Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Holding a good thought for New Orleans at Bite Your Tongue

If there was a day to eat Creole, it was Wednesday: Katrina anniversary and Hurricane Isaac Day. I have a lot of friends and a lot of good memories in New Orleans.

But really, Bite Your Tongue? What kind of business plan is "Let's move from a place that's difficult to find to a place that's impossible to find?" Apparently it's a good business plan, because it's working.

If you don't know the story of Lucius and Martine Johnson, here's the short version: New Orleans folk who cook really good Creole food. Evacuated during Hurricane Katrina, came to North Carolina. Opened Bite Your Tongue, a tiny food business in the oddest location ever, in the lobby of a medical office building on Randolph Road, using what used to be a snack bar to serve up etoufee and jambalaya and the like.

That's where I joined them. I loved meeting friends over there for lunch: "In the lobby. No, seriously, there's a restaurant there. No, I'm not kidding."

It must have worked, because about a month ago, they opened a lovely new restaurant, with tables and everything. I had the address, 222 Bland St. No problem, I know Bland Street. I go to Greek Isles all the time.

Except . . . well, Lucius and Martine, you've topped yourselves in difficult to find. I drove around, I parked and walked around. I finally called and begged: Where are you?

OK, here is where it is: Not on a street. It's actually right in front of the Bland Street stop on the LYNX line. If you can find the Bland Street LYNX parking lot from South Tryon, that sort of helps. Or if you go to Greek Isles and keep walking on the broad sidewalk until you see umbrella tables, that helps too. Or skip all that, get on Lynx uptown and take it to Bland. That's really the easiest.

Still, once you find it, it's sweet. Good, not-too-spicy jambalaya, great warm cheese biscuits, terrific Strango, a very sweet strawberry/mango tea/lemonade they make themselves. They serve brunch, they serve breakfast. If you commute on LYNX, you can pick up sides and the terrific white chocolate bread pudding to go.

If you find it, say hello to Lucius and Martine. If you find it . . .

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One Great . . . tomato sauce

The tomato season is winding down, but it's not over yet. Around here, we usually have tomatoes well into September.

My friends at the Washington Post held a contest recently for readers' best recipes using tomatoes. (Man, I hate those guys - such good stories.)

One of the finalist recipes was this handy little thing called Tomato Butter, sent in by Nan Fuhrman of Seneca, Md. She uses it as a cracker spread, but I bet you could a bunch of uses, including a sandwich spread.

Tomato Butter

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
2 pounds dark, pulpy tomatoes, stem ends sliced off and seeds squeezed out
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon liquid smoke

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the onion is soft, stirring a few times, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, paprika, brown sugar and salt. Cook, uncovered, until mixture thickens to the consistency of jam, stirring often and using a wooden spoon to break up large pieces of tomato, about 30 minutes.

Transfer to a blender. Remove center from blender jar and cover with a towel to contain splashes. Puree until smooth. Strain if desired, then stir in liquid smoke and blend again on low speed. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate. Keeps about a week, covered.

Makes about 1 cup.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cookbook giveaway winner: Who won "Leon"?

Sorry, Robw222: You suggested that I give away my copy of the new book "Leon: Naturally Fast Food," from the London healthy-focused restaurant chain. But you weren't the lucky winner.

The copy of the book goes to Vickie Holland of Bessemer City. Thanks, Vickie! (And RobW, of course. I'm always happy to accomodate readers.)

And in other giveaway news: I haven't gotten any entries for the kit "Chili Cook-Off In a Box." I'll withdraw it for the moment and wait until it's cooler, the DNC is over and we have time to think about things like chili cookoffs. So stay tuned, chiliheads.

Friday, August 24, 2012

RIP for the owner of a New York classic

Robert Treboux, owner of the New York "time capsule" Le Veau D'Or, died Wednesday at age 87. If you haven't hit your download limit from the New York Times this month, here's William Grimes' obit: Treboux.

Or you could read this column that I wrote last September, about a quiet night when dinner at Le Veau d'Or was just what I needed:


I got out of the taxi feeling older.

New York was suffering under a blanket of humidity. The sky was as gray as my outlook. A health issue had chipped at my energy.

Age isn't the only thing that can make you feel old. Too much trendiness, too much shallowness, too much racing toward a finish line that keeps moving. In my mood, the idea of the latest hot restaurant left me cold.

