Monday, April 30, 2012

Local gin guys get a medal

Cardinal Gin, a small-batch gin from Southern Artisan Spirits in Kings Mountain, was the only American-made gin to win double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, held earlier this month.

The competition had 1,200 spirits from 65 countries. All spirits are tasted blind by 34 judges.

Cardinal also has won a gold medal from the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago and got the highest rating for a domestic gin in 2011. Cardinal is hand-crafted with 11 organic and wild-harvested botanicals. It's distributed in N.C., S.C., Virginia, Georgia and New Jersey. For details on where to find it, go to

One Great . . . asparagus salad topping

Do I run too many asparagus recipes in the spring? Guilty as charged. With no apologies: Asparagus is one of those things that tastes fabulous when it's fresh and disappointing when it's frozen or canned. When it's in season, you have to eat your fill because it won't be back in season for 11 months.

Still, eating your way through that much asparagus can get a little repetitive. I've worked my way through several cooking methods -- microwave-steaming, oven-roasting, pan-braising. But what I wanted recently was a new way to top it.

I found just what I wanted on, which in turn adapted it from Jacques Pepin: A really easy dressing with chopped hard-cooked egg. I made it for an impromptu dinner party this weekend and it was tempting to skip the asparagus and eat the dressing with a spoon. (The sauce made a lot, though: You could half the sauce ingredients and only use one or two eggs.)

Asparagus With Dijon Mustard Sauce and Hard-Cooked Egg

3 eggs
2 bunches thick asparagus, bottom ends trimmed or snapped off (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon minced chives (garnish; optional)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper

PLACE the eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat and let stand 16 minutes. Remove eggs to a boil of ice water or rinse to cool. Peel and roughly chop.

COOK asparagus however you like (it works great with this microwave-steaming method from Alton Brown:

MIX mayonnaise, mustard, water and vinegar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

ARRANGE asparagus spears on a platter or on salad plates. Spoon the sauce over them. Top with chopped egg and chives (if you're into garnishing).

YIELD: 4 servings.

PHOTO: Serious Eats.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New blog for elderly cooks

Cooking when you're older isn't the same as cooking earlier in your life. Smaller appetites, diminished taste sensation and health issues all play into it. And then there's the whole issue of cooking for one or two instead of a family.

The Sunrise Senior Living centers have a new food blog to address that, Senior Eats. Updated several times a week, it includes recipes and short articles with advice on things like shopping for one. Take a look or pass it along to someone who could use the information.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Charlotte native bests Canadians in contest

Francie Rudolph, 24, of Charlotte is a culinary arts student at the Art Institute of Vancouver. But Rudolph took on Canada recently and was named the grand prize winner of a Canadian contest for pear recipes, the 2012 "Pear Excellence" Canadian Culinary Student Recipe Competition, sponsored by USA Pears.

Rudolph won $2,500 and coverage on Canadian TV with her winning dish, Pear and Sweet Goat Cheese Filled Beignets.

Rudolph went to Charlotte Country Day School and the College of Charleston before heading to Vancouver and the Art Institute.

Pear and Sweet Goat Cheese Filled Beignets

¾ cup warm water
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ envelope active dry yeast
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup evaporated milk
3 ½ cups bread flour
⅛ cup shortening
Oil, for deep-frying
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Pear and Sweet Goat Cheese Filling:
2 cups green Anjou pears, peeled,
cored, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, crushed
2 pieces dried orange peel
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon each freshly grated lemon zest and juice
¾ cup goat cheese
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

Spiced Nuts:
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
⅔ cup white granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg white, at room temperature
1 pound walnuts pecans, or hazelnuts
Candied Pear Chips
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 Green Anjou USA Pear
Port Wine Reduction
2 cups Stoney Ridge Forte Port (from Ontario)
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Beignets: Mix water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.

In another bowl, beat the egg, salt, and evaporated milk together. Add egg mixture to the yeast mixture.
Add the flour to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the shortening and continue to stir. Remove
dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Spray a large bowl
with nonstick spray. Put dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rise in a warm
place for at least 2 hours.

For the pear filling: Sauté diced pears, ginger, and orange peel in butter over medium-low heat until
soft. Remove from heat and cool. Puree half the pear mixture until thinned out, adding lemon juice.
Stir in remaining pear mixture, soft goat cheese, honey, powdered sugar and grated lemon zest.

