Luv Cooks Southern Cooking Video Episodes!

The Nashville Cookbook 1976

Hi all my amazing Luv Cooks readers! Have I told you lately HOW MUCH it means to me that you read these posts? You are cooking rock stars and to that I say, rock on friends, rock on.

Also, EXCITING news to share with you! As many of you know, I have been wanting to incorporate Luv Cooks video content for eons now. Pretty much what feels like a half century of my lifetime, which means I probably felt this way in about the time period Brooklyn was being filmed. Ok, back to the task at hand….

The official FIRST EPISODE of our Luv Cooks series is about to be arrive. That’s right- Southern recipes, straight from The Nashville Cookbook, live and on Luv Cooks You Tube!. Which means any time you are craving a dose of Luv Cooks kitchen shenanigans, you can tune in. Night or day. You get the picture.

So, here is our teaser video, getting you primed for this month’s recipe- which, if you like sweet potatoes, pecans, butter, and marshmallows, you are going to be over-the-moon about.

So check out the video, and I’d love to hear what else you’d like to see me cook! Luv y’all!


Gourmet Beef Stew + Welcome to Nashville

Gourmet Beef Stew


January is just the best.

There are a host of reasons I feel this way. It’s a fresh start to the year, my schedule seems to become slow enough to give time for some goal setting- but most of all, it’s this:

Jake strums on his guitar next to me. My desk is leans against a large window; I turn my head to the right and look out at the city where I’ve always dreamed of living. Cars rush past outside and their rhythm beats sweetly alongside the guitar riffs. This is the start of Nashville for me.

And the beginning of 2016 has been a sweet one. The start of life in a new space; living in a tiny one (#loftlivin’); and new friendships forming that I feel will be lifelong. Up until this moment, I have yet to experience feeling so at peace, so in that “right where I am supposed to be” position. Life is good.

And it’s funny how I feel already that I owe something to Nashville. The smiling faces, the creativity, and the overwhelming support to people pursuing their dreams; there’s something here that I want to jump into, be a part of, bless people with. And, fortunately for me, my sister gave me just the way to do it.

Cue video intro here!


The Nashville Cookbook 1976


The Nashville Cookbook: Recipes of the Cumberland Region is where this year begins. This book is a treasure trove of history, Southern tradition, recipes yet to be explored, all from a city I long to know more about. Written by the Nashville Area Home Economics Association in 1976, one of my favorite quotes in the book’s forward is “Food is essential for the nourishment of the body, and books are essential for the nourishment of the mind and the imagination. A good cookbook can meet both these essentials, and that is what the Nashville home economists have provided here.” It is a collection of the history of places- there are beautiful prints and historical pieces on the Maxwell House Hotel, the Parthenon, Fort Nashborough and places in the Cumberland Region. It is my introduction to Nashville as a city, as a food culture, from the point of it’s history and its fascinating, “zany”, carefully crafted recipes. As the opening pages state, “We wish the book to be a joy to read, to use, to savor, and to treasure!”

So this is where Luv Cooks lands. I will cook from these recipes, aiming to make them as authentically as I can. I will include local product, produce, meat, cheese- when I can and where I can- and hope that through this process I have the pleasure of meeting the people who are bringing these fantastic foods to our table.

I will also most likely offer my variations on the tried-and-true. This week’s recipe- such a warm, comforting start to a below freezing week in Nashville- already involves some tweaks, based off of cooking methods I have learned in styling. But I hope that each of these changes will bring something new, and helpful, to your table.

So, saddle up this year for a fantastic, fun, wild ride through a cookbook, written in 1976, full of Southern flair, ingredients, spice, and the joy of life that is wonderfully unique to Tennessee. Let’s eat!

Gourmet Beef Stew from The Nashville Cookbook


This week’s purveyors: 

Meat: Delicious, lean stew meat by KLD Farm (Their beef is 100% chemical free; grass fed and grain finished; contains no antibiotics or growth hormones; and is dry-aged for 14-18 days . In other words, deliciousness.)

Produce: Potatoes by Smiley Farm (Link Smiley Farm at Local Table; they sell daily at the Nashville Farmer’s Market!)

Weekly tip: Quality Stew Meat + Relax with Some Soup

Gourmet Beef Stew

Gourmet Stew from The Nashville Cookbook

This beef stew is perfect for a cold winter night, and so simple to make. The hardest part is probably waiting for the meat to tenderize, which for me took a about 2 1/2 hours. The recipe in total takes about 3 1/2 hours, but I made mine on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and it was perfect.

