Archive for the ‘duck’Category

Barnsley’s Rice House cooking exalts Southern tradition

About 30 years ago, a farmhouse from the Rice Plantation in nearby Rome, Georgia, was dismantled and moved to the Barnsley estate. Carefully rebuilt and restored, the Rice House is now the setting for Friday and Saturday night dinners at the Barnsley Resort (597 Barnsley Gardens Road, Adairsville, Georgia, 877-773-2447, The meals celebrate the rich tradition of Southern cooking. “Southern cuisine is much more than fried chicken and lots of butter,” says Aaron Stiles, the resort’s director of food and beverage. “You never hear people brag about discovering this really great Northern restaurant.”

With its stone fireplace big enough for some hearth cooking, the Rice House feels a little bit like stepping back into a Southern grandmother’s kitchen. And that’s just as it should be. “We consider our food modern farmhouse,” Stiles says. “We pay homage to our Southern roots, but use modern technique.”

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a taste is worth even more. A meal served in the Rice House by chef Evan Babb and sous chef Hugo Cifuentes (above) told a rich tale in three courses. The dishes, by the way, may have started in a modern kitchen, but they were finished in a big cast iron skillet in the fireplace.

Cornbread, first and foremost

Hugo Cifuentes at Rice House at Barnsley ResortWe began with cornbread and peas, a dish that many Southern grandmothers probably do have in their repertoire. But Babb and Cifuentes elevated the homey staple. They first cooked red peas from South Carolina’s sea islands (sourced from Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina) in a smoked hamhock broth. Then they made a soupy potage with the peas and “preacher ham,” a smoked country ham with a lower salt content because it wasn’t hung to age. The peas and ham “gravy” was spooned over an all-cornmeal cornbread cooked in a small cast iron skillet.

laquered duck breast at Rice House at Barnsley ResortMost grandmothers probably don’t have the second course in their recipe files, but it was nonetheless a taste of the South. Sliced sorghum-lacquered duck breast spiced with cardamom and cinnamon was served with a roasted winter vegetable salad with a warm duck vinaigrette. Babb and Cifuentes treated crisp morsels of butternut squash and white yams as croutons.

Evan Babb clips pansies for salad at Rice House at Barnsley ResortBabb (right) loves to forage on the 3,300-acre Barnsley estate. Even in early winter he found dandelion greens and wild onion to add to the salad, along with pansies harvested from the decorative border at the Rice House. Cifuentes, who is also an organic and biodynamic farmer, grew the lettuce. He will also be tending the kitchen garden under construction.

Another taste of sorghum

Apple crumble at Rice House at Barnsley ResortThe meal concluded with Appalachia Apple Crumble, a twist on apple crisp, one of my favorite New England desserts. But I’m quite certain no chef in New England would think to top the dish with burnt sugar bourbon ice cream and salted sorghum caramel. As a Yankee raised on maple syrup, I was pleasantly surprised by the slight sourness that sorghum syrup gave the dish. Sweet, sour, and salt—how could you go wrong!

“It’s all about region and simplicity,” said Cifuentes, “getting back to the roots of old Southern cooking.” Babb and Cifuentes generously shared the recipe for Cornbread and Peas.


Cornbread and red pea gravy at Rice House at Barnsley ResortSea Island red peas are a diminutive, ruddy strain of field peas that originates in Africa but is still grown as a heritage crop by the Gullah inhabitants of the Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands. For an authentic flavor, order them from Anson Mills. Preacher ham is hard to find outside the South, but a nice corncob-smoked Vermont ham makes a good substitute.

Serves 2

Preacher ham skillet cornbread


12 oz. (2 1/2 cups) Anson Mills yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 oz. (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups whole milk, room temp
1 large egg, beaten, room temp
1/2 cup chopped BBQ “preacher” ham (andouille sausage is another great substitute)
4 tablespoons local raw honey
2 teaspoons butter, bacon fat, or duck fat for skillet


Set oven to 425°F. Heat a seasoned 8-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. While skillet heats, whisk together cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan; add milk and warm slightly. Remove pan from heat. Ladle some of the milk mixture into the beaten egg and whisk to combine. Pour egg mixture into saucepan and whisk to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk lightly until smooth. The batter will be fairly thin. Fold in ham and honey. Add butter or fat to skillet then pour in batter, which should sizzle. Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Sea island pea gravy


3 smoked ham hocks
Half bunch celery, washed and trimmed
2-3 +1 large carrots, peeled
3 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered
3 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
2 cups Anson Mills Sea Island red peas
Salt, pepper and vinegar (white wine, apple cider or pepper) to taste


Make ham broth by simmering ham hocks, celery, 2-3 carrots cut into 4 large pieces, quartered onions, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns for an hour.

