Monday, February 28, 2011

What we're reading in the food world

Looking around the online food world this morning:

  • Is pimento cheese Southern? Charleston blogger Robert F. Moss offers a good look at the history at Al Forno ( And blogger Tim the Cheese Man ties the question to The Masters in Augusta. (Thanks to CNN's food web site, Eatocracy, for pointing out that link to the links, and to John T. Edge for tipping me off to Robert Moss.)
  • While we're thinking about cheese, how do you make the best grilled cheese sandwich ever? Spread mayonnaise on the bread instead of butter. Francis Lam explains that and other grilled-cheese chef trucs at
  • Raise a toast to the debut of a new site at www.seriouseats: Serious Eats Drinks is dedicated to all things potable, from cocktails, wine and beer to coffee, tea and sodas. Today's offerings include a tasting of cream sodas.
  • Where's the orange roughy at your Costco? reports that mega-wholesalers Costco has agreed to cooperate with Greenpeace and pull 12 fish species that are fished unsustainably. Get the details here.
  • And finally, David Leite wants to start a campaign to change the calendar. His reason: Making our food resolutions in January dooms our diets. See if you agree at www.leitesculinaria.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Help a Girl Scout out

In this case, you get to help two organizations. Emily Elliott, a senior at South Mecklenburg High School, is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award by creating a cookbook for the new Ronald McDonald House in Charlotte.

She needs recipes that fit these categories:
- Practical, cost-effective nutritious meals that can serve 70.
- Recipes that are easy for volunteers to prepare.
- Recipes that will fit vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dietary options.

Have a good recipe that meets any of those descriptions? Email them to me at and I'll forward them to Emily for her project.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Paula Deen Edition: Give her a break

What a coincidence: Paula Deen was the guest of honor on "Top Chef" last night (fellow Georgian Richard Blais greeted her with deep-fried mayonnaise, which I think should become a tradition in my native state).

And I made a Paula Deen recipe this week. The reason: Bake sales.

The bake sale obligation does not end when your child leaves elementary school. When you are a known cook, you will be asked to cough up a few dozen of something on quick notice. It's wise to always have a few easy, crowd-pleasing recipes that people will pay for like it's gold coated with crack. And is there a better description for a Paula Deen recipe?

I had an office bake sale coming up (a good cause, raising money for the very fund-worthy Arts & Science Council) when I spotted Paula Deen's Homemade Kit-Kat Bars making the rounds on a couple of Web sites. Club crackers coated with boiled sugar and melted chocolate goop? I am so there.

Paula Deen's Homemade Kit-Kat Bars

75 Club crackers (about 1 1/2 sleeves)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 butterscotch chips

Line a 13-by-9-inch rectangular baking pan with crackers. (The original recipe called for breaking crackers to fill in the edges. But I later realized it wasn't necessary. I'll explain later.)

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the graham cracker crumbs, dark brown sugar, milk and granulated sugar. Bring to a boil. (Because the graham cracker crumbs make the mixture sort of thick, I never saw it actually boiling. It was more a question of listening for bubbly boiling noises. Just keep stirring so it doesn't burn.) Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Pour half of the sugar mixture over the crackers and spread out with a flat or offset spatula. (This is the one place I had trouble. The sticky sugar goop made the crackers shift around like cracked sidewalk pavers. It would have helped to have a little room to push the first cracker layer back into place, and broken pieces of cracker made that more difficult.)

Arrange another layer of crackers over the sugar layer. Top with the other half of the hot sugar mixture. Top with a third layer of crackers.

Combine the peanut butter, chocolate chips and butterscotch chips in a small saucepan. Melt, stirring, over medium-low heat. Spread evenly over the top cracker layer, scooching a little melted chocolate into any open edges.

Let stand two hours (I cheated and went for one hour, which worked fine). Refrigerate at least two hours or overnight. Cut into long pieces. (A good tip for protecting your baking pan: Use a bench knife, a long, straight-edged cutter, to press down through bars cookies without sliding a knife and scratching your pan. In this case, I cut straight down through the middle long-wise, then cut each half into thin sticks about 1 1/2 inches wide.) Package 2 bars in sandwich bags or wrap in plastic and seal to strangers or your closest co-workers.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tom Hanchett is a smart fellow in The Times

In this morning's New York Times, John T. Edge explores the ethnic food diversity of the suburbs of Indianapolis with the help of Dr. Tom Hanchett of Charlotte's Levine Museum of the New South.

