Category Archives: tasting north carolina

8/100: Durham County Grilled Pimento Cheese

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When I started this series creating recipes that represented each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, I always knew that Durham would be the most difficult. As a Durham native who has been living outside of the 919 for almost 10 years, I didn’t know where to start. Do I make a burrito in honor of the many afternoons and late nights spent at Cosmic? Do I honor the fried chicken sandwich at Shrimp Boat, a sandwich I regularly have dreams about? Is it even a post about Durham without a nod to the late great Magnolia Grill? Or should I write about the new restaurants and eateries popping up on the Durham food scene, like Scratch or Mateo? The directions feel endless.

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Thankfully, my friends at the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau were there to help me see my home county through objective eyes. They suggested I stop into Parker and Otis. Immediately I was all, “Duh.” As an alum of Durham School of the Arts, I spent a lot of time frequenting the restaurants in the Brightleaf Square area. Parker and Otis is a stone’s throw away from the school and has been a favorite hangout since it opened many years ago. It’s a favorite place to meet friends and family for coffee, meals, shopping; and it’s a place where I always run into someone that I love. Their food is incredible: Southern, quirky, homemade, and delicious – perfect to represent Durham.

grilled pimento cheese 2Dan and I both love the grilled pimento cheese with bacon, something that immediately came to mind when I started noodling on what to cook for the blog. I adapted their recipe slightly, adding fresh tomatoes and basil. It turned out to be out of this world. The cheese melts and binds together all the flavors and textures, creating a sandwich that hits it out of the Durham Bulls Park. I originally made this sandwich in the fall when my counters were still bursting with tomatoes, but it’s just about now (in the dregs of February) that this sandwich, made with some local hydroponic tomatoes (I found some and they were heavenly!) or pickled green tomatoes and basil from the plant in my living room, hits the spot exactly.

durham blt 1It’s hard to express what it means to me to be a native of Durham, especially these past few years. Growing up it often felt like Durham had been abandoned in a different era, a more prosperous era. Its story is one that is common throughout America- it was heavily impacted by industrialization, negative race relations, white flight, the fall of the tobacco industry, the destruction of thriving cultural hubs in the name of “progress.”. During my formative years it felt like Durham was having an identity crisis; being from Durham carried the weight of the feeling that your town was always fighting to be seen, to be heard, to be valued. But  recently it seems as though that underdog spirit is what allowed it to pull itself up and push forward into the amazing place it is becoming. Durham is experiencing a renaissance. duke 1When I was a senior in high school my friend Julia and I did a photography project where we documented downtown Durham. More than anything, it felt like we were photographing a ghost town. Today, ten years later, a trip down Main Street feels like a completely different world. There are new restaurants and businesses opening up in spaces that were vacant for years. Instead of continuing to sprawl towards Apex people are coming back downtown, reinvesting themselves in the heart of the community. James Beard nominated restaurants are opening, local urban farms (including my brother’s farm, Sol Patch) are cropping up all over town, young graduates from some of the best universities are choosing to stay in the area, Durhammites are making the choice to return to Durham, to be a part of something great. It’s exciting to watch the town that I love grace the pages of the New York Times touted as an amazing place to visit and live. It makes me proud, as proud as ever, to claim Durham as my own.

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Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwich

8 slices sourdough bread

1 1lb thick cut bacon

Bunch fresh basil

Red tomatoes

pimento cheese:

3/4 lb cheddar cheese

2 red pimentos (or 1/4 cup jarred pimentos)

1/2-3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp paprika

1 tsp red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper

Dice the pimentos and toss in olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes or until tender at 425. In a food processor combine cheese, mayo, red peppers, and spices. Pulse until combined, adding more mayo as necessary until pimento cheese is smooth. Cook bacon and set aside. Drain off most of the drippings, leaving some in the pan. Smear each piece of bread with cheese and layer bacon, sliced tomatoes, and basil on each sandwich. Assemble sandwiches and cook in bacon drippings for 2-3 minutes per side. Serve hot.

7/100: New Hanover County Watermelon Kefir

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In the 1840’s a man named John Kwiatkowski immigrated from Poland to the United States, coming through New York City. After settling in and changing his name to John Rosemond (Kwiatkowski meant “man of the flower” in Polish) he hopped on a boat heading to Mexico, ready to fight for his new country in the Mexican- American war. Unfortunately John, along with many other new recruits, suffered from terrible seasickness, and couldn’t hack the long trip. These men were dropped off in the port of Wilmington, where they made a new life. John opened a small business, married a woman named Sarah Pleasants, and eventually moved his family to Hillsborough, where Rosemonds can be found to this day. John had a son named Jerome, who had a wife named Mary Parker and a son named James, who had a wife named Sybil Walker and a son named Kenneth, who had a wife named Barbara Ballenger and a son named James who had a wife named Cathy Waldron and a daughter named Elena, who has recently found herself living right back where it all started, in New Hanover County.

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Before I moved to Wilmington I hadn’t spent much time in New Hanover County. When we beached we headed to Morehead City, where the Rosemonds have had a family home since the 1950’s (the Swamp House), and had only visited Wilmington once or twice in high school and college. It is an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of life and culture that this town is brimming with. Thanks to a thriving film industry (thanks to North Carolina’s tax incentives for film) and a large University, Wilmington draws people from all over the world, all walks of life, who have changed this small port city into a diverse and fascinating place. New Hanover County is located in the Southeastern part of the state, and was formed in 1729. It is one of the original port cities in North Carolina and played a vital role in the development of the state and the colonial USA. It is surrounded by Pender County to the North and Brunswick County to the South.

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I was particularly amazed to find a rich food culture in Wilmington that went far beyond your expected coastal fare. There is a community of people focused on eating and making real food, with an emphasis on whole, local, and responsible eating, things that I am personally commited to and passionate about. Organizations like Feast Down East and Down East Connect help local farmers and community members connect to bring fresh seasonal food into kitchen’s without a middleman. The local co-op Tidal Creek just finished a month long challenge motivating and helping people to eat a month of local food. And one woman, Ryanna Battiste, is helping people change their relationship with food through a small business called GRUB.

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I met Ryanna through many connections all at once, and it became clear after we moved to Wilmington that Ryanna was someone that I needed to know. Over the past year I’ve attended her workshops, partnered with her, and had long, amazing, compelling conversations over a glass of wine about how food can nourish us, and harm us, and how important it is to commit yourself to learning about what it is you’re putting in your body. One of the things that GRUB is doing that I was immediately intrigued by was promoting a fermented probiotic drink called water kefir, something she describes as an “affordable and bio-available way to deliver healthy bacteria” that produces a “fizzy and delicious fermented soda.” Water kefir, like kombucha or yogurt, introduces probiotics into your system that can help with gut health and over all body health. Since she started selling water kefir kits she’s grown a community of over 400 home-brewers all over the country.

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After attending a water kefir demo I brought home a kit (you can also order them online: http://thisisgrub.com/projects/water-kefir/) and immediately started brewing. The kefir is flavored with fruit, and since we started brewing we’ve made everything from lemon ginger to mango to our new favorite, watermelon. The brew is light and fizzy, like a soda, and the watermelon kefir is nothing short of incredible. It’s easy to see why so many people in this community are whipping up batches of their own.

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This summer watermelon  has made up around 80% of my diet, leaving me to wonder what else I can do with it. Smoothies? Absolutely. Watermelon vodka tonics? Naturally. Watermelon, mint, and feta salad? Of course. Watermelon and lime jam? Why not! Nothing says summer to me quite like a cold slice of watermelon, so I ask- what are your favorite ways to use this most delicious of fruit?

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Ed note: After I approached Rye about featuring her in this series, she decided to sponsor B&S through a Water Kefir badge in the sidebar. Thanks for the support, Rye!

Watermelon Kefir
makes 1 quart

1/4 cup sugar, cane or brown

3/4 quart filtered water

2 dried figs

1/4 cup kefir culture

1 cup pureed watermelon

In a quart jar combine water, sugar, figs, and the culture. Mix to combine, cap, and store in a dark cabinet for 24-48 hours.

Strain out the grains and discard the figs. Combine the liquid (the kefir after first ferment) and the pureed watermelon in a second jar. Let ferment an additional 24-48 hours. Chill and serve.

Watermelon Lime Jam
makes 1 1/2 pints

2 cups pureed watermelon

4 tbsp instant pectin

1/2 cup sugar

Juice of 4 limes

Stir all ingredients together until thoroughly incorporated, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to half pint jars and let sit 30 minutes. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

6/100: Grilled Peaches with Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce

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Summer is, without argument, the most magical season. Long days, warm nights, endless possibilities and freedom. Summer brims with nostalgia and potential, all wrapped up in the warm glow of the long sunlight evenings. I pack my days and nights full with people and parties and travel and salt and sand and laughter until before I know it months have blurred into one long humid afternoon. Exactly the way that I like it.

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Recently I had an unexpected weekend all to myself, which never happens, and had me giddy with the possibilities. Would I go to the beach and lay in the warm sand for hours? Would I buckle down and get to all that work I probably should tackle (unlikely)? Should I curl up on the couch with the dog and marathon Gilmore Girls while polishing off the last of the salted caramel sauce? As I sat at my computer that Saturday morning checking the weather and sipping my coffee it occurred to me that this free weekend might be the perfect opportunity for spontaneity. A little Googling and a few phone calls later it was decided, I was going peach picking in Brunswick County.

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Brunswick County stretches from the Cape Fear River to the border between Carolinas, making it the southernmost county in the state. Its 1,050 square miles include the Brunswick Beaches- Sunset, Ocean Isle, Holden, Oak Island, Caswell, and Bald Head Island. Driving through Brunswick County you’ll find farmlands, fast growing communities, beaches, riverfront, and plenty of golf. Founded in 1764 it was named for Brunswick Town, a settlement and major 18th century port. Brunswick Town is now a colonial ghost town, but it was the first settlement on the Cape Fear River and thrived until it was destroyed during the Revolutionary War. The county seat is Bolivia, and Brunswick County borders Columbus, Pender, and New Hanover to the north and Horry County, South Carolina, to the south.

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I’d been thinking that my late summer installment of Tasting North Carolina should focus on the stone fruits currently flooding the market, and had been toying with the idea of visiting a peach farm. That Saturday my friend Brandy and I drove the hour south to Calabash to visit a farm that (according to the web) had pick your own peaches, berries, figs, and more. It sounded like heaven! It sounded like fate! I should have known better! As we pulled into the farm the skies opened up, letting loose the kind of rain that only a week of unbearable heat in the South can elicit. We scrambled inside and started to make arrangements, only to discover that they a) only offer pick your own in the early morning (we got there around 11.30) and b) don’t ever pick your own peaches, just blueberries. A double whammy of disappointment.

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Thankfully Brandy and I glass-half-full type people, especially when we’re on a spontaneous road trip, so we bought some peaches, green peanuts, and hot sauce (made right there on the premises) and headed on our way. Our original plan of visiting the beaches were dampened by the rain, so we headed back on home, happily chatting as we drove about how we were going to spice our boiled peanuts.

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The real highlight of the trip happened in Leland, just over the bridge from Wilmington, when Brandy spotted a massive alligator on the side of the road. And because this was a day of spontaneity I turned the car around and we pulled out our cameras, sprinting to find it. As we approached he swam from one side of the marsh to the other, towards us, allowing us an up close look at easily the biggest alligator either of us have seen in the wild. The moral of the story? Things may not always work out as you expect them to, but in the end there will probably be alligators.

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Grilled Peaches with Ice Cream & Caramel Sauce
Serves 4

2 large peaches
1 tbsp coconut oil
Vanilla ice cream

caramel sauce:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter
¼ cup cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Begin by making your caramel sauce. In a heavy skillet melt the sugar, stirring constantly. Sugar will clump and then melt, continue to stir as it turns an amber brown. Cube butter and stir into sugar until combined. Remove from heat and add cream. Stir rapidly until fully incorporated. Add in vanilla extract and allow to cool.

Slice peaches in half. Brush each half with coconut oil. Grill peaches flesh side down for 5-6 minutes or until tender. Serve hot with ice cream and drizzled caramel sauce.