Neely Perfect

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
- John Ruskin

These days, Pat & Gina Neely are best known for their double presence on the Food Network ("Down Home with the Neely's" & "Road Tasted with the Neely's") - but to those of us who hail from Memphis and/or Nashville, we know them for much much more.

Neely's Bar-b-que began in 1988 in Downtown Memphis, launched by four brothers with a penchant for hard work and a passion for barbeque. Within four years, they expanded their business and opened a second location in East Memphis. They entered the Music City food scene in 2001, and the rest is history.

We have pretty much found ourselves ordering the same dishes every time we go, and this most recent trip was no exception.

The large chopped pork plate holds enough barbeque for a hearty lunch or dinner, as well as leftovers to be enjoyed later. The pork is tender, with a robust smoky flavor and the slightest hint of tangy vinegar. It comes smothered in their famous sauce, which is a classic combination of sweet and hot, accompanied by thick texas toast and choice of two sides. We decided to carb-load on the sides, and opted for potato salad and macaroni & cheese. Their potato salad is divine, with perfectly cooked potatoes and a creamy mustard-based sauce. The macaroni & cheese is exactly how it should be in the South - creamy, cheesy, and rich.

We also had the chopped pork plate with cole slaw and barbeque spaghetti. I am very particular about cole slaw, and Neely's hits the mark - cabbage that is crunchy and not soggy, dressing abundant without being sloppy. I've spoken before about my love of barbeque spaghetti - and this is the driving force behind it. Perfectly cooked pasta, tossed with tender barbeque and drenched in that heavenly sauce.

I've saved the best for last. I am a woman obsessed with nachos. I have been since I was a child, and that was the snack I requested every single day when I got home from school. These nachos aren't anything fancy, simply pulled pork, barbeque sauce, and cheese sauce heaped atop salty tortilla chips and finished off with a sprinkling of their signature barbeque seasoning- but they are comforting, full of flavor, messy, and delicious.

Beyond the dishes above, the menu is full of other amazing items, such as smoked sausages, turkey, ribs, wings, and true Southern desserts (think Pecan Pie & Peach Cobbler). The next time you find yourself craving true barbeque, look no further than Neely's. (Aside from the 3 locations, they have a presence at FedEx Forum in Memphis and Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville - and they offer the option to order sauces and seasonings online.)


365 Days Later

An anniversary is a time to celebrate the joys of today, the memories of yesterday, and the hopes of tomorrow.
- Author Unknown

Today is our one-year anniversary. Much like birthdays, which are far more enjoyable spread over the period of several days, our weekend was an ongoing celebration.

We started out Friday evening with cocktails at Rumba, the location of our first date. We then walked next door to Stoney River for dinner. We shared a bowl of velvety lobster bisque, and then moved on to our main courses - a filet with au gratin potatoes for him, and twin tenderloin tails alongside a tempura fried lobster tail for me.

Saturday morning, I made his favorite breakfast of biscuits & gravy, which is also what he had for breakfast on the morning of our wedding. This was a precursor to our dinner, which was a recreation of the meal we had on our wedding night - chicken breasts in a delicate mushroom cream sauce, tender steaks, green beans simmered slowly in bacon, and creamy potatoes au gratin - followed by a tiny white cake with white icing.

Over the past year, we've shared many meals and many moments together. We've had exotic vacations and exotic dishes, tender steaks followed by tender kisses, intriguing appetizers with the intriguing people we've met along the way. We've enjoyed pastas chock-full of fresh ingredients and evenings chock-full of laughter, sweet desserts and sweet words, intense flavors and intense love.

I look forward to each coming day, full of anticipation about what's to come - in the kitchen and beyond. As I learn substantially more about ingredients and techniques, I hope to also gain a greater knowledge about what it takes to make this marriage stronger day by day. He is the person I will share all of my meals with, and he is the greatest inspiration I've ever known.



I don't waste my sponges on just anybody...
- Elaine Benes, Seinfeld

This is not about cooking per se, but rather about what happens following cooking...

