Food News Roundup

Thank you, Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, for not stooping to using one of the plethora of lame rib puns for the headline on the detailed ribs article here. The photo alone should get you running to the grill. It’s in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), too, plus a recipe here for she-crab soup.

The Feed With Care column in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) explains how a parent can work with the school of a child with food allergies. It’s here.

A profile of Sara Foster and her new cookbook is in the Winston-Salem Journal. Read more about the founder of Foster’s Markets in Durham and Chapel Hill here.

We’re in the sweet heart of peach season, and Our State magazine has a collection of reader-submitted recipes using peaches here.

Beer here, beer there, beer everywhere. Check out the latest news about beer in the Tar Heel State at NCBeer.

Recipes from the Wisconsin State Fair are in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, here. I know how y’all love those state fair recipes, and it’s still a month or so away from North Carolina’s.

Board up windows and stock up on batteries before a hurricane? Not JaneLear. She got ready by preparing Tomatoes Irene.

Confessions of a cupcake curmudgeon

cuckoo coconut cupcake

After the column detailing my issues with cupcakes, I received an email from Sherril Koroluk with the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill. She asked me to judge its annual cupcake contest.

A confirmed cupcake curmudgeon judging a cupcake contest? Did she not read the column?

She wanted a discriminating judge. Well, that’s what she’d be getting. I decided to do it because I still harbored hope that there might be out there, somewhere, a cupcake I could love. I don’t enjoy being anti-cupcake, and I do take abuse for my stance.

There were 30 entries. Add all those little cakes together, and that’s a lot of cake. My fellow judges and I decided to divide them up between us. We’d each taste 10, pick two or three we liked, then all taste those. Poet Ruth Moose – no relation that we’re willing to admit, although we call each other “Cuz” – zipped through hers. Emily Pierce from Chapel Hill’s Sugarland bakery and I were a little slower.

The first few of my 10 did not leave me hopeful of a change of heart. One baker tried to color the frosting Carolina Blue and ended up with a dull purple. I’m not sure what color a baker was going for on the frosting for another, but it was gray. People eat with their eyes, folks.

One cupcake had an aftertaste so yukky that I had to spit the bite into a trash can. Emily and Ruth tried to figure out what it was, too. Black pepper? Cayenne? Rusty nails?

One promising cakelet was ruined by an overdose of canned cherry pie filling. Another had good chocolate flavor and a pretty appearance, but the combination of an icing and glaze made the cake too soft. Some had the common problem of overly sweet icing. At least none of them committed my most despised cupcake offense, a mountain of icing. I didn’t have to shave any cupcakes before tasting them.

Judging the contest was starting to feel like giving a boring guy a second date – a nice gesture, but a really bad idea.

Then, I saw it. Glowing and lovely. The cupcake was in Ruth’s group, and I found out why she had finished so fast. It was called Cuckoo Coconut Cupcake. Why “cuckoo” we don’t know, unless that’s what it makes you when you eat it. It was so simple: A moist, finely textured cake with a creamy topping sprinkled with coconut. It was our clear winner. The baker was 11-year-old Paulina Garcia Hernandez, who received $100.

Second place went to a chocolate-caramel cupcake from JP’s Cupcakery. Third place was an orange-flavored cake, creatively baked in an orange half, from Anna Mae and Natasha Arbalagan.

The experience has caused my feelings about cupcakes to shift only slightly. Among cupcakes, there are still a lot of frogs out there and few princes – but you may find one.

Food News Roundup

If the SUVs and minivans clogging the streets around my house weren’t a big clue, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) let me know that school is about to start. (I live near an elementary school.) Here it offers advice for making feeding kids easier and less stressful.

When the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer’s Kathleen Purvis and I took a trip to New York in May, she was carrying on about what she termed “cooking anachronisms” in the popular novel “The Help.” She’s still on a tear, and you can read her thoughts here.

More on packing those school lunches is in the Salisbury (N.C) Post, here. Almond butter and jelly? Hmmm.

There’s plenty of heat left in this summer, and if you’re done with the same old banana Popsicles and chocolate ice cream, the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) has tales of local makers of creative frozen sweets. Read more here.

