Archive for April, 2009

The BEST Granola Recipe

A few years ago, we visited Charleston for some dear friends’ wedding, and were looking for a good place to have dinner.  We googled “best low-country food Charleston” and had an AMAZING dinner at Hominy Grill.  Seems like Google did not steer us wrong, because friends that know Charleston well confirm that this is one of the best spots in the city.  In fact, later that weekend we were meeting up with friends who lived there, and they had been planning to take us to Hominy Grill for brunch!  We were not sad to return and try another meal…

I really enjoy the low-country cuisine, with it’s seafood and southern dishes and similarity to the dishes of New Orleans that I love.  So I bought the little paperback booklet of recipes they were selling at Hominy Grill, on a whim that I might at least try to recreate some of their specialties at home.

It’s actually proven to be incredibly handy!  My go-to recipes for banana bread and granola are in this little cookbook, as well as Shrimp and Grits, which is based on the original recipe from Crooks Corner, where the Hominy Grill chef trained.  More on shrimp and grits in a later post…mmm!

I periodically make batches of this granola for our breakfast, and since I’ve made it many times now, I’ve started substituting ingredients.  It’s an easy recipe that can be adapted to any dried fruit and nut combination you prefer.  I’ve copied the recipe as it’s given in the cookbook below, but as long as you keep the amount of fruit (1 cup) and nuts (total 1 1/2 cups) the same, you can make any changes you like.  I particularly liked dried cherries instead of raisins the last time I made this, but there are lots of other options at health food stores or Trader Joes.  I’m thinking of trying dried blueberries next!   And I don’t always use the three different kinds of nuts (almonds, pecans and walnuts) all together, although I usually use at least two.  In the batch in the picture below, I used peanuts as one of the nuts and added some dried banana chips as well.  I like to eat this granola with plain yogurt, which boosts the nutritional value of the breakfast since plain yogurt is so much healthier than the flavored kind.  But it’s also good with milk.  Or right out of the hot pan – you may not be able to resist the wonderful smell when you pull it out of the oven!!!

If you’re ever in Charleston, be sure to check out Hominy Grill!  http://www.hominygrill.com/



Hominy Grill Granola


Makes approximately 6 cups


3 cups whole oats

½ cup pecans

½ cup slivered almonds

½ cup walnuts

1/3 cup sunflower seeds

¼ cup sesame seeds

4 Tbs butter

½ cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup maple syrup

½ tsp salt

½ Tbs vanilla extract

1 cup raisins


1.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.   In a large bowl, combine oats, pecans, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.  Place on a heavy baking sheet with sides and bake, stirring occasionally, until the oats are golden and toasted, about 10 minutes.  Return to bowl and add the raisins.

3.   In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, brown sugar, syrup and salt.  Bring to a simmer and stir until butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the vanilla.  Pour the sugar mixture over the toasted oats and mix thoroughly.

4.   Return the mixture to the baking sheet and pack down lightly with a spatula.  Bake until the mixture is fragrant and golden, about 10-13 minutes.

5.   Let cool completely before removing from the pan.  Break up the granola and store in an airtight container.


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Oh my sweet Carolina!

I just have to take a few minutes to brag a bit on my town, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I’m new to loving this town, because I just moved here in July of last year.  But I’ve been conditioned to love it because my husband went to UNC for his undergraduate years, and even before that my aunt and uncle lived here when he was in business school and they loved it.  So while I’m not necessarily surprised that I like it, I’m a little shocked at how quickly I’ve grown to love it.

I would have to say one of the major contributing factors to my affection is the food culture in this town.  There’s something amazing that happens here, and I would probably not feel bold enough to say that it’s unique, except for the fact that food writers are saying the same thing.  The best way to describe it is ‘community’.  There’s a wide circle of mutual appreciation among chefs, farmers, home cooks and restaurant-diners in the Durham / Chapel Hill area.  The farmers, and their local produce, are practically deified by the shoppers at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, and chefs are well-known and loved for the creations they make from the same local produce.  Those of us who just love to eat, and do a little cooking, really benefit from this rich network of farm-to-table players – since the farmers do a brisk business, we have lots and lots of local options available for our own shopping.  And we get to eat really fresh and healthy food at our favorite restaurants, where creativity truly seems driven by the food locally available instead of the other way around.

Last summer, Bon Appetit wrote an article called “America’s Foodiest Small Town”.  There were lots of other towns in the running, but it was Chapel Hill / Durham (grouped together since both are small and are right next door to each other, functioning more as one tiny region) that took highest honors, seemingly for this high value placed on fresh, local ingredients. 

