Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Bon Appetit, Y'all"

I love free stuff. Most of the time, however, when you score free booty it turns out that it really wasn't worth the effort it took to haul it home. Then you have to find a place to store it while it waits for your next yard sale or it's new life as a re-gifting opportunity. It's the rare occasion when the free object exceeds your wildest expectations and actually allows you to recall with fondness the looks of envy you got when the lovely free object was placed into your greedy hands. Virginia Willis's Bon Appetit, Y'all is just such an object.
Photos by Ellen Silverman

There are, literally hundreds of "Southern" cookbooks out there in the bookshop world. Why add this one to your library? Well, for one reason, it doesn't dumb itself down to reach the widest possible audience. It expects you know that making your own stock will make your dish much more complex than canned stock, that you know what sorghum is and that you know the exquisite flavor that comes from splitting and scraping down a vanilla bean. Virginia knows her stuff, but is also funny as her "$20,000 Rice Pilaf" recipe demonstrates. As she tells it, her efforts at making rice before her time at L'Academie de Cuisine were dismal at best but after a year at school, her rice pilaf sang and the "$20,000 Rice Pilaf" was born (1 year = $20,000.00 tuition). Imagine how much you've saved by letting Virginia do all the work.

You'll have a hard time choosing which recipe to make first. The purely Southern recipes like "Funeral Grits" or "Meme's Fried Chicken and Gravy"? Or how about the classic French recipes like "Coq Au Vin" or "Gratin Dauphinois"? Can't decide? Then maybe you'll be tempted by the fusion of the two in recipes like "Fried Catfish Fingers with Country Remoulade" and "Vidalia Onion Quiche".

What did I make first? Biscuits of course.
Photo by Linda Misenheimer

The best way to test a true Southern cook is to make her biscuits. These are Meme's Biscuits made with buttermilk and butter. They get the lip smacking, finger licking seal of approval, especially when paired with a tasty hunk of good bacon. When I was at the event where Virginia was giving demonstrations I asked her what I should make first. She thought a minute, mentally flipping through the recipes in her head and settled on two, neither which were biscuits. The first was her "Coca Cola-Glazed Baby Back Ribs". Considering how much I love the sweeter sauces out there in the barbecue nation, you'd think I'd whip this right up. However, when you live in Kansas City and pass by at least five barbecue joints on the way to work just as they are just firing up their wood for the day's meat parade, I decided to leave that one for later. Her second suggestion was much more intriguing - "Chicken Saltimbocca with Country Ham". Photo by Linda Misenheimer

Boneless, skinless chicken breast wrapped with fresh sage leaves in a paper thin slice of Prosciutto de Parma. Lightly dust the whole little package in flour and fry in a little bit of oil. I served mine with basic grits accented with a little dry Italian cheese melted in for good measure. Don't be afraid of the saltiness of the ham. It marries well with the mildness of the chicken. You'll have even more depth of flavor with that layer of sage and a generous drizzling of a reduction of wine and Marsala sauce. It's a wonderful dish and one I will be making again.

This cookbook is beautifully done. And while you may see touches of "La Martha" (for whom, as I mentioned above, Virginia worked) in the color palette and the art direction, the main focus is on the food. Absent are the cluttered dressings and props that littered most cookbooks thirty or so years ago. It's clean and sharp and lovely. Both Virginia (who not only cooked the food but styled the photos) and Ellen Silverman (the photographer) take the rule that "You eat with your eyes first" very seriously. There's a simple close up shot of baby back ribs on a cutting board with an Old Hickory knife that makes me want to lick the page. And off to the side, just a little out of focus are two gnawed on ribs...ribs so good that you can't keep the photographer's assistant from eating them. This is a book from a woman who cherishes her very first memories of food. In it, she shares her knowledge, her generosity and her belief that we can all find common ground when we break biscuits together. There's plenty of time before Christmas to get your copies at Tenspeed Press to give as gifts. Just don't forget to get one for yourself!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A contest!

Phriend Phos turned us on to Gnat's Glass, a very cool site! Check it out for a chance to win yourself, and us a prize! Just let them know you were referred by Karmic Kitchen! The contest ends on Halloween, so hurry!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Monday, October 20, 2008

The Mahogany Experiment: When in doubt, add butter.

Who can resist chocolate cake? Not many folks that I know, and that's why I chose the Mahogany Cake recipe from my antique shop find as my first "Lost Recipe Box" cooking challenge. I was also keeping in mind that even food made from a not so great recipe will usually disappear as long as it is presented in dessert form...

Before starting, I did a little research on the recipe. Searching "Mahogany" yielded some interesting results. There was a recipe similar to the one on the card in the NY Times Heritage Cookbook that claims to have originated in 1870, but I found the exact recipe from the card at YumYum, so if you want to see the recipe without having to decipher the spidery handwriting, click away.As you can see above, the first run of this recipe was not awe inspiring. The flavor wasn't exactly overflowing with the chocolate goodness we crave. The "Mahogany Icing" was your basic grainy cocoa and powdered sugar icing. Flat, unappetizing and definitely not attractive. The cake, while somewhat moist, was still very crumbly, falling apart when I tried to slice it. And the raisins and nuts added absolutely nothing to the complexity of flavor (or the ease of slicing!). It needed some serious help, so I called in my culinary muse, the Java Junkie, for a consult. "It needs a major overhaul, and it looks like, well...a giant hockey puck!" I said. "How do we fix it?" She reviewed the original recipe, analyzed the problems, and came up with a few suggestions to improve both the texture and the taste."First we need to change up some of the ingredients. Add a fourth egg, use superfine sugar, substitute half a cup of tapioca starch for half a cup of the cake flour, and eliminate the nuts and raisins." she suggested. "Next, let's address the way the ingredients are combined...let's change the way the ingredients are incorporated thusly - whip the egg yolks and sugar until they double in volume and you can make "ribbons" with the mixture, then add the softened butter (use butter, not margarine), then the dry ingredients, then the milk/cocoa mixture. Fold the egg whites in by hand, being very gentle - the ribbonning is what makes the cake moist, but the way the egg whites are incorporated is what will make it light, like a genoise". "And no tapping the damned pans on the counter to even the batter!"

Having taken care of the cake part, I addressed the other problem..."We have another issue - that icing has got to go" I said, "what's your go to chocolate icing recipe?" "I've got just the thing!" she exclaimed. "Ina Garten's Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. It's divine."
I incorporated all the changes she suggested and as you can see it's much more appealing visually. The texture also improved; moist, with a nice tight crumb. The icing? Well let's just say Paula Deen's got nothing on the Contessa when it comes to butter! That icing is off the charts. The key (besides the pound and a half of butter) is the addition of espresso, and using the best chocolate you can. I used Callebaut but you could try Valrhona or Scharfenberger. It's worth the extra money.

I think that, after the adjustments, the Mahogany Cake is now a real winner. (Smile office-mates, more cake for you!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dennis Quaid Wants Water!

Chef Carlos Fernandez News

We received the following note from our dear boys Chuck & Carlos, bringing us up to date on Chef Carlos' career and current events at the Hi-Life Cafe - sounds pretty exciting!

Hi Friends,

Hope this is finding you all holding tight and breathing through the turmoil around us. Just a short note to fill you in on Hi-Life Cafe news. Chef Carlos is currently in New York City representing the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau as they promote our city as a culinary destination! He is cooking for the national media, so be on the lookout for articles.

Last month Carlos was the Celebrity Chef Chair for the annual March of Dimes event that raised over $136,000!! You can also catch Carlos on the national morning show "Levantate" on Telemundo next Wednesday morning around 8:30 cooking up something fun.

For those of you looking for a great deal (and who isn't) we are participating in Dine Out Ft. Lauderdale through the second week of November. We are featuring a three course dinner for $35, featuring our twelve-hour braised short ribs, Hawaiian Butterfish and much more. Check out our website for the full menu. And be on the lookout for a special Halloween Dinner that we will be offering at the end of the month.

We thank you for your continued support as we begin our 14th year of business and hope to see you at Hi-Life Cafe very soon!

Hi-Life Cafe

If any of our readers are in the Ft. Lauderdale area, be sure to stop in and have a fabulous meal with our boys!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tony & Ted - No Reservations!

As you'd expect from an Anthony Bourdain vehicle, opinions fly and no topic is off limits as Tony hosts a no-holds-barred dinner with four featured guests. Joining Tony around the table are celebrated writer Bill Buford, "Nightlife Queen of New York" Amy Sacco, TV personality Ted Allen, and gossip columnist Chris Wilson. They'll debate the ethics of an $1,800 dinner, and Tony will reveal how he always, secretly hopes the waiters like him. Food and travel stories will run wild from Wylie Defresne's restaurant wd~50 in New York City. Anything goes "At The Table With Anthony Bourdain." Tune in Monday, October 20, at 10 p.m. ET!

From "The Travel Channel" 10/14/08

Thanks, Eggy!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Will you be watching what happens?

Top Chef NY premieres Wednesday, November 12 - Will you be watching?

Will you be tuning in to Top Chef NY?
Absolutely! I'm a Top Chef crack monkey!
Maybe, if I don't have something else to do...
That crap?? No way!!!
Free polls from

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Can Toby (who??) Young fill Ted's Allen's shoes?

The Troll's query got us to wondering - just who is this person taking Ted Allen's place on Top Chef N.Y.? We're not familiar with Toby Young - in fact, we'd never really heard of him until he was announced as being Ted's replacement. We can only go on what we've read, most of which is a bit vague when it comes to Young's culinary qualifications that seem to be limited to his involvement on an amateur television cooking competition, and a failed attempt at being a restaurant critic.

According to NNDB, "Toby Young's two-pronged claim to fame is having been fired from nearly every newspaper or magazine he's worked for, and having largely nothing to say except blather about himself. In 1995 Conde Nast, Inc. lured Toby with $10,000 to New York for one month. That one month extended to a two and a half year career at Vanity Fair; Young wrote 3,000 words, for which he was paid $85,000 (roughly $28per word). Nice work if you can get it.

The London-based Private Eye satire magazine sums him up as a poser, quoting a (fictitious) woman meeting him at a party: "So you're the Toby Young you write so much about..."

We also found smackerels in The Independent, and The Guardian.

But don't just take the word of journalists, here's an article from the Spectator U.K. about Toby's "issues", written by Toby himself. Not enough? How about a visit to his personal shrine uh-er we meant website...

And if you still have any doubt that Mr. Young is qualified to step into Ted Allen shoes, just read his rave review of "The Cheesecake Factory" in Slate Magazine.

We're hoping it's all hype...that's he's really more than a legend in his own mind. But just in case, say a little prayer for the cheftestants, and keep your fingers crossed for a Cobb Salad challenge...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Colorado, Ohio Bring It To Top NYC!

When the fifth season of Top Chef airs later this year, it'll have a decidedly "Front Range" flavor. Not one but two Colorado (home of the Java Junkie!) chefs have made the final cut!Hosea Rosenberg, originally from Taos, New Mexico, realized that he wanted to be a professional chef while attending the University of Colorado for his Bachelors of Science in Engineering Physics. After graduation, he began to devote his time and career to conquering his goal. Past positions include cooking for Wolfgang Puck, Kevin Taylor and Sean Yontz, as well as serving as the chef of Dandelion Restaurant and Triana Restaurant in Boulder. He is currently the chef of Jax Fish House in Boulder, CO.Melissa Harrison was born in Maryland and raised on a horse farm. Melissa spent her youth surrounded by farm fresh produce and livestock. Her upbringing influenced her love of food and cooking from an early age. After receiving her culinary degree from Baltimore International College, Melissa relocated to Boulder, Colorado where she currently serves as a Sous Chef at Centro Latin Kitchen and Refreshment Palace. Dedicated to creating soulful Latin America cuisine, her favorite part of cooking is making people happy. Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace has garnered numerous accolades including “Denver’s 10 Best New Restaurants” and “Denver’s Best Restaurants.”Our good friend and faithful reader, the illustrious Eggy reports that she too has a homie in the competition! Chef Lauren Hope works as the Chef Tournant at Jag's Steak and Seafood, the most luxurious and contemporary steakhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio. Sparked by an Easy Bake Oven as a little girl, Lauren's passion for pastry and the culinary arts bloomed throughout her childhood and into her current career. While attending the prestigious CIA in Hyde Park, New York, Lauren met her husband, a USMA cadet. Together they have traveled the country, influencing Lauren's eclectic and free-form culinary style.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

No invite required, y'all!

