Thanksgiving Feast

roasted turkey breast

I braved the daunting task of cooking for about twenty (20!) of my friends this past weekend, and believe it or not, it went off without a hitch. The holidays are times for your family; and for me, friends are as much family as the people that raised me. So I was pleased to prepare this meal for them and spend time together before we scatter to the four winds to be with our families for the holidays.

the buffet; and yes, i wear an apron.

Here’s the menu:

Roasted Turkey Breast
Traditional Sage and Sausage Dressing
Apple and Leek Dressing (v)
Turkey Gravy with Sherry
Baked Whipped Potatoes (v)
Spinach Gruyere Gratin (v)
Honey Glazed Carrots (v)
Cranberry Conserve (v)
Golden Beets and Pomegranate Salad (v)
Yeast Rolls (v)
Jack Daniels Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Bread, Ginger and Orange cookies (v)

(v) – no carne; vegetarian

You might be wondering how I pulled this off. Well that secret weapon was my mom, who graciously helped with preparation and supplies. Thanks, Mom. She also served as my phone hotline while I was cooking for any emergency questions like, “Can you refrigerate gravy, nuke it, and have it come together again?!” The answer: yes!

Herb Roasted Turkey

I could do without turkey at Thanksgiving. Yean, I’m in that camp. It’s on the buffet, but it’s not the highlight for me. And it’s probably more trouble that it’s worth. That said, I had to forgo the full bird. Instead, I roasted and carved two turkey breasts (bone-in) Friday night, refrigerated the slices, and intended to bring it up to room temperature for dinner on Saturday. (I forgot, and served cool turkey; but everything else was hot, so who knew?) The advantages of turkey breast over the full bird are: reduced thawing and cooking times, more quality meat, less carving, and it will comfortably feed a crowd with some leftovers.

turkey bird

To begin, thaw the bird according to the packaging recommendations for the specific weight of turkey you have. Rinse and pat dry. (Clean your sink thoroughly after this to avoid cross-contamination!) Preheat oven to super hot: 450°F. Because I lacked a roasting rack, I used halved onions and lemons to prop up the bird. Melt a stick of butter and stir in salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves. Brush the bird with half of this mixture, and then half-way through the cooking time, brush the bird with the remaining.

The key to getting the turkey right is checking the internal temperature, which should reach 165°F in the middle of the breast. I used a snazzy oven probe meat thermometer with alarm. When the turkey reaches the desired, programmed temperature, an alarm goes off, and out comes the turkey. Easy, right? Then just let the bird rest, tented with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes. Then carve. I followed this video to get the best results.

turkey

Turkey Gravy

When the turkey was done and resting aside, I placed the roasting pan on the stove top over medium-high heat, and added a gravy base from Williams-Sonoma with equal parts milk. This allows for full-proof gravy when there are other dishes to get together. Scrape the bottom of the roasting pan to pick up some of the tasty bits. I sprinkled in poultry seasoning (on the aisle with herbs at the grocery store), cooking sherry, salt and pepper. Then taste and season until you’re happy. I let it cool and refrigerated it overnight. When I was ready to serve, I just microwaved it in 1-minute intervals, whisking between until hot. While it’s optional, I highly recommend adding the sherry. It made the gravy more complex and acidic.

clockwise from top: apple & leek dressing, turkey gravy, sage and sausage dressing patties, turkey

Traditional Sage and Sausage Dressing Patties

Recipe to come…this is a family favorite.

apple leek dressing

Apple and Leek Dressing

This is a vegetarian option from Martha Stewart, with the major flavor components being country bread, Macintosh apples, leeks and rosemary. Yum! I’ve got to start using leeks more. They’re a pain to clean  (grains of sand lodge in the layers of the plant), but well worth it. Leeks are a lit like a cross between an onion and celery.

baked whipped potatoes and spinach gratin

Baked Whipped Potatoes

This is my mom’s recipe. What’s great about this is that it’s a casserole. You’re not whipping and seasoning potatoes at the last minute before they go on the serving table. Instead, you make it and bake in advance and just keep warm until served. All of the delightful baked potato toppings are already mixed in, and you end up with this very flavorful, airy potato.

  • 8 baking potatoes
  • 3/4 cup hot milk
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons onion salt
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter on top
  • paprika

Directions
1. Peal, cube and boil potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain.
2. With an electric beater, combine hot milk, cream cheese, sour cream, butter, onion salt, and salt and pepper. Add potatoes and whip. Check seasoning—it may need more salt and pepper.
3. Pour into a Pyrex dish and sprinkle with paprika. Dot top of casserole with small slices of butter. Bake for 20-30 minutes in a 350°F oven.

