Friday, August 31, 2007

Ice cream drowned in espresso and brandy

The simplicity of this recipe astonishes me! I learned it from Titina, an Italian woman who has a cooking school at her shop in Cary called Capri Flavors. I hope you will agree that this is wonderful. The hot espresso melts some of the ice cream so when you get to the bottom of the bowl you have a delicious mess of melted ice cream, espresso and brandy. Under this circumstance, it might be OK to lick the bowl.

High quality vanilla ice cream
Brandy or cognac
Espresso, freshly made

Put two scoops of ice cream in each bowl. Pass around a bottle of brandy or cognac for each person to add a tablespoon or so. Pass around a pitcher filled w/ hot espresso to pour on top of the ice cream and brandy. Eat, drink, and be very, very happy.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chocolate and butterscotch sauces

These sauces are wonderful on ice cream and are so simple. Never buy a squeeze bottle of Hersey's chocolate sauce again! You could do a rockin' banana split with these. Alternatively pour them on cake or brownies or just eat them w/ a spoon! The quality of the sauces depends on the quality of the ingredients.

For the chocolate, I tend to use Callebaut dark chocolate, good unsalted butter, and Tahitian vanilla extract. I like the chocolate sauce with coffee ice cream. Butterscotch is good on butter pecan. But nothing beats plain old vanilla. Get the Dreamery brand of vanilla if you can find it. It won the highest marks from a Cooks' Illustrated blind taste test.

Chocolate sauce:
4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 c. water
1t vanilla extract

1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan except vanilla. Cook, stirring, over low heat until melted.

2. Stir in vanilla. Serve immediately.

Butterscotch sauce:
3/4 c. heavy cream
6 T unsalted butter cut into pieces
3/4 c. brown sugar
pinch of salt

1. Combine cream and butter in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until the butter melts.

2. Stir in the sugar and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is think and shiny, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste it and add more sugar if needed. Serve immediately.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A shrimp salad tradition

I drove back from sailing at the coast this morning at 6am. I hate mornings but it is worth it when I get to spend a weekend sailing and a weekend hanging out w/ my friends who are very good cooks.

Saturday night we had a shrimp boil with a big salad, bruschetta for dinner, and ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert. On Sunday we use the left over shrimp for this lovely salad that with iceberg lettuce and blue cheese seems very retro fabulous to me. My friend's mother used to make this salad for luncheons with the ladies. I bet they wore gloves and hats.

Here's how to make it:

Toast some slices of white bread. Mash a layer of blue cheese onto one side of the toasted bread. Put chopped iceberg lettuce on top of the cheese. Pile on some chopped peeled, cooked shrimp (leftover from your shrimp boil the day before). Make a dressing of leftover cocktail sauce mixed with a little mayonnaise to your taste. Spoon some dressing over the shrimp. Pour some chilled white wine. Eat. Drink. Be happy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dinner at Vin Rouge

Tonight I had dinner at Vin Rouge in Durham on Hillsborough Road just by 9th St. I'd not been there in a very long while. I used to go there for brunch and I went to dinner a time or two but the service wasn't very good and the food was hit and miss.

I was pleasantly surprised by the service tonight. I began to wonder if I have come to expect so little from wait staff in Durham that my standards are just remarkably low. Who knows. Anyway, the staff at Vin Rouge were attentive tonight. Our water glasses were kept full, our napkins nicely folded, and our wine glasses full. The waiter gave an excellent recommendation for my salad.

We ordered a 2000 St. Julien Bordeaux to drink. My companion informed me that this is a good wine to hold. Well, we were not holding, we were drinking. It was good but it tasted somewhat thin. I think a few years on the shelf will round it out and give it body. I like big reds but they need to be smooth and full for me to love them.

