Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gnocchi with watercress and bacon

I had a handful of watercress left over from the watercress soup, and I found a recipe for a sauce of watercress, garlic, red pepper flakes,tomato, olive oil, white wine and pancetta (optional for vegetarian) to serve with potato gnocchi. It turned out so good that I forgot to put the bacon (I had some on hand and substituted it for the pancetta) in it until I'd eaten half of it! I also didn't add any Parmesan, but forgoing the Parmesan meant that it required a little more salt. I used tomatoes from my friend's garden that I froze back in August.


The recipe calls for store bought gnocchi. I'm sure that works well if you are in a hurry, but I figured I should do something productive on a Sunday afternoon besides napping. I made the gnocchi with some potatoes in my cupboard that were beginning to sprout so they had to be used. I found a totally easy recipe in Cooks' Illustrated.

Ingredients

2 pounds russet potatoes (or other baking potato), washed
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour , plus more as needed
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking liquid

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes until a metal skewer slides easily through them, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size.
  2. Hold potato with a pot holder or kitchen towel and peel it with a vegetable peeler or paring knife (see illustration 1); rice peeled potato into a large bowl. Peel and rice remaining potatoes. Cool until potatoes are no longer hot, about 15 minutes.

  3. Sprinkle 1 1/4 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt over warm potatoes. Using your hands, work mixture into a soft, smooth dough. If dough is sticky (which is often the case), add more flour as needed, up to 1 1/2 cups total.

  4. Roll about one-quarter of dough into a long 3/4-inch-thick rope. If rope won’t hold together, return it to bowl with remaining dough and work in more flour as needed. Repeat until all dough is rolled.

  5. Cut rope of dough into 3/4-inch lengths (illustration 4). Holding butter paddle or fork in one hand, press each piece of cut dough against ridged surface with index finger to make an indentation in center. Roll dough down and off ridges and allow it to drop to work surface (illustrations 5, 6, and 7). (Gnocchi can be placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and

    refrigerated for several hours. Or, baking sheet can be placed in freezer for about 1 hour. Partially frozen gnocchi can be transferred to plastic bag or container, sealed, and frozen for up to 1 month.)

  6. Bring 4 quarts of water to low boil in large pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt or to taste. Add about one-third of the gnocchi and cook until they float, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (about 3 minutes for frozen gnocchi). Retrieve gnocchi with slotted spoon and transfer to warm, shallow serving bowl or platter. Repeat cooking process with remaining gnocchi; see related recipes for topping suggestions.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Watercress soup

I picked up a bunch of watercress somewhere with the plan to make watercress soup. When I lived in France I ate a lot of watercress soup. It's made with potatos to it is a thick soup with a nice peppery kick from the cress. I didn't know what watercress actually is so I looked it up on Wikipedia and found an interesting article. It is related to mustard and is a member of the cabbage family.

Recipe:
4 peeled and sliced potatoes
3 to 4 leeks peeled of the outer leaves and sliced (white part and tender green part)
1 T (yes, a tablespoon) salt
3 T butter
2 quarts of water (or stock or a mixture of stock and water)
A large handful of watercress

Put the water in a large pot. Add potatoes and leeks and salt. Simmer for 45 minutes. Add the cress. Simmer for 5 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor being careful not to burn yourself like I did. If you are using a blender, put a kitchen towel over the lid and hold it firmly. Pour soup back into pan. Add butter and stir until it melts. Season with black pepper and more salt if necessary.

Makes enough for a small army.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sweet potato with goat cheese and truffle

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. I'm very underwhelmed by turkey. Next year I will try a turducken largely because I'd rather eat duck or chicken over turkey any day including Thanksgiving Day.

Side dishes are the best part of Thanksgiving. Someone gave me some sweet potatoes from a farm in Johnston County, but I ended up not using them until the weekend. I wanted to do something besides the usual sweet potato with marshmellow (yuck) or praline (yum) topping. One thing I remembered about visiting Australia years ago was that the Aussies seem to combine sweet potato and goat cheese fairly often. Since these are two of my favorite ingredients, I searched for a recipe and found this one from Epicurious.com which also features truffle oil. How could it possibly not taste good? It turned out very well indeed.

The tartness of the goat cheese complimented the sweetness of the potatoes and also made them very creamy. Truffle oil is truly a wonder. I put it on just about everything I can think of including frozen pizza and mashed white potatoes as well as pasta. It's outrageously expensive but it lasts a while since only a few drops are necessary for a nice truffly flavor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rum cake

One of the nice things about being Episcopalian is that, unlike the Baptists, we generally have rum in the cupboard...right next to the gin and the bourbon behind the sherry.

The other nice thing about being Episcopalian is that we have coffee and cake or cookies after church. I suppose if you have to sit through all of that prayer book stuff that we should feed you something other than a papery wafer and a sip of diluted wine.

Much to my delight the coffee hour on Sunday featured a delicious rum cake. The recipe is very easy although it employs...gasp...a cake mix and...more gasping...a box of pudding. Generally I prefer not to buy such things for political reasons because I don't approve of the industrial food economy, but I am certainly willing to make exceptions once in a while! This cake merits it.

Rum cake:

Preheat over to 35o degrees.

Mix together the following ingredients until combined:

1 box yellow cake mix
1 box vanilla pudding (small box)
4 eggs
1/2 c. oil (a flavorless one)
3/4 c. rum
1/4 c. water

Put 1/2c. pecans in the bottom of an oiled bundt pan. Pour batter.

Bake 45 minutes t0 an hour until cake is done. Remove cake from oven, but leave in pan.

Melt 1/4 c. rum, 1 c. sugar, and 1 stick of butter until boiling. Pour mixture over cake. Let stand for no more than 30 minutes. Turn cake out onto cake plate.

Cranberries: a sauce and a relish

Unable to choose between a cooked cranberry sauce and a raw cranberry relish, I think I will make both.

Here is the recipe to my favorite cranberry sauce made with caramelized onions. It's good with cheese if you have leftovers.

I want to try something new so I plan to make this recipe from Susan Stanberg on NPR. I like raw cranberry and I love horseradish. I can't quite imagine how it will turn out, so we'll see. I'm not entirely sure my guests will like it because horseradish is one of those things people either love or vehemently loathe.

I am fixing a roasted turkey that I'll cover in a cheese cloth soaked in garlic, orange juice, orange rind, bay and maybe some brandy. I'll remove the cheese cloth for the last hour so the skin will get crispy.

I'm hungry just thinking of it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baked garlic appetizer

My friend, who is a fine cook, brought this delicious concoction of sun dried tomatoes, garlic and goat cheese to a party. The recipe will now be a regular feature at my cocktail parties and dinners. In fact, I may make some for Thanksgiving in order to keep the guests happy and in the living room while I'm finishing the gravy and getting the food ready for the table.

