The heat is on and headed your way – Competition Dining cruises the state of North Carolina Preaching the Gospel of Eating and Drinking Local

BlackCompDiningLogoThe competition is heating up – that’s the Got To Be NC Competition Dining, of course, and as of this spring time post, NC favorite culinary sport is well on it way into is 2014 season. With Fire on the Dock on the NC coast and Fire in the Rock in the Boone, Blowing Rock, Asheville area now over and decided, the Fire in the Triad series is now in the semi final stage. Next up, Fire in the Triangle and then  its Charlotte’s turn at Fire in the  City.

I've cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte's Fire in the City preliminary rounds - check it out at the end of this blog!

I’ve cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte’s Fire in the City preliminary rounds – check it out at the end of this blog!

If you have followed this blog from its inception, you will know that in 2013 I was named the Official Blogger for the  2013 Fire in the City Competition Dining series. This year the competition comes to Charlotte for another much anticipated season; so anticipated, in fact, that even though the competing chefs and brackets have yet to be named, ticket sales are already brisk.

Charlotte’s Fire in the City takes place starting August 18 – Sept 29,  and I have a special deal for you at the end of this post for $10 off each ticket, so you’ll have to act quickly – but more about that later – for now you don’t have to wait to join in all the fun.

As many of you know since the beginning of the  Greensboro – Winston-Salem – High Point, Fire in the Triad series, I have been working for my friend Jimmy Crippen and Competition Dining, handling social media, coming up with fun promotions and helping to be a liason between the competition, chefs, diners, local ingredients and more telling the story all along the way. In the Triad I have had the pleasure of meeting many talented chefs and their families, and have been happy to tell their stories.

The Sixteen triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

The Sixteen Triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

This week marks the semi finals of the Triad Fire, down to the wire, last night and tonight   May 27 and 28 will determine which two triad chefs go to the final battle on Monday June 2 which will determine the Fire in the Triad champion.

Ready, set, cook... Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Ready, set, cook… Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Last night the heat was on in the first semi final battle between two culinary talents found in Chef Tim Thompson from Marisol Restaurant in Greensboro and Chef Mark Grohman from Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem. These two stand up guys and their teams had great fun during the day but all the while took the task of preparing six courses for 140+ guests quite seriously.

 

pepsi and peanuts

 

 

 

As with all Competition Dining battles, this one revolved around two signature North Carolina ingredients – Pepsi and peanuts!  The tradition, now a fun bar trick, of putting peanuts in a bottle of glass of Pepsi started on local NC farms – the farm help couldn’t carry a glass or bottle and a bite to eat and still have all hands on deck to do the work; so they combined the snack and beverage and at the end of each row, took a swig to get a drink and something to munch on at the same time. Today its a fun combination of sweet and salty that remains a crowd pleaser!

The evening was full of excitement and in the end it was chef Tim Thompson  and his team from Greensboro’s Marisol Restaurant that took the win. Chefs each had a large box of shelled peanuts from the American Peanut Co. in North Carolina and 2 1/2 gallons of Pepsi syrup with which to work.

To my mind, the most successful savory  courses this evening, I thought, cleverly added spice of Sambal and a local NC Sriracha called Cha! produced by the makers of Texas Pete. The hot and spice counteracted the sweet in the savory courses and then chefs played up the peanut and Pepsi combo in dessert. Here are some shots of the behind the scene action during the day, the final dishes with a bit of my editorial in the descriptives and more…

Course One - Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

Course One – Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

COURSE 1 by Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol was one of Marisol’s highest scoring plates of the evening right out of the shoot. It was comprised of a Heritage Farms Pork tenderloin, rubbed with Lusty Monk mustard, local honey, roasted garlic fresh rosemary and Dijon mustard; then served with a wasabi aioli,  a ginger-Pepsi red cabbage slaw, a peanut-sambal Puree,  and a swirl of Pepsi “Liquer”

 

