Monday, January 30, 2012

Fried green tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe

Fried green tomatoes with remoulade. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

There they are, my friends, the sweet and savory fried green titular tomatoes from one of my favorite books and movies. "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe" by Fannie Flagg is about as Southern as it gets - comedy, tragedy, and good food.

The Whistlestop Cafe. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
The book is set in Whistlestop, Alabama, and is based on Flagg's hometown of Irondale, Alabama. The movie version, however, was filmed in Georgia, in the teeny town of Juliette, about 10 miles east of I-75, south of Atlanta and north of Macon. It's a mill town built along the Ocmulgee River, with a former general store right by the train tracks that figure so prominently in the book. It's hard to believe the movie was released 20 years ago -the little town still enjoys a tourist trade all these years later.

In October, we took a day trip from Atlanta to Macon, with a stop at the Whistlestop for some authentic Southern food. The day was crisp and the sky was blue. And the fried green tomatoes and fried chicken were excellent.

Fried chicken with collard greens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Good Food sign at the Whistlestop. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Interior, Whistlestop Cafe. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Shops in Juliette, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

The shops in Juliette are cute, but the real draw is the Whistlestop. There's a bit of a wait, but the time goes quickly while waiting on the front porch, or browsing the shops.

Sure wish Buddy had read this sign before he decided to run across the train tracks...

Sign by railroad tracks. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Smokey Lonesome's shack is located behind the Whistlestop.

Smokey Lonesome's shack. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
And of course, Frank Bennett's memorial. Remember, the secret's in the sauce.

The secret's in the sauce. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

Juliette, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

The mill has been closed since 1957 - it was formerly owned by Dixie Lily and Martha White.

The Mill in Juliette, Georgia. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

The sheriff's office and a few other stop s in downtown Juliette...

Sheriff's office. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

The bank in Juliette. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Sign at Whistlestop Cafe. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Front porch of the Whistlestop Cafe. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Whistlestop train depot. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Do you love "Fried Green Tomatoes?" Either book, movie or dish counts. Of course, if you can quote lines from the movie or book, you're my best friend! My favorite line is from Towanda:  "Face it girls, I'm older and I carry more insurance."

Text and images copyright Lucy Mercer 2012.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

10 food blogs everyone should read

I still read cookbooks, but find myself spending more time reading food blogs. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I read blogs. A lot of blogs, mostly about food, gardening and home-y subjects, never about politics. In the past 10 months, I've stumbled through nearly 10,000 blog pages on StumbleUpon, liking and sharing pictures and stories that speak to me. I also check in on Open Salon regularly to see what 's new from my favorite writers. So I consider myself something of a connoisseur when it comes to blogs. Blogs are such a personal medium, I find myself describing my favorite blogs like I would describe an ideal friend - funny, real, colorful, proofreads their work, photographs well. (I never said I didn't have my own quirks.)

 With these criteria in mind, I thought I'd share some of my favorite blogs and bloggers. These ladies and gents don't all get the big numbers and book contracts, but they should, and maybe someday they will. They consistently produce quality stories, each flavored with their own personalities and backgrounds. Please check them out - it won't cost you a cent. And if you're a stumbler and a sharer on Facebook and Twitter, give them a little link love.

I'll start with some friends from Open Salon now posting on their own blogs. Open Salon is a gathering spot for hobby and professional writers. (That’s right, Julie Powell of “Julie and Julia” posted her blog on Open Salon. It seems we all came to Open to be the next Julie Powell.)

1.      Linda Shiue of SpiceboxTravels is a San Francisco physician by day and food writer in her spare time. I’m not sure when she sleeps.  Her stories are for armchair travelers and foodies alike. I have many favorites from Linda’s stories, and a good place to start is her post on the curry tattoo of Trinidad. Her recipes are spot-on – the pineapple shortbread recipe is now on my annual must-bake list. Twitter @spiceboxtravels

2.      Like Linda, Felicia Lee of Burnt Out Baker has had an interesting life. Raised in California and now living in Gainesville, Florida, she’s an academic, trained pastry chef, and birder. She has a sly sense of humor and a lively writing style. For a sample post, I’m rather fond of Felicia's  pig’s ear creations , one of her delightful fish-out-of-water posts now that she's living in the Deep South. Twitter @burntoutbaker

