Sunday, January 24, 2010

Soup-er Delicious

I love soup not only because it is comfort food and a great way to squeeze veggies into your diet, but also because it is super efficient cooking. It always makes plenty of leftovers and I really enjoy having containers of various soups in my freezer to choose from. I consider it essential for lazy week day supers. I start cranking out the soups when my supply of frozen tomato sauce from our garden bounty gives out.

Here are three of the many soup recipes from the Biltmore cookbook.


Sweet Potato Mulligatawny (pg. 95)

With a list of 21 ingredients, this is by far the most complicated soup I've attempted. The prep alone is going to take some time, so don't start this one if you're already hungry. But it is worth the effort. Sweet potatoes, chicken, orange juice, sherry, coconut milk and lime juice are just a few of the stars. I did not expect a soup with the Indian flavors of cumin, curry and coriander seeds in the Biltmore collection, but I found it very interesting. If you prefer a vegetarian soup, there's plenty going on so that if you omit the chicken, you still have a lovely and complex blend of flavors.


Country Chicken Soup (pg. 137)

This soup is made from the classic combination of onions, celery and carrots with the additions of chicken, black-eyed peas, sage and spinach. I'll admit that it turned out tastier than it read on paper. It's always amazing when the simplest recipes turn out to be the best. I questioned the use of chicken bouillon instead of broth because I hardly ever use it. But, it gives you a wonton soup base taste, which seems to go better with these ingredients than a watered down broth flavor.


Truffled Potato and Leek Soup (pg. 138)

This one is made with potatos, leeks, fennel, Chardonay, lemon zest and juice and a few other seasonings. I substitute evaporated milk for the cream to make it a little lighter, but this soup will still almost stand up like mashed potatoes. And you can always count on nutmeg to work its flavor magic. A salad with a citrus vinegrette dressing would compliment it nicely. You meat lovers might add some bacon crumbles on top.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Biltmore Breakfast

Many of the recipes in the winter section of the Biltmore cookbook are breakfast items. Perhaps that is because the days are shorter and when it is cold outside, who wouldn't rather stay in bed with a delicious breakfast or brunch? They are ultimate comfort foods, after all, no matter what time of day you serve them.


 Pumpkin Pancakes with Toasted Pecan Butter (pg. 160)

These are much tastier than your regular home cooked pancakes; definitely restaurant worthy. The recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of pumpkin, so they are not overly flavored. The special touch is the toasted pecan butter made with a little maple syrup and vanilla. Make the butter ahead so that it has time to chill. In fact, you can prepare that and mix the dry ingredients the night before for faster morning pancakes. I did find out that it's important to thoroughly sift the baking powder so that it does not clump, so don't skip that step.


Chrorizo Bread Pudding with White Chocolate Cheese and Scallions (pg. 147)

Here's another dish you can make ahead. It reheats well. It is heavier than a normal breakfast, so I think it makes a great brunch item. I used foccacia bread instead of croissants, which will be my preference when I make it again. The spongy bread texture works well with the cheese and eggs. If you buy a sausage with spices, adjust or leave out the cayenne pepper that the recipe calls for.



Homemade Cinnamon Rolls (pg. 159)

I can drool just looking at them. This is one of my first bread related ventures, so I was very impressed that they turned out so well. The dough is light and fun to manipulate. You make the dough in a mixer, let it rise, roll it out into a rectangle and brush a cinnamon/ butter/ sugar mixture all over. Then roll it into a log, slice into individual rolls, let rise again and bake. It takes some time, but all really good things do. And it makes your house smell wonderful.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Eat Yourself Silly in Asheville


Why Asheville is Special
In my humble opinion, Asheville is the best city of restaurants in North Carolina. The only trouble I have when I visit (at least twice a year) is fitting in enough of my favorites while still allowing time to try one or two new places that always seem to be popping up or that I just haven't gotten to yet. It's a good thing I don't live there because I might never cook (yes, really). The trend of farm to table restaurants with simple, yet wonderful food at reasonable prices has really taken off here. It's what speaks to me.

There is also a great eclectic vibe in this city. Artists are drawn there. Diversity is the norm. It's a cultural haven in the middle of the Bible belt. The dress is funky casual and you can't tell most people's status by their wardrobes. It's just a cool place to be.

Where to Stay
It's great to stay downtown where you are an easy walking distance to all of the shops and restaurants and don't have to worry about parking. I can recommend the Renaissance (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/avlbr-renaissance-asheville-hotel/). Rooms are nice and the hotel service is good. I'm excited about a new downtown hotel that I have not had a chance to try yet: Hotel Indigo (http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/). It looks very modern and they are pet friendly (although I have not checked out the associated fees). I have also stayed at the Crowne Plaza (http://www.ashevillecp.com/) specifically because they are pet friendly. It's just a short drive from downtown and it's a tricky route until you get the hang of it. There is a golf course on site in case you're into that.

Local Eats
Go hungry. Take leftovers home with you (plan ahead and pack a cooler). There are so many great choices, that there's no way I'll come close to covering them all in this post, but here are some of my favorites. Sorry I don't have pictures of scrumptious food from my last trip, but check out the individual websites and I guarantee you will be drooling.

