Thursday, May 9, 2013

Good Eats and Meets 4th Food Tour – Cotswold/Sherwood Forest

Well, I admit it.

Even as a die-hard foodie and a Good Eats and Meets member for nearly three years, I missed the other three MeetAnd3 food tours. Richard Gruica, founder and head foodie at GEAM will have to forgive me for that oversight. But I couldn't miss the one held this past Tuesday night in the Cotswold (Sherwood Forest) area of Charlotte. First of all, the tour took place less than 15 minutes from my house. Secondly, for $20.00 (early bird RSVP charge), you couldn't beat that deal with a Groupon!

Seriously, you get to go to, eat in and experience the ambiance of three local food-related venues, mingle with other Charlotte foodies while getting history, local lore and food trivia from Richard, our resident wonder. After starting GEAM in 2007, his Meetup repertoire has expanded over the years to include groups in Columbia, Atlanta and Miami to name a few other hot spots. His Charlotte group has over 3500 members alone. Adding Ciara Caron, formerly of Dishcrawl, to the food tour hosting team has only enhanced what is already an innovative and cool idea.

Basically, MeetAnd3 involves picking a community where three "hidden" spots are highlighted. Tuesday’s list served up Leroy Fox, The SecretChocolatier, and newbie, Block and Grinder who has already started building quite a bit of buzz around town.

black plate with two mac and cheese bites, a chicken strip, fried zucchini, caprese salad and two dipping sauces.
Sample plate from Leroy Fox. 
The night began with Leroy Fox, a neighborhood fave, which is destined to become your favorite family pub if it isn't already. I showed up with a friend and her six month old babe (new foodie being broken in as we speak!) and we were welcomed and accommodated wonderfully! Hats off to Rich, who kept the presentation brief and the craft beer samples flowing! I had to write fast as he kept coming by with great offering after another.

I sampled everything from the heartier and darker OldeMecklenburg Brewery’s Copper to an almost fruity, sweet noted Jam Session from NODA. My best bud who doesn't even like beer drank that one, so chalk that up as a win! Other samples, like Bad Penny from Raleigh's Big Boss and Higher Ground from Birdsong rounded out the tight delivery. As a newbie to craft beer in a craft beer-laden town, I was in sample heaven, especially grateful for Rich’s patient explanations.

Our food sample included their famous fried chicken strips, fried zucchini, mac and cheese bites, and a light caprese salad. I can’t tell you which I loved more, but yes, the chicken is all that you hear it to be; tender, juicy with a perfect crispy breading that left me definitely wanting more. It was served with a creamy chicken gravy and a sharp and spicy dipping sauce that was easily my favorite. We will not even begin to say how perfect the mac and cheese bites were. Where others versions of this I've had were either overdone on the breading or lost the creaminess of the mac and cheese to overcooking, Leroy Fox found the perfect balance and these were excellent. We also ordered a round of pretzel bites, which my bestie devoured and said she would get again. All in all, a great time there.

Round black place piled high with pieces of blueberry chili flavored chocolate bark.
Blueberry Chili Chocolate Bark
Next up was The Secret Chocolatier. To my shame, I have followed this choco-family on Facebook since they were still over in Atherton’s Market but had yet to visit their retail store located near Providence and Sharon Amity Roads. This was my loss, for once you get inside this quaint but bright establishment set up by Bill and Karen Dietz, you may not want to leave. Why? Well, if you look around, all you see is a dizzying array of confections that boggle the mind, with names like Cardamon Crunch, Blueberry Chili Chocolate Bark and Dark Chocolate Caramels with Sea Salt. I spied chocolate drizzled macaroons wrapped up sweetly on the counter with bright ribbons near a smart row of jars filled with local and much loved Cloister Honey. Getting to go into the kitchen in the back and meet Robin Cordia, daughter of the creator of this chocolate oasis, was a special treat. There, we sipped on their smooth and delicious liquid chocolate drink cooled down especially for us, as she narrated the history and love they all put into their creations. Her other half, Andy, who handles more of the business end, was quick to let me know that they are happy to accommodate their customers if there are special requests. And, please don’t compare their chocolate drink to any hot or cold chocolate drink you've ever had previously. There is a richness here that speaks chiefly to the quality that they pour into all their confections, cakes and specialty candies every day. You can guess where I will be going for Mother’s Day.

