local flavor

bungalow to go: mac ‘n cheese ‘n collards

Mac and Cheese 6This week’s Bungalow To Go at Ocmulgee Traders is TOTALLY not Whole30 (see previous post for details), but lucky for me, I made it last week and enjoyed all the cheese and pasta I could.

While this dish is easily recognizable as one of the most popular comfort foods around, it also featured a local beauty: collard greens from Babe and Sage Farm. Collards are high in nutritional value, giving some much-needed vitamins and minerals to this decadent dish. Don’t worry, though: you’ve still got plenty of gruyere and white cheddar to satisfy your cheesy, ooey gooey needs.

I’m so proud of this dish, and I hope you’ll try it yourself by picking up the recipe card and ingredient box at Ocmulgee Traders this week.

Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Collards
Serves 4, generously

8 oz. collard greens (Babe and Sage Farm)
1 stem of green garlic (Babe and Sage Farm)
8 oz. sharp cheddar
4 oz. gruyere
2.5 cups whole milk
4 Tbsp. butter
3 pieces of bread (rolls or slices)
8 oz. elbow macaroni
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

What You Need at Home:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
box grater
1 medium pot
1 small pan
1 large, deep pan
8×8 baking dish
1 knife

STEP 1: Assemble Ingredients
Read over each step to familiarize yourself with the process of the meal. Heat oven to 375 F. Fill the medium pot with water halfway and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and the macaroni, cook for five minutes (to al dente), then drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

STEP 2: Shred the Cheese
Using a box grater, shred the blocks of cheese on the large shred side.

STEP 3: Prep and Cook the Garlic and Greens
Cut the stem and bottom off the garlic, peel it, then mince it. Slice each collard leaf into 1/2 inch ribbons, removing the stems as you slice. Heat olive oil, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper over medium-high heat in a small pan. After about 1 minute, add the collard ribbons in batches, about 1/4 at a time, tossing with tongs. Once the last batch is added, toss for about 1 more minute, then remove from the heat and set aside. Collards should be slightly wilted, but should still retain some structure.

STEP 4: Prep Breadcrumbs
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a small bowl in the microwave (about 40 seconds on high). Using your hands, tear the bread into small pieces, then mix with the butter, adding 1/4 tsp. salt, until all of the butter is absorbed in the bread.

STEP 5: Create the Sauce, Assemble the Dish, and Bake
In the medium pot you used for the macaroni, add the milk and heat over medium heat. Heat 3 Tbsp. butter in the large pan at medium heat. When it begins to bubble, slowly whisk in the flour; this creates the roux for the sauce. When the flour and butter are combined into a paste, slowly whisk in the warmed milk, taking care that the roux gets absorbed into the milk. Keep whisking until the thickened liquid begins to bubble slightly, then add in the nutmeg, cayenne, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Whisk, then add in the macaroni and sauteed greens. Whisk until fully combined, then pour contents into the 8×8 baking dish. Top evenly with the buttered breadcrumbs, then bake for 20 minutes.

STEP 6: Cool and Serve
When the dish has baked for 20 minutes, the edges should bubble and the breadcrumbs should turn golden brown. Take the dish out of the oven and let rest on the counter for about 5 minutes. This dish serves 4-6 comfortably as a main dish, so dip up as much as you like and keep the rest for lunch tomorrow.

lunchbox life: curry coconut cashew chicken

image1(16)First, I have to brag: three weeks left of school, everybody!

So close, yet so far. Week 1 of Testing Month is over, and I’m so proud that my students seem to have thought their test to be super easy, but I still feel for their overworked and overtested brains. Week 2 is coming up, so keep up all in your thoughts as we soldier on in the standardized test world.