Things have settled down in the Triangle after the Great Quake of ’11 (I heard that a lawn chair got knocked over in North Raleigh). In Charleston, S.C., a microbrewery and bakery are each marking the 125th anniversary of the city’s 1886 earthquake with guess what? Beer and cupcakes. Read more here.

NestMeg finds a sweet way to mark one year of blogging. Yes, it involves chocolate.

Herbs are busting their pots here at the end of the summer. The Detroit Free Press has suggestions for ways to use them here.

Even high-end restaurants face the challenges of gluten-free diners. The San Francisco Chronicle here says here that chef Thomas Keller has created a new gluten-free flour.


Southern food meets really southern food

Sandra Gutierrez makes a good case for a culinary combination that I hadn’t thought about. In the Cary, N.C. author and cooking teacher’s new book, “The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South” (UNC Press, $30), she points out shared ingredients and traditions. Corn meal and beans, in particular, are pillars of both food styles, and each style drew from native, European and African foods.

Gutierrez mentions in the introduction to this user-friendly book that she was born in the United States, then moved with her Latin American parents to Guatamala, where she grew up. (The introduction is full of research and food detail, but I wish I saw a little more of the author’s emotions in it.)

Gutierrez’s pimiento cheese with chipotles and ancho chile powder? Sign me up for that. Stuffing tamales with collard greens brings Southern to Latin food.

The popularity of Latin American flavors should serve this book well. As Gutierrez points out, it was once hard to find ingredients like achiote oil or masa – now, they’re as close at hand as pork rinds and Duke’s mayo. Her experience as a cooking teacher shows in the clearly written recipes.

What’s a bacon lover to do…

…when Bubba goes vegan?

Read about it here.

Food News Roundup

I don’t have a lot of personal familiarity with block parties, unless you count my childhood neighborhood, where people would wander from yard to yard on Saturday summer evenings. Houses without air conditioning may have had something to do with it – no one wanted to go into the hot boxes. According to the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, good block parties are a blend of serendipity and one person’s drive. Read more here. It’s in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) too, along with the tale of a trio of beef lovers who have started a burger blog. Read about that here.

One thing that has thrived in this searing summer is peppers, and the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal has ways to stuff your jalapenos.  Find the recipes here.

For better, for worse and for dinner – maybe that should be part of the vows couples make. Adapting to the food likes, dislikes and quirks of a loved one can be difficult for an omnivore. And if the couple is lucky enough for time to go on, the effort becomes a moving target. One becomes obsessed with sushi while the other can’t stand even the sight of fish. One develops an allergy to a food that permeates the other’s cooking style. One endures chemotherapy that whacks out the taste buds, as the other searches for something, anything that will tempt and please. GreenEatsBlog probably didn’t mean to get me thinking about all this, but I read it by the light of changes friends are enduring – and 30 years with The Hub (if we make it until next Tuesday).

Thought about sardines lately? Me, neither. But they’ve been pondering the oily fish at the Portland Oregonian, and here are the results.

It’s the start of state fair season, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has winning recipes from the Wisconsin state fair here, including Pina Colada Truffles.

The blast furnace has been turned down a little lately, but it can still come roaring back – we can even see 100s in September around here. The Kansas City Star offers cured salmon recipes great for those days here.



Embracing the pod

I heard from a lot of people after my column on okra. Most of them spoke with relief at finding out they were not alone in their adoration of the pod – in some cases, slime and all.

Self-described okra fan James McEntire of Chapel Hill, N.C. offered his recipe: “To avoid the slime, blanch the okra in salted water for five or six minutes until crisp-tender, toss with lemon and butter and enjoy. For a dinner, get small pods with more stem and serve them as a first course with hollandaise for dipping. Says summer to me.” Ooh-la-la, I say.

Jacqueline Blaeske of Raleigh, N.C. totally embraces the slime: “I love it! Even with the slippery sap. I simmer it lightly until it is a bright emerald green, put a little salt on it and pig out! It’s interesting, too – it soothes dry mouth.” No prescriptions needed here.

Alas, there’s always an okra-phobe. My friend Jean Anderson of Chapel Hill, a wonderful cookbook writer and general fount of food wisdom, inherited her dislike of okra: “My father, a Yankee with a good sense of humor, used to say, ‘When I become dictator, no farmer will be allowed to grow okra and every farmer will be required to grow an acre of sweet corn every year.’ ”

At least I can’t argue with him about the sweet corn.