Red circular postage stamp logo with the words Block & Grinder at the top of the circle and image of an old-fashioned meat grinder in a white circular center. The words butcher's shop - prime steaks-burgers & more are in the bottom half of the red circle.
Block & Grinder - did someone say pastrami? 
Now, this is where I have to disappoint. Baby Foodie Boy was ready for bed by then and I missed walking the few extra yards over to Block and Grinder, our latest darling in the fresh and local movement. YES, I know! How can I leave you hanging like that? I’m sorry. Babies dictate schedules sometimes. What I can tell you is that the guys at Block and Grinder believe in keeping it all in “da house.” That means your pastrami has been “brined, steamed, smoked, trimmed and cut in-house.” Your steak burger has been ground in-house. This is your local butcher and a place to eat all in one.

While I can’t relate the tour’s experience at B & G, which I am sure was superb, I am ready to hit them this weekend (must I mention again it’s Mother’s Day?). I will talk about all the corned beef and pastrami goodness in my next blog post to make up for my omission here.

Banner logo for GEAM White rectangle with four circles of different colors with the letters G, E A, M with the words good eats and meets underneath. The circle with the letter G has a fork sticking out to the left. Below that is the words eat imbibe socialize
GEAM - Good Eats and Meets - Find them on
Last words. Don’t forget to follow all these great places on Facebook and if you are local, join the Good East and Meets group . That way you will get all their latest news and the announcement of the next MeetAnd3 Food Tour. Richard has assured me more tours are on the way! Hope to see you next time! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Coconut Oils - Is It all Good for You?

As I head into a better health and food-style, there is always the battle about how to eat on a limited budget, transitioning over to better food choices. It is great to want that exotic vegetable or the limited edition artisan oil, but what is in the kitchen on a regular basis really decides whether or not you  stick to those 2013 resolutions about food and lifestyle changes.

One of the areas I reassessed recently was my cooking oils. I'd given up Crisco long ago. I hadn't seen lard in a long time, although there are those out there who think lard has gotten a bad rap. My repertoire consisted mainly of canola and olive oil, and I was definitely looking to expand that. In my travels and research, another long maligned oil emerged, touting health and cooking benefits. It was coconut oil.

Some friends had already transitioned over and used it in cooking, since it has a low smoke point, and in it's unrefined state, adds a wonderful yet delicate coconut flavor and scent. They were talking about using less salt or less oil, while imparting a richness and depth not found in canola oil or even olive.

What I found out there was definitely a food public relations makeover!

Coconut Oil is  extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm (Cocus nucifera). It is usually harvested from tropical areas, and here in the US, you can find it at most grocery and health stores. Like I said before, it's low smoke point makes it perfect for cooking and due to its high saturated fats, it resists going rancid and can last (properly stored) for up to 12 months.

Now, that is where the PR has definitely changed. Weren't we all told to avoid saturated fats? But what has emerged is most of the studies leading us away from coconut oil were dealing with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which we definitely know is not good. So, is it the saturated fats or the partially hydrogenated oil process?

Basically, it seems the hydrogenated oil process has to go. The saturated fat in coconut oil is mostly lauric acid (getting a little techie here for a sec). Lauric acid increases the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol ratio levels. So coconut oil may actually be healthy for you. Studies have shown that coconut oil can be beneficial in a diet that is geared toward weight loss and boosting the immune system.

Well, if that is what is going on, I am onboard!

Unrefined coconut oil
Coconut oil is usually sold in its unrefined, flavorful state, which is solid at room temperature. But, there is also a type of coconut oil available called Fractionated Coconut Oil that is liquid and stays that way at room temperature. It loses the extra coconut aroma, but is perfect when you don't want to add any additional flavors/scents to your foods, and its shelf life extends out to 2 years. The process is NOT anything like hydrogenation. It is also extensively used in aromatherapy, massage therapy and other medicinal arenas due to low-staining ability, ease to mix with other carrier and essential oils, and the swiftness in which the skin absorbs it.

