Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Upcoming Signings - The Charleston Chef's Table Cookbook


Come on out and see me, eat some good food, and get a good book!

Saturday, February 6, 2 to 4 p.m., Christophe Chocolates, Champagne and Charleston Style at The RSVP Shoppe, 141 Broad Street, downtown Charleston. Swaddle yourself in indulgence at the stylish RSVP Shoppe in the heart of Charleston's swank South of Broad neighborhood. Author Holly Herrick will be pouring Champagne and sharing Charleston's best chocolates from Christophe Patisserie while signing The Charleston Chef's Table Cookbook. Come get your romance on just in time for Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 7, noon to 2 p.m., 1/2 Price Burgers and Fries and The Charleston Chef's Table Cookbook signing. Chef Aaron Lemieux and author Holly Herrick will sign copies of the book in this festive, pre-Super Bowl setting while digging into Rue's full-flavored burgers and fries for half the usual price - just $5.50.

Tuesday, February 9, 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday Night Author Series at J. Paul'z, 1739 Maybank Highway, James Island, SC. Tapas and libations will go down nicely with a book signing of Charleston Chef's Table Cookbook by author Holly Herrick.

Friday, February 12, 2 to 4 p.m., Harris Teeter - Book Signing, 975 Savannah Highway, West Ashley. Just in time for Valentine's Day, Holly Herrick will be signing copies of her just released cookbook, The Charleston Chef's Table, as well a Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Paired with a box of chocolate, either books make sweet gifts for the sweetheart in your life.

Friday, February 19, 5:30 to 7 p.m., The Wine Shop at The City Marina, downtown. Friday night wine tasting ($5 per person) paired with free samples of Elwood's Ham Chowder as featured on Magnolia's pages of The Charleston Chef's Table Cookbook. Author Holly Herrick will sign copies of her book while ladling out this delicious late winter stew.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

South Carolina State Farmers Market Spring Re-Opening


The SC State Farmers Market is going to be a huge new belle of the farmers' market ball when it re-opens in June. A kitchen demo arena, and a huge emphasis on local farmers are some of the more exciting aspects of the new market. Another is the market's inclusion of a month-by-month recipe feature from The Southern Farmers Market Cookbook on their web site. Link into the site and the book by clicking on www.scstatefarmersmarket.com/seasonal-recipe-calendar/

Have at it! Seasonal and local is by far the best! Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas....Holly

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Upcoming Holiday Signings, Demonstrations and Events


Come see me, just in time for Christmas and holiday cheer, for these upcoming events and signings revolving around Charleston Chef's Table and Southern Farmers Market Cookbook:

Wednesday, Dec., 16, Social Wine Bar & Restaurant, 188 East Bay Street, downtown Charleston. Green Holiday Wine Party and book signing, 6 - 8 p.m.

Watch cookbook author Holly Herrick prepare Virgina's on King She-Crab Soup as featured in The Charleston Chef's Table on Lowcountry Live, ABC, Channel 4 on Thursday, December 17 around 10:15 a.m. Free, signed copy of The Charleston Chef's Table for the caller that times it right!

Friday, Dec., 18, O'Hara & Flynn, 225 Meeting Street. Signings of both books paired with wine and free samples of Soulful Braised Pork Stew and Winesap Apples from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook, 5 - 7 p.m.

Saturday, Dec., 19, Whole Foods Market, 923 Houston Northcutt Blvd., Mt. Pleasant. Holly will demonstrate how to prepare Alluette's Cafe's Lima Bean Soup as featured in The Charleston Chef's Table and sign copies of both books. Demo begins at noon and signing continues through 3 p.m.

Sunday, December, 20, Alluette's Jazz Cafe, 137 Calhoun Street, downtown. Celebrate Alluette's feature story in this month's issue of Southern Living and the restaurant's feature pages in the soup chapter of The Charleston Chef's Table. Cash bar and small bites. Signing both books, 5 to 7 p.m.

Monday, Dec., 21. The Glass Onion, 1219 Savannah Hwy., West Ashley. 1/2 price wine night at The "GO" and signing of both books, 6 to 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec., 22, Barnes & Noble, Westwood Plaza, 1812 Sam Rittenberg, West Ashley. Signing both books from 2 to 4 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec., 23. Charleston Cooks!,194 East Bay Street, downtown Charleston. Informal signing of both books, 2 - 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Been to The Bin?

If not, you've got to swing by this fabulous new wine, cheese, charcuterie, and art gallery/shop all wrapped up in a beautiful, simplistic, design bow courtesy of Thompson Young Design. Bead-boarding and bistro-style chairs and tables set the stage for prime time sipping of wine and cheeses hand-selected by the husband/wife team that expertly navigate the space with charm and grace.

Fanny's from France and Patrick's from Brooklyn and both formerly worked at Baked, downtown. There is no other place quite like this in Charleston. Shaved, dried beef paired with nutty, French cheese was decadent with a sparkling flute of Blanquette de Limoux.

Color bursts from the large paintings by local artist Robert Hagerty and urban sophistication pulses in the most welcoming and understated way on this quiet end of King Street across from The Preservation Society.

Bin 152
152 King Street, downtown
(843)577-7359

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Amen to That!

Charleston hardly suffers from a shortage of raw bars. They're as ample as oyster roasts in January. Consider The Boathouse, Hanks, Abe's and, just down the street from this sparkling new restaurant baby, Pearlz, to name a few of the best. But, there are a surprisingly small number of restaurants that do local fish really well. Amen, thankfully, can count itself themselves as one that does it right and keeps it fresh and local.

Simply beautiful, Amen Street replaces the dingy shack of a space it used to be with gleaming polished wood, plenty of distressed mirrors, welcoming banquettes and a sequence of round, stunning chandeliers made out of oyster shell art. Sophisticated and smart, it recalls a marriage of the look and feel of Rue de Jean and Virginia's on King a little farther uptown.

Amen is situated in the heart of tourist country, but emotes a charm that will appeal to locals if they can put up with the pesky foot traffic that tends to march through this neck of the woods. Amen Street makes it worth your time with top-notch service and delicious, well thought-out food preparations that will have you singing to the high heavens in grateful praise. The "unique" oysters (priced daily)glisten with freshness and are served with a pert mignonette and fresh horseradish and cocktail sauces. I loved the look of the shrimp corn dogs ($10.95) being consumed by the Southern Living photographer that was shooting the day I visited. They are large shrimp coated in a cornmeal tempura and served straight up in a metal cup with Carolina mustard and cornichons - whimsical yet substantive.

The fish dishes are treated with serious simplicity. Fresh fish of the day (price varies) is served with one of three preparations: Herb Grilled with Asparagus, Tomato Vinaigrette and Herb Oil OR Blackened with Popcorn Rice, French Green Beans and Tomato Relish OR Mongolian BBQ with Stir Fry Vegetables. I selected the second option and paired it with deliciously fresh and perfectly cooked black grouper. The popcorn rice is an interesting, buttery aromatic rice which is not dissimilar to Carolina Gold rice in flavor. Truly delicious, the beans snapped with freshness and the tomato relish finished the dish with pretty aplomb.

At times, the menu ventures into some quasi-boring staple departments like burgers, shrimp and grits and seafood platters, some of which reach celestial heights ($19.95 for a seafood platter, for example), but these are necessary evils to appease the less adventurous and less discerning masses. And, in talented Chef Todd Garrigan's hands, they receive original twists such as creamed corn with the seafood platter and Nueske's bacon atop Amen burger if you so choose($7.95 +$1.00 for the bacon).

Amen Street is a great addition to the long row of good restaurants on this stretch of East Bay. Even though the competition is stiff, Amen Street stands out with a flavorful personality and good looks of its very own.

Amen Street
205 East Bay Street, downtown
(843) 853-8600
www.amenstreet.com

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Holly-day" Gift Ideas

Both Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June, 2009) and Charleston Chef's Table - Extraordinary Recipes from the Heart of The Old South (Three Forks Press, December, 2009) make fabulous gifts for Christmas and the holiday season. Reasonably priced at $19.99 and $24.95 respectively, both are jam-packed with delicious recipes and beautiful photography. The former is best-suited to those interested in cooking seasonally and locally and the latter is ideal for anyone that loves Charleston and Charleston's dynamic and delicious dining scene. Both are available for purchase now (see links in the left-hand column by clicking on the covers), though "Table" won't be in bookstores until December 22. Here's where I'm doing some signings for both books in the coming days:

Charleston Farmers Market, Marion Square, Charleston - Sat., 12/12, 8 a.m. - noon

O'Hara & Flynn, 225 Meeting Street, Charleston - Fri., 12/18, 5 - 7 p.m. Wine Pairing and Tasting, Braised Pork and Winesap Stew (from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook).

Whole Foods, 923 Houston Northcutt Boulevard, Mt. Pleasant, Sat., 12/19, noon - 3 p.m. - Cooking Demonstration of Alluette's Lima Bean Soup from Charleston Chef's Table. Demo at noon followed by a signing through 3 p.m.

Here are some of the local area specialty shops and retailers where you can pick up both books now for the holidays:

The Glass Onion, 1219 Savannah Highway, W. Ashley

Harris Teeter, 975 Savannah Highway, W. Ashley

Hyams Garden Center & Christmas Shop, 870 Folly Road, James Island

Whole Foods, 923 Houston Northcutt Blvd., Mt. P.

O'Hara & Flynn, 225 Meeting Street, downtown.

Happy Holly-days!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook Demo and Signing


When: Saturday, November 14, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Where: Rosebank Farms Fall Festival, 4455 Betsy Kerrison Parkway, Johns Island

What: Cooking Demonstration/Tasting/Lunch/Book Signing by yours truly!

Fun, fun, fun and tasty and it's supposed to be a beautiful day. On the menu, one of my favorite recipes from the book, Creamy Citrus Shrimp and Fettuccine prepared with fresh Rio Bertolini pasta and sweet, local Lowcountry Shrimp.

Come on out and play, eat and support your local farming community!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mini Blog Bites: Secret Culinary School Delights

Well, neither Trident Technical College's 181 Palmer Dining Room nor The Art Institute of Charleston's ever-changing restaurant(currently it's called Zest and it's theme is Asian) are really secrets. But, the truth is, far too few people realize they're even there. Both put out exceptional creations and pulse with the energy and passion of these schools' talented culinary students. And, for the most part (more below) we're all invited!

Recently, I had the unparalleled pleasure of visiting both student restaurants.

I just love 181 Palmer Dining Room. I mean, I'm a capital fan. There is nothing not to like here. The fall menu, put together by Chef/Instructor master-mind Scott Stefanelli is probably the most ambitious and delicious yet. House-Cured Duck Prosciutto with Papaya, Radish, Micro Cilantro and Toasted Szechuan Pepper and Fried Oyster Po'Boy Sliders on house-made Brioche, Horseradish Remoulade, Red Cabbage Slaw and Hand-Cut Potato Chips seduce the palate even as the complexity of these preparations challenge and hone the students' culinary skills. Magical stuff, here, and three courses of deliciousness can be enjoyed in a spotless, modern dining room with white linen table cloths and delightful service with a live view of the students at work, for just $15. All you have to do is make a reservation on line or by calling and hope that school is in session.

Meanwhile, a little further downtown near the bustling market area is Charleston's youngest culinary Mecca. The Art Institute of Charleston, at just three years old, has morphed into a world-class culinary (and arts) institution that Charleston is lucky to have. Like 181 Palmer, the restaurant is entirely manned by students who, at this address, rely on the guidance of Chef/Instructor Christopher Stallard and Joseph Raya at the front of the house. Unlike 181 Palmer, you have to be invited by a member of the faculty or by a student to sup from the restaurant's ever-evolving menu which changes at the mid-point of each semester. The current "Zest" was spot- on with exquisitely presented Asian interpretations selected from an adorable menu created by the students.

This is good stuff Charleston's lucky enough to have the opportunity to enjoy. Let's support our local culinary institutions. They support us by creating chefs that will hopefully one day work in some of Charleston's best restaurants. That's good for everyone.

181 Palmer Dining Room
Culinary Institute of Charleston - Trident Technical at Palmer Campus
66 Columbus Street, downtown
(843) 574-6111
www.tridenttech.edu.com

Art Institute of Charleston
24 N. Market Street, downtown
(843) 727-3500
www.artinstitute.edu

Let's Talk the WOK

Nick Bergelt knew from the time he was about ten years old exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up - a restaurateur. And, at the tender age of twenty three, that's exactly what he has become. The President and CEO of three week-old WOK, an acronym for World Oriental Kitchen, didn't waste any time, energy, or research to achieve his goal, either. The Hilton Head-native worked in a number of restaurants during high school, which he finished in just 2 1/2 years. After that, it was off to USC to study business and restaurant management. In between he spent his summer's and free time researching and back-packing about the globe to points as far away as Dubai to come up with his first restaurant's concept.

Enter WOK, Charleston's first certified green restaurant. More than a simple noodle house, Bergelt has devised a three-part mix 'n match menu that allows diners to construct pretty much what they want from a vegan salad to a souped up noodle dish tossed with one of eight piquant sauces. Executive Chef John McMullen, a veteran of PF Chang's celebrated wok training program, came down from Philadelphia to man the lively kitchen, which reverberates with the clang and clash of myriad 900 degree (F) woks and a colorful mise en place.

The front of the house is dedicated to serving the crowd ordering at the counter, while the back of the house (really the whole restaurant) is a veritable sustainability altar composed of soybean seating, reclaimed concrete walls and 100% recycled wood tabletops. Hip and sleek, it's an appropriate and comfortable setting to sup from WOK's local, all-natural and organic menu. All produce comes in daily from Joseph Fields farm on Johns Island and the shrimp, beef and pork are all local.

Less than $10 will easily buy WOK's diverse crowd a heaping plate (well, actually a recycled "box") of fresh veggies, so the price-point is friendly. I sampled the weekly special of assorted vegetables which I tossed with noodles, shrimp and the orange sesame sauce. The corn, zucchini, tomatoes, shrimp and more were unmistakeably fresh and delicious. The sauce needed a bit more zip - a little salt or sharp citrus acidity would have livened it up to a tee.

Service moves quickly making WOK a great (albeit slightly noisy) stop for lunch or a late night bite for the many business and college students that haunt this busy stretch of King Street. Take a bike or walk to WOK. It's in keeping with their welcome and refreshing green mantra and it's a heck of a lot easier than driving and parking. Delivery and take-out services are also offered.

WOK
World Oriental Kitchen
349 King Street
(843) 577-7770
www.worldorientalkitchen.com

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Upcoming Signings - Southern Farmers Market Cookbook


Here's some fun upcoming fall-themed signings happening this weekend:

Pumpkin 'n Spice at O'Hara & Flynn, 225 Meeting Street, downtown. Come get your "boo" on and dig into some pumpkin cookies and pumpkin ice cream prepared from recipes in the book paired with wines selected by O & F owner, Bruce Petty. Saturday, October 31 (Halloween!)3- 6 p.m. Author Holly Herrick will be signing and selling ($20) Southern Farmers Market Cookbook.

Wine Tasting and Book Signing, The Glass Onion, 1219 Savannah Highway, West Ashley.The Glass Onion will celebrate their featured wine for November, Hedges CMS - with a sampling on Monday, November 1, from 5 to 8 p.m. Co-Owner Sarah O'Kelley will offer a taste of this Washington red to all interested diners while Holly Herrick signs copies of Southern Farmers Market Cookbook.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook



www.hollyherrick.com

You can view and purchase my latest cookbook, Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, June 2009)at this link:
http://www.gibbs-smith.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=2711.

Rick McKee Film
www.CharlestonPhotographer.com

Mo' Pho at Party Kingdom

Though I've heard glowing things about this restaurant/kids party palace since it opened a few years ago, I've been reticent to visit. Once I made a pass, but it was closed. Also, I wasn't sure what the place was all about. It's brimming with Webkinz and jelly beans and has whole sections devoted to stuffed animals and pinball machines. From outside, it was almost impossible to tell that, behind the candy counter, there is a small window that opens into a big-flavored world of authentic Vietnamese cooking prepared by Vietnamese natives.

The fragrant aromas of cilantro and lemon grass mingle with the sounds of various games bells and whistles and laughing kids. It's a curious pairing, but one that works just right, especially after you settle into a brimming, steaming bowl of the restaurant's signature dish, Pho. An indulgent Vietnamese specialty that is hard to find in these parts (the only other place I've had a good bowl was at Basil, downtown), it's stellar at Party Kingdom. The two core ingredients, a mass of springy rice noodles and a layered broth, redolent with lemongrass, beef, and subtle backdrops of cilantro and garlic, are spot-one. Add the plate full of fresh condiments like bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, peanut sauce and a tongue-singeing hot sauce stir-ins that come with it, and you're set for a feast of epic flavor proportions. The Pho comes with either beef or chicken and for just $8, is a steal of a deal.

Seating is spacious and comfortable and service at the counter both professional and friendly.

Party Kingdom
1739 Maybank Highway, James Island
(843) 795-5701

Still Trucking and Still Smiling


It's hard to believe it's been four months since I began the odyssey of traveling through the South to promote Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. From August's scorching heat through October's mild autumnal chill, from Birmingham, to Wilmington and scores of places in-between, I've encountered so many inspiring people and stories from the people that get inspired by local, seasonal shopping and cooking and love farmers markets, just as I do.

I'd by lying if I said the adventure has not been tiring at times and that sometimes I've been downright exhausted, but then something happens to pick me up all over again and to remember why I wrote the book and why I believe in it so much. This happened twice this last weekend at two completely unexpected places and events.

The first was at the Charleston Farmers Market Saturday morning where I was shooting a video for a series of cooking demonstrations from recipes featured in the book. Even as I was reveling in the beauty and fragrance of the crisp bounty of fall apples at Owl's Nest Plantation's booth, a handsome young man with a boy's face stopped me. I remembered him from a signing a few months back. His basket was brimming with seasonal kale, turnips, apples, squash and more. He was having the time of his life and looked like a kid in a fresh produce version of a candy shop. He told me he had perused through the book that morning to plan his shopping based upon the season and some of the recipes he would use to put them to good use. Talk about making my day! That's exactly why I wrote the book - to help people do just that. And, to do it with such enthusiasm! My heart brimmed with warmth as I watched him virtually bounce away with his verdant produce cache.

The following day I was enjoying the last of The Preservation of Charleston's Home & Garden Tour on hauntingly beautiful Legare Street in downtown Charleston on an idyllic fall afternoon. Though I was strolling through beautiful gardens, food and cooking were the last thing on my mind. When, out of nowhere, a woman came running up to me. She had attended a signing I did the previous week at Snee Farm's Garden Club. She squealed with glee as she told me she had gotten so inspired from my talk about the real values and joys of shopping locally, she had headed to the Mount Pleasant farmers market that very afternoon and shopped to her heart's content.

It's stories like these, meeting the raptures of the rapidly growing universe of farmers' markets devotees, and shopping at them myself, that make the world that much brighter. And, it reminds me on those rare tired days on the road, that the work is very, very worthwhile, indeed.

Happy local shopping and cooking!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Charleston Chef's Table - Extraordinary Recipes from the Heart of the Old South


Just got my first ever copy of this cookbook, which will be released in January, 2010 (Three Forks). It's my personal love letter to Charleston's deliciously dynamic culinary scene and was written with the generous help of Charleston's most talented chefs and the inspiration of this beautiful, Southern belle of a city. Here's the cover!

Burgers and Burgers and Fries - Oh My!

Just when you thought you'd had some of Charleston's juicy-best burger offerings, a la Poe's, Rue, and Five Guys, along comes another gutsy burger joint serving up veritable whoppers of flavorful, beefy girth - Grindz. Though the one month-old, family-owned restaurant doesn't touch its aforementioned competitors in the fries or onion rings department (both here tasted and looked pre-fabricated), its leading the front of the pack in the greater Charleston burger department.

Hand-formed patties of house ground, rib-eye beef form 8 ounce, round, mini-mountains of deliciousness that would make Wimpy whimper for more and more and more. Piled atop a sturdy, fresh buttered bun and slathered with a wide assortment of condiments from chili to sauteed onions and mushrooms, these are highly effective hunger busters with easy $11 or less prices. Aptly named burger behemoths like "The Big Sloppy" (chili, bacon, smoked cheddar cheese, mushrooms, bbq sauce, fried onion straws, pickles, lettuce, tomato & homemade ranch dressing) and "Texas Hold 'Em (pepper jack cheese, bbq sauce, red onions, bacon, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato & homemade ranch dressing) give new meaning to the phrase big bite. The most brazen beef lovers among us are invited to layer on another 8 ounce patty for good measure.

Though there was nothing amusing about the passing of Amuse, the new resident of the former restaurant's West Ashley address provides ample reasons for burger lovers to smile. Wings, salads and milkshakes are all on the menu, but burgers at Grindz are the undisputed stars.

Grindz Burgers & Brew
1720 Sam Rittenburg Blvd, West Ashley
(843) 556-0257
www.grindzbuergersbrew.com

Monday, October 5, 2009

WildFlour in Full Bloom

Lauren Mitterer, Chef/Owner of this brand new pastry shop, was walking her black lab, Calla, on the beach one day while musing what she might call her not-yet- conceived business baby, WildFlour. "I saw some beautiful wild flowers and I thought, hmm, that's it," says Mitterer.

Mitterer proved her talent for creating sumptuously simple desserts with witty word-play titles at Red Drum, where she worked as Executive Pastry Chef since the restaurant's opening day six years ago. Thus followed waves of praise and award nominations, including one from the James Beard House, and a loyal legion of local Mitterer fans, myself included. The creative powerhouse finally couldn't resist the urge to open her own shop, and did so just a little over a week ago, with the enthusiastic emotional and partial financial support of her close-knit family.

Charleston is now blessed with Mitterer's very own version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Hers is a much more maternal, feminine, and sane version, but chocolate at WildFlour, like in the movie, takes center stage in her myriad cupcakes, custards, cakes, cookies, sweet breads and croissants.

The diminutive shop situated where Spring Street and Percy Street connect looks, feels, and smells like an enchanted dollhouse. Pretty little puffs of cupcakes house flavors like vanilla, lemon curd and coconut or chocolate cake, hazelnut ganache, and raspberry and are topped with pastel and cocoa hued swirls of buttercream. They looked like dressed up edible dolls dancing to the beat of temptation even as they decorate the refrigerator cabinet situated temptingly in clear view upon entering the shop. On top of the counter, cookie jars are lined up like so many kids sweet-tooth dreams. Snickerdoodles, sugar and chocolate chip - the classic rainy day afternoon comfort cookies - are all on dazzling, disarming display.

The piece de resistance, however, is Mitterer's signature double chocolate cookie. Made with decadently dark bittersweet chocolate laced with nuggets of white chocolate, it is quite easily the best cookie in these parts, especially if it comes hot out of the oven as it did the moment I arrived. It screams for a glass of cold milk and a warm hug from momma.

Alas, cold milk is not on the menu, but you can belly-up to a soothing cup of steamed milk and a warm embrace from Mitterer seems available to all whom enter WildFlour. When she's not almost single-handily crafting her regular menu items, Mitterer pursues her second love (behind chocolate, that is), creating custom cakes for weddings and other special occasions. Savory scones and biscuits are at the ready if you're not feeling the need for sweet at Wildflour.

WildFlour Pastry
73 Spring Street, downtown
(843)327-2621
Wildflouring@gmail.com

Mini- Blog Bites: Al di La Lunch, Mia P's Pizza

The once entirely celestial Al di La recently announced it's serving lunch in the charming bacaro and outside patio from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Having been at least thrice burned by rude, almost hostile service since former owner John Marshall's departure a few years ago, I was reluctant to return to check it out. But shades of eternal optimism, the changing shades of a new, cooler season, the prospect of lower lunch prices and sweet memories of Al di La's always heavenly food got the better of me. Indeed, the wheel seemed to take over along with my subconcious, virtually steering the car onto Magnolia Road when the initial destination had been the always yummy Glass Onion situated a little farther south on Savannah Highway.

Lunch proved to be impeccable. Great, friendly service from a gentle, non-hurried staff and the scent of smoke wafting from the wood-fired pizette oven quickly softened my armor into a molten self-admission that Al di La can be as sweet as it always was, especially during the less hectic daytime hours. Soups, salads, and mini-pizza's shine with fresh flavors and top grade ingredients, not the least of which is the house-made mozzarella. The prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula panini ($8.25) served with a small, fresh salad made for a perfectly delicious lunch. Prices are as gentle as the daytime service, ranging between $5 to $8.50. Throw in a glass of wine sipped underneath a merry Campari umbrella and you're inviting a sweet, Northern-Italian style nap quicker than you can say Ciao. Perhaps this kind of comforting and nurturing lunch bodes well for improved nocturnal service experiences. For more on prices, hours, menus, visit: www.aldilarestaurant.com.

Mia Pomodori

There's been a lot of positive buzz on the streets about this tiny, young pizza shop that popped up on Charleston's hottest(seemingly all of a sudden!) restaurant corner at Cannon and Rutledge. A darling little spot owned by a Brooklyn native and his wife, it emits a wonderful stream of Italian aromas that mingle with Hominy's Southern and Lana's Mediterranean respective aromatic arsenals in a most wonderful way.

I've heard people rave about the Sicilian style pizza which has a very thick, very chewy crust. For me, it's a little bit too much and reminds me of eating an open face sandwich on a halved submarine roll. Opt for the thinner specialty pies which includes the usual suspects like margherita, bianca and carne ($16.99-$18.99, 16-inch) prepared with unusual amounts of love and sincerity from the small staff. Mia's most winning points have to be the intimate outside dining patio that feels more like a Charleston backyard/garden and a pungent, saucey red sauce. Pacing's a big problem and needs to pick up. It's painful to wait a full hour with an empty stomach while breathing in all those fabulous scents. For more information on the menu/hours, etc. visit:www.miapomodori.com.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Upcoming Charleston Area Book Signings - Southern Farmers Market Cookbook


October 8, 6:30 p.m. I'll be teaching a class inspired by the book's fall recipes in a participation class called Fall Farmers Market at Charleston Cooks!, 194 East Bay Street, downtown. The fee for the class is $60. A signing will follow the class. C'mon by. This will be both fun and delicious!

October 10, 8 a.m. - noon. Charleston Farmers Market book-signing at Marion Square, downtown.

October 15, 7 to 10 p.m. and October 18, 2 to 5 p.m. I'll be hosting a signing at my home/garden in conjunction with the Preservation Society of Charleston's Fall Tour of Homes and Gardens. Will offer tasty samples of recipes from the book and libations. Should be a couple of lovely afternoons! I'd love to see you. Go to www.preservationsociety.org for more details or to get your tickets.

Also, I'll be appearing on Lowcountry Live this Friday morning, 9/25 at approximately 10:15 a.m. to prepare Red Cabbage Slaw with Bacon, Scallions, Toasted Pecans and Roquefort. First caller to get through to the show gets a free, signed copy of the book!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rita's Does Burgers Right

Like the shifting sands of time and fickle nature of fashion, Folly Beach continues to morph and change with the ongoing evolution (or de-evolution depending on whom you ask) of Charleston. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Edge of America's restaurant scene, which has gone from offering a series of beachcomber shacks and oyster joints, to becoming a virtual restaurant renaissance destination. Gone are Anchor Line and The Terrapin - enter the sophisticated waves from Blu and the bodacious burgers from Rita's across the street.

Most everyone resists change, especially at this beloved Bohemian beach and surfer land, but the addition of Rita's will be a welcome one by any red-blooded American lover of great, beefy burgers. These are drip-to-your-elbows stacks of decadence on a (slightly too soft) bun. The burgers are 10 ounce, hand-formed patties of Angus beef that are charbroiled to your preferred temperature (and at your own risk, as stated on the campy menu).The smoky, crust of the char grill recalls Burger King, but the over-the-top toppings knock these burgers well into the gorgeous, gourmet ballpark.

The Cantina Burger ($9.50) is fattened with charred red onion, jack cheese and guacamole while the Reuben Burger ($10) rolls out on rye bread with corned beef, kraut, Swiss cheese and 1000 island dressing. Bring it on! I sampled and immediately fell in love with the Southbound Burger ($9) which is simply topped with smooth, mild house-made pimiento and slabs of apple-smoked bacon. Add the fresh slivers of red onion, tomato and lettuce, and this baby was a mouthful! Shy appetites or modest eaters need to apply. A pile of hot, but otherwise forgettable fries rounds out the platters.

The restaurant also serves an array of salads, sandwiches and seafood platters, that I have not yet sampled. The latter (all about $13) looked and smelled delicious, ample and local. Still, there is something about sea air, which flows in and around through an open deck and open windows, that brings out big appetites for big, delicious burgers, and that's exactly what Rita's delivers. The prices flirt with the edge of being high for the Edge of America audience, but in my opinion, the size and quality of the ingredients in the burgers make up for it. Service is young, friendly and slightly erratic.

Next time you're craving a burger, Rita's the place to be on the beach.

Rita's Seaside Grille
2 Center Street, Folly Beach
(843) 588-2525

Saturday, August 29, 2009

www.onlyatfarmersmarkets.com

This is a great farmers market-oriented site I recently discovered. Check it out at the address above. To link to a review of Southern Farmers Market Cookbook and a story I wrote about farmers' markets as culinary and spiritual inspiration, go to:

http://www.onlyatfarmersmarkets.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=157

Happy shopping and cooking!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Farmers' Markets as a Culinary Muse

Van Gogh found inspiration for his masterpieces in the fickle clarity of Provence’s brilliant light and landscape. Rodin found it in the mystery and magic of human hands. Beethoven heard it in the trumpeting sounds of nature.

I am not an artist, but I am a chef and a cook and a food writer. For me, the greatest inspiration doesn’t come from a cookbook or a fabulous meal, though these usually rank pretty high on my list. Instead, it’s a farmers’ market, any farmers’ market, any time of year that tweaks my culinary muse.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been a farmers’ market addict for nearly twenty years. It really kicked into full force when I was living in rural France where village “marche’s” were offered daily like delicious sacrificial lambs to my empty, yearning basket and curious culinary mind. Each market in this rustic corner of the Pays Cathare was different, not unlike each of the markets I’ve uncovered in the great region of the South I explored while researching and promoting Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. Like people, each has a personality, a pulse, of its very own. Some are prettier than others, some are more sophisticated, some are more local, some are more organic, but to me, they all offer a brilliant and spiritual palette from which I can “paint” while nurturing my body and soul.

Consider a table stacked with ruby red and pale purple heirloom tomatoes roasting in the morning haze of the August sun on a crude table situated at a farmers market, Anywhere U.S.A., or world, for that matter! Is there a more beautiful site to see? An aroma more intoxicating? In my mind, the tomatoes realize myriad culinary possibilities, even before they reach my kitchen. Might they become a lazy tomato sandwich, dressed simply with mayo, salt and coarsely ground pepper, maybe a sprig of basil or two, gently pressed between two soft slices of white bread? Or, a succulent tomato sauce to embrace the grass-fed beef sausages I picked up two booth’s ago? Or, a perky gazpacho? The list goes on and on, and it doesn’t matter the ingredient, as long as it’s fresh and seasonal.

As the number of farmers’ markets and their popularity continue to mushroom across the country, this is an attitude with which I hope more people will become increasingly comfortable. I hope they will let their local farmers’ market bounty dictate what they bring home and what they create in their kitchens. I hope that people will ditch their shopping lists and their plans and embrace the whimsy of freshly picked produce and artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and breads to make unforgettable meals – edible art, if you will.

For this, along with the unsurpassed communal spirit of farmers’ markets, is what it’s all about. This is what living is, and this is the culinary muse that farmers’ markets provide the artist within us all.

From the Southern Farmers Market Cookbook Recipe File

Yellow and Red Watermelon Salsa over Red Leaf Lettuce and Smoked Ham Salad
(Serves 4 to 6)

Like tomatoes, watermelons are increasingly showing up at Southern farmers markets in a range of colors and sizes. This recipe puts both the sunny-hued “Yellow Flesh” and bright red “Cannonball” watermelon varieties to good use in a zippy, cool salsa served over a simply dressed salad of summer-seasonal red leaf lettuce and cubes of sautéed smoke ham. Mix and match with whatever local and seasonal watermelon you find. Freshness is always the key, and local is always how to find it.

For the salsa:

1 cup each cubed “Yellow Flesh” and “Cannonball” watermelon, seeded and cut into ¼-inch cubes
10 mint leaves, cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons finely diced red onion
Dash of fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

1 head red leaf lettuce, cleaned and gently dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups diced smoked ham
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the vinaigrette:

Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon local honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

To prepare the salsa, combine all salsa ingredients in a small bowl and chill up to 30 minutes before serving.

To prepare the salad, clean and dry the lettuce and tear into bite-size pieces. Reserve in a bowl, covered with a damp kitchen cloth, in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan. Cook ham, tossing occasionally, until golden brown on the edges. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside, keeping warm.

To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together the juices, honey, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually drizzle in the oil, whisking the entire time to incorporate. Taste and verify seasoning; set aside.

To assemble, season the lettuce and dress it lightly with the vinaigrette; toss gently to coat. Arrange the greens on serving plates and top with a generous portion of the chilled salsa. Sprinkle warm ham over the top and edges of each plate. Serve immediately.

(Recipe from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook by Holly Herrick, published by Gibbs Smith, June, 2009)

Farmers’ Market Faves

Though I’m not really comfortable picking “favorites” here are few markets that I’ve visited that really impressed me and why:

Morningside Farmers Market
1393 North Highland Avenue
Atlanta, GA
(404) 313-5784

This small, intimate market is 100% organic and all produce comes from within a range of no more than 30 miles. More importantly, it swells with community support and enthusiasm. People, young and old, pour in from the neighborhood to pick up their morning produce and friendly fix and to take in live music, chef cooking demonstrations and more.

Carrboro Farmers Market
301 West Main Street
Carrboro, NC
(919) 932-1641
www.carrborofarmersmarket.com

Another tiny market, this one is huge on heart. What I really love is the palpable curiosity and enthusiasm not just of the vendors, but of the shoppers. They ask questions at every booth – “How do I prepare this?,” “What would you pair this with?” It’s intoxicating, and the setting in a small park in this hamlet of Chapel Hill is exquisite.

Spring Park Farmers Market
Spring Park
Tuscumbia, AL

This is the only farmers market I’ve ever been to, anywhere, that has a tiny choo choo train riding through and around it. As if that weren’t enough, it’s situated in an expansive, verdant and recently refurbished park. The town mayor is a regular attendee, the produce is local, the mood is light and the living is good.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bananas!

This apt phrase, reflecting the all-local theme of Columbia's All-Local Market, is etched in a large billboard on the front of the small, gray shed that houses this nascent market. Newly moved into its permanent digs, this market smacks of homespun, local pride and brims with beautiful breads, produce, pecans, Caw Caw Creek's heirloom pork, and more.

Covered and open to the balmy breezes of a summer Saturday morning, I spent last Saturday here to sign Southern Farmers Market Cookbook, chat with the locals, and, of course, do some shopping. I found the most brilliant green, petite, sweet/mild butter beans I've ever had the joy to behold (and later, eat) as well as a steady stream of regulars that clearly love their little market. Neatly nestled in the shade of Brice Stadium and surrounded by gorgeous, old 19Th century mill warehouses, this market feels, as the name implies, particularly local.

Two gentlemen, who were soon to travel to Paris for a working vacation, stopped by my booth and I signed my first ever book in French. C'etait trop bon! Another Columbia resident and native of Washington state stopped by to buy five books for her friends back home who are all "into" gardening. It is so much fun to think of people all over the world waking up to the wonders of farmers markets and buying/supporting local farmers.

It was a morning well spent and an easy drive from Charleston. If you're in the Columbia area, you can visit this market on Saturday mornings during season from 8 a.m. to noon. Breakfast is provided by a busy vendor and attendees gobble it up at a large, inviting community table.

All-Local Market
701 Whaley Street
Columbia, SC 29201
www.stateplate.org

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Absolutely Not Whistlin' Dixie..These Are Great Eats

Anyone who's lived in the South for any period of time has experienced tomato pie. It's a tasty summertime rite of passage that is usually memorable but not necessarily something worth writing home about. Let me tell you, the whole world should know about Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe's tomato pie - and more.

This place blew me away in the best possible way. It's situated in a space that used to be a dreary looking greasy spoon I never found the courage/desire to enter on a slightly dingy stretch of State Street next to L'il Cricket at Cumberland Street. It looks a lot brighter these days with bold blue lettering and inviting chairs and tables with plaid covering. The scents from the tiny, tiny kitchen are staggeringly delicious and the eye candy in the pastry case - particularly the coffee cake - is fresh and sweet.

The menu, a hodgepodge of dressed up sandwiches (think turkey bacon melt, burgers and ham and cheese - all around $5 to $6), salads, and more truly shines when it steps into the Southern realm of sophisticated soul food. Enter the gorgeous tomato pie ($5.95), this one made with local, seasonal heirloom orbs of goodness stacked between layers of melted, deep-orange, aged cheddar cheese and (mercifully!) limited dabs of has-to-be-Dukes mayo. At Dixie, they dare to go where grandma never went before, giving the pie a slightly gourmet kiss of fresh basil and a drizzle of green onions. The crust, though it bore the tell-tale crimping of mass production, was golden, flaky divinity. Served alongside the fat wedge of pie was a bar of cinnamony sweet potato cornbread that landed somewhere in culinary heaven between a biscuit and cake. Mmmm.

Even though this feast was more than sufficient, I force-fed myself a virtual bowl of squash casserole ($2.25) because the owner told me it would be good because she made it. She lied. It was great! More sweet, local produce bathed in a souffle-like custard and nuggets of melting cheese, it simply doesn't get better than this.

The restaurant serves a full breakfast menu and offers a host of daily blue plate specials. Be prepared to wait. The food doesn't come out fast here, but it comes out good enough to wait. In the meantime, just breathing the scent-rich air is a wonderfully appetizing way to pass the time.

Dixie Supply Bakery & Cafe
62 State Street, downtown
(843) 722-5650
dixiecafe1@aol.com

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bluffton's Belle of a Farmers' Market

Visiting a new farmers' market for the first time is a little bit like going on a first date. Exciting, anticipatory, thrilling - that is if all goes well. My visit to Bluffton did not disappoint. Indeed, it exceeded my wildest dreams. Situated between busy Savannah and Hilton Head, the joy began with the pleasant pocket of a town that happens to be dripping with visceral delights. The market itself is situated in the scenic and historic "Old Town." Late 19th century bungalows and churches and large swaths of green surround the local-only market.

The market runs on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 6 p.m. from April through November (see site for more details) and the day I was there, it was jammed from the get-go. People actually lined up like race horses at the entrance gate well before the market opened. Enthusiasm swelled the crowd, which was an eclectic one, full of locals as well as vacationers visiting from as far off as Iowa.

The market is structured around a small green where a local artist played toe-tapping,live bluegrass music throughout the afternoon. Just a happy and beautiful place filled with produce and tasty treats like fresh-squeezed lemonade and barbecue, this is yet another market to add to your list of places to visit and, of course, to shop!

Farmers Market of Bluffton
40 Calhoun Street, Carson Cottages
Old Town, Bluffton, SC
http://farmersmarketbluffton.com
blufftonmarket@aol.com
(843) 290-6831
Market Manager: Deborah Boyd

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Notes from the Book Signing Road...'Bama Beauties

Alabama is a large and beautiful state. One literally rolls into it traveling west from Atlanta on I-20 into that state's largest city, Birmingham. A former mill town, it's embraced with rounded mounds of mountains and leafy, green trees. Downtown sparkles with Frank Stitt's culinary wizardry at three restaurants, the mainstay being Highlands Cafe and Grill. There we supped on unforgettable fresh figs wrapped with thick slabs of smoked prosciutto nestled on savory beds of lightly mounted cream peppered with lemon zest and fresh mint. Also on the menu, succulent roasted peanut soup and a vegetable plate of garden fresh creamed corn, fried okra and eggplant gratin - all of which were heavenly testament both to Stitt's skill and the sweet bounty of Alabama's farmlands.

Fortified from the feast and time well-spent with good friends, the following day we set off for Tuscumbia, birthplace of Helen Keller and the virtual birthplace of Southern rock in neighboring Muscle Shoals.

A small town, I didn't anticipate such a large and animated market, but that's exactly what I found at the Spring Park Farmer's Market. Situated at the edges of a large, leafy park, its personality is reinforced by a carousel and the choo choo sounds of a little red train that runs through it.

Huge watermelons, bountiful tomatoes, ear-upon-ear of corn and bushel- upon-bushel of peaches weighed down tables. Quickly and eagerly, the large afternoon crowd of hungry locals lightened the tables' respective loads, as they filled their canvas bags with the goods. The town's mayor and his wife were there and it seemed everyone knew everyone. This market, unified by the able hands and ample spirit of farmers market manager Sherry Campbell, personifies the community spirit that makes shopping at farmers markets so much fun. It didn't hurt that nearly everyone wanted a book and that they loved the okra and tomato soup demo/tasting of the recipe featured in it. Many kindnesses were extended by all, including Debbie Malone, manager of fabulous Cold Water Books in beautiful downtown Tuscumbia, making it feel like a sweet home, indeed.

A hundred miles of picturesque farmland away, awaited Huntsville, home of NASA and the place of my notably less (than Helen, anyway)celebrated birth. The small and nascent Bridge Street Town Center Farmers Market hugs the edges of a gorgeous, upscale shopping center and community about 10 miles west of downtown Huntsville. Though it features just a handful of vendors, it rocks with the pulse of live, beautifully played music by a local vocalist and weekly cooking demonstrations. On this day, it was ratatouille and the mood was light. The farmer vendors next to my signing booth had also been at the Tuscumbia market and offered me all kinds of goodness, including a long, tall glass of cold lemonade and beautiful Tuscumbia tomatoes. As in Tuscumbia, the crowd was proud, friendly and so happy to be at their market. Many came by to visit and buy books.

The long trip home to Charleston was infused with feel-good memories of sweet home Alabama. The very next day, I had that anticipated tomato sandwich prepared with those sweet Tuscumbia babies. There couldn't be a more succulent way to close this delicious chapter from the Alabama book.

Spring Park Farmer's Market
Spring Park
Tuscumbia, AL
Thursday, 4 p.m.-7 p.m.

Bridge Street Town Center Farmers Market
Bridge Street Town Center
Huntsville, AL
Saturday, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
www.bridgestreethuntsville.com

Back From the Road - New Local Book Signing Dates


Come celebrate Farmers Market Appreciation Week!

It seems like forever to me, but it's been six weeks since I've been home to sign books. It's going to be a hot, steamy few days, but I'm happy to be around to see local, smiling faces at my upcoming signings the next few days.

Tomorrow, 8/6, I'll be at the nearby Bluffton Farmers Market from 4 to 6 p.m., signing Southern Farmers Market Cookbook and handing out taste samples. The market is located at 40 Calhoun Street in Bluffton. For directions or more information on the market, please visit www.farmersmarketbluffton.com.

On Saturday, 8/8 (which also happens to be Roger Federer's birthday -yeah), look for me at the Charleston Farmers Market downtown at Marion Square. I'll be signing the book at the market's main information counter from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

See y'all there!

The Five Guys Experience

Nobody, including me, likes a food snob.

All good food is good, including chain food. It's just that my chain experiences have, for the most part, left me wanting. So, despite all the rave reviews I've heard over the past year or so since Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries opened in West Ashley, I've resisted the temptation to dig in. That was until last week when a friend told me she saw something on Twitter by FIG's venerable chef Mike Lata about how much he loved the place.

Turns out, he and the rest of the Five Guys "fanatics" (there is a page dedicated to them on the web site)are right. Eating here is an experience in fun and fabulous. A splash of red and white corralled with bushels of real Idaho potatoes, Five Guys feels at once 50's-retro and thoroughly modern. Sparkling clean, the center of action is the grill and fry station which operate like well-oiled (peanut oil only) machinery, while the guy at the register merrily calls out "patty" orders as they arise.

It's entirely systematic and delicious. Burgers are prepared with fresh (never frozen) beef and come "big" (two quarter pound patties, $4.49)or "little" (one quarter pound patty, $3.19)on a fresh, sturdy bun and hand-wrapped in aluminum foil. The extensive and free topping selections - from sauteed mushrooms to jalapeno peppers - gives a whole new meaning to the "special orders won't upset us" theme. Heck, even the celebrated fries can come dusted with salt or with Cajun seasoning.

The fries, which are literally fried to order from baskets that are stacked up near the fryer like so many stars waiting to shine, are epic. Skin-on slabs of Idaho deliciousness, they're delivered deliberately spilling out of their cup and steaming hot. Ketchup flows freely and easily into over-sized plastic ramekins (so unlike the too-little Wendy's variety) at the well-stocked and impeccably clean condiment counter. The likable quirky guy at the counter told me that the regular ($2.49) fry order feeds two, while the large ($3.99) feeds two to three people. That's a pretty accurate assessment, assuming these are pretty hungry folks. The portions are more than ample.

Release your inner food-snob and give Five Guys a try. It's one of the best burgers in town and the fries are unrivaled.

Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries
1662 Savannah Highway, West Ashley
(843) 556-5489

and

1795 U.S. Highway 17 North, Suite 2, Mount Pleasant
(843) 881-4550

www.fiveguys.com

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Atlanta's Farmers' Markets, Un-Earthed

Morningside is a picturesque neighborhood situated a few miles outside of downtown Atlanta, but it feels like an entirely different world. The hills roll, the streets teem with relaxed neighborhood energy and funky shops and eateries, and everyone, from the dogs, to the kids, to the adults, seems to be smiling.

Smack dab in the center of it all, in a tiny parking lot sandwiched between a restaurant and a bakery, is the Morningside Farmers' Market. Though it's small in size it's huge in heart; a veritable hot-bed of local and organic adulation. Established over a decade ago by one Ann Brewer, it is everything a farmers' market should be and spills over with the bounty of nearby Georgia farmland. Heirloom tomatoes, orange grape tomatoes, corn - the eye candy was impossible to resist from my busy little book signing table.

I was regretful I couldn't take all this wonderful stuff back to my own far-away kitchen, but will forever retain the memories of this market and its people.

Meanwhile, down a hill and a few turns and miles away, Piedmont Park is home to yet another farmers' market known as Green Market. Larger and longer than its Morningside neighbor, Green Market feels a tad more urban and more languid. People walked more slowly as they ambled along to shop and visit. Like Morningside, the weekly Saturday morning market hosts cooking demonstrations by local chefs.

Well done, Atlanta! I am told the Peachtree Market is another market wonder, but have not yet been.

Morningside Farmers' Market
1393 N. Highland Avenue
Atlanta, GA
www.morningsidemarket.com

Green Market
Piedmont Park
12th Street entrance
Atlanta, GA
www.piedmontpark.org

Worth a Visit

A recent and unexplained quest for local taco-bests delivered me to the gates of Zia Taqueria yesterday. I'd been meaning to check it out ever since it emerged from the ashes of former fabulous Fez's locale next to the Terrace Theater on Maybank Highway, but have only just gotten around to doing so.

Cool and soothing, with quiet undertones of Fez's Moroccan look, golden yellow walls and Spanish tiles give Zia attractive Mexican airs. The menu is replete with enchiladas, tortas, tacos and sides with relatively gentle price points ($1.99 sides up to $12.99 platos)that pair with a nice selection of mixed drinks, beer and wine.

Tacos come on soft corn or flour tortillas and are amply portioned, but lack the flavor power of similar selections from nearby Taco Spot. The beef barbacoa, for example, had the tender texture-marks of slow cooking, but lacked the umph of spice and lime. The onion cilantro relish was barely discernible; a little more of this would be a welcome addition.

With easy and pleasant counter service and an accessible location, Zia's begs for a visit when you're in this neck of the woods and thirsty for a cool one and a tasty, if not show-stopping, taco.

Zia Taqueria
1956A Maybank Highway, James Island
(843) 406-8877
www.ZiaTaco.com

Monday, July 13, 2009

Farmers' Market Fun

Conducting a book "tour" without a press agent,with a little dog and heavy book boxes in tow during a hot Southern summer is less than sexy. In fact, it's darn hard work. However, the sense of general adventure and the joy of the farmers' markets and new cities I've been visiting, have made it all more than worth the while.

Last Friday, I was greeted at The Pee Dee State Farmers Market by Suzanne Galloway and her amiable staff at The Hobnob Gourmet. "Hobnob" is located in the bucolic and beautiful red barn, across the way from the sprawling open shed where produce and goods are sold by Pee Dee farmers. Suzanne put on quite the spread; zucchini toasts, butter bean bruschetta, and other recipes from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook, along with sweet tea and ice cold lemon water, to refresh her many guests. Most had come expressly for the signing and they were a well turned-out group! One man, a veritable foodie who referred to his wife as his "kitchen goddess," merrily shared some cannoli and cookies they had picked up in Philly on a road trip made purely for the purpose of buying them.

Tann Mann and I regretted leaving such a pleasant setting, not to mention such a gorgeous gourmet shop, but Wilmington, NC beckoned. I struggled to find a hotel, but ended up with a lovely room in the Hilton over-looking the Cape Fear River, which happens to be around the corner from The Riverfront Farmers' Market we were scheduled to visit the next morning.

A first time visit to both Wilmington and this vibrant market (headed by Farmers' Market Manager extraordinaire R.T. Jones)that just pulses with positive community energy while over-flowing with local produce and friendly farmers. Again, so many happy stories were told by the people that came by to look at and buy the book, it was impossible not to have a good time. One young lady bought a book for her fiance, another bought two for friends. The market is situated on the edge of the river, which provided welcome, lifting breezes and charming vistas. Children, dogs and smiles were everywhere I looked. This is a not-to-be-missed market. It's not surprising it's ranked the #1 community gathering place in town.

My last ten books were snapped up by one David Holden at Holden Brothers Farm Market in Shallotte, NC, just before the SC border on the return home. A roadside market selling produce grown on Holden's farm, the large shack was thronged with people hungrily snapping up fresh goods on a warm Saturday afternoon. As he pondered the book, the salty, time and weather-seasoned farmer flipped through it with his slightly grimy farmer's thumb, leaving a brownish,ingrained spot on the edge of the pages. Somehow, this seemed fitting and endearing, especially when he pulled $140 in cash out of his pocket and put it in my hands, even before he had the books! "That's allright, I trust you," he said. Having thought those days were gone forever, I smiled and went out to sign the books. When I returned with them, he turned and showed his daughter, proudly stating, "Look, honey, they're signed."

Sometimes life is just too sweet. Hope you get out to your local farmers market soon for a little taste from the same lovin'cup.

Pee Dee State Farmers Market/Hobnob Gourmet
2513 W. Lucas Street, Florence
www.pdfarmersmarket.sc.gov

Riverfront Farmers'Market
N. Water Street - Historic downtown Wilmington, NC
Riverfront
www.localharvest.org/farmers-market/M9307

Holden Brothers Farm Market
5600 Ocean Highway West
Shallotte, NC
(910-579-4500

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spot On!

Forget Taco Boy, Taco Spot's Jason Vaughn is Charleston's taco man.

The (two) Taco Boy restaurants deliver huge style and decor dividends, but I've always found the food to be relatively pedestrian and generic. Taco Spot's tacos, burritos, wraps, and quesadillas are packed with grown-up, sophisticated ingredients paired with a sense of contemplative playfulness. Here, blackened grouper or chicken meet a cayenne ranch dressing while blackened steak dances with hot, house made salsa.

Johnson & Wales graduate Jason Vaughn smoothly orchestrates this tempting taste temptest in a tiny open kitchen that wafts with the fresh scents of cilantro, chile, and garlic and pulses with the beat of hard rock tunes, imparting a decidedly masculine mood. A sunny paint pairing of green, yellow and a large orange "spot" logo set an inviting, albeit spartan, stage.

Dining is take-out or dine-in on one of the seven stools that line the open kitchen and impressive array of international hot sauce bottles or in one of the three tables in the small back-room.

A creamy house made queso dip ($1.49, 2 oz ramekin with chips) is dotted with the pungent house made salsa and a dollop of pureed fresh jalapeno. Rich and thick, it makes for a more than adequate starter, especially when the humble price is factored in. The restaurant boldly claims near the front door that it serves the best fish tacos in town, and I've got to admit, this is no exaggeration. Tacos are served either on a soft flour tortilla or a freshly fried corn tortilla; the grouper with cilantro aioli ($2.49) paired swimmingly on the fresh, flour tortilla. The fish could have been snared and filleted on the spot, it tasted that fresh, sweet and delicious. Topped with a crunchy tomato and cucumber pico and a dusting of clean-tasting cilantro, it was impeccable. I also sampled the seared steak and hot salsa taco ($2.49) which hit all the right notes, especially when tempered with a spot of cooling sour cream.

This taco sweet spot is located a stone's throw from Home Team BBQ in a small strip mall with convenient parking. Swing on by and give it a try!

The Taco Spot
1301 B Ashley River Road, West Ashley
(843) 225-7426
Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sat., noon-9 p.m.
Closed daily from 4 to 5 p.m.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hot Barrier Island Weekend Book Signings


Though the weather's predicted to be hot, all eyes will be on farmer fun this weekend. Come on out to join me for one of two book signings I'll be attending this weekend for Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. On Saturday, June 27, I'll be joining Sidi Limehouse and the gang out at Rosebank Farms (4455 Betsy Kerrison Parkway, John's Island) from 3 to 7 p.m.
The following afternoon, I'll be jumping on the wonderful Slow Food band-wagon at Thackery Farms on Wadmalaw Island for a Farm-to-Plate picnic. Tours of the farm will be held, there will be a pie auction and I'll be signing the book from 4 to 8 p.m. The event is a Slow Food Charleston fund-raiser for the Sander's-Clyde elementary school's organic garden initiative. I will donate $2 from each book sold to the cause. So come on out, it's a good one!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fabulous Faces and Facets of Southern Farmers Markets

Edible Metro & Mountains, a magazine celebrating the local foods of Greater Atlanta and North Georgia, published a story I wrote about Southern Farmers Markets in their summer 2009 issue. Feel free to check it out at:

http://www.ediblecommunities.com/metroandmountains/pages/articles/sum09/ed

Click on the "Fabulous Faces...." headline in the masthead. It includes interviews and quotes from farmers around the region.

I hope you like it!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Saving Fish While Sustaining the Soul

The Culinary Institute of Charleston, working in tandem with the South Carolina Aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Initiative, culinary students, and a host of talented guest chefs, achieved a resounding missionary and culinary trifecta at the Sustainable Seafood Dinner held at 181 Palmer on the school's Palmer campus last Tuesday (June 16).

A fund-raiser extraordinaire, the goal was to raise funds and awareness for the aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Initiative, showcase the talents of the students and the chefs, and present an award-winning, five-course feast to the evening's guests. Served within the intimate, soothing space of the school's working classroom/restaurant, 181 Palmer, the event achieved all this and more.

Between courses, Megan Westmeyer, the aquarium's Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SSI)Coordinator, provided informative and humorous anecdotes about the significant progress the initiative has made in improving the lives and longevity of the fish that populate our coastal waters. From improved long-line techniques and gentler and kinder lures that prevent wastless ensnarement (and murder) of the denizens of the deep to the chivalrous mating habits of male triggerfish, Westmeyer had the small crowd of 40 alternating between waves of laughter and hushed, appreciative enlightenment.

The menu showcased 100% sustainable fish, including blue crab, yellowfin tuna, triggerfish and swordfish and each course was paired with wine, every bottle retailing for $20 or less. Hank's Seafood Chef Frank McMahon's pink, seared slices of yellowfin tuna swam in a cool sea of sweet corn, tomatoes, tangy pickled okra and dill while Waterscapes at the Marina Inn (Grand Dunes) chef James Clark triggerfish went Lowcountry with the round, rich flavors of sweet peas, country ham, shrimp and Vidalia onion relish. Dessert came in the delightful form of a round scoop of fresh peach ice cream served on a crisp shortbread cookie with a blueberry buckle; a type of sophisticated spoon bread.

Students worked with the chefs to create the dinner, just as they do every day of the school year with chef Scott Stefanelli in the school's kitchen laboratory. One of Charleston's best kept restaurant secrets, 181 Palmer serves a three-course lunch ($15)throughout the year when school's in session, and everyone is invited. Just be sure to make a reservation. Stefanelli and his students infuse the food and the dining room with talent, skill and unbridled positive energy that's on par with any five-star restaurant anywhere in the world.

Culinary Institute of Charleston/Trident Technical College - Palmer Campus
66 Columbus Street, downtown
For required reservations: (843) 820-5087, ext. 2
www.culinaryinstituteofcharleston.com

Market Love From Both Sides Now

For easily a decade, I've been a farmers' market addict. It doesn't matter whether it's a neighborhood market in a mega metropolis like NYC or a tiny village in the Pays Cathare in France. If there's a market, I'm there, sniffing, touching and buying my way through the gorgeous produce, usually chatting it up with the farmers, and sampling some tasty morsel like a ham and cheese crepe or a fresh pickle. But, in all those years, I've never seen a market from a vendor/farmer perspective - until last Saturday at the Charleston Farmers' Market and yesterday at the Daniel Island Farmers' Market.

It's entirely different, yet equally compelling. In both cases, of course, I was there to sign Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. At Marion Square, I was almost sadistically positioned straight across from those dreadfully seductive mini-doughnuts, flanked on my right by Frank Fleming of Simply...Bananas and on my left by an ambrosial, aromatic sea of exotic lily's and lavender. The lavender followed me again, this time from Thackery Farms, to Daniel Island. Talk about olfactory over-drive.

Behind the booth, the focus was on the people, not the produce as I'm accustomed. Endearing vignettes unfolded again and again before my eyes. The husband/father with two, beautiful children who was there to secretly buy a book for his wife while his little girl squealed in delight, "It's a secret!" The couple visiting from New England describing how they split culinary duties and the sweet daughter buying a gift for her Dad. All of it so entirely feel-good it was enough to make one nearly explode with joy and completely forget all the bad stuff we've been hearing about for so long.

But, it was the man buying flowers for his girl-friend (talk about feel-good) at the lily booth that said it best. As the vendor wrapped them with care and handed them over to him, she said, "Have a good day." He beamed, practically danced and opened up his arms in wonder, saying, "How can I not? I'm surrounded by beautiful flowers, warm mini-doughnuts, and farm-fresh produce on a beautiful day?"

I could not say it better myself! No matter how you slice it, or what angle you're looking at it from, a local farmers' market is a thing of beauty of the human kind. If you're lucky, fringe benefits include good restaurant tips from a fun neighboring vendor (Frank Fleming told me about Pollo Tropical and H & L Asian Market in North Charleston - even drawing a detailed map!)and then, there are those doughnuts. The former are on my most pressing must-do list and the latter, well, they're history - until next time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Southern Farmers Market Cookbook

On bookstands now. Also available at amazon.com and http://www.gibbs-smith.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=2711


UPCOMING SIGNINGS IN THE CHARLESTON AREA:

Charleston Farmers Market, Marion Square
Saturday, June 13, 8 a.m. - noon

Daniel Island Farmers Market, Daniel Island
Thursday, June 18, 3 p.m. - dusk (7:30 p.m. or so)

Preservation Society
Corner of King and Queen Streets, downtown Charleston
Saturday, June 20, 10 a.m. - noon
Signing and Chow-Chow Shrimp Deviled Egg Tasting

WaldenBoooks
Downtown, Meeting and Market Streets at Charleston Place
Tuesday, June 23, 10 a.m. - noon
Signing and Chow-Chow Shrimp Deviled Egg Tasting

More coming....

Crescent City Cajun

The Holy City has a new choice for gutsy, Big Easy-style eats. Formerly a catering kitchen, The Crescent Connection expanded into restaurant turf three months ago. All the usual New Orleans suspects - crawfish etouffee (lunch, $6), red beans and rice (lunch, $5), and a tasty cast of Po'Boys (lunch, $5-$9) - grace the small menu with unusually authentic treats. Chef/owner Iran Coleman hails from New Orleans and, according to our server, "has worked with all the best New Orleans chefs." Unsuccessful at getting chef Coleman on the phone to confirm his resume, I can tell you his food offers the compelling earmarks of a well-trained chef, regardless of where he's worked in the past.

Most of the ingredients, from the crawfish to the beans and sausage, are shipped in from New Orleans to ensure the authenticity of the flavors of the seafood and produce of the region.

The Crescent City Connection jumps over the moon with its gumbo (small, $3.50, large, $6), a heady, brown gravy layered with smoky heat and spice, thick with roux and savory morsels of meat and seafood. A scoop of buttery, nutty rice is presented on top at the table, consequently sealing the deal on what's essentially a meal in a bowl. Similarly, sides like macaroni and cheese, corn macheux and smothered okra, are satisfying, stick-to-your ribs fare on the cheap. The corn macheaux (small, $3.25, large, $4.75) stands out as a fancy creamed corn winner of roasted corn nuggets awash in a spicy, sweet sea of cream and flavor points of fresh thyme. Alas, an otherwise sublime crawfish etouffee was marred with the lingering after-taste of burnt roux and was light on crawfish. Still, it's a worthy eating endeavor and one that was probably just having a quasi-bad day.

Little bars of slightly dry corn bread, served without butter, arrived mid-meal. Indeed, timing was off throughout the meal, which is an area where Crescent can and should improve. After all, most of this food is prepped well ahead of time. Thus, there really is no explaining slow, awkward, stop-and-go service timing, except for lack of organization in the kitchen or other distractions. Since we were two of a total of six diners in the small restaurant, it can't be attributed a sudden order- glut. If this glitch is ironed out, Crescent Connection should make an excellent lunch choice for the many professionals that work in the nearby Park Circle and North Charleston area. Until then, bring snacks or a good dose of patience, or your stomach will be rumbling (like mine was) louder than the New Orleans-style music that permeates the merry little space.

Indeed, Crescent Connection's location, in a little strip mall near the corner of Montague Avenue, is an odd one. However, parking is easy and the food and super endearing staff make it worth a visit to bring your heart just a little bit closer to the Big Easy, if only for a day. Dinner offers a broader menu of choices at slightly higher prices. Take-Out and catering are also available.

The Crescent Connection Bistro
1910-E Montague Avenue
North Charleston
(843) 529-0777
Lunch, Tuesday - Friday, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Dinner, Tuesday - Saturday, 5 - 9 p.m.

Mojito Madness

Dog days of summer got you down? Never fear, Jason Hall is here. The mojito magician/bartender is whipping up a batch of seriously refreshing cocktails at Charleston Grill's handsome bar in preparation for the fourth annual Charleston Bacardi Mojito Challenge which will be held at the aquarium on June 23rd.

We caught him muddling away last Saturday night, but instead of traditional fresh mint leaves, he coaxes the flavor from fresh pineapple-sage leaves to create his incredibly crisp, cool and savory creation he calls a "Pineapple Sage Yuzo Mojito." He wouldn't share the precise recipe but conceded it includes the aforementioned herb leaves, yuzo, vanilla, honey, Bacardi rum (of course), a mint simple syrup, lime juice and soda water. Clear as water and peppered with shards of green, taking one sip feels like jumping into azur Carribean waters.

Hall just might be the guy to beat at this year's contest. Not a rum fan? Try Hall's "Cool Breeze," a sultry blend of Hendrick's gin, muddled fresh cucumber and lemon with fresh ginger, simple syrup and soda water.

Both go down remarkably well with the bar side gratis goodies of candied/smoked nuts, olives and pickled onions and even better with executive chef Michelle Weaver's artful fare, especially the crunchy hot bites of fried mac 'n cheese and the corn beignets.

A girls' night out never tasted so good!

Charleston Grill
224 King Street, downtown
(843) 577-4522
www.charlestongrill.com

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Charleston Magazine - Market to Market!

Marion Sullivan, Charleston Magazine's talented trumpeter of the local food world, has included a beautifully written piece on Southern Farmers Market Cookbook in the June issue of Charleston Magazine. Look for it on newstands now, or go directly to: http://www.charlestonmag.com/charleston_magazine/feature/to_market_to_market to get an on-line look.

OK. After today, I'm done with the shameless self-promotion and on to a new restaurant review gig which I will share with you tomorrow. Hint - it's Cajun and in North Chuck.

Until then, happy fresh and seasonal cooking. Best, Holly

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Market Fresh

Teresa Taylor, Food Editor at The Post and Courier, wrote a nice piece in today's paper about Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. You can find it in today's paper or go to www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/may/27/market_fresh83663

TO VIEW OR BUY the book now, go to http://gibbs-smith.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=2711

Happy and healthy seasonal cooking!

Holly

Thursday, April 30, 2009

See Southern Living's May Issue - On Stands Now

Southern Living Magazine generously devotes three pages to my new book, Southern Farmers Market Cookbook (Gibbs Smith), in this month's (May) issue. You'll find it in the South Carolina People & Places section. Check it out and see why it's important to "buy local, buy right." Look for the book at major bookstores and around town (including the Charleston Farmers Market) after June 1. It can be "viewed" and/or pre-ordered now at www.gibbs-smith.com and www.amazon.com.

Here's a seasonal recipe from the book to whet your appetite for the glorious, local bounties of May. In this case, strawberries. In a week or two, it will be high time for blueberries, which would make a fine substitute for the strawberries in this salad.

Spinach and Mesclun Salad with Fresh Strawberries and Sweet-Hot Pecans
(Serves 6)

The earliest yield of Southern spring harvests include sweet, plump, ripe strawberries and tender leaves of spinach, mesclun, and baby lettuces. Paired with sugar and paprika-coated pecans pulled hot from the sauté pan, a pert vinaigrette and the clean bite of mint, these spring produce belles are as beautiful, yet demure, as can be. If you come across a mellow, soft local cheese, it would be lovely scattered across the top before serving.

14 large strawberries, halved (vertically)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

For the vinaigrette:

1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon local honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup pecan halves
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash of paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 cups fresh spinach
4 cups mesclun
8 leaves fresh mint

Up to 1 hour before serving, combine the strawberries in a small bowl with the balsamic vinegar. Toss and marinate for at least 30 minutes, but no more than 1 hour. Strain the berries, reserving the juices; place berries in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the vinaigrette, combine the strained juices from the berries with the shallot, mustard, honey, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually incorporate 1/2 cup of the olive oil, whisking well to emulsify. Taste and verify seasonings.
Meantime, in a small sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pecans, sugar, paprika, salt and pepper. Toss and watch, toasting until the nuts turn a light golden brown. Drain on a paper towel.
To serve, toss the spinach, mesclun, minute leaves and a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper together in a large bowl with a light dressing of the vinaigrette (you probably will only need about half – save the rest for later). Serve on individual plates or on a large platter garnished with the marinated strawberries and warm pecans.

Recipe from Southern Farmers Market Cookbook by Holly Herrick (Gibbs Smith, June, 2009)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No Lunch, Free or Otherwise, at The Atlantic Room

Some days just beg for a leisurely midday indulgence. The crystalline, cool, sunny days of spring in Charleston can be a potent force in bringing on such a craving. These forces, along with business requirements on Kiawah Island yesterday, collided in such an overwhelming wave of indulgence justification, I decided to top off the morning with lunch at The Atlantic Room at The Ocean Course Clubhouse, dubbed "Kiawah's Premier Seafood Restaurant."

Decidedly in the mood for something exotic and oceanic, like the Mediterranean sea bass with asparagus, grape tomato, leek, rocket citrus-rosemary vinaigrette and three onion soubise ($16) I had read about on the restaurant's web site, my anticipation and mood mounted with every twist and turn of the long (nearly 7 miles) and scenic road that runs from The Sanctuary to the clubhouse's gorgeous front door.

The entire setting is so perfectly beautiful and peaceful, it seems surreal. White dunes and grasses wrap around the early twentieth century style mini-manse of a clubhouse while the surf crashes all around. Mega-manse private homes, many of them with similar architectural, shingle-clad styles, dot the higher ground like jewels of the super-rich to whom they must belong. It's easy to get swept away and dream you're one of them, at least for a day.

The Atlantic Room, with relatively pricey lunch-time rates ($10-$18) and prime ocean views, seemed like just the place to play this particular dream game. Alas, it was not to be. I was informed upon arriving at the empty (albeit sumptuous) dining room that lunch is not being served at the restaurant "this season," but instead is offered in the neighboring Ryder Cup Bar. My spirits dimmed slightly as the anticipatory edges of my dream lunch started to fray, but I figured I'd still be able to select from The Atlantic Room's menu even if I had to eat it in a bar with a bunch of rowdy bankers and a distracting flat-screen television.

Wrong again! As the menu proved, this is a soup, salad, sandwich and sushi room only - with more of those blindingly beautiful views. Resigned to have a good time, I settled into a glass of Chardonnay and the "bagger burger" ($15). A great burger it was, too. Composed of perfectly cooked-to-temperature ground Black Angus beef and topped with savory pepper bacon, gooey smoked cheddar, a garden-full of fresh Bermuda onion, tomato and crisp lettuce, it was served with a mound of lukewarm fries and hot onion rings.

Though lunch at the Ryder Cup Bar was good, there are times that demand something more than a good sandwich. This was one of them.If the web site hadn't promised lunch at The Atlantic Room, I probably would have stayed at The Sanctuary and supped at Jasmine Porch.

It just goes to prove, don't believe everything you read. One should expect more from a resort of Kiawah's caliber. At a minimum, restaurant menu/hours information should be accurate. If it was just a few days out of sync, no problem. But, when I politely suggested to my young server that someone at corporate should be told, she apologetically explained that they had been told about it several times but nothing had been done about it to date.

I'll have to wait a while for this kind of mood to strike again and venture out to sample the enticing-looking Atlantic Room for dinner, but next time I'll call first. For now, I'm going to go downstairs and rejoin the masses while I consume the left-over half of the Ryder burger in the relatively humble confines of my real life living room. I wonder if it will taste as good? I'm betting not.

The Atlantic Room/The Ryder Cup Bar
The Ocean Course Clubhouse
Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Call (843) 266-4085 to make reservations at The Atlantic Room (or to confirm hours!)
www.kiawahresort.com

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Other Ali Baba

Revered for world-class tennis and peaceful island living, Daniel Island has a less than stellar restaurant track record, the now past-tense Sienna excluded from the brief list of previous players. Many so-so restaurants have fallen by the wayside over the years, and the relative few remaining don't offer sufficiently compelling culinary reasons to visit unless you are hungry and happen to be in the immediate area. (Note: I should add that I have not yet visited Eddie's Bistro and have heard good things about it. More on that another day).

The recent opening of Ali Baba Mediterranean Deli has changed DI's fairly bleak restaurant history, hopefully for good. I happened to be out there last week to enjoy some of said world- class tennis. I arrived early for a mid-day match, and decided to by-pass the pricey food court to sample Ali Baba's goods. My stomach was already rumbling as I entered the spacious restaurant/deli. This sensation intensified as I spied the seemingly endless deli case, replete with baba gahnnoug, jasmin chicken salad, tzatziki, tabouli, and much more. A busy band of notably attractive cooks and servers worked the open kitchen space just beyond, which relentlessly bombarded my senses with wafts of exotic spices and visions of roasting gyro meats.

It seems I'm not the only one that's taken notice. At barely 11:30 a.m., the place was filling up faster than a filling station during a 70's era fuel shortage. After a short wait, I placed my order at the counter and was handed a number to post at my table, which would later and correctly identify me as the recipient. Decision making was difficult, to say the least. The menu is expansive, including warm platters, samplers, specialty dishes, kebobs and paninis, and each one looks and sounds as good as the next. I settled for the shawerma hummus ($7.99) and was glad I did.

It was an absolute taste bud stunner, redolent with the sprite flavors of the Middle East. It, like seemingly everything here, is backed with the authenticity delivered to the table and the kitchen through Jordan natives and owners Samir and Yasmin Elzabidi. A generous pool of silky, slightly pungent hummus formed a most appetizing bed for a nest of shredded beef (chicken is also available) shrouded in the tangy bite of lemon, kiss of cardamon and "Lebanese" spices. An ample dose of fresh parsley and tiny diced fresh onions brought additional gustatory life to a dish already bursting with it.

This dish alone is worth returning for again and again, and I assure you, I will, tennis or no. It will be difficult to break out of the delicious mold of the shawerma hummus and sample some of Ali Baba's many more options, but based upon the visual and olfactory impressiveness of the many dishes I saw delivered to neighboring tables, I will have to force myself to do it.

Ali Baba also offers an extensive catering menu for those interested in having the restaurant's goodness delivered.

Ali Baba Mediterranean Deli
186 Seven Farms Drive, Suite 500
Daniel Island
(843) 377-8666
http://www.alibabacharleston.com/

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A New "Blu" View

Given the dearth of water view restaurants in this town (see "Dinner with a View" post below), it was with great anticipation that I ventured out with a pal to The Edge of America to experience the newly re-vamped Folly Beach Holiday Inn and its brand new ocean view restaurant & bar, Blu.

Visually, the rewards proved to be impressive. All the aesthetics, from the dinning room decor to food presentation to the surf-pounding view were stunning. Our server was enthusiastic but bland; professional but boring. His lack of animation didn't fit the setting, but maybe he was having a slightly off day. Based upon the good, but at times lack-luster food, chef Jonathan Hagins, who came to Charleston via Hilton Head, may have been, too.

It is only fair to point out that Blu's brand new - nary a month old. It's also accurate and fair to say that there are many good things about the restaurant. I was disappointed because I wanted the food to match this gorgeous, much improved setting with the added, rare bonus of an ocean view. Perhaps it will get there. The chef shows much promise both in the diversity of the menu, which includes a hefty portion of real (not pretend) local produce and seafood, whimsical variations on international and southern food themes, and a nice assortment of small plates from the "sharing menu" and the smaller entree part of the menu. Prices are also surprisingly modest for the premier setting. Items on the sharing menu range from just $7 to $10 and the entrees range from $16 to $25.

However, execution was off at times, particularly in the seasoning department. It reared its tasteless head in the roasted beets ($), which were beautifully roasted and presented. The tang of goat cheese helped to show-off the beets' earthy sweetness, but the promised sea salt was undetectable to my palate. It was sorely needed, so too a splash of acid. It was a similar story for the highly recommended shrimp bruschetta ($8), which more closely resembled a pesto and tomato soup. It was chunky and very liquid, not really a typical bruschetta topper. The shrimp served with it were bona fide local and delicious. Salt and lemon would have made this dish nearly as delicious as the view. Zippy and moist mini-blue sliders ($9) served in fresh, soft potato buns and topped with sweet, caramelized onions and points of blue cheese were flawless and an utterly fresh-from-the-sea fillet of pan-seared grouper ($9) was another local seafood gem that was handled with extreme care by the kitchen. Served with a pungent green tomato marmalade, it was a real winner.

Take time to soak in the view at Blu. The sophisticated yet relaxed dining room is awash in the colors of sea foam, ranging from sage to azure. Waves of gossamer curtains embossed with wavy patterns recall the flutter of a cool sea breeze. Seating is ample and comfortable, complete with well-padded banquettes in the softened, round edges of the room. Don't miss the precious clay art murals of colorful fish playing and peeking from the crevices of a coral reef on your right upon entering the restaurant space.

Parking is easy and free, just like the effect Blu's views have on the soul.

Blu Restaurant & Bar
Folly Beach Holiday Inn
1 Center Street, Folly Beach
(843) 588-6659
http://www.blufollybeach.com/

Farmer's Market Frenzy

Wow, what a first day for the farmer's market season. Saturday's opening day for the Charleston market on Marion Square was an unprecedented doozy. In a decade, I've never seen so much traffic at the market on any day of the year. I was unable to get there until noon. By then, most booth's were already sold out or nearly sold out. Karen Kennerty of Kennerty Farms had two bags of fresh greens left - all the asparagus and everything else had sold out by mid-morning, she reported with a beaming smile. Obviously, the appeal of supporting local farmers and locally produced foods is blooming. Perhaps the gorgeous weather had something to do with it, as well.

Food vendors offering gyro's, crepes, omelets, pasta, (local) open-faced grilled sandwiches, miniature pies, and an increasingly gourmet cache of goodies were clogged to the extreme and waits were long for lunch. I had to settle for a hot dog from the only relatively lonely vendor at the place. At least it was a good hot dog.

Hope the farmers load up for this Saturday's market, which opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 2 p.m. I, for one, plan to get there early!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dinner and a View

Early spring in Charleston stirs up (along with a hefty dose of pollen) a hefty appetite for some of the city's unparalleled views, and the closer to nature the better. Since Charleston is surrounded by water, dappled with sunlight and rippling with pale green marsh grasses during this most comely of seasons, water-side dining seems like the perfect pick. But, unless you live on the edge of it or have a friend who does, your options are limited. Then, there is California Dreaming.

I know, I know. This twenty-year-old restaurant stalwart isn't likely to be at the top of any gourmand's list for five-star dining and it's probably never going to get a nod from the James Beard House. However, there are lots of things to like about it, and the brightest star on that list has to be the circle-in-the-round water views which can be savored from literally any of the many seats in the spacious house. It's exquisite. The Ashley snaking to the north, the Cooper River bridge on the horizon, the colorful glitter of the peninsula, the bustle of maritime activity on the river, and an open view of the harbor that extends well past Fort Sumter are all there for the taking along with what's almost always a good meal for a fair price.


A fairly straightforward meat and potatoes joint, California Dreaming proves time and again it can deliver in the steak department. The New York Strip ($22.95) I ordered on a recent trip was cooked perfectly to order, seasoned through and through and frankly, was one of the best renditions you can find around town within that price range. Baked potatoes, which come loaded if you choose, are always soft and fluffy, just begging to soak up seasonings, butter, sour cream and whatever else additionally calories you dare pile on. That same $22.95 will buy you another side, which usually ends up being the restaurant's popular house salad. As with the potato, I ask them to hold the eggs, bacon and cheese for which the salad's celebrated, but are not welcomed by my waistline defenses. Even without the extras, it's a pleasant addition to the meal.

The service staff is young and sometimes erratic but usually friendly and efficient. In the roughly ten times I've dined here in as many years, every single time the place has been packed. It brings in a diverse crowd of seniors, families, romantic couples, and tourists and can be loud. But, one cast of your eyes and your mind upon the nearly surreal beauty of the view blocks it all out so you can really enjoy your meal, the moment, and Charleston's knock-out beauty.

For a dusk-time nightcap, why not visit another tried and true, if slightly corny, Charleston tradition just across the waterway at the Holiday Inn's Harborview Restaurant. It just received an interior design update, but the view, elevated several stories higher than California Dreaming's, remains its good old celestial self. Pair that with one of the affable bartenders' cocktails and you'll swear you're in heaven. And, you just might be right.

California Dreaming Restaurant
1 Ashley Point Drive, Charleston
(843) 766-1644

Holiday Inn Riverview - Harborview Restaurant
301 Savannah Highway, West Ashley
(843) 725-4138



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 couponmom.com) 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 couponmom.com with a daily special shopping list constructed from Harris Teeter's web site (harristeeter.com) , 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.