BBOnline Member SINCE 1997
 

Carolina Bed & Breakfast

177 Cumberland Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina 28801
Innkeeper(s): James and Susan Murray

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake–What’s Not to Love? 2 May 2016, 3:05 pm

Yesterday was James’ Birthday so I took the opportunity to  try out a new cake I have been thinking of offering as a “Birthday” add-on to guests at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast:  a triple layer chocolate cake with peanut butter filling and chocolate ganache icing.  Just saying it makes my mouth water.  And it was that good! So here’s the recipe for my take on a peanut butter cup in a cake.

A few quick notes:

This recipe is for a triple layer cake because I wanted to go long on the peanut butter filling.  If this is too much cake for you, you can make a two layer cake. Use the extra batter for cupcakes which you can freeze and serve later.

Chill the cake in the refrigerator before serving.  This will firm up the peanut butter filling and make more elegant layers when you cut it.  In this picture I topped it with crushed salted peanuts because that was what I had. But going forward I will top it with chopped peanut butter cups.  Sometimes more is more!

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CAKE

 Makes three 6” layers or two 9” inch layers

For the cake:

2 cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ cup dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease and flour your cake pans

In a large bowl stir together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Carefully stir in 2 cups of boiling water.

Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 30-35 minutes until the cake is shrinking away from the sides and springs back when touched.  Cool for 10-15 minutes then turn out and cool completely on racks before finishing.

For the peanut butter filling:

1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ tsp salt
3-4 tsp cream
Put the butter, peanut butter, sugar and salt in the bowl of a mixer and beat until just combined.  Add the cream and beat at medium speed for three minutes.

For the chocolate ganache:

1 cup good quality chocolate
1 cup heavy cream

Finely chop the chocolate and place it in the bowl of your food processor.  Heat the cream until almost boiling then pour over the chocolate.  Let it sit for 2 minutes then pulse two or three times to mix it together.  (if you don’t have a food processor you can do this in a heat proof bowl).

Pour the ganache into a small bowl.  Fill a slightly larger bowl with ice and place the bowl with the chocolate over it.  Whisk the ganache over the ice until it has thickened.  This can take ten minutes or more.

Topping:

1 cup coarsely chopped peanut butter cups

To assemble the cake

Spread the peanut butter filling in equal amount on two of the layers and stack them on top of each other with the plain layer on top.

Spread the ganache over the sides and top of the cake.

Pile the chopped peanut butter cups on top.

Store cake in the refrigerator.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Meet Otis: Backstage Cat at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast 22 Apr 2016, 6:30 am

#Otisthecatnototistheelevator

Meet Otis, the newest member of the staff and family at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast.

Both James and I grew up in cat and dog families and we had always had pets of own until we bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, NC.  We felt at the time (and continue to feel) that an inn which claims to be “pet-free” should not make that claim if the owners’ pets have full run of the property.  Guests may have pet allergies or phobias and should feel confident that a “pet-free” Bed & Breakfast will accommodate these needs.  How then to explain Otis?

Last year our eldest daughter moved to Asheville and for a time she and her cat, Milo, lived with us at the inn.  Milo quickly learned that he was never allowed into the inn itself and was  happy in our living quarters and garden.  Few of our guests ever saw him and his presence had no more impact on them than that of the cat next door.  I loved having a kitty to talk to while I was working and got used to his presence by the fireplace. And I missed him when he left.

So we went to Brother Wolf Animal Rescue and came home with Otis who stole our hearts away.  He was six months old when we got him having only been at the shelter for four days.   He has a non-stop purring motor and is softer than soft.  He is endlessly curious and loves to be where the action is.

He likes to sit and watch us work at the computer although he has not yet figured out the best place from which to do this.

Otis will sit almost anywhere nearby

And he loves to climb up on James’ shoulders.  He has even been known to try and sleep there.

Otis watches me work

Otis is one of the most socialized cats I have ever known.  He has no fear of people and likes nothing more than to be where the action is.  This is in one way perfect for a Bed & Breakfast cat but in other ways less so.  He has learned not to go into the inn from the kitchen (although this does not stop him from wishing he could) and he keeps well away from the kitchen counter tops and island (his hatred of being squirted with water is much stronger than his desire to get up there).  But he is, above all else, a people loving cat and we haven’t yet figured out how to keep him from running to greet our guests or wanting to join the group on the front porch.

It has become clear to us that he is a secret that will not be kept and we needed to come clean to our guests and our future guests.

So, yes, there is a cat on the property and, while we make every effort to keep him away from all of the guest areas so that our inn can continue to be considered “pet-free”, there is a chance that you may find a little ginger and white cat running up to you on the walk or brushing by you on the porch.  We hope you won’t mind.  And please don’t let him into  the inn!

