Tag Archives: Raleigh food blog

Drink of the Month, February 2012: Kahlúa

February 27th is national Kahlúa day, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m posting this a bit early in case you want to get a head start on your celebration. Kahlúa is a rum and coffee liqueur made of Arabica coffee beans and the world’s finest sugarcane.  Not only is it great in coffee, on the rocks or in mixed drinks, but it also brings back wonderful memories of two people who were so near and dear to me – my late grandmother, Mamma, and my friend, the late and great Charlie Murray.

The first time I went to Cancun/Cozumel was with my best friend Rose in 1989. Mamma gave me some spending money, so in return I brought her back a bottle of Kahlúa since I knew she liked it (not to mention it was duty free and quite inexpensive in Mexico.) Not long afterwards, I spent the night with Mamma to help her look after Pampa, who was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. She broke out the bottle and we proceeded to have so much fun drinking it (on the rocks, might I add, since she had no cream or milk). What a great night! I will always think back to that night and Mamma whenever I have Kahlúa in a drink.

I could always count on Charlie Murray to order a White Russian or some sort of rendition of this drink on the weekends when I bartended at The Pub (which is now a tattoo parlor – go figure.) Those of us bartending never knew exactly what Charlie was going to order on any particular visit, but chances were he’d start with beer (Miller Light, Michelob Light, etc.), move to wine (if he was dining with us), and then the field was wide open – White Russians, Scotch, Irish whiskey, screwdrivers – whatever. He was all over the alcohol map, but White Russians were almost always on his list. Oh, Charlie, I miss you so much!

OK, let’s take the basic Kahlúa on the rocks and the White Russian just a bit further, and make a roasted, toasted almond.  Here’s what you’ll need:

Ingredients (for 2 drinks)

  • 2 oz. vanilla vodka (I like Skye) – BTW, plain vodka works just as well
  • 2 oz. Kahlúa
  • 2 oz. amaretto – this is what puts the “almond” in the drink (I like DiSaronno)
  • 4 oz. fat-free Half & Half
  • Mint for garnish


Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the ingredients except for the mint, and shake well. Pour into iced-filled glasses. Garnish with mint if so desired.

Make a toast to all of the Mamma’s and Charlie Murray’s in your life, and enjoy!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Kel’s Curried Chicken Salad

The first time I ever tried curried chicken salad was back in the mid-1980s when I was in graduate school at UNC. I had an assistantship at the U.S. EPA’s library, which at the time was in Research Triangle Park, about 20-25 minutes from campus. At least once a week I gave a ride to Hester (I can’t remember her last name), who also had a graduate assistantship at the EPA. Since I wouldn’t take any gas money from her (I was going there anyway) she made lunch for me sometimes, and her chunky, curried chicken salad was definitely my favorite. It was so different from the chicken salad I usually made (I’ll share that recipe in a separate post) and I loved the sweetness of the raisins and grapes, the crunchiness of the nuts and the spiciness of the curry. I’m not sure of her exact recipe, but after practicing these many years, this comes mighty close.


  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small (about ¾ cup)
  • ½ cup red onion, diced small
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes, sliced in half
  • ¾ cup walnut pieces
  •  ½ cup raisins (I used golden raisins this time, but any type will work)
  • ½ cup light mayonnaise (you may want to add more depending on taste)
  • ½ teaspoon sweet curry powder (I usually double this because I like it spicy)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •  Salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste


Place chicken, celery, onion, grapes, raisins and walnuts in a large bowl and gently mix together.

Add curry powder and cayenne pepper to the mayo and stir. Mix this into the chicken salad.

Check for spiciness and heat – you may want to add more curry powder and cayenne pepper, depending on taste.

I like to serve this on mixed greens with sliced tomato and avocado, but you could easily make a tasty sub or sandwich instead.

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Best Meatball Sub in Raleigh? Comment for a Chance to Win

OK, so where’s the best meatball sub in Raleigh? I’m talking about delicious, homemade Italian meatballs with spicy marinara and lots of gooey cheese. The kind that comes on a freshly baked roll that’s crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The kind that requires at least two napkins.

The last time I asked for people to recommend the best place to get a burger in the Triangle, in exchange for a chance of winning a Visa gift card, I got a number of wonderful suggestions and had a blast trying out as many as I could (oh, the things I do for this blog!)

This time, all of you who make recommendations by commenting to this post automatically will be included in a drawing to win a $25.00 gift card to Harris Teeter. So please let me know where I need to conduct my next round of market research, before I go meatless for the summer. You never know, you may be like my coworker Trina, who won the drawing last time!

