Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why you should write for

 It’s hard to believe, but I’m about to mark my third year anniversary date writing for I began in February 2010, writing occasional articles under the title “Atlanta AmericanFood Examiner.” Since then, I’ve added “Atlanta Restaurant Examiner” and “National Cookbook Examiner” to my titles under which I post stories about my favorite subjects – food, restaurants and cookbooks.
To date, I’ve posted 409 stories, and along the way, made new friends and contacts in my areas of interest. And made a few bucks, too. I’ve also learned about promoting my work through social media and picked up tips on photo editing and creating slideshows.

When I first started writing for Examiner, I didn’t expect to be writing for them three years later, but it’s really quite simple to make it a part of my writing life. When I’ve had an abundance of time, I’ll produce several stories a week. When my writing time is crunched, I’ll try to produce at least one story a month, the minimum in order to be paid for pageviews.

And there’s the big question: Just how much do you get paid? Well, you can’t live off it, but it’s enough to justify a hobby. My best year, when I wrote the most stories and put the most effort into promoting my work, I made upwards of $1,000. Other years, a couple hundred dollars. (The year that I made the most was the year that I lost my job when Borders went under, and let me tell you, it was nice to have at least a little something coming in while I was in my minivan, going to and from the unemployments.)

My beats ~ food and books ~ are crowded and not as newsworthy as the celebrity and tabloid-style news that drives the Examiner engine. But still, I crank out the stories and get a paycheck every month. (Maybe I shouldn’t confess this, but I’ve made more from Examiner than my blog.) A key factor, much like in blogging, is to build up a backlist of evergreen material that will be continually relevant. Over time, you build a network of readers who subscribe to your feed.

The other benefit, in fact, I would say the main benefit of Examiner, are the contacts that I’ve made among fellow writers, cookbook authors, publishers, chefs and public relations professionals.Within the Examiner community, I have new friends like Beth Robinette, owner of Atlanta Culinary Tours, who writes about ethnic foods, and Lynda Mahana, who shares elegant recipes as the Buckhead Cooking Examiner Because of the Examiner connection, I have access. It’s taken some time, a bit of networking, and some solid work, but if I have story that I want to write, I have the connections to make it happen.

It’s the first of the year, and if you have a New Year’s Resolution that involves writing, you might consider Examiner as a way to build an audience and make a few bucks. There are titles all across the spectrum of interests, not just food-related – check out the topics page that includes everything from Action Sports to Yoga and Pilates. If you are interested in writing about food, I encourage you to consider Examiner. There are already a few excellent writers and photographers represented, but there's room for so many more. I think there's potential for Examiner to become a go-to site for quality food stories.

Think about it and if you decide that you want to learn more about becoming an Examiner, use this link: and tell them that Lucy Mercer sent you. I’ll get $50 when you publish your first story as an Examiner. And when you become an Examiner, you can earn $50 for each new writer you bring on board. In a word: shu-weet.

You may want to get an idea of the kinds of stories that I write for Examiner. In that case, link on to any of my stories and subscribe to my posts. It's super-easy and Examiner will not bomb your inbox with posts - you only get emails when I post stories, and that's just a few times a month.
If you have any questions about becoming an Examiner, shoot me an email to or ask questions in the comments below.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Marcus Samuelsson cooks in Atlanta 2/2

Chef Marcus Samuelsson/Macy's
Atlantans, mark your calendars - Chef Marcus Samuelsson will be in Atlanta Super Bowl weekend, cooking at Macy's Lenox Square on February 2, beginning at 2 p.m. Chef Samuelsson promises a game day menu featuring "scrumptious, savory bites" to feed a crowd.

Marcus is the chef of Red Rooster in Harlem and the Season Two winner of "Top Chef Masters." He's a judge on "Chopped" and is the author of several cookbooks and a memoir, "Yes, Chef," published last year.

The event is free and Macy's will sweeten the deal: Make a $35 purchase in Macy's Home Department and receive a $10 Macy's gift card and a copy of "Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving and Holiday Cookbook" signed by Marcus. The book is gorgeous and packed with great recipes from Macy's Culinary Council chefs.

The event is free, but Macy's recommends reserving seats ~ call Macy's at 305-577-1818.

I met Chef Samuelsson at Macy's a couple years ago when he shared his mango mojito recipe with me ~ he's energetic and personable and I'm looking forward to seeing him again!

