Friday, December 28, 2012

One Great . . . silky kale salad

Ah, the ubiquitous kale. If you stick close to a local diet, that means lots of kale in the winter.

Since I have a kale-disliking husband, I'm always seeking kale dishes he doesn't find objectionable. So I paid attention when I started seeing a new technique:

Rubbed kale, sometimes called massaged kale. Seriously -- you toss raw kale with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. And then you rub it: Knead it, squeeze it, scrub it between your palms. Do that for at least 2 minutes and the kale breaks down, softens and takes on a silky texture.

Yes, you have to rub it after you add the oil, salt and an acid. If you just rub the bare leaves, it won't get all that soft. But think of all that oil you're massaging into your dry hands in winter. It's like a kale spa treatment.

After you soften the leaves (and wash your hands), you toss the kale with a few more ingredients and end up with a terrific winter salad. You can add almost anything. For this version, the spicy nature of kale led me to think of sweet and hot touches of maple syrup and cayenne, plus some sliced mushrooms because I had them handy. But you can change it up. Swap the lemon juice for a flavored vinegar. Add Parmesan, feta or goat cheese. Try toasted nuts and sliced pear. Toss it with a diced avocado.

The method works with regular kale or black kale (AKA lacinato or dinosaur kale). The salad even keeps a day or so in the refrigerator, so you can take extras for your lunch.

Rubbed Kale Salad

1 head kale (regular or black kale)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or try a flavored vinegar)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup sliced fresh mushroom caps (see note)

TRIM away and discard the kale stalks. Stack the leaves and cut into 1/2-inch- to 1-inch-wide ribbons. Place in a large salad bowl.

ADD the oil, lemon juice and salt and toss to miss. Put your hands in the bowl and massage the kale, rubbing and squeezing it for 2 or 3 minutes, until it's soft.

ADD maple syrup, cayenne and garlic and toss well. Add the mushrooms or whatever else you're adding (see note). Serve at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers for a day or so.

NOTE: Instead of mushrooms, you could add shaved Parmesan or crumbled feta or goat cheese, toasted nuts, sliced fruit or diced vegetables.

YIELD: 2 to 4 servings.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The most meat on a sandwich?

We present, for your perusal, the Chivito Al Pan, from Che Gaucho, 4724 Old Pineville Road (in the little strip shopping center just past Woodlawn). 

Featured on the lunch specials, the Chivito is pounded (or similarly flattened) sirloin, ham, bacon,  mozzarella and a fried egg, on a crispy roll roughly the size of a grown man's bedroom slipper. With fries. It's $7.50 and it's big. How big? A family of four could have split it.  

Since every order also comes with a bowl of creamy potato soup, I  skipped most of the bread  (pity, it had a lovely crisp crust) and just aimed for the sandwich filling. I still only  made it maybe a third of the way in. I'm betting a teenage boy could do it in a couple of bites, but I'm just a girl. 

Che Gaucho is a nice little cafe with an Argentine/Uruguyan menu, which, as far as I can tell, makes it the only Uruguyan restaurant in Charlotte. Get a look at the menu here

Need New Year oysters?

They aren't cheap at 99 cents each, but Alabama's Point aux Pins oysters are available at Whole Foods in SouthPark through the holiday.

Farm-raised in Grand Bay, Ala., by Steve and Dema Crockett, the Point aux Pins has been getting a following from Alabama chefs like Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, and oyster fanatics.

Texas food writer Robb Walsh had a good report on how they're raised when they first hit the market in 2010 and called them the best Gulf oysters he had eaten in a while.

They'll be available through the holiday at Whole Foods stores in the Southeast, including the Charlotte store, 6610 Fairview Road, near Sharon Road.

Molly O'Neill leads table talk in Rock Hill

In the mood to think, talk and eat  food? Rock Hill's Friday Arts Project will hold "A Place at the Table: Creativity in Food & Togetherness," a two-day forum Jan. 18-19 at the Gettys Art Center, 201 E. Main St. in Rock Hill.

The aim, according to the organizers: "Community, goodness and the mysterious bond that occurs around the table through art, film, discussion and shared meals."

Speakers include Molly O'Neill, former New York Times food columnist and author the mega-cookbook "One Big Table"; Peter Reinhart, chef on assignment at Johnson & Wales University; Levine Museum of the New South curator Tom Hanchett; and former Observer writer and barbecuer Dan Huntley.

The two-day event will include discussions, lectures, art exhibits, film screenings, an opening reception and meals, including a Live Fire Feast on Saturday night that involves a discussion on ethnic barbecue and a meal of lamb and other dishes cooked by Huntley and Fausta Salvatierra of Cocina Latina.

The two-day conference and three meals on Saturday is $85; the Saturday evening feast only is $45; a patron-level ticket including the entire conference and a limited-edition fine-art print is $150.

Details and registration:, or call Stephen Crotts, 803-554-1826.

Friday, December 21, 2012

One Great . . . hot buttered rum

The week between Christmas and New Year's is made for Jane Snow's Hot Buttered Rum Batter. 

The rushing around is over. If it isn't wrapped or decorated, it probably isn't going to get done. That week is the reward, when we get to slow down and enjoy. For my favorite recipe for doing that, I always say an inner thanks to Jane Snow.

When I became a food writer in the late 1980s, the  food writer to beat was Jane Snow of the Akron Beacon Journal. A constant-motion machine of writing, she won all the awards, she broke all the food news, she caught the trends before anyone else. And when it came to recipes, Jane had a sixth sense about what people would want to eat. 

She still does, even though she took a buyout and went into semi-retirement several years ago. Semi, I said: While everybody else was figuring out blogs and Twitter feeds, Jane was inventing  "See Jane Cook," her  online newsletter. 

She sends it out every week, with stories about life with her husband, Tony the Japanese sushi chef, and her continuing adventures with food. While it has a lot about food in her area of Ohio, it also a timelessness and that cosmic sense that good food in one place is good food in any place. It's free, too: Go to to sign up. 

Hot Buttered Rum
From Jane Snow. Make the butter mixture and keep it in the refrigerator. It lasts for weeks.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
6 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 cup molasses or dark corn syrup
Boiling water
Whipped cream (optional)

Combine the butter, brown sugar and molasses or dark corn syrup. Mash with the back of a spoon or the tines of a fork to make a paste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To use, place 1 1/2 to 2 rounded teaspoons of mix in a mug. Add 1 ounce rum Top with boiling water, stirring until the mix is melted. Top with whipped cream if you really need it. 

YIELD: At least a dozen servings, maybe more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Come to the Table talks about local food

It's not too early to start thinking about your plans in 2013. One to put on your calendar: "Come to the Table: People of Faith Relieving Hunger and Supporting Local Agriculture." There will be three  conferences around the state in February and March.

Come to the Table is put together by RAFI-USA (Rural Advancement Foundation International), the Rural Life Committee of the N.C. Council of Churches, and the Duke Endowment. The conferences started in 2007 and have become great seeding fields for discussions that improve food access in North Carolina.

The conferences are all-day events that include workshops on subjects like "Food Insecurity: Why Our Neighbors are Hungry and What You Can Do," "Community Gardening 101," and "Supporting Farmers, Supporting Families: How Can Local Food Be Accessible?"

If your church or volunteer organization is trying to figure out how to harness local food to do good,  you need to send someone to these gatherings.

Registration is on a sliding scale from free to $15. This year's conference schedule:

Monday, Feb. 4, at the Kinston Community Arts Council in Kinston.
Tuesday, Feb. 19, at UNC Greensboro.
Friday, March 15, at Southwestern Community College, Sylva.

You can register and get details at Or email Sarah Gibson, or Francesca Hyatt at

Monday, December 17, 2012

One Great . . . freezer corn chowder

When you're raising kids, you never know what will stick with them. The goofy stuff you say that they parrot back at you years later, the cookies you thought tasted terrible but they tell all their friends about. The comfort food recipe that ends up being a favorite. 

The grown man who used to be my little kid came home from college with a list of things he wanted me to make. Food in the "caf" on campus isn't all it's cracked up to be, apparently. One he asked for was corn and potato chowder.

Heavily adapted from the book "Desperation Dinners," by Alicia Ross and Beverly Mills, it was in regular rotation when he was growing up for many reasons: It was fast, it was cheap, it was made from stuff you can always have in the freezer. And it could be adapted to anything from chicken sausage to shrimp to leftover grilled chicken. 

We had already decided to make it Friday when the news turned horrible and my heart was with other people's children. I was so glad he had asked for it. It was the perfect thing to make while tall man who used to be my little kid took on the job of decorating the tree. 

We were all comforted. A little, at least.

Corn and Potato Chowder
I've changed this a lot from the original version in "Desperation Dinners." But it's very forgiving if you want to change more. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 to 2 cups diced cooked chicken or ham or half-moons of chicken sausage (if using; see note)
2 cups (or a couple of big handfuls) frozen cubed hash browns
1 tablespoon seasoning mix (see note)
3 cups chicken broth (or 2 14.5-ounce cans)
3 to 4 cups frozen corn
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup low-fan milk or half-and-half

HEAT the olive oil in a Dutch oven or 4- to 6-quart pot. Add the onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until just starting to soften. If you're using chicken, ham or sausage, stir it in and cook a couple of minutes longer. (If you're adding seafood, wait and add it at the end so it doesn't overcook.) Add the frozen hash browns and seasoning mix and cook until the potatoes start to stick to the bottom of the pan a little. 

ADD half the broth and stir, scraping up anything that stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the broth, the corn, the Worcestershire and the hot sauce. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the milk or half-and-half. Cook just until heated through. Serve.

NOTE: For the seasoning mix, combine 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/4 teaspoon marjoram. Frankly, I rarely measure any of it, just toss in pinches. I sometimes substitute a squirt of Dijon mustard for dry mustard.

YIELD: About 6 servings. 

Hats off to Christmas at the farmers market

Reasons to smile felt scarce this weekend. But who can resist Clark Griswold and his cousin Eddie?

Actually, those hearty fellows are honey seller Wayne Hansen (right) and Jeff Lazaro, who sells infused olive oils. They had side-by-side tables Saturday in the very chilly open-air building at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Yorkmont Road.

I was surprised at how many vendors were up and running at the market on Saturday morning. There were piles of fresh broccoli, kale, lettuce, pecans, eggs and more. If the past is an indication, next Saturday will be full, too. Then in January, the market will continue but some of the offerings will dwindle.

So really, you need to get out there and stock up. The stuff is so fresh, it will keep a couple of weeks.   You need to be ready to keep those New Year's resolutions to eat more fresh, local food.

And while my hat is off to Wayne and Jeff for coming out in the cold, I certainly hope they keep their own hats on.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Piped-icing dreams: Gingerbread Lane is open for viewing

Politicians get to kiss babies and food editors get to judge gingerbread houses. I can count on at least one annual stroll through Christmas creations with a clipboard in my hand. Late Wednesday afternoon, I threaded my way through the traffic to Ballantyne for a return visit to the Ballantyne Hotel's annual Gingerbread Lane contest.

We've got some amazing gingerbread artists in this area. A few of the creations on display are on par with the work you'd see at the Grove Park Inn's annual extravaganza in Asheville, and that brings entries from all over the country. Gingerbread Lane gets a combination of amateur and professional entries. ("Internal" entries are built by various teams of hotel staff and aren't open for judging.)

Winners are below, although you also can pay a $1 to vote on your favorite (benefits the Levine Children's Hospital) for a People's Choice award that will be announced after Christmas.

A few highlights:

Darin Cheney's "Christmas at Temple Square" (right) is serious eye candy  among the amateur entries. With glowing candy windows, it soars like a real cathedral.

Take a good look at the Budweiser wagon, "Here Comes the King." It looks like a toy wagon, but it actually is all made of gingerbread, right down to the beer crates and the sugar-sculpted Clydesdales. I was so fascinated, I forgot to raise my camera and snap a picture. You'll have to go see it.

One of my personal favorites was the Frederick Family's "Signs of Life," a gingerbread surface of  Mars, with the Curiosity rover encountering a gingerbread UFO unleashing an invasion of gummy aliens. Oh please, when the real Curiosity analysis is in, let Mars really turn out to be littered with French burnt peanuts.

And it's too bad there isn't a category for funniest gingerbread creation, because the zombie invasion "'T'was the Night of the Living Bread" by the Donkel Family really takes the ginger cake. Gingerbread men attacking and biting off pieces of each other -- sorry, but it made me laugh. Look for the one with bugged-out eyes after someone bit off the top of his head.

Gingerbread Lane is open for display through Dec. 25 at the Ballantyne Hotel, 10000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

1st place: Penny Cunningham, Peppermint House (the snowman in progress pictured at the top is a detail of that one).
2nd: Jill Delmastro (Cake Lady Jill), 12 Days of Christmas.
3rd: Mary Jayne Burris, Amelie's French Bakery, Tour de Eiffel

1st: Darin Cheney, Christmas at Temple Square
2nd: Alice Kerrigan, Home Sweet Home
3rd: Julie and Michael Andreacola, Here Comes the King.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How's Charlotte's sprouted grain pizza?

The website Serious Eats has a post picking over the pizzas at Pure Pizza in the 7th Street Market, particularly Peter Reinhart's sprouted-grain pizza. The verdict: Mixed, but hopeful for the future.

L.A. writer Lance Roberts asks commenters to weigh in, though, so here's a link: Sprouted Grain Thoughts.

In the meantime, I thought Roberts had an interesting description of the evolving lineup at the 7th Street Market. He called it "an upscale farmer's market/food court in Charlotte's uptown," which I thought summed up what the market is becoming as well as any description I've seen.

Thoughts on that? Post 'em here. Thoughts on the pizza crust? Post 'em there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cooking Uptown closed?

I was sorry to hear about the apparent closing of  Cooking Uptown, the kitchen gear store with cooking classes near 7th Street and Hawthorne Avenue in Elizabeth.

Although there's no sign on the door and I haven't been able to reach owner Karen Cooley,  one former cooking teacher told me the store closed in October. The website is inactive and the phone number is disconnected.

If anyone knows of future plans for the store, drop me an email at

Cooking classes coming up

Giving a class for a gift? Or taking one as a gift to yourself? Here are a few to consider:

Polish pierogi at the Harvest Moon Grille, at the Dunhill Hotel, 235 N. Tryon St., 2 p.m. Dec. 23. Taught by chef Cassie  Parsons, who'll share the recipe she learned from her mother. $25 and it includes pierogis to take home. 704-342-1193 for reservations.

Sweet Suite Fridays at the Ritz-Carlton. Limited to three couples per weekend: You get an overnight stay in a suite, a Saturday morning dessert-cooking class for two at the Cocoa Lab, and a Ritz-Carlton apron. Cost: From $459 per night, including valet parking, an in-room gift from Bar Cocoa and a special late checkout (3 p.m.) on Saturday. Available Jan. 11, 18 or 25; must be booked seven days in advance. Call 1-800-241-3333.

Tasty Tour Around the World, taught by Carrie Hegnauer (AKA Culinary Carrie), starting Jan. 12 at The Kitch, 8305D Magnolia Estates Drive, Cornelius. All classes are from 5-9 p.m. Saturdays and cost $95 ($50 discount if you sign up for all four):

  • Asian Cuisine, Jan 12.
  • The Mediterranean, Jan. 26.
  • The Greek Isles, March 2.
  • Italian Cuisine, March 23. 
  • Also: Be My Valentine Couples Class, Feb. 16, $170 for two. 

Seating is limited; reservations are required. Sign up at


Monday, December 10, 2012

One Great . . . winter tomato

I'm a salad girl, happy to fill out any meal plan by simply jotting " . . . and salad."

The green part of the salad is easy all year: Our climate is so temperate that I get locally grown lettuce right through the winter from several farmers.

But salad isn't made by lettuce alone. So I branch out in winter, looking for other things to add. Radishes are sometimes around. Carrots are possible, although I find it hard settling on the right way to cut them: Grated isn't substantial enough, slices can be too substantial. Roasted and chilled works better. Toasted nuts, dried fruit, even orange segments all get salad duty.

What's difficult, though, is coming up with some version of tomatoes. I refuse to give in to the temptation of winter tomatoes. No matter how red they are, they just don't work for me.

Recently, I got the idea to play with roasting canned tomatoes and using them as a cold salad ingredient. There are plenty of recipes for boosting the flavor of canned tomatoes by roasting them, but those are mostly used as pasta ingredients. I wanted something more salad-like, something with a little sweetness and tanginess. I hit on this.

We like it so much, we've even put tablespoons of it on sandwiches and hamburgers. They don't taste like fresh tomatoes, but they have more flavor than canned tomatoes. Maybe they'll help you hang on until next summer.

Sweet and Tangy  Tomatoes

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

DRAIN the juice from the tomatoes and set aside. (You can discard it, or refrigerate it and use it for pasta sauces or soups.) Place the tomatoes in a single layer in an 8-inch baking dish or pan.

SPRINKLE the brown sugar over the tomatoes, then sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar and the salt. Drizzle with the olive oil. Place in a 350-degree oven for about 1 hour, until they're browned in spots.

REMOVE from oven and cool. Pack into a jar or airtight container with any accumulated cooking juice and refrigerate. Chop up into salads, add to pasta dishes or use as a sandwich topping. Keeps a couple of weeks.

YIELD: About 2 cups.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Have a drink with Mr. Rachael Ray

In 2003,  before "E-VOO" was a catchphrase and "Yum-O" was the name of a foundation, I interviewed a young woman named Rachael Ray, the host of a very useful food-travel show called "$40 a Day." It was easy to do:  I just called her. She was a great interview -- funny, quick to share tips and very down to earth.