I adore these sponges. Seriously. I know it sounds bizarre, to fawn over a sponge, but there is something about them that makes me so happy. I love that they come in a cute little package. I love that they store easily because they are so small prior to use. I love watching them grow like little yellow sea monkeys.

I originally bought these for my husband, who likes to do dishes. He actually enjoys doing dishes. I don't understand it, but I sure as hell won't question it. However, I use them for everything - they are all natural, super absorbent, hold together well (and don't fall apart like some), and the best part - they are dishwasher safe, so you can clean them!

It doesn't take much to please us around here.


Pantry Raid

In the end, your creativity - perhaps even your outrageousness - will determine the final result.
- Bobby Flay

If you drive through our neighborhood on any given weekend, you will be inundated with neon signs posted to telephone poles advertising yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, antique sales. No matter the verbiage, they all mean one thing - someone needed to get rid of the junk in their home.

I take the same approach in our kitchen. Every so often, I do a scan and make a note of the items in our freezer and pantry, and then I brainstorm ways to use up those ingredients. It usually results in some interesting meals, some better than others.

Club crackers wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and baked in the oven for 2 hours at 250 degrees. The result is a crisp salty buttery snack, perfect with a cold beer. Next time I make these, however, I'll use less bacon and possibly a different type of cracker - maybe a Wheat Thin. I think a lighter cracker (not to mention bite-sized) would be a better fit.

For this dish, I combined rice with frozen mixed veggies, fried egg, and tilapia, tossed with teriyaki, soy sauce, and sesame oil - and served it with crab rangoons I made with leftover won ton wrappers, crab meat, cream cheese, and chopped green onions. This was simple, delicious, and used up a good portion of ingredients I had on hand.

I always keep tuile cookies in the house - they are the perfect accompaniment to ice cream or sorbet. I combined brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and chopped pecans, brought it to a boil, then drizzled the mixture over the cookies and baked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. After they cooled, I broke them up into large pieces. These are gooey, with a crunchy bite from the cookies.

On the days where I'm attempting to clean out the freezer, fridge and pantry in anticipation of a trip to the grocery store, I think about those yard sales - and how someone's trash is another person's treasure. It's all in how you look at it - and what you do with it.


A Recipe for Disaster

Happy and successful cooking doesn't rely only on know-how; it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life.
- Georges Blanc

I’m ridiculously bad at following recipes. I love to read cookbooks, study recipes, but as opposed to using them exactly as they appear, I prefer instead to gain an understanding of complementary ingredients, proportions, and methodology. This failure to adhere to the formula results in my being equally bad at translating recipes. I’ve had friends and family ask me to tell them the recipe for a dish they’ve loved…and I give them this blank look and usually mutter something along the lines of “Oh, it’s pretty easy…all you do is…” as my way of attempting to avoid the inevitable questions of “Well, how MUCH salt?” or “But how long do you cook it?”

I cook by taste. I prepare meals based on an innate sense of temperature, cooking lengths, scent, sight, and personal preference. While over the years I’ve established my own routines and basics, I by no means can state that I’ve never had…mistakes. There have been experiments that resulted in turned heads, closed eyes and the inevitable stories to follow years later...when someone thinks that enough time has passed to laugh about the time I tried to make a certain dish and failed miserably. Don’t even get me started…

All of this is to say that when I run through a recipe here, I am sometimes horrible at explaining. When I describe the steps I take, I somehow do so on the assumption that you’ve taken residence in my brain, my kitchen, and my skillet. It’s not for a lack of trying…it’s not my laziness taking over my keyboard. It’s my inability to accurately describe and lay things out as seen in every cookbook I’ve ever read. Oh, and my incredible lack of patience may have just a tad bit to do with it as well…

Loaded Pork Chops

6 bacon slices
2 apples, peeled and sliced thin
½ cup diced onion
1 pkg herb cheese such as Boursin or Alouette
6 boneless pork chops
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

- Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle both sides of each pork chop liberally with salt and pepper. Once butter and olive oil have melted, add pork chops and cook 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove from heat and keep warm.

