Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mashed potatoes again. They're easy, almost everybody likes them, they don't take much thought. There's just not much to get excited about though, is there?
Then again . . .
Atlanta chef/author Virginia Willis has this crazy ability to think like a chef about simple things. Her newest book, "Basic to Brilliant, Y'all" (Ten Speed Press, $35) is really sort of brilliant in itself: She has all these great recipes, most Southern in inspiration. For each one, she gives the recipe, then she gives you something else with it - a way to dress it up, or use it another way, or add something to it. For instance, she has a recipe for Seafood Jambalaya, and with it she gives you an idea for grinding your basic bag of fried pork skins into a powder in a food processor and sprinkling it over things like jambalaya. Yes, she thinks like that.
Her mustard-flavored mashed potatoes really grabbed my lapels and shouted "cook me!" And when I did, it shouted with flavor. Seriously, mustard whisked into mashed potatoes: Sounds strange. Tastes delicious. I haven't made the second recipe, but it might be just the thing for ramping up your Thanksgiving potatoes.
Virginia Willis, I bow to your cooking talent. Well-played, missy.
Yukon Gold Mash With Coarse-Grain Mustard From "Basic to Brilliant, Y'all," by Virginia Willis.
2 pounds (4 to 6) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
1 1/3 cups low-fat or whole milk (I used skim, which worked fine)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup coarse-grain Dijon mustard
Freshly ground white pepper (I used black pepper, and it didn't blow up)
Place potatoes in a large, heavy saucepan and cover with cold water. Season with salt, bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease heat to low. Gently simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 25 minutes.
Combine milk, butter and mustard in a small saucepan over low heat while the potatoes are cooking. Cook until the butter is melted; cover and keep warm.
Drain the potatoes in a colander and return to the saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until a floury film forms on the bottom of the pan, 1 to 2 minutes. (You're just drying the potatoes so they mash well without being watery.) Remove from heat. Pass the potatoes through a ricer or food mill, or mash with a potato masher. Add the warm milk mixture, stirring vigorously until well-combined. (I added it by additions, so it didn't get too loose.) Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.
Pommes Mont d'Or Yes, it means "Golden Potato Mountain." Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a gratin dish with 1 tablespoon unsalted butter. Let the potato mixture cool slightly in the saucepan, then add 3 lightly beaten eggs and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme. Stir to combine. Pour into the prepared gratin dish and spread gently with a spatula. Sprinkle 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Gruyere on top and bake until a rich, golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly, then serve. Serves 4 to 6.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Judging from the response to our giveaway of Nathalie Dupree's new book "Southern Biscuits," an awful lot of you wish you had the knack for making biscuits.
Besides getting a slew of entries for the drawing, I've also gotten a kick out of the comments, tales and jokes about biscuits people sent along with their entries:
"I'm 28 now, but when I was 5, I made a book for a kindergarten project that showed how to make biscuits."
"Earlier this year I had the great misfortune of, at the same time, breaking, both my femurs. During my arduous recovery and rehab, I had a great desire for biscuits. Isn't that what your grandmother always cooked for you when she wanted to make you feel special?
"Since I've recovered to the point of now being able to stand long enough to cook, I'd love to be able to make biscuits for myself. What better teacher than the great Southern cook, Natalie Dupree. I enjoyed nothing better then watching her on PBS. She always made me laugh at least once during the show. I remember one time in particular, she set an oven mitt on fire. She handled it with the grace of a true Southern lady."
"I am still trying to achieve the same kind of biscuits my grandmother made each morning on the farm using a wood stove. She used lard from our pigs and mixed the biscuits in an enamel pan the size of a dishpan. These were not dainty little creations! The family and hired hands would have been tended the animals for two hours before they came in for breakfast at 7 am. The biscuits were light and full of buttermilk flavor. My, how I wish I could make them."
"After more than 30 years in Charlotte, I still haven’t made biscuits that rate better than 'hockey pucks' from my family! I’m going to try again with your tips in today’s Charlotte Observer. Success AND the book would be wonderful!"
"I have failed at making biscuits and can never get them right like my Southern friends do. Not that I am a Northerner, just Asian, and haven't developed the technique for Southern cooking."
