Sunday, April 28, 2013
As a rambling spirit on countless road trips through the south's backroads I tasted these and many other specialties and took to heart the rural tradition of quality cooking from scratch. The way my grandmother cooked and the way I've always been determined to cook myself.
These days I have cause to worry about that precious tradition. In countless grocery stores here in Charlotte I still see self rising flour, mercifully, but only instant grits, no hoop cheese, more ready-made mixes than ingredients.
Sadly the streets are rimmed with more Olive Gardens and Friday's than locally owned home cooking spots. The Wagon Wheel in South Carolina is one such survivor. Though they've "modernized" with a salad bar instead of vegetable sides in the evening they still offer a menu of home cooked traditional entrees -- country ham with redeye gravy, sugar cured ham, pork chops -- along with shrimp, steaks and sandwiches and their specialty, fried squash. Crispy and honestly somewhat bland the squash has an addictive crunch that pairs perfectly with the side of ranch (not homemade) dressing. The country ham was super salty but a great combo with coleslaw (off the salad bar) and the restaurant's homemade yeast rolls.
Was the Wagon Wheel's food itself worth the long drive from Charlotte. Maybe. Was preserving the style restaurant where the bread is homemade and the waitress calls you "dear." worth traveling for? Any day!
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Monday, April 22, 2013
Among Barbeque aficionados North carolina is justly famous for two unique regional sauces. In the Eastern part of the state (I have to admit I'm not really sure where that dividing line is) the meat is sparsely sauced (maybe moistened is a better word) with a "sauce" of vinegar, sugar and chili peppers. To be considered real BBQ in this part of the state whole hogs are slow cooked and then chopped (almost minced) to be sprinkled with the assertive sauce. The meat is the star here with no thick sauce to cover sub-standard cooking. Ask for barbeque and this finely chopped pork is what you'll get. Cool creamy cole slaw with the astringent sauce is one of the culinary world's great combinations. A taste worth traveling for.
In the Western part of the state cooks use a proper sauce, still with a vinegar base but generally sweetened and thickened with ketchup and whatever creative ingredients your pit master deems worthy. At first glance Western NC style will seem more familiar to BBQ eaters from around the country -- heavy sauce on pit cooked meat (pork shoulder not whole hog) -- but the tangy sauce will be a pleasant surprise.
Though on a map -- to me at least -- Charlotte seems on the Western side of the state what I find in the city's restaurants is clearly Eastern.
Though the surrounding areas offer some great tastes, Charlotte itself is not what I'd consider a great barbeque town like Memphis or Kansas City. But I can't help but sample the local fare.
My first stop? Bar-B-Q King, a drive in joint with curbside service. A vanishing icon of Americana. I order from my car hoping for their renown fried oysters only to find there has been a scare and there is no local shellfish. I settle for a BBQ tray (BBQ, perfectly crisp hush puppies and cole slaw) with a side of crisply fried deviled crab. The "sauce" is certainly tangy, forceful even. The BBQ is good, not great but this place is fun, homey and nostalgic. I'll be back for a chicken liver sandwich next time.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Tonight's specialty, oxtail. was one I have never cooked before though I've enjoyed it in soups and stews across Spain and Italy. I opted, as I often do, for an Italian preparation -- coda alla vaccinara, a Roman dish where the meat is long stewed with peppery pancetta and fresh tasting celery.
First I simmered the crosscut pieces in water for 10 minutes to make 2 cups of broth for the stew. I stirred 2 TB of tomato paste into the reserved stock and set it aside. Next, in a dutch oven, I sautéed the pancetta in olive oil and then added in the pieces of oxtail to brown on all sides. When the meat was browned I removed it from the pan briefly to make room to sauté chopped onions (I didn't have any carrots so I used both sweet and brown onions), parsley, and 4 cloves of garlic. When the vegetables were browned I added the meat back in and poured about 3/4 of wine into the pan. When the wine was reduced by more than 1/2 I poured in about 1.2 cup or so, S&P and the reserved stock. The stew simmered, covered, for 2 hours until the meat was moist and tender. As a last step I stirred 6 chopped stalks of celery and let the pot simmer, covered for 15 minutes more.