- Heat butter in medium skillet over medium high heat until melted, add apples and onions and sauté until tender, approximately 4-5 minutes.

- Spread herb cheese mixture evenly over each pork chop. Top with apple and onion mixture and then wrap each pork chop in bacon slice, securing with a toothpick.

- Place pork chops in baking dish and cook in oven until bacon is crisp, approximately 12-14 minutes.


Germantown Cafe

Show me another pleasure like dinner which comes every day and lasts an hour.
- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

For Nashville Restaurant Week, we elected to head to Germantown Cafe since they were offering most of their full menu, as opposed to several places that had more limited options. The $20.08 prix fixe menu included choice of soup or salad, entree, and dessert. I adore Germantown Cafe and have been dozens of times - my husband had never been, so I was curious to see if he'd love it as much as I do.

We had a reservation, and although we arrived early due to an overzealous (read: insane) cab driver, we were seated immediately. We opted to start with the squash fritters while we enjoyed a drink and perused the menu (at least, I pretended to peruse - I knew what I was ordering before I ever arrived). The fritters were served with buttermilk cream, and were approximately the size and appearance of hush puppies. The crispy breading was not greasy at all, but crunchy and gave way easily to a tender center of sweet creamy squash. The sauce was tangy and rich, but light enough to keep the dish from being too overbearing and filling.

We both had the garden salad with blue cheese vinaigrette, and while the greens were crisp and fresh, there was too much blue cheese for both of our tastes. However, knowing there would still be an entree and dessert to come, I didn't mind letting half of my salad go uneaten.

For our entrees, we both went with fish dishes. My husband ordered herb-crusted tilapia served on top of sweet potato risotto, drizzled with a light caper-citrus-brown butter and paired with asparagus. I had my standby, coconut curry salmon with creamy risotto, sauteed spinach and asparagus. In both instances, the fish was cooked perfectly, pan seared crisp and tender inside. The sauces complemented each cut of fish by allowing the flavors to complement the fish instead of masking it or overpowering it. The spinach and asparagus were also delicious, and the portion sizes were just right. Germantown's risotto is always perfect, and this was no exception. No matter how many times I try, I just can't get mine quite like theirs - creamy, tender but not mushy, and perfectly seasoned every time.

Once our dinner plates had been cleared and the option of dessert came around, I was practically twitching with excitement. The key lime pie at Germantown is the best I've ever tasted, and once I knew it was available, I jumped on it immediately - leaving my husband staring at me with eyebrows raised and a hint of a humored smile. He ordered the apple dessert with vanilla ice cream, which was decadent and comforting, albeit a bit too heavy following the meal we'd just had. The key lime pie, on the other hand, is light and fresh, creamy and sweet with the perfect touch of tangy lime.

The only time I haven't been to Germantown Cafe is for brunch - soon to change, because my husband loved it as much as I do. We'll definitely be back.


Football Fantastic

The reason women don't play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public.
-Phyllis Diller

Football in our house is sacred. It’s fortunate for the two of us that we’ve both grown up accustomed to an entire day in front of the tv, flipping back and forth between games during the commercials. I dated a guy once who didn’t like football. Seriously. He “didn’t get why it was such a big deal”. I won’t say that’s THE reason we broke up…but it didn’t help his case.

Now I get to share my home and my life with a man that loves it as much as I do. Not only that, I’m partial to college ball…more specifically, I'm a born and raised Georgia fan. He’s partial to pro ball…and a die hard Colts fan. Soooo, this means that we are never fighting over what game to watch. I get Saturdays, he gets Sundays. We have a Colts dog collar and a Bulldogs dog collar...and when it’s your day? You get to choose which dog wears it. We have a sponge brick that has been in my family as long as I can remember, reserved for the utmost anger. Most importantly, we have respect for each other. Your team? Your world. You get waited on hand and foot so as not to miss a moment…you can say or do anything imaginable and get a free pass. There will never be a fight on a game day.

This chicken recipe is simple to make, and turns out juicy and full of flavor. Serving it with white barbeque sauce adds a tangy bite and a hint of spice.

