Tuesday, December 14

A Merry Cofer Christmas, Pesto Lasagna and a Winter Wonderland

Oh, how I love the weekends.  Nashville, you've done it again.  You've simultaneously managed to create a winter wonderland the day after a fantastic Christmas party hosted by our dear friends, the Cofers.  A deliciously snowy and cozy Sunday such as this could come in very handy if one were recovering after a night of Rudolph and Santa-inspired beverages, theoretically speaking of course.

The Christmas party was AWESOME.  The lovely hosts didn't neglect a thing.  Present were fall-out-of-your-chair-hilarious games, Thrift store-gift swaps and a photo booth set up by the one and only Claudia Kay.  As you can see, we spent way too much time in front of Claudia's camera and homemade backdrop.  This was the most blog-friendly pic I could find.

In order to completely outdo themselves, they also made Pesto Lasagna.  I'm a big fan of lasagna.  I'm sure it's rather homely of me to admit, but this lasagna in particular is anything but.  Definitely guest appropriate, but even better enjoyed in blizzard-like conditions.

I stumbled across this recipe on my favorite new website Pinterest, a cataloguing platform of sorts that allows you to create little folders of things that you love.  For me, it's home to yummy recipes, gift ideas, DIY inspirations and general things that I covet.  You must check it out...if you're ever needing ideas for just about anything under the moon, this is the place to go.

The Italian Dish, who originally featured this recipe, deserves all the credit.  The reviews were so great, I decided to make it for a group of friends without a trial run, which always make me a bit nervous.  I knew though, when I dipped my finger in the bechamel sauce that it would not disappoint.  In fact, I'm pretty sure the plates were licked clean.  I added shredded chicken between the layers of sauce, pesto and cheese so the boys couldn't complain about being forced into vegetarianism once again.

(The A-MAZ-ing) Pesto Lasagna
photo courtesy The Italian Dish

1 box lasagna noodles, cooked according to instructions on box

3 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into chunks, or shredded
1-1/2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk (whole or lowfat)
1 teaspoon "better than bouillon" (no msg)
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Prepare pesto: Place the chunks of parmesan cheese into the food processor and process until finely ground.  Add the basil, garlic and pine nuts to food processor.  Process, using pulses, till finely chopped.  With machine running, add the olive oil until pesto is smooth.

Prepare bechamel: In a heavy medium saucepan, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour and stir for a couple of minutes, until the flour is cooked.  Stir in teaspoon of Better than Bouillon.  Whisk.  Add about a third of the milk, slowly, and whisk over medium heat.  Add the nutmeg and pepper.  When the sauce is smooth, add another third of the milk and whisk.  When the sauce is smooth again, add the rest of the milk and whisk until smooth. Transfer to a heat proof bowl or Pyrex cup and let cool slightly.

Assemble Lasagna: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In an 8x8 pan, place about 1/3 cup of the bechamel to coat the bottom of the pan. Lay first layer of lasagna noodles.  Add enough bechamel to coat the noodles.  Add some pesto and spread into the bechamel.  Add a handful of the grated Parmesan. Continue to layer the noodles, bechamel, pesto and Parmesan until the last layer of noodles.  On top of this, just spread the bechamel only, add the rest of the Parmesan and top with the mozzarella.  Sprinkle the oregano on top.  Wrap tightly with foil (preferably Reynolds No-Stick foil).
Bake for one hour (if using regular, cooked noodles) or one hour and 15 minutes (if using no-boil noodles). Remove foil and bake for 10 minutes more, until top is golden.  Remove from oven and allow to sit for 15 minutes before slicing.

If you're making this in advance, be sure to allow bechamel to cool completely before layering.  Cover and store in fridge.  Let it sit at room temperature for an hour prior to cooking.

Friday, December 10


Here's a little gem for you winter weekend.  I'm such a girl, but I can't help myself.  I'm in love with this song.  Have a weekend filled with fa la la's, special cookies and old Christmas movies (fingers crossed for snow again).
I'll be back soon, I promise.  I have a super yummy recipe to share.
love, love, love.

Sunday, December 5

Lemon-Pear Breakfast Bread

As I sit here and write, we're watching the first of the season's snow fall while we sip on our hot, foamy coffee and listen (one of us begrudgingly) to Michael Buble's Holiday radio station on Pandora.  Can a girl get any more sappy?  Probably not, but you should know by now that I am quite the romantic.

For not having an ounce of my Christmas shopping done, I'm feeling peculiarly relaxed.  Peaceful even, and I wonder if it will vanish without a second's notice when I realize just how much I have to do before our trip home for the Holidays.  And then I remember a little chat my Grandma and I had last weekend.  It is no cliche to say how wise this woman is.  I suppose it's my age that allows me to feel such gratitude for her enlightened disposition in life, rather than roll my eyes and wish she were done with the anecdotes and bite size pieces of advice.

We were probably talking about our Thanksgiving that we had 2000 miles away from each other,  when she reminded me that the wisest man that once lived said "simplicity is the essence of life."  And just when I begin to get overwhelmed with all that I should be doing this season, I'm given a little perspective.  A little gem of advice once again, from the wisest woman I know, and that is to place importance on what that really matters.

I know Thanksgiving has passed, but again I find myself especially thankful.  Right now, for Sundays and snow, oh and homemade bread.  Because what's a blog post without a recipe?

