Thursday, December 24, 2009

And to all, a good night

Stockings hung, cookies baked, eggs nogged? If they aren't, it's too late now. And it's probably just fine. Christmas not only will come even if we haven't finished all those things we think we have to do, it also will come again in exactly a year. Time to stop worrying, sit back and enjoy it.

It's that time for me, too. The Food Desk is closing down for a week while I take a vacation. I'll be back in this spot right after New Year's, ready for another year of cooking, basting, debating and pondering.

Happy Christmas to all, and a safe and enjoyable New Year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More on today's Charlotte Regional Farmers Market

Dean Mullis has declared this afternoon "the farmer's market party." He'll be there, along with Rosemary Pete Vinci, Fisher Farms and Grateful Growers. Also, Proffitt Family Farms will be there from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today and Wednesday this week and next week with their grass-fed beef.

If you can get free to go over, remember the regional market is at 1801 Yorkmont Road, between Tyvola and Billy Graham Parkway near the airport.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Markets and monkey wrenches

This past weekend was supposed to be a big one for local food, with the Charlotte Regional Farmers, the Matthews Community Market and the Davidson Market all ready for Christmas dinner shoppers. Most of the markets, including the regional, will be closed Dec. 26, so Saturday was your chance to stock up for Christmas and New Year's meals.

Then the nasty weather hit, and the email alerts trickled in: Dean Mullis of Laughing Owl couldn't pick collards in the downpour. Grateful Growers got snowed in on their farm in Denver. Donnie Cline of New Beginning Farm in Lincoln County picked his greens and parsnips Thursday before the rain, but he almost got snowed in. He somehow made it off the farm -- I suspect dog sled -- and arrived at the regional market just a little late Saturday morning with snow still clinging to the roof of his van.

If you're still hoping to stock up for Christmas and New Year's meals, the regional market is open Tuesday-Thursday, and some Saturday regulars are planning to make the trip. Grateful Growers will be in their regular spot from 1-5 p.m. Tuesday. They're also coming out tonight for Matthews and Davidson customers who missed them: Tonight from 4-7 p.m. at Renfrow's Hardware in Matthews and in the parking lot of the Healthy Home Market in Davidson (on the right before you get to Main Street).

"Rosemary Pete" Vinci will be at the regional market 1-5 p.m. Tuesday with Grateful Growers, and 10 a.m.-2 Wednesday with Secret Chocolatier.

If I get more updates, I'll post them. I still haven't heard from Dean Mullis. He must still be sleeping in.

This just in at 5 p.m. Monday: Fisher Farms also will be at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Tuesday from 1-5 p.m., with tomato sauce, collards and several kinds of kale. Pass it on.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's Southern, cookie?

Working my way through my own stash of Christmas cookies this year -- bite-size cinnamon pecan shortbread, peppermint puffs, roll-out cookies with royal icing and a cashew-chocolate creation I haven't gotten to yet -- I started pondering whether there are Southern Christmas cookies.

So many choices of Christmas cookies reflect heritage. If your grandmother was Scandinavian or Greek or Mexican, your got-to-have Christmas cookie probably is too. And in the usual Southern way of thinking of things, if you are Southern, any cookie you make (or your mother made, or your grandmother made) is, by extension, Southern.

But are there Christmas cookies that really only show up in the South? I think of my grandmother's tea cake recipe as being thoroughly Southern, and yet I never make it at Christmas. It's too simple, too stripped-down, to hold its own on a platter with chocolate this and peppermint that.

There are certainly Southern cakes and Southern pies. But the only Southern cookie I could think of is the pecan tassie, which is really just a miniature version of a pecan pie. I'll put a recipe for that one below, just in case you need one more batch of something to bake on what promises to be a great holiday-baking weekend.

While you're baking, think it over and send me your nomination for a truly Southern Christmas cookie.

Pecan Tassies

From Cooking Light

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash of salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons skim milk
Cooking spray
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar and dash of salt in a small bowl. Combine cream cheese, butter, and milk in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until blended (mixture will be crumbly). Press flour mixture into a ball.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 3 to 4 times. Divide dough into 24 portions. Place 1 dough portion into each of 24 miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Press dough into bottom and up sides of cups, using lightly floured fingers.

Divide pecans evenly among dough-lined muffin cups. Combine brown sugar and remaining ingredients; spoon about 2 teaspoons over pecans in each muffin cup.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned and filling is puffy. Cool in cups for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around outside edge of each tassie; remove from pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Giveaway Winner: Who gets the Julia Child DVD?

Debbie from Mount Pleasant is the winner of the DVD of Julia Child's 1985 cooking show "The Way to Cook." Debbie, send your mailing address to me at and I'll send it your way.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Giveaway: The real Julia

Are you giving someone the DVD of the movie "Julie & Julia" for Christmas? (If you have anyone who likes food, joy, fun and/or literacy on your gift list, that one's a no-brainer). And I have the perfect thing to go with it:

The newly released DVD collection of Child's 1985 TV series, "The Way to Cook." Personally, I rank the book version of "The Way to Cook" as second only to her original "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1" as one of my favorite all-time cookbooks. It was Child at the top of her game and the height of her career.

I have a copy of the DVD, ready to give away.

Here are the rules: Post a comment to get in the drawing for the DVD. If you sign in as anonymous, add something to the comment that will let me identify you. Deadline is 9 a.m. Wednesday, so I can get it in the mail to you before Christmas. Winner will be announced later that morning.

And one more special rule: Please, please, please promise you'll remember that her name was Julia Child. Not Childs. Child.

Talking local on WFAE

Can you make an entire meal with local food? "Charlotte Talks" will have a group of us talking about it Tuesday. Guests will be myself; chef Chris Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham and author of the new "Hot & Hot Fish Club Cookbook"; Susan Dosier, who represents N.C. travel and tourism; and hosts Peter Reinhart and Mike Collins.

Any questions I can think about in advance, so I don't end up staring at the microphone like a deer in the headlights?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Matthews market in winter

The first weekend of the Matthews Community Farmers Market's winter hours actually did feel like winter: Cold and drizzly, but still plenty of food to be had.

My tally: From the Koenigsbergs' stand: Green onions, carrots, Easter egg radishes, broccoli and something that looked like very dark broccoli that Sammy K. said was supposed to be cauliflower but they actually aren't sure what it is. Lettuce from Tega Hills. Eggs and black kale from Laughing Owl. Crusty sesame-seed bread from Down Home. A bag of pecans. And a pork shoulder roast and a package of thinly sliced smoked ham from Grateful Growers.
And there was plenty more I could have bought if my wallet wasn't empty and my bags full:
Swiss chard, oyster mushrooms, beets, turnips, cabbages, microgreens, Baucom's Best beef, and Bosky Acres goat cheese.
Who says there is no fresh, local food in winter?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Car food: Gas-station chicken edition

Some people keep tire jacks and emergency flairs. I stock my car with fork-and-napkin packets from takeout places. I usually have 5 or 10 stuffed into the pocket of my driver's side door.

In nice weather, I might perch on the hood. But mostly, I end up with food spread across my ample lap or on the passenger seat. I've stopped apologizing for the feed stains on my shirts. I don't think I own any item of clothing that hasn't been annointed with something.

For this edition, I had to spread out on my lap because Tom Hanchett, learned curator of a perfectly legitimate museum, the Levine Museum of the New South, had accepted the invitation Friday when I called with the magic words: Shell Station.

Tom and I both were at a Story Slam reading in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago when poet John Hartness threw out a provocative claim: "The best fried chicken in Charlotte is at the Shell station at Eastway and Shamrock." Stick to your iambic pentameter and line scans, buster. You're making claims about gas station fried chicken and that's my business.

I had to wait for Thanksgiving to get out of the way, but I was ready at the first open lunch hour. Yes, the Shell station does indeed have fine fried chicken. You can pick between spicy (kind of red in color) and plain. Huge drumsticks. Excellent crust. Meaty thighs.