Downtown:
The Chocolate Fetish (http://www.chocolatefetish.com/) It's a European style chocolate shop and I always make the time to stop by. These are no ordinary truffles. Try the key lime pie flavor with graham cracker crumbs on the bottom.
Cucina 24 (http://www.cucina24restaurant.com/) Real pasta and authentic Tuscan dishes like wild boar over noodles as a special. Close my eyes and I'm back in Italy unlike most NC "Italian" restaurants.
Early Girl Eatery (http://www.earlygirleatery.com/) This place has loyal followers, especially for breakfast. Be prepared to wait for a table unless you order takeout instead. Breakfast is great, but I really love their lamb, which is from a local farm and very reasonably priced.
Laughing Seed Cafe (http://www.laughingseed.com/) Vegetarian fare. Very good. You won't believe the sloppy jo (even if you don't usually like tofu). Ordering several tapas is also a great meal idea.
Over Easy Cafe (http://www.exploreasheville.com/) A local turned me onto this place and now it's my favorite breakfast spot (not just in Asheville, but anywhere). The coffee is very good and they always have interesting specials as well as omelets, biscuits, pancakes, etc. They also serve lunch and you can order from either menu at any time.
Tupelo Honey Cafe (http://www.tupelohoneycafe.com/) Very well known and loved and it's always crowded. Be prepared to wait, or offer to sit at the bar for quicker seating. This place has been written up quite a bit. The sweet potato pancakes are unbelievable, but really everything on the menu is good.

Beyond Downtown...
Rezaz (http://www.rezaz.com/intro.html) Located in Biltmore Village, Rezaz is one of the best restaurants I've ever experienced. It's a little pricey, but more than worth it. You can not go wrong with anything you order. Top your meal off with a large cup of cappuccino.
Sunny Point Cafe (http://www.sunnypointcafe.com/) This cafe is in West Asheville. Most tourist information won't tell you about it, but the locals know. Great place for a sandwich or salad. A lovely garden right behind the building supplies some of their ingredients. You can't get more fresh and local than that.

Things to Do
  • You are going to need some exercise to balance with all of that eating. Luckily, you are right in the middle of the blue ridge mountains. Hop on the parkway for a scenic drive and you will find plenty of places to hike or bike.
  • Check out the Asheville Outdoor Center (http://www.paddlewithus.com/) to kayak or raft the French Broad river or rent bicycles.


  • A trip to Asheville is not complete without visiting Biltmore Estate (http://www.biltmore.com/). Tour the mansion, visit the winery for some history and a tasting, eat at one of the restaurants. There are also plenty of seasonal events and outdoor activities.
  • Try the downtown open drum circle on Friday nights. (http://www.myspace.com/ashevilledrumcircle
  • If you are up for a day trip on a windy drive, go to Hot Springs for a dip in a natural spa. Make a reservation before you go. (http://www.nchotsprings.com/)
Side Bars
  • Parking in downtown is free on Sundays, although there are no signs to tell you so. Spring and summer are great times to visit. Peak time is around the fall leaves season, when it will be crowded.
  • Here's a good website for general Asheville information: http://www.exploreasheville.com/

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Follow Me

Now you can follow me, just choose your route. If you're on Twitter, just use the button at the top. Or use the options in the left menu to subscribe to my posts or become a follower. Coming soon, another Biltmore recipes post and finally a travel post about all things Asheville.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Pie Perfection

With record cold temperatures, you are in need for some homemade comfort food. Chances are, in this weather and economy, you're staying home. Whip out the Biltmore cookbook and find two pie recipes: one savory, the other sweet. Assemble, bake and snuggle up.


Chicken Potpie (pg. 150)

You have to love the simplicity of a one dish meal. What makes this recipe unique is the blend of herbs: fresh sage, dried oregano, thyme and basil. And you'll add a cup of Biltmore Chardonnay, which makes for a really nice flavor. The only vegetable in there is peas and I like using the tiny variety.

The greatest thing about this recipe is that it makes enough filling for two pies and usually frozen pie crust comes packaged as two. So you can eat one when you make it and then easily freeze the other filling for a rainy day when you are feeling lazy.

I took a few liberties with this one. It asks you to roast a chicken all day first, but I used the boil and shred method instead to save time. The recipe also has you making individual dishes and cutting the pie crusts to fit, which would certainly be a great option for restaurant style serving. I like the look of the whole pie. I substituted the heavy cream with evaporated milk to reduce the fat amount (but still plenty creamy).

This dish took about an hour, but you are essentially making two meals. And, don't forget that you'll need to add some time to let it cool before serving.



Apple Tart (pg. 120)

You will have to excuse me for flipping back to the fall recipes to make this dish, but I love this tart. This is the third one I have made and I change it a little every time. It is a great dessert for dinner parties because it looks harder than it is.

Break out the mixer that has been collecting dust for this one as you will make your own crust. Arranging the apples is the artistic part. The apples have been tossed with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. You can skip the sugar, especially if you have in season, sweet fruit. The recipe calls for a streusel topping made from flour, brown sugar and melted butter. This is the part I experiment with every time. I left out the flour this time and I think the brown sugar stands alone just fine.

Once you have this crust down, there are so many possibilities. I can't wait to try this recipe with different fruits like berries or peaches. Mango tarts this summer, perhaps.


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