Summer Break 2015

Muffins July BB bananaHi ya’ll. Thanks for stopping by.

I decided to take a lil’ summer break here at A Cook Writes.

Do have more than one blog? More than one WIP?

If you said yes, then you can relate.

Here’s what I’m up to this summer:

  • I’m preparing my crime thriller manuscript for an agent. #ThorntonPark
  • I’m headed to NOLA to research and develop recipes for a shrimp cookbook, the second in my sustainable seafood cookbook series.
  • Biggest news yet, I’m launching my marketing plan for forthcoming Eating Salmon Cookbook (Storey Publishing) April 2016. It’s not too soon to find a few good homes for my book!

Plus, it’s summertime. There are strawberries to roast, flowers to pamper, herbs to tend to, and road trips to take.

What are you doing this summer?

Shoot me an email maureencberry (at) gmail (dot) com, or find me on Twitter @maureencberry

See you in September. And thanks again for stopping by.

Double Wide: The Alternate Bourbon Derby Cocktail

Nowhere is tradition more evident than springtime in Kentucky.

Kentucky DerbyFrom the foothills of Appalachia through the Bluegrass in the center. Past the corn and soy fields to the slopes and streams in the west. One annual tradition defines Kentucky the first Saturday in May — The Kentucky Derby.

For many Kentuckians, “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” and sipping Mint Juleps are like a religion. Just as frilly hats, bespoke suits, and betting on horses because of the jockey, the jersey or superstition are all the rage the first weekend in May.

As a Florida transplant to Kentucky in 2011, I got caught up in the excitement of watching the races easily enough. But sipping a Mint Julep was not something I wanted to pray about.

During the fall of 2011, my husband and I moved from the idyllic, historic community of Thornton Park in Orlando, Florida to Madisonville, his hometown in western Kentucky. I coined it Madville because I wasn’t sure how I’d adapt to a small rural town where camouflage, churches, corn fields, and tattoo parlors defined the landscape. I thought I might go mad!

Prior to our life-changing move, I chalked up the Derby as an afternoon with friends in air-conditioned lounges in Florida. We sipped red wine, admired the majestic thoroughbreds, the women’s frilly, oversized hats and the men’s bespoke suits and bow ties.

That first Saturday in May 2012 in the comfort of my Kentucky home, I mixed a Mint Julep – the drink of the Derby and as Southern a tradition as it gets. After the first sip, I realized I didn’t like the sweet, dusty flavors. But, I sipped for posterity, then stood and sang Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home” the official state song of Kentucky.

“My Old Kentucky Home”
Stephen Foster

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home, ‘tis summer, the people are gay; The corn-top’s ripe and the meadows in the bloom, while the birds make music all the day.

The young folks roll on the little cabin floor all merry, all happy and bright;  By’n by hard times comes a knocking at the door then my old Kentucky home, Good night!

Weep no more my lady. Oh! Weep no more today! We will sing one song for my old Kentucky home for the old Kentucky home far away.

As much as I tried, I could not like or enjoy the tradition so many Kentuckians swoon over. No matter how I tried to alter the ratio of bourbon to mint, I didn’t care for the sugary, smoky, mint concoction. It seemed Mint Juleps and I would not be friends after all.

In the Spring of 2013, still hungry for a tradition I could call my own, I queried the largest group of Kentucky food and beverage people I could find, the Kentucky Food Bloggers on Facebook. KFB is the consummate cross section of the state in the food world- journalists, cookbook authors, foodies, dieticians, moms, chefs, restaurateurs, and farmers.

I posted my query: “What’s a great bourbon Derby drink other than a Mint Julep?”

Within a day, Jonathan Piercy, radio and podcast entrepreneur messaged back, “Double Wide.”

I was intrigued. Those two words flooded my mind with a range of imagery and emotions that took me straight back to my youth in Pennsylvania. Growing up, I learned a double wide was synonymous with “low rent.” Of course the politically correct term is  “affordable living.” Little did I know, back then my childhood living conditions were only one-step above low rent. In fact, I’m certain if I’d grown up in a rural community as opposed to the inner city, I would have lived in a double wide.

Back to present day and my desire to find a traditional cocktail for the Derby. Piercy gave me the ingredients list: Ale-8-One, a ginger soda made in Kentucky, bourbon of my choice, ice, and a rocks glass.

Simple enough. In addition, I had enough of my own history to make me want to like this drink before I took the first sip. The ginger ale reminded me of my mom for whenever I had a stomachache, she’d offer me a glass of warm, fuzzy ginger ale. And Maker’s Mark was my husband’s favorite go-to bourbon. In fact, there was an unopened bottle in the liquor cabinet.

During the 2013 Kentucky Derby, I mixed a Double Wide, stood and sang “My Old Kentucky Home” in the comfort of my living room surrounded by family. I felt sure this would be my annual tradition whether at Churchill Downs, thousands of miles away on vacation, or in front of my flat screen TV. I was sure the way some feel about Mint Juleps.