Baked garlic appetizer:

4 heads garlic (not cloves, but whole heads)
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups sundried tomatoes, or a little less (I use the no-oil, no-salt kind)
1-3 tbs. herbs
6 ozs. goat cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Cut top 1/4 inch off garlic heads, peel off loose outer skin. Place heads of garlic in casserole or baking dish just large enough to hold them. Nestle the sun dried tomatoes in around the garlic and pour chicken broth over and sprinkle with herbs. Bake for roughly an hour and fifteen minutes, basting every fifteen minutes or so. Slice goat cheese, place over top of garlic and tomatoes, bake until cheese is melted. Serve with slices of baguette or rice crackers for the gluten free crowd or a spoon if no one is looking!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Baked pears with nuts and maple syrup

For my dinner party on Saturday, I needed a dessert recipe with no dairy and no flour. The amazing sex on a plate dessert that I usually make was totally out of the question since it is loaded with cream, chocolate and flour. Then I remembered an easy baked pear recipe from the Epicurious Web site that I made years ago. In place of the butter I used margarine, which apparently has buttermilk in it....oops, and in place of flour I used almond meal. I also substituted the hazelnuts for toasted almonds. It turned out great! The original recipe is also wonderfully tasty. I suspect it would be equally delicious with apples too.

I served the pears hot out of the oven over soy ice cream which I have to confess is rather tasty.

Stuffed, baked pears:

1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur), amaretto or brandy

3 8-ounce Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled, halved
6 tablespoons apple juice
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 375°F. Place nuts in plastic bag; crush coarsely with rolling pin. Transfer to bowl. Mix in sugar, butter, flour and liqueur.

Using melon baller, core each pear half, creating cavity. Arrange pears, cut side up, in 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Mound nut mixture in cavities, dividing equally and pressing to compact. Pour apple juice into dish around pears. Drizzle pears with maple syrup.

Bake pears until tender when pierced with small sharp knife, basting occasionally with juices, about 45 minutes. Transfer pears to plates. Drizzle with juices.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Moroccan chicken with olives

Years ago friends invited me for dinner and made a wonderful chicken and olive dish from Mediterranean Cooking by Paula Wolfert. So when I invited some friends for dinner this recipe seemed like the perfect option since all of us love olives and one of us doesn't eat dairy. I served it with potatoes and a delicious carrot salad called houriya.

Asking me to cook without butter for a dinner party is a tall order indeed, but fortunately one misses neither butter nor cheese in this dish because of the richness of the olives. I am including the recipe as it was written, but I will make adjustments next time. For example, 2lbs of green olives is a bit excessive. Even after finishing the leftovers I have tons of olives left in the dish. One pound is probably needed at a minimum though. Imagine the funny looks I got at the supermarket as I was clearing the olive bar of picholines!

Chicken smothered in cracked green olives

Serves 6 to 8

4 lbs chicken legs and thighs

2 large onions

3T olive oil

1 T chopped garlic

1t. ground ginger

1t. black pepper

½ t. ground cumin

½ t. paprika

pinch of saffron

¼ t. chopped green coriander (cilantro)

3 c. water

2 lbs. Green cracked olives (greek or Moroccan cracked or French picholine)

1/3 c. fresh lemon juice or more to taste

salt

whole wheat pita


Trim fat off of chicken. Cut up 1 ½ onions and chopped finely. Press through strainer to drain excess liquid. Measure ¾ c. and discard the rest. Thinly slice remaining half of onion.


In a 5 qt casserole blend oil, garlic, ginger, pepper, cumin, paprika, and saffron into a paste. Stir in chopped onions and cilantro. Stir while adding 3 cups of water. Add chicken and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 20 min.


Drop olives into boiling water, simmer 1 min, then drain.


Preheat oven to 450.


Remove chicken from casserole and place on a baking sheet. Bake on upper shelf of oven for 15 min. or until meat is fully cooked and skin is lightly crisp.


Add reserved onion slices and olives to casserole. Simmer 15 min. Add lemon juice to taste. Season w/ salt if needed.


Remove chicken to a serving platter and cover w/ olives and sauce and serve w/ warm triangles of pita bread.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ethiopian restaurant: Queen of Sheba

Saturday night my friend and I went to the newly re-opened Queen of Sheba in the Timberlyne strip mall on Weaver Dairy Road in Chapel Hill. It closed at its original location about 18 months ago and I was broken-hearted.

I am happy to say that the new location is an improvement over the old location which always seemed a bit rickety and gloomy to me. The new place has a warm, cheerful interior with tables packed in snuggly.

The food was as good as ever. Friesh, the owner, cooks great food. If you haven't tried Ethiopian, I recommend it although it might be an acquired taste. The dishes are heavy on curry and spices. They are served on a large piece of soft, flat bread called injera. Injera is made from teff, the grain of a tall grass. It's high in iron, fiber, and other good stuff.

To eat the dinner, you pull off a piece of injera, scoop up some food, and eat. No forks and knives required. Eating with the fingers is kind of sexy. I like it.

I ordered my usual: a garlicky chick pea starter called buticha and the vegetarian combo which is a sampling of several dishes. The meat and fish combos are good too. If you go, ask if you can have the collards side dish and the potatos side dish with your combo dinner. These two and the tomato salad are my favorite sides.

Be sure you order Ethiopian coffee after your meal. And yes, you want it with butter. It's pitch black, spicy coffee with a touch of butter melted in it. I know that sounds weird, but when was the last time you ate something with butter that wasn't tasty?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Stone crab

A recent visit to Florida happened to coincide with the start to stone crab season which runs from October 15 to May 15. I first had stone crab claws several years ago in NYC while sitting at the bar at Balthazar. Then earlier this year I ate them in Tampa when I was there for my second cousin's wedding. When I discovered my October trip coincided with the new season, I was determined to have some.

I love stone crab because the only part we eat is the claw. These crabs have huge claws relative to their body size. Generally the bodies are not eaten or even killed during the harvesting of the claws. The claws are twisted off and the crabs are thrown back in the water where they grow new ones. How is that for sustainability?

Plus I grew up on steak and potatoes in the Midwest so dealing w/ crustaceans generally terrifies me: Which part am I supposed to eat and how do I get it out?? New Englanders have this figured out but I generally resort to garden tools.

Stone crabs therefore are perfect food for me: delicious, no one dies, and I don't have to pick pieces out of strange crustacean crevasses.

The most famous place in South Florida to get stone crabs is Joe's Stone Crab Shack in Miami Beach. Since I was staying in Ft. Lauderdale I decided to go to Billy's Stone Crab Restaurant in Hollywood, Florida. The meal was delightful. The stone crab claws were generous in size and full of succulent, sweet crab meat. I had a side dish of garlic creamed spinach which I could eat three times a day. I made a mental note to find a recipe for garlic creamed spinach. I washed it down with a lovely glass of sauvignon blanc. The service was pretty good for that part of Florida and my table was outside overlooking the intra-coastal waterway. Several huge yachts with happy partiers cruised by.

It would have been a great evening if it hadn't been for my date who turned out to be a cad. Fortunately I'm not the kind of woman who lets a lousy man ruin a perfectly fine meal.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall ice cream flavors at Francesca's

I've been hosting my four year old niece this weekend. Her taste buds are fairly limited to things like french fries, pancakes, chicken fingers, and mashed potatoes. I took her to Elmo's for pancakes. Elmo's met with her discerning taste. Her mother and I were happy that Elmo's serves nice, strong coffee while customers wait for tables. I usually eat the salmon cake and eggs. Perhaps it shows my roots, but I'd rather have a salmon cake than some fancy salmon tartare or sushi.

