I had a pound of Benton’s and a loaf of homemade sourdough. Naturally, this is what happened.

I had a pound of Benton’s and a loaf of homemade sourdough. Naturally, this is what happened.

Hot to Trotter

One of my best friends in St. Louis introduced me to the glory that is Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home. This book makes you feel like a rockstar in the kitchen with challenging recipes that are worthy of a special occasion. Selena (the aforementioned friend) would have us over to share one of the 8 suggested menus in the book; we’d spend hours dining over the (excellently-prepared-as-only-Selena-can-do) 4- or 5-course meal and then would give in to our food comas at the end of the night. Those are some of my favorite memories from the ‘Lou.

Well, now it’s time to bring the grand tradition to Nashville.

Before the heat took over, we invited four hip cats to dive into “Menu 3” (with one alteration to fit the food preferences of guests). As you’ll see from the last picture, we enjoyed ourselves.

First course: bacon and caramelized onion tart. 

Second course (made by Leanna): pumpkin soup with chicken and ginger-braised leeks. 

Third course: slow-roasted salmon with garlic and thyme risotto (the salmon had such a great texture that it didn’t sit long enough for a photo). And fourth course (made by Elizabeth): warm apple-date tart with honey-caramel sauce.

The highlights of the evening were the bacon and caramelized onion combo, the braised leaks in the pumpkin soup, and the honey-caramel sauce that accompanied the apple-date tart.

A good time was had by all, as is clear from the inevitable food coma:

Everything in moderation… including moderation.
— Julia Child

First breakfast of 2012: Eggs Benedict with Benton’s bacon and heirloom tomato. A damn fine start to the year, if I do say so myself.

First breakfast of 2012: Eggs Benedict with Benton’s bacon and heirloom tomato. A damn fine start to the year, if I do say so myself.

(Belated) Thanksgiving Post feat. My Badass Father-in-Law Frying a Turkey

Food blogger fail: there are no pictures of the finished product. The hungry Thanksgiving goers didn’t want to wait for a photo op… and there were a lot more of them than there was of me. I’d hope for better luck next year, but with turkey this good, I’m not going to bet on it. Happy (late) Thanksgiving!

Pre-Run Pasta

This is my favorite go-to spaghetti, and it just happens to be a perfect pre-race meal for all you fellow half-marathoners out there. I got the recipe from my mom who concocted it from what I’m sure are about 10 different recipes ripped out of various sources and marked up to no end. Gotta love the woman. I’m drawn to this spaghetti because it’s not too saucy, it’s packed with flavor, it’s spicy, it’s quick to make, and it doesn’t leave me feeling like I need to take a 13.1-hour nap instead of run 13.1 miles. Wins all-around.

The beauty of this pasta is in its simplicity and freshness. And speaking of freshness, I’m sad to say that the batch you see here was 2011’s last hoorah. This dish relies on juicy tomatoes and just-picked herbs. Luckily, I caught the end of the summer tomato crop, and my basil and parsley were still going nuts in October. As for simplicity, the base makes the pasta what it is: you start by sauteeing garlic, chile flakes, green onions, and tomato paste in olive oil. What you end up with is a cooked-down pan of flavorful oil that coats every strand of spaghetti. (I’ll note here that this dish has a healthy kick of heat, which I like. If your stomach lining hasn’t yet been burned off by sriracha as has mine, go easy on the chili flakes and see if you want to dial it up next time.)

Next comes the pasta itself. 100% whole wheat is key here for the texture, flavor, and extra boost you get on your run. (My favorite is DeLallo.) It gets tossed with the oil mixture, taking on its beautiful orangey-red color and soaking up all the flavor. Throw in the fresh tomatoes, basil, parsley, and a heap of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you’ll be deliciously fueled for your morning race or whatever other Saturday pursuit you so choose (like a Minecraft marathon… eh hem, BILL).

And just to show the proof in the pudding (er, pasta), I’m even smiling after the race:

"Remember remember the 5th of November…"

Note: this post isn’t about the gunpowder, treason, and plot. It’s about butternut squash soup. But I made it on November 5th and can’t get that line out of my head, so there ya go.

Ah, butternut squash soup. What a beautiful fall treat that is so easy to mess up with too much sugar. If you’re someone who enjoys a dessert-like winter squash soup, read no further. I’m not one of you. The squash itself is already so sweet that I go out of my way to avoid a cloying result. (I’d rather just bite the bullet and have a thick slice of pumpkin bread.) BUT… play off that natural sweetness with some pancetta and sage? Yes please. 

Bill and I went to a class at the Viking Cooking School and came home with this scrumptious recipe. I’m a fan because it uses a ton of fantastic fall ingredients while still letting the flavor of the squash shine. And that natural sweetness we talked about earlier? It’s developed by roasting the squash—simply with olive oil, salt and pepper—along with some shallots. 

After you roast the squash, you sauté the soup base (leeks, carrots, celery) in pancetta drippings (more about the pancetta below… get excited) before letting the whole thing simmer and come together.

Now here is where Bill and I part ways. The soup is pureed with an immersion blender, which makes it very creamy by itself. But I still thought it needed a splash of cream to round out the finish. Bill disagreed. I’ll be testing my theory on the next go-round. Where we did see eye to eye was on the addition of a healthy dose of Louisiana hot sauce (trust me on this one) before topping the soup with FRIED SAGE AND CRISPY PANCETTA. Gilding the lily? Just a bit. A tiny, wonderful bit. 

All you need to finish the evening is a fire and a good glass of wine. And maybe a splash of cream. 

I Almost Hate It When It’s Worth It.

When a recipe turns out to be much more complicated and time-consuming than I thought it would be, I’m torn. Part of me wants it to be incredible and worth the effort. The other part of me wants it to be, in Bill’s words, very “meh” so I can justify not going through the steps again.

This dish has a story. I saw the Spinach, Pesto & Fontina Lasagna a while back in Bon Appetit; I love vegetarian lasagna, so I put it on our “menu” for the week. On Wednesday night, I started to make the herb pesto (which, by the way, is amazing by itself). After I made the pesto, I realized I didn’t have enough parm for the rest of the recipe. We put it aside and went to Five Guys, vowing to make the lasagna the next night. Thursday: I made the bechamel, but had a long day at work, so we ordered Thai takeout. Friday: resolved to actually finish this lasagna, I pulled out what looked like a huge container of baby spinach only to discover that I had twelve fewer ounces than I needed. We invited my brother and sister-in-law over for pizza. Saturday: I went to get the “remaining” ingredients to do it up right for a Saturday date night at home. Everything was ready except for the ricotta mixture. Alas, no eggs. Bill and I later figured out that I dreamed a conversation where he told me we had eggs. No joke. So Bill runs to the grocery to get eggs. I said, probably five times, this lasagna had better be kick-you-in-the-face amazing. 

Aaaaaand it was awesome. The flavors were more layered than other vegetarian lasagnas. Each of the (overly, in my case) drawn-out steps lent a subtle intrigue to the dish: the bechamel with the wine, the pesto with a bunch of herbs, the creamy fontina… all melded together to make a delectable dish.

Still, as happy as our palates were, I almost wish the lasagna was terrible so I never have the urge to go through four days’ worth of trouble again. Although, I do like a good excuse for Thai takeout…