Monday, May 27, 2013

Bread Salad, or Panzanella

Panzanella, or Bread Salad by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
When the summer tomatoes are at their juiciest, make this bread salad, panzanella, a salad that is greater than the sum of its parts. Tomatoes, bread, a little garlic, a round-up of the produce kicking around in the produce drawer. It's the kind of easy, effortless eating that just makes summer summer.


6 green onions

1/2 baguette, day old, cubed

1 shallot, minced

1 small cucumber, diced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1/2 cup diced cucumber

1 handful basil leaves, shredded


2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind

1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. To prepare the dressing: In a large bowl, use a fork to mix together the shallots, lemon rind, garlic and salt, mashing the ingredients together.Whisk in oil, vinegar and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.

2. To prepare the salad: Add the salad ingredients together and toss well with the dressing.Serve immediately or store in refrigerator for up to a half hour.

Text and image copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Will Write for Food author in Atlanta

Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food is a book that nearly leapt into my hands. I tend to think of books coming into my life as a karmic, or God thing, and that’s the way I feel about this book. It was in my Borders store (RIP), and I remember pushing the baby in the stroller through the store on the way to somewhere else, maybe the food court, maybe dropping off film at Wolf Camera (RIP, too). Near the end of the cookbook shelf, a cover with typewriter keys "WILL WRITE FOR FOOD" caught my eye. Not chocolate, not pie, not fruit or vegetables, but typewriter keys. Hmmm, I checked on the baby and decided I had a minute to peruse the book.

Will Write for Food, original cover

 If my life had happened the way I wanted it to, I would write for Southern Living. It didn’t happen, which is ok. It’s really ok. I live in Georgia, not Alabama, and my family is here. But the stories about food and gardens had been spinning in my brain since forever and I needed a place to put them. And here was a book, in my hot little hands, that said how to do it. "Will Write for Food," what a great title I thought. $15  and a quick scan of my Borders Rewards card (sigh, I still have it on my keychain) and it was mine.

Will Write for Food, revised edition

Since that day six years ago, I’ve read through the book and cherished Dianne Jacob’s frank and fresh advice on crisp writing and editing specifically for food stories. I follow her blog, also called Will Write for Food, and taken to heart her writerly advice and business savvy.

And now, I get to meet her. 

Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food
Dianne Jacob will be in Atlanta June 1 for a class at Cook’s Warehouse at Ansley Mall. It’s a daylong class with the top expert on food blogging and writing. Seats are still available for the class and if there’s any part of you that ever thought, “Hey, I could write for Southern Living” or “Saveur” or even write a cookbook, then you need to be in this class. Hope to see you there!

presented by Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food
The Cook's Warehouse
Ansley Mall
Atlanta, GA
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chopsticks, #LetsLunch

Chinese Chicken Salad. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

"The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind,
 if it's a kitchen, if it's a place where they make food, it's fine with me." 
~ Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen (Pocket Books, 1988)

I've been explaining myself a lot lately, which means making excuses. When readers and followers ask why I haven't posted much lately, I pull out the usual ~ my kids are keeping me busy, work is crazy, I'm drowning in my house. But the truth is, it's been easy not to write. I'm going back to what I loved to do before I became a slave to the blog ~ enjoying cooking, perusing cookbooks, reading novels. Cleaning the spiderwebs out of the corners of my house, thinking about planting a garden. Calling friends. Planning playdates.

More truth ~ I love reading blogs as much (or maybe more) than I enjoy writing my stories. Of course, I'm reminded of Hemingway's famous quote about writing: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."  

Over the past several years, while my passport sits unused in the safe deposit box, I've traveled all over the world through the words of my blogging friends. I've followed life stories ~ found out what it was like to grow up in New England, California, Texas, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Many of the life stories are stories of Asia, growing up overseas, or in the U.S. as children of immigrants. 

And this is where I step to the side and with my very best Vanna hands reveal that May is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month and my friends at #LetsLunch have many fabulous stories to tell and recipes to share on the theme of Asian foods. (See links at the bottom of the page.)

As for me, I finally got around to making this streamlined version of Fine Cooking's Crunchy Chinese Chicken Salad. It's got the sweet-heat-sour-salty thing going on, plus the reason I love salads ~ crunch upon crunch upon crunch. I hope you give it a try.

Crunchy Chinese chicken salad. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books.

Chinese Chicken Salad
adapted from Fine Cooking magazine

This is a streamlined version of a delicious salad found in Fine Cooking Magazine. The dressing is key.

2 bone-in chicken breasts, roasted, meat removed and chopped
2/3 cup sliced almonds
2 oz. sugar snap or snow peas, steamed
1/2 small head Napa cabbage, shredded AND
1/2 romaine heart, sliced into 1/2 inch wide strips OR packaged cole slaw mix
3 large scallions, white only, thinly sliced
Wonton strips, recipe follows
Dressing, recipe follows

Wonton strips
8 square wonton wrappers
Vegetable oil spray
Salt, preferably fine grained, like popcorn salt

1. Stack wonton wrappers and slice into 6 equal strips. Spray with vegetable oil and toss gently. Bake in a 300 degree oven for about 6 minutes, watch carefully or they will burn. (I used a toaster oven for this!).

1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet Asian chile sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 1. In a small bowl, combine the rice vinegar, soy sauce, chile sauce, garlic and ginger. Pour in the sesame oil and peanut oil and whisk until emulsified. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Assemble salads

Toss chicken with about 1/4 cup dressing. For each salad, start with a bed of greens or cole slaw mix, then top with chicken, almonds, snow peas and cripsy wonton strips.

This post is part of #LetsLunch, a monthly Twitter party. This month's theme is Asian Foods, to celebrate Asian-Pacific Heritage Month. check back here for an updated listing of this month's participating bloggers.

Cheryl’s Spicy Korean Tofu at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Karen’s Wonton Soup at GeoFooding
Lucy’s Chinese Chicken Salad at A Cook and Her Books
Emma’s quick and dirty guide to Korean BBQ at Dreaming of Pots and Pans
Lisa’s Asian Sesame, Eggplant and Noodle Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps with Kimchi Chips and Fried Rice at Sandwich Surprise
Grace’s Mama’s Tips for Stir Fry at Hapa Mama

Text and images copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.