For the spiced nuts: Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon; set aside. Beat egg white and water
until frothy. Add nuts and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture and toss until evenly
coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake at 300
degrees for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool.

For the pear chips: Bring sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slice pear on a mandolin
slicer, or as thin as possible with a knife. Add pear slices to simple syrup and cook for 1 minute. Remove
slices from pot and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours.

For the sauce: Combine wine and zest in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce until the sauce is
thick and syrupy.

To prepare beignets: Preheat oil in a large pot to 350 degrees. Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch
thickness and cut into 1-inch by 2-inch rectangles. Spoon a tablespoon of pear and goat cheese mixture
into center of dough. Fold dough over and pinch to enclose the dough. Deep-fry, flipping constantly,
until they become a golden color. After beignets are fried, drain them for a few seconds on paper
towels, and then dust with confectioners’ sugar.

How much do you love pimento cheese?

I know some of you aren't exactly reasonable on the subject of pimento cheese. So I'm just going to put this one out there and back up a few steps:

The restaurant Tupelo Honey in Asheville has started something the world is surely waiting for: A Pimento Cheese of the Month Club. For $199 (with free shipping if you order before Mother's Day, not that they're making a hint), you get six shipments, one every other month for a year.

Each shipment includes 16 ounces of "gourmet hand-crafted pimento cheese" from the restaurant, 7 ounces of grass-fed charcuterie from Hickory Nut Gap Farm, and artisanal vegan crackers from Roots and Branches.

For more information or to sign up, go to

And before you get all het up, remember: I did not willingly type the words "gourmet hand-crafted pimento cheese." I'm just the messenger, people.

2nd class for sausage fans

After the Harvest Moon Grille/Grateful Growers Farm sausage-making class sold out recently, they added a second one. This one is 2 p.m. April 29 at Harvest Moon Grille (in the Dunhill Hotel in uptown Charlotte, at North Tryon and 6th Street).

For your $30, you get a lesson from chef Cassie Parsons and Kelly Slade, and you get a package of sausage to take home.

The class is obviously very popular, so you need to reserve a spot. Call 704-342-1193 to do that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sam Talbot plans Charlotte book signing

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the journey of Charlottean Sam Talbot, who started out working in local restaurants when he was 14 and was an early finalist on "Top Chef."

These days, he's not only a celebrity chef in New York, he has a book, "The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries," that's part cookbook and part lifestyle book on how he lives the high-profile life while managing Type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes.

Talbot will be in Charlotte at 11 a.m. May 12 to sign copies of his books at Park Road Books.

He doesn't come back to Charlotte all that often, so make sure you stop by and say hello.

Who won the sweet potato recipe contest?

Remember the "No More 'Mallows" recipe contest? The N.C. Sweet Potato Commission asked bloggers to enter recipes for the chance to win $2,000.

So who won? That would be Nikki Haney of the blog The Tolerant Vegan. Her entry, Maple Sweet Potato Pecan Burger, was chosen from more than 130 entries. To see all the winning recipes, including the runnersup, go to

Judge Kate Rockwood of O, The Oprah Magazine, called Haney's vegan burger her "go-to burger for spring." In case you need a go-to vegetarian burger for spring, here you go.

Maple Sweet Potato Pecan Burger From Nikki Haney of

3 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds) sweet potatoes
1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
2 tablespoons vegan buttery spread or butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup chopped kale
1/2 cup dry-roasted pecans, chopped (see note)
1 small sweet onion, very coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
4 sandwich buns

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce sweet potatoes and microwave together until soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Mash firmly into measuring cups to make 2 cups; transfer to a medium mixing bowl.

Bring 3/4 cup water and quinoa to boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until the water is nearly absorbed and quinoa appears transparent.
Remove from stove and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a separate saucepan. Stir in 1 tablespoon maple syrup and the cayenne. Add to the mashed sweet potatoes with the kale, cooked quinoa, pecans and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix well. Form into 4 patties; place on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bake for 35 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking.

About 15 minutes before the burgers are finished, make the onion topping: In a small skillet over medium heat, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook and stir for 12 minutes. Reduce heat to low; add remaining 1 tablespoon maple syrup. Cook and stir until onions are slightly brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Transfer burgers to buns and top with the onion mixture.

