Thursday, December 23, 2010
In my column Wednesday, I suggested that everyone needs a "little black dress" appetizer for party season, drop-dead easy stuff that you can throw together and transport easily, and that always pleases people. The simpler, the better.
Then I threw it open to people to send me their own "little black dresses." The responses:
- From Ann: Kalamata olives and mascarpone cheese. Basically equal parts, food-processed. This recipe started with olives and homemade mayonnaise, but the substitution of mascarpone really simplies it. Toasted baguette slices. You're done. It's best to process the olives first, until well-chopped. (From Kathleen: Pitted olives, of course. That should go without saying. Or maybe it needs to be said.) Add cheese, softened, and mix well.
- From Marna Polhill: Mix an 8 ounce package of cream cheese (1/3 less fat variety is fine) with at least 1/4 cup of good-quality Vidalia onion relish. I purchase mine, Georgia Vidalia Onion Relish from Hillside Orchard Farm in Tiger, Ga., at the Handy Pantry gas/grocery/vegetable market across and down a little from Miller's vegetable stand below Pineville going toward Fort Mill. Anyway, mix cream cheese, relish and serve with crackers.
- From Jane Loveless: This is a recipe from my cousin April Morrow. April's Chicken Spread: One large and one small can of canned chicken (white-meat only). One large and one small block of cream cheese. One pack of ranch dressing mix. Set cream cheese out to soften. Drain chicken. Mix everything with mixer, carefully dodging flying pieces of chicken as you get started. Recipe can be adjusted by using more or less cream cheese or chicken, but never use more than one pack of ranch dressing mix unless the recipe is doubled. Best eaten with bagel chips. It's also better if you make it the night before so the flavors have time to blend.
- Sue Clark, Matthews: Take a sheet of wax paper and sprinkle heavily with chili powder. Use a package of Velveeta unwrapped and the sides moistened with a little water. Roll in the chili powder until completely coated. Place on a pretty plate and surround with crackers. They all want the recipe.
- Dotty Dysard, Matthews: Put some green pepper jelly in a dish. Open a container of spreadable cream cheese. Arrange Ritz crackers on a plate. Put a spoon in the jelly and a spreader knife in the cheese. Demonstrate by spreading the cheese on a cracker and adding a dab of jelly. Eat one. Oh, and eat another one, too.They're really good.
- Skippy Krell: Santa Barbara Mango with Peach Salsa, available at Costco behind the meat section. No substitution! Tostitos whole-grain scoops. Arrange partially drained salsa in a glass bowl with scoops in a basket nearby and watch it all disappear.
- Ann Houston Staples, Pineville: Deviled eggs. Everyone has a fit over them and acts like they are really hard and time-consuming. I've used many variations, but keep going back to the one in my mother's 1953 copy of "The Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook": Mayo, parsley, dry mustard, sweet pickle relish and horseradish. I also use a very simple punch recipe that has actually caused riots around the punch bowl. It is a blend of pineapple juice and Cheerwine. If you want to get fancy, you can freeze some pineapple juice into ice to decorate and keep it cold. But honestly, it doesn't stay in the bowl long enough to get warm. (From Kathleen: Hey, that's my punch! I use that one whenever it's my turn to do Punch on the Lawn at St. Martin's Episcopal. And yes, people go crazy for it.)
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Katie Rozycki was the first to respond correctly with where I had lunch: The restaurant was Halcyon: Flavors from the Earth, at the new Mint Museum uptown. The inventive menu is the work of Mark Jacksina, who developed a following at Lulu among others.
The dish, by the way, is the Poulet Plate, just added to the menu this week. That's dark-chicken confit topped with a fried quail egg, a sort of deconstructed German potato salad on the end, and my favorite thing on the plate, a delicately fluffy scoop of cold butternut squash ricotta, in the middle.
The restaurant has such a strong local-food mission that there is no freezer and only a small walk-in refrigerator in the kitchen, so they're forced to keep it very fresh and local.
It's a beautiful space, right at the top of those very high front steps, with soaring windows and lots of natural wood and stone touches. You can get a look the menus (not updated with new stuff added this week, but you'll get the general idea and the price range) at www.halcyonflavors.com.
Thanks, everyone, for playing. And Katie, the copy of the cookbook "Plenty" will be on the way to you soon.
