Friday, July 29, 2011

Weekend cooking project: Get you some gazpacho

What happens when you chase a wet/cool spring with a wicked hot summer? Produce explosion. All of my farm and farmers market friends are remarking that we are in the middle of a bonafide tomato bonanza.

At Casa Purvis, I took evasive action several weeks ago: Among the many projects I tackled during a recent stay-home-and-cook vacation was bacon making. I ordered 3 pounds of pork belly from a local farm, but my order got misinterpreted as 5 pounds. Not a problem: This is one summer when 5 pounds of bacon, cured, smoked and tucked in the freezer, will get regular starring roles on BLTs, BTs and tomato-heavy salads sprinkled with crispy, brown lardons.

Of course, it doesn't take home-cured bacon to celebrate the Mighty Tomato in a summer like this. We've been mowing through platters of caprese salads and bowls of tomato wedges tossed with a little olive oil, salt and sherry vinegar.

This weekend, I'm hungering for a big batch of gazpacho, the perfect thing to pack for lunches at my desk next week with hunky chunks of crusty bread. Yes, Spainophiles, it is true that not all gazpacho is made from tomatoes. But my favorite definitely is. It's a recipe from old friend Fred Vultee. Haven't seen him in years, but he left me with a good recipe. That's what friends are for.

I've already got the recipe loaded on my Blackberry so I have the essential summer shopping list handy.

Fred's Really Tomatoey Gazpacho
4 to 5 large tomatoes, or about a dozen smaller Roma tomatoes, plus 1 more tomato for topping
1/2 of a large sweet onion
1 green pepper, seeded
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground coriander
A little vegetable or tomato juice if needed
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Chopped fresh basil to taste

Peel all but one large tomato. Cut out the stem end and cut in half. Squeeze out the seeds, then roughly chop the tomatoes. Place in a blender.

Chop half the onion, pepper and cucumber roughly and add to the blender. Dice the remaining onion, pepper and cucumber and set aside. Add the garlic, oil, vinegar, lemon juice and coriander to the blender. Puree until smooth. (Do this in batches if you need to, to keep the blender contents from splashing over.) Add a little vegetable or tomato juice if needed to thin it out a little.

Refrigerate until well chilled. Before serving, dice the remaining tomato and basil and mix with the diced onion, pepper and cucumber. Top soup with some of the chopped vegetables before serving.

Makes about 6 servings.

From the story vault: Canning peaches

Peaches are doing just as well as tomatoes. In the summer of 2008, photographer Gary O'Brien and I went to see Charlotte cook Cydne Watterson, who is absolutely nuts about canning peaches.

We put together a video of Watterson canning her peaches. You can watch that here: Peach video.

And you can read my story about Watterson and her peach passion here: Peach Lady.

One warning, though: Watterson uses a steam canning method. It's common in her native Utah, but is used less often around here. If you have the equipment though, it's a simple way to can.

Thanks again, Cydne.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bourdain, Ripert, Park Road Books - and a food-writing club

You have to act fast (before 10 a.m. Friday, July 29), but Park Road Books has a special offer for tickets to "Good Vs. Evil: An Evening With Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert," which is coming to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center on Oct. 26. If you buy tickets here through Park Road Book's deal, you can save $5. (After 10 a.m. tomorrow, you just buy them through the Blumenthal site at the regular prices, which range from $34.50 to $150. Go here.)

Park Road Books also will be the bookseller at the event, which is a nice perk for a great independent bookstore that has brought so many cookbook authors to town. (To read my colleague Pam Kelley's recent story on Park Road Books, go here.)

And in other cookbook author news, Rick McDaniel, the author of "An Irresistible History of Southern Food," will sign copies of his book at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at PRB. McDaniel was quoted in my recent story on pimento cheese. (And you can read that here.)

One more thing (I saved the best for last): Park Road Books is starting a food writing club to discuss great food writing of the book variety. The first meeting is at 7 p.m. Aug. 30 to discuss "Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge," by Edgar Gordon. What a cool idea.

Thinking about culinary school?

Kayla Webley of Time has an interesting story up: Can culinary school lead to a career that pays enough to equal the cost of the tuition (and the student loans)? Or would budding chefs be better off skipping the degree and heading straight to the kitchen line?

