Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sad news about a Matthews baker

As a fan of the former shop Jimmie's Sweets in Matthews, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Jimmie Williams on Nov. 25. Williams' shop, in the Matthews Station near the town hall, was known for great pound cakes, but I'll confess I was also a fan of his caramel crunch cookie, which had the most amazing icing.

Williams was a basketball player in college, then went into the Army. He started his first bakery in West Virginia, then moved to the Charlotte area to join his wife, Cindy Hudson, and opened his Matthews bakery in 2006. It was a sweet, simple shop, painted in candy colors, with cases filled with cakes, brownies and cookies.

Thanks for the sweet memories, Jimmie. My condolences to his family.

Friday, November 21, 2014

One Great . .. party appetizer

They had me at bacon. And potatoes.

Now that we're almost officially in the full-on party season, it's time to sock away a few easy ones you can whip out at a moment's notice. This one will probably stay stuck to the refrigerator door through the Super Bowl. I repeat: Bacon. And potatoes. Oh, and sriracha.

Bacon-Wrapped Potato Bites With Spicy Sour Cream Dipping Sauce

From "The Kitchn Cookbook," by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).

1 pound small or medium red potatoes, chopped into about 36 (3/4-inch) pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided, plus more if needed
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
12 pieces thick-cut bacon
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce, such as sriracha or Texas Pete

PREHEAT oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

PUT the potatoes in a medium pot, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Season the water with 1 teaspoon salt. Boil potatoes 3 to 4 minutes, utnil you can stick a fork in them without too much resistance. (You want them almost but not fully cooked.)

DRAIN the potatoes and put them in a large bowl. Add the rosemary, olive oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Toss gently until evenly coated.

CUT the strips of bacon crosswise into thirds. Wrap each potato bite in a piece of bacon, securing with a toothpick. (Can be made ahead up to this point and refrigerated up to 24 hours.)

PLACE the potato bites on the baking sheet, an inch or 2 apart. Bake 15 minutes, then flip each one and cook 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is cooked through.

MIX the sour cream and hot sauce in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pile the hot potato bites on a plate and serve with the dip.

YIELD: About 3 dozen. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

One Great . . . Thanksgiving cocktail

Bitterness is in this year, particularly in cocktails. Before a meal, it makes sense: Things that are just a little bitter can make your mouth water, and that whets your appetite. 

One of my discoveries this year has been the Italian vermouth, Carpano Antica. Now a big bottle lives in the back of my refrigerator, ready to give a hit of bitterness to a few special cocktails. 

Having a special cocktail ready for Thanksgiving guests is a nice touch. When I saw this combination of cider and vermouth on the website Serious Eats, I thought it had the makings of a great holiday drink. And it did -- when I modified it to add just a little bourbon. 

Tangy Bourbon Cider Fizz

Adapted from

2 teaspoons light brown sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 ounces Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce fresh apple cider
2 to 4 ounces sparkling water

PLACE the brown sugar in the bottom of a rocks glass and squeeze in the lemon half. Add the Carpano Antica, bourbon and cider. Add several cubes of ice and top with sparkling water. 

YIELD: 1 serving. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Need help with your holiday dinner?

Here are a couple of options to consider:

Cornucopia, the special holiday market put on by the Common Grounds Farm Stand, 119 Huntley Place, will feature dishes made with local ingredients, and proceeds benefit the Urban Ministry Center. The event is 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Nov. 22, but you need to get a jump on it before that: They're taking orders now for special dishes, and the popular stuff does sell out. The deadline for preorders (including entrees, soups, sides and breakfast dishes) is Nov. 13. Go here to get an order form that will tell you want to do.

If you don't pre-order, there will still be plenty of good things to buy. Vendors and producers include Paige's Provisions, Chef Charles, Delectables by Holly, The Naked Pig, Goat Lady Dairy, Tega Hills Farm, Lit'l Taste of Heaven, Duke's Bread, Well-Dressed, Greeneman Farms and others.

Zone 7 of Charlotte is taking orders until Nov. 17 for Thanksgiving sides. Braised local collards, Jack Daniels smashed sweet potatoes and organic green bean casserole is $4 per person, 6-person minimum; organic cranberry and orange chutney and local-turkey gravy are $6 a pint. Details and orders: Zone 7 Thanksgiving.

Party down the Swedish way at IKEA's Julbord on Dec. 12. You can get tickets ($14.99 for adults, $4.99 for kids 12 and younger) for a traditional Christmas buffet. Expect multiple versions of salmon, ham, meatballs (of course), Swedish vegetable dishes (potatoes and cabbages, apparently) and desserts. Oh, herring and glogg will be involved. Luckily, you don't have to assemble your own chair. But seating is limited, so you might want to buy a ticket in advance.

Friday, November 7, 2014

One Great . . . brunch casserole

Would you argue with a Church Lady? Actually, as a church lady myself, I can't promise not to argue. But I definitely don't argue with Anne Byrn.

Anne is a food writer and former newspaper food editor in Nashville. And ever since she started with her "Cake Mix Doctor" books, she's been pointing the way to very easy but very tasty food. (If you want a cake mix that doesn't have food dyes and artificial flavors, keep an eye out for her Cake Mix Doctor cake mixes, sold at Harris Teeter. They cost more, but they're worth it.)

Byrn's new project is "Anne Byrn Saves the Day Cookbook" (Workman, $18.95), one of those books loaded with simple recipes that will come in handy. Her Church Lady Casserole came from her Aunt Janet, and it's perfect for holiday brunches. You can make it advance, and use it to fill out a spread, or you can jazz it up by adding diced ham or cooked sausage.

With family-gathering season coming up, I'd keep the Church Lady Casserole very handy.

Church Lady Casserole

From "Anne Byrn Saves the Day Cookbook."

2 (16-ounce) containers (4 cups total) cottage cheese
6 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 ounces Velveeta cheese (or Mexican-seasoned), cut into 1-inch cubes
About 1/4 teaspoon salt
About 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

PLACE a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

PLACE the cottage cheese in a large mixing bowl and add the eggs. Blend using an electric mixer on low speed or with a wooden spoon until the eggs are incorporated. Add the melted butter, flour and cheese, stirring until just combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

POUR into a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Bake until golden brown and puffy, about 45 to 60 minutes. Serve at once.

MAKE AHEAD: Assemble the casserole the day before, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Uncover and bake directly from the refrigerator, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes longer than the time called for in the recipe.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

What's a Bundt? McDonald's wants you to know

McDonald's (yes, as in the Golden Arches) is testing out a new line of mini bundt cakes and there are only a few places in the country where you can try them. Yes, Charlotte is one of them.

So, on Friday, Nov. 7, at all 133 McDonalds in the area, including Rock Hill, Fort Mill, York, S.C., Mooresville, Statesville and Hickory, you can get a free mini Bundt coffeecake in chocolate or cinnamon flavor.

Just don't stick a flower in the middle, OK?