As a rule, when you see a cloud of blue smoke hanging thickly over Kansas City it means that the tailgating faithful have gathered for a Chiefs home game. However since it's a beautiful Saturday in October, it can only mean one thing.You can smell the aroma before you even park your car. There's a whole lot of meat cooking low and slow.The American Royal Barbecue is the largest barbecue contest in the US. Over 500 teams compete in several categories. Friday night is the beginning of the cooking and the party. Because of Health Department regulations, teams cannot sell their offerings to the general public. Instead they hold "private parties" and give tickets to friends, family and sponsors. If you're a meatatarian, you learn very quickly to make friends with one of the bigger teams. And may I just say these people are very dedicated to their "sport"...and also very clever.You know it's a big contest when they keep their supplies in a semi and use a pallet truck to move them.That's because there's some huge grills out there that need charcoal.Don't forget the meat!
And where does all of this hard work end up?Why, in a styrofoam clamshell, of course - so that......the folks hidden behind the curtains can eat and judge your food. If you do well in all four categories of meat (Brisket, Pork Ribs, Pork and Chicken) you can be eligible for the Grand Champion Prize of a Trophy, a Kingfisher Kooker and $12,500 and an automatic invitation to the contest for the next five years. Of course that's only for the KC Masterpiece Invitational, to which only Grand Champions are invited. There's also an open contest with a lot more contestants. It all adds up to a whole lot of meat.

Not into ribs or brisket?These two Canadian women DROVE all the way from British Columbia just for this event. They had already eaten their way through their meat options and were having dessert - a little something called an Elephant Ear. And trust me, the picture does do the size of this thing justice. It's a huge piece of deep fat fried dough smothered with cherry topping. They let me have a nibble and it was quite tasty. I think I'd need more than one other person to help me eat it though. I tip my hat to these ladies; they are truly in the Padma Laksmi class of eaters.

Some of the best food I had for the day had nothing to do with barbecue at all, but was by one of the food demo chefs. Meet Virginia Willis.She is seen here demonstrating a very yummy black eyed pea salad. Virginia is based in Atlanta, and is officially the second person I know who actually keeps chickens within city limits. She is, however, the first I know to name her chickens after female country singers. You can guess who the deep breasted chicken is named for.

Now it's important to pay attention at these food demos because you never know when your attention to detail will pay off in, oh say... a free cookbook!Virginia kindly signs my prize. You can expect a Karmic Kitchen review of her cookbook "Bon Appetit, Y'all" in the coming weeks, but in the meantime visit her website for a selection of recipes from her cookbook. This woman makes a mean Steak Salad, y'all!

If you are serious about your barbecue skills or would just like watch masters at work then make plans to spend the first weekend of next October in Kansas City and visit the American Royal Barbecue. You won't be disappointed.
Gratuitous photo of beautiful horse with better hair than most women I know.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


For those of you not familiar with Cypress Grove Chevre, it is one of American's leading makers of artisanal cheese. And this is one of their creations - Humboldt Fog...The namesake of the morning mist that rises from the ocean in Humboldt County, Northern California and a little bit of heaven to eat, with the wonderful clean, lemony taste characteristic of a great goat's milk cheese. The center vein and outer rind of ash make it easily identifiable, and the riper this cheese gets, the more complex, pungent and complex the flavors. This cheese is wonderful with mushrooms, walnuts, apples and pears, and it's particularly good with pate. It's also great served with Prosecco.

The Humboldt Fog, long on my list of favorite cheeses, has now been joined by Cypress Grove's newest offering, Truffle Tremor.This soft-ripened goat milk cheese contains (seriously generous!) bits of truffle that infuse the cheese with a unique, earthy flavor. I'm still in the exploration stage on this one, but I whipped some into my mashed potatoes and it was amazing! I think it would also be the perfect addition for an over the top truffle mac & cheese..

Both of these cheeses, along with other Cypress Grove offerings, are now being stocked on a regular basis at Whole Foods Markets.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Check out...

The squirrely side of Project Runway with Big Shamu...