As a distraction from testing and as a primer to a challenge later this summer, I decided to tackle a week-long version of the Whole30. Whole30 is an eating plan that eliminates all the fun stuff from your diet: no grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. What are you left to eat? Meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. I’d heard about this program from a few friends, but wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge until I bought the book and started doing some online research. I like that it’s temporary, and while I plan to complete a Whole30 in 30 days when I’m at GHP this summer, I thought I’d do a Whole7 as a trial run. While I’m on Day 2, I have to say that I’m loving it so far and am surprised as how much I like it.

With that explanation, I introduce to you this week’s Whole30-compliant lunchbox life: curry coconut cashew chicken. I’m thrilled about this one, and I know that I’ll feel good about eating it all week long. I used baby bok choy and brussels sprouts from our CSA box, chicken thighs, cashews, unsweetened coconut shreds, coconut oil, and some yummy spices. This recipe is a great way to enjoy Thai flavor without rice or noodles.

Curry Coconut Cashew Chicken

10 boneless skinless chicken thighs

3 cups brussels sprouts

2 bunches of baby box choy

1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 cup roasted and salted cashews

1 cup unsweetened coconut shreds

1 Tbsp. curry powder

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. cardamom

1 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. white pepper

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

Lay out 2 full paper towel sheets and arrange chicken thighs in a single layer. Take 2 more paper towel sheets and press down on top of the chicken to remove some of the excess moisture. Next, cut the chicken into chunks (about 1/2 to 1 inch) and place in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the spices, then pour the dry spices onto the chicken chunks and stir to combine; set aside. Chop the bok choy into 1/2 inch ribbons, taking care to discard the stalks. Slice the brussels sprouts thinly on all four sides, taking care to discard the stem and core. Set aside. Heat a wok over high heat and melt the coconut oil. Add the seasoned chicken and cook, stirring frequently for about 4 minutes. Next, add the mushrooms, stirring to coat the mushrooms in the seasoned oil. Next, add the sliced bok choy and brussels, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cashews, then the coconut shreds. Stir to full combine, then divide between five containers.

local flavor: coterie & tie dinner in athens


This past weekend, Alex and I had the pleasure of attending our third chefs’ dinner from a group of talented Athens chefs.  Once known as The Four Coursemen, this group of Classic City chefs split off to work on several creative projects.  Next, a few of them continued the tradition under the name Shotgun Dinners, named particularly for the shotgun house on Pulaski Street where they formerly hosted events.  Now, a couple of these people have rebranded under the name Coterie & Tie and have continued the tradition of a five course tasting menu with wine pairings.

Here’s the deal: you get on their e-mail list and they let you know the week of the event that they’re hosting a dinner.  The seats are limited to around 20, so respond with your reservation quickly to ensure that you and your party have seats.  The dinner is not at a restaurant; rather, it’s in a lovely unit in Whitehall Lofts alongside the North Oconee River.  Because it’s not at a restaurant, many typical restaurant rules and routines are suspended: you can ask the chefs questions as you watch them cook, you can walk up to the cooking area and snoop around, and you get impeccable table service with wine pairings by a skilled sommelier.  Because it’s not a restaurant, they give a suggested donation amount that you pay per person at the end.  For this dinner, we had five tasting courses with wine pairings with each and the total was $75/person.  While this is certainly a splurge, it is well worth it–the personal attention from the chefs, the detailed explanation of the food sourcing and preparation, and the creativity and passion put into the evening made this well worth the expense.  Plus, if you purchased all of these items a la carte at a restaurant, I think the total would be over the suggested amount.

