Friday, August 22, 2014

NC Competition Dining : Cook Like a Chef!

Kevin Reddick, the mastermind behind Artisan Restaurant in Winston-Salem, and Chris Russell (aka downtown Greensboro's steakhouse king) of B. Christopher's, put on a fantastic demo at the Got to be NC Competition Dining "Cook Like a Chef" event at the new Belk Home Store on Green Valley Road last Thursday. The store is crisp, clean and welcoming, with large windows to let in the bright sun. Displays are prominent - nothing is crowded, unlike several department stores I've been in. Salespeople are abundant, ready to tell you about the various juicers, chinaware and record players(!). The DJ cranked out some fabulous tunes, putting everyone in a good mood and ready to kick off the weekend.

Chef Sandwich! Me, with Chef Kevin Reddick and Chef Chris Russell. What hunks!
Chef Reddick prepares a Corn Aioli while
Chef Russell looks on!

Earlier this year (April - June), Chefs Reddick and Russell competed in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series - Fire in the Triad (for which yours truly was a Guest Blogger!) Think Iron Chef, but YOU get to be the judge, and the chefs have to use a secret ingredient in each of their 3 courses! It's an absolutely awesome event. While the chefs were preparing their tasty dishes for the Belk shoppers, they told Fire in the Triad "war stories." Chef Reddick regaled us with his Buttered Pecan Syrup adventures, while Chef Russell described his experience cooking with Chestnut Flour for the first time. They made for an entertaining duo, while the fabulous Heidi Billotto played emcee.

Chef Russell's Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
with Orange Cilantro Sauce

As for the food, both chefs presented a Crab Cake, and it's nearly impossible to call the winner. They were different enough to not be redundant, but both embodied what you want in a perfect summer bite. I could have eaten 50 of Chef Russell's Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Orange Cilantro Sauce. Using store-bought Orange Marmalade is a great short-cut for this sauce, a tasty complement to the scrumptious, salty protein. Chef Reddick's Grouper with Compressed Watermelon and Tomato was a generous serving (I didn't realize I'd practically have dinner here!) and cooked to perfection. I love the salty-sweet combo of fresh produce in the summer!

Love my Got to Be NC swag!

To top it all off, tons of prizes were given out, and I was lucky enough to win some "Got to Be NC" swag like Texas Pete 'Cha, Nature's Pearl Muscadine Juice and Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce, among other delightful treats. Not only are Chefs Reddick and Russell two of the hottest chefs in the Triad (literally, just look at them!), they served up some killer summer dishes and gave several good take-home tips (like using corn puree to make a healthier aioli!) I have a feeling I'll be a regular at the new Belk Home Store. I need to purchase a few things to help me cook like these guys.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Taste of Ethiopia

Until about a week ago, Ethiopian Cuisine was a totally new concept to me. When I moved to Greensboro, I started eating my way up and down West Market Street, home to several international restaurants. A friend and I deemed the first Thursday of each month our very own "International Food Day." I missed Ethnosh's visit to Taste of Ethiopia, so I knew it had to be at the top of our list. The restaurant is a quaint, tucked away spot off West Market, with thoughtfully crafted artwork and handmade tablecloths. Flavors reminded me slightly of those you'd find in Indian cuisine, so if you're a fan, you definitely need to pay Taste of Ethiopia a visit.

Ethiopian cuisine is usually eaten with your hands. Provided we were offered cutlery, I opted for the more traditional method and used my paws. Ethiopian Coffee is no joke. It comes in a delicate little pot, but don't let that mislead you - it's brewed dark and strong. I saw the word "Wot" all over the menu, which is a stew or curry prepared with different veggies and meats. Kay Sega Wot is tender beef cubes marinated in red wine and spices, then finished in a red pepper sauce. The meat is unbelievably tender, and you'll want to get every last drop of the savory sauce. Good thing each dish is served with Injera, a spongy, yeasty, sour tortilla-like bread. I'd never had anything like this. I ordered an extra one.

Look at that spongy Injera "plate"!
Doro Wot is sweeter and less hot than the Kay Sega Wot, presenting white and dark meat chicken that's been marinated in lemon juice, ginger and garlic, then finished with a red pepper sauce. The Hard Boiled Egg that comes with this dish is memorable, as are the vinegary Collards and what reminds me of Farmer's Cheese.

