Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Got time? Take a cooking class

AZN Asian Cuizine in SouthPark, 4620 Piedmont Row Drive, will hold a hands-on sushi class at 4 p.m. Saturday, followed by a sake tasting (we presume you get to put your hands on the sake, too). You get to make nigiri, maki rolls and garnishes, then eat them along with your sake. It's $25; call 980-819-9189 to register.

Blue Restaurant in Hearst Tower, 5th and College streets, will hold a "Spain for the Holidays" cooking class, taught by chef Gene Briggs, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. The menu includes Flamenquin, a rolled and stuffed pork cutlet, a fish and shellfish soup, Basque chicken and chorizo saute and stacked crepes. Yes, you get to eat the dishes, paired with wines. It's $44.95 per person; call 704-927-2583.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Does your family have a favorite Christmas cookie recipe?

Don't forget to enter your family's favorite for our Christmas cookie contest. We're looking for great recipes that have great stories. We'll pick finalists, runners-up and a grand prize winner to run Dec. 11.

To enter, send the recipes and 100 words or fewer on the cookie's place in your family tradition. Don't forget to include your contact information, including a daytime phone number, your address and the town where you live.

Email it to me at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com, or mail it to: Kathleen Purvis, The Charlotte Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, NC 28230-0308. The deadline is Nov. 1, 2013. One entry per family, please.

Which chef caught the Fire?

Just before taking last week off, I was a judge for Fire in the City, the first time the statewide chef competition founded by Jimmy Crippen came to Charlotte.

 The original, Fire on the Rock, started in Blowing Rock and then added Asheville. That was followed by Fire on the Dock in Wilmington, Fire in the Triad in Greensboro and Fire in the Triangle in Raleigh. Final Fire, the finale, brings all the winners to Raleigh Nov. 20-23 for a last round of matchups.

So who is representing each town? Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill will bring it for Charlotte, facing John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem on Nov. 20. The winner of that round will face Dean Thompson of Flights Restaurant in Raleigh on Nov. 21. Nov. 22 will feature Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern against Adam Hayes of the Red Stag Grill in Asheville. Nov. 23 is the final finale, with the winners of the Nov. 21 and Nov. 22 rounds.

The Final Fire dinners are all held at the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills; tickets are $119 and go on sale Wednesday, Oct. 30. (There's also a special rate available at the hotel if you don't want to face a three-hour drive home after a multi-course meal.)

For the details, chef bios and videos and reservations, go to www.competitiondining.com.

Friday, October 18, 2013

This city's on fire for chefs

Even Jimmy Crippen, the founder of the original Fire on the Rock chef competition in Blowing Rock, admits he wasn't sure what to expect when the event came to Charlotte for the first time this year.

Fire in the Dock on Wilmington, Fire in the Triad in Greensboro and Fire in the Triangle in Raleigh all got big following in the last few years. But Fire in the City? Charlotte is a tough market, and the event involves 15 multicourse dinners, all on weeknights, all costing more than $50.

Surprise: Charlotte has gone for it. Fire in the City, held at Bonterra for the last five weeks, has sold out. On Tuesday, I was one of the "pro" judges for the semifinal between Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill and Luca Annunziata of Passion8 Bistro.

Crippen has sold both his B&B, Crippen's, in Blowing Rock and his farm. He now lives in Fort Lauderdale and devotes himself to flying back and forth for each event. He calls it his "grandfather job" -- he gets to have the fun of being in a restaurant without having to deal with details and cleanup.

He's set up a procedure that makes it very fun. The judging is done by cellphone app for each of the six plates, you don't know which chef prepares each plate until the end of the night when scores are tallied. At every dinner, the pros' scores count for 30 percent and the "Joes" -- the diners -- account for 70 percent. (Just to be clear: Even though I was there as a pro judge, The Observer paid for my dinner.)

After the final dinner in Charlotte next week, the finale here will be Oct. 21 to determine who goes to the state finals in Raleigh. The sold-out battle will be between  Phil Barnes of Rooster and . . . well, watch the video to find out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yes world, Charlotte is a food destination

San Francisco, New York and . . . Charlotte?

Financial website CreditDonkey.com, which puts together a lot of lists based on number-crunching, has a new list on the Top 10 "Best Cities for Foodies," aimed at people looking for places to live.

No. 9 on the list: Good ol' Charlotte, N.C.

The other nine, in order:

1. San Francisco.
2. New York.
3. Virginia Beach, Va.
4. Portland, Ore.
5. Providence, R.I.
6. Orlando.
7. Miami.
8. Seattle.
9. Yep, Charlotte.
10. Memphis.

The rankings are based on restaurant sales per capita ($2,180 for Charlotte), people per establishment (470), full service/fast food differential (+0.135) and growth (-0.312%).

The full service/fast food differential means the difference between the number of full-service restaurants per thousand people and the number of fast food restaurants, while growth is the change in the number of restaurants between 2007 and 2009.

From the study: "Charlotte was hit the hardest in terms of negative growth from 2007 to 2009, but a decline of three-tenths of 1 percent in a recession isn’t bad. Some areas saw declines north of 10 percent in the same time period. The restaurant sales per capita are already above the national average, but Charlotte is one of only two cities in the top 10 to have a consumer price index below the national average. That $2,180 in restaurant spending per person would be equal to about $3,650 in San Francisco and more than $5,000 in New York."

See the full study here: CreditMonkey

Monday, October 14, 2013

One Great . . . lobster corn chowder

I love the way food seasons are both predictable and unpredictable: They're predictable because you know that if it's April, you'll get to eat asparagus and if it's July, you'll get to eat cantaloupe. They're also unpredictable: Some years bring unexpected bounties of things to cook.

If you're a lobster lover, the summer of 2013 may go down as "the year when we almost got enough lobster." Lobster prices tumbled, which is hard on Maine lobster catchers but easier on the wallets of lobster lovers. With great prices on everything from cooked lobster claws to frozen lobster tails, I've been stocking my freezer with 2-for-1 deals and branching out from good ol' lobster-with-bib-and-butter to making things like lobster pasta.

On a Sunday night, I needed something simple, soulful and delicious. I reached into the freezer for a bag of frozen corn and two frozen lobster tails. The rest was embarrassingly easy. And astonishingly delicious.

Lobster and Corn Chowder

Adapted from Epicurious.com.

2 cups chicken stock
2 frozen lobster tails, thawed, or 1 pound freshly cooked lobster
4 cups frozen corn kernels, divided
4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 cup onion (about half an onion), peeled and diced
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
3/4 cup light or whipping cream
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced chives (optional)

PLACE chicken stock in a pot with the lobster tails. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until shell is red and lobster meat is firm. Remove tails with tongs and set aside until cool enough to handle. Pour the broth into a heatproof measuring cup and set aside.

PULL the lobster meat from the shells and cut into bite-size chunks. Set aside. (If using cooked lobster, you can skip this step.)

PLACE the corn in a strainer and rinse under running water briefly until slightly thawed. Place 2 cups of corn and 1 cup of the broth in a blender and puree. Set aside the remaining corn.

COOK the bacon in the same pot until browned and mostly crisp. Remove with a slotting spoon and set aside. Add onion, carrot and celery to the pot over medium heat, cover and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrot is soft. (If the vegetables get too dry, add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil.) Stir in the whole corn kernels and the corn puree, then add the clam juice. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes.

STIR in the cream and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small skillet and add the chopped lobster. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, just until warmed through, then add to the pot. Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.

SERVE, garnished with chives if using.

Yield: 4 servings.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pick a cooking class

The fall gets so busy, I wanted to share these before the calendar gets away from us:

Alyssa Gorelick of Chef Alyssa's Kitchen will offer these two as part of her Hands-On Cooking Class offerings at Atherton Market:
Nov. 14, Thanksgiving Sides (butternut squash with sage-hazelnut gremolata, chai-spiced carrots, Southern cornbread stuffing and green beans with wild mushrooms).
Dec. 11, Holiday Treats & Desserts (sweet potato gingerbread, candied pecans, pear crisp with caramel sauce and chocolate-peppermint bark).
Most of chef Alyssa's classes cost $55 to $60. Register and get details at www.chefalyssaskitchen.com.

Food Love has these on the list; all are 6:30-9:30 p.m., held at The Kitch, 8305-D Magnolia Estates Dr., Cornelius and cost $85:
Oct. 15, A Taste of Autumn (only 2 spots left, so it might be filled up).
Nov. 5, A Journey to South America. 
Dec. 3, It's a Wonderful Bite.
Register and get details by calling Nikki Sawyer Moore, 704-576-6474 or go to www.n2foodlove.com.

Bryant Terry, chef and author of the book "Vegan Soul Food," will give a talk about food justice and do a cooking demonstration at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at Davidson College's Lilly Family Gallery. On Tuesday, Oct. 22, he'll host lunch in the college's Vail Commons dining hall from 11 a.m. to 1:45 for $10.25. (That means they'll feature his food in the dining hall between those time - you don't have to sit there for 3 hours and 45 minutes.)  Details and registration for the talk and demo: 704-894-2600.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

One Great . . . use for broccoli stems

After I wrote a column on cooking with garbage, AKA making use of every bit in the kitchen, Cynthia Ross Bradford of York sent me a nice note with a recipe.

"It reminded me of a classic recipe that I have prepared since I took a Gourmet Vegetarian Cookery class in 1976. A wonderfully delicious way to use something that almost always gets discarded."

I'm with Cynthia: Broccoli stems aren't as obvious as florets, but there is too much good stuff there to throw them away. You do need to peel them so they're not too fibrous, but a good vegetable peeler does the trick.

Marinated Broccoli Stems

Stems from 3 to 4 broccoli stalks
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

PEEL the stems, then slice diagonally or cut into bite-size chunks. Put them in a mason jar (or other resealable container) with the salt. Shake it up and refrigerate overnight.

DRAIN the jar the next day and rinse the broccoli if desired. Return the stems to the jar and add the garlic, wine or vinegar and olive oil. Shake it up and refrigerate until ready to use. Use on salads or antipasto plates.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Golf for good: Help Community Culinary School

It's almost time for the 11th annual fundraising tournament for Community Culinary School of Charlotte. This time, it's Oct. 14 at Cedarwood Country Club. It's $125 per player, including lunch, a silent auction, $10,000 in prizes and a raffle (for closest to the pin and longest drive).

Registration and lunch are from 11 a.m. to 12:45; shotgun start is 1 p.m. (I assume that means something to the golfers among you.)

The whole thing benefits Community Culinary, which trains hard-to-employ people for jobs in food service.

You do need to register in advance: Go here for details, sponsorship applications and sign-ups.

What's new in this week's Food lineup?

When Katherine Vest called to ask if I would speak to her cooking club, I said no: I'd rather come and write about it. How could I resist the tale of nine women who get together every month to do something food-related? Especially when I found out a house had been TP'd.

Yes, food-news fans, the mighty Michael Pollan will speak in Charlotte at Queens University next week. And tickets are still available. This one ought to be a sellout.

Of the many things we love on the Rooster's menu, the skillet-fried corn is always a favorite. For this week's restaurant-request column, You Asked For It, Robin Domeier asked for the recipe. And the woman who asked for it, Johanna Wilson, has already sent us a picture showing us she made it as soon as the story posted online Tuesday night. Now, that's service.

Which foods last the longest? It's an interesting question, and I did my best to answer, in this week's Q&A. 

And there's more, in our recipe features:
Quick Cooking for 2 has steamed mussels that are easy enough for a weeknight.
Entree has a powerfully delicious enchilada soup made in a slow cooker.
Suzanne Havala Hobbs has nutritious and delicious ideas for cabbage this fall.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One Great . . . white chocolate tarts

This is the time of year when you start to need something fast and sweet, for a dinner party, bake sale, party or office occasion. When I saw how simple this recipe is, I didn't think it would taste like much.

Boy, was I wrong: It takes all of 30 seconds to make and it is way, way too dangerously tasty. It came from the Athens company, which makes those mini phyllo shells, and the combination of the filling and the crispy shells is just about perfect. But you also could adapt it by using the filling to top a cupcake or spoon it out to make small candies.

Honey Peanut Butter White Chocolate Creams

From Athens Foods.

1 (4-ounce) bar white chocolate, broken into pieces, or 1/2 cup white baking chips
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey, divided
1 (15-count) package mini phyllo shells
1/4 cup dry-roasted salted peanuts

Heat the white chocolate in a small bowl in a microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring after each, or place in a small saucepan and melt over low heat on the stove. Stir in the peanut butter and 1/2 tablespoon honey until blended.

Spoon 1 tablespoon of the filling into each phyllo shell. Sprinkle each one with peanuts (chopped or whole), then drizzle with remaining honey. Let stand 10 minutes to set. You can also chill the cups until firm.