Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stop the 'Madness': A Tar Heel's View of NCAA Tournament Expansion

March Madness. As a North Carolina native-Tar Heel born and bred-I live for this month and the first week of April. From the conference tournaments to Selection Sunday to the Final Four, I've spent my whole life glued to the television during this time of year. I remember countless times watching games during class from elementary through high school (in North Carolina they mine as well cancel school during the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament because all anyone does is watch the games).

Last April, my greatest dream as a Carolina basketball fan came true as North Carolina won the NCAA National Championship in my senior year at UNC. Best memory ever of spending an entire afternoon waiting in line at a bar followed by hours of waiting (and drinking) in the bar for the game to start then the 2 fleeting hours of gametime culminating in a mad rush to Franklin Street to celebrate by chanting and jumping bonfires.

Fast forward about a year later. Carolina is a dismal 16-14, 5-10 in the ACC going into the final regular season game (against Duke- #4 in the country). Carolina will not make the tournament that they breezed through last year. They will barely make the National Invitational Tournament (NIT- or the "Not Invited Tournament" as I used to taunt my NC State fan friends when their team frequently participated). This season makes it interesting that next year the NCAA is strongly considering expanding the tournament from 65 to 96 teams. A lot of people (including me) think this is a horrible idea. A number 16 seed has never beaten a number 1 seed in the tournament.

So what's the point in adding 31 additional teams who have even less of a chance of winning? Would people actually watch these teams suffer through games against teams that are far better than them? Wouldn't these players rather just have a chance of playing more games and possibly winning the NIT? Won't an extra game for mid-seeded teams simply make them more tired and less likely to beat a higher seeded team? Who really wants to fill in their brackets with an extra 31 teams that they've never heard of?

The answers to these questions don't matter though. It's all about the money. More teams=more games=more viewers=more advertisements=more revenue. And that's what matters to ESPN and CBS and the key decision-makers for this dilemma.

The NCAA tournament should be an exclusive event. It's about bragging rights and competition and the belief that nearly any team that participates can win games (surely one day a 16 seed will win a game). Yes, there is a good chance that Carolina would make the NCAA tournament this year if there were 96 teams, but to me, our team would not be deserving of being a tournament team with its performance this year. If all the ACC teams were to make the tournament (which would be likely most years),there would be no one to chant "you weren't invitedddd!" to (as many Duke fans will say to Carolina fans this year). Where's the fun in that?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Summer Calling

Now that the temperature has forced its way up to 50 degrees (for one day anyway) and grass is visible again, my mind has drifted toward spring and summer. I'm overlooking the snow showers in the forecast. Warm weather in D.C. means cherry blossoms, trips to Eastern Market, festivals, outdoor dining, lots and lots of tourists, and Screen on the Green. But SOTG is possibly in jeopardy for the second year in a row as We Love DC reports. HBO has not set its budget and without HBO there may not be a sponsor. SOTG is quite possibly my favorite thing to do in D.C. Hundreds of 20somethings and some older DCers stake their claim to spaces on the National Mall, spreading out their blankets, food and those obnoxious lawn chairs (do you really think the people behind you can see?)to watch a film classic on a giant screen with the Capitol Building framing the background.

It's not about the movie though. It's about the people, and the Trader Joe's wine and beer poured into Solo cups, and the card games you play as you wait. It's people watching and sunset watching. It's being young in D.C. and having no better way to spend a Monday evening. So save Screen on the Green. Or you'll find me lying on the Mall on Mondays with a bottle of wine, a Solo cup, and my laptop playing Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Savannah Continued

Before we left for Savannah, I had made reservations at Elizabeth on 37 after reading at several sources that it was one of the best places to dine in the city. Housed in an early 20th century mansion away from the main touristy section of the city, Elizabeth has been recognized as one of the top restaurants in America and is a James Beard Award winner. Although a little more upscale (and in turn, more expensive) than we usually go for, we splurged since it was our only dinner in Savannah (and basically our Valentine's dinner).

We did decide to save some money and calories by sharing an appetizer and entree. We ordered the Vidalia onion soup (a special of the night) and the pork chop served with brussel sprout hash and five-cheese macaroni. The soup was pureed with Vidalia onions and fennel with two pieces of shrimp and pieces of fried onions. It was smooth and tasty especially when bites were mixed with the crunchiness of the fried onions. I was not a huge fan of the shrimp mixed with the soup, but my boyfriend enjoyed it. After soup, we were served small mixed green salads with fresh goat cheese.

The pork chop was juicy and flavorful especially with the au jous. The brussel sprouts were mixed with bits of bacon, which helped the somewhat bland flavor of the sprouts. I have to say that I think this was the first time I've ever eaten brussel sprouts. They weren't bad, but it's probably not something I would order on a regular basis. Macaroni and cheese is probably my favorite comfort food, and the five-cheese macaroni did not disappoint. I could not tell you what the five cheeses were, but it was creamy and flavorful. There were also pieces of squash mixed in.

Although Elizabeth may be a little stuffy(part of which I will attribute as eating at an early time when the restaurant is not full of tables of conversations) and the restaurant was a little chilly (granted it was about 30 degrees colder outside than Savannah normally ever is), it was a great meal and experience. Our service was consistent and one of my major compliments to the restaurant is that they completely divided our meal into two bowls and plates, so that to other diners it didn't look like we were sharing a meal. Our portions were large and very satisfying considering we ordered only one entree and appetizer.

This was obviously my first time at Elizabeth on 37th but I noticed that many of its awards and honors were from years ago when its original chef was still there. I think it's probably lost a little bit of its "umpf" since Chef Elizabeth Terry retired in 1996, but still a great place to eat.

Southbound to Savannah

Several weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to plan a Valentine's weekend trip. With all the snow in D.C. this winter we wanted to go south. His choice was Charleston, S.C., and although I love Charleston, I've been there several times in the past few years and wanted to go somewhere new. Savannah, G.A., was only an hour further away (yes, we took a 10 hour road trip), and a place neither of us had every been. I took Friday off of work (I mean, what's one more day when you've already missed the rest of the week due to snow?) and after spending Thursday night with my boyfriend's friend in N.C., we arrived in Savannah around 10:30 a.m. Friday morning. With cold rain and snow due in the city by the afternoon, we spent the morning walking around the city and exploring Savannah's 22 squares, which are like small parks, before heading to City Market for lunch. We settled on the first menu we looked at (partly because it looked good and partly because the rain had started to come down). Belford's Savannah was our choice.

Belford's is the perfect example of the prominence of history to the city of Savannah. The building was completed in 1902 for Savannah's Hebrew Congregation and was later sold in 1913 to W.T. Belford whose family converted the structure to a food wholesale company. The walls of the restaurant are adorned with photographs from the wholesale company's and City Market's heyday. As a restaurant Belford's has won many awards and welcomed celebrities including Clint Eastwood, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. You can read more about Belford's history on their web site.

We started our meal with fried green tomatoes served with roasted corn salsa and a remoulade sauce. Although the menu calls the remoulade sauce "spicy," I did not find it as such. The batter of the tomatoes was maybe a little underdone for my taste, but overall it was a good start to the meal. For our main entrees I ordered the shrimp po' boy with fresh fruit, and my boyfriend ordered the blackened Cajun chicken sandwich with Savannah red rice. The po' boy was satisfying with flaky, breaded shrimp cooked well, if not a little dry (which could be attributed to the fact that I don't like tarter sauce and didn't use mayo). My fruit tasted fresh considering the season, and it was refreshing to not have to pay extra for a side of fruit as I've come to expect. The chicken sandwich was "tasty" in my boyfriend's words, even though the piece of chicken was a little thin.

Our service at Belford's was great but expected as there were only a couple of other occupied tables when we were there. Our waiter Michael was friendly and helpful with our tourist questions and brought extra remoulade sauce without our request. The kitchen was open to the seating area of the restaurant, and the cook even spoke with a family when they entered the restaurant, giving it a very casual and inviting feeling. Overall, it was a great meal to start our trip.

More photos and details of Savannah to come...

Monday, February 15, 2010


When I wrote the previous blog post, I imagined the next Monday morning at work, I would write Snowmaggedon Part II: ______(insert appropriate baking-related subtitle here). Well, 10 days and about four feet of snow later, a blog post about everything I cooked and baked while crippled by the snow storm would be long and boring considering the food my dwindling provisions forced me to cook. The weekend did start with several delicious meals and snacks including baked potato soup, chocolate peanut butter cookies, Chex mix, as well as the muffulettas and BBQ shrimp for a Super Bowl party I braved the sidewalks and metro to get to. As the workless days and snow mounted, my meals got more creative and maybe not so delicious, interspersed with trips to Z-Burger (a local burger joint) for $1 Snowburgers on the days when new snow fell. My homecooked meals after about two days were so unmemorable that I can't even tell you what I ate for the next several days until I was able to escape D.C. for a trip to Savannah. More on my snowy trip to Savannah to come (yes, it did snow in Savannah).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snowmageddon Part 1: The Grocery Store Rush

I thought it was a "North Carolina thing." As soon as the mention of snow or frozen precipitation creeps into the forecast, parents and kids across the state rush to the local grocery store to stock up on the essentials- milk, bottled water, tp, eggs, bread and beer. I learned yesterday that this is apparently a D.C. thing too. I made it to the Van Ness Giant by about 3:30 p.m. thinking I would beat much of the rush. I was wrong. I snagged the last grocery cart in sight and embarked on a mission to navigate the tiny aisles packed with fellow shoppers trying to beat the after-work madness.

Yes, I made it out alive with everything on my list, including beer, wine and ingredients for my Super Bowl recipes. But I did realize that D.C. is not, in fact, a true northern city (as my northern friends will attest to). Granted, my hometown might enforce a mandatory evacuation if two feet of snow was forecast, but D.C. is apparently not free of snow storm overreaction.

Now it's time to hunker down. Well, when I get off work that is. One difference between D.C. and N.C. is that some offices in D.C. do stay open when a major snow is in the forecast. Sigh.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Super Bowl: NOLA Style

I love the Super Bowl. Yes, it's the one day of the year when I watch NFL football, but who really actually cares about the game aside from the fans of the lucky teams? There's food involved and that's what matters. And the commercials. Each year I do pick a particular team to cheer for- whether it's the team with the cute quarterback (Go Patriots!)or the sentimental underdog (WHO DAT?!). Naturally I'm cheering on the Saints this year since a.)they've never won; b.)they are still feeling the effects of Katrina; and c.)they have amazing food. I also heard firsthand accounts of the city's passion for the team from a good friend who interned in NOLA this past fall.

But back to the food. With D.C. forecast to get at least a foot of snow this weekend, it's the perfect weekend to cook. I haven't exactly invited many friends over to watch the game, but that's not stopping me from planning a small NOLA-themed Super Bowl party. Surprisingly, I haven't found many web sites with NOLA recipes catered specifically to the Super Bowl, but I did find a few.

Here are the recipes I'm planning to make:

Barbequed Shrimp (from Illinois Times)

* 1 1/2 - 2 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined, shells reserved
* 1 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
* 1/2 lb. unsalted butter PLUS 10 T. chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
* 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
* 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
* 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
* 1 tsp. crushed red pepper, or to taste
* 1 T. fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp. dried leaves (do NOT use ground)
* 1 T. fresh thyme, or 1 tsp. dried leaves (do NOT use ground)
* 1/2 tsp dried oregano
* 1 T. minced garlic
* 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
* 1/2 c. beer, at room temperature
* 1/4 c. catsup, preferably Heinz

Add the shrimp shells to the stock in a pan, cover and simmer for one hour. Strain out the shells. Measure 1 c. of the stock and set aside.

Melt the lb. butter in a very large skillet over low heat. If the skillet isn’t big enough to hold the shrimp in one layer, use 2 skillets. It’s important not to crowd the pan. Add the spices, herbs, Worcestershire, and garlic and stir to combine. This may be done ahead of time. Have the remaining ingredients in bowls at hand. Heat the butter/spice mixture over high heat. When hot, add the shrimp and cook for 1-2 minutes (depending on the size of the shrimp), shaking the pan instead of stirring. Add the stock and cook another 2 minutes. Add the beer and catsup and cook a minute longer. Remove from the heat and whisk in the chilled butter a few cubes at a time.
Serves 4-8 as a main course, 12 or more as an appetizer.

Adapted from a recipe in Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.

Muffuletta Sandwiches (from Epicurious)

Olive Salad:

* 1 cup each pitted green and black olives, coarsely chopped
* 1 tablespoon tiny capers
* 1/3 cup diced (1/4 inch) roasted red bell pepper
* 1/4 cup diced (1/4 inch) celery, with leaves
* 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
* 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
* 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* Salt and pepper, to taste


* 1 round peasant bread (about 7 inches in diameter, 5 inches high), halved crosswise, insides pulled out
* 4 ounces each thinly sliced Genoa salami and mortadella (found in the deli section)
* 4 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese

Beignets (from Food Network)


* 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
* 1/2 cup granulated sugar
* 1 envelope active dry yeast
* 2 eggs, slightly beaten
* 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
* 1 cup evaporated milk
* 7 cups bread flour
* 1/4 cup shortening
* Nonstick spray
* Oil, for deep-frying
* 3 cups confectioners' sugar


Mix water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, salt and evaporated milk together. Mix egg mixture to the yeast mixture. In a separate bowl, measure out the bread flour. Add 3 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the shortening and continue to stir while adding the remaining flour. Remove dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Put dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

Add the confectioners' sugar to a paper or plastic bag and set aside.

Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into 1-inch squares. Deep-fry, flipping constantly, until they become a golden color. After beignets are fried, drain them for a few seconds on paper towels, and then toss them into the bag of confectioners' sugar. Hold bag closed and shake to coat evenly.

I've never used any of these recipes before, so I'm hoping everything turns out okay! I'll have updates on Monday!