What You Will Need:

  • 2 lbs lean boneless stewing meat, cubed, and patted dry
  • Black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 3 tablespoons organic butter
  • 4 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped (or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 cup red-skinned potatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • 10 ounces fresh green beans (the original recipe calls for 10 oz frozen, but I like fresh)
  • 4 medium size tomatoes, diced (1 lb.) (recipe calls for 1 16 oz can as an option, but I went with fresh)

What You Will Do:

1.  Heat a large dutch oven with 3 tablespoons butter on medium to medium-high heat (higher heat works better for browning).

2. Toss meat pieces with 1 tablespoon flour, and top with a few grinds per side of salt and pepper, to evenly coat all four sides of the beef.

3. Once the butter is bubbling, toss in the stew meat and brown on all sides.

4. Once the meat is sufficiently browned and crisp, add 3 1/2 cups water and 2 bay leaves.

5.  Simmer on low to medium-low heat for 2-3 hours, or until your meat is tender. (I went for about 2 hours and 15 minutes before I started adding the veggies and spices).

6. Add 1 more cup hot water and the rest of your ingredients (hot sauce, salt, cloves, allspice, basil, potatoes, carrots, onions, green beans, and tomatoes).

7. Bring the stew to a new boil (I turned my heat up to medium-high) then reduce to a simmer on low to medium-low.

7. Continue to simmer the soup until all the vegetables are tender, about another 50-60 minutes.

8. Now, put on your stretchy pants, warm socks, and cozy up with a bowl of stew to an episode of Nashville. Enjoy.





Coconut Milk Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Y’all- today is the day. The day I turn 30. The day to celebrate all things fun, sparkly, sugary, and swirled with peanut butter. I have a precious German friend with the best accent ever staying with us for the next three days while she is in the States; I get to spend the day tomorrow with another beautiful friend in Nashville. I mean, these are the rock-stars of long-distance friendships- so creative, inspiring, and lovely. I can’t wait. Life just seems to be humming, humming, humming by…

Yet, I woke up at 2:00 this morning in a panic. My husband spent the night, whooping-cough style, planted in the center of our bed, his lungs echoing reverberations to the top of our ceiling. I couldn’t sleep, so I moved to the sofa, only to be waken by throat pain that felt like the inside of a burlap bag. And, to be honest- the tiredness, and throat pangs, have gotten worse as they day has progressed.

So here we are, the day of all days, the golden birthday, and I feel like I got hit by a small moped then lightly tethered to a rusty Ford pick up and hung out to dry.

But- you know what? I couldn’t stop thinking about this blog post. How the last thing I want to do right now is type; how I want to lay in my bed and lament and have a pity party until I have to pick my friend up in a bit.

But, here is the deal- Luv Cooks means a lot to me. You, my readers, mean a lot to me. Yesterday as I drove home from a shoot I was thanking God for you, for your love of food and fun and for watching these videos and being a part of life with me. I was grateful for my husband, and my friendships, and all of the inspiring people that I encounter every day. For 30 years of laughter, tears, dancing (see below, what!), dreaming, and the moments that stir up such joy a knot forms in your throat. For every bit of thirty years lived in awe of the power of love and life and hope. For joy in the morning and dancing in the evening. For life, and breath, and food. Glorious food.

If there ever were consistent loves in my life- outside of the obvious- coffee is one of them. And this latte, this pumpkin spice latte, is the ultimate birthday indulgence. I adore espresso, but my budget, and time, don’t allow for the daily routine of a fancy green lady version you can purchase with an iPhone app.

This latte reminds me of bullet proof coffee- coffee blended with butter- but much tastier. The whole thing can be made dairy-free (just omit the whipped cream and substitute coconut oil for butter), and low sugar (substitute stevia for the maple syrup). The entire coconut milk mixture can be blended together on its own and used as coffee creamer. It’s healthy, has real pumpkin, coconut milk and cinnamon. Deliciousness.

So, ladies and gentleman, as I leave to pursue the rest of my 30th day on this planet, I once again want to say thank you. Thank you for being you, for making Luv Cooks happen, and even cooking a recipe or two. Thank you for making my birthday, and the years moving forward,  so special.

I invite you to join me, pumpkin spice latte in hand, to a toast- to life, to luv, to food. Glorious food.

