Karen and Ben Barker will be the guest speakers for Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. A reception will precede the reading from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. next door at Foster’s Market.
Jill Warren Lucas
There are many home bakers and professional chefs who aspire to be as creative Karen Barker. But now and then, the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef – who used to dazzle customers at the much-missed Magnolia Grill – finds herself in the position of a fan who just has to know how a certain treat was made.
“There is a great coffee place in the East Village of New York City that Ben and I really like called Abraco,” Barker says from the kitchen of the couple’s Chapel Hill home. “They make a sweet-savory black olive biscotti that is just delicious.”
Barker has made her share of biscotti; the twice-baked cookie can be made from a wide variety of ingredients (different flours and fats, with or without eggs) and endless flavor profiles. But there was something about this one that was especially memorable.
“I’m not a big sugar person, so sweets don’t often excite me,” Barker says as she gathered ingredients on the heavy butcher block counter. “Once in Provence I saw someone make a dessert with black olive and tomatoes and herbs. But this was the first time I’d ever tasted a biscotti anything like that. I loved it.”
Barker was making a batch to bring to a meeting the next day of their dinner party club. Ben was prepping an appetizer of brined lamb tongue to be simmered with shallot in a red wine sauce. Karen was making the biscotti to provide a crunchy counterpoint to the final course, a dairy-free chocolate mousse served with a red Italian dessert wine.
“A savory cookie is not for everyone,” she concedes while giving the fragrant, purplish olives a quick mince and grinding a generous amount of black pepper into her mixer’s work bowl. “But dunk this into some wine, or scoop up some chocolate mousse … it’s just perfect.”
Barker says the recipe could be easily tweaked to substitute other ingredients: use lemon zest instead of orange, leave out the olives and add walnuts. “I wouldn’t try green olive, though,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “I just don’t think that would work.”
Barker leaves the end slices on the counter after she returns the cookies to the oven for their final toasting. “Baker’s privilege,” she says, nibbling a slice deemed not pretty enough to serve. She closes her eyes for a moment to let the flavors fill her mouth.
“I have to say, I find these pretty addictive,” she sighs. “I have a hard time just having one of them."
Karen Barker’s Olive Oil Biscotti with Rosemary and Orange
Makes 1 loaf (about 24 slices)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup semolina (fine grind)
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 tsbp. minced rosemary
zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup fine chopped black olives (such as kalamata)
a few grinds of black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine first three ingredients in the work bowl of mixer; combine well with paddle attachment.
Add remaining ingredients, mix again. Ensure that all ingredients are thoroughly blended but avoid overworking the dough, which will be sticky.
Transfer dough with floured hands to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly press into the shape of a 12x3-inch log, adding pinches of flour if needed. Chill for at least 40 minutes but preferably about several hours.
Bake for 30 minutes or until loaf is lightly browned. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, use a serrated knife and cut half-inch slices on the diagonal; should yield about 24 pieces. Arrange flat on the baking pan - it's OK if they are crowded - and return to oven until toasted, about 5-7 minutes. Turn slices over and toast again, about 3-4 minutes, until golden and crisp on both sides.
Cool biscotti completely. Wrap in parchment paper or keep in airtight container.
Audra Ang will speak and sign her new book, To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in Contemporary China at Flyleaf Books
Wednesday January 16, 2013, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
By Jill Warren Lucas
Like Dorothy on her journey to Oz, Audra Ang had an opportunity to travel far from her comfort zone to experience a world in which she had connections but felt like a stranger. The environment she experienced was just as bizarre in its extremes of hospitality and threat, and it took a long journey home to fully understand it.
Ang chronicles the seven years she spent in China as an Associated Press reporter in her compelling new memoir, To the People, Food Is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China
(Lyons Press, 2012). She will talk about her experiences - which vary from savoring home cooked meals and reporting about dissidents to spending weeks amid the heartbreaking rubble of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake - at Wednesday’s meeting of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
(CHOP NC). The free talk gets under way at 7 p.m. at Flyleaf Books
in Chapel Hill, where she will sign copies of the book.
For one of her last assignments in China, before she returned to accept a prestigious Neiman Fellowship at Harvard, Ang was asked to write a story that would reflect the span of her tenure. “I came up with a few ideas that were all shot down,” recalls Ang, who recently located to Durham and works at Duke University. “I decided to just write what I wanted to write about, which was food.”
