Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One Great . . . easy slow cooker dessert

Last week, I shared a easy dessert for one that you make in a microwave. This week? An easy dessert for a crowd that you make in a slow cooker.

Notice the theme here? Dessert, made easily. It’s the season when easy is the way to go.

This recipe is floating all around the internet, but I had it when a friend hosted a dinner group recently. It’s perfect for a winter night. And because it needs to sit for a while after it cooks, it's handy for a dinner party. Turn off the slow cooker just before you serve dinner and dessert will be ready when dinner is finished.

Slow Cooker Gingerbread Pudding Cake
Nonstick cooking spray

1 (14.5-ounce) package gingerbread mix

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup raisins

2 1/4 cups water

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter

Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

SPRAY the inside of a slow cooker lightly with cooking spray.

COMBINE the gingerbread mix and milk together in a mixing bowl until moistened. Stir in the raisins. (The batter will be thick.) Spread the batter evenly in the slow cooker.

COMBINE the water, brown sugar and butter in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the batter in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on the high power (don’t use the low power setting) for 2 hours. The center will appear moist, but it will firm up as it stands. Turn off the cooker and let stand for 45 minutes to an hour.

SPOON into dessert dishes and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

YIELD: 8 to 10 servings.

Monday, December 8, 2014

One Great . . . small chocolate dessert

In the season of excess, it's hard to believe we might crave dessert. Sometimes, though, just a little bit of chocolate is what you need. Some of us don't like to have the temptation of a whole cake or a big batch of something.

That's when the mug cake comes in handy. It's a single serving of cake, made in a coffee mug. You can make it in a couple of minutes in a microwave. And it lends itself to endless experimentation.

Messing around with several recipes, I hit on the perfect combination: Nutella and raspberry jam. You can swap the Nutella for peanut butter, skip the raspberry jam. It's up to you. It's your very own personal cake, after all.

Chocolate Raspberry Mug Cake

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoons Nutella (or peanut butter)
2 tablespoons raspberry jam (optional, or use another flavor)

WHISK the flour, sugar, cocoa and salt in a small bowl. Whisk in the egg, oil and Nutella (or peanut butter). Stir in the chocolate chips.

SPREAD about half the batter in the bottom of a large coffee mug. Top with the raspberry jam, then top with the remaining batter.

MICROWAVE on high (100% power) for about 2 minutes, until it's puffed up. Serve immediately, topped with a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if you absolutely insist.

YIELD: 1 serving. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Come and talk about cookbooks today

Today's event is a real page-turner: The Observer's ever-energetic Jennifer Rothacker has set up a huge event with local authors ready to sell and sign (sign and sell?) their books at the Mint Museum uptown, 500 S. Tryon St.

It's a pretty high-flying group of authors, including novelists Kathy Reich and Jason Mott, And it includes a few food books: Lisa Leake will be there with "100 Days of Real Food," and I'll be there with "Pecans" and "Bourbon" from the Savor the South cookbook series.

At noon in the Mint auditorium, Dannye Romine Powell will moderate a chat on what it takes to become a best-selling author with Leake, Reichs ("Bones Never Lie"), Mott ("The Wonder of All Things") and Charla Muller ("Pretty Takes Practice.")

The authors and their books are all available from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Mint's atrium. The whole event is free, except for the cost of all those books you buy; seating for the noon talk is first-come, first-seated. And if you buy a book, you get a one-day 50% discount on museum admission and a 10 percent discount on lunch at Halcyon, the museum restaurant.

Details and the full list of authors: Right here.

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 Seriouseats.com

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.