Monday, August 29, 2011

One Great . . . Shortcut Soup

This idea popped up in the September issue of Everyday Food magazine: Use salsa as the base for a very fast soup.

1 corn tortilla
1 (16-ounce) jar salsa
1 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Diced avocado and fresh cilantro (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut tortilla into thin strips, spread on a baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 8 minutes.

Combine salsa and chicken broth in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.

Transfer to a blender with the heavy cream. Blend until smooth. (Be careful and vent the top of the blender so it doesn't splash.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide between two bowls and top with the tortilla strips, avocado and cilantro.

Makes 2 servings. Per serving: 227 calories, 13g fat (5g saturated), 2g protein, 25g carbohydrate, 4g fiber.

Cameras on at JWU Charlotte

Four students at Johnson & Wales University's Charlotte campus will be the focus of "Cooking School Confidential."

The show follows the students through a semester at culinary school.

The students are:

  • Amber Brewer, a mother of three with a full-time job;
  • Paul Walls, an Army vet who's hoping to win an internship at the Alain Ducasse Culinary School in France;
  • Kay Taylor, a 40-something who is chasing her passion for food; and
  • Graham Foster, a professional cyclist who is juggling racing and food.

The documentary airs at 8 p.m. Sept. 4 on The Cooking Channel, the Food Network spinoff that airs on 354 on Time Warner Cable.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hot ticket for some hot barbecue

Tickets go on sale Saturday for a fun food event, the annual Matthews Community Farmers Market Barbecue. The actual barbecue is $5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 27.

The barbecue part is Grateful Growers pork cooked by Alex Ranucci of Ranucci's Big Butt Barbecue. That's served with sides by several Charlotte chefs. $12 gets you barbecue, sides, dessert and a drink; $10 gets you a pound of 'cue. Proceeds go to support the market and its upkeep.

You have to buy tickets in advance. Get them at the market, 188 N. Trade St. in Matthews, during market hours (7:15 a.m.-noon Saturdays) or at Renfrow's Hardware right up the street.

In other Matthews market news: The market hours will be short on Labor Day Saturday, because of the annual Matthews Alive festival. The market will only be open from 7:15 to 9 a.m., and the only parking will be in the open lot behind the market.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What he said: Bruni, Bourdain and Paula

Interesting reading from the New York Times: Former restaurant reviewer (and now op-ed columnist) Frank Bruni joins in on the brouhaha over Tony Bourdain dissing Paula Deen.

Background: In a recent interview, Bourdain - who has been on a tear for the last few months, railing against everything from the James Beard Foundation to newspaper food writers - came out swinging against Paula Deen, calling her "the worst, most dangerous person in America" for the fat level of her food. Deen returned by noting that not everybody can afford the kind of high-art cuisine that Bourdain might prefer we all eat.

Bruni stepped up with some interesting thoughts on the elitist elements in the debate:

"When (Paula) Deen fries a chicken, many of us balk. When the Manhattan chefs David Chang or Andrew Carmellini do, we grovel for reservations and swoon over the homey exhilaration of it all. Her strips of bacon, skirting pancakes, represent heedless gluttony. Chang’s dominoes of pork belly, swaddled in an Asian bun, signify high art."

Want to read the rest? Here's the link.

What will you do for Food Day?

They're calling it "Earth Day for food." The idea is that on Oct. 24, people all over the country will gather to celebrate their local food systems, wherever they are.

A brainchild of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day will be celebrated in Mecklenburg County two days earlier, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 22 at Bette Rae Thomas Center, 2921 Tuckaseegee Road. The Charlotte event will include cooking demos with students and staff from Johnson & Wales University, showings and discussions of the films "Food, Inc." (at 10 a.m.) and "Fast Food Nation" (at 1 p.m.), gardening workshops at 10 a.,m. and 1 p.m., fitness workshops, kids' activities, a farm stand (including EBT access) featuring Sow Much Good of Huntersville, and health and wellness vendors.

You can find out more about the national Food Day at , or search Mecklenburg National Food Day Celebration on facebook.

"The Southern-Latino Table": Who won?

It seems fitting for the first day of school to give a book to a teacher.

