Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Kitchen toys for holiday giving

This post first appeared in the Independent Weekly on Dec. 19, 2012.
Photo (c) Jeremy M.  Lange, Independent Weekly
For the dedicated cook, a partridge in a pear tree doesn't compare to a fine paring knife as the ideal holiday gift. And those three French hens would benefit from basting with a melted block of rich European butter while roasting to a golden glow in your new convection oven.
We checked with area chefs, cookbook writers and specialty food purveyors to see what they would most like to give or receive as a holiday gift. There's still plenty of time to find it or to exchange something lame for something fab. Consider their tips when shopping for your favorite foodie.
Tempted by that novelty whisk with a pink pig handle? People who love to work in kitchens do not necessarily love kitschy kitchen toys, says Jay Pierce, the outspoken chef at Cary's Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen and a contributor to Eatocracy, a CNN food blog.
"I'm pretty picky when it comes to ingredients or gadgets, so I'm not liable to get excited about something that was on closeout at Big Lots or T.J. Maxx," says Pierce, who confesses a passion for Luxardo cherries and chocolate-covered pecans. "I do love antique canning jars, mostly the Italian style with the hinged lid. They're great in small sizes for storing dried ingredients like hibiscus and chiles."
Other food lovers echoed Pierce's sentiments, saying they hope Santa loads his sleigh with simple but distinctive treats this year.
"In the interest of finding a more simple life, I am a huge fan of consumable gifts—especially cheese," says Portia McKnight of Chapel Hill Creamery, which this year earned multiple awards for its Asiago-inspired Calvander cheese. "We love to receive cheese and nuts. Pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts ... they're all on my Top 10 list."
April Schlanger, co-owner of Cary's eco-friendly Sip ... A Wine Store, would be delighted to receive wine as a holiday gift. She's especially keen on Love Lies Bleeding, a pinot noir by the bio-dynamic producer Dominio IV, and Cuvee du Chat by Beaujolais Villages. "They're sexy and fun and both smell just great," she says. They'd taste especially fine, she adds, served in stemless Riedel Swirl wine glasses. "They never tip over so you can't spill your wine. I'm going to give these to people because they are a really fun conversation piece."
Jonathan Bonchak of Durham's Counter Culture Coffee, who was just named 2013 Southeast Regional Brewer's Cup Champion, hopes for some small-batch bourbon in his Christmas stocking. But when it comes to giving, he prefers presents that are fun but ultimately practical. "I'd give everyone a single-origin coffee subscription, a hand grinder and a pour-over cone so they'll always have really great coffee," he says.
Much like checking a smoke alarm when the time changes, Paul Mosca uses the holidays as a reminder to freshen his spice drawer. "It's a great time to restock the basics and add a few really special items," says Mosca, founder of Raleigh's Elemental Chocolate. "One of my favorites is theMilwaukee Avenue Steak Seasoning by the Spice House. I love it sprinkled over fresh popped popcorn."
Amanda Miller, co-founder of the Chapel Hill-based wholesale operation Dock to Door Seafood, which supplies several top Triangle restaurants, has a somewhat grander plan. If Santa really wanted to surprise her with a dream gift, she muses, he'd send her to England to take classes at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's famed River Cottage cookery school.
"I'd love to take the Catch and Cook class this June," Miller says. "However, the River Cottage Fish Book is a much better fit for our family budget, and it's a gift that I would be thrilled to receive."
Joe Philipose, co-founder of Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours, travels frequently to research and experience creative food trends. He suggests focusing on a hobby or shared interest.
"Enjoying cocktails out can be an expensive habit, but my girlfriend got me everything I need to stock a home bar," he says, noting a favorite item is a set of silicone molds for making large, spherical ice cubes that are slow to melt. "It's been great fun for us both. After all, if I'm going to make one cocktail, I might as well make two so we can enjoy them together."
For Phoebe Lawless, chef-owner of the acclaimed Scratch bakery in Durham, the answer to what she most likes and dreads to receive is the same: cookbooks. "I love getting the ones I want, but the unsolicited titles always languish on my shelves for years because I feel guilty for getting rid of them," says Lawless, who has been spending a little less time in the kitchen since the arrival of her second child, Warren, last month.
That said, she does have a favorite cookbook to give as a gift: The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. "It's full of solid basic recipes that are a great start for the beginning baker," Lawless says, adding it's a good guide for mastery of basic baking techniques.
Don't try slipping any cookbooks under the tree at the Raleigh home of Debbie Moose. "It's been very hard to convince my family that cookbooks are not appropriate gifts," says Moose, author of Buttermilk (UNC Press), which was featured in a recent holiday cookbook list by The New York Times. "I hate to sound ungrateful, but really, enough. I'd rather have a really good bottle of champagne."
Gift giving at the holidays remains a somewhat foreign concept to Vansana Nolintha, who co-owns the uber-hip Bida Manda restaurant at Raleigh's Moore Square with his younger sister, Vanvisa. "Giving objects as presents is quite uncommon in our tradition," says Nolintha, a Buddhist who grew up in Laos. "Our parents liked to give us experiences in meals."
When he does give gifts, he takes special pleasure in sharing the flavors of his homeland. "I think a lot of people are really timid with spices, but this encourages them to play," says Nolintha, who likes to give lemongrass plants. "For me, food should always be associated with joy."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Kiss and tell

This post was first published by the Independent Weekly on Nov. 28.

