Coming out of quarantine by way of flourless chocolate cake

The month of January. No offense to the countless friends I seem to have with birthdays during the month — but in my world the first month of the year can bite me.

It’s not the snow, not the perpetually-freezing temps. It’s not the gray sky or lack of green veggies at the farmer’s market. It’s the sickness — for multiple years going, January has proven to be our sickest month of the year. My children are never sick at one time — instead they tend to individually succumb, then at the end of their personal battle pass the microbes on to a sibling, who then holds onto it for about 5 days until the circle of love continues. Repeat.

From just before Christmas, until this weekend — minus a couple breaks of a few days — I had at least one sick child. I know that it’s uncool to complain about anything at all when you’re a mother, since we’re supposed to just be thankful at all moments of every day that we are blessed with children — but seriously, the weeks nearly landed me in a padded room. I am an introvert to my very core — if I don’t occasionally get something that at least resembles “alone time” on a weekly basis then my inner barometer starts to spin out of control. I can’t think straight, I get depressed, I become a shining example to my children of how not to mother (lots of apologies were in order).

And I don’t want to cook. Nothing but the bare minimum, and lots of chicken soup.

But the sun rose on Friday morning, and my two oldest children went to school. Both of them. At the same time. I saw a glimpse of sanity on my horizon; and like a single drop of water to a parched soul, that glimpse only left me wanting more. I was all jittery, seized by the prospect of an afternoon alone — and since Tim would be at a workshop all day Saturday, he’d offered to give me something like that on Friday. But I misunderstood what he meant — and when I brought my 4-year old home from school, my dream of an afternoon spent wandering the halls of the Indianapolis Museum of Art was extinguished like a gas burner underneath an over-boiled pot. My icy, silent tantrum would last the rest of the day.

But with the next morning came resolve. I was internally reminded: my children are adorable, lovely creatures — and really, quite easy to be around (most of the time). On Saturday, I satisfied their need for a fun activity by hitting up our rarely visited Chick-fil-A for lunch. They played some games together, and by mid-afternoon I let them watch a movie while I sat in my kitchen, alone. I was looking up recipes for lamb stew when I saw a tweet about flourless chocolate cake.

I had not made one in years, though it used to be one of my favorite go-to desserts. And before I knew it, I was foregoing my search for stew and flipping through old magazines, looking for the dog-eared, egg-splattered page. Cracking open eggs, melting chocolate in a double-boiler. And it was sometime in those moments that I felt normal again — or maybe more appropriately, sane. My kids came downstairs when the movie was over, just in time to watch me fold in egg whites and have the tiniest taste of the batter. They were fascinated by how the cake rose so high in the oven, only to collapse beautifully as it cooled. They asked, is it someone’s birthday? Is someone coming for dinner? And as I answered that no, I just wanted to bake a cake, I realized how much of me I had been withholding as I tended to all those sick-house duties.

This cake is simple, and worthy of that moment. It has a lovely dark-chocolate flavor (I prefer bittersweet chocolate, which renders it not too rich or sweet) and a light, soft texture. Dusted with powdered sugar, it is a rustic beauty atop a round white cake stand — and in my experience it’s a dessert that impresses without fail.

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake

: adapted closely from this recipe at Everyday Food

If you’ve never folded egg whites, you need a large bowl and a rubber spatula, and should watch this video — it’s easy once you see how it’s done.


  • 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for pan (could sub coconut oil for dairy-free)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch sea salt
  • powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
  • whipped cream, for topping (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 275°, and have rack in center of oven. Butter or oil a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Combine butter and chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl. Set bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and smooth. Let cool slightly, then whisk in the egg yolks.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar & pinch salt, and beat until stiff and glossy.
  4. Whisk about 1/4 of egg whites into chocolate. Then gently fold the chocolate back into the rest of the whites.
  5. Pour into greased pan and smooth the top. Bake until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is just set in the center, about 45-50 minutes (cake will puff up, but will collapse flat as it cools). Serve dusted w/ powdered sugar, topped with fresh whipped cream.