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Yank's Take on British Flapjacks

British flapjacks with almonds. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Welcome to 2013, the Year I Will Be Organized. There, I've said. I mean it and I intend to follow through. The hot zones in my house will be de-cluttered, the laundry list of chores and honey-do's will be whittled down, and I will be ready for whatever the future holds.

I'm already charged up about this project because I found a keeper of a recipe - British Flapjacks - in a March 2010 Bon Appetit that's been sitting in my bedroom for lo these nearly three years. Until this week, I hadn't made the first recipe from the magazine, but this week, in my quest to get organized, I finally made these fantastic cookies. The recipe is from Molly Wizenberg, of the Orangette blog, and is part of a sweet essay about backpacking through Europe and discovering flapjacks, not the pancake, but a cookie.

The cookie is simply butter, brown sugar and oatmeal with Lyle's Golden Syrup. I found Lyle's Golden Syrup at my local Publix and jumped on it like a lion on a hyena carcass. I looked over my shoulder lest anyone see me - how long until the inventory gods realize their mistake and take away the golden syrup? Golden syrup is somewhat like corn syrup, molasses or honey, but way more delicious. Look for the Lyle's to make these cookies, but in a pinch, I'd tinker with a combination of honey and corn syrup.

British flapjacks. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 I've made a batch of these cookies each day for the past three, and everyone I share them with says the same thing - they are wonderful. Like the best granola bar ever. I think it's the golden syrup. Our palates are so attuned to honey, white sugar and corn syrup that the slightly molasses taste of golden syrup stands out. To the oats and brown sugar, I added my favorite sliced almonds, and there you have it, flapjacks.

British flapjacks with almonds
 ~ adapted from Bon Appetit

Repeat after me: 1/2 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup, 1/4 cup, 2 cups. That's all you need to know to make these from memory. That, and keeping Lyle's Golden Syrup on hand.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, save wrapper for greasing pan
1/2 cup brown sugar (dark or light, packed)
1/4 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant or old-fashioned)

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine butter, sugar and syrup. Stir frequently

until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.

2. Use butter wrapper to grease an 8 X 8 X 2 square baking pan.

3. Stir almonds and oats into sugar mixture. Spread into greased pan. Bake in 350 for 25 minutes. Cool for 5
minutes, then cut into four squares. Cut each square into 4 triangles. Cool completely before serving. Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature.

British flapjacks with almonds. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
And now that I've committed the recipe to memory, I guess I can continue with my organizing and pass the magazine along. Except for the recipe for lasagna bolognese that caught my eye...

Text and images copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Potatoes fondantes, French for best potato dish ever

Potatoes fondantes. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Aren't these potatoes gorgeous? The glistening butter and olive oil, the crispy golden skin, they're just about everything you could ever want in a side dish. This is a recipe adapted from Jacques Pepin, who wrote about them in a long-ago issue of Fine Cooking. I adore Jacques Pepin. Some folks go all "Julie and Julia" about Julia Child, and I truly do admire Mrs. Child, but for me, it's Jacques all the way. Watching the series "Cooking with Claudine," I learned so much about using ingredients and the techniques needed to enjoy cooking.

I could go on, but then you would miss these grand potatoes, the perfect side dish for a roast chicken or nice medium-rare steak. Go simple on the main dish and let these potatoes steal the spotlight.

Melt butter and olive oil in skillet, toss in potatoes. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Add broth, then cook until potatoes are steamed. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Super-buttery and roasty toasty on the outside, tender & flavorful inside. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Jacques Pepin's Potatoes Fondantes

New potatoes can be hard to find and sometimes pricey. This recipe can be made with medium-sized Yukon Golds that are peeled and cut into 1-inch dice. Not quite as good as the new potatoes, but still worth the work.

2 pounds new potatoes or 5 to 6 medium-size Yukon Gold potatoes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse and dry the potatoes. Place a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add olive oil and butter.

2. When butter is melted and fat is sizzling, add potatoes and thyme. Pour broth into pan until it reaches halfway up the potatoes. If more liquid is needed, add water or additional broth. Bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat, leaving lid slightly ajar.

3. After about 20 minutes, check on potatoes. Remove thyme sprigs.They should be tender. Use a weight such as a measuring cup or (my choice) meat pounder to gently smash each potato. (if not using new potatoes, you can skip this step and go right to the browning).

