Tammy’s best dessert

Tammy, my daughter in law, won the award for “Best Dessert” at the Mayhew/Harbin/Mayhew family reunion this past week. This may come as a shock to her because Tammy does not cook, at least in the conventional sense. Let’s just say boxes are her friends, her happy and comfortable place. That is why she’s in charge of “snack day” at the cabin, a day that has become one of our favorites. It’s so good to be bad and we’re so bad on snack day. The line up this trip included pigs in a blanket, pretzel dogs, fried macaroni and cheese bites, Bagel Bites, taquitos with sour cream and salsa, stuffed potato skins, Southwestern wontons and cream cheese and bacon bites coated with tortilla chips.

But this dessert I’m about to tell you about is not out of a box. Well, it kind of is. It’s out of a plastic sleeve, a container and a bottle. But it’s a genius idea and I’m stealing it from here on out.

Cookie DessertYes, it’s a cookie, ice cream and hot fudge sauce sort of mini sundae. A warm cookie straight from the oven. Granted, it’s a packaged cookie dough cookie, but who cares? It’s warm out of the oven. In this case, a chocolate chip cookie, topped with vanilla ice cream and microwaved hot fudge sauce. And you cannot feel guilty eating it because it’s an individual dessert. That means you’re supposed to eat the whole thing without consequences. Served on a paper plate for easy disposal of the evidence.

So now, of course, I’m thinking of other combinations: peanut butter cookies with butter pecan ice cream and caramel sauce, chocolate chocolate chip cookies with mint chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce and sugar cookies with strawberry ice cream and strawberry sauce.

Yes, I know. I am, as usual, over thinking this. Just shut up and eat the dessert. It’s a warm cookie.


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Ham dip and the Princess


Noah and Sydney ham dip

The Princess is in the house and the first order of the day is ham dip. We are at our beloved Oak Haven Resort for the latest family reunion and after the luggage is deposited and the wine is cooling, ham dip must be created. It is the glue that holds this family together. We will make multiple batches over the far too few days we are here and it is now tying generation to generation.

It is a simple concoction from my mother in law, Bunny – Underwood Deviled Ham (I know of no other kind) and sour cream. Served with Fritos Scoops. Bunny taught me. I taught my son, Noah. And now, Noah is teaching my granddaughter, Sydney. She is 5. We call her the Princess because that’s what she is. Truly. She wears a tiara. And she’s a generous girl – she shares it with whoever is within tiara range. Gender is not an issue.

Noah crownedNoah and Sydney

Ham dip is the catalyst for a week of excess. It is a miracle we have not all been admitted to the cardiac care unit of the Sevierville City Hospital. This is literally the snack list for the week: deep fried macaroni, taquitos, steak bites, pigs in a blanket (both kinds – puff pastry and pretzel dough), Lipton’s onion dip with bacon-flavored Pringles, Doritos with that magic cheese dust, triple chocolate chip cookies, apple fritters, molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and both chocolate and caramel sauce, a 4-pound jar of Jelly Bellies (49 flavors!) and an energy blend of edamame, cranberries, almonds and sunflower seeds strictly for health reasons.

If you cannot smile broadly and swallow a laugh as you dig into the onion dip and bacon potato chips while preparing for an excursion to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Aquarium in Gatlinburg, you are not our kind of people.

So Tammy, mother to the Princess, inspired snack week by the virtue of the fact that when she married our beloved Josh she did not cook. Snacks she could do and she has taken this genre to a high level of art. But I believe Bunny and I have rubbed off on her over the years. A few weeks before the reunion, she asked me if I could teach her how to grill a steak. Wow, that’s a single source of food that requires heat not set to 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Hell, yes.

So, here’s the lesson and your tip for the day. Pick a steak. I like flat iron. Hot and fast on the grill. Salt and pepper or your favorite rub. Put it on the steak. Spray oil. Spray one side. Throw the spray side on the grill. Hear that immediate sizzle sound. That’s what you want. Grill it until you can peek and see nice grill marks. Don’t mess with it too much. Spray the top side and flip. USE AN INSTANT READ THERMOMETER. Sorry to yell, but if you’re an amateur griller you need to invest in one of these. 130 degrees internal temperature for medium rare. Pull it off the grill and let it rest for 10 minutes under a tent foil. That’s it.

