Friday, January 23, 2015

Are you ready for some football and barbecue?

If the Super Bowl is coming in a week, people in the Sardis Road area of Charlotte know what that means: The smoke signals that alert them to the annual Boy Scout Troop 33 barbecue at Sardis Presbyterian Church.

This barbecue is a massive undertaking, with all the pork shoulders cooked over wood coals in temporary pits, chopped and prepped at the church kitchen and sold to people who line up at the Boy Scout hut, 6100 Sardis Road.

It happens Jan. 30-31, meaning you can stock up on barbecue just in time for Super Bowl parties.

If you're new to the South or to Charlotte, it's a don't-miss experience. If you're not new, you know that it helps to put in your order in advance to make sure you get what you want.

Prices will be up a little this year, to compensate for the cost of pork. Barbecue is $11 a pound, Brunswick stew (limited availability) is $10 a quart. On Friday only, they have plates and two-sandwich plates for $8. Baked beans, coleslaw, rolls and sauce are all available for various prices too.

Want to put in an order? Call John Hall, 704-996-0391, or email Pick up your order from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, or 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31.

Proceeds from this barbecue event help the troop take their boys on high-adventure trips.

PHOTO: Observer files.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Want that hot artichoke dip recipe?

Happy Wednesday, food readers. It's that day when I try to give you lots of cooking inspiration.

Up today, at, think about these:

Get a sheet pan. They're heavy-duty, double-duty and cheaper than you'd expect at restaurant supply stores (here in Charlotte, I like to drop by Fadel's for half-sheet pans and other cheap-but-useful cooking gear). Andrea Weigl gives you a rundown on why sheet-pan cooking will make your dinner prep easier.

Do you need red velvet Oreos on your life? We gave them a quick taste test. Results? Go here to find out.

Need a tasty but healthful little bite of sweetness while you're trimming calories? The Kitchn gives you Carrot Cake Bites.

You don't have to make huge amounts of soup to make soup. Linda Gassenheimer has a good, warming small-batch soup.

Need a short list of food-related things to do? We've got haggis and new cooking classes.

What's the difference between Dutch-processed cocoa and regular cocoa? I tried to clear it up a little. 

If you don't want to use canned cream-of soup, you can make your own. 

And finally, my column on how great it is to have a few go-to recipes for special occasions. If you read the column online, there is a link to my Broccoli Pecan Salad. And yes, everyone wants the Hot Artichoke Dip. As your reward for reading my blog, here it is:

Hot Artichoke Dip

From Mary Stewart Duffy, who got it from a Junior League cookbook.

1 (14-ounce) can artichokes, drained and chopped

1 clove garlic, mashed

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2  teaspoon  Worcestershire sauce

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Paprika (to sprinkle on top)

COMBINE all ingredients in small baking dish (greased).  Sprinkle with paprika.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  Serve hot with Triscuits, taco-flavored chips or your favorite crackers.  (She serves it with Wheat Thins.)

YIELD: 12 servings.

Friday, January 16, 2015

One Great . . . pantry shortcut

In some circles, "Cream Of" soup is the worst thing you can say about a dish. Opening a can of Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken is a shortcut that's loaded with sodium and artificial ingredients, the very definition of glop.

But there's a reason it's such a common ingredient: Opening a can is an easy way to get a bechamel without cooking a roux.

Is there a way to get the best of both worlds? In the new book "The Southern Pantry Cookbook," author Jennifer Chandler includes a handy idea: "Cream Of" soup from scratch. You can make chicken or mushroom, and it makes just over a cup, the equivalent of one 10.75-ounce can of soup. Even better: You can control the sodium, lower the fat by using reduced-fat milk and there are no artificial thickeners. You can also make it when you need it.

Handy idea. Thanks, Jennifer.

Homemade Cream of Chicken Condensed Soup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup 2% or whole milk
1/2 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

MELT the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. When the butter starts to foam, add the flour and cook, whisking, until it turns golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

CONTINUING to whisk, gradually add the milk and the chicken stock. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

VARIATION: For Cream of Mushroom, cook 1 cup finely diced mushrooms in the butter before adding the flour, milk and stock.

YIELD: 10.75 ounces, or just over 1 cup. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Need pork carnitas? Make your own tonight

With pork missing from a big chunk of the Chipotle locations nationwide, including all of the restaurants in Mecklenburg County, we reached into The Observer's recipe archive for a quick solution. 

Just get some pork and get out your slow cooker. You'll be filling your own burrito bowls by lunch time tomorrow. 

Slow Cooker Carnitas

2 pounds pork shoulder, Boston butt or picnic, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1/2 large onion, cut into 4 pieces
1 avocado, halved, pitted, sliced
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Sliced red bell peppers (optional)

TOSS pork in bowl of slow cooker with salt, black pepper and dried oregano to coat. Place onion pieces atop pork. Cover slow cooker and cook pork on low setting until meat is very tender and falling apart, about 6 to 8 hours.

TRANSFER pork to cutting board. Discard onion pieces. Using fingers, shred pork; transfer carnitas to platter. Place avocado slices, cilantro sprigs and sliced red bell peppers, if desired, alongside.

WRAP tortillas in damp kitchen towel; microwave until warm, about 1 minute. Serve carnitas with warm tortillas.


NOTE: Leftover pork also freezes well, or you can reheat it in a skillet before using. 

What are you eating today?

How's it going with your resolutions to eat better in 2015? Have you got the meal-planning part down yet?

Take it from an experienced cook: Meal planning is the most important thing you can do to improve your eating life. And yet, it is the hardest thing many of us struggle to figure out. The trick to it is the time commitment, to sit down with 10 minutes to think about your household schedule in the next week and think through what you're planning to cook. I do it on Saturday mornings, but whenever it works for you is the right time.

With the weekend coming up, here are a few stories we have today that might inspire your meals in the next few days:

Winter Salads. Yep, you heard that right. Who says you can't eat salads in the winter? Hearty greens are in season, but you don't have to cook them. This story has great recipes, but it also has some excellent tips on making salads better.

Pizza. This isn't about making pizza, but it might get you warmed up if you disagree: Daniel Neman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is upset about what Wolfgang Puck did to ruin pizza.

Veal Gorgonzola for 2. It sounds warming and delicious, doesn't it? I get constant requests for recipes that will serve 1 or 2. Linda Gassenheimer's column does that every week.

Pounded Chicken With Herbs. In my One Great column this week, I share a technique from Marco Canora's new book on healthful eating and it just might change your cooking life.

Everybody needs a treat, particularly a healthful spin on something delicious. These granola bars use raspberry jam to go in the sweet directions. 

For one more sweet-but-healthful treat, Ellie Krieger uses dates, dried figs and coconut to roll up a batch of truffles. Who says you have to have chocolate?

Make a plan, and we'll see you in the kitchen.

Friday, January 9, 2015

One Great . . . ramped-up chicken cutlet

Chefs don't cook like the rest of us. That can be good and bad for people who love recipes.

Sometimes, their cooking is complicated and involves lots of pots and obscure ingredients. That's bad for recipe lovers.

Sometimes, their cooking is so simple, anyone can do it. And that is very, very good for us.

New York's Marco Canora can do the first kind of cooking very well at his restaurant Hearth and his former restaurant Insieme. But in his new book, "A Good Food Day," he does the second kind with healthful recipes. That's where I spotted this smart method for the usually bland skinless, boneless chicken breasts.

It sounds harder than it is, but you're really flattening chicken breasts so they cook really fast. And when you flatten them, you beat herbs into them. How smart is that? The herb topping is endlessly adaptable, and the cooked breasts can be sliced and used on anything from pasta to salad.

Flavor-Pounded Chicken 

From "A Good Food Day," by Marco Canora (Clarkson Potter, $30).

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
12 large fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped
Grated zest of 2 small lemons
2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 teaspoons olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons for cooking
4 lemon wedges

STARTING at the thicker side, make a lengthwise cut into the chicken breast, stopping before you cut all the through. Fold it open like a book. Place between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it out thinly with the flat side of a meat tenderizer, working from the inside out, until it's about 1/4 inch thick. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

PILE the herbs, lemon zest and garlic on a cutting board and chop together. Place in a small bowl and add the salt, a few grinds of pepper and 8 teaspoons olive oil. Spread half the paste evenly on one side of the chicken breasts and rub it in.

COVER with plastic wrap again and lightly pound in the seasoning with the toothy side of the meat tenderizer. Flip the breasts and rub the remaining past into the other side, cover and pound again.

HEAT 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until it's very hot. Add 1 chicken breast, put a weight on it (like a kettle or heavy pan), cook about 45 seconds. Flip it, weight it again and cook 45 seconds. Transfer to a plate and let it rest 3 minutes while you cook the remaining chicken. Squeeze a little lemon over each, then cut in slices.

YIELD: 4 servings. 

8 N.C. companies grab Good Food Awards

Remember the Good Food Awards we reported on a couple of months back? This is a California-based group that recognizes producers of artisan, craft foods using local ingredients in a number of categories, including beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, confections, honey, oils, pickles, preserves and spirits.

There were 11 N.C. companies on the list when finalists were announced in November. The winners were announced this week in San Francisco and while Charlotte's Cloister Honey didn't make the final cut for its bourbon-infused honey, a solid list of Tar Heel foods did. (No N.C. beer makers, though? I'm surprised by that, too.) April McGreger, maker of Farmer's Daughter pickles and preserves in Carrboro did particularly well.

Find the full list on the Good Foods website above, and put these N.C. winners on your shopping list as you roam the state:

Looking Glass Creamery, Connemara.
Black Mountain Chocolate, Mountain Milk Bar.
Escazu Chocolate, 70% Tumbes.
French Broad Chocolates, 68% Percent Nicaragua.
Videri Chocolate Factory, Strawberry Anise Ganache.
Farmer's Daughter, Sweet Corn & Pepper Relish.
Two Chicks Farm, Kimchi.
Farmer's Daughter, Strawberry Honeysuckle Jam.
Crude Bitters, Rizzo Bitters.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What can you eat in winter?

Eating locally grown food is easy in summer. In winter, it gets a little harder . . . right?

Not necessarily. In this part of the world, where the ground may not even freeze in winter, there is still a lot of fresh food. Farmers are growing it, farmers markets are selling it, and we, the cooks, well, are we buying it?

Here's a little video I made about my trip to the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Market the week before Christmas. A couple of things to note: Yes, for a few vendors, December is the end of their year until things pick up again in March. But a lot of times, that's because the customers aren't coming out, not because they don't have anything to sell.

If you go in January, pickings will be a little more sparse. But they won't be nonexistent.

I'll be out this weekend. Will you? Say hello if you spot me. And don't worry: I'll only point a camera at you if you tell me it's OK.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What's on our plate for Wednesday?

Brisk temperatures in the 30s, body temperatures in the 102-degree range for those of us who missed those flu shots? Sounds like a good time to break out the comfort food.

Sounds like you could use a steaming bowl of grits, dressed up with an easy topping. Those of us who were raised on grits know that they make a great basic, comforting base for all kinds of toppings, and they can get you from breakfast to dinner. What you need is a simple guide that will make you a grits expert.

If you keep your eating local in winter, you're all too familiar with the inevitable kale (as we call it at my house). Gardening blogger Cindy Barlowe (mother of Heirloom chef Clark Barlowe) has a sweet story about cooking for people in need and an equally sweet recipe for an easy (and warm) variation on the inevitable kale salad.

Get your tickets here: Load your calendar with food events, including the annual Soup on Sunday fundraiser for Hospice and Palliative Care and the Troop 355 Boy Scout barbecue. (Don't worry, fans of Troop 33, they're coming up in a few weeks.)  

If the one thing that will warm you is the hottest drinks trend, look toward the cinnamon whiskeys.

Need more recipes? Try:

Easy burritos that serve 2 (or 1 with leftovers for lunch).
Vegetable stock, the secret recipe for your healthful freezer.
Leek, potato and fennel soup.
Onion and mushroom tart.

 Find all that and more, including our searchable database of recipes, at