Weekend Trip: Raleigh, North Carolina

I have a globetrotting friend who finally wants to plant some roots and buy a house. He and his wife work from home and can move anywhere their hearts desire. So they enlisted me to help them vet their options, and I was specifically tasked with researching the restaurant scene. Last weekend we all packed our bags and spent a few days exploring one of their top contenders – Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Choosing a city that will be your “forever” home is a weighty venture. There are countless variables to consider, which can overwhelm even the most Zen among us. And after carefully analyzing everything from the local economy to the proximity of Whole Foods to your front steps, you may still end up with a shitty next-door neighbor. 

That’s why it’s great to start your research with something digestible like restaurants. It’s an easy and entertaining way to map out different neighborhoods and get a feel for the area’s demographics. A thriving farmer’s market can speak volumes more than the dry statistics posted on the city's website. It’s also an opportunity to interact with the locals or simply people watch. And if after all your careful planning, you still manage to move next to a Ned Flanders, at least you know you can eat away your pain with some good grub!

Here are a few of the stellar meals we had in Raleigh. 

Stanbury:  This hip eatery is tucked away in a charming residential neighborhood only minutes from downtown Raleigh. The restaurant exudes cool, from the tasteful Star Wars/taxidermy decor to the stylishly dressed servers. It's clear that the Stanbury isn't boxed in by a theme, and this is reflected in it's eclectic menu. I enjoyed oysters from North Carolina and an African steak tartare served with injera, the spongy flatbread served with every Ethiopian meal. Next up was the standout dish of the night, the grilled broccoli. It had an Asian flare, with its delicious black bean sauce and crushed peanuts, and was served next to a deep fried, soft boiled egg. The meal stayed strong with perfectly cooked scallops and an Indian cherry pound cake. 

Merritts Store and Grill: We zipped over to Chapel Hill to try the legendary BLT from Merritt's Store and Grill. I loved this place from the moment I walked through the door and was hit in the face with bacon fumes. The aroma of bacon was so dense, that I could smell it on my clothes all day (NOT a bad thing in my book). I ordered the BLT with avocado on sourdough; the bread was fresh, the bacon was thick, and the cooks didn't skimp on the mayo. My eyes were rolling into the back of my head as I ate - it was that good! As a sweet bonus Merritt's sells homemade versions of classic Hostess pastries. They are also not to be missed.  

Videri Chocolate Factory I've been a long time fan of Videri's handcrafted bean-to-bar chocolates, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to stop by the factory and watch the chocolate makers in action. The care that goes into these chocolates is mind boggling. The cocoa beans are hand sorted before they are ground and tempered into a rich, intense chocolate. While there, I snagged a few Stumptown Coffee Truffles and an incredibly delicious hot chocolate at their coffee bar.  

Trophy Brewery & Pizza Co.: During the trip we encountered nothing but mixed precipitation and freezing cold temperatures, so pizza and beer was in order. Trophy Brewery satisfied our craving. The beer out-shined the pizza, and I especially enjoyed the Double Death Spiral, a floral and fruity IPA. The pizza dough lacked depth and the springy chew I love, but there were a plethora of interesting toppings to choose from: herb roasted carrots, swiss chard, ghost pepper salami, and lamb sausage to name a few. 

Neomonde -  When I first visited Neomonde Lebanese Deli 6 years ago, I was a novice to Mediterranean food. I was accustomed to bland hummus and dense baklava, so the diverse options in the sprawling deli case was eye-opening. I was impressed when asked if I wanted a drizzle of olive oil and a few olives to top my baba ganoush. And the delicious white sauce that came with the tender, chargrilled kabobs was unapologetically garlicky. The pastry case was jammed full of exotic desserts I'd never heard of, such as maamoul, basbouseh, and namoura. I saw that Neomonde baked everything onsite, so every pita and dessert I tried was fresh from the oven. Now every time I'm in Raleigh, I make a point to get my Neomonde fix.

Cleaning Out the Fridge and Finding Coconut Bread Pudding

Sometimes the best dishes emerge from the random assortment of ingredients found in the forgotten reaches of your fridge. Limiting yourself to the items you have on hand has a surprisingly positive effect on creativity. Instead of wasting energy deciding among a limitless array of ingredients, you’re focused on what’s in front of you. This was how my coconut bread pudding was born – from the ashes of stale bread and leftover coconut cream. 

I was in rare form and cleaning out the fridge when I came across some bread that was so hard it could cut your gums. I also unearthed half a can of coconut cream I’d given up on. My impulse was to throw both in the trash; after all this was refrigerator-purge day. Instead I harnessed my inner thrifty grandma and went to work salvaging the food. 

Like any sensible cook, I decided bread pudding was the best course of action. I had a few eggs and some milk to contribute to the custard. And instead of adding white sugar to sweeten the pudding, I opted for the crystalized honey I’d neglected for months. I whipped up my wet ingredients and tossed in my hard bread for a long needed soak. 

