Friday, December 28, 2012

One Great . . . silky kale salad

Ah, the ubiquitous kale. If you stick close to a local diet, that means lots of kale in the winter.

Since I have a kale-disliking husband, I'm always seeking kale dishes he doesn't find objectionable. So I paid attention when I started seeing a new technique:

Rubbed kale, sometimes called massaged kale. Seriously -- you toss raw kale with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. And then you rub it: Knead it, squeeze it, scrub it between your palms. Do that for at least 2 minutes and the kale breaks down, softens and takes on a silky texture.

Yes, you have to rub it after you add the oil, salt and an acid. If you just rub the bare leaves, it won't get all that soft. But think of all that oil you're massaging into your dry hands in winter. It's like a kale spa treatment.

After you soften the leaves (and wash your hands), you toss the kale with a few more ingredients and end up with a terrific winter salad. You can add almost anything. For this version, the spicy nature of kale led me to think of sweet and hot touches of maple syrup and cayenne, plus some sliced mushrooms because I had them handy. But you can change it up. Swap the lemon juice for a flavored vinegar. Add Parmesan, feta or goat cheese. Try toasted nuts and sliced pear. Toss it with a diced avocado.

The method works with regular kale or black kale (AKA lacinato or dinosaur kale). The salad even keeps a day or so in the refrigerator, so you can take extras for your lunch.

Rubbed Kale Salad

1 head kale (regular or black kale)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or try a flavored vinegar)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup sliced fresh mushroom caps (see note)

TRIM away and discard the kale stalks. Stack the leaves and cut into 1/2-inch- to 1-inch-wide ribbons. Place in a large salad bowl.

ADD the oil, lemon juice and salt and toss to miss. Put your hands in the bowl and massage the kale, rubbing and squeezing it for 2 or 3 minutes, until it's soft.

ADD maple syrup, cayenne and garlic and toss well. Add the mushrooms or whatever else you're adding (see note). Serve at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers for a day or so.

NOTE: Instead of mushrooms, you could add shaved Parmesan or crumbled feta or goat cheese, toasted nuts, sliced fruit or diced vegetables.

YIELD: 2 to 4 servings.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The most meat on a sandwich?

We present, for your perusal, the Chivito Al Pan, from Che Gaucho, 4724 Old Pineville Road (in the little strip shopping center just past Woodlawn). 

Featured on the lunch specials, the Chivito is pounded (or similarly flattened) sirloin, ham, bacon,  mozzarella and a fried egg, on a crispy roll roughly the size of a grown man's bedroom slipper. With fries. It's $7.50 and it's big. How big? A family of four could have split it.  

Since every order also comes with a bowl of creamy potato soup, I  skipped most of the bread  (pity, it had a lovely crisp crust) and just aimed for the sandwich filling. I still only  made it maybe a third of the way in. I'm betting a teenage boy could do it in a couple of bites, but I'm just a girl. 

Che Gaucho is a nice little cafe with an Argentine/Uruguyan menu, which, as far as I can tell, makes it the only Uruguyan restaurant in Charlotte. Get a look at the menu here

Need New Year oysters?

They aren't cheap at 99 cents each, but Alabama's Point aux Pins oysters are available at Whole Foods in SouthPark through the holiday.

Farm-raised in Grand Bay, Ala., by Steve and Dema Crockett, the Point aux Pins has been getting a following from Alabama chefs like Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, and oyster fanatics.

Texas food writer Robb Walsh had a good report on how they're raised when they first hit the market in 2010 and called them the best Gulf oysters he had eaten in a while.

They'll be available through the holiday at Whole Foods stores in the Southeast, including the Charlotte store, 6610 Fairview Road, near Sharon Road.

Molly O'Neill leads table talk in Rock Hill

In the mood to think, talk and eat  food? Rock Hill's Friday Arts Project will hold "A Place at the Table: Creativity in Food & Togetherness," a two-day forum Jan. 18-19 at the Gettys Art Center, 201 E. Main St. in Rock Hill.

The aim, according to the organizers: "Community, goodness and the mysterious bond that occurs around the table through art, film, discussion and shared meals."

Speakers include Molly O'Neill, former New York Times food columnist and author the mega-cookbook "One Big Table"; Peter Reinhart, chef on assignment at Johnson & Wales University; Levine Museum of the New South curator Tom Hanchett; and former Observer writer and barbecuer Dan Huntley.

The two-day event will include discussions, lectures, art exhibits, film screenings, an opening reception and meals, including a Live Fire Feast on Saturday night that involves a discussion on ethnic barbecue and a meal of lamb and other dishes cooked by Huntley and Fausta Salvatierra of Cocina Latina.