Yield: 4 servings.

Reid's plans international cooking classes

Reid's Fine Foods, 2823 Selwyn Ave., is getting all worldly on us with the new lineup of cooking classes, taught by Heidi Billotto:

Cuban is 1-4 p.m. Sunday, April 29. Dishes: Arroz Con Pollo, Ropa Vieja, Black Beans and Rice and Capered Baked Fish. $65.

French is 9:30 a.m.-noon Monday, April 30. Dishes: Spinach Souffle, Tomato and Eggplant Timbale, Chicken With Herbs de Provence and Custard-Stuffed Profiteroles. $55.

Mediterranean is 9:30 a.m.-noon Monday, May 14. Dishes: Pita With Olive Oil, Za'tar and Sumac, White Fish poached with olive oil and pesto, Beef Kebabs With Olive Oil, Herbs and Lemon and Lemon Olive Oil Semolina Cake. $65.

Spain is 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, May 19. Dishes: Chorizo Tapas, Paella, Catalonian Chickpea Salad and Orange-Glazed Flan. $65.

Then it gets a little more local, with Fresh from the Farm, 9:30 a.m.-noon May 21, $55; and guest chef Ben Miles of BLT Steak, noon-2 p.m. May 26, $75.

Register for classes online, at

Monday, April 23, 2012

One Great . . . bright green spring salad

When everything fresh and green starts pouring into the farmers markets, it's hard to resist an impulse buy. My bags were already full Saturday morning at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market when I spotted a pile of fava bean pods.

Favas aren't all that common around here, so when you see them, you better grab them. I filled a bag with several big handfuls and then started thinking about what to do with them.

I know to set aside time for favas. They're a strange bean and they take a little more work. First, you have to open the big pods, which can be as long as a wooden ruler, and free the fat beans. They'll have a strange, white-ish appearance. That's the outer skin in the bean. The real bean, as bright green as fresh grass, is inside that skin. To get to it, you drop the shelled beans in boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water. Then you squeeze the white casing and the bright bean pops out.

With that much work, it's good to find a way to stretch your favas. I pulled cookbooks off the shelf and finally hit on this one: A very bright, very green salad from "The Food Matters Cookbook," by Mark Bittman.

As it turned out, I also had picked up asparagus and a couple of long stalks of garlic scapes that were so crisp and fresh, I could dice the stalks and use them like asparagus, too. The recipe didn't call for them, but sometimes you have to improvise. Spring is like that.

Fava Bean, Asparagus and Lemon Salad

2 lemons, well-washed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh fava beans
1 pound asparagus, bottoms of stalks peeled or broken off, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped, fresh mint

CHOP 1 whole lemon, peel and all (discard seeds and pointed ends). Place in a serving bowl with juice of 2nd lemon, salt and pepper and olive oil. Let stand while you prepare the vegetables.

SHELL the fava beans. Bring a small saucepan of salted water to boil. Add the favas and cook about 2 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Squeeze each bean to remove from the skin. Add to the lemon and oil mixture.

RETURN water to boil and add asparagus. Cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse, then add to bowl with the favas. Add the mint and toss well to mix. Refrigerate about 2 hours before serving.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Friday, April 13, 2012

See you in a week

Things around food blog world will be quiet next week. I'm taking a little time off.

While I'm gone, remember: Most of the farmers markets are open for the season, and our Pick-Your-Own Farms map is up and ready for searching:

Click and pick. It makes everyone happy - including my bosses.

One Great . . . shrimp dip recipe

When the new book "Farm Fresh Southern Cooking," by Tammy Algood arrived recently, I was expecting squash casseroles and green beans, not a chunky shrimp dip. But friends were coming over and I needed a substantial appetizer for noshing.

It certainly fit the bill. Easy to make, simple ingredients and plenty of flavor. My book club approved. Since it's chunky, serve it with scoop-shaped tortilla chips but include a small knife or spoon so people don't break their chips in the bowl.

Not For Wimps Shrimp Dip

From "Farm Fresh Southern Cooking," by Tmamy Algood (Thomas Nelson, $24.99).

