There's a tang in the sweet, thick dressing to Mommom Boyd's macaroni salad. I was intrigued by that when Mommom first taught me how to make it as a kid. The creamy, thick mayo dressing with apple cider vinegar mellowed out by a spoonful or three of sugar.
I have had a love-hate relationship with this salad since my childhood, and I figured why stick with how it has been done and reimagine it for my modern tastes.
I created this Avocado Bacon Macaroni Salad a few years ago for The Kitchn. It's takes the macaroni salad fundamentals Mommom taught me and married them with the craveable flavors from today's favorite, avocado toast. Read about it and get the recipe here.
Nowadays, I adjust this recipe to suit my ever-changing tastes. I cream an additional avocado and put it in the dressing. I also cook 8 ounces of pasta instead of the called for 12. I often slice the red onion very thinly rather than finely dice and use 1/3 cup instead of one half. While I initially made this dish with multi-grain bread, I have found my favorite way is with dark, rich pumpernickel.
No matter what way, this updated salad has become an asked for favorite among my family and friends. And I think my Mommom Boyd would be pleased with my new incarnation of her passed down recipe.
I have long marveled at how versatile prepared salsas are for cooking. As I walk the snack aisle in mainstream and specialty grocery stores, it blows my mind how many different kinds of salsas we now can choose from: pineapple habanero, avocado verde, tomatillo herb...not to mention the seemingly thousands of different tomato based salsas. So I wrote a story about it for The Kitchn and how one day I realized you could make wonderfully flavored, inventive cocktails for parties...with jars of salsa and beer. Here's an excerpt. For the full version, go to the story on Kitchn.
Beer and Salsa: A Destined Pair!
Did you know salsa and beer are among the top foods purchased in the week leading up to the Super Bowl? They’re also regular staples in the fridge, so they’re usually at our fingertips any time of year. These days salsa comes in so many varieties beyond the traditional red tomato you’d find in a jar. Fresh blends with tomatillos and avocado, and juicy fruits (like mango, peach, and pineapple) make them exciting to munch on with chips. But they also quickly bring a lot of flavor to any recipe — including drinks.
Micheladas and shandies are popular beer-based cocktails with fresh components added in, so why not speed things up at home and make them with a grocery store shortcut? Recently, I discovered something magical happens when you plop salsa in a blender and give it a whirl for 20 seconds. The tangy, chunky vegetable and fruit bits we love to eat with salty chips meld super fast to make a surprisingly inviting cocktail base (think: Bloody Mary or cocktail mix, but fresher and just as easy).
And so I present to you three salsa beer cocktails with fun, easy twists. The key to making them is puréeing the salsa in a blender until smooth before adding the ice and beer. Once you get the hang of the core recipe, add your own embellishments to suit your taste. I like to use Mexican beer, like Dos Equis, to play up all the flavors in the salsa, but you can use whatever you like — just make sure it’s a cold one.
Cast iron is a key part to my life. I have more than 50 cast iron pans in my personal collection, including one that is from my great great great great grandmother. Even more, I use them every day.
So I wrote about cast iron for The Kitchn and the cooking and life lessons I have learned from the experience. It's a very personal essay. "Everything I Know About Cooking I Learned from a Cast Iron Pan," chronicles my early years of learning how to cook from the "Better Crocker Boys and Girls Cook Book" using cast iron: frying, sautéing, roasting, baking and more. I also share four lessons I have learned about cooking and life today. It's a worthy read, I think, for cast iron lovers, novice cooks and those long in the food industry who share a special connection to the reasons why we are in food.
I hope you enjoy it.
Here are my secrets to make soup more fun - created with great quality, store-bought soup with fun, surprising additions and unexpected ways to serve. Don’t worry, they intentionally sound fancy, but are simple. Applying my tricks, you will surely feel like a rock star in the kitchen...your family and friends will think so, too.
