I thought about doing it for months. It’s just one of those things — a kitchen right of passage of sorts — that everyone has to do (at least once). Of course, I didn’t want to do it just to do it–I wanted it to be the juiciest most flavorful chicken EVER. So, I researched. To truss or not to truss? Butter on the skin or under? Which herbs? Breast side up or breast side down? I had this feeling in my gut that I was on the road to cosmic alignment—that somehow I’d channel the kitchen gods and miraculously stumble upon the “secret” to the perfect bird that I could then share with my friends and family and all those other folks on the interweb.
In actuality, the fact that I’d mustered the courage to even attempt roasting a whole chicken was somewhat of a miracle. Of all the meat phobias I’ve fostered over the years, chicken is the one animal that consistently causes me to question being a carnivore. Just the words “chicken skin” make my upper lip curl. So when I picked up the whole bird at Whole Foods, one handed, like I was palming a basketball, and felt the bird’s ribs, solid under a squishy layer of skin and flesh, I nearly gave up on the whole idea. I nearly gave up on eating meat, for that matter. Yes, my resolve was tested at the meat case and again, later that day, when it was time to give the bird its last bath. I used tongs to discard the white bag of parts-that-shall-not-be-named, but I had no kitchen contraption large enough to hold the carcass under the cold running water, that is, of course, except for my hands. As I rinsed the cavity out, I waited for the water to fill the bird to the tippy top, like a drinking glass does when you’re washing it, and it took me a minute or two to realize that because of the GIANT HOLE in the other end where the animal’s head and neck once were, there’d be no filling of the bird.
When all was said and done, the chicken turned out ok. Not miraculous, but glistening brown and cooked all the way through. And I realized, as I was eating it, that perhaps the reason I’d never roasted a whole chicken wasn’t because of my kitchen inferiority complex; I just don’t like chicken.Read More
I don’t believe I’ve ever fantasized about mussels like I have George’s. They’ve been on my mind and in my dreams, succulent and meaty and begging to be eaten, for weeks. Of course we’re talking mussels here, not muscles, of which George’s Brasserie offers five different varieties. The fiery style, with a delicate spicy cream sauce, was so good, I’m not sure I’ll ever find the courage to order any of the others. It was love at first dunk of their fresh French bread into that spicy sauce. This overwhelming delight was a somewhat unexpected reaction, given that French food has never really excited me (a distaste I blame on a few bad experiences I had on a trip to Paris back in college, and an overall dislike of game and heavy sauces). In contrast, Executive Chef Andrew “Drew” Dodd puts a contemporary spin on the cuisine, while still offering many signature French dishes, including bouillabaisse, cassoulet, beef bourguignon, and charcuterie. A handful of the entrees are sourced locally, including the North Carolina trout armandine, the Spring Mountain Farms chicken served with black garlic beurre blanc, and a few varieties of their large oyster selection.
Like the food, the restaurant itself is upscale yet inviting. There are cozy round booths bordering smaller bistro style tables complete with Parisian-style rattan chairs. Small touches, like the aluminum bread pails brought to each table, keep the restaurant grounded and the atmosphere friendly.
One of my favorite hors d’oeuvres is the 48-hour pork belly, which is cooked sous-vide and served with jalapeno infused water melon. Unlike other pork belly I’ve tried, George’s has a crispy skin and no jiggly bits; you can literally sink your teeth into it. Other standout dishes are the supple pan-seared scallops, served with sweet corn and saffron puree, fava beans, smoked tomato, and thyme beurre blanc and the NY Strip Au Poivre with brandy peppercorn sauce, served with a petite ceramic pot of truffle pommes frites. I’ve also heard great things about the goat cheese and caramelized onion tart, but I’ve yet to try it (next time!).
George’s is a place where Francophiles and Francophobes alike will be satisfied, not only with the exceptional food but also the extensive wine list and the attentive and impressively knowledgeable servers. And for those fiery mussels, of course.
People often think that as a food blogger and eager eater I must be an awesome cook. Truth is my cooking adventures seem to flop as often as succeed; I’m more kitchen klutz than Master Chef. I burn things (pots, proteins, and appendages, included), get nauseated at the sight (or smell) of raw meat, and I scrambled the shit out of my spaghetti carbonara last week. Things just don’t always go according to plan when I’m in the kitchen, and that’s exactly what draws me in. With cooking, there’s risk and reward, and the opportunity to create something with my own hands titillates my brain (and my belly). So despite the burnt carnitas, undercooked scallops, or, in this case, mussels of questionable edibility, I keep on trying to learn.
