Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why food is cheap....

Saw this article in the Washington Post titled "Gut Check: When Food Is Discounted, Consumers Should Ask Why".

It's an interesting morning read, basically a synopsis of a book that just came out. The article talks about the different forces contributing to changes in food prices, and uses the price of shrimp as an example of not-completely-understood forces affecting the price. This line jumped out at me during that discussion of cheap shrimp:

While a traditional shrimp pond yielded 450 pounds of shrimp per acre, the industrialized shrimp farms produce 89,000 pounds per acre.

That's amazing, and it makes you wonder exactly how that $2.99/$3.33lb shrimp that's mentioned in today's N&O "frugal feasts" post gets to be that cheap, and how differently it might taste from either wild shrimp or the low-intensity shrimp farm.

The book that Ezra Klein (the article's author, and a great blogger in his own right) is writing up is called "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture", and I've already put it on my Amazon wish-list.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Western Wake Farmer's Market news...

The Western Wake Farmers' Market (which, luckily for me, is located in my neighborhood) is celebrating "National Farmers' Market Week" today. The chef from Zely and Ritz (Sarig Agasi) will be there, and there's other stuff as well.
The chef from Heron's is also occasionally there, with samples etc. (but I don't know if he's there today).

If I weren't going to BarCamp today, I'd definitely check it out.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lunch at Heron's...

Liz and I had lunch today at Heron's Restaurant, taking advantage of the "Market Menu" that they've started running (and which was listed in the N&O last week).
The menu's a prix fixe lunch, 3 courses for $20, plus wine pairings for an additional $12.

I took advantage of the wine (Liz didn't), and overall it was great.
The menu was:

  • A Tasting of Heirloom Tomatoes (Tarte Tatin, Consomme, Local Mozzarella)

  • Cane Creek Pork & Beef Meatball with Short Rib Ravioli, Ratatouille and Fresh Chevre

  • Pan Roasted Local Figs with Brown Butter Cake, Toasted Almond Ice Cream

and the wine pairings were:

  • Waterbrook 'Melange', Columbia Valley, WA

  • Pinot Noir, Nicolas Potel, Bourgogne, FR

  • La Yunta, Late Harvest, Torrontes, Argentina

Everything was perfectly cooked, and the portions were just right. It's a little pricey for lunch after you include wine, but considering the dinner prices, I think it's a good deal, and it's nice to treat yourself some times.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Over the weekend, I went to see She & Him at UNC Memorial Hall. They were the last act to perform as part of the "Merge XX" fest, and they were good. The people who went on before them (American Music Club) were not my cup of tea, but all-in-all, a good show.

Before we went to the show, we got dinner over in Carrboro at Milltown (sorry, no website). It's apparently owned by the same people who own Federal in Durham. I've never been to Federal, so I can't really comment on that, but I thought Milltown was pretty good.
They have an extensive beer list (an inch thick tome, and probably rivaling Tyler's), and both the beer and food lean towards Belgian. I had a Dogfish Head 60min IPA, an Ommegang Rare Vos, and then a Stone Pale Ale (yes, I had 3 beers, so sue me). Oh, and I also had a pretty good grilled cheese w/tomato and avocado, and the fries looked pretty good.

I looked on chowhound, and their take was something like "good beer, good bar food, probably not going to win any awards, but who cares?", and I agree with that. It's a good place to get a good meal (and a good beer with it), but it's not a Lantern or Elaine's, and it's not trying to be. I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday @Daniel's

We went to Daniel's Pizza Pasta in Apex last night for dinner, and it was pretty good.
If you're looking for your typical "red sauce" Italian place, Daniel's fits the bill.

It's a little pricey (which is probably my main bone of contention with them), and I have a love/hate relationship with this place, in the sense that I think their wine list is terrific, with a vast selection (and obviously, the Wine Spectator thinks so, too, since they're listed every year with them), but I think the food there is nothing special. A lot of people, including my family, disagree, but what do they know?

However, the real reason we went (or why I went along with it) was that on Wednesday's, they have 20% off all bottles of wine. So, while the food wasn't "wow", the 2006 Catena Malbec we had with dinner was pretty good, and @20% off, I feel like we're shaving at least some of the "restaurant markup" off.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Frugal Feasts entry...

I entered the N&O's frugal feasts contest, and here's the recipe I sent (No pics for this entry (I really need to get back into the picture taking swing of things...)):

Grilled Chicken Tacos
1 - 1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs (bone-in or boneless) chili powder flour tortillas
1 bunch cilantro
salsa (store-bought or homemade) or tomatoes
1 can black beans
1-2 limes

Rub chicken thighs all over with chili powder and set aside.
Wash the cilantro by filling a large bowl with water, and swishing the cilantro in the water. Dump the water and repeat until no sand is in the bottom of the bowl.
Chop the cilantro and put in a serving bowl.
If using, chop the tomatoes and put in a serving bowl.
Heat black beans and put in a serving bowl.
Grill the chicken over med-med high heat until done. Allow to rest 5 minutes.
If using bone-in thighs, remove chicken from bone and chop. If using boneless, just chop up.
Put the chicken in a serving bowl.
Wrap the tortillas in a paper towel, and microwave 15 seconds to heat.

Serve chicken with tortillas, and use cilantro, salsa/tomatoes, black beans, and lime juice as garnish (plus whatever other garnishes you desire (an avocado, mashed with some lime juice, salt and pepper plus some cilantro makes a good quick guac).

A good side dish would be a simple rice, like:
1 cup white rice
2 cups chicken stock/broth
1 can rotel tomatoes

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, and then cover, turn down to low, and allow to simmer 20-25 minutes.

For a simple salsa, something like:
1-2lbs tomatoes, chopped (you could also seed them, but I don't) chopped cilantro (to taste)
1/2 small onion(chopped)
1-2 serrano peppers, seeded, with membrane removed, and chopped.
juice of 1 lime
salt + pepper to taste.

Man, I'm already hungry!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tastes like french fries...

That's not usually something you want to hear from someone eating your food, but when my 6 year old (Bridget) commented on the roast potatoes I made with dinner tonight, I knew it had to be my title.

Cooking in summer is sort of like cheating. There's not a lot of work involved in making a good meal. It's basically "grill , cook in a way that doesn't obscure its freshness, and add a starch". Bang, you're done.

Tonight, following that formula, I came up with:

  • grilled 5-spice chicken legs with a honey-soy glaze

  • sauteed bok choy

  • roasted potatoes

The chicken legs were a piece of cake. I took some organic chicken legs, trimmed off what little excess fat there was, and rubbed them all over with 5-spice powder and salt, and left them to sit for a bit.
Once I'd gotten everything else prepped, I just lit up the grill, and grilled the legs until they were done and the skin was nice and crispy (first searing at high heat to get the skin crispy and then cooking at a lower heat to finsh the meat). Then I brushed them with a simple honey/soy glaze (1 part honey:1part soy sauce + hot pepper flakes for flavor) on one side, let that cook for a minute, and then did the same to the other side.

For the potatoes, I chopped up 6-7 red potatoes, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper, and then put the potatoes in a 450deg oven. I followed the Cook's Illustrated scheme of "covered pan - 20min, shake, 10min, and uncover and roast for another 10min". It's pretty foolproof, and elicited the "french fries" comment. In this case, it's high praise.

For the bok choy, I broke up the bok choy into leaves, and sauteed in a wok with a little olive oil, and equal parts soy sauce and white vinegar (1 tsp, maybe 1 1/2 tsp each). I cooked it until the greens were wilted but the stalks were still crunchy

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Poole's Diner

Every year, for my birthday, we go out to dinner at a special place of my choosing, and this year I picked Poole's Diner. I'd heard great things about this place (they were in Gourmet, I've seen blog
postings, etc), and I was really eager to try it. It was well worth the trip to Raleigh.

I'd say we got there around 6:45 , and since the place doesn't take reservations, we took a seat at the bar and ordered drinks to pass the time until a table was available. Liz had an Ellie's Brown Ale (from Avery Brewing Co), and I had a "Truman 75" cocktail. From a quick google, it's a variant of a "French 75" cocktail, mixing gin, cucumber, prosecco and citrus. It was very light, refreshing, and a nice change from my usual "gin and tonic". I think if you added cilantro, it would be really awesome, but I love cilantro. If I ever decide to make one at home, I think combining the recipe for a French 75 and this would be a good place to start.

While we waited, we ordered an appetizer of pimento cheese with crostini, which was tasty.
After a while, we got a table, and I had a Stone IPA, which is a darn fine IPA.
To start, I got the chicken liver pate, and Liz got the heirloom tomato salad. The pate was quite good, and I ate all of it. Liz shared some of her tomatoes, and they were good, too. For our main courses, Liz had roasted chicken, which she said she liked, and I had the lamb meatballs, with a side order of fried okra. Sadly, the lamb was a little dry, so it was probably my least favorite part of the meal. It was good, but not great. (Should've gone for the scallops that were on the menu instead). The okra, though, was great. I'm not a big okra fan, but this dish really changed my mind. The cornmeal coating was crisp and not greasy at all, and the okra was tender without being mushy. Very nice.

By that time, it was about 9:40, and we had to leave since our babysitter (Liz's mom) wanted to leave by 10. All in all, I'd definitely go back to Poole's (and hopefully I won't have to wait until next birthday to go). It's funny, b/c much like Lantern (in Chapel Hill), which I like a lot, I liked the sides and other small plates at Poole's much more than my main course, and it's the same way at Lantern. Go figure.