I wanted classic. Timeless. So I took a cab to 129 E. 60th St., to Le Veau d'Or.

James Villas, a Charlotte native and New York food writer, has been after me for years to visit Le Veau, his favorite French restaurant. In 2006, he wrote a story about it for Saveur that ended up in that year's edition of "Best Food Writing." Last May, the restaurant was given an America's Classic award by the James Beard Foundation.

This seemed the night to put aside my list of the latest New York places and trek to the tiny bistro where Oleg Cassini met Grace Kelly, where Truman Capote and Orson Wells bent elbows.

Although the owner, Robert Treboux, wasn't manning the door - he's in his late 80s - his daughter Catherine was in charge. We chatted briefly about our friend Jim, and she brought me a glass of sparkling wine while I settled in a red banquette.

The wood paneling, the watercolors, the black and white pictures of Paris - all classic and well-chosen, as tautly maintained as a facelifted chin. A little shabby too, with acoustic-tile ceiling and droopy orchids.

The table d'hote menu covered the classics, from celeri remoulade to coq au vin.

A white-haired waiter in tuxedo cruised the tables, lower lip pushed out like a fish. He frowned when I asked to add an extra course to the three-course lineup. But chilled vichyssoise was irresistible.

It arrived along with a thick slice of pate, and then delicately browned sole meuniere. For dessert, the mousse was dense and flecked with chocolate bits.

As I ate, I watched the pageantry of service. When someone ordered baby poisson, a cart with a cutting board was rolled up. The copper pot with the chicken was presented for approval. Then the waiter carved it, arranged it and presented it like a prize. calls Le Veau d'Or "the most tightly sealed time capsule in New York, " and Treboux joked about maintaining a museum. But she didn't seem displeased.

In the front window, there was a tall stack of books. All mention Le Veau: Danielle Steele, Liz Smith, Barbara Taylor Bradford. Even Tony Bourdain and "Eloise in Paris."

In the wee hours, a friend texted a report from the latest hot restaurant. I'll admit I felt a twinge. For a moment.

Then I went back to sleep with no regrets. The race could start again tomorrow.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Down the hatch: The Hatch chiles are at Harris Teeter

Chile heads -- and you know who you are -- get excited for the brief season in late summer when Hatch chiles from the Hatch Valley in New Mexico show up in stores.

If you look quick at the Morrocroft Harris Teeter on Saturday, you can get Hatches and get them roasted on site. The peppers will be available at all the Harris Teeter stores for $1.29 a pound "while supplies last" (no guess on how long that will be). The roaster moves around to different stores. It will be at the Morrocroft store Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (although they stop earlier if they run out of peppers).

Roasted peppers are $1.49 a pound, unless you buy case (25 pounds). Case price is $1.29 a pound -- they throw in the roasting for free.

So, what do people do with Hatch chiles? They're popular in dishes like chiles rellenos and green chile stews. Roasted chiles also do well frozen, so you can buy a bunch and use them through the winter.

Friends from the Southwest always get nostalgic about the smell of fresh chiles being roasted in the fall. It is one of those evocatic aromas.

PHOTO: Washington Post.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Giveaway: Do you host a local chili cookoff?

Someday, the Democratic National Convention will be over, hurricane season will settle down, and it will be chili cookoff season again.

And imagine this: I just got something called "Chili Cook-Off in a Box," a sort of book/kit by Gina Hyams. It includes a cookoff handbook, judge badges, numbered pot IDs, judging scorecards and prize ribbons.

A group that holds a chili cookoff deserves this. So: I'll give it away. Email your contact information and details on your chili cookoff (time, place and what it raises money for, if anything) to me at Make sure you put "chili kit" in the subject line of your email.

Deadline: 9 a.m. Friday.

Cookbook Giveaway: Leon

When I posted a recipe Tuesday from the book "Leon: Naturally Fast Food," Helpful Commenter RobW222 asked why I wasn't giving away a copy of the book.

Well, gee, RobW. Maybe because I like the book and it came all the way from London. But OK, OK, because I stop at nothing to delight readers of The Charlotte Observer, I'll give away my copy. I've already paged through it, and I need to make room on my desk for the latest America's Test Kitchen book. I get several of those every day.

So: Giving away a copy of "Leon: Naturally Fast Food," by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent." Email your contact information with "Leon" in the subject line to me at Deadline: 9 a.m. Friday.

Good luck, RobW222.

Aprons and food trucks at the Charlotte Museum of History

The Charlotte Museum of History may be closed, but it's not forgotten. The museum plans to be open Sept. 15 from 5 to 9 p.m. for a special night. Museum admission will be free; you can tour the Hezekiah Alexander House for $5 (that's free for museum members).

Customed docents will give a special tour focusing on the lives of the Alexander family in the evening. The sun goes down around 7:30, so visitors are encouraged to bring flashlights for that part.

A few other things planned: There will be food trucks on the premises, there will be representatives of other historic sites in the area, and the museum gift shop will be open with everything 50 percent off.

This will also be one more chance to see the special exhibit "Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections," before it travels to its next venue.

The museum suspended public operations temporarily in May while it restructures. But the grounds are open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday with a cell phone tour available.

For details on the special event, A Night at the Alexanders, and the Aprons exhibit, go to or

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One Great . . . green herb sauce

A lot of cookbooks cross my desk, many of them from restaurants I've never heard of until I open the book. That was the case with a very hyperactive book called "Leon: Naturally Fast Food," by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent of the London-based restaurant chain Leon.

Flipping through all the pictures and drawings and quirky lists, though, I found a lot that lives up to the promise of the title: Fast ideas for quick meals, mostly in the healthful vein.

One recipe that caught my eye was for a green herb sauce that would be just the thing in the late summer. It's very adaptable: change out the herbs for basil or tarragon or whatever you have around. Serve it on grilled meat or oven-roasted fish, spoon it over vegetables, use it as a salad dressing, or spread it on a sandwich.

While you use it, you could ponder who Leon was. I went all though the book trying to answer that question and never quite figured it out.

Leon's Green Sauce

From "Leon: Naturally6 Fast Food," by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent (Conran/Octopus, $29.99).

A large handful of fresh mint
A large handful of flat-leaf parsley
A large handful of cilantro
1 tablespoon capers
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 anchovy filets
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. It should be runny but substantial. Transfer to a sealable jar and refrigerate.

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

DNC in your mouth: Donkey and 'phant truffles

We have several months to go before we actually get to vote. But with the Democratic National Convention headed to town in just a few weeks, you can declare your allegiance in chocolate.

Moonstruck Chocolate Co.'s Election Collection goes on sale this week at Fresh Market stores in Charlotte. Each four-piece box features either elephants or donkeys whimsically rendered in chocolate and filled with dark chocolate ganache.

In our office, people thought they had a distinctly Seussian look, although the donkey looks a bit like a cow, while the elephant can be mistaken for a hippo. Still, for some of us, there are starting to be charms in the notion of biting the head off either totem.

Moonstruck rep Theresa Ford says they tried doing a mixed box with elephants and donkeys, but it didn't fly: "Nobody liked that."

The four-piece box is $15 SRP. If you want to watch videos of them being made, you can go to You Tube.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bon Appetit, Julia: It was nice meeting you

After spending several days at a food-writing seminar at The Greenbrier, Kathleen Purvis wrote this story about her experiences meeting Julia Child. It was originally printed in The Observer on April 10, 1996.


By Kathleen Purvis

Let's say Zeus wandered down off Mount Olympus one day and plopped his mythological self down next to you, toga and all.

What would you say? How do you make small talk with someone who is larger than life?

Or maybe not Zeus. Maybe someone real, like Einstein, or Madame Curie, or Henry Ford or Coco Chanel.

Or how about Julia Child?

After all, at 83 years old (84 in August), the woman who took gourmet cooking out of fancy restaurants and gave it to home cooks qualifies as a bona fide legend. An honest-to-goodness cooking hero, a whisk-waving, duck-deboning, cream puff-packing presence.

So what did I do when Julia Child sat down next to me at a conference for food writers at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.? I gathered my journalistic courage . . . and I blushed and stuttered and called her "ma'am." Hey, heroes may be hard to find, but they're even harder to talk to.

What becomes a legend?

One way to spot a legend is by looking for the ripple. People can't help it. They whisper and point behind their hands and try so hard not to stare that their eyes glaze over. Julia Child doesn't even have to be present to create the ripple.