Recently, we read another article, by a friend of a friend, who boldly proclaimed Chapel Hill / Durham to be one of the four food capitals of the new South!  I’ve already been lucky enough to live in one of these cities, the ever-enchanting New Orleans.  It’s absolutely true that it’s a haven for foodies and good eaters and has its own rich food culture.  But to see my new city, not really well-known for food necessarily, to be up there with the other big boys (New Orleans, Charleston, Atlanta) – well, it just makes me feel very proud. As if we’d figured it out, and had this wonderful little secret, and we don’t even mind the secret being out there because we think this place is THAT great.

The eating is certainly good down here, that we’ve seen on our own; but it’s pretty cool to be known as one of the food capitals of the south!   Even as a new resident, I take a lot of pride in that title.  We may not be the big city, but we are significant!  We are known not just for exceptional academics and pretty impressive sports, but for a gentle food culture that takes care of the land and our bellies at the same time.  We’re a great place to live and a great place to eat.  Come eat in Chapel Hill! 🙂 




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Curried Egg Salad Wraps

 I had printed this recipe from the blog 101 Cookbooks back in February, thinking it sounded like a really easy, yummy and healthy lunch.  I currently work from home and it’s pretty easy to whip something like this up for lunch and not have to worry about packing it up to carry to work or school.  But for various reasons, I had not had a chance to make it until this week.  Printed or clipped recipes that hang around that long in my kitchen without a trial run often end up in the trash, so I was glad that this little gem didn’t fall victim to my periodic purges.  It was absolutely delicious and so, so easy!

Lots of people think they don’t like curry.  And I emphasize THINK.  Curry can refer to a bottle of spices which is actually not one spice but a combination of spices.  What you see in a bottle labeled ‘curry’ is whatever combination of spices typically used in Indian cuisine that the manufacturer liked.  Curry can also refer to a dish, as in: We’re having chicken curry tonight for dinner.  I have found people usually like both when they try it – maybe it’s the strong smell of curry that bothers some people?

So anyways, this dish is great, it gets lots of flavor and personality from the curry spices.  The original recipe called for only curry powder as seasoning, but I added another of my favorite Indian spices, garam masala.  If I had to try to describe the difference I’d say curry powder is usually a bit more tangy and almost citrusy in scent and color from saffron and cumin and garam masala is darker in color and you can smell the cinnamon, nutmeg and other richer, sweeter spices within it.  I liked this dish with the combination of both. 

There’s nothing more to it than boiling and peeling the eggs, and making a light, flavorful sauce.  The original called for apples and pecans, but I don’t usually love fruit in savory salads, and I thought peanuts were a better fit with the dish than pecans, so I made a few changes.  You could serve this plain, with some toast on the side, on nice bread as a sandwich, or…as a lettuce wrap!  I was actually heading out to our local bakery to pick up our favorite loaf of multigrain bread when I realized we had some great hearts of romaine in the fridge.  The salad was, I thought, even better eaten as a taco in the romaine leaf, which added a nice crunch.

Michael and I both loved the curried egg salad and it’s definitely going to be a repeat lunch in our house.  In fact, the next time I make it I’ll double it so we can have some for leftovers. 🙂  I could see this being a really wonderful warm weather lunch on the porch with a nice glass of wine…try it soon!

PS: Here’s the link to the original recipe:  http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/curried-egg-salad-recipe.html


Curried Egg Salad Wraps


Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Serves 2 hungry eaters and 3 polite eaters (can be doubled)


5 eggs

½ cup plain, full-fat yogurt

1 tsp curry powder

½ tsp garam masala

½ tsp kosher salt

3 spring onions, white and green parts, chopped

½ cup of peanuts, toasted

1 Heart of Romaine head of lettuce, leaves carefully separated individually from the base


1.      Place the eggs in a saucepan and fill with cold water until eggs are covered by about ½ inch of water.  Bring to a gentle boil.  Once water is boiling, turn off the heat, cover the saucepan, and let sit for exactly seven minutes.  Have a big bowl of ice water ready and when the eggs are done cooking, place them in the ice bath for 3 – 5 minutes or until cooled.

2.      While eggs are boiling and cooling, combine the yogurt, curry powder, garam masala, and salt in a small bowl.  

3.      Toast the peanuts in a small skillet, shaking every minute or two, on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.  Cool and add to yogurt mixture.

4.      Chop the spring onions in thin slices, using the whole onion, and combine with the yogurt mixture.

5.      Crack and peel each egg and add to the yogurt mixture.  Mash the eggs with a fork til they reach a nice chunky consistency.  Add more yogurt and salt to taste.

