Food & Drink

NC chefs Vivian Howard, Ashley Christensen and Katie Button all have new cookbooks

Raleigh chef and restauranteur Ashley Christensen at Poole's Downtown Diner in Raleigh, NC.
Raleigh chef and restauranteur Ashley Christensen at Poole's Downtown Diner in Raleigh, NC. tlong@newsobserver.com

The rest of the cooking world may look into restaurant kitchens and lament the lack of female fire power.

Not here in North Carolina. We have a collection of restaurants that have achieved national acclaim with women at the helm.

There’s Ashley Christensen, whose Raleigh-based restaurant empire started with Poole’s Diner and now numbers seven places, including Death & Taxes, a James Beard nominee last year for Best New Restaurant. Across the state in Asheville, Katie Button draws raves for her Spanish-inspired tapas at Curate and the American small-plate restaurant Nightbell. And there’s Vivian Howard, who staked her claim in tiny Kinston with the Chef and the Farmer and her TV show, “A Chef’s Life.”

This fall, they also have another reason to grab attention: Each one has produced a new book. Christensen’s is “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories From a Modern Diner” (Sept. 20, Ten Speed Press). Button has “Curate: Authentic Spanish Food From An American Kitchen,” (Oct. 11, Flatiron Books). Howard digs into her cooking life in Eastern North Carolina with “Deep Run Roots” (Oct. 4, Little, Brown).

Before they fill your bookshelf, we took a look at each one. Kathleen Purvis and Andrea Weigl

“Deep Run Roots,” by Vivian Howard (Little, Brown; 576 pages, $40).

Humility isn’t a word that comes up much in professional cooking. But it’s a running thread through Howard’s very personal book. Woven through the recipes and traditional Eastern North Carolina ingredients is her own journey: A frustrated country kid who escaped to New York but ended coming home to find her cooking voice. Along the way, she grows to appreciate her place in a world she had dismissed.

It’s organized in a way that’s similar to her popular TV series, “A Chef’s Life,” with each chapter going deep on a single ingredient (such as Dried Corn, Eggs, Rice or Blueberries). Laced through the book are “Wisdom” sections on cooking knowledge, and recipes that range from humble to sophisticated. With a straight-forward, personal tone, it’s hard not to come away charmed as well as enlightened. Kathleen Purvis

“Poole’s” by Ashley Christensen with Kaitlyn Goalen(Ten Speed Press; 304 pages, $35).

When Christensen got a two-book deal, she knew the first book had to focus on Poole’s Downtown Diner, her flagship restaurant that started it all. The recipes reflect the comfort food aesthetic that Christensen serves at this former pie shop and luncheonette: Pimento Cheese, Deviled Eggs, Macaroni au Gratin and Tomato Pie. It’s also clear that this is an upscale restaurant with recipes for Duck or Rabbit Confit, TNT Chicken Livers with Hot Hot Aioli and Pickle Relish and Oyster Stew with Twice-Fried Saltines and Charred Turnip Relish.

The book’s organization is inspired by the restaurant’s menu with chapters dedicated to “Vinaigrettes” (salads and such bound by a dressing) and “Bowls & Such.” It is sprinkled with what Christensen calls “Back Pocket Recipes” for crispy quinoa, cornbread and pie crust. These building block recipes will help home cooks aim to re-create the flavors that come out of the Poole’s kitchen.

Andrea Weigl

“Curate,” by Katie Button with Genevieve Ko (Flatiron Books; 304 pages, $35)

Button wants readers to understand one thing about her cookbook: “This is not a tapas book.” Yes, it’s Spanish food and her flagship restaurant, Curate, serves tapas. But the book is designed for home cooks who want to recreate those flavors not in eight small servings but in four to six servings to feed a family. The recipes include Sauteed Shrimp with Garlic, Beer-Braised Chicken and Meatballs with Serrano Ham and Tomato Sauce. “It’s Spanish food at home,” she explains.

The book also tells Button’s story: a former doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering who decided to explore a nagging feeling that her future should be in restaurants. (She did grow up the daughter of a caterer.) She took a job as a server, and later in the kitchen, at Jose Andres’ Spanish restaurants in Wash., D.C. She met her husband, Felix, who grew up in Spain. The couple worked together at elBulli, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Spain. They returned to the United States to open a restaurant with her parents in Asheville. Andrea Weigl

Meet the Authors

Here is a guide to these authors’ upcoming events:

Ashley Christensen

▪ Sept. 22: Book signing from 5-6:30 p.m. at Parker & Otis in Durham and a 7 p.m. dinner at The Counting House at the 21c Hotel in Durham. A five-course meal with a cocktail and a copy of the book for $95 per person. Wine pairings can be added for $20. For a reservation, call 919-956-6760.

▪ 4 p.m. Sept. 25 at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books & Music at its new location at North Hills. You receive a signing line ticket with the purchase of the book. (If you miss this event, Christensen will return at 2 p.m. Dec. 11 for a signing-only event to personalize her book for holiday gifts.)

▪ Sept. 26: Book dinner at Kindred restaurant in Davidson. Chef/owner Joe Kindred will offer a five-course meal prepared by the Kindred staff featuring dishes from Christensen’s book, and guests will receive a copy of the book. Christensen will be on hand to sign books. Tickets are $125, and two seatings are available, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Reservations: 980-231-5000 or email justin@kindreddavidson.com.

More events and details: http://ac-restaurants.com/pooles-diner/the-american-diner-tour/

Vivian Howard

Contact bookstores for more details:

▪ Oct. 10: Country Bookshop in Southern Pines.

▪ Oct. 20: 7 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. (This is an off-site dinner event and tickets must be purchased beforehand.)

▪ 6:30 p.m. Oct. 21: McIntyre’s in Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. A food truck meal and copy of book for $55. For reservations, call 919-542-3030. Info: fearrington.com/event/cooks-books-howard/

▪ Oct. 29: Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.

▪ Oct. 30: Regulator Bookshop in Durham.

▪ Nov. 1: Wake County library in Cary.

▪ Nov. 1: Barnes & Noble in Cary.

▪ Nov. 2: North Raleigh Whole Foods.

▪ Nov. 5: Page 158 Books in Wake Forest.

For a full schedule, go to vivianhoward.com/deep-run-roots/

Katie Button

▪ 6 p.m. Nov. 5, a book signing and wine and food tasting at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books

▪ 4 p.m. Nov. 6, an hors d’oeuvres reception at Fearrington’s garden terrace in collaboration with McIntyre’s. Cost is $95 for meal and copy of book. For reservations, call 919-542-3030. Info: fearrington.com/event/cooks-books-button/

Andrea Weigl

Ashley Christensen’s Pimento Cheese

From “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner,” by AshleyChristensen, (Ten Speed Press, 2016.)

2 small to medium red bell peppers (14 ounces)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 cup Basic Cider Mayo (see recipe below)

1 3/4 tablespoons finely grated red onion

1 tablespoon finely ground toasted black pepper

3/4 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon vinegary hot sauce, like Tabasco

1 tablespoon tomatoey hot sauce, like Texas Pete

20 ounces three-year-aged cheddar, finely grated, like Hook’s, from Wisconsin

15 ounces sharp white cheddar, finely grated

Crostini, for serving

To roast the peppers, place them directly over a high gas flame. Using metal tongs to safely rotate the peppers, char the entire surface of each pepper. My final step in this process is to balance the pepper on its curvy stem end on the grate of the burner to char that part. This insures the best yield. (If you don’t have a gas range, roast the peppers under an oven broiler set on high, rotate them with metal tongs so they char evenly.)

Transfer the peppers to a metal bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 15 minutes. Use a dish towel to gently rub off the skins of the peppers; don’t run them under water, as this will wash away some of the flavor. Remove the stems and seeds, and finely dice the peppers. You should have about 3⁄4 cup.

In a small bowl, combine the diced peppers and cider vinegar to pickle the peppers; refrigerate overnight.

The next day, combine the peppers and their vinegar with the mayo, onion, pepper, salt, and both hot sauces in a large bowl; mix well. Combine the cheeses in a separate bowl and mix well. Add the pepper mixture to the cheese and mix to combine. Let the mixture chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour before serving; it should be thick but still spreadable.

Serve with crostini, or jar it up and refrigerate it for up to 7 days.

Yield: About 6 1/2 cups or 18 servings.

Basic Cider Mayo

From “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner,” by AshleyChristensen, (Ten Speed Press, 2016.)

1 large egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups neutral vegetable oil

In a food processor, puree the egg yolk, salt, mustard and vinegar. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until thick and emulsified. Store in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

Yield: about 1 1/2 cups

Party Magnet

From “Deep Run Roots,” by Vivian Howard (Little Brown, 2016). She suggests skipping fancy crackers with this flavorful cheese ball. “Sea salt or plain Jane is the way to go here, possibly everywhere.”

1/4 cup high-quality blue cheese, such as Maytag

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup fresh goat cheese

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream cheese

1/4 cup chopped dates (see note)

2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions (both white and green parts)

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup salted, roasted pecans

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Take the blue cheese, butter, goat cheese and cream cheese out of the refrigerator to soften 10 minutes before making your cheese-ball mixture.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the ingredients except for the pecans and parsley. Paddle it up until homogenous. It will be loose and sticky and you’ll wonder how you’re ever going to form that mess into a ball. The answer is, you transfer the bowl to the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so. During that time, the cheese will firm up enough for you to pat it into a sphere. Once it’s stiff enough to hold up, form the ball and roll that ball in the pecans, followed by parsley.

(Howard serves it with Curried Peach Preserves, Whole-Fruit Fig and Lemon Preserves or Apple Chips from the books.)

Note: Don’t use pre-chopped, sugar-coated dates from a bag. Use whole, dried dates and remove the pits.

Yield: 1 large cheese ball or 2 small ones.

Grilled Spice Rubbed Hanger Steak

From “Curate: Authentic Spanish Food From An American Kitchen,” by Katie Button (Flatiron Books, 2016).

1 tablespoon pimenton (sweet, smoked paprika)

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground cayenne

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds hanger steak

Prepare a charcoal grill for direct cooking over medium heat with the top and bottom vents wide open. While the grill heats, let steak stand at room temperature.

Stir the pimenton, cocoa powder, cumin, allspice, cinnamon and cayenne in a small bowl until well-mixed. Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons salt all over the steak, then season with pepper. Rub the spice mixture all over the steak to evenly coat.

Put the steak on the grate over the medium-hot coals and cover. Grill until the bottom is browned and release easily from the grate, about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the steak, cover, and cook until the other side is browned, about 4 to 5 minutes more. I like my steak medium-rare. When I press it, it as the same resistance as when I press the skin between my thumb and index finger when I open my palm.

Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice against the grain and serve with any accumulated juices.

Yield: 4 servings.

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