Ina Garten’s Spinach Gratin

This cheesy little number was a favorite at the feast. And when you read the rich ingredients you’ll know why. One thing I like about this dish is that there’s a good balance between inexpensive—even some frozen ingredients—and the fresh, more expensive ingredients. And when it all comes together, it tastes truly divine. The cheese is gooey, and a bit crispy on top. And it’s well worth the extra penny for the Parmesan and Gruyere.

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 pounds frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (5 (10-ounce) packages)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.

2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add the cream and milk and cook until thickened. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and add the spinach to the sauce. Add 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and mix well. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.
3. Transfer the spinach to a baking dish and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and the Gruyere on top. Bake for 20 minutes until hot and bubbly.

my favorite dish

Cranberry Conserve

This dish is absolutely my favorite item on the Thanksgiving plate. It’s sweet and tart, and crunchy and smooth. It beats the heck out of the canned, ringed cranberry gelatin stuff. And it is wonderful side item to not just turkey and dressing, but also chicken tetrazzini and other such bird dishes.

  • 1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries (can use frozen)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 orange, zest grated and juiced
  • 1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • a splash of port (optional)

Directions
Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open. Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the raisins and nuts. Let cool, and serve chilled.

honey glazed carrots

Honey Glazed Carrots

These carrots serve as a nice contrast to the creamy, heavier recipes of mashed potatoes and spinach gratin. The preparation is simple, but ever so tasty!

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 pounds carrots, halved lengthwise, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup canned reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • fresh thyme leaves

Directions
1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add carrots; cook, stirring once, until beginning to brown, 2 minutes.

2. Add broth, honey, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until crisp-tender, 10 minutes. Uncover, and cook over medium-high until carrots are tender and liquid is syrupy, 7 to 9 minutes more (there should be only a small amount of liquid remaining).
3.
Remove skillet from heat; add butter, and swirl skillet until melted. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Top with fresh thyme leaves.

incredible salad

Golden Beets and Pomegranate Salad

I love love beets, and especially love them on a a bed of lettuce with a delicious cheese. Raleigh Times Bar serves a tasty pub salad with pears and roasted beets with Gorgonzola, so that was my inspiration in hunting down a Thanksgiving-appropriate recipe. I noticed that not many Thanksgiving guests were thrilled with the beets. It’s a vegetable that’s not too common, apart from mentions on The Office by Dwight Schrute (Bears, Beets, Battlestar Gallactica). To me beets taste like a combination of carrot and potato, and when oven roasted, they’re far superior to their canned counterparts. As for the pomegranate, I picked one up at the grocery store, out of sheer curiosity never having used one before. I had to look up how to open the darn thing.

This salad dressing is…ahmazing. It’s rather sweet and concentrated, so I added olive oil and a touch more red wine vinegar to cut the sugar and cover more greens.

  • 4 golden beets
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, divided
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarian option)
  • 3 Tbsp Triple Sec or other orange-flavored liqueur *I had some leftover from margaritas
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • Salt
  • 2 heads Boston lettuce, 1 head green lettuce, 1 head red lettuce
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

golden beets, pre-roasting

Directions
1. Wash the beets, trim the greens from the top. Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap in a packet of aluminum foil and place on oven rack. Roast at 375°F for an hour. Test the tenderness of the beet with a sharp knife. Continue roasting if not tender. Then allow to cool. Then peel and cube.
2. In a medium skillet over high heat, bring beets, shallot, vinegar, broth, liqueur, sugar, and orange peel to a boil, stirring often, until liquid is reduced to 2 Tbsp, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
3. Stir pomegranate seeds into the beet mixture and salt to taste. Serve on top of salad greens. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Toss with remaining red wine vinegar and olive oil.

How to get to those pom seeds…

chop off the top or the crown of the pomagranate.

score the pom in segments around the fruit from base to the chopped-off end

submerge the pomagranate, and pry apart the segments. separate seeds from the pith. seeds will sink. sift off the pith and skin from the top of the water.

Yeast Rolls

I will never make bread from scratch, when I can I buy these. They’re so good.

