Friday, August 5

Mt. Juliet lands the next Nashville Original

If you're on any social media at all, you won't be surprised to know that after months of planning, building, and red tape, a locally owned steakhouse open in Nashville late last month.
Woodfire MJ officially opened July 29. Tonight, Mike and I joined my parents to try it out and to belatedly celebrate my mom's birthday.
I've been reading reviews all week to get an idea of what to expect. I'm happy to report that my experience was nothing but positive.
A few concerns I had read: parking lot filled up quickly; dining room was too hot; dining room was too loud; tables were too close together/not enough privacy; sides were cold; steaks were fatty or not not cooked to requested temp; and service was slow.
We had no such experience. We met Mom there, and neither of us had any problem parking in the paved area. The temperature was very comfortable inside (and I usually run hot, so this is saying something). I didn't find the dining room to be any louder or crowded than any other restaurant we've been to. And the service was wonderful...our server was attentive without being too much in our business.
But perhaps the most important part: the food.
Dinner starts with complimentary zucchini bread, served warm with cinnamon honey butter. The bread had a excellent crusty outside with a light, fluffy inside.

Zucchini Bread
We also decided to try an order of the fried green tomatoes (only one of which is photographed because we each snatched one up and tried it before I remembered to take snap a shot. You could tell they were fresh, nice and hot. The sauce on the bottom had a bit of a kick, but the spice was less noticeable when you ate it with the tomatoes and added a nice, smoky flavor. Breading was crispy but not too heavy.
Fried Green Tomatoes Tomato
For the main course, dad ordered the shrimp and grits, He didn't say much to the rest of us after it came, and before we knew it, it was gone. He said it was very good, though, with plenty of shrimp that was cooked well. He also loved the country ham bits they use.
Shrimp and Grits
Mike and Mom both ordered the Beef Tenderloin, which is served with mashed potatoes and asparagus with pickled hollandaise. Mike ordered medium rare, and it spot-on...warm throughout but still nice and red. Mom ordered well done and was equally pleased (though we may have convinced her to try medium-well next time.) They both polished off their sides and said they paired perfectly with the steak.
Beef Tenderloin
I ordered the Nashville Strip Steak (medium-rare), topped with crispy onions and served with truffle tots and grilled green beans. On my...everything was so tasty. My steak was also cooked as I ordered. The tots were wonderfully crisp on the outside, and the green beans were delicious. I will admit, my first bite of the steak had a mild bitter taste, like maybe it got a little too much char on it, but every other bite was delicious. I was hesitant about barbecue sauce on a steak, but it wasn't overwhelming...just enough to add a little flavor, without the saltiness that rubs sometimes add. All of us finished nearly every bite of our dinners, but we were there to celebarte, and so…
Nashville Strip Steak
Nashville Stacked Pie
Despite the fact that were all full, we ordered the Nashville Stacked Pie for dessert, a 100-year-old recipe from The Pie Lady. A word of warning: Do not order this for yourself. It's so good, but so, so rich. My favorite part was the marshmallow fluff (which, truth be told, I could eat straight up on the graham cracker crust). It worked out well for us, though, because Mom's not a huge marshmallow fan and preferred the chocolate bit (even she admitted to liking the fluff more than most, though.)

All told, we all agreed we'd go back again. I know have some have said it's too pricey, and I guess that would depend on what you're expecting. If you're expecting steakhouse food for Applebee's prices, you're probably going to think it's too expensive. If you can recognize that the food is elevated (though not pretentious at all — I felt totally comfortable dining in jeans) and coming fresh to your table, the price seems right in line with what you get. Entrees range from $15-$30, apps between $6 and $12 and desserts at $7. They have a short, but nice enough wine list ($9-$12/glass), but they also offer house wines for $6. In other words, this could be a decadent splurge-worthy night out, but you can also keep it reasonable if that's what your looking for. (And for all you non-meat eaters out there, they had several vegetarian options available that looked good even to me.)
Let me know when you want to try it … I'd be happy to tag along!

Sunday, December 28

Savory Bread Pudding: The new starchy side dish

One more today, and then I'm taking a break. I don't know that I've ever made bread pudding for dessert, much less as a side dish. But when we saw Ina Garten's Leek and Artichoke Bread Pudding recently (you guessed it, in FNM), we knew we needed to add it to our mini Thanksgiving menu.

We did make a few variations, but nothing major. We used about 3 leeks, but all of it instead of just the white and light green parts. Next time I'd leave the dark green bits out like the recipe said. The flavor was good, but the texture of the dark green leeks wasn't as good as the stayed tougher instead of getting soft.

Also, we used jarred artichokes instead of frozen, and they worked just fine in our opinion. We had the deli cut a big chunk of fresh Swiss cheese as we didn't see one labeled as Emmentaler. I doubt it made a difference at all.

Oh my goodness. I don't think I can go back to sweet bread puddings. This was amazing. Rich, filling, but oh so amazing. I would easily make it again, though like the previous mashed potatoes, half a recipe would be more than enough to feed just Mike and I. Duly noted for  next time, but this time we enjoyed days of leftovers.

