Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Preparing a Holiday Meal in the Great Outdoors


You never know what the weather will be like on Christmas in the South. One year we’ll be huddled up inside around our family dining table and hoping the temps rise above freezing, and then the next year, the nephews and nieces will be running barefoot around the backyard while the grown-ups soak up the sun on the patio. On the years when it’s nice out -- and please let’s all keep our fingers crossed for 2014! -- it’s a crying shame to be stuck inside cooking the same old thing. So we’ve created a lightened-up and super-easy feast that can be prepared outdoors on the grill and in the smoker. 

For the main dish, Roast Beast, we took inspiration from the infamous turducken. What in the world would be a vegetable version of that be? we pondered. What we came up with was a giant and flavorful stack of meaty vegetables with a presentation that steals the show. 

We start the meal with one of the biggest hits from our cookbook, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table (Thomas Nelson, 2013): smoked dates that are stuffed with goat cheese and pecans. Alongside the main dish, we’re serving roasted Brussels sprouts and apples that are a cinch to prepare, a riff on a family recipe for oyster dressing, and a wonderful sweet potato almondine inspired by Chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris and Second Line in Memphis. 

Arguably, the best part about fall is the fruit, and we celebrate it two times over by poaching fresh pears in Beaujolais and topping that with honey-lemon ricotta and crunchy spiced pumpkin seed granola. 


Whether you have a few vegetarians on the guest list or you just want new and interesting ways to prepare fall’s bounty, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. Here’s hoping you get to wear flip-flops and man the grill like we plan to do this holiday!


Monday, December 1, 2014

MasterChef Junior's Logan Guleff Shares His New Vegetarian Dish: Roasted Beets with Brussels Sprouts, Goat Cheese, and Spiced Honey Gastrique

Logan is setting 'em up and knocking 'em down on Fox's MasterChef Junior. This Tuesday night, he'll attempt to fight his way into the top 4. We'll certainly be watching, and all of Memphis will be cheering him on as well! 

We asked Logan to share a favorite vegetarian recipe with us, and he came up with this amazing beet dish. The secret is in the Spiced Honey Gastrique. It adds a punch of flavor and a little kick of heat that's really unexpected. Also, Logan used honey in his gastrique in place of sugar. You know we love that!

This dish is so good that we served a version of it on our own Thanksgiving table. Everyone loved it, including my dad, who said it was his favorite thing on the table. So, great job, Logan! Thanks for sharing this recipe, and know that we love how well you're representing M-town on the show.

Roasted Beets with Brussels Sprouts, Goat Cheese, and Spiced Honey Gastrique

2 medium beets
2 large Brussels sprouts
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cinnamon stick (broken in half)
3 cardinum pods (broken open)
1 small dried jalapeño pepper (use fresh if dried is unavailable)
1 small piece star anise
2 ounces soft goat cheese (crumbled)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place beets in a small casserole dish, cover with foil, and place into the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Allow beets to cool. Rub the skins off with a paper towel. Slice into 1/4- to 1/8th-inch slices on a mandolin.

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Pull the Brussels sprouts apart by trimming the stem end with a paring knife and separating the leaves. With a bowl of ice water nearby, blanch the Brussels sprout leaves for 10 seconds, remove them from the boiling water using a spider, and shock them in the ice water so that they stay crisp.

In a small saucepan, heat honey until it just starts to boil, add in the vinegar, and bring it back up to a low boil.  As the mixture reduces, add in spices. Cook until it is a bit of thick sauce. Remove from heat and let stand for spices to meld for 10 minutes. Strain the spices and set the Spiced Honey Gastrique aside until you're ready to plate.

Shingle the beet slices on a plate, top with Brussels sprout leaves, goat cheese, Spiced Honey Gastrique, and add salt and pepper to taste. (Serves 4 as a first course.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rustic Blueberry-Lemon Tart from The Southern Pantry Cookbook

Do you hate to have to  run to the store every time you try to cook? It's easy to get lost or bogged down in substitutions when trying to pull off a complicated recipe when you just want to fix a great dinner without it taking up the while night. 

Now imagine the soul of your favorite family recipes updated and curated by an accomplished chef who understands how to help you put an amazing meal on the table in a flash -- that's the beauty of The Southern Pantry Cookbook (Thomas Nelson, 2014) by our  friend Jennifer Chandler. She makes crafting stylish Southern family meals simple, satisfying, and always delicious. Plus, her book is a beauty to behold -- it sports full-color photographs shot by me, The Chubby Vegetarian's Justin Fox Burks!

When we first got our hands on this book, we opened up the cabinets to see what matched up. There were so many possibilities, but this great dessert stood out to us because we have some beautiful Mississippi blueberries stowed away in the freezer. It's like summer all over again. 


