Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in My Kitchen

Adding pomegranate seeds to your Christmas salads?
I used to make such a mess trying to dig those beautiful red globs out, until I read about this trick.
Whack it.  It's also real good for dealing with all those Yuletide frustrations from shopping and cooking and going non-stop.  I mean, you can't get mad at Santa.  Remember the Whack-A-Moles at the State Fair?
So slice the pomegranate in half.  Turn up side down, over a shallow dish, preferably sitting in your sink, then haul off and whack the pom hard with a meat cleaver, rolling pin, or the dull side of your chef's knife.  Turn the pom and hit it hard again, and again, and again until you're feeling better or laughing or the pom gives it all up.
I was amazed at the results.....both at how much better I felt after smacking the thing, and how easy it was to extract enough seeds for plenty of salads.

It's a tradition.  Which means I gotta.  So for each of the last 18 or so years, I make a Yule Log for a gathering of friends who met when we were pregnant over two decades ago.  The youngest kid is now 20.  That's means I've done lots of Yule Logs.   I've done variations, the favorite being the year Hurricane Fran hit Raleigh, so my Yule Log had "crashed" over a toy truck.
You'd think I'd perfected the recipe by now.  But when you make something only once a year, you forget.  So sometimes that sponge cake cooks too long, as it did this year.  Or the meringue mushrooms are too sticky.  Or sometimes I run outta time and use - gasp! - canned frosting.  But this year I did it right.  Gotta show it off, so forgive the photo, apres shower where my drenching in chocolate was washed off.  

HAPPY HOLIDAYS  May your holidays be overflowing with the good feelings from gathering around a table, just being together, laughing and enjoying the bounty of this good Earth, no matter how sophisticated or simple the food or wine may be.   Nurture your souls while you nurture your appetites.  Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 12, 2008


So do you say "pee-cans," or "puh-cahns?"  I say delicious about my favorite nut.  
We're having a bumper crop of pecans in NC this year.  I'm told that happens about every other year.
Pecans are always in my kitchen during the holidays.  I love to simply toast a batch to add to salads, esp. with goat cheese.  Or, toast with some hot sauce, for an easy and quick appetizer that goes well with cocktails.  See recipe below.

This year, my brother-in-law gave me an early gift.....a chest full of pecan halves, cleaned, hulled, shelled, picked over and through.   That, my friends, is quite a labor of love.  
When Dan was still woo-ing my sister Amy, and therefore her family, he gave us several large bags of pecan halves, shelled and ready to go.  I'd pull them from the freezer for a quick pie that winter.  Loved it.  The next winter, after they married and the woo-ing was over, he brought us a huge box of pecans......cracked, but still in their shells for us to do the picking.   Well, it took several evenings for both the hubby and I to sift through that box of nuts.  Not that I'm ungrateful, for that was still a huge gift.  But now, we very much appreciate the effort it takes to get the nuts shelled and cleaned!  I don't know what I did this year to get back into his favor!
Dan spreads a huge plastic sheet under his trees, then "bumps" each tree with the backhoe on his tractor to shake the nuts down. Then he just has to dump the nuts from the sheet into boxes.  Some of his hired help have a pecan cracking machine, which gently opens up the nuts.  From that point, someone has to sit in front of the TV several evenings, with the box and plastic bags.  As I said, it's a labor of love.  I'd better stay in Dan's good favor, huh?
Pecans are native to LA and Texas, and have been a Southern staple since the get-go.  Pecan tassies, nougat, pie, ice a favorite?

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or Texas Pete sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups pecan halves

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add seasoned salt and pepper, and Tabasco or Texas Pete sauce if desired.
3.  Remove pan from heat, and add pecans, stirring until well coated.  Spread pecans in a shallow baking pan and bake until toasted, 8 to 10 minutes.
4.  Cool completely before storing.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Oaky, how'd it get that way?  Purple and orange cauliflower?  Food dye or what?
Turns out it's quite natural, although weird.  
Orange cauliflower is descended from a mutant growing in a field in Canada. And it has 25 times the amount of Vitamin A as the plain ol' white.  The purple variety gets its color from the same antioxidants as red wine.
All cauliflower is rich in Vitamin C, fiber and folate.
The Raleigh's farmers market had a huge stall overflowing with these colored varieties last week.  This Southern girl never had cauliflower growing up, then finally got turned on to it while in college.  I remember wearing out one of those wrap-around steam trays you put in the bottom of a pot, steaming cauliflower.  It was and is a good substitute for potatoes or rice.  It's even good mashed, with lots of butter.

However, watery, mushy cauliflower is awful stuff.  Boil the colored varieties and the color bleaches right out.  Lesson there?  Never boil in water.  Besides, the nutrients are lost that way.
Eat it raw, with a creamy dip, or in a green salad. 
Better yet, softened just a bit in the oven brings out the sweetness of cauliflower.
So here's how to do cauliflower:
***RECIPE***    I placed florets of both colors in a large roasting pan, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on some sea salt, then roasted in a 400 degree oven until crisp tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.  The colors stayed true and the flavor was intense, unlike other reports I read.  
The kids gobbled  up two heads of roasted florets.  No leftovers.  I call that a culinary hit.

Monday, November 24, 2008


CLAM JAM - A CHOWDER COOKOFF, part of the 25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Christening and Launching of the Elizabeth II, had this Elizabeth judging six different clam chowders put forth by area restaurants.  The rules were simple -the ingredients had to be traditional, and for the Outer Banks, that means just 5 ingredients - clams, potatoes, pork, onions and water.   
Judging is a difficult job.  Blind tastings led us immediately to two very traditional renditions, the winner by Sam & Omie's Dolly Gray Jones, with its balance of pepper, clams and tender veggies.  The runner up, Basnight's Lone Cedar, featured small, whole clams.  The addition of carrots DQed one, and another pushed the envelope with sweet potatoes that overpowered the taste of the clams.  The newly crowned Clam Jam Queen, Dolly, was so pleased - the recipe was her mother's, and it was her mother's birthday.  Trust me, only the food gods rigged that! She promises not to substitute her crown for her motorcycle helmet.

The People's Choice Award went to Poor Richard's.  For five bucks, attendees could taste all of the chowders, and cast their clam shell for their favorite.
LOCALVORES -    Friday evening's reception in the Boat House featured ingredients settlers brought with them or found on Roanoke, including a whole roasted pig, smoked trout, steamed vegetable bundles and champagne - not authentic but at least from the Biltmore Estate.  Ocracoke's own Molasses Creek played their awesome bluegrass music.   
 On Saturday, a replica of the Elizabeth II was launched - and wasn't lost in the strong wind.  The crowd paraded behind the bagpipes and the Queen to the Festival Park, were they tasted the clam chowder and were treated to slices of a huge cake.


Couldn't resist popping into the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center to see what the charter boats were bringing in.  Sunday, the catch of the day was stripers.  Big Boys, 25 to 35 pounds, caught just outside in the wash of the inlet.  One fellow had trimmed the loins from each side of the backbone, a present he's taking to his mother for Thanksgiving.  He hopes she's do it "the traditional way", baking it with bacon, onions and potatoes.  One fish would feed a multitude at that size, and there were several very happy fishermen on the dock.
In THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, you'll find that traditional recipe, as well as a recipe for grilling Striped Bass, a terrific way of preparing this firm but delicately flavored fish with butter, herbs and lemon.  
Basically, what you want to do is to melt butter, parsley, scallions, salt and pepper, and lemon juice together, then brush that mixture over the whole fish or fillets.  Place lemon slices over and/or in the fish.  Then grill, covered, basting occasionally with butter mixture, until fish flakes easily.  Time depends on thickness, and whether filets or whole fish.  Garnish with more thin slices of lemon.  


Monday, November 17, 2008


GREEN TAILS are in the markets now....and they're considered NC's gourmet species.  I'll be picking up my order of shelled, deveined one-pound packages from Atlantic Beach Seafood soon, and I can't tell you how very practical and sweet it is to pull one from the freezer, say next March, when not much in the way of fresh seafood is available.  On Veteran's Day, we enjoyed a boat ride over from Morehead City to Cape Lookout, where we frequently find the shrimpers at rest on Sundays and some afternoons.  Bottlenose dolphins were chasing schools of menhaden just off shore, which means the blue fin tuna should be showing up soon.  Let's hope some Carolina fishermen land one of these big boys, usually sold for thousands to the Japanese.  Understand the sea trout were a big catch right in the inlet.

Lynne Foster, who lives in Hatteras and helps run THE ALBATROSS FLEET with Capt Ernie Foster, wrote on this wonderful new blog by Amy Huggins (, about a new method, at least to me, of cooking shrimp with the shells and/or heads on.  In a hot pan, she places the shrimp.  No oil, no water, no seasonings.  Stir until the shrimp turn pink.  They'll release some liquid and stew in their own juice, so to speak.  Lynne takes them off the heat and adds a sprinkle of celery salt and Old Bay.  We loved them done this way.  They were succulent and juicy, and dipping them in the released liquid was a tasty alternative to cocktail sauce.    

FINCH POTTERY OPEN HOUSE was quite a success for selling THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.  I sold out!  The book has gone into its second printing, and I had all thebooks the warehouse had left at the time.  Don't worry, they're back in stock, and make excellent Christmas presents.  If you'd like, I can sign them for your special recipients!  Just contact me.

I'll be in Manteo this weekend for the 25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Christening and Launching of the Elizabeth II, the replica of the English ship.  Fred Thompson and I will be judges for the Chowder Cook-Off!  Boy, am I looking forward to that!

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Click on the photo for directions.....Hope
to see you there!

Friday, November 7, 2008


was addressed by the wine guy, Andy Chabot, from the acclaimed gourmet inn, Blackberry Farm in Tenn. who spoke at the Southern Foodways symposium.
Take your finger and trace the latitude from the mid-South across a globe, and where do you wind up?  Southern France, northern Spain and Italy. 
So choose wines from these regions to pair with the South's grandest cuisine, even if it's collard greens.  
Pork, esp, goes well with earthy, peppery Rhone wines (photo - country ham sample from Junior Johnson - yeah, the old race car driver/moonshiner, along with henpecked mustard, paired with a lovely Beaucastel from the Chateauneuf du Papes region). 
Italy's Piedmont region matches with Southern foods well, with wines made from the Nebbiola grape that has more tannin and acid.  Look for Barolos and Barbaresco, if you can afford them.
From the foothills of the Pyrenees in NE Spain, try a Priorato, made from the grenache grape that's also found in most Rhones.  They're high in alcohol, have a mineral taste, and forward fruit that stands up to Collard Greens!                                                                                                      

I've always heard that collards need a good frost in the fall before they're good to eat.  Vendors at the State Farmers Market were advertising theirs "with frost!"
Collards, mustard greens, and turnip greens are in season now. Grits love to hide in their creases, so they have to be washed and washed and washed before chopped and cooked.
The traditional way to cook any of these is to simmer for about at least an hour with a piece of pork rind or ham hock, even bacon.
I prefer to do a coarse chop, then brown a piece or two of bacon, then place the greens, wet, in the grease and sautee just for about 12 to 15 minutes, sometimes with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.  Then, when they just are tender, I splash balsamic vinegar over them.  Delish!

Covington Sweet Potato Hash
Last night, I cubed a couple of Covington's, admiring their nice red skin and bright orange flesh.  I placed those cubes in a saute pan and added enough water to cover the bottom, then let that boil for just a few until the potatoes were just tender.  Then I drained them, added chopped sweet red onions to the pan with olive oil, sauteed them until soft, added the sweet potatoes back and sprinkled them with some chopped fresh rosemary.  Salt and pepper, and oh my!  A great dish, fresh from the morning's foray at the farmers market.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


SWEET POTATOES are one of the Carolinas' biggest crops - NC ranks 1st in its production- and grows well in the sandy soils Down East, as well as in small mountain patches. It was a staple for early settlers, a main food source for the enslaved, and is still craved by most Southerners. Baked and served with a pat of butter is my fav, but others love that gooey mashed version topped with marshmallows. We also love to slice them as fat "French fries," coat them with olive oil and kosher salt, then roast in a hot oven. Roast chunks in olive oil with sweet peppers and onions, and that's a lovely "salad," too. I'm going to try adding some pre-cooked sweet potatoes to risotto. It works with Hubbard squash, so why not sweet potatoes? And, by the way, the microwave is an excellent way to cook just one or two. Just make sure you poke them, so that the steam will release from the skin. Otherwise, it might explode!
Sweet potatoes are natives of Central America, found in the Andes mountains of Peru and Columbia. The Incas called them "batata", and recovered pottery pieces show them growing. They've been cultivated in the South since the 16th century. And don't make the mistake of calling them "yams." Yams were from Africa, and are a white, starchy root that has a totally different texture and flavor.
Poor Man's Food is their reputation, but during the holidays, they get the royal treatment, showing up on Thanksgiving and Christmas tables. Sweet potatoes are actually a member of the morning glory family, and nutritionists love them because they're high in fiber and vitamins A and C. Four times more nutritious when eaten with the skin on? I have to admit I've never eaten the skin of a sweet potato. But experts say one cup of cooked sweet potatoes has as much beta carotene as 23 cups of broccoli. So eat up.
I simply love sweet potatoes for their inherently sweet flavor and easy prep.
In the photo, nestled in the pottery piece made by my friend Missy Manning, are some "new" old varieties. Beauregard was developed in Louisiana, and the Covington was developed at NC State (GO Wolfpack!) and accounts for half of the sweet potatoes grown in the state. Both have rose-colored skins and orange flesh and are readily available at farmers markets. The Oriental (or Japanese, as some call it at the market) has a purplish skin and a very cream-colored flesh, which is much drier than others. I found it best to steam peeled chunks, rather than baking whole. The Old Timey White Batus was also drier with a slightly different flavor, and I wondered if it were not more kin to a yam. These two are "specialties" you need to seek out. And researchers at NC State are also working on a purple-skinned variety, according to the Wall Street Journal.
By the way, the NC Sweetpotato Commission would like you to drop the space between the two words. The national growers' group, the US Sweet Potato Council, apparently realizes the ridiculousness of having the run-on words.
One Johnson County farmer I talked with said he ships about half of his crop to the UK within two weeks of getting them out of the ground. Wonder if this "poor man's food" makes it to the royal's tables?
To store sweet potatoes, do NOT refrigerate. The cold damages them. Place them instead in a cool, dark and well-ventilated place. A root cellar, anyone? Use stainless steel knives, as carbon blades will cause the flesh to darken. For recipes, 3 = 1, or 3 medium sweet potatoes are about one pound, which is about 1 1/4 cups pureed.
I'd love to hear your special way of "fixin'" this glorious root vegetable. Send your comments!

CHEESE STRAWS.........recipe below......keep reading!

SOUTHERN FOODWAYS SYMPOSIUM down in the Delta.........
I belong to a great organization that promotes keeping the good eating going in the South, the Southern Foodways Alliance. Three hundred of us met for the annual symposium down in Oxford, Miss, on the campus of Ole Miss last week. I was delighted to be able to go, as last year a lottery system was imposed because of its popularity, and my number was not called :(
The theme this year was THE LIQUID SOUTH. Translated: what did we drink, and still drink, down South? Needless to say, the sweet brown bourbon poured. So did local brews, like sweet potato beer (delicious, BTW). NC wines, including Biltmore's fine sparkling wine. And spirits, from green corn to sissyshine to fine brown whiskey.
A smaller group started the party early with a "Delta Divertissement," held in Greenwood, Miss. That's where the Viking Range is made, where Viking has a beautiful, hands-on teaching kitchen, and a gorgeous, sumptuous hotel/spa where I soaked up all the comfort I could. So that we would not drink on an empty stomach, we were fed cornbread cracklins, black-eyed pea cakes, drop dead delicious artisan breads made by Donald Bender of Mockingbird Bakery, cheese straws and a wild duck dip complete with buckshot. A favorite was Bender's hominus, a marriage of hominy and hummus, minus the chickpeas. We learned how to make a proper mint julep, a Saint Charles punch in a horse bucket, and what wines to pair with collard greens and other Southern foods from the wine guy at the famed Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn. (He suggests wines from Southern France, like the Rhones;, the NE Spanish Priorato from the southern part of Catalonia; and the Italian Nebbiolo, in the northern Piedmont. Note that all of these regions share the same latitude as our South, which means somewhat similar growing conditions - minus humidity, for sure, and minus our clay soil. But they're better bets to pair with pork and peppery greens.
The next four days had us devouring catfish, oysters and other delectables. My very favorite was from Raleigh's own Ashley Christensen, owner/chef of Poole's Diner, who did an appetizer of smoked catfish and chicken liver "rumaki" served on a corn cake. It was dynamite....and I sneaked back twice for more. Another Triangle celebrity chef, Allison Vines-Rushing of Lanterns in Chapel Hill, prepared Oysters Rockefeller Deconstructed with an Eastern flair. I was so proud to claim them! Gumbo, a boned quail stuffed with forcemeat floating in ham broth was out of this world, made by Anne Quatrano of the famed Bacchanalia in Atlanta. She started her Garden Luncheon with Pickled Eggs, Beets and Figs, then served Pickled Shrimp in small glass jars. Unlike the recipe given in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, hers used fennel and celery seed, with no lemon. She ended with a caramel bread pudding with a peanut sauce that was out of this world.
Degustations included more bourbon, more wine, samples of a lot of different small brews, and moonshine. I liked the Peach Moonshine, a sissyshine. One of the highlights was meeting the NC legend, Junior Johnson, who addressed his autograph to my parents, NASCAR nuts, which might guarantee me an inheritance! Introduced by Barry Hannah - yeah, that famed, sarcastic and witty writer - Junior spoke to the group, telling tales of how he best out-ran the law, how he got caught, his daddy's legacy, and how now he's making the stuff, legally.

One of the most intriguing young persons attending was Casey Gustowarrow, who is driving the craziest looking bus - a yellow school bus topped by another school bus that's sawed-off and upside down. The crazy thing is that they've got an organic veggie garden growing on top. Casey has driven this bus over 9,000 miles to get the message out that whoever winds up being our next president should plant an organic farm on the grounds of the White House, and perhaps name Alice Waters as White House chef/farmer. There's a petition you can sign online, and I encourage you to do so.

RECIPE - Mary Jackson's Cheese Straws
Elizabeth Heiskell is a caterer who also teaches at the Viking Hands-on Kitchen. She researched the life and recipes of another famed Delta caterer, a black woman named Mary Jackson, who served the white elite for over 30 years, catering right up to the day she died. Her cheese straws have a great crunch and a little bite to them.
These would be lovely with champagne, or as just a little nibble at the beginning of any party.

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 10-ounce block extra-sharp cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cups sifted flour, less 1/2 Tablespoon flour
No directions were given to us, but here goes my guess:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter or spray a baking sheet.
2. Grate the cheese.
3. Beat the butter until soft and creamy.
4. Sift together the salt, cayenne, garlic powder and flour.
5. Slowly add the flour combo to the butter and blend with a spatula, then with hands knead until dough in the bowl until it forms a ball.
6. Roll dough out on a floured surface until about 1/2- inch thick. Cut with a sharp knife into strips 5-in long, about 3/8 in wide.
7. Place on greased baking sheet and cook for about 6 minutes, or until golden.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


  THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK and I have been traveling the South.  
First was a tremendous weekend in Morehead City for the annual Seafood Festival.  DeeGee's Books had me signing in front of the store, on the street, so that I could watch the folks and their goodies go by.  By far, the one that "took the cake" was a cheesecake on a stick, deep-fried, then dipped in chocolate.  
As expected, there were shrimp and scallop burgers, and lots and lots of beer flowing.  Heard over 125,000 folks attended.  We sold quite a few of THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.
Since we were staying at the family condo, we got some fresh scallops from our favorite market, Atlantic Beach Seafood, the one with the mermaid on top, run by Sonja and her parents.  I had brought down the last of the pink eye peas I found at the Raleigh farmers market, and gussied them up with some sweet red pepper, sweet onions and a tad of ba
con.   Scallops were quickly browned in a combo of olive oil and butter, just three minutes per side, no touching allowed, then removed from the pan.  Lemon juice was squeezed into the hot butter/oil and the bits and pieces scraped up, then poured over the scallops.  Out onto the screened porch overlooking the ocean and watching the moon rise and Cape Lookout Lighthouse and its 15 second twirl.....and, well, heaven.  A nice, chilled Chardonnay made the dinner just perfect.
Early morning walks found fishermen - and women - lined up on the beach, some with their 
4-wheel drive vehicles backed to the surf.  One fellow caught a ray while I was nearby, and had a dickens of a time trying to get him off his hook.  Others reeled in large flounder - they must be at least 15 OR IS IT 17? inches - and lots of tall tales.  At the dimming of the day, Hubby caught a few, too.  One made a great dinner, filleted, buttered and seasoned and baked with crab spread on top.  

