Ask Eliza: What are some health benefits of herbs and spices?

One of the spices I love most is cayenne pepper which has capsaicin in it. Capsaicin is shown to help increase your metabolic rate! It does this by increasing your internal body temperature which in turn makes you burn more calories. So the spicier food you eat... potentially the faster your metabolism. Think about like harissa or other spicy additives to food that can up those internal body temps! 

Juice & Smoothie Recipe Ideas

Juices and smoothies are a great way to eat clean and feel fresh during spring and summer. Below is a list of some easy and nutritious juice ideas: 

A keen eye for France, and great recipes

Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch In Paris: A Love Story, With Recipes (Little, Brown and Company, 2010, 324 pages) offers readers both literary and culinary treats.

Bard — what a wonderful name for a writer — whisks us off to the City of Light where she has fallen in love with a Frenchman, Gwendal. (Pronounced Gwen-DAL). Living in England, Bard meets Gwendal at a Digital Resources Conference in Paris, and they are soon emailing each other across the Channel. Eventually, Bard visits Paris and Gwendal again, and then many times, before she finally takes up full-time residency in the city to be with the man who has become her lover. He introduces her to his family, who live in Saint-Malo, a French port city, and the two of them fly to New York to meet her own parents and kin. Eventually, they marry.

Above the distraction: The Swag celebrates old traditions, welcomes new era

Heading up Hemphill Road, just outside of Maggie Valley, the lush fields and bungalow homes of Jonathan Creek fade into the rearview mirror. Pulling up to a large metal gate, it opens slowly and you soon find yourself meandering a dirt road, pushing ever so carefully toward the top of the 5,000-foot ridge.

Get cooking for a good cause: New recipe book to raise money for downtown Waynesville art piece

The Waynesville Public Art Commission has put together a 150-recipe cookbook to benefit future public art pieces.

The Taste of the Great Smoky Mountains Cookbook is $10 and is the culmination a month-long process of collecting recipes from area residents. Many are old recipes handed down from generation to generation. One recipe dates back to a 1966 church cookbook.

Vinegar pie? Southern Living lauds Jarrett House’s ‘delectable’ fare

A local Dillsboro inn had four recipes featured in the Southern Living cookbook, Off the Eaten Path: Favorite Southern Dives and 150 Recipes that Made Them Famous.

The Jarrett House, a favorite Dillsboro bed and breakfast for the past 127 years, has received national recognition for its regional expertise. Pages 160 to 163 of the cookbook contain photos of the Jarrett House, an introduction to the restaurant and four of its famous recipes.

Morgan Murphy, the former travel and food editor for Southern Living magazine, toured the South in his old Cadillac, searching for the region’s best restaurants and recipes. He stopped at the Jarrett House, giving the GPS coordinates for fellow travelers, on his way through North Carolina.

“The cooking here is as straightforward and simple as their buttery biscuits. You won’t find complex ingredients or cutting-edge techniques. But what you will find is delectable Southern fare served with a smile,” Murphy wrote about the Jarrett House.

Murphy’s favorite was the chicken and dumplings. “I’d be a dumpling myself if I lived anywhere near the Jarrett House,” he wrote. The cookbook lists the ingredients and preparation instructions for the dish, including the diner secret: two kinds of pepper give the recipe a “country kick.”

Murphy included the Jarrett House’s 3-step recipe for Vinegar Pie, describing the taste as “something between a poundcake and a pecan pie without pecans. Yum.” The Jarrett House’s “easy, four-ingredient biscuits” and house apples (2 pounds sliced apples, 1 cup sugar) were also featured.

The Hartbargers have owned the Jarrett House for 36 years; in that time, Southern Living has visited the restaurant and written articles about it periodically, which the restaurant has kept for display. According to Jim Hartbarger, Southern Living has always offered an extremely positive response.

Hartbarger said the Jarrett House was chosen over other restaurants “because of its age and standards. It was a no-miss situation.” When Murphy came to visit the restaurant last year, he sat down for lunch and interviewed the staff, making sure he had a story to accompany the recipes.

“Southern Living has always been good to us. It’s an honor, and we’re really proud,” Hartbarger said.