By the time the 2014 Derby rolled around, I had my Derby down. Double Wide’s, Pimento Cheese sandwiches, and Sausage Balls became our stay-at-home Kentucky Derby tradition.

What do I like so much about a Double Wide?

Aside from the storytelling, the Double Wide’s dusty bourbon flavor paired with a sweet bite from the ginger and bright notes from the citrus hooked me.

If you want to shake up your bourbon mojo, don’t mind offending a few traditionalists, and you prefer a heady, smoky, tart, sweet drink with a kick, mix a Double Wide. You might score a few points with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates after all.

Cheers and may the best horse win. Um, I mean Carpe Diem.

Double Wide

Double Wide

Double Wide
Serves 1

Pour a small amount of Turbinado sugar on a plate. Slice an orange or lemon in half and run the cut side around the rim of a rocks glass. Dip the wet-rimmed glass in the sugar on the plate. Fill the glass with ice cubes. (Best bet is the oversized cubes for less melt factor.) Add the bourbon of your choice-glug, glug, glug. Pour in a little Ale-8-One. Not too much. Ale-8-One is uber sweet with a strong ginger kick. Let the fizz settle. Add an orange section or lemon twist. Stir, taste, and adjust if necessary. Toast to your favorite tradition. And don’t forget to stand when you sing “My Old Kentucky Home” during the Derby.

Serve a Double Wide with Pimento Cheese and Bacon Biscuits and Sausage Balls, or your own favorite traditional foods.

Sip responsibly. Frilly hat and bow tie optional.

Cocktail N’ Canapes

When the Creative Cooking Crew on Facebook announced its March challenge “Canapés n’ Cocktails” I knew I wanted to do something southern, something spicy. It’s just the way I’m feeling lately.

Creative Cooking Crew

As March sprung forward, UK Men’s Basketball did their thing, and the days ticked by, I forgot the official challenge name. I began to think about food and drink pairings in general.

Apple-Ginger Country Ribs & Jazzed-Up Double Wide

Apple-Ginger Country Ribs & Jazzed-Up Double Wide

When Joan announced the challenge deadline-posting schedule toward the end of the month, I decided to make Apple Ginger Country Ribs paired with a Jazzed-Up Double Wide. A Double Wide is a 50/50 mix of Ale-8-One and Maker’s Mark Bourbon with a twist. In the jazzed up version, I subbed ginger beer for the ginger ale. Wow. A pairing fit for a Sunday when you want nothing more than freedom to dig in the dirt and smell spicy, sweet aromas when you enter the house. Add a heady, fizzy cocktail and a stellar sunset? If I could bottle and sell it, I’d call it Sunday Perfection in March.

Sunset March 2015

But. Always that but isn’t there?

After I cooked, photographed, and began to write the recipe idea for the challenge, I went back to the Facebook CCC page for the “official” challenge language for my post.

Um, my creation didn’t quite fit the parameters of Cocktails n’ Canapés!

I considered using the pork for a bite-sized appetizer, you know sliced, roasted baby red potatoes ½ inch thick, a potato chip on steroids is how I liken them, plop a little shredded pork on top. Garnish with a dab of Greek yogurt, right? Yes, it sounded so right. But the next day I made a Mozzarella-Pork Flatbread. And about that time I had eaten my country rib quota for the season.

So once again I raided the fridge, freezer, and pantry.

Gulf shrimp pinwheel w remoulade 1

Gulf shrimp pinwheel w remoulade 3

Enter Gulf Shrimp Pinwheels with Remoulade and Cucumber Melon Mint Vodka-Saki on the Rocks.

Think sweet, salty, spicy, chewy, refreshing. Appetite required. Sunday’s optional.


Creative Cooking CrewThanks to Joan at FOODalogue and Laz at LazCooks for the inspiration, challenge, and dedication to this group. Check out the Creative Cooking Crew on Pinterest for more Cocktails n’ Canapés ideas and more mouthwatering inspiration.

Broccoli Burger or Big Mac

The title of this post, Broccoli Burger or Big Mac, isn’t necessarily an either/or, but rather a jumping-off point for the February Creative Cooking Crew challenge, Not Your Mickey D Burger.

First up. The Big Mac. Or Le Big Mac, as John Travolta and Samuel Jackson say in Pulp Fiction. You guys, you guys. Those three little words.

You know a Big Mac is as ubiquitous and iconic as ice cream. Whether you eat beef or choose not to, whether you’re ten or sixty, whether you live in America or Saudi Arabia, you probably know what a Big Mac is.


Creative Cooking Crew

When the Creative Cooking Crew put out its February challenge, Not Your Mickey D Burger, I couldn’t help but think about a Big Mac. Food and memories go together like that. But. I don’t eat Big Macs anymore and things were a little different back then.

Almond-crusted Broccoli Burger MCB

One broccoli patty, spicy sauce, shallots, cheese, cranberries, almonds on a whole grain ciabatta bun.