The deadline to be eligible for the gift card drawing is Sunday, 1/22/12!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Food of the Month, November 2011: Homemade Bread

In case you weren’t aware, November 17th is national homemade bread day. This year I’m celebrating it with my wonderful beer-cheese bread. I make this in my bread machine instead of kneading it myself, letting it rise and baking it in my oven, which may be cheating a tad. However, as far as I’m concerned as long as it’s not store-bought and I assemble all of the ingredients myself, then it is homemade.

I like using a good dark beer in this recipe, such as Guinness (after all, Guinness is good for you.)  Since the beer needs to be flat and you only use 7 oz., I recommend that if it’s already cold to go ahead and measure out what you need for the bread and then drink the rest so you don’t waste any of it. That would be a shame.

Ingredients (makes one loaf)

  • 7 oz. warm, flat beer (I recommend something that is full in
    flavor and either amber or dark)
  • 2 ½ cups bread flour
  • 1 ¼ cups grated cheddar cheese (I like extra sharp)
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan/Romano cheese, grated
  • 3 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 ½ teaspoons paprika (I use Penzeys’ Smoked Spanish Hot)
  • 3 tablespoons sweet onion, minced (make sure you eliminate the extra moisture by blotting with paper towels)
  • 2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 2 ½ tablespoons butter


Follow your bread machine’s directions about the order in which to add your ingredients. For those of you with Zojirushi bread makers, here is the sequence:

Add the flat beer to the bread machine.

Mix the flour, cheeses, onions, mustard, paprika, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Add this mixture on top of the beer.

Hollow out a small “valley” in the middle of the flour mixture, without touching the beer. Add the yeast to the valley. Slice the butter and place on the flour mixture, along the sides of the machine.

Choose the desired cooking settings on your bread machine and let it do the rest of the work. Enjoy the wonderful aromas in your kitchen, especially when the actual baking cycle starts.

I have made this with rapid rise yeast, which cuts the time to make this in half (2 hours instead of 4 hours.) For some reason, I have better luck with the regular yeast – the consistency of the bread is just superior. I suggest you try your own machine for the shorter cooking time – the sooner I can put this bread in my mouth, the better!

This beer-cheese bread is great by itself with just some butter as well as for sandwiches, like the one shown below with my homemade chicken salad (recipe to follow soon). It is a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving table or as a Christmas gift. You can also make some tasty croutons with this bread after a few days, if any of it is left.

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Three Delicious Dips

Here are recipes for three great dips that people usually gobble down when I serve them at parties. The first is a hearty queso and sausage dip that is wonderful, even more so when the weather is cold. I also made a vegetarian version of this by omitting the sausage and doubling up on the tomatoes/chilies – yum! The second is a more traditional sour-cream based dip, with crispy bacon and cheddar cheese. The coolness of the sour cream makes it great to serve in the summer, but I love it year round. The last dip is a baked artichoke and Parmesan cheese concoction that is simply addictive, especially right when it comes out of the oven!

The great thing about these dips is that they are so simple to make – each contains a maximum of four ingredients. I usually make all three for my New Year’s Day Open House because I know at least one of them will appeal to all of my guests, meat lovers and vegetarians alike. And these dips are not just for parties – this time of year you can enjoy them while you’re watching your favorite football team on TV and want to make something easy and delicious!

Queso and Sausage Dip


  • 1 lb. hot sausage (I like Neese’s or fresh from the butcher)
  • 1 box (16 oz.) 2% Velveeta cheese product
  • 1 can (10 oz.) Ro-tel green chiles and tomatoes, undrained


Brown the sausage in a large skillet. Drain well (I use a colander and then paper towels to absorb as much grease as possible.) Make sure you grind up the sausage into small pieces – I have a great serrated tool I like to use, but a food processor will work, too.

While the sausage is browning, slice the cheese into small cubes.

Return the drained sausage to the skillet. Add the cheese, and stir frequently over medium heat until the cheese melts.

Add the undrained chiles and tomatoes and stir well.

If I am serving this at a party, I transfer it to a small crock pot (lowest setting) to keep it warm. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.

Bacon and Cheese Dip



Prepare the bacon (see my earlier post on an easy way to make bacon.)

Mix the sour cream and dip mix.

Stir in the sharp cheddar.

Add the bacon.

Chill for at least an hour before serving. This is great with Fritos Scoops!

