The devils you don’t know

Peter Cottontail is hopping down the bunny trail toward Sunday’s big event, which is the center of traditional deviled egg season.

I like deviled eggs as much at Christmas as at Easter – that’s one reason I wrote a whole book on them. But I thought there must be options beyond pickle relish and mayo. And there certainly are. The book has deviled eggs with smoked salmon or blue cheese, even salsa or black olives.

This recipe from my book “Deviled Eggs: 50 Recipes from Simple to Sassy” published by Harvard Common Press is bright and different with fresh flavors for spring. Go get a pretty deviled-egg plate and put these out for Easter dinner – they’ll be the first things to go, I promise.

Springtime Herb Delights

6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, cut in half and yolks mashed in a bowl

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley (leaves only, no stems)

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives

Salt and black pepper to taste

Fresh Italian parsley leaves for garnish

Combine the thoroughly mashed yolks with the mayonnaise and lemon juice. Stir in the finely chopped herbs. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.

Fill the whites evenly with the mixture and garnish each egg half with a whole parsley leaf.

Makes 12

Tasty training wheels

One of the hardest-to-get reservations in the Triangle is for a spot in a basement room that looks like a Holiday Inn breakfast buffet lounge. But hundreds sign up for a lottery to earn a spot at one of the 40 tables.

The appeal of the restaurant goes beyond the food – diners are helping students perfect their culinary and hospitality skills as they prepare for jobs. Flavors is run by the Culinary Arts and Hospitality programs of Wake Tech Community College. Culinary students select menus and prepare the food, baking students prepare breads and desserts, and hotel management students are servers and run the front of the house. They do all this, under supervision of instructors, three days a week for 10 weeks out of the 16-week semester.

beet salad with goat cheese

beet salad with goat cheese

The Culinary Arts Program is one of Wake Tech’s most popular. Many students enter believing that a show on The Food Network is just a couple of classes away, then discover just how much hard work is involved in a culinary career. That’s why organizers say the attrition rate is as much as 60 percent. “Some don’t even make it through one semester,” says Fredi Morf, a chef instructor there since 1986.

But for students with a true interest in culinary careers and hospitality, and a willingness to work hard, the program offers high-level professional training with a teacher-student ratio of 8 to 10 students per instructor.

Morf says that the Culinary classes are about evenly split between men and women, despite the macho image of restaurant kitchens. However, when they visit France – as a group is planning to do, making sausage to sell to raise money for the trip – the female students are often the only women in the kitchens.

I was Morf’s guest for a lunch on one of the Classic Cuisine days (others are titled Global Cuisine). I selected the chef’s special first course, a layered beet salad with herbed goat cheese – although the Chicken Consomme with Quenelles at a nearby table looked like an extra-good version of chicken soup with matzo balls. The third option was Rissoles Bouquetiere, which my server described as a filled turnover. The combination of beets with goat cheese is classic, and I always enjoy it.

seared salmon with roasted pepper salad

seared salmon with roasted pepper salad

For an entree, I selected Seared Salmon with Roasted Pepper Salad and Basmati Rice. I was worried about overcooking when the soy-marinated salmon arrived as slices, but they were moist and tender. The slightly chilled pepper salad, which included raisins, pine nuts and serrano chiles, was an interesting contrast. The other options were Grilled Medallions of Beef Tenderloin Bearnaise and Allumette Potatoes, Sauteed Chicken Breast Provencal and Couscous, and Vegetarian Risotto.

Since working on my taxes has increased my need for chocolate to combat the associated depression, I selected the Marjolaine for dessert: a layered stack of chocolate-hazelnut mousse and whipped cream with blueberries. The other options seemed just as good: Apple Crisp and Chai Latte Cake. There is no photo of my Marjolaine because, well, I couldn’t wait and ate it. But look here for an idea of it.

To sign up for a Flavors reservation, visit here.

Yes, she can can

I am reading a new book and planning my summer pastimes. It’s not a travel book, though. It’s a canning book.

IMG_3119I was canning before canning was cool, when most people looked it as something their grandmothers did, and far too much trouble. Now, it’s hip. Young singles haunt canning sites on Facebook and see the delicious value in making their own items. Chefs boost their eat-local stock by canning their own sauces and relishes.

So any new book about making pickles, relishes, jams and jellies needs to walk a line between the classic favorites – I dare you to feed me something better than good-old homemade bread and butter pickles – and new-wave creativity. “Pickles and Preserves: A Savor the South Cookbook” by Andrea Weigl (University of North Carolina Press, $18) does that.

Classic Dilly Beans and Fig Preserves are next to Soft Refrigerator Honeysuckle Jelly and Salt-Pickled Cucumbers with Shiso, providing basics for those new to canning and intriguing combinations for experienced canners. None of the recipes are so far out as to intimidate, and the variety will amply stock a pantry.

Many people are frightened off canning by the possibility of giving botulism as holiday gifts. But home canning is not difficult, and if you follow simple guidelines and use the proper equipment, perfectly safe. Weigl, who is the food editor for The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., carefully offers well-researched information on the process, along with what not to do and why. (I can’t believe anyone has seriously tried to process canned goods in a dishwasher but the answer from Weigl, and me, is: Just don’t.)

Full disclosure: I contributed a recipe to the book, and have written another in the Savor the South series. I have also begged for figs from Weigl’s neighborhood and intoxicated a book club with Brandied Peaches from her book.

On Wednesday night, March 12, Weigl will talk and sign copies of the book at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, on March 25 at the Barnes & Noble in Cary, and at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on March 19. Other signings are listed here.

Battle of the chilis

Whenever you have a room full of chili competitors, you’re bound to find some unusual approaches, for chili is a canvas for individuality. And although this particular competition took place among representatives of churches, there was plenty of devilish fire.

My friend Fredi Morf, a Wake Tech culinary instructor, asked me to help judge the competition at St. Saviour’s Center in Raleigh. The center offers wellness programs for seniors and infants, including the Diaper Train, which provides diapers to needy families, and Wake Relief food pantry. Proceeds from admission went to the programs.

The third judge was Bob Passarelli, executive chef at US Foodservice and spice rub maker, who I hadn’t seen since he was a chef at the governor’s mansion. We discussed heat level before we got started and I discovered that I exceeded the others in tolerance for flame.

The nine chilis were prepared by First Presbyterian (who entered two), Hillyer Memorial, Christ Church, St. Paul AME (last year’s winner), St. Michael’s Episcopal, White Memorial Presbyterian (who entered two) and Wake Relief.

As those attending voted for a people’s choice award, we judged in two categories: meat and vegetarian. Since only one chili was vegetarian, the winner was rather obvious. But the other chilis were as varied as the fiendish minds of cooks can make them. Some were chicken, some included pork, one had canned pumpkin as an ingredient, one had such a strong cinnamon aroma I thought more of a muffin. One richly dark chili had an afterburn that snuck up from behind. “Too hot for you, boys?” I said sweetly to my fellow judges. They smiled, temporarily unable to speak.

We picked the Bo-dacious Southern Chili  from St. Michael’s as our meat-category winner. And it had plenty of meat – ground beef and sausage – in addition to poblanos, ancho chile powder, chipotle, canned green chiles and beer. The people’s choice winner was St. Paul AME, and it was a very fine chili.

White Memorial’s vegetarian chili was a default winner, but it would have been a strong contender in any case. It was more hearty, thick and flavorful than I’ve found many vegetarian chilis to be and contains some unusual ingredients. The cooks were glad to share their recipe with me. I haven’t tested it myself yet; these are their directions.

White Memorial’s Vegetarian Chili

1 cup bulgar

1 ounce dried ancho peppers

1 ounce dried anaheim peppers

1 ounce dried guajillo peppers

4 cups vegetable broth (divided use)

2 cups diced yellow onions

1 cup diced red bell pepper

6 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons safflower oil

3 (14-ounce) cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes

1 (14-ounce) can kidney beans, drained

1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained

1 (14-ounce) can corn

1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms, ground to powder in a blender

1 1/2 tablespoons cumin

1 tablespoon Mexican oregano

1 or 2 canned chipotle peppers, chopped

2 tablespoons adobo sauce from chipotle peppers

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper to taste

Soak the bulgar in 2 cups boiling vegetable broth for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the ancho, anaheim and guajillo peppers in a frying pan over medium heat until fragrant. Don’t let them burn. Remove the seeds, tear them into small pieces and puree in a blender with about 1/4 cup water. Add 2 garlic cloves and a pinch of salt. You will end up with a chile paste. Set aside.

Drain the bulgar. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed 5-quart pot, saute the onions and red bell peppers in the oil until soft but not brown. Add the powdered mushrooms, cumin, oregano, remaining garlic and bay leaves. Cook 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Ad the tomatoes, corn, beans, honey, bulgar, chile paste, chipotle, adobo and peanut butter. Add remaining vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1 hour. Sprinkle on the cilantro just before serving.

Sochi salsa

It’s appropriate for me that the Winter Olympics are starting during New York’s Fashion Week, because a group of friends and I look at the opening ceremonies as a giant runway show. As we have for many times, on Friday we will gather to eat, drink and critique the athletes’ ceremonial uniforms as they walk in.

Many of us bring food inspired by the host country, although it’s not required. (One is bringing spanakopita, I found out today.) I have visited Russia and am interested in the country, so I brought out my Russian cookbooks and began considering dishes. There is more to Russian food than borscht.

Then I contacted my friend, Darra Goldstein, the author of “Taste of Russia” and “The Georgian Feast” and founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. She wrote a piece on the food of Sochi for Eating Well magazine.

Goldstein writes that Sochi has been a trade crossroads for centuries and was influenced by Greeks and other ethnic groups. (So maybe that spanakopita is appropriate after all.) Dishes often combine Russian flavors with those of Greece and Turkey. For example, she writes, Circassian chicken pairs poached chicken breast with ground walnuts, hazelnuts and cream. In the mild climate – this may the first time palm trees have been seen at a Winter Olympics – citrus fruits, grapes and tomatoes thrive.

Goldstein shared this recipe for a type of Georgian salsa in Eating Well. Sochi is near the border of Georgia. I was thinking of making Potatoes with Walnuts from “The Georgian Feast” for the party, but this sounds pretty darn good. It can be served with grilled meat or vegetables, or simply with crackers.

Adjika

1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded

1/4 pound hot red jalapeno peppers, stems and most of the seeds removed (she likes to leave some seeds to give some bite but adjust for yourself)

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 large celery stalk including leaves

1 1/2 cups firmly packed cilantro, including tender stems

3/4 cup firmly packed fresh basil

3/4 cup firmly packed fresh dill ,including tender stems

1 tablespoon dried coriander

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Coarsely chop the bell pepper, jalapeno peppers and garlic and place them in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Roughly chop the celery and fresh herbs and add to the food processor along with the coriander, salt and vinegar. Pulse just until well mixed; the salsa should still have texture. Transfer the mixture to a container and let sit overnight in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld before serving.

Makes about 2 cups

Shopping and a show

When I’m bored, I like to wander around Grand Asia Market in Cary. I’ll always find something to liven up dinner, and the passing show of shoppers comes with it for free.

Chinese New Year is Friday, so the store was decked in so much red – the Chinese lucky color – and gold that it glowed. As I stuffed bags with pea shoots and Shanghai bok choy, I heard snatches of Chinese, African and Spanish in the crowd sorting through produce. Japanese women were two deep around the self-serve seafood area.

I next set out for Vietnamese fish sauce. I know they have it, but I always have trouble finding it. As I squinted at labels, a young Asian woman with a middle-aged Western lady came bustling up. “Fish sauce? Fish sauce?” the young woman said. “I’m looking for it, too,” I answered. They started on one side of the aisle and I took the other. She found it. “This from my country,” she said, pointing at one brand of the dozen or so there. “But why big bottles? Why no small bottles? But this one good.” Then she excitedly grabbed a different one, whose label had a picture of an anchovy. It uses a “special fish,” she said and is better, although she maintained that the first one was good, too. “Well, I’m going with the special one,” I said. She smiled and nodded.

Frozen Chinese buns in an open case caught my attention, and as I looked them over, a Chinese man came up and said, unhesitatingly, that they were good and come from New York, but that the vegetable ones were old. He pointed out where the dough was dry. “Don’t get those,” he said, and pointed at some pork ones. “Those are good.” So, pork buns it was.

As I was paying for my items, the clerk began talking in rapid Chinese with a woman behind me. I glanced at her, and the woman apologized for the Chinese. Not at all, I said. She said in English, “We were just talking about her pants,” pointing at the clerk’s lacy slacks, “And how I can’t wear that, but she’s so thin, she can.” “Me either,” I said, waving off the whole idea, “But your hat is cute.” “If my hair doesn’t look so good, it’s a good thing to wear,” she replied.

We all laughed and I gathered my bags. “Happy New Year!” the young woman called. “Happy New Year to you!” I said.

Game? There’s a game?

When it comes to the American holiday that Super Bowl Sunday has become, the game itself is as necessary to the celebration as a Christmas tree is to Christmas:it might be nice, but isn’t really required. With all the food, parties and scoping for possible wardrobe malfunctions, who is wearing the uniforms on the field is almost secondary. Or perhaps that’s just the Panthers fan in me talking.

People who don’t know a tight end from a tackle can still have a great time at the party, which is a little over two weeks away. And the food is vitally important. It must fuel fans for quite a period of time, since I think the pregame shows are starting in about five minutes.

Whatever else you choose to serve, wings are the classic sporting event food. And making them yourself is better than ordering out, for so many reasons. You can save money and they’ll taste much better. You can tailor the heat level, or make wings that have lots of flavor without the fire. Save even more on your spread by purchasing whole wings and cutting them up yourself. It’s easy. Just use a sharp knife to cut at each of the three joints. Keep the drumette and the long piece (called the flat). The pointy part, called the flapper, throw those in a freezer bag and use them to make chicken soup.

Wings can be grilled, baked, fried, even cooked in a slow-cooker, as I wrote in my book “Wings: More Than 50 High-Flying Recipes for America’s Favorite Snack” published by John Wiley & Sons. And they don’t have to be covered in hot sauce to have a lot of flavor.

I enjoy hot food, but I prepare these for the Super Bowl spread to entice those of more tender palates. And for more of my Super Bowl tips and recipes, come to my class at Southern Season in Chapel Hill on Jan. 25. More info on that here.

Hoisin Honeys

1/3 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

12 wings, cut in half at joints, wing tips removed and discarded

In a small bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, orange juice, ginger, garlic, honey and cayenne, Set aside 3 tablespoons of the sauce.

Place the wings in a large reclosable plastic zipper bag. Pour the remaining sauce in over the wings and coat them well. Refrigerate the wings in the marinade for 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove the wings from the marinade and discard the marinade. Place the wings on the baking sheet.

Roast the wings for 25 minutes. Brush the wings with the reserved sauce and bake another 5 minutes or until the wings are done.

Makes 24 pieces

Green grows the guacamole

Don’t like football? Who cares! It’s the NFL playoffs with the Super Bowl looming. And it’s all about the food at this point.

My friend, author and food blogger Becca Gomez Farrell, recently moved from Durham to San Francisco. And since the 49ers are playing my state team, the Carolina Panthers, this Saturday, I asked her if she has heard of any interesting game-day food phenomenons.

“Having best-guacamole competitions is pretty common in California for Super Bowl Sunday parties,” she writes. “Everyone learns a different way to make guacamole, so people bring in their preferred blend, dips are sampled, and a winner is declared. Or they just eat a lot of chips and get too distracted by the game to bother declaring a winner.”

Becca says her mother adds sour cream to her guacamole to smooth out the flavor. Becca likes to include pico de gallo. But everyone has their own twist – like we do with barbecue sauces in North Carolina. But, she adds, “you don’t want to know about the new friend we have in this area who thinks adding a handful of habaneros is a good idea.”

I personally don’t see a thing wrong with that, Becca. But for those who prefer a mellower guacamole, here’s an excellent basic recipe from my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home,” published by Harvard Common Press.

Goal-to-Go Guacamole

2 small, ripe avocados

1 small tomato, peeled and chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 fresh green serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons canned chopped green chilies, drained

2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Salt to taste

Tortilla chips for serving

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop out the flesh into a medium-sze bowl. Mash coarsely. Stir in the tomato, serrano chile, green chilies, garlic, lime juice and cilantro. Taste, and add salt.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips.

Note: You can make this a few hours ahead, but press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole to prevent it from browning, then cover and refrigerate.

Day 5: A book to boost baking

IMG_3097Yes, you can go to La Farm in Cary and simply buy baker Lionel Vatinet’s wonderful breads. But Vatinet’s new cookbook brings you into his mind and heart – although it lacks the delight of his French accent, which remains strong after more than 15 years in the U.S.

This book is both a detailed, user-friendly lesson on making your own breads and an irresistible Valentine. You’ll want to walk into the kitchen and give it a try.

“A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker” (Little, Brown and Company, $35) begins with the story of how learning to bake bread changed Vatinet’s life and gave him a driving purpose. In the instructions, numerous photographs show home cooks how the dough and bread should look at each stage.

He clearly explains why things work the way they do, why certain ingredients are important and other techniques. I’ve encountered too many bread books that are sort of mystical, that lack helpful detail and talk about the “spirit” of the bread. One book suggested that I “praise the dough” before shaping it. I find Vatinet’s approach much more likely to achieve success and give me something delicious to eat. That’s “spirit” enough for me.

You may be able to still find some signed copies at La Farm or local bookstores. But signed or not, those who have an interest in good bread – whether or not they’ve ever baked – will enjoy this book. Although I still wish there was a book-on-tape version with Vatinet reading.

Day 4: Three great stocking stuffers

Every kitchen needs those little things that make life easier, and those are the items that I put in gift baskets or carry along for gifts at dinners or parties. Here are my three favorites. Two are old stand-bys and the third is a new one I was introduced to this year and now use several times a week.

All of these are available at kitchen stores, such as Southern Season in Chapel Hill or Whisk in Cary, and at variety stores.

Long-handled locking tongs: The locking function is key. It allows the handle to fold up tight for storage. I use these sturdy tongs to turn food on the grill, toss greens for salads or stir-frys, lift roasted meats and a number of other things. Mine are about 14-inches long. Oxo/Good Grips makes a good pair.

Mini angled measuring cup: I use this small plastic cup with a spout, which is marked off in tablespoons and ounces, for just about everything. It’s a jigger for cocktails or a scoop for sugar, holds soy sauce or other liquids at the ready to add quickly to a dish (try propping up a regular tablespoon and disaster will ensue). I have to frisk people when they leave my house to be sure they don’t pocket it. Also made by Oxo/Good Grips.

Charles Viancin silicone bowl lid: I received this as a gift earlier this year and it has become a kitchen staple. The surface seals to the lip of most bowls. Environmentally conscious friends will love it because it can replace plastic wrap or foil for storing food in the refrigerator. It’s heat tolerant, so it can go in the oven. It’s great for steaming  foods and is easily washable. And it’s just pretty. You can see what it looks like here.  Although the photos show lifting bowls with the lid, I would not attempt that. Find it at kitchen and specialty stores.