Ed Mitchell’s “The Pit” to Open in November

October 29, 2007

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I confirmed with Ed Mitchell and Greg Hatem that their new barbecue restaurant, The Pit, will open in Raleigh on November 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving. The new joint will be a high-end place in the old Nana’s Chophouse space and will initially serve only dinner, with lunch available in January.

I had a plate of Mitchell’s barbecue this past Saturday at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium, and it was some of the best pork I’ve ever had. Plus, it was fun to see barbecue guru Bob Garner and Hatem working on Ed’s crew! I’ve always liked Mitchell’s barbecue, but I never raved over it. He often had quality control issues, with the barbecue being dry one day and overly sauced the next. Folks, Ed Mitchell has his act together, as the pork was tender, juicy, slightly smoky and just damn good. Every fan of slow-cooked pig should start marking their calendars for this exciting opening. The new website, which is not live yet, will be www.thepit-raleigh.com.


Hot Tamales — On the Road to the SFA Symposium

October 28, 2007

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When I booked my flight to Memphis for the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium, I made sure I was on the earliest departure available as I wanted to explore the Mississippi Delta region. I was on a quest for the legendary hot tamale. I’ve heard about the great tradition of hot tamales in this area, and although I’m still wondering how a Mexican food has become a mainstay in the region (and particularly part of the African American foodways tradition), this was a time to conduct a survey of a lot of interesting joints. Unfortunately, due to a delayed flight, we began our journey later than expected, and once we hit the road, bad luck became our passenger.

The first place we visited, Sears Grocery in Tunica, MS, was not yet serving food for the day, primarily because someone had just placed a large to-go order for 30 people. So we reluctantly got back into the car and headed south and west to West Helena, Arkansas. I wanted to visit this area for a few reasons: first, I’ve never actually driven across the Mississippi River. Second, I wanted to see Helena and West Helena, two towns that have a legendary history but have fallen on hard times. And, of course, I wanted to visit Pasquale’s Tamales. Well, unbeknownst to us, Pasquale’s no longer has a store front — only a cart on the weekends. Thus, we were 0 for 2 in our hot tamale quest. Helena is a sad shell of a town that was obviously a thriving gem at some point in its history. With a downtown strip that runs parallel with the Mississippi, Helena was once home of the King Biscuit Flour Company, and the King Biscuit Flour Time is still broadcast from KFFA in downtown Helena. Today, I can see why folks would be singing the blues in Helena, as it truly saddened me to see how the town had fallen on such hard times. However, I did see something in Helena that was new to me: a combination deli and auto shop. Yes, while you’re getting your oil changed at the Haynes Car Care, you can feast on hog maws and beef tips next door at the Haynes Deli.

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Bourdain Knows How Food Nerds Work

October 24, 2007

Oh my god, Anthony Bourdain just completely cracked me up when he recently wrote about the best way to get great food advice. Rather than just researching the internet and the multiple blogs, forums, and travel guides, Bourdain suggests the following, using the example of how to find the best laksa (the Malaysian noodle soup):

[V]isit some foodie websites. Egullet’s Asia/Pacific board would be an appropriate first choice here. Oozing certainty, begin a thread titled ‘Best Laksa in Malaysia!!’ describing your ‘recent experience at the perfect, off-the-beaten-track laksa joint in Kuala Lumpur’.

Proudly insist that it’s The Best – better than any other place you tried. Be sure to misspell a few words – maybe even get an ingredient wrong.
Now stand back and watch the fun. Outraged, indignant food bloggers from the U.S., Malaysia, and Singapore who’ve dedicated their lives to chronicling their adventures in laksa – photographing ever order, violently arguing about their choices with other bloggers and journos – will seize on you and your post like enraged seagulls, conveniently disgorging their own experiences at ‘far superior’ and ‘much more authentic’ places in their rush to prove you an ignorant bob.
Many will provide colourful descriptions, lavish details of ambience, menus, links to other websites and blogs – and helpful photographs.
In an appropriately chastened response, defer to their greater wisdom, and be sure to ask for addresses.

Bourdain gets it. He may abhor those of us who write about food, we who are so obsessed with it that we are compelled to sacrifice income-generating opportunities to preach about the latest use of agar, but Bourdain has finally figured out how to completely manipulate us. We are nothing but Bourdain’s pawns, and it’s only now that we’ve been let in on the secret.

I feel so cheap.


