Four Berry Cobbler

June 9, 2008

Many gastronomes have a food “epiphany,” and I’m no exception. It was either 1985 or 1986, and my roommate and I went to Crook’s Corner for the first time. Crook’s was still run by Bill Neal, the “godfather” of Southern cooking, and I remember that meal like it was yesterday. She crab soup. Pimento cheese. Shrimp and grits. And a dessert that has become my primary summer staple — a four berry cobbler featuring sweet butter biscuits.

I talked to Bill Neal a fair amount back then, when I’d sit at the bar, being completely clueless about food and slowly soaking things in. I was a major science geek — working on my Ph.D. in molecular pathology of all things — but I had a love for history. And Bill Neal was certainly a food historian. Read the rest of this entry »


Triangle Restaurant Week

May 12, 2008

Today is the first day of Triangle Restaurant Week, and if you’ve been jonesing to get to a local restaurant at a fraction of the regular price, this is the time to do it.  A tradition in cities such as New York, Restaurant Week presents an opportunity to sample a three-course meal at reduced prices — $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner.  Now I know not many people want to spend that much for lunch, but for 3 courses, it’s worth it.  Give Glenwood Grill a chance.  Or you might have read about The Mint somewhere.  Heh.

For dinner, your options expand, and I’m thinking about heading over to Frazier’s or The Globe or Zely & Ritz, three places where you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.  And tonight is half-price wine night at Zely & Ritz, so it could be an incredible bargain.

I know that the list of restaurants is very limited, but this is the first year of Restaurant Week.  If you want more restaurants next year, go to several places this week, and the success of the program will generate more excitement.

And report back here with your Restaurant Week experiences.  I’d like to hear what type of deals are being offered.


Buttermilk Pie

April 22, 2008

When strawberry season hits, I first think of strawberry shortcake, then Belgian waffles. But right after that, buttermilk pie comes to mind. Buttermilk pie with fresh strawberries. OH MY GOD!!!!

Most Southerners understand the glory of buttermilk pie, but others would choose any other dessert in the world before this classic dish. It’s really nothing more than a simple custard pie, with a touch of lemon and nutmeg to round out the flavor profile. It’s also very light and is very good with fresh berries or a berry coulis. I last wrote about buttermilk pie several years ago on eGullet, and I’m resurrecting the pictures from that time to show you how simple this dish is. Even if you don’t know how to make pie crust (and you MUST learn), you can always use a store-bought version.

I use Bill Neal’s recipe, which is lighter than a typical version because egg whites are beaten and folded into the custard. The tanginess of the buttermilk and lemon offsets some of the egginess and cuts through the richness, so this is really perfect. I also use really fresh, local buttermilk from Maple View Farm. This stuff is a bit richer than what you typically find in the grocery store.

When you take your first bite of this luscious custard treat, be sure you thank me. Yes, it’s that good. Photos and recipe are after the break.

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Clafoutis, Southern Style

April 1, 2008

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Clafoutis. CLAW-FOO-TEE. Go ahead, say it again. And again. And then make up some completely senseless rhymes with it, like, Booty Clafoutis. Or, Clafoutis in Djibouti. Or my kids’ favorites, Clafoutis makes you go pooty. Whatever that means.

But clafoutis is a classic French dessert, and an easy one at that. My parents are in town for a few days, and I wanted to make a quick and simple dessert for them. I had a bag of frozen sour cherries available along with some fig preserves. So I made two desserts, a standard cherry clafoutis and a really great fig version. A double header of clafoutis action, if you will!

If you’ve never heard of clafoutis, it’s a cross between a custard and a dutch baby pancake. It’s loaded with eggs, but it has enough flour in it to give it a slightly more airy feel. The classic version is made with cherries, but I’ve used lots of different fruits. I eat clafoutis for dessert or for breakfast. When warm, it’s light and fluffy. After it cools, it gets much more custardy, but either way, it’s delicious.

Some people say that if it’s not made with cherries, it’s not a clafoutis — it’s a flognarde. Because I like to say “clafoutis” more than I like to say “flognarde,” you bet your booty I’ll call it clafoutis.

I’m giving you my recipe for a Southern Style clafoutis made with whole fig preserves. We’re blessed with friends who give us lots of jars of these sweet delicacies, and they’re really perfect with this dish. If you use fresh figs — and summer’s not too far away — you’ll want to cut them in half and dip them in honey and cinnamon sugar first! Yum. Read the rest of this entry »


Poached Eggs Make the World Go Round

March 25, 2008

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If there’s one thing that I started to eat a lot more of in the past year, it’s poached eggs. And I hardly ever eat them for breakfast — they’re a mainstay in my dinner repertoire. Tonight I made a simple pasta of garlic, olive oil, sea salt, a touch of truffle oil (yeah, I still use it on occasion), bread crumbs and pepper. I topped it off with two poached eggs and parmesan. The runny egg yolks made a super sauce, and this was a magnificent dish.

I also top a lot of my salads with a poached egg, as once again, the yolk helps pull together a simple vinaigrette.

A dish that I stole from Ashley Christensen is toasted brioche with sauteed wild mushrooms and a poached egg.

With spring asparagus about to appear in farmers market, try a poached egg on top of the spears with some freshly grated pecorino romano.

And when I make huevos rancheros, I actually poach my eggs in the ranchero sauce. It’s fantastic and not that different from the “Eggs in Purgatory” concept, which is eggs poached in spaghetti sauce.

Of course, I haven’t even talked about breakfast dishes. Poached eggs over grits, hash browns, hash or just plain toast. Eggs Benedict. I mean, poached eggs are the alpha and the omega. They’re the best.

It’s so simple to poach an egg. You just need a skillet with an inch or two of simmering water. Add a little salt and a teaspoon or two of vinegar. Crack an egg into a ramekin, and slip the egg into the simmering water. Spoon some water over the top of the egg to cook it all over. Cook for about 3 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. That’s it.


Crab Cakes — Part II

February 27, 2008

A few months ago I wrote about the way I make crab cakes. It was a fairly traditional recipe using breadcrumbs, egg, and a little mayo as the binder.

That was the way I used to make crab cakes, because after last night’s experiment, I’m not going back. What did I do differently? I used a binder of scallop/shrimp mousse. Let me explain.

I first heard of using a seafood mousse as a binder in cakes last year in a discussion on eGullet. But I really didn’t think about this again until yesterday, when I had lunch with a chef friend, and our discussion focused on why so many places serve lousy crab cakes. She suggested for a binder using a mousse made mostly of scallops, with a bit of egg and cream added to help emulsify it all. She said that when the mousse cooks, it almost fades into the crab, so you end up with a crab cake that is almost all lumps of luscious crab meat, without any noticeable binder. Read the rest of this entry »


Cocktail of the Week: Juniperotivo

February 8, 2008

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My buddy Sam Kinsey turned me onto this gin-based cocktail with the funny name, the Juniperotivo. These were a huge hit at my dinner party a couple of weekends ago, and even if you don’t like gin, you should give this sweet and sour cocktail a try. It has two ingredients that may be somewhat hard to get in some locations, but you won’t have a problem in the Triangle. The name of the cocktail comes from its primary ingredient, Junipero gin, which is made by the same company that brings us Anchor Steam beer. As I’ve said before, I love this stuff, and it’s available in our ABC stores. Junipero is very herbaceous, with a particularly strong backbone of juniper (duh!). The other ingredient, which is even more essential than the Junipero, is pomegranate molasses. This thick, dark elixir can be found at Middle Eastern markets. Neomonde actually has several different varieties. I can’t recommend one over the other, but they’re quite inexpensive (and really tasty).

So give this drink a try. It’s sophisticated, but very accessible, and when you serve it to your guests, they’ll rightly think you’re a mixology guru.

Read the rest of this entry »


Cocktail of the Week: Spiced Meyer Lemontini

January 25, 2008

meyer_lemons.jpgOK, the name really sucks. So help me come up with a new one. I found this recipe on the Site of the Evil Empire and made a couple of modifications. It’s really tasty, simple to make, and a bit different. I love the flavor of the Meyer lemon in this cocktail, as it’s not quite as bracing as regular lemons. In my mind, that makes it work better with the nutmeg, cinnamon and spiced rum in this drink. My guests loved it last week, and I might have to have another this weekend.

Recipe below. Read the rest of this entry »


Puff Pastry, Palmiers, and Me

January 3, 2008

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I consider myself to be somewhat adept with desserts and pastries. I’ve pretty much always have been able to make a great pie crust. I made a sachertorte when I was 13. I’m very good with scones and biscuits and shortbread. But the one thing I’ve never made is puff pastry. I’ve seen others make it, and damn, it’s a lot of work, folding the butter in time and time again. So I cheat and buy frozen puff pastry sheets. Yes, I’m finally coming clean and letting the world (and my professional baking friends) that I’m a puff pastry fraud. I’m the Milli Vanilli of puff pastry.

And I don’t care one tiny bit. I love the frozen stuff — the convenience, the simplicity. I pull a box out of the freezer, let in thaw, and then go to town. Sometimes I make cheese puffs, but my “go-to” puff pastry dish is the humble palmier. The palmier (French for “palm”) is nothing but puff pastry, butter, sugar and cinnamon. It’s incredibly easy to make, especially when using the frozen puff pastry. I don’t claim to make a classic palmier, the type you find in bakeries and patisseries across the world — I’d probably need to make my own damn puff pastry for that, and you already know that’s out of the question. But I make a tasty, caramelized, crispy and flaky delight that my kids adore. And frankly, I like them, too. Read the rest of this entry »


Peanut Butter and Banana Cake (aka “Elvis Cake”)

January 1, 2008

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My buddy Brooks is a cake man, pure and simple. Oh, he likes a pie now and then, but if he wants to put together a celebratory dessert, it’s cake. I’ve always argued with him about the merits of the humble pie. Fruit or pudding in a crust — it’s so simple, but so pure. But he wouldn’t budge. “Cake is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega — all that there ever was in the world of desserts.” OK, he never said that, but he might have.

I’ve always been a fan of pies, but over this holiday season, all we made for dessert was cake. For Christmas it was a brown sugar pound cake, and today, my 12 year old daughter and I made an “Elvis Cake.” Yes, it was a banana cake with peanut butter icing. And I must say that of the 9 pieces served after dinner, there wasn’t a crumb remaining. It was a special, but incredibly simple cake.

I got the cake recipe from the wonderful Dorie Greenspan and her book, Baking: From my home to yours. It’s an incredibly adaptable cake. I encourage you to get this cookbook, as it’s one of my all-time favorites. Of course, I don’t have a recipe for the icing. To be completely honest, I initially made the cake with Marshmallow Fluff between the layers, frosted with the peanut butter icing. But the Fluff was too fluid and actually oozed out through the icing. Not a pretty sight. So I took the cake apart, scraped off most (but not all) of the Fluff, and re-frosted it. Mmm, it was mighty good. Not all that pretty, but damn tasty. Would have made The King very proud.

Read the rest of this entry »


Pots de Crème? We’ll Just Call It Puddin’

December 10, 2007

pudding.jpgMy wife and I hosted a dinner party for her co-workers on Saturday, and I knew that it was going to be a pretty busy day in addition to the cooking that was needed. I had to come up with a simple dessert that I could make in advance, something fairly light, as the earlier courses were fairly heavy. Plus, my freezer was on the blink, so anything involving ice cream was out.

The solution? Pots de crème (that’s “pots of cream” for you non-French speakers). Traditionally served in dainty and elegant lidded cups, these light custards can be made in a jiffy, particularly if you don’t need to cook the mixture to infuse the flavoring.

Lemon is a natural flavoring for pots de crème, but because Meyer lemons are now available, I used this slightly sweeter and more complex flavored citrus fruit. It took me 10 minutes to prepare the custard, pour it into ramekins, and then left them to bake in a bain marie for a little over half an hour. After chilling, I topped them with a bit of sweetened whipped cream and dusted the dish with some Lemonhead candies that I had pulverized into a powder. Adding an almond and chocolate tuile on the side, and the dish was a perfect ending to a perfect meal. And my guests all told me it was the best pudding they ever had.

