Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn Veggie Soup

Roast em and stew em - that's all there is too em!

I don't know about y'all, but I roast just about everything I can. Veggies, fruit and meats all get nice and toasty and caramelized from high heat and a little salt to draw out the moisture. Roasting veggies has become my MO for getting picky eaters (y'all know who you are) to eat all kinds of veggies. Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, okra, zucchini, squashes of all sorts and onions too all find their way into the oven and onto plates. Roasted sweet potatoes with rosemary and onion... Oh my my!

I love, love, love vegetable soup. But I have a few stipulations to this stew of sorts. I don't care for potatoes in my veggie soup - can't say why exactly but I don't. Potato soup though is perfectly fine!

I also want my vegetable soup to be seasonally apropos. Modern grocers and canning allows us to eat summer produce in winter but there's something about keeping a seasonal nod to the soup that's quite enjoyable. For me it's the squashes and Brussels sprouts that make this soup fallish!

Another veggie soup stipulation - I don't love frozen veggies to make my soup. I love that this soups freezes but that's a whole other lesson in chemistry in frozen fresh and frozen cooked food. Canned, fresh or "put up" from summer are just fine. In a pinch, the frozen kind will work.

A big ol Dutch oven or big soup pot and a couple roasting pans is all you'll need for cooking - love a one pot, one pan meal!

For my Autumn Veggie Soup, I use a mélange of roasted veggies and a base of onion browned with pancetta or country ham. "Brown the onion first." Mimi and Mama taught me that. Can't go wrong with browned onions as a start to any supper!

As for the stock, a mix of chicken stock and tomato juice is the key. A third to two thirds respectively is good. More or less depending on how "soupy" you want your soup.

Slice and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper and then roast some broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, autumnal squashes of your liking and even a pepper or two until browned and nearly crisp. They'll reconstitute in the soup!

To the browned onion and ham, throw in some celery too, for I truly believe that celery is unmerited for its cooked flavor. Add canned, crushed, stewed and/or freshly chopped tomatoes to cook down with the browned onions and allow their acidity to deglaze the pan.

Season liberally as you add ingredients, simmer and serve! My family loves Pepper Jack cheese on just about anything and this soup is no exception.

I think that pancetta and Brussels sprouts were made for one another - they're romance of finding one another in the soup pot is truly and story for the ages.

Plus, y'all, this soup can feed pharaoh's army and "freezes beautifully" (Steel Magnolias... Need I say more?). Whip up a batch of cornbread or make quesadillas or grilled cheese (same thing almost right?) or simply serve on its own. This soup gets better as is sits, so enjoy again the next night.

Take some flavors of the season and a traditional soup too and you've a feast! I hope y'all are enjoying fall - it's flavors, temperatures and scenery!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rosemary and Red Onion Apple Pork

Yeah... The name say it all. Those flavors all melded together in one pot no less is divine. Give me flavor complements like sweet and salty or sweet and tart or sweet and savory and I'm in love! This dish bodes well for such culinary complements!

Braising is probably next to roasting as my favorite cooking method for many things. Taking a meat and braising - not boiling it - is a delicate method to delicious cuts of meat! Gently infusing a gorgeous pork chop with apple cider is nothing short of divine. And this dish is easy and relativity quick! Wilt some kale in it and you've a one dish wonder!

I start with a Dutch oven and begin browning the pork chops on either side to form a slight crust. Salt and peppering the pork and high heat allows this. Searing them may be technically more apropos in culinary diction but y'all get me! Once the chops or even tenderloin are seared and crusted, I remove them from the pan onto a plate to rest.

Next, in the onion or two go to brown in the Dutch oven...No shock there folks! I use Mimi's adage, "butter for flavor, oil for temperature!" I really like to use red onions for this dish because they're color is so lovely - plus they caramelize fantastically! Brown the onions in some butter and oil and salt  and pepper handsomely. This is the base of your meal y'all and adding salt at the end to me doesn't do salt and pepper their true justice of bringing out their companions' natural flavor.

Once the onion begins to brown, I add chopped apples - a mix of sweet and tart such as Granny Smith and Fuji. I also like to throw in some whole garlic cloves to brown, sweeten and soften - they're delicious all mushed together with the apples and onions. 

Once this mixture has melded together and smells utterly heavenly, I throw in some rosemary... Who knew that the smell of those ingredients could make the Angels sing? Once the rosemary softens a tad and is quite aromatic, add the pork back to the Dutch oven and pour in a splash of white wine to deglaze the pan and  then some apple cider. A cup of cider per pound or chop will do the trick!

A nice little time in a 375 oven - say 25-30 minutes or until pork is medium well to well done - will make your kitchen smell even more heavenly. If you'd like a green element to the dish, add some kale! It'll wilt down almost instantly upon removing the dish from the oven.

Pork is naturally sweet and thus fairs so well with apples and onions. This little piggy adores this dish all fall and even into wintertime. I hope y'all do too!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Falling for Fall… I do this Every Year!

There is no doubt – fall is my favorite season. As Editor at Large with Southern Living, I have the privilege of contributing fun stories and ideas to the magazine as a whole, but my fall stories seem to always make the newsstands! I’ve said it over and over and this mantra of mine is worth repeating: “Fall is a Southerner’s reward for surviving summer.” I’ve even seen this printed on a cocktail napkin – thanks y’all for the advertising!

So as y’all peruse the pages of the October Southern Living, I’d love to walk y’all through some of the fun from behind the scenes that didn’t make the cut – as if me and my uber stylish outfit weren’t cute enough for the pages of SL… ha! From the cracker-jack team of my BFF Jess “Frou Frou” Margeson, Stacey and Laura Lyn from JFI to the senior stylist Mrs. Buffy Hargett Miller herself to editor Jen Kopf and photographer extraordinaire Helen Norman (who has photographed A Time to Cook and Porch Living), we managed to somehow not only set, style and shoot and amazing venue, but have an absolute blast doing so! Time certainly flies when you’re having fun, and I’m here to tell y’all it was a blast from start to finish!

Jen Kopf, Helen Norman, yours truly, Buffy Hargett Miller

The setting was a dear, sweet friend’s home in Cashiers. I was at her house one lovely summer day for cocktails before sunset and jokingly said I wanted to transform her immaculate, stunning, antique-filled, absolutely gorgeous home into an autumnal oasis to celebrate the season… and pitch the idea to my editors at Southern Living. This, y’all is never an easy task to ask, but thankfully, my adorable friend (and her family) obliged. I cannot thank my precious friend enough!

With unparallel views of Whiteside Mountain just beyond the tree line, the crisp autumn air glowed with the hues only fall can afford to lend the sky. My friend, an antiques dealer out of Atlanta, has treasure troves of l’objets d’art from her forays through Parisian flea markets, Portobello Road in London and scouring the French and English countryside for just the right barley-twist candlesticks. If ever there was a “set” to photograph a celebration of the season, this home was it. From the mountainsides and gardens and farmers markets, I gleaned the season’s best. Tables were set, flowers were arranged and mantels bedecked with the flair of fall. Give me a pumpkin, some leaves and bittersweet, and I’ll give you a mantel!

Dried hydrangeas, rose hips, beauty berry, dahlias, Free Spirit roses, bittersweet, magnolia, cabbage, apples, pumpkins, oak leaves, acorns, pecans and plumes upon plumes of grasses were all woven together to create a tableau as rich as the season could present.  I could go on and on and on about this shoot. From the feel, the textures, the scents, the sights, the hues, tones, arrays and luscious combinations my favorite season gives us, I am rejuvenated and invigorated for this time of year.

I hope y’all are inspired to kick off the holiday season with a fanfare for fall. I know I am! Enjoy these behind the scenes pics and be sure to check out the October issue on newsstands now!

Jess and I have just as much fun taking selfies as we do making outrageous pumpkin arrangements. Her work is phenomenal! Like her hair, her pumpkin creations are a work of art!!

I love antique crocks and pottery. Here, these fantastic old jars with a deep tobacco glaze. These jars are filled to the brim with nandina berries, sweet gum, dried hydrangea, celosia and viburnum for some fall fabulousness. 

A garland of oak leaves, maple leaves, magnolia and dried hydrangea cloaks one side of the massive stone mantel. I love symmetry but I love balance more. Though this mantel scene is not symmetrical per se, it is balanced. Of course I had to throw some pumpkins and ornamental cabbage for good measure. 

Give Ol' Jimmy a jug of sweet tea and I can decorate for hours. You can take the boy out of Perry, but... y'all know how it goes!

 I love to use dough bowls as centerpieces. They are long and set a table oh so well. Here, I mounded bunches of dried hydrangea, fall foliage, artichokes and even a few turtle shells for texture. The nandina berries just pop against the autumnal palette. I love too how this is so fall but not filled with orange pumpkins. The green 'Cinderella' ones make for a stylish departure for this set up. Plus, this arrangement will last all through the fall with the hydrangeas and leaves and berries drying and the pumpkins lasting for months if they're not carved. 

Don't forget your windowboxes! As for a fall display, I kept the ivy that was spilling out but planted ornamental cabbages that will last all through the winter in the the Deep South. Magnolia, a few pumpkins nestled in here and there, bittersweet winding its way throughout the scene and even an artichoke or two can be found alongside the cabbage. I added a few stems of millet for texture too - because it is fall and I can!

Is there anything better than working with a hydrangea as big as your head? As big as Jess' hair even? No. the answer is "no." Nothing better y'all! Ha!

As wonderful and fabulous as all this created fun is, nothing beats The Almighty's handiwork on an autumn day in Cashiers!

Happy fall, y’all!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Never an Old Barn a Little Paint couldn’t Hurt...

From the exterior views, Farmdale Cottage is shaping up. It is looking like a real house. “Never an old barn a little paint couldn’t hurt!” That’s my mantra these days.

Painting has started. Gallons upon gallons of Valspar and Ben Moore are soaking into my pine board and batten, and I am loving it! Shutters have been made and are awaiting their installation. I even spread some pine straw around the foundation to keep the mud from splattering on my custom brick blend. This folks, I’m afraid, will be the extent of my landscaping. It’ll be all I can afford! Inside Farmdale is another story.

So much work is being done where we can’t see, but I must appreciate it nonetheless. Wiring and plumbing and HVAC are running a subfloor marathon. Miles of wires and yards of pipe shall ensure that I can turn on my lights and have running water – a fete accomplis for my neck of the woods – ha! My floors are here but not installed – waiting on walls. Some the shiplap boards are awaiting to be installed for walls too, but we must pass inspection. First inspection failed as it always does in my county. The old “the hip bone is connected to the leg bone…”song is so apropos for building a home – it runs through my mind all the time. Can’t put the insulation in until the wiring and plumbing passes inspection. “It’ll fail the first time, trust me…” I was constantly reassured by my contractors. “What a joy…” was all I could muster. After the passing inspection, insulation, walls and ceiling finishing can take place. “The leg bone is connected to the knee bone…” la la la…

Seeing paint and progress outside makes the interior look too far ill advanced than the exterior. The railings are starting to take shape and the bones of the house are really visible. I love my chimney and the old brick on my back hallway wall and soon to be floors. I decided to paint the brick on the rear façade of the house for added texture and that “added on over time” look and feel. My floors are antique heart pine planed from nearly two hundred year old beams. The beams once spanned a cotton mill and now will be underfoot for me and my friends and family. A few beams left untouched and boasting their patina of flaking paint, will span my kitchen. Oh the stories they could tell! My house smells divine – fresh cut lumber, fat lighter (heart pine) and some paint… if I could bottle it I would!

I’m still a long ways from being able to move in, but there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. A glimmering match lit in the cave maybe?

So here’s the painting schedule thus far:

Board and batten body of the house: a custom blend but for a quick match Valspar “Dark Chocolate” will give you a great color.
Shutters: another custom blend by Benjamin Moore. “Zeus” by Sherwin Williams will get you close to it.
Trim, columns and railings: “Linen White” by Benjamin Moore. This is my “go to” white and I love it with the dark brown with a hint of green.
Painted Brick: Valspar “Gentle Lamb” – the name alone made me want it but it is the perfect neutral cream – not yellow but not gray either. The primer is still on the brick but Gentle Lamb cannot frolic onto my brick fast enough!

I’ll post some finished shots of the paint job, but what’s going up now is so fun! Paint goes on quick and is instant gratification. Deciding on the scheme is what will send you to the looney bin. Speaking of heading to the nut house, I just about checked in there recently. Enter my banker, my builder and my accountant – the three horsemen of the apocalypse – ha! No these gents just have to reign me in and keep me on the straight and narrow. I wouldn’t won’t their jobs working with me! Ha!

So after meeting with my banker and my accountant, my builder was next in the firing squad.  This is a dark, Southern gothic even macabre comedy or sorts. My builder gave me the final projections for completion costs. I looked at that gigantic, huge, mind-numbing figure five times my calculated tally and I just smiled. I said “thank you” and walked away. My builder, who I work with on nearly every design job and know quite well, grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. “You ok, James?” I just kept smiling. Smiling that dumb smile of bewilderment a person can express only in total shock.

In my mind, I was talking but nothing was coming out of my mouth… just an odd smile. My builder asked me again, “James, are you ok?” I somehow managed a nod in the affirmative but my builder was not convinced. “James, say something. You ok?” my builder kept asking. Finally, after what I thought was an eternity, I spoke. What I said I’m sure did not make any audible sense. My builder just looked and said, “James, you were silent – for so long. You didn’t say anything at all. I told you about…” and he went on and on about lumber and paint and brick delivery etc. etc. etc., while I simply stood there and smiled in silence. “James, don’t ever do that to me again. I was really worried!”

“What did I do that worried you so?” I replied. My builder said, “James, you were silent. You were quiet. You didn’t say a word. I knew something was wrong!!!” Silence is not a natural reaction for me, y’all. After meeting with the Big Three, dumb silence with a wry smile was all I could afford.

So, somehow I must now finish Farmdale but not in the quintupled budget as of late. Sweat equity is going to be key, but I love being a part of the process. At least the outside looks kinda/sorta/almost done. Keeping up appearances is what I’m doing now, y’all! Let’s just hope the inside will come together before I enter another silence.

From Farmdale to your homes, happy fall y’all!

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