Course 2 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 2 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Chef Mark Grohman and the team from Meridian offered COURSE 2 a Pepsi braised  Cheshire Farm pork butt, wrapped in Swiss chard and served with a, Potato- Peanut Gratin, Grilled Brocollini,  and Texas Pete Cha!-Pepsi Reduction

 

Course 3 - Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 3 – Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

COURSE 3 went back the Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol. the focus on the plate was a very successful peanut – panko crusted Veal Milanese with a Coffee-Bacon-Brown Sugar-Pepsi Veal Stock Reduction and a side of Dijon Garlic Mash potatoes, and Micro Greens dressed with a honey sherry vinegar and a whole grain mustard emulsion

 

Course 4 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 4 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

COURSE 4 from Chef Mark Grohman and team Meridian cam as a Bacon Wrapped  roulade of veal stuffed with a clever shiitake and peanut Duxelle and served with a sweet potato apple puree, delicious caramelized onion Brussels sprouts,  and a blueberry Pepsi® reduction

And then the chefs wowed the crowd’s collective sweet tooth with  desserts….

 

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

In COURSE 5, team Marisol offered Pepsi Cheesecake, with a peanut graham cracker crust,  a side of salted caramel ice cream, and a Pepsi infused chocolate sauce

 

 

Course 6 - from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 6 – from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

And finally in COURSE 6 every enjoyed a step back to their childhood – or perhaps their last camping trip – with Meridian’s take on the classic S’more… this time made with roasted peanuts, a Bruleed Pepsi Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate,  and hand crafted peanut brittle

If you are in the Winston-Salem or Greensboro area you should definitely make reservations at both Meridian and Marisol and see just what Chefs Mark Grohman and Tim Thompson and their talented teams do on a regular basis when they are not in the throws of competition.

For more info on Mark Grohman’s Meridian, visit  Meridianws.com, or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here  Meridian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

For more info on Tim Thompson and Marisol, TheMarisol.com  or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here

Marisol on Urbanspoon

Meanwhile – here are some backstage shots of Marisol and Meridian chefs at work enjoying North Carolina’s newest culinary sport of Competition Dining…

 

DSC_1056Chef Mark Grohman in the thick of things and then with his team, chefs Levi Harris and Vernon James Ealey

 

 

 

 

Tim Thompson

Finally got Chef Tim Thompson to  look up from peeling potatoes and give the camera a smile!

team marisol in action

           

Team Marisol in action during prep – Wayne Atkins in the back making the cheesecake, Tim Thompson center and Marvin Merida making strawberry flowers

all the May 27 chefsAll of the chefs  from semi final teams Marisol and Meridian after the battle with Pate Dawson – Southern Foods chef refs, Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, center and Chef Laura from The Elm Center, Painted Plate Catering

and now for the special offer for Fire in the City Tickets….

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODAs A Thank You for reading this blog post by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto, we would like to offer you the unique opportunity to purchase discounted tickets to a dinner or dinners at North Carolina’s newest Culinary Sport

Competition Dining’s Fire in the City

Preliminary Dinners take place August 18 – September 3

Quarter Finals Semi Finals and Final Fire held September 8 – 29

All dinners will take place at Bonterra Restaurant on Worthington Ave. in Charlotte, but reservations must be made online

Competing chefs will be announced in early August – check this link for details – http://www.competitiondining.com/events/fire-in-the-city or follow Heidi on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or Heidi Billotto Cooks or on Twitter at @HeidiCooks or subscribe to this blog.

In the meantime, to receive $10 off the purchase of any preliminary round ticket, make your purchases before midnight on May 31 using the following links

Aug 18 – https://cityprelim1.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 19 – https://cityprelim2.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 20 – https://cityprelim3.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 25 – https://cityprelim4.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 26 – https://cityprelim5.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 27 – https://cityprelim6.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 2 – https://cityprelim7.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 3 – https://cityprelim8.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

To make reservations for any of the Fire in the Triangle Competition  Dining battles in Raleigh visit, the Fire in the Triangle page of the Competition Dining website

To make reservations for any of Charlotte’s Fire in the City in Charlotte quarter finals, semi finals or Final Fire visit, the Fire in the City page of the Competition Dining website

Get your Grill On – Good-to-Grill tips to get you Going

grilling out shotSpring and Summertime cookouts are a great way to entertain this season and the convenience of a backyard grill offers a healthier way to cook all year round. Just a couple of dos and don’ts will yield fabulous results.

