Farm Fresh Tennessee

Who wants to help us write a(nother) book?

The University of North Carolina Press just decided to publish our second book, Farm Fresh Tennessee, a tour of agritourism opportunities in the Volunteer State. Our book will be the second in a series that started this spring with the release of Farm Fresh North Carolina by Diane Daniel. You can read more about Diane and her book at her website.

We’re going to spend the next year going from one end of the state to the other buying from farm stands, picking our own berries, eating at restaurants that source locally, running through corn mazes, and more. What we need from you is a list of any places you think we should visit.

Here’s what we’re looking for:

Farm stands
Farmers markets
Farm tours
You-picks — berries, orchards, and veggies
Seasonal activities — corn mazes, pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms
Restaurants that buy a significant amount of their ingredients locally
Stores that sell local products

If there is someplace we should go, someone we should visit, please let us know. You can go to the Contact Us page. Just choose “I have a Tennessee agritourism suggestion” and tell us what you know. Or just send us an email directly to

Korean food doesn’t agree with me

Angela and I have been craving Korean food for a while now, so we decided to take my mom out for gogi gui, Korean barbecue. Just to make sure things went smoothly, Angela called Asiana Garden on Friday and asked if they would be open for lunch Saturday. The person who answered the phone said yes and promptly hung up.

So, it’s Saturday, and we’re all hungry. We pull up to Asiana Garden. The “Open” sign is not on, but the door is propped open, so we walk on in. The lady tells us to sit anywhere. Right after we sit down, a large number of very well dressed Koreans begin to enter the restaurant and head to a back room. A few minutes later, a young man brings us menus and lets us know that they are busy today and that things will be a bit slow. I am actually delighted by this. I can deal with slow service when a place is slammed — just let me know what is up and that I’m not forgotten.

Well, we weren’t forgotten. We noticed the original lady who greeted us conferring with the young man. Then she came to our table and said, “We’re closed.” The young man clarified that they had a large party and that it would be at least thirty minutes before we could be served but that we were welcome to wait if we wanted to. We chose not to wait. I felt somewhat relieved when a Korean family that had not come in with the large group also got shown the door.

Not to fear, Du Won Jong isn’t that far away. We’ll just go there. So over to Hacks Cross we go. There are a ton of cars in the parking lot but no “Open” sign. Maybe they just forgot to turn it on. Huh. What does that sign on the door say? “Do not enter pursuant to court order.”

I have seen a lot of signs on closed restaurants, both temporarily and permanently closed. They usually range from “Illness in the family” to “Closed for remodeling” (which is code for “shh, don’t tell the landlord we’re breaking the lease.”). Never, though, have I seen a sign that made worry that U.S. Marshals were about to swoop down and arrest me. We got back in the car quickly.

Undaunted we journeyed on. To the next strip mall where a pan-Asian sort of place (that Google says is Korean) has taken up residence in an old Outback Steakhouse. This time there were almost no cars out front, but the “Open” sign was blinking happily. Finally, lunch.

Yeah, no. Locked up tight as a drum. At this point we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

My spirit was dampened, but my appetite was undeterred. I said, “Man, I really wanted some barbecue.” And that’s when it hit me — we could just go get some plain-old American barbecue. My suggestion that we give up on Korean was met by an overwhelming wave of silent disapproval. Angela had gone this far for Asian, and she was not about to give up now. Pleasant weather or not, I wasn’t looking forward to sleeping on the porch, so I chose to persevere. For the sake of my warm blankie, the search must go on.

That’s when I remembered Tao Too in Germantown. We headed over there, parked, and headed for the restaurant, hoping against hope that we would finally be fed. We were close, oh so close, then the distraction came. Sakura. “They have some pretty decent authentic Japanese dishes,” I reminded Angela. Sold. (And the fact that they were open didn’t hurt either.) Finally we could provide Mom with an interesting lunch. With any lunch.

Sakura is our favorite Japanese restaurant in Memphis. We love funky Americanized sushi rolls, but there is so much more to Japanese food than that. We started with gomae, boiled spinach served with toasted sesame seeds. It was refreshing, but I prefer ohitashi, a dish where the spinach is blanched rather than boiled. It is tossed with a dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and sesame seeds.