Hanchett rode along with Edge during the reporting and supplied insight on why suburbs can be just as exciting and diverse as urban areas:

Hanchett, writes Edge, "coined the useful term 'salad bar suburbs' in 2008 to describe post-World War II suburbs, where 'newcomer and native-born intermingle without ethnic boundaries.'"

There's a lot more, but the gist is that what is really interesting in cities isn't what's going on in the downtowns, it's what's going on in the outer rings, where empty malls and abandoned big-box sites become mixtures of new populations and entrepreneurs.

It's smart reading to start your Thursday morning. As Hanchett says in the story, "The grownups don't usually know this is going on. . .. When they don't see a Chinatown, they see nothing."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cheese quiz: Who eats the most pimento cheese?

Which two cities are the leaders in pimento cheese consumption?

Apparently, they are . . . Charlotte and Raleigh (well, Raleigh-Durham, the Tarheel twin cities).

That's according to writer Emily Wallace, who did a report on 'minner cheese in the latest edition of Gravy, the newsletter of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Wallace interviewed Ed Simmerly, vice president of Moody Dunbar in Johnston City, Tenn., the nation's leading canner of pimentos.

Simmerly said that 80 percent of pimento cheese spreads are sold in 11 Southeastern markets, with Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte claiming the prize as the two biggest consumers of pimento cheese.

As far as which pimento cheese is best . . . let's not start that again, shall we?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Making Hatcher crackers

When Beth Lee of Charlotte called me a few weeks ago about the Hatcher Crackers made by her friend Hatcher Kincheloe, I had to ask her what a Hatcher cracker is. "Well, it's . . . it's . . . "

Hang on, I said. I put the name into Google and quickly turned up several versions of the recipe, including a blogger in another state who had taken pictures when she was making them for Christmas. I realized quickly that it's a cheese-based variation of that Christmas toffee that some people call Mystery Cookies - you make a mixture of brown sugar and butter, pour it over saltines or graham crackers and bake it.

But the cheese version demanded to be tried, so I stopped on the way home that Friday and picked up the ingredients. After I got Kincheloe's version of the recipe, I found a few differences, mainly in the red pepper. The online recipes have you sprinkle it on the crackers, while Kincheloe sprinkles it on the cheese. I think that helps with distribution -- I had trouble getting good distribution of pepper, so my first batch was a little too picante.

Still, when Linda Kincheloe dropped off a bag of her husband's crackers, I was surprised to realize I had hit it pretty close to right the first time, with about the same level of browning and crunch as his version.

It's a great recipe and simple to make if you have an electric oven. Gas ovens may make it difficult to get the tray far enough from the heat source to keep the cheese from burning too quickly.

Thanks, Beth Lee, Hatcher Kincheloe and especially Linda Kincheloe, for letting me tell the story behind the crackers. Hatcher Kincheloe Sr.'s legacy lives on.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Raise a Fork Friday: What do you always buy at Costco?

Instead of a Friday poll, I thought I'd do a survey: Keeping it to five items or less, what foods are always on your list when you go to Costco? Yes, most of us pick up paper products and cleaning items, but I'm looking for your food list.

I'll start it off:
1. The big bag 'o limes. They're big and usually juicy instead of pithy, and you get 15 or so for $6.99. And limes have endless uses.
2. Kirkland Organic Peanut Butter. Real peanut butter, just ground peanuts and a little salt, so it doesn't have all those unpronounceable ingredients of the name-brand peanut butters. And you get two big jars for $8.59.
3. Nutella. Everybody deserves an indulgence. And a big jar at the supermarket is about the same cost as two big jars at Costco -- $8.89.
4. Frozen wild blueberries. Every summer, I try to freeze enough blueberries to make my breakfast smoothies all winter. And I always fall short (can't help it, I really love my blueberries). So I get through the rest of the year with big bags from Costco for $8.79.
5. Olive oil. Believe it or not, Kirkland's origin-specific Tuscan olive oil does well in taste tests against much pricier oils. And you get a full liter for $9.99.

OK, your turn . . .

Thursday, February 17, 2011

There's a new apple in town

What's with the yellow apple? The Opal Apple from Washington State is making its debut at Harris Teeter in February and March, selling for $1.99 a pound on VIC special. Discovered in Europe 10 years ago, it's a cross between a Golden Delicious and Topaz, with a yellow, freckled skin.

Tasters in my office noticed two things: Sweetness, almost achingly sweet, and crunch. Major crunch. I also noticed a little hint of spiciness. The flesh inside is cream-colored instead of pure white.
Since the texture is so distinctive, I'm not sure that would hold up well in a baked dessert, but I definitely thought of it in a Waldorf salad or a fruit salad.

Especially when I found out about another characteristic: It resists browning. To test it, I sliced one and kept it out on my desk for several hours. In the pictures below, the one on the left is freshly sliced, the middle picture is after 1 hour, and the one on the right is after 3 hours.

It's a little FrankenApple not to see browning for that long. But if you like sliced apples in a lunchbox, or you really like to eat a half an apple at a time, Opal might be the apple of your eye.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

what if . . . your kitchen counter were a computer?

Hal, open the refrigerator door: Somebody is actually working on it.

Food For Thought: What I'm reading this morning

  • Are ravenous women sexy? That's Padma Lakshmi's theory on why every interviewer asks beautiful women about what they eat, on the The New York Times blog .
  • Here's your chance to get your own recipe served at the Durham Bulls ballpark. Andrea Weigl has the details at Mouthfuls.
  • Esquire's Ian Bassingthwaighte shares 13 things he learned from his sister in culinary school. (One warning on using dish towels for grabbing hot pots: Make sure the dish towel isn't damp or you'll get a nasty steam burn.)
  • If you liked those Honey-Sriracha Glazed Wings I shared on Monday, "Sriracha Cookbook" author Randy Clemens shares the secret on how to make your own sriracha, on Leite's Culinaria.
  • And one more: N.C. historian and food explorer David Cecelski discovers real hoe cakes in Person County.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The market in winter: Matthews edition

Who says there's nothing fresh to eat in winter? The early January ice storm wiped out my beloved kale. But I still managed to cover a kitchen counter with what I found on Saturday morning at the Matthews Community Market, held every other week in winter.

Yes, Saturday, Feb. 12. That's what local farmers managed to coax out of the ground or out of their ovens.

My haul: Thumb-sized sunchokes for cutting raw into salads, carrots, radishes, spinach, Brussels sprouts, four kinds of lettuce, fresh goat cheese, whole-wheat Italian bread, sweet potatoes, eggs and green onions. I left off the two chicken leg quarters because there was no room in the frame.

Seriously, nothing fresh to eat in winter? Not in this climate. Market manager Pauline Woods says they're getting so many farmers and customers at the every-other-week winter market that they'll probably go to every week next winter. They also have a small market on the off weeks. While you're waiting for Saturday morning to roll around, here's a little picture show to get you in the mood:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine hot stuff: Wings of desire

Valentine's dinner at my house is all about doing what my guys want. I wouldn't want crispy, succulent chicken wings, no sirree.

All right, all right - I've been panting to try the recipe for Honey-Sriracha Glazed Buffalo Wings ever since Randy Clemens' "The Sriracha Cookbook" crossed my desk last month. A whole cookbook using the fabled Thai "rooster" chili sauce? I'm there.

My husband and son are both wing men, and the husband has been on a search for wings that are saucy yet crispy. So I messed around some with the order of things in the recipe. For some, I fried, then dipped in sauce, then put in the oven to stay warm and dipped again. For some, I fried, ovened and dipped. Personally, I liked the first option, which got a darker glaze. The husband thought they were too dark and preferred the second option. The son's opinion was impossible to determine through the smacking and growling.

Here's the recipe, along with the optional SriRANCHa Dipping Sauce. It was a simple Saturday night Valentine's dinner, but my husband had also willingly spent half a day at IKEA with me. Frying up some stupendous wings was the least I could do.

Honey-Sriracha Glazed Buffalo Wings

Vegetable or peanut oil for glazing

4 pounds chicken wings (I'd suggest cutting them into flappers and drummettes and discarding wing tips)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

2/3 Sriracha

1/2 cup orange blossom honey

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Juice of 1 lime

Chopped fresh cilantro and white sesame seeds for garnish; optional

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Pour oil 2 to 3 inches deep in a heavy, stable container suitable for deep-frying (personally, I use a flat-bottomed wok). Heat the oil to 350 degrees.