And as a former English major who once took a master's level course in Medieval English -- I still have my copy of "Piers Plowman" (can't translate it anymore, but by goodness, I have it) -- I'm happy to send "The New Southern-Latino Table" by Sandra A. Gutierrez to Jo Koster, professor of English, director of English grad studies and coordinator of Medieval Studies at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

Even better: Dr. Koster wrote that she had "Southern-Latino" on her Amazon wish list. Now she can take it off and make room for another copy of the Confessio Amantis.

Thanks, all, for playing. We'll do another giveaway soon.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Great Late-Summer Salad

What does a summer with lots of heat and plenty of rain bring us? From what I've seen at the farmers' markets lately, it's definitely tomatoes and watermelon. Meanwhile, in my herb bed, the basil is waist-high and the mint is out of control. In the spirit of the old culinary rule "what grows together, goes together," here's a way to put them all together.

This recipe was adapted from the new book "Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen," in the summer 2011 issue of Edible Piedmont, which just turned up in my mailbox.

Watermelon-Tomato Salad With Shaved Feta and Handfuls of Mint

Serves 6 to 8

3 large heirloom-type tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cored and cut into chunks
4 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) feta, shaved or thinly sliced
1 lime, cut in wedges

Combine the tomatoes, watermelon, mint, basil, olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper in a large bowl and toss to mix. Cover and refrigerate several hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle with the feta and serve with lime wedges and sea salt for squeezing and sprinkling on top.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Welcome back cookbook giveaway

It feels like everything is starting over this week: Kids are back to school, and I'm back at work after a late-summer week off.

Let's celebrate by celebrating a new N.C. author. I interviewed Sandra A. Gutierrez of Cary back when I wrote about putting an international spin on potato salad for the Fourth of July.

Gutierrez' first book has just been released by UNC Press: "The New Southern-Latino Table" is a lovely, hardcover book with lots of color photos and recipes that celebrate the overlaps between Latin American and Southern food. Looking through it, I noticed her interesting take on pimento cheese, Pimento and Cheese Chilaquiles, a simple tortilla casserole made with a pimento-cheese inspired sauce. It would be a great recipe to keep on hand during the school year. You can assemble the casserole in advance, refrigerate it and back it when you get home.

Here's the recipe, and your chance to win a copy of "The New Southern-Latino Table." Email me at and put "Southern Latino" in the message line. We'll hold a drawing to give away a copy on Thursday.

Pimento and Cheese Chilaquiles

From "The New Southern-Latino Table," by Sandra A. Gutierrez (UNC Press, $30). You can double or triple the recipe, and add cooked, shredded chicken or cooked ground beef.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

12 corn tortillas, each cut in eight wedges
Vegetable oil for frying
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pimento Sauce (see below)
1 1/2 cups shredded queso fresco or Monterey Jack
1 1/4 cups sour cream
2 avocadoes
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

Line two baking sheets with cooling racked. Heat 3 to 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees in a large skillet with deep sides. Working in batches, carefully add the tortilla wedges and fry, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes or until crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the cooling racks and immediately sprinkle with salt.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper; bring to a simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir in the pimento sauce and remove from heat.
Spread a third of the sauce in the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Top with half of the fried chips. Spread half of the remaining sauce over the chips, then spread with half of the cheese. Repeat layering, ending with the cheese. Press down on the tortillas with a wooden spoon (don't worry if some bread). Drop the sour cream by dollops over the top. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil.

Halve, pit and peel the avocadoes and slice them thinly. Place the slices decoratively over the top of the casserole. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Pimento Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups roughly chopped yellow onion
1 cup peeled, seeded and chopped plum tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 (7-ounce) jars diced pimentos
1 teaspoon aji panca paste or hot sauce such as Tabasco
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the onions and saute 3 to 4 minutes, or until they begin to soften. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the pimentos, aji panca or hot sauce, water, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. slightly. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return to saucepan and keep warm until ready to serve. Makes 2 cups.

Friday, August 12, 2011

One great potluck dish

What do you make to take? I found this in the premiere issue of, a new magazine (yes, a printed magazine with the name "") from Meredith that brings together budget-focused recipes from their other magazines, such as Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living and Eating Well. This one originally ran in BHG.

