Tuesday, August 25, 2009


There's nothing like a leisurely Sunday morning. After sleeping in, you wake up, read a magazine and overall relax before starting anything. At some point you decide it's probably a good idea to get something to eat. What better place to visit than one of Chapel Hill's institutions, Breadmen's. Don't let the Tarheel footprints outside fool you, this restaurant is an equal opportunity sports enthusiast. At least that's what I gathered from the many years of sports posters for all the local universities on the walls. The restaurant can often be quite busy, but we were lucky to get seated right away on a Sunday in the early afternoon. Many students like to frequent this eatery, and, according to the clientele we saw, it seems to be a good "morning after"/hangover hangout from obvious sunglasses being worn indoors. Anyways, on to the good stuff (the food stuffs):


We had two decent sized platters of breakfast foods. The pancakes were good - decently fluffy and about medium thickness. Eggs and breakfast meats were par for the course. Honestly, I find most diner eggs and meats to be pretty basic, so I never use them as a proper judge of character. Home fries, on the other hand, are a good meter stick. Breadmen's potatoes were well seasoned and delicious. Finally, the coup de grace was the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits are soft but the edges were browned slightly to add a little crispiness to a dish that could easily get too mushy. The gravy was great with good body and that meaty salinity that I love. It also made a good topping for the potatoes (I love to mix and match my food). Overall I was quite satisfied with breakfast at Breadmen's. It made a slow-start Sunday even more enjoyable.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On the Road Eats - Shatley Springs

The last stop of note on last week's mountain trip was one of those middle-of-nowhere finds. I write about it less to raise awareness of its presence and more to emphasize how even in the middle of BFE, you can come across some gems. On our adventure, the gem to be found is the small destination of Shatley Springs, NC. The history of the springs is that one Martin Shatley in the late nineteenth century managed to "cure" some of his ongoing dermatological ailments in the waters of the spring. If you want to learn more about the story, there is a detailed history of the springs as well as Martin Shatley's original testimony at the springs (be warned that the testimonial is full of lengthy descriptions of Shatley's medical maladies that are not for the fait of heart or stomach).

Shatley Springs Food Part I

Shatley Springs Food Part II

Shatley Springs is more than just a trickle of water from the ground. Around the spring itself have sprung up many little shops, small cabins around a lake and a restaurant (guess which one we went to). The primary order at the restaurant at Shatley Springs is the lunch food selection. For those of us just passing through town (if you can call it that), this sampler is the best bet to get all this local eatery has to offer. Not all of the food fit in one picture. They have wheelie carts to transport it all to each table. The main courses are fried chicken breasts and country ham. The fried chicken is decent and the ham is a little salty, but the litany of Southern side items is where this restaurant really shines. You receive a healthy sampling of cornbread and biscuits with some strawberry jam for a topping. Alternatively, you can cover your food in one or both of two gravies - one flour-based and the other more akin to drippings but both packing tons of greasy spoon flavors. Pinto beans by themselves are fine but topped with the provided red pepper relish become outstanding with smokey sweetness. Mashed potatoes, creamed corn, cole slaw, steamed cabbage, green beans, and cinnamon apples round out the feast. To wash it all down is some classically prepared sweet tea. And if all this is not enough, they will refill any and all of these items for free if you manage to finish any of them, plus you get one dessert per person.

Shatley Springs Desserts

For dessert, you have the simple choice of banana pudding or one of about 5 kinds of cobbler (when we went, I believe they had blackberry, strawberry, peach, cherry, and apple), all of which can be served a la mode. The blackberry cobbler was a great combination of sweet, tart and cobbler-y, but the banana pudding was absolutely flawless: banana flavor with some bananas, Nilla wafers, and whipped cream. A side of vanilla ice cream certainly did not hurt either. This restaurant represents the South at its best. Real good country home cooking with terrifically friendly service.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On the Road Eats - Our Daily Bread & Espresso News

Before leaving Boone, NC, we had two further stops for lunch and an afternoon pick-me-up. For such a small town, Boone has a goodly number of local eateries that are worth the trip. Many of them are closer to the side of town with Appalachian State. One great thing about North Carolina that I've found in after moving here over a year ago is that there are enough good local restaurants to compete with the big chains. I think getting off the beaten path is healthy for the body and soul. Studies have shown that eating a variety of foods helps you get all the nutrient your body requires. So going to Outback and ordering the same meal every week could have an effect worse than just the calories you're taking in. Plus, if you become bored with what you eat, you're more likely to seek out snacks and treats. Now I'll get off my soapbox and sit down at the table at these two Boone establishments.