"You are right on, girl, about making biscuits. As a retired home economics teacher I had great fun and laughs helping my students learn how to make biscuits. One might ask why in this day and age. They requested it, along with making sausage gravy...a real southern dish. In fact, I saw a student I had in the late 1990's who said she still uses the same recipe on Sunday mornings. Excuse me while I go set out my ingredients."
"As my husband says, 'my wife can cook anything, except biscuits!' Of course, he was spoiled by his next-door neighbor who made wonderful, light-as-air biscuits for him throughout his childhood. I tend to blame it on the fact that since I was born in Buffalo, NY, I missed getting the 'biscuit gene.'"
"Here is a totally tongue-in-cheek answer to serving perfect biscuits EVERY time at brunch:Before anyone else gets up, drive to Bojangles and buy a dozen plain biscuits. When home, arrange them on a baking sheet and just before everyone comes to the table, pop them in a preheated 400 degree oven for 5 minutes. Splash flour on your shirt and a smidgen on your cheek, take the perfect biscuits out of the oven and VOILA!!! cheers from all. Perfect every time!"
I wish I could send copies of the book to every one of you. But there's only one winner, and that is .. . .
Debbie Agerton. Congratulations, Debbie. And thanks to everyone for their interest and their entry.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Consider your basic sushi roll, the kind with the dark green wrapper. Take away the rice and the fish and what you're left with is that dark green wrapper.
That clever Trader Joe has now dusted that wrapper with salt and wasabi and packaged it for 99 cents as a virtuous snack.
You know the name of the blog, people: I'll Bite. And I will.
This morning, I opened a package of Trader Joe's Wasabi Roasted Seaweed Snack. The first thing to get past is the texture: It's sort of plastic, shiny and very green, like freeze-dried Astroturf. It's also a bit fishy. But it is crisp, and it delivers a dose of salt and a nose-clearing hit of wasabi. It's weirdly addictive if you're trying to avoid potato chips. You also can crumble a few sheets for a salad topping.
Half of a package, or about 10 to 15 palm-size rectangles, has 30 calories, 2 grams of fat (none trans or saturated) and 60 milligrams of sodium, with 20 percent of your RDA of Vitamin C, a little vitamin A and tiny bit of iron.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
What's up in Charlotte's food world:
- Thursday is the annual Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church Barbecue, my favorite excuse to sit at a trestle table and consider the role of white bread as a pork-pusher. Yes, there are politicians. But remember, it's really a fundraiser for the church. If you're keeping track, this is the 82nd. Get the directions and details here.
- Johnson & Wales chef Peter Reinhart will read from his book, "Mastering Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking," at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the House of Olives, 16620 Cranlyn Road in Huntersville. It's free, but you need to register. Call 704-895-6950.
- "Tiny Chef" Susanne Dillingham will teach a fall cooking class using produce and meats from local farms, from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Reid's Fine Foods, 2823 Selwyn Ave. Cost: $75; register online at www.reids.com.
- The Davidson Farmers Market starts its winter schedule Nov.5 (9 a.m.-noon, every other week), with the market's first Winter Market Chef Challenge. Chefs will be given four mystery-basket items and will get 10 minutes to shop for a fifth, then will get 45 minutes to prepare a dish for judging. The competing chefs are personal chef Vera Samuels, Wes Choplin of Choplin's, Joe Kindred of Rooster's, Andres Arboleda of Flatiron and Adam Spears of Chef Charles Catering. Details and market schedule: www.davidsonfarmersmarket.org.
Fresh Market stores will hold tastings of holiday foods, including appetizers, desserts and standing rib roast, noon-6 p.m. Nov. 4 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 5.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Charleston's Nathalie Dupree is one of the South's great cookbook writers, so her book "Southern Biscuits" has been on my list since it came out in May. When I was in Charleston a few weeks ago for the Association of Food Journalists conference, Dupree and Lauren Vinciguerra of Callie's Charleston Biscuits made dueling biscuit batches to show a few tricks.
If you don't want to tackle your own biscuits, Callie's are available frozen at several local stores, including Reid's Fine Foods, Dean & Deluca and Fresh Market, or by mail order from www.calliesbiscuits.com. They're not a cheap luxury though, at $16.99 for a dozen at Reid's.
Making your own is cheaper, and eventually more fulfilling. Once you get a feel for it, you'll always be able to do it. Here's a simple refrigerated dough called Angel Biscuits, handy to keep around for up to a week so you can pat out a batch whenever you need fresh biscuits.
And I have a copy of Dupree's book to give away. Send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "biscuits" in the subject line. I'll announce a winner by random drawing. Deadline: 9 a.m. Friday.
From “Southern Biscuits,” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith, $21.99).
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
5 to 6 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
Melted butter, for finishing
DISSOLVE the yeast and sugar in the warm water in a small bowl. Set aside.
FORK-SIFT or whisk 5 cups of the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep. Break the shortening and butter into pieces and scatter over the flour. Work in by rubbing your fingers with the fat and flour as if you’re snapping your thumb and fingers until the mixture looks like well-crumbled feta cheese.
MAKE a deep hollow in the center with the back of one hand. Stir the yeast mixture into the buttermilk and pour this mixture into the hollow, stirring with a long wooden spoon. Add flour as needed to make a very damp, shaggy dough.
FLOUR a clean work surface and turn out the dough out. With floured hands, knead the dough by folding in half, pushing out, refolding and turning dough until the dough is tender, about 10 minutes. Add flour as necessary. Refrigerate up to one week.
WHEN READY to use, take out some of the dough and roll into a 1/3 to 1/2-inch-thick round. Fold in half and roll or pat out again until about 1 inch thick. Cut into rounds with a 2-inch biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Place on a greased baking sheet and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 30 minutes.
BAKE at 400 degrees on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pan after 6 minutes. (If the bottoms are browning too quickly, slide a second sheet underneath.) Brush the tops with melted butter.
Yield: 30 to 40 (2-inch) biscuits.
In New York a couple of weeks ago, at the end of a two-day James Beard Foundation conference on sustainability, I had the chance to view a new documentary, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." It won't be released until March.
Since I was poised to leap in a cab and head to the airport, I perched at the very back of the auditorium, where I ended up sitting next to the filmmaker, a so-young man named David Gelb. I didn't expect to get so caught up in the story and found myself pushing off my departure, wanting just a few more minutes of it.
Gelb borrowed money from everyone in his life to realize his dream of making a movie about Jiro Ono, the 82-year-old owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. It's the tiniest of restaurants, only 10 seats and no bathroom, yet it has 3 Michelin stars and its owner is recognized as the world's master of sushi. Gelb's film is so beautiful, it's hallucinatory and revelatory: A life aimed at a perfection that the master himself believes is unattainable.
Here's the trailer, a very brief 50-second experience. Like a single piece of perfect sushi, it might whet your appetite to watch for an unusual film.
Friday, October 21, 2011
That would be Mark Roman, who won the random drawing for the cookbook "Party Like a Culinista," by Jill Donenfeld and Josetth Gordon. Congratulations, Mark! Let us know if you use one of the menus for a party.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Fans of roasted cauliflower, here's a new way to use it: Toss it with herbs, olives and capers to make a salad. We got the recipe from the new cookbook-with-attitude, "Party Like a Culinista," by Jill Donenfeld and Josetth Gordon (Lake Isle Press, $21.95).
Donenfeld and Gordon are caterers and party experts who are into easy entertaining with whole foods and simple recipes.
Want to win a copy of the book? Email me your name with "Culinista" in the subject line. We'll pick a winner by random drawing and post it here. Deadline: 9 a.m. Friday.
Party on, kids.
Roasted Cauliflower Salad
From “Party Like a Culinista,” by Jill Donenfeld and Josetth Gordon (Lake Isle Press, $21.95).
2 heads cauliflower, chopped into florets
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
3/4 cup crushed walnuts
1/2 cup chpped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespopons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons juice from the olive jar
2 tablespoons capers packed in brine, crushed
2 teaspoons caper brine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees. Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil and salt. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast 20 to 30 minutes or until the edges of the cauliflower are starting to brown. Cool.
SPREAD the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool.
Toss together the cauliflower, nuts, herbs and olives in a large bowl. Blend the olive juice, capers, caper brine, lemon juice, zest and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle over the cauliflower and toss again. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Put aside the news about food-safety outbreaks and obesity numbers for a minute and think about something positive: The people doing incredible work to improve sustainability and fairness in America's food policy.
I got to play a small part in that last week. Two years ago, I was stepping down after 10 years on the committee that oversees the James Beard Foundation's book awards. I was literally at my last meeting in New York when the committee that oversees all of the foundation's awards started talking seriously about finding a way to honor American food beyond the glitz and glamour of the yearly restaurant and chef awards.
The foundation was starting a yearly conference that would bring together the best minds to highlight great work being done. In addition, the foundation wanted to include some kind of an award. What kind, they didn't know. They just knew there was a lot of important work being done in areas of food availability, sustainable agriculture and food policy.
That's where I came in: Since I knew how to write bylaws and set up committee procedures from my work with the book awards, the foundation asked if I would stay on as a volunteer to figure out how to make a new set of awards. We wanted to honor a long list of criteria, everything from hunger relief to school gardens.
The result was the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards: A list of honorees who will be named every year for the work they're doing right now. The first honorees were named last week in New York, at the second JBF Food Conference: Sustainability on the Table.
As a journalist, I can't vote on things that I might need to cover. So the Leadership Awards were arranged so I don't have to: We have a prestigious advisory committee that picks the nominees and votes.
The initial advisory committee: chefs Dan Barber and Rick Bayless, Scott Cullen of the GRACE Communication Foundation, Hal Hamilton of the Sustainable Food Lab, culinary historian Jessica Harris, Robert Lawrence of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins, nutrition and public health professor Marion Nestle, Eric Rimm of Harvard, Gus Schumacher of the Wholesome Wave Foundation, Debbie Shore of Share Our Strength, Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats, and Arlin Wasserman of Sodexo.
My role is gatekeeper -- I make the train run on time. I helped to write the award definition and criteria, ran the conference calls and set up the schedule. But the work that was honored last week is so important, I'm proud to play even that small role.
Here are the first honorees, and a little about them. Yes, there are some names on this list you may not expect, like Unilever and Costco. But it takes all kinds of work to make a sustainable food supply. It's not all Saturday morning farmers markets, folks:
Will Allen, (below) founder of Rainbow Farmer's Cooperative, the last remaining farm within the Milwaukee city limits, and founder of Growing Power, a 2-acre urban agriculture model that works with children and adults to grow food in inner cities.
Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appetit Management Company, an innovative food-service company that pioneers things like a Low Carbon Diet program. Bon Appetit also works with the United Farm Workers and Oxfam to support social-justice in the harvesting of food.
Debra Eschmeyer, (left, with her husband Jeff) co-founder of Food Corps, which works with AmeriCorps to match young adults with school-based food organizations in high-obesity, low-resource communities.
Sheri Flies, assistant general merchandise manager for Costco. Yes, Costco: Flies oversees the sourcing of limited-resource commodities for the Kirkland Signature label, making sure the products are environmentally sustainable and making sure workers get fair treatment and health care.
Jan Kees Vis, global director of sustainable sourcing for Unilever. A big company like Unilever makes a lot of products that use palm oil. Vis changed the way palm oil is grown and harvested to make it sustainable.
Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University of president of the board of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Fred has a farming background and a visionary's imagination.
Michelle Obama, for her work on childhood obesity and the Let's Move campaign. The first lady doesn't officially accept awards, but the White House sent advisor Sam Kass in her place.
Janet Poppendieck, sociology professor at Hunter College and author of "Sweet Charity," an examination of food relief programs, and "Free for All: Fixing School Food in America."
Alice Waters, for her advocacy of sustainable agriculture and her work with the Edible Schoolyard program.
Craig Watson, vice president of Agriculture Sustainability for food-service giant Sysco Corp. Sysco's Integrated Pest Management program includes 921,000 acres and 30 local food programs.
You can find more on the Leadership Awards, including video from the conference sessions, at www.jamesbeard.org.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Is it a harmless euphemism for "foreign," or a more loaded word that means "suspicious?" A debate broke out at the London Restaurant Festival over the use of the term "ethnic food."
British food critic A. A. Gill called it "a pejorative, judgmental and unnecessary term invented by the French to describe food in the Michelin Guide that isn't French or Italian." Comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli countered, "Food defines who we are. People from different parts of the world eat differently—that's hardly headline news."
So is the term "ethnic food" insulting? And if it is, is there a better phrase to use to mean "food from other places"? Here's Bruce Palling's description of the debate in the Wall Street Journal.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Last week, I posted that great naked chicken picture from The New York Times. So how do I follow that act? Meet Ellie Mae.
I'll be on the road for the next week and half, first at the Association of Food Journalists conference in Charleston, then on vacation in Charlotte and New York. I'll be sort of in touch and generally checking e-mail. And I'll be active on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
Before I left, I wanted to leave you with something. So I'm leaving you with Ellie Mae. When photographer and photo editor Wendy Yang was shooting the pictures for Wednesday's story on bologna, she took a stack of mortadella home to work on it. She was shooting a detail when Ellie Mae got into the act. Yang actually has three dogs, but only Ellie managed to reach the food.
No, we couldn't run that picture in the Food section -- some people get all squeamish about the idea of food and dogs. But it was such a cute shot, I couldn't resist sharing it for dog lovers everywhere.
See you soon, and remember: Ellie Mae says, "Wag more. Bark less."
If you saw my column a couple of months ago on Gretchen Holt-Witt and Cookies For Kids' Cancer, you know Charlotte is a big player in the group. We give better bake sales than just about any place to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
Now Holt-Witt's cookie cookbook is out, with all author proceeds going to the group. It's a sweet book and a sweet story, and yes, there are Charlotte people pictured in there. Holt-Witt, whose son Liam died last year, is working on arranging a book-signing here. But in the meantime, "Cookies For Kids' Cancer Best Bake Sale Cookbook" is $19.99 from Wiley and has 70 recipes for bake-sale worthy cookies, brownies, cupcakes, scones and candies.
Dried Cranberry and Chocolate Cookies From "Cookies For Kids' Cancer Best Bake Sale Cookbook," by Gretchen Holt-Witt (Wiley, $19.99).
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, either semisweet or white chocolate
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
PLACE the butter and sugars in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla, one at a time, beating well between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Place the flour oats, baking powder, baking soda and sal tin a separate bowl and mix well. Add to the butter mixture and beat until everything is well-incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the chocolate chips and cranberries and beat again.
DROP the dough by heaping teaspoons about 2 inches apeart on the prepared cookie sheet. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cookies begin to brown at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet. Transfer to a wire rack and repeat with remaining ingredients.
Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies.
Monday, October 3, 2011
Maybe it's not as big a mystery as the location of the Grail or what happens when you dial an 800 number, but the Origin of the Red Velvet Cake has raged among culinary history buffs for years.
Despite Southern affinity for Red Velvet Cake, there has never been compelling evidence that the cake's origins are Southern. Most sources trace it back to the Waldorf Astoria Cake, which was the urban-legend forerunner to the Neiman-Marcus Cookie.
Now food writer and baker Stella Parks has an article on Gilt Taste, Ruth Reichl's new food writing/food buying hybrid site, that traces Red Velvet history farther back. It's a shame that Parks apparently hates Red Velvet so much, and I wish she had included a little more on the source of her 1910 copy of The Oxford-University Methodist Church Community Cookbook (is that Oxford, Miss.?) and more on the provenance of Alvin Wood Chase's receipt book from 1873.
Still, it's interesting history on the terms "velvet" and "red" as they pertain to cake baking.
On Tuesday, Parks and Gilt Taste promise to continue the tale with a Red Velvet recipe. Happy reading. Here's the link to Parks' article: redvelvetcake.
A little spicy, a little sweet. These made a simple early-fall Sunday supper, with grits and a Waldorf salad with apples and pears.
The original recipe called for skinless, boneless chicken thighs. And you can certainly go that way. But whole chicken thighs taste so much better.
Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs
Adapted from Cooking Light, September 2010 issue
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 chicken thighs (see note)
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
Preheat the broiler. (To really get a burst of heat in an electric oven, I usually preheat the oven to 500 degrees, then switch to the broiler setting when the food is ready to go in.)
Combine the garlic powder, chili powder, salt, cumin, paprika and red pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat well. Spray a broiler pan with cooking spray. Place the chicken in the pan skin-down. Broil 6 to 7 minutes. Turn with tongs and broil 6 to 7 minutes longer.
Combine honey and vinegar in a small bowl while thighs are broiling. Remove chicken from oven and turn chicken skin-down. Brush with about half the honey mixture. Return to oven and broil 2 minutes. Remove chicken from oven, turn pieces skin up and brush with the remaining honey mixture. Return to oven and broil 1 to 2 minutes, until browned but not burned.
Yield: 4 servings.
NOTE: If you use skinless, boneless chicken thighs, broil 5 minutes per side and 1 minute per side after brushing with honey glaze.