Copyright © Katy Carter, 2011.


As if a flourless chocolate cake wasn’t enough to punctuate our household’s return to health, I was utterly delighted on Sunday morning when I awoke to an email from Loralee Choate of Where Women Cook — a quarterly print magazine “all about the women … some famous, some not; some entrepreneurs, some not; some vegetarian, some not; some in beautiful kitchens, some not; and some who create their own recipes, and some who do not … but all who are passionate about all things food.”

Loralee had selected my blog to feature in the Sunday Brunch portion of Amuse-Bouch, the online presence of the magazine. If you follow me on twitter, you might have seen a few tweets that included words like “panic attack” — I of course meant that in the best sense of the word. I was beaming all day at having been featured, and am allowing the fun of it all to carry me (and my chocolate cake leftovers) straight through this week.

This week that has graciously started with healthy children.


I’ve written before, about how salt alone can save a dish — most often, cooks at home under-utilize the seasoning. And while salt was known to have a singular source in my growing-up years (a blue cardboard canister bearing an umbrella-laden girl), I now have about four different varieties in my pantry, none of them Morton’s, none of them iodized.

But I had no idea, the importance salt has played in the history of civilization. Sure, I’d heard of spice trading (and who doesn’t visualize a scene from Dune when you hear that word combination?) — but salt? Really?

I’m currently reading a book with that title (no Angelina Jolie in this one): Salt, a World History by Mark Kurlansky. And before you go thinking that I’ve taken my food-reading to the point of the painfully mundane, here’s an excerpt:

Most Italian cities were founded proximate to saltworks, starting with Rome in the hills behind the saltworks at the mouth of the Tiber… The Roman army required salt for its soldiers and for its horses and livestock. At times soldiers were even paid in salt, which was the origin of the word salary and the expression “worth his salt” or “earning his salt.” In fact, the Latin word sal became the French word solde, meaning pay, which is the origin of the word, soldier.
The Romans salted their greens, believing this to counteract the natural bitterness, which is the origin of the word salad, salted.

That is a count of three very different words that have as their origin a word for salt — and twenty-two more chapters will probably tell me that’s just the beginning.

Another tidbit: in the Roman Empire, as part of the ongoing struggle between haves and have-nots, the privileged patricians “endeavored to keep [poor plebians] excluded. The Roman patrician often tried to keep his privileges by offering lesser rights to plebians. In this spirit, patricians insisted that every man had a right to salt. ‘Common salt,’ as it has come to be known, was a Roman concept.”

Every man had a right to salt. Those Romans. Salt was the way they kept the man down. Kinda crazy, as I drive through streets strewn with the corrosive stuff on a daily basis. Of course, I did hear the mayor of our city recently say, “That’s not salt on the streets. It’s money.” He has no idea how right he would be, had he lived a couple millennia ago.

Before there was Theraflu

It’s true, they used to use alcohol for pretty much everything. Tim was reading to me this weekend, an account of the beginnings of coffee and tea shops in Europe. That before people had coffee and tea, they just drank alcohol all the time, since the conditions of the water often rendered it undrinkable. The premise of the article was that coffee shops not only provided a stimulant rather than depressive drink, but also a place for people to gather and discuss important ideas — hence, the invention of coffee and tea as social drinks just preceded the Enlightenment (I knew I drank coffee for a reason! The next Enlightenment could happen at our neighborhood Nameless Coffee Shop).

But now? We don’t really do all-day alcohol without an impending intervention. Because now, we have pharmaceutical companies other options. Our water must be filtered and still has toxic levels of flouride is safer. The only real reason to crack open a bottle of spirits is for enjoyment, right?

Not so fast. Enter the Hot Toddy.

I discovered this drink many years ago, in Athens, Georgia. I’d had a girls’ night planned for a while — meeting up with friends Hillary and Dana at The Manhattan, the hipster-divey place we went for drinks before there was Trappeze. The night was planned, I had been duly excited, but somewhere had picked up a nasty chest cold. My cough was rattly, my head felt like my brain had been loosed from its moorings and was rolling around free in its un-padded casing. But it was GIRL’S NIGHT. It was NOT TO BE CANCELED. I would go, and I would have fun. With the girls.

