What's Cooking in Carolina?

Mainly creative menus and recipes (usually healthy) and always from scratch with tips for party planning, theme parties, weddings and decorating tips so you can give swank parties or dinners to delight your guests from a part time caterer, owner/operator of a coming soon Entree Vous, but mainly a cook and eater who grows much of her own food and loves to laugh.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Last weekend, I tried submitting this for hosted by Fiber of 28 Cooks but screwed up by submitting to the wrong address so I am trying again to the home of WHB hosted by the great leader Kalyn of Kalyns Kitchen for the new week. We'll see if I do better and learn some lessons from Kalyn as well!

For this weekend's , well last weeks, I mean, I'm all about capers.

According to The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst:

caper [KAY-per] The flower bud of a bush native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. The small buds are picked, sun-dried and then pickled in a vinegar BRINE. Capers range in size from the petite nonpareil variety from southern France (considered the finest), to those from Italy, which can be as large as the tip of your little finger. There are also the Spanish-imported stemmed caperberries that
are about the size of a cocktail olive. Capers are generally packed in brine but can also be found salted and sold in bulk. Capers should be rinsed before using to remove excess salt. The pungent flavor of capers lends piquancy to many sauces and condiments; they're also used as a garnish for meat and vegetable dishes.

Two of my favorite ways of using them are first in olive tapenade. My recipe is on the website. Swank Recipes I sometimes make it finely ground with black olives only, but lately, I have been mixing good Greek olives with good green olives as well as Manzanella's stuffed with pimentos and grinding them coarse to get a unique flavor with good color and serving them as a side with tuna and pita points. Very good.

My other favorite way to cook them is with Chicken Piccata. This is my recipe:

Chicken Piccata
Serves 4

1 large lemon

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5 to 6 ounces each), tenderloins removed and reserved for another use, fat trimmed, pounded.

Salt and ground black pepper

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons) and 1 small clove garlic, (about 1 teaspoon)

1/4 cup white wine

1 cup homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons drained small capers

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Halve one lemon. Juice the whole lemon to obtain 1/4 cup juice; reserve.

Sprinkle both sides of the cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Measure the flour into a shallow baking dish or pie plate. Working with one cutlet at a time, coat with the flour and shake to remove the excess.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.
Lay half of the chicken cutlets in the skillet. Sauté the cutlets until lightly browned on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the cutlets and cook until the second side is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the cutlets to the plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the now-empty skillet and heat. Add the remaining chicken cutlets and repeat.

Add the shallot to the now-empty skillet and return the skillet to medium heat. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds for shallot then add garlic for about 10 seconds. Add the wine then add the stock, increase the heat to high, and scrape the pan bottom with a wooden spoon or spatula to loosen the browned bits. Simmer until the liquid reduces, about 4 minutes. Add the lemon juice and capers and simmer until the sauce reduces again, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the butter until the butter melts and thickens the sauce. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately. An extra lemon can be sliced and added to the pan with the wine and broth.

We're getting behind and have lots of cooking to do. Enjoy the rest of the beautiful weekend! Cheers

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Weekend at the Beach

I am a bit behind in my blog updating. We took a mini vacation and met a few (18 in total) members of my family in Wrightsville Beach, NC where my brother and his wife were celebrating their 50th Birthday. They rented a house for us all to stay. It was fun. Happy Birthday to Van, Paula and Cindy. I won't tell whether we are older or younger.

Of course you want to know the menu:

For Friday night we had a Mediterranean feat of sort, mainly Greek. We had Souvlaki, Spanikopita, Pita, Hummus, Babaganoush, Tzatziki, olive tapenade, dolmas and a Greek salad, all of which was made in advance, except the Souvlaki which was marinated in advance but cooked on site, the spanikopita was assembled and cooked on site and the salad.

For breakfast Saturday AM we had toast, jelly, bacon and eggs, OJ, coffee and bloody Mary's and Mimosas. For lunch crab and corn chowder, chicken noodle soup, country ham sandwiches, Texas Tortellini, and potato salad, with all but the sandwiches made in advance also. Saturday afternoon we went out on their boat and on the way back in stopped at a water front seafood market and bought dinner.