It's a valid question. And an intriguing one, here in a city with four culinary schools. Here's the link:

At last, a superhero I can believe in: Mrs. Butterworth

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New farmers markets take root

I'm starting to get used to this: By mid-summer every year, several new farmers market set up shop in the middle of the summer season. I haven't been out to see these yet, so if you have feedback to share, add a comment and let me know how these are doing:

Elizabeth Avenue Farmers Market,
1521 Elizabeth Ave., in the parking lot between Torrence and Hawthorne. 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays. This one was started by Trey Wilson of Customshop and has only been running for a few weeks. But it's about time Elizabeth had a market, isn't it? The list of vendors is short, but growing: Stone Seafood (let's hear it for Rock Stone fans), Wild Turkey Farms, Landis Mushrooms and Think Bees. Details:

Wallace Community Tailgate Market, 11202 Harris (Eastfield) Road, Charlotte, 704-252-1654. 9 a.m.-noon Thursdays. Producer-only market with quite a few north-end growers and makers, including Houston Farms, Windy Hill Farms, Cabarrus Farms, Commonwealth, Cloister Honey, Great Harvest, Pickleville and Rocky River Coffee. Details: Wallace Community Tailgate Market on Facebook.

Village at Robinson Farm, at Rea Road and Williams Pond Lane. Noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays. It's organized by Jason Stone of Unity Farms, which is a familiar vendor at Trade and Tryon most weekdays. Check the Village at Robinson Farm on Facebook for more details.

There's also a new market project coming up on North Davidson Street, behind Area 15 at Davidson and 15th Street. That will include the output of a group of 19 farms around Reidsville, as well as art and some other events. It plans to start Aug. 13 and continue on the first Saturday of the month through November.

And while I haven't had a chance to add these, we still have our searchable list of farmers markets all over the Carolinas. Go here to look for more.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Yes, I'm a biscuit-eater

Thanks to Sam Sifton of the New York Times, who kindly asked me for a quote or two for his story on biscuits in this weekend's New York Times Sunday magazine. It's only July, but I was flattered to be in such august company, including Nathalie Dupree. Here's a link to the story.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cooking in the heat

Or maybe I should say "not cooking in the heat." For a story coming up, my colleague Andrea Weigl wants suggestions on what you make when it's too hot to cook. Here's her column on what she does:

If you have good recipes or ideas to share, email her directly,

Charlotte's food truck rally is still rolling

Thursday night was supposed to be the end of the July Chow Down Uptown food truck rally, in the parking lot across from 7th Street Station.

But it's been such a hit that Moira Quinn with Charlotte Center City Partners says it will continue, probably once a month, for as long as the truck people want to do it. "They're driving, they're in charge," she told me at the 7Venth Market public forum.

By Friday morning, they had apparently picked a date for the return: Aug. 18. Same spot and same time (5:30 to 8 p.m. or so, or however long the food holds out.)

The food trucks certainly have grown. There were nine or 10 out Thursday night, from Emma (say it EEE-mah) Merisier of Southern Cake Queen to my old colleague Dan Huntley of Smoke. I hit Roaming Fork for the pulled pork sandwich, got a very tart lemon frozen-fruit bar from Lollie's at Huntley's truck and did a dueling-cupcake tasting at Southern Cupcake (Summer Bliss, lemon cake with raspberry buttercream) and On the Go Cupcakes (the Elvis -- banana cake, peanut butter buttercream and candied bacon).

Favorite find of the night: Deep-fried Deviled Eggs from Roaming Fork (left). Those turned out to be more like egg salad (but good egg salad, very yolky) coated in panko and fried, then served with a honey mustard dipping sauce. You got three big ones for $3.

If you want to keep up with where the food trucks are roaming, you can follow most of them individually on, or follow @cltfoodtrucks.

The food is great, but eating in a parking lot isn't all that charming in July. Here's hoping the trucks keep rolling in October, when it will be a lot more pleasant. In fact, given our usually-mild winters, couldn't we have a food truck rally in February?

New city market has a name

How does "7venth Public Market" strike you? That's apparently the name for the planned city market in the old Reid's space in 7th Street Station. (And yes, my first impulse is to ask "what were the first six?" Are we counting forward from the 1890s when farm wagons still parked along Trade Street?)

Last night's public open house drew about 30 people to mill around and scribble thoughts and suggestions about what they want the market to be on long sheets of white paper.

