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The Great Grapes! Wine, Art & Food Festival was last Saturday, April 16th.  I had been checking the weather the week before and it was looking like rain would hit.  The day of, it looked like it would be raining on and off until about 4pm, when the thunderstorms would really hit, so we stopped by at about 12:30pm.  We brought umbrellas and raincoats just in case. The format was typical for a Koka Booth wine/food event, except this one had free parking!  We were on the will-call list because I ordered tickets ahead of time, and all the lines were really short because of the threat of rain.  We picked up our glasses, and entered the festival.

Live music was playing about every other hour, so when we got there it was 30 minutes before the next act would start.  My husband hadn’t had anything to eat yet, but the “Food” part of the festival looked a bit scarce.  There were some typical concession-type stands selling gyros, cheese steaks, hot dogs and the like, and a pizza stand, and some kettle corn.  I didn’t really see much else.  I ended up getting a chicken gyro, and my husband got a lamb gyro.  Not great, but edible.  I was disappointed there wasn’t a better food selection there.

My son went down near the lake to play in the bouncy inflatable slide thing.  He loves these sorts of things at Monkey Joe’s.  It was a bit wet when he started from the rain, but with the high winds and the sun peeking out now and then, it dried off soon.  I would go to the booths trying out a few different wines, and bring back the sweetest dessert ones for my husband to try.

The flyer we got wasn’t very helpful.  I liked some of the booklets I’ve gotten at other events that list each wine that each vendor has.  This one only had a list of vendors.  The total was 25, and I think I tried at least one wine at nearly all of them.  For NC wines, I try to just stick to the sweeter muscadine wines.  I figure if I’m going to try a chardonnay, I’ll get a Napa one.  If I want a Riesling, I’ll get a German one.  If I wanted a Shiraz, I would look for something Australian.  But it’s been my experience that North Carolina doesn’t have the right type of grapes or climates for those types of wines.

The Cypress Bend Vineyards had some nice wines.  I tried the Daniel, To-morrow, and McNeil, and they were all pleasant.  The Allison Oaks Allie’s Choice was a fairly sweet dessert wine, but my husband didn’t like it very much.  The Carolina Heritage Traminette was a surprisingly good take on a gewurztraminer that would go excellent with a good dinner.  The Chatham Hill Winery (that oddly prides itself as being the Triangle’s only urban winery) had some pretty odd-tasting Blackberry wine, but I actually found the Peach to be quite tasty.  I think it’s something my mom would enjoy, she likes the girly, wine-cooler type wines.  Seriously though, I really liked the peach.

The Southern Charm Winery had quite a few excellent sweet wines.  My favorite was the Summer Mist, which is probably the best strawberry wine I’ve ever had.  I really should have picked up a bottle.  I also liked their Hummingbird, Carolina Sunset and Edisto Black.  The Edisto Black had a very good take on the blackberry wine, but it wasn’t quite as good as the strawberry.

The “Art” part of the festival really wasn’t there.  I saw some small booths with crafts for sale, but I was really expecting more.  I think there were more booths for businesses and charities outnumbered the art booths by about 4:1.

We left the festival by about 2:30pm, as it was sprinkling on and off and I didn’t know how much longer the weather would hold.  By about 3:30pm the storms came down hard, and soon after there were tornado warnings and hail, and things like insulation and plywood flying around the neighborhood.  I imagine the festival didn’t last long after that.  Such a pity that the worst storm in years happened to coincide with the Great Grapes! festival.

For next year they could make a few improvements.  More food booths, more art booths, and live music throughout the 11am-7pm festival would have made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.  As it was though, it was a good time at a fairly cheap price.  At only $20 per ticket though, I really can’t have too many complaints.  I look forward to attending next year.

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I had heard Orchid was All You Can Eat sushi for $24. This was intriguing, but then I found out that they had lunch AYCE for only $14. I really couldn’t pass this up, so my husband and I arranged to meet for lunch on Friday.

