Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Trip to Chapel Hill

Last week, I went on another fun trip to the triangle area.  The main reason for going to was to take the intro level sommelier exam in Raleigh through the Court of Master Sommeliers.  My friend, Morgan, who works at McCrady's, also took the test.  It involved a pretty intensive two-day seminar prior to the exam, and I was happy to have a friend there with me.  There was a lot of information to absorb, and I think I might have felt a bit more overwhelmed had I gone by myself.

Morgan and I just before taking the exam

I couldn't help but to be a little nervous about the exam, even though I was overall fairly confident about it. Much to our relief, however, we both passed!

So that was pretty exciting. I've been pretty stressed out about the whole thing, and I'm glad to have one less thing looming over my head right now.


The other purpose of the trip was to celebrate my birthday!  Tuesday was my actual birthday, but I didn't want to party too hard because the wine exam was the next day.  But, you better believe, on Wednesday after I found out I passed, it was on

We finally had dinner at Lantern, after having drinks there my last two visits.  My sister and I asked the bartender to just pick dinner for us because, truly, I would have been happy with any single item on the menu.  He happily obliged us, and I loved every bite.

To start, I got Chaat, which is kind of like a warm salad with roasted chickpeas and cauliflower, crispy potatoes, pickled red onion and a nice, refreshing herbed/minty chutney.  I absolutely adore both chickpeas and cauliflower, and I thought this dish was delicious and certainly unique, with lots of fun texture.

For dinner, I had the steamed wild striped bass, which was served with lots of herbs, crispy ginger, a fermented black bean-type broth, baby bok choy, and rice.  This was excellent as well, along with Margaret's lacquered pork tenderloin lettuce wraps, and Sam's crispy duck noodle soup.  Gotta say, though, I did enjoy mine the best.

The dessert was rave-worthy.  Roasted banana ice-cream with peanut brittle, caramel, and whipped cream. To.die.for.  And I'm really not even the kind of person who just raves over dessert.

Here's one of the sis and me at Lantern.  Sissy bought me the dress for my birthday :)

And one of the sis and her hunky boyfriend, Sam, whom I got to officially meet.


So that's about all I have to share with you, except for a couple gem photos from our hungover trip to the Maple View Dairy Ice Cream Store in Carrboro the next day.


Don't be jealous of the fact that I ate really delicious ice cream two days in a row.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Rare Visit from the Parents and the Resulting Foodie Weekend

 At McCrady's Saturday for Dad's bday celebration

So, the parents came in town this past weekend for my dad's big 6-0, and we all enjoyed a tightly scheduled food-and-drink oriented weekend in honor of the occasion.  The last time they managed to escape to Chucktown from our quiet little hometown of Morganton, NC  was for their 30th anniversary, over a year and a half ago, so we (rightfully) made a big occasion out of it.


The first night they were in town, I buckled to my mother's gentle but persistent urgings to cook for them, and went with a fun, regionally-inspired theme.

To start, I made fried green tomatoes with a ginger-peach relish.  For the relish, I simmered some skinless, chopped peaches with ginger, sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, red onion, and jalapenos.  I let that bubble for about an hour, until it reduced a good bit, then let it chill in the refrigerator.

For the green tomatoes, I sliced them up and breaded them with flour, egg wash, and a mixture of panko and breadcrumbs.

 Heated some oil in a skillet and pan-seared them until they were nice and brown.

 Topped them off with the peach relish and some sliced green onions.  They turned out remarkably well! I was really pleased with the flavor of the peach relish against the slightly tart green tomatoes.

For the shrimp & grits, I started by making a shrimp stock with the fish fume I made a couple weeks ago.  By using the fume instead of tap water in the stock, I was really able to build a nice flavor base.  I've been freezing shrimp and crab shells, so I tossed them in, along with some onions, tomatoes, celery, parsley, and a couple bay leaves.  I let that simmer for a bit, then strained it a few times.

The stock turned out nice and rich, with a mildly sweet flavor from the shrimp.  Next, I gathered the ingredients for the saute.  I used the stock, leeks, garlic, concassed tomatoes, andouille sausage, and local shrimp.

While I was getting my chopping done, I put the grits on to start cooking.  I like to start with 1 part grits, 2 parts water, and 1 part chicken stock. Once it gets boiling, I add more chicken stock and cream alternately, much like a risotto.  This can cook for a long time, like an hour, at a low simmer.  Just let them get all lovely and creamy.

After the grits were on, I browned the andouille sausage.

For the saute, start by cooking the leeks and garlic in a little oil until they are soft and translucent.

Then, add the shrimp stock, the tomatoes, and a splash of white wine to taste.  Let simmer until slightly reduced.

When the sauce is reduced to your liking, add the shrimp, sausage, and a touch of cream.

Cook the shrimp until it is no longer translucent.  Serve the whole mixture over a bowl of grits, and top with scallions.


I was really happy with the way this dish turned out!  Nice and rich and full of flavor.  After dinner, we headed out to see a Brazilian jazz show at the Cistern, and really enjoyed it.


Saturday, we hit up the farmer's market, the beach, and finished it all off with a decadent meal at McCrady's. We had an amazing time and were all collectively blown away by Chef Brock's tasting menu.

Before the parents left town, we hit up High Cotton.  The boys in the kitchen really outdid themselves, and we were stuffed before we even ordered.

Overall, all three of us had an amazing weekend.  The only thing that could have made it any better was if my sister, Margaret, could have made it down. She stays pretty busy, though. Next week, I'll be traveling up to Chapel Hill to visit her and to take my first level sommelier test.  Kinda nervous about that. I'll keep you posted.