Tag Archives: North Carolina

Swansboro, Beaufort & Ocracoke: A Quick Trip on the N.C. Coast

19 Mar

Last weekend we headed out to the beach for a quick trip. We spent the first night with the BF’s parents at their place just off Emerald Isle. If you’re ever in Swansboro, North Carolina, check out the Bogue House for lunch – classic North Carolina BBQ, hushpuppies, and more. And then hit up Trattoria for dinner – the pizza and the calzones are all good, but make sure you get the garlic knots too.

The next day we stopped in Beaufort to meet some friends for lunch at the Front Street Grill, which was delicious. They also have a great view of the harbor, which was nice on the first warm, sunny weekend of spring. After lunch, we walked around the Old Burying Ground, which was fascinating. They have graves dating back to the early 18th century. We noticed some markers with the names of really old Beaufort families, whose surnames matched some of the street names in the downtown area. There were a few Confederate Army markers too. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures, and they don’t have a website, but you can see some images here. Before parting ways, we recommended that our friends have brunch the next morning at Beaufort Grocery. It’s a little pricey, but really good. And don’t forget – in North Carolina, it’s pronounced BO-fert.

We took the afternoon ferry to Ocracoke Island, where we stayed at Edward’s, our usual place. Their rooms are simple, clean, cute, and cheap. After dumping our stuff, we walked over to Dajio. It’s not our usual place because they were still closed so early in the season, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Dajio was amazing! I had eggplant napoleon made of layers of eggplant, roasted red and yellow peppers, and ravioli filled with manchego, all topped with a pesto sauce. Followed with a glass of North Carolina chardonnay, I was a happy camper. And since still nothing was open the next day, we returned for lunch, when I had their delicious grilled cheese made with cheddar, manchego, bacon and green chile chutney. We didn’t do much at Ocracoke since our stay was so short and a huge fog bank rolled in right behind us, but a walk to the lighthouse is usually part of the experience. The next day, we took the ferry back out after some tense waiting – the fog was so thick, they stopped running the ferry. Many visitors were getting pretty antsy, waiting in their cars to see if the ferry would start up again. Though I wouldn’t have been too sad to be stuck for another night, we did eventually get on a ferry over to Cedar Point, only a couple hours behind schedule.

This was definitely a fast trip. The BF and I are weird – we like being in the car, looking at pretty landscapes. So all the driving and ferrying are not objectionable. But for most people, I’d recommend taking a couple more days for this itinerary. Ocracoke alone is worth a week-long super-relaxing stay, preferably complete with beach bikes and a sack of books. And if you have even more time to meander, taking the ferry north through Hatteras and then stopping in Manteo is a great addition. Hopefully this summer we’ll have more coastal trips to post about!

Day Trip to Hillsborough, NC

14 Jan
Stairs to where?

An overgrown path with stairs to nowhere

The BF and I went for a walk in neighboring Hillsborough, North Carolina. The downtown area has all the charm of an old small town, with gorgeous historic houses running off from the main street. I decided that I want to live in a house with a name one day, like the Berry Brick House or the Gattis House we saw. As we walked, the BF spotted an ancient set of stone stairs leading up a hill. When we got the top, I saw this view — a long walkway flanked by overgrown plants ending in another set of ancient stone stairs. It was both incredibly creepy and beautiful walking through there. At the top of the second set of stairs, it at first seemed like nothing was there — just a huge square depression in the ground. Obviously, a house had been there. Considering all the stone and no sign of wood anywhere, probably a fire. Behind thorn bushes and a few spindly trees, we spotted a chimney. And here and there under the grass and leaves, you could spot the edges of the foundation, most of which was still there in a perfect square around the hole. Leaning out over the edge, I realized we were standing on the porch, and it was hollow underneath us.

I can’t decide if I’m more impressed by nature’s resilience, slowly and steadily creeping back in to reclaim the land, or by humanity’s insistence on always leaving a permanent “I was here.”

