Monday, December 23, 2013

One Great . . . really easy recipe

Before I take off for my own holiday, I was looking around for the first recipe I could offer for 2014. I won't be back until after Jan. 1, and you'll be embarking on your recipe resolutions by then.

So I thought of this recipe, from "The Can't Cook Book," by Jessica Seinfield (Artisan, 2013). If you know someone (or you are someone) who really thinks cooking is scary business, make 2014 the year you get over that. It's healthy - it's fresh, green broccoli tossed with almonds, lemon juice, feta cheese and pasta.

Who doesn't want to start the year eating like that? Life is better when you make dinner. And it doesn't have to be hard. I promise.

Greek Pasta
Adapted from "The Can't Cook Book," by Jessica Seinfeld.

1 bunch broccoli
8 ounces feta (2 cups, crumbled)
1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 (16-ounce) box whole wheat or regular penne pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil

FILL a large pot with water to about an inch below the top. Place on the stove, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Place a colander in the sink. (To make the water boil faster, put a lid on it.)

CUT the broccoli into small florets, leaving a little stalk attached. Cut the florets in halves so it will be easier to eat. Place the broccoli in the calendar and rinse with cold water. Drain the feta if it's packed with water and crumble into a large bowl. Grate the yellow part of the lemon rind into the bowl. Add the oregano, red pepper and black pepper.

PLACE a small skillet on the stove and add the almonds. Turn the heat to medium. Shake or stir the almonds often so they don't burn and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until toasted and fragrant but not too brown. Remove from heat.

ADD the pasta to the boiling water. Set the time for 3 minutes less than the package directions call for. When the time goes off, add the broccoli to the water and continue cooking together for 3 minutes. Drain everything in the colander and add immediately to the large bowl. Sprinkle in the almonds and toss everything to combine. Drizzle in the oil. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice in. Toss again to cot. Season with salt to taste.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

A few more food events to round out the week

Tonight is the 12 Beers & Wines of Christmas, at 201 Central, the Harris Teeter offshot that carries beer, wine and food store with locations in Wesley Chapel and Huntersville. From 5 until 8 p.m., they'll have a complimentary tasting event of Christmas beers and wines. What are those? Guess you'll have to stop in to find out. The stores are at 13108 Eastfield Road in Huntersville, and 5939 Weddington Road in Wesley Chapel.

Saturday is a market day for the Davidson Farmer's Market. It's open 9 a.m. to noon, in the location behind Main Street in downtown Davidson. There's also a silent auction as part of the festivities.

The Matthews Community Farmers Market will have customed Dickens carolers tomorrow morning from 8:30 to 10 a.m. The Dickens, you say? Why yes, I did.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

One Great . . . no-work holiday party bite

Did I mention this is the Christmas when I have no kitchen? No oven, no refrigerator. We're living through an emergency house renovation thanks to a water leak, so December this year is a little different.  No tree, no lights, no decorations. Lots of dry wall dust.

And social obligations. Ohhh, I still have those. And that's a good thing, since some nights we've had to resort to buffet-grazing to feed ourselves. In my current kitchen-less state, I really can't do much beyond tearing open a bag of fancy nuts. I can bring the wine. I do that a lot.

And I gaze upon the good ideas of other people. That's how I spotted this brilliant holiday party nosh at a recent gathering. It's so simple, a person without a kitchen could almost do it. Almost.

Pepper Pimento Cheese Bites 

1 package mini phyllo cups
1/2 to 1 cup of your favorite pimento cheese
About 1/2 cup red pepper jelly

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees. Place the phyllo cups on a baking sheet. Fill each cup with about a teaspoon of pimento cheese. Place in the oven and bake about 8 minutes, just until the pimento cheese melts and the phyllo cups are lightly browned around the edges.

REMOVE from oven and cool briefly. Put a dab of pepper jelly on top of each one. Serve warm or at room temperature.

YIELD: About 15 cups.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lupie's pork, a Crock-Pot feast and more cookies

Today in our food coverage:

Can you make an entire Christmas dinner in a slow cooker? Amy Dunn, who writes about bargains and thrifty living for the Raleigh News & Observer, decided to try. Yep, it worked, and today you get seven recipes that can be used for the party season. By the way, Amy is the mother of Observer business writer Andrew Dunn, so they both are smart with a buck.

How do you open and eat a pomegranate? It's surprising how many of us are intimidated by one of the world's oldest and most popular fruits. In my column, I tried to take some of the mystery out of it. And in another "by the way," did you know you can grow pomegranates in North Carolina?

Fans of Lupie's can celebrate: For her column You Asked For It, Robin Domeier got the recipe for the slow-roasted pork with jalapeno sauce. You'll definitely want to save this recipe for use all winter.

Star anise and anise: What's the difference? I answered that one in this week's Q&A.

My fellow Observer writers and I will be signing books Thursday in The Observer lobby, if you want to drop by between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.: Get the details on that along with news in the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend and new hours for Tupelo Honey's new Charlotte location.

Helen Schwab has news about a new Fort Mill restaurant, Flipside, with ties to Upstream and Mimosa.

Are nuts a good idea for your diet? Suzanne Havala Hobbs helps you figure that out.

If you had trouble with one of last week's Christmas cookie recipes and would like a corrected copy, we have them here, along with the full slide show of recipes. My apologies for that.

And more:
From-scratch chocolate pudding. 
Pork in Port Wine.
Decorate a Cookie Tree.
A Shortcut Cookie for the Holidays.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Texas Pete releases its own sriracha sauce

You can stop worrying about that rumored shortage of Huy Fong sriracha sauce after the shutdown of the plant in California: T.W. Garner Food Co. of Winston-Salem is riding to the rescue with Cha! by Texas Pete.

Yep, Pete is going Southeast as in Asia. T.W. Garner announced the release of the sauce Dec. 17. Cha! will be sold at national and regional stores that already carry Texas Pete brands. The company describes is as "a fiery blend of heat and sweet" that has been in development for more than a year.

That came long before the current worries about a shortage of Huy Fong sriracha, but Steve DeCorte, general manager of sales for T.W. Garner, says the company developed the sauce with the rabid fans of sriracha in mind.  Texas Pete is the third biggest hot sauce brand in the country.

Holiday shopping with a local-food angle

Remember, all this holiday fa-la-la-la-laderol will be over in January. While you still have time, here are two options if you're looking for something local and food-like:

The Atherton Market, 2104 South Blvd. in South End, is stocked with special foods from around the area, including Taste of the South gift baskets from Honest Harvest, or you can gather things from around the market and have them put together as a gift basket at Queen City Pantry or Cardais Gourmet. Queen City Pantry and the Food Hub also will be open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday, in case you suddenly realize you just haven't found the right thing for a passionate cook or eater.

The 7th Street Market, 224 E. 7th St., has increased its holiday foods and food gifts through Dec. 21. The Meat & Seafood Co. has special holiday items, including new charcuterie offerings and Kurobuta ham. Plus you can see Nutcrackers on Parade, nutcrackers decorated by art students at Central Piedmont Community College. Market hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (some vendors) Sundays. )If you park in 7th Street Station, remember to take your parking ticket in to get stamped.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

One Great . . . kids' baking activity

Decorating cookies with the kids is fun, for sure. It's also messy, chaotic and sometimes a little frustrating. Most little kids just want to get straight to the frosting part and skip the mixing, cutting and baking part.

When Betty Crocker did a Google Hangout recently on holiday entertaining ideas, this project caught my eye. Cute as it can be, and just the thing for holiday parties with lots of kids. You can go the cookie mix route if you just want a fun, fast activity, or you could adapt it to your favorite homemade ingredients.

Put out the baked trees, a bunch of green frosting and a bowls of colorful candy and let the kids go to town. Even the big kids - the ones a few decades beyond 21 - will like this one.

DIY Cookie Tree

From Betty Crocker.

1 pouch sugar cookie mix
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 egg
Green food coloring
1 container white icing, such as Betty Crocker Fluffy White Icing
Candies and sprinkles for decorating

HEAT oven to 375 degrees. Line a 15-by-10-by-1-inch pan with foil.

STIR together the cookie mix, butter and egg to form a soft dough. With moistened fingers, press the dough into the lined baking pan. Bake 10 to 14 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. Use a sharp knife to cut out a tree shape. (Use extra baked cookie to cut out a star for the top of the tree and presents to put around the bottom, if you like.)

STIR food coloring into the frosting to create the color you like. Frost the tree, then use candies to decorate it.

