So Long 2010, HELLOOO 2011!

Holiday cookies go nicely with whiskey cocktails!

Good Bye 2010! As I sit here on New Year’s Eve at home with the doggers, it seems a good time to reflect on all I am thankful for, send good thoughts to friends and family who I miss, those who aren’t doing so well, and reflect on the past year. Earlier in the week, I was actually gearing up for finally experiencing Lower Broadway on NYE but as is usually the case, Grant was offered a gig which took him into another direction. It’s a good night to have a guitar gig for sure. I was going to tag along but then suddenly realized I might have more fun staying at home catching up, being introspective, and relaxing than surrounding myself by people partying it up a little too much. These obligatory holidays make me want to hibernate and save up my energy for more random celebrations when the rest of the world isn’t looking. So I have traded in my cowboy boots for some slippers tonight but no worries, I have Dale Watson cranked on the hi-fi and cookies in the oven! Oh, and just so you know, 2011 is the year I learn to dance! Watch out world! The Red Barn Round-Up seems the perfect place to practice so I need to get on it during these winter months so I will be ready for Spring. Which reminds me- our last Round-Up of 2010 was fabulous with the super talented artist and musician, Julie Lee, and the amazing Paul Burch, both with stellar bands.

Tomorrow we’ll be cooking up a mess of black-eyed peas and collard greens along with a pan of corn bread but it occurred to me that with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I have fallen way behind in my cooking posts. All these photos of our meals that Grant so patiently waited for me to take are piling up. I need to catch up. So here it goes…

We made a yummy turkey soup with vegetables and brown rice with our Thanksgiving left overs which we ate with a pear and blue cheese salad topped with a simple honey vinaigrette. Then I tried my hand at Wonton Soup and found a simple Emeril recipe that gave me the basic idea. I used ground turkey, spiced it up and made the wontons. The soup consisted of mushrooms, baby bok choy, onions and garlic… pretty tasty! Soup is indeed good food, especially in the winter.

So, I’ve been trying to figure out new and exciting ways to enjoy winter squash- squash is good for you. Nutritionally packed and one of the easiest vegetables to digest, squashes are low in calories and high in potassium and Vitamin A. It also helps reduce inflammation. And look how pretty this little butternut squash is…

So, we were craving Mexican food but I wanted to cook and eat healthier so I cubed up this squash and sauteed it with some chopped white onion, several cloves of garlic, a can of green chilies, and spiced it up with some ground cumin, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. We ate it with some veggie re-fried beans, some red rice Grant threw together with some leftover brown rice, and a little shredded cheddar on top! The leftover squash was yummy in a whole wheat quesadilla the next day.

Speaking of Mexican food, ever since our last trip to Austin, where we got our $9 tortilla press, we have been making our own fresh corn tortillas and they are delicious! We no longer get stuck with a stack of stale tortillas- we make as many as we need for a particular meal. And, we found a great high quality corn masa made by Bob’s Red Mill that works great!

On the topic of veggies, it is important to mention one of my favorite winter dishes- roasted root veggies! SO many beautiful colors and packed full of deliciousness and nutrients!

And these roasted sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes seasoned with my famous orange fennel salt and black pepper made the perfect accompaniment to some pan smothered pork chops seasoned with smoky paprika, garlic, salt and pepper. That’s sauteed Red Russian Kale (with cherry tomatoes, a tad bit of fresh garlic and a splash of balsamic) from the Delvin’s farm in College Grove, Tennesse beside it.

There were many pies in the last few weeks of the year… oh what fun!

Mini Me Pies

Pie night with Lindsay & the Brads.

Cherry Pie

South Carolina Christmas Pies

I am ready to put the excess sugar and added calories of the holidays behind me and hoping to start the new year off with some healthy eating… Hello 2011!


Harvest Time

It is November and finally getting chilly out, although, we are still pulling green tomatoes off the vines. Late summer and autumn are blending together. The leaves were beautiful but only for a short time this year.

I’ve realized I really need to be more creative and come up with different ways to eat green tomatoes than simply frying them but they are soooo good. We did mix it up and serve them for breakfast with cheese grits, biscuits, eggs, and Billionaire’s Bacon. What’s Billionaire’s Bacon, you ask?! Let me tell you! First of all, I’ll just say up front that we only allow ourselves to eat this a few times a year and usually it is for a special occasion such as a holiday or as in this case, for special house guests. We use Benton’s bacon made right here in Tennessee and known around the world for it’s deliciousness. Pat the bacon dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Then rub the slices with brown sugar! Next, bake in the oven on 400 for 8 minutes on each side. This delicacy is like a party in your mouth. Bacon candy!

With the cooler weather, I’ve been craving comfort food and we’ve already started making soups and chili. I made Mac & Cheese with sauteed mushrooms and onions. The addition of vegetables to Mac & Cheese is my sorry attempt to make traditional Mac & Cheese healthier. I will tell you that mushrooms contain many minerals and vitamins and a great deal of protein. They also stimulate the immune system and help prevent cancer. Maybe not so much when smothered in cheese and layered with pasta, but… And onions are amazing in their health benefits! They help fight infection, regulate blood pressure, and also help fight cancer (at least in their raw food state!). I served it with sauteed spinach and peas to up the vegetable count and increase the goodness. See recipe below.

Mac & Cheese
olive oil
mushrooms, sliced
onion, chopped
2 cups macaroni (I use Montebello brand)
3-4 cups grated cheese (I use combination of sharp cheddar & gruyere)
1 tsp butter (to coat bottom of baking dish)
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp hot sauce
2 tsp dry mustard
2 eggs
2 cups milk

Saute the onions and mushrooms in olive oil. Set aside. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and blanch with cold water. Cover bottom of buttered baking dish with 1/2 of pasta. Mix in 1/2 of the sauteed mushrooms and onions. Spread 1/2 of the cheese over. Repeat. Beat eggs, milk, and spices together. Pour over. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes.

We’ve also been eating lots of beans! We had some left over mashed sweet potatoes so we made potato cakes, placed those over a bed of raw spinach, and topped with some Cuban style black beans! I also bought some Adzuki beans. I always see these but wasn’t exactly sure how to use them. I did some research. Turns out these are of Asian origin and most of the recipes I found were for Asian dishes. We decided to make them with more of a jerk style seasoning. Grant cooked them in some homemade chicken stock. He then browned some pork chops and placed on top of the beans and finished them off in the oven. He served them with spinach rice. Delicious. The Adzuki beans are a little nuttier and sweeter than Pintos.

A couple weeks ago, we welcomed a pedal steel guitar back into our house! Grant missed his and has decided to play it again. YAY!

And speaking of pedal steel guitars, we had another Red Barn Round-Up a week ago and were fortunate to have the amazing Chuck Mead provide our musical entertainment! Chuck is a big fan of the Red Barn Round-Up and we sure are a big fan of his.

He had a stellar band, as always, which included Martin Lynds on drums, Mark Miller on bass, and the legendary Carco Clave on pedal steel. Carco is an amazing steel player who has performed with Asleep at the Wheel, BR549, Little Jimmy Dickens, Tex Ritter, Merle Travis, Dale Watson, and so many others. Grant was fortunate to get to play with him down on Lower Broadway when we first moved to town.

Chuck has a new album out. You can hear some of his new songs and purchase the new album here!

We saw another amazing show at the Ryman a couple weeks ago, too- DON WILLIAMS! He retired four years ago but with his new Country Music Hall of Fame status, he decided to come out of retirement for a few shows. Even suffering with bronchitis, he managed to give an excellent performance. The sold out crowd was ecstatic and joined in to help him out on many songs. He is a gentle giant indeed!

I made apple pies for Jamey Johnson (or at least his crew- I never actually saw him eat any) who played a benefit for the Normandy Volunteer Fire Department that our friend Nikki, owner of the River Cafe, organized! GO NORMANDY! And I made some pear pies for the Round-Up. Still working on finding the best cookie recipes and trying to perfect my own buttermilk pie recipe. Meanwhile, I am trying to recover from all those Reese’s cups I overdosed on due to lack of Trick-or-Treaters! Happy Fall Y’all!

Grits and Bluegrass and Tomato Cobbler!

Grits are delicious. That is my opinion but I would guess that those who think they don’t like grits, just haven’t had real grits. Real grits are stone ground and are ground at old mills that have been around forever. I used to get my Sis to send them to me all the way from Charleston but have since found them in many other little towns in Virginia- along the Blueridge Parkway and near the Shenandoah Valley. We have some in Tennessee from Falls Creek that I plan to try next. Also, Anson Mills in South Carolina is famous for their stone ground grits! You can order those online here. Anyway, it is important to have real grits I think. As I’ve blogged about before, one of our favorite ways to eat grits is Shrimp & Grits, a low-country specialty. I also LOVE grits for breakfast. My favorite way to eat them is a little odd but really delicious…

The grits are slow cooked with either some butter and/or cheese (add when almost done). Then I like to pour hot sauce and maple syrup over them (I somehow always feel like Will Ferrell’s character in Elf when I do this step!), then top with a fried egg and a turkey sausage. Yum!

Then the next morning I sauteed onion, yellow squash, and tomato to eat on the left over grits and then shredded Parmesan Reggiano on top! It made for a perfect brunch.

Sunday was another Red Barn Round-Up party and we finally had some bluegrass with Off The Wagon who are amazing. You can catch these guys at the Station Inn once a month usually and you can hear more of their music here. They are super nice fellas, too, and some of them happen to live in the neighborhood so we were delighted to have them play. Derek Hoke opened.

Here’s a clip of Derek and Off The Wagon from The Station Inn a couple months ago:

Sunday, lots of music-loving friends brought some yummy food and a great time was had by all.

So, I have been totally inspired by all of the amazing heirloom cherry tomatoes this summer. My favorites are the ones from the Habegger farm, a Mennonite family run farm, in Scottsville, KY which I buy at The Turnip Truck. They taste like candy!

I have these tomatoes on my mind quite often lately. I was probably thinking about them when I read an email from a friend who mentioned making cherry cobbler. For some reason, I thought she had written cherry tomato cobbler. When I realized I had read it wrong, I couldn’t stop thinking about cherry tomato cobbler! So, I mulled it over in the back of my brain for a few hours, thinking of course that it was an original idea. I made sure to establish exactly how I wanted to do it before googling to search for other recipes. Of course it has been done before but I made it my way anyhow. It went something like this…

First I placed the cherry tomatoes in an oven-safe dish with some olive oil and roasted them for 20-30 minutes at 375. Meanwhile, I sauteed some vidalia onions in olive oil and then added sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and some fresh basil and rosemary. I pulled the tomatoes out and combined those with the onion mixture and added in one teaspoon of flour. These tomatoes are so amazing on their own that I did not want to add many more flavors. Next I made some biscuits (2 cups self rising White Lily flour, 1/4 cup unsalted butter, 2/3 cup buttermilk- see previous post for directions) and added in freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano and black pepper. I then dropped the dough by spoonfulls over the tomato mixture, leaving a few tiny gaps between. I baked this for about 40 minutes when the biscuits were golden brown and the tomatoes were bubbling up!

We served this with some grilled okra which was tossed with olive oil, sea salt and pepper and grilled pork chops which Grant brined with some fresh sage leaves and then slathered with homemade pesto. This meal was a super delicious summer meal! (Except that it was so incredibly hot outside that my camera lens steamed up as I went outside to photograph Grant’s grilling methods!)

I’ll end with a sweet musical note here… last night we saw the incredible Desert Rose Band with the original line-up at the Belcourt Theatre. They are all amazing musicians and their harmonies are as smooth as butter. They made me so happy. This was truly comfort music to my ears! Musical guests included Emmylou Harris and Brad Paisley.

It was another amazing musical night in Nashville.

Roundin’ Up Some Fun!

OH, a week of the summer blahs and then…

Our first Red Barn Round-Up of the summer was last week and it was a perfect Round-Up. I mean, what Round-Up isn’t perfect at the Red Barn? Oh, wait- the one that got canceled because of a snow storm, that one wasn’t perfect. Anyway, I digress. This particular Round-Up was most certainly perfect. Our musical guest was the crazy talented Chris Scruggs who besides being able to play most any instrument extremely well and having a great new album out of his own music, also surrounds himself with some of Nashville’s most revered country and bluegrass musicians. We were so lucky!

First of all there was our friend and neighbor, Buddy Spicher who is a legendary fiddler.

He is amazing and he gives really great hugs! Just to give you a tiny glimpse of Buddy’s history, I found this amazing old footage:

Buddy has played with everyone including these fine folks- Webb Pierce, Ray Price, Bill Monroe, Kitty Wells, Jimmy Martin, Hank Snow, Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, The Rolling Stones, Crystal Gayle, The Osborne Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson- just to name a few. He is a Nashville Cat for sure!

On steel guitar was Billy Robinson who is a member of The Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.

Billy was also a member of The Grand Ole Opry band for many years and traveled the world over playing with the likes of Hank Williams, George Morgan, Hank Snow, Little Jimmy Dickens and Carl Smith. I think Billy and his wife Carolyn will become Red Barn Round-Up regulars! (I sure hope so.)

Also in Chris’ band was one of Grant’s heros, Andy Reiss, on guitar. Andy is a top Nashville session player and one of the very best in town. He is a Grammy nominated member of the great Western Swing band, The Time Jumpers. On bass was IBMA’s bass player of the year countless times, Mike Bub. Mike is also a top session player who spent 13 years on the road with Del McCoury and has played with just about everybody who is anybody in town. He just so happens to also be a neighbor. And on rhythm guitar was Rob Price who is also a well sought after session player and can often be found playing bass for Gail Davies.

Words cannot even appropriately describe how delighted we were to have these musicians play for us and our little party. What an amazing day in the neighborhood!

And if the music wasn’t enough, everyone brought food! I made a couple mixed berry pies- blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries.

There was Allison’s key lime pies, Zana’s cupcakes, Leah’s banana pudding, Catherine’s famous corn dip, Holly’s jalapeno pimento cheese, fried chicken, and so many other amazing dishes! One of my favorite salads was a simple one made of- watermelon, cucumbers, jalapenos, and fresh mint! I can’t stop thinking about it!

The rest of the week, Grant took over as head chef at our house but I was there to document. Never fear, the camera was near. Speaking of which, you wouldn’t believe the patience Grant has gained. Poor Grant. Many a night he has to wait to take his first bite as I capture the perfect photograph of our food. If you know Grant and his love of food and his kinetic energy, you understand how amazing this must be. Thanks Grant! So, back to his amazing culinary creations…  I bought a whole (Springer Mountain Farms) chicken this week and Grant smoked it to perfection. He dry rubbed the chicken in his special Big Smokey spice rub and let it sit over night. He then smoked it over mesquite for 3 hours. Next he sauced it with a homemade sauce (see ingredients below) and let it stand in foil for about half an hour.

To accompany the chicken, he made a yummy red & green cabbage with shredded carrots slaw and some bbq kidney beans. He soaked the kidney beans in water for a day and then boiled them to get them a little softer and to the right texture. He roasted some cherry tomatoes at 375 for about 30-40 minutes and then pureed them in the pan with a whisk and deglazed the pan by adding some cane sugar, apple cider vinegar and a little molasses (sort of a homemade ketchup). He sauteed chopped green bell pepper and onion in an iron skillet with a tiny bit of bacon fat (you can substitute a teaspoon of butter). He then put the beans (with a of the little bean juice), the sauteed veggies, the homemade tomatoes in a casserole dish with some sea salt, black pepper, dry mustard, and garlic powder. He baked it for about 2 hours at 300. They were delicious and kidney beans are super nutritious!

Also on our plates this week were green peppers from our garden, the first peaches from South Carolina (because those are the very best- thanks Seth!), and kale from Delvin Farms!

And speaking of the Delvins, I also got some of these delicious little red potatoes that magically are yellow on the inside and so buttery and delicious. Grant sauteed them up and we had them with sauteed kale and chicken sausages one night.

All for now- but looking forward to some fun weekend music, cooking and eating! And I will close this post with my favorite refreshing cocktail concoction of the week.