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon pickled jalapeno liquid
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 1/2 pounds cooked salad shrimp (I used a 12-ounce package of small shrimp, thawed)
3 stalks celery, minced
6 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos

Combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, pepper liquid and mustard and beat with an electric mixer on low speed. Fold in the shrimp, celery, onions and peppers.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour (and up to 24 hours) before serving.

Serve chilled with hefty chips or crackers.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' opens April 27

The year's hot food movie - or actually cold, given the subject - will open April 27 at the Park Terrace. I got to see a very advance screening of 'Jiro' last October at a James Beard Foundation event in New York, and I can tell it's a special kind of food-movie magic.

Here's a link to the blog post I did last fall, including a short trailer that will give you the idea:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Southern Latino" author comes to Levine

Sandra Gutierrez of Cary grabbed my attention as soon as I saw her cookbook last year: In "The New Southern-Latino Table" (UNC Press), the Guatemalan-born Gutierrez uses flavors from Latin America to make traditional Southern foods. (Or sometimes she uses Southern flavors to make Latin American foods. It's all good.)

I interviewed her last summer for a story on international versions of potato salad, and she got the concept immediately, giving me a great recipe for a Peruvian-inspired potato salad with layers of potato and egg. (You can get a copy of that recipe here.)

Gutierrez will be in Charlotte at 7:30 p.m. April 17 to talk about her book and her cooking. She'll be at the Levine Museum of the New South as part of CPCC's Sensoria festival. Co-sponsored by Women's Inter-Cultural Exchange, it's free, but you do have to reserve a seat. Call 704-333-1887 or send an email to

Monday, April 9, 2012

Alton Brown's great trick for asparagus

When asparagus is in season, I have one simple mission: Get as much of it in me as possible. This year, I might have time to get enough. The fresh, local asparagus turned up at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market last week.

How to cook it without getting bored? I usually roast it (toss the stalks with a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper in a single layer in a shallow pan and slide it in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes at 375.) Or I pan-roast it: Put in a cast-iron skillet with 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons water, cover and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes, until the water cooks away and the asparagus is finishing in the oil.

Both are fine. But I wanted more. Sometimes, I don't want to heat up the oven, or the top of the stove is busy with other things. I was wasting time -- um, doing research -- one day last week when I stumbled on a video by Alton Brown on the best way to microwave asparagus.

I tried his method twice this weekend and darned if Geek Guy isn't right. It's pretty much foolproof and it yields asparagus that is sweet and grassy, with just enough crunch left.

You can watch his video below, or I'll spare you all the flipping camera tricks and just tell you how to do it:
1. Pour 1/4 cup water into a shallow plate.

2. Take 2 paper towels (he says 3 or 4, but I only needed 2), fold them up to fit in the plate and place them on the plate, turning to soak up all the water.

3. Unfold the very wet paper towels and place your trimmed asparagus on it in a single layer. (He says a pound, but it works for smaller amounts.)

4. Sprinkle with salt -- kosher, sea or regular. About 1/2 teaspoon for 1 pound, a little less for less.

5. Roll up the asparagus in the paper towels. Place in the microwave.

6. Zap for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. (3:30 was perfect for fatter spears; skinny ones probably only need 2:30). Unroll and eat.

Thanks, Alton.

Friday, April 6, 2012

One Great . . . Skillet pasta for 2

There are cookbooks on cooking for one, but two is the neglected number. Yet cooking for two is just as difficult as cooking for one. There's not enough room for two of you to lean over the sink with a bowl of cereal.

I've been getting a taste of the two-ful myself this year and it is a dilemma. You still need to cook a meal, but even a recipe sized for four can get out of hand with leftovers. So I was ready for it when a new America's Test Kitchen book landed on my desk: "Cooking for Two 2012: The Year's Best Recipes Cut Down to Size."

I can't vouch for that "year's best recipes" part -- I don't recall getting a ballot for that one. But the book certainly has handy touches. My favorite is a list of the recipes broken down by the amount of the main ingredient. When you get stuck with half an avocado or part of a can of diced tomatoes, you can pick a way to use them.

For the most part, the recipes are simple but not too plain, like trimmed-down Pad Thai and easy grilled suppers. With a bunch of ham leftover from last week's Easter story, this one was just what I needed and easy enough to whip together on a weeknight.

