Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lunch in RTP: Part 3

Part 3

For many many years Davis Drive from IBM all the way to High House Road in Cary was pretty much a wasteland for food. Happily (or unhappily if you are opposed to urban sprawl) many new places are opening up on Davis is Morrisville/Cary north of Preston (I think it's north but I'm not 100% sure as there are so many trees I can never see where the sun is).

Anyway, here is the run down:

1. Saffron in the strip mall by Harris Teeter: It's a new Indian restaurant with a good lunch buffet and, allegedly, a great dinner menu although I cannot attest to this fact yet. I'm usually so glad to get out of RTP in the evenings that dining there does not occur to me. Anyway, what I like about Saffron is the decor. It is really a beautiful space: modern and sleek but warm and inviting, plus there are no velvet shivas hanging on the wall.

2. Harris Teeter: They have some good things on their salad bar like the Greek salad and the ceasar salad. They also have a good deli counter where they make sandwiches to order. In addition, there is a Starbucks. And you can pick up cat food while your at it! My routine: cat food, salad, Starbucks.

3. Inchin's Bamboo Garden: this is a fairly new Chinese / Pan-Asian restuarant in the Morrisville Market strip mall further down Davis Dr. It also has nice, contemporary decor devoid of Asian kitsch. The food is better than Chinese take out for sure and they have lunch specials that include soup, main course, and a drink.

4. Rumor: apparently a Salsa Fresh is opening in the same strip mall as Inchin's Bamboo Garden! That will be a major food development as RTP is surprisingly short on burrito places. I'll confirm that there was a sighting of a Salsa Fresh sign very soon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lunch in RTP: Part 1 and Part 2

By special request, I'm going to give a run down on the decent places to eat in Research Triangle Park since so many of us work out there. Thankfully, there are more options than fast food. In recent years, the food in the Park has actually become somewhat interesting, especially if your definition of the Park includes Davis Drive this side of Preston (and mine does).

I'll divide the places to eat into four areas: Alexander Drive and Miami, Miami Blvd by I-40, Davis Drive past Cisco but before Preston, and the hwy 55/hwy 54 intersection.

Part 1:
At Alexander and Miami there is a strip mall that has a surprising number of lunchtime gems which all happen to be locally owned:
1. Cheerz deli for sub sandwiches
2. Piper's in the Park for salads and a wonderful grilled pimento cheese sandwich
3. Danny's BBQ for well, you know, BBQ
4. Jumpin' Java Cafe for delicious, freshly made paninis and salads

Part 2:
At Miami and I-40 all the way Morrisville there are good options and all are locally owned except Bojangles:
1. Rudino's for pizza buffet (yummy dessert pizza too that is smothered in butter, cinnamon and frosting)
2. Bojangles for cajun chicken biscuit and sweet tea (if you are not a Southern pls do not be afraid of Bojangles. It is worth the trip)
3. Serena's for sandwiches and great salads. NOTE: Serena's is the ONLY PLACE in RTP to go get an after work glass of wine and some apps. They have tapas. Love it!
4. Lena's (behind Wendy's) for panini's, sandwiches , soup in bread bowls and delicious daily specials.
5. Pita Express for Greek food is down from Lena's in the same strip mall behind Wendy's. The owner is a lovely Greek man. They have good daily specials, delicious Greek salad, and baklava.
6. Neomonde which is on Miami down past the 540 exit ramp maybe a mile or so for Lebanese food. I love their chick pea salad, lentils and onions, and walnut chicken salad. They make the best falafel pitas I've found in the area.

Have a good lunch! More later.

Sunday evening's dinner

This is so easy and so delicious! The creamy tartness of the goat cheese is a nice foil to the sweetness of the squash. And of course bacon makes everything better!

Linguine w/ squash, goat cheese and bacon

6 slices bacon
One 2 to 2 1/2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1 t kosher salt
4 oz soft goat cheese crumbled
1lb linguine cooked
1 T olive oil
2 t fresh black pepper
Cook bacon until crisp. Drain then crumble. Drain all but 2T of bacon fat from skillet. Add squash and garlic and saute over medium for 3 to 5 min. Stir in broth and salt. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, untiil squash is cooked. Add half goat cheese and stir. Place linguine in large bowl. Toss w/ the squash sauce. Drizzle w/ olive oil and add the bacon. Sprinkle w/ remaining goat cheese.