The ’70s

In 1974 when McDonald’s created the 2 All-Beef Patties jingle, a Big Mac cost 85 cents. Today, in 2015, the average cost of a Big Mac in the US is $4.62.

In the ’70s we had President Nixon and Watergate, Vietnam, Saturday Night Live, Women’s Liberation and the Great Recession. We had sky-high gas prices, the auto-industry slump and a respect for authority at an all time low. We had round silver glittery disco balls for dancing the night away. We had Donna Summer, The Bee Gees and “Le Freak.” We had smoke-filled stadiums where we rocked to Bob Seger, AC/DC, and The Who. We light Bic lighters to prompt encores. The prevailing motto was “Sex, Drugs, Rock-n-Roll.” Well…that was my motto anyway. Movies of the day included Peter Benchley’s Jaws and Stephen King’s Carrie. Both terrified, thrilled and entertained us. Music and movies, like all art and food, speaks to us in a visceral sense.

Back then, the seeds for the Food Revolution had sprouted in California with food-activist and pioneer Chef Alice Waters. We had food in boxes and cans. Julia Child was a television sensation. Representative of the food industry in corporate America, McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac in Pittsburgh-my hometown no less, and the 2 All-Beef Patties jingle, to assure consumers that while they may not be able to fill their car tank with gasoline, they can fill their bellies with a pimped out Big Mac. Smart. It hit us right where it mattered most. Our wallets, and our need and desire for hot, lip-smacking food.

Because regardless of the decade, the economic challenges, music or movies, hot food offers warmth, strength, enjoyment, memories, nutrition and safety.

The Present

Fast forward to 2015, forty some years since the introduction of the Big Mac and its McJingle. Gas prices hover around $2 (more or less) a gallon, lower than they’ve been in years. The American auto industry is no longer a pressing challenge of the day either. Modern day challenges are far graver. President Obama, the first black president in the US, deals with war, poverty, terrorism, health care, immigration and racism, and not in that order. Today’s music, a smorgasbord of pop, rock, r&b, country and electronic incorporates modern day issues, too. Topping the charts are Katy Perry, Eminem, and Beyoncé who croon about domestic violence and abuse, black lives and poverty. Movies are animated, based on gaming or relive the past with a focus on character development. We are thrilled, excited, awed and inspired. Sometimes we are disappointed. Scandal is a pervading theme.

Looking through the modern day food lens, issues include food security, Big Ag takeovers, and GMO vs. non GMO battles in courtrooms and on the streets. Celebrity chefs are household names. Cooking food is likened to a spectator sport in many economic circles. Diets evolved from the Healthy Eating Pyramid to MyPlate. Special diets are trendy and include Vegan, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Meatless, Atkins, South Beach and everything in between.

We are hungrier more than ever for change. We yearn for sameness.

With the CCC February challenge Not Your Mickey D Burger, we had an opportunity to elevate or transform the components of a traditional beef burger.

My inspiration for this Broccoli Burger came from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen. She’s got a rockin good Broccoli Slaw recipe on the blog. I subbed, added, and transformed some of the base ingredients of the slaw for my burger challenge. Then I altered the 1974 McJingle. The result: this Broccoli Burger recipe and my version of the jingle below.

Here’s a vintage video of the original 1974 McDonald”s jingle, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, or for old times sake want to relive the 70s for a few minutes.

Here’s my McJingle version: “One broccoli patty, spicy sauce, shallots, cheese, cranberries, almonds on a whole grain ciabatta bun.”

Well, okay. Not exactly the same, but you get the picture.

Anyway. Occasionally I love to eat a traditional thick, juicy beef burger topped with melted American cheese, creamy mayonnaise and a slab of fresh tomato. But usually I don’t. It’s all about less meat these days.

Still. I think back to the days in the early ’70s when I was a young teen. I’d walk to the McDonalds restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh with a pocketful of change for a Big Mac. Those were happy, fun times.

So. Why eat anything if you can’t have fun, make a memory, fill a need or satisfy a desire?

Go ahead, put some Joss Stone, Lenny Kravitz, or whatever you like to listen to on your playlist. Then make some memories while you rock out and make Broccoli Burgers.

Appetite required.

Almond-crusted Broccoli Burger MCB

Cook’s notes: I didn’t think writing out a twenty-five plus step recipe was necessary. Rather I wanted to inspire you to do something different. Something to help you think out of the box. (If that is where you are.)