At the check-in desk for the conference, I overheard as a young couple sheepishly sidled up to a hotel employee:

"You know, last night at dinner, we sat next to someone who looked exactly like Julia Child. But that couldn't have been her - could it?"

Assured that indeed it was, they stumbled away, shocked and apparently chagrined - they had dined right next to Julia Child and hadn't even known it. They'll be kicking themselves for decades for not paying closer attention.

OK, I'll admit it. I felt a little twinge of pride. I was there to sit at the feet of the cooking master, to drink in wisdom (and a dose of good wine).

Still, I had no idea just how much sitting and drinking in there would end up being. My conference schedule said Child would lead a seminar on CD-ROM publishing, and she'd do a cooking demonstration with Anne Willan of the hotel's La Varenne cooking school. And there would be a few fancy dinners, of course. That's what food writers do when they hang out.

But that's about all I expected. I hadn't figured on one thing, though: Julia Child has more energy, more of what her beloved French call "joie de vivre, " than any 83-year-old you've ever seen. She stays up late, she gets up early. She's there at breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack. She's written nine cookbooks, but she still takes notes in a seminar on how to write for magazines.

Pass the goose fat and Burgundy, bubba. I'll have what she's having.

Still, after years as the ageless rock of high cuisine, the aging has begun. Child was once 6 feet 2. Now she is so stooped she peers up at my 5 feet 10.

Her eyes squint like a permanent grin, and gray dominates her bird's nest of hair. She leans on a walking stick, the result of a knee injury several years ago. Her dowager's hump is so pronounced she seems to rise back-first, and very slowly, out of her chair.

But she still has the face of a bulldog in the wind. Her demeanor is so firmly down to earth that you expect her footprints to be muddy.

And that voice, that much-imitated highfalutin' hoot, hasn't changed a note - even if the things she says float back and forth between sharp and vague.

"There's no excuse for not learning French if you want to cook. It's the language of cooking." Oui, madame.

On Saturday morning, she sat next to me through two seminars. In the break between them, she listened patiently as people approached and sought her advice, on cooking careers, on schools, on sources of food safety information. I turned my head away a little, trying to be polite and not intrude on their conversations.

Just as the second seminar began, she turned to me.

"That's the trouble - the older you get, the less time you have to clean out your closets."

I nodded and agreed, but I had no idea what she was talking about. Was that a reference to something someone had asked? Was she thinking about what she needed to do when she returned home Sunday? Or was that the punch line to a conversation from 20 years ago?

I puzzled it over and tried to imagine Julia Child's closets - dusty wine bottles, piles of linen napkins and the body of a brainless journalist wrapped in a gravy-stained tablecloth. I sat up straight and vowed to pay attention - and not ask stupid questions.

Taking stock

Now, it's not like Child shared some big secret to her longevity and success with me. She didn't lean over my chair at dinner and whisper, "Butterfat and black truffles, dear - that's the ticket!"

But I can make a couple of educated guesses:

For one, this is a woman who enjoyed the past - and adores the present. Throughout the conference, she talked little and listened much, with an interest best described as "lively."

Sitting next to me on Saturday morning, she peered at me closely.

"Tell me, dear, do you use the Internet much?"

In her seminar on CD-ROM publishing, she embraced computer technology heartily.

"Videos are linear, " she declared. "You can't stop them anywhere. To get from carrots to onions, you have to fast-forward for 10 minutes. It's very unhandy."

And the other secret is this: Pick something you love, then make it your own with every ounce of energy you possess.

In a cooking demonstration on Sunday morning, she buttoned a white chef's jacket, tied on a butcher's apron . . . and suddenly, well, she wasn't younger, really. But she was stronger. More definite.

Knife in hand to scrape the skin from a pile of duck legs, her movements were quick and sure. No vagueness, no hesitation.

And as she stood in front of the counter to whisk a vinaigrette, her stooped posture seemed quite natural. Of course she stoops, dear - you'd stoop, too, if you had been leaning over stockpots since 1948.

While she and Willan worked their way through Duck Leg Salad, Chicken Breast Stuffed With Figs and Blue Cheese, White Wine Granita With Fresh Berries and Julia's Ice Cream Surprise (vanilla ice cream topped with instant coffee and bourbon), they paused occasionally to discuss cooking. Willan suddenly asked Child, "What separates a good chef from a great chef?"

Child thought a moment.

"None of them are stupid, " she declared. "A really good chef is always questioning."

Yes, you are, Mrs. Child. And it was a pleasure to be there to hear your answers.


A cooking demonstration by Anne Willan and Julia Child at the La Varenne cooking school at The Greenbrier included great food - and a few handy tips. Remember these when you're in the kitchen:

  • To shake powdery spices over a dish, scoop up the spice on a knife blade. Then tap the handle to shake the spice over the food. The French call that "une pointe" - a point.
  • When you're cooking in a hurry, use spring onions instead of whole onions. They're quicker to chop because you don't have to peel them, and they give much the same flavor.
  • To work fast, master the art of chopping with two blades. If you have knives of different sizes, hold one in each hand and chop alternately with a quick, rapping rhythm. If they're the same size, hold them together in one hand and chop.
  • Take the time to learn to use your knives quickly. "It's a little like learning the backhand in tennis, " says Child. "It just takes hours of practice.
Duck Leg Salad

Makes 6 servings

From Julia Child: "Leftover cooked duck is best, I think, served cold either with a condiment such as chutney or marinated in a dressing such as that described here. Warmed-over cooked duck unfortunately always has a telltale warmed-over taste to my mind." Child notes that whole ducks often roast unevenly; she advises roasting duck breasts and using the legs for this dish.

Sweet and Sour Dressing:

1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced shallot or scallion

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon wine vinegar or raspberry vinegar (can add 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)

1 tablespoon Dijon-type mustard

1 tablespoon sweet and sour sauce, such as Chinese plum sauce or hoisin, or minced chutney

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sesame oil

Salt and pepper


Curly endive or romaine leaves cut into -1/2-inch strips, or mesclun salad mixture

4 uncooked leg-thighs from 2 roaster ducklings

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon allspice

Olive oil

Warm duck cracklings (optional)

In small bowl, blend shallots or scallions, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and plum sauce or chutney with wire whisk. Beat in olive oil in droplets to make an emulsion, then beat in remainder in steady stream. (Set bowl on folded dishcloth to hold it steady while beating.) Season to taste with droplets of sesame oil and salt and pepper.

Wash and dry salad greens and turn them into a large bowl.

Peel skin and any clinging fat off duck legs and thighs. As neatly as possible, cut meat from bone. Arrange pieces in single layer between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and pound firmly but not violently with bottle or rubber mallet, widening them almost double to tenderize meat. Slice meat into lengthwise strips about -1/4-inch wide. Dust lightly with salt, pepper and allspice. (May be prepared ahead to this point. Cover dressing and set aside; cover and refrigerate greens and duck.)

Set wok or frying pan over high heat. Add enough olive oil to coat bottom. When very hot but not smoking, stir in duck meat, tossing and turning almost constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, until meat is browned lightly but still springy to the touch. It should be a pinky rose inside. Remove from heat. Stir up dressing if necessary and blend 3 to 4 tablespoons into meat, just enough to coat.

Toss salad greens with remaining dressing (Child always eats a piece to check seasoning.) Arrange greens on individual plates, then top with duck meat and warm cracklings (see note) if desired. Serve immediately.

Note: To make cracklings, add duck skin to hot skillet. Cook until fat is rendered and skin is crispy. Place on paper towel to drain.


Lamb Stew Printaniere

Makes 6 servings

From "The Way to Cook, " by Julia Child (Knopf, 1989). At a dinner for the Symposium for Professional Food Writers, Child was asked to choose the menu. One of her favorite dishes, this classic lamb stew with spring vegetables was the entree.

4 pounds bone-in lamb shoulder

1 1/2 cups sliced onions

Light olive oil or peanut oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup or so flour in a dish

1 cup dry white French vermouth

2 large unpeeled cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1 to 1-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (unpeeled fresh, or combination of fresh and drained, canned Italian plum tomatoes) or 1 tablespoon or so tomato paste

2 to 3 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 pounds green beans

1 cup green peas, preferably fresh

6 medium carrots

6 turnips

6 small to medium potatoes

24 pearl onions, peeled and pierced with a cross -1/4-inch deep on root ends

To prepare lamb, cut off excess fat and cut meat into chunks, about 1 by 2 inches. (You can leave bones in; they'll add some flavor and can be discarded after cooking.)

In large skillet, saute onions for 5 minutes in a tablespoon or so of oil, letting them brown very lightly. Scrape into 3-quart ovenproof casserole or baking dish.

Set lamb pieces on sheet of waxed paper and toss with sprinkling of salt and pepper, then toss with flour. Toss them in sieve to shake off excess flour. Brown lamb pieces a few at a time in frying pan. Transfer to casserole.

While pan is hot, pour in vermouth to deglaze pan, scraping up browned bits. Pour wine into casserole. Add garlic, rosemary, tomatoes and enough stock to barely cover lamb.

Simmer on top of stove or in 325-degree oven 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until lamb is fork tender.

Meanwhile, trim green beans and blanch beans and peas (if fresh; if frozen, just rinse under running water to thaw) quickly in boiling water until almost tender. Refresh in cold water to set color. Peel carrots, turnips and potatoes and cut into wedges. Set aside in cold water.

After stew has simmered 1 hour, pour into large sieve or colander set over bowl. Drain sauce into bowl. Remove and discard bones and return meat to casserole. Let sauce stand until fat rises; skim off fat and discard. Taste to correct seasoning. Pour sauce over lamb and add carrots, turnips, potatoes and onions, pushing down to cover with sauce. Cover and simmer 25 to 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Just before serving, add green beans and peas. Simmer several minutes to heat. Serve as soon as possible so vegetables retain their color.


Mocha Chocolate Sour Cream Sherbet

Makes about 2 quarts

From "The Way to Cook." Typically, when asked to provide the menu for a dinner, Child chose two vegetables, a stew - and seven desserts. This rich ice cream was one, although in her book, she notes that it tastes richer than it actually is.

8 ounces sweet baking chocolate

3 cups strong coffee

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

2 cups chilled sour cream

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons dark Jamaican rum

Break up chocolate and add to stainless steel saucepan along with coffee, salt and sugar. Bring to simmer. Simmer slowly, stirring and whisking until chocolate is well melted and liquid is perfectly smooth and lightly thickened - 5 minutes or more. Set saucepan over ice and stir for several minutes to chill. Stir in sour cream, vanilla and rum. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

One Great . . . inspiration in the kitchen

Wednesday's celebration of what would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday has us all pulling out memories, tributes and - the best part to me - recipes.

To join the fun, I'll repost a profile I wrote after spending several days around Mrs. Child at the Greenbrier in West Virginia in the 1990s.

For years, she was the headline speaker at the Symposium for Professional Food Writers. Before blogs, the Greenbrier symposium pulled in everyone from A-list food writing speakers to freelance writers for tiny papers all over the country.

I got to go to the Greenbrier twice in those years. The first time, I went as an attendee and new food writer, which is when I wrote the story about Julia Child. And a few years later, in an honor I never expected and still can't quite believe I got, I was invited to return as a speaker.

The first event was really special, the first time I got to sit at the feet of my own heroes and feel like maybe, just maybe, I might have something to bring to this food-writing thing.

On the last morning, there was a cooking seminar with Anne Willan and Mrs. Child. She made duck legs with a salad, and talked about how it worked so much better if you cut a duck apart and cooked its legs separately from its breast. She answered questions in her eminently sensible way. And she shared her favorite thing to make for dessert when she had friends over for supper.

I fell in love with the recipe. But what I really fell in love with was the idea that she would offer it. So much is made about Mrs. Child's down-to-earth manner. But this recipe, to me, is the proof of it.

She had lived a long time and she had learned that the best food isn't what we cook to impress. It's when we just share something that tastes good. And when you get to the end of a good dinner, particularly one where you've lingered over a bottle of wine or two, you don't need anything fancy to finish it up.

I'll post the story I wrote on Wednesday. But in the meantime, here's my favorite Julia Child recipe.

Julia's Ice Cream Surprise

Vanilla ice cream ("the best quality you can afford.")
Instant coffee

Get out your nice parfait glasses. Fill each with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream. Pour a shot of bourbon over the ice cream in each glass. Sprinkle the top of each with about a teaspoon of instant coffee.

Serve immediately, with long spoons.

Makes as many servings as you want it to.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bring food to Sweet Tea's in Pineville help hungry

Sweet Tea's restaurant in Pineville, 9101 Pineville-Matthews Road (at the corner of Park Road and Pineville-Matthews Road) has a plan for gathering food for Loaves & Fishes.

All through the month of August, you can bring canned food and get free stuff from the menu. Thusly:

1 can of food = free sweet tea
2 cans = free flavored sweet tea
5 cans = free dessert
7 cans = free appetizer
15 cans = free entree.

As usual, Loaves & Fishes needs canned fruit, canned meat and canned pastas (such as Spaghettios.)

Get more details on Sweet Tea's menu at or call 704-855-1803 if you have questions about the event.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cookbook giveaway: We have a winner

Crystal Brauer is winner of the cookbook "Ten Dollar Dinners," by Melissa d'Arabian. That means Crystal will get 140 recipes "to elevate simple, fresh meals any night of the week," as the cover promises.

Before I mail it off, I flipped through and noticed this handy bit for the weekend:

Five Secrets to Juicy Grilled Boneless Chicken Breasts
1. Pound them until they're about 1/2 inch thick. It's OK if one side is thicker than the other.
2. Temper the chicken, letting it sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking.
3. Season with salt and pepper and brush with oil before grilling.
4. Grill the chicken breast so the thicker end is always over the hotter part of the grill.
5. Don't overcook and take the time to rest the meat before slicing or serving.

And my final tip: Check back again. We do book giveaways as often as I can find the time.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

2 Charlotte barbecue places featured on Travel Channel

Rock Store Barbecue in Stallings and Mac's Speed Shop in Charlotte both will be featured on a new Travel Channel show, "All You Can Meat."

Host Chuey Martinez (above), an L.A. radio and TV personality, will travel around to Austin, Kansas City, Charlotte, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Denver in search of people who make all kinds of meat, including barbecue (pulled pork, ribs and brisket), poultry, steak and bacon. The show will also include stops in Kannapolis, Spencer and Lexington.

The 6-episode show debuts this Sunday at 10 p.m. with two episodes, then settles in a regular time slot of 9 p.m. Sundays starting Aug. 19.

Always glad to hear Charlotte restaurants (and N.C. barbecue of course) are getting the love. But I have to say: If you're going to have the title "professional meat enthusiast," could you have a better name than Chuey? I can't make this stuff up, folks.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

DNC Watch: Need a gift?

What do you give the delegate who has everything? How about a Queen Charlotte salt cellar and a bottle of Red Sea Salt? Savory Spice Shop has two limited-edition gift packages with Charlotte themes:

The Queen City Collection, $25, includes Lake Barkley Fried Chicken Seasoning, Smoky Hills Cheese Powder ("pairs nicely with potato salad and macaroni & cheese"), Frying Pan Pork Sausage Spice and Black Hills Barbecue Seasoning, a dry rub for slow-cooked barbecue.

The Queen City Set, $45, which includes a crown-shaped salt cellar and a 4-ounce bottle of Red Sea Salt.

Both are available at Savory Spice locations at Atherton Mills, near South Boulevard and Tremont, and in Birkdale Village.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cookbook giveaway: Ten Dollar Dinners

Andrea Weigl's Wednesday story on food prices included tips from the Food Network's Melissa d'Arabian. We have a copy of her book, "Ten Dollar Dinners," to give away. It includes 140 recipes and her money-saving tips.

To enter, send an email with your contact information and "Ten Dollar Dinners" in the subject line to me at

I'll pick a winner by random drawing. Deadline: 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 10. Check back here to find out if you're the winner.

Monday, August 6, 2012

One Great . . . Easy Corn Gratin

This has been the summer for corn tricks: There's that video of the guy shaking microwave corn from the husk - I never have gotten that one to work - and the trick about cooking corn in the cooler.

I just saw another trick that should have occurred to me but never had: If you're cutting kernels from the cobs, you'll make less mess if you cut the cob in half, making two shorter pieces. Your knife blade makes a shorter trip down the cob and the cob is closer to the plate. Both of those seem to keep kernels from flying all over the counter.

That trick helped when I came across this easy recipe from the Washington Post. It's a homey, simple corn gratin that uses pesto, milk and instant flour (AKA Wondra) to make an easy sauce. And it has a cornflake crust - how easy is that?

Quick Corn Gratin

Slightly adapted from the Washington Post.

About 4 ears corn
1 cup milk (nonfat works fine)
1/4 cup pesto (see note)
2 tablespoons instant-blending flour, such as Wondra
1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup cornflakes, coarsely crushed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the corn in the microwave for about 6 minutes. When cool enough to handle, strip off the husks and silks. Cut the ears in half (making 2 stubbier ears), then cut off the kernels. You should have 3 to 3 1/2 cups.

the corn kernels into a 2- to 3-quart gratin dish or ovenproof baking dish. Add the milk, pesto, flour, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well.

the Gruyere and cornflakes. Spread on top of the corn mixture. Bake 45 minutes, until bubbling and top is lightly brown. Remove from oven and let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

NOTE: You can use prepared or bottled pesto, but make sure it has some oil, because that's a part of making the sauce. I used Trader Joe's but it seemed a little dry, so I added a little more olive oil.

Friday, August 3, 2012

This is for all the truckers out there

How can I resist this request? A company called Rudolph Foods asked me if I'd post an announcement about their food contest.

Now, I get requests like that, oh, about every 30 seconds for most of the working day. I shoot down PR requests like skeet on a clear fall day. But when I saw the contest . . . well, how could I resist?

The pitch was labeled "Porkrinds, Ducktape and $1500." And the contest is called "What's In Your Truck?" in honor of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week.

I am a person who seriously appreciates truckers. I once did a story on the winner of the Best Truck Stop Waitress contest. Coolest moment: Climbing into the cabin of a long-haul truck to take a tour. When this journalism thing stops working out, I could see a CB radio and a cot behind the seat as a serious career option.

So: If you are a truck driver or know a truck driver, tell them they can enter by making a video of themselves finishing this sentence: "Three things I always have in my truck: A bag of pork rinds, a roll of Duck Tape and . . . "

Enter your video at or Deadline is Aug. 7.

First prize is $1,500, and a year's supply each of pork rinds and Duck Tape; 2nd is a year's supply of pork rinds and Duck Tape; third is a bunch of pork rinds and Duck Tape.

Now: Everybody lean out of the window and pull our arms down to make the driver blow his horn.

Don't forget: Ice cream at Atherton Saturday

The South End Churn-Off takes off Saturday (as in, tomorrow) at the Atherton Market, sponsored by the market, Charlotte Center City Partners and the Common Market.

This is a contest focusing on homemade ice cream makers, who will start churning at 11 a.m. with tasting and judging beginning at noon. A panel of judges will pick first, second and third, with $150 in prizes at stack. There's also a People's Choice award that tasters can decide.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What's better than a Snicker's bar?

I was walking an out-of-town food friend through town after lunch Wednesday afternoon when we stopped by the King's Kitchen Bakery. He had eaten virtuously at 5Church (beet sliders - much better than they sound) and I foolishly mentioned that we could stop by King's for caramel cake to go. Turns out my friend has a real thing for caramel cake.

Except when we reached the bakery, they were out of caramel cake. The checkerboard red velvet cake looked good, but not so good he couldn't resist. He's very virtuous, this friend of mine.

Then the guy behind the counter mentioned that they had Snickers Bars. Housemade Snickers Bars. With real dark chocolate, real caramel. Real nougat, for heaven's sake.

That, we decided, was a tasting requirement. He pulled one out of the refrigerator, wrapped in brown paper and tied with cute red and white string. A generous size for sharing, for $3.

How was it? It was a from-scratch, cold Snickers Bar made in a real bakery. What do you think?

But here's the downer: They don't usually make them. These were leftovers from a special order.

"Unless," the baker said, "people come in and demand them or something."

Hmm. I wonder how I can get people to do that? Did I mention that the King's Kitchen Bakery also has a really good chicken sandwich? And that the bakery is on Church street just past the King's Kitchen restaurant at Trade and Church?

Put your barbecue learning where your mouth is

So you've always wanted to learn how barbecue is really done? If you can make it to the S.C. Farmers Market in West Columbia on Aug. 18, you can learn.

The one-day Carolina Outdoor Cooking BBQ Class is taught by pit masters Brian Teigue from Up in Smoke and Garland Hudgins from Big GQ. The class will cover Carolina-style pulled pork, Texas-style beef brisket, Memphis-style pork ribs and smoked chicken.

All this knowledge does not come cheap, of course. The full-day class, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., is $250 (although that does include lunch and all-day barbecue noshing).

Deadline for registration is Aug. 10 unless the class has already filled. Contact Garland Hudgins, 803-360-4700 or email him at, or get details online at