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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Learning French


Next month I head back to France. As usual, before that trip, I will brush up on my French, such as it is. (Which doesn’t get me too far because, despite the stereotype, everyone is eager to speak English.) I have French language CDs that I listen to during my morning commute, which garners strange looks from other commuters who no doubt are wondering why that guy in the car next to them at the traffic light is talking to himself. I also listen to French Canadian radio, but usually only catch about one word out of ten. The most entertaining method to practice one’s French is to watch French movies, especially comedies. The plots are obviously not terribly complicated, so you can figure out a lot about what is going on without understanding every spoken word. 

And so recently I came across a light-hearted French comedy staring Jean Reno and Michaël Youn titled Le Chef (Trailer). The plot resembles another movie by the same, albeit English, title: Chef, staring Jon Favreau. ( Meals on Wheels)

In Le Chef, Reno plays Alexandre Legarde, a cantankerous and ambitious veteran chef who is on the verge of losing everything because the restaurant owner’s greedy son is in charge, and he wants to force Legarde aside and replace him with a younger chef who specializes in molecular gastronomy. In order to get Legarde fired, the owner’s son plans to have the restaurant lose one star after Legarde (the stereotypical French traditionalist) fails to impress the critics with a molecular gastronomic masterpiece. Of course, Lagarde has no idea how to create such a dish. (The scene where Reno tries to recreate a deconstructed duck is one of the movie’s best.) But along comes Jacky Bonnot, played by Youn, an up-and-coming young chef who worships Legarde and knows more about Legarde than even Legarde knows about himself. 

Of course, the movie follows the predictable comedy plot and vaguely resembles Ratatouille. I was also surprised how—dare I say this?—how American this movie seemed. First, there was the ambitious chef who ignores his offspring, in this case his daughter who is working on her PhD. And then the up-and-coming iconoclast who wants to shake up the staid French culinary world. And finally, the last minute deux ex machina that saves the day. All that being said, however, the movie is fun to watch, and it does take on issues of excessive commercialism in haute cuisine, eating locally, and trendy food vs. culinary tradition.

When I travel to France next month, I can’t say that I will seek out the culinary trend of month or the ne plus ultra of French haute cuisine. But I will be looking for good food, served by iconoclastic and, yes, even insouciant chefs who enjoy cooking not just to obtain stars or critical praise, but for the joy of cooking itself.  Stay tuned for tales of my upcoming dining adventures.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

At Your Service



© 2015 Chris Terrell
The other night while having dinner at a nice restaurant here in Birmingham, I stated, with some certitude, that I would rather dine in a restaurant with below-average food, but above-average service. One of my dinner companions disagreed, insisting that the quality of the food was most important. I was still thinking about this conversation, and the quip that started it, a few days later. Then I realized that I had been a bit too glib,  too clever-by-half. Perhaps I should have said that I would rather have a below-average meal with above-average company than the other way around. (Of course, I don't intend to imply that the company that night was in any way below average!)

And while the food served in a restaurant is important, let us not forget that the word “restaurant” derives from the French word for “restore.” Like eating with family or with friends, dining out is a commensal act that should restore us from a hard day at the office, at school, in the field, or on the factory floor.  The communal and restorative act of eating in a restaurant remains so, even when dining alone. 
I travel a lot for business, and unless I’m dog tired, I will go out to eat, even if in the hotel restaurant or bar. After all, you can always chit-chat with the server and, better yet, the bartender. I’m a big fan of eating at the bar. You don’t have to wait, and bartenders by nature and their profession are ready conversationalists. Strangers also are more friendly at the bar—the bottle instills an easy, natural Hemingway camaraderie.
Going back to the conversation that started all this: have we gone too much to the “food-is-more-important” side of the restaurant equation? As Adam Gopnik points out in his book, The Table Comes First, “Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject.” I agree. Eating should be a bigger subject, not only when we talk about restaurants, but when we engage in the larger conversation about food. 
I’m struck by that moment when Julia Child had her first meal on French soil: sole meunière. It sounds fancy to our Anglo-Saxon ears, but this simplest of French preparations is nothing more than fish, butter, a bit of flour, lemon, and parsley. Julia Child never forgot that meal. 
So restaurants really are more than the service-vs.-food dichotomy that got me started a few paragraphs back. They are where we have our first peek as children into that mysterious world of adults; where we have our first dates; where we propose marriage; celebrate births; and console the loss of those no longer with us. Restaurants good and bad will change with the times, but I can’t imagine a world without them. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Cocktails in the Cinema

©2015 Chris Terrell
When writer’s block set in a few days ago—which happens more often than I would like to admit—I thought about how I could incorporate my love of movies into this blog. And as I reached for a sip of my freshly made martini, it hit me! Booze! The only thing better than cinema is cocktails and cinema. So, here it is. My top-ten list of the best cocktail-themed movies (and one TV show).