My priest said that 80% of the people who give up something for Lent give up chocolate. I guess that is not so surprising because it does seem to be a guilty pleasure for many people. Coffee is another one the people give up. I, Epicurian that I am, did not give up chocolate or coffee (I'd commit crimes against humanity if I gave up coffee). Anyway, it's good to give up small, daily pleasures during Lent.

Having said that, I'm going to torture those of you who gave up chocolate by writing about it. Please don't consider it torture, but consider it looking forward to Easter!

My dear sweet parents sent me a box of gorgeous chocolates for no particular reason other than my mom thought they would make me smile. Right she was! Last week a box of 21 chocolates from a new chocolatier in Kansas City (of all places) named Christopher Elbow arrived. These are not Russell Stovers (also from Kansas City). Rather they are individually, hand-made chocolates of fresh ingredients. The fillings are not your run of the mill strawberry, vanilla creme or caramel but rather strawberry and balsamic, caramel with pear and cinnamon, and Tahitian vanilla bean. My mom's favorite one is rosemary caramel. I am saving it for last. Some of the flavors are more interesting than delicious like the Russian tea chocolate which was chocolate flavored with bergamot tea. Strange but still delightful even though I wouldn't eat a whole box of bergamot flavored chocolates. The best part of Elbow's chocolates (besides the word "chocolate") is that they are so pretty. Each one looks like it was hand-painted with bright colors and even gold dust. Christopher Elbow's web site shows the various flavors and their pictures and you can order them online.

My other very favorite choclates are from England and are called Charbonnel et Walker. Charbonnel et Walker is the grande dame of English chocolatiers. Before Cadbury there were Mme. Charbonnel and Mrs. Walker. When I was a student in England, I would take the train from Cambridge (where I lived) down to London several times a week for my evening classes. Very often I would go down early to wander the streets and museums. One of my favorite rambles is around Bond Street where Charbonnel is located. I was broke, being a student and all, so I could only buy one or two chocolates at a time. The Charbonnel chocolates employ more cream and butter than Mr. Elbow's. They also tend towards more traditional fillings. Mrs. Walker would probably turn in her grave at the very idea of a chocolate bonbon filled w/ hot chili pepper. Imagine my delight, thank goodness for the information superhighway, to find that Charbonnel et Walker has a web site and they take international orders. What cracks me up about Charbonnel is that they sell 2KG boxes of chocolate. That's like 4lbs of chocolate. I love chocolate but how what would one do with 4lbs of very expensive chocolates? The great news is that Charbonnel has a brand, new store in NYC called Cafe Charbonnel. It's located in Saks Fifth Avenue at 611 Fifth Ave. Besides the boxed chocolates they sell homemade chocolate desserts and hot cocoa.

My very favorite chocolate wonder is the truffle. And I don't mean some gargantuan thing w/ a hard chocolate shell. I mean those ugly, little pure chocolate and butter balls covered in messy cocoa without nuts or alcohol. I've eaten truffles all over and I've even made them myself. Talk about a big mess in the kitchen! I had melted chocolate and butter up to my shoulders and all over my face and hair. I guess it's no bad thing to be covered head to toe in chocolate. BUT make it easier on yourself and just run down to A Southern Season in Chapel Hill and buy their own brand of truffles. Words cannot describe how tasty they are. They are melt-in-your-mouth fabulous. A Southern Season also sells them online. If you try them, just get the traditional ones and not the ones with caramel or chocolate nibs (what is a nib?).

Belgian chocolates underwhelm me, even when I've been to Belgium. They all taste the same: that is full of hazelnut ganache. Not a bad thing but I'll take my hazelnut/chocolate combo in Nutella, thanks.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Alivia's and how to make hash (not hashish)

Alivia's opened in Durham about a month ago. It is located in the old bike shop across for Brightleaf Square at the corner of Main St. and Gregson. If you haven't been around long enough to remember the bike shop, Alivia's is the bright green building on the corner. You can't miss it.

