Friday, November 16, 2012

Red beans and rice

One of my favorite New Orleans' dishes is red beans and rice.  I have made a few modifications to my dad's recipe (he uses 1 lb. ground beef and a ham bone, whereas I skip the ground beef and usually use tasso that we order from Cajun Grocer's (but in a pinch, I'd use a ham bone or just let the andouille provide the flavor).     I also don't press my garlic, but instead just mince it finely.  Finally, we're a Crystal hot sauce household, and I just add it to taste!  This recipe freezes wonderfully and is also fantastic made the day before and reheated.  Enjoy!

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

2 lb. dried red kidney beans
ham bone with generous amount of meat (optional)
1 lb. ground beef (optional)
1 lb. hot smoked sausage, sliced or chopped (preferably Andouille)
2 c. chopped onion
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped green pepper
4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 bay leaves
1 16 oz. can tomato sauce
1 t. Tabasco sauce (or 2 t. (or to taste) Crystal hot sauce)
1 T. salt (I'd scant this a fair amount and check the seasoning level at the really will depend on the ham/tasso and sausage).
1 t. black pepper
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
water (or equal parts water and chicken stock)

Rinse and pick through beans, discarding any stones or deformed/broken beans.  Place in large pot.  Cover with water and soak overnight.  Drain and rinse a few times.  Place beans back in large pot and cover with water or water/chicken stock mixture 2 inches over the top of the beans.  Add the ham bone, bay leaves, garlic, tomato sauce, Tabasco/Crystal, thyme, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil and simmer for one hour.  Remove ham bone and pick off meat; reserve.  Continue simmering beans, adding water if necessary to keep beans just covered.  In a heavy skillet, brown ground beef and/or sausage.  Drain off fat.  Add onion, celery, and green pepper.  Cover and steam slowly until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add ham meat to skillet.  Remove approximately one cup beans from pot and mash through a sieve.  Return to the pot, along with the meat and vegetables.  Simmer until beans are tender, about one more hour.  Correct seasonings.  Serve over rice with crisp french bread and a salad.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Best Cupcake Ever!

So, it's been a long time since I've posted, and much has changed! I have been having a blast in the kitchen with a truly wonderful man, Bryan, for the last 6 months, and we have perfected lots of new recipes. The first one that I need to post, however, is the most recent. Bryan has declared that while he is no cupcake connoisseur, this coconut cupcake is the best cupcake he's ever eaten. It's hard to have achieved such greatness so early in our relationship, but he assures me that there are many coconut desserts (including coconut cream pie) that I can still make, so I have room to grow culinarily! ;) To give you some background, Bryan LOVES coconut. Like me, he was unconvinced of the wonders of coconut until adulthood. Like me, he is trying to make up for such a foolish youthful error. We are both gaining weight in the process, but these cupcakes are completely worth the extra inches / pounds! This recipe is adapted from one available on - thanks to the commenters who mentioned that following the recipe as written would deliver an icky-sweet result.

These cupcakes were brought out for a very special occasion - a going-away party for Bryan's friends John and Beth. Beth had been the official baker for his office group of friends, sending in a cake to work with John on a regular basis. We decided it would be really nice to bake something for her to thank her for the many treats over the years. I started out baking chocolate cupcakes with my family's crater cake recipe, which I declare to be the best chocolate cake ever, when Bryan called to tell me that John doesn't like chocolate. With only a few hours left before the party, I needed a recipe for which I had all the ingredients, and after posting my dilemma on Facebook after realizing that the new cupcake cookbook I had purchased was nowhere to be found, I thought to look at Epicurious. To make a long story short, the cupcakes were a huge success, and several people from Bryan's office were all for crowning me the new office baker. my office would be o.k. with that! Maybe when I go into business...after my debut on the next Food Network Star! This is one recipe I'll memorize before my debut!

Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting

For reduced coconut milk:
2 13-to 14-ounce cans unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups all purpose flour (King Arthur Flour, of course)
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 cup reduced coconut milk (see above), room temperature

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar (or to taste)
1/3 cup reduced coconut milk (see above), room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted

For reduced coconut milk:
Bring coconut milk to boil in large deep saucepan over medium-high heat (coconut milk will boil up high in pan). Reduce heat to medium-low; boil until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, stirring occasionally, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat; cool completely. Transfer to small bowl. Cover; chill (coconut milk will settle slightly as it cools). DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

For cupcakes:
Position rack in center of oven; preheat oven to 350°F. Line eighteen 1/3-cup muffin cups with paper liners. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar; beat on medium-high speed until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until batter lightens in color and seems "airy". Beat in vanilla extract and remaining egg and beat for a few more minutes. Add half of flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended. Add 1 cup reduced coconut milk; mix just until blended. Add remaining flour mixture; mix on low speed just until blended. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake cupcakes until tops spring back when gently touched and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes in pans to rack; cool 10 minutes. Carefully remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on rack.

For frosting:
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, 1/3 cup reduced coconut milk, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat on medium-low speed until blended, scraping down sides of bowl. Increase to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy.
Using pastry bag fitted with large star tip, pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes. (Alternatively, top each cupcake with 2 tablespoons frosting. Using small offset spatula, swirl frosting over top of cupcakes, leaving 1/2-inch plain border.) Cover with toasted coconut - as much as you can possibly get to stick. Enjoy!

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight containers; chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Roux (roo) is an equal mixture of flour and oil that is browned until chocolate-colored. It is used as a thickening base for many South Louisiana dishes. In fact, the standard opening to most Cajun recipes is "First, you make a roux". Roux is traditionally cooked very slowly in a heavy iron skillen, stirring constantly for ten to fifteen minutes until the desired color is obtained. It is tricky to get it just right without burning. However, roux can be prepared very effectively in a microwave oven in a shorter time with a lot less mess. The recipe below is designed for the microwave but can be made on top of the stove as well. Simply brown the flour and oil, stirring constantly, until it is a deep rust color, add the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, until tender. Roux freezes very well.

Cooking time: 12 minutes
Utensil: 4 cup glass measuring cup

2/3 cup corn oil
2/3 cup flour
2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup green onion tops, chopped
Approximately 1/4 cup hot water

Mix oil and flour together in 4 cup pyrex measuring cup. Microwave uncovered on high for 6 minutes. Roux will be light brown. Stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds to 1 minute on high until roux is dark brown. The roux will be very hot, but usually the handle on your glass measuring cup will be cool enough to touch. Add onion, celery, and bell pepper to roux in measuring cup and stir. Return to microwave and cook on high for 2 minutes. Remove and add garlic, parsley, and green onion. Stir and return to microwave. Cook on high for 2 minutes. You should have about 3 3/4 cups of roux. If any oil has risen to the top, spoon it off. Slowly add enough hot tap water to bring roux to the 4 cup mark. Stir and you will have made a smooth, dark roux in only 12 minutes.

Gumbo Ya-Ya (aka what every leftover Thanksgiving turkey should become!)

Thanksgiving is, by far, my favorite holiday. It is perfect, really, because it is about amazing, traditional family food and reflecting on all the good things in life for which to be thankful. And, you know, there's no shopping involved (except for food, which is, in my world, the only kind of really fun shopping!).

As usual, I have already dropped the ball with this blog with posting all of our Thanksgiving recipes before the actual event. But, since we eat many of the same things at Christmas, I'll get them up soon. Afterall, pie is always a good idea. As is Aunt Ira's spinach casserole. But today, I'm giving you a great idea to use up that wonderful turkey carcass. If you haven't already picked the meat off of it and made a stock, that's your first step. Everyone has different stock techniques, and I didn't watch my dad closely enough this year to tell you all of his secrets, but one that I noticed that surprised me was that instead of just adding water to the pot to simmer the turkey carcass, he added good Pacifica-brand organic chicken stock, as well. Perhaps it is a bit like stone soup, but wow...I could have drunk the whole gallon of broth by the time it was done.'s our recipe, reproduced faithfully from our family cookbook, since I've not ever had the honor of making gumbo ya-ya. Though after my success in pie-baking this year (which will be covered extensively in a later post), perhaps next year I'll get my turn with the turkey carcass. Also, I'll try to get Mom and Dad to add some comments, as I think that there are a few variations that they've made to this recipe in the last 20 years. Other experts, please feel free to comment, as well. That means you, Uncle Dean!

Mister B's Gumbo Ya Ya

4 c. roux (see separate post here)
1 frying chicken
1 gallon chicken stock (see below)
1 lb. sliced andouille sausage (hot smoked sausage may be used)
2 bay leaves
1 t. dried thyme
1 T. Tabasco sauce
1 T. Gumbo file
1/2 c. chopped green onions
salt and black pepper

For stock:
water to cover chicken (about 1 1/2 gallon)
1 med. onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 bay leaf
2 T. salt
black pepper

Place chicken whole in a large pot. Cover with water. Add quartered onion, celery pieces, bay leaf, salt and pepper for stock. Simmer for 40-50 minutes until chicken is tender. Cool. Remove chicken, reserving liquid. Strip meat from bones and set aside in refrigerator. Return bones to pot and boil gently until volume of liquid is reduced to about 1 gallon. Strain stock through sieve and cool. Remove fat from surface of stock.

Brown sausage on both sides in an 8 qt. kettle. Add roux and heat to boiling. Add chicken stock, chicken meat, bay leaves, and thyme. Simmer 25 minutes. Add Tabasco and green onions. Taste and adjust seasonings. Simmer another 10-15 minutes. Just before serving add gumbo file. Serve in soup bowls over boiled rice. Hot garlic bread goes great with gumbo.

Gumbo tastes best cooked the day before serving and refrigerated overnight so the flavors can "make a marriage". Just reheat slowly to boiling and add gumbo file immediately prior to serving. Serves 8-10 people (6 Cajuns). Freezes well.

Gumbo can be made using turkey or chicken that has been cooked in an electric meat smoker. Simply strip meat from carcass before making stock from the bones, and add meat back in near the end. Using smoked meat adds a lot of flavor to the gumbo.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Back to Ursula's, after years, for Thanksgiving Turkey

When we were still living in Spalding Lake, I used to go to cooking classes with Ursula, a funny German lady who has been running a cooking school on Cheshire Bridge Rd. since the 60's. She is still going fact, she catered Jimmy Carter's birthday party at the Carter center earlier this month. I plan to share some of her recipes that I think have merit. They are my interpretation of her recipe and hopefully you can follow them. Just be thankful that you didn't have to try to read my handwriting....even I had a struggle.
This is her 2009 Holiday was truly amazing.....very moist and nicely browned despite the cooking bag. Enjoy!.............Sue (aka Grandma Sue, aka Elle's Mom)

Thanksgiving Turkey a la Ursula 09

Preheat oven to 415 degrees (400 degrees for a convection oven).
Use a 12 -14 lb. turkey (plan to buy about 1 lb. of turkey per person)

Line a baking pan with foil. Use a Reynolds Turkey Bag (ignore any directions that come with the box). Spray the inside of the bag with PAM.

Inside the bag, make a bed of:

1 ½ - 2 cups of sliced onions
1 T. fresh garlic, minced
3 stalks of celery, sliced
½ T. fresh rosemary
½ T. herbes de provence
½ cup soup greens (dried).

Wash out turkey and dry thoroughly. In a mixing bowl, put a 14 oz. package of turkey breakfast sausage removed from the casing. Add a 12 oz. container of Stauffer’s spinach soufflĂ©. Both should be at room temp. Mix in:

3 T. dried minced onions
1 t. dried minced garlic
½ T. fresh rosemary
1 T. Chef Merito turkey seasoning
½ T. herbes de provence.

