From the start, I knew we weren’t going to have a wedding cake. Instead I wanted something really special made with lots of love- desserts from family. Since our families don’t live nearby, it’s rare that we get their good home cooking and I miss it. A lot.

There are a handful of incredible sweets floating around my family that I would choose over the fancy schmanciest cake any day. Desserts that have been around on holidays and special occasions for a big part of my life and just make me really, really happy.

Although every confection has a story, I don’t have time to tell them all, and you probably don’t have time to read them all, so instead, here’s the background on a few, eye candy for all, and recipes for three.

First up is my Aunt Gay’s Rum Cake. Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, she makes a boat load of them for everyone in our family. (We’re talking a really large family here, so it’s no easy task). Every year I eagerly await the arrival of mine on my doorstep (yes, she ships them if we’re far from home and can’t hand deliver. She even sent them to San Diego when I lived there!). In recent years, Ravi has started anticipating its arrival even before I do. The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without it, and I didn’t feel my family favorites dessert table would be the same without it either! Thankfully my sweet aunt was kind enough to grant my wish of having it as part of our big day.

Aunt Gay’s Rum Cake
Cake Ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 box (18 1/2 oz) butter golden cake mix
1 instant vanilla pudding (3 3/4 oz)
1/2 cup light rum
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable cooking oilRum Glaze Ingredients:
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1/4 cup light rum
1/4 cup water

Rum Glaze Directions:
Place all ingredients in small saucepan and boil for 2-3 minutes.

Cake Directions:
Place cake and pudding mixes in large mixing bowl. Add rum, water, oil and
eggs; mix for 2 minutes. Grease and flour a bundt pan or a tube pan.
Pour chopped nuts in pan first and then pour batter into cake pan and bake at 325
degrees for 50-60 minutes.

Remove from oven and poke small holes in cake and start to pour some of the warm Rum Glaze on it. After a few minutes turn cake out of pan onto cake plate and poke more small holes around the top of cake and gradually pour the rest of the Rum Glaze over cake.

Best if made a few days ahead of time and let cake set in a cool place.
It gets better and better with time (if you’re able to refrain from eating immediately, that is!)

Chocolate peanut butter balls (also known as Buckeyes) were also a holiday staple in our house. If my mom didn’t make them, then at least one of my aunts would. I can only hope that tradition continues for the rest of my life because creamy peanut butter awesomeness combined with chocolaty goodness really can’t be beat!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
2 sticks butter
1 lb peanut butter
1 1/2 lbs powdered sugar
1 large bag chocolate chips
1 bar paraffinMelt butter and add peanut butter and powdered sugar. Make into 1-inch balls. Melt 1 bar paraffin and 1 large bag chocolate chips over low heat, stirring to prevent sticking. With toothpicks in balls, dip into hot chocolate mixture. Place on waxed paper until chocolate hardens.
Coconut Cake
Chess Squares

Date Ball Cookies
2 cups sugar
2 sticks butter
1 lb of dates (chopped)
1 cup nuts (chopped)
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups Rice Crispies
Powdered sugar

Melt butter in pan. Add sugar and dates. Mix and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, stirring so it doesn’t burn.
Remove from heat and add in nuts, vanilla, and Rice Crispies.
Allow to cool slightly then shape into small balls and roll in powdered sugar.

Magic 7 Layer Bars

These bars weren’t something I grew up with, instead this was a favorite from Ravi’s family, so appropriately his sis and I made these together the day before the wedding.


Dark Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Filling
made with lots and lots of love by my mom

And last, but certainly not least, our “Wedding Cake”. This cake is hands down my favorite cake on the face of the earth. I’m not exaggerating. It won my sister a blue ribbon in the late 70′s. I’ve requested my mom make it for more birthdays than I can count, so of course it would be the star of the family dessert table.

Sorry that I won’t be sharing the recipe for this one.
There’s good reason. Actually a very selfish reason. I don’t want to know what’s in it because I know it’s very, very bad. Maybe one day I’ll get up the nerve to look at the ingredients…..

Photo credit: Inara Studios

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I couldn’t let this week go by without highlighting the talents of our incredible photographers, Marcia and Cade of Inara Studios. So today, nothing to do with food or planning an event, just our wordless story….

Inara Studios
615-828-0003
marcia@inarastudios.com
www.inarastudios.com

As you can probably imagine, food was pretty high up on my list of priorities when planning the wedding. So much so that we booked a caterer before we booked a venue. For anyone out there that has planned or is planning a wedding- you know that is probably not the smartest move because many places don’t allow outside caterers. Right off the bat I had narrowed our prospects, but hey, that’s me. Food first, we’d figure out the rest later.

It all began a year before our big day when we met the ladies of A Catered Affair at Taste of Nashville where they were dishing out little corn cakes topped with pork tenderloin. Talk about smitten. If anyone had been issuing tickets for loitering, I would have gotten one at their table.

But it wasn’t just for the food, it was also the eye candy- a huge photo backrop of their private event space, Events @1418. My dream space for our wedding was smack dab in front of my face: loft-like with exposed brick and hardwoods, plus a rooftop deck. I couldn’t wait to see it in person!

A few weeks later we found ourselves standing in the middle of the space, sadly facing reality. It wasn’t big enough to accommodate our group. You see, our goal was to have the ceremony and reception all in one location, and this just wouldn’t work for that. But if any of you out there need a unique venue for a reception, a rehearsal dinner, a shower, or just a big party for yourself, you should definitely check out this space.

Even though it didn’t work for us, all was not lost because shortly after booking them as our caterer, they came to the rescue with a space that was perfect for us. Our little gem, Aerial. (More to come on that later in the week)

Do you wonder what someone like me wants to serve her guests? Well, there were certainly many ideas I had in mind that were shot down because they were a little too “out there” for our crowd. But when it was all said and done, I was happy with all of our choices, and there is no doubt in my mind that our guests were because they talked about some of these for months after. So my advice is this: choose foods that you love, reflect who you are or where you’re from, that taste good (duh), and are something unique that people wouldn’t be eating every day.

Now, some food porn.

Blackberry Pork Tenderloin
served with sweet corn blinis and garnished with roasted corn relish and fresh blackberries
(the dish that wowed me at Taste of Nashville)

Carribean Crab Cakes
crab cakes topped with a spicy apple slaw and a drizzle of citrus aioli

Artichoke Tartlets
artichoke hearts blended with assorted cheeses baked in a phyllo pastry cup


Florentine Stuffed Mushrooms
button mushrooms filled with a blend of fresh spinach and three cheeses

Smoked Gouda Grits Station
smoked gouda grits topped with low country shrimp and diced tomatoes
or
choice of: sauteed mushrooms, chopped chives, caramelized onions

Me chowing down on the shrimp & grits- no one had to worry about this bride not eating!

Other items not pictured:
Vegetable crudite
Indonesian Chicken Satay with spicy peanut sauce

A Catered Affair
and
Events @1418
1418 Church Street
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 321-2394

http://www.thebakeshoppe.com/

Photo credit: Inara Studios

Remember back when I started my blog and said that May was my favorite month of the year? Well, it runs a very tight race with October, and with October just a couple of days away, I’m already getting happier.

What’s so great about October you ask? Well, a few things (none of which have anything to do with football):

1) The cool morning air invigorates me

2) The chance of rainfall for Nashville is the least of any month of the entire year (and after this depressing wet September, I think we’re all ready for some sun)

3) I get to pull my boots out of storage!

4) Menu changes. Mmmm, butternut squash soup and apple crisps….

5) I met my husband on a gorgeous October night

6) I married my husband on a gorgeous October night (not to be confused with the same night that I met him)

And reason #6 is why my blog will look a little bit different this week. My first anniversary is this weekend!

Since Nashville wedding planning website Ashley’s Bride Guide featured our wedding recap last December, I’ve gotten a lot of emails and phone calls from soon-to-be-brides asking me all sorts of questions. So I figure sharing more details on here might not only help some of them, but any of you that are planning a special event in the future. From vendor recommendations to recipes, you’ll be getting the full scoop.

But first, I guess I should introduce the hubby.


Here he is! Tall, dark, and mysteriously handsome. Okay, so maybe he’s not so mysterious, but I love this picture, because he looks very movie-star cool as I gaze at him like an adoring fan.

Meet Ravi, my extremely intelligent, ridiculously entertaining honey. Eating and drinking make me smile, but he makes me smile AND laugh. Laughter is a very good thing.

And he has a really great laugh.
Stay tuned the rest of the week for more….

Photo credit: Inara Studios

Here’s a hint of what’s coming up next week….can you guess??


Photo Credit: Inara Studios


If you haven’t already heard, GQ magazine nominated Nashville as a Top 10 Drinking City in their September issue. We’re right up there with New Orleans, NYC, San Fran, Chicago, Austin, Denver, Portland (ME and OR), and Salt Lake City. The article accompanying the Top 10 list highlights several of my favorite Nashville watering holes – click here to see if the writer dropped in on yours while touring our beloved city.

Now that we’ve been recognized for this achievement, we should probably keep up the good work, don’t you think? Here are a few ideas for tonight:

Aloft Hotel‘s 1 year Birthday Bash
7109 South Springs Drive
Franklin, TN 37067

6-9pm
FREE
wine, beer, unique snacks & elixirs
food provided by Blue Coast Burrito, A Dream Come True Catering, & Gigi’s Cupcakes

An event for a good cause:

Mercy Lounge – Rock & Roll Circus
1 Cannery Row
Nashville, TN 37203

8:30 p.m.
$7 and $10 at the door
an evening of magic, music, and circus performances
benefits Food Security Partners

Looking for something completely new? You’re in luck, because Whiskey Kitchen is now open for business!

