Porking Around Wilmington & Chicago…and Ponzu

8 03 2013

Hello My Dear Readers!

Sorry for yet another long pause in the white noise that is my so-called foodie blog.  You probably slept just fine without me.  But here I am, back to annoy you.  While I was away, I wasn’t merely chained to the stove at work like usual; they actually IMG_1677extended my leash and let me go to Chicago for a trade show.  When I returned from freezing my tail off up north, there was a bracing cold 30 mile per hour wind blowing here in coastal North Carolina that seemed to have followed me back from the Windy City.  My apologies to my neighbors.

It seems that March is shaping up to be all about pigs in my corner of the universe.  I’m thinking about bacon, belly, barbeque (which to those of us in this part of NC means pulled pork shoulder or butt with a vinegar sauce), chicharones, lardo, all manner of charcuterie – pretty much anything that comes from our cleft-hooved friends.  So let me share with you some of the porky highlights going on ‘round here.

‘Prince of Pork’ Packs his Pouch:  We got word that Chef Kyle Lee McKnight – most recently manning the stoves at manna in downtown Wilmington – is departing our fair city to run the kitchens of a new venture in Hickory, NC.  Kyle has been dubbed the “Prince of Pork” by locals because of his work with Bev Eggleston to create “outrageously fine swine” including delicious artisan charcuterie crafted by Kyle and made from Iberico hogs (the delicious breed made famous in Spain).  So what happened is that local star chef Keith Rhodes and local food blogger Kyle McKnightextraordinaire Liz Biro planned an event to bid Kyle farewell and this coming Sunday, March 10th, some of us will be enjoying a 10-course tasting menu in his honor featuring – you guessed it – pork!  (If you want to join us, click here to see if tickets are still available.)  We are starting with chicharones and ending with bacon and waffle ice cream – are you jealous yet?  Serious respect amongst industry folks in our town for Kyle…can’t wait to see where his future takes him.

Chocolate Wins (on anything):  On March 4th, the Fire on the Dock battle between Chef Brent Poteat of 22 North on Wrightsville Beach and Chef Pat Greene of Elijah’s downtown featured Heritage Farms Premium Pork.  Though the evening’s victory went to Brent, the diners seemed to really dig Pat’s Seasoned Collard Green Pork Soup with Candied Bacon.  I think the idea of featuring pork in a soup is genius;porksoup it’s certainly not on my Top 10 list of things to make with pork, but the scores were pretty high.  Way to go, Pat!  At the end of the evening, it seems that you get more points with chocolate crème fraiche cake than with pork roulade (didn’t anybody tell Pat that, while not required, dessert has won these battles for many a chef?)  It looked like a tasty battle and I am sorry I missed it.  Perhaps I will see Brent in the final four coming up at the end of the month.

Mangiale il Maiale (Eat the Pig):  I couldn’t help myself, I had to work pork into a cooking class.  So I came up with an ode to Florence, Italy and surrounding countryside for a cooking class I am conducting on March 26th.  I’m calling it Flavors of Florence and I’m serving an anitpasto of Calamari Salad with Basil, Mint, Grape Tomatoes, and Shallots; Spaghetti tossed with a spicy Roasted Red Pepper Sauce; tender Marinated Pork Chops with Red Wine Mushroom Sauce; and simple but stunning individual Puff Pastry Fruit Tarts with Chantilly Cream.

Happy as a Pig in…Wine?:  While in Chicago for a trade show scouting the latest, greatest kitchen tools for our store, I had the opportunity to dine at The Purple Pig, a happening little place on North Michigan Avenue in the heart of the Windy City.  I arrived early, which is to say that there was no line yet, though nearly every seat was full on this Sunday evening.  Since I was alone, they squeezed me into a bar stool at what they call “The Chef’s Counter,” behind which most of the cooking takes place in this pork-centric culinary haven.  Next to me, the Expediter on my side of the counter was in constant eye contact with the Chef de Cuisine who called out near-constant orders to the cooks on the line and tasted nearly everything before sending it out to the diners.  Here, Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. and crew craft some of their own charcuterie and transform all parts of the pig into delicious creations that are carefully prepared and beautifully presented.  It was a friendly place with more than reasonable prices for the quality; my tab for the evening came in under $50 for four courses.  The wine list is extensive and well chosen, hence the color purple in the name on the door.  I was so excited about the cheese and charcuterie course that I failed to snap a photo for you, and the same thing happened with the beets – sorry.  I did, however, sneak one of my neighbor’s marrow bones; I have a tiny twinge of regret for not ordering them myself.  But everything I had was fabulous:  Lingua Agrodolce with Quadrelo (both house made); Salt-Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese and Pistachio Vinaigrette; “JLT,” an open faced sandwich with Pork Jowl, Tomato, dressed Frisée, and a fried Duck Egg; and I stole off into the frigid night with Grandma D’s Chocolate Cake with Almond & Orange Marmaletta.  You must visit this approachable and delicious place when next in Chicago – you will not regret it!

IMG_1689 IMG_1688 IMG_1686 IMG_1685 IMG_1681 I am sure there are more porkified events going on, but that’s what I have to report for now.  So get in the spirit and start porking around – the possibilities are endless!  Here’s a little recipe to get you started.

P.S. The Ponzu keeps in the fridge for a month or so and makes boring Chinese take-out on those busy evenings a whole lot better!

Ponzu-Orange Marinated Pork Tenderloin

2 cups Ponzu Sauce (recipe follows; or use store-bought)

Juice and Zest of 1 large Orange

½ cup Canola or Vegetable Oil

1 Pork Tenderloin, trimmed, silver skin removed

Combine ponzu, oil, juice, and zest in a Ziploc bag.  Add the tenderloin to the marinade, squeeze the air out of the bag, close and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat your grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.  Sear the tenderloin for about 2 minutes per side.  Reduce heat to medium and grill an additional 5 minutes per side.

Remove from heat and tent with foil.  Rest for 5 minutes.  Slice into 1” thick rounds and serve.

Serves 4.

 

Ponzu Sauce

2/3 cup Lemon Juice, more to taste

1/3 cup Lime Juice, more to taste

¼ cup Rice Vinegar

1 cup Soy Sauce

¼ cup Mirin (or 1/4 cup sake and 1 tablespoon sugar)

1 3-inch piece Kelp (konbu)

½ cup (about ¼ ounce) dried Bonito Flakes

Pinch Ground Cayenne Pepper

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight. Strain. Just before using, you might add a small squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice.

Cover and refrigerate.

Makes about 2 ½ cups.

IMG_1693





Wilmington for Foodies: Groceries, Gadgets, and Gurus

27 01 2013

Now, I may be a bit biased in my views, but what I am about to share with you here are some of the best places to shop in Wilmington for foodies like me, plus a couple of folks you should know about who can keep you in the foodie loop.  That I happen to manage one of the stores I recommend may seem like a conflict of interest; since I am not being paid for my opinion, I don’t have any ethical qualms about it.  Chalk it up to confirmation that I love my job!  The opinions herein are strictly those of the author, and you know what they say about opinions.  Don’t take my word for it – visit these stores and judge for yourself.

Groceries:

If you live here, I am sure you are aware that we have an abundance of grocery stores such as Food Lion, Lowes Foods, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, even Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s that both opened last year.  Personally, I need nothing from Trader Joe’s, though I do stop into Whole Foods once every month or so for some bulk goods that I don’t find elsewhere.  Also, their produce is reasonably priced and includes hard-to-find items.  Their cheese selection is possibly the best in town, though it is expensive.  I do most of my standard grocery shopping at Harris Teeter – canned goods, paper products, frozen items, etc.  But the best in local produce at this time of year when the Farmer’s Markets are not operating is at La Huerta, located at 830 S. Kerr Avenue.

LaHuerta1LaHuerta2 LaHuerta3Spanish for “The Garden,” this wonderful place is a haven for delicious, fresh produce.  Also to be found here are some great Mexican-style cheeses, dried chilis and spices, cookies, canned goods, dried beans, and cured meats.  Much of their product comes from North Carolina growers and purveyors, so in many cases you are buying a local product from a local retailer – the ultimate in shopping and eating local.  La Huerta doesn’t have everything – if you want watercress and endive, you are not likely to find them here.  It is, after all, a Hispanic market that caters to the Mexican and Latin-American population of the area.  But a visit here will not disappoint you, and will likely inspire a meal or two as you gaze at all the lovely ingredients.

Among the unexpected treats I found at La Huerta recently were a delicious Oaxacan rope-style cheese  that had the texture of part-skim mozzarella and some lovely side bacon from hogs raised right here in North Carolina.  The cheese was super delicious when I baked it up inside puff pastry pinwheels – it seemed to be more flavorful melted.  The bacon I baked on a sheet pan to render off much of the fat, then dipped the crispy slices in melted chocolate and served it with a red Bordeaux at a wine pairing class last week.  Mm mm mm.  I also found green tomatoes in the dead of winter y’all, and you know what I did with those.  You don’t?  Where you from, Shug?

