America’s Barbecue Battle: An Eater’s Guide

Fervent Foodie is a contributing writer for the official Urbanspoon blog.

Make no bones about it: Americans are passionate about their barbecue. Much like grandma’s potato salad and dad’s lasagna, regional barbecue triggers feelings of nostalgia and deep-rooted hometown pride. The word barbecue here is used as a noun, not a verb. It’s not a casual backyard get-together or hot dogs and hamburgers grilled in the driveway over a propane flame. Barbecue in this context is meat cooked low and slow, usually over wood chips, in hand-built smokers and converted oil drums, till it’s fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth tender.

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Sous-vide, say what?

Cooking meat is hard. At least it is for me, the girl with a perpetual fear of eating and/or serving meat that’s slimy and pink in the middle. When cooking meat on the stove top or grill, I stand over it like a micromanaging boss, constantly assessing the doneness. Once the meat appears that it might, just maybe, be cooked through, I’ll give it a few gentle thwacks with my spatula to test for meat solidity. If it’s not too jiggly, I cut one of the pieces in half to check for pinkness. More often than not, this process continues until all pieces of protein have been cut down into quarters and the exterior of the meat is slightly overdone. This is not an exact science, and as an anal Type A, I hate that. Long ago, I declared the oven as my preferred method for cooking whole pieces of protein. It’s not perfect, but with a meat thermometer and a steady oven temperature I can get the meat done to my liking most of the time.

i burned it

The problem with the oven, as with other traditional cooking methods, is that the heat source blasts the food from the exterior. Even when executed well, these cooking methods leave a small window of time to reach your desired doneness, and by the time the center of the meat comes to temperature, the exterior is often overcooked. Sous-vide (pronounced soo-veed) is an innovative cooking method that eliminates all of this guesswork by utilizing a low-temperature water bath. French for “under vacuum,” the much buzzed about sous-vide cooking process starts with sealing fresh meats or produce in air-tight single-ultimatechefstore_2262_216503682use food-grade plastic bags, which are then immersed in a water bath and cooked low and slow.

This process enables the heat to move evenly around the food, slowly cooking, as it brings the entire food item, outside and in, to a consistent temperature. Since the food is vacuum sealed in its bag, no juices, flavors, or nutrients are lost during the cooking process; the food is infused with its own natural juices and sugars as it cooks, resulting in a final product that’s juicy, tender, and evenly cooked throughout.

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Buffalo Bleu Tailgate Bars {recipe video}

Tropical Foods

Tropical Foods is a Charlotte-based food manufacturer and importer and distributor of bulk and packaged snacks and specialty foods.  Phew, that’s a lot of hats!  What this translates to is snack mixes, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, dipping chocolates, salad bar mix-ins, and garden chips, just to name a few of Tropical’s thousands of products.  The Charlotte production plant roasts nuts and seeds daily (in trans-fat-free oil), and goods are shipped from one of their six locations:  Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, Memphis, Orlando, and Washington DC.

Back in the Fall, Tropical Foods sponsored a recipe contest at Johnson & Wales University here in Charlotte, and I recently partnered with Tropical on a super fun project to create recipe videos for the top three recipes from the contest (plus, one video for a recipe that I specially developed for Tropical).  The whole video shooting process was new to me, and it was both fun and challenging!  I’ll post more about the videos in the coming weeks including a HUGE TROPICAL FOODS GIVEAWAY, but in the mean time here’s the first of four videos, my official YouTube debut.  Enjoy!

Buffalo Bleu Tailgate Bars

Buffalo Bleu Tailgate Bars Recipe PDF

Looking for Tropical Foods products?  You can buy nuts and snacks direct from their new retail site:  www.tropicalsnuthouse.com.  Tropical Foods products are also available in many grocery stores, including Harris Teeter and Healthy Home Market.

 Buffalo Bleu Tailgate Bars -- Tropical Foods Buffalo Nuts

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On the cover of Epicurean Charlotte Magazine!

Happy Monday, friends!  I have some exciting news to share today…  Drum roll, please!  Several of the photos I recently shot for Napa On Providence were featured in the March/April 2013 issue of Epicurean Charlotte Magazine!

Including the magazine cover itself:

Fervent Foodie - Epicurean Charlotte cover

I never in a million years thought I’d walk by a newsstand and see something I created on the cover of a magazine.  It’s simultaneously weird and exciting!  I have big aspirations for 2013, and this magazine cover has revitalized my desire to pursue new food outlets in the coming months.

Also in the magazine, next to my delicious looking bean photo, is the chef’s recipe for Napa’s white beans and sausage.  I haven’t cooked the beans myself, but I’ve eaten them, and they’re outstanding!

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So, what is gluten-free, anyway?

There’s lots of buzz about “gluten-free” eating these days, and separate gluten-free restaurant menus are practically commonplace.  Though I do not follow a gluten-free diet (bread is my soul mate in food form, after all), I do have several close friends who have adopted, at a doctor’s recommendation, GF diets in recent years.  Through them, I have learned the woes of gluten-free restaurant dining.

So, what exactly is gluten-free, anyway?

Well, until recent years, “gluten” was a word few diners cared much about, let alone restaurant chefs and servers.  At its core, gluten is a protein composite generally found in foods containing wheat, rye, barley, malt, and other grains.  It’s gluten we have to thank for making dough rise and for providing airy structure to baked goods.

 Keste Pizza, NYC – photo by PHUDE-nyc

But it’s not all chewy bread and fluffy cakes–for a growing number of people, gluten consumption is the cause of intense intestinal discomfort.  While the degree of gluten intolerance varies drastically, the most severe form is celiac disease.

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Fervent Foodie featured in Creative Loafing Magazine

Recently, Keia Mastrianni of Charlotte’s Creative Loafing magazine asked me how I define the word “foodie.”  Admittedly, I was a little frazzled by the question.  Define foodie?!  Let me counts the ways…  For me, “foodie” is all encompassing.  It’s me.  It’s my world.  It’s my everything.

Check out Keia’s article below, or click here to view a PDF version.

Update:  the article is also posted to the creative loafing website.

 

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Eat local at Atherton Mill & Market — Charlotte, NC

Atherton Mill MarketLiving in a city has its perks, and one of my favorite things about Charlotte is our local markets.  During the week, I often stop into the 7th Street Public Market for lunch at Pure Pizza and to wander around the vendor booths (and drool over the wares).  Another gem in Charlotte is Atherton Mill and Market, which is just outside of uptown in South End.  This week, I stopped in for a visit and spent some time chatting with the folks at Atherton.  Every time I visit the market, I’m surprised by just  how much it has to offer–it’s so much more than fresh produce.  It’s local foods, local farms, and local artisans.  Where else can you find nuts roasted that very morning and bread made with local brewery starters?

Atherton Mill and Market

2104 South Blvd

Hours:  Tuesday  10am-7pm, Wednesday – Friday:  10am-2pm, Saturday:  9am-2pm

 

Just for fun, here’s a list of 9 awesome things I found at the market:

#1 Simply Local – a retail grocery within Atherton Market that offers goods from local producers and farmers.  This is where I nabbed the Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Pecan nut butter for my foodie penpal!

Atherton Mill Market (2 of 27)

#2  Pickleville – kosher style pickles plus fresh salsa and Cajun creole food.  My favorite is the HOT GARLIC pickle.

Atherton Mill Market (14 of 27)

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How to order wine like a boss.

Fervent Foodie is a contributing writer for the official Urbanspoon blog.

Whether on a hot first date or trying to impress the bigwigs at a business meeting, ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant can be quite intimidating for a wine neophyte. A successful attempt requires balance: ordering with confidence, not looking like a cheapskate, and above all else selecting a wine that actually tastes good.  With all the stuffy jargon and wine lists that include dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties, wine is often seen as a complex beverage only enjoyed by snooty oenophiles. If you don’t even know what an oenophile is, this article is for you, my friend.

(continue reading about how to order wine on the Urbanspoon blog)

 

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My letter to President Obama {plus my top Charlotte restaurant picks}

Fervent Foodie is a contributing writer for the official Urbanspoon blog.

Dear Mr. President,

Forget the state of the economy, medical insurance issues, and the never ending tax-rate debate–politics just isn’t my cup of macaroni and cheese, if you will. As a fervent foodie based in Charlotte, the host city of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, I am writing you to advise you on the Queen City’s culinary scene. North Carolina is the birthplace of Cheerwine, Bojangles‘, and Texas Pete hot sauce and there’s much more to our food than collard greens, pimento cheese, and sweet tea.

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Midwood Smokehouse on Urbanspoon
Toast Cafe (Charlotte) on Urbanspoon

 

 

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Microgreens, Macro Trend

Fervent Foodie is a contributing writer for the official Urbanspoon blog.

From solitary slices of orange to giant lettuce doilies, plate garnishes have perplexed diners for decades.  Garnishes are typically used to quickly and simply fill a perceived void on a plate or inject a bit of visual interest, like the dramatic pop of color a single sprig of parsley can bring to twenty ounces of beef, a pound of steaming potatoes, and a thick pad of melting butter.  In what remains a culinary mystery, kitchens across the globe have chosen to fill the visual and spatial voids with unappetizing embellishments, leaving most diners unsure…

 

 

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