Mama’s Mother’s Day Meal

I have always had a strong connection with my mom. Maybe it’s because she gave birth to me at such a young age. Maybe it’s because she was always ready to play with me after school. Maybe it’s because she constantly supported and encouraged me. Maybe it’s because she made sacrifices for me left, right, and sideways. Sacrifices that allowed me to have all of the things I needed and most of the things I wanted. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because she cooked delicious meals for me every day of this entire world, when she couldn’t possibly have had the time or energy. Yes, now I think we are on to something…

My mom is certainly right at home in the kitchen. Growing up, I can remember getting off of the school bus and walking up the driveway as delicious smells wafted out of the kitchen on the backs of gentle breezes. Pot roast, fried chicken, fried pork chops, hamburgers, steak and gravy, mashed potatoes, fried okra, and many other southern delicacies could be found on our supper table on any given weeknight. How she found the time to whip up such meals on a regular basis, while sometimes working two different jobs boggles my adult mind. She must have been a superhero.

We didn’t get to place requests. You ate what was there or you were up the creek without a paddle. Luckily for us, everything that flew out of her kitchen was simply delicious. I marveled when my classmates would tell me how they would be having dreaded leftovers for dinner in the evening. I never even knew what a leftover was. It was a completely foreign idea to me. When mom cooked, there were no leftovers. Ever. Every last scrap of food on the table was devoured, every single time.

Now let’s skip ahead to the year 2013. Last Sunday, as you know, was Mother’s Day. If you weren’t aware of this, you may be finding yourself in some hot water right about now. Of course, being the good son that I am, I was fully aware of the weekend’s significance and I prepared accordingly. I made the trek to central North Carolina, where I was born and raised, to spend the Mother’s Day weekend with my mom and dad. I showed up at the front door, roses and balloon in hand, as my mom gave me a big, welcoming hug. I had been in the house no longer than two milliseconds before the talk went to food.

“Now tonight, we’ll be havin’ steaks on the grill at your aunt’s house. I think they’ll be bakin’ potatoes and roastin’ corn, too” she said with her gentle and comforting southern drawl. Before I could even get in a word edgewise, the talk turned to her Mother’s Day dinner – which she fully intended to prepare. She had illusions of culinary grandeur which included making homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes, slow-cooked beans, and angel food cake with fresh strawberries. Of course this all sounded great to me, but I couldn’t get past the nagging feeling I had of letting my mom toil away in the kitchen on the day that was supposed to be all about her.

Mother’s Day arrived and we still had plans to make this very traditional, heavy, filling fried chicken dinner. Then something magical happened. We were watching a cooking show on television that morning featuring a baked fish and vegetable dish. The gears in my head started to turn. Apparently the gears in my mom’s head were turning as well. We gave each other a look and decided that we would go out on a limb and venture into uncharted culinary waters. Not knowing exactly how this would turn out, we took the leap of faith and decided to make our own spin on what we had just viewed on television. I made the decision right then and there that my mom was not to lift a finger on this meal. I would prepare, cook, and clean from start to finish. What could be better than a homemade meal on Mother’s Day cooked by your oldest son? A meal that tastes good, that’s what. Hopefully I could deliver on that promise.

The meal that featured an assortment of fish and vegetables was cooked in the oven in parchment paper packets. Here’s what we ended up getting for this experimental Mother’s Day feast. Keep in mind, you can substitute any of the vegetables or fish choices to suit your own taste buds. Use this as a loose guideline as you peruse the aisles of the grocery store.

Red snapper fish fillets
Snow peas
Heirloom cherry tomatoes
Canned or frozen artichoke hearts
White wine or seafood stock
Assorted fresh herbs
Parchment paper

Again, this is the route we chose for this particular meal – feel free to change it up a bit to leave your own fingerprint on this dish.To get started, tear off a piece of parchment paper about 18″ in length. Lay this out flat on your kitchen counter. Place one of your red snapper fillets right in the center of your parchment paper. Lightly season the fillet with some salt and pepper, minced garlic, and a bit of Old Bay seasoning, if you so desire.

Now, sprinkle some shredded carrots around your fish. Place some thinly-sliced leeks and fennel bulb on top of the shredded carrots. If you aren’t too familiar with fennel, it has a wonderful and delicate licorice flavor. When it cooks in the oven, the flavor mellows a bit and the intrinsic sweetness really begins to shine. Slice your heirloom cherry tomatoes in half and add some of these to the mix. These will add a nice pop of color and make things bright and cheery for your Mother’s Day meal. Next, sprinkle in a few tender snow peas. Ahead of time, I’d already prepared a box of plain couscous according to the directions on the box. Place a few spoonfuls of the cooked couscous around the fish to give this meal some extra substance. Add a few of the canned artichoke hearts around the edges and you’re almost ready to cook! Place a few lemon slices directly on top of your fish fillet and some of the fennel fronds, to give an extra anise flavor. To add some moisture to your creation, pour about 1/4 of a cup of your white wine or seafood stock all around the vegetables and fish. I opted to use seafood stock here rather than the wine. As much as I love to drink the stuff, cooking with wine just isn’t how I roll. I prefer to have mine in a glass, thank you very much. Add a tablespoon of butter on top of the fish, which will melt down and provide a silky, rich finish. Sprinkle an assortment of chopped fresh herbs over the top. We went with some thyme, parsley, and basil, since they were in abundance in my mom’s herb garden that afternoon.

Before you seal it up, here’s what your meal should look like. I love all of the bright colors smiling back at me. It’s a meal that you won’t have to feel too guilty about eating, because all of the ingredients are good for you!

To seal it up, tear off a piece of parchment paper just as long as your original piece and lay it over the top. Begin crimping the edges and stapling to ensure that things are as airtight as they can possibly be. Once you’ve sealed it all the way around, you’re good to go. Your fish packet will be ready to pop in the oven!

Your fish and vegetables will cook and steam in their own juices, along with the stock and butter. Place your packets in a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Once you remove them from the oven, let them rest for about 5 minutes so they can continue to cook. Now all that’s left to do is open your packets and pig out! Be careful when you slice into the parchment paper, because steam will be waiting to make its great escape and it could burn your fingers. Once you slice into your packet, you will be greeted by a truly beautiful sight.