So let me set the scene for you: Alex and I, along with our Athens friends Scott and Sarah, met at the Whitehall Lofts unit as described to us in the e-mail from Coterie & Tie.  We entered the room and saw this lovely table set for 14:


You can see the chefs prepping the courses on the left side of the photo, and also here:


When we arrived, Nancy the sommelier had for us a cocktail: some sort of reduced grape syrup infused with rosemary mixed with some chilly vinho verde white wine.  From 7 to 7:30 we mingled with the other guests and chefs, then sat down at the large table to check out the evening’s menu:

image(52)Oh yeah, that’s some weird stuff.  Some weird and awesome stuff.  We started off with the cool and creamy melon sorbet with candied Canadian bacon.  The simple sweetness of the cantaloupe against the sweet and salty Canadian bacon was a great pairing, similar to prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe on an antipasto plate:

image(53)The next course was my favorite of the night: the octopus terrine with porchetta di testa, saffron aioli, fried capers, radish, and watercress.  The octopus was chilled, creamy, and sliced razor thin.  The porchetta di testa was a wild card ingredient for me: basically, it’s the face of a pig that is cured.  The pork and the octopus were a perfect pairing: the saltiness and earthy aroma of the pork was a great contrast to the clean, yet full bodied taste of the octopus.  The saffron aioli was out of this world (but how could it not be?), and the fried capers were the perfect pop of crispness to round out this dish.  The wine pairing here was a crisp Italian white called Barbi Orvieto, which is a blend of Chardonnay and a few other whites from the region.

I’ll have to admit that this was a tough act to follow, but the folks at Coterie & Tie kept the momentum going with the next three dishes.  Next on the menu was chicken hearts, charred okra and tomato puree, burratta cheese, heirloom tomato, and spicy globe basil:

image(55)I have to admit that I can’t recall ever having chicken hearts, but they were quite good.  Very gamey, they set up nicely with the smooth burratta cheese and the structure of the charred okra.  The tomato puree included some Indian spices like cardamom and turmeric, and those flavors always taste great with okra.  This dish was served with an Italian sangiovese, and it was a lovely choice.

Next was the quail salad, roasted breast and confit, fig puree, ichiban eggplant, pistachio, and honey sherry gastrique:

image(56)The tiny bit of quail was just enough during this fourth course.  The savory flavors from the quail breast and confit along with the roasted eggplant were a great contrast to the almost dessert-level sweetness of the fig puree.  The crunch from the pistachio was a nice middleman for the bottom and top of the plate.  This dish was served with a red Italian blend, Casa Contini Brindisi Reserva.

Lastly was dessert: the chocolate espresso souffle cake, tomato jam, marcona almond, cocoa nib, and candied tomato peel:


Now y’all, I’m not usually a dessert person.  However, this was the perfect dessert for me for a couple of reasons: first, there were several savory elements with the sunburst tomato jam, the marcona almonds, and the candied tomato peel, and second, the cake was light and not overbearing as it was made mostly with egg whites and included little flour.  Chocolate and tomatoes, while a seemingly mismatched pair, actually work shockingly well together.  The candied tomato peel was a scene stealer from the cake; no one could stop talking about the complexity of the flavor from the dehydrated peel etched with turbinado sugar.

The dessert was paired with cardamaro, a wine-based digestif from Italy with the flavor of artichoke.  Yes, artichoke!  It was sweet and sippable, and while I hadn’t heard of it before, I know that it won’t be my last tango with this strange and wonderful libation.

After dinner, the guests had the opportunity to toast the chefs and speak casually about the dinner.  I asked chefs Matt Palmerlee (also Head Chef at Athens’ The Branded Butcher) and Eddie Russell (also of the Cooking Channel’s Belly Up!) about the restaurant business, they bowed with shock and awe when I said that I’m a high school teacher (why are people always so surprised?), and we commiserated over the beauty and wonder of food adventures.

Basically, we went to an awesome dinner at a friend’s house who wasn’t our friend at the beginning of the night, but ended up being by the end.  I highly recommend that you check out Coterie & Tie–what a novel experience just a couple of hours up the road.  While we were blessed to stay with friends in Athens, this would also be a perfect weekend trip–you could definitely make a whole weekend out of eating in Athens, but that might just have to be saved for another blog post.

meatless monday: simple southern summer supper


Welcome back to Bungalow Kitchen, and let’s do the happy dance for the full return of Meatless Monday!  After a year-long class on Monday nights and a summer away at my beloved GHP, I am so incredibly glad to be back in the Monday groove.

