Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How to make a decent cup of coffee

I love coffee, and I reserve the right to be picky about coffee. Generally, I think people should eat and drink joyfully and gratefully and NOT BE PICKY unless there is a health reason for it. I ascribe to this principle myself...except when it comes to coffee. In large part because I need a decent cup of very strong but milky coffee to get me going in the morning. Morning coffee should be so strong that it needs milk in order to be drinkable.

I like my coffee, my chocolate and my men dark, strong and rich! (OK, just kidding about the men. If a girl likes money, she should make it herself. Though I am partial to the brown-eyed ones).

Who are these people who drink Mountain Dew in the morning? (I know, some of you are my friends and I love you anyway) I begrudginly accept hot, milky tea as an acceptable substitute morning drink. But soda? No way. Coffee in bed is one of life's greatest luxuries. Somehow diet coke in bed just doesn't have the same cache. Having someone bring it to you in bed is one of the main reasons to learn to drink coffee!

My grandfather made a wickedly strong and very drinkable cup of coffee out of Folgers. The coffee doesn't have to be fancy...and it certainly should not be flavored...but it absolutely must be so dark that you cannot see through to the other side of the glass pot when you look through it. I love my family, but aside from my deceased grandfather, they make terrible coffee. What's worse is that they try to slip me half-caffienated!

The key to good coffee is that it should not look like brown water or tea. If it does, don't drink it. If you made it, start over. It should be so black that you cannot see through it. How do you make a perfect cup of coffee? Well, that depends but as a general rule, I use one generous scoop (it measures probably 2 teaspoons) of coffee beans per one cup on the side of the pot plus one extra scoop for good measure.

I am also on the look out for the best coffee beans I can find. So far my favorite is the Costa Rica blend from A Southern Season. Their Cooking School Blend is good too. The holiday blend didn't have legs to stand on. Not nearly strong enough. Each month they have a different one on sale for like $6.99/pound. It's a good deal for coffee beans. I try to pick up whatever the special of the month is as long as it smells fairly strong.

So on Saturday, sleep late and drink your coffee in bed w/ a good magazine or the newspaper. You deserve it!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Brunch at Piedmont

Remember what I said earlier about the chef/owner of Piedmont being a genius at any preparations involving pork? Well the Sunday brunch certainly attests to that. I had a dish called Piedmont eggs which is their take on eggs benedict/florentine: two poached eggs over prosciutto and spinach on a slice of focaccio with a hollandaise sauce. The proscuitto was out-of-this-world delcious and a wonderful variation on the eggs benedict theme. This was not the slimy stuff vacuum packaged in plastic that masquerades as proscuitto in most supermarkets.

The eggs were on the medium side of runny. So if you like your eggs very runny, then specify that. I'm fine w/ medium cooked eggs.

My friend had the French toast. It was also very good and Piedmont is getting a reputation for it. Basically, it is battered and fried pound cake. YUMMY!

Bloody marys were good too and garnished w/ a pickled okra. That's a nice, Southern touch and so much more interesting than a piece of celery!

As usual, the service at Piedmont was slow and not very attentive. I hope they will work on improving that. Fortunately we were not in a hurry, and I have a general view that people should linger over meals instead of the usual eat and run. However, do not make me sit at my table without water, coffee, or cocktail for any longer than 2 minutes. If I ask for butter for my biscuit, bring the butter before my biscuit gets cold. It ain't hard.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chocolate molten cakes: better than...

you know what. Seriously.

I had a dinner party last night. Much more to come on that in future posts. In a rather backwards fashion, I'm going to start w/ dessert. I made a recipe from page 179 of Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess called molten chocolate babycakes.

These are individual molten cakes (aka pudding cakes, lava cakes, etc) cooked in custard cups. They are quite possibly the easiest, most elegant and most delicious dessert EVER. They got rave reviews from "this is the best dessert I've ever eaten" to "this is sex in a bowl." Thanks, Nigella Lawson! I only followed the directions.

So here it is (am I breaking copywright laws?):

Scant 1/4 c. soft unsalted butter
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I used Sharfenbergers 70%)
1/2 c. sugar
4 large eggs
pinch of salt
1 t. vanilla
1/3 c. flour

6 individual 6oz custard cups or ramekins buttered

Preheat oven to 400. Cut circles out of baking parchment to fit the bottoms of cups and place in cups. Put cups on a cookie sheet.

Melt chocolate in microwave or over a bain-marie. Cream together butter and sugar, beat in eggs one at a time and add the pinch of salt then the vanilla. Add the flour and when combined, add the slightly cooled chocolate. Mix until smooth. Divide batter between custard cups. Cook for 12 -14 minutes (I had to cook mine for 14 min). The exterior should look set and cake-like. The inside will still be gooey. Turn out onto plates and serve w/ creme fraiche.

You could serve w/ ice cream or whipped cream, but the slight tartness of the creme fraiche provides a sophisticated contrast to the sweetness of the cake.

This dessert will make you happy to be alive!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Mares eat oats

When I was a little girl, my mom used to sing to me "Mares eat oats and does eat oats but little lambs eat ivy. A kid will eat ivy too, wouldn't you, wouldn't you."

My reply, "Gross! I want to eat oats!" I loved oatmeal and still do. Unfortunately there is a very fine line between good oatmeal and a stodgy gruel that reminds one of an orphanage in a Dickens novel. Sadly, instant oatmeal does not count as food. It may be convenient but it is loaded with sugar and so over-processed that the oats have lost their nutritional value which is high fiber content.

Once I figured this out, I was on a mission to find delicious, old-fashioned, thick cut oats in order to make the perfect bowl of oatmeal. Early in my hunt, I turned up Bob's Red Mill thick cut oats. I bought them at Target and I've seen them at Harris Teeter too. The oats are huge! I think they would make wonderful cookies! When cooked, these oats retain a firm texture. The chewiness is very satisfying to me and these are so full of fiber that I'm not hungry until lunch time.

Bob's Red Mill is a local business run out of Oregon. They use traditional methods of milling grain and they use locally grown grains. I love giving people like this my business! Bob has a web site http://www.bobsredmill.com where all of his products are available to purchase. Besides oats, he mills all kinds of grains into flours (both the usual and the unusual). He also makes gluten-free products.

I like Bob.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Clove: a little goes a long way

Tonight I went to Piedmont for dinner w/ my friend Kevin. First I would like to say how delighted I am that Piedmont has opened! Between Piedmont and Rue Cler, downtown Durham is really becoming the happening place.

My general observation has been that the owner/chef at Piedmont is exceptionally skilled at all preparations involving pork. Every time I go and don't order something with pork, I somewhat regret it. I totally coveted Kevin's risotto with pork shank in a red wine sauce. Not feeling very hungry, I ordered a stew of tomotoes and chick peas with chard and polenta cakes. This was almost a perfect dish for a cold night except for the fact that it was spiced with clove. I'm all in favor of experimenting w/ flavors and trying the unexpected. For people who like cloves, this might have been a welcomed surprise. Try as I might, I fail to like cloves especially an immoderate use of clove. Kevin's pork also had some clove in it. It must be a theme going on at Piedmont this week. For me, dishes are fine w/ barely a hint of clove. Of course my idea of a hint of clove is to whisper "clove" over a casserole and call it a day.

For dessert, Kevin shared his apple tart with creme fraiche. It was delicious and definitely worth ordering. I am often underwhelmed by the things people do w/ apples. Piedmont got the apple tart right. The creme fraiche accompanied it perfectly.

You can always expect to find something interesting on the menu at Piedmont.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Blue Cheese Puffs

My friend Sally is a genius in the kitchen. Sally cooks without using recipes. When I cook without recipes, everything tastes like garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes. Anyway, Sally gave me a great unwritten recipe for these yummy blue cheese biscuit things that are great as an appetizer w/ a glass of red wine!

Stick of butter
Container of crumbled blue cheese
Large can of flakey Pillsbury Grand biscuits

Preheat the oven to whatever the biscuit can says.

