Fall Frolic and a Warming Ham, Potato and Cabbage “Chowder”

chowder2On a whim, husband and I decided to take a day trip to the mountains last Saturday for some much needed R&R and a romantic picnic. We hadn’t taken a day for just the two of us to get away and relax since, well, you know the story. This was a restoration of the soul!

And though I think the leaves had just peaked, it was a stunning day in the the North Georgia Mountains, and a day filled with contrasts. There was still lots of beautiful color, and our day started off sunny and in the low 60’s with a gentle cool breeze blowing. You’ve seen my posts before on Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Lake Winfield Scott…both located within a 40 mile or so radius of the Dahlonega area of North Georgia. We started off with a stop at Wolf Mountain Vineyards, then headed to Lake Winfield Scott for our picnic, where we had last been on a lazy summer day in early June. Imagine our surprise as a huge and unpredicted cloud came up, the temperature dropped about 15 to 20 degrees, and it started sleeting on us! We ran back to the car, and headed to Frogtown Cellars, another North Georgia vineyard, about 15 miles away. By the time we arrived there it was sunny again and a bit cooler. Such is the Fall climate of the southern Appalachian mountains! Our last stop was in the little town of Dahlonega itself, sweet but a little touristy.

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We are blessed to be so close to the mountains that one can do all of this easily in a day trip—even this time of year when the days are shorter—and be back home in the city just in time to enjoy a warming, hearty and rich chowder for dinner to take the chill off.

The chowder was inspired by a soup that my mom served us on our last visit to see her—a creamy cabbage soup. To be honest, cooked cabbage isn’t one of my most favorite things and the idea of a creamed soup with cabbage doesn’t get my juices flowing, so I was a bit skeptical about this soup until I tasted it…and it was absolutely delicious! It featured lovely chunks of ham, cabbage and other vegetables in a rich cream broth. I procured the recipe from Mom and brought it home…and then promptly lost it somewhere in the house! But I could remember the tastes—the cabbage and ham of course, plus thyme and maybe onion, some celery and carrot. I headed for the store, decided that leeks and potatoes would be a good addition and headed home.

This “chowder” is my result. I did later find the recipe for the soup, but am quite pleased with my version which is thicker and even heartier with the added potatoes than the original was, and reminds me of a chowder and hence its name. Thanks for the inspiration, Mom! We’ve decided this is a new favorite and I will be making it again this winter for sure. It freezes well, too, which is always a bonus.

Absolutely delicious. You really have to taste it to believe just how good it is!

Absolutely delicious. You really have to taste it to believe just how good it is!

Ham, Potato and Cabbage Chowder
Makes 8 hearty servings

3 small leeks, cleaned and diced, white and light green parts only (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery diced, about 1 cup
2 medium carrots peeled and diced, about 1 cup
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 medium head of green cabbage, trimmed and shredded
2 medium Idaho potatoes (or Yukon gold), cleaned and diced with skins on (about 3 cups)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk (whole, 2% or lowfat is fine)
1 lb. fully cooked ham, cubed (I used uncured slow cooked), about 3 cups
1 generous Tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the leeks, celery and carrot, 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Sauté the vegetables until they are just tender, about 5 minutes, then add the chicken broth, cabbage and potato to the pot. Bring the vegetables and stock to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables are cooking, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat in a large saucepan or skillet with deep sides. Add the 3 tablespoons of flour and stir until well blended and no lumps remain, about 1 minute. Slowly add the milk and cream to the butter and flour mixture stirring constantly until well blended, then cook the mixture over low heat until it is thickened. When the potatoes are done in the vegetable mixture, add the thickened cream sauce to the large soup pot and stir to combine. Add the ham, the remaining 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, black pepper and thyme, and stir well to combine. Allow everything to heat through and meld together, about 3-5 minutes more on low heat, taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed, then serve in bowls, garnishing with additional thyme sprigs, if desired.

Our Halloween "Punkitty" and the two kitties that inspire are below!

Our Halloween “Punkitty” and the two kitties that inspire are below!



Longer Days, Lighter Meals and a Little Anniversary!

Kicked back watching the fisherman on Lake Winfield Scott.

Kicked back watching the fisherman on Lake Winfield Scott.