Filet Mignon with Port-Strawberry Reduction

29 Jun

Alright, so I made this a while back, got lazy about posting it, lost the pictures and thought I’d just wait to post till I made it again, eventually decided I should just post it since strawberries are nearly out of season, and then couldn’t find the recipe. Obviously I simply do not have it all together for strawberries. But I’ll tell you this recipe the best I can remember, and if I ever get around to making it again, I’ll post the pictures and we’ll pretend this never happened.

[UPDATE: I found the pictures! They were on my digital camera. Obvious, right?]

I do remember that the first time I made this, my big mistake was that the reduction took wayyy longer than I thought it would, and the steaks were finished for quite some time before the reduction was presentable. Because a sauce can just sit in the stove and simmer for a while, I recommend going ahead and making the reduction in advance and grilling the steaks when it looks about ready.

Strawberries!

Sliced Strawberries!

In a sauce pot, I heated 1 1/2 cups port wine over medium-low heat. If you’re not picky, you could substitute any red wine, really, preferably on the sweeter side. I added in 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup sliced strawberries (cut to the size you prefer — I like them small), 1 diced shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme. I let this cook down till it was thick like a sauce rather than a runny liquid. It took about half an hour over medium-low heat.

Simmering Strawberries! Sounds like my new curse word.

When it looked about done, I seasoned two small filet mignon steaks (you can use whatever cut you prefer) with salt and pepper and then sent the BF out to the grill to cook them to about medium-rare. When they were finished, we served the steaks with a spoonful of the port-strawberry reduction on top and accompanied with rice pilaf. Very tasty, plus, it gave the rice some flavor as well. The BF was very happily surprised that I served red meat, and I was happy with the fruit reduction served with it!

Filet Mignon with Port Strawberry Reduction

I acknowledge that it looks a little gross like blood. But it’s really tasty, I promise. And I thought even this was a bit watery, but I was hungry and impatient. Simmer it for a long time and it will thicken even more.

We also made this delicious salad with spinach, carrots, strawberries, walnuts, and goat cheese:

Spinach & Strawberry Salad

Bon apetit!

Seasonal Ingredient: Blueberries (mid May – mid July)

26 Jun

Of any one food, blueberries may be the quintessence of summer. With these 95 degree days and Independence Day just around the corner, blueberries and strawberries are where it’s at. All the home magazines profile blueberries for their July issues, and people just go blueberry crazy. I’m not a huge fan of just eating plain blueberries, but I do appreciate a good blueberry cobbler or some such.

And, blueberries are super healthy for you. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, this superfood has a huge amount of antioxidants, which “help to neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules linked to the development of a number of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s.” And they’re low-fat and have a lot of vitamin C and fiber. (The Council website has a bunch of health tips, and even better, tons of blueberry recipes. Check it out!)

Blueberries!And now, so you can impress everyone at your next cocktail party, Blueberry Trivia!

  • While Maine is the leader of lowbush blueberry production in the United States, (and possibly the world, but Wikipedia didn’t seem to be very clear on that), Michigan is the leader of highbush production.
  • Different species of blueberries are found all over the world. North Carolina has pretty good ones.
  • My dad loves blueberries! He has a huge blueberry bush in the backyard, but they’ve already ripened and been picked.
  • Although blueberries are not among the most contaminated and therefore aren’t officially part of the Dirty Dozen, there’s still a lot of question about them. It’s probably best to just buy organic.
  • Sorry, you missed the North Carolina Blueberry Festival, which is held annually in Pender County every June. Don’t worry, more are still to come! The Blueberry Council keeps a list of upcoming blueberry festivals. And if I have any readers up north, happily for you, blueberries and their attendant festivals are still in season for a couple more months.
  • Color layering technology was just being developed when Denise Nickerson, the actress who portrayed Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, needed to be blown up like a blueberry. They were able to turn her face blue, but not her hair.
    • Trivia Bonus: Where Is She Now? Denise Nickerson is an accountant and single mom in Denver, Colorado.

North Carolina’s blueberry season lasts only a couple more weeks. If you can find any left, try out these recipes:

Broccoli Brownies

20 May

Sounds disgusting, right? But much like the spinach cupcakes, they were actually pretty good! Since I committed to creating one meal and one dessert for each seasonal crop in North Carolina this year, I was again at a bit of a loss for broccoli. I Googled “broccoli dessert” and had very little success with fitting results. A search for “Broccoli cake” turned out a little better. My favorite result was this Broccoli Forest Cake, which I may have to try out one day. But from reading the recipes, I wasn’t quite convinced that any of my findings would be sweet enough if I truly focused on the broccoli.  So instead I decided to pull another Jessica Seinfeld and just hide that broccoli in a delicious dessert. Brownies it is.

Fresh Broccoli

I started off by pureeing fresh broccoli florets in my food processor (best kitchen purchase EVER). It resulted in a consistency kind of between powder and sand. I pureed enough to make 3/4 to 1 cup broccoli and set it aside. I preheated the oven to 350 F and got to work on my batter.

About to get processed

In a large bowl, I whisked together the dry ingredients: 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Dry Ingredients

In a separate bowl, I combined 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. I stirred it by hand till it was just blended.

Ew, Wet Ingredients

Then I slowly added the wet mixture to the dry mixture, stirring by hand till it was just blended. Last, I stirred in the chopped broccoli and 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips.

Broccoli & Chocolate

Broccoli Brownie Batter

I greased an 8×8 pan and poured the batter in evenly. I baked the brownies for about 25-30 minutes. When you poke it, the brownies should indent just slightly. I let it cool in the pan before I cut it into slices.

Broccoli Brownies

How Sue Sees It:

  • Since the broccoli was pureed super fine, these look like normal brownies. You can’t see any green at all, just chocolate. Perfect!
  • Everyone who actually tasted them really liked them. I’d say about half of my tasters thought they were good and didn’t have any comment at all. The other half thought they were good, but did ask something like, “Hmm… this is good, but what is that?” They couldn’t quite place what they were tasting, but they did like them.
  • For a couple people, including my 16-year-old drama queen of a sister, the thought of broccoli was too much of a barrier. She ate the first half of it just fine and told me it was delicious, but when I told her there was broccoli in there, she refused to eat the rest. My brother was a similar story. I think they were being babies, but it was a good lesson: just don’t mention the broccoli at all.
  • Definitely take the time to completely puree the broccoli. If you don’t have a food processor, go get one. I got mine at Walmart for 30 bucks. The broccoli is pureed so small that you can’t taste or see it. It barely alters the flavor, and it doesn’t affect the texture at all.
  • I thought they were very tasty, especially with the chocolate chips added in for good measure. I just tasted chocolate. But similar to the spinach cupcakes, though they tasted relatively normal, they did have a bit of a funky smell to them. Store them in an airtight container to keep them moist, but open the container and let them air out a bit for a few minutes before you serve them. If someone gets a whiff of these as soon as you open the container, they may not be willing to taste them.
  • A perfect dessert for picky kids and spouses who aren’t getting enough vegetables in their diet!
  • If you would rather incorporate zucchini instead of broccoli, follow the same method, but increase the amount of flour to 1 cup to balance out the extra water content.

Dee Dee’s Broccoli Casserole

8 May

My mom is affectionately known as Aunt Dee Dee or just Dee Dee to all of her nieces and nephews. She is the fun, crazy aunt who not only lets you throw a ball in the house, but is often the one to initiate and participate in said indoors throwing game. I was jealous of my cousins as a teenager because at that age, I thought my mom was a way cooler aunt than mom. But now I have a little more perspective (and a little less attitude), and I more remember all the fun and crazy projects my mom cooked up over the years, which now loom much larger than the fights and arguments we were having when I was in high school. For example, my Double Dare birthday party was the coolest party of the 4th grade, complete with pie-throwing contests, tricycle races, and a relay race that involved massive amounts of butter, popcorn, Jell-o, and a Slip ‘N’ Slide.

