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.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Turning dreams into caffeinated reality

Slingshot Coffee will be featured throughout this weekend's 2012 Hopscotch Music Festival and from 2-5 p.m. today during a special pop-up bar at The Longview Center, 118 S. Person St., Raleigh. Additionally, Capital Club 16, 16 W. Martin St., Raleigh, will spotlight a special cocktail - The Hot Shot, made from Slingshot Coffee and Fireball Whiskey.

A few years ago, Jenny Bonchak planned the perfect wedding, complete with a dream honeymoon in Hawaii.  But while most newlyweds return with souvenirs and sunburn, Jenny and her husband Jonathan surprised friends and family by coming home with an ambitious business plan.

Jenny Bonchak of Slingshot Coffee Company
“We hung out on the beach and thought about where we’d want to live and what we really wanted to do. We liked Pittsburgh, but we wanted to be close to the beach and the mountains, and Raleigh kept coming out of top,” she said. “Our families thought we were nuts.”

They don’t think so anymore. Jonathan, who became a coffee aficionado while working as a barista his senior year of college, is a sales manager at Counter Culture in Durham, one of the country’s best-known purveyors of sustainable, fair-trade coffee. And Jenny, whose marketing experience helped her land a communications job, has parlayed her own passion for coffee into Slingshot Coffee Company, a Raleigh-based, cold-brewed beverage business that launched on May 31.

Jenny favors a hands-on role to producing the smooth-sipping drink. This often means working long hours before and after her day job to single-handedly brew and bottle cases of product several days each week – in addition to constantly testing beans for ideal grind and steep combinations.

While reluctant to hand off the hard work to anyone less obsessed with the brewer’s art, Slingshot’s trajectory already has forced her to find a larger production facility. Currently, Slingshot is brewed in off-hours at Chef Chad McIntrye’s The Market Restaurant, 936 N. Blount Street. By October, it will relocate nearby in unused space at Oak City Cycling Project, 212 E. Franklin Street. While Slingshot will not have a storefront presence, the product will be sold in the bike shop.  

“I thought it could work, but never in a million years did I think it would be like this,” Jenny said from a bench at Escazu Artisan Chocolates, her first client, which sold out her first batch in just two days. Several area sellers stock both the 16-ounce ready-to-drink and concentrated versions – the only items in the current product line.

“I did a special syrup once with Escazu cocoa nibs and we’ll probably have T-shirts soon, but we are never going to have blueberry coffee or anything like that,” she said with a shudder. “Slingshot will never be flavored. To me, Slingshot has to be synonymous with the highest quality ingredients available.”

The self-taught coffee connoisseur has developed a keen palate for determining which beans are best suited to cold brewing, as well as a chemist’s clean sense of balance in developing the right recipe for Slingshot. While consumers may not notice, Jenny will be making subtle changes in the blend throughout the year to maximize the inherent qualities of seasonally available beans. Her current stock, grown in Ethiopia, provides “a floral, incredibly juicy Meyer lemon front that people really want this time of year.

“It’s such an honor that Counter Culture wanted to work with me, and I feel strongly about treating these beans with the respect they deserve,” added Jenny, who credits growing up on a family farm with her deep appreciation of seasonal ingredients.  “It’s not like wine, which might improve over a period of years. They work with growers from seed to cup, which allows me to extract all that fresh flavor.”

If you try to mimic her cold-brew methods at home with most commercial coffees  –  which may be freshly ground but likely roasted months earlier from warehoused beans  –  you may be be disappointed with a flat flavor that can be masked only with sugary syrups.

“The longer coffee sits, it loses all the beautiful things it could be,” Jenny said. “Honestly, the first time I had really amazing coffee, it changed my life. I became enthralled with it, and that just doesn’t happen if you don’t start with the very best ingredients. I want others to have that experience, too.”

Also delicious with a glug of milk.
The simplicity of fine ingredients, and the round-the-clock care she provides to produce Slingshot, accounts for its price of $5.99 for a bottle of ready-to-drink and $10.99 for the concentrate.

“The fact is, there’s a lot of bad, cheap coffee out there,” said Jenny, lamenting that American consumers tend to place higher value on a low price tag than the intense labor involved in growing, exporting and roasting truly exceptional beans. “When you taste really good coffee, you get it. It’s a lot like discovering what makes fine wine great.”

Not many people got to taste Slingshot before it hit shelves as its development was a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of friends and family knew what the novice entrepreneur was up to, including the graphic designers who helped transform her ideas into the brand’s distinctive package. When Slingshot debuted at a tasting party and quickly sold out, friends and colleagues were as stunned as she was.

“I felt it was important to keep it under wraps until I was certain it was the best it could be,” Jenny said, admiring a bottle with the sort of dreamy gaze some people reserve for beautiful babies. “It was essential for me that whoever tried it, someone with a great coffee palate or someone who was just curious, had a truly incredible experience.”

Jenny has added clients in and around Raleigh on a weekly basis ever since and recently picked up new accounts in Charlotte and Greensboro. This weekend, she is a sponsor of several events at the 2012 Hopscotch Music Festival, where her elixir will be available to bands that perform. She has prepped more than a dozen cases of ready-to-drink and gallons more to fill coolers for free samples – enough for a bona fide coffeepalooza.

Though stressed out in the days leading up to the festival, Jenny said, “It is so worth it. I love music and I love coffee, so bringing all this together is like the perfect marriage.”