Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Blog and Website Address

Faithful readers, as of today, March 23, my blog postings will be current and available through my website. That address is the following:

I hope to see you there!

Happy cooking and great eating to each and every one of you...Best, Holly

Monday, March 21, 2011

Small Plates, Big Flavor at Barsa

Several years ago, a wave of tapas mania hit Charleston with a clamor of small plates that slowly and mysteriously receded with the passing of long-time favorites like 11 Center Street, Meritage, Raval, and most recently, Chai's.

In January, Mediterranean restaurant maverick, Drazen Romic, opened Barsa, thus initiating what I consider a very welcome tapas resurrection in a town that was getting dangerously tapas-thin.

And, as Romic and John Ondo do so well at Lana, Romic and executive chef Derek Falta (formerly at Chai's) do equally well here. The ripe flavors of the Mediterranean, in particular lovely Barcelona, dance a sprite tango of Spanish twang on an enticing menu peppered with both authenticity and talent.

The dishes, like the restrained, sophisticated decor (spearheaded by Studio Caban), allow the food and the space to speak for themselves. Gone is the fluff and din of Shine (which, in my book, never really "shone"), replaced with lots of black, leather, wood, and a few touches of retro/antique Basque effects in lighting and massive original paintings. Faux painting in subdued hues on most of the walls adds to the old-world feel in the wide, open space at the corner of King and Line Streets.

Freely flowing drinks from the centrally located bar combined with flexible hours and a daily happy hour from 5 - 7 p.m. definitely contribute to Barsa's bar/lounge feel, but the food is restaurant quality of high order, any time of day or night.

I visited on a sunny, breezy, Sunday during Barsa's brunch service (11 a.m. - 7 p.m.), to find a relaxed, neighborhood mood and several acquaintances, which seemed especially Barcelona-like. Everything on the menu, from lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce ($6) to tomato bread with ciabatta, roast tomatoes and manchego ($5), sounded delightfully delicious (there are even more choices on Sunday), so I asked for help from the bartender/server and my neighbors.

A pleasant mood settled in with a chunky, mildly piquant, veggie and olive-garnished Zing Zang Bloody Mary, followed by a plate of calamari ($7). Four, whole grilled squid were fanned around a central mound of fried, sliced calamari. The grilled "half" of the plate was dressed with olive oil, lemon and fresh parsley, and was refreshing, but the light, tender crunch of the fried calamari was perfect, especially with a nice, gently drizzle of a lemmony aioli. It was, however, the drunken goat fondue ($8) that practically had me bleating with glee. Thick, creamy and hot, it was served in a mini, ceramic red pot, swirling with golden and white cheese goodness. The tart kick of goat cheese was apparent, but there were several undertones that spoke beautifully of manchego and white wine. It's paired with grilled cauliflower and asparagus and thick slices of country bread that are just doughy enough to soak up the cheese, but firm enough to maintain an idyllic chewiness.

The fondue alone is enough to make a visit to Barsa, unless you count the crunchy, hot cubes of potato perfection in the patatas bravas ($3) that Raval so cruelly took away when it closed. I'm so happy to see them back at Barsa, which brings tapas to the table in a welcome, complete and authentically Spanish way.

58 Line Street (Corner of Line and King Streets), downtown Charleston.
(843) 577-5393

Friday, March 18, 2011

Great Spring Eating Picks in Charleston

When warm weather arrives and spring is in full bloom in Charleston, the time is right for Southern food done right. Here are some of my favorites. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Duck Breast with Slathered Fresh Cherry Compote

Try this delicious recipe for simply, elegant late winter, early spring entertaining. Duck never tasted so good! The sweet, dark cherries pop with the mild heat of the Slather Brand Slatherin' Sauce and triple cream brie cheese smooths all the flavors out with mellow, creamy goodness.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Great Goodness in The Big Apple

New York is the ultimate reality show-land of extreme "haves", extreme "have-nots", and just about everything in between from just about every corner of the earth. That's why I love to go there for a few days every year. It helps me get out of my protected cushion of a world here in Charleston and see more of what's going on "out there".