We also went to A Southern Season because her mom hadn't been. I'm pleased to say that the Weathervane Restaurant has a good children's menu. My niece loved the sweet potato fries.

The best part of the weekend was a trip to Francesca's for ice cream. They have several seasonal flavors that we loved. Even the child liked the pumpkin, cheesecake, and rum raisin flavors, although she opted for some old regulars: a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of vanilla with a cookie crumbled in it. I tried both. Both were great. What's not to love about ice cream!

I heartily recommend the pumpkin ice cream. It's so much more interesting and possibly tastier than pumpkin pie. It is definitely worth a trip to Francesca's before they stop making it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Queen of Sheba re-opening!

It's been a long 18 months in the Triangle without Ethiopian food! The Queen of Sheba closed in 2007 after a developer bought the old location and tore it down to build condos one block from Franklin St.

Happily the owner has found a new location on Weaver Dairy Rd. The grand opening of Sheba will be in November 1. I cannot wait. This is the best news I've heard in a long time!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fresh pasta in Pittsboro

If you happen to be in the vicinity of Pittsboro, NC, around dinner time, I highly suggest a stop for take out pizza and pasta, especially the pasta, at the Neighborhood School Pizzeria on Thompson Street.

A friend of mine had raved about this place for ages. I don't live anywhere near Pittsboro but when I was driving through at 6pm on a Friday afternoon, I figured I would give the place a try. I couldn't make up my mind on what to order so I asked the owner / chef what she recommended. She suggested her most popular pasta dish -- chicken bianco.

It is a take out place, but I found a place inside to sit and watch the activity in the kitchen while I waited. While I sat there, the young girl cooking pulled a chicken escalope out of the fridge, dipped in egg and fried it in a stick of butter while I watched. She poured in a very healthy dose of brandy and added cream. While that buttery loveliness simmered, she took two lumps of fresh, pasta dough and passed them through the pasta machine turning them into thin yellow ribbons. She put them in a pot of boiling water and in no time the pasta was ready and so was the chicken. She put the pasta in a to go box and poured the chicken and sauce over it.

I could not drive myself home fast enough! After a torturous 30 minute drive, I raced into my house, put my dinner on a plate, and poured a glass of white wine.

Ahhhh heaven! The delicate, creamy flavors of butter, cream, brandy and egg melted in my mouth. It was heart-stoppingly good...and fattening. I ate half for dinner and saved the other half for my lunch.

I can't wait to go back! The owner also makes big trays of lasagna to order. One day when I need to feed a crowd I will order a couple. The pizza looked very tasty too. Maybe I'll drive out there this weekend!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Homemade donuts

After reading this article about doughnuts in the NYT, I decided to give one of the recipes a whirl. Doughnuts are my favorite food. My order of preference for fatty, breakfast breadish foods: doughnuts, biscuits, bagel with cream cheese. Muffins? Forget it. If I'm going to have that much sugar and fat to start my day, it had better be a doughnut or even a piece of cake with frosting.

Anyway, after perusing my fridge and cupboards and consulting with my brother who is a fine baker, I decided to make the yeast doughnuts instead of the cake doughnuts. The recipe from the paper calls for a topping of sugar and Earl Gray tea. Isn't that awfully frou frou for a doughnut? I decided that I couldn't possibly go to all the trouble without making a chocolate glaze. Clearly I would have to try half of the doughnuts with chocolate and half with the frou frou tea topping. Then I realized I needed to try a plain glaze too.

The only problem with the yeast doughnuts is the fact that they have to raise a couple of times. For neither love nor money is there a chance that I could rise early enough to make these for breakfast. So it was doughnuts for dessert or in fact for my dinner, as it turned out.

I used the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook to make the dough. It was fairly straightforward. The dough is very sticky.

It was messy to handle. I coated my hands in flour, but I was afraid of using too much for fear of making the dough too dense. No one wants hockey pucks for doughnuts.

I rolled them out to 1/2 in thickness, cut them with a biscuit cutter into 2" circles. I decided the dough was to messy to think about holes. Besides, doughnuts without holes have more surface area for glazes and toppings.

While I was waiting for the doughnuts to raise again, I made two glazes and the Earl Gray topping suggested in the article. In order to get a really fine powder to mix with the sugar, I put the tea in a spice grinder (formerly a coffee bean grinder). It worked beautifully.

I also made a chocolate glaze that was basically a ganache by heating 1/2 c. cream and 1T butter to almost a boil then adding 4 oz of chopped, dark chocolate.

For the second glaze, I wanted something that was more like a traditional glaze but perhaps a tad more interesting. I mixed 1c. powdered sugar with cream, orange juice and vanilla. I added cream by the tablespoonful until the mixture was like a thick paste. Then I added the juice by the tablespoonful until the mixture was like a thin glue. I threw in a capful of vanilla for good measure. The end resulted tasted like an orange creamsicle! MMM.

Once the doughtnuts had risen. I heated the canola oil in a large, iron wok that I generally use for things other than stir fry. I dropped the doughnuts into the hot oil and watched them puff up into airy deliciousness. They cooked for about 45 to 60 seconds on each side. I had to turn the burner down for the last two batches because the oil was so hot.

I drained the doughnuts on paper towels and let them cool slightly. Then I dipped some of them into the glazes and some into the sugar and tea mixture.

The recipe made 30 doughnuts which is seriously a lot of doughnut for one person. I don't know how many I've eaten, but it's at least six because I had to try each topping twice. Then when I was finished I had to eat the leftover chocolate glaze because it would have been a shame to let a Caillebaut ganache go to waste!

I took a huge pile of doughnuts next door. My neighbors think I'm the fairy god-neighbor, and they are always glad to see me with a plate. I think the doughnuts turned out nicely. I'm not sure the effort is worth doing regularly but it is fun to do as a special treat. I also don't know what to do with half a wok's worth of used canola oil.

I imagine that this recipe would be a winner with kids. Plus kids would love dipping cooled doughnuts into the glazes, but keep them far away from the hot oil.

I liked all of toppings. The Earl Gray and sugar topping was surprisingly delicious. The bergamot, that flavour that makes Earl Gray what it is, gave the doughnut a high-brow, sophisticated boost. While it's hard to beat chocolate, I think my favorite topping was the vanilla orange glaze. Somehow it seemed to go best with the doughnuts. It was like an old-school glaze with a kick. The chocolate was almost too much. I thought it overpowered the airy, fried dough. My neighbor loved the chocolate, so it really is a matter of taste.

It will be a while before I can look at another doughnut. Now, I'd better figure out what to do with that canola oil.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Stuffed!

Italy's culinary bible for home chefs is a cookbook called The Silver Spoon. In recent years it has been translated into English, and some friends gave it to me as a going away gift when I changed jobs in August. This epicurean tome probably weighs five pounds, but it covers everything. Do you want to know how to fix scorpion fish? The Silver Spoon has it covered.