The next week found us at Zydeco Moon cabins in Ashe County for a bit of fly fishing and hiking.  We love that place.  Steaks, then lamb chops, both grilled and enjoyed by moonlight on the porch, and an evening spent with Joe and Sally, owners, and their friend and neighbor, Ben.  We tasted smoked trout I had bought in Asheville from Sunburst Trout near Cold Mountain, with smoked gouda and a smoked chevre.  Sally made Shrimp etouffe, which showed off her native Louisiana cooking skills, with a most delicious Caesar salad made with greens just picked from her certified organic garden at the base of the hill.  I brought the Upside Down Apple Torte I've been working on, which travelled well.  
Over the winter and spring, Sally and Joe cleared an additional 4 acres at the top of the mountain, where they grew squash and tomatoes, esp.  Sally said she had a good year at the Watagua Farmers Market, and also sells directly to a few Farm-to-Table restaura
nts in the area.  Joe was to help Ben the  next morning install a new electric fence to keep deer away from his apples and garden.  We later heard that since it was solar powered, it was not fully charged during that first night, so the deer trampled the posts!
 Steve was not enlisted to help, so he went fishing instead, and caught several decent trout - although sadly for him it's only catch and release after Oct 1st.  That's a native Brown trout in the photo, and considered "large", or so the Hubby insists.  Another day we enjoyed some spectacular hikes in Grayson Highlands, just over the VA border.  
THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK was left as a little lagniappe for our hosts, and our new friend Ben left us a bag of Staymans and winesaps which made a great pie and a terrific apple torte.  I'll share those recipes later. 

Another posting soon will make your tastebuds jealous when I tell of all the good stuff I ate and drank down in Oxford, Miss last week.  Stay tuned!


Sunday, September 28, 2008

THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK for Nights in Rodanthe

THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK might have come in handy during the storm on NIGHTS AT RODANTHE.  In the scene where Diane Lane's character is chugging Jack Daniels and chunking outdated cans from the pantry, she picks up a can of Spam, asking "who eats this?"  Well, if she had a copy of my cookbook, she'd known she could make do with some Spam Stew if nothing else was around to eat after that devastating storm.  Look on page 65, where I tell how a nor-easter blew during filming, cutting the crew off when HWY 12 washed over on Hatteras Island.  The lovely Miss Jeanie Williams (who sadly, recently left us) grew up in Rodanthe, and told me how Spam Stew became a family favorite after the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.  
I read that folks on Hatteras were anxious to see the movie, after some of them were extras and worked with and served the crew.  Unfortunately, for its premiere in the Outer Banks, the movie theatre in Avon was closed for the season, so they were to go up to Manteo or Kill Devil Hills.  However, then the recent unnamed nor-easter blew in, flooding roads, and I heard that they were then offered free hotel rooms if they couldn't get back home.
I'm also told that Diane Lane won over the folks in Manteo, where she and co-star Richard Gere stayed during the filming.  She visited a lots of shops and bought, and talked with folks, too.  Gere apparently was unapproachable and aloof.  Too bad.
NIGHTS IN RODANTHE is a typical Nicholas Sparks formula, designed to tug at your heart strings.  But, it has gorgeous scenery of our beloved Outer Banks.  Even the real Bankers, the ponies.  I loved the aerial approach.
Scroll down for the recipe for HATTERAS CLAM CHOWDER,  a very traditional Banks recipe that comes from the Basnight family, served at Basnight's Lone Cedar Restaurant. You might like that better than Spam Stew.  

Food prepared with loving hands, a creative bent, or in a spirit of cooperation is definitely a form of art.   Having a daughter trained in the art of interior design (Kate) has also heightened my awareness of how your surroundings can make such a huge difference, in mood, attitude, and
in good feelings. . . .  Having a good friend who is an artist has also increased my awareness of how good art can make you feel good, make you think and ponder and want to be creative, too.
So when we recently painted our kitchen, adding new countertops and appliances, I commissioned a painting by that friend, Lisa Stroud, of 3604 GaStudio in Cary to enliven the kitchen even more.  She arrived with her art in tow this week, and WOW!  There she and it are in the photo at right. It makes me smile each time I see it.  Lisa named it SEARCHING FOR WORDS, and it cleverly has bits and pieces of me and my endeavors collaged into a marvelous texture and abstract vision, evoking an open embrace and lifting of spirit.  I love it!  

Apples!!!   I'm working on a new recipe for an apple torte, which caramelizes the apples before putting a cake layer on top.  I'd like to tweak it a bit more before sharing it with you. I hope that it will be in a new cookbook featuring farmers and foods from the Blue Ridge. try to put some away right now. Tomato sauce, or even freeze some, whole.
Fall squash, it really that time of year again?  I love fall, esp. the cooler weather. I'll share some other good recipes next time.

I'll be there, signing THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, Sat and Sun afternoons, October 4th and 5th.  This is an annual festival that is always a good time, with lots to taste and good music to listen to.

RECIPE for HATTERAS CLAM CHOWDER.  Handed down five generations of the Basnight family, from Dolly Midgettt, born in 1826 on Hatteras Island.  Note the traditional absence of cream or milk.

100 littleneck clams, cleaned, or 4 cups chopped clams
1 quart (4 cups) water
2 medium onions, medium dice
4 to 5 potatoes, peeled, medium dice (about 5 cups)
1/2 pound smoky bacon, cliced thin
Sea salt and white pepper to taste

1.  Bring the water to boil in a large pot.  Add littleneck clams, and steam, removing clams as they open.   When all clams are opened, strain the cooking water (stock) through cheesecloth and reserve.  Remove clams from shells and set aside.
2.  In the same large pot, render or saute the bacon until it is softly crisp.  Drain on paper towels, and chop into small pieces.
3.  Remove half of bacon fat, then add onions.  Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, or until onions are soft.  Add reserved clam stock and simmer for 15 minutes.
4.  Add potatoes, littleneck clams, sea salt and pepper, and simmer for another 15 minutes.  Serve very warm.

