February 28, 2008

Throwdown with Bobby Flay!

I recently attended a taping for one of Bobby Flay's three current Food Network offerings, Throwdown! I had been nursing a grudge against Flay for a week, ever since I purchased his Grilling for Life cookbook on Sunday at the SoBe Fest and stood in line in the direct, burning hot sun just for his signature. After 45 minutes, he didn't show, and I left.

When Paula of Mango and Lime told me about this taping, I made a mental note of it, hoping for the chance to see this dude for myself. This show will air over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and is a one-hour special, pitting Flay against three tough "opponents". One is famous for BBQ, one for mac and cheese and one for Jamaican cuisine. With the huge kettle grills and the competition heating up, the crowd of mostly Johnson & Wales students barraged Flay with questions regarding food, freshness, grilling methods and estimating doneness. Bobby Flay really took his time to answer all of the students' questions- and I thought that was pretty cool. He stressed the importance of throwing yourself into cooking, of trial and error, of tasting as you go. It was the only real part of the day, and was a welcome distraction from the hokey-ness and silliness of the whole taping the television show part. Bobby Flay also cooked, from the time the taping started all the way through. He worked the grills, prodding and testing his food. He made sauces and marinades, he tended coals. He gave us his theory as to why certain cuts of meat dry out when cooked on a grill and how to counter-act that.

There was also plenty of silliness- razing and fun-making between Bobby and the opponents, to make the throwdown a good-humored but real-seeming competition. Here's Bobby, getting in his barbs.

All told, it was a fun day. Look, the Bobby Flay name might be over commercialized (an understatement), but there's something to him that any food lover can appreciate. Almost sixty percent of Americans own grills and Bobby Flay knows what they want to see, smell and taste coming off of those grills. I wish I had thought of it...and the eggs.

February 25, 2008

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

In December, I donated a large tin of cookies per month for one year to my firm's United Way Silent Auction. This month, the selected recipe was Old Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, from Cook's Illustrated.

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raisins (optional)

Adjust oven racks to low and middle. Preheat oven to 350. In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. Mix flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg together, then stir them into butter-sugar mixture with wooden spoon or large rubber spatula.

Stir in oats and optional raisins. Form dough into 2" balls and place on parchment paper covered cookie sheets.

The parchment paper is not mandatory, but makes the job much easier. If you do not use the parchment, make sure you let the cookies cool for at least 2 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack. Bake 22-25 minutes, until edges of cookie is golden brown. The rest of the cookie will still be very light in color. Halfway during baking, turn cookie sheets from front to back and also switch them from top to bottom. Let cool for 30 minutes before serving.

They are crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, and big! I made a double batch since they're TLMM's favorite cookies, and she said they were the best she has ever tasted. Her mom and dad also love these cookies and if you are a frequent reader you know that they are the cookie gurus!

So the next time you get a hankerin' for some old-fashioned oatmeal goodness, this recipe is easy and rewarding- and your family will love 'em...and the eggs.

February 24, 2008

Sunday at the South Beach Wine and Food Fest!

What a day it was. The weather was flawless, giving this festival all the backdrop it needed.

We watched Tyler Florence make oven roasted salmon with herb butter over ratatouille and grilled oysters covered in casino sauce.

Ted Allen in the Moet tent...not sure what he was talking about because it was loud in that tent and there was wayyy too much champagne involved, but isn't he cute?

Chillin' with Mary Alice, Geof and Duff from Charm City Cakes- they did a Q&A session where they were candid and clever.

Cat Cora--doesn't she look completely different out of her chef whites? I loved listening to all of the chefs today because they all love food and cooking as much as I do.

This was one of hundreds of wine and liquor stations. Hundreds. It was unbelievable. One entire tent was dedicated to French wines, and held tasting sessions throughout the day. Now I am not what you would call a big drinker, and I sampled pomegranate martinis, Moet Chandon champagne, some funky pink sparkling vodka, and so many white wines that I lost count-- and that was before 1:00 in the afternoon! The day was shaping up to be A-OK!

I was on complete sensory overload (and I was without one, more on that below)- there was so much to see, eat, drink and so much quality people-watching that it was really difficult to focus on the food, which is what I was there for. There's good news and bad news- which do you want first?

Okay, I think you said the good news. The good news is that this event is spectacular. Chefs and other representatives, mostly from restaurants in South Florida but some from other locales, line the Grand Tasting Tents, offering food samples. The sampling included everything under the sun, from kobe beef chili hot dogs to baby octopus and ostrich- and everything imaginable inbetween. If you are a food lover, this is what you would hope heaven might be like.

Plantain chips underneath, marinated tomato and cheese on top.

Duck, sauce, greens and potato tart.

Trio- fig in the first, pork belly with crab in the second and the last...mango with chili sauce.

Seafood salad.

These eggs were hollowed out and filled with sauce to accompany the seafood on top/inside. Beautiful.

Baby octopus on board.

Now the bad news. I have a cold, and was unable to taste any of it. I don't know if I will ever get over it. I tasted much of it, and appreciated the textures. I could tell if something was spicy, salty, bitter or sweet. But the taste...oh the taste. The taste I will never know.

Don't get me wrong- it was an unforgettable day. The sunshine, the exquisite cuisine, the libations and spending the day with TLMM all made for a dreamy day, made dreamier by fact that someone kept pouring wine into the wine glass conveniently hanging from a ribbon around my neck. I certainly can't complain about seeing food demos with some of my favorite television chefs. I am only disappointed that I can't tell you what I thought tasted the best, or which restaurant or product I would try based on taste. I could try to sugar-coat it for you, but you can't exactly downplay the importance of taste at this venue. There's nothing else to say, except that there is no doubt that I will be there next year, complete with my sense of taste, and I am already counting down the days...and the eggs.

February 22, 2008

South Beach Food and Wine Festival !!

I can hardly contain myself. This is what I'll be seeing Sunday- click here.

New Post on People + Food

Click here: Theodore Mazur Bonk

Happy Birthday, Theo!

Shiver's BBQ -Homestead, Florida

The day after we returned from Norfolk, my family followed! Their visit coincided with the Coconut Grove Arts Festival weekend, which we attend together annually.

Shiver's BBQ has been around for over 50 years, and we took my Kitty-Mom there as a surprise since she used to eat there as a child. Shiver's was sold after Hurricane Andrew, but according to Kitty, all of the different meats and the original sauce is just as good today as it was years ago.

Baby-back ribs. Tender and perfectly seasoned. Why doesn't Shriver's have a stall at the Rib Fest, one might wonder!

Beef ribs- they might look like something out of the Flintstones, but the taste of the beef is second-to-none. They don't consistently have as much meat as the pork ribs (they did this time but not on my last visit), but the meat that they do have is so rich and flavorful that it more than makes up for it. Beef ribs are not easy to find- in fact, I haven't seen them offered anywhere. If you know why, please leave a comment- I can't figure it out!

Pulled pork- tender, chock-full of flavor and delicous with a little of the original sauce.

The side orders are varied and excellent- collard greens, black-eyed peas, hush puppies, cole slaw, french fries, okra, green beans, sweet potato fries, and more. They have extras such as fried okra and corn on the cob.

Desserts vary- I have had their key lime pie but didn't think it was great. This night they had peanut butter pie. It was light if you can imagine that! It was superb. I will be attempting to make one of these very soon. I didn't expect to like it nearly as much as I did.

The daughter of the folks who own Shiver's owns Baby Back Joe's Smokehouse in Hendersonville, N.C., fashioned after the Shiver's model. If I ever find myself in Western North Carolina, you bet your bippy I'll be waiting in line for ribs at Baby Back Joe's. In the meantime, I am very content living mintues away from Shiver's- Dorothy Gale was right, sometimes you don't have to look any further than your own back yard...and the eggs.

Shiver's Bar-B-Q in Homestead

Update July 2008! We have been to Shrivers a few times in the last few months, including today- and it is consistently good. Try the fried corn for a really serious treat!

February 20, 2008

The Do-Nut Dinette (An Oldie But A Goodie!)

I started eating daytime meals at the Do-Nut Dinette in 1983 when I was a college student at Old Dominion University. It wasn't hard to become a regular- after a couple of visits, the owner and cook knew my name. After a year or so, my friend and frequent dining companion, Hugh Copeland (of the Hurrah Players) dubbed me "Miss Do-Nut Dinette", and bestowed upon me a lovely sash and a sparkly scepter. Each of my subsequent trips to the diner ended with my granting all of the other diners donut blessings with a wave of my wand. I am, of course, too mature now for such silly games (really, I am!), but I do make it a point to stop for breakfast or lunch at the Do-Nut Dinette every time I am in town.

Eggs, sausage, buttery grits and a biscuit.

Did I say that the last fried green tomatoes I tried were the best yet? I'm changing my mind- these were the best yet because the crust was more than a dusting and was crisp yet didn't steal the spotlight from the tomatoes. Peppery, too. Mmmm.

Biscuits and gravy is a prerequisite to eating breakfast in Virginia. We couldn't let that tradition go by the wayside!

The Do-Nut Dinette has made its own donuts daily since it opened in 1952, but you have to be an early bird to get your hands on one. Unfortunately, we weren't early enough this time. In addition to a varied, delicious and reasonably priced breakfast menu, they also serve Southern-type lunch specials such as chicken and dumplings and salmon cakes. This is one rare instance where instead of telling you that I COULD eat there almost every day, I can tell you that I HAVE eaten there almost every day. I did so regularly for at least 4 years. I was never, ever disappointed- either with the counter service, the food or the company of the other diners. When I go to the Do-Nut Dinette, it feels like home...donut blessings to you...and the eggs.

February 19, 2008

American Camembert to Die For

This dreamy little slice of sheer heaven was made at Green Hill Farms, in Georgia, U.S.A.!! Milk from six week-old Jersey cows is used to make this buttery, creamy dream. The cheese is aged for six months. The dairy cow from whence this came eats mostly grass and even rotates pastures, which is why the color has a greenish tint. Despite the drought in Georgia, somehow this cheese has an amazing aroma and flavor of butter, cream and grass. This is, by far, the creamiest (it is a double cream), Camembert I have ever tried. The rind is thin and very eatable. I have even dreamed about this Camembert twice after trying it, making it my lastest food crush. I like it, I love it, I want some more of it...and the eggs.

February 16, 2008

Let's Talk Bacon (and How to Get Free Dinner at Stove)- Stove Part II

Sydney Meers of Stove gets his pork belly, loins and ham primarily from Gryffon’s Aerie, a farm in Gordonsville, Virginia. Tamworth pigs are his preference for several reasons. The pig roams free on the 40 acre farm and eat grass, grain, the flora of blooming flowers, wild berries and the organic corn the farmer throws for them. They like peanuts and pecans. They are not injected with any hormones. The animal is clean- Gryffon’s doesn’t have any fertilized land. It’s the epitome of sustainable agriculture. The pig is lean and narrow with less outer fat than other pigs. They are slaughtered at between 16 months and 2 ½ years old and weigh as much as 1700 pounds at that time.

For the bacon served at Stove, Syd takes pork belly (above) and puts his rub (a secret blend of herbs and spices) on it, smokes it then slow roasts it. It's cold smoked at 100 degrees with a blend of mesquite, hickory and pecan. It's roasted by first putting rough chopped vegetables in a roasting pan and placing the pork on top with water ½ way up the sides (so the vegetables infuse the pork). He covers it in foil in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours, pulling off the foil for the last 30 mins so it browns up and gets crisp. He lets it rest for 1 hour, until it comes to room temperatureAt that point, it is ready for whichever cooking method he wants to use before serving. He slices to it to ¾ inch wide by 4 inches long.