Skillet Spaghetti Carbonara
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 ounces ham, sliced thin and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups water (see note)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 ounces spaghetti, broken in half
1/4 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1 large egg
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or basil (optional)

Melt butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ham to paper towel-lined plate; set aside.

Add garlic and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper to now-empty skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine and simmer until nearly evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes.

Stir in water, broth and pasta; increase heat to high and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring often, until pasta is tender and liquid has almost disappeared, 12 to 15 minutes. (It will look like an impossible amount of liquid, but it will cook away. Adjust heat as necessary so that the pasta cooks through before the liquid cooks away.)

Whisk the cream, egg and cheese together in a small bowl. Remove the skillet from the heat, pour the egg mixture over it and toss to combine. Stir in the ham and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley or basil if using. Serve immediately.

NOTE: When I made this, I simplified it by using 3 1/2 cups broth rather than broth and water. And I used half-and-half instead of heavy cream. Both changes worked fine.

The Rolling Stones love Rice Krispies

Poor Don Draper. He never landed the Rolling Stones to do that jingle for Heinz baked beans. But it wasn't so far-fetched to try: Mick and friends did do a commercial jingle.

It only aired in the U.K. in 1964, never in the U.S. But still, it's pretty snappy. I say we bring it back, in honor of "Mad Men" coming back, too. Let's see if it sticks in your head like "Zou Bisou Bisou." (And my thanks to my friend Trent Roberts, who started my rainy Friday morning with "Rice Krispies.")

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hugh Acheson debates: When did Southern cooking change?

Athens, Ga., chef Hugh Acheson is a busy guy: "Top Chef" judging, "Top Chef Masters" competing, author of "A New Turn in the South" and executive chef of Five & Ten. Oh, and there are those two James Beard Foundation nominations, one for chef and one for his book.

On top of all that, he has the reverence for Southern food of a devoted adoptee. He's not from the South (he's Canadian), so he appreciates it all the more.

Acheson came up with a fascinating idea this week on the Epicurious blog, Epi Log: He looks at two recipes from two S.C. community cookbooks, one from 1961 and one from 1971, to determine when Southern cooking shifted from food prepared by a people who knew their way around their kitchens to food that was sliding into convenience products.

Does he make his case? Read it and and tell me what you think:

Hugh Acheson's Southern cooking theory.

Which whisk is which?

When I see the cache jar by my stove bristling with whisks, it's hard to remember that there was a time when a whisk wasn't something you saw in every American kitchen.

Some sources credit Julia Child with bringing the whisk habit back from France and professional kitchens and convincing home cooks that whisks should be an extension of our hands. I can't say for sure if that's true, but I know that in my mother's kitchen, we didn't have whisks. We had forks.

We had forks, by golly, and we were glad of it. There were always a few beaten-up forks that were too bent to be any good even on the lowliest weeknight dinner table. Those became our egg beaters and our fried-food stabbers.

Today, I have a whole jar of whisks. They seem to follow me home. And it's funny, but it was years into my career as a food writer before it occurred to me to notice that not all whisks are built alike.

Having lots of whisks isn't wasteful. It just means you have different whisks for different jobs. Whisks break down this way:

Balloon whisks. This are very light whisks, which thinner wires and wide, bulbous shapes. They should have at least nine wires, but more is even better. They're for mixing air into things, like egg whites and heavy cream, and they need to be light so they don't push the air out of things and so that they don't wear out your hand. You can also use them to mix dry mixtures, like getting the baking soda and salt well-distributed in the flour.

French, or sauce, whisks. These are narrower, for getting all around a mixture in a saucepan. They also can be heavier and sturdier than balloon whisks. You usually don't whisk as continously with a sauce whisk.

Flat, or roux, whisks. These look like squashed whisks, with a flattened shape. They're dandy for whisking flour into fat to make a gravy, although their elongated shapes also can be effective for whisking together batters in a mixing bowl.