Hitching a ride downstairs in the morning

Ten of the Best Hikes Near Asheville, North Carolina 17 Apr 2016, 5:03 am

I say “ten of the best hikes” instead of  “the ten best hikes” for two reasons: there are so many great hiking trails near Asheville that even if James and I closed our Asheville Bed & Breakfast for a month we couldn’t complete them all, and what makes a hike the best?  Scenery, diversity, waterfalls, seclusion, berry-picking, difficulty (or ease), location, history, there are hikes with all of these aspects and what makes one good for today might make it not right for tomorrow.  Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains or Western North Carolina provides a menu of choices to fit to your desires and skill.

Therefore in no particular order, James and I have put together this list of Ten of the Best Hikes Near Asheville, North Carolina, with the rider that these are all hikes which we have done and we invite you to send us the particulars of hikes you have loved so we can try them too!

  1. John Rock (5 mile loop, moderate to somewhat difficult)  James and I have hiked to John Rock more than once, which says a lot because we like to try new hikes before repeating old ones.  The hike itself is just a short 30 minute drive from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast.  It’s a varied hike with some nice mountain streams, a detour to a waterfall, and forest glades which ends up on a large pluton monolith which overlooks another, better known,  pluton monolith, Looking Glass Rock.  But we like to think our monolith is the better one!  John Rock is larger and has a gentler incline than Looking Glass Rock with the result that your picnic on the rock will at least feel safer.  In addition, it is less well-known than Looking Glass which means you get to sit in relative seculsion and look over at the crowds on the other side.  You can read about our hike here or get a map and more information here

    View from John Rock

  2. Rattlesnake Lodge (2.6 mile out and back, moderate)  The hike to Rattlesnake Lodge is perfect if you don’t have a lot of time or aren’t really interested in a long hike.  At the top of the hike you will find the remains of what was once Rattlesnake Lodge, a private hunting lodge which was built in the early 1900’s and burned down in 1926.  All of the materials to build the lodge were brought up by hand, there was never a road, but the lodge was large and comfortable.  You can learn more about it from informational plaques at the top.  Read about the Rattlesnake Lodge hike here
  3. Max Patch  (1.4 mile short loop, 2.4 mile long loop, easy) Max Patch combines a spectacular drive through the mountains and valleys of Western North Carolina with a short hike across an open “bald” which is covered with wild flowers in spring and summer, and provides excellent views of the fall foliage in Autumn.  If you like you can continue on to Cataloochee and watch the elk!  You can read about our hike to Max Patch here and get hike information here.

    You can see for miles from Max Patch bald


  4.  Dupont Forest  (0.6 to 6 miles, easy to moderate).  If you are looking for waterfalls in Western North Carolina this is the hike for you.   Three of the most spectacular hikes in the area, Hooker Falls, Triple Falls and High Falls, are all within an easy 2 mile hike of the car park.  If you want to continue on up the trail to Grassy Creek and Bridal Veil Falls you can.  This is where the first Hunger Games was filmed so you may recognize the falls. There is swimming and wading at the base of the falls if you are so inclined and, if you do go on to the end of the hike, Lake Dense is a crystal clear swimming hole with some picnic spots beside it.  Here are the hiking directions to the falls.

    It’s all about the waterfalls in Dupont Forest!


  5. Graveyard Fields (3.2 mile loop, easy to moderate)  I am including this on the list because it is a great hike, encompassing waterfalls, views and blueberries to pick (in season).  But Graveyard Fields is also one of the most popular hikes off the Blue Ridge Parkway. So popular that in 2014 the parking lot was expanded and rest rooms added.  On weekends and especially in October you will share this hike with many others.  If you are okay with that then definitely consider doing this hike.  A short 30 minute drive from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast on the Blue Ridge Parkway (worth doing anyway) brings you to the previously mentioned parking lot.  You will go through tunnels formed by Rhododendrons, through grassy fields with great views and see three separate waterfalls.  Instructions are here and you can read some history about Graveyard Fields  here
  6.  Old Mt. Mitchell and Camp Alice Hike (4 mile loop, moderate to difficult)  You could do what most people do and drive to the summit of Mt. Mitchell or you could take the Old Mitchell Trail which will pop you out at the top (where you can feel superior to those who drove) and then loop you back down by way of an old logging trail with beautiful unobstructed views and few people.  The hike is varied and includes some big steps up so it is definitely not for those looking for an pleasant stroll.  Don’t miss the spur to Camp Alice, it is well worth it.  And for those who don’t feel up to the summit hike, it is possible to just do the Camp Alice spur which is short and pretty easy.  You can read about our experience and some of the history of Mt. Mitchell as well as Camp Alice here and hiking directions are here.