Hot Artichoke and Parmesan Dip


  • 1 can (13.75 oz.) of artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup light mayonnaise (I use Duke’s Light)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Hot sauce to taste


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Drain the artichokes and roughly chop.

Mix all of the ingredients together and place in a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the dip is bubbling and top is starting to turn brown.

I like to serve this with Triscuit crackers or Scoops.

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Close to Home: Chubby’s Tacos

“Close to Home” is a new category on my blog and will feature reviews of restaurants within a 3-mile radius of my home. Luckily, there’s a wide variety of them (such as McCormick and Schmick’s, which I reviewed earlier this year), so this is going to take a while. But I don’t mind, especially with my upcoming kitchen remodel that equates to eating out more. And it is making me try some neighborhood places that I’ve unfortunately neglected, such as Chubby’s Tacos, which is the focus of this review.

I finally got around to going to Chubby’s Tacos a couple of weeks ago and my only regret is that I haven’t gone sooner. This place rocks, so much so that I went back for lunch two more times that same week (Shout out to Lee at FMI for his ringing endorsement!) Everything I’ve had so far has been fresh and seasoned perfectly. Chubby’s has a good selection for vegetarians, plus you get a lot of food for the money!

According to its website, Chubby’s Tacos opened in Durham on Cinco de Mayo 2008, with its “award winning salsas and fresh ingredients quickly rocketing it to success, virtually overnight.” In less than a year, Chubby’s Tacos opened a second location in Raleigh in the Lake Boone Shopping Center (2444 Wycliff Road.)  It now has five locations in the Triangle area. Lucky for me, Lake Boone Shopping Center is less than 2 miles from my home!

Chubby’s menu includes tacos, burritos, quesadillas, gorditas, taco salads, tortas and nachos. It has a great little salsa bar with a nice variety of homemade salsas. It also has full ABC permits and carries a number of Mexican beers. I’ve heard the margaritas are quite good, but will have to wait for a non-work day to try them. The prices are great – tacos range from $2.00 – $3.00, and there is nothing more than $8.00 on the menu. For $2.00 extra, you can add rice, chips (which are light and warm) and your choice of refried or black beans to whatever you are ordering.

So far I’ve tried a couple of different $2.00 tacos and the house burrito ($5.00). I’ll start with the burrito – this thing weighed a ton. It is made with a fresh flour tortilla and comes with rice, refried beans, lettuce, cheese and a choice of one additional filling. I chose Barbacoa, with is Mexican BBQ beef with cilantro and onions. The beef was so tender and perfectly seasoned. I had just started eating when a friend of mine walked by my table and was in disbelief that I had ordered the burrito. “You will never finish that!” he said. He was right – I barely could eat half of it (the leftovers were so good the next day.) If you order this, bring your appetite, or be prepared to take some of it home.

One of the tacos I tried was the Spicy Tinga Chicken, which includes onions, chipotle peppers and cilantro. The chicken is shredded, tender and quite tasty. The tortillas are fresh. I “made it a meal” for the extra $2.00 and was pleasantly stuffed when lunch was over.

My favorite thing at Chubby’s so far has been the Carnitas tacos, which come with shredded pork, cilantro and onion. I have dreamed about these things since my first taste. The pork is awesome and they are so addictive. Make sure you try these if you go!

If you go for lunch, try to get there early or late – the place is small and the crowds are big. The inside is festive, with bright colors and cool tabletops. There is some outside seating available, but that usually fills up quickly when it’s nice outside.


  • Price: Excellent. Lots of fresh food at great prices!
  • Service: 3.75.  You order at the counter, and the food is brought to you. Counter folks are quite friendly, but there are no servers per se. But you should still tip!
  • Food: 4.75. Everything I’ve had has been great.
  • Recommend: Absolutely!
  • Kid friendly: I think so. I’ve only been for lunch during the week, and it’s mainly a business crowd then.

1= hater, 2=poor, 3=adequate, 4=above average, 5=superb

Eat, drink and be merry!

Kel’s Award Winning Black Bean Chili

I’ve been making my black bean chili for years, ever since I had my first taste of it at Mitch’s Tavern on Hillsborough St. I’ve been going to Mitch’s since I was an undergraduate at NCSU, and while I like a number of things on the menu, this is my favorite! My recipe is based on Mitch’s, but I have made a handful of changes. Both versions are great!

