Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Who's talking about food?

Sometimes Charlotte gets skipped by food lecturers, who head straight to Raleigh for A Southern Season or Asheville for . . . Asheville. But we suddenly have a full March calendar of intriguing speakers headed our way. 

I'll have longer interviews with these folks and details on ticket sales coming up, but I wanted to get them on your radar and your calendar:

March 9 & 10: Toni Tipton Martin. Based in Austin, Martin is a food journalist and author with a long list of credits, including first black food editor at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer many years ago and a founding member and former present of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Her current project is "The Jemima Code," a book and traveling photo exhibition about the contributions of African-American women to American foodways. She'll speak at 4 p.m. March 9 at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, and 7 p.m. March 10 at the Levine Museum of the New South. 
March 18: Dr. Marion Nestle. Nestle is a professor of food science at New York University and a prolific author of books on the food industry, food politics and nutrition. She's also a daily blogger for her must-read website Food Politics. She'll be at UNC Charlotte's Center City campus as the annual TIAA Cref Distinguished Lecturer.

March 27: Ruth Reichl. The former restaurant reviewer of The New York Times and the former editor of Gourmet magazine, she also has a series of memoirs about her food career, including "Comfort Me With Apples," and she has now branched into fiction with "Delicious!", a novel coming out in May. She's also known for her haiku-like food Tweets that helped to spawn the parody Twitter feed Ruth Bourdain. She'll be the Jewish Federation's 16th annual spring lecturer. 

And finally, closer to home, Tom Hanchett, the curator of the Levine Museum of the New South, will give a talk based on his "Food From Home" columns for The Observer, at 3 p.m. March 16 at the Duke Mansion. It's free, but reservations are required. Email  kellis@tlwf.org or call 704-714-4445. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

One Great . . . chicken with artichokes

I'll confess: I gave up the Sunday dinner tradition long ago. I don't know how my mother managed to do it. By the time I get home from church, I've still got a half a weekend's worth of chores left. Sunday dinner at night is the best I can do.

The Good Housekeeping editors have a new book that pays tribute to the tradition, though: "The Good Housekeeping Cookbook: Sunday Dinner Collector's Edition" has more than 1,200 recipes that are basic but good, things that would be worth piling onto a platter and sitting down for dinner.

Flipping through the spring menu, I picked out a recipe that uses artichokes and arugula to get a jump on spring. It doesn't have to be Sunday afternoon. It would work for any night of the week.

Roman Chicken Saute With Artichokes

From "The Good Housekeeping Cookbook: Sunday Dinner Collectors' Edition" (Hearst Books, 2014).

1 1/4 pounds chicken breast tenders, each cut in half crosswise and then lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
3 teaspoons olive oil. divided
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and cut in quarters
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel
1 (5- to 6-ounce) bag baby arugula

SPRINKLE chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned on the outside and no longer pink inside. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

ADD remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the skillet. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic; cook 30 seconds or until golden. Stir in artichokes and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until browned in spots. Increase heat to medium-high, stir in the wine and cook 1 minute.

ADD the chicken broth and tomatoes. Cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until the tomatoes burst. Remove skillet from heat. Return the chicken to the skillet; stir in lemon peel. Arrange arugula on a platter and top with a sauteed chicken mixture.

YIELD: 6 servings. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Raise the tent for the Matthews Community Farmers Market

Last week's snow and ice didn't just mess up school schedules and work lives. For farmers and farmers markets, it did very expensive damage. I've heard of at least one, Windcrest Farms, that lost a high tunnel, used to shelter young plants and seedlings and extend the growing season. This morning, I got word about major damage to the tents at the popular Matthews Community Farmers Market. Seven of the tents, used as permanent spots to shelter vendors, were stomped flat by the storm.

Pauline Wood, the manager of the Matthews market, sent out a call for help this morning to raise money for a new, bigger tent that would work better in their space:

"We want to turn this calamity into an opportunity to upgrade to one large attractive tent to cover the vendor spaces in the middle of the market. It would be a market centerpiece."

The trouble is, that kind of tent would cost about $4,000 and needs to be ordered soon to be installed in time for the regular-season opening April 5. The damage also comes at the end of the winter, when they haven't earned much money for a while.

The market will open tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 22) and there will be some early spring crops. They've shifted things around to make room for vendors who don't have covered spaces for the moment. But while you're trying to grab some fresh food, make time to stop by the market office and make a donation, or go to market website, www.matthewsfarmersmarket.com and make a Paypal donation.