The two-day conference and three meals on Saturday is $85; the Saturday evening feast only is $45; a patron-level ticket including the entire conference and a limited-edition fine-art print is $150.

Details and registration:, or call Stephen Crotts, 803-554-1826.

Friday, December 21, 2012

One Great . . . hot buttered rum

The week between Christmas and New Year's is made for Jane Snow's Hot Buttered Rum Batter. 

The rushing around is over. If it isn't wrapped or decorated, it probably isn't going to get done. That week is the reward, when we get to slow down and enjoy. For my favorite recipe for doing that, I always say an inner thanks to Jane Snow.

When I became a food writer in the late 1980s, the  food writer to beat was Jane Snow of the Akron Beacon Journal. A constant-motion machine of writing, she won all the awards, she broke all the food news, she caught the trends before anyone else. And when it came to recipes, Jane had a sixth sense about what people would want to eat. 

She still does, even though she took a buyout and went into semi-retirement several years ago. Semi, I said: While everybody else was figuring out blogs and Twitter feeds, Jane was inventing  "See Jane Cook," her  online newsletter. 

She sends it out every week, with stories about life with her husband, Tony the Japanese sushi chef, and her continuing adventures with food. While it has a lot about food in her area of Ohio, it also a timelessness and that cosmic sense that good food in one place is good food in any place. It's free, too: Go to to sign up. 

Hot Buttered Rum
From Jane Snow. Make the butter mixture and keep it in the refrigerator. It lasts for weeks.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
6 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 cup molasses or dark corn syrup
Boiling water
Whipped cream (optional)

Combine the butter, brown sugar and molasses or dark corn syrup. Mash with the back of a spoon or the tines of a fork to make a paste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To use, place 1 1/2 to 2 rounded teaspoons of mix in a mug. Add 1 ounce rum Top with boiling water, stirring until the mix is melted. Top with whipped cream if you really need it. 

YIELD: At least a dozen servings, maybe more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Come to the Table talks about local food

It's not too early to start thinking about your plans in 2013. One to put on your calendar: "Come to the Table: People of Faith Relieving Hunger and Supporting Local Agriculture." There will be three  conferences around the state in February and March.

Come to the Table is put together by RAFI-USA (Rural Advancement Foundation International), the Rural Life Committee of the N.C. Council of Churches, and the Duke Endowment. The conferences started in 2007 and have become great seeding fields for discussions that improve food access in North Carolina.

The conferences are all-day events that include workshops on subjects like "Food Insecurity: Why Our Neighbors are Hungry and What You Can Do," "Community Gardening 101," and "Supporting Farmers, Supporting Families: How Can Local Food Be Accessible?"

If your church or volunteer organization is trying to figure out how to harness local food to do good,  you need to send someone to these gatherings.

Registration is on a sliding scale from free to $15. This year's conference schedule:

Monday, Feb. 4, at the Kinston Community Arts Council in Kinston.
Tuesday, Feb. 19, at UNC Greensboro.
Friday, March 15, at Southwestern Community College, Sylva.

You can register and get details at Or email Sarah Gibson, or Francesca Hyatt at

Monday, December 17, 2012

One Great . . . freezer corn chowder

When you're raising kids, you never know what will stick with them. The goofy stuff you say that they parrot back at you years later, the cookies you thought tasted terrible but they tell all their friends about. The comfort food recipe that ends up being a favorite. 

The grown man who used to be my little kid came home from college with a list of things he wanted me to make. Food in the "caf" on campus isn't all it's cracked up to be, apparently. One he asked for was corn and potato chowder.

Heavily adapted from the book "Desperation Dinners," by Alicia Ross and Beverly Mills, it was in regular rotation when he was growing up for many reasons: It was fast, it was cheap, it was made from stuff you can always have in the freezer. And it could be adapted to anything from chicken sausage to shrimp to leftover grilled chicken. 

We had already decided to make it Friday when the news turned horrible and my heart was with other people's children. I was so glad he had asked for it. It was the perfect thing to make while tall man who used to be my little kid took on the job of decorating the tree. 

We were all comforted. A little, at least.

