New blogs

Food blogs populate the Internet like mushrooms on a log. And many are about as interesting. I’ve added two local ones to my list of blogs that are worth reading.

NestMeg is written by a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is studying journalism and American studies. Just because she’s a college student, don’t assume the blog is only about beer and pizza. Meghan cooks a lot, and well.

DurhamFoodie is a raucous roundup of all things food in Durham, N.C. and environs.

Got a favorite local blog? Tell me about it.

Pi(e) Day in Carrboro

No time to calculate or bake? Go to Johnny’s in Carrboro, N.C. this evening and you won’t have to. Pi(e) Day will offer a fragrant plethora of pies from sweet to savory (I’ve heard lavender-chocolate and avocado-coconut are in the works), live music and a Pi(e) Walk, mathematically proper, of course. The suggested donation is $5 and proceeds will benefit the Center for Environmental Farming Systems‘s Youth Food Council. Johnny’s is at 901 W. Main St., Carrboro.

3.14 Day

Now that the Heels have pulled it out for the day, I can turn my attention to an important event not related to basketball. Yes, there actually are a few such things. One is Pie Day, which will be Monday. Look at the date, people.

It’s a bad pun, but who cares when it’s an excuse for pie. Some pears are awaiting on my counter, a possible combination with cognac and a spice like cardamom in the future. But for pie today, I turned to “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, N.C. because the stress of pulling for the team during ACC Tournament weekend requires chocolate. Nancie’s recipe for Betty Thomason’s Chocolate Chess Pie is simple and smells rich as it bakes. I’m trying to keep my fingers from it until The Hub gets home, but that admirable goal is becoming more and more difficult to achieve.

Betty Thomason’s Chocolate Chess Pie from “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott

Pastry for a 9-inch single-crust pie

1/2 cup butter (I used nondairy margarine, for The Hub)

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten well

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust and crimp the edges. Combine the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the chocolate and butter melt and you can stir them together into a smooth sauce, 5 to 7 minutes Remove from heat, add sugar and stir well. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt, and stir to combine everything evenly and well. Pour the filling into the piecrust and place the pie on the bottom shelf of the oven. Bake until the pie is puffed up, fairly firm and handsomely browned, 35 to 45 minutes. place the pie on a cooling rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Food news roundup

Today’s News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) offers ways to think more creatively about the old slow-cooker. One author calls it “an Easy-bake oven for grownups.” The ideas sure are creative. Directions for smoking brisket in a slow-cooker sound doable. But to prepare creme brulee in the pot, you have to find a heat-resistant dish that will fit inside. And to make lasagna, you have to, basically, cook everything first. For me, the appeal of the slow-cooker is that I can toss things in it on a busy day and dinner comes out. But see if these ideas percolate with you.

The article is in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer as well, along with Kathleen Purvis’ plea for us all to relax about meal planning. Her no-stress ideas are here.

Because my friend Martha is a gigantic Avett Brothers fan, I have to mention “Lunch with Joe Kwon” in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.). He’s the one who’s not an Avett brother, with the cello and the food blog. Read more here.

The Salisbury (N.C.) Post explores the role genetics play in nutrition and weight. It’s like I’ve always said: I picked the wrong parents. Find your excuse here.

So, you have a blog and think you can be the next publishing sensation? It’s not as easy as “Julie and Julia” makes it look, so says the Austin American-Statesman, here.

I know it’s the day after Fat Tuesday and we’re supposed to be showing restraint, but that was before I hard of paczki. According to the Detroit News, they’re Polish doughnuts that are to Detroit what king cake is to New Orleans. Read more here.

Well, well – a trend that we had before the Left Coast. The San Francisco Chronicle says that fried pickles are popping up around the city. Read more here.

No green beer. Think authentic Irish when planning your St. Patrick’s Day meal this year. There are some ideas in the Kansas City Star, here.

Guy Fieri will have to find another way to pick up that takeout. His $200,000 Lamborghini (chrome yellow) was stolen in San Francisco, so says Must…fight…urge…to…snark…


Let the good times roux

I’ve cranked up Beausoleil and the Wild Magnolias while I’m working instead of my usual cool jazz – it’s Mardi Gras! (Working on a Cajun fiddle tune…someday…) You can hit a Mardi Gras party, sure. But if you make your own party, no worries about getting home with purple glitter all over yourself and people asking questions.

Most people think of jambalaya and gumbo for New Orleans food – spicy, like the holiday. And there’s not a thing wrong with that. But here’s something a little different that will please the anti-heat wimps but still have lots of flavor. Yes, it involves a roux, but don’t freak out. Natives of Louisiana are as born to make roux as Tar Heels are to smoke pork, but we each can learn.

If you’re inexperienced at roux-making, keep the heat on medium to medium-high (no higher), and go slow. Do. Not. Stop. Stirring. Not even if Justin Bieber shows up at your door and wants you to give him a haircut. That flour and oil can burn before you can say “Oh, look, the lottery numbers are being announced.” Focus, people.

This recipe is from”New Orleans Home Cooking” by Louisiana native Dale Curry. I modified it to make it easier to prepare. You could use a bottled Creole seasoning instead of the herbs, but most of them are very high in salt. I prefer to do my own seasoning.

Shrimp Creole

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 (16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

A few dashes hot pepper sauce, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt to taste

2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined

Cooked rice

In a large pot over medium heat the flour and oil to make the roux. Cook and stir until the roux is peanut butter-colored. Immediately add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Stir and cook until soft.

Add the lemon juice, tomato sauce, tomatoes, chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, cayenne, hot pepper sauce, oregano, basil, thyme and sugar. Stir, then taste and add salt as needed. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook about 10 more minutes, until the shrimp is done. The consistency of the sauce should be thick. Serve over cooked rice.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

See where your food comes from

When the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association offered its Piedmont Farm Tour 16 years ago, there were a handful of Chatham County farms on the route. This year, you can visit a total of 40 farms, including six ones new to the tour, in a five-county area. The success of this tour indicates how much interest in local food has grown. And the tour is just fun.

The tour will be held April 16 and 17. Tickets are $25 per car, so cram in the fam and hit the road. Visit here for more information. Some farms will sell their products, so carry along a cooler.

Stocked markets

If the ACC Tournament is coming up, that means it’s time to crank up the sausage balls. Oh, it also means farmers markets are reviving around the Triangle. The Campus Farmers Market at the N.C. State University Brickyard in Raleigh has reopened. And a new market is opening in Raleigh’s Boylan Heights. The Saturday Market at 301 Kinsey Street will offer a little bit of everything, including produce, food trucks and crafts. It will be open Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. starting April 23. The market is on Facebook: Thanks to Andrea Weigl’s blog Mouthful for alerting me to the market.

Blue Wednesday

I could no longer avoid working on taxes. The Hub was making me feel guilty, with all his nose-grindstone efforts. This meant facing, yet again, my spotty record keeping. I always swear that next year, I will record my mileage on a computer document as I go along. This would be better than scrawling initials (what does WFFM mean?)  and numbers on my calendar pages – yes, I still use a paper calendar-organizer. I toss the expired pages in a file that also includes pages from 2007, for some reason. I hit a personal best in 2010 – I got as far as April before abandoning the effort. Then, there are the nearly indecipherable supermarket receipts from testing recipes for columns and articles…

I needed a snack. My freezer is stocked with blueberries from last summer, and I found some blue corn meal from a trip to New Mexico. Here’s the result. The nondairy adaptations are for the dairy-allergic Hub.

Blue Corn Blueberry Bread

1 cup blue cornmeal (you can use white or yellow, if you don’t have blue)

1 cup flour

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)

5 teaspoons baking powder (yes, this is correct)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon mace

1 1/2 cups blueberries (if frozen, do not thaw)

2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine (I used nondairy margarine)

1 cup milk (I used almond milk)

1 egg

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9- by 5-inch  loaf pan with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and mace. Add the blueberries and gently toss. In a smaller bowl, combine the melted butter with the milk and egg. Add the milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir just until combined. Pour it into the pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until done.

Let the pan cool on a rack for 10 minutes or so, then remove the bread and dust it with the powdered sugar.




Food news roundup

Great cooking runs in the family for Mildred Council, the founder of Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill, N.C. The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) has an article on food projects by her daughter and granddaughter here. Mama Dip’s has been offering fried chicken, fried green tomato biscuits and greens for 34 years.

Part-time carnivores, flexitarians – whatever you want to call them, more people are going meatless…sometimes. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer says that eating habits aren’t either-or anymore. Reasons for occasional vegetarians include health and finances. Read more here. The article is also in The News & Observer.

Stop the presses – or the bytes, since we’re on the Internet here. Hot news from the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.): We’re drinking more wine. Well, you have to do something if you’re eating less meat. Read more here.

Being frugal didn’t start with the current recession. Food cultures all over the world have ways to use leftovers, and fried rice is a big one. The Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has tips on making the dish here. One secret: Don’t use freshly made rice.

I often sigh in relief when I remember, at the prospect of a busy day, that I have my slow-cooker. has a great-sounding recipe for chicken with artichokes.

Root vegetable gratin anyone? LeitesCulinaria has your cheesy needs. I’m drawn to photographs of anything covered in crusty, browned, drippy cheese. The dairy-allergic Hub means I am so deprived. Drool.

Back to those plant eaters. The Portland Oregonian has slow-cooker recipes for vegans. Yes, beans. Read more here.

You may not want to look at these pictures of Paula Deen on the Today Show blog before eating. Note how she never spills a drop of that red wine.