 PHOTO: www.matthewsfarmersmarket.com.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stop waffling on beating an egg white

Sometimes in cooking, the time comes to confront a question and finally answer it. The good part: You get to eat your homework. 

While testing recipes for this week's story on Breakfast for Dinner, I was struggling with a waffle recipe. I wanted to concoct a stuffed waffle, with Gruyere and thinly sliced ham encased inside a waffle. I had a little success and several spectacular messes, and finally abandoned the attempt. 

While I was chipping melted cheese and waffle batter from the edges of my waffle iron, I had time to think about my disappointment with most waffle recipes. 

I've had some good waffles. And I've had a lot of limp, so-so waffles. It's really a problem if I try to make waffles for more than one person. Even a warm waffle won't be great after it sits in the oven while you make enough for everyone. 

Over the years, I have gone to the trouble of making overnight waffles, where you use yeast in the batter and make it the night before. And yes, they're good, but not good enough to be worth planning that far ahead. I've looked at lots of recipes that call for folding beaten egg white into the final batter. Yes, I've looked -- and moved on. Do I really need to go to that much trouble for a waffle? Instead, I stuck with the easy waffles, simple batters that require nothing more than mixing, baking and slapping syrup on them. 

Finally, on a snowy night after making breakfast dishes all day, I decided it was time to give a better waffle another try. After all, I had the waffle iron out. Even better, I had a new immersion blender that includes a whisk attachment. It really isn't that hard to whip an egg white. I timed it once when an editor insisted it was too much trouble for readers: Less than 5 minutes of whisking. A lot less with an electric mixer. With an immersion blender with a whip attachment? Less than a minute. 

I found a great recipe, from former Cook's Illustrated food editor Pam Anderson. It also uses cornstarch for lightness and buttermilk (I used soured milk) for flavor. After I separated an egg, beat the white and folded it into the batter, what did I get? 

A wonderful waffle. Crispy and light, and it kept its crunch while it waited in a warm oven for me to make more.
So, the answer is yes: Beat an egg white. It's worth it. 

Beaten-Egg Waffles

From "Cook Smart," by Pam Anderson. 

1 large egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk (see note)
1/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
Butter and maple syrup for topping

PREHEAT the oven to 200 degrees, and preheat your waffle iron.

USE two small bowls to separate the egg white and yolk. Set the yolk aside. Using clean beaters, a whisk or an immersion blender with a whisk attachment, beat the egg white until it almost forms soft peaks (they'll look white, but the tips won't stand up when you lift the beaters to check). Add the sugar and beat until the egg white forms glossy peaks that stand up when you lift the beater or whisk. Beat in the vanilla.

MIX the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl or large glass measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, vegetable oil and egg yolk. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. 

USE a rubber spatula to drop globs of beaten egg white into the batter, then fold it in, lifting under and through the batter, until they're mixed in. 

POUR a little batter (usually 1/3 to 1/2 cup) on the heated waffle iron, close and cook until it stops steaming and the waffle is brown when you lift the lid. Remove the waffle and place it directly on the rack in the warm oven while you make the rest of the waffles. Don't stack the waffles or they'll get soggy. 

SERVE warm, as soon as possible, with butter and maple syrup. Extra waffles can be frozen and reheated in a toaster. 

NOTE: If you don't have buttermilk handy, stir 1 tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar into the milk and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. 
YIELD: 4 to 6 waffles, depending on the size of your waffle iron. 

Chew on these: The Brazilian rules, and rethinking food deserts

Looking around the food news this morning, I spotted two very intriguing stories:

1. On slate.com, Heather Tirado Gilligan reports on studies that question the current thinking that improving access to fresh food will improve the health of people living in poverty. It sounds counterintuitive, but studies aren't showing an improvement in overall health by getting fresh, healthful food into poor areas. One theory is that living in poverty is so stressful that the toll of it is harder on people's health than poor nutrition, and improving diets isn't enough to make a difference.

2. On a happier note, on her blog Food Politics, food-policy and nutrition expert Marion Nestle reports on a public policy effort in Brazil to issue dietary guidelines that take into account social, cultural, economic and environmental consequences of food choices. The 10 proposed guidelines:

  • Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods. 
  • Use oil, fats, sugars and salt in moderation. 
  • Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products. 
  • Eat regular meals, paying attention, and in appropriate environments.
  • Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption.
  • Eat in company whenever possible.
  • Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
  • Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space.
  • When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains. 
  • Be critical of commercial advertisement of food products. 
Wow. Beats the heck out of the food-guide pyramid, doesn't it? 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Interested in the future of food in the South?

What's the New South and how should it be eating? I'm on a panel Wednesday night at the UNC Charlotte Center City, 320 E. 9th St., to talk about that.

UNC Charlotte's Center for the Study of the New South has been hosting a series called "Soul Food: A Contemporary and Historical Exploration of New South Food," that has included a screening of the documentary "Pride And Joy," and will bring writer Toni Tipton-Martin to town for a lecture next month.

On Wednesday night, there will be a panel discussion featuring Cassie Parsons, of Grateful Growers Farm and the new Lincolnton food venture Farmer-Baker-Sausage Maker; Robin Emmons, executive director of Sow Much Good; Timothy Cameron, an associate professor at Johnson & Wales University; and myself. We'll all talk about the future of food in the South, what makes Southern cuisine distinctive, and what we see as the challenges coming up.

The panel starts at 6 p.m. and it's followed by a reception. I'm hoping for lots of audience input. It's free, and there's free parking in the lots at 319 E. 9th St. and 422 E. 9th St., across 9th and Brevard from the new UNC Charlotte Center City building (there are supposed to attendants helping, so look for them).

If you're there, say hey. If you can't be there, drop me a note about what issues you want brought forth, either here or through my email, at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com.

Monday, February 17, 2014

One Great . . . weeknight chicken dish

I was reading a cookbook the other day when I saw a recipe described as "perfect for a weeknight." The problem? It called for marinating something for 4 hours. That's only perfect for a weeknight if you work at home and can stop by the kitchen after lunch.  

The cookbook "Keepers," by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (Rodale, 2013) is more my speed. Written by two magazine editors (Saveur, Gourmet and Food Arts for Brennan, Glamour, Saveur, Good Housekeeping and GQ for Campion), the idea is that they only included recipes that they both agreed are keepers.

This chicken is a great example: You toss chicken pieces and some easy ingredients in a bag in the morning before you leave for work, then refrigerate it for 8 to 12 hours. The chicken pieces pick up a lot of flavor and color from the marinade and they bake in 30 minutes with very little fuss or tending when you get home.

Yes, a full tablespoon of smoked paprika is correct. That's part of what gives plenty of flavor to a very simple dish. The leftovers make good lunch fare, too.

Morning Chicken 

From "Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-And-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen," by Kathy Brennan and Carolina Campion (Rodale, 2013).

1 tablespoon Dijon or whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8 pieces, or 3 1/2 pound chicken parts
Salt and pepper

PLACE a resealable plastic bag in a bowl to hold it steady. Add the mustard, paprika, garlic, thyme, lemon zest and juice and olive oil. Add the chicken pieces and close the bag, squeezing out air. Squish the bag around to coat the chicken pieces with the marinade. Refrigerate 8 to 12 hours. (Turn the bag once or twice if you're around to do it.)

COVER a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier cleanup. Heat oven to 450 degrees with rack in the center position. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag, letting any excess marinade drip off, and place skin-side down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Turn pieces and continue to roast until golden-brown and juices run clear, about 10 minutes. (Chicken wings will cook faster, in about 20 minutes total.)

YIELD: 4 servings. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter food tip: Chili powder vs. chile powder

Whenever I run recipes for chili, I usually get this question: "You called for (1 tablespoon/1/4cup/etc.) of chili powder. That's sounds like a lot. Is it a mistake?"

Nope, it's not a mistake. The important thing to know, though, is the difference between chili and chile. As a food writer for a couple of decades now (almost as long as this winter is starting to feel), I get to do things like set The Observer's food style. That means thinking way too long about things like "chile" vs. chili."

Because they are such different things, the spelling difference is a good way to tell them apart. "Chile" means a hot chile pepper and its many forms - dried chiles, fresh chiles, canned chiles, cooked chiles, chile pepper seeds (AKA red pepper flakes, another one that drives people batty).

"Chili," however, means the dish. Whether you make it with beans or without beans (an argument for another day) or with meat or without meat (or with ground meat, meat chunks, chicken or whatever you like), chili is the stew-like dish. So CHILI is flavored with CHILES.

Are you with me so far? OK, on to chili/chile powder: Chili powder is used to make chili. It's a mixture of spices, usually red pepper or cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, garlic powder and oregano. It's used to flavor chili, sort of the same way you'd use Montreal steak seasoning to season a steak rather than get all the ingredients out and season it yourself.

Chili powder has heat, but it's not remarkably hot. So if you're making a big pot of chili, typically with 6 to 8 servings, a 1/4 cup of chili powder really isn't all that much. With 12 teaspoons in a 1/4 cup, you're using maybe 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper, total, for 8 servings, or 1/4 teaspoon per bowl. Not that hot, really.

That brings us to chile powder. There's a lot of confusion about it because there was a time when this product didn't exist, or at least wasn't common in American supermarkets and kitchens. If you had a well-stocked spice rack, you might have red pepper or cayenne pepper. But the remarkable variety of spices we now have didn't include things like ancho chile powder or ground chipotles, to name two chile powders that are in my spice cabinet right now.

Here's the important thing to remember from all that: When a recipe calls for CHILI powder, don't mix that up with CHILE powder. A quarter cup of chili powder isn't much. A quarter cup of chile powder would be powerful stuff. But if you make chili with CHILI powder and it isn't hot enough, a little CHILE powder and see if that does the trick.

Chili Con Carne

Adapted from "How to Cook Everything," by Mark Bittman (Wiley, 2008). If you want a long-cooking project, start with dried beans. If you want something faster, use 2 cans of canned pinto or dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained.

1 pound dried pinto beans or two cans pinto or kidney beans (or use a couple of kinds, like black beans and pinto beans)
1 whole onion, unpeeled (if cooking dried beans), and 1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound hand-chopped or ground beef, turkey, pork or chicken
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons chili powder (see note)
1 cup bean-cooking liquid, vegetable or chicken stock, or water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons cornmeal (optional)
Garnishes of your choice: Fresh cilantro, grated cheese, diced onion, diced avocado, cooked rice or hot sauce

RINSE the dried beans and drain well. Place in a pot with water to cover and bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat; let stand 1 hour. Drain, cover with fresh water and bring to a boil again. Add the whole onion. Adjust heat to a steady simmer, cover loosely and cook until they begin to soften, about 30 minutes.
 (If using canned beans, skip this step, rinse and drain the beans.)

 DRAIN the beans, reserving the cooking water if desired. Return to the pot and add 1 cup liquid (bean-cooking liquid, stock or water). Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.

WHILE the beans are cooking, heat the oil in a skillet and add the meat. Cook, stirring, until the meat loses its color, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and chili powder. Stir into the beans with the garlic and minced onion. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed. Cook until the beans and meat are very tender, 15 to 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more chili powder or chile powder and salt if needed. If you want it thicker, stir in cornmeal and cook a few more minutes.

SERVE hot, over cooked rice if desired, and garnished however you like it.

NOTE: To make your own chili powder, combine 2 tablespoons ground ancho, New Mexico or any other mild dried chile (or use 1 tablespoon ground chile powder), 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, 2 teaspoons cumin seed, 2 teaspoon coriander seeds and 1 tablespoon dried Mexican or Italian oregano. Put all the ingredients in a small, dry skillet over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan occasionally, until very fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Grind in a spice or coffee grinder (or with a mortar and pestle) until powdery. Store in a tightly covered container up to 2 weeks.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings.

Monday, February 10, 2014

One Great . . . beer-braised carrots

After weeks of kitchen renovation, travel and weather disruptions, I'm back in the farmers market habit. The South's winter of cold discontent has wiped out some crops that usually survive this time of year, but there's still enough growing that I can fill one big canvas bag.

Despite the difficulties, our local farmers have managed to keep coaxing carrots from the ground. I'm spotting them everywhere at the market, ranging from tiny ones piled on tables to big ones tied in bundles with string. I was getting a little bored with the usual glazed carrots when I came across this recipe, from chef Alex Guarnaschelli's new book, "Old School Comfort Food: The Way I Learned to Cook."

The combination of beer, caraway and brown sugar is perfect, giving the carrots a taste similar to rye bread. It's perfect for a winter evening, with a winter crop.

Beer-Braised Carrots

The slicing instructions result in very thick pieces, so they don't overcook in the time it takes for the beer to cook away. Guarnaschelli uses Heineken, but I used Harp and it worked treat.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
12 medium to small carrots (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled, stems removed and halved lengthwise
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 (12-ounce) bottle lager

HEAT a skillet large enough to hold the carrot halves in a single layer over medium-high heat and add the butter. When the butter melts and starts to brown, add the coriander and caraway seeds and toss to coat with the butter. Toast for a minute until they become fragrant. Add the carrot halves and toss to coat with the butter.

SEASON with salt and add the brown sugar. Cook carrots for a minute or two over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the beer and continue cooking about 25 minutes, until carrots are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife and the sauce is cooked down to form a glaze. (If it cooks away completely before the carrots are done, add a splash of water if needed.) Taste for seasoning and serve.

YIELD:  4 to 6 servings.