Corn and Potato Chowder
I've changed this a lot from the original version in "Desperation Dinners." But it's very forgiving if you want to change more. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 to 2 cups diced cooked chicken or ham or half-moons of chicken sausage (if using; see note)
2 cups (or a couple of big handfuls) frozen cubed hash browns
1 tablespoon seasoning mix (see note)
3 cups chicken broth (or 2 14.5-ounce cans)
3 to 4 cups frozen corn
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup low-fan milk or half-and-half

HEAT the olive oil in a Dutch oven or 4- to 6-quart pot. Add the onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until just starting to soften. If you're using chicken, ham or sausage, stir it in and cook a couple of minutes longer. (If you're adding seafood, wait and add it at the end so it doesn't overcook.) Add the frozen hash browns and seasoning mix and cook until the potatoes start to stick to the bottom of the pan a little. 

ADD half the broth and stir, scraping up anything that stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the broth, the corn, the Worcestershire and the hot sauce. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the milk or half-and-half. Cook just until heated through. Serve.

NOTE: For the seasoning mix, combine 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/4 teaspoon marjoram. Frankly, I rarely measure any of it, just toss in pinches. I sometimes substitute a squirt of Dijon mustard for dry mustard.

YIELD: About 6 servings. 

Hats off to Christmas at the farmers market

Reasons to smile felt scarce this weekend. But who can resist Clark Griswold and his cousin Eddie?

Actually, those hearty fellows are honey seller Wayne Hansen (right) and Jeff Lazaro, who sells infused olive oils. They had side-by-side tables Saturday in the very chilly open-air building at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Yorkmont Road.

I was surprised at how many vendors were up and running at the market on Saturday morning. There were piles of fresh broccoli, kale, lettuce, pecans, eggs and more. If the past is an indication, next Saturday will be full, too. Then in January, the market will continue but some of the offerings will dwindle.

So really, you need to get out there and stock up. The stuff is so fresh, it will keep a couple of weeks.   You need to be ready to keep those New Year's resolutions to eat more fresh, local food.

And while my hat is off to Wayne and Jeff for coming out in the cold, I certainly hope they keep their own hats on.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Piped-icing dreams: Gingerbread Lane is open for viewing

Politicians get to kiss babies and food editors get to judge gingerbread houses. I can count on at least one annual stroll through Christmas creations with a clipboard in my hand. Late Wednesday afternoon, I threaded my way through the traffic to Ballantyne for a return visit to the Ballantyne Hotel's annual Gingerbread Lane contest.

We've got some amazing gingerbread artists in this area. A few of the creations on display are on par with the work you'd see at the Grove Park Inn's annual extravaganza in Asheville, and that brings entries from all over the country. Gingerbread Lane gets a combination of amateur and professional entries. ("Internal" entries are built by various teams of hotel staff and aren't open for judging.)

Winners are below, although you also can pay a $1 to vote on your favorite (benefits the Levine Children's Hospital) for a People's Choice award that will be announced after Christmas.

A few highlights:

Darin Cheney's "Christmas at Temple Square" (right) is serious eye candy  among the amateur entries. With glowing candy windows, it soars like a real cathedral.

Take a good look at the Budweiser wagon, "Here Comes the King." It looks like a toy wagon, but it actually is all made of gingerbread, right down to the beer crates and the sugar-sculpted Clydesdales. I was so fascinated, I forgot to raise my camera and snap a picture. You'll have to go see it.

One of my personal favorites was the Frederick Family's "Signs of Life," a gingerbread surface of  Mars, with the Curiosity rover encountering a gingerbread UFO unleashing an invasion of gummy aliens. Oh please, when the real Curiosity analysis is in, let Mars really turn out to be littered with French burnt peanuts.

And it's too bad there isn't a category for funniest gingerbread creation, because the zombie invasion "'T'was the Night of the Living Bread" by the Donkel Family really takes the ginger cake. Gingerbread men attacking and biting off pieces of each other -- sorry, but it made me laugh. Look for the one with bugged-out eyes after someone bit off the top of his head.

Gingerbread Lane is open for display through Dec. 25 at the Ballantyne Hotel, 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

1st place: Penny Cunningham, Peppermint House (the snowman in progress pictured at the top is a detail of that one).
2nd: Jill Delmastro (Cake Lady Jill), 12 Days of Christmas.
3rd: Mary Jayne Burris, Amelie's French Bakery, Tour de Eiffel

1st: Darin Cheney, Christmas at Temple Square
2nd: Alice Kerrigan, Home Sweet Home
3rd: Julie and Michael Andreacola, Here Comes the King.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How's Charlotte's sprouted grain pizza?

The website Serious Eats has a post picking over the pizzas at Pure Pizza in the 7th Street Market, particularly Peter Reinhart's sprouted-grain pizza. The verdict: Mixed, but hopeful for the future.

L.A. writer Lance Roberts asks commenters to weigh in, though, so here's a link: Sprouted Grain Thoughts.

In the meantime, I thought Roberts had an interesting description of the evolving lineup at the 7th Street Market. He called it "an upscale farmer's market/food court in Charlotte's uptown," which I thought summed up what the market is becoming as well as any description I've seen.

Thoughts on that? Post 'em here. Thoughts on the pizza crust? Post 'em there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cooking Uptown closed?

I was sorry to hear about the apparent closing of  Cooking Uptown, the kitchen gear store with cooking classes near 7th Street and Hawthorne Avenue in Elizabeth.

Although there's no sign on the door and I haven't been able to reach owner Karen Cooley,  one former cooking teacher told me the store closed in October. The website is inactive and the phone number is disconnected.

If anyone knows of future plans for the store, drop me an email at

Cooking classes coming up

Giving a class for a gift? Or taking one as a gift to yourself? Here are a few to consider:

Polish pierogi at the Harvest Moon Grille, at the Dunhill Hotel, 235 N. Tryon St., 2 p.m. Dec. 23. Taught by chef Cassie  Parsons, who'll share the recipe she learned from her mother. $25 and it includes pierogis to take home. 704-342-1193 for reservations.

Sweet Suite Fridays at the Ritz-Carlton. Limited to three couples per weekend: You get an overnight stay in a suite, a Saturday morning dessert-cooking class for two at the Cocoa Lab, and a Ritz-Carlton apron. Cost: From $459 per night, including valet parking, an in-room gift from Bar Cocoa and a special late checkout (3 p.m.) on Saturday. Available Jan. 11, 18 or 25; must be booked seven days in advance. Call 1-800-241-3333.

Tasty Tour Around the World, taught by Carrie Hegnauer (AKA Culinary Carrie), starting Jan. 12 at The Kitch, 8305D Magnolia Estates Drive, Cornelius. All classes are from 5-9 p.m. Saturdays and cost $95 ($50 discount if you sign up for all four):

  • Asian Cuisine, Jan 12.
  • The Mediterranean, Jan. 26.
  • The Greek Isles, March 2.
  • Italian Cuisine, March 23. 
  • Also: Be My Valentine Couples Class, Feb. 16, $170 for two. 

Seating is limited; reservations are required. Sign up at


Monday, December 10, 2012

One Great . . . winter tomato

I'm a salad girl, happy to fill out any meal plan by simply jotting " . . . and salad."

The green part of the salad is easy all year: Our climate is so temperate that I get locally grown lettuce right through the winter from several farmers.

But salad isn't made by lettuce alone. So I branch out in winter, looking for other things to add. Radishes are sometimes around. Carrots are possible, although I find it hard settling on the right way to cut them: Grated isn't substantial enough, slices can be too substantial. Roasted and chilled works better. Toasted nuts, dried fruit, even orange segments all get salad duty.

What's difficult, though, is coming up with some version of tomatoes. I refuse to give in to the temptation of winter tomatoes. No matter how red they are, they just don't work for me.

Recently, I got the idea to play with roasting canned tomatoes and using them as a cold salad ingredient. There are plenty of recipes for boosting the flavor of canned tomatoes by roasting them, but those are mostly used as pasta ingredients. I wanted something more salad-like, something with a little sweetness and tanginess. I hit on this.

We like it so much, we've even put tablespoons of it on sandwiches and hamburgers. They don't taste like fresh tomatoes, but they have more flavor than canned tomatoes. Maybe they'll help you hang on until next summer.

Sweet and Tangy  Tomatoes

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

DRAIN the juice from the tomatoes and set aside. (You can discard it, or refrigerate it and use it for pasta sauces or soups.) Place the tomatoes in a single layer in an 8-inch baking dish or pan.

SPRINKLE the brown sugar over the tomatoes, then sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and the salt. Drizzle with the olive oil. Place in a 350-degree oven for about 1 hour, until they're browned in spots.

REMOVE from oven and cool. Pack into a jar or airtight container with any accumulated cooking juice and refrigerate. Chop up into salads, add to pasta dishes or use as a sandwich topping. Keeps a couple of weeks.

YIELD: About 2 cups.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Have a drink with Mr. Rachael Ray

In 2003,  before "E-VOO" was a catchphrase and "Yum-O" was the name of a foundation, I interviewed a young woman named Rachael Ray, the host of a very useful food-travel show called "$40 a Day." It was easy to do:  I just called her. She was a great interview -- funny, quick to share tips and very down to earth.

Next week, Ray will come through Charlotte to sign a book that's the second she's written this year and at least the 20th she's written overall. This time, setting up an interview took more than 25 emails exchanged with two members of her staff.

But when I finally got her on the line for a few minutes Tuesday morning, she was still a good interview. Funny, gracious and down to earth. Just a lot richer than she used to be.

Add caption

One of the things we talked about was our husbands: We both are married to men who like to make cocktails and who are really good at washing the dishes.

"It's like we won some weird freakish lottery of the universe," she said.

 John Cusimano is a musician and manager of Ray's now-wide media company. Recently, she caught herself fussing at him for cleaning the kitchen and then she stopped and thought, "What am I doing? Let the man clean!"

Ray's new book, "My Year in Recipes," has a design trick. When you flip it over, the back third is designed as a separate book,written by Cusimano, called "My Year in Cocktails."

As an appreciator of good cocktails and good husbands, I felt bad that my interview with Ray didn't have room to pay more attention to Cusimano's contribution. Since next Wednesday is 12,/12/12 and a lot of people are suggesting celebrating "lucky number day" with a cocktail, I thought I'd share one from Cusimano's side of the book.

Warm Skater's Toddy

From "My Year in Cocktails," by John Cusimano (Atria/Simon & Schuster, $29.99). He notes that this makes more whipped cream than you need for just 1 drink. So you'll have to share.

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 ounces dark rum
3 ounces boiling water
Pinch each of freshly grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon and ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar

Whip the cream in a cold bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a heatproof mug. Add some of the whipped cream mixture and stir until blended. Garnish with additional grated nutmeg.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One Great orange-soy chicken thighs

Wings are wonderful, chicken breasts have their place. But there's just not much better for a fast meal than chicken thighs.

On a recent Sunday night, I needed something simple that didn't require a trip to the store. I had a few clementine oranges rolling around the produce drawer, a package of chicken thighs in the freezer and even a bottle of mirin -- sweetened sake -- in the cupboard. Add jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk, edamame and some glazed carrots and a winter night got much nicer.

If you end up with leftover glaze, you can refrigerate it and use it later in the week on swordfish or salmon.

Orange- and Soy-Glazed Chicken Thighs

Adapted heavily from Fine Cooking magazine.

4 to 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup soy sauce (preferably low-sodium)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
Grated zest from 1 small orange, such as a clementine or tangerine
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice from a clementine or tangerine (or a regular orange)
1 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Line the bottom of a broiler pan with foil and spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray. Place the top rack in the top center position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides and place on the rack, skin up. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, until the thighs are browning around the edges.

While the thighs are roasting, combine the soy sauce, sugar, mirin and orange zest in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir together the orange juice and cornstarch in a small bowl, then stir into the saucepan. Return to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Remove the broiler pan from the oven. Brush each thigh well with the sauce, turning to coat the bottoms too. Return to the broiler pan, skin up. Return to the oven and roast 5 minutes or so, until browned but not burned.

Remove from oven and drizzle with a little more sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with hot, cooked rice. Refrigerate remaining glaze and use with fish or chicken on another night. Bring to a boil before using.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings. 

Latkes and Barking Dogs chocolates

Friday is going to be a busy day at the Atherton Market.

First: The Great Latke Making Demonstration. Actually, the official name is the Third Annual Potato Pancake Demo and Festival. But since when does Bill Averbach follow rules?

 Market regulars know Bill as Pickleman, the owner of the Pickleville stand, and he's often doing something to attract attention. So when Bill makes potato pancakes, you might want to stand back. Especially since one of the things he'll be doing is the Three-Minute Latke. This year, he's going to attempt to make 1,000 latkes in 3 hours. The potato pancakes are free and you can make lunch off them.  The potato pancake celebration is from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Next, there's a special Holiday Market with extra arts and crafts from 4 to 8 p.m.  And that includes a special appearance by Barking Dog Chocolatier.

 For those who don't know Barking Dog, Joal Fischer and Deborah Lansam make high-quality, hand-made chocolates and donate all the profits to local charities. They've been doing it for 12 years and they've given almost $60,000 to groups like SupportWorks (which Joal runs), Friendship and N.C. MedAssist.

Usually, you can only get Barking Dog at certain restaurants or online, so this is a rare chance to buy them in a retail setting. Prices range from $8 to $16 and they'll include things like their Rare Breeds truffle sampler, the six-flavor Bark sampler, and Pupcorn, dark chocolate with carmelized popcorn, toasted almonds and honey pecans. If you need more information, their website is 

The Atherton Market is at 2104 South Blvd., near Tremont and South Boulevard.