Monday, April 21, 2014

One Great . . . soy and butter sauce

When Ruth Reichl (former Gourmet editor/New York Times restaurant reviewer/cooking memoir writer) was in Charlotte a few weeks ago to speak to the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, someone asked her favorite recipe. Her reply:

 "Butter and soy sauce is the fastest, best sauce for almost anything."

Butter and soy sauce are definitely having a moment. Call it the ultimate experience in umami-ness, that hard-to-define sensation that's sometimes called meatiness or savoriness.

You can keep the butter/soy sauce really easy. Just saute something, and finish the pan at the last minute with a pat of butter and a splash of soy sauce. Or you can get a little more involved with it. In a recent piece in The New York Times, Sam Sifton adapted the idea by pan-frying wild mushrooms, finishing with a riff on soy/butter and spooning it over soft polenta.

Faced with a recent rainy Friday night, a bag of mushrooms from the farmer's market and some shrimp in the freezer, I used Reichl's inspiration and Sifton's idea to come up with my own umami-loaded version of shrimp and grits.

Rock on, Ruth and Sam.

Soy/Butter Shrimp and Grits

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup stone-ground grits
6 tablespoons butter, cut in tablespoons
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed
1 1/2 to 2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined, thawed if frozen
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) fresh mushrooms, such as shiitake or trumpet, sliced
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 or 3 green onions, trimmed and diced, white parts separated from green tops
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cream

BRING the water, milk and salt just to boiling in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Slowly whisk in the grits, cook about 1 minute, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring every 10 minutes, for about 45 minutes. Add a little more water or milk if grits are starting to stick. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter, then set aside, covered to keep warm.

HEAT 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and the white parts of the onions and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring often, until just pink and starting to firm up. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the onions and garlic in the pan.

ADD a little more oil to the pan if it's getting dry, then add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they give up their juices and start to cook dry again. Be patient; that might take 5 or 6 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until it's reduced by half.

REDUCE heat to medium-low and stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, a piece at a time, until it melts. Stir in the soy sauce and cream. Return the shrimp to the sauce and cook until warmed through.

SERVE the grits in bowls, topped with the shrimp, mushrooms and sauce. Sprinkle with the green onion tops.

YIELD: 4 servings. 

Read more here:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bundle up for the Matthews farmers market

The Matthews Community Farmers' Market, North Trade and East John streets in Matthews, kicks off the spring season Saturday morning, with a celebration of the  new tent and lots of improvements after the old tents were destroyed in that ice storm in February.

The market raised so much money to replace the tent that the staff and volunteers were able to make all sorts of improvements, including regrading the market site and adding new wooden posts for some of the stands. They also will open with new hours: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. No more waking up and trying to remember if opening bell is at 7:15 or 8.

In addition there are some new vendors: If you read my story this week about Courtney Buckley and Benjamin Frye of Your Mom's Donuts, you can meet them. They have a new market stand, with flavors that will change every week.

King of Pops is coming, too! Neil Ringer and Brandon DeCurtins are bringing one of the carts with the bright umbrellas and the amazing flavors. And Natalie Veres of Grateful Growers will bring food from her new venture, Butcher-Baker-Sausage Maker, including gnocchi and various breads made with local ingredients.

They'll also kick off the season with a 9 a.m. cooking demonstration from Paul Verica of Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw.

It's market season, folks: Shop, cook, eat. And if you see those baby hakurei turnips, the little round white ones, they taste really sweet if you leave them raw and shave them over a salad. I'm just saying . . .

PHOTO: Matthews Community Farmers' Market.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Read 'em and eat: The Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide

Friday Update: Pat Brewer of Charlotte is the winner of our random drawing for a copy of the book. Thanks to all who entered, and come back next week, when we'll do another online review and giveaway.

Ready for a new feature? How about a video cookbook peek, review and giveaway!

 "The Dinnertime Survival Guide," by Sally Kuzemchak (Oxmoor House, $24.95).

You're having trouble getting dinner on the table for a family? We hear you. It's a common call for help from readers with kids (or even the ones with kids).

If catchy, well-organized and simple is your mantra, trust the Cooking Light people to put a book together that meets all of those criteria. Kuzemchak's book is packed with photos, very useful tips, and list breakdowns like "Top Dinner Survival Kitchen Gadgets." Chapters are themed: "I Have Zero Time," "I'm On a Diet, They're Not," "I Can't Afford Healthy Food," etc.

Photos? Lots. Take a look at my book-flip video, above. The recipes are mostly the ones you expect, with some change-ups, like a sweet and tart kale salad twist and a frozen ravioli hack with pan-roasted grape tomatoes. Recipes all include nutrition information, servings with a translation (example: "serving size: 1/4 of ravioli and 1/2 cup tomatoes") and cooking time.

OK, ready for the giveaway? Email me at with your name, town and contact information, and include "Dinnertime Survival" in the subject line. I'll pick a winner at random at 9 a.m. Friday.

And here's a sample recipe . . .

Rosemary Oven-Fried Chicken 

Hands-on time: 15 minutes. Total time: 40 minutes.

1/4 cup nonfat buttermilk
2 tablespoons Dijon
4 (4-ounce) chicken cutlets
1/3 cup whole-wheat panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/3 cup finely chopped dry-roasted cashews
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
Cooking spray
4 teaspoons honey

PREHEAT oven to 425 degrees. Combine buttermilk and mustard in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk. Add chicken to the buttermilk mixture, turning to coat.

HEAT a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add panko to pan; cook 3 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Combine panko, cashews and the next 4 ingredients (through ground red pepper), in a shallow dish. Remove chicken from the buttermilk mixture; dredge in panko mixture.

ARRANGE chicken on wire rack coated with cooking spray in a foil-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes or until chicken is done. Drizzle each cutlet with 1 teaspoon honey.

SERVES 4 (serving size: 1 cutlet).

PER SERVING: 248 calories; 8.7g fat (1.8g saturated, 4.2g monounsaturated, 1.4g polyunsaturated); 27.4g protein; 15.1g carbohydrate; 1.1g fiber; 73mg cholesterol; 1.4mg iron; 375mg sodium; 30mg calcium.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What are the food trucks serving these days?

On Saturday, I was one of a dozen volunteers who judged the Charlotte Food Fight, a roundup of food trucks in SouthEnd that raised money for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Here's a little video and pictures of the dishes, made with help from my videographer assistant (and husband) Wayne Hill: (One apology: I managed to miss a picture of the BiCol Express entry from Herban Legend, a Phillipine-inspired dish with soft pork, ginger rice and a coconut milk sauce. Blame it on my addled head after eating all of these on a sultry Saturday afternoon.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

RIP to eGullet founder Steven Shaw

Everyone who is remembering Steven Shaw, the proto-blogger and founder of several websites, including eGullet, is touching on his abilities as a food writer. And that is certainly true. Shaw, who died unexpectedly Tuesday, reportedly of a heart attack, was indeed a strong and thoughful writer.

But I keep thinking of Steven as a teacher.

In its heyday, eGullet, the web-thread site he founded with Jason Perlow at the beginning of the blogging boom, was like hanging around the classroom of that really cool teacher in high school. Even if you weren't taking the guy's class, you would go over there before school because some of your friends said it was fun. And you'd meet people who weren't in your usual circle. The football jock might find something in common with the science nerd, and the girls who wanted life to be about more than being girls would find people who took them seriously.

That's what Shaw's eGullet was in the beginning: The place where all kinds of people -- professional writers and beginning writers, interested amateurs and people who just loved arguing about food -- would stop by and toss out ideas, grabbing threads from the different boards to weigh in or disagree.

I was already a newspaper food writer in the 2002-2004 years when eGullet was cranking up. Some of my print-journalism colleagues avoided the online sites because the debate was so unbridled and occasionally hostile. But I liked eGullet from the beginning. It was a place to see new thoughts crinkling up and catching fire. It was also the place I met special people like Dean McCord of Raleigh, still the best cooking-lawyer I know, and David Leite, who later created the visionary website Leite's Culinaria. There was even some crazy guy named Bourdain who had just written a book about working in restaurant kitchens.

On a trip to New York in those years, Steven picked me up in his SUV, his big bulldog Momo panting in the backseat, and took me across the George Washington Bridge on a terrific food tour of New Jersey, from a Hong Kong-style dim sum palace to the White Manna and the biggest Asian superstore I have ever seen. Before we parted back in New York, he insisted on driving me up to the Cloisters to see where Manhattan narrows to the tip of an actual island, a view he wanted me to see just because he thought it was neat.

And that was really Steven: He wrote about restaurants and food as a way of teaching, I think. He liked to find ways to show people the world because he thought it was a fascinating place. The last time I saw him a couple of years ago, he actually was teaching, leading a class on food blogging at the French Culinary Institute. I stopped by for lunch, and we talked about how online food writing had evolved so quickly.

I'm sorry he's left the world so darn early, and I'm crushed for his wife, Ellen, and their young son P.J. And I thank him, for teaching me to think about food writing, all writing, as more than just print stamped on paper.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More about recycling and food

In my column this morning on the whys of food-trash recycling, there wasn't enough room to list all the Allowed/Not Allowed rules. In case you don't have a copy of the county's brochure, here's the lists. And of course, if you live in another county, you need to check your local policy. Recycling centers vary widely because they have different equipment and different arrangements for what they gather for reuse:

Allowed in Mecklenburg County: Aerosol cans, aluminum cans, cardboard, glass bottles/jars, juice boxes, milk and juice cartons, paper, pizza boxes, plastics 1-5 & 7 (look inside the recycling symbol for the number), spiral paper cans and steel/tin cans.

Not allowed: Appliances, auto parts, batteries, bottle caps/lids, bulky waste, ceramics, clothing, electronics, garbage, light bulbs, mini blinds, paper plates/napkins, plastics #6, plastic bags, plastic food trays/cups, pots/pans, shredded paper, styrofoam, wire hangers.

Also in today's Food coverage:

Do you know about the Wok Wednesday world? It started in the Triangle around Grace Young's book "Stir-Fry to the Sky's Edge," and it's part of a growing number of online groups that come together to cook and share experiences about particular cookbooks. (If anyone is gathering about my book "Bourbon," you probably shouldn't risk Tweeting while you're drinking.)

Passover arrives at sundown Monday, which means it's time to brush up on your matzo-ball skills.

All in favor of lawn-mower beers, raise your cans: Daniel Hartis says there are worthy local entries in the gulpable category.

Our annual list of Pick Your Own farms will run April 23. Farmers, let us hear from you.

It was only a matter of time before someone opened an All-Bacon Restaurant. And it's close to us.

If it's spring, it's time for asparagus. Suzanne Havala Hobbs is keeping it healthy.

What's causing little holes in aluminum foil when you cover a cake?

And more recipes:
Gingery salmon for 2.
Retro Theater Steak With Mushrooms.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Go food trucking for a cause Saturday

Bring an appetite and some money to Saturday afternoon's Charlotte Food Fight, a food truck contest at the South End Food Truck Lot at Camden Road and East Park Avenue. The contest is from 3 to 7 p.m. and raises money for Relay for Life Charlotte, a cause from the American Cancer Society.

The trucks will compete in three categories: Chef's Choice, Mystery Ingredient and People's Choice. A $35 ticket gets you one item from each of the trucks, $7 gets you one thing from one truck, and $1 allows you to cast extra votes. There will also be live music.

The trucks: The Tin Kitchen, Herban Legend, Chrome Toaster, Wingzza, Gourmet Goombahs, Roaming Fork, Sal's Roadside Eatery, Juan Taco Truck, Sticks and Cones, Chef Street Bistro, KO Food Truck, OooWee BBQ and Southern Cake Queen.

Besides your own voting for People's Choice, there also will be official judges, including me,  chef Ron Ahlert of Community Cooking School of Charlotte, chef Alyssa Gorelick, Richard Guica of Meets & Eats Charlotte, Kelly Davis, Mary Cowx, Rance Adams, DJ Cassiday, Nikki Wolfe and Lucas Stretch.

Get details and buy tickets in advance here at Event Brite.  And if you're there, say hello and wish us luck -- that's a lot of eating to do.