YIELD:  8 servings
copyright  THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, 2008, Globe Pequot Press.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Perhaps the joy of chowing down on pink eye peas is contagious.  We certainly converted our Yankee sailing buddy on a recent trip to the Chesapeake.  I had prepped all the food we'd eat aboard his 32-ft Fidelio, and brought the pink eyes, dressed in a light vinaigrette with onions and sweet Hungarian red peppers, to accompany skewers of marinated shrimp kabobs.  Leftover peas were spooned over slices of a ripe, orange heirloom tomato the next evening, and Rob literally licked his plate, then ate any remaining peas in the storage container.
Pink eyes are one type of purple hulled peas, a variety of Southern peas.  Black-eyed peas, the tiny 6-Week (another personal favorite), and crowders are all varieties. We like pink eyes best because of their flavor, size and texture.   
Southern peas are also known as "cowpeas," because they were used as fodder for livestock.  Cowpeas originated in Africa, in Niger, and came across the pond with the slaves, who at least got some protein, and a wonderful flavor, from these types of peas.  
"Southern Caviar" is yet another endearing term for these delightful late summer harvests.   Shelling peas is a mesmerizing, almost meditative activity, easily done as you watch children playing or TV or just sit and chat with somebody on the porch.  You'll get purple fingers, but isn't that a badge of honor?  I've been freezing some, by just bringing a pot full, barely covered with water, to a boil, then draining, rinsing in cold water and bagging.  Some folks even make Purple Hull Jelly by boiling the hulls, then straining the juice and setting that with pectin.  
Folks in Emerson Arkansas hold a Purple Hull Festival every June. How cool is that?
Perhaps this New Year's Day, we'll have pink eyes for our traditional Good Luck dinner.

I just can't seem to get enough figs this year.  They've been at the farmers markets these past few weeks, and I feel like I need to eat my fill before their short season is gone.
Drizzled with a very light honey mustard vinaigrette, served with baby lettuce and either a creamy goat cheese or slivers of hardened goat cheese, well, it's divine.
I had a few figs, maybe 8, that had gone soft on me, so I "stewed" them with some sugar and have refrigerated them, and it tastes and feels a lot like "jam."  I'll use a dollop of top of some goat cheese spread on a toasted baguette or cracker for a lovely appetizer soon.  
And I think I'll have to plant me a bush.  However, do the deer like them?  They eat everything green in my yard, and what the deer don't get, the squirrels do.
That's why I love the farmers market.  Me, a farmer's daughter without a garden. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008


TO MARKET, TO MARKET......and I come home laden with so much I have to make a list to make sure I don't overlook something in the fridge during the week.
It's sensory overload, just walking through the farmers market.  "Taste this," the vendors cry, holding up pieces of peaches, tomatoes or cukes.  And I taste and taste.  And I buy.  We have been eating like royalty these days, with plates laden with sweet fresh corn, crisp green beans, squash and zucchini laced with oregano from the herb garden, fresh pears, and sweet, sweet watermelon......oh, my.
Fresh and local, that should be everyone's mantra.  Especially now, during the height of the summer's harvest, and knowing that in just a few short weeks, the peas will be gone, maybe the sweet corn won't be there next week, and the figs?  Grab them while you can.

The beauty of a fig sliced open, the musty flavor that wafts from within, the moist, honeyed sweetness....well, it's almost like having sex in the kitchen.
 Figs grow profusely on Hatteras and Ocracoke.  Seems they like the salty air, and most long timers there place oyster or clam shells around the base of their fig trees, both as a mulch and for the minerals to leach into the soil. Lynne Foster lives on Hatteras Island, and with husband Ernie runs the Albatross Fleet, a set of charter boats that go out to the Gulf Stream right off the Outer Banks. Lynne most graciously shared some recipes with me for THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK. 
One of our favorites is an appetizer of fresh figs.  Here's an adaptation of one of Lynne's great recipes, using what I had on hand one evening.  Preheat the broiler.  Slice the figs in half vertically, from stem to end.  Place a toasted or candied walnut in the center, then top with fresh chevre.  Place under the broiler until the cheese softens just a bit, about two minutes.  To gussy them up, place a sprig of fresh herbs on top, like thyme, even rosemary.  Wait just a few minutes before serving because they can burn your mouth if you pop them in right away.

O' HENRY  Peaches . . . .As I peeled these beauties, I couldn't help but think about the lovely short story read each Christmas by O'Henry, about the couple who each gives up something significant in order to buy a beautiful present for the other.....  I believe O'Henry was from Greensboro, NC.         These sandhill peaches are a short-season variety.  Very dark in color, as you can see in the photo.  Isn't that a lovely, 3-handled pottery dish made by my friend Missy Manning?  We saw a dish similar to that when we got caught in a short squall while hiking up to a view on Virgin Gorda on our last sailing trip in the BVIs.  Missy came home and did it even better, so I grabbed it at one of her shows.  I love using this dish, not only because of its fond memories, but because it shows off my food so well.
I've been making an effort this summer to freeze some favorites.  Blueberries, peas, and peaches, esp.  I buy in quantity, which presents the problem of spoilage.  If you wait until the peaches are just beginning to soften, you have to deal with some that have mold or have gotten too soft.  I spread them on the countertop, not touching, when possible, and that seems to help some.  I remember helping my grandmother with freezing peaches, when my dad would return from Georgia where he bought tobacco slips in the early summer.  He'd bring back a bushel basket or two of the first peaches of their season, and we'd spend a day peeling and slicing.  
Mark Rosenstein, the Asheville chef I followed at the City Market there a few weeks ago, said he learned when in France that a good chef will immediately start a pot of water to boil when he begins his day, to peel tomatoes, or like me, peaches.  
First, make a small cross at the bottom of each peach you're gonna peel.  I like to work with just four or five peaches at a time, placing them in a pot of boiling water, turning to make sure all sides are submerged, for about a minute.  Then, I lift them out and immediately place them in a bowl of ice water.  And like magic, most times, the peel will easily slip off the peach, leaving a gorgeous blush of rouge on the flesh.  I slice them, and splash with orange juice, or lemon, to keep the color bright.  I've been using the new two-sided freezer bags, and lay them flat on the freezer shelf.  This winter, I know they'll bring me much pleasure when thawed.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Ruby red and golden tomatoes, crisp chocolate croissants and rustic whole grain boules, figs, apples, blackberries, Asian pears, trout, cheeses, jewelry, and, oh wow, yes, that's exactly what I smelled....a coffee cart!  A recent visit to the Asheville City Market had all my senses racing on high.  Each farmer has such a meticulous display of vegetables, greens and fruits, with chalkboards and signs, and a friendly greeting for new and old customers.  I loved it.  There was even a pair making cheery bluegrass music.  
Tasting my way through the U-shaped market was such a great way to start my Saturday.  We were in Asheville, for me to read and sign THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK at Malaprop's Bookstore, and to do some tasting research for my new project.  
SHOP WITH A CHEF, sponsored by ASAP, Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project, featured Mark Rosenstein, creator and chef of The Market Place Restaurant and author of IN PRAISE OF APPLES.  His cooking has long been an inspiration for me, and I always make reservations whenever we are in town.  I also enjoy his new 10o Bar/Bistro on the terrace.
Mark led shoppers to several farmers to buy heirloom tomatoes, herbs, greens and some marvelous breads, explaining why he choose what he did and how this is ripe, smells good, etc.  
Then he went back to a cooking station and talked as he showed how to blanch and then peel tomatoes, toasted bread, added herbs, etc.  What a marvelous event, and indeed, we did learn as we watched and tasted with him.
I was so delighted to stop at table for SUNBURST TROUT.  Their trout farm is set at the base of Cold Mountain, and they make a tremendous effort to feed the fish good, organic food, and provide their waste products to farmers to use as compost.  Their trout fillets are excellent, and are sold at Earth Fare statewide as well as with other grocers.  Owner Sally Eason was concerned with the drought, saying that they had a good week or two of water left, and that was it.  When the water is low, the hot temperature really affects the fish.  Also, she usually has a big stash, like a thousand pounds or more, of the trout caviar (roe) which has made them famous all over the country.  She said she only had four pounds harvested.  Wow.   Let's hope this latest tropical storm in Fla will make its way to NC's mountains.
We packed some of Sally's latest new product, trout jerky, and some smoked trout into our ice chest, along with some chevre.  We liked the Jumpin' Juniper with a bit of chili powder from Three Graces Dairy, and I couldn't resist another tub of Sunset Valley Herb Chevre from Spinning Spider Creamery, one that our daughter Bec introduced us to. Along with an Asian pear, baguettes from Bec's work - City Bakery - we had lovely picnic fare to eat on our hike to the Three Waterfalls at Dupont State Forest, and the next day streamside while Steve flyfished along the Davidson River.

BOUCHON is a lovely little bistro on Lexington Ave. that certainly delighted our tastebuds.  We chatted with owner/chef Michel Baudouin while waiting for our table.  He grew up outside of Lyon, on a farm in the southern Rhone Valley.  How did he get to Asheville?  Via Dallas/Ft Worth, where he established two successful restaurants.  On a getaway several years ago, he and his wife fell in love with this area.  They moved, and started Bouchon, which is a colloquial expression for "bistro."  We loved their moules & frites, and there are several flavorings for the mussels.  The Salade du Grand Pere took me to back to France, with its lardons and walnuts. The wine selection was good, and the prices were very reasonable.  
But what I really loved was the Trout Almadine, a fillet covered with thinly sliced almonds, sauteed with butter and herbs. Yes, I know, that's a dish that's seen plenty of territory, but it was done just right, served with brussel sprouts and slivers of potatoes.  
Bon appetit y'all, Bouchon's menu declares.  I'll go back.

This dish cooks quickly, so have all ingredients ready to go, as well as your side dishes that you'll be serving along with the trout.
Servings for four:
4 fillets rainbow trout - about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
2 to 3 Tablespoons butter & 2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs - lemon thyme, regular thyme, parsley or chives

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Wash trout and pat dry.  Mix flour, cornmeal and salt together on a plate.  Lay fillets in dry mixture on each side, knocking away coating until just a thin haze of the flour/cornmeal is left.
3.  In a large, ovenproof saute pan, (or use 2 pans), melt butter and add olive oil.  When hot enough to make a sizzle with water droplets, add trout, skin side up, and saute for about 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn fillets over, and press almond slices into the flesh while cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes.  Sprinkle fresh herbs over the fillets, also.  
4.  Slide saute pans into oven to finish cooking, for about 3 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.  Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve immediately.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


It's blueberry season, and boy, do I have the fingers, blue nails, blue towels.....blueberries do stain, but are they ever worth it.
My sister recently married the largest supplier of blueberry nursery stock in the world.  Dan Finch, of Finch Nursery, has had blueberry farms in Spain and Chile, as well as his test fields in Bailey, NC.  Last week, they invited the hubby and I down to go blueberry picking, which Steve had never done.  Amy and I ate about as many berries as we put in our baskets, but the guys quickly tired of picking them by hand.  Dan retrieved a tarp, and Steve shook.  They were rewarded with a bounty of berries - both beautiful, plump and ripe, along with the pink and green ones, twigs, leaves and other detritus.  Then the question was how to get rid of the unwanted.                                  
 Dan is also a premier potter.  His solution was turn on the huge fan in his pottery workshop, and allow the wind generated to blow the twigs and leaves out.  Didn't work real well, fellows!
We wound up handpicking through the berries the next day, all day, as a matter of fact.  But it was worth our efforts.  Eat a few, pick out some leaves, eat a few more.....

I froze gallons and gallons of berries.  First, I placed a layer of the clean berries on a large cookie sheet for at least an hour.  Then I placed them in freezer storage bags.  Done this way, they won't stick together in the freezer and you can then pull out as many as needed, say a cup or two for muffins or smoothies.  Frozen, they're great to just pop in your mouth!
We've had blueberry cobbler, blueberries on granola, blueberry lemon tart, and even tried a savory blueberry sauce with rosemary and thyme to serve with a pork tenderloin.  We all decided it needed some oomph....some hot peppers.  Next to re-try is a blueberry salsa which would  be dynamite paired with pork as well as chicken.

Last year I tasted my way through Dan's test field, amazed at the difference in taste from one row to the next.  Some were sweeter, some more tart, some smaller, some darker when ripe.  
Most of NC's commercial crop are highbush varieties grown near the coast in boggy soil, ready about mid-May and harvested through the end of July.  Varieties in the western part of the state get ripe in August.  Wild varieties can be picked along the sunny ridges of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but be wary of bears who love this treat.
Growing blueberries for mass market in NC began in 1936 when a frustrated farmer from Cooperstown, NY bought a thousand acres in the southeastern corner of the state near Wilmington.   Because the land was considered worthless swamp, it went for a dollar an acre.  Blueberry bushes were brought down from the lowlands of New jersey, and just thrived in their new Southern boggy location.  Soon other newcomers and local farmers joined in, and trains were sent up North loaded with NC berries picked during early summer, which supplemented the later crop picked in New Jersey in August.
Now, with global transport, you just might find that some of those blueberries sold in grocery stores during the winter were more than likely grown in Chile from blueberry stock supplied by Finch Nursery in NC.  

- Refrigerate blueberries, covered
- Don't wash until you're ready to use.  Moisture causes them to mold.
- Use or freeze within 10 days
- To keep blueberries from streaking batter, stir blueberries, either fresh or still frozen, into the batter last.
- For pancakes or waffles, pour batter onto griddle, then add blueberries.  They'll look prettier, be more evenly distributed, and easier to flip.  

 In THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, I've got a dynamite recipe for lemon curd, blueberry tart.  It's quite a pucker-producer, and extremely pretty.  Makes a terrific dessert to show off your culinary skills, but it's not THAT difficult.
Here's that Blueberry Salsa recipe I said I'd do again with pork, but it's good with grilled chicken, or to mix in with chicken salad:

1 cup blueberries, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno, to taste
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons lime juice
salt and freshly ground pepper pepper to taste
Stir all ingredients together and let sit for 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld.
Copyrighted, EFW 2008 

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Okay, so what does a scenic mountain view have to do with food and True Love?  Try this view with a tub of Sunset Valley Herbed Chevre from Spinning Spider Creamery in Marshall, NC, along with hummus from the Flying Frog Cafe in Asheville, slices from a pumpkin seed baguette from City Bakery, and a lovely bottle of blended reds from Languedoc that our daughter, Bec, chose to go along with the other treats, and you have the makings of one fine anniversary.  We celebrated our special day with a stay
 at the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We arrived after one helluva thunderstorm, and when the fog lifted, this is what we discovered out the back door.  After our lovely appetizers, we wound up getting lamb chops from the Inn's restaurant and brought them back to our balcony.  The view and ambiance were just too lovely to leave.
Spinning Spider Creamery produces marvelous goat cheeses, from crottins to fresh logs to aged, hard cheeses.  The "Sunset Valley" herb blend is their special blend they hope will become as well-known as Herbes de Provence.  The "Stackhouse", a square loaf with a white rind over a thin layer of organic apple wood ash, was voted the best in a Southern Foodways Alliance competition.  Spinning Spider is a great story, too, of a couple with 3 home-schooled sons who turn their passion into a good business.  I'll tell you about it next week, when I'll talk of other farmstead goat cheeses.

The best way to eat a peach?  Standing at the kitchen sink so the juice can just run right down your chin and to your elbow.
Feel the soft peach fuzz.  Feel the cool, smooth silkiness of the flesh.  I love the imagery Frances Mayes evokes in her book, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, when she drops peaches into boiling water for just a moment, watches the rosy colors intensify, and then slides the skin off  "as easily as taking off a silk slip."
Grilled, or just plain sliced, over vanilla ice cream, has got to be the quintessential, best dessert of the summer.  I've also got a great fresh peach pie recipe with a gingersnap crust featured in my OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.  Add to a bowl of cereal.  Peel or don't peel.  Make jam, ice cream, cobblers.  You can spend hours in the kitchen making them last past this dizzy, sensuous season of fresh peaches.  
Freestone or cling, there are so many varieties grown in the Sandhills, where farmers started planting many orchards in the 1950s as the famed golf courses were built and the retirees settled in.  Another great area is the Brushy Mountains, near Taylorsville.  Drive north from I-40 on HWY 16, and you'll find plenty of places to stop and pick your peaches. There are even peaches at the beaches, esp at Knotts Island, way north in Currituck Sound.  Take the ferry over from the mainland at Currituck, and join in the Peach Festival later this month.
As the sign warns, DO NOT SQUEEZE.  Sniff them, look for a peachy glow with less green on the skin.  At the market, they will feel hard, but allow them to sit on your countertop, away from direct sunlight, and they'll ripen.  Or, place them in a paper bag to hurry up the process.
Here's a recipe for an Old-Fashioned Peach Cobbler that was given to me by my husband's Aunt Margaret.  The batter does a flip flop during the baking, and winds up covering up the fruit.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

For the batter:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

For the fruit topping:
2 1/2 cups sliced peaches (or combo of peaches & blueberries or blackberries)
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup fruit juice (I use orange juice: you might want to try peach or apricot nectar)

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray or lightly butter one 10 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.
2.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.
3.  Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in alternately with milk, and mix just until smooth.  Pour batter into prepared pan.
4.  Place fruit over batter, and sprinkle with 1/3 cup sugar.  Pour fruit juice over top.
5.  Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until top is browned.  
copyrighted 2008 in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK

Monday, June 2, 2008


Dad playing "Flip Cup".  He lost.

      scroll down for Grilled Soft Shells - recipe included

"Variety Vacationland" used to be NC's tag line, referring to its coast, mountains, and plenty of things to do in between.  That's one of the reasons we returned to our home state.  Three hours or less and we're digging our toes into the wet sand of the 
Atlantic.  Three hours the opposite way and we can be on a hiking trail or up a creek getting a fly wet. And the food varies a bit with the scenery, too!
I've endured a split personality this month, logging in time at both extremes.

Asheville is a beautiful metro area, located along the French Broad River, in a bowl beneath Pisgah, Cold Mountain and the Blue Ridge, with some very fine eating establishments.  We were up for our youngest daughter's graduation from UNC-A.  She chose her favorite, TWELVE BONES, to gather the fixin's for the big party we threw at her rental house.  Twelve Bones is owned by a Louisiana native, who makes the best ribs I've ever eaten.  I love the daily specials, and love the blueberry chipotle sauce for the ribs.  For her party, we got their tasty, smoky chopped barbecue, done Eastern-NC style, if you will, with a rub and vinegar base (no tomato sauce).   We all pigged out, but there was enough for leftover sandwiches for several meals.  A great party, by the way!
Twelve Bones is only open Mon through Fri at lunch.  Usually there's a long line wrapped around the no-bones cinderblock building down in the industrial river area, with pickups sharing the parking lot with Mercedes.  Eat in, or take plates outside under a large shelter.  They make marvelous cornbread, macaroni and cheese, collards and other veggie sides, and the price is right. 
Late in the evening, the hubby and I slipped away from the kids, kegs and 'cue for a quiet moment of celebration for getting three through college.  We sat outside the Market Place Cafe, what they call "BarOneHundred, where there are a few tables and a neat tasting menu.  All wines are $8 bucks for a short carafe, and there's a short menu of snacks, cheese, fish and pasta and desserts, of course.  It was perfect.  We watched the moon climb over the hills while munching on candied walnuts, pimento cheese, pickles and flatbread, then shared a nibble of grilled mountain trout.  A perfect ending to a perfect day.

I am crazy for crabs.  Love them.  Hard or soft, grilled or steamed, picked or not.  I prefer blue crabmeat over lobster.  There's so much more flavor, and, they're found in NC waters!
Crabs awake from their winter slumber, spent in the mucky bottom of the sounds, in early spring.  By the first full moon in May, they begin to molt, or peel their shells, for bigger coats.  In my  OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK,
you'll find an account of how the jimmies, or the males, are wooed by the females into their chambers, and after mating then protect the lady when she sheds by cradling her under their tummy.  How romantic, huh?  
"Feels like silk," said a big, strapping young man who picked up a crab that had just left its shell, while he was tending to some holding tanks on the waterfront at Wanchese.  I wanted to ask what silks he had felt to compare the crab to, but.....
So before we left Oriental, the sailing capital of NC, I had to nab some soft shells.  We had spent Memorial Day weekend with friends sailing the Neuse River on Lagniappe, their beautiful 37-footer, and exploring smaller creeks on their little motorboat, Jockomo.  Joe and Dede are New Orleans transplants - can you tell?  Joe is quite the cook, whipping up shrimp stuffed red peppers one night, shrimp  jambalaya another.  Loved it.
But before we left, we went over the bridge to Endurance Seafood, where we got the last of the day's soft shells.  Big, plump - they would have qualified as "hotels," they were just beautiful, having just shedded.  We grilled them with a lime butter sauce, and served them simply with more melted butter and lime.  I frequently use lime, rather than lemon, because I like its sweeter, more mellow flavor. 
Here's the recipe for grilled soft shells that appears in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK.

Grilled Soft Shells with Creole Sauce
Hot and crunchy is how these soft shells come straight off the grill.  This is one of the easiest ways to prepare this seasonal treat, and allows the succulent texture and taste of the crabmeat to shine.
Simply serve 2 to 3 soft shells per person over a bed of lightly dressed greens.  We found using a perforated grill pan kept the crab legs from falling through the grates and breaking off.  If you prefer to leave out the hot sauce, it will still be delicious.

12 medium soft shells, cleaned
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1.  Preheat grill.
2.  Pat cleaned soft shells dry, and lay them in a shallow dish.
3.  Over medium heat, melt butter.  Add garlic and stir for about one minute.  Remove from heat and add the hot sauce and lemon juice.   Stir to mix. 
4.  Brush the butter sauce over both sides of each soft shell, then dribble excess over the legs.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Allow soft shells to sit until the grill is ready, or about 10 minutes.
5. When grill is medium hot, place crabs evenly over grill without touching.  Close the lid and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness.  Turn the crabs over, and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until crabs have gotten a bit crisp and golden brown.
YIELD:  4 to 6 servings.

With just a bit of a kick, this sauce adds a sassy finishing touch to crabs, shrimp or grilled fish, and it couldn't be easier to make.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons drained capers, chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
several grinds black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small serving bowl.  Taste for seasonings and adjust.
YIELD:  about 3/4 cup

copyright   THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK;  Recipes & Traditions from NC's Barrier Islands, Elizabeth Wiegand, Three Forks, 2008 

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


STRAWBERRIES are everywhere, at farm stands along the busy roads leading into the metropolis, at farmers markets, in grocery stores, or at pick your own farms.  I'm pressed for time these days, so for me, it's pick and go at local roadside stands.
Strawberries are my absolute favorite berry.  This year, I am determined to put up, as we say here in the South, fresh berries so that I can enjoy remnants of their wonderful taste during the cold winter months.
I told you previously that I was going to try to make some strawberry preserves from Russ Parson's book, HOW TO PICK A PEACH.  Well, I did.  But the flat I bought was twice as many berries as he recommends doing at a time.  His theory is that smaller batches are easier to hit just right.  And I can tell you, he is correct.
I should have known better.  I write recipes, and I know there's a reason for recommended quantities!  Anyway, rather than cook just 2 cups of sweetened berries, I put 4 in the skillet.  And being my first batch of preserves I've made in several decades, without the watchful eye of my doting grandmother, I had a bit of trouble determining if they had cooked long enough.  I mean, I allowed the mixture to dribble from my spatula, and it didn't come off in a sheet as it's supposed to when it's ready.  But I was getting scared that it was cooking too much, because the time was twice as long as Parsons recommends.  The second batch, a bit smaller, thickened beautifully, and I ladled it into the prepared jars thinking this is more like it.  The last batch was not as juicy as the others, and I think it came out perfect.
I did "can" them, putting the jars of preserves in boiling water for 10 minutes, and making sure the top had "popped" and sealed.
The results?  Well, the taste is awesome. Dynamite fresh strawberry taste.  The consistency varies.  My first batch is very runny, but still good when dribbled on toast.  The second was thicker; the third thicker still with a consistency more like regular preserves, although as Parson says, this jam will not be stiff since it has no pectin.
A worthwhile adventure in the kitchen, I think, and I do plan on repeating it before strawberries disappear, for I only have a few jars left!  We usually don't have toast every morning, but lately, well, who can resist?

A Berry is a Berry or NOT?
These strawberries I've been rapping on are great.  But.  But they do not taste like strawberries of old.  They're larger, for the most part.  Most have a good taste, but they are not as sweet or as potent as I remember.  And I thought perhaps it's just because I'm getting old (I did have a birthday this weekend!), until I read an essay on that agreed with my assessment of today's modern crop.
The strawberry has suffered from the same constraints as other veggies and fruits.  They're being bred for transport, not flavor.  Even those bought locally and sold just down the road are the same plant variety as those harvested and sold hundreds of miles away.  The Saveur piece says that in 1920, over 1,300 varieties of strawberries existed.  Today, there are less than 100. 
Year-round strawberries are possible, but you have to sacrifice a bit for taste.  Sure, they're beautiful and red, plump and huge, but most times they just don't have that WOW factor in the taste department.  They're like the tomato - they need to ripen in the sun, in the field, not on a shelf.
In North Carolina, as along the rest of the East Coast, strawberries are native.  John Lawson, who explored the state during the early 1700s, wrote about coming upon a field in NC's mountains where native Indian maidens were frolicking with only strawberry juice covering their skin.  The berries were likely the wild F. vigininiana that grew thick enough to turn horses' hooves so red they looked like they were bleeding, the Saveur piece states.  This wild berry was crossed with one from our West to become the parent of all American strawberries.  
I'd like to encourage local farmers to try different cultivars, to get more of an "heirloom" berry available for those of us who can taste the difference.  Saveur says to look for a new winter  berry, Camarosa  from California which promises better flavor.  

So my plan is to freeze a couple of quarts of strawberries, both sliced and whole.  I've got a couple of recipes I want to check out, and will give you an update next time!

A FAVORITE RECIPE......adapted from The Silver Palate


            Here are two sensuous flavor combinations.  Save the prettiest berries for this beautiful tart. 

One cooked 9-inch pie shell

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 Tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 quart (4 cups) whole, fresh strawberries, hulled and large ones halved, rinsed and dried

2 Tablespoons strawberry or red currant jelly

1 teaspoon water

Garnish:  confectioners’ sugar, sifted, sprigs of lemon verbena or mint


  1. In the microwave, or in a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring frequently. When thoroughly melted and mixed, stir in cream and beat with spoon until combined. 
  2. Spread mixture into the cooked tart shell. 
  3. Immediately place berries, bottoms up, starting in the center, in a patterned circle covering the tart. 
  4. Melt jelly and water together in the microwave, stir, then brush the tops of each strawberry with that mixture so that berries will glisten. 
  5. Serve within two hours, or refrigerate for up to six hours, allowing tart to warm to room temp before serving so that chocolate layer can be sliced.  Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over the top of each slice, and place a green sprig on top. 

YIELD:  8 servings