24-Hour Chicken Fiesta Salad

4 cups torn lettuce (iceberg, bibb or Boston)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded pepper-Jack cheese
1 cup (or 1/2 of a 15-ounce can) of black beans, pinto beans or garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
8 ounces chopped cooked chicken or turkey (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 small tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
1 cup jicama (about 4 ounces) cut in bite-size strips, or 1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup sliced, pitted ripe olives
Chile dressing (see below)
3/4 cup crushed tortilla chips

Place lettuce in a large (2-quart) salad bowl. Layer ingredients in the following order: Cheese, beans, chicken, tomatoes, jicama and olives. Spread Chile Dressing evenly over the salad, sealing to the edge of the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Chill for 4 to 24 hours. To serve, toss lightly to coat evenly. Sprinkle with crushed tortilla chips.
Chile dressing: Stir together 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles, 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder and 1 minced clove garlic.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 444 calories, 26g protein, 17g carbohydrates, 32g fat (7g saturated), 73mg cholesterol, 460mg sodium, 5g fiber.

WFAE is raking you over the coals

I've always said Mike Collins is smokin' hot: Out of all the subjects "Charlotte Talks" has covered, the 30th anniversary show, which airs Aug. 22, is on grilling and smoking. They're looking for grilling stories and techniques to read during the show and post online afterward. The show also will be taped during a special open house Aug. 19. Get a link to submitting your questions and stories and get a chance at a ticket to the open house on their food blog, WFAEATS.

Friday food news roundup

  • Tickets are on sale for the ninth season of Taste of the World, the East Charlotte food tour of international restaurants in the area around Central Avenue. If you've never gone, the tour starts at the Van Landingham Estate on The Plaza, circles around to three restaurants and ends back at Van Landingham with a dessert reception. This year's event is on Oct. 6. Tickets are $30 at Yes, it's early, but the event is popular and sells out.

  • Another event is coming up closer: The next Chow Down Uptown food truck festival is next Thursday, Aug. 18, from 5-9 p.m., in the parking lot on 7th Street across from the former Reids (soon to be known as 7Venth Market). This time, the event will include A Taste of the Market, with samples from some of the vendors who will be at 7Venth Market when it opens, a promotion for "The Addams Family Musical" and a screening of the movie, and the debut of Hamilton, the inflatable mascot for BBQ And Blues. After my visit to last month's rally, I'd suggest a few things: Bring cash - tasting a bunch of stuff can run up a tab. Bring a shade umbrella. Bring hand wipes. And bring an appetite.

  • Harvest Moon Grille at the Dunhill has two local-foods events next week: On Sunday from 2-4 p.m., you can take a class in Korean cooking, featuring bulgogi, pork belly and kimchi. Tickets are $20. On Monday, the restaurant hosts its second guest-chef night with Charles Taft, vice president of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The dinner showcases rare and endangered livestock breeds and heirloom vegetables. (OK, he's not exactly the same as having Joe Kwon of the Avett Brothers, but ALBC does important stuff in keeping livestock diversified.) Dinner is $55 with a portion of proceeds going to ALBC. Reservations for dinner or the class: 704-332-4141.

(Speaking of food trucks, has anyone noticed that we've now had two food trucks stolen, the Harvest Moon Grill orange cart and the Lakeview Dairy mooing dairy truck?)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What's on your ideal food reading list?

While writing today's column about the new food-book reading club at Park Road Books, I was pondering the differences in food book styles.

There are cookbooks, and there are food books. Now, it is true that sometimes cookbooks can be food books. And sometimes food books have recipes. But there's an essential difference between the two. It seems to me that cookbooks are focused on how to make things. And food books are focused on . . . everything else.

Food memoirs. Food politics. Food novels. To me, Julia Child wrote cookbooks, and M.F.K. Fisher wrote food books.

I've offered plenty of cookbook lists through the years. Now I'm wondering: What five food books would be essential reading to you?

I'll start it off with two lists, mine and one sent to me by loyal and active food reader Ken Allen. My list:
A.J. Liebling, "Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris." One of the great -- and most humorous -- journalists writes about moving to Paris and learning to appreciate food in the 1920s. It's as much about learning how to eat as learning what to eat.
M.F.K. Fisher. Pretty much anything she wrote, although "The Art of Eating" is a good start.
John Thorne, "Simple Cooking." Erudite, curmudgeonly, comforting. Before any food blogger sets fingers on the keys, they ought to read the man who came before.
Laurie Colwin, "Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen" (and I'll cheat and add "More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen.") I wake up every morning knowing that the best food writing essays ever written have already been written. And yet I get up anyway.
Anthony Bourdain, "Kitchen Confidential." Before the show, before the wars on everyone from newspaper food editors to Esquire writer John Mariani and the James Beard Foundation, before the attitude became a schtick, Tony Bourdain was a writer. A good writer.