The cookbook's section on vegetables is phenomenal with recipes that make the most unlikely vegetable very tempting: turnips with bacon (well, bacon does make everything better), peas with pancetta (close enough to bacon), Parmesan turnip greens, and so on.

I decided to try stuffed onions first. The picture looked pretty, and I had a bag of onions in the fridge that needed to be used. The Italian name for the recipe is cipolle alla grossetana, so it was translated as grosseto onions. I don't know what that means but it was easy to fix and very tasty.

1. Peel four large onions. Cook in salted boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain and cool. Using a knife, scoop out the flesh in the center of the onion and save it to be chopped later. You should have four onion shells. Do not try doing this with hot onions.

2. Combine in a bowl 1 1/2 c. lean ground beef (or veal but I buy beef from the farmers' market so I use theat), 1 Italian sausage removed from casing, 2 T freshly grated Parmesan, 2 t olive oil, 1 egg lightly beaten, pinch of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Stuff the onions with the meat mixture. Put the onions in a deep pan. Pour 1 c. of beef stock around the onions. I poured in some white wine for good measure too. Put the lid on. Simmer over medium low heat for 30 minutes.

Serve the onions on a plate and pour any remaining sauce over them. When no one is looking, sop up the yummy sauces and meat drippings with a great piece of bread.

I had leftover stuffing that I put in the freezer. This meat stuffing would be great in bell peppers, zucchini, or artichokes too.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Doughnut recipes

Although I am a Chablis-drinking, brie-eating, east coast elitist -- according to some people's definition -- I must confess that the humble donut is near the very top of my list of favorite foods. What's not to love about fried dough? Having said that, I do not consider Dunkin' Donuts much to shake a stick at.

While Durham lacks in serious donut-making, I was thoroughly delighed to see Amy Tornquist from Watt's Grocery mentioned in a NYT article on doughnuts. Her churros, fried dough coated in cinnamon sugar with a chocolate dipping sauce, get a special mention. An adaptation of her recipe accompanies the article.

In addition to Amy's recipe for churros, there are two other recipes. I am gearing up to give one of the recipes a try this weekend. I've never made doughnuts or beignets or anything of this sort.

I am wondering if I can use a deep, iron wok for frying. This is one of the rare occasions when a deep fat fryer might actually be useful. Hot oil terrifies me. Once I caught a roll of paper towels on fire when deep frying.

Will the effort and calories be worth the at-home effort or is it better to get a fried dough fix at Watt's Grocery or Rue Cler? I guess I'll find out. If anyone has any suggestions or tip on making doughnuts at home, let me know before I burn my house down this weekend.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Onion soup

Not wishing to go the supermarket, I surveyed my kitchen cupboards and the fridge for inspiration. I found a big chunk of Gruyere hiding in the freezer, and I had a loaf of delicious sourdough bread. I also had a bag of onions and lots of stock. French onion soup seemed the obvious choice for my dinner.

Melt 3 or 4 T of butter in a pot. Add 4 thinly sliced onions. I use the slicer blade on my food processor for this. It works well and the onions turn out just the right thickness. Sprinkle the onions with 1/2 t sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onions turn brown and begin to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Add a box (4 cups) of beef stock. Add a few sprigs of fresh parsley and several sprigs of fresh thyme (or a good pinch of dried thyme). Add 2 T of some type of alcohol. I like brandy because I usually have it on hand. White wine works or you might try some cognac. Season broth with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the sprigs of herbs before serving.

While the soup is simmering, toast two to four slices of sourdough (I like the French sourdough from Guglhupf Bakery but my favorite is from La Farm Bakery) under the broiler. Top one side of each slice with a nice pile of shredded Gruyere or other hard, salty cheese. Place under the broiler a few seconds until the cheese melts.

Put the cheesy bread into shallow, wide-rimmed bowls. Ladle the onion soup over the bread, and serve. This recipe serves four.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thai food: cure for a stuffy nose

Air travel tends to give me a cold almost every time I hit the skies. My latest trip was no exception. I woke this morning w/ a stuffy head and a sore throat so for lunch I decided to have something spicy hot to clear my head.

I trundled down to Thai Cafe to order something. I thought I would have the green papaya salad because it is cool and crisp one on hand and very spicy on the other. However, after looking at the lunch menu, I opted for grilled eggplant and grilled salmon with noodles. A red curry sauce coated the salmon, eggplant and noodles. It was topped with a garnish of lettuce which is a good foil to the hot curry.

I resisted the urge to buy some crab angels, also known as crab Rangoon, because I don't really need to eat any fried food today. I have a weakness for anything combining crab, cream cheese and a deep fryer, so resisting was no small feat.

With the onset of the cold season, keep in mind Thai food for stuffy nose relief!

Filet mignon w/ Roquefort sauce

At the weekend I was in Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas) and I had dinner at the steakhouse called Pierpont's in the renovated Union Station. The decor was great and enhanced the old, magnificent train station. I ordered a filet mignon with a blue cheese cream sauce and a balsamic reduction. I could have licked the plate!

The delicious dinner inspired me to share this recipe for a Roquefort sauce that my mother picked up from a restaurant called Miss Aimee B's Tea Room in St. Charles, Missouri. It's a recipe that you should only fix for someone you really love because it is really expensive to make. The sauce could go with any steak, I suppose, but the flavors go well with filet. I also like that it is made with Roquefort and not just any old blue cheese. Roquefort is smooth, creamy, and pungent without being too sharp or bitter. It's perfect for this dish although it does kill me to cook such a fine cheese instead of putting it on a cracker!

To find a good wine to go with this dish, head down to the Wine Authorities on University Drive and ask them to suggest a Bordeaux. I like to serve skin-on mashed potatoes because the potatoes pick up some of the yummy sauce on the plate.

1. Preheat your broiler or grill.

2. Rub 3 or 4 filet mignon with minced fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Cook on grill (or broil) until the steak is done to your liking.

3. While the steaks are cooking, combine the following in a medium saucepan:

4 oz. Roquefort crumbled
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cloves minced garlic
2 T Worchestershire sauce
1/2 t. caraway seeds

Stir until cheese and butter melt.

4. Add to the sauce 1/2c. sliced green onions and 8oz mushrooms thinly sliced. Continue cooking 2 or 3 more minutes.

5. Pour over steaks.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cheese puffs

I am not really eating cheese or cooking with it at the moment, but that didn't stop me from trying some tasty morsels at my friends' cocktail party. The puffed batter, similar to a popover and called a gougère in French, is airy and cheesy. I found them addictive so I had to stand far away from the platter they were on.

My friends who are devotees of the cooking channel found this recipe by the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, on the FoodTV web site. It includes Parmesan and Gruyère seasoned with a touch of nutmeg. I've made a similar recipe with Roquefort and a tablespoon of fresh thyme. This recipe would be delicious with other combinations of cheese and herbs too.

Once my no-cheese diet is over, I'm going to make these. They have red wine written all over them as the accompanying beverage.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mussels in wine sauce

Months that end in "-ber" are the best months for eating mussels. I've bought mussels from WholeFoods, Capital Seafood Market on University Dr., and Harris Teeter. The best ones were from Capital Seafood Market. Almost all of them opened and they tasted fresh. WholeFoods is second best. Don't bother buying them from Teeter. Most of the ones I got didn't open. That means they were dead on arrival.

Mussels are a great starter course for a group or a meal for two. Store them in fridge and cook within a day of purchase. When you are ready to cook them, rinse the mussels well in cold water. Pull out any remaining beard which is dark green, fuzzy looking stuff.

In a large pot combine 2 cups of wine, 6 T butter, 1/2 chopped shallots, 1/2 t. dried thyme or 3 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, 8 sprigs of parsley, pepper. Bring to a boil, then cook for 2 or 3 minutes until the alcohol burns off. Add the mussels to the pot and cover with a lid. Cook for 4 or 5 minutes or until the mussels open.

Serve the museels in a bowl and then pour the sauce over them. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with french bread.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cheese!

Cheese accounts for a main source of protein, not to mention being my primary source of calcium, in my daily diet. Unfortunately a daily of intake of 2 to 4 oz of cheese isn't compatible with my vain desire to have washer board abs.

I could eat a piece of carboard if it was topped with melted cheese. Fortunately, I don't have to do that. So far my favorite pizza at Rockwood is the four cheese pizza. It's full of flavors. I especially like the blue cheese on it. Again, this is not compatible with my fitness goals.

I bought some pepper jack cheese made with 2% milk at Harris Teeter so I could make quesadillas when I have a cheese craving. Alas, a pepper jack quesadilla may be tasty but it does not satisfy my desire for a big hunk of triple cream brie! Yes, I'm one of the brie-eating, Chablis-drinking elitists that what's his name from Law and Order is complaining about on the campaign stump for McCain.

Anyway, I have a class reunion coming up in a few weeks so in addition to the exercise I've ramped up for the past month, I've decided to stop eating cheese for a few weeks. We'll see how that goes. I'll probably lose my mind. As soon as I reach my washer board ab phase or give it up entirely, I'm going to eat a four cheese pizza from Rockwood then drive down to Raleigh for hot Krispy Kremes!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Roasted pepper and artichoke puffs

Saturday night I am taking one of my favorite hors d'oeuvre to a party. Usually I avoid recipes with more ingredients than I have fingers, but this one is worth the extra effort. It really isn't very difficult either.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Melt 2 T unsalted butter in a pan. Add 1 bunch of finely chopped green onions and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Cook until softened, and place in a bowl.

Add to the bowl, 1 can of artichoke bottoms chopped, 3 oz. prosciutto chopped, a handful of chopped basil, 1/2 c. Parmesan grated, 1/2 c. Gruyere grated, 1 T lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Combine, then add 1/2 c. mayonnaise to bind. Put in the fridge for an hour.

Meanwhile, remove the seeds and stems from 3 red or yellow bell peppers and cut the peppers into 2" squares and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle w/ 1/4 c. olive oil and 2 T balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Preheat the broiler. Remove the artichoke mixture from the fridge. Mound 2 t. of the artichoke mixture onto each pepper square. Arrange on a baking sheet and broil about 2 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly. Let cool for a minute or two and serve.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dry rub for grilled pork or chicken

For a long time, I thought grilling was a guy thing. I think because my dad made such a big production out of firing up the grill. I figured it must be hard or something. Eventually I bought a grill because if I was going to wait around for a man to grill for me, I might wait a long while. If a girl wants something, she really should figure it out on her own. But I digress. Imagine my surprise to find out how easy grilling is. Dad, the gig is up, I'm on to your tricks.

Rifling through my old Cooks' Illustrated mags, I found a very tasty dry rub recipe to put on grilled pork tenderloin, though I would probably even eat a stick if it were covered in these yummy spices.

This recipe makes enough for two pork tenderloins. I bet that would equal four to six chicken breasts (bone-in, skin-on if you are going to grill them):

1 T fennel seeds
1 T cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
1 T coriander seeds (or ground coriander)
1 1/2 t. dry mustard
1 1/2 t. light brown sugar
3/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. black pepper

Toast the seeds in a dry pan until they turn fragrant (3 to 5 min); Cool, then mix w/ remaining ingredients and grind to a powder in a spice grinder or pestal and mortar or hammer or whatever it takes. I have a coffee bean grinder reserved for this purpose. You can use ground spices if you have them.

Brush whatever meat you choose to grill with olive oil and then sprinkle it generously with the rub. Cook according to whatever your preferred method of grilling is.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Grilled, stuffed peppers

My friend Kathryn told me this recipe that she and her husband fix with the peppers from their garden. It is my new favorite, quick recipe for the grill. It is rich and tasty but easy to make. It includes two of my favorite ingredients: cheese and bacon!

Cubanelle peppers or other long, mild pepper
Cream cheese
Bacon

While the grill gets hot, carefully cut open one side of peppers and scoop out the seeds w/ a small spoon. Stuff each pepper with cream cheese. Wrap each stuffed pepper in a piece of bacon. Place peppers on grill. Cook for 6 or 8 minutes on each side until the bacon is crisp and the peppers cooked.

Serve with bread and a salad.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rockwood Filling Station again

After going to the new Rockwood Filling Station Pizzeria on opening night, I decided to wait a few weeks to try it again. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it the first time, but I wanted to wait for the crowd to calm down and the staff to get into the swing of things.

I went back for a second try a few nights ago with a friend. I had the eggplant pizza that is topped with roasted eggplant, onions, ricotta, and fried capers. The crust was thin and crispy with the right amount of toasty brown. It was not at all burned. I loved the salty fried capers. Maybe I will try that at home. They'd be very good on a salad or in a butter sauce.

My friend had meatballs on his pizza, and he seemed to enjoy his meal. The meatballs are made with pork and duck. I confirmed this with the owner because I overheard the following conversation:

A guy said to the waiter, "There's a rumor that the meatballs are made with duck. Is that true?"
The waiter said, "The meatballs are 100% pork. Who told you they were duck?"
The guy said with a sort of satisfaction in proving someone wrong, "I read it on a local blog Delicious Durham."

It's not every day you hear your own blog mentioned in public, and I was quite certain that the waiter was telling the man inaccurate things. So I walked up to the owner in the bar to ask him to clarify whether or not there is duck in the meatballs. He said there certainly is duck in the meatballs and that he would correct his waiter.

I don't like the suggestion that I might be misleading people on this blog. Certainly I offer a large dose of my opinion but I try to be clear on what is factual. I get my facts by either reading on the menu or asking. I'm not going to make statements about what is in a certain dish unless I either know for certain or preface it with words like "I think."

Anyway, after this second visit, it seems like Rockwood is doing well and they have their act together. I highly recommend for people to give it a second try, especially those who went the first week or two it was opened.

My only complaint is that my red Italian wine showed up in what looked like a highball glass. So some people might find that hip and cool, but I'm not one of them. One of the great joys of life is that glassware comes in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit every imaginable kind of beverage. I can't see any good reason why the wine should appear in what is more suitable for a mojito.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Smokehouse baked beans

Sunday I went to a picnic, and I was asked to bring baked beans. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but until now I have never made baked beans. You know how North Carolina BBQ is practically synonymous with coleslaw? Well, Kansas City BBQ joints tend to feature quite a lot of baked beans. In fact, if you are ever in KC, you must go to this place called Smokehouse Bar-B-Que for the divine baked beans and brisket burnt ends.

I studied some old church cookbooks from my childhood to see if I could find a comparable recipe to take to the picnic. I remembered my friend Marion has a delicious and easy recipe. It is basically a can of baked beans doctored up. It requires BBQ sauce but not the vinegar kind. Be sure to use the thick, tomato-based kind like KC Masterpiece.

4 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled
1 large can (40oz) baked beans
3/4c. brown sugar
1/4c. chopped onion or 1T onion flakes
1 T chili powder
1T yellow mustard
1t. or more liquid smoke
1c. barbecue sauce
1/4c. molasses

Combine all ingredients. Taste as you go and adjust the various flavors to your preference. I like a bit more mustard than the recipe requires. Put beans in a casserole dish, top with bacon, and bake at 350 degrees for 70 minutes or so.

Make some potato salad, grill some burgers and you've got a picnic.

Potato salad is just as easy: boil taters that you've cube. Cool. Add a chopped onion or two to the potatoes. Stir in mayonnaise by large spoonfuls until it is as you like. Be generous with salt. Add some pickle juice if you have a jar in the fridge.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tyler's Tap Room

It's been party time at work. Besides going to An, we went out to Tyler's Tap Room a couple of nights ago for beer and a casual dinner.

I like the old warehouses that have been converted into something useful, but Tyler's is a bit of a barn and the lights are very bright.

Tyler's does have a good selection of beers on tap, and they were featuring some local brews that everyone seemed to like, especially after two or three. The dinner menu is loaded with greasy treats like garlic fries and fried pickles.

Fried pickles are wonderfully strange. I cannot decide if I like them or not. They are certainly worth trying for novelty if nothing else.

I had a girlie beer, Unibroue Ephemere, and fish tacos. I ordered the fish tacos thinking they might be kind of healthy only to discover the fish was fried. It included tomato and shredded cabbage wrapped in flour tortilla. It was good, not exceptional. The hamburgers looked good so I may try one at some point. Ephemere is a tasty summer beer. It is pale, refreshing and it reminds me of apples without actually being as sweet as a cider.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Asian fusion: return visit to An

Last night I went with my new boss and some colleagues to An in Cary off of Harrison Ave. The cocktail list looked great but I opted for a glass of viognier. It was dry and not overly fruity. The bar is an interesting place to sit, but I have a feeling they hire the female bartenders for their looks because they didn't seem very knowledgeable about the wines.

We shared some tuna rolls and chicken spring rolls for the first course. We liked both. The spring rolls came with a sweet mango dipping sauce. There was no better way to celebrate the last bite of tuna I will take for a while. I've been pondering Greenpeace's fish/seafood red list. As much as I like fish and seafood, I like having the oceans populated with fish even better. Some fish and seafood are just not viable for us to eat. But I digress.

My main course was lemongrass beef with rice thread noodles. The cool noodles and cucumber were a good foil to the spicy fire of the lemongrass. I will certainly order it again.

The dessert list looked good but I was too full. Instead I had a cup of white tea which, if I recall correctly from my trip to China, is supposed to be good for digestion.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tiny gem of the Caribbean

I'm back, not overly excited about the real world, but there isn't much to do about that. At least there aren't ants in my cereal.

Where have I been? The highest point in the Netherlands which is a tiny place near St. Martin called Saba that no one has ever heard of except SCUBA divers. It is an old volcano that rises straight out of the sea. There are 1500 full time residents. Pretty cottages cling to the mountainside. It is quiet and outside of diving and hiking there isn't much to do, which is why I went. I logged 13 dives and wrote 10 chapters of a book. My cottage was adorable with views of the sea and the mountain.

For such a tiny place, Saba has very good food. There are no chain restaurants or stores, so everything is run by locals living there. I had excellent fish two adorable restaurants called My Kitchen and Brigadoon. Michael and Trish at Brigadoon do an excellent job. Trish makes great cocktails and is an excellent hostess.

At a place called Scout's I tried johnny cakes which are nothing like the New England version. Caribbean johnny cakes are made from white flour and are basically savory fried dough. Imagine an unsweetened beignet type of thing. They are really good w/ slices of melting gouda. Fried dough and cheese! What's not to love other than the cholesterol?

My favorite meal was at a place aptly named the Rainforest Restaurant. It is located at a sustainable, environmentally friendly hotel called the Eco-Lodge. Many of the ingredients are grown in the restaurant's own garden. Once a week the restaurant serves up an Indonesian rice table which includes a variety of wonderful dishes. I had various types of lamb, beef, and chicken curries, spicy shrimp, corn pancakes, vegetable side dishes of beans, cucumbers, and I cannot even remember what else. Spicy and flavorful. For dessert I had passion fruit ice cream. I like the tart/sweet combination.

My other favorite meal was a massive grilled steak at a little bar called Swinging Doors. The proprietor Eddie grills steaks every Sunday and chicken and ribs every Tuesday and Friday. Eddie cooked my steak to tender perfection.

The restaurant with the best view is the Tropics Café. I went for dinner and twice for breakfast. It overlooks the sea with views of the mountain. One morning I ate rum-soaked French toast served with a side of a spicy, locally made rum called Saba spice. It is rum spiced up with cinnamon, cloves and other things.

If you dive or hike, Saba is a must.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How I ate an ant

My vacation and the self-imposed technology cold turkey are nearly at an end. I'm in a lovely, remote place in the tropics that, oddly, happens to be the highest point in the Netherlands. My writing projects have gone well, but I have been somewhat distracted by scuba diving. I'll tell you about it later when I can upload some pics. The land-based creepy crawlies of the tropics scare me a bit, especially when I accidentally eat them.

This morning I accidentally ate an ant. It was very traumatic, less so for the ant because he was already dead. The ant died a slow painful death by refrigeration. I bought cereal a few days ago, and I left it out on the counter overnight by mistake...because where I come from putting cereal in the fridge is not a natural reflex. Apparently some ants got in there before I thought to put the box in the fridge. So this morning I'm eating my cereal and I look down to see a dead ant in the spoon. No telling how many ants I downed before realizing this. I raced outside and dumped the bowl and spit into a bush. Then I brushed my teeth vigorously, it seems like ant legs could get stuck between the teeth, and went out for breakfast.

As I was walking to breakfast I saw a rat snoozing in the sun on a wall. What was a rat doing tanning on the wall? Then when I went for a walk a soldier crab growled at me. Yes, growled. Who ever heard of a growling crab?

The sea life is much less terrifying.

When I get back I'll give you the skinny on where am I and what I ate.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Indy's NC wine tasting panel

Our local alternative rag, The Independent Weekly, featured a story on NC wines this week. As part of the feature on NC wines, they put together a panel of tasters to try NC wines in a blind taste testing. The results were also published in a story this week.

Lucky me, I got selected to be part of this panel as the non-expert but somewhat informed taster , e.g. I don't work in the wine industry, and I represented the "wine consumer." I was honored to be asked to participate, and after a hard slog at the office, a wine tasting mid-week was right up my alley.

I arrived at the Indy's new offices, which are gorgeous by the way, and headed to the conference room where the tasting convened. Peg, from Weaver Street Market, seemed really lovely and she is committed to finding good NC wines.

The other wine professionals worked in a variety of capacities: wine buyers, wine shop owner, wine writer, and sommelier. Interacting with them was the most interesting part of this experience, way more interesting than the NC wines, unfortunately.

You can read my comments on the NC wines so I won't rehash that here. In summary, most of them were not even good. I don't know about you, but if I'm paying $12 for a bottle of wine, I expect it to be tasty and drinkable. Now, granted, $12 is not a lot of money and I'm not exactly short on cash at the moment, but it's a matter of VALUE. I'm not paying $12 to drink something that tastes like manure. I'm also not drinking unfiltered wine. It's just not my aesthetic though I appreciate that it is someone's. My comments were rather unfiltered, if you like, but that's fine by me.

What I found interesting about the wine professionals is that they seemed to think it is acceptable to ask people to pay $10 or $12 for a bottle of mediocre to below-average wine. Comments like, "Someone might drink this for $10" really got under my skin after a while. It seemed to assume that $10 wines are below par, and that is just not accurate.

Additionally the wine professionals were very careful not to "bash" wineries. Ok I get this is their profession and that burning bridges is a bad idea and all that. But be truthful. Don't try to put lipstick on a bulldog. I am not sure if it was sycophancy or arrogance, but something like that came through among some of the wine professionals. I was also reminded more than once that I was the "consumer," which probably means I don't know anything.

So here's my NC wine theory in a nutshell: Buy local if you want to support local enterprises, but make sure your expectations are level set regarding quality of taste and value.

And my overall wine theory is: Really enjoyable wines do not have to be expensive. I've had good ones for $10. Additionally, food and atmosphere do enhance the wine drinking experience, but a good wine can also stand on it's own. A good wine doesn't need a porterhouse steak to give it legs.

As for wine professionals, if you ever get condescension from any of them, stick to your guns. You know what you like. I like minerally, bone dry whites. Some people like floral whites. Drink what you gives you pleasure and make Bacchus proud.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gone fishin'

Not really. But I am unplugging myself for a couple of weeks in order to focus on writing for one book and researching for another. Unplugging the wi-fi and turning off the cell phone may seem drastic, but it can be hard to focus otherwise. I hope I don't break out in hives, a cold sweat and tremors as I withdraw.

Talk to you again soon. In the meantime, happy eating!

Monday, July 28, 2008

La Vaquita burritos

Hankering for some Mexican food, I decide to try a chicken burrito from La Vaquita. It is a little shed, formerly a dairy, on Chapel Hill Road that turns out amazing Mexican food. There is no seating. It's a walk-up kind of place and not exactly fast.

I've not had anything there that didn't knock my socks off. The burrito proved no exception. The place is so good that I have to resist stopping, because when I do stop I eat like a glutton. It's embarrassing and unhealthy!

The burrito was huge. The chicken had chipotle seasoning but it wasn't overpowering or too spicy until I dumped hot salsa over it. The burrito also had rice, corn, green pepper, onion and red beans in it. La Vaquita served a couple of different salsas with it. One was a chunky, mild tomatillo salsa. The other was a smooth, fiery chipotle salsa. Both were delicious. I burned off a few taste buds with the chipotle salsa, but it was worth it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Very Weird FOOD

I dare someone to buy this: lobster ice cream!

Let me know how it tastes.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chocolate chip cookie heaven

I delight in other people's culinary successes. A new friend of mind in Greensboro recently tried a chocolate chip cookie recipe from the NYT food section and shared it with several of us. I had read the article and accompanying recipe when they were published a couple of weeks ago.

The article recommends two things the my friend and I agreed were key to the cookies' success: 1. the dough chills for 36 hours, and 2. just before baking the cookies get a sprinkle of sea salt. Now I don't know about you, but 36 hours is a LONG time for me to wait on chocolate chip cookie. Left to my own devices, I would not be able to do this. Therefore I'm happy that I tried the fruits of my friend's labor.

The 36 hour chill results in cookies with a deep, rich flavor. The eggs and butter have a chance to work some cookie magic: the baked cookies are crisp on the edge, goey in the middle, and the in between layer is somewhere in between. The sprinkle of salt makes perfect since because salt is a flavor enhancer. On top of the cookies, it brings out the flavor of the chocolate.

Here is the divine recipe for chocolate chip cookie heaven:

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)

Sea salt.


1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.


2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.


3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.


4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.


Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.


Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Rockwood Filling Station: Pizza

The new Rockwood Filling Station Neapolitain Pizzeria opened Wednesday evening on University Dr. sandwiched neatly between Q Shack and Nana's. Yes, Scott Howell is behind it. So is the former Nana's bartender John. I love Scott Howell. He can cook. John is really great too. He was my favorite bartender in town. Now he is my favorite pizza guy. I'm sure the front of house will be excellent in John's capable hands.

Opening night for a restaurant is crazy for everyone involved, and I had a front row seat at the bar. They don't have a liquor license yet so everyone was drinking water or tea or BYOB wine. The old filling station that was also a dry cleaners has been transformed into a darling place. The floors and bar are poured concrete. The walls are a warm yellow beige with bright things on the walls. A large glass wall separates the kitchen from the bar, so it's easy to see the pizzas being made and put into the giant pizza oven. The oven, according to the menu, is over 700 degrees hot, and I was worried someone might get burned! Scott was there making pizzas. He looked focused and happy from my vantage point.

The vibe was good. While I'm sure it was stressful, all of the staff seemed happy and enthusiastic.

I was not really hungry but I felt I must try a starter as well as a pizza. I had the baked meatballs for my starter. Now the menu doesn't say this but the meatballs are made with pork, beef, and duck. DUCK. Duck meatballs! Yum. The meatballs were perfect in every way and served in a simple but flavorful tomato sauce. Run to get some.

I ordered the white pizza for my dinner. It was topped with ricotta, fontina, caramelized onions, and spinach. It needed salt and some garlic. John told me they were working on getting the seasonings just right and the need for more salt was common feedback opening night. The pizza crust was fairly thin, which is how I like it, and ever so slightly burnt around the edges. I look forward to trying the other combinations like the veggie pizza, the pizza margherita and the eggplant pizza.

I kept an eye on everything that came out of the kitchen. The salads looks delicious and I cannot wait to try the antipasti platter. It featured what looked like roasted peppers, proscuitto, cheese, olives, and a deviled egg. I saw milkshakes, ice cream and cannoli go by. Every plate that went back into the kitchen looked licked clean. I took home leftovers, but I would have eaten every bite had it not been for stuffing myself with meatballs. Meatballs with duck!

I must try the cannoli. Not only is cannoli one of my favorite desserts, but also cannoli is a good indicator of a restaurant's attention to detail. Yes, it all hangs on the cannoli, but that's another story.

Give the place a few weeks before you go. Once the staff settles into a routine, the liquor license shows up, the salt and pepper shakers arrive, the cash register software becomes familiar to all, and the flavors and seasonings get adjusted, this place will be great.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Metro 8 Steakhouse

Wednesday night a friend and I went to Metro 8 Steakhouse on 9th Street. The restaurant has been opened a couple of years but I'd not been. The space where it is located has been home to numerous unsuccessful businesses so I'm glad Metro 8 has managed to do well there. It's a great location. I have heard that the rent there is outrageous, hence the high turnover in businesses in the past. Or it could be that the place had strange feng shui. Who knows. The space itself is a little awkward in shape but the owner has fixed it up nicely.

My friend and I shared a starter of provolone topped with sliced tomato and dried herbs (maybe thyme, basil, and oregano) and baked under a broiler until it was a hot, oozing, cheesy mess. I love melted cheese, but it was kind of messy. Don't share this with anyone you don't know really well!

Since Metro 8 is a steakhouse it was only fitting that one of us ordered steak. My friend ordered the churrasco which is a thinly cut skirt steak. It was delicious and I would order the 8oz steak the next time I go. The skirt steaks are the least expensive cuts on the steak menu. The filet mignon is $28. I am curious to try it, but if I am going to eat an expensive steak, I will either cook it myself or go somewhere like Nana's or Magnolia Grill where I would get excellent service (usually) and a knowledgeable recommendation on the wine list (always). I'm sure that is entirely unfair on my part, but that's my preference. If I had an unlimited budget and a zero cholesterol in my arteries, I'd love to try filet mignon at all the top restaurants and steakhouses. Wouldn't that be fun? I can hear my arteries clog just thinking about it.

I ordered the herb encrusted, sushi-grade tuna. The herbs included a very healthy dose of rosemary, and it was topped with a balsamic reduction. I enjoyed it but the rosemary and balsamic reduction perhaps overpowered the tuna. Tuna doesn't need much to be fabulous.

For dessert we shared what was called a chocolate soufflé, but it wasn't really a soufflé. Soufflés are light and puffy and look like this picture. What we had was what I would call a chocolate lava cake, and it looks like this picture. Gooey, molten, chocolate lava cakes are really easy to make and taste better than just about anything. Chocolate soufflé is wonderful too but it's difficult to do correctly. So I'm not complaining here because it was yummy. It was, however, not what I was expecting based on the menu.

The service was decent and charming though not top-notch.

Other things on the menu looked interesting like the pork chop, the crab-stuffed shrimp, and the lobster ravioli. I will definitely go back to try those items.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Smoked salmon heaven!

I'm just back from a three day weekend in Seattle. It's a bit far for only three days, but I wanted to go see my aunt for her 60th birthday.

The famous Pike Place Market is a sight to behold. It's a huge, I mean HUGE, market downtown by the water. There are a lot of tourists milling around and I'm sure the prices are high, but it's so much fun to wander around. I could spend days looking at all of the fish and seafood, flowers, cheeses, veggies, and other things.

I especially liked fish market stalls with all kinds of beautiful fish, especially salmon. I'd love to buy a whole on someday and poach it for a party. Wouldn't that be fun? The Alaskan crab were the size of dinner plates and the lobster tails were a foot long.

My aunt took me to a local fish market Tacoma, where she lives, so I could buy some smoked salmon. I also picked up a smoked salmon dip that I plan to recreate somehow. I much prefer that Pacific smoked salmon to the Atlantic smoked salmon which seems to me slimy more often than not. My favorite way to serve any smokes salmon is to put it in a plate, sprinkle with lemon juice, season w/ pepper and salt, and possibly garnish with chopped capers. I like it served with crackers and butter. Cream cheese is good too.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Donuts

We need good donuts badly in Durham. I was excited when Dunkin Donuts opened but sadly their donuts are not worth the calories. If I'm going to clog my arteries and fatten myself up with fried dough, it had better be GOOD. Some people like their coffee. It's adequate in a pinch but I'm not driving out of my way for it.

I have been known to embark on the 20 mile drive down to Raleigh for Krispy Kreme however. I wish we had a Krispy Kreme closer because not much can beat the KK plain glazed donuts hot off the donut press. KK plain glazed donuts cold are a let down by comparison.

The donut chain that I like much better than KK or DD is Daylight Donuts. Someone brought these into work last week after I harangued him into not bringing bagels or Dunkin Donuts. The old-fashioned glazed donut and the glazed chocolate cake donut are really yummy. I also like the Daylight Donut web site.

Are there any other donut places out there that I've missed? Why aren't donuts more popular in the South? Are we too busy eating biscuits? Seriously, we fry anything and have no compunction about eating grease three times a day. Would someone please open up a donut shop in downtown Durham?

I live vicariously through a new blog I found devoted entirely to the pursuit of donuts in New York City. What a dream to have so many options for fried dough!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

More fun with eggs: Crème brûlée

After going crazy last week with the meringues and custard experimentation, I ended up with 5 bright yellow, free range, happy chicken, egg yolks in the fridge. I also had some heavy cream left over from the custard. Not wanting to waste the pretty (and expensive) egg yolks, I ponder for awhile what to do with them. Crème brûlée fit the bill exactly.

Well almost. The recipe called for 6 egg yolks. I really did not want to break another egg because then I'd have one left over white. And, I don't know about you, but I think egg white omelets are gross. I decided to live on the edge and attempt it with the 5 yolks and 2 cups of cream instead of 2 1/2 cups.

Crème brûlée is a perfect recipe: uncomplicated yet totally sophisticated. The earliest known printed recipe for it is in a French cookbook from 1691 by Francois Massialot, chef to the Duc d'Orleans who was the brother of the Sun King.

I used a recipe from Mark Bittmann. Something went slightly wrong in my execution because the cream and egg yolks didn't set up as firm as they were supposed to. I wonder if this had something to do with me only using 5 yolks. I would have bet on that, except I noticed that I had different results depending on which ramekins I used. My old Fire King ramekins didn't do as well as the newer ceramic ones.

My other issue was when I put the ramekins under the broiler to "burn" the sugar. I recall that the crème brûlées I've eaten in restaurants were a nice combination of cold, creamy custard and warm, browned, hardened sugar. It's a nice contrast of flavors, temperatures and textures. Well, putting the ramekins under the broiler to brown the sugar made the entire dish hot. Next time I will definitely use the kitchen blow torch that my brother and his wife gave me years ago. The little blow torch is the key to browning the top without heating the entire dessert.

I wounldn't have called this attempt in the kitchen a success except my friends did eat every last morsel and nearly licked the ramekins clean. What's not to love about vanilla flavored, sweetened cream enriched with egg yolk?

I plan to try this recipe again. If I get it right, I'll post the recipe.