Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Once more, with feeling


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Monday, April 6, 2009

A friendly reminder...

Full (Gastronomic) Tilt is now posting and updating at

Full (Gastronomic) Tilt

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

New website is live!

Good Saturday morning, y'all!
I am happy to announce that is alive and kicking.
Go take a look around!
If you are reading this in an RSS feeder, please head over to the new site and feed yo self there.
This site will remain active, but will NOT automatically redirect. I'll post a reminder, but...
Full (Gastronomic) Tilt

Fresh. Original. Sassy. Just the way you like me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food in brief, all spasmy like

It is Monday morning. Officially spring, the birds are singing, the weather is improving and I am loving the fact that it is light past 7 pm now. This morning, however, I was greeted with a back spasm of horrific proportions. So I'm going to the chiro as soon as I can get an appointment. Nonetheless, I didn't want to leave you hanging, as I've been a little absent since EDtF ended. A new post is in the works, do not fear.

In the meantime...

~ As busy as I've been, I failed to notice until now the shout out that Ashvegas gave me a week ago. Thanks, Ashvegas! Neat.

~ Have you ever heard of fufu flour? Me neither, until this weekend. It is flour made from, among other ingredients, dehydrated tubers of the elephant's ear plant and cassava. Oh, the wonders of a well-traveled kitchen.

~ While I'm at it, here's more news straight from Ashvegas: The space that housed (New) Old Europe is being reborn into a (New) New Orleans inspired bar and eatery called The Sazerac. While I don't care for the cocktail (rye whiskey is not my thing), I love New Orleans and Creole food! Stay tuned...

~ I am working away on my new website. Lots of tweaking yet to be done, but already it looks pretty incredible. I would say that in the next week or so things will be complete. Patience!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge, Days 6 and 7: Conclusion

Note, again: To those of you reading in an RSS feed, I am so sorry. I am working hard to get a proper site up and running. Should be within the next week or so. Bear with me, and click through to the site if the text in the feed is too large/too small/too WTF. Mea culpa.

EDtF, Days 6 and 7.

While I did not fall completely off the wagon, let's just say that Saturday derailed me a bit more than I liked.

Wagons, trains...whatever.

I am pleased to announce that excepting the few items I picked up on Saturday (goodies from App Vintner, some produce from Amazing Savings, peanut butter) I have not set foot in a grocery store this week, either.

And I did in fact make pork and sauerkraut on Sunday.
But the idea to take a picture only hit after the deliciousness was in my stomach.
I'm sorry.

Monday was leftovers, so no interesting recipes or ideas to report.

A lackluster conclusion to something I was gung-ho about nearly all the way through.

Participating in Eating Down the Fridge did serve as a check for me, a realization of how much food I had "just laying around." It showed me that I need to rethink my shopping habits, and can probably reduce my grocery bill without too much effort. The reality is, I went two weeks on less than $30 worth of groceries. The intentionality of EDtF is something I would like to recreate every three months.

Added bonus: what I save in groceries, I can make up for in wine. I've yet to get to the point where I have enough wine on hand to justify a wine rack. I'd like to change that.

I appreciated the opportunity to participate in something that brought an awareness, to myself and others. A few people have mentioned being grateful for the kick start to look in their own pantries and fridges to see what they have "just laying around."

So thank you.

See Monday's entry for the total list of food used up from my fridge.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tastes of Asheville: Nona Mia

We arrived just after 7:00 on a Saturday evening. All tables were filled and the restaurant hummed lively. A sweet woman with short dark hair asked for a name, then reassured us that the 2-tops open quickly. There were about 4 parties ahead of us. She handed us two menus and a wine list to look over while we waited. Remembering that this space’s previous incarnation was the Wing-Stop, I was pleased to note that all of the waitstaff were in blacks. A minute later, she reappeared to let us know about a particular bottle of wine that was on special. Would we care to try it?

Why, yes please. A 2007 Tomaresca Neprica, at $18 somewhat lower in price than the bottle we had been considering. (And at a lower markup than I’ve seen around town.) A sip proved delightful, and we accepted her recommendation. She made sure to open the bottle in front of us, pressed stemless glasses into our hands and let us know she’d put our bottle aside until a table came available.

With 12-15 tables in this relatively small space and 3-4 servers, I was surprised that the restaurant was not noisier. I conversed easily with my dining partner without raising my voice.

As we reached the 15 minute mark of our wait, a server came by with a tray of fried ravioli topped with fresh tomatoes. “Compliments of the chef.” Nice. I appreciated that attention was paid to the hungry souls forced to wait. The pace in the kitchen and of the servers was fast, but not frenetic. Another 10 minutes passed and a table opened up. As we sat, our bottle was brought over and our glasses refilled. We ordered the bruschetta as an appetizer. It came out quickly, a plate of grilled flatbread topped with diced tomatoes and onions, drizzled with a rich balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

One curious thing I noticed is that the bread and olive oil that usually comes standard to the table at most Italian restaurants was listed as an appetizer. For ~ $4. Their list of appetizers was tempting enough and their prices so completely reasonable that I wouldn't count it as detracting from the experience. Keep in mind that this is an independently owned restaurant in an out of the way space, filling what I feel is an important niche in Asheville – casual Italian.

