Down and Dirty

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Locally Twisted Dinner raises funds for scholarship program

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 9:29 AM

When the Art Institute of Charlotte hosts a Locally Twisted Dinner on Dec. 4, beef-tongue ravioli will not be the most unusual aspect of the evening. That's because, unlike most foodie fundraisers, this dinner does not boast a team of well-known local chefs. Instead, everything about the event — from original recipes and hand-crafted drinks, to the logo and restaurant décor — comes from the efforts of five students enrolled in the culinary program's Senior Practicum.

Diverging from typical cooking courses where chef instructors determine menus and hand out recipes, the practicum hands the reins to students about to enter the culinary workforce. "We have a chef instructor, but pretty much all the ideas and concepts have come from the students," says senior Kristen Beasley, who spoke to me as the event's marketing manager. "Instead of class lectures, we have meetings about how to [run] the restaurant."

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

In which a northerner works to understand greens

Posted By on Thu, Nov 13, 2014 at 10:00 AM

One of the worst moments of my childhood was the day some horrible person told my parents that beet leaves were edible. Spinach was bad enough, but now there were two kinds of nasty green bitterness they could torture me with.

Obviously, I am not a greens lover, and perhaps as obviously, my parents are not Southerners. Otherwise they would have known that "greens" is a multitudinous category of plant matter. This fall, as they multiply in the market, I turned to Dani Rowland of Rowland's Row Family Farm in Goldsboro to educate me.

When I stopped at her stall in Atherton Market to ask how many types she and husband Joe grow for market, the sprite-like young farmer needed some time and all her fingers to count. The list finished at 11, including three kinds of kale, and cabbage as a possible contender. Yes, beet greens and spinach were on the list, along with collards, turnips, rutabagas, mustard and bok choi.

(from left to right) Cabbage, collards and kale from Rowlands Row
  • (from left to right) Cabbage, collards and kale from Rowland's Row

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bosky Acres' farm dinner raises money to complete cheese cave

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 1:16 PM

For foodies like me, farm dinners are the epitome of eating local. Charlotte is blessed with a winning combination of dedicated farmers connected with passionate, talented chefs who like to play with their food. My only problem with farm dinners is that I usually hear about them after they're over.

So here's my favor to you: Bosky Acres goat farm in Waxhaw is having a dinner Saturday, Nov. 8, at nearby Pecan Lane Farm. The event is a fundraiser to complete a cheese cave for Bosky Acres, but for you, it's also an opportunity to feel righteous about enjoying delectable dishes from half a dozen of those passionate, talented chefs.

Whoa, let's back up here … a cave? What does a cave have to do with cheese?

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Make room for mushrooms

Posted By on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 10:55 AM

If tomatoes and corn are the headliners of the farmers market, mushrooms would be the opening band. Some people love them, some hate them, and you're not always sure where they came from or where they'll pop up next.

While I see mushroom purveyors nearly every week at various markets, many have popped up and vanished over the years. Most recently, I discovered Allen's Farm at the Matthews Community Farmers Market, selling shiitake mushrooms from Anson County.

Mushrooms from Allens Farm

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Carved competition gets local chefs sharpening their knives

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2014 at 2:22 PM

Have you ever found yourself elbow-deep in a half-carved pumpkin, wishing for the knife skills of a chef? Well, I don't have a magic wand that will instantly bestow years' worth of talent on your slimy little hands, but I do know where you can watch some of Charlotte's top culinary professionals battle it out this Sunday for the title of best pumpkin carver in the land.

For the second year, the Piedmont Culinary Guild (PCG) brings us Carved, a massive jack-o'-lantern contest featuring over 25 local chefs playing with knives at the 7th Street Market. Last year's competition was the first public event sponsored by the PCG, a chef- and farmer-focused nonprofit supporting collaboration among all members of our local food system. Not originally conceived as an annual tradition, the Halloween-themed contest was transformed into an instant classic by the chefs' enthusiastic response.

