2013 Big Hungry Shelby Awards

Booker's Backyard on Urbanspoon

Ah, the holidays! The time of year we forget any pretense of healthy eating, snuggle in the warm bosom of our families, including our favorite uncles, Tom and Jerry, and spend way too much on gifts that no one will remember in three weeks. It’s also the time of year that most media outlets stop producing stories with any kind of real content, and resort to Best of 2013 lists for everything from movies to YouTube videos to news photos. Who would I be to buck this sacred holiday tradition? I don’t know if we can call me a member of the legitimate media - I feel more like a gnome who lives under a bridge made of bacon, sending out weekly missives on all my cravings - but I’ll round up my best of 2013 for you anyway, and we’ll see where we get.

As you know, I enjoy a tasty cocktail. As the years go by, I tend to drink less and less, and demand those precious few drinks be of better and better quality. I guess this is the way of aging – kind of in the same way I like my steaks rarer with each passing year, it seems. I’ll be taking down live cows in pasture by the time I’m 50. So, both my favs came out of Ithaca this year, with the runner-up being the Cerveza-rita at AGAVA. It was breathtakingly similar to my beloved beer-gar-ritas, and the Sol beer, citron and white tequilas, and fresh lime juice paired beautifully with the earthy, salty, rich flavors brought to our table. That one was yummy, but the Big Hungry Shelby Best Cocktail of 2013 Award goes to Booker’s Backyard, for their “novel” approach to mixology, and the Tequila Mockingbird. This refreshing concoction of tequila, Chambord, cranberry, lime, and ginger ale was exactly the elixir to cure what ailed me on a hot summer’s day on Booker’s idyllic patio. I still feel like Booker’s is suffering from a bit of anonymity, due to its location up on East Shore Drive, but you should be making a pilgrimage there as soon as the weather turns hospitable, because this is truly one of Ithaca’s gems.

Next up, the Best Surprise of 2013. My runner-up was the superb cabbage cream sauce at KittyHoynes in Syracuse, which tops their decadent beef and lamb meatloaf, which is then stuffed with white pork pudding. The words cabbage cream sauce do not exactly elicit hunger pangs, but they should, because this sauce is savory, round, and languid, a perfect vehicle to shovel forkfuls of that meat extravaganza into your pie hole. But even the glories of heavy cream and sweet cabbage could not beat the humble pho joint in one of the seedier sections of Binghamton. Pho 99 was my best surprise this year, and their deep, rich, yet still light (somehow) broth, scalding hot to cook the wafer thin, tender slices of brisket and white onion, bewitched me. I loved the riot of cilantro and green onion garnishing the top before I even added any bean sprouts or basil from my fixins’ plate, and I reveled in the sheer amount of fat in the stock – surely boiled for hours with loads of beef bones and marrow. There was a mouth feel and complexity to this soup that I’ve never experienced before, and all from a humble storefront that could just as well be a laundromat or a liquor store rather than a den of delicious soup. Now that I’ve refreshed my memory on this place, I need to go back. Come at me, pho!

Let’s talk about ambiance, which, next to adult beverages, may be one of the most important precursors to a fine meal. I very much like the scene at Es-ca, down in Staten Island, which is very sleek and modern, a see and be seen place, and very un-SI. We had a glorious meal there, with a terrific and funny waitress, and the setting, with its low light, contemporary, wall-mounted fireplace, and comfy chairs was optimal for a sumptuous spread. Despite that luxury, Best Ambiance of 2013 must also go to Booker’s Backyard. I can’t even tell you how many times I have tried to drag Shawn up to Ithaca for brunch or a double date with Melinda and BLD here since she and I lunched there over the summer. While you can’t see Cayuga Lake from the posh patio, you can gaze upon a diminutive pond, and that beautiful skyline unique to the Finger Lakes. The tables and chairs are well-maintained and very comfortable for outdoor furniture, and the service is quirky but friendly. Inside, the bar is rustic and built for fun, and even the restrooms are clean and decorated with the funk and humor of the rest of the joint.