The following is an excerpt from The Southern Pantry

Here’s an easy dessert you can make with this favorite summer berry.  Don’t fuss over the perfect crust. Instead whip up a rustic version that is meant to look a little rough around the edges. My family likes it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Rustic Blueberry-Lemon Tart

1 unbaked pie crust (9-inch), homemade or store-bought
2 1/2 cups blueberries, thawed if using frozen
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll the dough into a 10-inch round about 1/8-inch thick.  Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the blueberries, lemon juice and zest, 1/2 cup of the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Toss to coat. Fill the center of the pie crust with the blueberry mixture, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold the border up and over the blueberries, overlapping every 2 to 3 inches, to make a rim. Brush the rim with the egg wash and evenly sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over the rim.

Bake until the crust is nicely browned and the blueberries are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm.
(Serves 8.)

Variation: Depending on what’s in season or what’s in your freezer, you can substitute apples, pears, and even peaches for the blueberries.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Young Coconut Ceviche

After seeing our Young Coconut Crudo recipe, a reader offered a great suggestion: young coconut meat might be good in a ceviche. We couldn't agree more, so we had to give it a shot. I'm so happy we did! As cold weather sets in here in Memphis, this dish brings back memories of warm summer days and transports us back to a time when we were wearing shorts instead of winter coats and hideous but warm hats.

This is a great dish any time of year, and it's so easy you won't believe it. The rich coconut meat, crunchy veggies, and bright acidity from the lime juice makes for one tasty dish.

You don't even have to turn on the oven. Just crack open a coconut, chop few things, and you're done. Dinner in a flash made from real food.

Young Coconut Ceviche

1 fresh young coconut
Juice of 2 medium limes
1/2 cup diced roma tomato
1/2 cup seeded and diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 serrano pepper (seeded and finely diced)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
dash hot sauce (like Valentino)
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
chips (or 4 crispy tostadas)
Mayonaise (optional)
Sliced radish and sliced avocado to garnish


Watch this video I made on how to crack into a young coconut. Pour the coconut water off and reserve for another use (i.e. drink it). Using a large spoon, gently scrape the coconut meat out of the coconut. Make sure to scrape off any bits of shell that may be attached to the coconut. Cut coconut meat into small chunks and place in a container with the lime juice. Allow coconut to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes in order for the coconut to marinate.

In a medium bowl, toss together the coconut and lime juice mixture, tomato, cucumber, onion, serrano pepper, cilantro, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve like a dip with chips for an appetizer or on crispy tostadas slathered in mayo, topped with ceviche, and garnished with radish and avocado for a great meal. (Serves 6 as a dip or 2 to 3 as a main dish.)


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Curried Acorn Squash Salad with Apples

My passion for helping the kids of St. Jude comes from my family. It's because I never knew my cousin Will; he was born with brain cancer before I was ever on this earth. The only place that gave my aunt and uncle any hope for treatment was St. Jude. Will was a patient there when the childhood cancer survivor rates were lower than they are today. St. Jude  Children's Research Hospital has taken that survival rate from around 4% in 1962 to around 94% in 2014. That is so amazing!


Will's story inspired my mom to get involved with St. Jude, and she inspired me. I've run the St. Jude Marathon five times in her memory, and my team has raised thousands of dollars that goes directly to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital here in Memphis. 

I did plenty of running around last week when I had the pleasure of cooking for 400 guests at the St. Jude Garden Harvest alongside some of my favorite people in the Memphis culinary world: Miles McMath, Rick Farmer, Earnest Dickson, Michael Vetro, Michael Hughes, Craig and Elizabeth Blondis, Felicia Willett, Elizabeth Heiskell, Josh Belechia, and Robert Rushton. It was such an honor to be asked to participate and to work alongside these fine folks. We all had a great time, and we raised a whole lot of money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital so that they can continue doing great work. 

The menu was amazing as you can imagine. I contributed some a BBQ eggplant dish for an appetizer and also did the salad course. I dreamt up this salad from the list of ingredients that we could source locally. Think of it as a deconstructed curry dish that's just right for this time of year. 

Curried Acorn Squash Salad with Apples


2 medium acorn squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder (recipe follows)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
Simple Raita (recipe follows)
Herbed Dressing (recipe follows)
1 apple (like a Honey Crisp or Pink Lady)
2 cups arugula or other salad greens
1 shallot (thinly sliced)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the stem end off of each acorn squash and scoop out the seeds. You won't need these, so discard or compost them. Slice both acorn squash in half and then into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch slices. In a large bowl, toss slices with the olive oil and then the curry powder, salt, and pepper. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, arrange the squash in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes or until the edges start to caramelize. Remove and allow squash to cool.

Make the Simple Raita and Herbed Dressing according to the recipe before you are ready to serve. Cut the apple into matchsticks and set aside. Place a layer of roasted squash on a large serving platter and top it with the Simple Raita. Add the arugula, shallots, and apples before drizzling the dish with Herbed Dressing. (Serves 6 to 8.)

Curry Powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
The seeds from 4 cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon hot chili powder (or to taste)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and then run them through the spice grinder for a few seconds to break down the cardamom seeds. This mix will keep for up to a year in a sealed container.

