Friday, April 30, 2010

'Cue checks: Old Hickory House

I was long overdue for a return visit to Old Hickory House, 6538 N. Tryon St. But that's the great thing about the House -- you could have stepped in pretty much anytime in the five decades since it opened in 1957 and it wouldn't have changed. Same Old West theme, same gunslinger decor and those so-cool covered-wagon wall sconces over each booth.

When barbecue tourists ask me about the Old Hickory, it's hard to form an answer. I'm not damning it with faint praise when I hesitate. It's just that it's hard to figure out where it fits in the barbecue pantheon. It has chopped pork, but it isn't strictly traditional N.C. barbecue. It has brisket, but it isn't Texan. (One of the menu options is chopped brisket -- and can't you imagine the howling all the way from San Anton' over that?)

Even the theme isn't really an answer. It's not Western, not even Western N.C. It's like the owners climbed in one of those Conestoga lamps and wondered off on a trail all their own, settling in a land where the food is pretty good and the people are always friendly. At lunch on a Friday, the male to female ratio was more than 2:1, which is as good a description as any.

And the food is pretty good. The ribs are a little chewy and a little smoky, the minced pork isn't too dry or too wet, the chopped brisket isn't too chewy or too smoky. (Although the only way I could distinguish the beef from the pork on my combo plate was by asking the waitress. "It's the darker one," she said. Sorry, Conestogas aren't known for their light-emitting qualities.)

The Brunswick stew is a mild version, not too peppery, with lots of crunchy bits of corn.
The hardest thing to describe is the Old Hickory House sauce. Saying it's tomatoey doesn't mean it's like Lexington sauce, with vinegar cut by a little tomato. No, this is very tomato-based and sort of thick, with no detectable vinegar. That alone cuts it from the Carolinas herd. In fact, I could swear I tasted a little lemon along with the bits of onion.

The funny thing is that despite the haze of hickory smoke over the parking light and the open pit in the dining room -- complete with longhorn steer horns and that "Hawg Heaven" sign -- the meat isn't overwhelmingly smoky. Like so much Carolina barbecue, it's all about the low and slow cooking, not the taste of wood.

Maybe Old Hickory House is the Gary Cooper of Carolina barbecue: Quiet, reliable and ready to be there for you.

Oil spill: Beyond shrimp

Louisiana opened a special shrimp season yesterday so shrimpers can try to harvest what they can before the oil washes ashore. But shrimp supplies this summer won't be the only thing you may see in short supply.

I got this late Thursday from Sysco's daily report on food supply and prices, quoting John Yates, seafood buyer for Buckhead Beef:

"Gulf Everything: shrimp, oysters, grouper, snapper, etc- basically the whole kit and caboodle. If this oil spill doesn’t calm down, we could be in for some real trouble. I just spoke with Leavin’s Oysters of Apalachicola and he said his last report was that signs of the spill were 30-40 miles off his main harvest areas. For the here and now, we will get our regular supply of oysters this Sunday as they are digging frantically to stock up. I have a bead on 4-5 Panhandle boats that are packing out this weekend for a good shot of day boat groupers and snappers."

On the bright side, Sysco also reports that supplies of European salmon are returning after the volcano disrupted that traffic. But there's still a lot of Chilean salmon filling in the supply gaps.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Calling "Pig" fans: Time to squeal on the winner

Sorry for the delay. I was supposed to announce the winner of a copy of James Villas' book "Pig: King of the Southern Table" yesterday.

But now I can announce that "Erin in Charlotte" can trot on out and accept the prize. Erin, send your mailing address to me at and I'll get the book on its way to you.

Thanks for playing, all. I've been playing with the book for a couple of weeks and it's a keeper.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alton Brown's Mint Julep: Boo, Colonel

OK, I'll admit that Alton Brown does a pretty amusing version of Col. Sanders. But his mint julep is shameful. Muddle your mint until it looks like pesto? Serve it in a rocks glass -- with big rocks of ice instead of crushed ice? Top it with seltzer like it's a mojito? Alton, sugar, you bring shame upon the Southland.

My husband does it the right way, with simple syrup, lightly bruised mint and crushed ice. Oh, and silver julep cups, of course.

Spring may be flirting with us like knickers under a hoop skirt, but we have plenty of mint up in our yard, ready to go into service in time for Kentucky Derby on Saturday. We've been practicing our juleps since late February, just to make sure we're ready to go.