My ultimate desire is to possess the ability to cook freely, without the aid of a recipe. I want to look at ingredients and understand them and innately know how to bring out the best of their flavors. I want freedom from recipe paralysis, a condition that has occurred, in my opinion, due to over saturation of recipes in the media. They are everywhere we look, and we’re all constantly bookmarking and tagging and pinning things to try later. Problem is, when later comes, we’ve got a bushelful of recipes and an empty tank of know-how. So, tonight, it’s grilled cheese for dinner, AGAIN. Not that I don’t love grilled cheese six nights in a row.
Cooking, just like life, is a learning process. We natural-born perfectionists often try to conceal our mishaps, sweep the crumbs under the rug, if you will. I know I do. For many of us, cooking is so much more than a chore or an obligation–it’s our time for creativity and spirituality and personal growth–and personal “success” in the kitchen should not (and cannot) be judged rigidly. Hiding our food faux pas is a repressive practice. This is not living. In the wise words of Anne Lamott, these “mistakes” are simply shitty first drafts. They can be tweaked, streamlined, or gussied up later. All that matters in this moment is that you showed up in the kitchen and gave it a shot.
A shot. That’s exactly what I did with these mussels: I gave them a shot. Though I’ve eaten my fair share of mussels, I’d never made them before. Of course I did my research: cleaning, debearding, sorting. I got it all down before I hit the grocery store. Perhaps, I should have changed my game plan when the man at the Harris Teeter meat counter proceeded to set aside expired bag after expired bag of mussels before settling on one that was “still good” (insert forced smile here). I made a shitty, but spicy, first draft of tomato sauce, plopped my clean, beard-free mussels on top, covered with a lid, and waited for the mussels to open. After ten minutes or so, about a quarter of the mussels were fully open, half were partially open, and the rest were pursed closed tighter than my grimacing lips. Maybe it was first-timer jitters or maybe something really was wrong with these mussels, but after eating a couple of the fully opened ones (while silently battling visions of self-inflected food poisoning), I called it quits.
I call this meal my shitty first draft of mussels with a spicy tomato sauce, and I choose to embrace it, and all its shittyness, at home and here on the ole blog.Read More
Fervent Foodie is a contributing writer for the official Urbanspoon blog.
Make no bones about it: Americans are passionate about their barbecue. Much like grandma’s potato salad and dad’s lasagna, regional barbecue triggers feelings of nostalgia and deep-rooted hometown pride. The word barbecue here is used as a noun, not a verb. It’s not a casual backyard get-together or hot dogs and hamburgers grilled in the driveway over a propane flame. Barbecue in this context is meat cooked low and slow, usually over wood chips, in hand-built smokers and converted oil drums, till it’s fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth tender.Read More
Paco’s Tacos & Tequila is one of Frank Scibelli’s four major restaurants in Charlotte, along with my beloved Mama Ricotta’s, Midwood Smokehouse, and Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar. Paco’s (Spanish for Frank’s, get it?) features Tex-Mex cuisine with a large chunk of the menu dedicated to TACOS. There are ten types to choose from, including brisket, calamari, chicken fried steak, crispy shrimp, gringo beef, and whitefish. The flour and wheat tortillas are made in-house (or you can opt for low carb or corn tortillas), and you can add a stuffed jalapeno to your taco for a buck fifty. Fajitas, enchiladas, and quesadillas also make an appearance on the menu, as well as a handful of Tex-Mex inspired entrees, and over eighty-five tequilas. Taking a cue (as in barbecue) from its sister restaurant Midwood Smokehouse, Paco’s recently added a smoker to their kitchen artillery. Currently, the pitmaster will smoke one featured entrée each night. On my last visit, I tried the smoked brisket taco, and as the Midwood Smokehouse self-declared number one fan, I feel confident giving Paco’s smoked brisket the Fervent Foodie stamp of approval. It is my favorite Paco’s Taco to date. Other menu favorites include the chopped salad with cojita cheese and chipotle ranch, gringo nachos, potato mushroom & cheese flautas, and “The Margarita with No Name,” featuring El Jimador Blanco, 100% blue agave tequila, and house made sour. Of course, you can’t go wrong with any of the tacos. Paco’s also makes the desserts in-house, and I strongly recommend both the Tres Leches and Chocolate PB Pie.
