Friday, November 26, 2010

NEW BERN'S BEAUTIFUL FALL FOLIAGE


We've been residents of New Bern since 1993.  Coming from the mountains of New Jersey, where the fall foliage is spectacular year after year, I missed seeing nature's golds and reds in the changing leaves.  Every autumn made me homesick for New Jersey.  The abundance of pine trees, fewer hardwood trees, and warmer temperatures has made New Bern's fall usually lackluster.  Until this year.  The right combination of rainfall, cool daytime temperatures and cool but not freezing nights has produced a color extravaganza.
Never have I seen such deep hues.  This year, the trees are clothed in fall's splendor as never before.
The colors are so brilliant, they are impossible to ignore.  Each day, as I gaze out my kitchen window, I marvel again at nature's magnificence.  We're unlikely to have a repeat performance, so I've been drinking in all I can before it's gone.

Friday, November 19, 2010

LAWSON'S LANDING RIVERWALK CAFE


If you like Almond Tree CafĂ©, you’ll love their new breakfast and lunch place in the History Education Center   on Front Street, across from the Farmer's Market.  Almond Tree shut down its Middle Street location to move here.  While the food is not upscale gourmet, it is homemade, ingredients are fresh and most folks find it appealing.

Sip on your cappuccino, chai tea or hot chocolate as you look out the large windows onto one of the best water views in the city.   Bring your camera because you may be dining with someone from the 18th century.

Lunch, served 7 days a week, includes wraps or sandwiches that come with chips and homemade black bean hummus as well as your choice of side, and all under $6.50.  Children’s menu, salads, soup, house specials, ice cream by the scoop and desserts are also available.

Three of us ate lunch there recently.  After we placed our orders, a large basket of multi-grain chips and homemade black bean salsa arrived at our table.

I had a chicken salad wrap with a side of mac'n cheese, $6.25.  The chicken salad was not in chunks.  It was done in a machine and was ground finely.  The flavor was good, but I did not like the texture.  It also had a lot of mayo.  The mac'n cheese was very tasty, but sparse on the cheese.


Carole had the Hot Roast Beef sandwich with provolone and onions, served on a roll with dipping sauce, $6.45.  (Should they call this a French dip?)  Carole loved it and said the roll was very fresh and the beef was delicious, and said her side of coleslaw was also very good.  

Rita ordered the Cranberry and Almond Salad (dried cranberries and almonds served over a bed of lettuce with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and cheddar cheese wedges), $5.95.  There were no sides with this and no bread or crackers.  Rita said it was delicious and she enjoyed it.

Breakfast is served starting at 8AM, Monday through Saturday.  You can get five kinds of waffles with fruit or meat for under $5, or scrambled egg, bacon and Swiss on a croissant for $3.99, plus other offerings.  They've got you covered in the beverage department -- coffee, latte, cappuccino, chai tea, hot chocolate, and even espresso are all available.

Hubby and I ate there last week, after we went to the Farmer's Market.  As soon as we entered, we smelled bacon....grease.  Hubby ordered the Belgian Waffle with a sausage patty, $4.25.  We both passed on coffee.
His waffle came stone cold with cold butter mounded on top.  The sausage was cut into 4 pieces and was dry and overcooked.  The sausage tasted as if it had been cooked in bacon grease.
I ordered the Egg Croissant (scrambled egg with bacon, tomato and swiss cheese), $3.99.  But they were out of croissants.  I asked for a sweet potato biscuit, and they hadn't made them yet (It was 9:30 AM).  So I had my scrambled eggs on a plate.  The eggs tasted as if they had been cooked in bacon grease, and I got sick after I ate this.
We complained to the server about the sausage.  Nothing was taken off the bill.  Guess who's not going back?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

FARMER'S MARKET FINDS AND A NEW FISHMONGER


Last Saturday we went to the New Bern Farmer's Market to see what was there.  We found beautiful local pecans for $6/lb., blemish-free sweet potatoes for $.75/lb, pesticide-free eggplant ($.99/lb.), sweet bell peppers (4/$5) and red leaf lettuce $1/small head).

We were thrilled with our finds, and were on our way out when we saw a new concession, Captain Tom's Fresh Seafood.

