Friday, September 30, 2011

Garden & Gun gets taste of Charlotte

If you haven't encountered the excellent Charleston-based magazine Garden & Gun (yes, Trad, that's the name), you might want to make a point of tracking down the October/November issue:

Not only does it focus on great food finds all over the South, but Southern food expert John T Edge took a close look at food here in the Queen City. Edge came through for several days earlier in the summer and I was one of his guides for a couple of mealtimes. The boy moves fast. It took several of us, including Tom Hanchett, to keep up with his dining schedule. The article includes King's Kitchen, Brook's Sandwich House, Halcyon, Reids, Harvest Moon and a bunch of other places.

The final article is a thoughtful picture of cuisine as it exists right here, right now. And speaking of pictures, yes, that's me, in my kitchen with the red cabinets. Photographer Squire Fox (yes, Trad, that's his real name) was very kind and only used the flattering lens, as promised.

They keep most of the current issue off the web site until the print issue has been out for a while, so you'll need to look for it on news stands for the time being. Otherwise, the web site is

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cool cooking video of the week: Garlic

OK, this trick for how to peel garlic in less than 10 seconds in the Saveur test kitchen left me with a few questions:

How strong do you have to be to whack apart an entire head of what looks like elephant garlic with one hand? Are all the cloves in the bowl really peeled? It's hard to tell. And does it really work better with giant steel bowls?

On the other hand, even if it doesn't work, it certainly makes a very cool sound. If we all try it tonight, maybe we'll make beautiful music together. I'll give it a try this weekend and report back.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Best food picture ever

I'm not ashamed to give praise where it's due: Food staff at the New York Times, that's just a classic.

The picture is the work of photographer Tony Cenicola. The story it illustrates isn't a slouch in the interesting department, either: Sarah DiGregorio's article on chefs who are cooking chicken skin, including Sean Brock at Husk and McCardy's in Charleston. (I'll be in Charleston next week, and already had Brock's buttermilk-marinated, deep-fried chicken skin on my list.)

You can read the Times chicken skin story here. You can read some of the background on how Cenicola got the picture here. Or you can just admire that picture. Up there.

Bravo, Times People. Nicely played.

Monday, September 26, 2011

We have a cookbook winner

Robin W. Williams is the winner of "From Our Grandmothers' Kitchens: A Treasury of Lost Recipes Too Good to Forget," from the editors of Cook's Country magazine.

Thanks, everyone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Do you know your food trends?

For the Southern Women's Show last week, I came up with a 20-question quiz about what's in the food trends (and what isn't). Want to play along? Don't take it too seriously - trends are really anyone's guess.

And to make it more fun, here's the prize: A copy of the new book "From Our Grandmother's Kitchen," from the editors of Cook's Country magazine. It's the perfect trend anecdote, a collection of recipes "too good to forget." To enter the random drawing, send your name and mailing address to me at Deadline: Monday morning.

OK, here's the quiz, based on a variety of sources predicting the 2011 food trends.

1. True or false: Oprah Winfrey, Mario Batali and Rachael Ray celebrate Meatless Friday.

(False: They celebrate Meatless Monday. Meatless Friday has been a tradition in the Catholic church for hundreds of years.)

2. True or false: All the buzz is about Urban Bee Keeping as the latest trend.

(True. There are hives on the roof at the Ritz Carlton and the Dunhill uptown, and in yards in Myers Park.)

3. To save calories, people are getting dessert plates with with several forks for celebrate the trend of Dessert Sharing.

(False: Germophobia and foodborne illness outbreaks have made people cautious about sharing.)

4. The latest spin in cocktail culture is Smoking Your Drink.

(True: Smoked mint juleps and smoked bourbon have both made appearances this year.)

5. How about drinking your smoke?

(True: Hookah bars are catching on.)

6. What trend does this describe: Handing over $12 to $15 on a plate of food from the back of moving van.


7. Is chocolate-covered bacon a trend?

(Nope. In the food-trend world, chocolate bacon is considered over.)

8. Cupcakes are the hottest thing in bite-size desserts.

(False. In 2011, listed eight books on macarons, the little French pastries, and only four on cupcakes. )

9. The hottest thing in fried chicken is Korean fried chicken.

(True. It's part of a trend toward ethnic comfort food.)

10. Moonshine is the latest thing in artisan liquors.

(Crazy, but true.)

