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Author revises recipes to make them healthier

It’s no secret to anyone who knows Caroline Chambers that she’s got one delicious obsession. That passion is stirred up when taking a southern recipe and restyling it to create a healthier version. In her book “Just Married: A Cookbook for Newlyweds,” she’s taken personal favorites along with old family recipes and lightened them up.

The book’s a feel-good compilation of redesigned dishes – and there’s something for everyone.

One favorite bread recipe was her grandmother’s sweet potato biscuits. With an ingredient list that included Crisco shortening and lard – and then slathered with more butter – the recipe wasn’t kind to the arteries. So, that biscuit was the first recipe she took to task.

Caroline’s game is taking a vintage recipe, capturing those delicious flavors of the south, and making them more approachable – and sensible.

Paying homage to the southern classic, Caroline says her favorite comfort craving will always be her mom’s mac and cheese. The recipe calls for three or four types of cheese and is made for a crowd. That’s her mom’s signature dish – and she never makes it any other way. Traditions run deep, and the popular dish is Caroline’s all-time favorite.

“I have a one-pot mac and cheese recipe, and it’s great when you need one, but doesn’t hold a candle to my mom’s recipe.”

The experienced cook touts garlic powder as her secret weapon for everything – adding the savory note to many foods from eggs to roasted vegetables. The powder adds a different flavor than fresh garlic. People ask her all the time, “What’s in the dish that makes it so good?”

“And it’s especially good in scrambled eggs –you just want to add a little pinch.”

Caroline said some of the best moments in life are being with her little family – and she loves to travel, explore new places, new foods, and get new ideas. Her favorite go-to destination for the food scene is Mexico due to a food history that’s rich and diverse – and different from the United States. Being easy to get there is an added bonus.

“There are so many different types of cuisine there – and not just the same tacos and enchiladas. Each region has such a different perspective on food.”

Many of her recipes come not only from the local, fresh California cuisine where she resides but from her travels around the world, and memories of food – it’s the story of her life filtered through food.

Now living in Carmel, Calif., Caroline has no favorite winter tonic, but instead takes full advantage of the mild temps of the season, enjoying her Margaritas year-round. “I’m a Tequila, lime, and agave kind of person.”

She and her husband, George, have always enjoyed cooking together, but that’s changed a bit since their 1-year-old son, Mattis, was born. The couple now cooks with more of a tag-team approach, with George usually being the one who closes the meal.

“After I put Mattis to bed, George will have dinner ready. We try to have special time together every night.”

While pulling a meal together, the couple sets the tone with music. Some of their favorite playlists on Spotify are Italian Cooking Music, Lizzo, and Frank Ocean – they enjoy hip hop.

Caroline grew up on Arbor Road in the Buena Vista section of Winston-Salem in a home her parents still live in. Originally from Charlotte, George’s roots run deeply southern, too.

Good food was a big component of Caroline’s life when growing up. While her mom’s a great cook, she didn’t have expertise in technical skill – instead mastering flavors and an ability to pull together a meal to feed a crowd. And Caroline grew up understanding the importance of gathering together as a family for mealtime.

“It’s important to both of us to sit down together – especially both of us having been raised in the south. No matter who had sports practice, music lessons, or whatever – we always sat down together as a family.”

Her earliest memories of cooking border on something that seemed more like a chore than pleasure. Her mom worked outside the home in advertising, and the kids had to either cook or help the babysitter in the kitchen. Caroline admitted it was to her benefit, saying, “We all hated it. But we gained skills in the kitchen at a young age.”

Caroline and George met when she was a freshman and he a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. Caroline never guessed she’d have such a passion for or a career in the food industry. Although she always enjoyed cooking for friends in college, she had no idea how to marry a traditional college degree with food – and believed the only careers were working for restaurants or becoming a chef.

She worked in advertising for a few years, and then, George, who was a Navy Seal, got stationed in San Diego. He was the one person with vision to see Caroline’s passion was clearly not in the corporate world. He encouraged her to consider a career in food – and to figure out how.  Caroline did just that, founding a successful catering company in San Diego, which became her launching point.

“I started getting asked to style photoshoots. I was asked to develop recipes that paired well with wines. The pairings would be photographed and then used in a magazine. My first big clients were in the wine industry.”

After the couple moved from San Diego, Caroline left catering behind but continued to do food styling and recipe development. She reconnected with an old Chapel Hill friend, who was an agent for a book publisher.   “She called me about six weeks later looking for proposals for newlywed cookbooks. I threw my proposal in the ring and ended up winning that contract.”

When you write a cookbook, one pitches different chapter ideas to the editors and then recipe concepts. “Then you go to the kitchen, and it’s a disaster, so you go back to the drawing board. When you’re in the developing stage, everything can change.”

As far as the recipe process, you’re in the planning stage for nine months, then move to styling the cookbook itself. “You work closely with the designer while the copy editor is ripping apart your copy and finding errors.  It took about 2 ½ years, from start to finish.”

Now that her cookbook is on the stands in major bookstores, you might think the process is in Caroline’s rearview mirror. Not hardly, as she’s now considering writing another cookbook.  However, this go-round will be different. As a new mom, it’s impossible for her to have any sense of her own routine. It’s now Mattis’ routine, and everything’s based around a day that’s split into nap times. Naturally, the fabric of a day is now more tightly woven.

“We’re very scheduled. He likes to nap at certain times. I’m a stay-at-home mom and get my work done while he’s asleep. When he’s up, I try not to work at all.”

When George arrives home from work, the couple likes to sweeten their weeknight routine by walking a two-mile loop down to the ocean.  “We’ll stop at a bar on our way before coming home and cooking dinner together.”

Now living downtown in Carmel, they are within walking distance to the ocean – and lots of quality restaurants.

The couple’s food habits support a lifestyle of living deliciously. That means different things to different people. Some just eat to satiate themselves. People are ordering fast food, scheduling delivery, and using Grub Hub – often without thinking about how food can make them happier and healthier.

“Living deliciously for me means that food is a source of joy. I wake up thinking about what we are going to have for dinner that night – and using the best ingredients while putting a lot of love and care into the preparation.”

Living on the West Coast, she is spoiled in terms of great produce and meats – markets are flooded with great products. She goes to the farmers market at least one time per week and sometimes three times. But that doesn’t mean she’s turned her back on traditional, southern roots.

“When I think about comfort food, I always think about sitting at my parent’s table and eating something my mom has just thrown together. It’s made for you because someone loves you and wants to cook for you.”

When Caroline goes home, she’ll go down for breakfast, and her mom has eggs, bacon, and toast ready. Her mother wakes up much as Caroline does, with her mind on cooking something her family wants to eat. People are being loved through food.

Caroline believes food is the heart of the term wellness. Nowadays, people are getting much wiser to what they’re eating, and the food we’re eating is more like medicine to our bodies. “George and I have basically been eating meat and vegetables for 30 days. We’re energetic, our skin is clear, and we’re sleeping better.”

There’s something about bathing fresh pasta in a warm cream sauce – just so comforting on a wintry day. These delicious, yet simple dishes are easy for a couple to cook together for Valentine’s Day. While celebrating what a great pair you two make, make sure your pasta dish pairs perfectly by serving it with a bottle of light, Pinot Grigio. And don’t forget to create a lovely place setting – just like Caroline would do.

LEMON PASTA AND ASPARAGUS

1 cup wine

3 Tbsp. chopped shallots

Juice of 2 lemons

Grated rind of 2 lemons

1 ½ cup heavy cream

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

4 Tbsp. salted butter

10 blanched asparagus stalks, cut ½-inch

¾ cooked, fresh Fettucine

2 Tbsp. grated, fresh Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

1 zested lemon

1 Tbsp. minced mint

1 Tbsp. minced chives

In a pan, pour white wine and add shallots and heat to medium. Reduce heat and strain. Return shallots to pan. Add lemon juice and rind and simmer for 2 minutes. Add cream, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and add Parmesan cheese. Simmer while whisking until sauce has thickened. Cut butter into slices and add. Cook until melted. Add already blanched asparagus, pasta, additional cheese, and salt and pepper. Serve at once in bowls and serve topped with lemon zest and fresh chopped herbs.

LINGUINE AND SMOKED SALMON

3 Tbsp. olive oil

½ cup chopped scallions

½ cup white wine

1 cup heavy cream

3 Tbsp. butter

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

2/3 cup peeled, seeded, diced cucumber

2/3 cups fresh green peas

½ lb. smoked salmons, cut in strips

8 halved cherry tomatoes

¾ lb. cooked linguine

2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Additional grated parmesan

In a pan, add olive oil and scallions and cook for 1 minute. Add white wine, cream, butter, and Parmesan cheese, and cook over high heat for 2 minutes until sauce begins to thicken. Add diced cucumber, peas, smoked salmon, and cherry tomatoes. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add cooked/drained linguine to pan and mix well with sauce. Serve at once in bowls and sprinkle with parsley and cheese.

TORTELLINI IN CREAM

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 Tbsp. salted butter

6 oz. Gorgonzola cheese

¾ lb. cooked, drained, tricolor cheese tortellini

¼ cup heavy cream

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 tsp olive oil

Fresh basil leaves

In heavy skillet, put heavy cream, butter, and Gorgonzola cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon. Heat slowly until cheese melts and sauce is smooth and creamy. Add cooked tortellini, cream, Parmesan cheese and toss well. Put in a greased casserole dish. Mix bread with olive oil, and sprinkle on dish. Broil for 2 minutes or until breadcrumbs are lightly browned. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

SHRIMP CAKES WITH BASIL

2 quarts water

½ Tbsp. salt

1 1/3 cups Arborio rice

6 oz. chopped, cooked shrimp

5 seeded, chopped, plum tomatoes

¼ cup basil leaves

6 oz. diced, mozzarella cheese

2 Tbsp. salted butter

¾ cup freshly grated, Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh basil leaves

In a pot, bring water to a boil, and add salt and rice. Cover pot, and cook over moderate heat for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Drain rice and return to pot. Add remaining ingredients and mix well while heating. Divide into 4 portions and pack down into 1-inch thick, round patty. Garnish with basil leaves. Make tomato basil sauce. Spread on a plate and put shrimp cake in center.

Basil-Tomato Sauce

3 Tbsp. olive oil

½ lb. chopped red onion

28 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes

3 Tbsp. tomato paste

2 Tbsp. dried basil leaves

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Process all ingredients until a smooth sauce