Nama Kiss Fudge (Photo by D.L. Anderson)

Ah, fudge. It's so decadent and seductive. Who can resist a meltingly creamy bite of magically transformed chocolate, with its rich whole milk (or canned condensed), slabs of butter, scoops of sugar and globs of corn syrup?
Well, what did you think was in it? The average 1-inch square of fudge packs nearly 150 empty calories, and that's not counting the nuts, marshmallows or other add-ins that make you drool outside the fudge shop window. Yes, we saw you.
For many of us, especially during this season, the splurge is worth it because, darn it, you're worth it. As you reach for another piece, and another, your mind pleasantly drifts to Yule logs and mistletoe. But soon enough, the feeling of warm nostalgia turns to one of sugary regret. Why does this happen every year? Why can't someone make healthy fudge?
"Fudge does not have to be bad for you," says Andi Wolfgang, a calm and culinarily centered soul who produces raw, vegan, organic fudge at Raleigh's Nama Kiss. The tempting nibbles weigh in at about 87 calories apiece and are soy- and gluten-free.
"Personally, I don't like traditional fudge. It's so sweet, I feel like I'm eating a bowl of sugar," Wolfgang says as she preps a batch of her "superfood" fudge, whose primary ingredient is dried reishi mushroom powder.
Reishi figures prominently in traditional Asian medicine, and increasingly its curative value is being acknowledged stateside as well. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's website notes that it is used as an immune stimulant by patients with HIV and cancer. It also may improve lower urinary tract symptoms in men and have mild anti-diabetic effects.
"Sometimes, when I tell people there is reishi in there, they wrinkle their nose. They are convinced they won't like it," Wolfgang says. "But I've never had anyone tell me they didn't like it because it had mushrooms."
A completely unscientific poll based on a scant nibble of reishi fudge tasted by a pair of male carnivores led to comments like "creamy but mushroomy," while two mostly vegetarian females found an entire square to be "mind-blowingly scrumptious." Nama Kiss claims its product contains natural aphrodisiacs and beneficial life-force energy, so perhaps you need the full dose to truly feel the love.
Wolfgang, who is more of a pescetarian these days, first embraced a raw vegan diet when she was living in Tokyo and studying Japanese. Her sister Angi joined her there, and their cooking became so popular that they starting teaching classes. An impressed client invested in a restaurant to feature their foods.
The sisters next experimented with making sweets, and another investor sniffed a marketing success. "That's how Nama Kiss started," says Wolfgang, noting the Tokyo branch now operates independently.
Angi married a Japanese man and continues to make her home in Tokyo. When Andi returned to the U.S., she followed her parents from Pennsylvania to Raleigh, where they bought a home. Their father, Larry Wolfgang, is amused that his girls have made international headlines for selling raw vegan fudge.
"Hey, I've even done the vegan cleanse," he says proudly. "I thought it was kind of crazy at first, but I've got to admit: I feel better. Eating healthy foods really makes a difference in your life."
That's the reaction Wolfgang wants to inspire in people who figured there'd never again be a place for fudge in their careful diet.
"Much like the boost you get from exercise, the raw ingredients and natural tryptophan gives you a high that doesn't crash," she explains as she pours a glossy stream of velvety fudge from a blender into a pan to set. "We probably tested at least 2,000 variations before we finally settled on this."
Nama Kiss currently offers reishi and dark-chocolate sea-salt fudge but also makes other varieties to order. Prices range from $7.50 for 1/8-pound (four pieces) to $28.50 for a half-pound. The price reflects the high cost of quality ingredients and the fact that every batch is hand crafted.
Because its only "stabilizer" is pure cocoa butter, Nama Kiss fudge is sold chilled but is best enjoyed at room temperature. It will hold a few days on the counter and at least three weeks in the refrigerator.
Except for hot summer months, it's safe for shipping to family and friends who seek treats that meet their dietary preferences. In fact, Nama Kiss is offering a 30 percent discount through the holidays to those who email their orders to andi@namakiss.com.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reaganomics Redux: My search for a 'more perfect Union' through pumpkin pecan pie


Early in our marriage, when Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice with hamburger crumbles was a key feature of my fancy dinner repertoire, I stumbled across a Thanskgiving recipe that seemed to combine the best of two worlds: creamy pumpkin pie and gooey pecan pie.

Unlike many Thanksgiving classics, the pie's pedigree was linked not to Plymouth Rock but to another icon of Americana, the White House kitchen. It was easy to assemble and the slices yielded gracefully from the pan, a grand visage of layered perfection and rich flavor that, sadly, has never been matched.

That's because it came from a newspaper clipping, and that little slip of paper apparently was pitched with the rest of our holiday detritus. After that one public glimpse, it seemed to have reverted to the classified White House files.

I continued hunting without success for its yellowed ghost in all the places I normally stash such things. Years later, after Al Gore invented the internet, I looked to see if it was floating somewhere in digital recipeland. But the internet just said no. Alas, we have made do with the more humble back-of-the-can pumpkin pie even since.

You can imagine my surprise when I threw caution to the wind again this year and optimistically typed the phrase White House Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pecan Pie into the browser. It instantly delivered a link to eBay for a recipe card signed by none other than Nancy Reagan. I was briefly horrified, but the math did seem to match. In my mind, I heard those immortal words: There you go again.


I checked with the menfolk to see if they wanted this for dessert - Graham was several years from becoming the pumpkin of our eyes at first bake - and, Reagonomics be damned, we all cast our vote in the affirmative.

The recipe is simple and calls for ingredients most bakers keep in their holiday kitchen. I don't normally use dark corn syrup but have a vintage jar of the light version of it on hand, so I substituted instead of buying a bottle of dark just for a half-cup of sticky sweetness.

It may not have been the right choice for Ronnie, but I used a store-bought crust. The ingredients lushly filled it to the brim. I carefully tucked it into a 350 degree oven and set the timer, as directed, for 40 minutes.

When the buzzer rang I returned to the kitchen to find my men - and a bonus man, a schoolmate of Graham's - who seemed drawn to the aroma as if by a cartoon hand and snake charmer's song. We opened the door with heady expectation, only to find it still extremely sloshly. "Bitch," I said, as a string of invectives poured forth at our frail former First Lady, who surely had nothing to do with the recipe other than autographing the card - which you still may be able to snag for a $5 bid.

I took another look at the recipe card. There it was, clear as day, a conditional codicil, the sort found in most all government contracts: "or until set."

I think I finally understand trickle-down math, at least as it applies to pie. It took slightly more than an hour until the filling, now inbued with the glossy sheen that high fructose corn syrup reliably provides, was done. The crust was golden and the aroma heavenly, kind of like a big jar of pumpkin and pecan pie Jelly Bellys. It cracked a bit as it cooled, but that little crevass opened a window into temptation that had to be hidden overnight in the back of the fridge.

