Category Archives: tasting north carolina

10/100: Blue Crab Stuffed Dolphin Fish

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In the 1950′s the men of the Hillsborough Volunteer Fire Department decided to build a house in Morehead City, a getaway from the families where they could play cards and do whatever men in the 50′s did away from their families. Man stuff. Drinking brown liquor and smoking cigars like country versions of Mad Men characters. That house (and the one that replaced it after hurricane Hazel swept through in 1954), called lovingly by our extended family as “The Cottage” has been used as a vacation house by the descendents of the firemen (all of whom are part of our extended family) in the years since it was built. Like my dad and uncle and their cousins before us, my siblings and I grew up visiting Morehead City each summer, swimming in the marsh, fishing off the pier, boating over to Shackleford and Cape Lookout, buying books and candy at City News.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

the Hillsborough Volunteer Fire Department, 1950′s. 

The summer after my dad graduated from the University of Richmond he and his friends came down to Morehead to hang out and unwind. According to the Capt’n after waking up and seeing the house in the light of day one of his friends exclaimed “what you’ve got here is a damn swamp house.” The house, which is situated on stilts over a low salt water marsh (not a swamp), is a structure that could only have been built before the CAMA and has stood strongly up to thunderstorm after hurricane. It has, affectionately, been called the Swamp House by our family ever since (the extended family, however, maintains that it should be called The Cottage).

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the swamp house during a particularly high tide the week of our wedding, september 2009

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shackleford banks ponies

Carteret County is surrounded by Craven and Pamlico counties to the north, Hyde county to the northeast, Onslow county to the southwest, and Jones county to the northwest. Its county seat is Beaufort and it includes Cape Lookout National Seashore, Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Croatan National Forest.

 

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The Swamp House sits on Calico Creek, which feeds into Calico Bay, the Morehead City Channel, the Beaufort Inlet, and finally the Atlantic Ocean. Growing up I mucked in the marsh, water skied in Calico Bay, stalked many a pony on the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and spent countless afternoons sitting on the bow of the boat as dad made us troll through a pack of birds diving into the waters with fishing lines cast. Later, once dad and I (and eventually most of the family) completed our SCUBA certification we explored the waters inshore and offshore in a whole new way, rolling off the sides of our 20″ Robolo onto the decks of shipwrecks. In 2009 Dan and I were married in Beaufort, the town just over the bridge from Morehead City, and in 2011 my parents moved to MHC fulltime so that my dad could devote himself fully to his dive business, Tortuga Charters.

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This is all to say that Morehead, as much as any other place in North Carolina, is dear to me. Driving into town on 1-70 still gives me a giddy feeling, even though it’s a drive I do more often now than ever before. Sitting on the back porch of the Swamp House, drinking a cocktail and shootin’ the shit, I am my most happy, my most at peace. It’s a little slice of heaven, Carteret County, which is why it was near impossible to pick one recipe, one story, one moment to encapsulate it for the Tasting North Carolina series.

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dan & i the morning of our wedding, beaufort, september 2009

In fact, I put off choosing a recipe for almost two years because the task seemed too daunting. But then, as most things do, it all came together perfectly, falling into place like the puzzles my family love to do at the Swamp House’s big family dinner table. This year we headed up to Morehead in early June for the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, an annual big game sports fishing tournament held in Morehead City. My sister Lauren and her husband Bradley came up from New Orleans and spent a few days with us in Wilmington before we all headed to Morehead for a nice long weekend.

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Saturday and Sunday we partook in some of our favorite Carteret County activities- floating in the waves at Radio Island, eating clam pizza at Beach Bumz, fishing and crabbing off the pier, floating on le tube in Calico Creek, grabbing a drink at Queen Anne’s Revenge (and dinner at their sister restaurant in Tight Lines in Morehead), bar crawling along the water front. It was relaxing and reminded me how lovely it can be to just unwind with family, just be together and enjoy each other’s company.