Come see us at The Observer

If you're coming to uptown Charlotte to do a little shopping and sightseeing on Thursday, stop by The Observer building at Stonewall and Tryon streets. We're trying something different: A book sale and reader appreciation event for the holiday.

It's from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at our building, 600 S. Tryon St. I'll be there, selling and signing copies of both of my books in the Savor the South series, "Pecans" and "Bourbon." And I'll be in the company of fellow writer Scott Fowler ("100 Things Panther Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die") and editor Roland Wilkerson, with a new book version of his "I'm So Clever" column for reader home tips.

You'll also be able to buy some of the posters we've done over the years on N.C. phenomenon. All sales are cash or checks (my books are $18 each, Scott's is $14.95 and "I'm So Clever" is $5.99).

If you're in the area, drop in and see us. There's a limited amount of free parking under the building.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Feast your eyes on gingerbread houses

Is that you, Santa Claus? Great Wolf Lodge has a gingerbread dining room.

This is shaping up to be an unusual Christmas for me. It's Dec. 12, and I haven't been asked to judge a single gingerbread house display. I'll never meet my annual quota of counting Lifesaver roofing tiles and meringue snowmen this way.

Don't let that fate befall you. Here are a few places where you can catch up on the wonders of royal icing mortar and giant confections:

1. Gingerbread Lane at the Ballantyne Hotel is open for viewing through Dec. 29. The judging for the annual amateur and professional was Dec. 11, but I haven't heard the results yet. So I don't know if there's anything to top my personal favorite from last year, "Night of the Living Bread," a gingerbread zombie battle. (Don't worry, most displays are much sweeter, mostly happy elves and gingerbread cathedrals.) The display is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and you can cast votes for your favorites with $1 minimum donations to the Levine Children's Hospital. There are other events going on like holiday teas and hot chocolate sippings, if you want to make a bigger event of your trip. Details: 

2. Wait, the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte doesn't have its annual lifesize gingerbread house this year? Never fear, there's an 8-foot Christmas tree made from French-style macarons instead. And it includes chocolate reindeer, so we'll accept that. It's on display near Bar Cocoa, conveniently stocked with macarons and very near the gelato machine. There are holiday teas available, too. Bar Cocoa hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays. For teas, go to or call 704-547-2244.

3. Now here's a giant gingerbread event: At the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, you can dine inside a life-size gingerbread house at Snowland! through Dec. 30. Seatings are at 8 am., 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The house can hold up to six people. Reservations are required; call 704-549-8206, ext. 5036. You don't have to be a guest at the lodge. It costs $10 to sit in the house; meals are extra and range from $7 for kids and $14 for adults at breakfast to $20 for adults at dinner. The house-sitting fee goes to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Details:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What's on the table for today's recipe feast?

If you click on over to The Observer's food page,, here's what you can pile onto your pre-holiday plate today:

Cookies, cookies, cookies. Yes, we have the four winners - the grand prize and three runners-up - in our Family Holiday Cookie Contest. But wait, there's more: We also have a slide show with the winners and 13 more finalists, with their stories, recipes and pictures of the cookies. That's 17 cookies, folks. Even Santa couldn't finish a plate like that.

It's the spirited season, so we have lots of news on spirits this week: A new locally made rum, Queen Charlotte's Reserve, hits the stores, Daniel Hartis shares ideas for beer-related gifts, and I answer a question on whether bourbon has gluten. 

Suzanne Havala Hobbs says you can help yourself and the environment if you skip the bottled water.

Yes, you can make your own soft pretzels: Here's how.

And there's more:
Shrimp and coconut stew.
A stream-lined version of spinach and artichoke dip.
A yellow dal from Raghavan Iyer's new book on Indian cooking.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Feeling lucky, Charlotte?

Here's a quick contest for you. See that number in the picture? It was a little dark, so I'll repeat it: 1158499.

Where did I shoot the picture and what does the number mean?

I have a copy of "Mad Hungry Cravings," by Lucinda Scala Quinn, for the first person who emails me at with the correct answer. Ready, set . . .

UPDATE: Well, that took 11 minutes. The winner is Adam Robertson, who sent the correct answer at 11:28 a.m. That's the number of pizzas made by Luisa's Brick Oven Pizza on Abbey Place since it opened in 1991.

Apparently, owner Jeff Russell started keeping count when they were nearing the millionth pizza two years ago. Customers enjoyed it so much that he has kept it up, updating the number every Saturday night. He has a formula that lets him account for the number of pizzas they put out on the buffet, too.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Season's eatings in Charlotte, Tupelo Honey and more

You know it's the week after Thanksgiving when you can go to a holiday food event every night. Here were just three I fit in last week:

Community Culinary School of Charlotte is good causes rolled in good causes: The culinary program takes people who've had employment problems for various reasons and trains them for jobs in food service. And as part of their training, they do catering and make the meals for Friendship Trays.

Tuesday night's fund-raising holiday party pulled in an enthusiastic crowd (left) with a silent auction, food samples including a pasta bar, and a culinary competition featuring instructors and alumni vs. the most current class, No. 47. That's program administrator Lakesha Lamons, above, in the chef's jacket and Santa hat. She's also a graduate herself, of Class 41.

In my column last week, I wrote about the career of Jeff LaBarge, chef-instructor and director of the culinary program at Central Piedmont Community College. Wednesday night's party for LaBarge was supposed to be a surprise (oops, no one told me), and it still was: His wife, former chef Nell LaBarge, hid the paper and even unplugged the computer so he couldn't go to The Observer online.

The party was a dinner featuring food by the advanced garde manger (cold-food prep) class. But here's one last thing that says a lot about the effect a single teacher can have: Two of the guests were LaBarge's former students, Chicago chef Gene Kato (center) and Ilios Noche chef James Jermyn (right), who stepped away from very busy restaurants just to be there for their former teacher.

And finally, Friday night brought the very packed preview party at Tupelo Honey, the hugely popular Asheville restaurant that opens today in the former Pewter Rose spot at 1820 South Boulevard. If the popularity of the original in Asheville is any indication, if you get in line today, you might get a spot for brunch next Sunday.

There are a lot of funny touches in the new space, including a big crown-shaped light fixture at the front desk. And if you've ever schlepped up those stairs, you'll be happy to see the first welcome touch when you arrive: A new elevator (left).

Executive chef Brian Sonoskus was there and thrilled: He has lived and worked in Charlotte several times in the late '80s and early '90s, including at Talley's Green Grocery, for Fran Scibelli at Metropolitan and at Bayou Kitchen. So he knows Charlotte. ("I've seen every show the Grateful Dead ever played in Charlotte since 1981." Yeah, he's right in home in Asheville.)

The food included the very popular pork chops with Zippy sauce, a kind of smoky/chunky barbecue sauce, huge scallops in a roasted garlic beurre blanc, and crab cakes that were falling-apart tender. My favorite thing was the Honey Pickled Beet Salad. Seriously, even if you don't like beets . . . It will be on the menu, but the recipe also is in the Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook, written by Sonoskus and former Southern Foodways president Elizabeth Sims. I'll put it below. You need a mandoline or a some kind of really sharp slicer, like a food processor with a slicing blade, to make it.

My favorite touch at Tupelo Honey proves that Sonoskus and his pals do know our humble city. In the bar, there's a painting featuring a bottle of Cheerwine and the most important of all stock cars, No. 3. Next to it, in a tiny frame, there's the perfect quote about Charlotte, by artist Amy Evans:

"Charlotte likes her drinks sweet, her cars fast and her pockets full."

Yep, that's us.

Tupelo Honey Pickled Beet Salad

2 pounds beets (you can use a variety of colors)
1 large Vidalia onion
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup olive oil
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey (Tupelo preferred, but non-pedigree honey will do)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Peel and trim the beets and onion. Slice very thinly using a mandoline or slicing blade on a food processor. Crush the garlic with the flat side of a knife and add whole to the mix. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Pour over the sliced beets and onions. Mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings.

Friday, December 6, 2013

One Great . . . shrimp stew

With rainy, chilly weather expected to set in over the weekend, a good bowl of stew may be just what you need.

Susan Arelt-Pohlman of Weddington answered my call for good recipes for the One Great feature, since my kitchen is currently the housing equivalent of a dust bowl. My. that dry wall does make a mess?

Susan explains: "I cannot claim credit for this recipe, which I found through Fine Cooking's website (Pam Anderson is the author). I appreciate that it is easy to prepare (minmal prep, one bowl, one Dutch oven), is festive and has fantastic flavor."

I see that Susan and I are both Fine Cooking, Pam Anderson - and coconut milk. The combination of shrimp and coconut milk is particularly wonderful. I'll save this to make as soon as I have a stove again.

Shrimp Stew With Coconut Milk, Tomatoes and Cilantro

3 pounds jumbo (21- to 25-count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into very thin, 1 1/2 inch strips
4 green onions, thinly sliced (keep the white and green parts separate)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (14.5-ounce) can petite-diced tomatoes, drained
1 (13.5- to 14-ounce) can coconut milk
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

PLACE the shrimp in a large bowl, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, toss to coat and set aside.

HEAT the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring, until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add the green onion whites, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, the garlic and the pepper flakes. Continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds.

ADD the tomatoes and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer to blend the flavors and thicken the sauce slightly, about 5 minutes.

ADD the shrimp and continue to cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are just cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Add the lime juice and season to taste with salt. Serve sprinkled with the green onion tops and remaining cilantro.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings.

Friday farmers market roundup

Now that Thanksgiving is over, winter market hours have kicked in at many markets. Here are a few I know about. If you have more or want to know the status of a particular market, post a comment or email me directly,, and I'll check on it for you.

The Matthews Community Market, 208 N. Trade St. in Matthews, has switched hours to 8-10 a.m. every Saturday. That's rain or shine, so even if it's sleeting, expect that anyone with freshly grown, local food will be there, huddled under the tents.

The Davidson Farmers Market is closed this week, but will be open next Saturday, Dec. 14, from 9 a.m. to noon. That market is open every other week until next spring. The market is next to Town Hall between Main and Jackson streets.

The Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road, is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through March. On Saturdays, there are still a number of local growers filling both the open-air and the indoor sheds. And if you're shopping for crafts, remember that the Crafts Barn is open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. through December. The market now has an active Facebook:

The Atherton Mill and Market, 2104 South Blvd., will hold its First Friday Holiday Arts Market tonight (as in Friday night), and will be open as usual on Saturday. The best way to keep up with that market also is Facebook:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Southern books, local teaching and more

Click over to today (or heck, go old school and open a print newspaper) and you'll find:

The Southern cookbook roundup. There are so many great food books this year that we didn't know where to begin. So my Raleigh counterpart Andrea Weigl and I picked through the stack of 2013 Southern cookbooks to highlight our favorites, including Ed Lee's "Smoke & Pickles" and John Currence's "Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey." And this morning, I got one more in the mail that you should consider: "Essentials of Southern Cooking," by Damon Lee Fowler (Lyons Press, $35). On the first flip through it, I spotted a dozen dishes I want to read more about. 

In my column, I talk about the influence and impact of CPCC culinary instructor Jeff LaBarge, who is retiring. You probably encounter LaBarge's teaching every time you sit down in a Charlotte restaurant. 

I know a lot of fans of Betty's Pimento Cheese at Harper's, as sassy as Betty Sasser herself. In You Asked For It, Robin Domeier scores the recipe, and shares a bunch of ideas for putting it to work in your holiday entertaining. 

Bread fans in Raleigh will already know about La Farm Bakery and chef Lionel Valinet. Andrea Weigl shares a little of Valinet's story and you can meet the man himself (and get samples of his bread) at a book signing at 2 p.m. Sunday at Park Road Books. 

In this week's Q&A, I try to sort through some of the fears about nonstick cookware. 

Finally, in One Great, I shared an easy ham and potato soup - and issued my own plea for recipe help. With my kitchen undergoing a complete overhaul, I have no place to try out One Great recipes for the next six weeks. If you have a recipe that fits the column -- short, easy to do and interesting -- send it on and I'll run it. 

Also in food:
A gingerbread that is both gluten-free and vegan.
A coconut version of dulche de leche
A roundup of good holiday cocktails
A homemade version of Duke's mayonnaise

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

One Great . . . easy soup

Each week in One Great, I feature a simple but unusual recipe. It might be a shortcut appetizer, a quick way to try a new vegetable, or an easy dish to add to your weeknight repertoire.

For the next month, though, One Great needs your help. As you may have seen in this blog, my kitchen is undergoing a massive renovation. While I've set up a field kitchen under the drop clothes, and I have many friends who have offered me the use of their stoves, my ability to cook will be a bit truncated for the next month or so.

So I'm turning to you guys: Do you have a great, short recipe to share? It can be something from any category, from holiday favorites to easy weeknight entrees or side dishes. It just has to be fairly short, easy to understand -- and tested. Email them to me at, and please include your contact information so I can get back in touch in case I have questions.

In the meantime, here's one more quick one. I found it in the new Allrecipes magazine, a selection of favorites from the website

Ham & Potato Soup

From Allrecipes magazine and the editors of (If you don't have -- or use -- chicken bouillon granules, you could swap the water for chicken stock.)

3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes (1 3/4 pounds)
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup diced cooked ham
3 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules (see note above)
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk

COMBINE potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water (or stock) in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

STIR in the chicken bouillon (if using) and pepper. Taste and add salt if needed.

MELT butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour with a fork and cooking, stirring constantly, until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk and continue cooking, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.

STIR milk mixture into stockpot and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately.

YIELD: 8 servings. PER 1-CUP SERVING: 195 calories, 11g fat (6g saturated); 6g protein; 20g carbohydrates; 2g fiber; 394mg sodium; 30mg cholesterol.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Kitchen mission: Demolition

Have I mentioned the kitchen problem?

It started in mid-September, when we innocently walked into our kitchen one day and felt a little bump. In front of the dishwasher. Under the vinyl flooring.

Such a little bump. Cute, really. Until there was a second one the next day. Then the first one got bigger. By the third day, we knew we were in trouble. We called our contractor friend and got the bad news: That's a leak, probably from under the dishwasher, but maybe from under the sink. They wouldn't know until they pulled everything off the wall. And since that would mean destroying the tile-and-grout counter and backsplash, we'd probably have to destroy the matching counter on the other side of the room, and that would lead to the cabinets and . . .

He seemed surprisingly cheerful. Happens all the time, apparently. I wasn't cheerful. Weeping was heard.

It's not that I loved my kitchen. It was a minimal, 1950s-era kitchen. Lots of tall cabinets, two nice windows. A broom closet I turned into a pantry. My collection of 1950s kitchen kitsch looked right at home, with cheery cherry-themed accents. My husband dressed it up with a really nifty red-and-gray paint theme.

But there were only two drawers in the whole dang room, the broom closet was too deep and narrow to be efficient, the floor plan left major "dead corners" in two cabinets, and because the cabinets were so low, I couldn't have a gas stove. The only refrigerator that would fit in the 1950s floor plan was a dreadful side-by-side with a freezer so narrow, you couldn't put a frozen pizza in it. No task lighting. Limited counter space.

Nope, I didn't love it. But replace it? How do you even begin?

Still, after getting the bad news from the contractor, my husband put his arm around me and said one of the nicest thing he's ever said to me: "You've done 20 years of food writing and two cookbooks in minimal kitchens. It's time you had something better. So let's do it. Let's gut the whole thing."

It wasn't the time I would have picked, and I certainly would have liked more time to think about it. But the little spot in front of the dishwasher was growing fast, into a big bump with a frighteningly bouncy feel to it. Bouncy is never a good thing in a floor.

For six weeks -- through a book tour and trips to New Orleans, New York, Nashville, Mississippi, New York and Memphis -- I've been in overdrive, meeting with an architect and cabinet designers, obsessively clicking through,  studying every Consumer Reports appliance review I could find, and looking at dollar amounts that are truly staggering.

Last week, in the middle of packing to take Thanksgiving dinner on the road, we also packed our kitchen and dining room. (I looked on the back of a china cabinet one morning and discovered my husband had sketched a word in chalk: "Heisenberg." I'll leave that there for Breaking Bad fans. He also laid down blue tape, like a crime scene, so I could see where the architect is moving the kitchen island.)

Last night, we set up a field kitchen in an empty bedroom and moved the dog's bowl to a bathroom.

And this morning . . . it began.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What is Southern food, John Egerton?

When I wrote n Thursday about the untimely passing of Nashville writer John Egerton, I told about the first time I met him, after a keynote speech at the Association of Food Journalists meeting in Atlanta in 1994.

I told about being in the elevator and how kind and down to earth he was to me, a new and star-struck food writer. What I forgot was that when I asked about his speech and admitted I couldn't take notes fast enough to keep up with it, he graciously handed his own copy of it to me.

On Friday afternoon, I was digging through my files when I found that speech. At the time it was written, there was no Southern Foodways Alliance. There were no chefs like Sean Brock or Vivian Howard. John T Edge wasn't a food writer yet. And many of us were just beginning to look in the direction Egerton was pointing.

Here's that speech, from the copy he handed me.

What is Southern Food?

I trust that you are by now sufficiently welcomed to Atlanta and the South, both verbally and gastronomically. The fact that the Association of Food Journalists has gathered here -- in this region, this city, this hotel -- to hold its annual conference seems altogether appropriate to me, much as would a convocation of Civil War historians in Richmond, or an Elvis resurrection in Memphis, or a Democratic Party convention in Little Rock (in a phone booth this year, I regret to say).
What better place to talk about food -- or eat it -- than in the South? And what better Southern place than Atlanta (leaving aside New Orleans, which is in another order of magnitude, and a world unto itself). We all enjoyed an introductory taste of Atlanta's leading culinary establishments last evening, and now we have just had our first sit-down meal together, a splendid repast prepared by the Ritz Carlton's renowned chef, Guenter Seeger -- applause, applause -- and this is only the beginning. For the next three days, you can expect to be amazed and delighted by the virtually endless showcase of Southern food, drink, and hospitality that is coming your way.
As a native of this city and a lifelong resident of the South -- and as a sometime cook, part-time food writer, and an all-time eater -- I have been awarded the enviable honor of bringing you what Susan Puckett and the organizers of this conference have billed as 'the keynote address.'
With all due respect to Susan, I think 'keynote' is the wrong word here. That would be fine in music, where the keynote is the main not, or politics, where it sounds the campaign theme -- but we're talking about food. So let's put this presentation in context and in perspective: let's call it the hors' d'oeuvres, or the appetizer, or a snack -- a small serving of food for thought, a verbal follow-up to what you've already eaten, and a foretaste of what's to come. For the rest of this week, you're going to be presented with an elegant suffiiciency of Southern cuisine and table talk. And for the rest of this lunch hour, you're going to get one man's opinions on the questions before the house, namely: What is Southern food? What is its past? What is its future?
First, what is it? Well, for openers, it's history and tradition. The South has saddled itself with many negative images down through the years -- from slavery, rebellion, and violence to segregation, isolation and poverty -- but it is the region's positive contributions to American life that have made it a contemporary land of hope and promise. The nation is far more aware than it used to be of the South's attractive characteristics. Geography and climate, for example. And natural beauty. And homegrown music in a variety of styles. And lots of good writers (more, I sometimes think, than readers). And speech -- often lyrical, colorful, expressive, magnetic. And, as significant as any of these, Southern food. The best regional cookery in America, in my humble opinion. I'll come back to defend that claim in a minute.
The popular image of Southern cookery endures -- notwithstanding the complaints of some that the food is too sweet or too greasy (and I'll come back to that too). We've had a long and richly deserved reputation for producing fine foods, for preparing and preserving and serving them, for eating them with gusto, and for writing and talking about them endlessly.
No other region of the country has produced anything like as many cookbooks as the South, over as long a period of time - from Mary Randolph/s "The Virginia House-Wife" in 1824 to "The Black Family Reunion Cookbook," a phenomenally successful collection of the 1990s. And right now, two of the nation's most successful food-oriented magazines, Southern Living and Cooking Light (both produced in Birmingham, Alabama, by the same company).
The history and traditions of food in the South can be seen in almost every community. Atlanta is an especially impressive case in point. "The Dixie Cook-Book," published here in 1883, ran to more than 1,300 pages; Henrietta Dull, better known as Mrs. S.R. Dull, home economics editor for the Atlanta Journal, first wrote her no-nonsense classic, "Southern Cooking," in 1928, and the book has never been out of print; both the Journal and the Atlanta Constitution have maintained a tradition of excellent food editors and writers down through the years, and most, like Nathalie Dupree, have written outstanding cookbooks. None, though, have been nearly as successful as Nathalie in the relatively new -- post World War II -- medium of television.
Atlanta has long been a hothouse of creativity and productivity in the wide world of food. It has recently attracted the famed Virginia-born food expert Edna Lewis to live and work here. It has a wondeful array of great restaurants and equally outstanding chefs, from Guenther Seeger here at the Ritz Carlton to the seriously Southern Scott Peacock at the Horseradish Grill. It has the influential restaurant critic Elliot Mackle, and food detective Shirley Corriher, and lively chapters of IACP and AIWF, and a wealth of talented cooks, stylists, photographers and writers, such as Jane Schneider, Kay Goldstein, Al and Mary Ann Clayton, Tim Patridge, Susan Mack and many more. And just now, there is a small but very hopeful move afoot to establish a regional society for the preservation and perpetuation of time-honored Southern foods.
So Southern food is history and tradition. It's also diversity. Contrary to popular belief, there's a lot more to it than grits and gravy and gooey desserts. I don't deny that Southerners tend to exercise a highly developed sweet tooth, or that most of them are partial to the many-splendored wonders of pork seasoning. I myself have been moved to declare publicly (for laughs, if not for literal accuracy) that the six major food groups in the South are sugar, cream, salt, butter, eggs and bacon grease. But I hasten to add the the Big Six don't embrace such classic Southern specialties as fresh spinach, sliced tomatoes, ambrosia, boiled shrimp with cocktail sauce, tree-ripened peaches and unsweetened tea with lemon or lime. Far from being narrowly repetitious and mediocre at best, real Southern food is wonderfully varied and generally pleasing to the eye and the palate. Even when it's sweet or greasy, it can be superior. If you doubt that, let me invite you to try a wedge of chess pie or a platter of catfish and hush puppies.
Diversity in the context of Southern food also has other meanings. The South, after all, is a big region, stretching from the Eastern Shore of Virginia through parts of Kentucky and Missouri and Oklahoma to the western border of Texas. Thus, what we have come to call Tex-Mex is arguably Southern, and so are the town and country cuisines of Louisiana: Creole and Cajun. And Florida fare, with its Latin and Caribbean flavors. And the seafood and rice-based cookery of the Carolina Lowcountry. And the distinctive elements of mountain cookery in the Appalachians and the Ozarks. And so, of course, is the down-home/soul food/country cooking/home-style/Junior League/New Southern/tea-room/cafe/dinner on the ground/all-you-can-eat/field-hand food that has come traditionally from the Deep South, from Georgia and Alabama and Mississippi and other states close by.
Diversity means, too, that this food is the historical property of all the South's people, white and black and brown, young and old, rich and poor. It was black cooks, both women and men, who did the lion's share of Southern cooking through the time of slavery and again in the segregation era. The white women for whom and with whom they worked in the kitchens of the region were ostensibly the teachers -- but in reality, it was the blacks who possessed the overall mastery of cooking that gave us this rich heritage and it was primarily they who lifted it out of the ordinary and up to the level of artistry. Without the contributions of black cooks, Southern food might well have been as dull and bland and forgettable as English food -- which is more or less what it was until it got a saving infusion of Native American foodstuffs and African creativity.
This is not to say, of course, that white women couldn't cook, or that all blacks were culinary geniuses; it's simply an acknowledgement that without what the nonwhites brought to it, southern food never would have soared. Ponder this: If most of America's hogs and corn are raised in the Midwest, and have been for over a century, why is that most of the best barbecue and country ham and cornbread, and roasting ears, and corn fritters and grits and corn whiskey have always come from here in the South -- and still do? The obvious answer is the natural superiority of Southern cooks and cookery.
So what is Southern food? It's partly an attitude, a way of thinking. It's technique. It's seasoning. It's a way of cooking, from the simplest to the most complex, that says to the interested observer, 'This isn't hard; you can do this -- roll up your sleeves and plunge in, and we'll delight in it together.'
And, finally, in the most concrete terms I can put it, Southern food is what we've eaten for generations, and what we still love to this day: country ham and beaten biscuits, spoonbread, pole beans, creamed corn and roasting ears, garden tomatoes, black-eyed peas, scalloped cabbage, almost any kind of barbecue (but especially pork) and the sauces that go with it, turnip greens and collards, Brunswick stew and burgoo, sweet potatoes and yams, plain and fancy grits, more kinds of cornbread than there are states in the union, yeast rolls, buttermilk, Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee sippin' whiskey, crawfish bisque, jambalaya, eggs creole, fried tomatoes, gumbo, red rice, roux (and its upcountry equivalent, chicken gravy), chicken and dumplings, chicken pilau or perloo, angel biscuits, french toast, hush puppies, country sausage, sawmill gravy, catfish, white beans, fried apples, cornbread dressing, fried okra, baked onions, wilted lettuce salad, shrimp and oysters, country fried steak, squash casserole, pickled peaches, chow-chow, cheese straws, sorghum, guava jelly, quince jelly, pralines, apple stack cake, half-moon pies, black bottom pie, key lime pie, blackberry cobbler, boiled custard and eggnog, syllabub, jam cake, bourbon pecan cake, coconut cake, peach cobbler, apple dumplings. That's a partial list, off the top of my head.
And, lest we forget, Southern food is also the treasures we have created and put out for the rest of the world to share: fried chicken, iced tea, pecan pie, peach ice cream, strawberry shortcake, peanut brittle, Goo-Goo Clusters, Moon Pies -- and of course, Coca-Cola, along with most of the other soft drinks you can think of. For good measure, the South has also sent forth many of its native sons and daughters to become nationally prominent writers on food -- Craig Claiborne, Peter Feibleman, Eugene Walter, Jeanne Voltz, James Villas, Sara Belk and Vertamae Grosvenor, to name a few.
What all this adds up to, in my view, is this: For reasons that no one truly understands, the South is a fertile food culture, a place where people are caught up in food, almost obsessed with it, much like the people of France and Italy are. And as a consequence, you have this wonderfully productive and creative atmosphere full of great restaurants and chefs, home cooks, cookbook writers and readers, recipes, memorable meals -- and, of course, eaters. We are big on food, in part, I think, because of our history. There have been times, most notably during the Civil War and the Great Depression, when the vast majority of Southerners confronted the specter of malnutrition, hunger, even starvation. People who have known deprivation tend to carry the fear, or at least the memory, forever. When you think about it that way, "all you can eat' sounds more like an antidote for having nothing to eat. Whatever the case, I may reluctantly concede that the superiority of Southern food is a matter of opinion, or a matter of taste - but the pervasive Southern interest in food is a matter of fact, and it generates a continuous round of eating, drinking and socializing that is a positive pleasure for all who partake.

That pretty much covers the question of what Southern food is, and of what its past has been. Now let me close with a few words about its future. Time marches on, and all things change. Our slow food is threatened by the age of fast food. Health consciousness has made us consider the consequences of eating sugar, salt, butter, cream and pork fat. . . . Nouvelle cuisine has made all the old and traditional dishes seem out of style, of not out of favor. The white guys who used to take it for granted that someone else -- probably someone black, certainly someone female -- would be fixing their supper are learning that if they can't cook, they might not eat.
Southern food has to change, or it will die. Nobody wants to stay in the kitchen all the time. The food we eat should be easier and quicker to prepare, and more nutritious, and everybody ought to know how to cook and clean up afterward. My only plea is this: Don't throw out the great old dishes with the dishwater. Don't settle for processed, pre-cooked, artificial food when the real thing can be had with just a little thought and planning and acquired skill. Don't surrender to the food police without giving as much consideration to your mental health as your physical health. I am reminded of the words of John Thorne, Maine's "Outlaw Cook," who should have been a Southerner. "The whole anti-fat movement astonishes me," Thorne once said. "We read things written about lard that treat it as the moral equivalent of crack. The upshot of all this hysteria is going to be a generation of teenagers who will be sneaking out behind the barn to smoke not dope but beef brisket. And grandpa is going to slip out with them."
I also remember what the great jazzman Eubie Blake said on his 100th birthday, this after eating Southern for a century: "If I'd know I was gonna live this long," he declared, over a plate of ribs, "I'd have taken better care of myself."
May we all be as fortunate as Eubie Blake. And for a benediction, I can think of nothing better than the words of the Methodist ladies of Maysville, Kentucky, in their "New Kentucky Home Cook Book," dated 1884, to wit:
"Bad dinners go hand in hand with total depravity, while a well-fed man is already half saved."

One Great . . . Thanksgiving adult beverage

You know Thanksgiving: You need something for the grownups to drink, but it can't be too high in alcohol. Just a little something festive.

Flipping through Gena Knox's book "Southern My Way," I spotted this idea. You can make the cider mixture in advance and take it on the road if you're traveling. It's just the thing to make a special toast while cooking the big meal.

Apple Cider Bellini

1 1/2 cups fresh apple cider
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 bottles chilled sparkling wine, preferably Prosecco or cava

BRING apple cider to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer until reduced by half, about 12 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside to cool.

STRAIN cider through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding leftover spices. Pour 4 teaspoons cider mixture into each glass, top with sparkling wine and serve.

YIELD: About 10 servings.

The peculiarly interesting cocktail academy

On Tuesday night, I stopped by Dandelion Market on 5th Street for a cocktail seminar put on by Hendricks Gin.

While I'm a big fan of Plymouth Gin, Hendricks and its slight cucumber taste is also interesting. Kris Van Dopek, a Hendrick representative, led the making and tasting of three drinks, two summery cocktails and a more winter-appropriate punch.

A few things I learned from Van Dopek's (very fast) lecture:

By definition, gin has to be predominantly juniper. And juniper had legendary uses, including in ancient Egypt for embalming, by Roman gladiators for cleaning wounds, and by mystics for communicating with the spirit world. Different kind of spirits, but still.

In the 30 Years War, the Dutch gave gin to soldiers to make them brave in battle, hence "Dutch courage," and in London, there were private houses where you could get a dose of gin, hence "gin mills." Some of that gin was made with things like turpentine, which would blind you -- hence "blind drunk."

Hendricks is made in Scotland, in an old munitions bunker from World War II. It's still made in small batches using two old copper stills that have to run six days a week to keep up with demand.
The master distiller is a woman, Lesley Gracie. And the name Hendricks was actually the name of founder William Grant's gardener.

The distillation includes 11 botanicals besides the juniper and legendary essences of cucumber (English hothouse) and roses (Bulgarian): chamomile, lemon and orange peel, elderflower, citrus, cubeb berry (sort of like a peppercorn), orris and angelica roots, yarrow, caraway and coriander.  

The distillation base, by the way is "neutral grain spirits," AKA wheat-based vodka.

OK, on to the punch. Tenured Punch is so named, says Van Dopek, because "Tenured" means tested, and they've tested this recipe many times. If you need something refreshing for a Thanksgiving party, consider this one.

Tenured Punch
The recipe was given in parts instead of ounces. This is my translation to make it a little easier.

3 ounces Hendrick's gin
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
2 ounces simple syrup
1/4 cup (2 ounces) sparkling water
2/3 cup weak green tea
1 ounce Lillet rose
Angostura (or Peychaud) bitters to taste

Place a block of ice in a punch bowl or other medium-sized bowl. Add all the ingredients and stir gently. Serve in small cups.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thank you for everything, John Egerton

John Egerton, it's just not like you to miss a good feed. Losing you a week before Thanksgiving seems that much more cruel.

John, 78, who managed to be one of the nation's great writers on two all-consuming subjects, Southern food and civil rights, died Thursday in Nashville.

Just a couple of things he did? He was the author of "Southern Foods," a reference book that hasn't left my desk in 20 years of food writing, and "Speak Now Against the Day," a book on the civil rights movement that won the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

Another thing he did: He was one of the founders and leading lights in the Southern Foodways Alliance. In those first tumultuous years, when a lot of folks with big ideas were arguing over just what the alliance should be, he was the calm voice who tried to make sure everybody stayed friends.

 But not always calm: One of my favorite memories is still from when the annual Southern Foodways Symposium was so small we all fit in one room instead of an auditorium. Damon Lee Fowler gave a talk on the origins of fried chicken, including evidence of an early dish in England that might have been a forerunner.

John, always the gentleman but capable of being irritated, stood up at the end of the talk and basically called bull: "Well, now, Damon . . . "

And there was one other thing John Egerton did. He was the first good friend I made when I moved from news reporting to food writing. The first time I went to a meeting of the Association of Food Journalists, it was held in Atlanta in 1994. Man, I barely knew a soul and couldn't have told you the difference between Edna Lewis and M.F.K. Fisher. But I already knew the book "Southern Food," and was in awe of the author.

I arrived late, just in time for Egerton's keynote talk on what he thought was going to be a renewed interest in Southern food -- and why people should be interested. Afterward, I got on the elevator, and there was Egerton himself. I was struck dumb, scared to open my mouth for fear of sounding stupid. And I'll never forgot how he smiled, stuck out his hand, made my acquaintance and put me at ease.

That night, I got invited to join a group -- Egerton, his wife Ann, Ronni Lundy, Sarah Fristchner of Louisville and Karla Cook -- to go to the Watershed, the hot restaurant of the moment, where Scott Peacock was cooking with Edna Lewis. We argued over yellow cornmeal vs. white cornmeal and the best ways to cook beets and Edna Lewis got coaxed out of the kitchen to sit at our table, too shy to say a word but smiling the whole while. I still remember the food I ate, including Peacock's basil-stuffed, bacon-wrapped trout. But what I really remember was that feeling of being welcomed and gathered in. By the end of that meal, I knew that picking food writing was exactly the right choice, and I was right where I wanted to be.

In all the years since, I've stayed friends with John, always happy whenever I hear that drawl or see that smile when he hears something that strikes him as smart or just plain silly.

Thanks, John. Don't know what else to say but that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Celebrate local foods at the Common Grounds Festival

Common Grounds, the farm stand that sells local vegetables and raises money for the Urban Ministry Center, has a great event coming up Saturday morning.

The 5th Annual Cornucopia, from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at 119 Huntley Place in Charlotte, will be packed with unusual offerings. You'll be able to buy some great things to have on hand in the next few busy weeks, including frozen family-size dinners, soups and chiles, salsas and dips. There will be vendor appearances by Lenny Boy Kombucha, Your Mom's Donuts, The Naked Pig, the Scone Shop, Stella & Dot and Magnolia Coffee, and the food truck Maryland Crab Company. There will be music by Wicked Powers, and art from David French, Liz Saintsing and The Painted Elephant.

And there will be silent auction with offerings from a bunch of local chefs and restaurants, including Block & Grinder, Barrington's, Chef Alyssa's Kitchen, Mimosa Grill, Tin Kitchen, Harvest Moon, Upstream, Passion8, Reid's, Heritage Food & Drink, and the Wine Bar at Foxcroft.

Sounds like you can get a good start on entertaining food, family food and food gifts, all in one stop. And of course, it all still raises money for the Urban Ministry Center.

Live food chat and more in today's Thanksgiving coverage

It's almost Thanksgiving: Any questions? I'll be available for a live online chat today, from noon to 1 p.m. at You can post a question here, email me directly ( or go to the link on The Observer's website. And don't worry if you're busy at lunch: We'll repost the chat afterward, so if you can check back this afternoon.

Meanwhile, in other Thanksgiving coverage:

  • You don't have to be in a kitchen to cook a turkey. We looked at the manly arts of outdoor turkey cooking, including the web-legend Trash Can Turkey and the ever-popular deep-fried turkey. We have recipes for those and a basic grilled turkey here
  • Missing some of your basic recipes? I reposted some of our most popular ones, including the make-ahead potato casserole, a good sourdough dressing and a make-ahead gravy using a classic Creole roux. 
  • Need stuffing instead of dressing? (Don't tell, but they're the same thing.) The Kitchn has a recipe that breaks it down into simple parts. 
  • Add a little class to your Thanksgiving table with the roasted fall butternut squash soup from the Gallery at Ballantyne. You Asked For It, and Robin Domeier got it. 
  • If you're cleaning out the refrigerator to make room this weekend, do you need to pitch those old mustards and salad dressings? I address the question about how long the condiments will keep in today's Q&A.

If there's anything missing that you need, let me hear you in the live chat. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Carolinas food makers jamming on Good Food list

Seedling Projects, a California-based organization that supports sustainable-food projects, has released the list of finalists for its 2014 Good Food Awards, which recognizes entrepreneurial food companies all over the country.

It's long list (here's the whole thing), and it has quite a collection of great Carolinas food makers. There are a few glaring misses, including no N.C. cheesemakers, no Counter Culture coffee and no sign of Escazu chocolates. But given the heavy concentration of West Coasters, especially Oregon and California, the Carolinas are well-represented. A number of these were new to me.

Consider it a wish list as you roam around, or you could use it as a shopping list for unusual Christmas gifts. The final winners will be announced in January.

Hogwash Hickory-Smoked Porter, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham.

Culatello, Cypress, Charleston.
Smoked Hog Head Cheese, Guglhupf Bakery, Durham.

90% Dark Chocolate Ecuador Camino Verde, Videri Chocolate Factory, Raleigh.

Dark Chocolate Espresso, Christophe Artisan Chocolatier, Charleston.
Indian Kulfi Truffle, French Broad Chocolates, Asheville.
Mocha, WR Chocolatier, Raleigh.

Dill Kraut + Pickles and Beets + Caraway, Two Chicks Farm, Hillsborough.

Muscadine Grape Jelly, Farmer's Daughter, Hillsborough.

Monday, November 18, 2013

One Great . . . way to cook cauliflower

If you thought all cauliflower was white - and all cauliflower tastes boring - take another look. At the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Saturday, fresh cauliflower was all in the stands, including varieties in bright colors, including purple and a deep yellow that looks almost like it's carved from cheddar cheese.

When I spotted the yellow cauliflower, I immediately thought of a dish I've had in several restaurants in the last few years: Cauliflower steaks.

This is so easy to do: You just slice the whole head (yes, it looks like a brain) into fairly thick slices. One inch is the width of the first joint of your index finger and that's just about the right width, maybe a tad smaller. Then you briefly brown the cauliflower in a little olive oil in a hot skillet, then move it to the oven to roast through.

The finished cauliflower comes out sweet, mellow and tender. You can leave it plain, or dress it up with a topping, from a rough tomato sauce to an olive tapenade. For this one, I just topped it with a sprinkle of smoked paprika and a little coarsely grated Manchego (Parmesan would work, too).

Cauliflower Steaks

1 whole head cauliflower, any color
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 to 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup coarsely grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan or Manchego

PREHEAT oven to 400 degrees.

TRIM away any leaves from the base of the cauliflower and trim the skin from the stem, but leave the head attached to the stem. With the stem down, use a heavy knife, such as a chef's knife, to cut the whole head into thick slices, a little less than an inch thick. You should be able to get 4 slices. If any florets break off, set them aside and save them for another dish.

SPRINKLE each slice of cauliflower with paprika, salt and pepper.

HEAT 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Place each slice of cauliflower in the skillet and cook about 2 minutes. Use a flat spatula to carefully turn them over and brown the other side for 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon on a baking sheet. Move the cauliflower slices to the baking sheet and drizzle with a little more olive oil if needed.

PLACE in oven and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, until tender enough to pierce with a knife tip. Remove from oven and sprinkle each slice with some of the cheese. Return to oven briefly just until melted. Serve each slice whole.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What are you looking for? Ham loaf and suet

Where can you find . . . brands of butter, favorite cookies, specific cooking gadgets? My inbox is peppered with food wishlists. Most of the time, I can help. I pay close attention whenever I'm out and about, looking for good sources of maple syrup and pomegranate molasses.

Still, sometimes I get stumped. I'll throw these to out to you readers, in hopes that you have spotted them:

Pudding suet. This request comes in every year as the holidays approach, usually from either British ex-pats or people who love British food. Suet is the hard fat around the kidneys of cattle or sheep; hard fat from around the kidneys of pigs usually is used to make lard. But I've learned from British friends that just any old hard cubes of fat won't do. What they want is the shelf-stable version tossed with flour or some type of starch. It's common in England and hardly ever seen in America. It's what most people's steamed pudding recipes require.

Does anyone know a great source of good suet for steamed pudding? 

Ham loaf mix. It was new to me when Chuck Howard, transplanted Ohioan, wrote in. I've seen meatloaf mix, which usually includes ground beef, veal and pork, but I didn't know ham loaf. I had to ask Chuck to clarify:

"It's nothing more than the fresh pork and ham ground together and in Ohio I bought it by the pound like any ground meat. It could be used for patties or a loaf. I'm assuming here I'm going to need to find a meat department that will grind me a ham some time. I'll divide it, freeze and use as needed."

Has anyone seen a meat cutter or butcher who makes ham loaf mix? 

If you've seen either one, respond here or email me at And if you have more food unicorns you're trying to spot, pass them on. If I don't have a source, I'll see if I can find one. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Yes, it's fall food . . . and more

Today in food coverage:

Andrea Weigl, my colleague at the Raleigh News & Observer, admitted in a recent column that she can't make pie crust or gravy. That one resonated with me: While I was raised in a cooking family, I hit a point in early adulthood when I realized I couldn't make either of those things, either. Teaching myself to do it is what led me to realize I wanted to become a food writer. Today, Andrea shares the story of two readers who invited her into their kitchens to learn. Pie crust and gravy are Thanksgiving basics, but they are also the kinds of foods that teach you about cooking everything else.

Could trans fats go away? And is that a good thing, or will it just open the door to even worse things in processed food production? In my column today, I puzzle through this latest development.

The Charlotte beer scene continues to grow. In his Beer Here column, Daniel Hartis covers the opening of the two newest breweries, D9 and Unknown.

Yes, it's time to start planning your Thanksgiving dinner. Here's a countdown that might help.

Remember the Pillsbury Bake-Off? It's still a popular event -- and that $1 million prize doesn't hurt. Here's this year's winner and the winning recipe.

And elsewhere in our food pages:
Maple-glazed Brussels sprouts.
Cranbury Curd Bars.
2-Serving Slow Cooker Pot Roast.
Smoked Fish Dips.
Snapper With Orange Sauce for 2.

Find all that and more in today's food coverage, at

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

One Great . . . maple-glazed Brussels sprouts

I love word origins, the ways that seemingly bizarre words turn out to have logical connections. That's how I ended up digging around in dictionaries looking for the origins of the word "cruciferous." You'd think it would have occurred to me years ago to wonder why so many fall vegetables share an origin with the word "crucifer," or cross.

It turns out that those vegetables are all members of the family Brassicaceae, which is another name for Cruciferae. And cruciferae is a Latin word that means "cross-bearing." The vegetables don't carry crosses, but their flowers all have four petals and look like crosses. That includes the mustard and cabbage family, including cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

That's particularly interesting in the case of cruciferous-vegetable haters, who act like all of those vegetables are their personal crosses to bear. I share my life and my meals with one. He dreads fall vegetables as much as I love them, especially when I start bringing things like Brussels sprouts back into our kitchen.

Don't be so cross, dear. That also means I look for ways to make even you like Brussels sprouts.

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts With Bacon

1 pound of Brussels sprouts (cut from the stalk if needed)
2 to 3 slices bacon, diced
1 teaspoon mustard seed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup good-quality maple syrup (not pancake syrup)

Check the bottom of each Brussels sprout and trim it off if it looks brown. (If you buy them on the stalk, this won't be necessary, but you'll have to cut each bud off the stalk.) Cut larger sprouts in half and cut really large ones into quarters.

Toss the Brussels sprouts, diced bacon and mustard seed with the olive oil. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet, trying to get all the cut sides of the Brussels sprouts turned down. Place in a 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are brown on the bottom but not burned.

Remove from the oven and drizzle with the maple syrup, tossing to coat. Return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes, just to warm through and glaze with the maple syrup. Serve.

YIELD: About 4 servings. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mashed potato success story

When it comes to reader response, I will put my mail up against any beat in the newsroom. There's something about the intimacy and connection of food that leads people to send me the best notes.

From this morning's in-box, we have Sharon Stark:

"Hi Kathleen,
I’ve been making mashed potatoes for probably 45 years now (started at a very tender age J) and thought I did a pretty good job. But last night, when making the potatoes for our sauerkraut and ribs dinner, I tweaked my technique a bit per some of the tips you gave in Wednesday’s article. I cooked the potatoes a little longer at a lower temperature and I melted my butter before stirring in. Following dinner my husband commented “Wow, those were especially good mashed potatoes. Really creamy! Did you use an Ore-Ida mix?” Yikes -- not sure if that was a compliment or not (when he camps he often mixes up some powdered potatoes so that’s where he gets his comparison). Despite my husband’s misguided assessment , I loved them too and will continue to make them this way from now on!"

Glad to help, Sharon. Reminding your husband of Ore-Ida potatoes may not be a bad thing. It's like the way some people prefer lumpy potatoes because they taste like the potatoes they had as kids. Comfort food should be comfortable. 

If you missed the mashed potato tips, you can still find them here, or go to With a cold weekend ahead and even snow possible next week, it's mashed potato weather. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Southern her way: Cookbook author at Reid's

In her book "Southern Food My Way: Family and Friends," Athens, Ga., author Gena Knox focuses on things like farmers markets, food foraging and figs - lots of figs. Apparently, she has an obsession with the kinds of figs that grow in yards all over the South.

Knox will be at Reids, 2823 Selwyn Ave., at 1 p.m. Saturday for a cooking demonstration and book signing. This is her third book, and her first one won an award from the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. She and her husband also own Fire & Flavor Grilling Co., which carries all-natural cooking products.

 In other book signing news: If you're in Durham on Saturday, I'll be signing copies of "Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook" at a couple of spots. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., I'll be at the Barnes & Noble at the Streets of Southpoint. Then, at 3 p.m., "Biscuits" author Belinda Ellis and I will be at the Durham County Southwest Regional Library for the Culinary Club.

It's a good Saturday to get out and meet cookbook authors. Sounds like we're all out on the road.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cookbooks are books, too

After having two books released in September for two years in a row, "Pecans" and "Bourbon" in UNC Press' "Savor the South" cookbook series, I've gotten to know several great book events. One is SIBA, the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association.

They meet in a different spot in the South every year, bringing together the owners of independent bookstores, like Park Road Books in Charlotte, Malaprop's in Asheville and Quail Ridge in Raleigh, with authors who have new books. My very first book event, the day after "Pecans" was released last year, was SIBA in Naples, Fla.

This year, they met in New Orleans. On the day we arrived, they invited all the authors to take part in making a video using a quasi-children's book called "It's a Book," by Lane Smith.

We were each given one page to read at random, while we held up our own book. SIBA released it this morning. Take a look, have a laugh - and wait for Amy Tan, at the very end.

Thanks, SIBA. I was honored to attend

Monday, November 4, 2013

One Great . . . sweet and spicy sweet potatoes

Is it too soon to be thinking about your Thanksgiving menu? While working on this week's story on mashed potatoes, I also turned my attention to thinking of those other mashed tubers. Sweet potatoes aren't really potatoes, but they're just as much a part of fall and holiday menus.

In Sam Sifton's 2012 book "Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well," I had seen a version of sweet potatoes with a combination of flavors I couldn't resist: Maple syrup and adobo, the smoky hot sauce that canned chipotle peppers are mixed in. The combination is way beyond marshmallows melted on yams.

Mashed and Slightly Spicy Sweet Potatoes

From "Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well," by Sam Sifton (Random House).

5 pounds (about 10 medium or 5 large) sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B Amber
3/4 cup sour cream
4 teaspoons adobo sauce from canned chipotles
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place potatoes on a large baking sheet and bake until soft, about 40 minutes for medium sweet potatoes, up to 1 hour for large.

Whisk together the syrup, sour cream, adobo sauce, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and either slice lengthwise, scooping out the flesh, or pull away the peel and cut into chunks. Process into a puree, using a potato ricer, masher or stand mixer. Add the maple syrup mixture and stir in with a rubber spatula. The mixture should be light and fluffy. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve warm.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings.

Friday, November 1, 2013

History and beer: Celebrate with both

Ah, it's an event our forefathers (foreparents?) could appreciate: The Charlotte Museum of History and Crafty Beer Guys of Huntersville will hold the Backcountry Beer Fest from 1-5 p.m. Nov. 16.

Crafty Beer Guys is a bottle shop, but it also carries and installs brewing equipment.

Tickets are $10 ($8 for museum members) and include tastings of two colonial beers, two craft beers and a syllabub. (Yes, bub, I said syllabub.) As for the colonial beers: Crafty Beer Guys is working with historians at the museum to re-create beers that were being brewed in the colonial era and you'll be able to compare them with craft beers being made to today's tastes. Which actually does sound very cool. Plus you can tour the Hezekiah Alexander Home Site.

The museum is located at 3500 Shamrock Drive. You don't need a reservation, tickets will be available at the door, although you do have to be over age 21 to do the tasting.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Got time? Take a cooking class

AZN Asian Cuizine in SouthPark, 4620 Piedmont Row Drive, will hold a hands-on sushi class at 4 p.m. Saturday, followed by a sake tasting (we presume you get to put your hands on the sake, too). You get to make nigiri, maki rolls and garnishes, then eat them along with your sake. It's $25; call 980-819-9189 to register.

Blue Restaurant in Hearst Tower, 5th and College streets, will hold a "Spain for the Holidays" cooking class, taught by chef Gene Briggs, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. The menu includes Flamenquin, a rolled and stuffed pork cutlet, a fish and shellfish soup, Basque chicken and chorizo saute and stacked crepes. Yes, you get to eat the dishes, paired with wines. It's $44.95 per person; call 704-927-2583.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Does your family have a favorite Christmas cookie recipe?

Don't forget to enter your family's favorite for our Christmas cookie contest. We're looking for great recipes that have great stories. We'll pick finalists, runners-up and a grand prize winner to run Dec. 11.

To enter, send the recipes and 100 words or fewer on the cookie's place in your family tradition. Don't forget to include your contact information, including a daytime phone number, your address and the town where you live.

Email it to me at, or mail it to: Kathleen Purvis, The Charlotte Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230-0308. The deadline is Nov. 1, 2013. One entry per family, please.

Which chef caught the Fire?

Just before taking last week off, I was a judge for Fire in the City, the first time the statewide chef competition founded by Jimmy Crippen came to Charlotte.

 The original, Fire on the Rock, started in Blowing Rock and then added Asheville. That was followed by Fire on the Dock in Wilmington, Fire in the Triad in Greensboro and Fire in the Triangle in Raleigh. Final Fire, the finale, brings all the winners to Raleigh Nov. 20-23 for a last round of matchups.

So who is representing each town? Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill will bring it for Charlotte, facing John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem on Nov. 20. The winner of that round will face Dean Thompson of Flights Restaurant in Raleigh on Nov. 21. Nov. 22 will feature Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern against Adam Hayes of the Red Stag Grill in Asheville. Nov. 23 is the final finale, with the winners of the Nov. 21 and Nov. 22 rounds.

The Final Fire dinners are all held at the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills; tickets are $119 and go on sale Wednesday, Oct. 30. (There's also a special rate available at the hotel if you don't want to face a three-hour drive home after a multi-course meal.)

For the details, chef bios and videos and reservations, go to

Friday, October 18, 2013

This city's on fire for chefs

Even Jimmy Crippen, the founder of the original Fire on the Rock chef competition in Blowing Rock, admits he wasn't sure what to expect when the event came to Charlotte for the first time this year.

Fire in the Dock on Wilmington, Fire in the Triad in Greensboro and Fire in the Triangle in Raleigh all got big following in the last few years. But Fire in the City? Charlotte is a tough market, and the event involves 15 multicourse dinners, all on weeknights, all costing more than $50.

Surprise: Charlotte has gone for it. Fire in the City, held at Bonterra for the last five weeks, has sold out. On Tuesday, I was one of the "pro" judges for the semifinal between Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill and Luca Annunziata of Passion8 Bistro.

Crippen has sold both his B&B, Crippen's, in Blowing Rock and his farm. He now lives in Fort Lauderdale and devotes himself to flying back and forth for each event. He calls it his "grandfather job" -- he gets to have the fun of being in a restaurant without having to deal with details and cleanup.

He's set up a procedure that makes it very fun. The judging is done by cellphone app for each of the six plates, you don't know which chef prepares each plate until the end of the night when scores are tallied. At every dinner, the pros' scores count for 30 percent and the "Joes" -- the diners -- account for 70 percent. (Just to be clear: Even though I was there as a pro judge, The Observer paid for my dinner.)

After the final dinner in Charlotte next week, the finale here will be Oct. 21 to determine who goes to the state finals in Raleigh. The sold-out battle will be between  Phil Barnes of Rooster and . . . well, watch the video to find out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yes world, Charlotte is a food destination

San Francisco, New York and . . . Charlotte?

Financial website, which puts together a lot of lists based on number-crunching, has a new list on the Top 10 "Best Cities for Foodies," aimed at people looking for places to live.

No. 9 on the list: Good ol' Charlotte, N.C.

The other nine, in order:

1. San Francisco.
2. New York.
3. Virginia Beach, Va.
4. Portland, Ore.
5. Providence, R.I.
6. Orlando.
7. Miami.
8. Seattle.
9. Yep, Charlotte.
10. Memphis.

The rankings are based on restaurant sales per capita ($2,180 for Charlotte), people per establishment (470), full service/fast food differential (+0.135) and growth (-0.312%).

The full service/fast food differential means the difference between the number of full-service restaurants per thousand people and the number of fast food restaurants, while growth is the change in the number of restaurants between 2007 and 2009.

From the study: "Charlotte was hit the hardest in terms of negative growth from 2007 to 2009, but a decline of three-tenths of 1 percent in a recession isn’t bad. Some areas saw declines north of 10 percent in the same time period. The restaurant sales per capita are already above the national average, but Charlotte is one of only two cities in the top 10 to have a consumer price index below the national average. That $2,180 in restaurant spending per person would be equal to about $3,650 in San Francisco and more than $5,000 in New York."

See the full study here: CreditMonkey

Monday, October 14, 2013

One Great . . . lobster corn chowder

I love the way food seasons are both predictable and unpredictable: They're predictable because you know that if it's April, you'll get to eat asparagus and if it's July, you'll get to eat cantaloupe. They're also unpredictable: Some years bring unexpected bounties of things to cook.

If you're a lobster lover, the summer of 2013 may go down as "the year when we almost got enough lobster." Lobster prices tumbled, which is hard on Maine lobster catchers but easier on the wallets of lobster lovers. With great prices on everything from cooked lobster claws to frozen lobster tails, I've been stocking my freezer with 2-for-1 deals and branching out from good ol' lobster-with-bib-and-butter to making things like lobster pasta.

On a Sunday night, I needed something simple, soulful and delicious. I reached into the freezer for a bag of frozen corn and two frozen lobster tails. The rest was embarrassingly easy. And astonishingly delicious.

Lobster and Corn Chowder

Adapted from

2 cups chicken stock
2 frozen lobster tails, thawed, or 1 pound freshly cooked lobster
4 cups frozen corn kernels, divided
4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 cup onion (about half an onion), peeled and diced
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
3/4 cup light or whipping cream
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced chives (optional)

PLACE chicken stock in a pot with the lobster tails. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until shell is red and lobster meat is firm. Remove tails with tongs and set aside until cool enough to handle. Pour the broth into a heatproof measuring cup and set aside.

PULL the lobster meat from the shells and cut into bite-size chunks. Set aside. (If using cooked lobster, you can skip this step.)

PLACE the corn in a strainer and rinse under running water briefly until slightly thawed. Place 2 cups of corn and 1 cup of the broth in a blender and puree. Set aside the remaining corn.

COOK the bacon in the same pot until browned and mostly crisp. Remove with a slotting spoon and set aside. Add onion, carrot and celery to the pot over medium heat, cover and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrot is soft. (If the vegetables get too dry, add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil.) Stir in the whole corn kernels and the corn puree, then add the clam juice. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes.

STIR in the cream and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small skillet and add the chopped lobster. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, just until warmed through, then add to the pot. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.

SERVE, garnished with chives if using.

Yield: 4 servings.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pick a cooking class

The fall gets so busy, I wanted to share these before the calendar gets away from us:

Alyssa Gorelick of Chef Alyssa's Kitchen will offer these two as part of her Hands-On Cooking Class offerings at Atherton Market:
Nov. 14, Thanksgiving Sides (butternut squash with sage-hazelnut gremolata, chai-spiced carrots, Southern cornbread stuffing and green beans with wild mushrooms).
Dec. 11, Holiday Treats & Desserts (sweet potato gingerbread, candied pecans, pear crisp with caramel sauce and chocolate-peppermint bark).
Most of chef Alyssa's classes cost $55 to $60. Register and get details at

Food Love has these on the list; all are 6:30-9:30 p.m., held at The Kitch, 8305-D Magnolia Estates Dr., Cornelius and cost $85:
Oct. 15, A Taste of Autumn (only 2 spots left, so it might be filled up).
Nov. 5, A Journey to South America. 
Dec. 3, It's a Wonderful Bite.
Register and get details by calling Nikki Sawyer Moore, 704-576-6474 or go to

Bryant Terry, chef and author of the book "Vegan Soul Food," will give a talk about food justice and do a cooking demonstration at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at Davidson College's Lilly Family Gallery. On Tuesday, Oct. 22, he'll host lunch in the college's Vail Commons dining hall from 11 a.m. to 1:45 for $10.25. (That means they'll feature his food in the dining hall between those time - you don't have to sit there for 3 hours and 45 minutes.)  Details and registration for the talk and demo: 704-894-2600.