The Oxford Shuffle: The 10th Annual Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium

October 23, 2007

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I am headed down to Oxford, Mississippi early Thursday morning to attend the 10th annual Symposium of the Southern Foodways AllianceThe State of Southern Food.  Needless to say, I’ll provide plenty of reports on the Symposium when I’m not dining on fried catfish, hot tamales, koolickles, Memphis barbecue, pig ears or sipping bourbon.  I’ll be rubbing elbows with the likes of Alice Waters, John T. Edge, Shirley Corriher and a slew of other food dignitaries, some of whom are actually my friends (yes, I’m an unapologetic name dropper).  Most of all, I’ll be sharing stories and enjoying convivial feasts with a lot of people who are passionate about food — Southern food in particular. So you’ll get stories about my side trip to the Mississippi Delta in search of hot tamales. I’ll also get to tell you about finally sampling some real Memphis barbecue. And, of course, there will be lots of stories about Southern food.


An Open Letter to Chowhound, by Charlie Deal (detlefchef)

October 22, 2007

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Charlie Deal, chef-owner of Chapel Hill’s Jujube, has written an open letter to the moderators of Chowhound in response to the food forum’s unexplained policy of deleting all discussion of Jujube. This practice is based on no known policy or forum rules and has been discussed extensively on this blog and CookingEatingDurham. Following the break is what Charlie sent me, expressing his frustration with Chowhound’s action and lack of explanation.

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Chocolate Gravy — Yes, Chocolate Gravy!

October 21, 2007

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You may have thought you knew Southern food, but unless you’ve had chocolate gravy, you really are just a dilletante — which is what I was until I lost my chocolate gravy virginity this morning.  For some reason, the gospel of the almight chocolate sauce has not been preached from the Appalachian mountaintops.  I’m fairly well-read on Southern food, but until earlier this week, when I was reading the New Encylcopedia of Southern Culture’s volume on Foodways, I read a description of a type of “gravy” common in the Appalachian regions of the South.  This flour-thickened sauce is typically served with biscuits for breakfast. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, there are several legends regarding the origin chocolate gravy:”Spanish Louisiana had a trading network in to the Tennessee valley. This trade may have introduced Mexican-style breakfast chocolate to the Appalachians, where it is called ‘chocolate gravy.’ (Another possibility is that the very old population of mixed-race Appalachian Melungeons has preserved the dish from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish colonies on the East Coast.)”

Of course, I had to thoroughly research this sauce. Is it a mole? Is it sweet or savory? Is it just for breakfast? I had lots of questions, and fortunately, chocolate gravy isn’t as uncommon as I would have thought. Search the internet, and you’ll finds hundreds, or even thousands of entries on chocolate gravy. I was getting depressed, as I really didn’t know how I could manage to live 44 years without ever having tried this Southern specialty.

After looking at a bunch of recipes, I decided I needed to choose one that looked right to me. And then I realized, this is just a bechamel with cocoa powder and sugar added. Once I realized that, it was a piece of cake to make the stuff. Melt some butter, add flour, cocoa powder and sugar. Slowly add some milk — just like you might make a meat-based gravy. Finish with vanilla. Wow, it was good and will be a staple at our breakfast table for years to come.

Recipe after the break.

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Collards: Coming Soon to a Pot Near You

October 19, 2007

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We’re finally getting some rain, and hopefully, a cool spell will be behind it bringing a night or two when the temperature drops below freezing. That’s when the collards will truly be ready to eat. There’s something about a light frost that gives collard greens a slightly sweeter flavor, and they’re a bit more tender, too. Farmers claim that the frost “fixes” the plant’s sugars in the leaves, rather than the roots.

A member of the cabbage family, collards have a distinct place on the Southern table. Some claim that collards were just about the only vegetable that survived in Southern fields after Sherman’s siege at the end of the Civil War, but it is certain that this nutritious vegetable was a mainstay in the post-War diet. A vegetable that has grown on the European continent for millennia, African slaves are attributed with cooking collards the modern way: slowly boiled/braised with some flavoring meat until a rich broth, known as potlikker, forms at the bottom. (By the way, “potlikker” is one of the best words every coined. Go ahead and say it to someone — you’re sure to get some sort of response out of them.)

The typical way to eat collards is with a splash of vinegar, accompanied by cornbread. As is often the case with Southern foods, there is even a debate over the best way to eat the cornbread: one school dips the cornbread into the potlikker, whereas others will crumble it into their greens. Either way is mighty tasty to me. Often served with vinegar, collards are one of my all time favorite vegetables.