So I went; and on the chalkboard at the bar, was a drink special: a hot toddy, for $3.

And it was wonderful. It was warm, soothing, and fully enabled me to fulfill that planned desire for girl chatter. I asked the bartender how she made it, and it has now become my go-to concoction when my immune chips are down. Which just happens to be this week.

I usually drink this in the evening, after dinner (I still don’t want to drink bourbon at 10am, no matter how congested I feel). There are no doubt countless variations of this whiskey-laden medicinal cocktail, but this one is so easy, and as one of my Book Club friends said when we made them last weekend, you can’t really put both honey and lemon in something and it not be good.

Now, if I could just figure out how to legally get it into my kids…


Hot Toddy
makes one serving

  • one shot-glass of bourbon whiskey
  • freshly-boiled water
  • honey, to taste
  • fresh lemon juice, to taste

Put on a kettle of water to boil. Pour a shot of bourbon into a mug, and add a couple teaspoons of honey. Squeeze in about a teaspoon of lemon juice. When water boils, remove from heat and pour over bourbon. Stir, taste, and add more honey/lemon juice as needed. Sip slowly, preferably under a thick quilt with a book in-hand.



This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Coconut rice

Until last summer, my four-year old was severely allergic to dairy. While it was easy enough to buy cases of rice milk for his cereal bowl, there were many baking substitutions that required more research. This task was made even more difficult because he was also allergic to corn — so most vegan margarines, etc., were not options.

And then I discovered the wonderful world of coconut. The milk, the oil, all of it — if you are looking for dairy substitutes in baking, it’s the only way to go (unless, of course, you are allergic to coconut, and then, wow). It has enough fat to make baked goods have a buttery flakiness, and there’s no chalky aftertaste like you get with soy. I cannot gush enough about it, cannot express what it did for the eating life of my family.

Then, one day, my son was no longer allergic to milk. It’s a long story, and if you’re dying of curiosity, you can read it here. But my timing was bad, and just before his allergy was eliminated, I had purchased two cases of coconut milk from Whole Foods.

Two cases. That’s 48 cans of coconut milk. And if you’re no longer using that milk in much of your baking, or using it for coconut milk tonic for your son’s granola and smoothies, then that’s a LOT of coconut milk. I love curries, but it would take weekly variations to get through that stock in a year.

So I passed some of it on to a friend, made some curries, and was beginning to think that the cans were reproducing like bunnies in our basement when I remembered coconut rice. I did one of those V8 forehead slaps: how could I have forgotten about coconut rice?

Because coconut rice is, in a word, amazing. And all you have to do is open a can of coconut milk — and that, quite clearly, is something that I can do at least 22 more times.

This is a savory rice dish, since the canned coconut milk is unsweetened (of course, adding a sweetener and some cardamom are steps toward coconut rice pudding which is a dream of another kind). It is creamy, rich, and perfectly suited as a starch for many dishes, including this delightful Braised Chicken with Saffron and Leeks, from Cook’s Illustrated. Or, just eating the leftovers plain, by the spoonful at 10pm, straight from the storage container. Not that I could get caught in front of an open refrigerator doing that.

BTW, if you find yourself clean out of coconut milk, I know where you can score some.


Coconut Rice

Full-fat coconut milk is essential! Don’t be afraid of the demonized coconut — coconut fat has many beneficial components, including medium-chain fatty acids and lauric acid, which support the immune system and are anti-fungal.

If you use a rice cooker or utilize a different way of cooking rice, simply substitute coconut milk for about half the water in your recipe.

(makes about 6 cups of rice)

  • 1 can (full-fat) coconut milk*
  • 2 1/4 cups filtered water
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice, such as basmati or jasmine

Bring coconut milk, water, and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the rice, and stir once with a fork. Cover, and lower heat to a simmer. Cook covered (don’t peek!) for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff rice with fork, re-cover, and let sit for another five minutes. Taste for seasoning, and serve.

* You can also use coconut milk straight from the coconut. To do so, simply omit the water and use fresh coconut milk for all of the liquid required in rice preparation. I’ve yet to try this… it’s on my kitchen to-do list for 2014.


The experience of eating out

Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally (no, not that one) when Carrie Fisher’s character quotes Harry’s best friend (a journalist) saying something about how “Restaurants are to people in the 80s what theater was to people in the 60s?” I wasn’t around to know what theater was to people in the 60s, but I’m guessing it was something about shared entertainment. And I can’t remember the point being made in the movie, but I do know that, 25 years later in 2011, restaurants are about a lot of things, and most of the time it’s not food.

About a month or two after we moved to Indianapolis, Tim and I were in dire need of a date. He asked around at school, and people kept making the same recommendation: you must eat at Mama Carolla’s, it’s an Indianapolis landmark. So for our first night out in this city, we got a sitter, arrived to a packed restaurant, and sat outside in an admittedly quaint patio atmosphere. But I must say that $65 later we had not been wowed by our dinner. I don’t remember what we ate; but the adjectives that come to mind are over-sauced, over-seasoned, over-cooked pasta dishes. I think our “mixed green” salad was nothing but iceburg, our olives tasted canned, and our server didn’t have a clue (you know when all of their recommendations are the most expensive items on the menu). In short, we had paid for the privilege of eating dinner in a quaint outdoor setting; what we had not paid for was good food. I’ve not yet been to Italy, but I’m betting that when I do go, the food will most certainly not resemble that of Mama Carolla’s. We were disheartened, afraid that this was the best our new city had to offer.

Then last night, we had a taste of another quintessential Indianapolis mainstay: Hollyhock Hill. Tim’s parents came through town and took us to dinner; and since we had heard that this was comfort food at its best, we reasoned it would be a great place to share dinner with them. Hollyhock Hill is nothing if not ripe with tradition — it began in 1929 as a rural, intimate dining destination, serving family-style dinners. And much of that feeling is still evident — when you walk in the door you almost instantly feel warm and comfortable, and it seems the servers have been at the restaurant since day one (I could venture to believe that they all live there as well, as I couldn’t imagine my server in anything other than her blue, 1930’s serving dress carrying a 1960’s coffee pot). In short, the place is predictably quirky — and not in an altogether negative way.

We were handed menus with five or six main-course options: fried chicken, beef tenderloin, and various fish entrees. A huge lazy susan in the middle of the table allowed our kids a full hour of dangerous, food-splattering exercises in centrifugal force, and the rest of us to pick pieces of sugar-vinegar dressed iceburg lettuce from a big salad bowl. When our entrees came, we were each brought a dinner plate with our selected protein, a huge pile of mashed potatoes, a matching heap of green beans, and a bright red baked apple ring.

At this point, let me take a deep breath and report that, had we not been seated during the “Early Bird” hour (4:30 – 5:30), our plates would have each cost $18.95. Because we were early, they cost only $11.95.

I had the fried chicken. And, you know, it was what it was. I don’t order fried chicken very often, so I didn’t have much to compare it to. It was better than mine simply because it was thoroughly cooked. And while it wasn’t much to write home about, it was, by far, the best thing on my plate.

Because I would put a full $18.95 on a hunch that my mashed potatoes were instant, and my green beans were from a giant can (this, or pressure-cooked to the point of death). My 7-year old was right on the money when, after I told her she had to eat 5 more green beans, she looked at me and whispered, “But Mom, they don’t taste like anything!” I wish I could’ve argued with her.

And this is where I hit my head up against a wall.

Because this restaurant is packed most evenings I drive by. I have been told by more than one person that this is their favorite restaurant in Indianapolis. And I am just trying to figure out why.

The thing is, I get it. I get nostalgia. I get comfort food. I get slathering biscuits with apple butter. I even get sitting at a table with a center that spins. But what I cannot, will not, ever get, is spending $19 on a plate of food that tastes about like what cafeteria food might taste like. And I’m not trying to think of the worst possible comparison just to be cantankerous; I really think it’s the same food.

So what are the reasons that these are the restaurants at the top of so many lists, not just in Indianapolis, but many other cities across America?

Every reason I float comes back to experience, and not much, if anything, to do with food. It’s the fact that someone else will cook, and serve up a big enough portion to bring home leftovers. It’s that I won’t have to do dishes (the number of ways I understand this one are countless). It’s even sitting at a table with other people, which is often a way of eating that is foregone at home (guilty as charged). It’s being waited on by women wearing blue apron dresses, and eating at a table that reminds us of our grandmother’s house. It’s biscuits and apple butter, which many people don’t make at home. It’s not having to take a risk.

In short, it’s Disney World. But it’s not the food.

I don’t really know why this bothers me. It’s silly; people can spend their money however they choose. Some people are into car racing, some are into music, some are into Pillow Pets, some are into restaurants that serve mediocre food. I think I get frustrated because there’s nothing separating what I consider to be a veritable realm of very different food establishments. It’s hard for me to swallow, when Hollyhock Hill is considered a “premier dining destination” of the Midwest. Because that title suggests something other than canned beans and instant mashed potatoes. I would be typing a little less frantically, utilizing a smaller number of italics right now if it was called something else entirely — something like a “premier food-product comfort emporium” of the Midwest. Because the Midwest? It really does have some premier dining destinations — right here in this fair city, even*. But they won’t stay in business if the cars in town are all lined up for Hollyhock Hill and Mama Carolla’s on a weekly basis.**

C.S. Lewis has a quote that I have always loved, and while the original context concerned human desire compared with a heavenly joy, I think the analogy works here: “We are half-hearted creatures… like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

From where I sit today, I believe that changing the restaurant culture of this city actually starts at home. There’s no point in trying to convince people that they are paying for food of low quality until they begin to cook their own quality food at home and can taste the difference. That making really good food doesn’t have to be difficult, and in fact becomes more natural with every meal (of course, just when you get comfortable with it you begin to try more difficult things, but usually by then it’s something you desire to do). I know I’m guilty of shaming teasing people who refuse to eat whole food groups of edibles, telling them simply, “you’ve just not had well-prepared tomatoes/greens/fish.” But as a person who grew up not liking soup, vegetables, tomatoes, stews, un-fried fish, or birthday cake, I now know that my dislikes had everything to do with the source of said food (can/out-of-season/box) and not the food itself.

I want more for the people of Indianapolis. Nice people live here, and they should eat well. We live in a part of the country that should be the very heart of good food culture — we live in the middle of fertile farmland, surrounded by a growing number of sustainable farms which can provide almost everything we need to eat in a way that continuously amazes us all. We are better than Disney food.

At least, I believe we can be.


* I am not suggesting that really expensive, high-end dining is our only option. I love comfort food — and wish there was a place in Indianapolis that served well-prepared food in this genre. If you know of a place that does, and you feel like I’ve missed it, let me know!

** I’m also not suggesting that we boycott these places. I have eaten at them now three times, and I’m sure I will again (though not on my dime). I’m much more concerned with the perceived idea that these are the best places Indianapolis has to offer. Or, that the food itself is what’s good about them.

Step one in making The Best Pie Crust Ever

For most of my life, when I heard the word “lard,” it usually conjured images of greasy cardboard-sided cans with labels looking like they hadn’t changed since first designed in the 1950s.

It was an ingredient that my grandmother might have sworn by, as a non-negotiable ingredient in her pie crust.

But to use it today? Of course not; it’s the stuff of bad Mexican restaurants and dirty kitchens, a Most-Wanted criminal in the realm of coronary distress.

Over the past few years, however, my opinion of fats has changed fairly drastically. While I used to reach only for olive and canola oils, occasionally baking with butter but using Earth Balance as a “butter-flavored spread,” I now readily use butter (only the real stuff, preferably from grass-fed cows) and other animal fats with more abandon, believing that if the fats come from animals who foraged, ate grass, and overall lived species-appropriate lives on well-tended farms, their fats are actually good for us. In short, I had become much more comfortable with animal fats, namely the dairy and poultry varieties.

But what about pork? I kept reading things about lard, but had no idea where to get it, no category for using it. They don’t sell it at Trader Joe’s, and I didn’t just want any lard, I wanted clean lard from pigs that led a happy life (the all-important essential fatty acid balance of animal fats is heavily dependent on what the animals ate when they were alive).

So there I was, in a state of lard-acquiring limbo, when it was mentioned in conversation with our egg farmer at the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market. As I paid for my eggs and nitrate-free bacon, Mandy said that lard would make the Best Pie Crust Ever. And that was really all I needed to know.

Fast-forward through the holidays, and last Saturday at the Market I found myself walking away with 3 pounds of leaf lard (high-quality fat that surrounds the kidneys), ready to bring home and render. Mandy pointed me to the directions on their website for setting to this work.

If at first confused about why I needed to render lard from… lard, it became clear when I opened the package. I was conveniently forgetting that fat, on an animal, is grisly and somewhat sinuous. I was to chop up the fat into 1/2-inch pieces, and while I know my chef’s knife is due for a good sharpening, it took a surprising amount of elbow grease (pun absolutely intended). I was reminded of the kitchen-induced carpal tunnel I flirted with the day I tried to make mayonnaise with a whisk; my right arm needed a good shaking out every 1/2 pound or so.

To get the creamy, clean fat to use for that Pie Crust, I would need to cook the chopped lard so that the fat was liquefied and the cracklings could be strained out. This I accomplished in our crock pot over the course of about five hours. After straining out the cracklings I was left with a golden-hued liquid which I poured into canning jars and left out to cool overnight.

Then I went to bed in a house that smelled like a french-fry-factory (the downside of rendering lard in the winter when you can’t open your windows). This morning, my lard had cooled into the creamy white stuff that The Best Pie Crusts are made of. One jar will go into the freezer where it will keep for up to a year, and the other jar will keep for a couple months in the refrigerator.

How many pies can I make in 2 months? An untold number of frozen sour cherries and blueberries from last summer will help determine a reasonable answer to that question. Check back for the highlight reel.


This post is part of Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.

Corn, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Chowder

This soup was born Sunday night, entirely on the premise that if you figure out a good blueprint for soup, you can make one from just about anything in your kitchen. A few items that make the work much easier:

  • homemade broth — you knew that was coming.
  • a mire poix — (onions, carrots, and celery) a.k.a. aromatics of French cooking, the base for countless recipes. All of these items are inexpensive, and keep for relatively long periods, so in winter I always have them on-hand. Keep your onions in a basket or other container that allows air circulation; they should be kept cool and dry, but don’t refrigerate. Keep your carrots in their original bag, in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Keep the celery wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, in the crisper drawer, and it will stay fresh for a few weeks.
  • milk or half-n-half, to quickly add creaminess to soups, or further a small amount of stock.
  • good dried herbs, or even fresh ones. I try to keep at least Italian parsley in the frig — store it with a single paper towel in a gallon-sized ziploc bag. Make sure your dried herbs are fresh — otherwise they’ll impart little flavor to your soups.
  • grains (such as rice or barley) or noodles, to add bulk.

Soups are also a great way to use up items in the frig that are a step away from going bad. Got a half-container of mushrooms leftover from making pizza? There’s a soup for that. That one last slice of beef roast that nobody wants to eat? Throw it in a pot with broth, rice and vegetables. I get a freakish high when I make a meal out of some basics plus the rejected contents of our refrigerator, and often times it’s one of the best meals of the week (go figure).

Sunday night’s soup was a success. It gets a nice dose of sweet from the potatoes; but it’s on the thin side for a chowder, which keeps it from being too rich. When an experiment works, I try to write it down so we can enjoy it again. And by writing it down, of course I mean post it, since these days this blog is as close to a recipe book as I have.


Corn, Chicken, and Sweet Potato Chowder

If you don’t have homemade broth, you can make it in the hour before making the soup:
Place 2 bone-in chicken parts (2 breasts, or 2 leg quarters, or a combination) in a large pot and cover with water. Add a small onion, a carrot, and a stalk of celery, roughly chopped. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer about 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool, but continue simmering the broth. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones (reserve) and place the bones back into the broth. Continue simmering for another half hour. Strain the broth, and use in the soup (freeze any leftover broth for future soups).

  • 2 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred, see note)
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • about 1 1/2 – 2 cups cooked chicken, pulled apart into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups frozen corn

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, cook the bacon until fat is rendered and starting to crisp. Add the onion and celery, and cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender and just starting to brown (about 8 minutes). Add 1 tsp salt, pepper to taste, and dried thyme.

Add chicken stock and milk to the pot, along with the chopped sweet potato. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until potato is tender, about 10 minutes.

Add cooked chicken and frozen corn to the pot, simmering just until corn is cooked and chicken is heated through. Taste for seasoning, and serve.



This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS.

Channeling Rachel Ray and sipping a 35-year old bottle of white bordeaux

Let’s just file that title under “things I never thought I’d do.”

“Much less in the same night.”

As usual, this tale needs some history. Let’s start with Rachel Ray.

She seems like a lovely, warm person, albeit a little perky for my jaded self. On the grand, far-reaching scale of talent that is Food Network, she falls somewhere in the lower third. Which means she shouldn’t be sharing a network with the likes of Mario Batali, Michael Symon and Bobby Flay; but she also should be above doing holiday specials alongside Sandra Lee.  Tim despises her — primarily recoiling at her incessant chipperness, her love of certain acronyms, and the way she ooh’s and aah’s the exact same way every single time she tastes her dishes at the end of 30-Minute Meals.

Page two. This has to do with the Wine Benefactor.

He decided to do a dinner. The theme this time was Orin Swift, a California winery started by Dave Phinney (that didn’t mean much to me either, but for the fact that I’d once before had two of the wines, and that was all I needed to know to send my enthusiastic positive RSVP). But as usual, there was a hint of something special to be opened at the end of the night. Something like some other things we’ve had before, only older. Older, like, bottled when I was three. Older, like, older than my husband.

So, when we accepted the invitation of The Benefactor, he sent me instructions for what I was to bring with me, to pair with one of the wines (specifically, Orin Swift’s Abstract red): fried mozzarella with spicy tomato sauce.

Um, come again?

Because not only have I never made fried mozzarella, but I’ve never even thought about fried mozzarella since about 1989 when I was in high school and we would order fried cheese sticks from the Ruby Tuesday‘s at the mall. But, knowing that there was really good wine to be paired with my offering, I set to work to find a recipe that to which I could add my own twist. This wouldn’t just be fried mozzarella, it would be The Best Fried Mozzarella Anyone Has Ever Had, Even Better Than Ruby Tuesday’s. Peoples lives would change because of this breaded, fried cheese.

Which gets us back to Rachel Ray. When you do a google search for fried mozzarella, hers is the first recipe to come up. Surprise, surprise.

I quickly scanned it sometime a week or so ago, noted that it used both fresh and smoked mozzarella, liked the use of fried herbs, and thought it worthy of an attempt. I could do a couple test-runs with it, figure out how to make it my own, and serve it up well-plated to the 16 folks sharing dinner with us. A plan, right?

But you know the rest of the story, since it’s the same one I’ve told hundreds of times. I got behind, forgot a few things (herbs? hello? the part I liked?), tried to do too much in one day, partied too late the night before (NYE) so slept in until 10:30 (thanks, Mom!), and on, and on, ad infinitum. To cut to the punchline, I was making the fried mozzarella for the first time on stage at the kitchen-island-stove of The Benefactor and His Manager, with lots of unknown eyes watching me sweat.

What I learned as I breaded and dropped half a dozen or so pieces of mozzarella into the oil was that, if the oil isn’t hot enough, the cheese simply melts into a blob, right there in the oil. So much for presentation. I had original visions of each plate showcasing one square piece of smoked mozzarella, one half-moon piece of fresh mozzarella, accessorized by a drizzle of spicy tomato sauce. In the end, sous chef Tim walked around with a pyrex roasting dish full of fried cheese blobs, dishing out those closest resembling something geometrical to kind guests, while I spooned lumpy tomato sauce over top. I would’ve been ashamed, but for the facts that 1) I could’ve seen it coming, and 2) the room was full of polite, hungry Mid-westerners, with glasses of really good wine in one hand. Much is forgiven in those scenarios.

The beautiful irony was that Blobby Mozzarella with Chunky, Sort-of Spicy Tomato Sauce is actually a really good pairing with Orin Swift’s Abstract Proprietary Red. Perhaps someone should inform the winery?


Let’s flip to the last page of the book, shall we? Or, we can skim: there was a lovely goat cheese salad, one of the best fillets of salmon I’ve ever eaten, a pinkish slice of beef with sautéed mushrooms, and a delicate dark chocolate cake with blueberry coulis, all served with their lovely liquid counterparts (personal highlights being Orin Swift’s Veladora and Abstract).

…and then our host brought out the star of the evening: a clear bottle full of amber liquid, wearing three layers of labels, the topmost reading “Christie’s Auction House” and the foundation “Chateau d’Yquem Lur-Saluces, 1975.”

Now, several of us in attendance that night have had the great privilege of drinking more than one glass of Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes at the offering of The Benefactor. I personally was remembering my first: a 1994, thick with honey and apricots. Then we had a 1987, which surprised us all in its sweetness and relative lack of mustiness — followed in the same night by a newer (1991?) that tasted ironically older, with more story to tell.

The color alone of this 1975 bottle made it hard to watch it being opened. What I was beholding was the color of insect-bearing pieces of jewelry, and once we drank it that color would be gone. We were all sharing the one bottle, so each of us received a precious 2 ounces in our glass, and for many long minutes we just smelled it (Nathan had yet to take his first sip by the time I finished my glass — he obviously won the test of willpower for the night, and was lucky that I didn’t grab the nearest chef’s knife and coerce that long-sniffed glass right out of his patient, tightly-gripped hands).

I don’t think I’m a good wine writer, or even taster, so I’ll spare you meager, ill-fitting descriptors. But what I do know is that I might very well never taste anything like it again. It was so rich with tones, notes, textures and suggestions that it just seemed most of us didn’t even try to fit the experience into words. We just drank, relishing every drop, and when my glass was empty I was so saddened by the moment’s passing that I had to run and grab another bite of cake. I couldn’t take the lingering flavor, constantly reminding me what I was going to be missing for all time to come.

But after the flavor of a once-in-a-lifetime wine was washed away with chocolate, we still sat, nibbling and chatting. I looked around at piles of dirty dishes, leftovers, tired friends, and that empty bottle. Wondering at how the juxtaposition of that remarkable wine in our environment, while at first might seem ill-fitting, was in fact just right.

And in that moment, thinking about how you can start a night with Rachel Ray’s fried cheese blobs and end it with what I can best describe as eternal glory in a glass, I was thankful for friends, new and old, who could make that transition seem like not a thing at all.


Orin Swift Dinner
January 1, 2011

Goose the Market Tour (assortment of cheeses and charcuterie)
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, 1998

Goat Cheese Salad with Red Peppers and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Orin Swift Cellars “Veladora” Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

Fried Mozzarella with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Orin Swift Cellars “Abstract” Proprietary Red Blend, 2009

Cedar Plank Salmon
Orin Swift Cellars “The Prisoner” Zinfandel Blend, 2009

Spicy Barbecue Ribeye Steaks with “Bull City” Beef Rub
Orin Swift Cellars “Papillon” Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007

Dark Chocolate Cake with Blueberry Coulis

Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes, 1975