October 2008

Posted on October 31, 2008 in Archives

October 30, 2008 Osso Buco, Sweet Potato Gnocchi, and Chocolate Orange Mayonnaise Cake!

Chocolate Orange Mayonnaise Cake


When Mikel and I were on Lake Gaston a few weeks ago, there was a chocolate mayonnaise cake lurking in the refrigerator of the guests’ quarters of our friends’ house. I’ve always loved the deep dark richness of cakes made with cocoa and the moist quality of cakes made with oils and mayonnaise instead of butter. But I’m loath to use store-bought mayonnaise in anything! I used to like Duke’s ® because it had no sugar, but years ago they started using questionable ingredients. And in the natural foods stores, even the ones that tout that they’re made with olive oil are in fact made with heinous ingredients such as soy oil, with only a tiny fraction of a percent of olive oil. I also wonder what they do to it to make it last:  Mama always said to use mayonnaise within a week. We are talking about raw eggs here!

That’s my mother’s old cake carrier from the sixties. I took the cake today to a meeting of Federal GLOBE employees at the Corporation for National Service here in DC. I promised everyone that if we liked it, I’d post the recipe. It was scrumptious, so here it is.


I always make my own mayonnaise, either in a mortar, with two egg yolks per cup of oil, or in a blender, with the entire egg. I usually flavor mayonnaise with a little cayenne and mustard. Sometimes I add watercress or even boiled shrimp. And, depending on how I’m going to use it, I usually use a light-bodied oil in combination with olive oil. A little lemon juice at the end makes it lighter and brighter as well. It’s traditional.


I’ve also always loved the combination of chocolate and orange flavors, so for this cake – which is a combination of a dozen recipes I found in my collection, including one that Johnny Iuzinni makes (sent to me by Roy Finamore, his co-author) at Jean-Georges – I decided to make the mayonnaise using fruity, but mostly innocuous grapeseed oil and fresh-squeezed orange juice instead of lemon. I grate the rind from the orange and add it to the frosting.


This recipe is easy and delicious. You should be able to get 24 thin slices or 16 fat ones from the cake.


For the mayonnaise and cake:


3 large eggs at room temperature

fine sea salt

1 cup grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

butter for greasing pans

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for greasing pans

½ cup high quality cocoa, not Dutch process, sifted

¾ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¾ cup water


For the mayonnaise, place one of the eggs and a pinch of salt in a blender and blend on medium high for about 15 seconds. With the motor still running, begin adding the oil, in droplets at first, then gradually create a stream and continue slowly adding the oil until all of it is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the blender, add the orange juice, and blend again to incorporate.


Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease two 9” cake pans with butter, line with parchment or wax paper, grease the paper, then dust with flour.


Beat the two remaining eggs in the large bowl of a mixer on fairly high speed, then gradually add the sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy. It will nearly double in size. Add the vanilla and the mayonnaise and beat to combine.


In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt together, then fold a third of the dry ingredients into the batter. Add about half the water and fold it in, then another third of the dry, then the rest of the water, then the rest of the dry ingredients. The batter should be well blended.


Divide the batter between the two prepared pans, give the pans a rap on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles, and bake in the center of the preheated oven until a toothpick stuck in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 to 30 minutes. Do not overcook; the cakes should just barely be beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans. Place the pans on a rack and allow to cool completely.


For the frosting:


4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

finely grated zest of one orange

2/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa, sifted

3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 to ½ cup milk


Melt the butter and stir in the orange zest. Add the cocoa and mix well. Begin adding the powdered sugar and mixing it in well, adding a little bit of milk when it gets stiff. Continue alternating the sugar and the milk, using only as much milk as necessary. The frosting should be dark, shiny, and smoth, but remember that it will have little flecks of zest in it.


When the cake layers are perfectly cool, carely remove a layer from the pan, remove the paper, and frost the cake, beginning by putting about 1/3 of the frosting on the first layer and spreading it out. Add the second cake layer (be sure to remove the paper!) and frost the top and sides of the cake.


Serve at room temperature. Serves 12-24, depending on how many southerners and chocoholics are present.