Fry the wings in batches for 10 to 12 minutes, turning once, until crispy and golden-brown. Be careful not to crowd the pan, which will lower the temperature of the oil.

Place a rack over a baking sheet and keep in the oven. Place wings on the rack as they come out and place in the oven to keep warm. (Deep them in the sauce first if you want.)

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat while the wings are frying. Add the Sriracha, honey, salt and lime juice, stirring to combine. Keep warm over low heat. Dip the wings after frying, or add all the fried wings to the sauce and stir to coat. Spread on a platter and sprinkle with cilantro and sesame seeds if desired. Serve hot with plenty of napkins and either blue cheese dressing or SriRANCHa Dressing.

SriRANCHa Dressing

3/4 prepared Ranch dressing (or make your own, see note below)

1/4 cup Sriracha sauce

Combine and serve.

Or make Ranch dressing: Combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup buttermilk, 1/4 cup Sriracha, 1 teaspoon freshly squeeze lemon juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 tablespoon chopped chives, 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried dill, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cookbook giveaway: Who won?

Congratulations to Allen Jones, who won the copy of "French Feasts," by Stephane Reynaud. The winner was chosen by the Random Generator at

Thanks, everyone, for playing.

Bourdain likes us, he really likes us

Just in time for Valentine's Day, a little love for the Old North State from professional grumper Tony Bourdain: The March issue of Budget Travel isn't online yet, but reports that Bourdain makes the call on five food rivalries: Mexico City vs. L.A. for tacos (Mexico City), New York vs. Chicago for pizza (New York), L.A. vs. New York for burgers (L.A., because of In-N-Out), Chicago vs. New York for hot dogs (Chicago).

And finally, in the most important contest of all: Kansas City vs. North Carolina for barbecue.
And the winner (grab a couple of bottles of Texas Pete and drum them on the table):
North Carolina. "It's so minimalist - dressed with only a little bit of vinegar, salt and pepper. It's hard to argue with that."

Hard to argue, indeed. Thanks, Mr. Bourdain, sir. Drop in anytime.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

10-Book List and a book giveaway

Chris Kimball, the quixotic editor of Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines, as well as way more than 10 cookbooks in his time, stuck out his bowtied neck this week and offered up his list of 10 books that have stood his test of time in the kitchen.

I've taken part in a few "best-cookbook" lists in my time and I know they are difficult. Honing it to 10 great books is particularly tough.

If you've read any of his magazines or seen his public TV show, you know that when Kimball mentions testing, it's the equivalent of Richard Petty listing which tires actually last. I've read and cooked from every book on this list, and I have to say there's not a clunker among them.

In honor of his No. 1 pick, the delightful "French Cooking in Ten Minutes" (a personal favorite), I'll give away a special book that's not on his list but has the makings of a classic. I've been hanging on to "French Feasts," by Stephane Reynaud, waiting for a chance to find it a home with someone who would appreciate it. It's an exhaustive collection of French cooking, mostly family-style, but it's also wonderfully quirky, with gorgeous pictures and touches like sheet music for old French songs. In the middle of winter, the pictures of simmering pots and braises will make you hope that winter lasts for months.

Here's Kimball's list. Post a comment with your own picks if you'd like. If you want to put your name in the cloche for "French Feasts," send an email with your contact information to me at

Chris Kimball's Top 10 Cookbooks:

1. "French Cooking in Ten Minutes," by Edouard de Pomaine. "Written by a Frenchman of Polish extraction in 1930, it reflects de Pomaine's unique ability to make cooking appear simple enough that any oaf could walk into a kitchen and produce good results. His advice is as breezy and useful today as it was 80 years ago."

2. "The Breakfast Book," by Marion Cunningham. "Marion did for breakfast what Julia did for French cooking - she made it both interesting and approachable."

3. "Chez Panisse Vegetables," by Alice Waters. "This is a little gem of a book if you want to look at vegetable cookery in a whole new light."

4. "The Italian Country Table," by Lynne Rosetto Kasper. "This is the real deal: Italian farmhouse cooking with big flavors and a fresh point of view. . . . You'll never make a boring pesto again."

5. "The Union Square Cafe Cookbook," by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano. "I am not often a fan of restaurant cookbooks, since the recipes rarely work well at home. But Danny Meyer and Michael Romano have produced recipes that do work if one is willing to put in the time and effort."