Coconut Milk Pumpkin Spice Latte


Recipe taken from Yahoo Health

What You Will Need:

  • 1 (13.5-oz) can full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2-4 tbsp maple syrup, I used 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 2 tbsp butter, ghee, or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp  vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups hot, strongly brewed coffee or 4 espresso shots
  • 4 oz whipped coconut cream or grass-fed heavy whipping cream, for garnish
  • Ground cinnamon, for garnish

What You Will Do:

  1. Add the coconut milk, maple syrup, pumpkin puree, butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg to a blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Warm the pumpkin milk over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until the milk starts to steam.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your coffee or espresso (I used two tablespoons coffee per cup of water in a drip maker).
  4. Once your milk is hot, place it back into the blender and blend for about 10 seconds to froth the milk, making sure your hand is on the lid to avoid any messes.
  5. Divide the hot coffee and milk between 4 cups. Put on a dollop of whipped cream (or go Luv Cooks style and bust out the Redi Whip), and cinnamon, and treat yo self!

For sticking with this recipe, I have a birthday surprise for you:

That’s right, Kerri Bunn and I don’t want no scrubs people.

Easy Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Sometimes, as a food stylist, you make things for a shoot, praise the Lord it’s been shot, and throw the lukewarm leftovers in the trash. This is normally accompanied by a vow that you never want to see, or taste, or smell the ——- (pot roast, pot pie, slow cooker chicken casserole, etc.) again. Because frankly, you’ve worked with it for so many hours, bent over it with tweezers, and the dish made your hair greasy because you had to fry the chicken with metal pins in order for it to look good. Your back hurts… you’re just done.

Butter you up because you’re toast.

Stick a fork in you, you’re done.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt on a Granite

It’s rare that I actually crave anything I make for a shoot. Except for the things I make for the blog. Luv Cooks is special to me, and you are special to me because you read these posts (thank you, thank you, thank you….) And you know what else is really special? Besides Julie Andrews? Five-minute strawberry yogurt.

On my way back from making prop returns this afternoon, the late-summer heat was getting to my psyche. New bangs plastered to my forehead and dying of thirst (well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration), the air conditioner in my hybrid car was about as cold as dog breath and all I could think about was how I was sweating through my pants.

It was at that moment that I direly, passionately, wished I had some leftover strawberry yogurt in my freezer.

Too bad the hubs and I had already eaten it. Quickly after it was shot. Hopes=dashed.

But, I will say, this dire feeling gave way to an extra motivation to share this recipe with you. In the dire straits of early September in the South, when the vice grip of humid heat refuses to let go and make way for cooler breezes- everybody, I do mean evvrryybodddy, needs to eat something frozen. And refreshing. It does wonders for your mood; and ensuing hair styles.

So this Labor Day, bust out your food processor, whip up some fro-yo, and celebrate the end of summer, strawberries, and the sweet relief of an easy dessert. Cheers!

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Easy Five Minute Frozen Yogurt (recipe by Just a Taste. Her site and recipes are so pretty and inspiring!)

This recipe is super simple and requires very little prep aside from squeezing fresh lemon juice. A tip for easy lemon squeezing- just roll you lemon around on your countertop before you slice it in half. The liquid comes out easier that way!

What You Will Need

  • 4 cups frozen strawberries
  • 3 tablespoons honey (I like orange blossom honey for this)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used soy yogurt)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

What You Will Do

1. Add the frozen strawberries, honey, yogurt, and lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor.

2. Process until the mixture becomes creamy, which should take about 5 minutes.

3. Serve the frozen yogurt immediately or, if you can wait this long, you can transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the freezer for about a month.



Gluten Free Peach Cobbler Ice Cream


two bowls of gluten free peach cobbler ice cream
Peachy, glorious goodness

I’d like to begin this post with an essay entitled, “Why Peach Ice Cream Matters.” Here I will prove the point that a summer without peach ice cream is like a beach trip without watermelon juice running down your chin, sand in your towel, and Celine Dion blaring from the speakers of a hot, sticky golf cart.

Why Peach Ice Cream Matters

Peach ice cream matters. It matters because it is the epitome of the Fourth of July and of summer: ripe, sweet peaches blended into cold cream, glorious cream, that’s churned and frozen in a freezer, smoky air blasting out as you open the door in the summer heat. Or, served soft-serve, like my mom always made it, after the hours of piercing, crushing ice-rock noise in the ice cream maker stilled, and her sweet fruit cream was ready. It’s family memories, friends around a huge wooden table while humid light pierced through the slits of a screened in porch, or making it on my own, twinging my toes with delight as my husband took his first bite. It’s the pay-off, the end celebration to a waiting for the perfect peach moment in July. It’s the goods, the glory, and the guarantee of a sweet downturn into fall, only a few months away.