We ordered our entrées, zuppa di pesce for my dining partner and chicken scarpiello for me. It took an effort of will not to order the penne alla vodka, temptingly front and center on Nona Mia’s list of specials.

Next time.

The entrées took some time in coming out, but I did not mind at all. For one, I am fairly certain they cook to order and two, on a Saturday night with parties still waiting for tables and more coming through the door, at no point in my experience did I ever feel rushed.

After I finished my second glass of wine, a server we had not interacted with up to this point stopped by and asked if we’d like some water. Yes, absolutely. So used to water being poured as you sit, I had not noticed this was not the case.

Our entrées came out smelling incredible. Warm, savory, tangy. A good amount of food, but not so much that it was piled together atop my plate. This was not a careless presentation. The chicken scarpiello had capers, potatoes, peppers, chicken, sausage, a few sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a thin but tasty sauce accompanied by a wedge of foccacia. The zuppa di pesce had clams and rings of calamari mingling in a spicy broth with three squares of fried pasta. We were asked if we wanted freshly grated Parmesan.

By the way, the answer to this question is always yes.

Our server stopped by to inquire if everything was to our liking, and I responded with an enthusiastic “Excellent, thank you!”

The entrée was almost too much to finish. My partner finished, likely more out of his duty to all things seafood, (being from eastern North Carolina) than there being room in his stomach. I sensibly asked for a take-home container and one was provided.

And then there was the tiramisu.

I never order tiramisu when out to eat. I dislike the standard presentation of a flat cake square dusted with espresso powder, always too soggy on the bottom. It is often too sweet for me and I find other offerings more tempting.

However, my partner insisted. It’s really good, he said. Try it and see. So I did.

The tiramisu came out presented in a tumbler, with three lady fingers spaced around the sides. Homemade whipped cream, not too sweet. The cake at the bottom was perfect, very espresso-y without being soggy and gross. It was delicious, and I would order it again, no question. Consider me converted.

I thought about sharing the total cost of our dining experience, but wouldn’t that be crass? Trust me when I say that for all that we ordered and ate, it was wholly reasonable for a meal out in Asheville. Dinner for two could easily be done for under $40. The most expensive entrée on the menu was the chianti braised lamb shanks, for all of $17. They offer a variety of meat and pasta dishes, ranging from $10-$14.

Go, and enjoy it.

Nona Mia
807 Patton Ave #A
Asheville, NC 28806

Monday, March 16, 2009

Food in brief, the local edition

Looks like Monday is lending itself well to a brief round-up of what's going on around these parts.

~ Nona Mia has shot to the top of my Asheville Italian list. A full review is coming, but man oh man do they serve delicious food. No website, can't seem to find a menu online, but trust me. They have worked out their kinks since the original review was published.

~ Appalachian Vintner is open for business and humming along. Excellent, thoughtful, well-organized wine selection. You can tell that this place is run by people with a passion, not only for wine but for connecting people to wine. They host an indoor tailgate market every Saturday from 10-3. Website is still in production, but they do have a Facebook page that's getting a lot of love. Go show 'em some.

~ I had the opportunity to meet and speak with David Mason, owner of Black Mountain Chocolate. Super nice guy with an awesome "So how'd you come to Asheville?" story.

~Various discoveries at App Vintner (including some delectable raw honey from Sweet Betty Bee's) led to a Saturday afternoon brunch of scrambled eggs with Spinning Spider Creamery Chevre, grape tomatoes, green onions and cilantro with a side of Trumpeter Malbec Syrah. And pretzels dipped in Lusty Monk mustard. And nun's puffs. Funny, I just noticed the religious theme. Nuns and monks make for a tasty Saturday.

~ EDtF is still in progress. After a brief departure on Saturday (App Vintner + Nona Mia = can you blame me?), Monday marks Day 7. Huzzah!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge, Day 5: It had to happen eventually. Leftovers.

EDtF, Day 5.

My apologies for the obvious lack of pictures this week. The dishes I’ve made just haven’t wanted to flirt with the camera. And my “photographer” is out of town.

So here’s a picture of Penguin, being adorable on top of the fridge.

(photo courtesy Christopher Greene)


And no. I have no idea what that is on the side of my freezer door. It will not clean off.

Tonight, I had a concert to go to. I was feeling overtired, overwhelmed and pulled in three different directions. It was not the night for pork and sauerkraut. Tomorrow. I promise.

(Yes, I am going out to dinner tomorrow night. But there’s nothing to stop me from making P+S at 3 in the afternoon.)

I opened the fridge and my eyes landed on the leftover red lentil soup from almost two weeks ago.

Soup keeps forever. And it was stored in a nifty jar mom gave me. A magical marshmallow fluff jar. Keeps the perfect amount of soup for one big bowl, the lid screws on really tight and it is a unique shape.

Mom’s not getting her jar back.

I checked the status of my greens, which I had washed, spun dry and put into plastic bags with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture. On their last legs, but I could manage.

Then, tucked in the very back of my fridge, I saw two items that cemented the plan for dinner in my mind. The rest of a block of cream cheese and a small amount of Nikki’s Jezebel sauce.

I heated up the soup, made a quick salad with the spring mix and wilted the rest of the baby spinach in a saucepan. Then I dug out my last packet of saltines, spread them with cream cheese and topped each one with a small dollop of the sauce, which was how Nikki introduced me to the Jezebel magic in the first place. I want to share its goodness with you, but it will also have to wait.

Suffice to say it makes my Polish heart go pitter pat because it contains lots of horseradish. And I’ve been known to eat it straight from the jar with a spoon.

A big spoon.

The soup reheated beautifully, which gives me faith. I adapted it from a book called 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes. I made the soup on the stovetop no problem. It’s quick and easy and vegan! You can even do most of the prep the night before and have it ready in under 30 minutes. Try it and see. The coconut milk lends an interesting and tasty dimension to the soup.

Red Lentil and Carrot Soup with Coconut Milk
serves 6


2 cups red lentils
1 T olive oil
2 sweet onions, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp turmeric
2-3 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cracked black peppercorns (or freshly ground black pepper to taste)
2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes, including juice
1 quart vegetable stock
2 cups water
1 14-oz can coconut milk (can use lite – I did)
freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
cayenne pepper to taste


In a colander, rinse lentils thoroughly under cold water. Set aside.

In a stock pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic and cook one minute.

Add turmeric, cumin, salt, pepper and cook, stirring, for one minute.

Add tomatoes with their juice and bring to a boil. Stir in lentils, stock and water.

Simmer for 20 minutes to 1 hour or more. However long you have.

Stir in coconut milk, lemon juice and cayenne. Simmer 20-30 additional minutes.

Serve warm, with crusty bread.

See Monday's entry for the updated list of food being used up from my fridge.

Eating Down the Fridge, Day 4: Feta-hazelnut ravioli with brown butter alfredo and sage

EDtF, Day 4.

Fatigue has officially set in, and I am embarrassed. At a glance, this week is little different from any other week. I feed myself, occasionally others, from my acquired grocery bounty. The only difference is that I did not go grocery shopping this week. And was forced to confront old, possibly freezer burnt, neglected, lost ingredient souls.

While not exactly depressing, it has weighed on my mind. Coupled with an inordinately stressful week, at this point I'm nearly ready to fall to my knees and beg for a dinner out.

(Which will happen on Saturday. Scheduled pre-EDtF. Nona Mia here I come.)

The selection for Thursday evening was Feta-Hazelnut Ravioli (with butternut squash) from Rising Moon Organics. It had been in my freezer since 2007. At least. There was also some Wild Chanterelle Mushroom ravioli, but that I knew that a late 2008 purchase. Perhaps next week.

Not content to serve ravioli with a marinara sauce as I usually do, I decided to make an alfredo sauce. No, a brown butter sauce! With sage. Yes. Excellent. And I had some spring mix for a simple salad.

I assemble my ingredients and, while I have a working knowledge of brown butter and alfredo, I consult Bittman. The section on brown butter is incredibly unhelpful, but it is a straightforward method: melt butter on medium heat, scraping down the sides with a spatula until the foam subsides and the butter darkens to nut brown. Season to taste.

Easy, right?

It was a friggin disaster. I ended up with excessively browned butter, speckled with black flecks and an acrid smell in my kitchen. And I burnt myself. Twice. I think it had something to do with the pan.

By this time the ravioli is cooked.

I start to make an alfredo sauce. No cream. 1/2 a cup of whole milk will have to do. 2 eggs. 1 cup of Parmesan. Again, Bittman. Had I not been looking at the book, I would have done the following:

Warm cream milk in saucepan.
Beat eggs and add to cream milk.
Add parm a little at a time until melted.
Continue to heat until thickened.

Instead I read what he wrote, which was essentially: Mix everything together in a warm bowl off the heat.


Interjection: Twitter amuses me beyond belief AND is somewhat useful. As I tweeted that I was attempting an alfredo sauce without cream, this came back at me: whatever you do, don't make alfredo with soy milk! very bad eating experience! Noted.

