It is a mad scientist’s power that comes from making something wonderful and brand new. A singular dish that was just a grocery list of disparate ingredients, moments or hours before. The golden, shimmering alchemy of cooking is one of the ways I fill my life with warmth and light. I cook home food; no molecular gastronomics, no loopy swirls on the plate. It is a remarkable thing to be confident in providing for yourself—not just surviving, but creating, often out of very little, a feast, nourishing and magnificent in its rustic simplicity.
ROASTED TOMATO & HERBED CHEESE STRATA
1 1⁄2 cup grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried
French bread, diced or torn into bite-sized pieces
Small yellow onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp water
Elephant garlic, 3-4 cloves sliced thinly
3.5 oz Feta cheese (or goat, or any soft/semi-soft salty cheese)
1/3 cup milk
3 whole eggs
1 tbsp butter
Roast whole grape tomatoes and slices of garlic tossed in olive oil at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, stirring often. Next to them, dry out the torn bread. Just dice some bread and toast it on a dry pan as the tomatoes roast in their own dish. Keep an eye on it, though. Depending on your oven, it may be ready sooner than the tomatoes.
While all that’s going, caramelize the onion in a small pan, just with a glug of olive oil, a tablespoon of butter and salt for 20-30 minutes, stirring often over medium heat. Add balsamic and water, and stir. Cook until the onions are deep gold and sweet.
Pull the tomatoes and set aside, then pull the onions and pour over tomatoes. The bread’s probably ready, too, if it’s not already out of the oven. Pull and set aside to cool, the croutons should be very hard and dry to the touch.
Crack the eggs and lightly beat them with the milk, salt and pepper. Pour in the croutons and Feta, and toss gently to coat. Let sit for 3-5 minutes to absorb all the liquid. Pour the saturated bread into the roasting dish with tomatoes and onions, and toss gently. Try to keep the tomatoes in tact, so there are distinct tomato-y bites that spark with the cheese, veggies and herbs!
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, and check it often. It’s ready when the egg has set, and it’s all gold and lovely. Enjoy!
GINGERY GARLIC, GOLDEN CHICKEN & CARROT COIN SOUP
1 large vidalia onion, diced
1 lb chicken, rinsed and dried
5 fat carrots, peeled and sliced into very thin coins
Small knob ginger
1 tsp ginger powder
4 cloves ginger, sliced finely
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp turmeric
3 tbsps olive oil
8 cups chicken stock
First of all, roast the chicken separately from the simmering soup. Preheat the oven to 400, brush the chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper, and throw it in a pan, then walk the eff away—for at least 10 minutes! Then flip and walk away again, for another minute. It only needs 20 to 25 minutes.
For the soup: Put a little oil in the pan, add onion, salt, garlic and spice powders (ginger, garlic, turmeric). Heat over medium for about 7 minutes, stirring often, then add the carrot coins. Adjust seasonings, and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. Toss in the fresh garlic and ginger, and cook another minute. Turn the heat up, add stock and bring to a boil.
Check the chicken! It should be done! Pull it and let it cool. Then, shred it into thin “noodles” as soon as it’s cool enough to touch.
Turn the soup’s heat way down to a whimper, and let it warm for another 15 minutes or so. Everything’s mingling like the best kind of cocktail party (a.k.a. not too long). Shred the chicken into long, thin strands, like noodles, and add to the pot/party. Let it hang out another 5 minutes, then serve warm rather than hot, with fresh black pepper and giant sourdough toasts.
Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set; the toothpick test is a lifesaver here. Let it sit at least 20 minutes before serving. It should be served warm or at room temperature.
BOOZY COLD BREW
2 oz Eagle Rare Bourbon
1 oz Carpano Antica Italian vermouth
1 oz Folks Cafe chilled espresso
3 dashes of Fee Brothers black walnut bitters
Full disclosure: This is not my original recipe. This ingenious cocktail is yet another from the fertile mind of Ian Murray of Manna, located in downtown Wilmington. Since he whipped up this delicious coffee cocktail for us last November, we’ve been thinking of and drinking little else.
Here’s how to conjure this magic, straight from the bartender’s mouth: Add all ingredients in mixing glass, stir until properly diluted, serve over block of ice and garnish with orange zest.
TAKE-AWAY ASIAN SLAW
FOR THE SALAD:
1 small head green cabbage, julienned
1 bunch green onions, sliced finely (just white and light green parts)
1 lb carrots, shredded or slivered into thin strands
1 fat bunch mint, sliced finely
1/3 cup peanuts, shelled and busted up into small pieces
3 fat cloves garlic, minced
2 small hot chiles, diced
FOR THE DRESSING:
2 tbsps soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light brown sugar
Lime juice from one full lime
Ginger powder, to taste
These are really the bones for the most authentic-tasting bounty of crunchy slaw you’ll ever lay your teeth on. You can add or subtract ingredients based on personal preference, (particularly with the strength of the dressing), but just keep tasting and adjusting, and soon some real-ass Asian slaw will be blooming under your whisk.
Here’s a tip, though: Make the dressing before, and let it sit and souse while you get on with the chopping and shredding. Then, when everything is similarly beribboned and ready for the delicious, sharp citrus-y juices and heady aromas, dress the veggies. Taste, adjust, and taste again. If it’s too spicy, more soy neutralizes heat. If it’s too fish saucy or nutty from the sesame, a dash more sugar can remedy. It’s all about lightness and freshness: normally, I’m all about some heavy-handed flavoring, but this recipe sings when less is more. Plus, the more subtle the dressing, the more crunch we can eat!
It’s a bit austere, but never out-and-out draconian. A go-to when I need some my-body-is-a-temple food, and it always restores!