What a feast! It’s healthy. It’s easy. It’s self-contained. Place each packet on a large plate to serve. You can eat right out of the parchment paper.

The room was initially quiet, as we looked at this unfamiliar meal that was now in front of us. Everyone began to very cautiously poke and prod around the combination of fish and vegetables. Being the brave one in the group, I took the first bite. The flavors were out of this world! The decision to add some butter was a good one – but then again, when is it not? The lemon really infused its flavor into the fish as it was baking. Speaking of the fish, it was tender, it was flaky, and it was delicious!

Old habits die hard in our house. There were no leftovers, just like the old days. Also, not one, but two momentous occasions occurred on this particular Mother’s Day. We stepped outside of our comfort zone, by trying something completely out of the ordinary for our family. Stepping outside of our comfort zone was completely overshadowed by what happened next. Something that even Nostradamus, in all of his infinite wisdom, couldn’t have predicted. I actually did the dishes. That’s right. The Taste Bud got in the kitchen and cleaned things up. But before you go showering me with praise, you should know that the cleanup process consisted solely of wadding up pieces of parchment paper. Still, I do like getting showered with praise, so don’t hold back. Praise away!

Make sure you leave enough praise for your mom. Even if she’s not still with you, make time to remember the good times. I’m lucky to have spent three wonderful decades with my mom and I’m looking forward to the years, the laughs, and the great meals that are waiting for us in the future. That’s a forecast that The Taste Bud can guarantee.

Honor thy mother with food,

The Taste Bud

Tackling Tuesday

Tuesday is a tough day for The Taste Bud. In fact, it usually turns out to be the toughest day of the week, not just for me, but for folks everywhere. Let’s analyze the rationale behind this for just a moment.

On Monday, you still have good memories from the weekend at the forefront of your mind. This helps ease the transition back into the work week and gives you comfort as you sip the first cup of java in the break room. On Wednesday, you have the satisfaction of knowing you are halfway through the work week. It’s all downhill from here! On Thursday, you know that the next day is Friday. Some folks have even been known to call Thursday “Little Friday.” On Friday, well, it’s Friday! This one is pretty self-explanatory. The weekend is no more than a few short hours away and the commencement of your weekend escapades is quickly approaching.

This brings us back to little ole Tuesday. There’s seemingly nothing special about it. It’s not the beginning. It’s not halfway. It’s certainly not the end. The weekend still feels light years away. You never hear anybody say “Yeah! How about that Tuesday?” It’s for that very reason that I sometimes rely on a food pick-me-up to give this day some extra pep and pizazz. With this in mind, I think of my favorite three-word phrase. Treat yo self.

Three little words that encourage a bit of indulgent behavior. Three little words that encourage me to throw caution to the wind and satisfy that urge for something that will give me a much-needed push toward the Friday finish line. Three little words that help me find inspiration and motivation on even the most desperate Tuesday mornings. So let’s get into the kitchen. It’s time for us to treat ourselves.

It always starts out innocently enough. I take a look into the refrigerator and just happen to notice some beautiful strawberries that I had found at the store. I think I’ll have a few of these luscious, sweet berries for my Tuesday treat. Yes, that should do the trick!

Wow, what a healthy, good-for-you snack I have chosen. I’m treating myself and not even feeling guilty about it. That’s what I call a win-win situation. Then I seem to remember that I have some chocolate-hazelnut spread in the cabinet. I convince myself that surely just letting one of the strawberries take a dip into the chocolatey goodness couldn’t be too bad for me. After all, we are treating ourselves today. It’s Tuesday!

Dipping things in chocolate just makes them taste better. That’s a scientific fact. Plus, it’s just one little strawberry. What could be the harm in that?

I’d say that combination was a success, judging by the berry brutality that has just occurred on my plate. I’m treating myself and things are staying under control. This is wonderful! Then I seem to remember that I have a loaf of ciabatta bread over on the counter. The gears in my brain are turning and my gut is growling. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I cut off two slices of the fresh, airy bread.

I’m quickly realizing that my innocent Tuesday treat is suddenly turning into an increasingly crazy and calorie-laden creation. As my will power slips out the window, I carry on with this act, almost as if in a treat-yo-self trance. Getting more and more chaotic and frantic, I grab a knife to smear and slather both slices of the bread with the chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Hazelnuts are good for you, I keep reminding myself. Plus, it says on the jar that this spread is made with skim milk. This isn’t so bad. PLUS, I’m going to generously layer some strawberries on one of the slices of bread – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

A not-so-healthy sandwich is now smiling back at me from the plate. It’s all because of you, Tuesday! You’re doing this to me. It could be worse though, right? Of course it could. It’s time to eat. But wait, I seem to remember that I have some butter in my refrigerator. All right, when don’t I have butter in my refrigerator? In a zombie-like state, my hands reach for the butter and drop a tablespoon or so into a frying pan that has magically made its way to the stove without my knowledge. The butter starts to melt. My mouth starts to water.

I’m a sucker for butter and when it’s melted, all the better. The golden liquid will be perfect for frying up my increasingly unhealthy Tuesday treat. This whole endeavor has taken on a mind of its own. I place the two pieces of bread together and gently ease my sandwich into the melted butter.

The sound of the sizzle when the bread hits the pan is pure bliss. The smell of the melted butter browning the bread is one that drives my nose crazy with anticipation. After a few minutes on one side, my nose is telling me that it’s time to flip this sandwich over and get the other side just as golden.

After a few minutes on the other side, we are ready to get down to business. With both sides perfectly golden brown, I remove the sandwich from the pan – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth. With the sandwich perfectly done, let’s plate it up!

Now it’s time for the big reveal. It’s time to cut our Tuesday treat open and stand in awe of the goodness inside.

Oh my gosh.

It’s so pretty.

It’s time to eat – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

So it wasn’t the healthiest thing. But it sure tasted good. At the end of the day, that’s what treating yourself is all about. Now with my sweet tooth satisfied and my belly nice and full, it’s time for me to tackle this Tuesday head on – as soon as I quit shoveling spoonfuls of this chocolate-hazelnut spread in my mouth.