11. Really tall wedding cakes are in fashion.

(False: Wedding cakes are getting simpler or they’re getting replaced with interactive things like cheesecake bars, pie spreads or, yes, candy tables.)

12. Which is not a trend: Artisan hot dogs, artisan grits or artisan tofu.

(It's a trick question: They’re all trends.)

13. Canning is back.

(True. As part of the movement toward local food, it's been big for the last several summers. )

14. The latest hot candy flavor is jalapeno M&Ms.

(False. We hope. But doesn't it sound real?)

15. The trend in baking is sweet and savory versions of . . .

(Pie. Pie is very big this year.)

16. "Hyper-local" is the new phrase for very excited small children growing their own food.

(False. Hyper-local actually means food with no middleman between the food and the plate, such as chef-owned farms or restaurants with gardens.)

17. When pigs fly: The latest thing on appetizer menus is pig wings.

(True. They're a specialty cut, and you can get them at places like The Diamond in Charlotte.)

18. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, pesco-ovo vegetarians eat fish and eggs, and flexitarians eat what?

(Anything: Flexitarians mix up vegan, vegetarian and carnivore eating styles, depending on the time of day, the day of the week or how they feel.)

19. It’s the latest thing in getting really close to the table: Chefs are weaving their own tablecloths.

(False. Although I have seen this once, that's not enough to declare it a trend.)

20. As a backlash against cyber space and technology that is changing too quickly, people are subscribing to print newspapers.

(True. But only in my dreams.)

Wilco wants you to help with local food

Chicago band Wilco is supporting the latest Farmer Foodshare Challenge. Farmer Foodshare is a program that started in the Triangle to get donations of money or fresh food to use for community efforts to feed the hungry.

Starting Sept. 24, Wilco will challenge shoppers at 10 markets, including the Atherton Mill and Market in Charlotte, 2104 South Blvd., to donate money to support Farmer Foodshare.

Unfortunately, Wilco won't actually be at the market in Charlotte: They're playing the Raleigh Amphitheatre on Sept. 27, the same day they're releasing a new album, "The Whole Love." But if you donate to Farmer Foodshare at Atherton on Sept. 24, you get a free Wilco tote bag. The market organizers are hoping you'll fill the bag with food and drop it off at the Farmer Foodshare Donation Station at the front of the market. Wilco will donate proceeds from the sale of show posters to Farmer Food Share.

So far, the Atherton Market has 500 pounds of fresh food for Friendship Trays and the Dilworth Soup Kitchen. With the Wilco promotion, the market hopes to double that.

In other Atherton market news, Savory Spice Shop, a franchise based in the Denver, Colo., area, plans to open in the market in November. Savory Spice Shop, which also has a location in Raleigh, carries more than 400 freshly ground herbs and spices, 140 hand-blended seasonings, organic selections and gift sets.

The Atherton Mill and Market, in the former Charlotte Trolley Barn in the Historic South End, near South Boulevard and Tremont, is open 3-7 p.m. Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Great Tailgate Salad

The weather cools off, the Panthers heat up. And tailgate food starts to feel like something worth getting excited about.

I was flipping through Fine Cooking magazine's special issue on tailgate recipes while the Panthers were playing (early in the game, when it looked like it was going to be a much better season) when I noticed an interesting salad. It mixes snow peas, baby peas, green onions and a big pile of shiitake mushrooms with a little bit of pasta.

No, it's not a traditional mayonnaisey pasta salad. But maybe the Panthers will shake things up this year, too.

Sesame, Snow Pea and Shiitake Pasta Salad

From Fine Cooking magazine. Serves 8.

1/2 pound (8 ounces) dried rolled, tubular pasta, such as cavatelli or strozzapreti
1/2 cup frozen baby peas
40 fresh snow peas (4 to 5 ounces), trimmed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1/2 pound (about 3 cups) fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut in 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and place a colander in the sink. Add the pasta and cook until barely done, about 1 minute less than the time on the package. Add the green peas and cook 30 seconds. Add the snow peas, stir and immediately drain the vegetables and pasta in the colander. Rinse with cool water. Drain well, toss with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, shiitake slices, garlic, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are opaque and the mushrooms have released their juice, 3 to 4 minutes. (Don't let the vegetables brown.)

Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the vegetables and juices to a small bowl and cool to room temperature.

In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil with the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and sugar. Combine the cooled pasta and vegetables, green onions and 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (if using). Toss with the dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve at room temperature, sprinkled with remaining sesame seeds (if using).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cooking Light picks best supermarket, artisan products

So many products, so many choices. Here's some tips: Cooking Light magazine has announced its pick in two lineups for the 2nd annual Taste Test Awards, due out in the October issue.

First, they made picks in 18 categories of the best-tasting supermarket products, including things like reduced-fat ranch dressing (Hidden Valley Light), applesauce (Musselman's Unsweetened Natural) and balsamic vinegar (Whole Foods 365, Pompeian and Progresso all got nods).

There are more than 18 winners, because they gave grand prize and test-taste prize in most categories. It's posted as one of those annoying slide shows, but give them points: You can go here to get an overview of all the products. (Thanks, CL techs.)

Next, CL editors picked the best small-batch artisan products from around the country.

The Carolinas did very well: Johnson County Ham Curemasters Reserve, Cardinal Gin from Kings Mountain, Kerala Curry Curried Lemon from Pittsboro, Looking Glass Creamery Ellington (huh, didn't I just put something about them in the blog last week?) and of course, Blenheim's Hot Ginger Ale.

Whoo-hoos are well-deserved all around.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Splendid Table" giveaway: We have a winner

Julie Ruble, who challenges bakers with her own blog, Willow Bird Baking, has won my challenge to post a convenience food shortcut for an entry into our drawing for a copy of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends," the new book by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.

To pick a winner, I count the entries in the order they come in and then enter the final tally into the Random Generator at

Take a look at Monday's post for the new ideas people sent in. And Julie, email me at with your mailing address and I'll get the book on its way. Thanks, all, for playing.

"Top Chef" product line goes cold

Maybe the ad slogan will be "Pack your knives and microwave":

ConAgra has announced a deal to produce a line of "Top Chef" frozen entrees, according to the publication Broadcast & Cable. The report by reporter Jon Lafayette says the line will be a part of the Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers brand. The marketing includes a Web series, Top Chef Healthy Showdown, which appears on The products are expected to start showing up in supermarkets later in September.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What's the worst food in America?

The book series "Eat This Not That" uses pictures and catchy graphics to compare which foods and food products have the best and worst nutrition lineups. The results are heavily focused on chain and fast-food restaurants and prepared foods. But it always makes fascinating reading.

The 2012 edition just landed on my desk, giving author David Zinczenko's picks for the 20 worst restaurant dishes. Are you sure you're ready? OK, here goes:

1. Worst Food in America: The Cheesecake Factory Bistro Shrimp Pasta. 2,730 calories, 78 grams of saturated fat, and 919 mg sodium. (Cheesecake Factory has won their title for Worst Restaurant in America 4 years in a row.)
2. Worst Chicken Entree: Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits. 2,580 calories, 68g saturated fat, 2,621mg sodium.
3. Worst Ribs: TGI Friday's Caribbean Rockin' Reggae Ribs. 2,450 calories, 52g saturated fat, 3,810mg sodium.
4. Worst Breakfast: IHOP Big Country Breakfast with Country Fried Steak and Country Gravy. 2,440 calories, 145g fat (56g saturated), 5,520mg sodium.
5. Worst Appetizer: Applebee's Appetizer Sampler. 2,430 calories, 166g fat (48g saturated), 6,070mg sodium.
6. Worst Pizza: Uno Chicago Grill Individual Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza. 2,310 calories, 165g fat (54g saturated), 4,650mg sodium.
7. Worst Burger: Chili's Jalapeno Smokehouse Bacon Burger With Ranch. 2,210 calories, 144g fat (46g saturated), 6,600mg sodium.
8. Worst Fish Meal: Culver's North Atlantic Cod Filet Meal. 2,156 calories, 140g fat (21g saturated, 2g transfats), 2,378mg sodium.
9. Worst Mexican Meal: On the Border Dos XX Fish Tacos. 2,150 calories, 144g fat (31g saturated), 3,740mg sodium.
10. Worst Fries: Chili's Texas Cheese Fries With Chili and Ranch. 2,120 calories, 144g fat (69g saturated), 5,920mg sodium.
11. Worst Dessert: Baskin-Robbins Fudge Brownie 31-Degree Below (large). 1,900 calories, 80g fat (39g saturated, 1.5g transfat), 1,350mg sodum, 225g sugars.
12. Worst Sandwich: The Cheesecake Factory Grilled Shrimp & Bacon Club. 1,890 calories, 24g saturated fat, 2,964mg sodium.
13. Worst Chinese Entree: PF Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo. 1,820 calories, 84g fat (8g saturated), 7.692mg sodium.
14. Worst Fast-Food Burger: Sonic Ring Leader Loaded Burger Double Patty. 1,660 calories, 120g fat (44g saturated, 4g transfat), 1,450mg sodium.
15. Worst Salad: California Pizza Kitchen Waldorf Chicken Salad With Blue Cheese Dressing. 1,561 calories, 31g saturated fat, 1,821mg sodium.
16. Worst Frankenfood: Friendly's Grilled-Cheese Burger. 1,540 calories, 92g fat (35g saturated), 2,490mg sodium.
17. Worst Fast-Food Breakfast: Burger King BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter. 1,310 calories, 72g fat (26f saturated, 1g transfat), 2,490mg sodium.
18. Worst "Healthy" Sandwich: Quiznos Veggie, large. 1,090 calories, 61g fat (19g saturated), 2,540mg sodium.
19. Worst Supermarket Food: Hungry-Man Pub Favorites Classic Fried Chicken. 1,030 calories, 62g fat (14g saturated -- transfat isn't listed on the package), 1,610mg sodium.
20. Worst Side Dish: TGI Friday's Loaded Mashed Potatoes. 930 calories (no other nutrition provided).