I'm still not quite certain this is the same recipe I made years ago. I remember it in a honeymoon glow as having distinct layers - pumpkin on the bottom, topped by a slim but intense pecan goo on top. This is more like the love child of each, creamy and crunchy, sweet and substantial. It may not be that "more perfect Union" our forefathers described, but it is pretty damn good.

Monday, November 19, 2012

For vegetarians, a welcome seat at the Thanksgiving table

For those who don’t eat anything that can walk or squawk, Thanksgiving amid a family of carnivores can be a challenge.

“The idea of a vegetarian Thanksgiving used to make a lot of people pretty nervous,” said Kim O’Donnel, author of The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations. “A lot has changed in the last few years. People are expanding their definition of what vegetarian is. Thankfully, it’s no longer the weirdos against the rest of us.”

The veteran food journalist and sometime meat eater writes in her good-humored introduction that the memory of a slightly combative Thanksgiving dinner inspired her second collection of meatless recipe. Competing with the burnished turkey that year was a pitiful boxed tofurky that skewed the Norman Rockwell image of culinary communion so many hold dear.  

“There are 96 percent of us at this point that are still eating meat, but up to 40 percent are exploring how to eat less meat,” said O’Donnel, a leader of the Meatless Mondays movement. “It’s a mash-up. The fact is, we’re not all eating the same thing anymore.”
O’Donnel credits the Meatless Mondays campaign as a major contributor of the nationwide conversation about putting more plant-based meals on the table. “When I found out about it in 2007, it was this fledgling nonprofit teaming up with schools of public health around the country. It was not a mainstream phenomenon.

Kim O'Donnel
“They did research in June 2011 and found that 50 percent of people contacted knew what it was,” she said. “It’s not to say that they agree with it or not. But the conversation is not going way. People are waking up to the fact that they have to change their diet.”

O’Donnel cites abundant research that shows health benefits from making more room on the plate for vegetables and grains. “It doesn't have to be all or nothing. It’s more about incremental change and readjusting your notion of what makes a meal.”

She encourages fledgling vegetarians and those who want to enjoy the benefits of vegetables to avoid the highly-processed vegetarian foods found in the freezer case – not just the dreaded tofurky but also a wide range of convenience foods that tend to be very high in sodium. Additionally, a lot of these products are made by the same Big Ag companies that promote risky genetically-modified foods.

“It’s one reason why I made a definitive decision to not include meat facsimiles in the book,” she said. “For some people it’s a great gateway, but if you really want to get close to the source of your foods, that’s not the way.”

By cooking your own food, and knowing where your food comes from, you become part of the change process, O’Donnel said. “If we don’t cook, we don’t ask questions. We make going through the drive-thru window a way of life. We remain passive and disconnected – and in the dark about our food system. If we don’t get in the kitchen and get the cutting board out, we’ll never change things.”
Delicata Boats with Red Rice Stuffing
Her suggested options for Thanksgiving, let alone the recipes for year-round celebrations, should convince most meat lovers that veggies deserve another chance. One she  particularly recommends, and plans to contribute to a friend’s holiday gathering, is the simple to prepare Delicata Boats with Red Rice Stuffing.

“It’s the first time in several years that I’m not hosting dinner, and it’s kind of a relief,” she admitted. “We’ll bring things from the new book for dinner.  I’ll make the Lentil Pate, which really tastes a lot of chopped liver. I’m doing the Apple Rosemary Walnut Pie with Enlightened Pie Dough. And I’ll probably  bring the Raw Kale Salad.”
O’Donnel includes several recipes using kale in the book, notably the savory Sweet Potato-Pesto Gratin in the Thanksgiving chapter. The versatile kale pesto has become the condiment of choice in O’Donnel’s home. “I used it on a spread with sandwiches, serve it on rice – and it’s great on pizza dough,” she said.

Kale’s status as a super food among knowing vegetable lovers is having an impact among even the most ardent doubters.
“I was doing a demonstration in a grocery story in Arkansas a few weeks ago and people were blown away by the Raw Kale Salad,” O’Donnel said. “That made my day. I love changing the tunes of vegetable haters.”

Raw Kale Salad
Reprinted with permission of Kim O’Donnel from The Meat Lovers Meatless Celebrations (DeCapo Press/Life Long Books 2012).
1 bunch lacinto kale (also sold as Tuscan and dinosaur kale), middle ribs removed (about 5 cups)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons, depending on size)
¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted almonds, chopped


Optional add-ons:
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese
¼ to ½ cup dried bread crumbs
Wash the kale leaves and dry thoroughly in a salad spinner. Stack several leaves in a small pile and cut into thin strips (also known as chiffonade).

Place the chopped kale in a medium-size bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt. With your hands, massage the seasonings into the kale; this not only ensures even coverage but also helps to tenderize the raw greens. Allow the greens to sit and marinate for at least 20 minutes.
Toss in the almonds and taste. There is usually so much flavor that the cheese and breadcrumbs are unnecessary, but they are terrific extras that really gild the lily.

Keeps for 2 days in the refrigerator.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jean Anderson’s ‘Preserving Guide’ reissued by UNC Press


Jean Anderson will participate in Fearrington Village's "Cooks and Books" series at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15. For information or to purchase tickets, call 919-542-3030.

Jean Anderson is one of the Triangle’s most prolific cookbook writers. She’s earned several prestigious James Beard and International Association of Culinary Professionals awards for her wide-ranging work. And when she leaves her Chapel Hill home to sign books or oversee a feast featuring her recipes, she attracts crowds of breathless devotees.

Anderson greets fans warmly, but she is as famously reticent to talk about her own books as she is to have her photo taken. Of the handsome new reissue of her 1976 Preserving Guide by UNC Press, she shared only that “a particular fave of mine” in the 100-recipe collection is Yellow Squash Pickles, which she termed a “Raleigh recipe.”

UNC Press hails the work, a groundbreaking volume for its time, as a classic of the “back-to-the-land movement.” The original edition was named by New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne to his list of books for the well-chosen cookbook library.

Still beloved by seasoned canners, it finds a welcome place today in the abundance of preserving titles on bookstore shelves. It’s even revered by nouveau leaders such as Sean Timberlake, founder of the online canning community Punk Domestics.