6.      Carefully spoon the egg salad into the individual leaves of romaine so that they look like filled taco shells.  Serve with a glass of Riesling or Rose, or a Kir (white wine with a spoonful of Cassis liquor) on the side on a warm day. J

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My newest cookbook!

Getting new cookbooks is like a mini-Christmas for me.  I actually read them from cover to cover so I know exactly what is in them and what I might want to cook.  I love the possibility between the covers, and the hint of happy meals to come.  The ones with pictures are, of course, the best, but I have come to terms with the fact that some of the ones I crave don’t have pictures, and that can be ok too.

My recent arrival, a present to myself with birthday money, is called The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  I chose this one (from my loooooong wish list of cookbooks) because spring is here and summer is coming.  And in warmer weather, Mediterranean food is what I crave.  Even the heavier dishes of Middle Eastern cooking, like meat stews over couscous, feel a little lighter to me than the French stews or American chili of the winter months.

This book, by Claudia Roden, was first printed in the ’70s, and was lauded as something of a masterpiece on Middle Eastern cooking.  The book I bought is updated, with more recipes, and some dishes lightened for the modern healthy-food sensibility.  The book focuses on four types of Middle Eastern cooking, and I quote directly from the book flap:

– The refined haute cuisine of Iran, based on rice exquisitely prepared and embellished with a range of meats, vegetables, fruit and nuts

– Arab cooking from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan – at its finest today, and a good source for vegetable and bulgur wheat dishes

– The legendary Turkish cuisine, with its kebabs, wheat and rice dishes, yogurt salads, savory pies and syrupy pastries

– North African cooking, particularly the splendid fare of Morocco, with its heady mix of hot and sweet, orchestrated to perfection in its couscous dishes and tagines

Doesn’t that all sound SCRUMPTIOUS?!?!  I never knew a lot about Middle Eastern food, until I first ate Lebanese Taverna at a work lunch in DC.  I was immediately hooked – the food was SO flavorful, the meats tender, the sauces garlicky and oh-so-wonderful, the  baklava flaky and oozing honey.  Lebanese Taverna is still one of my all-time favorite restaurants.  You will never have a bad meal there.

So you can see why I am excited to have my own map to creating some of that food in my kitchen!  I have a little cookbook on Moroccan food, but I’ve not yet felt  bold enough to explore a lot of it.  This guide seems better.   And I have several couscous-based dishes I make, and have made hummous and falafel at home, but it’s time for the repertoire to expand.  And of course, I promise to share the best results with you.  Let the summer of Middle Eastern food begin!!!



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It’s here!!!

We’ve been waiting for this day for months.  And we were longing for it before that …back in DC when we used to dream of joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which would deliver farm-fresh produce once a week. 

And today, our dream came true!  Our CSA with Brinkley Farms actually started last week, but we weren’t able to pick up last Wednesday, so we got a DOUBLE box for our very first week!  Take a look at how beautiful and exciting our delivery was!


Our farm allows you to pick from a list of options available that week, which includes pork sausages and eggs along with fruit and veggies.  I’m really excited about the egg option, because I recently read (in a book I’ll review for you soon…) that free-range eggs from non-industrial chickens have half the cholesterol of regular grocery store eggs – and it’s all the GOOD kind of cholesterol.  What a huge health difference!  So we’ll be getting our weekly dozen eggs from Brinkley Farms through the fall. 

We’ll have a nice salad with our fresh lettuce tomorrow, and use those wonderful spring onions in pretty much anything.  I’m thinking paella with the chorizo sausage…  The hot breakfast sausage will go in the freezer for a special breakfast down the road.  I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with the cabbage, but that’s part of the challenge I’m looking forward to – figuring out how to cook fresh, in-season vegetables!  WHAT FUN!!! I’ll keep you posted on more adventures in CSA-ing throughout the season.  Stay tuned!

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Easter Lunch

I’m hoping this post falls in the ‘better late than never’ category…

Our Easter Lunch was something of a local foods celebration!  I came back from Rwanda hungry for fresh, healthy foods, and although it’s still early in the season, we were able to find lots of good ingredients at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market on Saturday.  I had in mind that I’d like to make this wonderful risotto recipe we love, which is very springy in flavor and in color – Lemon Risotto with Asparagus and Peas.  Unfortunately I did not find either asparagus or peas at the market, but we did have some huge fresh spring onions, which I chopped into a generous amount of onion, including the green stem, instead of using the standard white onion.  We also found some fresh parsley at the market which brightens this dish.  Risottos have a bad reputation as being difficult, which they are not – although they are time-consuming.  For this recipe, just chop and prep all your ingredients and then start the process with a Stirrer-in-Chief at your side to keep the risotto moving constantly for about 1/2 hour.  Husbands are very good at this job, if you have one around. You can keep your eye on it and let him know when to dump in the new ingredients, while fixing up the rest of the meal.  This is a perfect spring dish with the bright green asparagus and peas, the fresh and bright lemon, and of course the overall yumminess of the parmesan cheese and wine.  I’m almost certain that this recipe came from Martha Stewart Living magazine a few years ago, but for the life of me I can’t find it online, so the recipe is copied below.