4. Turn the heat to medium high and pan-roast the potatoes until they are brown and crispy on each side. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Text and images copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Beginnings, a Birthday, and Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies, #LetsLunch

Mexican hot chocolate cookies. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Let me begin by saying "Happy 5th Birthday, A Cook and Her Books!" It's been a long time since that snowy day in January 2008 when I decided to put pixel to screen and write down the stories and recipes that have floated through my brain lo these many years. Five hundred something stories later, I still feel like I have a few more to tell.

And so I find myself with a #LetsLunch post to write on the subject of New Beginnings, so right for January. Here in North Georgia, we go back and forth between real winter and mild winter. This weekend, daytime highs are expected to be in the 70s. And so the New Year begins with new growth - I stepped out of my car this afternoon and saw the first of the crocus pips, ready to shoot through the green fuse for an early spring.

Spring was on my mind five years ago,when  in that inaugural post, I shared a recipe for lemon curd-filled coconut macaroon tarts, a recipe that I first made from a Dixie Crystals newsletter 20 years prior. This year, I'll celebrate with five-ingredient cookies inspired by a recipe my teen daughter found on Pinterest. A lot of Nutella, an egg and flour, plus sugar for rolling and a heaping helping of cinnamon, for a treat we call Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies. The chocolate and cinnamon give these super-simple cookies a bit of Mexican flair. A pinch of chili powder would do the trick, too.

Mexican hot chocolate cookies. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

Yield: 1 dozen 2-inch

1 cup Nutella
3/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar for dusting

1. Heat oven to 350. In a bowl, use a sturdy wooden spoon or your favorite stirring utensil to mix together Nutella, flour, the egg and cinnamon.

2. Pour sugar into a small bowl. Use a cookie scoop or a tablespoon to scoop up dough and shape into balls. Coat the balls in sugar. Place on a lined cookie sheet. Press dough balls with the flat of your hand.

3. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes. Let cool briefly on cookie sheet, then remove them to cool on a wire rack. Best when eaten warm from the oven, but still pretty darn good at room temp. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

This post is part of #LetsLunch, a monthly Twitter party on a given food subject. January's theme is New Beginnings. To join in the fun, follow #LetsLunch and jump in!

Grace’s Matcha Green Tea Yogurt at Hapa Mama
Jill’s Heavenly Angel Cake at Eating My Words
Lucy’s Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies at A Cook and Her Books
Lisa’s Da Bombe Alaska at Monday Morning Cooking  Club
Linda‘s Trinidadian Black-eyed Peas  at Spicebox Travels
Nancie’s Vietnamese-style Chicken with Lemongrass at NancieMcDermott
Rashda’s Parathas at Hot Curries and Cold Beer 
Sonja’s Beetroot and Fetta Varenyky at Foodnutzz
Pat's Vietnamese Spring Rolls at Asian Grandmother's Cookbook 
Glass of Fancy Brown Butter Greens

Text and images copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.

Thrift store finds, New Year's edition

Thrift store finds. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
I love a good thrift store and with a hobby like blogging, I have a handy excuse to purchase the odd bits of china and linens that seem to gather on the shelves of my local bottom-dollar department store. On Monday, I gathered my girls and we went out for a pancake breakfast, followed by a trip to the thrift store for half-price Monday. As it turned out, breakfast cost a lot more than the shopping trip.

For less than $10, I brought home the china and linens pictured above, plus a nearly-new blouse for my teenager and a plastic game for my gradeschooler. My favorite purchase is the San Francisco souvenir plate, stamped "Made in Japan" on back. I found the exact same plate for $12.99 on Ebay, so the $5 I spent on it seems not so out of line.

San Francisco souvenir plate, made in Japan. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
I like these little hand towels and have a few I've acquired over the years (many from thrift stores!). They remind me of trips to the islands and the shops there - there's always a linen store with tablecloths and these hand towels.

Hand towel and teacup. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
My second favorite purchase has to be these napkins, and really, if I didn't get all eight for under a dollar, I might have passed over them. But they just belong with my six pieces of Delta stoneware plates made by Pfalzgraff, don't they?

Delta linens. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Are you a thrift store shopper? What's been your best thrift store find?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Bacon

Broccoli and cauliflower salad with bacon. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
This broccoli salad is a tried and true favorite, easy to pull together as a weeknight side dish. Recently, I had cauliflower in the vegetable crisper as well as broccoli, so I added it to the salad for color and contrast. The dressing is less sweet than many versions - I think it's just right for the amount of vegetables.

Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad with Bacon

2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups cauliflower florets
6 slices bacon, chopped and cooked 'til crisp
a handful sunflower seeds
a handful dried raisins or cranberries
1 cup good-quality mayo, full fat or go home
6 green onions, chopped in 1-inch long pieces
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar

In a lovely serving bowl, put trimmed broccoli and cauliflower pieces, sunflower seeds, bacon and raisins. In a food processor, blitz the onions, mayo, sugar and vinegar together. Season to taste, remembering that the salad has salty bacon and sunflower seeds. Pour dressing over salad. Serve immediately. Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Broccoli and cauliflower salad with bacon. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Text and images copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ecco's Garden in Winter

Rooftop garden beds and cold frames at Ecco, Midtown Atlanta.

  When last I visited Ecco, in Midtown Atlanta, I was clutching my camera and descending a ladder from the roof to the street below. Now, it seems there's a reason to ascend the ladder again. Ecco now has eight new cedar beds with cold frames, installed by Farmer D Organics as its rooftop garden.

Cedar beds crafted by Farmer D Organics.

The chef/gardeners of Ecco are growing winter vegetables and will get a head start on spring and summer seedlings. Current crops include Tuscan kale, broccoli rabe and Southern giant curly mustard. The chefs plan to use the produce in  dishes such as:

Broccoli rabe: sautéed with anchovy and chili flake, served with butcher steak and roasted beet-almond purée.

Tuscan kale: wilting it lightly with garlic, with grilled mahi mahi and porcini mushroom vinaigrette.

Mustard greens: mustard green salsa verde with house made grilled goat sausage.

Seedlings, Ecco's rooftop garden.
There's a bigger purpose here beyond the garden. Ecco is the state's first dumpster-free restaurant and the first Georgia restaurant to receive Green Foodservice Alliance certification. While showing off the rooftop garden last summer, Sous Chef Justin Jordan shared Ecco's mission to source as much product locally as possible. After all, what could be more local than the roof of the restaurant?

Raised garden beds, Ecco.

Ecco is located at 40 7th Street, at the corner of Cypress Street in Midtown. Visit for more information.

Thanks to Mandy Betts and Ecco for the terrific pictures and update about Ecco's rooftop garden!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Baked polenta with tomato sauce

Baked polenta with tomato sauce. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Here's a winter warmer that will take longer to describe than it will to assemble for supper. For a  variation on baked pasta with tomato sauce, pick up a package of  Frieda's already cooked polenta, slice it up and set the rounds in a bath of homemade (or not) tomato sauce, sprinkle with cheese and bake. Super easy.

Polenta slices in tomato sauce. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
For the tomato sauce, you could pop open a jar of your favorite sauce, or use my go-to dead-easy, weeknight sauce - a can of good-quality crushed tomatoes with a clove or two of minced garlic and a teaspoon or so of Italian seasoning (winter version) or a few leaves of chopped, fresh basil (summer version) stirred in.

Apply a top coat of sauce, finish with a layer of mozzarella and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Set the table, make the salad, toast the bread.  Dinner is served.

Polenta with tomato sauce and cheese. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and  Her Books

I occasionally review products that I use in my own kitchen. Thanks to Frieda's Specialty Produce
for supplying the polenta. The opinions here are my own.

Text and images copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Crispy crepes

Crepes with Nutella and  Biscoff. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

I think Winnie the Pooh is a first-rate snacker. When Pooh Bear gets a little rumbly in  his tumbly, he goes searching for the hunny pot and bread. Here's a variation on bread and honey, just right for elevenses and teatime, crepes smeared with Nutella or Biscoff (you could even use peanut butter), and toasted quesadilla-style in a pan. The tender crepes crisp up, becoming cookie-like with a molten sweet filling.

Frieda's Specialty Produce recently sent me a package of their crepes, as easy to use as tortillas and every bit as versatile. This recipe is two-ingredient simple. Just open the package.

Crepes. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Spackle with Nutella or Biscoff (or peanut butter).

Crepes with Nutella. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Fold in  half and toast in a skillet set over medium heat. When the edges are warm brown, remove from heat, cut into wedges and serve.

Crepes. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
I  occasionally review products that my family likes and uses. 
Thanks to Frieda's for sending the crepes. The opinions here are my own. 

Text and images copyright 2013, Lucy Mercer.