Sunday, December 30, 2012

Emeril's New Style Caldo Verde, #SundaySupper

Emeril's New Style Caldo Verde. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Despite slick magazine menus, or maybe in spite of them, we stick to simple fare during the holidays - soups, sandwiches and one-pot meals. For the few weeks that school is out, supper can be a leisurely event, prepared early in the afternoon and left to simmer away on the stove. Or, in the case of sandwiches, the proper ingredients purchased and prepared and ready for up-to-the-minute assembly.

Soup and sandwiches together, of course, doubles the convenience. Grilled cheese with homemade tomato soup, ham sandwiches with bean soup. Add to these great combos caldo verde and muffuletta.
I found this caldo verde recipe on Emeril's website back in October when I was gearing up for the #SeriousSandwich blogalong for "Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches." And now in the bleak mid-winter, it seems even more appropriate. Caldo verde is a Portuguese soup made with sausage, greens and potatoes, real stick-to-your ribs stuff guaranteed to warm your chilled bones through and through.

And the perfect partner for the soup has to be a muffuletta, the semi-official sandwich of Emeril's adopted home, New Orleans. I love this vegetarian take on the muffuletta, using meaty eggplant slices to sub for the sandwich meat. The homemade olive salad recipe included in the cookbook , Emeril's Kicked-Up Sandwiches, is killer.
Caldo verde and eggplant muffuletta. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Eggplant Muffuletta
4 sandwiches
This is no ordinary muffuletta. Made with oven-roasted eggplant slices instead of salami, a homemade New Orleans–style olive salad, and a fresh basil spread, this muffuletta tastes so good you’ll never even miss the meat! If you aren’t up to making the olive salad yourself, it’ll still be enjoyable with one from the store.
2 medium eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1/2 -inch-thick rounds
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf seeded Italian bread
Basil Spread (page 318)
2 cups New Orleans–Style Olive Salad (see note above, store-bought is fine)
4 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
4 ounces sliced provolone cheese
1. Position an oven rack as close to the broiler unit as possible, and preheat the broiler.
2. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on two lightly greased baking sheets. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both sides of the slices with the olive oil. Season both sides with the salt and pepper. Broil the eggplant, in batches, until the slices are tender and lightly browned and have released most of their moisture, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep warm.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and move the oven rack to the center position.
4. When you are ready to assemble the sandwiches, slice the loaf of bread in half horizontally. Using a pastry brush, spread the bottom half with a generous amount of Basil Spread.
5. Spread the olive salad (with its olive oil—do not strain) over the top half of the loaf. Layer the sliced mozzarella and provolone on top of the olive salad, and then layer the slices of eggplant. Place the bottom half of the sandwich on top and lightly press. Quickly and carefully turn the loaf over so that the olive salad side is on top.
6. Place the muffuletta on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake until the cheese has melted, the muffuletta is heated through, and the bread is slightly crisp, about 12 minutes.
7. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully transfer the loaf to a cutting board. Press lightly, and cut the loaf into 4 sections. Serve immediately.
Basil Spread
About 1/2 cup
This basil spread is multifunctional. You can add it to store-bought mayonnaise, toss it with pasta, turn it into a vinaigrette, or add it to vegetable soups. And of course, it’s fantastic on sandwiches.
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a food processor or blender, process the garlic and basil on high speed while adding the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue to process until well blended. Season with the salt. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
This post is part of #SundaySupper, a weekly Twitter party encouraging families to cook and eat together. Follow hashtag #SundaySupper to read more stories of family friendly fare. This week's subject is a New Year's Potluck with Emeril Lagasse. 25 bloggers will give away copies on Emeril's cookbooks, so get thee over to Twitter, hashtag #SundaySupper, and win yourself a cookbook!
Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Christmas Wish

I want to walk as a child of the Light
I want to follow Jesus
God set the stars To give light to the world
The Star of my life is Jesus.

In Him there is no darkness at all
The night and the day are both alike
The lamb is the Light of the city of God
Shine in my heart Lord Jesus.

I want to see the Brightness of God
I want to look at Jesus
Clear Son of righteousness shine on my path
And show me the way to the Father.

I’m looking for the coming of Christ
I want to be with Jesus
When we have run, with patience, the race
We shall know the joy of Jesus.

- Kathleen Thomerson

May you know peace and joy this Christmas,


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Magical nights of garden lights

Lights at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
A million lights and 30 acres of trees made the Atlanta Botanical Gardens the place to be on a warm December evening this week. This is the second year of the Garden Lights and it was a magical journey for my little one and me. A few pictures from the evening...

Entrance to Atlanta Botanical Garden. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

We began with a walk through the Storza woods along the Canopy Walk. From the soaring walkway, we could see the cars lining up to get into the garden.