Dessert

For dessert, we feasted on a a variety of items—pumpkin bread, ginger and orange cookies, and J’s Jack Daniels Pecan Pie! Wowsah. This is a show-stopping pie. So pretty.

julia's pie pie pie

That wraps up our Thanksgiving Feast. Thanks to everyone that came from all over, and for those that couldn’t make it, I missed you! (Katie Co—I poured out a little champagne for you.) Much love and safe travels this holiday. Love, Miss Em

PS—Thanks to Ashton for taking most of these pictures.

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Houston eats, take-out edition

I eat a lot of take-out meals. I’m a single 20-something- I think most of us do. While I do love cooking, it’s a little challenging to create multiple meals every week for just one person. So I rely on take-out when I’m in the mood for a hot meal, but not in the mood to cook it. I’ve had some success recently after branching out from Pei Wei (my go-to take-out spot)- allow me to share.

First up is Al’s Quick Stop. Just like another Al’s (that I’m sure everyone reading this knows my undying love for), this place specializes in gyros. This place is also a dump, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s actually a convenience store, right next to the favorite Montrose bar/restaurant/music venue, Rudyard’s (or Rudz if you’re in the know).

Grainy Blackberry picture of the menu. Gotta get me an iPhone.

Grainy Blackberry picture of the menu. Gotta get me an iPhone.

I don’t know too many people that are willing to risk gas station food for a good gyro, so one day when I was in the neighborhood, I grabbed a gyro, some fries, and a canned Dr. Pepper from the gas station area to go. The total for these three items was around $6 or $7, which is UNBELIEVABLY cheap in my opinion. And I love cheap.

One of my favorite foods, the gyro

One of my favorite foods, the gyro

Hand-cut fries

Hand-cut fries

I have to say, I was really impressed. The gyro meat was just how I like it- a little crunchy on the outside, but not overcooked. Interestingly, the two gyros I’ve had here in Houston (Niko Niko’s and now Al’s), have both been served in this way- meat and veggies folded inside a pita like a taco. Back home at my other favorite Al’s in Birmingham, gyros are rolled into a thin pita with lettuce and tomato, like a wrap. I prefer the Houston method much better. I love the pillowy pita bread that they use at Al’s Quick Stop. I hear the fries are hand-cut, and they proved to be very tasty, although they didn’t survive the car ride home very well.

Al’s does have a small seating area next to the order counter, and I may try that out one day to see how the fries are fresh out of the fryer. If you are squeamish about eating at a convenience store, get it to go and pretend you got it from Niko’s. It’s much better in my opinion.

Next up is Pierson and Company BBQ, a shack that dishes out some of the city’s best ‘que in North Houston.

Bread in a ziploc bag. Nice touch.

Bread in a ziploc bag. Nice touch.

Mmmmm carne...

Mmmmm carne...

Rib in cross-section

Rib in cross-section

They weren't kidding when they said "small" peach cobbler

They weren't kidding when they said "small" peach cobbler

Author’s note: I drafted this post around 2 months ago and then completely forgot about it. In the spirit of moving forward and getting back into this blogging thing (for reals), I’ll add one last addition to Houston take-out and then keep on truckin’!

DSC03088

Tacos al Pastor from 100% Taquito in Houston. Pork, pineapple chunks, and cilantro in a corn tortilla. The meat was too gristley for me.

DSC03089

Also from 100% Taquito, but this I would go back for. Corn tossed in lime juice and chile powder. So simple, so delicious.

Foodstalkers on Tour: D.C. & Philadelphia

A friend and I took an impromptu, low-budget road trip to visit friends in our nation’s capital and the city of bromance this past weekend. It was a time. And we had some fantastic eats along the way. I will skip the Wendy’s #6 that I had on the drive up. Thought it was delicious and picture-worthy. Keep reading for a diner breakfast, Chinatown dinner, late night pizza and cheesesteaks.

Saturday morning starts with a trip down the street to the 24-hour diner for breakfast.

bob & edith's

bob & edith's

Bob & Edith’s Diner [2310 Columbia Pike, Arlington VA]

This place has been serving up diner food since 1969! And I think they still have some 1969 Dallas Cowboys memorabilia on their walls.

Here’s my #1 diner predicament: to eat breakfast food or not to eat breakfast food? Though I enjoy scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, sometimes I’d just rather skip straight to lunch grub. I ordered the Western Omelette. It’s somewhere in between breakfast and lunch. It acknowledges breakfast with the scrambled eggs. But the cheese, peppers, onions, tomatoes and ham (usually with salsa and sour cream) nod to lunch fare. Toss some Tabasco on there for extra heat! This was a delicious start to the day, and got our crew back in the game and ready for a day of sight-seeing! I only wish I could have stuck it out for a chocolate milkshake.

western omellete

western omelet with homefries

Later that day for dinner, we headed to Chinatown, literally walked through the gate and parked it at one of the first places we came across. With a $7.99 dinner special. The soup and spring rolls were fantastic. I was starving.

wonton soup

wonton soup

Gah I love wonton soup. I enjoy many of the other common soups, but I always go back to my favorite. I think it’s the warm, simple broth and green onions. No fuss, just comforting. Then I shared some spring rolls. Though I easily could have eaten four. Please check out in the background…the pamphlet: “I Hope God Will Save Me: May 21, 2011!” Whatever. But we had an enjoyable time listening  to some crazy people near the Mall talk about the end of days. And we picked up some of their literature.

springrolls

springrolls

chicken time!

chicken time!

To be honest, I can’t remember the name of my entree. The waitress suggested it. I don’t know why I branched out from my regular house lo mein or moo goo gai pan type orders. But my dish was pretty standard: chicken, lots of veggies (though few water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, which are my faves apart from the baby corn and pea pods), and a spicy sauce. It was filling, though not the best. It’s hard to top Golden China and Red Dragon, my two favorite places.

Next, we departed for Philadelphia, specifically Manayunk where a friend lives. After a night at Mad River, we stopped in for pizza at a late night pizza place—Caputo’s. This was a mighty fine snack before heading home. And it was nuclear hot, right out of the oven. I topped my slice of cheese with parm, oregano and red pepper flakes. To blend in with locals on the Caputo’s sidewalk while you nomnom a slice, I suggest yelling something like “WOOOO! EAGLES!!!!” every once in a while. Otherwise, the diehards may assume that you are not an Eagles fan…at which point…you will be seriously questioned, if not hurt.

za!

za!

One more night down, and with a long drive ahead, we needed sustenance once again. After we checked out downtown Philly, we located Pat’s (King of Steaks—Never make a mis-steak!) and Geno’s in south Philly to grab a sandwich. The two cheesesteak establishments have been competing for years across the street from one another. Here’s a great video that covers the history and philosophies of the two places. Wait for these great quotes all in this one video: What does FLASH taste like?! Your home is orange? You invented the pressure washer?!


While others may have allegiances, we just had appetites. We walked up to Pat’s first and went there. I didn’t feel so bad when a swarm of motorcycles (The Blue Knights) came in hauling ass, and all chose to go to Geno’s. There could have been a BIKER RUMBLE if Pat’s biker gang were to show up.

Pat’s King of Steaks [1237 E Passyunk Ave Philadelphia PA]

Pat's and Geno's

pat's and geno's; note the mural on the right (they like murals in this neighborhood!)

the blue knights chose geno's

the blue knights arrive and choose geno's

One thing that is still unanswered to me concerns the cheese steak cheese. Is it provolone, American, cheese whiz or other? Wikipedia helped me find an answer. They claim that Geno’s sides with provolone or American cheese, whereas Pat’s first introduced the Cheese Whiz, which then became very popular. Had I known this, I would have ordered differently!

I ordered my cheese steak “wit” (that is, with chopped grilled onions—they don’t do green peppers) and provolone. In the background is the Cheese Whiz version. I tasted both, and found….the Cheese Whiz to be better! Shucks. The provolone just didn’t melt. And it was served up so fast, that it didn’t go under the broiler to get melted and crispy on top. Still I was a happy girl. Steak sandwich! Boom!

pat's cheesesteaks

pat's cheesesteaks



Well here’s what I’ve been doing: eating.

This is going to be one of those all-over-the-place updates where I’ll touch on many things. My stomach has been filled with food. My camera is nearly full of photos. And my brain can no longer retain all of my thoughts. It’s time to unload. Walk with me…let’s do brunch.

Poole’s Diner [426 S McDowell St, Raleigh]—Well I fell in love. Poole’s Diner’s philosophy centers on “creative, simple offerings carefully executed.” And that sums it up. I want your job and restaurant, Ashley Christensen. I want it now.

welcome to poole's

welcome to poole's | © poole's diner

I went to Poole’s for brunch this past Saturday. Following a birthday party the night before, a solid brunch and debriefing were in order with a friend. We went around 1230 and found it easy to get a spot at the double horseshoe bar. She ordered the Huevos Rancheros and a Bloody Mary, and I “The Hangover” and a DC. That’s Diet Coke, people.

huevos rancheros

huevos rancheros and a bloody mary

the hangover: grits with mushrooms, bacon, scallions, roasted tomatoes and cheddar cheese

the hangover: grits with mushrooms, bacon, scallions, roasted tomatoes and cheddar cheese

OH my freakin’ goodness. The huevos were tasty from the bite that I nabbed. And the grits were nuclear hot and loaded with cream and butter. Add on some bacon, cheese, zesty tomatoes and green onion and instant nirvana. You see, grits are a beautiful thing because like the potato or risotto or pasta…it’s about how you flavor the item. It’s a blank canvas. Nomnomnom, I can’t wait to go back. I plan to take my mom when she visits. The tough decision: for dinner or a return brunch?!

Poole’s does not post their menu online. Sad. Rather, the restaurant is lined with chalkboards updated daily or weekly with the current in-season offerings. Cute.

brunch menu. want. now.

brunch menu. want. now.

Also, I recommend visiting the restroom while you’re there. While I can only speak for the ladies, I will say that there was some thought put into the decor, the vanity, lamp, container of bobby pins and items for a quick touch-up in the mirror.

Poole’s and owner Chef Ashley Christensen have gotten some love in Bon Appétit and some other periodicals. Read here.

Next up…andiamo all’Italia!

Gravy [135 S Wilmington St, Raleigh]— I went here for lunch a while back with some downtown working friends. Gravy is a partnership of the Italian restaurant Bella Monica (still have yet to go there; ashamed) and the downtown Raleigh restaurant group Empire Eats. I expected a high marks for atmosphere, food and service. And I was quite pleased with each. Plus the portions, brightness of the space and quick turn of tables was ideal for the lunch hour. I selected the small arugula salad and the puttanesca.

rocket

rocket

The simple arugula salad was perfect—peppery greens, very lightly tossed in a mild vinaigrette and topped with tangy, salty Parmesan. As for the puttanesca, the rigatoni was coated in tomato-based  sauce with plenty of garlic, kalamata olives, capers and a few anchovies. These ingredients combine in a very salty, harmonious way. This is not a mild dish, but it’s delicious if it’s your taste. I still have food dreams about a dish at Pulcinella’s in Durham—Spaghetti alla Bella Donna (spaghetti, kalamata olives, sautéed garlic, pine nuts, raisins and parmesan cheese with olive oil and anchovies). Deep down I was hoping Gravy could match that quality, but in the end puttanesca is just a different dish with a tomato sauce.

Gravy is not the only Italian restaurant downtown. It will compete with 518 West, Caffe Luna, Vic’s and Posta (also haven’t been there). So it will be interesting to see how diners show allegiance to Italian downtown eateries. I plan to continue to make the rounds and visit them all.

puttanesca

puttanesca

Bocci [5850 Fayetteville Rd, Durham]—Went here for a friend’s birthday and was happy with what I discovered. Bocci is located near Southpoint, so while I probably won’t drive to Durham to eat here, it offers a great locally operated alternative to the overpriced and over-the-top California Pizza Kitchen that’s down the street. And if I find myself in the neighborhood I will most definitely return.

I started with a very generous Caprese salad. Pretty typical tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil, but also some roasted red peppers. While it was good, I would have preferred better tomatoes and no red peppers. And then it would have been off the scale. Still, it fulfilled my need for a caprese salad.

caprese

caprese

Next up, Linguine con Vongole—with sea clams—one of my favorite pasta dishes. And this was a great rendition! I gravitate toward pasta dishes with lighter sauces—oil, broth, wine—and less hearty sauces. That’s why I love shrimp scampi and this—linguine with sea clams. There is a sea-ness to the broth from clam juice and the clams, but also a sweetness from the olive oil, and acid from the tomatoes. With some hot pepper flakes, it hits on all points of the palate.

linguine con vongole

linguine con vongole

The pizza is supposed to be incredible. Looks it.

bubbly pizza

bubbly pizza

Now let’s head to Germany and Poland.

J. Betski’s [10 W Franklin St, Raleigh]—I’ve long been intrigued by JBet’s modern twist on old school dishes and authentic flavors from Central and Eastern Europe. Just reading the menu is an adventure into a food territory I rarely visit: kielbasa, pierogies, brats & kraut, horseradish, beets, spaetzle, strudel, stews. These are the dishes of my ancestry in Eastern Europe. I should be more at home with them.

The diversity of the menu selection made clear that J. Betski’s is not a beerhall. You will not find beer maidens wandering around with giant pretzels and 4 liters of beer in hand. J. Betski’s chose to be experts in a refined regional cuisine, rather than simplifying to a beer and brats bar. I applaud this.

First, the restaurant is small, so it’s best to make reservations. Secondly, the service was impeccable. Our waitress offered beer and wine recommendations, was friendly and attentive, and loved to talk about the food. And finally, I recommend the 1 Appetizer + 2 Pub Plates special for $20. It’s a deal, and allows you to sample a number of different items.

Forgive the picture quality…bad lighting.

To start: a beer. I went with a pilsner. I don’t pretend to be beerstalkers, so my review ends at…it was mild, bubbly and somewhat lemony. Not overpowering.

Würzburger Hofbräu Pilsner

Würzburger Hofbräu Pilsner

I started with the Roasted Beet Salad, Horseradish Quark and Toasted Pumpkinseed Oil. I had foodstalked the menu beforehand, looked up quark and learned that it’s a soft cheese. Not just software for desktop publishing.

gorgeous

gorgeous

You can see all of the elements that make up this salad. The steak-like stack of beets and cheese felt hearty and substantial to slice into. The quark had a tangy flavor, and with the addition of the horseradish kick, it blended well with the sweet greens and beets. This inspired me to incorporate beets into my cooking routine. As for the horseradish, my grandfather used to say it would make hair grow on your tongue. I believed him for a little while.

The pierogies were the winning dish of the night. There is nothing wrong about dumplings. Whatever culture you’re talking about. Pierogi, ravioli, potsticker, etc.—all good and variations on one simple thing. Roll out some dough, stuff it with goodness, boil it or fry it and serve it with a sauce. Tadah! J.Betski pierogies are stuffed with smoked pork and cambozola (also a cheese) and topped with an apple-curry sauce and fresh thyme. This dish made me think—my dad loves pierogies. I have to bring him here.

pierogies

pierogies

Here’s a listing of the other dishes.

Arugula Salad with Pumpkinseed Dressing, Riesling Soaked Raisins, and Black Forest Ham

arugula salad with pumpkinseed dressing, riesling soaked raisins, and black forest ham

Scallops with Gruner Veltliner Braised Fennel, Mashed Potatoes, and Mustard Oil

scallops with gruner veltliner braised rennel, mashed potatoes, and mustard oil

Crispy Pork and Oven Roasted Tomato Salad with Herb Dressing

crispy pork and oven roasted tomato salad with herb dressing

Smoked Salmon, Potato Pancakes, Spiced Apple Sauce, Walnut and Frisee Salad

smoked salmon, potato pancakes, spiced apple sauce, walnut and frisee salad

Marinated Spanish Mackerel with Apples, Roasted Beets and Horseradish Sauce

marinated spanish mackerel with apples, roasted beets and horseradish sauce

J. Betski summary: beautiful plating and flavors, and an exceptional option for mixing up your dining routine.

Zoës [1028 Oberlin Rd, Raleigh]—I’m excited about this one. When I lived in Birmingham, where Zoës originated, it was a personal favorite. It’s a healthy, quick option, with plenty of variety and items that I love. My favorites are the Greek salad and marinated slaw. Sidenote: as the Zoës opening approached, I began to take Oberlin Road on my way home so that I could literally stalk this place when it appeared open to the public. I went there twice and they were having private openings. For shame. On my third attempt, they were open and I got takeout. And proceeded to rattle off at the mouth to the manager concerning my love for Zoës when I lived in Birmingham blahblahblah.

the dining room

the dining room

Greek Salad

zoës' classic greek salad w/ grilled chicken

Yum! Mixed greens with cukes, green peppers, red onion, olives, feta, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken and onions and a small scoop of potatoe salad. The dressing is a simple vinaigrette. Side of pita. Score! This is a filling meal, while also healthy and delicious. While I was there, I also got a small tub of the marinated slaw to take home and pack for lunches. The marinated slaw’s basic recipe: shredded cabbage, green onions, feta, vinegar, seasoning. I can’t express how much I love this slaw. Just know that I do. Immensely.

marinated slaw

marinated slaw

Zoës is kid-frienly and family- and community-oriented. They also offer catering.



Cookie or Brownie?

heeeey cookies

super gooey chocolate drops

LG—I had an attack of the sweet tooth. This doesn’t happen too often. Enjoy!

This is one of the tastiest sweets recipes I have ever come across. Reading the recipe alone, I suspected it was a stand-out. Eating a just-out-of-the-oven cookie, and I knew. These extra rich and chocolatey cookies straddle the line between cookie and brownie. And that’s a fine place to be.

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the ingredients

Ingredients—recipe from FoodNetwork Kitchens

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup natural cocoa powder, such as Hershey’s or Scharffen Berger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
11 ounces (1 bag) semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup dried cherries. optional (I omitted the $10/bag dried cherries I’m sad to say)

First things first: preheat the oven to 325° and position the oven rack in the middle. I was working with just one cookie sheet. If you’re using two or three, you can position the oven racks in the top third and bottom third.

A quick tip I’ve learned for cooling a baking sheet: just run it under cool water for about…eh…10 seconds. That takes most of the heat away so that when you reload the baking sheet with a new batch of cookie dough, they don’t start cooking immediately.

Break up the chocolate bars and place them along with the stick of butter into a microwave safe bowl. I use a Pyrex pitcher. Zap until melted. I usually start with about a minute, and then do 30 seconds more and stir, 30 seconds more and stir, etc. until smooth.

batter is lookin good

batter is lookin good

Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla to the melted chocolate and butter. Then add the eggs and buttermilk.

wowsah

wowsah

For the dry ingredients, just combine—flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt. Add the dry ingredients gradually to the wet. Once combined, throw in the chocolate chips (and though I omitted the cherries, this is when you add them, too. You could also add walnuts, or a number of other things).

Then, on a parchment-lined baking sheet, scoop tablespoon-sized heaps of batter. Allow a couple of inches between. Then bake 12-15 minutes. I try to take the cookies out on the earlier side so they remained like a fudge brownie. Allow the cookies to cool for about 5 minutes on a rack. You may need to allow them to set on the baking sheet before you attempt to move them. They may fall apart.

i hope you have milk in the fridge

you better have milk in the fridge

I would have liked to splurge on the dried cherries for this recipe, but I simply couldn’t justify the cost. Nevertheless, these cookies are incredible. The cinnamon is an ingenious addition. It provides a surprising accent to the chocolate, much the same way that coffee flavor enhances chocolate.

It’s worth it to make these cookies from scratch—especially since they’re drop cookies that don’t have to be rolled out and sliced perfectly. And if you dare and can stand to wait the extra 15 seconds, zap a couple of cookies in the microwave before devouring.


The Federal and The Square Rabbit

Reporting on two more local places I visited recently: in Durham—The Federal, and in Raleigh—The Square Rabbit.

Just a brief run-down here. The Federal [914 West Main Street, Durham] is a bar that serves way better food that you would expect from a bar of this type. The place is dark, kinda unorganized and service is a little off. But they have some good things going for it in addition to the the food: a large back room for groups, a patio out front, great location in the Brightleaf Square area, and a good looking beer menu that includes 32-oz Red Stripe bottles. I’ve been a couple of times now and was impressed on both occasions by the grub. The first time I got a football-sized pesto chicken sandwich served on focaccia. I remember taking half home. And I never do that. I usually eat everything on my plate!

On my most recent visit I got the daily sandwich special: Bacon and Brie on a pretzel roll with mustard, kosher pickles and red onions. A bit like a Chicago dog. This sandwich was incredible, and all about the bread—crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. And while the medley of toppings may seem odd, I was pleased to see how everything worked together. The salad was lightly dressed in a vinaigrette—a great side. Fries are good, too.

bacon and brie sangwich

bacon and brie sandwich

I also visited The Square Rabbit [19 E Main Street] in downtown Raleigh recently. This place is next door to Mecca, and just around the corner from Busy Bee and Slim’s.

the square rabbit ©

the square rabbit ©Dave Horne, flickr

the setup

sweets to-go counter

The Square Rabbit, when I dropped in after lunch time, was still bustling with people picking up a bite for lunch. They have a number of prepackaged items ready for take-out in their deli counter—things like pasta salad, quiche, salads, sandwiches and soups. But they also have a sweets counter—with cookies, cupcakes, brownies and little cakes. I ordered a lemon bar (one of my favorite dainty desserts).

pretty lemon bar

pretty lemon bar

The Square Rabbit also has a healthy catering business for luncheons, parties and desserts. Extensive menus are online.

So that’s what that little shop is. And if you’re in the neighborhood and have an appetite, drop in. I would expect their food, if anything like the yummy lemon bar, will be delicious, too.


411, Chapel Hil

411 west, chapel hill ©411

411 west, chapel hill ©411

Our family met in Chapel Hill over the weekend to celebrate Mom’s birthday. The location—411 West (located at 411 West Franklin Street) was her choice, and it happens to be one of my absolute favorites. People more familiar with Raleigh know 518, located in Glenwood South. That’s 411’s sister restaurant. They have nearly identical menus, with one very important exception. And it’s one that I’ll drive to Chapel Hill for. Beef Carpaccio. More on this later…

Have you ever considered what you would eat if you knew when your last meal would be? I’m a food-centric person. So I ask this not to be morbid, but to be idealistic. My meal the other night at 411, and what I get there every time, would qualify as an ideal last supper. First, it’s in one of the most beautiful towns in the country. The atmosphere and company is lively and bright. And the food is filling and delicious. And they serve three of my very very favorite dishes.

In addition, 411 has a little place in my heart. Throughout my years at Carolina, when Mom and Dad came to town to visit, it was a popular place for them to take me and my brother. Or Mom and I would share girly dinners there, splitting a little bit of everything. We could enjoy good conversation over good food. Or on special occasions or 1/2-price wine night, it was a nice place to go with friends or dates. There are plenty of great memories and meals shared at 411.

My traditional order begins with the beef carpaccio. Beef carpaccio comes from the tenderloin and is prepared either completely raw or seared rare. It is chilled, usually in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving. Then it is sliced thinly, and thinned out more with a meat mallet. At 411 the carpaccio is topped with an arugula and field greens salad, capers, scallions and grano padona cheese. Crostini and a horseradish creme sauce come on the side. I recommend dressing the salad with just olive oil, salt and pepper. Then, in each bite you try to get a little of everything—it’s truly perfectly balanced. Sweet olive oil, slivers of tender meat and aged cheese, salty capers, peppery greens and crisp and tangy onion. A little bite of crostini with horseradish sauce adds a nice zing! But I prefer to simpler flavor of olive oil on the beef.

carpaccio

carpaccio

The first time I ordered beef carpaccio was at a roommate’s bidding in Florence. It’s not something I would normally select for myself. But I fell in love with this dish. There was a small cafe close to our school, located at the intersection of Via Giglio and Via Melarancio.

We called it News Cafe, though I’m not sure it has a name. It does have a prime location. The sign just says “News Cafe Bar Tabacchi.” Bars in Italy are more like coffee counters, and a tabacchi is a place that sells tobacco products, stamps, etc. We walked past it everyday, so it became a popular spot to grab an espresso or a quick bite for lunch. There lunch counter included panini, salads, baked pasta dishes, fresh bread. And their carpaccio, served with just arugula and olive oil was heaven. Eat outside on the little sidewalk and…tear…I can’t continue.

Next up at 411, Lemon Linguine—that’s shrimp, scallops, roasted tomatoes, garlic and scallions sauteed in white wine, lobster butter and clam broth.

the lemon linguine

the lemon linguine

Look at those beautiful scallops. While that is a perk of the dish, the real highlight is the broth. It’s light on filling, but sweet and tangy and full of flavor. The pasta is homemade—substantial, not flimsy. And then…the roasted tomatoes (which I once asked about…something like they’re marinated in orange juice and zest before roasting) taste like candy. They’re sweet and acidic and a perfect in every bite. Seconds please!

chocolate

chocolate espresso pots de creme

And to finish the meal: Chocolate Espresso Pots de Crème. This is like a creme brulee, but without a crispy, torched top. Instead, the chocolate cream is topped with whipped cream and espresso bean wafers. Holy freakin cow—this dessert is fabulous. It is rich and smooth, and has the perfect hint of espresso to accentuate the chocolate flavor. And it wouldn’t be right to skip on a cappuccino.

cappuccino w/ semi-sweet chocolates

cappuccino w/ semi-sweet chocolates

Everyone has a favorite dish at 411. My brother always gets The Crab (Red pepper papardelle pasta in a dill cream sauce with crab meat and a saute of mushrooms, scallions and bacon); Dad likes the Shrimp Carbonara (Shrimp tossed with penne rigate, shallots, bacon and garden peas in a traditional carbonara sauce); Mom’s with me on the Lemon Linguine, and the Whole Wheat Fettuccine is a favorite for many. There’s really something for everyone.

This post on favorite Italian food has inspired me to revisit my journal from Florence and write up some of my favorite places to eat in the city. It will be a fun trip down memory lane. Coming soon…

Anyone have an idea about what you’d choose for a last supper?