Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bloggers: Win $2,000 for a sweet potato recipe

This spiffy image of a picketing sweet potato may be your ticket to $2,000. The N.C. Sweet Potato Commission is offering money for the best sweet potato recipe, in the "No More 'Mallows" Blogger Recipe Contest.

To enter, you have to post the picketer and a sweet potato recipe that isn't sweet or topped with marshmallows. "We're talking sweet potato burgers, chili and falafel, not sweet potato pie, muffins and casseroles," according to the commission's announcement.

You have to post the recipe, the picketer and a picture of the recipe on your web site anytime between March 1 and 31, and send an email with a link to sassysweets@lewis-neale.com. Six finalist recipes will be made and judged on taste, originality and the importance of sweet potatoes to the preparation. Winner gets $2,000 and three runnersup get $500 each.

Details: ncsweetpotatoes.com.

Monday, February 27, 2012

One Great . . . mustard sauce recipe with cold seafood

A supermarket near my house has started running Friday afternoon seafood specials. Not cheap, mind you, but I'm willing to spend a few dollars for something really good in the shellfish category.

My husband and I both have strong Florida roots, so it was a shock when we birthed a child who had an absolute aversion to anything encased in a shell. If he didn't look so much like me, I'd think there was a switch at the hospital. I keep thinking he'll come around, but he's grown now and still won't look at a shrimp.

Since he's out of the house at the moment, we've been grabbing the chance to catch up on our seafood. So when I saw a sign announcing a shipment of stone crabs arriving on Friday afternoon, we were ready to snap up enough of them for two.

Here's the trick on stone crabs: You have to serve them cold. If you try to heat them, they may spoil and get an awful ammonia smell. Since they are chilled, you can't dip them in melted butter and lemon, the way you would with most crab. Instead, you need a sauce that works cold and highlights their sweetness.

Enter mustard sauce. It's an adaptation of the dipping sauce served at the famous Joe's Stone Crab in Miami, and it ran many years ago in one of the "Desperation Dinners" books by Alicia Ross and Beverly Mills. It's really simple. In fact, if you ever find yourself at the beach and you need something easy to dress up a shrimp salad or smoked fish -- even chicken salad -- you can almost always make a version from the barest cupboard.

Cold-Seafood Mustard Sauce

Makes 3/4 cup.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Colman's dry mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon A-1 steak sauce
1 tablespoon cream or half-and-half

Whisk all the ingredients together. Chill for 30 minutes or so if you have time. Serve with cold seafood.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Charlotte farmer's market news this weekend

Spring has got me in the mood; let's hope the lettuce feels the same. But before we give the roundup, I need to mention this:

At the Davidson Farmer's Market, just before the opening bell at 9 a.m., there will be a moment of silence for market founder and supporter Carol Harris Mayes. Carol, 58, died Feb. 12. She was an activist for land conservation and a lively voice in the market world.

The Matthews Community Farmer's Market is still on winter hours, opening from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday. But the list of fresh stuff is growing longer. Besides fresh meats and crafts, manager Pauline Wood expects sellers to have carrots, turnips, beets, Swiss chard, kale, arugula, collards, lettuces (yeah!), green onions, spinach, corn shoots, pecans and herbs. Laughing Owl Farm is skipping both the Matthews and Charlotte regional markets this weekend, though, so eggs might be in short supply.

The Davidson Farmer's Market, behind Summit Coffee in downtown Davidson, is open from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Besides the tribute to Carol, this week also brings Breakfast of Champions, a sampling of hot dogs, brats, sausage and beer, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Tickets are $10, but only 60 are available. They go on sale at 9 a.m. at the DFM booth.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ree-hah: "Pioneer Woman" Ree Drummond cookbook giveaway

She's the blogger's dream come true: Starting with her blog, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Ree Drummond has become a one-woman cooking industry, with a Food Network show and several books. Now she has a second cookbook of family-pleasing recipes from the ranch.

"The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier" isn't on sale until March 13, but I have an early copy and I'm willing to share. It's got the same format as the original: Step-by-step photos, lots of pictures of her kids and ranch life, and simple ingredients and techniques.

I'm giving away one copy of "The Pioneer Woman Cooks" on Observer Food Page on Facebook. Go to www.facebook.com/ObserverFood and post a comment with your name. Deadline: 9 a.m. March 1.

Heads up on beer news in Charlotte and beyond

Keep an eye out for the man on the left. That would be Guiness master brewer Fergal Murray, and he will be making the rounds of pubs in Charlotte on March 1, as part of his nationwide tour in advance of St. Patrick's Day on March 17. His representative can't reveal which pubs he will be visiting, but he should be easy to spot: Listen for an Irish accent and watch for the Guiness glass in his hand. The plan is for him to "mingle," according to his representative.

Elsewhere in beer news: Watch for May 14-20, American Craft Beer Week. The Brewers Association is hoping to repeat last year's feat of having brewing events in all 50 states, including brewery tours, special beer releases and food and beer pairing dinners. So far, the calendar doesn't show anything yet for North Carolina, but with all the brewheads around here, surely something will come up. Keep an eye on the calendar at www.craftbeer.com.

It's not just craft beers, but there is one event already on the books that week: The Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival is 2-6 p.m. May 12 at Symphony Park in SouthPark. Tickets range from $25 to $45 and include samples, tastings and music. Details: www.beerandbourbon.com.

Need something sooner than May? The 2012 edition of the Beertopia Beer Festival is on for 2-6 p.m. March 10 in the parking lot behind the Grapevine, 1012 Market St. in Fort Mill. That's 5 miles south of Charlotte off I-77, exit 85 (Baxter Village). VIP tickets have already sold out, and regular admission has sold out early in the past. To get a ticket now, go to www.mygrapevine.com. $1 from each ticket is donated to Pints for Prostates.

And finally, Charlotte Craft Beer Week is March 16-25 (yes, that's more than a week, but we won't quibble -- they're already hard enough to find through Google, so changing the name to Charlotte Craft Beer Fortnight would just make it worse). It starts March 16 at the Visulite, with the Brawley's Beverage Black & Blue Show and continues all over town, including Freak Fest at Common Market SouthEnd on March 22. Details: Charlottecraftbeerweek.org.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two great spaghetti sauces for crowds

My column Wednesday is on cooking spaghetti sauce for a couple of hundred people for my church's annual spaghetti supper, a fundraiser for our youth group.

Just in case you happen to need a really large amount of spaghetti sauce -- 18 gallons or so, although that's just an approximate -- here are the recipes for both the meat sauce and the vegetable sauce. I inherited the meat sauce recipe from the last volunteer sauce cooker; I made up the vegetable sauce a couple of years ago when we added it at the last minute.

It helps if you have access to industrial equipment, such as a large steam-kettle cooker.

Large-Batch Spaghetti Sauce

60 pounds ground beef (6 10-lb rolls, fine-grind)

About 30 pounds diced onions

5 to 10 pounds sliced mushrooms

About 5 pounds diced green pepper

Vegetable or olive oil

About 3 cups minced garlic

2 quarts beef broth

6 (6-lb, 9-oz) cans diced tomatoes, drained (save juice in case sauce gets too thick)

2 (6-lb., 9-oz.) cans crushed tomatoes

2 bottles dry red wine, such as Malbec, Cabernet or Sangiovese

About 1/4 cup dried oregano

About a dozen bay leaves

1 (1-pound) box corn starch

Salt and sugar to taste

Open rolls of beef and place in an industrial cooker with heat on medium. Begin breaking up meat and turning constantly to brown it.

Saute onions, mushrooms and green peppers in skillets with a little vegetable oil to soften. Add vegetables to meat as it browns. Stir in minced garlic (start with 1 cup and add more as needed.)

When meat is completely brown and vegetables have been added, add beef broth, diced and crushed tomatoes, wine, oregano and bay leaves.

Stir continuously with flat paddle, making sure you scrape the bottom and sides of the cooker to keep sauce from sticking and burning. Adjust heat as necessary to maintain a steady simmer.

Sprinkle in cornstarch slowly, stirring constantly so it doesn’t clump. Add salt and sugar to taste.

Cook 1 to 2 hours longer, stirring constantly. Turn off heat and let sauce cool about 30 minutes.

Divide sauce up among large hotel pans, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill until time to reheat for service.

Large-Batch Vegetable Sauce

5 to 10 pounds onions, peeled and diced

About 2 pounds green pepper, cored, seeded and diced

About 3 to 4 pounds carrots, scraped and diced

About 5 pounds sliced mushrooms

Vegetable or olive oil

About 1 cup minced garlic

2 (6-lb., 9-oz.) cans crushed tomatoes

1 to 2 large cans tomato sauce

Dried basil, oregano and parsley to taste

Salt, sugar to taste

Saute onions, green pepper, carrots and mushrooms until slightly softened and combine in pot.

Add garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and seasonings. Add salt and sugar to taste.

Cook about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Cool briefly, place in hotel pans, cover tightly with plastic wrap, label and chill. Reheat before serving.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

IACP nomination for Peter Reinhart

How do you identify Peter Reinhart: Johnson & Wales instructor, pizza and bread-baking expert, local-food scene supporter, soon to be author of a new book on gluten-free baking?

OK, add one more: Reinhart's blog, Pizza Quest, got a nomination from the International Association of Culinary Professionals on Thursday afternoon. (And yes, that's Peter wearing one of his James Beard medals -- he's won a couple of those for his books.)

If you know Peter, you know that his eyes get a special glow whenever pizza is the subject. His blog includes pizza explorations all over the country, webisodes, cooking lessons and pretty anything pizza-related.

IACP is one of several culinary organizations that give awards for food writing in various forms (the James Beard Foundation nominations are announced in March; the Association of Food Journalists awards are announced in the fall).

The IACP awards include book and food-writing awards; blogs are under the category New Media & Broadcast. Also nominatied in the blog category: Cheryl Sternman Rule for 5 Second Rule, and Tom Hirschfeld for Bona Fide Farm Food.

Winners are announced in April. For a complete list of nominations, go to www.iacp.com.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine bacon flowers: Curl up and fry

My colleague Elizabeth Leland got this picture from a friend, who said a friend in Mississippi got them for Valentine's Day.

Of course, there's nothing that new under the sun (or the broiler rack, for that matter). I found several online sets of directions. Basically, it takes a muffin pan, some aluminum liners and sticks to hold the bacon rolls. Oh, and very thick bacon. Here's one place to get the steps, on www.instructables.com: baconflowers.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Food things to do in Charlotte

  • Eat and help Johnson & Wales University's Cheerleading Club. Yes, JWU has varsity basketball and volleyball and the things that go with them, like cheerleaders. Unfortunately, the cheerleaders don't have some of the things they need, like uniforms and pom-poms. So they're holding a spaghetti dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday (Feb/ 18) at Mount Moriah Primitive Baptist, 747 W. Trade St. It's all you can eat, eat-in or carryout. $8 for adults, $5 for children.
  • Ready to learn more about wine? The Fig Tree Restaurant will host a seven-week course led by James Corbin of Grapevine Distribution. Classes are at 6:30 p.m. Mondays starting Feb. 20. Cost: $195. Details: www.charlottefigtree.com, or call 74-332-3322 or email contactus@charlottefigtree.com.
  • Just as you start missing the Valentine chocolate, it will be time for the Sweet Tooth Festival, Charlotte 's first drop-in event featuring people who make cupcakes, candies, cookies and other sweets. The "sample-happy" occasion is 2-6 p.m. Feb. 19 at Blacklion, 10605 Park Road. Tickets are $25 and a portion of the proceeds will go to The Joe Martin ALS Foundation. Vendors expected include Cupcrazed Cakery, Vin Master, Secret Chocolatier, FuManChu Cupcakes and Yoforia. Details and tickets: www.sweettoothfestival.com.

One Great . . . use for edamame

With all that chocolate we ate Tuesday, maybe it's time to try something green instead of red. Think of this as a handy and versatile version of hummus. You can serve it as a dip with crackers, chips or celery sticks, or you can serve it warm or at room temperature as a side dish. We've even taken it as a bag lunch with a small can of tuna.

Edamame Dip

Adapted from several versions, including the New York Times, www.lafujimama.com and "The
Essential Eating Well Cookbook" (Countryman Press, 2004).

1 (16-ounce) bag frozen shelled edamame
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup cilantro, rinsed and chopped, plus a few leaves for garnish
1/2 cup red onion, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce
Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus juice of two lemons
Crackers, chips or celery sticks, if serving as a dip

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to boil. Add edamame and garlic; return to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes, until edamame are just tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

Place the edamame, garlic, cilantro, red onion and 1/4 cup cooking liquid in a food processor. Pulse several times, scraping down sides. Add olive and sesame oil, salt and pepper, Sriracha, lemon zest and lemon juice. Process until mostly smooth with a few chunks remaining. Add more of the reserved cooking liquid if needed.

Serve warm, or cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Take it from a father: Write it right

Some people take a mid-winter vacation and head to the Caribbean. I headed to the N.C. mountains last week. My mission: Spend five days as an editor for the Episcopal Church's General Board of Examining Chaplains at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville.

Every year, the board assembles a hundred or so bishops, priests, deacons, professors and other learned folk to grade and write evaluations of 200 exams for potential priests who are finishing seminary or their masters of divinity.

Despite more than 20 years' membership in the Episcopal Church, I have no special skills in understanding the finer points of the Council of Nicaea or the appropriate celebration of the Triduum. I do, however, have a couple of decades' experience as an editor. So I loaned my skills at rooting out double negatives, run-on sentences and the dreaded passive voice. (If you are a seminary student who took the exam, I have no idea how you did. It was all anonymous and I saw nothing more revealing than a code number on your paper.)

Still, I have to say that a large assemblage of bishops, priests, deacons, professors and other learned folk is a darned interesting place to spend three meals a day and the occasional social hour. Case in point: Stephen Moore, a priest and family-court judge in Seattle, gave opening instruction on the fine points of writing evaluations. (That's the good father up there, and I should warn you: He has a wicked sense of humor.) It occurred to me that there was much wisdom on all writing there, especially for those who read and comment on blogs and newspaper articles.

I loved it so much, I asked Father Stephen if I could share excerpts from his talk. He gave me his blessing, along with some impressive demonstrations of Latin pronunciation:

"Now a word about grammar and syntax – yours, not the

"Why is it so important? There are two immutable laws
borrowed from the blogosphere, derived from many years of
experience with people writing and responding to things written
on the Internet.

"The first is Skitt’s Law, expressed as 'any post correcting
an error in another post will contain at least one error itself,'
or, 'the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to
the embarrassment it will cause the poster.'

"The other is Hartman's Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation,
which holds that 'any statement about correct grammar,
punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one
grammatical, punctuation or spelling error.'

"From these we may derive Moore’s Second Maxim for the
writing of GOE evaluations: 'Candidates who receive less than a
three on any question will be hypercritical of the evaluators'
remarks. Some, like Paris on "The Gilmore Girls," will be
hypercritical if they receive anything less than a four.'

"The safest grammatical construction with which to express
an evaluation of a GOE answer is that based on the Choo-Choo
Model. In the same way that a railroad engine comes before the
railroad cars, which come before the caboose, in a simple
declarative sentence, the subject precedes the verb, which
precedes the object.

"The use of the Choo-Choo Model will prevent the use of the
passive voice. The passive voice is of great use to lawyers and
politicians but of little or no use to GOE evaluations. Avoid it.

"The use of the Choo-Choo Model also will prevent inverted
sentences, of the sort for which TIME Magazine was famous in
the 1930s. You may recall the parody of TIME’s use of inverted
sentences by Wolcott Gibbs, published in the New
Yorker: 'Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind ... Where
it all will end, knows God!' Where it ought not end is here, writing
GOE evaluations, and it won’t, provided the Choo-Choo Model is

"Former editors beseech you not to switch back and forth
between present tense and past tense in the same short
paragraph. It gives them temporal whiplash.

"Beware of punctuation use.

"The use of the ellipses and the dash are both as risky as
unprotected recreational sex.

"The semicolon should only be used by those who are
experienced and confident in its proper usage.

"The exclamation point has no place in our usage. In
Discworld, British author Terry Pratchett says that the more
exclamation points a person uses in their writing, the more likely
that they are mentally unbalanced. He also says that five
exclamation points used in the same piece are a certain indicator
of 'someone who wears their underwear on the outside.'

"Our evaluations ought to be neither crudely personal nor
therapeutically evasive. Instead, we ought to say what the essay
achieves, what it doesn’t achieve and how well it achieves it in
plain, simple, concise, coherent language. Evaluations that perform a lateral arabesque around difficult conclusions do not
accomplish this goal.

"Which leads us to Moore’s Third Maxim for writing GOE
evaluations: 'If there are two ways to understand a sentence --
the one you intended and another one -- it is certain that the
reader will get the other one.'

"This is predicated upon an observation by the late Italian
poet Antonio Porchia, who wrote, 'I know what I have given you. I
don't know what you received.'

"Our task is to write so clearly as to preclude
misunderstanding. Given the oft-demonstrated capacity
of seminary deans, bishops and commissions on ministry to
misunderstand, this is a formidable challenge. But I have great
faith in every one of you to meet this challenge like Popeye
knocking the stuffing out of Bluto when the latter attempts to
kidnap Olive Oyl.

"Caveat lector: let the reader beware. And thank you for
your service.

"This message has been brought to you by the General Board
of Examining Chaplains, protecting Holy Mother Church from
those who would be her clergy since 1972."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Crawl to the food truck rally

It might as well be spring out there. Here's proof: Tonight (Feb. 3) from 5-9 p.m., two events are combining in SouthEnd: The First Fridays Gallery Crawl and Food Truck Friday on the Lunch Lot in SouthEnd.

Don't get confused by the Lunch Lot name: That's a new name for the lot at Camden Road and Park Avenue. The SouthEnd Gallery Crawl will include galleries and retail spaces throughout SouthEnd. And to keep your strength up for all that crawling, a group of food trucks will be waiting to serve. They're expecting Herban Legend, Goody Woody's, Napolitano's, Roots Farm Food, Tin Kitchen and Gourmet to Go.

By the way, you can't bring in your own alcohol, but you can buy an adult potable (if you're of age, of course) at Common Market and bring it over to Lunch Lot to wash down your dinner. Get more details on this and upcoming Friday night events at southendclt.com.

One Great . . . retro favorite

Everyone has their guilty pleasure, and one of mine is "Pan Am." Improbable plots and all, I watch it for the '60s furnishings and clothes, and the fantasy that the "single-girl life" was all that simple in 1963.

I also keep watching to see if Christina Ricci or one of her flygirls ever whip up Apricot Chicken.

Apricot Chicken was one of those early '60s recipes that was pitched as perfect for young working women. It went by a lot of names, including Russian Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken and Apricot Chicken. But the names that give away its origins were First Date Chicken or Party Chicken.

It used several hot, new products of the day, most notably Lipton's Onion Soup Mix, the miracle powder behind everything from pot roast to California dip, and a bottle of dressing that varied from Russian to Catalina to that orange version of French dressing. Some versions add a can of cranberry sauce; others add bourbon or orange juice.

The recipe certainly migrated from that "Sex and the Single Girl" vibe. A search online turned up a big following for it in Australia, and it even got adopted as a Passover staple. My friend Jean Anderson turned up a version from the book "Best Recipes of the Great Food Companies," by Judith Anderson that turned it into Sweet 'N' Spicy Onion Glaze, to be used on chicken, ribs, hamburgers or hot dogs.

If Valentine's brings you a date night and you need something really simple, put together a batch of this. Serve it with rice or wild rice to put all that sauce to use. Just don't get sauce on your Pan-Am uniform.

First Date Apricot Chicken

1 package chicken pieces (or use all thighs or thigh-leg quarters)
1 envelope onion soup
1 cup Russian (or French or Catalina) dressing
1 (12-ounce) jar apricot preserves

Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place the chicken in the pan in a single layer, skin-side up. Mix the soup mix, dressing and preserves. Pour over the chicken. Cover the pan with foil and place in a 350-degree oven.

Bake 1 hour. Uncover and continue baking 15 to 20 minutes, until the sauce forms a glaze.

Yield: 6 servings.

Photo: USAtoday.com.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lunch with Joanne Weir

Cookbook author and TV host Joanne Weir, of "Joanne Weir's Cooking Class," is bringing her food to Vail Commons at Davidson College next Wednesday (Feb. 8) from 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m. The theme is "Mediterranean Lunch" and tickets are and lunch is $9.75 at the door.

She'll also have her three books on hand for sale and signing.