Bacon Wrapped Chicken

6 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
Salt & Pepper
6 Bacon Slices
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
2 tbsp. Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp. Sage
1/4 tsp. Smoked Paprika

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Sprinkle chicken liberally with salt & pepper
-Combine garlic powder, brown sugar, sage, and paprika and rub chicken generously with the mixture.
-Wrap each breast with bacon and secure with toothpicks.
-Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes, or until bacon is crisp and chicken juices run clear.

White Barbecue Sauce

1 cup mayo
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. spicy mustard
2 tbsp. bbq seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. Creole seasoning
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. hot sauce

Football and food have a relationship that has long since been consummated. Much like the comfort that comes when you wake up knowing you’re next to the person you love, there is a sense of knowing that with one comes the other. The best thing about football food is that there is no staple. There is no common meal as you might find at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, or even a summer cookout. For each and every group of people at a gathering, with different and unique perspectives, relationships, backgrounds, and stories, there is a menu that combines taste, preference, and ingredients to provide a balanced mix…of spicy and cool, sweet and sour, hot and cold.

That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles

I eat merely to put food out of my mind.
- N.F. Simpson

I used to wake up every morning with the instantaneous thought that I would soon be in a place where stress was high and rewards were low, where tensions and annoyances climbed steadily during the day and peaked early, not to subside until the final exit. At the end of each day, I sat in the car on the way home one of two ways: either quietly reflecting on the lack of fulfillment I felt, or loudly ranting about that lack. I don’t know how I didn’t get kicked out of the car on a weekly basis. However, despite my intense emotions and my inability to contain them, he never got annoyed with me. He always listened and offered the right words, words that weren’t rehearsed or practiced, that were never clichés, never condescending, and were always dead on.

Finding a way to transfer my love of food into a career is not coming easy. I’m experiencing once again the sensations I felt during and directly following college. I’m witnessing myself going through the phases of discovery, of unease and uncertainty, and of constant internal debate. There are multiple things that are intimately affected by whatever choices I make, both physical and metaphorical. The need to feel on course and successful is only furthered by the person who depends on me…by the person who will be affected most, yet who is most supportive of any choice made.

I'm at a place where I am welcoming change, and willing to endure the fear that accompanies it. I have to be rational and realistic. I also knew something had to give, and even though it meant stepping out on a ledge...I can do it with the knowledge that I have someone that will talk me back in if I get too far out there. That knowledge keeps me going, and brings enough solace to allow me to enjoy this phase. What better way to enjoy it than with warm chewy cookies?

These cookies are incredibly easy to make, and versatile enough to be adapted based on individual preferences. The recipe below incorporates dried cherries and chocolate chips, but I've also made them with a combination of dried cranberries & white chocolate chips, as well as dried apple pieces with butterscotch chips.

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

2/3 cup softened butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ cups oats
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
6 oz. sweetened dried cherries
2/3 cup chocolate chips

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Combine all ingredients in medium bowl, mix to combine well
- Drop onto lightly greased cookie sheets (teaspoonful) and bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown


Today's Date

Whenever I want a really nice meal, I start dating again.
- Susan Healy

Dates. Early-in-the-process-of-meeting-someone-and-getting-to-know-them dates. And oh my hell, first dates. In as much as dating is supposed to be fun, and exciting, and basically what most people pinpoint as the gateway bridge to the rest of their lives…it always brought me to a level of panic and dread similar only to that associated with the dentist. There is something about attempting to put your best foot forward, trying to avoid revealing too many of your eccentricities too soon, that feels unnatural and uncomfortable.

Despite the above mentioned loathing, I will say that I did always handle a date more easily if I cooked. Whether it was a way to control the environment, the pace, and most certainly the menu, I’m not sure, but it worked. Because on dates? You judge. Which means you are most likely being judged in return. I was always far more comfortable putting my food on the table than any of the skeletons in my sizable closet.

