Monday, June 30, 2014

Pork on your fork and bacon on a Sunday

I had a baco-licious weekend. On Friday, I started the day doing more work on the Perfect Bacon Bowl with staff members from Edison Nation (we'll have more on that story in a couple of weeks). And on Sunday, I stepped up to be a judge at the Bacon & Brews Cruise-In at Atherton Market on South Boulevard. It was a fundraiser for the Piedmont Culinary Guild, a confederation of chefs, farmers and food producers.

Along with my fellow judges Craig Diehl, the chef/charcuterie master of Cypress restaurant in Charleston and Bob Boll of Central Piedmont Community College, we tasted our way through bacon-focused dishes from 16 restaurants, bacon-themed or bacon-matched beers from four breweries, and admired classic cars on display in the parking lot. (I left the car judging to others who are more in tune with what's under a hood.)

Some of my favorite dishes: The bacon cheesecake from 300 East, which used a really clever bacon crust, the Asian-themed glazed pork belly and slaw from the Art Institute, Alyssa Gorelick's fermented strawberry that she served with her dish, and the "whole hog" BLT by David Quintana of Southminster. Quintana applied bacon curing techniques to every part of a pig to make his creation, which showed an amazing amount of work.

In the beers, some of my standouts were the Kings Breakfast Imperial Cream Stout from Sycamore Brewing, and the NoDajito mint-infused beer (much better than it sounds) from NoDa Brewing.

Take a look at my video for more sights and sounds. The winners: Brewer Fonta Flora of Morganton took the Brewer's Cup, and the bacon winners were Heirloom Restaurant (first, for the pretzel "spoon" with honey mustard ice cream and house-cured tesa), food truck Chrome Toaster (second, for the pork belly tostado) and Queen City Pantry (third, for a bacon bruschetta).

Monday, June 23, 2014

One Great . . . summery gazpacho

From what I saw Saturday morning, farmers' market season is in full swing. Corn isn't quite up yet, but everything else that makes summer worth waiting for was on hand, from cantaloupe to zucchini.

It's the perfect time to try a recipe I spotted recently in the magazine Vegetarian Times from blogger and author Tess Masters of "The Blender Girl" (Ten Speed, 2014). I love tomato-based gazpacho and will certainly make that soon. But Masters' version uses a base of watermelon, for mix that ends up with a complex flavor, sweet, spicy and salty.

With the hot days coming up this week, I know what I'll be packing for lunch at my desk.

Watermelon Gazpacho 

From "The Blender Girl" by Tess Masters.

4 cups roughly chopped seedless watermelon, plus 6 cups diced
2 cups seeded, diced tomatoes
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber (1 large or 2 smaller ones)
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
3 tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes)
3 tablespoons chopped basil
3 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons diced red onion
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced green chile, such as serrano
Salt and pepper to taste

PUREE 4 cups chopped watermelon in blender for 30 to 60 seconds, until liquified. Pour into a serving bowl or large resealable bowl. Stir in the 6 cups diced watermelon and all the remaining ingredients.

COVER and chill at least 3 hours but preferably 12 to 24 hours to allow flavors to develop. Adjusting seasonings before serving.

PER 1-CUP SERVING: 74 calories;  2g protein; 18g carbohydrate; less than 1 gram fat; 0mg cholesterol; 6mg sodium; 2g fiber; 14g sugars.

YIELD: 8 servings. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

One contest winner and a new summer contest

First, we'll end the week with a cookbook winner: Evelyn Ribadeneyra is the winner of my random drawing for a copy of the cookbook "Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts," by Jeni Britton Bauer.

And here's news on another contest, a summer-photo event being put on by Our State magazine and the N.C. Department of Agriculture's Got To Be NC campaign: Take a picture that captures North Carolina's diverse agricultural community and you could win a $75 box of products grown or produced in the state from NCDA and Roote North Carolina.

Seven winners will be picked, which are pretty good odds in the contest world.

The deadline is 11:59 p.m. July 25, and you can enter up to five photos. You have to be at least 18 years old and an N.C. resident to enter, and the photo has to be taken in North Carolina. To get the rules and upload photos, go here.    

(And the photo up there, taken by me at Fuller's Barbecue in Lumberton, isn't agriculture. But it's definitely a taste of our state for a little Friday inspiration.)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

New OMB sets the date

Sometimes it feels like Charlotte has set sail on a sea of Copper: It's hard to find a restaurant in town that isn't pulling Olde Mecklenburg Brewery's Copper behind the bar.

So it's not surprising that the brewery, which specializes in unpasteurized, German-style beer, needed a bigger home than the little factory off Old Pineville Road.

The new place, on 8.5 acres at 4150 Yancey Road, is actually very close to the original spot, in what a marketing person I know wants us all to call "LoSo" -- the lower SouthEnd area, within spitting distance of South Tryon Street (not that I'm suggesting you try the spitting part).

Now the new place finally has an opening date: July 19. Starting at 3 p.m., they'll open the gates at the 8+ acre facility for a grand opening party, including food, live music, giveaways and brewery tours.

Admission to the party is free, but you'll need to pay for your food and beer. (They'll be pouring 10 kinds, including good ol' Copper and Unfiltered Anny Alt.) You can go to the brewery's page on Facebook for a chance to win a personal tour, VIP dinner and a few other perks.

Go here to see a video and hear owner John Marrino talk about why the new spot will be "a true beer garden."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

One Great recipe and a cookbook giveaway

When the cookbook "Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts," the second by ice cream maker Jeni Britton Bauer, I had to crack the cover and smile.

While touring with my books "Pecans" and "Bourbon" in the Savor the South cookbook series, I had the chance to make two fall trips to Nashville, for the Southern Festival of Books put on by Vanderbilt University. The first time, I rushed into town in the middle of a long list of weekend trips, with no time to make food-travel plans. I only knew two things: I needed to try the famous Nashville hot chicken (fried chicken coated with an unholy amount of cayenne pepper) and I had heard the famous Jeni's ice cream, based in Ohio, had established a major presence.

No car, no directions, no time to plan. But I got lucky: The downtown festival site had food trucks, including one from Bolton's Hot Chicken and one from Jeni's. I quenched the heat of the chicken with a half-and-half cup of Jeni's brambleberry and bourbon butter pecan.

Last fall, I planned better. I rented a car, included a free afternoon in my schedule, and made it to the original Prince's Hot Chicken. That night, I drove a group of cookbook authors and editors, including Sandra Gutierrez of Cary ("Latin American  Street Food"), Miriam Rubin ("Tomatoes") and Belinda Ellis ("Biscuits"), to a local restaurant called Silly Goose.

Who knew? Silly Goose, in East Nashville, turned out to be right next door to a Jeni's Scoop Shop. With six of us, we could sample and share a ridiculous amount of Jeni's, including her "gravel" toppings.

The new book is a great collection. Yes, it has ice cream recipes, but it also has cakes and cookies you can use with ice cream -- and it has a collection of her cookie-like gravel toppings. You can use them to dress up storebought ice cream, or sprinkle on anything that needs a hit of sweet crunch.

In honor of the fun I've had visiting Nashville, I'll give away a copy of the new book. To enter, email me at with "Jeni" in the subject line. I'll announce a winner Friday. And in the meantime, make some gravel. It's simple, and the uses are endless.

Salty Graham Gravel

From "Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts," by Jeni Britton Bauer.

1 cup finely ground graham crackers (from about 10 crackers)
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt (or kosher salt)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

PREHEAT oven to 275 degrees.

COMBINE the graham cracker crumbs, flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Add the butter and stir until large lumps form and all the dry ingredients are moistened (it should look like lumpy wet sand). Pour the crumbs onto a baking sheet and spread evenly.

BAKE the crumbs for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss the crumbs with two bench scrapers or metal spatulas, then chop into 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces.

RETURN to oven and bake 10 minutes longer, or until gravel is a rich brown. Remove from oven and cool. Store in airtight container for several days, or freeze for longer storage. Sprinkle on ice cream, puddings, pie with whipped cream toppings or anything else where you need a hit of salty sweet crunch.

YIELD: About 2 cups. 


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New pimento cheese, chef home-cooking and Bacon Bowls, people

Happy Wednesday. In today's Food coverage, you'll find:

Even a chef can struggle with getting the kids to eat. We stopped by Ben Philpott's house to see what he makes for dinner when he's not slinging pots at Block & Grinder. Get his French toast and "Spinach Cheesy Eggs" recipes, too.

What should you get a food-loving dad? I had difficulties with the Perfect Bacon Bowl, but Steven Raichlen's new cookbook, "Man Made Meals," might be just the ticket. Read my column here.

Chicken liver mousse, sometimes called chicken liver pate, is one of the ways to my heart. Robin Domeier finds out the secret to chef Chris Edwards' silky-smooth version at New South Kitchen in the Arboretum.

Need to add more flavor to your summer gin & tonics? I checked out Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic.

Can't get enough pimento cheese? A Charlotte art teachers uses his "Jeopardy" winnings to start a new brand, Queen Charlotte's Pimento Cheese Royale. Read Caroline McMillan Portillo's story about that.

And in case you missed it, Caroline also has an update on two new hard-cider makers heading to Charlotte. I wrote about the explosion in hard-cider makers breaking out all over the Carolinas last fall.

Need more recipes? Here's what we've got this week:
Cooking for 2: Chilean quinoa salad with shrimp.
Seriously rich Dark Chocolate Walnut Cookies.
Rice salads are worth a second look.
3 recipes from Deborah Madison's updated "New Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone."

Monday, June 9, 2014

Need more food events in June?

Keep busy, people. It will distract you from the humidity. Put these on your calendar:

June 12-20: The LaBrea Bread Tour. To celebrate the bakery's 25th anniversary, the company will hand out bread samples and have other prize giveaways at locations around the city: 8:30 a.m. June 12 at North Tryon and 5th streets; 11:15 a.m. June 13 at North Davidson and East 35th; 11:15 a.m. June 15 in Chantilly, at Central and Pecan avenues; and 8:30 a.m. June 20 at South College and East 3rd streets.

June 14: State of Origin Beer Fest on the courthouse square in Morganton. Features 20 breweries that use N.C. ingredients, including Charlotte's Birdsong, NoDa and Triple C. $35 general admission, $50 VIP.

June 17. Return of the Matthews Community Farmers Market Tuesday Twilight Market,
a small version of the Saturday grower-only market. From 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 5 in the usual market space, at North Trade and John streets in downtown Matthews.

June 29: Piedmont Culinary Guild Bacon Cruise-In, 3-7 p.m. at Atherton Market, South Boulevard and Tremont Avenue. Car show, bacon cook-off and beer brew-off. $35 includes samples of 20 bacon dishes by local chefs and three beers from local breweries. Funds raised benefit the guild, which is a collective of chefs, farmers, cooking teachers and food artisans in Charlotte.

Book giveaway: Who wins The Living Kitchen?

Willa McNeill of Matthews won the copy of "The Loving Kitchen" by Charlotte blogger LeAnn Rice. For more of Rice's recipes and news about her book, check out her blog,

Friday, June 6, 2014

Loving Kitchen book giveaway

Charlotte blogger LeAnn Rice took a curving path to the South. After her husband, Ron, died of cancer 17 years ago, she and her then-young son Nick moved down here from the Pacific Northwest. Rice catered briefly, but mostly focuses her cooking on her blog,, where she shares recipes with a Southern aim and a Christian message.

This month, she released a book, "The Loving Kitchen," with recipes that are designed to share, particularly with friends in need.

Besides sharing a summer-worthy recipe, I thought I'd end the week with a book giveaway of "The Loving Kitchen."

To be entered in a random drawing, send an email to with "Loving Kitchen" in the subject line. I'll pick a winner on Monday morning - a good way to start a new week.

In the meantime, with tomatoes and basil finally beginning to pop up, here's Rice's recipe for a one-bite version of the classic Caprese salad, made in cherry tomatoes.

Congratulations on the book, LeAnn.

Caprese Poppers

From "The Loving Kitchen" by LeAnn Rice (Thomas Nelson Books, $24.99).

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 package cherry tomatoes
1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin 1-inch strips
5 to 6 basil leaves, torn into small pieces, plus more for garnish

COMBINE the oil, cider and balsamic vinegars, shallot, garlic, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper in a small bowl.

SLICE off the very top of each tomato and then carefully remove the juice and seeds using a small spoon. Fill each tomato with 1/2 teaspoon of the dressing. Fit a piece of mozzarella and a piece of basil in each, so the cheese and basil rice above the top of the tomato. Arrange on a platter and garnish with a fresh bunch of basil. Serve chilled.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Have strawberries left? Make a fresh mousse

In my column this week, I described a Fresh Strawberry Mousse that I made with the last of the spring strawberries. From Cook's Illustrated, the recipe is designed to work with both farmer's market and supermarket berries. It also would work with frozen berries.

The lemon whipped cream really makes it and is worth the extra step. In fact, I can't wait to try it on blueberries. Blueberries and lemon are a classic combination.

Fresh Strawberry Mousse
From Cook's Illustrated.

2 pounds strawberries, hulled (6 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar

Pinch of salt
1 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons strawberry or raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord (optional; see note)
4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled

CUT enough strawberries into 1/4-inch dice to measure 1 cup; refrigerate to use as garnish. Pulse the remaining strawberries in the food processor in 2 batches until most pieces are small but it's still chunky; 6 to 10 pulses. Transfer berries to a bowl and toss with 1/4 cup sugar and salt. (Do not clean processor.) Cover bowl and let stand for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

STRAIN processed strawberries through fine-mesh strainer into bowl (you should have about 2/3 cup juice). Measure out 3 tablespoons juice into a small bowl (or skip the juice here and use liqueur). Sprinkle with gelatin and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.

PLACE remaining juice in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 10 minutes. (Stir often to make sure it doesn't scorch on the bottom.) Remove from heat, add the softened gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin has dissolved. Add cream cheese and whisk until smooth. Set aside.

WHILE juice is reducing, return the strained chopped strawberries to the now-empty food processor and process until smooth, 15 to 20 seconds.  Strain through the fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on solids to remove seeds and pulp (you should have about 1 2/3 cups puree). Discard solids in strainer. Add cream cheese/gelatin mixture to the puree and whisk until incorporated.

USING stand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip cream on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk whipped cream into strawberry mixture until no white streaks remain.

PORTION into dessert dishes and chill at least 4 hours or up to 48 hours. Serve, garnished with lemon whipped cream and diced strawberries.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings.

Lemon Whipped Cream

1/2 cup heavy whipped cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

USING stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip cream on medium-low until foamy, about 1 minute. Add sugar, lemon zest and juice. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Refrigerate up to 4 hours.

YIELD: About 1 cup. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

One Great . . . blender cheese souffle

Just because it sounds fancy doesn't mean it's hard to make. Years ago, a well-traveled bachelor friend introduced me to his go-to dinner for friends: A cheese souffle so easy, you make it in a blender.

No egg-separating or egg-white whipping. Just toss it all together, puree and bake.

Versions of the recipe have floated in and out of my recipe collection for years. I like to dress it up with a little dry mustard and cayenne pepper, but you can skip that if you prefer. The only trick to it is bread, which gives it structure. Almost any kind of bread will do. I've used everything from good, crusty sour dough to leftover hot dog buns in a pinch.

My bachelor friend used to claim he once made this on the beach and baked it in a metal box. Don't know if I believe that, but I do believe that with a simple green salad, this is a lovely summer meal.

Blender Cheese Souffle

I cut this down and make it in two 12-ounce straight-sided bowls (ovenproof, of course) or 4 (6-ounce) bowls. But you can double it and use 8 (4-inch-wide) ramekins, or use a single 1-quart bowl. If you've got a scale, weigh the bread to make sure you have enough.

1 teaspoon butter
1 large clove garlic
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces (about 2 slides) bread, torn into pieces
2 eggs
1 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

RUB the bowls with the butter. Place them on a baking sheet and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

DROP the garlic clove into a food processor or blender with the motor running. Add the cheese and bread and process into crumbs. (If you're using a blender, it will combine easier if you add the cheese, bread, eggs and milk in the same step.) Stop and add the eggs, milk, dry mustard, pepper and salt. Process until thoroughly combined.

POUR the mixture into the prepared bowls until they're three-quarters full. Place the sheet with the filled bowls in the oven.

BAKE souffles until they puff up and are golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve immediately.

NOTE: If you double this, use 1 clove of garlic, 8 ounces cheese, 4 eggs, 2 cups milk and 6 ounces, or about 4 slices, bread.

YIELD: 2 to 4 servings.