Tonight’s Meatless Monday is a tribute to not only my childhood, but also the lives of plenty of southerners in the summertime: the veggie plate.  Dwellers of the American South are smacked in the face with heat and humidity all summer, but a silver lining of the oppressive heat is the gorgeous bounty of produce that comes from our summer rain soaked grounds.  This is a great secret of southern kitchens; while many people associate meat-heavy dishes with our region, particularly fried chicken, catfish, and barbecue, many of us know that when company isn’t coming, we feast on whatever is plentiful from the garden.  In tonight’s case, we enjoyed what was plentiful from our CSA box via The Dirt Farmers.  Meatless Monday is so easy when you have an elegant array of fruit and vegetables, plus it’s a blast to let the CSA box inspire and push you to try new food and preparation.  Tonight, I selected okra, the squash medley (one pattypan, one Mediterranean, and one eight ball zucchini), 1 heirloom tomato, and a small watermelon.  A welcome addition to our dinner was some cake-like, delectable cornbread gifted to us by our friends and neighbors, Lauren and Adam Ragusea, after Alex helped Adam remove a tree in his yard.  Can you get more southern than that?

Ok, so let’s begin with the okra.


Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Take 1 lb. of fresh okra, slice it lengthwise, and place in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes and toss to combine.  Place okra on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes, flipping the okra at the 10 minute mark.  When it’s ready, take the okra out of the oven, place on a serving plate, and top with about 1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese.

Next, let’s tackle the squash medley:


Cut each squash into bite sized pieces, taking care to remove the seeds from the center of the pattypan squash and leaving the waxy skin on the squash.  In a large, heavy pan, melt 2 Tbsp. butter over medium high heat, adding 2 tsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 4 crushed garlic cloves.  Let the garlic cook in the butter and oil for about 30 seconds, then add in the squash pieces and toss to combine.  Let the squash cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the squash is cooked through (but not soggy), display it proudly on a serving plate and add about 2 Tbsp. of chopped fresh basil.

Next, let’s look at the pillow-like cornbread from Lauren and Adam with some honey butter from Southern Swiss Dairy out of Waynesboro, GA:


It was nothing short of amazing.  Well done, Raguseas.  I’d like to point out that Adam, the cornbread’s creator, hails from Pennsylvania, but I’m guessing that he must have been below the Mason-Dixon line in a past life in order to create this masterpiece.

Let’s check out the heirloom tomato now:


See this red and green misshapen thing?  That is a tomato.  Grocery store tomatoes pale in comparison to a ripe tomato that hasn’t been picked before its time, then shipped on a truck, then stuck on a display under fluorescent lights for days.  Tomatoes from a farm tell a story: their strange coloring, interior seed pattern, and exterior bumps and lumps tell you that they’re natural and the way the soil intended.  Slice one up, add salt and pepper, and maybe add a little bit of olive oil to gild the lily.

Now, for the watermelon:


I don’t know if the watermelon or the cornbread was our dessert, but between the two, we were certainly satisfied.  Watermelon is gorgeous on its own, but add a piece of rind to your display dish for a nice look.

So that’s it, folks: I cooked the okra and squash, sliced up the tomato and watermelon, and enjoyed some cornbread from our sweet neighbors.  This meal is so quintessentially southern to me, but it’s a kitchen table, weeknight supper as opposed to a buffet of party food like barbecue or fried chicken or a “company is coming” dinner like honey baked ham or pork tenderloin.  Notice that nothing is fried in this healthy meal, but the ingredients call to the spirit of southern home cooks.  This kind of resourcefulness always reminds me of the resilience of our region, and I’m proud to pull down the veil of southern entertainment and let you in on the veggie plate secret.  Bon appetit, y’all!