Sides include things like nicely cooked lima beans and cheese-saucy mac & cheese. I sampled a couple of Buffalo wings, which were slightly disappointing -- decent crust and chewiness, but no heat.

So I will offer up the Eastway Shell station in two categories: Best gas-station fried chicken, and almost certainly best late-night fried chicken. I can't personally vouch for that last one, not being a late-night kind of girl anymore, but my youth isn't so far gone that I don't have a feeling for things like that. If I were out bar-crawling, I would be happy stopping there to gnaw a thigh as insurance against a hangover.

What do you think? Care to offer up your own nomination for best gas-station fried chicken in Charlotte and the immediate vicinity?

Food Q&A: turkey, deviled eggs and mushy swordfish

Questions I've gotten lately, with my best attempt at an answer:

Q: How long can you leave cooked turkey on the bone? Modesto, Ca.

A: No more than a day or two. But it keeps better and it's a lot easier to handle if you strip the turkey shortly after the big meal. Break it down into white meat and dark meat, then bag it or wrap it up. That way, you can have the carcass ready to go into the stock pot and the meat doesn't get all dried out from going in and out of the refrigerator.

Remember that the two-hour rule for cooked foods is cumulative. Meaning, every time the cooked turkey is at room temperature, the clock is running. So, you roast it, you let it sit for 30 minutes before you carve it, you have it sitting on the table for an hour, and then you really only have 30 minutes left of that two hours. So it's safer and more efficient to carve all the meat off after dinner so it's ready to go.

I make four bags, two white and two dark. One of each goes in the refrigerator to use within four days of cooking the turkey. The others go in my freezer, for use later. This year, I got even more efficient and broke down the bags destined for the freezer into several bags, each with about 2 cups of chopped turkey. All I have to do is pull out a bag and I'm halfway to dinner to turkey hash, tettrazini or turkey and wild rice soup.

Q: How long can deviled eggs be left sitting out and not be risky to eat? Missouri.

A: Two hours, Missouri. One hour in summer or in hot conditions like out on a picnic table.

Q: I was at a restaurant and had mushy swordfish. What would cause this? Bath, PA.

A: It could have been frozen swordfish that wasn't frozen properly. Many things that are frozen have a softer texture after thawing, but flash-freezing right on the boat usually minimizes that problem with fish. But if the fish is mishandled -- say, it's frozen, thawed and then refrozen -- it could get mushy.

Another possibility is that it might not have been swordfish. There have been a lot of studies on the problem of fish that isn't what the label or menu says it is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Shh -- Jane Parker news

There are no food fans more fanatical than Jane Parker fruitcake fans. Believe me. Several years, I foolishly wrote a column about Jane Parker fruitcakes and for years after that, I became the nation's clearinghouse of Jane Parker information. Trust me -- Jane Park lust is a different kind of fruitcake entirely.

Knowing that, I'm just going to tip-toe in and quietly toss this out:

AP has made it easier to order the fruitcakes. No secret 800 numbers passed by coded message, no tapping out a code on a certain door in a particular dark alley.

Just a simple Web site: . If you live in the Northeast or you're planning a visit from Connecticut to Washington, you also can buy them at A&P, Waldbaum's, Food Emporium, SuperFresh and Parthmark.

Online, prices run from $20.49 to $35.49 and they're available in light or dark, loaf or ring, traditional box or holiday tin.
There you go. If it isn't Christmas without a Jane, you know what to do.

Yes, it's gingerbread, and more

When candy swans are swimming on candy ponds surrounded by wee candy mushrooms, either I'm having one of those dreams again, or it's gingerbread house contest time.

Thank heavens it's just a gingerbread contest, the second one I've judged in three weeks. This time, it was the annual Gingerbread Lane display at the Ballantyne Hotel. Fourteen houses, two professional and 12 amateur, plus others that were created by hotel staff. There was a gingerbread Alamo with a snowmen fight, a gingerbread version of Paris with Eiffel Tower, and a four-story gingerbread castle.

The view above, of that candy swan a'swimming, was from the lawn of the entry "First Snow" by Mary Winecoff. It won first place in the amateur division, with second place going to Nancy Woods and third place to Natasha Fairchild DeMaio and Regina Fairchild. In the professional spots, Cake Lady Jill won first place for her castle and Cake Expressions by Lisa won second for"Christmas in Paris."

The houses are on display until Dec. 26, and you can vote for the people's choice award by making a donation ($1 or up) to the Levine Children's Hospital. The houses are on display in the halls around the Gallery restaurant, and you can just stroll in and look. The hotel is at 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

In the meantime, there are plenty of others events going on, too. Let's catch up:

  • For all you Victorian tea fans, the Woman's Club of Rock Hill is holding them at the historic Armstrong-Mauldin House, 607 Aiken Ave., Rock Hill. Dates: 3 p.m. Dec. 3, 1 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5 p.m. Dec. 6. Includes an English tea of savories and sweets, carolers and servers in Victorian attire. Reservations are required. Call 803-328-8888.
  • The wine from Spain is at Las Ramblas, for a tasting of Eric Solomon Selections. Solomon is the master of bringing us great wine from Spain, so this would be high on my list. It's $20 per person and they'll be pouring samples from nine wines, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 14, at Las Ramblas, 2400 Park Road. Reservations: email
  • The Matthews Community Farmers Market goes into winter mode with the first winter market of the season this Saturday (that would be Dec. 5, from 8 to 10 a.m., and remember that it's every other week after that).

That's all for now. And remember, when you're walking in a winter wonderland, don't step on the peppermint cobblestones.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Forget turkey -- worry about chicken

In case you think food editors spend too much time fussing about how to handle chickens and turkeys, this morning's news from Consumer Reports is a timely reminder.

It seems the magazine tested fresh, whole broiler chickens bought in 22 states and found that two-thirds of them showed signs of contamination by salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacteria involved in foodborne illness.

That was a slight improvement over the magazine's results in January 2007, when 8 of 10 broilers showed contamination. But it was still higher than results in 2003 that found 51 percent of chickens were contaminated. Here are the full results:

To do the test, Consumer Reports used an independent lab to check 382 chickens bought from more than 100 supermarkets, gourmet, natural-foods or mass-merchandise stores in 22 states.

  • Among the cleanest -- or bacteria-free -- were air-chilled broilers (60 percent were free of any pathogens).
  • Among brands, Perdue broiler had the lowest rate of contamination (56 percent were free of both pathogens).
  • Tyson and Foster Farms showed the highest rate (less than 20 percent were free of both).
  • Store-brand organic chickens were free of salmonella but only 43 percent were free of campylobacter.

Before you get panicky, remember that bacterial contamination doesn't mean you can't cook the chicken. But it does mean that safe food handling is critical:

  • • Choose chicken that is well wrapped and at the bottom of the case, where the temperature should be coolest. Make chicken one of the last things you put in your cart before heading to the checkout, and don't let it sit in a closed, hot car while you run other errands.
    • Store raw chicken in your refrigerator below 40 degrees for no longer than a couple of days. If you're keeping it longer, freeze it.
    • Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator or in cold water, checking frequently to make sure the water is cold. Never thaw poultry or meat on a counter. When the inside is still frozen, the outside can warm up, providing a breeding ground for bacteria. Cook thawed chicken right away.
    • Cook chicken to at least 165° degrees. Even if it’s no longer pink, it can harbor bacteria, so use a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer to be sure.
    • Beware of cross-contamination. Wash knives and cutting boards with hot, soapy water after handling raw chicken, wipe up spilled juices with a paper towel and discard it, and don’t return cooked meat to the plate that held raw meat.
    • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

Where's your turkey?

I'm back from my Thanksgiving break, and it has been four days since you cooked your turkey on Thanksgiving. You know what that means, right? Tick-tick-tick-tick -- time to move the cooked, sliced turkey from the refrigerator to the freezer. Carcass too, if you're still hanging on to it for soup.

You did remove the stuffing before serving the bird, and you did carve all the meat off the carcass within two hours, correct? Now it's time to package up all those remaining leftovers in freezer containers. (Personally, I like to chop the cooked turkey and bag it in 2-cup amounts, the better to make tettrazini with). Toss it in the freezer and you've got a start on fast dinners for months.

So, what's your favorite way to use leftover turkey?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Have a delicious Thanksgiving

I'll be away from my desk here at Food Central for the week of Nov. 23. It's Thanksgiving, and even food writers need a break. Go to for links to our tips and recipes, an interactive holiday cookbook, a turkey-carving video and advice on gravy.

I hope everyone has a satisying and delicious holiday. Just remember: What's on the table is never as important as who's around it. Break a wishbone for me.

Food Q&A: We get a lot of questions

Here's a roundup of questions I've gotten recently.

Q. What is the best way to freeze pomegranates?
A. It's better to seed them, then freeze the seeds. To get the seeds out without getting splattering your kitchen with enough pomegranate juice to look like "Saw XII," fill a large bowl with water. Cut into one side of the pomegranate with a sharp paring knife. Hold the pomegranate under water and pull it apart. Run your fingers around and through the sections to separate the seeds, which will sink, from the pith, which will float. Scoop off as much of the pith as you can and discard it, then pour the bowl through a sieve to catch the seeds. You can freeze the seeds as-is, or puree them in a blender and strain again to make pomegranate juice.

Q. How do you prevent food from getting soggy in a chafing dish?
A. The simplest solution here is to choose another recipe. Some foods are suitable for holding in a warmed container, while others aren't. Something that is crispy or has a crust is inevitably going to get a little soft. Something that is soft to begin with, such as chicken in a sauce, can be kept warm for serving without a noticable change.

Q. Can you freeze potato or cheese soups with a cream base?
A. Freezing can work, although milk- or cream-based soups can separate when frozen, and potatoes are always tricky. They can darken or take on an off-flavor. If the potato is pureed, not chunky, it should be OK. To get around the separating problem, you could reheat the soup in a double boiler over water and whisk it well to bring it back together.

Q. When making a souffle, is it best to use cold eggs or room-temperature eggs?
A. Room-temperature eggs always beat higher and hold air better than cold eggs. If you don't have time to let them sit at room temperature for a half hour or so, you can place them in a bowl of tepid water to take the chill off.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We have a cookbook winner

Sorry for the delay. We should have had the totally-random cookbook drawing Wednesday. But when that big food holiday called Thanksgiving lands in my life, time gets gobbled. (Ow. Did I really type that?)

Speaking of our Thanksgiving package and books, I hope you've taken a look at the Holiday Cookbook posted at It takes about 1 minute to load, but it's worth the wait. It was a co-production of the Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer, spearheaded by my food-writing colleague, Andrea Weigl, and we're very proud of it. Also, Paul Malcolm's video on turkey-carving is worth reviewing before you have a hot turkey on your hands.

OK, without further ado, the winner of Cooking Light's "Way to Cook": It's Ann from Fort Mill. Ann, do the equivalent of coming on down -- send your mailing address to me at and I'll find a box for this big fat book.

To the rest of you, thanks for playing. The Monday Cookbook Giveaway will take a break next week (as will your food editor -- I'm taking a vacation). It will return when I do, on Nov. 30.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Top Chef' Night: Separated at birth?

I'm finding it hard to watch "Top Chef" this season. I get distracted by the frantic Twittering by my fellow food writers (follow the Twitter tag #topchef and you'll see what I mean -- Joe Yonan of the Washington Post and Jeff Houck of the Tampa Tribune almost came undone over Nigella last week.)

But I also get distracted wondering why Michael Voltaggio looks so familiar. Hmmm. Backwards ball cap, big ears, wideset eyes? Wait! I've got it: He's a ringer for Dwier Brown of "Field of Dreams"! C'mon, Mike - ask your bro Bryan if he wants to have a catch. With sharp knives.

Meanwhile, what has happened 'Top Chef' Jen? She's lost both her cooking chops and her personality. She's started out calm and cool, but now she's RoboChef. Wake up, Jen! No one who works for Eric Ripert ought to get that scattered.

Finally, I'm pulling for the best chef on the show so far: Kevin Gillespie of Atlanta. (No, not Eli. Please, not Eli. He's an Atlantan in name only. Robin might have been annoying, but calling her "grandma" was just so uncool.)

If Kevin wins, it won't only be a victory for manners and cuddleness, it will be vengeance for last year, when Atlanta's Richard Blais was robbed. Do it for the Big Peach, Kevin.

Ready for Thanksgiving?

We're trying some new things this year. Not a new menu -- although we have that. No, this is new technology.

Check our food page, at, and you'll find my story and recipes on side dishes and a story and recipe by my Raleigh colleague Andrea Weigl on how acclaimed Durham chef Ben Barker packs more flavor into his turkey. You'll also find a link to a gorgeous holiday cookbook with all of those recipes, plus more turkey recipes, appetizers, desserts, a step-by-step slide show on making pie crust, and a video starring Johnson & Wales chef instructor Paul Malcolm on how to carve your turkey.

Even if you think you know how to cut up a turkey, Malcolm's video is a must-see. He specializes in meat cutting, and he knows some things about taking a knife to a turkey that are revelations. I've done the carving for years, and I learned tricks I've never seen before.

All of our Thanksgiving action this week is a combined effort between two food staffs, in Raleigh and Charlotte. Some readers have questioned the shared work we're doing with our sister paper, but this is one of those times when it pays off for you. We can do more together than we can do separately, and the holiday cookbook, which was lead by Andrea Weigl with support from me, is a terrific example.

I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish this year, and I hope you have a chance to put some of our new tools to use. Let me know what you think of them.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday Giveaway: See the 'Light'

Ready for another cookbook giveaway? This time, we're offering "Cooking Light Way to Cook: The Complete Visual Guide to Everyday Cooking."

This one is filled with step-by-step photos, plenty of tips and useful stuff. Like most Cooking Light productions, the recipes are sort of healthy and sort of indulgent. Clocking in at almost 500 pages, this would be a great guide for an eager beginner or intermediate cook.

Enter your name in the comments here. Remember, if you're signed in as Anonymous, make sure you include a name we can recognize you by. Deadline is 9 a.m. Wednesday. We'll announce the winner Wednesday afternoon, so make sure you check back here.

Got 'Mad Men'?

I'm suffering "Mad Men" withdrawal this morning -- no dose of Betty, Peggy, Don and Duck to get my week off on a suitably '60s note. (Why did men ever give up those skinny-leg pants?)

If you're suffering from the same malady, this might help. Warning: Some of the content is for adults only. Much like "Mad Men" itself.

Milk Men - A Mad Men Parody

Friday, November 13, 2009

Something to cook: Friday night

The rain has finally pulled out, but it's still looking gray out there. Here's a simple supper that you could do with a quick supermarket stop, adapted from Cooking Light's new book, "Cooking Light: Way to Cook." If you've got milk, bacon and onions at home, you could even use the 10-items-or-less lane:

New England Clam Chowder
4 (6.5-ounce) cans chopped clams, undrained
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
4 strips bacon
1 cup each chopped onion and celery
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups cubed red potato (about 5 or 6 medium)
1/2 teaspoon dried or 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup half-and-half
Drain the clams through a colander over a bowl, saving the liquid. Combine clam liquid and clam juice.
Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain all but 2 teaspoons of the drippings. Crumble bacon and set aside.
Add onion, celery and garlic to pan and saute about 8 minutes. Add clam juice mixure, potato, thyme and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Combine milk and flour, stirring together until smooth. Stir into the soup. Stir in the clams and half-and-half. Cook 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with the bacon.
Makes 8 servings.

My stomach goes traveling: Concord, Cornelius, Davidson

I hit the wet streets Thursday to check out a long list of food places. By the end of the day (and not counting breakfast), here is what I had eaten:

In Concord: Roast pork, black beans and white rice, fried plaintains, a slice of Cuban bread and a pineapple soda at Havana Carolina Grill; the salad sampler plate (chicken, tuna and shrimp salads on a bed of greens with diced tomatoes, carrots, mandarin oranges and house-made blue cheese dressing) and a cup of the hot tea of the day (Blue eyes, a sort of caramel apple-flavor) at Two Leaves & a Bud; a scoop of lemon slice ice cream at Cabarrus Creamery.

In Cornelius: Samples of Italian bread, tomato bread, Stinky Feet aged Parmesan, salami, breaded eggplant, eggplant Serrano (breaded eggplant layered with cheese and proscuitto), almond crescent, raspberry almond crescent and a spoonful of cannoli filling with chocolate chips at Derado's Italian Market.

Davidson: Chocolate-covered ginger, chocolate-covered caramel, a hot chili truffle and chocolate-covered cashews at Davidson Chocolate Co., and a Coffee Toffee cupcake at MJ's Sugar Shack.

I got through all that with help from a McDonald's latte made with nonfat milk. Oh yes, skim milk, please. I need to watch my calorie count.

Dinner? I wish it had been a nap.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Chicken Dinner Circuit

On such a rotten rainy day, I thought we could all use a lift. Mark Falls of Intuition Photography shared this shot from the Poulet Soiree last weekend at the Inn at New Town Farms in Waxhaw.

That's farmer Sammy Koenigsberg on the right in the vest, playing host (or maybe waiter). Joe Bonaparte was the chef for a menu that included chicken liver pate, pork rillettes, and 30 New Town chickens roasted over hickory.

I wasn't able to make it, but I like to think I played a small part. Chef Joe contacted me in advance for advice on how to peel extremely fresh eggs for deviled eggs without tearing them up. (I suggested shaking them in the pot to crack them after cooking and then let them sit for a little while in cold water to help ease off the shells. It apparently worked.)

Cookbook giveaway: Did you win?

You did if your name is Cheri, and you sent the message "Put my name in the (stock) pot." Cheri was drawn at random to get the copy of Sur La Table's new book "Tips Cooks Love."

Cheri, send your mailing address to me at, and I'll put the book in the mail.

Don't forget to check back next Monday, when we'll do another Monday Giveaway.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

See 'Fresh," talk to farmers

The Johnson & Wales Charlotte nutrition club is hosting a showing of the documentary "Fresh" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Hance Auditorium on the JWU campus, 801 W. Trade St. Admission is $5, and the movie will be followed by a panel discussion featuring local farmers.

"Fresh," by Ana Sofia Joanes, is about America's food production system and the movement toward a sustainable food system.

Strange Product of the week: Perky Jerky

America must be feeling a little tired. The latest product to cross my desk is Perky Jerky, "caffeinated beef jerky." It promises to combine "premium quality meat snack with the energy boost equivalent of two cans of energy drink."

The caffeine source is from guarana, a plant that is used in herbal teas and energy drinks. And the meat comes from . . . uh, beef. Peppered beef.
It's available at the Web site,, where a 2-ounce bag is $4.99. It also promises to be in stores nationwide. Soon, very soon.

Don't wash it down with Red Bull. I don't think we could stand that much energy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Full Steam ahead

Sean Wilson of Durham does a lot of interesting things with beer in North Carolina. Besides the ingredients he's using at his Fullsteam Brewery -- picture sweet potato and scuppernong -- he was the co-founder of Pop the Cap, the group that successfully campaigned to to raise the alcohol limit on beer, allowing better craft beers into the state. (Say "thank you, Sean." Thank you, Sean.)

The Web site Serious Eats gives Sean a little attention in this interview, posted today. It's worth a read if you don't know what Fullsteam has been up to -- and even more worth it if you do.

Monday Giveaway: "Tips Cooks Love"

Sur La Table branched out into publishing its own books a couple of years ago with 'Things Cooks Love." The latest installment is a small but handy collection of cooking tips and recipes compiled by Rick Rodgers.

Here's a taste, from the Meat chapter: "There's no need to add oil to the skillet when panfrying steaks or chops. Trim a piece of fat from the perimeter of the meat. As the skillet is heating, grasp the fat with tongs and rub it over the inside of the skillet, creating a thin coating of fat. That will be just enough to keep the meat from sticking."

(And here's an added tip, from me: When you're searing steaks, chops, chicken breast or fish and you want to know whether it has finished browning, nudge it with a pair of tongs or whatever tool you're using. Meat that hasn't finished browning will cling to the pan. Browned meat will "let go," so you'll know it's time to turn it.)

Now, here's something else from me: This week's cookbook giveaway. I've got a copy of "Tips Cooks Love." Add your name here in the comments and we'll announce the winner on Wednesday. If you sign in as Anonymous, remember to give me a name so I can identify you.

Speaking of identifying winners, I'm still waiting to here from Scott Sitton, who won "Simple Fresh Southern," by Matt and Ted Lee, and Michelle in Rock Hill, who won "The Golden Book of Baking." Scott and Michelle, send your mailing addresses to me at My desk needs cleaning off.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Food roundup: Markets to mountains

With the first sunny weekend since mid-September on tap, things are busy in the local food world:

-- I have to miss my farmers market run Saturday (parental duty calls), but you shouldn't. On the last couple of Saturday mornings, I've seen more food than shoppers. Pity -- you're missing fresh mushrooms, a huge variety of apples and winter squashes, greens from dinosaur kale to baby collards, eggs, pork and lots of fresh chicken. Winter hours are starting to kick in -- this is the last Davidson Farmers Market until Nov. 21 -- but the Charlotte Regional on Yorkmont Road, the Matthews Community Market and the Davidson markets are all open tomorrow. Go show the farmers some love (a little cash wouldn't hurt, either).

-- If you're heading to the mountains, Asheville has added an unusual event, The Legendary Inns Gingerbread Tour. It starts this Saturday and runs on weekends until Jan. 2. Four gingerbread artists, including Grove Park gingerbread champions Clifta Davis and Deni Cole, have created gingerbread versions of four bed and breakfast inns. A $30 ticket gets you tours of all four inns and their gingerbread countparts, plus transportation by Gray Line Trolley. Get details and tickets:

-- Speaking of gingerbread, it's contest season. Here's one: the Candy Factory in Lexington holds its 6th annual gingerbread house decorating competition, to benefit Habitat for Humanity. For a $10 entry fee, you get to pick $10 worth of candy to use on your creation. Completed houses have to be delivered for display by Nov. 20. Prizes will be given in three categories (adult, teen and family with children ages 12 and under). Details:

-- Wine fans should make plans to go to EarthFare in SouthPark at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 for the Wednesday Wine Down. $15 gets you a lecture from one of their wine vendors, an hors d'oeuvres tasting, and you get to pick a bottle of wine to take home. You need to reserve a seat; sign up at customer service. While you're there, take a look at the rest of the calendar, which includes a kids' cooking class Nov. 14 and a Grapes & Hops tasting Nov. 17.

-- Southern cooking teacher and author Damon Lee Fowler ("Classical Southern Cooking," among other books) will speak at the Clover Public Library, 107 Knox St., Clover, S.C., at 1 p.m. Nov. 14. Go to for details.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday night supper club

If your refrigerator is starting to get empty and the week is wearing you out, you could use a simple meal from stuff you probably have on hand.

I'm not a fan of Rachael Ray's too-cute lingo -- all that "yummo" leaves me yawn-o -- but her recipes are simple with solid flavors. I found this one in her newest book, "Rachael Ray's Book of 10" (Clarkson Potter, $20) and liked it because it's so adaptable. You could change the pasta, swap Canadian bacon for almost anything (bacon, proscuitto, slices of chicken sausage) or skip the meat all together, and trade out the Parmesan for any grated white cheese, such as part-skim mozzerella. Even the flat-leaf parsley is skippable.

Walnuts, Ham and Cheese
1 pound bow-tie pasta
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
10 slices Canadian bacon or breakfast ham, cut into thin strips
2 large cloves garlic,. chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup freshly flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a little salt and the pasta. Cook according to package directions, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn't stick. Set aside 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and set aside.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the walnuts and toast them for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Return the skillet to the heat and add the olive oil and the Canadian bacon, cooked 3 to 5 minutes or until it just starts to brown. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook until reduced by half. Add the drained pasta, toasted walnuts, lemon juice and parsley, tossing to coat the noodles with all the ingredients. Cook a couple of minutes, until the pasta has soaked up almost all the liquid.

Remove from heat, add the butter and grated cheese and toss until the butter is melted. Serve with extra grated cheese on the side.

"Lee Brothers" book giveaway: We have a winner

Congratulations to Scott Sitton, who wins a copy of "Simple, Fresh, Southern" by Matt and Tedd Lee. Scott, send your mailing address to me at (don't post it here, for all the Web to see) and I'll put the book in the mail for you.

I'm still waiting to hear from mpierce, Michelle in Rock Hill, who was the winner of "The Golden Book of Baking." Michelle, same drill: send your mailing address to me at and I'll send you the book.

Thanks for playing, and for all the enthusiastic entries. In case you're wondering how we pick winners, I number the entries as they come in, then use the Web site to generate the winning number.

Check back on Monday, when we'll give away a small book packed with tons of information that would make a great Christmas gift for a cook.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tortilla dream

I sent a few friends a wonderful bit of food writing from LA Weekly writer Jonathan Gold's piece "What's a Burrito: A Primer" (here, if you want to read it:

It prompted co-worker Rochelle Reynoldson to send her own message back. It was such a lovely piece of food writing that I had to share. Reynoldson was a Specialist (E-4) in the U.S. Army, serving with a Huey unit based out of Ft. Campbell, KY., during the Persian Gulf War. Sadly, she's leaving the Observer soon to go back to school, so consider this my tribute to her:

"They weren't burritos, but. . . one of fondest memories I have during the ground war (Desert Storm) is of my Navajo buddy making tortillas for us all from scratch.

"We had stumbled upon a little mud 'ville one day on a supply run and were able to procure certain foodstuffs from their little market (flour, butter, eggs, potatoes, onions). Those ingredients were like gold to us. Being out in the middle of the desert, we had not seen real food in God knows how long.

"That evening, as we huddled around the Coleman heater, passing around a two-day-old newspaper and listening to Bob Marley, James whipped up the mixture and fried tortillas w/butter for us all. It was amazing, she cooked them on half of a tin mess kit on top of the Coleman. I have never tasted anything so divine.

" 'No Woman No Cry' will always remind me of that. The simplest joys."

Seen at JWU: This little piggie

I had gone by Johnson & Wales Charlotte recently to have lunch with culinary dean Mark Allison when we walked through a display of work by the garde manger class.
For those who don't speak Escoffier brigade, garde manger is cold food preparation, including all those fancy noshes you see on passed hors d'ouevre trays. (You say it "gar' mahn-ZHAY," but don't ask me why the d and the r are silent. I just do as I'm told.)

The platters were coated in clear gelatin and carefully arranged with pate slices, force meat fillings, mousse swirls and crackers topped with deliciousness. After displaying it all, the students were set loose to eat it. And while lunch in the dining room was lovely as always, I would rather have been out with the kids, grazing from the platters.

I admired all the platters as expected of a guest (an experience that makes me feel like Princess Margaret inspecting the troops -- "And did one use a pastry tip? Oh, how veddy clever").
But my favorite touch with this carefully applied garnish. My guess is that it was paprika. The platter, of course, featured all pork products. Livermush should grow up to look that nice.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Roundup from wide world of food

What's crossed my computer screen so far this morning:

-- A really sad set of pictures documents the final days at Gourmet:

-- Grateful Growers' Harvest Moon Grill food truck will be back uptown at lunch today (Tuesday) and Thursday. The menu includes pastrami and Swiss sammie, a charcuterie sandwich with mortadella, soppresatta, proscuitto and fresh mozz from Revolution Pizza. And new to the truck: Uncle Scott's Root Beer, made in Mooresville. Look for the orange truck in Bank of America Plaza on Tryon, but closer to the 4th Street side.

-- And speaking of sodas, Jones Sodas is continuing its tradition of releasing strange Thanksgiving flavors with Tofurky and Gravy Soda. Why yes, it's 100% vegan.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday Giveaway: It's the Lees, Peanut

Ever since Matt and Ted Lee stitched up a brown paper catalog on an old sewing machine and went into business selling mail-order boiled peanuts, they've been attracting attention. These days, they divide their time between Charleston and New York, while they write books that combine simple techniques with classic Southern ingredients.

They're still attracting attention, and they'll have plenty of chances in Charlotte this fall. They're making three stops here with their new book, "The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern," a collection of recipes such as Shrimp Pate and Sweet Potato and Okra Fritters.

Their schedule here:

Noon to 2 p.m. Friday, they'll do a cooking demonstration and sign books at Williams-Sonoma, 6401 Morrison Blvd.

3 p.m. Nov. 22, they'll sign books at a fundraiser at Park Road Books at Park Road Shopping Center. Proceeds will go to the Women's National Book Association and First Book, which gets new books to kids who need them. The store also will serve samples of the Lee Brothers' recipes.

7 p.m. Dec. 10, the brothers will speak about their food writing careers at Friends of the Library at Queens University, in Sykes Auditorium, 1900 Selwyn Ave. (I've heard them speak several times, so I'm sure this will be fun. Picture a cross between Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Ira Glass.) Reservations are required, and Park Road Books will sell books there, too. Call 704-607-6548.

OK, now you know whens and wheres, here's your chance at the what: I have a copy of the new book to give away. Post your name here in the comments (if you sign in as anonymous, give me a name you'll recognize if I pick your entry at random.) Deadline is 9 a.m. Thursday. We'll announce the winner later that day, so don't forget to check back.

Clucking about farmers markets

So why do I drag myself out of bed on a drizzly, gray Saturday morning to head to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market? Sure, there are the fresh mushrooms, the last of the tomatoes, the fresh lettuces and the apples-that-taste-like apples.

But the real reason is the chance to see stuff like this: Young Maple May Cookson in her chicken costume on Halloween morning.
That's her mom, Holly, holding her in front of the sign for the Cooksons' Red Dirt Ranch in Ellenboro.
Maple sweetie, when you can walk, we'll have to teach you to do the Chicken Dance.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Get Excited, Tim Tam Cookie Fans

I heard from people who practically had conniptions after the Australian cookies made a brief appearance at Target last year and then were whisked back Down Under. Now, they can relax. Pepperidge Farm is bringing them back.

This time, the chocolate creme and caramel versions will be available nationwide through March, while the dark chocolate version will only be sold at Target. Suggested price is $3.39.

Pepperidge Farm says the appearance of Tim Tams between October and March will be a yearly thing from now on. So consider it a little something to tide you over before the annual return of Cadbury eggs.

Cook Giveaway: We have a winner

Mpierce -- Michelle of Rock Hill -- you're the winner of "The Golden Book of Baking." Contact me at with your mailing address and I'll send you the book.

And thanks to all of you for playing. Check back on Monday, when we'll have a new book up for grabs.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Giveaway: Golden Book of Baking

The title reminds me a Little Golden Book, but "The Golden Book of Baking" from Barron's is anything but little. It claims to have more 300 recipes, and I believe them. With gold-edged pages and a page-marker ribbon, it is an impressive collection.

This is a book for people who really love to bake: It doesn't have many tips or how-tos. What it has is recipes -- lots of recipes, for cookies, bars, brownies, small cakes, butter cakes, layer cakes, pies, pastries and yeast cakes. It also has a picture with each recipe.

OK, so how do you try for a copy? Post your name here in the comments section. Don't post your mailing address or personal e-mail, but if your sign-in is "Anonymous," you have to give me a name I can use to single you out. Deadline is Wednesday at noon. A winner will be chosen at random and announced Thursday morning.

A full food calendar in Charlotte this week

It's never too early to plan. Check your calendar for a few of these:

  • Day of the Dead Festival, noon-4 p.m. Nov. 1 (that's Sunday) at the Levine Museum of the New South. Dia de los Muertos will include sugar skulls, dead bread and the traditional trappings. Museum admission is free all that day.
  • 4th Annual New South Barbecue Bus Tour, 6 p.m. Nov. 6 and 11 a.m. Nov. 7. Levine Museum curator Tom Hanchett believes today's barbecue traditions are coming from Charlotte newcomers. He'll build his case by taking you to try Vietnamese barbecue, Salvadoran pupusas, Caribbean jerk and Mexican barbacoa. $30 for museum members, $35 for nonmembers. Reservations fill up fast. Call 704-333-1887 or e-mail
  • The Poulet Soiree at the Inn at New Town Farms, 3 p.m. Nov. 7 in Waxhaw, will feature an outdoor feast of French Red Bro chickens pasture-raised by Sammy Koenigsberg and cooked by Art Institute chef Joe Bonaparte. (Poulet Soiree -- don't you think that calls for a performance of the chicken dance?) Tickets are $45, reservations required. Get details and directions by e-mailing
  • Lee Brothers in the house! Matt and Ted Lee of Charleston and New York will sign books and do a cooking demo from their new book,, "The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern," at noon Nov. 6 (that's a Friday) at Williams-Sonoma, 6401 Morrison Blvd. I've seen the book and I know the brothers well, and I have to say nobody has a fresh outlook on Southern food quite like the Bros. They'll also be back in the area Dec. 10 for an event with Friends of the Library at Queens.
  • Learn how to make paella and tres leche cake with chef Bill Bigham at Paula Gillman & Co.,, 295 Herlong Ave., Rock Hill. The class is $65, at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29 (Thursday). Call 803-329-4567 for a reservation.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's your question? Persimmons, churros and more

Questions from our farflung readers:

Q. What countries are able to grow persimmon trees? Brittney, Indiana.

A. Well, Indiana isn't a country, but I know it's one of the nation's leaders in growing persimmons. There is more than one kind of persimmon, though. The Oriental persimmon is native to China, although it's widely grown now in Japan and Korea, and it also is grown in California. They're grown in Israel and Italy, too. However, there also is a wild persimmon that's native to America, D. Virginiana. You can find it in many places where the weather is moderate. Unfortunately, a lot of those persimmons have been lost to development.

Q. Why would a canned tomato puree with a high specific gravity usually be more expensive then one with a lower specific gravity? Mike, Texas.

A. Mike, you had me on that one. I had never seen a canned tomato labeled with specific gravity. Gravity usually is something that's listed on the label for a craft beer. But after searching around, I gather the issue is salt. More salt meats higher specific gravity and less water, so there is more tomato and less water in the can.

Q. Can you recommend a place in Charlotte where we can get churros? My son, who will be 8 in November, would like them for his birthday. Natalie, Charlotte.

A. I don't know if this will help you, but there was a churros stand at the Sweet Union Flea Market on U.S. 74 the last time I was there. You might also be able to get them at a restaurant like TAqueria Unica on Central Avenue. You'd probably need to buy them the morning of the party and reheat them, though. Churros are like doughnuts -- best when they're straight out of the fryer.

Q. My mother is begining her ritual of buying incredients for her fruit cakes. We found the dates, red and green cherries and pineapple, but we are unable to find citron in the Rock Hill area. Do you know where we may find it in the Charlotte area? Lyl, Rock Hill.

A. I haven't seen the candied fruit coming out yet. How about it, readers? Anybody know a good source for candied citron?

'Charlotte Talks' and I do, too

Join me on WFAE-FM this morning, when I'll be filling in for Observer restaurant reviewer Helen Schwab for one of their semi-regular shows with restaurant critics. Hosts are Mike Collins and Peter Reinhart, and the planned subject is our favorite places to get comfort food, although those shows usually end up covering a lot of ground.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Must be fall -- it's Mallard Creek barbecue time

It sneaks up on me every year, but I try to never miss a trip to the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church barbecue. If you've never been, this is a must-do: I believe this Year No. 80.

If you're learning your way around A) Charlotte; B) Carolina barbecue; or C) Southern political history, here's why you need to go: First, barbecue in this part of the world isn't a summer activity. Hogs were traditionally killed in the fall, after the first frost. Since that came around the time political campaigns were entering the final stretch before early November elections, politicians started either putting on barbecues to draw people, or going to barbecues because that's where the people were. People with bellies full of barbecue were usually content to sit still and listen.

Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church likes to emphasize that the barbecue isn't political -- it's a church fundraiser. But it draws politicians like kids to lemonade, so the two have become linked. You can skip "the gauntlet" -- the line of hopeful candidates handing out stickers and brochures - but I never do. That's part of the fun. I always wear long sleeves so I can get most number of stickers down my arm.

As for the food, the Mallard Creek folks slow-cook a massive amount of darn good chopped 'cue, and they ladle out an ocean of their Brunswick stew, which is different from any Brunswick stew I've ever had but is definitively their own concoction. When you get to a trestle table, you'll see open loaves of white bread. Use it to make a sandwich, or as a "pusher" to nudge meat on to your tiny plastic fork. Sometimes I use a slice to pinch up bites of barbecue, sort of the Southern answer to Ethiopian injera bread.

But the best part, fork down, is the people watching. I judge how many years I've been in Charlotte by how many old friends and professional acquaintances I run into. It's one of those see-and-be-seen events that's almost required for anyone in business.

It goes on all day today and until about 7 p.m. tonight. A lot of people drive through on the way home to pick up dinner. If you're going, take I-85 to West Mallard Creek Church Road, turn right on Mallard Creek Road and get in the long line of cars.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Giveaway winner: Bonnie Blanton, come on down

Bonnie Blanton is the winner of a copy of the cookbook "Momofuku," by David Chang. Bonnie, if you'll send your address to me at (don't post it here where the whole world will see it), I'll mail you your book. After I sneak over to the copier and swipe a copy of his recipe for his red-eye "gravy" made with srirachi. It's wicked good.

And for the rest of you, thanks for playing and come back next Monday, when we'll have a book that will make the bakers happy.

Food Q&A: Where's the Danish?

Q: Why is it apparently impossible to find danish in Charlotte's supermarket bakeries (which are about the only bakeries around!) This is a breakfast staple for many of us transplanted people ...
Is it a "Southern" thing? Dave from Matthews

A: I don't know whether lack of danish is a Southern thing, but it certainly shouldn't be a Charlotte thing. The east side of the city has a long-time and well-established German-American population, and transplants from the Northeast have been coming to Charlotte for decades. And I do see a lot of Danish at Costco on Highway 51, so it's out there.

But I wonder if dwindling danish is more about changing eating habits. Most of the larger supermarkets do have more extensive in-house bakeries than they used to, so they certainly have the means. But usually when supermarkets make less, it's because they're selling less. So lack of danish might not be a function of region, but a reflection of the trend toward whole-grain breakfasts for health reasons. That message has been spreading for the last decade.

Maybe danish is down because granola is up.

Does anybody else have danish options to suggest for Dave?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No comment on the comments

If you've posted a comment on one of my blog items and you wondered why it didn't show up, well, I was wondering that, too. Hey, Tomlinson and the sports guys get lots of comments. No one wants to talk about food?

Then I discovered there was a little button no one had told me to push. And suddenly, there were lots of comments, just waiting to be posted.

Sorry about that. Comments are posting now the way they're supposed to. And thanks to everyone who has taken the time to post nice things.

I told you I'm still learning to drive this thing.

Eating around: Cheese steak

If you're looking for a food debate and you're bored with the usuals -- New York-style pizza, Buffalo wings and Eastern vs. Western N.C. barbecue - toss out the issue of the Philly cheese steak.

Philadelphia is one of the few food-centric towns where I haven't spent much time. So I fully admit I'm not qualified to weigh in on arguments about authenticity. I know enough to know you've got your provolone camp and your Chez Whiz camp, your anti-mayo contingency and your frought debates over whether peppers, onions or mushrooms are legal accoutrements.

Me? Pile thinly sliced steak and cheese on a roll impermeated with a little griddle grease and I'm happy to sit still long enough to listen to the arguments. More than cheeseteak, I'm a fan of small Charlotte places, the ones that have stuck around for years.

My Philly Cheese Steak needs usually are happily met by Steak & Hoagie on Sharon Amity, the place with that kicky-'60s neon sign. They've got really good, freshing-smelling bread, and they offer enough variations to keep the purists occupied.

I stopped by a new place this week, though. Actually, not new at all: The Philadelphia Deli on King Drive at Morehead has been in the same little building next to The Map Shop since 1969. Alice, the owner behind the counter, has a Greek accent to match the Parthenon pictures on the wall. If you've been around Charlotte long enough, you know to feel at home whenever you see those pictures of Greece.

I ordered the Philly cheese steak all the way. So it came with lots of cooked onions, peppers and mushrooms, it had plenty of properly shaved steak, and it was drippy with yellow cheese that fit into the Cheez Whiz school. The bread wasn't as crusty-fresh as Steak & Hoagie's, but with enough steak and cheese drippings, that's not a deal-breaker. And the fries were the way I like them -- deep brown, crisp outside and a little hollow inside.

I can't believe I've lived in Charlotte for 25 years and I've driven through that intersection on the way home for almost a dozen of those, but I had never noticed the place until recently. I'll go in again, if only to have a chance to peruse that jukebox.

Thanks, Alice.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Giveaway: Got pork belly?

Ready to win a cookbook? I've got a copy of New York chef David Chang's "Momofuku" and I'll share.

Yes, Chang's book has recipes for things like his iconic Steamed Buns With Pork Belly. But it's not all pork. He has fish recipes and the formula for the Red-Eye Mayonnaise with instant coffee and sriracha that he serves with Allan Benton's thinly sliced country ham.
If you've been to New York lately, you've probably waited in line at Noodle Bar, Ssam or Ko. If you haven't, you've probably wondered why everyone is fussing about steamed pork buns. Either way, it's a fascinating book.

OK, here are the rules: Post your name in the comments below. On Wednesday afternoon, we'll do a random drawing and contact the winner. Then I'll mail you the book.

Deadline is Wednesday at noon.

So, What Did You Cook?

If there was a recipe for a perfect cooking weekend, this was it: Gray, cold, damp. Yeah baby!

I started off with a run to the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market for lettuce, mushrooms, green peppers, heirloom apples (mostly those winesaps with skins so dark, they look like burnished wood), a big chunk of Donnie Cline's Hubbard squash, parsley and cilantro, proscuitto and ground pork from Grateful Growers, whole-hog sausage from T&K and a loaf of French bread.

Saturday, I made oniony meatballs from pork and ground beef that got cooked in a from-scratch spaghetti sauce that night. I started a huge bowl of chicken pieces marinating for Chicken Marbella. I made a batch of bacony crackling cornbread to set aside for dressing Sunday night.

I tried a recipe for butternut squash and proscuitto roasted in a sauce of maple syrup, smoked paprika and chili powder. To up the green-vegetable ante, I tossed in a couple of cups of green peas -- remember that old favorite of green peas in a ring of mashed sweet potatoes? Same notion. It came out a little too sweet for spaghetti and had more syrupy juice than I expected, but was great with Sunday night's dinner.

That was Chicken Marbella, cornbread/sausage/apple dressing from "Silver Palate," and the leftover sweet-squash and peas.

I ran out of time for a batch of sofrito, but that's an easy weekday evening project. I didn't make dessert, but with the sweet squash, we didn't need it.

So how about you? What did you cook on a perfect food weekend?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Time for cooking, farmers markets

I'm going through cooking withdrawal. After two Saturdays on the road, I started the week with my cupboards bare, my kitchen eerily clean and my produce drawer empty. I haven't gotten my farmers market fix in weeks.

By Wednesday, after throwing together last-minute meals and having to hit the express lane at the 'Teeter, I was making notes on all the things I'm going to cook this weekend. Saturday night: Spaghetti with from-scratch meatballs, to answer a weeks-old request from my teenage son.

After cruising through the cookbook shelf, I settled on the version in Bill Smith's "Seasoned in the South." It's not Southern at all, it's a recipe he got from an Italian-American friend. But any recipe from Bill is a good thing.

I made the mistake of telling my cashew-mad husband about Bill Smith's recipe for Cashew Cake with Maple Frosting. Maybe, if there's time.

For Sunday night, I'm thinking it will be Chicken Marbella from "The Silver Palate." I've been hankering for it ever since co-author Sheila Lukins passed away. It takes a day to marinate, so I can start it Saturday. And maybe her Cornbread Dressing on the side, to get a jump on testing the Thanksgiving recipes. Ooh, and I have butternut squash -- how about butternut squash with proscuitto? Now, there's a feast.

Along the way, I pulled out a couple of recipes for staples that are running low, like Sofrito. Maybe I can fit them in on Saturday, too.

But it will have to start with a Trader Joe's run on the way home Friday night to begin pantry restocking, and an early Saturday farmers market run. Dean Mullis promises he has lots of eggs. Maybe that Cashew Cake will get made after all.

Message from Mama Obama

OK, this isn't real. It's a mock-up from those crazy kids at The Onion ("Disapproving Michelle Obama To Be Printed On All Fast Food Containers.")

But is it really such a bad message? You don't get arms like hers lifting milkshakes, kids.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baristas shaking it up in Charlotte

Coffee makers, get your steam up. The Barista Guild of America's Southeastern Regional Jam will be in Charlotte Nov. 13-15.

Sponsored by Dilworth Coffee and Counter Culture, sessions will include things like manual brew methods, dialing in blended espressos and -- ooh, this should be fun -- a city-vs.-city latte art throwdown. Details and registration:

Singing for Fantasia's supper

If you go to dinner at Fantasia Barrino's house in Charlotte Thursday night, drop me a note and let me know what she served. I'm always curious about these things.

Fantasia is one of the people having dinner parties for the department store's "Come Together" campaign to raise money for Feeding America (formerly known as America's Second Harvest.)

Guests are are asked to bring donations in lieu of hostest gifts. (Great idea -- no dashing around to find a vase for drippy flowers). Macy's will match the donations.

How many Elvi does it take to celebrate a birthday?

Beats me. I couldn't count them all.

But they were marching through the French Quarter in a second-line parade last Saturday night to celebrate the birthday of a guy named Scott.

Judging from what I saw, Scott's hangover may be over just in time for Barack Obama's visit today.

Word on the food: Mr. President will be picking up takeout gumbo and fried chicken from Dooky Chase.

Good choice, Barack. I'd throw in a side of red beans and rice.

And happy birthday, Scott.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cooking Uptown has new lineup of classes

If the cooler weather has you ready to cook, Cooking Uptown on 7th Street in Elizabeth has cooking classes coming up. Most are $65 and held on Saturdays. Call 704-333-7300 for the full details.

Here's the lineup:
Oct. 31, "All About Cheese."
Nov. 7, "Cuisine of Spain" (that one's $75).
Nov. 14: "Reimagining Thanksgiving Classics."
Nov. 14: "Southern Sophistication."
Nov. 21: "Louisiana Specialities." (Remember -- it's "praw-lin.")
Nov. 21: "Christmas Cookies and Candies."
Dec. 5: "How the Chef Stole Christmas Dinner."
Dec. 12: "Christmas Decadence."
Dec. 12: "An Affair To Remember."
Dec. 19: "Classics from France."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's the last Tuesday Tailgate Market

Is it that time already? Farmers markets and produce stands are starting to close down or reduce their hours. Tonight (Tuesday) is your last chance to swing by the Charlotte Tailgate Farmers Market in SouthEnd, at West Park Avenue and Camden Road.

Saturday morning markets will continue at the Tailgate until Oct. 24, then the market will take a break until the Saturday before Thanksgiving and reopen for a few Saturdays for Christmas trees and such.

If you're always meaning to stop by the Tailgate on Tuesdays after work, you really should. It's close to uptown offices and you can grab a few things to supplement your fresh-food stash during the week. It starts at 4 p.m. and goes on until 6 or so. Today's lineup includes fresh chicken, chicken and duck eggs, alpaca yarn, sweet potatoes, kale, apples, shelly beans, eggplants and a few other things. If you can't come up with dinner from that, you just aren't trying.

Vote with your toothpaste

Want to make people at Slow Food Charlotte, Friendship Trays or the Rutherford Housing Partnership in Rutherfordton show really big smiles?

Tom's of Maine, the toothpaste brand, wants to give $20,000 grants to five local projects nationwide that are making good. And all three groups are finalists. Slow Food Charlotte and Friendship Trays are working together to get the money for an urban garden project in Charlotte. The Ruth'ton folks will use it to build handicap-access ramps for people in low-income housing. You can vote once a day until Oct. 30.

It's easy to do: Go to and scroll down the list. (The order changes every time you go to the site, so everybody gets a fair shot. Nice touch.)

Celebrate grits at Ratcliffe

Ratcliffe on the Green is going all gritty Thursday night, when chef/owner Mark Hibbs' celebrates the new book "Glorious Grits: America's Favorite Comfort Food," with a dinner. Author Susan McEwen McIntosh will be there to sign copies, and the five-course dinner will feature -- we're just guessing here -- lots of grits. Hibbs has a recipe in the book for Anson Mills' Black Truffle Grits. The dinner is $50 at the restaurant, 435 S. Tryon St. Call 704-358-9898.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What are you afraid to cook?

Time to confess: What are you afraid to cook? Is it live lobsters with their creepy swimmerettes, or whipped cream that you're sure won't get fluffy? And how about those scary egg whites?

For Halloween, I've been looking for the really scary foods, the ones that people are afraid to tackle. So far, I've heard from a woman who claims she has a mysterious non-gelling affect on all gelatins. Her husband can make Jell-O, but she can't.

Send your scary food stories to me at

As for myself, when we cooks gather around the campfire, I hold a flashlight up to my face and tell a story I call "Night of the Living Lobster":

Once upon a time, I tried to kill a lobster the way the cookbooks always say to do it, by plunging the point of a knife straight down between the head and body.

What the cookbooks don't tell you is that the lobster may be dead, but the swimmerettes, those little legs and flippers, don't stop moving. For a very long time. Even when you're hurrying the trash bag of discarded lobster parts out to the trash can: Twitch-twitch, twitch-twitch, twitch-twitch.

This girl will stick to steaming from now on.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

'Cue Checks

Where have I been eating barbecue?

Gary's, China Grove. First the important stuff: This is a beloved institution in a sweet little town, so everybody from miles around goes here. Go at lunch and you'll see half the town. Go at dinner and you'll see the other half.

I love these community gathering places. And Gary's is the real thing, with the walls covered with metal advertising signs and ice-cream colored classic cars on display in the showroom at the back.

Less important: the barbecue isn't stellar. Sorry. I went back after many fans have insisted on its greatness. My verdict was the same as my first visit several years ago - meh. Reheated barbecue with a steam-table taste, no saucing or smoke.

I never tangle with fans, and Gary's has a passle of them. I'm glad it makes you happy. But if I visit a third time, I'd go for the chili dogs.

Art's BBQ, 900 E. Morehead St. I pass this place twice a day, and I've stopped for breakfast. But I was never drawn in by the neon "BBQ" sign until a source urged me to give it a try.

Verdict? I'd put them firmly in the PGQ column: Pretty good 'que. The chopped plate came with a big pile of chopped pork that was flavorful and already mixed with sauce, good texture and a fresh taste. Baked beans were even better. The slaw isn't yellow or red, it's a fresh, green, chopped version, but it goes good with the barbecue if you squirt in a little barbecue sauce.

If you're exploring urban barbecue choices in Charlotte, Art's definitely earns a place in the discussion.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cooking the books

It must be fall. The new cookbooks are burying my desk thicker than fallen pin-oak leaves. I can't read them all, but here are a few that are worth getting excited about:

"The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion," by the late Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst (Barron's, $29.99). Herbst's indispensable little paperback, "The Food Lover's Companion," has finally gotten the star treatment. Gilded page edges, hardcover, a ribbon for marking pages. Sharon is gone, but her book is getting new life. Hurrah for that.

"The Visual Food Lover's Guide" (Wiley, $16.95). In the spirit of "The Food Lover's Companion," this is a small-but-beefy guide with pictures and drawings of pretty much everything. Want to know if what you've got is a winter melon or a bitter melon? Page 48.

"Sweet Carolina: Favorite Desserts and Candies from The Old North State," by Foy Allen Adelman (UNC Press, $25). Edelman visited N.C. families in their kitchens to gather these 200 recipes, covering black walnut pound cake to butter mints. Give it for Christmas presents or better yet - use it to make Christmas presents.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'll Bite - Will You?

Welcome to my new food blog. Why are we calling it I'll Bite?

If you're familiar with my writing in The Observer, you know that I have a sense of humor. So yes, I do sometimes say things with a little bite.

But really, it's because this blog is about all things surrounding food, cooking and eating. I'm a food writer, not a restaurant reviewer (my colleague Helen Schwab has that job), so I lean toward cooking and food shopping. But I eat in restaurants, too, so sometimes I'll share observerations about that as well.

There isn't much I'm not willing to try, either in the kitchen or on a menu. (Although I reserve the right to refuse chicken livers, livermush, lemon meringue pie and Peeps. I've tried 'em, and I still don't like 'em.)

There also isn't much about the subject of food that doesn't interest me. Almost 20 years, after a decade in journalism that had taken me all around the newsroom and through a half-dozen news beats, I turned to food writing because I realized it was the most interesting beat of all.

Food is history, it's sociology, it's economics, it's health. Everybody eats, whether they pay much attention to it or not. And everybody can relate to food.

If you're looking for articles we printed in the Observer food section, you'll find those at

Look here for recent news, events in Charlotte, and interesting developments in the food world.

For the next few days, I'll be in New Orleans attending the annual conference of the Association of Food Journalists. I'll try to at least post a few things on Twitter; search for #obsfood. (And I promise to put down the Blackberry if I pick up a Sazerac.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fake fat Olestra finds new use

Remember Proctor & Gamble's invention of olestra, the fat that wasn't supposed to make you fat? Marketed as Olean, it was supposed to slide right through our bodies instead of clinging to our arteries.

But it turned out to do that a little too well. (We all remember the phrase "leakage," don't we?)

Well, according to Scientific American, P&G has found a new use for it, using olestra-like chemicals to make eco-friendly paints and lubricants. The new product line is called Sefose. It just shows that you can't keep a petrochemical down.