Jam and jewels

the afternoon's work: peach jam

My canning buddy, Linda, swore she would not miss peach jam season this year. I was glad – she moaned all winter about it. So I headed for the State Farmers Market on Friday. We always mix white peaches and yellow ones, so I got baskets of each. Bags in my hand, I was walking towards my car when I saw them: Damson plums. I usually come upon them  accidentally, and I can’t pass by them. I bought them all.

Damsons are purple, but make a delicate rose-colored jelly that tastes as pretty as it looks. It just makes me smile to look at it. So, although they increased the anticipated canning workload, they came home with me. On Saturday, I cooked them down and piled them in a colander lined with cheesecloth, then left them for several hours for the juice to drain. I put the juice in a container and put it in the refrigerator. It would be easy to turn it to jelly after we finished the jam session.

Today, Linda and I started on the peaches. We made two batches of jam, with a lunch break for pimento cheese sandwiches (a canning day tradition). As we lowered the third batch of jars into the canner, I turned around to clean up and saw – the measuring cup of sugar that we had forgotten to put in. Instead of  1 1/2 cups of sugar, the batch had 1/4 cup, the amount we mixed with the powdered pectin before adding it.

Do we snatch the jars out of the water, dump the jam back in the pot and add the sugar? “Let’s taste it,” Linda said. We scooped spoonsful from the pot, and it tasted pretty darn good as it was. So we let it go. As The Hub has said before about computer programming, “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” We’ll look for a suitable name for our fruit spread.

We don’t do anything special to our peach jam. No liqueurs, spices or flavorings. We keep it simple, and we like it that way.


Food news roundup

People tend to call every kind of homemade Southern relish chowchow. When someone refers to my homemade vegetable relish as “chowchow” I must correct them, and confiscate their jar, if they’ve received one. My relish is not chowchow. An article in The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) points out that my friends and I aren’t the only ones confused about chowchow. But it’s, basically, a melange of vegetables in pickled form that uses up what’s in the backyard garden. I happen to believe that it typically includes cabbage, which is where my problem lies – I don’t care for pickled cabbage unless it’s masked in the fire of kimchi. Read more here. And if you want my relish recipe, you’ll have to ask nicely.

Also in the Charlotte Observer, a great idea: a food book club. Read more here.

How does someone go from volunteering with the Black Panthers to making organic cookies? Find out in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here.

About 250 people attended the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal’s Slice of Summer tomato tasting and voted on their favorites. I believe any home-grown tomato is the best tomato, actually. But find out who the winners were here.

For 57 years, an event involving the cooking of tons of Alaskan salmon has been drawing food fans – 4,200 of them this year – to a small Utah town. Find out about it in the Salt Lake Tribune, here.

NestMeg conquers chicken and biscuits and proves you can put the Southern in a Yankee girl. (By the way, hire her; she’s looking for a job.)

Finally, personal validation. The always-interesting Eatocracy explains that you can drink red wine cold, and they don’t mean Cold Duck.

Over at KitchenScoop, they’re chilling with sorbets using figs. Ummm…..figs. I must have figs. Give me all your figs.

Market madness

Most “officially declared” weeks (or months or days) of something are kind of lame. We’re supposed to get all excited because someone decided that it’s National Rutabaga Month, or some such thing. But this week is a week that I can get behind. This is National Farmers Market Week, and if you’re not at one right now, go find one.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there has been a 17 percent increase in the number of farmers markets nationwide between 2010 and 2011. If you could buy stock in them, it would probably be doing better than your 401K is right now.

North Carolina made USDA’s list of top ten states in the numbers of farmers markets, with 217. No. 1 California sports 729 markets. Alaska and Texas showed the most growth in farmers markets during the past year. You can read the entire report here.

A great list of North Carolina farmers markets is here. And the book “Farm Fresh North Carolina” by Diane Daniel (University of North Carolina Press, $18.95) offers information on local food around the state here.

So, if you want to declare it National Rutabaga Month, Beet Week or whatever vegetable you like, that’s fine. Just buy it at a farmers market.