The itch usually hits in late winter or early spring. So, I found myself there this past weekend to scratch it, mostly with long walks around midtown and through Central Park, people watching. As usual, I saw a bit of everything; a spoiled, loud, rude woman chewing out a sweet waitress, ostensibly because her salad was too dry, but really (as everyone could hear), because her boyfriend had dumped her. She couldn't figure out why. I resisted a very strong urge to tell her. Next came friendly shop-keepers on Lexington Avenue, a classic Russian waitress at a classic New York deli breakfast who consistently bumbled orders and consistently made up for it with her winning smile. Then, of course, there were the tragic, gaunt, faces of the homeless, the displaced, and the poor. People with faces so hardened by hard times and sad stories, the depths of which are almost impossible to comprehend.

Which, with no small irony, brought me to the next step of my NYC journey, a fund raiser held at the ultra-swank, ultra-celebrated restaurant, Daniel, on Sunday evening (March 6). A cause near and dear to Chef Daniel Boulud's heart, Citymeals-On-Wheels has delivered over 43 million meals to the doors of frail and elderly New York City residents. Boulud has been on board with "Wheels" since 1988 and has since cultivated an annual gala fund-raising tradition dedicated to this important cause. On Sunday, Boulud joined Gerald Passedat of Le Petit Nice (Three Michelin Stars) from Marseille, France and Laurent Kalkotour of DB Bistro Moderne (New York) for this year's fete with a "Burgundy, Bordeaux, Black Truffles & Blue Jeans" theme.

I've been lucky enough to feast on Chef Boulud's delices on two prior occasions, so I knew to expect his trademark celestial cuisine. I've been to fund-raisers before, but never one quite of this caliber, so I didn't know quite what to expect there. So, with memories of that mean, spoiled woman freshly etched in my mind, I braved a downpour of rain and the unknown world of the New York elite, even as I entered it through the security guard-flanked doors of Daniel.

Soulful jazz musicians performed an endless stream of tunes, while Champagne and gin, thyme and honey cocktails were poured from the bar. Servers expertly navigated the 178 person-strong crowd with endless trays of goodness, especially bites of tender, peppery, beef. Chef Boulud and Chef Passedat were there, of course, greeting guests with sincere care. The crowd was an eclectic one - young and old, formal and less formal, all genuinely friendly. After the silent auction, guests were seated at large round tables over-looking the center of the dining room where the live auction would soon begin. Meanwhile, I got to know my table mates. To my right, was Harvey, a 46 year-old bachelor and self-proclaimed foodie who had made considerable concessions to meet the $1,000 per person price of admission and who, I would later learn, had not yet given up on love. To my left, a young couple expecting their second child, who not only love great food, but also love Charleston and make a trek here to the Isle of Palms every August.

Around this time, the first course from Chef Daniel's side of the kitchen arrived; shaved slivers of fresh, exquisitely buttery Maine sea scallops set atop a frothy, savory bed of celery mousseline, punctuated with the elegant fragrance and flavor of black truffles. This, like all of the courses that followed, was expertly paired with wine, in this case a Joseph Drouhin Beaune 1 er Cru "Clos Des Mouches" Blanc, Burgundy, 2008. Chef Gerald Passedat, who is best known for his subtle fish dishes, was up next with a square of the freshest sea bass this side of the Mediterranean. It was so fresh, any fish taste was practically indiscernible, instead leaving behind a milky sweet, mild brine taste in its flavor wake. This was surrounded with a lively pesto and topped with an artistic clear gelee encased with truffle slivers and tendrils of vegetable green. After Chef Daniel's remarkable chicken, brussel sprouts, and caramelized truffles with an earthy, fragrant truffle sauce was served (pictured top left), the live auction began with several introductions, including a colorful one from New York City Mayor Bloomberg.