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One of the things on Bradley’s wish list for as long as we’ve known him has been a deep sea fishing trip. Growing up we used to go out fishing with Capt’n Fred, but I hadn’t been fishing offshore in years (I prefer to look at the fish through the lens of my prescription mask), so I was excited to get out there. That Monday, the first day of the Big Rock Tournament, we woke up earlier than any human should, loaded the boat up with refreshments, and headed out to catch us some dolphin fish (not the mammal; the fish often referred to as mahi is called “dolphinfish” in these parts).  It was a big day. Thanks to our guaranteed anti-seasickness formula (cold fried chicken, pickled okra, salt n’ vinegar chips, cold beer) we all fared pretty well, and we all had the opportunity to reel in a few big fish. When it was all said and done we headed home with ten good size dolphin fish and a bonito tuna (also known as a lil’ tunie, according to my dad. As in “what the hell kinda fish is that?” “well, that right there’s a lil’ tunie!”). Thanks to the Capt’n for taking us out on Tortuga and his incredible mate Randy who kicked major ass despite having a serious leg wound, we came off the boats exhausted and thrilled with our haul.

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While we were on the boat we passed the time listening to the radio station that was giving updates on the tournament. Lines went in the water at 9am (it takes about 2-3 hours to get out to where the big fish live around the Big Rock), and shortly thereafter a boat called Inspiration hooked up a marlin. All day as the announcer on the radio would give the latest and greatest they would end with “and Inspiration is still hooked up.” After hours of hearing that the boat was still hooked on the same fish, we were having a hard time believing it. They couldn’t have seriously been reeling in the same fish for 3, 4, 5 hours, could they? They could. Right after 3pm the radio crackled again to announce that Inspiration had brought a blue marlin on board that they estimated weighed 600lbs.

Dolphin Fishing from Elena Rosemond-Hoerr on Vimeo.

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After showering and getting dressed we rushed downtown to the weigh station to see this fish for ourselves. We edged our way to the front of the crowd just as they were hoisting the marlin up in the weigh station. When the number was read, nobody could believe it- the fish weighed in at 754.3 lbs. It’s hard to describe just how gigantic that fish was and what a sight it was to see in person. This was the third largest marlin ever caught in the tournament, and the largest this century. Inspiration ended up winning the tournament on the first day, with the second largest fish weighing in over a hundred and fifty pounds less than the winning fish.

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We spent a lot of time that night over dinner talking about how we would prepare our bounty of dolphin fish. Lauren and Bradley left the next morning, taking a huge bag of dolphin steaks home with them, and a few days later my brother Ryan and some friends from college joined us. One night we decided to make the meal we’d been scheming up with Lauren and Bradley- dolphin fish stuffed with the crabs Bradley had been courting off the back pier all week.

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In reality, our little crab trap off the pier didn’t catch enough crab to feed all of us, so we supplemented with crab from the market. The dolphin fish, stuffed with spiced crab and roasted in a butter and wine sauce and served with cilantro lime rice and a fresh spinach salad, was the epitome of fresh local seafood. It was made even sweeter by the fact that we had caught the dolphin, walked the crab trap into the marsh, enjoyed it together at the big family table at the Swamp House that holds so many memories.

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me, the morning of our wedding, beaufort, september 2009

Blue Crab Stuffed Dolphin Fish
serves 4

4 dolphin steaks

2 cups crab meat

2 garlic cloves

1 stick butter

4 shallots

1 cup dry white wine

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp sea salt, plus more for finishing

1 tsp black pepper

Green onions

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium low heat. Add in white wine, minced garlic, and sliced shallots. Simmer 20 minutes.

In a bowl mix together crab meat, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and lemon juice.  Mix half of butter and wine mixture into crab. Heat oven to 375F.

Cut a slit in each dolphin filet that goes down to the base but does not cut in half and transfer to a baking sheet that is at least 1″ deep. Stuff each filet with 1/4 of the crab mixture. Top fillets with remaining butter/wine mixture. Top with sliced green onions. Bake for 20 minutes or until the fish is flaky and the crab is browned. Top with fresh green onions and serve hot.

