Friday, March 30, 2012

Egg puns we will not use next week

Back in 1997, when I was a young food writer and had not yet cracked up from the constant flood of press releases, I made Observer readers a promise:

No egg puns. Specifically, not these:


And to my knowledge, in the ensuing 15 years, I never have. (I also continue to honor my pledge to never use a "thyme" pun.)

So, in the coverage leading up to Easter, I am not to blame for any egg puns you might see committed by The Observer.

Yolk puns, though, are entirely possible. I'm only human, people.

One Great . . . smashed potato recipe

There are recipes you see and you just know: "That is going to have a home in my life."

That was my reaction of the Crash Hot Potatoes in Ree Drummond's new "The Pioneer Woman Cooks" cookbook.

For one thing, roasted potatoes wedges are easy and reliable, but they're also a little boring. For another, several local farmers, including Dean Mullis of Laughing Owl, grow really bang-up small potatoes that would be great in this treatment. They usually don't show up until early summer, but this year, I'm afraid to predict anything. Better to be prepared.

Crash Hot Potatoes

From "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier," by Ree Drummond (William Morrow).

A dozen whole new potatoes or small round potatoes, such as Bintjes, washed and unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and rosemary or other herbs to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender. (I test potatoes by sliding in a knife -- if the potato clings to the knife, they're not done.) Drain potatoes. Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Drizzle a roasting pan or baking sheet with olive oil. Place potatoes on the sheet in a single layer, leaving space between each one. With a potato masher, press down on each potato until it slightly mashes open. Rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil.

Sprinkle the potatoes with kosher salt (or flaky sea salt), black pepper and chopped fresh rosemary (or thyme or chives).

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the craggy edges are browned.

Serves 4 (although the amounts are very adaptable.)


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

One Great . . . strawberry recipe for spring

Strawberry season is coming so fast, it may arrive ahead of the Easter baskets this year. The best of the local berries won't arrive for a couple of weeks, but there will be berries in the stores before you know it.

Nigel Slater's magnificent new book "Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard," captures the joy of fresh fruit grown in all seasons. When it landed on my desk last week, I immediately flipped to strawberries and found this very simple version of strawberry ice cream. It's so basic, you don't need an ice cream freezer.

Strawberry Ice

From "Ripe," by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, $40).

1 pound very ripe strawberries
1/2 cup superfine sugar (see note)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Rinse the berries quickly under cold, running water and remove their leaves. Cut each berry into three or four slices, then put them in a bowl, sprinkle with the sugar and set aside for an hour.

Lightly whip the cream. You want it to be thick enough to lie in folds rather than stiff enough to stand in peaks.

Put the strawberries, sugar and any juice from the bottom of the dish into a food processor and whiz until smooth, then stir gently into the cream. (How thoroughly you blend the two is up to you. Slater notes that he likes to leave a few swirls of unmixed cream in the mixture.)

Transfer to a freezer-safe box, level the top, cover with a lid or a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper, and freeze for three to four hours. Stir occasionally as it freezes, bringing the outside edges into the middle.

Remove from the freezer about 15 to 20 minutes before serving to bring it up to temperature.

NOTE: Slater calls for superfine sugar, which blends more easily. You can find it in some stores, or you can pulse granulated sugar in a food processor a few times. However, you also can try making this with granulated sugar, since most it will dissolve while the strawberries sit.

Yield: 4 servings.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dean and Deluca Wine Room is still open

Put this in the category of helping out a colleague: Linda Seligman of the restaurant and wine publication Epicurean Charlotte asked me to help her get the word out that the March/April issue of magazine includes an erroneous report that the Dean & Deluca Wine Room in Phillips Place had closed.

Seligman said her report was premature. The wine room will be moved into the main store when it expands, but that expansion isn't expected until later in the summer.

So for fans who want to use those great outdoor tables to enjoy a glass of wine with their pollen, there is still plenty of time. The wine room and the main store are both in Phillips Place, off Fairview near Sharon Road in the SouthPark area.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Debbie Moose leads a family cookbook workshop

You've got piles of old family recipes, you know you need to organize them and you'd love to put them together into a book for your friends or families. (And yes, I know you do -- most of you have asked me how do it.)

Here's an option for you. Raleigh cookbook author and food columnist Debbie Moose is leading a class on that very subject, "Cooking Up Family History," on April 14 at The Farm at Weathers Creek in Cleveland, N.C. (that's in Iredell County, Mecklenburg's neighbor to the north and about 35 miles from uptown Charlotte).

The workshop begins at 10 a.m. and ends around 3 p.m., it includes lunch and it costs $75. Moose plans to cover options for organizing your recipes, how to get recipes from family members, and how to write recipes in a way that's readable and useful to other cooks.

To get more details on the class, including requesting a registration form, go to the farm's web site, here.

In addition to her column in the Raleigh News & Observer and her books, including "Fan Fare" and "Deviled Eggs," Debbie blogs about food and cooking in her life at And you can follow her on Twitter, @debbiemoose.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Molly O'Neill wants to teach food bloggers to write

Molly O'Neill, former New York Times food writer and current blogger and cookbook author ("One Big Table") is offering Food Blog U, a six-week online food-writing course.

It starts April 9 and includes guest lectures from food-blog royalty, like Molly Wizenberg (Orangette) and Tanya Steel (Epicurious and GourmetLIVE). The course will focus on writing and presenting a blog, including podcasting, photography and video, SEO, social media and design.

The lecture series is $250; the full course is $650. Scholarships and internships are available. Space is limited and registration is required. You can get the details, on this course and others from O'Neill's Cook 'N' Scribble, at

One Great . . . asparagus with miso butter

In a burst of healthfulness last year, I bought a small tub of white miso, driven by a suggestion from a fellow food writer that a little miso makes a good topping for a baked sweet potato. It does, although I quickly discovered "a little" is key. Even the milder white miso is a strong flavor.

The easy way to describe miso is as a fermented soybean paste, but that's not completely accurate. There is more than soy in miso. The pastes vary in color and intensity -- red and mixed misos also are common -- and they can include grains, such as barley or rice. They also can be made from other beans beside soybeans.

Since a little goes a long way, my tub was lasting a while. Then, just as asparagus was starting to show back up in stores, I spotted an idea inspired by New York chef David Chang: Miso butter.

One night when I needed to throw together a fast supper for myself, I gave it a try and was stunned at how tasty this stuff is. As a topping, it's as easy as it gets: Half miso, half room-temp unsalted butter, whisked together with a fork. The sweetness and creaminess of the butter complements the intense salty/savoriness of the miso. Chang's version also tops the asparagus with a poached egg, so the runny yolk mixes with the butter. That makes a great simple meal, although it also works great just to toss a little hot asparagus with a little of the butter mixture.

I'm starting to see more ideas for using miso butter cropping up: Toss it with roasted corn, dab it on flank steak, It's a completely different set of flavors, and a great spring trick. Oh, and yes, it's also amazing on a baked sweet potato.

Asparagus With Miso Butter
Inspired by David Chang and adapted from a number of online versions.

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons white miso (also known as shiromiso)
1 bunch of asparagus (about 5 to 6 stalks per serving)
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 eggs
Salt and pepper

Place the butter and miso at room temperature for 10 minutes or so, until soft enough to whisk together. Set aside.

Cook the asparagus: Either toss the stalks with a little olive oil and roast in a 375-degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the asparagus and a couple of tablespoons of water, cover and saute for about 8 minutes, until the water is evaporated and the asparagus is crisp tender.

Bring a small pot of water to boil, add the vinegar and reduce the heat to keep the water just simmering. Carefully crack the eggs into the water and cook until the whites are just set, 3 to 5 minutes.

Place a little of the miso butter on a serving plate. Top with the hot asparagus. Remove the eggs from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and place on the asparagus. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. If you have any miso butter left over, just refrigerate it and use it on another dish, such as any roasted vegetable or a grilled steak.

Makes 2 servings.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday toast: Plymouth Sloe Gin Fizz

Maybe it's a good toast to the cocktail culture of "Mad Men," returning March 25. Maybe it's a farewell toast to the English propriety of "Downton Abbey," already gone for the year.

Or maybe it's just a good way to greet spring. But I ended a successful grail quest last month. And that's a tale worth telling.

Like most people, I had bad memories of sloe gin. Too-sweet, too-red, too-girl drink. I had a brief splurge with it as a young person. Ruined a pair of white jeans in a tale that isn't worth telling, and never looked at the stuff again.

But a few years ago, New York Times writer Florence Fabricant noted that Plymouth, the gin distillery in England, was making a real sloe gin, from real sloe berries, that restored honor to the name sloe gin. I'm a big fan of Plymouth's regular gin, which makes fantastic gin and tonics and martinis. So I started searching for it.

And searching for it. And searching for it.

I probably could have gotten it in New York, but I never pay to check luggage, so I couldn't bring it back. Instead, I checked liquor stores from Charleston to West Palm Beach, whenever I was on the road. I even had friends look for it in England. They found Plymouth gin, but not sloe gin.

I had given up and decided it was a myth -- until one Saturday in February, when I was down at Frugal MacDoogal's in Fort Mill. I looked in the gin aisle, as usual, with no luck. Then I wandered over to the wall where they keep the fruit liqueurs. And look what I found, for $29.99 for a 750ml bottle.