And from Ken Allen: I'm thinking of Cross Creek Cookery, Pat Conroy's cookbook, Dan Huntley's barbecue book, among others. If I'm making a recipe from one of those, I have to double the amount of time it takes to actually fix the food due to getting distracted by the stories.

Anyone else have picks they'd share?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Keeping your diet on track

Holy cow! If you go to a farmers market this weekend, keep in mind the scene from this market in Thailand.

My thanks to Dean Mullis of Laughing Owl and cozy market locations at the Charlotte Regional Market, the Matthews Community Market and the Atherton Market, who shared this in his farm newsletter. (Hey, Dean, do you reckon Donnie is skinny enough to fit next to the tracks?)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Report: Farmers markets boost economies

Here's an interesting report on the economic impact of farmers markets (and by extension, the local food movement) just released by the Union of Concerned Scientists:

WASHINGTON (August 4, 2011) – Over the last several decades, thousands of farmers markets have been popping up in cities and towns across the country, benefiting local farmers, consumers and economies, but they could be doing a lot better, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). What’s holding farmers markets back? Federal policies that favor industrial agriculture at their expense.

“On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” said Jeffrey O’Hara, the author of the report and an economist with UCS’s Food and Environment Program. “But our federal food policies are working against them. If the U.S. government diverted just a small amount of the massive subsidies it lavishes on industrial agriculture to support these markets and small local farmers, it would not only improve American diets, it would generate tens of thousands of new jobs.”

UCS released the report just a few days before the 12th annual U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Farmers Market Week, which starts on Sunday, August 7. According to the report, “Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems,” the number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 jumping from 2,863 to 6,132, and now more than 100,000 farms sell food directly to local consumers.

All that growth happened with relatively little help. Last year, for example, the USDA spent $13.725 billion in commodity, crop insurance, and supplemental disaster assistance payments mostly to support large industrial farms, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The amount the agency spent that year to support local and regional food system farmers? Less than $100 million, according to USDA data.

In 2007, the most recent USDA figure, direct agricultural product sales amounted to a $1.2 billion-a-year business, and most of that money recirculates locally. “The fact that farmers are selling directly to the people who live nearby means that sales revenue stays local,” O’Hara said. “That helps stabilize local economies.”

Keeping revenues local also can mean more job opportunities. Last summer, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked Congress to set a goal in the 2012 Farm Bill of helping at least 100,000 Americans to become farmers by, among other things, providing entrepreneurial training and support for farmers markets. O’Hara’s report takes up Vilsack’s challenge and argues that supporting local and regional food system expansion is central to meeting that goal.

In the report, O’Hara identified a number of initiatives the federal government could take to encourage new farmers and the growth of farmers markets in the upcoming Farm Bill. For example, the report called on Congress to:

• support the development of local food markets, including farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, which can stabilize community-supported markets and create permanent jobs. For example, the report found that the Farmers Market Promotion Program could create as many as 13,500 jobs nationally over a five-year period, if reauthorized, by providing modest funding for 100 to 500 farmers markets per year.

• level the playing field for farmers in rural regions by investing in infrastructure, such as meat-processing or dairy-bottling facilities, which would help meat, dairy and other farmers produce and market their products to consumers more efficiently. These investments could foster competition in food markets, increase product choice for consumers, and generate jobs in the community.

• allow low-income residents to redeem food nutrition subsidies at local food markets to help them afford fresh fruits and vegetables. Currently, not all markets are able to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

“Farmers at local markets are a new variety of innovative entrepreneurs, and we need to nurture them,” said O’Hara. “Supporting these farmers should be a Farm Bill priority.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Foodie" needs your help

Three guys from Durham (sounds like a great name for a coffee shop) are trying to finish their film "Foodie" by raising money at Take a look and see what you think. FYI: It gets better after the first scene, actually. At the least, I'm hoping they span a new catchphrase: "Oh! Bread pudding!"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Keep your cool, cooks

My colleague Andrea Weigl had more tips and recipes than she could share in her story on cool summer suppers on today's Food front. Here are more:

Nanette Truelove of Fuquay-Varina compiled a cookbook of vegetable recipes to help her daughter's customers who shop at her daughter's Apex farmstand. Truelove's Sicilian background, of course, produced this quick-and-easy recipe:

Sicilian Raw Sauce

Nanette Truelove notes: Use only deep red vine ripened tomatoes to make the sweetest sauce. A quick and easy way to remove the skin is to place the tomatoes in a dishpan and pour boiling water on top of them. Let them stand 3 minutes, pour off the hot water and replace with cold water. Cut off the end of the tomato and slip the skins off.