This is a great dish to make for a date night. The combination of salty smoked salmon and creamy tangy goat cheese is basic in concept yet complex in flavor. It's decadent and rich, and simple enough to put together ahead of time, so you can get ready without worrying about your date showing up to find you sweaty-faced and frantically trying to finish dinner.

Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese Gratin (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens)

5-6 peeled potatoes, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 cups milk
8 oz. smoked salmon
1 cup goat cheese

- Preheat oven to 350, then boil potatoes in salted water for about 5 minutes, drain.
- Saute onion and garlic in butter until tender. Add flour, salt & pepper and milk; stir until thick and bubbly, then remove from heat.
- In a greased dish, layer half the potatoes. Sprinkle the smoked salmon on top of potatoes and then cover with half of the sauce and half of the goat cheese. Repeat with remaining potatoes and sauce. (Save remaining cheese.)
- Bake covered for 35 minutes, then uncover and add remaining cheese. Bake an additional 35 minutes and let stand 10 minutes before serving.

I do not miss those days. I couldn’t be more elated that I’ve found the person that is right for me, that fits me and gets me and puts me in my place when I need it. If I needed one more reason to add to my never-ending list of why I love him, it would be that he pulled me out of the pool.


Ain't No Thing

Left wing, chicken wing, it don't make no difference to me.
-Woody Guthrie

In college, I found a verifiable gold mine - Slick Pig BBQ. They are well-known for their smoked wings, and for good reason. These meaty wings are fall-off-the-bone tender, with a rich smoky flavor I've never experienced elsewhere. In my search to avoid the hour-long drive every time I am craving them, I tried to find ways to recreate them at home.

Enter the Crock Pot BBQ Pit. This countertop slow roaster is one of the favorite appliances in our kitchen, and used as frequently as the set of wooden spoons given to me by my mother-in-law. It allows for the most amazing meals, with such minimal effort it's almost shameful.

We've used this cooker to make wings, ribs, whole chickens, pork shoulders - and all have been wholly successful. The result is inevitably succulent tender meat, juicy and filled with a salty smoky bite. The best part? It's so incredibly easy, you can do it in your sleep. The cooker comes with a cheat sheet for cooking times based on types of meat, cuts, and amounts - so there is no guesswork. The timing guides take into account the amount of slow roasting needed to allow even the toughest meats the opportunity to break down, transforming them into mouthwatering dishes. The cooker is also compatible with any type of seasoning method - dry rubs, glazes, basting sauces, or marinades.

For wings, we use a simple basting sauce of worcestershire, hickory smoke barbeque sauce, and liquid smoke. Liquid smoke is the secret to providing the woody flavor found in outdoor smokers and professional grade pits. I rub the wings with garlic powder and seasoned pepper, brush them with the sauce, and then roast them for 5 hours on high, basting halfway through and then again right before serving. The aroma filling the air is heady and tantalizing, enticing us and preparing us for that first heavenly taste.


When it Rains, I Pour

I love a rainy night, you can see it in my eyes.
-Eddie Rabbit

There is something extraordinarily comforting about a rainy night...the sounds of fat drops against the window pane, combined with the dance of leaves rustling in the gusts of wind and the sweet smell of wet earth. When it's chilly outside, and the rain is falling, there is nothing more appealing than a hearty soup to warm you from the inside out.

The last time it rained, I ransacked the kitchen to find the makings of such a soup. I was lucky enough to have crawfish meat, so away we went. This crawfish bisque is certainly not fancy, nor is it difficult to make, but it was the perfect way to enjoy a chilly dreary evening - a pot of bisque bubbling away on the stove while we sat on our porch, catching up on our day.

This is the only picture I took, simply because once it was ready, we were too eager to dive in and couldn't be bothered to grab the camera. This bisque had a kick of spice, offset by the smoothness of sherry and half & half, and loaded with fat bites of tender crawfish meat. We sat barefoot on the porch swing, silent except for the sounds of swallowing and murmurs of content - and, of course, the rain hitting the ground around us.