You really don’t need a recipe to cook collards. You sweat a diced onion, some pork product (hocks, bacon, ham, fatback), add spice to your liking, and some water and salt (but not if you’re using salted meat). Cover and cook slowly for a couple of hours until the greens are completely tender. Sure, this is going to stink a bit, but remember that it’s a member of the cabbage family, all of which are somewhat odoriferous! Serve with cornbread (and I’ll be writing about that before long), but biscuits would do in a pinch.

Heck, the Southern Foodways Alliance, my favorite food organization, will have two lectures about greens and cornbread at next week’s Symposium on the State of Southern Foods. That’s how important this is! I’ll be there and will be sure to report back.
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Barbecue and collards from Bum’s in Ayden, NC


Popular Science on Food: When Geeks and Foodies Collide, Part 2

October 18, 2007

popsci.jpgMy 8 year old son looks forward to receiving his monthly Popular Science magazine. Stories on the future of robots, stealth technology and other types of gadgets captivate him, and I love how it works on his imagination. The top banner of the November issue, however, caught my eye: “The Future of Food.”

Yes, Popular Science has devoted over 20 pages to recent innovations in food science and technology. Pacojets, sous vide, transglutaminase and other aspects of the new style of cooking made famous by Ferran Adria, Wylie Dufresne, Homaro Cantu, and Grant Achatz are the subject of this fun read. The stories gain instant credibility in the foodie world as they are introduced by Harold McGee.

I particularly enjoyed the story about Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute. Written by Ted Allen, the story chronicles how Arnold first met Wylie Dufresne, and how that relationship resulted in Arnold becoming the scientific mastermind at the FCI. For recovering science geeks like me (I have a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Pathology) who spent many years surrounded by the equipment now coveted by serious gastronomes, I wax a bit nostalgic over my days in the lab.

There’s also a story about the science of taste and smell and a photo piece showing lots of cool equipment. Combined with McGee’s great intro, I encourage you to give this a read. And maybe your inner mad scientist will come out, too.


A Fair to Remember: Scenes From the NC State Fair

October 15, 2007

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Some people reluctantly go to the State Fair, and I have been in that category for years.  This year, however, I gladly succumbed to the Fair in all its decadent glory.  My wife and I arrived at the gates at 9:00 AM with our 4 kids, one of their friends, and another adult.  With 180 ride tickets and 200 bucks, we were ready for a big day of eating, riding, and quick trips to the bathroom. 

We sampled lots of food, some of the traditional sort and some of the fried confections.  All was pretty good, some was great, and none would I want to eat again before next  year!  These photos are just a small representation of the Fair.  I didn’t include shots of animals or rides or the carnies (and one observation: I noticed that all the carnies who guess your age/weight/birth month have the exact same voice, regardless of gender — it seems that cheap vodka and cigarettes will affect everyone’s voice the same way it did with Tom Waits).

Click below for lots of Fair pictures.

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Biscuits on a Saturday Morning

October 12, 2007

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When you’re trying to figure out what to do for breakfast this weekend, please consider whipping up some simple, homemade biscuits. I’ve been making biscuits for over 20 years, and they’re a regular staple in our household. Many people are afraid of turning their flour and dairy products into paperweights or hockey pucks, but that really shouldn’t ever be an issue. I’m here to help, and you’ll know who to thank when you’ve pleased your family.

First, the flour. You can use all purpose flour, but I highly recommend you make it easier on yourself and pick up some self-rising flour. This not only provides most of the leavening power you need, but the wheat in this flour is a bit softer (i.e., less gluten) than AP flour. Thus, you’re more likely to turn out a light and flaky biscuit.

The second thing you need is buttermilk. If you can get the stuff in the glass jars from Maple View Farm dairy, even better, as it has a higher fat content, and when it comes to biscuits, fat is your friend. Otherwise, regular buttermilk will suffice.

Third, you need butter — unsalted butter, that is. Salted butter is actually fine, but you can’t control the flavor as much. I also think the unsalted butter creates a fluffier biscuit — perhaps due to the higher moisture content in butter with salt. I might be imagining it, though. You also want the butter to be cold. Some people like to use shortening in their biscuits, but I like keeping it all dairy. If you have some good lard, that will work, too. Over the years, I’ve used butter exclusively as I always have it, it’s always cold, and it’s easy to measure.

Whole milk is good, half-and-half is better, and heavy cream is the best. As I said, fat is your friend. Biscuits are a guilty pleasure, so don’t make a compromise here.

Finally, you’ll need some baking soda and some salt (unless you’re using salted butter). That’s all you need when it comes to foodstuffs.

The only other items you need are a pastry cutter/blender, a rolling pin, and a biscuit cutter — oh, and a hot oven.

The important thing to remember is to be gentle with the dough. That’s why I use a pastry cutter rather than a food processor to cut in the butter. I’ve found my biscuits are always tougher when made with the food processor. Once you’ve cut in the butter, you’ll want to add your liquids all at once and gently stir to combine. You’ll toss the dough onto a counter, knead it only 2-3 times, and then roll out for cutting. If you work the dough much more than that, the gluten will take over, resulting in that NHL-ready puck. Remember not to twist your cutter when cutting out the biscuits, as that causes the edges to pinch a bit, which can impede the proper rise.

These biscuits won’t have an ultra-soft cake-like crumb that you’ll find at Big Ed’s, but they’ll be tender and flaky and filled with flavor.

One of the finest ways in the world to eat biscuits is with nothing but butter, but when we want to be a bit more decadent, we make the “cheese.” The “cheese” is sharp cheddar cheese that has been melted in the oven without a top. We just cut up cubes of cheese, put it in a small casserole, and throw it in the oven while it’s heating up. A nice little crust will form on the top. After awhile, some of the fat will start to separate from the cheese solids, but don’t worry about that. We put some cheese on a hot biscuit, add some fig preserves, and enjoy like a fat and happy puppy. As my father-in-law says, that’s a “mammy-smacking meal” — makes you want to smack your mammy.

Click below for the recipe.

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The State Fair is Here; Zantac Sales Skyrocket

October 11, 2007

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The 2007 North Carolina State Fair begins tomorrow, and am I ever ready. In previous years, I’ve always done things conservatively at the Fair: I only sample a couple of food items, I watch my kids on the rides, I make everyone see the animals, and I never play the carnie games. Heh, heh, a new Fair-goer is in town, and I’m ready to spend some major cash money. I’ve already purchased ten vouchers for 18-ticket ride books. That’s enough to go 30 times on one of those upside-down-vomit-inducing-spin-til-your-head-bursts rides that attract all the high schoolers. OK, maybe I’ll leave that to the kids, but dammit, I am going to eat. We’ll be ready, arriving before the 9:00 opening, looking for that first country ham biscuit. There will be food on a stick, just like Andrea Weigl of the N&O reported yesterday (boy, I wish we had the Scotch Egg on a Stick here — sounds like a perfect breakfast). But I’m going to check out some of the food competitions to see what kinds of cakes and preserves and quick breads are out there. And if we’re really lucky, they’ll be carving something grandiose out of butter, which we’ll look at right after milking a cow.

For some good pictures of Fairs gone by, check out my friend Holly Moore’s website, hollyeats.com. The photo above is his.


Tang Cocktails

October 9, 2007

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My friends Brooks and Ann have invited me to a party at their house in New Orleans in early November. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, which is a complete let-down, as the theme of the party is to create a cocktail made with Tang — yes, the powdered breakfast drink that we older folks had back in the 70s. You know, the astronauts’ drink (a bit of trivia: the inventor of Tang, William Mitchell, also invented Pop Rocks and Cool Whip).

So, even though I’m not going, I’m planning on entering at least one cocktail in this competition, and I need help. Send me your ideas for Tang-tails. And I’ve already come up with names galore for this: Harvey Wall-Tanger, the Orang-o-Tang, and the moonshine-based, Wang Dang Sweet MoonTang. Oh, and I can think of lots more!


Best Burgers in the Triangle

October 8, 2007

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I love burgers — no, you didn’t hear me — I said, I LOVE burgers. To me, the best burger is 6 ounces of freshly ground chuck, seasoned with nothing but salt and pepper, and cooked over a hot wood fire until a slightly crispy crust forms on the outside with a medium rare center. Add some homemade mayo, a soft, freshly baked bun, and that’s all you need. Cheese? Nah, not necessary. Bacon? I’ll save that for the BLT (using that same homemade mayo, thank you very much). I might add a thin slice of onion or tomato, but not very often. As you suspected, yes, the best burger in the Triangle is the one I make at home, using my meat grinder attachment, getting the good fatty cuts of chuck (and maybe some short rib meat, too), and doing everything to my own, overly snooty standards.