By Tessa Rodes • SMN Intern

Ramp recipes

Ramp Biscuits

4 cups Flour

1 tablespoon Baking Soda

1 teaspoon Salt

2 Heaping T Baking Powder

½ cup Shortening or oil

2 cups Buttermilk

1 cup uncooked Minced Ramps

Sift flour, salt, baking powder and soda together. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like grapenuts, add ramps and enough buttermilk to make a soft dough ball, make sure ramps are well mixed in dough. Turn out on floured surface.

Knead dough from north to south, east to west adding flour if too sticky, the more you knead the lighter the bread, flatten the dough and cut out your biscuits or just leave as flat bread or "pone."

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place biscuits on a lightly greased pan, lightly caramelize a small about of ramps in a bit of butter, strain out ramps and brush the top of your bread with the butter, place in oven for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Pry a biscuit open to see if it is done, if not return to oven for a few more minutes baking time.

Baking time depends on your oven and the thickness of the biscuits... when the bread is done the ramps will be too. Serve immediately with real butter for best experience.

Note*** If you are using baking mix use 4 cup mix, ½ cup shortening, 2 cup buttermilk, 1 cup minced ramps and follow package directions.

You may also use self-rising flour, shortening, buttermilk and ramps. Whole milk can be substituted for buttermilk follow directions.

For heavier bread leave out the shortening and use old fashioned buttermilk, this is a better recipe for diabetics.


Killed Ramps and Branch Lettuce

1 quart of ramps with tops

1 quart of branch lettuce

1 package of bacon

Fry bacon crisp and set aside to drain. Chop ramps and branch lettuce coarsely and place in a heat resistant bowl.

If you don't have enough bacon dripping to make ¾ cup, melt enough lard into dripping to make ¾ cup.

Pour hot dripping over chopped ramps and branch lettuce. Add salt and pepper to taste and top with crumbled bacon.

Must be served hot.

Note*** If you can find it you may add some "crows foot greens" to the ramps and branch lettuce. They will add a bit of zip to the flavor.

You may substitute regular green onions and leaf lettuce or spinach, but isn't nearly as good.


Fried Potatoes and Ramps

6-8 Medium White Potatoes

2 Cup New Ramps or 3 cups chopped with tops

1 package of bacon

Salt and pepper to taste

Fry bacon crisp, set bacon aside to drain. While bacon is cooking peel and slice potatoes into 1/8 inch thick slices. Place in cold water to prevent drying out.

After bacon is removed turn down heat a bit, drain your potatoes and pat dry with paper towel. Place potatoes in skillet with hot bacon grease, add salt and pepper to taste, brown gently then add ramps and cover with lid. Let simmer for 8-10 minutes or until ramps are clear.

Place ramp and potato mixture in bowl and sprinkle the crumbled bacon on top. Serve hot!


Ramp Cornbread

1½ cup white cornmeal

½ cup flour

1 t salt

3 t baking powder

2 T sugar

2 eggs

1 cup milk whole or butter

¼ cup oil

1 cup finely minced ramps

Sift dry ingredients together, add ramps, combine eggs, milk and oil. Fold into dry ingredients beat until smooth. Preheat oven and well oiled 8 inch iron skillet to 400 degrees. Pour mixture into hot skillet and bake for about twenty minutes until top is golden brown and a piece of spaghetti inserted into the center come out clean.

Serve hot with plenty of butter and a big glass of buttermilk or whole milk as desired.

The cassoulet recipe

I combine several recipes for my own version of the cassoulet and I don’t think that I’ve make a cassoulet the same twice. That’s the beauty of this dish — it is versatile and can be adapted to accommodate available ingredients. But I warn you it is time-consuming (much like love!) so allow enough time to prepare it properly. I usually begin the preparation at least a day ahead of the serving time for the process cannot be hurried. The beauty of this dish is that it can be adjusted to taste; add more or less garlic and herbs. The flavoring is based entirely on individual taste.

