Cupcake Cannon

April 30, 2010

Just watch this in high density and full screen.  I want to get shot with cupcakes.

Strawberry Dreams

April 30, 2010

This is a picture of the dessert I made last weekend.  I had some chocolate waffles in the freezer that were left over from a dinner party several months ago that I popped in the toaster oven (Leggo my chocolate Eggo!).  I had bought 8 quarts of strawberries on Saturday  to make jam, and with the extras I made some strawberry ice cream.  Some chopped strawberries with a touch of Cointreau added a nice touch, finished with whipped cream.   It was a fantastic dish, very appealing to the eye, and totally captured the essence of the strawberries.

It might make a comeback tomorrow.

Beurre Fondue — The Medium for Spring

April 27, 2010

When spring rolls around, I think of asparagus and ramps and morels.  But I also think of butter.  Lots and lots of wonderful butter, but not in the way you might suspect.  I think of beurre fondue, the butter and water emulsion that I prefer to use to cook these wonderful spring goodies.

You may not have heard of beurre fondue unless you’re a culinary school grad or a food geek, but you know about it if you’ve ever heard the term “butter poached.”  This is what Thomas Keller uses to butter poach his lobster, although I think he uses a slightly more concentrated form of emulsion.  He calls it beurre monte’, but I really can’t figure out if there’s any difference between these butter sauces.

Regardless, I first learned about beurre fondue 10 years ago when Tom Colicchio’s first book, Think Like a Chef, came out.  This is one of my all-time favorite cooking books, as so much of it focuses on technique, flavor profiles, and other culinary basics.  Beurre fondue is just butter that has been emulsified into boiling water.  The technique is simple: Get about half to 3/4 of an inch of water boiling in a small saucepan. Whisk in unsalted butter about a tablespoon at a time. Continue adding the butter until you’ve added anywhere from 12 to 16 tablespoons. If droplets begin to form, add a bit more water, as that’s a sign you’ve evaporated too much water.

Now, take some asparagus, peas, fish, mushrooms, whatever and poach it at a very gentle simmer in this ultra-rich sauce (transfer it to a wider skillet). You’ll end up with the most delicious, decadent (but seemingly light) dish you can imagine.

Some folks par-cook their food first and finish it in the beurre fondue, but I love to cook it from beginning to end.   I particularly like to cook morels in this sauce, as the final flavor is heavenly.  I recently made a dish of mahi-mahi with morels, shallots and local asparagus, with all the vegetables cooked in the beurre fondue.  I served the dish in shallow bowls, making sure there was plenty of the butter sauce to go around.  It was spring on a plate and one of the best tasting things I’ve ever made.

Restaurant Review Roulette: The Diner

April 21, 2010

This week’s restaurant review by Greg Cox of the N&O looks at The Diner, the retro-styled burger and shake place on Raleigh’s Glenwood South. I ate at The Diner a few weeks ago, and it will be the last time I go there. Burgers are average at best. Milkshakes are fairly small for the price. But the kiss of death came from the onion rings, which were, without any doubt, the greasiest things I have ever sampled. When I bit into one, at least a teaspoon of oil rushed out. My kids started having fun with them, putting them on a plate and pressing them with a fork to see how big of an oil slick they could create. It may have been an anomaly, but combined with the ultra slow service, I think not.

Anyhow, I suspect Greg Cox’s experience was similar, as the teaser in today’s N&O refers to “hits and misses.” That’s why my guess is for 2 stars. A place with this price point, with mediocre food and service typically gets 2 stars.

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — one google to 1

4.5 stars – one bazillion to 1

4 stars — one million to 1

3.5 stars — 20 to 1

3 stars — 5 to 1

2.5 stars — 25 or 6 to 4

2 stars — 1 to 1

1 to 1.5 stars — 4 to 1

Have you been to The Diner? How many stars does it deserve?


(Edit April 23, 2010) Ouch.  A 1.5 star review for The Diner in today’s N&O.  The review itself doesn’t sound like a 1.5 star one, but I think Greg Cox was trying to be nice and focus on the positives.  I wonder if he’d ever write a review as acerbic as the one Sam Sifton of the NY Times wrote last week on Nello.  Now that was harsh.

Looking for Strawberry Shortcake?

April 21, 2010

My friend Andrea Weigl, the food writer at the News & Observer, wrote about strawberries today and included my recipe for a ginormous strawberry shortcake that I discussed a couple of years ago.  Click here if you want to go to that old story.

Herons to Host Special Chefs’ Dinner to Support Lucy Daniels Center

April 19, 2010

Want to experience a very special dinner, at a special restaurant, prepared by some special chefs, all for a most special cause??  Well, then book your seat for the May 17th dinner at Herons, where Chef Scott Crawford will welcome into his kitchen a handful of fantastic North Carolina chefs for a dinner that will help raise money for the Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood.  Who will be cooking that night in addition to Chef Crawford?  Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh.  Jim Anile of Revolution in Durham.  Vivian Howard of Kinston’s Chef & the Farmer.

I’ve sung the praises of Ashley Christensen enough on this blog, so I don’t need to do any more for her, and I’ve not met Mr. Anile yet, but I want to tell you about Chef Howard.  I had the pleasure of eating dinner with her a week ago, and this woman knows her shit.  I’m astonished that such a talented and passionate chef has been so successful in a place like Kinston, but then I realized that a lot of her customers come from the Triangle.  Chef & the Farmer has become a destination restaurant as well as a place to stop on the way to or from the beaches of North Carolina.  And we’re lucky to have her cooking here in the Triangle on the 17th.

This dinner is for a great cause: The Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood, the Triangle’s largest non-profit provider of mental health services to children.  I’m the Vice Chair of the Center’s Board, and when I asked Chef Crawford could turn this event that was already on his schedule into a fundraiser, he said, “Why not?”  Rather than bumping up the price of this dinner, which had been set for weeks at $110 per person (plus tax and tip), Herons has decided to donate a substantial portion of the proceeds to the Lucy Daniels Center.  The Center is located just a mile or so from the Umstead Hotel & Spa (home of Herons), so this could be the beginning of a fantastic relationship.  This dinner will represent the unofficial kickoff event of the Lucy Daniels Center’s “Bookmarked!” fundraising event — please be sure to click on the link for more details!

As you may know, Herons was named the Restaurant of Year by the News & Observer’s restaurant critic, Greg Cox.  It’s now one of the best restaurants in the Southeast, in my opinion.  Sure, I’m tainted because I’ve worked in that kitchen for a couple of days, but Chef Crawford and his Chef d’Cuisine, Steven Devereaux Greene, make an incredibly talented culinary partnership.  The quality of the food, combined with the sophistication of the service and the comfort of the dining room, supports my position.

The five course dinner (maybe they’ll let me do the amuse) includes wine pairings selected by Herons’ sommelier Justin Tilley, and expect to be surprised by his choices.  He won’t hesitate to come up with pairings that are a bit out of the ordinary, but they invariably work well.

So please make your reservations today by calling Herons at 919-447-4200 or by sending an email request to  Cocktails will begin on the outside terrace at 6:30, with dinner inside Herons at 7:00 PM.  See you there!

Restaurant Review Roulette: Giorgio

April 14, 2010

This week’s review in the News & Observer will focus on Giorgio, the Cary-based creation of local uber-restaurateur, Georgios Bakatsias.  Bakatsias has opened over 35 restaurants over the years, and I believe Giorgio is his first venture into Cary since Cafe Georgios back in the 80s and early 90s.  He hired Chef Ricky Moore from Chapel Hill’s noted small plate restaurant, Glasshalfull.  The restaurant sticks to Bakatsias’ roots with a Mediterranean focus, not unlike his Durham outpost, Parizade.  In fact, I sense that Giorgio could be called Parizade of Cary.

I’ve not eaten at Giorgio, but I know Greg Cox has not been a big fan of Parizade, giving it only 2.5 stars (he originally gave it 2 out of 4 stars, which has subsequently been adjusted to 2.5 out of the current 5 star system).  The discussions on Chowhound and Yelp are mixed, so I’m thinking that this place wouldn’t dazzle Mr. Cox.  This tells me that Giorgio is going to get right around 3 stars — yet another middling restaurant in the eyes of Greg Cox (with whom I’m almost always in agreement in that regard).