 

9/100: Columbus County Beet & Goat Cheese Pizza

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There are many things to love about a Farmer’s Market– an excuse to wake up early on a Saturday and indulge in a freshly made breakfast, the opportunity to eat locally and seasonally, the chance to taste fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as they can be. For me the best part might be talking with the farmers, getting to hear how things are grown, joking with them about the best ways to prepare certain foods, gaining insight into the food philosophy of the people growing my fruits and vegetables. It’s an empowering experience, something that brings you much closer to your food than standing in a grocery store aisle.

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Recently I met my friend Heather at the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, a permanent open-air market in Columbus County, NC. Columbus County is a rural county located in Southeastern North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Wilmington. In the two years that we’ve been here I’ve traveled to Columbus County a few times to visit Lake Waccamaw, a beautiful fresh water lake surrounded by campgrounds and a small community. When I started researching the area for this series, I stumbled across the farmer’s market, which was established in 1998 and has been funded by the Rural Advancement Foundation International and the North Carolina Tobacco Trustfund Commission. The farmer’s market is housed in a permanent open air structure and boasts space for up to 20 local vendors.

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Strolling through the market on a late Spring Saturday reminded me of all those midwinter days when I found my thoughts drifting to warm summer mornings, fresh fruits, crisp vegetables, air thick with humidity. The drive combined with my total inability to wake up early (ever) meant I arrived at the market midmorning after the early riser rush. I may have missed out on some of the vegetables but the trade off was well worth it- the farmers were free to chat. One of the things I was surprised by was how many of the farmers we met were excitedly offering organic heirloom vegetables. At almost every stand we had a conversation with the farmers about the sometimes underappreciated beauty of mis-shapen heirloom vegetables, why it’s best to avoid using Sure-Jell in your jams, and how a solution of vinegar and soap can keep the pests away. One farmer that we spoke with for a while who was the essence of charm, was John of Higher Ground Organic Gardens. He had a beautiful crop of potatoes, beets, carrots, kolrabi, beans, squash, and (much to Heather’s delight) rhubarb. John was sweet and kind, answering our questions and telling us about how things are growing this year. I walked away from the market with fingerling beets, beet greens, green beans, and patty pan squash.

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Heather came down from Raleigh for the weekend to talk blogging and work on her practicum project. She is a finishing up her graduate work at Meredith and has decided to work with me for her practicum project, helping me research three counties for the Tasting North Carolina series- Wake, Forsyth, and Lenoir. I thought visiting an additional county on my list, Columbus, would be a good way to kick off the weekend, so after meeting at the farmer’s market we headed down to Lake Waccamaw for lunch at Dale’s Seafood. When I was researching things to visit and see in Columbus Co. I found an article from Our State that does a much better job of explaining the history of the lake than I ever could, particularly the theories concerning how it was formed and the life teeming in the water. Dale’s sits on the shores of the lake, overlooking its 9,000 acres. We sat and took in good old fashioned Southern meat and three fare- I had a deviled crab, fried okra, and hush puppies and Heather enjoyed the steamed shrimp platter- and watched the lake, which is serene and breathtaking in its expanse.

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Columbus County is surrounded by Bladen, Pender, and Robeson counties to the North and Horry and Brunswick counties to the South. Its county seat, Whiteville, is where you’ll find the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, as well as the community that it serves. The next time you’re driving down to the beach stop by for some fresh vegetables, good company, and a glimpse of one of the Carolina Bays.

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Beet and Goat Cheese Pizza 

Dough: 
1 tbsp dry active yeast
2 ½ cups bread flour
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
¾ cup warm water
½ tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp kosher salt

topping:

6 fingerling beets, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup goat cheese
2 spicy pork sausages, cooked and sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Handful of beet greens or kale

Whisk together olive oil, yeast, salt, basil, and water. Whisk until fully incorporated, at least 2 minutes. Add half of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add remaining flour and knead for ten minutes, until the dough feels like a stress ball.

Coat a glass bowl with olive oil. Place the dough ball in the bowl, turn once, and cover with a damp towel. Let rise for at least an hour. Punch down and let rise another 15 minutes.

Roll out your dough and heat your oven to 500 (or as high as it goes).  Spread goat cheese evenly across the dough (as best you can), then follow with beets and sausage. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Top with fresh greens and serve hot.

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 2 Dan 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 1 It’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 1 When 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.