Tamy grills

There’s my girl. Checking her steaks with an instant read thermometer. Notice King Daddy and the Princess in the background. They are waiting for this:

Sriracha-marinated flank steak

Done deal. From ham dip to perfectly cooked steak. We’ve got it covered. And it’s just Day 3. By the way, the super secret recipe for ham dip is two large cans of Underwood Deviled Ham to 8 ounces of sour cream. Serve with Fritos Scoops. It looks like dog food but you will eat every last scrap. You’re welcome.

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The last good fight

This one isn’t about food. It’s about the last good fight in the newspaper industry. I spent 30 years in it so I have some skin in the game.

The Tennessean announced this week that it’s blowing up what’s left of its newsroom. Everyone has to reapply for their jobs and there are fewer of them. Musical chairs. When I walked those halls, there were 196 full-time jobs. Now there are 76.

Gannett is the largest newspaper chain in the world. That sounded pretty good a few years back. Now, not so good. Chain of fools.

The new order at The Tennessean will be bottom up. Reporters will rule the roost, according to the current but probably not future editor whose name escapes me now. They’ll use scientific data to discern what readers want. I don’t know how that works, but I’m ready to give it a go. The thing about the newspaper business is it’s totally intuitive and completely unscientific. The best newspapers create an agenda and then bring readers along for the ride. This newspaper, it appears, will make sure Fred in East Nashville and Sadie in Belle Meade get a vote at the table. If they know how to use those electronic buttons to register their opinion. It will get confusing. But let’s reserve judgment.

I said this post is not about food, but it occurs to me that it’s exactly like food. Food represents place. It is a reflection of what is grown, what is cultivated and eaten in a particular region of the country. Newspapers are – or should be – the same. Maybe the new order at The Tennessean is trying to restore that sense of place. I doubt it because they’ve spent a lot of time creating stupid names for new jobs like consumer experience director. And there aren’t readers anymore. Now there’s an audience. Sound of one hand clapping.

So the naysayers – cheap talk from the bleacher seats – are decrying this “new” approach to solving a continuing problem. It’s not new, of course. It’s just repackaged. Just as there are no new recipes, there are no new ways to run a newsroom. Whatever they’re calling this iteration in 2014 is the same as News 2000, which attempted to give readers what they wanted through what was then the best scientific research 14 years ago. But mindless criticism from the sidelines is cheap. Everyone who loves newspapers should want this to work.

I say let’s just let ‘er rip. What the hell. Let the inmates run the asylum. Sure, there will be some misspelled words and odd turns of phrase but who cares? Everyone’s done with the idea of just hanging on to a job. Maybe that will free them to get energized, afflict the comfortable and make that barrel of ink count for something again. Let’s go down in a blaze of glory.

But I would say this. Let’s cultivate what was always the strength of newspapers. While you’re creating a new order, give a nod and a wink to what really made newspapers great.  Throw out the corporate white noise chatter and bring back the oddballs, the misfits and the eccentrics who made newspapers interesting. What I don’t hear in all this reorganizing bullshit, is that you – Mr. or Ms. Tennessean – are going to give them hell. Balls to the walls. Full steam ahead. It’s your last, great gasp so use it all up, make it all count and at the end of the day you can at least say you gave it all you had.


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Roasted red pepper spread

We had a little bit of a dilemma last week when we started planning the reception for our departing youth minister. He and his wife are vegans. This does not compute to the Women of St. Paul’s.

I sent out a plea for help with the food and got only three responses back. I knew why. The women were collectively scratching their heads to figure out a reception food offering that did not contain mayonnaise, sour cream or cream cheese. Whenever St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – or any other church in the South for that matter – throws a shindig the supply of cream cheese runs dangerously low in the region. And mayonnaise? We practically drink the stuff for breakfast.

A few brave souls came forward at first. One offered to make vegan banana bread, which she had never baked. Another said she’s attempt vegan chocolate brownie bites. And I searched the internet for anything that wasn’t hummus. I can imagine that vegans begin to loathe the sight of hummus at some point.

When I pointed out to the ladies that approximately 2 percent of the guests would be vegans – which left 98 percent that would be alarmed without cream cheese, mayonnaise or sour cream – the food came pouring in. Collective sigh of relief heard – cucumber cream cheese sandwiches, cream cheese and olive sandwiches, cream cheese and tomato sandwiches. Chess squares with plenty of butter and eggs.