Upon being seated, we were given two sheets of paper and a pencil, and we were told to fill in the quantity for each selection. We were also informed they had a regular menu that was priced per dish, but it was basically the same items that were on the AYCE menu. My husband was checking for tonkatsu, since it’s his favorite Japanese dish, but unfortunately they didn’t have it. I checked the menu prior, and I figured there would be enough other cooked food he could probably find something he would eat.

I picked out a tuna nigiri, inarizushi (tofu skin with rice inside), the peanut and avocado rolls, and the spicy yellowtail rolls. I also got the miso soup as an appetizer, some edamame to share, a seaweed salad, and some red bean ice cream for dessert. My husband picked out an order of spring rolls, gyoza, the steak teriyaki, and green tea ice cream.

We were given some extra ordering sheets and were told that if we wanted more food at any time, to just fill out the sheet and press the light and the waiter would come to fill our order. I don’t have a whole lot of time for lunch though, so we just decided what we ordered should be enough.

The edamame came out first, and it was typical edamame. It was warm and salted, and it tasted just like edamame normally does. The soup came out a bit later, and it was a bit sparse for miso soup, lacking in tofu and seaweed. But it wasn’t bad. The salad came out as a garden salad, not the seaweed salad I had ordered, but my husband ate it and said it was good.  I didn’t want to bother ordering the seaweed salad again since I had probably already ordered more than enough to fill our appetites. The spring rolls were a bit doughy but still good, and the gyoza was quite tasty, exactly what I wanted the gyoza to taste like.

All the food ended up coming fairly quickly, except for the ice cream. My sushi came out in a nice, large platter, nicely organized. The avocado peanut rolls looked as weird as they tasted, yet I ate them all. There’s something oddly good about them. The tuna and tofu nigiri were pretty good. The spicy yellowtail roll ended up looking and tasting something like shredded yellowtail, mixed in with chili mayo. I was a bit disappointed they didn’t have full yellowtail nigiri, but I found out later they offer additional rolls and nigiri in the dinner meal. I guess that’s why they charge $24 for dinner and only $14 for lunch.

Steak Teriyaki

My husband’s steak teriyaki was a really small portion. I guess the benefit is you have enough room to try everything they offer there. It was good, but not really enough for a full meal size. But at least we ordered enough other food, it wasn’t as if my husband could possibly walk away from the meal hungry.

It took a while for the ice cream and bill to come out. I guess they were surprised we weren’t ordering more food. But I really liked the ice cream, it had small chunks of real red bean in it. My husband’s green tea wasn’t as good to me, but he said he liked it better.

Red Bean and Green Tea Ice Cream

$14 would be more than I usually spend at lunch, but I thought the quality and quantity of food was decent enough that it was worth it. I wouldn’t mind coming back again for the dinner $24 AYCE, since the dinner menu would include the yellowtail nigiri that I love so much. The trick will be trying to get my husband to come back, since they don’t have tonkatsu like they do at Yuri.
Orchid Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I had been meaning to go to Mawa’s for a while now.  I had stopped by two Saturdays in a row finding the place closed, before finally going to the website and realizing they’re closed on Saturdays for lunch.  I did find that unlike many restaurants in the area, they were open for Sunday brunch, so last Sunday I finally got to try Mawa’s food.

Upon entering we were invited to seat ourselves at one of the booths near the windows.  There was a cool area with a small table with pillows to sit on, but I figured that was probably for someone with reservations.  I was happy enough in their booths.

For drinks I ordered the Sweet Morrocan Mint Tea because it sounded interesting, and because it was one of the few drinks that came with free refills.  My husband got the mango drink, which had no free refills.  My tea was served on ice and was quite refreshing.  My husband’s drink reminded me of a mango lassi, without the yogurt.  I guess just mango juice.

It took me a while to figure out what to order.  Everything looked really appetizing, especially the brunch platters.  But I finally decided on the croissant bechamel sandwich with chicken, egg n’ cheese.  It was served with African fries and a choice of side, either Lakh (millet and yogurt), beignets (your choice of 1 kind), and African fries.  I figured if it already came with African fries, I would get a side of the Merveilles beignets. I don’t know how to speak many French words, so unfortunately my ordering experience consisted of a lot of pointing and trying to explain the English description of the food.  They could really use some alphanumeric (A2, G9, C3) labeling on their menus.