Next week, Ray will come through Charlotte to sign a book that's the second she's written this year and at least the 20th she's written overall. This time, setting up an interview took more than 25 emails exchanged with two members of her staff.

But when I finally got her on the line for a few minutes Tuesday morning, she was still a good interview. Funny, gracious and down to earth. Just a lot richer than she used to be.

Add caption

One of the things we talked about was our husbands: We both are married to men who like to make cocktails and who are really good at washing the dishes.

"It's like we won some weird freakish lottery of the universe," she said.

 John Cusimano is a musician and manager of Ray's now-wide media company. Recently, she caught herself fussing at him for cleaning the kitchen and then she stopped and thought, "What am I doing? Let the man clean!"

Ray's new book, "My Year in Recipes," has a design trick. When you flip it over, the back third is designed as a separate book,written by Cusimano, called "My Year in Cocktails."

As an appreciator of good cocktails and good husbands, I felt bad that my interview with Ray didn't have room to pay more attention to Cusimano's contribution. Since next Wednesday is 12,/12/12 and a lot of people are suggesting celebrating "lucky number day" with a cocktail, I thought I'd share one from Cusimano's side of the book.

Warm Skater's Toddy

From "My Year in Cocktails," by John Cusimano (Atria/Simon & Schuster, $29.99). He notes that this makes more whipped cream than you need for just 1 drink. So you'll have to share.

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 ounces dark rum
3 ounces boiling water
Pinch each of freshly grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon and ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar

Whip the cream in a cold bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir in the maple syrup and vanilla.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a heatproof mug. Add some of the whipped cream mixture and stir until blended. Garnish with additional grated nutmeg.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One Great orange-soy chicken thighs

Wings are wonderful, chicken breasts have their place. But there's just not much better for a fast meal than chicken thighs.

On a recent Sunday night, I needed something simple that didn't require a trip to the store. I had a few clementine oranges rolling around the produce drawer, a package of chicken thighs in the freezer and even a bottle of mirin -- sweetened sake -- in the cupboard. Add jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk, edamame and some glazed carrots and a winter night got much nicer.

If you end up with leftover glaze, you can refrigerate it and use it later in the week on swordfish or salmon.

Orange- and Soy-Glazed Chicken Thighs

Adapted heavily from Fine Cooking magazine.

4 to 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup soy sauce (preferably low-sodium)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
Grated zest from 1 small orange, such as a clementine or tangerine
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice from a clementine or tangerine (or a regular orange)
1 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Line the bottom of a broiler pan with foil and spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray. Place the top rack in the top center position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides and place on the rack, skin up. Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, until the thighs are browning around the edges.

While the thighs are roasting, combine the soy sauce, sugar, mirin and orange zest in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir together the orange juice and cornstarch in a small bowl, then stir into the saucepan. Return to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Remove the broiler pan from the oven. Brush each thigh well with the sauce, turning to coat the bottoms too. Return to the broiler pan, skin up. Return to the oven and roast 5 minutes or so, until browned but not burned.

Remove from oven and drizzle with a little more sauce. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with hot, cooked rice. Refrigerate remaining glaze and use with fish or chicken on another night. Bring to a boil before using.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings. 

Latkes and Barking Dogs chocolates

Friday is going to be a busy day at the Atherton Market.

First: The Great Latke Making Demonstration. Actually, the official name is the Third Annual Potato Pancake Demo and Festival. But since when does Bill Averbach follow rules?

 Market regulars know Bill as Pickleman, the owner of the Pickleville stand, and he's often doing something to attract attention. So when Bill makes potato pancakes, you might want to stand back. Especially since one of the things he'll be doing is the Three-Minute Latke. This year, he's going to attempt to make 1,000 latkes in 3 hours. The potato pancakes are free and you can make lunch off them.  The potato pancake celebration is from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Next, there's a special Holiday Market with extra arts and crafts from 4 to 8 p.m.  And that includes a special appearance by Barking Dog Chocolatier.

 For those who don't know Barking Dog, Joal Fischer and Deborah Lansam make high-quality, hand-made chocolates and donate all the profits to local charities. They've been doing it for 12 years and they've given almost $60,000 to groups like SupportWorks (which Joal runs), Friendship and N.C. MedAssist.

Usually, you can only get Barking Dog at certain restaurants or online, so this is a rare chance to buy them in a retail setting. Prices range from $8 to $16 and they'll include things like their Rare Breeds truffle sampler, the six-flavor Bark sampler, and Pupcorn, dark chocolate with carmelized popcorn, toasted almonds and honey pecans. If you need more information, their website is 

The Atherton Market is at 2104 South Blvd., near Tremont and South Boulevard.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is it Jane Parker fruit cake time?

For Jane Parker fruitcake fans (and believe me -- there is no bigger fruitcake nut than a Jane Parker fruitcake nut): The Jane Parker website is ready to take your orders. Go to and peruse the selection, including both light and dark fruitcakes, ranging in price from the 1-pound dark cake for $27.49 up to the 4.5-pound light fruitcake ring for $46.49.

If you aren't a Jane Parker fruitcake nut, a brief explanation: Jane Parker is the house brand for the A&P supermarket stores, which once were all over the South. Although A&P stores are now harder to find, some of its brands, including Jane Parker, are still made and sold at various chains around the country, such as PathMark, Waldbaum's and The Food Emporium.

For many people who grew up in the South in the 1950s and '60s, Jane Parker cakes were as much a part of Christmas as spray-on snow and aluminum Christmas trees with blue ornaments. So when the stores dwindled and the cake got hard to find, it become a yearly ritual to track down an elusive cake.

Nowadays, you can not only get them through the A&P company, you can find them on Amazon. But Santa doesn't travel as fast as he used to, so it's time to get those orders in.

Let me know if you spot an elf riding a Norelco shaver.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Barbecue: Are those fighting words?

Washington Post contributor Jim Shahin had some choice words for Charlotte barbecue recently. Stopping in Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, he contemplated our city while getting a barbecue sandwich from Brookwood Farms Carolina Pit BBQ:

"I was in an airport, ordering faux Carolina ’cue, and I was lost. Technically, I suppose, I was in Charlotte. But the city is itself lost, barbecue-speaking. It does not adhere to one of the state’s famously partisan styles, whether Eastern or Western.
"As a city within one of the great barbecue regions, Charlotte is regarded as a barbecue embarrassment. If Charlotte were a relative, it would be the one everyone wished didn’t come to Thanksgiving."

Is that fair? Is Charlotte that much of an embarrassment? Does someone from Washington -- the  flattest flavor spot between Baltimore and New York -- have any experience at knowing what tastes good?

Share your opinion here and we'll pass them on to Shahin. A few ground rules: Keep your response concise; don't use profanity; and keep the personal insults to a minimum. Although Shahin did call our city an embarrassment. So the personal insults have already started to fly.

Even more cookbooks for your gift list

What's harder than deciding which cookbook to buy? Deciding which cookbook to review. In Sunday's Observer, I picked four (for the record, I didn't suggest my own book, "Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook" - writer Pam Kelley made that decision).

In Wednesday's Food section, fellow writer Andrea Weigl and I named our seven picks. But we knew that it wouldn't be enough and that we both would have our own favorites. So here are a half-dozen more that are my picks, plus a recap of the ones we're already suggested.

Even Santa should be able to find something to cook:

Comfort Me With Offal, by Ruth Bourdain (Andrews McMeel, $19.99). Will the real Ruth Bourdain please not stand up? The joke is more fun if we never know who is behind the food-writing parody "Ruth Bourdain" - a mashup of impossibly elegant Ruth Reichl and always profane Anthony Bourdain. RB started as a Twitter account, but the book stretches the joke past 140 characters. It's a sendup of foodie-world pretensions, like a guide to "nose to tail" eating that includes probiscus monkeys and a chart to decide if you're a celebrity chef ("does the inside of a QVC studio feel homey?") Rock on, Ruth, whoever you are.

 "Southern Comfort," by Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing (Ten Speed Press, $35). Both chefs who moved back to Louisiana after a foray in New York, the Rushings are unabashed lovers of bold, hearty, homey Southern cooking. These are the kind of recipes you'd make on a Sunday afternoon when you want to hang out with a bunch of friends and eat something good.

"Fred Thompson's Southern Sides" (UNC Press, $35). Sometimes the side dishes are the best things on the plate. Raleigh food writer Thompson pulls from his family history and his own extensive experience for these 250 recipes. (Disclosure: Fred and I both have books from UNC Press.)

"Burma: Rivers of Flavor," by Naomi Duguid (Artisan, $35). I wrote a column about Duguid's Burma trek earlier this year, but her cookbook is definitely worth a deeper look. For global eaters, it's an exploration of a cuisine that is still a surprise, with a range of new flavors and techniques.

"Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes," by Alice Medrich (Artisan, $25.95). Medrich has always been one of our most innovative and creative food writers. She's not a baker so much as someone who loves all things sweet and knows how to lead your tastebuds in new paths.