Crawfish Bisque

1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of onion soup
2 soup cans of water
1 7 oz. can tomato sauce
1 package frozen crawfish tails, thawed
1 tbsp. seafood seasoning (such as Old Bay)
1 tsp. blackened seasoning
½ tsp. garlic powder
2 tbsp. cooking sherry
¼ cup half & half

-Combine all ingredients in large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes.


The Omnivore's Hundred

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.
- Anthelm Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste

Very Good Taste has posted a list of 100 items that every omnivore should try. Here's the rules:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Call out any items that you would never consider eating. (Mine are in italics)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at
www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

Sadly, it took me longer to look up the items I've never heard of than it did to actually complete the list....

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
Black pudding
Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
Pistachio ice cream
Heirloom tomatoes
Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
Wasabi peas
Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
Sea urchin
Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake



He's a Magic Man

That outdoor grilling is a manly pursuit has long been beyond question. If this wasn't firmly understood, you'd never get grown men to put on those aprons with pictures of dancing wienies and things on the front and messages like 'Come 'n' Get It'.
- William Geist, New York Times Magazine

I am the cook in our family. I plan our meals, I do the grocery shopping, and I run the kitchen. Ironically, my husband is an amazing cook. He makes the best breakfasts I've ever eaten...and he's magic on the grill. So as much as it pains me to give up control, there are days where I force myself to do it.

When it's beautiful outside, and we can't bear to be stifled by the walls of the kitchen and need relief from the heat of the oven, we plan for an evening full of fresh air, cold drinks, and a hot grill. In the summer, when grilling is at its peak, I'm not into it. There is something about standing over a smoking hot grill when it's 98 degrees outside that doesn't make sense to me. However, in the fall - count me in. It's the same sense of satisfaction I get from sitting in front of our fire pit - feeling cool air on your arms and warmth on your face, all at the same time. So come fall, when the air is crisp and the leaves are turning brilliant shades of red and orange, I'm more than happy to pass the apron.
I still get the satisfaction of prepping our food before it hits the grates of the grill - in this instance, it was as simple as wrapping bundles of asparagus with bacon, slicing summer squash lengthwise, adding some steaks, and giving each item a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Once I've passed the tray to my husband, my work is done. I can pour a glass of wine, grab him a beer, and prop my feet up, feeling spoiled and excited for what's to come....tender, juicy steaks alongside crisp asparagus and slightly sweet squash. Magic, indeed.


Eastland Cafe

I have come East to find what the public likes.
- Sessue Hayakawa

These days, when you head East across the river, you are faced with an ever-increasing list of dining choices. From a drive-through pizza and wings joint to the double culinary bliss of Chef Margot McCormack, East Nashville has much to offer the food seeker. Much of the charm is found in the pure lack of chains, with independent operators popping up on every corner and transporting us all over the globe with their offerings.

Eastland Cafe is a prime example of the type of place that can make you feel as though you're not in Nashville anymore. From the open dining room with views of the kitchen, to the patio protected from the world by crawling ivy and brightly colored umbrellas, Eastland Cafe has much to offer. A staff with a casual air and easily shared knowledge serves to make the experience even more comfortable, and the range of dishes can satisfy the pickiest of eaters. A daily happy hour and a respectable children's menu rounds out the universal appeal.

On our most recent visit, we were greeted genuinely and escorted to our table on the back patio, where our server was visibly excited about the specials and eager to suggest wine pairings. We opted to go with several small plates instead of entrees, and they did not disappoint. A cheese plate arrived with mounds of pink peppercorn chevre, creamy buttermilk blue cheese, golden manchego and spears of crispy flatbread. Incredibly tender braised short rib ravioli sat atop a delicate white truffle potato puree, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Large grilled shrimp stuffed with sweet crabmeat was accompanied by fresh vanilla scented corn and cilantro. We rounded out our meal with Snickers gelato, which was a perfect balance of salty and sweet. As we strolled down the sidewalk following our light yet wholly satisfying meal, basking up what was left of the pink and purple sunset, a sigh of content escaped us both.

Tip: Don't pass up the green chile mac & cheese - comfort food with a kick.

97 Chapel Avenue (Corner of Chapel and Eastland)

Happy Hour:
Monday - Thursday 4:30-6:30
Friday & Saturday 4:30-6
$5 Specialty Martinis
$5 Appetizers (pizzas, quesadilla, fried brie wedge, pot stickers)
$3 Premium Beers

Dress: Casual
Reservations: Recommended but not necessary

To Be Frank

If God had intended us to follow recipes, He wouldn't have given us grandmothers.
-Linda Henley

Our friend Frank has the honor of being the only person we know that shares both of our loves. He can spend hours in our home and conversation sways easily between football and food. He knows who won the 14th Super Bowl and how to make a deep dish pizza from scratch. He watches football with intensity, and at halftime makes himself at home in our kitchen to whip up one of his specialties.

As many cooks do, Frank credits his grandmother for much of his inspiration. He has her recipes, knows her tricks, and uses her techniques. For my carnival-themed 30th birthday party, he brought her Rice Krispie Bites - and on his last visit he shared her recipe with me.

Rice Krispie Treats were invented in 1939. The original recipe calls for Rice Krispies, marshmallows, and butter. That classic combination is the most widely known and used, although multiple variations and adaptations have been made throughout the years. Frank's version includes creamy peanut butter, brown sugar and light corn syrup, and the result is rich & comforting, with the classic airy crunch associated with Rice Krispie Treats.

Rice Krispie Bites

½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup peanut butter
4 cups Rice Krispies

- Combine syrup & sugar in saucepan, bring to a boil, then immediately remove from heat
- Add peanut butter and mix well
- Add Rice Krispies, fold into mixture until fully coated
- Form into balls (or desired shape) and serve


Fear of the Unknown

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
-Harriet Van Horne

If upon meeting someone new, upon beginning to venture down the path, if you could see how it would turn out...if you could know at the start that it would end badly, would you still put yourself into it? Would you walk away at the onset, without truly allowing yourself to discover it and experience it? In relationships, we're far too cautious and guarded for fear of getting hurt and being disappointed. We turn uncertainties into realities and assume we know how things will turn out. In reality, the presence of surprises and the lack of guarantees dictate our behaviors much more than we ever could.

Approaching food and cooking brings about the same set of reluctances and reactions. When faced with something new, the unease at what awaits can be our ultimate detriment. Similarly, the assumption that we know how something will taste, or how a recipe will turn out, can cause inflexibility and disappointment at the final result.

Put aside the fear of the unknown. Situations, be they encountered in life or in the kitchen, can be approached two ways. They can be entered into with trepidation and the misguided knowledge that failure is a definite. They can also be met with a combination of bravery and wit, knowing that facing them head on while accepting that the course may have unexpected twists, will leave only the option of traveling the course as it's offered.

Being a success in the kitchen requires having an open mind. It requires the ability to handle a missing ingredient, to adapt the taste and texture when it's just not quite right, and to accept with graciousness and ease a dish that doesn't work out like you thought it would. When the presence of fear is forgotten - even momentarily - trying something new can be exciting instead of terrifying, freeing us from the restrictions we place upon ourselves. Who knows? You might like what you find.

A Pear-fect Marriage

When baking, follow directions. When cooking, go by your own taste.
Laiko Bahrs

I learned to cook by watching my grandmother in the kitchen, by reading cookbooks, and by trial and error. When I order a dish in a restaurant that I enjoy, I try to recreate it at home. Watching cooking shows provides inspiration for a new dish. If I don't have a specific ingredient, I improvise. It might work, or it may fall flat...but the ability to experiment provides flexibility and the ability to represent a viewpoint all our own.

This same set of principles cannot be applied to baking. Recipes are not suggestions - they are not open to interpretation. Granted, certain elements can be altered, but when it comes to the basics, ingredients exist for a reason.

In my mind, cooking and baking are perfect parallels to the aspects of a good marriage. In a relationship, there are certain things that we can tweak - there are days we can omit the sarcasm, add a bit more excitement, substitute affection for words. However, as with baking, there are certain items that cannot be removed - respect, honesty, fun, selflessness. Sure, you can bake a cake without sugar, just as you can have a relationship without laughter - but would it be nearly as good?

There are days when I don't have the energy to bake. I don't have the patience for measuring exact amounts, don't wish to be confined to the rules a cake recipe brings. Then there are days, the days when I'm in need of structure and a guarantee. Relationships bring about the same types of roller-coaster emotions - lack of patience, defiance for independence, the need for balance, the yearning for comfort and stability.

This recipe is based on a simple pear & pecan bread recipe - and although the fundamental aspects of the recipe remain the same, I've altered it to incorporate what works best for me - removing the nuts and adding brown sugar for crunch and texture. In essence, I've taken the things that cannot be ignored, and adapted them to best fit my mold....basically, marriage defined.
Pear Muffins
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. sugar cinnamon blend
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 egg
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 ½ cups diced ripe pears
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-In a medium bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients and combine well.
-In a separate bowl, mix the last 4 ingredients together.
-Add wet ingredients to dry mix a little at a time, whisking to incorporate well, until mixure is fully combined and well moistened.
-Spoon mixture into a mini-muffin pan (filling cups 3/4 full) and bake 12-14 minutes, or until brown.


You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato

A number of rare or newly experienced foods have been claimed to be aphrodisiacs. At one time this quality was even ascribed to the tomato. Reflect on that when you are next preparing the family salad.
- Jane Grigson

My husband can eat a tomato like an apple. My grandmother slices ripe tomatoes, sprinkles them with salt and pepper, and enjoys them as a meal. My grandfather’s preference is sliced tomato on white bread with mayonnaise. When my dad makes his famous chili, he loads it with fresh tomato. I am seemingly the only person in my family that does not like tomatoes. When it comes to sandwiches and burgers, hold the tomato. Pasta? No marinara for me.

Alternately, fried green tomatoes fall into the category of foods I could eat on a daily basis. I slice them thinly for burgers, thick for BLT’s, core them and eat them like onion rings. They are tangy yet sweet, with a burst of juice that plays off of the crunchy texture of the breading with ease.

BLTs are a staple in our house. They are my go-to meal when I haven’t been to the store, or when I get caught up in my day and realize I haven’t even thought about dinner by the time we’re both starving. I’ve added elements to the basic recipe, and this version is a combination of multiple flavors. Salty bacon gets a sweet and spicy kick from brown sugar and pepper, and mayonnaise is spiked with zesty horseradish.

Fried Green Tomato BLT with Brown Sugar-Peppered Bacon and Horseradish Mayo

3-4 Green Tomatoes, depending on size (3 medium, 4 small)
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
4 eggs
Vegetable oil for frying
1 lb thick cut bacon
3 tsp McCormick’s Seasoned Pepper Blend
3 tsp Splenda Brown Sugar
1/3 cup prepared Horseradish
1/3 cup mayonnaise
12 slices honey wheat bread
3 cups shredded lettuce

For Brown Sugar-Peppered Bacon:
- Combine brown sugar and seasoned pepper blend, press into both sides of each bacon slice and set aside

- Heat skillet over medium heat; add bacon in batches and cook until crisp, about 10-12 minutes per batch, turning often
- Remove from skillet and place on paper towels to drain

For Fried Green Tomatoes:
- Slice tomatoes into ¼ inch thick slices
- Place flour into a shallow dish
- Combine cornmeal, salt, pepper, garlic powder, place in shallow dish
- Beat eggs and pour into shallow dish

- Heat skillet over medium heat; add enough oil to coat skillet
- In an assembly line format, dredge tomato slices first through flour, then egg, then cornmeal mixture, coating thoroughly
- Place tomato slices into skillet in batches and cook until golden brown on both sides, approximately 10-12 minutes per batch, turning every 3 minutes or so
- Remove from skillet and place on paper towels to drain

For Horseradish Mayo:
- Combine prepared horseradish and mayonnaise in ramekin, cover and refrigerate

* Makes 4-6 sandwiches