while I’m away…

For the past few months I’ve been working with Paleo Magazine on various reviews and other freelance work. A couple of months ago I was given an exciting new project, and I’m thrilled to finally share it with you today — with the launch of the new and improved Paleo Magazine app, the editors will be releasing free guides and e-books to online subscribers, starting with my e-cookbook!

paleo e-cookbook

I developed and photographed 10 original Paleo recipes over the span of one hectic month, and the finished product is now available for free when you download the Paleo Magazine app. The entrees included appeal to all tastes and every season, and were inspired by some of my favorite flavor combinations: lime and cumin, shiitake mushrooms and shrimp, fresh peaches and roasted cherry tomatoes, sweet potato and chorizo.

paleo e-cookbook III

The whole experience was a learning process. Sure, I’ve been creating my own recipes and photographing the end result for years now, but the pressure was on to create something more sophisticated and streamlined. I used every tool in my arsenal to create inventive flavor pairings and visually appealing photographs, and spent a good chunk of an afternoon scrounging for props at the thrift store. It was hard work, harder than I imagined, and after this experience I have an immense amount of respect for cookbook creators everywhere.

But you’d better believe we ate really well at my house that month.

paleo e-cookbook I

So while I’m away, head over to the Paleo Magazine app and check out my first published cookbook. Try the recipes, put your own spin on them, and get back to me with your stories. While I won’t necessarily be whipping up delicious dishes while on the road and sharing them with you here, you can take a little piece of my Paleo perspective with you on your smart phone or tablet to enjoy this fall. Cheers and happy eating!

Well Fed giveaway

WellFed-640x286Congratulations to Jaime for winning my giveaway for your very own copy of Well Fed.

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To everyone who visited and entered to win — thanks for stopping by and keep eating what all sounded like amazing things. Your favorite “well fed” meals included everything from family recipes to hearty stews to exotic burgers and “pizza salads.” I loved reading everyone’s comments and I’m so grateful that you took the time to visit me here. Even if you didn’t win, I hope you’ll check out Mel’s book and keep checking back here for recipes and thoughts and musings about living a full, healthy life. Happy cooking and eating to you all! xo

gift guide :: for the gourmet

for the gourmet

recipe box,  sea salt, tea towel, chocolate, apron, cookbook, wooden spoons, recipe cards

*     *     *     *     *

I am happiest and most creative when I am in my kitchen, alone, without any music save the bubbling of pots on the stove. I stir and taste and season and sprinkle to my heart’s content, playing with flavors and ratios until I’ve come up with something scrumptious. I don’t know if this makes me a gourmet or not, but I certainly fall into the category of someone who would enjoy receiving everything on this list! And, in fact, I’ve already been gifted those lovely recipe cards, which I have used to in turn pass on a gift of delicious inspiration to others. For someone with a love of food and all the sundry gadgets that go along with cooking, this roundup will provide just the inspiration — and these make lovely hostess gifts, as well.

sweet potato hash and a story

Back when Andrew and I were dating, I was writing a foodie column for a local online publication. Twice per month I composed recipes with seasonal, usually local ingredients, photographed my steps and ate the end result. Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake, Moroccan Spaghetti Squash, New Year’s Resolution Soup and Oven-Roasted Pork Tenderloin were just a few of the recipes I made. Some were huge successes, while others, like my homemade Browned Butter Sage Butternut Squash ravioli, fell a little flat and were, um…chewy.

One meal stands out in my memory as being one of Andrew’s favorites and one of my most original ideas. Fried Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Hash Cakes and Apple Gravy. Doesn’t that just sound like fall to you? And to my knowledge, no one has since or ever before made apple gravy. You heard it here first, folks. I AM THE CREATOR OF APPLE GRAVY!

Andrew shared this enormous dinner with me and thought it all was pretty good, but he absolutely LOVED the sweet potato hash cakes. If I recall correctly, they had shredded sweet potato, apple, onions or shallots, plus an egg and maybe some breadcrumbs to keep it all together. I pan-fried those little guys in olive oil and they came out crispy, crunchy, and savory-sweet. (Perfect with apple gravy, if I do say so myself.)

Since that dinner, he’s pestered me for sweet potato cakes or hash or anything else that resembled that infamous side dish. And only until recently have I granted his request – selfishly I admit that I had to first fall in love with sweet potatoes myself to make them for him.

Sweet potatoes are in season now, and you can head to your local farmers market or grocery store to pick up these fat ruby-fleshed tubers. Full of fiber and beta-carotene, sweet potatoes provide a satisfying source of sweetness and starch for anyone looking to cut down on the carbs and still gain plenty of vitamins and nutrients along the way.

My revised and modern rendition of sweet potato hash begins with alliums. I love a good caramelized onion, but a recent trial with shallots came out nicely too. Whatever you choose, chop it up finely and gently soften it in a pan until the onion/shallot begins to brown.

Your fat of choice makes a big difference in what tastes you highlight in this meal. A generous dollop of butter makes caramelized onions sing, while a scoop of coconut oil brings out the toasty, sweet note to the already sweet potatoes. I recently used browned butter and was thrilled with the depth of flavor and aroma, and I suggest adding sage to your hash if you go this route.

Speaking of sage, sweet potato hash is a great platform for a number of spices. I usually season my with a simple sprinkling of coarse sea salt, but as I mentioned sage complements the earthy flavors, especially when paired with browned butter. Additionally, curry powder and cayenne would be zingy in this dish – I haven’t tried this yet, but I have designs to use some recently acquired curry coconut oil (Ziggy Marley’s brand, no less!) to fry up my next batch of sweet potato hash.

Sweet potato hash can be a comforting meal on its own, but I suggest adding some protein to make it a more complete dish. Some rustic sausages, roast chicken, or of course a pork chop with apple gravy all compliment the sweetness of the hash and look so very provincial served with a tankard of dark beer.

For breakfast, sweet potato hash demands a fried egg. Simply put, the two were made for each other. And remember a while back when I documented my search for the perfect breakfast I think I’ve found it, and if consistency suggests anything than you can deduce that eating sweet potato hash with a fried egg on top for a week straight highlights a clear winner for me “best breakfast” award.

Sweet Potato Hash 

2 large sweet potatoes, diced

1 large yellow onion or a handful of shallots, diced

1 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil, plus more for the pan

1 Tbsp. dried sage

sea salt and ground pepper, to taste

splash of chicken stock

Heat a large skillet until your fat is liquid and sizzling. Add in alliums and stir to coat in fat, allowing onions/shallots to caramelize. Once they are beginning to brown, throw in chopping sweet potatoes and stir to combine. Sprinkle in a bit of sea salt and dried sage and cover with a lid and let the sweet potatoes alternately steam and caramelize, stirring occasionally. After about five minutes of uninterrupted steaming, splash in a bit of chicken stock (or water) to deglaze the pan and help with the steaming process. Cover again, stirring occasionally, until potatoes reach desired tenderness.

While sweet potato hash is cooking, prepare protein – fry your egg in the same fat used for the hash, roast some pork chops or grill some sausages. For this meal, I used Applegate Andouille sausages that I “grilled” on a cookie rack on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees in the oven.

quiet evening + cookies

I’m sitting on my couch with one leg tucked under the other, my head resting against the overstuffed cushion that right now I have become grateful for. This couch belonged to my grandparents and was handed down to me and now to us, and today I have made peace with its lumpy, neutral self because it is offering me the rest I need. The low hum of NPR on the radio dances with the buzz of the ceiling fan. I was going to play soccer this afternoon but I just sent Andrew off with his cleats without me – it is hot, too hot, so hot it makes me sad. I feel out of sorts anyway, so instead I’ll sit and write for a bit, and think quietly how good this life is, but mostly about what I should do with it.

Maybe later, after I’ve had some sort of revelation, I’ll make a batch of chocolate chip butterscotch oatmeal cookies. Those are Andrew’s favorites, and the comforting motion of creaming together butter and sugar, folding in those perfect little confectionary peaks, is what I crave. Something gentle and rhythmic to encourage my mind to wander. But also, something to nourish him, body and soul. In this intermediary period, where he is not on active duty but waiting to be called out of the reserves, we are in a period of stasis. I’m working two part-time jobs, taking what I can and who will take me, and hoping that all ends will be met in our little newlywed life. He’s applying and job-searching diligently, as if it were his actual job, in addition to taking a summer class to keep him sharp, but I know that he wants to do something good and useful in the world…while he’s waiting for his chance in “real life” to do good and be useful in his job in the Air Force. A series of rejections and “not hiring” stock answers have come our way, and I brings up a lot of interesting thoughts about what we want to do versus what we have to do — all this, of course, applies to life in general but also the world of work.

But around here, even though there are few answers and even fewer certainties, life is good. Life is busy. I’m much less busy now than I was even a mere month ago with my library job and crepe-kitchen job, and yet I can’t seem to catch up on rest, much less get out of bed before the second alarm in the mornings. Perhaps my head and my body are recovering from weeks of nonstop workingtryingrushing to prepare for all of the changes and events.

I wonder if this chronic tiredness concerns the nature of what I’ve been doing lately. I’m doing a bit of work here and there, some writing and some kitchen work, and I’m doing fun active summer things and staying up late watching drive-in movies with Andrew. But in the moments like this when I find myself wondering about my purpose, I wonder too if what I do is so tiring because it isn’t fulfilling. Is there a connection?

But then, what is fulfillment? Is it money, prestige, power, recognition, control…? I don’t necessarily want those things. I prefer, at least ideologically, simplicity and humility and quiet. (Here is a really great collection of articles and experts on doing what you love. They discuss prestige at length.)

And, in all honesty, if you were to ask me what I want to “do” with my life, I wouldn’t be able to provide a neat answer, or even one without ambiguities. I want to travel, I want to love completely, I want to write, I want…it’s all very nice, but it’s all very vague. I also want a Le Creuset pot and a new camera lens, how’s that for concrete imagery? But those are just things, and in my mind things have very little to do with fulfillment.

Perhaps the trick is being settled with the vagueries and looking out for the opportunities, to snatch at whim with the certainty that comes with the spur-of-the-moment recognition of a true passion.

Things like that are worth waiting for, through part-time shifts and hourly wages, through assignments that inspire little and excite few. And meanwhile, how glad I am to devote the head and heart space to enjoying the little things while the big things are still cooking up.

I think this counts as revelation enough for cookies, but then again, who am I to say that cookies need an occasion? (And yes, I remember complaining about the heat earlier, but I’m still going to turn on that oven.)

Chocolate Chip Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies

(adapted from my grandmother’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, 1981 edition)

1 c. all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 c. Rapadura sugar

1 egg

2 Tbsp. milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. rolled oats

½ c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ c. butterscotch chips

Sift together dry ingredients. Beat together softened butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in egg, milk, and vanilla until smooth. Add dry ingredients to the wet in increments until well blended. Stir in oats and chips. Drop tablespoon-full sized lumps of cookie dough onto a baking sheet (I like to use a silicon baking mat) and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. They emerge golden and perfect. This is by far the best cookies recipe I’ve used in a long time. It is simple, reliable, and perhaps blessed by my grandmother — she had written “very good” in cursive on the recipe page. xo