We also had age dashi tofu, deep fried tofu served in a dashi broth. We had negimake, thin slices of beef cooked with a bit of teriyaki then rolled around scallions.

Of course we did go for a couple of rolls. Our favorite was the Alfredo which is wildly popular with Sakura diners. We also had the Bubba roll, a large deep fried roll that wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either.

Bubba roll

Our favorite things were the nigiri — smelt roe for me, scallops for Angela, and eel for both of us.

Nigiri at Sakura

The highlight, though, was the quail eggs. Even my mother liked these. Rich egg yolk, a hint of savory soy sauce, and sweet scallions. Fantastic.

Quail eggs

One of these days we would like to get some Korean food — after we get over our fear of being run off or arrested, of course. Until then we’ll just head to Sakura. Or maybe give Tao Too some love. They do a great job too.

The Great Peppermint Incident of 1998

One of the thoughts that kept coming up this weekend at Food Blog South was, “What made you want to start writing about food? What was it that got you interested in the first place?”

There was an opportunity to share a 5-minute food story, but I didn’t get to tell my story, and it answers those questions.

Back in 1998 (And I know you’re all thinking that I was way too young in 1998 to be cooking.), I was, well, a little bit lost in the kitchen. That was the year I decided to learn how to cook. I grew up eating really good classic Southern food with my grandparents, but I wanted to stretch my culinary wings into new territory.

And that was the year that I came into possession of a ragged and well-used issue of Bon Appetit from 1991. I was hooked. I read the whole thing, and then I read it again, and I wanted to cook. To really cook.

You have to realize that I was ignorant. There’s just no other way to say it. I really had no idea what I was doing or how much I didn’t know. But I had a kitchen of my own and determination that I was going to do this.

The kitchen gods smiled on me, because I got lucky pretty often. I muddled my way through coq au vin, and not only did no one die, but they actually seemed to like it. I made beef Wellington, and it didn’t look like the picture, but it tasted good.

There were the croquembouche. They made more than I thought they would, and I didn’t have a pastry bag and wouldn’t have known how to use one if I’d had it. I ended up with quickly-deflating little puffs on every surface in the kitchen and a bowl of pastry cream that I tried desperately to get into those puffs. One of those Cajun turkey injectors came in at some point. It was a bad moment. And we will not discuss the sugar. But they tasted good and I made my four year old laugh, so I wasn’t discouraged.

Then came Christmas. I made a Yule log. It took forever, but it was pretty, and I was really proud of myself. So, I decided to make edible gifts for people. This would be the first food I was making for people who weren’t related to me by blood, but I knew I could do it.

I made chocolate truffles. They were messy, but they worked.

I made caramels. Again, messy, but good.

I made bourbon balls. A few of them made it out of the house.

And then I decided to make peppermint bark.

It really should have been the easiest of the lot. I decided to make it pretty by using those little blue and white peppermints. It all seemed to be going so well until I tried to crush the peppermints.

Those little things were stubborn. I tried beating them with my rolling pin. They laughed. I put them in a bag and got Patric to jump up and down on them. Yeah, not so much. And then, I broke out the food processor.

Now, you have to understand that I like bargains. And I like gadgets. So, a gadget that’s a bargain? I can’t say no. I didn’t have a food processor until there was a Kmart going out of business. There was one on the shelf. There was no box, no manuals, and the plastic lip that was meant to keep it closed was kinda broken. But it was $5. And if you held it down, it worked. So, I had a food processor.

I’m sure that you’re seeing where this is going now. I loaded my less-than-stable food processor up to the brim with candies. I turned it on low. It was working, but it wasn’t going fast enough. So I turned it up to hi.

It was trying very hard to dance its way across the counter, but I was holding it down. It was making a funny kind of noise, but that could have been normal, right? And that hot wiring smell didn’t mean anything was seriously wrong, did it?

But then Patric needed his mom, and when a four year old needs you, he needs you then. It seemed like it would be alright if I left it for just a minute. I lifted my hand. I turned my back to it. And then….

Suddenly there was an explosion of peppermint shrapnel. It flew in every possible direction when that cracked fastener let go. I ducked, but not quickly enough to miss being showered. I made a dive for the still-spewing food processor and got a face full of mint. But I persevered. I unplugged it and took a deep breath. And looked at the havoc I had wreaked.

There were tiny little blue bits on every surface, in every crack, and these weren’t just dry little bits of candy. Since I had the food processor so full, it got a little warm in there. So, there were sticky little bits of gooey blue sugar on the ceiling, on the floor, on and under and in the cabinets, on the ceiling fan, on anyplace the ceiling fan blew them, behind the stove, the refrigerator, on the windows, and of course, all over me. It wasn’t pretty.

But, after the initial horror of the situation, it was really funny. I laughed. Patric laughed. (And if you think a child might forget something like that, you should know that he said, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” when he saw what I was writing tonight.) The candy bits came out of my hair in the shower even though they did leave little blue spots that stuck around through several washings.

And that was it for me. That was when I knew that even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I liked it. No matter what could go wrong (and there have been many things since then), it would be okay. And I wanted other people to know that — that sometimes, you may be doing everything a recipe says, and it doesn’t work, and that’s alright. There’s not much that can’t be fixed or done again from the beginning. It’s not the end of the world, it’s going to be funny and frustrating and frantic sometimes, and you’ll end up with great stories from the experience no matter how it ends.

By the way, when I was packing to move out of that house, I even found little bits of blue at the back of the drawers. Seriously. They’re probably still there.

The Infamous Peppermint Bark

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 36 small pieces

This is the exact recipe from the December 1998 Bon Appetit that I used. You will note that it doesn't say HOW you were supposed to crush the peppermints. They were apparently supposed to have magically appeared in crushed form. On the second round of it, and after a lot of soap and hot water there really was one, I used candy canes. They crushed much easier than the little round candies.

If I made this now, I would use semi-sweet chocolate instead of white chocolate. There's nothing wrong with white chocolate, but Paul doesn't like it. He also probably wouldn't like helping me clean peppermint bits off of everything either.


  • 17 ounces good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 30 red and white striped peppermint candies, coarsely crushed (50 blue and white ones are NOT recommended)
  • 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract


  1. Turn large baking sheet bottom side up and cover securely with foil.
  2. Stir white chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water) until chocolate is melted and smooth and candy thermometer registers 110°F. (chocolate will feel warm to touch). Remove from over water.
  3. Pour 2/3 cup melted white chocolate onto rectangle on foil. Using icing spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle.
  4. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.
  5. Stir bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
  6. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture in long lines over white chocolate rectangle. Using icing spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate in even layer. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.
  7. Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water to 110°F.
  8. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer; spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.
  9. Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips.
  10. Using metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto work surface. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section diagonally into 2 triangles.
  11. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Chill in airtight container.) Let stand 15 minutes at room temperature before serving.


2011-11-17 04:22:15

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Christy Jordan’s Chocolate Cobbler

We like chocolate around here, and we’re pretty fond of cobbler too, so when we saw a recipe in Southern Plate for chocolate cobbler, we were hooked. What you end up with is a gooey layer of fudge under a crisp-topped chocolate cake layer. And I warn you, it’s addictive.

Our Version of Christy Jordan’s Chocolate Cobbler

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 servings

Christy uses self-rising flour instead of all-purpose. If you use self-rising flour, omit the baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Christy didn't add any salt to her version, but I like a little salt in something sweet like this. Christy also used milk instead of whipping cream, but we were out, and the whipping cream made a rich dessert. Christy's recipe calls for vanilla extract instead of vanilla paste. If you use extract, increase the amount to 1 teaspoon. Christy lists chopped pecans as an optional ingredient. If you use them, add them with the milk, vanilla, and oil.

Pecans would be nice, but you could use walnuts, almonds or peanuts instead. A little bit of cinnamon and/or cayenne mixed into the brown sugar and cocoa mixture would give a slightly Mexican flavor to the dish. Sprinkling over some sea salt before pouring the hot water over would add a nice crunch and different salty flavor to the crust. Add an extract to the batter for a different flavor. Peppermint, almond, or orange would be very nice. A liqueur would work too. 1/4 cup of raspberries, blackberries, or cherry pie filling would be a great addition as well. Needless to say, a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream would be the perfect topping.


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups hot water


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and grease an 8x8-inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the sugar and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder.
  3. Add the cream, vanilla, and oil and mix well to combine. Pour the batter into the baking pan.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar and the remaining 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. Sprinkle the mixture over the batter in the baking dish.
  5. Very slowly pour the hot water over the baking dish. If you pour too fast, the layers will be mixed and won't turn out the same.
  6. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick stuck 1/2-inch in the center comes out clean.


2011-11-17 04:29:10

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Christy Jordan’s Chicken Stew

When we were looking for a recipe to make from Southern Plate, we were attracted to Christy’s chicken stew recipe right away. With cold weather coming on, there’s just nothing more comforting than a warm bowl of soup. We made a few changes to the recipe, but nothing major enough to change the spirit of the recipe.

Our Version of Southern Plate Chicken Stew

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

In Christy's version, she used a whole chicken instead of thighs. She also added 3 tablespoons of sugar along with the salt and pepper. We left the sugar out because none of us like sweet tomato sauces or soups. She used 2 large onions, but we had some huge onions, so we only used 1. She also cooked the potatoes in a separate pot using some of the broth and didn't add the potatoes back to the soup until the chicken went in. Christy also notes that this stew freezes well. We can't confirm that since it didn't last past the second day in our house.

Peppers would be a very nice addition to this soup. Diced green chiles, seeded jalapenos, or a finely diced bell pepper would be great. A sprinkle of cayenne, adobe, or chipotle pepper would be good at the end. Saute the onions before adding them to the soup if you want a different flavor and softer onions. A sprinkle of paprika is a great complement to this sort of soup. While the corn alone was delicious, chopped green beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, or any other bean of your choice would be wonderful too. The whole tomatoes add a nice chunkiness, but if you have people who don't like that, diced tomatoes or even tomato sauce would be fine. You could leave the butter out if you like, but it does make the stew richer.


  • 4 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
  • 7 cups water
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups frozen or canned whole kernel corn
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cups canned tomatoes
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Bring the chicken and water to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the chicken is tender, about 1 hour.
  2. Remove the chicken from the broth. Discard the skin and shred the meat from the bones.
  3. Skim any excess fat from the broth and add the potatoes. Cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Mash the potatoes slightly with a potato masher, leaving some lumpy. You can use an immersion blender, pulsing lightly, instead.
  5. Add the corn, onion, tomatoes, salt, and pepper into the broth with the potatoes. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  6. Add the chicken to the pot, cover, and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
  7. Right before serving, stir in the butter until it melts. Taste and adjust seasoning.


2011-11-17 04:33:59

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Christy Jordan’s Southern Plate

The first thing we do when we get a new cookbook is to tear through it looking for the recipes we want to start with right away. I think this behavior is to be expected, considering we are from a generation who were deeply affected by the annual arrival of the Sears wish book. Only today, for us at least, cool robots and new bikes have been replaced by souffles and braises.

We are always excited about an opportunity to learn a new technique or an excuse to buy a new kitchen gadget or ingredient. Christy Jordan’s Southern Plate did not fail to challenge our pantry, but in a different direction than normal.

For instance, the cheesy hash brown casserole calls for cream of chicken soup and frozen shredded potatoes. We never have canned soup on hand, so we couldn’t make it or the sour cream hash brown casserole either — it calls for cream of celery.

One recipe that we come closer to being able to make is the Texas caviar. Sold by Oxford-based chain Newk’s as “Tippah County” caviar, the dish is a mix of black-eyed peas, diced tomatoes, whole kernel corn, onion, Italian dressing, and maybe some herbs. We have canned tomatoes. Lately, we haven’t gotten around to canning our own. And we keep canned peas and beans. It’s nice to have a variety to put into a soup or chili. Italian dressing would be more of a challenge, but we could make it work.

But am I being critical of Jordan’s recipes? By no means. They do call to mind a widely loathed food personality who has made a name with dishes cobbled together from cans and bags, but there is a huge difference here. Soul. Everything Jordan does is done with soul.

Jordan’s soul and the love it pours out is expressed clearly in her book. The inside of the dust jacket begins with the quote, “My name is Christy Jordan and I like to feed people.” And you can tell that she does feed people. Some recipes feel like Jordan just had a good idea one day and threw something tasty together. Other recipes come with a story, and those stories all involve family and friends because that’s how Jordan cooks, for and with family.

I haven’t addressed the Southern aspect of the book, and I should. As a Southerner, everything about this book speaks to me. The stories remind me of our monthly “uncle’s lunch” with my father’s brothers. The food reminds me a little of my mom’s mother, but it reminds me even more of dinner on the grounds at Greenleaf UMC in Greenleaf, Mississippi.

Southern Plate

In fact the memory led me to the bookshelves to find my copy of Greenleaf Country Cooking 2006. I knew I had the book, but I had forgotten that it was inscribed to me by my cousin Janice. Looking through the book, I see dishes we should try, but, more importantly, I see the names of a lot of family that I need to visit.

But back to Jordan’s book. If you have similar memories, you will enjoy Southern Plate. And if you haven’t lived that Southern life, then you need this book so that we can start to bring you into the fold.

If I had to register a complaint about Southern Plate, it would be about that dust jacket quote. It doesn’t take much time at all to see that Jordan more than likes to feed people. She loves to.

Doggone Dog Bones

We are SO tired today. I remember spending many nights grabbing a few hours of sleep here and there on those nights when little Patric was a tiny fussy person (as opposed to the large fussy person he is now). I swore then, and Paul agrees completely, to never ever under any circumstance whatsoever cross-my-heart please-let-me-die-now do that again. I was an only child. Paul was an only child. Patric will be just fine being one too.

But then there was last night. Our sweet precious baby puppy who’s not even 3 yet has been hurting and limping and whining for over a week now. The visit to the vet wasn’t so good. Fluffy didn’t whine no matter where the doctor touched him, but the x-ray showed us all that he was just being brave.

Where his right hip should be, well, there’s not really a hip. It has to be hurting almost all the time. He may be used to it, but it’s only going to get worse the older he gets. We talked about options. We could go for a full hip replacement or the less radical technique of shaving off bone so that his hip will be free-floating instead of rubbing the way it is now. Since the most active thing Fluffy ever does is to crawl onto the couch, we all agreed that the free-floating option would work for him.

We psyched ourselves up. We planned. We budgeted. We snuggled our baby. And then, yesterday, we went to have the surgery done.

Except… He started limping Wednesday. And instead of limping on his right leg with the bad hip, it was his left leg that seemed to have something wrong. Further inspection of the x-rays and more feeling around showed that his left leg has issues every bit as serious as his right. Instead of a straight shin that would help a knee-cap stay in place, Fluffy’s goes off at a slant. And his knee-cap had rubbed a groove that had it moving in ways that it shouldn’t. That changed everything.

As the doctor pointed out, he needs to have one stable leg while the other is out of commission. And even though his right hip is bad, he can still put weight on it. He can’t put weight on his left.

So instead of hip surgery, we got had knee surgery yesterday. We worried about him all day, but he came through it fine. We went to the office to bring him home and then the fun started.

Fluffy is not a small dog. At all. So that left us wondering how you get a large dog who can’t walk in and out of a car and up the steps that you have to get up to get into our house. Yeah. You’re seeing the problem now, right?

We learned the towel technique. Basically, a big beach towel goes under his belly to hold up the back end of the dog so that he doesn’t have to put his full weight on his back legs and can still navigate with his front legs. It makes good sense. We managed to get in the car with a demo from the vet and headed home with me in the back seat holding my baby.

We got home. We made it out of the car. We were on the sidewalk. And then we stopped. 100 pounds of tea-cup chihuahua wouldn’t move another step. I pulled with the leash while Paul lifted the rear. Nothing. I knelt in front of him and tried begging. Nothing. We thought we were getting traction, but then we just laid down. And so, Paul made a truly heroic effort and carried a whole lot of dog down the sidewalk, up the steps, and into the room where his bed had been situated between our chaises so that we could both love on him at the same time. And so he slept.