While the broth simmers, cut remaining carrot into small dice and set aside.

Remove vegetables and continue simmering ham hocks for another hour or two.

Strain stock and add peas. Return to heat. After 15 minutes, add the diced carrots. Simmer peas until soft but not falling apart—20-30 minutes. Strain and cool.

Reduce pea cooking liquid (potlicker) by a quarter.

Place a quarter of the peas and blend in a blender with enough cooking liquid to create a “gravy.” Place strained peas and pea “gravy” into a medium saucepan. Adjust consistency with cooking liquid and season to taste with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

Invert corn bread onto cutting board and cut into wedges. Place a wedge of cornbread on plate and spoon pea gravy over it.


12 2017

Bon appétit, y’all! (At the English Grill)

Brown Hotel lobby bar

Louisville certainly has some nice new hotels, but for old-city ambience and sheer Southern comfort it’s hard to beat the Brown Hotel (335 West Broadway, Louisville, 502-583-1234, A bastion of hospitality since 1923, it’s a pillar of the New Old South. Its English Renaissance-inspired architecture has a polite reserve that reflects Louisville’s role as the epicenter of bourbon and thoroughbred racing.

If we were true barflies, it would be hard to pry us out of the Brown’s elegant sepia-toned lobby bar. The room opens at 3 p.m. and by late afternoon it begins to fill with Louisville’s business elite. As befits one of the city’s finest and most storied bars, it even has a bourbon steward. On our last stay, it was Troy Ritchie, and he definitely knew his way around the deep bourbon list.

We usually drink spirits neat or on the rocks, but cocktail history runs deep at the Brown and we couldn’t resist. The bartenders make the Brown Manhattan with two parts bourbon to one part Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry, which is more aromatic and less sugary than most vermouths. They use both orange and Angostura bitters (and a house-cured cherry) to produce a drink with precison and finesse. FYI, the bar also makes a mean Old Fashioned, Louisville’s official drink said to be invented in 1881 at the esteemed Pendennis Club.

English Grill captures art of dining

Dustin Willett with duck dish at English Grill in Brown HotelWe may not have the connections to rub elbows at the Pendennis Club, but the refined elegance of the Brown Hotel’s English Grill suited us just fine for dinner. The dark oak paneling, the equestrian paintings, and the leaded glass windows are all original to the hotel’s opening in 1923. But the kitchen is as contemporary as the room is traditional.

Chef de cuisine Dustin Willett is a graduate of Culinard in Birmingham, Alabama, with stints in New Orleans and in the Washington, D.C. branch of the Four Seasons on his resume. He describes his cooking as modern Southern cuisine with international flavors. “I like to look at things in a modern way,” he says. That’s Willett above on the left, presenting a delicious plate of sliced roasted duck breast accompanied by duck confit in an endive leaf garnished with watermelon radish.

Hot Brown in Brown Hotel's English GrillOf course, you can find a superb all-American steak on the menu. The prime ribeye Delmonico is served with asparagus, roasted garlic aioli, and killer fries sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The most homegrown dish of all—it never leaves the menu—is the Hot Brown, invented here in 1926. To quote the menu, it consists of “roasted turkey breast and toast points with Mornay sauce pecorino Romano cheese, baked golden brown, finished with bacon and tomatoes.” It’s shown here. To read the background story and get the recipe, see this post.