The longer and hotter days of Spring and Summer always make me feel that it’s time to start lightening up a bit! While I like fall and winter produce and the dishes inspired by those seasons, I do so look forward to this sunny time of year and all the juicy fruits, berries and summer vegetables that come with it. I get very excited anticipating the delicious and more veggie-and-fruit-centric dishes I can make and eat for the next 3 or 4 months.

Recently, my husband and I decided that eating more fruit and veggies during the day, and adding meat and dairy to that with our evening meal, is a great way to help us stay healthy. Mark Bittman*, a respected American food writer, one of my favorite cookbook authors and a columnist with the New York Times, has just published a book to that effect called VB6 (Eat Vegan Before 6). In the book, he proposes that eating a mostly plant-based diet can have massive health benefits for people and the planet, and his sustainable approach for achieving this goal is to eat no animal products or by-products before 6 p.m., then eat whatever you want after that. Of course there’s a bit more to it, but that’s the concept, plain and simple. If you find this idea as intriguing as I did, you can read more about his strategy in his book or on his website. We all know that eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains is good for our bodies and may aid in maintaining our weight or even losing some, so spending two-thirds of my eating day focused on that idea as a habit, then getting my cheese and/or meat fix at dinner—possibly with a dessert or an adult beverage—sounds like a win-win situation to me!

If left to my own devices, I will end up looking just like this!

Getting enough sleep is important, too, as is rolling around on ones’ back.

Perhaps what I like best about Mr. Bittman’s sensible approach is that he recognizes the fact that we all know we will stray sometimes…like when you’re on vacation or have circumstances where you just can’t eat this way for a day, or a week. Or you may find that you stray all the time because you just can’t live without dairy in your coffee and nut milk doesn’t do it for you. And that’s okay, it’s a personal choice and part of enjoying your life and food, in general. My take away from all of this is that it’s something I can easily enjoy doing, something I think I can live with and hopefully enjoy some health benefits in the process.

All this to say that you may, or may not, notice a slight sea-change to the recipes featured on this blog. In fact I think that mostly you won’t notice much change, other than perhaps a higher fruit and veggie-to-meat ratio within certain dishes as time goes on.

Unless, of course, we are on vacation, in which case all bets are off!

So vibrantly colored...and vibrantly flavored, too!

So vibrantly colored…and vibrantly flavored, too!

Today I’m sharing a version of the universally beloved Tabbouleh salad, for which everyone has their own variation. This one is slightly adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe and it’s terrific for lunch or dinner, has lots of flavor, texture and crunch. We took this on our annual June mountain trip for my husband’s birthday this past weekend—along with some cheese and sausages of course—and enjoyed it picnic-style while lounging near Lake Winfield Scott in North Georgia. Add some fish or meat to this dish if you like, but I generally prefer my Tabbouleh either straight up as a salad, as a component of a mezze platter or as a side to a meat, chicken or fish entree. Regardless of how you choose to eat this, I hope you enjoy.

*Please Note: I am not promoting Mark Bittman, his book VB6, or being compensated to mention either one! I’m just sharing because I want to do so.

Tabbouleh (Slightly adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe)
Makes 4 generous servings

3/4 cup medium-grind bulgur
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of two juicy lemons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
1 dry pint grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 large English cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 large celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
6 scallions, thinly sliced white and pale green parts, plus 2 tablespoons of green
10 pitted green Greek olives or other, chopped
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan with a cover. Remove the water from the heat, stir in the bulgur and cover. Allow it to sit until the grain is tender, about 15 minutes. If any water remains in the pot, strain it, pressing on the bulgur to remove as much water as possible. Place the bulgur in a large mixing bowl and toss with the olive oil and lemon juice. Add the salt and pepper and toss again. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well to combine and coat. Taste for seasoning and add a bit more salt and pepper and lemon juice if desired. Serve at room temp. Keeps in the fridge for 3 days.

Thumbelina and Cinderella say "Happy Anniversary, Mom" and "Keep the dairy coming!."

Thumbelina and Cinderella say Happy Anniversary, Mom, and keep the dairy coming!

And on another important note, this week marks my 2-year blogging Anniversary!

Wow, how the time does fly. I do hope that you all have enjoyed the first two years of this blog, and that you will stay with me for another two and see where the trail leads us next. Here’s a look back at some of my favorite dishes from this past year with links to the recipes, just in case you missed a few. Cheers!

Did I mention this is great for breakfast, too?

Did I mention this is great for breakfast, too?

Blackberry, Lemon and Almond Snackin’ Cake!


French Lentilicious Salad.

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Firecracker Slaw and Corn with Chipotle butter…perfect for the 4th of July!

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

The now infamous Betsy’s Famous Black Bean Mango Salad…a pot luck special.

Fresh from the oven, Clafouti is puffed and bubbly!

Fresh from the oven, Clafouti is puffed and bubbly!

Julia Child’s classic Clafouti with cherries was a perfect way to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday.

I look at this and all I can think about is making the next one!

I look at this and all I can think about is making the next one!

This Summer Squash and Tomato Galette features some of my favorite veggies and an olive oil crust to boot.


Betsy’s Retro Cheese Olive Bites and Martha Stewart’s Bacon Wrapped Dates, the MOST pinned recipes from this past year!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini...need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini…need I say more? But I will!

Probably my second most pinned recipe from this past year, Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini.

The color change of the layers in the Kir Royale are so subtle, they are hard to photograph, but you can see whatever it is, it's a pretty color in candlelight!

The color change of the layers in the Kir Royale are so subtle, they are hard to photograph, but you can see whatever it is, it’s a pretty color in candlelight!

Kir Royale…a very celebratory cocktail.

Almost ready!

Almost ready!

Kitchen Sink Sloppy Joes…great for camping!


Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili is a great dish for Fall…and a little bit scary, too…it’s so delicious.

Home-styled comfort from the cold...or a cold!

Home-styled comfort from the cold…or a cold!

My homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, for whatever ails you.

These are a classic!

These are a classic!

My mom’s fantastic Drop Sugar Cookies are a traditional holiday fave.

Is there anything more inviting than a freshly baked pie? No, perhaps not.

Is there anything more inviting than a freshly baked pie? No, perhaps not.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie…well, there you go!




Is there anything quite so mesmerizing as a campfire?

Fall is now definitely in the air, and with it comes my desire to enjoy the cool breezes, see the leaves turn and give a sigh of relief that the heat of summer has come, and hopefully gone. It’s my favorite time of year, and since the first of October is my birthday, I always want to get away and do something outdoors to celebrate. And this year, I thought about how nice it would be to get away from the city, from the noise… from the computer, even…and go camping!

Now I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea or coffee, but we happen to like to camp…as long as it’s on our own terms, and that means a rather gourmet form of camping. I’m no longer in a frame of mind or of an age that I care to really rough it when I camp, but am completely on board with car camping as long as I can have the “necessities” close at hand! Usually I’ll do a fair amount of gourmet camp cooking when we’re camping, including egg sandwiches or omelets for breakfast and meat or fish and roasted campfire veggies or pizza for dinner. After all, I have a two-burner propane stove, camping pots and pans I keep in a pre-packed camp kitchen, a French press for breakfast coffee, glassware and plenty of coolers. We even have some champagne glasses dedicated for camping, naturally! And we do tent-camp. Ours is a “condo-like” spacious tent that you can stand up in and easily change your clothes. It accommodates our inflatable queen-sized pillow-topped air mattress and we have a ceiling tent fan with a light. We also have a boat—a traveling inflatable Class 4 Rapid, two-person kayak that we’ve taken on lakes, creeks, rivers and oceans. I told you it was gourmet camping!

The condo.

I guess the thing I like the most about camping is that you get to experience nature in a way like no other, up close and personal for the most part. We’ve seen all kinds of wildlife from hawks, owls, geese, ducks, eagles, egrets, herons and painted buntings to frogs, turtles, rays, crabs, whelks and amazing fresh and salt water fishes. And of course there’s the scenery, from mountain to shore. North Georgia provides many places close by that we like to visit. There’s Lake Winfield Scott, which I’ve mentioned before, and where we had a “Close Encounter of the Black Bear Kind” a few years ago in our campsite during a stay in June for my husband’s birthday. Yep, you heard me say it…a bear! A young black bear came into the site next to our tent to wish Dave a happy birthday, waving his paws, sniffing and drooling in anticipation of some sun-dried tomato turkey burgers cooking on the campfire (at least that’s what I think he was drooling over). Boy was that a surprise! But fortunately he ran away while we were running in the opposite direction…and all was well. He was a cute bear, but I don’t care to see one that close up again.

French pressed coffee and toasted bagels are a must, even in the middle of the woods!

Just happened to have some Humboldt Fog goat cheese and Drunken Fig Jam to have with that champagne. Love that stuff.

This time we decided to go to Lake Rabun, which is located close to several places where we enjoy taking day trips, and so that we could take out our kayak and possibly go for a swim. Since it was my birthday weekend, I chose not to try and cook very much while camping, and instead made and purchased some food in advance to take up with us so I could spend my time enjoying nature and the scenery. Some of the food highlights were my couscous salad—great for any occasion, Karista’s wicked Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Brownies...terribly addictive in the best kind of way, and my Kitchen Sink Campy Sloppy Joes for which you’ll find the recipe at the end of this post. And of course, some champagne!

This is a finger of the lake where we put in our boat with a view towards the main lake, which is around the bend.

The view in the opposite direction towards Seed Lake.

It turned out to be a cool and lovely weekend for the most part, a little too cool for swimming and only one day of sun, but great for boating and camping and there were very few people. The leaves were just beginning to turn, several festivals were going on in the area including “A Taste of Clarksville,” in the small artist’s community of Clarksville, Georgia, and the Sautee Jamboree Music Festival in Sautee. There were also some wineries in the vicinity which were open for tastings. We visited the relatively young Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards and enjoyed tasting some of their wine and looking out over the small vineyard while listening to live music. Tiger Mountain Vineyards and Habersham Vineyards are located in and around this area, too.

View towards the vines at Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards.

The Tasting Room at Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards.


For those folks who love the mountains, love nature, but don’t want to camp or cook, there are two nice places to stay around Rabun that I can recommend. The historic Lake Rabun Hotel and Restaurant has been completely renovated and now includes a spa and a very good chef. Sitting out on their porch overlooking the lake is definitely the spot for dining. And slightly south of Lake Rabun lies Glen Ella Springs Inn, known for it’s food, beautiful foliage and pastoral scenery.

A covered bridge just outside of Sautee, Georgia.

According to the sign it was once used as a set location for the 1951 movie “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” with Susan Heyward. Unfortunately it has become a target of graffiti.

The weather held for us to enjoy a nice long boat ride and some great sight-seeing over the weekend. After breaking camp on Sunday morning, we ended our trip with a drive up to Highlands, N.C., which is only a 45 minute drive from Lake Rabun. We spent a few hours there window shopping, and went to see the American Craft exhibit at The Bascom. The Bascom is a nonprofit center for the visual arts in Highlands, where individuals can come together to participate in studio art classes and public programs, share cultural experiences, and enjoy the synergy of art and nature. The complex is made up of several historic buildings amidst beautiful natural surroundings. If you’ve never seen HIghlands or The Bascom, I highly recommend adding it to your trip list. I’ve posted about Highlands before, and you can click here to see and read more about our trip there last year.

Entrance to the Bascom. They had a huge fundraiser and silent auction the night before…normally there are no tents.

Lawn sculpture at The Bascom.

The Bascom Pottery Studio.

All in all a very nice getaway and great way to welcome a birthday!

Stirring the campfire.

So I have to ask you, do you like to camp? Have you ever done it?

Tell me about it!

Almost ready!

Kitchen Sink Campy Sloppy Joes
Serves 6-8

You can leave out the chipotle peppers (smoked and dried jalapeno peppers) if you or your kids can’t take the heat with the sweet, or use hotter peppers if you like more heat, to taste.

1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef
1 1/2 to 2 minced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet bell peppers (I use a mixture of green and red)
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 Tablespoons of minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1-15 oz. can no salt tomato sauce
4 rounded Tablespoons of tomato paste
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (can use more to taste)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Onion hamburger buns, or your favorite

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef over medium high heat. Drain off all but 1 1/2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the chipotles, sweet bell peppers, onions and garlic, and stir over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes, allowing the vegetables to soften. Add the oregano, cumin, chili powder, Chinese five spice powder, and salt. Stir for 2 minutes to cook the spices, then add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and balsamic vinegar. Cook the mixture until it is thick and saucy over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and serve open faced, spooning the mixture over toasted onion buns. This freezes beautifully for camping and reheating, or to save some for another quick weeknight dinner.

Great for campouts and camp-ins!