6. "Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet," by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. "One of the most gorgeous travel/cookbooks ever published, with stunning photos and well-researched recipes from Southeast Asia."

7. "Bistro Cooking at Home," by Gordon Hamersly. "His cooking is both solid and eye-opening, seducing diners with quality and execution rather than flights of fancy."

8. "Epitaph for a Peach," by David Masumoto. "If you want to understand the life of a farmer, this is the book to read."

9. "American Cookery," by James Beard. "If I want a good starting point for any recipe in the American repertoire, I always turn to Beard and American Cookery."

10. "The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook," by Jack Bishop. "The recipes work, they are straightforward, and they use the big earthy flavors of Italy to transform what are too often lackluster vegetable preparations."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Times says: Go to Charleston, diners

New York Times reviewer Sam Sifton has always had an uncommon respect for the food of our Southland. When the Panthers were in the Super Bowl (seems so long ago now, doesn't it?), then-food editor Sifty was one of the few journalists who called me about Carolina food who had looked beyond the usual it's-all-barbecue cliches. He called about chicken bog -- how many people outside the Carolinas have ever even heard of it?

So I'm happy to see his report on a dining visit to Charleston: "Charleston, with fewer than 125,000 residents, is one of the great eating towns of the American South, on par with New Orleans for quality if nowhere near it for size or variety." Hear, hear, Mr. Sifton. I'll raise a julep cup to that.

For his review, he went specifically to look at the work of Sean Brock at the new restaurant Husk, and looked in at Brock's other post, McCrady's. I've been to McCrady's, where Brock was originally playing with applying molecular gastronomy to Southern ingredients, turning out things like nitrogen-frozen peanut ice cream and country ham cotton candy. At Huck, he's settled down but gone all-Southern and all-local, with a lot of ingredients grown on his own farm.

If you're heading down toward Charleston for the spring, take a look at Sifton's piece. Really, you'd have to work at it to find a bad meal in Charleston these days.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Drunkest Cities List: How does Charlotte rank?

Men's Health magazine did an online survey of American cities with the worst ranking for drunkenness, using stats like death from liver disease, traffic fatalities blamed on drunk driving, DUI arrests, and a couple of others. Which city got the dubious honor of first? Fresno, Calif.

St. Louis, which won't host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, just missed the top 5, clocking in at No. 6.

Carolinas cities didn't escape: Columbia, S.C., ranked highest, at No. 13, while Greensboro (43), Raleigh (63), Charlotte (74) and Durham (94) all landed in the Top 100.

Unfortunately, Men's Health has it posted as one of those click-at-a-time slide shows. Find the whole list much faster at

Super Bowl Contests: Judging Chili

My Super Bowl Sunday started hours before the actual festivities. St. John's Episcopal Church asked me to be a judge for the Souper Bowl, a chili and soup contest that was a fund-raising kickoff for their hunger awareness week. Given the enthusiasm people showed when they hit the tables, it will be awhile before anyone who was there will be aware of being hungry.

Luckily, I didn't have to judge all 27 entries, although I did my best to try a ridiculous number of them. Church members paid $1 for samples and voted to narrow the field to the final six. Then the three judges - me, Father Todd Dill from St. Margaret's in Waxhaw, and the senior warden, who paid $80 for privilege - had to narrow those down to the first-, second- and third-place winners.
For a dish that is basically meat, spices and possibly beans, an amazing variety of things go under the name "chili." There was cinnamon-spice chili, wild boar and venison chili, sweet-hot chili, brisket-based chili, beer-flavored chili, vegan chili and your basic chili-chili.

Despite that, the first-place winner wasn't actually a chili. The contest also had been opened to soup, and the pot that blew away the competition was Creamy Chicken Risotto Soup by Michael Ragon. It was as thick and satisfying as a good chili, but it had enough cream to wring out a cow. Ragon was kind enough to send me the recipe. The Super Bowl may be over, but soup season continues on.

Creamy Chicken Risotto Soup

By Michael Ragon, St. John's Episcopal Church

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 cups diced celery

2 cups chopped carrots

1/2 gallon chicken stock

2 cloves chopped garlic

2 tablespoons tarragon

2 tablespoons dillweed

10 black peppercorns

1 large bay leaf

1 quart cream

1 quart sour cream

1/2 stick butter

1 roasted chicken, skin and bones discarded, meat diced

2 cups cooked Arborio rice

Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

HEAT olive oil in a large soup pot and saute onions, carrots and celery until onions are translucent, then add a generous pinch of kosher salt.

ADD chicken stock and garlic. Tie bay leaf, tarragon, dillweed and peppercorns in a square of cheesecloth and add to the soup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Remove cheesecloth bundle.

ADD cream, sour cream, butter, chicken and cooked rice and heat through. (Don't bring back to a boil so the sour cream doesn't curdle.) Serve sprinkled with chopped flatleaf parsley.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Durham A Day: Finally, Saxapahaw

In the last of my week of postings about a one-day swing through Durham last week, I'm going to cheat. This one isn't exactly Durham, and it wasn't on that one-day trip. It was where the trip started the night before.

But the Saxapahaw General Store project is so cool, I can't resist. If you know North Carolina history, you know the state is dotted with old mills, mostly near rivers. And mostly, they were massive brick buildings that were the hearts of their little towns.

The town of Saxapahaw in Alamance County on the Haw River was like that, a mill town until 1995, when the mill closed. But the son of the family that owned the big brick building wasn't ready to just abandon the place. Instead, a new vision: Apartments and condominiums overlooking the river. It's 45 minutes from downtown Raleigh and a good drive even from Chapel Hill, but it's attracted a thriving community of commuters who want to live closer to the country with the amenities of a city.

And the big mill building has also become a home for all the local-food producers that dot that part of the state. With the help of visionary chef Jeff Barney, it contains what has to be the most interesting restaurant in the state, the Saxapahaw General Store. It's still the town general store, with BC Powders, motor oil and Vienna sausage cans. But at the front, in a tiny kitchen space where you'd usually get a livermush biscuit or a hot dog, they're turning out plates of amazing, all-local, gourmet-level food. Serious food, like duck fat fries, free-range chicken, Cane Creek farm pork chops and wild-caught striped bass. At reasonable prices, even -- most plates hang in the $15 to $20 range, which isn't out of the ordinary for food on that level.

Tables are tucked in the aisles among the crackers and general merchandise, and you can get a craft beer or whatever you want from the coolers. When I headed to Raleigh, my food-writing colleague Andrea Weigl offered to take me anywhere I wanted to go. Saxahapaw was where I wanted to go.

We got there at the right time, too. The project expanded just a few weeks ago with the opening of The Eddy on one end of the building. The Eddy is a bar with pub food, most of it a trimmed-back version of the plates you get at the store, and a long list of in-state beers and specialty cocktails. It's a beautiful, warm space, all copper and natural woods, with a new deck overlooking the river. We were there on a Thursday night and a whole table of local-food stars, including Eliza MacLean of Cane Creek, came in for their own dinners.

Graham isn't on the way to pretty much anywhere. It's way out in the country, sort of between Graham and Carrboro. You have to make an effort to make the drive. But from what I saw and tasted, it's worth the trip for anyone who is interested in local food, new ideas, vision and what you can do with an old brick building.

Get the details here: Saxapahaw General .

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Durham A Day: Fullsteam Ahead

We interrupt this series of posts about a single day in Durham last week with a stop for beer.

Yes, boss, that is sometimes my job. Ever since a guy named Sean Lilly Wilson led the lobbying effort Pop the Cap, to raise the alcohol limit on beer, North Carolina has exploded with craft beer and microbrews. When the campaign was over, Wilson got into the beer business himself with a sort-of crazy idea to make beers from ingredients and inspirations that reflect traditional North Carolina foods. Like sweet potato beer, and hickory-smoked beer.

The beer tastes a lot better than that sounds. And the whole thing is truly going full-steam since Wilson (left) and brewmaster Chris Davis joined up with Brooks Hamaker (right).

Brooks is well-known in the Southern food-writing world for several things: His thoughtful posts, under the name Mayhaw Man, back when eGullet first got started. His dedication and constant presence at the Southern Foodways Symposium meetings in Oxford, Miss. And -- oh yeah -- his career in beer. Ever heard of Louisiana's Abita Beer? That was Brooks. After he sold it, he became a brewery consultant all over the world, including here in Charlotte, when he helped get the old Johnson Brewing up and running.

Today, the three of them brew beer that is showing up all over the Triangle, and they've opened the brewery as a beer palace. That's sort of the best way to describe it: It's in an old auto shop in a warehouse district near downtown Durham. Finding it is tricky unless you know to look for the big backward "F" on the door. Inside, there are ping-pong tables and pinball machines, and when I stopped in after lunch Friday, Brooks and Chris were struggling with putting up a new dart board. The whole thing feels sort of like a frat house for grown men. With much better beer.

I was driving, so I kept my sipping to samples. You have to sample a lot to really get a feel for Fullsteam. For instance, there's the Workingman's Lunch. It's supposed to be inspired by a Moon Pie, but it doesn't taste like marshmallow and chocolate (luckily). It's a nice, dark, rich beer. El Toro is Hamaker's "beer beer." My dad had a gold Toro lawnmower that I remember well, so I get where's he's going with that. I also tried their new persimmon beer, which is just slightly fruity and much better than I expected.

Fullsteam is now open at noon most days (get the details here), and there actually were a handful of people at the bar when I stopped in. Friday nights have become quite a scene, Brooks says. A lot of the food trucks (see my Tuesday post) park on the street outside, and everybody from college professors to off-duty police come in to drink and talk. They offer a few bar foods, such as Dos Perros tamales and leftover goodies from Scratch Bakery (they call them "Scratch and dents.") There's even a local baker who's making "beer cookies," designed to go with the eclectic Fullsteam tastes. (That's a five-spice snickerdoodle on my notebook above.)

Fullsteam's main problem right now is that it's a victim of its own success. Tanks are at capacity, says Hamaker. Until they install more, they can't even consider expanding to markets like Charlotte and Charleston. For the moment, you have to either go to the brewery or look in hipster food places all around the Triangle.

Hamaker splits his time between Washington and Durham. Nice life, he admits. He likes Durham a lot for the spirit of food entrepreneurialism that's sprung up from its large creative class. "A lot of us just got tired of trying to find consistent work," he says. Instead, theyr'e finding fun work. Like making whatever kind of beer they can dream up.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The perfect Super Bowl soup

Ed Levine, the editor of the web site Serious Eats, commented in a Tweet this week that the Super Bowl is almost as much of a food holiday as Thanksgiving. And I think he has a point.

My colleague Andrea Weigl has a roundup of recipes from both Pittsburgh and Wisconsin on this week's food front, all worthy contenders for Sunday's Super Bowl parties.

But before you chisel your menu in stone, I wanted to offer one more. I ran this with last year's Super Bowl package that I think may just be the perfect football-watching soup. I got a reminder at a Christmas party this year when I ran into a woman I had never met. When I told her what I do for a living, she grabbed my arm and said, with real excitement, "Do you know about the Buffalo Chicken Soup?" Sure, I said - I wrote the story that ran with it.

She turned and hollered across the room at her husband. Pointing at me, she just said, "The soup! The Buffalo chicken soup!"

I get it, ma'am. And I understand - it's a terrific soup. You could double it, although it's very rich so you don't need big servings. It's just the right thing for a football afternoon in February.

Slow-Cooker Buffalo Chicken Soup
I adapted this originally from "Make It Fast, Cook It Slow," by Stephanie O'Dea (Hyperion, 2009). Feel free to keep right on adapting it.

3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1/2 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 to 3 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts, or 2 to 3 cups cooked, diced chicken
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups nonfat or reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup hot wing sauce, such as Texas Pete Buffalo Wing Sauce, plus more for garnish
4 ounces Velveeta cheese, diced
Crumbled blue cheese (optional; garnish)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skilelt over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and saute about 5 minutes, until slightly soften but still crunchy. Scrape vegetables in the liner of a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker and return skillet to heat.
Cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet and add half the chicken, stirring occasionally, until browned in spots and opaque. Add chicken to the slow cooker and repeat with remaining chicken. (If you're using cooked chicken, skip this step and just add it to the vegetables in the slow cooker.)
Melt the butter in the skillet over medium heat until just foamy. Whisk in the flour to make a roux, stirring well to incorporate all the flour. Cook 1 to 2 miutes, until roux is slightly golden. Scrape the roux into the slow cooker.
Stir in the broth and milk. Add the celery salt, garlic powder and wing sauce. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, or on high for 3 to 4 hours. Stir in the cubed Velveeta about 20 minutes before serving.
Garnish with additional wing sauce and crumbled blue cheese if using.