“In recent years, the topic of canning and preserving has enjoyed a huge renaissance, as new generations discover the joy of learning the nearly forgotten craft of putting food by,” said Sean Timberlake said. “A wealth of books has bubbled up in the wake of this trend, many quite beautiful and interesting. But Jean Anderson's Preserving Guide stands among a canon of never-fail go-to volumes that canners of all ages and skill levels turn to for clear, no-nonsense information. It truly is a foundational work, one without which today's trend-forging books could never be.”

Jean Anderson (undated)
Virginia Willis, author of Basic to Brilliant, Y’All, agreed. She said the reissue will find a welcome place on her bookshelf.

“I love to conserve and preserve and have sought out past issues of canning guides, but I’ve yet to find the much-praised original edition,” Willis said. “Jean Anderson’s Preserving Guide is a thorough guide to old-fashioned canning and preserving recipes. It's straightforward and clear with no-nonsense instruction. It's like your favorite Southern aunt is in the kitchen - admittedly teaching her favorites.”

One word of caution: With the exception of a new introduction by the author, the text is unchanged from its 1976 debut, when it was first published as the Green Thumb Preserving Guide. Anderson maintains her confidence in the paraffin-sealed canning method she learned from her mother and aunt – it “has never failed me,” she writes, adding later that she “recommends only what I consider to be the best ways of conserving” fruits and vegetables.

As such, Preserving Guide is not entirely consistent with contemporary USDA standards. Home canners with process questions, especially novices, can check USDA recommendations posted online and make simple tweaks if needed.

Anderson’s enduring influence is keenly felt by cutting-edge chef Paul Virant, whose book The Preservation Kitchen was released early this year. He credits Anderson with helping to “launch my career to can, with confidence and enthusiasm.

“The Preserving Guide continues to influence my style of cooking, which has made preservation the main focus of my restaurants, Vie and Perennial Virant,” said the Chicago-based chef.

Anderson writes that her tart and crunchy Cranberry and Almond Conserve “is especially good with roast turkey, chicken, duck and goose, venison, pork ham and lamb” – making it a welcome addition to virtually any holiday table.

Cranberry and Almond Conserve
Reprinted from Preserving Guide by Jean Anderson, © UNC Press (2012).

2 medium-sized oranges, halved, seeded and chopped fine (rind, pulp and all)
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 quart water
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 quarts cranberry, stemmed
½ cup seedless raisins
½ cup dried currants
1¼ cups chopped blanched almonds

Places oranges, lemon rind and water in a large, heavy enameled or stainless steel kettle, set over moderately high heat and boil uncovered for 25 minutes or until run in tender.

Meanwhile, was and sterilize 8 half-pint preserving jars and their closures; keep closures and jars immersed in separate kettles of simmering water until you are ready to use them.

When rind is tender, add granulated and brown sugars to kettle and as soon as they are dissolved, stir in cranberries, raisins and currants. Let the mixture come slowly to the boil, then boil hard, uncovered, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, 5 minutes. Mix in almonds. Continue boiling rapidly and stirring 5 to 10 minutes longer until mixture is thick and jelly-like (about 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer).

Ladle boiling hot into hot jars, filling to within 1/8” of the tops. Wipe jar rims and seal jars. Process for 10 minutes in a simmering water batch (185 degrees F).   Remove from water bath … and cool to room temperature. Check seals, then label and store on a cook, dark, dry shelf.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chef Kevin Gillespie dares home cooks to have fun in the kitchen

Kevin Gillespie is a serious chef with a lighthearted mission. He wants home cooks to loosen up and experience the pleasures of cooking.

“So many people get caught up in the idea that cooking every day is hard work, or that going to farmer’s markets is too much effort,” said the burly tattooed chef, who made a name for himself a few seasons ago on Top Chef. “As with life in general, the whole point of cooking is to have fun.”

Gillespie succeeds in his goal to empower home cooks with eminently do-able recipes and approachable technique advice in Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking (Andrews McNeel), his first book, which was released just this week. He will appear at Southern Season in Chapel Hill for a book signing at 3pm Saturday, with a sold-out class to follow at 5pm.

While his TV fame and award-winning Woodfire Grill restaurant in Atlanta gave him the credibility to produce what he disparagingly calls a “chef-y chef” book, Gillespie returned to his roots for the home-style cooking that first inspired him.

As he describes in the opening pages, Gillespie grew up surrounded by cousins on a former dirt road called Sunshine Circle in Locust Grove, Ga. Though he spent countless hours planning his escape from ever-present family and the routine of meals lovingly cooked by his Granny, he now counts those formative years as the foundation of his food ethics and outreach.

“Now, as an adult, I realize how special that opportunity was,” he said. “It’s taught me so much about who I am and what food and family mean to me.”

One of Gillespie’s goals is to get folks to take at fresh look at familiar foods by using them in ways that may seem contrary to logic. For example, the Indian-spiced Not Your Everyday Butternut Squash Soup featured on his website makes use of the tough skin that usually is peeled and discarded. One commenter admitted trepidation: “Will it bite me back or does it soften up enough so that I won’t be applying bandaids to the roof of my mouth?”

I’m hopefully giving a teaching moment there,” Gillespie said. “I’m trying to tell people, hey this is going to produce really amazing results. I want people to trust that I wrote this book, all these recipes, with them in mind. My objective is to build confidence in the kitchen.”

Gillespie accomplishes this through 120 recipes, more than 350 vivid photos and series of essays that eloquently define his culinary point of view. The handsomely produced book – which miraculously lays flat no matter what page it’s opened to – also includes a useful Seasonal Recipe Index to steer users toward making the best use of peak produce and proteins. “The ideal of eating seasonally,” he writes, “is 100 percent dependent on eating local food.”

In keeping with is food-is-fun mantra, Gillespie also includes stories about certain recipes that seems to reinforce Woody Allen’s quip that “80 percent of success is just showing up.” A humorous example is his Overnight Grits with Tomato-Braised Greens, which Gillespie described as the fortunate result of what at the time seemed like a major blunder.

“It’s a wonderful dish and preparation that was a complete accident,” he said with a laugh. “But it turned out pretty cool so we went with it.”