A few things you need in your whisk collection:
A heavy whisk. I have one whisk that's not really a balloon and not really a French. But the tines are much thicker than my other whisks, making it really handy for bashing things into other things -- it can double as a potato masher, for instance, or it can handle a thick batter if I don't want to go to the trouble of involving the stand-mixer.
Good handles. We tend to notice the tines on a whisk, but we forget to notice the handle. And the handle is what actually spends time in our hands. Wooden handles are usually comfortable. Wire-wrapped handles? Not. And they have a bad habit of rusting.
Multiple sizes. Sometimes you need a big whisk, sometimes you need a medium-size whisk. There's nothing wrong with variety.

What you don't need: Novelty whisks. The ones that are straight wires with balls on the end, the ones with complicated shapes that involve wires bent into circles in the middle? I say skip 'em. They don't whisk any better, and they get all tangled up with the better whisks.

And after getting fooled many times by cute, tiny whisks, I finally learned: A fork works better. My mother could have told me that.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Taste of the Nation is a good taste of Charlotte

Who can keep up with all the great restaurants opening up around town? The annual April fundraiser Taste of the Nation is like a big crib sheet, a chance to get a taste and a feel for a place.

I've been one of the judges wandering around with clipboards several times over the years and it's always an eye-opener to see which young chef really puts in an effort and takes chances. If there's a new ingredient or a new method, somebody will try it. I had my first bite of seared pork belly and my first sous vide egg there.

Of course, that makes it sound more high-faluting than it is. If you just want to get a couple of drinks, eat some good bites of food and hang out with friends, you can do that too.

And the ultimate reason, either way, is to raise money to raise money for Share Our Strength and the fight against childhood hunger. That's really what Taste of the Nation is about.

This year's Charlotte edition of Taste of the Nation is 7-10 p.m. next Wednesday (April 11) at the Wells Fargo atrium. Regular tickets are $85, although if crowds aren't your thing, you can get a VIP ticket for $100 that gives you entry into a quieter seating area and an hour to peruse the food before the main doors open.

This year's restaurants: Amelie's, American Roadside Burgers, Brixx, Central Piedmont Community College (they always do something over the top for their chocolate display), Chima, E2, Electrolux, Enso, Fern, Flatiron, Gallery at Ballantyne, Halcyon, LaVecchia's, Mama Ricotta's, Mert's, Mimosa Grill, Queen City Q, Rocky River Grille, Savannah Red, Upstream, Vida Cantina, Village Tavern, Vivace, Whole Foods, Wolfgang Puck's Pizza Bar, and Zink American Kitchen.

Need details or tickets? or call 704-376-1785.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Arthur's is pouring good pinot noirs

We're taken with the name of the pinot noir celebration at 6 p.m. April 25 at Arthur's Wine Shop in SouthPark: "Pinot for Your Patio." I like my patio, but I'd rather drink the pinot myself.

Luckily, Robert Balsley will feature a tasting of pinots from around the world. As pinot fans know, that's worth a lot more than the $10 price of the festival. Reservations are required. Call 704-366-8610 or enail to grab a spot.

Monday, April 2, 2012

One Easy . . . Easter Treat

I was fast-flipping through a food magazine when I spotted this recipe in a Jello pudding ad in Food Network. How could I miss it? They had a cookie version of angry birds glaring at them (it's an ad -- you figure it out).

Looking over the recipe, I immediately thought of a few changes. It's spring, so why not add strawberries to the bananas, to boost the flavor? And why not melt semisweet chocolate with a little shortening, to make a more solid chocolate coating?

Beyond that, it's almost as easy as opening a bag of jelly beans.

Fruity Easter Cake Balls

Adapted from

1 (10.75-ounce) package frozen pound cake, thawed
1 very ripe banana
4 medium strawberries, hulled
1 (3.4-ounce) package vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2 cup milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate (preferably bars, not morsels)
1 tablespoon shortening
Multicolored sprinkles

In a large mixing bowl, break cake into crumbs. (Break it into chunks, then rub the chunks between your palms.)

In a small bowl, mash up the banana and the strawberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pudding mix and milk just until pudding is moistened. Immediately stir in the cake crumbs and the bananas and strawberries.

Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. Shape the mixture into small balls, about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place in the freezer for 1 hour to harden.

Melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, or in a bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir in the shortening. Using a fork to lift them, drop each cake ball in the chocolate and roll it around to coat, then move it back to the wax paper. Sprinkle with multicolor sprinkles. Refrigerate until chocolate is set.

Yield: About 4 dozen.