Food news roundup

What, no cookies? Santa would probably prefer a big hunk-o-beef, anyway, after all those carbs. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) tells you how to prepare a royal beef tenderloin here. And, please, people, use a meat thermometer. Don’t put out a roast that looks like a hunk of coal the fat man might leave in a bad cook’s stocking. It’s also in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, plus tips from Kathleen Purvis on three-ingredient snack recipes that don’t taste like you threw them together as guests were walking in the door. That’s here.

The Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) talks about a different way to select wine: By the region where it’s produced rather than the kind of grape used. If the idea throws you, read more here.

Blue cheese stuffed fried okra? Great Julia’s Ghost, that sounds good. It’s in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) here.

Holiday menu time

I am pondering my Christmas menu. I know, y’all probably had yours mapped out weeks ago, but I have lollygagged. I have had the “proteins,” as chefs like to say, set in my mind for a while, but the auxiliary dishes, no.

Christmas Eve will be fried oysters. I roll them in cornmeal because I love the crunch, maybe toss in a little Cajun seasoning if I’m feeling sassy. I think with those, some simple sides like salad, baked sweet potatoes or roasted green beans. Green beans are great tossed with some olive oil and salt, then roasted in a 425-degree oven. I need to remember the horseradish for the oysters’ cocktail sauce (so simple to make your own: ketchup, lemon juice, Worcestershire, horseradish and Tabasco).

For Christmas Day, a huge hunk of meat: Standing rib roast. Once (maybe twice) a year, we deserve it. The main issue is that this beast will take up my oven, at a low temperature, for some time – I use the slow-roast method. Things cooked on top of the stove, like steamed broccoli or sauteed greens, are a good idea. There’s a wild rice casserole recipe that I really like, but requires baking. I may make it the night before and reheat. The recipe is from “Simply in Season” by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert (Herald Press, 2005). I use butternut squash, which is really convenient now that you can purchase chunks in most supermarket produce sections.

Wild Rice Vegetable Bake

1 cup wild rice

2 cups chopped onion

1 cup pearl barley

6 cups sweet potatoes, winter squash and/or parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 pound mushrooms

1 cup cider or apple juice

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Boil the wild rice gently in 4 cups water for 10 minutes, then drain and place in 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan. Saute the onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, then add to the rice. Add the barley and stir. spread the vegetables on top of the grains and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour on the juice or cider and broth. Cover tightly with aluminum foil or a lid. Bake for 1 hour.

Serves 6 to 8.

Veg out

Sugar cookies, fried oysters, chocolate cheesecake, spicy chili, crispy sweet potato latkes…I love all the foods that fall out of Santa’s pack this time of year. Yes, even eggnog and fruitcake. Deck the halls with lots of excess, I always say.

But even the most dedicated festive feaster needs a palate cleanser at some point. Last night, it was vegetable soup. I chose the recipe because it would be easy to prepare and serve before two other couples and the Hub and I went to a concert. But it also seemed to hit some cleansing, warming spot with me and everyone else. I’m glad, because I worry about expectations. When you’re a professional food writer, some people seem to think that you prepare lobster risotto with truffle oil every night, or some such thing. Sorry to burst your champagne bubble, but we need our vegetable soup, too.

The soup is so easy: About two cups each of chopped carrots and celery, about three cups chopped onions, all cooked in olive oil in the biggest pot you have (it makes a LOT) until they’re soft, not brown. Add about four cups of chicken broth and about four cups of water, or all broth if you want. Then about one and a half russet potatoes, peeled and chopped, and a can of diced tomatoes. Cook it all about 30 minutes, covered, on a low simmer, then add about a cup of shredded cabbage. Taste for salt and pepper. Maybe a dash or two of garlic powder (not salt, powder; read the label for once). That’s it. There are glorious leftovers in my refrigerator now, waiting to be frozen.

And before you think I’ve already gone over to the January dieting – as I write this, I am munching on my second piece of the day of Moravian sugar cake made by my neighbor, The Queen of Pie. I’ve earned it, after chopping all those vegetables. And I didn’t even deep-fry them in bacon grease.

Food news roundup

Sorry for the late post. My site wasn’t cooperating yesterday. But a few burnt herbs on the keyboard and the right incantations, and all is well. Don’t have enough Christmas cookies yet? Fear not. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer has pretty goodies that it swears aren’t hard to make. Read more here. It’s also in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), along with word here about a spot that makes ye olde mead. Quaff away.