The idea for a public food market has been around for years, but now it's drawing closer to the planned October opening. For one building, the market is already holding a lot of goals. Dr. Dan Murrey ran down the list: In keeping with support from Carolinas Healthcare System, it's supposed to bring better food access to underserved urban areas and Charlotte's food deserts. It's supposed to be a business incubator for local products. And it's supposed to focus attention on local and regional foodways. He even mentioned the idea of a library with used cookbooks.

Walking around to look at the notes people scribbled, here are some of what people are thinking: Under "We've Been Told These Things Are Important . . . " people wrote:
"Wine and Beer." "Oh yeah!"
"Butcher." "Absolutely."
"NC/SC Fish and Seafood."
"SC/NC Berries."
"Breads." "Gluten-free."
"Pizza." (Crossed out.)
"Local Wine and Beer."
"Spices and Herbs."
"BBQ (Make sure it's from Mac's.)"
"Local Meat."
"NC Food Crafters."
"Shared-Use Kitchen or Kitchen Incubator."
"Tacos and Papusas."

My favorite, though, was a comment on another sheet: "Let's make the notion of 'local' disappear and replace it with 'normal.'"

Now that's an intriguing thought.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bourdain and Ripert: Together on stage

Chef Eric Ripert and professional mouth Tony Bourdain are coming to Charlotte on Oct. 26 with their stage show "Good Vs. Evil: An Evening With Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert," at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Ripert is the chef of New York's famed restaurant Le Bernardin and the host of PBS's "Avec Eric." Bourdain, for the three people on the planet who haven't encountered him, is the host of Travel Channel's "No Reservations."

According to the Blumenthal, they will "share stories and muse on the place of food in our personal, community and global life." Tickets range from $34.50 to $150 for VIP packages and go on sale at 10 a.m. July 29, online at, by calling 704-372-1000 or at the Blumenthal box office, 130 N. Tryon St.

So which one will play good and which will be evil? I can tell you that Ripert certainly has the nicer smile. And Bourdain certainly has the biggest . . . hmm. Let's just call it an ego.

Sorry, I'm struggling with what to say about Mr. Bourdain. He doesn't struggle with what to say about me and my profession. Back in March, he unleashed a diatribe on his blog in which he claimed that newspaper food editors spend all our time writing "kicky new muffin recipes."

Since I can only recall writing one muffin story in my life (back in the early 1990s, on how to make low-fat muffins that don't have the texture of rubber balls and certainly weren't kicky), I'm not sure how to welcome him to Charlotte. Perhaps I should send muffins.

Have an opinion on the new uptown market?

The new city market project -- ie, the market going in the space formerly known as Reid's in 7th Street Station -- is starting to take shape. Market manager Christy Shi has had a couple of meetings with potential vendors, and the market is on schedule to open in October.

So what is the city market? Shi's vision is for a combination food market and farmers market. There will be fresh, local produce, but there also will be a restaurant space and local food vendors. There could be space to can or freeze excess food for use in hunger-relief programs. There could be consignment arrangements for farmers to have produce there while they are back in their fields growing more.

What would you want -- or not want -- in a city market? Tonight is your turn to speak up. Shi is holding an open house for the public from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the 7th Street Station market space. Shi promises it won't be a lot of sitting and listening to people talk. Instead, she plans interactive discussion with things like "if you wrote a bumpersticker for the market, what would it say?"

Also on the schedule: Shi will unveil the name for the market, and a sketch of the logo.

Make an evening of it: The Chow Down Uptown food truck rally is going on across 7th Street from 5-9 p.m. The first 100 people to show up at the market open house will get a voucher for one of the dessert trucks.

Getting there is easy: You can park outside of uptown and take Lynx or park free for 90 minutes in Seventh Street Station. Shi says there also will be free parking in the lot across from the market.

See you there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let's play "Spot the Emeril"

Apparently, even Emeril Lagasse was out and about for Charlotte Restaurant Week. Cary Cox sent us this picture after she and her friend Janice Travis spotted Lagasse at Aria.

Lagasse is opening a restaurant here, so let's declare the Emeril Watch officially open.

New idea: Local-In-A-Box

In the move toward making local food a regular part of life for shoppers, Lowes Food added a new fold earlier this summer: The Locally Grown Club, a sort of supermarket-based CSA.