The place has a great atmosphere. The exposed brick, cork flooring, wooden booths and tables give it warm feeling that I like. It's a bit loud in the evening when it's full. The building has two garage doors on the front that open in the warmer weather onto their patio which fronts Main St. I'm looking forward to sitting out there in the summer.

The chef is from Lantern is Chapel Hill and the pastry chef is from Nana's. Clearly the place has pedigree, and in fact everything I've eaten there has tasted very good (except for some lobster bisque). It's a bit on the pricey side for dinner compared to Piedmont or Rue Cler. However, the presentation is beautiful and the fish and seafood dishes have been better than what I had at Piedmont. Remember, get the pork at Piedmont.

Alivia's does brunch on the weekends starting at 10am and breakfast in the mornings during the week starting at 6:30am. They make GREAT coffee and their fancy, Italian coffee machine is worth a trip in just to see! Their coffee is strong and dark and rich. It is probably not to everyone's taste, but I adore it. It's so hard to find a decent cup of coffee!

I had poached eggs over steak hash for brunch. It tasted good but it wasn't hash. More on that in a sec. My friends had eggs benedict and french toast. Both were delicious. The best part of the meal, besides the coffee, was the side order of grits. Best grits in Durham.

Apparently there have been a lot of complaints about the service at Alivia's. I've had no trouble in the evenings. Now I have mentioned before that Rue Cler is too fast and that Piedmont is snail's pace. Alivia's seems better than both at night.

Brunch today was another story. I'm not sure what was going on, but they are new so I'm going to cut them some slack. They seemed to have a hard time getting the food out to the tables. Ours arrived warmish. I don't like my food so piping hot that I cannot taste it, but I also do not like it heading towards cool. I wondered if the french toast took longer so the eggs had been sitting out waiting, but the french toast wasn't very hot either. So something slow is going on btwn kitchen and table for brunch. I think there was too much for the waiters to do. The sugar and creamer aren't not on the table but are brought out with the coffee (assuming the waiter remembers). The salt and pepper are not on the table either so one has to ask for them, meanwhile the food is getting colder. I'm fine with the fact that chefs dislike seasonings on the table in fine establishments because it is an affront to their own perfectly seasoned cuisine. But we are talking about eggs here: BREAKFAST. No two people are going to salt and pepper their eggs in the same way, so make it easier on the wait staff and the customer by putting the salt and pepper, sugar and pitchers of cream on the table. And hurry up with that coffee.

Now, back to the hash. Hash is what poor people used to eat to use up left overs after a dinner w/ meat and potatoes. Now, my roots are from poor folk and my mamma and grandmother make great hash. Great hash involves oil, butter or even (gasp) bacon grease (because people used to SAVE bacon grease in jars under the kitchen sink when I was a kid). The next essential ingredient is onion because it takes a LOT of onion, salt and black pepper to resurrect last night's ingredients. Then the potatoes need to be added. If they are raw they go in w/ the onions. If they are left over, then they go in after the onions are turning yellow. The onions and potatoes get fried until they are on their way to being done. Then add the cooked meat. Everything gets fried together until it turns brown (brown as in caramelize, not burnt...fine line). Finally, and this the secret ingredient, add a dash of Worchestershire sauce.

Yankees put poached eggs on top.

It's good either way. Make it at home. Don't go to a frou frou diner for hash. Order their french toast or eggs benedict.

Enough of this diatribe. I do like Alivia's and I'm glad to have so many options in Durham for good places to eat. When I moved here in 1997 there were basically 4 options: Pop's, Nana's, Magnolia Grill and Anotherthyme. I'm happy we have others now. Hopefully Alivia's will figure out the service.

Wholewheat wonders

I made a New Year's resolution to eat more healthily. So I decided to start including whole grains into my baking and cooking because they are full of fiber and are complex carbs.

My friends at Bob's Red Mill in Oregon grind just about every kind of grain imaginable. I mentioned before how much I like their oats which I found at Target. I thought I'd begin my whole grain experiments starting w/ the wholewheat flour from Bob's Red Mill. It is organically grown and certified.

I wanted to start with something simple before tackling wholewheat bread, so I pulled out the cookbooks and started perusing them (one of my fav past-times is reading my cookbooks, btw). I settled on the wholewheat pizza dough from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

Wholewheat flour often needs to be combined w/ white flour in order for the dough to be pliable. I also discovered that the wholewheat flour should be added slowly because it may not all be needed before the correct dough forms.

Here is the recipe w/ some slight modifications to make it easier to understand and to ensure success w/ the yeast. (I hope I don't go to copywright jail)

1c. warm water (105 to 110 degrees F)
1 package of active dry yeast
1 1/2c. unbleached all purpose flour
1c. wholewheat flour
2T olive oil
1/2t. salt

Put water in a mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Gently combine. Let stand for a minute or two. Add all purpose flour and mix w/ a wooden spoon. Add oil and salt and then add the wholewheat flour gradually until the dough holds its shape.

Put dough on a floured surface and kneed for five minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Sprinkle with flour as needed if the dough becomes sticky while kneeding.

Put dough in an oiled bowl, cover w/ a cloth or plastic wrap and let rise until it double s in size (about 1 hour). Then take the dough and divide into two parts. Roll into balls and let sit covered for another 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be rolled out into pizza crust.

For baking pizza, I like to put the oven on 500 degrees and bake for 15 minutes or until done. This worked perfectly for this crust and the goat cheese/rainbow chard pizza I made a few days ago.

The wholewheat crust has a nice nutty taste and it is GOOD FOR YOU!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Swiss chard pizza

OK, first I have to apologize for not writing sooner. I have been getting complaints about not blogging for a week. Sorry about that, my friends. I love you and I love food, but I do have a full time job and I do work on a master's degree at the same time. Being on vacation was so lovely. Unfortunately life does not stop. So it's been a lot to get caught up with work and my class work this past week. In addition, I do this blog for FUN. If you cannot deal, read someone else's blog. If you can deal, here's my latest adventure in the kitchen:

PIZZA is my fav food, along w/ burritos. See, my tastes are not complicated even though I do appreciate "frou frou food" as one my friends likes to put it. I also adore greens. One of the best things about winter in the South is the greens that are in season. One of the most beautiful and delicious is rainbow swiss chard. I stumbled across it in Harris Teeter. It is very seasonal and usually they only carry the regular green variety. Rainbow chard has green leaves but the stalks are beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red. I LOVE IT. It tastes the same as regular swiss chard but it looks gorgeous on the plate.

Anyway, what does one do w/ chard? I like it chopped up and sauteed w/ garlic and red pepper flakes, but I recently discovered a great recipe on for pizza with chard and goat cheese. Here's the basic idea:

Preheat oven to 500F.
1. Make or buy pizza dough.
2. Mix 2T of olive oil w/ 1/4 t. red pepper flakes and 1 clove of crushed garlic. Let sit for a couple of hours.
3. Chop up the chard and place for 5 mins. into boiling water. Drain and saute in olive oil w/ garlic for a couple of mins. Season w/ salt and black pepper.
5. Drizzle half of oil seasoned w/ pepper flakes and garlic on the pizza dough.
6. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top of oil. Use however much you like. I probably put on 6oz.
6. Spread chard on top of cheese.
7. Slice a 4oz. log of goat cheese into rounds and place on top of chard.
8. Drizzle w/ rest of oil.

BAKE for 15 min. or until crust is done.


Next time I will write about the joys of whole wheat flour which, by the way, makes great pizza dough!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Food in Belize

Well I am back from a week of diving at Ambergris Caye in Belize. The diving was great fun, and I got to see a lot of sharks and sting rays.

As most guide books indicate, Ambergris is not know for its food. Fortunately fresh lobster, snapper and shrimp do not require complicated preparations to be perfectly delicious. I had grilled lobster tail twice. I think I will try grilling lobster at home on my grill when the weather warms up. I also had lobster ceviche a couple of times. Everyday I had some seafood or fish.

Much to my chagrin, Belizeans have a fondness for instant coffee (gasp!). Their penchant for Nescafe must be a remnant of British colonialism. Fortunately an upscale resort called Victoria House has wonderful breakfasts and real coffee! I went there a couple of time for breakfast.

My other favorite place to eat was a Jamaican restaurant that had excellent jerk chicken.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Off to Belize

I'll be back in a week with posts about the wonderful dining experiences awaiting me in Belize!

Italian food in Durham

Tonight I took a friend out for her birthday and we went to one of our favorite places for Italian food. Cinelli's is located near the WholeFoods at Main St. and Broad St.

Cinelli's opened maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Decent Italian food, the Italian-American variety that someone's mamma in the Bronx or in Philly used to make, is pretty hard to come by in the South. Oh sure there are chains like Macaroni Grill and Maggiano's but they are not the real deal for home cooked Italian-American food.

Guy Cinelli and his brothers have opened up the real deal in a few restaurants around the Triangle. I've only been to the one in Durham. The place recently got some new decor but it's kind of tacky, pseudo Roman villa and I don't like it. The service is also (there is not a nice way to put it) abysmal! It always has been. I don't understand it. Nevertheless, it is worth putting up w/ bad decor and bad service for a few reasons:

1. Pasta with fileto sauce: tomatos, garlic, onion, pancetta
2. Pasta with vodka sauce: fileto sauce plus vodka and cream
3. Pasta cinelli: pasta w/ white beans, escarole, garlic
4. Tortelli a cabonara: cheese tortelli w/ cream and pancetta sauce
5. Grandma's pizza: tomato, mozarella, basil

These dishes demonstrate that you don't have to do anything fancy for it to be good Italian food. Good ingredients well executed is all it takes. Guy Cinelli gets this part right. Never mind about the decor.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Where to find good andouille

So I spent some time in Cajun country last year (one week in July and one week in Oct helping w/ Katrina recovery). I fell in love with the Gulf Coast. It's in terrible shape and the recovery will be slow so everyone should go help out!

Anyway, the food down there was fantastic. I'd never had crawfish etouffee until I went down there. I also saw shrimp the size of small lobsters! Apparently because so few fishermen are back the shrimp is getting huge. I don't know if this is true or not but it sounded like a good story that a fishmonger told me.

Another key ingrediet for Cajun cooking, and even just to buy and cook on the grill, is andouille. I decided to make gumbo for a fundraiser last summer. I needed great, authentic andouille so I turned to the Cajun Grocer at

I bought some traditional andouille from Savoie. I also bought file and Cajun blackening seasoning. File powder is made from sassafrass leaves and is used to thicken soups. It has a distinct flavor that reminds me of bay leaf. I also bought some alligator which I sprinkled w/ blackening seasoning and grilled w/ veggies on skewers.

The alligator was interesting to say the least. It tasted very mild, milder than even chicken breast. The texture was a bit chewier. Handling it raw kind of freaked me out because it was kind of like chicken and kind of like fish but very hard to cut into pieces.

The andouille was slap-your-momma GOOD! It made the gumbo! The flavor is richer, spicier, more flavorful than what passes for andouille outside of Cajun country.

Additionally, the Cajun Grocer people packed the fresh goods in styrofoam freezer boxes and delivered them the next day. Wonderful! One day soon I am going to buy some crawfish in order to make etouffee. I need to work up my courage because I'm a little worried about live crawfish being delivered!

How to cook broccoli rabe

Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is a delicious slightly bitter green that has nothing to do w/ broccoli. Rapini seems to be making its appearance in grocery stores now. I bought some at Harris Teeter last night. Go buy some.

Here's how to fix it:
Wash and chop it up. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a skillet over medium. Add some chopped garlic (however much you like) and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Add the rapini and saute over medium heat until it is tender. Season w/ salt and pepper.

This is a good side dish or you can mix it w/ cooked pasta topped with grated parmesan cheese. You could also pour 4 cups of chicken stock over the cooked greens, add a can of canellini beans or great northern beans, cook until beans are warmed through. Top w/ parmesan cheese and croutons made from toasted day-old bread (pain paysan from Guglhupf comes to mind).