p r e s e r v e s

b l u e b e r r i e s

It was a very busy (and hot) weekend.  I picked up half a bushel of corn & and box and a half of tomatoes from Mrs. Caver at the MT Laurel Farmer's Market, then headed over to the next valley to pick some yummy blueberries at the Balch's farm.  It's a really beautiful 15 minute drive, and Mrs. Balch is just the kindest of ladies.  They have rows and rows of blueberry bushes, just brimming with the plumpest blueberries - only $8 a gallon!  Think about it.  A few minutes in this heat and you are saving yourself about $40 at the grocery store price of $5.99/pint.  And, it's local (remember:  Think Globally, Eat Locally)!

At the Balch's place, you're on your own.  Mr. Balch opens the gates at 7:00 in the morning, Wednesday thru Saturday.  There is a table with gallon buckets, paper towels, bags and bug spray (use the organic bug spray)!  You pick your berries in the field, come back to the table and pour them in a bag and drop your $8 in the little honor system box, and you're on your way ... Note to the wise:  Watch the ant hills.

So when I got back with my THREE gallons of blueberries, I sorted through them and started making preserves.  This is a basic, simple recipe, and, as it turns out, everyone loves it.  So much so that I only have 4 pints left from the original 12 pints that I canned about 4 weeks ago.

10 cups blueberries, rinsed and cleaned of stems*
5 cups sugar
2T lemon juice (optional)
Yep.  That's it.  Blueberries, sugar and lemons

*Little trick for cleaning blueberries - put them all in a large pot and cover with water  All the stems and leaves will naturally float to the top.  Scoop those out with a strainer or slotted spoon.  If you run your fingers, GENTLY through the berries in the water, you will also kick some of the stems loose.

Makes 12 pint jars

(1)  PREP TIME:  Clean your jars - Run them throughout he dishwasher with the tops and rings.  Put a small plate in the freezer - you will use this to test the "gel-ness" of the preserves when they're cooked.

(2)  Combine the blueberries and sugar.  Allow the berries to sit for some time in the sugar to macerate.  No defined time - :30m to 3 hours.

(3) Heat a water-bath canning pot half-full of water with the clean jars submerged.  While you're at it, heat a small pot with the lids and rings in it to boil and turn it off until you are ready to use.
(4) Get the blueberries going.  Heat the blueberries & sugar (and lemon if you choose to do so) in a large pot (I used my big Le Creuset dutch oven).  Keep stirring, so you don't burn the bottom, but just let them bubble away.  Cook for about 20 mins.

(5) When your berries look like this, put a teaspoonful of cooked blueberries on the frozen plate and put it back in the freezer for about 2 minutes. If it is not running when the plate is tilted sideways, then you're "gelling".

(6) Place glass jars on a towel covered board.  Spoon the blueberries into the hot jars and wipe the rims clean of any spillage.  Place the tops on with the screw bands and tighten lightly.

(7) Place all the jars in the canner.  Start the timer for 10 minutes when the pot starts boiling.  Remove the jars (with a handler - they're HOT), and let them sit in a non-drafty area for about 24 hours.

Don't be alarmed if you hear popping - that's the lid sealing!  I usually wait about 24 hours, till they're all cooled, but take off the screw rings and check for a seal - if you can hold the jar up by the lid and it doesn't drop, you've succeeded!

SERVING SUGGESTION:  On ANYthing - especially homemade bread.  Or those biscuits a few posts back.  Or as a dollop in your oatmeal.


The OPTIMIST ATL - A Restaurant Review

 The Fabulous Ford Fry's newest establishment will not fail you! 

This man is accomplished, to say the least.  With the successes of other wonderful Atlanta eateries (JCT, No 246) under his belt, I was nothing but OPTIMISTIC when I was told we had gotten a reservation at Ford's new sustainable seafood place, during my latest visit to Atlanta! Optimistic ... AND excited!   The Optimist is everything it promises to be - upscale, yet comfy.  New.  Innovative.  