local flavor: Babe and Sage Farm Dinner

Last night, three neighbors and I made a trip to Gordon, Georgia, just a short drive from Macon.  We drove down a dirt road into a grassy, makeshift parking lot and happened upon this special place:


Babe and Sage Farm is run by young farmers Chelsea Losh and Bobby Jones, two Georgia College graduates who are caretakers of the land and farm on the property.  I first heard about Babe and Sage Farm at Macon’s Mulberry Street Market, and our CSA The Dirt Farmers (now taking new customers!) uses some of their bounty to complete CSA deliveries.  Babe and Sage’s salad mix, for instance, is my absolute favorite thing we get in the box each week.

But how did we get here, and why, you ask?  My sweet neighbor, Erin Lake, asked me to join her along with neighbors Robert and Dina Deason to a farm dinner at Babe and Sage Farm.  She shared the menu with me, and I knew that I had to go!  For five courses of farm fresh food, I thought that the $35 ticket price was a steal, so I’m sharing the knowledge with you, dear readers, so you can have a great experience like I did.

Now, before I get into the story, here are the basic details: Look up Babe and Sage on Facebook and like their page so you’ll receive their updates.  The next time they do a farm dinner, immediately call all of your friends and order tickets!  They capped this dinner at 40 people, so make sure to get tickets early.  The dinner takes place on their beautiful wrap-around porch on their farmhouse.  The dinner is BYOB, so bring wine to share.

Anyway, back to the story.  So once we found the farm and checked in, we saw the wondrous wrap-around porch, put down our things, and had ourselves a pre-dinner cocktail.  Here’s my lovely group:


After the farmers and farmhands welcomed us to the dinner, they invited us inside the house for the first course: balsamic strawberries wrapped in bacon.


I had previously had bacon-wrapped dates and prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe, but never bacon-wrapped strawberries.  I will definitely be trying to recreate those in our kitchen!  The farmhouse was built in the mid-1800s and was cozy and welcoming.  We could even see the chef of the evening, Jesse Crago, prepping the main course in the kitchen.  Next we took our seats on the porch.  The simple tables were craftily appointed with burlap, antique candlesticks, and the obligatory mason jars.


The family-style seating facilitated delightful discussion about local food, food history, and dietary differences in Southern subcultures.  Pretty fascinating perspectives, for sure.  Next was the salad course: B+S salad greens with slivers of red onion, pecans, and a honey-kombucha vinaigrette:


The next course was so simple, yet so complex at the same time.  The ginger, carrot, and thyme soup was perfectly accompanied by some cracked wheat bread that helped me sop up all of the farm fresh goodness.


I was already getting a little full, but I knew that I had to rally and get ready for the main course: pickle-brined chicken with kohlrabi slaw, mashed cauliflower, and sauteed kale.  Each of the four corners of this plate had something to offer that was both indulgent and healthy.


Whew!  What a feast.  The chicken was raised in Sparta, GA, and the veggies on the plate were all cultivated mere footsteps from our table.  Our table chatted about the social and cultural breakdown of the different members of the greens family: turnip, mustard, collard, kale, and all of the rest, leading into an interested conversation about the differences between southern food and soul food.  Since all of us were certainly in need of some movement after all of that delicious food, we were all pleased to be invited to tour the farm property.  We started with a little bit of history of the farm and farm house from Bobby:


Then we walked around the grounds and took in the beautiful scenery.

Image Image

After the tour, we headed back to the porch that was now much darker since the sun had gone down.


Waiting for me at my place setting was a sumptuous blueberry bread pudding.  It’s difficult to see by the candlelight, but it was everything summer should be: humid, heavy air on a porch with a warm bowl of dessert among friends.


After saying our thank yous and goodbyes, we trudged through the dewy grass back to our car and raved about our experience on the way back to Macon.  I was so impressed by the farm, farmers, and food, and I can’t wait to go back.  I hope you’ll join me!