SaigonMarket1 SaigonMarket2 SaigonMarket3

From La Huerta, you can head up Kerr Avenue toward Market Street and visit Saigon Market & Tatyana’s European Delights in Kerr Station Village.  Saigon Market, 4507 Franklin Ave., is practically a landmark in Wilmington; if you like to cook and you live here for any length of time, someone will send you there for something.  I confess to sending a good many people there when they are in search of obscure or  Asian ingredients.  I personally go there as much for the experience as anything else.  I love to look at all the products, read what I can of the labels that may or may not have an English translation on them, and decide what strange new product I am going to take home to sample.  I haven’t had the privilege of traveling to the Far East, so Saigon Market is as close as I have been to an Asian cultural experience.  Also, they often have delicacies like quail eggs that you can’t find elsewhere in town.  The other eggs, the ones without cartons or labels?  You should really ask about those.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.  I love pork Lumpia (Filipino-style egg rolls) but not the laborious process of making them, so I buy the frozen ones here.  If you need chopsticks, or rice bowls, or those functional little shovel-style soup spoons used in Asian restaurants, they have those too.  Fresh produce is limited to the most common ingredients used in Asian cooking, but it is top notch.  Mung bean sprouts, Napa cabbage, bok choy and much more is cleaned and bagged on the premises, refrigerated and ready for you to use.  Open seven days a week until 7pm, Saigon Market is a feast for your senses!

Walk around the corner from Saigon Market and enter a little corner of Eastern Europe right here in Wilmington.  Tatyana’s boasts an unimaginable assortment of items for such a small space – pickled veggies of all sorts, beverages, candies, cookies, sausages, just about anything you can think of from tatyanasthe old country.  Fresh foods and baked goods are also available. Monday through Saturday 10am to 7pm and Sunday 12-5pm, Tatyana’s is ready to serve you with delectable treats from Russia, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, and beyond.  If you don’t live here, no worries!  Tatyana’s website has a virtual shopping cart – they will ship to your doorstep.

Using La Huerta as our starting point once again, you can head the other way on Kerr Avenue, between Wilshire and Wrightsville Avenues, where you will find Tienda Los Portales.  This supermercado has a bevy of Mexican foods and products.  If you need masa harina for your tamales, LosPortalesSupermercadoor just better prices on grocery items (like crema or tortillas) than you can find elsewhere, give this store a try.  Pick up some fresh-baked cookies and bread, or a piñata to fill with candy for the kids at your next party.  It’s a little bit of home for the Latin Americans in our community, and the rest of us “gringos” are welcome, too.

A few more essential links:

Fresh Bread and Amazing Desserts:  La Gemma Fine Italian Pastries

Hard-to-find cuts of meat, yummy fresh-prepared foods, and much more:  Pine Valley Market

Organics, Vegetarian, and Vegan Specialties:  Tidal Creek Co-Op

Gadgets:

I have to tell you about the store I manage – The Seasoned Gourmet, located at 1930 Eastwood Road.  We don’t carry fresh foods like these other fine establishments; rather, we carry the tools and shelf-stable ingredients you need to cook at home.  We have a large assortment of kitchen tools and gadgets – I’m going to go out on a limb and say perhaps the largest selection in Wilmington.  Cookware, cutlery, bamboo boards and accessories, and bakeware abound in our modest space.  Oils, vinegars, seasonings, and flavorings anchor one section of our space.  We do a brisk gift basket business, and I know they are the best looking gifts in town because I have shopped around.  We hand-tie all of our gorgeous bows, and we build the gifts to your specifications.  Shipping and delivery are no problem.

TSG (598x800)Coffee & wine are a big part of our business, too.  We have a coffee club that is free to join and has been around since our inception in 1994; members enjoy a free pound for every 10 pounds purchased, any coffee combination, any length of time.  We offer fine coffees from Carolina Coffee Company which is roasted right here in Wilmington.  We also have a hand-selected array of boutique and small production wine, about 150 different labels on any given day, ranging from $6.99 to $289 per bottle.

The Seasoned Gourmet boasts an ever-growing assortment of local and regional products, from the iconic Goodness Gracie Heavenly Toffee Cookies to all-natural cookies for your dog from My Porch Dawg.  Mama Lou’s, Off the Hook, Outta the Park, Pluto’s, Bone Doctor’s, and Mother Shuckers are but a few of the sauces on our shelves.  8th Wonder Seasoning, Carolina Candy Company, Salem Baking Company, Polka Dot Bake Shop, Heide’s Homemade Buttermints, Old School Mill, Shirley’s Peanut Brittle & More, Cat Daddy’s, The Peanut Roaster, and Old Log Cabin (Berry Towne Crafts) are but a few of the other local products on our shelves. 

The Cape Fear Food & Wine Club, which meets at The Seasoned Gourmet, offers cooking classes and wine pairing classes to members and their guests.  In addition to store staff, the Club hosts some of the best chefs in Wilmington who offer recipes and instruction culminating in chef-prepared meals.  It’s a chance to get up close and personal with the folks behind the stovesIMG_1342 (478x640) at your favorite restaurants!  The Club is a one-of-a-kind offering in Wilmington, teaching classes in  a kitchen equipped with residential equipment, just like at home.  From hands-on techniques classes (knife skills, soufflés) to demonstration classes with themed dinner menus, the club has something for everyone who enjoys cooking.

We like to say that we are “Wilmington’s Complete Culinary Experience,” and we want every visit to our store to reflect that sentiment.  We have wine and food open for sampling nearly every day, so be sure to ask if you see something you want to taste.  The Seasoned Gourmet takes phone orders for gift baskets and many of our products can be ordered through our website, which is still under construction.

The prices are more than reasonable at all of these places.  I may be a store manager, but I live on a budget like everyone else these days, hence the crappy tree house apartment I complain about often on this blog.  These are the places I shop because they have the best product for the price, and I am all about quality.  I want the best value possible for my hard-earned money.  These stores offer just that.

Gurus:

For the up-to-the-minute scoop on what’s going on in the Wilmington Food Scene, two indispensable resources come to mind. Port City Foodies (@portcityfoodies), a blog hosted by the Star-News and driven largely by a hard-working guy named Paul Stephen (@pauljstephen), definitely has its finger on the pulse of all things food in Wilmington.  Another reliable resource is Liz Biro (@lizbiro, @lizbirofoodtours). This lady knows everyone who’s anyone in food in the Port City and can hook you up with a tour to see the best of the best in action.

That’s it for my insider tips to the best foodie finds in Wilmington for now.  Get out there and Eat Wilmington!





The Rx for Good Eats: A Review

22 07 2012

I have been waiting for James Doss’ new kitchen to heat up ever since I enjoyed his food at Fire on the Dock on April 3rd.  You can’t judge a restaurant solely on the chef’s performance at an event like Competition Dining NC; it’s a tough environment even for the best cooks.  Despite James’ defeat that night, I knew I was going to enjoy his restaurant because the structure of his dishes and the flavor profiles held much promise (that bison short rib was killer, James).  My venture into Rx at the corner of 5th and Castle Street tonight definitely met my expectations.

Since I was dining alone, I opted to sit at the bar – I always feel awkward sitting at a table alone.  The hostesses were friendly and helpful, directing me to the bar.  The lovely and friendly Jane was tending the bar, as well as another young man whose name I did not catch.  There was plenty of staff on duty; perhaps they are still in training.  The menu was one page of delicious options – quite a number of “firsts,” a few “staples” that seem to be core entrées, and a quartet of “mains” that were the features.  There were also five dessert offerings, which appeals to me a lot more the older I get (here’s hoping my waistline doesn’t reflect this inclination too obviously).

I was torn between the Buffalo Pig Ears and the Pork Belly for a first course.  I opted for the latter and am so glad I did.  This was the most luxurious, sumptuous, decadent, sexy thing I have eaten in a while.  A gorgeously seared slab of pork belly coddled between a perfect sunny egg and cheesy grits with some sort of jus or sauce I couldn’t quite identify.  After the first bite it no longer mattered what the sauce was, or where I was, or what my name was, or who might be watching.  I may have visibly swooned.  This is seduction on a plate – or in a bowl, as it were.  I just can’t say enough about it.  I’m a total sucker for seriously good pork fat creations, and for perfectly cooked eggs.  This double whammy blew me away.  Give me a minute to compose myself, if you will.

Alright then, where was I?  Oh yes, the entrée.  I opted for the Sheepshead served with field peas in a tomato-based sauce that was spectacular. The sheepshead (a saltwater fish, for the uninitiated; not a sheep’s head, thank you) was perfectly cooked and seasoned and, as I said, the sauce was wonderful.  I felt the field peas were a bit too al dente – some were downright crunchy.  I ate over half of them anyhow because I had to have more of that sauce they were swimming in.  Another two minutes on the peas and I may have been swooning again, though nothing quite does it like pork fat and chocolate.