4 bowls, 3 saucepans, 2 sticks of wasted butter, a burned hand and the rest of a block of parmesan later, I had a serviceable alfredo. My kitchen was a mess, parsley was everywhere...

Verdict: Not my finest moment. But there were learnings for which I was grateful. Like don't attempt anything more complex than boiling water when you've had less than 6 hours of sleep per night all week.


See Monday's entry for the updated list of food being used up from my fridge.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge, Day 3: Red Quinoa with Avocado, Nori and Ponzu

EDtF, Day 3.

I am tired.

Wednesdays are late nights for me, as I usually do not get home until 9:00. To be perfectly honest, tonight I was craving something simple, filling and comforting.

In keeping with the spirit of EDtF, I had all the ingredients on hand and it is a recipe I’ve wanted to share since I stumbled upon it.

The referenced article lives here, and I found it via the wonderful Tea, of Tea and Cookies.

This recipe is fast becoming my go-to comfort food, a wholesome heals-all-wounds dish, an umami festival in my mouth. I would feed this to someone experiencing loss as easily as I would someone bouncing off the rooftops with joy.

Thanks to this recipe, I discovered two ingredients that are now staples of mine: red quinoa and ponzu.

Nikki’s reaction to the ponzu pretty well sums it up:

“Ponzu? What’s that?”
[tips the bottle onto a finger and tastes a bit]
Her eyes light up. “Oooohmmm. Yum!”

(I was, in fact, able to find Eden Foods Ponzu. Rock on, Greenlife.)

Oh yes. It is THAT good.
Milder/less salty but more astringent than soy sauce, it has a citrusy overtone from the orange and yuzu.
Be forewarned: for a condiment it is kind of expensive.
A 6.75 ounce bottle was $6.59.
I need to look into what other foods I can sprinkle this magic concoction on.

Red Quinoa with Nori and Avocado


½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed (I LOVE the red variety)
one sheet nori, cut into small strips (I wave mine briefly over my gas burner to toast it)
1 avocado (halved, sliced and sprinkled with lemon and salt)
Ponzu sauce to taste (around 2 T, but you may desire less)
1 tsp. sesame oil (or less – I use a toasted sesame oil that’s pretty concentrated)
Sriracha to taste (bring on the heat!)


Cook the quinoa in 1 cup water (2:1 ratio if you use more than ½ cup quinoa)

Put the nori strips in the bottom of a deep bowl and pour the cooked quinoa on top.

Add ponzu, sesame oil and sriracha and stir well to combine the sauces and nori with the quinoa.

Top with avocado and sprinkle a bit more ponzu on top of the avocado for good measure.

Verdict: Seriously, you will love this.

See Monday's entry for the updated list of food being used up from my fridge.

Eating Down the Fridge, Day 2: Venison Chili

EDtF, Day 2.

After the ease of Monday evening, I was lulled into a false sense of complacency.

Recently gifted with two 1 ½ pound parcels of freshly butchered deer meat (this is Western North Carolina and therefore not an uncommon occurrence) I was confident that now was the time to use it.

I have ideas! I will triumph! Venison Chili for dinner!

And then I got home at 7:30 and realized I failed to defrost the meat.

Kidney beans, check.
Tomatoes, check.
Onions, double check (sweet onion AND leftover red onion from the lox adventure).

In an ideal world, you defrost meat for at least 24 hours in the refrigerator. Never on a counter at room temperature. I closed my eyes and tried to remember mom’s advice on defrosting meat when you:

a) don’t have any time and

b) don’t own a microwave.

Coming up short on ideas, I plunged the frozen block of meat into a bowl of warm water, praying for a reprieve from bacteria. Just this once, God. As visions of horrific food poisoning danced in my head, I dug out my cast iron Lodge 5 quart pot and started sautéing the onions in a bit of olive oil.

Check the meat, still frozen.
Oh, ew. The water is now red.
I drain off the water and plop the block o’ frozen deer parts in the Lodge along with the onions.
And start to scrape the meat off into the pot as it browns.

Please don’t try this at home.

Remove the meat and onions to a plate lined with paper towels and drain off the excess fat. Add meat back to the pot, along with some minced garlic and a Chili seasoning blend made just for me by someone who understands spice balance far better than I do. Two cans of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce and a can of kidney beans. Stir and cover.

Verdict: Easy enough, but I've got to start remembering to defrost meat. The pork for Thursday is still in the freezer. Sigh.

As I've been thinking through the rest of the week, I've realized some things about my eating/cooking/preparing habits. Since I cook for one, occasionally two people, I rarely put together a full meal (salad, main course, vegetable side, dessert), preferring to make a single dish and let it speak for itself. I'm pretty firm on always including vegetables and using minimal meat. Hmm. To be revisited.

I don't always make such simple meals, but that seems to be the trend this week. Just you wait 'til I throw together my favorite late-spring meal: Poached Halibut with Saffron Mashed Potatoes and a Beet-Arugula salad. (Thank you, Emeril Lagasse.)

See Monday's entry for the updated list of food being used up from my fridge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge, Day 1: Tofu stir-fry with brown rice and veggies

Note: To those of you reading in an RSS feed, please bear with me as I straighten out this font situation. I am well aware that it displays somewhat funkily. I'm a novice!

EDtF, Day 1.

There was a plan. And I executed it to the letter.

Which is kind of boring.

I had this vision of peeking inside the fridge, finding forlorn vegetables and abandoned meat just begging to be paired together. Instead, I had the makings of a perfect and easy meal at my disposal.
Perhaps it was too early in the week.

I tore open my freezer with a flourish, grabbing the half-consumed bags of frozen vegetables that were getting used, tonight (damnit). I got out the tofu, brown rice, a big pot and my largest skillet. Ponzu, tamari, mirin…oh, and rice vinegar.

Nikki arrived (bottle of wine in hand – bonus!), and we set to work.

While assembling ingredients for the stir fry, I tried to take some time to reflect on why this food had been left to sit for so long. Everything I was using tonight (except the tofu) had spent at least 6 months, even up to a year in my fridge or freezer. I felt somewhat guilty, remembering the nights when I exclaimed, “I have nothing to eat!” before taking off for the grocery store, the perfect meal in mind. In large part, this habit is why I decided to take on the challenge. I need to change my ways.

First order of business: sampling the Fat Tire of much repute that has been hyped to astronomical levels as it is finally, FINALLY available in North Carolina. They took out an ad in the paper for heaven’s sake. Last week, Greenlife had a centrally located display overflowing with the 22-oz (or were they 32-oz?) bottles. I couldn’t resist.


Is that it? Light, hint of fruit, smooth. Nothing remarkable.

Dare I say it? It was blah, even neutral. Well above your PBR and Yuengling, but…

Sorry folks, I won’t be a Fat Tire convert any time soon. Gimme a Pisgah Pale Ale any day.

Updated to add: Looks like this guy over at Creative Loafing agrees with me. Ha!

Impromptu beer tasting over. Back to the food. Open the wine, a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from... Australia? Huh.

Yes, I am fully aware it was a Monday.

Quite unceremoniously, I dumped the hodge podge of frozen vegetables into a colander and gave them a quick rinse and inspect. No freezer burn. The edamame, however, was a lost cause. A sacrifice to the gods. Sad.

I drained, pressed and dry-fried the tofu (my tofu preparation of choice, thanks to the magnificent Melissa Ray Davis) and mixed up the marinade. Little of this, little of that. Taste. Blech. Add some ginger and rice vinegar. Mmm, getting closer. Whisk in a clove of pressed garlic. Perfect. Toss in the tofu and let it marinate for all of…5 minutes.

What? We were hungry! Despite the fool-proof rice method, the brown rice still took forever to cook. And it was already after 7 PM.

Heated up the skillet and added a little ginger oil and some of the marinade. Tossed the veggies in the sizzling skillet and let them cook for a few minutes. Added the tofu and sautéed a few minutes more.


A success, if a simple one. The rest of the week will not be this easy.

Running total of things used up in my fridge/freezer:

Brown rice (I cooked up all the brown rice I had and froze the leftovers. Would that qualify as feeding the demon, or encouraging me to use up the brown rice at a later date?)
Three bags of half consumed frozen veggies
The rest of a bottle of tamari
Block of tofu
Remainder of rice pudding from Sunday

Remainder of Zuppa Toscana (lunch @ work)
1 parcel deer meat
1 can kidney beans
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 sweet onion
1/2 leftover red onion
Rest of a very old head of garlic
Remainder of Chili seasoning spices
1 avocado
all of the red quinoa
2 sheets nori
rest of a block of Parmesan
2 sticks of butter
2 eggs
almost an entire quart of milk
ancient ravioli
wilted parsley
leftover lentil soup
the rest of a block of cream cheese
the rest of Nikki's Jezebel sauce
some all of the greens
two boneless pork chops
jar of sauerkraut

Monday, March 9, 2009

Food in brief

Good Monday morning!

This week is already shaping up to be exciting and notable:

~ Remember my rave about Hickory Nut Gap Farm? Here's an article about locally-produced meat from Sunday's Citizen-Times.

~ This week marks the beginning of my participation in the Eating Down The Fridge Challenge, hosted by Kim O'Donnel at The Washington Post. The goal is to eat for an entire week without succumbing to the urge to go grocery shopping. As I have a nasty habit of hoarding food in bulk, this should be an interesting experiment. The brown rice that's been lurking in the back of my fridge will finally have its day!

