Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stimulating the Economy (Roots)

I figured out why the economy tanked when when the housing bubble burst. Not even a month has passed since we closed on our new home, and the people at Lowe’s, Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond are starting to recognize us as regular customers.

We sent yesterday doing those projects you love to have time to do before the movers arrive with all your belongings. Shelf lining in the kitchen cupboards, caulking and re-grouting bathrooms, setting up closets, installing a new washer and drier. I’d like to see one of those time-lapse video recordings of the property that would show the cars going in and out, people dashing to and fro. We were our own little ant colony.

The weekend has also been quite chilly; at least for a California born and bred girl. Lows in the 40s highs in the 50s. Perfect for my favorite Fall and Winter recipe – Roots. I plan to make this tonight when we return from another day at the house.

I’ve been making Roots for years. It was one of Will’s favorites and I always felt lie I was being a good mom when I dished up a plate of this antioxidant-packed meal. Add a little roast chicken or a link or two of turkey sausage and you are good to go.

The basic recipe is simple – walk thru the market and grab one or two of everything that is a root. Carrots, beets, onions, garlic, the list goes on and on. Tonight’s version will include these little rutabagas – about the size of a golf ball – that have redefined that root for me. Who knew they could be down right juicy, even after being roasted for 45 minutes.

I hope you whip up a batch of these soon. Get creative, there are no rules. You can even throw in a few non-root veg, like mushrooms and asparagus – very tasty and no one will ever be the wiser.




  • 1 sweet potato, washed and cubed into 1 ½ to 2 inch cubes
  • 3 -4 red or yukon gold potatoes (or handful of fingerlings)
  • 2 – 3 shallots peeled
  • 5 – 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion, cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 3 beets, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
  • 3 rutabagas, cut into 2 inch cubes – if they are very young, you don’t need to peel them
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 2 T red wine vinegar


  • Heat oven to 375 degrees
  • Toss all of the ingredients except the vinegar in a large bowl
  • Pour into a large casserole – 13 x 9 inch should do it
  • Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
  • Remove from the oven, check to make sure that everything is fork tender
  • Sprinkle the red wine vinegar over the mixture and stir well

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Signed Sealed Delivered (Sheryl’s Fried Chicken)

This was a very busy week – and things are about to get even busier. We closed on our new home on Thursday afternoon. Now the work begins.

We attended our Closing Meeting Thursday afternoon. This was quite a different process than in California, where your Realtor tells you that Escrow has closed, brings more papers to be signed and hands you the key to your new home. In North Carolina, there is an actual meeting and the buyer is represented by an attorney who goes over the entire deal, explains things thoroughly and is there to represent you should things not go as planned. While our closing was without surprises and went smoothly, I couldn’t help that think that some of California’s real estate woes might have been avoided had buyers there been represented by legal counsel. But we’ll save that for a different kind of discussion in a different kind of blog.

By Friday morning, Steve had started to dial in the garage. Anyone who has been to one of our previous homes knows that my husband is a bit picky about garages. Good lighting, ample storage and gray indoor/outdoor carpet is a must. (Yes, we vacuum our garages – I was skeptical at first but am now a true believer.) Our new garage was a blank slate – and Steve was a man on a mission. Twenty-four hours after the closing, the shelving was in, the carpet installers were on their way home. And Steve was a happy man.

That evening we also continued a Billings (my maiden name) family tradition. It all started when my late mother closed on her first home in Chapel Hill and my brother and his wife brought over a celebratory dinner of Mama Dip’s fried chicken (the very best fried chicken I’ve ever had) and champagne. The tradition continued with subsequent home purchases by both my mother and my brother’s family. And at 6:15 p.m. Friday, the Billings clan hit our new doorstep with a finger-lickin’ spread with all the fixin’s; homemade brownies and, of course, a bit of the bubbly.

Nothing is more fun to kids than an empty house; and it was great to hear laughter and scampering feet and paws as our nephew Sam and niece Katie explored the upstairs rooms with our Scottie CurveBall.

Dinner was served on paper plates on our screen porch, and the kids checked out the tree house in one of our many trees. We talked of Thanksgiving, which we will host next month; and looked forward to being here for Christmas when Will comes home for his winter break from college.

We have a lot of work to do to make it our own and modernize appliances and fixtures. But our new house has good bones and the heartbeat of a family home.

Now for this week's recipe:

Truth be known, the last time I actually fried chicken, I was 23 years old and as I recall it was a disaster. My friend Sheryl, however, is known for her crispy pollo so I asked her to lend her recipe for this post. I gotta admit, it looks a little scary – she puts something called “Butter Buds” in her coating. (Really, Sheryl?) But everyone who has ever tasted Sheryl’s Fried Chicken has cried out for more.

As always I hope you Enjoy.

Sheryl's Fried Chicken


  • 1 frying chicken, cut into parts and brined for 6 hours (see below)
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 batch coating mixture (see below)
  • Corn oil for frying


  • Rinse and pat dry the brined chicken
  • Marinade it over night in the buttermilk
  • Put the coating mixture in a shallow bowl
  • Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, piece by piece and dip it in the coating mix, to coat completely
  • Heat about an inch of corn oil in a heavy skillet to 375 degrees
  • Fry 3 or 4 pieces at a time.
  • According to Sheryl, the trick is to wait until you turn the chicken until it comes up completely clean without losing any skin or coating. She says it’s a very relaxing experience.
  • Once you can turn, do. And again and again until the coating is set and the juices run clear.
  • If you turn too fast, you get a mess. So, like she said, just relax.

Coating mix:


  • 2 cups breadcrumbs
  • ½ up parmesean cheese
  • 2 Tbs Butter Buds Sprinkles (in the spice aisle, or diet food aisle)
  • 2 Tbs paprika
  • 1 Tbs garlic powder

To Brine Chicken:

I don’t make a production of brining – I just put a handful of kosher salt some fresh ground pepper and sometimes a crushed garlic clove in the bottom of a pot large enough to hold the chicken. Then cover with cold water and stash in the fridge for 2 – 6 hours. At the end of this time, I rise the bird, pat it dry and continue with my recipe. To learn more, here’s a good article from Cooks Illustrated.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Alfresco Autumn Sunday Dinner (Creamy Garlicky Salad Dressing)

There’s something special about Sunday dinner. Whether you share it with friends or family or enjoy it solo, the final dinner of the weekend is a great time to relax, recapture the week past and enjoy the last few hours before the work week starts up again.

We just returned from just such a dinner with my brother and his family. Ed and his wife Lyn have a wonderful mid-century modern home here in Chapel Hill; complete with a creek that makes the whole backyard experience even better.

It was slightly cool and breezy tonight and acorns danced around us as they fell from the trees. Ed made a fire in their fire pit and cooked up “hobo dinners” (seasoned ground local beef with potatoes and veggies, wrapped in aluminum foil and tossed in the embers), while the grown-ups tucked into a spicy brew of chili. Lyn’s from scratch corn bread and a crisp salad (my contribution) rounded things out. A delicious apple pie emerged from the oven as we finished up our meal. Fall has certainly arrived.

I promised Lyn that I’d share the recipe for the salad dressing I made, so what better way to give it to her is to give it to all of you as well. It is sooooo easy, it’s almost embarrassing. But it is also sooooo good.

I serve this on a crisp salad made of hearts of romaine, chopped scallions and quartered cherry or grape tomatoes. Avocado is also excellent.

Creamy garlicky salad dressing


  • ½ cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tbs Best Foods or Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic, mashed into a paste with the side of a chef’s knife with a pinch of salt (this is a great technique when you want the flavor of garlic, but don’t want to bite into a chunk of it)
  • ¼ cup shredded or grated parmesan or asaigo cheese
  • juice of 1 lemon


Whisk all of this together; toss over salad made with either hearts of romaine or iceberg lettuce. Makes a great base for a bleu cheese dressing as well.