Coocoo for Coconut

I’m shocked and horrified; the man doesn’t love lumpia.

I can, and have, eaten this many is one sitting.

Let me back up.

Years ago, I went to a potluck baby shower.  It’s been so long ago, I have no recollection of what I took.  If I had to guess, I’d say potato salad.  But, there is something that I remember very well from that day.

Lumpia, or Shanghai-style lumpia are the Philippine’s answer to a spring roll.  They were on the buffet.  After my first taste, I couldn’t stop eating until they were gone.  I embarrassed myself that day and didn’t even care.The Kid loves them too, and I thought lumpia was a Matthews Family Band obsession.  But the other day, my husband of almost 35 years informed me that he’s not a fan.  I swear, sometimes I wonder who is this man I’ve married.

Like when he did the same thing with coconut cake.

I’m not a fan of most coconut.  The Kid dislikes it in any and every form.  So, there’s never been a whole lot of coconut around here.  And I didn’t think anybody missed it.Until one day, the stranger to whom I’m married revealed to me that coconut cake is his very favorite dessert.  But Petey doesn’t like to make a fuss.

Since I found out about his coconut cake predilection though, I’ve made an effort to get him a slice whenever I see it in the grocery store.  He seemed to enjoy them just fine, but didn’t make a fuss.A couple weeks ago, I made a trip to Pittsboro.  I went to see the new restaurant, Postal Fish Company, that Chef James Clark and Chef Bill Hartley, formerly the executive and sous chefs of the Carolina Inn, had opened.  Chef James’ wife, a classically trained pastry chef Marcey had joined the venture.

The three chefs.

As a big fan of desserts, I questioned Chef Marcey about the sweets she produced for the restaurant.  She told me about a bread pudding with a boozy hard sauce, a key lime pie that the customers wouldn’t let her take off the menu.  And, a coconut cake.  She sent me home with a slice for Petey.

He made a fuss.Image may contain: car, night and outdoorSo, I asked for the recipe to recreate it for Petey, and share with you, Gentle Reader.  And just like her generous husband always has with any recipe, she sent it along.  Because it’s a restaurant recipe, it makes two layer cakes, or one really big one.

Chef Marcey’s Fuss-Worthy Coconut Cake

Cake:coconut cake9 cups flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

1 ½ tablespoons salt

6 cups sugar

12 eggs

1 pound & 4 ounces butter

3 cups cream

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons coconut extract

Cream together butter, sugar, and cream.  Add extracts and eggs.  Fold wet ingredients into dry.  Fill four 9-inch pans.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.


coconut filling

18 cups of coconut

10 cups of cream

6 cups sugar

2 pounds butter

8 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon vanilla

Boil all ingredients except corn starch and vanilla.  Make slurry with corn starch and vanilla, add to coconut mixture to thicken.  Cool completely before using.


coconut frosting

1 pound butter, softened

1 pound cream cheese, softened

1 tablespoon vanilla

10 cups powdered sugar

The beans scraped from 2 vanilla beans

Cream all ingredients until frosting consistency.

This is the recipe of a real pastry chef who knows how to bake.  It’s not wordy, but the directions are all there for you to turn out a successful coconut cake.  If you have any questions though, drop me a note.

From left to right: Chef Marcey, Paige, Madison, and Chef James

And if you have an extra slice, Petey will be happy to take it off your hands.Thanks for your time.

It’s all for you, Gentle Reader

Chef James is going to be very proud.hook-and-larderChef James Clark is owner of the soon-to-be-opened food stall, Hook and Larder at the Blue Dogwood Public Market on Franklin in Chapel Hill.  He’s also a friend who has made it his personal mission to mature my taste for seafood.  I’m strictly a Filet ‘O Fish and Chicken of the Sea girl, which I think breaks his seafood-loving heart a little bit.

Well, today I ate six different denizens of the deep.

I had a date at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.  It was the media luncheon, which introduced foods making their debut this year to the press.  It was my first time.


A rare sighting of Casey, the state fair mascot, in the wild.

Steve Troxler, as commissioner of the NC Agriculture Department, is the traditional host of the fair.  Because of the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew (help if you can, and let’s keep those poor folks in our thoughts), he was in the field today, assessing and assisting.  His deputy, David Smith acted in his stead.

