Food, Wine & Design – damn fine


I may be mistaken, but I believe I was present the first time Karl Worley & Matt Lackey met. A group of food friends gathered at Flyte’s bar for a few drinks and conversation, and chef Lackey sent out some plates of crispy pig eared goodness. The chefs talked shop and a mutual admiration was found. Or maybe just a mutual admiration for bourbon.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to try their food on many occasions, and though their concepts are quite different, their standards are the same. They’re both small town Southern boys who are committed to using what grows around them.

When Nashville Lifestyles magazine launched the concept for Food, Wine & Design, it made complete sense to pair these fellas together. Matt has been on the national scene throughout 2013, gaining awards & recognition for his work, and Karl was the unanimous winner of the Savor Nashville Challenge to the Chefs. Both of them tend to have a glint of mischief in their eyes, and I know they have some tricks up their sleeves.

In fact, they’re going to roll up their sleeves & go fishing tomorrow night when they present “Feast of the Fish” at Food, Wine & Design. I’ve heard rumors about how they’re sourcing some of this seafood, and I do believe it’s going to be as fresh as possible (as in, the fish may just be swimming). This concept will inspire the entire evening, include a lavishly decorated room at the new Omni Hotel.

It’s rare I get out on a weeknight, but I will not miss this dinner. You shouldn’t either. However…if you do, I have great news. There’s a second night with a completely different couple of chefs – and an all new concept – on Wednesday, November 13. Chefs Deb Paquette and Steven Robillo are taking folks to Spain. I’ve never been, but I kinda like the music.

Nashville Lifestyles’ Food Wine & Design
Tuesday, November 12
& Wednesday, November 13
6 p.m.
Omni Hotel

"everything" bagel bruschetta (it doesn’t tomato what you think)

If there’s one thing I learned from this year’s Tomato Art Fest, it’s that next year I will get a babysitter and free my hands up to hold adult beverages. 

I’d like to say I’ll skip next year’s recipe contest, but I won’t.  I can’t help myself.  This year’s competition: bruschetta.  Demanding that a bruschetta recipe include tomato…well, frankly it frustrated me because bruschetta is to do with the bread.  It doesn’t have to include toppings, and if it does, they can be anything.  However, I love tomatoes in all the ways, and I love competitions in even more of the ways, so I was in for a fourth year.  (I won 1st place for soup & 2nd for sandwich in preceding years, and we’re not going to talk about the salad year. loser.)

My immediate inspiration was the everything bagel.  A real, honest to goodness bagel from Jersey – topped with whipped cream cheese, fresh tomato and coarse black pepper is one of my most favorite things to eat.  It doesn’t happen often, but when I can get my hands on a Jersey bagel during peak Tennessee tomato time, I am the happiest of girls because my two homes collide in the most delicious way. 

So that’s where I started.  I knew I wanted to make my own bagels (I have so many strong feelings about bagels that it deserves a separate post…someday) because, ahem, the bread is the thing that makes bruschetta bruschetta (I’m imagining this in a Giada voice. Are you?)

From there, I built an everything bagel, but my way.  I sliced the homemade bagels, toasted them, rubbed them with roasted garlic & olive oil, slathered them with whipped cream cheese, and topped them with fresh tomato.  It was tough not to enhance the tomatoes in any way since they’re the star of the contest, but when it’s summer in Tennessee, if a tomato needs something done to it to make it shine, something is wrong. 

For the “everything” part, I knew I wanted crunch, and I dreamed up this brittle.  The best way I can describe it is this: it’s not exactly good, but I can’t stop eating it. 

So, did I win?  NO.  However, I received ‘honorable mention,’ which I think might be a compliment.  Maybe.  Even better, my most talented mommy won 3rd place for her BLT bruschetta. Way better than me winning.  She’s hooked on the contest thing now.  She’s already dreaming up next year’s entry, which we’re told must be dip. (click it. trust.)  

“Everything” Bagel Bruschetta

makes 16 pieces of bruschetta


Four large bagels, sliced on the bias and toasted
one medium heirloom tomato, thinly sliced
4 tbs whipped cream cheese
6 cloves garlic, roasted in olive oil & smashed with a fork
“everything” brittle*


Spread toasted bagel pieces with a layer of smashed garlic; top that with a schmear of whipped cream cheese.  Place one thin slice of fresh tomato on top (cut in half if needed), and then crumble with copious amounts of “everything” brittle. 

* “Everything” brittle:

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
equal parts poppy seeds, sesame seeds, black pepper & crumbled bacon (about 2 tbs of each), plus 1 tbs coarse salt

Prepare a baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Set aside.

Combine sugar & corn syrup in a small pot on stovetop and bring to a boil at medium heat.  Whisk continuously until mixture begins to turn slightly amber.  Add all ingredients – except the bacon – and whisk to combine complete.  Pour mixture over baking sheet until spread out.  Crumble bacon on top immediately.  Allow to set and harden, then break into small pieces. 

"Wow, That Girl Sure Can Eat" – win tickets to Generous Helpings!

What if I told you I was giving you the chance to eat food from more than 30 restaurants (and that list is growing), for FREE?  It’s true.  This is one of my most favorite annual food events, so keep reading if you want to be eating. 

The fine folks at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee host an annual event that could accurately be called “Wow, That Girl Sure Can Eat,” but instead they’ve cleverly coined it Generous Helpings

This year’s benefit is scheduled for May 16, 5:30 p.m, at the Nashville’s Farmers Market, and the lineup of participating restaurants does not disappoint.  Attendees will get to sample some of Nashville’s finest food, and all proceeds will go to Middle Tennessee’s Table, Second Harvest’s grocery rescue program.  The program rescues and redistributes nearly 5 million pounds of food from more than 200 grocery stores annually including produce, dairy, protein and non-perishable food items.

While this event is all about celebrating Nashville’s plentiful restaurant scene, it’s important to note that hunger is an issue in Nashville and Second Harvest does great work to combat that.  On Monday, April 29, Second Harvest will be among the local hunger advocates at the screening of “A Place At the Table.”  If you’re able, attend, learn & get involved. 

Second Harvest generously offered a pair of tickets for me to give away, and well, I’d like for you (yes, you) to win them!  To enter, do the following:

  • Join Second Harvest’s email list
  • ‘Like’ Second Harvest on Facebook
  • Follow Second Harvest on Twitter
  • Leave a comment letting me know you’ve done all three

For an additional chance to win, leave a second comment letting me know which of the participating restaurants you’d most like to visit at the event. 

The contest is open now through May 3, when I’ll select a winner at random.

And if you want to go ahead and buy tickets, they’re available.

Good luck!

*Contest closed.  Congratulations to commenter #6, Alexandra!*

Hungry for change: Food Bloggers Against Hunger

I am continually thankful for the tight-knit group of food bloggers, enthusiasts, culinary talent and advocates in the Nashville area.  Typically, I interact with this group of people in celebration – a literal picture of ‘eat, drink & be merry.’  We gather frequently to eat and drink truly delicious, decadent food.  We constantly celebrate the rich variety of restaurants and food shopping options in Nashville.  Food is plentiful in my line of work and personal life, and I’m selective about what, when and where I eat.  Often times, I challenge myself to eat less – to be health conscious and keep myself from overindulging. 

Today’s post is different. 

Local food writer and blogger Jennifer Justus reached out to the food community recently after she viewed “A Place At The Table.”   Both touched and outraged by what she viewed, she quickly worked to organize a local initiative to bring awareness to childhood hunger.   A nationwide project, Food Bloggers Against Hunger via The Giving Table, was created in response to the documentary.  A local event and screening of the film will take place in Nashville at the Downtown Presbyterian Church on Monday, April 29, at 6 p.m.  Please follow Jennifer’s coverage for updates and ways to be more involved. 

So today, I will pause to think – really think – about what it means to be hungry.  I will stop to ponder how I would handle not knowing when and how I will feed my children.  I will stop stressing about whether or not they’re eating their vegetables, and be thankful for the comfort of knowing they’ll go to bed with full bellies. 

And once I’ve thought about it, I will challenge myself to DO something about it.  Childhood hunger is real. 

The scary reality is that lawmakers in our state think they have a right to deny food to children.  I’m shocked that this is something we have to fight, but we do. 

I hope you will do some research, and if so compelled, join me in pausing, thinking and DOING.

When I was a child, my single mother took great care to make sure my sister and I were never, ever hungry.  There were some very lean years, and the financial burden and stress on her was great – and I had no idea.  Our table was always full of healthful, delicious food.  I am thankful to her for that nourishment, and now, as a mom, cook by her inspiration – finding creative options in a pantry when the kids say ‘there’s nothing to eat.’  We are blessed.  I will work to remember this every time I sit down at my own table. 

This recipe was originally inspired by using ingredients I could find in my pantry on any given day.  It’s a healthful, budget friendly vegetarian dish that can be changed to suit your preferences and/or what you happen to have available.  Try using a different variety of bean, adding other canned or fresh veggies like corn, carrots, or greens, or even adding a protein. 

Tomatoes and Cannelini Beans over Brown Rice

serves four

1 tsp olive oil
2 28-oz cans of diced tomatoes  
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
dash cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
juice of one lime
prepared brown rice


Heat olive oil to medium in soup pot. Add garlic and sauté until cooked through.  Reduce heat to low and add tomatoes, beans, cayenne, salt & pepper to taste, simmering about 10 minutes.  Just before serving, add lime juice.  Serve over brown rice. 

chocolate sorbet & why ice cream is not for sharing

When my husband and I began dating, I’d often bring treats over to his house for him & his son to enjoy.  One day I brought over a half gallon of ice cream.  A day or two later, I opened his freezer to dig into the ice cream…and it was gone.  Like, gone.  And thus began our first fight.  My argument: “I bought the ice cream.  Yes, it’s for sharing, but you should leave a little for the person who bought it.”  His defense: “It’s ice cream.  If it’s there, I’m eating it.” 

From then on, anytime I want to be sure there’s ice cream at my disposal I have to buy his (chocolate chip mint) and hers (chocolate peanut butter) varieties.  To each his/her own, and we’re both happy. 

The thing is, no one simply likes ice cream. If you like it, you LOVE it.  Raise your hand if you’ve conquered an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting.  [raises hand]  And really, ice cream is not for sharing.  No, you can’t have a bite.  Get your own bowl (or pint). 

Nashville has some fantastic locally made frozen treats.  I’ve been known to stop (frequently) at the likes of Porta Via, Pied Piper, Bobbie’s Dairy Dip, Bravo Gelato, Legato Gelato, Glazee, and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (more about this later).  And that’s just the short list.  With that, I’ve never been too tempted to make my own ice cream.  However, being the romantic guy he is, my husband asked Santa to bring me the ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid Mixer this year.  Santa also brought a supply of my favorite baking ingredient – Valrhona cocoa powder – so I was eager to try my hand at a chocolate sorbet. 

I used David Lebovitz’s recipe as published in Epicurious, and I was so happy with the result.  It’s dairy-free, but creamy enough to be convincing.  The deep chocolate flavor from the cocoa powder (I can’t suggest frequently enough to use the good stuff) was incredibly decadent.  This is going into our rotation, for sure. 

my first foray into ice cream making – a delicious chocolate sorbet

Back to Jeni’s.  I simply have to share that I had the honor of sitting next to her at a recent Nashville dinner.  Like, the Jeni.  The ice cream Jeni.  She is delightful and as sweet as her ice cream.  My pals at Riffs Fine Street Food hosted a popup, and while every single course was memorable, I’m giving the prize to dessert.  It featured a complex variety of flavors, including sesame seed, tamarind, passion fruit – and, of course – Jeni’s ice cream.  This was a special one-off flavor, sultana, which is ultimately the booziest, most delicious rum raisin ice cream in the world.  Know how it’s not cool to wear the band’s t-shirt to the concert?  It’s also not cool to all but lick your plate beside the gal who made the ice cream. 

i will dream about this dessert.

And even though my good buddy B.J. told me with no pretense that he absolutely, 100% does not share ice cream – ever – he was kind enough to send a few scoops of Jeni’s sultana my way after the dinner.  And to bring it full circle, I didn’t share a single bite of it with my husband.  Heh. 

So what about you? What foods are off limits for sharing?

Doritos. enough said.

There was a time I considered Doritos a guilty pleasure food.  The recent & frequent endorsement of Doritos by friends & legitimate food media alike certainly reassures me I’m not alone.  But really, I don’t need safety in numbers, as evidenced by the fact that I am perfectly capable of eating a full size bag of Doritos all by myself in a matter of two days.  I am ok with this: I LOVE DORITOS.  Love ’em.

More specifically, I simply adore Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos.  If I have a bag of them, I am not sharing, unless you’re this cute:

i’ve got ‘mother of the year’ in the bag. get it? bag. heh.*

*i feel compelled to say that he grabbed the chips without my knowledge & i promptly took them away & replaced them with veggies – right after taking this photo.**


However, since you’re perfectly capable of buying your own bag, I will gladly share a secret with you.  This is the secret to the perfect snack.  Are you ready?  Take your Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos and dip them in sour cream.  I invented (yes, it’s an invention and a brilliant one at that) this while I was pregnant, so you know it has to taste good. I must warn you in advance that I am in no way responsible for your inability to control yourself.  It is inevitable that you will eat more in one sitting than necessary.

Do you have a favorite guilty pleasure junk food & proud snack?

cranberry crush – gingered cranberries in bourbon

Let’s be honest.  I’ve had this blog post ready(ish) since Thanksgiving, but I’m a crappy blogger and crappy bloggers don’t get posts up in time for words like ‘festive’ and ‘seasonal’ and ‘holiday favorites’ to still be timely or relevant.  I also don’t really have a recipe.  And the photos are from my iPhone.  Ignore all that.  You need to make this drink anyway.

I have very strong feelings about cranberries.  I’ve talked about this before.  I also have many, many feelings about cocktails.  And by combining the two I may have just hit the jackpot.  This cocktail is what got me through my first ever Thanksgiving turkey attempt.  This cocktail also made me dissolve into a fit of giggles whilst spatchcocking the turkey with my husband. C’mon – it’s a funny word.

If you simply need it to be timely and relevant, line the rim with Pop Rocks and it’s a fantastic New Year’s Eve cocktail.  (But really, don’t do that.  That’s gross.)

I invented this brilliant, tasty little number while trying (and failing) to make gorgeous sugared cranberries to adorn the cranberry brownies I baked.  I am a square peg, and the pretty, picture perfect baking/cooking/photography getting blog is the round hole.  So I threw the cranberries into some bourbon instead.  Voila! 

Basically, I soaked fresh cranberries in a simple syrup infused with fresh ginger.  I used some of those cranberries to try to do the sugared thing.  If you want to know how to do that, search other blogs & follow their instructions, as I don’t know what I’m doing.  Here’s what mine looked like.

not so pretty.

But. But!  I found that the longer the cranberries soaked in that ginger syrup the better they tasted.  And in the midst of spatchcocking (heh.) the turkey, I needed an adult beverage.  And the cranberry crush was born and it was a beautiful thing. 

Cranberry Crush
makes one drink

crushed or cubed ice
cranberries soaked in ginger simple syrup
club soda or water

Fill glass halfway with crushed ice.  Add one ounce of bourbon, two tablespoons of the ginger syrup, and about five cranberries.  Top with a splash of club soda or water.  Sip & enjoy.

cookie for a cause: salted double chocolate chip Heath bar coookies


I made this recipe for a recent benefit.  Sweet Relief Two was a food blogger driven bake sale with the hopes of providing a little assistance following the destruction caused by that bitch Hurricane Sandy.  We baked to raise funds for the Community Food Bank of NJ, and boy, did we ever.  I had the opportunity to share that story with the Nashville Scene; I hope you take the time to read about it.  It was a beautiful experience, and one I’ll not quickly forget.

Speaking of beautiful, these cookies have brought smiles to quite a few people.  I’ve made more batches since the bake sale, and I think they’ll be in frequent rotation in our home.   

My baking style is this: perfect a simple recipe and go wild with mix-ins. I like cookies, brownies, and muffins for this reason. Once I get that base recipe down, the possibilities are endless. The quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe has been a long process, but I think I’ve got it: more butter, less flour, dark brown sugar, and twice as many chocolate chips as necessary. And salt. Salt is key. 

The Heath Bar bits add a fantastic chewy-yet-crispy texture that works well with the dark brown sugar and (lots of) butter.  I like adding a few chocolate chips on top of each ball of cookie dough so there are visible chips on every cookie.  Four dozen seems like a lot of cookies, but you’ll need at least that many for keeping and sharing.

Salted Double Chocolate Chip Heath Bar Cookies

makes about four dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 sticks salted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided in half
12 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
12 oz Heath Bar bits
coarse or flaked sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine flour & baking soda in a bowl; set aside.  Using a handheld or stand mixer, blend butter and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy, about three minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla until fully blended.  Scrape batter down the sides as needed.  Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture a little at a time until fully mixed.  Add half semi-sweet chocolate chips, and all the bittersweet chocolate chips and Heath Bar bits, mix completely.

Drop small balls of cookie dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper (I use the small Pampered Chef scoop); one dozen at a time.  Place four or five semi-sweet chocolate chips atop each cookie dough, then sprinkle with salt.  Bake 10-11 minutes until golden brown. 

Peanut Butter Goo Goo Cluster brownies

The other day I picked up the phone to call a friend.  I just had to tell her about a dessert I tried that day.  It was crunchy, chewy & gooey.  It was salty, sweet & chocolatey.  It was so rich I didn’t think I could finish it, yet so delicious I ate every bite.

Guess what?  That’s my job.  Like, my honest to goodness career. 

The dessert was created by a local restaurant, and the ingredients paid homage to the Goo Goo Cluster.   I’ve spent a good part of the past ten months working on publicity for the candy, which celebrates 100 years of incredibly sweet success this month. 

My friend and colleague is my Goo Goo counterpart, and we’ve spent countless hours dreaming up ways to celebrate The Original Southern Confection’s anniversary.  Goodness, has it been fun – even though I may be carrying a few extra pounds of marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts, caramel and real milk chocolate around my midsection. 

And when I’m not working?  It’s still a Goo Goo world as far as I’m concerned.  In fact, I dreamed up an over-the-top dessert using my favorite brownie recipe and my favorite Goo Goo Cluster variety: Peanut Butter.

Peanut Butter Goo Goo Cluster Brownies
makes nine large or twelve small brownies

3 eggs
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 stick salted butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
6 Peanut Butter Goo Goo Clusters
a couple pinches of flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8 pan with parchment or wax paper, making an ‘X’ with two long pieces of the paper so it hangs over all four sides. Grease the paper with butter or spray. This will ensure easy removal of the bars once they’ve cooled by simply lifting the paper and transferring the bars to a cutting board.

Chop Peanut Butter Goo Goo Clusters into small pieces, place in a bowl and put in the freezer.

Mix the flour and cocoa powder in a medium size bowl & set aside.
Fit a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and beat the eggs, brown sugar & vanilla on medium speed until thick and pale, 3-5 minutes. Slowly incorporate the butter.

Reduce whisk speed to low and slowly add the dry mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl until fully combined. Stir in two-thirds of the chopped, chilled Goo Goos and pour batter into prepared pan.  Sprinkle the remaining Goo Goos over the top of the brownie mix.  Lightly sprinkle flaked sea salt over top. 

Bake about 45-50 minutes until center is no longer jiggly and toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the brownies cool in the pan, then transfer to a cutting board by lifting all four sides of the paper.

They taste best after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. Cut into squares & serve.


This month marks the culmination of all the hard work, and I don’t just mean taste testing.  If I’ve done my job, you’ve already heard Goo Goo’s history.  You know that it was the world’s first combination candy bar.  You know there are more than a few celebratory activities planned.  I hope you’ll take the time to “Go Get a Goo Goo” this month. 

California culinary crawl – what should I eat?

One of my closest, loyalest, funnest, awesomest, bestest friends in the world moved to Santa Monica a little more than two years ago.  We’ve remained close, and she’s kind enough to return to Nashville every so often so I can hug her neck.  Next month, it’s my turn to visit her.  I am beyond excited for this getaway.

My friend and I are grand eating buddies.  Her affection for nachos matches mine.  Needless to say, my itinerary for this trip will be built around where and what we want to eat (and drink).

But I need help.  I haven’t been to southern California since I was 11 years old, so I don’t have any firsthand experience with the culinary scene there. 

A few notes: I’m not interested in fancy meals.  I don’t want foam on my plate.  I want to try authentic ethnic food.  I want to try street food.  However, I’m not interested in adventurous proteins.  I want to eat all the desserts.  I want to do touristy things, but the touristy things that the cool kids do.  We’ll be in the following areas: Santa Monica, San Diego, West Hollywood, Malibu.

So, what should I eat?

Until then, counting the days.