#10 The Big Lebowski (1998); Directors: Joel & Ethan Cohen; Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Julianne Moore.

What it's about according to IMDB: "The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.

Best Line: The Dude: [repeated line by The Dude and others] That rug really tied the room together.

A cult classic film that revived an obscure cocktail: the White Russian, though the Dude refers to as the "Caucasian." 

The White Russian was invented when someone added cream to a Black Russian (vodka and coffee liqueur). The drink really has nothing to do with Russia, other than the fact that it contains vodka. There are variations, of course. Two of my favorites are the Anna Kournikova (made with skim milk) and the White Cuban (made with rum instead of vodka).

I actually went through a White Russian phase back in college, though I'm not sure why. This "dude's" fling with the drink ended abruptly when a Kappa Delta asked, "Isn't that a girl's drink?" I've never had one since! 


#9 Lost In Translation (2003); Director: Sofia Coppola; Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, and Giovanni Ribisi. |

What it’s about according to IMDB: “A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.”

Best Line: “Let's never come here again because it would never be as much fun.”

This may come as a surprise to a lot of folks, but the Japanese love scotch. What is more surprising is that they make really good scotch. (Yeah, I know it’s not really “scotch” because it’s not from Scotland, but don’t quibble.) More surprising is that Japan has an excellent home-grown scotch industry, with Suntory being at the top. So, I strongly encourage you try some if you can find it. I had to go to Atlanta to get a bottle of Yamasaki, but it was so worth it!


#8 Some Like it Hot (1959); Director: Billy Wilder; Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis

What it’s about according to IMDB: When two musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.

Best Line: “Sugar: [on marrying well] I don't care how rich he is, as long as he has a yacht, his own private railroad car, and his own toothpaste."

                   —Sugar [Played by Marilyn Monroe]

“Further complications set in…?” That’s an understatement! This is one of the funniest movies ever! Besides, guys dressed in drag is always, always funny! This movie also shows that Monroe was more that some bleached-blond bimbo. She really did have talent. 

Why is this movie on my list? Because the Manhattan is the drink of choice for both the “men” and the women in the movie. The Manhattan is one of my favorite cocktails and, if done right, is appealing to both men and women. It is slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so, which appeals to the ladies; it is made from whiskey, which appeals to the guys; and it has a cool name, which should appeal to everyone. 


#7: Absolutely Fabulous (a/k/a “AbFab”) 

What it’s about according to IMDB: Edina Monsoon and her best friend Patsy drive Eddie's sensible daughter, Saffron, up the wall with their constant drug abuse and outrageous selfishness.

Best Line(s): 

Eddie: All right, time for another little drinkie before we go?

Saffie: Where are you going?

Eddie: New York.

Saffie: I didn't think they let people with convictions in.

Eddie: Darling, its not a conviction.

Patsy: Just a firm belief.

Eddie: Yes.

If you have heard of, or used, the phrase “guilty pleasure” then you may have watched at least one episode of Absolutely Fabulous, known affectionately by its fans as AbFab. This BBC comedy ran, on and off, from 1992 to 2012 and starred Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as two boozy, drug-addled, fashioned-obsessed single women living in London. 

Eddie and Patsy always seem to have a bottle of Champagne in their hands and it always seems to be Veuve Cliquet, which would seem so appropriate.

Here are some clips from some of the show’s more memorable lines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOGeTQvVtA8



#6 Casino Royale (2006); Director: Martin Campbell; Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Eve Green

What it’s about according to IMDB: Armed with a license to kill, Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007 and must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, but things are not what they seem.

Best Line(s): 

Vesper Lynd: [introducing herself to Bond] I'm the money. 

James Bond: Every penny of it.

This is the kick-ass reboot of the Bond franchise. The debate still rages on, but Daniel Craig may…just may…surpass Sean Connery as the baddest Bond ever. Because of arcane copyright issues, Ian Fleming’s Bond novel was never made into a serious movie until Craig’s version. And only someone like Bond could create a new cocktail whilst trying to stay alive, win at cards, and get the girl! That takes talent! 

Here’s the recipe from the novel Casino Royale by Ian Fleming:

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'm...er...concentrating," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

—Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, Chapter 7, Rouge et Noir



#5 Silence of the Lambs (1991); Director: Jonathan Demme; Stars: Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster

What It’s About According to IMDB: A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

Best Line: A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.


— Hannibal Lechter


This movie scared the crap out of me when it first came out. Anthony Hopkins was perfect in this role. And of course, it was many years before I could even think about having a glass of Chianti at my local Italian restaurant, much less fava beans. And thankfully, I’ve never been much of a fan of liver, except for foie gras. At least, Hannibal didn’t ruin that for me!


#4 Casablanca (1942); Director: Michael Curtiz; Stars: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman

What it’s about according to IMDB: Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Best Line(s): 

Major Strasser: What is your nationality?

Rick: I’m a drunkard.

Renault: And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Unlike the other films in this list (with the possible exception of Sideways), this movie does more than simply feature a cocktail. Instead, roughly 80% of the movie takes place in a bar! And one of those drinks consumed in that bar, Rick’s Café Américain, is the French 75, one of my perennial favorites. This is a great cocktail—named after a 75-mm French artillery piece used in World War I—and designed to hit you like a shell from that gun. The original recipe called for cognac, but the English, who abhor all things French, introduced gin into the mix. This drink has made something of a comeback in recent years, as I see it more and more frequently on restaurant menus. 


#3 Groundhog Day (1993); Director: Harold Ramis; Stars: Bill Murray, Andie McDowell, and Chris Elliott

What It’s About According to IMDB: A weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again.

Best Line(s):


Phil: I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters.


Phil: That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over, and over, and over...


Bill Murray earned his “stripes” because he made this list twice with two different movies. 

This movie really presents every guy’s dream: fixing  that disastrous first date by replaying it over and over until you get it right. In this case, Bill Murray’s obnoxious protagonist discovers that Andie McDowell’s character’s favorite cocktail is sweet vermouth on the rocks and a twist. During the first time they meet at the bar, Murray orders a manly drink—Bourbon on the rocks—McDowell, a sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist (yuck!). She waxes rhapsodically about how the drink reminds her of Rome.  And guess what Murray orders the next time, and guess what he talks about? Smart use of that power bro! 


#2 Sideways (2004); Director: Alexander Payne; Stars: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, and Virginia Madsen

What It’s About According to IMDB: Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment, embark on a week long road trip through California's wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle.

Best Line(s): 


Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.

Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f**king Merlot!

This is the only movie on the list where a particular drink (wine) and drinking that dirnk are at the heart of the movie. If there was an academy award for “Best Actor in the Role of a Self-Loathing, Yet Lovable, Jerk,” then Paul Giamatti would have won it hands down. The best scene in the movie is not the one we’ve all come to know (and which pretty much killed sales of Merlot), but the one near the end in which Miles is alone in a rundown burger joint sneaking sips of a bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc hidden in a bum’s brown bag. The ultimate irony? Cheval Blanc is made from the two grapes Miles flames in the movie: merlot and cabernet franc.

Of course the real star of the movie is pinot noir, which is the vehicle by which we get to understand Miles and Maya:

Miles:

Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.


Maya:


How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your '61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline.

* * * 
And it tastes so f**king good.


#1 Goldfinger (1964); Director: Guy Hamilton: Stars: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, and Honor Blackman

What it's about according to IMDB: Investigating a gold magnate's smuggling, James Bond uncovers a plot to contaminate the Fort Knox gold reserve.

Best Line(s): 

James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!

“Shaken, not stirred.” No other phrase is more associated with a movie character or series of movies than this one. Believe it or not, the phrase wasn’t used until the third Bond film, Goldfinger. (While Dr. No uses this phrase when he offers the drink to Bond in Dr. No, Bond himself doesn’t use the phrase until Goldfinger in 1964.) And of course, it became the most well known trademark of the Bond character in subsequent films, with a few notable variations on a theme.  

In You Only Live Twice, the cocktail is offered stirred, not shaken, but Bond graciously accepts it nonetheless. (Smart man! No one never turns down a free drink!) In Casino Royale, after losing millions of dollars in a game of poker, Bond retreats to the bar to lick his wound, and when asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, he snarls: "Do I look like I give a damn?” And interestingly, Roger Moore’s Bond never ordered a martini, although he received one in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and Octopussy.









Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Martinis at Noon


©2015 Chris Terrell
This past weekend, I made my annual pilgrimage to New York City. I had originally planned for six days in the Big Apple, but that pesky thing called work interfered, so I had to settle for a quick weekend instead. My trip had an inauspicious beginning from a culinary perspective. Dinner Friday night was a grilled chicken sandwich from Chik-Fil-A at the airport, scarfed down with a Good People Pale Ale at the bar next to my gate. At least Delta was feeling generous because the flight attendant gave me two bags of pretzels on the Atlanta to LaGuardia leg. But by the time I arrived at my hotel in New York it was 1:30AM, and I was hungry again. Thank goodness for an $8 can of Pringles from the mini-bar.

The next morning, after a quick continental breakfast at the hotel, it was off to do some serious shopping at my favorite book store: The Strand. Anyone who is serious about books, especially anyone serious about cookbooks, should visit The Strand. I’ve never seen so many cookbooks in one place. An entire corner of The Strand is covered from floor to ceiling with cookbooks—everything from gourmet Jewish food to vegan desserts. Of course, I couldn’t resist—I bought a seafood cookbook titled Fish: Recipes from the Sea. I justified this purchase by telling myself that I need to start eating more fish. Perhaps reading all these cookbooks had made me hungry, because breakfast had worn off. I grabbed a street dog from a cart on Broadway and East 13th Street—a guilty pleasure I enjoy every time I visit New York.

©2015 Chris Terrell
Probably not the best choice for dinner before the theater.
Saturday night was the highlight of the trip—Cabaret—my favorite musical of all time. But first things first: dinner. Finding a good restaurant for the theater can be challenging. The theater district is not known for its restaurants and many of its offerings are tourist traps or “institutions” well past their prime. One exception is Esca, which specializes in Italian seafood. (Esca is Italian for “bait.”) It was started in 2000 by Dave Pasternack, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich. The food is fresh and perfectly cooked, with an excellent wine list. The atmosphere is relaxed, yet elegant, and the service friendly and attentive. 

The next morning, breakfast consisted of a croissant, Starbucks, and the Sunday New York Times. Our plan was to see the Matisse Cut-outs at MoMA and have lunch at the Modern, but unfortunately the Modern is closed on Sundays. Instead, we went to what is becoming my New York “standby:” Brasserie, located in the iconic Seagram Building. 

©2015 Chris Terrell
Now that's a burger!
We were seated about five minutes before noon, and I ordered my usual Bombay Sapphire martini, straight up with a twist without any thought about the time. Our server then told me rather politely, that they couldn’t serve alcohol before noon. Really!? I expected this kind of treatment in Alabama but not the city that never sleeps! I’m not sure if this made me feel better about Alabama or worse about New York City. No bother, as it was noon by the time the drink made it to my table—no harm, no foul. Brasserie makes a damn good burger, which is what I got. They also make about the biggest burger I’ve ever seen!

It was during this trip to Brasserie that I noticed an unusual architectural feature. About halfway through martini #2, I noticed that the floor seemed to slant downward from the back of the restaurant to the front. "Wow," I thought, "these are strong martinis!" Laura had not said anything, so I figured it was just gin. But after several minutes of examining the restaurant from different areas of the dining room, I became convinced that there was a slight list of 3 or 4 degrees. I finally got the courage to ask our server, who confirmed this quirk. (Last time, we sat in the back at the “high end” so this slant was not as noticeable.) Maybe the thought is to keep the drunks walking in a straight line after happy hour. 

After MoMA and a quick rest at the hotel, it was off to the airport to return home. I got home rather late and hungry, so dinner consisted of a grilled cheese sandwich. It was a fun weekend, though without my usual NYC gastronomic adventures, but then again, must it always?  I’ve visited New York enough now that I don’t feel compelled to eat fancy meals 24-7 when I'm there. I mean, even Alice Waters probably eats a hot dog from time to time, right? Sure she does. So long as it is locally sourced!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cook Like a Cook

How does one learn to cook? In the past, such skills were handed down from grandmother, to mother, to daughter. And the skills were based on cooking limited, traditional, and highly local ingredients. Of course, there weren’t a lot of us dudes cooking back then and the highfaluting probably didn’t even know where the kitchen was. 

Fast forward about two or three hundred years, and we arrive in the post-war baby boom. In America, at least, this means frozen foods, fast food, cake mixes, Jell-O, and microwave ovens. By this time, no one knows how to cook real food. Fast forward another twenty or thirty years and the Food Network arrives on the scene, with gastronomic gladiatorial contests like Iron Chef America, Chopped, and Cutthroat Kitchen. And so it seems that everyone in America is cooking again. But are they really? Everyone seems more interested in food, and folks seem to be reading more foodie magazines, going out to eat, and buying cookbooks (I own 33 myself), but are people cooking more? I’m not so sure.

Cooking is more than following a recipe, though there’s nothing wrong with that. I try new recipes from cookbooks all the time. After all, I don’t walk around with the recipe to Lobster Thermidor in my head. Same with baking, which is more like science and requires precise adherence to the dictates of a recipe. But for every day, run-of-the-mill faire, you really don’t need a recipe. In fact, it simply gets in the way. All you need are some basic skills and common sense. And besides, just because you’re cooking “everyday faire” doesn’t mean it can’t be good, so long as you follow a few basic “rules.”

Rule #1: Salt (especially) and pepper are your friends. Ask any chef and he or she will tell you that if they had only one “spice” to take with them to a deserted island, it would be salt. 

Rule #2: More mistakes are made by trying to cook things too quickly than anything else. Take your time. Cranking the oven up to 450 degrees so you can shave a few minutes off the pot roast may shave a few minutes off the cooking time, but it’s not going to make a better pot roast.

Rule #3: Know how to make a salad dressing and throw away any bottled salad dressings you have in your fridge. Vinaigrette is so simple and easy to make, and goes so well over a bowl of simple greens, why would you waste $3.59 on something made in a factory in Toledo, Ohio?

Rule #4: Make soup. It freezes well, and is a great way to clean out the fridge.

Rule #5: Learn how to scramble eggs or make an omelet—there’s a reason Julia Child did a whole episode on this: Julia's Scrambled Eggs

Rule #6: Learn how to roast a chicken. It’s inexpensive; it’s good; and you can use what's left for stock (see rule #4). Here’s how Julia does it:Julia Roasts a Chicken

Rule #6: Learn how to make pan sauces, but keep in mind that everyone makes ‘em different. Nevertheless, here’s a video that covers the various ways to make one: Aussie Makes a Pan Sauce 

Rule #7: Don’t be afraid to use butter. Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that butter is bad.

Rule #8: Have one good, simple desert recipe that you can make in a pinch.

Rule #9: Everyone likes good bread. Everyone.

Rule #10: Never apologize.


That’s it folks. All you need to know in order to be a cook, rather than a heater-of-frozen-stuff.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Luck and Money

©2015 Chris Terrell
Luck and Money!
A new year has arrived, and we will spend the next 40 weeks trying to shed the weight we gained during the previous 40 days. But before we hit the treadmill, there's one last food tradition left: black-eyed peas and collards. 

In the South, it is traditional to eat black-eyed peas and collards on New Year's day for luck (the peas) and money (greens). The green color of collards represents money--that's pretty obvious. What's perhaps less so is why black-eyed peas represent luck. One story is that during his infamous march to the sea in Georgia, General Sherman didn't burn the fields planted with black-eyed peas, thinking they were animal feed. Because of the black-eyed peas Sherman spared, many Georgians avoided starvation and ever since the blacked-eyed pea has been considered to bring good luck. 

Black-eyed peas are not just for New Year's Day. I grew up eating them on a regular basis. In my family, we served them with chopped onion and ketchup. 

I've always made my black-eyed peas separate from the collards, cooking the peas slowly over low heat with butter, onion, and a ham hock or bacon. This year, however, I tried something new—a recipe by Raleigh, North Carolina, Chef Ashley Christensen. In her recipe, she combines black-eyed peas and collard greens, appropriately naming it Luck and Money. John T. Edge, named it one of his favorite recipes in a recent issue of Garden & Gun. Here's the recipe, though I added bacon to mine:

Luck and Money
Chef Ashley Christensen, Raleigh, NC


About 6-8 servings

¼ cup canola oil
1 yellow onion, minced
2 lbs. collard greens, stemmed and chopped*
1 tsp. red pepper flakes, toasted (Toast the pepper flakes in a dry sauté pan over medium heat, tossing constantly until they become aromatic.)
½ cup white wine
2 cups cooked peas (Use your favorite field pea.)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. roasted garlic butter**
sea salt to taste
fresh cracked pepper to taste

Warm canola oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Next, add onion and cook until translucent. Add chopped greens, and stir to mix with onion and oil. Season lightly with sea salt and toasted pepper flakes. Stir for 2 minutes to allow the seasoning to permeate the ingredients. Add white wine, and cook the contents of the pot (still over medium heat), stirring every few minutes. Cook until tender, about 30-40 minutes.

Once greens are tender, stir in cooked peas and cider vinegar. Bring to a simmer and season with roasted garlic butter, sea salt, and cracked pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 more minutes, allowing all of the ingredients to incorporate.

*Stems in greens are a matter of preference. I like them both ways, but I also love to pickle the stems separately for garnishing deviled eggs, or Bloody Marys…anything that likes a pickle.


**Roasted garlic butter is made by mixing soft, roasted garlic cloves into soft butter in a ratio of 1:8, so 1 tablespoon of roasted garlic to 1 stick of butter. It’s great for finishing sauces and vegetables. If you prefer, you may just use plain butter. If using plain butter, add a couple of cloves of crushed fresh garlic in with the onion.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Don't Forget the Fruitcake!

Around the holidays, I try to remember the less fortunate. I get toys for the angel tree at work. I put money in the Salvation Army kettles at the Piggly Wiggly. I buy a fruitcake. 

You know, that multi-colored, dusty brick sitting alone and and ignored? (I don’t think a new fruitcake has been made since 1978; they just get passed from family to family, year after year.) Maybe it’s Christmas, but I tend to get sentimental at this time of year, and I’ve always felt a bit sorry for fruitcake. Let’s face it: fruitcake has to be the most maligned and ridiculed food in the Western world.

A few years ago—I don’t remember when or where—I had a bite of fruitcake and realized that I actually liked it. So now, I’ve taken up the cause, and I buy one every Christmas. But like the ones my mom bought, mine go mostly uneaten. One of my boys likes it, and other one hates it. Maybe liking fruitcake is the result of a recessive gene.

Fruitcake shouldn’t be feared. It is nothing more than cake with dried fruit and nuts. So based on that definition, fruitcake has been around a long time. The Romans ate a type of fruitcake that consisted of pomegranate seeds in a barley mash.  From there, it spread to the rest of Europe and then on to Aisle 4 at your local supermarket. 

It is also worth noting that what we as Americans consider fruitcake is much different than the fruitcake from other parts of the globe. The Italian panettone and German stollen are technically fruitcakes, but much more popular and tastier than the US incarnation —kinda like comparing Olive Oyl to Raquel Welch and Marlene Dietrich. I particularly like what they do with fruitcake in the Bahamas. Not only is the cake itself drenched in rum, but so are the ingredients. 

And while I don’t eat fruitcake very often, when I do it’s Claxton. This iconic fruitcake has been made in Claxton, Georgia, for a hundred years. But just because Claxton has been around a long time, doesn’t mean it's not in step with the times. Claxton now makes something called ClaxSnax, which according to the company’s website is “Claxton Fruit Cake by the slice, individually wrapped for freshness.” What’s next ? One hundred calorie “ClaxSnax” packs? (For the record, that would be a piece of fruitcake the size of a quarter—have you read the calorie count on the back of the box?!)

I’ve been told that fruitcake is not that hard to make and can actually be made quite well. The jury is still out on that one and besides, the holidays are nearly done and I’m done with cooking, so maybe next year. Until then, grab a fruitcake from your local grocery store at half-off and scarf down the last few fatty calories before the new year when we all will be forced to hit the gym!