Saturday, March 31, 2007

Peet's Coffee in Cincinnati airport

Yesterday I subjected myself to the ignomy of air travel again in order to fly to KC, MO to see my nieces.

Delta has the worst coffee. I think I mentioned that before. Would it really be that hard to make a decent cup of coffee on an airplane? I'm thinking Dunkin' Donuts level of quality would be just fine. It doesn't have to be soy, skinny, mocha-cino, latte with hazelnut Italian flavoring. No, a plain, good cup of coffee would do.

Alas, this is not to be, especially not on Delta. I bet Air France and AlItalia have drinkable coffee.

So I get to Cincinnati is a foul mood: I had to be at the airport at 5:30AM (I am NOT a morning person), they wouldn't let me take on board a brand new tube of CHANEL lipstick/lipgloss because I didn't have it in a ziplock bag (the day terrorists hijack a plane with CHANEL lipgloss is the same day hell freezes over), I lost a handmade gold earring in the hullabalo, AND they rifled through my checked bag and broke the buckle of my Dolce and Gabanna belt.

At least the flights were on time, but I was grumpy especially with no coffee.

Well, thanks be to God, I spotted a Peet's Coffee shop in Concourse B of the Cincinnati airport! You can get all of the fancy coffee drinks from the Peet's shop but what they are actually known for roasting, blending and selling their own brand of coffee beans. I knew get a decent cup from these people! I relished the dark, smooth, hot coffee and my mood improved dramatically.

I also bought a 1lb bag of Columbian ground coffee for my mother because she usually tries to foist decaf or half-caf upon me. We had that for breakfast this morning. It made a strong, smooth cup that was good with and without milk.

Peet's Coffee sells their products on their web site. I think I might starting buying from them. They are based out of Berkeley, CA, and have been in the coffee roasting business since 1966.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

How to eat a lobster with garden tools

My friend Sally believes anyone who eats meat, she is a carnivore herself, needs to come to terms with the fact that the meat we eat was once ALIVE. Nicely-wrapped-in-plastic meat in the fridge at the supermarket sanitizes the situation and distances us from the grisly, murderous flesh and bone aspect of our dinner.

Ok "murderous" is a bit dramatic, I'll admit.

For most of the history of the humankind, people have had to use their own two hands to capture, kill, and prepare their dinner. Now we go hunting and gathering at WholeFoods or ,my new fav, Trader Joe's and never have to experience the kill.

I've wondered for years if I would be able to kill and clean a chicken. Aside from the fact that raw chicken scares me, I think I could probably do this if I was really really hungry and if I had hungry people depending on me doing it.

Since I do not live on a farm and do not know anyone with chicken, I decided that the next best thing, a lot less messy, would be to cook a lobster. Whenever I thought of cooking lobster, helpful people like my mother would swear that lobsters squeal when they get thrown into the pot alive. Mention cooking a lobster and your run of the mill carnivores are suddenly appalled. "How can you throw a live creature into a pot?" they exclaim. Not knowing if I indeed had the stomach for such things, I just shrugged my shoulders and said I didn't know.

I determined that I could not possibly face death alone. So I summoned a friend from work. I don't know her very well, but I figured she'd be up for the challenge, especially in the name of a culinary adventure and a moral experiment.

My friend found a Food Lion by her house that had a tank of live lobsters. So armed w/ a pot, a bag of lemons, a bottle of Duval Leroy champagne, and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, I headed over to her house.

Fortified by a glass of champagne, we headed to Food Lion to pick out our lobsters. There are two main things to know about lobsters: 1. anything less than 1.5 lb is not worth the trouble because there is not enough meat in it, 2. when the fishmonger pulls the lobster out of the tank, it should wiggle its legs and lift its tail because otherwise it is not "fresh" (read ALIVE) enough.

The two lobsters we picked out were beautiful: they were brown with gorgeous blue spotting on their backs and underside. Their claws were orange. One claw has tiny serrations like a knife for cutting and the other claw is bigger and for crushing. The first time my courage nearly failed was when the fishmonger mentioned that these lobster were probably 25 years old. I panicked! How could I eat a 25 yr old creature!

My friend fortunately saved the day by saying, "Wow, they could be graduate students."

I replied, "Ok, let's eat them." I never liked grad students.

At my friend's house we put two pots on the stove w/ water in the bottom and inserted the steamer racks. While waiting for the water, we admired the beauty of the lobsters and thanked them for providing us with a lovely meal.

