Last Minute Christmas Book for a Foodie in Your Life

December 23, 2008

I previously wrote about my friend Chad Ward‘s great book, An Edge in the Kitchen, which discusses everything you’d ever want to know about knives, but if you’re looking for a gift for someone who’s into food, then get this book.  I’m not going to tell you how great it is, I’ll leave it to the experts. Slate.com named it one of the best books of 2008 (not just food books, ALL books). The Chicago Tribune named it one of the best food books of 2008. We have an “award-winning’ book writer in our midst, so pick up a copy, go to Chad’s website, and drop him a note, telling him how much you love it.  Heck, if he has time, he may even offer to sign it for you!


If You Knew Suchi Like I Knew Suchi . . .

December 23, 2008

Let me start with a huge disclaimer: I am an Indian food dilettante.  I enjoy eating Indian food, but frankly, I know almost nothing about it.  I’ve eaten with Indian friends, ordered off the menu (but usually go to the buffet), and I’ve even tried to read about the myriad regional cuisines of this huge country.  But I still go to restaurants and can’t remember most of what I ate, what it was called, and what were the distinguishing flavors.

And I’m starting to think I understand why.  Most of the Indian food I’ve eaten around here comes from a buffet steam table, where the food has been sitting for god knows how long, and the flavors end up highly muddled.

Recently, though, I’ve been eating food from those same steam tables, but the flavors are jumping out at me.  Paneer that tastes like cheese.  A chicken dish where the cilantro is very noticeable and clean.  Naan fresh out of the kitchen, glistening with butter (or is it ghee?).  Chutneys that truly do accent the flavors of the dishes.

This restaurant is Suchi, in that big strip-mall area of Cary near the intersection of Chatham St. and Maynard.  The place where there’s Mexican groceries and bakeries.  Where there’s a halal meat market and a Chinese seafood store.  Where you can get Indian street food, Korean barbecue and lengua tacos.  Suchi sort of captures the ambiance of the area by offering choices representing multiple Indian sub-cuisines.

Suchi used to be one of my regular stops for Indian food, and it was primarily because one of my Indian friends liked it.  I thought it was OK, but it wasn’t really noticably better than other places.  The food at Udupi was a bit better, but when I wanted dishes with meat (Udupi is vegetarian), I usually went to Suchi.  But then the food started to get very ordinary.  And the buffet didn’t get replenished very often, either.  So I stopped going.  Until two weeks ago, when I gave Suchi another try after learning they had new management.  And you know what?  I loved the place.  Everything I tried was utterly delicious, but being the Indian food dunce that I am, I couldn’t say why.  But I could describe the flavors, which is something I couldn’t previously do.

And so Chef Kirankumar showed me his kitchen, and the spices that he grinds and mixes routinely.  His face showed me the pride with which he cooks — in the same manner as he did when cooking for two prime ministers of India (or so he claims — but who really cares?).  He told me that he wants to put different items on the buffet every day, to give his customers a sense of the breadth of Indian food.

Although the buffet is available for lunch and for dinner on Friday and Saturday, you can always order off the menu, which I’m definitely going to do next time.

I was pleasantly surprised by Suchi’s food, and when a buddy of mine and his Indian wife reported to me that they also thought the food was top-notch, I felt comfortable enough to report back to you.  So maybe I’m learning after all.

Suchi
748-K East Chatham street
Cary, NC. 27511
919-466-7273


Anthropomorphic Waffles

December 16, 2008

This is very, very funny.


Would You Like to Taste My Nuts? Candied Vanilla-Spiced Pecans, That Is

December 15, 2008

pecans

One of the things I like to do most Christmases is to make candied nuts.  They’re so easy to do and everyone in my family loves them, I don’t know why I don’t make them more often.  Hell, it’s gotten to the point where we always talk about “Dad’s Nuts,” and, well, the headline above clearly demonstrates where this can sink.  My 14 year old son started actually walked into the dining room yesterday, carrying a bowl of nuts, asking his grandmother — HIS GRANDMOTHER, for chrissake, whether she wanted to taste his nuts.  I think he’s still blushing over it, but it’s  pretty damn funny.  Almost as funny as the Schwetty Balls skit from SNL. Read the rest of this entry »


Tales of a Country Ham

December 12, 2008

I’m very fortunate to know a lot of fantastic food writers, people who make it their jobs to bring us great culinary stories.  One of those individuals whose work I love, and whom I adore as a person even more, is the Charlotte Observer’s Kathleen Purvis.  Kathi is, as my wife’s grandfather would say, “real folk.”  She’s someone you want to drink a beer (or 7) with.  She’s forgotten more food facts than I’ve ever remembered.  And she’s a super writer.

Earlier this week, Kathi wrote about country ham.  This is the South’s finest form of charcuterie, and frankly, it’s fading away.  The good stuff has been replaced by mass-produced, overly salty, shrink-wrapped crap.  But Purvis (and that’s how she introduces herself when she calls on the phone — “Purvis here”) wanted to see how an artisinal country ham maker practices his craft.  How to make a ham so beautiful, so utterly delicious, that you would pay big bucks.

And so she’s doing just that, making a ham with Byron Jordan in West Jefferson using only four curing ingredients: “Brown sugar, salt, mountain air and time.”  I love that.  Read Kathi’s story, which will tell a tale of a country ham, starting last January with a 300 pound heirloom Tamworth pig.  Part II is here.  See the great pictures and a video, too.  This is food journalism at its best.


Restaurant Trend I Never Want to See

December 9, 2008

baby-bottleOK, there are a lot of trends in New York restaurants that are big gimmicks, but it wouldn’t bother me if they ended up here in North Carolina.  I could handle an all dessert restaurant, where they serve a prix fixe three course dessert meal.  I could handle a restaurant dedicated to all that is peanut butter.  But I draw the line at a restaurant where beer and wine are served in baby bottles.  Yup, suck on that one, dear readers.  A new fondue restaurant, La Cave du Fondus, is scheduled to open in New York tomorrow, and they will be offering wine not only by the glass, but by the baby bottle.  I guess they were out of sippy cups.  How about a crazy straw?  Seriously, this trend originated in Paris, and this may be evidence that absinthe truly does have a deleterious effect on one’s mental wellness, as there is no other logical explanation for this phenomenon.  Freud would have a field day with this.


Living Life to Its Fullest

December 9, 2008

mel-melton
Most 59 year old men are starting to plan for their later years in life, for the time when they slow down, take on fewer responsibilities, and simplify. Mel Melton is no such man. Melton, chef and co-owner of Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse in Durham, is looking to go faster. To do more. To live life to its fullest. See, Melton is not just a chef, he’s also a musician and a farmer. His band, Mel Melton & the Wicked Mojos, recently opened for BB King in Durham. Melton has played with the likes of Sonny Landreth, CJ Chenier, and Buckwheat Zydeco. He partied with Janis Joplin in 1968 after she played a gig at Duke. He’s learned to cook from Paul Prudhomme. And less than a year ago, he and his business partner Antonio Almaleh, decided to open a cajun/creole restaurant in the Triangle. Read the rest of this entry »


A Hunka Hunka Burning Sugar

December 4, 2008

caramelI’ve always been told by pastry chefs about the dangers of hot caramel, or “culinary napalm” in their lingo.  I’ve been reminded time and time again to be careful of it landing on your skin.  And I always have been, until last night.

I’m cooking dinner on Saturday for my wife’s co-workers, and this year, I decided to make a Mexican feast.  For my dessert, I had planned on stealing a dish from my friend, Phoebe Lawless, who inspired me several years ago with her combination of pumpkin fritters, goat cheese ice cream, goat milk cajeta and spicy, candied pumpkin seeds.  Folks, this was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten, and it was time to recreate the dish.

I planned on making the cajeta tomorrow, but being a realist who doesn’t have complete confidence of making caramel with canned goat milk, I needed a back-up plan: store-bought dulce de leche.  C’mon, it’s a Mexican caramel.  I only plan on using this if I screw up the cajeta.

So last night, I decided to taste the dulce de leche, warmed up, over some vanilla ice cream.  I put some in a ramekin, popped it in the microwave for a minute, and pulled it out.  Yeah, it was hot, but not terribly so.  Until I decided to stir it up, whereupon it became volcanic, spattering all over the place, including my left thumb.  Within 3 seconds, I had a major burn there.  This was a burn that was worse than hot grease.  Worse than grabbing the handle of a cast iron skillet that just got pulled from a hot oven (yup, did that a couple years ago).  It’s remarkable how hot this stuff gets.  I’m just glad that only a little of it ended up on my thumb, as otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing, and I sure wouldn’t be cooking.  I can just imagine (and imagining is as close to it I want to get) what it would be like to have a lot of this on your skin.  Not a pretty sight, indeed.

But the dulce de leche was pretty damn good.


The Mint Loses Its Chef

December 2, 2008

Jeremy Clayman, talented chef of Raleigh’s The Mint, is no longer with the restaurant.  According to Clayman, he was dismissed today.  Pastry Chef Eric Foster will also be leaving the restaurant at the end of the month.  Also gone from The Mint is their Operations Director.    No word on who will be taking over the kitchen.  This is very sad news, as Clayman and Foster were responsible for creating some of the most exciting food to hit a plate in the Triangle.


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