The pork loin on the left is griddled which gives it an unparalelled carmel-y richness, and the one on the right is the same thing but not griddled. It is amazing, so lean and clean tasting- you have to taste it for yourself. So for the best bacon, pork and ham Mother Nature has to offer, grunt on over to Stove. Tell Sydney I sent you there- you will earn points toward a free dinner...yes, you read that right! A weekend trip is in order- and what's not to love? The beaches, museums and historical sites are perfectly located to fit into your schedule as you eat your way through Hampton Roads...and the eggs.

February 13, 2008

Stove, The Restaurant- Rated #1 in Hampton Roads

To see about how to win a free meal at Stove, click here. Hampton Roads is comprised of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Newport News, Chesapeake, Hampton and Suffolk-- all in Southeastern Virginia. In the recent (Jan/Feb '08) Annual Food Issue of Hampton Roads Magazine, Stove was ranked #1 with a near perfect score, quite a coup for Sydney Meers, co-owner and chef. I met Syd in 1989 when he opened The Dumbwaiter in Norfolk. We clicked instantly as we shared a passion for The Pee Wee Herman Show and Southern cooking. He is a true artist, and is enjoying much-deserved success at Stove.

Syd opened Stove last Sunday and put on a deeee-licious luncheon in honor of my father's 70th birthday...here are some photographs of the occasion:

The famous pimento cheese and home made crackers!

Mmmmm rare, ever-so-lightly-smoked tenderloin of beef...

This melted in your mouth- Sydney named the smoked fish Arthur (after my father) and I think I saw it wink!

Potato salad made with purple potatoes, yams and plain old taters. Unique and delicious!

Tender yet firm asparagus, how does he do it?

Syd giving the birthday boy his DIVINE, dense, dark and RICH torte. MMMmmmm. Okay, this party was getting wayyy out of control. I didn't get a photo of the bread, but will tell you that half of the partygoers spent a good deal of time plotting how to sneak a loaf home.

Did I mention there was wine? How did I not get a photo of the lightly marinated and cooked to a T jumbo shrimp? Did I mention Sydney's political folk art? So much more to come. As the afternoon flew by and most of the guests left (with bread), a few of us sat around, drank wine and had a champagne toast. I spent the day chatting with Syd about art, wine, pigs, cows and brie--and loving every second of it. Here I am intently taking notes...

...so that I might share some of his knowledge with you. In the meantime, it was a 70th birthday celebration to remember. Thank you, Kitty-mom for throwing the party and thank you, Syd, for putting so much of yourself into the day, and MANY congratulations on Stove's number one status...and the eggs.

February 12, 2008

The French Bakery: First Things First!

Our first stop in Norfolk was The French Bakery (4108 Granby Street) for the best non-traditional pastrami sandwich that you'll ever bite into. We ordered the small size, which I recommend only because the I prefer the taste and texture of the buttery bread. The medium sandwich is built on a French roll baked to size, and the large is served on freshly baked Italian bread and will easily feed two hungry people. The sandwich is filled with tender, succulent, spicy, hot pastrami, provolone cheese, raw onions, tomato, pickle and hot mustard. It's the perfect marriage of the best of all of those ingredients. Rumor is that their roast pork is just as good, I'll have to try that next time. Please note: I ordered 'Pastrami, no salami'. George does not like to alter his sandwiches, but I like it without salami and that is what's pictured here.

The French Bakery was opened by Elias and Haifa Habib in 1912, and moved to its present Granby Street location during World War II. Their sons, George and Eli (pictured below), currently run the bakery. The only words of caution I have for you are to be strong because the pressure these guys exert upon you to urge you to buy outrageously expensive baked goods is very hard to resist. I am sure they're worth it, but I had a food budget for this trip and this was only my first stop!

I encourage you to go to the French Bakery to try the sandwiches (under $8 for a small) and maybe have a bag of chips and a beer. Just try to resist the hard sell on the rest of the baked goods- I wish you better luck at that than I had, but I'll be stronger next time...and the eggs.