I entered my recipe in the Alexander Family YMCA’s Third Annual Chili Cook Off earlier this week, and walked away with 1st place! The event was held at the Brickhouse Sports Pub (a great sports bar across from Meredith College) and 100% of the proceeds went to YMCA’s “We Build People” campaign. There were also prizes for the best salad, cornbread and dessert. What a great local cause! This was the first time I’ve ever entered a contest like this, so it was exciting (and surprising) that I actually won. But that’s because this chili is fantastic!


  • 4 cans (15 oz. ea.) black beans, drained
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 lb. hot Italian sausage
  • 2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
  • 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 10 oz. can diced tomatoes and green chilies (I use Rotel)
  • 14 oz. can beef broth (I use 99% fat free)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 1 cup sweet onion
  • 7-9 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (use gloves when working with hot peppers)
  • 2 banana peppers, seeded and minced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Hot jalapeno pepper sauce to taste (I use Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally)


Remove casings from sausage and brown, crumbling it with a  spoon as it cooks. Drain well.

To easily remove the skins from the Roma tomatoes, slit an “X” at the top of each tomato and boil for 1-2 minutes. Place the tomatoes in an ice bath to stop them from cooking. The skins should come off easily. Remove the seeds and roughly chop.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Add the celery,  onions and garlic, sauté for 3-5 minutes, until onions become translucent.

In a large pot, mix together the Romas, crushed tomatoes,  beef broth, Rotel tomatoes with chilis and the sausage.

Mix in the beans, and add the sautéed vegetables.

Stir in cilantro, basil, jalapenos and banana peppers.

Add the sugar, cumin, chili powder, salt, red and black pepper and hot sauce (I add this in small batches, depending on how hot I want the chili to be.)

Simmer for a couple of hours. I like to make this a day ahead so that the flavors have time to intensify.

Serve with salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapenos and tortilla chips.

Here are just two of the desserts at the Cook Off – a wonderful banana pudding and a scrumptious carrot cake!

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Tip of the Month, October 2011: Enjoy a Local BBQ Event

One of my favorite things about fall is all of the local BBQ events that area churches and organizations hold. As I mentioned in my earlier post “For the Love of Q“ I always look forward to Lynn’s Crossroads Ruritan Club’s BBQ and bake sale each October. The line usually wraps around the building at lunch, but is always worth the wait!

This time I opted for a late lunch (2:30 p.m.) to see if the crowds would not be as big, and that was a great idea - minimal waiting in line!  Nonetheless, there were still a good number of people eating a late lunch as well.

For $9.00, I got chopped BBQ, boiled potatoes, slaw, hush puppies and iced tea, and I got to serve myself (that was something new in all of the years I’ve been enjoying this event.) The BBQ was fantastic as usual, as were the hush puppies and the tea. Normally I get unsweetened tea, except when I’m eating BBQ – there’s just something about Q and sweet, sweet tea! Oh what a happy day!

Here is a list of other area BBQs happening in the next few weeks:

If you know of any others, please leave a comment – I hate to miss a good BBQ!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Lamb Two Ways: Grilled Loin Chops and Greek-inspired Pita Pizzas

I have been a lamb fan ever since I was a baby starting to get my teeth. My Mom would give me a lamb chop bone to chew on instead of the normal teething ring most babies get. Yaaay, Mom! I’ve been hooked ever since.

The best lamb (and for that matter, Guinness) I ever had was in the late 1990s in Ireland. I had a wonderful shepherd’s pie in the small town of Clifden, Connemara Co., and a fantastic Irish stew on the way to Achill Island on the Atlantic coast. While I can’t remember the name of either of the restaurants where I had these fantastic dishes, I will always remember how great the lamb (and the Guinness) tasted over there.

I love lamb a variety of ways: leg of lamb, rack of lamb, lamb burgers, lamb stew, lamb gyros – you get the point. Two of my favorite recipes I make at home include a luscious grilled lamb loin chop and individual Greek-inspired lamb pita pizzas.

Grilled Lamb Loin Chops

These chops may look small, but since they are so thick they really are filling. Since lamb is somewhat pricey, I usually wait until it goes on sale. Remember to save the bones for your dog – my Lillie loves lamb loin bones!

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 4 lamb loin chops
  • 4 gloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, snipped into small pieces
  • Fresh ground pepper and garlic salt to taste


Place olive oil in a bowl and add the rosemary and minced garlic. Whisk until blended.

Salt and pepper the lamb chops on both sides, and then coat the chops with the olive oil mixture. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill. Cook chops over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium-rare.

