures in Asheville, NC

For the last 6 weeks or so I've been working some very long hours, including weekends. While I was back at it this week, last weekend I was able to take a bit of a break. I was contemplating taking a day trip on Saturday, just to get some fresh scenery. I mentioned this to John, offering that he could come along if he liked. I was thinking Birmingham or Chattanooga, but he suggested Asheville -- a town he knows well and which has been high on my list of places to visit for a long time. Before you know it a day trip became an overnight, and on the way it became a full weekend. I felt a little guilty that this meant I couldn't work on Sunday, but ... well ... the fun of the trip more than made up for the lost weekend work time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gojo Ethiopian Cafe and Restaurant - A Taste of Africa off Nolensville Pike

My friend John is, among many other things, a chef. He's been cooking -- and exploring international food -- since he was a wee lad in East Tennessee. He's worked at world-class restaurants in New Orleans, New Zealand, and Nashville. So, you might say he knows a bit about food, and it shouldn't surprise you that one of our primary activities together is restaurant crawling.

On Friday we had a date to go "somewhere ethnic" in my part of town. The Nolensville Pike area is Nashville's epicenter for international culture, and the list of food choices is nearly endless. This embarrassment of riches is explored periodically on the Bites Blog of the Nashville Scene's web site -- Sean Maloney writes an occasional series tagged "The Road" that visits various eateries on this international corridor. John and I had long talked about exploring some of these mom-and-pop restaurants, groceries, and delis; Friday was our first joint foray. After a little discussion we decided on a spot and headed out. Along the way, though, he asked if I'd ever been to Gojo, the Ethiopian restaurant just off Nolensville on Thompson Lane. I hadn't, but had wanted to go for a long time. He had been, and liked it, and I was game. So we made a snap decision to change course and visit together.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Straight to My Heart - Red Velvet Cake for Valentine's Day

Red Velvet Cake, Red Velvet Cupcakes, Red Velvet Ice Cream, Red Velvet Cookies, Red Velvet Waffles, Red Velvet ... Everything is all the rage, and has been for a few years now. Back in the day it was considered a regional dessert, common enough in the South but not well-known elsewhere. There's a bit of a joke there as the original Red Velvet Cake was developed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. There is no definitive story about how it came to be popular in the South, but it was certainly a fixture at my grandmother Dorothy's Christmas table during my youth. In fact, it was such a hit with my brother Dale that to this day it's the cake he wants for his November birthday.

I'm not sure why RVC caught the imagination of the rest of the country a few years ago, but it's certainly entrenched now. I'm sure the current fad for Southern cuisine has helped keep it front and center. The problem, though, is that even when you are presented with an actual layer cake (as opposed to any other red velvet treat), it has often been bastardized. The "improved" version then often gets a reaction along the lines of "I don't understand why people make a fuss. It's just mediocre chocolate cake with a metric ton of artificial dye."

Well ... yes and no.

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's Time! Nashville Restaurant Week

Many cities around the country have a "restaurant week."  This is a week when participating restaurants offer special menus and / or deals. You can try out a restaurant you haven't visited before, or you might visit an old favorite. Sometimes it's a bargain, sometimes not. Any way you slice it, though, it can be a lot of fun.

Nashville is lucky enough to have several restaurant weeks during the year. The Winter 2013 version is upon us -- next week, January 14 - 20. Sponsored by the independent restaurant consortium Nashville Originals, you can sample fare from any one (or more) of nearly 50 restaurants. Get your reservations in, and eat well!