Osso Buco with Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Chanterelles


I am loving the cooler weather because it begs for slow-braised dishes such as the Italian classic, Osso Buco, or veal shanks. You should buy really meaty shanks for this dish, about 4 inches long and 2 inches thick, with nice, marrow-filled bones. For four people, you’ll want 4 pieces, weighing a total of about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds (see photo). There are as many variations on this dish as there are villages in Lombardy. Some include tomatoes. Feel free to add them if you wish. The parsley-lemon-garlic combination is called gremolata and is an integral part of the dish, not just a garnish.


2 tablespoons butter

4 meaty veal shanks (see text above)

2 tablespoons flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup veal, beef, or chicken stock
1 cup chopped tomatoes, optional
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, peeled, green shoot removed, and minced
the grated zest of one lemon
Preheat the oven to 300o. Heat the butter in a heavy casserole that has a lid. Season the flour heavily with the salt and pepper and dredge the shanks in the flour. Brown them in the butter, turning them so that they are browned all over. Remove them to a plate and add the wine to the pan. Let the wine cook at a low boil for about five minutes, scraping up any bits of browned flour or meat that may have stuck to the pan. Add the stock (and the tomatoes, if using them) and return the pan to boil and allow to cook for another five minutes.
Add the shanks and any liquid that may have gathered on the plate, cover the pot, and place in the oven. (You can cook the dish on top of the stove as well, but you want it to barely simmer. I find the oven easier.) Cook for about 15 minutes and check the pot to be sure it’s not cooking too rapidly. A mere simmer is fine. If it’s cooking too fast, turn down the heat and check again after another 15 minutes. Continue cooking, turning the meat after the first half hour and pouring the juice over the shanks. Allow to cook until the meat is completely tender and beginning to fall from the bone. It will take about 2 hours. Better overcooked than under.
Mix the parsley, garlic, and lemon zest together to make the gremolata. Remove the lid from the veal and sprinkle half of the gremolata over the veal and return it, uncovered, to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Carefully lift the shanks from the pot to warmed plates, however you can so that they don’t fall apart. I use a spatula and a slotted spoon. Set the pot on top of the stove and reduce the sauce over high heat until it is the proper consistency. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper, pour the sauce over the shanks, and sprinkle with the rest of the gremolata.
The traditional accompaniment is risotto alla milanese, but I couldn’t resist making the following:
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Chanterelles
This isn’t much of a recipe. I make the gnocchi exactly the same way I make potato gnocchi (see May 21), except that I bake sweet potatoes at a lower temperature (350 degrees) so that the sugars don’t caramelize. I cook them at the last minute in boiling, salted water, and scoop them out of the water and into the chanterelles cooked in sage butter (for four people, 4 ounces butter, 8 ounces mushrooms, 6 fresh sage leaves, salt and pepper to taste).
October 28, 2008 Duck Confit with Lentils and Chanterelles
After no rain for a month, we’ve had several days of it, so I have not ventured out much in the wet. But I did find fresh chanterelles on my one shopping trip, so I snipped the rucola selvatica (wild arugula) that I have growing in pots on my stoop and pulled the confit jar from the fridge to make supper last night.
This recipe will feed 4 to 6, depending on how big your duck legs are and whether or not you are serving the dish as your dinner, as we ate it last

I try to veer away from stuffy when I’m preparing rustic foods like confit. I did play around with more traditional methods last night and was pleased with the results:  that is, wanting the duck meat to be warm, I tossed it in the pan with the chanterelles just before serving.
1 cup French green lentils
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 bunches scallions
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 carrot, peeled and cut into eighths
4 duck confit legs (see July 1, 2008)
2 tablespoons rendered duck fat or fat from confit
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup walnut oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 pound fresh chanterelles, sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a bunch of arugula, frisée, or other bitter salad greens
Rinse the lentils and place them in a saucepan with the salt. Discard any lentils or particles that float and allow the lentils to soak for an hour. Add the scallion tops, the bay leaf, the garlic, and the carrot and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Do not overcook. Discard the scallion, bay, garlic and carrot, and drain the lentils.
In the meantime, prepare the duck legs. Preheat the oven to 500o. If your confit is in a jar of fat, place the jar down in a sink filled with hot water until you can reach in the jar and pull out the legs. Scrape off most of the fat, then, holding the legs over a sauté pan, scrape any extra fat from the legs into the pan. You want to have a film of fat in the pan, enough to sauté the mushrooms in, about 2 tablespoons.
Place the duck legs in the oven skin side up and heat until the skin is crispy and the meat is heated through.
Remove from the oven and cut the crispy bits of skin into pieces and set aside. Discard any skin that is not crispy. Remove the meat from the bones and shred the meat between your thumbs and fingers. Set aside.
Make the vinaigrette by whisking the mustard and vinegar together, then the oil. Slice the whites of the onions and set aside with the tarragon.
Heat the duck fat over medium high heat and add the shallots. Cook rapidly until they just begin to brown, stirring constantly. Add the chanterelles and season with a little salt and lots of black pepper. Cook the mushrooms until they have lost most of their liquid. Stir in the duck meat and turn off the heat. Add the scallions and tarragon.
Toss the salad greens with the vinaigrette and make a ring of greens on each plate. Fill the center with the lentils, then add the duck and chanterelle mix to the top of the lentils. Garnish with crispy duck skin bits.
Serve with crusty bread and a glass of rustic wine from Southwest France.
Serves 4 to 6 (see text above).
October 27, 2008 Shrimp Bisque


