Deviled egg days

You know you’re really in the South when deviled eggs are on the menu at three out of four meals. Even besides the deviled eggs (which y’all know I have an affection for), I was well fed during the 22nd Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration in Natchez, MS. The theme was sports in the South, so I was asked to talk about tailgating and my book “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home.”

Yes, North Carolina is the South, but not in the same way as Natchez, which is nestled by the Mississippi River and covered with antebellum homes that would make Raleigh’s Historic Oakwood look like a trailer park. The bed-and-breakfast where I stayed, Pleasant Hill, was built in the 1830s. It was moved about a block down the street in the 1850s, using large logs as rollers. It took nearly two years to move the house, completely furnished, and the owners lived in it the whole time (a baby was even born in it, in the middle of the street).

Yes, this is a different place. If you ask for water during cocktail hour, a genial host always asks, “Don’t you want a li’l vodka in that water?”

After my talk, the chef of the Carriage House, which is on the grounds of Stanton Hall mansion, prepared a lunch inspired by tailgate food. Chef Bingo Starr – he mispronounced Ringo as a child – has cooked with Emeril Lagasse and John Besh in New Orleans. I had crispy fried chicken, a burger slider with pimiento cheese and house bacon, then pecan tart. And deviled eggs.

Waders and Pearls

This is certainly a formal occasion, by Hatteras Island standards. Guests are encouraged to wear wader books and pearls to this oyster feast on Saturday, Feb. 26 in Hatteras Village on the Outer Banks. Proceeds from ticket sales (a bargain at $10 each) will benefit the annual Day at the Docks annual celebration of watermen, which is held in September. Guests are also asked to bring non-perishable food donations for the Hatteras Island Food Pantry.

To reserve tickets, call Lynne Foster at (252) 619-0136. Besides the oysters, I’m told there will be two different kinds of shrimp stew. I never knew there was even one kind. Stay tuned; I’m trying to track down the story on that.

Food news roundup

I dearly love to see young people cooking, and The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) today has an article about an 8-year-old who is a finalist in a national cooking contest. The theme ingredient: Peanut butter. Who would know more about peanut butter sandwiches than a kid? Read about her here. And if you didn’t catch the profile of Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen on Sunday, it’s here.

A Charlotte couple gets invited to a lot of parties, not because of their scintillating personalities, but because they bring “the crackers.” Find out the secret in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, here.

Here’s something I bet you never thought about: The history of ketchup. Yes, the condiment and erstwhile official vegetable. If you make your own, it raises ketchup from forgettable garnish to classy sauce. The Winston-Salem (N.C. ) Journal tells you how here. I have made ketchup before, from roasted bell peppers and roasted tomatoes, and it is excellent. Not like the bottled stuff at all. So, try it.

Shrimp burgers are a classic on the coasts of North and South Carolina. The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier has a recipe here.

Great Jimmy Buffett, how did I miss National Margarita Day? It was Tuesday, Feb. 22, according to JanNorris.com. But, Norris says, the date doesn’t really matter: “Margarita drinkers usually don’t need any excuse. Paint-drying parties. Rotated-tire-parties. I’m-wearing-clean-underwear celebrations. You get the drift.” She has recipes, too.

Sassy, sexy sesame seeds send ‘em going on KitchenScoop.com, with a Thai recipe.

I knew I shouldn’t, but I did. My fingers couldn’t resist. I clicked on the Milky Way Tart recipe on LeitesCulinaria.com. Sometimes, I just like to watch.

Are doughnuts the new cupcake? They are in New York, says the New York Times, here.

A food lover’s guide to North Carolina

Visiting farmers markets, farm stands, microbreweries and anything else interesting in the food area is part of any vacation I take. I usually research online and print out notes on sheets of paper, which end up flying all around the back seat of the car.

Now there’s a book I can leave in the back seat wherever I go, and it will stay put. “Farm Fresh North Carolina” by Diane Daniel (The University of North Carolina Press, $18.95) is a collection of information on farmers markets, farm stands, wineries, dining locations and more all over the state. Daniel, who lives in Durham, selected the places to include based on her visits to the locations and the experiences she had. You’re unlikely to run out of things to do on vacation – or even with spare time near home – with this book in hand.

It goes beyond simple listings with mini-profiles of farmers and producers, historical facts and recipes. Everyone with an opinion may question the restaurant selections, but I agree with most.

The problem with guidebooks like this one is they can quickly become outdated. Daniel plans to address this issue by posting updates to the book on her website here. However, the book itself will not be online.

Don’t try this at home

I know how to roast a chicken. I believe that my own way is the best way, as most people do about things they do. You’d be surprised how many ways there are out there to do something as simple as roast a chicken. I read a new one recently, and was intrigued enough to try it out.

The recipe, in James Peterson’s “Meat: A Kitchen Education,” says to roast a four-pound chicken at 500 degrees. Yes, 500 degrees. I covered the breast with a butter-covered triple-thickness of foil, as advised. That was to be removed after 20 minutes of cooking. When I opened the oven to do so, smoke billowed out. The drippings in the bottom of the pan (no rack, again as advised) were beginning to burn.

As I waited out the 30 more minutes of cooking time, more smoke seeped from the oven and down the hall. It set off the smoke alarm despite all the windows being open, exhaust hood on full power and the ceiling fan on high.

At the end of the cooking time, I removed the chicken from the oven. When the smoke cleared, I could see that the inside was coated in spatters and burned bits.

“I thought you’d grilled it,” The Hub said after taking a bite of the smoky-tasting meat.

It didn’t taste bad. But I believe I can roast a chicken without having to air out the house and clean the oven afterward.

James Beard Awards semi-finalists

I remember when most people outside North Carolina thought there was nothing in this state but barbecue and bootleg liquor. Now, the state has real chef cred. Nine North Carolina chefs are among the 20 semi-finalists for Best Chef-Southeast in the James Beard Awards. The names were announced today.

The chefs are: Ashley Christensen, Poole’s, Raleigh; Scott Crawford, Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa, Cary; Scott Howell, Nana’s, Durham; Shane Ingram, Four Square, Durham; Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill; Chip Smith, Bonne Soiree, Chapel Hill; Aaron Vandemark, Panciuto, Hillsborough; John Fleer, Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley, Cashiers; and Keith Rhodes, Catch, Wilmington.

Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill in Durham is a semi-finalists for Outstanding Chef, a nationwide award.

Finalists will be announced on March 21 with the winners to be named in May. Go out this weekend and show our own star chefs the love. For more information on the James Beard Foundation and the awards, visit here.

Food news roundup

As someone who has been trying to limit salt intake for many years, I was aware of some of the salt traps noted in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) today. But it’s still shocking to see where salt creeps in unexpectedly (cereal? really?) I hope that, with the new emphasis on reducing sodium in food, that more low- or no-sodium products will appear. Until then (and even after), the best ways to limit salt are the ones mentioned in the article: Avoid processed foods and lunch meats, and cook as much of your own food as you can (including salad dressings, sauces, etc.) Read more here.

An outpost of Cary’s Grand Asia Market has opened in Charlotte, and the Charlotte Observer’s Kathleen Purvis reacts. If you haven’t been, it has everything Asian in food that you could be looking for. And, as is the case in many ethnic groceries, the produce is often cheaper and of better quality than in supermarkets. Read more here.

The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal writes about Chapel Hill author Jean Anderson’s latest book, “Falling Off the Bone” (Wiley, $29.95). The book is about using less expensive cuts of meat. Read more here.

I’ve been telling y’all, cupcakes have jumped the shark. Look here at these gorgeous macarones in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) and tell me you don’t agree.

They’re crazy for quiche over at KitchenScoop.com. Find out why here.