Mix. Gently loosen the turkey skin from the breast and put the sausage-spinach mixture under the skin. Put a handful of onions and ½ T. rosemary, ½ T. herbes de provence, ½ T. turkey seasoning into the body cavity. Tie the legs together loosely and put the turkey in the bag on top of the veggie pile (don’t slide the veggies back....lift the turkey in carefully). Push back the bag so you can pour ½ cup white wine (which you have already brought to the boil) over the breast skin to seal the pores. Pull the bag back around and seal it tightly and tuck the twisted end of the bag under the turkey. Cook a 10- 12 lb. turkey for an hour (for every lb. above 12, add 5 min.) After the cooking time lower the heat to 400, open the bag (don’t steam burn yourself) with a knife, and fold it back to expose the breast. Put in a thermometer in the thigh and cook until the temperature is 165 degrees.

PAM a pot and transfer the contents of the bag and any juice in the pan to the pot and heat on the stove. Add 1 envelope of brown gravy mix (McCormick) and 6 oz. shitake mushrooms that have been peeled, degilled and sliced. Simmer for a couple minutes and add 2- 3 T. cream.

Babe's favorite: Basmati and Wild Rice with Blood Oranges

In grad school (for the first time, I should say), I studied lots of different things, but I ended up completing a master's degree focusing on the scientific, legal, and policy perspectives on concentrated swine feeding operations (aka factory hog farms). It was an interesting topic, actually, and I could go on and on about it, but the point is that my family and friends started showering me with pig-themed gifts. For the most part, I was ambivalent, but my mom really hit a homerun when she presented me with Babe's Country Cookbook by Dewey Graham. It is a vegetarian cookbook, of course, because who would want to eat Babe or one of his friends. (If you've seen earlier posts, you will learn that the answer is "me"!) However, despite the fact that I'm an omnivore (except when it comes to disgusting packaged processed foods), I tend to eat vegetarian for the majority of my meals, and this is one of my very favorite cookbooks (vegetarian or otherwise). Everything that I've made from it has been completely fantastic. There are other recipes from it that should be posted first based on how often I make them, but I had typed up this one for a facebook "note" a few months ago because I was so happy with it, and, well...I'm feeling lazy and trying to get a good start on this blog, so I decided to go with some recipes that were already typed. It truly is delicious and seemingly nutritious, so give it a try!

Basmati and Wild Rice with Blood Oranges
(adapted from Babe's Country Cookbook by Dewey Graham)

1 cup wild rice
4 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt

Thoroughly rinse wild rice in cold running water. Drain. Bring water and salt to boil. Add wild rice and reduce heat to gentle simmer. Cover and cook until tender but toothy, about 45 minutes. Pour off any remaining water. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes off the heat, then fluff with fork and transfer into a large handmade ceramic bowl ( is a good source for said bowl!) Reserve.

1 cup basmati rice
3 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt

Same procedure as wild rice, except cook for 10 -12 minutes, and no rest period before fluffing.

1 large blood orange (or navel orange), zested and supremed [chilling segments]**
1 cup pecan halves, toasted in 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes until lightly darkened and fragrant
1 cup golden raisins
4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 bunch fresh opal (or other) basil

While rice is cooking, prepare ingredients. Turn basmati rice into wild rice and toss together while still hot. Add raisins, orange zest, scallions, olive oil, and lemon juice and toss together gently. Add salt to taste. Set aside to stand for 2 hours at room temperature to allow flavors to develop fully. When ready to serve, cut basil into long thin strips. Stir the pecans into the rice, arrange blood orange segments prettily on top, and garnish [liberally - it's good] with the basil. Serve at room temperature. Can be eaten as a salad by itself, or as an accompaniment with an omelet, quiche, or other egg dish. Makes 4-6 servings.

**Supreming an orange is just a fancy way of describing cutting an orange to remove all of the segments intact without any pith or membrane. If you google it, you will find videos and what not (and if you are a Top Chef fan, you will remember that it was one of the mise en place quick fire challenges at the beginning of, I believe, season 3 in Miami). The key is a good sharp knife and a little practice. I'll admit it here,'s just so cool to be able to do this quickly and easily that I started cutting oranges like this all of the time. You'll feel like a rock star!

