Category Archives: At the Market

How to Choose Olive Oil Like a Pro

There are plenty of options for olive oil, but how do you choose the right one?

By Kevin Connors

Too many extra virgin olive oils to choose from at your local supermarket or big box store? How in the world can you know which is best? Or what the difference is? Well, we have some tips.

Have you ever tasted olive oil directly from a spoon? By the time most people really taste the olive oil, it’s already in a hot sauté pan or mixed with spices. Try an extra virgin olive oil just like you would sample a wine or cheese. This is the best way to learn the differences, you could even do a wine, cheese, olive oil and vinegar tasting party and make it fun.

Six tips for selecting an olive oil —

  1. Make sure the olives are local within the country of origin. In other words, you don’t want the olives transported far even if the olives are from within the same country. Olives do not transport well and excessive storing can affect the taste. Look for the Denomination of Origin on the bottle or tin to find out if it’s local. This is ideal, but you can still get real olive oil without a ‘DO’ on the bottle, the cost of getting one can be expensive.
  2. Even though it’s an oil, fresh is very important. We spoke with an olive oil producer from Andalucia, Spain who said that if you want the real extra virgin olive oil taste, olives must be pressed within hours of picking the olives. This producer won’t use any olives even if they have fallen to the ground naturally. The producer must shake the branches so he knows that the fruit had just fallen onto their nets below the tree. So, imagine if the olive is transported or stored for any time at all! Continue reading


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Summer Squash and Zucchini Galore!

If your garden has supplied you with a whole boatload of zucchini and squash like mine has, you may be wondering what to do with all of it. You’ve pawned it off on your neighbors and co-workers but you’re still flush with squash. Well, we have a few suggestions.

  • Roast or grill it with other vegetables. Just a touch of olive oil and your favorite spices and herbs. Great with steak or chicken and couscous. I like roasting or grilling it because it helps eliminate some of the sliminess you can get when cooking zucchini or squash.
  • Zucchini bread. It’s sweet, light, moist and has a serving of vegetables! (I’ve even heard you can pass it off on children – they won’t know the difference.) Add walnuts for a little crunch.
  • Oven-fried squash and zucchini. I love fried zucchini and squash (who doesn’t) but if you’re trying to watch the fat, try this. It’s much better for you and fairly passable if you’re craving the deep-fried stuff.
  • Zucchini or squash Parmesan. We’ve also eaten it as a meat-substitute on meatless Mondays. Cook good-sized chunks of it on the stove and toss with sun-dried tomato pesto, pasta and Parmesan for a faux Chicken Parmesan. You could even do this with the oven-fried zucchini if you want to get really crazy.
  • Zucchini Lasagna. Throw in some diced zucchini or squash to add more vegetables to your regular lasagna recipe. Or to make it super low-carb, try replacing the noodles with long slices of zucchini. Yes, I’m skeptical too, but willing to give it a shot.

A lot more recipe ideas from Health Magazine and

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Filed under At the Market, Food, Healthy Eating, Recipe, The Foodie's Garden

Sustainable Seafood on Charlotte Talks

Michael LaVecchia brought some Outer Banks scallops with brown butter and parsley on Carolina-grown blue grits. At Charlotte Talks' Spirit Square studio.

Michael LaVecchia in his Iron Chef shirt and 'fish slinging' boots. He's the 'Chief Fish Guy & Butcher' at the Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market.

America’s love for seafood is threatening some species due to over-fishing. Some fish are even ‘harvested’ from fish farms. Do you make an effort to seek out and buy sustainable fish? Wednesday, Charlotte Talks took on the subject to find out how to shop more consciously with Chef Peter Reinhart from Johnson & Wales University and Carrie Brownstein, Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods. Michael LaVecchia also joined us, he’s the so-called ‘Chief Fish Guy & Butcher’ at Meat & Fish Co. at 7th Street Market. He even brought us some samples. Find out how our habits are affecting the health of the oceans and fishing populations and what questions consumers can ask to become more educated about what we’re eating.

Listen to the show.

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Condiments 101: Mustard

By Amy MacCabe

Condiments are the additional sauce, sprinkle, oil or flavoring we put on our food to enhance flavor.  Ranging the spectrum from salt and pepper to soy sauce, chutney, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, condiments are used worldwide to bring distinguishable flavors to cuisine. With grilling and picnic season upon us it’s a great time to explore different ways to use traditional condiments, such as mustard, to kick-up your spring time brats, burgers, and sandwiches.

Mustard is one of the oldest cultivated crops. Food historians have traced the use of mustard seeds all the way back to 3,000 B.C.E. where it is believed to have first been cultivated in India. Mustard comes from the tiny seeds of the mustard plant of which there are over 40 species. The pungent taste is activated when the seeds are crushed and mixed with a liquid such as water, wine, vinegar or beer. Mustard seeds can also be used in pickling and shrimp and crab boil blends. Alternatively, for a subtle mustard seeds can be cooked in oil and added whole to dishes like curry.Commercially available mustard is derived from either yellow, brown, or black seeds:

  • Yellow mustard seeds are mild and produce spicier mustard than the standard store bought yellow mustard.
  • Brown mustard seeds are more pungent than the yellow mustard seeds and possess a fiery flavor which rates in at 2 or 3 on a heat scale from 1 to 10. These seeds are commonly used to make whole grain and many coarse varieties of mustard.
  • Black mustard seeds appear similar to brown seeds but black mustard seeds are bigger and possess an earthy, yet pleasant flavor that is far less bitter.

Making homemade mustard is quite simple. Below are two basic recipes using whole seeds and mustard powder. Both recipes yield a great mustard, however, the first recipe will not provide instant gratification as the seeds do need to soak for a few days.

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Mutant Strawberries! They’re Big, But How Do They Taste?

Note to readers: that is a real human-sized spoon, not a Barbie spoon.

Portions and foods in general are getting bigger and bigger, but this is ridiculous. My fiance brought home some freak, mutant strawberries last week. I had to share the photo because I didn’t know you could actually buy strawberries this big. I thought they were the subjects of “whoa, look at that thing” ribbons at the state fair or perhaps B- horror movies (Attack of the Killer Strawberries?) Is this the result of some kind of nuclear radiation or genetically modified seeds grown with steroid fertilizer? I decided to investigate.

Giant is right.

According to their website and a representative I contacted, they do use some pesticides:

…we use practices and methods to minimize the need for pesticides whenever possible. Our team works closely with scientists at the University of California to determine the best time for applications of pesticides and insecticides and they are used ONLY when necessary to protect the survival of plants.

They add that they also offer organic berries, as well. As for genetic engineering:

California Giant does not use GMO’s. We rely on traditional breeding methods to develop and enhance our berries’ flavor, quality, size and color.

If GMOs are not involved, the size must be attributed to some selective breeding. I’m no farmer or geneticist of course, but it seems like it would be difficult to breed for BOTH size and flavor. Based on the strawberries I had, it seems like size won, they weren’t particularly flavorful or juicy…

The giant berries growing in their giant habitat. Photo from California Giant Berry Farms Facebook page.

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Filed under At the Market, Food, Photo Blog, Quirky, Sustainable Food, The Foodie's Garden

Strawberries Arrive Early

Ripening Strawberries. Photo by Flickr/sigusr0

By WFAE’s Jennifer Lang

Strawberry pie. Strawberry shortcake. Strawberry jam. Strawberry margarita. Strawberry ice cream. Strawberry cheesecake. Strawberry smoothie.

This Bubba Blue-like moment is brought to you by my giddy anticipation of strawberry season. If, like me, you enjoy strawberries in their many delicious concoctions, rejoice! Thanks to a La Nina winter the strawberry crop will come early and abundantly in most areas of the state according to the North Carolina Strawberry Association.

Kevin Hall of Hall Family Farm in Charlotte said their u-pick fields will open April 15, or even a few days before. This will be earlier than the Hall’s have opened in the past few years.

Don’t miss getting your share of the first ripe berries. They’re going to be here soon! Use this Strawberry Farm Locator as your guide to juicy strawberry goodness.

I’m a sucker for simple recipes calling for few ingredients (five is my absolute max!)

Strawberries - best enjoyed plain. Photo by Flickr/tamburix

My favorite-

Fresh Strawberries

  • 1 Strawberry patch
  • 1 Sunny day
  • 1 Clean t-shirt

Find ripe strawberry. Pick. Inspect for bug(s). If found, blow off. Wipe strawberry on the tail of t-shirt you are wearing. Pop in mouth and savor*. Repeat until full. Or your grandmother chases you out of the patch.
*Do not attempt this recipe at a commercial strawberry farm until purchasing the berries.

Kids enjoying fresh picked strawberries. Photo by Flickr/Michael Bentley

What’s your favorite strawberry recipe? Share with us in the comments.

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A Colorful Stroll Through A Spice Bazaar In Istanbul

Spice counter at the Spice Bazaar

I got off the tram with my mom and another thirty people at the Eminonu stop and was pushed right in the middle of a sea of busy, impatient Istanbulians.  I stopped for a while to get my bearings, and then we headed towards YeniCami (New Mosque).

It always takes me a day or two to get used to crossing the streets, finding a proper way to walk among the sometimes busy, sometimes lazy pedestrians when I visit Istanbul.  It is like riding a bike. Once I find the balance, I gain my old quick feet back, dodge the many opportunities to get slammed by gray, black, and brown coat covered shoulders.

The New Mosque in front of the Spice Bazaar

Looking into the courtyard of the New Mosque

Once I adjusted my footsteps to the other people walking hastily and crossed the busy street, I was in front of the soot-loaded walls of the Mosque. We turned right, and approached the street vendors. Their rolling carts were loaded with boiled and grilled corn on the cob and roasted chestnuts, and steam was coming out of every one of them.

Oh, how I miss my city’s street food! Tasting the street food is one of the “must-dos” in Istanbul. The city does not leave you hungry, not even for a minute. My mom and I shared a grilled corn on the cob, then I got a bag of chestnuts.  We watched some kids for a while who were feeding the pigeons on the footsteps of the Mosque.

More of Ilke’s trip inside the Turkish spice market and photos ‘below the fold.’

Dried vegetables and fruit hanging at the store fronts

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