Almond-crusted Broccoli Burger MCB

Here are a few Broccoli Burger cooking tips:

  • To prepare the burger, I blanched, chilled, then shredded 3 broccoli stalks and 2 crowns, and one medium carrot. This base with the other ingredients yielded 4 burgers.
  • I didn’t rehydrate the dried cranberries. My reasoning: The fruit would hydrate in the raw egg while the formed burgers chill in the refrigerator.
  • Toast sliced almonds in a 350 oven for six minutes. Let cool, then crush to coat the burger before frying.
  • I used 2 eggs, slightly beaten, to act as a binder, for protein and to add a richer flavor. I added a dash of kirin sauce to the eggs. Alternatively, you can use potatoes, mashed chickpeas, rice, tapioca, quinoa, etc. Think starch.
  • I used ¼ cup shredded cheese  and ½ cup panko bread crumbs.
  • Add chopped fresh rosemary (for a pop of pungent, pine-like flavor) into the scrambled eggs before you add to the broccoli to help distribute the herbs evenly.
  • I formed the burgers, then placed them on a cookie rack and chilled them in the refrigerator for 25 minutes.
  • Make sure the skillet is hot before you cook. After you place the burgers in the skillet, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook slowly for an even brown.
  • To make the spicy sauce, I added a teaspoon of Sriracha to a ¼ cup of Kraft bottled buttermilk dressing. You can make your own buttermilk dressing, but really, why bother? Kraft does it just like McDonalds does. Perfectly consistent. Plus who needs more to do these days?
  • Thoughts on the bun. The whole grain ciabatta seemed like a healthier choice and I love the denseness of ciabatta. But that one bun is a lot of bread. Almond-crusted Broccoli Burgers were delightful and delicious without the sauce, and ciabatta, fyi. However, if you are going to go to all the trouble to make a burger, eat the burger with all the fixins’!

Check out the Creative Cooking Crew Burger Round-up. Also, head over to the CCC Pinterest board for more tempting, tantalizing recipe ideas.

Thanks for stopping by and a special thanks to Laz at Lazaro Cooks and to Joan at FOODalogue for this fun challenge!


Maureen C. BerryLike this post? While you are here, go ahead and sign up for my quarterly newsletter for more information about my forthcoming cookbooks. I will use not sell or spam your information for any other purpose than to contact you via the mailing list you have signed up for.

Thanks for stopping by,
Follow Maureen on Twitter @maureencberry

Black Bean Chili

Black Bean Chili MCB LLC 2015I don’t know about you, but we are trying to eat less meat around here.

I won’t get on my soap box about the meat industry and carbon emissions. I do enough of that over at Seafood Lady and on Twitter. But. We are trying to shake things up because we want to feel better. And less meat makes us feel better. (Notice I am speaking for Elvis here too. No worries, he doesn’t mind.) And after my visit with Dr. Colonoscopy last week, evidently I need to eat more fiber too!

However. There’s one thing I learned over the years.

There is a fine line between eating enough fiber and eating too much fiber.

Take my Black Bean Chili recipe. Plenty of fiber. Fits the Meatless Monday meme too. And since the word “chili” is in the title, I can definitely sell it to Elvis.

There is something about cooking with black beans that makes me want to add corn to the recipe. Maybe it’s that pop of color with the finished dish, or the sweetness paired with the oh-so-tasteless black beans. Whatever. I wanted so bad, so bad to add sweet corn to this pot of chili. But with the beans and barley, I knew adding sweet corn would make this recipe fiber-heavy. And you know what that means.

What’s a cook to do?

Eat corn another day. Black Bean Chili rocks without it!

Ready to cook?

Black Bean Chili

Sweet butternut squash complements the salty, spiciness of this black bean chili. Add diced tomatoes and plop a spoonful of sour cream on top for crunch and creaminess to round out this one-pot delicious wonder.

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium white onion, chopped

1 shallot, minced or 2 tablespoons

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce

2 cups water

3 (15 ounce) cans organic black beans, drain 2, reserve liquid from 3rd can

1 (4 ounce) can fire roasted diced green chilies

½ cup quick cooking barley

1 pound butternut squash, trimmed, peeled and chopped or 2 cups

Fresh-diced tomato and sour cream (optional)

Cook’s note: To save time, peel and dice the squash up to one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Alternatively, buy precut squash at the grocery. You can add additional water if needed at the end of the cooking cycle if chili is too thick.

  1. Toast the coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium heat for about six to seven minutes, or until you smell the aroma. Remove from heat. Let cool. Grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle.
  2. Heat the canola oil in a large pot over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add onion, stir and cook for about two minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, cook onions an additional minute. Add shallots, stir and cook one minute. Add garlic, stir and cook about one minute or less, just enough to release the bouquet.
  3. Add the crushed coriander seeds, chili powder, cumin, salt, black and cayenne pepper. Stir.
  4. Add tomato sauce and 1 cup of the water. Stir and increase the heat to medium.
  5. Add the black beans, green chilies barley, butternut squash and remaining cup of water. Stir.
  6. Cover with a vented lid and bring chili to a brisk simmer, about five to six minutes cooking time, then reduce heat to low and cook on a gentle simmer with a vented lid, stirring occasionally for twenty to thirty minutes or until squash is fork tender.
  7. Ladle chili in bowls. Serve immediately.

Appetite required.


Maureen C. BerryLike this post? While you’re here, go ahead and sign up for my quarterly newsletter for more information about my forthcoming cookbooks. I will use not sell or spam your information for any other purpose than to contact you via the mailing list you have signed up for.