Gillespie writes that his team was preparing grits for a thousand diners with tickets to attend a Slow Food event. The grits were inadvertently left in a hotbox overnight and turned a curious milky brown color, like iced coffee. Daring a taste, he discovered them perfectly caramelized and “100 times creamier than our normal grits. … People went apeshit for them.”

“I’ve served that dish to many a Southerner and many people outside of the South, and everybody loves it,” he said. “It’s proof of good things that happen in the kitchen sometimes when you least expect it, and it can happen for home cooks, too.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

TerraVITA event offers CHOP NC discount


In three years, the TerraVITA Food & Wine Event has grown from a modest one-day celebration of sustainable food practices to a three-day event that features top chefs and growers, cookbook writers and tastings that raise funds for like-minded local organizations.

Colleen Minton
Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) was among the recipients of a grant last year, and TerraVITA organizer Colleen Minton has extended a special offer to members for discounted tickets. Some events are close to selling out, so be sure to order yours right away.

Discounted tickets are available for two events:
  • An all-inclusive ticket (beer & wine pairings included) for The Carolina Table: East Meets West dinner on Nov. 2 for $68 (full price, $78)
  • An all-inclusive pass for the Grand Tasting on Nov. 3 for $55 (full price, $65)
To get the discount, visit TerraVITA's tickets link at http://www.terravitaevent.com/TerraVITA/BuyTKTS.html. Look for the you will see a blue link below the published price that reads "Enter a Password or Discount Code." The CHOP NC passcode is: CHOP12NC

For more information about TerraVITA, read Andrea Weigl's story in the News & Observer.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Finding a sense of place in a forgotten cuisine

John Martin Taylor will be the guest speaker for Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) at 7pm Wednesday at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. He also will be singing copies of the 20th anniversary edition of his book, Hoppin’ John’s Lowcounty Cookbook: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston & the Carolina Coastal Plain (UNC Press) from 12-2pm Tuesday at Southern Season in Chapel Hill.

Much has been made of the rise in popularity of Southern cooking in recent years. There is endless speculation about the best way to make fried chicken and pimento cheese. And let us not, especially on a Sunday, debate whether sugar bowl is permitted to dance with the cornbread, or what constitutes real barbecue.
The commercial homogenization of modern Southern fare may lead some to believe that butter-laden sweets and bacon-wrapped, deep-fried everything formed the primary sustenance of our forebears, no matter when or in what part of the South they called home. In fact, many who lived below the Mason Dixon – and particularly those who survived the lean years after the Civil War – counted themselves lucky to have a plate of beans and rice for dinner.

The contrast between pre-war plenty and the deprivation that followed – including due tribute to the culinary contributions of freed slaves – is eloquently defined in Hoppin’ John’s Lowcounty Cooking: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston & the Carolina Coastal Plain. Released to critical acclaim 20 years ago, the out-of-print classic has been reissued by UNC Press with a new introduction by author John Martin Taylor.
“It was important to me for the book to be published by an accomplished university press,” said Taylor during a recent call from his home in Bulgaria, where his husband is the country’s director for the Peace Corps. “It has a great home now and will help to preserve the food traditions of the Lowcountry.”

While Charleston is now a celebrated restaurant Mecca, Taylor said Lowcountry Cooking was written long before its status as a foodie’s dream destination. His research began unexpectedly in 1984 when he noticed a hand-sewn plantation cookbook from 1919 in a trash heap on a Newport, R.I., sidewalk. The discovery pretty much blew his mind.
“I grew up there but I didn’t even recognize this food,” Taylor said, recalling his astonishment. “When I was first writing about Charleston’s food history in the late 1980s, it was pretty much falling on deaf ears.  When I moved back to South Carolina in 1986, you couldn’t find stone-ground grits anywhere. With the exception of hunters, fisherman and farmers, people pretty much lost touch with the land.”

Lowcountry Cooking speaks to the essential question of what is local food and how it defines the lives of those who consume it. His engaging writing recalls the vivid sense of place established by Diana Kennedy and Paula Wolfert. In the manner of a rapturous nonfiction novel, you feel the pride of Mary Clare for her caramel cake as deeply as the humility of former slaves who made belly-filling, soul satisfying meals from the bounty of the land and scraps discarded by wealthy landowners.

“People were insanely wealthy,” Taylor said. “They were shipping 60 million pounds of rice every year and never dreamed it would end. They were not prepared for what hit them.”

In a sense, the cookbook addresses Reconstruction through the lens of rebuilding the ravaged foodways of the South. Food became a social equalizer, with rich and poor eating the same basic items that remained after the combined impacts of war and a hurricane that swept choking salt water into once thriving rice and cotton fields. Indeed, Taylor’s moniker of Hoppin’ John comes from the hearty rice and cow pea dish that became a favorite of both master and slave.

The book also draws clear distinctions between the traditions of Charleston and the humid, subtropical Lowcountry to other Southern cuisines.
“You won’t find any barbecue, the way you do in the Piedmont,” Taylor said. “Because of the climate, things grow there that do not grow elsewhere in the Carolinas. And because of the port, Charleston always had access to things like great olive oil and sherry and pineapples from Cuba.”

Taylor writes that his goal was to “present the sumptuous fare of antebellum Charleston for the modern cook” – a task that included denuding “authentic” recipes offered to him of such modern ingredients as canned soup and margarine.
While the book has been hailed as definitive – the New York Times raved that it “should be on the National Registry of Great American Food” – Taylor demurs that “this is not ‘Mastering the Art of Lowcountry Cooking.’

“It’s my version of the cooking of the time based on the records that remain,” he said. “The food reflected a great fusion of international flavors – especially those of Africa.”
Ports in the Lowcountry are believed to have been the entry point for between 40-60 percent of all Africans in the North American slave trade. In a more hospitable vein, it also was the landing point for immigrants of many faiths, who likewise contributed their diverse food traditions to what remained one of America’s 10 largest cities though 1840.

Before the Civil War, immense tables in Charleston’s fashionable plantation homes groaned with a gracious plenty raised and cooked by slave labor. Rich landowners regularly held grand soirees to ensure their position in society. This sort of conspicuous consumption is evident in menus that survived from the era – vast food orgies that featured not only the Lowcountry’s abundant natural resources but also imported delicacies that regularly flowed through the city’s bustling port.
Post-war poverty brought down the aristocracy, but such advances as the railroad and refrigeration – chilled butter! ice cream! – introduced new prosperity. Later, air conditioning and the highway system beckoned travelers, and corporate money helped to rebuild Charleston as a tourist destination with a renowned reputation for the arts and fine dining.

