Thursday, May 29, 2014

Next up for Peter Reinhart: Helping with the next Modernist project

When visionary scientist and cooking nut Nathan Myhrvold came out with "Modernist Cuisine" in 2011, it shook the food-book world, and not just for the massive size and price ($468, five volumes, more than 2,000 pages). Myhrvold used meticulous science and innovative photography to show exactly what happens when you cook.

Next up: Myhrvold has pulled together a dream team of baking experts in Seattle to do the same thing with bread. And the show runner is Charlotte's Peter Reinhart.

"The role they've created for me is assignments editor," Reinhart told me last week after he returned from a planning trip in Seattle. "I'm kind of like the link between the baking team and the research team. Part of my work is to bring in different experts.

"In the end, it will kind of be like an encyclopedia of bread, past, present and future."

Reinhart, of course, is the faculty member at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte who has won four James Beard awards for his books "Crust and Crumb," "The Bread Baker's Apprentice," Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Baking" and "Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday."

The bread project will be extensive, he says. It will take at least two years, with a target date for publication in late 2016. "We might just make it," Reinhart joked. "Every day, they're going deeper into the craft of baking, the science of baking."

The project will focus tightly on bread, not baked goods. It will probably include brioche, he said, but not scones, biscuits or muffins.

The photography will be just as innovative as "Modernist Cuisine," which is famous for techniques like cutting a wok in half to show what happens during a stir fry.

"One of the cool things about being in the lab is seeing how they do the pictures," Reinhart says. "It will be visually stunning."

So how did Reinhart end up working with Myhrvold? It was a dream come true, Reinhart says. Dream time, he says: When the original "Modernist" came out, he was so impressed, he thought, "Gee, I hope he does one someday on bread and I hope he calls me. And then he called me. He likes how I explain things to the layman, and he wants the book to be understandable for everybody, not just professional bakers."

And don't worry, Reinhart isn't leaving Charlotte -- or Johnson & Wales. His title with the university is "chef on assignment," which means he's supposed to go out and spread JWU expertise. This comes with the territory, he says.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s never happened -- this kind of project doesn’t come along every day. I’m just honored to be a part of it.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

One Great . . . berry salad

Summer berries look so lovely, so promising and full of flavor.

Except when they're not. The prettiest fruit can be disappointing, maybe not as sweet or as ripe as you had hoped.

With a whole list of award-winning books, including "1000 Italian Recipes" and "A Fresh Taste of Italy," Michelle Scicolone is an expert on simple but great Italian recipes. Looking through her new book, "The Italian Vegetable Cookbook," I spotted a recipe that told me I'm not the only one who sometimes needs fruit to get a little help.

She uses apricot jam, lemon juice and a little liqueur to boost the sweetness. You can adapt it, replacing the apricot jam with raspberry or blackberry jam, and using cherry liqueur instead of orange. You can skip the liqueur, too. While this is called a salad, and could be served next to roasted meat, it also can be a dessert, on ice cream or with a very simple cake.

Berry Salad 

From "The Italian Vegetable Cookbook," by Michelle Scicolone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

3 tablespoons apricot jam
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 cups raspberries
1/2 cup blackberries
1/2 cup blueberries

WHISK together the jam, lemon juice and liqueur (if using) in a medium bowl. Add the fruit and stir gently to coat. Let stand for 30 minutes before serving.

YIELD: 4 servings. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

One Great . . . green garlic and potato soup

The aroma of green garlic lasts longer than the season. The juicy garlic heads, which sometimes look more like large green onions, appear and disappear within a few weeks each spring.

Good thing you don't have to look very far to find something to do with it. When I spotted this recipe in thew new cookbook "Bold" last winter, I made a note to myself to hang on to it until spring, when the green-garlic window briefly opens.

This really easy weeknight soup takes things you've probably already got on hand. It makes a very thick puree that the French would call a potage. With a green salad and warm bread, it makes a satisfying dinner on a cool spring night.

If you're too late to lay your hands on green garlic, you can use big green onions or those spring onions with big bulbs. Or heck, even fully mature garlic would probably work. Just cook it carefully in the first step so it doesn't burn.

Potato and Young Garlic Soup 

From "Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors," by Susanna Hoffman and Victoria Wise (Workman, 2013).

2 tablespoons butter
5 cups water, divided
1 cup coarsely chopped young garlic, mostly white bulbs with a little of the green stalks
4 medium-size russet potatoes (about 2 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 large thyme sprigs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, plus more for garnish
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream, for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, garnish

MELT butter in a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and 2 tablespoons of the water. Cook about 5 minutes, keeping the heat low so the garlic doesn't burn but becomes very soft.

ADD the potatoes, thyme, salt, pepper and remaining water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are very soft and mashable, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.

REMOVE the thyme sprigs. Use a potato masher or a sturdy wire whisk to break up the potatoes in a chunky puree. Reheat the soup over medium low just until steaming. Ladle into bowls and drizzle each with a tablespoon of cream and a sprinkling of chives and white pepper. Serve hot.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Tupelo Honey authors making 2 Charlotte stops

Fans of Tupelo Honey, the Asheville-based restaurant that now has a location on South Bouleveard in Charlotte, may be interested in Tupelo Honey the book.

"Tupelo Honey Cafe: New Southern Flavors From the Blue Ridge Mountains" actually is the second book from chef Brian Sonoskus and Tupelo scribe Elizabeth Sims. This first focused on Asheville and on recipes from the restaurant that are fan

favorites. Sonoskus says the second book takes a wider look at the Mountain South region, including ingredients and traditions, as well as more recipes from the restaurant. The recipes include things like the Appalachian Limoncello, Acorn Squash with Bacon Bread Pudding and Dressed-Up Onion Casserole.

Sonoskus and Sims will do two signings on May 22 in Charlotte: 4-5 p.m. at the cafe, 1820 South Blvd., and 7-8 p.m. at Park Road Books, in the Park Road Shopping Center at Park Road and Woodlawn. The Park Road Books event will include samples of foods from the book.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

If you give a Charlottean a cookie . . .

Here's my philosophy: If you're going to eat a cookie, make it a really good cookie.

Who has the best cookie? The 12th annual Great Cookie Crumble at 7th Street Public Market on Saturday aimed to pick the best cookie in town.

The winners, in three categories:

Judges' Pick:
1st: Doubletree by Hilton, chocolate chip walnut cookie.
2nd: Jason's Deli Uptown, white chocolate macadamia nut cookie.
3rd: Cloud 9 Confections, chocolate chunk cookie.

People's Choice
1st: Cloud 9 Confections, caramel sea salt cookie.
2nd: Double Tree by Hilton, chocolate chip walnut cookie.
3rd: Coastal Kitchen + Bar, orange ginger cookie with quince jam.

Kids' choice
1st: Salts of the Earth, Mom's triple delight cookie.
2nd: Local Loaf, chai peanut butter cookie.
3rd: Coastal Kitchen, caramel chocolate cookie.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Lee Brothers know how to do brunch

Making the rounds of the events in New York last weekend for the annual James Beard Foundation Awards, I knew I had to make room on my schedule for this invitation:

A Sunday taco brunch given by Matt and Ted Lee (aka The Lee Brothers) at the Brooklyn warehouse/studio/living space of Ted and his wife, sculptor E.V. Day.

The real agenda was the announcement that they're bringing the Cookbook Boot Camps they started in Charleston to New York. These are two-day retreats for chefs who want to write cookbooks but don't know where to start. They have two coming up, June 15-17 for chefs and June 18-21 for writers and others. For details and registration on that, go here.

But the other reason to be there was to relax at a smaller Sunday afternoon gathering in the middle of awards-weekend cacaphony and enjoy a quiet brunch. Even if you're not interested in writing a cookbook, you can always use advice on how to do that, so let me say: Taco brunch. Perfect.

They slow-cooked a pork shoulder using just the juice from a can of pickled jalepenos as the liquid, shredded it, and put it on the table with slow cookers of black beans and cilantro rice, a fresh and lively salad of paper-thin slices of cucumbers and radishes, bowls of red and green salsas and crumbled fresh cheese, and stacks of corn tortillas warmed on a griddle on the stove. Throw in some micheladas (they had the spicy tomato sauce already mixed in glasses, ready to top with ice and beer as people walked in) and a pitcher of sangria and you're ready to go.