Here are this week’s odds:

5 stars — 2,048 to 1

4.5 stars –128 to 1

4 stars — 16 to 1

3.5 stars — 4 to 1

3 stars — 3 to 2

2.5 stars — 5 to 1

2 stars — 12 to 1

1 to 1.5 stars — 50 to 1

Have you made it Giorgio yet?  If so, how many stars do you give it?  And what’s your guess for the Greg Cox review?


Edit (4/16/10):  Wow, was I ever wrong, as Greg Cox gave Giorgio 4 stars in today’s review.  This prognostication thing is a dangerous game to play, particularly when you know nothing about the restaurant.  I’m glad I’m not running an actually betting parlor on this, as I’d be out of business.

‘Cuegrass Festival in Downtown Raleigh on Saturday

April 13, 2010

If there were ever a match made in heaven, it would be whole hog North Carolina barbecue with local swamp-trash rockers,  Southern Culture on the Skids.  But it ain’t heaven, it’s Davie Street in downtown Raleigh this Saturday at the second annual North Carolina ‘Cuegrass Festival.  I love how they state that the festival features the “bluegrass music by Southern Culture on the Skids.”  Er, SCOTS is not a bluegrass band.  SCOTS is not anywhere close to a bluegrass band.  But SCOTS is a perfect band to play at a festival featuring Southern food, and particularly barbecue (fried chicken and banana pudding would be great, too).   Now there are some legit bluegrass bands playing at ‘Cuegrass, so fans of banjo picking and fiddle playing need not worry about getting your fill of tunes.

The festival is put on by the folks at The Pit restaurant in Raleigh, and it’s a huge fundraiser to support the W.C. Breeze Family Farm, a 270-acre educational farm near Hillsborough devoted to sustainable agriculture, and the North Carolina Future Farmers of America , a student farmers’ education group.  Barbecue sandwich plates, beef brisket sandwich plates, and beer (great local stuff) each will sell for $5.  Pretty simple, and pretty reasonable (where’s that nanner puddin’??).  And who knows, maybe Greg Hatem, Ed Mitchell and the other folks at Empire Eats will expand this festival to bring in other pitmasters from across the country, as is the case with the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party.  We need that type of party here in North Carolina!

North Carolina ‘Cuegrass Festival
Saturday, April 17
11 AM to 4 PM (Rain or Shine)
328 W. Davie St., Raleigh, NC
Free entry

Triangle Restaurants That Sound Like Sex Shops

April 7, 2010

This is a blatant rip-off of a recent piece in the Seattle Weekly, but I don’t give a damn.  Here are a few local restaurants that could be a sex shop if you didn’t know any better.  Sure, I may be making fun of some foreign language issues, but I’ll get over it if you do.

7.   Humble Pie — Frankly, any place with the word “pie” in it will qualify here, but this Raleigh institution fit the bill.

6.   Wang’s Kitchen — This is a silly, slightly politically incorrect take.

5.   Fu Kee Express — See above, but this one is a lot funnier.  If you need a quickie . . .

4.   Buns — So simple.  Sir Mix-A-Lot would like it here.

3.   Woody’s — Anyone with this name deserves a spot here.

2.   Twisted Noodle — I really don’t want to think too much what might go on in this place.

1.   Jerk Masters — They’re the absolute best when it comes to a nice jerk.

Honorable Mentions: Pho Cali (come on, say it out loud), Roast Grill (actually, just for their “Hot Weiners” sign), Casalinga (sounds dirty to me), Hot Pot, Globe.

Restaurant Review Roulette: Sansui

April 7, 2010

Since I started this silly game of guessing how many stars Greg Cox would give a restaurant, I’ve pretty much been on the money.  I’ve been spot on for the last three reviews, I missed by half a star for Mambo Italiano, and Mr. Cox surprised us all when he gave 618 Bistro a single, sad star.

This week, Cox is reviewing a sushi bar — Sansui.  In suburban Durham.  In what appears to be a strip mall (although I’m not sure about that).  What I do know is this.  I’ve  never been to Sansui.  I never knew a place named Sansui existed before this morning.  I thought Sansui made stereo equipment.   So quite honestly, I don’t have a flying flip about this place.  But I suspect I still may be able to nail the review.

I also know that sushi bars in the Triangle are pretty much all the same.  Yeah, some places are a bit more creative than others, but unless they’re using really bad or old fish, you run across the same old same old in every place.  It’s kind of like the Mexican restaurants of the El Rodeo ilk — they almost have identical menus.   I mean, is one place’s Dragon Roll superior to another’s?  And are the ginger dressing or miso soup any different?

Because of that, I’m guessing, based purely on Sansui’s sushi menu, that it will be a 3 star review.  It doesn’t appear to be all that different from your run-of-the-mill sushi restaurant around here.  Now if they get a lot more local fish, then that might be different.  Or if their Japanese menu were unusual, then I’d also reevaluate.  But based on what I see, I’m sticking with my 3 star guess.  And if Greg Cox says it’s a 4 star place, then I’ll be the first to head over to try Sansui.

5 stars — 11,111 to 1

4.5 stars –111 to 1

4 stars — 11 to 1

3.5 stars — 3.14159 to 1

3 stars — 2 to 1

2.5 stars — 4 to 1

2 stars — 11 to 1

1 to 1.5 stars — 22 to 1

Who’s been to Sansui?  And is it any different from all the other places around here?


Edit — Well, I was off by half a star, as Sansui received 3.5 stars from Greg Cox.

It Was an April Fool’s Joke, Y’all!

April 5, 2010

In case you didn’t read my entire post from last Thursday, where I announced I was discontinuing this blog, it was an April Fool’s joke.  I can’t tell you how many emails and comments I got, wishing me well.  Frankly, I’m touched that anyone even reads this thing and actually cares, so thanks, everyone.  But although it’s true that I will probably continue to write less due to my busy world, I’ll still have stupid things to say about food.

This also goes to show that a single April Fool’s joke is far more effective than a bunch of jokes issued at the same time.  My joke from last year, about Grant Achatz opening a place in Raleigh, was a pretty good one.   I still get emails asking me when that place will open up.  The other key is to make the joke at least semi-plausible — enough that someone who fell for the joke actually thinks of you as a jerk.

Happy Trails, To Me

April 1, 2010

Edit: This was an April Fool’s joke.  I’m still here!

You might have noticed that I haven’t been writing as much lately, filling this blog with mindless fluff like Restaurant Review Roulette.  Part of the reason for this is because I’ve been extremely busy with my job, my family, and with organizations that are very important to me.  I’m a health care attorney, and with the recent reform legislation, I’ve been spending untold hours trying to figure it all out.  Each of my kids plays soccer, and if I’m not coaching, I’m watching their games.  I’m about to become the Board Chair of the Lucy Daniels Center and am also heavily involved with Band Together, two wonderful charities.

So, as you can see, I really have a reason for not being here so much.  It’s weighed on me pretty heavily, because I’ve heard numerous times that blogs typically peter out after a year or so.  I enjoy this blog.  I enjoy writing about food.

But it’s time to let go.

I’ve decided that this will be the last entry on VarmintBites.  I’ve made a new commitment to my job, my family and the community.  If I can’t truly dedicate myself to my blog, then I shouldn’t be doing it at all.  I owe that much to you, my faithful readers.

The world of food is very important and very serious.  We all need to focus on the source of our food, and what we feed our children.  We also need to know about banana slicers, whiskey toothpaste, and how to open a wine bottle with your shoe.  Food is the most important thing in the world, and I’ve worked tirelessly to make this the most important blog in the Triangle.  No, the most important blog in the State — the country — the world.  And now that I’ve reached that point, right when I’m at the top, it’s time to say goodbye.  Thanks for the memories, folks.

And I’ll see you soon, when it isn’t April 1st.


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