My mom is also a pretty amazing chef, and it’s humbling to think back over the years at how she taught herself new skills in the kitchen. When my siblings were very young (before I was around) and our family didn’t have a lot of money, they ate a lot of casseroles, soups, and one-pot meals. They were classic, homey meals that were cheap and easy to put together, perfect for a mom working crazy hours with 2 small kids. But by the time I came along, my parents were a little more settled. My mom left work to stay at home with us, and our meals became more complex, fresh, and nutritious. By the time my little sisters were in the picture, the family was eating ethnic foods like Indian and Japanese, and our meals had a lot more fresh produce and a lot less cream of mushroom soup.

I think this trend is very interesting from a sociological standpoint, but I also think that from a personal view, I became very used to learning about food and trying new things. Now my mom and I swap ideas for new foods, new recipes, and how to use the massive quantities of rosemary she gets from the rosemary bush in her backyard big enough to hide two toddlers in (speaking from experience). I regularly call her for advice (“Mom, 10 people are showing up for dinner in 20 minutes, and I ran out of ___. What should I do!?” or “Mom, this chicken I just cooked is, like, gray… If I eat it, will it kill me?”), and I give her tips I pick up from health food nuts and farmers’ markets in my more liberal small town. My goal one day is to be able to take a quick glance into a pantry or refrigerator and put together a dinner plan, just like I’ve seen her do a million times. I’m not that comfortable or familiar yet with food, ingredients, and recipes, but I think I’m getting there.

When I was staring at the broccoli – this month’s seasonal produce – and trying to figure out what to do with it, I could not stop thinking about broccoli casserole. This is a huge throwback dish, something my mom made relatively regularly when I was a kid. I loved it so much, I think I even requested it as part of my birthday dinner one year. But as I explained above, our family has trended over time toward more nutritious foods, so this is a dish that my mom no longer makes or eats. It’s very unhealthy, especially since I only want it if she agrees to my request for extra cheese. Every year at Thanksgiving she proposes leaving it out, and every year my siblings, cousins, and I demand that we have it. It’s a Thanksgiving staple that I generally only have once a year. So she agrees to its presence at our Thanksgiving table, but one of us has to make it ourselves. It’s a very simple recipe that can be made in 15 minutes or less. So here it is… Dee Dee’s Broccoli Casserole.

Start with 1 bag frozen broccoli. Thaw it completely (on the counter or in the microwave) and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Spread it in the bottom of a glass casserole dish. Top with a layer of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Broccoli and cheeseSpread a layer of cream of mushroom soup over top the cheese.

Cream of Mushroom SoupAnd now spread another layer of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese. Cover with plastic wrap, cut a slit in the center, and cook it in the microwave on high for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the broccoli is cooked.

More CheeseI hadn’t made this in a long time, but I knew the cheese was the most important part, so I just kept adding some. I wasn’t sure how much was necessary. When I pulled it out of the microwave, it really just looked like a dish of cheese with a few broccoli bumps. I realized I went a little overboard, but obviously it was good because I tried to take a picture a few minutes later, but people were already digging in!

Broccoli Casserole

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Seasonal Ingredient: Broccoli (end of April-May)

2 May

Broccoli is a rather short-lived crop in North Carolina, so when I checked my produce schedule and realized I only had a month to profile these tiny trees, I decided I better get crackin’. I researched broccoli a little bit, and I found out that it is a cruciferous vegetable What does this mean? I have no idea. But I do know that broccoli is super healthy! Check this out:

Broccoli Nutrient Chart

Vitamin C and Vitamin K are off the chart!