3.      Also from California, Grace Hwang Lynch writes compellingly about issues of cultural and racial identity at Hapa Mama (she's also the Race and Ethnicity editor for BlogHer), and  she lets a few delightful food posts slip in. I knew I liked Grace when she wrote about her love of hot dog kimbap. She recently completed a challenge blog – a year without shopping. Twitter @hapamamagrace

4.      Bellwether Vance, the pen name of a good ol’ girl from the Gulf Coast of Florida, is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. She has a knack for reaching beyond the punch line, though, and kicking you in your gut, or giving you a few words to chew on throughout the day. Bell (as her fans call her) promises to have an independent blog debuting soon, but for now, her stories are on Open Salon. She likes to sing country music to her dogs, and they sing along, too. She’s also written the definitive piece on pimento cheese. After you talk about wearing a bridesmaid’s dress with a “butt-bow the size of a prized carp” there’s really not much else that needs to be said. I will confess to borrowing a few of Bell’s recipes and they are keepers – her blackberry doobie, minner cheese and kumquat pie are regulars in my kitchen. 

Here are three favorite bloggers that I discovered close to home:

5.      Lynn Coulter is a dear friend and accomplished author, with three books to her credit – one on gardening, and two memoirs of her Christian journey. She sometimes writes about food, but her passion is for gardening. Other topics include living in the South, reading books, and being raised by a dog, Miss Paws. I’m a wannabe gardener, and I’m looking forward to her new series on favorite seed catalogs. Her words are a respite from the real world, as comforting as a cup of chamomile tea. Twitter @lynn_coulter

6.      The Teacher Cooks is a blog by my friend Wanda Lupo, a high school home economics teacher concerned about teaching young people how to make good food choices and learn self-sufficiency in the kitchen. Her classroom posts are fascinating – with the students’ work and comments posted alongside the recipes – they’re learning to blog as they’re learning to cook. Check out this post on making mayonnaise rolls. Twitter @theateachercooks
7.    Thoughtful Consumption by Susan Loper is a tremendous resource for anyone with a CSA subscription or a nearby farmer’s market. During the season, she posts weekly updates about the produce in her box and offers tips on cleaning and storing the vegetables. Susan has a whimsical sense of humor as seen in her whimsical “fun with Squash and Pumpkin” posts.

And a few more from various places.

8.      Christina of Dessert for Two is a half-pint baking goddess. Really. She’s actually a very sweet girl from Texas who currently makes her home in California. She may not be tall in stature, but she’s got a personality as big as her home state. Her gimmick is a good one – scaled-down dessert recipes – for example, a cut-out cookie recipe that makes a dozen cookies; biscuits for just two; white mocha cupcakes. And you really have to love a blogger who introduces herself “Hi, I’m Christina and I’m here to help you gain 10 pounds.” Twitter @dessertfortwo

9.   The Peche. Chris and Karen of The Peche moved from New York to the Peach State in 2011, and their stories of late will break your heart. Homesickness, aging parent issues, bad Christmas tree karma. Chris is the writer and Karen is the photographer, and they keep it real. They are baby wranglers, with three kids under the age of four. For every story that makes you cry, there’s another that makes you laugh. The recipes are sophisticated fare – a recent piece on pecorino and pear ravioli had me at least thinking about pulling out the pasta machine. Twitter @thepeche

10.  Bunkycooks. First of all, writer/photographer/chief cook and bottle washer Gwen is one of the nicest and most generous bloggers I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. Gwen writes fun and detailed travel pieces, always with an eye to what the cook can bring home and create in his or her own kitchen. I’ve had my eye on this Clementine and spiced rum bundt cake for quite awhile and I think it’s time to bake it this weekend. Twitter @bunkycooks

These are just a few of my favorite food blogs. I could easily add another dozen. Please let me know in the comments about the blogs that you try to read regularly.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Candied kumquats

Candied kumquats. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Each winter, just after New Year's, I find a special treat tucked in my grocer's produce case - pints of kumquats, the tart orange min-football-shaped fruits that can be eaten peel and all. Kumquats are an acquired taste - the pucker makes my eyes pop and there's a faint bitterness to the pith. But like the first asparagus of spring, or the Pink Lady apples arriving in fall, I look forward to them each year.

This winter, I didn't have to peek and poke around the produce case, I mentioned my kumquat fixation to Alex at Frieda's Produce, and she sent me a container of the cutest kumquats I ever did see. According to Alex, these kumquats were grown in the California Desert, but the fruit will be coming out of San Diego now. Kumquat season is October through July.

Frieda's kumquats. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
After eating a few out of hand, I decided to make Candied Kumquats, my way of preserving the harvest. With a little bit of sugar and water, these little fruits can be turned into a sort of marmalade that is just right for topping lemon curd shortbread (coming soon!) or your breakfast toast.

Kumquats. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I began by washing, then slicing the little guys. The fruit is entirely edible, but removing the seeds makes for a prettier presentation.

Slice kumquats and pop out the seed for a prettier presentation. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 The cleaned kumquats go in a bubbling sugar bath.

Kumquats in syrup. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

The cooked kumquats can be sealed in a jar.

Kumquats in syrup. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

A bright orange bowl of candied kumquats makes a lovely addition to the breakfast or brunch table.

Candied kumquats. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Candied kumquats

11 ounces kumquats
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

1. Wash kumquats. Slice each fruit in half and flick out seed.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add water and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add kumquats and cook until the fruit is soft, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Let cool. Keep in airtight container in refrigerator.

Candied kumquats may be eaten out of the jar, when no one's looking. They're also nice on your breakfast toast, with a shmear of farmer's cheese, or perhaps ricotta, maybe cream cheese.

Candied kumquats on toasted baguette with farmer's cheese. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Thanks to Alex and the lovely folks at Frieda's Produce for the kumquats! (Disclaimer: this was not a sponsored post. I received no compensation for this post, other than the beautiful kumquats.)

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Paperwhites about to bloom

Paperwhites, week 4. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

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In these dark days of winter, as mild as this winter has been, I long for the green stems and colorful blooms of spring. While the outdoors sorts out whether its truly winter or spring...

Daffodil blooming in January. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

 I'll watch my paperwhites reach to the sun by my kitchen window. Here's what they looked like just 4 weeks ago, when I made paperwhite and daffodil pots for teacher gifts:

Paperwhite bulbs in gravel. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

As I wait for spring, I remember what it was like last January, when our corner of Georgia was covered up in snow and ice. These are the views from my front porch in January 2011:
Sunset in the snow. Georgia. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Icicles on my front porch. January 2011. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday, A Cook and Her Books!

Meyer lemon coconut macaroon tarts. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Today is the 4th birthday of my dear little blog. Some bloggers call this a blogiversary, certainly one of the more unfortunate and unappealing words to come out of the internet revolution. It’s not an anniversary, it’s a birthday. I gave birth to it, I didn’t marry it.

I’ve never told the story of how A Cook and Her Books came to be, and it could be that it’s interesting only to me. It began because it snowed and my mother-in-law came to visit. I had been interested in writing a blog for awhile, but had been distracted by new motherhood. I remember reading a how-to article that said if you’re passionate about a subject, absolutely you should blog about it. This little thought percolated in my brain until one January afternoon in 2008, when I sat down at the computer in a quiet house and decided it was time to start a blog.

It was cold. It was January. And I was at home with a 2 year old and an octogenarian who took afternoon naps. ­­ Not being the napping kind, I took to the computer, I logged on to Blogger, chose a name and wrote a post. The name "A Cook and Her Books" came quickly – I knew it needed to start with an “A” because I figured any list of blogs would be alphabetical, kind of the triple A theory of Yellow Pages placement. As for the rest of the title, my house is filled with books and I cook, simple as that.

The first post was a little recipe that I’d made a couple times before, back in my bridal and baby shower-giving days, a lovely mini macaroon tart filled with lemon curd. I wrote a headnote and the recipe and hit “publish.” No pictures, no nothing. And so it went for the first couple of years. I occasionally added a picture, I didn’t always include a recipe, and sometimes I would get a comment from someone who wasn’t related to me.

Things have changed a little bit since then. For one, I include at least one picture with each post now. I also include recipes, rather than just rambling on and on about food. I talk about the blog on Twitter and Facebook and have a bit of a following. It’s still the Little Blog that Could, but I’m having more fun than ever with it – I have more stories than I’ll ever have time to write and more recipes than I’ll ever have time to cook.

The best part of all is that I've been able to share with writers and readers across the country who find a connection in what I write about. I've said it before, and I truly believe it: my world may be small, but my kitchen is big.

If you’re a regular reader or a first-timer, thank you for taking the time to read my words. It means more to me than you’ll ever know.

And give these little lemon macaroon tarts a whirl - they are keepers. I've updated them with Meyer lemons, which mellows out the tartness a bit, and gives a surprising hint of orange to the lemon curd filling. If you can't find Meyer lemons, plain ol' lemons will work just fine.

Meyer Lemon Macaroon Tarts

Yield: 36 miniature tarts

for the shells
4 cups flaked sweetened coconut
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
3 egg whites

Toss the coconut with the sugar and flour until well coated. Add the vanilla and the egg whites. Beat on medium high speed setting until well mixed. Press mixtures evenly on bottoms and up the sides of 36 well-greased, miniature muffin cups (sprayed first with nonstick spray). The mixture will be sticky, but manageable. You may dampen your fingertips with water to make the job easier.

Use a tart tamper, a cup of water, and a dab of patience to make macaroon tart shells. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Bake on the lower rack of a preheated 400 oven about 15 minutes or until edges are nicely browned. Shells will not appear done in their centers. Cool shells in their tins 2 to 3 minutes, then immediately loosen with a sharp knife and remove to a rack to cool before filling.

Shells can be prepared and baked in advance and held in the fridge several days or frozen up to 1 month. Thaw or allow shells to come to room temp before filling.

Meyer lemon curd filling

2 1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp lemon zest
1 cup cold water
3/4 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp unsalted butter
whipped cream, for serving
lemon zest strips, for serving

Whisk the sugar with the cornstarch and lemon zest in a saucepan, until well mixed, then gradually whisk in the cold water and the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened. Remove from heat.

Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl until smooth, then gradually whisk about 1/4 of the hot lemon mixture into the eggs. Whisk constantly to keep the mixture smooth. Add the warmed egg mixture slowly back to the saucepan with the remaining hot lemon mixture, still whisking constantly.

Cook mixture, whisking constantly, still over medium heat, until thick and glossy. Remove from heat and whisk in the unsalted butter. Cool, then cover and chill thoroughly. Mixture can be held in the fridge for up to a week.

To serve, fill macaroon tart shells and garnish with whipped cream and lemon zest

Recipe is adapted from Homemade Good News, published a long time ago by Dixie Crystals Sugar.  

Footnote: while my dear mother-in-law visited, it began to snow. The girls were home from school and the fluffy flakes started falling. Here in Georgia, this is a rare and wonderful experience and it was the first time that the girls' grandmother got to see them play in the snow. She stood on our sheltered front porch watching the girls play. Here's a pair of pictures from that afternoon:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Try a new apple

Pinata apples. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 Sometimes apples are the star of the show - think apple pie, apple cake, applesauce, and apple dumplings. So many dishes revolve around the excellence of the apple, it's easy to forget what an accommodating supporting player a crisp and sweet apple can be.

Recently, Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Washington, sent me a sample of a new apple variety called Pinata. The red and yellow fruit is a cross between two European favorites, Cox's Orange Pippin and Duchess of Oldenburg, and an American tried-and-true, the Golden Delicious. Pinata is a high-sugar, high-acid, versatile apple, suited for eating out of hand (although I would peel the slightly thick skin first) and like its ancestor the Golden Delicious, ideal for cooking.

Pinata apples will be available in stores from right about now through April. While looking for ways to  highlight the versatility of the Pinata apple, I remembered how good apples are in a supporting role, lending sweet notes and crispiness to a salad or mellow flavors and textures to a braised dish. The first recipe I made was inspired by a new cookbook that happened to arrive the same day as the apples - "Welcome to Claire's" by Claire Criscuolo (Lyons Press, 2012). It's a vegetarian cookbook packed with great ideas for fresh produce. I adapted a recipe for "Connecticut Cole Slaw" to ingredients I had on hand - the cabbage, the apples, dried cranberries and pecans. The slaw is delicious and light, just right for light lunch or as a side dish to a sturdier meal.

Cabbage, apple, pecan and cranberry slaw. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Slaw with cabbage, apple, pecans and dried cranberries
adapted from "Welcome to Claire's" by Claire Criscuolo (Lyons Press, 2012)

1/2 head green cabbage, coarsely shredded
1 medium crisp and sweet apple, such as Pinata
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey (to make this a vegan dish, use agave nectar)
Salt and pepper

1. In a medium bowl, place cabbage. Peel apple and slice into 1/4-inch matchsticks. Add cranberries and pecans.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, olive oil and honey. Pour dressing over slaw ingredients and toss together. Serve immediately. Store leftovers in covered container in refrigerator.

The warm version of cabbage and apples is this braised dish, adapted from David Tanis' excellent cookbook "Heart of the Artichoke" (Artisan Books, 2010). The apple is peeled and cooked with cabbage and onions, melting into tender savoriness.

Braised cabbage and apples with pecans. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Braised Cabbage with Apple and Pecans

adapted from "Heart of the Artichoke" by David Tanis (Artisan Books, 2010)

1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
 1/2 head green cabbage, sliced into 1/2" ribbons
1 crisp and sweet apple such as Pinata, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup low-salt chicken or vegetable broth, homemade preferred
1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add the onions and salt and pepper and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.Add the sugar and vinegar and stir. Add the apple chunks.

2. Add the cabbage gradually, gently salting with each addition. Add the broth and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover the pan and let cook for about 30 minutes, checking regularly. Dish is ready when cabbage and apples are tender and flavorful. When ready to serve, garnish with toasted pecans.

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer. 

Thanks to Stemilt Growers for the sample of apples. My kids got a kick out of the package - a double nest for the fruit:

Pinata apples in their nest. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books.

(Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I received no compensation other than a sample of two Pinata apples from Stemilt Growers.)

For more recipes that use apples, check out these stories:

French thin-crust apple tart
Classic apple dumplings
Short-cut apple dumplings
Apple Crisp
Apple Blondie, aka German Apple Cake

Three more recipes that use apples:

Morning Glory Muffins
Kid-friendly sushi

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Meyer lemon cheesecake with a Biscoff crust

Meyer lemon cheesecake with Biscoff crust. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
A friend needed a cheesecake, and so I made one. And not just a plain vanilla cheesecake, this time it's flavored with the juice and zest of two Meyer lemons. Have you found the Meyer lemons in your supermarket produce section? (I'm asking this question of my local friends, not my California friends, who all seem to have Meyer lemon trees, leaden with fruit, and the problem of "too many Meyer lemons.")

This is the second year that I've found the lemons in my suburban Kroger, $1.99 for a bag. What is the magic of  a Meyer, you ask? Well, it's like a lemon, but not. It's like an orange, but not. It's somewhere in between - not quite as tart as the lemon, not quite as bold as the orange, but a pleasant in-between.

Meyer lemons. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
For my lemon cheesecake, I used Biscoff cookies for the crumb crust, instead of the usual graham crackers. Biscoff have a deeper, more molasses taste that suits the Meyer lemons well. Plus, they are just exotic enough to go with the slightly-left-of-center lift of the Meyers. If you fly Delta, save up your little packs, or just visit Kroger, like the rest of us.

Biscoff cookies. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

This is the best cheesecake I've ever made. Astute recipe readers will note that it's a riff on the classic Three Cities of Spain cheesecake from Gourmet.It is the best basic cheesecake recipe in the world, and is very adaptable. I added the zest and juice of two Meyer lemons, for just the right amount of zip.

Start with the crust:

Biscoff crust

5 ounces Biscoff cookies, broken up

1/3 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Heat oven to 350. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan.

2. In a food processor, blitz Biscoff cookies until finely ground. Add sugar and salt and continue to process. Slowly pour in melted butter and process again.

3. Press mixture into bottom and up sides of springform pan. Bake in 350 oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let crust cool to room temperature.

Then make the filling:

Meyer Lemon Cheesecake

3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened (low-fat is fine, no-fat is not)

4 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Meyer lemons, zest removed, and juice reserved

1 (16 oz.) carton sour cream (low fat is fine, no-fat is not)

1 tablespoon sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a mixing bowl, place cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the sugar and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

3. Add 1/2 of the zest to the cheesecake batter, reserving the remainder. Add all of the juice and the extracts to the batter, and continue to mix. Pour batter into prepared crumb crust. Place pan on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until cake is just set in center. Remove cake from oven but do not turn off oven.

4. Stir together sour cream, 1 tablespoon sugar and remaining lemon zest. Spoon this mixture onto the cheesecake and spread with an offset spatula or knife. Return the cake to the oven and bake for 10 additional minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven and let cool to room temperature. Store cheesecake, well-wrapped in refrigerator.

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Full of Beans

Vegetarian bean chili. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Funny how your identity can get so wrapped up in a name. I was born Lucy, named for my grandmother Lucille, and have endured every Lucy joke imaginable. “Aw, Ricky” is a standard remark when I’m introduced to new people, which is much better than lame jokes revolving around Charlie Brown. It’s taken me awhile to feel comfortable in my name; although it is a perfectly lovely name (it means “light”), it just seems to come from a different era. And I guess it did – the grandmother for whom I was named was born in the 19th century.

All this doesn’t really explain why for Halloween last year I dressed up as Lucille Ball for my daughter’s school’s Pumpkin Festival. I’m not so much into costumes, but a few years ago, gave into my daughter’s pleadings and purchased a "Lucy" costume, complete with red wig and navy and white polka dot dress. It remained in the closet for five years, until the Fabulous 50’s themed Fall Festival and the parents’ costume contest. I pulled the costume out the closet and tried it on – one baby later, and it still fit fine, miracle of miracles.

Lucy as Lucy. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
The event was a Trunk or Treat, where we decorated our minivan with garish and ghoulish decorations and gave away candy to trick or treating students. They all called me “Lucy” – people I didn’t even know calling me by my name. Imagine my surprise when I won the award for Best Parent Costume.

That was last year, and this year, I decided to give the costume a break and enter the chili cook-off instead. Trying to carve out a crowd-pleasing niche, I settled on a vegetarian chili, full of beans and spice to remind you of what chili is all about. Chili is a meat-centric dish, and it takes a lot of tricks to compensate for the missing beef. This chili has an Emeril-worthy kick in the kisser, and it’s loaded with texture and flavor from the beans.

I like my chili with a side of cornbread and a sprinkle of rat-trap cheddar. If the markets have particularly luscious-looking avocadoes, I’ll use the chili as an excuse to make my minimalist guac and spoon a dollop in the bowl of beans.

Lucy Ricardo's Full of Beans Chili

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1 red or orange or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
¼ cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 cup water
½ vegetable bouillon cube
1 or 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
5 (15.5 ounce) cans kidney beans (2 dark red, 2 light red, 1 white – cannellini)

1.     1.   In a large Dutch oven, heat oil. Add onions, bell pepper, chile powder and cumin. Cook until the vegetables are soft. Stir in garlic, tomatoes, water, chile (s), salt and bouillon cube. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about 30 minutes.

2.    2.    Drain and rinse the canned beans and add to the chili. Let cook for another 30 minutes. Serve with your favorite chili accompaniments – sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, chopped green onion, a spoonful of my rockin’ guacamole.

Ths story is party of #LetsLunch a monthly Twitter party on a given food topic. Check out the other fabulous stories submitted this month from writers around the world:

Cathy‘s Chunky-Style Cowboy Chili at Showfood Chef
Charissa‘s Clean Out Refrigerator Night Cassoulet, A “Frenchified” Chili at Zest Bakery
Ellise‘s Chicken Tinga Chili at Cowgirl Chef
Emma‘s Dave’s Chili at Dreaming of Pots and Pans
Felicia‘s Low-Concept Vegetarian Chili at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace‘s Chinese New Year Chili at HapaMama
Karen‘s Hawaiian Chili at GeoFooding
Linda‘s Smokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili at Spicebox Travels

Pat‘s Miso Chili Con Carne y Wasabi Sour Cream at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook

TText and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.

Monday, January 2, 2012

White trash snack mix

White trash snack mix. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books
 White trash is probably one of those phrases we're not supposed to say anymore.While it's not cool to call someone "white trash," like Scarlett O'Hara would refer to Emmie Slattery" (after all, Emmie did run off with the carpetbagger), it's funny to call certain foods "white trash." I think it all started when Ernest Matthew Mickler published "White Trash Cooking," a celebration of low-class Southern food.

This "white trash" snack mix is Chex cereals, cracker sticks (or "stix" if you're into cracked-up snack cracker lingo) and peanuts coated in white chocolate. Pretzels are also good in this recipe. This snack mix is addictive in that sweet-salty-chocolatey way. The recipe makes boo-koos, too, so there's plenty to share.

White Trash Snack Mix

3 cups Wheat Chex

3 cups Rice Chex

6 oz. lightly salted roasted peanuts

1 (8 oz.) package Wheat Thins Stix, Honey Wheat variety

12 ounces white chocolate bark

1. In a large bowl, pour in cereal, peanuts and crackers. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat, wax paper or parchment paper.

2. In a microwave-safe bowl, place chocolate bark. Place in microwave and zap for 1 minute at 50 percent power. Remove, and stir chocolate. Zap again for 30 seconds at 50 percent power, remove and stir. Repeat, until chocolate is completely melted. Stir until all lumps are removed.

3. Pour melted chocolate over cereal and nuts, stir to coat. Spoon mixture onto wax paper-lined baking sheet. Let cool, then store in airtight containers at room temperature.

Text and image copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.