After a 45 minute stint in the oven, I sampled my improvised creation and was a bit let down. It was okay but wasn’t as sweet and moist as I had hoped. Quickly the feeling of self-doubt and failure began to set in, but before it took over I had an idea. I’d make a caramel sauce with the remaining coconut cream; and since caramel is just sugar and fat it theoretically should work…right? Miraculously, a beautiful mahogany sauce formed in my pan and my confidence was restored. I poured every bit of the caramel over the pudding and left it to soak. 

The result was everything I’d hoped – sticky, ultra rich, and unapologetically coconut-y. I alone devoured the pan’s contents in 3 days flat. Not only was this dessert tasty, but it felt good to know that I didn’t let perfectly good food to go to waste. I have a theory that many of our most beloved dishes were created in this fashion, from carbonara to gazpacho. For centuries, humble cooks have made meals from what they could and over time those dishes have became tradition. 

Coconut Bread Pudding with Coconut Caramel

Bread Pudding Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut (shredded)
  •  4 tablespoons honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups stale bread cubed
  • 1 teaspoon butter

Coconut Caramel Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons coconut cream
  • Pinch of salt

 Directions:

In a medium bowl beat eggs. Add coconut cream, milk, ½ cup shredded coconut, honey, and a pinch of salt. Mix well. Stir in the bread cubes and make sure there are submerged in the custard mixture. Cover and let sit for at least 1 hour (up to 4 hours depending on how hard your bread is).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the inside of a baking dish (I used a loaf pan). Pour in your bread pudding mixture. Bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of shredded coconut and bake for 15 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature.

In a medium sauce pan heat sugar over medium heat. Mix the sugar until all the crystals have melted and is caramel color. Add 6 tablespoons of coconut cream. Cook for 1 minute longer. Add a pinch of salt and remove from heat.

Pour the coconut caramel over the bread pudding. You can serve immediately or let the caramel soak into the pudding. Either way its delicious. 

Textured Ceramic White Plate from Shady Grove Pottery *

Pancake Art with RVA Pancake Love

The quickest way to a person’s heart is their stomach; in fact, my man reeled me in with his kitchen savvy. Food is a universal expression of love, and it’s impossible not to melt when someone makes you a golden stack of pancakes, capped with fresh butter and real maple syrup. And if those pancakes are heart shaped, the descent into love accelerates.

That’s the premise of this year’s Valentine's Day brunch fundraiser: pancakes, love, and community. RVA Pancake Love is an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast with 100% of the profits going to FeedMore, Central Virginia's leading food bank.

Not only will you delight in the pancakes, but you’ll also get a hefty dose of performance art. A prominent lineup of Richmonders has volunteered to be pancake artists, and will be cooking up unique flapjacks with a variety of themes: dinosaur, unicorn, Star Wars, and whatever else they dream up.  

So start your Valentine’s Day off on the right foot with a plate of edible art—a fun, delicious, and wonderful time for all. See you there!


What: Artistic Pancake Breakfast

Why: To benefit Feedmore, Central Virginia’s Food Bank (100% of proceeds will be donated)

When: Valentine’s Day (Saturday, February 14th, 2015) from 9:30am - Noon

Where: The Broadberry (2729 West Broad Street)

Cost: $15 for all-you-can-eat pancakes & $5 for kids 12 and under

How: Purchase tickets here: https://www.eventjoy.com/e/rvapancakelove

Korean Chicken and Waffle Sandwich {and Giveaway - CLOSED}

(This post is sponsored by Hamilton Beach, however all opinions are my own)

The words “Asian Fusion” used to make me cringe. It conjured images of pale green wasabi mash potatoes and bland sesame crusted tuna. But fusion food has come a long way in the past 5 years. Asian is no longer synonymous with Chinese, and our understanding of Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Korean food has grown exponentially. This has paid off in the kitchen, where chefs not longer just add soy, ginger, and garlic to give a dish an Asian flare.    

As a half-Korean, I’m the human version of Asian fusion. And as such, one would assume I would be well versed in Korean cooking. However I’ve largely avoided it, always assuming it was something only a Korean grandmother could teach.

But with the New Year came a new resolve to learn, so I came up with the Korean Chicken and Waffle Sandwich. If you’ve never had Korean fried chicken, you’re in for a treat. It’s double fried with a cornstarch-based batter that gives it an exceptional crunch. The crust holds up beautifully to the sweet and spicy sauce, and the waffle “bun” makes the whole mess easy to eat. I was pleased with the results and felt it was a fitting fusion of my Korean and southern roots. 

Enter to win a Hamilton Beach deep fryer AND waffle maker (below) so you can make this sandwich at home!!

And you can find the recipe over on the Hamilton Beach blog.


Enter to Win a Hamilton Beach Deep Fryer and Waffle Maker

(U.S and Canadian residents only. Winner will be selected at random.  The winner will be contacted on Wednesday, February 11th and will have 72 hours to respond.  If there is no response, another entry will be chosen).