Whiskey Kitchen
118 12th Ave S
Nashville, TN 37246

Photo Credit: “There’s no drinking after your dead” by ragazzo chiamato Bi

Last week I had the good fortune to judge the Flavors of Nashville fund-raising event for the American Liver Foundation. The affair was totally unique to any other food event that I’ve attended, bringing together some of Nashville’s top chefs who each designed their own menu and prepared a five course meal, paired with wines, for a table of 10 guests.

The competition was broken down into three categories: Best Appetizer, Best Tablescape and Best Menu. My fellow judges and I spent the first part of the evening wandering the massive dining room taking in all of the beautiful tables personally designed by each chef. After scoring those, we moved on to the daunting task of tasting the 15 appetizers being served to guests during the opening cocktail reception.

Yes, I said 15. Flashbacks from the night of 24 cocktails flooded my brain as I repeated, “pace yourself, pace yourself”. Remember, there was still a five course dinner ahead! We plowed through, picked our faves, then moved on to the menu judging, perhaps the hardest part of all. Instead of tasting the food itself, we were critiquing the concept and flow of the menu. But you know me, one of my hobbies is perusing menus, so even though it was tough narrowing down the competition, it was fun!

Best Tablescape
(shown in photo above)
Saffire – Chef Vinny Tardo

Best Appetizer
Hillwood Country Club – Chef Perry Seal

Best Menu
Mack and Kate’s- Chef Cooper Brunk

All judging duties complete, it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. This is where the really unique part of the event kicked in. Up until this point, none of the patrons knew who whose food they would be eating. During the cocktail hour, each chef drew a number from a hat that paired him with a guests’ table for the night, then personally escorted them to the table.

I hit the jackpot when Chef Carl Schultheis of Red Pony (at left), drew my table number!

Red Pony Menu

First Course: Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Butternut Squash and spiced wine gastrique

Second Course: Black Bean Mollettes with Milagro Shrimp and Queso Cotija

Third Course: Seared Tuna with Rockefeller Artichokes, Caper Aioli, and Balsamic Reduction

Fourth Course: Braised Lamb in Mole Negro and Sweet Corn Tamal

Fifth Course: Strawberry Trifle

I would highly recommend attending this event in the future if you have the opportunity. Not only is it for a good cause, but it’s truly an evening of gastronomic delights!

While we’re on the topic of fund-raising food affairs, just days away is one that I very rarely miss: Taste of Nashville, supporting the Boys and Girls Club of Middle Tennessee.

This year’s Taste is this Friday, September 25th, at the Cannery Ballroom. A few of my preferred dining spots and watering holes are on the list: Park Cafe, Saffire, Virago, Lime, and The Patterson House; along with some on my “to do” list: Eastland Cafe, The Cocoa Tree, and The Local Taco. I’m especially excited to get a taste of soon-to-be-opening Kayne Prime and Whiskey Kitchen. All of these and more for what I believe is the lowest price I’ve ever paid – only $50! (all drinks are included as well) Click here to purchase tickets. The number is limited, so do it now!

Friday, September 25th
7:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.
The Cannery Ballroom
1 Cannery Row
Nashville, TN
$50 in advance or $60 at the door

For once I’m so glad it’s Monday. My life has been in overdrive the past few weeks and I’m ready to slow down. Today marks the day when I can finally get back to a normal routine – which includes hitting the gym extra hard, and most importantly eating healthier!

No more “meatfests” or 4 desserts in one day. Right now I’m completely craving vegetables and fruits. I honestly don’t know how people eat heavy, meat-filled, or sugar-laden meals on a regular basis, because my body and my mind are feeling the effects and it’s not good.

Today’s Meatless Monday meal is full of good-for-you vegetables and best of all, it’s not only super delicious, it’s also super easy to make. The recipe as written uses canned and packaged items, but you can always use fresh from the garden or farm stand if you have them on hand. My sister generously gifted me with one last load of fresh tomatoes from her garden this weekend, so that’s what I’ll be using. Nothing better than fresh, home grown tomatoes!

Print

Feta, Mushroom and Spinach Penne

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

8 oz whole wheat penne pasta
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
10 oz bag baby spinach
4.5 oz can sliced black olives (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp red pepper flakes
4 - 6 ounces good quality feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onion and garlic, and cook until golden brown. After browning the garlic/onion mix, add the mushrooms and saute them before adding the tomatoes, spinach, and black olives. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook 2 minutes more, until tomatoes are heated through and spinach is wilted. Reduce heat to medium, stir in pasta and feta cheese, and cook until heated through.

Serve with a side salad to make a complete meal!


Photo Credit: _MG_8035 by babbagecabbage