Simple Raita

1/2 cup finely diced English cucumber
Kosher salt (to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lime
3/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt


In a medium bowl, mix the cucumber, salt, lime, and yogurt. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

Herbed Dressing


1 cup mixed fresh herbs (like basil, mint, parsley, cilantro)
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from 1 lime
1 clove garlic

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Using an immersion blender or your food processor, blend the herbs, oil, lime juice, and garlic until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to use.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Five Quick Questions with Logan Guleff of MasterChef Junior

He cooks beets and Brussels sprouts, talks about the unique layering of smoke flavors, and his cooking has taken him all the way to the White House to meet the President, yet he just turned 12 years old! Logan Guleff, who calls Memphis home, is about to take his culinary talents to a new national audience on the Fox reality cooking show MasterChef Junior. It's a show in which young cooks compete to see who can come up with the perfect dish under imperfect circumstances. It's a bunch of fun to watch, and now we Memphians have a hometown guy to cheer on!

The premiere of this season of MasterChef Junior is coming up on November 4. There's going to be a watch party downtown at Bridges on November 4th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Kim, Logan's mom, tells us that it'll be $2 at the door, and the proceeds go to support the great work Bridges does in our city. 

Logan took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions -- and coming up soon on The Chubby Vegetarian, we'll have a great vegetarian recipe Logan created just for us.

TCV: Besides making coffee for your mom, what's the first dish you remember cooking, and how old were you?

Logan: "I’ve always been in the kitchen, but I guess my earliest memory of a true dish is making pasta by hand with my mom for Christmas. Maybe I was 3 or 4, mixing eggs in the dough. I loved it."

TCV: It's a plain old Tuesday night without company or anything, and you're cooking dinner for the family; what are you making?

Logan: “What was on sale or in the house? I would start there and work on something that might end up being dinner or it might be a pizza night! Who knows?  I do have a Mediterranean Pork Roast that is pretty tasty that I could make."

TCV: What technique or ingredient has your undivided attention right now?

Logan: "I am having fun learning about smoke and BBQ. I’ve discovered some unique layering of wood flavors. I am working on a few desserts too, along with creating a few new spice blends - I have been busy."

TCV: I just finished shooting photographs a cookbook for Whitney Miller, MasterChef season 1 winner. Is a cookbook something that you see in your future? What's next for Logan?

Logan: "That is a great project, we might have to talk! I am working on a cookbook and have all kinds of ideas for it. I’ve also created 5 new spice blends I want to sell. I really want my own cooking show, so I am working hard on that and school, too. My people need to talk to your people about this cookbook idea. "

TCV: What effect has being from Memphis and living in the South had on your style of cooking?

Logan: "I don't know, I mean, I am from Memphis, and the city is just exploding with great food and chefs. So many folks in the restaurant business have been super nice to me and have shared some of what they do in the kitchen. And my blog, Order Up with Logan, helps me with being a food explorer. Maybe being from Memphis means I work harder -- grit and grind and all that. "

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Arugula, Walnut, and Bleu Cheese Stuffed Portobellos and Food Day

I am honored to have been invited by Food Day, a food advocacy group that focuses on food justice and food education, to take part in a panel discussion about healthy eating. The panel discussion and breakfast are a part of the Food Fight Write conference in Las Vegas, which is in association with the World Food Championships. I'm so excited about all of this because I'm always thrilled to talk about food and how it doesn't have to be greasy and over the top to be delicious. Food Day shares our belief that real food simply prepared can be amazingly delicious and also fuel your body. (Find out more at www.foodday.org.)

Lately, we've been cooking simply… I mean really simply. The oven is cranked up to 350, we drizzle some corn or asparagus or sweet potatoes with olive oil, hit them with a little salt and pepper, and roast them for our side dish. 

Over and over again, I keep making this kind of old-school, comforting stuffed mushroom as a main. It seems almost too simple to share, but the flavor and texture are just right, even though it's made with just a few ingredients. 

Arugula, Walnut, and Bleu Cheese Stuffed Portobellos

4 large portobello mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 shallot (diced, about 1/4 cup)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 5-ounce container fresh arugula
2 large eggs (beaten)

Chopped tomato and fresh parsley (to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350. (I always use the convection mode because I think it cooks everything more evenly. Use it if you have it.) Remove the stems from the mushroom and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle each with the olive oil and vinegar lightly coating both sides. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Place the mushrooms gill-side-down on the parchment and place into the oven for 15 minutes. While they cook, go ahead and prepare the filling.


In a large bowl, toss together the bleu cheese, walnuts, shallot, lemon zest, arugula, and eggs. Remove the mushrooms from the oven and pour any juice that has rendered from the mushrooms into the filling mixture; it's good flavor that you don't want to waste! Toss the mixture together one more time. Place the mushrooms gill-side-up on the parchment and divide the filling between them. Return the baking sheet to the oven for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and garnish with chopped tomato and parsley. (Serves 4.) 

Check out these links to Food Day posts: 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TCV Cancer Shake: A Spice Blend with LOTS of Antioxidants

The idea for a mix of spices that each contain antioxidant properties came after my dad's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer this past March. I was busy hammering him about juicing and eating all the right things -- but what he really needed at the time was to eat for comfort because his digestive tract was so messed up both before and after his Whipple surgery.

So eventually I figured out that I needed to come up with something that tasted good and could be added to any dish…something that would up the cancer-fighting ability of the food he was eating. A quick Google search of the top antioxidant spices in the world and a visit to my well-stocked spice cabinet led to the first container of TCV Cancer Shake.

I sprinkled a good bit on a sweet potato I was having for lunch one day and thought, this isn't bad at all! I actually kind of like it. It's reminiscent of a mild curry powder -- because that's basically what it is. The ginger and cinnamon add warmth while the sumac, a middle-Eastern spice made from ground sumac berries, adds a nice lemony touch. Each ingredient adds either earthiness or sweetness.

It's great on everything from salads to grilled vegetables to fish (so I'm told!) to stir-fry; my dad has used it on all of those things and asked me to make him some more of it.

At this point, I am so thrilled to share with you the news that he's alive and well with no evidence of disease, as reported as his most recent scan at the end of August. It takes faith, the support of family and friends, some very talented doctors, and likely some luck to get to this point, and we are grateful for all of it.

TCV Cancer Shake

1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sumac*
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder*
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium bowl, simply mix all the spices until well incorporated. I like to run the whole mix through my spice grinder to break down the larger oregano and sea salt flakes. Keep mixture in an airtight container in the cupboard for up to 6 months. Sprinkle on everything!

*These spices are available at specialty food stores like Whole Foods.

Fresh Cucumber Noodles with Cashews and Mint

Here in the South, we are about to be completely overrun with cucumbers. Summertime yields so many pounds of them from the few plants that we have at the farm; we really have to try hard to use them all, even after sharing. Pickles, cucumber lemonade, summer salad, raita…and don't forget Kool-ickles

So this is a new idea that'll have you scooping up all the cucumbers you can get your hands on this season. It uses a great new gadget we got from good old Walgreens. It's called a Vegetti, and it easily cuts cucumber and other vegetables into spaghetti-like noodles. This cold, spicy dish goes great alongside sushi or curry. Best of all, it comes together with no cooking at all and only takes a few minutes to make.

Fresh Cucumber Noodles with Cashews and Mint

1 large English cucumber (about 14 inches)
1 small Serrano pepper (very thinly sliced)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon plum vinegar
1 teaspoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup crushed cashews
1 tablespoon sliced chives


Run the cucumber through the Vegetti or break it down using a serrated peeler. (Alternately, it would be just fine to thinly slice the cucumber or to cut it into matchsticks. It's your call.) In a large bowl, toss the cucumber, Serrano pepper, ginger, soy, vinegar, mirin, and sesame oil together until everything is well-coated. Place onto a plate to serve family-style or divide between two bowls for individual servings. Garnish with mint, cashews, and chives. (Serves 2.)



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thai-Inspired Green Curry With Eggplant and Peppers

Our favorite gardener, TV host, and author  P. Allen Smith (see us cook with him last summer here and here!) issued us a challenge at the beginning of this summer: grow a collection of vegetables and herbs in one pot and at harvest time, use it all to make one cohesive dish. We came to refer to it as the Patio to Plate Challenge. It was so fun to start from the most elemental point and see it all the way through for, you know, that certain type of heady and pride-filled locavore experience.

We started in the garden center, where we found a just-big-enough container that measured about 2 feet across and also procured some organic gardening soil. We then picked out our Bonnie Plants vegetables and herbs: 2 sweet basil plants, 1 bunch of white onions, 1 Italian oregano, 2 white Gretel eggplants, and 2 Big Bertha bell pepper plants.



Back at the house, we planted the taller eggplants in the center and the shorter peppers and herbs on the outside; this allowed the oregano to spill over the side and followed Allen's classic rules for an attractive container garden.


We did run into a few bumps in the road. We might've needed to pick a deeper container than this one, which was so shallow it required watering every day that it didn't rain. Also, if you'd like to try the challenge out yourself, make certain you have a sunny enough spot! Once we recognized that we didn't, we moved our Patio to Plate container garden from mostly sunny to full sun -- and then it really flourished!

The recipe was a no-brainer for us. We both love green curry from places like Bhan Thai and Jasmine here in Memphis, so we wanted to create our own version that was flavorful and delicious. As a bonus, this dish is fast, gluten-free, and vegan. Feel free to add a fried egg or crispy tofu if you'd like, but it's still great as is. 

So, readers, what would you grow in your own Patio to Plate garden?

Thai-Inspired Green Curry With Eggplant and Peppers

2 cups fresh basil leaves (more for garnish)

2 portions of rice noodles (for serving)
1 sprig oregano (stem discarded)
1-inch knob ginger
1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon sambal 
1 lime 
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon champagne or rice vinegar
2 cups sliced Japanese eggplant (1/4 inch slices)
2 cups sliced green bell peppers 
(1/4 inch slices)
1/2 cup sliced green onion (white and green parts)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric

Kosher salt and black pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil (or coconut oil)

The secret to the bright green curry sauce is blanching the basil. Don't skip this step or you'll have a black sauce. Get a large pot of salted water up to a boil. You'll use this both to blanch the basil and to cook the rice noodles. With a bowl of ice water at the ready, drop the basil into the boiling, salted water and wait for it to turn a bright green -- this only takes a few seconds. Using a spider tool, fish the basil out and drop it into the ice water. Once it's cooled, collect the basil and squeeze it dry.

