Thursday, October 30, 2014

One Great . . . out-of-season tomato salad

If Dana can do it, anyone can do it. That's the message, anyway, in Dana Cowin's new cookbook "Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook With 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes" (Ecco, $34.99).

Not everyone who writes about food can actually cook it. In her work as the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, Cowin has to know the chefs, the restaurants and the trends. The recipes? Maybe not so much. So she set out to change that and get the chefs she deals with to help her figure out how to cook for herself. The result is a fun book, with tips and approachable recipes.

Despite our lingering late-summer this year, frost will hit soon, and it will carry off the last of the seasonal tomatoes. That will leave us with months of longing for something fresh on our plates. Cowin's easy salad would be great with the last of the "real" tomatoes and handy for the grape and cherry tomatoes we get after they're gone.

Bloody Mary Salad 

From "Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen," by Dana Cowin.

1/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
1/2 easpoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Tabasco sauce to taste
1 pound cherry tomatoes, halves
4 large stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias (diagonal)
1/4 cup Spanish green olives, pitted and roughly chopped

WHISK together the yogurt, salt, horseradish and vinegar in a small bowl. Add as much Tabasco as you like.

PLACE the tomatoes on a platter and scatter the celery and olives on top. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

We're partying on the Food page today

With Halloween falling on a Friday (and slopping over onto Saturday, too, we'll bet), we figured you could use some party ideas this week, and a few more ideas for easy fall eats. So, over at, you'll find these:

  • Add some sophisticated takes on fall party drinks, including a shrub, a toddy, mulled wine and a soulful take on an apple cider punch. And some sophisticated cocktail talk, from the always sophisticated Stefan Huebner (Heist), Kevin Gavagan (Haunt Bar) and Gary Crunkleton (The Crunkleton, Chapel Hill). 
  • For the younger, more playful set, how about some Harry Potter-ish butter beer? This one is an online-exclusive, from a new book written by the founding editor of Buzzfeed
  • And for the final touches for your party, get the formulas for fake blood, dry ice and a few other Halloween party treats. 
  • Andrea Weigl talks Southern food with the always-interesting Sean Brock, on the occasion of his first book, out this fall, "Heritage." We've seen it and it's lovely, Sean. Really lovely. Even the Velveeta fudge. 
  • Sometimes you need this made for you. In my column, I looked at new products from Charlotteans, Bruce Julian's Bloody Mary Mix and Melanie Trippen's Cannizzaro Famiglia pasta sauces, and pondered what it takes to make people try the tough job of turning a recipe into a successful product. (If you're dying to do it, I also have information on a two-day course in Asheville next week.) 

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Great . . . shortcut cornbread

My recent story on the Brunswick stew at the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church barbecue meant that I needed to retest and rewrite the version of the recipe printed in the 1970s, to make it easier and to make sure it worked. And that meant I ended up with a lot of Brunswick stew in the freezer. 

After inviting friends over to eat the bounty, I needed a quick way to round out a simple, Friday night supper. Brunswick stew begs for cornbread, but I didn't have time to make it from scratch on a weeknight. But just using a corn muffin mix was too boring. It just too a few tweaks to end up with something much better. 

Shortcut Skillet Cornbread

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos, diced
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1 (7.5-ounce) box corn muffin mix (I used Martha White, but another brand would work)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in a heavy, 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add the jalapenos and corn, stirring to cook briefly, just until the corn is thawed. 

PLACE the cornbread mix in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a measuring cup, then add the egg and whisk with a fork to combine. Pour into the mix and stir briefly, until mostly mixed but some lumps remain. Scrape the contents of the skillet into the batter and add the cheese. Stir again until mostly mixed. 

WIPE out the skillet and add the oil. Place the skillet in the oven about 5 minutes, to warm. Pour the batter into the skillet, smoothing the top to spread it out. Return the skillet to the oven and bake about 40 minutes, until the edges are brown and starting to pull away from the skillet. Remove from oven and invert over a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve warm. 

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sneak peek at Passion8

Passion8 Bistro officially opens Friday on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte, finally relocating after years in a small space in Fort Mill.

How small? When I stopped by for a media preview Wednesday night, chef/owner Luca Annunziata was showing off the sleek, tricked-out kitchen like a kid with a new toy truck he couldn't wait to drive.

"In Fort Mill, I had eight burners and a fryer!" One of his assistant chefs immediately chimed in: "Now we have a walk-in."

That would be a walk-in refrigerator, and Annunziata took me inside to see. He's a big farmer's market shopper -- you can spot him every Saturday morning at both the Charlotte Regional and the Matthews Community markets -- but he could never buy in quantity because he didn't have room to store anything. So he has already filled it with local meat and produce, although there were a few very understandable exceptions: Benton's Country Ham from Tennessee and pristine edible flowers from Chef's Garden in Ohio.
Luca Annunziata (right) couldn't wait to show off his new kitchen

How's the restaurant space? Warm and comfortable, with a lot of stone, wood and natural fabrics in earth tones. There's a mezzanine upstairs that eventually will be used for private event (it's not finished yet) and there's a special room by the kitchen with a chef's table. It seats 8, and will feature small plates in seven ($85) or 12 ($145) course menus.

The regular menu will focus on what Annunziata calls "modernist cuisine with an emphasis on local."

"That will never change. We're working with more farmers than ever."

The official menu wasn't available to peruse Wednesday night, but one of the passed hors d'ouvres was an example: Truffle biscotti topped with a mousse-like foie gras butter and muscadine foam (below).

The new website hadn't changed over by Thursday morning, but the restaurant opens for dinner Friday night. Check back on or follow Passion8 on Facebook to keep up.

And could I add one more note of support? I try to avoid climbing on a soapbox, but I think this needs to be said:

Elizabeth Avenue between Hawthorne and Charlottetown has shaped up into a terrific food corridor, with Carpe Diem, Customshop, Earl's Grocery, Viva Chicken and Cafe Malay, among others. The business owners have done it while enduring endless construction, first on the streetcar tracks and then, before the paving dust had settled, by a huge road project in front of Presbyterian Hospital. And they've still created a community of locally owned food businesses in all price ranges.

Cheers to them for making it through -- and now it's time for food lovers in Charlotte to pay them back. There's plenty of parking in the free lot across the street and the lots behind several businesses, and it's easy to access despite the detour signs.

Visit, please, and give them support for having the faith to build something lovely for the city.

CORRECTION: I'm sorry, I meant Cuisine Malaya, of course. My apologies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One more pumpkin recipe you need

I never know how to prepare for appearances on "Charlotte Talks," the WFAE-FM talk show: No matter how many notes I scribble to myself, host Mike Collins will ask what I call the "Mike in the Headlights Question."

That's when he poses something that it never occurred to me to look up, and then says, "Kathleen, what do YOU think of that?" I pause, while the thoughts chase through my brain like a Tom & Jerry routine, and come up with something that I desperately hope sounds somewhere on this side of smart.

Or I just crack a joke and hope he moves on.

Anyway: Here's a link to this morning's show, (it reruns tonight at 9), and here's the story I wrote last week on pumpkin stuff around Charlotte. And here's one more recipe that I had, all marked and ready to share on the air. But I never had a chance to get to it because I was busy trying to come up with an answer to; "Why do we carve pumpkins anyway? Kathleen? Kathleen?"

Pumpkin Syrup

From "Cooking With Pumpkin," by Averie Sunshine (Countryman Press). Yes, this is one pumpkin thing that does have pumpkin in it. You can use it for lattes, smoothies or hot cocoa, drizzle it on pancakes or waffles, or use it to flavor buttercream frosting.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

COMBINE the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.

ADD the pumpkin and spices and whisk to mix well. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the mixture does not come to a boil. Mixture will thicken and reduce in volume.

TURN off the heat and let the syrup cool in the pan about 15 minutes before transferring to a glass jar with a lid.. (You can strain it through cheesecloth to remove undissolved spices if you'd, but the mixture is thick and will take time to strain.)

REFRIGERATE up to a month.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Great . . . slow cooker dinner

What do you mean, I have to plan ahead? Plan long enough ahead to remember to defrost a batch of beef short ribs?

Sometimes I can handle that, and sometimes, I can't. The beauty of this dish, from Jenny Rosenstratch's new book on home-cooking, "Dinner: The Playbook"? You don't have to make sure the short ribs (or country-style pork ribs) have defrosted.

Throw them in the slow cooker while they're frozen if you want to. You also don't have to run around browning meat before you leave for work in the morning. Just throw it all in and it will turn out fine. Add some mashed potatoes, rice or egg noodles when you get home. Yell, "Dinner!"

Slow-Cooker Korean Short Ribs

From "Dinner: The Playbook," by Jenny Rosenstratch (Ballantine Books, 2014).

3 to 4 pounds beef short ribs or country-style pork ribs
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 fresh, whole jalapenos

COMBINE all the ingredients in a slow cooker. Stir in 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We have a cookbook winner

The winner of a copy of "100 Days of Real Food," by Lisa Leake is Jodi Fahey of Fort Wright, Ky.

Thanks, Jodi, and thanks to the many, many people who entered the drawing. Stay tuned, we'll give away another cookbook soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who's the new chef at Rock Salt?

High-end oyster bar and restaurant Rock Salt, under construction at Park Road Shopping Center, has been drawing a lot of curiosity. It's a project of Cheasapeake Bay-based Rappahannock Oyster Co., which farms oysters and runs restaurants in Virginia and Washington.

Now the new chef has come forward: Jay Pierce of Lucky 32 in Greensboro is pulling up roots and moving his family to Charlotte, with an opening date of early January.

 "(Charlotte) seems like a bigger canvas to paint on,” Pierce told me Tuesday morning.

Pierce also is an author in the same Savor the South series that includes my two books; his book, "Shrimp," will come out next spring. Pierce is from Louisiana, and worked at two of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants, NOLA in New Orleans and Emeril's Orlando, before coming to Lucky 32, owned by Dennis and Nancy Quaintance of the O. Henry and Proximity hotels.

At Lucky 32, Pierce has gotten known for new interpretations of Southern classics, and for rediscovering old techniques. I ate there a couple of weeks ago and was fascinated by his salt-fermented pickles, a farmhouse method that's being brought back to life. He's also very active with the farmers at Greensboro's Curb Market.

Pierce also is known for his Tuesday night fried-chicken dinners. I've never had the chance to go, but I know some authorities on fried chicken who swear it's worth a 90-minute drive for dinner.

So I was crushed to hear that he's not bringing that with him. OK, OK, he might try to do it occasionally here. But Rock Salt will have a small kitchen, and be very focused on outdoor seating with a view over the creek. It's going into the space at the back of the shopping center that used to be a dry cleaner's.

Pierce says he's focusing on embracing something new, with a focus on seafood. But he's also excited about embracing a new city. For someone from Greensboro, the Charlotte food scene is mystifying, he admitted to me.

"Charlotte is right next door, and it's always intriguing to me. When I go there, I have no idea where I am. It's like Atlanta -- a lot of neighborhoods that have amalgamated. There's pockets of cool things going on and I want to be part of it."

He's also excited about Charlotte's chef community. "I want to participate. I know Marc Jacksina and he's a crazy man."


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cookbook giveaway: 100 Days

This week, we brought you the story of how Lisa Leake's blog, 100 Days of Real Food, became her best-selling book, "100 Days of Real Food." And that means I have a spare copy of the book to share.

So email me at and include "100 Days" in the subject line. Please include your name, your town and your mailing address. (I won't share the address, but I may share your town if you win.)

We'll pick a winner by random drawing on Friday.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Southern Season partners with Vivian Howard

If you can't make the three-hour (or so) drive it to Kinston for a dinner at The Chef & The Farmer, you can get a taste of chef Vivian Howard's favorite things from Eastern North Carolina. A Southern Season, the specialty food store based in Chapel Hill, plans to open a Vivian Howard shop in its stores in Chapel Hill, Charleston and Richmond.

Howard is currently appearing in the second season of her PBS show, "A Chef's Life."

Southern Season's Howard section will happen in a couple of stages. First, there will be several collections in handmade wood crate of items chosen by Howard. The items will include products and cooking tools from her area of the state. The crates will range from $44.49 for a cornbread gift set up to $289 for Ben's Birthday Gift, with hand-forged tools and a number of artisan food products from around the Carolinas.

Those will be available later in October. You can find the catalog listing here.

Then, in early 2015, A Southern Season plans to add products inspired by Howard's recipes. Howard will make appearances in the stores in December: Dec. 11 in Richmond, Dec. 12 in Chapel Hill and early 2015 in Charleston.

And yes, that raises the question about the long-awaited Charlotte location of A Southern Season. Sources with A Southern Season say to stay tuned: There will be more news on that very soon.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Get ready for moonshine Saturday in Concord

Need something to do Saturday? Stop by 625 Main St. SW in Concord at 10 a.m. to celebrate the opening of Southern Grace Distilleries, the first legal moonshine distillery in Cabarrus County. (And yes, note the careful use of the word "legal." What happens in the backwoods stays in the backwoods, people.)

The distillery, inside in the old Warren C. Coleman Mill, will eventually produce white liquor (AKA moonshine), start a whiskey for aging and create a fruit-infused beverage. Since it takes at least 2 years (and preferably 8 years or up) to create bourbon, they have a long wait for that aged product.

It's definitely a local operation: The 113-gallon still was made in Concord by DA Moore, and the switch to start the operation will be thrown by Mayor Scott Padgett. Details:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Who's doing the organic farming?

We hear a lot of concern about the aging of America's farmers. The average age of a farmer in North Carolina is 57, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. But perhaps that tide is starting to turn, at least in the non-conventional agriculture world.

I was intrigued by this report this morning from Chuck Abbott of the Food and Environmental Reporting Network's  daily report, Ag Insider:

"Organic farmers and ranchers tend to be younger, more recent entrants to agriculture and far more likely to sell directly to consumers than the average U.S. farmer, says USDA. Data from the Census of Agriculture  say 26 percent of organic producers are under age 45 - the U.S. farm average is 16 percent - and 27 percent went into farming in the past decade, compared to 18 percent of farm operators. Some 42 percent sold their products directly to consumers; 7 percent is the average. And, organic producers are more likely to invest in solar panels or wind turbines than farmers in general. Sales of organic products rose by 83 percent from 2007 to 2012, said USDA."

My guess is that the growth in farmers' market would account for the very high percentage of organic farmers selling directly to consumers. And those sales and organic sales are starting to show healthy improvements.  

Any farmers out there care to weigh in?