Wayne's Mint Julep -- The Right Way

Put 1/2 ounce sugar syrup and a half-dozen fresh mint leaves in a metal cup. (Preferably silver, but even a pewter goblet or an aluminum cup will do.)

Bruise the leaves GENTLY with a wooden muddler or long-handled spoon. Add 2 ounces bourbon. Fill the cup with crushed ice and a mint sprig. Add a splash of cold water if you like (not carbonated water or selter). Sip slowly through a tiny straw.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Manage a farmer's market?

If you're a farmer's market manager, I need to hear from you. I'm putting together the yearly list we run in May of farmers markets in the Charlotte region. In addition to Mecklenburg, that covers Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Iredell, Lincoln and Union counties in N.C., and Chester and York in S.C.

For space and for clarity, we try to keep the list focused on farmers markets. Farmers markets are markets where farmers do business directly with customers. They aren't the same as roadside stands or produce stands.

If you have information on a new market that meets that description, e-mail it to me at kpurvis@charlotteobserver. Please include a daytime phone number so I can check the information.

If you're a fan of markets, watch for the list and news about this year's markets in the Food section on May 12.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mama said there'd be days like this . . .

It just goes to show that you can't keep a determined wine fan down: Streets all around uptown were blocked Saturday morning for some kind of walkathon (I can't say which one, because the civic organizers didn't bother to post any signs at street corners). Navigating to Gateway Village for the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend's Vintner Tasting was like a bizarre form of Lady Pac Man. Good thing I know a few tricks, like the back way into one of the Johnson & Wales parking lots. A quick stop to pick up my glass and wrist badge and I was ready to do some sipping and talking.

Counting backward, I think this was my 8th adventure at the Vintner Tasting. I've been going since they held it under tent behind Bonterra, through the years under the bandshell at Symphony Park in SouthPark and now, for the few years, in the atrium at Gateway.

Held every other year, it's my kind of event: 30 or 40 wineries, each pouring anywhere from three to six wines, some of them being poured by the people who made them. This year, they added a small craft beer section, and many of the wineries had handy sheets listing the wines being poured and their retail prices.

Now, there's no way you can taste as many wines as they have available. Even spitting, it would all just run together. The trick to mass tastings like this is to have a plan. Walk through quickly and make note of all the wineries, then pick a few to concentrate on. (Just wait, Silver Oak -- I'll get to you in time.) Some years, I concentrate on kinds of wines -- zins, roses, rieslings.

This year, I found myself being pulled toward pinot noirs, starting with King Estate, including its more bargain-priced Next and Acrobat lines. Interestingly, Next, in the $18 or lower range, showed better in a quick taste than the mid-priced Acrobat.

I did find two nice roses, one of my favorite summer wines. Eric Solomon's European Cellars was pouring Janasse from Rhone, France, well-priced at $12.99, and Josh Hackler, the young and eager importer from Spanish Vines, had the almonst fuschia-colored Enate Rosado, available at Dean & Deluca and Winestore for about $20.

After making my way through Maison Joseph Drouhin's pinot noirs, Vineyard 29's 2007 cru cabernet, and rubbing elbows with an enthusiastic merlot fan at the Robert Foley table, I ended where I usually try to end at the Vintner Tasting: At the Silver Oak table, savoring a mouthful of the '05 Alexander Valley cab: leather and tobacco wrapped in soft, silky texture. $70 a bottle. And worth every penny, especially the $35 ticket to the tasting.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cookbook giveaway: Calling "Pig" fans

I can't review James Villas' new book, "Pig: King of the Southern Table." Villas, a Charlotte native turned New Yorker and national food writer, dedicated the book to me, for my reporting on all things pork-related. (But thanks, Jim, I'm very flattered by the recognition.)

However, that doesn't mean I can't share my spare copy. If you love cooking with any part of the pig, Jim is your man. He may live in New York now, but he keeps in close touch with his Carolina roots. On a recent trip back, he fell in love with the whole-hog sausage made by Rayfield Meat Center near Wadesboro. (You don't have to drive that far -- they sell their sausage and several other products on Saturday mornings at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. Look for them in the open-air building.)

The book has gorgeous pictures by Lucy Schaeffer, and the recipes cover cooking every part of the pig, from bacon and country ham to roasts, chops and tenderloins.

So let's get to the giveaway: To get in the random drawing for the book, post your name as a comment here. If you're anonymous, give me a name I can use to recognize you. And check back here next Wednesday, to find out if you won.

In the meantime, here's a recipe from the book for an appetizer made with one of my favorite things, country ham. He calls for Kentucky country ham, but we all know North Carolina has some pretty fine cured ham, too.

Kentucky Potted Country Ham

From "Pig: King of the Southern Table," by James Villas (Wiley, 2010).

1 1/2 cups cooked, chopped country ham

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons bourbon

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Grind the ham finely in a blender or food processor. Add the butter and grind until well-blended. Add the remaining ingredients and grind almost to a paste.

Scrape the mixture into a crock, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Allow the spread to return to room temperature about 1 hour before serving with tiny biscuit halves or crackers. (Be warned that if it's not brought back to room temperature before serving, it's almost impossible to spread.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Food news roundup: Top Chefs, food camp and meat

Earthworms are easy, kids: Christy Shi's Know Your Farms group, the people who started the local-farms buying club, are adding local food summer camps for kids ages 8-12 in Davidson. The one-week camps include organic vegetable gardening, community service, arts and crafts from recyled items, local food production and field trips on foot. Sessions are June 21-26, June 28-July 2, July 19-24, July 26-30 and Aug. 9-14, and run from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Suggested rate is $325 per child, although Shi says that's negotiable. E-mail Shi at

Top Chef-testants Jennifer Carroll (Season 6; left) and Ariane Duarte (Season 5) will be the chefibrities when the "Top Chef" hits Charlotte Thursday (yes, tomorrow) at East 3rd and Tryon Street. The Top Chef truck is part of the season debut of the Center City Green Market, which usually is at the Square, but will move for a week to accomodate the big truck. Top Chef show times are 10:30 a.m., noon and 1:30 p.m. Ticketed spots for seats at the show are already filled, but there may be some free tickets at the door. Show up 30 minutes early for those. Details:

Welcome to The Meat House, which has opened at The Village at Robinson Road, 8410 Rea Road. It stocks high-quality meats and gourmet foods. It's part of a national franchise with locations in six states. The other N.C. location opened in Cary in January. Details: or 704-542-4530.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Strawberries, baby

When I get the first sighting of freshly picked strawberries, I become like Capt. Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny," rubbing my paws together and chanting "The strawberries, yes, the strawberries!" It's time at last. I shot this picture Saturday at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, right after tucking a basket of berry beauties in my bag. (Of course I paid for them. What do you take me for?)
The Observer's annual list of pick-your-own farms runs tomorrow, and we'll keep it up through the fall to point you toward everything from strawberries to blueberries to pumpkins. Go to after midnight or so tonight to find it. And check out the cool Google mapping software, put together by my co-worker Ted Mellnik.
In tomorrow's paper, look for Andrea Weigl's story and recipes celebrating strawberries, along with the print version of the list.
Most of the farms I talked to last week say they expect to open the fields for picking by this weekend. Strawberry smoothies, strawberry pies, strawberries eaten by the bowlful. The strawberries, yes, the strawberries. And then the asparagus, and the blueberries, and the peaches, ah yes, the peaches. It's time, folks.

Time to raise a glass

If you miss the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend festivities this week, you have to wait two years to try again. Although some of the dinners are sold out, there are still tickets to be had for some great events and classes. Get the schedule here.
I'll be at the Vintner Wine tasting Saturday morning, trying to juggle a wine glass and a Blackberry at the same time. Follow along on Twitter at #charwine. Or heck, just come up and say hello. I'll try not to spit on your shoes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Feed on this: Asparagus, quail eggs, coffee and more

  • New at the Matthews Community Farmers Market: Quail eggs, raised by new vendors Yurii and Irina Korotkov. This Saturday's market also includes the cookbook swap (bring a book to swap, or trade one for a canned goods donation for the Matthews Help Center food pantry.) Joe Kindred of Rooster's is doing the cooking demo at 8:30, and Mark Hibbs will do a class on dressings and vinaigrettes at 7:30 a.m.
  • Early reports are that there MIGHT be asparagus Saturday at the Charlotte Regional Market. Of course, that depends on whether you get up early enough to buy it before I get to it. How much loyalty do you expect from me, people?
  • If you're visiting the Smithsonian in Washington and you buy a cup of coffee, you'll get a taste of home. Charlotte-based Restaurant Associates is working with Concord-based S&D coffee to provide the organic Bird Friendly coffee now being offering at the museums on the National Mall. The coffee meets the requirements by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
  • Barbecue teams, it's time to sign up for Blues, Brews & BBQ, part of the Charlotte Shout festival in September. E-mail for details.
  • Cooking Uptown, 1707 E. 7th St., has just posted the list of cooking classes for June. Go to for the schedule, costs and signup. And tell them congratulations for their Best of the Best award in the May issue of Charlotte Magazine.

Cookbook Giveaway: 'Sara Moulton' Winner

Robw222, you not only weren't too late. You were lucky. You won the random drawing for a copy of "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners." Send your mailing address to me at and the book will be on its way.

Thanks, everyone. Stay tuned for another giveaway next week. Give you a hint: It takes two.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taste of the Nation, Charlotte edition

I reported for duty at the Wachovia/Wells Fargo Atrium on Wednesday night for my semi-yearly stint as a judge for Taste of the Nation, the annual restaurant event that raises money to fight childhood hunger.

This year, I had a slightly different assignment: Besides eating and deciding which of two dozen restaurants got the six awards (2 for hot food, 2 for cold food, 2 for presentation), I also was attempting to Twitter live while taking pictures and notes for today's blog. That meant juggling clipboard, pen, forks, small plates, Blackberry and cohesive thoughts. When can I expect to evolve a couple more hands, Mr. Darwin?

I looked at it as a practice run for the May 2/3 James Beard Foundation Awards events in New York. My Raleigh News & Observer compatriot, Andrea Weigl, and I both are going, and we're both planning to Tweet live from two food-heavy food awards events.

How'd it go this time? I need to add my reading glasses to the above list of juggled items. Looking back over my Tweets this morning, I saw that I raved (justifiably so) about Mez' amazing miso-cured black cod, but dropped the word "cod." And my spelling of raspberry would have gotten me drummed out of third grade.

Anyway, here's a roundup of highlights. Overall, I have to say Charlotte chefs are pushing themselves hard. When the Taste of the Nation food is good, it is very good. The six judges had the longest debate we've ever had to settle on the winners.

I'm editing the dish names for brevity - chefs love to include every ingredient. We mere mortals just need the basic idea:

Cold dish: Gallery at Ballantyne, for duck confit with hazelnut brittle and pickled ramps, and Upstream for a tender ahi tuna wrap with hearts of palm.
Hot dish: Mez, for that amazing miso-marinated black cod, and Mimosa for a many-layered plate of seared diver scallop over a house-made agnolotti (like ravioli) filled with shredded pork belly and fava puree in a pool of lime-flavored sauce.

Presentation: Gallery (left), for a cool display of layered mango panna cottas and the duck confit served in eco-friendly bamboo, and 131 Main, for butter-poached lobster, seared tuna pops and accompanying sauces served in celled "boats" that looked like those paper cooty catchers we used to make as kids.


  • That deft and sophisticated marinated black cod from Mez. It was marinated for 48 hours in mirin, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar and miso paste. If it had gone 49 hours, I think it would have been mush. But it was perfect, with a texture that was like fish made of silk.
  • The pork belly lettuce wrap from Embers at the Westin. Hot, cold, sweet, spicy. Props for making their own kimchee and chile paste.

  • The cute lineup from Art Institute (right): A choice of three tiny sandwiches (bacon, pulled pork or seared tuna) served with a small shooter of their own bitter ale. Everything was made by students, including curing the bacon, baking the breads and brewing the ale. Nice.

Personal favorite:
When French chef Jean-Pierre Marechal of Savannah Red was explaining his dessert, raspberry goat cheese ice cream on a black pepper tuille. "It is eunuch," he assured me. Come again? Oh - unique. That's a relief.
Restaurants that fall back on dishing up steam-table pastas with creamy sauces. Not only will it just be gummy pasta, people don't buy $60 tickets to eat something that tastes like it came from a bag labeled "Bertolli." It's an event - push yourself a little.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ice Cream dish scores Pillsbury Bake-Off $1 million

My condolences to Amy Murphy of Huntersville, Sonalee Trivedi of Pineville, and Tammy Love of Dallas, N.C. All three made it to the Pillsbury Bake-Off finals this week in Orlando, but weren't prize winners.

When the final winner of the $1 million was announced today on "Oprah," the winning dish was Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups, by Sue Compton of Delanco, N.J.

Here's Compton's recipe, so you can decide for yourself if it tastes like a million bucks:

Mini Ice Cream Cookie Cups

1 (16-ounce) package Pillsbury Ready to Bake refrigerated sugar cookies (24 cookies)

4 teaspoons sugar, divided
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup seedless red raspberry jam
1 1/2 cups vanilla bean ice cream, softened
24 fresh raspberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 24 mini muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray. Place 1 cookie dough round in each muffin cup. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Place 2 teaspoons sugar in small bowl. Dip end of wooden spoon handle in sugar; carefully press into center of each cookie to make 1-inch-wide indentation. Cool completely in pan, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix walnuts and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar; set aside. In small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips uncovered on High 30 to 60 seconds, stirring after 30 seconds, until smooth.

Run knife around edges of cups to loosen; gently remove from pan. Dip rim of each cup into melted chocolate, then into walnut mixture. Place walnut side up on cookie sheet with sides.

In another small microwavable bowl, microwave jam uncovered on High about 15 seconds until melted. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon jam into each cup. Freeze cups about 5 minutes or until chocolate is set.

Spoon ice cream into cups, using small cookie scoop or measuring tablespoon. Top each cup with fresh raspberry. Store in freezer; let stand at room temperature 5 minutes before serving.

Cookbook Giveaway: Let Sara Moulton make dinner

I was looking around for an idea for an easy weeknight dinner the other night when I spotted a new book with the perfect title: "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners." Exactly what I needed: A slightly lighter (less butter filling, baked instead of fried) version of Chicken Kiev that was easy enough to do and still gave me a little time to sit on the patio with a glass of white wine before I got started.

In honor of Sara, let's give away a copy of the book. (I already tucked a copy of the Kiev in a safe place.) Respond in the comment section below (if you use the anonymous sign-in, give me a name I can use to recognize you) and we'll do a random drawing Friday. Remember to check back to see if you won.

While you're waiting for the drawing, here's the recipe:

Chicken Kiev Revisited

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 pounds)

4 tablespoons herb butter (see note)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup dry bread crumbs (I used panko-style crumbs)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Lemon wedges for garnish; optional

Place each chicken breast flat on a cutting board. Starting at the thick end, insert a knife tip in horizontally into the center of each to make a pocket about as dip as the middle joint of your index finger and a little bite wider. Fill each pocket with 1 tablespoons herb butter, pressing the opening closed. Season each breast with a little salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line up 3 bowls. Place the flour in one, whisk the eggs in the second and place the crumbs in the third. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over high heat and let it start heating while you get the chicken ready.

Place each chicken breast first in flour, turning to coat both sides, then into beaten egg, then into crumbs. Place the coated breasts in the skillet. Reduce heat to medium and saute breasts for 3 minutes per side or until golden. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil when you turn them.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake breasts until they are just cooked through, 8 to 11 minutes depending on their size. Serve with lemon wedges.

Note: For the herb butter, I just mixed about 2 cloves minced garlic and about 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano from my garden. But you could use thyme, marjoram or a combination of pretty much any fresh herbs. Just let the butter soften at room temperature for a short time and mush it all together with a fork. You also could skip the herbs and just flavor the butter with a little garlic.

Y'all come: Taste of the Nation, CPCC Literary Festival

Two events in two days:

I'll be a judge tonight at the annual Taste of the Nation (yes, it is a rough job - thanks for your sympathy). If you're looking for a fun food event, this is a great way to spend an evening and raise money to fight childhood hunger. Tickets at the door are $60, or $85 for a VIP ticket that gets you to the food tables earlier. For the money, you get live music, beer, wine and spirits, an auction, and samples of food from a couple of dozen restaurants.

Thursday night should bring a lively discussion at Litfest 2010, part of the Sensoria Celebration of the Arts at Central Piedmont Community College. "Communicating Your Hunger" is a panel discussion at 7 p.m. in the Culinary Arts Building on the central campus. (That's the spiffy new brick building with the columns at the corner of 7th Street and South Kings Drive. There's free parking in the Employee Theater parking deck, or look for the signs.)

Amy Rogers of Novello Press, Charles Jenkins of WBT and I will talk about blogging and social media, trends in cookbooks and food writing, ethics of restaurant reviewing, and using food to explore family heritage. But it's a Q&A format, so I suspect the talk will be more free-ranging than that. Come and bring lots of questions. Tickets are free, and it starts at 6 p.m. with a reception. The panel discussion kicks off at 7 p.m.


Monday, April 12, 2010

James Beard Essential Baking Books: Sweet

With all the new cookbooks coming out all the time, sometimes it's worth pausing to celebrate the books that came out years ago but have became reliable friends in the kitchen.

This time, it's baking books. The James Beard Foundation's cookbook awards committee today released "The Baker's Dozen," 13 books that every baker ought to have.

First, let me make my involvement clear: This is my last year after a decade of serving on the committee that oversees the cookbook awards. I've been chair for the last three years, but I'll be stepping down after the James Beard Foundation awards in May. So understand that I not only suggested some of the books on this list, I also led the committee through putting the list together.

The other committee members: cookbook author and Portland food writer Martha Holmberg, Matt Sartwell of Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York, wine writer Tara Q. Thomas, NY food writer Irene Sax, cookbook authors Grace Young and Naomi Duguid, Chicago Tribune food editor Carol Haddix and cookbook store owner Ellen Rose of Los Angeles. And believe me when I say, that is mighty distinguished company. I've been humbled to work with them these last three years.

That said, I'll also admit that I learned a lot while we were putting together this list. I also helped put together the first Beard book list four years ago, "The Core Collection: 20 Essential Cookbooks," which was a list of general cookbooks. This time, we focused strictly on baking, both sweet and savory. Both times, I discovered books that I didn't know, and remembered books I had forgotten. This time, we dug back through several decades of development in baking books, and we took a close look at books that have just come out in the last year or so.

Here's my conclusion: Baking books are so personal, so passionate. They have to be dependable, because there are more chances for baking recipes to go astray. And they come to be loved because the things we make from them, the cakes and cookies and breads, are part of the best cooking we do. How better to show someone you love them than to bake them a cake, or to break bread together?

Here's the list, and here's a link to the full list and press release online:

1. “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006).
2. “Beard on Bread,” by James Beard (originally published 1973; reprinted by Knopf, 1995).
3. “The Book of Great Desserts,” by Maida Heatter (Andrews McMeel, 1999).
4. “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed, 2001).
5. “The Cake Bible,” by Rose Levy Beranbaum (William Morrow, 1988).
6. “Classic Home Desserts,” by Richard Sax (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000).
7. “Cocolat,” by Alice Medrich (Warner Books, 1990).
8. “The Fannie Farmer Baking Book,” by Marion Cunningham (Gramercy, 1996).
9. “Great Pies and Tarts,” by Carole Walter (Clarkson Potter, 1998).
10. “The Italian Baker,” by Carol Field (William Morrow, 1985).
11. “Martha Stewart’s Cookies,” by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter, 2008).
12. “My Bread,” by Jim Lahey (W.W. Norton, 2009).
13. “The Simple Art of Perfect Baking,” by Flo Braker (Chronicle, 2003).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Behold: The barbecue sundae

I'm getting ready to take a week off for spring break. But before I go, I'll share one more food adventure. And this one isn't an April Fool's story.

While traveling around to bakeries the other day, I had a chance to stop for lunch at Outlaw Barbecue Shack in Matthews. Outlaw is a great little place, but it's hard to spot: It's tucked into the back of a building a block off North Trade Street, next to the U.S. Post Office on John Street. (If you know where the Matthews Community Farmers Market convenes, it's on the other side of the big field they use for parking.)

Outlaw has also opened a new restaurant on U.S. 74 in Monroe. That one is a full-size, sit-down restaurant and it's easier to spot: Look for the smoking pig cooker parked by the highway.

Outlaw's original spot in Matthews is take-out only, although there are picnic tables outside where you can perch.

Since I was on the road, I grabbed the Barbecue Sundae to go: A small plastic cup with baking beans on the bottom, topped with shredded pork and finished off with a layer of coleslaw. They also give you two little containers of barbecue sauce. But in true Carolina 'cue fashion, their softly cooked, lightly smoked pork doesn't really need it.

A cup is $5, and it makes a great lunch for eating in your car on the way to research cupcakes.

Cheers! And if you're on the road this week, I hope you find food half this fun.

Food trip: Bakery roundup

If you stand still long enough these days, somebody may pipe a swirl of frosting on your head. I seem to hear about a new bakery or new offerings at an old bakery almost every week. On Thursday, I hefted the GPS and a fork and hit the road to check out a few places.

Chip Nutty Cookies: Chip Nutty took a long time to come out of the oven. Owner Charles Rivers has been making 21 flavors of cookies that he sells at small stores, flea markets and special events. But he wanted to aim for bigger stores, like supermarkets, which meant he needed a bigger oven. So he opened a bakery at 5920 South Blvd., near Archdale. Fans of Mexican cookies may remember it as the old Panaderia La Mexicana building.

In addition to a rainbow of cookie flavors, including strawberry smoothie and king lime, they also have cinnamon buns with flavored toppings like strawberry (that's the strawberry, nicely rewarmed and served in a box with a fork), doughnuts and bags of small cookies. Cookies range from 99 cents for the little bags to $1.29 for a single big cookie.

I stopped by Jimmie's Sweets, 131 Matthews Station Street in Matthews, to check on one of my favorite local cookies, their caramel crunch cookies. They're holding up well: Still a crunchy cookie covered with that amazing solid caramel icing. Just checking.

Finally, I ended up in an unlikely spot at a country crossroads outside Monroe to check out Gimme A Cupcake. Take U.S. 74 to Morgan Mill Road, turn left and it's about 1/4 of mile down, at the intersection with Sutherland Road, in the building next to a lawnmower repair shop.

Gimme hasn't been open long, but it already has passionate fans. One caller was so enthusiastic, I was afraid she was going to try to squeeze a peanut butter and jelly cupcake right through the holes on my phone. I see her point, though: It's a sweet little sweet shop, with a rotating list of flavors that changes by the day.

I got a half-dozen for around $10 and tried Italian Creme, that PB&J, Grandma's Lemon Icebox, Red Velvet, Piano (chocolate cake with vanilla icing) and Razzle Dazzle Raspberry. Verdict: Good, moist cake with very fluffy, very tall buttercream icings. Check out the daily list at
Remember: Tuesday is Maple-N-Bacon day. Give me a call -- I'd be willing to try that "cupcake through the phone" trick.

'Pioneer' cookbook giveaway: It's yee-haw time

Happy Friday, Barbara 6:37 -- AKA ricettebarbare. The competition was fierce for a copy of Ree Drummond's popular cookbook. But you're the winner.
Email me at with your snail-mail address and I'll get the book moving your way faster than a cattle drive.
And for the other 40 fans who entered, a big thank you. It was fun to see that Drummond has just as big a following as I thought she did. Her appearance at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on May 7 ought to be a stampede.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stallings gets an Italian market

Enzo LoRe had the silly idea he was going into semi-retirement when he and his family moved down from New York. Wife Josephine (that's her, with the pretty smile) had a different idea.

They opened an Italian meat shop in Stallings, outside Matthews, three months ago and now they're both working hard.

Small world: Both Josephine and Enzo were born in Sicily, but they met in New York. She moved here at age 5, he moved here when he was 11 or 12.

Even smaller world: When Enzo had a meat shop in New York, one of the distributors he worked with was Tony Stafford, who now owns Ferrucci's, the popular Italian market in Cornelius.

They moved south because Josephine wanted a place that was warmer and had a slower pace of life. She's been startled by both winter and the Charlotte pace. ("They lied!")

OK, so to the food: Some Italian products and pastries (cannoli, of course) but mostly a long case full of braciole, skirt steak, housemade Italian sausages in a half-dozen or so flavors, prepared dishes like the "Parms" -- eggplant and chicken -- lasagnes and more. When I stopped by Thursday, the wonderful smell turned out to be rice balls being fried up in the back.

Between Enzo's, Ferrucci's, Pasta & Provisions and Derados, another new market in Cornelius, our Italian shopping list is getting filled.

Enzo's is at 4420 Potter Road. The number is 704-684-0478. (If you're coming from Matthews, take East John Street past Trade and go about 2.5 miles, past I-485. Turn right on Potter Road and they're in the shopping center on the right.)