My husband ordered the Lamb Shawarma.  It sounded really good as well.  For my son we got the Pet de None, which were 6 pieces of beignets with chocolate sauce.  At $5-$8 per entree, all the dishes seemed really reasonably priced for a Sunday brunch.

Croissant Sandwich - Chicken, Egg n Cheese

When the dishes came out, it was my husband’s dish, and mine.  The waiter mentioned something about more food coming later.  I asked if my son’s dish was coming out soon, and he seemed confused.

We started eating, and I have to say, the food was wonderful.  Though not what I imagined a croissant would look like, it was rectangular and filled with chopped chicken and egg, and had a very mild spice to it.  I knew bechamel was a white sauce, but didn’t find anything resembling a white sauce on the dish.  I didn’t really see any cheese either.  Despite it being dry and not drenched in sauce as advertised, it was still a fantastic sandwich.  The small fried plantains were delicious as well.  I could have probably eaten 30 of them.  I was also a bit confused about the beignets I got, as they appeared to have apple in them, and weren’t orange flavored at all.  Perhaps the waiter had misunderstood my pointing and attempt at the French word.  I wasn’t too disappointed though, because the food was so good anyway.

Other Half of My Sandwich

I had a taste of my husband’s Lamb Shawarma and it was awesome.  He didn’t get to choose his beignets so I think they were just plain, but they came with some little flavored dipping sauce.  He thought the fries were excellent as well.  But he really loved that lamb shawarma more than anything.

Another waiter came out to try to make sense of our order, and I explained that I had ordered the croissant sandwich with the orange beignets, my husband ordered the lamb shawarma, and my son got the beignets with chocolate sauce.  10 minutes later they did finally bring out the other half of my sandwich, as well my son’s beignets.  The original portion seemed big enough, but I welcomed more food because it was so tasty. My son didn’t appreciate his beignets, even when we told him they were donut holes you could dip in chocolate sauce.  So instead my husband and I ate the chocolate sauced beignets as our dessert.

Lamb Shawarma

I’d love to rate Mawa’s really highly, since the food was excellent.  But I didn’t get the beignets I ordered, the sandwich came out in 2 parts 15 minutes apart, and wasn’t really at what was described on the menu, my son’s order came out 15 minutes after ours did, and my mint tea never got refilled.  I’m assuming most of this was because of a language barrier, and I think giving each menu item a letter and number would really help keep things straightened out.  Despite all this, I look forward to coming back sometime during the week to try out their regular menu, and maybe brush up on my French so I don’t embarrass myself trying to pronounce the menu items.
Mawa's Taste of Africa on Urbanspoon

Piedmont Food Tour

Saturday the 16th and Sunday the 17th, tour the local farms around the area, only $25 per car load!  Check out the site www.carolinafarmstewards.org for more information.

Signing and Sampling with Lantern’s Andrea Reusing

Friday, April 22nd, the chef/owner of Lantern, Andrea Reusing, will be at Regulator Bookshop in Durham promoting her new book, “Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes”.  More info available at http://www.regulatorbookshop.com/event/andrea-reusing

Strawberry Fest @ Western Wake Farmers’ Market

April 23 from 8am-12pm at the Western Wake Farmers’ Market in Cary.  Site for the Farmers’ Market: http://www.westernwakefarmersmarket.org/.

Food Blogger Bake Sale

Last but not least, a month from now I will be participating in the Food Blogger Bake Sale in Durham at the Art Market at Vega Metals, at the corner of Rigsbee Rd. and Hunt St.  Tickets are $3 each or 4 for $10, and each ticket will buy you one baked item.  The money will go to “Share Our Strength”, a national non-profit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America.  If you’re interested in participating, contact greeneatsblog at gmail dot com.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I remember when I was a little girl, decorating Christmas cookies.  We had rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, those little silver balls that crunch and break your teeth, and colored sugar..  As I decorated, I would toss a handful of sprinkles in my mouth.  A little for the cookies, a little for me.  I got to the red sugar, and tossed a good teaspoon full in my mouth.  It was so bitter!  I ran for the water and tried to rinse out my mouth.  I spit mouthful after mouthful of red colored water in the sink, and vowed never again to stick anything in my mouth that had artificial red dye in it.

It’s been many years since then, and Red Velvet Cupcakes have become a popular flavor.  I love the idea of chocolate cupcakes, and I love cream cheese frosting, so the only thing keeping me from Red Velvet would be the full bottle or two of red dye that most people dump into the batter.  It hasn’t always been this way.  Historically, Red Velvet got its coloring from beets or non-alkalized cocoa, which has a natural red color.  I figured in this era, where basically any ingredient can be found on the internet, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to find non-alkalized cocoa.  Unfortunately I wasn’t paying attention and picked an alkalized cocoa, thought it did claim to have a natural red color.  I ordered the Cocoa Rouge off http://www.guittard.com/.  There are many other brands out there that are legitimately non-alkalized and will turn red when mixed with the buttermilk, so next time I’ll make a better effort to research the product first.

For my recipe I was going to use the normal Red Velvet recipe, but then found that far too many used very small amounts of cocoa, only 1 or 2 tbsp.  So instead I used a base chocolate cake recipe, with some cake flour to give it a softer, velvetier texture, and only egg whites to keep the yolks from altering the red color.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 stick (12 oz.) butter
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/4 c. buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. cake flour
  • 1 c. flour
  • 3/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

First, make sure all your butter, eggs and buttermilk are room temperature.  Beat the butter and sugar together with a mixer until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the egg whites, one at a time.  Then add the buttermilk and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the cake flour, regular flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Then gradually mix together the wet ingredients and dry ingredients until the batter is smooth.

Spoon the cake batter into 24 cupcake cups.  I found some red cupcake cups at a craft store that compliment the color nicely.  Bake at 350 degrees approximately 20 minutes.

I stored the cupcakes overnight in the fridge before frosting them.  Unfortunately I don’t have a good frosting recipe.  I used 12 oz. cream cheese, 6 oz. butter (both room temperature) and just added powdered sugar until it was a good consistency.   Then I used a quart plastic bag with the corner cut off to pipe nice little spirals of frosting onto each cupcake.  The cupcakes need to be stored in the fridge after frosting as well, so make sure you’ve got plenty of room for 2 dozen cupcakes in there!

The cupcakes turned out with a delicious chocolatey flavor, a velvety texture, and the cream cheese frosting was a perfect compliment.  I think when I try again though, I’ll probably make a few changes.  I think I’ll try adding a tsp. of baking powder, since the cupcakes were a little dense, and I think the buttermilk would have provided enough acidity to make them rise nicely.  I also think using a different cocoa might have helped bring out a more distinct red color to the cupcakes.  I’ll try to find something legitimately non-alkalized, like Dagoba.

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve been to a Mexican restaurant.  I make quesadillas all the time, but other than the occasional Chipotle, this has been a side of food I’ve been neglecting.  I set about to set this right on Saturday evening.  Since I don’t actually know much about Mexican food, and I don’t even speak Spanish, I wanted to try and find something highly rated, while still having a menu in English.

Carnitas

We arrived at Dos Taquitos at about 5:45pm.  I was worried when we first came in, the outside seating looked packed.  When asked if we wanted outside or inside, we just asked for the first available.  They seated us inside, and I guess I should have realized pretty quickly that this was a big mistake.  I have very poor night vision, and could barely find my seat.  I needed my cell phone light to be able to read the menu, and it took several minutes for my eyes to adjust enough to be able to find the salsa and chips.  I had to use a flash and my pictures still turned out pretty bad.  I think next time I’ll arrive a bit earlier, and definitely ask for a seat out by the natural lighting.

They did have a menu which included quesadillas, so I though my son might go for that, but unfortunately he refused to try anything but the chips.  I ordered the carnitas, since it was a dish I was familiar with, and my husband ordered the enchiladas puebla.  I also ordered the Dos Equis which they had on draft there at $3 a glass.  I thought their draft glasses were small, so I ended up getting 2.