Lights at Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Lights at Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Lights. Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Lights at Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

These lights reminded me of Dr. Seuss - it's the Cat in the Hat and Truffula trees all together.
Lights at Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Into the the Edible Garden where grasshoppers and flowers lit up alongside cabbages and herbs.

These groovy space shapes changed colors in sync with music - Michael Buble's "Feelin' Good" while we were there.

Lumina at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Above, Lumina, the beautiful Snow Queen, stopped for pictures with the children.

Below, s'mores over the firepit.

A break for s'mores. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
The Chihuly fountain is lovely at all times, but especially radiant with lights.

Chihuly fountain. Atlanta Botanical Garden. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
It's very hard for a seven year old to stay away from the fountain, even when a gentleman is popping the question to his girlfriend on this lovely evening. (and yes, that happened while we were here!)

The lights made the ordinary radiant.

And the bare, beautiful. 

 And the beautiful, extraordinary.

Wishing you a season full of light!

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Gingerbread houses. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books

I spent Friday morning in the cafeteria of my daughter’s school taking pictures of sugared-up kids and their gingerbread creations (really frosting-coated milk cartons loaded with candy). It was a happy time in a happy place. When I arrived at work a few hours later, the news started trickling in about Newtown, Connecticut, and at first, I couldn’t believe it.

Of course, I’ve heard enough of these stories – Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine, to not be shocked that a young man brought an assault weapon to a school, but the first stories reported only that the gunman was killed and a teacher hurt. The news only got worse - the families of 20 children and 6 grown-ups will bury their loved ones this week before Christmas and if there was someone, somewhere who felt safe from gun violence, surely they do not feel safe now.

My heart breaks for these families and this community – Newtown seems an idyllic small town in many ways. My heart breaks, too, for our country as we again try to make sense of a senseless act and look to our elected officials to do something about gun violence in this country.

If I have a disappointment in President Obama’s first term and the recent election season is that gun control was not an issue. The gun lobby’s hold over our political process is pretty clear that even when a congresswoman is attacked and a federal judge killed with these military-style weapons, the subject is not broached. And this year, add 12 moviegoers in Aurora, three holiday shoppers in Oregon and 26 students and faculty in Newtown to the toll.

In October at the height of the election season, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times about the silly and stupid rhetoric some candidates were tossing out about women’s rights. 

In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater.”

“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity of life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s body, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon.” - Thomas Friedman, New York Times, "Why I am Pro-Life."

I believe this to be true. 

Here in the gun-loving South, people are of fond of saying “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And I agree – mentally unstable, desensitized, soul-less, suicidal young men with access to SWAT-style assault weapons do indeed kill people, efficiently and with maximum pain.  The high-powered rifle that the gunman used on Friday was banned for a decade until 2004, when Congress chose not to renew the assault weapons ban.

Although the issue of gun control seems to get folks recalling their rights and amendments, I think we can agree that there are dangerous, desensitized young men with access to weapons that can cause mass casualty. This tragic destruction can and has happened in just the past two years at malls, grocery stores, public schools, movie theaters, towns small and large. There was a time when I felt safe at each of these locations; now I find myself noting emergency exit signs. I’m not overreacting – there was a shooting in a play area at our local suburban mall just a few years ago. My community is no different than Newtown or Aurora. It could easily happen here.

I try my best to keep my political opinions to myself. These pages are for far lighter material – recipes and pictures of food and family. But it’s my bully pulpit, too, and this subject is far too important for me to ignore. These tragic stories will continue until this country does something about it. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but I can certainly tell you what the problems are – insufficient school security, inadequate mental health resources, lax gun control and a stymied political process, for starters. 

I wept with President Obama as he read the names of Newtown’s dead. Still, my heavy heart finds comfort in the promise behind these words:

"What choice do we have? Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

“Surely we can do better than this. We have an obligation to try.”

Mr. President, you have the gift of a second term, four years to make certain that Newtown is the last community to suffer the sudden, senseless and tragic loss of so many lives. 

And dear readers, I’m starting by signing this petition and maybe if enough folks sign it, our politicians and leaders will look beyond the next election and do what’s right. 

 We have an obligation to try.

First grade gingerbread houses. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Christmas Ham, #LetsLunch

Ham and Cheddar cheese scone.Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

One of the great privileges of mommyhood is sharing the books that I loved as a child with my girls. My  youngest, at seven, still allows me to read to her at night, so I have another Christmas sharing Barbara Robinson's "Best Christmas Pageant Ever," one of the best modern re-tellings of the Nativity that I can name. The six unruly Herdman children take over a church's Christmas pageant and learn the reason for the season. It's one of those books that entertains younger readers and gives parents an "a-ha" moment, too.

The opening sentence pretty much sums up the Herdmans:

"The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker's old broken-down toolhouse."