When you are treating yourself, what’s your favorite food? Or do you sometimes just follow the whims of your own desires and cupboards as I did on this particular Tuesday?

Happy treating (and eating),

The Taste Bud

Choked Up

I find myself getting choked up over quite a few things these days. Sad movies. Sappy songs. Snow in April. Folding laundry. Bad grammar. Especially bad grammar. If your looking to choke me up immediately, its quite easy to do, simply by misusing a few common words. The list could go on and on and on. Lately, something else has been eating away at me. More specifically, I’ve been choked up about something in the culinary realm. I’m trying to figure out how after nearly three decades on this great spinning planet, I’ve only just now begun to realize the wonders and versatility of the almighty artichoke! In my opinion, that’s absolutely something to be choked up about. We are going to resist the urge to be saddened by this revelation. Instead, we are going to embrace the versatility of this awesome ingredient and appreciate the ways that it can enhance our endeavors in the kitchen. Are you with me? Good. Now let’s get in their and cook! (The grammar, again! My heart can’t take it! Bad artichoke pun? Save me from myself!)

There are a few occasions when I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use frozen vegetables. In fact, these frozen veggies can sometimes be the best bargains in the entire store. Let’s welcome our friend, the artichoke. They may appear to be a bit intimidating in the produce section. They seem to stare down at you from behind the endive and eggplant with menacing and holier-than-thou glances. You might find yourself avoiding eye contact, sheepishly casting looks to the baby red potatoes and green beans. You might even find yourself being drawn by the calling of the carrots and cauliflower, as they gently persuade you to take the more familiar, well-traveled culinary path. However, you look back up at the artichokes. Desperately wanting to conquer your fears, you reach out a hand to grab one, but then…

The Taste Bud is here to save you! I swoop in Superman style, wearing a muscle shirt embroidered with the letters TB, that quite effectively draws attention to my non-existent muscles, while my cape flaps in the breeze. As a crowd gathers to stare at this spectacle you suddenly feel a wave of calmness washing over you, as you snicker at this cape-wearing string bean of a superhero. You realize that there is no need to bother with these time-intensive fresh artichokes. Luckily, at most major grocery stores, someone has done most of the work for you. Not only have they done most of the work, it’s going to end up saving you tons of money in the long run. I scoop you up in one arm and we take flight, landing a few dozen yards away in the promised land – the frozen foods section. Right in front of us, we have none other than the frozen artichoke!

They don’t seem nearly as cocky now that we have put them on ice. Although these hearts may be frozen, my heart is nice and warm when I think about all of the time and money I’m saving by buying these already prepared artichoke hearts. For a mere $3.00 a bag, I still assert that this is one of the best bargains in the entire store. Still, there’s a looming question and it’s a question that must be addressed. What are we going to make with these artichoke hearts? I propose a pesto of prodigious proportions. A pesto that will allow our artichoke hearts to shine, with little effort on our part. What’s not to like about that? Now it’s time for you to be the superhero!

For your artichoke pesto, you’ll need:

1 12 oz. bag of frozen artichoke hearts
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup of basil leaves
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of grated garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

To start, cook your frozen artichoke hearts according to the directions on the bag. Mine called for about five minutes in the microwave. When they’ve done their time in the microwave, open up that bag and let the goodness spill out into your kitchen. The artichoke hearts have a subtle citrus flavor that will pair up nicely with the lemon in this recipe.

Here’s what they look like after cooking. Now our frozen hearts have become warm and friendly. Again, you won’t believe how much time and money you’re saving by going the frozen route here. Who wants to be boiling and peeling artichokes in the kitchen all day? Not this Taste Bud. Place your artichokes in a food processor and get ready to add the other ingredients.

Place your sweet basil leaves on top of the artichoke hearts. Now grab your grater and get ready to use some elbow grease!

Let’s get the zest off of that lemon and grate the garlic. By the zest, I’m referring to the outermost part of the lemon. You only want the yellow part. If you start getting into the white part of the lemon, you’ve grated too far! The yellow part of the lemon has such a bright, vibrant flavor since it contains many of the essential oils. These essential oils will flavor your pesto very nicely and accentuate the citrus notes already possessed by the artichoke.

The zest will look like this when you’re finished. These tiny little flecks of yellow are the fruits of your labor for all of that grating. Even though it doesn’t look like much, the flavor power it packs will be very noticeable and quite appreciated by your taste buds. Toss that in your food processor and then give your lemon a nice squeeze, releasing all of its tart juices into the mixture. Toss in the grated garlic and add the grated Parmesan cheese.

The Parmesan cheese will give this pesto a big, salty bite. Plus, Parmesan makes everything taste better. Now give a hearty helping of salt and pepper. You could also add some toasted nuts, like almonds or pine nuts if you so desired. I’ve opted to leave the nuts out for now, because I’m feeling nutty enough, thank you very much.

With all of your ingredients in the food processor, give the whole shooting match a big blend. As everything is getting processed, drizzle in your two tablespoons of olive oil, which will thin the pesto out a bit, while giving it a glistening sheen. After about 30-45 seconds of processing, turn off the machine. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and then process a bit more.

Presto, you have pesto! Between you and me, I’d been waiting this entire blog to use that line. All of the ingredients will be super tiny and everything will be mixed perfectly. Overall, this pesto will have a distinct citrus flavor, but the basil balances that out with some subtle sweetness. What you do with your pesto is up to you. I recommend mixing in a healthy dollop with your favorite pasta. Of course, adding some plump, juicy shrimp on top never hurt anybody.

This pesto pasta is sure to make your taste buds sing. Remember the intimidation you were feeling back in the grocery store as you eyed those artichokes in the produce section? Who is laughing now? You are. You showed those artichokes who the real boss is. You didn’t succumb to the artichoke’s evil glances. You overcame and conquered a bunch of frozen hearts and warmed them up into a pesto pasta masterpiece.

What should you do with the leftovers of your creation? I decided to top some tiny pieces of toast with my leftover pesto and serve them up as an appetizer the next day. I sliced a few pieces off of a fresh baguette and drizzled the tops with olive oil.

Placing these pieces of bread under the broiler for just a few moments will turn them a golden brown color. Then smear a tablespoon of your pesto on the bread and serve!

What a quick and easy appetizer. Hopefully by this point, you’re no longer feeling intimidated by those daunting vegetables over in the produce section. Hopefully you’re feeling empowered. You are the master of your own culinary destiny. No need to get choked up. It’s time to get pumped up and come up with even more uses for this underutilized ingredient! What’s your favorite way to use artichokes? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section!

There is one more tiny thing that continues to choke me up. That one tiny thing would be Monday. That’s today. Drat.

Happy artichoke eating,

The Taste Bud

The Ultimate Utensils

In this day and age, it seems like you can buy kitchen gizmos and gadgets that will do just about anything. They’ll knead your dough. They’ll chop your onions while guaranteeing that you won’t shed a single tear. They’ll simmer, sizzle, sear, sauté, scrape, scoop, spoon, spread, smear, and satisfy nearly every culinary itch that you could ever imagine. They’ll liquify, pulverize, grind, blend, puree, and whip your egg whites into stiff, voluptuous peaks.

Still, when I get in the kitchen, there is one set of utensils I absolutely can’t live without. I don’t have to worry about misplacing them, which is good news for this scatterbrained cook. They’re easy to find, which is good news for this blind-as-a-bat cook. They don’t cost me a single dime and they don’t have to be replaced, which is good news for this tightwad cook. They’re even attached to my body! Yes, when it comes to getting in the kitchen, scrap all of the fancy stuff and just give me the finger. Preferably all ten of them.

Yes, the fingers. The ultimate utensils. You could even say they’re the ultimate uTENsils. Ten fingers (maybe nine if you’re a high school shop teacher) that are capable of mixing, blending, patting, flipping, picking up, kneading, stirring, scooping, and sneaking a taste of your latest kitchen creation.

I can imagine cooking and eating without a fork. I can imagine cooking and eating without a spoon. I can imagine cooking and eating without a knife. I can’t imagine a single possible scenario that involves me cooking or eating without my fingers. The next time you’re in the kitchen, challenge yourself to see how much you can do with them. Throw caution to the wind and play with your food. Besides, you know you want to. It might not always be pretty, but these valuable utensils will always get the job done, hands down.

Is there a utensil you couldn’t live without? If so, what is it?

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud

Growth Spurt

Spring has finally sprung here in central Virginia after a long, hard winter. With the warmer temperatures, one of my all-time favorite vegetables is in its prime. This vegetable and I have quite a few things in common. We are both tall. We are both thin. We are both good for you. And we both had a remarkable growth spurt. Height was not something I was gifted with during my earlier years. I was always a bit of a short, squat fella, perhaps more comparable to a potato or a rutabaga. That all began to change just as I prepared to leave home and embark upon my college experience. I went through my growth spurt and gained several inches over the course of a few months. Not only was this physically painful, but it wreaked havoc on my clothing. One look at my jeans and you would think I was waiting for the next big flood. The vegetable I write about today is capable of growing at a faster rate than I ever did. It can easily gain several inches in just one day. No small feat for these luscious green stalks sprouting up from the ground reaching for the heavens. Surely you’re on to me at this point. The vegetable we are discussing and eating today is none other than the mighty asparagus!

Not only are they visually stunning in their appearance, they are versatile, healthy, and darn delicious. Although there are many preparation methods for these little stalks of green, I recently came to the realization that I’m in an asparagus rut. I cook it the same way, nearly every single time. Although there’s nothing wrong with roasting asparagus in the oven at a very high temperature or steaming it until it’s a vibrant green color, I wanted to expand my horizons. I wanted to encapsulate the feeling of spring and put it on a plate. The gears in my head started to turn, which can sometimes be quite a scary thing. After some careful thought and consideration, I went outside my comfort zone and decided to create a warm asparagus salad. I drew some of my inspiration from recipes I found online, but I still managed to put that Taste Bud twist on things by adding some exciting and bold flavor profiles. With the outcome of this dish very much uncertain, I made a list, rounded up my ingredients, took a deep breath, and got down to business.

To make this warm asparagus salad, here’s what you’ll need:

1 pound of fresh asparagus
1 large shallot, or half of a red onion
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of chopped basil
3 pieces of diced cooked bacon
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Not only is this salad easy to make, but it’s also pretty affordable during the spring, since in-season ingredients are generally cheaper. The first step is to do the asparagus snap test. Take one stalk of your fresh asparagus (don’t even think about using that slimy stuff from a can) and bend it toward the bottom of the stalk until it snaps. Wherever it naturally snaps is about how much you should trim off of your remaining asparagus spears. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll usually have to lob off around 2-3 inches. You can either discard or save this part of the asparagus for vegetable stock, since these end pieces will be quite woody and inedible. Now that you have removed the tough part of your asparagus, the remaining parts should be tender and delicious.

Get out a sharp knife and cut your asparagus into little rounds. We are going for fairly tiny pieces here. Start at the bottom of the spear and go all the way up to the tip. When you’ve chopped them all up, they should look like this:

Now it’s time to make this a warm salad. We add a little heat to the mix by placing our chopped asparagus into a pan, with a drizzle of olive oil. Put the pan on the stove over a low to medium heat. The goal here isn’t to cook the asparagus until it’s a pile of mush. We simply want to let them soften in the pan for a few minutes until they are tender, but still retain a bit of their crunch.

After only 2-3 minutes they should be perfect. Add a little bit of salt and pepper at this point. Dump the soft, but still slightly crunch asparagus into a mixing bowl.

This will serve as the base for our salad. The asparagus will be the stars of the salad, but it’s time to add the supporting flavors. Let’s work quickly, since the warm asparagus pieces will essentially act like little sponges and soak up any flavors you add at this point. First, let’s add one finely-diced large shallot. If you don’t have a shallot, you could easily substitute about half of a red onion. This will create a bright color combination that will mimic the spring colors you might see out of your own kitchen window.

Aren’t those colors just awesome? I always think about how food is going to look when it hits the plate, because we truly do eat with our eyes first. To brighten things up a bit more from visual and taste perspectives, we turn to my friend the lemon. Nothing really wakes up your taste buds more than a squirt of sour citrus. Plus, the lemon is a natural pairing with asparagus. Add the zest and juice of one large lemon. When I say the zest, I mean the yellow part of the lemon that can be removed with a grater or even a knife. Be sure not to get any of the white part beneath the zest, as it has a very bitter flavor and won’t be pleasant. The zest contains tons of natural oils and is simply bursting with flavor! Make sure you zest before you get the juice. It just won’t work out if you try to do it the other way around.

Now that you’ve got an acidic bite with your lemon, let’s balance that out with some sweet things. Add your sugar and chopped basil. Both ingredients will add a delicate sweetness, serving as a counterpart to the sour notes we just added.


Now that we have added some sweetness, let’s put in some big salty flavors. That means it’s time to get cheesy by adding your grated Parmesan cheese.

It’s no secret that I have an extreme weakness for salty things, so I don’t stop with the cheese. It’s time to bring out one of the biggest heavy hitters in the culinary arena. It’s time to summon the big guns. It’s time to bust out the bacon. Triumphantly add your diced, cooked bacon to the mixture.

Sigh. I’m in love. You know what coming next. Oh yeah, another picture of the bacon!

Finally, add your olive oil over the mixture and give everything a BIG stir. Taste for salt and pepper and add either one accordingly.

After it’s all mixed, it’s ready! Grab a plate and serve it up.

Grab a fork and dig in! It’s the perfect spring bite. The asparagus will still be warm and slightly crunchy, with a fresh, almost grassy flavor. The lemon will add a big acidic bite, while the sugar and basil will balance that out with their subtle sweetness. The bacon and cheese will deliver the salt needed to make this pure spring satisfaction.

This salad doesn’t refrigerate well, but odds are you won’t have too many leftovers. This would be the perfect accompaniment to some grilled chicken or fish. As you savor this salad, let it be a gentle reminder of spring and new beginnings. Be thankful for the vegetable that goes through a tremendous growth spurt, deftly sprouting forth from the ground, just so it can wind up on your plate. Spring and asparagus. They go hand in hand. Most importantly they go from ground to plate and then from hand to mouth.

What is your favorite way to prepare asparagus? Share your ideas with me in the comments section!

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud

Sandwich Struggle

Confession time. I have a problem. Sandwiches have always been a struggle for me. Such a pity, since I love nothing more than the idea of a sandwich. What could be better than a bounty of wonderful ingredients slapped between two thick pieces of bread? Maybe it’s toasted, maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s sure to be delicious as you bite into it and your taste buds are overwhelmed with a flurry of flavors. For me, this is the moment where the train grinds to a screeching halt.

I have a condiment conundrum. Going all the way back to when I was just a tiny little Taste Bud, sandwich condiments have repulsed me. Mayonnaise? Forget about it. That thick, creamy white substance will never touch my sliced bread. Uh-oh. Do you hear that? That music? It’s getting louder. Could it be? It’s building in a slow, but definite condiment crescendo. It sounds like the music from the shower scene in the Hitchcock classic Psycho. This could only mean one thing…

AHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Horror of horrors! Don’t even think about getting any of this stuff within a 50 foot radius of me. Simply taking this picture was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. I’m not meaning to direct all of my disgust toward the bright yellow mustard. I’m an equal opportunity hater when it comes to any mustard. Dijon, spicy, whole-grain, German, English, Chinese, Bordeaux – I hate ’em all. My dilemma should be quite clear at this point. If I can’t stomach any of the popular condiments, how am I able to eat sandwiches? I have one word. Dry. Think Sahara Desert dry. Perhaps even Atacama Desert dry – the driest desert in the world.

Yes, I’ve choked down many a dry sandwich in my day, much to my own displeasure. Thankfully, there is one sandwich that solves my struggle. A sandwich that stands out above all of the rest. A sandwich that requires no condiments to be absolutely and utterly fabulous. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the grilled cheese sandwich has arrived to save the day and take me out of the doldrums of dryness forever.

Like a sandwich symphony, the grilled cheese has it all. Let us take a moment to marvel at its beauty.

My hero! What’s not to love about this? Two thick pieces of bread oozing with cheesy goodness. Even better, these wonderful creations are grilled up using lots of one of my favorite ingredients – butter! Everything is better with butter. I should print bumper stickers with this slogan. Now back to our grilled cheese…

The options are overwhelming. You can experiment with the type of bread. You can experiment with the type of cheese. If you’re feeling especially feisty, you can even mix and match your cheeses. Don’t be afraid to add other ingredients to the party. I’ve been known to put bacon in my grilled cheese sandwiches. Why? Everything is better with bacon. I should print bumper stickers with this slogan. Why do I keep getting sidetracked with visions of bumper sticker grandeur today? Back to our sandwich! Let your imagination run wild. See that ripe avocado on your counter? That could make a wonderful addition to your next grilled cheese creation. How about those juicy tomatoes that will be coming in by the bushel this summer? Why not add a slice or two? Do what tastes good to YOU.

Most importantly, the grilled cheese sandwich beautifully solves my condiment conundrum. No condiments are required, because these culinary creations were made for dunking! Grilled cheese and soup go hand in hand. They’re a match made in heaven. Bellying up to the table with a grilled cheese sandwich and a steaming bowl of soup sends my taste buds into hysterics and gets my heart all aflutter. What kind of soup should you use for the dunking experience? Use your favorite, of course. There are no rules. If it is appetizing to your taste buds, then you have made the correct soup selection.

As I pick up the grilled cheese and give it that satisfying dip into my bowl, I see it soaking up even more flavor, while getting a nice dose of hydration and moisture. Your soup becomes a spa for your sandwich, accentuating its intrinsic beauty. That first bite is pure bliss. No condiments needed here. Mayonnaise and mustard can take a hike! Grilled cheese, I salute you!

What’s your favorite grilled cheese and soup combination?

Happy dunking,

The Taste Bud

Don’t Stir!

It is the middle of July and a young boy is in the kitchen helping his grandma assemble a tasty summertime treat. Peaches are in season, so his grandma has decided that a peach cobbler would really hit the spot on this sweltering Saturday afternoon. Adorned with a soothing scoop of vanilla ice cream, this cobbler and ice cream combo was sure to help melt away the stifling heat and humidity, while simultaneously satisfying the proverbial sweet tooth. The cobbler we would make is exceedingly easy to assemble and has only a few short steps. Even the most amateur cooks could keep up with this simple recipe without feeling any bit of intimidation. There is one incredibly important rule that must be followed if you wish to have a successful and visually appealing cobbler – don’t stir!

Fast forward from my grandma’s kitchen to the present day. It is late April and the weather is cloudy and unseasonably cool on this Sunday in central Virginia. Clouds are hanging low in the sky, obscuring the mountain tops in the distance. The sky hints at the promise of rain, but has so far only delivered meager amounts of the life-sustaining liquid. It is on days like this that I dream about the warmer summer days that surely aren’t lurking too far in the future. With those warmer days in mind, I find myself dreaming of the foods that are associated with those summer months. I can’t help but to remember and be comforted by the memories of my grandma’s peach cobblers. With that serving as my inspiration, I went in a new direction after I had a burst of berry creativity. Peaches are out. Berries are in. Not just any berries either. Blackberries. Not to be confused with the smartphones that are vastly inferior to the iPhone. We are talking about beautiful, plump, sweet blackberries.

Aren’t they gorgeous? Since they photograph so well, I thought we should look at them again. So, without further ado…

Aside from eating them straight from the container, I can think of no better way to prepare these sweet treats than to put them in a cobbler. A cobbler with only a few simple ingredients and one simple rule – don’t stir!

Here’s what you’ll need to make this summertime dessert:

3 pints of fresh blackberries
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar (plus a few more tablespoons for the berries)
1 cup of whole milk
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

I like to start by getting the berries ready. To do this, dump all 3 pints of blackberries into a pot. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the berries and put them on the stove over a low heat. Add in your teaspoon of vanilla extract, which will give a very subtle flavor of comfort in the background. You don’t want to cook the berries, but you do want to give the berries a chance to soften and mingle with the sugar. It’s absolutely acceptable to stir at this point.

After a few moments on the stove, the sugar will start to mix with the berry juices to create a sweet syrup. All of this will only help to intensify the flavor of your cobbler.

Remove the berries from the heat and set them aside for a few moments while we whip up the batter. This next part couldn’t be any easier. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 stick of unsalted butter in a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish. Yes, the whole stick. If you’re going to make this dessert and truly appreciate the way it was meant to taste, the butter is a necessity. If you skimp on the butter, I can’t be held responsible for the less-than-stellar outcome of your cobbler creation.

Place the baking dish with the butter into the oven while it is still preheating. The gently warming oven will begin to slowly melt your glorious hunk of fat, turning it into a rich, golden liquid.

Keep peeking in the oven, because it will only take a few minutes for your butter to melt. You certainly don’t want to burn it, which can happen very quickly if you’re not paying attention. After a few short moments in the oven, your butter will have gone the way of the Wicked Witch of the West. It will now be a nice puddle of buttery goodness.

My love affair with butter must be pretty obvious at this point. After all, I devoted just as many pictures to the butter-melting process as I did to the actual blackberries themselves. The blackberries are still the stars of this dish, but the butter is certainly a very crucial cobbler co-star. Plus, Paula Deen would be proud of y’all.

Now it’s time to dump the other ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add one cup of self-rising flour and the cup of sugar. Whisk those together until they are combined.

Next, add the cup of whole milk. Now, grab that whisk! It’s time to whisk it. Whisk it good. Now that I’ve gotten that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day, let’s continue.

After a few seconds of vigorous whisking, your batter should look like a nice, smooth mixture.

I love all of the little bubbles that form on the surface. Obviously, up until this point, stirring has not only been encouraged, but it has been necessary. Now, I want you to put that whisk down. Don’t stir. It’s the name of the blog and it applies to the very important step that follows.

Pour your mixed flour, sugar, and milk into the baking dish on top of your melted butter. Try to distribute it as evenly as you can. Use a spatula to get out every last drop. Then, DON’T STIR!

Resist every single urge you may have to fiddle with this mixture. Let it sit. Put down the whisk or spoon. Finally, add your softened berries and their juice to the baking dish. Spoon the berries evenly on top of the batter and butter. Try to get some berries in every single part of the dish.

It may look a little odd at this point. Your gut may be imploring you to give everything a mighty stir so things don’t look so disjointed. Whatever you do, don’t stir!

Savor the simplicity of it. Savor the colors of it. Savor the smells of it. Just don’t stir it!

It’s time to get it ready for the oven.

Place the cobbler in your preheated oven for about 30-40 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the top turns a golden-brown color and your kitchen smells like sweet summertime. If the top isn’t turning golden brown for you after 30-40 minutes, you can place it under the broiler for a minute or so – but if you go that route, stand by the oven with the door cracked so you can pull it out the instant it is brown. You would hate to lose the cobbler at this point. There’s no bigger cobbler catastrophe than a burned crust.

When it’s finished, your final product will look like this:

Ready To Eat!

The buttery crust will have risen to the top. The blackberries will be peeking out from underneath the craggy crust. Your berries will have released some of their juice creating a sweet sauce in the bottom of the pan. Ideally, you would let this cool for a few moments and then dig in. While it’s still warm, add a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and get ready to ascend to the heavens. Enjoy the contrast of sweetness and tartness, crunchiness and softness, and the warm cobbler against the cold ice cream. Sure you’ll be picking seeds out of your teeth for the next week. Enjoy it, because each seed will provide you with a warm reminder of your scrumptious creation. Instead of being annoyed by these straggling seeds, you’ll be happy. You’ll smile as you fondly flick that seed with your tongue and remember the cobbler that transports you to straight to summertime. A time when life slows down and memories are made.

To stir, or not to stir? That is the question. Now you know the answer.

Happy seed picking,

The Taste Bud

Coffee Haiku

Today, I pay tribute to a drink that has given me strength, energy, and pep on countless desperate Monday mornings. Since I’m still having a major love fest after my wedding soup weekend, I dedicate this haiku to the liquid love of my life – coffee.

Nectar of the gods
Making mornings bearable
Coffee, I love you


Happy coffee drinking,

The Taste Bud

Will You Marry Me?

Forgive me for being so forward, but you can’t have a wedding until somebody has popped the question! Oh, we aren’t talking about that kind of wedding? You mean this is a blog about soup? Maybe I should start over.

This blog is dedicated to the soup that makes you think of wedding bells and saying your vows – Italian wedding soup. However, a thorough and exhaustive search of the Internet that lasted at least thirty seconds revealed that this soup’s connection to actual weddings may be a bit erroneous. The name appears to refer more to the marriage of actual ingredients within the soup, rather than the meal served after Jim and Ellen got hitched down at Bubba’s Chapel of Bliss in Vegas. Who knows, maybe Jim and Ellen had a hearty bowl of this delicious soup after tying the knot, but my soup-filled gut tells me this is most likely not the case. Regardless, the ingredients in this soup are a match made in heaven and they work together so harmoniously that the odds of a future divorce look to be slim. Perhaps the frequent and successful preparation of this dish could even lead to a wedding down the road, or strengthen the marriage you may already have. If you’re looking to impress that special someone in your life and perhaps dreaming of hearing the sound of wedding bells, this Italian wedding soup might not be a bad starting point. Now we just need the proper combination of ingredients to make this soup sing to the heavens – let’s go!

Don’t you even think about it! I know it might only be $1.50 for a can, but we are absolutely not going the canned route today. Would you want to marry somebody who thought a special dinner came out of a can? Probably not. As for our actual homemade soup, there are many different recipes, but nearly all of them include the combination of meatballs, vegetables, pasta, and dark greens swimming in a chicken broth. The soup-making process is basically twofold. You’ll make the meatballs, then you’ll make the soup. Then at the end, you perform the wedding ceremony and marry the two, just like a regular meatball minister. Here’s my take on what you’ll need to make the tastiest Italian wedding soup in all the land.

For the meatballs:

1 pound of ground chicken
1 pound of ground pork
2 eggs
3/4 – 1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of dried sage
1-2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
1 tablespoon of water
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, if you want a little extra spice)

Starting with the meat, I choose to use a combination of ground chicken and ground pork. The ground chicken is very lean and the ground pork adds a nice flavor without being too fatty. If you used a fattier meat like beef, you may end up with lots of grease floating on the top of your finished soup. We aren’t trying to eat soup that looks like it has suffered from an environmental disaster like an oil spill, so I would stick with the leaner meats. Add all of the ingredients mentioned earlier one by one. After you have added all of the seasonings and ingredients, your mixture should look something like this…

Doesn’t that look great already? The combination of spices, herbs, and cheese will blend beautifully together. Now let’s get messy. It’s all right, love isn’t always pretty. There’s no better way to mix this all up than to just get in there with my favorite kitchen utensils – my hands! Let the mixture squish all through your fingers. Get all of the ingredients incorporated. You should have a nicely mixed conglomeration of meat, herbs, cheese, and spices when you are finished.

Now it’s time to make the meatballs! If you start out with wet hands, the rolling process will be much easier. Take a hunk of this mixture and begin rolling it in between your hands. You want these meatballs to be no larger than one inch in diameter. With the amount of mixture you have at your disposal, you should be able to churn out 35-40 of these meatballs.

Now that’s a good looking plate of meatballs! This part of the recipe could easily be done in advance, although I wouldn’t do it much earlier than the morning of your soup-making endeavor. I personally prefer throwing these meatballs in a pan with a little olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes to brown them on the outside. This won’t completely cook the meatball all the way through, but it will develop a nice layer of flavor on the outside. If you don’t want to do this step, the meatballs could fully cook in the broth of the soup. You’ll just be missing a chance to develop a bit of extra flavor. Remember, we are trying to impress. Attention to detail matters!

After a few minutes on each side, you’ll end up with this result…

Once they get a nice color on the outside, pull them out of the pan. Don’t go popping one of these meatballs in your mouth just yet as they won’t be cooked in the middle. Raw poultry and humans don’t mix too well. After you have browned your meatballs, part one of your soup preparation is complete. Now let’s talk about the soup part of…our soup.

For the soup:
1 medium onion, diced
4 peeled carrots, diced
5 stalks of celery, diced
2-3 grated cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of stelline pasta (or orzo will work fine)
2 quarts (8 cups) of chicken stock
2 cups of water
6-8 ounces of baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of olive oil

It’s pretty tough to top the flavor combination of onions, carrots, and celery. It’s a combination often referred to as “The Trinity” by chefs around the globe and it’s a wonderful starting point for many different soups.

Once your vegetables are chopped and ready to go, get out your big soup pot and heat up your olive oil over a medium heat. Once it’s hot and ready to go, throw in your vegetables. Cook them until the carrots are tender. The goal here isn’t to brown – it’s more of a chance to let everybody get to know one another before the wedding takes place. As everybody is mingling in the pan, they’ll get more comfortable and start to soften. They’ll lose their inhibitions and before you know it, all the vegetables will be acquainted and ready to get on with the ceremony.

We are getting close to the end now. Add a few cloves of grated or finely minced garlic and let that cook for a quick minute. If you let it cook much longer, the garlic could burn, resulting in a bitter taste. Bitter garlic and love don’t mix. Now it’s time to add some liquid to actually make this a soup. Pour in your two quarts of chicken stock and two cups of water. Stir everything together and raise the heat until the soup comes to a simmer. Now it’s time to add our pasta. For this soup, you want a small pasta. Something like orzo or acini di pepe will work wonderfully. At the store, I came across a box of stelline, which are essentially little pieces of pasta shaped like stars. Since I was already feeling like a soup star, or a souperstar, I figured I might as well let that be reflected in my dish.


That’s what stelline looks like, if you’ve never seen it. Since you’re making this dish for your star, it only seems appropriate. Plus, there’s something about eating star-shaped pasta that makes you feel like a kid again. When you add the pasta, give everything a big stir and cover the pot, letting the soup simmer for about 8-9 minutes. This will give the pasta time to cook and release its starch, which will help to thicken your soup. Taste your soup at this point to see how much salt you need. Having the right amount of salt can make or break a soup. Without enough, your soup could end up tasting like a puddle of dirty water, so make sure you use enough. Taste early and often! Now add in your baby spinach and stir. The spinach will wilt down a tremendous amount, so even though it may seem like a lot, it will reduce. Trust me. After a minute or two when the spinach has wilted, the time has come. Everybody is dressed for the occasion. Everybody has had time to think things over…and over. There’s no turning back. Are you ready to perform the wedding? Grab your meatballs. It’s time.

The next step is very important. After you get married, you probably want to be left alone for a little while. We call this our honeymoon. It’s no different for your soup! Let them enjoy the honeymoon, Put a lid on the pot and leave it on a nice, low heat. Let the ingredients have a relaxing honeymoon, free of interruptions, so all of the flavors can combine. This is also the time when the meatballs will finish cooking completely. I recommend letting it simmer for at least thirty minutes, but an hour would be preferred. The longer you let your soup honeymoon, the more you will be rewarded in terms of flavor development.

When you can wait no longer, grab your bowl and get ready to ladle up the soup. I’d knock on the lid first just to be courteous – you are interrupting a honeymoon after all. Dip up a big bowl and get ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I recommend serving it up with a piece of toasted bread for dunking – hopefully this wouldn’t be considered being promiscuous for our newly wed creation. I garnish the bowl of goodness with a bit of fresh parsley and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.


It’s a meal fit for a king. You get meat, vegetables, starch, dairy, all combined into one bowl. It may be a labor of love, but it’s one that will reward your taste buds with every single bite. So if you’re thinking of popping the question, making this soup could certainly be the start to getting the answer you desire. If you’re not thinking of popping the question, at least when you’re finished you can officially call yourself a meatball minister. That alone is reason enough for me.

Cook with love,

The Taste Bud

Krazy for Kale

Kale. The luscious and leafy green vegetable that has been unceremoniously garnishing plates at restaurants across the country for decades. I can distinctly remember going out to dinner as a child and being so offended by that “green stuff” that was always on my plate – so offended that I would promptly pick it up and place it on the table beside my plate. Heaven forbid it actually touched any of the good food that was waiting for me. Of course, the kale was merely on the plate as decoration, or a garnish. it was an afterthought. A sad, sad afterthought. That’s how I felt about kale for all of my childhood years and many of my adult years. It never even dawned on me that you could actually eat the stuff! So, why eat kale? Well for starters, it actually does have a wonderful taste when it’s cooked properly. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s absolutely loaded with nutrients and vitamins. Also appealing to this penny-pinching cook, it’s extremely inexpensive. There are many different applications for cooking kale, but today I’m going to write about my favorite – the kale chip. These chips have brought kale out of the dungeon and thrust them straight into the spotlight.

Speaking of the spotlight, working in television requires me to keep quite unusual hours. On most nights I’m getting home just before midnight. Perfect timing for a true midnight snack! This is where the trouble begins. I’m always tempted to go for the potato chips (bet I can’t eat just one…bag). Obviously this isn’t the best habit to be in before my nightly slumber, so what if I could substitute my favorite potato chips with something a bit healthier? Something that would still give me the satisfying crunchy, salty bite that I crave at that hour, without all of the guilt. Kale now enters the picture. Stay with me.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the perfect potato chip substitute:

1 bunch of kale
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
A lemon wedge (optional)

Fairly simple and straightforward, no? First you need to get your kale prepped for the oven. Give it a nice rinse and pat the leaves completely dry. This is a very important step. If you don’t remove as much of the water as possible, your kale will get soggy instead of crispy. Nobody wants a soggy chip! Now you’ll want to peel the kale off of the big, thick stem running right down the middle. The stem isn’t edible, so remove the leafy green parts and discard the stem. Tear the leafy green pieces until they’re a little bit bigger than bite-sized chunks. They’ll shrink quite a bit in the oven once they start cooking. Place the torn pieces of kale on a baking sheet that you’ve lined with aluminum foil.

They’re almost ready for the oven, but we are missing one critical step. These guys need some seasoning to make sure they’ll taste super when you pull them out of the oven. Give them a healthy drizzle of olive oil and then as much salt and pepper as your taste buds prefer. If you want your kale chips to have a little bit of a bite, squeeze some fresh lemon juice on them at this point. Then get in there with your hands and mix it all together. Try to make sure that each kale chip has some of the olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

The chips are ready to be baked. Place them in a preheated 325 degree oven, but don’t go too far because you’ll need to keep an eye on them. There’s a fine line between creating a kale chip and a kale krisp. One is nice and the other isn’t. After about 8 or 9 minutes of baking, pull the pan out and give them a stir. They’ll need about 8 or 9 more minutes before they are completely finished. Once they have completed the cooking process, your baking sheet full of kale chips should look like this:


The kale has gone through a total transformation. The edges will be brown and crisp. The flavor profile will also be totally different. What once was a bitter green will now take on a nutty and caramelized flavor. It’s amazing what that 16-20 minutes in the oven can do! Now it’s time to plate them up!

They really won’t need much additional seasoning. If you want to glam them up a bit, you could sprinkle some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top while they are still warm. Otherwise, they are good to eat just like they are. You can make a big batch and then store the leftovers in containers, so when the urge for a salty, crunchy snack hits, you’ll be ready!

It’s time we stopped thinking about kale as a garnish. It’s a versatile, tasty, inexpensive, and healthy vegetable, so let’s give it the respect it deserves. Going krazy for something can be a good thing and this is certainly one of those times. Your taste buds will thank you. This Taste Bud will thank you.

Happy eating,

The Taste Bud