Local Loaf: Located uptown in the 7th Street Public Market, Local Loaf is the new home to Chef Adam Spears (previously with Heist Brewery). Local Loaf offers freshly baked Artisan Breads daily, including their hand-rolled baguettes, brioche, ciabatta, fruit and nut loaves, 9 grain, and biscuits. In addition to the bread, Local Loaf also offers breakfast and lunch. The “brunchwiches” are served all day, and include a fried chicken and poached egg biscuit with chipotle Cheerwine glaze, a steak and egg baguette, and a monte cristo served on a brioche liege waffle. The lunch menu includes eight sandwiches. My favorites so far are the ham and brie (topped with local Lucky Leaf microgreens and mango chutney) and the Local Dip (think French dip with red wine braised sirloin and caramelized onions). Other enticing options are the Veggie with creamed corn and fried green tomatoes on jalapeno focaccia and the Cuban with pickled cucumbers and fried pork rinds. Soup options will change daily, but keep an eye out for the tomato bisque–it is AWESOME. If the tasty sandwiches aren’t enough to make you love Local Loaf, the heavy emphasis on local sourcing will surely tug on those ole’ heartstrings. Locally sourced goods include meat from Meat & Fish Co., produce and dairy from Homeland Dairy Farms and Greeneman Farms, and coffee grounds from Not Just Coffee.Read More
Remember that super fun video recipe project I’ve been telling ya’ll about? Well, one of the four videos we shot was for a recipe I specially developed for Tropical Foods. To get my creative juices flowing, Tropical Foods hooked me up with a sack full of their bold nut mixes. After trying them all, the PB&J mix stole my heart. PB&J triggers feelings of nostalgia for most of us, but the funny thing is, I didn’t eat it much as a kid. In fact, I went through a rebellious phase during which I vehemently swore I didn’t like the taste of PB&J. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was lying through my teeth in hopes of getting something toasty, like a hot grilled cheese or tuna melt, for lunch instead. Sometime in college, I rediscovered the pure pleasure of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I’ve been making up for lost time ever since.
Hope you enjoy my recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Snack bars! I know my Guinea pig coworkers did!
Make sure you enter the Tropical Foods Bold giveaway below! Three winners will receive one bag of each of the following How Bold Can You Go mixes:
Honey Roasted Buffalo Nuts
Ranch Buffalo Nuts
Blue Cheese Buffalo Nuts
Sienna Cream Crunch
When asked if I’d be interested in shooting some recipe videos for Tropical Foods, I said YES without really thinking about how much work goes into preparing, planning, and executing a video project. I said yes before I had a chance to think about standing in front of a camera and how sweaty that might make me. I said yes, because, well, for better or for worse I have a hard time saying no to opportunities, and honestly who could say no to the chance to work with a large, well-established Charlotte-based company like Tropical Foods?
To prepare for the shoot, I did what any self-respecting accountant would do: I input all the recipe ingredients into an Excel spreadsheet. There were columns for the description, quantity, recipe to which it related, and the corresponding grocery store aisle. Organization was key. Each recipe was cooked and tested three times prior to the shoot, and each round began with a massive grocery shopping trip. After I had my initial practice round with the recipes, I used the second and third go-arounds to verbally talk myself through the steps. “Ok, now we’ll melt the butter. Mmm buttterrrr.” “Give it a good stir.” “It’s ok if it looks like poo, it’ll still taste great!” I also found myself asking questions. I know Rachael Ray always de-stems her chard… but why? What’s the stem taste like anyway? What’s the difference between black and red grouper? What if I can’t find wonton wrappers at the grocery store? I jotted down questions as I went, and spent a lot of time researching ingredients and cooking processes.
The night before the shoot, I measured all of the ingredients into small containers and labeled what was what, then loaded each recipe’s ingredients onto a separate sheet pan. Even with all this prep, it took us about five hours to shoot all four recipe videos!Read More