The Herdmans only show up at the church because they hear there are snacks and threaten their way into all the plum roles in the pageant. The Christmas story gets a fresh interpretation from the Herdmans - the Wise Men are spies, King Herod needs a good beating. But the best part, the very best part, is the ending, after the children are told about how the Wise Men gave the most precious gifts they had to the Baby Jesus, and the play is over and the Herdman kids leave their charity Christmas ham on the stage. I mean, really, I've never cried and laughed so much over a ham. 

"Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Barbara Robinson ($5.99 Harper Collins). Read it aloud this Christmas. To a child, or even yourself.

Ham and cheese scones. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 They say that eternity is two people and a Christmas ham. I don't like to think so ~ I love having a Christmas ham around. First we start with a ham dinner with sides of macaroni and cheese and green beans, then on to ham sandwiches. 
Later in the week, the ham is taken off the bone and we make bean soup. I may grind up some of the ham and mix it with boiled dressing and mayo for ham salad. To put a savory spin on my favorite buttermilk scones, I added ham and rat-trap Cheddar. These kid-pleasing biscuits would make a fine breakfast or brunch treat. Try them split with a dab of last summer's homemade strawberry preserves.

Merry Christmas! 

Ham and cheese scones. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Buttermilk Scones with Ham and Cheddar Cheese
If your ham is watery, dice it then heat it in a small pan
 over medium high heat until it crisps up and loses moisture.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, very cold
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped ham
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
half and half or milk or cream for glazing

1. In a batter bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Using a grater, shred the very cold butter and lightly mix the shavings into the dry ingredients. Using your hands and a gentle, quick touch, make sure the butter is evenly distributed throughout the flour mixture.

2. Stir in the cheese and ham. Pour in the buttermilk and stir gently with either a wooden spoon or my instrument of choice, a silicone spatula. If mixture seems dry, add additional buttermilk until a cohesive dough forms. The dough should be slightly wet and sticky, but not overly so.

3. On a floured countertop, press dough into a rough 12 X 6 inch rectangle and cut into 16 triangles. (A pictorial for my scone shaping method can be found here.) Place scones on a lined baking sheet. The scones can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 24 hours.

4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Carefully brush each wedge with buttermilk or cream. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes. They may need a bit more time, depending on your oven, convection, etc. Scones are ready when they are golden brown on top and bounce back when touched lightly in the center.

This post is part of #LetsLunch, a monthly Twitter party featuring outstanding food stories
 told with bright, original prose. This month's topic is Celebrating Christmas around the world. Interested in joining the party?
 Follow #LetsLunch on Twitter and ask for an invitation to the Facebook page.
Thanks to this month's host, Rashda! See all of the fabulous blog posts on her pinboard.

Annabelle's Pecan Slices at Glass of Fancy

Linda's Sorrel Cocktail at Spicebox Travels

Grace's Persimmon Salad at Hapa Mama

Joe's Orange Honey Cake

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fruitcake Cookies Recipe

Fruitcake cookies. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 I'm not one of those people easily offended by fruitcake. Not a hater. The dense, spicy cake may be an acquired taste, and moderation is certainly a key, but generally I have positive memories of fruitcakes at Christmas. Every December, we would receive a Collins Street Bakery Deluxe fruitcake in its signature red tin, ordered by my grandfather. The cake was stored in the refrigerator and when we had company, it was brought out, sliced very thin and served with my Mom's homemade cookies and eggnog.

Nobody sends me fruitcake anymore, and I guess it's just as well. I do get my candied fruit fix each year when my Mom bakes these fruitcake cookies. These are chewy and tender and so, so good. I've printed the recipe just as it appears in Mom's much-loved copy of a local church cookbook, the 1993 Arbor Heights Cookbook, Vol. II.

Eveleen Lanier's Christmas Cookies
by Brenda Sanders
from 1993 Arbor Heights Cookbook Vol II

by Arbor Heights WMU (Women's Missionary Union)

1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped candied fruit - I used glaceed cherries and pineapple (dried cherries and pineapple would work if you don't like candied fruit)
1 (8 ounce) package flaked coconut
8 ounces pecans

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 300.

2. In a large plastic bag, place flour, then chopped candied fruit. Shake to coat. Add coconut and pecans and shake again.

3. With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugars until light-colored and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again.

4. In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients - baking soda, salt and flour.

5. Gradually mix dry ingredients into batter, until fully incorporated. Add floured fruit and nut mixture, stirring by hand.

6. Drop by teaspoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 25 to 30 minutes - low and slow to get that light brown color and chewy texture. Makes 100 cookies. (no kidding).

Text and images copyright 2012, Lucy Mercer.

I created a Pinterest board with my favorite cookie recipes, plus a few others that I want to try. Check it out here. 

And let me know if you're on Pinterest!