Lemon-Pear Breakfast Bread

1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup honey
1 cup pear puree
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 ripe pears, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brush a 9"x4" pan with oil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup oil, lemon zest, eggs, honey, pear puree, and poppy seeds.  Add to dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Fold in grated pears.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake until bread is golden brown, slightly cracked on the surface and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 75-85 minutes.  Remove from oven; let stand until cooled completely before serving.

recipe courtesy of O magazine

Tuesday, November 16

Crunchy...as in Granola

I once had a friend call me "Holistic Granola."  I chuckle to myself as I write this.  I was slightly offended, "I'm so not granola."  But alas, I am.  In all the crunchy, nutty-with-a-little-dried-fruit kinds of ways.  It hit me last night as I was eating what my husband calls "bear shit in a yam."  Well, actually Mr. Isaacson it's an acorn squash.  Not that it helps my case any.

Let's go back to last month's issue of Martha Stewart Living.  Or was it from the Everyday Food recipe that pops up in my daily email?  In any case, I've been planning my very first Thanksgiving Dinner for the in-laws.  Excuse me for a moment while I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants.  Ahem.  This will be their first visit to the lovely state of Tennessee, so naturally we're excited to show them our Nashville and our humble little abode.  And you should know by now...in my world, it doesn't get any better than feasting with family and friends.

It was during my search of the perfect turkey recipe, that I stumbled across this fancy little number.   "What a lovely vegetarian option this would be for our feast," I muse to myself (lets keep in mind we have a total of zero vegetarians in the family).  I think it was the scalloped edges of the acorn squash that first caught my eye...I'm a sucker for anything ruffled.  More or less, it spoke to me in an audibly (and strangely British) deep voice:  "I will surely impress your relatives."

So as a test run, the Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice is what I made for dinner last night.  Cut to my husband "it looks like a bear shit in your yam".  Argh.  Lets start with the positives though, shall we?  It was super easy to make, and it made the house smell earthy and warm.  And it was very easy to photograph because it's a gorgeous dish.  And boy does it stick to your ribs.  Was it a Thanksgiving worthy meal?  Lucky for my relatives, I'd say no.  Unless of course you are a vegetarian and in need of some options.  Great, I'd say for anyone who'd like to open up the world of possibilites that acorn squash has to offer.  And I'm pretty sure, this is the mother of  "super foods"...you've got your pumpkin seeds, cherries, and beta-carotene packed squash.  Watch out free radicals.

Then again, I'm quite the traditionalist when it comes to my Turkey Dinner essentials.  I love to experiment with most foods on any given day, but I'd say it's almost mandatory to stick with what you know for this one evening...the sweet potatoes, crescent rolls, stuffing, maybe an herb-twist to the old mashers, cranberry sauce, etc.  Things that get better every year because you've only been making them for centuries now.  Although I have been known to get a little crazy and make a new high-class salad or dessert, just for the wow factor.

Now, I'm not saying I don't stand behind this meal, because I wouldn't put it up for the world (or my family, rather) to see if I didn't think it was worthy.  It just isn't for Thanksgiving, in my humble opinion.  So my fellow crunchy granola readers (I know you're out there)...this one's for you.  And just pretend I haven't referred to it twice now as bear shit.  Bears don't shit out anything nearly this pretty.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice

1 cup Lundberg (or other) wild blend rice
2 cups broth or water
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic
1 shallot
sea salt and black pepper
2 acorn squash
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or toasted pecans
1/2 cup dried cherries
extra virgin olive oil
brown sugar


Prep rice: In large pot, add butter, garlic and shallots over medium heat.  Saute until translucent.  Add water/broth and rice and turn up heat.  Bring to a boil, stir once, and cover with tight-fitting lid.  Set timer for 50 minutes.

Prep acorn squash: Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Slice squash in half so the scalloped edges show (this is the pretty part).  Remove seeds and membranes with spoon.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the brown sugar, sea salt and pepper on top.  Place face down on foil-lined and rimmed cookie sheet and cover with foil to prevent top from burning.  Place in oven and bake for about 35-40 minutes.

When rice has finished cooking, mix in pumpkin seeds and cherries.  Remove squash from oven when ready (pierce with a fork, and when it easily glides through, it's ready), and scoop heaping spoonfuls of rice into center of squash.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, November 4

Cauliflower Gratin and a Trip to San Diego

What a busy couple of weeks we've had!  I hate to be away for so long, but such is life.  It seems like so much has happened lately, but I promise not to bore you with every detail.  I've been a bad blogger too... I haven't had my camera handy, so you'll have to excuse the iphone pictures.

For the first time since we moved to Nashville, we flew back to San Diego for a little getaway.  The trip was a true testament to our age because it was gloriously filled with a wedding AND a baby shower (separate couples!).  And for the first time, I was a tourist in my old stomping grounds.  This fact was not made any less obvious by our rental car.  I was a little embarrassed for us, but not enough to not take the top off and blast the music all the way down the coast.

There was a lot of reminiscing going on that weekend.  It was difficult to imagine that we spent nearly 10 years there.  We soaked up some time at the beach and hit up our favorite eateries.  One of our favorites used to be a coffee shop that sits on the 101 along the coast.  All of my memories at Pannikin are of overcast and windy San Diego mornings and the day we visited was no exception.  We laughed how everyone kept apologizing for the bad weather.  In their defense, it was 65 and overcast.

The best part of our trip was not the food or even seeing the ocean again.  It was getting to spend time with our dear old friends; catching up on life and seeing all the changes that had taken place while we were gone.  It was hard leaving, knowing we would miss two more babies being born.  But on the upside, San Diego is not a bad place to visit when it's time to go back.

I was excited to get home and back to cooking but not to make this recipe.  In fact, I've been dreading it.  My Grandma makes the most amazing Cauliflower Noodles Alfredo, but the problem is, I can't make it for the life of me.  Last Spring I gave it a go.  No big deal, right?  Noodles Alfredo...I've got this one in the bag.  I ended up dumping the entire batch in the trash (and I'll eat just about anything).  I even crossed it off the "Must Have" list at one point.  But it taunted me all summer long.  I've resisted the "cauliflower" self-talk for months, and it finally got the better of me.  Did I mention I hate cauliflower?  So the cauliflower and I had to compromise.  I decided if it was going in anything, it had to be pureed.  My sister actually makes a killer Cauliflower soup (that I promise to get the recipe for) and if she can get it taste good, maybe I can too.  My cooking pales in comparison to hers though, so there's no guarantee.

This recipe is something I've been mentally preparing for for months, so when I finally took it to the kitchen, it just snowballed.  In honor of finding out that I have French Canadian blood (I've always wished I was French...but wait, does that count?), I decided to use brown butter as the base, which turned out to be a fabulous idea.  It gave a nutty complexity to the sweet and creamy cauliflower.  It was perfection!  I somehow created a perfect balance of flavors, and this fledgling cook actually felt like a real one for a fleeting moment in time.

It ended up being more of a casserole than an alfredo.  The sauce was almost mashed-potato-like, but without the guilt.  I feel like a proud parent to my little dish, "Cauliflower Gratin."  I hope you like it!

Cauliflower Gratin


1 head of cauliflower
10 ounces whole grain penne pasta, cooked al dente, drained and set aside
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
small handful of fresh sage, finely chopped
small handful of parsley, finely chopped
whole wheat breadcrumbs
parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare Cauliflower: Remove leaves and cut off florets.  Discard core.  Steam cauliflower florets for 8-10 minutes.  Place florets into food processor or blender and puree until smooth and creamy.  If dry, add a dash of cream.

Brown Butter: In large pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Stir constantly to prevent solids from sticking to the bottom and burning.  Butter will begin to turn a golden-tan color.  Remove from heat.  Allow to cool just briefly.

Sauce: Add minced garlic to butter to instantly saute.  Quickly add pureed cauliflower to prevent garlic from burning and becoming bitter.  Add salt, and stir over medium-low heat.  Mix in pre-cooked pasta, and pour into gratin dish.

In a small bowl, mix equal parts of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese (not a lot, just enough to lightly top the dish) and add chopped parsley, sage and a few grinds of white pepper.  Top pasta with breadcrumb mixture to add a little texture, and place in preheated oven for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Thursday, October 21

Maple and Ginger Baked Apples with Spice Whipped Cream

Do you  mind if I brag for a moment about my friends?  I promise it's not to make you feel bad or left out, but to let you know that a good group of friends can make a world of difference.

Since moving to Nashville, Cope and I have made some of the best friends we have ever had.  Not just one or two, but a group of people that we've all become super close with.  They've become our surrogate family in many ways; we share meals, weekends and holidays with them.  I've never had such a close-knit group of friends like this, and after years of fantasizing about having "Friends" of our own, my wish has finally come true ("I'll be there for you...").

These Nashville peeps of ours are a talented group as well.  Annoyingly talented.  And, not just in the musical sense.  We all share a love of the arts, and I suppose that's why we've all connected so well.  Each of them is following their heart in pursuing a dream all their own.  There is a fire amongst our friends that I've never witnessed before.  In large, they've all been an inspriation for me to follow my own dreams and I don't think I could have started this book without them.  Not to mention I have a full-on creative staff complete with a graphic designer, photographer, jewelry designer (more to come) and editor.

And there is no lack of encouragement, either.  I'm convinced it's this support system that keeps us all trying, failing, and getting closer to that dream everyday.

The reason I'm sharing this with you today is because I am feeling especially grateful for my friends.  Grateful to have such wonderful people in my life that are a positive force in every way.  And the only way I really know how to show a little gratitude is to whip up something yummy!

I had my first baked apple several weeks ago, and fell in love.  I've been thinking about them ever since, and trying to figure out a way to add in some of my favorite fall spices and textures.  After coring the apple, I stuffed it with a topping that I've used for the "Crunchy Caramel Apple Pie" but substituted the brown sugar with maple syrup, and added fresh ginger.  And of course, an inside-out apple pie isn't complete without something creamy to dip it in.  It's super easy to make, and a fun treat to serve your guests at a Pumpkin Carving Party, or any other fall festivity for that matter.  And it makes your house smell extra dreamy.

Maple and Ginger Baked Apples with Spice Whipped Cream

4 rome or gala apples
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick rolling oats
4 cinnamon sticks
1 cup whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Core apple with melon baller.  Peel about 1 inch of skin from tops of apples; cut a sliver off bottom so apples can stand.  Place in 9-inch glass pie plate.

In a bowl, mix together flour, oats and grated ginger.  Pour in 1/2 cup maple syrup and stir.  Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until combined.

Scoop mixture into each apple and round off top.  Insert cinnamon stick into each one.  Place remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons maple syrup in pie plate.

Bake apples for about 35 minutes, basting occasionally with pan juices.  Pierce apple with fork and when tender, remove from oven.  Watch carefully as oven temps vary.

Spice Whipped Cream:
In a chilled metal bowl, whip cold cream just until soft peaks form.  Add confectioners' sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and whip until soft peaks return.  Serve alongside baked apples and drizzle with warm pan juices.

