Thursday, December 24, 2009

And to all, a good night

Stockings hung, cookies baked, eggs nogged? If they aren't, it's too late now. And it's probably just fine. Christmas not only will come even if we haven't finished all those things we think we have to do, it also will come again in exactly a year. Time to stop worrying, sit back and enjoy it.

It's that time for me, too. The Food Desk is closing down for a week while I take a vacation. I'll be back in this spot right after New Year's, ready for another year of cooking, basting, debating and pondering.

Happy Christmas to all, and a safe and enjoyable New Year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More on today's Charlotte Regional Farmers Market

Dean Mullis has declared this afternoon "the farmer's market party." He'll be there, along with Rosemary Pete Vinci, Fisher Farms and Grateful Growers. Also, Proffitt Family Farms will be there from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today and Wednesday this week and next week with their grass-fed beef.

If you can get free to go over, remember the regional market is at 1801 Yorkmont Road, between Tyvola and Billy Graham Parkway near the airport.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Markets and monkey wrenches

This past weekend was supposed to be a big one for local food, with the Charlotte Regional Farmers, the Matthews Community Market and the Davidson Market all ready for Christmas dinner shoppers. Most of the markets, including the regional, will be closed Dec. 26, so Saturday was your chance to stock up for Christmas and New Year's meals.

Then the nasty weather hit, and the email alerts trickled in: Dean Mullis of Laughing Owl couldn't pick collards in the downpour. Grateful Growers got snowed in on their farm in Denver. Donnie Cline of New Beginning Farm in Lincoln County picked his greens and parsnips Thursday before the rain, but he almost got snowed in. He somehow made it off the farm -- I suspect dog sled -- and arrived at the regional market just a little late Saturday morning with snow still clinging to the roof of his van.

If you're still hoping to stock up for Christmas and New Year's meals, the regional market is open Tuesday-Thursday, and some Saturday regulars are planning to make the trip. Grateful Growers will be in their regular spot from 1-5 p.m. Tuesday. They're also coming out tonight for Matthews and Davidson customers who missed them: Tonight from 4-7 p.m. at Renfrow's Hardware in Matthews and in the parking lot of the Healthy Home Market in Davidson (on the right before you get to Main Street).

"Rosemary Pete" Vinci will be at the regional market 1-5 p.m. Tuesday with Grateful Growers, and 10 a.m.-2 Wednesday with Secret Chocolatier.

If I get more updates, I'll post them. I still haven't heard from Dean Mullis. He must still be sleeping in.

This just in at 5 p.m. Monday: Fisher Farms also will be at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Tuesday from 1-5 p.m., with tomato sauce, collards and several kinds of kale. Pass it on.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What's Southern, cookie?

Working my way through my own stash of Christmas cookies this year -- bite-size cinnamon pecan shortbread, peppermint puffs, roll-out cookies with royal icing and a cashew-chocolate creation I haven't gotten to yet -- I started pondering whether there are Southern Christmas cookies.

So many choices of Christmas cookies reflect heritage. If your grandmother was Scandinavian or Greek or Mexican, your got-to-have Christmas cookie probably is too. And in the usual Southern way of thinking of things, if you are Southern, any cookie you make (or your mother made, or your grandmother made) is, by extension, Southern.

But are there Christmas cookies that really only show up in the South? I think of my grandmother's tea cake recipe as being thoroughly Southern, and yet I never make it at Christmas. It's too simple, too stripped-down, to hold its own on a platter with chocolate this and peppermint that.

There are certainly Southern cakes and Southern pies. But the only Southern cookie I could think of is the pecan tassie, which is really just a miniature version of a pecan pie. I'll put a recipe for that one below, just in case you need one more batch of something to bake on what promises to be a great holiday-baking weekend.

While you're baking, think it over and send me your nomination for a truly Southern Christmas cookie.

Pecan Tassies

From Cooking Light

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
Dash of salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons skim milk
Cooking spray
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar and dash of salt in a small bowl. Combine cream cheese, butter, and milk in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until blended (mixture will be crumbly). Press flour mixture into a ball.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 3 to 4 times. Divide dough into 24 portions. Place 1 dough portion into each of 24 miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Press dough into bottom and up sides of cups, using lightly floured fingers.

Divide pecans evenly among dough-lined muffin cups. Combine brown sugar and remaining ingredients; spoon about 2 teaspoons over pecans in each muffin cup.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned and filling is puffy. Cool in cups for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around outside edge of each tassie; remove from pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Giveaway Winner: Who gets the Julia Child DVD?

Debbie from Mount Pleasant is the winner of the DVD of Julia Child's 1985 cooking show "The Way to Cook." Debbie, send your mailing address to me at and I'll send it your way.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Giveaway: The real Julia

Are you giving someone the DVD of the movie "Julie & Julia" for Christmas? (If you have anyone who likes food, joy, fun and/or literacy on your gift list, that one's a no-brainer). And I have the perfect thing to go with it:

The newly released DVD collection of Child's 1985 TV series, "The Way to Cook." Personally, I rank the book version of "The Way to Cook" as second only to her original "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1" as one of my favorite all-time cookbooks. It was Child at the top of her game and the height of her career.

I have a copy of the DVD, ready to give away.

Here are the rules: Post a comment to get in the drawing for the DVD. If you sign in as anonymous, add something to the comment that will let me identify you. Deadline is 9 a.m. Wednesday, so I can get it in the mail to you before Christmas. Winner will be announced later that morning.

And one more special rule: Please, please, please promise you'll remember that her name was Julia Child. Not Childs. Child.

Talking local on WFAE

Can you make an entire meal with local food? "Charlotte Talks" will have a group of us talking about it Tuesday. Guests will be myself; chef Chris Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham and author of the new "Hot & Hot Fish Club Cookbook"; Susan Dosier, who represents N.C. travel and tourism; and hosts Peter Reinhart and Mike Collins.

Any questions I can think about in advance, so I don't end up staring at the microphone like a deer in the headlights?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Matthews market in winter

The first weekend of the Matthews Community Farmers Market's winter hours actually did feel like winter: Cold and drizzly, but still plenty of food to be had.

My tally: From the Koenigsbergs' stand: Green onions, carrots, Easter egg radishes, broccoli and something that looked like very dark broccoli that Sammy K. said was supposed to be cauliflower but they actually aren't sure what it is. Lettuce from Tega Hills. Eggs and black kale from Laughing Owl. Crusty sesame-seed bread from Down Home. A bag of pecans. And a pork shoulder roast and a package of thinly sliced smoked ham from Grateful Growers.
And there was plenty more I could have bought if my wallet wasn't empty and my bags full:
Swiss chard, oyster mushrooms, beets, turnips, cabbages, microgreens, Baucom's Best beef, and Bosky Acres goat cheese.
Who says there is no fresh, local food in winter?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Car food: Gas-station chicken edition

Some people keep tire jacks and emergency flairs. I stock my car with fork-and-napkin packets from takeout places. I usually have 5 or 10 stuffed into the pocket of my driver's side door.

In nice weather, I might perch on the hood. But mostly, I end up with food spread across my ample lap or on the passenger seat. I've stopped apologizing for the feed stains on my shirts. I don't think I own any item of clothing that hasn't been annointed with something.

For this edition, I had to spread out on my lap because Tom Hanchett, learned curator of a perfectly legitimate museum, the Levine Museum of the New South, had accepted the invitation Friday when I called with the magic words: Shell Station.

Tom and I both were at a Story Slam reading in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago when poet John Hartness threw out a provocative claim: "The best fried chicken in Charlotte is at the Shell station at Eastway and Shamrock." Stick to your iambic pentameter and line scans, buster. You're making claims about gas station fried chicken and that's my business.

I had to wait for Thanksgiving to get out of the way, but I was ready at the first open lunch hour. Yes, the Shell station does indeed have fine fried chicken. You can pick between spicy (kind of red in color) and plain. Huge drumsticks. Excellent crust. Meaty thighs.

Sides include things like nicely cooked lima beans and cheese-saucy mac & cheese. I sampled a couple of Buffalo wings, which were slightly disappointing -- decent crust and chewiness, but no heat.

So I will offer up the Eastway Shell station in two categories: Best gas-station fried chicken, and almost certainly best late-night fried chicken. I can't personally vouch for that last one, not being a late-night kind of girl anymore, but my youth isn't so far gone that I don't have a feeling for things like that. If I were out bar-crawling, I would be happy stopping there to gnaw a thigh as insurance against a hangover.

What do you think? Care to offer up your own nomination for best gas-station fried chicken in Charlotte and the immediate vicinity?

Food Q&A: turkey, deviled eggs and mushy swordfish

Questions I've gotten lately, with my best attempt at an answer:

Q: How long can you leave cooked turkey on the bone? Modesto, Ca.

A: No more than a day or two. But it keeps better and it's a lot easier to handle if you strip the turkey shortly after the big meal. Break it down into white meat and dark meat, then bag it or wrap it up. That way, you can have the carcass ready to go into the stock pot and the meat doesn't get all dried out from going in and out of the refrigerator.

Remember that the two-hour rule for cooked foods is cumulative. Meaning, every time the cooked turkey is at room temperature, the clock is running. So, you roast it, you let it sit for 30 minutes before you carve it, you have it sitting on the table for an hour, and then you really only have 30 minutes left of that two hours. So it's safer and more efficient to carve all the meat off after dinner so it's ready to go.

I make four bags, two white and two dark. One of each goes in the refrigerator to use within four days of cooking the turkey. The others go in my freezer, for use later. This year, I got even more efficient and broke down the bags destined for the freezer into several bags, each with about 2 cups of chopped turkey. All I have to do is pull out a bag and I'm halfway to dinner to turkey hash, tettrazini or turkey and wild rice soup.

Q: How long can deviled eggs be left sitting out and not be risky to eat? Missouri.

A: Two hours, Missouri. One hour in summer or in hot conditions like out on a picnic table.

Q: I was at a restaurant and had mushy swordfish. What would cause this? Bath, PA.

A: It could have been frozen swordfish that wasn't frozen properly. Many things that are frozen have a softer texture after thawing, but flash-freezing right on the boat usually minimizes that problem with fish. But if the fish is mishandled -- say, it's frozen, thawed and then refrozen -- it could get mushy.

Another possibility is that it might not have been swordfish. There have been a lot of studies on the problem of fish that isn't what the label or menu says it is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Shh -- Jane Parker news

There are no food fans more fanatical than Jane Parker fruitcake fans. Believe me. Several years, I foolishly wrote a column about Jane Parker fruitcakes and for years after that, I became the nation's clearinghouse of Jane Parker information. Trust me -- Jane Park lust is a different kind of fruitcake entirely.

Knowing that, I'm just going to tip-toe in and quietly toss this out:

AP has made it easier to order the fruitcakes. No secret 800 numbers passed by coded message, no tapping out a code on a certain door in a particular dark alley.

Just a simple Web site: . If you live in the Northeast or you're planning a visit from Connecticut to Washington, you also can buy them at A&P, Waldbaum's, Food Emporium, SuperFresh and Parthmark.

Online, prices run from $20.49 to $35.49 and they're available in light or dark, loaf or ring, traditional box or holiday tin.
There you go. If it isn't Christmas without a Jane, you know what to do.

Yes, it's gingerbread, and more

When candy swans are swimming on candy ponds surrounded by wee candy mushrooms, either I'm having one of those dreams again, or it's gingerbread house contest time.

Thank heavens it's just a gingerbread contest, the second one I've judged in three weeks. This time, it was the annual Gingerbread Lane display at the Ballantyne Hotel. Fourteen houses, two professional and 12 amateur, plus others that were created by hotel staff. There was a gingerbread Alamo with a snowmen fight, a gingerbread version of Paris with Eiffel Tower, and a four-story gingerbread castle.

The view above, of that candy swan a'swimming, was from the lawn of the entry "First Snow" by Mary Winecoff. It won first place in the amateur division, with second place going to Nancy Woods and third place to Natasha Fairchild DeMaio and Regina Fairchild. In the professional spots, Cake Lady Jill won first place for her castle and Cake Expressions by Lisa won second for"Christmas in Paris."

The houses are on display until Dec. 26, and you can vote for the people's choice award by making a donation ($1 or up) to the Levine Children's Hospital. The houses are on display in the halls around the Gallery restaurant, and you can just stroll in and look. The hotel is at 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

In the meantime, there are plenty of others events going on, too. Let's catch up:

  • For all you Victorian tea fans, the Woman's Club of Rock Hill is holding them at the historic Armstrong-Mauldin House, 607 Aiken Ave., Rock Hill. Dates: 3 p.m. Dec. 3, 1 p.m. Dec. 4 and 5 p.m. Dec. 6. Includes an English tea of savories and sweets, carolers and servers in Victorian attire. Reservations are required. Call 803-328-8888.
  • The wine from Spain is at Las Ramblas, for a tasting of Eric Solomon Selections. Solomon is the master of bringing us great wine from Spain, so this would be high on my list. It's $20 per person and they'll be pouring samples from nine wines, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 14, at Las Ramblas, 2400 Park Road. Reservations: email
  • The Matthews Community Farmers Market goes into winter mode with the first winter market of the season this Saturday (that would be Dec. 5, from 8 to 10 a.m., and remember that it's every other week after that).

That's all for now. And remember, when you're walking in a winter wonderland, don't step on the peppermint cobblestones.