I hurried home and had my house mixologist mix up a Sloe Gin Fizz. And I finally discovered what the drink is supposed to taste like: Fresh, fruity, just on the edge of tart. It's not fake-red, it's a slight reddish-purple. It's seriously refreshing and it screams out for a spring weekend like, well, how about this one?

Here's to you: Florence Fabricant, Don Draper and Lord Grantham.

Real Sloe Gin Fizz

From David Wondrich in Esquire. Cocktail expert Dale DeGroff suggests 1 ounce sloe gin and 1 ounce regular gin. This is a rare instance where I disagree with him: That might be necessary with fake American sloe gin. But if you have English sloe gin, why cut it?

Makes 1.

2 ounces sloe gin
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar or simple syrup
Club soda (or plain seltzer, my preference)

Combine sloe gin, lemon juice and sugar or syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and pour over ice in a Collins glass. Top with club soda or seltzer so it has a foamy cap. Serve immediately.

Raleigh: One of the South's Tastiest Towns?

The voters speak, and let's hope they eat: Raleigh got the 10th spot in Southern Living's poll to name the South's 10 Tastiest Towns.

Which town was No. 1? That would be the small but mighty Lafayette, La. Having been there twice, I can vouch for that one, cher. Several of the best meals of my life were spent in Lafayette one day. That's the kind of place Lafayette is: You eat lunch at 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, and 3, before taking a quick nap before dinner. Which happens at 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 . . .

So, the rest of the list, in order of votes received:
2. Louisville, Ky.
3. New Orleans.
4. Charleston. (C'mon, voters -- it deserves to be much higher on the list.)
5. Charlottesville, Va.
6. Houston.
7. Birmingham, Ala.
8. Decatur, Ga.
9. Baltimore.
10. Raleigh.

Raleigh, I mean no disrespect. I have many friends in Raleigh. But . . . Raleigh over Durham? Over Asheville? Over Carrboro?

Get the full story, including the criteria, here. Or look for the April issue, on newsstands March 23.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Love lemon? Tell me about it

For my column this week, I wrote about how much I love dishes with lemon. It even makes ice cream better. And I asked for your favorite ways to use lemon.

How's this for a deal? In exchange for your suggestions, I'll share a recipe. When I interviewed Dale Richardson of East Mecklenburg High School about bargain cooking recently, she shared a couple of good, frugal-cook recipes. But she also sent over a dessert plate that included these little cookie/cakes, part of a project her class was making when our photographer was there. The cakes didn't fit with the frugal-cooking series, but it was such a simple and tasty recipe, I had to share.

Lemon Blossoms From Dale Richardson, East Mecklenburg High School.

1 package yellow cake mix
1 small package instant lemon pudding
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 cups powdered sugar
Grated zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray miniature muffin tins or coat them with pan coating.

Combine and blend the cake mix, pudding, eggs and oil. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth, about 2 minutes. Fill each muffin cup about half-way. Bake 12 minutes.

Make glaze while cakes are baking. Sift the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice, zest, oil and water. Mix until smooth.

Turn lemon cakes out and glaze while warm: Dip tops of cakes in the glaze or spoon the glaze over the warm cakes. Place on wire racks over waxed paper to catch drips. Let the glaze set thoroughly, at least 1 hour, before storing in containers with tight-fitting lids.

Monday, March 12, 2012

One Great . . . asparagus and avocado salad

This spring has turned weather on its side. Chilly one morning and hot that afternoon, it barely feels like we've gotten a winter at all.

Even though it has felt like spring off and on since January, it's finally time to get in the mood for the real spring. In honor of a year that's been turned on its side, I'm going to offer a salad that turned my world on its side.

Jim Lahey's Co. in New York is a pizza restaurant. And it certainly makes fine pies. But when I went there with a friend a couple of years ago, what really blew me away wasn't the pizza, it was the salads. One taste of this combination and I never looked at asparagus the same way again. I've made a few stabs at trying to re-create it, with some luck. But even more lucky: Lahey's new book, "My Pizza," just came out and it includes the recipe.

The window is short for having all the ingredients right at the same time -- asparagus, avocado and mint. But if ever there was a spring when crazy things happened at once, this would be it. If you grow mint, check your mint patch -- mine never really stopped this winter.

Asparagus and Avocado Salad
From "My Pizza," by Jim Lahey (Clarkson Potter, 2012).

4 or 5 thick asparagus spears
1 avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
16 fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 lime
About 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of fine sea salt per serving

Cut away about 2 inches of the base of each asparagus spear. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, shave the entire asparagus from bottom to top, reversing your grip and turning the spear as needed to shave as much as possible.
Divide the asparagus shavings among 4 salad plates. Cut each avocado half into 4 sections and place 2 wedges on each plate. Sprinkle with mint leaves. Squeeze lime juice over the salads, drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with salt.

Yield: 4 servings.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend gets closer

February and March are flying by in such a blur that April will be here in just a few minutes. The every-other-year Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend always feels like that, too: The last one barely seems over when it's time to get ready for the next one.

There's a flurry of news to report:

  • Restaurants are pairing up for the April 19 wine and food dinners. There are 20 dinners planned, each matching a visiting winemaker with a local chef. E2 has already jumped in with Domaine Serene and Morton's is paired with Silver Oak. Go here to find the list of dinners and ticket prices. But don't wait -- these dinners sell out quickly.
  • You don't think wine is your thing? The official opening event this year is a tequila dinner hosted by Paco's Tacos on April 18 and featuring Don Julio tequilas. It's $75. Go here for details on that.
  • This year's Vintner Tasting is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 21 at Founder's Hall. This is a great entry-level event for people who want to experience and learn but aren't ready to tackle events like the 1,000-Point Tasting. For $40, you get to experience all the wines featured during the weekend, many poured by the people who make them. I never miss this one and I always experience something that makes it worth my time. Buy tickets here.
  • The weekend ends on Sunday with a new one, The Burgers, Bloodies and Brews Brunch from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. April 22 at The Green on Tryon. Tickets are $50. Go here for that.
As always, the Wine & Food Weekend is a charity fundraiser. This year raises money for the Council for Children's Rights, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, Charlotte Community Health Clinic and Pat's Place Child Advocacy Center.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Take a beer break with Guinness brewer Fergal Murray

Fergal Murray, the brew master for Ireland's famed Guinness, came into Ri Ra in uptown Charlotte at 3 p.m. on Thursday tossing back a Starbucks espresso as dark as one of his company's stouts.

The man admitted he was a wee bit tired: During March, "your Guinness month," he makes repeated trips across the Atlantic to America to talk about the brand. In Charlotte in one day, he was meeting with two corporate clients (Harris Teeter and Delhaize), visiting Ri Ra and the Galway Hooker in Cornelius, and attending a five-course beer lunch at Dandelion Market.

Next week, he'll be in Washington to preside over a Perfect Pint competition with members of Congress (last time he did it during the Bush administration, the Democrats were in power; now it's the Republicans. He admits he's curious whether their beer skills will be different.)

For St. Patrick's Day, he'll be in New York to ring the bell for the New York Stock Exchange and answer the usual questions about green beer and how the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's (they don't -- like Cinco de Mayo, it's really just an American bar event).

After Murray downed some well-earned caffeine, we grabbed a table and a pint of the new Guinness Black (a half-pint for me -- I had a deadline). He jumped right into talking about Guinness Black: Despite the name and the dark color, it's not a stout, it's a lager. It's lighter, with a creamy mouthfeel. It's part of Guinness' push to improve summer sales, which tend to drop off.

Before we moved on to the craft beer movement, I stopped him and insisted he take a minute to drink his beer and rest. He took me up on it gratefully: "You're all right, girl."

OK, on to craft beer: Has the explosion of American microbrews and craft brews been tough on Guinness? They used to have that market almost to themselves here.

"We're not a craft beer, we're a global brand. But you're right, we've been perceived as higher quality. We've been on the pedestal." Still, the change in the American beer market is good for Guinness, he says.

"Craft is brilliant here. It's waking up the beer industry in America." He thinks American consumers always knew there was something better and now they have a chance to get it. And as they read up and get educated about beer, they appreciate Guinness even more.

The only drawback to his trips to American every March is that he's so busy talking about Guinness, he doesn't get to explore American beers. He admires Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Anchor Steam, he says. "Worthy lads, established guys."

His advice for craft brewers: "Focus on trying to improve your quality, don't just throw out new things because they're trendy."

His advice to Americans with St. Patrick's Day coming up (besides skipping that whole green beer thing):

"Drink responsibly, take it easy. Savor the pint in a nice way, please."

Who won "The Pioneer Woman" giveaway?

When a copy of the new Ree Drummond cookbook, "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier," landed on my desk last week, I offered a giveaway over on the Facebook page for The Observer's Facebook page. The book is officially on sale March 13, from William Morrow.

This morning, we're picking a winner using the random generator at Who gets the book, which continues Drummond's style of familiar, family-pleasing recipes with step-by-step pictures and lots of snaps of life on the ranch? Go on over to Observer Food Page on Facebook.

If you haven't checked us out on Facebook, I use that space to post food news all week, from links to our own stories all over The Observer to interesting food news that I spot while I'm roaming around the Internet. If you like it, "like" us. Thanks.