I use coconut oil often (both the solid and liquid) to moisturize my cuticles during the winter. And, if I don't have shea butter, I use it as a base on my lips before any lipstick or gloss, so that my lips are soft and protected from the cold winter elements. Especially if you are not using an organic or natural, plant-based beauty product, always protect your face and lips with a gentle, protecting oil like coconut.

BTW, the organic, unrefined coconut oil works wonderfully mixed together with palm kernel oil and fragrant, essential oils, like lemon and jasmine. These are called "butters," and are also great for aromatherapy, soap-making and general body moisturizers. I routinely use Vanilla Coconut "butter" as a morning lotion after the shower. This has been a godsend during the colder months! (In a future post, we will talk about Whipped Body Butters that combine shea butter, coconut oil and fragrance for a DIY body care product!)

The other type of coconut oil is RBD (refined, bleached and deodorized). It can be used for cooking and is used extensively in commercial food preparation. It has no flavor or aroma, either, and I would suggest to use organic, if you go that route, although it is not as easy to find as the unrefined.

Back in the kitchen, coconut oil is perfect for sauteing, frying and works equally well with meats and vegetables. In baking, it is known to create a flaky, delicate crust in pies and a tight density that is perfect for pound cakes and other confections. It is even good enough for the pooch!

Homemade doggie treats using coconut oil. See 2nd recipe link for this!
Coconut oil is available in stores, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, online outlets like and many other small purveyors. I don't offer it yet in my online store, but locally, here in Charlotte, North Carolina, I will have both organic, unrefined oil and fractionated coconut oil available in 1lb (16 oz) containers for sale, starting March 15th. And, if anyone wants to try them, I will also have various coconut butters to sample.

So, new PR, and more studies seem to have done the trick. Coconut oil is now considered safe for moderate consumption in a healthy foodstyle, even if you are looking to lose weight and reduce cholesterol. It is also perfect for body, massage and moisturizing products. Who can beat an oil that works in the kitchen, bedroom and bath?

Readers, it's your turn! How are you using this versatile oil?

Links to more information on coconut oil:
The Surprising Health Benefits of Coconut Oil - Dr. Oz Show
Coconut Oil - MSN Healthy Living
Coconut Oil - Wikipedia ( I don't love Wiki, but love to mine their references!
Coconut Oil - Peer Reviewed Research -

NYTimes article - Links for recipes are on the left side of the article.
Top 5 Recipes for Coconut Oil - Coconut Oil

Sunday, January 27, 2013

In The Kitchen with Sidney Gaskin

I couldn't help but get excited about my Facebook friend's Youtube videos! Sidney and I know each other from...well, I can't even remember where we first came across each other on the Net, but we are definitely good Facebook friends now.

Recently, we began talking about putting together a cookbook and shared ideas about food, cooking, recipes that were important to us. I was completely in awe. Not because she knew her way around the kitchen better than me (though, she probably does!), but because, within a short hour, we covered so many areas of cooking, from spice mixes to what to have on hand in the pantry. We traversed different cultures and cuisines, and I could feel myself become more excited about the cookbook idea.

Well, I guess Sidney couldn't wait for the cookbook to materialize, because just recently, I came across two videos, called "In the Kitchen." In a quick montage of still images, Sidney shows a quick and easy recipe that she and her handsome (if I may say so myself!) son make in their home kitchen. There is great music to accompany the assortment of images as you quickly learn how to make a simple, but very tasty meal that can readily satisfy you, your children or the whole family.

The first one up was the Bacon and Egg Bundle, a wonderful breakfast treat that can be popped into the toaster or regular oven in the morning, using up leftover silver dollar pancakes.

The second video was a little more ambitious, but is so versatile that I cannot wait to try not only the savory version, but a sweet one.

Chicken Broccoli Braided Bread is definitely something for the family, and I am already thinking of how to use this recipe and adapt it for the upcoming Super Bowl. Can't you just see a filling made of pepperoni, other sausage meat and cheeses? Or make a completely Veggie Braided Bread with other veggies along with the broccoli.

Well, I am putting Sidney on blast because I want her to be a part of Foodie4Access on a regular basis. You will see her videos here, on F4As Facebook page and also F4A's Tumblr page.

And, I will keep you up-to-date about the cookbook...after I make this bread!

Now it's your turn, Readers:

What do you think? Would you like to see more "In the Kitchen" videos?