Peaches and Tomatoes: Summer’s Last Gasp

Soon, we’ll be eating our fair share of sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and kale. As we enjoy these fall favorites, we’ll also be reminiscing about the tomatoes, peaches, peppers, and other summer abundance. It always amazes me how the first taste of a season can be wonderful, but by the end of the season, we often tire of those same wonderful flavors. It happens to the best of us. Creativity is the key to eating seasonally!

During my weekly visit to LL Urban Farms, I loaded up on tomatoes and peaches. I knew the peaches would be disappearing from the market soon. We still have some time for the tomatoes, but with temperatures falling into the 50’s at night next week—they won’t be around long.   So, how do I savor these delicacies one more time before they are gone?

When we lived in southern California, one of our favorite spots was San Diego.   In San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, there is a restaurant called La Villa. If you visit San Diego, you must go there. Farm-to-fork is their mission, and they do it well. Their simple Italian recipes will make you weak in the knees. One of my favorite salads there was an heirloom tomato and stone fruit salad with burrata and micro greens. Many of my dishes are an attempt at recreating an amazing dining out experience. I had been thinking about this salad for years!

Using this for inspiration, I threw together some peaches, cherry tomatoes, burrata, and basil from my garden. A little drizzle of balsamic, and the dish was complete. Not exactly the same, yet satisfying. It’s the perfect use of the “last gasp of summer”—which is a phrase my friend, Chana (a.k.a @raleighwhatsup), used to describe the recent hot weather. I couldn’t have said it better. I suppose this last gasp of summer weather and summer bounty will give way to chilly nights and crisp autumn air soon enough. Fall is my favorite season, so I am eagerly awaiting this change. Until then, I plan to get my fill of corn, tomatoes, peppers, and peaches because it’s going to be a long time until we see them at the farmers markets again.

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Plant: Vegan. Vegetarian. Asheville.

Vegetarian. Vegan. Do those words make you shudder? Does the thought of bacon being absent from your diet make you sad? Do you wonder how you would ever get enough to eat were you to convert? I think it is safe to say that many people have had these thoughts—including me. I am not a vegetarian. I am what you might call a flexitarian…although labeling is not something I prefer. Vegetables and grains are the focus of my diet with small portions of pasture-raised meats enjoyed throughout each month. I like bacon, but I love my veggies. I am a sucker for creative vegetable dishes, which is why I love to eat at Plant in Asheville.

We discovered Plant last summer. We were searching for restaurants that we had not previously visited. We wanted to enjoy the summer vegetable bounty in the area, and Plant seemed like the perfect place. It did not disappoint.

Nor did it disappoint during our second recent visit. The space is cozy and casual with an open kitchen. You can see Chef Jason Sellars at work creating dishes that are delectable and satisfying. The menu changes with the seasons to provide customers with the freshest ingredients. The flavor combinations are unexpected and genius.  

Our meal began with the Iron Skillet Olives. Warm marinated olives served in an adorable miniature cast iron skillet. Herbs, orange zest, and salty brine had me wondering, “WHY am I not doing this at home?” It was the perfect start to the meal. Then we split an order of the Baby Bok Choy with Ginger, Mint and Berbere. It literally blew my mind. The flavors were perfect together and really intensified the sweetness of the bok choy. My entrée was the Oyster Mushroom Apricot Adobo, which included a poblano stuffed tamale, sautéed spinach, olives, chil- cilantro mojo, pickled onion, and sour cream. Because they do not serve any animal products, the sour cream was made from non-dairy ingredients—and was amazing! Mark enjoyed the Red Curry Tofu. This dish was a lovely combination of jasmine rice/ kaffir lime cakes, teriyaki bok choy/ Thai basil, galangal-peanut curry, and arugula. Sadly, we were so stuffed after this great meal; we had no room for dessert this time.

Vegetarian. Vegan. I hope you will consider restaurants that use these words in their description.   Don’t be afraid. They are satisfying and delicious. I promise.

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Iron Skillet Olives

Iron Skillet Olives

Baby Boy Choy

Baby Boy Choy

Oyster Mushroom Apricot Adobo

Oyster Mushroom Apricot Adobo

Red Curry Tofu

Red Curry Tofu

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Simple Goodness: Tazza Kitchen

Simple:  Not fussy; the absence of complication; or without unnecessary adornment.  It’s the way I like my food.  The flavors shouldn’t compete. They should mingle together in a collaborative effort to make me say, “Oh, wow…that is really good.”

Every dish placed in front of me at Tazza Kitchen in the Cameron Village area of Raleigh, NC did exactly that.  Nothing fussy.  Nothing complicated—just regional foods prepared creatively and with a focus on flavor. Complementing the amazing food was a staff that worked together like a well-oiled machine.  Their passion for food and knowledge about each dish was welcome and a little surprising considering the restaurant had just opened.  It was a lovely dining experience; one I hope to re-create soon!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with bacon, crumbled egg, and a maple vinaigrette.

Marinara and goat cheese from Prodigal Farm.  The bread had the perfect wood-fired char.

Marinara and goat cheese from Prodigal Farm. The bread had the perfect wood-fired char.

Mixed greens salad with herbs.

Mixed greens salad with herbs.

Garganelli pasta with fennel sausage.  I could eat this DAILY.

Garganelli pasta with fennel sausage. I could eat this DAILY.

White Pizza with béchamel, smoked mozzarella, caramelized onions, and bacon.  A gift from heaven--I am sure of it.