And this recipe, my friends, is outrageously, fabulously, delicious. The most important element of this ice cream, is, of course, the peaches, and we pulled out all of the stops for this one. The Peach Truck in Nashville is the best source out there, and I’ve never had as sweet, dense, and red of a peach in my life. Grilling these peaches takes the sweetness and turns the flavor profile to caramel. It’s divine and once I tasted the grilled peaches we are all lucky they actually made it to the ice cream. Also, the gluten free pie crust recipe I used is from Authentic Foods. Y’aaalllll- oh my Lord this is so good in this ice cream. The pie crust has a sort of cinnamon flavor to it; it’s addictive and a perfect balance to the sweet peaches.

Also, as you can see in the fantastic video of our recipe below ***HUGE shout out to Stephen Devries Photo for helping Jake and I film this video at his incredible Studio 410! It is a beautiful space, and Stephen’s photo and video talents never cease to amaze me*** the key to success here is baking your pie crust, grilling your peaches, and letting your milk mixture chill in the fridge- ahead of time. That way you can get right to the fun part of bringing it all together in your ice cream maker.

To conclude with my essay-style post, July 4 is one of the best holidays we have the chance to celebrate as Americans. Let’s take this day to love the people around us and honor those who have sacrificed for our freedom. Let’s love people in a way that honors life itself- with laughter, joy, and food. Let’s be the people that our forefathers challenged us to be. And I can’t think of a better way to inspire that kind of life than with peach cobbler ice cream. God bless the USA!

Gluten Free Peach Cobbler Ice Cream

Gluten Free Peach Cobbler Ice Cream

This recipe is adapted from several resources: shout out to GUB Life blog for the awesome ice cream base, and The Neely’s for the Grilled Peaches Technique! Just make sure you get all of your ingredients ready ahead of time to make the ice cream process easy.

For the Ice Cream Base

What You Will Need

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon  bourbon vanilla bean paste

What You Will Do

In a dish, whisk together heavy cream, condensed milk, 2% milk, salt, cinnamon, and bourbon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract).

For the Pie Crust**:

1. Prepare your favorite gluten-free pie crust dough. Some recipes call for chilling the dough after it is made to help it set; go for it if your recipe requires it.

2. Once back to room temperature, roll the dough to about a 12-inch diameter circle, then bake at 350 (or per recipe’s instructions). For this ice cream, I used Authentic Foods mix but I also love Serious Eats’ gluten-free pie crust.

3. Once cooled, tear your pie crust into bite-size pieces.

**If you can eat gluten, make this super easy by baking off a pre-made pie crust. Honestly, I can’t taste the difference in homemade and store bought!

For the Grilled Peaches

What You Will Need

  • 4 ripe peaches, preferably from The Peach Truck, pitted and quartered
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

What You Will Do

1. Mix together your peaches, light brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.

2. Heat grill pan to medium heat.

3. Cook peaches on grill pan, turning after about 2-3 minutes per side (about when you see grill marks form).

4. Remove peaches from pan to cool. Once cool, chop into bite-size pieces.

Putting it All Together

1. Pour your chilled cream mixture into the base of an ice cream maker. Let it run for about 15 minutes, or until your ice cream is at a soft-serve consistency.

2. Fold in cooled, chopped peaches until throughly combined.

3. Fold in pie crust pieces until thoroughly combined.

4. Let churn for a few more minutes.

5. Voila! Enjoy at soft-serve stage, or you can pour the mixture into a freezer-safe container (I used a metal loaf pan) and let chill in the freezer for at least 3 hours. Happy eating!



Grilled Greek Pizza with Steak and The Style Gathering

Grilled Greek Pizza with Steak

It all starts with the dressing.

Homemade Greek Dressing

Greek dressing. The kind of dressing that carries you through college, graduation, work, marriage- with flavors that at the same time comfort and excite and brighten. The dressing that you use on everything that tastes great to make it taste even better. The dressing everyone asks for but it’s exact measurements are felt in your hands, measured by your palms, and known only after a finger dipped in the blender tells you where it stands.

Today I am honored and thrilled to share with you the dressing; the one that Buffy at The Style Gathering has known for years. Just click on those links and you will find her incredible recipe. And y‘all– I am part Greek (my grandfather’s name is Dionysus) and I can envision my great ancestors now, applauding and cheering Buffy and I on as we used this dressing to marinate, drizzle, and accent some amazing spring dishes that we are excited to share with you this week.

Buffy and I in the kitchen

For those of you who may not know Buffy (above left), she is not only beautiful, she is talented. Her blog is a treasure of Southern style-beautiful clothes, food, travel, more yummy food, and entertaining ideas- and she is the resident expert on all things lovely. Her eye for beauty and design is refreshing to be around and I absolutely loved being in the kitchen with her.

Rolling out the pizza dough
Rolling out the pizza dough

Also, needless to say, her incredible photographer Jennifer Hagler did great work on making our food look as incredible as it does.

Grilled Pizza

For this post, we landed on using her dressing to do two things- marinate a flank steak, and top a grilled pizza. Like the dressing, spring is upon us and with it comes awakening flavors and new vegetables. Which leads us of course to grilled Greek pizza, topped with her dressing and our beautiful pan grilled steak.

Pan seared steak


Pan Grilled Steak

Also, to be fair, I am no grilling expert. My relationship with the grill resembles very closely that of a small child rewarded with a bag of Skittles every three days. When it works- bliss! When it doesn’t, a time of sulking and an emotional low known only to my husband, takes its place. However, with this pizza- and this flank steak- I have tried to create the easiest-to-follow instructions possible to help even the flame-challenged among us achieve grilling success.*

Cue the grilling montage:

Pizza Dough on Grill
Oiled pizza goes on the grill…


Pizza Dough Flips on Grill
The all important flip occurs…


The flipped side is put back on the grill…


Pizza Starts on Grill
Toppings are placed on the dough…


Buffy adds more toppings
Buffy skillfully adds more toppings…


Collaborating on Grill Time
We check to make sure the pizza feels done…



Grilled Pizza
And voila! Grilling success!


Also, if you want to do the pizza sans-dairy, Buffy and I thought that it would be amazing do do a grilled dough topped with dressing and veggies. Yummy. If you try this method, please bring us leftovers.

Pizza Drizzled with Dressing

Alright everyone- bust out the shorts (stylish and blush, of course), turn on the grill, and start blending up a fabulous batch of dressing. It’s sure to put a spring in your step this week.

Grilled Pizza with Flank Steak and flowers

Marinated, Grilled Flank Steak (with tips on grilling from The Pioneer Woman)

What You Will Need:

  • 2-3 lbs flank steak
  • 1 cup (or more, depending on size of steak) homemade Greek dressing
  • olive oil  (for drizzling)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grill pan

What You Will Do

1. Put your flank steak into a large plastic bag. Pour in dressing, and swirl around in the bag until it covers all of the meat. Let marinate in fridge for at least four hours.

2. Drizzle grill pan with enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Heat grill pan on high heat (for about two to three minutes).

3. Remove steak from marinade, and place on the grill pan horizontally. Grill for two minutes. If you want to get fancy, you can turn your steak at a 45 degree angle (I learned this from the Pioneer Woman) and grill for about a minute or two more, to get those fancy grill marks.

4. Turn the steak over and grill for three to four minutes more (or two minutes, plus 45 degree rotation time), or until the steak reaches 145 degrees (you can also do the finger test if you don’t want to bother with a meat thermometer. #juiceslost)

5. Let the steak rest for at least five minutes before you slice. This keeps it so juicy.

Grilled Pizza with Marinated Flank Steak

Grilled Greek Pizza with Homemade Dressing

What You Will Need:

  • 1 lb Publix (or any other brand) pre-made pizza dough, standing at room temp for one hour
  • Flour, for dusting
  • Olive oil, at least 1 tablespoon (or more) for drizzling
  • Grilled flank steak
  • Veggies (for topping): red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, red onion, black olives,  artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes
  • Feta cheese, crumbled; mozzarella cheese (Cut into circles and/or shredded if you desire. I like the combination of both!)***
  • Greek dressing, for drizzling

What You Will Do

  1. Preheat grill to about 300 degrees. Now, every grill is different. So, if your grill becomes too hot during this process, turn the heat down and open the lid. If it is too cool, turn the heat up and close the lid.**
  2. Assemble your ingredients. It is key when grilling pizza that you have all of your ingredients in place because the grilling process happens very quickly! So, chop those veggies (if desired), put the cheese into bowls, and get the Greek dressing ready to drizzle. I like to put all of my ingredients onto a jelly roll pan to stay organized.
  3. Lightly flour a wooden surface. Roll your dough into a large circle with your palms (you can also half this dough if you like to make two smaller pizzas), then flatten into a disc. Lightly dust surface of pizza disc with more flour, then, using a rolling pin, roll out into about a 12 to 13 inch circle. The dough should feel stretchy and at a similar thickness to what you see when those fancy Italian men throw the dough towards the ceiling.
  4.  Take your now assembled pizza dough and ingredients out to the grill.
  5. Brush one side of the pizza dough with olive oil. Place that side directly onto the grill and cook for two to three minutes with the lid off. Check the underside of the dough as you grill. It should begin to firm and you should see grill marks forming.* Once those grill marks form and the dough is firm, flip with a large spatula.
  6. Drizzle top with olive oil, then add meat, toppings and cheese. Go light on the toppings; too heavy and your pizza will sink a bit. Grill for an additional three minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the dough fills firm.
  7. Let rest for one or two minutes, then add a drizzle of dressing, and slice! Enjoy your hard-earned Greek goodness.

 To be noted:

*I once disintegrated a chicken on the grill. Literally, it’s legs burned beyond a crisp into charcoal dust. Yet it was still on fire. It’s demise may have had something to do with the fact that I set the grill to 500 then left it on for at least thirty minutes:)

**As I experienced, if grill marks are forming too quickly and your crust is burning, go ahead and flip the dough over (so it doesn’t burn) and top with ingredients. You can finish that one off in the oven. Turn down the heat on your grill, and try again. Like I said, every grill is different and takes a while to adjust to!

***Dairy-free option: If you want to go sans cheese on this, I suggest replacing the olive oil drizzle on the flipped pizza side with a good drizzle of Greek dressing. Add veggies, and cook until desired doneness:)



Bacon Sweet Rolls with Maple Glaze

Bacon sweet rolls

Most everything is better with bacon.

In the South, bacon might as well be one of the five food groups, alongside vegetables, biscuits and/or cornbread, cheese dip, and sweet tea. It’s the basis of any true Southern side item, tops most casseroles, and makes a great afternoon snack with the aforementioned tea.

While reflecting on what I could post that epitomized a truly Southern breakfast, this recipe for bacon sweet rolls caught my eye. Could there  be a way to take a cinnamon roll- perfect with it’s warm cinnamon smell wafting from the oven, soft in the center with ripples of vanilla icing- to another level? Is there a way to actually upgrade nature’s most perfect fried pork product? Can I personally contribute to a breakfast roll awakening in the kitchens of bacon-lovers everywhere?

I do not claim to know the answers to life’s most serious questions. This one, however- can bacon and sweet rolls coexist in perfect unity?- I can answer. With a resounding yes.

These rolls are why bacon makes most everything better. Filling, rich sweet dough swirled around salty, applewood smoked bacon that folds with brown sugar and butter into a wheel of national championship caliber (Did someone say 11:00 pre-game tailgate food? The other team’s fans will cheer for you). These are a first-meal treat in its highest form.

So don’t let all of that bacon go to waste on the side of your eggs. Wrap it in dough, throw it in the oven, and celebrate the South’s most perfect breakfast roll.

Also, a huge thank you to the incredibly talented Stephen DeVries for taking these beautiful photos. I don’t think breakfast has ever looked this good.

What a polite breakfast eater's plate would look like.
What a polite breakfast eater’s plate would look like.

Bacon Sweet Rolls with Maple Glaze (Recipe adapted from this great food blog)

What You Will Need

1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 TBSP brown sugar
Sweet Dough (recipe below)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, warm room temperature
1 pound bacon, cooked (I liked this brand, applewood-smoked), crispy and crumbled
Maple Glaze (recipe below)

Sweet Dough

1 cup warm whole milk
2 envelopes (4 ½ tsp.) active dry yeast
1/4 tsp. plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Stir milk (I microwaved mine until it felt pretty warm to the touch; typically it should be about 110-120 degrees), yeast, and 1/4 tsp. sugar in a small bowl. Let it stand until the mixture bubbles, about 6 minutes (you will see tiny bubbles rising to the surface). Stir it again.

Using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, add the flour and salt and mix on low speed just to combine.

Add yeast mixture to the flour and mix on medium-low speed until dry shaggy mass forms, scraping down the bowl occasionally, about 2 minutes.

Add egg and egg yolk and beat on medium speed until well blended. Then add the sugar and beat until moist soft dough that resembles thick batter forms, about 3 minutes. (Keep on beating the batter here, even when it looks like it is already in dough form. It needs to become more like a silky batter than a thick dough.)

Add room temperature butter 1 tbsp at a time and beat on medium-low speed until almost incorporated before adding more, about 2 minutes (your dough will be sticky, not thick like a traditional bread dough). Beat dough on medium-high 2 minutes longer (make sure all of your butter is incorporated here).

Scrape dough out onto a work surface then gather together. Place it in a large bowl that is oiled or buttered. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise at room temperature until almost doubled, about 2 hours. Punch dough down; cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Peabody’s recipe was slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Maple Glaze

2 TBSP unsalted butter
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (the darker the better, go for the real Vermont thing if you can)
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

In a small saucepan, melt butter and syrup together over medium heat (watch the mixture because it comes together quickly).  Whisk powdered sugar into the hot mixture until smooth. Let cool slightly…if too thick add a little more maple syrup. Pour over rolls.

To Bring It All Together

Whisk both sugars together.

Turn cold Sweet Dough out onto floured surface; sprinkle with flour. The more flour the better here; when you roll it out it gets a bit sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out the dough to two 15 by 12 inch rectangles. I can never seem to make actual rectangles with my dough, it’s always more of a large oval, so whatever works for you will still be delicious.

Using fingers, spread the butter evenly over each rectangle. Sprinkle ½ sugar mixture and half of the bacon over each. Starting at one long side of each dough rectangle, tightly roll up dough jelly-roll style, enclosing filling. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut each roll crosswise into fifteen or sixteen one inch-thick slices. Arrange your  dough slices on a cookie sheet, spacing evenly apart.

Cover with plastic wrap; let them rise in a warm, draft-free area until the buns are puffy and doubled, about 1 hour 45 minutes.

Bake buns at 375F until deep golden brown. The cooking time varies here. I used a dark metal pan, and it only took mine about 15 minutes to cook. If you use a light metal cookie sheet, it will probably be more like 25 minutes. Just watch your rolls-because of the sugar inside of them, it can become a syrupy pool around your dough and burn them the bottom. Let the buns stand 2 minutes. Then cover with glaze and say hello to the best bacon baked bun of your life!

Aunt Annie’s Strawberry Layer Cake

Perfect strawberry heaven
Spring strawberry greatness

I wish I had an Aunt Annie.

If I did, I would ask for her for her home address so I could show up every Saturday morning and listen as she lovingly taught me to bake cakes.

The unfortunate reality is that this recipe was not easy to come by. I did not find it on Pinterest, or google “best strawberry cake,” or ask Pioneer Woman. No, this cake took me by complete surprise. And the moment I tasted it, I knew the recipe had to be yours.

Cake on a platter

At a recent photographer friend‘s birthday party, a coworker of ours arrived with a strawberry cake. I love strawberry cake. There is a bakery in my hometown that makes impeccable strawberry cake. But I had yet to recreate anything like it on my own. And to be completely honest, I almost didn’t try this one. I had been let down too many times, sure that it was going to be another missed attempt at strawberry greatness.

But my first bite was a game changer. This cake was pure strawberry; fresh, light and moist with chunks of strawberry, delicately sweet and airy. The frosting was whipped, dense with a strawberry punch. A perfect precursor of spring on a plate. With light streaming in from the cafe windows where we ate, I thought for a brief moment I was living and breathing happiness. And before I left my dream state, the slice was gone.

I think something's missing

My obsessive quest for the recipe began. The owner of the ingredients list did not want to share it (see egg salad dowry entry last week), and so there was one thing left to do: I stalked her. I came by her desk every day and told her I wouldn’t give up. I pled, whined, hid behind office doors to pop out and remind her I wanted it . Then one day, a lovely slip of paper appeared at my desk. A lovely piece of newspaper.

Newspaper recipes are a lost art. I know my generation has passed them over for quick reviews and input from social media sources; I can’t tell you the last time I read a local paper on a Sunday. But the great thing about recipes in the Food section is you know they were loved. Someone took the time to type it out from most likely a handwritten card. They knew it was worth printing and putting on everyone’s front door step. And that’s what I want for this blog- to share with you recipes that are loved, known, and appreciated.

And so, without further ado, I present to you the infamous (stalked) Auntie Anne’s Strawberry Layer Cake. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

A slice of strawberry

Aunt Annie’s Strawberry Layer Cake

What You Will Need:

1 cup fresh frozen strawberries, thawed (I washed two pints of strawberries, sliced a cup of them in half, then put that cup in a freezer safe bag for the cake. I then froze and thawed the rest of the berries to make sure I had enough juice for the frosting.)

1 box white cake mix

1 box strawberry Jello

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

1/2 cup water

2 batches strawberry butter cream frosting, recipe below

Fresh sliced strawberries and white chocolate coconut truffles for garnish if you like

What You Will Do

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Spray two (9-inch) metal cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Set them aside.

3. Drain your cup of strawberries well, reserving the juice for the frosting. I would go ahead and drain the rest of your frozen strawberries separately at this point to make sure you have enough juice.

4. Combine the cake mix, strawberry Jello powder and flour in a large bowl of an electric mixer. Add the oil, eggs, water and drained strawberries. Mix well on low for 30 seconds, then at medium speed for two minutes (make sure NOT to overmix here; it messes with the jello texture), scraping the sides of the pan as neccessary.

5. Divide the batter equally among two prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes. Check these at about 28 minutes to make sure they don’t over-bake. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for 10 mintues in the pan, then turn it out onto wire racks to cool for another 30 minutes.

6. At this point you can go ahead and frost the cake with buttercream. However, BAKERS ALERT– you will have a moister cake if you take these rounds, wrap them in plastic wrap first then aluminum foil, and freeze them overnight. Take them out of the freezer the next morning and let them sit at room temp until you need to frost them.

7. Garnish to your heart’s content with strawberries, white chocolate truffles, sprinkles, marshmallows, edible glitter

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

What You Will Need

1 stick butter at room temperature (This is important for your frosting to whip up to it’s peak fabulousness)

1/4 cup strawberry juice (Please, please, please don’t skimp on this; the juice makes this frosting!)

1 pound powdered sugar

What You Will Do

1. Using an electric mixer, mix the butter, juice, and sugar together on low until blended. Then cream the mixture on high until light and fluffy, about two minutes. The icing will start to form peaks and feel like a dense buttercream when it is ready.

2. Scrape the sides of the bowl and/or taste frosting as necessary.

BAKER ALERT (These are way too much fun) If you dip your icing knife or spatula into a bowl of warm water, it will help smooth the frosting without tearing the cake. Also, it is easier to make one batch of frosting for the layer between the two cakes, then make a second batch for the top and sides of the cake. This ensures even frosting in the center and on the outsides of the cake.

A New Look

Lots of yumminess on a table.

I get bored easily.

And I crave beauty. As much as chocolate, Cheez-Its, and (insert-chewy-candy-here).

Luckily I am surrounded by incredibly Creative people on a daily basis. In fact, my friend Todd Helzer has a fantastic design eye and started his own photography/design business. So, I begged, pleaded, and convinced him to take photos of my food (Ok, this is not true. Todd is such a great person that he volunteered to do this for me.)  I also promised in return for his help all of the leftovers from the shoot he and his wife Amy could take home in a baggie. We had a deal.

This is where the hard part comes in. I love to cook. I love cooking-inspired bookmarks, cookbooks, and (insert sigh) Pinterest. Here-in was my dilemma.  How was I going to boil down years’ worth of great recipes into one single photo? What was my “look?” I can’t even decide on a definite way to wear my hair. So, I have experienced the most bittersweet editing process of my life over the past seven days. The internal dialogue went something like this.

“Could I make a chocolate cake ahead of time? What about the icing? Will it look weird sitting out? What if it gets lumpy? Yes, I should feature the sweet potato biscuits- but what about powdered sugar on top? Is that too much white? Oh, and I love Mexican food. Salsa? Noo, too much red- cilantro-I like basil- what about Italian food? Ohhh what if Mario Batali finds this photo and loves it? Asks me to design a whole new line of kitchen clogs?  I must eat at Eatily!”

And so on. You see where this is going.

And this is why I need people to reign me in. Shout out to the hubs!

Anyway, I managed to reign myself in and stick to the things/foods that I know and love. The ones that make me feel good, pack a punch of color, and make life a bit brighter. Long story short, LuvCooks is about to get, like we say in the South, “a whole new” look. A change that, despite my overzealous food mania, will be a move in a simpler- and more beautiful- direction.

Insert teaser photos here!

Todd, aka photographer extrodinaire, captures the look.
Todd’s lovely wife Amy was the best photo assistant/reflection-creator ever!