"How to Cook Everything: The Basics," by Mark Bittman (Wiley, $35). Every year, I get questions about which book to buy for a beginning cook. This would be an excellent choice: It has more than 1,000 photos, including steps, and like his earlier "Everything" books, the recipes are accessible without being dumb. You can start here and learn enough to go a long way in the kitchen.

RECAP: What else have we suggested?

"Bouchon Bakery," by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan, $50).
"Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking," by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim (Andrews McMeel, $40).
"Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook," by Kathleen Purvis (UNC Press, $18).
"Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook," by Debbie Moose (UNC Press, $18).
"Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubert (Gibbs Smith, $45).
"Great Meat Cookbook," by Bruce Aidells (Houghton Mifflin, $40).
"Barefoot Contessa Foolproof," by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35).
"Fix It & Freeze It, Heat It & Eat It," by Southern Living (Oxmoor House, $19.95).
"The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook," by Deb Perelman (Knopf, $35).
"Japanese Farm Food," by Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Andrews McMeel, $35).
"Flour Water Salt Yeast," by Ken Forkish (Ten Speed Press, $35).

One Great . . . fast breakfast

One of the great things about being the recipe clearinghouse is that readers are always making sure I remember old recipes. You lose it, I look for it and then I get to take a second look.

A few weeks ago, a reader was looking for an oatmeal recipe that her sister had found in the Observer years ago. All she remember was the date -- sometime around 2007 -- and that it involved sticking oatmeal in the refrigerator overnight.

I can't always work miracles to find missing recipes. We switched from paper clip files to an electronic version in 1985, the same year I started working here. If it's before 1985, you're out of luck. But after that, if I have a clear phrase or a distinct word, I can usually track it down.

That worked in this case. And when I looked at the recipe, I set aside for my own uses, too. At this time of year, I'm just as likely to eat oatmeal for a late dinner as an early breakfast. Thanks, reader.

Overnight Pineapple Oats

From "The Short-Cut Vegetarian," by Lorna Sass (Quill, $16). You could probably use  nonfat milk if you don't keep rice or soy milk (or almond milk) on hand. And you'd never miss 1/4 teaspoon of cardomom.

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 (8-ounce) can unsweetened crushed pineapple
1 1/2 cups rice or soy milk
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 or 2 sliced bananas
1/4 cup toasted nuts (I'd go with pecans, but that's me)

COMBINE  oats, pineapple, milk, cardamom and salt in a glass or plastic bowl. Stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, stir in the banana and top with nuts.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Friday, November 16, 2012

One Great . . . Thanksgiving salad

Looking through all the Thanksgiving recipes we've run in the last two weeks, what haven't we covered? Ah, a good salad.

You need something sturdy, in case you're taking it for a potluck. It should be simple to make. Colorful, of course. And it should be something everyone will like, even the ones who think they hate broccoli.

Where will I find such a recipe? Hey, that book about pecans looks familiar. I wonder what kind of recipes I could find there?

Broccoli-Pecan Salad

From "Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook," by Kathleen Purvis (UNC Press, 2012).

1 small head of broccoli, cut into florests (save the stalks for another use)
1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
1/2 of a medium red onion, minced
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans
4 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons nonfat milk
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt

TOSS the broccoli, cranberries, onion and pecans in a large serving bowl.

WHISK together the mayonnaise, sugar, milk, vinegar and salt in a small bowl. Pour over the salad and toss to mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do you trust your food information?

My column on California's vote on GMO labeling actually started several weeks before the election, at the James Beard Foundation's annual October food conference.

A little background: I am the chair of the JBF Leadership Awards, which honor people and organizations for their work on things like sustainable agriculture, sound food policy and safe food systems. For the record, my role was to craft the procedures for how the awards work, but I don't vote on the honorees. I helped to lay the tracks and I make sure the train runs on time, but I don't drive the train. Setting it up that way was my attempt to avoid a conflict of interest with people and issues I cover.

As part of the Leadership Awards for several years now, the foundation holds a conference on food policy. The conference covers everything from sustainable policies to the future of food. This year, conference director Mitchell Davis set up an intriguing and thought-provoking subject -- trust. Trust in your food supply, trust in food information, trust in food regulation.

It was edgy stuff. There were discussions on the pressures within the dairy industry, and the role of government in creating food systems we trust. Dennis Treacy, the chief sustainability officer for Smithfield, set on a panel with Tensie Whelan from the Rainforest Alliance, Shauna Sadowski from Annie's and Hal Hamilton of the Sustainable Food Lab -- and looked some vocal critics straight in the eye.

The panel that caught my attention, though, was the one on GMOs. That's the one I quoted from in my column. Jason W. Clay, one of the winners of this year's Leadership Awards and the VP of market transformation for the World Wildlife Fund, spoke sensibly and reasonably about the importance of research into GMOs, which usually are shorthand for "evil empire." It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon after a big lunch, in a sunny 44th-floor conference room with windows overlooking Central Park -- and I was not only fully awake, I was transfixed by what he had to say.

Yes, I know that it's easy to make snap judgments about food science. It's faster to decide "I don't like it in my gut" than it is to do the hard slog of reading through reporters and research, to sift through seemingly conflicting bits of information to decide whether what your gut is telling you is something you can trust. But as Jason Clay is fond of saying, "It’s not what to think, it’s how to think."

You can see clips of all the panels on Livestream, including that panel with Clay and moderator Fred Kaufman, a contributing editor at Harper's and author of "Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food." The other I'd recommend: The talk by one of the other Leadership Awards honorees, Kentucky farmer, poet and farm activist Wendell Berry, on the 50-Year Farm Bill and the future of American agriculture.

Monday, November 12, 2012

High 5 for Polka Dot Bakery and Cupcrazed

Great news for Charlotte's Polka Dot Bakeshop and Fort Mill's Cupcrazed Cakery: They both made the list of the 50 Best Cupcake Bakeries in the country.

The website is fond of posting slideshows (the better to log lots of clicks) with the editors' picks for best in a number of food categories. This time, they ranked cupcake places, with drool-worthy pictures. A couple of bakeries with national reps didn't rank all that highly -- New York's Magnolia Bakery came in at a lowly 43 out of 50, while Baked by Melissa ended up at No. 22.

Cupcrazed, which came to national fame on the Food Network show "Cupcake Wars," was ranked No. 38, with shoutouts for its flavors and its great customer service.

Meanwhile, Polka Dot Bakery broke into the Top 10, at the No. 6 slot. Daily Meal editors called it "the price and joy of Charlotte, North Carolina," and said, "They pour their hearts into creating a delectable menu."

And if you want to try the No. 1 pick for best cupcake bakery, it's not a very long drive: The honor went to the Atlanta Cupcake Factory.

Here's the slide show: Best Cupcake Bakeries. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anybody here seen sweet things?

You guys are the reason I spent several days on the road in late October, loading my car with cookies, the elusive iced brownies, nutty fingers and cream horns. (Um, thanks.)

In January, Bill Addison wrote a piece on Southern bakeries for Southern Living magazine. To my surprise, there were no local bakeries on the list. So I wrote a blog post and threw it open to you, the readers: Where would you send Southern Living to taste bakeries around here?

I figured I might get a baker's dozen replies or so. To my surprise, I got 53, a long list of bakeries from Harrisburg to Pineville. There was a roundup of Charlotte favorites, of course -- Amelie's and Nona's, Tizzerts and Suarez. All fine bakeries.

But what really caught my attention were the small-town places. I can't believe in all these years, no one told me about the wonders of the Albemarle Sweet Shop's clown cookies (above) or the cheese rings at Carswell in Rock Hill. Or the pecan pie cupcake "under glass" (right)  at Just Baked, in a comfortable old house in Cornelius.

My editors and I agreed that a bakery tour of the countryside was in order. The result was today's story.

Now, I knew the whole time that there would be more bakeries than I could possibly include. And everybody has their own standard for how to pick a bakery. Before I hit the road, I wrote out my own Sweet-Stuff Manifesto, what I was looking for in a good small-town bakery:

It should smell warm and sugary and buttery. It shouldn’t be all glass and plastic.
It should have people behind the counter who look like they sometimes get floured handprints on their backsides and don’t even notice.
It should have cookies and layer cakes and a good slice of pie, not just cupcakes. But if it has  cupcakes, they're as much about the cake as the frosting.
It should have a short list of great stuff, not a long list of good stuff.
It shouldn’t have so few things in the case that you’re forced to eat something you don’t want.
It should be a place where people come to sit and be comfortable and eat something they know they shouldn’t but know they can.
It should have cakes with names instead of just flowers. 
When you ask what the most popular thing is, the people behind the counter should know and not just say "oh, everything is good."
It should make you feel a little bit like a kid again. 

So, what about you? What places did I miss? Is there another Albemarle Sweet Shop hiding out there? Post a comment and let me know. I'm always looking for an excuse to hit the road.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One Great . . . simple party dip

Back when the World Wide Web was still called the World Wide Web, it didn't take long to notice that the whole thing was made for recipe searches. But with so many early players stumbling around, how did you know where to start?