We had been warned that we were in for a bad night. We thought we were prepared. We found out that he needed to be touched. Constantly. Seriously. If you were petting him and you stopped, he cried. If you didn’t start right back, he tried to stand up and cried worse because it hurt. We worked in shifts because obviously this dog is not spoiled at all.

We knew then that we were not going to be spending the night in our bed. Paul made a pallet on one end of the room. I decided to make the best of sleeping on the chaise even if it would mean that my feet would be hanging off. We gave him his pain meds and hoped he would fall asleep. With my hand resting on him the same way it had to rest on baby Patric when he was cranky in his crib, he finally did. For about 30 minutes. We spent the whole night rubbing the most pitiful dog in the world. We tried the “just ignore him and he’ll fall back asleep” method. No.

But today, he is better. Mostly. He’s been up on 3 feet. He went outside and came back in without being completely carried. So there is hope. Maybe tonight we will sleep. A little. Maybe.

Monday Marinara

I think meatless Mondays are a great idea. Most of us don’t eat enough vegetables; while a couple of meals a week at our house are all vegetables, meat is the focus when it’s there. That’s just what tends to happen, and I know it’s mostly a result of poor planning. So we try to make sure that we have vegetable-based meals that are easy to pull out and make when even rice seems like a lot of work.

Enter the marinara sauce. Make a quick search with our friend Google – there are literally thousands of recipes for marinara sauce. When I see something like that, I always wonder why. Where did something that is so much a part of household recipes come from?

The word marinara sounds like marine, so that’s where I started looking. As it turns out, that’s a good place to start. Marinara sauce literally translates as mariner’s sauce. It is Italian, but it didn’t come as a recipe from Italy. Sailors on ships coming to the US made it up – mariner’s sauce. Those sailors would have used what was available to them, and it’s a given that their supplies wouldn’t have been the same on every trip. And when you think about a recipe with a start like that, it’s no surprise that there are so many variations.

It makes me feel less bad about the way I make it. In other words, the basic parts are the same, but no batch is ever the same. If I have fresh herbs on hand, I use them. If there are fresh tomatoes, they’re great. But it’s also easy and good to make it with dried herbs and canned tomatoes to keep it in the house year-round.

I also believe in making big batches of sauces and soups that I can freeze by the quart for later. And, when it comes to marinara sauce, even though I have a really great recipe that I can follow exactly, I play it fast and loose. I don’t measure. I don’t time it. I taste it after it’s been on the stove for a little while and add whatever I think it needs. In other words, I suck at being able to pass this recipe on.

Or maybe I don’t. Reading a recipe is good. If it’s a recipe written on a note card that your grandmother gave you, that’s wonderful. But there’s something to be said for having to spend time in the kitchen with someone, watching and tasting with them, listening to them tell you why they’re doing that step or where they learned it. Those are the recipes that you really remember. They’re the ones you don’t need to read because they come from memory. When you think about the day spent in the kitchen with someone you care about and respect, that dish you were making sticks.

Patric likes my marinara sauce. He always likes to ask what I put in it this time. And I’ve built that memory with him by telling him to come into the kitchen with me.

A Big Batch of Marinara Sauce

Total Time: PT2 to 4H

Yield: 11 quarts

I'm sure you noticed that there aren't quantities on the spices. To be honest, working with this quantity of tomatoes, the spices went in by the handful with the exception of the cayenne. A cupped palm is about 2 tablespoons for me. And this is not somewhere to skimp on salt. Without enough salt, marinara is pretty bland. I did specify San Marzano tomatoes. They cost more and are a little hard to find sometimes, but they really make a richer, brighter flavored sauce. I said a cooking time of 2 to 4 hours here. If you want, though, you can reduce the heat to low and let this cook overnight. Just make sure your burner is on the lowest setting. If you make less sauce, you'll want to cut the time back. Either way, do not let the sauce burn on the bottom or you'll need to throw the whole batch out.

You don't have to cook this much sauce. Just scale it down to make what you want. As far as spices, use what you like. Marjoram, ground fennel, a little fresh thyme, some parsley - anything that sounds good to you. Just don't overdo it. You can always add more, but once it's in there, well, it's in there. If you want more texture, add capers or olives. If you want a smooth sauce, puree in a blender or in the pot with an immersion blender.