Farm-based CSAs are well-established, of course, as subscription services that let a shopper pay in advance and receive a regular share in a farm's harvest.

Lowes' new version is a little different: The Winston-Salem-based chain with locations in Charlotte is letting shoppers sign up to receive a weekly package of produce from N.C. farms. The club runs until Sept. 17 and varies in price, from $30 for a one-week trial subscription to $75 for three weeks or $175 for a 7-week subscription. Shoppers pick up their produce every Saturday at the stores. Each box has six to 10 items, weighs at least 12 pounds, and is designed to be enough produce for a family of four for a week. Sign up and get details here: lowesclub.

So how does the company define local? Most of the farms used are in North Carolina, although the chain also works with farms in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Viriginia, based on availability and seasonality. For instance, this week's boxes would include Roma tomatoes and Athena melons from Patterson Farms in China Grove, Sprite melons from Southeastern Growers Association of Kinston, lettuce from Shelton Farms in Whittier, mini sweet pepppers from Bailey Farms in Oxford, and white peaches from Lindsay Deal in Taylorsville, along with N.C. eggplant, S.C. corn and Virginia potatoes.

Looking around the country yesterday, the only program like it that I found is at the Dorothy Lane markets in and around Dayton, Ohio, which started a similar subscription service about a year ago. But it's something we may see more often as stores look for ways to harness the desire for local with what their region can provide.

Lorna Christy, a marketing expert with the Produce Marketing Association, says she sees CSAs going off in all kinds of directions we couldn't have predicted five or 10 years ago. "It's a really interesting example of how the lines are blurring between the locally grown CSA and retail outlets," she says. She's seen examples in many cities of CSAs opening retail operations in stores that are vacant and cheaply rented thanks to the economic downturn.

She also points to things like stores that allow farmers markets to operate in their parking lots. Even though it looks like the stores wouldn't want competition right outside their doors, it actually works: The stores get good will from the community and shoppers who start outside usually also go inside to buy things to go with the fresh produce they picked up.

Regional chains like Lowes can be more innovative than large national chains, she says, so they're good incubators for new ideas. Finding ways to harness local food is part of that. "It's a great example of really good marketing people looking outward and finding new ways to connect."

So have any of you signed up for the Lowes food club? I'd love to hear how the experience works and whether you got your money's worth in the boxes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

One-Stop for Local: The new Reid's

Now that the newest incarnation of Reid's is up and running on Selwyn Avenue, I made a quick stop last week to take a look. A few notes:

- If you've been around Charlotte a while, you'll know the spot has food karma. It's the location of the old Fresh Market. When you pull into the parking lot, the old neon Reid's sign is there. One warning: Those have got to be the skinniest parking spaces in town.

-- Both the front and back entrances lead you into a nicely set up wine bar and eating area, with an extensive wine section. It's a nice spot for a leisurely lunch before you shop and a good stage for Heidi Bilotto's cooking classes, which continue.

-- The meat department is as good as the old Reid's. Yes, Bucky Frick and Mac McDonald are back behind the counter if you need special cuts and/or meat-cooking advice.

-- The food products section is small, but it's a nice showcase of locally made stuff. I spotted a long list of familiar names - Yah's Salsa's, Litl Taste of Heaven biscuits in a number of flavors, Beverly's Gourmet, Tizzerts cakes by the slice, Penny's pimento cheese, Polka Dot Bakery crackers. Our local-food scene is getting so lively, it's nice to have a one-stop place to find a bunch of different makers.

Two interesting things I hadn't seen: They have multicolored Chester Farms eggs raised by Edwina Willis-Fleming of Eastover (there's a chicken farmer in Eastover? Yes, but apparently her chickens actually live in Chester. Now there's an interesting commute.)

And, for pepperoni-roll fans and West Virginia transplants, we now have locally made pepperoni rolls. They're made by Heidi Ebert of LOL Kitchen on Laurel Avenue.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wood-cooked barbecue: Thanks, Corey

Sometimes being a food writer is a pinch-yourself job: You get to have experiences that make you pinch yourself to make sure you're not dreaming.

As an N.C. food writer, a lot of my pinch moments have involved barbecue. I once got to spend three days on the road by myself, eating at 17 barbecue joints, covering over 1,000 miles and crossing state lines twice. I've gotten to sit up all night minding whole pigs, I've shoveled coals with Boy Scout dads, and I've judged so many barbecue contests, I've lost count.

