Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cookbook shopping? Try one of these

Looking for a cookbook or food book (or drinking book!) to give as a gift? Here are 13 new books I'll suggest:

1. Essential Pepin

By Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 704 pages, $40)

Jacques Pepin’s career has spanned France to New York, and World War II to digital. With 700 recipes, almost all classic and French, this is a masterwork. With a searchable DVD of techniques.

2. Cooking Light: The Complete Quick Cook

By Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Oxmoor House, 352 pages, $29.95)

For the person who wants to eat better and cook better but is overwhelmed by the task. With two experienced authors behind it, this magazine-based project is one of the best home-cooking guides I’ve seen in a while, with pictures, tips, smart thinking and solid recipes.

3. Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making & Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are

By Ed Levine and the editors of seriouseats.com (Clarkson Potter, 368 pages, $27.99)

Give this to a young and eager diner. New York food writer Levine pulled together a smart bunch of young editors to build a great food-obsessed website. Their first book is a guide to obsessive eating from coast to coast (including North Carolina).

4. The Art of Eating Cookbook

By Edward Behr (University of California Press, 296 pages, $39.95)

Edward Behr’s newsletter/magazine The Art of Eating has been a source of smart, sophisticated food writing with a focus on classic cooking for 25 years. Now he’s gone back through all those recipes to put together a collection of essays and recipes that will pull armchair cooks out of their chairs.

5. The PDT Cocktail Book
By Jim Meehan and Chris Gall (Sterling Epicure, 368 pages, $24.95)

Shake it up, baby: The people behind New York’s almost-hidden cocktail bar, PDT (for Please Don’t Tell) have found the middle ground between retro-cool and contemporary in this fun guide to all things alcohol.

6. Basic to Brilliant, Y’All

By Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, $35).

I love this concept by Atlanta author Willis: Every recipe includes a variation or a way to dress it up. And thanks to her solid training at La Varenne in France, her recipes bring fresh perspective to basic Southern cooking.

7. Cooking in the Moment

By Andrea Reusing (Clarkson Potter, $35).

Reusing, the chef of Lantern in Chapel Hill, racked up honors this year, including a James Beard medal as Best Chef: Southeast. But there’s no pretension in her book, aimed at home cooks trying to make the best use of locally grown, heirloom foods. She’s not cooking with special chef food – this is the same stuff we get in our own farmers markets.

8. The Homesick Texan Cookbook

By Lisa Fain (Hyperion, $29.99).

Homesick Texan, Fain’s blog about re-creating Texas food when she moved to New York, found a huge following online. A book was the next step. You don’t have to be from Texas to appreciate her sincere, down-home recipes.

9. Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible

By Paula Deen with Melissa Clark (Simon & Schuster, $29.99).

Has anyone since Martha Stewart evoked so much love and venom? But this is a solid book, without too many corny gimmicks. It’s a reminder that at heart, Deen is still a cook from Savannah who knows how to turn out crowd-pleasing food.

10. Cook This Now

By Melissa Clark (Hyperion, $29.99).

Between exploring ingredients in her New York Times column and co-authoring with Paula Deen, Clark was writing her own inventive cookbook, geared to home cooks who aren’t afraid of frisee, quinoa – or good recipes.

11. The Food 52 Cookbook

By Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (Morrow, $35).

It’s a little high-concept: The website Food52.com aims to create a “food community” by letting members post weekly recipes while other members vote on them. Skip all that and you end up with a solid collection of sophisticated home cooking. That’s much simpler.

12. The Italian Baker

By Carol Field (Ten Speed Press, $35).

After it came out in 1985, “Italian Baker” became a classic, a serious yet approachable guide to bread, pizza, focaccia and sweets. The revision is even better – and ready for a new generation to discover it.

13. Momofuku Milk Bar

By Christina Tosi (Clarkson Potter, $35).

While David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants were taking over New York, his pastry chef, Tosi, was staging her own revolution with desserts so sweet, they verged on sugar obsession. Now Tosi shares the recipes for things like Cereal Milk and the crazy good Crack Pie.

Eating on the fly at Charlotte-Douglas?

If you're traveling during the holidays, the web site Serious Eats has a fun little slide show up, "Airport Food That Doesn't Suck."

It doesn't offer anything really unusual and certainly nothing high-end - One Flew South at Atlanta's Hartsfield didn't make the cut. But the focus here is on fast, cheap and reasonably satisfying, which is usually what most of us need in an airport. And they found picks at both Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which is a nice perk for those flight-delayed days.

Go here to click through their picks. And yes, it's one of those slide shows you have to click through. Which does kind of suck.

