The other day, my friend Anna-Karin Skillen and I were talking about chanterelles. They’re in season in her native Sweden right now, as well as in the U.S. on the northwest coast, in New England and other spots. I’ve been drooling lately watching a Facebook friend from Seattle document her family’s foraging trips, the kitchen table blanketed with fresh (and free!) chanterelles, soon be thrown in a scorching skillet or tossed in buttery pasta or noodle soup. Just this week, the Boston-based radio program, Here and Now, featured a segment on fall mushrooms, complete with easy recipes by resident chef Kathy Gunst, who had picked up several different wild mushroom varieties from Boston-area farmers markets.
For a fast hors d’oeuvre, nothing is tastier, easier or prettier than a cheese board assembled from a few great cheeses, some fresh bread and seasonal garnishes.
Recently, I wrote an article for 225 Magazine on “Goat Lady” Wanda Barras, the farmstead cheese maker from St. Martinville, Louisiana, who sells her award-winning Belle Ecorce goat’s milk cheeses at the Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge. Barras’ cheeses are officially “farmstead,” as opposed to “artisan,” because she uses milk from her resident herd of Nubian and La Mancha goats instead of milk purchased from an outside source. Her cheeses are absolutely delicious. I picked some up this past weekend after doing a cooking demo at the Saturday market.
Recently, Barras added a few Jersey cows to the mix, and now she’s also producing delicious aged cow’s milk cheeses. She has at least three regular varieties of bleu and the Camembert (pictured here), which is vibrant and punchy. Its flavor profile and texture is so much more complex than the garden variety Camemberts in the supermarket. I’ve also got a few of her flavored chevres here, including the cracked pepper and red pepper-topped Parisian. They’re creamy and sublime.
I like to serve cheese with toasted slices of a fresh whole grain baguette, and I love to throw in some quince paste (membrillo), which goes nicely with a salty cheese like Manchego, its traditional mate, or even good Parmesan.
Don’t sweat the food styling. Thankfully, expectations for arranging a cheese board have become increasingly relaxed. Over-the-top Martha Stewart is out. The more natural and loose the platter looks, the better.
Nashville is cool for lots of reasons, one of which is the Southern Festival of Books, started in 1988 by Humanities Tennessee and held every fall on the state capital grounds downtown. These days it attracts 250,000 book lovers and an impressive line-up of authors. I’m so proud to have been part of the 2015 festival, and for my book to now be carried by Nashville’s Parnassus Books, the incredible independent bookstore co-founded by writer Ann Patchett in 2011.
Popcorn balls, at once gooey, sweet and crunchy, are a classic fall treat. They’re perfect Halloween party fare and they’re great for Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, too. This version, developed by nutritionists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center here in Baton Rouge, is also nice for after school snacking because it’s made with honey instead of the typical binder, corn syrup. You can really get creative with the trail mix additions, too.
Okay, it’s Saturday morning.
Where do you go for breakfast when you’re short on time and not inclined to wait for a table? (I’m not talking about fast food sausage biscuits, although I admit to occasional trashy lust).
Lately, this is the situation I’ve found myself in, as my husband and I juggle early morning swim practice, cross country meets and general family insanity. As nice as it would be to linger over a carefully composed plate of eggs Benedict, it ain’t happening on our Saturday schedule. I want something yummy, but I need it to go.
The good news is that there are plenty of delicious breakfast eats you can get on the fly around town. Here are a few of my favorites.
Tiger Deaux-nuts on Government Street in Mid City has made a name for itself with gourmet cake-style doughnuts in trendy flavors, including maple bacon, caramel apple and strawberry lemon basil. Don’t look for a large case of pre-made pastries in this stripped-down eatery. The small batch doughnuts are made throughout the morning. Less known on the menu, but equally appealing, are the sweet-savory breakfast sandwiches. Layers of fried egg, cheese and either bacon, sausage or a boudin patty are stuffed between two halves of a grilled unglazed doughnut. Yum. Just yum.
I love this place. Fruit-filled or savory kolaches, breakfast tacos, stuffed-to-oblivion empanadas, sweet rolls and other stuff, the Kolache Kitchen has more hand-held breakfast items than you have room to eat. And the kolache dough is made fresh on site. I’m a big fan of the breakfast taco with chorizo, and my son is still dreaming about his spicy sausage and cheese empanada. Great prices, too.
Locations on Nicholson and Jefferson.
Downtown parking is not so awful on Saturday mornings, enabling you to dart into Strands on Laurel Street, a European-style bakery with a pastry counter brimming with beauty. Check out the plump cinnamon rolls, Australian scones and all manner of plain and stuffed croissant. There are also frittatas and great coffee and tea. Hours vary. Definitely call first.
Before I take a thrashing about Whole Foods being a national chain, let me say that they do a great job of supporting local farmers and food producers, and I’m digging that Mississippi River mural in the newly renovated cafe area. In the morning hours, the hot food buffet features changing breakfast items, including breakfast pizzas, scrambled eggs, grits, biscuits, Belgian waffles and so on. And when they’re not on the buffet, the store stocks freshly made breakfast tacos and breakfast bagels in a case near the deli meats. They’re hot and delicious, and breakfast doesn’t get much faster.
Hush puppies are perfect little representations of the South. They’re comprised of meal from the region’s only truly indigenous grain — corn — and like other mild-tasting southern foods, their flavor is enhanced by a trip to the fryer. Tender, golden brown and crisp, nothing beats a hush puppy between bites of fresh seafood and crunchy coleslaw.
Hush puppies are standard issue in the coastal south, but are also commonplace throughout the rest of the region. For proof, I turn to no less than Season 5 of FX’s Justified, when hunky Kentucky Marshall Raylon Givens is asked if he’s ever heard of falafel.
“Never cared much for it,” says Givens. “I always found it kinda like a cut rate hush puppy.”