comfort food

Curry Crazy!!



I love curry! My son's father taught me how to make curry as well as other dishes from his home country of Nepal. Over the years, I've taken a few liberties with my curry dishes, adding whatever vegetables I have on hand to round out my meal. Today I got up early and decided to cook a curry for our dinner. I cooked it early so the flavors would have time to marry well. The secret to a great curry is to fry the spices well. I learned this from my mother-in-law. She was so right! Today's curry has eggplant, onion, potatoes, cayenne pepper, green and yellow pepper and chicken. Make sure you have a nice hearty gravy so it will go well with either naan or rice.  


Eggplant Chicken Curry


1 cayenne pepper, diced

1 small green pepper, diced

1 small yellow pepper, diced

2 small Ichiban eggplant, cubed

1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped

4 red potatoes, peeled and diced

4 boneless chicken thighs, cubed

1 tsp salt

1 Tbs curry powder

1 can tomato sauce ( you can substitute tomato soup if you don't have any)

1/2 cup water

1 Tbs canola oil


In a large skillet heat canola oil over medium heat, add peppers, eggplant, onion, potatoes and chicken. Fry with curry powder and salt until vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through, about 5-10 minutes. Add tomato sauce and water to make your gravy and let simmer for about an hour. Serve over rice or with naan. Serves 4-6 people. 

Just Grill This! Sam the Cooking Guy

Sam the Cooking Guy's got a new cookbook, Just Grill This (Wiley, Paperback, 272 pp, April 2011) out just in time for my favorite time of year - grilling season.

Now I know some of you are hardcore and grill outside year-round but I'm just as happy with my indoor grill pan. I just can't get into being bundled up like the Michelin Tire Man to throw my kebabs on the grill.

This is a great little book to have when you're done with the same old, same old recipes.  From the Grilled Bacon & Mashed Potato Pizza to the Grilled Coconut Shrimp, there's a recipe to please just about any palate.

Sam Zien, twelve-time Emmy award winner and host of Sam the Cooking Guy, loads us down with fun, tasty and easy to prepare recipes.

Hop on over to Amazon from my page and check it out!

Pig: King of the Southern Table pork recipes head to tail

James Villas, photo courtesy of Wiley Two of my beloved sayings involve a favorite food source and Southern comfort food -- the humble pig and the fruit of its loins, if you will.

Root hog or die.  This phrase is never far from my mind in times of crisis. Simply put, you must do whatever it takes to survive in this world. 

Take a bite of that barbecue and let me kiss them greasy lips. This quote needs no real explanation other than this: certain foods act as an aphrodisiac.

All this talk of survival and sex is one way of introducing yet another of my favored pastimes - reading cookbooks about foods I adore. While I enjoy beef and chicken, it's the other white meat that I truly enjoy for its versatility and for its long history on spits and grills the world over.

Fellow Southerner James Villas, a culinary expert who was food and wine editor for Town & Country magazine for 27 years, recently published PIG: King of the Southern Table, the complete compendium of pork cookery. 

PIG (Wiley, May 2010, 424 pp, US$34.95) covers the familiar recipes - devoting a lengthy chapter solely to the often controversial preparation of barbecue, its sauces and rubs - as well as the obscure (to some) recipes featuring variety and specialty meat, the polite term for the organ meats and odd bits often deemed unfit for the table. 

In true Southern fashion, Villas, a two-time recipient of James Beard Journalism awards with 15 cookbook titles to his credit, leaves nothing but the squeal uncooked.  He included recipes for Tennis Ball Salad with Salt Pork-Buttermilk Dressing (the precursor to the Iceberg wedge slathered in roquefort dressing), Bacon Waffles, and Carolina Pork and Sweet Potato Pie with Biscuit Batter Crust.

While his recipes were mostly familiar and traditional, the kind of country comfort food you'd find dished up everyday as well as for Sunday dinner, there were a few which I'd never heard of such as the intriguing Texarcana Pork and Bean Pie with Cornpone Topping or the savory  Baked Pork Loin with Fig-Citrus Stuffing.

Villa's recipe for Hog's Head Stew reminded me of New Year's Day when I was 12 and my father insisted I help cook a hog's head as part of the traditional dinner celebrating the first day of the new calendar. Villas  is correct; it is an acquired taste.  

For the uninitiated, the cookbook author includes a Southern Pig Primer: From Head to Tail, with delectable descriptions of the choice parts of the pig and their uses as well as A Southern Pig Glossary, with brief and delicious descriptions of the delicacies prepared from pig.

PIG is more than just a collection of pork recipes; it tells a tale of culture, cuisine and technique through  its memoir-laced introduction and well-versed headnotes. As an added treat, he includes factual tidbits and pig lore, referred to throughout as Pig Pickin's.

Lucy Schaeffer's food photography is a luscious side dish to the main course.

Durham baker brings sweet and savory pies to market

Phoebe Lawless bags up donut muffins

A cake stand held the remains of the day - two rustic pies, one sweet and the other savory - and it wasn't yet 10:30 a.m.

There was roughly an hour and a half left for shoppers at the Durham Farmers' Market and an unlucky few likely had already gone home empty-handed, without the hybrid sugar-frosted "donutmuffins" or savory pies crafted by baker Phoebe Lawless.

Lawless bagged up two of her baked goodies, one buttermilk, the other chocolate, then called out an order for a cappuccino. Freshly brewed espresso permeated the air with a thick earthy aroma and frothy whoosh.

On an unseasonably warm winter morning, a line formed in front of the tented booth for Scratch Seasonal Artisan Baking, where customers patiently waited for some of the best baked goods in the county.

"Everybody loves the donutmuffins," said market manager Erin Kauffman. "I love the red beet pie. It's salted red beets with cheese. It's really good. It's sweet and savory."

Prepared foods and baked goods make up the 25 percent of the market not allocated to farmers.

"Phoebe had a unique product that we didn't have," Kauffman said. "Everything she uses, she sources locally as much as possible. We look very favorably on products using locally sourced ingredients."

Fall and winter menu items rely heavily on root vegetables and greens, featuring such pie fillings as chorizo-sweet potato or garlicky greens with Asiago cheese. When warmer weather prevails, there may be classic pies like local asparagus, bacon and egg, or Shaker lemon pie made with Meyer lemons from L'Hoste Citrus in Louisiana.

Almost entirely locally sourced, her ingredients come from Chapel Hill Creamery, Lindley Mills, Maple View Dairy, Fickle Creek Farm, and Capriotopia Farm, among others.

Lawless, former head pastry chef at Magnolia Grill, didn't invent the donutmuffins, nor does she consider herself a trend setter.

But her pies - and her Community Supported Pies subscription - have created a bit of a cult following. Local foodies began buying them at the Moore Square market in Raleigh where Lawless first started selling. Then on a customer's suggestion, she started a pie subscription - $65 for four weeks. Customers specify sweet or savory, either three small pies or one large, and pick up their orders at the market.

Hot off the shelves

In fact, her subscription was so hot, the demand outpaced her ability to produce pies for pick ups in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. Pie subscriptions now are available only for pick up in Durham.

But soon there will be pie for everyone.

Lawless's baked goods are so well-received, the young entrepreneur plans a spring opening of a Scratch outlet at 111 Orange St. in downtown Durham.

The new retail space will serve an expanded savory menu of her empanadas and hearty pies as well as traditional Italian filled pastries like Stromboli and Tuscan topped flatbreads like schiacciata, which is similar to focacccia.

Lawless didn't pick up a rolling pin as a kid, determined to be a baker.

Originally, she intended to work as a savory cook and attend culinary school. Her boyfriend at the time was Greek and cooked everything on a grill with the bright, joyous flavors of the Mediterranean.

"He really pushed me into food," Lawless said. "He cooked in a way I was never exposed to. It really opened my eyes, really got me curious."

While looking for a position in a local kitchen, she applied for an opening as assistant baker at Magnolia Grill, working with former head baker Wynn Clark. Lawless said Karen and Ben Barker, chef-owners of the new American neighborhood restaurant, encouraged her development as a baker.

Elbow deep in pastry, she discovered her new passion in the tactile nature of baking. She also found pleasure in the science of her craft, solving problems and understanding ratios as well as the balance of flavors.

"It was just my hands and the dough," she said. "There wasn't even a knife separating me from the food."

Karen Barker says Lawless's palate is excellent. Usually savory chefs don't understand pastry, and pastry chefs don't understand savory, she said.

"She is probably one of the more talented bakers to come out of this kitchen," Barker added. "Even if you want to be a savory cook, you need to have baking skills, and a lot of savory cooks don't."

Polenta perfect for cold weather

Polenta and braised chickenCold weather makes me want comfort food.

One of my favorite foods, warming, soothing and satisfying, is polenta.

Today I was wondering what I could cook for dinner that would be wonderful as well as hearty and healthy.  I also wanted a relatively quick meal since my afternoon was busy with work and errands.

Polenta seemed the perfect choice.

A Northern Italian peasant food, polenta reminds me of a Southern staple from my childhood, grits. I loved grits, so polenta with its similar creamy-grainy texture quickly became a favorite.

Ancient origins

The grain dish that would become known as polenta was made from wild grains and later from primitive wheat, faro, millet, spelt or chickpeas.The ground grain was mixed with water to form a paste and then was cooked on a hot stone. This simple meal may have pre-dated leavened bread.

Polenta, or pulmentum as it was known, was the simple and filling fare of the Roman Legions as well as the poor. The Saracens introduced buckwheat to Italy and grano saraceno, with its distinctive flavor, is still popular in Tuscany,

In the 15th or 16th century, maize was brought to Northern Italy from the New World and landlords exploited the new crop forever influencing Italian cuisine.

Making polenta is far easier than it would appear. Traditionally, the dish was made with a round bottom copper pot called Paiolo and required constant stirring and attention. But, soft polenta, achieved with a 3 to 1 ratio of water to polenta, can be made with in a saucepan with occasional stirring with good results.

How to serve polenta

Served simply with grated cheese, polenta can be either a main meal or a side dish.  We enjoy simple braised meats and vegetables with polenta or for meatless meals, we top polenta with sauteed mixed mushrooms. If there are any leftovers, I put them in a rectangular container to mold for later uniform slicing. Sliced polenta is tasty grilled and makes a great side for fish.

Basic polenta recipe

This basic recipe is easy to prepare. For more flavorful polenta, substitute one cup of water for vegetable or chicken stock.


1 cup polenta

3 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stirring constantly, pour in polenta steadily to prevent lumps..While polenta thickens, continue to stir.  Soft polenta is ready when water is absorbed and simmering produces thick bubbles on the surface. The consistency should be loose rather than stiff. Finish by stirring in the butter. Cooking time ranges from 20 to 50 minutes.  Serve immediately in shallow bowls.