Late last fall, photographer Corey Lowenstein from the Raleigh News & Observer met me at the Skylight Inn in Ayden, way out on a two-lane road in Pitt County. Our newspapers share resources, which means building working relationships in whole new ways.

For myself, I just had to hold on to a notebook, watch everything that happened and not screw it up.

Photographers don't have it that easy. They have to haul equipment, clamber around in tight spots and get their faces and their lenses right down into the heart of things, no matter how hot or smoky. Corey was right in there for hours, doing an amazing job and bringing back some of the best barbecue photographs I think I have ever seen.

We writers get our names in big type on the tops of stories. Photographers get tiny little credits below their pictures. But they deserve much more, and Corey certainly earned recognition.

My story on the art and tradition of wood-cooked barbecue will be here for the next few days. Even if you skip reading it, you shouldn't skip the audio-slide show and the pictures by Corey.

Ms. Lowenstein, it was an honor doing business with you.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Eating for Cookies For Kids Cancer

Last month, I wrote a column about my old friend Gretchen Holt and Cookies For Kids' Cancer, the group she founded when her son, Liam Witt, was diagnosed with pediatric cancer. CFKC does bake sales and other cookie-related events to raise money to fund pediatric cancer drug trials and research. Charlotte is the top money-raising site for CFKC.

Friday afternoon, I had the honor of helping judge a cookie contest for CFKC, sitting next to my fellow judge, Grier Cristenbury, 7, (above) at the Flying Biscuit Cafe at Park Road Shopping Center. The other judges were Kiran Smith of Little Ones magazine, Lisa Frame of Daily Pinch and Kerry McCray of the Meetup group Good Eats & Meets.

Twenty-five cookie recipes were entered, but luckily it had been narrowed down to seven finalists. Still, it was a tough job, people. I am here to tell you, that Grier Cristenbury is one tough cookie judge. I helped him fill out his judge's score card, with all the moms and kids watching us take every bite.

There was a lot riding on the contest. The winner gets free food for a year at the Stomp Chomp & Roll restaurants in Charlotte, the group that owns Flying Biscuit at Park Road and Stonecrest, Mama Fu's and the Pizza Peel in Cotswold, Monkey Joe's at Park Road and Moe's at Northlake.

But that's not why there's a lot riding on it. Those restaurants also will make and sell the winning cookie until the end of September, with all proceeds going to Cookies For Kids' Cancer. Just recently, New York finally passed Charlotte as the site of the biggest CFKC bake sale. With enough cookies sold, we could put that upstart Little Apple back in its place.

So, the winners: Third place went to Angela Sluder's Triple Chip Cookies and second was Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies by Catherine Coltrin.

The winner was Jane Cole, with Millionaire Shortbread Cookies, a three-layer arrangement of shortbread, caramel and chocolate. (That's it in the paper cup at the front of the plate.)

Here's the recipe. It's a bit British, as is Jane. But instead of making it, consider stopping by one of the Stomp, Chomp & Roll restaurants listed above and buy it. See Grier, the kid with the big smile and the big cookie? He became friends with Liam Witt when they were both patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Grier's buddy Liam died in January, at the age of 6 1/2. Let's buy a lot of cookies and eat 'em all for Grier and his fellow cancer-warriors out there.

Millionaire Shortbread
By Jane Cole, Charlotte.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup icing sugar (AKA confectioners sugar)
Salt (amount not given; I'd start with 1/2 teaspoon)
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons butter
2 tins (cans) sweetened condensed milk
6 tablespoons Lyles golden syrup
Chocolate layer:
4 bars Cadbury Milk Chocolate
3 tablespoons margarine
Whipping cream (amount not specified)

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. (yes, that's how it reads, although 325 would probably work fine).

Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch pan. Combine the flour, confectioners sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter to make a crumbly mixture. Press the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Caramel layer: Melt the butter. Mix the sweetened condensed milk and syrup well, then stir in the melted butter. Microwave 1 minute and stir well. Repeat 6 times, until mixture is thick and deeply colored. Pour over the shortbread crust.

Chocolate: Melt chocolate and margarine in a double boiler (or in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat). Add cream until all is melted and shiny. Pour over the caramel layer. Refrigerate until set. Sprinkle with a little confectioners sugar and cut into squares.