I was incredibly pleased as well to note that my finished product looked so much like the finished product in the magazine. I mean, how often does this really happen?

I was tickled when emailing with my old boss just after trying this. I commented about the new recipe and how tasty it was, and she replied that savory bread puddings were "the new starchy side dish." If the rest of them are like this one, I can see why!

Leek and Artichoke Bread Pudding
8 cups (1-inch-diced) day-old bakery white bread, crusts removed
3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
6 cups (½-inch-diced) leeks, white and light green parts (5 leeks)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves
4 extra-large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups grated Emmentaler Swiss cheese (8 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread cubes on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes, tossing once, until lightly browned. Place the pancetta in one layer on another sheet pan and bake in the same oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Place the pancetta on a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.

Soak the leeks in water until they're clean, and spin them dry in a salad spinner. Heat the butter in an 11-inch pot over medium heat; add the leeks and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and cook for 5 minutes, until the wine almost evaporates and the leeks are tender. Off the heat, mix in the artichokes, toasted bread cubes, chives and tarragon.

Whisk the eggs, cream, chicken stock, nutmeg and 1 teaspoon salt together in a large bowl. Spoon half of the bread mixture into a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half the Emmentaler and add the remaining bread mixture. Pour on the cream mixture, sprinkle with the remaining Emmentaler and press lightly to help the bread absorb the liquid. Dice or crumble the pancetta, scatter on top and sprinkle with pepper. Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the cream mixture. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the custard is set and the bread pudding is puffed and golden. Serve hot.

Make it ahead: Assemble the bread pudding and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bake before serving.

Mashed Potatoes, All Fancied-Up

Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite side dishes at the holidays. You can enjoy them plain, with gravy, reheated the next day with Cheddar cheese and a hot dog (don't knock it until you try it)… the possibilities are endless.

By the same token, though, mashed potatoes can get boring. So when we saw Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes (in the same magazine issue as the Maple Walnut Cheesecake.) There is an option for making it in advance and baking when you're ready, but Mike and I made this the Saturday after Thanksgiving for our "mini Thanksgiving."

They were so good, tangy and creamy and so flavorful. We would make them again for sure, but perhaps only half the recipe since there are just the two of us. We don't own a ricer, but a potato masher seemed to work just fine for us. Find the recipe below, or online here.

Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes
3 pounds large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in 3/4-inch chunks
5 large garlic cloves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
7 to 8 ounces garlic-and-herb goat cheese, at room temperature, such as Montrachet
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sour cream
½ cup half-and-half or milk
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the potatoes, garlic and 1 tablespoon salt in a large pot with enough water to cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until very tender.

Drain the potatoes and garlic and process them together through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade set on top of a bowl. While the potatoes are still hot, stir in the goat cheese, butter, sour cream, half-and-half, 4 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a 9x12 oval baking dish, smoothing the top. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve hot.

Make it ahead: Assemble the dish, including the Parmesan, and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Bake before serving.

First of Many Holiday Treats

I've tried a ton of new recipes recently, but have been remiss in sharing them. This cheesecake caught my eye in the November issue of Food Network Magazine, and I decided right away to try it. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded, so I decided to go for broke and bought ingredients to make it both for the Thanksgiving potluck at work and for dinner at my parents house later that week.

It does seem like a lot of ingredients, but it was so well worth it that I would happily make it again. I went home from the work feast with only crumbs in my pan, so I'd say it was a success. You can find the recipe on Food Network website, or I've posted it below. No changes, so have at it!

For the crust:
1 sleeve graham crackers (about 9 crackers)
¾ cup walnut pieces (preferably black walnuts)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of kosher salt

For the filling:
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon maple extract


Fill a roasting pan halfway with water and set on a rack in the lower third of the oven; position another rack in the middle and preheat to 350 degrees. Wrap the outside (bottom and side) of a 9-inch springform pan with foil. Make the crust: Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor a few times until crushed. Add the walnuts and brown sugar and continue pulsing until finely ground. Add the melted butter, nutmeg and salt and pulse to combine. Press into the bottom and about 1 inch up the side of the prepared pan. Bake until the crust is lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

Make the filling: Beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until nearly smooth, about 1 minute. Add the maple syrup and granulated sugar and beat until smooth, about 2 more minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Increase the speed to medium high and beat in the flour, heavy cream, lemon juice and maple extract until the filling is smooth and silky, about 1 more minute.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Transfer the cheesecake to the oven, placing it on the middle rack directly over the water bath. Bake until golden and set around the edge but the center still jiggles slightly, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 5 hours or overnight. Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature 20 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge and remove the springform ring.

Thursday, October 16

Bourbon+Bacon=A Tasty Treat

Recently, I needed an item for a bake sale at work. I was tired of making the same old thing: cookies, brownies, etc. I wanted something out of the norm, something delicious … something with bacon.

I've seen recipes similar to this one before, but always talked myself out of making them. It seemed too complicated, too precise, too sticky. This time, however, I made the mistake of mentioning to co-workers that I was thinking about trying something new. Once I told them what it was (Bacon Bourbon Popcorn), it was all over. I was committed.