That's why we quickly learned to appreciate the cleverly named Epicurious. Built by Conde Nast, it contained recipes from both of its food publications, Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines. It was a rarity in the too-much-to-see web world: Something that actually did make life simpler.

Over the years, Epicurious has spawned a lot more, including the blog, and its recipe database has grown to include more than 180,000 recipes, from members, cookbooks and all kinds of sources. If you're looking for it, Epicurious has probably got at least one version of it.

Epicurious editor Tanya Steel and her editors have now reversed the old print-to-web path. They've sorted through their databases to find the highest-rated recipes and put them in a book, "The Epicurious Cookbook: More Than 250 Our Our Best-Loved Four-Fork Recipes" (Clarkson Potter, $27.99).

Recipes? Printed? What a startling concept. I wonder if it will catch on.

Cuppa Cuppa Cuppa Dip

An Epicurious member posted a family recipe that may be the easiest dip every printed. It's certainly the easiest to remember.

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded imported Swiss cheese
1 cup minced onion
Crackers or pita chips, for serving

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir together the mayonnaise, cheese and onion in a medium mixing bowl. Transfer to a shallow, 1-quart baking dish and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Serve with crackers or pita chips.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Monday, November 5, 2012

On the pecan road in Whiteville

I'll admit it: Whiteville, N.C., on U.S. 74 about 60 miles before Wilmington, is usually known to me for two things: Speeding tickets (see "60 miles before Wilmington," above - and yes, the locals do joke about that), and the classic chili dogs at Ward's Grill.

After this weekend, I have a few more things to add to my list of Whiteville experiences. I took my book, "Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook," to Whiteville for the annual N.C. Pecan Harvest Festival:

1. Whiteville now has a notable restaurant, the Southern Kitchen. The Southern Kitchen, 606 S. Madison St., has been a number of kinds of restaurants over the years, but because the building   has a lovely old neon sign that says "The Southern Kitchen," they've all had the same name. Now it's called The New Southern Kitchen, and it features French/Southern/Asian food cooked by Sokun Slama.

Slama is a native of Cambodia whose family had to flee the Khmer Rouge. They ended up in Paris, where she trained as a chef. Slama and her husband, Guilliame, first opened two restaurants in Washington, Ga. In 2009, a supporter offered to help them if they would come to Whiteville and open a restaurant. Now they have the New Southern Kitchen and a more casual lunch place, Sophie's Bistro, next door.

Slama is trying to use as much local produce as possible, including locally sourced fish, sweet potatoes (and pecans, of course). One  special  Friday night included an osso bucco-inspired pork shank with pomegranate molasses sauce and spinach gnocchi. I had the Cambodian beef, similar to Vietnam's shaking beef -- thin slices of seared beef on jasmine rice with lots of lemon grass. Not at all what I expected to find on a Friday night in Whiteville, N.C. If you want a look at the menu and pictures of the restaurant, go here.

2. Like every town in a rural area, Whiteville is working hard to get a local-food economy up and running. So while the Byrdville Farm Market, 721 S. Madison St. wasn't completely open yet, I found it fascinating. Owner Susie Rockel is creating an interesting hybrid of a produce store, where she'll stock locally grown produce, and a small cafe, where she'll make a small menu of soups, salads and sandwiches using local ingredients. She even has a cooler labeled "Slow Food Fast," where you can pick up things like pimento salad and other things. Just the thing on your way to the beach, right?

3. Whiteville farmers love their pecans. At the pecan festival, my table of books was right next to the tent to the N.C. Pecan Growers Association. That meant that I spent a lot of time listening to explanations about tree girdlers (they chew a band around small tree limbs until they break them off from the tree) and pecan weevils (they have very long snouts that they stick in a pecan nut when it's green and lay eggs that eventually hatch and destroy the pecans).

There wasn't quite as much pecan stuff at the pecan festival as I had hoped -- I could use a good pair of pecan earrings -- but I did buy a 5-pound sack of new-crop Stuarts, a pecan pie and a paper sack of cinnamon-glazed pecans. And yes, I heard more nut jokes than any Saturday in November ought to involve.

I'm learning that the fun part of having a book is that it gives you a driving tour of your state. At regulation speeds, of course. No tickets, not even in Whiteville.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Go back to school with Deborah Madison

Yes, that would be California chef Deborah Madison. Founder of the iconic San Francisco restaurant Greens as well as an early chef for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Author of the book "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," among others. One of the early lights of the local-food, farm to table movement. These days, she's in Sante Fe, at Cafe Escalera.

Until she leaves Sante Fe to travel to Davidson College. Yes, that would be Davidson, just north of Charlotte, where Madison will do two events next week. For very low prices. Seriously, this is a major opportunity for local-food fans.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, Madison will host a squash tasting at 11 a.m. in the Lilly Family Gallery of the Chambers Building at Davidson. There will be seven or eight squash dishes to taste and instructions on how to cook them. There's no charge to attend. Just show up and learn about squash.

On Friday, Madison will coordinate lunch in the dining hall at Davidson, featuring braised chicken with dried fruit and shallots, savory goat cheese tart, greens with Moroccan spices, and "soups for the soul." Cost for that is $10.25 each, and it's basically lunch in the college dining hall with students -- and a great chef.

Color me Greens, with envy. Welcome, Deborah. And lucky Davidson.

If you need more details, call chef Craig Mombert, 704-894-2600, or the main information line for the college, 704-894-2140. Friday's lunch is in the Vail Commons and the Lilly Family Gallery is on the ground level of Building 54.

PHOTO: Cooking Light.

Which brewery won the battle?

Last week, I ran an item about the Battle of the Brews at the All-American Pub, to raise money for the group 704 Project, which gives grants to local projects.

Organizer Mark Miller told me this week that the event was a bigger success than they ever expected. They had hoped to get 100 people, and got 275. And the group raised $4,300, a lot more than the $1,000 they were hoping to get.

The enthusiasm isn't surprising: If you've gone to any of the events at the local breweries, it's astonishing how much a part of Charlotte life they have become so quickly.

The results: 1st place went to Olde Mecklenburg's Mecktoberfest. Second: NoDa Brewing Co.'s Coco Loco. And third: Triple C's Smoked Amber. Hops, Birdsong and Heist also were competing.

And the best result of all, of course, was the money raised. Olde Meck donated its $1,000 prize to the Charlotte Public Tree Fund. Nice. I'll raise a glass to that.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Locavore lunch with the Girl Scouts

Combine local food, Girl Scouts and a church potluck on Sunday at Wesley United Methodist Church. 

Girl Scout Troop 3260 is hosting a locavore potluck lunch at 12:15 p.m. Sunday at the church, 3715 Rea Road. All you have to bring is a dish to share that's made from locally grown or produced food. 

While the lunch is aimed at church members, a spokesperson for the church said they're willing to  open it to the public. "We'll see what happens," she said Thursday. "I'd never even heard of a locavore before this."


Friday, October 26, 2012

One more barbecue story to end the week

OK, I promise to stop after this. But in a barbecue-centric week, I had to share one last thing.

It was such a beautiful fall Friday that a friend and I had to get outside at lunch. So we headed over to the Men's Fellowship barbecue at First Christian Church at the corner of East Boulevard and Dilworth Road.

What's so special about that? For one thing, the barbecue plates include egg rolls made by the church's  Montagnard community. The Montagnard are people from the hill country of Vietnam who worked with American soldiers during the war. And a crispy egg roll is a very cool thing to find inside your barbecue plate.

Second, I opened my little cup of barbecue sauce and noticed that it wasn't a Carolina-style, vinegar sauce. This was thick, brick-red and peppery. It was also very familiar: It was almost exactly the same as my family's traditional sauce, a fourth-generation sauce recipe handed down in my dad's family in South Georgia.

I took one taste and whispered to my friend: "Hey! That's my family's barbecue sauce!"

"It's really good sauce," she said.

"I know," I said. "I'm telling you. That's my family's Georgia sauce."

One of the volunteers was passing, so I hailed him down to ask about the sauce. After the usual joke -- "If I told you what was in it, I'd have to kill you" -- he started to walk away. Suddenly, he stopped and turned back.

"Wait a minute," he said. "I just realized -- the guy who keeps the sauce recipe in his pocket? He's a Georgia native."

Ha! I know my sauce. A few minutes later, the volunteer stopped by our picnic table and rewarded me with a whole quart of it.

The First Christian Church barbecue is still going on Saturday, from 11 a.m. until dark. Plates are $9 and you can drive through and pick them up to go. Enjoy the egg roll. And the sauce.

One Great . . . alternative barbecue sauce

Despite crazy notions about barbecue being a summer activity, I stick to the tradition that barbecue is for fall. So far, this week of late October has been barbecue-focused for me. I started out Sunday at the Southern Foodways Symposium in Oxford, Miss., where the topic was pitmasters and barbecue. And on Thursday, I made the trek to the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church Barbecue.

Seems fitting to end the week with a barbecue sauce recipe. Instead of the usual vinegar vs. tomato, let's look elsewhere in the South to a delicious sauce that was featured at SFA on a Saturday night.

During the day at SFA, there were scholarly papers on pig history and panel discussions on the state of barbecue in America. But on Saturday night, at Woodson Ridge Farm outside Oxford, they gathered a bunch of barbecue experts to cook up several styles for tasting. Sam Jones of Ayden, N.C., and Rodney Scott of Hemingway, S.C., cooked whole pig. Ed Mitchell of Wilson and Durham cooked Brunswick stew. Tim Byres of Dallas served up beef ribs.

But the one I kept revisiting was Pat Martin's Alabama-style smoked chicken, chopped into quarters and tossed with this stuff. Argue all you want about different styles. This stuff is made for chicken.

MissAlaTenn White Barbecue Sauce

From Pat Martin of Martin's Bar-B-Q Joint in Nolensville, Tenn.

4 cups mayonnaise
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 (heaping) tablespoons salt
2 (heaping) tablespoons black pepper
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

COMBINE all the ingredients in a large bowl. Stir well. Put into a squirt bottle and squirt it or brush it on chicken. Or do it how Martin was doing it: Use it as a basting sauce, then chop the cooked chicken into quarters and toss it in a bowl with more sauce. Messy, but seriously good.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Barbecue and beer (not at the same time)

You've never been to the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church barbecue? This is the 83rd year, so it's not like you haven't had time.

You've never joined that line of cars creeping up Mallard Creek Road, walked through that line of politicians, balanced your plate on the trestle tables while you perch on a wiggly metal folding chair?

You've never contemplated what the white bread is for, and mixed your pork with a little apple sauce and slaw just to see what that's like, and debated their unique formula for Brunswick stew?

You've never waved at people you haven't seen all year -- or desperately searched your brain to identify the person who just waved so enthusiastically at you?

You've never sat with your plate on a perfect, sunny fall day and admired that tin can of flowers on the table and tried several squirts of sauce to decide how you really like it?

You've never stopped by the back of the building where the Brunswick stew pots are, to watch those hard-working women stir?

Well, for heaven't sake -- don't start this year. It's a presidential election year and it's going to be crowded enough. And . . . I want to make sure I get my plate before you get there.

Oh, if you insist: Here are the details, prices, directions and hours. If you must. And that picture at the top? I have no idea when I shot it. Because that's really what I love best about Mallard Creek Thursday: Every year is exactly like the year before. And the year before. For 83 times.

On to beer: Here we go, from old Charlotte traditions to new ones. If you haven't started exploring Charlotte's new craft-beer movement, you're missing out on a lot of fun and some darn good beer.

We're up to 9 local breweries now. Nine? Seriously?

Tonight from 7 to 10 p.m., you can explore at least six of them and vote for your favorite at the Battle of the Brews at  All-American Pub, 200 E. Bland St. Tickets are $15 at the door (they were $10 in advance, but I didn't get the information about it in time). It raises money for the 704 Project, a group that gathers money and gives grants to local projects.

And one more barbecue: If you can't make it up to Mallard Creek today, you have another chance at a church barbecue on Friday. The First Christian Church, 1200 East Blvd. at Dilworth Road, will hold its men's fellowship barbecue, with pork shoulders, sauce and coleslaw all made by the church. Plates or pounds are $8, or you can buy a whole cooked shoulder (boned or bone-in) for $30. Stop by between 11 a.m. and sundown on Friday or Saturday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who's got the sexiest fried chicken?

My recent book travels included a precious 24 hours in Nashville, one of the few Southern towns I haven't had the chance to visit.

Big problem, though: No car. I had a shuttle from the airport to downtown, but no way to get from downtown to the one restaurant in Music City that I really wanted to visit.

That, of course, would be Prince's Hot Chicken. In the South, there are two poles in the fried chicken world. One would be Price's Chicken Coop, right here in Charlotte. The other would be Prince's Hot Chicken, in Nashville.

As an aficionado of Price's, I felt I owed it to myself to try Prince's. When it comes to fried chicken, Prince's is a bird of a different feather. It's chicken that's dipped in a hot sauce, rolled in spicy flour, deep-fried, then coated with more hot spice and sprinkled with more red pepper. It's served on a slice of white bread that soaks up the spices -- wouldn't want to miss any -- and topped with pickles.

There's more to the legend, of course. Supposedly, the endorphin rush causes addiction. And, um, there are claims of hotter reactions, including to the libido. Never heard that about Price's.

So I skipped all other arrangements for my trip to Nashville to focus on trying to get a ride to Prince's, in a neighborhood too far from downtown to take a cab. I begged and sent around inquiries, and I thought I had a ride secured. All day Saturday, from book talk to book signing to book-tent duty, I kept trying to hook up. Didn't work. They were tied up, or their schedule never meshed with mine.

I expected to walk away from Nashville, denied glory. But then I looked at the line of food trucks stationed outside the Southern Festival of Books, on War Memorial Plaza. At the end of the row, there was an unassuming white bus: Bolton's Hot Chicken.

Part of the Prince's story is that hot chicken is so addictive, versions of it have spread all over Nashville. Since this was the closest I would get, I decided to at least start my hot-chicken education. I got an order of chicken on a stick, "medium hot," (which earned me an "allllll right!" from the guy inside the bus. Medium is a long way past mild, apparently.)

I sat down with Angela and Paul Knipple, authors of "The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover's Tour of the New American South" and old Tennessee hands. The chicken was on the required slice of white bread.

 "It's to soak up the  spices," Paul explained. "Otherwise, you end up in serious pain." As he said this, he was weeping - he had foolishly put a finger near one eye. Meanwhile, his wife Angela didn't show concern for him or slow down in attacking her chicken.

"This is ice cream for Angela," he said. "It's Parris Island for me."

Bolton's version of spicy chicken was chunks of white meat, threaded on a stick, battered and fried, and covered with a bright red coating of what tasted like a mixture of cayenne and seasoned salt. Good? Very. It wasn't Prince's (or Price's, for that matter). But it was seriously hot, with a lot of flavor. I might have been able to tackle extra-spicy.

As for that addiction thing, I haven't stopped thinking about it and plotting ways to return to Nashville, this time with my own car keys.

Have you been to both Prince's and Price's? Let me know how they compare.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New York to Mississippi in 50 bites

Sometimes covering food can be a mad dash from one kind of food event to another without much chance to chew it over. Between a book ("Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook"), a volunteer job (chair of the James Beard Foundation's Leadership Awards) and a lively interest in Southern food (well, that's just me), I've been to three cities in nine days.

I went from Nashville's Southern Festival of Books to New York's Hearst Tower for the Leadership Awards to Oxford, Miss., for the annual Southern Foodways Symposium. In other words: More mad dashes  through Atlanta Hartsfield Airport than anyone should have to make in a week.

I'll bring more blog posts and columns out of those activities in the next few days, but in the meantime, a quick roundup:

In the pictures above, the young lady with the salad bar strapped around her waist was part of the hors d'oeuvres before dinner at the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards. Yes, she dropped microgreens into your hand so you could taste the variety of them. I wouldn't want to eat a salad like that, but it was an eyecatching display.

At the actual awards dinner, the honorees this year were Kentucky poet and farm activist Wendell Berry;  Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network; Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance; Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. deputy secretary of agriculture;  and Jason Clay, senior vice president of market transformation for the World Wildlife Fund.

Disclosure: I chair the awards, but my role is procedural. As the foundation's request, I helped to shape and define the award and write the bylaws, and I work with the advisers who do the nominating and voting. But I do not nominate or vote.

Right after the awards dinner, I headed on to Memphis, to rent a car for the drive to Oxford, Miss., for the Southern Foodways Symposium. I've been attending SFA every few years since the second one, about 14 years ago. It's stunning to see how much this group as grown, from 100 people that first year to 350 and not-quite-too-large this year. We almost overwhelmed tiny Oxford, although the people around town have gotten used to us by now.

This year's focus was barbecue and pitmasters, but the real star was the state of North Carolina. That's Sam Jones (above left) of the Skylight Inn in Ayden chopping barbecue at an event on Woodson Ridge Farms outside town. Ed Mitchell also was there with a lovely version of Brunswick stew. But they weren't the only N.C. chefs feeding us. In such a meat-centric gathering, chef Ashley Christensen of Poole's Dinner (et al) in Raleigh managed to bring down the house with an all-vegetable lunch. It was like nothing I had ever eaten: Deviled-egg salad on fried sourdough slices, creamed cider-braised greens, poblano peppers stuffed with kuri squash, coal-roasted sweet potatoes with coffee/sorghum butter, smoked tomato pie topped with cornbread and whipped corn cream, marinated White Acre peas, a mustard green salad with crispy okra and charred onions, and pumpkin hummingbird cake. Seriously, Ashley -- do you ever stop?