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drizzle drained noodles with olive or coconut oil to prevent sticking, cover, and set aside until ready to serve.


Make the green curry sauce by blending the blanched basil, oregano, ginger, garlic, sambal, the zest of the lime, can of coconut milk, and vinegar together until smooth. Set aside.


In a large bowl, mix together the sliced eggplant, peppers, and onion with the coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Next, get a wok or large sauté pan smoking hot. Add the oil and allow it to smoke. Once it starts smoking, carefully add the vegetable mixture and be sure to toss it every minute to allow it to brown evenly. Add the green curry sauce and allow it to heat through. Once it's hot, place the curry in a serving bowl and garnish with a few basil leaves and lime wedges before serving. (Serves 2 to 4.)


Monday, September 22, 2014

Beaujolais-Poached Pears with Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola and Honey-Lemon Ricotta

Arguably, the best part about fall is the fruit, and we celebrate it two times over by poaching fresh pears in Beaujolais and topping that with honey-lemon ricotta and crunchy spiced pumpkin seed granola. 

Beaujolais-Poached Pears with Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola and Honey-Lemon Ricotta

4 pears (peeled, halved, and cored)
1 bottle Beaujolais wine 
1/3 cup honey
8 dried juniper berries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf
knob of ginger (about one inch, sliced)
pinch of kosher salt
Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola (recipe follows)
Honey-Lemon Ricotta (recipe follows)

Place pear halves cut-side-down into a 12-inch stainless steel frying pan. Pour in the bottle of wine and the honey. Add juniper, cinnamon, bay, ginger, and salt. Place frying pan on the stovetop over medium heat and allow liquid to begin to reduce. Cook for 45 minutes;  be sure to flip the pears halfway through this cooking time. When the liquid is syrupy and coats the back of a spoon, remove the pan from the heat. Place pear halves on a serving dish and strain the wine syrup. Reserve the syrup for serving. 
To serve, place a heaping tablespoon of Honey-Lemon Ricotta into the cored section of each pear. Add Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola on top. Drizzle with the wine syrup. (Serves 4-6.)

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk the brown rice syrup, oil, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well-incorporated. Pour in the oats and pumpkin seeds and mix until well-coated. Spread granola mixture into a thin layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes; be sure to take out the granola and turn and stir it up halfway through the baking time. Place granola on a plate to cool. 


Honey-Lemon Ricotta

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of kosher salt


In a medium bowl, whisk ricotta, honey, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt until well-incorporated. Set aside until ready to serve. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Roast Beast: A Vegetarian Holiday Main Dish That'll Steal the Show

You never know what the weather will be like during the holidays in the South. One year we’ll be huddled up inside around our family dining table and hoping the temps rise above freezing, and then the next year, the nephews and nieces will be running barefoot around the backyard while the grown-ups soak up the sun on the patio. On the years when it’s nice out -- and please let’s all keep our fingers crossed for 2014! -- it’s a crying shame to be stuck inside cooking the same old thing. So we’ve created a lightened-up and super-easy main that can be prepared outdoors on the grill. 


We call it Roast Beast. We took inspiration from the infamous turducken. What in the world would be a vegetable version of that be? we pondered. What we came up with was a giant and flavorful stack of meaty vegetables with a presentation that bests the turkey or ham or whatever it is everybody else is eating. 

Roast Beast

(Special equipment: 3 large metal skewers)

2 large red bell peppers (roasted and peeled)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 head garlic (peeled, about 10 cloves, smashed)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 cups parsley (about one bunch)
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
4 large portobello mushrooms
1 medium Italian eggplant (sliced into 1/2-inch rounds)
1 large white onion
4 slices of provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups cooked orzo
Balsamic vinegar (for drizzling)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Prepare the roasted red peppers by charring the skins, letting them rest, then peeling and seeding them. Set aside until ready to assemble the dish.

In a small frying pan over the grill grates or on your side burner, heat the olive oil and add the smashed garlic. Cook until just browned. Into the work bowl of your food processor add the olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, parsley, and vinegar. To make the pesto, process ingredients until well-incorporated, but still a little chunky. In a large bowl, toss the portobello and eggplant in with the pesto until well-coated. Reserve the pesto left in the bottom of the bowl.

Add salt and pepper to taste to all ingredients. Thread the vegetables onto a skewer: start with a mushroom and then add a slice of eggplant, half of a roasted red pepper, a slice of provolone, and a slice of onion. (You basically will be making a giant kabob.) Repeat this pattern four times. Press the stack tightly together and pierce it at an angle with the two other skewers.


Grill on a rack positioned slightly above the grill grates for 40 minutes and turn every 10 minutes. Some of the cheese will drip out, but that’s fine. Much of it will melt into the vegetables and add a ton of flavor.