Bay scallops, frozen cooked whole lobsters, yellowfin tuna, black grouper and trout were all offered at very reasonable prices.
 Tom Smith (252-474-2418), of The Flying Fishermen Seafood Distributors, advised us that all the fishing is done in the ocean.  The Flying Fishermen is in the process of developing a website, and they are aviation based, giving them access to a broader range of seafood.  He then educated us on wild vs. farm-raised seafood, shocking us with the cold fact that 90% of all fish sold in the US is farm raised, even though some of it may be sold and priced as wild.
The Flying Fishermen will soon be selling wild Atlantic salmon.  Tom said the salmon migrate as far south as the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the colder months, where Tom and his fishermen will catch them for sale to local restaurants and to the public.  He says the Atlantic salmon will be 100% wild, never spawned in hatcheries and never corralled in fish farms.  (FYI, farm-raised salmon produces more inflammatory Omega 6's than 3's, making them harmful to your body rather than beneficial.)  Tom said they will also be catching
lobsters as the waters become colder.

As soon as I got home, I did several hours of research on the internet to corroborate Tom's information.  Sadly, I found he was telling us the truth.  Even "wild" salmon sold by stores like Harris Teeter is not truly wild.  The State of Alaska produces mostly farmed or "ranched" salmon.  The ranched salmon is hatched in a controlled environment where the baby fish are vaccinated against diseases and treated with antibiotics when necessary.  They are fed artificial foods until they are released to the "wild" where they are caught.  Technically, they can be called wild, but they are not 100% wild and therefore do not have the health benefits of wild fish.  They may taste good, but the Omega 3 production that you think you are getting is just not there.  
While the semi-wild salmon is leaner and better than the farmed, it's still not the quality it should be.  So I'll be going back to the Farmer's Market to get some fish from Captain Tom's.  He'll be there every Saturday, so here's one concession I am happy to endorse -- no fish from the creeks, no fish from farms or hatcheries, just fresh-caught wild fish.  How great is that?

Monday, November 15, 2010

BABA GHANOUSH -- A GREAT APPETIZER!



It's hard to imagine now, that at my age I had heard of, but never eaten, Baba Ghanoush.   I knew it was a famous Greek dish, but wasn't sure what was in it.  It surely didn't sound like anything I'd be interested in, and it wasn't high on my priority list of things to try.

All that changed when we ate at Chef Pia's Washington restaurant recently.  Pia had a plate of Greek specialties brought to our table, and Baba Ghanoush was on the plate.  "What is it?" I asked her.  She told me it was eggplant, cooked and mashed, then mixed with tahini, garlic and lemon.  Okay, I thought, I like all those ingredients, I'll give it a try.  And just like that I became a devotee of Baba Ghanoush.  I'm buying eggplant all the time now and eating this wonderful dip with whole grain crackers, though at Chef Pia's it was served with crispy pita sticks.  Of course, I'm wondering why I wasted so many years that could have been spent enjoying eggplant in this new way.

One thing I must mention:  eggplant is hard for me to digest because of the seemingly millions of tiny seeds.  I think there are more seeds in eggplant than flesh.  But after I roasted my eggplant, it was easy to separate the seeds and pull them out.  This produced a Baba Ghanoush that was easy to digest and so enjoyable.  It will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks, at least mine did with no trouble.  And now I'm  off to roast another eggplant.

Baba Ghanoush
Adapted from allrecipes.com
Rating:  10 out of 10
Click for Printable Page

INGREDIENTS:
1 eggplant, medium-large
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup tahini (toasted ground sesame seeds)
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1-1/2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Heat oven or gas grill to 400F.  If using oven, place parchment paper on a baking sheet.  Pierce eggplant all around with fork, then place on baking sheet or onto grill over unlit burner.  Cook 30-40 minutes,or till soft, turning occasionally.  Remove from heat and place into large bowl of cold water.  Transfer to cutting board and peel skin off.  Cut eggplant into sections and remove as many of the seeds as you can.  They should peel off in strips.

In work bowl of food processor, combine eggplant pulp, lemon juice, tahini, sesame seeds, and garlic.  Pulse till  smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle with olive oil and pulse again till combined.  Transfer to bowl; refrigerate 3 hours before serving.  Serve with toasted pita bread strips, whole grain crackers or veggies.

Friday, November 12, 2010

GRILLED SPICY CORVINA WITH CHIPOTLE RANCH SAUCE

Sometimes I love living in a small town and sometimes I don't.  The don't is when I go to shop.  How I'd love to be able to shop at Whole Foods, Fresh Market or Trader Joe's on a weekly basis.  New Bern's only salvation is Harris Teeter.  Without Harris Teeter, I'd be totally miserable and wanting to move.  I can find most of what I need there, with only occasional trips to Greenville or Wilmington for certain hard-to-find items.

Take, for instance, Harris Teeter's seafood department.  I can always get decent salmon, or other fish, there.  When it's frozen, Harris Teeter thaws it daily and sells so much of it that you always get a freshly thawed piece.  When it's fresh, the fish moves quickly because of the volume of customers, so it's usually good tasting.  Recently, they had fresh Corvina, from Suriname (a small country bordering the Atlantic Ocean in northern South America).  I had never heard of Corvina, let alone tasted it, but decided to be adventurous.

Corvina, it turns out, is a mild, firm white fish similar to sea bass.  A spicy marinade and sauce gave the fish some flavor, and I found it so enjoyable I actually went to bed thinking about it, how I wanted more of it.
It was quick and easy to prepare -- I just grilled it after a brief marinade.

If you come across Corvina, be sure to try this recipe.  But, if Corvina doesn't show up on your radar screen, you can use any mild white fish  (cod, grouper, tilapia....).  This recipe will not make the fish so hot that your throat will burn.  It will just give you some nice mouth heat, sufficient to wake up the flavors.

Grilled Spicy Corvina with Chipotle Ranch Sauce
Bear Rating:  10 out of 10

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MARINADE:
4 Tbsp. mild olive or vegetable oil
4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1-1/2 tsp. chili powder (I used McCormick Hot Mexican-Style Chili Powder)
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1 garlic clove, minced or grated (about 1/2 tsp.)
1/4 tsp. sea salt

FISH:  1 lb. mild, firm white fish (Corvina, cod, grouper, tilapia.....)


SAUCE:
1/4 cup bottled ranch dressing
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce

In plastic resealable bag, combine all marinade ingredients; seal bag; massage to mix.  Add fish; marinate 1/2 hour or up to 1 hour.  While fish is marinating, prepare sauce.  Combine sauce ingredients in small bowl; refrigerate.

Heat gas grill to medium-hot (about 400F).  Clean grates with brush; oil well with folded paper towel soaked in vegetable oil.  Grill fish 3-4 minutes per side, or till fish flakes easily with fork.  Serve with sauce.

Yield:  2-3 servings  (Note:  Leftovers are delicious cold on a salad or alone, and can also be reheated gently in a small pan.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

PERSIMMONS WATERFRONT RESTAURANT


There is a growing movement throughout the country towards sustainable farming, and East Carolina has been infiltrated.  Rainbow Meadow Farms and Nooherooka Natural, both in Snow Hill, raise grass-fed, antibiotic- and hormone-free livestock.  Besides selling to the public at our local farmer’s market, both farms supply some area restaurants.  One of these restaurants is Persimmons, 100 Pollock Street.  Persimmons also uses local produce when available and wild-caught Alaskan salmon, instead of the farm-raised salmon served in other restaurants.  
What I particularly like about this newcomer is the relaxed boating atmosphere.  Dress to the nines for a special night out or “come as you are.”  Sit outside in the open air, or stay inside.  The menu is reflective of that same casual eclectic philosophy.  Order from the deckside  menu or flip the page and order from the dinner menu.  In other words, have a sandwich or small plate or go for the whole tamale.  And if you’re really not too hungry, you can even order a half salad, which is plenty big.  

The food has an edge.  You’ll start off with a basket of warm rustic rolls served with Pulagra (European) butter.  Tired of the same old salad dressing?  Try Chef Fong’s roasted tomato dressing.  I had a half salad ($3) with salmon ($5.95) and ordered black bean salsa on the side ($3).  The salmon was crunchy, flavorful and cooked perfectly.  
The salsa was served warm and was the best I’ve had anywhere. 
Hubby had Carolina fish and chips ($9.95).


