Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New hours coming for Atherton Market

The Atherton Market at Atherton Mills, near Tremont Avenue on South Boulevard, has turned into a thriving urban market with local food producers. The only trouble is trying to remember the darn hours: Is it Tuesday mornings/Wednesday afternoons? Wednesday mornings/Tuesday afternoons? And what time does it open on Saturdays?

Manager Lynn Caldwell has heard your cries for relief. Starting Aug. 7, the market will be open five days a week: That's 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. Some of the vendors, such as Monk's Coffee, Cardais Gourmet and the Simply Local stand, which carries artisan food and dairy products from all over the state, will be there every day. Others may have things stored on site or will choose when to be there.

It's too soon what the busiest days will turn out to be. "At this juncture, we'd just like to see what the ebb and flow will be -- when people want to shop," says Caldwell. She's setting it up so she can expand hours if needed down the road. And these hours will continue through the winter.

If you haven't been by, stop in and see what's happening. You have more chances to do that now.

Monday, July 30, 2012

One Great . . . pan of dinner rolls

Perhaps in another life, I'll have time to bake bread more often. With two book projects and a fulltime job, I can't even find time to thaw frozen bread all that often.

So I was grateful to "Pioneer Woman" author/blogger/TV host Ree Drummond for a short cut that put fresh, warm dinner rolls at least a little closer to my actual life. Drummond's trick uses frozen dinner roll dough (aka Rhodes), melted butter and a cast-iron skillet.

Warming butter in the skillet creates a little proofing box, giving the frozen dough a jump start. While the recipe doesn't mention it, I also remember food-science tests several years ago that showed putting frozen food on metal makes the food thaw faster. So that might have something to do with it as well.

Whatever the reason, the result is a faster pan of rolls that's just the ticket when you have people coming over and you want something that's a step up from reheated rolls.

Buttered Rosemary Rolls

7 to 10 frozen, unbaked dinner rolls (depends on how many will fit in your skillet with plenty of room for rising; my 10-inch skillet holds 10)
2 to 3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 to 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse or flaky sea salt

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Place the rolls in the warm skillet with a little space between each. Cover with a dish towel and let stand 2 hours (it may take a little less time), until the rolls have risen and filled the skillet.

oven to 400 degrees. Melt the remaining butter and brush over the top of the rolls. Sprinkle with rosemary and coarse salt. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Remove from oven and serve warm.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Don't miss these at the farmers markets

You'd think all that fresh food getting ripe would be enough reason to turn out at a farmer's market. But they're cramming in special events, too. A roundup:

The Matthews Commmunity Farmer's Market will have Tomato Tasting Day on Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. They'll have 30 varieties for tasting and you can vote on your favorites. In other MCFM news, the Tuesday Twilight Market has officially ended, but some farmers apparently to keep coming out on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 for as long as customers keep coming. You know what to do. 208 N. Trade St., Matthews. 7:15 a.m.-noon Saturdays.

The 7th Street Public Market has a whole list of special events: July 28 from 11-2 p.m. is Sweet Saturday, with a focus on sweet treats. Aug. 4, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., is Totally Tomatoes. Aug. 11, they're having a Back to School party, and Aug. 18 from 10-11 a.m. is something called the Great Cookie Crumble.
In addition, they're adding a weekly Thursday night wine tasting at Bond Street Wines from 4:30-7 p.m. Cost is $10 and can be applied toward any purchases.
The Public is in 7th Street Station; parking is free if you take your ticket inside and remember to stamp it.

Atherton Market, 2104 South Blvd., has several things coming up: You need to register in advance to enter the South End Ice Cream Churn-Off Aug. 4. It's free and open to the public, but you have to register by Aug. 1. Get details and an application at southendclt.com.
Also on the hook: Dan Huntley, AKA Dan the Pig Man, will return with a series of grilling and barbecue demos starting Aug. 11. Track Atherton stuff on their Facebook page.

At the Davidson Farmer's Market, Saturday is the third annual Salsa Showdown. Contestants have to buy all their ingredients at the market and then have 90 minutes to make their salsas. Tasting and voting starts at 10 a.m. Winner gets $25 in market bucks. That market is behind the stores on Main Street; to get there, turn right on Jackson Street and look for the parking lots with the red trucks on the signs.

Finally, wouldn't it be great if we had a local winner in American Farmland Trust's annual America's Favorite Farmer's Market Contest? Atherton came in third last year, but we have a lot of worthy contenders. I won't lobby for a market, but I'll lobby for you to vote: Go here. Deadline is Sept. 3.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

$10 shopping trip: Sweet Lorraine's Bakery

If you've been snuffling around the Charlotte food scene long enough, you surely are familiar with the Adele's oatmeal fudge bars: Layers of oaty goodness with a thick chocolate layer in the center. They used to be wrapped in endearingly homemade-looking plastic and piled up at cash registers all over town. CPCC baking instructor Geoff Blount bought the recipe and kept the squares alive for years. I think he still makes them on contract.

So I'm always happy to see another decadent-dessert raise its head. I'll nominate The Sweet Lorraine from Sweet Lorraine's Bakery, which just opened a few weeks ago at 220 East Blvd. (it's in the mustard-colored big, old house near the intersection of East and South).

The bakery is a family endeavor, owned by baker Christine Guerriero, an alum of French Culinary Institute in New York, her dad Chuck and her sisters, Michelle and Stephanie. It's named for their mother, Lorraine, who died in 2004.

The bakery does everything from cupcakes to breads to cookies. The specialty, though, is the Sweet Lorraine, available in a single-serve size for $3.50 or as a dense, larger version that would serve 6 or so for $11. It's a round cake/cookie hybrid with a brownie layer on the bottom and a chocolate chip layer on the top. Christine created it in honor of her mother, who apparently loved both brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

For a taste of the Sweet Lorraine wares, I asked the nice girl behind the counter to pick out three things for 10 bucks:

1. A Sweet Lorraine (left), $3.50. It's really good, with a dense texture and a pleasing soft area in the center that's a little like raw cookie dough. It's not really raw, but had that kind of pleasure to eat, if that makes sense.

2. A single-serve Chocolate French Toast bread pudding, $4. Even cold, this was decadent, with a caramel-like sauce drizzled on top and a good, dense texture. Warmed up, it would be the bomb.

3. A generously big Blueberry Lemon Muffin, $2.50. It had a really good bite of lemon, and a nicely tender texture without the gumminess that can plague big bakery muffins.

All in all, a nice place to stop in for a treat or pick up some things to take for a special occasion.

Closed Mondays. Open 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, until 8 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. www.sweetlorrainesbakery.com.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

One Great . . . very simple tomato thing

We wait all year for good tomatoes, and then we have so many, we wonder what to do with them all.

This dish can't help you with the big slicers. It's something for simple to do with small, one-bite tomatoes, like cherries or even Sungolds when you need to use up a pile of them. Even better: You can hang on to this and use it on grape tomatoes the rest of the year.

It's incredibly simple: You just roll the tomatoes in dried herbs and place them in the dry air of the refrigerator. When they dry, they have a crispy coating, great for popping in your mouth and noshing. Put out a plate of them as an appetizer, or add them to an antipasti or cheese platter. Or throw them in your lunch box instead of chips with your sandwich.

The recipe came from Elizabeth Karmel, who made a name for herself on the barbecue circuit and now is the executive chef of the very successful Hill Country barbecue and fried chicken restaurants in New York and Washington. Good for her on all counts.

Tumbled Tomatoes
From Elizabeth Karmel.

1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon coarse or flaky sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dehydrated garlic or garlic powder
2 pints bite-size tomatoes, such as cherry or grape

Grind or crush the herbs de Provence, salt and garlic in a salt grinder or in a mortar with a pestle.

Wash the tomatoes in cold water, then drain but do not dry. In a large serving bowl, toss the tomatoes with the herb mixture until they are evenly coated.

Refrigerate the bowl, uncovered, until all the water is evaporated, at least 3 hours and up to overnight. Toss or "tumble" the tomatoes in the bowl occasionally, until the herb and salt mixture has formed a crust on the tomatoes. Serve chilled.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Do you have a cooking question?

I'm looking for good questions for our weekly Q&A feature. Can't figure out why boxed cornbread has a sticky texture? Not sure how long to grill your peaches?

If it's a question that can be answered (sorry, I can't tell you the meaning of life or which wine goes with rattlesnake), send it on and we'll try to solve it for you.

You can either post a question here in the comments, or email them directly to me, at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com.

Friday, July 20, 2012

RIP Sylvia Woods, the S.C. Queen of Soul Food

I was saddened to hear of the death of Sylvia Woods on Thursday, the owner of Sylvia's in Harlem and a native of Hemingway, S.C.

Back in 2001, when I was doing a series of profiles on important people in Carolinas food, I spent an afternoon at Sylvia's writing this story about Mrs. Woods and her journey. It's an experience I'll always remember: I had made the appointment and arrived a little early to eat lunch. But Mrs. Woods' husband was ill and she had to take him to a doctor. I ended up waiting 3 hours, sitting so long that I felt like I'd end up unpacking my suitcase and spending the night in that chair.

When she finally dashed in, around 4 in the afternoon, it was worth the wait. I was charmed by her warmth and earnestness, and all the practicality that was built into her life story of getting from a small farm to owner of a popular New York restaurant.

How can you not love a woman who calls you girl and pats your hand when she's only known you for a few minutes? Here's the story I wrote out of that afternoon.


NEW YORK - On the map, it looks like a long way from Hemingway, S.C., to Harlem.