We met on the main floor of the Dorton arena.  We were warned to come hungry because we would sample new foods that were to be offered at the fair.  I prepared by eating a very light dinner last night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI should have fasted for 6-8 weeks.

Beginning with the seafood: N&T Concessions had shrimp bites which were a hit at my table, a few had seconds.  The Ragin’ Cajun had a Low Country boil with corn on the cob, potatoes, sausage, and perfectly steamed shrimp with truly delicious cocktail sauce.  They also offered light and tasty blue crab hushpuppies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACaptain Nell’s had fresh crab dip, and ingenious claws in which the meat was breaded and fried with the claw still attached, which made a dandy handle.   Their dip was warm, cheesy, and won best new food at the fair.

And then there was Neomonde, a Mediterranean eatery with a brick & mortar in Raleigh.  On their menu were Phoenician fish and chips.  The fish was Pollock, and delicious; perfectly fried with an extremely light coating. And the chips (fries) were tossed in Za’atar spice.  Za’atar just happens to be the spice with which I am currently obsessed.  It’s a mix of thyme, sesame, oregano, salt, and sumac; sumac’s a lemony, piney herb that Americans should eat more of.  This mixture works on anything from dressing, to pork chops, to yogurt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWoody’s Wings (locations in Raleigh and Cary) and Chef’s D’lites took a couple of common sammiches and made them into egg rolls.  Oh man.

Chef’s transformed a Cuban and Woody’s made my favorite item of the day; a bacon pimento cheeseburger.  I’m going back, getting more.


The pimento bacon cheeseburger egg roll. OMG.

And the dessert.  La Farm bakery, a Cary institution and Mecca for carb-o-vores brought chocolate whoopie pies with vanilla and raspberry filling.  They also had an interesting bread made with Carolina Gold rice.  If the normal fare at the fair is a little heavy and common for you (who are you, anyway?), La Farm always brings it with awesome baked goods, and sandwiches full of gourmet ice cream: NCSU’s Howling Cow had caramel apple crisp, and the John Deere folks had Elvis; banana/peanut butter.  I polished off a scoop each.  I know, I couldn’t believe it myself.  But I suffered through it all for you, Gentle Reader.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was warned; I came hungry, and even wore my eatin’ pants.  But both me and my pants were supremely uncomfortable on that long ride home.

See you at the Fair!


It won’t look like this for long.  Soon it will be shoulder to shoulder.

Thanks for your time.

Going Postal

“Make him your brownies!”

You could have knocked me over with a fish bone.  It was the kind of shock that you get when you come downstairs in the morning, and your dog is doing your taxes.  Or, your mom calls, and tells you she’s leaving your father, and running off to become a roadie for Metallica.  Or, the CDC has declared that the exercise which burns the most calories is napping.

That kind of shock.

A few years ago at the Crossroads Chapel Hill at the Carolina Inn, I met executive chef James Clark and his partner in culinary crime, sous chef Bill Hartley.  At each visit they treated me like family and filled me full of their delicious Southern vittles.  To me, those guys were the historic hotel.

A few weeks ago came the surprise.

I got a note from Chef—he and Bill had left the Carolina.  We made plans to grab some breakfast and talk about it.We met at Duck Donuts in Cary.  It’s a made-to-order shop which has hundreds of possible combinations with which to dress up fresh cake donuts.  They’re delicious—almost as good as a fresh, hot Krispy Kreme honey-glazed.

The boys informed me that for years they’d wanted to open their own eatery.  And until the chefs had exited Crossroads, it could be nothing but a daydream.

Planning and opening a new restaurant requires loads of blood, sweat, and tears.  And there was no way the boys could in good conscious continue working for, and getting paid by the Carolina Inn, and give it less than their best.

The location they’ve chosen is Pittsboro.  A mid-century modern building is their site.  The space used to house the town post office.  Because of this, the name they chose for their restaurant is Postal Fish Company.

postal fish

Their vision is a fish house serving the very freshest seafood.  Twice a week one or the other chef will make the trip to the beach to procure product.  They have sourcing relationships with the boat, Miss Kenyon, owned and captained by Wayne Marshon, and Renee Perry and Steve Goodwin’s Salty Catch, a supplier who fishes with pound nets, a humane procedure which allows the fishermen sort the fish, leaving the unneeded catch to be thrown back alive.

While discussing the type of fish available, Chef James mentioned dolphin fish.  This isn’t Flipper we’re talking about, it’s an actual fish that some folks call mahi-mahi.  We used to eat it on the beach in Puerto Rico.  They would pull it in, cut it into steaks, and throw it on the grill.  Even for a fish-o-phobe like me, it was a highly anticipated, crazy delicious meal.

I asked Chef James for a recipe, and like always, he said yes.

Chef James’ Grilled Dolphin Fish

dolphin fish

4ea 6oz Portions of Fresh Dolphin

2ea. Banana Peppers Diced

3 tab. Chopped Cilantro

2 tab. Minced Garlic

2 Tab. Minced Shallots

1/4 cup Grape Seed Oil

Juice of 4 Limes

1/2 Cup Cane Vinegar

Salt and Pepper

Excluding the fish filets, mix all ingredients together in a nonreactive bowl.

Once all mixed submerge Dolphin filets in marinated and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour but no longer than 2 hours.

Get your grill cherry-red hot.  Get a rag dipped in oil and clean the grill very good.

Pull the filets from the marinade and place on a plate and season with salt and pepper.

Take the remaining marinade and put it in a small sauce pot and place it on the grill to heat up.

Place the dolphin on the grill skin side up and allow to cook for 2 1/2 to 3 min. Once the fillets began to turn color and brown on the edges flip over and cook for additional 2 min.

When you’re ready to serve, spoon some of the heated marinade over the top.

Chef James is very familiar with my toddler-like fish palate.  So he’s promised to have fish sticks on his menu—of course, coming from him, they’ll be fish sticks in name only.  You know they’ll be fresh, sustainable, and expertly cooked.

I’m pretty sure that the Postal Fish Company won’t serve them with custard, and you can barely see the fish sticks, but I just couldn’t help myself.

Chef and company are looking to a Fall 2017 opening.

Thanks for your time.

Thank You Brownies

“Make him those brownies!”

I was having lunch with Chefs James Clark and Bill Hartley.  We were discussing exciting news.

I originally met the guys in their positions as executive chef and executive sous at the Crossroads Carolina.  Each time I went, they stuffed me like a Christmas goose with their expertly prepared food.

They’d recently left the Carolina Inn to open their own place, in Pittsboro.  It’s to be a fish house called Postal Fish Company.  And due to planned twice weekly trips to the coast, the freshest, most sustainable seafood this side of the ocean will be served.  The projected opening date is Fall 2017.

postal fish

We’ve sat down a couple of times, to discuss those plans.

The first time we met was for breakfast.  Since every time I visited the Carolina they fed me, I decided that turnabout is fair play.  So I baked them some treats.

It was a new version of my jacked-up brownies.  I’d come up with them when I made them for a couple of my old high school friends with whom I meet for monthly lunches.

They’d been such a big hit I thought Chefs Bill and James might enjoy them.  The funny thing is, they couldn’t be easier—it starts with a box.

Appreciation Brownies

thank you brownies

1 9X13 box fudge brownies (I usually use Duncan Hines)

2 eggs

2/3 cup + 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

¼ cup hot water mixed with 1 tablespoon espresso powder

¼ cup Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

12-ounce bag mini semisweet chocolate chips

1-1.69 ounce bag plain M & M’s


1-1.69 ounce bag plain M& M’s (two bags total)

¾ cup salted pretzel pieces

1 teaspoon large flaky sea salt (like Maldon salt)

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9X13 baking pan, line with parchment paper, and grease as well.

In a large bowl, mix first 6 ingredients.  Put in mini chips, and stir vigorously, scraping the bottom of bowl to make sure they’re fully mixed.  Fold in one bag M & M’s.  Pour into pan, and spread batter with spatula so that it’s flat and level.

Sprinkle top with second bag of M & M’s and pretzel pieces.  Place in oven on middle rack and bake for 13 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle Maldon salt evenly over the top of brownies.  Return to oven and bake for 13 more minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on kitchen counter and/or fridge until fully cool.  Using the parchment paper, lift out brownies and cut into 12-16 pieces.

I think Chefs James and Bill liked them.

Last week we met again; this time for lunch at an amazing place in Chapel Hill called Sandwich.

Everything is homemade, with a menu loaded with sandwiches, salads, and polenta bowls.  They make potato chips from scratch.  And their freshly cut fries are as good as Al’s at the state fair.

While we were eating, I told the guys that our neighbor had repaired the AC in our jeep.  I was crazy grateful, and couldn’t even guess how much money he had saved us.  I wanted to do something to thank him, but I wasn’t sure what to do.  Did they have any ideas?

Their recommendation is where we came in.

While I was out walking the dog yesterday, I ran into my neighbor.  He, his wife, and all his in-laws loved the brownies.  So I guess they’ve become my official thank you gift.

Great suggestion, Chef James and Bill; I’m grateful.

Thanks for your time.

Food Chat: Grande Dame Edition

I, and anyone that eats my cooking owe her a debt.

Chefs James Clark, Amy Tornquist, and Jason Cunningham and many other chefs also owe her a debt.

The ‘her’ in question is Nathalie Dupree.

In 1986 a food revolution took place when Nathalie Dupree published her first cookbook; New Southern Cooking.

Traditional Southern cooking is the stew of European and African cultures with the crops and meats available in the South.  It’s the mélange that occurs when lack of funds is combined with surfeit of time.  Her book restored pride in the kitchen heritage of the South and introduced it to a wider world.

Nathalie took traditional Southern dishes and filtered them through the classical culinary training she received in London at Le Cordon Bleu.  She elevated it and transformed it from cooking to cuisine.  And along the way, became a legend.

So much so that in 2011 the premiere women’s culinary society, Les Dames d’Escoffier International bestowed upon her the title of Grande Dame.

As for me, her shows on PBS were my first exposure to true Southern cooking.  I watched her cook with love, pride, and skill.

The weekend of August 5th, Nathalie Dupree will be in Chapel Hill, at Southern Season for a Southern cooking class, and book signing.  Last week, I completely lucked out and had a phone chat with her.

If you’ve never been tele-taught by Nathalie, I highly recommend it.  She’s made hundreds of hours of television on PBS, Food Network, and the Learning Channel.  Many of her episodes are available on You Tube.

I asked her how she feels about the explosion of celebrity TV chefs.

She feels that when Food Network moved from cooking lessons to game shows, something was lost.  One of the few shows she watches is Ina Garten.  Which makes sense, because although one’s from the north, and one’s from the south, they both love entertaining, and respect food.

Besides, believe it or not, Nathalie was actually born in New Jersey, but so very raised in Dixie.

Always the teacher, she gave me some life changing lessons during our chat.

When you come in after a long day and are too tired to think or do what she calls the “pantry waltz” (great term, no?), she suggests keeping a list of easy meals which can be made quickly from on-hand ingredients.

On her list is shrimp and grits (her fave type is Anson Mill’s Bohicket, just like me) and scrambled eggs with cheese and a salad.  Another meal is something I’ve never had, but you can darn well be sure I’m going to very soon—Italian sausage sautéed with either apples or peaches, depending on the season.

She keeps a box of refrigerated pie crust handy.  Then when she has produce looking a little worse for the wear, or drips and drabs of this and that, she makes either a savory tart or even simpler, a free-form galette, a pie with the edges folded over the sides and baked on a cookie sheet.

And instead of a lattice top made of pie crust, shave a zucchini into ribbons and weave them into a lattice.

One of my favorite recipes is from her first book, New Southern Cooking.  Every Southern cook worth their salt and freshly cracked pepper should know how to make it.

Luckily, Nathalie generously gave me permission to share.

Old-Style Pimento Cheese Spread

pimento cheese

12 ounces grated rat or Cheddar cheese (rat cheese is an inexpensive local Cheddar-like cheese.  Hoop cheese fits this bill.)

2-4 ounce jars of  pimentos, drained

1 cup mayonnaise (Nathalie makes her own–but if you’re not up to that, a good quality store-bought like Duke’s, works)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

I’ll let you in a shocking secret about Nathalie.

You know those Anson Mills grits she likes so much?