Gluten-free alternatives that let sensitive folks enjoy baked goods are at the San Antonio Express-News. Check out the recipes here.

Tiny versions of big things are just cuter. That’s true of vegetables, too, as the Salt Lake Tribune offers tips for growing your own microgreens and using them in the kitchen – even a recipe for a cocktail. Read more here.

The Chicago Tribune says that four American star chefs will participate at a salute to French dining at Versailles. Who’ll make the Freedom Fries, I wonder? Read more here.

Now that it seems to be free of the Great Firewall of China, I can mention this interesting blog. After being involuntarily separated from his sports writing job, Roger van der Horst decided to leave Raleigh, N.C. and teach in China. He occasionally writes about encounters with Chinese food and dining habits, and one such entry is here.

The new F-word?

The always-interesting Eatocracy has waded into it with an attack on foodies. Or, I should say, the definition of foodies given by chefs interviewed for the blog. It quotes a former Atlanta pastry chef thusly:

“Many seem to have the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ syndrome. Whatever the current trend says is fabulous MUST be fabulous! Foodies will flat-out drop some cash on the worst pile of crap if they saw it on ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives’ or if Bobby Flay threw it down. They have no real opinion of their own.”

Read the rest here. Thoughts, y’all? I feel  that there can be a negative connotation to the term “foodie,” and it’s been thrown around so much that it’s becoming cliche. That’s why I don’t use it to describe myself or others. But I know plenty of people who see it differently, who see it as a term for someone who supports good, local food.

Between that post and the recent anti-foodie rant in The Atlantic, are we seeing a backlash against study and appreciation of food? (If that’s even the right thing to call it – I’m struggling for a description.)

I’ve met people who are so determined in their eat-local, all-natural, super-organic philosophy that they are almost caricatures. I’ve met people who collect their connections to chefs and food writers like trading cards. Hasn’t this sort of thing always happened in some way? (See Billy Joel, “Big Shot.”) To quote Dickens, the trendy will be with us always.

Thoughts?

From sweet potatoes to chocolate

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. That’s what everyone talks about for Valentine’s Day. And I have absolutely no problem with that. None. As long as it’s dark chocolate. Send it on over.

White chocolate is not chocolate, so don’t start with me. I believe that you could save yourself the calories and just eat the wrapper the white chocolate came in – it has just as much flavor.

If you’re looking for an appetizer before the chocolate, I made some baked sweet potato fries for lunch today. Baked sweet potatoes will stay moist, so don’t expect the super-crunchy texture of conventional fries. But the spicy sprinkle and dipping sauce add even more flavor. This recipe is from “Fast, Fresh & Green” by Susie Middleton (Chronicle Books, 2010).

Sweet Potato Mini-Fries with Limey Dipping Sauce and Spiced Salt

1 pound unpeeled sweet potatoes

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Spiced Salt: 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon paprika

Limey Dipping Sauce: 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, pinch of kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.

Cut the sweet potatoes crosswise on a slight diagonal into 3/8-inch slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into sticks between 1/4 and 3/8 inch wide. Put the sticks in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. spread the sweet potatoes out in one layer on the baking sheet, making sure to scrape all the oil and salt from the bowl onto them.

Roast for 20 minutes. Using a spatula, flip the sticks over and continue cooking, flipping once or twice more, until the fries are nicely browned, about 10 minutes more.

Make the Limey Dipping Sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Make the Spiced Salt: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Sprinkle some of the Spiced Salt on the fries (be generous), toss well and serve with the dipping sauce.

Serves 3 to 4.

Virtual beer run

All I can say is, it’s about time. Wine snobs have had their phone apps practically since the first iPhone dropped. Now, beer fans have a choice of several apps that will help them find their favorite craft brews, match beer to food and locate pubs. The New York Times has a rundown of the offerings here. Some of the apps are limited – one, BeerCloud, only covers eight states.