Clockwise from left: Marc Jacksina (Earls Grocery), Nicolas Daniels (formerly of Wooden Vine), Chris Coleman (The Asbury), Alyssa Gorelick (Chef Alyssas Kitchen), Skydome Itim (Heirloom) and Maria Marquez (the Art Institute of Charlotte)
  • Courtesy of the Piedmont Culinary Guild
  • Clockwise from left: Marc Jacksina (Earl's Grocery), Nicolas Daniels (formerly of Wooden Vine), Chris Coleman (The Asbury), Alyssa Gorelick (Chef Alyssa's Kitchen), Skydome Itim (Heirloom) and Maria Marquez (the Art Institute of Charlotte)

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sorghum molasses returns to local markets

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 11:05 AM

As a girl in Ohio only reading of it in novels, I had to imagine sorghum as dark, sticky sweetness poured over southern breakfasts of biscuits and grits. But I've lived below the Mason-Dixon line for nearly 15 years now, so when I heard that this year's crop was coming in I thought it was high time I educated myself.

Christy Underwood in the sorghum cane field.
  • Christy Underwood in the sorghum cane field.

Part of a family of grasses that includes corn and sugar cane, different varieties of sorghum produce grain, animal feed or molasses. When Christy and Michael Underwood started their farm in Lawndale eight years ago, they embraced the area's longstanding culture of molasses sorghum as part of a move toward self-sufficiency. "It's a sugar we can produce," says Christy, adding with a laugh, "You need some sweetness in your life."

Sorghum cane, which can grow as high as 14 feet, is a utilitarian crop. Seeded in May and harvested in October, it grows in relatively poor soil with minimal care, resists both drought and pests, and can serve as fodder for pigs or cows. Still, for small farms like Underwood, harvest and processing are a laborious operation.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

A fresh look at ginger

Posted By on Thu, Oct 2, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Let me re-introduce you to ginger. This member of the Pumpkin Spice brigade, known for making cookies snappy and dressings "Asian," is about to make its annual debut in our local markets. Available for just a few weeks, the fresh version looks nothing like the dead roots in grocery store aisles, and is worth getting excited about.

  • Courtesy Mary Roberts at Windcrest Farm

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Know Your Farms' fall tour offers a peek behind the market booth

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Every article I've read on farmers market shopping stresses the importance of talking to the farmer behind the food. It's a great idea, but a little hard to put into practice when you're juggling money, potatoes and a tote bag, while the next customer looms over your shoulder to see if you snagged the last dozen eggs.

This weekend brings an opportunity to step away from the market table and get some real face time with farmers. For the seventh time, Know Your Farms runs its two-day tour, offering access to 13 nearby farm sites. For $25 a carload (advance price), visitors can see where and how growers raise everything from alpacas to zucchini.

This volunteer-run group has organized Charlotte-area farm tours since 2008, paralleling the efforts of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association in the eastern part of the state, and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project to the west. For the first time this year, Know Your Farms has split its tour into two, offering a spring version in May and this month's fall edition. "Last year, we got a lot of people saying they didn't have time to talk to the farmers," says tour coordinator Wesley Shi. "That's why we shrank the tour."

  • E Belk Photography

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Local markets stay hot even when the temperatures drop

Posted By on Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 9:30 AM

Sometimes it's hard to predict what you'll find at the farmers market on any given day. This time of year you'd expect tomatoes, okra, squash and maybe corn. But someone in a white jacket sautéing grouper? Hmm, that might be worth setting down the tote bag to stick around for awhile.

Adam Reed of Santé and his then-sous-chef Terra Ciotta host a cooking demonstration.
  • 2012 File Photo/Alison Leininger
  • Adam Reed of Santé and his then-sous-chef Terra Ciotta host a cooking demonstration.

If you think shopping at Charlotte's grower-only farmers markets just means looking over pretty piles of produce, think again. As community hubs, these foodie magnets have become vibrant sources of learning and entertainment.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

The farmers of today meet the chefs of tomorrow

Posted By on Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 9:56 AM

The refrigerator life of squash blossoms. Chef Dan Barber's book The Third Plate. Fresh ingredients in school lunches. Pasture-raised chickens.

These topics of conversation all came up recently in a modest dining room tucked into a business park in southwest Charlotte. Chef Terra Ciotta, instructor at the Art Institute of Charlotte, had invited several local growers to share lunch with the students who cook and serve their products.

Students Jasmine Scott and Wayne McDoward; Carl Wagner from Carlea Farms; chef José Espinosa of Chef Charles Catering
  • Alison Leininger
  • Students Jasmine Scott, Wayne McDoward; Carl Wagner from Carlea Farms; chef José Espinosa of Chef Charles Catering

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