Having two holidays in a row fall on Saturdays is great for long weekends, but not so great for Saturday morning farmers markets. So some markets are making special plans to get your New Year's collards and Christmas breakfast bacon.
At the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road near Billy Graham Parkway, a small group of local farmers plan to be on hand from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays to sell whatever they can salvage from those freeze-ravaged fields.
The Matthews Community Market, 188 N. Trade St., will hold holiday markets from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday and again next Wednesday.
The Atherton Market, 2104 South Blvd., will be open 3-7 .m. today and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, then will close until Jan. 4.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
What's going around here in food:
- The Society of St. Andrew is a great group that gathers unused food, usually from picked-over fields, and gets it in the hands of people who can use it. They could use help a couple of times this week. In Operation Food Lift, 9:30-10:30 a.m. Friday, they need a few people to help box up butternut squash and load it onto trucks. It's at a warehouse in Monroe, so Southern Mecklenburg and Union County volunteers would be great. On Saturday in Mooresville, they need help picking turnips and greens at 10 am. For details on either of these, email your name and phone number to Kristen Shaben at email@example.com.
- House-Autry, the N.C.-based company that makes all kinds of things cornmeal, such as fish-fry and chicken breading, hush puppy mixes and cornbread mixes, has a recipe contest called "I'm Dreaming of a Fried Christmas." (And I'm just going to back away and let you make any joke you like about that.) The grand prize is that you get to make a cooking video that they'll feature at house-autry.com. The recipe has to use a House-Autry product and can't use more than seven ingredients. Deadline is Dec. 13 and you can get entry details here.
- If you've ever shopped at the Fisher Farm stands at the Matthews Community and Charlotte Regional farmers markets, you may not know that Dane Fisher, the guy selling all those heirloom tomatoes, tomato sauces and kale, is actually Dr. Dane Fisher, associate professor of biology at Pheiffer University. He's putting on his speaking cap (he doesn't talk much on cold Saturday mornings, I can tell you) and speaking at Discovery Place from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday for the Charlotte Area Science Network. He'll talk about the flavor, quality and nutrition of locally raised produce. Should be intriguing. It's free, but reservations are recommended. Call 704-372-6261, extension 300.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Central Piedmont Community College issued an open invitation to the Charlotte media Thursday for a holiday reception at the Van Every Culinary Arts Building. It was one of the rare times when TV, indie and old-fashioned daily newspaper folks banged elbows.
Between multiple visits to the garde manger class's table (cold food, like housemade sausages, pates and very nice duck confit on little toasts) and plates of Beef Rib Lollipops and Braised Pork Belly on Stone-Ground Grits, it occurred to me that when CPCC has a holiday party, it's a lot like what happens at your house:
First, everybody hangs out in the kitchen. CPCC is justifiably proud of the spiffy, still-sorta-new culinary building, and they're smart enough to know that everybody wants to be where the action is. So all the food is put out in stations around the kitchen. It's not only practical - have the food where the stoves are -- but it makes the whole thing feel fun and relaxed, rather than the usual stiff work party.
Second, everybody feels like they're being graded when people eat your cooking. In this case, students actually were: Prepping and serving food for the reception was part of their final exam. But they watch and take personally every reaction to every bite. Just like you do when you cook for a party.
Thanks again to department head Bob Boll, all the student cooks and very efficient student waiters, and especially to chef-instructors Jim Bowen and Pam Roberts. I spend a lot of time at Charlotte's four culinary schools -- Johnson & Wales, CPCC, Art Institute and Community Culinary School of Charlotte. And what blows me away every time isn't just the food. It's how much the chef-instructors love those students.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
In the discussion over how we eat (local, not local, cheap, expensive), there are a couple of good pieces in the news this week.
Newsweek's cover story looks at the divide between those who spend more on quality and those who have less to spend and make tough choices. The headline is a little misleading ("How Our Foodie Obsession Is Driving Americans Apart" isn't really the conclusion of the article). Lisa Miller's piece really shows more insight into the tough choices people have to make between quality and affordability.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post's opinion pages, writers Brent Cunningham of the Columbia Journalism Review and former Post food writer Jane Black weigh in on the food-culture wars and how food choices are becoming class divisions. Ironically, the Newsweek headline would be more appropriate on this one.
Taken together, they're both thought-provoking and the beginning of what is becoming a new way to define the choices we make about what -- and how -- we eat.