Remove the Roast Beast and allow it to rest for 10 minutes while tented in foil. Serve on top of a bed of orzo. Drizzle with the leftover pesto and some balsamic vinegar. (Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish.) 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grill 'Em All! A Vegetarian Labor Day Grilling Guide

We have one trick, but luckily, it's a pretty good one: we treat vegetables like a piece of meat. From butternut squash to carrots to Japanese eggplant, we try to find the methods that yield the absolute best textures and flavors for each vegetable or fruit. Almost without fail, grilling wins! This method adds that subtle smoke flavor and, if done right, yields a sweet and tasty treat that's surprisingly possible with regular old produce.

There are so many options this time of the year. Summer crops are still available, and fall crops are starting to appear in the stores as well. So fire up the grill, invite some friends over, and have a great time cooking together. Here are some simple grilling recipes to get things started. Hope y'all have a beautiful Labor Day weekend!

Spaghetti Squash Ribs

Sweet Potato Almondine

Charred Carrot Hot Dogs

Butternut Squash Steak with Smoked Garlic Chimichurri

BBQ Eggplant Sliders

Grilled Peach Ice Cream

Grilled Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Italian-Style Eggplant Sausages

BBQ Portobello Mushroom 
Sandwich

BBQ Artichoke Heart Tacos

Grilled Vegetable Sandwich with Smoked Sun-Dried Tomato Aioli

Berbere-Spiced Grilled Okra

Grilled Andouille Eggplant Po Boy

Grilled Anaheim Peppers with Cotija Cheese

Friday, August 29, 2014

Foil-Pouch Brussels Sprouts and Apples

Cooking simply yields such a great reward when it's done right. You've spent little time in the kitchen or manning the grill, but you've prepared something from scratch that's delicious and good for you. This is a great example of a dish that requires little hands-on time, but rewards you and your family with the amazing aroma of butter-roasted Brussels sprouts and apples.


I love this combination because it really hits those sweet, sour, rich, and spicy notes that we all love. We are already fans of Brussels sprouts, but if you or someone you know is a sprout-doubter, try this recipe to see how great they can be. 


Foil-Pouch Brussels Sprouts and Apples

1 pound Brussels sprouts (halved)

1 apple (like a pink lady or jazz, diced)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 small white onion (diced)

1 1/2  tablespoons unsalted butter (small dice)

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Toss Brussels sprouts, diced apple, onion, vinegar, butter, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. On a long piece of aluminum foil, place the mixed ingredients in a single layer, fold another layer of foil over the top, and then fold all sides to seal. Add one more layer of foil to make sure everything stays in the pouch.


Grill foil pouch for 10 minutes per side and allow to rest for at least another 5 minutes before serving. Cut the pouch open with a knife being careful not to steam your hand as you open it. Transfer to a serving platter or just eat it right out of the pouch. (Makes 4 servings.)


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sweet Potato Almondine

My buddy Kelly English just won Esquire TV's chef competition, Knife Fight. I watched as he cooked simply and from the heart and presented updated, modern takes on Southern classics that won over the judges. The one thing that caught my eye was his first dish, an almondine of heirloom carrots. Yes! He recently shared that recipe in The Local Palate.

With spring past and summer (we can hope) almost gone, I wanted to take this dish with me into the   fall -- and possibly all the way to the Thanksgiving table. I decided to substitute in grilled sweet potatoes to see what would happen. Turns out that if you put buttery almonds on anything even kinda good, this last step instantly makes it delicious. So, this one's for you, Kelly! Thanks for the inspiration and congrats on your well-deserved Knife Fight win.

Sweet Potato Almondine

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sliced almonds
1 peeled shallot (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup torn parsley leaves (to garnish)
1/2 lemon

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin, slice sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch slices. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato slices with the olive oil and the vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Grill slices of sweet potato for 5 minutes per side or until well-marked by the grill grates. Remove and cover.

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the almonds. Cook until nutty and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.

Assemble the dish by shingling the sweet potatoes on a large platter and topping with the buttery almonds. Garnish with shallot and parsley. Squeeze lemon over the whole dish and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main dish.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Young Coconut Meat Crudo with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Basil

So there I was cracking open a young coconut -- you know, the kind that are all white and are carved into a point at the top, for a post-bike-ride smoothie. I had poured the coconut water off and was scraping out the inside of the coconut with a spoon when all of the sudden it dawned on me: this meat is really meaty. I know it sounds silly, but it really was a moment. I immediately started to imagine other uses for it.

There's no cooking here and no real measuring involved, so it's almost a farce to call this thing a recipe. What it is is an idea, and I think it's a dang good one at that. I'm not attempting to be self-congratulatory; I'm just saying that it tasted good, really good, on the first try. That almost never happens.

I arranged one layer of the coconut meat on a plate and squeezed a lemon on it, drizzled it with really good olive oil, garnished it with aleppo pepper, Maldon salt, basil, and thinly sliced hot peppers. The wife and I shared the plate. She called it "freaky" and eerily similar to an Italian raw fish dish, crudo.

This is something we'll do again. It's so simple and stunning that you have to try it. There are a million variations that you could do, but give this lemon and basil one a shot first. We think you'll love it!

Young Coconut Meat Crudo with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Basil

1 large young coconut
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon of good olive oil
1 small hot pepper, like a Serrano or Thai bird (very thinly sliced)
8-10 small African basil leaves (or 2 large leaves chiffonade)
Maldon sea salt (to taste)
Aleppo pepper (to taste)

Watch this video I made on how to crack into a young coconut. Pour the coconut water off and reserve for another use (i.e., drink it). Using a large spoon, gently scrape the coconut meat out of the coconut. Lay it out on a plate; be careful not to leave any dark bits of shell! Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Garnish with hot pepper, basil, salt, and pepper. Enjoy immediately. (Makes 2 servings.)


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ginger and Cashew Stir Fry

(Reprinted from Edible MemphisSpring '14)

I still remember how the shiny, enameled red lid of the electric wok would catch my eye as I sat on the kitchen counter and talked to my mom as she cooked. Those of us who lived through it recall the wok craze of the 70’s and 80’s. Everybody had one; our family was no exception. Us three vegetarians in the house grew up on soggy, salty stir-fry, and I carried this questionable tradition into my young adulthood. As a thrifty college student trying to start my own photography business, I’d budget $20 a week for groceries: fresh vegetables, rice, plus tempeh, eggs, or nuts for protein. So, what was (always) for dinner? Stir-fry! Sometimes I had it over rice and sometimes over noodles, but if we weren’t having spaghetti, we were having stir-frya pretty soggy stir-fry.

My version was so bad that my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, secretly hated it but covered by saying that she just wasn’t in the mood for stir-fry. She secretly hoped that I wouldn’t catch on. What I didn’t realize at the time is that my version of stir fry lacked that signature wok flavor that comes from this ancient cooking vessel when it’s in the hands of a true professional. So, I always started with a great assortment of fresh vegetables. That’s good! What was I doing wrong? I was missing that crisp vegetable snap with plenty of intense flavor from the Malliard Reaction that happens when the vegetables brown from contact with the hot pan. And, for goodness sake, why was my stir-fry soggy? The answer, it turns out, is simple. 

I asked James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and stir-fry guru Grace Young what the single most important thing one needs in order to make a successful stir-fry meal at home. She told me, “I would say it starts with choosing the right pan. There are many people using nonstick woks or skillets, and that is guaranteed to produce a soggy, lackluster stir-fry.” I could see myself in her words; I’m truly the Goldilocks of woks. I’ve had the plug-in electric kind, which didn’t get any hotter than warm. I’ve had the round-bottomed kind with a wok ring for a conventional stovetop. I’ve had the nonstick variety, a true waste of money. I’ll tell you from firsthand experience: don’t buy any of these. Grace says, “I recommend a 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok. It costs less than $25, and it will last you more than a lifetime.” I agree -- the 14-inch flat-bottom wok I’ve had for 3 years now has been the best option for me, for sure. It’ll work on a gas or electric stove, and it offers the stability and control we all need in order to stir-fry correctly. 

Season your new purchase (or your old wok if you’ve never done so before) by following these simple steps. First, wash the new wok with liquid detergent and dry it thoroughly. Next, rub the inside of the wok with canola oil (or any oil with a high smoke point) and set it over a high flame until the whole pan darkens; this will take about six to eight minutes, depending on how hot the flame is. I’m going to recommend that you do this outside on your outdoor grill’s side burner since it makes lots of smoke! Repeat the process after simply rinsing the cooled wok with water and drying it. This will ensure a good, slick coat. What is really happening when you season your wok is a chain reaction of chemical changes. According to Modernist Cuisine, “New kinds of molecules will form, oxidize the iron, then polymerize into a waterproof film bound to the metal.”  In other words, it’ll make your wok slippery where it needs to be, easier to use, and it won’t rust. You want that! The result is that your brand-new wok will look ancient but work great...and that’s the whole point.

Now let’s head to the market. The wok makes it simple to eat seasonally, so pick up a few things that are at their best right now. Aim to stock your basket with a variety of colors and textures from the produce section. In spring, choose hearty greens like kale, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, an abundance of mushrooms like shiitake, fresh carrots, and because this is a stir-fry, we can’t forget traditional Chinese vegetables like bok choy that grow well in the Southern climate. Add garlic, fresh ginger, and spring onions. I usually throw in a few sweet bell peppers, too, for color, no matter what the season. 

The next step is to wash everything and thoroughly dry it. I like to shake the excess water off in the sink and then air-dry my vegetables on a clean dish towel to ensure that they’re completely dry. This not only helps them to last longer in storage, but I’ve found it to be crucial to the stir-frying process. Next, cut everything up into same-sized pieces so they cook quickly and evenly. There’s no need to be too fussy about this -- just eyeball it. Make sure to cut denser vegetables like carrots or the stem of the broccoli thin; a mandoline is a great tool for this, but you could just use a chef’s knife. Toss the vegetables together and store them in a large lidded container in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. 

Before I got to cooking, I paid a visit to Wally Joe, Chef, partner, and general manager at Acre Restaurant in East Memphis. He was born in Hong Kong and raised in Cleveland, Mississippi, where his family’s restaurant KC’s had a real-deal wok station. “Don’t be afraid of the wok,” he told me after I’d let him in on my years of failure with it. “It’s just like any other pan, but it’s just a different shape.” He laughed, “I break it out at home mostly to make a simple and easy noodle dish or stir-fry or a curry.”  While it’s just a pan of a different shape, I figured that there has to be a trick to it, so I asked for a hint. “Just remember to use high heat,” he advised. “That’s the best way to get the brown and crispy edges on the vegetables and noodles that are the hallmark of wok cooking.” 

“The wok is an easy pan to work with, but until recently, there hasn't been enough information to guide novice cooks,” Grace reassured me. After years of learning what not to do, and after my conversations with Wally and Grace, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it now. There’s nothing left to it but to do it, so here’s my new way with the wok. 

The first thing to remember is to have everything ready to go: vegetables cut, sauce made, and rice or noodles should be prepared and set aside. It moves way faster than you’d think, though nowhere near as fast as a professional chef cooking over a real 200,000-btu wok station. Put your seasoned wok over the highest heat on the stovetop and let it heat up until you see little wisps of smoke rise up off of the hot metal. Pour in the oil and wait for it to start to smoke, which is very important! If you put vegetables (or really anything) in a cold wok with cold oil, you simply won’t get the results you desire -- and your significant other will only eat it to be nice. Now, put your vegetable mixture into the wok and give a little shake. Never, ever use more than 4 cups of anything total in a wok; overcrowding the pan will result in the dreaded soggy stir-fry. Let the mixture rest in the hot pan for 45 seconds before tossing everything to redistribute it by pushing the pan forward and then jerking it back just like you’d do to flip an omelette or by using a spatula (maybe even stir-fry spatula!). You’ll notice the browned edges of the vegetables that were touching the hottest part of the pan. That’s flavor! Allow the vegetables to rest for another 45 seconds to 1 minute before flipping them again. Flip the vegetables one last time and allow them to cook for 1 minute. At this point, add your sauce and cook for one more minute. Once you notice the sauce starting to thicken, remove the stir-fry from the wok and place it in a serving bowl. The whole cooking process take less than 4 minutes, and it can feel a little reckless, but you’ll gain more control as you practice. 

There is so much more to wok cooking, such as learning about the Bao and Chao techniques, but this will set you on the right path. I appreciated that Grace shared this last bit of wisdom with me: “When you cook with a wok, you become a part of a cooking tradition that is over 2,000 years old. It's true that it takes a little time to learn how to work with it and care for it, but unlike most cookware, you'll develop a relationship with your wok. It is a pan to cherish.” 


Let’s do a quick review of our simple stir-fry method: the right wok that’s seasoned correctly, seasonal vegetables that are dry and cut to a uniform size, hot wok with hot oil, and slow it down just a little to attain that coveted wok flavor that comes from the browned edges of the vegetables. Avoid all the pitfalls I’ve experienced in the past by following these few simple steps! You, too, can have a beautiful, quick, and delicious meal of seasonal vegetables. Oh, and now after 20 years of avoiding my soggy stir-fry at all costs, my wife requests my new-and-improved, seasonal stir-fry on a twice-weekly basis. That, may friends, is a long-fought victory.


Ginger and Cashew Stir Fry

2 cups prepared rice
4 cups Spring Vegetable Mix (recipe follows)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sambal (more to taste)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
3 cloves garlic (minced)
1-inch piece fresh ginger (minced)
1 teaspoon cornstarch 
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 spring onion (sliced)
1/2 cup roasted and salted cashews

Prepare rice according to package instructions. Prepare Spring Vegetable mix according to the recipe. In a pint-sized jar with a lid, add the broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, sambal, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cornstarch. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously. Set sauce aside until ready to use.


 Put your seasoned wok over the highest heat on the stovetop and let it heat up until you see little wisps of smoke rise up off of the hot metal. Pour in the canola oil and wait for it to start to smoke, which is very important! Now, put your vegetable mixture into the wok and give a little shake. Let the mixture rest in the hot pan for 45 seconds before tossing everything to redistribute it by pushing the pan forward and then jerking it back just like you’d do to flip an omelette or by using a spatula. Allow the vegetables to rest for another 45 seconds to 1 minute before flipping them again. Flip the vegetables one last time and allow them to cook for 1 minute. At this point, add your sauce and cook for one more minute. Once you notice the sauce starting to thicken, remove the stir-fry from the wok and place it in a serving bowl. The whole cooking process take less than 4 minutes.


Spring Vegetable Mix

2 crowns broccoli
1 pound shiitake
2 small or 1 large bok choy
1 bunch lacinato (dinosaur) kale
2 large or 4 small carrots
2 cups snow peas 

Wash and dry everything thoroughly. Cut everything up into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.