Bring on the New Year!

As I look back on a year of transition–which included a new job, settling in to a new home, and the retirement of my husband from military service–I am feeling thankful.  I am lucky to live in a community with so much to offer.  The Triangle has been a fun place to explore.  We’ve discovered some amazing restaurants, great farmer’s markets, and serene places to commune with nature.  With each new experience, I feel more at home.

I have been given the opportunity to explore my love of cooking and photography both professionally and personally, which has been, literally, a dream come true.  This year started with uncertainty, provoked a great deal of anxiety, and is ending with exciting adventures.  Isn’t that what life is all about? Looking back always gives us the perspective and often the 20/20 vision we lacked during the journey.

Here’s to a 2014 full of incredible meals and time spent with those we love!

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The Chef and the Farmer

What do you get when you combine the bounty of Eastern NC farmers and a chef who is passionate about the local foods she grew up on? You get Chef and the Farmer.  This is farm-to-fork cuisine on a whole new level.  It is inventive and sincere, which is exactly what I would say about its chef and owner, Vivian Howard. She is humble and down-to-earth.  She greeted my husband and me with a smile and visited with us at our table for far longer than I ever expected. 

As we discussed the food and the farmers in NC, it struck me that I was talking with someone who is literally using her passion to ignite the fire of farm-to-table eating all the way to the NC coast.  Western NC has enjoyed this movement playing out in its restaurants for quite some time now.  The Triangle is a burgeoning mecca for great food prepared with local ingredients, too.  Eastern NC, or as the locals call it, “Down East,” is a relative newcomer to this movement, but Chef Vivian is ensuring that it grows.   She is even sharing her passion for cooking using local NC ingredients with the nation.  The PBS show, “A Chef’s Life,” takes an honest look at what running a farm-to-fork restaurant in quaint Kinston, NC really looks like. 

The meal my husband and I enjoyed at Chef and the Farmer was perfect from start to finish.  The staff was as warm and generous as Chef Vivian, which leads me to believe they take their mission very seriously.  They, too, are passionate about sharing an amazing dining experience with their guests.  The food was creative and decadent.  It was–well, you’ll see in the photos posted below—a feast for the eyes and the palate.  

I hope you will take the opportunity to visit Chef and the Farmer.  It will be the best foodie decision you have ever made!

Pictured below:

Fried Collards

Pork Belly & Apple Pizza, caramelized onion, apple, pork belly, thyme

Pimp My Grits, shrimp and grits

Candied Yams & Watercress, pecans, bacon, sorghum

Cornmeal Crusted Flounder, cauliflower creamed farro, Tabasco/honey glazed turnips, crispy chicken skin

Sage Brined Bone-In Pork Chop, Italian sausage & butternut squash casserole, candied bell pepper

Cranberry, Eggnog & Orange Parfait, spiced chantilly

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Curry Me Crazy

I love Indian food.  I love Thai food.  Truly, I love any world cuisine that uses the spices we lovingly refer to as “curry.”  Squash is in season, and it just begs to be paired with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and the rest of the gang.  This soup warms your belly and your soul, plus it is vegan so you might even call it…healthy.

This recipe can be made in a Vitamix blender or a food processor, but I generally use an immersion blender.  The key is to blend, blend, blend.  You want the most velvety texture you can get.  The Vitamix is, hands-down, the BEST way to do it…but, I don’t have one…yet.  I am waiting for my blender to die.

The key to a great soup is layering the flavors.  Flat soups are no fun.  Remember to finish with a little garnish, too.  Garnishes can add texture, enhance flavor, and give your soup a WOW factor that will make your family think it’s fine dining.  Most of all, have fun creating!

Until we cook again…

Curry Pumpkin Soup

  • 3 cups roasted pumpkin
  • 2 tbs coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbs minced ginger
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • ¾ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tbs lime juice
  • For garnish: chopped cilantro, roasted pumpkin seeds

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  1. Sauté onion in coconut oil until soft and translucent
  2. Add garlic and ginger, sauté for 2-3 minutes
  3. Add spices and sauté for about 1 minute
  4. Add ½ cup of the vegetable stock to deglaze the pan.  Stir to get the spices incorporated into the stock.  Add the remaining stock.
  5. Add the roasted pumpkin to the pot and stir to incorporate.  Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  6. Turn off heat and use immersion blender to puree mixture completely.
  7. Add lime juice and stir.
  8. Serve with a garnish of chopped cilantro and/or toasted pumpkin seeds.

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Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or pepitas
  • 1 tbs maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/8 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  2. Place seeds in a bowl and add maple syrup.  Stir to coat.
  3. In a small prep bowl mix the spices and the salt.
  4. Sprinkle spice/salt mixture over seeds and mix thoroughly.
  5. Spread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or a Silpat)
  6. Toast in the oven for about 5 minutes.  Watch them carefully as the maple syrup will burn if they toast too long.
  7. Allow to cool in the pan.

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Cranberry Love

This time of year you see them—bags of fresh cranberries in the produce section of the market.  You know them as the main ingredient used to make fresh cranberry relish at Thanksgiving, but have you ever thought beyond that?  Me neither…until now.  I am quite fond of the fresh cranberry these days.  I bought two bags last week in preparation for a recipe I was testing for a friend: pickled cranberries.  Two bags was way too much.  What to do with all those fresh cranberries?  I was inspired by the holiday baking season and created two recipes: Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins and Cranberry Orange Sauce.  So, three recipes later, I am dreaming up new ways to use this once a year ingredient…and I am in love.

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

1 cup flour  (I use Jovial Flour. Check it out http://www.jovialfoods.com/)

1 cup almond meal

1 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup canola oil

2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups fresh cranberries

1 cup turbinado sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Combine flour, almond meal, brown sugar, spices, salt, baking powder, baking soda using a whisk
  • Add canola oil, pumpkin puree, eggs, and vanilla. Completely incorporate all ingredients
  • Fold in the fresh cranberries and mix thoroughly
  • Place paper baking cups in a muffin pan and fill with with the batter (I use a large cookie scoop for the perfect amount)
  • Sprinkle top of batter with turbinado sugar
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes

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Pickled Cranberries

1 bag of fresh cranberries

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon allspice berries

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1 – 2″ cinnamon stick

2 tbs orange zest

  • Combine vinegar and sugar in a saucepan
  • Bring to a simmer and add the cinnamon stick, allspice, and cloves.  Continue simmering for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add cranberries and stir to incorporate.  Continue to simmer until cranberries start to pop, about 4-6 minutes.
  • Add orange zest and remove from heat
  • Pour mixture into a mason jar and seal
  • Allow to cool for about 30 minutes, then place in refrigerator.  Will keep for about 4 weeks refrigerated.

* Makes a great garnish for holiday drinks–especially hard ciders–or paired with a buttery cheese on a cracker!  If you find other inventive ways to use this sweet tart ingredient, please share in the comment section.

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Cranberry Orange Sauce

1 cup fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon orange zest

  • Combine ingredients in a saucepan and place on medium heat
  • Simmer until cranberries pop and become soft (add more water if mixture gets too thick)
  • With the back of a wooden spoon, smash cranberries as the mixture starts to reduce
  • It is done when it is the consistency of a melted jam
  • Place in a small mason jar and refrigerate.  Use within 7-10 days.

*This sauce was created as a topping for orange sorbet but could also be used as a plate garnish for a festive dessert or a topping for ice cream.

Farm to Table

Farm-to-Table.  What does that even mean, you say? Well, it is more than a trend.  It is a way of life–a way of eating–that my family has taken seriously for the last 7 years.  It all started with my first visit to the Onslow County Farmer’s Market near Richlands, NC.  I had been to farmer’s markets before as a child, but this first adult visit sealed the deal.  Those tables filled with beautiful lush greens, crimson red peppers, onions, and plump tomatoes brought me back to my childhood growing up with a huge garden behind our home.  My parents were met with whines and complaints when my presence was requested in the garden.  Despite my protesting, I spent a decent amount of time planting seeds, weeding between the rows, and picking delicious crops such as green beans, squash, potatoes, and strawberries.  Now, I look back fondly on that time.  Funny how we often romanticize our memories, isn’t it?  Because of that experience, I know what a chore it is to grow something–turning the soil, amending the soil, planting, watering, praying for rain, worrying, weeding, harvesting.

I have great respect for people who do this tough work as a means to provide for their family.  I support local farmers because there is an accountability I do not get from selecting my produce at a supermarket.  When I shop at the local farm stand, I get to know the farmers, and they get to know me.  Agriculture on a more corporate level does not provide me with that type of relationship.  I am not anti-supermarket, just pro-choice when it comes to being a consumer.  I vote with my dollars, and my vote will always go to the local farmers for seasonal produce, honey, goat cheese, eggs, and pasture-raised meats.   Likewise, when my family and I dine out at a restaurant, we look for places that support local farms as well.  It isn’t always possible to eat 100% locally, but I like to say “every drop fills the bucket.”  Local farms depend on each dollar I spend with them.  The more I spend, the more they are able to continue providing quality seasonal produce.

I will be adding pages (see the tabs on the top left) with links to my favorite farmer’s markets, vendors, and farm-to-fork restaurants.  Here are a few photos to entice you to visit your local farmer’s market.  Just look at this beautiful abundance!

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Photos taken at the Durham Farmer’s Market, Durham, NC