Appetizers have moved from amusement to center stage for me this year. In fact, it was difficult for me to choose just three to mention here, while I struggled to come up with a favorite entrée at all. I absolutely loved the vegetable curry small plate at Feliz Wine and Tapas Bar, in Endicott. The yellow curry sauce covering the carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli of this dish was warming, savory, and comforting, and the basmati rice was perfectly cooked. At Es-ca, I loved the tuna tartare, savoring the tomato and fiery red onion in the flawless, raw tuna brunoise, and the lush avocado layer that brought roundness and creaminess to the dish. But the Best Appetizer of 2013 can actually be found at Sackets HarborBrewing Company. SHBC’s seared scallop stack is a beauty - full of color, texture, and flavor, and not too bad for your waistline, as these things go. I loved the big, beefy, U-10 scallops, seared and still creamy and rare on the inside, the woodsy, deep portabella mushroom cap, the syrupy sweet balsamic drizzle, adding acid and sugar, and most of all, the perfectly lightly fried disc of goat cheese crowning this masterpiece. The goat cheese brought tang, and that nearly sour twang needed to balance the sweetness of the red peppers and vinegar, the bitterness of the greens, the earthiness of the mushroom and pine nuts, and echoing the creaminess of the scallops. The harmony in this gorgeous plate sang on my taste buds, and in my memory.

You know I love bacon, and every year I choose the best example of it in all of Upstate New York. But this year, I actually haven’t had a ton of it. I don’t know how that happened. I loved the pork steak at Kitty Hoynes, but it couldn’t stack up against the pork belly appetizer Galaxy is dishing out, which I just reviewed last week. And so, Best Bacon of 2013 goes to Galaxy Brewing Company, in Binghamton, for their crispy pork belly. From the whole grain ale mustard, to the earthy, grounding celery root puree, and the sparky, cooling apple and fennel slaw tarted up with apple cider vinaigrette, this entire dish is perfect and memorable. And best of all, it’s right here in Binghamton!

As I said before, it has not been a big year of entrees for BHS. I’ve gotten in the habit of ordering two appetizers instead, preferring the more adventuresome flavors and variety I find on the starter menu to the traditional protein and two sides you find cocking up the main course load. So I’m going non-traditional here as well and awarding Best Entrée of 2013 to the Big Pig Mac at Booker’s Backyard.  This isn’t exactly on their entrée list, but I assure you, it’s a hearty enough portion to satisfy, and the mixture of creamy, sharp macaroni and cheese, sweet, luscious pulled pork, and salty, crisp bacon were enough to have me eating with utter abandon. Also, look at this photo. That is some food porn, right there; you can’t deny it.

The side dish race was too close to call. It was a battle royale between Binghamton and Ithaca, Zona and Co. versus AGAVA, and I simply cannot choose. Sister loves her carbs, y’all. Best Side Dish of 2013 is Zona’s French fries AND AGAVA’s black beans and rice. I refuse to choose; it would be like choosing a favorite child. You can’t make me. Zona’s fries are hands down the best in the area, hand cut, perfectly seasoned, just crispy without being crunchy; AGAVA’s black beans and rice is maddening, because I cannot coax that much flavor out of beans at home. The waitress there told me they were seasoned with garlic and onions, and I declare her a liar – there had to be unicorn fat or something in that briny, deep, addictive bean liquor. I crave it, and wonder why I haven’t been back for more.

Dessert was a tough one as well this year, as truth be told, the two best were both in Washington, DC, at Central and Woodward Table, where I had the angelic lemon tart and revolutionary pear and blue cheese tart, respectively. At Central, the fried, shredded wheat bird’s nest of tiny eggs made of lemon curd and sugary cream were mid-blowing, while at Woodward Table, The blue cheese ice cream paired with flaky, buttery pastry, salted sweet caramel, and earthy, caramelized, toasty roasted pears into a sensation I’ve never before experienced. When dessert is this exciting, it’s hard to choose from among the more mundane offerings I’ve sampled closer to home. But I have a rule to stick to New York restaurants for my awards, and so the Best Dessert of 2013 prize goes to Max’s Es-ca in Staten Island, where the fried ice cream was coated in a thin membrane of banana bread and drizzled with caramel. It was almost overwhelmingly sweet, but inventive and satisfying. If you like ice cream desserts and you groove on banana, try this one.