Noteworthy sides are Miser Wot, Red Lentils in a red pepper sauce (the sauces all have varying levels of sweetness and heat!) and Kik Alicha, Yellow Peas in a turmeric sauce. It's hard to pick a favorite - they're all unique and present a different flavor profile when you pair them with the slight sourness of the Injera. The Yebig Tibs (lamb with rosemary, tomato and jalapenos in a hot pepper sauce) is screaming for me to return. This was a truly wonderful meal and experience.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Starring: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Rating: R

To call this a coming of age story is an understatement. To call this one of the most unique movies I've ever seen is even an understatement. I'd never heard of a concept quite like the film "Boyhood." Production began in 2002 and was completed in 2013. We follow a boy and his family from the time he is 6 years old until he leaves for college. By the end of the film, they genuinely feel like family to us. It seems unreal in Hollywood that the same cast was attached to this project for 11 years and filmed a few weeks each year. The reason this film is so enthralling is because it isn't sensationalized - it's totally relatable. The dialogue is nothing special, yet that's also what's so special about it. If you read no further, at least watch the trailer below. I'm covered in goosebumps each time I do!

The majority of the film takes place in Houston (yee haw! Texas loves Texas!). I loved hearing music throughout the years - "Soak Up The Sun" to "Soulja Boy" to "Somebody That I Used To Know" all reminded me of where I was when those songs were popular. I'm not so sure that Ellar Coltrane, who stars as Mason, had aspirations to be an actor - not that he needed them. He was pretty one-note and emotionally monotone throughout the film, but what a DOLL! How did director Linklater know he would turn out to be such a cutie? I would have watched his story until he was 50. 
Photo Courtesy of IFC Films; The Wrap
Both Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, daughter of the writer/director) do a nice job of not over-acting. These characters seem so lifelike. I did have a hard time believing that some of the hardships they went through as children didn't affect them as teens/young adults. Or at least, they hadn't yet. Props to Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, two actors I wasn't a huge fan of before now (though Linklater is clearly a big fan of Hawke, having worked with him on the "Before Sunrise" trilogy.) As Mason's divorced parents, they both give honest and touching performances. Hawke's "fun dad" vibe is totally matched by Arquette's "desperate to do what's best for my family" mom. 

The film shouldn't necessarily be called "Boyhood" - "Parenthood" and "Familyhood" are also very appropriate titles. The tumultuous things the family goes through aren't exaggerated or too fantastical - it's stuff we all could face. Two abusive relationships, bullying at school, struggling to pay the bills, day-to-day conversations like ones I've had thousands of times with my friends and family. Following in the same footsteps as "Chef" and "Life Itself", this is one of the best movies of the year.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Next Supper: Underground Dining Collective

Dining outside with friends is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening in the summer. Granted my fellow diners weren't my friends (yet), we all had a few things in common: we love food, and we were thrilled to have a seat at the table for “The Next Supper,”an Underground Dining Collective in Greensboro. My friend John Jones and his colleague Kerrie Thomas are the masters behind this exclusive dining experience. A diner at my table said “you initially come for the food, but you return for the people.” Every morsel was delicious, but the leisurely conversations about recipes, restaurants and Triad happenings were possibly even more satisfying.

Chilled Buttermilk, Potato and Leek Soup!
The evening’s menu was a vegetarian one (aside from the one course that bacon snuck its way into!) so each plate tasted like it came straight out of the Farmer’s Market. The dinners are BYOB, and after a casual happy hour and initial mingling among guests, close to 40 people took their seats inside and on the front porch of a beautiful home on Summit Avenue (locations change each month.) The first course was a chilled Buttermilk, Potato and Leek Soup with Cornbread Croutons and a sprinkling of Chives. The texture was lovely and the flavors were perfectly balanced. A good chilled soup is ideal for summer, and although it was cream-based, it wasn’t overly rich or filling!

Are those noodles or Zucchinis?

I’ve always wanted to julienne Squash and Zucchini to make "healthy" noodles, so I was eager to twirl my fork around this Summer Vegetable Pasta! I really couldn't decipher the difference between the noodles and vegetables since they were both perfectly al dente and tossed with a tangy, herby dressing. What a smart alternative to pasta!

Tomato Heaven.

There's something to be said for quality ingredients. A dish of the most beautiful, brightly colored tomatoes was placed in front of me, and with a whiff of the fresh Basil, Truffled Cheese and splash of vinegar, I couldn’t wait to dig in. Heirlooms, Yellow, Beefsteaks, oh my! The simplistic approach to this dish was outstanding. I loved the way the flavors popped in my mouth. This plate was a Tomato lovers’ dream.

Cantelope Tequila Shooter - bottoms up!

Time for a palate cleanser! A Cantelope-Tequila-Elderflower shooter is a tropical treat, and a clever, tasty marriage of salty from the Tequila and sweet from the ripe melon. Why haven't I tried this flavor combo before? I’m remembering the taste as I write this and I want to be on a beach.