One morning's breakfast was the incredible pastrami from Neal's Deli in Carrboro, served on biscuits as big as your hand by Matt and Sheila Neal themselves.

And there were more N.C. folk: Writer Mark Essig of Asheville gave an eye-opening talk on the history of pigs, novelist Monique Truong ("The Book of Salt" and "Bitter in the Mouth") stunned the audience with a beautifully written "love letter:" to Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge that also was a rumination on her childhood as the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants in Boiling Springs, and UNC Chapel Hill professor and novelist Randall Kenan read his own piece on . . . well, OK, it was on hog sex. But it was great. You had to be there.

Finally, the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award went to Ben and Karen Barker (below), who recently closed their legendary Magnolia Grill in Durham to spend more time with their family. There was a time when fine dining in North Carolina pretty much was Magnolia Grill. From what I saw, ate and heard this weekend, Ben and Karen are leaving our state food legacy in safe and very lively hands.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Stop fussing about N.C. barbecue - fuss about S.C. instead

"Like everything in South Carolina, we cook barbeque cantankerously. We smoke our meat with hundreds of opinions and often with a sense of injured pride." 

That's the opening line to a new blog post on the state of barbecue in the U.S., the food-related website from news network CNN, has been running the series of blog posts from the Southern Foodways Alliance in advance of this week's annual Southern Foodways Symposium, where the subject is (once again) barbecue.

I end up fielding a lot of heat and flash around N.C. barbecue, but our brethren in South Carolina are just a few miles down the road and have barbecue opinions that are just as heated. I myself have made many stops at Sweatman's Barbecue near Florence, strictly in the interest of paying due diligence to understanding that mustard-based sauce. As the SFA blog post says,"The whole state is a big messy spill of sauces."

I'm headed out on the road Tuesday, first to New York for the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards, which I chair, and then on to Oxford, Miss., for the Southern Foodways Symposium. I'll tweet all the way and will bring back as much wisdom as I encounter.

In the meantime, give the post a read and see what you think. N.C. barbecue brings heated debate. Anyone want to join in with an opinion on S.C. 'cue?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Get a taste of bubbles, bub

There's nothing like a Grande Dame, at least among Champagne fans. The Wine Shop of Dilworth is offering a Champagne tasting -- yes, real French Champagne, hence the capital "C" -- that ought to make you sit up and take notice.

For $25, you'll be led through a tasting of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin by Rich Buchanan of Moet Hennessy. This is a sit-down, tutored tasting, so you will learn a lot. And the five wines he'll be pouring are definitely special: Veuve Clicquot nonvintage brut, Veuve nonvintage brut rose, vintage 2004 brut and brut rose and that special lady, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2004. And because those are Champagnes that deserve to be tasted with wine, there also will be appetizers prepared by local chef Thomas Carrig.

This tasting is 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, at the Wine Shop Dilworth, 2442 Park Road, and you definitely need a reservation. Call 704-377-5373. And I'd do it soon.

One Great . . . easy batch of biscuits

Biscuits aren't hard to make, but they definitely take practice. If you don't have time to practice, you get discouraged and don't make biscuits. See a vicious cycle starting here?

Flipping through the new book "In the Kitchen With David," by QVC host and Charlotte native David Venable, a biscuit recipe caught my eye. A very simple recipe from Venable's mom, Sarah Venable of Charlotte, this is as easy as it gets. In fact, Venable says, this is the bread that's always on the table for holidays and always whenever he served his mother's pot roast recipe.

If it involves a man's mother's pot roast, you know it's got to be good.

Mom's Mayonnaise Drop Biscuits
From Sarah Venable in "In the Kitchen With David," by David Venable (Ballantine Books, $30). This originally used buttermilk, but when they once ran out, Venable's mother improvised and the biscuits turned out even better.

Vegetable oil spray
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 cups self-rising flour (see note)
1/3 cup mayonnaise (not light or reduced-fat)

PREHEAT the oven to 450 degrees. Generously spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray.

COMBINE the milk and vinegar in a measuring cup and stir to blend. Combine the flour and mayonnaise in a large bowl and stir until combined. Add the milk-vinegar mixture and stir with a fork until just combined. Don't overmix. The batter will be stiff.  Evenly divide the batter among the cups of the prepared muffin pan.

BAKE the biscuits for 15 minutes, until puffy and golden brown. Serve immediately.

NOTE: If you don't have self-rising flour, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One Great . . . crispy garlic bread

Fall is the time for baked pasta, and baked pasta is the time for garlic bread. From October through March, many of my nightly meal plans can be written as "some kind of pasta, green salad, garlic bread."

After awhile, those frozen loaves in the paper/foil wrapper just don't cut it. Too doughy, too soggy, not enough flavor. If something represents a third of my plate, I'd like it to be more of an event.

I had been hanging on to this recipe from Cook's Country for a couple of years when I noticed it recently in the stack of "recipes I need to try." I'm sorry I waited: It's got a powerful amount of flavor and it turns out garlic bread that is just soft enough inside and just crispy enough outside. The original recipe made 12 slices. I sized it down for 8 slices, the perfect amount for 4 people, but I included the original amounts at the bottom, along with a cheese option. You might want more of this one.

Crispy Garlic Bread

From the October/November 2010 issue of Cook's Country magazine. For the bread, get a loaf of French or Italian bread from the bakery area of the supermarket. You want bread that's kind of soft and not too crusty.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
8 (1-inch-thick) slices Italian bread

PREHEAT oven to 425 degrees with rack in the center position. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack to warm. (When I tested the recipe, I was baking lasagne at 350 degrees. I turned the oven up to 425 but didn't warm the baking sheet and it worked fine.)

PLACE  the butter in a small mixing bowl. Using a rasp grater or the small holes on a box grater, grate the garlic into the butter. (Or you can minced it finely.) Add the sugar, salt and pepper and beat with a fork until well combined. Spread the butter mixture evenly over both sides of each slice of bread.

ARRANGE  the bread slices on the baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the slices with tongs and return to the oven to bake the other side for 5 minutes. Serve warm.

MAKES  4 servings.

NOTE: For 12 slices of bread, or a whole loaf, use 12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks) and 4 cloves garlic, but keep the sugar, salt and pepper the same.

VARIATION: To make a cheese version, sprinkle the bread with 1 to 1 1/2 cups of shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar in the final 1 minute of baking time. You also could add 1 to 2 tablespoons minced chives to the butter mixture.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Road Trip: 8 hours in Chapel Hill

There are only so many meals you can fit in a day. Luckily, a food editor doesn't mind doubling up. Headed to Chapel Hill and Durham for weekend book events for "Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook," I had a longer list than I could possibly reach, especially since Saturday was taken up with book signings from 7:30 a.m. until after 2 p.m.

I had hopes of picking up a pound of the Best Pastrami In the Universe from Neal's Deli in Carrboro, and loading up a cooler with a couple of pounds of Allen & Sons barbecue. Alas, too many miles, not enough hours. For a longer look at the options, bloggers Eric and Sarah Mine did a nice job of rounding up all the Chapel Hill options on a recent post for

Yes, driving the interstates is faster, but my favorite route to either Chapel Hill or Raleigh is U.S. 49/U.S. 64 if I have the time. It takes you past farms and towns like Harrisburg and Denton, and it feels more like North Carolina than Generic Interstate World.

That brought me through Siler City on U.S. 64 in time for an early lunch at Johnson's (above). You have to aim early for Johnson's - the six booths and maybe a dozen seats at the counter fill up and a line forms along the wall well before 12. Claxton Johnson grinds his beef fresh daily and he closes down when he sells out, which is sometimes as early as 1 p.m.

You can get a hot dog but hardly anyone does. Cheeseburgers are the thing, served all the way in true N.C. style - chili, mustard, onions and slaw. They toast the bun, which is a nice touch, and the cheese is Velveeta cut in slabs for the best soft meltability. The sizzle from the griddle never stops and your burger lands in front of you on bakery paper hot and dripping juice.

My second lunch was sheer luck. I tried to find Merritt's Store & Grill on the outskirts of Chapel Hill on another trip but didn't have the address right (1009 S. Columbia St., if that helps you).  This time, I didn't need the address: Coming in from the south on 15/501, following the "downtown" signs on U.S. 86, I glanced over and . . . how can you not spot a chalkboard sign that says "We (Heart) Bacon"?

Merritt's sells all kinds of sandwiches for both breakfast and lunch. But the thing is the BLTs, that come in single, double and triple. I gather that refers to the amount of bacon. And I have to say, a single is so generously porked, a triple must take a whole pig's worth of output. The toughest choice isn't whether to get the BLT or even the size, it's the bread. You can get a BLT on anything from marble rye to potato bread. I went with sour dough, toasted, and I'd highly recommend it.

