The 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony is upon us, and I feel that this is an appropriate time to put voice to feelings I’ve had for a few years now. The JBFA, as they’ve come to be known, are the self-proclaimed “Oscars” of the food world; a Who’s Who of dining, the Glitterati of the Galley. For a foundation whose core mission is to “celebrate, nurture, and preserve America’s culinary heritage and future” they do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time focused on food celebrity.
But here I am, already veering into criticism before I’ve even made my point. Truth be told I hold no grudge against the James Beard Foundation or their annual awards. I honestly love the fact that chefs, restaurateurs, writers, and food entrepreneurs are feted in a manner deserving of their contributions to society. My worry is that we are turning these folks into celebrities, and that by equating the JBFA with the Oscars, we play up the finished product without recognition of the work that went into its creation.
Oh boy, this post is going to get me in trouble.
Let me cut to the point. For every high-profile chef there is an army of kitchen staff behind the scenes making the machine run. Any chef worth his or her salt will readily acknowledge this; in fact those are the chefs I most admire. The ones who praise and empower their teams, and attribute their success not only to their own personal talent but to that of their staff. We have many chefs here in the Triangle who actively acknowledge, promote, and praise their teams; Amy Tornquist, Andrea Reusing, Bill Smith, Matt Kelly, and Ashley Christensen all come to mind (and that list is far from exclusive). My fear with these award ceremonies is that the general public will begin to idolize chefs, writers,and restaurateurs, without even realizing that it takes a village to raise that child. For every face you see on Iron Chef America, Chopped, or your morning news segment, there is a sous-chef, pastry chef, line cook, prep cook, garde manger, recipe tester, editor, and (most importantly) dishwasher behind the scenes making the magic happen.
Awards will be given out tomorrow, and again on May 6th. Best Chef Midwest. Best International Cookbook. Best Restaurant Design. The list goes on. Every nominee has deservedly earned his or her place on the list. But as you watch (or if you watch, or even pay the slightest bit of attention), keep in mind that for every winner there is a unseen, unknown, oft-unheralded team of men and women who work tirelessly night after night to prep, cook, serve, clean, write about, promote, design, and present the food that America loves and has come to celebrate.
The Market, Raleigh’s soon-to-open full service restaurant, grocery, and catering operation, is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to help them outfit their space to be able to can and jar much of what they sell in the grocery store and serve in the restaurant.
Chef Chad Michael McIntyre is hosting an exclusive dinner on the grounds of Raleigh City Farm to help launch the fundraising campaign. With seating limited to only 20 people, and a menu that includes smoked duck mortadella and slow-braised local chicken over herb cream polenta, this is a dinner that promises to wow. Tickets are $250, with the entire proceeds counting as a donation to the Kickstarter campaign.
This past Friday I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down to a homemade lunch cooked by one of my favorite food bloggers, Jennifer Perillo. Jennie was in North Carolina to promote her cookbook, “Homemade With Love”, and a few bloggers gathered at the home of Ilina Ewen in Raleigh for an intimate lunch and chat.
From the moment I walked into the kitchen Jennie was exactly the person I thought she would be from reading her blog – welcoming, bubbly, and engaging. I wasn’t at an event so much as a lunch with friends. She wanted to know just as much about our lives and what we did as we wanted to know about her food and her cookbook. Like any good Italian, Jennie encouraged us to dig in to the food straight away.
And what good food it was! The homemade ricotta was a dream; I had to stop myself from scooping out an entire mouthful. The fennel salad was delicious, as was the panzanella. The revelation for me were the lentil meatballs – they were SO DAMN TASTY! It was a hearty and filling meal…without a speck of meat to be found. I loved the idea of the meatless “meat”balls, and Jennie recommended making a big batch and keeping them in the freezer for a quick and easy weeknight meal when paired with her 20 Minute Marinara.
As we sipped on homemade pink lemonade and nibbled on the [addicting] chocolate cupcakes, it occured to me that just a few short years ago a lunch like this would have never happened. Were it not for the internet, and blogging, Jennie might never have even written a cookbook. She probably never would have met and become close friends with Ilina (another blogger I adore), and I wouldn’t be sitting in Ilina’s living room chatting with Jennie and a bunch of other bloggers while we enjoyed a delicious, made-from-scratch lunch. That is the beauty of the internet, and of blogging. You create new communities for yourself, and find friends in far-flung places.
I left the lunch not only with a new friend in Jennie, but a renewed sense of why I do what I do here at Green Eats. I blog because not only do I love food and the stories around it, but I love sharing those stories with others. I love the community I’ve created for myself through this blog, both here in North Carolina and in far-flung places like California, New York, and the UK.
So thank you Jennie. Thank you for lunch. Thank you for writing a cookbook that not only contains amazing recipes but also manages to encapsulate my entire philosophy of cooking. Most of all, thank you for blogging.
Spring has finally arrived here in North Carolina (after a few fitful starts and stops) and with it comes one of my favorite food seasons – asparagus season! Asparagus is definitely a vegetable I’ve grown to love over the years; you couldn’t have paid me to eat it when I was a child while these days you can find me frantically rummaging through the farmers’ market for the last bunch of asparagus like a junkie desperate for his next fix.
For me the pleasure in asparagus is derived from its fleeting presence at market and in stores. I’m not talking about the thick, woody California or Mexico asparagus that you can find year-round these days; I’m referring to the thin, wispy, so-good-you-can-eat-it-raw asparagus that you know was cut from the field that morning or the evening before. Like cherries, strawberries, or ramps, truly fresh asparagus is one of those luxuries of spring that help clear the winter doldrums from your head.
My favorite way to prepare asparagus is by roasting it. A few minutes in a screaming hot oven, doused in olive oil and salt, is all it takes to prepare what I would consider the perfect asparagus. From there you can dress it up as you wish; a squirt of lemon juice is nice, or perhaps some shaved parmesan. If you really are looking to gild the lily then you can go for the ultimate in asparagus elegance and prepare my Roast Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto with Garlic Toast, Poached Egg, and Hollandaise. With only a few minutes and very little effort you can plate up a dish for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or even a light supper that will showcase the best of spring and leave your guests impressed.
Roasted Asparagus on Garlic Toast with Prosciutto, Poached Egg, & Hollandaise
This is a great way to showcase asparagus; atop garlicky toast and topped with rich prosciutto a silky poached egg. If you are feeling especially decadent you can drizzle the whole thing with Hollandaise sauce, or you can omit it for a lighter dish.
1 bunch fresh asparagus
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1/4 lb Prosciutto di Parma
1 loaf crusty peasant bread
1 clove garlic, peeled
Hollandaise sauce (optional, recipe and ingredients follow)
Preheat your oven to 425F. Cut 4 slices of bread from your loaf and set aside. Fill a medium saucepan with water to a depth of about 3 inches and bring to the barest of simmers. Fill a medium bowl with cold water and place off to the side, near the saucepan.
Prepare your asparagus – rinse in cold water and snap off any woody ends. If the asparagus is especially tough, you can peel off the outer skin using an asparagus peeler. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp salt. Toss to coat.
Put the asparagus into the preheated oven and roast for 15 minutes, shaking the pan once to turn the asparagus. You can also toast the bread in the oven at this time or use a toaster.
While the asparagus roasts, poach the eggs. You can use handy poach pods – just float the poach pods in the simmering water, gently crack an egg and pour into the pod, cover the pot and let poach for 4-6 minutes or until the whites are cooked through, then gently remove from the pods into the bowl of cold water. You can also poach the eggs in the water itself. Add a splash of vinegar to the water (to help set the whites) and slowly slip in each egg. I like to crack the eggs into a small bowl first and then gently add them to the water one at a time. Poach for about 4 minutes before carefully removing with a slotted spoon. As the eggs finish poaching place them into the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Turn off the heat but leave the pan of hot water on the stove.
Assemble your plates – place a piece of toast on each plate. Take the peeled garlic clove and rub into the surface of each piece of toast to give it a slight garlicky flavor. Divide the asparagus between the four plates and place atop each piece of toast. Gently fold a piece of prosciutto over the top of each group of asparagus. Gently slip the poached eggs back into the pot of hot water for about 30 seconds to warm through, and then place atop the prosciutto. Drizzle with hollandaise (if using) and serve immediately.
I have been using Julia Child’s recipe for Hollandaise Sauce for the better part of a decade and it has yet to fail me. I’ve included it below, with slight adaptations. Feel free to adjust the lemon juice or vinegar to suit your tastes, and I also sometimes throw in some fresh herbs like thyme or chopped basil to jazz it up.