For vegetarians, they had a pot of hominy and squash stew that made a good taco filling. Recipe? Why sure - they adapted it from their first book, "The Lee Brothers Southern Cooking."

Quick Squash and Hominy Stew

The original starts with 1/4 pound of bacon and a little olive oil. You could put that back, or go this way for a vegetarian version.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 cups hominy (see note), cooked or canned, drained
1 cup hominy and bean cooking liquid, or water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup cooked beans, preferably pinto, drained, cooking liquid saved
1 pound zucchini or other summer squash, cut into bite-size pieces
Lemon (optional)
2 to 3 ounces crumbled queso fresco or feta
Chopped cilantro
Corn tortillas (or serve it as a stew)

PLACE the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and transluscent, about 5 minutes. Add the hominy and saute 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cup of liquid or water and the pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes.

ADD the beans and squash, cover again and simmer until the squash is almost cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Uncover and simmer several minutes longer until the sauce reduces a bit and the squash is cooked through. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Add a squeeze of lemon juice.

SERVE topped with crumbled cheese and cilantro and with warmed tortillas if desired.

YIELD: 4 servings, can easily be doubled or tripled if you're filling your space with a bunch of friends. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Who crashed the James Beard Awards?

The annual weekend surrounding the James Beard Awards in New York is an all-you-can eat feast of events, parties, gatherings and just plain dashing around. A few highlights from this year:

North Carolina went 1 for 3 in the final medal count. Ashley Christensen of Pooles Diner et al in Raleigh brought home a much-deserved win as Best Chef Southeast, but Vivian Howard of The Chef & the Farmer in Kinston missed a broadcast award for her PBS show "A Chef's Life" (some consolation: It already won a Peabody), and Katie Button of Curate in Asheville was nominated but didn't win for Rising Star Chef. That last most have been tough voting: It was one of two ties of the night, between Jimmy Bannos of the Purple Pig in Chicago and Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island in Washington. (Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Baking in Durham also was one of the chefs featured at the Friday night Books, Broadcast and Journalism awards, with a buckwheat stack cake that featured N.C. strawberries.)

Christensen also played a role in a winning-chef roster that is being hailed as the Year of the Women, with several key wins for female chefs, including April Bloomfield (The Breslin, The Spotted Pig and the John Dory) taking Best Chef New York, Nancy Silverton winning Outstanding Chef for Pizzeria Mozza in L.A., Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland taking Best Chef Northwest, and Sue Zemanick of  Gautreau's in New Orleans in a tie with Ryan Prewitt of Peche Seafood Grill, also in New Orleans, for Best Chef South.

The real eye-catcher in that lineup to me, though, was Barbara Lynch of Boston (No. 9 Park, among others), who won Outstanding Restauteur. It wasn't just Lynch's win that was striking, it was the moment when the nominees were displayed: Lynch, Donnie Madia of Chicago (Blackbird and others), Cindy Pawlcyn of Napa Valley (Mustards Grill and others), Caroline Styne of Los Angeles (Lucques) and Phil Suarez of New York (ABC Kitchen, Jean-Georges and more).

Maybe it's time that Time magazine did another version of its controversial all-male chefs cover story, The Gods of Food. There are some goddesses out there, too, and they are bringing it.

And one more North Carolinian takes my own personal award for audacity: At the Southern Foodways Alliance annual lunch on the day of the Beard Awards gala, I ended up at the funniest table in the room, with Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff of Big Gay Ice Cream (they're getting ready to do a trip through the South this summer, starting in Raleigh and heading to Charleston), Phil Colicchio, the lawyer/business whiz and cousin of Tom Colicchio, and Raleigh musician Joe Kwon, the cellist for the Avett Brothers.

Joe Kwon is known for his love of cooking (as my colleague Helen Schwab has written) and his easygoing nature. He told me he was planning to go to the awards gala at Lincoln Center that night, and had his tux and a hat bigger than Pharrell's ready to go. What he didn't have: A ticket. Given the tight security (and the price - tickets generally go for $450), I was doubtful, but John T. Edge assured me later that Joe is famous for talking his way into places.

Sure enough, in the packed crowd after the show, there he was, happily taking selfies with anyone who wanted and sporting a chef's pass in his pocket. I have no idea whose it was, but dude, I'm officially  impressed.