Ang realized that having food, and especially not having food, played a role in most of the reports she filed while abroad. It may have started with the novelty of a foodstuff not often consumed in America, but she quickly came to appreciate the satisfying burn of sweat-inducing spice and, later, the calming aroma of a hot meal amid sickening decay.
“I wrote four vignettes involving food, but I always felt there was so much more to the story,” Ang says. “The article always felt unfinished to me. It was the one thing I felt strongly enough to commit to the need to turn it into a book.”
Ang traveled from Boston to Berkeley to focus on the yearlong project. “It was the most emotionally difficult thing I’ve ever done,” she says, explaining that she retreated to a cottage where she would write all night, sleep from morning to afternoon, then start again.
She did not return to China during this period and instead relied on her reporter’s notebooks and thousands of collected photographs. They were especially valuable in drafting the difficult final chapter about the catastrophic earthquake. The 7.9 temblor provoked global outrage when reporters revealed that thousands of children needlessly died in the wreckage of poorly-built schools.
“The last chapter is my favorite, but I sometimes worry that it’s too intense,” says Ang, who details unfathomable horrors in a restrained tone that nonetheless makes a reader’s heart race. Woven throughout is the importance of food as more than mere nutrient.
“Food is a very central part of life in China. Indirectly, I think cooking and receiving food did help people to heal,” she says. She tells the story of a mother and her critically injured son, who at first refused to eat but eventually asked for his favorite meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken. “She knew it meant that he was getting better. It fills a bit of the emptiness you feel after so much loss.”
Ang’s own initial connection to the earthquake has a link to food. She and a photographer were having lunch hundreds of miles away when they felt the restaurant suddenly rock. They had been reporting about babies who died from ingesting counterfeit formula, but it turned out they were closer to the epicenter than other colleagues. Ang manages to condense their harrowing journey, and the extraordinary weeks that follow, in 46 mesmerizing pages.
Ang is taking a break from such intense writing and is unsure if she wants to return journalism, though friends predict she will.
“Right now, I’m pretty happy to have a relaxed, stable, boring life,” she says with a laugh. “I have a good job in a wonderful city. I am excited and grateful that’s there is so much great food in one area.”
While glad to have found delicious Chinese and Vietnamese fare close by, Ang says she is especially enjoying her exploration of Southern cuisine. She finds contentment in a place that celebrates both traditional foods and cutting-edge cooks.
“Food is a big part of living in the South, too,” she says. “I’ve found that it usually it takes a year to settle into a place, but I’ve met great such people, including people who are very involved in the local food scene. I can see myself being happy here for a long time.” Jill Warren Lucas is the managing editor of Philanthropy Journal. She blogs about food at Eating My Words and freelances for Indy Week.
‘Foodsteps’ from slavery to the rise of Southern cuisine
By Jill Warren Lucas
There are those who say that talk of politics and equality have no place at the table. But for culinary historian Michael Twitty, that’s where the conversation begins.
“The table definitely is the starting point to be more honest with each other and express how we feel about our location and our past,” said Twitty, who will launch his Southern Discomfort Tour
with a free talk at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 7th,
at Flyleaf Books
in Chapel Hill. His topic, “‘Them Old Slavery Foods’: Liberating a Cuisine in Chains in Antebellum North Carolina”, is co-presented by Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOP NC) and the Southern Historical Collection
at UNC Chapel Hill.
“Whether we like it or not, those of us who study African American foodways face a social-political landscape every day,” he said. “Food helps us define our identity and sense of direction. It preserves a shared timelessness. “
An outcome of slavery, he added, “is that Africans and African Americans, who were marginalized groups, made important and often overlooked contributions to Southern and American cuisine. These are important economic and cultural facts.”
Twitty will document his travels to places where his ancestors were enslaved, “...as well as places of cultural memory related to slavery and the development and history of Southern cuisine,” on his blog, The Cooking Gene
. He also tweets at @koshersoul
As stated on The Cooking Gene website: “We are attempting to dialogue with the white families who owned my family - some of whom I am related to by blood - using food as the medium of communication and discourse. We are looking at the development of African American foodways from Africa to America and from the colonial South to the antebellum and postbellum South using my family tree and family geography if you will as a guide. We’re calling that connection ‘foodsteps’ instead of footsteps to describe those edible connections to the landscape and time.”