We shared some escargots. They were in a delicious butter, garlic and basil sauce that I really enjoyed soaking my baguette in! For the main course I had the frisee salad with fried egg, potatoes, and crispy lardons (thick cut, unsmoked bacon pieces). Frisee, aka curly endive, is not to everyone's liking. One of my friends said it was like eating twigs. Well, I've never eaten twigs, but curly endive is better than that. It is very fibrous and probably full of good things being a leafy green and such. I broke the yoke of the fried egg and mixed it in with the salad. After gorging myself on bread, melted butter and escargots, this salad was all I needed. I enjoyed it and it was very French. The French seem to eat a lot of endive both the curly and the Belgian varieties.

My friend had trout amandine with green beans and mashed potatoes. The beans were crisp and the potatoes were creamy and mixed with sour cream. YUMMY! The trout was perfectly done.

The other thing I like at Vin Rouge is the croque madame with fries. It is grilled cheese sandwich par excellence. I was intrigued that they have macaroni and cheese on the menu too. I will try that at some point. So far my fav mac 'n' cheese in town is from Q Shack although it always needs a bit of salt and pepper for my liking.

No room for dessert. We were full.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Delicious rum cake

Nothing beats cake. Good cake is my favorite dessert, not ice cream, not pie, not cooked fruit (especially not cooked fruit unless it is in a pie or covered in chocolate, come on!), not tortes, not mousse, not cookies, not brownies. CAKE!

Imagine my delight to show up at work today to find that one of my employees has brought in a rum cake from Wrights Gourmet House in Tampa, Florida! She carried it through security and it was one of her two carry on items.

This was no ordinary rum cake. Often the only thing rum cake has going for it is the rum. Oh no, this cake was a rich buttery pound cake type of affair with a rum glaze and pecans. I have to say that it is one of my favorite cakes now. Wrights' cake is beyond compare. Do not make it yourself. Call them and order one to be delivered. While you are at it order some Cuban sandwiches too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pozole, Ole!

Pozole is a Mexican stew made with a spicy broth and hominy. I think hominy is weird, but it is required for this delightful dish. I hated it as a child but as an adult I have acquired a taste for it.

The key to great pozole is to serve it with several garnishes so people can flavor their soup to their own liking.

Pozole recipe:

Four small cans or 2 large cans of hominy, drained but reserving liquid
2 lbs boneless chicken breast or boneless pork shoulder cubed
1 t. cumin
1 or 2 T. pureed chipotle chilis (put two in the blender w/ a couple of teaspoons of water)
2 t. dried oregano
2 or 3 garlic cloves minced
handful of chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes to serve is small bowls:
sliced radishes
chopped onion
chopped avocado
chopped cilantro
warm corn tortillas

To make the pozole, put the liquid from the hominy into a large pot. Add cumin, chipotle, and oregano to broth. Taste it and adjust the spiciness by adding more chipotle. Add the chicken or pork. The liquid should cover the meat. Add some water if necessary. Simmer over low heat for an hour. Add the hominy and simmer for 50 minutes over low head. Taste and adjust the seasonings. You can add more oregano or more cumin or chipotle according to your taste. Then add the chopped garlic and the cilantro. Simmer gently for 10 more minutes. If the soup turns too thick at any point add water.

Serve the pozole in bowls with the garnishes.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Big Apple

I love New York. I can never decide if I like Paris or NYC better. I will go out on a limb and say the food is more interesting in New York. At least it is more diverse. Paris excels at, this is no shocker, French cuisine and French wine. New York excels at everything else.

I was there for a meeting and not for dining, alas. My favorite place to stay, that does not break the bank, is the Hudson Hotel. It is just off of Columbus Circle. The cabbie from the airport asked me why I liked to stay there. It struck me as an odd question. I like the design of the Hudson. Entering the building is like entering a space ship. At the top of the escalator, is a huge crystal chandelier with pictures of light bulbs attached to it and the walls are covered in ivy. It's kind of weird, but warm and inviting nonetheless. The Hudson Bar exemplifies cool design as well. It's like Louis Quatorze meets Philippe Starck. And you cannot beat it for people watching. Someone told me it was regularly featured on Sex in the City. I don't know about that because I never got past season 3 (gasp!). Anyway, the rooms at the Hudson are tiny but also very stylish. The wall between the bedroom and the bathroom is transparent glass. There is a sheer curtain divider between the two. Kind of sexy if you like to watch your sweetie shower. Of course I'm always at the Hudson by myself. Hmmm. Maybe I need to fix that. Now about the food...

Fortunately I had time to eat dinner w/ my friends at Sushi Yasuda. We each ordered the 12 piece special which allowed us to choose 12 pieces of sushi and a roll from the specials menu. I ate things I've never seen on other menus like pompano and trout. I could be wrong, but I do not recall seeing rainbow trout on sushi menus before. There were at least two kinds of sea bass. My all time favorite sushi is freshwater eel. I love that stuff, but it is hard to find outstanding examples of it. Not only did this place have wonderful unagi but they also had two kinds of sea eel, one dark and one white. I liked the dark one better. It was more substantial in flavor and similar to the freshwater eel but perhaps lighter in texture and flavor. The tuna was easily the best piece of tuna I've ever put in my mouth. It was as tender as butter and it melted on my tongue. The entire meal felt like a discovery.

Yasuda turned out to be my only dining experience. I planned to eat at Carnegie Deli for lunch but my meeting ran long and I had to catch a cab back to LaGuardia. Next time, I will definitely have that giant corned beef sandwich. Now there is something you don't really find down here in Dixie...a really fine Reuben sandwich! If you know of one, let me know.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Off to NYC!

Heading out this afternoon for a quick trip to the Big Apple. I'm going to a sushi place tonight. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thai Cafe

Last night I walked over to the Thai Cafe for dinner with a friend. I hadn't been there since the first week it was opened and the food was terrible. Since then many people have told me they love Thai Cafe. I decided to give it another try, and I was delightfully surprised to have a delicious meal.

My friend and I shared tofu panang curry (red curry) and beef pad soo wen (noodles with vegetables). Both dishes were good but the panang curry was really outstanding, especially for a tofu dish. I like tofu but it can be bland and have a weird texture. The tofu in the panang curry was light and airy on the inside and crisp and sweet on the outside. It reminded me of a donut. Yes, a donut. The curry had a nice kick but it wasn't knock your socks off spicy. I'm sure they could make it spicier if a person asked.

The pad soo wen, I think that was the name, was tasty too and the veggies were fresh and crisp, not overcooked.

I look forward to going back. Next time I will try some of the starters. They looked good.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I made this recipe last week when it was too hot to think much less cook. Serve it with some tortilla chips and a salad with avocado or guacamole. I used scallops but you can put it any fish or seafood.


1 pound bay scallops (the small ones)
3 limes, juiced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/2 large tomato, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 handful of chopped cilantro
2 teaspoon olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, gently toss scallops with the lime juice and lemon juice. Mix in onion, cucumber, tomato, jalapeno, cilantro, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cover bowl, and chill ceviche in refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight. The citrus juices will "cook" the scallops. You can do this with shrimp and fish too.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Blu Seafood and Bar for lunch

Today I had lunch with my girlfriends at the new Blu Seafood and Bar located on Hillsoborough St. just off of 9th St. where Grasshopper used to be.

We shared a plate of calamari for the starter. The calamari were not rubbery which is a major accomplishment around here. The batter wasn't very crisp. I think they need to cook the calamari in hotter oil so the batter cooks immediately and the squid itself only cooks a couple of minutes. It is so hard to get squid right. It turns to rubber quickly. In fact, squid is the one thing I'm actually afraid to cook. The lemon mayonnaise served on the side was nothing spectacular. It needed some fresh garlic to make it more exciting.

My sandwich was yummy! It was a shrimp salad in a hogie roll. The shrimp was chopped and mixed with diced red pepper, green onion, and celery and bound with a bit of mayonnaise. The shrimp was done perfect and the sandwich was very refreshing with a glass of dry gruner vetliner on a hot day like today.

I look forward to trying their dinner menu sometime. I really like fish and seafood but I eat it with trepidation. Seafood Watch puts out a guide for those of you who are interested in eating seafood responsibly.

After lunch, we went to LocoPops. I had Mexican (no surprise) chocolate popcicle and my friends had pomegranite tangerine and plum black current ones. All were mucho delicioso!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pan Bagnat: Tuna sandwich with style

It's too hot to cook. It's almost too hot to eat....ok well maybe not. My cupboard was bare after my trip to Mexico so I had to go to the supermarket tonight in 103 degree weather. I could not countenance the idea of HOT FOOD, so I looked around for recipes that do not require cooking.

The recipe for pan bagnat (bathed bread) from this week's NYT fit the bill. The article accompanying the recipe is delightful, but it will be archived along with the recipe after a week.

Most of the ingredients for this delicious tuna sandwich I usually keep in my house so if my cupboards weren't bare it would be easy to make any time. It is basically a salade nicoise minus the lettuce on a loaf of bread. The only cooking required is to boil and egg. I'd even say the egg is optional if you cannot be bothered to boil some water on these hot summer days.

Et voila la piece de resistance of tuna sandwiches.

Pan Bagnat from Melissa Clark of the New York Time, 8/8/07

2 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
1 very small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 8-inch round crusty country loaf or small ciabatta, halved
1/2 regular cucumber
1 medium-size, ripe tomato, sliced
1/2 small red onion, sliced
1 can(5 to 6 ounces) tuna packed in olive oil, drained
8 large basil leaves
2 tablespoons sliced pitted olives, preferably a mix of black and green
1 hard-cooked egg, peeled and thinly sliced.

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the optional anchovies, the garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly.

2. If using a country loaf, pull out some soft interior crumb to form a cavity. If using a ciabatta, you won’t need to eliminate anything.

3. If using a Kirby cucumber, slice thinly. If using a regular cucumber, peel, halve lengthwise, and scoop out seeds from one half. Thinly slice seedless half. Add sliced cucumber to vinaigrette and toss well.

4. Spread half the cucumbers on bottom of bread. Top with tomato and onion slices, then with tuna, basil, olives and egg slices. Top egg with remaining cucumbers and vinaigrette. Cover with second bread half and firmly press sandwich together.

5. Wrap sandwich tightly in foil, waxed paper or plastic wrap, then place in a plastic bag. Put sandwich under a weight such as a cast-iron frying pan topped with a filled kettle, or have a child about 7 years old sit on it. Weight sandwich for 7 to 10 minutes, then flip and weight it for another 7 to 10 minutes (or as long as you can get the child to sit still). Unwrap, slice and serve immediately, or keep it wrapped for up to 8 hours before serving.

Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

Hot tamale!

My last day in Playa del Carmen I was sorry to leave. The people, sea, sand and food of the Yucatan are great. Plus I was sorry to leave my handsome, charming, somewhat dangerous and moody-with-an-air-of -James-Bond date. He lives in my hometown and not in Durham. I met him in Paris at dinner.

The lunch we had before leaving for the airport in Cancun was perhaps the culinary pinnacle of my trip! James Bond and I (who am too tall to be a Bond girl though I could kickbox or sword fight my way out of trouble if I had to) share among other thing a love for...wait for it...TAMALES! Not knowing this about me, James Bond sheepishly admitted one day that he loved the tamales at this little tienda nestled between tacky shops on the main street in Playa.

I begged to go there. He must've thought I was feigning interest because he kept apologizing that it was just a little shop selling just a few homemade tamales out of a giant pot sitting at its entrance. I continued to insist on having tamales.

On our last day we picked up some chicken tamales and some salsa from the Mini-Super Aguilar on Avenida Cinco in Playa. They smelled of cooked corn and greens. They were wrapped in banana leaf instead of corn husk, hence the aroma of greens. Apparently this is the Oaxacan way but I have not checked my sources on that. The tamales seemed to have a touch of chipotle in them because they had a spicy, smoky flavor. The chicken was white breast meat. The cornmeal encasing was moist. The homemade salsa was simply cooked, pureed tomatoes and onion with some jalapeno.

I wonder how many of those tamales I could eat. Probably so many that I would fall over with a stomach ache!

Now I am inspired. Someday soon I will make tamales in my own kitchen. I learned how a few years ago from my friend's Mexican housekeeper. It requires a very big pot that I will have to hunt down at a Mexican tienda in Durham. It also requires an entire day and several helpers.

I really have Mexican cuisine on the brain now! Unfortunately I am travelling a lot or I would camp out in my kitchen for the next three weekends. Besides attempting tamales on my own for the first time, I'd like to try gazpacho, ceviche, and pozole soon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Party in Playa

At night Playa del Carmen is a hopping scene. I loved watching all of the people. There is no shortage of beautiful people down here. There are also a lot of sunburned people. The scene doesn't really get going until very late (at which point I'm nearly falling asleep and longing for bed).

I ate at two very good restaurants. The Glass Bar is run by an Italian and an award-winning chef. The cuisine employs local ingredients like fresh fish and seafood. It is a fusion of Mexican and Italian and the menu changes frequently. I had gazpacho for my starter. It was garnished with shrimp and caviar which were good but possibly overkill. The clean, fresh flavor of good gazpacho does not need any other accoutrement. My main course was snapper with fresh vegetables, rice and a mild sauce with some pureed peppers. We also ordered a side of mushroom risotto that was garnished with a pear sprinkled with Parmesan and broiled until the cheese melted and the pear was warm. The salty Parmesan contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the cooked pear.

The Glass Bar's sister restaurant is right across the street. It is called Di Vino. It's menu looked good and if the Glass Bar is anything to go by, I bet the food there is tasty.

Next door and upstairs from Di Vino is a very cool bar called Deseo. The hotel has the same name. Both are super chic and trendy. The bar has a giant screen that shows clips of old Mexican film without sound. The music is techno. There are giant beds and pillows for lounging. I love lounging.

We also had dinner at a French restaurant called Byblos. I wasn't terribly hungry so I didn't get a starter. My main course was a crayfish vol au vent with fish balls and creamy tomato sauce. The fish balls were delicate and reminded me of a fish pate. I love anything in a vol au vent.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Lunch on the beach

Playa del Carmen is the second biggest resort on the Carribbean coast of the Yucatan after Cancun. It is significantly smaller and more charming than Cancun. A lot of development has happened in the past 10 years and it will continue. You'd better get down here before they pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Playa has an interesting mix of chic and tacky. Neither is authentically Mexican, so if you are looking for that, you might want to go somewhere else. Playa is a beach and party town. It reminds me somewhat of South Beach before it was taken over by glamazons and development tycoons. On the end of town closest to the ferry, there are tacky shops selling Mayan kitsch and tacky restaurants like Senior Frogs that are frequented by gringo frat boys. Who are these people who buy that stuff and go those places?

Fortunately, further along the beach north of the ferry dock things improve. Bars and restaurants line the narrow beach. I enjoyed the palapa on the beach at the Blue Parrot Hotel for breakfast and lunch one day. My breakfast was scrambled eggs with green salsa, tortilla, black beans, sausage, and avocado. It was tasty but rather spicy for my taste buds at 9am. For lunch I had a mountain of guacamole and salsa with chips. By this point my handsome friend and I had staked out our chairs and umbrella on the beach so we had our lunch right there in the sand.

Another day I ate lunch on terrace of the Alhambra Hotel. It was my favorite meal. I started off with a mojito and guacamole. My goal was to eat avocado every day! I love them. So good for one's complexion! The guacamole needed more salt and a squeeze of lime. I preferred the Blue Parrot's. My main course was a delicious fish and seafood ajillo which is dish cooked on a clay bowl with a sauce of butter, garlic and ajillo chilis. These chilis are flavorful but mild. The fish was something white and fleshy, probably grouper. The seafood included lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, crab and scallops. It was perfectly prepared. The seafood was tender. The fish fell off the fork. When I eat such wonderful things, I know that life if good.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Viva la Mexico!

I'm having so much fun in Mexico that I decided to extend my trip an extra day. It's a good thing my boss is in China!

I have been staying mostly in Playa del Carmen but we took a road trip through the jungle and some indigenous villages via the worst road I've ever seen to a place called Isla Holbox. The island is on the northern coast of the Yucatan north of Cancun and east of Merida. It is a serious adventure getting out there. The island is where the Carribean and the Gulf of Mexico meet. The water is turquoise and the sand is powder fine. Lizards and a variety of birds live at Holbox. A few people do too.

Holbox is one of the last outposts of under developed coastal Mexico, I think. It may also be at the end of the earth. Fortunately the end of the earth has very good food. How can you go wrong with fresh grouper, shrimp, snapper and lobster with a side of frijoles negros and rice? In the little town of Chiquila where we caught the boat over to Holbox, we found a little place to eat overlooking the dingy port. It was a family operation where the mother and daughters cooked up whatever local fish and seasfood was available. En route to Holbox we ate fresh lobster tails. On the trip back, we had delicous ceviche with homemade corn tortilla chips (no Tostitos). We had breaded and fried fish filets (grouper I think) topped with fresh onions and tomatoes with sides of rice, cabbage and black beans. It was simple, fresh and delicious.

The whole point of trekking to the end of the earth was not however food, although I probably would trek to the end of the world for great food. Rather we went over there to snorkel with the whale sharks. They migrate through the nutrient rich waters of Holbox every year. They feed at the surface. This behavior affords a wonderful opportunity to experience these wonderful creatures up close.

I highly recommend the trip to Holbox to see the whale sharks or just to relax for anyone who is low maintenance, tolerant of heat and mosquitos, and not in a hurry. Things happen slowly. There is a reason why the Mayan language does not have a word for "problem."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Off to Mexico!

Back next week!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Low country shrimp and grits

Recipes used to be called "receipts" in the South, but I do not know why. Anyway, after yesterday's posting on the eggs and foccacia, I've got brunch on my brain. I love brunch at about 11am on a lazy Saturday morning.

Here is a traditional low country receipt for shrimp and grits. My friend who gave it to me is quite the connoisseur of shrimp and grits. She's tried them all over the Carolina's and this is her favorite recipe. I've made it twice for brunch and both times it got rave reviews. The shrimp is cooked in a gravy-like sauce and poured over the grits which are enriched with cream. The grits are soft and not baked like in some recipes. Grits baked with eggs and cheese are "Yankee grits" apparently. I have some good recipes for Yankee grits that I'll share sometime, but this recipe is Southern to the core!

Low country shrimp and grits:

Shrimp – 1 Pound
Lemon Juice – 2 Tablespoons
Cayenne Pepper – 1/8 Teaspoon ground
Salt – ¼ Teaspoon
Onion - ¼ Cup Finely Chopped
Green Pepper -1/3 Cup Finely Chopped
Butter – 3 Tablespoons
Flour – 2 Tablespoons
Chicken Broth – ¾ Cup

To prepare the shrimp sauce:

Peel and De-vein Shrimp. Combine shrimp with Lemon Juice, Cayenne Pepper, and Salt In small bowl and set aside. Cook Onion and Green Pepper in Skillet over Medium High Heat about 10 Minutes – stirring. Sprinkle flour over vegetables. Cook stirring constantly 2 minutes or until flour starts turning brown. Add shrimp and Chicken Broth. Cook about 2 minutes stirring – or until shrimp turns pink and gravy is smooth. Serve over Grits.

To make the grits:

We use about ½ cup “Yellow Stone Ground” Grits cooked in 2 cups water & 2 Tablespoons butter. I use time on package. When thick, add ½ cup half and half and cook until thick. Can add another ½ cup half and half and cook again until thick. Regular milk works OK.

The shrimp cooks fast, so the Grits have to be put on early. Better when you don’t use too much grits per serving