Let's get one thing out of the way: Yes, Bonne Soiree is expensive. It isn't a place to dine once a week, or probably even once a month, unless you're of means.
Even if you have the money to go there often, Bonne Soiree isn't the kind of place one's senses are likely to be able to patronize frequently. Unlike its nearby price-range competitors like Elaine's and Cypress on the Hill—Bonne Soiree is actually a tad more expensive than either—the atmosphere inside speaks to special occasions. The tiny dining room, elegantly done in light blue and deep purple, with antique washstands and warm, romantic lighting, is, in the words of its proprietress, Tina Vaughn, "an escape from your day." But it's no ordinary escape; it feels like a world apart from the place where your day is: a voluptuous, sumptuous yet elegant place, intimate and personal in a way that relates as much to other luxuries like massage or therapy as it does to mere sustenance. Not only is the menu handwritten, so is your check.
Everything about Bonne Soiree has that stamp of uniqueness on it, all the way down to the wines poured by the glass, which are unusual and in many cases almost unknown to the majority of diners. It's as though the place exists especially for you during your meal and will disappear, along with the entire restaurant, the moment you step back out into the world from which Bonne Soiree provided you a temporary escape.
That is to say that, carved out of a little panel of the old Courtyard mini-complex, on ho-hum Franklin Street in the scrubbed, preppy heart of Tarheeliana, Bonne Soiree is a bit like a dream. And sadly, it's one we won't be having much longer. Even though News & Observer food writer Greg Cox anointed it the Triangle's best fine dining restaurant in 2006 mere months after it opened, and its chef, Chip Smith, was just named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Best ChefSoutheast prize, Bonne Soiree will close at the end of April. It really is disappearing.
I spent the holidays salivating over the Facebook posts of friends who were making snack foods with their kids. Chex Party Mix, homemade guacamole, desserts, appetizers: an array of homemade goodies to share with family and friends. It seemed a cruel tease to a mom with two food-allergic kids.
With Super Bowl parties being planned for Sunday, I was preparing to beat back the green-eyed monster of envy again. Then, as I passed boxes of Chex cereal in the store the other day, I wondered if I could make Bowl-worthy treats that are safe and taste good, too. My 4-year-old daughter, Talia, is allergic to wheat, dairy and eggs, and she and my son, Ty, are both allergic to nuts. But we are a family that loves to eat.
Back home, I assembled my purchases and pored over the Chex Party Mix recipe (see our Allergen-Free Chex Party Mix version). It called for 3 cups each of wheat, corn and rice Chex, a cup of nuts, pretzels, bagel chips, butter and seasonings. The tweaking began.
I poured 6 cups of rice and corn Chex and gluten-free pretzels into a large baking pan and melted some non-dairy margarine in the microwave. Talia and I stirred garlic powder, seasoned salt, onion powder and gluten-free Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce into the margarine, then poured the sauce over the Chex mix and stirred to coat the cereal.
I placed the pan into a 250-degree oven and stirred it every 15 minutes for the next hour. It smelled heavenly. We remove the mixture from the oven and laid it on paper towels to cool. The kids dug in and ... touchdown! The first item in our Super Bowl buffet was born.
Next I tackled a recipe for guacamole that my girlfriend serves at her parties (see Mitzi's Guacamole recipe). It was so creamy that I assumed it had cream cheese in it. Mitzi assured me that it didn't. I immediately came home and tried to replicate it by finely chopping tomatoes, onions and cilantro and mixing them with lime juice, salt and red pepper. After chilling for an hour, it made a mighty fine salsa, which we sampled with sweet-potato chips.
I then took two peeled ripe avocados, mashed them with a fork and folded it in with the salsa, adding more seasonings to taste. Bam—another hit.
Suddenly I envisioned a Super Bowl spread full of tasty possibilities.
To give the offerings more heft, I'll try this recipe for Gluten-Free Hooter's Buffalo Wings, and I'll throw some wheat- and dairy-free Hillshire Farm Lit'l Smokies in the crockpot with Sweet Baby Ray's honey barbecue sauce.
You can always make your own tangy sweet and sour sauce for meatballs and sausages by combining a bottle of ketchup with about 7 ounces of grape jelly. Heat through in a crockpot and you'll be good to go.
I'll round out the menu with an assortment of gluten- and dairy-free chips and salsa, and a fruit and vegetable tray.
Betty Crocker makes a gluten-free devil's-food cake mix that's perfect for making cupcakes. Just substitute two 4-ounce containers of plain applesauce for the eggs and a dairy-free margarine for the butter. Frost with Pillsbury's dairy-free Creamy Supreme Chocolate Fudge icing, and your guests will be none the wiser.
For Valentine's Day, there are a number of places to purchase delicious nut- and dairy-free chocolates.
Vermont Nut Free Chocolates offers nut-free milk and dark chocolate hearts, truffles, fruit creams and chocolate-covered pretzels. Order by Feb. 8 to ensure delivery by Valentine's Day.
Amanda's Own Confections makes dairy-, peanut-, nut-, gluten- and egg-free chocolates in the shapes of hearts and teddy bears. Order by Feb. 7.
Boom Choco Boom bars by Enjoy Life are dairy-, peanut-, nut- and soy-free. The bars are made of rice milk and come in milk, dark and crispy rice chocolate flavors. The bars cost about $1.50 to $2 each, and various flavors can be found at Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Kroger and Harmony Farms in Raleigh. Find a coupon at their website: www.enjoylifefoods.com.
Divvies offers an assortment of dairy-, nut- and wheat-free chocolates and candies and dairy- and nut-free cookies. Order by Feb. 7.
Joyce Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3 cups Corn Chex cereal
3 cups Rice Chex cereal
1 cup gluten-free pretzels (Glutino)
6 tablespoons diary-free margarine such as Fleishmann's
2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1. Heat oven to 250 degrees.
2. In a large ungreased roasting pan, melt margarine in oven.
3. Stir in seasonings.
4. Gradually stir in cereal and pretzels until coated evenly.
5. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
6. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes.
7. Store in an airtight container.
Recipe courtesy of Chex cereal
6 plum tomatoes finely diced and seeded (very important)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely snipped cilantro
At least 1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice (she always uses more and squeezes it fresh)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
2-4 firm, ripe avocados
Basically, all of these ingredients (except the avocados) make salsa.
Mix the salsa an hour before using the avocados.
Peel and mash or dice the avocados and add more seasonings to taste. Add 1/4 cup of salsa for every 2 avocados.
Note from Mitzi: "I really have loosely followed this recipe, but you can't mess it up. It's always very good because you make everything fresh."
Recipe courtesy of Mitzi Marullo
Motorco books a band for month-long residencies to set the stage for its brunch. The Jackets just wrapped up their stint; this Sunday welcomes The Mason’s Apron, a new bluegrass band comprised of local musicians from Hammer No More The Fingers, Mandolin Orange and Big Fat Gap. The music usually starts at 2 p.m.
Get there early to snag a Bloody Mary or a Habanero Mojito — both hefty drinks served with crispy bacon at around $5 — and check out the bar’s nosh specials. Homemade gumbo has been a past feature, cooked up by Chef Chris Holloway of Duke University’s Plate and Pitchfork.
Then slurp and slide over to the bright blue KoKyu BBQ truck parked outside. Chef/owner “Flip” has concocted an impressively gourmet menu inspired by Korean street food. And he’s dubbed the weekly event the “MotorKoKyu Brunch.” The duck fat tater tots are a must — a hot heap of decadent tots that would make Napoleon Dynamite swoon, with a fragrant dousing of fresh chopped rosemary for $3. (Great dipped into Sriracha chili sauce, available by request.) Other menu highlights include short rib and gorgonzola cheese quesadillas pressed crisp ($6), pork belly “takos” ($3) and a 12-hr smoked ancho chile-coffee-cocoa beef brisket slider topped with kimchi-esque pickles ($3). Vegetarians will find the colorful sweet potato and avocado takos ($4) a plus.
Eastern Lights, a venerable Chinese and Korean restaurant in Durham (4215 University Drive, 403-3650, www.easternlightsrestaurant.com), serves a 10-course New Year's banquet featuring particularly juicy and tender dumplings.
The recipe descends from Chef Frank Chao's father, who fled from China to Korea to escape conscription during the 1940s.
Makes about 25 dumplings
For the filling
1/2 cup water or chicken stock, at room temperature
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Totole-brand Granulated Chicken-Flavor Soup Base Mix (optional)
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon ginger root, finely minced
Scant 1/2 pound of ground or finely minced pork belly, texture should resemble raw hamburger (see cook's notes)
2 stalks spring onion, roughly chopped (see cook's notes)
1 cup of white onion, minced
2/3 cup Napa cabbage, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Mix the water or chicken stock with the soy sauce, salt, soup base mix, white pepper, ginger and spring onion. Gradually add the liquid mixture to the meat, stirring in vigorous circles in one direction only. Once the first batch of liquid is absorbed, add more.
When all the liquid has been incorporated, add the white onion and the cabbage and stir in a single direction.
Add the vegetable oil and continue to stir in a single direction for three minutes. Add the sesame oil and stir in a single direction for two minutes, or until the meat looks dry and has lost its pinkish hue. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
For the dough
About 2 cups loosely packed bleached all-purpose flour (see cook's notes)
2/3 cup boiling water
Using a fork, mix the boiling water into the flour to form a shaggy mass. Knead by hand for 15 minutes or until the dough has the silky texture of a "baby's cheek." Cover and rest for 20 minutes. Knead for another 5 minutes.
Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 1 inch in diameter. Cut the rope into half-inch segments.
Lightly sprinkle a cutting board or counter with cornstarch. Using a small rolling pin, flatten each piece of dough and roll into a round, roughly four inches in diameter. Roll the dough as thinly as possible for a maximally delicate dumpling skin.
Hold the dough in your left hand. Smear 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling the length of the round. Pinch the round at the right corner, forming two half-moon-shaped flaps at a slightly splayed angle. The goal is to pleat the inner flap and press each pleat into the outer flap. With the left thumb, roll a bit of the inner flap over the right thumb; withdraw the right thumb and press the formed pleat into the outer flap. Repeat until the entire dumpling has been pleated and closed. (YouTube abounds in demonstrations of wrapping technique; enter keyword "potstickers").
Cooking the Dumplings
Spread a light sheen of vegetable or canola oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the dumplings to the pan without crowding them. Fry for 1 minute and then add enough room temperature water to cover the dumplings to the level of their pleat. Cover and cook for 7 minutes (if you have a particularly well-engineered frying pan and lid, you may have to leave a slight crack so the water can slowly evaporate).
Once the water evaporates, the dumplings will begin to fry in the residual oil. Cook the dumplings until the bottoms are browned and crisped. Pay close attention, as the dumplings will quickly burn. For steamed dumplings, line a steaming tray with cotton cloth or tightly-woven cheesecloth and place over a pot of boiling water. Arrange the dumplings on the cotton. Cover and steam for 10-12 minutes.
* Flour is a crucial variable. A low-gluten, bleached all-purpose flour (Gold Medal for example) will produce ideal results, while a higher-gluten, unbleached flour (say King Arthur) will yield a tougher, chewier skin. My experiments with White Lily brand flour, a low-gluten flour famous for producing light and tender Southern biscuits, came up a cropper. White Lily does not have enough gluten to produce the necessary elasticity.
* Don't be tempted to substitute supermarket-prepared ground pork for ground or hand-minced pork belly. Pork belly's high fat content is integral to the consistency of the filling.
* If the dough is incorrigibly crumbly, add water by the drop. Don't be tempted to add more than strictly necessary to form an elastic dough. Excess water will make the dough heavy and chewy.
* Don't be seduced by the food processor. In a split second, it will reduce the cabbage and onion to watery pulp.
Uncooked dumplings can be frozen. Space the dumplings on a cookie tray and place in the freezer. Pry loose the frozen dumplings and place in a freezer bag for long-term storage. To cook, place the frozen dumplings directly in the frying pan or steamer—do not thaw beforehand. Frozen dumplings require a bit more cooking time: about 10 minutes in the frying pan, 15 minutes in the steamer.