    Looking down from Mt Mitchell to the Camp Alice trail

  7. Shortoff Mountain (4.5 mile out and back, moderate to difficult).  Shortoff Mountain overlooks the Linville Gorge and Lake James which would be reason enough to do this hike.  But to make it even better two large natural forest fires in 2000 and 2007 have opened up most of the hike so that you have unobstructed views all the way up and back down.  After a somewhat strenous ascent in the first mile you will proceed along the ridge soaking in the views (and sunlight) all the way.  Because of the lack of shade, I would not recommend doing this hike on a hot summer day but in spring and fall it is glorious.  History and instructions for the Shortoff Mountain Hike here

    Lake James as seen from Shortoff Mountain

  8. Hot Springs and The Appalachian Trail (various, moderate to difficult).  James and I originally did this hike as what was supposed to be a ten mile loop along parts of the Appalachian Trail.  You can read about our hike here.  And if you do read about it, you will also read about our difficulties following the trail.  I revisited the site we used for the trail information and found that it has been changed and the site no longer includes a trail map or good directions.  So why am I including it on this list?  Because there are a lot of hikes around Hot Springs, with lots of variety and different degrees of difficulty so it is worth going to, especially if you can end up in one of the hot springs at the end.  So here is a link to a good site with lots of suggested hikes and perhaps we will see you there!
  9. Greybeard Trail (9.5 mile loop, difficult)  The base of Greybeard Trail is located in Montreat, home of Billy Graham and Montreat College, and just a short distance from Black Mountain.  Even if you don’t take a hike, either of these locations are worth a visit.  This hike is a serious and lengthy climb which should only be attempted if you are in good shape and have enough time to make it up and down before dark.  As a reward, you will have spectacular views especially as you hike along the Seven Sisters Ridge.  Enjoy a picnic near the summit and reward yourself with pizza and beer in the town of Black Mountain before heading home again!  Here are some good directions for the Greybeard Trail Hike and here is the story of our hike from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast to Greybeard Mountain
  10. Okay, I admit it, I am cheating!  There are so many wonderful hikes around Asheville, in the Blue Ridge Mountains and in the wilderness areas near here, that I know the tenth best one is still waiting to be discovered.  So we will keep hiking and keep sharing the stories of our hikes and we look forward to you visiting us at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, our Asheville Inn, and sharing your knowledge with us!

    Panoramic view from Shortoff Mountain

Mica and the Carolina Bed & Breakfast 31 Mar 2016, 9:48 am

Admit it, you are intrigued!  What does mica have to do with an Asheville Bed and Breakfast?  Well, it all goes back to the original owner of the house at 177 Cumberland Avenue.

Recently we were visited by the great-grandson of Vance Brown who owned the house from 1901 to the Mid-1940’s . Brown was a successful businessman and an involved citizen of Asheville and North Carolina in the early 1900’s.  What I know about him is limited, so I was glad his great-grandson was able to give me some more information about the Asheville Mica Company, Vance Brown’s successful business.

When we bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast I found a chunk of mica in a drawer in the dining room.  The departing innkeeper said she kept it there to show guests when they asked about the history of the house. The first owner, Vance Brown, was President of the Asheville Mica Company and some of her guests did not know what mica is. Having grown up in rocky New England where I spent my childhood playing outdoors in the woods around my house, I didn’t realize that this fascinating multilayered mineral was not something familiar to people, so I did a little more research to explain what Mica is and how it is used. Don’t worry–I’ll keep this short and easy!

Mica is a multi-layered mineral with many uses

Mica has a number of properties which makes it useful in both industrial applications as well as in home products.  It flakes easily into thin transparent sheets.  The mineral has a super high kindling point which made (and makes) it very useful for furnace and oven windows.  It is used in the electric industry because it can stand high voltages, transporting electricity safely with little power loss. Mica is believed to be the source of “Eisenglass Curtains” (made memorable in the song, “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top” from Oklahoma). Because of its light-reflective quality  Mica also finds its way into your home in mineral based make-up and as an abrasive in toothpaste.  This is just a small list of some of the many uses of mica but you get the idea!

Sometime in the 1940’s Brown’s son, J. Fuller Brown, moved his family and company to Newport News, Virginia, in order to be closer to shipping for his mineral.  The company merged with Schoonmaker Mica and the Asheville-Schoonmaker Mica Company continues to sell mica and mica products today (including mica lampshades!)  The factory where the Asheville Mica Company employed more than 40 workers still exists as The Lofts at Mica Village, 10 beautifully developed condominiums.

The Asheville Mica Company Factory exists here on Thompson Street

And of course, the house on 177 Cumberland Avenue where Vance Brown lived with his wife and children is still going strong too.  This is one of the things I enjoy the most about our historic house: its roots are still strong in the town and its history is alive in the families who return to see where their family came from!

Mica is a multi-layered mineral with many uses

Talking About Food and Wine In Asheville 22 Mar 2016, 10:21 am

Last night we were fortunate enough to attend “Mouton Noir Makes, The Junction Takes…A Wine Evening with Andre Hueston Mack” at the Junction Restaurant  in The River Arts District of Asheville. Readers of this blog know that everyone at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast is a big fan of the Junction. Last night’s dinner was an shining example of why.