Twitty will experience that landscape in a very personal way later this week when he ventures east to walk the Halifax County fields that once were the property of his great-great-great-grandfather Richard Henry Bellamy
, a slave owner. (black and white photograph above)
Born in 1829 as the son of European immigrants, Bellamy was raised to enjoy privileges unfamiliar to the mixed-race offspring he and other well-to-do landowners sired and left behind to be raised, often malnourished, in surrounding communities. Here and in other places where the rambling roots of his family tree survive, Twitty believes he will find living blood relatives.
“I’ve reached out to people who say I can walk the land to see what he saw,” Twitty said. “He led a remarkable life, especially for the time. He was a decorated Confederate captain. He was a graduate of law school from the University of Georgia. He got to be a legislator in Texas.”
Bellamy’s biracial children, by contrast, never travelled further than they could walk. “They didn’t go to school. They weren’t special,” Twitty said. “It wasn’t until they had grandchildren that anyone thought to leave the blinding poverty of the South to go north. It’s a reality that’s part of so many stories.”
Twitty is eager to track kin and find clues to their lives through culinary records, but not all of his living relations and friends entirely understand his quest.
“Some people think this whole project is very strange,” he admitted with a laugh. “People expect me to go to the slave quarters and eat what they ate to learn who I am. By studying Southern-African foodways, my goal is to better understand where I come from. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’.”
Twitty’s travels will take him on a circuitous route from his base in Washington, D.C., to big and small Southern towns that cousins many times removed once called home. To make that possible, a diverse group of sponsors from across the country, but especially in the South, united to support his online fundraising effort. It came down to the wire, but Twitty eventually surpassed his $8,000 goal.
“I am emotionally and spiritually moved by the fact that so many people who do not know me personally gave their money and their time to get the word out,” he said. “It was awkward for me to ask, but it’s all about goodwill and love and vision.”
While Twitty, a devout Jew, is not likely to indulge in all that Eastern North Carolina may heap on a dinner plate, he is eager to experience foods and traditions that with were known to his forebears or are common to his surviving relatives.
(Mr. Twitty’s fried chicken in progress)
“One of my fantasies is to find as receipt book, a sort of recipe collection, from my great-great-great grandfather’s line – maybe a cousin who had a copy of The Virginia House-Wife
,” he said, referring to the 1825 guide that became the most influential cookbook of its time. “It would be a sort of Who Do You Think You Are
moment, a connection I do not have to any of my black ancestors.”
Twitty has discussed DNA testing with a few family contacts and hopes to broach the subject with others.
“It is a lot to ask, but with their help I hope to peel back the layers to reveal truth,” he said. “For a lot of African Americans, knowing if you came from West or Central Africa, or the Caribbean, is powerful. When they realize that we can help each other by doing this, and that so many supporters have donated money to make it happen, they see how important it is.”
Speaking just hours from the start of his great odyssey, Twitty expressed deep appreciation for his advocates and excitement about how the next few weeks will change his life.
“I have extreme roller coaster emotions,” he said. “There’s one thing in particular that comes to me. One of my grandmother’s brothers died when he was very young. The only thing I know about this young man is that his favorite breakfast was fried baloney, cinnamon toast and orange juice.
“I guarantee you I am the only person who ever thinks about this particular person, but that is part of his immortality,” he said. “By writing down what I learn about my family and our foodways, I hope to preserve it in my own small way.”
Jill Warren Lucas blogs at "Eating My Words"
by Jill Warren Lucas
A week ago today, Sheri Castle was in New York City attending a glamorous ceremony. She was seated among some of the most celebrated names in the food world, trying to not dwell on what was about to happen, when her own name was announced as a recipient of a 2012 award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
On Sunday, however, she was back in Chapel Hill, doing laundry and driving her daughter to the movies.“Back to reality,” said with a laugh. “It’s OK. I’ll never forget how it felt. It was like that deep down from the center of your core grin. To have an award of any kind is such a pleasure, but to be with a group I admire this much really is very special."
Castle, a founding member of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
(CHOP NC), was honored along with a cluster of writers at Gilt Taste
responsible for the “Eats Shoots and Leaves” series. Her story, Apple Core Values
, was posted in October. “It was very gratifying to be recognized by IACP for crafting good recipes,” Castle said. “They gave us each a certificate – a blue certificate in a blue envelope, suitable for framing. Carrying it around that evening really gave me a great deal of pride. People I have admired for years came up to congratulate me and to say what a big deal it is.”