Once the water was steaming, I grabbed my lobster and pushed it down into the pot and quickly covered it with the lid. My friend did the same. The second time my courage nearly failed was when I glanced at the pot and could see the lobsters squirming through the glass lid. But at this point, what could we do? We had to keep going.

Note to self: next time do not use a glass lid.

When the lobsters were finished, they came out bright, fantastic red! Using a sharp butcher knife I cut down the middle to split them. We were not lucky enough to get any eggs and neither of us have the taste for the tomalley, aka lobster liver.

We set to work w/ our fingers and a shellfish cracker. Very quickly we ran into problems. We were unable to crack the mighty crushing claws! These claws hide the best meat so there was no way we were going to be deterred. I suggested a hammer. We decided that would be far too messy. Then my friend had an epiphany: garden tools would do the trick! And she came back with this tool that looked like a cross between garden shears and wire cutters. Et voila! It worked like a charm.

I'm sure people in Maine would be horrified, but what do we know? We aren't Yankees.

We splattered lobster, butter, and lemon juice all over ourselves. The lobster was rich, tender and sweet. It was delicious in a way that we could only have experienced by doing this ourselves.

We did our best to pick the last morsel out of the shells. Wanting to get every penny out of our $70 lobsters, I took the shells and remains home to make a stock. One day soon my friend will come over for bouillabaise. I might also use it to make a shrimp or scallop risotto.

I have a new respect for lobster. I am certainly more thoughtful about eating meat now. I would eat even less meat if I had to kill it myself on a regular basis. Am I going to be a vegetarian? No. Will I make an effort to appreciate the abundance of food the earth and other animals give to us? Yes.

I won't be rushing out to cook another lobster any time soon: they are expensive, rich and we had to use a garden tool to eat them. At least they don't squeal.

An easy spring salad

It's been unsually warm this past week in North Carolina. When the temperature is above 80 degrees, the idea of hot food is kind of repellant to me. Instead I opt for salads. Unfortunately salads can be labor intensive but here is one that is almost as quick as a bowl of cereal with milk (another standby dinner on a hot day).

Throw a handful of baby greens or other lettuce from a bag onto a plate. Slice four rounds from a baguette. Drizzle bread slices w/ olive oil and put under broiler until one side is browned to make croutons. Take them out of oven and put a piece of cheese on the unbrowned side of crouton. I love this w/ goat cheese or brie. Then put back into the oven until the cheese starts to melt. Keep a careful eye on it so it doesn't burn. Make a vineagrette by combining with 1 part Dijon mustard and 1 part white wine vinegar. Add two parts olive oil and whisk until combined. Put the croutons on the lettuce and drizzle w/ vineagrette. Season w/ salt and pepper. Pour a glass of white wine and call it dinner.

I learned this recipe when I lived in France.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More on champagne

I recently shared a bottle of Duval Leroy champagne with a friend. Wine Spectator recently rated it a 93 on their 100 point scale as the top champagne this year in the value category (as opposed to the $300 bottle category).

I bought it at WholeFoods for $35. It was decent, easy to drink, dry and very effervescent. All in all, I was happy. However, I have to say that for character and an interesting taste, I actually prefer the $10 Charles de Fere blancs de blanc which I also saw at WholeFoods.

We pay an extra $25 for the words 'champagne' on the label. Now that is good marketing!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Do not walk, RUN to buy the April 2007 Cook's Illustrated. It has terrific reipes in it this month. There are wonderful variations on pan-roasted asparagus that are delicious and easy. I will be making them all summer: asparagus with goat cheese and red peppers, asparagus with onion and bacon, asparagus with olives. YUM! There is also a recipe for brown suger cookies that is good enough to make you weep. I tend to think that cookies are better w/ chocolate or icing, but these cookies are so delicious that they require neither accoutrement. The secret ingredient is browned butter.

I hadn't browned butter before. At least not on purpose! Once melted, it turns brown in only a minute or so. The "burnt" butter is a gorgeous, caramel color and it has a nice nutty, caramel flavor. I love it! It really makes these cookies. The cookie dough is wonderful. Maybe next time I won't even bake them!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ellen's almond biscotti

Homemade biscotti is much tastier than what you can usually buy in a coffee shop. Biscotti should be rock hard otherwise it cannot stand up to being dipped in coffee or tea. Do not even attempt to bite into biscotti unless you've dipped it into your coffee or tea first. You don't want to break your teeth, do you? This recipe comes from my mom's friend Ellen.

