Friday, March 28, 2014

Random bits of Ruth

Reichl (2nd from left) with federation members after her talk. 
Favorite moments/quotes/tips from Thursday night's appearance by Ruth Reichl as the annual spring lecturer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte:

  • A review should do more than just inform. The value of criticism, whether it's art, music, books, theater or food, isn't about just what you're eating, reading or seeing. "A good critic gives people a way to appreciate their experience."
  • "Restaurants are magical places. I wanted people to see that restaurants are where you can step out of your life and be anyone you want to be."
  • On the move away from restaurant reviewers trying to remain anonymous: "Not being anonymous is wrong. It's important to tell you what it's like to be a customer there." 
  • One of her most offensive moments when she was dining undercover for the New York Times was when she was wearing the costume of a flashy, colorfully dressed blonde character she called Stella. At a pricey restaurant, "Stella" asked if the striped bass was wild or farmed. The waiter's response: "It comes from around your neighborhood - Coney Island." Reichl is still mad about the disrespect of the customer. Expensive restaurants have an obligation to not only feed you, but to make you feel good about yourself, she says.  
  • Her three favorite New York restaurants at the moment: Il Buco Alimentari. (Andrea Weigl and I ate there in January, and I can second Reichl's recommendation.) Yopparai, a Japanese izakaya on the Lower East Side. And Pearl Oyster Bar ("like home to me"). 
  • Why she isn't fat despite her job: "Discipline. I was a fat teenager . . . You can get as much pleasure from a couple of bites of something great." 
  • And: "Butter and soy sauce is the fastest, best sauce for almost anything."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One event for wine fans, one for beer fans

At least, a blog post for both wine fans and beer fans:

1. For wine fans: The American Wine Society will holds its 2014 conference Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in Charlotte and Concord. The AWS is a nonprofit organization with over 4,300 members in 130 chapters that supports the appreciation of wine through education.

The conference, to be held at the Embassy Suites Golf Resort & Spa near Concord Mills, will include wine seminars, wine-pairing dinners, wine excursions and other events. Two competitions, one commercial and one for amateurs, will also be held in conjunction with the conference.

AWS executive director John Hames says the Charlotte area was picked because of its reputation as a wine and food center, and because of growth in the organization in North Carolina. About a half-dozen new chapters have formed in the Carolinas in the past three years.

2. For beer fans, the American Homebrewers Association isn't waiting until the start of N.C. Beer Month in April to hold its own celebration. They're doing it this Saturday, March 29, at Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem. The event is one of a series of rallies being held around the country to bring together people who like to make beer at home with people who like to make beer professionally.

For N.C. beer enthusiasts, there's another reason to attend: Not only do you get to tour the brewery, ask lots of questions and win prizes, you also will have the chance to buy (I'm going to type this really quietly to reduce the risk of hysteria) several vintages of Foothills' insanely popular Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout.

The rally is 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Foothills Production Brewery, 3800 Kimwell Drive, Winston-Salem. It's free for members of American Homebrewers (click here for details), but you do need to RSVP here.

Here chicky, chicky, chicky

Today's story on roast chicken let me scratch one off my list that I've wanted to do for years. I've always wanted to look closely at the basic idea of the roast chicken and which way is best. All three have their advantages and disadvantages. But a reader called in Wednesday morning with a great question: How come the picture of the Julia Child chicken isn't on a rack in a roasting pan like the story describes?

Oops. OK, you caught us. Shooting pictures of food gets tricky, because what looks tasty in the kitchen doesn't always look its best on film. The picture above is one I took right after I took all the chickens out of the oven while I was waiting for photographer Todd Sumlin to arrive. Once Todd got there, we played around for a while with different settings and poses for the chickens.

The Thomas Keller chicken (upper right, above) looked delicious but was too dark on film. It looked burned even though it was really just nicely browned. The Judy Rogers chicken (upper left) was golden brown and wonderful, but since it was untrussed, the legs splayed out in a way that wasn't all that flattering, and the skin between the thigh and breast came apart.

The Julia Child chicken (center, bottom, still on its V rack with its legs neatly tied) looked the best. We took its picture on the rack, then tried shooting it on a platter. But the platter, meant for turkey, was too big. So we ended up grabbing the pan from the Judy Rogers chicken for its rustic appeal. It made a nice picture, but it wasn't the same pan in which it cooked. Sorry.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One Great . . . twist on oyster crackers

There must be a party going on in Lisa Fain's head. After she moved from her native Texas to New York City, she decided to put her longing for the food she loved online on a blog, a newfangled idea in 2005. It worked, and Fain became one of the first bloggers to score mainstream success when she got a book contract for her first cookbook.

Her tales of fun, food and the South are so popular,  she now has a second cookbook, "The Homesick Texan's Family Table," with even more foods like great nachos, coffee-coated pork chops and bacon-cheddar biscuits. Fain has the kind of food you need when you need food to share.

Case in point? Her variation on the popular ranch oyster crackers. The original recipe is a classic tear-open-an-envelope recipe, using ranch dressing mix and lemon pepper. In Fain's version, you make your own base by starting with buttermilk powder, a really handy thing to keep in your refrigerator, and boosts the flavor with smoky chipotle chile powder.

Leave it to a Texan to really kick things up a notch.

Chipotle Ranch-Spiced Oyster Crackers

From "The Homesick Texan's Family Table," by Lisa Fain (Ten Speed Press, $29.99). Look for buttermilk powder on the baking aisle.

1/4 cup buttermilk powder
2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (8-ounce) box oyster crackers
1/4 cup canola oil

PREHEAT oven to 250 degrees. Stir together the buttermilk powder, dried onion flakes, dill weed, parsley, garlic powder, chipotle powder and salt.

TOSS the oyster crackers evenly with the canola oil, then stir in the chipotle-buttermilk powder. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Spread the crackers evenly in a 13-by-9-inch pan.

BAKE 30 minutes, stirring once. Cool 15 minutes before serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

YIELD: 2 cups. 

PHOTO: New York Times.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Make your plans for Beer Month

It's official: By declaration of N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, April will be Beer Month throughout the state. And the events are rolling in:

In NoDa's Brewmaster Experience Sweepstakes, you can enter for a chance to be an understudy on the NoDa Brewing staff and help create a 10-gallon batch. It comes with more perks besides being free labor for brewmaster Chad Henderson: A two-night stay at Aloft Charlotte in the Epicentre for the winner and a gust, a voucher for a Charlotte Brews Cruise for two0, a $50 gift card to Growler's Pourhouse, a $75 fit card to BlackFinn American Saloon and a $500 Visa gift card to cover your travel. To enter: Go to and click on "Brewmaster Sweepstakes."

Beer Weekend in Kinston: If you've been promising yourself a trip Down East to eat at Vivian Howard's The Chef & the Farmer, do it April 3-5 so you'll be around for three days of events that include a Barbecue, Oysters and Beer Bash, Mother Earth Brewing's Neuse River brews cruise and breakfast on a full-size replica of a Confederate ironclad.

Blowing Rock will feature a Beer Walkabout April 26 from 1-4 p.m., with a downtown festival devoted to cookouts, beer samples and music. You can include that with a stay at the Blowing Rock Ale House & Inn, dinner at the Sale House restaurant and a class with the Blowing Rock Ale brewery.

There are way more than a six-pack full of other events, including Brewgaloo, Hickory Hops, Brews on the Bay in Edenton, beer dinners all around the state and the World Beer Festival in in Raleigh. You can match up your travel plans with the events by going to and signing up for updates.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Weigl talks pickles and preserves Sunday

Andrea Weigl, my food-writing colleague at the Raleigh News & Observer, is now my food-writing colleague in the "Savor the South" book series from UNC Press. Her book, "Pickles & Preserves," came out this month, covering Southern-style canning of all kinds.