¼ cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt
1 hand full of fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
Enough peeled ripe Roma tomatoes to fill a quart blender
1 pound of angel hair pasta
Romano cheese, optional
Crushed red pepper, optional

PLACE olive oil, salt, pepper, basil , garlic and tomatoes in a quart-size blender. Mash tomatoes down to eliminate air. Blend to liquefy. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before using the sauce.

COOK pasta as directed on package. Strain the pasta and place it in a serving bowl and stir in all of the sauce. Cover the serving bowl with a lid and let the pasta sit no longer than three minutes before serving. The sauce is a bit watery but the pasta will quickly take the extra liquid. Serve the pasta in soup dishes. Garnish this dish with Romano cheese and crushed red pepper.

Yield: 6 servings

Susan Reda does cooking demonstrations at a Chapel Hill area farmers market. Below is her recipe for Cool as a Cucumber Salad, but here are links to other recipes from Reda that require little or no cooking on hot summer days:

Cool as a Cucumber Salad

Susan Reda suggests serving this salad with grilled meats. You also could add a spoonful of yogurt to the dressing.

4 (5 ½-inch to 6 ½-inch) cucumbers, thinly sliced on the diagonal
¼ to ½ onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup rough chopped dill, loosely packed
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

COMBINE cucumbers, onion, dill, salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil in a glass or non-reactive bowl. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let flavors marry. Serve.

Yield: About 3 cups.

Mary Jo Lassiter of North Raleigh offered this basic outline of a recipe for a Summer Squash Casserole made in the microwave: Cook squash and onions in the microwave, then mash or chop both squash and onions. (Chopping is easier than mashing.) Add a tablespoon each of sour cream and undiluted cream of chicken soup and the 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese. (You can add more to match the amount of vegetables.) Cook on power level 5 or 6 until is is hot. When it is getting about done, sprinkle bread crumbs or ritz cracker crumbs on top and finish cooking.

Fill up your food calendar

Need something to do? Take your pick:

  • Set aside a weekend Sept. 17-18 to stomp around in the dirt. The third annual Charlotte Area Farm Tour, hosted by the group Know Your Farms, will highlight 30 local farms, everything from the state's first certified-organic dairy to an ostrich farm. The tour is self-guided, with farms located in clusters around the Charlotte region. For $25, you get a map and a vehicle pass (or cycle group, for pedal pushers). Details and tickets are available online at, or you can buy them at The Milky Way, the Common Market or the Bradford Store.
BTW, Know Your Farms was founded by local-food advocate Christy Shi. Now that she has a new job, as manager of the planned 7Venth Market at 7th Street Station, KYF is headed by her brother, Wes Shi.
  • Celebrate your family recipes and share a meal with an older family member as part of the Homemade Memories Recipe Contest, sponsored by Mecklenburg's office of the nonprofit Home Instead Senior Care office. The Craving Companionship program encourages families to make a meal and share it with older family members who live alone. For the contest, you can enter a favorite family recipe and share a story about it. Grand prize is a $500 Visa gift card, and recipes may be used for a "Homemade Memories" cookbook being printed by Home Instead. The deadline is Sept. 15. Get details and post entries at
  • Help out some older vets Aug. 20 in Mint Hill: The Masonic Lodge of Mint Hill, 10224 Lawers Road, will hold a "rockin' oldies dinner show" to raise money for the N.C. State Korean War Veterans Memorial. Dinner is chicken and dumplings from 5-6 p.m., followed by music from the 1950s to the 1970s (hey, wait - when did the '70s get to be oldies? That's MY generation). Tickets are $20, RSVPs are preferred. Call 704-545-6618 and leave a message with your name and how many tickets you're buying.