This was no ordinary live auction, and these were no ordinary bidders. Whimsically named packages like NYC Culture & Cuisine, La Dolce Vita a La Toscana, and La Vie Du Chateau promised days, and in some cases, weeks of indulgence at some of the world's best hotels, restaurants, and vineyards, many with personal tours and meals at select proprietors' homes. A bidding frenzy slowly mounted through the crowd, guided with the gentle urging and tempting descriptions provided by Chef Boulud and others as the evening roared on. Harvey got on the phone with his banker to check on his balance as bids by the $1,000's - $5,000, $10,000 and up to $70,000+ whirred by, gradually filling the Citymeals-On-Wheels coffers, until everything was sold, and the bucks stopped at a whopping $706,000 in earnings for the organization.

As guests supped on the final succulent dessert course, slices of frozen sliced vacherin that took on the texture of frothy marshmallow as they melted and were imbedded with candy-like tubes of exotic fruits and dressed with a tart-sweet exotic fruit coulis (picture top right). Served with an exceptionally delicate Vilmart et Cie Rilly-A-Montagne 1er Crue "Cuvee Rubis Rose" Champagne NV, this was Chef Passedat's baby, and he shyly stopped by with Chef Boulud to ask how we liked it.

After Daniel's famous tiny madeleines, chocolates and pretty petits fours made their rounds, guests began to gather their things and leave this evening of paradise. It was something to witness the amazing amount of work and talent that went on that night and many days and weeks preceding it, to ensure that lonely, displaced elderly ladies and men have something to look forward to at the end of the day. A nutritious, delicious and soul-stirring meal made possible because of the love and dedication of these chefs and their teams, other New York restaurateurs, and the City meals-On-Wheels organization, is something beautiful, indeed.

That's the kind of reality the world could use a lot more of and the kind of reality that makes one proud of their fellow man. Thank goodness!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Make Time for Pot Pie

Spring is tickling Charlestonians' senses with warm weather, a blush of pale green, and bouquets of blooming beauty. It's all so intoxicating, it's almost easy to forgive the brutality of this past winter.

But not so fast! No matter where you live, winter has a nasty way of roaring back with raw cold and wind in the fickle month of March, and that's the perfect time to make pot pie.

Pot roast, that soul-warming classic, gets all dressed up with a flaky pastry lid in this dish. By braising the meat with the vegetable aromats until the meat's tender and the vegetables have dissolved into the sauce, you're ensured layers of flavor. A jolt of red pepper flakes provide a little flavor surprise that will take the chill off any cold, dreary late winter day. If you can't find collards, substitute kale, spinach, or arugula.

This takes a little time the day before, but the taste and aroma dividends are well worth a little slow-cooked effort and handmade, buttery pastry.

Pot Roast Pot Pies
(Makes 6 - 8 individual pot pies)

Equipment needed: Six to eight 8 - 10 ounce oven-proof ramekins or bistro bowls
One 6" round pastry cutter

For the pastry:

2 1/2 cups White Lily All Purpose flour (use only 2 1/4 cups if using another brand)
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 sticks (or 1 cup) best quality, AAGrade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4" cubes
Ice cold water - about 3 tablespoons or enough to just hold the pastry together

For the pot roast filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds pot roast
1 onion, peeled, quartered and sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 stalks celery, trimmed, sliced into 1/4" rounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 cup red wine
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
2 cups beef or vegetable stock (or enough to cover the roast just over half-way)
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley

To finish:

2 cups baby carrots
3 cups collards, washed, tough stems removed, and cut into 1" squares
3 cups baby, fresh potatoes, scrubbed and pierced with a fork
1 - 2 tablespoons ketchup
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 egg wash - yolk, pinch salt, splash of water, blended together.

The day before service, prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour and the salt. Add the very cold butter and pulse rapidly, 40 - 50 times, or until the butter is the size of very small peas. Gradually, drizzle in the water in drops, while running the machine. Add just enough until the pastry forms a clumsy ball. Pour it out onto a lightly floured surface. Form a flattened disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate over night.

Next, prepare the braised stew filling. Heat a large, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. When it's hot, add the olive oil and butter. Season the pot roast, generously, on all sides, with salt and freshly ground pepper. When the fat is sizzling (but not burning!) add the roast to the pan. Brown,undisturbed, for about five minutes. Turn the roast and repeat on the second side. Remove the browned roast from the pan and set aside. Add the onion, garlic, celery, salt, pepper and herbes de Provence to the pan. Stir to coat and pick up any brown bits. Cook until softened, about five minutes. Deglaze with the red wine, stirring to pick up all the brown bits, and reduce the wine by half.

Return the roast to the pan. Add the tomatoes and stock. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar. After about four hours, add the red chili flakes and parsley, stirring in to blend. Remove the meat from the pan and allow to rest and cool. Meanwhile, using a shallow ladle, skim any excess fat off the surface. When the meat is cool enough to handle, chop it coarsely, removing any excess fat or sinew, which should be discarded. Return the beef to the pot and add the baby carrots, collards, baby potatoes and ketchup. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. If too much water has evaporated, add enough water to thin to a stew consistency. Simmer, covered, another forty minutes, or until the vegetables are just tender. Remove from heat, cool, and refrigerate overnight.

The following day (or the day of service), roll out the prepped pastry into a large circle (about 1/4" thick) on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 6" rounds, using your pastry cutter. Return the rounds to the refrigerator to chill for about twenty minutes. Meanwhile, remove the stew from the refrigerator and skim off any remaining fat which may have coagulated overnight. Arrange the ramekins or bistro bowls on a baking sheet. Fill each with 1 1/4 cups of the stew. Top each with a prepped pastry round, sealing the excess pastry down around the rim of the bowl (it should be about 1/2" deep). Cut three slits into the top of the pastry and brush the top and sides of each lightly with the egg wash using a pastry brush. (Note: The pies can be compiled and refrigerated for several hours before baking, or go directly into the oven at this point).

Preheat the oven to 375F and bake for 35 - 40 minutes until bubbling, golden and beautiful. Set aside to cool for ten to fifteen minutes before eating.

March never tasted so good!

Culinary Cost-Cutting 101

Coupon Crazy

When I was a little girl, I marveled while watching my Great Aunt Frances sitting at her linoleum-topped kitchen table, cutting coupons from the daily newspaper in the tiny Kansas town she lived in until she was nearly 100 years old.

It seemed like such a waste of energy in order to save a few pennies on, what I thought, were probably things she wouldn't normally buy anyway. But, I was naive. She, a thrifty survivor of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, had her coupon system down pat and it's probably one of the reasons she made it through a long life of hard times, many of them spent alone.

The latest bout of monetary unpleasantness, however, has created a market for New Age couponing systems. The internet now has a number of hot coupon sites (I like which provide free, brand-name coupons and more if you select to register as a member. They're just a click, a printer, and five minutes away. In addition, many grocery stores' websites offer lists of daily specials. And, here's the kicker. Many provide selections from the kind of items you usually purchase, anyway. That was it for me. The last straw supporting my long-standing anti-coupon mindset finally broke its resistant back.

Harris Teeter's online specials shopping list became this list-hater's new best friend. I dipped into it with reckless abandon. With a little practice and increasing knowledge, I'm slowly forming my own semi-profitable coupon system. By combining the free manufacturer's coupons from sites like with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site ( , my handy VIC card, and an extra dose of concentration at the grocery store, I have scored some serious savings.

The best yet happened last week. Granted, it was a big sales day at the downtown Teeter. The store was offering buy one get one, two or even three, all over the place on big ticket items like beef, coffee and wine. Since I'm expecting company in a couple weeks, I decided to stock up on these and other staples. The net result was a whopping $67 total savings. In essence, I bought three weeks-worth of groceries for less than I usually spend in one week!

My heart raced with anticipation as I watched the basket cave with the weight of my cache and the numbers creeping slowly higher on the cash register. Then, as the cashier started calculating in the selected coupons, the numbers amazingly started going down. It was like getting on the scale after a week of gorging Haagen-Dazs only to find you'd lost five pounds. I was beaming. She was beaming and said, "You did good today!"

Admittedly, a follow-up trip to replenish the fresh vegetable drawer just one week later only yielded $10 in savings, but next time I'll do better. I'm on a coupon-crazed mission. Intelligent use of coupons and smart shopping add up to saving a lot more than pennies. And, I'm not in Kansas anymore.

