The only thing that's more difficult to balance than the equation of milk to cereal is the equation of cocoa powder to winter. In neither calculus do you want to run out of one ingredient before the other.
When cold weather sets in, I like to buy a single specimen of cocoa powder to last til spring. That way I can associate different winters with different chocolates. For example, 2006-07? That was my year of Hershey's Dutch Process in the silver can. The winter of 2007-08? Scharffen Berger.
In the fall of 2008, I bought a big-ass tub of Rapunzel brand organic cocoa powder. I didn't love it, mostly because it didn't dissolve smoothly in my particular titration of milk, vanilla and sugar or agave nectar. But over the months, I began to warm to Rapunzel.
Unfortunately, the tub is now almost empty, with barely enough powder clinging to the bottom circumference to make a single stingy cup of hot chocolate. Meanwhile, the 10-day forecast calls for more than a few cool evenings, when I might like to sit outside with a warm blanket and a hot drink.
Truth be told, I'm not ready to commit to another year of Rapunzel. So before I run plum out and, in a rash moment, buy a can of, say, Ovaltine, please give me some recommendations for the Cocoa of 2009-10.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Fox family itinerary a couple of weeks ago when I solicited dining recommendations for Asheville, N.C. Here's the first in a series of mini-reviews from the trip.
Tupelo Honey Cafe
The first time I stopped at Tupelo Honey, it was weekend brunch, and the line wrapped around the downtown block. This trip, it was Thursday, and we slipped right into a table in the sunny room, which chirped with late-morning activity. Bathed in amber light and accented with dark woods, colorful oil paintings and tables topped white cloths and paper for crayon drawings, the shotgun room has a well-worn grace, like a large eat-in kitchen that serves a diverse family as it comes and goes in everything from business suits to nose-rings to toddler togs.
Chef Brian Sonoskus mans the open kitchen, where he creates a Southern-infused repertoire of breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which takes advantage of locally grown produce and meats whenever possible. In Asheville, a city that pulses with an earthy-artsy beat, a restaurant that farms its own produce in nearby fields and serves it on the sidewalks of downtown is about as natural a marriage as pancakes and syrup.
We tucked into bacon, organic eggs, home fries and blueberry-granola pancakes, which arrived with homegrown edible flowers on the plate. Grandma's maple granola was a sweet and crisp medley of almonds, grains and toasted coconut, served with cool vanilla yogurt and fresh fruit. I am still haunted by visions of a candied ginger cornbread with whipped peach butter that I did not see on the menu until we were leaving.
Two adults and three kids ate breakfast for under $50, a price tag that made us consider returning for dinner, when prices top out at $23.95 for shrimp and grits with andouille and a 4-ounce lobster tail. With the bulk of the menu well below $20, including skillet catfish ($12.95), flank steak ($17.95) and baked sea scallops with chorizo ($18.95), Tupelo Honey is just the type of thoughtful, affordable restaurant that Nashvillians persistently cry out for.
Tupelo Honey Cafe is located at 12 College St. in Asheville, N.C.
I recently had the honor of speaking to a group of fourth-graders at career day, for which I just received a bundle of thank-you letters. Written in pencil on blue-lined paper and adorned with eraser marks and the occasional illustration of pizza, the notes were flavored with such enthusiasm for writing and eating that they reminded me how much I love my job. (One note, signed "The Future Food Critic," even has me watching my back a little.) One particular letter, which was unsigned, reminded me the most of own early career ambitions. I share it (slightly edited) below:
Dear Ms. Fox,
I was the person with the details? I wish I'll become a food critic. I think it is a easy job. It was the best section of the day. All you have to do is eat and write about it. Have you ever been to Sonic?
Congratulations, Baja Fresh--you squeaked by with a D- on Eat This, Not That columnist David Zinczenko's list of the unhealthiest chain restaurants in America.
The list reserved the F bomb for Applebee's, Outback, IHOP and T.G.I. Friday's, four chains that don't post nutritional information. But Baja was among the many that all but flunked for their quadruple whammies of calories, fats, sugar and sodium.
"About a third of the items on the menu have more than 1,000 calories, and most of them are spiked with enough sodium to melt a polar icecap," Zinczenko and Matt Goulding write of Baja Fresh. "Order the Shrimp Burrito Dos Manos Enchilado-Style, for instance, and you're looking at 5,130 mg sodium--that's more than 2 days' worth in one sitting!"
After the jump: some of the worst offenders.
Planets aligned recently to put me on Elliston Place late at night and hungry.