Thanks for stopping by,


Leftovers: Carrot Fritters

Carrot Fritters

Carrot Fritters with plain Greek yogurt (and yes, those are sliced, pickled jalapeno peppers on the yogurt)

Making food for a holiday party can be a crap shoot.

You really never know what people will eat, or not. Of course it’s not prime rib or king crab left sitting on the table at my house, but piles of mashed potatoes, dressing, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or like this past Christmas, where a pound (okay, maybe two pounds) of braised carrots went uneaten.

Creative Cooking Crew came to the rescue with its January Challenge: Repurposing leftovers or how many meals can you get from one. (Thanks to Laura Lafata, the one and only La Diva Cucina.)

Creative Cooking Crew

I thought of a few leftover recipes off the top of my head. A carrot galette with roasted beets. A small pot of creamy carrot soup with cumin and cilantro. Both seemed so overdone. And I suspected Elvis would eat neither (of course I am always right about these things). I realized something else as I considered my carrots-I take leftovers for granted.

So I stewed a bit-you know, looked in the pantry and then the fridge. Then I decided to do some yoga. Afterwards I made a chamomile caramel tea latte and had a moment of clarity. There is no telling if it was from Warrior II or if it was the sugar buzz from the Agave in the tea. When I had the restaurant, I made fritters with copious amounts of leftover mashed potatoes. Everybody loved them. (I knew Elvis would love Carrot Fritters too!)

And if you’re wondering what the connection is, well potatoes and carrots are both root vegetables and both make an excellent base for a fritter.

So. Onward.

Serve Carrot Fritters (think sweet, tart, spicy and sour) as an appetizer for a small party, or as an entree with a fresh green salad for a quick midweek meal.

Carrot Fritters

You’ll want leftover carrots all the time.

Okay. Maybe at least once a month.

Appetite required.

Carrot Fritters MCB

Carrot Fritters
Yield 10-12 appetizers or 4-6 entrees

Cook’s note: The second time I made this recipe, I substituted roasted carrots for the braised carrots, but the texture was a little more dense and didn’t have the rich, meaty flavor from the braised beef. Still delish though. Roast carrots ahead several days to save time.

1/4 cup flour

1 tablespoon bread crumbs

1/2 teaspoon toasted, crushed coriander seeds

Dash kosher salt

Dash black pepper

1 1/2 cups shredded braised carrots, chilled and shredded on box grater

1/2 cup raw apple, Gala or Granny Smith, grated on box grater

1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeño

1 egg, beaten lightly

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon oil

Plain Greek yogurt or sour cream (optional)


  1. Add flour, breadcrumbs, coriander, salt and pepper to a small bowl. Whisk.
  2. Add carrots, apple, jalapeño and egg to medium bowl. Stir.
  3. Add dry mix to carrot mix. Stir in a little at a time..
  4. Form into quarters sized disc if serving appetizers, or half dollar sized disc if serving as an entree. Arrange in a single layer on a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  5. Heat a 10 or 12-inch skillet over medium heat for three minutes. Add butter and oil. When butter foams, add carrot fritters to the skillet. Do not crowd. Work in batches if necessary. Fry for two minutes or until caramelized brown crust forms.
  6. Turn and fry equal time on the other side. Remove from heat.
  7. Plop a spoonful of yogurt on top (or on the side) of each fritter. Serve immediately.

Check out the link to the CCC roundup for some amazing leftover ideas, and don’t forget to check out the CCC Pinterest board, too.

Thanks for stopping by and see you next month! 

Chicken Walnut Salad

You guys, You guys. I first made this Chicken Walnut Salad in the mid-90s.

Chicken Walnut Salad MCB

I’d invited my friends and staff (who happened to be the same people) from The Wooden Spoon for a Christmas party at my house. Not only was the finished dish visually appealing (I’d formed it in the shape of a wreath), it was creamy and nutty with a burst of sweetness and anise. I served it with a fresh, hot baguette, thinly sliced. And champagne. And beer. And, and, and…well, you get it. It was a Christmas party. There was plenty of food. But this Chicken Walnut Salad was the bomb.

Last week my friend Loryn McDonald, one of my favorite customers at The Spoon, who was more than likely at that Christmas party all those years ago, asked me for this Chicken Walnut Salad recipe. Funny thing, I never wrote it down. Or if I did I left it at The Spoon where I assume they are still serving it.

I’m dedicating this recipe to Loryn. It tastes just like I remember-just like friendship.

Merry Christmas.

Chicken Walnut Salad

1 boneless skinless chicken breast

2 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 3 cups poached and pulled meat total)

1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise, plus 2 tablespoons

½ cup walnut halves and pieces

1/3 cup minced celery hearts, or 2 medium stalks

½ cup red grapes, quartered on the long side (sub dried cranberries if desired)

1 tablespoon dried tarragon

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Dash black pepper

Cook’s note: The original recipe version calls for pulled chicken, but to save time, I served a chunkier version at the restaurant. Whether you pull or chop the chicken, you’ll love the way the flavors complement each other. Chicken Walnut Salad can be made up to two days ahead, but wait to add the grapes until you are ready to serve.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bring water to boil on high heat in a large pot. Add chicken and reduce heat to medium heat. Cover with vented lid half way and simmer 25 minutes. Make sure water remains at a soft boil. If not, increase heat to medium high. If boiling too hard, vent lid a little more.
  3. While chicken cooks, spread walnuts on a baking tray and bake 7 to 8 minutes on center rack in 350 degree oven. Remove nuts from oven and let cool about ten minutes. Mince walnuts. (I use a chef’s knife for this task, but you can use a coffee grinder, too. However, don’t over process the nuts in the grinder. You want the walnuts to be fine, not paste-like.
  4. Remove the chicken from the water to a cooling rack. Cool ten to fifteen minutes or when chicken is cool to the touch. Pull chicken with your fingers or shred with two forks.
  5. Add pulled chicken to a large bowl. Add ½ cup mayonnaise and stir to coat chicken.
  6. Add walnuts, grapes, celery and tarragon. Stir. Add salt and pepper. Stir again. Add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise. Stir.
  7. Cover and refrigerate up to one hour before serving. Refrigerate any uneaten chicken salad within two days. (As if you’ll have leftovers.)
Appetite required. Champagne optional.

Vegetable Beef Soup

Warning: This post may be subject to wandering off-topic. (No, I am not sipping really good red wine, or really cheap white wine either.)

Vegetable Beef Soup

iphone mcb

I think I just made the best Vegetable Beef Soup ever. Ever have one of those why don’t I make this more often days? Yes, I’m sure you do.

As much as I like to write about food and cook, I tend to eat a lot of the same food.

Funny how life has its way of keeping us walking that straight line, tits tucked in, and no panty lines please. Of course now that I am in my 50s, I am always in a bra since I don’t want to add any more girth to my midriff area which is where my DD’s would be if I went braless. Okay. See there? I just went sideways.

That’s how I feel about cooking sometimes. I coast along, eating my oats and yogurt for breakfast, turkey and tuna for lunch, an occasional PayDay or Snickers for a midafternoon snack and the standard, salad and protein dinner, and then Wham! I make Linguine with Clams one night and Vegetable Beef Soup the next afternoon. Not that these dishes are spectacular or represent something out of a momofuku kitchen. Far, far from it. What they represent is that they are so simple and remind me of my desire to stop the sameness, the vanilla-coated everydayness, the ordinary.

linguine with clams mcb

Linguine with Clams

Say what?

Several years ago when I had the restaurant, where as you might imagine I could eat whatever I wanted, and I am not proud of this, but, every day I ate tuna salad on a toasted sesame bagel with a thick slab of tomato and a smattering of pickled jalapenos. For a year. Yes. Sad, but true. Ask anybody that worked for me. In fact looking back, I was a mayo Nazi when I asked my kitchen staff to make the tuna salad. “Very little mayo” I’d shout from the front of the restaurant through the pass-through window. Yep. Every day. And I had to have fresh tuna salad. No day-old tuna salad for me. How irritating my twenty-something self was! This neurotic, control-freak kind of attitude is the exact thing that makes people (who wake at 4 a.m. to work in a hot kitchen to sling hash and eggs and bacon and grits, for minimum wage mind you), want to spit in your food.

Now, to be clear, I never did that in my restaurant or anywhere else. And I pray nobody on my staff did that either. I’m going with the ignorance is bliss theory on that one. And if someone did spit in my tuna? Well, all I can say is, I survived it!

Recipe developer and food writers don’t always make glamorous, picture perfect meals. I have plenty of recipe-fail kind of days. Some days when the Bosc pears are ripe to the touch ready to bake in a flakey tart, the weather is foul and the light nonexistent. Other days, the best intentions to create a new recipe with a fresh, expensive ingredient go out the door as fast as my terrier runs after a squirrel or deer.

Reagan #wirefoxterriers


So beyond all this pithy bs about eating habits and food writing, and lets not forget how boring my life must be that vegetable beef soup warrants a 700-plus word blog post. So what exactly makes the best Vegetable Beef Soup ever?

Leftover brisket for starters. Beef that had simmered low and slow for hours in a tomato, onion and beer broth, then marinated in the refrigerator and reheated in a large stockpot on a cold November afternoon. Soup that forced me away from my desk for an hour or so to chop fresh vegetables. Away from thinking about how to make my protagonist in THORNTON PARK, divulge backstory without coming across as a pompous ass, or doing an info dump and creating a compelling character you want to love and root for. Away from my research, to-do lists and emails to suppliers, organizations and agents of change for my next cookbook, EATING GROUPER.

Of course I made Vegetable Beef Soup in the past. But it seems like a long time ago, like when I wore a C cup.