She'll talk about the art of canning - and share samples of her recipes - at 2 p.m. Sunday at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road (at the corner of Woodlawn and Park Road).

Her book brings the series to eight books out now: "Buttermilk," by Debbie Moose; "Pecans" and "Bourbon," by me; "Tomatoes," by Miriam Rubin; "Peaches," by Kelly Alexander; "Biscuits," by Belinda Ellis; and "Okra," by Virginia Willis.

The "Savor the South" series originally was going to be 14 books, but it's been so popular that the planned total is now 24. Each book is 50 recipes and costs $18 to $20, depending on where you buy it.

If you're into canning, you definitely need to come by Sunday and hear Andrea. She's an expert on the subject, as I can attest: I've been the lucky recepient of her Damson plum jam, watermelon pickles and fig preserves for several Christmases in a row.

Cookbook giveaway winner

After a random drawing, helped by the Random Number Generator, Sally Beach is the winner of the copy of "Cooking Light Global Kitchen: The World's Most Delicious Food Made Easy," by David Joachim.

Congratulations, Sally!

Marion Nestle and the end of civilization

Thanks to a time conflict, I had to miss Tuesday night's speech at UNC-Charlotte's center city campus by New York University professor Marion Nestle.

Too bad: I apparently missed some provoking thought. Nestle wrote about this week on her blog, Food Politics.

Here's what she posted:

Is Food Studies the End of Civilization? Really?

Before my talk at the University of North Carolina Charlotte this week, I was introduced by its Chancellor who read from an article written by Mary Grabar who works for a local conservative think tank, the Pope Center.
“Food studies” has become an academic growth area, adding to the deterioration of the humanities, and to the advancement of leftist ideologies. No doubt our universities will be producing many more “scholars” investigating all aspects of food: food and race, food and capitalism, food and gender, etc.  But we will have fewer graduates familiar with literary and philosophical masterpieces.  Fewer will be able to produce good writing—or real food.
The audience was amused, as was I, and I think my talk was a sufficient rebuttal on its own.
But I do want to comment on her remarks directly.
Food Studies, she argues, has “little to do with legitimate intellectual endeavors like agriculture or nutrition science. Instead, food becomes another lens through which to examine oppression, sustainability, and multiculturalism.”
It most certainly does all of that, and is perfect for those purposes.
What could be possibly be more democratic than food?
Everyone eats.
Food studies, which tends to promote local, organic, seasonal, sustainable and healthful food, inherently questions the industrial food system.  It also promotes food equity, food justice, and food sovereignty.  No wonder it worries conservatives.
I, for example, teach courses in food policy, politics, and advocacy, in which I teach students how to analyze food systems and advocate for those that promote the health of people and the planet.
When my academic department at NYU inaugurated our undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs in food studies in 1996—18  years ago!—we could hardly have predicted how quickly the field would spread to other universities or how brilliant and exciting so much of its scholarship would turn out to be.
I’m proud of my own contributions to the field and thrilled that Food Studies has gotten to the point where conservative critics worry that it might be effective.
In one sense, Ms. Grabar’s article helps the field.  It contains links to websites for several Food Studies programs, ours among them.
For other such links and additional resources, go to the website of the Association for the Study of Food and Society.
This is a wonderful field of study.  Come join us!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cookbook giveaway: 'Cooking Light Global Kitchen'

In her story on savory pies, Andrea Weigl turned to David Joachim's new book for inspiration. There's certainly plenty in this book, which includes a wide range of international recipes, lots of pictures and guides for doing things like rolling grape leaves. The recipes aren't all dumbed down, with less well-known dishes like Peruvian Sarsa Salad and Masaman Curry.

Lucky for you, I have a copy to spare. To enter a drawing, send an email to me at Put Global Kitchen" in the subject line and include your daytime phone number and mailing address. I'll pick one entry at random on Friday. Deadline: 9 a.m. Friday.

Trader Joe's announces class-action settlement

The March issue of the Fearless Flyer, the Trader Joe's email newsletter, included something a little different along with the usual recipe ideas and product pitches: A link to information on a class-action suit for shoppers who bought certain products between Oct. 24, 2007, and Feb. 6., 2014.