But Sylvia Woods didn't leave Hemingway all that far behind. Her restaurants - the world-famous Sylvia's on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, one in Atlanta and a third in the works for Kennedy Airport - serve the same soul food she learned to cook back on her mother's farm.

Her cookbooks, "Sylvia's Soul Food" (Morrow, 1992) and "Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook, " (Morrow, 1999), are laced with family stories and pictures. And a line of canned greens, beans and hot sauces has her face beaming from supermarket shelves all over the country.

No, to Woods, Hemingway is not far away at all. She follows the same rules she learned on the farm: Keep busy. Put family first, but treat everybody like family. Save your money, but give the credit to a higher power.

“Girl,” she says, “we’ve been blessed. They may use the word lucky, but it was blessed.”

Every table and customer

Woods is 75, a tiny woman with big glasses, big hair and a big smile. But her eyes are young and so earnest she looks like a girl disguised as a great-grandmother.

Herbert Woods, her husband of 56 years, is in poor health these days. Getting him through a doctor's appointment, then riding in from their home in Mount Vernon has made her hours late for an interview.

But the restaurant has provided a constant show. From noon until well after 3 p.m., the three dining rooms are packed. Fifteen Japanese businessmen are being introduced to collards at one long table while a German-speaking couple is being fed at the next.

The walls are crammed with testimonials and signed pictures. Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton and a plaster silhouette of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. share space with the Shady Grove Youth Singers of Gaffney, S.C. A proclamation from the S.C. governor's office is next to a signed poster from Spike Lee's “Jungle Fever,” which included a scene at Sylvia's.

At one table, a young man is showing his date the menu.

“When you have soul food from now on, remember, it will be missing something,” he assures her. “You have been to the home of soul food.”

When Woods arrives, in the lull between lunch and dinner, she dashes in wearing a fur coat and a gold heart pendant. But when she finally sits down, she has a waitress's roaming eyes. She watches every table and customer, calling out to the regulars. “OK, darling. Good night, baby.”

When Woods left Hemingway for New York in the 1940s, she didn't plan to be a waitress, and she certainly never planned to own a restaurant. She really only knew one thing: “I didn't want to stay on the farm.”

Change for the better

By now, the trip between Hemingway and Harlem is family tradition. Woods goes back twice a year, “religiously, Labor Day and Christmas,” with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

But her mother made the trip from Hemingway to Harlem first, following the path of so many blacks who left the South during the Depression.

Woods' father died two weeks after she was born. Sylvia's mother left her with her grandmother and went to New York to work as a laundress, wearing a money pouch under her clothes.

When she had five $1 bills, she changed them into a $5. Two $5s became a $10. Five $10s became a $50. Bigger bills were harder to spend. Saving that way, Woods’ mother sent money home until she could afford to come back to the farm.

When Woods went north, she saved the same way.

“Even today, if I give the cashier $20 in singles, she knows how I want it back. Some people would call me a miser. My children would say, ‘No, Mommy - you're smart.’”

First, a great waitress

Woods met Herbert in a bean patch, when she was 11 and he was 14. She knew they were meant to be together, and they weren't meant for farming.

So after Herbert's tour in the Navy, they married and headed to New York. They got an apartment in Harlem and had four children - Van, Kenneth, Bedelia and Crizette. Herbert drove a cab and Sylvia got a factory job on Long Island.

She didn't like it much. It was a long commute, and the carfare was expensive.

A few blocks from the apartment was a small place, Johnson's Luncheonette. Woods' cousin worked there but was leaving. She convinced Woods to ask for her job.

"I was scared to death, " she says. "We couldn't afford to eat out. I knew how to set a table at home, but I had the fear - how did I know how to do it in a restaurant?"

But she figured it would save carfare, and she could eat free. So she took the job, then set out to be a great waitress.

“In a restaurant, there's always something to do. You've cleaned the counter? Clean it again. You've swept the floor? Sweep it again.”

‘That was the menu’

In 1962, the owner approached Woods about buying him out, for $20,000.

“I was so shocked. I laughed, I thought he was kidding.” She told him she didn't have that kind of money.

“He said, ‘Yeah, but your mama's got a farm.’ I said, ‘No way.’ If I didn't make it, my mother would lose her land.” But she told her mother about the offer. Her mother decided to mortgage the farm for $10,000.

“I said, ‘Oh, my God.’

“Girl, I planned that thing out to a T.” As a waitress, she made about $22 a week, plus tips. Herbert had his pay from the cab. She figured out that she could make the payments and have enough left over to buy a crate of greens and five chickens. Fried chicken and greens would be the menu, along with smothered beef liver, neck bones and pork chops.

“That was the menu. We had the poor man's plate - pig tails and limas over rice. Now listen, that's how I got started. That. Was. The. Menu.”

The menu didn't change, but the neighborhood did. Woods had bought into Harlem when most people wouldn't have given a nickel for it.

“This block was infested with drugs. Girl, I was terrified.” She kept a baseball bat under the counter and when toughs would come in, she'd send her husband and sons to the kitchen and handle it herself.

“I'd say, ‘They're somebody's child - I can take care of that'.”

When the riots started, her business was spared. But a Jewish-owned paint store on the corner was burned. Woods leased that space and then a bar next door. She expanded several times, eventually buying the building.

“Girl, I had a dream - go for it.”

The big break

In 1981, New York magazine's influential critic, Gael Greene, came in. She raved, dubbing Woods “Queen of Soul Food.” People flocked to Sylvia's.

“They thought they was coming to a big restaurant, and it was a luncheonette. I wouldn't look them in the eye. Girl, I was so embarrassed.”

About that same time, Harlem changed again. European and Asian tourists discovered it, riding in tour buses past the nearby Apollo Theater. Woods was approached by tour guides.

“I thought, who's coming to Harlem - this raggedy place?” She agreed to try it, but couldn't figure out how to serve such big groups quickly.

“A dream came to me - family. Serve ‘em like family.” The restaurant set up a special deal for tour groups. Three meats, three sides, brought to the table in bowls, family-style.

“At home, you don't know what your mother is going to put on the table. It's home. You reach and get what you want.”

The tour groups are still coming, especially for the Sunday jazz brunches. The restaurant was originally closed on Sunday, to give the family time together. But once, when Woods was behind on the electric bill, she opened on a Sunday to make extra money. It was so profitable, she kept doing it.

“My mom would say, if your oxen fall in the ditch on a Sunday, you're got to work to get them out.”

Today, the Sylvia's restaurants employ all four Woods children, even a number of her grandchildren. The packaged foods are run by Woods’ son Van. The canned versions of the family's collards and limas are a little sweeter than the restaurant versions, but that's how Woods likes them.

“I think that was the way my mom got me to eat vegetables. You didn't have nothing exotic, but what you do is make it better, to entice the kids to eat.”

She still comes in every day, but these days, she lets her children run the show.

“Look,” she says, “I'm 75. I'm getting wearied a little.

“I just tell the kids, don't ever run so far you can't get back.”


We loved the eggy macaroni and cheese at Sylvia's, where it is served as a side dish. The recipe is in "Sylvia's Soul Food" (Morrow, 1992).

Makes 8 servings.

2 ounces elbow macaroni (about 2 1/2 cups) 3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 1/2 cups milk, divided

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

8 ounces grated cheddar cheese (about 2 cups), divided

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon yellow food coloring (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook macaroni in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender but not mushy, about 8 minutes. Drain well and pour into a large mixing bowl. Stir in butter, 11/4 cups milk, eggs, 13/4 cups grated cheese, salt, pepper, sugar and food coloring (if using). Mix well and transfer to a 1 1/2-quart oval baking dish. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup milk over top and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

Bake until top crust is golden brown and casserole is bubbling, about 25 minutes. Serve hot.


Although the menu at Sylvia's now offers things like grilled salmon, the old dishes are still the staples. This recipe, from "Sylvia's Soul Food, " calls for shoulder chops, but we tested it with pork loin chops. You could also halve the meat and vegetables, but keep the gravy ingredients the same.

Makes 8 servings.

8 (3/4-inch-thick) shoulder pork chops 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon salt, divided

1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, divided

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 large onions, coarsely chopped

2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

2 cups water

Trim excess fat from the edges of the pork chops. Sprinkle each with some of the 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Season 2 cups flour with the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and pepper. Dredge chops in the flour until coated on all sides, shaking off excess flour.

Pour the vegetable oil in a deep, heavy skillet, such as cast iron, over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shake slightly, add as many pork chops as will fit without crowding. Fry, turning once, until well-browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove chops to a plate and repeat with remaining chops.

Pour off all but 1/4 cup drippings from the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and add onions, green peppers and celery. Cook until brown and soft, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons flour over the vegetables and bottom of the skillet. Cook, stirring, until flour is golden brown. Slowly pour in 2 cups water. Stir, then cook until thickened.

Place pork chops in a Dutch oven or divide between two skillets. Top with the gravy and vegetables. Cover tightly and cook over low heat until pork chops are cooked through, about 15 minutes.


Soul food wouldn't be the same without collards. This version, from "Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook" (Morrow, 1999), trims some fat by using smoked turkey wings.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

3 cups water

1/2 pound smoked turkey wings or neck

1 1/2 pounds collard greens (about 2 large bunches)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the water and smoked turkey to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

While the turkey is cooking, wipe the collards and wash well in 2 or 3 changes of water to remove all grit. Cut away the thick stems and discard. Chop greens into 1/2-inch pieces, to make about 10 cups.

Add collards, oil, salt, pepper, sugar and pepper flakes to saucepan. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Discard turkey if desired, or remove skin and bones, chop meat and add to the collards.


From "Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook." Like the corn bread served at the restaurant, this version is tall and cakey, thanks to the eggs.

Makes 15 servings.

2 cups yellow cornmeal

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons baking powder

11/2 teaspoons salt

21/2 cups milk

1 cup vegetable oil

5 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, sift or stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the milk, oil and eggs. Add the cornmeal mixture and stir until just combined. (Batter will be wet and a little lumpy.) Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the corn bread is pulling away at the edges. Cool in the pan, then cut into 15 squares.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Southern Living weighs Charlotte Vs. Tampa

They have shores, we have banks? For the August issue, Southern Living did a matchup comparing Charlotte, home of the Democratic National Convention, and Tampa, home of the Republican National Convention.

The Observer's former columnist Tommy Tomlinson did the essay duties on behalf of the QC, while the magazine also did a lineup up each city's credentials as a place to party. (The early version I saw still listed the kickoff party at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, which has since been moved to Tryon Street uptown.)

Among the recipes: Two versions of wings (left wings and right wings) and some cocktails with truly cringe-inducing names (Bourbon on the Baracks for Charlotte, the Grand Old Fashioned for Tampas, and the Muddle of the Road for those who are staying out of the whole thing.)

Get an early look at the SL coverage here.

Johnson & Wales chef has cooking classes for the public

When school is out, classes are in. Johnson & Wales chef instructor Carrie Hegnauer is offering her Classical Technique Cooking Series Aug 11-25 at The Kitch, 8305-D Magnolia Estates Dr. in Cornelius.

The classes aren't cooking demos, they're hands-on experiences focused on cooking techniques that can be applied to home cooking. The lineup:

"Sauce Creation," 5-9 p.m. Aug. 11. Create basic French sauces and dishes, including chicken paillard, chateaubriand and poached fillet soubise.

"Soup Creation," 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 18. Soups including vichyssoise, creme Bretonne, French onion and smoked butternut squash.

"Sensory Analysis," 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 25. Learn to understand balance and complexity while using basic skills to separate and identify flavor elements in food.

Classes are $90 to $125 each and include a family-style meal at the end of class. Space is limited and registration is required. For details or to register, go to culinarycarrie.com.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More tips for cleaning your corn

With the combination of heat and rain, corn is piled high at markets. That might explain the sudden explosion of tips for cleaning and cooking corn:

1. The corn-shaking video. A slightly corny guy named Ken has gone viral, racking up more than 6 million hits on You Tube for his video of microwaving corn and shaking it out of the husk. (I think at least half of those 6 million are from people who have forwarded it to me.)

Does it work? I've tried it a couple of times and my corn doesn't shake free like Ken's. But it is easy to remove the husk and then rub the hot ear with a paper towel to remove the silks. So it is handy as a method to keep from heating up your kitchen with a pot of boiling water.

2. Cooking corn in a cooler. This one started making the rounds last summer: You cook corn for a crowd by piling shucked, raw ears in a cooler, pouring in boiling water, closing the cooler and letting it sit for 30 minutes. It does work, of course. However, some sources have pointed out that coolers aren't intended to hold hot water, and exposing the inner liners to heat could cause chemicals to leach from the plastic. On the other hand, there probably aren't that many times you'd have a large enough gathering to use this trick, so your exposure would be limited.

3. If you missed it, we ran a blog tip from a reader earlier in the summer on grilling corn in the husk and then steaming it in a paper bag until the husk and silk slips off. It's really an outdoor version of corny Ken's video and makes me wonder what would happen if you combined the two. Would the corn jump out of the husk all by itself?

Got any corn tips or tales of trying any of these tricks? Pass 'em on. Corn season won't be with us much longer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Learn canning basics on Sunday

Kristin Davis, the family and consumer specialist for Mecklenburg Cooperative Extension, will continue her series of summer cooking classes at Harvest Moon Grille on Sunday afternoon with "Canning and Preserving the Harvest."

The class will cover the basics of food preservation, the difference between high- and low-acid foods and other preservation techniques. Every person will leave with a canning booklet including recipes and instructions.

The class is 2-5 p.m. at the Dunhill Hotel, 235 N. Tryon St., and costs $25 per person. You need to call to reserve a spot: 704-342-1193.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Peanuts in Cheerwine?

Here in the sultry section of summer, apparently attention has turned to two Southern traditions: Peanuts in Co'Cola (or RC, or Dr Pepper, or Pepsi), and boiled peanuts.

First, Serious Eats has a blog post up about the great summer treat of pouring salted peanuts in your bottle of soda. They reach a few conclusions: Yes, it has to be a soft drink in a glass bottle; yes, it has to involve pouring in salted, roasted peanuts; and yes, people from areas other than "around here" find this behavior puzzling. Read it here.

Just as we were absorbing that, along came the James Beard Foundation's blog, Delights and Prejudices, featuring a recipe from Charlotte's Marc Jacksina (formerly of Lulu, currently of Halcyon) for boiled peanuts made with Cheerwine, Tabasco and some Asian touches such as star anise and mirin. Here's the blog post, and the recipe is below. (Seaweed in boiled peanuts, chef? I don't even want to know what gave you that idea.)

Cheerwine Boiled Peanuts

From Marc Jacksina of Halcyon Flavors of the Earth, for the James Beard Foundation.

4 cups raw (unroasted peanuts) in the shell
1 (3 by 5 inch) sheet kombu (dried seaweed)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 whole star anise
2 cups Cheerwine or other cherry soda
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon white soy sauce
2 dashes Tabasco

Combine the peanuts, kombu, salt and star anise in a large pot. Cover with water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 2 to 3 hours, adding more water as necessary to keep the peanuts covered.

Strain and shell the peanuts. (Discard the kombu and star anise.) You should be left with about 2 cups of peanuts.

In a clean medium pot, combine the shelled peanuts with the Cheerwine, mirin, white soy sauce, and Tabasco. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring often, until the liquid has reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Lay the peanuts on a parchment-lined sheet tray and cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

One Great . . . zucchini and eggplant dish

It was a typical Cook's Illustrated recipe, for an Italian vegetable stew called Ciambotta, flavored with a quickie pesto called pestata. Yes, it had long directions and a lengthy list of ingredients. But in my summer-packed kitchen, I thought I had them all - basil, eggplants, onions, potatoes, zucchini.

Except -- uh-oh -- no canned tomatoes, which is what was supposed to provide the liquid to turn it into a stew. And there was all that time hanging out in a hot kitchen. I wasn't crazy about that idea at the end of a long weekend.

Time to innovate. Ditch the potatoes, tomato paste and canned tomatoes. Keep the pestata, zucchini and the trick of pre-cooking the diced eggplant in the microwave to dry them out and give them a head start.

We ended up with a flavorful summer side dish, sort of a zippy and shorter version of ratatouille. It's definitely versatile. You could toss it with pasta for a vegetarian summer supper, or add some broth and turn it into a simple soup with bread on the side.

And more of those summer vegetables will find a home.

Short-Cut Ratatouille
Adapted (very adapted) from the May/June 2012 issue of Cook's Illustrated.

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Eggplants (I used about 4 of the long, skinny ones; aim for enough to have 2 cups of peeled, diced eggplant)
About 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Cooking spray
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large tomato, cored and diced, or several plum tomatoes, diced

Combine the basil, oregano, garlic and red pepper flakes in a food processor or blender. Pulse to chop it all. With motor running, drizzle in the olive oil to make a juicy sauce. Set aside.

Peel the eggplant and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss with the salt. Spread a couple of coffee filters on a plate and spread the eggplant on the plate. Spritz with cooking spray and microwave for 8 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes. You want to soften the eggplant and let it start cooking.

Heat the 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet. Add the eggplant and the onion and saute, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and continue cooking, stirring often, about 5 or 6 minutes, until everything is softening up. Stir in the tomato and cook another minute or two.

Stir in the pestata and saute quickly to finish, mixing everything together. Taste and add a little more salt if needed.

Makes about 4 servings.

Friday, July 6, 2012

One Great . . . gorgonzola salad

Once upon a time, when I was a very young lass in West Palm Beach, Fla., there was a steak restaurant called Manero's. Fancy place, expensive steaks. And, most of the time, completely out of my financial league.

But in those long-ago days, there were things called "dates," when a young girl might be taken out for a nice meal. And so, very occasionally, I got to go to Manero's.

I don't recall a thing about the steaks. I can't remember all that much about most of those dates. None made an impression until I met the one I married in another town, many miles and a few years away.

But Manero's Gorgonzola salad? Now, that made an impression. It was really the reason people went to the restaurant: The cheesiest, most garlicky salad, tossed tableside in wooden bowls. A few years ago, paddling around on food web sites, I found a recipe that the Miami Herald apparently had begged from the original owners. The trick turned out to be garlic oil, rubbed into the wooden bowl before mixing the salad.

Garlic and Gorgonzola Salad
If you can't find gorgonzola, you could use blue cheese. The original directions call for freezing the cheese for 24 hours, so it's very firm and shreds well.

1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, divided
1 head of iceberg lettuce (although romaine or something better would do)
1 green pepper, cored and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and diced
Salt and pepper
4 ounces Gorgonzola or blue cheese
1/4 cup cider vinegar

Combine the garlic clove and 1/2 cup oil in a blender and puree. Rub a wooden salad bowl well with the garlic oil. Refrigerate any leftover oil.

Break lettuce into bite-size pieces and place in the treated salad bowl. Add the green peper, celery and tomato. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Grate cheese over the top of the salad. Whisk together the vinegarand remaining cup of oil. Pour over the salad and toss well.
Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Origin of barbecue sauce: Is NC style the original?

Food writer Robert Moss of Charleston has a fascinating blog post this morning up on the Southern Foodways Alliance site: Barbecue sauce before the 20th century.

He points out that all the various red and sweet sauces were really a 20th century development and may be have arisen from restaurants. Before that, slowly cooking meat was basted with . . . Well, we'll let you read it.


A taste of Savory Spice Shop

Getting away from my desk in these post-social media days sometimes means picking the lock on my ankle manacle. I managed it a week or so ago and galloped happily off down South Boulevard.

That's how I finally had a chance to stop into Savory Spice Shop at the Atherton Mill complex in South End, which opened last wwinter.

It took a few minutes to find it. Since the original announcements came in the Atherton Market newsletter, I thought it was a kiosk inside the market. Actually, Savory is in a storefront, around the corner from Zucca Pizza, facing on South and nearest to the end of the mill building by Tremont Avenue. (Sorry, that's the best description I can come up with.)

Savory is a franchise of a spice company based in Colorado. They stock more than 400 herbs and spices, most in glass jars so you can buy anything from a 1/2 ounce up. You're also encouraged to taste and smell samples and just brush them into the floor when you're done.

There's a staff-picks shelf with recipes (someone named Steven apparently really like mustard seeds) and they're doing wedding favors in tiny bags. Clever idea if you're looking for a party favor option. During the summer grilling season, it's also a good place to look for rubs for grilling.

The official address is 2000 South Blvd.; hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. There's also a location in Birkdale Village in Huntersville.

Find more about the shops (and maybe get a better idea on those directions) on Facebook; look for SavorySpiceShopCharlotteSouthend.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Grinding your own meat for burgers

Which burger mixture is the most effective? I tried a passel of them for a story in July 2008. Here's how I did it and what I learned:

To come up with a great beef burger, I did some work.

Most experts agree a great burger needs fat, a ratio of 80 percent lean to 20 percent fat. Much leaner and you'll get sawdust on a bun. No wonder supermarket meat cases are full of 80/20 ground beef.

But experts agree that pre-ground beef isn't the way to go. You don't know much about the meat, even if it's labeled by cut such as chuck. And you have to cook pre-ground beef thoroughly to rid it of any possible bacterial contamination.

Grinding meat yourself isn't as hard as it sounds. I have a meat grinder that attaches to my KitchenAid mixer, but most people don't have them. So, for this project, I used the food processor. The trick is to make sure everything is very clean and the meat is cold. Cut it away from the bone and trim cartilage if necessary, but leave fat. Cut the meat into large chunks, 3 to 4 inches square, and process it using pulses of 1 to 2 seconds.

Don't process the mixture into paste. Within a few pulses, you'll get a fluffy, ground mixture.

Next, I looked into what meat to grind. Chuck gets the most votes, although sirloin has fans. I was also intrigued by suggestions of adding a little short rib meat. I love short ribs for their succulence and beefy flavor.

Next: What to add to the meat. I found reports by Vogue writer Jeffrey Steingarten and food scientist Harold McGee on adding moisture to burgers, either water or cream.

Cream rang a bell. Sure enough, I found a once-classic recipe by the late James Beard that mixes ground beef with a little cream and grated onion. Grating onion releases juices, adding moisture, and gives a hint of onion flavor without overwhelming the meat.

Cream makes sense. It adds richness and moisture, but it also binds the beef. Burgers made from home-ground beef can fall apart on the grill. After trying both water and cream, cream was the clear winner.

I set up mixtures of meats chuck and sirloin alone, plus various combinations of chuck, sirloin and short rib, all with and without cream and grated onion. Then I tasted all of them along with pre-ground chuck from the supermarket.

The meats I ground myself were superior, with beefier flavor and more depth. The pre-ground beef tasted flatter and fattier. Sirloin didn't look promising, with a pasty consistency, but it had a good "hamburgery" flavor.

But the best were burgers made with chuck and short rib, with or without sirloin, and a little cream and onion. They were tender and juicy, with a rich, beefy flavor.

So, if you want a great burger, you need to grind a little chuck. And don't skip the cream.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Get in the holiday mood: True American 'cue

Last year during this week, we posted a video and story on the art of producing true, wood-cooked Carolina barbecue. I thought Corey Lowenstein's video, featuring Bruce and Jeff Jones of the Skylight Inn in Ayden, was one of the finest pieces of work I've gotten to be a part of.

If you're staying inside to stay cool over the holiday, I thought you might enjoy another look:

Barbecue at the Skylight Inn.

If you want, here's my story that ran with it.

Still hungry? Take a look at this slide show, now available from Reuters, on Scott's BBQ in Hemingway, S.C.

Which frozen treat has the fewest calories?

I scream, you scream, we all scream in horror at the fat and calories in ice cream.

Yes, it's cruel to share this on July 3. But Rachel Berman, nutrition director of web site caloriecount.com, recently sent around a list of nutrition numbers for some popular frozen treats. Read 'em and try not to weep:

Milk shakes: A shake made with ice cream, whole milk and chocolate, vanilla or strawberry flavoring packs 740 to 790 calories and 33 grams of fat for 18 to 20 ounces.

Hawaiian shaved ice: 288 calories, 0 grams of fat. Cream on top adds another 100 calories.

Gelato: 210 calories and 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of them saturated.

Ice cream bar: 180 calories, 12 grams of fat. There's a wide variation in brands, though. Haagen Daz bars run up to 320 calories, while some weight-loss brands get down to 80 calories a serving. Check the labels carefully.

Ice cream: Generally 145 calories and 7.9 grams of fat for a 1/2 cup.

Sorbet or sherbet: 130 calories and 1 gram of fat. Since sorbet is pureed fruit with sugar and sherbet has milk, gelatin or egg whites, sorbet is usually has fewer calories and fat, but it's not a big difference.

Slow-churned, light or low-fat ice cream: 100 to 120 calories, 4 grams of fat. The difference in calories isn't huge, but these types usually do have less fat than traditional ice cream. They have more air, so they also melt faster.

Frozen yogurt: 100 to 120 calories and 4 grams of fat in 1/2 cup. Of course, that's before you pile in a couple of cups of toppings.

Greek frozen yogurt: 100 calories, 0g fat. Like its non-frozen counterpart, it's also higher in protein -- 6 grams vs. 3 grams for regular fro-yo.

Frozen fruit bar: 70 to 90 calories, 0 gram fat. Most are just water and sugar, so read the labels carefully and try to get 100% fruit if you really want to be virtuous.

Monday, July 2, 2012

One Great . . . French potato salad

My grandmother's potato salad recipe is passed around with reverence in my family. It's very traditional, jazzed up with pickle juice and pimento, lots of mayonnaise and a major hit of Lawry's seasoned salt.

Too bad I have a son who hates mayonnaise. I didn't know this was even possible, so I blame an errant gene from his father's side. Still, having a mayo-challenged child forced me to explore the world of non-mayo potato salads. I ended up as a fan of the French potato salad.

I have no idea if it is actually French, but I know the combination of potato, herb and vinaigrette is a lot easier than traditional American potato salad. It also can handle all kinds of potatoes, from those red-skin potatoes that come in a mesh sack to the wonderful small Bintje potatoes I get at the farmers market in the summer. Even plain ol' Yukon Golds work. Just make sure you have lots of fresh herbs, and always dress the cooked potato slices while they're hot.

French-Style Potato Salad

2 pounds potatoes, preferably small (red-skin, Bintjes, fingerlings or Yukons)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sherry or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (flat-leaf parsley, basil, thyme leaves, chervil -- a mix of whatever you have)
4 to 6 green onions, diced white bulbs and sliced green tops (or 1/4 cup minced red onion or shallot)
1 stalk celery, diced

Scrub the potatoes, leaving the skins on. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place in a pot and cover with water and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes, until slices are just tender.

While potatoes are cooking, make the dressing: Whisk together the mustard and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking steadily. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain the potato slices, saving 1/4 cup cooking water. Put the slices in a large bowl and pour the dressing over them. Stir together gently with a rubber spatula, adding a splash or two of the hot cooking water if it needs it. Stir in the green onion or other onions. Wait until just before serving to fold in the fresh herbs.

Makes 6 servings.

Tupelo Honey book helps the Blue Ridge Parkway

When it's hot like this, it's nice to have an excuse to at least think about something cool: How about the misty blue beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway?

After the successful launch of its first cookbook last year, Asheville's popular restaurant Tupelo Honey is helping out the Blue Ridge Parkway with its second book. Tupelo has signed with Andrews McMeel Publishing to release a book in spring 2014 that will focus on the regional cooking traditions of the Mountain South, with a focus on the 469-mile parkway.

The Tupelo Blue Ridge book will include 125 recipes, full-color photography and historical and culinary tradition information. The writing and recipe team will be Elizabeth Sims and chef Brian Sonoskus, who produced the first Tupelo book.

Particularly nice: In the first year, the Tupelo Blue Ridge book will donate $2 from every book sold to Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which oversees volunteers and promotes stewardship of the road.

There's more news, as well. Tupelo Honey is planning to branch out from downtown Asheville with a new restaurant opening later this year in Knoxville and a third planned for somewhere in the vicinity of Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport, Tenn.

You reckon adding two more Tupelo Honeys will make it easier to get a Saturday morning table at the Asheville original? Nah, me neither.