One Great . . . Late Summer Pasta Dish

With the good-tomato season running out faster than a kid who's missing the bus, I can't resist buying as many as I can at the farmers market. Which means that I look up late in the week and realize I have several fat tomatoes that are crossing the border from ripe to too-ripe.

Casting around for a way to turn a few juicy specimens into dinner, I spied the new book "Cook This Now," from New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark. Organized by seasons, it was easy to find the dish "Pasta With Bacon, Rosemary, and Very Ripe Tomatoes." It was fast and easy, and piled next to a piece of wild salmon, it made a tasty summer supper.

Pasta With Bacon, Rosemary, and Very Ripe Tomatoes

Serves 2 (4 at my house, thanks to the salmon)

8 ounces pasta shape of choice (she suggests farro spaghetti; I used farfelle)
3 ounces bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (I used a little home-cured slab bacon from the freezer)
1 large, bushy rosemary sprig (I pulled the leaves off the sprig and minced them)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 very large or 3 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Soft herbs, such as minced thyme, if you want (very optional)
Grated Pecorino Romano (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions (11 minutes for farfelle).

Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper towel, leaving the fat in the pan; if it looks really greasy, spoon some out to just leave a thin layer. (Since I was using thicker slab bacon, I just left it in the pan and cooked it into the sauce.)

the rosemary, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste to the skillet and cook until the garlic is lightly browned but not burned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer until the pasta is cooked. Season aggressively with more salt and pepper. If it tastes flat, add a few drops of vinegar.

the pasta and add to the sauce, tossing to mix. Sprinkle with the bacon and herbs if you're using them. Grate some Pecorino Romano over the top if desired.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A win for Mooresville's Race City Sauce Works

My colleague, Raleigh food writer Debbie Moose, is an annual judge for the N.C. Hot Sauce Contest in Oxford, N.C. Tough duty, but good news for a local saucer: The winner of Critics' Choice this year is El Verde Sucio -- The Dirty Green, from Race City Sauce Works in Charlotte.

Winner of hottest sauce was Bhut Jolokia, made by Bailey Farms, while Most Unusual went to Smoking J's Jamaican Ginger.

Read about the contest and the painful duty of Hot Sauce Judge at Debbie's blog.

Who won the barbecue contest?

I was on the road this weekend and had to miss BBQ & Blues on Sept. 10 at the N.C. Music Factory.
But I got the winners bright and early this morning.

The big prize was kind of a double header: The Grand Champion crown went to a team from Jack's Old South BBQ. But since Old South already has a berth at Memphis in May, Charlotte will be represented by Rannucci's Big Butt BBQ of Belmont. Here are the remaining winners.

Pork shoulder:
1st - Jack's Old South.
2nd - Smoke Shack.
3rd - Black Jack Barbecue.
4th - Rannucci's Big Butt.
5th - Muck's.

Whole hog:
1st - Jack's Old South
2nd - Yazoo's Delta Q's.
3rd - Black Jack
4th - Uncle Mac's BBQ Crue.
5th - Rannucci's.