This was one of several awards earned by Gilt Taste, launched less than a year ago by former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl to fill the culinary chasm left by the magazine’s demise. “To be affiliated with them feels so good, and working with Francis Lam
is the best,” Castle said. “I’ve never worked with a better editor.”
A few months after the April 2011 release of her The New Southern Garden Cookbook
(UNC Press), Castle met Lam at the Greenbrier’s annual Symposium for Professional Food Writers, a major industry event. Lam said he sought her out become a Gilt Taste contributor.
“I love her smart, approachable way with food, her humor and her voice,” Lam said by email from New York. “The pieces she's done for us all feel like a friend is walking you through her favorite new recipe.”
Castle recalled being intrigued by the theme of “Eating Shoots and Leaves,” which focuses on using the parts of a fruit or vegetable that usually are discarded. She’s invested considerable research and testing time for her next topic, due this week: potato peelings.
“It may run in a few days or a few weeks, so stay tuned,” she joked. “One thing I can say is I’ve learned is that your average three-pound bag of potatoes yields two firmly packed cups of peelings.”
Castle is gratified by the response that being on the Gilt Taste team has brought – not just the IACP award, but also the broad recognition.
“I’ve written things for other publications that I would have thought would get more notice, but people really read Gilt Taste,” she said. “I considered myself very fortunate. It’s too simple to say I was just lucky, but there was a lot of luck involved.”
Lucky is the last thing Castle feels when she sits down to write. “I think a lot of writers are incredibly neurotic, tortured people. I don’t know which causes which,” she said with a laugh. “It’s not that I don’t think my stuff is good, but I’m not one of those people who get excited about looking at a blank page.“
"I work out of lot of things in my head before I ever start writing,” she added. “Even in a round room, I’ll find a way to back myself into a corner. If I have 90 days, I’ll use the last nine.”
Castle's demanding schedule
is equally responsible for her writing habits. In the last nine months, she has edited two cookbooks, tested recipes for two more, and logged more than 27,000 miles on her trusty Volvo driving to judge contests, teach classes and sign copies of her book.
“It continues to amaze me how much people enjoy the book,” she said, humbly discounting both her skill as a recipe writer and the book’s resurgent appeal for those who support local growers at farmer’s markets. Castle still does occasional demonstrations at regional markets, including the Saturday Carrboro Farmer's Market where she used to be a fixture a decade ago.
“It’s still fun for me, and it’s wonderful to meet people who are fans of my work,” she said. “Actually, I came home with two resolutions from IACP. One is that I have got to tweet more to stay connected with people who are so kind to support me.”
And the other? “To get a phone from this century, which I think will make the former easier,” she said. “I’m about one step up from Dixie cups and string, but I’m working on it.”
Lucas blogs at Eating My Words
. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
by Jill Warren Lucas
Dear Dr. Wok:
Please help me. The fire that used to burn in our relationship has gone cold. What once made me sizzle with anticipation has turned to soggy mush. Where I used to see balance, beauty and dignity, I now can’t ignore a distinct, almost drunken wobble. My grip has become slippery. Our love has lasted about 30 years, but I think the time has come to say goodbye. What should I do?
If such a mystic for downtrodden wok users really existed, it would point to a sole source for relief. Grace Young
, dubbed everything from wok evangelist to empress of stir fry, prescribes a simple solution for Western cooks who long for the crisp, deeply flavored results – without the gloppy sauces – of popular take-out eateries.
“You have a round-bottom wok, don’t you,” she said, as if checking my pulse by phone from her New York City apartment. “The reason I write books
is that stir-frying is a culinary term that’s totally accepted in America. But when they go to cook it, the majority of Americans are frustrated with the results.
“Round-bottom woks are made to cook in a Chinese hearth stove over a fire,” Young explained, noting that adjustments must be made to accommodate non-commercial, lower-BTU American stoves. “You need a flat-bottom, carbon steel wok so it can cook closer to the heat.”
Young will talk about wok cookery as the guest of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina
(CHOP NC) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Flyleaf Books
in Chapel Hill. Her culinary genius also will be celebrated Tuesday night at Lantern
, where Chef Andrea Reusing will prepare a spring menu
based on Young's award-winning cook books. For reservations, call 919-969-8846.
My aged, curvy wok is carbon steel, and it has achieved an enviable patina since I acquired it along with my first apartment. But the smarter, more modern design minimizes unintended steaming and, as an added benefit, features a long wooden handle, plus a small helper one, that makes keeping a jug of burn-cooling aloe under the sink no longer a necessity.
If you hope to achieve a degree of stir-fry Zen, don’t be tempted by a fancy stainless-steel model, or one coated with a non-stick finish. And, let us all say hallelujah, don’t dare cast your eyes on an electric one.
While Young could make a fortune selling a celebrity line of cookware, she instead suggests seeking recommendations from family-owned wok shops. If you can’t find one, she recommends San Francisco's The Work Shop (www.wokshop.com), where many budget-friendly options are available.
“There is so much about cooking these days that is elitist. You can spend all your money on All-Clad, and people look down on you if you don’t have certain ingredients,” Young said. “What I think is extraordinary about stir frying is that is makes less seem like more.
“Even if you’re the most wealthy person in the world, your stir fry isn’t much different from a peasant – if you do it right,” she said. “The ingredients don’t have to be extraordinary. They just have to be fresh.”
Combine this humble cookware with the coming abundance of competitively priced farmer’s market vegetables, and you’ve got all you need for quick, affordable and flavorful family meals. For example, Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp and Stir-Fried Cilantro with Bean Sprouts and Shrimp, two of several recipes posted on her website
, would be terrific with fresh-caught Carolina shrimp.
While Young has published hundreds of recipes in three popular books, most recently the James Beard Award-winning Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge
, she insists that delicious, spontaneous suppers can be produced in minutes by relying on the freshest seasonal ingredients. A stir fry made right now with tender asparagus will naturally caramelize and need scant seasoning. But if you try to recreate the experience with woody November asparagus, you're bound to be disappointed.
“The goal is to just accentuate the inherent flavors,” she said. “Really, it’s a frugal and healthful approach to cooking.”
Young said the method should appeal particularly to those taking heed to the Archives of Internal Medicine's
startling warning about the health risks associated with eating red meat.
“I always shake my head when I see a wok recipe that includes a pound of beef or even more chicken,” she said. “I ran the Time-Life Books test kitchens for 20 years. I know for a fact that if you try to cook more than 12 ounces of beef in a wok it just goes gray and foamy.”
Too much meat also drops the wok's temperature, which must remain consistently high to sear and not steam. While ingredients can be dried with paper towel and cooked in batches to minimize unwanted braising, Young maintains that it’s better to make multiples of a single recipe that the tinker with ratios.
Young’s current book includes a vast array of meals made in the kitchens of Chinese chefs and home cooks who have scattered around the globe, and the local influences are apparent. In Trinidad, for example, rum takes the place of traditional rice wine.
One particularly interesting recipe deploys peeled watermelon rind as a substitute for hard-to-find fuzzy melon. It’s a resource penny-wise Southern cooks have long used for pickles. “You don’t waste it, where the rest of America tosses it away,” Young said.
Though she admits the recipe is not one of her favorites, Young said she was intrigued by the waste-not ethic that led cooks to make use of the amino acid-rich but otherwise bland white band, which is sliced into thin wafers for a crunchy bite.
Her ongoing research into stir-fry methods and technique – she’s currently pondering a new book proposal – serve to deepen her respect for it as a “chameleon cooking technique.”
“It can adapt and absorb different cultures. For example, if you can’t find Chinese broccoli, use American broccoli,” she said. “For me, that’s what it all about: adapting traditional techniques by using regional variations or what’s in season.”
While Young encourages home cooks to exercise creativity with their wok, she recommends against trying to imitate the physical style of experienced restaurant wok cooks whose balletic elegance mesmerizes customers in the take-out line."
That jerking motion with the wok, where the vegetables are tossed into the air, is called the pao
action. It's a beautiful thing to watch someone who really is one with the a wok, but the pao
is not very effective at home as it's counter productive to keeping the pan properly hot," Young cautioned. "If you stick with a flat-bottomed wok, you'll spend less time cleaning the kitchen floor and more time eating."
Lucas blogs at Eating My Words
. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
In anticipation of Grace Young's visit, we've been obsessing over all things wok-y (CHOP NC members have even been sharing pictures of their woks on our Facebook Page
). Before you become a wok master, though, you need to know how to season your wok. In this video Grace shows us how to season a wok the Chinese way. I used this video as reference when I first got my wok, and the bonus is that your kitchen ends up smelling fantastic!