Our Daily Bread

Our Daily Bread has, over time, slowly transformed into a casual yet modern bistro. Their menu comes in two flavors - meatatarian and vegetarian (my words, not theirs). They have an extensive selection within each category, so if you can't find something to eat, then you probably just plain don't like sandwiches.

Brie BLT

This is the brie BLT (brie-LT?), that is a normal BLT plus sliced, melted brie and slices of green apple. What a marvel this sandwich turned out to be! Some cheeses, like brie, are an order of magnitude better when warm. Add in some salty bacon plus the sweet and crisp apple slices and you've got a winner. A side of Southern potato salad finished off this lunch well.

Tempeh Ruben

From the vegetarian side of the menu comes the tempeh ruben. A normal ruben has pastrami, saurkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing on rye bread. A tempeh ruben substitutes tempeh for the pastrami and, oddly enough, Dijon mustard for the dressing. Name-wise, it is more in line with a pastrami sandwich (I'm not sure if thousand island dressing has meat or animal-derived products in it), but flavorwise it is unparalleled. If meat substitutes were always cooked like this, I think more Americans would be open to incorporating them into the diet (which could, in turn, decrease the carbon footprint from livestock). I'm not advocating a completely vegetarian, let alone vegan, lifestyle since meat is so tasty and chock-full-o-protein, but trying something new could go a long way.

Espresso News

Tucked away behind some buildings is Espresso News, one of the local coffee shops for all the java jockeys. Not only are the coffees pretty good, but they also have smoothies in great flavor combinations that only a coffee house could do well. For instance, I ordered the chai-nana (chai + banana) smoothie. I love chai tea for all of the warm spice flavors it has. Add a banana and you've got a winning combination that almost tasted like caramel. Sweet.

On the Road Eats - Black Cat Burrito

With summer winding down, I decided I needed to take one last mini-vacation. What better place to escape the hullabaloo of life in the Triangle than to head a couple hours west to the Great Smoky Mountains? Our primary stop was Boone, NC, home of Appalachian State University and a town near the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the parkway, you can find trails of all difficulty levels as well as local artisan shops. In the next few posts, I will be detailing the not-to-be-missed fooderies that we found.

Black Cat Burrito

One of the staple restaurants in town is Black Cat Burrito, which is a misnomer since they do not serve black cat meat and their burritos are not your typical Tex-Mex creations. The MO of this eatery seems to be stuffing tortillas with everything but the usual beans, ground beef and cheese.

Chips, Dips and Sips

For starters, we had to try their tortilla chips with a selection of dips. The Everything Sampler includes queso, guacamole and one of the salsas (we tried mild). The chips are cut thickly and nicely crunchy, helping them to resist sogginess when dipped into any of the three wells packed with great flavors. I included a my drink in this shot because Black Cat has an unknown Fanta flavor on tap - ginger ale. I find most ginger ale to be hit or miss, but this one was more balanced than most. With less bite and a bit more sweetness than other ginger ales, this one is probably the best one I've ever had. It was hard not to fill up on these munchies, but we did managed to save room for the main course.


We, of course, ordered burritos (you don't go to a place with "burrito" in the title without ordering some). In the background is Don't Be a Jerk featuring chicken, pineapple, jicama, and the house jerk sauce. While spicy, it also had a bit of sweetness from the pineapple to round out all the flavors. In the foreground of the picture, you can see the White Trash BBQ burrito with BBQ sauce, chicken, and slaw. While not as spicy as the jerk burrito, the white trash had all the competing elements of a great meal - sweet and lightly spicy, soft and crunchy. These burritos are also the kind you eat with a fork and knife and could easily be made into two meals, that is if you like to be "responsible" with your eating or something like that.

Thai Pesto Shrimp & Nutty Noodles

When you collect recipes like I do (over 1000 so far plus those that are in my ~30 cookbooks), you end up with some odds and ends. These are the recipes for something that is on that borderline of being a meal or a just a side dish. I've seen these recipes and been tempted to make them, but they just feel incomplete. I managed to combine two disparate pieces into a wonderful whole.

Notta Pasta

First off, one of my recipes called for rice pasta. From my experiences with gluten-free foods, alternative pastas can leave something to be desired. Notta Pasta, though, does a decent job with their rice pasta, which comes in a few different types. It is worth noting that these noodles take longer to cook than the 3 minutes indicated on the packaging, but they still come out tender and lighter than normal pasta. Plus, I feel that rice pasta absorbs flavors better than normal pastas. To me it seems to be more of a blank slate, ready to take on whatever you're throwing at it.

Thai Pesto Shrimp with Nutty Noodles

To give you the big idea for the meal, I had the separate recipes for nutty noodles and Thai pesto shrimp. For the noodles, I combined peanut butter, crumbled tofu, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar in a saucepan and heated it until the sauce was as smooth as possible. Some of the tofu did not "dissolve," but the sauce was still consistent in texture and flavor. Then I tossed in the cooked rice noodles. Simple and easy, but peanut butter is never lacking in flavor.

Briefly, for the Thai pesto shrimp, I placed cilantro, lime juice, peanuts, ginger, garlic, salt, pepper, and honey in a food processor, then streamed in the olive oil. The great thing about a pesto is that you need only three base ingredients: nut, greens (herb or lettuce) and olive oil. This means you can have an endless supply of different pestos that can pander to whatever flavor palette you want. The cilantro and peanuts in this pesto definitely give the dish the southeast Asian feel, and the other ingredients really help it to shine. Toss in some cooked shrimp and you're set. To put these two pieces together, I simply plated the pasta and topped it with the shrimp. Not only did each of the two portions of this meal have good flavor, but they combined incredibly well. Peanuts were the main linker, but the other flavors followed suit to make an incredibly satisfying whole.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Federal

Stuffed Meatloaf

Eating out at restaurants becomes more, well, let's say interesting when you have some sort of food restriction. Having no current food allergies (knock on wood), my diet is usually only curbed by my personal food preferences. Many people, though, are lactose intolerant or allergic to something in food (nuts, gluten, kiwi, berries, mushrooms, soy). One problem I was not anticipating for many more decades was my post-gum-surgery need to eat soft foods. So when you go to restaurants, anything you can't cut up (sandwiches) or that's too crunchy (including lettuce) is not in the realm of possibility. Luckily, when I went to visit The Federal on Main Street in Durham, among all of their delicious-sounding burgers, sandwiches and salads was the special seen above. The main dish is a flavorful meatloaf stuffed with mushrooms and coated with a honey-whole grain mustard mixture. Not only was this food sufficiently soft for my healing palette, but it was amazingly flavorful. The interplay of sweet and savory, tangy and earthy really astounded me. For side dishes, they served steamed broccoli (which, believe it or not, was a little too solid for me to eat) and macaroni and cheese prepared with basil. It's always a surprise when the addition of a single spice can help add so much depth, especially when paired with that juicy meatloaf. After such a good first experience at The Federal, I need to make sure I go back once I can tackle their more solid fare.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fickle Creek Farm

I recently had the fortunate opportunity to tour Fickle Creek Farms. The farm itself is located in Efland, somewhere between Durham and Mebane, and utilizes sustainable farming practices. I actually did not realize I was going to have a farm tour, so it's a good thing I'm starting to carry my camera around with me more often.

Sheep & Cows

On the outskirts of the farm are the male sheep and young cows. If you've never heard a male sheep bleat, then you should know it is not what you heard from your childhood Speak-n-Say. In fact, if they did put male sheep sounds in that toy, then most children would probably be afraid of sheep and desperately cry out for a silence of the lambs. The noise sounds more like a dry heave than anything. Anyways, what is important to take away from the picture is that all of the animals are free to roam a wide swath of land at their leisure.

Broiler Chickens

Chickens come in two flavors on the farm (no, not lemon-pepper and BBQ). This first type of poultry is the broiler hen. These are your meat chickens. No hormones are used to make them more plump. Generations of breeding has yielded hens whose muscles grow faster than their feathers, so you may notice some bald spots on these ladies. But this is as natural as you can hope for while still having some meat to sink your teeth into.

Egg-Laying Hens

The other hen running around the farm is the egg-laying variety. They actually have a few different breeds, though I cannot remember their names for the life of me. Some even lay green eggs! If you have a Dr. Seuss breakfast you've been dying to make, this is your chance. The other point to be made about the chickens is that they are part of the farm's practice of rotating the usage of its land. You can use pigs to clear the land and chickens to fertilize it and prepare it for planting crops. The chickens roost in mobile coops that can be easily moved around the farm.

Where da Piglet?

Pigs will always hold a special place in my heart. After working with neonatal piglets for a little over 3 years, I find these oikers adorable. These are obviously the big brothers to the little guys I'm used to, but they're still pretty darn cute.

Big Cows

To finish out the menagerie, we saw full grown cows. I believe our tour guide said that some of the cows are used by Chapel Hill Creamery. I've had a couple of their cheeses and they are quite fantastic. Cattle tip of the tour: if a cow attempts to assert its dominance, punch it in the nose. Isn't that what you're supposed to do with sharks?

Christmas Lima Beans Squash

So what does all of that land preparation yield? Innumerable crops that I won't even be able to cover completely. Pictured above are Christmas lima beans and various squashes (the Frankensquash are actually called zephyr squash come to find out). We had the chance to sample some fresh arugula and cherry tomatoes as well. And below you can see some delicious food made from farm-fresh products.

Caprese & Venison Burger

Dinner for the evening was about 90% ingredients directly from the farm. We had a caprese salad featuring some of the tastiest tomatoes of the season. The burger you see on the plate is made of venison from local NC deer. This was my first time tasting venison and it was pretty good. They say venison can be cut with pork to up the fat content, which could be good because venison is a very lean meet (think of how a deer looks in comparison to a pig). Since the meat was grilled, it adopted a smoky, almost jerky-like flavor. Chock up another animal for my meat reportoir. Lastly, how do you eat an omelet for dinner without sounding like a total loser? Make the omelet huge and call it a frittata. This frittata had tomato, potato, cheese, basil, onions and perhaps a few more vegetables that I cannot remember because they blended into the wonderful deliciousness. The ingredients have the potential to stand alone, but these were done right so that it all came together superbly. I want to thank my hosts and tour guides for the awesome opportunity to see the inner workings of Fickle Creek Farm. They will be offering more farm tours this spring and you can find their produce at many local restaurants and farmers' markets.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cherry Gelato

I had gum surgery a little over a week ago, meaning I was on a soft food diet for a few days. In order to make may days of eating Campbell's soup and protein shakes more enjoyable, I decided to lift my spirits by doing some cooking. What is great about having some sort of oral surgery is that you can justify eating large quantities of ice cream. My thought process is this: limiting myself to soups and protein shakes means my caloric intake is not up to its normal amount. Physical discomfort and difficulty eating mean my food intake is slower and I feel full faster. Plus I need to keep my food intake up to par to help with the healing process. Therefore, I should eat an inordinate amount of ice cream to speed my recovery and keep my spirits up.

Cherry Gelato

What you see is cherry gelato. This is my first chance to make this recipe since cherries are now in season. The recipe I had used whole milk as the base, flavored with a vanilla bean and some turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw), and thickened with cornstarch. The cherry portion was a blend of cherries, turbinado sugar, and vanilla and almond extracts. After cooling both of these portions, they were combined and placed in my ice cream maker. The end result had a great flavor. The cherries really stand out with a background of almonds. I may have liked some larger cherry pieces mixed in, but it was still good. I think using the whole milk may have increased the size of some of the ice crystals in the gelato. The consistency is good but every once in a while you come across a decently sized ice crystal. But upgrading to heavy cream would have meant a good deal more calories, so whole milk is a good substitute. I'm not totally crazy to think that if I did eat extra calories while I'm not being as active as normal would not mean an increase in fat mass. A few extra ice crystals could go a long way to keeping off those few extra pounds. The holiday calories, after all, are only a couple months a way...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Week in Produce - 8/6/2009

CSA - 08/04/09

It seems like it was another good week for Britt Farms. My box was yet again full of a wondrous bounty. In the picture you can see a small head of cabbage, eggplant, two pints of cherry tomatoes (yellow and red), green peppers, yellow squash, blueberries, jalapenos, regular-sized tomatoes, and a good haul of corn. It seems melons are finally on the wane, which will give my taste buds some time to recover. This is the first year I've been able to eat melon at all. In years past I had a near unstoppable physical revulsion to them. But with some good tongue training (much better than weight training or house training), I've discovered the wonders of melon. Also, the tomatoes have been quite excellent. Ruby red on the inside and full of flavor without the bitterness. I can pop the cherry tomatoes into my mouth without fear that they will explode with sour disgustingness. They may be my new snack while I'm cooking.

At Harris Teeter this week, I was astounded to find fresh lychee. It is very unusual for normal grocers to carry this fruit, though I hear Asian markets will often have them at particular times of the year. I have no picture of them because two days after purchasing them, they were already moldy. They are a little bit of work to get through the red shell and avoid the kidney bean of a pit, but if you get a good batch they are worth it. If you don't want to work for it or you can't find them, most Asian markets do have them canned, which can often be just as good.