Category: Cooking

Grape Gratification

Courtesy of

Yesterday as I thumbed through the online edition of The Wall Street Journal while sitting on my chair in the sky, an article reviewing the benefits of grape seed oil caught my eye.

We began using it for cooking after first making David Chang‘s recipe for ginger scallion sauce. Since then, it has become a kitchen staple for us. So, I thought I would share both the recipe and the article. Plus, what better ways to continue enjoying a good wine way past its time: Eat it then slather it all over you!

Ginger Scallion Sauce

Makes about 3 cups  

2½ cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)

½ cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger

¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

1½ teaspoons soy sauce, preferably usukuchi (light soy sauce)

¾ teaspoon sherry vinegar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it’s best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it’s stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge. Use as directed, or apply as needed.

Here’s the article by Laura Johannes:

From Cabernet to Chardonnay, the seeds leftover from winemaking are used to make a cooking oil and skin-care products. Doctors say grapeseed oil is a healthy oil for cooking and a good moisturizer, but there is scant evidence that it keeps skin looking youthful.

Some 900 new products containing grapeseed oil have been introduced in the U.S. over the past five years—mostly for personal-care and for consumption, according to Datamonitor.

For cooking, grapeseed oil has a high smoke point—meaning it can get very hot without smoking—and a mild flavor that doesn’t interfere with other ingredients. Grapeseed oil is comparable to other better-known heart-healthy oils, but not necessarily better, says Rachel Johnson, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and chairwoman of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee. Grapeseed, canola and olive oils all “have high concentrations of unsaturated fat that help promote beneficial cholesterol levels,” she says. Since each healthy oil has a different nutrient profile, Dr. Johnson says, she recommends eating a variety—but in moderation, since oils in general have about 120 calories per tablespoon.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional database, 100 grams of grapeseed oil contains 28.8 milligrams of the antioxidant vitamin E—double that of olive oil. It contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats, including linoleic acid, and is low in artery-clogging saturated fat.

The label of Napa Valley Naturals Grapeseed oil, sold by Spruce Naturals LLC of Reno, Nev., for $9.29 for a 25.4 ounce bottle, says grapeseed oil “offers one of the highest concentrations of heart healthy mono and poly-unsaturated fats of any vegetable oil, and the lowest levels of saturated fat of ANY oil.”

The USDA database shows that a tablespoon of grapeseed oil has 1.31 grams of saturated fat; olive oil has 1.86 grams and canola oil, 1.03 grams.

Fatty acid content in vegetable oils can vary significantly, a spokeswoman for Spruce Naturals says, depending on factors such as differences in climate, soil, seed variety and how the oil is pressed. The lowest values for grapeseed oil can be lower than some canola oils, she added.

A spokeswoman for the USDA says its database does account for seasonal, geographic, and varietal differences, although the information isn’t meant to serve as an authority for claims made, including claims on labeling and in marketing.

The market for grapeseed oil as a cosmetic is booming. Aura Cacia, a skin-care, grapeseed oil from Frontier Natural Products Co-op Inc. that sells for $4.99 for four ounces, has an “excellent balance of skin supporting compounds,” such as oleic and linoleic acids, according to the Norway, Iowa, company’s website.

Grapeseed Co., Santa Barbara, Calif., sells about 80 products containing byproducts from the wine industry—including Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Merlot seeds pressed into oils. The label for Grapeseed Co.’s 100% pure grapeseed oil, $16 for 4.4 ounces, says “anti-aging skin care from the vine.”

According to the website, the product is rich in antioxidants, which “help fight free radical damage, the signs of aging, and heal skin exposed to natural elements.”

Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles dermatologist and author of “Feed Your Face,” a book about nutrition and food-based topical treatments for skin, says “there is very little in the way of clinical trials” showing the anti-aging benefits of grapeseed oil.

Grapeseed Co. and Frontier say they haven’t done clinical studies on their products. Grapeseed’s CEO Kristin Fraser Cotte says the company’s claim of anti-aging is based on the fact that its products contain antioxidants, or substances that protect cells against unstable molecules called free radicals, which can damage cells.

She adds that the company’s oil absorbs into the skin “quickly and easily” and customers are happy with the products.

Frontier spokesman Thomas J. Havran says the company’s claim of skin-supporting is based on a “general body of knowledge” about the value of essential fatty acids for skin.

It is unclear whether the antioxidants in grapeseed oil penetrate the skin sufficiently to benefit the skin, dermatologists say. But since grapeseed oil is a light oil, its antioxidants stand a “better chance” of penetrating than those in some other oils, says Washington, D.C., dermatologist Tina Alster.

Antioxidants applied topically have been shown to protect against sun damage that can cause wrinkles and changes in skin pigmentation, Dr. Alster says. Vitamin E in particular can help boost collagen, a protein that gives skin its structure, she says.

Dr. Wu says fatty acids such as linoleic acid have been shown in scientific studies to be good for dry skin—and since dry skin can look more wrinkled, this could soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. She says grapeseed oil is a good moisturizer and is thinner than many other oils so “you won’t look like you are walking around with oil slick on your face.”

– Originally published in The Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2013

It’s a Wild Week

This week, Ken’s cooking has gone wild.

Let me be very clear: We are not hunters. Well, Ken and Christian did witness a gator’s demise, but neither pulled the trigger.

Freshly processed bounty from friends who hunt? We’re game. Really.

So, what to do with one and a half pounds of ground venison? We considered making it into patties and grilling them but thought the meat may be too lean. What then? Johnny Marzzetti courtesy of Et voila! Lunch and dinner for the week. Tip: It’s okay to substitute brown rice for the pasta.

Two pounds of alligator filets? Trim them into bite size pieces, lightly dredge in flour, and sauté in grape seed oil. Add some homemade, tastes-just-like Raising Cane’s dipping sauce. Not bad.

I was squeamish at first bite. But, both are really quite good. And, it is a bit like living off the land: Sitting down to dinner…in our house…on a suburban cul-de-sac knowing our food was procured not too far away, in the wild.


NOT said gator. This one is safe and sound at Brookgreen Gardens.

He can bring home the bacon

Christian really wanted a dock for Christmas. For his kayak. On the retention pond in our backyard.

Ken decided it was to be. So on Christmas Eve, off to Lowe’s he went to purchase a pickup load of treated lumber. Said lumber then was hauled up the front steps into our living room and was carefully placed under the tree. I was concerned. Concerned that there it would sit for more than just a week. For months. But, out it went on New Year’s Day, onto the back porch then down the steps to the prep area.

This past Sunday, my two men worked in unison, father teaching son new skills. Patience, measure twice, cut once. All day long.

Then, in they came at dark. Instead of retreating to the comfort of his recliner, Ken proceeded to cook a gourmet dinner. Did I feel inadequate? A bit. But, I was sick. Really.

On the menu: Green salad with a mustard vinaigrette, creamy cauliflower soup (see recipe below), and broiled cod. Simple, right? Maybe, but I was impressed.

By the way, it’s Ken’s birthday today.


Creamy Cauliflower Soup (courtesy of Sunset)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced (we recommend using only one)
  • About 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large head cauliflower (2 lbs.), chopped
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and salt, cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and wine. Cook, stirring, until liquid is almost completely evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in cauliflower and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until cauliflower is very soft, 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. In 3 batches, whirl soup in a blender until very smooth, at least 3 minutes per batch (or, if you’d like a few florets in your soup, blend 2 batches and leave the last chunky). Stir together and season to taste with white pepper and salt.
  4. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, chives, and parsley. Ladle soup into bowls and decoratively drizzle herb oil on top.


We are always on the hunt for authentic ingredients and cuisine. Living in a mid-sized Southern city has posed its challenges in the past, but as the Holy City becomes more popular, its offerings expand.

Hence Kimchi. Many of you, I know, will cringe and profess, “Kimchi?? Ew, gross!” Too bad for you.

Ken has decided that the best kimchi is made in Korea. Um, that does make sense since it is Korean. We have tried versions from New York City, and even some homemade in Charleston by different purveyors that offer otherwise great food.

The best yet? Trader Joe’s. We thought it would be middle-of-the-road bland. Nope, it’s the real thing.


Pour some sugar on…bacon!

While flipping through the pages of the latest edition of Departures this morning, something caught my eye. Now, please don’t judge me by my reading material; the magazine comes as a part of the very generous annual fee I pay to American Express for some great travel benefits.

And, let me be clear…almost all of the outlandish escapades covered in Departures are way beyond our budget. But this one is not. It’s a very simple recipe that would be baking in my oven right now if I had bacon in my fridge. It’s a good thing I didn’t.

Bill Blass’s Caramelized Bacon

1/2 pound thick-cut bacon

1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Dredge individual bacon slices in brown sugar, patting sugar down on both sides to make it stick. Place the bacon slices on a heavy baking sheet. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the bacon is caramelized and crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool. Break them into bite-sized pieces to serve as hors d’oeuvres.

Thanks, Bill.

The more bitter, the better

Ken and I are pretty adventurous eaters. A stop at the local Asian mega mart may be a journey into an alien world for some, but it’s on our tour of regular grocery-shopping stops. One of our favorite exotic veggies in stock there is the bitter melon. When we go through the check out line, we typically get that “You do know what you’re buying, right?” look. Once we assure the staff that we know exactly what we are doing, we are offered recommended preparations and old family recipes.

Some of you may already know that bitter melon requires a very acquired taste. As Ken states, those who love a really hoppy beer may enjoy it. I’ll leave it to other sources to tout its medicinal benefits. I know that I always feel healthy and refreshed (and full) after consuming it!

Our preferred way to eat it is rather simple: stir-fried with dried black beans. We use Grace Young’s recipe in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing. I have omitted the flank steak, as we typically do, for this recipe:

2 medium bitter melons (1 1/4 pounds total)

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon finely shredded ginger

1 teaspoon rice cooking wine

1 teaspoon thin soy sauce

1 teaspoon plus 5 tablespoons vegetable oil (we usually use far less and substitute with olive oil)

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon Chinese dried black beans

1 clove garlic, finely minced

Cut the bitter melons in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Place in 1 quart of boiling water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Allow the water to return to a boil. Then, drain and rinse the bitter melon under cold water and set aside to drain thoroughly.

Rinse the black beans in several changes of cold water and drain. In a small bowl, mash the black beans and garlic with the back of a wooden spoon until it resembles a paste.

Heat a flat-bottomed wok or skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add oil, bitter melon, black bean paste, corn starch, ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and pepper. Stir fry for one-to-two minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

A simple soup for two

My master chef came up with a simple soup today for lunch, to accompany chicken salad with homemade mayonnaise (more about that later). Simple because he used what he could find in the fridge. Simple because it took no time to make. No name, just simple.

2 cups of chicken broth, homemade is best but this brand will also do

1/2 cup of cooked jasmine rice

1/2 cucumber, sliced 1/8″ thick

3 baby bok choy, chopped

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon five spice powder

white pepper to taste

Ladle the boiling chicken broth into two bowls, then evenly disperse the other ingredients. Serve immediately.

Oldie but goodie

One of our favorite wedding gifts is one we use regularly to this day: The 1990 edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook given to us by my Grandma Drake’s dear friend Lela Cameron. In the note that accompanied her gift, Lela wrote that it had been a classic and that she had used it as a text book in home economics classes at the University of Georgia. That note is still taped inside the front cover. It still is the classic cookbook.

When visiting my Grandma in Gastonia, NC, Lela and her husband, Cam, would often invite us for supper or Sunday dinner (lunch to you non-Southerners). As we sat eating, I would think of the stories my Mom had told me of Lela and her handsome Egyptian boyfriend whom she had dated seriously before settling down. I had so many questions but knew it was not appropriate to ask. Back to the food…I am sure the source of many of those tasty dishes was the Fannie Farmer.

My resident master chef says it reminds him of his organic chemistry textbook from college: The layout, colors, and font.  I like to think of him as a chemist as he mills about in the kitchen.

Here is one of our Fannie favorites, Green Dip:

1 cup parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

5 scallions, chopped

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco

1 1/4 cups mayonnaise

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 cup sour cream


Liquify the parsley, scallions, and 1/2 cup of the mayonnaise in a blender or food processor. Add the remaining 1/4 cup mayonnaise, the sour cream, dill, Tabasco, curry powder, and salt to taste, and chill.

We enjoy it with red and yellow bell peppers, cucumbers, and blanched green beans and broccoli.