Monday, November 28, 2011

One great recipe: Cranberry thighs

It sounds like something you'd call someone the week after Thanksgiving. But cranberry thighs were my solution last week when I needed a pre-holiday meal for a big group. I wanted something that felt like the season but didn't steal the thunder from Thanksgiving the next night.

Since I was feeding a crowd, I stretched the sauce over two big pans of 14 chicken thighs. If you need to cut it down to 8, you'll have some sauce left over. But you can stick it in the freezer and have a head-start for another night. With fresh cranberries making their brief appearance in stores through Christmas, this will be tasty and festive anytime.

Cranberry-Glazed Chicken Thighs

Figure on two chicken thigh per serving.

8 to 12 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and soft ones discarded
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Choose a 13-by-9-inch baking dish or roasting pan large enough to hold the thighs in a single layer with a little space between each one. Spray it with nonstick cooking spray.

Sprinkle chicken thighs with salt and pepper and arrange them in the prepared pan or dish. Place in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.

While chicken is roasting, combine the cranberries, sugar and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until the berries start to pop. Remove from heat and stir in the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar and dry mustard.

Remove chicken thighs from the oven and spoon some of the sauce over each one. Return to oven and roast 20 minutes longer. Spoon a little more sauce over each and turn oven to broil. Broil about 5 minutes, until brown in spots, watching carefully to make sure they don't burn.

Why should you salute the late Jeno Paulucci?

The New York Times had a tribute today to a man who certainly had an influence on American food: Jeno Paulucci, 93, of Duluth, Minn. It seems weirdly appropriate that Mr. Paulucci died on Thanksgiving.

His contributions: First, in 1955, he noticed the burgeoning interest in Chinese food. So he borrowed $2500 from a friend, came up with a formula for canned chow mein, and ended up creating the Chun King brand. He also came up with the Divider-Pak, packaging that kept the crunchy noodles separate from the sauce. He sold it to R.J. Reynolds (yes, here in North Carolina) for $63 million in 1966.

But he wasn't finished yet. Next, he founded Jeno's Inc., making frozen pizzas and snacks. He combined the two to create the pizza roll. After selling it to Pillsbury in in 1985 in $135 million, Jeno's Pizza Rolls were renamed Totino's Pizza Rolls.

And finally? He founded Michelina's, which makes ready-made pasta and Mexican dishes, in the early 1990s. He was still the head of that company when he died.

Read more about Mr. Paulucci's story here in the Times.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sink your teeth into Thanksgiving

A couple of last developments before I head home to my own range for Thanksgiving:

  • Harvest Moon Grille is running a special Thanksgiving market in front of the restaurant at the Dunhill Hotel, 237 N. Tryon St. You can buy bread from locally grown and milled wheat, locally grown vegetables. Days and hours: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 19), and noon-7 p.m. Monday-Wednesday next week.
  • The Ritz-Carlton's Giant Green Gingerbread House goes on display on Thanksgiving in the lobby of the hotel and will stay up until Dec. 28. It's green because it has all organic and natural components, its own LED lights and a green moss roof. If you go by, you can visit the new Bar Cocoa dessert area with Norman Love chocolates.
  • Also at the Ritz-Carlton: Holiday teas on Dec. 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18. Details and reservations: 704-547-2244.

Get your party food ready

Last year, I wrote a column about "Little Black Dresses," those simple recipes for holiday party appetizers that you can always depend on. Some of you were kind enough to send me yours, as well.

This year, I'd love to get even like to run more of them. If you send me an appetizer recipe with no more than 6 ingredients, I'll enter you in a drawing for the cookbook “The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink” (UNC Press, $30). The deadline is Dec. 2; send your recipes to kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com.

Photo: Little Black Dress magazine

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The best turkey video ever

O Captain, my Captain - you are such a turkey. And I love you for it.

Seriously, William Shatner teams up with State Farm and does his best attempt at the Alton Brown School of Cooking Demos. All to show you the danger of "fire, metal, oil and turkey."

Top Chef: Gone too soon

So we don't post a spoiler on the Food page, let's make a change: Humming.

Hum. Humhum. Humhumhum. Wonder if there was news from "Top Chef" last night that might be of interest to people in North Carolina?

I wonder. Hmmm. Have I pushed the spoiler down far enough?

OK, let's return to today's blog post, already in progress:

Keith, we hardly knew you. But when you bought those already-cooked shrimp, I knew you were cooked.

If you haven't been watching the new season of "Top Chef" on Bravo, you may have missed North Carolina's Keith Rhodes, chef of Catch in Wilmington. It's hard to miss him anywhere, actually: Rhodes is a big guy. (The blogosphere nicknamed him Rick Ross, after the rapper).

When Rhodes made it through that interminable sorting-hat of hundreds of contestants (OK, it was just under 50, but I stand by "interminable") to make the final 16, I was delighted. I'm a fan of Catch, which is on my current list of favorite NC restaurants. I've eaten there twice, once when it was still a tiny counter-service place in downtown Wilmington and once in the newer, larger place on Market Street. Both times, the food was fun and impressive.

Rhodes has a way with clever seafood dishes, and he definitely handles fish with respect. The last time we ate there, the waitress not only told us how and where the softshell crabs were raised, she volunteered the name of the fish farmer and told us exactly when that night's catch had shed their shells. It was obvious Rhodes makes sure his staff knows what
s what.

So I was mystified when Rhodes made the rookie error Wednesday night of buying pre-cooked shrimp for a challenge. It was like watching a train wreck: I was waving my arms, yelling, "No, chef! No! Step away from the seafood case, baby!"

Yes, Rhodes also got bounced for using flour tortillas instead of corn in enchiladas in Texas. But that one is easier to understand. Texans might think it's obvious, but the rest of the country doesn't cut its teeth on the "which tortilla when" code.

But pre-cooked shrimp when your restaurant is called "Catch"? So sad. And Keith Rhodes is so much better than that.

Speculation this morning is that Rhodes isn't really gone. He's doing an online Bravo.com bit, and "Top Chef" is wily about bringing promising chefs back. Even if he doesn't return, we can drive to Wilmington for more of Keith Rhodes. And we should.

Photo: Bravo.com.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One more time for the make-ahead potatoes

Of all the recipes I've run through the years, which one do readers request the most? The Make-Ahead Potato Casserole. It's been a mainstay of our Thanksgiving recipes many times.

What's so great about it? You can make it in advance and it feeds a crowd. But most importantly to me, it doesn't get that yucky old-potato taste when you reheat it. I can't explain why, but I've always figured it has something to do with the sour cream and cream cheese. It also works with reduced-fat sour cream and Neufchatel cheese, trimming a little fat from a day when we tend to get too much.

Since I know someone will ask for it between now and next Thursday, here it is again, to add to your collection:

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

Serves 8 to 12.

5 pounds russet, Idaho or Yukon Gold potatoes


1 (8-ounce) package reduced-fat cream cheese

1 (8-ounce) container reduced-fat sour cream

1 to 1 1/2 cups skim milk

Freshly ground black or white pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces


PEEL potatoes and cut into chunks, dropping into a pot of cold salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat slightly and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well.

BEAT in cream cheese with electric mixer. (Work in batches if necessary, using half the potatoes and cream cheese, then combine.) Beat in sour cream and milk until potatoes are fluffy. Season to taste with salt and ground pepper or ground white pepper.

SPRAY a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Spread potatoes evenly in dish. Dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika. If making in advance, cool completely, cover tightly and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees. Uncover potatoes and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until heated through and brown in spots.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Parade magazine wants your pie recipe

I was looking for it Sunday and I missed it, so I figured you might not have spotted this either: Parade Magazine is holding a national pie contest, The All-American Pie-Off. The winners in seven categories (apple, cherry, Derby, Key Lime, pecan, pumpkin and sweet potato) will get $50 American Express gift cards, will be featured on parade.com and dashrecipes.com, and will have the chance to be featured in Parade.

The reason I was looking for it Sunday: I'm one of the judges. Parade apparently saw my article on sweet potato pie (yes, it should be North Carolina's state pie!), and asked if I'd judge the sweet potato category.

Other judges: Michele Stuart of Michele's Pies in Connecticut and author of "Perfect Pies"; Debbie Macomber, author of "The Christmas Cookbook"; Rosemary Black, author of a bunch of cookbooks (and mother of Kidcook columnist Molly Lopez, for those who remember her) and editor of Dash and Parade's Sunday Dinner column; Sharon Thompson, food writer for the Lexington Herald Leader; Janet Keller, food editor of the St. Pete Times; and Linda Odette of the Grand Rapids Press.

The deadline for entries is Nov. 19. Go here for details on how to enter. Make sure you send a good sweet potato entry - I'm looking forward to it.

Photo: Todd Sumlin, The Charlotte Observer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What are you doing New Year's?

I was flipping through the James Beard Foundation's December events guide when I spotted a familiar face: Tony Coturri, the maker of organic wines in California who's been a favorite at farm-to-fork dinners around here for several years.

Then I spotted another familiar face on the same page: Joe Bonaparte, at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Charlotte.

It turns out Bonaparte is leading a lineup of AI instructors (Walter Leible of Phoenix, Larry Maston of Dallas and Michael Nenes of Texas) to cook dinner at the James Beard House for New Year's Eve.

It isn't cheap: $200 for foundation members, $250 for nonmembers. But the menu is luxe, including foie gras, rabbit, lobster, caviar, scallops, pork belly and duck breast. What really amused me was the toast at midnight: Shelton Vineyards Blanc de Blanc with a truffle from the Secret Chocolatier here in Charlotte. Nice to see attention for local food makers.

If you're planning to be in New York and that's your kind of price and experience, go to www.jamesbeard.org for details and tickets.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Weekend cooking project: The Christmas spirits

Here's a thought that will drive you to drink: You have 44 days until Christmas. Which is just enough time to start a batch of 44 Cordial, a tasty winter liqueur that's great for giving to consenting adults on your Christmas list.

And since I ran the 44 Cordial a couple of years ago, I have a second libation you can start this weekend, too. When I was in Charleston last month for the Association of Journalists conference, mixologist John Aquino of Coast Bar & Grill was serving a dandy twist on an old-fashioned, made from Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon.

He was kind enough to share the recipe, which I immediately put to good use. It only takes 5 days to make a batch, and it makes a tasty libation to have on hand for entertaining season. It's a little richer and spicier that a regular Old-Fashioned, making it a good winter cocktail.

Two tricks: Aquino uses Fee Brothers Orange Bitters, which I happened to have on hand. If you don't, good ol' Angostura works fine. And tart-cherry extract can be a bit tricky to find. I found cherry extract in the juice aisle at the Cotswold Harris Teeter. Unfortunately, it's $15 a bottle, but it is a concentrate, so you just need a drizzle. You might be able to find it cheaper at a health-focused supermarket such as Earth Fare, now that tart cherry juice is so popular as a treatment for joint pain.

OK, both recipes:

44 Cordial
Saveur magazine ran a short item on this West Indies liqueur in 2008. It's become a regular winter project at my house and a favorite with some of my friends. You need a jar with a tight lid and a mouth wide enough for the orange.

1 large orange, such as a navel
44 coffee beans
44 teaspoons sugar (1 scant cup)
1 liter white run (about 1 quart)
Poke 44 (1-inch) slits all over the orange with the tip of a paring knife. Stuff a coffee bean into each slit. (I usually work one row at a time so the slits don't close up or the orange doesn't lose too much juice.)
Put the orange, sugar and rum in a wide-mouthed jar with a tight lid. Place in a cool, dark spot, swirling the jar occasionally, for 44 days.
Remove the discard the orange. Strain the liqueur through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a clean bottle. Refrigerate or freeze. Serve neat or over ice.

Bourbon Ice Tea Old Fashioned
From John Aquino, Coast Bar and Grill, Charleston.
1 (750ml) bottle Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon
Zest of 1 orange, peeled in strips
About 1/2 tablespoon tart cherry concentrate
Bitters (such as Angostura, or Fee Brothers Orange or Old-Fashioned Bitters)
Sparkling water

Place sweet tea bourbon in a jar with a tight lid. Add orange zest strips. Let stand 5 days, swirling bottle occasionally. Drain back into the bottle, then add tart cherry concentrate. (If you have tart cherries and want to use them, add them for the final two days.)

To use, place about 2 ounces in a rocks glass and add a dash of bitters. Add ice and top with sparkling water, such as plain seltzer or club soda.

Photo: Liquor Digest

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gifts from our readers

This is what I get for checking my email on a Saturday night. The subject line was "Haiku":

Let fish thaw on counter
Should have listened to Kathleen
Threw it all up.

Yes, the count is technically off (6/7/4 instead of 5/7/5). But given that I couldn't spell my own name in the same condition, much less make a food editor laugh that hard, the judges will accept it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Farmers market season: It ain't over yet

A well-meaning person posted a comment on my story about the 7th Street Public Market project claiming the growing season here is over.

Sorry, but it triggered my inner Bluto Blutarski: Over? Over? Go to a local farmers market on a Saturday morning and it's far from over. Greens, winter squash, carrots, apples, eggs. If the growing season is over, why are my bags so full? And they stay full right on through January, February and March.

Between cold hoops, greenhouses and our own temperate climate, nothing is over until we say it is. Who's with me? Let's go!

This Saturday's market news roundup:

  • The Davidson Farmers Market kicks off it's every-other-week winter market with the First Ever Winter Market Chef Challenge, from 9 a.m.-noon. Five local chefs -- Vera Samuels, Wes Choplin, Joe Kindred, Andres Arboleda and Adam Spears -- will compete using what's available at the market. And shoppers get to be the judges. Details on the market schedule and offerings: www.davidsonfarmersmarket.org.
  • The Matthews Community Farmers Market no longer has winter market hours: It's open all year on Saturday mornings. Hours are 7:15 a.m.-noon through November, then 8-10 a.m. Saturdays from December through March. Starting this week: The Cookbook Swap, which continues through Nov. 19. Bring cookbooks you don't want and swap them for a cookbook you do, or buy a used cookbook for $2; money raised goes to fill The Harvest Donation coolers, which are used for local feeding programs. Details and vendor lists: www.matthewsfarmersmarket.com.
  • Simply Local at the Atherton Market has added egg nog made from local milk. For details on the Atherton Market, go to their Facebook page here.
  • The Charlotte Regional Farmers Market is still up and running, too, with lots of local farms and food makers. If you spot me there tomorrow, say hello. Just don't wear a toga. It's chilly out there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Yes, Cincy fans, Graeter's ice cream is here

I sit next to three people with ties to Cincinnati, but that's not the only reason I know about Graeter's ice cream: Every publication from Saveur to Gourmet to Oprah includes it on the lists of the country's best ice creams.

Made by the French-pot method, it's known for being exceptionally creamy, and for having really rich flavors, particularly the popular black raspberry chocolate chip.

Still, I didn't expect to ever try it. It's pricey to mail-order it and I don't have many chances to visit Cincinnati.

So how great is this? Fresh Market and Kroger stores started carrying Graeter's ice cream in October.

It's not cheap, at $5.49 a pint, but that's actually in line with other premium ice creams. And Graeter's is definitely premium: After a taste-test at my desk, two Cincinnati co-workers, Tim Funk and Karen Garloch (she's not from Cincinnati, but she's married to a native), they declared it has all the richness and creaminess they expect.

We had black raspberry chip and peppermint, which is available for the holidays. Fresh Market at Strawberry Hill, at Providence and Fairview, also had mocha chip and vanilla chocolate chip.

Since frozen Skyline Chili has been the area for years, that means Cincinnati transplants at least are happy. All they need now are Montgomery Inn ribs.

Web Tricks: Did we open a wine bottle with a shoe?

Do those crazy food tricks floating around the Web work? I'll offer occasional reports on the ones I try.

But I can't say we're off to a flying start. Restaurant reviewer Helen Schwab and I tried Opening A Wine Bottle With a Shoe, which has been all over the Internet for a couple of years. It even turned up in an episode of "Modern Family."

There are a couple of dozen versions out there, ranging from people doing it while speaking French to 20somethings doing it while stumbling around a city street.

Basically, the trick involves: A) A shoe. Preferably a hard-soled men's shoe, although some videos shoe an athletic shoe. B) A bottle of wine, with the capsule removed. And C) A wall. One with paint you don't care about chipping.

We procured all of the above and went to work. We tried a couple of different shoes -- a woman's shoe with a wide, 2-inch heel, and a man's basic brown lace-up oxford. The man's shoe was slightly easier, because the heel area was wide enough to hold the bottle easily.

We tried a couple of angles, higher and lower. We tried different people beating the wall with the shoe and the bottle.

Result: Nada. Zippo. After a good 50 whacks, there were lots of bubbles visible in the bottle, but no movement at all from the cork.

So, if you get the wine-shoe trick to work and have proof - preferably time-elapsed video - send it to me at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com. I'll be glad to try again if it actually works.

Next up: Can you trust Mary Ann to peel a potato without a peeler?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Top Chef": Is it time to pack their knives and go?

Two things about me and "Top Chef": I'm not a fan of reality TV (isn't part of the idea of TV-watching to escape reality?) and it seems a little weird to watch a TV show about cooking where you never get to taste the food and you don't learn anything useful about cooking.

Those prejudices aside, I have been a fan of "Top Chef." I got caught up in the whole Volt Bros drama, and spent way too much time quietly cheering for Carla. But as the saga and the spinoffs continue, I've found myself cooling on it, in the same way you love a food until that moment when you take one bite too much. I liked the first season of "Top Chef Masters" but erased the last season without watching more than an episode or two -- and I knew people competing. I watched one episode of "Top Chef Desserts" and wasn't interested enough to go on.

So, with the regular season of "Top Chef" starting Wednesday night on Bravo (they're in Texas this time, which is probably not a surprise anymore), I'm curious how you feel about it.

Do you love it and hang on Padma's costume change?
Are you bored enough to stick your head in a stockpot?
Does the whole thing just make you want to yank out Tom's soul patch?