The Connecticut Yankee, better known as Matt, is the voice behind Green Eats Blog. Follow him on Twitter @greeneatsblog and find him on Facebook.
Note: Virginia Willis will teach a class at A Southern Season on March 22 based on her new book, “Basic
to Brilliant, Y’all.”
By Jill Warren Lucas
Shakespeare famously wrote that “if music be the food of love, play on.” But don’t try to pull that mess
on Virginia Willis.
“I once had a very romantic date with some chocolate,” said Willis with an amused sigh of
recollection. “Loving and kissing just comes to mind.”
Though she’s published recipes for some intoxicating sweets in Bon Appetit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories
from Three Generations of Southern Cooking
and her new, much-praised Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150
Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company
, Willis rarely swoons for cake or pie
– even if chocolate is a key ingredient.
For true romance, the sort she proposes as necessary for a proper Valentine, it’s got to be Chocolate
Pots de Crème, a decadent delight she first learned when studying culinary arts years ago at L'Academie
de Cuisine and Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne in France.
“They are rich and indulgent, and certainly meant for special occasions,” Willis said during a recent
phone call from her Atlanta kitchen. “But the best part is they are dead easy. There’s no worrying about
curdling eggs or any of that. If you can melt chocolate, you can make pots de crème.”
Featured in her first book, and shared below, pots de crème may look complicated but are, she
said, “nothing more than French pudding cups.” Their simple ingredients and mostly hands-off
preparation allow plenty of time for what Willis deems the best part of any meal: the time spent with
“I definitely prefer to eat at home on Valentine’s Day,” she said, pairing it with New Year’s Eve as the No.
1 days to eat in. “Restaurants are crowded, everyone is busy. It’s all about turning the tables.
“Having said that, I love to share the cooking and make it an enjoyable experience for us both,” she
said. “But you don’t have to stress and do it all at once. This dessert, for example, can be made the day
before. All you have to do is whip some cream.”
Despite her mother’s devotion to Cool Whip, which is humorously detailed in an anecdote printed above
the recipe, Willis recommends that heavy cream to be whipped into a lush cloud, without sugar, just
“A friend of mine who is very healthful chooses to use fat-free, non-dairy Cool Whip,” she said with a
distinct shudder. “To me, it’s just too sweet. I’d rather had a teaspoon of whipped cream then two cups
of Cool Whip.”
Willis also suggests Crisp Roasted Duck with Peach Barbecue Sauce
from the new book for the main
course, and perhaps Apalachicola Oysters with Sauce Mignonette
for a starter.
“It’s fairly typical, but it always makes people happy,” she said, acknowledging the mollusk’s MO as a
heady aphrodisiac. “It’s easy and it’s delicious.”
While Willis is thrilled that Basic to Brilliant, Y’All has earned critical acclaim and landed on several year-
ending best-of lists, she was less pleased that her name became entwined with Paula Deen’s recent
announcement that she was diagnosed three years ago with Type 2 diabetes.
Amid the whirlwind of media attention that followed the news – a private matter, to be sure, but one
revealed in connection to a lucrative pharmaceutical endorsement deal – New York Times writer Julia
picked Willis to represent purveyors of “new” Southern cuisine.
“It wasn’t that long ago that I as writing recipes for a PTA newsletter, so I’m always surprised when
anyone wants to talk to me about anything,” said Willis. “My position is that Southern cooking doesn’t
have to stay trapped in the past. In fact, a lot of what’s been promoted as ‘traditional’ really isn’t. I did
not grow up eating deep fried mac ‘n cheese wrapped in bacon, and neither did anyone I know.
“To think we are just fried chicken and overcooked greens is very one dimensional,” she said. “Also,
we’re not all working on the farm anymore. We don’t need a 1,200-calorie breakfast to sit at a desk.”
Willis noted with pride that she has taught and cooked her recipes at some of the nation’s best-known
spas “almost verbatim from my books.”
“There are a lot of problems with Southern food and big problems with obesity nationally. In a positive
light, (the attention) is helping people have a constructive dialogue about Southern food and how it can
be made delicious by using healthy, seasonal ingredients. For me, it’s all about fresh ingredients and not
doing too much with them.”
Willis will continue to offer insights on Southern fare in what has become her Y’all series.
She’s “noodling” on a theme now and hopes to have the next volume on book shelves within two years.
In the mean time, the chef is drafting a different sort of book, “a very personal culinary story” about a fifth-generation farmer.