1st - Rannucci's.
2nd - Doc & Dicie's BBQ.
3rd - Uncle Mac's.
4th - Mountain Grillas.
5th - Smoke Shack.

In the Backyard Grillers category . . .

Boston Butt:
1st - Rocky Top Smokies.
2nd - QCQ.
3rd - Pork Busters.

1st - Moonswine Racers.
2nd - Fast Eddie's Lo & Slo.
3rd - Mad About Que.

A "Splendid" Cookbook Giveaway

I was away from my office with no online contact last week, so I didn't realize that our giveaway for "The Splendid Table How to Eat Weekends" didn't get posted. So let's give it another try:

The always fabulous radio host Lynne Rossetto Kasper was kind enough to give me a great tip for my story on convenience-food shortcuts (read it here if you missed it). In her honor, I wanted to get your favorite convenience-food shortcut. Post your idea here (a great convenience product, how you use it and what, if anything, you do to improve it). Include a unique name (not just Anonymous) and I'll include you in a drawing for the new book by Lynne and her co-author, Sally Swift.

Don't forget to check back and find out if you won. I'll announce the winner at 9 a.m. Wednesday, so the deadline is 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Carolina food travel: Go, do, be

I'm on the road myself for the next week. In the meantime, keep these in mind:

  • The Asian Moon Festival, one of the two biggest Asian festivals, is Sept. 12. If you've ever wondered about Moon Cakes, those puffy cakes with elaborate writing, there's an Asian Culture Meetup at 4 p.m. Sept. 12 at Grand Asia, 4400 Potters Road in Matthews. You'll learn the significance of the food, learn how mooncakes are made, and get a sample (and probably eat a little). It's $5. Sign up here.
  • Greenville, S.C., has been a food-focused city with a small but dedicated restaurant scene. For $39, you can join a culinary tour every Tuesday at 6 p.m. or Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. You visit five restaurants, getting something to eat and drink at each stop. The stops: The Loft at Soby's, chef Rodney Freidank; the kitchen at Soby's on the Side; The Lazy Goat, chef Victoria Moore; Soby's New South Cuisine, chef Shaun Garcia; and Devereaux's, chef Spencer Thompson. Details and tickets: That's also the place to find details on the big food weekend, Euphoria, Sept. 22.
  • It's getting to be the best time of year to hit the wine country. If you need an excuse, here's one: Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda is celebrating its 6th annual Festa Italiana from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 17. Admission is $15 and includes a wine tasting, live music and food vendors (and a gorgeous view, from their Italian-style villa, one of the prettiest winery locations around). Details, including directions (it's an easy drive, 75 miles north of uptown Charlotte on I-77):

Too much zucchini? Keep your cool

File this under "the most interesting recipe I saw before 9 a.m. today":

On, Max Falkowitz has a post on a novel way to take your revenge on all those zucchini: Zucchini Bread Ice Cream.

"When you've reached the point of zucchinipocalypse where even baking won't save you from the overrun, there's one last dramatic course of action to take. I'm talking about ice cream. Specifically, zucchini bread ice cream. It's a novelty to bust you out of zucchini malaise, and it's so good you may finally have the weapon you need to repel the invasion of the summer squash."

Falkowitz does not merely make zucchini bread and crumble it into ice cream. His method involves browning grated zucchini in butter, pureeing it with cream and spices and adding a glug of beer - yes, beer - to add that essential baked breadiness.

Sounds to me like the perfect thing to scoop on top of that other great zucchini-hider, the Mock Apple Pie.

Here's a link. And if you make it, please let me know if this idea is a keeper.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Look, it's Looking Glass

As a local-cheeses fan, I'm always happy to see Carolinas cheesemakers get attention:

Asheville's Looking Glass Creamery's Ellington Cheese is included in the October issue of Cooking Light magazine, in a roundup of great artisanal and small-batch foods from around the kitchen. Ellington is a goat's milk pyramid-form cheese with black ash under the rind.

Looking Glass is a family-owned operation owned by Jennifer and Andy Perkins in Fairview, near Asheville. They opened in January 2009.

Looking Glass has popped up in a few locations in Charlotte. It was recently on the cheese plate at Harvest Moon Grille at the Dunhill Hotel, although it's not on the chalkboard at the moment. It's also available all around Asheville and Hendersonville. For more details and sightings, go to