Almond Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup slivered almonds, shopped and toated
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 egg white
cooking spray

Combine first five ingredients in large bowl. Combine vanilla and
almond extracts, eggs, and egg white, add to flour mixture, stirring until well-blended. Mix will be dry. Turn out dough. Knead lightly 7 or 8 times. Shape 16" log. Place on cooking spray coated pan. Flatten to 1 inch thick. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cut on diagonal into 30 1/2" thick slices.Place cut side down on pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn cookies over for 10 more baking minutes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Federal for brunch...go this weekend

A couple of weeks ago I went to Federal for brunch on a Sunday afternoon. Alivia's was packed so we headed a few door's down to Fergus's other place, Federal. The food has always been very good at Fed. I was delighted by brunch. My friend had a wonderful plate of smoke salmon accompanied by bread, onions, capers and a delicious dill, lemon butter. It was salmon perfection!

I had a croque madame which is a grilled ham and cheese (gruyere or emmenthal) sandwich with a fried egg on top. The egg was sunny side up. I would have prefered it over easy because I am not crazy about runny whites. But in spite of my egg preferences, it was very good. Federal has a delicious grilled cheese sandwich on the lunch/dinner menu so I figured the croque madame would be equally tasty. It was.

I may actually prefer Federal for lunch to Alivia's! It is certainly easier to get a table at Federal. The coffee might not be quite as good as Alivia's however.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Tonight I went to Alivia's for dinner again. It was the best meal I've had there yet! The starter was goat cheese (I could eat it every day!) and beets. I am not a huge fan of beets. If you met my mother, she would happily pull out a picture she took of me when I was 2 and had refused to eat some beets she gave me. I proceeded to smear them all over me, the chair, the plate, etc. Anyway, I grew up. Beets are somewhat tolerable especially when accompanied by goat cheese.

For the main course I had what was easily the best fish dish I've had in ages. It was the daily special: John Dory, a white flat fish, with a Mediterranean cream sauce (tomato, cream, olives, capers). It was heavenly. I don't know what made it so good but I suspect there was a lot of butter in the cream sauce. I could have licked the plate! Fortunately for my dining companion, I refrained.

I had no room for dessert.

The service was decent except that the waitress confused our wines and poured us a tempranillo that we didn't like. This afforded me the opportunity to talk to the handsome bartender so I bore no grudge to the waitress!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Airport food

Travelling by air used to be a fairly civilized affair. Nowadays it is annoying at best and degrading at worst. Besides long lay overs, outrageous prices on tickets, and grumpy staff (hey, you'd be grumpy too at their salary so bear that in mind next time), they leave us to starve on the flights ,and then try to poison us in the airports with ghastly food options. Airport food places do actually count as "eateries" and not "restaurants" with a few exceptions.

The worst coffee I EVER drank was on an airplane, just as a side note. It was Delta.

When I travel, I take notice of places that are not familiar chains. I have found a couple of gems amidst what is an overwhelming pile of coal. Alas that I cannot recall which terminals, so I will have to leave that to you. Also, if you have discovered any half-civilized places for refreshment in airports, PLEASE reply to this post.

1. Memphis -- BBQ: at the end of one of the terminals in Memphis is a BBQ joint. You can smell it and see the line from afar. It's chopped beef BBQ which I love! yummy! The sauce is red and tomato based.

2. DFW -- La Bodega Wine Bar is located in two of the terminals (I've been to the one at A15 and there is one maybe in D). La Bodega is worth changing terminals for if you have a long lay over. Do not sit at your gate for 3 hours. Head to La Bodega. They have a great wine list, cheese plate and salmon pate. And you never know who you might see. I ran into John Galliano there! That's a story!

3. DFW -- local BBQ: One terminal definitely has a local BBQ place nestled among the Chinese, Wendy's, and Chili's To Go that is worth the visit. The BBQ is sliced beef brisket with tomato based BBQ sauce. I'm lovin' the beef BBQ! I ate the best green beans EVER at this place. They were loaded w/ onion and garlic and cooked in bacon fat. YUMMY. I wish I recalled the name of the place. Let me know if you find it.

