Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Halo Radiates Goodness

Onward marches the parade of single-word restaurant monikers that seems to be taking over Charleston. First there was Shine, then there was Amen (Street), and now the bread-baking Gods of goodness bring us Halo. Open just a month, it's situated in the space that used to be one very mixed up "Blend" just across from MUSC.

Mixed up no more, Halo truly does shine, largely due to the talents of long-standing Meredith food stylist and chef, Angela McCrovitz. Her eye for details is evident in the luscious spread of pastries, breads, cakes, cookies, scones and more, scattered like edible treats in the way only an accomplished stylist can do - it's a kind of visual food seduction. She mans the busy counter taking orders that stream in through the front door and just keep coming through lunch time. It can get a bit crammed at the door, but service is quick and fluid enough that time here passes quickly. Ample seating upstairs in the antique Charleston single house structure is comfortable and delivers an inviting respite from the more bustling experience below.

It's tough to sink one's teeth into the menu, it's so expansive, encompassing breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches and all of those aforementioned desserts. There are also several kid-friendly and gluten-free options. Selection frustration only grows with the realization that sandwiches can be stacked on myriad bread selections, including pretzel roll, country white, stratia rye, vegetable wheat, croissant and vegetable wrap - all made in-house. Of these, the pretzel roll, a dark tan globe of chewy, dewy bread with a dense crust is the best. It's a knock-out backdrop for Halo's heavenly lobster roll ($7.99, served with chips and a pickle), prepared with fat chunks of lobster tossed with crisp cubes of celery, a light binding of mayo and little more. As delicious as the bread is, The sandwich could stand to beef up a bit on the filling, but was otherwise delicious.

The statuesque "mile high quiche" ($4.99 per slice) is a celestial wedge of fresh eggs with spinach, mushroom, feta and gobs of ricotta cheese wrapped with a thin, flaky layer of ricotta that no quiche-lover should miss.

Halo's not yet perfect. The service can be a little choppy and there are a few kinks in getting the food to the table, particularly upstairs. I wish they would bag the plastic cutlery. It's not very eco-friendly and it's tough to eat with plastic forks. However, Halo's young. I'm betting the hungry crowd from across the street will keep Halo's register happily ringing for a long time to come and that she'll just get better with time.

170 Ashley Avenue
Charleston, SC 29403
(843) 297-8842

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Sweet Bite of Paris in Charleston

Third generation chocolatier and French native Christophe Paume and his business partner/wife Carly have brought a beautiful gift to Charleston. Opening their first store, Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier, nearly a year ago in Mount Pleasant, the young couple opened a second shop by the same name on King Street two months ago.

In so doing, they've brought a gorgeous bit of France home to roost in Charleston. The French take food and chocolate seriously. It is an art form for them, a way of nurturing body and soul. Paume makes chocolates more beautiful than I've ever seen in France - including the exquisite work of Pierre Herme - or anywhere in the world. His tempered delights receive hand-painted splashes of color from bright orange to deep lavender. They look like polished gems lined up in the tiny, ever-so-French shop on King Street, that charming Carly oversees. She'll hand-pick chocolates for you and delicately arrange them just so in their gorgeous red or chocolate-brown boxes.

But what to pick? An Earl Grey infused dark chocolate ganache painted robin's egg blue with tiny dots, lemon puree in a milk chocolate ganache painted sage green with pale brown speckles, or the lavender caramel with a dark chocolate shell wrapped around homemade caramel infused with lavender? Those are just three of over twenty choices, then there are the truffles and the chocolate sculptures. Of these, my particular favorite is the delicate, deep mauve pump trimmed with burgundy, the female shoe and chocolate lover's dream come true all in one tempting, beautifully wrapped, edible package.

Even non-chocolate crazies (and until visiting here, I counted myself as one of them) have to appreciate the labor of love and pure, unadulterated talent that is poured into each one of these beauties. It's an inspiration just to walk into these shop(s) and imagine the master alone, at work, in his chocolate factory, preparing each gorgeous chocolate. Then there is that first bite. It's like falling in love for the first time - sweet, heady, rich and beautiful.

Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Patissier

375 N. Shelmore Boulevard
Unit 1B, Mount Pleasant

365 1/2 King Street, downtown Charleston (across from Five Guys)

Culinary Cost-Cutting 101

Coupon Crazy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Plucky Chicken, Four Marvelous Meals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken never tasted so good for so little.