Monday, July 28, 2014

Get teens off the couch, into the kitchen

The new CityKitch cooking and teaching facility is marking the end of summer with a cooking camp for teenagers 9 a.m.-2 p.m. daily from Aug. 11-15. Taught by CityKitch owner Carrie Hegnauer, a chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University, the class includes making a cooking demonstration video in the kitchen.

The class is aimed at high school students, and includes kitchen basics, creating recipes, script writing and feedback. The Friday session concludes with a guest lunch and tour. The class is $349, but you can get a $100 discount with the code "TCK811."

CityKitch, 9545 Pinnacle Drive, is a kitchen facility that includes rental commercial space and a variety of classes. Details and registration: or call 704-499-3046.

One Great . . . roasted okra

The story on okra doesn't start or stop with fried okra. There is a lot more you can do with the fuzzy pods, including roasting it.

Georgia cookbook author and chef Virginia Willis certainly dug deep into the okra oeuvre when she took on the assignment to come up with 50 recipes using okra for her book, "Okra," in the Savor the South cookbook series from UNC Press. (Disclosure alert: I have two books in the series, "Bourbon" and "Pecans," but I bow to Ms. Willis for sheer bravery in taking on "Okra.")

Her herb-roasted okra adds a bright flavor with a hint of lemon. Pick around in the bins of freshly picked okra and try to find the smaller pods, the ones about the size of the first two digits of your index finger. But longer pods are acceptable here, too.

Herb-Roasted Okra

From "Okra: A Savor the South Cookbook," by Virginia Willis.

1 pound okra, stem ends trimmed
Leaves from 4 mint sprigs (about 12 leaves)
4 large basil leaves, freshly torn
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a nonstick silicone liner or nonstick foil.

PLACE the okra, mint, basil, onion, garlic and lemon zest in a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper. Toss to coat well. Spread out on the prepared baking sheet and roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately.

NOTE: If you want a bit of heat, you could add crushed red pepper flakes or a more exotic pepper, like Aleppo or smoked paprika.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Blues Traveler heads beer festival

Blues Traveler and a beer celebration sounds like the making for a beautiful evening. You'll have to wait, though: The first Charlotte Beerfest at BB&T Ballpark won't be until 5-9 p.m. Sept. 20.

The festival plans announced this week include national and local beers -- Olde Mecklenburg, Foothills, D9 and Natty Greene's locally, plus SweetWater, Oskar Blues, Leinenkugel, Stella Artois, Magic Hat, Blue Moon, RJ Rockers and Goose Island, among others. Musical acts will be Blues Traveler, Charity Case and Simplified.

The event will include brewing information, sampling, games and events. Admission will be $50, or $100 for a VIP admission that gets you in an hour early. The event raises money for the USO and Ace & TJ's Grin Kids. Details and tickets:

Matthews market makes a big change

The Matthews Community Farmers Market is dipping its toe into new waters with its latest vendor:

Starting Saturday, Tim Griner of the Charlotte Fish Company will sell fish sourced directly from the N.C. coast. Griner already sells to local chefs and will start bringing fresh fish to the market. This week, he expects to have grouper, black sea bass, red snapper, cobia and mahi mahi.

Adding Griner to the lineup was a big step for market manager Pauline Wood. The Matthews market is serious about its rule that vendors have to grow or make their food within 50 miles of Charlotte. And the coast isn't within 50 miles.

But Griner, she said, has the same values as the market's leaders, and she felt he would be a good seller to work with customers. She also felt that the demand for locally sourced fish was so high that it was worth making an exception.

Still, Wood is so careful about making the change that she had already altered the signature on her weekly newsletter when she sent it out Friday morning: "Everything is grown, raised or made within 50 miles of Matthews and sold by the farmer, baker or artisan who produced it, with the exception of fish, which must be landed on the North Carolina coast."

In other market news, Matthews also is adding freshly made Italian cheeses from Zack Gadberry of Uno All Volta. Get updates on the market and its fare here. 

The Matthews Community Farmers Market is open 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays year-round and 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays through Aug. 5 at 188 N. Trade St. in Matthews.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Get out your food calendar

What's coming up in the food-focused world? Consider these:

Miss May's Garden Tea, 2-4 p.m. Aug. 3 at Historic Rural Hill Cultural Center, 4431 Neck Road, Huntersville. The tea is in honor of center benefactor May Davidson; tickets are $15 for adults and $7 "per well-behaved, supervised child" (which may be my favorite sentence in a press release all week). Includes light hors d'oeuvres, tea and other beverages. 704-875-3113 or

August beverage tastings at the Gallery Restaurant at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge. These will go on every week through August. Each one is $25 and begins at 6 p.m. Pick your favorite subject: N.C. wines, Aug. 1; Liquid Art cocktail tasting, Aug. 8; N.C. beer, Aug. 15; wine-flight tasting, Aug.  22. Reservations: 704-248-4100.