My categories this year haven’t captured all of my favorite eats, and somehow, I’ve neglected to mention standouts Pete’s Restaurant and Riccardo’s, in Watertown, and Sach’s Tee House in Binghamton, which I love. All three are places I want to go back to, and offer tons of fabulous eats, even if any one dish is hard to pinpoint as truly unique and exemplary. But I have to crown a Best Restaurant, too. This is a little different from favorite restaurant, which I would award these days to Zone and Co. in Binghamton. I love the casual food there, because every dish has assertive flavor and individual attention. I’m nearly addicted to both the cheesesteak and shrimp po boy sandwiches at Zona, and I adore dining al fresco there in the summertime. But my favorite restaurant is not the same as a Best Restaurant, which really needs to hit all the marks of greatness – good atmosphere, great food, a fun and inventive drink menu, and excellent service. The service at Zona varies widely depending on who’s waiting on you, and the interior is so tiny, it can be aggressively loud and more of a bar than a great dinner spot. With that, I am awarding Best Restaurant of 2013 to Booker’s Backyard, in Ithaca, a place I have only been once, but am doing my best to get back to. Seriously, you guys need to try it, too. From the eclectic interior décor to the romantic patio, from the killer mac and cheese to the (be still my heart) lobster rolls, Booker’s is laying it down, you guys. I am serious, this is a place you’ve gotta try. In fact, you have a few days off in the coming week or two, right? Well drive to Ithaca and test it out, and then report back in the comments so our friends can share in the glory. Booker’s is a hidden gem, nestled on the shores of Cayuga Lake and absolutely churning out great food and good times. I can’t wait to sample their tri-tip and shrooms on a return visit, not to mention the French onion soup, which I’m sure is to die for. Won’t you join me?

Well, that wraps up the Big Hungry Awards for 2013, my hungries. I hope my awards made your tummy rumble and your mouth water, and that you hit up one of these great, locally owned mom-and-pop shops over your holiday break from work to sample some of the wonderful food that can be found in New York State. You know my mission is convince Upstate New Yorkers that there’s more to dining than Olive Garden and Red Lobster, to give your hard-earned money to real people who care about and want to serve you real food, born of imagination and passion. Have a delicious holiday, and may your New Year be festive and champagne-soaked! I’ll see you back here soon with reviews of Skewed Brewing in Watertown, and the new Food and Fire, in Johnson City. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Dispatch from Boston: Back Bay, Not Baked Beans

Sometimes you experience a restaurant, and while the entire meal is good and you eat delicious things like beets and brie and belly, one dish stands apart in such splendor, it’s really all you remember. Recently in Boston for training, I met up with my college suitemate Lisa for a catch-up sess and dinner on Newbury Street, a hipster enclave in the Back Bay neighborhood of the city. We decided to  share a bunch of appetizers rather than go for entrees, and the one that ended up winning the meal was a hard sell for Lisa, a former vegetarian: bone marrow baked oysters. Sonsie is on the dim side, which renders it rather romantic, but doesn’t make for super photos. But here are the glorious bi-valves:

 Whomever decided to take briny, fresh oysters and jam them together with rich, buttery veal bone marrow, garlic butter, and bread crumbs, is a wizard. Despite Lisa’s squeamishness at the veal marrow, the dish was balanced, earthy, sumptuous, a fitting intro to bone marrow if there ever was one. I could have eaten another order of these, easily. I loved them. The oysters brought the salt, the marrow brought the fat, and garlicky, buttery bread crumbs anchored the two stars of the show brilliantly. An A++ dish.

We also loved the pork belly and apple slaw tacos, which employed chipotle mayo to warm up the cooling crispness and sweetness of the apple. The slab of pork belly in these was generous and less fatty than other bellies I’ve had. Of course, pork and apples are a classic combo, and we both liked the fall flavors and clean finish of this dish, which could have easily gone overboard on fat between the belly, mayonnaise, and whatever they used to dress the slaw. The tortilla even seemed to be homemade, a rustic flour vehicle for the sweet, savory, and spicy flavors contained inside them.

The beet and kale salad was maybe a little less exciting than the first two dishes, but beets just seem so right this time of year, with their sweetness and cool, tender texture. The raw kale in this was very tender, and though I prefer goat cheese with beets, the shaved percorino provided a salty, nutty bite that answered to both the beets’ sweetness and the kale’s bitterness. Very nice.

I had read that the pizzas were really good at Sonsie, so we chose to share the mushroom and brie pie. The crust was charred, airy, and really chewy. It provided a pretty stinking gorgeous platform for sweet caramelized onions, woodsy wild mushrooms, and creamy, funky brie cheese. The overall finish of the toppings was creamy, which foiled the smoky, chewy crust perfectly. This was another brilliantly balanced dish, with sweet, earthy, pungent, and milky flavors all playing nice in the sandbox together. It’s a refreshing way to approach food that not all chefs can master, and we loved it.