Recipe after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »


Easier No Knead Bread

December 3, 2007

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Anyone who is even remotely interested in food is aware of Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe that became mainstream 13 months ago when Mark Bittman of the NY Times wrote about it. Food websites were agog about this new way to make bread, which required a really wet dough, a long, overnight rise, and baking in a large covered pot. Nearly every newspaper in the country covered the phenomenon of being able to have a crusty loaf of bread without any kneading, with many trying to tweak the recipe to enhance the depth of flavor. Me? I never made it. I even broke down and bought a nice enameled cast iron pot in which to bake a loaf, but for some reason, I just never got around to making this bread.

Last week, however, I read about a new type of no-knead bread. A bread so simple, even a 7 year old could make it. This process also relies on a very wet dough, but you only let the dough sit for a couple of hours. Each batch makes three or four loaves of crusty bread, but you don’t need to bake it all at once. The unused dough can sit in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and you pull off a portion and bake it when you want.

I gave the recipe to my 7 year old daughter, who has been cooking a lot with our sitter, and I came home on Friday with a bull full of dough waiting for me. I pinched off a couple of grapefruit sized pieces of dough, lightly dusted them with flour, and let them sit on a pizza peel for 40 minutes or so. I popped the orbs into a hot oven with a baking stone, and you know what, my daughter and I ended up with some most excellent bread. And I baked the rest of it tonight, resulting in an even more flavorful loaf.

So, give this recipe a try. If you time it right, you can have fresh bread all the time. And if a 7 year old can do it, I’m sure you can, too.

Recipe after the break.

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Beignets for Breakfast

November 25, 2007

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I told my kids last week that I would make beignets for breakfast over the Thanksgiving weekend.  They still have the memories of Cafe du Monde in the spring before Katrina — plates of those hot fritters, covered by the after effects of a powdered sugar blizzard.  I remember seeing my kids devouring donut after donut, with white powder dusting their noses and cheeks and sweatshirts.  I wasn’t about to let them down.  The problem is, I had no idea how to make beignets.

I searched through the internet and quickly realized that there were two types of beignets: those that used yeast and those that did not.  I figured using yeast would make the process much more difficult, but I continued my research.  Finally, a friend came to the rescue (at least figuratively): Karen Barker has a beignet recipe in her wonderful dessert cookbook, Sweet Stuff.  Granted, it’s a recipe for black pepper beignets, but it provided a solid reference.  And it used yeast.  Knowing that Karen usually chooses a simple method for her desserts, I thought I’d give it a try, in spite of her use of yeast.  But then I ran into a problem: the recipe called for a quarter cup of cream, but I had used up all my stock, and I had absolutely no desire to go to the store.  The solution?  Eggnog!  Necessity being the mother of invention, as far as I can tell, I am the creator of the eggnog beignet, as I could not find any reference to one on the internet.  I’m sure plenty of others have actually made eggnog donuts or fritters or the like, but damn it, I’m claiming this recipe as mine, all mine!

Oh, and it’s really easy, too!

Photos and recipe after the break.

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Crab Cakes for Thanksgiving

November 19, 2007

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If you’re thinking of doing something slightly different for your Thanksgiving table this year, consider the crab cake as an appetizer. A properly made crab cake is something that so few people do well, primarily because they’re not cheap. The essential ingredient, jumbo lump crab meat, can cost 20 to 25 bucks a pound. You really cannot substitute any other grade of crab meat, as each bite should contain a pure, unadulterated lump of crap without the all too typical excess of filler. Additional flavorings should be barely noticeable, more of a slight accent without being an intrusion.

I received one of my greatest culinary complements this past weekend when I took several of my 13 year old son’s soccer teammates and their parents to Johnny’s Half Shell in Washington, DC (we were there for a soccer tournament — details to follow). The chef and co-owner of Johnny’s is my friend, Beard Award-winning Ann Cashion. This restaurant is all about seafood, much of it simply prepared. No, the restaurant may not be cutting edge, but the flavors are clean and pure. Cashion doesn’t overdo anything — she does it all just right. My son ordered the crab cakes, and when I asked him how they were, he said, “Great. They’re just like yours.” Heh, my crab cakes are as good as a Beard Award winner’s! When he told Chef Cashion the same thing, she responded, “That’s the biggest complement you could have paid me.” Needless to say, my ego was sufficiently fed.

Other than making sure you have good, fresh jumbo lump crab meat, the key is that you don’t use too much bread crumbs as a binder. You need to have barely enough to pull them together, and then allow the cakes to chill so they’ll hold together. Serve them with lemon wedges or a simple remoulade, and you, too, will have crab cakes as good as a Beard chef. Read the rest of this entry »


Fried Chicken

November 6, 2007

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I made fried chicken for dinner Sunday night, which is a very, very good thing. The craft (art) of making pan-fried chicken is dying in our home kitchens, and I just might make it my personal mission to remind everyone of how wonderful and versatile this dish is. There’s probably no better cooking method to ensure a very moist and flavorful bird, even using the bland chickens mass-produced today. A properly cooked piece of fried chicken has a crispy crust, with a layer of flavorful skin and melted fat underneath, and moist, tender flesh in the interior. There’s something incredibly primal and exhilarating about biting into perfectly fried chicken. The question remains, however, what’s the best method for making fried chicken???

Now there’s absolutely no consensus on this issue, and, in fact, there have been as many arguments about “proper” fried chicken as there are about the best barbecue. Some people make a batter-dipped chicken, whereas others just use flour, and a third class (and a lesser class, at that) uses bread crumbs or some other type of coating. Kim Severson of the New York Times recently wrote a piece on two New Orleans restaurants’ differing styles of chicken, both revered. But the differences don’t end with the crust. Pan fried vs. deep fried. Brined? Marinated? Injected??? Scott Peacock of Decatur’s Watershed Restaurant, adapting Miss Edna Lewis’ method, brines it for one day and then soaks it in buttermilk the next. He then dredges it in a combination of flour, cornstarch and potato starch to minimize gluten and maximize crunch. Oh, and then he fries it in lard flavored with bacon and country ham. John T. Edge has publicly declared Peacock’s to be the best fried chicken in the country, but it needn’t be that difficult.

Some people insist on using peanut oil, whereas others use vegetable shortening. There’s the lard contingency, of course. You need a fat with a high smoke point, but I like the simplicity of canola oil. It doesn’t leave a lot of greasy residue, either. You’ll want to get the oil to about 340-350°F. The hot temperatures allow surface water to escape and to keep out the grease. Start with your dark meat, and then add the breasts (breasts like a slightly lower temperature). Keep the temperature around 320° or so.

If you use a cast iron skillet, which has higher heat retention properties, you’ll be able to control the temperature better. Covering the chicken during the first half of cooking helps maintain an even temperature, too.

So how do I make fried chicken? I make it simple. A fairly short soak in salted buttermilk, dredged in all purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and a quick fry in a cast iron skillet filled with canola oil. For something this good, this pure, why complicate things? That way, you’re more likely to make it frequently. Plus, cold, leftover chicken is much better with this simple style.

Recipe after the break. Read the rest of this entry »


Horchata + Bourbon = Milk Punch for Lactose Intolerants

November 1, 2007

Perhaps the most surprisingly good food or drink that I had at last weekend’s Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium was a simple combination of horchata and Jack Daniels.  Call me crazy, but this was just like a very tasty milk punch, but with no milk.  So for all you lactose intolerant folks out there, get to your local Mexican joint for some horchata.  Or make it yourself, as it’s easy!  Add some bourbon or Jack Daniels, and you’re good to go. 

Horchata

6 tablespoons rice
1-1/4 cups blanched almonds
1 (1-inch) cinnamon stick
3 (2-by-3/4-inch) strips of lime zest (colored portion only)
About 1 cup sugar

Completely grind the rice in a blender or spice grinder. Transfer to a bowl and add the almonds, cinnamon stick and lime zest. Stir in 2 1/4 cups of hot tap water, cover and let stand a least 6 hours or, preferably, overnight.

Transfer the mixture into a blender jar and blend for 3-4 minutes, until it no longer feels very gritty. Add 2 cups of water then blend for a bit longer. Working slowly, strain the mixture through a large sieve lined with 3 layers of damp cheesecloth, collecting the white liquid in a bowl. You’ll need to stir gently to help get the liquid through. When all has been strained, gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist them together, squeezing, to strain the remaining liquid.

Add 2 cups of water to the white liquid and stir in enough sugar to sweeten the drink to your taste. If the consistency is too thick, add additional water. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Stir before pouring.  Makes about 7 servings.

Serve with bourbon, of course!!

Adapted from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From the Heart of Mexico


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