A confession: brown rice intimidates me. I always burn it, or don't cook it long enough, or it ends up tasting like soggy cardboard. This is the week to change my attitude. Especially since I snagged some tips from Saveur on making the "perfect" brown rice.

What about you? Any foods you struggle with making or that intimidate you?

~ Speaking of rice, I tried my hand at rice pudding last night using this recipe from The Pink Peppercorn. Perfect as is, though I might sprinkle in some ground cardamom next time in addition to the whole pods. Delicious and creamy without being heavy. I packed some for lunch today.

~ I've also been conducting some casual research into the prices of bulk items around town. I'll share my results at some point. Nothing too surprising, but still interesting.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Soup for a party: Zuppa Toscana

I love soup. Though I've been known to make a huge pot of soup in the middle of July (in my sweltering, non-air-conditioned kitchen), winter is soup's time to shine. Soup has countless variations, is simple to prepare, tasty, nourishing and a comfort on cold nights.

So when my friend Devon said that she was having a "Soup Kitchen" party, I got excited. What a perfect opportunity to make my absolute favorite soup, Zuppa Toscana! While I wish I could say I discovered it at some out of the way trattoria in Italy, my journey to this recipe began at Olive Garden. They serve a version of this soup that is decently good, and it is one of their 'signature' dishes.

Mine is definitely better. I have tweaked and fiddled with this recipe so much it's pretty well divorced from where I found the original here. I try to make a big pot at least once per winter.

This is the kind of soup that needs crusty bread served with it to soak up the broth at the bottom of your bowl. This is also the kind of soup that makes people go, "Ooooh! Mmmmmm. Ahhhh..."

I love that reaction.

Perfect on very chilly days, it would have been great last weekend.
Y'know, when it snowed six inches?
It's 70 degrees outside right now.
There's a saying: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."
I find this to be more true in Asheville than anywhere else I've lived, visited or dreamed of going.
Something about the mountains...

This soup has a kick, from the addition of crushed red pepper flakes. If you don't care for the heat, you can omit them, but don't skimp on the sage!

Zuppa Toscana


3/4 - 1 lb. Italian sausage (here I will make a rare endorsement: Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Their meats are the best I've tasted.)
2 large or 5 medium potatoes, large dice
1 large sweet onion, large dice
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 pieces bacon (again: Hickory Nut Gap, especially after reading this piece on Smithfield)
1 small bunch kale, rinsed and torn into small pieces
1 can Great Northern (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed
1 quart chicken broth
1 quart water
a few Tablespoons of white wine for deglazing
1/4-1/2 cup half and half
freshly ground black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, fresh or dried sage, Italian seasoning


(Note: Taste the broth as you move through the steps and start adding spices. Remember that the half and half and puree that you add at the end will dilute your spices. And go easy on the salt!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Roll sausage into bite-sized balls. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until browned. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with dried sage and set aside.

Steam kale and set aside.

Add potatoes to a pot of cold water and cook until done (bring to boil, plus 5-7 minutes). Drain.

In a large pot (I used a 6-quart and had plenty of room), cook bacon on medium heat. Remove bacon and add a tablespoon of olive oil and the onions. Saute onions until translucent, then add garlic and cook for one more minute. Briefly turn the heat up to medium high and add the white wine, then scrape up the delicious browned bacon and onion bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat back down to medium.

Mince the bacon into bacon bits. Set aside.

In a blender, put 1/2 cup of the chicken broth, half the onion/garlic mixture, half the potatoes and half the beans. Pulse to a puree. Set aside.

Back at the stove, add remaining potatoes and beans to onion/garlic mixture. Pour in chicken broth and water. Add red pepper flakes, more sage and Italian seasoning. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add cooked sausage balls, bacon bits, salt/pepper. Simmer 10 more minutes.

Reduce to low heat. Add kale, puree and half and half.

Heat through and serve.

This soup keeps well for a few days and reheats easily.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lox and bagels! With cream cheese!

As I could not be convinced to have my picture taken with a mouthful of this knee-weakeningly delicious Sunday brunch, the exclamation points will have to serve as a means of conveying just how awesome this combination is. The photo helps some, but it must be tried to be believed.

From "A short history of the bagel," by Joan Nathan (author of Jewish Cooking in America):

In the early 1950s, Family Circle included a recipe for bageles (their spelling). The copy read: "Stumped for the Hors d'oeuvres Ideas? Here's a grand one from Fannie Engle. 'Split these tender little triumphs in halves and then quarters. Spread with sweet butter and place a small slice of smoked salmon on each. For variations, spread with cream cheese, anchovies or red caviar. (They're also delicious served as breakfast rolls.)' " Engle, who later wrote The Jewish Festival Cookbook, did not mention the Jewish Sunday morning ritual of lox, bagel, and cream cheese—an American concoction that was just taking off, spurred on most probably by Joseph Kraft's advertising blitz for Philadelphia Cream Cheese. It soon became an American alternative to the other Sunday trilogy of bacon, eggs, and toast. In 1951, the bagel made a big appearance in the Broadway comedy Bagel and Yox, introducing the word bagel into such mainstream magazines as Time. Balinska says that "one of the attractions of Bagel and Yox was the fact that freshly baked bagels and cream cheese were handed out to the audience during intermission."

The preparation is simple compared to most brunches (toast bagel, spread with cream cheese, top with smoked salmon, red onion and capers), but there are a few things you can do that elevate it to rock star status:

1. Warm your plates in the oven. Keeps the bagel warm after it gets toasted.
2. You can use any kind of bagel you want, but I'd cry sacrilege if it were any kind besides everything. Just saying.
3. Don't try to serve everyone all at once. These are best warm and crunchy. As soon as you make a plate, serve it to the first hungry soul within reach. You aren't being rude, you are putting the food first. :)
4. Slather the bagel with butter before adding cream cheese. No particular reason, just better that way.
5. Slice the red onion as thinly as possible. I did not do this and regretted it. Here, to me, onion is an accent piece.
6. LOTS of capers. Use the whole jar if you have to.

So far, the best lox plate I've found in Asheville is at Over Easy Cafe. They call it the 7th Avenue Special. They serve the lox and bagel with the cream cheese on the side so you can decide how much and include a side of scrambled eggs with onion. Go try it, or make your own!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Oatmeal cookies for a rainy day

Before today, I had never made oatmeal cookies of any kind. However, the weather and my curiosity came together quite nicely to encourage a pleasant experiment. In the span of 7 days, I ran across 2 separate oatmeal cookie recipes that I filed away "to try later." But when I woke up this morning and looked out the window, I knew today was the day. Besides, I had everything in the cabinet.

The first cookie recipe came from Smitten Kitchen - Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies. The second via Adam Roberts' cardamom fixation - "Baked" Oatmeal Cookies with Cardamom.

(sidenote: I cannot wait to order Baked: New Frontiers in Baking but I'm forcing myself to be patient because Bittman's Bible just came in the mail today!)

My end result was a wacky hybrid that just works.

I based my recipe's basic ingredients off of Deb's recipe, except I omitted the salt on top, halved her amount of white chocolate and added 1/2 cup of dried sweetened cherries, my nod to the Baked recipe. I was 4 Tablespoons short of the recommended butter (I ran out!) and in the end, I could tell.

All in all, delicious, and this recipe was a good excuse for me to try out my ability to sprinkle in some pictures. You let me know if it works.

White Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
inspiration due Smitten Kitchen


1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I only used 10 T and could definitely tell. This is a recipe that needs the butter!)
1 cup sugar (I used 1/2 vanilla sugar and 1/2 regular)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/3-1/2 cup dried cherries, rough chopped (I tried to have even amounts of chocolate and cherries, so the amount is not exact)
1 white chocolate bar, chopped into small chunks (I used Green & Black's. Yum. Love their chocolate!)

To make the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into medium bowl.

In a large bowl, add white and brown sugars and butter (cut into large pieces). Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl down and add egg and vanilla. Beat until incorporated.

Add flour and beat until incorporated and the dough is smooth.

Gradually add oats, white chocolate and cherries and mix until well incorporated.

(This step almost killed my hand mixer. If you aren't using a stand mixer, use your hands for this step. It works just as well and you aren't picking dough out from in between your mixer blades every 30 seconds.)

Use about 2 Tablespoons of the dough to make balls by rolling them between your palms. I ended up with 27 cookies, but yours may vary.

Space out dough on a baking sheet. You can use parchment or a Silpat if you have one. I spray my baking sheets down with canola oil. To each their own. Press the cookie balls down gently into rounds.

Bake for 13-16 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. You're aiming for a golden brown color.

Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for a minute when you remove them from the over before you transfer them to a cooling rack. It helps them stay together. I had a few cookies crumble on me before I realized this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

25 (edible) Things To Try In Asheville

A mashup of the "25 Things" meme floating around Facebook and the 100 Things To Try Before You Die extravaganza, Asheville-style.

(See the 100 item San Fran list here.)

25 (edible) Things to Try in Asheville

Note: This is definitely not meant as a "Best Of." By no means exhaustive OR exclusive, you might turn your nose up at some of these. Better yet, remind me what I left off. I have a feeling this list will grow.

1. Sweet potato fries, Rosetta’s Kitchen
2. A tour and tasting at the Biltmore Winery (on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate)
3. loaf of French Bread (or ANY bread) from City Bakery
4. Shepherd’s pie with a pint of Green Man Porter, Jack of the Wood
5. Duck confit quesadilla and the margarita caliente, Limones
6. Spinach and goat cheese naan, Mela Indian Restaurant
7. On a warm summer evening, dinner on the Sunset Terrace at the Grove Park Inn
8. Three words: Pisgah. Pale. Ale. I’ll say it again: Pisgah Pale Ale.
9. Ecstasy truffles, The Chocolate Fetish
10. Fried green tomatoes with goat cheese grits, Tupelo Honey
11. Calzone, Barley’s Taproom
12. Warm almond croissant, Paris Bakery
13. All of the weekend breakfast specials, Over Easy Cafe
14. The house salad dressing at Marco’s Pizzeria
15. Blueberry streusel muffins, West End Bakery
16. Flirtini, Tressa’s
17. Moussaka, Jerusalem Garden
18. The Usual Burger, Usual Suspects
19. Ginger Florentines, the bakery case at Greenlife Grocery
20. Dinner at Gabrielle’s, Richmond Hill Inn [RIP Richmond Hill Inn, 1889-March 19, 2009]

21. Flavored sipping chocolate, The French Broad Chocolate Lounge
22. Albondigas tapas with a glass of Rioja, Zambra
23. Double mocha, The Dripolator
24. Sunday brunch, The Corner Kitchen
25. Basket of fish ‘n chips,
Hannah Flanagan’s

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dinner, improvised: Pasta alla Vodka

My first experience with pasta alla vodka was as a teenager, while out to dinner with my parents at a fancy restaurant. At the time, my thought process was probably something like: Hey, it has alcohol in the title!

Being too young to drink, I suppose it was some misguided attempt at rebellion.

Since then, I've ordered it out many times and love the creamy, garlicky carb-loaded sense of pleasure I get after eating it. My current favorite place to order it here in Asheville is Eddie Spaghetti, topped with broccoli and loaded with parmesan.

I never tried to make it at home because I automatically assumed there was some trick to it that would preclude my success.

I was half right. Pasta alla Vodka is my current kitchen nemesis. I've tried The Pioneer Woman's recipe as well as one from Lidia Bastianich, two individuals I trust when it comes to delicious and simple, if cream-heavy recipes. Both recipes have a straightforward, fairly short list of ingredients and yet... I cannot get the taste balance right to satisfy my picky palate.

My downfall, I believe, with Ree's recipe was that I ignored her advice and reached for the half-and-half instead of the cream. I ended up adding an entire pint of half-and-half and a whole can of tomato paste, without achieving my desired results. My Kitchen Guinea Pig loved it. I thought it was meh. With Lidia's recipe I followed it to the letter, having never been disappointed before. I liked it better than Ree's. Kitchen Guinea Pig liked Ree's better. I couldn't win. I need to try Ree's to the letter next time.

I can’t help but think that mom’s solution in this case would be to add butter by the stick until it worked.

All of this adventure and torment came after I discovered a delicious and amazing shortcut to authentic pasta alla vodka.

Well, okay...

It's not a shortcut. It's a total cheat.


I've tried to spruce it up, but the reality is that this ends up being like a "Pasta Helper."


But it is really tasty! And easy! Perfect for nights when I'm just not up to fiddling with a recipe but I want my pasta alla vodka, damnit.

Until I can nail an original recipe to the wall and make it beg for mercy, it will have to do.


(PS – If you happen to have any suggestions as to the tomato/cream/cheese/garlic balance that results in the Ultimate Pasta Alla Vodka, please do share.)

Pasta alla Vodka for Cheaters
serves 2 with some leftovers

1 jar of Newman's Own Vodka Sauce (or sauce of your choice, I’m not endorsing…)
splash of vodka (for good measure)
1 mushroom/swiss hamburger patty*
head of broccoli
½ cup or more of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 Tbsp. tomato paste
½ pound pasta of your choice (I typically use whole wheat penne or thin spaghetti)
olive oil
1/2 a sweet onion, large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (I *heart* my garlic press)

*You can find these at the more boutique-y grocery stores (Earth Fare, Greenlife, etc.), but you could also just take 1/2 pound of ground beef and season it however you like. Same dif.

Directions for deliciousness:

Steam the broccoli and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water with a healthy dose of salt to a boil. Add your pasta and cook according to directions. Once cooked, drain the pasta and return to the pot.

In a frying pan, cook the hamburger patty as you would normal ground beef, breaking it up and browning the beef thoroughly. Transfer the beef to some paper towels and drain.

In a separate large sauté pan, add some olive oil and heat it over medium-low heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

Add garlic and sauté 1-2 more minutes.

Turn the heat up to medium and add the jar o’ sauce, splash o’ vodka, Parmesan cheese and the drained ground beef.

Simmer the mixture for 5-7 minutes or until hot, stirring occasionally to incorporate and to get the cheese all melty.

Add the pasta to the mixture and stir it around to coat. Simmer a few more minutes.

Divy into bowls and serve with some warm garlic bread.