Speaking of chocolate, I decided to take a slice of the Dark Chocolate Cheesecake home with me as I could not eat another bite at that moment.  I usually require a sweet bite before retiring to the boudoir for my beauty sleep, so I will be enjoying it shortly.  I am sure it was made in-house (it is lacking the over-the-top touches that are the hallmark of a pastry chef/bakery) and will undoubtedly be delicious.  I wanted to try the ice creams – there was a choice of pear or sweet potato – but I just didn’t have room.  I hope they will have them next time I go back, which I will surely do more than once.

The pear ice cream had the name of two people attached to it, whom I am assuming are cooks at the establishment.  Once of them is Alex; my new downstairs neighbor is named Alex and he works in a restaurant.  I will have to be nosy and ask if by chance it is his name on the pear ice cream at Rx.  If so, maybe he can smuggle some home for me.

I highly recommend a visit to this new addition to the Wilmington dining scene.  As I was leaving with my cheesecake about 7:30pm, things seemed to be picking up.  I heard the dinner service continues until about 10PM, after which the bar menu carries through to nearly 2AM, pig ears included.  If you are a night owl, it seems that Rx will leave the light – and the fryer – on for you.  Rx could be the next favorite after-hours spot for the downtown crowd, including off-duty cooks from other eateries.  That’s where I’d want to eat at 1AM – if I was awake.

O. M. G.

 





BlueWater: A Meal with a View

15 04 2012

4 Marina Street, Wrightsville Bch, NC 28480  (910) 256-8500  ‎bluewaterdining.com

I will confess that BlueWater is one of my favorite places for lunch in mild weather.  I have rarely gone when I couldn’t sit on the patio.  I guess that exposes my true motive: the ambiance.

Owned by a Corporation based elsewhere in NC, this restaurant is local-ish.  The management is pretty stable but the staff has become a revolving door.  This is not an uncommon phenomenon in a college town – they come, they work, they graduate.  But in this case, I happen to think the management may have something to do with it.  They haven’t even retained their best bartenders (who were not college students), usually a more stable position than servers because they tend to earn a bit more.  I’m just sayin’.

This is THE place to see and be seen on Sunday afternoons on Wrightsville Beach.  Their ‘Summer Outdoor Concert Series’ packs people in from 4PM until after 7PM.  I will warn you that it is very loud and hard to navigate the outdoor patio or get any service short of lining up at the bar, so if that’s not your thing go another time.  I went at about 12:30PM today and business was brisk but service was still timely.

BlueWater is definitely aided by their location and outdoor dining venue.  Convenient for tourists and locals alike, their summer business is beyond brisk.  They have a lot of dining space over two floors and the patio, so they also do a good bit of wedding business and group gatherings.  Having recently completed a remodel, it’s a very picturesque venue.  Location, location, location.

I have read some pretty harsh reviews of them on the internet.  I guess I have gone there often enough to know what I like on their menu and what I don’t.  My expectations are also realistic.  This is not fine dining.  Nor, however, are the prices – at least not for lunch.  It ain’t cheap to have nice waterside property nor to maintain it, so I expect to pay a little more for the great atmosphere.  My fish tacos and fries were $9.50 – to me that’s moderate.  It’s casual seaside fare with a little something for everyone.

You want seared, chilled tuna – they have that (and its pretty good).  I’ve had the oysters on the half shell a number of times and was only unhappy with them once.  I generally like the specials, the burgers are good (though they do not grind their own meat and must thoroughly cook the burger per the State health code).  I am a serious fan of the Grilled Fish Tacos – ask for some limes instead of the lemon and they are perfect.  There are other good selections as well.  I stay away from the Calabash-style fried seafood platter – it’s not to my liking (though I did have a great fish and chips one day recently as a special).  The fries, however, are pretty darned good, and the coleslaw is decent also.  My friend likes the rice and beans that are a de rigueur option for sides, but I’m not a fan.

Did I mention that if you have a boat you can float right up to the dock at BlueWater and, at least on weekends, someone will be there to help you tie up?  Well, you can.

I enjoy going to BlueWater, enjoy the ambiance, and used to enjoy speaking to the staff I knew.  Now I don’t know them – none of them were familiar today except the managers.  Maybe my timing was bad and the ‘A’ team only works evenings now.  I can’t say.  I’m sure I’ll go back from time to time for the fish tacos and the view.  Hopefully I’ll see a familiar face.








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