It’s all about the food, of course

Some teams from somewhere are playing football someplace this Sunday. It doesn’t matter who or where – or how inflated their balls are – because Sunday actually is the Super Bowl of food.

A rainbow of chips and dips festoons supermarket aisles in a glowing display unseen since Christmas. The price of wings usually spikes like gas on Memorial Day weekend, and for the same reason: supply and demand.

If you do care about the game, you are aware that the quality of the food affects the outcome, right? In the course of writing my cookbook “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” (Harvard Common Press), I developed a couple of approaches to planning for the Super Bowl feed.

First of all, prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Fans will be there for many hours (I think the pregame hoopla started this morning).

One approach is what I call Continuous Grazing. Think of your guests as ravenous animals prowling the African savannah. For this, put out a variety of finger foods and snacks. Chips and dips are OK, but you also need more hearty offerings. During the lengthy halftime, bring out some wings, baby quiches or roast beef sliders.

Another way to organize the food is Big Bowls. Chili is always a hit, especially since it’s usually cold in early February and spicy chili offers that obligatory macho component to the day. Set up a slow-cooker or two with chili or soup, and let fans help themselves. Provide crackers or cornbread on the side; a salad if you feel vegetables are really necessary.

Yes, you could resort to the prepared food cases at your megamart. But would your team take the easy way out? Do you want to take the risk that your inadequate party spread could doom your squad? Just asking….

This recipe from “Fan Fare” makes wings with lots of flavor but no fiery heat. I picked the name because I also serve them during basketball season.

Teriyaki Tip-Off Wings

8 whole chicken wings, split at joints and wing tips discarded

3/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place the wings in a large zipper-top plastic bag. In a medium-size bowl, combine the pomegranate juice, orange juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar and vegetable oil. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour the marinade into the bag. Seal and shake gently to coat. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Drain the wings well (discard the marinade) and place them on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until done. Serve warm.

Makes 16 pieces

Note: These wings could also be grilled, but watch them carefully to avoid burning.

From “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home” by Debbie Moose, published by Harvard Common Press.

The great rosemary heist

Night had fallen, and I was trying to get the last few goodies together for holiday gifts. I always wait until the last thing to prepare my famous pecans roasted with rosemary and garlic, so they’ll be fresh, and it was time to roll.

pecans...but no rosemary

pecans…but no rosemary

Then I remembered: Last year’s tundra-like winter had killed my giant rosemary bush. Its replacement was still the size of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, and would yield barely a little spoonful of rosemary.

I knew that my next-door neighbor’s bush had died, too. I called the Queen of Pie down the street; no rosemary in her yard. I mentally raced through others who might have a plant, then remembered that I pass on walks a nearby yard that has several rosemary bushes planted conveniently near the street.

I didn’t know the people who lived there. But, remember, it was dark. I seized my kitchen shears and phone, in case of arrest, and crept down the street. No one was walking dogs. The bushes weren’t quite under the street light, giving me cover. I snipped three long stems and speed-walked back to my house, holding the stems in front of me to prevent detection.

I turned on the oven, rinsed the plants and started chopping. Oddly, I didn’t get that rush of aroma that I usually do when chopping rosemary. I bent to the cutting board and sniffed. The stuff smelled more like a pine tree. I tasted a bit and it was like eating floor cleaner. Those plants looked like rosemary, but they sure weren’t.

After washing out the taste with about a gallon of water and rummaging through my spice collection, I came up with an alternative that wouldn’t poison my friends.

I also changed my cooking method for the pecans after consulting my friend Kathleen Purvis’ book “Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook.” I had always roasted them in the oven, but Purvis writes that pan-roasting on top of the stove can make it easier to control the heat so the nuts don’t burn.

Not-Rosemary Cajun Pecans

2-3 cups pecan halves

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (you can try olive oil for a variation)

2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, or more if you like (I make my own salt-free Cajun seasoning. The recipe is in my book “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home.”)

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Salt to taste (Commercial Cajun seasoning blends usually contain salt, often a lot of it, so you may not need more)

Place the pecans in one layer in a large skillet and put over medium heat. Cook, for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently and watching for scorching. When the pecans are fragrant, remove them from the heat. Don’t let them burn. Pour the still-hot pecans into a bowl, add the butter and stir to coat, then stir in the Cajun seasoning, smoked paprika and salt, if needed. Let cool before storing in airtight containers.

Forget about cookies

Those of you who think the job is done when a writer pushes the send button on the final copy of the final version of a book, and the manuscript travels down the Internet tubes to the publisher, are living in a sugarplum fairyland. No, my friends with sensible jobs – the work is just beginning at that point. Because after the delight of seeing the shiny covers and inhaling the fresh-paper smell of a box of just-printed books with my name on them comes the work of persuading other people to love them as much as I do and to open their wallets in expression of that adoration. It’s called sales. And most writers became writers to avoid that sort of labor (and to stay far away from math).

