Archive for June, 2009


Imagine, for a moment, that you are living in ancient Rome and it’s your birthday. According to food historians, your celebratory ‘cake’ would be a flat, flour-based round with some nuts and honey baked in… I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty unexciting to me!  Thankfully, Western culture has refined the art of cake-making, and this contemporary recipe from Gourmet magazine (January 2004) epitomizes the best a homemade cake can offer: rich, moist, decadent tastiness with creamy vanilla frosting.


This cake recipe stands apart by using 3/4 cup of unsweetened Ghirardelli chocolate powder and 2 cups of dark brown sugar, adding a molassesy richness. The frosting is very “butter-like” and not overly sweet. Still, it’s a bit too thick for my taste, though I’m sure it could be thinned by adding a little cream or milk to the two sticks of butter in the mix.


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One of my all-time favorite restaurants is Watershed in Atlanta — owned by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls and run by chef Scott Peacock, a James Beard Award winner. This place has the best Southern food I’ve ever had; hands down. And one of the best dishes on the menu is the shrimp grits with toasted pullman plank. The flavorful coarse-ground grits — prepared with butter, cream, sherry, lemon juice and a dash of cayenne — are blended with with chunks of fresh shrimp for a rich treat atop a crunchy piece of toast.

I decided to take a crack at recreating the dish at home, and I have to say it turned out pretty well for not having a blender or quality stone-ground grits to work with. The dish is concocted in two parts: the grits and the shrimp paste. Then you blend the two together.

Scott Peacock & Edna Lewis’ Shrimp Paste

2 sticks of butter

1 pound of shrimp

1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper

1/4 cup sherry

2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

(1) Heat 6 tablespoons of butter in a skillet until it’s hot and foaming. Then add the shrimp, salt and pepper and cook over high heat for 4-7 minues.

(2) Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon to a blender (or chop on a cutting board if not blending).

(3) Add sherry, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper to the skillet and reduce over medium-high heat until syrupy.  Then add the liquid to the shrimp in the blender or food processor.

(4) As you blend the shrimp and juices, add the remaining butter in small pieces.

*Blend one cup of hot grits per 1/4 cup of shrimp paste to make the shrimp grits.  You can prepare the grits any number of ways, using cream, butter, chicken broth and/or other herbs and spices. After combining the paste with the grits, sprinkle with chives before serving.

*The shrimp paste recipe above makes 2 1/2 cups of paste — enough to feed 8-10 people when combined with grits.

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It just doesn’t get much better than turtle pie: Oreo cookie crust, homemade frozen vanilla custard, chocolate fudge, pecans and cashews and gooey caramel. This one from Adele’s custard shop in Excelsior, Minnesota, deserves high marks.


The “turtle” combination — nuts, caramel and chocolate — has always been a favorite. Turtle candies, turtle brownies, turtle sundaes…. But I’ve never known the true origin of the name.  Anyone know?


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What is it about food from a mother’s kitchen that always seems to make it so therapeutic, nourishing, satisfying, and delicious? Maybe it’s the evocation of memories of wonderful shared meals with family and friends.  Or, perhaps it’s the evident amount of love and care that went into a motherly preparation. At the least, I know those two elements are apparent in the culinary delights I enjoy at home.   On my most recent pilgrimage to mom’s kitchen, we feasted on grilled grouper tacos with fresh cabbage slaw and black bean-corn-tomato salsa, cheese enchiladas, and homemade guacamole.


Another highlight from the springtime visit to Minnesota:  grilled marinated lamb kebabs with homemade tzatziki sauce.  Oh, how I’ve missed charcoal grilling while in NYC!


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Looking out on the Hudson River as the sun sets over New Jersey, it’s easy to forget the chaos of Manhattan and the stresses of a busy work week . Which is precisely why the 79th Street Boat Basin is one of my favorite places in NYC now that the weather is warmer.  Grab a table by the water or underneath the vaulted stone arches of the cafe and enjoy a cold pint of beer or a strawberry margarita. The food is decent — nothing to rave about — but it’s the ambiance that makes this place a gem.


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If America is a melting pot, Momofuku is its kitchen.  This hot spot in New York’s Lower East Side (East 13th Street and 2nd Avenue) serves fusion cuisine with an Asian flair.  The menu, which features seasonal regional ingredients,  has categories like “raw bar” and “country hams” — stuff you’d never find at your average Chinese, Japanese or Korean restaurant.

Momofuku has an interesting assortment of dishes, representing the ethnic crossovers that characterize New York City; definitely no pure, “authentic” Asian cuisine here. The pickles plate, above, for example is a play on Japanese oshinko, using local vegetables like baby bok choy, tomatillos, potatoe slices, cucumber, and turnips. Korean kimchee is also on the side.


The restaurant itself is a sleek, hip hall of hardwood tables and communal seating that flow into an open kitchen in the rear. You can watch as the chefs meticulously prepare each dish. One I highly recommend: the steamed buns with pork belly, hoisin, cucumbers and scallion (below).  Unbelieveably good.


Other plates to try… believe it or not, the $8 “Bread & Butter” is worth it, featuring fresh, soft sea-salt butter from Vermont and whipped lardo (bacon fat) on the side for schmearing.  The plate of sliced Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham — from Madisonville, TN — is tasty and unique.  The Satur Farm’s Snap Peas with mint, egg and XO was a bit too salty, but a creative preparation with Korean inspiration. And, the Santa Barbara Uni are to die for!  Super fresh sea urchin topped with celery, nori and a lemon juice-based cool broth. Incredible.


By far my favorite dish was one of the specials: grilled yellowfin tuna collar. Moist, flavorful, tender with a soy-miso-scallion dipping sauce on the side.


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