Thursday, January 30, 2014

Natalie Veres on snowy footprints

I love the farm newsletters that pepper my inbox. I sign up to get emails from every new vendor I see at the farmers markets, and some of them turn out to be lovely writers. 

This morning's weekly post from Grateful Growers Farm in Denver, N.C., included this musing from Natalie Veres:

"Our two inches of snow last night made for a challenging drive home from the kitchen, and delayed our pork delivery for a day, but it's pretty.  It also gives us a new form of evidence about who we share our space with....footprints reveal our co-habitors, visitors/intruders, even when we don't see them in the flesh.  Sure, we have lots of animals here on purpose: people, dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits.  But a veritable menagerie is here too: squirrels, wild rabbits, birds, mice, rats, raccoon, voles, moles, opossum, and even the occasional coyote (although not recently, thank goodness).  Today I noticed just how far up toward the barn that one goofy hen likes to roam, because of her footprints.  I noticed how inefficient I can be because I walked over the same ground multiple times - my footprints gave me away.  I noticed it's time to rebait the rat traps - footprints of said varmints practically announced their presence.  Just when I thought I had them beaten.  I think there must be a rat bus service that brings them in from all over to repopulate the place.  I spend a fair amount of time watching my animals, noticing their habits and favorite places.  But today when I got to see their footprints, I got to know them a little bit better.  If you could see your footprints every day, what could you learn??"

Indeed. Thanks, Natalie. Keep your eyes on the ground. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Making brownies and soup today?

In today's food section, at, we have recipes for warming winter treats, including chicken noodle soup, cinnamon rolls and brownies. And if you're making brownies or other bar cookies, I've got a video tip on the easiest way to line the pan so you don't scratch it when you cut them:

 And speaking of videos, for my column on musician Steve Stoeckel and his love of cooking, I pulled out my iPhone and grabbed a moment of Steve talking about the joy of cooking. Can't you smell it? Thanks, Steve.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Could you use a hot toddy?

We don't get snow that often around here, so we have to make the best of it while we can. For the kids, good hot chocolate is worth an extra step. Instead of chocolate powder, make the best hot chocolate using a couple of squares of milk or semisweet chocolate melted with milk in a small saucepan. Don't let the milk boil, just warm it enough to melt the chocolate, and keep whisking to mix it together.

Need a shortcut? Pull out the Nutella and stir a few spoons of that into warm milk. 

Now, for the adults, a hot toddy is a fine thing on a wintry night. Here's the recipe from my book "Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook." 

Hot Toddy

2 ounces bourbon
4 ounces hot water
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 slice lemon
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick

PLACE the bourbon, hot water, brown sugar and honey in a mug and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon slice, close and cinnamon stick and serve. If it's not hot enough or you need to warm it back up, microwave it for 30 seconds. 

YIELD: 1 serving.

Photo: Getty Images

Who needs chocolate in February?

OK, many of us need chocolate any time, but especially in February. The Charlotte Ritz-Carlton has two Cocoa Lab cooking classes planned from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays Feb. 8 and Feb. 22.

The hands-on classes are $75 each and limited to eight students per class. The Feb. 8 class is "For the Love of Chocolate," covering hand-rolled truffles, warm chocolate cake and chocolate creme brulee.  Feb. 22 is "Chocolate and Champagne Lovers' Workshop," with desserts designed to pair with champagne (a class of Dom Perignon is $40 extra).

Participants must be at least 18 and reservations are required. Classes include free parking, recipes and an apron. Call 704-547-2244 to sign up.

Monday, January 27, 2014

One Great . . . lemony chicken soup

Saying the word "avgolemono" always reminds me of playing jump rope when I was a kid. You'd hold up your hands and sway a couple of times to get the rhythm of the turning rope before you jumped in. When I join a group of co-workers for lunch once a week at Greek Isle, I have to kind of pause and sway before I put in my order for a cup of avgolemono, working myself up to pronouncing it. 

Still, I love the combination of chicken, rice and lemon enough to risk tripping up and getting stuck halfway into the word in front of my work friends. 

Stumbling into an easy version of the recipe recently gave me an excuse to have it several times in one week without having to ask a waitress for it. For that, I'll jump with joy. 

Shortcut Lemon Chicken Soup

Adapted from Food Network magazine. You could use leftover rotisserie chicken. If you have time and you're using boxed chicken stock, simmer the bones and skin from the chicken with the stock first to boost the chicken flavor. 

1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil
5 green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup diced celery
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups cooked chicken

HEAT 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the white part of the green onions, the carrots and the celery. Cook, stirring, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, rice, 2 cups water and about 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 12 to 15 minutes, until the rice and vegetables are tender. 

WHISK the eggs and lemon juice in a small bowl. Slowly ladle about 1 cup of the hot broth into the bowl, whisking constantly. Stir the cooked chicken into the pot, then whisk in the egg-broth mixture. Return soup to a gentle simmer, stirring, until thickened, then remove from heat. Stir in the green onion tops and taste soup, adding more salt and pepper if needed. 

SERVE hot.

YIELD: 4 servings.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Time to grab Wine and Food Weekend tickets

It only happens every two years, so tickets get snapped up fast for the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend, April 22-26 this year (yes, it's a long weekend).

Since this is the 25th anniversary, it will have even more than usual going on. It will actually start way in advance, with the Feb. 18 Louis Latour Grand Cru Burgundy Tasting. Tickets for that are $195, covering 20 Grand Cru Burgundy wines, all with a minimum rating of 91 points, and Louis-Fabrice Latour will be there for it.

The actual weekend has plenty of events as well, including the popular Vintner's Tasting, Big Bottles & Blues, Wine 101, the 1,000-Point Tasting and more. Wine pairing dinners will be held at 17 restaurants around the city, and this year will include a cooking class by chef Chris Hall of Local Three Kitchen in Atlanta.

And most importantly: This year's festival benefits the family-advocacy program Pat's Place, the Council for Children's Rights, the Second Harvest Backpack Program and Charlotte Concerts, which provides arts programs for children.

Find the full schedule and tickets at  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rock Hill event celebrates food and art

They're putting the art in artisan: The Rock Hill group that calls itself Friday Arts Project is using a Friday and Saturday Jan. 31-Feb. 1 for "Dazzle Gradually: The Allure of Poetic Truth-Bearing."

I'm not exactly sure what that is, but it promises to celebrate "poetry, story, music, visual art and feasting," and it further promises to include local-food businesses including Orrman's Cheese Shop, The Assorted Table Wine Shop, Amelie's, Your Mom's Donuts and barbecuer Dan Huntley.

Speakers will include peach farmer and writer Dori Sanders, writer Tommy Tomlinson, singer/songwriter  Sandra McCracken, poets Maurice Manning and Aaron Belz, artist Paul Matheny, performance artist Jon Prichard and musician Hunter Holmes.

Tickets to the weekend-long forum range from $125 to $200 ($95 for students), or you can get a ticket to the Saturday evening feast for $65, including wine pairings, or the Friday night concert only for $20.

Registration deadline is this Saturday, Jan. 25, and you can get the details here:  

Today in Food: Lard, home cooking and barbecue shrimp

Click over to today and find these stories and more:

Lard is back: The movement toward heritage-breed pigs has brought new thinking on the value of cooking with heritage-breed lard.

 The lard story also marks the debut of former Newsday food writer Sylvia Carter as a transplant to the Triangle. Read about Carter and her food career in Andrea Weigl's column in the News & Observer.

Speaking of columns, where do you start to re-embrace cooking? After six weeks of kitchen renovation, I finally got to stand facing my stove this weekend.

Are you a fan of Cajun Queen's version of barbecued shrimp? You Asked For It, and Robin Domeier got the recipe.

Cooking language can be mystifying. So what does it mean when you break a sauce? I answer that one in the weekly Q&A.

And there's more:
Stuffed pork chops.
Turkey picadillo for 2.
Healthy appetizers.
Frozen Greek yogurt.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Did you take your breakfast to work today?

One of the things I love about food reporting is the way how we eat tells us many different things. Today's example: Breakfast as an economic indicator.

NPD Group, the market research company, sees the economy getting a little better based on the number of us who take breakfast with us when we leave for work. This one took a little turn along the way, though: "Carried from Home Food" was part of a predicted trend back in late 2007-2008, when NPD was preparing a report called "A Look at the Future of Eating." The report was trying to forecast food trends 10 years in the future, and one of the ones the company saw was foods being prepared and home but eaten somewhere else.

But the economic slowdown of 2008 was just being entrenched as the report was released, and it had an impact on that trend. From a 2008 high of 3.5 billion breakfasts carried from home, it suddenly dipped, to 3.2 billion two years later. What happened? Since fewer people had jobs, fewer people made breakfast and took it with them to a workplace.

Breakfasts consumed and eaten in the home stayed on track, with a slight but steady growth. But breakfasts made at home and eaten elsewhere quickly diverged from the predicted numbers.

In the good news: Since the biggest dip, in 2011, the gap has started closing and hit 3.3 billion in 2013, on a track that is expected to continue growing. NPD Group says that's happening because more people are going to work again.

As to what we're eating, there is a difference in weekday breakfasts we eat at home and weekday breakfasts we take to work. At home, we eat cold cereal, fruit juice, toast and hot cereal. At work, we take fruit, coffee, snack bars and yogurt.

Hi ho, hi ho, we get yogurt to go.

Friday, January 17, 2014

One Great . . . frozen Greek yogurt

With a three-day weekend to devote to cooking and a new stove to do it on, most of my cooking thoughts this week have been on hot stuff. What to braise/bake/simmer first?

Before turning to that, though, I also started thinking about a dessert. It's too early in the year to break the healthful-eating promises, but something virtuous and sweet is starting to call me.

A new little cookbook, "Cooking With Greek Yogurt," by Cassie Johnston, has been sitting on my desk waiting for a tryout. Since I always have a big tub of plain Greek yogurt in the refrigerator, I spotted this immediately. You can make it without an ice cream maker; Johnston says it is essentially an egg-free cookie dough you just freeze and scoop.

Did I mention I have a new refrigerator with lots of room in the freezer?

Cookie Dough Frozen Yogurt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
1 cup plain Greek yogurt

BEAT the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the vanilla, flour and salt and mix until combined. Add the chocolate and yogurt and mix until combined.

SPOON into a freezer-safe, airtight container and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.

PER SERVING: 344 calories, 16g fat, 44g carbohydrates, 5g protein.

YIELD: 8 servings.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Need a class on cooking pork or Italian food?

More cooking-class opportunities are flooding in to start your 2014 off right:

Grateful Growers is offering a series of classes on handling pork. (And yes, I expect to spend the rest of my day deleting comments about that. Keep it classy, Charlotte.)

The Porkalicious Cooking Academy includes four sessions:
Jan. 21: Pork 101 (belly and jowl curing, bacon, pancetta and guanciale).
Jan. 28: Brines and rubs.
Feb. 4: Dollar stretchers (braising cheaper cuts).
Feb. 11: Sausage making.

You can buy one session for $50 or the series for $180. Classes are held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at their kitchen in Mount Holly. Registration is required. Email

Also in Grateful Growers pork news: Feb. 22 is the next on-farm pig processing experience. For $75 (including lunch and beer), you spend the day on the farm learning about raising pigs and participate in butchering one. Go to for information.

Wolfgang Puck executive chef Scott Wallen has announced his entire year of cooking classes, including a March class for kids. And don't we love people who plan ahead? Each class is two hours and includes recipe packets, tastings and wine and beer pairings (except those kids' classes, I presume). Adult classes are $50 or $250 for all six, or $15 for the young-chef classes. Call 704-295-0101 for reservations.

The lineup:
Feb. 22: Dinner With San Valentino.
April 26: Regional rice and grains.
June 21: Stuffed, rolled and filled pastas.
Aug. 23: Great Salmon Run.
Oct. 18: Italian Truffle Season.
Dec. 13: Italian American Holiday Feast.

Young Chefs (ages 6-12; must be accompanied by a parent):
March 22: Pizza party.
Nov. 15: Holiday cookie party.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Looking for gluten-free cooking?

Local cooking instructor Heidi Billotto will tackle the gluten-free issue with a special class Saturday. She'll cover a gluten-free dinner menu, including substitutions and products.

The class is $65 and will be from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at her South Charlotte home.

Since I know how many people are interested in more information on gluten-free, I checked as soon as I got Heidi's announcement Wednesday morning and she said there are two openings left for the class. Email her at right away if you want one.

She also has a pie class coming on Sunday, and of course, she has a lineup of on-farm classes planned in March. To get the list of classes, email and ask to be put on the list for her email newsletter, or check her blog, at

Boy Scout barbecues are better in winter

People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that barbecue is a summer sport. Here in the South, we know better. Barbecues were traditionally held in the fall and winter, when it was cold enough to slaughter a pig without the meat spoiling and when you welcomed a reason to spend hours and hours over hot coals.

Perry Bridgeman of Charlotte's Boy Scout Troop 355 sent me another interesting bit of barbecue trivia: "One of the secrets to our barbecue being so smoky and good for more than 18 years is doing it in the winter. The cold, damp weather makes for lots of smoke and lower smoking temps, as well as a higher yield." Good point, Perry.

Bridgeman wrote to share the news about Troop 355's barbecue sale this weekend at Sharon United Methodist Church. That's the "ski slope" church (the one with the modern and dramatic tower) across from the main entrance to SouthPark. They're using 38 cookers to 12,000 pounds of Boston butt. This year's sale also will include cole slaw and Brunswick stew.

The barbecue is $10 a pound; barbecue sauces (Eastern Mild, Eastern Hot and Western) are $4 a bottle. Pickup is available from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, and 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 18. Details: Call the church, 704-366-9166, or Gary Swanson, 704-556-7734 or 803-984-6545, or online at

Thursday, January 9, 2014

One Great . . . cheese dip without Velveeta

Is there really an impending shortage of blocks of processed cheese? With weeks still to go before the Super Bowl, Kraft Foods is claiming that high football-season demand and difficulties with a manufacturing facility may mean a reduced supply of Velveeta for queso dips.

Velveeta fans may have to join people who worried about the supply of extra-large turkeys in November, the Huy Fong sriracha fans lining their basements with boxes of hot sauce, and the people who have invested everything in Twinkie futures. Surely this would not be a cynical ploy to increase sales, would it?

There's still time for a disastrous report from the growers of avocadoes. I've also seen an early report on possible chicken wing shortages in 2014. Oh, the horror.

Maybe this is nature's way of forcing us to expand our cooking horizons. Thank heavens I already have this in my repertoire. I tried it during a chip-and-dip party last summer and tucked it away for football season. It contains all of the essential elements: Beer, cheese and pretzel rods. You could even heat it if you wanted.

Surely this will get us through until it's time to watch the Olympics.

Velveeta-Free Beer Dip

From Janet Keeler in the St. Petersburg Times.

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 (7-ounce) bag shredded cheddar cheese, or a blend
1 packet powdered ranch dressing mix
6 ounces of beer
Pretzel rods

PLACE all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Chill at least an hour and serve with sturdy pretzel rods for dipping.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Time to figure out German wine

You did make a resolution to figure out the meaning of Trockenbeerenauslese, didn't you? OK, they don't promise to translate that one, but The Wine Shop at Foxcroft will hold a tasting event called "Demystifying German Wine," from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the store, 7824 Fairview Road.

You'll be able to meet Dr. H. Tranisch of the Thanisch Muller-Burggraef family, a producer of Mosel Valley wine that dates to at least 1636. The tasting costs $10, which can be applied toward any wines you buy from the tasting. You don't need reservations, you can just come by the store between 3 and 5. But if you have questions, you can call the store at 704-365-6550.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Are you ready for football barbecue?

Like a long pass, a lot of things about the 2014 Super Bowl is up in the air. Will the 49ers lose? Will the Panthers win? OK, there are really only a couple of important things up in the air as far as Carolina fans are concerned.

There is one thing you can start arranging no matter which team wins: Barbecue. Every year for Super Bowl weekend (Feb. 2 this year), Boy Scout Troop 33 at Sardis Presbyterian Church makes wood-cooked, chopped-pork barbecue in a massive operation that's better organized than a military manuever.

Yes, there are lots of Scout troop barbecues, and I'm a fan of all of them. But Troop 33's barbecue is a tradition, with smoking blanketing the whole Sardis Road North area. The troop is not only more than 70 years old, they do a lot of wilderness activities, and the barbecue is their main money-raiser.

To get the barbecue, you have to place an order in advance. Be warned: It does sell out.

The menu includes barbecue with sauce ($10 a pound), barbecue plates ($8, includes slaw, beans, chips and a roll), 3-sandwich plates ($8), barbecue sauce ($4 a bottle), rolls ($3 for a dozen), baked beans and slaw (each $2 a pint). Brunswick stew is first-come, first-served ($10 a quart if they have it). Sandwiches and plates must be picked up Friday, Jan. 31; pounds can be picked up on Saturday, Feb. 1, before 1 p.m.

The whole thing happens at the Scout hut across from the church at 6100 Sardis Road. To get an order form, go to

Monday, January 6, 2014

One Great . . . football-watching snack

With the Panthers in the playoffs, can we have enough recipes for football parties? Don't worry, we have more coming on Wednesday, with a menu for holding a tailgate in the comfort of your home. In the meantime, here's an oven-baked version of chicken wings that still has plenty of crunch.

The new cookbook "Bold" actually is pretty bold, with recipes that focus on big flavors. Co-authors Susanna Hoffman and Victoria Wise both have connections to Alice Waters' restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Hoffman was an original co-owner, while Wise was the first chef. Hoffman will be in Charlotte on Feb. 5, where she's giving a talk and demonstration for students at Johnson & Wales University's Charlotte campus.

Peanut-Crusted Chicken Wings With Southeast Asian Dipping Sauce

From "Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors," by Susanna Hoffman and Victoria Wise (Workman, $19.95).

8 chicken wings or 16 drummettes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup salted roasted peanuts, finely ground but still a little chunky
Southeast Asian Dipping Sauce (see note)

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet. Discard wing tips and cut wings into two sections. Pat dry on paper towels.

MIX flour and salt on a plate. Whisk egg and water in a shallow bowl. Spread the peanuts on a plate. Dust the chicken wings with the flour, dip each in the egg mixture and place in the peanuts, turning to coat.

ARRANGE coated wings on the baking sheet, not touching, and bake until the golden and almost crisp on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Turn the wings and continue baking until golden and crunchy on top, about 12 minutes longer.

TRANSFER to a serving platter. Gather any leftover peanuts from the baking sheet and scatter over the top. Serve with the dipping sauce.

DIPPING SAUCE: Combine 1/2 cup Asian fish sauce, 2 tablespoons each rice vinegar, water and brown sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1 large minced garlic clove and 2 teaspoons minced hot chile. Stir in 2 tablespoons fresh basil just before serving.