I never really thought much about how cooking style affects the nutrients of what you eat. But this is apparently a big deal when it comes to broccoli. Here’s the gist: you shouldn’t boil broccoli because it will lose all its nutrients and basically become pointless. Stir-frying and microwaving are not fantastic options, but aren’t terrible. The best way to prepare broccoli is to steam it. This website gives a lot of information on why this is the case, and why the other methods suck, but that’s the most important part. Read here for basic preparation of broccoli.

a.k.a. Tiny Trees

When I was a kid, I didn’t understand why the standard sitcom punchline for which food kids hate was broccoli. I didn’t think broccoli was so bad. As an adult, I now realize this is because my mom only ever served broccoli completely smothered with cheese. Delicious! I now eat broccoli prepared in more ways than just cheese-drenched, though that is my favorite. Check out there delicious broccoli recipes:

Sorry none of my broccoli recipes are super healthy. But there were just too good to pass up. Okay fine, here’s a healthy recipe for you: Chop up some broccoli, separating the tree part (floret) from the trunk part (stem). Throw the stems into your steamer or steam pot and steam for 2 minutes. Then throw in the florets and steam for 5 more minutes. Serve immediately as is, or garnished with dressing, herbs, or some such. So easy!

Spinach and Salmon Salad

24 Apr

On Friday, the BF and I had the day off, and we took a little time to try to throw together a nice lunch. We wanted something light and healthy because we were anticipating a weekend’s worth of delicious, fatty food, what with Betsy Bundt‘s wedding on Saturday (don’t fret… I’ll have more cupcake and decorating gossip on that later) and Sunday supper with the family. So we hopped on our bikes and rode to Trader Joe’s to pick up some veggies.

Upon our return, the BF fired up the George Foreman and seasoned the salmon with a dusting of chili powder while I assembled the salad. Actually, the truth is, he pretty much did all of it while I moped around the kitchen in a post-exercise, hunger-induced daze. I did, however, manage to make us each a fruit and yogurt parfait for dessert, and then consume every last bit of mine while he made lunch.

In our salad, we had a bed of organic spinach (a seasonal ingredient available in North Carolina March through December!), carrots, walnuts, goat cheese, and croutons. I found that if you scrape the goat cheese with a fork instead of try to cut it with a knife, then nice little crumbs will fall evenly all over the salad, instead of clumping together.

After the BF finished mastering the electric grill (he suggests medium-low heat, about 4-5 minutes on each side), we added a salmon fillet right on top. Carrots + salmon… weird!? But hey, there are no rules in this kitchen. I drizzled mine with some Italian dressing and the BF chose a light cucumber ranch dressing. It was super delicioso!

"Parfaits got layers! Everybody loves parfaits!" Too old? Too lame? Yes.

As I said, for dessert we had a yogurt and fruit parfait, though I had already eaten mine by this point. I mixed 1 part nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt and 1 part store-bought cream cheese fruit dip (to sweeten it a bit — this is dessert, after all) in a small bowl. I filled the bottom of these cute little glasses with grapes, then a spoonful of my yogurt mixture, then blueberries, then yogurt, then mandarin oranges. A small dollop of yogurt on top made it camera-ready.

Healthy Lunch!

How Sue Sees It:

  • I know this recipe is a bit of a scam, since most salad recipes are lame. I mean, does anyone really need a recipe to make a salad? Put vegetables on a plate and top it with salmon. There, you’re done.
  • If you don’t want to buy the fruit dip, you can easily mix your own — my mom, Susie Senior, makes a great one with one part marshmallow creme/fluff and one part strawberry cream cheese. So your overall mixture would be one part marshmallow fluff, one part cream cheese (choose your flavor), and two parts yogurt.

Mostly Organic Spinach Cupcakes

6 Apr

When I first started trying to figure out how to make leafy greens into a dessert, I thought of spinach. If you can make a carrot cake that doesn’t take like vegetables, why not a spinach cake? Thank goodness for the internet, because the only sweet spinach cake I could find was on this great blog about Turkish food. So I found Binnur’s original Spinach Cake (Ispanakli kek) recipe, adjusted it a little, and got to work.