Durham A Day: Shopping and eating

Continuing my report from a day of eating and food-trolling in Durham last week, we turn our sights to that great American sport - shopping. And eating. Maybe we should just make them one word: "shoppingandeating."

Parker and Otis, 112 S. Duke St., I first visited here years ago when it was Fowler's, an upscale food market and restaurant. It's still similar, although it's no longer a place to buy meat. Now it's a sprawling bistro (sandwiches/salads/baked goods/brunchy stuff) with the tables tucked in, around and through upscale kitchenware (think stacks of Le Creuset) and goofy food gifts on par with Seattle's Archie McPhee. It's a little chaotic (place your order at a counter, go find a table and your food will eventually come find you). The parking is confusing: It's on the side of the Bright Leaf Square parking lot, but it isn't officially a part of Bright Leaf Square, so good luck getting that parking ticket stamped. But still, for a certain kind of gourmet selection, it's a good place. Personally, I settled on a bottle of Bandol rose and a package of my personal favorite chocolate sin, salted caramels from Fran's in San Francisco. Did I need them? No. But need isn't what stores like P&O are really about.

Foster's Market, 2694 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., Sara Foster has her food credentials firmly in place. She's a bona fide FOM (friend of Martha) with a whole list of comfortable, cozy cookbooks in place. The market is a comfortable, cozy place too. Again, it's part cafe and part store, with counter service and tables parked in, around and through. The shopping is less upscale, though. With Valentine's approaching, there are lots of candies right now, and there are always jams, jellies and other ingredients. My score: A jar of her famous Seven-Pepper Jelly. And just two driveways down busy Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, you come to:

The Guglhupf, 2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd., What's Guglhupf? What isn't Guglhupf? It's a bakery. It's very busy, very popular cafe with two floors of packed tables and art dripping from the ceiling. It's an outdoor garden decorated with whimsical sculptures. The food leans toward mittel-Europe, with decorated plates of cake, including the popular fruit tart topped with several kinds of berries over a shortbread-like crust. What really struck me at 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon: Who are all these people and why do they have the time to linger so long over lunch? Still, when there's a chocolate treble-clef sticking out of a puff of whipped cream on your plate, it feels very European, mittel or otherwise. Long live the Guglhupf.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Durham A Day: Food trucks

Food in Durham is no bull. Asheville and Chapel Hill are hip, Charlotte and Raleigh are all business. But Durham is something else. I spent a day last week trolling Durham, where young food entrepreneurs are skipping the lousy economy and building their own food world.

Exhibit A: Food trucks. They've moved beyond construction sites to become a phenomenon. In New York and L.A., food truck festivals bring out mobs of fans and Twitter posts pop up daily to tell you where to find the latest players. Charlotte has joined in slowly, with just a couple of trucks, including Wingzza and Harvest Moon Grill. But Durham has really grabbed it. The web site Carpe Durham tracks trucks daily on a map, and there are trucks with real personality, such as the Daisy Cakes baker who sells cupcakes on Saturdays from an Airstream trailer.

With only one short day, I set my sights on Only Burger. After starting as a truck, it opened a restaurant, in Hope Valley Square, 3710 Shannon Road. But the truck is the original, and a quick check online showed it would be at Lemond and Gregson streets near downtown at lunch.

When I pulled up, the truck was hard to miss, with the slogan "Only Burger: When Only the Best Will Do." They were having parking issues, though, so I settled in to wait until the truck was safely stowed in a community center parking lot and the generator had fired up with a roar like a lawn mower.

The truck menu is simple: Hand-cut fries and burgers made from hormone-free beef ground daily at Cliff's Meat Market in Carrboro. While I waited, I talked to Nolan Brodalski, 30. He moved to Durham from Atlanta in search of work and got so hooked on Only Burger, he was eating there two or three times a week. Finally, he got sick of his real job and quit to take a job working on the truck.

"When I first moved here, I never thought there'd be so much food," he said. "I love this town! I'm definitely not leaving."

My bacon cheeseburger was definitely the best one I've gotten from the window of a truck. But the fries were the best: Long and thin with crispy edges, they were served in a brown paper sack. Along with the salt, I was even happier to find flecks of black pepper. Even places with great fries forget the pepper to balance the salt.