What we ended up with: crab cakes cooked two ways in an Iron Chef like crab competition , grouper cooked 2 ways: a quick pan sear and breaded nuggets, scallops cooked 2 ways, a quick pan sear and bacon wrapped and grilled, barely grilled tuna au poivre, grilled shrimp and steamed snow crab claws (the only seafood not caught fresh that day). For sides we had marinated cole slaw, another Greek-like salad, veggies and the previously mentioned salads. I didn't get pictures but my nephew did and when he send them, I'll add them. Eleven year old Addie made a giant pound cake that was a huge success. Sunday morning was pancakes, maple syrup and butter, sausages (pork, chicken chipotle and chicken with Thai spices), bacon, toast and homemade jellies from my Mom. For lunch we cooked 2 whole beef tenderloins, fresh Parker House Rolls, baked Potatoes with butter, sour cream, chives and bacon and a salad, tomatoes and a veggie platter. Oh, and I forgot the other cake, a spice
cake with chocolate. Not to mention the wine.........

Did I mention that it was in the seventies all weekend with nights dipping in the fifties? There is wonderful three mile circular walk lined with live oaks and of coarse the beach. Who has time to blog?

We are back and we thought we might have a frost and frantically went out and picked everything. Next, you'll see what we got and what we are doing with it!

If you want to check out recipes, be sure to go to our website at Swank Recipes Until next time, eat well and laugh often, even at the beach!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Muscadine Grapes (The Southern Grape)

Grapes! Well, that's what we do here. We have a small research vineyard tucked away in the hardwood forest of northern Orange county, NC. My husband has been breeding grapes since 1977 when he started on his masters at NCSU. He is privately funded. He has preserved and built upon the genetic foundation set in place by his predecessors as part of a century long quest in North Carolina to breed improved varieties of the native muscadine grape, Vitis rotundifolia Michx. With the progress made thus far, he is optimistic that new, multi-purpose cultivars will soon emerge that retain the heady floral aroma and flavor of the muscadine, yet bear texturally improved, wholly edible seedless berries on disease resistant ornamental vines with uniquely pigmented foliage that erupts into a stunning firestorm of fall colors.

We grow a lot of varieties which are maintained as a gene pool. He is making some crosses for European style wine varieties in cooperation with another individual who grows them out but his primary focus is seedless muscadines.

What is a muscadine, you ask?

mus•ca•dine [MUHS-kuh-dihn]
A woody vine (Vitis rotundifolia) of the southeast United States, bearing a musky grape used to make wine. Also called scuppernong by the locals (which is really a variety).

According to Wikipedia: muscadine

Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia) are a grapevine species native to the present-day southeastern United States that has been extensively cultivated since the 16th Century. They are well adapted to their native warm and humid climate; they need fewer chilling hours than better known varieties and they thrive on summer heat.

Muscadines range from bronze to dark purple to black in color when ripe. Some consider the skins too tough to be edible. To eat the fruit raw, these people bite a small hole in the skin, then suck the thick gelatinous insides into their mouth, taking care to spit out the seeds embedded in it. Though mostly used fresh, muscadines have also been locally used in making home-brewed wine, juice, and jelly.

Although sharing the genus Vitis with the other grapevine species, muscadines belong to a separate subgenus, Muscadinia (the other grapevine species belong to Euvitis), and some have suggested giving it standing as a genus of its own. Some taxonomists have also suggested splitting two additional species off from Vitis rotundifolia: Vitis munsoniana and Vitis popenoei. All have 40 chromosomes, rather than 38, are generally not cross-compatible with other "Vitis" species, and most hybrids between the subgenera are sterile. A few, however, are at least moderately fertile, and have been used in breeding. The cultivar 'Southern Home', released by the University of Florida, contains both muscadine and Euvitis in its background. Unlike most cultivated grapevines, many muscadine cultivars are pistillate, and require a pollenizer to set fruit. A few, however, such as 'Carlos' and 'Noble', are perfect-flowered, and will produce fruit with their own pollen. They may also serve as pollenizers for pistillate cultivars, as well.

Muscadines have also been used for making commercial fine wines and port wines dating back to the 16th Century in and around St. Augustine, Florida. Today, there are vineyards throughout the Southeast vinting muscadine wines ranging from low to high quality. The typical muscadine wine is quite sweet and is therefore oftentimes considered a dessert wine, although some drier varieties exist. The term scuppernong refers to a large bronze type of muscadine originally grown in North Carolina; it is also used in making wine.

While not one of the most widely marketed varietals produced, the visibility of muscadine wine has benefited from the discovery that it provides even greater antioxidant health benefits than many better-known red wines.

What does all of this mean? Well, we have a lot of muscadine grapes out in the vineyard that grow no where else in the world! We actually do have the first seedless muscadine but it is not a marketable product. While it is productive, it is small, inconsistent in size of the cluster and does not have a dry scar. That means when you pull the grape off the cluster, it does not come off clean. In this case, it comes off with a bit of stem. This makes processing difficult. Still, we made raisins and fruit leather out of it.

We also process Noble, a dark variety that holds its color better than most others into jam and leather. We try a few others each year to see how they hold up.

For those who have never had a muscadine, it can be puzzling just how to eat them. Some people eat the skins. Many consider them too tough. All of them have seeds (except ours) and you can either swallow them or spit them out. Many, mostly non-southerners, raised on the mostly tasteless, though seedless Thompson Seedless grape, consider this offensive. Whatever! It would be a more widely accepted product if the skins were edible to all and it was seedless. There are several programs at universities (FL, Miss, GA) aimed at doing this. We are, to the best of my knowledge, the only privately funded effort to produce seedless muscadines in the US.

What you need to know about muscadines: They are healthy, vigorous and highly aromatic. When cutting the grass between the vineyard rows the incredible aroma fills the air announcing the area of the vineyard where they are planted. They have high yields (very productive) and are very disease resistant. They are sold in the fresh market and processed for wine. Most of the wines are sweetened to mask the bitterness that comes from the seeds and skins. They were also recently found to contain higher antioxidant values than any other fruit. Muscadines also contain ellagic acid, a compound thought to inhibit cancer. For more information, read this:Muscadines and Health facts

You can buy capsules that are derived from the skins/seeds in any health food store. Why you would, we do not know, when you can just eat the grapes or natural products made from them. They are very flavorful, highly aromatic and have a wonderful flavor. And before you know it, you'll be able to eat the whole thing! We are optimistic that within a few years a viable seedless muscadine will be commercially available.

What are we doing with them other than eating them and sharing them? We are making jam and leather to keep the skins in the final product.

If you see them, try them, even if you have to spit. Their flavor is like no other grape and within the next few years, you won't even have to spit!

For recipes for Muscadine Grape Jam check out the the recipes of the week on our website. Swank Recipes. Miscellaneous recipes also has the muscadine fruit leather recipe. It's healthy fruit rollups with no added sugar!

This is being submitted to hosted this weekend by Sher of What did you eat? so the whole world will learn about muscadines (well the whole world of wonderful weekend herb bloggers). Cheers!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

NC Wine at the State Fair

Last time I said I would let you know what happened at the competition. So, let's discuss the NC wine. North Carolina has one of the fastest growing wine and vineyard markets in the US. We are now the 10th largest in grape production and 12th largest wine production state in the country and my guess is that we are the fastest growing with 55 bonded wineries as of today. Here is a link to some fast facts: NC Wine facts

There are good and bad things about this growth. First, I think having a local wine industry is a good thing and there will always be a market for good local wine. However, I think that the WORLD wants to be like California and that is a real issue. First, we do not have the soil or climate that they have. We have not had a severe winter (or early frost in the fall or late frost in the spring). We have not had a severe hurricane since the phenomenal growth of the industry (knock on wood). I think it is just a matter of time before some of these loose a lot of crops and go out of business. Everybody grows Chardonnay and Cabernet. It would be nice to have a market centered on something unique to the region. You can not sustain a crop of Zinfandel here. It is unfortunate (I love a big Zin!) but true! So the growers should be growing what grows here well and the researchers should be developing new varieties that grow well here and make good wine! Ha! That's easy for me to say. Hold that thought and we'll come back to it.

Back to the wine tasting. There were 80 wines entered into the amateur competition and 244 wines from 37 wineries entered into the commercial competition. The amateur wines were judged by 6 judges over 1/2 a day and the commercial judges were judged by 9 judges over a day and a half. That's 2 full days of judging, folks!

There are 2 superintendents and several helpers. I am one of the 2 helpers who have been assisting since the competition started seven years ago. It is a lot of work. You have to open all those bottles of wine and get out rented glasses and pour it. It makes a mess. You are on your feet all day long.

However, even though the judges are sitting most of the day they have to taste it all. There were three panels of three judges each which meant each judge tasted at least 81 glasses before the final run-off. It is interesting, because we get to keep up with who is making what and what the wineries are growing and making and what is winning out as the best. It is very informative.

And the winners are....drum roll......

The best of show for the amateur competition was Scott Pearson. He and his wife, Tina Motley Pearson are very dear friends of ours. Scott is an excellent wine maker who makes wine from grapes of vineyards of friends and along with others has grapes shipped in from California. The winner was a Syrah blend. This is the second time Scott has entered a wine into the competition and both times he won Best of Show!Side note: Tina is a potter who has been featured on HGTV. She makes creative whimsical animals. Check out her website: Motley Critters

The Best of Show for the commercial competition was Childress Vineyards Syrah. Childress is one of the newer wineries in NC, owned by NASCAR mogul Richard Childress. His vineyard and winery are north of Charlotte near Lexington, NC. His winemaker is Mark Friszolowski, an award winning winemaker who was previously a wine maker on Long Island. I went to their website http://www.childressvineyards.com/home.asp to look up how to spell his name and learned two things:

I didn't know (imagine that): first, when the wreckage of the Titanic was recovered in 1986, the corks of the still wine bottles had imploded under the ocean pressure, but the majority of the champagne bottles were still intact. Wow! And second, removing a cork requires a pull equivalent of lifting approximately 100 lbs. I know I opened at least 150 bottles of wine over those 2 days. No wonder my hands were red!

If you want to see the entire list of winners, here is the website:

As far a grape growing and which varieties to grow, if you go to the website of the winners, you will learn that my husband, Jeff, is one of the few grape breeders in the world. He makes some wine crosses, trying to breed disease resistance into vinifera but his primary research is breeding seedlessness into muscadines. Since my entire house smells like the essense of grapes at this moment, my next post is going to be on grapes. I didn't get pictures at the wine competition, but these will be pictures of grapes and recipes coming up next! ANd you'll learn something about the southern grape too!

Until then, check out our website for recipes Swank Recipes and drink one on us! Try NC Wine! Cheers!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Pasta and Bean Soup (Pasta E Figioli)

We're going to try to squeeze this into this weekend's , hosted this week by Ruth at Once Upon A Feast. My herb(s) for the weekend are Rosemary and Sage!

We have had a few cool days which really get us into the cool weather food. We had cooked up a batch of white beans to make a white bean and garlic puree to go with the pork chops made earlier and as usual made extra to do something else with TBD. As is turns out, we decided to make Pasta and Bean soup, something akin to Pasta E fagioli. We saute a bit of onions, add a bit of garlic, rosemary and sage and then add homemade chicken broth and pasta. After the pasta is near done, we add the precooked beans. Let it simmer for at least 15 minutes so that the flavors are absorbed and melded, adding more broth if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with generous spoonfuls of just grated parmesan reggiano and crusty bread! Perfect for a cool day lunchtime meal! It would be even easier if you bought precooked beans and canned chicken stock. The whole dish could be ready in less than 30 minutes.

The real recipe is on the website if you want to try it Swank Recipes

Have a great week. We'll fill you in on the NC Wine Competition for the State Fair, in the next few days!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Fall Season Begins in the Kitchen

What been cooking in Carolina this week?

I was food blog hopping, which is a great way to quickly review a lot of blogs and discovered Indira's blog Mahanandi and got inspired made Indian food for dinner. Her recipe that I (kind of) used (well, I didn't have all of the ingredients so like always, I made do) was for Coriander Chutney. The only thing I bought was curry leaves. I started shopping for Murraya koenigii "Curry Leaf" plants and found one in a 2.5" pot for 10.95 plus shipping. If anyone knows of a better deal (in US), please let me know.

So here is what we had for dinner:

Smoked Eggplant with Fresh Herbs {Bharta} from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking
Frozen Spinach with Potatoes {Saag aloo} from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking
Bengal Red Lentils with Spices {Bengali Masar Dal} from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking
Basmati Rice
Coriander Chutney from Mahanandi: Indira's Blog

Yum! I didn't get pictures but there are left overs. If they are picture worthy, I'll add them later.

I had bought some big thick boneless pork chops on sale and were awaiting me to figure out what I wanted to do with them and I remembered how easy it is to bread and grill them. The recipe is on the website Swank Recipes and it is quick and very juicy! We had them with grean beans and white beans cooked with garlic and basil oil. Enjoyed every bite!

We were trying to figure out what would go good with a grits recipe we've been wanting to try and decided on seafood. It's like cornbread, ya know? We think they have a great affininty.

So to the grocery store we went and checked out the seafood. They had a great deal on sea scallops (the cheapest we've have seen in a long time) and shrimp, so we bought them both!

We finally tried the recipe for grits souffle from Magnolia Grill, probably the most celebrated restaurant in NC. Both owners are CIA grads and James Beard award recepients. It is wonderful and we had a version of this at the restaurant and have been thinking about it for awhile. We found the recipe on the net and made our normal modifications (lowering the fat) and added a topping (sauted mushrooms). We served it with Coquilles St Jacque. It was great! The scallops were as tender as could be. Very tasty and airy. For all you non-grits eater who think polenta is a real gourmet treat, this one's for you! I know a French Main dish and a southern side! What is the world coming to?

We're off to the fair for 2 days to judge the wine competition (he-judge, me-volunteer). We'll check back in later!
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