White Pizza with béchamel, smoked mozzarella, caramelized onions, and bacon. A gift from heaven–I am sure of it.

Salted Caramel Gelato with flour less orange and almond cake.  Dessert could not have been more perfect.

Salted Caramel Gelato with flourless orange and almond cake. Dessert could not have been more perfect.

Reduce, reuse, recycle by decorating with wine bottles!

Reduce, reuse, recycle by decorating with wine bottles!

Wonderful, delicious things happen in there.

Wonderful, delicious things happen in there.

The homemade cocktail creations were an excellent start to my meal.

The homemade cocktail creations were an excellent start to my meal.

The spotlights show the way to memorable meal.

The spotlights show the way to a memorable meal.

Go Global

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I love to indulge in local restaurant fare.  I avoid chains and most franchises.  For me, the dining out experience is about finding local one-of-a-kind places with quality menus.  I am a fan of small business.  I vote with my dollars.  My vote will always go to local independent restaurants, especially those owned by immigrants who are kind enough to share their native cuisine with us.

The Raleigh-Durham area is full of global cuisine.  From restaurants to food trucks–we have it all here.  I have always been intrigued by spices and ingredients that were not familiar to me.  I am no Andrew Zimmerman or Anthony Bourdain, but I do consider myself quite adventurous.  Hey, I get one shot at this life as far as I know, and I am going to make sure I taste as much of it as I can!

A recent birthday dinner at Bida Manda, courtesy of a dear friend, gave me an opportunity to visit Laos.  Never mind that it was actually a cold, rainy night in Raleigh.  I my palate was in Laos.  The flavors were similar to Thai, but also reminded me of the many Vietnamese dishes I have enjoyed.  It had a distinct Chinese flare, too.  It was the perfect fusion of the best of Asian cuisine.  The caramelized ginger pork ribs were so tender you could actually eat them with chopsticks and the crispy rice lettuce wraps had me calculating how often I could dine there before I went bankrupt!  The lovely birthday dessert plate included a sweet potato creme brulee.  Now that is fusion at its finest–Laotian and southern North Carolinian.  Well played Chef Lon Bounsanga.

Bida Manda was a journey not just a meal at a restaurant.  I will likely never get to experience Laotian food in its native habitat, so I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to travel there via this memorable meal.

When you get the opportunity to go global…take it.  Your palate deserves a vacation even if your bank account can’t afford a plane ticket.

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A Taste of Carolina

Being a foodie means that I love to explore the culinary gifts of a community.  Eating at local restaurants is the best way to get a feel for the local food scene. The Triangle has an abundance of noteworthy restaurants, which means I have a lengthy list of places to try.  The culinary talent in this area is truly what makes it a great place to live, but then comes the issue of where to go first.  How does one chose? Are there enough days in the year to visit them all? (Cue the anxiety provoking, cliff-hanging music….)

This sent me on a search for the best way to accomplish my mission.  With my sights set on getting to know the booming food scene in Durham, I stumbled upon Taste Carolina.  As I scrolled through the website, I was giddy.  A walking tour of Durham that stops in at five different restaurants?  Samples of food and getting an opportunity to chat with the owners?  Sign me up!!

Our tour guide, Dean, was charming and knowledgeable.  He knows the history of Durham as well as the ins and outs of the culinary delights there.  We stopped at Daisy Cakes first.  Don’t be fooled by the sweet sounding name.  They do savory just as well as they do sweet!  Our next stop was Bull City Burger and Brewery.  Chef and owner, Seth Gross, had me shouting “Amen!” to his sermon on pasture-raised beef.  He also opened my eyes and my palate to beer tasting.

Then it was on to Loaf.  I thought my husband would never leave as owner, Ron Graff, explained the science and physics involved in bread making.  That hearth oven is a bakers dream! I have never tasted a better gougere or pan au chocolat.  Parlour was next on our list.  I love ice cream and the fact that it was December did not deter me from digging in to my sample of apple pie ice cream with caramel sauce.  It was, in a word, divine.

Our last two stops on the tour led us to the American Tobacco Historic District.  At L’Uva Enoteca, we enjoyed a lovely sampling of innovative Italian fare with a glass of sangria.  Then, it was on to Tyler’s Tap Room where Jordan entertained and informed us on the finer points of craft beer making and tasting.

It was a lovely day and a perfect way to get comfortable with all Durham has to offer.  If Durham is not on your list to explore, don’t worry.  Taste Carolina offers tours in other cities as well.  Check out all they have to offer.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Vegetable omelet at Daisy Cakes--savory goodness!

Vegetable omelet at Daisy Cakes–savory goodness!

The oven at Loaf. Magic happens in there.

The oven at Loaf. Magic happens in there.

This sign just screams, "Ice cream here!"

This sign just screams, “Ice cream here!”

Apple pie NEVER tasted this good.  Mmmmmm.

Apple pie NEVER tasted this good. Mmmmmm.

You know you are in Durham when you see this guy.

You know you are in Durham when you see this guy.

I really do love this city.

I really do love this city.

In the heart of the American Tobacco Historic District.

In the heart of the American Tobacco Historic District.

Italian deliciousness at L'Uva Enoteca.  That is a sweet potato jam, which was amazing.

Italian deliciousness at L’Uva Enoteca. That is a sweet potato jam, which was amazing.

Winter nights in the American Tobacco Historic District are quite lovely.

Winter nights in the American Tobacco Historic District are quite lovely.

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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