I was looking for some lamb to go along with the risotto as the main dish for our lunch, but alas, all the Chapel Hill restaurants had snatched up lamb from the farmers for the holiday.  We settled on a huge slab of pork loin…truly a bizarre looking cut of meat to us!  We’re not really accustomed, yet, to buying this kind of fresh meat, but although it looked scary we were determined to figure out how to cook that bad boy.  What we had was a side of loin, which had ribs (I think) still attached to it.  We cut a few ribs and loin off the sides and froze them to grill as loin chops in another meal, and then roasted the remaining slab with olive oil, herbes de provence, salt and pepper.  It smelled heavenly while roasting, due mainly to the seasonings but also because this thing had a LOT of fat on it.  An absolutely GINORMOUS amount of fat!  Which smelled great sizzling in the oven but proved a bit messy to eat.  I’m not a huge fan of fatty cuts of meat, but it proved to be reasonably easy to eat around, and very tasty and tender.  And the dog sure appreciated the scraps the next day for breakfast!

With the richer dishes of pork and risotto, we needed a simple salad to round out the meal, and a soft pile of arugula from the farmer’s market, tossed in olive oil and lemon juice, topped with some fresh parmesan, was just the thing.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/arugula-with-parmesan-recipe/index.html

I’m not sure we’ll go back to pay the big bucks for our fatty pork loin, but it was a fun experience to take a strange-looking cut of meat and make it into lunch (which my in-laws loved!).  And the risotto is a must-try – it’s definitely settled into the annals of Skena Family Favorites at this point – let me know what you think if you try it!

Lemon Risotto with Asparagus and Peas


Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer


4 cups of homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock (one 32 fl oz box)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine

6 thin asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

1 cup frozen peas

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

½ cup finely grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper


1.      Bring stock to a boil in a medium saucepan; turn off the heat.

2.      Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in another medium saucepan.  Add onion; cook, stirring constantly, until translucent, 6 to 7 minutes.  Add rice; cook, stirring constantly, until edges of grains are translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.  Raise heat to medium-high.  Add wine; cook, stirring constantly, until wine has completely evaporated.

3.      Add ½ cup of stock; cook, stirring constantly until stock has been completely absorbed and a wooden spoon drawn through rice leaves a trail in its wake.  Continue adding about 3 cups of stock, ½ cup at a time, waiting for each addition to be absorbed before adding the next.  (It should take about 13 minutes).

4.      Stir in the asparagus.  Add the rest of the stock, ½ cup at a time, in the same manner as described above.  About 1 minute before risotto is done, stir in the peas.  Risotto is done when liquid looks creamy and grains are cooked but still slightly firm in centers.  (The total cooking time will be 16-20 minutes.)

5.      Remove from heat; stir in the parmesan cheese, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve with more cheese.

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Sweet Potato Pound Cake

 Here’s another great find from Orangette.  This cake is not as sweet as I usually like my desserts, but you know, sometimes that’s ok…if you have a really rich dinner and still need a little something to round out the meal, this could be exactly what you want.  I did add a bit more brown sugar than white sugar to deepen the flavor a bit, and also added more spices than she used. 

I served this with fresh whipped cream, but vanilla ice cream would also be good.  Some caramel sauce would be PERFECT with it!  And I think cut fruits or berries would go well too – this is a nice blank slate for an easy dessert.

It would also be a nice addition to a brunch table or breakfast, since Bundt cakes usually keep really well and it could be made in advance. 

And why WOULDN’T you make this, because frankly, Sweet Potato Pound Cake sounds so darn southern and homey that it probably makes everyone feel sweeter just hearing the name. 🙂


Sweet Potato Pound Cake


3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp. salt
½ cup milk (low-fat is okay)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or Bundt pan. (If your pan is nonstick, you can get away with just some cooking spray; no need to flour.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk well. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and light brown sugar until light and fluffy, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the sweet potatoes, and mix until the batter is combined. (The batter may look terrible at this point: curdled, weird, terrible. Don’t worry.) With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Beat to just incorporate. Then add half of the milk mixture, and continue to beat on low until well blended. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, and beat on low until the batter is thick and smooth.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the cake, and then carefully invert it onto the rack.

Serve with fresh whipped cream.

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