Thursday, October 30, 2014

One Great . . . out-of-season tomato salad

If Dana can do it, anyone can do it. That's the message, anyway, in Dana Cowin's new cookbook "Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook With 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes" (Ecco, $34.99).

Not everyone who writes about food can actually cook it. In her work as the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, Cowin has to know the chefs, the restaurants and the trends. The recipes? Maybe not so much. So she set out to change that and get the chefs she deals with to help her figure out how to cook for herself. The result is a fun book, with tips and approachable recipes.

Despite our lingering late-summer this year, frost will hit soon, and it will carry off the last of the seasonal tomatoes. That will leave us with months of longing for something fresh on our plates. Cowin's easy salad would be great with the last of the "real" tomatoes and handy for the grape and cherry tomatoes we get after they're gone.

Bloody Mary Salad 

From "Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen," by Dana Cowin.

1/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
1/2 easpoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Tabasco sauce to taste
1 pound cherry tomatoes, halves
4 large stalks celery, thinly sliced on the bias (diagonal)
1/4 cup Spanish green olives, pitted and roughly chopped

WHISK together the yogurt, salt, horseradish and vinegar in a small bowl. Add as much Tabasco as you like.

PLACE the tomatoes on a platter and scatter the celery and olives on top. Drizzle with the dressing and serve immediately.

MAKE AHEAD: The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

We're partying on the Food page today

With Halloween falling on a Friday (and slopping over onto Saturday, too, we'll bet), we figured you could use some party ideas this week, and a few more ideas for easy fall eats. So, over at, you'll find these:

  • Add some sophisticated takes on fall party drinks, including a shrub, a toddy, mulled wine and a soulful take on an apple cider punch. And some sophisticated cocktail talk, from the always sophisticated Stefan Huebner (Heist), Kevin Gavagan (Haunt Bar) and Gary Crunkleton (The Crunkleton, Chapel Hill). 
  • For the younger, more playful set, how about some Harry Potter-ish butter beer? This one is an online-exclusive, from a new book written by the founding editor of Buzzfeed
  • And for the final touches for your party, get the formulas for fake blood, dry ice and a few other Halloween party treats. 
  • Andrea Weigl talks Southern food with the always-interesting Sean Brock, on the occasion of his first book, out this fall, "Heritage." We've seen it and it's lovely, Sean. Really lovely. Even the Velveeta fudge. 
  • Sometimes you need this made for you. In my column, I looked at new products from Charlotteans, Bruce Julian's Bloody Mary Mix and Melanie Trippen's Cannizzaro Famiglia pasta sauces, and pondered what it takes to make people try the tough job of turning a recipe into a successful product. (If you're dying to do it, I also have information on a two-day course in Asheville next week.) 

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Great . . . shortcut cornbread

My recent story on the Brunswick stew at the Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church barbecue meant that I needed to retest and rewrite the version of the recipe printed in the 1970s, to make it easier and to make sure it worked. And that meant I ended up with a lot of Brunswick stew in the freezer. 

After inviting friends over to eat the bounty, I needed a quick way to round out a simple, Friday night supper. Brunswick stew begs for cornbread, but I didn't have time to make it from scratch on a weeknight. But just using a corn muffin mix was too boring. It just too a few tweaks to end up with something much better. 

Shortcut Skillet Cornbread

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos, diced
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1 (7.5-ounce) box corn muffin mix (I used Martha White, but another brand would work)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in a heavy, 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add the jalapenos and corn, stirring to cook briefly, just until the corn is thawed. 

PLACE the cornbread mix in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk into a measuring cup, then add the egg and whisk with a fork to combine. Pour into the mix and stir briefly, until mostly mixed but some lumps remain. Scrape the contents of the skillet into the batter and add the cheese. Stir again until mostly mixed. 

WIPE out the skillet and add the oil. Place the skillet in the oven about 5 minutes, to warm. Pour the batter into the skillet, smoothing the top to spread it out. Return the skillet to the oven and bake about 40 minutes, until the edges are brown and starting to pull away from the skillet. Remove from oven and invert over a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve warm. 

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sneak peek at Passion8

Passion8 Bistro officially opens Friday on Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte, finally relocating after years in a small space in Fort Mill.

How small? When I stopped by for a media preview Wednesday night, chef/owner Luca Annunziata was showing off the sleek, tricked-out kitchen like a kid with a new toy truck he couldn't wait to drive.

"In Fort Mill, I had eight burners and a fryer!" One of his assistant chefs immediately chimed in: "Now we have a walk-in."

That would be a walk-in refrigerator, and Annunziata took me inside to see. He's a big farmer's market shopper -- you can spot him every Saturday morning at both the Charlotte Regional and the Matthews Community markets -- but he could never buy in quantity because he didn't have room to store anything. So he has already filled it with local meat and produce, although there were a few very understandable exceptions: Benton's Country Ham from Tennessee and pristine edible flowers from Chef's Garden in Ohio.
Luca Annunziata (right) couldn't wait to show off his new kitchen

How's the restaurant space? Warm and comfortable, with a lot of stone, wood and natural fabrics in earth tones. There's a mezzanine upstairs that eventually will be used for private event (it's not finished yet) and there's a special room by the kitchen with a chef's table. It seats 8, and will feature small plates in seven ($85) or 12 ($145) course menus.

The regular menu will focus on what Annunziata calls "modernist cuisine with an emphasis on local."

"That will never change. We're working with more farmers than ever."

The official menu wasn't available to peruse Wednesday night, but one of the passed hors d'ouvres was an example: Truffle biscotti topped with a mousse-like foie gras butter and muscadine foam (below).

The new website hadn't changed over by Thursday morning, but the restaurant opens for dinner Friday night. Check back on or follow Passion8 on Facebook to keep up.

And could I add one more note of support? I try to avoid climbing on a soapbox, but I think this needs to be said:

Elizabeth Avenue between Hawthorne and Charlottetown has shaped up into a terrific food corridor, with Carpe Diem, Customshop, Earl's Grocery, Viva Chicken and Cafe Malay, among others. The business owners have done it while enduring endless construction, first on the streetcar tracks and then, before the paving dust had settled, by a huge road project in front of Presbyterian Hospital. And they've still created a community of locally owned food businesses in all price ranges.

Cheers to them for making it through -- and now it's time for food lovers in Charlotte to pay them back. There's plenty of parking in the free lot across the street and the lots behind several businesses, and it's easy to access despite the detour signs.

Visit, please, and give them support for having the faith to build something lovely for the city.

CORRECTION: I'm sorry, I meant Cuisine Malaya, of course. My apologies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One more pumpkin recipe you need

I never know how to prepare for appearances on "Charlotte Talks," the WFAE-FM talk show: No matter how many notes I scribble to myself, host Mike Collins will ask what I call the "Mike in the Headlights Question."

That's when he poses something that it never occurred to me to look up, and then says, "Kathleen, what do YOU think of that?" I pause, while the thoughts chase through my brain like a Tom & Jerry routine, and come up with something that I desperately hope sounds somewhere on this side of smart.

Or I just crack a joke and hope he moves on.

Anyway: Here's a link to this morning's show, (it reruns tonight at 9), and here's the story I wrote last week on pumpkin stuff around Charlotte. And here's one more recipe that I had, all marked and ready to share on the air. But I never had a chance to get to it because I was busy trying to come up with an answer to; "Why do we carve pumpkins anyway? Kathleen? Kathleen?"

Pumpkin Syrup

From "Cooking With Pumpkin," by Averie Sunshine (Countryman Press). Yes, this is one pumpkin thing that does have pumpkin in it. You can use it for lattes, smoothies or hot cocoa, drizzle it on pancakes or waffles, or use it to flavor buttercream frosting.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

COMBINE the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is dissolved.

ADD the pumpkin and spices and whisk to mix well. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the mixture does not come to a boil. Mixture will thicken and reduce in volume.

TURN off the heat and let the syrup cool in the pan about 15 minutes before transferring to a glass jar with a lid.. (You can strain it through cheesecloth to remove undissolved spices if you'd, but the mixture is thick and will take time to strain.)

REFRIGERATE up to a month.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Great . . . slow cooker dinner

What do you mean, I have to plan ahead? Plan long enough ahead to remember to defrost a batch of beef short ribs?

Sometimes I can handle that, and sometimes, I can't. The beauty of this dish, from Jenny Rosenstratch's new book on home-cooking, "Dinner: The Playbook"? You don't have to make sure the short ribs (or country-style pork ribs) have defrosted.

Throw them in the slow cooker while they're frozen if you want to. You also don't have to run around browning meat before you leave for work in the morning. Just throw it all in and it will turn out fine. Add some mashed potatoes, rice or egg noodles when you get home. Yell, "Dinner!"

Slow-Cooker Korean Short Ribs

From "Dinner: The Playbook," by Jenny Rosenstratch (Ballantine Books, 2014).

3 to 4 pounds beef short ribs or country-style pork ribs
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 fresh, whole jalapenos

COMBINE all the ingredients in a slow cooker. Stir in 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

YIELD: 4 servings.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We have a cookbook winner

The winner of a copy of "100 Days of Real Food," by Lisa Leake is Jodi Fahey of Fort Wright, Ky.

Thanks, Jodi, and thanks to the many, many people who entered the drawing. Stay tuned, we'll give away another cookbook soon.