4. Miami -- Worst food ever in the terminals BUT, in the main concourse there is a Cuban restaurant. I have no idea what it is called but it is the only one there and you cannot miss it. I had picadillo (I need to learn to make that), sides of black beans and rice, and fried plantains. It is above-average Cuban food and EXCEPTIONAL airport food, especially the plantains.

Sadly, I only have these four recommendations. If you travel a lot and can suggest more, please do!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Trader Joe's in Cary

On Friday I ventured to Cary to stop at the new Trader Joe's located in the Shoppes of Kildare (who spells "shops" like that?) at Cary Pkwy and Kildare Rd.


Trader Joe's is a privately held company with a business model that allows them to sell fantastic products --organic, international and gourmet items -- at low prices. They sell most of their products under their own label and they buy direct from the grower, dairy, producer, etc.

I bought French brie for $3.65 and mousse truffle pate for $5.69. These would cost $6.00 and $8.00 respectively at Whole Foods or A Southern Season. My favorite deal was on an 8oz log of goat cheese for 3.49! Even at Harris Teeter a 4oz log costs nearer to $5.oo. The nuts and coffee are also a steal and are great! A pound of fantastic coffee was $6.99 as opposed to the usually $9.99 I pay at either Foster's or A Southern Season. I bought the Moka Java which is a blend of Ethiopian and Javanese coffee beans. It is strong but wonderfully smooth. It is great with milk and not at all acidic. I bought some great tea too: pomegranite white tea that is great iced with a bit of sugar and some San Pellegrino poured over it.

I bought a couple of bottles of wine but I've not tasted them yet so I cannot vouch for those yet. One bottle is the Charles Shaw cab sauv for $2.99 (aka Two Buck Chuck)and the other is a St. Emilion for $7.99.

Trader Joe's also has an interesting frozen food section. I was riveted. I bought some HUGE sea scallops and a piece of salmon stuffed with crab. They look great but I've not yet fixed them. I cannot decide what to do w/ the scallops: either grill them wrapped in bacon or pan fry them w/ a sherry vinaigrette. Both sound pretty good!

The very good news is that Trader Joe's is opening a store in Chapel Hill where A Southern Season used to be. They have already purchased the building and they hope to have the store opened before Thanksgiving! I cannot wait!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lunch in RTP: Part 5

Time for an update on places I've tried recently in RTP:

1. Nikko's: located in the Harris Teeter strip mall off of Davis Drive. This is the second location of Nikko's, the first being in Brightleaf Square. I prefer this location to the one in Brightleaf because the decor is so much more attractive. Brightleaf Nikko's has that Greek villa kitsch thing going on that is really rather an eyesore. The RTP Nikkos is much more attractive w/ high ceilings covered with tiny, hanging halogen lights. The walls are warm colors without murals of Rhodes painted on them. The food is just as good as the Brightleaf location. For starters I had taramosalata (a fish roe dip) that was so rich I could only eat a couple of bites. For the main course I had spanikopita. It was garlicky and yummy. I'll go back to Nikko's.

2. Salsa Fresh: located further down Davis Drive from the Nikko's strip mall. Finally we have a great burrito joint in RTP. I wouldn't exactly call Salsa Fresh a Mexican restaurant. It's more of the California burrito ilk, but I love it! I had the roasted veggies burrito w/ guacamole. What is especially fun about Salsa Fresh is the line up of salsas (hence the name). There are 5 or 6 different varieties. I like to get a bit of eat, line them up, and taste them to figure out which one I like best. I do this every time even though I know which one I like best (the spicy, cooked one)!

3. Red Dragon: located next door to Nikko's. This is the best FAST Chinese food in the park. For one thing the decor is attractive unlike some of the Chinese buffets in the area. Additionally the food looks like...wait for it...FOOD and not some deep fried meat-ish bits swimming in overly sweet and overly thick sauce unlike some of the Chinese buffets in the area. For about $6 bucks you can get a main dish w/ a side of rice, fried or white but no wholewheat, and an egg roll. I had garlic and broccoli beef. It tasted fresh and exactly how garlic, broccoli and beef should taste! My friend had a chicken dish and she liked it enough to take home the leftovers.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Endive stuffed w/ goat cheese

OK, by now you've probably noticed that I love goat cheese: endive w/ goat cheese, pizza w/ goat cheese, butternut squash pasta w/ goat cheese, artichokes w/ goat cheese.

I wonder if I need to branch out a bit in terms of favorite recipes. This is probably no accident. I lived in the Poitou region of France which is reknowned for goat cheese. I first had it there and I learned to love it.

Anyway, here is a recipe from Cooking Light for an amazing appetizer for your next cocktail party.

I found it somewhat laborious but definitely worth the effort. Of course to me laborious constitutes peeling 2 oranges! The combination of flavors and textures make this app a winner. It always gets devoured even by people who don't like goat cheese. The crunchy / sweet honey walnuts are a gorgeous foil to the sharpness of the oranges and the tangy, creamy goat cheese. The endive itself has a crunchy bitterness that compliments it well. Whoever thought of this recipe was a genius and certainly very sensitive to the subtleties of the palate.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pasta w/ vodka sauce

Here is another one of my favorite recipes for pasta. It comes courtesy of Rachel Ray.

What I really like about this recipes is that the sauce is done in the amount of time it takes to cook the pasta! Of course the cream and the butter make the recipe. The alcohol in the vodka burns off leaving a rich sweet flavor to the sauce. Do not skimp on the vodka. And be sure to let it burn off entirely (you can smell and taste when it is ready because the sharpness of the alcohol will be gone).

Pasta w/ vodka sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan in a slow stream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn
Serve with:
  • Crusty bread and a green salad

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan (3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup). Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente. While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves. Serve pasta with crusty bread and a green salad.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Artichokes w/ goat cheese

One of my all time favorite recipes is from Bon Appetit April 1995. It is whole artichokes stuffed w/ goat cheese, garlic, thyme and cream then baked. Here is the recipe at

What makes this recipe absolutely delicious is the combination of melted butter and olive oil on each plate that the artichoke sits atop. As you pull apart the artichoke, the goat cheese, butter and oil ooze together into a wonderful tasty mess! This dish is a great starter course for an elegant dinner.

A word about the artichokes: before boiling them, trim the pointy, sharp ends off of the leaves w/ scissors. They will be much easier to handle later without the thorny ends. Let the artichoke cool before you start to pull the choke (the hairy part) out of the middle. Use a small spoon to scrape out the choke gently. When you boil them, throw in a bay leaf and a little salt w/ the lemon juice. Use artichokes in the spring when they are in season. Artichokes out of season are as bad as tomatoes out of season.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Bread of Life is whole wheat!

My friend is a priest at Duke. On Wednesday night I went to the Eucharist because the bishop was presiding.

During communion, the bishop said, "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven" and put awafer in my hand. I put it in my mouth and thought, "Nutty, nice...Oh my God the body of Christ is WHOLE WHEAT! Thanks be to God. At least we get our fiber."

Of course this friend of mine has whole wheat wafers. She is quite the gourmande. She would probably say, "Jesus said, 'I am the bread of life' and not 'I am the tasteless, waxy, wafer of life.'"

Who knew? For some reason it gives me hope that the body of XP is not some overprocessed, bleached, white flour with no semblance of organic matter.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

How to find a decent place to eat

One of the ignomies of business travel is suffering mediocre food. One of the pleasures of leisure travel is enjoying good food. Whether you travel for business or pleasure, you should eat well. I certainly do.

"But are there decent places to eat in towns like Topeka?" Of course there are. I can promise you that wherever you go there is good food to be eaten somewhere. The problem is finding it.

I have developed a fairly reliable method for hunting down the good places. It takes some work but it ain't hard: find three reliable sources for information on local restaurants (I will bite my tongue before I use words like "eateries") and then cross-reference them. The places that are mentioned by all of them or even by two of them and get good marks are going to be good places to eat. One source should be the local newspaper for that city. Check out what their food critic or writer is saying. Another source should be one where local people rate their restaurants like The reason why you don't want to go just on citysearch reviews is that you may be going to a town where 80% of the population thinks Macaroni Grill is great Italian food. Finally your third source should be a reliable outsider review from a guidebook. I like Frommers because all of their reviews are available online at

If you go to a small town that is not on the radar of guidebooks (you'd be surprised at what is in Frommers) or citysearch, then ask three locals where they recommend to eat. If there are any repeats, then go to that place.

If this does not render some success, I will eat my hat.

Good wings?

Hooters may have good wings, but I so far have refused to step foot in the place. I was accused of being narrow-minded! "Hooters" is not referring to owls. I do not want to see breasts at my meal unless they belong to ducks or chickens. And the only ass I want to see at dinner is rump roast.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

My favorite cookbooks

One of my favorite past times is reading cookbooks. I come by this naturally as my mother and grandmother are equally fond of reading cookbooks.