We made a special vegan table so Derek and his wife wouldn’t have to go foraging for food among the forbidden offerings. Yes, there was a lot of hummus but it was good hummus and some of it came with the most charming miniscule cherry tomatoes on the vine from Julie Reinhardt. We try…we try. And Margaret Brown made a valiant effort at creating the new face of hummus – a hot hummus dip with kalamata olives and tomatoes – but sadly some feta cheese found it’s way into the dish and I had to move it to the non-vegan table.

As for me, I found a recipe for vegan roasted red pepper dip that I paired with some grilled crostini with olive oil and salt. It is from Martha Stewart and here’s the link to the recipe. I can report that the non-vegans drifted over to the vegan table more than once to get some of it. I would make it again. Maybe with a little cream cheese.

Roasted Red Pepper DIp



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The Pioneer Woman’s Salisbury Steak

So one of the things I love about cooking is that, really, there are no rules. I’m not a rules girl. It’s probably why I ultimately failed in upper management at a giant newspaper chain. It’s also why I’m not a very good baker. Baking is science and it has a lot of rules. Cooking is chaos. It’s a pinch of this and a dab of that. This is also why I love Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. Not only does she not have rules, she doesn’t have any pretensions about her cooking.

When I got her first cookbook, I leafed through it eagerly to discover new and exciting recipes. What I found instead was a very level-headed guide to simple things she cooks for her family. Who puts Egg in a Hole in a professionally published cookbook? Or her husband’s favorite sandwich – a steak sammie made with cube steak. And yet, my absolute favorite blackberry cobbler comes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook. And it’s not even really a cobbler. It’s more like a cake. But King Daddy absolutely adores it.

So the other night, Noah was watching The Pioneer Woman and she made Salisbury Steak. I actually had to look up what Salisbury Steak was and then I got curious about who invented it. Turns out it was a doctor in the 1800s who was a proponent of a low-carb diet. Some things never change (pass the pasta, please).

This is decidedly low brow. The recipe calls for ingredients like ketchup, a beef bouillon cube and Kitchen Bouquet. I didn’t exactly know what that was, either. Turns out it’s primarily made of  caramel with vegetable flavorings. My beloved Publix didn’t carry it and just as well. It would have sat in my cupboard for another 17 years before I found another use for it.

The bottom line is this:

Pioneer Woman Salisbury Steak

It was unfussy, easy, pedestrian and delicious. Even without the Kitchen Bouquet. I’m going to send you on over to the Food Network now to take a look see at the Salisbury Steak Recipe.

And here’s my recipe for the sour cream mashed potatoes that went with it. Equally simple, unfussy and delicious.

Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 4

  • 1 pound Yukon Gold or red potatoes
  • ½ stick butter
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sour cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Bring two quarts of water to a boil.
  2. Cut each potato into quarters. Boil until tender when pierced by a fork.
  3. Drain and put back into the pot and let the potatoes dry for a minute. Add the butter and milk.
  4. Mash with a potato masher (this is a simple device but the best one for the job – if you don’t have one, invest in one). Stir in sour cream and salt and pepper to taste.




Filed under beef, potatoes, sauces, sides

A sea of cellophane and cinnamon sugar puff pastry curls



Well, I am fairly certain that there is not a single tube of cellophane left in the entire Middle Tennessee region. Nobody defied Judith Atkinson and brought their treats for the Women of St. Paul’s bake sale in plastic wrap. When Judith, the bake sale chair, says, “Make them pretty,” she means there had better be a trip to Michael’s involved.


Of course, I immediately spied my arch baking rival’s Chocolate Bacon French Macarons. Charlotte Fraser is just insufferable. She is only in her early 20s and she just makes us all look like slackers.


See what I mean? What a show off. And she had the audacity to charge a dollar for a cookie the size of a nickel. I wish I’d bought more. That, by the way, is how church fund raisers go, if you don’t know the protocol. We spend fifty or sixty dollars baking cookies, cakes or pies and then spend another forty bucks buying other people’s baked goods. We do the same thing at the annual bazaar in August. We bring our junk from home and then buy other people’s junk. Not very efficient, but it’s the Christian thing to do.

But I digress. I realized halfway through packaging my coveted peanut butter, dark chocolate chip and bacon cookies that I was going to run out of tags before I got to the cinnamon sugar puff pastry curls. And, by the way, I will digress again to say that I am fairly certain my prowess with bacon cookery is what inspired Charlotte to add bacon to her macarons. Unfortunately, I believe bacon is in the public domain so I will not be able to pursue a legal remedy to such thievery.


I will say I wish I’d used italic lettering like Charlotte did. My font kind of looks like EAT THIS. Since I was not making another trip to Michael’s for more tags, I cleverly raided my Christmas room and disguised a gift box tag.


I know. It looks clunky. Don’t tell anyone, especially Charlotte. She will just lord it over me for the next 11 months.

Cinnamon sugar puff pastry curls
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
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  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Thaw the puff pastry in the refrigerator.
  3. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and spread half of it on a large cutting board.
  4. Top the sugar with the puff pastry and put the remaining sugar on the exposed pastry.
  5. Roll out into a thin rectangle and then tightly roll the pastry into a cylinder. Cut the pastry into ½-inch slices and lay them flat on a parchment-covered rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the pastry begins to brown. Cool on a wire rack.



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Bacon, peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies reprised

Peanut butter, dark chocolate chip and bacon cookies

Peanut butter, dark chocolate chip and bacon cookies

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s annual BBQ is Saturday. It is accompanied by a bake sale put on by the Women of St. Paul’s. In the olden days, before we all apparently developed into uber Type A women, the bake sale was comprised of some very decent but not particularly fancy desserts – chocolate chip cookies, brownies and the like. Perfectly acceptable.

But no more. Somewhere along the way the bake sale became IMPORTANT. The Women of St. Paul’s are over achievers in the world of hospitality. Our English Tea every December has no rival, either here in the states or across the Pond. Our celebratory wedding, christening and other joyful receptions are monuments of excess. And funeral receptions? Over the top. I hope the Women throw one for me before I expire because I’d sure hate to miss the food.

For the bake sale, we are now encouraged to think outside the box. Chocolate chip cookies wrapped in Saran Wrap will, of course, be graciously accepted. But there will be a knowing nod, a little wink indicating that’s not what is expected. Treats must be unusual. They must be wrapped in that expensive cellophane stuff you get at Michael’s and have clever tags extolling the virtues of the organic and artisan ingredients.

Charlotte Fraser has been toiling over her French macarons for days. I know this because I’m friends with her on Facebook and she’s posted her progress.

Bacon chocolate macarons

She is making, among other flavors, chocolate bacon macarons. Here’s her photo of the incredibly delicate shells she will fill with some decadent creamy concoction. I am much Charlotte’s elder, but she is shaming me. How impudent. I am a cook, not a baker. But I try my best with my award-winning (in my own mind) peanut butter, dark chocolate chip and bacon cookies. They now seem…pedestrian… next to chocolate bacon macarons.

Tomorrow is my baking day. I will make my sad, pedestrian peanut butter, chocolate chip and bacon cookies. I will also make blackberry tarts with a homemade pie crust. I will travel to Michael’s to procure the cellophane stuff and some fancy tags. I will shudder to think of the mass macaron production taking place at the Fraser household and the dozens of other women toiling over God knows what. I will update you on what will clearly by my shame Saturday morning when I arrive with my treats. I am fearful.


Bacon, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies Reprised
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 


  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 strips bacon, cooked and sliced into fine strips
  • ½ cup sugar, for rolling

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream together the butter and peanut butter with a hand mixer. Add the two sugars and blend well. Add the egg and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the peanut butter mixture. Add the chocolate chips and bacon.
  4. Roll the cookie dough into walnut-sized pieces and roll in sugar. Place two inches apart on a greased or Silpat-covered cookie sheet and press horizontally and vertically with a fork.
  5. Bake 10-13 minutes or until cookies are firm.
  6. Yield: 3 dozen cookies.




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The best mac and cheese

ATK Mac and CheeseSo there’s a fairly lengthy story about this best mac and cheese. It involves a pressure cooker, PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen and a radio interview.

As some of you know, I am currently obsessed with pressure cooking. Things that take hours on a conventional stove or oven, take minutes in a pressure cooker. I have a stove-top Fagor 8-quart pressure cooker (yes, the first one I bought was electric and it turned out to be a piece of crap). And in reading the instructions, it explicitly said not to cook macaroni or other pasta in the cooker because it can clog up the pressure release valve. King Daddy had very thoughtfully bought me America Test Kitchen’s Pressure Cooker Perfection and in it was what looked to be a promising recipe for macaroni and cheese.

But wait! If you are not familiar with America’s Test Kitchen, it is a group of obsessively accurate cooks who like to test everything multiple ways to determine the absolute best recipe. If you screw up a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen you are truly a moron.  And right there in the cookbook, they recommend the Fagor pressure cooker I have and they have multiple recipes for pasta.  Somebody’s wrong here and I had to find out who.