Because my newest book, “Southern Holidays: A Savor the South Cookbook” is about – duh – holidays, the past few months have been busy. I had the fun of writing in the book about holidays throughout the year, but the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s vortex is, naturally, a big focus.

The variety of book signing called a “sit-and-sign” can be dismal or delightful. The dismal ones are when I sit behind a stack of my creations and a plate of samples for two hours and hardly anyone walks by. At those, I feel like the perfume girls who used to work at department stores pursuing and attempting to spritz fleeing passersby.

(About those samples. John Grisham can show up with just a pen and his wit. But, no, a cookbook author must bring the snacks, too.)

But I enjoy even most sit-and-signs, because I am able to talk to people all day long, if I have to, and have little shame. And because, with luck, they’re highly entertaining, especially during the holiday season.

At a signing I did recently at Southern Season in Chapel Hill, N.C., the very helpful staff prepared the samples for me (usually I have to do it and haul them from home). They chose a recipe from the Hanukkah section of the book, Sweet Potato Latkes. I had to explain to several curious children what latkes were. In one case, they didn’t get it until I finally said, “They’re like french fries,” and the kids dug in.

I thought Santa Claus had already come after one shopper decided that six signed and personalized copies of my book would take care of the rest of his shopping. Then I saw an actual Santa and Mrs Claus, who were walking down the aisle in front of me, posing with kids for their parents’ raised cellphones. In my best imitation-Jewish-mother voice, I called out, “Hey, Santa, you want a latke?” The dark eyes below the hat brightened, and he grabbed a sample, lifted his beard and ate it up. “Those are good,” Santa said. I swear it’s true, even though I wasn’t able to grab my cellphone camera and verify it.

So, kids, now you know what Santa really wants you to leave him on Christmas Eve.

Sweet Potato Latkes

This recipe from “Southern Holidays: A Savor the South Cookbook” by Debbie Moose, published by UNC Press, uses sweet potatoes instead of the usual white potatoes for the traditional Hanukkah dish. They go especially well with applesauce on top. Grate the onion and potatoes in a food processor to make things go even easier.

2 cups coarsely grated peeled sweet potatoes

1 small onion, coarsely grated

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Vegetable oil

Applesauce and sour cream

In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, onion, eggs, flour, salt, chili powder and cinnamon.Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.

Scoop out about 2 tablespoons of the sweet potato mixture per latke and place in the hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan so the oil will stay hot. Press the patties gently with the back of a spoon to flatten them out. Fry, turning once, until browned on both sides.

Drain on a wire rack placed over a platter for a few minutes, then transfer to a paper towel-lined platter and keep warm in the oven while you fry  the remaining latkes. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.

Makes 4 servings

Dip it, dip it, get yourself a chip and dip it

one tray of samples in the dip contest

one tray of samples in the dip contest

With “Let’s Get Physical” stuck in my head and buffalo chicken dip clinging on my breath, I pondered the truth that favors have unintended consequences.

When a Facebook friend, Mandy Steinhardt, asked me to help judge a dip contest at her Raleigh workplace, Capstrat, I imagined a few little bowls of various things and people taking a little break from the day. There was nothing small about it. Giant video screens across the office played continuous loops of music videos featuring big hair and shoulder pads because it was declared ’80s day. Dips and the ’80s – I don’t think I need to comment on that confluence.

Steinhardt said her workplace does these company parties for fun a few times a year, and most are fund raisers. People paid a small amount to enter their dips in the competition or to sample them, and the money went to the InterFaith Food Shuttle, which also provided the two other judges.

So, I thought, how many dips could there be? Twenty one.

Yes, 21 bowls of  salsas, onion dips, cheese dips, artichoke dips, spinach dips and black bean dips. A chocolate-chip batter dip with apple instead of chips. The sole guacamole entry, which was not green. And something called a Dunkaroo Dip that offered Teddy Graham cookies to scoop something that tasted like cake batter. My two fellow judges adored it because it reminded them of their childhoods eating something actually called Dunkaroos, a packaged snack that consists of cookies and a small tub of frosting. (Think dessert Lunchables.) They ate my sample after finishing theirs.

Interestingly, each of the 21 dips was a little different. Few had duplicate flavors, and those didn’t take the same approaches. I’d like to offer some hints for better dips: If you’re using cooked spinach, squeeze all the water possible out of it or you’ll get a soggy, flavorless dip; fresh makes a difference, so chop fresh tomatoes for salsa instead of opening a can; and make sure the chip selected enhances the dip and won’t crumble.

amy's creamy jalapeno dip

amy’s creamy jalapeno dip

We selected winners in hot dips and cold dips, and a most creative. From those three, we picked one best-in-show winner to receive a highly shiny trophy. Our picks were Claire Hovis’ buffalo chicken dip for hot dips, Amy Cozart’s creamy jalapeno dip for cold dips, and that Dunkaroo Dip by Alexandra Abramoski for most creative. The shiny trophy went to Cozart, who also received a signed copy of my book, “Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook.”