THE ATMOSPHERE:  Smith Hanes did a wonderful job with this project.  The main dining area and bar are open and bright, yet still cozy.  Definitely "date night" quality.  The Oyster Bar is more casual.  Isn't it great when you can get a little of both at one place, Atlanta?  For a moment you believe you're in the up and coming warehouse district of Atlanta, but then you feel like you're at your favorite watering hole.  The scene is hip.  It's a "true" hip though - one that you know is here to stay.  And with so many restaurants coming and going in Atlanta, that MUST be a good feeling for the famed Ford Fry.  And, "stay" they want from you - When I sat down, I felt I was in for the long-(gastronomical) haul.  It was  comforting to to know that they want you to come in, sit for a spell and "enjoy" your meal - and "enjoy" I did - BOY oh BOY did I ENJOY!  COuld it be that I was dining with some of my favorite folks, one of whom just happens to run the largest seafood distributor in the SE?  I think not.  I think that's just how they do it here - there was no special treatment for me (other than I got a first hand narrative of what was yummy on the menu that night).  Ford and his team want you to feel comfortable and enjoy yourself - simple as that. 


I can only think of the words "upscale beach" to describe the Oyster Bar (think: Hamptons and Old Seagrove collide, gracefully).   It's definitely be beachy, and makes you feel like you're on the waterfront somewhere.  Just writing this is making my mouth water for some more of those oysters - YUMMMMM!

THE BAR:  ohhh yesssss ... the bar.  Where it all began.  For starters, it's gorgeous - a towering wall of glass and bottles.  And it's comfy for "a drink at the bar" kinda evening.  It also serves up some crafty cocktails: The Truth as We Know it martini of pink gin and bitters, the Port Antonio, which is a couple different rums, Kahlua and cinnamon, The Old Salty Dog , which was my first choice of the night, and, as it always goes with this group, BUBBLES!  They've also got some tasty craft beer behind the bar, and if that doesn't do it for ya, well, order yourself a Miller High Life!    Now, for the good part ...

THE FOOD:  Ohhhh ... where to start, where to start, where to start?  Of course seafood was in my repertoire for the evening, whether I was eating from my own plate or from the plate of others at the table!  We started with the oysters - In fact, we liked those so much we got a dozen ... then some more, and they were served with these homemade crackers that were absolutely to die for (I will settle for nothing less while eating oysters now - Guess I better let the folks down at AJs know before next my next beach trip).  We had all three salads: Simple Salad with the shaved celery and herbs (my plate), a Little Gem Salad with the meyer lemon and anchovy dressing, and a spicy arugula salad with the peaches and Farmer's cheese - all were absolutely tasty and beautifully presented.  Since the papa-bear didn't want a salad, he indulged in the Angels on Horseback, which are fried oysters with pork belly, and served with these amazing little "toast points" - a decadent griddled piece of bread (like grilled cheese without the cheese - they needed their own top billing on the menu, IMHO). One of the young ladies at the table ordered the mussels with the spicy green curry broth, and I have to say that I'm thankful I was seated directly to her left - so I could taste that TOO.  

All of that yumminess was followed by our main dishes:  Alaskan Halibut, plated with grilled Hen of the Wood (mushroom), a red snapper dish, the roasted Georgia trout, served with marcona almonds and a pickled celery, the Fish & Chips (three cheers for my choice), which was ale battered haddock (traditional), and for the one meat-eater at the table, the skirt steak with a romesco sauce, which was out of this world.  Not a complaint at the table.  

As if that wasn't enough, we still wanted more, believe it or not.   However, we needed a little break in our consumption activities, and decided to utilize the 7 minute drive home for that very purpose.  But we took home one of each of the FIVE items on the dessert menu that evening - the buttermilk donuts (served with sweet corn ice cream and pepper jam!) were my favorite, but the chocolate "cloud" was a wicked treat, too!  (As is this little tart over here to your right)  mmmmm! 

Executive Chef Adam Evans - who hails from THIS side of the time zone, (Muscle Shoals, AL), went to Auburn and worked his way around the Craft family of restaurants after he left New Orleans and the Brennans - will not disappoint!  He KNOWS his seafood - He's been with Ford since the conception of The Optimist and he's a fisherman!   (And He's a super sweet dude to boot!!)

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:  (nothing to report) :)

So, if you get the chance, when you're next in the ATL - visit my new friends at the Optimist.  And be prepared for one of the very best seafood meals you've ever had.  Follow them on TWITTER, here, to get a good look at what's on Chef Evans' table!


Simply Tomato - Simple Spaghetti

After spending the last 24 hours in a self-diagnosed food coma from my recent visit to Atlanta (have a peek into the gastronomic affair we had at The Optimist on Friday night in my next post), I was inclined not to eat anything for a few days.  However, I had boot camp in the morning and I was absolutely famished.   I wanted something light, but tasty.

Since I was out of town all weekend, the garden needed a little attention.  I usually end up picking a few tomatoes just so they don't rot on the vine.  We have a ton of sun gold tomatoes this year, and I think the neighbors don't realize they are ripe, so they often get left.  I picked a few, and also found a couple of "missed" Black Prince Tomatoes which are an heirloom, rich in flavor and very tasty.

When I was done watering, I had gathered a handful of tomatoes, some basil, oregano, a little thyme and a teeny tiny eggplant (about the size of a baseball) in my basket.  What to do with all these little gems?  How about a tasty tomato sauce over some linguini and lightly breaded sliced eggplant?  And so, off to the kitchen I went ...

My favorite way to prepare tomato sauce is quite simple - lots of garlic and spice.  You can customize this recipe how ever you'd like, but, for me, the amount of garlic and the amount of peppers I use is just perfect.  If you're not fond of this, get your own blog - I bet www.idontlikeasmuchgarlicaschris.com is still available (besides, garlic wards off evil - and probably any male suitors as well).


For the Tomato Sauce
1 lb mixed tomatoes - whatever you have handy - Sun Gold, a couple small Black Prince tomatoes, a Stupichka tomato, some grape tomatoes - all of which have fabulous flavor (I actually used all of those in the top picture you see here - and just those.  Not very many - just a handful.)
Olive Oil
1 large shallot, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
About a Tbsp each of basil, thyme and oregano

For the Eggplant
1 small eggplant
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 cup flour
½ cup grated parmesan



1.  Cut the tomatoes - halve the babies, quarter the rest.  You want them to have some surface area when they start cooking.  This will speed the next step up.

2.  Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan and pile the tomatoes on top.  Turn the stove to medium, and let the tomatoes get soft and juicy.  Photos below indicate the progress of the tomatoes cooking down to a sauce.  


3.  Run the tomatoes through a food mill (I like the OXO brand).  If you don't have one, don't worry, you can skip this step, or if you are insistent upon a smooth sauce, you can either go here and purchase one or puree the tomatoes in a blender.

4.  Return the sauce to the saucepan and heat through.  Add the minced shallot, minced garlic and herbs.  Stir to combine and keep on low until you are ready to plate.


1.  Rinse the eggplant well and trim off the green stem.  Slice the eggplant into 1/4" slices.  Eggplant tends to be rather moist, and you will need to dry it out (so to speak).  Place the slices in a colander (one with wire mesh works very well) and sprinkle with a good amount of salt.  Place a plate on top of the eggplant ant let it sweat for about :30m.  Pat the eggplant with a paper bowl.

2.  Prepare the breading table:
(a) Mix the flour with a little salt and pepper in one dish
(b) Whisk the egg into a 2nd dish
(c) Place the panko and parmesan in a 3rd dish.

3.  Heat about 1/2" of canola oil in a sauté pan.    Salt (not too much, as the parmesan is rather salty, itself) and pepper the eggplant slices.  Dredge the eggplant in the flour, tap the excess off, then dredge in the egg, and then the panko/parmesan mixture.

4.  Once the oil has heated to about 375, carefully lay the eggplant slices in the oil to crisp.  Generally, it takes about 3m per side to get them to a nice texture.

5.  Drain on paper towels.  I added a little mozzarella cheese to the top of mine and put them in a warm oven to melt.

I used Fresh Market's Linguini for this dish - but feel free to use whichever pasta you like best.  Just cook the pasta al dente, and spoon the sauce on top then place one or two - or three :-) - slices of fried eggplant on top of the sauce.  

I opted for a Ridge Zinfandel for this particular dish.  My favorite is the Ridge Geyserville, which is actually a Zinfandel blend, but still spicy (64% zinfandel, 20% carignane, 12% petite sirah, 2% alicante bouschet, 2% mataro).  This dish calls for something fruit forward but still a bit spicy.



Cheese Plate of the Month - APRIL

In 2007, I was treated to a fabulous dinner at Bacchanalia for my birthday.  It was a table of girls and when I ordered my dessert (a cheese plate), they laughed at me.  Then they tried the cheeses.  Generally, at Bacchanalia, they will present two or three choices of each variety:  cow, goat, sheep and blue.  I chose the following for my birthday cheese, and it is, to this day, one of my favorite cheese plates ever.

Farm: NA
Location: Avila, Spain
Milk: Goat
This one feels like a typical goat cheese, however, it's got the mold that makes blue cheese injected in it.  Interestingly, this one starts out creamy and acidic, and is shipped to the US just 21 days after it's been made.  As it ages, it becomes more dense, like a goat's milk cheese, but still keeps some of the creamy attributes.  It's a very intense cheese, very spicy.

Farm: NA
Location: Ambert, France
Milk: Cow
This is one of France's oldest cheeses, and probably one of the most gorgeous, in my opinion.  The milk for this cheese used to come from pastures around the town of Ambert, but now the cheese is made in lots of locations in the Auvergne region.  This cheese is pretty to look at.  The mold is about 8" tall, the inside is  white and marbled, and the outside rind is dark and rustic.  It's not crumbly like most "blue" cheeses are; likewise, it's not as "ripe" tasting as Roqueforts can be.  It is one of the mildest of blue cheeses, making it likable, if you're just getting into blues.  This is a favorite of mine because of its creaminess.

Farm: Ram Hall Farm
Location: Berkswell, West Midlands, England
Milk: Sheep
This fruity, nutty cheese is made in these cute "traditional" basket molds (basically a colander!), so their shape and size is distinctive - it looks like a little "pouf"!  The flavors are sweet and complex.  Depending on the age, it can be moist and creamy or rather firm.  

Farm: NA
Location: Burgundy, France
Milk: Cow
This is a chablis-washed rind, cow's milk cheese that is similar to the Epoisse (it's actually made by the same Creamery in the Burgundy region of France).  It's a soft, creamy cheese - best tried when it's at room temp.  While the taste is creamy and rich, the smell is rather pungent (just like the Epoisse).

Most of these cheeses are made available at your local Whole Foods.  If, however, you have the chance to purchase from a cheese purveyor, I'd recommend that route to ensure the freshest, quality cheeses.  



It's summertime in the South, and that means we're grilling AT LEAST twice a week!  There is nothing more comforting to me than smoking something on the grill all Sunday afternoon to end a good weekend.  And RIBS are one of my favorites.

A couple of summers ago, I really got into smoking Baby Back Ribs.  So much so that I thought I was going to get a Big Green Egg for Mother's Day.  You read it right - a grill for Mother's Day ... Because in THIS house, the mama is the GrillMaster (if you can consider 2 pups for children, I would be the "mama")!   But, alas, no Green Egg here.  What I have learned is that, while some of my favorite Grillin' Dudes think this piece of culinary toolset is a must for your backyard, I can do exactly what I need to on my charcoal grill that they can do in their expensive Egg.  Would I like one?  Certainly, if someone was to purchase it, deliver it, build a snazzy table-stand for it and set it up.  Do I need one?   Not necessarily so.

For me, the science of it all is best explained in the Summer 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated - A very good cooking pub, by the way.  If you haven't had the chance to glance at one on the news stand, I recommend it.  Always chock full of recipes, equipment reviews, techniques and not a single advertisement, this magazine is a treasure.  The key to a perfect smoking environment is building a well measured charcoal fire - in this case, a "modified two-level" fire, where you pile about 75 lit coals on one side of the grill and leave the other side empty - open the bottom vents, and then open the vent where your piggy pieces will be placed to draw the smoke through the grill.  Cooking times and procedures will be described in the following recipe instructions.


2 racks of 2 lb baby back ribs

1/2c table salt
1/2c sugar

Wood chunks / chips

1Tbsp & 1tsp smoked sweet paprika
1 1/2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground white pepper
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 3/4 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp table salt
2 Tbsp chipotle powder
1 Tbsp fine ground coffee


Dissolve the salt and sugar in about 4 qts of cold water.  Add the ribs.  Make sure your container lets you submerge the ribs in the brine.  Let the ribs sit in the brine, in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Soak the wood chips for about 15m, while you mix the spice rub.

Remove the ribs from the brine and dry completely with a paper towel.  Rub the spice mixture all over the ribs and let stand in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Once you have heated your coals (I use a chimney starter), and put them on your grill in the "modified 2 level" design as described above, place your wood chips on the coals, open your grates and place your cooking grill on top of the coals.  Let it heat up for about 5 minutes and scrape it clean with a grill brush.

Dip a paper towel in canola oil and rub the hot grates.  Place the ribs on the cooler side of the grill and pull the cover down.  Your grill temp should be about 350 to start, but it will drop down to about 250.  This is good because "low and slow" is the name of the game for super melt-in-your-mouth, tender ribs!  Cook for about 2 hours, flipping the ribs and changing their position on the grill to be sure they are cooked on all sides, every 30 minutes.  Check them for doneness.  If your grill has dropped in temperature, they should cook a little longer.  Continue to cook the ribs in this manner another hour and a half - or until you can easily pull meat away from the bone.  One way to test the doneness, besides taking "samples for the chef", is to check the ends of the ribs.  If you can see the bone tips, they should be getting close to done.

Once they are done, pull them off the grill and transfer to a cutting board.  Let rest a few minutes, then cut between the ribs and serve them to your special friends (only "special friends" - this is too much work for just the "ordinary friends"!).

Spicy Black Bean Salad
Cole Slaw
Potatoes au Gratin (with cheese)
Mac & Cheese
Pinto Beans

Wine Accompaniment: Chase Cellars' 2008 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel - $45 - This wine has an amazingly concentrated fruit flavor because it came from the smallest crop ever noted at Chase.  The zinfandel vines at Chase are "old vines" (read: great flavor depth), whcih have been growing on the property since 1903!  This great fruit-forward wine has a creamy balance that makes it an excellent pair to these spicy ribs.




Tried a new place in the 'Ham a few weeks ago when my sweet, sweet cousin, Erin and her ever-so-charming boyfriend were visiting.  Erin has recently taken a liking to her knives and wooden spoons, learning everything there is to know about cooking - She's totally soaking it up.  Not just trying new recipes, but eagerly jumping into the science of it; which  thrills me because it's fun to cook with her, learn from her and teach her new things (and it really made Christmas shopping easy and fun this year!).  She's definitely not afraid to try some of the more difficult stuff, either.  So when she said she wanted to visit, I felt like we needed to take in something new and innovative.  And Ollie Irene fit the bill. 

Ollie Irene is a fairly new place in Mountain Brook Village here in Birmingham.  They've already been nominated for a JBA for Best New Restaurant.  Since I am fond of the middle-of-the-road eating establishments - Not the white-table-cloth-special-occasion place, and not your average weeknight "joint" - I thought I would share my thoughts about Ollie Irene here.  I'm helplessly hopeful that Birmingham has many more of these types of restaurant opening soon!

Atmosphere:  Cozy.  I like to sit at the bar / chef's counter when I dine out.  You get a better feel of the place because there's so much variety there - people eating, people drinking ... people eating AND drinking.  You meet new friends quickly.  You get to see the kitchen first hand.  Ollie Irene's bar is small and part of the restaurant, yet it's kinda tucked in the back corner, so it doesn't feel like you're sitting on a stage in the middle of the place. I could comfortably sit at the bar for cocktails or eat there.  The rest of the restaurant is charming.  Very relaxed. We had a nice conversation with Anna Lakovitch, one of the owners of Ollie Irene (and wife of Chef Chris Newsome), and sat next to Owner-Chef Chris Newsome's mom while we dined.  A very welcoming, friendly place! 
Dress:  Just like most other Birmingham restaurant - come dressed.  You're gonna see your friends!

Menu: Good.  No, REALLY Good.  Well laid out, easy to navigate. Not too much not too little.  Just right.

Drink List:  Let me just say ... Zak Kittle is awesome.  Not just because he knows what Amaro IS (kudos, Zak - you might be one of, like, 11 people in the Ham that know!), but because he's a creator of concoctions.  First restaurant I've seen in B with true Mixologist (although Zak does not agree with that term - he likes "Bar-Tender").  This is nothing new to the folks at Holeman & Finch over in the ATL, but Birmingham has been needing to jump on this train.  And I'm glad to see it's happening.  Our guests tried 5 of the handcrafted cocktails on the list - ALL with rave reviews.  We girls had the Valentine - TASTY - and the rose was an exquisite touch, for sure.  Definitely my favorite place for a "drink at the bar".  When you go, don't miss one of Zak's concoctions.  He has a tremendous repertoire of cocktails, prepared with

Wine List:  I'm a wine snob - Make that a wine snob who could stand to be enlightened sometimes:  The list didn't impress me at first; it wasn't until I got home and started looking at the wines online that I realized the choice of about 20 or so glasses is totally grassroots and of boutique quality.

Dinner:  I don't even know where to begin.  Here's what we had (deep breath):

For starters ...

In House Pork Sausage - Very good
Mussels - Can't go wrong here.  Great white wine/shallot/butter sauce
Boudin Balls - Don't freak out on this one.  They are AWESOME
Ham Plate - Surryano and cheese.  LOVED the Surryano ham (learned something new) but the cheese was dry and not presented well.
Oysters - Not on the menu.  If they have them when you go - definitely a must.

For dinner ...

Ricotta Gnocchi - Pumpkin seeds, sage, brown butter and sweet potatoes - very light, very very tasty.  Just the perfect portion (because, as you can see, we tried many dishes)

Ollie Burger - Well liked.  Don't ask them to make changes though - this isn't BK.  I'm in the middle of the road on that one - I respect it, if the burger is a speciality.  So, if  you don't like the way the burger's prepared per the menu, don't ask for it - it's an insult to the chef.  Just get something else.  There are plenty of options.

Pub Breakfast - THE BEST of ALL - In short, egg coddled in the herbed cream with ham.  The egg was so delicate and delish - I wanted more than one bit, but this was my guest's dinner.  Just thinking about it ... I believe I will have this for dinner tonight.

Catfish - pan friend to a nice golden brown; tasty sauce; "two thumbs up with a snap"

Fall Greens - YUM.  Great flavor.  Great spice

Pub Fries - Fried chunks of potato wonderfulness,  with sea salt and a tasty sauce.  A MUST HAVE

For dessert:
I always have the cheese plate.  This one was ordinary.  Nothing too difficult here - Since this is  a menu item and they call it a "Artisanal Cheese Plate", I felt they could take some chances on this one.   For starters, we have some fabulous cheese being made right here, in Alabama.  I'd recommend two words to the folks at Ollie Irene:  Cheese Primer (by Steven Jenkins).  The accompaniments were really good though.  They did a fine job with that - Kudos on creativity.

Yes.  It's in a 60's strip mall - but that's just how we roll here in the 'Ham.  Think about the fabulous establishment next door - a CLASSIC - Smith's Variety.  The folks at Ollie Irene are in good company, and I hope they're here to stay.



This recipe is named after Plaza Blanca near Abiquiu, NM.  Some of the ingredients in this recipe were purchased at a little filling station called Bode's General Merchandise Deli & Bakery, which is just a few miles from Plaza Blanca on Highway 84.  It's a great day to have a hike at Plaza Blanca and then stop by Bode's for a sandwich or burrito.  On my annual excursion to NM, I stock up on pinto beans, spices and posole from Bode's, which is quite revered, not only by the locals but also some individuals in the cooking publication industry.

In 2008, Sarah Karnasiewicz, the then Senior Editor of Saveur Magazine stumbled through the Land of Enchantment visiting the best "filling stations" - service stations which also provide quite the culinary surprise.  One of the filling stations she found most impressive was Bode's, where she obviously tasted the cheeseburger, exclaiming "Bode's may make the world's best cheeseburger:  a half pound of ground steak smothered in fresh New Mexico green chilies" in the photo section of the article.

True, they have some good grub, but they also carry (and will ship to you) some of the special spices and chilies needed to make this fabulously fresh and spicy dish.

2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T bacon grease
2 jalapeños, minced
2 Anaheim chilies, roasted, peeled and chopped
2 Poblano chilies, roasted, peeled and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 small head of garlic, minced
3/4 lb ground turkey
3/4 lb ground pork
1/2 lb Italian sausage; squeezed from the casings
1 t hot paprika
1 1/2 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 t cayenne pepper
1 t garlic powder
1 T chipotle powder
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
24 oz plum tomatoes
2 T tomato paste
2 c chicken stock
1 c dried pintos
2 (15.5 oz) cans kidney beans, with juice
12 oz dark brown beer


(1)  In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, melt bacon grease with the olive oil.  Add jalapeño, chilies and onion, and cook until caramelized - about 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté until fragrant (1minute at the most because garlic burns quickly and then your dish is ruined).

(2)  Time to add the meat.  Add the turkey and let it brown in chunks.  Then add the pork and the italian sausage, taking care not to break up the chunks of turkey.  Brown all the meat - about 7 minutes


(3)  Add paprika, cumin, coriander, cayenne, garlic powder, chipotle, salt & pepper.  Stir and cook for about 1m.  Then add tomatoes and tomato paste and stir for 2 minutes.

(5)  Add chicken stock, beer and beans and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serving Suggestions:
Serve over rice
Serve with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheddar
Serve with Jalapeño Cornbread
Cocktail Accompaniment:  Your favorite Mexican beer - Ours is Victoria (at the moment)



Who doesn't want to learn how to bake bread?  And who is terrified of making it?  It always seems like such a process! And I even have this book, The Break Baker's Apprentice, that's supposed to make it so much less overwhelming.  BUT ... ALAS!  A simple recipe does exist ... and this recipe is going to give you a new outlook on baking bread.   This isn't some bland, boring bread, either.  It's real bread (and I'm a bread snob - when I moved to Birmingham 16 years ago, I would bring bread home with me from Atlanta when I'd visit).  It makes fabulous toast, awesome grilled cheese sammies and the very best crostini, when sliced real thin and topped with olive oil, goat cheese from Belle Chèvre and prosciutto.

The book, by the way, is THE best book for anyone wanting to learn to bake bread.  It's got great step by step instructions and it takes the time to explain the science of it all - and bread baking truly is a "science".

YES!  That's all there is!!
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¼ teaspoon dry active yeast
1¼ teaspoon table salt
1½ cups water


(1)  Whisk flour, yeast and salt in a bowl.

(2)  Gradually add the water.  You will have a wet, sticky dough.  Don't flip out - It's supposed to be like this.

(3)  Cover the bowl with a tea bowl and let it rest in a warm place for 12 hours (and up to 24 hours).  The tough will rise a bit and you will know it's ready when you see bubbles all over the surface.

(4)  Flour a work surface with your handy work surface flour-er, and dump the bread out onto the surface.  Sprinkle a little flour over it and fold it over once or twice on itself.  Cover with a tea towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.  

(5)  Flour your hands just enough to keep the dough from sticking, and using your hands, shape the dough into a ball.

(6)  Coat a cotton towel with finely ground cornmeal, and place the dough ball in the middle of the towel, seam side tucked under, and cover and let it right for about 2 additional hours.  You will see that the dough will double in size.  

(7)  About half an hour before the dough is ready, heat an oven to 450F and put an 8 qt cast iron pot or dutch oven in the oven to heat.  When the dough is ready, turn it out, into the pot, seam side up.  Shake the pot so the bread settles evenly.  

(8)  Bake the bread for 30 minutes with the lid on.  Remove the lid for the last 15-30 minutes.  The bread is ready when it is nicely browned.