Required ingredients (all easy to find in our area):

1 lb. of dried Great Northern beans

2 quarts of water

32 ounces of chicken broth (I prefer Swansons)

2 sprigs of fresh parsley

1 bay leaf

2 whole cloves

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon thyme

1 ½ lb. boneless pork shoulder

6 slices of thick-sliced applewood-smoked bacon (you can find it at Walmart)

1 onion chopped

2 or 3 garlic cloves finely chopped, 3 or more whole cloves, halved

Small package of baby carrots

1 tablespoon of honey

Garlic-Crumb Topping

1 tablespoon (or more) minced garlic

5-6 tablespoons of olive oil

1 ½ cups coarse bread crumbs (I use Pepperidge Farm herb-seasoned crumbs)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Optional Ingredients:

6 duck or chicken legs (I have always used chicken because duck is hard to find and it works out fine)

3 or 4 links of chicken garlic sausage (I found this at Ingles)

Generous splash of sherry wine vinegar

3 leeks, sliced

2 stalks of chopped celery

I begin with soaking the white beans overnight. After washing and draining them the next day, I put them in a big pot with the water and chicken broth and a large herb bouquet. The herb bouquet is made by cutting a square of cheesecloth, placing the parsley, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns and thyme in the middle of the square and tying it securely with a piece of kitchen string. The herb bouquet is cooked with the beans on top of the stove on low heat for an hour to one and  1/2 hours or until beans are just tender. Leave the beans in their cooking liquid until ready to use, then drain but reserve the cooking liquid.

Fry the bacon slabs in an iron skillet. Remove the bacon when almost done and brown the pork shoulder roast on all sides in the bacon grease. The grease needs to be hot and it will smoke some. When all the sides are browned, return the bacon slices to the top of the pork roast. Cover the skillet with heavy duty aluminum foil and bake in a 325 degree oven for 3-4 hours. Check it every hour or so and add some water if it looks dry. You will want the pork to be falling-apart done when you take it from the oven.

While the pork is cooking, sauté the onions in some olive oil for about 5-10 minutes until they are opaque and add the garlic cloves (both chopped and whole) and sauté with the onions for about 2 minutes or until you have lightly browned the garlic. If you want to add leeks and/or celery, this is the time to sauté them along with the onions and garlic.

Cook the carrots in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain the water and add some honey to the carrots. Set aside.

Remove the pork shoulder from the skillet when it is done and while it is cooling in a bowl, cook the duck or chicken legs in the grease that is still left in the skillet. When the legs are browned and done (no blood seeping through), remove them to a plate lined with paper towel to drain.  

Brown the sausage links in the grease, adding a little olive oil if the skillet gets too dry. Remove the sausage links to a paper towel lined plate.

Now it is time to assemble the cassoulet. This is the fun part. First pull apart the pork shoulder roast. It should pull apart easily if it is well-done. I just shred it with my fingers or a fork into bite-sized pieces. Next I spread the beans, pork pieces, onion/garlic mixture, carrots, chicken legs, sliced sausage links and about 3-4 cups of the reserved broth into an earthenware (or cast iron—plenty to choose from at Walmart if you don’t have one) oven-proof bowl.  I stir this mixture a couple of times, then sprinkle some salt, pepper, thyme and some fresh parsley over the mix. This is optional but I like a savory mix. Bake in the covered container for about 30-45 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.

While the cassoulet is baking, assemble the bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Sauté the minced garlic in a cleaned skillet mixed with hot olive oil over moderate heat until fragrant, about one minute. Add the bread crumb mixture and stir until crumbs are crisp and golden, about three minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in parsley.

Serve the cassoulet with crumb topping. This is a one-dish meal and needs only a loaf of French bread (the Baggett looks and tastes best) and maybe a simple green salad to accompany it. Serve in sturdy bowls with cloth napkins and light candles. This is a meal made from and for love.


Pear Tarte Tatin

This is an easy dessert but it looks beautiful and elegant when served and it makes a lovely presentation for the one or ones that you love. You can substitute apples or plums for the pears but the pears are really delicious.


1 sheet frozen puff pastry

½ stick of butter (use butter not margarine)

½ cup granulated white sugar

2 tablespoon honey

2 pounds (about 6 medium) firm-ripe pears, cored and peeled

½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest

½ teaspoon powered nutmeg (freshly grated if you have it)

Working on a clean and floured surface, roll the pastry dough into an 11 inch circle and chill it.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Add the sugar and cook it for 4 to 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to evenly caramelize the sugar. The sugar is done when it has turned a medium golden brown hue. (If you cook it too long—as I did the first time!—it will turn to a hard caramel candy and you will need to scrap out the mess and start over!) Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the honey and set it aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the pears in half and toss them gently but thoroughly with the lemon zest and nutmeg. Arrange the pears in a single layer in the hot caramel and honey in the skillet.

Drape the pastry over the spiced pears, fitting the overhang down between the fruit and the sides of the skillet. Bake in the preheated oven 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry turns golden brown. Cool the tart Tatin in the skillet for 30 minutes before inverting it onto a serving plate.

Serve slices warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top and voila! You have a beautiful dessert that is unique and made with love.

Love and food

By Karen Dill • Guest Writer

I was driving through the south of France in February 1985 when I had an experience that taught me the importance of the mystical union of food and love. I had my mother and young son in tow, and while we had a wonderful week traveling the country roads from Frankfurt, Germany, to Marseille, France, I was pregnant with my second child, physically tired and achingly homesick for the mountains of North Carolina.

I had lived in Europe for five years and had not been back to the United States during this time. I had convinced myself that I loved this foreign life and was too sophisticated for a common case of homesickness. But traveling on this Sunday morning in February, the week of my daddy’s death five years earlier, fraught with hormones, missing my daddy and hungry for the food of my childhood, I was homesick for the home I knew best —the green mountains of western North Carolina. There is no homesickness, I’ve discovered since, that is more powerful than the longing for your mountain home.

We had been riding for over two hours on a side trip to Toulouse and as we passed small country inns, I could smell the delicious food that had been cooking over stoves for hours and the smell was both familiar and haunting. I remembered Sunday dinners (the noon meal right after church) of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans or the standard roast with the same side dishes. It was always a special meal — one of the few during the week that featured meat. The smell coming through the front door after church was intoxicating.

ALSO: Recipes

I remembered the lines from Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down:”  “… the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken … and it took me back to something that I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.” The grief that I felt at those moments was overwhelming. I kept driving, blinking back tears and trying to swallow the enormous lump that had formed in my throat. I wanted desperately to be back at my childhood home in Bethel with my mother cooking her standard Sunday meal and I wanted my son to understand the importance of communion in a simple house with people that you love.

But there were practical matters to attend to: we were hungry and finding a place to eat had become a daunting task. The problem was finding a compromise for my mother and 5-year old son.

My mother, a mountain native from Madison County and not well-traveled, preferred simple dishes with ingredients that she could recognize and pronounce. She had been patient throughout this week in France but I could sense that her sweet disposition might turn south if she had to face another meal of snails or goose liver. My son was clamoring for pommes frites and schnitzel — a fine German dish but we were in France. I was caught in the middle — arbitrator between two generations, caught in a compromise in the web of love and food, wanting to placate both mother and son.

The primal needs for love and food are so intertwined that the unraveling often takes a lifetime. Our first romances are with our mothers. They feed us; they nurture us; and thus the entanglement begins. We need and love the mothers who provide us with food. Each mouthful of food accepted by the child is proof that the love is reciprocated and the entanglement continues in an evolutionary fashion. We show love with food; we woo with food; we seduce with food. We are drawn toward simple food that nurtures in our childhoods, move toward food that excites when we find lovers and return to the comfort foods when the raging passion ebbs. The evolution is complex and universal. It encompasses relationships between families, lovers and many generations.

So on this beautiful Sunday afternoon in February, I did what one must do to balance a relationship between mother and child and the desire for food. I did what anyone who loves must do. I listened to my heart, trusted my instincts and took a giant leap of faith. When a homely and comfortable auberge (inn with a restaurant — the best to head for in France for a good home cooked meal) appeared around the next curve, I pulled over and took my mother by her arm, my son by his hand, and bravely entered the dining room of the small French inn.

The room was filled with Sunday diners as the noon meal in France is a popular family occasion. I saw mothers, grandmothers, grandchildren sitting together, enjoying simple country dishes. My homesickness was abating in this foreign yet familiar setting and I could sense that my mother and son were beginning to relax.

I don’t remember the words that were used — my French is elementary at best — but as our waitress looked at us and we looked at her, she seemed to know what we needed. We needed simple country comfort food and it was at this table that we came to know and love the cassoulet. We ordered a dish that was unknown to us but the ingredients were familiar and the sound of the dish’s name was much like our own casserole. The dish contained savory chunks of pork, white beans, duck legs, herbs and a garlic crumb topping — a one-dish wonder.

The cassoulet that we were served in this simple dining room in France would become a model for many meals over the next two decades. I could always find the common ingredients wherever I lived and shopped and the ingredients could be altered to accommodate tastes and locales. The one-dish marvel is a peasant dish, tracing back to a 14th century siege during the Hundred Years’ war when peasants created a communal dish to provide sustenance to the soldiers who were fighting off invaders.

It is simple — consisting of beans, meat and herbs but its preparation can be complex. It is a labor of love and requires patience. It is the perfect dish for a much-loved family or for a new lover — a dish that is both simple yet elegant. The cassoulet is a perfect dish for February.

I did not know the complications of the cassoulet’s preparation at that time but I knew that the dish held magical powers. My mother loved the simple pork and white beans; my son loved the crunchy topping; and I loved the savory combination of herbs in the delightful rich and hearty dish. We all cleaned our plates and as we finished the meal with café au lait and a pear tarte tatin; we smiled warmly at each other with knowing love and contentment of family.

In that moment I realized that we were not all that different despite the language and cultural diversity. Food and family had joined us in an elementary way for we all need the basics: food, love and a sense of belonging. Like the ingredients in the cassoulet, we are joined by flavor and diversity.

Sometimes on rare and wonderful occasions we blend together in perfect harmony — a blend of family, food and love — and the effort that we must exert to maintain this balance is worth it. And like the preparation of a good cassoulet our hard work and efforts are rewarded in simple and profound ways. For no matter how far from our beautiful mountains we might roam, a connection with familiar food and moments of soft contentment with family will take us home again.

Recipes, 6/24/10

Rainbow trout with lemon caper sauce:
Grill filleted trout over medium-hot coals. Baste with butter and fresh herbs (parsley, chives, dill). Grilled trout does not need much to accompany it, but a lemon caper sauce is nice if you like capers. I don’t actually have a recipe for the sauce but it is quite easy.

I brown some butter in a pan. I add chopped shallots (green onions will work fine), some drained capers — a couple of tablespoons or more, about a ? cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons of flour and some thinly sliced lemon slices. When these ingredients are browned (this will only take a few minutes), I pour some heavy cream (about ? cup) into the mixture and warm until it is thick. This sauce can be served as an optional topping for the grilled trout.

Risotto with mushrooms: (This is a time-consuming recipe but worth the effort!)
6 cups chicken broth, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 shallots, diced

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

sea salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

4 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.

Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the shallots. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, butter, chives, and parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Grilled Asparagus:
1 pound fresh asparagus spears, trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

shaved parmesan cheese

1. Preheat grill for high heat.

2. Lightly coat the asparagus spears with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Grill over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or to desired tenderness.

4. Remove from the grill and using a paring knife, shave parmesan cheese over the asparagus.
Pecan and Blueberry Crisp

6 cups peeled sliced fresh peaches

2 cups blueberries

1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon


1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats

1 teaspoon cinnamon

? cup crushed pecans

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

3 tablespoons soft butter

Combine peaches and blueberries in an 8 cup casserole. In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add this mixture to the casserole. Mix well with fruit.

Topping: Combine rolled oats, sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over fruit mixture.

Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or microwave on high for 10 minutes, until mixture is bubbling and fruit is fork tender. Serve warm or cold.
Roasted Beet, Pepito and Goat Cheese Salad
(serves 2 -4)

2 medium beets, washed and trimmed

1/3C pepitos (spicy roasted pumpkin seeds)*

olive oil and salt and pepper

mixed greens

1/2 log of goat cheese


1/2 shallot, minced

3T olive oil

1T red wine vinegar

1/8t sugar

1/2t salt

Turn the oven on to 350. Place beets on aluminum foil in a baking sheet. Bake for 60-90 minutes or until tender. Let them cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile make the vinaigrette and put in a medium bowl. Toss the pumpkin seeds with about 1t of olive oil and some cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper and toast in a toaster oven until gently toasted, add to the vinaigrette. Peel skins off of the beets and slice into 1/2” wedges and also add to the other ingredients. Toss well and leave at room temperature an hour.

When ready to serve gently spoon the pepitos and beets onto the greens. Crumble the cheese on top and drizzle remaining dressing.

*NOTE: Pepitos are actually pumpkin seeds. I found them already spiced and toasted at the Greenlife Grocery Store in Asheville. They also carry just the plain toasted seeds if you don’t care for the spicy.
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