However, with a wife who doesn’t eat red meat, I don’t put on my Sam-the-Butcher-meat-grinding hat very often. In fact, the vast majority of my burgers are eaten out, and too often I end up slightly disappointed (heck, the best restaurant burger I’ve had was at Chicago’s Naha, but that’s another story for another day). Now, a mediocre burger is still pretty damn good — it’s meat on a bun, and how can you go wrong with that? However, it’s been my experience that the national burger chains, such as Red Robin, Fuddruckers, and Five Guys, fall woefully short. Some of the classic burger institutions of the area just don’t have a great burger. Sorry, folks, but Char-Grill is fun, and I enjoy a Steak Junior as much as the next guy, but their burgers aren’t good enough to make a detour.

Here is my list for top burgers in the Triangle. These are almost all places that grind their own meat. Also on this list is a burger that really doesn’t comport with my ideal criteria, but it’s a local guilty pleasure. And note that I do not claim to have tried all the burgers in the Triangle, and most of these places are in my town of Raleigh. So click on the link below to get my current top five.

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Photo for the Day — Shrimp

October 5, 2007

A little shrimp action to get you through the weekend.  This is a friend’s rendition of barbecue shrimp.  The beauty of cooking is that there can be dozens or hundreds of different recipes of the same dish. 

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Jujube Banned from Chowhound?

October 3, 2007

jujubebanned.JPGAnyone who participates on discussion boards knows that there are rules the posters must follow. You can’t provoke others, or make offensive posts. Religious, sexual and overtly political topics are often off-limits. Many places make sure that all discussions stay on topic. When a poster violates the forum’s rules, that post is deleted. If the poster is a recidivist offender, he or she is eventually banished from the forum.

It seems that one particular food discussion board, Chowhound, has become notoriously arbitrary in how it polices its board. In fact, I posted the following earlier today in response to a question about Triangle restaurants that could handle a business dinner for 14:

You could give Jujube in Chapel Hill a try. They have an area off to the side that would work. The upstairs of Piedmont could work well. If you want to go to Raleigh, Fins has a nice private room and a semi-private room. You really won’t have any problems finding a decent place. An in Cary is a very nice restaurant. As said before, it really depends on what you’re looking for.

Pretty benign, right? I was simply making recommendations on places I know pretty well. Nothing earth-shattering by any means. However, within seconds of posting, I receive this email:

Hi Varmint, you’ve been sent the following by a Chowhound moderator:

Dear Varmint:

We are not currently accepting postings about Jujube. Please refrain from posting further about this place while we investigate a problem with some postings about this restaurant.

The Chowhound Team

So I picked up the phone and called Charlie Deal, the owner of Jujube, who told me that this has been going on for months. Deal, who posts at Chowhound, eGullet and other forums under the user name “detlefchef”, has no idea why discussion of his restaurant has been banned. Anyone who even mentions “Jujube” in the discussion will have his post deleted. Individuals have even posted questions on the Chowhound “Site Talk” forum, asking why the ban, but those posts get deleted, too. What’s the big conspiracy? Is Charlie Deal a mass murderer who lures people to his restaurant for their final demise? Is Jujube a front for the Russian mob? Are those shiitake mushrooms he serves laced with psilocybin? It’s got to be something that serious, because Chowhound doesn’t want us talking about Jujube.

Some posts get through, as a search of Chowhound indicates that Jujube was mentioned as recently as September 29th, so I really haven’t a clue which posts are targeted by the Chowhound moderators.

Banning discussions of particular restaurants is nothing new on Chowhound, as the blog Eater frequently reports. And they have banned a lot of users for being restaurant shills (often unfounded). But to institute a complete ban of all discussion of a restaurant — a well-respected chef-owned restaurant — without letting anyone know the reasons why is peculiar at best, and downright tyrannical and paranoid at worst.

Of course, I have a solution: let’s just call the restaurant something else – our own code word for Jujube. That’s what I did as a follow-up, calling it “Voldemort”, the restaurant that shan’t be named.


Beans, Beans, the Truly Magical Fruit

October 2, 2007

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I’ve always had a cholesterol problem, but thanks to some great pharmaceutical interventions, I’m able to eat a fairly unhealthy diet — red meat, eggs, cream in my coffee. But as we teach our children, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Thus, my beef, pork and lamb consumption is really limited to once or twice a week. I’m really into boneless chicken thighs from the local Whole Foods, but I don’t have those more than once a week. Of course, seafood is a primary component of my diet when I’m looking for more protein.

But the one item I’ve added to my regular meal rotation that gets me excited the most is — drum roll, please — beans. Yup, beans. But not just any ol’ beans. I’m not talking about cans of pintos or kidneys or cannelini from the Harris Teeter. I also couldn’t settle on bags of dried beans off the grocery shelves, either. No, my beans are Rancho Gordo heirloom beans from the Sacramento River Delta of California. Now I know we’re supposed to be buying local products, but I just haven’t found that Johnston County dried bean farmer yet. So, I’m going to stick with the beans from Rancho Gordo and its owner, Steve Sando. With varieties such as Santa Maria Pinquito, Good Mother Stallard, or Yellow Indian Woman beans, there’s no shortage of interesting colors and flavors here. Yes, folks, I must admit — I have become a bean snob, and I’ll never be able to thoroughly enjoy a regular grocery store legume again. Damn you, Sando! However, I really can’t say enough good things about these legumes, as they are the freshest, best tasting beans I’ve ever tried. No, they’re not cheap at 5 bucks for a one pound bag, but that bag will feed 6 people when you cook some rice, too. Plus, the shipping cost is a flat $8, no matter how many bags you order.

What makes these beans even better is the recent discovery of an extremely simple and fool-proof cooking method. You do not soak the beans — that doesn’t affect the flavor nor does it minimize the gastric side effects (food writer Russ Parsons has debunked these old myths). You do not have to cook them all day long. This is as fool-proof as it gets, and to call it a recipe is a bit much — it’s really just a matter of throwing a few ingredients in a pot and waiting for nature (and heat) to run their courses. It was Russ Parson himself who first promoted this cooking method, but I learned about it on the eG Forums of the eGullet Society. I’ve “perfected” the technique for Raleigh’s water system.

You simply sweat some onion, garlic and carrot in your choice of oil (of course, duck fat is ideal, which is as healthy as olive oil, but the olive oil will work for vegetarian meals), add your beans to coat with the oil, and then add about three times as much water. Add a half teaspoon or so of salt (another myth: salt does not harm the beans). Bring to a boil, cover, and throw the pot into a 275°F oven. After 60 minutes, stir, add a bit of water if needed, and re-cover. After another hour, stir one more time, put the lid back on, and then turn off the oven. Allow to cool in the oven (I often leave the pot in the oven overnight, although if you’re more concerned about micro-critters growing in there than I am, you’ll want to let it sit only an hour or two more). Your beans will be done — plump, tender, and completely intact. These won’t be mushy beans, they’ll be nirvana. If you want tomatoes or other acids in your beans, don’t add those until the last half hour of cooking (you may want to pre-cook the tomatoes), as the acidity will prevent the beans from softening. Now if your water has a high mineral content or has a fairly low pH (i.e., somewhat acidic), it may take your beans longer to cook. You can solve the problem somewhat by using filtered water.

Even my 11-year old, soccer-playing, hyper-picky eating daughter loves these beans and has started to make them her pre-practice snack. Protein, fiber, and some carbs — with lots of flavor and little fat. Sounds like a great snack to me.

Give these beans and this cooking method a try. You’ll soon be converted, too.


Fins-tastic!! D’Auvray’s New Location Rocks

October 1, 2007

finsdoor.JPGAs I wrote last week when Greg Cox of the N&O re-confirmed Fins’ position as one of the top restaurants in the region, I’ve always been a big fan of William D’Auvray’s cuisine and execution. When he and his wife, Lisa, decided to leave their strip mall location in North Raleigh for the bright lights of downtown, I was pretty sure they’d have a great knew establishment. Well, when some men get a mid-life crisis, they buy a sportscar or have an affair. Not D’Auvray (and I’m not really saying he’s having a mid-life crisis, either, but read on). D’Auvray just opens the sharpest looking restaurant in the area with a 3300 square foot kitchen, five (yes, five) walk-in coolers, a Brazilian wood “wave” hanging over a lush granite bar, and a water wall. Throw in a robatayaki bar, a private room wired for business meetings, and a climate-controlled wine room. Oh, and a couple of million dollars of bank debt, too. We’re talking about a type of restaurant rarely seen in these here parts (An in Cary is the only other space that comes close).

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Yes, the new restaurant is incredible, but is the food as good as ever? Of course it is. D’Auvray still bakes his own bread every day. He flies in seafood and other ingredients from across the globe. He creates flavor combinations I would never, EVER, think of. I really don’t need to go into great details of this man’s chops, as he’s got ‘em. He has always been able to flat out cook, and one of these days, I’m going to get the guts to ask him to let me spend some time with him in his kitchen — I want to learn how to cook some of the things he can do in his sleep.

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