Reading cookbooks is fun for several reasons: 1. it is fairly plot to follow, 2. it inspires creativity...hmmm what am I going to cook tonight?, 3. it is more life-enhancing than reading Cosmo or the Chinese say "The key to a man's heart is through the stomach" (Of course this hasn't worked out so well for me but I can attest it is more due to the men I've dated than my cooking, thank you!).

Here are my favorites:

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
This is my cooking Bible. I prefer it to The Joy of Cooking and The New Basics Cookbook , which are also very good, because Bittman's style is easy to understand and therefore fool proof! You cannot screw up these recipes. And they are all delicious! If you buy only one cookbook, this should be it. Bittman is a food writer for the New York Times. I depend on this cookbook for several recipes that I cook repeatedly: cream of anything soups, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, mushroom risotto, lentils with bacon, and bloody marys. There is also a fantastic peanut salad dressing that I like to make. I use this cookbook so much that it looks disgusting. One time I accidentally caught it on fire.

The Best Recipes from Cook's Illustrated
This cookbook is a compilation of recipes from the magazine. These people are geniuses. Each recipe is thoroughly tested in order to arrive at the best master recipe for whatever the dish happens to be. The recipes tend to be a bit more complicated than Bittman's but they are worth it. I depend on this one for things like lemon bars, shortcake, mac &cheese or any other recipe that should be straightforward to make but isn't. For example, lemon bars, in theory, are easy. But in execution they often fail by being too tart or too eggy or not tart enough or soggy on the bottom. This cookbook has the definitive recipe for lemon bars. If you follow the directions, you will have perfection every time! You don't have to experiment, the test kitchen people already have.

How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
I bought this one about a year ago, and I don't like it JUST because of the title and the pretty pictures! This cookbook emphasizes baking and desserts although there are some nonbaked things like gin and tonic jello (hello!). So far my favorite recipes (besides the jello) are the butterscotch cake, the bosten cream pie, and the better than sex chocolate molten cakes that I told you about in January. Who needs Cosmo?

The Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs
Of my favorite cookbooks, this one has the most advanced recipes. None of them are overly complex but many of them take time and patience. I like to use this cookbook primarily for the sauces. When I have a piece of fish or chicken that I don't know what to do with, I'll put a sauce on it. I also use this for French basics like coq au vin, moules meunieres, and beef bourguignon. This cookbook is a classic. With it, Julia made French cooking accessible to American housewives (yes, housewives. It was published before men learned how to cook).

Honorable mentions:

The Professional Chef is a gigantic tome that is a cooking school text book. I will probably never make any of the recipes (when am I ever going to need to make an aspic?) but it is an interesting read because of it's precision and complexity.

The Joy of Cooking pre-1970s is completely different than the updated version. The older cookbooks have recipes for more old-fashioned things that housewives used to spend hours preparing from scratch. If I ever need a recipe for lobster thermidor or crab louis, I will turn to this one. They also cover all kinds of strange things. So if you need to know how to cook a bear or what to do with a finger bowl this is your book. Bear apparently needs to marinate in an oil-based marinade for 24 hours. Then cook like a pot roast.

Be sure I'm invited for that dinner!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

How to throw a party and not cook!

People seem to think that entertaining company is hard. I have a few words to say on that matter:

1. The important thing is that you welcome people into your life and into your heart. They don't really care what type of wine or food you serve. If they do and they judge you on such things, then find new people to hang out with.

2. People are looking for things to do and for nice people to hang out with. Having a fantastic social life with wonderful parties to attend every weekend only happens on Sex in the City.

3. If you open your home and your life to people, they will LIKE YOU! They may not always reciprocate the invitation, but who said we give in order to receive?

4. People do not notice how clean or dirty your house is. They are more interested in the books on your shelf and the pictures on your wall. They are probably nervous and self-conscious so your job is to make them feel wanted and welcomed in your home.

5. You don't actually have to cook to have a party! This is especially key if you want to have friends over on a Thursday night for cocktails. Here is what to do:

Go to WholeFoods or A Southern Season to buy three fabulous cheeses (a hard one, a soft one, and a blue one). If you like, try it by country. For example, I recently served threee Italian cheeses for a party: tallegio, gorgonzola, and pecorino. They are soft and stinky, blue, hard and sharp respectively. In additon to the cheeses, buy a pate and some soppraseta or other Italian salami. Put the cheeses on a plate with grapes and olives. Put salami and pate on a plate with cornichons pickles (these are baby pickles that taste really good w/ salami and pate). Also buy some smoked salmon. Put it on a plate and sprinkle w/ lemon juice, black pepper, and capers. Put out a basket of crackers (love the Carrs water crackers w/ cracked pepper) and thinly sliced baguette.

Buy a few bottles of Charles de Fere and some nice French red and you are done.

Put some flowers in a vase. Smile when people show up. Take their coats and hand bags to the guest room or hang up in your hall closet. Offer them their choice of beverage. Invite them to eat some food. Periodically ask people if they need more food or drink. And there you have it. A good party.

When people start to leave, help get their coats, walk them to the door, hugs and kisses for all, and wave when they get to their cars. Go back inside and see if your remaining guests need more food or drink.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Ethiopian food

Ethiopian food is an acquired taste...or at least requires a very adventerous eater and an open mind!

The first time I had Ethiopian food was years ago at the Blue Nile when I moved to Durham. I was mostly delighted by my perceived weirdness of it. My brother, recalling the famine of the '70s, seems to have an unlimted repetoire of jokes about Ethiopian food. They are not very funny, so don't even start down that path!

At present, the place to get Ethiopian food in the triangle is the Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill. The woman who runs the Queen of Sheba is a beautiful Ethiopian woman who used to run the Blue Nile with her husband. They divorced. She opened the Queen of Sheba. The Blue Nile went out of business. According to the grapevine, she is the cook and the brains behind the operation.

I have grown to LOVE Ethiopian food. It is served on a giant piece of very thin, soft flat bread called injera. Injera is made of teff flour. According to Wikipedia (my fav web site of all time!) teff is a grain from a type of grass from Africa. It is high in fiber, protein, iron, and calcium. Sometimes I actually CRAVE injera and I'm sure it is when I am feeling a shortage of iron in my diet.

Injera takes the place of the plate and the fork! To eat the food you tear off small pieces of injera and scoop up a small bite between the injera and your fingers. It is messy and I always need 25 napkins.

Do try the Queen of Sheba. It's a bit of of dive, but don't let that stop you. For a starter you should order buticha. It is a potato and garlic puree similar to hummus. You might also try the sambusas which are basically Indian samosas (veggies or meat wrapped in a pastry and deep fried). For the main course you should order the vegetarian or meat sampler which includes some side dish type of things and two main courses. One time I had a fish dish and it was wonderful but I forgot what it is called. Clearly I must go back!

If you are squeamish about sharing food on one big piece of bread or of not having utensils, then don't go.

But in my view there is something delightfully sexy about eating food with your fingers!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Frozen crab legs

Very hungry people discovered that crab and lobster are edible. It is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer that these creatures make a tasty meal. In fact, when you see these creatures on a reef, they look rather frightening. And I assure you that the last thing human reason would permit is for one to reach out and grasp one of these ferocious beasts with giant claws that could result in the loss of digits.

I bet these early folk learned very quickly that their best bet against starvation was to create traps.

Is it bad that whenever I have seen a crab on a dive that I think ,"MMM! That would taste good w/ some butter and lemon"?

Fortunately, I am saved from having to risk loss of digits by Harris Teeter. From time to time I have seen large bags of frozen crab legs in the HT fish section. I finally decided to give them a try. I hesitated at first because if they tasted horrible then I would be out $20 and substantial freezer space.

Happily, I can report that the frozen crab legs turned out great! I steamed two clusters for 5 minutes. Since I had the steamer going, I put some frozen broccoli in the top steamer rack. Fastest dinner on earth! Melt some butter, squeeze some lemon juice in it, and get cracking on the crab legs! MMMM!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A very good "Champagne" blanc de blancs

So I previously mentioned that if I make the cut and St. Peter allows me through the pearly gates that I am going to drink champagne and eat pate three times a day. Surely in heaven it won't be fattening or cause headaches. It is Sunday so I thought I would write about God's gift of champagne (if you are Baptist, I'm sorry).

I am a huge fan of champagne in very small quantities. I'm not sure why but more than one glass of champagne hurts my head. Champagne carries with it a certain mythology. If you are interest in that topic, then read the chapter Le vin et le lait (Wine and Milk) in Roland Barthes' text Mythologies which is a classic from the late 1950s. The mythological elegance, sophistication, and romance of champagne serves mostly to inflate its price. Talk about good marketing! I'm sure some people would object to this assessment, and I grant that making champagne is labor intensive. When I lived in France, I visited the caves of the champage house Mercier. The cave had thousands upon thousands of bottles resting in it. Each bottle is turned a very precise quarter of a turn every 3 months for two years BY HAND. Needless to say, when I drink Mercier, I think of those hands turning the bottle.

Anyway, this mythology of champagne results in people believing they should only drink it on special occasions. I had a party recently where I offered champagne as a beverage option and no one would drink it! I think everyone needs to revise their definitions of "special occasions" because in my view, I cannot think of a better occasion for champagne than a group of girlfriends getting together to talk and play a game of cards (poker, not bridge).

But, back to the main point, after you buy your pate at Harris Teeter, stop by Foster's on the Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd (15-501 Business) and pick up a bottle of Charles de Fere Blanc de Blancs Brut. Or buy it online (type it into google and you'll get many options). Blanc de Blancs champagnes are made solely w/ the chardonnay grape. Many view this as the most elegant champagne of all.

This bottle is not actually champagne since the owner ,Jean-Louis Denois, makes his wine 20 miles outside of the Champagne region. Technically only bottles made in the region merit the label Champagne. Isn't that just like the French?

Anyway Monsieur Denois is a competent winemaker and his Charles de Fere Blanc de Blancs Brut has a lovely golden color that I expect from a high end Champagne but not in a run of the mill sparkling wine or proscecco. It is dry and crisp with a fresh bouquet and absolutely perfect as aperitif with pate, salmon, or nuts before you dive into dinner or at a cocktail party. The BEST part of all is that this cost me $15 and it is available online for half that!

So the next time you have a party, buy this one!

If you are getting married or having a baby or graduting from you PhD or if you really, REALLY love someone, then buy a Salon de Mesnil Blanc de Blancs. That's at the very high end where there is actually a difference. It will set you back a couple of hundred dollars.

Paté Harris Teeter even

Paté is one of those things that I hated as a child and even into my early adulthood. Somewhere along the line, and in fact fairly recently, I have grown really crazy about paté. The best selection of paté in the area is of course at A Southern Season. They have several varieties to choose from. My favorite one is their paté de campagne which is a coarse paté instead of a mousse. It is made w/ duck and pork liver, if I recall.

Oddly enough, however, Harris Teeter sells very good mousse paté with either truffles or black peppercorns. Both are silky smooth and not overly liver-y. You can find the HT paté in the deli area in the big cheese case that has the imported (real) cheeses (not w/ the Kraft singles and shredded mozarella). The brand I bought is made in Canada and comes is a black plastic rectangular container w/ a clear lid. Give it a try.

When I die, I am going out in style in an evening gown and silk shoes. Then if I make it to Heaven, I'm going to eat paté and brie cheese and drink champagne three times a day!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Lunch in RTP: Part 4

Update: Apparently the Salsa Fresh down Davis Drive is open now. I'll head over next week to check it out. The one in Raleigh is great so I'm hoping this one is too!

The area around the intersection of highways 54 and 55 has many options for food. Not all of them are good. The intersection has the usual fast food optons (my favorite being Chick-fil-a for chicken strips and waffle fries. Like Bojangles, Chick-fil-a is a Southern institution). My favorite places to eat in this part of RTP are the following:

1. Sarah's Empanda's: Sarah's is in a strip mall down Hwy 55 maybe a mile from the 54/55 intersection towards Cary, not Durham. Get the corn and raisin empandas with a side of half rice and half beans. Corn and raisin sounds weird, but they are delicious!

2. Park Diner: This place is located across the parking lot from Sarah's Empanda's. They also do great salads and sandwiches made fresh.

3. Akashi Japanese Grill and Sushi Bar: Located at 2223 Hwy 54, this place is the best sushi option in RTP. My friends and I also like to get the bento box which includes a choice of delightful things.

4. El Dorado: The only Mexican place in RTP is located in the shopping center (I think there is a Food Lion in there) down on Hwy 55 at the junction with Hwy 54 on the southwest corner of the intersection (I think). The atmosphere is tacky Mexican kitsch but the food is the standard Mexican fare. I could eat a gallon of their salsa. It is very good.