“It will really stretch me as a writer,” she said. “It’s amazingly satisfying to hear that that people like the
stories in my books. People may be coming from a different place when they read me, but it’s all about
the community you build at the table.”
And if your community includes a beloved partner, so much the better.Chocolate Pots de Crème
(Reprinted with permission from Bon Appétit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern
Cooking by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2008. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.)
Undeniably creamy and indulgent, these are the French version of pudding cups. Pots de crème are traditionally baked and served in individual ceramic pots with lids, how they got their name.
Much to my consternation, Mama buys Cool Whip instead of using freshly whipped cream. She recycles the tubs for food storage and other uses. I think a pet hamster was once gently laid to rest in a Cool Whip coffin. Whipping real cream is easy, and my mother’s opinion aside, it really does taste better. The key is that everything must be well chilled: the heavy cream in the refrigerator, and the mixer beaters and bowl in the freezer until cold to the touch. I prefer not to add sugar or vanilla to the cream, as I think the dessert is quite often sweet enough and sweetened whipped cream is overpowering.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
5 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of fine sea salt
Whipped cream, for garnish
Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place six 6-ounce
ramekins in a roasting pan.
In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, and chocolate over medium heat. Bring almost to a simmer;
remove from the heat. Set aside, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely melted.
In a large measuring cup, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar. While whisking, add a little of
the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture to combine. (This technique is called tempering; it makes the
temperatures of two mixtures—one containing raw egg— more similar, so the egg won’t curdle in the
presence of heat.) Add the remaining milk mixture, and whisk to combine. Whisk in the vanilla and salt.
Pour approximately 1/2 cup of the egg mixture into each ramekin. Cover each ramekin tightly with
aluminum foil to prevent a skin from forming. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to come
halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are just set in the center, 35 to 40 minutes.
Remove the pots from the water, and place on a wire rack to cool, about 30 minutes. (I usually remove
the pots with tongs and leave the roasting pan of water in the oven. Turn the oven off and let the water
cool until it is safe to remove the pan.)
When the pots de crème have cooled completely, refrigerate to chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.
Just before serving, top with a dollop of whipped cream.
Lucas blogs at Eating My Words
. Follow her at @jwlucasnc.
By Jill Warren Lucas
Gabrielle Hamilton's years of hard living, coupled with her role as chef/owner of Prune
, one of the most celebrated restaurants in New York City, have cemented an image of the quintessential bad-ass chef. She's famously infamous, a woman whose conversation is casually peppered with F-bombs and whose classic food evokes the rapturous praise of the most discerning critics.
So it was a surprise when she sheepishly accepted a glowing introduction last week at Flyleaf Books
in Chapel Hill, an event presented in collaboration with Culinary Historians of the Piedmont
(CHOPNC). Hamilton read from the newly-issued paperback edition of her best-selling memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter
(Random House), which was celebrated this week by Food52
as its No. 1 "favorite food-related find" from 2011. Yes, she assured fans, it is updated to answer some of the questions everyone asks about her children, her Italian mother-in-law, and the ashes of her failed marriage. The chapter she read recalled her liberating but at times frightening first extended trip abroad. Saved by a fortunate connection that took her from a freaky hostel in Amsterdam to a cozy attic room in small French village, she spent several weeks earning her keep in a working class cafe. It was there that she acquired an ease that allowed her the experience of learning "how we live and eat."
"Don't laugh," she begged of the capacity crowd as she allowed them a glimpse of the girl who two decades later would be named the Best Restaurant Chef in New York City by the James Beard Foundation. They hung on her every word -- even the French ones whose proper pronunciation, required by her demanding mother, made her feel "awkwardly pretentious."
"Can I stop? Ugh, I'll never read that one again," she said, clearly uneasy with the effusive accolades that accompany most everything she says or does. Or wears, like her chunky tortoiseshell glasses or fashionably greying hair caught in a clip, both of which drew admiring whispers.
Hamilton shares intensely personal details in her book, which is subtitled "The Inadvertent Education of a Relucant Chef." Arriving at a place where she could look back at the seeming chaos of her youth, and armed with an MFA in writing earned during a career detour, the book is evidence of a catharthsis -- a crystalization of the good and the "gruesome" that shaped a journey from her mother's kitchen to the culinary world's center stage.
She welcomed a wide array of questions, ranging from how this working mother managed to find the time to write -- "I wrote while nursing, in the middle of the night, and sometimes on the line on torn sheets of brown paper we use to cover the tables" -- to how she traded substance abuse for the addictive passion for writing.
Chef/Author Gabrielle Hamilton signs copies of her memoir at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. Photo credit: Jill Warren Lucas
October's CHOP NC Guest Speaker Elaine MaisnerOctober 19, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.Flyleaf Books
752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC (919) 942-7373
Free and open to the public! Bring your friends, and a snack to share if you'd like!
Elaine Maisner, senior executive editor at UNC Press, has worked in scholarly book publishing since 1985, including stints at Yale University Press and the University of Tokyo Press. At UNC Press since 1994, she acquires books in the areas of religious studies, Latin American and Caribbean studies—and regional and general trade, working on many types of books about food, including cookbooks. In this endeavor she finds ample opportunity to draw on her extensive background in food and cooking—from farming on the Nolin River Farm in Kentucky to cooking with her teacher Deborah Madison at Greens Restaurant and interning at Chez Panisse in the astonishing food world of the late seventies and early eighties in San Francisco and Berkeley. A few of the titles she has acquired for UNC Press include Eugene Walter’s The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink, edited by Donald Goodman and Tom Head (A Fall 2011 Okra Pick of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance); Sandra Gutierrez’s The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South
; Sheri Castle’s The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes (A Spring 2011 Okra Pick of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance); Marcie Cohen Ferris’s Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South (2006 Jane Grigson Book Award, International Association of Culinary Professionals/A New York Times
Notable Cookbook/A Chicago Tribune
Favorite Cookbook/A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Top Cookbook/A 2006 James Beard Foundation Book Award Finalist); Psyche Williams-Forson’s Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power (2006 Elli Köngäs-Maranda Prize of the American Folklore Society); and Mildred Council’s Mama Dip’s Kitchen.
Eastern Triangle Farm Tour
9/17 Saturday and 9/18 Sunday
1 pm to 5 pm both days
Tickets: Advance purchase: $25 per carload or cycling group
Days of Tour; Buy at farms $30 per carload/cycling group or $10 per farmSouthern Foodways Alliance: Stir The Pot
September 18th and 19th , Sunday and Monday
Host: Chef Ashley Christiansen of Poole's Diner
Guest Chef John Fleer
The sixth helping of STIR THE POT, a fundraiser for the Southern Foodways Alliance, will take place on Sunday, September 18, and Monday, September 19.
Sunday night is a five-course dinner with wine pairings at Poole's Diner, prepared by Chef Ashley Christensen and Guest Chef John Fleer. $150 per person.
Monday night is a potluck at Chef Ashley Christensen's home in Raleigh. Main dish to be prepared by Chef Christensen is Brunswick Stew. Please bring a $35 donation to the SFA (check or cash) and a side dish or dessert that celebrates your sense of place. Beer will be donated by Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem, NC, with a surprise cocktail by Fox's Liquor Bar. Wine is donated by Eliza Kraft Olander. Reservations are required and limited for both events. Please call Poole's Diner to reserve: 919-832-4477
For more information please visit www.stirthepotluck.com
Learn more about Chef Fleer
Learn more about the Southern Foodways AllianceChop NC September event:
“Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World”
Wednesday September 21
Author Charles B. Thompson, Jr.
9/21 Flyleaf Books Chapel Hill
, NC 7 - 8:30 pmSandra Gutierrez’s Book Launch Party
Thursday September 22
6:00 p.m. The Umstead Hotel
, Cary NC
It's Fiesta Time, Y'all! You're all invited to the launch party for Sandra's brand new book:The New Southern-Latino Table
Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South
RSVP by September 16 to email@example.com or 919.962.0585 Open to the public so feel free to tell all your friends.Door prizes and Appetizers. Valet Parking available.TerraVITA
Saturday September 24
The Sustainable Classroom 9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Grand Tasting on the Green 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
TerraVITA’s Grand Tasting on the Green will take place on The Green at Southern Village, an upscale, environmentally-conscious, mixed-use community in Chapel Hill, NC. Tickets for the Grand Tasting are all-inclusive (all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as food samplings are included) and can be purchased for $65 each, or excluding alcohol $55.The Sustainable Classroom tickets can be purchased separately for $35; Combined Tasting & Classroom ticket, including both events, can be purchased for $90.