And…thumbprint cookies in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here. Boy, is Santa gonna need to hit the treadmill. It makes me remember my days in the food editor office, when people who usually used their ovens to store paper plates decided to have a homemade Dickens-Martha Stewart Christmas. It was in December when a caller asked me what the difference was between salted and unsalted butter.

Is there no place to escape the rampant cookies? Not at JanNorris.com, where there is a recipe for dunkable, doughnut-shaped Armenian cookies.

The Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) chronicles a novice shopper’s search for stocking-stuffers that cost less than $5. You’d have to have a stocking fit for Dumbo to hold a box of beignet mix, but see the other ideas here.

It’s not too late to prepare homemade goodies, especially if you’re going to leave them at my house. The candy looks delightful in the Dallas Morning News, here.

Finally, the questions asked by millions is answered: What the heck is figgy pudding? It’s on CNN’s Eatocracy, here.

Back in my mother’s day, you couldn’t purchase a big package of chicken breasts. If you wanted parts, you had to take knife in hand and do it yourself. The Minneapolis Star Tribune details one woman’s face-off with a whole bird here.

Tasty Tweetup

The Triangle Foodie Tweetup on Sunday sold out almost as fast as a tweet circulates the Web – five hours. Six Plates in Durham, N.C. served creative noshes that fueled good conversation. The blinis with smoked salmon were one of my favorites. And I wish I’d gotten the name of the dry, crisp sparkling cider they served. It was something French.

Andrea Weigl, food writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., started the tweetups for those who follow her on Twitter. I’ve gotten into it, too, and it’s fun to meet people that you otherwise would only know through the electronic ether of the Internet. Andrea and I will tweet when the next one comes up.

Liliana Valle of Durham offered samples of small filled shortbread cookies she calls Alfies. She said she adpated them from alfajors, traditional cookies in her native Latin America.  About the size of small buttons, they come in pecan, chocolate chunk, chocolate dulce de leche and triple chocolate. If you like a not-too-sweet cookie, they’re for you. Find out more at the web site here or look for them at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill.

Food news roundup

A freezer full of dinners – what a great holiday gift. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) gives step-by-step instructions, focused on meals for retired parents. But it would be a nice idea for busy moms or harried caregivers, too. And the article makes it sound easy. It’s in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, too, along with a blog on the idea that recipes, like the pirate code, are really just guidelines.

Cocktails are back? Heck, they never left my house. Really, I know the refined mixed drink is making a resurgence (no bottled mixers or frozen daiquiri mixes). Read more in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here.

Can you imagine not being able to lick the bowl when Mom is making cookies? That’s what happens when a kid is allergic to most of the things in the cookies. The Feed With Care column in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) solves the problem deliciously, and little fingers can go to town. It’s here.

Speaking of cookies – and who doesn’t like to do that? – the Chai Spice Girl cookies in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) look mighty good. A few of those left with your humble blogger would be nice. Also, Sean Brock of Husk will compete on Iron Chef America this Sunday. Read it all here.

Easy, breezy hummus is often overlooked as a party snack. It appears in our house a lot because, one, it’s good, and two, it contains no dairy that would trouble the dairy-allergic Hub. Find a simple recipe at JanNorris.com.

Cookies, cookies everywhere! Leite’s Culinaria has some beautiful ones, and by watching the slide show, you consume no calories whatsoever.

Even congresspeople need comfort. Old-fashioned junk-food spots have sprung up around the Capitol as thick as lobbyists, so says the New York Times. Read more here.

The Beer Run road trip

the flight at lexington avenue brewing

The hub and I had been hearing about Asheville, N.C.’s microbreweries. There are around 10 in downtown and the immediate area, including Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, N.C., which produces all certified organic beers. The mountain city and its environs is considered by some to be the second-best spot for craft brews after Seattle. Beers from the oldest and largest brewery, Highland Brewing, can be found in the Triangle, but others are limited to the western part of the state.

We signed up for a Brews Cruise group tour, but it was a slow week and not enough people signed up to make it go. So we struck out on our own. There were five within walking distance downtown, and we started with Asheville Brewing Company. The flight was Rocket Girl Lager, Stuntman Ale, Escape Artist ESP, Roland ESB and Ninja Porter. Rocket Girl had a lot of flavor for a lager, but my favorites were the ESB and porter, especially since I have a low tolerance for hops. The ESB was fragrant and complex, but the porter really gave me something to contemplate with chocolate, coffee and tobacco flavors. It wasn’t as heavy as some porters, which was good, since we had other brews to quaff.

We walked into Jack of the Wood two minutes after it opened. In my prime, I closed down many an establishment, but it was the first time I’d opened one. We sampled three Green Man brews there: porter, ESB and a cask-conditioned IPA that required hand pumping. One advantage of arriving in mid-afternoon: The very knowledgeable bartender had plenty of time to talk to us. I didn’t think I’d like the IPA (the hops thing), and I didn’t, but it was certainly interesting. The ESB had a floral flavor, and the rich porter would be fun to cook with, which they do at Jack of the Wood.

We pressed on to one of the newer breweries, Lexington Avenue Brewery, where they set a flight of seven beers before us. The hub and I thought all seven were sweeter than others we’d had, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it meant the IPA wasn’t as bitter as most. The white ale had no bitterness at all and was really different in its light flavor. I thought the hefeweizen was a bit too sweet and perfumy; I had trouble detecting the wheat flavor. Others in the flight, American pale ale and Octoberfest, were good. But I guess we must be fans of the dark side, because the dunkelweiss and chocolate stout were most intriguing to me. The stout includes chocolate extract, and had a roasty-toasty flavor. The dunkelweizen had hints of cherry and roasted spice. I could imagine both of those flavoring a devil’s food cake.

We hit the wall right about then, so we didn’t make it to Craggie Brewing or OysterHouse Brewing, which offers a beer brewed using oysters. Shell and all.

Keep up with the mountain beer scene with the Beer Guy in the Asheville Citizen-Times. We will need some time to recover before making another run. We can’t research like we used to.

Goodies, goodies everywhere

If you don’t know what Moravian Sugar Cake is, maybe I shouldn’t tell you. You’ll just want big slabs of it. OK, it’s a yeast-risen potato-dough coffee cake covered in butter, sugar and spices. It wafts on the air in my hometown, Winston-Salem, N.C.

This Sunday, Dec. 4, you can get the real thing, homemade by the hands of members of Raleigh Moravian Church on Ridge Road. The church will hold its annual Candle Tea from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. There will be cookies, too, but you won’t care about those once you see the Sugar Cake. Find out more here.

Cornmeal might seem like a strange Christmas gift, unless you’re a baker and fan of Wake County’s Yates Mill. I’ve seen people purchase 10 to 12 bags at a time (put them in plastic bags and they freeze great). Yates Mill Associates, a non-profit group that raises money to restore and maintain the mill, will hold its annual holiday sale on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Besides yellow and white cornmeal, there’s a new cookbook. “The Yates Mill Cornmeal Cookbook” includes 75 recipes using you-know-what. The group is taking advance orders for the stone-ground cornmeal and the books through Saturday, Dec. 4. To find out more or place an order, email yatesmillcornmeal@hotmail.com. The mill is located on Lake Wheeler Road; for more info, go here.

Food news roundup

Haul out the gift guides! The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) has suggestions of North Carolina products for holiday giving, including, yes, barbecue sauce. Check your list here. It’s in the Charlotte Observer, too.

The winner of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal’s holiday cookie contest wasn’t sugar cookies or even Moravian spice. It was a rugelach, a filled cookie traditionally served for Hanukkah, which coincidentally begins tonight. The recipe, which has only nine ingredients, is here.

Another Hanukkah treat is in the Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), but this one has a twist. Instead of potatoes, the recipe and video of preparation for Zucchini Latkes is here. Personally, I make mine with sweet potatoes, but anything fried in oil has got to be good.

More on latkes is at JanNorris.com, this time gluten-free, low-carb Cauliflower Latkes. The recipe is here.

Those fancy, rolled-up yule log cakes aren’t as hard to make as you think. But let your guests believe they’re tough to create, while you watch the latest how-to video on it at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It’s here.

You just can’t get enough cookies this time of year, and there are more in the Chicago Tribune with the winners of its cookie contest. Luscious photos and recipes are here.

I hope that’s enough for y’all to chew on today – I need to finish putting up my holiday yard art. Maybe they’ll see me from the space station this year.