The class-action settlement doesn't admit guilt or lack of guilt, it simply provides a $3.3 million pool of money for people to file for settlements. The settlements are small, ranging from $2.70 to $3.99 for specific products. You can claim up to 10 without proofs of purchase, but you have to fill out the form by the June deadline.

The issue is the use of the terms "All-Natural" or "100% Natural" on products that included synthetic ingredients. The products at issue:

Joe-Joe's Chocolate Vanilla Creme Cookies.
Joe-Joe's Chocolate Sandwich Creme Cookies.
Trader Joe's Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls.
Trader Joe's Buttermilk Biscuits.
Trader Giotto's 100% Natural Fat-Free Ricotta Cheese.
Trader Joe's Fresh-Pressed Apple Juice.

To see the details of the settlement, including links for filing claims, go to 

Monday, March 17, 2014

One Great . . . sports-watching popcorn

The trouble with March Madness is that there is so much madness and so much March. It's not like the Super Bowl, where you can put out a whole table of football-watching snacks and be done with it.

No, there are those multiple game-watching parties, which calls for things that are simple, tasty and fast. After I tried this simple dressed-up popcorn, it occurred to me that it would be perfect for watching basketball. It's easier to make than something like caramel corn, but it's still sweet and salty, with just enough curry to be interesting and compulsively eatable.

Even better: If somebody gets mad enough to throw something, you can't do much damage with it.

Golden Curried Popcorn 
Adapted from Food Network Magazine. If you have another means of popping popcorn, use those directions instead. You could even substitute a fully popped bag of unbuttered microwave popcorn.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
4 tablespoons butter
5 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

PLACE oil and two kernels of unpopped popcorn in a heavy Dutch oven or 3-quart saucepot with a lid. Place over high heat with lid on. Wait until you hear the test kernels pop, then add the rest of the popcorn. Cover and let the popcorn pop, shaking occasionally to keep the bottom layer of popped corn from burning and listen for the popping to almost stop.

REMOVE from heat and pour the popped popcorn into a bowl. Let the pan cool, then wipe it out and return to the stove over medium-low heat. Add the butter and swirl until melted. Add the sugar, curry powder and salt, stirring just until well mixed.

REMOVE from heat and add the popped popcorn. Stir well with a rubber spatula, turning until the popcorn is completely coated with the butter mixture. Serve warm.

YIELD: 2 servings. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

One Great . . . easy chicken soup

I try not to use too many recipes from Akron food writer Jane Snow's newsletter, See Jane Cook. But I can't help it - she runs easy dishes that always taste good. Jane used to be food editor at the Akron Beacon Journal, and she's been a friend for as long as I've been a food writer.

If you go to, you can find archives of her recipes and sign up to get a free weekly newsletter. Her writing is always down to earth and interesting, just like her recipes.

This soup is a great example. It's so simple, I threw it together while making something else for dinner one night. I let it simmer while we ate and cleaned up, then cooled it and put it away. The rest of the week, I had a great fast dish to pack for lunch or grab when I was too busy to cook dinner for myself.

Jane's Golden Chicken and Cabbage Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons dried thyme
32 ounces (4 cups) chicken broth
1 (32-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 small head of cabbage, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar

HEAT a medium-sized soup pot over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat. Reduce the heat to very low and add the onions and garlic. Cook very slowly, until the onions are silky soft and just beginning to brown around the edges, about 15 minutes.

SCRAPE the onions and garlic to one side of the pan, and pull that side of the pan a little off the heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat to medium-high. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until browned in spots. Season with plenty of salt and pepper, then add the paprika, turmeric and thyme.

RETURN all of the pot to the heat and stir the onions into the chicken and spices. Add the chicken broth. Using a slotted spoon, add the whole tomatoes from the can, leaving the juice behind in the can, but leaving the juice that's already in the tomatoes. Add the cabbage, cover and simmer 2 hours, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon.

CORRECT the seasonings and add the sugar to taste. Cool and refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Reheat before serving.

YIELD: About 6 servings. 

Talking bourbon in Asheville

If you're in Asheville on Sunday, I hope you'll come by Posana Cafe for an event put on by the group Farmer & Chef South.

 There will be a bourbon cocktail demo by Spirit Savvy, food tastings prepared by chefs Peter Pollay of Posana and Mike Moore of Seven Sows Larder and Blind Pig, and pork ingredients raised by farmer Casey McKissick. Oh, and I'll be there, giving a talk about bourbon and signing copies of my book "Bourbon: A Savor the South Cookbook."

My thanks in advance to Malaprops, one of the world's great independent bookstores, which will be there to sell books. Tickets to the rest are $35 and are available at Event Brite here.

The event is 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Posana Cafe, 1 Biltmore Ave. (in Pack Square across from the Asheville Art Museum.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Getting all matchy-matchy with food dollars

In hunger-relief circles these days, the key phrase is "matching funds." Or "double dollars." Or: More money for people who can't afford fresh, local food.

The double-dollar programs allow people to double their benefits by buying fresh, usually locally grown, foods. The recently passed farm bill had steep cuts in money for SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what we used to call food stamps - but included a provision for increasing matching funds: If people who get SNAP benefits use them to buy fresh food at qualifying markets, they can get $2 worth of food for every dollar they spend. But the idea has been kicking around the private sector for years, through nonprofit groups like Wholesome Wave.

The Atherton Market, 2140 South Blvd., is planning an event March 15 to raise money to support this kind of incentive shopping.

March Match-ness is sponsored by Friendship Gardens and Queen City Mobile Market. There will be a wine and beer bar, tastings by local chefs, games and a "chefs' bracket" to vote on the best dish of the night. Tickets are $5, with more chances to donate throughout the event.

Money raised will be used by Friendship Gardens to double purchases made with SNAP benefits at the Atherton Market, Queen City Mobile Market and Friendship Gardens To-Go.

Farmers markets advocates have wrestled for years with how to get more fresh, local food into the hands of people who live in underserved urban neighborhoods, AKA food deserts. That's starting to happen, thanks to double-up programs that make farmers markets more affordable options.

If you're interested in that, grab a ticket here or at the door, and put it on your calendar for 5-8 p.m. March 15. Get more details here or here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dreaming of life in Italy?

Here's a contest for a very special food candidate: If you're a chef, bartender or sommelier and you really want to live in Italy, and you can communicate in both English and Italian, AND you understand the world of social media, it could be for you.

Toscana Resort Castelfalfi is a Tuscan village that is being restored as a resort with luxury residences. And it needs a chef, bartender and sommelier for its restaurant, La Rocca di Castelfalfi. To find the right people, it's holding a social media contest, Dreaming Tuscany:

To enter, you need to make a 60-second video explaining "or creatively showcasing" why you're the best candidate for the job. You have to "like" Castelfalfi's Facebook page and upload the video there and to Twitter (#dreamingtuscany). The deadline is March 23, and the six candidates whose videos get the most "likes" will go to Castelfalfi in April for a one-week tryout. And of course, the winners get a six-month contract.

Start by getting more details (and the important "like" click) at I'll just say: "Che la fortuna possa essere sempre dalla tua parte," which I really hope means "May the odds be ever in your favor."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

'Way South' with Gene Briggs

Latin American foods are the plan when chef Gene Briggs of Blue teaches the cooking class "Way South of the Border," 11 a.m. March 8.

The menu includes the Colombian version of the soup Sanchoco de Gallina, snapper and mango ceviche taquitos, pork, green chile and queso fresco tamales, and plantains in mole. Compare Foods is providing the ingredients.

The class is $44.95 per person and reservations are required. Call 704-927-2583 or find more details at

Blue is at 206 N. College St. in the Center City Charlotte Heast Tower, at the corner of 5th and College streets.