Samurai Sushi beckoned, offering a late bite of something finny in its cozy confines. Big surprise inside: the dining room, easily the smallest in town, has tripled in size with the addition of the space next door. That happened a few months ago, according to my new friend, the sushi chef.
The big news of the day, though, was that Samurai Sushi had just that very week received its wine license. Ozecki unfiltered sake with unagi -- nightcap of excellence.
This Twitter update courtesy of John Tesh, the Paul Revere of proper menu hygiene. Hat tip: Tracy Moore and Idolator.
Chef Jimmy Phillips is adding to Miel's French-flavored menu as seasonal vegetables come available. Last weekend, he introduced the following items:
The menu continues to evolve as produce comes available, so check out the website for the most up-to-date roster.
Along with the new springtime fare, the Phillipses have added longtime friend Paul Hamill--who worked with Jimmy in Chicago--as general manager.
I'm a pretty seasonal eater--though not necessarily in the way most sustainable food activists mean it. There are certain foods that I only eat at certain times of year. Like most people, I tend to enjoy lighter dishes in the summer and crave comfort food anytime the temperature drops below 40 degrees.
One of my favorite things about spring is the return of beloved foods to my regular routine--the first popsicle (or paleta), the first iced coffee, the first time I can eat just a salad as a main course and feel satisfied.
Well, yesterday I bought my first bottle of vinho verde, a warm-weather-friendly wine I was introduced to last summer. This light Portugese white is literally a young wine--hence the "green" part in the name--and retains a light fizz from fermentation. It's crisp and refreshing and so drinkable that you can easily finish off a bottle during American Idol without even noticing (eek!).
Woodland Wine Merchant sells a couple of different varieties of this thirst-quencher--most right around $10. I went with the Broadbent this time.
If, like me, you have wondered what happened to all the salad bars in the world, you'll be glad to know that I found them on a recent spring break trip through Virginia and North Carolina. The remaining salad bars lurk in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, where all the three-bean medleys and marinated mushrooms have migrated and consolidated, perhaps in preparation for a great preserved-vegetable Armageddon, when they will rise up from beneath their sneeze guards, carrying swords of stale won tons and shields of pickled beets, and march across beds of crushed ice and curly parsley to attack the weaker legions of perishable foods, squashing them into a soggy morass of limp leafy greens.
Needless to say, while I was delighted to a find a surfeit of salad bars on my recent spring break march between Nashville and the Surrendering Grounds at Appomattox, Va., I was disappointed by the dearth of actual vegetables on them. Desperate for something not deep-fried or corn-based, I made do with some lettuce, broccoli and a sprinkling of raisins, sunflower seeds and carrot strips, with a drizzle of red wine vinegar. If not exactly a culinary triumph, at least it was a dietary bullet dodged.
But here's my question: If you could build your own salad bar, what would you include? Once we get a list, we can start to launch a counterinsurgency.
I am a busy girl, so I strive to manage my days efficiently. I don't go seeking extra time-sucking activities. I don't Facebook. I don't watch American Idol, and I don't know WTF a Webkin is. When it comes to non-essential extracurriculars, I try to keep things lean.
Which is why I am so pissed off at Dunkin' Donuts.
The mothership of breakfast carbs has sucked me into its tractor beam with the mother of all time-wasters: Create Dunkin's Next Donut Contest.
Not only have I spent untold minutes of my already too-busy day weighing the merits of cake batter versus cruller dough and kreme versus fruit jelly, I've been forced by my own latent mathematical OCD to tally up the possible permutations of donut recipes that could find their way into the online competition.
It works like this: You choose from among three shapes, seven doughs, 62 fillings, 15 frostings and 10 toppings. Add a clever title and a brief recommendation for your product and, well, Bob's your uncle. You could win $12,000 and get America running on your winning
sour cream donut with chocolate-chili filling and lime sugar secret recipe.
Just doing a little back-of-the-envelope math, it looks like there are some 200,000 possible combinations, give or take a few thousand, since you can't put filling in a traditional donut ring and you can't add sprinkles to a sugar-coated varietal. Still, it's enough to waste a lot of time.
Ultimately, it will come down to the marketability of the name, and fortunately, this is where the Bites universe excels. Mr. Pink, I'm looking at you to christen my
sour cream donut with chocolate-chili filling and lime sugar secret recipe with a name that takes the cake. So, put down your Webkins, whatever they are, for a minute, and let's get cracking on this donut racket before the contest expires April 7.
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