What are you cooking lately?

Poached Pear and Sweet Potato Muffin Recipe Idea

I love to eat sweet, rich-tasting muffins. Who doesn’t?

With my Poached Pear & Sweet Potato Muffins with Lemon Buttercream Frosting recipe idea, you can eat sweet-on-sweet muffins too.

Where did I this food combo idea come from?

From food in my fridge that was destined for the trash if I hadn’t used it in a recipe.

Did you know that 40 percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten today? According to the National Resources Defense Council, that amounts to 20 pounds of food per person every month.

Where does all that food end up?

Almost all of it in a landfill.

Still here? Thanks.

Poached Pear & Sweet Potato Muffin with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Poached Pear & Sweet Potato Muffin with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

I don’t want to scare you off I really do want to talk about Poached Pear & Sweet Potato Muffins with Lemon Buttercream Frosting. This is all related, hang in there.

I think it’s important to share this information. Because if only one person reads the NRDC report, one person makes my muffins or a recipe from food they would otherwise toss, then I am good. I don’t claim to want to change the world with this story, but I would take pride knowing one person was affected by this post. And maybe that one person will share this recipe and story, and so on.

I do my share of trashing food. Wilted celery stalks, one portion of leftover chicken soup, ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, half an onion, stale crackers. Lettuce is the ultimate trashed item in my house. Not because I don’t like to eat it, but because lettuce is the most perishable food item. And on most days, I cook for one and don’t always want to eat salad every day.

One word comes to mind—boring.

While I make a conscious effort to use all the food I buy, sometimes I buy too much. Or sometimes we eat out on a whim because I don’t want to cook. Or I open a can of tuna instead of chopping those not so crisp vegetables for a salad or stir fry.

Pear and sweet potato muffin w buttercream frosting

But despite all that consciousness-raising-effort, I have a winner in the use all the food I buy category. Take this Poached Pear & Sweet Potato Muffins with Lemon Buttercream Frosting.

This is one of those recipes I call—least boring.

I started with my base recipe for banana walnut bread. Instead of bananas, I used one poached pear from a jar (the last remaining pear from a jar I preserved last summer), a leftover baked sweet potato (yam to some of you), a handful of dried cranberries and a dash of ground cinnamon. That’s it.

Oh. And the Lemon Buttercream Frosting? I admit I never toss a lemon in the garbage until I use every last iota of lemon. I use lemons for cooking, salads, baking and cleaning, but I use the zest for almost everything (like this frosting) after I squeezed the last drop of juice from the pulpy center. So when you squeeze a lemon for lemonade, or your next apple pie, don‘t throw out the lemon. Wrap it. Refrigerate it. Then when you want to add some zing to your next buttercream-frosting recipe, zest it.

Take a look in your refrigerator before you trash your food. Tell me, what deliciousness have you made lately? And if you don’t mind, would you please share this post?
Thanks and I’ll see you next time.

Sugar, Salt and Everything Nice

Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons from the cool crisp mornings of May to the hot, humid days of October, or until the corn dries up, the bays at the Hopkins County Farmers Market fill with farmers eager to sell and Kentucky residents happy to buy.

On a cemetery-grey sky kind of Saturday, just after 7 a.m. in mid-August, I drove 2 miles to HCFM to talk with Jeanne Marcum. Jeanne sells a line of natural skin care and culinary products called Park Bench Naturals.

Jeanne Marcum/Park Bench Naturals

Jeanne Marcum/Park Bench Naturals

A few weeks prior, I bought a tin of Chipotle Lime Salt from her. I sprinkled it on scrambled eggs, baked salmon, fresh sliced tomatoes, boiled sweet corn, roasted chicken and rubbed it on pork butt. The smoky, dusty flavor complemented everything! Prior to buying the salt from Jeanne I thought of her as “granola girl,” an endearing term I apply to women who wear hippy clothes, no makeup and sell handmade soaps and lotions.

TMO organic tomatoes

Since Jeanne hadn’t arrived to the market yet, I wandered through the pavillion. Red, pink, yellow and green tomatoes were lined up like soldiers, or piled and sorted by flavors like Rutgers, black cherry, brandywine and green zebra. Cranberry beans, lima beans and crowder peas were sorted in baskets to be sold by the mess. Sweet corn, yellow corn and silver queen corn were piled high on the backs of truck lift gates. White pattypan squash, small globes of candy onions and baggies of fresh basil tempted sleepy-eyed customers. The air smelled sweet and light from citrusy French Orange Cantaloupes, fresh-shucked Peaches and Cream sweet corn, and the threat of a morning rainstorm.

Twin Maples Organic farmer Chris Devoto at HCFM

Twin Maples Organic farmer Chris Devoto at HCFM

I bought a twenty-pound box of tomatoes for $.50 a pound from George and Rita, middle-aged farmers as sweet as peach pie. I chatted with my favorite farmers, Chris Devoto and Elizabeth Ewing of Twin Maples Organics to see what they planted new this year (celery root and leeks). TMO is the only CSA certified organic farmer within two hundred miles of my home. Chris and Elizabeth are tall thirty-something energetic farmers with sun kissed skin and infectious easygoing smiles. They stage their heirloom tomatoes on blackboard-chalked tables. Oversized baskets showcase clumps of organic beets, jars of honey, purple and white stripped Sicilian eggplants, and mason jars of preserves and relishes.


Fresh cut zinnias and sunflowers were pimped out in tall tin vases. I bought  a bag of basil and a few pounds of distressed Brandywine tomatoes for $1.50 per pound, normally $2.50 per pound, to bake a few Galettes later that day.

tomato and eggplant galettes

Scott Wells of Hanson Berry Farms, also a CSA farmer, was in the bay next to TMO. Scott sat quietly on the gate of his Ford pick-up. A squat white freezer was behind him, filled with two-pound packages of frozen mild and hot ground sausage from his own pigs I learned. His spit cup was within reach next to his hip. I peppered him with questions about his feed, ingredients, and how could I get on the bacon list. He talked and chewed while he answered my questions. His legs swung back and forth with a relaxed gait like a man with nothing but time on his side. Scott asked for my card and then asked me to be patient about the bacon. I bought a two-pound tube of hot sausage, a bargain to have local pork I reasoned despite the GMO feed. I turned to leave and saw Jeanne backing up in her gold Jeep Wrangler.


Jeanne has sold PBN products since 2012.

Jeanie Marcum PBN

Jeanie Marcum

Prior to that time she “gave away” products, a common tactic for small startups. One this Saturday morning, Jeanne sported a tie-dye dress and batik print hair band. She is the type of woman when you look at her you might think hippy chick. With her freckled skin, blond hair, bright white smile, and sea blue eyes, she could sell PBN at the Straw Market in Nassau, or any number of markets in Florida or around the country.

Park Bench Naturals

Jeanne has embodied the natural, chemical free, holistic, medicinal lifestyle since the 1980s. Armed with a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Exercise and Nutrition, she decided to develop products “made naturally 4 U” in her words when she moved to western Kentucky.

jeanie marcum

Jeanne’s lifestyle mirrors her products. She lives with her family in Manitou, KY where she grows chemical free and GMO free produce, raises grass-fed cattle and free range chickens and mills her own flour. She forages in her woods and pastures for herbs and plants to enhance her PBN product line. She researches extensively for base ingredients like solar dried flake sea salt and organic turbinado sugar for her gourmet finishing salts and sugars like Kentucky King of the Red, a merlot wine-based finishing salt, and Bourbon Vanilla Bean sugar, a local favorite.

Park Bench Naturals salt

Bourbon Vanilla sugar

Jeanne creates blends of loose leaf red and black herbal teas too. In addition to the artisanal salts and sugars, she sells herb-scented hand crafted soaps, 17 natural pure essential oils, mud scrubs and rubs, tooth powders and body lotions.

Park Bench naturals soap

Park Bench Naturals

She develops all of her products on her 130-acres ranch-style homestead. The forward thinking marketing side of Jeanne coined her business Park Bench Naturals as a homage to the upcoming city park in Madisonville.

When I asked her for three uses for her sugars and salts, she beamed and said, “For sugar-coffee, chai tea and crème brule. For my finishing salt-farm fresh eggs,” (think deviled eggs with chipotle lime finishing salt–emphasis mine), “rub for pork, beef and chicken.” She nodded to a passerby and then added, “Oh, and my motto on the tin Keep a Tin on the Table.”

I chatted with a few of Jeanne’s customers, who seemed timid to buy from her diverse selection of salts and sugars, but eager to talk about cooking–the perfect reason to go to any farmers market. One fellow and his wife talked nonstop about a Bourbon-infused smoked Paprika they bought in Louisville. Apparently they sprinkle it on everything. “A little goes a long way,” the fellow leaned in to tell me.

Before I left the market, I stopped to buy a peck of white peaches from Miss Linda at Brumfield Farm Market. Chipotle Lime Salt seasoned salmon topped with a fresh peach salsa was on my mind.

When I got home, I realized I hadn’t bought a tin of Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sugar for my morning coffee. Then I remembered-Wednesday market is just a few days away.


Jeanie Marcum Park Bench Naturals

Want to know more about Jeanne Marcum’s “Made for 4 U” Park Bench Naturals products?

Find Jeanne at the HCFM May through October. When she’s not at the market, her products can be found at the following Hopkins County, Kentucky locations: Brumfield Farm Market, Big City Coffee & Market, Barbie Hunts Studio, and most recently in the newly opened The Hub, an artisanal craft store and coffee shop in Hanson, KY.

Find Park Bench Naturals products at Guthrie Pantry in Guthrie, KY. “Like’ Park Bench Naturals on Facebook and find out about its full product list, shipping information and more. Park Bench Naturals is a registered Kentucky Proud product.

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