James enjoys the O.P.P. Pinot Noir

At the Junction they don’t just serve interesting and delicious food.  They approach the development of their dishes with intelligence and purpose.  This was most clear at last night’s dinner.  Now usually when someone starts out talking about wine as being “transparent and honest” my baloney meter goes off.  But last night the speaker was Andre Hueston Mack, winner of the Best Young Sommelier Award from Chaine des Rotisseurs and sommelier for Thomas Keller at both the French Laundry and Keller’s New York Restaurant, Per Se. He now produces his own line of wines, largely from Oregon under the Mouton Noir Label. It would be hard to find someone with better credentials to create a wine pairing dinner than Andre Mack.

This is how someone who knows food talks about food and wine.  Andre Mack calls the wines at last night’s dinner “food friendly”.  They all have an acid component to them because, as good cooks know, acid gives pop to flavor.  It’s an amplifier so a wine with acid notes will complement the food.  They are low alcohol wines.  Alcohol in wine is what gives it body. High alcohol wines will overpower the food.    Mack talked about wines with a philosophy that is developed and sustainable.  He talked about food and wine together as two parts of a whole.  The menu was collaborative: the wine was not chosen and then the food paired to it, and the menu was not developed and the wine picked to go with it.  The meal came together organically, as a whole.

Not every chef could do this.  But David Van Tassel, Executive Chef at the Junction, can (and did!).  David is an Asheville native who knows food intimately from farm to table.  His career path moved from  farmer to seller of produce at a natural foods store, and from food purveyor to chef.  But David’s palate and imagination is not limited to the produce of North Carolina.  His dishes include sophisticated elements from the most elevated of cuisines: foie gras, game, and truffles are among the ingredients that find their way into his food next to root vegetables, local cheese, grains and greens.    We asked him about his cold smoked oyster with red pepper spread on a sourdough cracker and he told us that he had some sourdough starter that had died and he was looking for something to do with it when he thought of making the cracker.  Once he had the cracker he said, “early this afternoon I shucked those oysters, gave them a half hour brine and put them in the smoker”.  We asked him about the elk and the white truffle and he went to the kitchen and brought out a bowl of black truffles as well as a bowl of white truffles.  His enthusiasm and passion is reflected in his statement that he would never put a regular menu item on the menu for this dinner as this is an opportunity to grow.

A whole white truffle

This is what we had for dinner:

A salad of warm pear cider glazed roots, served over lettuce with Carolina Moon Camembert style cheese pressed with sunflowers and Poppy-Pedro Xi vinaigrette.  Wine: O.P.P Pinot Gris

Cold Smoked Oyster with Red Pepper Spread on a Sourdough Cracker and a Jarret bay Raw Oyster with Melon Mignonette.  Wine: Knock on Wood Stainless Chardonnay

Cornflake Crisped Veal Sweet Breads and Red Onion Marmalade served on a bed of Arugula.  Wine:  O.P.P. Pinot Noir

Marinated Elk, Farro Wheat Berry Pilaf, White Truffle, Mustard Greens and Demi Glace.  Wine: Horseshoes and Handgrenades Red Blend

A “Twinkie”: sponge cake filled with Mascarpone and Sugar Cured Foie Gras, Strawberry Syrup, Freeze-dried Strawberries and Kiwi wedge.  Wine: Love Drunk Rose.

I consider myself lucky to live in Asheville and lucky to have found the Junction!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chess Pie: A Springtime Treat 11 Mar 2016, 7:07 am

I don’t know if it’s the sunshine, the daffodils or forsythia, but Spring at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast in Asheville, North Carolina calls for the sparkly, sour sweet taste of lemon when I bake and nothing says springtime in the South like Chess Pie!  There are lots of stories about why it’s call “Chess Pie” with recipes stretching back to Martha Washington.  My favorite story (although probably the least likely) is that it was named by a Southern cook when someone asked what it was that smelled so good and she answered “Just pie, child!  J’ess pie!”

Chess Pie is the most simple of pies, consisting of sugar, eggs, butter and a tiny bit of flour baked in a pie crust.  And as with most simple things, the quality of the ingredients are what makes or breaks it.  In this recipe I have paired it with a buttery tart pastry and added lemon and a touch of almond to the filling.  It’s good just as it is or you can dust it with a little powdered sugar for a better presentation.  I am topping mine with a fresh raspberry for our guests.

 

CHESS PIE

 

2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup butter (2 sticks) cut in 8 pieces each
¼ to ½ cup ice water

¼ cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar
3 eggs
pinch of salt
Zest from one large lemon
¼ tsp almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup milk
1 tbsp flour

For the pastry:

Place the flour, salt, sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse 3 or 4 times until the butter is cut in and it has the appearance of rough sand.
With the motor running, slowly pour in the ice water until the dough just starts to come together.
Remove the dough from the processor and knead it together into a ball.  Flatten the ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

For the pies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray a mini-muffin or mini-pie tin with cooking spray.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll to ¼” thickness.  Using a round cookie cutter, cut circles to fit your tins.
Melt the butter and put it together with the sugar in the bowl of a mixer.  Whisk together until light and fluffy.
Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended.

Fill the Tart Shells with about 1 Tablespoon of Batter

Add the salt, almond extract, vanilla, lemon juice and milk and whisk together until it is smooth.  Sprinkle the flour and lemon zest over the mixture and mix well.
Pour the filling into the prepared tins.

Bake for 17-20 minutes until set and pastry is starting to brown.  Remove from oven and let cool ten minutes before removing them from the tins and cooling completely on a rack.

Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar to serve or top with a fresh raspberry or strawberry.

Makes 48 mini pies.

Pies can be garnished with a little fruit if desired

From Breakfast in Bed to Bed & Breakfast: How It All Began 6 Mar 2016, 6:00 am

A Wintry View from our Apartment in Paris

As I have recently discovered, I can’t create a cookbook without some serious thought about what kind of cook  I am.  What were the influences that went into creating my recipes?  What is my style of cooking and who is my audience? What was my path from a life overseas to a small bed and breakfast in Asheville, NC?  My editor has been putting me through a series of exercises to help me gain clarity on these questions.  I recently wrote the following essay for her and I thought I would share it with you.

PARIS

I was 26 years old in 1981 when we moved to Paris. I brought with me a good basic knowledge of cooking (gifted from my mother), Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, and seven years of school girl French. My world was about to be transformed. My education started in the markets on the streets of Paris.

I grew up in what was then a small town in Connecticut outside of New York City. With six children to feed, my mother did most of her cooking from scratch. While the rest of the United States was moving towards the age of fast food, we were growing herbs in the garden and buying produce by the bushel from a nearby farm stand. I think I was 18 before I ever had a Big Mac! I thought I knew a lot about food but nothing prepared me for the richness and variety available to the Parisienne.

With the exception of a few exotic fruits (pineapples, bananas) almost all of the produce available was seasonal and from the nearby Loire Valley. And while it was familiar, it was also so different. Asparagus was thick and white and needed to be peeled, pumpkins were small and mostly green with a thick pulp, sweet corn did not exist. Belgian endives, Mache lettuce, wild mushrooms of every sort

All of these cheeses and produce came from this woman’s farm!

 were abundant. And it wasn’t just the produce that was different. The meat market was a mystery. Beef was cut along the bone, resulting in leaner cuts than I was used to, and ribs, both beef and pork, were pretty much non-existent. Chicken came in three forms: pullet, (small young chicken), poulet (a larger roasting chicken) and poule (stewing fowl). At the fish counter, scallops came on the half-shell with the lovely pink coral still attached. “Lotte” (Monkfish) was a new fish to me; tiny langouste took the place of North American lobster. After a number of attempts using my American style of cooking on these new foods it became clear to me that rather than adapting the foods to my cooking style, I needed to change my cooking style to fit the foods.

So as many have done before me, I turned to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. A trip to Shakespeare and Co, the only English language bookstore in Paris, gifted me with Volumes I and II. While I did not attempt to cook everything in the books, I did read both of them cover to cover. And then I started to experiment.

I bought a scale and learned to cook by weight using the metric system. The oven in our apartment was a convection oven, something entirely new to me, so that I had not only to adjust temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius, but also to adjust cooking times. I tried new foods in restaurants then looked for them in the markets and brought them home. My school-girl French was getting a rapid upgrade as I questioned the thickly accented and rapidly speaking Paysan (countrymen) about the goods they were selling and struggled to understand the response.

Bread from the Poilane Bakery was delivered daily to restaurants and shops throughout Paris

I read recipes. On Sunday we would buy both Le Monde and Le Figaro, two of the more popular newspapers. While James would look to see what movies might be playing in the English language, I would check the living section and see what recipes were available. Cooking from a French recipe was not without its challenges as they assumed a certainly level of knowledge which I might or might not have.

And I made mistakes. Remember those three types of chicken? I had no idea that a poulet and a poule were not the same thing so I bought four poule (stewing hens) and prepared them for a dinner party not realizing that these tough old birds would be inedible. Fortunately for me, I also came down with the flu the day of the dinner. The dinner was cancelled and James discovered my mistake when he attempted to eat the chicken dish himself that night.

Window Shopping for Dessert. Was I really that young?

We ate at restaurants, dined with friends from many different countries, and snacked on delicious pastries and breads from shops where the display was as delicious to the eye as the food was to the mouth. Every day was a discovery and every season a new education. In Spring, tiny sweet strawberries were piled high on counters outside the shops. In Autumn chestnuts arrived to be

roasted over a fire or made into a thick puree for cakes and desserts. Holidays had their own special foods. Christmas Eve featured Boudin Blanc, a kind of fish sausage. New Year’s Eve required oysters, and everyone had to have a slice of Galette Des Rois (King’s Cake) on 12th night. April Fool’s Day is known as Les Poisson d’Avril in France and confectioners would create amazing quantities of chocolate fish (poisson) to sell in their shops.

The French are obsessed with food. And for four years I lived and breathed that obsession. When we left, I took that love with me and ever since I have used food as a way to explore the culture and history of the countries I visit.

The French are obsessed with food. Window shopping at Fauchon in the Place de la Madelaine

What’s New in Asheville and at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, February 2016 21 Feb 2016, 9:30 am

Soft slate-grey walls are accented with red trim and a new quilt in the re-decorated Cardinal Room

An innkeeper’s life is never slow. Even when it’s winter and our guests are few and far between, we find things to do and ways to make our Asheville Bed and Breakfast better.

All of the rooms have been taken apart and cleaned, supplies have been inventoried and repairs made, including our big project for the year: redecorating the Cardinal Room. As is the case at many B&B’s, all of the rooms at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast are different.  Some have been kept deliberately old fashion in style (I call it “romantic”) and some are more “country-contemporary” (I just made that up) but none are “modern” (except in comfort and amenities!).  Each of the rooms has something special to recommend it: a king-sized bed, a huge bathroom, jacuzzi tub or  claw foot tub  are among the choices for our guests.

As a medium size room with a queen bed and a medium size bathroom with a whirlpool tub/shower, the Cardinal Room has had a tendency to be overlooked.  It is a lovely sunny room overlooking

Even the bathroom is improved!

 

The Cardinal Room as it was before re-decorating

the herb garden with a big arm chair and a gas fireplace.  But the decor was dark and the deep red of the walls felt dated to me.  So we decided it was time to give it a face-lift.

The first issue was how to create a “cardinal” room while changing the walls from red to something else.  As you can see, we kept touches of red with a new red and white quilt as well as a red baseboard.  And the new walls really make the bathroom , which we re-did last year, pop.

But we don’t only work during the winter months, sometimes we get to play a little too.  The quiet winter months are often a good time to revisit favorite restaurants and try some new ones.  And this past month we did a little of both.

First we went back to Limones, which continues to hold its spot as one of Asheville’s best restaurants.  No disappointment there!  Then we tried two “new” restaurants.  I put the “new” in quotes because while one of the restaurants is new to Asheville, the other has been around for a while.  I’m not going to tell you about the new “new” one because they deserve the chance to iron out their issues and get their feet under them before we really rate them.  Suffice it to say,  the food was good but not amazing and way over priced. And the decor is cold and stark.  I should mention that the service was excellent.  Asheville has so many great restaurants that this one just doesn’t have enough to recommend it.

The second not-so-new “new” restaurant was The Bull and Beggar in the River Arts District.  The Chef, Matt Dawes, came to the Bull and Beggar from stints at both Table and The Admiral, two of Asheville’s most consistently excellent restaurants.  As you might expect from that pedigree, the restaurant is unpretentious in style but delivers big on flavor and creativity.  The charred octopus here made up for the lackluster charred octopus we tried at the other, nameless, restaurant, and James loved the cassoulet which really means something since I spend 3 days every year at Christmas making a kick-ass cassoulet of my own.  My salad was delightful as was the lobster roll and our shared charcuterie platter was traditional and adventuresome at the same time (headcheese!?).  My only complaint is to wish it were downtown so we could walk to it!

And lastly, for those of you who have been asking me how my cookbook is coming:  I have an editor and a designer and I sent them 108 recipes yesterday!  I really think I may make my self-imposed deadline of this Fall!

Pineapple Tarts: A Traditional Chinese New Year Treat 8 Feb 2016, 11:52 am

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Happy Chinese New Year!  Before James and I bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, our Asheville Inn, we lived in Singapore for eleven years.  And every year, right after Christmas, the shops and markets would explode with sweets, cookies, fruits, flowers, paper goods and more, all in celebration of the Lunar New Year. And my favorite of all were the Pineapple tarts.

The country of Singapore is a true melting pot.  They celebrate more than 30 religious holidays, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and more.  But at its core, Singapore is Chinese and the Lunar New Year (or “Chinese” New Year as we call it) is the biggest holiday of all.  The celebrations stretch out over two weeks and for the first two days all  government offices and businesses are closed so that families can get together for the Reunion Dinner of the first night and to make the required visits to close relatives over the next day.

The holiday is highly ritualized. Symbols of good luck abound and food is a central part of this.  Over the first two weeks of the New Year, there will be multiple parties and open houses held. A guest should always offer two Mandarian Oranges to the host on arrival: the oranges symbolize prosperity, good luck and long life.  The host will also have a bowl of oranges to offer to those who visit.  (The oranges  do get passed around but I always seemed to end up with a lot left over.  This leads to a glut of Orange Marmalade in my house after the New Year!)  Children and unmarried young adults will also receive red envelopes containing money–always an even amount and never four, forty or four hundred.  Four is a highly unlucky number for the Chinese.  After the family meal on the eve of the New Year and the required visits to close relatives on the second day, visits will be made to friends and co-workers.  Often employers will hold an open house for their staff and customers.  And it is important to share a meal or some offering of food at all of these events!

Cookies and other treats abound on Chinese New Year!

As an American living in Asia it was  wonderful to explore the markets and try all of the delicacies.  Row after row of red-topped plastic jars held an enormous variety of cookies: Love Letters (a type of tuile), Almond Butter Cookies, and  Sesame Ball Cookies were just a few of our favorites.  Trays of sweets and nuts were displayed, ready to bring as a gift to a party or gathering.  Street vendors set up grills and barbecued slabs of Char Siu pork, suckling pigs and ducks hung from the ceilings of their shops. Florists offered orange trees, bamboo plants twisted into Chinese Characters and symbols, and beautiful flowers and orchids.  The bang of the drum was everywhere, as those who could afford it held lion dances at their homes and apartment blocks, and neighbourhood community centers performed the traditional dance for those who could not.

While I love Asheville and its many restaurants, in late January and February I often find myself missing the foods of the Lunar New Year.  I don’t remember exactly how I found this shop but Brown Cookie   (online) seems to have an amazing amount of cookie molds and “exotic food recipes” (note to self: they have Mooncake molds!!) and once I saw the Pineapple Tart Cookie press I knew I had to try recreating this favorite of all Lunar new Year treats!

My pineapple tart mold straight from Malaysia!

When the cookie press arrived, it was authentic right down to the rather esoteric recipe on the back.  It used metric weights, oddly named ingredients and had very little in the way of instruction. Knowing what the end product should be helped and Google did the rest.  But before I put down my final recipe, I have some notes for you!

The recipe calls for “custard flour” which is a slightly incorrect translation of “custard powder”. ( And you probably still don’t know what that is!)  There is a strong British influence throughout Asia leftover from the days of the British Empire.  The ships that brought tea and spices to England returned to Asia filled with products for the British ex-pats.  Among these were Bird’s Custard Powder: an egg-free instant custard powder which my children learned to love at their small English Grammer School outside London.  If you live in a major metropolitan area it’s not hard to find.  Any store stocking British foods will certainly stock it.  I believe some Walmart Stores have it.  Worse comes to worst, you can get it on Amazon.

Not strictly a “jam”, the pineapple will be more candy-like.

Pineapple is a low pectin fruit.  That means it is hard to turn it into jam without added pectin so what you are making here is not a “jam” so much as a candied fruit paste.  Watch it carefully the last five to ten minutes.  It should really dry out and thicken.  You will need to bring it up to room temperature in order to spoon it onto

You don’t have to have a tart press for delicious cookies!

your tarts.  But the good things is it doesn’t act like jam in the oven.  It will hold its shape and not bubble over and out of the cookie making a sticky mess.

Lastly,  you don’t have to have a pineapple tart mold.  The tarts are visually lovely but you can also cut a 2-3″ circle out of the dough, spread some of the jam inside, fold it over (like an omelet) and fold in the ends.  Pinch it shut and place it seam side down on the cookie sheet.  Score the “finger” in diamond shapes with a sharp knife and brush with an egg wash before baking.

 

PINEAPPLE TARTS

1 medium pineapple
1 ¾ to 2 cups sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks (reserve the egg whites)
1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ cups Bird’s Custard powder
¼ Vanilla
FOR THE PINEAPPLE JAM
Peel and core the pineapple. Chop into large pieces and process or blend the pineapple until it’s mushy. Place the pineapple in a large saucepan with the sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook at a low boil until it is very thick and golden. This will take about 25-30 minutes. In the beginning you can stir occasionally but for the last 5-10 minutes you will need to stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the lemon juice and salt at the end of cooking.
Cool until ready to use. If you make this the day before, store it in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before using.
FOR THE COOKIES
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your cookie sheets with parchment paper
Beat together the butter, powdered sugar, egg yolks and vanilla until light and fluffy (about two minutes). Add the flour and custard powder and mix well until it comes together.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board to not less than ½” thick. If you have a pineapple tart press, cut out the cookies and fill the centers with about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of pineapple jam.
If you do not have a press, cut out circles (2.5” diameter). Place a line of jam down the middle of each circle and fold the dough over the filling, folding in the ends as well. Use your hands to shape it into a roll. Place the rolls, seam-side down, on the prepared sheet. With a sharp knife score the top into diamond shapes. Brush with reserved eggs whites which have been beaten with a little water.
Bake until just turning golden. 10 minutes for the tarts and 15 minutes for the rolls.

Pineapple Tarts Two Ways!

Superbowl 2016: GAME SNACKS! 6 Feb 2016, 7:05 am

You know it:  Superbowl 2016 is tomorrow night and everyone is talking about “Game Snacks”:  the food they will be eating, sharing, bringing to the party, and regretting the next day.  Recipes abound for Nachos, Wings, and 7 layer dip.

Really people?

STOP!

This is Superbowl 2016 with the Carolina Panthers playing the Denver Broncos!

Buffalo Wings?? No way!  This show is made for some great Southern food!  So we put our heads together and came up with a way to say “Go Panthers!” with every bite. After all this is the Carolina Bed & Breakfast.

On the menu: Pimento Cheese, Hot Crab Dip, Peel and Eat Shrimp, and, of course, BBQ.  Bringing the low country and the mountains of the Carolinas to your TV!

Everything except the shrimp can be prepared the day before, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy the game and make sure you don’t miss the halftime show!

CAROLINA BED & BREAKFAST PIMENTO CHEESE

1 ½ cups mayonnaise
½ cup chopped peppadew peppers
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp finely grated onion
8 oz sharp Cheddar cheese
8 oz Gouda cheese
Mix together the mayonnaise, peppers, Worcestershire sauce, and onion. Grate half of each cheese finely and half on the coarse side of the grater. Mix them together with the other ingredients and chill

HOT CRAB DIP
1 lb crabmeat
2-3 tbsp mayonnaise
1 ½ tbsp Miracle Whip
1 + tsps. Old Bay Seasoning
Splash of Tabasco
¾ cup grated chedder
Juice of one lemon
Mix everything together and then give it a taste, adjust the seasonings to taste.
Put it in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with some extra cheese.
Bake in a 350 degree oven until it is puffed and bubbly, about 20 minutes.
Serve with crackers.

PEEL AND EAT SHRIMP

I can’t take credit for this recipe.  It’s right off the Old Bay Seasoning box.  After all, why mess with perfection?

For every pound of shrimp:
2 heaping tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water

You will need between 1/4 to 1/2 pound of shrimp per person depending on how much other food you are serving (and the appetites of your guests!). Put the liquids and seasonings in a large pot bring to a solid boil.  Add the shrimp, stir gently, cover and simmer for 3-5 minutes.  Serve with a good quality shrimp sauce.

BBQ PORK SLIDERS

You can make the pulled pork yourself (and I will append a pulled pork recipe at the end) but you are in the South and there ought to be a great place for BBQ somewhere in your area.  (If there isn’t, you need to reconsider where you live!). The easiest option is therefore to buy some great pulled pork and to make the coleslaw yourself. This recipe serves about 10 people.

2 pounds or more BBQ pulled pork
Asian Coleslaw
Hawaiian Rolls

ASIAN COLESLAW

Vinegar Coleslaw By Emily
Time: 3.5 hours
Serves: 5 people (double recipe if serving with pulled pork)
Ingredients
1 bag of pre-chopped coleslaw cabbage
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked white or black pepper
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
2 teaspoons celery seeds
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Directions:

1) Place the cabbage in a large bowl, add the salt and pepper and toss, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before proceeding
2) Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard powder, and celery seeds in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring periodically
3) Pour the vinegar mixture (while still hot) over the cabbage
4) Add the vegetable oil and mix
5) Cover with plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours before serving

* This recipe makes a very soupy coleslaw and so I drain the coleslaw in a colander before serving it.

Heat the pulled pork, served on a Hawaiian roll topped with coleslaw.

SPICY PULLED PORK
Time: 6.5 hours

Ingredients:
2 onions, peeled and quartered
1 whole pork butt/shoulder roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
One 11-ounce can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 cans pop (I use Dr Pepper)
4 packed tablespoons brown sugar

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 300 F
2) Place onion quarters in the bottom of a large Dutch oven
3) Generously salt and pepper both sides of the pork then place it on top of the onions
4) Pour the can of chipotle peppers and cans of Dr Pepper over top of the pork
5) Add brown sugar to the liquid
6) Place the top on the Dutch oven and cook for 6 hours, turning the pork 2-3 times during the cooking time
7) Remove the meat and shred the pork (the bone should come right out and be completely clean if the meat is done) and then place the pork back into the liquid
8) Serve with Hawaiian buns and coleslaw

* Use half of the can of chipotle peppers if this recipe is too spicy. Also I remove all of the peppers from the sauce after the meat is done cooking before replacing the shredded meat back into the pot. Otherwise it is WAY too spicy.
* I cook the pork with the fat still on (to get the yummy flavors) and then remove the fat from the pork when shredding.