While the pot simmered I took a idea from boisterous Italian chef Mario Batali and mixed up a quick salad of celery leaves, chopped celery, lemon zest, chili flakes, cinnamon, and S&Pfor a bit fo fresh brightness to top our hearty stew.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
In one bowl I mixed together 6 eggs, 1/3 cup milk, and about 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Into a second bowl I sifted 2 2/3 cups of flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt. In an electric mixer I creamed 3 sticks (I told you it was rich) or room temperature butter with 1 TB lemon zest, 2 TB blood orange zest, 1/2 cup white sugar and 3/4 cup brown sugar. When was butter is well mixed I alternated between the flour and egg mixture (ending with the flour) and then stirred in about 2 cups of sliced strawberries tossed with 1 TB of flour.
1/3 of the batter went into my well buttered and floured bundt pan, followed by another 1/2 cup (a heavy 1/2 cup) of strawberries tossed with a heavy 1/2 tsp flour. Another layer of batter (1/3 of the total) covered those berries and was topped with another heavy 1/2 cup of berries tossed with flour. I spread the last 1/3 of the batter on top and baked my springtime pound cake for 1 hour and 10 minutes at 325º.
While the cake was baking I combined 2TB lemon juice, 3TB (maybe it was 3 1/2) blood orange juice and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan. I brought the liquid to a boil stirring to dissolve the sugar to make a tangy syrup to flavor the cake.
When the cake was baked and still warm in the pan I poked holes in it with a wooden skewer and brushed my cooled citrus syrup over the top -- the holes help it sink into the cake. After cooling for 10 minutes I flipped the cake over onto a cooling rack (next time I will turn it over onto parchment paper on a rack as that syrup was pretty sticky) skewered holes in the top of the cake and brushed on the remaining syrup.
Despite the 6 eggs the end result was a moist, tangy fruit filled cake. Just right to welcome and celebrate another spring.
Monday, April 15, 2013
Sunday, April 14, 2013
The season lasts through the month of April. Each diver is permitted 3 abalone a day and a total of 24 for the season.
Despite the murky water Josh was determined that James and I get our first taste of fresh abalone and kept looking until he retrieved a small sample. Small but legal.
I had never cooked or eaten abalone before. I knew they have to be tenderized but I didn't know how to do it. When I looked a bit skeptical Josh took over. He pounded and pounded and then cut the meat into long, tender slices. I assume he did -- Josh whisked the abalone away and showed up at our door in time for a dinner treat.
Taking our friends advice I pan fried the abalone, breaded in crushed ritz crackers, in butter and olive oil until just cooked through.
Tender, rich, buttery. A clean taste like super fresh scallops but even more delicious. Delicate and delicious. I hope we get invited again!
Saturday, April 13, 2013
After reading Chowhound and Yelp reviews for Shau May in Monterey Park I traveled down to the food court style restaurant hoping to find my beloved dumplings. Were these too doughy? The broth too sweet? I can't place exactly what was different but these were a far cry from my street side delight in Shanghai. I'm still looking.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Monday, April 8, 2013
More often then not now I think about the dishes to come when I am planning dinner. If I can roast potatoes in the same pan as the chicken that's a win. If broccoli cooks and gets tossed in olive oil and garlic in the same sauté pan, double win. Soup or stew that can store in the pot to be re-heated for lunch the next day is a favorite. I'm trying to rebel but I am drifting into becoming the dreaded one pot cook.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Wild turkeys, though native to North America, were not introduced into California until 1877 when a colony was started on Santa Cruz Island. The Department of Fish and Game started breeding and releasing these modern turkeys for hunting in 1928. In the 1950's the department began trapping birds in other states freeing them in California to try and establish a wild population. Mission accomplished. At last count there were more than 100,000 wild turkeys throughout the state.
Though some consider the birds a problem I can't deny I love their rambling walks and their noisy calls. I love when they stop traffic crossing the road and I love when they come to visit.
Makes me think Ben Franklin might have had a point.
Friday, April 5, 2013
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
I decided on the shorter flowers of Chinese wisteria or Wisteria sinensis -- we want to walk through the arbor after all and 3 foot flowers may be a bit of an obstacle. This lovely light purple flower is a variety called Amethyst. I can't wait to see it tumbling over the rafters of our arbor.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Monday, April 1, 2013
Though these sweet cakes would have been plenty good with just fresh strawberries I decided to follow the recipe and macerate sliced berries in a sprinkle of sugar, chopped mint and a dash of orange zest. When it came time to serve dessert I sliced the biscuits in half, poured the strawberries over the cake, added a generous dollop of whipped cream and the top of the shortcake -- garnished with a bit more cream and strawberries. Easy, seasonal, make-ahead, and delicious. The perfect summer dessert.