Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One Great . . . Asian chicken wrap

I was talking to a friend recently about fast meals and she seemed surprised by one of my favorite tips: Tortillas.

Bread gets stale faster if you refrigerate it, but a pack of tortillas will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. And if you have tortillas on hand, you always have something easy you can make.

You can slap pretty leftover vegetables and meat with a little cheese between two tortillas, heat it on a dry skillet and call it a quesadilla. You can make a burrito with leftover rice and beans. You can slice up dried-up tortillas and toss them in soup to stretch it a little, or stir them into scrambled eggs.

Corn tortillas have more flavor and texture, but flour tortillas are more flexible. Honestly, I love both of them.

A few years ago, my friend Jane Snow, an Ohio food writer, spun off from the flavors of moo shu pork to make a sort of Asian wrap using cole slaw mix, a squirt of hoisin sauce (bottled stir fry sauce will work), rotisserie chicken and flour tortillas. I've been varying the idea ever since, tossing in any leftover meat from the grill for a midweek meal. I've even used sauteed tofu, or skipped the meat and tossed in leftover black beans.

Asian Chicken Wraps

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (8-ounce) bag coleslaw mix
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 flour tortillas
HEAT oil in a nonstick skillet. Add coleslaw mix and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until slightly softened but still crunchy. Add chicken and cook another minute or two, to heat through. Stir in hoisin sauce and soy sauce. Remove from heat.
PLACE tortillas on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 45 to 60 seconds, until softened. Place a quarter of chicken and cabbage mixture on a tortilla. Fold each end over, then roll to enclose. Place on plate seam down and serve.
YIELD: 4 servings

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tales of a traveling mouth

Where have I been eating the last few days? Well . . .

Saturday morning: I stopped by the new shop for Your Mom's Donuts. Last April, when we checked in with Courtney Buckley and Benjamin Frye (and baby Violet), they were working around the clock to make their square doughnuts from mostly local ingredients (including frying them in leaf lard) and deliver them all around Charlotte. Now it's August, Courtney is selling doughnuts on Saturday mornings at the Matthews Community Farmer's Market, and Benjamin is running the new shop a short distance away, in a little strip shopping center at  11025 Monroe Road. And Violet is about to get twin brothers. (Buckley and Frye think life is busy now?)

Sunday morning: I hit the road for 28 hours in Asheville, as a speaker at the Food Bloggers' Forum at the Biltmore. First, I stopped for lunch at the Indian street food restaurant Chai Pani across from Grove Arcade, which is as good as I've heard. I hate to fall for butter chicken (it's like going to a Thai restaurant and never ordering anything but Pad Thai), but this version was so good, it was hard to resist. I threw in a side of kale pakora to mix it up.

Sunday night: I was playing a game where I shot an obscure picture and asked Twitter followers to guess where I was. This one: John Fleer's new restaurant, Rhubarb on Pack Square. The Sunday Supper is a great feature, with a three-course meal for $29. This week, it included a wild mushroom arancini, a cannelone of heritage pork, a date stuffed with gorgonzola and walnut, a lovely bowl of grilled corn and summer squash salad with roasted peach vinaigrette, red pepper grits, thyme-braised kale and a fillet of Sunburst trout fillet coated with sesame seeds. Dessert: Chocolate bread pudding with coffee toffee sauce. My favorites were the house-made condiments, including Nana's Pepper Relish and Spiced Preserved Tomatoes -- cherry-style tomatoes in a little jar of sherry vinegar, jalapeno and a little sugar.

Monday afternoon: At the Food Blogger's Forum, put on by Jaden and Scott Hair (www.steamykitchen.com) and photographers Diane Cu and Todd Porter (www.whiteonricecouple.com), I spotted another reference to John Fleer when lunch included sweet tea-brined fried chicken. Fleer was famous for that dish back when he was chef at the Inn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

Monday night: If you're coming back from a mountain trip this fall and you need dinner to go, pull off on N.C. 9 in Black Mountain: The Red Radish, 107 Mountain Creek Road (about a block off Highway 9 in downtown), is a sweet cafe, but they also serve dinners that are packed, chilled and ready to go, from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday. It's about $10 for three things (a protein, starch and side) that technically serve 1, although we found it served two. The menu changes daily, and you can find it at redradish.com, or call 828-669-5100.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Winner of the Perfect Bacon Bowl

What's new about this set of Perfect Bacon Bowl molds? It's headed to Judy Bennett of Taylorsville, the winner of our random drawing after my column and followup story on the product and the people behind it.

Congratulations, Judy, and thanks to all the people who read the story and (or) entered to win the product.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What's a Carolina Trolley cocktail?

I dropped by Heist Brewery on Friday afternoon to talk rum with bar manager Stefan Huebner and Ryan Vaughan of Cruzan rum. Vaughan, of course, is visiting cities that are good rum markets to talk about Cruzan, and a good rum market includes Charlotte.

Since I wrote "Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook," I've gotten very familiar with the distilled-spirits world. And I have been wondering what will replace bourbon as the liquor with the passionate following. After all, the bourbon craze is in such swing now that there are shortages and crazy prices. I was at Stateline Elite on Saturday and there were gaps all over the bourbon shelves. Demand has caused shortages, since great bourbon takes at least four years -- and more like 8 or 12 years -- to age. The industry can't just turn on a spigot and create more bourbon to meet demand.

Vaughan made the case that the next big thing will be rum: Cruzan, made by a family-owned distillery on St. Croix, has come out with a new set of aged rums, including a single-barrel (really a blend of chosen barrels) that's currently available in Charlotte in the $30 range, and two Estate Diamond rums that will be available by January. The single-barrel is designed to bridge the gap for bourbon fans, with a woodsy flavor that's very similar to bourbon with a little more sweetness. The Estate Diamond rums, which will be about $20, have strong tastes of vanilla, butter and caramel that reminded me of rum cake.

Besides the sipping rums, the Cruzan tour includes a custom cocktail for each city. Stefan Huebner got the job of coming up with a Charlotte-themed cocktail using Cruzan. He wanted something blue, for Carolina blue, so he included blue curacao, and he wanted a good patio drink with that tiki-party feel, so he went frothy and tropical.

Huebner admits he's a whiskey guy, but he sees a change coming, too. "The dark rums are definitely coming on," he said. "(Bourbon fans) have become well-educated, so now they're expanding."

The Carolina Trolley

1 1/2 parts aged light rum
1/2 part blue curacao
2 parts fresh sour mix
1 part fresh pineapple juice
1 part ginger beer
Garnish: Orange peel, cherry, grilled pineapple

Place all the ingredients except the ginger beer in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake well. Strain into a collins glass over ice. Top with ginger beer and add garnishes.

YIELD: 1 serving.

What do motorcycles and food have in common?

By all accounts, Allan Karl is a man in search of meaning, and good recipes. In his book "Forks," Karl recounts the story of why and how he spent three years traveling across five continents by motorcycle, looking for culture and connection.

He also looked for recipes, and includes one from every country in his book, from Alaskan salmon to Turkish stuffed mussels.

Karl will be at the Atherton Market, 2104 South Blvd. (at Tremont and South), from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday to talk about food and his journey, including recipe samples (and a book signing, of course). Details: facebook/events.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

One Great . . . peanut salad

Summer is the prime time for salads that are loaded with fresh produce. But the salad dressings can sink your healthful eating plans. If you want something creamy or high in flavor, that usually ends up involving things like mayonnaise, or actual cream.

Cookbook author Mark Bittman is usually a good source of recipes that balance deliciousness with nutrition. For several years now, he has been working on what he calls "VB6," or eating a vegan diet -- no meat or dairy products -- during the day while eating a wider variety of foods, including meat, at night.

Flipping through his new book, "The VB6 Cookbook" (Clarkson Potter, $29.95), I spotted this very flexible salad. If you make it with cabbage, it's more like a coleslaw, or make it with lettuce for something more like a chopped salad. What I really liked, though, was the dressing, which has plenty of flavor without packing in a lot of fat. You can vary it by swapping out the peanut butter for tahini or almond butter and swapping rice vinegar for lemon juice or even a champagne vinegar or white balsamic.

Peanutty Chopped Salad

From "The VB6 Cookbook," by Mark Bittman.

1/4 cup peanut butter (preferably all-natural)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
8 to 10 radishes, chopped

PUT the peanut butter, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl with 1/2 cup water. Whisk until smooth.

ADD the remaining ingredients and toss until coated well. Serve right away.

VARIATIONS: Swap tahini (sesame paste) for the peanut butter and lemon juice for the rice vinegar. Or substitute 1 small head of green cabbage for the lettuce, skip the bell pepper and cucumber, and swap almond butter for the peanut butter.

YIELD: 4 servings. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

One Great . . . coconut milk ice pops

The food in the new cookbook "Vibrant," by Kimberley Hasselbrink certainly lives up to the name. Hasselbrink is a photographer and creator of the popular blog The Year in Food, so the pictures and the recipes are bursting with great ideas for seasonal produce.

I spotted this one as soon as I opened the book and thought, "Wow - great idea." It's completely simple to make, and you can easily mix up the fruit. Just aim for 2 cups total and it will be about right. Instead of the strawberries, blackberries and blueberries called for, I just used blueberries and blackberries, which come in season together around here. Or you could do strawberries alone. Or, oooh, blueberries and diced peaches -- with a squirt of lemon.

Endlessly adaptable, easy to do. Love that. If you don't have ice-pop molds, you could also freeze it in a metal loaf pan for something more like an ice milk.

Summer Berry-Coconut Milk Ice Pops

From "Vibrant," by Kimberley Hasselbrink (Ten Speed Press, $25).

2/3 cup thinly sliced, ripe strawberries
2/3 cup ripe blueberries
2/3 cup ripe blackberries
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk

COMBINE the fruit, the sugar and the cardamom in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring regularly, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the berries are soft but not falling apart. They should be a little jammy.

REMOVE from heat. Shake the coconut milk really well, then open the can and stir into the berries. (It may still have some lumps, but if you keep stirring, they should melt.) Carefully pour into ice pop molds, getting a little fruit into each. (This part can be a little messy. You can pour it into a small pitcher first, or use a small measuring cup like a spoon.)

FREEZE at least 4 hours. (To make it easier to remove the pops, rinse under hot water for a minute or so.) Keep in the freezer up to a month.

YIELD: 10 (3-ounce) pops.