Is there room for dinner after that? Amazingly, yes. It's been years since I've had time for more than a drink and appetizers at Crook's Corner on West Franklin Street. What to choose? Well, I knew that chef Bill Smith Jr. had recently added a new West Indies Crab Salad, a nice dish of crab meat flecked with either pimento or diced red pepper and served with mustard-topped deviled eggs and plenty of crackers. And that left me with a problem: It was the end of softshell crab season, and I know that Smith really likes to cook soft-shell crabs. We've had some good conversations about it.

So I did what had to be done: A crab symphony. Cold crab salad, followed by hot soft shell crabs topped with a powerful dose of garlic butter and parsley beside soft grits and two flavors of coleslaw. Yes, I was a crabby girl. And a happy one.

So, how did I do for 8 hours? Where would you have eaten instead? With college-tour season coming up, consider it a community service.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Have dinner, raise money for RAIN

The Dining With Friends event Saturday for RAIN -- the regional AIDS Interfaith Network -- reminds me of the days in the 1990s when one of Charlotte's biggest events every year was "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," a fundraiser for the Metrolina AIDS Project.

Both of them have a simple idea: Have a party or go to a party and raise money. The old "Guess" was always held in early May and it always ended with a big dessert party. The newer Dining With Friends ends with dessert and champagne at 9 p.m. at the McColl Center for Visual Art, 721 N. Tryon St. And it's held in October -- Oct. 6, or Saturday night, to be exact.

RAIN hosts are holding more than 25 parties all over town, from sit-down dinners to parties at nightclubs and restaurants. Some people have theme parties; others keep it as simple as barbecue. All the money raised from donations and tickets goes to RAIN.
If you aren't going to or giving a party, you can still donate. Or you can sign up to go to the McColl dessert party ($30 in advance or at the door). Or sign up to go to a public party given by the Drex and Maney Show for KISS95.1 FM at Blackfinn American Saloon at the Epicentre from 7-9 p.m. Saturday.

Get information on all of it at

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Want to make sausage?

Of all the things I've made in my kitchen, making my own sausage is one of the most fun. It's just so cool to have control over what goes in it, to watch how it comes together and to end up with a whole bunch of sausage that's all your own.

You can learn how to make sausage and and other things in Central Piedmont Community College's community cooking classes, Charlotte Cooks.

Coming up:

The Art of Sausage Making, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 20 or Dec. 1 on the Central Campus; $125. Hands-on class that includes equipment selection, proper handling of meat and equipment, and how to use casings.

A Taste of Italy, 6-9 p.m. on Tuesdays from Oct. 23 to Nov. 6 on the Central Campus; $135 for the series. Covers regional foods from northern, central and southern Italy.

Wrap and Roll, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 3, Harris Campus; $85. Learn how to work with a variety of spring roll wrappers and fillings.

To register, go to and click on "register now," or call 704-330-4223. Deadlines are the Friday before the start of the class.

Monday, October 1, 2012

One Great . . . roasted red pepper relish

Most of the year, recipes with red peppers are what I call "snorters." I look at the recipe, then look at the price of red sweet peppers, usually up around "worth their weight in gold." Then I snort with derision and either grab the cheaper green bell peppers or go without peppers all together.

But there is a brief time in early fall when there are suddenly red peppers everywhere. At the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Saturday, one farm stand had a big basket of beauties, all striped in various shades from green to red to yellow. And a price tag on the basket was one I liked even better: 16 for $4. That's more like it.

I grabbed a small bag and picked up another bag of small but meaty tomatoes that were the size of cherry tomatoes but promised more flavor. Then I searched my memory of good food writing and remembered that Regina Schrambling had run a nice piece on recently on Jacques Pepin's method for using roasted red peppers.

Regina adapted Jacques, I adapted Regina, and now I have a lovely pot of peppers and tomatoes in my refrigerator. I've already added them to sauteed zucchini, spread a few on a turkey sandwich, tossed some in a green salad and added a few tablespoons to scrambled eggs. Even the oil alone will find uses all over my cooking for a couple of weeks.

I'm definitely getting my money's worth from these babies.

Roasted Red Peppers and Tomatoes

Adapted from Regina Schrambling, who adapted it from Jacques Pepin, who probably wouldn't recognize it by the time I finished with it.

3 to 4 mostly red sweet peppers (AKA bell peppers)
About 2 cups small tomatoes
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1/3 cup good-quality olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, then turn on the broiler. (Or just heat the broiler, depending on your oven.) Place an oven rack close to the broiler element. Place the whole peppers and tomatoes on a baking sheet and place under the broiler. Broiler, turning the peppers occasionally with tongs, until the skin is blacked or well-blistered and the skins of the tomatoes show black spots. (I left mine get much darker then the ones in the picture at the top.)

Remove from the oven. Using tongs, drop the peppers in a paper or plastic bag, close and let them steam for a minute. Just leave the tomatoes on the baking sheet and let them cool for a few minutes, then grab the skin of each with the tongs and pull most of it away. Remove the peppers from the bag, pull out and discard the core with the seeds attached, then pull away and discard the papery skin.

In a glass container with a tight-fitting lid (or use a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap), layer some of the tomatoes and pieces of peppers, then sprinkle with garlic and a little salt. Continue layering in the container. Pour the olive oil over it all, cover and refrigerate.

Use peppers and tomatoes on bruschetta, in a salad, with eggs, or pretty much anywhere you want. Also use the oil to add flavor when you saute vegetables.

Makes about 2 cups. Keeps in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Wake up: Discovery Place is featuring coffee

Time to give some serious thought to the subject of coffee. Discovery Place has opened a new exhibit on coffee, sponsored by S&D Coffee and Tea of Concord and featuring information and photography from the book "The Birth of Coffee," by Daniel Lorenzetti and Linda Rice Lorenzetti.

The Lorenzettis traveled the world to capture photos of the people who plant, pick and produce coffee. It took more than a quarter of a million miles to eight countries.

Tracy Ging, director of sustainability and corporate social responsibility at S&D, summed up the Discovery Place exhibit's focus as "relatedness":

"Millions of people are involved in growing, harvesting and caring for the coffee we love so much." That's worth thinking about when you pour your morning cup.

"Birth of Coffee" will run through Jan. 7 at Discovery Place, 301 N. Tryon St. in Charlotte. Go details on visiting the museum, go to .

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

One Great: Black bean and coconut soup

After a constant round of travel, there wasn't much that was fresh in the refrigerator. So I stared into the cabinet where the cans live, waiting for dinner to magically suggest itself. Canned this, canned that. Nothing that seemed to go together.

Except those black beans and that can of coconut milk. Black beans and coconut milk? They didn't seem to belong together, yet something in the back of my brain thought they might. I tapped the two ingredients into a Google search to see if such a crazy idea had occurred to anyone else.

Why yes, actually. I found Caribbean versions and Southeast Asian versions. I ended up making it a real hybrid with a couple of links of chicken-based Italian sausage there were waiting in the freezer. But you could skip the meat or go with something like leftover grilled chicken.

Seriously, you never know what will happen when you stare into a cabinet.

Black Bean and Coconut Milk Soup

Adapted from my brain and several online recipes.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 or 1 whole diced onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 or 2 links of Italian sausage, sliced, or 1 cup diced, cooked chicken (optional)
2 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk, preferably light
1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (canned or frozen)
1 tablespoon Asian hot sauce, such as sriracha
1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 tablespoons minced cilantro or a squeeze of lime juice (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, until softened. Stir in the garlic and and cumin and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. If you're using meat, add it, raise the heat to medium-high and saute until just cooked through or reheated.

Stir in the black beans, coconut milk and broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. If you want a creamier soup, scoop half the beans into a blender and puree (cover the lid with a kitchen towel so it doesn't splash) or use an immersion blender to puree some of the soup. Or skip all that and leave the beans whole. Stir in the hot sauce and peanut butter and cook a few minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve garnished with cilantro or a squeeze of fresh lime juice. .

Makes about 4 servings.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Want to learn how to cook in an emergency?

The phrase "culinary history" can sound like dusty stuff, with "receipts" for strange foods like pumpions and dried green beans.

Ah, but there is much to be learned in how people used to cook. Our local group of culinary historians, the Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley, wants to prove that to you with a class on Saturday, "Emergency Prep: Eatin' High on the Hog When the Power Goes out."

The class will cover things like equipment and supplies, how to "put food by" (canning, curing, drying, smoking and bucket storage), kitchen safety in the dark and useful resources. You'll get hands-on lessons in cooking in fireplaces, fire pits and gas cookers. You'll learn the tricks to washing up in a bucket. And you get lunch: pork barbecue, baked beans, corn cakes and apple crisp.

The class will be at the President James K. Polk Historic Site, 12031 Lancaster Highway, in Pineville from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The cost is $20, and advance registration is required. To check on whether there are spaces left, email Leila Merims at

PHOTO: Pam Dudeck demonstrating fireplace cooking at the James K. Polk Historic Site. Courtesy of the Historic Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley.