Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Graze is Good

When I think of grazing, I think of cows chomping their way lazily through a green, grassy meadow. It's a meandering, bucolic feed that both satisfies and nurtures without gut-busting greed or over-consumption distress.

Graze, a four month-old restaurant serving what it bills as "creative casual cuisine" from the space that was Coco's for a decade, serves more than a meadow. It whips up a veritable international forest via an expansive menu that borrows from the larders of Korea, France, the American south, Italy and more. Graze is green, too, both literally and figuratively. Management adheres to the once trendy, now nearly mandatory farm-to-table modus operandi. The dark, dreary and cramped Coco's predecessor has morphed into a light, fresh space with grassy green walls and little glass pots of lime green grass stationed throughout. Art created by local artists dress the walls and change seasonally with the menu.

Glaze is modern, clean, and inviting. Aside from being a little loud, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The server knew what she was talking about and was pleasant and professional from start to finish. The food is solidly (if not magically) palatable and creative as prepared by former Sette co-workers and Graze co-owners/chefs Michael Karkut and Derek Lathan. Although the menu suggests you might be in for a light graze with headings like "Tiny Grazing," don't be fooled. The Lobster Mac 'n Cheese ($10, pictured above), a sea of melting fontina and cheddar with generous chunks of fresh, sweet lobster and points of fresh thyme and black pepper that it was, proved to be anything but "tiny" in any way, shape or form. This good-enough-alone-reason-to-visit-Graze dish is ample enough to jump-start four women's appetites and bull whip one very hungry man's by the time his spoon hits the bottom of the bowl. But, boy, was it good!

Good is what Graze is all about, I think. There are ample choices, ample portions and very fair prices. The Roasted Leg of Lamb Gyro ($10, lunch menu) showcased tender, pink shards of lamb on fresh, dewy pita bread and a tart/tangy cucumber yogurt sauce, purposely served minus the dill, which I didn't miss at all. Another hearty sandwich is to be found in the sturdy, flavorful prime rib slices topped with freshly fried onion slices and a horseradish mayo, all on a fresh challah bun ($11, lunch menu). Salads, dressings and soups are all made in-house and reflect the same kind of freshness and appropriately paired flavor whimsy.

Graze seems to have attracted a loyal and diverse herd of patrons. Both times I've visited, it's been packed, even standing room only, chock full of everything from little old bespectacled ladies reading menus through magnifying glasses, couples sipping wine and holding hands, and bow tie- clad businessmen digging into Graze's big, beefy grass-fed (of course!) burgers ($9, lunch menu). No surprise, there is really nothing not to like here. The menu offers something for everyone (without over-doing it and risking mediocrity or kitchen confusion), the food is good, and the experience is pleasant without breaking the bank. But, unless you're very good and can resist the mac 'n cheese and fries, don't expect to depart on light feet. You'll leave well-fed and ready for a happy nap out in a warm pasture under the welcome shade of a sage, green tree dreaming of a meal well spent.

863 Houston Northcutt Boulevard, Mount Pleasant
(843) 606-2493


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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.