As many of you might realize, this post coordinates with a cooking tip segment originally aired on WCNC’s Charlotte Today on Tuesday May 20, 2014 –  Click here for the link to the video. Everything I talked about on air and more follows in this post – enjoy!

And, so that you can put these tips to action right away I’ve also included one fun seasonal recipes at the end – its homemade ice cream to serve with a bevy of fresh fruit hot off the grill.

But, before dessert, my good-to-grill tips – just one quick read and you are on your way to getting your grill on for 2014!

You can grill almost any vegetable in season - I'm partial to eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell pepper and bite sized grape tomatoes - serve with a drizzling of your favorite balsamic after they come off the grill and pair with some fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese and a loaf of grilled bread and you have the perfect party appetizer

You can grill almost any vegetable in season – I’m partial to eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell pepper and bite sized grape tomatoes – serve with a drizzling of your favorite balsamic after they come off the grill and pair with some fresh mozzarella or burrata cheese and a loaf of grilled bread and you have the perfect party appetizer

First and foremost – don’t place oil-laden foods on a hot grill.

Oil ignites and will burn quickly, so marinate to your heart’s content, but before placing food on a hot grill, pat it dry first, and then cook. Vegetables and fruits grill perfectly fine without the addition of any oil at all. Just salt and pepper and perhaps place smaller things on a non-stick grill grid for perfect results every time.

Do grill chicken, but don’t feel you need to boil it or microwave it first – it will cook perfectly from beginning to end if you follow a few easy steps along the way.

Start by grilling pieces (with or without the skin attached), simply seasoned salt and pepper – I suggest using my favorite coarse pink Himalayan sea salt and my special pepper blend from the Savory Spice Shop in Charlotte’s SouthEnd. Place the chicken on the grill skin side up, boney side down.

 

Grilled chicken pieces without the barbecue sauce finish. Just salt and pepper and about 6-8 minutes on each side over high heat

Grilled chicken pieces without the barbecue sauce finish. Just salt and pepper and about 6-8 minutes on each side over high heat

This will help to help render the fat. By the time you turn the poultry, the fat has cooked down affording less opportunity to flame up. If a piece does start to flame, just take it off the grill and get it out of the way. Do not douse it with water – you will just make a bigger mess.

Don’t marinade raw poultry (or any other meat) in barbecue sauce as the sugar in the sauce will burn on the grill long before the chicken, pork or beef is cooked inside.

Instead, do salt and pepper your favorite cuts and grill on each side over a low to medium flame to cook through and brown slightly – about 4-6 minutes on each side. Then baste the top of each piece with sauce, close the lid of the grill and allow the sauce to cook for 2-3 minutes before you flip. Repeat with the other side. Results will cook up tender, juicy – not charred – barbecued meats and poultry every time.

Grilling a whole chicken is a whole other story, so I’ll save the details on that for a future blog post or a future segment on the Charlotte Today broadcast.

For fish, use the Canadian rule. That’s ten minutes of grilling time for every inch of thickness when you measure the fish fillet or steak at the thickest part. Make sure that the fish is not frozen when you start for best results. Turn the seafood once during the cooking process.

Shimp is most easily grilled when it is double skewered - don't forget to skewer and grill single shrimp for a fun "Shrimp on a Stick" app

Shrimp is most easily grilled when it is double skewered – don’t forget to skewer and grill single shrimp for a fun “Shrimp on a Stick” app

The exception to this rule is shrimp and tuna steaks. Most people like their tuna raw to rare in the middle and seared on the outside, honestly its probably easier to do this indoors in a hot sauté pan with a little high quality extra virgin olive oil or your favorite sesame oil; but it works on the grill too. Just season with salt and pepper and place the steak on a hot grill for a minute or so on each side.
For shrimp, use small thick wooden skewers for best results – soak them in water if you would like, but the truth is if the skewers are thick enough, its so fast that they won’t burn in the time it takes the shrimp to cook. Skewers a servings worth of shrimp at a time – 4-6 in each set and use two skewers instead of just one. This keeps the shrimp flat and easier to turn over with the simply flip of a spatula. You may grill them in or out of the shell – or for a fun hors d’oeuvre you may run a skewer up through a single shrimp and grill it that way then serve with a sauce for dipping – who wouldn’t love shrimp on a stick?

You can marinade if you would like, but I think a sprinkling of high quality salt and flavorful pepper brings out the true taste of the beef

You can marinade if you would like, but I think a sprinkling of high quality salt and flavorful pepper brings out the true taste of the beef

Do season beef and pork with a coarse-grind sea salt or Kosher salt to add flavor but not dry out the meat as finer ground salts tend to do. Flipping burgers and steaks with a spatula or tongs instead of a fork will help to keep a moist juicy texture as well.
You may marinate if you would like. Be sure to pat marinated beef, chicken or fish dry with several thicknesses of paper towels before grilling, remembering that wet product will not brown even on the grill, it will only steam instead.
Once marinated meat has begun to brown, you can continue to baste with the marinade as you cook. Once the cooking is done, toss any leftover marinade.
Timing depends on your desired doneness. For the perfect steaks – start with 4-5 minutes on the first side then turn and cook 3-4 minutes more for rare, 4-6 minutes more for medium rare and, if you must, 8-10 minutes more for well done.

For the perfect London Broil as shown on the Charlotte Today spot – cook it for three minutes over high heat, the turn the meat at an angle to get the look of those professional crossed grill marks and grill for three minutes more. Turn the steak over – with tongs – not with a fork – and repeat the three and three grilling times. Take the meat off the grill; let it rest for 8-10 minutes and then slice at a slight angle. You’ll find the results are perfect and tender every time – with or without the addition of a marinade!

The entire grilled spread from the May 20 2014 segment at WCNC's Charlotte Today

The entire grilled spread from the May 20 2014 segment at WCNC’s Charlotte Today

Finally, don’t put cooked meat back into a marinade that once held raw meat – the result will be a bacteria hey-day Likewise for putting the cooked product on the same serving platter that once held raw meat or fish.
Do use a clean serving plate to bring your grilled goods to the table.

For dessert, who doesn’t love a banana split with homemade ice cream? Putting the bananas on the grill adds a richer toastier taste plus its fun to eat your own banana splits right out of the peel!

The ice cream recipe is for a basic vanilla. If you’d prefer to add another flavor do it right before churning – fresh strawberries, ½ cup of strong coffee, chocolate chips or crumbled Oreos all work well.
To freeze the ice cream without an ice cream freezer, divide the mixture into cupful servings and place each cupful into a pint sized freezer strength zip lock bag. Place the small sealed bag inside one gallon-sized Ziploc bag and then fill the big bag half full of ice and add six tablespoons of rock salt. Seal the bag. Shake for 5-10 minutes or so until the mixture in the small bag freezes and becomes ice cream.

Grilled Banana Splits
Place 4 unpeeled bananas on medium-hot grill; grill 4-5 minutes on each side, until bananas darken and slightly soften. Cut into the peel to expose the banana and serve warm topped with Biscoff, marshmallow fluff and nutella – oh my! Of course you can add ice cream if you would like…

Homemade Ice Cream
2 cups whole organic or local milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla
1 cup organic sugar
6 local egg yolks
1 cup organic or local heavy cream

1, Combine the milk and vanilla.
2, Beat the egg yolks and sugar well, until the mix is thick and almost white.
3. Add the milk to the egg mix. Transfer to a large saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the custard starts to thicken.
4. Remove the pan from the heat; add in heavy cream to the custard and blend well.
5. Cool the mix to room temperature and then transfer the mix to the refrigerator to chill it down completely.
6. Pour the cold custard into the ice cream freezer and freeze according to machine instructions.