Eating the food from the red food truck that fronts Highway 74 within the Sweet Union Flea Market in Monroe is an experience everyone should have.
Their $6 lamb barbecue sandwich listed as Barbacoa de Borrego Torta - is enough to feed two. The sandwich is made on a long and wide white flour hoagie roll (pan telera) and then layered with lots of tender lamb, shredded iceberg lettuce, slices of avocado and tomatoes, pickled jalapeños, crumbed white farmers cheese, and then slathered with crema. Its a messy sandwich and really can not be eaten on the run or in a car, but there are a number of tables beside the truck.
On Sundays the wait can be as much as 30 minutes. Order numbers are written on post-its and numbers are called out in Spanish. If you go, grab a big stack of napkins.
There is something reassuring about going in to a spot youve been to many times and being consistently pleased each of those times.
Thai Orchid, which opened in 1994, in south Charlottes Strawberry Hill Shopping Center, is the kind of place which eschews subtle tastes for powerful Thai flavors.
One of their summer specials is a green curry, a fragrant faintly-green dish with a medley of delicious Japanese eggplant rounds paired with quite tasty strips of tender duck an intriguing mix of flavors and textures.
Even though I am a member of a CSA and have a virtual bounty of locally grown vegetables each week, I still planted a small garden this year.
I had intended to grow more herbs and some heritage tomatoes, but I ended up planting a variety of peppers, eggplants and cucumbers, too. Originally I thought some plants would not be successful, but I was wrong. Even the musk melon seems to have taken an aggressive hold on my suburban dirt. But the cucumbers are magical. Every morning I pick a few and the next day, more are in their place.
The best way to prepare these just picked cucumbers is to make raita by combining cucumber cubes with mint also from my garden - and Greek yogurt.
Great Scott: a local root brew. A few sodas have their roots here in North Carolina: Pepsi and Cheerwine. Now theres a new local Carolina soda on the block: Uncle Scotts All Natural Root Beer out of Mooresville.
Co-owners Suzanne and Scott Ramsey, and Jeff Fleenor tweaked an old time recipe out of Pennsylvania to develop this robust brew made with certified organic sugar and natural flavors. In fact, the labeling notes licorice root, cinnamon and anise oils, and wood extract. Plus this soda is micro-brewed and doesnt have any caffeine. Suzanne Ramsey says, We really wanted to go back to an old fashioned flavor. For me it was an instant taste flashback to my grandfathers home brewed root brew from my childhood. He was from western Pennsylvania, too.
Uncle Scotts has been on the market for three years, but in January their company, Carolina Country Provisions, started bottling large scale and now Uncle Scotts is available by the bottle, six pack, or case at many area grocery stores, specialty shops, and farmers markets. unclescottsrootbeer.com
If your mom is also a restaurant critic, preparing a meal for her can be daunting at least my kids tell me that. But in truth my sons have developed finely honed palates from an early age and some accomplished culinary techniques as well. One son specializes in barbecue and sushi rolls, two distinctly different skill sets and both were started before he turned 9. The current discussion, though, is with our familys dedication to fresh food, the idea of establishing a fresh water eel colony in our bog pond was brought up and nix just as quickly.
My youngest sons choice of specializing in both barbecue and sushi shows where Charlotte is today, culinary speaking. Barbecue is part of our roots; however, sushi is more commonly consumed.
But on Sunday we had neither barbecue nor sushi. My kids opted for one of their favorite comfort foods: risotto with wild-caught North Carolina shrimp. Although they had not anticipated how much broth and constant stirring risotto requires colorful kitchen banter could be heard on this night they worked together to create a special sense of taste and occasion.
Ive been a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for several years. The idea behind this is you buy a share of a local farm and then weekly you and the other members of the CSA are provided with equal shares of the produce. In good years, agriculturally speaking, the box is packed; in challenging years, you share the risk with the farmer. I support the idea of having local farms by being a member of a CSA. The main benefit besides eating uber-fresh food has been to learn what to do with an over abundance of specific vegetables - like okra.
This week my box primarily was filled with greens: arugula, red leaf lettuce, romaine, green lettuce, kale, and spinach. Some of my family members prefer the tomato and pepper season, but I enjoy these salad days with these first spring vegetables tasting of newly turned earth.
CSAs work best if you have others to share the bounty and many people buy shares with friends and neighbors. Even if you do not belong to a CSA or if you are on a waiting list (many of the older area farms have these), area farmers markets currently offer these sensational greens.
You would be surprised at how many SouthParkers battled the Yellow Season by having brunch outside. One favorite spot is Café Monte French Bakery & Bistro. Monte's interior captures the feel of La Belle Époque with tumbled Italian marble floor tiles and the lace café curtains. In fact, owner Monte Smith continuously tweaks the interior, so visiting is an I Spy puzzle experience.
Outside, tables are restricted to the sidewalk which also hosts palm trees in gigantic containers. We wish Café Monte would storm the side parking lot to add more patio seating on these gorgeous spring days.
Best I had toute la semaine was Café Montes brilliantly crafted Quiche Florentine, a rustic sacre du printemps classic, mais non? The appeal of this locally owned spot translates well into any language or any season.
Easter has become another holiday/religious celebration where candy is a necessity. But the milk chocolate I look for on Easter is the one from my mothers hometown in western Pennsylvania.
Daffins is one of the candy companies almost lost to the U.S. a regional outpost of hand decorated chocolates. In my family, the eight ounce chocolate eggs, dotted with small pastel-colored flowers, is a family tradition. Years ago these eggs were excessively decorated with multiple flowers and a ribbon of hard chocolate sealing the shell. Today these eggs have one flower. However, while the appearance has changed, the taste has not. Each American chocolate company has a subtle variation in smoothness and flavor.
Daffins chocolate is not the bitingly sweet flavor profile of some factory made chocolates. Plus at Easter, Daffins wraps their popular small chick and bunny chocolates in colorful printed foil. Daffins does not nor have they ever made artisanal (all hand made) chocolates - but this is the chocolate of everyones American youth.
St. Patricks Day gives everyone an excuse to be reacquainted with the dark delights of Guinness, but it is the making of Irish Soda bread which makes me feel akin to some of my ancestors.
In the past I have tried the breads sold at area grocers, but they were too sweet - like the hot cross buns on the shelves now. Fortunately, soda bread is easy enough for a six-year old to make since it has only three primary ingredients: flour, buttermilk and baking soda. Spiffed up recipes add butter, sugar, even raisins to the mix. But the original bread is quite plain and the directions are simple: mix all the ingredients in a bowl until blended and then knead. Shape into two-inch thick circle on a baking sheet (no need for a cake pan) and cut a cross into the top.
I studded my loaf with caraway seeds. Irish Soda Bread is the kind of fare which needs to be made, baked and eaten in fairly quick order and is best straight from the oven and slathered with butter.
Sambel Oelek is a ground chili paste and one of the more popular condiments of Indonesia. This condiment uses all parts of the chile including the seeds, but doesnt have that lip searing heat many of the chili sauces have from this part of the world. I add Sambal Oelek to sauces like homemade peanut dipping sauce, and stir fries.
Huy Fong Foods, an American company based in California (their most famous product s Sriracha hot chili sauce) makes their Sambal Oelek with red jalapeños, salt and vinegar. As with other Huy Fong products, their Sambal Oelek is packaged in a clear container.
Some of the imported Indonesian Sambal Oelek have large labels occluding the product. There are a dozen or more types of Sambals - Sambal bajak, Sambal terasi imported from Indonesian, Malaysia., Philippines, and Singapore available in local Asian markets.
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