What are you thankful for today?

Friday, October 15

Pasta Fagioli

I swear the only thing keeping me from being 500 pounds is my dog.  Since getting her a year ago this week, I've grown to love our (twice) daily walks together.  Every morning at 6:30, she jumps on the bed (if she's not snuggled between Copeland and I) and literally taps me with her paw ("wake up, lazy ass"), being gentler on some mornings, like when we've been up late with friends.  Oh wait, that's me wishing she were a little kinder on those mornings.

I can already smell the coffee brewing, and as I shuffle to the kitchen, Ava begins her preparation for her morning exercise.  A little "downward facing dog" really helps to get the blood flowing I'm told.  Despite my moaning and groaning, this is my favorite part of the day.  With her head cocked to one side, she waits patiently as I get ready...that is, until she sees the chapstick go on, which of course indicates that shoes come next, then leash...Wahoo!!  After her full-body-wiggle into her collar and leash, we're off!

"They" say that nature hikes makes you smarter, by the way.  Apparently, it improves memory, or something to that effect.  I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I will say, I'm happier because of them.  I know I'll make an excellent old lady one day because nothing warms my heart more than these peaceful moments of reflection.

My mind usually wanders to food: "What should I make for breakfast?" (Hmm...pumpkin-spiced oatmeal with dried cranberries and pecans, drizzled with maple syrup.  Yes please!), or "Is it wrong to make myself a pumpkin pie?"  What I love most about my morning walks is that I usually get a moment of clarity, albeit brief.  Since the turn of the seasons, I've been struggling with the fall and winter recipes in my book.  Don't ask me how I haven't been inspired with such a variety of yummy food available.  I don't get the whole "block" thing, but I've had it for weeks.  Not ideal when you're trying to write a book.

So, in this moment of clarity, it becomes apparent that I need to try something:  Gram's pasta fagioli (fa-ZOOL - as it's known in my house) would be SO yummy with butternut squash as the base instead of tomatoes.  Substitute the basil with sage, sprinkle with pancetta, and bingo!  Inspiration is back at my door, and one can only hope she'll stay for a while.

The original recipe follows below, with my changes in parenthesis, which I  must say, is an unexpected delight!  I loved the warmth and spice of the butternut squash with the creamy white beans.  And the smoky pancetta kicks it up a notch.  Yum!  If you're not feeling adventurous, the OG Pasta Fagioli is warm and hearty!  Perfect before an evening stroll.

Happy Friday!

Pasta Fagioli

3 cans of cannellini beans
1 pound elbow or shell pasta (I use brown rice or whole wheat)
8 cups organic chicken stock
1 jar of tomato sauce (or 2 cups pureed butternut squash)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup fresh basil (or sage), finely chopped
1/8 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
Sea salt
*(optional) 4 ounces cubed Pancetta


Puree 2 cans of beans in blender or food processor.  While running, add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to create a smooth consistency.  Drain the third can of beans in colander.  Set aside.

Pour about 3 seconds worth of olive oil (or 2 tablespoons) into large pot.  Turn heat to a medium setting and when oil is hot, add cubed pancetta, cooking until slightly browned.  Add chopped onions and garlic and saute until translucent.  Stir in chicken stock and turn up heat.  Add all beans, butternut squash (or tomato sauce), oregano and fresh herbs.  Salt to taste.  Whisk gently for several minutes to create a smooth and creamy consistency.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes to bring flavors together.

In a separate pot, bring salted water to a boil; add pasta and cook al dente (usually 8-9 minutes for brown rice/whole wheat pasta).  Drain, and add to simmering soup.

Remove from heat and serve with lots of fresh parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of  fresh parsley.

Saturday, October 9

Joie de Vivre

Last Saturday, the mister and I attended a sunset dinner in a "baby" orchard just outside of Nashville.  Delvin Farms and the talented Chef Michael Martin from Whole Foods graciously hosted the event to help support the local chapter of Slow Food. The evening was absolute perfection.

We arrived at the orchard as the sun began to set and were promptly greeted with a fizzy grapefruit aperitif designed to stimulate the appetite.

The air was filled with spicy and familiar smells that swirled from the chef's tent.  We both agreed it reminded us of our time spent in Siena.  Immediately we were starving.

The atmosphere was rustic, yet elegant...my favorite style.  We got to know our neighbors and learned a little more about the Slow Food Movement, which is doing amazing things to help our local farmers recover from the floods that devastated Nashville last May.

And the food...HELLO.  I don't know how to describe it without getting all poetic, and food-obsessed-sounding.  Let's just say it was magnificent.  Simple, unadulterated, and exactly how food should taste.  All-of-the-time.

And this is what life is about, right?  Sure, the cost of the dinner was the equivalent of a sweet-ass pair of new boots, but it resonated much deeper than any item of purchase ever could.   With some serious foodie inspiration and delicious wine combos, we mingled with the friendly folks that pour their hearts and souls into the food that we eat.  It's that whole time-and-place-appreciation thing. Talk about good mojo!

Thursday, September 30

Sunset Dinner in the Orchard

photo courtesy coco+kelley

To say that I'm ecstatic (and nearly whimpering with joy) is an understatement.  This Saturday, the Hubs and I will be attending a benefit that supports our local chapter of the Slow Food Movement.  Alongside 53 other guests, C and I will enjoy a sunset dinner in the orchard at Delvin Farms, who will be hosting with world renowned Chef Michael Martin.  The Fall inspired menu will feature wine pairings with locally grown ingredients including those from Hatcher Dairy Farm and McDonald Free Range Chicken Farm.  Few things top any one of these on it's own (an orchard in the fall, local food + wine, an elegant evening with the hubby...) but when married into an entire evening (gasp), words fail me.

Here's a peek of the menu...just to make you jealous... I mean, inspired:

Arugula Salad with Shallots, Sourdough Croutons and Shaved Parmesan
smothered in Warm Shiitake Vinaigrette

Balsamic Glazed Butternut Squash with Toasted Hazelnuts

Slow Roasted Eggplant and Bell Pepper Caponata with Fresh Basil

Braised Fall Greens with Apple-wood Smoked Bacon, Caramelized Onions
and Crushed Red Pepper

Grilled Rosemary and Garlic Chicken

Basque Almond Cake with Roasted Apples and Honey
and Fresh Whipped Cream

I may very well need to be rolled out of the orchard and straight into bed!  I'll be sure to capture lots of photos from the evening and of course, a full report of the sure-to-be delectable menu.

Have a fabulous and inspired weekend!

Tuesday, September 28

Butternut Squash Risotto

Sighh.  I've waited so patiently for my dear friend, Autumn to arrive.  I know it's clichè to write about, but Fall is arguably the best season.  Oh, I love them all, but there's something about the anticipation of it's arrival that makes me crazy for change.

Traditions mean the world to me, and without argument, there are a “few” requirements to properly welcome Fall.  It’s undoubtedly necessary to update the old wardrobe, clean out the closets, dig out the scarves, lust for new home decor and rummage through recipes old and new.

I just love how a little update here and there can change your perspective and give-way to much needed inspiration.

And while my husband complains that I've wished summer away with my Fall agenda, I would debate that it's not just me; the trees know it's coming too.   Hardly a day will pass without the Maple trees making subtle updates of their own.  I love that.  As if it's my religion, I wake every morning to open the blinds, sip my coffee and take note of the "sprucing" up that's happening outside.

I’ve never made risotto, but I've eaten plenty.  I’ve also never fully appreciated the effort that's involved in making it; the adding…the stirring…the waiting.  Since August, I've been fantasizing about a pumpkin risotto.  I must tell you, I thought I was exceptionally clever to dream up such a lovely combination of sweet and savory…but as it turns out, that "damn Martha" beat me to it.  In any case, I decided that my first attempt at risotto would include some assistance from Ms. Stewart with a few adaptations of my own.

Most people eat risotto as a side dish, but I love a brimming bowl full of comfort all on it's own.  And despite my inner vegetarian, I secretly envision crispy pancetta crumbled over this slightly sweet and incredibly creamy dish.

Butternut Squash Risotto

1/2 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion
sea salt and fresh pepper
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) organic chicken stock, plus 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
small handful of fresh sage

Prepare butternut squash:  remove seeds and membranes; discard.  Remove outer skin with vegetable peeler.  If this proves difficult, microwave squash for 3 minutes to soften. Slice lengthwise, then chop into 1/2 inch cubes.  Chop onions and mince garlic.

Start risotto:  Heat butter in bottom-heavy pan over moderately-low heat.  Add squash, onions and garlic;  stir frequently while cooking, about 6-8 minutes, or until squash is slightly softened and onions are translucent.

Prepare stock:  Mix chicken stock and water; heat in saucepan.  Set aside.

Finish risotto:  When squash has slightly softened and onions are translucent, add rice and stir to coat.  Slowly stir in wine until evaporated, about 2 minutes.  Begin by adding 1/2 cup heated chicken stock, stirring frequently, until nearly all liquid has been absorbed.  Add another 1/2 cup, repeating the previous steps until the stock is gone, taking about 35-40 minutes.  Stir constantly, ensuring risotto doesn't stick to pan.

Mix in parmesan and freshly chopped sage.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 1

The Last of Summer

Happy Hump Day, and better yet, Happy First Day of September!

While Claudia and I have been busily capturing the last bits of Summer (and squeezing the last of the strawberries and rhubarb from the supermarket shelves) suddenly fall seems to be around the corner.  I can feel a crispness in the air and have seen the first of the rebellious leaves falling from their branches.  While it's gone by quickly, I've had my share of all things summer and have begun to anticipate the fall (think sweaters and jeans!).

Summer isn't officially over, in my book anyways (witty as I may try to be), until we've had our last BBQ of the year.  Until then, I have one more chance to relish in the heat, the lake and alfresco dining.

Have a fabulous Labor Day weekend!

For more of Claudia's inspiring photography, visit her blog or her website!

Tuesday, August 17

You're an Oinker, I'm an Oinker

This past weekend, Claudia Kay and I spent the entire Saturday cooking and shooting photos for the spring section of my book.  We had SO much fun!  We started our day at the farmer's market where we first met little Oinker and then headed home to begin our very first photoshoot.

As I madly cooked, Claudia set up her props in our backyard and took photos all day.  I would occasionally glance outside to see her standing on a ladder, or crouched over the grass catching the perfect shot.  We fed off of each other's creative energy all day and by sundown, we were exhausted but thrilled. Everything went off without a hitch, and we couldn't have felt more accomplished!  We finished off our night with our husbands, a feast fit for Queens and two bottles of wine.  We woke up with bellyaches and each earned the namesake of our sweet little Oinker.

Writing this book has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done, but also one of the most gratifying.  It felt so good to have something to show for the last 6 months of my hard work, and I'm even more excited now for the next photoshoot.  My newfound love is helping Claudia make everything look beautiful for the photos.  Thank you Claudia for such a fun day!

Take a peak at Claudia's amazing photography on her blog or website.  She also has an Etsy store where she sells her prints custom framed with beautiful mattes and cards that make excellent gifts!

Wednesday, August 11

italian tomato salad

Living on the opposite side of the country from my family has been a difficult thing for me to get used to.  I miss the days of popping in at my sister's unexpectedly for coffee (although I'm sure my brother-in-law appreciates the space) and having supper with the family every Sunday night.  Cooking has been a way to reconnect with my family from 2200 miles away, and always makes me feel closer to them, like I'm not missing out on everything.  It helps too, that every conversation, whether with my dad, brothers, sisters or mom, usually winds up being about food; what new recipe we've discovered, and the old ones we love to revisit.

This tomato salad is the essence of summer to me.  It transcends time and brings me back to my grandma's kitchen as a little girl with her cooking away in her dirty little apron, and grandpa bringing fresh vegetables in from the garden.  The smell of basil and garlic gets me every time.


5-6 ripened organic tomatoes (I promise, they taste so much better), chopped into bite size pieces

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 basil leaves, shredded or chopped

Sea salt, to taste

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

*optional -1 small hot pepper, thinly sliced


Place all ingredients in bowl.  Add salt and drizzle with olive oil.  Mix until a juicy consistency has been reached.

Can be served at room temperature or chilled.  I only insist that you eat this salad with a loaf (not the entire thing, like me) of really fresh bread.  Today I used pane bello, a dense, rustic italian bread that could withstand the inevitable sogginess.

Wednesday, August 4

melone e vino

My Italian Grandfather used to eat his fruit soaked in wine after dinner and today, with a heat index of 107 degrees, his famous dessert was all I could think about.  I have a cantaloupe that's waited it's lifespan to be devoured alongside my two buck Chuck.  Of course, I've added some other frilly ingredients for good measure.


2 peaches

1 cantaloupe

rind of 1 lemon

1/3 cup honey

1 1/4 cups pinot grigio

handful of fresh thyme


Bring wine to a boil in small saucepan; add honey and lemon rind.  Simmer for 2 minutes and remove from heat.  Place thyme sprigs in french press and cover with simple syrup.  Infuse for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours.  Discard thyme after use.

Slice melon and peaches into bite size pieces.  Place in large mason jar or other serving dish.  Pour thyme infused wine mixture over fruit and chill.  Garnish with thyme leaves before serving.  Brilliant!

If you eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner I promise not to judge.

Tuesday, July 27

Two Years and a Day Later

Yesterday was my two year wedding anniversary.  So much has happened in the last two years... backpacking Europe, moving across the country, a new highly anticipated member of the family (our dog, Ava Perry), this cookbook in the works and new jobs.  Quite possibly the best two years of my life so far.

I have so many amazing memories of our wedding day and besides marrying my best friend, who just so happens to be the sweetest, most thoughtful and honestly, funniest man alive (have you thrown up a little in your mouth yet?), the day was made even more unforgettable by our dear friends and family.

And because loved ones are the cornerstone of my book (alongside food, of course), I thought it might be fun to share a snippet of our big day which seems so very long ago.  Ironically enough, every time I hear that Johnny Cash train beat (Cash'd Out played our reception) and smell sweet barbecue in the air (yes, we served ribs at our wedding), I get nostalgic for our last summer in San Diego and would do anything to teleport back and experience it all over again.

Cheers to the celebration of love!

Thursday, July 22

Las Paletas Inspired Lemon Basil Popsicles

My biggest regret over the last year (bold statement I realize) is that I've missed out on countless excursions to a little slice of frozen heaven here in Nashville.  You see, my husband and I moved here a little over a year ago, and since arriving in the south we've been cornered several times by emphatic patrons of a local popsicle shop named Las Paletas.  Personally, I'm more of a “fro-yo” girl, so the whole popsicle phenomenon that made otherwise-normal people into stick-carrying apostles of frozen ice and cream, had not really spiked my curiosity…that’s until someone took a popsicle out of their mouth long enough to explain the flavor they had just purchased…"Chocolate-Wasabi."

Popsicles are usually too sugary and contain neon colors that frighten me, and it’s not that I need my frozen treats to be sophisticated, but how good can frozen juice on a stick be?  Las Paletas is located in the super cute, up and coming neighborhood of 12 South, tucked between Burger Up (a new sit-down that serves grass-fed beef, lamb and quinoa black bean burgers) and the GreenLight Market and Deli (an exact replica of my future dream business) that offers local organic produce and specialty items from local artisans.  If my husband finds me missing one day, he should probably start looking (he better start looking) in 12 South, because I've probably moved into the building that houses my 3 favorite new eateries.

Las Paletas serves only popsicles…but what they do, they do very well.  They have cream and fruit based selections that change on a daily basis depending on what's in season (probably my favorite part!) and the flavor combos are brilliant...Mango-Chili Pepper, Blackberry-Lime, Tamarind with Chili, Hot Chocolate with Peppers, Hibiscus, Strawberry-Coconut and my personal favorite, Basil!  Well, it was Basil until I tasted Rose Petal this week.  Yes, Rose Petal.  AND, the owners told us that come fall, they carry Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Paletas.  I'm a sucker for anything that is reminiscent of a season, so I guess it’s fairly obvious what my current obsession is...

It's in these moments of pure joy that I find inspiration.  I've been insisting on eating popsicles every night, and recently attempted my own healthier version of a Basil Paleta.  I used a killer popsicle mold made by Zoku that is perfect for instant gratification.  You simply freeze the Zoku mold for 24 hours, pour in your desired liquid and the popsicles will be frozen and ready to eat in 7 minutes flat.  Nothing short of perfection for a hot summer evening!

Lemon Basil Paletas
makes about 6 popsicles
1/3 cup agave nectar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup plain yogurt (whole fat retains all the good cultures and enzymes)
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves

In a small sauce pan, combine agave, water and lemon juice over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmering for 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool, about 20 minutes.

In a blender, combine yogurt, basil, simple syrup and blend until smooth.  Taste and add milk if too sweet.  Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until ready.  Enjoy!

P.S...please beware of chopped basil getting completely stuck in your chompers...it's a horrifying sight, and slightly embarrassing if you run into friends without realizing your smile has turned dark green.

Saturday, July 17

CSA Boxes: Not just for Hippies

CSA shares, also referred to as “Hippie Boxes” by my loving husband, are exactly that…big ol’ boxes of organic fruits & veggies, harvested fresh by your local farmer and delivered to you that same morning. The idea is simple: support your local farmer by purchasing fresh, organic and seasonal veggies straight from the field; sharing in the risks (bad weather & insects) and rewards (boxes overflowing with veggies that taste way better than those available at the grocery store), all while you relish in the fact that you’re being health conscious, environmentally responsible and actually supporting your local community.

The Facts:
So, what’s “in it” for you?  Obviously the cost of joining a CSA can vary based on your location, but here in Nashville, a half share CSA membership from the farm of your choice will cost about $400 (which I think is a perfect amount for 2 people).  That breaks-down to about $27 for a half bushel (pictured below) of incredibly fresh organic vegetables delivered every two weeks throughout the season (typically late spring through early fall).  I realize $400 is a scary number at first, but trust me; the benefits of eating and cooking with nutritious, farm-fresh veggies will far out weigh the cost.

The Catch:
You get what you get.  You don’t get to choose what’s in your box, so when the strawberry fields quit producing huge red delicious berries, there are simply no more strawberries in your CSA box until next year.  Another catch is that some veggies seem to never stop producing…like say, kale.  Oh, kale.  You may or may not get really sick of kale. And that may or may not be because it tends to fill a portion of your box. Every. Single. Week.

The Downside:
You're committed. Bad weather can destroy crops and once you’ve joined a CSA, there are no refunds. For example, I felt confident that during our first year as a member of the Delvin Farms CSA, there was no way our farm would suffer a catastrophic event, because frankly, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen…right?  Enter Nashville’s 1,000-year flood. Just weeks after the first seedlings were planted, Nashville suffered a devastating flood that not only destroyed thousands of homes, swept away cars and buried entire schools; but also significantly damaged the crops at our beloved new farm.  Now, I have a confession.  My initial thought was, “Well, I guess we’ll get our money back.”  Then my conscience kicked in and I remembered that the Isaacson household made a commitment.  We wanted a real connection to our community and our food, and floods (whether we realized it or not) are part of the deal.  Luckily, Delvin Farms had seedlings saved in a greenhouse for this exact reason and they hardly missed a beat!  After a couple weeks of apparently invincible flood-resistant kale, we began to receive hippie boxes overflowing with veggies.

The Benefits:
The sweet life. Preserve the taste, complexity and (dare I say) sensuality of food, all while supporting your local community and getting back to the basics of life.  And if committing to a CSA seems too much, too expensive or you just don’t quite understand the point; I implore you to start small and spend a Saturday morning exploring your local Farmer’s Market.  I promise you’ll feel inspired in some way and maybe, just maybe, after trying a fresh-squeezed basil lemonade, grabbing a shitake mushroom log (who knew you could grow them yourself?) and shaking hands with the kind folks that actually nurture and harvest your food…you may just be inspired to walk away with a half-bushel of your very own hippie box.

If you’re interested in finding CSA shares in your community, go to LocalHarvest.org.  It’s a great resource on local artisans, farmer’s markets and specialty items in your area.

If you’re interested in learning more about Delvin Farms (our amazing CSA here in Nashville), visit them at DelvinFarms.com or on Facebook HERE.

I'm off to the farmer's market...have a beautiful weekend! x

Wednesday, July 7

Aglio e Olio

Aglio e Olio is a huge inspiration for my cookbook.  It’s an old Italian recipe that remains a Ruffo household staple on Sunday nights (Sunday nights are always pasta nights and Ruffo is my Family’s name).

Aglio e Olio is a modest dish based on the fusion of the two primary ingredients that make up its name, Garlic (Aglio) and Olive Oil (Olio).  It’s the ultimate comfort food, and while I wouldn’t necessarily put this one in the summer category of recipes, my favorite version (featured below) is churched-up with seasonal summer veggies, sauteed of course, in garlic and olive oil.  This week I was inspired by what arrived in my CSA box: zucchini, summer squash and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes (the best I’ve ever had by the way!).  The simplicity of this dish is the best part…it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not…

This understated recipe is sure to win major points among friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and the like (I wouldn’t recommend this for a first date though…the garlic breath is a little intense).  Keep in mind, measurements are approximate and it may take some trial and error.  The first few times I made it on my own I was frustrated that it tasted nothing like my Gram’s, but keep in mind, even the worst Aglio e Olio can handily beat a box of Mac & Cheese.  Taste test along the way and don’t be afraid to add more salt as it helps to enhance your prized ingredients.  And just wait until you eat the leftovers the next day…


1 pound vermicelli or linguine

8  cloves of garlic, minced (this makes for a strong dish, so do less if you’re afraid)

*1 pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half, seasoned with salt n’ peppa and set aside (*or whatever is fresh and in season )

1/4 cup freshly chopped basil (about a handful)

1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp dried basil or Italian seasonings

Red pepper flakes (lots if you like it hot!)

Sea Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup reserved pasta water or chicken stock

Parmigiano Reggiano


Bring pot of cold water to a boil; add pasta and lots of salt.  Cook al dente, typically 7 minutes; drain.  Reserve 3/4 cup pasta water.

While pasta is cooking, quickly saute garlic in olive oil.  Add dried basil, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Remove from heat if necessary to prevent the garlic from burning.

Two minutes before pasta is finished cooking, add chopped tomatoes or other veggies, fresh parsley and basil to garlic and olive oil.  Add about 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water.  Pour garlic and olive oil mixture over pasta, adding more reserved pasta water if dried out, being careful not to add too much as this can water down the flavors.

Top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper if necessary.


Friday, July 2

Mas Tacos Y'all

Last night I intended to make, photograph and post to the blog an Italian dish called Aglio e Olio (pronounced "ally-E-o"-"eh"-"olly-Oh").  It’s a simple to make, fresh and inexpensive common Italian dish and the perfect “first” recipe to share on The Local Olive.  Aglio e Olio is an Isaacson household staple and encompasses everything that inspired me to pursue my dream of creating a cookbook.  I can hardly wait to share it with you!  But alas, life happens…

I won’t lie to you, I was mentally prepared to make Aglio e Olio last night.  I was prepped and ready to begin cooking when my husband (another suspect character I’ve yet to introduce) suggested we attend the Thursday evening Supper & Song at Imogene + Willie citing my New Year's resolution #3, “Be More Spontaneous.”

In this scenario I had the perfect excuse: I have a previous commitment, The Local Olive requires my attention.  But then came the real firepower, “…Mas Tacos will be serving.”  Ugh, deal breaker.

So I made the rather-difficult decision to prove my man wrong and trade pasta for tacos...and while Aglio e Olio is the cornerstone of my new project, surely it can wait for another day.  So as a substitute, here is a quick peak at one of my favorite Nashville pastimes.

The thing about…

Supper & Song at Imogene + Willie:
It’s a free soiree (hang) that happens every Thursday evening in the front yard of the Nashville-based artisan clothing store Imogene + Willie, located in the “12 South” neighborhood of Nashville.  Every week features a musician (on this occasion, Madi Diaz) and food (Mas Tacos).  We love it…it’s a very Southern way to tease the coming weekend.

Mas Tacos:
Is a Taco Shop in an old Winnebago owned and operated by the self-proclaimed "Taco Lady" that Tweets her location everyday and serves items like soft corn tortilla fish tacos, cast-iron chicken, spicy dill yogurt, watermelon agua fresca, quinoa, fried avocado, Cokes imported from Mexico (real azucar), chorizo & cactus.  Mas Tacos is at times difficult to locate, always mouthwateringly delicious and truly a unique Nashville experience.  I’d invite you to join me there tomorrow, but I’m not sure where the Winnebago will be parked just yet... follow her on Twitter for details!

Imogene + Willie:
I+W is more then a shop, it’s an inspiring experience…the type of place that leaves you more fired up about life than the one of a kind, perfectly-fitting jeans you just purchased.  But honestly, I can’t do this shop justice and Gweneth Paltrow already said it best on her amazing blog GOOP, “I found one of the coolest stores I have ever been to, Imogene + Wille; read below - but wow, it's something special…” (click to read more at GOOP)
Imogene + Willie

And if even Gweneth can’t convince you, surely the video on the I+W homepage will!

A successful Nashville-based singer-songwriter with sweet vocals and a 70’s vibe, fresh off a performance at this year’s Bonnaroo Festival and a national tour opening for Landon Pigg.   Nashville’s music scene never ceases to amaze…

x - Spontaneous Amy

Wednesday, June 30

A Whole Box of Dirty Vegetables

It's officially summer and my CSA box was absolutely brimming with vegetables! This week’s box (straight from the fields of Delvin Farms) included summer squash, green beans, kale, cucumbers, berries and so much more! Truly more than a girl knows what to do with in a week…so I decided to preserve some for winter and use the rest to inspire some local and seasonal recipes.

I spent all morning yesterday blanching, draining, vacuuming, sealing and repeating (my Foodsaver has finally redeemed its high price tag!).  And as Ava Perry sat at my feet munching scraps (some fell, some may have been "dropped");  I felt so incredibly connected to time and place.  Maybe it was the smell of fresh veggies in my kitchen or possibly the sweet sound of Stevie Nicks blasting from our record player in the next room over...but I began to feel nostalgic for the summers I spent with my sister, barefoot and rockin' out to the Mac as we meandered down to the lake in our hometown of Lake Wildwood, CA.  Leave it up to me to feel inspired by food (covered in dirt from the farm nonetheless), but today I'm more thankful for fresh-delicious food than I have ever been before.

I also just realized that I have yet to introduce some of the cast of characters in my new adventure!  Who is this CSA? Ava Perry? The Mac? Well, stay tuned…for all shall soon be revealed.

Cheers!  x