One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals

With grocery costs rocketing to the stratosphere, it’s imperative to save wherever you can at the supermarket without eliminating taste. In addition to reaching for reduced daily specials, what you buy and how you put it to use in your kitchen can happily translate to huge savings with bodacious bite.

In this era of grocery gouging, chicken can become your new best friend for just pennies per four ounce serving when paired with practical pantry staples like pasta and veggies. Low in fat, high in protein and exceptionally versatile, chicken marries equally well with the exotic (think truffles or saffron) to the humble (think roasted potatoes and rosemary).

For these reasons, it’s a regular menu guest at my house, where I pride myself on transforming a single, four pound chicken (preferably organic and purchased at a reduced rate) into four fabulous feasts for a group of four. That’s sixteen meals, folks! A four pound chicken runs anywhere from $6-$10 (depending on where and how you shop), throw in a little change for ingredients to flesh it out into a meal (4X), and you’re looking at less than $20. A night out for a family of four at any fast food favorite will set you back the same amount or more faster than you can say “heart attack”.

Gotcha? Let me tell you how it’s done!

Meal #1: This is the launching pad for the meal plan event(s) – a whole roasted chicken. Since it’s going to be transformed several times, keep the seasoning simple – ground pepper, a nice crust of coarse salt and a rub down with olive oil. Roast at 425 until done (about 20 minutes per pound) and top it with a few love pats of butter to sink deeply into the bird. Allow the roasted chicken to rest and re-absorb its juices. Cut the both legs and thighs away from the chicken (reserving warm). Cut the breasts away from the rib cage, cool and store in your refrigerator for later use. Serve both legs and both thighs with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes for a satisfying, nutritional meal. Go ahead and prepare a pan gravy with a little roux, white wine, chicken stock, Dijon mustard and fresh tarragon to dress things up, but hold on to the carcass!

Meal #2: Start this after the roast chicken dinner to prepare for tomorrow’s old-fashioned and DELICIOUS chicken noodle soup. With a sturdy chef’s knife, cut up the reserved carcass remnants – the rib cage and spine – into four or five coarse chunks and put them in a two quart soup pot with a quartered onion, carrot, celery stalk and a clove or two of garlic to make an impromptu stock. Add a few peppercorns, a bay leaf and fresh thyme for added flavor. Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a slow simmer over low heat and forget about it for three to four hours. Allow to cool and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
About thirty minutes before you’re slotted to serve dinner, skim off any accumulated fat off the top of the stock, strain it, discarding all solids except any bits of chicken flesh. Finely chop an onion, carrot and celery stalk and sauté them in the same pot with a tablespoon of olive oil until softened. Season, return the strained stock to the pan and bring up to a boil. Add reserved chicken and about ¼ pound of dried pasta (flat noodles, spaghetti, linguini – your choice) and cook until tender. Serve with a drizzle of fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, or thyme will do) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A small, fresh salad and warm baguette make this a meal.

Meal #3: Chicken Salad Deluxe! This is where you can really have fun with chicken’s flavor/texture marriage versatility. Cut one of the reserved breasts into chunky, ½” cubes and toss in a bowl with coarsely chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like figs or currants), coarsely chopped roasted almonds, fresh herbs, a dollop of Dijon, a dash of mayo and vinegar, salt and pepper and you’ve got a meal in minutes over a bed of greens. Other flavors that work in tandem with chicken include curry, paprika, cinnamon and almost any fresh herb imaginable. Make this your own!

Meal #4: Chicken Sandwiches Supreme! Again, versatility and imagination set the stage for show-stopping chicken sandwiches prepared with freshly roasted chicken breast. Go for the best quality bread you can find, from baguette to whole grain, and fill it with thinly cut slices of the remaining breast and toppings. One sliced breast will handily complete four sandwiches. Zip up mayo with fresh basil and Dijon mustard for a fresh, personalized sauce, top with a slice of red onion and crisp romaine. Go whole hog and add a few pieces of browned bacon and a slice of avocado if the mood moves.

Chicken never tasted so good for so little.