So I call the America’s Test Kitchen podcast hotline and leave a message. I am figuring that no one will call me back. But a few days later, I did get a call back from a lovely woman named Debby wanting to know if I’d like to ask my question on the podcast with Christopher Kimball and Bridget Lancaster.

Christopher Kimball and Bridget Lancaster

Here they are on their PBS show.  Chris, if I may call him that and I will, is the founder of Cooks Illustrated Magazine, America’s Test Kitchen and other related empires. Bridget is the culinary expert. I have watched their shows and listened to the podcast for years so I am star struck in a food nerd sort of way.

I am instructed to be by the phone from 6:30 – 9 a.m. on the appointed day to receive a phone call from them. On the appointed day, I wake up at 5 a.m. in anticipation. I settle myself in my garage office, with the door open because it is nice outside, and drink five cups of coffee and smoke 15 cigarettes until 6:30 rolls around. I am certain I will be their first call since my question is obviously so vital.

The clock strikes 6:30 and the phone does not ring. I check it to make sure it’s got enough battery power. I check “recent calls” in case they called early while I ran up to go to the bathroom. Nothing. Seven o’clock…7:30…8 a.m. No call. I have now played 875 rounds of Spider Solitaire.

Finally, at 8:15 the phone rings! It’s another nice lady asking if I would like to talk to Chris and Bridget. Are you kidding?

They are lovely. To make this long story short, Chris believes the Fagor people are just too cautious in their instruction manual. America’s Test Kitchen tested this mac and cheese recipe and it works just fine. It was probably the creamiest mac and cheese I’ve ever had and the pasta turned out perfectly cooked.

I believe ATK would frown on me giving you the recipe because they’d rather have you buy the book. But if you don’t have a pressure cooker (silly you), I can report that you can make it with 8 ounces of cooked macaroni, 1 12-ounce can of evaporated milk, 1 cup of shredded Cheddar cheese and 1 cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese. It’s the evaporated milk that sends this to the moon and back.





Filed under cheese, pasta, sauces

Red wine marinade

Shish Kabob

I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

I put at least a couple of cups of Malbec or merlot in my spaghetti sauce. As I’m sipping on a wee glass, of course. A little splash of white wine with butter and capers makes a lovely sauce for chicken cutlets. Quality control must be maintained at all times. Never put wine in food that you wouldn’t also drink. So I do. Now that Noah is home he’s helping in the kitchen. That’s cut into my wine supply quite a bit. We both like to cook with wine. It must be inherited.

Making marinades with wine is one of its highest and best uses. If you’ve bought any bottled marinades, take a look at the ingredients. You might as well make your own. Any words you can’t pronounce on the label? If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t be eating it. Bottled marinades also have a lot of sodium and some of them contain high fructose corn syrup.

But I digress. I got a 1950s itch for shish kabob the other night and broke out some filet pieces left over from breaking down a whole tenderloin. Yes, I am just that good. I butcher my own whole tenderloin. I used this red wine marinade that just deepens the beefy flavor of the meat. I believe a had a couple of sips of the red wine without all the other ingredients just to make sure it hadn’t turned to vinegar. Actually, I cannot fib. There’s never enough left over wine in my house to turn to vinegar.

Use this marinade on any cut of beef or lamb. Have a glass or two of Pinot Noir while you make it. I cook with wine.


Red wine marinade
Prep time: 
Total time: 


  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ cup canola oil

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Use immediately for steak or lamb chops. May store in the refrigerator for a several weeks.


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The perfect hot dog

Hot-Dog-1-500x375What makes the perfect hot dog? It involves these things and they are non-negotiable:

  • Hot dogs with casings. There is no snap to a hot dog without a casing and without a snap there is no point.
  • Chili out of a can. Yes. Hot dog chili out of a can. No beans. Vietti Hot Dog Sauce comes to mind. It’s made by a Nashville company. I think it costs $1.29 a can.
  • Plain yellow mustard. No Dijon. No deli mustard. No honey mustard. Plain and yellow.
  • Diced yellow onions. Enough said.
  • A buttered bun. Yes, add butter to the hot dog and chili. Why not? You’re not eating these every day. Please say you’re not eating these  every day.
  • Grilling. No boiling of the hot dogs. Can’t you hear them screaming?

Want the complete story? Head on over to Char-Broil LIVE to get my recipe for The Perfect Hot Dog.


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