This is my favorite time of year, and the time of year that I miss Charleston the most. The first cold snap, such as it is, will have run off the no-see-ums, those pesky gnats that were the bane of my existence in the lowcountry during the two prettiest months of the year, April and October. It takes more than one cold snap, though, to chase the shrimp out to deeper waters, and sandlappers net them by the tons each year, many in the circular cast nets that haven’t changed much since the design was brought with enslaved Africans in the 17th century.


The best time to make this bisque is in the spring, when the tiny creek shrimp just begin to appear (see photo). They are insanely flavorful, but you won’t have to worry about the maddening job of peeling them since in this recipe you are going to extract all their flavor from them while they’re still in shell.


This is classic French cooking, and the soup has been a favorite in the lowcountry for centuries. Note the rice as thickener. Unfortunately, many restaurants call pasty flour-thickened soups “bisques” when they have not followed the proper procedure outlined below. This recipe is very involved, but it yields one of the best soups you’ll ever eat.


Obviously I don’t have tiny, fresh creek shrimp here in DC to use, but I do find the freshest (and smallest) heads-on shrimp I can find. You’ll need about three pounds of heads-on shrimp.


I like to have both shellfish stock and shellfish butter on hand in my freezer. You’ll need them both for the recipe. If you can’t find heads-on shrimp, you can use not only shrimp shells, but lobster, crawfish and crab shells as well. The next time you have shrimp or lobster, store the shells in the freezer until you have enough to make a stock.


This creamy puréed soup is sieved several times before serving. Make it for a special occasion.


Shrimp Butter


You can easily make this shellfish butter from crawfish, crabs, or lobster, but shrimp are classic in the lowcountry. Early in the shrimp season, when the sweet, tiny creek shrimp are all you can pull in in a cast net, you can make this butter to capture the flavor without having to peel the inch-long shrimp. The shrimp in the photo above were netted by Debbie and me one spring in Charleston.


1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound of shrimp shells and heads, or a pound of whole, tiny shrimp

1 large carrot, chopped fine

1 rib celery, chopped fine

a 1″ piece of leek, chopped fine

1 shallot, chopped fine

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons tomato paste (I buy Italian paste in a toothpaste-like squeeze tube.)

1 pound unsalted butter, cut up into pieces

1 cup water or shrimp stock


Lightly coat the bottom of a large skillet, wok, or Dutch oven with olive oil. Add the shellfish and stir-fry until thoroughly pink. Add the chopped aromatic vegetables and continue to stir-fry until the shallot is clear. Add the tomato paste and stir it into the mixture.


Add the butter, continuing to stir, and the water or the stock. Bring to a boil, give it a good stir, turn off the heat, and leave it on the burner for about an hour for the flavors to infuse. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, pushing as much liquid through as possible.


If you have used whole shrimp, you might want to then take the solids and grind them in a food processor, then put through the sieve again, in order to extract all the flavor from the bodies. Refrigerate overnight.


The next morning, lift the congealed butter from the surface of the mixture, and heat it over very low heat. Save the remaining liquid for shrimp ‘n’ grits or soup. When the butter is melted, strain it again into an 8″ square cake pan and refrigerate again. When cold, cut into desired sizes and wrap well in foil for freezing.


A little of this melted butter over fish is exquisite. A little melted in a pan, with a few fresh, raw, peeled shrimp added makes a perfect topping for pasta, rice, or grits.


For the Shrimp Stock, see recipe April 3, 2008.