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or white vinegar (or more)
6 -8 ounces very soft unsalted butter
salt, to taste
Whisk the yolks, water, and lemon juice/vinegar in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan for a few moments, until thick and pale (this prepares them for what is to come).
Set the pan over moderately low heat and continue to whisk at reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan, where the eggs tend to overcook.
To moderate the heat, frequently move the pan off the burner for a few seconds, and then back on. (If, by chance, the eggs seem to be cooking too fast, set the pan in the bowl of cold water to cool the bottom, then continue).
As they cook, the eggs will become frothy and increase in volume, and then thicken. When you can see the pan bottom through the streaks of the whisk and the eggs are thick and smooth, remove from the heat.
By spoonfuls, add the soft butter, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As the emulsion forms, you may add the butter in slightly larger amounts, always whisking until fully absorbed. Continue incorporating butter until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you want.
Season lightly with salt, whisking in well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding droplets of lemon juice/vinegar if needed. Serve lukewarm.
[Note: I have recently begun writing for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog. The articles will be hosted on their website, with excerpts posted here. Enjoy!]
This spring you might notice a few new faces at your local farmers’ market. Sure you’ll see spinach, arugula, eggs, and asparagus, but tucked in between these market mainstays you might also notice bok choy, yu choy, tatsoi, mizuna, even Japanese eggplant. These Asian varieties have begun to take center stage and are turning thousands of local eaters on to the joys of Eastern ingredients.
Asian vegetables have long been in America, but their seemingly recent explosion at local farmers’ markets can probably be attributed to two factors. First, as the immigrant population in North Carolina continues to grow (especially in the Triangle/RTP region) these new arrivals look for the foods that they grew up with. Second, the demand from immigrants has merged with a demand from more globally-conscious North Carolinians who have begun to learn how to cook with foreign and unfamiliar ingredients, like turmeric or baby ginger.
I’m a bad, terrible, no-good blogger. As leader of Wok Wednesdays I help choose the recipes, facilitate discussions, conduct giveaways, and maintain the WW blog and Facebook group, but lately I’ve neglected the one integral part of the whole experience – posting my own Wok Wednesdays results! Mea culpa, dear friends.As we enter spring, allow me the chance to turn a new leaf and get back on my regular stir-fry schedule! In the meantime, lets catch up.
This recipe was a tricky one for me – first, my husband doesn’t eat seafood, and I’m not a huge shellfish fan, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the experience. Second, I had only ever cooked scallops once before, with less-than-desirable results. Nevertheless I put on my big boy pants, divided the recipe into a half portion, and trekked to the store to get scallops.
Scallops. Are. Expensive. I have no problem paying big bucks for good food, but I was not thrilled to shell out $11 for a few ounces of something I wasn’t even sure I was going to enjoy. I also had the same issues many of the other bloggers had in finding the correct spicy bean sauce. In the end I sucked up the cost of the scallops, compromised and combined bean paste with pickled chillies and garlic, and fired up my wok. (I also substituted yu choy for the baby bok choy because I had some on hand that needed to be used.)
Well damned if those scallops weren’t delicious. They had a nice sear, were perfectly spicy, and had an incredible sauce/glaze. The smell was intoxicating and the finished dish itself was one of the most beautiful stir-fry dishes I’ve produced yet. I was so happy with the results that I’m planning on making this dish again…once I’ve saved up enough money to splurge on more scallops.
Stir-Fried Chicken with Carrots
This was another stir-fry success for me. I love chicken. I love carrots. I love mushrooms. Easy peasy. I subbed wood ear mushrooms because I happened to have them on hand, and I didn’t use nearly the amount of carrots called for, because I got tired of julienning them by hand. I really need to get a kinpira peeler!
The results were fantastic either way, and this is a dish I will be making again. I love the depth of flavor the dark soy sauce lends to the stir-fry, and the crunch of the carrots contrasts nicely with the soft mushrooms. Leland loved it as well, and I could see this recipe getting a spot in my regular rotation.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have five grandparents. Grandpa Joe, Grandma Ellie, Grandma Ruth, Grandpa Leo, and Grandma Libby. Grandma Ruth, my father’s mother, passed away before I was born, and a beautiful, brave woman named Elizabeth Chaffee married my Grandpa Leo, becoming mother to eight kids who had just lost their mother. Those eight kids, including my dad, married and went on to have dozens of grandchildren. Elizabeth Chaffee became Elizabeth Lardie became Grandma Libby, and this past Sunday Grandma Libby passed away peacefully, family at her side.
Now I have many memories of Grandma Libby and Grandpa Leo and many of them revolve around food. Grandpa Leo always had a bowl of mixed nuts sitting in the den and I would pick through them to get at the salty peanuts and sweet pecans, leaving behind the nuts I thought were gross. We had nearly everything Thanksgiving of my childhood at their home in Ridgefield, CT, crammed around a series of tables laden with turkey, casseroles, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and of course some sort of jello mold. Grandma Libby always had lemonade for us in the fridge or sodas down in the basement for when we got thirsty, but the thing I remember the most is the Cool Whip. No matter the time of year there was a tub of Cool Whip in the refrigerator. My mother never bought Cool Whip, so it was always a treat to have it when we visited Grandma and Grandpa. Sometimes we’d have it with ice cream, but more often than not Grandma Libby would hand us each a spoon and we’d go to town on the tub, greedily stuffing our faces with whatever the heck Cool Whip actually is.
In my current life as a health-conscious, food-conscious consumer Cool Whip is the antithesis of what I would consider “green eats”. Its a manufactured product, born in a lab in corporate America, and chock full of nearly everything that is bad for you and almost nothing of that which is good. I can’t remember the last time I had Cool Whip, but I can tell you that its probably been over a decade.
I also don’t handle loss or emotion very well. The Connecticut WASP in me believes that feelings and emotions are best handled internally, and the face you present to the world should almost always be one of composure, gentility, and good humor. As I grow older I’ve also developed what I’ve begun to call my “inner Jewish mother”, turning to food when I’m sad or stressed. Neither coping mechanisms are particularly healthy, but I am who I am and I do the best I can with what I’ve got.
On Monday morning I enlisted both my outer WASP and my inner Jew to help me deal with the loss of my last living grandparent. Shortly before lunch time I poured myself a glass of bourbon, broke out the flour, butter, and sugar, and got to work. Dorie Greenspan’s Perfection Pound Cake was on the menu, and by early afternoon my kitchen smelled of baked deliciousness. As the pound cake cooled I got to work on a few dishes for dinner, texted my husband to pick up a tub of Cool Whip on the way home from work, and poured myself another drink.
That evening after dinner I rewarmed the pound cake in the oven, chopped off a few slices, and served them with a heaping helping of Cool Whip on top. It tasted exactly as how I remembered it, and as I sat there thinking about Grandma Libby and savoring each bite of pound cake I couldn’t help but smile. I might not have any grandparents left, and I might not be the best at coping with loss, but I can always have some Cool Whip and, most importantly, enjoy the memories that are packed in each tub.
Your mother’s spaghetti and meatballs. Uncle Joe’s famous chili. Grandma’s pecan pie. Heirloom recipes are memories as much as they are a set of instructions. They can transport us to another time and place. Treasured recipes passed down from generation to generation almost become members of our families; they tell our stories as well as any biography.
The North Carolina Heirloom Recipe Project seeks to gather just such recipes, and through them learn what it means to be a North Carolinian today. We are an incredibly diverse state, comprised of old Southern families and new imports, immigrants, refugees, and (dare I say?) Yankees. North Carolina cuisine has come to encompass flavors from across the globe, from Southern-styled tapas in Durham to Mexican-influenced seafood in Wilmington. No matter where where we may have come from, we have brought our recipes, and stories, to North Carolina, and in the process created a vibrant culinary backdrop that is garnering national and international attention.
I invite you to join me as I travel the state to cook with notable and noteworthy North Carolinians in their own kitchens. We’ll explore the heirloom recipes that make our state so unique, and in the process learn the stories and tales behind those recipes. I can think of no better venue to host this project than the North Carolina Folklife Institute, for food, and the creation of food, is as much a part of our folk history as music and art.
Check back often for new recipes and stories from across North Carolina, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to revisit some of your family’s heirloom recipes and all the memories and stories they contain within.
(All articles and recipes will be published in full on North Carolina Folklife Institute’s NC Food blog, with excerpts published here.)
I'm Matt. I love food. I love to grow it, cook it, eat it, learn about it, write about it, and talk about it. I believe that there are few things more important in life than what we put into our bodies. I believe food should be healthy for body, mind, and planet.
Once, while I was living in Ecuador, I ate some roast guinea pig from a street vendor. It was one of the best experiences and worst stomach aches of my life.