I'd have taken pictures, but I think that's weird to do when you're eating.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Weeknight Dinner...

I had a good day Thursday, so I figured I'd cook some food that makes me happy.
The kind of food that makes me happy in summer (or really any time) is simple food, with clear flavors and nothing really overpowering. That's probably why I like eastern-style barbecue (with its emphasis on smoked pork and a simple vinegar based sauce) rather than western-style, which I've always felt placed too much emphasis on hiding the flavor of the pork. That's the problem with commercial bbq sauce as well. Too much sugar, and too much "let's hide the flavor of the meat" instead of letting it shine through. Heck, that's the problem with most processed food (and why my grocery cart is usually heavy on the fresh fruit, vegetables and animal proteins), where companies try to make things taste like something other than what they are. Although I guess businesses are trying to squeeze as much money as possible out of cheap ingredients, and the best way to make some bad taste good is to make it not taste like what it is.

Anyway, enough of the rant.

I do pretty much all the grocery shopping in the house, and when I do the shopping I try to plan out the week's meals as much as possible. When I did the shopping earlier in the week, I'd picked up some nice lamb shoulder chops, planning to grill them, so that was a natural fit for "happy food". I'd never really considered shoulder chops until I made them when the family was out of town, and they ended up being very good. The flavor, texture and tenderness were similar to lamb leg (which I love), and the price is very reasonable (cheaper than steak, that's for sure).

I've never understood why there's not more lamb available in the supermarket, which I guess really means, I've never understood why more people don't eat lamb. I guess it might be that people don't want to eat something cute (which probably also explains why rabbit is not more popular in the grocery), but I've always thought cows were cute, and people sure don't have a problem eating them.

Anyway, I went very simple with the lamb. I made a paste of garlic and coarse kosher salt (by mincing 2 cloves of garlic with the salt, and just patiently mixing the two, and then mincing and mixing over and over until it was the right mix), and put the paste into a small bowl. I added some fresh ground black pepper, and then added a mix of regular dijon mustard and whole grain dijon mustard (I ran out of regular dijon, and all I had was the whole grain, so I mixed the two together). If I had to guess how much, I'd say somewhere between 1-2 tbsp. Once I'd mixed that up, I rubbed the mix all-over my chops. After I let them sit for a bit while I prepared the rest of the meal, I grilled the lamb chops for about 10-15 minutes (until med-rare), and then I let them rest for about 5-10 minutes while I set the table and what-not. Very nice.

I've been trying to eat healthier, and get away from potatoes and rice so much, so I went "no carb" for dinner. Instead of something like roasted potatoes (which would be really good with the lamb, I have to admit), I decided to roast some cauliflower as a side, along with some sauteed zucchini. The zucchini really doesn't need any explanation beyond "slice some zucchini, salt it and let it sit for a while, and then saute in olive oil until done", but I'd like to say more about the cauliflower, since it's one of my new favorite vegetables.

I'd never thought of roasting cauliflower until I bought a head of cauliflower a couple of weeks ago, with the intent of making something indian. When I thought about it later, and realized there was no way to get my daughters to eat something as exotic as an Indian cauliflower stew, I was stuck with this cauliflower and nothing to do with it. So, I ended up roasting it in olive oil with some garlic, salt and pepper, and it was awesome.
A formal recipe would be like:
1 head of cauliflower, cored, broken into florets and then sliced into 1/4-1/2 inch slices
2-3 tbsp olive
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste.
heat oven to 400deg. Place the cauliflower in a roasting pan, drizzle olive oil over top, scatter garlic, salt and pepper over cauliflower, and then stir to coat. Place in hot oven for 20 minutes, then stir. Roast for another 20 minutes, and then check for doneness. "Done" is when the cauliflower is tender, and golden brown in spots.
Serve immediately. If you want to get crazy, toss with some (1/4 c?) feta.

I would add photos, but I've been sitting on this post long enough that I just want to be done.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Long time gone...

I read somewhere that you should never comment on why it's taken a long time between blog posts, since people are more interested in your content than your personal life.
With that in mind, I won't dwell much on why I haven't posted in a long time. I spent some time this winter and spring doing recipe testing for a cookbook that's coming out in the fall, and that kind of took me out of action for long enough that it's been hard to get going again.

Hopefully, I can get my mojo back, and start blogging a lot more. Not much food related to say today, except that I did a sweet boston butt over the weekend, which was pretty tasty, and easy. I'll post pics of it later.
I also bottled some beer recently that I'd had in the garage for 5-6 months, and rather than do regular bottles, I chose to use growlers. I didn't have high hopes for using growlers, but I also didn't think the beer would be very good anyway, so....
The beer turned out ok though. It's got a slight aftertaste that I'm not sure if I like or not, but other than that, it's a decent homebrew. I'll post a pic of the beer tonight as well.

Finally, check out this great looking cucumber salad link from today's Washington Post food section: