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.