She cooks them in the microwave.  They cook no faster than stove-top, but it completely eliminates the danger of scorching.  Just mix up your favorites according to the directions, only mix them in a Pyrex bowl and nuke them on high.  Every 10-15 minutes give them a good stir, and keep cooking until they’re done.

And the next time you’re in one of the area’s many fine restaurants, enjoying fried green tomatoes, collards, or corn pudding, you now know you have Nathalie Dupree to thank.

Thanks for your time.

Sloshed, yet sophisticated


It even looks sinister, doesn’t it?


When I was a very little girl, and had a horrible tummy ache, as a last resort my mom gave me this miracle medicine.  It never failed to calm my belly and send me off into drugged slumber.  It was available over the counter until 1970 and was called paregoric.  The flavor was why the phrase “medicinal tasting” was invented.  It was also chock full of morphine (guess that’s why you can’t just pick a bottle off the shelf at the Rexall anymore).

About two and a half centuries later, when I was a bartender at a country club, I made swimming pools full of gin and tonics without indulging.  Finally, I took a taste.

I was transported right back to my footy pajamas, choking down a spoonful of that nasty stomach medicine.  Nope, I decided that g&t tastes like paregoric, and thus would never again pass these lips.

I’m not really a big drinker anyway.  For a few reasons.

  • I don’t drink very much of anything. In my entire life, I don’t believe I’ve ever finished a bottle of Coca-Cola all by myself.
  • Being out of control is scary and embarrassing. The worst is when sober Debbie’s in my head, trying to help, and drunk Debbie’s yelling, “Back off, Captain Buzz Killington! Besides, we’re fine; totally graceful, witty, and charming.”
  • Alcohol is stuffed full of calories. And if I’m mindlessly consuming vast quantities of calories, they absolutely need to be of the chocolate persuasion.

But on Saturday, June 11th, The Kid and I went to The Carolina Inn for a BBQ Throwdown.  There would also be plenty of various alcoholic libations

When I woke up that morning, I decided that at the throw down, all nutritional bets and caloric considerations were off.

Right after we checked in and got our arm bands, we sampled four kinds of Jack Daniels.  They were good.

Then somehow I decided it was time to give gin another chance (although it may have been the Bourbon samples deciding for me).  There were garnish ingredients so we could personalize or drinks.

I chose cucumber and lime.

How glad I am that I gave this most British of spirits a second chance.  It was clean and bracing.  The garnish worked well.  And it gave me an idea.

Cucumber Gin

cuc gin

1 Fifth of crystal gin minus 1/2 cup or so

2 cucumbers, peeled and grated

Stuff cukes in bottle of gin.  Let sit in a cool dark place for 2 weeks.  Drain, and pour gin back into bottle. 

Green gin and tonic:

green gibn

2 ounces cucumber gin

4 ounces tonic water

½ lime

Pour gin and tonic into a rocks glass with ice.  Squeeze lime into glass.  Give it a gentle stir.  Run the squeezed lime around the rim of the glass.  Serve.

There were eight competitors, and I had at last one small plate from each—and more than one at a few.

The Carolina Crossroads’s Chef James Clark and his right-hand man, Chef Bill made my heart race in the very best possible way.  Duck barbecue, and fries covered in lashings of roasted tomato aioli.

I took elements from Chef James’ entry to make some finger food.

B.L. Teenies

Roasted tomato aioli:

tomato aioli

Cut 10-12 Roma tomatoes in half, length-wise.  Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Roast at 450 for 25 minutes or ‘til dry and caramelized.

Chop in food processor until completely smooth.  Stir into 2 cups mayo, either homemade or store-bought.



Cut leftover grits into rounds, 2 inches across by ½ inch thick

1 tablespoon butter

Toast grit rounds in butter until browned on both sides.

Then drop a small amount of pea shoots on each round.  Lay on top crispy piece of bacon, about 1 ½ inches square. Drizzle aioli on top. 

After the gin and an orange old fashion my knees got a little noodle-like, I knew it was time to switch to water.

But the other guests at the Throw Down have no idea what they missed.  One more glass full of liquid courage, and I would have swung from the chandelier while singing an enthusiastic if not melodious acapella version of Pink Cadillac.

Thanks for your time.