I like to serve these with roasted red potatoes, steamed asparagus and a glass of good Cabernet Sauvignon.

Greek-inspired Lamb Pita Pizzas

I started making pita pizzas years ago when I was single and lived alone. They are easy to make, and you can add whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. I especially like these Greek-inspired lamb pita pizzas, with Kalamata olives, garlic, feta cheese and fresh baby spinach.

Ingredients (for 2 pizzas)

  • ½ lb. ground lamb
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pieces of pita bread (I actually used Panini bread this time and it was great!)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup pizza sauce (tomato sauce works too, but you may want to spice it up some)
  • 20-24 baby spinach leaves, stems trimmed and cut into strips lengthwise
  • ½ cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese (plus more if you want to sprinkle some on top)
  • ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled (add more if you’d like)
  • 1/3 cup green onions, chopped small (both green and white parts)
  • 20 Kalamata olives, cut in half (I buy these at the olive bar that many grocery stores now have)
  • Garlic salt, to taste
  • Oregano, to taste
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium skillet, brown the lamb and minced garlic. Season with garlic salt and crushed red pepper, to taste. Crumble the lamb as it cooks and drain well.

Brush each pita with one teaspoon of the olive oil.

Add ¼ cup pizza sauce, evenly spooning out to the edges of the bread.

Evenly sprinkle ¼  cup (or more) of mozzarella on top of the sauce. Season with the oregano, garlic salt and crushed red pepper to taste.

Add the crumbled feta (about 1/8 cup per pita, or more if you’d like.) Top with the olives, spinach and green onions.

Add the ground lamb, and then top with additional mozzarella if desired.

Cook on an ungreased baking sheet for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese has melted.

Even though these pizzas are small, they are extremely filling!

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink and be merry!

Meatloaf Muffins

I’d do anything for love – Meatloaf, Bat Out of Hell, vocals

Well, Meatloaf, I bet you’d love the twist on this perennial home-cooked favorite and I assure you it is nothing close to what was served up in the Rocky Horror Picture Show!

I love meatloaf, but I am quite picky about it. I rarely order it out since I covet my own recipe (Exception: Firebirds Wood Fired Grill has a wonderful buffalo meatloaf that is the epitome of comfort food.) I always make enough for leftovers – that is the point of meatloaf, isn’t it?

Gabe is not a fan of traditional meatloaf – it’s mainly the onions and celery that he doesn’t like. I remembered that many years ago (it may have been in Home Ec in junior high school) I made some meatloaf muffins. It occurred to me that it would be easy to make Gabe a couple without the stuff he hates, and then add those ingredients after he was taken care of. Brilliant! So for those of you with picky eaters, this is a great way to satisfy everyone. Plus, the kids love the idea of muffins made of meat – but then, who doesn’t?!

Ingredients (makes 18 medium-sized muffins)

  • 1 lb. ground beef (93% lean)
  • 1 lb. ground pork (90% lean)
  • 1 pkg. (.4 oz) Hidden Valley Ranch® buttermilk recipe salad mix
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise (I use Duke’s light)
  • 1 cup celery, chopped small (2 large stalks or so)
  • 1 cup sweet onion, chopped small
  • 3-4 garlic gloves, minced
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce, plus more to top the muffins (I used Guy Fíerí’s classic Kansas City barbecue sauce, which is now available in most grocery stores.)
  • 1 teaspoon oil (I use canola)
  • Worstershire sauce to taste
  • Ground pepper and salt, to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the onion, celery and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes until the onions start to become translucent. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix together the ground pork and beef.

Sprinkle with the dry salad dressing mix, and add the mayonnaise, eggs and Worstershire sauce (a few good shakes is good.) Mix together well.

Add the breadcrumbs, barbecue sauce and freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.

At this point, I go ahead and make Gabe’s muffins, sans the celery and onions. Just spoon the mixture into a muffin tin (use cooking spray if you tins are not nonstick.)

After I get Gabe squared away, I go ahead and add the celery, onion and garlic mixture to the meat mixture, and blend well.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tins,and brush with some of the barbecue sauce. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until brown on top and cooked through the middle.

Serve this with garlic mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

As previously mentioned, I like to make extra because these freeze well, plus I must have obligatory meatloaf sandwiches (on white/wheat bread with lots of mayo and pepper, and a little bit of barbecue sauce) the following few days. Yum, yum, yum, yum yum!

Bon appétit!

Eat, drink and be merry!