It was a bit of a wait to get the food, but we were hungry and went through 2 baskets of chips.  My son was infinitely amused by the overhead train, exclaiming every time it made a pass near our table.  He also loved the glow in the dark stars, the Christmas lights, and all the decorations on the walls.  Despite the fact that I could only see glowing blobs and dark moving blobs, he really liked the interior of the restaurant.

Enchilada Puebla

My carnitas came out on a huge plate with 3 steamed soft tortillas on the side.  There were some huge chunks of pork, refried beans, rice, sliced radishes and cucumbers, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and a little pot of guacamole.  My husband’s enchiladas looked smaller than mine, but still a good-sized dinner portion.  There were 3 small tortilla wraps with steak inside, and 3 different sauces of sour cream, guacamole and what I’m guessing is enchilada sauce.  He also got some refried beans and rice, but no veggies.  It was odd because my dish was $13 and his was $14, so I wasn’t sure why his would be smaller.

The meat was just pure magic.  I don’t know how they prepare the meat here, but it was like something I’ve never had before.  My pork chunks were crispy on the outside, yet so tender that they fell apart with just pushing my fork into them.  I tried a bit of the beef from my husband’s dish and it was just as awesome.

It’s been a full day and I just can’t get that meat out of my head.  I think this restaurant could turn a vegetarian back to the dark side.  Towards the end I was getting so full, yet I had to eat every last chunk of pork.  I can’t wait to try another dish, and get some carnitas to go for the next day as well.

Dos Taquitos on Urbanspoon

I’ve been asked to share some information about the 2011 Piedmont Farm Tour.

Date: Sat. & Sun. April 16 – 17, 1:00 to 5:00 PM

Sponsors: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and Weaver Street Market

Heading into its 16th year, the nationally-recognized Piedmont Farm Tour is a vibrant symbol of the local passion for small sustainable farms and healthy food. Last year over 3,000 people took the tour, learning about everything from growing biodynamic strawberries to caring for pasture-raised pigs and chickens.  This is the nation’s largest sustainable farm tour.

In 2011 the tour will feature forty scenic and sustainable working farms.  Sites will include an award-winning organic dairy, a new permaculture farm, a biodynamic fruit farm, three vineyards, two popular cheese dairies (Chapel Hill Creamery and Celebrity Dairy) and lots of organic produce farms.

Why is the tour so popular?

“Children love the tour because they get to see beautiful farm animals.  Adults love it because they are passionate about high quality local food, animal welfare and protecting the farmland that surrounds our communities,” said Roland McReynolds, CFSA Executive Director.

“It has never been more urgent that we stick up for small sustainable farms.  Last year we fought to create fair food safety rules.  This year we are fighting to retain funding for small farm programs.  Going on the farm tour is a great way to get informed and to send a signal to policy-makers that we care.  And, as many people tell us, it is a lot of fun.”

As a way for tour-goers to get more involved, this year the tour sponsors are encouraging all who take the tour to sign up for the 10% Campaign. This campaign asks you to pledge to buy at least 10% of your food from local sources.  It is sponsored by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), the popular research and policy center funded by state government and the state university system.  CEFS and the tour sponsors have set a goal of 4,000 total 10%ers by Earth Day (April 22.)

How is the tour helping to grow new sustainable farmers?

“Seeing farms in action is vital to the education of new farmers,” says Will Cramer of Ever Laughter Farm. “We have greatly benefited from going on the farm tour in previous years and speaking with farmers about their operations,” he added.   With this in mind, this year CFSA is kicking off a new facet of the farm tour:  each day CFSA will be running a bus just for beginning farmers. These technical tours will feature special guest experts and spur networking amongst young farmers.  Funding is provided by the National Center for Appropriate Technology and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA.  Cost of the technical tour is $3.00.

Tickets?

Complete information about the tour and the farms, with interactive maps and contact information, plus tour tickets are available at: www.carolinafarmstewards.org.  The tour cost is $25 per vehicle in advance and $30 or $10 per farm that weekend.  Groups of cycles count as one vehicle.  Many farms will be selling produce, meat, eggs, cheeses and other farm-fresh products during the tour.  Bring a cooler.  No pets allowed.  Volunteers needed:  contact the CFSA office.