The general rule on pasta to sauce ratio at our house is 1 quart of sauce to 1 pound of pasta. After cooking the pasta, save about 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta back into the pot with the water and a tablespoon of butter over medium heat and add warmed marinara sauce. Using tongs or a pasta fork, toss the noodles until they are evenly coated with sauce.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • 3 #10 cans whole San Marzano tomatoes


  1. Heat the olive oil in a (really) large stockpot (like 15 - 20 quarts) over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes or until translucent.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes longer.
  3. Add the herbs and spices to taste.
  4. Add the tomatoes with all juices in the cans.
  5. Bring the sauce to a simmer, only until bubbles are starting to break the surface.
  6. Keep the sauce at a simmer and cook, covered, for 2 to 4 hours or until the tomatoes come apart with a push of the fork.
  7. Allow the sauce to cool before filling 1-quart containers and freezing. Alternatively, you can use a pressure cooker to jar this the same way you would fresh tomatoes.


2011-11-17 04:39:37

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So… Sous vide?

Yes, we got a new toy for Christmas. Yes, there was a great deal of excitement surrounding it. No, you haven’t heard a peep about it since.

The biggest thrill — short of sinking your teeth into a perfectly cooked steak — is learning new things in the kitchen. We already had fun with variations on eggs, but when it was time to move on, we started to learn some unexpected lessons.

Well, they really shouldn’t have been unexpected. It all makes perfect sense. It’s just that things we have gotten used to and don’t think much about are negatively affecting our immersion circulator.

The biggest thing is just how cold it is in our half-remodeled, uninsulated kitchen. It’s so cold in our kitchen… (How cold is it!? (Man, I still miss Johnny Carson.)) It’s so cold in our kitchen that our peanut oil has solidified. It’s so cold it takes longer to cook anything on the stove top. It’s so cold that the cat’s don’t even spend much time in there. And…it’s so cold that our immersion circulator is currently fighting a losing battle to reach temperatures high enough to cook our turnips and carrots. Much of the heat that is generated can be seen escaping into the air as vapor.

Some of the heat loss is unseen. That is, we see the culprit, just not the heat. Our lovely granite counter is to blame. It is a massive heat sink. While it’s perfect for rolling out cold pie dough, it is terrible for sous vide. We found an easy solution, however; we put a towel under the water bath, and soon the temperature rose 4C.

Fortunately, we have a solution for the bigger problem too. If the weather allows, an electrician will be out this week to wire the kitchen. Not long after that, a plumber will run a water line for a pot filler. Then my father-in-law will put up insulation (Now, please now!) and sheet rock. From there it’s on to the tile floor, which Angela assures me we can do ourselves. And there is the brick wall we want behind the stove. Angela assures me that that too is entirely possible with help from her experienced brick-laying dad.

If all goes well, soon you will see pictures of a new kitchen that will allow us to entertain friends. If not, stop by anyway. I may be bricked in somewhere.

Happy New Year

Well, 2010 was a heck of a year. It’s been one of those years when it’s easy to say that everything changed. For the good or the bad, things happened that are going to make 2011 work hard to top.

  • We got a book contract and actually finished a manuscript.
  • Our son turned 16. I miss my baby. We decided to homeschool for his last two years.
  • We both made major career decisions that let us spend all day together everyday.
  • We managed to have articles published all summer, and had things of ours show up in places that aren’t in our own backyard.
  • We went through some really rough things as a family and still like each other (mostly). We even learned to be better about helping each other through it all (sometimes). No one murdered anyone (yet).
  • Our house gained a cat and a dog.
  • We got things that we’d wanted for a long time (not including the cat and the dog).
  • We realized just how hard it is to be frugal.
  • We got a little more political about food.
  • We had some truly incredible experiences: pulling meat from 42 cow heads, finding food all over the South that we would have missed if we hadn’t been looking, making food that people who know about food liked to eat.
  • And best of all, we made some great new friends even though we are still missing some old ones who have moved too far away.

So, here’s to 2011. There’s so much more waiting around the corner.

From all of our house to all of yours, happy new year!

The Work of Paul and Angela Knipple