Don’t ignore the burgers here – they’re thick, juicy and flavorful with some new topping combos that will make you sit up and take notice.  On another visit, I had the Bear Burger, topped with Abbyvale cheddar cheese, fried green tomatoes and charred red onions ($8.95).  I chose a house salad for my side, and it was a good size.  Non-adventurous hubby asked for a plain cheeseburger with Yukon Gold fries.  Persimmons didn't have any white American cheese, so hubby settled for the Abbyvale cheddar.  I foresee more return trips to try the crab cake sandwich, beef satay, glazed chicken kabobs….heck, this deckside menu has so many interesting and reasonably priced items, we may never get to the dinner menu.  


Chef Fong, the owner, admits there are some issues to be worked out.  For instance, our burger buns were cold, and Guy’s fried flounder was overcooked and dry.  He’s appreciative of customer feedback, though, and is working to fix his problems.  Prices are very reasonable for the quality of the food, ambiance and view here.  If you eat inside, the restaurant is a bit on the dark side, but there are lots of windows with views of the Neuse.  


For best seating, you should reserve.  Do it online at www.persimmonsrestaurant.com or by phone, 
(252)514-0033.  Persimmons is open for lunch Tuesday – Saturday, 11:00am - 2:30pm.  
Dinner is served Wednesday – Sunday starting at 5:30pm.

Monday, November 1, 2010

CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

Pia's Restaurant has the most wonderful champagne vinaigrette.  I tasted it for the first time earlier this year when we dined at her New Bern restaurant, which, sadly, has closed.  (In its place is Jennifer and Sami's Bella Cucina, a wonderful Italian restaurant.)  So in love with this vinaigrette was I that I tested and tested to get the recipe down (Pia wouldn't give it to me).  We dined at her Washington restaurant recently, where I got to taste the vinaigrette again, this time made by her Washington chef.  His was sweeter, more emulsified and had less parsley.     My version of champagne vinaigrette is closer to Pia's New Bern version -- somewhat emulsified with lots of parsley and just slightly sweet.  
I love that there's lots of parsley in this dressing.  (Just in case you don't know, parsley is very good for you.  It contains vitamins A and C, iron, manganese, calcium, potassium and flavonoids that act as antioxidants.  Raw parsley is also a blood cleanser and helps to keep your blood from being sticky.)  Usually, I grow my own parsley, but this year's crop was disappointing, so I've been buying it.  My preference is for Italian flat-leaf parsley, because it has more flavor than the curly kind.  You can buy it at Wal-Mart for under a dollar a bunch, but I usually buy Harris Teeter's organic parsley.  
I experimented with different vinegars, paying as much as $10.00 a bottle for O citrus flavored champagne vinegar.  I even bought O lemon-infused olive oil.  The O vinegar and oil are both excellent, but I had good results with  HT Trader's white wine vinegar and Colavita extra-virgin olive oil, which are both more reasonably priced.  I'm sure plain champagne vinegar, which goes on sale periodically in Harris Teeter, will also make a great-tasting vinaigrette.  
*If you want to take this dressing to the next level, steep a crushed garlic clove and a thin slice of lemon rind (without the white pith) in 1/4 cup of good olive oil (like Colavita extra-virgin) for a day or two in the fridge; strain, discarding solids, and use some in this dressing.
If someone were to tell me a year ago that I would be almost addicted to a salad dressing that contained more parsley than oil and vinegar, I would't have believed them.  But it's true.  The flavor of this vinaigrette is so outstanding that I can't wait to eat my next salad.  Yes, it's a lot of chopping, but my hubby is keeping the knives sharpened, and I'm getting pretty good at cutting parsley into tiny pieces.  
Judy's Champagne Vinaigrette
Rating:  10 out of 10
PRINTABLE PAGE
INGREDIENTS:  
1 Tbsp. champagne or good-quality white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt (or coarse kosher salt)
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. honey
2-1/2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (I use Colavita)*
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian-leaf parsley, preferably organic
In small bowl, whisk vinegar, salt, mustard and honey till smooth.  Slowly add the oil, continuing to whisk till emulsified.  Stir in parsley.  Pour dressing over salad, toss to combine.  Yield:  enough for one salad.
Alternate method:  Combine chopped parsley with salad ingredients.  Pour dressing over, toss to combine.