- Roasted Tomato “Poppable” Parfaits - On-the-vine, juicy cherry tomatoes roasted for 15 minutes with a sprinkling of sherry and served with tomato parmesan soup in parfait glasses. Topped with Greek yogurt and fresh rosemary.
- Gruyere Champagne Roma Toasts - Buttered slices of French baguette crisped in cast iron with melted gruyere. Chopped Roma tomatoes, tossed in olive oil, champagne vinegar and fresh thyme. Served in petite cups of tomato soup.
- Parmesan Polenta “Biscotti” Shooters - Slices of polenta thickly cut and baked in the oven with parmesan, smoked paprika and black pepper. Served in shot glasses of warmed tomato soup.
- Kale Chips for Chix Soup - Kale leaves flash-fried or baked until crispy and stained glass translucent. Seasoned with fine sea salt and served floating atop a China bowl of piping hot chicken noodle soup.
- Cheesy Chicken Sausage Meatballs - Mini meatballs of ground turkey and chicken sausage mixed with Romano cheese and browned in a cast iron. Piled in small bowls with more finely grated cheese to finish.
- Chicken Chicharrones Sippers - Chicken skins soaked in buttermilk and hot sauce and flash-fried until puffy and crisp, like pork rinds. Tucked into handheld bowls of chicken noodle soup with fresh leaves of baby kale for dipping and sipping.
- Roasted Honeynut Spoons, Creme Fraiche & Fresh Ginger - Mini honey nut squash roasted with honey and olive oil until charred and soft. Dropped into first course dishes of butternut soup and used as edible spoons. Tangy creme fraiche and grated fresh ginger add a surprising finish.
I recently came across this interview for Bon Appétit by the wonderful, Nina Elder, who's now an editor with Every Day with Rachael Ray. It was a fun exchange about easy cooking and my inspirations of food. It shares some of my favorite kitchen tips and gives you a few insights into my Lovely & Delicious point of view on living. The magazine changed directions before the interview was published, so I thought I'd give you the national exclusive right here.
When did you first start cooking?
My first memory of cooking was in 4th grade, though I am sure I started much earlier because I come from a family of great home cooks. I used my mama's Betty Crocker Kids Cookbook as an after-school companion while I waited for my parents to come home from work. I loved the art and science of cooking and viewed making recipes as experiments. My parents and grandparents always encouraged me and my culinary creations. It was a good creative outlet for me.
Who taught you to cook?
My grandmothers were always cooking for the family and our community – church, neighbors…anyone, really. I learned by watching them. My great-grandmother cooked Southern food for the small town in Southeastern Pennsylvania where my family is from. Every day, she would cook fried chicken, biscuits and coconut custard pies for lunch at her house. To me, it seemed the entire town knew Miss Zella and at least 10-15 people would be seated around her table all the time.
My grandmother, Clara, was a good cook, but she was an even better baker. She baked and decorated wedding cakes, Easter egg cakes and Halloween cupcakes for people in the community. While she made roses and daisies and other flowers from icing, she would have me right next to her with my own piping bag. She taught me how to make all kinds of frosting designs. It was a ton of fun and over time I created my own cakes that became hits with family and friends (this WAY before Food Network and shows like Ace of Cakes!).
Why do you like to cook?
I love to cook because it gives me a creative outlet. For me, after a long, challenging day, I escape in the kitchen and let go. More than that, though, I just love to share. And cooking allows me to do that. I love having people just stop over and sit at the table to enjoy some food. It brings me great joy and peace. I believe this is how we change the world.
What are your cooking inspirations (books, your travels, cookbooks, TV, magazines, etc.)?
I travel all over the world and love to experience everyday food from all cultures. But, it's really everyday people and my family and friends who inspire me. When they share a dish that they made show it to me because it was "just so good," that makes me smile. I have many cookbooks, but the ones I use over and over again are Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen, Sara Foster's Fresh Every Day and Susan Spungen's Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook.
Whom do you cook for (family, friends, etc.)?
I will cook for anyone, including myself. My grandparents always said, "there's always a plate at our table for you." I say the same thing.
Any tips on how to get good food on the table fast?
For me, food doesn't have to be perfect - it just has to taste good. I think it's OK to use jarred pestos, sauces and other prepared ingredients - as long as they are made from real, fresh ingredients. I rely on items like Bella Cucina's line of pestos and sauces to get fresh, simple meals together quickly.
What are your top three favorite foods?
That's easy… Root beer, mac n cheese and PIG.
It's a special day today. It's my mama's birthday! Everyone knows how much I love my mama - I am a proud Mama's Boy. I am very blessed to have such a strong, sweet, supportive, fun parent who every single day takes her job as a mother seriously – even now.
This morning, I found this photo of Mama sitting down at the family dinner table with me and her sister, who is the same age as I am. My Aunt Ellen and I were on summer vacation after finishing fourth grade and wanted to make a special meal for her. We pulled out Mama's big Betty Crocker Cookbook and after poring over the recipes settled on Steak Diane - I think because it sounded so fancy. We chose Twice Baked Potatoes, too. They involved several different cooking techniques: baking, mashing, "re-scooping" and baking again, which seemed like a big challenge for us two ambitious kids. Peas, which were frozen, fresh salad, that we chopped ourselves, and Crescent Rolls rounded out the meal.
This was the first "formal" dinner I had ever prepared. I remember being excited and anxious. I also recall feeling so grown up. I was doing what I really loved to do, even then. Mama was so patient with me and my aunt...and so complimentary. To this day, it is still the most lovely and delicious meal I have ever eaten. I now get that satisfied feeling whenever I cook a meal for my loved ones.
I appreciate my mom so much for nurturing my love of sharing food and connecting people especially through my early years. I treasure our time at the family table and look forward to sharing many more meals together. Happy Birthday Mama.
It was exactly six years ago today that my grandmother, Clara, passed away. I'm amazed at how much time has gone by since. While I miss her tremendously, I realize now how much she taught me, and how I share her lessons through my work and the people I connect with. It's beautiful.
One of the wonderful things that Grandma taught me was to put a lot of love in food. Growing up, I marveled at how joyful she was when she cooked – even when I knew she was tired. There was rarely a day that she didn't have an apron tied around her waist, and the oven wasn't to 350°. She always had the radio or TV on. She would sing to tunes from her "boy" Frank Sinatra or cheer on her "boys," the Phillies. Her kitchen just radiated with love…and everyone love being in it.
Grandma had an extra large ceramic mixing bowl with a large pink stripe on it. It was reserved for special family recipes, like her Italian TaDaas or pizelle cookies. I always knew it was an extra good day when Grandma pulled out the big bowl from the pantry. I would be giddy with anticipation about what she would make. Grandma was not a precise cook. She would follow recipes, but she would add an extra pinch of this or a teaspoon-or-so of that. And it never mattered. Nearly everything she made turned out perfectly…and certainly tasted oh-so-good!
I now have Grandma's bowl. It's tucked away in my pantry just like it was in Grandma's. I pull it out to make special recipes just like Grandma did. While my cooking style is different than hers, I do like to improvise and add my own touches here and there. Cooking with Grandma's bowl makes me smile. Using it, I feel connected to her as if she's standing right there with me. Sometimes I hear her singing an "ole blue eyes" tune. And every single time I use the bowl, the dishes I make turn out just right…just as Grandma's did.
My sweet friends Kim Severson and Leslie Zweben and I decided to host a dinner to raise money for our church's new building fund. We had been looking to get together for dinner for several weeks and thought instead of going out, let's get in the kitchen and share a meal with our church and foodie friends.
Secretly I was giddy, because for most of my adult life I wanted to serve like the church ladies from my childhood did…the ones who cooked chicken and parsley potato suppers for the congregation from the United Methodist Fellowship Hall kitchen. I admired the way they lovingly prepared meals for the community alongside their lifelong friends and fellow churchgoers. So this dinner was my chance to do just that with people I loved and admired…and give to a church community that has shaped and supported my life for the past 10 years.
You can imagine what it might be like for three passionate, yet very busy, cooks to come together to make a meal for 16. But for Kim, Leslie and I, it just sort of flowed. Kim had her new CookFight book coming out in the fall, so pulling together the menu was fairly easy and fun. We started with grilled skirt steak and Kim's fresh salsa verde and then quickly added scalloped tomatoes, because in summer, tomatoes are just what you do for a sit-down family-style supper. (I later found out the tomaotes were inspired by a day Kim spent in the kitchen with Ina Garten).
In thinking about the intention of the dinner: to create a modern cook's version of a traditional church supper, I couldn't help but channel Sara Foster and the recipes she updated from her Memphis grandmother's collection in Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen. Classic angel biscuits with spicy watercress and tangy chevre came to mind…so did warm platters of field peas spooned with lemony-basil vinaigrette. We certainly needed a sweet to complete the evening and thought we couldn't have a church dinner without a handmade pie. So we chose the fried strawberry pies flavored with South Carolina peach moonshine from Kim's column in Garden & Gun. Personally, I had never fried pies before, so for me, it was both an experiment and a treat.
When the food community heard what we were doing, they quickly banded together to support us. It was wonderful. Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, the most gentlemanly of gentleman farmers, shipped us long, lean strips of his flavorful grass fed beef and a boxful of extra large wings from his organic, free range chickens. Our friend Emily from Royal Rose Produce followed suit, sending the largest heads of frisée and radicchio I had ever seen, grown in the "salad bowl capital of the world" along the central coast of California.
Gina Hopkins and the amazingly talented teams at High Road Craft Ice Cream and Counter Culture Coffee provided the finishing touches for the meal. They sent yummy, peppery Pinot; creamy, locally churned buttermilk ice cream; and robust Fast Forward coffee beans. The generosity of these food friends was humbling and allowed us to craft an exceptional dinner while raising a generous amount of funds for our new church home.
The sold out supper brought together people of all backgrounds and faith. And the night was filled with good, lovingly prepared food and warm, caring fellowship – just like the church dinners from my past. The evening was both satisfying and soulful fur us...in the same way I imagine how the church ladies felt each time they washed their last dish and turned out the fellowship hall light.
"Who doesn't love a biscuit?" That's what I said when I first met Biscuit Boss John Craig, creator of the International Biscuit Festival. It made perfect sense to me that there was a festival dedicated to one of the most iconic Southern foods.
And what a festival it is. In just three short years, this biscuit bash has ballooned from 8,000 to nearly 20,000 biscuit believers. They congregate from all over – Kentucky, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama…and all parts of Tennessee – on Knoxville's Market Square to celebrate the Southern trifecta – soft flour, sweet milk and shortening. Now that's some biscuit love!
I had never been to Knoxville before, but I was anxious to get to the biscuit promised land and experience it for myself. More than 90 purveyors were participating, including the legendary Loveless Café, Nashville's fine dining Capitol Grille and Benton's Bacon & Hams, which in my and many other's opinion, is the best damn bacon known to man. This was definitely not an average Saturday outing…but I was ready.
Parked right at the intersection of the Farmer's Market and the beginnings of Biscuit Boulevard, I couldn't miss or resist the Cruze Farm Milk Bar truck. Colleen Cruze and her gingham-garbed milk maids entertained lines of giddy patrons while they peddled lime cardamom ice cream, sweet corn hoe cakes, and over-sized, oven-warm buttermilk biscuits slathered with tangy buttermilk butter. They literally stole my heart…and made my taste buds swoon.
Walking along Biscuit Boulevard, I was delighted to see kids of all ages. Moms, dads, grandmaws and granddaddies were smiling as they eagerly searched for the next freshly baked cathead. I, of course, dodged my way through the crowd, making a bee line for the small, scratch-made biscuits that country stars croon about from the Loveless Café. Dolloped with their sweet, cinnamon-y peach preserves, they make me want to put on my boots and two-step.
With Rodney Crowell and Keith Whitley tunes in my head, I danced my way to The Blackberry Farm Biscuit Brunch. The sold out, tented affair brought the best of Blackberry right to the heart of Biscuit Square. Crisp, white-shirted servers warmly greeted us and politely showed us to our bone china and silver-set tables. The centerpieces were quite playful with boxes of pimento cheese popcorn alongside fresh lime-tomato bloody marys and stacks of golden, fluffy biscuits with benne seeds. I was in heaven!
Then came the food. Chef Josh Feathers and proprietor Sam Beall crafted a comfort-like menu that featured warm, black peppered cheesecake made with their signature soft Brebis cheese, which is now a regular staple in my fridge. Slow-braised pork cheeks served over creamy Anson Mills grits with pickled ramps was the main course. I'm glad the plate was small, because the flavors were so warm and homey I could have eaten a bowlful of the grits and probably half the pig. The final sweet was a luscious, custardy pot de crème flecked with vanilla bean and topped with juicy bits of South Carolina strawberries. Yes, I ate the whole thing.
The Festival finished with biscuit doyennes Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart teaching tips and techniques from their tome, Southern Biscuits, on the Biscuit Bake-Off Stage. If you're going to learn how to make the perfect biscuit and its many variations, these are the ladies to learn from. They were soon followed by the quirky and competitive Miss and Mr. Biscuit Pageant where contestants vied for the top prize with big biscuit wigs, bouncy biscuit raps and ditties and eloquent biscuit monologues. One contender playfully milked the crowd with strategically placed biscuits on her apron and a "show me your biscuits" sign. It was hands-down hilarious!
So now I have been to the biscuit promised land…and I can say that I am one of the BiscuitFest believers. May 17, 2014 is already on my books. I will be back to Knoxville with all the other 20,000 biscuit buffs.
One thing for sure, Tasia Malakasis knows how to throw a party! So when she called to tell me she was doing a shoot for Country Living and asked, "Might you come to Elkmont?," I didn't hesitate to say yes.
I've come to love and know Tasia as she has built Belle Chevre into a premium artisanal goat cheese company over the past few years. It's been wonderful to watch…and we've had some good fun along the way. Tasia and I have done some magazine shoots together…and often cross paths at the Fancy Food Show. But, I had never been to the creamery where the Belle Chevre goat cheese magic happens. This shoot was my chance.
I flew into Huntsville that afternoon, amidst severe storms and threats of downpours, determined to make it for the first cocktail. After a few bumps and delays, I arrived just in time for the party caravan to the farm. As we approached the creamery, it was simple and a little rustic just as I imagined. Horses gently galloped in the distance, and the afternoon sun glinted over the grassy fields and still pond. It was the perfect backdrop for an early evening fete.
As I got out of the truck, the smell of roasted lamb wafted through the air. My stomach began to grumble. Chef David Bancroft was perched under a large oak tree, carefully turning the Will Harris mutton and bathing it in Back Forty Brew with fresh rosemary (mmmm…). Peach moonshine cocktails with fresh basil greeted us as we walked to our tables. And large sheets of Apalachicola oysters on ice just begged to be eaten. Tasia paired them with a lemon zest mignonette, which was a refreshing summer twist to one of my favorite seafoods.
As the sun drew down, the string lights surrounding our tables started to glow. All the mamas and kiddos settled in, and we laughed and giggled our stuffed bellies off to a few good Southern jokes. A local string band propped themselves up on a few bails of hay and began to croon and pluck tunes, which made my feet start to tap. After a few twirls on the dance floor, and a few nips of bourbon, it was time to call it a wrap.
When Tasia calls with another invite, you can bet I'm on the next plane to Belle Chevre and 'bama.