Honestly, this was not as tricky as I thought it might be. I popped my corn using the stovetop method. (HINT: scoop out as many of the unpopped kernels as possible once the popcorn has cooled off. It's so much easier that after they're swimming in caramel sauce.) Also, I opted to cook the bacon in the oven. I've been cooking it this way for a while, and it's the best way to cook large amounts at a time and drain off all the grease in one fail swoop. We use Alton Brown's method.

My final tip, and I cannot recommend this one enough, is to buy disposable roasting pans. Partly I did this to avoid having to clean potentially caramel-coated pans, but also, I could buy a disposable pan that was larger than my largest baking pan for $1. Money well spent, I guarantee, to not have kernels spill out of the pan every time you try to stir them up.
I have to admit, I was pretty proud of the final result. You can taste the bourbon without it overpowering everything, and the bacon adds that delightful salty quality I love. Mike also gave it his seal of approval, and I had to keep my eye on him so he wouldn't eat it all before I could get it bagged up. (No worries, he got his own bag to keep at home.

Bacon Bourbon Caramel Popcorn
5 quarts popped popcorn
½ to 1 pound thick-cut bacon, cooked until almost crispy and chopped 
cup (2 sticks) butter 
2 cups brown sugar 
½ cup maple syrup or light corn syrup 
1 teaspoon sea salt 
½ teaspoon baking soda
ounces bourbon (cheap is fine)
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar, maple syrup and sea salt and cook until boiling at the edges, stirring frequently. Lower the heat slightly and let boil until the caramel is 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add the baking soda and bourbon. Once fully incorporated, stir in the bacon.

Divide the popcorn into two very lightly greased roasting pans and coat with the caramel. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes to coat all the popcorn in the coating.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the counter, stirring occasionally to keep the popcorn from clumping together.

See the bacon-y goodness.

Saturday, October 11

Welcoming Fall, One Sip at a Time

The weather has finally turn (barely) cooler, and while many have their knickers in twist over all thing pumpkin, I'm all about the apple.

In light of a soggy, wet weekend, we decided to try a new cocktail to welcome the new fall season.

It was simple, delicious, and refreshing, requiring minimum ingredients.

Spiked Apple Cider
(compliments of Aaron McCargo Jr.)
1/4 gallon apple cider
1/2 cup dark rum
1/2 cup cinnamon schnapps

Mix together in a pitcher or large bowl. Chill until ready to serve. Serve in glasses over ice. Garnish with chopped apple on a skewer.

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Saturday, August 30

This is happening again

We planted a raised-bed garden in our backyard this year. It was our first attempt, and we planted a wide variety of veggies: cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, a variety of herbs, tomatoes…you name it. We've definitely picked up a few tricks to use next year, like 6 tomato plants in a 5 by 8-foot space is too many, but overall have experienced a fair amount of success.
In our recent Food Network Magazine, there were 3 different tomato pie/tart recipes, but this was a must as soon as I saw "corn custard" in the title. It seemed like the perfect combo: tomatoes from the Nash garden plus fresh corn from our Delvin Farms CSA equals deliciousness in a pie shell. I was sold.

We made it that weekend, and I am (only somewhat) ashamed to admit that within 12 hours, it was gone…not a crumb to be found anywhere. Our Delvin Farms corn was so sweet you could eat it raw straight from the cob, and our tomatoes have been so juicy, it was the perfect food marriage. The filling was creamy without being too rich, and the crumb topping added just enough texture. You could use dried thyme in place of the fresh, but I wouldn't. This is one we made straight from the recipe, no amendments needed. I would suggest wrapping the edge of the crust with foil to prevent overbrowning, though. Don't let the seemingly long directions deter you, either. While it seems like a lot to do, each step was easy. And if you're lucky enough to have any leftovers, I recommend heating it up just enough to take the chill off.

Without further ado, Tomato and Corn Custard Pie.

Tomato and Corn Custard Pie

1 round refrigerated pie dough (half of a 14-ounce package)
2 beefsteak tomatoes (about 12 ounces)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ears of corn, kernels cut off (1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 scallions, chopped
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Position racks in the middle and upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the dough, crimping the edge with your fingers. Poke the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Line with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake on the middle rack until golden around the edge, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and weights; continue baking until golden all over, about 10 more minutes.

Meanwhile, core the tomatoes and cut into 1/2-inch wedges; toss with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Spread the tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels to drain until ready to use.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer 1/2 cup of the corn to a large bowl.

Add the heavy cream to the saucepan with the remaining corn and bring to a simmer. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth; transfer to the bowl with the corn. Whisk in the eggs, half each of the scallions and cheese, and a few grinds of black pepper; pour into the crust. Bake on the middle rack until the custard is just set, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 400 degrees F.

Mix the remaining scallions and cheese, the panko, thyme, paprika, cayenne and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and black pepper in a bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the mixture on top of the pie. Pat the tomato wedges with paper towels to absorb the excess moisture, then coat with the remaining panko mixture and arrange on top of the tart. Sprinkle any remaining panko on top; dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Return to the oven on the upper rack and bake until the top is golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before slicing.