I started with the spinach, which I bought organic since spinach is one of the Dirty Dozen vegetables. I bought 2 5-oz packages organic spinach, snapped the roots off, and pureed it all in the food processor. Side note: this was the first time I ever used a food processor, and it was amazing. I can’t wait to find other things to process.

BeforeAfter
I set the spinach aside so I could start the batter. First I preheated the oven to 375 F. In a large mixing bowl, I blended 3 organic eggs and 2 cups sugar with a hand mixer on low for about a minute. Then I added 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon organic vanilla, and all the spinach and blended until it all incorporated.

IngredientsThen I slowly added 2 1/2 cups flour and 1 tsp baking powder. I blended that for about two minutes longer.

Batter

Cupcake Batter
Then I scooped the batter into paper-lined muffin cups. I popped them into the oven and baked for about 18 minutes, until it passed the toothpick test.

Muffin or Cupcake? Muffcake!

Spinach Cakes

I tasted one and it was actually pretty good! It smelled like spinach but tasted like cake. Though I will say, I kept some plain ones in a sealed plastic container for a couple days, and when I took the lid off, that was some strong spinach smell. I decided it could use some frosting, so I whipped up some vanilla buttercream.

I dropped 1 stick softened organic butter (1/2 cup) into a mixing bowl and blended it with a hand mixer for just 30 seconds or so till it was smooth. Then I added 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar and blended on low until incorporated. Then I added 1 tablespoon organic vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons organic heavy cream. I blended on medium for about 2 minutes. Once it was the perfect texture, I frosted the cupcakes.

Spinach Cupcake!The vanilla buttercream balanced the spinach cake perfectly and made for a pretty light but sweet cake. And unusual too!

How Sue Sees It:
– You could probably serve these without the frosting and call them muffins, but they’re still pretty sweet. And they’re better with the frosting anyway.
– This is a great option for people who need to hide vegetables in food in order to get kids or spouses to eat them, a la Jessica Seinfeld.
– This would also be great to serve for a St. Patrick’s Day party!
– I took them to a party and was very hesitant and almost apologetic about serving spinach cupcakes. I explained what they were, and then went back outside to move my car to a more legal parking spot. By the time I got back 10 minutes later, there were only 3 left! I guess they were good.

Like hotcakes!

Seasonal Ingredient: Leafy Greens (March-December)

5 Apr

Aside from peanuts and sweet potatoes, which grow year-round, pretty much the only seasonal produce in March in North Carolina is leafy greens: lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, cabbage… the list goes on. And the list of nutrients they provide goes on and on too: calcium, fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and E, and more.

Leafy Greens
A lot of people must love leafy greens, because there’s even a Leafy Greens Council! As a kid, I hated leafy greens. Everything from the bland taste and the hard-to-chew texture to the way that no one can eat a salad gracefully, well, just gross. But as an adult, I’ve slowly broadened my tastes. I enjoy a good salad – at first I would only eat iceberg lettuce and cucumbers with ranch dressing (my little sister called me “Plain Salad Girl” for a while), but now I’ve expanded to more variety. And after salads, a whole new world opened up. I still am pretty inexperienced in the wider world of leafy greens, but I am a huge spinach fan. I add spinach to everything — stews, pastas, curries. I love adding it in during the last couple minutes of cooking and watching it shrink down to a fraction of its original size. And I love that it tastes like the dish I added it to instead of like leaves.

The Center for Young Women’s Health reminds us that our bodies need healthy fat in order to absorb all those vitamins, so when you eat them, you should add things like butter, canola oil, olive oil, cheese, or salad dressing. I think I can handle that.

So what are leafy greens?

  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Collard Greens
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard

I’ve never even eaten probably half the things on that list. I probably could not identify half the things on that list. I guess I should research a little.

Time to get crackin’ on my leafy greens recipes. Here’s what I’ve got so far: