Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series returns to Raleigh!

The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series returns to Raleigh! Celebrating North Carolina products and agriculture and showcasing culinary ingenuity and talent across the state, this unique interactive, single-elimination tournament is scheduled to take place at 214 Martin Street in Raleigh on July 11, 12, 14, 18, 19, 21, and 24. Eight chef teams will compete for a grand prize of $2,000 in cash and prizes. In addition, each member will receive the coveted “Red Chef Jacket,” a handcrafted knife by Ironman Forge, an autographed cookbook by La Farm Bakery’s master French baker Lionel Vatinet, and a place in the annual Battle of Champions to vie for the title against the Charlotte, Durham, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Wilmington champions.  

Every Dining Series dinner event features two chef teams, each preparing three courses based on a special North Carolina ingredient revealed just hours before the competition. Guests not only dine on a full-service, six-course meal but also vote for their favorite dishes via a free app to help determine who moves on to the next round.  

“We have so many loyal diners in this foodie town, and we can’t wait to share some exciting new twists to the competition with everyone. The Raleigh series will feature several dream teams competing in the seven dinner events, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what these dynamic chefs whip up in the kitchen,” said Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining Series founder and host.
The first new twist allows chefs from various restaurants to collaborate to form three-person “All-Star Dream Teams.” The other is a change to the format. For the first time in Raleigh, the series will feature two brackets, and the winners of each will battle it out in a finale to name one local champion who will then move on to the Battle of Champions.

The Raleigh Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series schedule is:

Bracket 1

July 11
Team “Sandhills Chefs” from Southern Pines: Rhett Morris, owner and chef at Rhett’s Restaurant, Personal Chef and Catering; Renee Beaulieu, pastry chef at Ashten’s Restaurant; and Raymond Martin, sous chef at Rhett’s Restaurant.
Team “Fuquay-Varina’s Finest” from Fuquay Varina: Joseph Fasy, proprietor and executive chef at Hook and Cleaver Market on Broad and part owner and executive chef at Old North State Catering; Leo Cuthbertson, chef at Hook and Cleaver Market on Broad; and Bryan Dahlstrom, executive chef at the Crown Complex in Fayetteville.

July 12
Team “Will Work For Food” from Pinehurst: Matthew Hannon, chef at Ironwood Restaurant; Jen Curtis, chef de cuisine at Chef Warren's Bistro in Southern Pines; and Niklas Anderson, sous chef at Curt’s Cucina in Southern Pines.
Team “Ironclad” from Greensboro: Michael Roberson executive chef at Iron Hen Café and Fresh Local Good Food Group; Kathryn Hubert, executive assistant at Fresh Local Good Food Group; and Michael Turner, sous chef at Fresh Local Good Food Group.

July 14 Semifinal
The July 11 winning team versus the July 12 winning team

Bracket 2

July 18
Team “Scratch Mavericks” from Halifax: Chelsi Hogue, owner, proprietor and executive chef at The Hen & The Hog; Jeremy Law, owner and chef at Soco Farm & Food in Wilson; and Jessica Ricks, sous chef at The Hen & The Hog.
Team “Orange Crush” from Raleigh: Rich Carter, executive chef at Catering Works; Sara Samuels, personal chef at Catering Works; and Anthony Calcagno, executive pastry chef at Catering Works.

July 19
Team “Mirepoix” from Apex: Franz Propst, executive chef at Peak City Grill & Bar; Ryan Summers, chef at Chef's Palette Restaurant and Bar in Cary; and Tom Halik, chef and proprietor at Main Street Grille Café & Bakery in Wake Forest.
Team “Brinehaus” from Raleigh: Steven Goff, owner and chef at soon-to-open Brine Haus Meat + Provisions food truck and former head butcher at Standard Foods; Geoff Seleen, chef and farmer at Piedmont Biofarm in Pittsboro; and Chris Valenzuela, lead line cook at Old Etowah Smokehouse in Etowah.

July 21 Semifinal
The July 18 winning team versus the July 19 winning team

July 24 Raleigh Finale
The July 14 winning team versus the  July 21 winning team

Tickets for the July 11, 12, 14, 18, 19, 21 battles are $59 each, and tickets for the local finale battle, July 24, are $69 each. Tickets are available now at www.competitiondining.com/events/Raleigh. For more information, visit www.competitiondining.com or join the conversation at www.facebook.com/competitiondining and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Announcing the 2015 Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series

The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series Triangle events begin this Monday, January 19, and culminates with a single regional winner on March 2. The champion then goes head to head in the final battle with the winners of the City series (Charlotte) and the Triad series (Winston-Salem). One person will be crowned state champion.

This series is unlike anything anywhere. In an NCAA-style bracket tournament, two chefs face off and cook a three-course dinner based on a secret local ingredient that contestants learn about only an hour before each event. Then, in a blind tasting, 150 diners, including three professional judges, use an interactive app to rate each of the six plates to determine who will advance to the next round. Each course receives scores based on presentation, aroma, overall flavor, execution, creativity, and use of the secret ingredient.

This year’s Triangle First-Round match-ups are:
Jan. 19 Dinner: Gerry Fong of Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant in New Bern, versus Benjamin Harris of Midtown Grille in Raleigh
Jan. 20 Dinner: Trey Cleveland of Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery in Chapel Hill, versus Ryan Conklin of Rex Healthcare in Raleigh
Jan. 21 Dinner: Shane Ingram of Four Square Restaurant in Durham, versus Ben Strange of Aperitivo at Lawson’s Landing in New Bern
Jan. 26 Dinner: Christopher Hill of Faire Steak & Seafood in Raleigh, versus Teddy Diggs of Il Palio in Chapel Hill
Jan. 27 Dinner: Ben Adams of Piedmont Restaurant in Durham, versus Chelsi Hogue of Ed's Southern Food & Spirits in Goldsboro
Jan. 28 Dinner: Patrick Cowden of Tobacco Road Sports Cafe in Raleigh/Durham, versus Curt Shelvey of Curt's Cucina in Southern Pines
Feb. 2 Dinner: Spencer Carter of Weathervane in Chapel Hill, versus Rhett Morris of Rhett's Restaurant in Southern Pines
Feb. 3 Dinner: Benjamin Guaman of Governors Club in Chapel Hill, versus Brandon Stark of Michael's Seafood Restaurant in Carolina Beach. 

                                                          The 2015 Triangle Competitors

If you’d like to attend, and I highly recommend you do, all Triangle events are held at 1705 Prime, located at 1705 E. Millbrook in Raleigh. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Tickets for a preliminary battle cost $55 per person. Tickets for a quarterfinal battle are $59 each, excluding beverage, tax and service fee. Attending a semifinal battle costs $69 per person. Tickets for the final competition are $75 each, excluding beverage, tax and service fee.  Make your reservations now at www.competitiondining.com.  

The past regional and Final Fire winners are:
2014 Final Fire - Jon Fortes: Mimosa Grill in Charlotte

2014 Fire in the City - Jon Fortes: Mimosa Grill in Charlotte

2014 Fire in the Triangle - Dean Thompson: Flights in Raleigh

2014 Fire in the Triad - Tim Thompson: Marisol in Greensboro

2014 Fire on the Rock - Michelle Bailey: Seasons at Highland Lake in Flat Rock

2014 Fire on the Dock - Antoine Murray: Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington

2013 Final Fire - Adam Hayes: Red Stag Grill in Asheville

2013 Fire in the City - Jon Fortes: Mimosa Grill in Charlotte

2013 Fired in the Triangle - Dean Thompson: Flights in Raleigh

2013 Fire in the Triad - John Bobby: Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem

2013 Fire on the Dock - Gerry Fong: Persimmons in New Bern

2013 Fire on the Rock - Adam Hayes: Red Stag Grill in Asheville

2012 Final Fire - Ryan Payne: Weathervane in Chapel Hill

2012 Fire in the Triad - George Neal: 1618 Seafood Grille in Greensboro

2012 Fire in the Triangle - Ryan Payne: Weathervane in Chapel Hill

2012 Fire on the Dock - Andy Hopper: Chefs 105 in Morehead City

2012 Fire on the Rock - Michael Foreman: Bistro Roca in Blowing Rock

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Food: To be a better cook, buy the right knives | CapeCodOnline.com

I had the pleasure of working with Andrea Weigl from the News and Observer on this piece. It was originally published in that paper and has since been picked up by the Charlotte Observer and Cape Cod Times.

Food: To be a better cook, buy the right knives | CapeCodOnline.com

Smashburger Comes to the Triangle

The plethora of burger options in the area has made discerning one from another increasingly difficult. So, when Smashburger opened its first Triangle store in Durham (and only the second in North Carolina), I was curious to see what (if anything) would set this chain apart.

Upon entering the fast-casual eatery, I received a pleasant surprise. A smiling team member greeted me: “Hi, welcome to Smashburger. How are you today?” Walking to the service counter, I felt appreciated and at ease. After a few moments of small talk, she asked, “Have you dined with us before?”  When I told her I hadn’t, she explained the menu, the technique used to cook the burgers, and the company philosophy.

Smashburger’s menu features seven composed 100% certified Angus beef burgers (including one local, seasonal special), a vegetarian black bean burger, five composed chicken sandwiches, and three salads in addition to the option to create your own burger or chicken sandwich. Naturally, Smashburger offers the usual assortment of cheeses and a variety of sauces, but the toppings and salad ingredients are outside the norm. Here, they are fresh and either prepared daily (the raw red onions, jalapenos, grilled onions, and grilled mushrooms, for example) or to order (like the fried eggs, guacamole, applewood-smoked bacon, and sliced avocado). Further surpassing burger chain expectations, Smashburger serves its sandwiches on artisan buns. Customers can choose between egg, multigrain, spicy chipotle, or gluten-free. Additionally, the menu not only offers traditional fries but also Sweet Potato Fries; “Smashfries” – seasoned with minced garlic, olive oil, and rosemary; “Veggie Frites” – flash fried green beans, asparagus, and/or carrot sticks; and “Haystack Onions”- thinly sliced onion rings, battered, fried, and seasoned.  Then, to go along with the typical soft drink options, Smashburger sells wine and local craft beer as well as hand spun shakes, malts, and floats, made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream.


My new friend then explained the “smash” in Smashburger: “Every time a burger is ordered, we take a loosely packed ball of fresh, never frozen, 100% Certified Angus beef and place it on a 400 degree butteredgrill. Then, we smash the burger with our signature smashing utensil, hold it for 10 seconds, and sprinkle it with our special seasoning mix. By doing this, we create a sear on the bottom of the burger that ultimately forces the burger to cook in its own juices and locks in all the flavors. The result is a consistently delicious, juicy burger that, we hope, will keep you coming back for more. This technique also enables us to cook your burger in less than four minutes, which is about half the time of a normal restaurant.”

After you place your order, the food is delivered to your table. So, unlike other burger joints, you don’t have to stand around awkwardly waiting for it to cook. Plus, Smashburger serves all its food in metal baskets, not in bags or wrapped in paper, and, if you’d like a knife or fork, you are given stainless steel to eat with, not prepackaged plastic.

Smashburger’s mission, to offer satisfying, affordable, fresh, high-quality food in a place with a burger soul, has definitely struck a chord. The Denver, Colorado-based company has more than 220 locations in 29 states and four foreign countries with new stores opening every month. If that’s not impressive enough, Forbes ranked the chain sixth on its list of Most Promising Companies.

The décor and atmosphere at Smashburger are atypical, too. Eye-catching local photos hang on the walls, and frosted glass separates the dining room from the entryway. Modern design, soft pendant lighting, cushioned booths, and wooden tables and chairs define the space.

How’s that for differentiation?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

With a little help from my friend...

I know, I know. It has been a ridiculously long time since my last post. I’m sure some of you are asking, “What have you been doing?” or “What made you decide to start blogging again?” The first question is easy. I’ve moved twice, started writing for OKRA Magazine, and taught over 2500 students in my cooking classes. As for the second, …

I recently had the pleasure of sharing lunch with the generous, kind, inspiring, amazingly talented, and always gracious Nancie McDermott. Nancie urged me strenuously to blog again. Her last words to me that afternoon were “1 post, 1 week, don’t over think it, and don’t make it too long…or I’ll have to yell at you.”

In the days that followed our lunch, two of Nancie’s insights kept playing in my head. The first was an old Chinese saying: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but the second best time is today.” That is, don’t lament what you haven’t done. You can’t change the past, but you can get started (or restarted) today. Just show up every day and take baby steps. You’ll get stronger along the way.

The other was that we, as professionals, have a lot of knowledge that we take for granted. The techniques and tidbits we have stockpiled may be common practice for us, but they could be what motivates someone else to get in (or back in) their kitchen. As a culinary instructor, that hit me hard. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen something on Facebook or Twitter liked or shared a thousand times or called “genius” and thought, “Really? There are people out there who didn’t know that?” So, please, don’t take your talent, expertise, or experience for granted. Celebrate and share them. As Nancie reminded me, “You never know what someone else doesn’t know.”    

Thank you, Nancie! Here is my first baby step, my first post in over two years. And, by the way, I’ve already begun writing my next!

P.S. On top of being such a wonderful person, Nancie is the author of 10 cookbooks chock full of delicious dishes (including Southern Cakes, Quick and Easy Thai, Southern Pies, and Quick and Easy Vietnamese) with another on the way. Please read more about her and keep an eye out for her new book at http://www.nanciemcdermott.com/index.htm. Nancie also runs her own blog http://nanciemcdermott.wordpress.com.  You can find her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/NancieMcDermott and Twitter @nanciemac.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What's going on, you ask?

Another busy month is coming to a close, so I thought I’d get you caught up before getting into a new post, especially since it's an important topic.
I started a new semester at Wake Tech where I’m teaching the Cooking Fundamentals course as well as From Brunswick Stew to Manhattan Clam Chowder. The latter is an idea I’ve been kicking around and dabbling in for a while now. I’ve taught a couple of individual classes at A Southern Season on the topic and they were well received (they sold out, too!). So, I decided to dedicate a whole course to the subject. It’s been fun, challenging, and a great learning opportunity for me.

I’ve also tried to embrace a few more social media sites; Twitter and Linked In specifically. I’m starting to wonder if I’m just wasting time or truly sowing seeds though.
I also made the cover of the new A Southern Season CLASS booklet. Come “Grill & Smoke” with me on 4/14/12 or bring your children for a Father’s Day special: “Dad and Me in the Kitchen” for some fun and tasty bonding on 6/10/12!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

If You Can't Beat 'em, Join 'em

After years of resisting, I have finally conceded. I’ve been using the same “Molten”, “Lava”, “Warm”, whatever you want to call it chocolate cake recipe since they first became popular (still my most requested dessert by the way).  The thought then, when I a sous chef and chef de cuisine in restaurant kitchens, was if you added truffles, ganache, or anything else to the batter, it was because you were a shoemaker and couldn’t make it oozy and gooey enough by using proper technique alone.

Well, this past Christmas season, I was obsessed with truffles. I must have ended up with at least 5 different varieties (can’t remember exactly because some failed). You name it; I played with balsamic vinegar, ginger, honey, bourbon, stout, scotch and so on, but when Saint Valentine’s Day rolled around, I was reminded again of the hack “Lava” Cake recipes with their secret hidden short cut. I was shocked. It seemed liked practically everyone was making it that way now. So, naturally, I set out to show them how unnecessary all of their extra steps were.  
Then, one night a few weeks ago, I made my old stand by Individual Warm Chocolate Cakes (the recipe is in my August 19, 2009 blog post). The next night, I made that recipe again, but this time I hid one of my “go to” truffles inside each. Night 2 comments went like this; “The best chocolate cake ever!”, “Mmmmm, this is definitely better than the one last night.”, and “Daddy, can you make this for my birthday?”

I’ve got to admit; it was pretty good. Sure, it could save a hack shoemaker of a pastry cook from turning it into an overcooked chocolate muffin, but if you cook it properly, the double shot of chocolate is ridiculous. The semi-sweet chocolate harmonizing with the bittersweet and cocoa is a very cool touch. I also love the extra flavor that the liqueur provides. Plus, if you are a fan of gooeyness, this version is hard to beat. So, without further ado, here is my compromise. Give it a try and let me know what you think.     
Warm Chocolate Cakes 
2 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tbsp. Your choice of liqueur (i.e. Frangelico, Chambord, Grand Marnier, or Crème de Menthe)
3 tbsp. heavy cream
6 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 ¼ sticks of butter
Cocoa powder
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, plus extra to garnish
½ cup flour
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks

Place the semisweet chocolate and liqueur in a small bowl; set aside. Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it begins to simmer; pour over the chocolate and let sit for about a minute. Stir slowly until smooth, then let cool slightly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled. Divide chocolate mixture into 6 portions and shape each portion into a cherry sized ball. Refrigerate until chilled and firm.
Pre heat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease 6 molds and coat with cocoa.
In a small sauce pan, melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter. Stir until completely smooth.

In a largish bowl, add the sugar and flour. Pour in the melted chocolate mixture and stir until well blended. Whisk in whole eggs and yolks until well mixed. At this point, batter can be tightly covered and refrigerated for about a day.

Divide half of the mixture evenly among the 6 prepared molds. Place 1 truffle into the center of each mold and push it lightly into the batter. Divide the remaining batter evenly among the molds, totally covering the truffle.

Bake for approximately 12-15 minutes or until firm around edges but soft in center. Let rest 1-2 minutes then run a paring knife around each cake to loosen. Carefully invert onto individual plates. Sprinkle with powdered sugar (and/or whipped cream, if desired) and serve immediately.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Care to Share for Guiding Lights

Sorry for going so long in between posts. At least now, I’ve got a lot to catch you up on.
This Saturday (2/25/12) I’ll be at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill teaching a double header. Both classes will be Basic Knife Skills. The first starts at 11 am and the second is at 2pm.

More importantly, after those classes, I’ll be going to the Contemporary Art Museum in downtown Raleigh to judge a cooking competition. It’s part of an annual fundraiser for Guiding Lights, a nonprofit providing training, life management, connections, and support to family and professional caregivers who are assisting the elderly through difficult times.

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and end of life issues affect us all and some of us may not have enough time or finances to properly care for our loved ones in their time of need. That’s where Guiding Lights comes in and for those of us who can do it ourselves, they provide emotional support, professional contacts, and counseling to give us some peace of mind.

If you can, please support them.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

I’ve never been one who looks at New Year’s as a time to make resolutions, reflect on the past, or create bucket lists. However, since 2011 was a pretty bizarre one for me (and my family), I decided to check out a few end of year posts by some of the writers I admire and respect. The exercise left me inspired and grateful. So, I thought I’d share those sites with you, hoping you have the same experience.

A few Blogs/Sites that inspired me in 2011:

Monica Bhide’s “A Spice of Life”                                http://www.monicabhide.com/

Susan Ely’s “The Shared Table”                                  http://thesharedtable.com/about/

David Leite’s “Leite’s Culinaria”                                 http://leitesculinaria.com/     and
                            “David’s Blahg”                                      http://leitesculinaria.com/category/blog

Nancie McDermott’s Blog                                             http://nanciemcdermott.wordpress.com/

Michael Procopio’s “Food for the Thoughtless"  http://foodforthethoughtless.com/

Marc and Angel’s                                                              http://www.marcandangel.com/

There are also several people who made my 2011 special and for that I’d like to thank:
the generous and talented Nancie McDermott and the amazing and inspiring Monica Bhide for all they taught me - I look up to you both as mentors and models of success,

the gracious educator Antonia Allegra (http://www.antoniaallegra.com/ ) and the golden standard of hospitality Lynn Swann for hosting one of the most amazing weeks of my life at the Greenbrier in West Virginia (http://www.greenbrier.com/ ),
Don Fry (http://donfry.wordpress.com/ ) for sharing with me a priceless amount of advice and knowledge,

Marilyn Markel of A Southern Season (http://www.southernseason.com/class/default.asp ) and Susan Ajygin of Wake Technical Community College (http://conted.waketech.edu/ ) as well as the hundreds of students I taught in 2011 in their classrooms,

Crash Gregg, the tireless publisher of the Raleigh Downtowner Magazine, (http://raleighdowntowner.com/ ) for continuing to allow me to write about the Capital City’s food scene,
and last but not least, my family and friends for their limitless love and support as well as their ability to put up with my crap.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Some Things to Let Marinate or Stew Over

A quarter of a billion dollars is an insane amount of money and giving out a 10 year contract is an insane business practice.

Cashman has done a great job keeping his poker face on, but does anyone in baseball actually believe the Yankees will start the season with a rotation of CC, Garcia, Nova, Burnett, and Hughes after the disasterous '08 season?

I know I’m a chef, but does anyone really care what Paula Deen is (supposedly) making for Christmas?
I guess the knuckleheads behind the NBA lockout realized what I’ve been saying since June. No one cares about the NBA until Christmas and if there are no games on Christmas day, the chances of having a worthwhile fan base (i.e. revenue stream) after that would be slim. So, the greedy “bastids” settled just in time to make it happen.

Stern nixing the Paul trade is one of the biggest jokes of the decade, especially coming off of this lockout.
Speaking of nix and the NBA, in literally one day, the Knicks went from patsy to “contenda” by picking up Chandler and Bibby...and it's about time, too.

The Giants are a disaster. One week, a touchdown that wasn’t ruled a touchdown cost them. Another week, they don’t even show up. A different week, the D couldn’t stop a dripping faucet. Then another, no one could catch a cold. Yet, not only is Big Blue still in the mix, but the Cowboys are playing so scared that Pampers has bought stock in them. B-ELI-eve it!  

Have you ever had one of those out of the blue conversations with someone you don't know very well (or at all) and, as it is happenning, you realize you'll be better for it? Well, it happened to me today. It was a conversation that will stay with me for awhile and has affected me already (more on that after the holidays).

Since my Thanksgiving tips and recipes went over like lead balloon, I thought I’d do it again for Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Thanksgiving Weekend Recap

I hope you and your family had a great Thanksgiving avoiding the family drama and kitchen fails that sometimes come hand in hand with the holidays.

In order to catch our daughters’ dance performances, our holiday visitors will be spread out thoughout the entire month of December. So, this year we had a very quiet Thanksgiving, the calm before the storm so to speak. It was just the “Core 4” (as we have to come to call ourselves) with food to feed a dozen guests, nonstop football, and enough wine and ale to make Bacchus himself blush.

Since I always get asked, I might as well tell you now. We started our meal with a basic cold antipasto (soppressata, salami Milano, proscuitto di Parma, aged provolone, ricotta salata, fontina tartufo, roasted peppers, and olives), crostini, stuffed bread, and the 2011 Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau. While rooting for a Dallas loss that unfortunately never came, we snacked on chocolate covered pomegranate seeds, sweet potato tortillas, and pumpkin chipotle salsa. I washed it down with a fall favorite of mine The Bruery’s Autumn Maple Ale, while my wife opted for Cupcake’s 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.

The main course saw us indulge in Turducken with Port Wine Gravy, Mushroom Bread Pudding, and a Butternut Squash-Sausage Gratin. We matched this course with a dry, fruity 2007 Poderi Aldo Conterno Dolcetto d’Alba recommended by my friend (and Travel + Leisure's wine editor) Bruce Schoenfeld.

Dessert brought Double Chocolate - Pumpkin Cupcakes (decorated by the kids), Five Spiced Ginger Cookies, and Fresh Market’s Christmas Blend Coffee. My after dinner drink was a snifter of American Honey bourbon.

Black Friday didn’t get a dollar of mine in stores but Hollywood (and Jim Henson’s Estate) did, via the new Muppets’ movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It was a blast. We were able to relive and share some of our childhood with our girls.

Then, on Small Business Saturday, I had the pleasure of cooking with my friend, author Sheri Castle, at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, NC.

To celebrate All Clad’s 40th Anniversary, I demonstrated a handful of recipes from Sheri's new book, The New Southern Garden, while she signed personalized copies.

I guess that’s it for now, but stay tuned for a weekend “Some Things to Let Marinate or Stew Over” as well as more holiday tips and recipes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Here are a few of my favorite holiday recipes. All of them are appropriate for any of the upcoming holidays. Enjoy.

Cranberry Salsa

Serves 10

1 (12 oz) package fresh cranberries
3 tangerines, peeled, seeded, and sectioned
1/2 small red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 jalapenos, seeded
1/2 cup honey
3 T freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 t ground cinnamon
Freshly ground pepper

Pulse cranberries in a food processor until minced. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Pulse tangerines, red onion, cilantro, and jalapenos in the food processor until finely chopped. Stir into cranberries.

In a small bowl, whisk together honey, lime juice, and cinnamon. Drizzle over cranberry mixture and toss to coat. Season the salsa to taste with salt and pepper and toss again. Cover and chill at least one hour.

Cook's Notes:
Garnish with a spring of cilantro and/or tangerine zest. It can be served in place of traditional cranberry sauce with corn tortilla chips as a festive appetizer.

Balsamic Glazed Acorn Squash

Serves 6

1 large acorn squash, cut into wedges
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 shallots, sliced
8 sage leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup pine nuts

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the squash wedges, butter, vinegar, shallots, sage, and honey. Season them with salt and pepper. Toss again.

Transfer the squash mixture into a roasting pan. Add ¾ cup of water and roast for about 20 minutes. Turn the wedges over, sprinkle with pinenuts, and roast about 20 minutes more, until the squash is soft.

Gratineed Cauliflower

Serves 8

2 whole heads of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 stick butter, diced
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups whole milk
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
Ground white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

Place the florets in a pot and fill with cold water. Place over high heat and bring a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook the cauliflower for about 15-20 minutes, until fork-tender (but not mushy). They should remain firm. Strain and let cool slightly.

In a saucepan over medium low heat, melt all of the butter. Don't allow the butter to burn. It should be hot and golden. Raise the heat to medium-high and immediately add the flour, stirring continuously for approximately 2-3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter instantly and form a paste (roux). Add the milk in 3 stages and whisk constantly for about 5 minutes until smooth and slight thickened. Reduce the heat to low. Add half of the mozzarella to the sauce. When the cheese is melted, add half of the parsley. Season the sauce with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir well, and then let the sauce rest until it's time to assemble the dish.

Butter a 9x13 baking dish/casserole and spread the florets evenly in the prepared dish. Ladle the sauce over the cauliflower to cover. Top with a layer of mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 400°F and broil for about 2-3 minutes to get a nice golden top. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve warm.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What to do if your bird is still raw when you thought it was done courtesy of Leite's Culinaria

My friend and fellow Greenbrier attendee (and panelist), David Leite has an awesome website http://leitesculinaria.com/. In a recent post, his team explains how to avoid the dreaded undercooked turkey. It's a must read for all who are responsible for cooking this year's bird. Please take a look here


You won't regret it.

Kitchen Tips for the Holidays

With Thanksgiving only a few days away (and the rest of the Holidays just around the corner), I thought I’d share a few suggestions to help you make the most of your time in the kitchen.

• Always plan ahead. If there's anything you can do a day or three before, do it. It'll make things a lot easier on the big day.

• Know your recipes. Take the time to actually read your recipes all the way through before you even start organizing your ingredients.

• Make your kitchen time fun. Enlist family and friends to help, turn on the music, and pour yourself a glass of your favorite beverage.

• Do all of your “mise en place” (the prep and assembly of your ingredients and equipment) before you start cooking.

• Always taste your food while you’re cooking. It allows you to make any necessary adjustments to the dish before you serve it.

• Try to clean as you go and return everything to its place as soon as you can. After hours prepping and cooking, you won’t be in the mood to deal with a sink full of dirty pots and sticky greasy counters.

• Instead of placing your turkey on a roasting rack, cut onions, celery, and carrots into large chunks and place them in an oiled roasting pan. Then, place your turkey on top of the vegetables.

• Always let your meat rest. One of the biggest kitchen mistakes is not letting meat rest after cooking. So, this Thanksgiving, after roasting your turkey let it rest while you make the gravy (instead of making it while the bird is in the oven).

• If you don't have time to brine the turkey, heavily salt it (inside and out) about an hour before cooking. Then, pat the bird dry and roast it. The skin will still be crispy and the meat will be just as juicy.

• If you are going to bake anything, leave your butter and eggs out the night before. This will make incorporating them easier, smoother, and you’ll have a better final result.

• Pick up some parchment paper for lining your pans. It will make everything you bake easy to remove and it makes for a quick cleanup (no greasy or pasty butter-flour mixture; no errant batter; no scraping).

• Lastly, don't be too hard on yourself — sometimes the best recipes are discovered through mistakes.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Little Required Reading

You may have heard a bit (or a lot, maybe) about Monsanto and/or GMOs. Either way, here is a terrific two part article written by my friend, Robin Carpenter. She explains what genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are, why they represent a threat, and who is behind it all. To make it worse, they are pushing to be exempt from disclosing that their products are genetically modified. Is that really the future we want?

Please give Robin’s articles a look. Educate yourself and make your voice heard.


On a somewhat related topic (even if it is tangential), I get asked a lot about the flours and grains that are used in store bought baked goods. So, I thought I’d share my response with you, too.

Don’t let misleading package statements such as “made with wheat flour” or “seven grain” fool you. They are just marketing maneuvers. Remember when everything was “New and Improved?” This is the same thing. It is also impossible to tell by only looking at the product. Some companies just sprinkle white-flour breads with a coating of oats or color them with molasses (or artificial caramel coloring).

So, if you really want to know what you’re getting, read the ingredient list. The first ingredient should be whole wheat or some other whole grain (oats for example). Additionally, the fiber content should be at least 3 grams per serving.

I can’t stress this enough; always read the ingredients lists on ALL packaged goods, not just baked goods. You’ll be surprised by what’s in most of your store bought products.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some Things to Let Marinate or Stew Over

My weekly (?) thoughts...

The Lions finally lost, preventing the Earth’s demise. Just goes to show, the Mayans don’t know diddly about football.

Before we start comparing Puljos to the Babe Ruth, let’s see Big Al drink a six pack and eat a dozen hot dogs an hour before a World Series game then go 5 for 6 with a couple HRs.

Can someone please explain to me how the heck Ron Washington is managing in major leagues, never mind being one game from winning the World Series? This guy couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag.

At least this week we didn’t have to listen to ex con Michael Vick whine about getting hit too often or too hard.

What’s the story with Barley Wine? It’s not beer. It’s not wine. It tastes like raisin juice. Flat out nasty. Never again.

The jets are mighty proud of themselves for squeaking by the winless and hapless Dolphins last week. Yep, they are a legit contender now.

Last and most importantly …

I’d like to thank all of the brave men and women for continuing to fight, capture, and eliminate bad guys. You’re the real heroes. Thank you for making the world a safer and better place. Godspeed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back in August, I had the privilege of teaching a hands on cooking class at Ger Nis Culinary Center in Brooklyn, NY and it was a true pleasure. The owner, Nissa Pierson, was terrific (as was all of her staff). The class, “The Tuscan Table,” was a sellout. We began the class with a choice of beverages. Some students had Prosecco with our Lovage Syrup and others our homemade, non alcoholic Italian Fig Soda.

Our menu featured Stewed Squid with Salsa Verde, Fresh Papparadelle with Summer Beans, Herbs, and Tomatoes, and Honey Lavender Fritters (Zeppoli, actually) with Fig Compote. It was a great experience and a fantastic class filled with lively conversation and delicious food.

I was scheduled to appear at Ger Nis a second time in August, but Hurricane Irene forced the evacuation of the neighborhood, cancelling the class. On the bright side, I hope to go back and teach at Ger Nis again in the late Winter/early Spring.

To see more pictures from this class, please check out my Facebook fan page and click like.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Don't ask me what I'm doin' 'cause I don't know

A few weeks ago I attended the Symposium for Professional food Writers at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. To say that it was an eye opening, mind blowing experience would be an understatement. My head is still spinning. The knowledge shared, ideas hatched, and tips given were extraordinary. I can’t think of any single period of time when I’ve had as much stimulating conversation or been exposed to as many interesting people as that week. I was exhilarated. It was absolutely inspiring. The symposium brought to light so many things that I want to put in motion, improve, and try. Yet, I’ve felt overwhelmed to the point of paralysis since I’ve returned. The most I’ve been able to muster is a “to do list.” And even that isn’t complete.

Anyway, here are some questions to start the week...

Does the Lions 4-0 start mean the word will end on 11-11-11?

When will our government start policing industrial farming so we can actually eat fresh, healthy food?

Who are the Dead Sox going to get that’s better than Francona? No, seriousy? Bobby Valentine? 

Why am I seeing so many Pumpkin (Punkin, Pumkin, etc) Ales and so few Oktoberfest beers?

Will anyone actually care if there are no NBA games before Christmas Day (or after for that matter)?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beer Does a Body Good

Did you know that, per pint, Guinness Draught has less calories that milk and orange juice?

A pint of Guinness has 210 calories. While one pint of semi-skimmed milk has 260 calories and one pint of orange juice has 220 calories. Surprising considering how Guinness is usually described as a "heavy" beer. I think I should to go on diet. So, "Let's drink up, me hearties. Yo-ho!"

Wine and Dine 1-2-3

Nick Coletto and his nephew, Joe Coletto, recently co wrote the cookbook Wine and Dine 1-2-3. It contains over 500 recipes and over 2,500 specific wine and beer suggestions. They are, respectively, my uncle in law and cousin in law (if there are such titles). For more info, please check it out at www.wineanddine123.com and tell them Barbara's husband sent you. ;)