For the Bisque:


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, diced

2 tablespoons diced carrot

a bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf

2 pounds raw shrimp, preferably small, with heads

½ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons bourbon, rye, or brandy

5 cups shellfish stock, divided

2 tablespoons raw white rice

sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne to taste

2 tablespoonsMadeira

¼ cup cream

5 or 6 tablespoons Shrimp Butter (recipe above)


Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot, carrot, and herbs, lower the heat, and cook slowly, covered, until they are soft. Add the shrimp, raise the heat, and stir-fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the wine and the liquor and boil to reduce the liquid in half, another 2 or 3 minutes. Add about a cup of the stock and simmer until the shrimp are cooked through, another 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. If your shrimp are large, you may remove them from the mixture at this point, peel them, and return the bodies to the pan. If small, omit this step.


Add the remaining stock, the rice, and the seasonings. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Discard the bouquet garni. If you have peeled the shrimp, you can purée the soup at this point. If you have left the shrimp whole, you may need to run the ingredients through a food mill or food processor. Or you can simply purée the mixture over and over, passing it through a fine sieve. I usually find that I end up puréeing it several times, and passing it through the finest mesh sieve I own.


When ready to serve, bring the soup to a boil, add theMadeira and cream and simmer for a few minutes to warm through. Remove from the heat and stir in the reserved shrimp butter.


Serves 6.

Lamb Shanks Braised in Wine

With the cooler weather, I prepared several braised dishes the past week, including the classic of lamb shanks in red wine. This is one of our favorite dinners, and it’s easy to do. Just let the meat cook slowly until it begins to fall from the bone. Don’t rush it. And, yes, you can use white wine as well. This is so simple and so delicious. Lemon zest, olives, and/or tomatoes can be added to the braise if you wish. Serve with grits, polenta, potates, or pasta.


4 lamb shanks weighing about 3/4 pound each

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs

salt and black pepper

1 cup dry red or white wine

16 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

Remove the excess fat from the outside of the lamb shanks.


Cover the bottom of a heavy-bottomed pan or a Dutch oven that has a tight-fitting lid with a film of olive oil and bring to medium high heat. Brown the shanks in the oil, remove from the pan, and set aside on a plate. Grind the mixed herbs with the salt and pepper in a spice mill or mortar and pestle and sprinkle over the shanks.

Add the onion to the oil and cook over medium heat until soft, about five minutes. Return the shanks and any liquid that has gathered on the plate to the pan. Add the wine and the garlic, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to very low. Cover the pot and allow to braise for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours,  or until the lamb is perfectly tender and the meat has begun to fall from the bones. You can do this in a 325o oven as well. Remove the shanks to plates. Strain the liquid remaining in the pan, pressing as much of the cooked garlic through the sieve as possible. Return to the pan and reduce a little over medium high heat if necessary, and pour over the shanks.


Serves 4.

October 21, 2008 My birthday!
I’ve not posted on the blog for awhile because I was in South Carolina helping my wine guru Debbie Marlowe, who took a bad fall in her wine shop. Let her fall be a warning to those of you who stand on bar stools and counters to change light bulbs! The above view of the marsh at mid-tide was taken from the rear deck of her house on James Isalnd. The little photo at right, from the screen porch, was taken from her kitchen. Waking up every morning to this would be a great attitude adjustment for anyone, and I’m happy to report that Debbie hasn’t lost her sense of humor, in spite of the weeks of recuperation she’s facing. Yes, those are wooden letters that spell “Bonjour” and those are pine needles stuck to the screen. Among the many delicious dishes we ate were North Carolina barbecue (see March 17) and cole slaw (see August 12, 2007), grilled local line-caught swordfish, rack of lamb (see November 12), Shirley Rose’s delicious leeks béchamel, a crustless coconut pie (I’m tweaking the recipe to make it my own and will post it later), and a marvelous Marseillaise brunch that I concocted with the last of Deb’s tomatoes and eggplants. I zapped cubes of eggplant and celery in Chinon before adding them to the classic mirepoix cooked in olive oil, and I served the vegetables alongside a fish cake made with leftover sword and potatoes, and topped with a roast pepper puree (recipe follows). A basic recipe for the fish croquette appears here.

Roasted Red Pepper Purée (from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking)


My mother rarely ate bell peppers — green or red ripe — unless they were peeled. I vividly remember the day  she discovered how easy they were to peel — and the added flavor — when they were roasted first. I use roasted peppers in pimiento cheese, Italian-style as a salad, and in this delicious purée for fried bean, crab, or fish cakes.


3 or 4 red ripe bell peppers

2 scallions, chopped — the white part and a little of the green

3/4 cup dry white wine

6 Italian flat-leaf parsley sprigs, finely minced

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


First, roast the peppers by placing them in a very hot oven or by applying direct heat to them, preferably an  open flame such as a charcoal grill. You may place them under the broiler of your oven. Roast them until the skin blisters and turns black, turning them with tongs as the skin chars. Burn only  the skin — not the flesh — of the peppers. Place them in a paper or plastic bag and fold down the top for a few minutes, so that the charred skins steam away from the flesh.  After about ten minutes, when the peppers have cooled somewhat, remove them from the bag and place them on a cutting board. Peel away the skins, then seed them by pulling the stem end away from the pod. The seeds will usually pull out from the pepper with the stem.


Add the green onions to the white wine in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and reduce by one-half. Add the chopped parsley and the roasted, peeled, and seeded peppers, and purée the mixture until it is evenly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use immediately.

Tasting Taittinger

One morning at Deb’s shop, the Taittinger reps and distributors came by with a vertical sampling of these great wines. As you readers know, I tend NOT to buy Champagne from the big houses because I have been finding marvelous Champagne made by grower-producers (“Récoltants-Manipulants”). The big houses tend to spend more money on marketing than on quality. But, I must say, the Taittinger wines are delicious, and, to their credit, the family still owns and operates the business.

Most of these wines are, frankly, too expensive for me, but for those of you who can afford them, go for them!


Prélude is actually affordable for a wine made exclusively from grands crus vines (There are only 17 grands crus in Champagne). It is blended from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir and is aged for four years. This is a classic Reims style sparkler, big and round and full of tiny bubbles with a long finish (other Reims producers are Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin, Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck, and Ruinart).


Nocturne is Taittinger’s Sec, blended from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes from over 35 crus from the family’s 752 acres. It’s a delicate wine that Debbie called a perfect oyster wine, meant to be enjoyed on a perfect fall day with raw oysters, the way we often do in the Carolina lowcountry. I thought it would be nice with cheese straws. Whatever, you’ll want something salty with it.



Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs

Now here’s a wine worth the splurge! Crafted from 100% Chardonnay grapes from the highest rated vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, this remarkable Champagne is produced only in exceptional years and made exclusively from the first pressings. 5% of the blend is aged for several months in wood. The wine is then aged nine to ten years before relase and retains astoundingly fruity aromas for such an older wine. Absolutely elegant and refined, as it should be at over $300/bottle!


Boy, did I pick the right time to go help Debbie!!!


When I left, she was working on a puzzle that my sister Nancy and niece Sarah brought by. I know she’ll be all right with her great attitude!


October 10, 2008 Fall
I took a bad fall last year and have suffered ever since, but mine was nothing compared to that of my dear friend and wine guru Debbie Marlowe, with whom we spent last weekend  (see blog, below). Poor Deb has several fractures and tears in her left leg and I will be going to Charleston to help her out in her wine shop as soon we get the results from own MRI tomorrow. To top it off, hay fever has the best of me, making my throat scratchy, meaning that red wine, my preferred beverage, doesn’t taste right. So tonight I’ll make margaritas. Luckily, I live in a largely Hispanic neighborhood, and I can always buy beautiful limes for a song. Recently I was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and was in a Harris Teeter where the limes were $.69/each. Today I got 15 for one dollar in my local bodega! I’m not going to offer any history here about the drink, except to say that it seems to have been concocted in the 1930s or 40s. The ingredients were traditionally fresh-squeezed lime juice, tequila, triple sec, and salt. Of course now there are dozens of variations, some folks calling for the finest top-shelf tequila (and even condescendingly suggesting that nothing less will do, when, in fact, there were no top-shelf tequilas then.
Diana Kennedy, to whom those of us in the food world often refer as “The Empress of Mexican Cuisine,” and who has been awarded Mexico’s highest honors, calls simply for “white tequila” in her ground-breaking and seminal The Cuisines of Mexico, first published in 1972 and edited by Fran McCullough, who edited my first two books. “The ordinary whites [are] best for mixed drinks,” she writes. Her recipe for “New York’s lustiest margarita” came from Carlos Jacott and calls for one part triple sec, two parts lime juice, and three parts tequila. There are dozens of other ratios and now of course folks freeze them and use Cointreau and all sorts of additions.
Incidentally, Diana will be coming to DC and appearing at Oyamel restaurant during their Day of the Dead celebrations, October 27-November 2. Be sure to book a table now!
My Margaritas
I make my margaritas a little differently from Diana. First of all, I buy the plumpest, thinnest-skinned limes I can find. Notice in the photo how these limes are very smooth-skinned and fat, with almost none of the hard pebbly skin you often see on the limes in supermarkets. It’s a good idea, in fact, to seek out limes in Latin American or Southeast Asian markets, where they know from limes, as they say.
Squeeze the juice from a bunch of limes. I use an electric juicer. You can buy them at drugstores for under $20 and they are usually wonderful, efficient little machines with removable pitchers, self-reversing reamers, measurements on the side of the pitcher, and adjustable pulp strainers. I let all the pulp go through; seldom do these modern Persian limes have seeds. Measure the lime juice and pour it into a pitcher. Add an equal portion of white tequila. Add half a portion of triple sec. Add lots of ice and stir very hard until the mixture is well-blended and beginning to foam.
Now, about those salted rims: Encourage folks to let you salt the rims of their glasses. They don’t have to lick it all off, the way I do, but it is an important element of a perfect margarita. With the saltiness of the glass rim, the sweetness of the triple sec,  the sour bang of the healthy dose of lime juice, and the bitterness of the lime peel, you will get all of the basic flavors as well as an incredible “mouthfeel,” to use a trendy word among chefs these days, that is all and none of the above at once.
To salt the rims, cut a lime lengthwise into 4 to 8 slices (depending on the size of the lime), and then slice each slice in half crosswise down through the flesh to the rind,. Slip the lime slit down onto the rim of a glass and run it around the edge of the glass, using a new slice for each glass and saving each slice for garnish. Dip the glass rims in pure salt that you’ve poured onto a plate. Kosher salt is too coarse. Most sea salt are either too coarse or too fine. Diana recommends ftable salt or finely ground rock salt, but I actually buy margarita salt: the best brands are pure salt, with no additional ingredients such as the stuff they put in table salt. Repeat  the process for each glass. I do not use a margarita glass, but I do prefer stemmed water glasses so that hands don’t freeze. Now, add a few ice cubes to each glass and pour in the margarita, and slip the reserved lime slice over the edge of the glass as garnish or simply go ahead and squeeze it and dump it into the glass if the lime isn’t attractive.
The first thing your folks will say is, “Wow! That’s tart!” But watch what happens. They will drink it up. They will ask for another. And another. When my nieces came to visit recently (yes, they’re of age!) we had 5 pitchers one night and not one of us had a hangover the next day. I say it’s the lime juice. Oh, and none of us has scurvy, either!
Here’s Mikel, my niece Sarah Ferrell (my sister Nancy’s daughter), Lindsay Taylor (my brother Mike’s daughter), and yours truly. This was at the end of Pitcher #5.
October 6, 2008 The Airlie Foundation and Lake Gaston, North Carolina
The past 4 days have been exciting ones for me, starting with a tour of beautiful Airlie Farm in Fauquier County, Virginia, which for nearly 50 years has been hosting conferences at its idyllic setting. The Airlie Center has been at the forefront of think tank meetings, having been the birthplace of such historic ideas as Earth Day, Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, and many of nanotechnology’s applications. Over 10,000 groups and meetings have assembled on the farm’s 2500-acre campus. Working with the Airlie Foundation, the Conference Center works with some 600 non-profits, governmental, and private organizations each year as it sponsors educational, environmental, and cultural programs to further enrich their mission.
I met with Judy Chambers, the Director of External Relations, who brings a scientist’s knowledge and passion for learning to the Foundation; Kim Head, the President of the Foundation, daughter of its founder and a polymath who shares many of my same interests; Kevin Carter, General Manager of the Center, whom I remembered from Charleston; and with Jeff Witte, the Executive Chef, who somehow managed to feed 200 conference guests while preparing an elegant lunch (of mostly local foods) for us.
Of course, it was the Foundation’s Local Food Project that first caught my attention.
Here’s Pablo Elliott, the Food Project Director, with a broadfork, typical of the simple tools that they use in the sustainable vegetable garden that is not only open to Airlie visitors, but is also used to feed those guests. The Local Food Project at Airlie was established in 1998 by the Foundation in association with the Humane Society of the United States. The organic culinary garden supplies fresh, sustainable herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers to Airlie Center’s kitchen. Airlie Foundation uses the Local Food Project to demonstrate the benefits of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, with an emphasis on local and agriculture. Elliott himself is a local farmer, and his educational programs seek to train and encourage others to grow their own, if even in a parking space. Just last week in the Washington Post there was an article about the plight of city dwellers who do not own cars but who have had to fight to NOT provide the oft-required parking space where they would prefer a garden on their own property.
Here’s one of Airlie’s demonstation gardens, “the parking space garden plot,” which shows how much you can grow in such a small space. Visitors to the Center are encouraged to tour the property, and the Project offers workshops, harvest dinners, conferences, and internships that encourage and promote the advantages of local food systems for the well-being of communities.
In addition to touring the garden and grounds, I was treated to a delicious dinner by Chef Witte that featured local okra, beans, mushrooms, greens, beets, tomatoes, basil, and beef, followed by cayenne and mint ice creams tempered with fresh peach compôte.
I can’t wait to get back out to Airlie so that I can have more sparkling conversations with the brilliant Judy and Kim. I’ll be writing a lot more about the Foundation and its amazing mission in the future, so stay tuned. (And thanks to all of you at Airlie. Brynn, the garden looks great and the okra was delicious!)
And, Jeff, thanks for the great lunch. Here’s the appetizer of salt-encrusted fried okra on mushrooms, with bundles of green beans and cucumbers wrapped in chard, with beet sauces. I was too involved in the magical conversations to take any more photos over lunch.
On the Lake with the Lady Merlot
I love this photo. It cracks me up but also tells so much of the story of my weekend with my wine guru, Debbie Marlowe, about whom I’ve written about several times before on this blog. Debbie has quite simply the most amazing wine palate and knowledge of anyone I’ve ever known, and we’ve been friends for over 20 years, since she first walked in my shop and introduced herself. This weekend we met at her sister’s house on Lake Gaston, a beautiful 35-mile-long manmade lake on the North Carolina-Virginia border where she grew up. Debbie’s sister Sherry, and her husband J. B. Williams, live in the area full-time, where J.B. is involved in both the aviation and sausage business and Sherry is a realtor and sometime antiques dealer (with a penchant for French country pieces which she buys every time she has a chance to go to France, which is often). The photo, a candid shot I took on Sherry and JB’s dock, shows a homemade pineapple layer cake amongst fishing tackle (that gray box has worms in it), art supplies, and an assortment of wine glasses. We had some amazing rosés from southern France (including Sasha Lichine’s remarkable Desclans), as well as two delightful Champagnes (including Venoge Cordon Bleu) and a wonderful Burgundy. Wine notes will follow. Among the delicious food we had this weekend: homemade pimiento cheese (see 12/27/07) and apple pie (see 12/25/07), ham paste and ham biscuits with pear chutney (for the chutney and paste, see 12.17/07), homemade biscuits with fig conserve (see August 2007), JB’s pancakes and sausage, shrimp and grits, shrimp and green beans with pasta, delicious salads, a chocolate cake made with mayonnaise, and a whole tenderloin with a classic sauce made with the pan drippings, shallots, mushrooms, butter (see below), and 2000 Guigal Côtes du Rhône (drinking beautifully!). We finished our last evening with the lovely Sercial Madeira, a nutty, dry, classic Charleston way to end a meal. I’ll add some links and recipes later. I need to go make lunch. Here are a couple of watercolors I did from the dock.

Cooking a Whole Tenderloin
If I’m cooking a whole tenderloin for a buffet, I’ll make the sauces that I published in The New Southern Cook, and which follow here. But for dinner on Lake Gaston, after JB trimmed and tied the tenderloin (removing the silverskin and fat), we simply placed it in a 500o oven for about 25 minutes, turning it three times, until it reached 120o (rare). We then let it rest for about 15 minutes while I added butter, shallots, and mushrooms to the pan drippings, gradually adding the red wine we were drinking (the 2000 Guigal mentioned above) and whisking in more butter and wine as the sauce thickened. Perfect!
Here’s the buffet version:

Tenderloin for a Buffet, Grilled or Baked, with Three Sauces 

If I want a steak, I’ll always opt for more flavorful cuts, but the luxurious tenderloin is perfect for the buffet table, sliced and served with bread or rolls and a variety of sauces. Your guests will appreciate not only making their own sandwiches, but also being able to eat the tender meat with one hand, while standing. It is the quintessential “heavy hors d’oeuvre,” but the meat all but melts in your mouth. Preparing the meat for the table is simplicity itself. Recipes for three sauces follow the instructions for cooking the meat.

1 whole, peeled tenderloin (5 to 6 pounds), at room temperature

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Build a charcoal fire in a covered grill or preheat a gas grill to hot. The tenderloin should be trimmed of excess fat and the bluish-gray membrane called the silver skin. The fat-encased side strap should also be removed and cut up for use in stir-frys. If the tenderloin is not equal in size throughout, double the thin end up over itself and tie it so that the entire piece of meat is equally thick. If you have folks who like well-done meat, don’t tie up the end: The smaller loin tip will cook to be medium to well done, feeling firm to hard. Don’t worry about undercooking the meat; there will be meat cooked to please every palate. However, ask your guests first if everyone likes rare meat (most folks do); if so, tie that end up!

When the fire is medium hot, season the meat heavily with salt and pepper to taste and place on the grill. Cover the grill and cook the meat until well seared on one side, about 10 minutes, then turn the meat over, cover the grill again, and cook until well seared on the second side, 10 to 12 minutes. The center cut of the tenderloin should still be rare; when poked with a finger it should be soft, giving to the touch.

To roast the a whole tenderloin, preheat the oven to 500and roast for 25 to 35 minutes, turning it every 8 minutes; rare meat will register 120oon a meat thermometer.


Remove the meat from the grill (or oven) to a platter and allow to cool for at least fifteen minutes. You can loosely cover the meat with foil if you want to serve it warm. The tenderloin may then be sliced and served at this point.

For a buffet, I like to pat the mushroom paste (below) all over the tenderloin, refrigerate it overnight, slice it the next day while it is still chilled, then serve it at room temperature. Garnish the plate with watercress, whip some of the mushrooms into softened butter, and serve with the mushroom butter, the watercress mayonnaise, and horseradish cream sauce.

Serves 8 as a main dish or 16 as part of a buffet.

Debbie Recommends: If roasted: Sauvigny-Les-Beaunes. If grilled: a soft Merlot.

For the mushroom paste and butter:

3 sticks (3/4 pound) butter

2 pounds mushrooms, chopped fine (See Note.)

1 pound shallots, minced

1/2 cup Madeira

1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs, such as herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning,ground

1 teaspoon salt

Allow one of the sticks of butter to soften. Melt the other 2 sticks of the butter in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat, the add the remaining ingredients and sauté until the mushrooms have given off most of their liquid, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

To make mushroom butter, beat the softened stick of butter until very light, then beat in some of the mushroom paste to taste. You may want to put the mushroom butter in a food processor for a finer texture. Serve alongside the tenderloin in ramekins.

Note: Ordinary champignons will do, but I like a mix of varieties. Truffles are an elegant addition, and you can intensify the flavor with the addition of 2 tablespoons of truffle paste, sold in squeeze tubes.


For the watercress mayonnaise:

1 large egg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard or 1 teaspoon prepared

1 cup olive oil

1 cup clean, dry watercress leaves

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Put the egg, salt, and mustard in a blender and blend for about 20 seconds. Add the oil very slowly, in droplets at first, and blend until all of the oil has been bound with the egg mixture and the mayonnaise is thick and creamy. With the blender running, begin adding the watercress leaves a little at a time. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides of the container with a rubber spatula, tasting the mayonnaise. You should continue adding the leaves and blending in until the mayonnaise has taken a cress flavor to suit your own palate (I use the entire cup). Add the lemon juice and blend briefly to incorporate.

Yields about 1-1/4 cups.


For the horseradish sauce:


You can use commercially prepared horseradish in this sauce if you must, but the flavor of freshly grated is much brighter.


1 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons grated horseradish

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

salt and freshly ground black pepper

prepared mustard and/or hot sauce to taste (optional)


Whip the cream to soft peaks, then fold in the remaining ingredients, seasoning the horseradish sauce to taste.