We went for the warm apple tartin and the pumpkin panna cotta. You know, because fruit is healthy! Hahahahaha. I loved the toasted marshmallow atop the panna cotta, which brought the complexity of that charred sugar flavor to the very traditional pumpkin pie flavors present in the dish. The cinnamon ice cream was the clincher in the tartin, with a little pastry crust underneath, and a really forward tasted of stewed apples permeating the dish.


I would recommend Sonsie as a date night spot, a great place to impress colleagues or customers, and of course, a wonderful restaurant to catch up with an old friend. It’s cozy, our waiter was adorable and hilarious, and every dish was fine-tuned to its limit. I would not call it relaxed, however – there’s a definite upscale feel here that is permissive of laughter but not yoga pants. So get gussied up, and try Sonsie on your next visit to Back Bay. I’m awarding it a nine on the BHS scale, for the wonderful service, French bistro setting, and bone marrow baked oysters! Because who wants to eat anything else once you’ve had them? Not I!

We’re wrapping up the year here at BHS HQ. Literally, I mean, I haven’t wrapped a single present yet. I need to get on it. I will have maybe two more reviews from Binghamton-area restaurant this year, plus the Big Hungry Awards, which will recognize all the best eats in Upstate New York I’ve had this year. So keep up with us as we hurtle towards 2014, my Hungries. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!


Dispatch from DC: Always Room at My Woodward Table

There just aren’t enough instances in life in which you’re able to proclaim, “I’ll have the pear and blue cheese tart, please!” It’s a shame, really. If the situation presents itself to you, I highly recommend you grab it by the earthy, funky horns and hold on.

That was the end of my meal at Woodward Table in DC, a rather new addition to the Penn Quarter retinue of gastronomic excellence endorsed by my friend Lauren, but I guess I’d better start at the beginning. Namely, this is the ceiling that greets you when you first enter this den of gluttony:

I led a rather large group of colleagues to Woodward – literally led them, as I’ve now stayed at the JW Marriott on 14th so many times, I seem to have become the most familiar member of my team with the neighborhood. Because I was with a group of colleagues, I surrendered to a more traditional mode of dining than I might have if I were with friends. While I kind of wanted to order all appetizers and no entrees, sampling things like crawfish hushpuppies and tuna poke, I succumbed to the charcuterie and fishmonger boards as starters, and then a traditional dinner to follow. But even so, everything that arrived on our Woodward Table was sublime.

I won’t mince words, here. This charcuterie board was gorgeous, and I quite enjoyed the chunky country pates and mortadella – which I explained to my co-workers is grown-up bologna – but it did not outshine the one they’re doing over at the Blue Duck Tavern. A Blue Duck, every morsel melts on your tongue into salty, fatty, ohhhhhh. This selection was a little more rough-hewn, a little less unctuous. All the same, give me a plate of cured meats, some pate, cornichon, and whole grain mustard, and I can’t complain.

I was less a fan of the fishmonger board, as it concentrated on smoked fishes, a genre of food I have just never been able to get on board with. The foundational experience of cleaning out the 30 lb mixer at Chesapeake Bagel Bakery in college after mixing up the smoked salmon cream cheese has just never left me, and the very smell of smoke and fish together turns me off. But colleague B and K were fans, and dug in with gusto, and reported that the house-cured fish and shellfish, cream cheeses, and pickled veg were terrific. I’ll take your word for it, ladies.

I’ll tell you what I could NOT stop eating: the miniature, complimentary dinner rolls our very French waiter brought to the table, with yummy, rich, sweet butter. They were tender, light as air, and that satisfying, pleasing combo of buttery and doughy.

I also need to extoll the virtues of the resplendent side dishes offered at WDT. I ordered the corn with Old Bay butter, and Liz went for the mac and cheese. We were both winners, and passed these back and forth across the table numerous times, even though our entrees provided more than enough food for each of us.

The corn was replete with Old Bay, that most distinctive of seafood seasonings. A little hot, very savory, with the butter and the corn itself fortified with spice, this was a taste of summer. The corn was bursting with the sweetness of summer fields, like you only get with just-picked, in season produce. Fantastic. The mac and cheese was a pleaser as well, thick with sharp cheddar and a well-seasoned mornay sauce, and topped with all-American Ritz cracker crumbs. The depth of flavor showed the hand of someone who cares about mac and cheese truly, and not just to check off a comfort food classic on the menu. It was exceptional, up in the top of the pantheons of mac and cheese with Dinosaur BBQ and The Standard.

For my entrée, I chose the Berkshire pork chop. Obviously. The version of this dish now showing on WDT’s seasonal online menu is different than the version I enjoyed, which was topped with more of that ridiculous, local corn, and anchored by braised kale and pork belly, and some pretty luxurious grits. All the things! The grits and the pork belly cinched this one for me, although it was really that almost obnoxiously fresh corn that brought it all home on the palate. The pork itself was uber thick and cooked just medium well. That mean it was juicy, just pink inside, and both caramelized and crispy on the outside while silky, velvety on the interior. This was not the pork chop of my childhood, for sure. The grits were not the best I’ve ever had – the good state of Georgia still claims all of those champions – but they were dense and creamy, and as a backdrop for the ridiculous, robust greens, so mellow, peppery, and rich, they sang. The faces and yummy noises I was making while putting this plate down were so amusing, Liz thought to take a photo. Luckily for me, it was too blurry to share with you good people. I must have been dancing in my chair, as well.

The other entrée star at our table was the corned beef, ordered by Theresa. Theresa’s a good Irish girl, but you wouldn’t need to be to enjoy this traditional plate that would wow any expat of the Emerald Isle. So many corned beefs just come off as salty, but this was so much more than that. Briny, to be sure, but also packing smoky, beefy, hallmarks and even some earthy floral notes, the meat was juicier than any corned beef I’ve ever had, and the whole plate was just gorgeous. Poor T – we were all sampling her dinner!

Next up, pear tart. If you don’t order this when you go, you and I might not be friends with you anymore. It’s just a matter of time before this thing shows up on Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets. The pastry shell was buttery and flakey, but a mere afterthought to the caramelized, sweet pears, salted caramel sauce which was complex enough to taste of more than salt and sugar, and the mind-bending, seductive blue cheese ice cream. Yes, it was funky, yes, it tasted like cheese, but believe me, there was nothing discordant in this dish. Just as fruit and cheese have been paired together for eons, and honeyed nuts have long served to temper a particularly cranky blue on a cheese platter, the sweet, buttery, salty, rich, and cheesy elements of this tart combined to achieve more than the description suggests. Each bite was a symphony of warm, cold, crisp, soft, savory and sweet sensations. Unique, yes, but not inaccessible.

In addition to all of these wonderful eats, there were really good cocktails, exceptional service, and a cool interior, as if a centuries-old French chateau was renovated by a particularly sensitive hipster. Irreverent, yet classic.  

I would easily give Woodward Table a nine on the BHS scale, and I have no doubt my teammates will want to return next summer, when we’re back in the Capitol. You should try it out, too, if you like American comfort food accented by classical French technique and local products – and who doesn’t like that?

I’m in California this week, again for work, but I don’t know if I’ll get to any mom and pop joints in commercialized Anaheim. But next weekend, I’m off to Atlantic City with Big Hungries Jill and Melinda for the Miss America Pageant! We’re eating at Buddakan and Amada there, and I’m sure we’ll hit up some other great places as well, plus I have a review of a fabulous, new-ish Tex Mex place in Ithaca on deck for you, so let’s venture into September, my birthday month, with lots of delicious treats! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Woodward Table on Urbanspoon


Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Remember Oprah’s big fat list of luxurious things you super-duper wanted but couldn’t afford? And then she would have a show every year where, like, 200 lucky jerks would get all the stuff and not one of them was ever you? What the heck good is that kind of gift guide, I ask you, noble Hungries? Is there actually anyone who buys for you who has enough cash to get multiple people really fancy coffee machines, or fully-sequined Uggs, or $150 organic cotton pajama pants? Probably not. People get me, like, Yankee candles for Christmas. Most of us don’t know that many rich people, and are far from wealthy ourselves. So her list always bugged me, even though it was kind of fun to look at the endless parade of shiny, pretty things.  But you know what? The perfect present that expresses to the giftee that you love them, care about them, and wish them comfort and joy throughout the year is always better than some trendy, overpriced gift-of-the-year.

Of course, I always know people really get me when they give me something that appeals to either my foodie self, my pageant self, or the part of me that’s nuts about all things Kate Spade and Tory Burch. Those last two bleed a little bit into the overpriced territory I’m specifically speaking against in this post, but I like them anyway.

If you want to show your foodie relative, friend, or loved one that you really get them and want them to be happy this year, here are some gift ideas I’ve run across in the past 12 months.

I shared Flavour Gallery’s cool shirts with you last year, I know, but I have to bring them up again. They now have Chris Cosentino and Andrew Zimmern-designed wares, plus my new favorite shirt, which I wear every week as soon as it’s clean out of the wash. It’s a James Beard joint, and it’s about pork, natch. I should also tell you that Flavour Gallery’s shirts are completely soft and fit really roomy and nice-like. They are so comfortable, in addition to the fun statement they make about how up on today’s food scene the wearer is.

My next suggestion is keeping with the pork theme, and is actually something on my list this year. If you need to buy for someone as craven about bacon as this girl is, think about a bacon desk calendar. What could be better? He or she receives the gift of obsession about meat candy every day of the year, and you have the very exciting promise of the fact that they might be inspired enough to invite you over to eat some during the next twelve months! Now that’s a festive two-fer!

Is there a Hunger Games fan on your Christmas list? Hanukkah list? Do Ramadan or Kwanzaa require lists? If so, drop in on old favorite Vosges Chocolates and their little sister off-shoot, Wild Ophelia, for their Catching Fire-themed candy bars. I ate the Wild Ophelia District 3 dark chocolate, coffee, and salt crystal bar this afternoon, and let me tell you, it did not suck. It was a whole heck of a lot better than actually participating in the Hunger Games, and just slightly less entertaining than actually watching the movie. These chocolates are Haymitch-approved, and Effielicious.

An economical and almost unfathomably scrumptious option, if you need a small gift or hostess item that will fill your giftee with glee, is Syracuse’s own Spicy Hot Tomato Oil. This is the best thing to ever come out of Armory Square other than BC’s lobster salad, but infinitely more portable. It is good on bread, great on pasta, and unparalleled when mixed with a little pesto and a touch of cream as a completely addicting sauce. It is sweet, garlicky, savory, spicy, and fabulous. It’s available at Wegmans, at Pasta’s in the Cuse, or right here. I make several food baskets up every year for people on my lists, and every one of ‘em is getting a jar of this in a couple of weeks. It’s worth noting that I just discovered a salad dressing recipe on this product’s website that may become the reason I eat salad in 2014.

I know I’ve mentioned Zingerman’s to you before, but I want to drive the message home once again: there are countless good ideas at this place, for whatever type of foodie you know, and whatever your price range. From cookies and cakes, to Reuben sandwich kits, bacon of the month clubs, and fancy imported olive oils, Zingerman’s sources all the tasty things so you don’t have to. I routinely buy my bacon and oatmeal from there, but there are about a million delicious little things available, and they ship super fast. Peruse this site and thank me later, and again and again for years to come.

Who doesn’t love a phone case that makes their device stick out from the crowd? Mine, from Case Mate, showcases my BHS logo, and two pictures of fantastic food. I get compliments on it all the time. You could put together a triptych of phtos on a custom case for someone on your gift list, and create a really cool and unique gift in less than 10 minutes. Whether it’s pictures of your sister’s baby girl digging in to her one-year birthday smash cake, or the logo of your nephew’s  new brew pub and photos of his remodeling process, this is a gift that’s practical AND appreciated.

Last but not least, and certainly more on the extravagant side, is something I may just have to order for myself, as I suspect it won’t be under my Christmas tree. Besh Box is the newest culinary subscription service out there, created by New Orleans Top Chef Master John Besh. Each month, you get a box of recipes, tools, and special ingredients with which to make them, playlists and wine pairing ideas for serving, all straight from the mind of one of the top Southern chefs in the country. This could be a fun wedding gift for a young couple looking to learn in the kitchen, a great Christmas gift for someone who’s overworked and likes to let loose at dinner time, or if your daughter complains that her husband never helps out in the kitchen, get him this! I am not kidding, I want a good six month subscription myself. As it’s pricy, I may be taking up a collection in the new year.

As we dip a tentative toe into yet another frosty season of celebration and giving, remember that food gifts communicate abundance, warmth, love, and nurturing. Just as sharing a meal generates feelings of fellowship and fun, so to does bestowing a yummy delight upon someone you love. And speaking of sharing a meal, how did your Thanksgiving feast go down? Share your tale in the comments, and behold, one of our birds of paradise – this is Smokey, and he was delectable!

My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!