Take 3/4 stick of butter and melt in a glass pie plate in the microwave. Sprinkle a container of crumbled blue cheese over the melted butter. Cut the biscuits into quarters (they will be triangle-shaped) and place them pointy end up on top of the butter. Bake for the time recommended on the biscuit can or until the biscuits are golden.

Serve by scooping biscuits and melted butter/cheese onto plates. If you are eating w/ a really good friend, just pull the biscuits straight out of the hot pie plate and eat!

This is so easy but so good! And wonderfully bad for you!

Not Wonder Bread

There are five major food groups in my mind: bread, cheese, coffee, chocolate, and wine. I could live on these and be happy for a very long time.

Before I moved to NC 10 years ago, I lived in England and before that in France. It goes without saying that France has GREAT bread. England also has good bread. In fact, even the chain supermarkets like Sainsbury's bake wonderful bread in their bakery section.

Needless to say, I am not a big fan of pre-sliced bread in plastic bags made in factories in Ohio (or where ever). Now that bread does serve a purpose when it comes to pimento cheese sandwiches but that's another story and another blog entry.

Imagine my delight to move to Durham and to discover Guglhupf on the Durham - Chapel Hill Boulevard. I can even walk there from my house. All of the bread there is good, but their plain and chocolate croissants are incomparable to anything else in the Triangle. If there is a better croissant out there, I have yet to find it. My latest discovery at Guglhupf is their museli bread. It is 100% whole grain (no white flour for you South Beach diet people) with oats, golden raisins, and hazelnuts. The bread is moist with a touch of sweetness thanks to the raisins and the hazelnuts add a nice texture. Fresh, this bread is wonderful sliced up with butter. A day or two old, it makes great toast. I bet it would also make a mean bread pudding but if I'm going to consume that many calories, it's going to be via chocolate!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An outstanding butcher

Red and White on University Drive at the intersection w/ Chapel Hill Street is a great butcher. I'd seen the place a million times and it looked a little sketchy from the outside so I never went in. I heard from a couple of people that this is the place in town to buy meat. Someone also told me that a well-know Durham restauranteur highly recommends the place.

Red and White is a no-frills kind of place. Daily specials are written on butcher paper and taped to the front door and windows. There are large fridge and freezer cases lining the walls. The butcher's counter is along the back wall. They seem to have an assortment of seasonsal veggies too.

I ordered up two small sirloin steaks and a pound of jumbo lump crab meat. The crab meat came in a large can. I am skeptical of any kind of meat or fish that comes in a can. However, this was delicious! The butcher advised me that it is OK to freeze it. On defrosting, put the crab meat in cheesecloth over a sieve and squeeze out excess water. I fixed some of the crab with a salad of mixed greens, alfalfa sprouts, tomato and avocado. The rest I've frozen.

The steak was delicious. It was beautifully marbled, firm, and not artificially colored. It smelled so good that I could have eaten it tartare. I appreciated that the butcher cut two small ones for me. Last night I sprinkled one with Cajun seasoning and seared it on both sides in hot olive oil. The exterior was browned and spicy while the inside was a tender, medium rare. I might try the other steak au poivre later in the week.

Definitely go to Red and White. Do not be intimidated, just go.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Welcome to the Durham Foodie blog!

Greetings! Durham is easily the best place in the Triangle for food. For all those people who live in Cary or Raleigh, Durham is worth the trek for its exciting culinary possibilities. I may occasionally venture a word or two about Chapel Hill or Raleigh, but I have to say that Durham is where it is happening right now.

My intent is not to be a restaurant critic, although that may happen. Rather I will write about specific culinary experiences in restaurants, my kitchen, my friends' kitchens, and in supermarkets, butchers, bakeries, etc. My aim is to give guidance and tips to anyone who cares to listen.

For example, the best cupcake recipe on earth is in the April 2005 Cooks' Illustrated magazine. Go to the library or borrow from a friend. I have made the cupcakes twice and tried two of the frosting recipes included in the issue. If you make them for kids, use the vanilla buttercream frosting. If you are making for adults, try the mocha frosting. It is wonderful. Actually both are equally terrific. Maybe next time I'll just make the frosting and eat it straight out of the bowl w/ a spoon!