Sweet conclusion

Making Bananas Foster at Brown Hotel's English GrillAs befits a special-occasion dining venue, the English Grill even does dessert with panache. The staff prepares the venerable Bananas Foster tableside. But this isn’t the original Bananas Foster created at Brennan’s in New Orleans in 1951. No-siree-bob. It would be heresy in Louisville to use any brown spirit other than bourbon. The steps are pretty much the same for so-called Bananas Foster Kentucky Style. Caramelize some brown sugar and cinnamon in a generous pool of butter, add banana liqueur, some Four Roses bourbon, and squeezes of lemon and orange. Cook until the alcohol burns off. Add freshly peeled bananas and cook until warm. Then pour on more Four Roses and tilt the pan until the alcohol catches fire with a snazzy blue flame. Once the flame dies, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Radicchio di Treviso: sweet winter crunch

Lucio Torresan of Tenuta al Parco golds a sheaf of field-grown radichhio
We’ve written about the beautiful Venetian city of Treviso as a center for Prosecco DOC and the birthplace of tiramisù, but it’s also home to one of our favorite winter vegetables. Radicchio Rosso di Treviso IGP is the blanched winter chicory indigenous to the region.

Treviso radicchio generally comes in elongated, slightly pointy, tightly packed heads. But as Lucio Torresan of Park Farm (actually, Azienda Agricola Tenuta al Parco) shows above, field-grown radicchio looks little like the market product. Those big red and green weeds he’s holding “are so bitter that even the goats won’t eat them.”

Workers at the Tenuta al Parco farm trim Treviso radicchioWhen Torresan and his workers get done with the field-grown plants, though, they will be tender and sweet, with just a slight residual bitterness.

Magic in the dark

“You must force it in cold water in the dark,” he explains. “It becomes a completely different vegetable.” His barn includes a room-sized refrigerator stacked high with field-harvested radicchio. From October into the winter, his workers pull up the plants by the roots, removing the top half of the leaves with machetes. With part of the root still attached, the plants hold in cold storage for a month before they are replanted in water for forcing.

Completely stripped of their outer leaves, heads of Treviso radicchio soak in cold water before being packed and shipped.Torresan sets the field-harvested plants into indoor shallow tanks fed with a constant flow of spring water. Under the low light, tender inner leaves begin to grow at the heart of the plant in about 10 days. After another 15-18 days, they are ready to harvest. Workers strip the outer leaves, leaving the tender hearts. The market vegetable has burgundy-red leaves with white ribs. Once the tanks are clear, the process repeats with more plants from the cooler. This system produces delicate radicchio di Treviso until early May.

The farm store at Tenuta al Parco is open daily at Via San Martino 24/B, Morgano (+39 042 273 9028).

Both tasty and lovely

Venetians go wild over Treviso radicchio, preferring it to its softball-shaped cousin, radicchio di Chioggia. (The latter is the bitter variety grown in the U.S.) Restaurateurs serve it in risottos, chopped into a raw salsa for steak tartare, and roasted and drizzled with vinegar. Portions are usually small, since the intense flavor can be sharp. My favorite treatment was duck ravioli with radicchio-chestnut sauce. It’s a seasonal specialty at Graspo de Ua, a tiny hotel restaurant in Venice. The restaurant has excelled at traditional Venetian fare since 1860. It’s on Calle dei Bombaseri not far from the Rialto bridge (+39 041 520 0150, The following recipe is adapted from their version, as shown below.


The traditional Venetian dish uses ravioli stuffed with duck and spinach. Ground pork ravioli or mushroom ravioli can substitute.

Serves 4

Radicchio and chestnut sauce on ravioli as served at Ristorante al Graspo de Ua in Venice, Italy.Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
4 heads radicchio di Treviso, chopped
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 7-ounce can of Italian chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 lb. fresh ravioli
2 ounces Gran Padano cheese, coarsely shredded
1 small bunch Italian parsley, minced


Bring large pot of lightly salted water to a boil for pasta.

In 10- to 12-inch frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and cook 2 minutes until soft. Then add radicchio to pan and cook, stirring frequently, until it wilts (7-10 minutes). Add vinegar, sugar, chestnuts, and sea salt and continue to cook until radicchio is almost melting.

Meanwhile, cook ravioli al dente. Drain and keep warm.

Divide ravioli evenly onto four preheated 10-inch plates and top with sauce. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and minced parsley.


01 2017

What to buy in a Dublin grocery store

Dublin grocery store 1
Whenever we visit Dublin, we make sure to enjoy lots of incredible butter and cream since we can’t bring any home. (U.S. Customs frowns on such dairy products.) Fortunately there are lots of other good Irish foodstuffs that we can pack in the suitcase. For cheeses, we make our purchases at Sheridans Cheesemongers (see earlier post), but here are some of the things that caught our eye in a neighborhood Dunnes grocery store:

Irish soda farls

Pat’s mother still remembers her own mother, who hailed from Northern Ireland, making soda bread farls in a round pan on the top of the stove. First she would shape the dough into a circle and then cut it crosswise into four pieces, the so-called farls. This style of soda bread is flatter and more moist than the more common cake-style. Most grocery stores sell the farls already packaged in plastic bags. They remain fresh if we put them into the freezer as soon as we get home.

Odlums mixes

Odlums began milling and selling flour in 1845 and the company remained in the family until 1991. Its flour has been a staple in Irish kitchens for generations and the Odlums web site ( is full of recipes. But we generally just pick up a couple of mixes for brown bread or for brown, white, or fruit scones.

Flahavan’s Porridge Oats

The Flahavan family has been milling oats for more than 200 years, uses only local oats, and has perfected a technique to produce a fine flake that cooks up more quickly. Even if the oats weren’t so good, we would probably buy them anyway because we can’t resist the old-style packaging.

more food from a Dublin grocery store

Erin Meal Mixes

This Dublin-based company’s seasoning mixes for meats and vegetables include a number with a French accent, but for an easy to prepare flavor of the Emerald Isle, we opt for Shepherd’s Pie or Country Stew.

Lakeshore Duck Fat

We almost hate to admit how good French fries taste when they are cooked in duck fat. We don’t do any frying at home, but we agree with the Irish that a bit of duck fat gives roast potatoes or roast vegetables a richness that belies their humble origins. The manufacturer advises adding one tablespoon of duck fat per pound of vegetables, which means that a 200g jar will last for a couple of weeks in the winter. Better get two.

Marrowfat peas

mushy peas with fish and chipsThese green peas left on the vine until they have dried are the primary ingredient in mushy peas – the classic accompaniment to fish and chips (see photo at right). They’re available canned, but it’s easier to throw a bag of the dried peas into the suitcase.

Lemon’s sweets

You can find just about every type of Cadbury chocolate bar in Dublin, but for a treat with local roots, we look for Lemon’s. The company started out as a confectionery shop on what is now Lower O’Connell Street in 1842 and even made its way into James Joyce’s Ulysses. It has changed hands several times and experimented with a number of products. Our favorites are the Mint Iced Caramels, with a smooth center and a crisp coating. The company claims that it takes two days to make them from a secret recipe dating back to 1926.

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02 2015

Montreal bargain lunches

Of all the guidebook series we work on, the research for the Food Lovers’ series may be the most fun. Our most recent published volume was on Montreal, but we didn’t spend all our time eating foie gras or dining at innovative contemporary restaurants.

We’re always on the lookout for good values, and we found 10 great lunches for about $10 where we could tap into various strains of Montreal culture. We recently published that roundup in the Boston Globe. You’ll find the results as a pair of PDFs on our Sample Articles page.

We are just about finished writing our next volume, Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire, and have a refrigerator full of artisanal cheese, cured pork products, and storage vegetables that we brought back to Cambridge from our research forays. Inspired by the great grilled cheese sandwich we had at Maison Cheddar in Montreal’s Outremont neighborhood (it’s in the Boston Globe article), we took some of that provender to improvise a New England locavore grilled cheese lunch.

The sharp cheddar cheese came from Vermont, a fig-walnut jam spread came from Stonewall Kitchen in Maine, and a few slices of Fox Smoke House bacon hailed from the woods of New Hampshire. We put those ingredients between a couple of slices of Nashoba Brook Bakery’s ”Harvest” bread, a sourdough studded with nuts, fruits, and candied ginger. (Nashoba Brook is in West Concord, Massachusetts.) As a counterpoint, we grated some Vermont carrots, added some golden raisins, and tossed them with a little cider vinegar, salt, a pinch of sugar, and a few drops of milk to make a Montreal-style carrot salad. Not bad. It succeeded in bring a taste of travel back home.


12 2011