Corn and Crowder Pea Succotash

Bacon just couldn’t stay away from our vegetarian feast. Honestly, I hadn’t missed meat all night, and didn't necessarily need it here either! A Succotash of skillet-roasted Corn, Crowder Peas, Red Peppers and Mushrooms is my idea of summer heaven. The Bacon added a nice smokiness, but the texture and flavor was pleasing enough without it. Put this on Tacos, eat it with Tortilla Chips, top a Spinach Salad, put it on Vanilla Ice Cream (maybe? Really, though…)

Not cheesecake!
The courses improved with each serving and I was impressed with the consistency among plating. Enter course 5 – my favorite of the evening. I was expecting dessert, and upon first glance, assumed this was Cheesecake with a strawberry glaze on top. Oh, was I a fool to assume. Inspired by a Japanese dish, a lentil pancake cupped sautéed Cabbage and a Baked Egg. The “strawberry glaze” turned out to be a sweet and sour soy sauce that would make even a flip flop taste good. The umami flavor that came from this dish was mind-blowing. It was a radically new idea to me. I love tasting a flavor combination that I could have never fathomed, let alone being introduced to an entirely new concept!

I would have eaten all night long, had they kept sending plates out. I was so hoping they’d use my favorite summertime fruit (well, tied for first place with watermelon) for dessert, and when I saw a bowl of juicy, ripe peaches appear, I squealed with delight. (No photo - I was too busy talking, and it was getting dark out!) The most tender, sweet peaches were macerated with local Honey, and topped with Basil and fresh Goat Cheese from Goat Lady Dairy. The peaches left an irresistible juice that settled in the bottom of my dish, which I quickly downed with one lift of my bowl.

The pacing of the evening was perfect. You leave around 8:40pm, full but not overly stuffed, and with several new friends. If you're lucky enough to get added to "the list," act quickly - seats can apparently fill up in 30 minutes! Once you’re on the list, you can share it with your foodie colleagues who get off on events like these as much as you do. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Life Itself

Starring: Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Chaz Ebert, Martin Scorsese, William Nack
Director: Steve James
Running Time: 2 hours
Rating: R

In his memoir Life Itself, Roger Ebert writes, "I was born inside the movie of my own life. I don't remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me." The thought of reviewing a documentary about the greatest film critic ever is a bit daunting. To be honest, I had never really read any of Ebert's reviews until his recent venture into the blogging world, when I became mesmerized by "the great one's" thoughts on film throughout cinematic history. The film "Life Itself" is based on Ebert's memoir, and gives us a peek into the personal side of this very public figure's life.

The editing of this film is fantastic - we see glimpses of Ebert's childhood and his early years at the Chicago Sun-Times as a journalist, before being fortuitously assigned to the movie desk. Fast forward to Ebert today, in a rehab facility, getting physical therapy after fracturing his hip. And just a few years prior, he underwent several jaw surgeries due to thyroid and salivary gland cancer. Although he could no longer speak during the making of this film (since 2007 he used a computerized voice system to speak), his attitude was unbelievably positive and his humor and sarcasm sharp as ever.

The "Siskel and Ebert" TV show years didn't paint either of them in the best light. The two were like mortal enemies who didn't respect each other's opinions, and in fact cared more about convincing the other to change his opinion than talking about a movie to the viewers. Over time, their relationship developed into a brotherly love, but the friction between these two kept the ratings high for so long, and their professional partnership ultimately defined their legacy.

Stories about Ebert are told from colleagues, writers and directors like the other "great one," Martin Scorsese; filmmaker Ava DuVernay, whom I met at the RiverRun International Film Festival; A.O. Scott, film critic for the NY Times; and Richard Corliss, film critic for Time Magazine. These tales signify that he was clearly a respected and accomplished writer, winning a Pulitzer and all, but they talk about him as if he were gauche, a bit of a curmudgeon - until he met wife Chaz. The strength this woman has (she marched with Dr. MLK!) and the love she had for Ebert is so admirable. You will be hard-pressed not to tear up during the scenes she shares with him towards the end.

His blog and endeavors in the world of social media was his self-proclaimed "final chapter." Harnessing his energy into this project kept him motivated and going strong for as long as he did. Ebert said, "When you're doing something you're good at, you get in the zone. It sort of pushes troubles to the back of your mind." If you have any interest in film, I can't recommend seeing this movie enough. It is an honest and genuine narrative. Ebert's story of perseverance and hard work is an empowering one.