Scotch Society meeting, also at Ballantyne:  6-9 p.m. Aug. 29, $40. Seating is limited, reservations are required. Again, 704-248-4100.

Astrological afternoon teas at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge: These will go on from 1-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays all year. They'll serve teas chosen for the zodiac sign of the moment. $32 for adults, $16 for people under 18; 704-248-4100.

Charlotte Beer Fest, planned for Sept. 20 at BB&T Ballpark. There will be more details on this after a press preview today, but we can tell you there will be music and involvement from the breweries now featured at the park, including Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, Foothills Brewing and Natty Greene's, as well as national brands like Sweetwater and Magic Hat.

The Feast of the Hunter's Moon, an antebellum-theme dinner, will be held Oct. 27 at Historic Rosedale Plantation, 3427 N. Tryon St. It's a long way off, but if you want to get on the list to buy a ticket, contact Deborah Hunter,

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Great . . . corn butter

Today's food front features 25 ways to top corn on the cob: Maple and mustard, tarragon and lime, cilantro and sesame.

Great timing for me: I've been holding on to a recipe and waiting for corn season to return for months. I stumbled on this recipe on the now-defunct website Gilt Taste and tried it last year just as the corn season was ending, when it was too late to share it. It isn't something to put on corn, it's something to do with corn.

I was well into adulthood before I looked at a yellow box of cornstarch and an ear of corn and made the connection. Yes, the powder that makes sauces silky starts as a liquid inside the kernels of your corn. If you get that liquid out, you can do silky smooth things with it.

That's the idea behind corn butter: You juice the corn, cook the juice and cool it. You end up with an essence-of-corn paste. Use it as a spread instead of butter. Stir a tablespoon into risotto. Drop a spoonful on a pan of cooked squash. Heck, spread it on corn and revel in pure corniness.

Great-corn season doesn't last long, people. Spread it around.

Sweet Corn "Butter"

Adapted from Gilt Taste. Can be doubled easily.

4 ears shucked corn
Butter, salt and sugar to taste, all optional

USE a corn stripper or a sharp knife to cut the kernels from each ear of corn. Use the flat side of the blade to scrape the ear, getting all the juice you can. (To "corral" the kernels and contain the mess, make a ring on a cutting board with a dish towel and hold the cob on its end, or stand it up in a pie plate. Some people like to stand the corn cob in the hole in a Bundt cake pan. That works too.)

PLACE the kernels and juice in a blender or food processor. Blend well, until completely pureed. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids, to extract all the corn juice.

PLACE the juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until it stops bubbling and begins to thicken, then cook about 30 seconds longer. Remove from heat.

TASTE and see if it needs butter, salt or sugar to boost the flavor. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.

YIELD: About 1 1/2 cups. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

One Great . . . tuna white bean salad

We all have our weird hobbies, but I'll admit one of mine is especially strange: I collect tuna fish. Not the floppy fish themselves. No, I collect kinds of canned tuna.

While I do make a point of buying wild-caught, environmentally friendly albacore tunas, like Wild Planet or American Tuna, I'm also partial to Italian brands. I keep an eye out whenever I'm an Italian market or gourmet supermarket, particularly in New York. Tucking a can or two of good tuna in my luggage is a lot easier (and cheaper) than shopping for shoes or pottery.

One reason I do that is that I'm a fan of oil-packed tunas. While I understand some people prefer the lower-fat water-packed tunas, I have found that water-packed tuna just makes me load in more mayonnaise to keep it from being too dry. Instead, I lean toward dishes where the tuna is just one ingredient among many, like the French salad nicoise, a mix of green beans and potatoes topped with flaked tuna. I'd rather use a little good tuna than a lot of dry, tasteless tuna.

 On a recent hot night, I got a craving for an Italian-style salad featuring tuna and white beans. I adapted several recipes and came up with this.

Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chicken broth
4 or 5 long sprigs of fresh thyme, plus 2 teaspoons minced leaves, divided
1 jar or can of oil-packed tuna (see note)
1 whole lemon

1 cucumber, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced onion (preferably red onion, although yellow or even a green onion would be good too)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Fresh lettuce leaves

WARM the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook briefly, until just fragrant. Add the drained beans, the chicken broth and the sprigs of thyme. Cook gently about 10 minutes, letting the beans absorb the flavors. 

IN A SERVING BOWL, whisk the oil from the tuna with the grated zest and juice of the lemon. Remove the beans from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and stir into the dressing. Let stand a few minutes, until room temperature. Stir in the tuna, breaking into chunks, along with the cucumber and onion. 

SEASON to taste with salt and pepper and serve on lettuce leaves.  

NOTE: I used a 7-ounce jar of Tonnino tuna fillets, but you also could use a 5- to 7-ounce can of another oil-packed Italian brand, such as Cento or Ortiz, or an American wild-caught brand, such as Wild Planet or American Wild. 

YIELD: 4 servings.