While Lowcountry Cooking contains about 250 recipes, Taylor said there is one simple dish that truly provides a taste of antebellum Charleston.
“The whole cuisine at once would have to be Chicken Country Captain, but it takes two days to make it right,” he said with a laugh. “But the composed rice dishes, the pilaus, really give you a sense of what defined Lowcountry cooking.”

Carolina Pilau
Published with permission of John Martin Taylor from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking: Recipes and Ruminations from Charleston & the Carolina Coastal Plain (© UNC Press, 2012).
Dishes like this one appear in various cultures as pilaf, jambalaya, and just plain chicken and rice. In Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry, they started as pilau, but they’re often spelled perloo (though I’ve seen purloo, perlo and perlau as well). The word is pronounced “PER-lo,” “per-lo,” and “pee-LO,” but that o is a distinctive Charleston sound – and make--people not from here think we are saying “oo.” Some people say, “oo, la, la”; others say “oh, la, la.”

Serves 8
1 3½-to-4-pound chicken
2 quarts water
¼ pound (I stick) unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
2 cups chopped celery
2 or 3 large tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups long-grain white rice


Cover the chicken with the water and boil in a large pot, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and reserve the broth. Skin the chicken and remove the bones, pulling the meat from the bones. Cut the meat into uniformly sized pieces. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven on the top of the stove, then add the onions and the celery and cook over medium heat until the onions start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice and the seasonings, adding a little more salt than you might think is necessary. Add the chicken meat, the rice, and 1 quart of the reserved broth. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook slowly, without lifting the lid, for 30 minutes. Serve with a green salad and corn bread.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Parlez-vous okra?



Folks in the South have long considered okra a classic comfort food, but serious culinary research suggests it might have additional benefits.

In a recent Facebook posting, Atlanta-based cookbook writer Virigina Willis asked famed food historian Jessica B Harris about the capped pods and their infamously sticky yield. The long, seemingly rapturous reply was written entirely in French, but most anyone could detect its alluring tone.

"Her research suggests that, well, it increased stamina for both men and women," Willis said with an earthy chuckle. "It's an equal opportunity vegetable, which is not very common. The insinuation is that is helps the sex drive."

C' est fantastique. For that special date dinner, forget about the oysters. Fix some okra.

Virginia Willis
Willis will have plenty of advice on ways to enjoy fuzzy abelmoschus esculentus when she finishes Okra, a future volume in the Savor the South series produced by UNC Press. The new imprint launched last month with Buttermilk by Raleigh food writer Debbie Moose and Pecans by Charlotte Observer Food Editor Kathleen Purvis.

Okra's potential as an aphrodisiac probably has little to do with its increasingly popularity, even in the north, where those unaware of its charms tend to dismiss is as slimey. "I heard someone call okra the 'new asparagus,' but honestly, I like okra better," Willis said. "When it's super fresh, I even like it raw, cut into slivers for a salad."

Atlanta-based Willis, who summers in New England, said it was much easier to find okra at farmer's market this year than in the past. "We grew our own to be sure, but there was tons of it at the markets," she said. "But you can tell that the farmer's don't seem to know quite white to do with it. They let it get way too large."

Large pods lack the tenderness of smaller ones, which Willis likes best grilled or broiled. While most plants are no long producing as abundantly as they did in summer, okra should remain available at area farmer's markets until the first frost.

Okra Cornmeal Cakes from Basic to Brilliant Y'All
That gives Willis more time to test recipes for the book, which will include about 50 variations on the theme. Though she's previously featured several okra recipes popular cookbooks - see Okra Cornmeal Cakes from Basic to Brilliant, Y'All: Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company  - Willis has become fascinated by the ways it figures into so many different enthnic cuisines.

"It appears clear that anywhere there is okra, there have been Africans," she said. "My research indicates it was first grown in West Africa, but the Department of Agriculture for India says it come from there."

Not surprisingly, Southern cooks also have embraced okra as a native plant. It's as essential to New Orleans chef John Besh's slow-simmered gumbo as it is to the must-have fried side at Mama Dip's in Chapel Hill.

While Okra is not scheduled for release until Spring 2014, Willis is excited about being included in the Savor the South collection.

"UNC Press really is doing great work. I’m thrilled to be part of it," she said in advance of launching the new Salud! Cooking School at Whole Foods-Charlotte with a tantalizing fall menu. "I’m a bit of a history geek so connecting food history and recipes is right up my alley."

For information about upcoming events, or additional recipes, visit www.virginiawillis.com.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gutierrez celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with series of Spanish-language cooking videos


We are in the midst of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and Sandra Gutierrez is ready to celebrate. The author of The New Southern-Latino Table last week filmed a series of cooking videos in Spanish that soon will be seen throughout Latin America.

Sandra Gutierrez is directed by Virginia Willis in a series of
Spanish-language cooking videos. (@Minos Pappas 2012)
“I've made cooking videos before but these are the first produced specifically for Spanish-speaking cooks,” said the Cary-based Gutierrez, who is a culinary ambassador for Roland Foods. The spots were produced by cookbook writer Virginia Willis, whose early career included supervising the food segments for Martha Stewart’s television show.

“Videos are a great way to teach people how to cook practical and easy recipes,’ said Gutierrez, who developed new recipes for such Roland products as quinoa, couscous, hearts of palm and capers. “I always have the home cook in mind. Whether you’re here or in India or Latin America, everyone likes to find new and fun ways to produce good food.”

Gutierrez will offer tips on how to infuse Latin flavors into everyday dishes between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Saturday’s Celebración!, the annual festival held at the N.C. Museum of History in downtown Raleigh. The family-friendly event is free and open to the public.

In recognition of both Hispanic Heritage Month and the exhibit Al Norte al Norte: Latino Life in North Carolina by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist José Galvez, Gutierrez will demonstrate two Latin American recipes that are easy to recreate at home.

“I’m doing one from Nicaragua called gallo pinto, which is a red beans and rice dish. The second is Venezuelan corncakes called arepas,” she said. “I chose them because people tend to think only of Mexican food when they hear the words Latin America. These both break the stereotypes because they’re not spicy but they have a lot of flavor.”

While her goal is to help people to appreciate the diversity of food cultures in Spanish-speaking counties, Gutierrez also wants them to recognize the similarities with Southern foodways.

“I love the discovery that Southerners and Latinos have so much in common,” she said. “There are celebrations like the museum event going on all over the South, and a great and growing interest in Latin American foods. It creates wonderful opportunities to share delicious foods along with the great stories about the common threads in our histories.”

Gutierrez will continue to educate home cooks about Latin American flavors in her second book, which will be released by UNC Press in 2013.

“I can’t give you the title yet but it’s a very exciting theme that includes the foods of many different cultures,” said Gutierrez, a native of Guatemala who has traveled extensively to research recipes. “It reflects both my personal experiences and those of the friendships I have with so many great cooks from all over Latin America.”


Monday, September 17, 2012

Buttermilk: Try it again for the first time


Debbie Moose will talk about her new book, Buttermilk, as the guest of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) at 7pm Wednesday at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.


Raleigh cookbook author Debbie Moose
Debbie Moose has never been one to cry over spilled milk, but she did spend about five frantic months last year obsessing over buttermilk. The resulting cookbook not only helped launch the new Savor the South imprint for UNC Press on Sept. 10, but two days later was featured in what the New York Times hailed as the resurgence of the oft-maligned byproduct of butter making.

“That was nice timing,” said the author of Buttermilk, whose gift for dry understatement is as legendary as her culinary creativity. She connected with Times food writer Julia Moskin through John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which has played a crucial role in the growing national interest in Southern cooking.

Moose, president of the Association of Food Journalists, which earlier this month held its annual conference in DC, nearly missed the opportunity to talk with Moskin due to poor internet connectivity.

“I literally had to lean out the window of the hotel to check email, but I’m glad I did,” said Moose, who reckons she owes Edge a “bouquet of bacon” for the introduction. “(Julia) thought it would run last Wednesday, but I had no idea it was going to be such a big story.”

Along with the general enthusiasm in food press for all things Southern, Moose credits the resurgence of small dairies for the specific resurgence of buttermilk. Locally, she’s impressed with Maple View Farm.

“There’s a much better quality of buttermilk around than what a lot of people remember,” Moose said, adding that those who haven’t tasted fresh buttermilk in a long time are in for a pleasantly tangy surprise. “Even among commercial brands, what’s sold is really very good. And it’s so versatile.”

Buttermilk Pie (with Peaches in St. Germain Syrup)
 If you think of buttermilk as a sour sip favored by sleepy spinsters, or guiltily empty forgotten bottles down the drain, Buttermilk will be a true revelation.  A good place to start is the elegantly understated Buttermilk Pie with Riesling-Marinated Peaches, a recipe shared by Chef Jason Smith of 18 Seaboard in Raleigh.

“I was willing to beg for it, but fortunately he was happy to oblige,” Moose said. “Buttermilk helps to balance the sweet in pies and cake and even ice cream. It’s a real contrast to something like chess pie, which to me is almost overwhelmingly sweet.”

Moose contributes her own variation on the classic dessert. “I thought to myself, ‘What could be more Southern than sweet tea?’” she mused, explaining how she infused buttermilk with loose black tea leaves to create Sweet Tea Buttermilk Pie. “You want to be careful to not let it get hot or it may curdle. You’ve got to just dip your little finger in there to test that it’s barely warm.”

Likewise, buttermilk soups are served chilled. Her Cool Cucumber Soup, which tastes like a spoonful of summer, can be served in shot glasses for easy entertaining.

Cool Cucumber Soup
“You want to use the best buttermilk you can find for recipes like that, where the flavor of the buttermilk really stands out,” said Moose, who also provides directions for Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Bell Pepper soups. “These really are luscious, and much nicer that eating a cold cream-based soup – which feels heavy to me. With buttermilk, you wind up with something very refreshing and much lighter.”

Buttermilk begins with an accessible take on the science behind how this magical ingredient works with leavening to increase the rise and tenderness of baked goods. “It does amazing things, especially with biscuits, quick breads and cakes,” she said. “Even using your basic supermarket buttermilk, you’ll detect an appealing tang that you just don’t get from anything else.”

Moose was hard-pressed to pick a favorite among the 50 recipes featured in the slim volume but conceded that Bananaville Bread – spiked with a splash of dark rum – is something she makes all the time.

“It wasn’t intentional, but I seem to have created something of a niche for myself in single-topic books,” chuckled Moose, whose previous work includes comprehensive takes on other Southern themes, including deviled eggs, potato salad and wings. “It’s a great mental challenge because you have this one ingredient and you strive to so see how many things you can make.”
Moose succeeds on several counts here, notably with Tex-Mex Corn Pudding, Lavender Ice Cream and BBB Scones (buttermilk, buckwheat flour and bacon). She’s quick to give credit for “most unusual” to the Vanderbilt Fugitive, a cocktail served at the Anvil Bar &Refuge in Houston.

“It’s fun to see if you can come up with something no one else thought of, but my hat’s off to these guys,” she said. “To me, this really exemplifies how creative you can be with buttermilk – and why people ought to give it another chance.”

Recipes reprinted with
permission from Buttermilk,
a Savor the South Cookbook
by Debbie Moose; © 2012 UNC Press
.

The Vanderbilt Fugitive
Makes 1 serving

1¾ ounce El Dorado 5 Year Old Demerara Rum
1 ounce buttermilk
½ ounce Chartreuse
½ ounce Averna Amaro liquer
½ ounce maple syrup
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake for at least 2-3 minutes, allowing the cocktail to expand in volume. Strain into a collins glass containing more ice cubes. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Lavender Ice Cream
Makes about 1 pint

½ cup heavy cream
1½ cups buttermilk
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons dried lavender buds

In a large bowl, whisk together the cream, buttermilk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the lavender. Cover and refrigerator for 12 hours (or longer if you want a stronger lavender flavor).

Strain out the lavender and discard it. Freeze the cream mixture according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Virginia Willis to christen cooking school at new Whole Foods in Charlotte

For information or to register for the inaugural class Virginia Willis
will teach on Wednesday at Salud!, visit the Whole Foods-Charlotte website.

For some folks, turning the calendar past Labor Day means closing the door on summer. It triggers a primal reflex to transfer whites and summer brights to the back of the closet to allow the autumnal advance of more burnished shades. Others can’t resist the call to compulsively buy mums to anchor their front porch steps.

Virginia Willis felt a similar itch driving back to still-hot Atlanta this week from a cool summer spent in New England. “Hello fall!” she declared on her Facebook page before starting the journey, which will bring her to Charlotte on Wednesday to celebrate the opening of Salud!, the in-store cooking school of the new Whole Foods at 6610 Fairview Road.

“They wrote to me and asked if I’d be the first,” said Willis, a standard bearer for contemporary Southern cuisine as exemplified in her current book, Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways To Dress Them Up for Company. “I hope people agree it’s again time to talk about greens and braising.”

While a bit sad to bid adieu to butter beans, tomatoes and especially okra – she’s currently researching the beloved pods for a volume in the acclaimed UNC Press Savor the South series – Willis is ready for the arrival of fall crops. Wednesday’s class menu features Garlic Stuffed Pork Roast (see recipe below), Winter Greens and Butternut Squash Gratin, and Bittersweet Chocolate Bread Pudding with Goat Cheese Caramel Sauce.

“My mind started going there when I saw the first tiny brushstrokes of color on the leaves in New England,” she said. “I find this happens all the time with the seasons. I love summer vegetables, but then when you see those first baskets of apples at the farmers' market stands, it is just so wonderful.”

The changing seasons inspires Willis to apply an artist’s color wheel to her chef’s palate, which also leans toward a different vocabulary of cooking techniques.

“For me, the cooking is different: more braising and less grilling,” she said. “The best part is when there’s a little bit of overlap, like right now. You get to enjoy it all.”

Photos courtesy of Virginia Willis from
previous cooking classes.
The pork recipe is a perfect transition to fall cooking. Studded with garlic and braised in milk, it delivers an Italian-inspired meal that is both simple to prepare and terrific for impressing dinner guests. It’s a classic example of the basic-to-brilliant model.

“The truth is, I don’t think that my recipes are terribly difficult,” Willis said. “I really try to give the home cook the tools and techniques to make something more chef-inspired. Someone will look at that meal and be impressed, but really it’s a simple dish.”

Willis enjoys teaching this recipe because the involved skills are so practical. “Cooking one large dish for a dinner is much less risk than making individual everything,” she said. “I love doing that for a special occasion, but you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen when you have company. It’s a braised dish that makes it own gravy. It’s really user friendly.”

The dessert selection is just as decadent as it sounds, but no more difficult to master. “I make it a point in my classes that it’s important to balance all the flavors of a meal. With all the strong flavors of this menu, the dessert has to be intense to stand up to it,” she said. “Also, that bread pudding is just ridiculously good.”

Willis has made plenty of bread puddings over the years, but the “brilliant” part of this recipe – the goat cheese caramel sauce – was the result of “a happy accident.” While cooking a fundraiser dinner at a friend’s restaurant, they ran out of heavy cream to make a traditional caramel sauce.

“All they had was goat cheese, so that’s what we used,” she recalled with a laugh, citing the importance of gaining comfort with basic recipes and techniques so home cooks can make similarly confident creative choices. “It turned out to be incredible. No kidding, it’s easy to make and over-the-top good.”

Garlic-Studded Pork Roast in Milk
(Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Basic to Brilliant, 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.)

Serves 4 to 6

This recipe has more of an Italian influence than French or Southern. When in my early twenties, I took the night train from Paris by myself and met my mother and two friends in Rome. It was one of the more adult events of my life at that point. It always seemed a bonus when getting on a “fast train” to actually arrive at the correct destination. Board the wrong one and you are a long way from where you need to be. I was a little terrified, but I got there. So, now when faced with a challenge, I consider myself most fortunate if I speak the language and have the currency.

We enjoyed this simple country dish while traveling from Florence to Venice. Traditionally, pork shoulder is braised and slow cooked. Since the shoulder muscle gets exercise, it’s tough and needs long, slow cooking. By adapting this recipe to using a loin, the cooking time is drastically reduced.

1 (4-pound) center-cut boneless pork loin
2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons pure olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 onion, preferably Vidalia, chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, or 1 cup whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream, warmed
Bouquet garni (1 sprig flat-leaf parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, and 4 fresh sage leaves, tied together in cheesecloth)
Fresh sage leaves, for garnish

Cut several slits in the pork and insert the garlic slivers in the slits. Set aside to come to room temperature. Season the roast on all sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil and butter over high heat in a large, heavy pot until shimmering. Add the meat and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove to a plate. 

Decrease the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the warmed milk and bring to a boil, whisking until smooth. Add the bouquet garni, the pork, and any juices that have collected on the plate. Decrease the heat to simmer.

Simmer, uncovered, turning the meat occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot. (As the milk cooks, it starts to curdle and form small curds.) Stir often to keep the curds from sticking and cook until the pork is tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 140°F to 145°F, about 1 hour. The pork will be slightly pink in the center (this is desirable).

Transfer the pork to a cutting board, preferably with a moat. Tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Let it rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, taste the curds and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to a warmed serving platter. Slice the pork loin about ¼ inch thick and place on the curds. Garnish with sage leaves and serve.

Brilliant: Short Recipe
Pork Roast Stuffed with Sausage

This presentation looks pretty impressive, but it’s very simple to do.

Using a knife, cut a slit in one end of the roast. Then, take a knife-sharpening steel and create a hole through the center length of the pork loin. Repeat with the other end. Widen the tunnel using your fingers and by rotating the steel in the loin at both ends. Insert 2 or 3 fully cooked sausages (about 8 ounces total—I like Aidell’s Italian-style with mozzarella, but any cooked sausage will do). Proceed with the Basic recipe. The presentation and added flavor at the center is Brilliant.