She offered to share her recipe for the dip, which isn’t as hot as you’d think from the name – it has a pleasant little burn. It’s a great dip, but I’d also consider taking it away from the chips and drizzling it on grilled chicken or fish.

Amy’s Creamy Jalapeno Dip

2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and chopped

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons milk

Juice of 1 lime

1 (16-ounce) container sour cream

1 (1-ounce) package ranch-style salad dressing mix

Put the jalapenos, cilantro, garlic, milk and lime juice in a blender. Blend until the mixture has a pesto-like consistency. Add the sour cream and dressing mix. Blend until all the ingredients are incorporated. Chill before serving as a dip with tortilla chips, or taco topping.

A trip through Japan in 12 courses

monkfish liver with sea urchin and pickles

I was glad I’d purchased a fast, new smartphone before I got to Blind Pig’s Rising Sun dinner in Raleigh. In a lot of cases, it was the only way to know what The Hub and I were eating.

Kenchin-jiru? The Google told me that was Buddhist vegetarian soup. Furikake? A Japanese seasoning that often contains seaweed. But it failed me on “yukke hato,” which turned out to be ground chicken heart. No matter. The remarkable experience of dining on 12 courses of Japanese-themed food made by six top North Carolina chefs needed no translation.

Blind Pig Supper Club is based in Asheville, and calls itself an underground supper club. It organizes culinary events that bring top chefs together to step outside their usual styles of cooking. I think this is the third dinner the group has organized in Raleigh. Find out more here.

The chef for this meal were Jason Smith of Raleigh’s 18 Seaboard; Scott Crawford, formerly of Heron’s at the Umstead Hotel in Cary, now opening Standard Foods in Raleigh; Drew Maykuth of Stanbury in Raleigh; Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas and Vin Rouge in Durham; Kyle McKnight of Highland Avenue in Hickory; and Brian Canipelli of Cucina 24 in Asheville.

kohii zerii (coffee jelly), condensed milk, caramelized peas

kohii zerii (coffee jelly), condensed milk, caramelized peas

Each chef prepared two courses, and did it without an actual kitchen – the meal was served at Clearscapes downtown. Smith prepared the yukke hato with radish and pear, and the final course, a dessert using coffee jelly – which my phone told me was popular in Japanese coffee shops – condensed milk and topped with crunchy caramelized peas. (“Peas? That’s a very Japanese thing to do,” said my friend, Linda, who lived in Japan for several years, when I told her about it. Linda is hotly anticipating the new ramen shop opening in Durham, so they need to step on it. )

Crawford made the gentle first course – scallop sashimi with ginger juice – and a version of chawanmushi with cucumber and a touch of roe. Chawanmushi is a kind of custard that, in Japan, is savory, not sweet.

Maykuth created a course that made one of my least favorite fish, mackerel, appealing. It was pickled with seaweed and some other things I had to use my phone for. He also made a combination of tofu and bacon dashi.

McKnight offered a course of three kinds of mushrooms with garlic (one was had a little too much moisture in it) and another with a delightful bit of pork belly and peach vinegar next to a tempura-fried whole okra pod.

A fried round of monkfish liver topped Canipelli’s 11th course, accompanied by sea urchin. He also made the delightful kenchin-jiru soup, studded with different crunchy root vegetables.

Kelly combined cherry tomatoes and grilled shishito peppers with burrata (an Italian cheese) for a twist on caprese salad. His other course was wittily labeled “JFC”: Japanese fried chicken, with cabbage.

A standout for The Hub and me was the soup, which was refreshing halfway through the meal. I can’t say I’ll wake up one morning craving monkfish liver, but it was quite good and the little plate’s flavors were nicely balanced. Hub liked the chawanmushi, but I’ve never cared for the texture on that dish. Pork belly…what’s not to like about that? Each dish had it’s own qualities, and played a role in the unique theater that was this meal. Quite an experience.

Bacon apron! Bacon apron!

No calories! And vegan! The Queen did an amazing job, didn’t she? These photos show the end of the tale I told in my latest Sunday Dinner column, which, if you missed it in The News & Observer last Sunday, you can read here. Now, to fry bacon while wearing it…

pocket with a fried-egg applique

pocket with a fried-egg applique

modeling my new apron in bacon-print fabric

modeling my new apron in bacon-print fabric

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.