Corn Salad ala Heather

My friend Heather is a wonderful cook, but even more than her cooking skills, I love the way she writes recipes. They are an adventure, because she is a very intuitive chef. If she doesn't have one thing, she'll substitute something else. Exact measurements...optional. Of course, every time she cooks for me, I want the recipe so I can recreate the amazing meal. I've found so far that it's never quite as good when I make it alone, probably because half of the fun of cooking and eating with Heather is that she's so fun and funny that I am already so happy from just being around her that everything tastes better. I'll call that "the Heather effect".

For example, here's her corn salad recipe. I tried to get fancy and high-brow by buying the end-of-the-season corn at the farmer's market and cutting it off the cob myself. The problem was that I let it sit in the fridge for 6 days first. Big mistake. Fresh corn should be eaten as soon as you get it home from the farmer's market. I should have known that, because, as a little kid, my grandmother used to take me to Mr. Laurino's farm in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, and she'd want my grandpa to have the water boiling when we got home so that we could immediately boil the corn to stop the sugars from being converted to starch. It was like candy! I couldn't get enough. I always miss my grandma just a little bit when I'm eating fresh corn (my grandma was a great cook, but I'll share more about her in another post).

So, here is Heather's recipe for corn salad from a recent e-mail. I've edited it very little, because, well, I like hearing her voice in the recipe.

Corn Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
Corn scraped from 4 ears (about 3 cups - ?)
1-2 seeded jalapenos
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
4 teaspoons lime juice
pinch cayenne pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add corn, jalapenos, 1/4 tsp. salt. Saute over medium heat 7-8 minutes until corn is tender.

In a large bowl, toss champagne vinegar, lime juice, 1/4 tsp. salt and cayenne pepper. Add cooked corn/jalapeno mixture. Wait until it cools. Then add scallion, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes, toss, and serve.

"Okay, so that's it. Here is all the stuff I do differently:

1) I use frozen corn, like you saw. No time in my life to scrape actual fresh corn from ears. I use a 16 oz bag of frozen corn. Don't worry about thawing it; just take it out of the freezer when you start chopping everything. Oh, and - if you do use fresh corn scraped from ears, I find that I cook it longer than that 7-8 minutes. One time, almost 20. Just keep tasting it and make sure it's tender.

2) In addition to the jalapenos, I put in some red onion, probably about a 1/4 cup or a little less. Cut it and the jalapenos very small, and let it sit in the oilive oil as the oil warms up, so they lose some of their bite and give a nice flavor to the oil.

3) Add the corn out of the bag. If some of it is still frozen, that's no problem. Just don't pour in any of the water if there is any. The corn will thaw very quick in the hot pan, and since it already is going to be "tender" like the recipe calls for, just cook it for as long as you think is right. Add the salt, taste it a bunch, and don't let it get mushy. Oh, and - add some black pepper too. I hardly ever use salt without pepper. But, I love black pepper, and I especially love coarsely ground black pepper. If you don't, skip it. If things don't taste right, add more salt.

4) The champagne vinegar is extremely hard to find, and in my opinion, white wine vinegar tastes exactly the same. I've been making this salad for a few years now, and the first time I had it with champagne vinegar was when I ate it with you. It's just as good with white wine vinegar, I promise.

5) I use lime juice out of the bottle usually; I have other better things to do with my fresh limes. Do what you want.

6) Instead of a "pinch" of cayenne, I definitely usually do more of a "shake." Just one, though. Oh, and again - I never put in salt without pepper. But that's just me.

7) Add all the vinegar, lime juice, cayenne, and salt according to the recipe, stir it up, and then stick the mixture in the fridge for like 30 minutes (if you can wait that long - this salad is also perfectly acceptable if you eat it warm, in my opinion). When you take it out of the fridge, taste it. You want it to be basically 'to-die-for' good. Usually I add more of everything, except cayenne - another splash of vinegar, another splash or two of lime juice (be liberal with the lime juice), and definitely more salt. Salt goes way too well with corn and lime to skimp on it.

8) At the end, I usually put in more than one scallion, because I love them. I also cut basically all the way up the green part until it gets not crunchy. Also, I love cilantro, so I probably put in almost a 1/4 cup. Also, I usually use grape tomatoes, because they're more plentiful at the grocery store. I actually kind of like grape ones more, too, because they tend to be sweeter than the cherry, and it helps to match against the acid of the vinegar and the lime juice.

So, that's it. As you know by now, I am incapable of sending a short, to the point recipe. Mostly because I often drive people crazy, because I usually don't follow recipes to the letter - I just use them for inspiration, sort of. ;) I hope you make it again and again, and enjoy - figure out what you think tastes the best to you!"

That, for the uninitiated, is a Heather recipe. How can you not love this woman? And let me just say, when she made it for me a few weeks ago, it was, in fact, "to-die-for good".

Mom's recent adventure with Shrimp and Grits

When I was little, my mom used to go to cooking classes by a lady named Ursula. I always found this a little funny/odd, because my mom is a great cook, but later in life, she took me to a class, and I suddenly understood. It was very entertaining, and a great way to have a little lunch and an outing with her buddies (under the auspices, I'm sure, of improving her "skillz"). She stopped going for a long time (perhaps because she was found out?), but just recently she was given a few classes as a present from her friend's son. Here's the result of one such class. I'm a bit trepidatious about posting it here, because I have not personally tested the recipe,'s a much less time-consuming version of the shrimp and grits recipe that I recently made (and will also post, though not today), and Mom said she's made it twice and it's great (even as leftovers).

Grits, Peppers, and Shrimp

1 cup quick grits
1 Tbl. chicken bouillon granules (not cubes)
1 cup cream
1 oz. butter
1 Tbl. olive oil
1/2 tsp. Hokan chili oil (this is a spicy oil that gives a nice little kick)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, half diced & the other half reserved**
1 yellow onion, cubed
2 Tbl. whole garlic, smashed and chopped
1 1/2 lbs. shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut in half lengthwise
2 tsp. lemon pepper
1 1/2 cup shredded cheese (they used a mixture of gruyere and havarti, but Mom thinks any non-yellow cheese will work)
Pam cooking spray

**Save half of the green pepper for a flower decoration (aka cut the pepper so that it creates pretty rings that can be used as a garnish).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 for a convection oven).

Stir together the grits, bouillon granules, and 3 1/4 cups cold water in a microwave safe bowl. Wet paper towel segments to cover the dish, and microwave on high for 6 minutes. Stir, recover (redampening the paper towels, if necessary), and microwave another 6 minutes. Stir in cream until no lumps remain.

Spray a little Pam cooking spray in a large pot, add 2 oz. butter, 2 Tbl. olive oil, and 1/2 t. Hokan chili oil. Saute the diced red and green bell pepper. Add the cubed onion and continue to saute. Add the garlic. (Meanwhile, "Pam" a 2 1/2 - 3 qt. pan and put the grits in the pan.) Add the shrimp to the pepper and onion mixture and saute until barely pink (not done). Add 2 tsp. lemon pepper, toss, and add the shrimp to the pan of grits. (If you want, you could cook everything to this step the day before and then cool and refrigerate the pan, covered.) Top with cheese and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees (325 if in a convection oven). (If you made the ingredients a day ahead and they are cold, bake for 40-45 minutes.)

A great way to raise dough: Pumpkin Bread

During college, I started a group called Eco-Reach. It was/is a great organization that connects undergraduate and graduate students and professors in the University of Georgia Institute of Ecology (and other related departments) with local schools and community groups in the Athens area to teach kids science and environmental awareness in a way that is, perhaps, a bit more interdisciplinary. My favorite program was one I developed on fall leaves from a variety of sources. We talked about the pigments in leaves (what elementary school kid doesn't like learning big words like "chlorophyll" and "anthocyanin"?) and used coffee filters to perform basic chromatography. We did the leaf dance that demonstrated the life cycles of trees from seed to tree to decomposition - so fun! And best of all, we used grated up crayons, wax paper, irons, and beautiful fall leaves to make art projects, which was, of course, my favorite part!

Of course, grated up crayons can be expensive, so we quickly determined that we should hold fundraisers, and because of limitations on what we could do as students, we started holding bake sales. I made the mistake early on of baking many loaves of pumpkin bread for the bake sales, and pretty soon, I wasn't allowed to bring anything else to bake sales, pot lucks, or any other Institute gatherings, despite assurances to my friends that I was really capable of so much more. It became so extreme that I went several years without being able to make pumpkin bread because I was so tired of it, but luckily, that period is over. Besides, it is a simple, delicious, easy-to-use-ingredients-in-your-pantry recipe, so there could be worse things! Enjoy!

Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil, scanted
4 large eggs
1 16 oz. can pumpkin (I think they've only sold 15 oz. cans for at least 10 years, but...whatever - that works fine)

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

2/3 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two loaf pans. Put sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and pumpkin in a medium bowl and beat to blend. Combine remaining ingredients EXCEPT water in a large bowl and mix. Stir pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients and blend. Slowly add warm water and stir until homogeneous. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour until golden brown and done. (To test doneness, insert clean, dry knife into center of bread. If it is clean when removed, the bread is done.) Cool for 10 minutes in the pans. Remove bread from the pans and finish cooling on wire racks.

If I'm really feeling fancy, I like to serve this sweet bread with pumpkin whipped cream. Simply make slightly sweetened whipped cream and fold in 3 tablespoons of pumpkin (and if I'm doing this, I put a little extra pumpkin in the bread recipe to make up for that extra ounce!). Cut bread into rectangles and place on a platter around the bowl of whipped cream.

For some fun articles about Eco-Reach (including one with a picture of me in college), check out these links:

Pork chops with pomegranate fennel "slaw"

This is a recipe that my dear friend, Heather Vitale, shared with me. I am giving you fair warning now - it is completely addictive. I find myself eagerly anticipating pomegranate season, and yesterday, while at Wegman's grocery store with another dear friend, my dreams were answered. That's right...beautiful pomegranates and fennel were both on hand, and all I can say today is "'s what's for dinner"!

In my yard in Athens, I actually tried to grow pomegranates. I got two plants from the organic plant producer that supplied all of my apple, pear, and cherry trees in my "orchard", because I thought they had to cross-polinate, and I did my best to take care of them. One year, I did actually have a pomegranate on one of the little trees (which looked more like a shrub), but either my brother ate it or the deer did...I never had the pleasure, and I'll never know the culprit for sure.

Pomegranates do have one downside - they are sort of a pain to prepare. Be sure to wear an apron, because you will get splattered with juice! I tend to use the water method, where you slit the skin and try to break off larger pieces to work with, and then I sort of "mumble" off the seeds from the white part gently into a bowl of water, and any of the pith that I miss seems to float away from the seeds. While somewhat time-consuming, I find it relaxing, and I figure I'm using up some of the calories that I'll soon be eating. I don't include any bruised or mushy seeds, so I usually buy two just in case I have to leave out a portion of the seeds. I've been known to throw in a little of the wispy fennel fronds into the slaw, as well, just because it looks so pretty. Also, the pomegranate fennel slaw could be used on its own as a side dish or "salad", and I can also picture it with a hearty fish, like salmon, or with a chicken breast (though I haven't tried it yet...if you do, let me know how it works!).

Pork chops with Pomegranate Fennel Slaw

1 lb. fennel bulb, outer tough parts peeled and then coarsely chopped
3 Tbl. vegetable oil
1 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 large pomegranate)
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. salt
4 (1/2- to 3/4- inch thick) pork chops (preferably organic and sustainably raised, of course)

Cook fennel in 2 Tbl. oil over medium heat until tender, approximately 15 minutes. Transfer to bowl, stir in pomegranate seeds, cilantro, vinegar, scallions, honey, and salt.

Season the pork chops with a little salt and pepper, heat the remaining oil until hot but not smoking, and cook the pork chops until deep golden brown, approximately 4-5 minutes per side. Serve topped with the pomegranate fennel slaw. If you have any leftovers, be thankful - it's great the next day for lunch (even cold or at room temperature)!