Have you ever read a book set in an enchanted location or watched a movie and said to yourself, “I need to take a trip to this place?”
This happened to me after interviewing Mee McCormick, author of “My Pinewood Kitchen: A Southern Culinary Cure / 130+ Crazy Delicious, Gluten-Free Recipes to Reduce Inflammation and Make Your Gut Happy” (2020, HCI Books, $26.95).
Her description of her farm, restaurant and mercantile shop, and the small town of Nunnely, about an hour from Nashville, Tenn., painted a vivid picture for me, luring me to plan a visit this summer.
The story of this mom, chef, farmer and restaurateur is inspirational. Mee first started cooking when health issues brought her debilitating daily pain. When conventional treatments couldn’t help, Mee found relief in a surprising place: her kitchen. Through relentless recipe testing, she put her condition into remission and completely restored her health with gut-friendly whole foods, most of which she grew and harvested on her family’s farm.
She mentioned, with the pandemic keeping us at home more and shopping less, home chefs need to get creative while cooking tasty, healthful meals. She shares tips for what she calls “quarantine cuisine,” looking for variety but short on ingredients and inspiration. She teaches home cooks how to reuse items to reduce food waste (cilantro pickles, anyone?), and reveals the most healthful foods that folks need in their pandemic pantry.
She advocates for food that is not only healthful but delicious, too. I asked, when one thinks of Southern cuisine, less-than-healthful food often comes to mind, so how does she overcome this stigma at her restaurant? She responded, meet the guest where they are food-wise: serve hamburgers (grass-fed beef from the farm) and french fries (fried in rice bran oil), and once customers try other menu items they become reconnected with their Southern roots with a healthful twist. Sugar and fried is what people think of Southern food; what they don’t think about are the delicious and healthful crops grown in the South.
Mee was so excited talking about her restaurant, The Pinewood Kitchen, which she coined “a table at the farm,” where she shares locally grown and seasonal foods with her community. The restaurant aims to serve everyone with the same deliciousness regardless of dietary restrictions.
Her motto: bringing people together around the table through food inclusivity, education and community. I look forward to my visit to the restaurant, savoring Southern comfort food made from fresh, organic ingredients free of GMOs, pesticides and other harmful additives and preservatives.
I’ll see why people drive a distance to get a taste of Mee’s fried chicken, mac and cheese, creamy tomato soup and chocolate avocado mousse (recipe at https://bit.ly/2Xf3Jy). In the meantime, I will be cooking up some recipes from the book.
* If short on time, buy pre-cut zucchini noodles.
** If nut-free, replace with pumpkin seeds.
Using a veggie spiralizer, a julienne peeler or a mandoline slicer, slice the zucchini into noodles. Set aside.
In a blender or food processor, combine the basil, garlic, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, miso, pine nuts, sea salt and black pepper, and pulse until coarsely chopped.
Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the blender or food processor is running. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. Pulse until blended.
Transfer the zucchini noodles to a serving bowl and add the pesto. Toss until the zucchini noodles are well coated. Top with the tomatoes (if using). Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Alternatively, transfer the zucchini pesto noodles to a skillet and sauté them over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, and serve hot.
Makes 4 servings.
Substitutions: *If dairy free, replace with vegan butter.
Place the apricots in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes or until plump; drain well.
Meanwhile, place the cauliflower in batches into a food processor. Cover and pulse each batch until crumbly and pieces resemble the texture of couscous. (Don’t overpulse or the cauliflower will become mushy.)
Remove the cauliflower from the food processor and add the chopped carrots. Pulse until they also resemble the texture of couscous.
In an extra-large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter or ghee and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion; cook and stir about 3 minutes or until tender and just starting to brown.
Add the garlic; cook and stir for 30 seconds more. Add the carrots, spread them out in the pan, and sauté for 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower to the pan, spreading in an even layer. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the cauliflower is golden brown, stirring occasionally. Spread it in an even layer after stirring.
Stir in the drained apricots, spinach, chickpeas, nuts and sea salt. Cook and stir until combined. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and scallions. Toss until the butter melts.
Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Makes 4 servings.
* If meat free, replace with tofu, coconut bacon or tempeh bacon.
** If egg free, omit the eggs.
*** If meat free, replace with grilled Portobello mushrooms.
To make the dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice with the milk; let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes to create your dairy-free “buttermilk.”
Place the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Add the “buttermilk” and blend until silky smooth and creamy.
To make the salad:
In a large bowl, combine the kale and watercress with 5 tablespoons of the dressing and toss to coat; arrange over a flat serving platter.
Add the chopped chicken to the bowl and toss with a 1/4 cup of the dressing; arrange the chicken in a row along one edge of the greens.
Add the tomatoes to the bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the dressing; arrange the tomatoes on the opposite edge of greens.
In separate rows near the center of the greens, arrange the avocados and eggs. Drizzle with the remaining dressing. Sprinkle the cheese, chives, and bacon evenly over the salad. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
Place all of the ingredients in a bowl. Using an immersion or handheld blender, blend until creamy. Makes about 11/2 cups.
*If nut free, replace with vegan butter that’s not made from nuts, such as Earth Balance.
**If watching sugar, replace with equivalent amount of stevia.
Lightly grease a 9-inch Bundt pan with coconut oil and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the ground chia seeds and water. Wait at least 10 minutes until they form an egg-like consistency. Set aside and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the coconut oil, agave nectar, applesauce, sugar, sea salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, milk, and the chia mixture. Whisk to combine.
Add the grated carrot and flours and mix to combine. (The batter should have a normal batter consistency; if it’s too thick, add milk a little at a time.) Stir in the chopped walnuts, raisins, and dried pineapple (if using).
Pour the batter into the Bundt pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let it cool for at least 15 minutes before flipping the pan to remove the cake.
While the cake cools, make the icing. In a blender, combine the soaked and strained cashews, coconut milk, vanilla extract, honey, lemon juice, vinegar and sea salt. Blend or pulse to combine. While blending, slowly pour in 4 to 6 tablespoons of milk until the icing blends into a smooth, creamy and pourable mixture.
Gently pour the icing over the cake, using enough to coat the cake as desired. Top with chopped walnuts (if using). Slice the cake and serve with the remaining icing. Serves 4 to 6.